Authors: E A Price
The Reluctant Mate
E A Price
Copyright ©2016 by Elizabeth Ann Price
All rights reserved. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Six years ago
“C’mon, Joey, we’ll be late.”
“Yeah, wouldn’t want that, would we?” muttered Jolene, dragging her heels. Reluctantly, she followed Kim along the garden path.
No, she’d really hate to be late for this
occasion. Her inner wolf huffed as she alternated before fury and hurt. She’d been doing that for the past month, ever since her fiancé announced he was marrying another she-wolf. Grrr.
Yep, Jolene had her whole life mapped out since she was fifteen years old. She and her boyfriend were going to the same college, they were both getting their degrees in accountancy, they were going to work for the pack, and then they were getting married and hopefully producing one or two pups. Not exciting, but it was the life they had both hoped to share.
Until last month
A month ago she and Beau were supposed to be sampling wedding cakes at a little boutique bakery in Alexandria. When Beau turned up, it was with a shamefaced look and to announce that he’d met someone else. Not just anyone else – his true mate. Double grrr.
Which apparently meant that anything he ever felt for Jolene was gone, and he immediately loved this new she-wolf, Tawny. So much so that they were now getting married in three days and then moving to live with her pack.
They’d met by accident when she came to town, asking for directions. But according to him, the awareness of who she was just hit him. Immediately, he knew he was meant to be with her, and the last eight years with Jolene meant nothing to him. She and Beau had dated since they were fifteen and she first arrived in the small town of Rose to join her grandmother’s wolf pack. But all that history paled compared to some supposed twist of fate that said Tawny was his soul mate or some such nonsense.
And the worst part? Beau was so
about it. So was Tawny. They were so sympathetic and sweet about what they were doing to her. He didn’t even hang up the phone on the two times she drunk dialled him, acting like a lunatic and crying over their lost relationship. Beau and Tawny were so afraid of hurting her feelings that they offered to marry in private and not invite any of Jolene’s pack. They didn’t want to rub Jolene’s nose in their happiness. But, she couldn’t allow that. They were still Beau’s pack, and they shouldn’t have to choose between the two of them.
So now, here she was attending their engagement party with a bottle of wine, a fake smile and her sexiest dress. Even though Beau probably wouldn’t appreciate it, she was there to show him she didn’t need him, and she was still fabulous. Even though her heart was breaking into tiny pieces. Her wolf whimpered. Okay, maybe this was going to be harder than she thought.
Jolene massaged some life back into her cheeks. She’d been grinning inanely for the last half hour, and she needed a break.
She’d graciously said ‘congratulations’ to the,
, happy couple and had put up with their sympathetic smiles. She’d ignored all the pitying looks and murmurs from the other guests, and she was sick of it. She’d retreated to the one room in his family’s house where no other guest would be, and the one she sadly still felt comfortable in – his bedroom.
Jolene felt tears prickle her eyes as she looked at all the pictures of them together – he hadn’t even taken them down yet. She didn’t know whether that was a good or a bad thing. Two weeks ago – when she still hoped she had a chance with him – she might have thought it was good. He still had her pictures; he still cared for her. But now, she felt sure it just meant he didn’t care whether the pictures were there or not.
He shared the room with his younger brother, Reid. She smiled as she thought of all the times she’d been in here, helping Reid with his homework or while the three of them watched a movie. Or sometimes when just she and Reid watched a movie. She liked Reid. He was a lot quieter and gawkier than Beau, who was big and confident, but she always got along with him.
She guessed she wouldn’t be able to spend time with him either now. Nor go shopping with their mother. Or watch football with their father. She wasn’t just losing a fiancé - she was losing her adoptive family. Her wolf growled. It wasn’t fair.
Jolene heard voices heading in her direction. Not just any voices – Tawny and Beau – and they were giggling.
She ducked into the bathroom and pulled the door shut behind her. Worse than getting dumped by your boyfriend of eight years was being found creeping around his bedroom by his new fiancée.
Her skin prickled as she felt another presence. Before she could spin around, a hand clamped over her mouth. She tried to scream, but it came out as a muffled gasp as she scented Reid.
She turned and gave him a questioning look. He raised a finger to his lips and let go of her mouth. They listened as Tawny and Beau erupted into the bedroom, laughing and kissing.
Jolene felt the blood rush to her cheeks with a mixture of embarrassment and fury. Reid took her hand and pulled her out the other door into his parents’ room. He shut the door behind them.
Reid held onto the door handle for a few moments, standing awkwardly and chewing on his cheek. He had just turned eighteen and was the polar opposite of his older brother, Beau. While Beau was blue-eyed, blonde, friendly and muscled, Reid was lanky, dark, shy and had intensely startling green eyes that terrified every teacher who ever dared to try and teach him anything. Beau looked like he could be a cover model for Preppy Monthly; Reid looked like he should be a cover model for Shut-in Monthly.
“I’m sorry,” she said, at the same time he started saying, “I was just…”
She smiled slightly, and he became a little less tense. “I’m sorry I was in your room,” she murmured.
Reid shrugged. “In the bathroom, I was just… ah…”
“Hiding out like me?” she offered kindly.
He shrugged again. Jolene’s face fell as she heard some muffled thumps coming from the bedroom now occupied by Tawny and Beau. Her wolf snarled as she guessed what they were up to.
“My brother’s an idiot,” he said fiercely. “You don’t deserve what he did to you.”
Jolene blinked at him, and he looked away from her. There was no love between the two brothers. Beau for all his friendliness had been merciless when it came to his little brother. Jolene often berated him for it. But Reid had never voiced an opinion about her relationship with his brother.
“Thank you for saying that.” It was a welcome break from all her friends dubiously telling her that she’d probably find someone just as good as Beau. Not better, because apparently that wasn’t possible, and they didn’t have much conviction when they said it.
“I mean it,” he growled. “You should be with someone better than him.”
“It’s not his fault,” she said grudgingly, and against the wishes of her wolf. “I guess you can’t help who you fall in love with.” Although she had been very careful about it eight years ago - she made sure she fell in love with a boy who had a stable future. It just wasn’t a future she was going to be a part of now.
“No,” he muttered in agreement.
“I suppose I should go back to the party.”
She started heading to the door when Reid leaped forward. “You don’t have to,” he blurted. “I mean, you could, well, stay here with me,” he mumbled, his voice getting quieter with every word he spoke.
Jolene raised an eyebrow. He stepped back, hurriedly and produced a bottle of champagne. “I have booze.”
She smirked. “Aren’t you a little young for that?”
“It’s a special occasion,” he said grimly. Jolene recalled that Reid wasn’t exactly a party animal and spent most of his parents’ parties hiding on the roof. She usually brought him a plate of food and sat with him for a while. His parents didn’t really understand Reid, but Jolene always enjoyed his company.
“Besides,” he added, trying to affect a nonchalant smile. He looked like he’d just sat on a cactus. “I should have an adult with me.”
“Good point, pass me the bottle.”
Jolene took a long swig. The party would be less awkward without her at least, and besides, she might not get a chance to spend much time with Reid again. And she realized she was going to miss him, probably as much as she would miss Beau.
Her wolf howled in agreement.
Jolene clapped obediently as Tawny and Beau cut the cake. They mashed pieces of it against each other’s faces and everyone laughed. Jolene cringed and reached for another glass of champagne.
It had been a long day.
Tawny looked radiant in a marshmallow of a dress. Beau looked smug like he’d just won the lottery and the Superbowl in the same day.
Jolene was testing her last nerve. Her wolf grumbled. At least, they were leaving town in a couple of days. That was a small mercy. She couldn’t take it having to see them around town. God, imagine when they actually had pups. Her wolf shuddered. No, the thought of that was far too much.
She retreated outside, allowing the cool air to wash over her heated skin.
“You look like you’re having as much fun as me,” drawled a deep voice.
Her wolf snarled softly, but Jolene hushed her and gave the stranger a polite smile as he appeared out of the darkness puffing on a cigarette.
She scented he was a wolf. He must be one of Tawny’s pack. A large number of wolves had arrived from New York for the happy,
She thought about lying and giving him some platitude but then thought better of it. “I’m Jolene - the ex-girlfriend,” she said wryly, eyeing him. He was at least as big as Beau, although his features were harder, and a little crueller. But he was handsome in a different way.
His lips curled up. “I’m Mark - the ex-boyfriend. Although, we did break up three months ago.”
“Lucky you,” she muttered. Clearly word had gotten around about her being dumped for Tawny.
“Such a bore pretending to be happy for the smug couple.”
“Everyone else seems to be genuinely happy.”
“Everyone else isn’t us – they probably like this type of mawkish affair. Tawny certainly does. She’d tell me it was romantic. I’d say pushing cake up someone’s nose is idiotic. Then she’d throw one of her stuffed toys at my head and pout.”
Jolene snickered. “Amicable breakup, was it?”
“Let’s just say I’m not crying over her. Of course, pride would say I’d rather have already found someone for myself, but maybe good things come to those who wait.” He gave her a pointed look, and her wolf stirred uneasily. “Besides, I think she’s much more suited to this Beau moron. They look like Barbie and Ken together, and I suspect they have just as many brain cells.”
“Beau’s not an idiot,” she protested softly. Well, not a
idiot. He probably wouldn’t have got through college without her help, but that was more to do with his desire to spend time playing sports and partying. Beau was a lucky guy who just fell into good situations. Like having her carrying him academically since he was fifteen, she thought bitterly. And now he had fallen into an excellent finance job with his new Alpha.
Fate certainly farts out rainbows for some of us!
“Are you sure?” he asked. “I can’t imagine any smart man throwing over you for her.”
Jolene rolled her eyes. “Well she’s his true mate, isn’t she?”
Mark stubbed out his cigarette. “You don’t believe in true mates?”
She shrugged. “I believe in them, I just don’t see the big deal. I think other people like it because it stops them from having to think about things. They can say, ‘this is my mate because fate said so’. And if they’re miserable and unhappy, they say, ‘it doesn’t matter because this is my true mate, and even if he’s making my life a living hell, I don’t mind because fate told us we have to be together’.”
Her wolf chuffed in agreement. The whole true mate thing was ridiculous – who said fate got it right anyway?
Mark looked at her for a few beats. “My sentiments exactly.”
They heard his name being called. “I have to go; I have the dubious honor of driving the bride’s grandmother to her hotel. We’re staying in Alexandria; I’ll be there for a couple more days if you want to get together and complain some more.”
He handed her a card.
Jolene cocked her head to one side. “Complain about true mates or about,” she nodded her head towards the party, “them.”
He gave her a lazy smile. “I’m happy to listen to any complaints you may have. Perhaps you should consider that losing Beau may actually be a good thing.”
He winked and left her standing on the porch gingerly holding his card.
“You’re not going out with him are you?” demanded an angry voice.
Jolene almost jumped a foot in the air and berated her wolf for missing him – why could he always sneak up on her? Reid stormed towards her. He stopped, and his chest heaved as fury lanced his features.
“Reid,” she breathed.
“You just got rid of Beau, and you’re replacing him with a bigger asshole!” snapped the young wolf.