Authors: P. Jameson
Tags: #Fantasy, #Romance
He felt the inky tendrils of his past start to creep into the moment, but he pushed them back, and stirred the bubbling sauce instead.
When the meal was finished, Braeh set plates and bowls on the table and called Kerrigan. Vesh sat and realized just how strange these circumstances were. He was eating lunch with his enemy’s mate and her sister, which was
mate, while waiting for the missing wolf to show his face.
He tried not to think about it too much. Digging in to the food, he had to hold in a moan. Damn, his mate could cook. It was by far, the best spaghetti and meatballs he’d ever had. There should be a different name for it. Something more spectacular to match the flavor.
He paused, glancing at her, fork halfway to his mouth. She had twice the amount of food on her plate. Surely she couldn’t eat all that. She was just trying to prove she wasn’t starving herself.
Kerrigan, he noticed, hardly touched her plate. Instead, she kept staring at her phone as if that might make it beep.
When Vesh was finished and full, he stared at his mate’s second helping.
“What? I’ve still got room in here.” She patted her flat belly.
“The only person I know who can eat as much as Braeh is Trager,” Kerrigan said.
Braeh raised an eyebrow. “Me and the wolf-in-law should have an eating contest. I bet I could win it.”
Kerrigan opened her mouth to respond, but at that moment, the front door burst open so hard it banged against the wall.
Trager’s furious expression had Vesh out of his seat in the blink of an eye. He looked like he was two seconds away from a change, and Vesh didn’t want that wolf anywhere near his mate.
“Trager!” Kerrigan ran to him, but he shoved her back so she was hidden behind his body.
His eyes bore into Vesh. “What are you doing here?” he growled low, his voice distorting.
Vesh looked for Braeh. She was still sitting at the table. Safe.
Anger and fighting instinct flared to the surface, causing Vesh to crave blood, but he managed to shove it down. The straggler better hold it together. If he let his wolf out in front of Braeh, Vesh wouldn’t care if the bastard survived his wrath.
“Calm down,” Vesh ordered.
“What are you doing here,
?” Trager’s voice boomed and his eyes bulged.
Braeh came and stood next to Vesh. He wanted to scream at her to get back, but she started talking.
“It’s my fault. He was looking for you and I let him in so—“
“Braeh, get away from him,” Trager barked.
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Vesh snarled. The bastard wolf was a fragile breath away from an up-close-and-personal with Vesh’s fist.
Braeh raised both hands. “Everybody just calm down okay?”
“I can’t calm down,” Trager spat. “First, I find out my home has been burnt to the ground. I can’t find my mate, then I come here to find this piece of shit in her apartment.” He turned to Kerrigan. “Where’s your phone?”
She held it up for him to see the screen with all the texts she’d sent.
“Did you say the cabin is…?” Kerrigan’s voice dropped off.
He looked at Vesh, and it was the most threatening he’d ever seen the wolf. “I swear to god, I’ll only say it one last time before I rip your head off. What are you doing here?”
Vesh’s wolf snarled at the challenge. Let him try. He’d tear the shit-head to shreds first. He stepped toward Trager, but Braeh ran in front of him and stopped, her back slamming into Vesh’s front. Her body pressed against his registered through the haze of rage.
“He was just here to talk,” she rushed out. “He was injured and looking for you, and I helped him get cleaned up. It’s nothing to be angry about. Both of you, just… chill.”
“Trager, please,” Kerrigan whispered. “Mrs. Marley is peeking out her window. Let’s close the door and talk about this.”
Trager ignored her. “He doesn’t look injured to me.”
Kerrigan shoved him to the side and pushed the door shut.
“He was,” Braeh said, and before Vesh could stop her, she said the rest. “Busted eye and nose, bleeding from his head. But he healed. It’s fine.”
Trager froze. “Healed. Overnight?”
The other wolf glared at him, clearly making the connection Vesh hadn’t quite accepted himself.
“No,” Braeh said, her voice perplexed. “It only took like, I dunno, ten, fifteen minutes. Isn’t that how it works for you guys?”
Vesh shook his head at Trager, silently commanding him not to say it out loud, but of course, the bastard ignored him.
“No,” Trager grit. “Not unless you’re his mate.”
Kerrigan’s eyes went wide and she shrieked, “
“Shit,” Vesh muttered. He was thankful he couldn’t see Braeh’s expression.
“Wait, no,” she said, “We didn’t do anything like that. Not that it’s anyone’s business if we did, but… we didn’t.”
Trager’s eyes went to her. “I’m not saying you
, I’m saying you’re his
. It’s not something you do. It’s something you are.”
She shook her head. “No. I’m not anything.”
She was confused, but still her words of denial were like a whip on Vesh’s shriveled heart.
Turning to look at him, she said, “What’s he talking about?”
Vesh opened his mouth to answer but couldn’t think of a single easy way to explain.
“She can’t be his mate,” Kerrigan argued. “There’s no way.”
“Wait, you mean, like you and Trager?” Braeh laughed. “Oh, no, no. Me and Vesh just met. We aren’t… you know.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Kerrigan murmured.
Vesh scowled at Trager. He’d snap the little shit’s neck if it wouldn’t leave a trail of tears leading to his own mate. But Kerrigan would be heartbroken, which would break Braeh’s, and that would leave him hurting. Self preservation sometimes saved the enemy too.
“Is this why you set fire to my house?” Trager hissed.
? “I didn’t touch your house. I don’t even know where it is.”
“No,” he spat. “You had someone else do it. Farrow, that rat-bastard. I knew he’d tell you the location of my den. I should’ve moved as soon as we left camp.”
Wait. Farrow knew where Trager lived? Why hadn’t he told anyone?”
Kerrigan looked worried. “Maybe it wasn’t Farrow.”
“It was,” Trager snapped. “The Ravendales had people watching our place and they saw him. The entire fucking world knew our location, Kerri. I just
we were safe.” He turned, wrapping his arms around her. “I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful in the future. I’ll find us a safe place, I promise.”
Vesh’s head spun. So, everyone knew where Trager’s hideout was? Even Ozarka. Everyone except him apparently. What the hell was going on here?
He checked his phone once again, but there was nothing. Dread hit him hard.
been sent to “spy” on Trager. Not Farrow or Avan or someone lower on the chain of command. The alpha sent his second away when the pack was under threat. Supposedly to watch for any sign of the Ravendale’s plan of attack. And Vesh had been too preoccupied with his sick wolf and his idiotic pursuit of Trager’s mate to question the decision.
“Shit.” He stared out the window. What were they planning? And why did they leave him out of it?
“What?” Braeh asked, but he wasn’t paying attention.
He’d hardly seen Besh since the meeting in the great hall when Kerrigan revealed that Cael and his pack intended on raiding Ozarka. Alpha had been angry, dragging Besh out by the arm. For the millionth time, Vesh wished he could protect his sister, but there was nothing he could do against the brute who was her intended mate. She’d closed off any avenue of escape the day she stood before the pack and verbally claimed him. Vesh still didn’t know why she did it, but he assumed it had something to do with the man who was now the alpha of the Ravendales.
Vesh texted Avan:
She never waited more than five minutes to respond. It was one of the reasons she was next in command after Vesh.
But he couldn’t wait five minutes for her.
What the hell is going on?
Seconds ticked by with nothing except Trager running his mouth.
“Vesh? Are you responsible for this?” Braeh’s voice was calm and quiet and barely audible over Trager’s ranting.
He stared into her eyes. “No. I told you, I didn’t even know where he lived.”
After a moment, she sighed. “I believe you. But your pack, they did this to Trager. Why?”
He clenched his jaw. Glanced at his blank phone screen. “I don’t know.”
“… no, we lost everything, baby. All I have is what I’m wearing. I’m just glad we hadn’t moved your stuff in yet…”
Vesh tried again.
Damn it, Avan. Answer me. Is Besh okay?
Seconds later, his phone buzzed, Avan’s picture flashing on the screen.
“Talk fast.” He glanced at Braeh and noticed her frown, but when he heard the voice on the other end of the line, her expression was forgotten.
“I’ll talk as fast or slow as I please.” Alpha’s authority traveled through the cell phone as if a couple hundred miles didn’t separate them. “Avan is… unavailable right now, but let me be the first to tell you, you’ve been expelled from my pack.”
Vesh’s stomach dropped, but he managed to form a question. “On what grounds?” He was aware that the room had become silent.
“On the grounds that you’re a traitor.”
“Bullshit,” Vesh spat.
“Or at least that’s what I’m telling people. They’re convinced it’s true since Farrow managed to find a target that you couldn’t. And it doesn’t matter if it’s true anyway. I’ve always known your allegiance was to your sister and not me. See, I moved you like a pawn, using you where needed. Now, I need a bounty on your head in order to control my mate.” Alpha sighed long and heavy. “She just doesn’t respond to outward stimuli anymore. My fist only bruises her face. It doesn’t compel her to obey.”
“Oh, indeed. But watch your back, wolf. I’ve promised my sweet Besh I won’t let anyone harm you as long as she cooperates. If she doesn’t… well, you’ll know it.”
“This isn’t over. I swear I’ll kill you if you hurt her.”
“Oh, and Vesh, one more thing. I have it on good authority that you’ve found your mate.” The blood rushed from Vesh’s face. “That she is blonde and possibly a relative of our enemies?” Vesh rushed to the window, closing the blinds. The bastard had spies on the apartment. Of course, he did.
“What is it?” Braeh whispered.
“Might I make a suggestion?” Alpha’s tone was laced with threat.
Vesh stared at his mate. He gripped the phone so tight he heard the plastic cover crack.
“Do make sure she stays safe, would you? She might come in handy later.”
The line went dead as the call was disconnected. He pulled the phone away, staring at the screen, breathing hard.
. The cruel son-of-a-bitch not only had his sister, but also threatened his mate.
He was a dead man.
Vesh looked at Trager. “You heard all that, right?”
“I didn’t,” Braeh cut it. “Someone tell me what’s happening?”
“I didn’t know the first mate was your sister,” Trager said, ignoring her.
“There’s a lot you don’t know about me,” Vesh sneered.
There was a beat of silence. “What are you going to do?”
Vesh ground his molars together. “I’m going to get her out of there. Somehow. I’m going to take Alph—Jax—down.” He would. One day, his sister would be free to make her own decisions. Free to
. “But first, he has eyes on this place. We need to leave. Need to find a place to stay where he can’t get to us.”
Trager narrowed his eyes, clearly contemplating something. Then he sighed, seeming to come to a decision. “I think I have a solution to both of those problems.”
Braeh held her breath as Trager finally hung up his phone and came back into the living room. Kerrigan stood against the wall nervously tapping her fingers against her elbows. Vesh covered the front window with his big frame. As if he thought someone was going to launch a grenade through the glass or something.
Trager sighed. “The Ravendale alpha says he’ll meet us, but that’s as far as he’d go. He won’t guarantee sanctuary.”
Vesh nodded. “I’ll convince him.”
“It won’t help to piss him off.”
“I didn’t say I would piss him off,” Vesh growled through clenched teeth. “I said I’d convince him.”
Trager raised both hands. “Fine. Do your best. We need his help. Just remember that.”
“Yeah, I get it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Trager nodded and turned to Kerri. “Go pack a bag. Bring anything you can’t live without. I’m not sure how this is going to play out.”
Kerrigan nodded. “Braeh?”
“My stuff’s basically packed.” She sighed. “Maybe I should just catch the next flight home.”
“No, Brae. You just got here.”
“I know, but this is a bad time with all of… this. And I can always come back some other time.”
“Yeah, right. It took you six years to visit. I want to spend some time with you. I’m sorry this is happening right now. Stay. We’ll get this straightened out. You’ll see.”
Braeh glanced at Vesh. Arms crossed over his chest, he stared at the floor, but his jaw was rigid with tension. He looked like he was strung so tight, one pluck of his strings and he’d break apart. She was torn between feeling bad for him and wanting to pluck at him to see what would happen. Made her wonder what a guy like Vesh did for stress relief. She had a pretty good idea.
She shook her head to derail the thoughts. “Yeah, okay. I was due for some excitement anyway. Why not add a little danger to the mix?”
“Come on. Help me pack.”
Following Kerrigan into the bedroom, she couldn’t help the nervous excitement that fluttered in her belly. The shifter world she’d learned about since arriving still felt surreal to her. All the proof kept hitting her in the face, but even now, it felt like a strange dream. A fictional world outside of the one she’d lived in her whole life.
She gathered her open suitcase from the corner and brought it to the bed while Kerrigan pulled hers from the top of the closet and started throwing stuff in it.
“You okay?” she asked on her second trip from the closet.
Braeh nodded. “Confused, but yeah, I’m okay.”
Kerrigan paused, shaking her head, brow furrowed. “I should’ve known. When you said he healed. But I still don’t know everything about how shifters work. I should’ve picked up on it. God… you’re his
She didn’t understand her sister’s distress over the term. It didn’t mean anything. Whatever they all thought, it was really nothing because Vesh wasn’t even into her. A big flirt, yes. But she knew how guys acted when they were interested, and it wasn’t how he acted.
Braeh shrugged. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“Worry about it? No, you don’t understand. He’s going to get all possessive and claim-y. Wolves
their mates to be stronger. Once they find them, they don’t let go. He’ll do anything to win you over. I don’t want to see you with him.”
“Why?” Secretly, what Kerri described sounded kind of wonderful. A man so dedicated to her that he’d fight anything to keep her? It sounded like a romance novel come to life. No guy had ever wanted her that badly. The idea made her insides tingle.
Kerrigan looked at her, horrified. “Vesh? He’s… I don’t know. There’s something wrong with him. I have a feeling his flaws run deep.”
Braeh nodded. “We’re all a little screwed up though, aren’t we? In some way?”
Kerrigan nodded, jamming more clothes into her suitcase. “I just always pictured you settling down with someone… nicer.”
Laughter burst from Braeh’s mouth, but she stifled it when Kerrigan shot her a glare. “I’m not settling down, so stop worrying.”
A knock on the door halted their conversation. Trager poked his head in. “You ready?”
Kerrigan nodded, zipping her suitcase and then reaching over to zip Braeh’s too. “Ready.”
Trager carried both bags into the living room, and Braeh tucked Kerrigan’s handgun into her purse before following.
Vesh stood by the front door like a sentinel. “I’m on my bike. I’ll follow you,” he said to Trager.
“You drive a motorcycle?” Braeh asked. That explained one reason for Kerrigan’s dislike. But Braeh thought she was over that now, since Trager had one too.
This could be fun. Braeh smiled. “I’m with you then.”
Kerrigan’s frown took up her entire face. “No, Brae, you can ride with us in the 4-Runner.”
“Ha. No. I’ve seen that thing. One ride in it will ruin whatever street cred I have. I’ll take the back of his bike over the backseat of that hunk-a-junk any day, thank you very much.”
Kerrigan rolled her eyes, but Braeh could see the worry behind the action. Her sister had been through so much in the last year and a half. She was definitely catching up to Braeh in the badass department.
“Fine. Let’s go,” Vesh said.
As the four of them made their way to the parking lot Braeh noticed how Trager and Vesh scanned the area. How their noses rose slightly to scent the air. Alert. They sensed danger, as any animal could. Through instinct. The knowledge made her shiver.
When she was settled on the back of Vesh’s bike, his helmet on her head, Kerrigan stuck her head out the window of the 4-Runner and glared at him. “I swear to all that’s holy, if my sister doesn’t make it there safely, I’ll neuter you.”
His eyebrows shot into his hairline, and Braeh held in a snicker.
“Really, kitten, all I’m hearing is you offering to touch my balls. Not sure your mate’s down for that.” With that, the bike roared to life.
Braeh held onto the side of the bike, but as they pulled out behind Trager, it became obvious she’d need to hold something else if she wanted to stay on. Grinning to herself, she carefully wrapped her arms around Vesh’s waist. He froze for a split second, but then relaxed.
The drive to the meeting place was entirely too short. Braeh thought she could go for hours on the back of this bike, feeling the air rush around her and the power of the engine underneath.
Vesh pulled into the parking lot of a raggedy road-side bar. The dilapidated sign out front read “Bullseye”. Nice. There were plenty of places like this one back home. This was her comfort zone.
The engine cut out but she still heard the ringing in her ears. Trager and Kerrigan stepped out of the SUV.
“He’s not here yet,” Vesh announced, dismounting his bike and holding his hand out for Braeh. It was clearly a thoughtless gesture, but she took it anyway.
“How do you know?” she asked.
He stared down at her with his intense eyes. “I can’t sense his dominance,” he explained. “I don’t smell him either. There are plenty of wolves around, but not an alpha.”
He didn’t take his eyes off her.
“Let’s wait inside,” Trager suggested.
The building was crowded with people, but it wasn’t necessarily what Braeh had expected. Besides leather clad bikers, there were college students, men in business suits, rednecks, and more than a few yummy cowboys decked out in wranglers. Not to mention women of every shape, size, and state of undress. Braeh glanced at Kerrigan’s flannel shirt with khakis get-up. In the eclectic crowd, her sister didn’t stick out as much as she’d expected.
The tables and booths were full so they ended up at the bar. The guys ordered drinks, while Braeh scanned the place, trying to determine who was supernatural and who was human like her.
She elbowed Kerri. “How can I tell who is of the howling variety?”
Kerrigan shrugged a shoulder. “Hell if I know. I didn’t suspect Trager until he turned.”
Vesh passed her an icy bottle. She wasn’t much for beer, but she took a long drag anyway, thinking she might need to get ahead on her buzz. She’d never met an alpha before and didn’t quite know what to expect.
The music switched from country to rock, and someone howled—a frat boy. She guessed he was as human as she was.
Bullseye didn’t have a dance floor but couples danced scandalously anyway. Braeh fidgeted on her stool. She liked dancing. It was one of her favorite things to do when she needed to just cut loose, but she figured now wasn’t the time. She could feel the tension leeching off of the other three.
Vesh’s hand landed on the small of her back, and she glanced at him. But he wasn’t looking at her. His eyes were fixed on the door. Seconds later, Braeh felt a shift in the air, causing a chill to run up her spine. It wasn’t something that could be described. Like when you wake because someone’s staring at you or that feeling of being followed when you’re walking home from work at night. An unexplained uneasiness.
The mystery was explained when the door burst open and the baddest looking dude she’d seen since—well, since she met Vesh—walked through, followed by two other equally bad looking dudes. The leader who she could only assume was the Ravendale alpha, had long blond hair, shaved on the sides and back, a long beard, and a scowl that could chase away a devil. He was flanked by a tatted up muscle bound buzz cut, who looked like a real life GI Joe, and a ferocious looking black guy who seemed like he found breaking bones a fun pastime.
The three of them moved through the crowd like Moses and the Israelites through the Red Sea. The people just parted, giving them a wide berth. Except for a few daring ladies. Braeh watched as those who dared approach, were easily rejected.
As the alpha and his crew approached, Vesh’s arm grew tighter around Braeh’s waist. She glanced at Kerrigan. Her sister was chewing her bottom lip, but her body was plastered to Trager’s side. He looked the least bothered of all of them.
Braeh schooled her face.
Be like Trager
. Who would’ve guessed that thought would ever run through her mind.
The alpha stopped in front of them, looking only at Trager. “You have information for me?”
“I do. We have mutual concerns, and clearly if you meant me and my mate any harm you would’ve already acted.”
A cruel smirk lifted one corner of the alpha’s mouth. “Not still pissed about my wolves scoping out your land?”
A muscle ticked in Trager’s jaw. “Hard to be angry when you gave me the name of the asshole who torched my house.”
“How do you know I wasn’t lying?”
“Why would you?”
“To cause conflict. A distraction. To test your faithfulness to Ozarka.”
Trager shook his head. “I know it wasn’t Ravendale. But not because I took your word for it, if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Braeh knew he’d overheard it when Vesh was on the phone.
The alpha turned his gaze on Vesh before his eyes settled on Braeh. He stared hard. And she met him stare for stare. It should have made her uncomfortable, but something about him set her at ease even with all the raw power she could feel wafting from him. He seemed to be searching her face for something. What though, she had no clue. For a split second, he seemed like a lost boy. But a blink later, he was fierce again.
“You’ve betrayed your alpha?” he asked Vesh, his eyes never leaving Breah.
“No,” he growled. “I’m no traitor.”
“Then why are you here?”
“For my sister.”
Those words snapped the alpha from his staring and he moved his glare to Vesh.
“Jax has gone crazy,” Trager said. “He set Vesh up to look like he betrayed the pack, all so he could expel him and use him to control Besh.”
The alpha’s jaw clenched so hard, Braeh thought he might crack a tooth. “Don’t speak her name,” he hissed.
Whoa. What was this? Braeh got the impression the conflict between these two packs ran very deep. Heart deep, in fact.
“She’s in even more danger without me there to protect her,” Vesh ground out. “He’ll do whatever he wants to her now.”
The Ravendale alpha sneered. “Are your Elders so weak they can’t stop him?”
“You know it doesn’t work like that. No one can stop the alpha unless they kill him.”
The Ravendale alpha stared out at the gyrating crowd. “So, what do you want from me?”
Trager spoke up. “Sanctuary, in exchange for our help in taking down Jax. My den has been compromised, and Vesh’s mate—my mate’s sister—has been threatened. We need a safe place to go until all this passes over. Until he’s dead.”
The alpha shook his head. “Why should I open my camp to you? Do you plan on swearing allegiance to Ravendale?”
Trager clamped his jaw shut.
“Didn’t think so. How about you?” He turned to Vesh. “Does the second in command to my enemy plan to jump ships and bow at my feet? Or how about you?” His gaze snapped to Braeh. “Human, are you to join my pack?”