“Alpha, hey wait up,” a voice called behind him. He stopped and waited for the young pup to catch up, “hey, just wanted to know when the next run was.”
Slayde MacMichael was the alpha in charge. This was his territory and he was the lucky shifter whos land was hosting this years gathering of the packs. He never realized the work that went into hosting one of these. Pack houses and rooms had to be found for everyone, being careful about placement of clans next to each other. Some just didn’t get along no matter what you threatened them with.
And of course, he was on call for every emergency or question going, like the one from this young pup who seemed to continually be following him. He raked his hand through his black locks and pinned the youngster, “Didn’t you get a schedule, Ryan?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry, but I lost it Alpha,” the young whelp blushed.
“Then you talk to your alpha and get another one,” he ground out and then felt bad as Ryan’s eyes fell in shame. God, sometimes these youngsters needed to grow some fucking thicker skin. He placed his hand on the small shoulder, “Sorry, Ryan, it’s just been a long day. Check with Clint to see if he has an extra copy, and if he doesn’t come by my office tomorrow…okay?”
His words brightened the eyes of the young shifter, “Yeah, sure, sure, thanks Alpha,” and he turned away.
Slayde called after him, “Oh, pup, the next run is tomorrow night around seven. Okay?”
He watched as the boy nodded vigorously and turned to make his way through the crowd in the bar. Slayde smiled to himself, remembering when he was that young and impressionable…but that was a long time ago…
He turned back to survey the crowd, looking for his second in command, Riordan. The bar hadn’t been this crowded in years. Testosterone dripped from the rafters from the hundred or so males drinking and joking around the tables. He recognized most of the faces, having met them at several different gatherings over the years. So far, about twenty different packs had registered from all over the eastern seaboard and two from the west coast. Usually the west coast had their own gathering, but sometimes they liked to mingle with the east…usually when they were looking to introduce new blood into their pack. These gatherings were a great way to find available females to mix up the gene pool in a pack.
Several nods met his ice blue eyes, acknowledging his dominant role in the community. He took time to silently acknowledge each greeting in return. With each familiar face, he mentally made notes on their pack’s name, number of members, mating status and family. He wondered what they saw when they looked at him…Slayde Asher MacMichael, alpha, nice territory, great pack, no mate, no pups, not where he thought he would be at his age. *sigh*
“That’s a mighty heavy load you are carrying, Alpha,” a hand descended onto his muscular shoulder.
Slayde turned to his beta and grimaced, “That obvious?”
Riordan, his second in command stood shoulder to shoulder with his six and a half foot frame. Where Slayde’s hair was as thick and black as midnight, Riordan had soft blond locks that were nearly white. His green eyes enchanted many a woman with their bright intensity. Slayde was surprised he still had not found a mate and started a litter of his own.
“Maybe this year, Slayde, there is a lot of new blood here this time,” he was uncanny with knowing the desires of his pack leader. But then again, isn’t that what they all wanted? A warm hearth, an even warmer mate and a litter of pups crawling around your feet?
“Yeah, yeah, that is the least of my worries, I will just be happy if all hell doesn’t break loose over the next few days…” he replied as he gazed around the bar again, “We’ve got a full house tonight, I see.”
Riordan gazed over the crowd too, “Yeah, and the other two bars are pretty full too.”
“The hall ready for Sunday?” Slayde asked him for the tenth time.
“Yeah, everything’s ready, the mixer is a go. It should be a howling good time,” he chuckled at his joke.
Slayde looked at him drily, “Really? That’s what you’ve got?”
Riordan chuckled again, “Come on Slayde, THAT was funny.”
Slayde grunted and looked away.
“And I heard there is quite a group of eligible females that are looking to be available to new packs, maybe even we will get a couple of new breeds,” Riordan added helpfully.
Slayde grunted again, “As long as the damn pre-shifts stay home.”
Pre-shifts were the wolves who had yet to make their first transition. The males were just plain stupid in that state and the females were just plain crazy as they tried to attract the most powerful within the packs. NOT a good combination at all. Guaranteed to make trouble, which was something he just wanted to avoid…at all costs.
“I don’t think any actually came this year,” Riordan assured him.
“Good,” Slayde breathed out, “thank fucking God…”
His phone took that time to start vibrating at his hip. That could only mean another pain in the ass problem. He answered, “Yeah, Slayde here….yeah, I know….no, not that part…..they did what? DAMN! Yeah, I’ll be right there.”
He turned off his phone and said, “It’s starting already…you would think they could at least wait until the moon turnover to run naked across the front lawn of the town hall.” He leaned in close to his beta, “Look after things here, don’t let anything get out of hand. I will be back as soon as I can.”
Riordan looked over the gradually drunken crowd of shifters, “Yeah, thanks buddy, sure, no problem.”
As Slayde left the loud boisterous crowd, Riordan heard his name called, “Rory! Come see this!”
Cassie leaned back in the booth and sighed with contentment, that had to be the best pie she had ever tasted! If she could have stuffed another piece in, she would have gladly ordered another…maybe she should get takeaway…
“How was it, honey?” the waitress was back to clear away her dishes.
Cassie rolled her eyes, “It was absolutely heavenly, I couldn’t eat another bite.”
The woman chuckled, “Well I am glad you liked it. You can come back anytime and try another, we have blueberry tomorrow.”
Cassie could see herself gaining about a hundred pounds if she stayed here any length of time, “Well, I probably will be gone tomorrow, but if I wasn’t, I would definitely come back for that.”
“You aren’t staying for the whole gathering?” the woman seemed surprised, “A pretty little thing like you? Oh, you must already have a…”
“Maisie!” a loud voice boomed through the door, “Where is some of that pie?”
Cassie looked over to see a big burly red headed giant come through the door. Wow, they sure made them big here…
“Oh, that’s just Big Red honey, he might look like he would take a bite out of you, but he’s really a big softy,” she turned to greet her new customer, “Just sit down Red, I will be right over.”
She turned again to Cassie, “Sorry, hon, gotta go, you can just pay Inez at the register,” she indicated that petite red head cleaning the counter.
Cassie watched her hurry off to ‘Big Red’. Soft was not the word that came to mind when he walked in the door. Holy crap, that man was built like a linebacker…a really BIG linebacker…
She pulled her attention away and grabbed her purse, fishing for her credit card. She pulled it out and went to the cash to pay for her meal. As the girl was punching in the amounts, Cassie asked her, “Umm…do you have like a place where I could get a glass of wine or something?” Lord knows, she needed it after today and she would keep it to only the one. She didn’t drink a lot and it wouldn’t take much to put her over the edge…which was definitely not what she wanted in a strange town…
The girl looked at her strangely, “Are you sure?”
What happened to them being friendly?
“Uh, yeah, just a quick glass of wine before I go back to my room.”
The girl looked towards Maisie but didn’t seem to want to interrupt the lively conversation between her and ‘Big Red’.
Now that her stomach was full, she felt her strength returning in waves, “Listen, just point me in the right direction and I will find it.”
The girl bit her lip indecisively.
“Okay, I will find someplace on my own…”
“The Den is just down the street on your right,” the girl finally supplied. Cassie thought it would have been easier to pull teeth than get an answer to a very simple question from her.
She took back her card and nodded, “Thank you very much, Inez, I appreciate that.” She turned to leave. As she got almost to the door, conversation between Maisie and Big Red ground to a halt. Cassie hesitated as Big Red raised his head and….sniffed in her direction…
Did he just smell her???
Cassie felt a blush steal over her. Surely she hadn’t sweated that much in the last hour? Suddenly, her imaginary friend took that time to contribute her two cents.
Mmmmm, I like Big Red…I wonder what else is big?....
Cassie was sure she was now as red as a stop sign and she mentally shook her friend as she hissed, ’What is wrong with you? We are NOT looking for anything ‘BIG RED’ has to offer’
I would like something BIG RED has to offer…
Cassie pushed the door and escaped into the welcoming darkness. She had never been so embarrassed at her thoughts…Siska’s thoughts…who was she kidding, Siska’s thoughts WERE her thoughts…but why would she be attracted to that bear of a man? I mean, he was good looking in a rough sort of way, but…
Come on Cass, let’s have some fun…
Cassie breathed deeply, what was going on? Siska was just a voice, she wasn’t a person or anything, she didn’t control anything…
“No!” she hissed under her breath, “we are not going to have fun…not tonight…and certainly not with BIG RED.”
She felt the disappointment and whine inside her as her friend fell to the back of her mind. She kind of felt sorry for her…God, what was she thinking? She really needed help…she was going to have to break down and talk to someone about her imaginary friend…before said friend got her into REAL trouble.
“Sorry, Sis, I didn’t mean it, it’s just been a long day,” she couldn’t help but apologize to herself, “Why don’t we go have that glass of wine?”
Her friend slowly came forward, Ok, I forgive you…let’s go have that drink….
Cassie smiled and started off down the sidewalk. For some strange reason, she looked back and was surprised that Big Red was still looking out of the diner’s large window, straight at her and wearing a very wolfish smile.
Cassie frowned and walked faster.
Slayde shook his head as he left one of the pack houses, having just “escorted” three drunk and naked men back to their rooms. They all still bore claw marks where he grabbed them as they shifted back into their human skin, minus any clothes of course. When they saw they were caught by the town’s alpha, they couldn’t apologize fast enough, promising not to do it again. Although shifting was permitted, running around in your human skin, sans clothes was highly discouraged….
One giant problem solved…
His phone rang again, “DAMN! Not another one!”
He punched the screen and gritted his teeth as he spoke, “Slayde here, what’s the problem? Oh, sorry Vivien, what can I do for you?”
His jaw dropped as he listened to the owner of the inn up the street. He shook his head, “Can you repeat that?”
He shook his head again, “Are you sure it says MacTire?”
He listened to the info again, “What was the name of her pack?...Southern Oaks? No, never heard of it. Something’s not right…I am coming right over.”
He shut off his phone and it rang again. DAMN! When was it going to end? He glanced at the number, saw it was his beta and answered, “Yeah, Riordan, what’s up? Please tell me everything is okay…well throw him out and tell him to go back to his house…yeah, I have to deal with something important that just came up…no, I will tell you when I get there…yeah, see you soon.”
He hung up and looked up at the moon sitting low in the sky…MacTire…can’t be right…that whole pack was wiped out a long while back. Someone must be playing a joke, only it wasn’t very funny….if there truly was a MacTire here in his town…this was going to be a gathering to remember and not in a good way…
He started up the street to Viv’s Inn, his mind jumping on itself….he really needed a good run….
Cassie looked up at the neon sign indicating she arrived at ‘THE DEN’. The two large windows in the front were blacked out so she couldn’t see inside. The door also had no glass so she could see what she was walking into. She could hear music blaring inside and she hesitated. Didn’t seem like the place to get a quiet glass of wine. Well, if it wasn’t she would just leave…
Come on, Cass, you said we could have a glass of wine…to relax…
She could swear Siska was causing her skin to itch like she wanted to crawl out and go in without her. And she did want that wine….and she could always leave....
She jumped as her voice yelled and grabbed the handle and pulled.
The place was dark, except for some small lighting at the bar that ran the whole left side of the room. She could see several tables scattered haphazardly and she could see an opening that obviously led into another packed room. Then she noticed a most peculiar thing…it was packed with men…nothing but men…. There weren’t even any women servers….just men…
“My god, only I could come into a one-horse town and find a gay bar…” she glanced around at all the slapping and touching that was going on around her as the voices competed with the rock music blaring from something in the other room.
She heard her voice loud and clear and laughed to herself, “Hold your horses sunshine, you and I just walked into a small town gay watering hole. There is no reason to get excited…unless you want decorating tips.”
Well, at least she should be safe among them…although they were the roughest bunch of gay males she had ever seen, at least they weren’t as big as Big Red was…her thoughts were cut off as another customer came in the door behind her and squeezed his six four frame by her. She was momentarily taken aback when the man suddenly stopped and she could see his nose twitch as his head turned towards her. She could clearly see interest flare in his dark eyes.
Maybe they weren’t all gay….
She quickly excused herself and made a line for one empty stool at the bar. She really needed that drink now. She wasn’t too worried about the crowd, I mean, what could happen in public, in a room full of gay men?...or mostly gay men?
The bartender strolled over to her and looked at her questioningly, “Shouldn’t you be back at your house?”
Cassie clenched her jaw, she had thought the people here were friendly, but obviously some of them didn’t get the memo, “I don’t live here, I am just passing through. Now, can I have a glass of red please?” An image of Big Red flashed in her mind and she shook hear head to clear it.
The bartender clenched his jaw and she could see his nose twitching. She almost caught herself leaning down to smell her armpits. Maybe it was her clothes, she didn’t exactly have time to air them out after being packed up in her hot car…
Then surprisingly, the man poured her a large glass of red wine and placed it with a large napkin on the bar in front of her, “You should really go back to your house.”
Cassie grabbed the glass and swallowed it down in one long pull. She wasn’t sure if she was trying to prove to him that she was a big girl or what. She also missed the sigh of satisfaction from the friend in her head. She pushed the glass towards him again, “And you should just get me another glass.”
The man’s eyes hardened and he looked like he was going to say something nasty in return, but again, he merely re-filled her glass and slid it back, “Whatever the lady wants, the lady gets.”
Cassie didn’t know if he was being sarcastic as he drawled the word ‘lady’ but she sure didn’t appreciate it. She smiled anyway and thanked him for the drink. This time she just took a large swallow, already feeling the effects from the first glass. A hot flush caressed her from her head to her toes and she finally started to relax. The voice inside her had quieted too, thank God…
Cassie turned around halfway in order to get a better look at the local patrons, always enjoying her people watching experience. She was looking in to the other room watching a DJ spin some upbeat tunes to an empty dance floor and didn’t notice several conversations that had suddenly stopped.
You would think that at least a few of these guys would be up dancing with their dates…
Suddenly, a tall lanky rough-cut male was standing beside her, giving his best ‘come to me baby’ smile. Cassie glanced up and gave him a half-hearted smile, trying not to encourage what was going on in his mind.
“Can I buy you another little preshift?” he had a distinct southern drawl that was not unsexy.
Cassie’s head was already floating enough that she wasn’t sure that what she heard was exactly what he said, “Excuse me?” Did she just slur?
Suddenly another large male appeared on her other side, “Don’t pay any attention to him. He’s a little wet behind the ears, you need a real howler.”
These people weren’t making any sense, “I do?” she stammered out.
The second male took her answer as an excuse to lean forward and take a long drag of her hair. Cassie was transfixed as she watched him inhale the scent of her shampoo. He opened his eyes and smiled, “Are you looking for something new?”
Cass was feeling really confused, and the wine probably wasn’t helping either, “Uh, no, thanks, I like my shampoo just fine.”
Both men started chuckling before the first one introduced himself, “My name is Lane, Dusky Sky.”
Cassidy gave a slight smile, “Hi Lane Dusky Sky…”
Her other admirer broke in, “No, no, you don’t want that. Ridgeback is what you need darlin’.”
His words brought back the memory from the inn…Ridgeback…what was it about luggage that these people found so fascinating?
“Back off, Harper, I saw her first,” a deep growl sounded from the throat of Lane Dusky Sky.
What was going on? Cassie knew she was passably pretty, but never had two men seemed so interested in her…
“Ok, wetbacks, you can both back off and let a few of the rest of us introduce ourselves,” another voice broke in.
Cassie blinked several times, not sure what was going on, not sure either whether she liked being the center of attention or not. She took another drink from her glass and was almost surprised that it too was empty. Her new admirer, upon seeing the empty glass, waved to the bartender, “Give her another one, Rick, she is looking mighty dry.”
Suddenly Cassie felt her imaginary friend bolt inside her.
Yes, yes, this is fantastic!
“No, no it isn’t,” she replied as she watched the crowd around her getting larger.
“Don’t pay any attention to the rest of these dogs, honey, they can’t protect you like we can,” her third admirer was trying to impress her with his wolfish smile.
She found another glass of wine being pushed into her empty hand and hastily took another sip (or was it a little more?). She stammered out, “Protect me from what?”
“Precisely, you moron, this little luna doesn’t need any protection, she can handle herself,” another voice broke through the throng.
Did they just call her looney?
Isn’t this fun, Cass? Look at all of them!
Fun was not the word she would use…
“And who are you calling a dog?” a snarl accompanied that gritty question.
This couldn’t be good, Cass thought as her head continued to swim, gay men should not be fighting over her….unless they weren’t gay?...
“Ok, how about Mutt?” the challenge was unmistakable.
As Cassie downed her third glass of wine, she could almost cut the tension in the room with a knife, even a drunk could see that this was going to get bad…
She decided it was definitely time to leave. She stood up and teetered. Immediately, several pairs of hands grasped her arms and body to help.
Then all hell broke loose….
Riordan was in the other room, enjoying a beer when the first punch was thrown. He looked up in exasperation as a scuffle started in the other room…what the hell were they fighting about this time?
As the crowd parted, his eyes fell on a gorgeous young woman, swaying on her feet. It was obvious she was well intoxicated. He lifted his nose to the air and understood what had happened. A damn preshift had walked into the bar and now every unattached male in the place were trying to lay claim. Which included just about all of them….
Slayde was going to be so pissed…
As the scent of the preshift wafted into his room, probably brought on by the amount of testosterone raging in the air, his own wolf woke up and howled inside. Riordan snarled at him, telling him to sit and be quiet, but it was hard to quiet any red-blooded male when there was a preshift in heat just begging to be taken.
“Damn, not even one quiet night…” he swore as he fought his way to the bar.
After pushing several big males out of the way and barking orders as he made his way through, he wasted no time in grabbing the woman’s arm and hissing in her ear, “You should not be here!”
Cassie was enthralled by the six foot six wall of muscle coming through the crowd to her and he didn’t look the least bit friendly.
Her inner voice almost starting panting and Cassie was worried she was starting to hyperventilate…at least until the Adonis opened his mouth.
Suddenly it didn’t matter that the bar had turned into a free for all with punches being thrown, are they actually biting each other?
“You need to come with me!” her rescuer growled loudly.
Cassidy suddenly pulled back, “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
A voice out of nowhere broke in, “Take your grubby paws off her…” the voice died out when Riordan turned and growled viciously in response, feeling his eyes turning red. He had just about enough of this craziness. The man who was protesting her manhandling suddenly turned and slipped back into the crowd.
Cassie muttered, “So much for a knight in shining armour…”
Riordan practically lifted her from her feet as he propelled her over broken chairs and wrestling bodies out into the cool night.
Cassie was actually quite happy to feel the cool breeze lifting the hair off her neck. Now to go home…or back to the inn…where was her bag?...oh yeah…
Riordan found his wolf fighting to the surface again, needing to smell this new female. Rory growled again to put him in his place.
“Would you stop that? You sound like an old bear!” Cassidy admonished her rescuer or maybe he was her captor as he hadn’t let go of her arm yet.
“Where is your alpha?” he squeezed her arm, feeling frustration and arousal at the same time.
Cassie was having a hard time understanding what he was asking, “My what?”
Rory was battling his wolf again as he spit out, “Your pack, where are they?”
Cassie stood still and gave her best ‘what the fuck’ face and asked the question that had been plaguing her all evening, “What is up with you people and your luggage?”
Now it was Rory’s turn to be confused, “What?!”
“That’s all anybody here seems to care about, what is the name of your luggage?” she was getting really tired now, the wine was now urging her to lay down somewhere…anywhere…
“Where are you staying?” he tried another tactic.
Cassie might be drunk but she certainly wasn’t going to tell this stranger where she was staying, did he think she was stupid?
She sort of vaguely pointed up the street, “There.”
Riordan tried to follow her inebriated finger…this was not working…he needed help…he hoped Slayde had some ideas….