Authors: P. Jameson
Tags: #Fantasy, #Romance
Trager shot him a furious glare. “You worry about your own mate and leave mine out of this.”
Braeh dropped her fork. “Okay, enough. Your ‘mates’ are right here. No need to talk about us like we’re not. Both of you take a damn chill pill.”
“Yeah,” Kerrigan said, lamely. “What she said.”
Vesh looked up and saw Cael approaching with another wolf. “Morning, ladies,” he said, nodding to the women. “I trust your accommodations were comfortable?”
Kerrigan nodded, but Braeh spoke directly to the alpha. “We appreciate you giving us a place to stay.” Vesh wanted to elbow her. She was being too nice to someone who hadn’t yet proved he was on their side.
“Yes, well, I don’t expect you to stay here for free.” He gestured to the other wolf. “This is Kash. He has your job assignments. If you have any questions, you can contact Lexar or Haze.” He spun to leave.
“Wait,” Vesh said. “What are we going to do about… our problem?”
Cael turned a cool stare on him. “For now? Nothing. That’s all you need to know.”
“You’re kidding me, right?”
“I don’t kid.”
Vesh felt the back of his neck heat with fury and he stood, causing his chair to fly backward and several heads to turn. “Bullshit. You said you’d help her.”
Cael snarled. “Back. Down. Wolf. I’m not in the mood.”
“The mood?” Vesh scoffed. “I don’t give a fuck about your mood. I want my sister safe.”
Without warning Cael shoved Vesh hard enough to send him reeling. But he didn’t fall. Cael grabbed him by the arm, twisting it behind his back and pushing him into the wall before pressing a forearm into his neck to restrain him.
Vesh took a split second to feel embarrassed at how quickly the alpha had disabled him.
“Maybe,” Cael growled, “you should have thought of that years ago when you gave her to that bastard.”
Vesh seethed, and struggled to get free. His part in Besh’s situation haunted him more than the wolf could ever know, but maybe if he could get loose, he could punch the truth into the asshole.
The alpha’s grip became tighter and he pushed harder into the back of Vesh’s neck, using the considerable weight of his body to halt any further struggle. “You’re too emotional,” the wolf hissed. It wasn’t how anyone would ever describe Vesh. He was cold. Sarcastic. But not emotional. “You need to stop thinking like a brother and start thinking like a warrior. You need to be smart. Calculated. You need a plan. A hot head will only get you or her, or both of you killed. Get your head straight. Take a couple days. Let your mate make you stronger. Then we’ll come up with a plan, and take him down. Understand?”
Vesh drew in heavy breaths. The alpha was right. This wasn’t how Vesh operated. Going off half cocked wasn’t how he’d climbed the ranks to become second. No, he was cunning. But Vesh was afraid Cael was wrong about one thing. Braeh wouldn’t make him stronger. She was in fact, making him weaker.
“Answer me,” Cael barked.
His grip eased up. “Good. And if you ever come at me like that again, I will fuck you up. Got it?”
Vesh nodded as best he could with his face pushed into the wall.
Suddenly the weight on his back was gone. He turned to face the alpha. Although he looked angry, he also seemed… patient. Vesh had committed a severe offense by usurping his authority in his own camp, yet Cael wasn’t killing him. He wasn’t even going to, in his words, fuck him up. Vesh couldn’t understand an alpha who operated like this. Didn’t know if he could respect one either.
Time would tell.
He glanced at Braeh. She stood next to the table, her fists clenched.
“Now, as I was saying…” Cael straightened his leather jacket and faced the others. As if the exchange with Vesh were nothing more than an annoyance. “Kash will show you to your jobs. Word of advice: treat my wolves with respect, and they’ll respect you in return. If you can’t do at least that, then you’re out. We can take down Ozarka without you.” With that, he spun away, leaving them with Kash, and the wary stares of the breakfast late-comers.
Braeh spent the entire day in the gardens. It wasn’t her first choice for a job. In fact, there was so much dirt jammed under her short fingernails, she wasn’t sure if she’d ever get it all out. She hoped the patrons of her restaurant wouldn’t mind their food being cooked by mud-stained hands.
What a garden it was, though. She’d never seen one so large. For the most part, gardens weren’t a thing in Alaska. Produce was better off being grown in a greenhouse. To her, the camp’s garden, with its rows and rows of fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs, was really more like the eighth wonder of the world.
She was working in the eighth wonder of the world. Pretty sweet job, when you think of it like that.
Braeh sighed and pulled open the doors of the cafeteria.
As amazing as the garden was,
was where she belonged. In the kitchen, in front of a stove, chopping, stirring, tasting. Creating. Not cooking was akin to missing a limb, and she was really starting to feel the burn of it.
Vesh was right. The cafeteria wasn’t used much for dinner. There was only one table with any people. Lexar sat talking to a group of men who looked about the same age as she was, but when he noticed her, he stopped. A broad smile spread across his face. She smiled back as she made her way to the counter.
The server she’d talked to this morning was gone, and in his place was a staunchy-looking middle-aged woman.
Braeh gave her a friendly smile. “Hey there. How are you tonight?”
The server scowled at her. “We have fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, biscuits, and green beans.”
“Sounds delicious. Can you load up two plates for me?”
The woman looked her over from head to toe, and back again. “Where are you putting it all?”
“In my mouth,” Braeh said, without missing a beat. She flashed another smile to soften her sarcastic tone.
Surprisingly, the server barked a laugh. It looked like her face wasn’t used to the action.
While she was dishing up the food, Braeh made small talk. “So… who cooks the food around here?”
“Oh, there’s several of us. We each have our specialties.”
“It’s a group effort, huh?”
The woman nodded.
“Well, whoever makes the waffles… they deserve to lie on a couch while being fanned and fed grapes by hand.”
The woman gave her a confused look.
“They were good waffles. That’s all I’m saying.”
She raised a thick eyebrow. “You think so?”
“Oh, yes. Absolutely. Back home I run a restaurant and our waffles don’t begin to compare.”
The lady handed her a tray with both plates. “You run a restaurant, huh?”
Braeh nodded. “I’m a chef. In Alaska. Name’s Braeh, by the way.”
The lady blinked twice. “I’m Jude. I make the waffles.”
Braeh’s eyes went wide. “You do? Oh, wow. So, tell me, what’s your secret? Do you use butter in the batter? Or is it cinnamon? Cream. You put extra cream in the mix, am I right?”
“It’s a powdered mix. Just add water.”
No. No way. Braeh shook her head in denial. “Very funny.”
Jude raised an eyebrow. “Do I look like I’m kidding?”
“It can’t be just a mix.” A mix could never taste better than homemade.
Braeh narrowed her eyes. “You just want to keep the recipe a secret. My mom used to do that with her friends. She claimed her pound cake was from a box, but it was totally from scratch.”
Jude put her hands on her hips. “Are you calling me a liar?”
Jude smiled, a slow, building curve of her thin lips. “It’s a mix.”
“No, it isn’t.” Braeh’s voice rose.
“Is everything alright over here?” Lexar stepped up to the counter, staring back and forth between Jude and Braeh.
“Of course,” Jude said, that wacky smile still on her face.
“Fine,” Braeh said, ignoring Lexar completely. “Keep your secrets to yourself then.”
She turned with the tray and headed for the exit.
“Wait. Where are you going?” Lexar followed close behind.
“To my cabin.”
“You’re taking the tray?”
“Jude won’t like that. You should eat here.”
Braeh smiled. “She won’t? Well, good. Tell her I’m taking the food to my mate and if she doesn’t like it, too bad.”
She was almost past the main part of camp when she spotted the alpha talking to a group of young boys. He squatted on the ground, holding a small animal in his hands. A bunny. He was gentle with the creature, petting it with his big hands. Looking up, he spotted Braeh and carefully passed the animal off to one of the kids.
Braeh ignored him, walking past. She was still furious with him after the way he’d treated Vesh this morning. Oh, sure, Vesh was mouthy. But this alpha? He was violent. No matter how careful he was with the bunny.
“Braeh,” he called.
Maybe if she didn’t answer he’d leave her alone.
He caught up with her in three strides. “You’re angry. I can smell it. Care to tell me why?”
“I know you’re human, but that isn’t how it works in a wolf pack. If the alpha asks a question, you answer.”
“I did answer. Your question was, would I care to tell you why, and my answer was no.”
He walked beside her silent for a few steps. “Was your job assignment satisfactory?”
“Is your mate treating you well?”
His question gave her pause. Why would the alpha care if Vesh was nice to her.
She shrugged. “Haven’t seen him since you almost broke his neck at breakfast.”
The alpha was silent again. They rounded a curve in the trail, taking them into the woods. “I see,” he murmured. “You’re angry over the way I reacted.” He sighed, long and deep.
Braeh said nothing.
“How long have you known about us? About shifters?”
“Not long. Three weeks, give or take.”
“And Trager, he’s not part of a pack, so you have no point of reference.”
“What do you mean?”
“You have no way of knowing how a pack works. I wasn’t always like this. Overbearing and hostile. And I try very hard not to ever take my authority too far. I run a tight camp, but I fully believe the only way I’ve managed to do that successfully is because people respect me.”
“Respect? Or fear?”
He tilted his head. “Respect, I think. But fear probably plays into it too. What you need to understand is, as alpha, I can’t show any vulnerability. If I had backed down from Vesh, my wolves would have perceived it as a weakness. I would have lost their respect and it would have caused a chink in my authority. By all rights I should have laid him out, possibly even killed him. But all I did was throw him against a wall to get him to back down.”
They walked in silence while she let his words sink in.
“What’s worse,” he said, “is Vesh won’t respect an alpha who would let a visiting wolf publicly speak against him. He forced my hand. Was probably even testing me. After all, his former alpha is one of the cruelest wolves I know. That’s what he’s used to. If I’d backed down, Vesh would’ve had zero faith in me.”
“Why do you care if he has faith in you?”
He didn’t answer.
When Braeh’s cabin was in sight, Cael said. “Your job assignment has changed. I hear your talents could be better put to use elsewhere.”
Braeh turned to look at him.
“Report to the kitchen at 11:00 am. You’ll be on lunch and dinner duty.”
A smile lit Braeh’s face before she could temper it. “Yeah, okay.”
He turned back down the path. “’Night,” he called over his shoulder.
Vesh scrubbed the grime from his body with a wash rag, but still didn’t feel right. They had him shoveling shit from the stalls in the barn. It was about the lowest job they could give a person. It ranked just above cleaning out the septic tanks. But that wasn’t what bothered him now.
It was Braeh. She wasn’t back yet, and every minute she stayed gone, he became more agitated.
He’d wondered about her all day. He knew she’d been given a job working the garden, and he’d even snuck over on break to check on her—though he stayed back so she wouldn’t see him. But it wasn’t where she belonged. She needed to be in the kitchen. He knew how much cooking meant to her. In the time they’d known each other, he’d noticed it was her crutch. She used it to relax. To communicate. To think. And now, here she was with no outlet.
After work, he’d gone straight to Cael and asked that she be placed in the cafeteria tomorrow.
The front door to the cabin banged and Vesh heard footsteps. Quickly, he stood under the spray of the shower to rinse the soap from his body. But he didn’t finish fast enough. The bathroom door creaked open and he heard his mate’s uncertain voice.
Her name on his lips reinforced the erection that had been bothering him all day. But it was more than that. It was just being in her vicinity after so many hours apart. It was pure relief. He really had to fight to remember why he shouldn’t want her, why they would never work.
“I brought you food. How was your day?”
God, she was so damn adorable. And she’d brought him food. She was caring for him. It was enough to make him burst at the seams.
Hold it together
Keep your cool
“Er, you know what, we can talk when you’re done showering. I didn’t mean to just burst in on you. I’ll wait in the—”
Vesh’s control snapped. He flung the shower curtain open, not caring about the spray of water that hit the floor. He had to see her. It was all that mattered in that moment.
Braeh gasped, her face frozen in surprise. Three seconds passed while he catalogued the streak of mud on her forehead, the leaves stuck in her hair, the grime on her hands. Even still, she looked like a dream come true.
Before he could think too much about it, he reached out and grabbed her by the hand, yanking her into the shower, fully clothed, shoes and all. The water soaked her t-shirt and he thanked everything holy that it was baby blue. That color was so very, very close to white and he could see the imprint of her dark lacy bra.
Vesh pushed her against the tile wall, and lowered his head to her neck to imprint her scent. Damn, his woman smelled divine. He’d never get enough. And the way her breath came so fast, making her chest heave…
“What are you doing?” she murmured.
He lifted his eyes to her hooded ones. “I thought about you all day. Every fucking minute of every fucking hour. Every thought was of you. I wanted to taste your mouth, and I’m going to.” It was all the warning she got before his lips crashed into hers in a furious tangle of need and relief. She tasted even better than she smelled. Salty and cool. Smooth and dark.
She kissed him back, her tongue playing with his, and dipping between his lips. His hand went to her cheek to gently tilt her head for better access. He wanted to completely and thoroughly invade her if she’d let him. If he couldn’t have her fully, he’d at least have this.
Vesh pushed his knee between her legs and she moaned into his mouth. It was a perfect note he wanted to remember always. He broke away to pull the sopping shirt over her head.
“Wait,” she breathed, her hands sliding up over his chest. “What are we doing?”
“Nothing.” He kissed along her jaw before licking drops of water from her neck.
“Just…” His lips trailed across her shoulder as he slid the strap of her bra aside. “… need to feel you. Taste you.”
Her fingers curled into his shoulders. “Why?” Her breathy question had him frowning against her skin. Why? He didn’t want to think about why. Or why not. Or think at all. He just wanted to act.
Vesh reached behind her, unhooking her bra, sliding it down her arms, and tossing it on the tiled shower floor. Finally, she was bared to him. He pulled back to stare at her body. Her breasts were on the smaller side, but on her narrow frame they were perfect. Their small pink tips jutted out, begging for his mouth. His heart raced like he was twelve again and looking at something forbidden. He was going to tongue and suck each nipple until she cried from the pleasure of it. He was going to spend hours with these twin curves. When they laid in bed tonight, he was going to fall asleep with them in his hands.
. They were his.
Vesh bent to gently lick one hardened nipple but stopped before making contact. Her scent had changed, and not for the better. He looked into her eyes and saw the source of the change.
He shriveled inside. Somehow, he’d done this.
He swallowed. “What is it?”
Braeh blinked repeatedly, and turned her gaze away.
“Talk to me,” he demanded. Panic and frustration made his voice rough.