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Authors: Jessica Sims

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BOOK: Single Wolf Female (Midnight Liaisons)
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“Shit. Three girls and everyone in the pack so young.” He rubbed his neck. “No wonder you wanted protection.”

I nodded. There was something in shifter genes that made females - especially female werewolves - a rarity. Maybe the pack dynamic contributed to things, but most times you’d find one female in a pack - the alpha. We’d had four, up until Joanne had packed up her things and left. Both Holly and Trina were young and extremely vulnerable, and I didn’t want Roscoe getting his paws on them.

It was one reason why I’d separated myself from my pack — to make sure that if anyone got pounced by Roscoe, it was me.

“And now we have you and Dan,” I said.

“Dan’s a good kid,” he told me. “His family all perished in the fire and it left him with me. We’re a team, now. I won’t go anywhere he’s not welcome.”

I understood that thinking. “He beta?”

“For my pack of two? Yeah.”

“That’s the only thing I could think would be a problem,” I answered honestly. “Len might not want to give up his position as second. Everyone else is close to his age and not dominant in the slightest.”

He nodded, as if considering things, and his gaze went back to the pictures on my dresser. “I’m very sorry about your mate. I know this must be hard for you.”

I blinked. Mate? Then I sucked in a breath as I looked at him. He really didn’t know what he was getting into, did he? He thought he was coming in to comfort the grieving widow and didn’t know how to proceed. Pack law dictated that if we merged our packs, he’d rise to the top and I’d basically be his property, of a sort. He probably even thought baby Eddie was mine.

“Um.” I said, feeling heat steal up my cheeks. “You should know a few things.”

“Uh oh.” He gave me a friendly grin, his attitude so smooth and easy I almost smiled back at him. “Nothing good ever comes out of that saying.”

I hugged my legs closer to my chest, watching his face. “Cash wasn’t my mate.”

A wrinkle formed between his brown brows. If anything, it made him look even more gorgeous. Totally unfair. “You’re not the alpha?”

“I am,” I said, and before he could question more, I added, “Cash was my brother.”

His eyes widened. “Oh.”

“Yep,” I told him, my voice short. “You got yourself a bona-fide werewolf virgin.”

He stared at me. Rubbed his neck again. Glanced at the pictures, then back at me. “And the baby?”

“Cash’s kid. Joanne was the mom. She ran off because she wanted to be the alpha female in a pack and I wasn’t about to budge.” My smile was tight. “So now I get to raise Eddie as part of my pack.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah.” My voice was flat. “I just thought you should know. I think Roscoe’s figured it out, too. That’s why he’s after me so hard. He wants me, and he wants my girls.”

“He won’t touch them while I have breath in my body,” Jackson said, and offered me his hand. “I promise you this.”

I’d been needing to hear those words. Relief settled on me like a blanket, and that awful tension I’d felt in my shoulders loosened for the first time in two weeks. With Cash at my side, we’d been a strong pair. But on my own, I hadn’t realized how vulnerable a female alpha was. It didn’t matter how strong I was; a male wolf would automatically be more dominant, could always beat me in a physical fight, which was how most dominance battles were fought. “Thank you.”

I took his hand and clasped mine in it. I had a strong handshake, but his was stronger. I took note of his hand, too, the thick calluses, the deep tan. His was a working man’s hands. I liked that.

He didn’t let go of my hand, though. He just kept clasping it and smiling at me in that friendly way that my head wasn’t sure I liked, but my body liked all too much. “When can I meet the others?”

“They’re staying with friends,” I said. “Human friends that don’t know about…the pack. Roscoe won’t know where to find them. I’ll text them in the morning and tell them to come for breakfast.”

“Breakfast’ll be here soon,” he told me, and gave my hand a squeeze. “You should get some sleep. You look exhausted.”

“I haven’t slept well in weeks,” I admitted. Just the thought of bed was a delicious torment. I wanted to crawl into it, and yet…I looked at Jackson. “Since you’re an unmated alpha…”

I let the words hang in the air. He knew the rest. He was an unmated alpha male, and I was an unmated alpha female. It’d be expected for us to share a room.

And to share a bed.

He gave my hand another squeeze and then got up. “Don’t you worry, Alice. You just get some sleep.” He got up and crossed the room to the overstuffed chair near the door, examined it, and then swept the dirty laundry onto the floor. “I’m going to shower, then I’ll sit here and rest, if that’s okay with you.”

I blinked and stared at him. He wasn’t going to force me to share his bed? I nearly trembled with relief…but it couldn’t last. “You know we have to—“

“I know,” he told me, raising a hand to stop me before I could continue. “We’ll worry about mate markings and claimings and stuff later. Not everything has to happen tonight. You’re exhausted and I’ve got a lot on my mind. So if it’s all okay with you, I’d like to sit in this nice, comfy chair here,” he pointed at my chair, “and relax. You sleep.”

His voice was soothing and compelling. I wanted to sleep, and not only because he was telling me to. “What about you?”

“I’ll stay up. Shower. Check stuff out. Make sure everything’s all right.” His voice dropped a bit lower, his tone husky. “You can trust me, Alice. You’re safe now.”

My heart thudded hard, and I hoped desperately that was the case.

 

Chapter Five

 

I woke up sometime after dawn, feeling curiously refreshed and at ease despite only a few hours of sleep. Even three hours of sleep was more than I’d gotten in the last two days. I glanced around my room but Jackson was nowhere to be seen. That made me feel a little better, I supposed. The thought of him leering at me while I slept was unnerving.

Then I frowned to myself. If there was one thing Jackson was incapable of, it was leering. He seemed…friendly. As easygoing as he’d said on his profile. It was weird to see in an alpha. Most of the ones I’d known were full of piss and bluster and kept their authority by force. Jackson seemed determined to make everyone comfortable, and that maybe they’d bow to his leadership because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Strange man.

I rolled out of bed and winced at the smell. I smelled like smoke and cleaning supplies and my own stale sweat and fear. That wouldn’t do. I needed to shower, especially if we were calling the pack home. I didn’t want to smell like fear and introduce them to Jackson at the same time.

Before I got into the shower, though, I grabbed my phone and sent a group text out to the pack.
Come home
, I sent.
Breakfast is at 9. Be here for a pack meeting. Spence, go get Len out of jail.

I felt better after showering and washing my hair a few times, though I felt a bit ashamed that things felt like they were sliding back to normal. Jackson was a stranger. My brother was dead. Shouldn’t I hold out for longer? Grieve more? Something? But with an alpha at my side - even a strange alpha - I felt…I don’t know. Not quite so alone. Not quite so terrified.

And that made me feel guilty.

I toweled off and dressed into another plain t-shirt and jeans. I didn’t bother to do more than brush my dark hair. I wasn’t going to fancy up for Jackson. He had to take me as I was.

My work phone buzzed with an incoming text as soon as I slipped it into my pocket, and I clicked on the message.
My air conditioner’s out
, Eliza, one of my tenants, had sent me.
Can you come look at it
?

Ugh. Her timing was hell. I couldn’t skip the pack breakfast, but today was going to be a scorcher, and Eliza had four small children.
Can it wait until 10 am?
I sent back.

That’s fine
, she sent.
Thank you
.

I’d take Jackson with me, I decided. If he was stepping into the Savage pack, he needed to learn the Savage business. I wondered how he’d like the idea of being a slum lord. My mouth curved into a faint smile at the thought. He was a plumber - I could use his services on a regular basis. Too bad he wasn’t an electrician to boot.

I jounced down the stairs, my mood a little lighter, sniffing the air for the scents of Dan and Jackson. To my surprise, the overwhelming smell of Pine Sol touched my nose. Curious, I followed it through the house, noting that my living room had been straightened up, all of the laundry carefully piled into one mound, the tables and chairs cleaned off of all pizza boxes.

I headed into the kitchen and blinked when I came across Dan and Jackson there, scrubbing it clean. My eyes widened at the sight. Dan was wearing the striped frilly apron that Holly favored and slinging a mop across the tile of my enormous kitchen. At the sink, Jackson’s hands were buried in suds as he did the dishes by hand.

The kitchen was spotless, the granite counters gleaming. It was clear that they’d been busy for a few hours. “Hi,” I said, since they probably couldn’t smell me over the cleaning supplies.

Dan’s head jerked up and he gave me a sheepish grin, blushing and fisting his hand into the apron. He quickly tore it off and looked over to Jackson for reassurance.

Jackson simply moved a bowl from the sudsy water to the rinse water, and then set it on top of a towel on the counter. “Did you sleep okay?”

“I did,” I said, moving into the kitchen on careful bare feet. The floors were slick with water. Dan wasn’t a great mopper, but I had to give the kid props for trying. “What are you guys doing?”

“Cleaning,” Jackson told me, his voice mild.

Well, duh. “I mean, why?”

He glanced at me over his shoulder. “From what I was understanding, this is our home now, too. You’ve gone through a rough time, and Dan and I appreciate the welcome. Least we can do is show it.”

“We’re not afraid of work,” Dan said in a quiet voice.

What did I say to that? Thank you? Welcome home? I chewed the inside of my cheek for a minute, thinking, then headed to the fridge. “The others will be here for breakfast at nine, so it’s a good thing you guys decided to clean.” I opened the fridge and winced at how completely empty it was. Man, I was a horrible hostess. “Um. Breakfast might not be…great.”

“I can go out and get something?” Dan stopped his mopping and gave me a hopeful look. “There’s a burger place up the highway a few miles. I’m sure they serve breakfast.”

He looked so eager that I found myself smiling at him. I went to the front hall and grabbed my purse, then pulled out my wallet and gave him a wad of twenties. “Okay. Buy enough for seven hungry werewolves.” I thought for a moment, then added, “You might want to call ahead to give them a heads up to cook extra.”

He grinned at me and then turned to Jackson. “Can I have the keys?”

Jackson only raised an eyebrow at him.

“I’ll go the speed limit. Promise.”

He nodded. “Be back by nine.”

Dan grinned and tossed the mop into a nearby bucket of dirty water, then raced to the front door. A moment later, it slammed shut.

I glanced over at Jackson. “He’s a good kid.”

“Dan’s a great kid. He’s excited to be here, too. Been too long since we’ve had a pack to call home.” Jackson drained the sink and then began to wipe his hands on a dish towel, then turned and looked over at me. Studying me. After a moment, he asked, “How you holding up?”

That felt weirdly intimate. I crossed my arms over my chest and shrugged. “I’m okay. Everyone will be here at nine. We’ll introduce you to the pack, let you get to know the group. I’m hoping it’ll go smoothly.”

It probably wouldn’t, but I could always hope.

He nodded, not contradicting me. “We have one more thing I should probably take care of before the others get here.” He glanced out the window, watching Dan rip down the gravel driveway in the plumbing van. To his credit, he didn’t wince when the kid nearly ran off into the ditch.

“Oh?” Now I was curious. “What’s that?”

He turned back to me and gave me a long, assessing look. “Mate mark.”

My face immediately flamed bright red.

“Just the mark,” Jackson said, holding a hand out to me to calm the protest that he expected. “Nothing more. But with me here taking the alpha spot, they’re going to ask, and it’s best if we’re a unified front.”

“That means you need to wear one, too.”

“I know,” he said easily. “You want to go first? I don’t want you to be uncomfortable.”

“I’m not uncomfortable,” I bluffed, though it was totally a lie. I was squirmy and nervous as hell, my pulse fluttering in my throat. “And sure, I’ll go first.”

I strode to him and stood before Jackson, sizing him up. His posture was easy and relaxed, so different from my own. It was as if he walked into a new pack and established himself on a daily basis or something.

Hell, for all I knew about him, maybe he did.

But…beggars couldn’t be choosers. Jackson was an alpha, and he was going to let me keep my spot without making my life hell, and I’d get to continue to protect what was left of my small family.

He was my only option.

So, despite the quiver in my stomach, I reached up and put my hand to the back of his neck, pulling him down to mouth level. I didn’t rise up to meet him - that meant I was adjusting to his dominance, and I wanted him to adjust to mine for
my
mark.

He bent low, and then his neck was close to my mouth, bare and pulsing with heat, and I saw the brush of the loose curls against his nape. He smelled like sweat and wolf and that spicy faint scent I was coming to identify as Jackson. It was an…oddly pleasing combination. I studied his neck for a moment longer, then licked his skin with a long swipe of my tongue, readying him.

I’d never given the mate mark before. Cash and I weren’t marked because we were siblings, and it always threw off other werewolves until they saw us working together. We’d been a unified team from day one. Marks and matings weren’t necessary with a sibling as an alpha like they were with a stranger.

I hadn’t realized how erotic licking another alpha’s neck could be, though, and just how much I’d missed when I’d shared alphadom with my brother in a chaste working relationship. Because licking Jackson’s neck? Kind of arousing. His skin was warm under my tongue, and I tasted the salt of his sweat. His throat flexed in response, as if he was swallowing hard, but he didn’t touch me. I was in control.

I wanted to lick him again.

But I didn’t, because I didn’t know what that would do to our weird relationship. So I simply bared my teeth and bit down on his skin in a hard, aggressive mark.

A small jerk of response was the only reaction I got.

I pulled away, and he moved back, too. I noticed Jackson was watching me with an intense look on his face. His eyes were slitted as he straightened, and I watched him touch the mark I’d left on his neck. It was bright red, the outline of my mouth clear.

I’d just claimed myself a mate.

I was feeling a little weirdly breathless about it, too. I couldn’t stop staring at the mark, pleased and aroused at the sight of it. That was mine.
He
was mine.

“You ready?” He asked in a low voice.

“Ready?” I echoed, my thoughts a blur. Ready for what?

That gorgeous, slow smile curved his mouth again, making my pulse flutter again. “For my mark.”

“Oh. Right.” I knew that. I pulled my almost-dry hair off of my neck in an effort to be helpful, and stepped closer. I tilted my head back, showing my throat in an extremely vulnerable angle that immediately set my hackles on edge. I never showed throat to anyone. My entire body locked with tension.

His hand brushed through my hair, grazing my hand and then clasping over it. With his other hand, he tilted my chin a little more so I was even more open to him.

I jerked when his head bent low, almost stepping backward, but his hand over mine, both tangled in my hair, kept me in place.

“Calm, Alice,” he told me in that low, soothing voice. “You know it has to be done. You know I won’t hurt you.”

I knew both. It didn’t mean I wasn’t skittish. I forced myself to stay still as he leaned in closer, and I could hear him inhale. Then, he licked my skin in a long, slow swipe of his tongue that felt entirely too good. I sucked in a breath, startled.

And then he bit.

Something close to an orgasm crashed through me, and I choked on air, sputtering as the sensation made my toes curl and my body ache with something dangerously close to want. His bite hadn’t been nearly as fierce as mine. It was like everything else with Jackson - utterly smooth and delicious, conquering with a smile and a caress instead of a snap to the throat.

And it made me feel…weird. Like I was losing a bit of myself.

As soon as his mouth lifted, I jerked away from him, not caring that it meant ripping a few hairs out of my scalp. “Great,” I said quickly. “Thanks.”

His eyes were shining and dangerously close to wolf. “No problem,” he said, voice husky, and he licked his lips.

And lord help me, I wanted to lick them, too.

So I bolted away, murmuring something about laundry and cleaning before the pack returned.

 

BOOK: Single Wolf Female (Midnight Liaisons)
13.26Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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