”Ava?” Eric called, looking around him. He couldn’t sense her nearby and he was starting to worry. Despite what Ava thought, he wasn’t a figment of her imagination and dreams. Part of his curse kept him trapped in a place he had come to call the void. How Ava managed to visit him at night he didn’t know, but while in the void he could hear and sense what was going on around his body but could not respond.
And now he knew that it was mid-morning, well past the time when Ava normally arrived, and he could not sense or hear her. She had left so abruptly that he thought it was her alarm clock startling her awake and taking her from him but then why wasn’t she with him?
He could sense his body start to react to his strong emotions, the only response he had while under the curse, and sensed when Emily came into his room to check on him. He hated that he couldn’t control his body and, right now, he loathed the fact that his mate was missing and he couldn’t get to her. He felt as Emily stuck the needle with the sedative in his arm and cried out for Ava once more as the void went dark around him.
Ava paused as she left the woods and saw the pack house looming large in front of her. It wasn’t that she had never been there before, there were always parties and pack events going on, but being called there was a different story entirely. Beta Gray knew about her situation with Michael and had been the one to warn him away the last time, but she couldn’t understand why he would want to see her now. She took a deep breath to steady her frayed nerves before making her way up the driveway to the house.
The pack house was the largest building on the territory, more of a rustic log mansion than a house. Ava had always loved the building with it’s vaulted ceilings, exposed timbers, and numerous fire places. But now, as she stood outside the front door, she found herself scared of what would happen when she went inside and she didn’t know why. She was a she-wolf who always listened to her instincts, and her wolf, and both were telling her to run.
Gathering herself together, and ignoring her growling wolf, she knocked on the large front door which immediately opened to reveal Beta Gray. Ava jumped, momentarily startled, and smiled slightly at the older male. Beta Gray was Alpha Aaron’s younger brother, and most likely the next Alpha unless Eric woke up soon. His salt and pepper hair was slicked back slightly and he was wearing his usual outfit when dealing with the pack, a dark gray business suit. He smiled back at her and motioned for her to come inside, shutting the door behind her.
“Welcome, Ava,” he said. “I got the message about Michael and thought it best you come here.” Ava only nodded, still unsure why he wanted to see her, and followed him down a hallway towards what she assumed was his office.
Opening the door, Gray motioned for Ava to enter first and then shut the door behind them, taking a seat behind a large mahogany desk that stood in at the back of the room. Ava sat down tentatively in one of the chairs on the opposite side of the desk and waited for Gray to speak. He looked at her for a moment and she found herself wanting to run again. It was something about his eyes and his gaze that unnerved her even as he continued to smile at her.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why I asked you here,” he said after a moment.
“I’m sorry to bother you with Michael...” she started to say.
“You don’t have to worry about him,” Gray said, interrupting her apology. “He will be dealt with and he will not bother you any more. He had his warning the last time I talked with him. I won’t tolerate that kind of behavior in this pack.”
“Thank you, sir,” Ava said, feeling a little relieved. “But then, why did you ask me to come?”
“I heard you’ve started working at the clinic. Is that true?” He leaned back in his chair and Ava felt his eyes boring into her again.
“Yes,” she said, unconsciously sitting up straighter. “I thought it was time I contributed more to the pack and I like helping people.”
“I’ve noticed,” he said in a tone that Ava couldn’t decipher. “You say you want to contribute to the pack and help them, correct?”
“Yes,” she said, not sure where this conversation was going.
“I think we can help each other, and the pack, all at once. How does that sound?” Ava looked at him, the confusion apparent on her face.
“Help each other how?”
“You know that I have never found my mate. I was content with being alone, knowing that my brother had an heir to take over the Alpha position, but now that is not the case. I know you’ve been the one caring for Eric so I assume you have figured out who he is?” Ava nodded.
“Eric is obviously in no position to become Alpha,” Gray continued, leaning towards Ava. “I am the next in line but a strong Alpha male needs a strong Alpha female at his side. It is well known that an Alpha without a mate cannot run a pack. He will slowly get weaker until someone challenges him for his position. Besides the fact that an Alpha needs an heir he can pass the title on to.”
“I don’t understand what this has to do with me,” Ava said as her wolf started growling louder. “I’m not your mate and I don’t have any special tracking abilities to be able to find her for you.”
“But you are a strong, unmated Alpha female,” he said with a smirk. “I also know that you are the last of your friends and family to be unmated which I’m sure does not sit well with you or your wolf. I’m proposing a partnership. You get the status of Alpha female and the protection required to keep Michael away, and I get a mate and an heir to secure my leadership as Alpha. Perhaps, in time, we might even grow to love each other but I am not under any illusions that you would be doing this out of love for me. But I would hope that you would do it out of love for your pack if nothing else.”
Ava just stared at him. Nothing could have prepared her for that statement and now he was waiting for her to say something. But she couldn’t be his mate, she had found hers already and she wasn’t about to choose someone else. She felt her wolf snarling. She was not going to accept another male in Eric’s place either and she was currently pissed at the one who suggested such a thing.
“I’m flattered, Beta Gray,” Ava said after a moment, choosing her words respectfully. “However I cannot be your mate. I’ve found my mate and I cannot abandon him.” Gray’s eyes narrowed and she could feel the anger radiating off of him.
“You have, have you?” he said, his voice eerily calm. Ava could only nod, pulling on her wolf’s anger to keep her strong.
“Let me guess,” he continued, standing up from the desk and moving around to her side. “You think Eric is your mate, right?” Ava merely looked at him, not liking how close he was getting. In the face of his anger she was not going to confirm or deny that fact. She no longer trusted the man that stood before her. He snarled slightly at her silence and suddenly he was right in front of her gripping the arms of the chair and pinning her in place.
“Eric is not your mate,” he said through gritted teeth. “You seem to have a bad habit of confusing males and leading them on. I’m starting to wonder if Michael was right when he told me that were the one who said you two were mates. I don’t want to get in the middle of a lover’s quarrel. Have you told him about Eric? I’m not sure he would like you spending all your time with another male, even if he is unconscious.”
Ava felt herself partially shift in anger and she growled at him. “Are you threatening me?”
“Don’t even think about it,” he said with a smirk, quickly shifting his hand and holding his claws to her throat. “I could kill you right now if I wanted to and no one would stop me. You refuse me and I make your life a living hell in this pack. Actually, I think Michael will do that for me. All I have to do is tell him about you and Eric and then step back and watch.”
“You would have your own nephew killed?” she asked, shifting back to full human and tensing under him. She could feel his claws pricking her skin and a trickle of blood sliding down her throat.
“I will be Alpha,” he said, ignoring her question. “You can either join me or you can suffer the consequences of your actions. Which will it be?”