Riding with the Pack

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Chapter 23

Tessa

Muted whispers began to infiltrate my blissful dreams of a mystifying green eyed canine in the damp forest near my childhood home. I could almost smell the intoxicating scent of pine trees and the feeling of soft ebony tresses beneath my fingertips when peculiar sounds began to flood my waking mind.

Words such as “Still sleeping,” and “Let’s wake her up,” danced behind my fluttering eyelids as I desperately tried to drown out the disturbances. I could faintly hear someone opening my bedroom door but I was far too infatuated with the whimsical beast prancing beside my floating form.

“RISE AND SHINE!” An ear shattering voice bellowed from above.

Wolfie begone, I was thrust to consciousness by the feeling of my warm blanket being torn from my sleeping figure. Frigid air assaulted my supple skin as my eyes snapped open to take a quick scan of my surroundings, revealing my assailant.

“Seriously?” I grumbled groggily. “Embry, get out!”

“Can’t do that, doll face!” He chimed while climbing into bed behind me and wrapping his strong arms around my shoulders. “You’ve got a big day ahead of you.”

I groaned uncomfortably at his annoying display and began to wonder if this was what my life had come to. I’d been settling in well over the past few weeks and was beginning to think of this big brick house as my home.

Sam and Embry had been incredibly welcoming. The three of us grew exceptionally close and I honestly felt like I had known them for years. They quickly became my new family and I truly adored them.

But like all families, we had our differences. Sam could be super moody and a little unstable at times. Embry liked waking up at the crack of dawn and strutting around the house with no pants.

I liked having a little alone time once in a while and sleeping in. They were still struggling to understand that.

“Yay me,” I huffed as I buried my head beneath a thick pillow.

“Oh, no!” Sam clipped. “None of that.”

She snatched the fluffy headrest away and hopped beneath the remaining covers with me, sandwiching my body between hers and Embry’s. They continued to poke and prod at me for several minutes, withering away the last of my patience until I finally snapped.

“Ugh!” I hissed angrily, wishing to return to my fantasies of sweet grass orbs.

“Wakey wakey,” Embry sing-songed.

“Screw you,” I groaned.

“How rude,” he pouted. “Hey pops, she’s not getting up.”

“Did you try tickling the back of her knee?” A gruff voice that was oddly familiar inquired from what I assumed to be Embry’s cellphone. “That usually does the trick.”

“Not yet,” Embry admitted. “Hold on.”

Suddenly, an overwhelming feeling that I can only describe as Hell erupted from the sensitive skin behind my kneecap. I shot out of bed while hissing and batting at my housemates with my claws bared instinctively. Sam hid from my assault futilely as Embry held up a pillow in defense.

Still snarling furiously, I somehow managed to fall off of my plush mattress like a total klutz. After plummeting to the ground in an angry heap, I climbed back onto the bed and wrapped myself into a cocoon of blankets.

“What the hell!” I moaned sleepily.

“Worked like a charm,” Embry chortled. “Great idea, dad!”

“Dad?” I questioned aloud before realization struck. “Wait a second, DAD?!”

“Hey bud!” My dad called out through the black screen of Embry’s cell.

“How am I hearing you?” I asked in confusion before shooting daggers at Embry.

“Um, well-!” He began before lowering his voice to a whisper. “I’m gonna have to call you back, dad. Somebody’s a little cranky this morning.”

“I understand,” my dad assured faintly. “Just feed her and she’ll be fine. Call me after the game tomorrow.”

“You got it,” Embry replied chummily. “Later dad!”

“Bye kiddo,” he chuckled. “Bye honey, love ya!”

“Love you too!” Embry and I replied in unison.

My dad was laughing his ass off by the time he hung up the phone, leaving us in utter silence for a few moments as we stared at one another in disbelief.

“He was talking to me!” I scoffed.

“Um, actually I think he was talking to me.” Embry winced. “I’m pretty sure you’re the ‘kiddo’ in this situation.”

“Why the hell would MY dad call you honey?!” I snapped.

“First of all, I think you mean our dad!” He argued. “And I’m pretty sure he called me honey because I’m sweeter than candy.”

“Bullshit!” I exclaimed.

“Do you want me to call him and ask? Because I will!” He threatened lightheartedly. “I’ll be the clingy child, I don’t care!”

“You’re not even his child!” I shouted in frustration. “Where did you get his number anyway?!”

“Quit hogging dad!” Embry pointed.

“Answer the question!” I pointed back at him.

“Oh my Goddess,” Sam sighed in exasperation. “Your dad basically adopted Embry, get the hell over it. And he got a hold of Luke by hacking into your cell while you were sleeping, duh.”

“Embry!” I gasped.

“It wasn’t like that!” He insisted. “I just wanted to add my number into your phone for safety reasons, but then I saw dad’s and couldn’t resist! I swear!”

“Dude!” I clipped.

“It was a moment of weakness!” Embry proclaimed on a fake sob before burying his head into Sam’s chest to continue his bit.

“Seriously?” Sam raised a brow after allowing him to nuzzle into her for a moment.

“What?” Embry mumbled with his face pressed deeply into her sizable bosoms. “It’s not like it’s the first time I’ve been in here.”

“Okay! Fuck off!” Sam snapped while shoving him away with a look of disgust.

“Ew! Em!” I groaned at the mental image that he had painted in my mind, not wishing to think about the filthy things they had done in the past.

“Yeah, I know!” He waved his hands. “I’m gross, we’ve been over this. Now hurry up and get ready, you don’t want to be late on your first day.”

“First day where?” I inquired while rubbing my burning retinas.

“At your new job,” Sam answered coldly.

“My what?!” I choked.

“Oh come on kitten, you didn’t really think you could freeload forever.” Embry chided as he climbed off of my bed to herd me into my bathroom. “You’re going hunting with Sam today and I’ll be escorting you.”

“But-,” I attempted to argue.

“But nothing,” Sam cut me off while helping Embry push me into the washroom. “Get in the shower and I’ll lay out some clothes for you.”

Still slightly dazed from being woken up so abruptly and not really wishing to get on Sam’s bad side, I reluctantly complied. I shooed them away and locked the door behind me before flipping on the water to let it heat up.

The bathroom that was attached to my room was an immense space of sparkling white. Plush throw rugs decorated the shiny tile flooring that complimented the creme colored wallpaper exquisitely. Gold accents painted the double vanity and walk in shower, giving the area a rich ambiance.

During my wait, I stripped and studied my physique in a floor length mirror beside the door. The tips of my long black hair grazed my full hips slightly. My curvy figure had grown some, likely due to weeks of eating nothing but deliciously greasy food that Embry would swindle home each evening.

I need to cut down before I blow up like a blimp, I reprimanded myself.

I washed up quickly after the water had reached the perfect temperature, doing my best to scrub my tired daze down the drain. By the time I finally stepped out, there was a pile of neatly folded clothes waiting beside the sink.

Sam had given me a pair of camouflaged cargo pants, some combat boots that were hardly worn and a long sleeved black shirt. Without a bra in sight, I decided to wrap a plush towel hanging nearby around myself securely before entering my room.

“I hate to break it to ya mittens,” Embry smirked from the corner of my room while averting his eyes respectfully. “But you’re not in uniform.”

“Why are you still here?” I jumped fearfully.

“I needed to add a few more numbers into your phone before I forgot,” he shrugged nonchalantly. “You’ll thank me later.”

“Stop hacking into my phone, creep!” I hissed. “Where the heck is it?!”

A smug grin lit up his tan face and his glistening silver orbs flashed with deceit. I glared at him while he slicked back a few dark stray hairs into his neat man bun. He cocked his head toward the balcony, drawing my gaze to the tall sliding glass door that was slightly ajar.

“Really?” I huffed.

“It looked like it could use some fresh air,” he jeered.

“You’re so annoying,” I groaned as I stormed past him to step out onto the small cedar balcony.

I clutched my towel tightly as I searched every inch of the deck, doing my best to brace myself against the bitter breeze that clung to the remaining water on my skin.

There weren’t many places to hide on the tiny terrace as there were only two metal chairs with a matching table set to the left of the small space. Once I had come to the conclusion that my phone wasn’t out there, I turned around just in time to see Embry slam the door shut.

He flipped the lock as soon as I reached for the handle and gave me the cheesiest shit eating grin he could muster while waving my cell around on the other side of the clear barrier.

“Embry!” I snapped angrily. “This isn’t funny, let me in!”

“Not until you take a second to enjoy the view,” he teased.

“Screw the view, it’s cold!” I griped. “Open the door!”

“Sh,” he hushed with a meaty finger pressed to his pursed lips. “You wouldn’t want your boyfriend to hear you whining like that, would you?”

Boyfriend? I thought with a curled lip.

I looked around curiously for a moment before something moving out of the corner of my vision caught my attention. I stared at the unknown being and almost passed out when I realized who I was looking at.

Oh Goddess no!

Through the falling leaves I had a clear view of someone else’s balcony that couldn’t have been situated more than a few yards away. My heart seized at the sight of luscious ebony curls swaying gently in the wind.

Dean!

My mouth went dry at the sight of our leader casually working on his laptop. He was sitting on exquisitely carved wooden furniture and enjoying a hot cup of coffee out on his pristine patio, completely oblivious to my existence as always.

I turned back to Embry with a horrified look upon my face and began to silently beg him to let me back into the house before he saw me. The smug bastard wiggled a knowing brow at me.

“Open the door,” I whisper shouted at him.

“What’s the password?” He prompted.

“Please, Embry!” I begged desperately.

“Actually, it’s you admitting that you want to ride Alpha’s giant hog.” Embry snickered childishly.

“I’m not saying that!” I squealed.

“Okay fine,” he shrugged. “I will.”

“What are y-?!” I began but my words caught in my throat at the sight of my best friend lifting my phone.

Without another word, his burly thumbs began typing away at the speed of light. When he was finished, he pressed the screen against the glass so that I could read what he wrote.

The message was addressed to someone by the name of ‘Pussy Slayer’ and it read ‘Hey sexy, it’s Tessa. Can I sit on your face tonight?’

“Embry, don’t you dare!” I snarled while pounding on the window pane.

“Too late!” He chirped as he hit the send button without hesitation.

The color drained from my face as every feeling of previous annoyance morphed into pure terror. Turning slowly, my heart pounded in my chest painfully as I watched Dean check his phone with a furrowed brow.

My breathing became ragged as it had become increasingly difficult to breathe. I could faintly hear Embry open the entrance slightly, but I was too horrified to pay any attention to him. I figured there was nothing more he could do to embarrass me.

Man, was I wrong.

“Tessa?!” Embry shouted loudly. “Why are you spying on Alpha from your balcony?! You dirty girl!”

Before I could react, startled sweetgrass eyes bore into my chocolaty orbs. I froze in his fiery gaze. We continued to stare at one another for what felt like an eternity before it registered that I was standing there in nothing but a skimpy towel.

I shoved Embry aside as hard as I could and bolted into my room, tears stinging my retinas painfully. I wanted to crawl into a corner and die, I’d never been that embarrassed in my life.

“Oh Goddess, your face!” Embry howled while falling to the ground in a puddle of laughs. “Priceless!”

“How could you DO THAT?!” I shrieked after several moments of trying to find my voice.

He continued to giggle manically, rolling around and kicking his legs in the air like an overgrown toddler as Sam burst into the room with a disgusted look on her face.

“Tess, why the hell did you ask to sit on my face tonight?” She questioned in bewilderment.

“Wha-?” I exhaled breathlessly.

“HA!” Embry cackled loudly with tears streaming down his red cheeks. “It was Sam! You should’ve seen your face when you thought I sent that to Alpha!”

I clutched my chest and sat on my bed quietly, thanking the stars above that this was just another one of Embry’s shitty pranks. I don’t know what I would’ve done if he actually sent it.

“But he checked his phone!” I argued.

“That was just dumb luck,” he swore while wiping his soggy eyes.

“So you didn’t text him?” I clarified.

“Well I did,” he admitted timidly. “But it wasn’t that bad.”

“What did you say?!” I yelled while lurching forward to snatch my little device out of his hands.

I searched through my recently sent messages like a mad woman. There were several ridiculously named contacts that had been added to my phone, making my search increasingly difficult.

“Which one is he?!” I demanded frantically.

“Guess,” Embry teased sadistically.

“Monster cock?” I questioned with a curled lip.

“No, that’s me.” Embry waved his hand slightly.

“Little exaggerated, don’t ya think?” Sam muttered with an eye roll.

“Nobody asked you!” He clipped before giving me his full attention. “Look in the P section.”

“Possible Ass Eater?” I choked out.

“That’s the one!” He smiled contently.

“Then who’s Definite Ass Eater?” I asked hesitantly, not really sure if I wanted to know the answer to that or not.

“Oh that’s Nick,” he explained. “I thought you should have his number just in case you felt like being ruthlessly murdered in the woods.”

I gagged dramatically and did my best to shake the morbid mental image playing in my thoughts. Scrolling through my texts, I saw a recent submission to Dean and clicked on it with a shaky finger.

The message read, ‘Hope to see you at the Harvest Festival. ;) -Tess’

“A winking emoji?!” I snapped.

“Hey, you have to admit that it’s better than asking to sit on his face.” Embry shrugged.

“But still!” I pouted.

“You guys are ridiculous,” Sam rolled her cerulean blue eyes. “Get dressed, we’re gonna be late.”

“Fine,” I huffed whilst snatching a bra out of my closet and glaring at Embry. “I’m gonna get you back for this. Just so you know.”

“I look forward to it,” Embry winked.

With that, I got ready quickly so that the three of us were out of the house in no time. My face still burned with humiliation when we made it out to a small group waiting next to the pack gates.

Almost a dozen angry Lycans wielding menacing crossbows were standing at the steel entrance. Embry jogged ahead of us to type a code into a nearby panel, causing the surrounding wolves to step away while allowing the metal doors to slide open.

I followed Sam and the rest of the group into the dense forest, keeping close to Embry for protection once the gates had closed behind us. I received several glares and questioning looks, but they were dismissed by a single growl from Embry.

I tended to forget his status in the pack. He was usually such a silly guy, so it was strange to see him switch into his role as Delta in the midst of lower ranking wolves. He was really intimidating when he wanted to be.

Everyone began branching off into different directions after several minutes of silently trudging through the thick woods. Sam plucked a hand painted crossbow from the depths of a tree and settled down into a bush a few yards away. Embry led me to a shady spot behind some concentrated thicket and sat down.

“We can talk but as soon as I smell something you gotta be quiet,” he informed me while motioning to Sam. “She takes this pretty seriously, so let her work.”

“Got it,” I nodded. “What are we doing exactly?”

"We are observing the brave men and women that bust their asses all day to provide food for our people,” he explained carefully. “Just like the travel pack, we need a steady supply of meat to keep our wolves healthy and to stop them from attacking anything that moves when they get let out.”

“So why are they using crossbows?” I inquired softly. “You guys let your wolves hunt freely when we were at the cabin.”

“Because that was for a smaller pack where everyone knew each other,” he reasoned. “In a pack this size with a bunch of human mates running around, tooth marks in the food isn’t exactly appetizing. There’s also a small amount of saliva that gets transferred during the kill that can cause possessive wolves to lose their shit. Did you notice that Dawn only ate what she or Nick caught?”

“Not until now,” I scowled. “But I can understand why, he does seem pretty aggressive.”

“He can be,” he agreed. “He’s usually not this bad though. I think having you around kind of puts him on edge.”

“I still don’t know what I did,” I muttered.

“It’s not about what you did,” he admitted lowly.

“It’s about what I am,” I finished with pursed lips. “Yeah, I figured.”

“It’s not like that,” Embry sighed. “At least he has his reasons, unlike the others.”

“Well, when you find out what they are feel free to let me know.” I clipped scornfully.

Embry eyed me carefully before looking around to make sure no one was listening in to our conversation. Sam was completely zoned into whatever she was hunting in the distance and the scents from the other wolves had faded away ages ago.

The tall grass and unkempt bushes encasing us swayed peacefully in the crisp fall breeze, adding to the illusion that we were completely alone out here. When he seemed content with our surroundings, he leaned in closely before speaking again.

“Alpha caught Nick stealing from the medical tent a few years back,” he whispered slowly. “He was just a rogue at the time, so everyone expected him to be put down on the spot.”

“Why wasn’t he?” I asked quietly, doing my best to avoid any prying ears that could be around.

“Alpha wanted to know why he was stealing bandages instead of food,” he muttered. “He wasn’t injured at the time so it seemed like a strange thing for a healthy stray to take.”

“Why’d he need it?” I inquired, now fully invested in the story.

“His daughter was hurt,” he replied with haunted eyes. “Actually I think hurt is kind of an understatement. The poor girl had been torn to shreds, some of her bone was exposed and she was losing a lot of blood fast. She couldn’t have been older than eleven at the time and she wasn’t healing. He thought he was gonna lose her, you could see it on his face. I’ve never seen a man look so broken in my entire life. It was absolutely devastating.”

My heart shattered in my chest at the thought of it. Seeing the way Nick and his wife interacted with their children after entering the main pack, I could tell that they had a very close family. I couldn’t imagine something like that happening to one of my friends, let alone my own child.

“What happened to her?” I choked, doing my best to work around the small lump that had been forming in my throat.

“According to Dawn, they had been staying in a small Ailuran town at the time.” Embry muttered. “I know, I didn’t believe it either. But apparently they didn’t have anywhere else to go and a married couple with a few kids were kind enough to take them in, or so they thought.”

I gave Embry a quizzical look and silently prompted him to continue.

“The dad hated Lycans,” he shook his head. “The only reason he took Nick’s family in was to kill them. He let them hang around for a while and get comfortable before poisoning their food one night with wolfsbane. His plan was to weaken the parents and slaughter their pups right in front of them.”

“Oh my God!” I gasped. “How could they do that?”

“Apparently the entire town was in on it,” he shrugged. “The dad said they had been doing it for years. Nick just happened to hail from a pure bloodline of Lycan. They metabolize wolfsbane faster than we do. He managed to fight his way to his kids, but Rayne was already getting mauled with silver coated claws by the time he got to her. He had to carry Dawn and both of his kids out of there all on his own.”

Bile rose in my throat. Growing up, I had heard about certain groups of werecats targeting wolves from my dad but never really understood the magnitude of their actions until now.

“No wonder he hates me,” I mumbled.

“I don’t think he actually hates you,” he shook his head. “I just think he doesn’t trust you. His daughter was in the hospital for months. She didn’t heal fully for almost two years. Some nights you can still hear her screaming because she has nightmares about it. He went back with a few of our wolves to burn their town to the ground and kill the guy that hurt her, but I don’t think that resolved anything. Seeing his family go through that really fucked him up, and having someone like you anywhere near them probably scares the shit out of him.”

I nodded slowly. Now that I understood why Nick didn’t like me, it wasn’t as hurtful as it had been before. It seemed like he was only interested in protecting his family, and I couldn’t hate him for that. I just wished that his idea of keeping his loved ones safe didn’t involve my untimely demise.

I sat beside Embry in silence for a while, allowing myself to get lost in the alluring sounds of nature. Birds sang blissful melodies in the branches hanging above and the overgrown grass rustled tranquilly around us. But in true Embry fashion, he just had to ruin my newfound bliss with a crappy joke.

“So to recap,” he began. “If you’re looking for a man, please stay the hell away from Nick’s son. The last thing you need is murderous in laws.”

“Duly noted,” I scoffed. “And who said I was even looking for a man? I’m completely content being young and alone, thank you very much.”

“Mhm,” he smirked. “So that’s why you keep making goo-goo eyes anytime someone brings up Alpha.”

“I don’t do that!” I denied. “You’re the one that keeps drawing conclusions from innocent situations!”

“There was nothing innocent about that little text you sent him this morning,” he jested.

“You sent that,” I reminded him. “You know what I think? I think you’re secretly desperate for companionship so you do everything in your power to create these twisted fantasies about everyone around you.”

“Is that so?” Embry drawled.

“Yes,” I concluded. “Maybe we should be focused on finding someone for you instead.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” he waved me off.

“Well I do,” I snipped. “So, who do you usually date?”

“Oh, well that’s easy!” Embry rolled his grey eyes dramatically. “I don’t.”

“What do you mean?” I cocked my head.

“I mean I don’t date,” he shrugged. “Never have.”

“What?!” I exclaimed, still doing my best to stay quiet to avoid disturbing nearby hunters. “Why the heck not? You have all these girls fawning over you back at the pack! What about Megan? She’s cute and bitchy, that seems like you’re type.”

“She’s a fun time but it’s not worth it,” he disclosed. “My heart belongs to somebody else.”

“Who?” I whispered eagerly.

“It doesn’t matter,” he protested.

“Tell me!” I urged.

“Fine!” Embry caved reluctantly and leaned in again. “You, obviously.”

“What?!” I coughed and flew backwards.

“I’m just fucking with ya,” he chuckled heartily. “You’re so gullible.”

“Shut up,” I grumbled. “Be serious, I need to know!”

“Why?” He groaned. “Nothings gonna change if I tell you so just drop it.”

“You don’t know that,” I argued. “Maybe I could be your little matchmaker, your feline cupid!”

“The last thing I’d want to see is you flying around in a diaper,” he laughed.

“Embry,” I whined impatiently. “Please tell me!”

“Only if you admit that you have a thing for Alpha first,” he countered.

“That’s not fair,” I scoffed.

“Those are my terms,” he folded his muscular arms in front of his chest and waited patiently. “It’s either that or nothing.”

That sneak! I pouted internally.

“It’s just a stupid crush,” I mumbled hesitantly. “It doesn’t mean anything!”

“So you DO like each other,” he beamed. “I knew it!”

“Wait, each other?!” I stared at him blankly.

“Huh?” Embry stared.

“Embry!” I exclaimed.

“Forget about that, a deals a deal!” He recovered quickly and pulled me into a crouching position. “You see that busty blond over there with the wooden arrows?”

“Sam?” I rolled my eyes.

“Sh, she’ll hear you!” He shushed. “But yeah, her.”

“What about her?” I asked.

“Nobody knows this yet,” he whispered. “But I’m gonna marry that girl someday.”

My stomach did somersaults at his words. I turned to look at him but was met with an awestruck expression on his face as he lovingly watched our unsuspecting friend pull the trigger to her hefty crossbow. Taking pride in her kill, I fought the urge to pass out as everything that I thought I knew about our little makeshift family crumbled to the ground like Sam’s first kill of the day.

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