Thursday afternoon of Alpha Summit
Ryan Travis was about to throat punch his idiot brother. They’d been stuck in the same truck for hours, and for the last ten minutes, Beau had been talking to their mom on speakerphone about the best way to tell if a girl was his Fated mate. If Ryan had to hear his own mother say the word lust one more time, he might also have to claw out his own ears.
But they were in Somewhere, Texas—home of the closest and largest pack of secret wolf shifters who weren’t related to the Travis boys. Beau would get his chance to sidle up to all the pretty girls to see if there was a mate connection.
Ryan wouldn’t, of course, but that didn’t keep Beau from running his damn mouth.
The current topic of conversation was how to tell the difference between lust and Fate. Ma was dancing awful close to the if she only makes your dick hard, she’s not the one line.
Roughly ten more seconds and there would be a fatality.
It would be pretty hard to kill a wolf shifter, but he was ready to give it a try.
“Seeing isn’t believing, baby,” Ma said, echoing her famous phrase. “Feeling is believing.”
“I don’t know, Ma,” Beau said, leaning over to leer out the window at a girl on a horse, riding out in the Texas pasture. “I’ve seen some pretty-as-hell girls in my life. Like, a pair of tits on ‘em that’d—”
“Shut your cake hole,” said Bracken Trewitt, Ryan’s uncle and the current alpha of the Oklahoma pack, as he pulled off the highway that ran south of town. “We’re sick as hell of hearing it.” At first, Ryan thought he was gonna pull over and lay some law down, but up ahead was a large, thick-set iron gate off on a side road.
The VonBrandt ranch. They were here.
“I mean, not the barrel racers…they’re all flat as a damn pancake, but—”
“Did you not understand the order your alpha just gave you?” Ryan said through gritted teeth. Sometimes, Beau was too much like Ma. Listening to his alpha was a multiple choice test question, and there was always a possibility he would choose D – None of the above.
“Y’all get there?” Ma’s voice came through the speaker as Beau held the phone out in front of him. “Is that you, Ryan?”
“It’s me, Ma.”
“You be nice to your brother, y’hear me? He wants to find a mate down in Texas and don’t let your little celibacy kick rain on his parade.”
Yes, Ma. I promise not to get in the way of Beau’s fuck-train. All right?
Instead, he grunted and turned his head back toward the window, staring out at the piney woods. They were thick alongside the road, except where a pasture had been cut out. When they reached the gate, their alpha punched a few numbers into the keypad, read something off a card, and a voice came through the little metal speaker, telling them to drive on through.
Beau hung up the phone, thanking Ma for all the chick advice, and Ryan let his throat-punching fantasy go. Still, he didn’t want to hear his mother give his little brother advice on how to get laid ever again, if he could help it.
“It’s four-fifty,” Bracken said, touching the clock display on the dash.
“We’re ten minutes early for the interview,” Ryan noted.
“He’d better be there. Can’t trust a man who isn’t early for an important meeting.” The alpha drove them up the long, red-dirt road that led toward the striking VonBrandt ranch house. If you could call it a ranch house. It was more like a ranch mansion. Red brick, multiple stories, white columns in front. A few cars were parked in the round, and then a big green lawn led up to a giant red barn. Corrals and all.
Aaron VonBrandt was standing on his big, sprawling porch in a tailored suit, leaning on a column like an antebellum aristocrat. No doubt, Bracken was the first of the alpha visitors to arrive. Ryan had never met Aaron VonBrandt, but he knew almost everything there was to know about the reclusive oil magnate. Reclusive because he was a shifter, though you wouldn’t learn that from Wikipedia.
“You meet with the Quade kid in the library in ten minutes,” Bracken said to Ryan, slowing the truck. “If he’s any good, bring him back to the shifter cabins and we’ll introduce him around. Everyone should be here by then.”
The Trewitt enforcers and several other members of the pack were driving down to Somewhere behind them. Not the whole pack—they couldn’t be in public together without a brawl breaking out—but enough that they would make a good showing at this summit Aaron had called.
“When Dee gets here,” the alpha continued, “we’ll find Adam and she can do her thing. She’ll need to tell him the truth about her mate bond first. Then we’ll deal with Black Guardian.”
“Well, I just got a text from Dee,” Beau said from the back of the truck. “She’s already here.”
Bracken’s long intake of breath set Ryan on edge. Deirdre Trewitt, one of his many cousins, had a special relationship with the VonBrandt pack, but that relationship was in jeopardy now that she’d found her Fated mate.
“Oh, shit…” Beau’s voice trailed off. “I wasn’t supposed to tell you that.”
“I’ll handle her if she shows up at the house.” Ryan opened the door and slid out into the warm Texas afternoon, trying to reassure his alpha.
“You remind her of what I said.” Bracken’s voice was dark, showing his displeasure for her carelessness about their relationship with the VonBrandts. And she was the reason they had to do this interview. She’d announced that she was leaving the summit with Will Quade and going back to El Paso to mate and marry him.
Leaving Adam VonBrandt—whom she’d been cavorting with for years—out in the cold, and likely none too happy about it.
It was going to be a touchy situation, even more so because the new ranch manager they were hoping to scoop up was also a Quade. They’d used the Shifter Wanted service and gotten one name back. K. Quade. It had to be either Keaton or Kurt. Ryan hadn’t met either of them before, although like most shifters from other packs, he knew a lot about them.
This summit weekend would be the first face-to-face with a lot of people he’d heard about or researched. Aaron VonBrandt was right. Shifters needed to get more connected. Come into the twenty-first century.
At Bracken’s ranch, thanks to Dee’s mate antics, they needed a wolf to replace her in the office. Too much shifter business got mixed in with ranch business. And thanks to the new alpha situation, that wolf couldn’t be a Trewitt. That would be favoritism.
It wouldn’t take much to fracture their fragile alliance.
“I’ll text Dee back,” Beau offered.
“Let me do it,” Ryan said. “I want to talk to her before she sees any of the VonBrandts.”
“Enough,” said the alpha, finality in his tone. “Aaron can tell you where the shifter cabins are when you’re done, Ryan. You don’t want to be late.”
As soon as Ryan’s boots crunched in the gravel, he felt better. Getting away from Beau was a plus, but he was also anxious to get through the alpha transition, so he could be the new alpha. He had so much to atone for. So much to prove.
So much to do.
As the big red truck pulled away, his alpha giving him one last wave, Ryan approached the house. The big, suited man with the beard came down the few stairs to the ground and extended his hand.
“Ryan Travis, I imagine,” he said.
“Yes, sir.” He shook the man’s hand. “You must be Aaron VonBrandt.”
“I am.” He gestured around, taking in all the greenery and all the brick. “Welcome to my home, son. It’s good to meet you.”
It was strange to be called son by a man who couldn’t be more than ten or fifteen years older than him. Yet, it also seemed appropriate. Aaron had a fatherly air, much like Bracken did. Maybe all alphas were that way.
Ryan had always felt ten years older than his peers. He didn’t get drunk like his rodeo friends did. He didn’t sleep around—couldn’t afford to get attached to anyone. He’d been raised to take over as alpha.
By emulating Aaron VonBrandt’s reign over the East Texas pack, Ryan would finally unite all the Trewitts for good and put an end to all the damn feuding. That would be his legacy.
“I’ve heard a lot about you,” said the Texas alpha, clapping his shoulder and ushering him up the stairs. “From my brother, among others.”
“Adam,” Ryan said, naming the brother who had likely been talking about him. “How is Adam doing, anyway?”
“Looking forward to the Trewitts arriving.” The alpha led him through the doors, cringing just a little on that sentence. It must be strange to talk about your brother’s sex life—because that had to be why Adam was looking forward to the Oklahoma wolves showing up. He wanted to get laid.
Dee and Adam had been an on-again-off-again thing for as long as Ryan could remember. Only now, it would be off. For good.
They walked through a big, wood-paneled foyer, and Aaron pointed down a hallway. “Bracken said y’all need to use the library for a meeting. It’s this way.”
Ryan followed him down a long, similarly paneled hallway, past several doors, and down to the end, which opened into a big, open library. Books filled every shelf and more of them were stacked on some of the flat surfaces.
“We’re interviewing one of the Quades for a job at Bracken’s ranch,” Ryan said as they walked into the big space. It felt like his voice echoed just a touch in the room.
“The Quades?” Aaron said with half a snort. “You sure you want to try to steal one of Phillip’s cowboys out from under his nose while he’s here at the summit?”
“We’re not hiring a cowboy.” Ryan picked up one of the heavy books—a history of Celtic mythology—and turned it over. Without thinking, he added, “We’re hiring a ranch manager.”
“Don’t you already have a ranch manager?” Aaron asked, and Ryan’s blood instantly chilled, freezing his hand on the cover of the book.
Technically, they did. As of the current moment, Dee was still their manager. But she was about to leave the job to run off with her non-VonBrandt mate—something Ryan didn’t want to casually mention to the alpha, especially not before Adam himself learned the truth Ryan couldn’t afford to piss off the VonBrandts this early in the weekend.
“We’re hiring another one,” he offered, trying to keep as close to the truth as he could.
“Well, that might be wisest, anyhow.” The alpha got all the way to the big window and put his hands on his hips, staring out across a big pond that had a couple of horses drinking from it. “I would imagine that, someday soon, Adam is going to want to make an honest woman out of Dee, and I doubt he’ll be able to move up to Durant.”
The alpha’s insinuation that Dee would move to Somewhere would not get touched with a ten-foot pole. Not until Dee had a chance to talk to Adam face-to-face, which was Bracken’s only order considering their strange relationship. No one was going to do her job for her. She had to talk to Adam herself.
“With the alpha transition, I imagine it will be good to get fresh blood in that job,” Aaron kept talking, acting as if Ryan hadn’t just ignored his half of the conversation. “Since you work so closely together. Dee talks about Bracken like he’s her father.”
“We do work closely,” Ryan finally answered. “The Durant ranch is the biggest moneymaker. We supply horse stock to the rodeo teams and the cattle operations. We’re sort of the hub of the pack, or…we will be.”
“I don’t know what I’d do with a pack so spread out.” Aaron turned, shaking his head. “My hat goes off to Bracken, and to you, for the work you do.”
“That means a lot, Mr. VonBrandt, coming from you.”
“Please, son. You’re going to be an alpha soon. Call me Aaron.” He offered another handshake. “Well, I’ll leave you to your interview. It was good to meet you, Ryan Travis. Welcome to the alpha club.”
“There’s a club?”
The VonBrandt alpha laughed. “No, but maybe there should be. It sure would’ve helped me when I had to take over from my father.” He turned his head like he heard something outside the door. “My family is arriving. I should get out there before my wife comes looking for me. When you’re done, I assume you’ll want to head down to the shifter cabins. If you head back to the road you came in on, you can take the right past the pasture. It’ll be the first house you come to. Good luck with your interview.”
And with that, the alpha was gone—gears switched from one welcome to another. Ryan leaned on the frame of the window, looking out across the pond himself. This was such a peaceful, green place, compared to his home. And there was no denying the VonBrandt pack was peaceful compared to his—a real family.
What Ryan would take over in a few days was more like an ongoing Hatfield-McCoy situation, and soon it would be his job to handle that live wire.
But he would fix his people. Or he would die trying.
He owed them that much.