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“Dad, can I stay all weekend with grandma and grandpa?” Nolan asked. Niall smiled down at his seven year old son, seeing his wife’s eyes looking up at him. It took monumental effort not to scoop up his son and hug him tight, never wanting to let go. When they’d lost Emma, Nolan had been a baby. Even almost seven years later, Niall still missed her like it was yesterday. “Don’t you want to spend the weekend with your old man?” Nolan rolled his eyes. “Me and grandpa are going to campout and fish and grandma is coming along to make sure we don’t get into trouble. Besides, you have to work while Uncle Zay spends the weekend with Cora.” “Grab your bag. I’m assuming you packed enough for the entire weekend?” Nolan nodded, showing Niall that his backpack was indeed bulging. “I’m ready when you are, Dad.” Grabbing his son up and over his shoulder, they headed to his bike parked out in front of their log home. Being the alpha of the Mystic Wolves, he had prime position at the end of the cul-de-sac, each home having anywhere from one to three acres, or more. He had over ten, but the pack had hundreds of acres outside of Sturgis. The Glades, his in-laws, lived within three miles and had several acres. Emerson, the old alpha, had stepped down when Niall mated his daughter, Emma. He handed Nolan his helmet, making sure it was on properly before putting on his own skull cap. With his son’s little arms wrapped snuggly around him, Niall made the short trip to the Glades residence. By the time he was ready to leave his son with Emerson and Payton, a plan was formed in his mind. He swung his leg over the seat, his leathers squeaked as he straddled his Harley. Nolan and the Glades waved from the porch, he smiled at the excitement shining in his son’s brown eyes as he revved the bike before taking off at a sedate pace. Stopping at the end of the road, he looked up at the woods leading to the ski lodge, a mysterious scent teased his nostrils, making his wolf rise up and take notice. The lodge was always flooded with want to be ski bunnies in winter, inevitably they found their way down the mountain into Sturgis and their bar, Chaps. He and his brother Zayn, along with the rest of the wolves, then had to deal with their shit. It was good for business, so they put up with it, but it was a pain in the ass. Niall shook off the urge to head north, and pointed the bike down toward Sturgis and Chaps. He’d find himself a mate, and Nolan a mother, that was his great plan. He thought back to the conversation he’d had with Emerson. Since he and Zayn’s parents were so far away, he looked to Emerson and Payton as surrogate parents. Emerson had told Niall, according to Payton’s dreams, that change was coming and that they understood his need for a new mate, but they didn’t understand. He missed his wife and didn’t expect to find another truemate. Hell, if a wolf was lucky they’d find one truemate, but many settled. He was a man, a wolf who needed a mate, and a mother for Nolan. Niall knew he was more than blessed when he found Emma and that he wouldn’t find that again, but he would settle for companionship, sex and a mother for his son. Niall kept his thoughts to himself, the old alpha still believed in love. Emerson still teared up when he spoke of Emma, he said that Payton still cried at night, though she tried to hide her sorrow from her husband. Niall wasn’t the only one who still suffered. When he’d looked into the wise eyes of the older man in the kitchen, with pictures of his dead mate hung all around, Niall had made a decision. He was a thirty-seven year old man with a lot of years ahead of him. He hadn’t been a monk for the last six years, not by a long shot. However, he hadn’t looked for anyone to fill his bed permanently. Truth be told, he’d not had any woman in his and Emma’s bed. He wasn’t sure he could let another woman sleep in the same place he’d made love to his wife. Niall looked at the bleak years ahead if he didn’t make some changes. Nobody could replace Emma. Not in his heart, but a bed was just a place to lay your head and now it would be a place he fucked. Niall was smart enough not to tell a woman that though. Emerson had known what Niall was thinking and tried to talk him out of it. Even though he valued the older man’s opinion, in this instance he didn’t think Emerson had a clue. His wife was alive and healthy, while Niall’s was not. Niall opened up the throttle on the bike. The hour drive was giving him time to ponder how to go about getting a mate and mother. He didn’t want a tiny petite thing like his Emma, nor did he want someone like her. A blonde with big boobs and no brain would work for him, but not Nolan. Maybe he’d meet her at the bar tonight, or at least find someone to take the edge off his needs. * * * * “What do you mean he’s found a mate for me? Like I need him to find me a husband, Mom. This is not the…the Victorian age, where the father marries off his girls.” Alaina Strop paced in front of the fireplace mantel. Her mother, Adalynn, sat with her legs crossed, looking very much the lady of the manor, but anxiety shown in her chocolate brown eyes. “Baby, you know how your dad worries about you. Well, after that boy held you at gun point, along with your students, he decided you needed a mate. The council agreed and if it gets you home, then I’m sorry, sweetie, but I agree. You could’ve been killed.” Alaina narrowed her eyes, horrified to hear her own mother agreeing with the archaic dealings of her dad. “Mother, I’m a twenty-five year old woman for crying out loud. I came home because I took a leave of absence after that incident.” Alaina had to take a breath. Nightmares still plagued her of that day. She’d always wished she could shift, but being part fey and part shifter, she had a little of both her parents. Had she not been in a room filled with thirty, sixteen and seventeen year old, students she could have used her abilities to disarm him, maybe. Instead, she was stuck with a maniac waving a gun around for hours, until he grabbed her by the throat and stuck the gun to her temple. He’d already killed several students in the library before he’d locked himself in her computer lab, bent on exacting revenge on whoever had posted an anonymous letter about him. Adalynn pointed her finger. “See, you can’t even talk about it without turning white. Your dad has found a nice wolf who doesn’t care that you can’t shift.” Her mother’s words brought her back from the past. “Oh, he doesn’t mind, does he? How nice.” Alaina turned her back on her mom, knowing she’d pissed her off and not caring. Most who were mated with a wolf could be turned, but with her they didn’t know what the outcome would be. The familiar mental intrusion she usually welcomed from her mother trying to make her understand only pissed her off more. “Mother, can you hear what you’re saying? There is not a wolf here in the Cascades that I want to marry, let alone mate with. You do know what mating entails right? What if his truemate comes around? Am I supposed to just stand aside, and be oh so understanding then?” Adalynn stood. Alaina was always amazed at how much they looked alike. Her mother kept her dark brown hair shoulder length, and was a couple inches shorter at five feet five inches, while Alaina topped out at five foot seven. They both had dark brown eyes, and her mother was still slim and curvy. “That is hardly going to happen Lainey, but if it did we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” “Oh, my gawd. You sound like a Stepford Wife. What has happened to you since I’ve been gone? There will be no we, no bridge to cross, and no damn mating to a wolf I don’t know or love.” The slamming of a door had them both turning to face the large man in the entry. “I’m sorry to hear you say that, Alaina, but you don’t have a choice. You’re on pack land and pack law says your alpha has the right to say who marries whom. Since the last time I checked, I’m the alpha and your father, I’ve decided you will mate and marry the wolf of my choosing,” Roger Strop said. Alaina held her breath at the deep baritone of her dad. He’d always been over protective of her, which was one of the reasons she’d gone away to college, and chosen a position half-way across the country after graduation. Seeing him exert his status and his anger toward her, she held her breath. He was never happy with anything she’d done as a child. He’d wanted a son, and since she was a girl, that was one check against her. She couldn’t shift, two checks. The list kept getting longer as she got older and didn’t fit into his role of the perfect daughter. “Father, I’m sorry, but that is crazy. I came home to see you and Mom. Not get married off to some stranger. I have a job, a life back in Baltimore with people who are expecting me to return.” Her father’s piercing blue eyes drilled her with his alpha stare. “I don’t give a flying fuck if the President of the United fucking States is expecting you for dinner at the White House. My land, my pack, my rules. You will be mated, married, and out of my family in forty-eight hours.” She flinched at each of his words, when the last sentence penetrated her brain. Out of the corner of her eye she could see her mother pleading with her eyes. Alaina opened her mind to let her mother in on their private path. Another mark against her in her father’s mind was her ability to keep him out of her thoughts. Don’t anger him, baby. Please just do what he says. You will still be my daughter. He is upset at me, not you. Adalynn’s voice sounded tear filled. I don’t understand what is going on. Why is he pissed at you and taking it out on me? Roger strode to Alaina, pinching her chin between his fingers. “Don’t fucking mindspeak in my presence, you two. Adalynn, get your ass in the kitchen and start lunch. I have plans to finish up, but I’ll be back in a couple hours. You both be on your best behavior this afternoon because I’m bringing your intended over.” He released her with a vicious shove. Alaina was expecting the move and took a step back, using her fey abilities to go with his brute strength. “You’ll learn your place with Rickard. He’ll make damn sure to train you proper.” They watched Roger stomp from their home. Alaina could see her mother shaking in fear, and didn’t want to add to it with more questions. She knew her mother kept a journal that only another fey could read, and since she was the only other fey, Adalynn felt safe writing her thoughts down. Alaina made a motion with her hand indicating writing. Her mother gave her a brief nod before heading into the kitchen to begin cooking. By the time she finished reading her mother’s journal that had been written just for her, she was shaking. Her father didn’t hate her just because she wasn’t a boy, but because she wasn’t his. He’d thought she wasn’t his, but didn’t have proof until the school shooting had made the national news. The man Adalynn had loved from her old pack in Mystic had seen the news, obviously put two and two together and came up with his daughter. Clearly, her dad wasn’t happy to have had his doubts confirmed. She could only imagine the type of man he wanted her to marry. “I’ll take that one-way ticket to hell, please. Not.” She closed her mother’s journal, putting it back in the bedside table where her mom kept it. Mystic, South Dakota was where all of her maternal family lived, and Alaina always wondered why they never went back to visit. Now she knew the why. What she didn’t know was why her mom didn’t stay and marry her real dad? Why did she move halfway across the country with Roger, unless she wasn’t sure who was the father. Alaina could imagine the Maury show, with her mother sitting next to Roger and the paternity test coming up negative. Only when Maury did the reading and saying Roger, you are not the father, her dad, or the man she thought was her dad, would shift into his wolf and eat Maury before turning his focus on Adalynn. The image was so real Alaina shivered. She hurried into her bedroom, seeing the bag she’d packed still sitting on the bed, she made a snap decision. Without wasting time, she grabbed it and her purse, opened her bedroom window and snuck out, like she’d done so many times as a teenager. Only then it was to go hang out with her friends, this time it was to escape her father. Alaina pressed the unlock button, hoping none of the wolves with their super hearing were anywhere near. She held her breath as she tossed her bag in the passenger seat and climbed inside. The entire time she kept expecting her dad, or one of his enforcers, to come charging out of the woods and drag her in front of the council. When she was buckled up and the keys were in the ignition she exhaled and looked around before turning the key. Her cell phone was in her purse, but she wasn’t going to risk calling her mom until she was hours away. Driving at a sedate pace, she pulled out of the driveway, keeping her eyes on the road in front of her and didn’t look back. Alaina thought about returning the rental to the airport, but was sure her da…Roger, would look there for her first. Once she hit the highway she’d make a plan as to where she would go. She had two weeks leave from work with pay, but she hadn’t planned anything beyond staying with her parents. The sound of her phone ringing made her jerk the wheel, almost causing her to collide with another vehicle on the highway. Alaina realized she’d already begun driving east, and passed the turnoff to the airport. The ringtone was the one she’d assigned for her mother. Which meant her mom was checking in with her, or Roger was making her call, either way she wasn’t answering. After many hours on the road, and not stopping for anything, she was in need of several things, gas being one, something to drink, and the ladies room were the others. Not necessarily in that order. She pulled into a large truck stop, figuring she could blend in with the other vehicles. Again, avoiding eye contact was her main focus. She filled the tank, and then visited the bathroom, before loading up with bottled water and snacks. A sign saying free Wi-Fi caught her attention. There was no way she was going to drive across the country with no destination in mind, and the thought of Baltimore held no appeal. Mystic, South Dakota, where her mother’s family still lived, was a place she’d always wanted to go. Pulling her iPad out of her bag, she logged onto the free server and google searched the Glade family in Mystic from her mother’s journal entry. “Gah, damn wolves and their secretive hides.” Alaina tapped on the route icon. “Excuse me, are you okay?” Alaina looked up, startled to see a slender man sitting so close to her. She scented the air, but found him to be one hundred percent human. She may be only part wolf and part fey, but she had heightened senses, and could smell another wolf a mile away. If she was paying attention. “I…do I know you?” she asked. “You just exclaimed about wolves. I was wondering if you were okay.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. Alaina’s creep meter went off. “Oh, I was just looking at all these…stuffed animals.” She hid her screen and stood from the barstool. Glad that she’d parked the rental close to the front of the building, something she’d learned in one of the self-defense classes she’d taken, Alaina waved at the stranger and held her breath as she walked briskly to the door. She felt him watching her as she left, but he didn’t follow. At the rate she was going, if she kept holding her breath she would be able to qualify for deep sea diving. The thought had her giggling as she put the car in gear and pointed it in the direction of Mystic. “At least now I have a destination in mind, even if it’s going to cost me an arm and a leg with the rental company.” The song Something Bad by Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood came on the radio. It used to be one of her favorite songs, only now the words seemed ominous. She was running away from something bad, not toward it. She hoped. She stopped one more time for gas and had driven almost nine hundred miles. When she’d left her mother was just starting to prepare lunch. The clock on the dash showed she’d been driving for almost fourteen hours, stopping for gas and food and short breaks to stretch her legs. As she passed through the town of Sturgis, she realized it was still filled with people long after closing time for bars and she wondered why. Mystic was still an hour away, but, being so close, she felt excitement and nerves bubble in her stomach. So intent on getting to her mom’s sister, Payton’s, house, she missed the turnoff to their town, but saw the sign for Mystic Lodge and decided to continue on up the mountain. She hadn’t called to tell them she was coming, and since it was well after two in the morning, Alaina thought the lodge might have rooms. The dark night seemed to close in on her as she drove further up and away from the town, with the only light coming from her headlights and the dashboard. She looked down at the mile gauge to see how far she’d gone, trying to measure how much farther she had to go. “Oh, shit,” she said as she ran over something in the middle of the road, the sound of crunching glass could be heard through the closed windows. Her stomach clenched in dread and she figured she was halfway between the lodge and her aunt and uncle’s house. A trek she wouldn’t be scared to make if it wasn’t after two in the morning on a dark and winding road. She snorted. “Cue the scary music, Lainey.” Had she not been playing the music so loud, and singing along like she was Adele, maybe she’d have seen the bottle lying in the road. Her rental jerked hard to the right, thankfully she was on a flat part of the road and was able to pull off to the side. The moon overhead gave her enough light to see the lopsided way the car was sitting. She unplugged her phone from the charger putting it in her back pocket, grabbed her purse and bag and locked them in the trunk. Up or down? Alaina was always cautioned by her mom not to use her fey abilities because it upset her dad, or Roger. She threw caution out the proverbial window and let her fey senses guide her. The rainbow of colors was awe inspiring, clearly leading back downward. “How does the story go?” She looked through the trees. “Over the hills and through the woods.” With a shrug she followed the trail, wishing she was sitting in her comfy apartment in Baltimore watching Sons of Anarchy. Instead, she was traipsing through unknown territories, to seek shelter from unknown family. Not the smartest thing she’d ever done. A wolf howled in the distance, followed by a chorus of several others. She’d heard wolves howling before, having grown up in a pack, but these howls had the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. Alaina thought about sticking to the road, but the colors were more vibrant and seemed to go in a straight line through the trees. As the howls sounded closer, she chose to go with her gut and headed into the woods, the thought of climbing one of the trees as a last resort flittered through her mind. Her enhanced hearing picked up all the sounds surrounding her, and it took her a moment to filter them out and focus on the danger. The wolves were closing in from three sides. She was faster than a normal human, had heightened senses, but up against the odds of several shifters, she knew these were not mere wolves, she was no match. Even if she was to climb the tallest tree, they could shift and climb up after her. However, she did have her fey magic. “Screw it,” she said and started running as fast as she could, following the trail while dodging low hanging branches. Her feet flew over the ground, barely making a sound, but each time she broke a twig it sounded like a gunshot to her ears. She knew the wolves could hear the same thing, she just prayed her Aunt Payton felt her presence. When she’d opened her fey abilities, the welcoming flood of magic was a familial one she recognized. It was very similar to her mother’s, only crisper, not as shadowed with sadness. Alaina realized her mother wasn’t happy, and she wished she’d paid closer attention when she was younger. She made a silent vow to do all she could to get her mother away from Roger and his pack…if she made it out of her own predicament. Alaina swerved around a fallen tree, losing sight of her color guide. She stopped, trying to catch her bearings. A huge wolf jumped in front of her, his teeth bared, spittle dripping from his jaws. Another wolf, not quite as big, but just as menacing came at her from the left, followed by another on her right. She knew the tactic they were using, caging her in on all sides. She wondered if there was one behind her, but was too scared to take her eyes off the largest one in front of her. The eerie yellow eyes staring at her held menace and knowledge, a double whammy in her world. She wondered if she’d wandered onto their land. “Listen, I know you understand me. My dad is alpha of the Cascade pack and would be really pissed if you hurt his baby girl.” A complete and utter lie, but he didn’t need to know that, she used the extra fey powers to surround her with an utter sense of calm, hoping they believed her. The leader of the wolves chuffed and took a step forward. She sent a call out to her fey family, hoping someone was up and near. You never turn your back on a predator and you never run from a wolf. However, she did take a few steps back sensing there was no other wolves behind her. For every step she took backward, they took one forward, closing the gap between them. Alaina raised her hands in front of her. They began to glow, magic from the lands infusing her with power she’d never had before. “If you don’t back the fuck off, I will blast your asses.” The two smaller wolves stopped the pursuit, their heads cocking to the side. The alpha snarled, the hair on his back stood up, indicating he was ready to attack. “I mean it, you prick. One move and you’ll be roasted dog meat. Imagine the stink, boys. Have you smelled burning hair?” She made a gagging sound, but never let her arms drop. They seemed to believe she could actually roast their asses, which Alaina wasn’t so sure she could or couldn’t do. Continuing to back up she didn’t take her eyes off of the three wolves in front of her, she didn’t realize where she was walking. In that moment her main worry was keeping the animals at bay. The thought made her giggle almost hysterically, but only for a split second. Arms flailing she screamed as she fell off the edge of a cliff. Her back hit what felt like a tree branch. Instead of a free fall she began sliding, tumbling end over end as she frantically tried to grab onto anything to stop her downward descent. A sickening crunch followed by pain flared down her left arm, making her pull back and then a jarring stop followed by another hit, this time on her head and Alaina saw stars and then blackness swallowed her whole. She yelled out for help just before total darkness encompassed everything.
Other Books in this Series
SynopsisFor veterinarian Cora Welch, being bitten by a young injured wolf wasn’t the best day of her life, nor the raging fever that followed. However, finding herself faced with a naked man proved even more than she had ever bargained for. Zayn couldn’t believe what his inner wolf was telling him when he first saw the human doctor Cora, standing in nothing but a towel. The last thing he wanted was a mate, especially an accidental one. And at a time when danger seemed to be coming at the Mystic Pack from an unknown source, it just wasn’t in his plans. All he had to do was get Cora through the fever, keep her safe from the other pack, and keep his fangs to himself. But nobody told him he’d have to fight a mating urge so strong within himself, that it was a losing battle. Now, he has to explain to Cora that he accidentally marked her for a second time, making her just like him. Cora knew something was not right in her world the moment she wanted to climb her rescuer like a tree. Hearing Zayn tell her she was now a werewolf, like him and his pack, she realized she now had a home. If her new mate still wanted her after he heard about her family, Cora knew she’d be happy to be an accidental wolf.
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