Authors: Veronica Del Rosa
Markus laughed. “Everything comes naturally to me, even my shitty pep talks. You know what I like best about you?”
“That I’m a handsome man, and I have a way with the ladies?” he halfheartedly jested. Sorrow weighed too heavily on him to truly match wits with Markus, one of their favourite pastimes.
“Ha, if by ladies you mean the German Shepherd across the road from you, then sure.” Markus shook his head. “No, I’m talking about your strength, your ability to continue on even when you’re hurting. A few times, I’ve wanted to say fuck it and just become a hermit. Each time, though, you pulled me through. This time, I’m going to help
“What makes you think I want or need help? Maybe I’ll become the hermit instead. Live in the mountains or something, away from all this crap. I’m just so tired. So damn tired, and I don’t want to deal with it anymore. I know she’s happy with him and I’ll never have a chance. She’s my lifemate, and we both know I won’t have another. I can’t force her to be with me. It’s her decision as to who she wants to be with, and she didn’t choose me.”
“Did you ever give her the chance to choose you? Or did you hide your feelings, pretend they didn’t exist? How was she to know you want to be with her?”
“What? You expect me to just say, ‘Hey, you’re my lifemate. I love you. Do you feel the same? Check yes or no.’ Fuck that! She wouldn’t feel comfortable being my Beta, and then I’d lose her.” The thought of never seeing Sylvia devastated him and proved he wasn’t strong enough to free her. He needed to see her even at the expense of his own sanity. “No, I’ll just keep my mouth shut and deal. And maybe hope that Victor has a horrible accident or gets taken to the demon plane or something. Then I’ll comfort her in her time of need, and bang, she’s mine.”
Derek sighed in disgust, unable to believe he’d been reduced to mentally killing off his rival.
“First, that’s damn pathetic. Second, no, just no. Victor is a damn good Enforcer, and I don’t want to lose him, even in your delusional fantasies.”
“You know, I like you about 95% of the time,” Derek snapped at him.
“I like you about 60% of the time,” Markus replied, unconcerned with the hostility directed at him.
“And then the other 5%, I want to punch you in the throat.”
He eyed his friend’s throat, thinking how nice it would be to give him a solid jab and force him to stop talking. It wouldn’t hurt Markus, though. In fact, it’d hurt Derek more as the mage probably had his shield active.
“Well, that just dropped to 50%. And when I don’t like you, I just want to hold your head in the toilet bowl. Bad dog.” Markus wagged his finger at Derek.
“Okay, and now we’re at the 5%. You’re such an asshole.” He tried hard to hold onto his self-pity and anger. However, the image of Markus grappling with him to try and shove his head into the toilet was too absurd, and he couldn’t contain his laughter. He was a good foot taller and probably had a hundred pounds on the other man.
Lacking any real heat, Derek fumed, “You know, I do hate you.”
“Of course you do. I’m perfect and you’re not. Come on, let’s go. The complex is cleared, and all the personnel have found new, comfy homes in our prisons. Sylvia’s at the hospital. I’ll bring you to her.” Markus didn’t give him a chance to reply as he teleported them both out of the forest.
The hospital room
was cheery and impersonal. The walls gleamed a light yellow, the sheets were a crisp white and a swinging lamp sat on the fake walnut nightstand next to the bed. Machines lightly beeped and recorded Sylvia’s stats. While nicer than her last place of residence, it wasn’t home. All this poking and prodding was beginning to irritate her.
Sure, the doctors were nicer than the scientists, and – added bonus – they didn’t break any of her bones. Didn’t mean she was enjoying her stay here. In the past twenty-four hours, they’d taken her blood, examined every inch of her, woken her on a regular basis to run tests and just generally driven her crazy. She was ready to scream in frustration.
The door swung open, and she tensed.
Don’t be another damn doctor or nurse. Please, no more tests
, she thought, wanting to be left alone to lick her wounds in peace.
“Sylvia.” The deep rumble relaxed her, and she smiled.
One of the few men she ever looked up to, physically and mentally, Derek towered over her bed. A huge man with delicious muscles in all the right places.
When they’d first met decades ago, she’d had fantasies about licking every inch of his dark chocolate skin, running her fingers through his short black hair and claiming his body as hers.
A coil of desire unfurled in her stomach, reacting to her thoughts, and she squashed it. He was her Alpha, and that’s all he’d ever be. He’d never given her any indication he wanted her attention or desired her that way.
Anyway, she’d made her decision to not pursue a relationship with Derek years ago. Her attraction to him had never waned, but it was time to get past her crush on him. She was a grown woman, no longer the young pup who idolized the man before her.
“Hello, Derek.” Her voice didn’t betray her inner turmoil while her mind was a chaotic mess.
It was hard to believe she was free, that this wasn’t a cruel dream and she wouldn’t wake up back in her small prison. The urge to scream and laugh and cry all at the same time rolled through her.
She wanted Derek to hold her tight and tell her everything would be okay, but she knew it was a lie. The world was no longer a safe place. They’d stolen her.
A party full of people hadn’t stopped them. Taken, held against her will, helpless to stop it. How could she protect herself from them? Would they come for her, finish her off? What about her pack? How could she protect them when she’d proved useless against abduction?
As a Beta, she was second in rank to the Alpha. Zmitro was on par with her, the other Beta in Derek’s pack, while the Deltas held a rank one below hers. If anything happened to Derek outside of a challenge, it fell to her and Zmitro to run the pack until a new Alpha was chosen.
Most packs had one Beta with three to five Deltas. Derek’s position as Top Alpha for Ontario meant he ruled almost a hundred smaller packs. He needed more in the dominant positions to protect the Lesser Alphas and their packs. Strong werewolves to protect the weak.
But she wasn’t strong anymore, was she? A victim of circumstance and cruel bastards playing at creation.
Through sheer determination, she pushed those self-defeating thoughts away, refusing to let them grow roots and suffocate her mind. She focused on Derek and saw his lips moving.
His words had no impact on her. Her mind couldn’t grasp the meaning.
“I’m sorry, what?” Weariness seeped into her bones, and she leaned back against the raised bed. Her fingers twisted in the bed sheets, and she thought of her own bed with soft cotton sheets. She needed the normalcy of her own home.
“The doctors are releasing you today. They said there’s no lasting trauma and you’re physically healed. They’ve recommended you seek therapy to cope with your abduction. You’ll come home with me and stay at my place for the next little while. I’ve brought you some clothes,” he repeated himself, patient and calm.
His steady gaze unnerved her.
Reaching out, he placed a plastic bag on the bed. One of her t-shirts rested on top, folded neatly and with care.
“At your place? No, no I can’t do that. I have to go home.” How could she get on with her life? How could she possibly get over her crush on him if she saw him on a daily basis in his home?
“You’re coming home with me, and that’s final. No arguments. Or did you hand in your resignation as Beta while I wasn’t looking?” He arched an eyebrow, looking intimidating and impossibly sexy at the same time.
Damn, he had a point.
He was her Alpha. She couldn’t refuse his orders without a good reason, and even then, she’d have to go in front of the Coterie to explain herself. It wouldn’t go over well if she told them she didn’t want to stay because she was afraid she’d have her wicked way with him.
Stuck with no polite way to back out. Damn.
“Fine. I’ll come home with you,” she grumbled, sounding ungrateful and childish but unable to stop herself.
She swung her feet over the side of the bed, grabbed the bag full of her clothes and muttered about bossy men. Making sure to hold the back of the gown closed, Sylvia stomped over to the bathroom, grateful her muscles held her upright. Lack of exercise and proper nutrition coupled with constant torture had left her still feeling shaky. The doctors were correct when they said her body hadn’t suffered any lasting damage.
Her mind was another matter.
Gently closing the bathroom door, she leaned on it.
Calm, she needed calm. She opened her eyes and wished she hadn’t. The small bathroom reminded her of her prison, tight, cramped, no room, oh shit, she couldn’t breathe.
Breathe, damn it, breathe.
A low sob escaped before she firmly pressed her lips together.
A knock at the door had her jumping.
“Sylvia, are you okay? Do you need help?”
She managed to stop the hysterical laughter from erupting. No, she didn’t want him helping her into her clothes. She’d rather help him out of his.
“I’m fine. I’m fine, just give me a minute.” Geez, she needed to get a grip.
Moving away from the door, she pulled clothes out of the bag. Bright purple t-shirt, dark skinny jeans, socks and, oh…a black bra and matching thong. Her cheeks flamed, embarrassment and excitement rushing through her. Had he gone through her underwear drawer? Had he pictured these on her when he’d picked them out?
Dressing in a hurry, she tried to forget his hands had been on the small scraps of fabric that were now cupping and molded to her body. At the bottom of the bag was her favourite pair of sneakers, well worn and comfortable. He’d also thought to pack a small travel case with a toothbrush, toothpaste and a hairbrush. No makeup, though honestly, she didn’t care at this point. His thoughtfulness choked her up, and tears threatened to fall.
She shook her head, wondering where all this weepiness was coming from. Three months they’d tortured her, and she hadn’t cried once. An Enforcer for decades, she had survived their training with nary a tear.
She didn’t like the new “her”.
Was there a complaints department, a refund policy to take advantage of?
Facing her reflection in the mirror, she looked exactly the same. Bright red hair, wild and curly. Clear blue eyes with small flecks of green. A small, pert nose and pouty, dark pink lips.
She squeezed toothpaste onto her toothbrush and scrubbed hard at her teeth. So much had changed inside her and not a single physical sign to show for it. Spitting out the paste, she rinsed her mouth and then splashed water on her face. The coldness helped to clear the cobwebs, and she felt more focused, able to face Derek.
Steeling herself, she opened the door and stepped out. Her eyes locked on his face. He shuttered his expression and turned away from her. But the slight flare of his nostrils and the dilation of his pupils gave him away. A discreet inhale drew his scent into her lungs, almost choking her.
The unmistakable aroma of lust scented the air, and it wasn’t from her.
He desired her.
How the hell had she missed this before? Was it a recent development? He’d never given her any indication he wanted her.
The most logical reason came to mind. Simple biology. Men desired women all the time and didn’t take it any farther. It meant nothing.
What a shame.
She knew he wasn’t her lifemate. A bond had never occurred between them, one that was supposed to be more intimate than an Alpha’s bond with his pack. The Alpha could send his thoughts to each member under him: Betas, Deltas, the Omega and the submissives. However, he received nothing in return. No thoughts or emotions. But lifemates shared a bond so intimate and complete that when one died, the other soon followed. They could communicate psychically no matter the distance between them.
The male werewolf always knew his mate and was ruthless in pursuing her. On the rare occasion when more than one tried to claim a woman, she made the choice. And the rejected one never recovered.
Derek did not have the air of a rejected and devastated man. Nor had he ever pursued her.
Following him out of the hospital room, her eyes wandered down the length of his back and zeroed in on his tight butt encased in jeans. The flexing of his muscles mesmerized her. She wanted to dig her fingers into his hips and hold on tight for a wild ride.
His long legs ate up the distance to the elevator and then bypassed them for the stairs. Standing in the entrance with his back pressed against the door, he held it open for her. She brushed past him, near enough to feel his body heat, and suppressed a shudder of longing.
Why the hell was her awareness of him jacked up like this?
She hurried down the stairs, trying to escape her messed-up thoughts. Perhaps she could convince him to drop her off at home. A quick peek at his shuttered expression discouraged any speaking. She’d just hope for the best.
Maybe she’d be in the farthest room from his and wouldn’t see him while she stayed at his place.
Good luck with that,
her inner voice taunted her.