My instincts screamed in my ears, raising red flags all over. I could feel someone approaching and they were coming in hot. Dr. Signh met my eyes.
“Jess?” Drew asked, but was cut off.
The front door crashed open and a huge golden wolf landed on all fours. In a flash of bright light, a man emerged with his face red and a vein throbbing in his neck. He was tall and muscular with crazy wide shoulders. “What’s going on here?” He trudged over.
Dr. Signh raised her hand to warn him. “Wait! Let me explain-”
“Who are these guys?” The man grabbed Drew’s arm, jerking him out of the seat and my sanity snapped. Red burned my vision and I flew out of my chair, tackling this asshole into the far wall, far from Drew. He didn’t see it coming, so I knocked the wind right out of him. He reacted quick, elbowing me square in the head. The power created waves of pain down my skull, through my bones. Adrenaline doused my raging heart in gasoline and he was the match.
I staggered, blindly striking the guy across the face. After one hit from this guy, I was too dizzy to realize which way was up or down. He struck me back with twice the force and my back hit a side table, making me, the lamp and the table clatter to the floor. I banged my head right on the corner. An eerie cold feeling, like a ghost passing through my muscles, my bones and soul. I could feel all my consciousness spinning down the drain.
As my senses blurred and darkness burned the edges of my eyes, I realized that this was the power of an Alpha, a true alpha with nothing but strength flowing through his veins. It had been a long time since I fought an actual Alpha and I couldn’t remember his name. The last thing I saw was Drew’s worried face and Grace strolling up to smack the backside of the alpha’s head.
The darkness clouding my mind parted. First, I could hear voices, angry voices going back and forth. Second, I could smell the pages of a book and freshly brewed coffee, my mate. Third, a warm hand stroked my hair while something cold numbed the pounding sensation in my face. I reached up and took the hand.
Flinching against the light at first, I finally focused on Drew. His smile was soft enough to make me want to crawl inside it and go back to sleep. He moved what I realized was an icepack from my eye. My head had been resting on his lap. The best seat in the house. Drew said, “Hello. How’s your head?”
I smirked. “I haven’t gotten any complaints.”
He gaped, flushing up to his ears and dropped the ice back on my face. I laughed while he muttered to someone, “He’s fine.” Though, I’d be shocked if anyone could hear him over all the shouting.
I entered the conversation at one guy, the alpha shouting, “I can’t believe I’m the bad guy!”
“You just play the part so well, Cameron,” Grace said, her voice heavy with sarcasm.
“Hey! I’m the Alpha here, they’re the Rogues. How did you expect me to react? My phone was going off the hook! Grace and Liam’s babies are with strange men!” He said in a mocking fake tone, waving his arms around. “I think I saw Emily and Mia in the arms of some strange men! I think his eyes are red! Come on,” He insisted. “Anyone would react the way I did!”
“Of course, I expected you to react just like this! Throwing your fists before thinking to ask what was going on! When are you ever going to grow up?!”
With a groan, I tried sitting up. I held the icepack to my face, surveying the room. Dr. Singh was with Liam on the side, catering to the kids. Drew had spoken to that side of the room, maybe the only one that would listen. Everyone was aimed at Grace and the man who gave me a run for money. It had been so long since I was in a proper fight with a real opponent. It caught be off guard. Back when I fought Jacob’s men, I had been on another level. I had been as close to a monster as I had ever been. I did not expect this guy to be as strong as he was...
This guy who was taller than me with broad shoulders and lean musculature. He had dirty blonde hair, fixed out of his face. He looked like a Ken doll, close to perfect with a freakin’ chin dimple and everything (Well, with the exception of busted lip I just gave him). By the definition of “Boy-Next-Door”, there was a picture of this guy. He looked like the kind of guy that could throw a football and shotgun a beer. He wore tattered jeans and boots. He wore one of those denim Sherpa jackets over a sweater and a plaid thermal.
“So,” I spoke up, only speaking to Grace. I motioned to the blonde. He looked my age, maybe a tiny bit older. “Who’s this asshole?” Drew slapped the palm of his hand to his face, covering his embarrassment. I perked up. “What?”
“This asshole?” The guy pointed to himself. His voice grew, looking at Grace with horror. “This asshole? I’m the asshole? He’s the one-”
“You’re all the asshole.” Grace sighed. She dropped her chin to her chest and shook her head. When she finally managed to lift her face, she made the proper introductions, but not like she wanted to do it. “Jess, this is Cameron Hawthorne. Cameron, that other asshole is Jess and the angel by his side is Drew.”
The name rang a bell. I had to search around my brain, until it finally clicked. I let out a wild chortle, slapping my knee. “You! You’re Cameron? You’re the Alpha everyone has been talking about? You’re what? Twenty? How could you be the Alpha?”
“Uh, I’m Twenty-Four-”
I snorted, unable to help myself. Cameron took a full step forward, but Grace put her arm between us. She glared at Cameron, warning him. “They came to me a few weeks ago. Drew was sick and they needed help. What was I supposed to do? Let them die in the cold?”
“You’re supposed to tell me,” Cameron bellowed, close to a growl. “Everyone in this town thinks they know me that they know what I’m going to do, so I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to you.” He rested his hands on his hips and made a declaration. “Grace, they need to be gone by the end of the day. You can’t bring a couple of Rogues into our community, lie about it and expect me to be cool about it. You can’t go over my head like this, never again.”
I glanced at Liam and Dr. Signh. They were both making faces that read “I told you so” and “This is going to end so badly, we should probably find some cover.”
Grace’s fists tightened by her side. This time she didn’t stick an arm out, she walked right in front of Drew and I, shielding us with her whole body. She stated. “You don’t want to test me Cameron. If you make me kick them out, I’m going to tell Mark—” by the mention of this name, Cameron’s face went pale “—that you were home for a whole month, living in my shed before you went to see him.”
So, this was Grace’s legendary blackmail.
Cameron appeared shaken. He shook his head, attempting to regain some of his composure. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“Try me,” Grace smiled. She whipped out her phone and began dialing a number.
Cameron laughed, uncomfortably. “You’re bluffing.” He looked at Liam. “She’s bluffing.” Liam didn’t show any signs that he agreed. If anything, Liam looked at Cameron like Grace was pointing a gun at him.
Grace put the phone to her ear. In mere seconds, her whole face brightened into this eerie artificial sweetness. “Hey, Mark! How are you? It’s been too long.”
“Wait!” Cameron yelped, throwing his hands out as if he could catch the bomb before it dropped and imploded his life. “Wait! Don’t, okay? They can stay! They can stay!” He clarified, ”For now.”
Grace’s lips curled like a cat that has just bitten into a mouse. “I was wondering if you’re still doing those children’s readings and if you take requests...” Cameron inched closer, leaning into the receiver and the voice I could just barely make out answered in short sentences. “Yes, I know you don’t work there anymore, but I thought you’d know. I don’t have your mother’s number.... I’d love that. Thanks, Mark you’re the best.” She hung up the phone.
Cameron shook his head. “You’re trying to get me killed.”
“Cameron,” Liam spoke up. He took to his feet, holding Emily close. “These boys don’t want to stay here, but I don’t feel comfortable turning them away when they have nothing. They have no money, home or anything. Cameron, they’re wearing my old clothes right now. I just want them to get on their feet before they leave.”
“And Drew’s still sick!” Grace popped in to lie.
Cameron glanced back at us and I straightened, moving in front of Drew. It was instinct and I narrowed my eyes at Cameron, ready for anything. We locked eyes and my chest twisted. Next time I wouldn’t be unprepared. I’d be ready to take him on if I had to do it.
“Fine,” Cameron crossed his arms. ”However, those two...” he said but the whole room knew he meant me. “They better behave. I don’t want to get a single call or complaint. I don’t even want a call about how great they are. I don’t want to hear a peep about them.”
“What if you’re getting a call about Grace and we just happen to be there?” I asked, unable to help myself. Grace came at me like lightening, smacking me in the back of the head. When I came to and raised my head, Cameron wore the ugliest grimace. Grumbling, Cameron walked out the door and the door closed itself with a heavy thud.
After a long beat and a sigh from Liam, I asked, “What’s his deal? How did he become your Alpha?”
“We sort of told you, Cameron’s father died suddenly, before he was able to fully train Cameron on how to be the Alpha.” Liam explained as he walked around the couch. He took my chin, examining my mean mug.
“How’s it look? Do I have to quite my modeling career?” I asked.
“You could still break some hearts.” Liam smirked.
Drew cleared his throat and shot me a glare. “He will not. He’s not breaking anything.” He yanked on my face, squishing my cheeks as he forced me to face him. “He’s not getting into any more fights.”
“Cameron’s had a tough time adjusting,” Dr. Singh seemed to speak up for the young Alpha. “He lost his mother when he was young, and he was so close to his father. It nearly broke him, but he left for six months and came back, took his rightful place as Alpha and has been...” She shrugged, “Well, he’s been the Alpha. He’s still learning-”
“Five months!” Grace raised a finger to the ceiling to clarify. Her dark eyes were still flickering with the kind of wickedness that came from knowing a secret and lording it over a blonde asshole’s head. “He came back after five months but spent one more month inside our shed in the back. Well, it’s more like a tiny house.”
“But who’s Mark?” Drew asked.
Grace snickered. “Mark Kimura is Cameron’s mate, who has been pissed at him ever since he came back.”
“Cameron left Mark behind for five months. That idiot didn’t even leave his poor mate a number or an address, just a little goodbye note and a half-assed apology.”
“Six months?” Drew whispered. He rubbed his hands together, maybe speaking only to himself, maybe he didn’t mean for anyone to hear, but I did. I knew, he spoke from experience. “I couldn’t imagine that. It’s hard enough to lose someone for even a few weeks.” I took one of his hands and kissed the ridge of his knuckles. We knew a thing or two about waiting.
I glanced back at the door, trying to imagine Ezra being twenty years younger. I tried to imagine an Alpha barely older than me. I thought about my friends, about Lyle and Zach, wondering what it’d be like for them to be my Alpha. It was like staring at a bowl of ice-cream and expecting it to taste like chili. It didn’t make sense. Besides, my friends were a hell of a lot smarter than that blonde asshole.
“Regardless,” Dr. Singh stood up with a sigh. “Cameron knows the situation now. It’s for the best. Give him some time and I truly think Cameron will be one of our best Alphas,” she spoke it as fact, not as wishful thinking. Dr. Singh didn’t seem like the type to spin fantasies. “He really loves this place,” she said that to me as if I was supposed to understand what that had to do with anything.
She then left to make up a prescription for Mia. Drew grabbed our jackets by the front door and I rested across his shoulders, throwing my body against him. I relaxed only a little to push, but not to topple him over. I whined. “Carry me home. I’m injured.”
“You’re not injured.” Drew sniffed. “You’ve always been stupid.”
He elbowed me and I bent over with a hearty laugh, almost a snort. I wanted to kiss the living daylights out of him. Tempted to tease him, I reached for his shoulders to maybe jump on top of him, when Liam’s fist slightly nudged my arm. He looked at me in this new way, this soft precious look as he held a slumbering Mia.
He told me, “Thank you. You put yourself in a dangerous situation for my baby girl and I...” He let out a sigh that didn’t seem to bring him any relief. “I’m sorry I judged you at first. I’m sorry you’re in the situation you’re in and-”
“You don’t know anything about it,” I said quickly, my chest clenching. Liam was getting too close. He wanted to chip a little at the wall between us and I needed to stop him. “I could have killed my old pack in cold blood. I could have burned my town to the ground.”
“No,” Liam shook his head and smiled. “You didn’t. You deserve a lot more credit, Jess.”
I swallowed. The threat of tears crept around my eyes, but I sucked it in. I just nodded, avoiding words that could break me in two and cause my emotions to spill out. Instead, Liam handed Mia over to me and I held her close to my chest. She fidgeted, but quickly melted back into sleep.
We left together, Grace and Liam in the front. On the way back to the Inn, people peeked through their blinds or stepped outside, pretending to need something outside just to catch a better look at the two Rogues that infiltrated their small town. This wasn’t a walk home, it was a parade with Drew and I as the star weirdos. I locked eyes with a woman sweeping the front of her shop and her nose wrinkle. Her face twisted as if she smelled something bad.
Maybe she did.
I never met a Rogue, before I became one. I must have smelled like something without a home, something outside of normal. I must have smelled like something bad, dragged inside at the bottom of the shoe. It was the kind of smell that warned good wolves something bad was coming. Maybe I did.