Adam VonBrandt heard footsteps in the hall and resumed his pensive-stare-out-the-window look. For good measure, he hoisted the heavy snifter of his brother’s sixty-year Macallan Scotch off the windowsill. If this wasn’t the perfect image of the tortured ex, he didn’t know what was.
He hadn’t exactly felt the mate pull with Dee Trewitt, but that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt to see her with those green tattoos on her wrists. Doubles. Mated.
There hadn’t been time to have it out earlier—not with his brothers and sister and cousins and three other packs in the room. But she had gotten his meet me in the library at midnight text. He’d seen the little Read icon show up under the bubble.
She should be coming.
The last time there’d been footsteps, it hadn’t been Dee, and he’d been forced to listen to his brother’s new girl toy whine about how Allan wouldn’t play the mating game.
Fuck his brother.
Although the girl-toy was obviously off to try just that. His lucky brother.
Adam had expected to get fucked himself, until Dee showed up with the tattoos.
She could have texted him.
“Adam?” Her voice was a whisper, and he kept waiting for it to thrill him that they were meeting like this, but it didn’t.
The desire for her body had left him when he saw her bond on her skin.
He swirled the glass of Scotch and the ice cubes clinked in the empty room. He didn’t turn around. “Hi, Dee.”
“Your text said to meet you?” She padded into the room, but stayed on the other side. They’d never had that powerful bond that Adam had heard about, so it wasn’t like his physical proximity was going to pain her. But he got it. He didn’t want to be near her, either.
“I’m not trying to seduce you.” He toasted some imaginary, far-off concept. “I have too much respect for the mate bond.”
Her sigh was so loud, Adam was fairly certain anyone in a ten-mile radius could have heard it. Gods, she really thought he was that kind of douche? He set the glass on the windowsill.
“Why did you want to see me, Adam?”
“Not for a heart-to-heart.” He turned on a boot heel. “I just figured you’d want to explain why you didn’t even text me to let me know you’d picked out someone else.”
Dee’s shoulders went up and down. “I can’t explain it. I guess you have to feel the mate call to know what it’s like.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. “Like, Fate?”
“In that case, you sure as shit should’ve told me.” He took a couple of steps toward her and she tensed. “I’m not gonna mess with Fate, Dee.”
“Then why did you want to meet in the library in the dark?”
“Because this isn’t a conversation you have in front of your dude.” Adam turned to his right, like the beefy cowboy was standing beside him. “‘Gee, Harry, I’ve had your new mate fifty ways from Sunday over the last ten years, and figured we’d get married someday. By the way, don’t forget to try the veal.’”
A tiny smirk flowered across Dee’s face. “His name is William.”
“Because that was the most important detail in that little speech.” Adam pushed a hand through his hair. “Gods, Dee. Ten years.”
She shrugged again, like she was ready to be rid of him. “Let’s face it, Adam. We were placeholders until something better came along.”
He waited for some kind of sting to rise up inside, but it didn’t come. Instead, he found himself chuckling. “You’re saying he’s hotter than me? Cuz… I’m not seeing it.”
Dee’s laugh was less tentative than her smirk had been. She was warming to him. “Always with the sarcasm.” She walked to the high-backed chair and put her hand on the leather. “I’m saying he’s my Fate.”
“I get it.” He wiped at the air, like it was the slate he wanted to clean. “But next time, text a guy you’re having placeholder sex with, just as a heads-up that he’s not getting laid this weekend.”
A full-out laugh. Her eyes sparkled when she laughed again. “This really is about sex?”
He pulled one corner of his mouth up. “Like you said, we both knew we weren’t Fated. No kidding around there.”
Dee took in a long breath through her nose. “Yes, there’s nothing quite like feeling Fate tell you who your match is.”
“So I’ve been hearing.”
The sparkle was back in her eyes. “He’s my Fate. I can’t change that, nor would I want to, honestly.”
“I promise, this isn’t a ploy to get in your pants.” Adam picked up the snifter and took a long swig. “I’m sure there are plenty of girls here this weekend who would be happy to ride the A-Train.”
Dee squeezed the chair. “You probably shouldn’t say that to them.”
“It worked on you.” He let a little for old time’s sake slip into his voice.
“Well, I’m special.”
Adam pursed his lips. She’d been a consistent part of his life for ten years. Every other month, he was either up at the Trewitts’ getting his horse trained, or buying a new horse, or going to a rodeo.
She’d been his sexual distraction from the generally unappetizing romantic life of Somewhere, TX, where all the wolves were family and all the townies were human. Humans could be messy.
But he wasn’t sure if he thought she was special in the way he wanted her to be. She had been a great companion, and an occasional lover. They hadn’t ever had the magick that she undoubtedly felt with William, or that Aaron and Tonya had.
Plenty of wolves never found a Fated match, and they still chose a mate and said the spells to bond. Adam always assumed he and Dee would be wearing the matching tattoos someday.
It should hurt more that she’d bonded with another man. Only it didn’t.
Adam found himself swilling the last of the Scotch and rolling the glass in his hands. He turned back to the window. “What does it feel like?”
“The Fate stuff. What does it feel like?”
He waited for her to answer, but part of him didn’t want to know. In a family where everyone who was married was also Fated, he didn’t want to know what wasn’t in store for him.
“It feels like… a magick rope. Wherever you are, you’re pulled toward them. It’s like you’re in their orbit, like you couldn’t get away from them if you tried.”
He nodded and set the glass down on the side table, turning to face her. “That’s not us.”
“No, it wasn’t.”
“And that’s okay.” He rimmed the glass with his finger.
“I love William, and I am glad for every day we have together.” A distant look caught in her eyes and her voice went hot. “I think about him when I’m not with him, and I feel him wherever I’m at.”
“You can feel him now?” Adam looked out the door, into the semi-dark hallway.
“I can. He’s waiting for me to go run with him.”
He turned back to the window. Outside, the whole landscape of the VonBrandt ranch was awash in the bright white glow of the moon. “You’re going to shift?”
A smile crept over her features. “Well, we need to get out of the house.”
Adam laughed and nodded. “Right. I get it.” Sexxors.
Dee curled her tongue inside her mouth, like she was preventing herself from saying the obvious.
Let’s not joke about the fact that you used to like to run with me and then have sex at the end…too soon.
He gestured to the window. “You should go, then. Don’t keep William waiting.”
With a long pause, she watched him. “You’re sure we’re okay? I mean, you and me? Are we good?”
“We’re good.” Adam hooked one thumb into his belt loop. “I’m gonna head home and get some shuteye. Big run tomorrow.”
Dee approached him, careful. “Let me just…” She slipped her arms around him and hugged, hard.
He kept waiting for the lust to set in, to distract him, but there was nothing. The presence of those tattoos had cut off whatever had been tethering him to her. Adam hugged her back.
“It was good to know you,” he said. “In the biblical sense.”
She laughed, fuller and louder this time. It was almost like her comfort had returned, and Dee had let her guard down. Adam stepped away.
“You, too.” She clipped across the wood floor to the door and turned. “And watch out for Fate. She might have something in store for you, yet.”
He smiled and waved her off. It was certainly possible that Fate had plans for him, and he would be on the lookout for it.
After all, he had a house full of visiting wolves. At least half of them were female, and more than two-thirds of those were un-mated.
All he had to do was get within orbit of every single one of them and see what happened.
If Dee was right, he wouldn’t be able to keep it from happening, and since he had the benefit of singleness, with a side of solitude, he planned on doing everything he could, while the house was full of wolves, to find his mate.
* * *
Beeeeep! Beeeeep! Beeeeep!
Paige slapped the off button on her nightstand alarm clock and yawned. The bright red numbers glowed at her through squinted eyes. 6am.
She had the day off from the bakery today, so she could enjoy her sunrise ritual on the big rock out in the back pasture before heading in to work anyway.
She flipped the switch on her lamp, bathing her dark bedroom in a warm yellow glow. The outfit she’d picked out the night before stared back at her from the armchair across her room—jeans, a fitted moss green t-shirt that really made her hazel eyes pop and complemented her bronzy-red hair. She always put a little more thought into her clothing choice on Fridays.
Paige shuffled across the room and climbed into her clothes. Then slid her feet into waiting sneakers and shuffled through her house. A half-eaten bowl of popcorn and a mound of cried-on tissues littered her coffee table.
She pulled her cellphone out of her back pocket and called her best friend—possibly only friend. Typically, they watched reruns of Dr. Who or Star Trek together, but Hillary had just broken up with her boyfriend George and had shown up on her doorstep yesterday afternoon with every Nicholas Sparks movie on the planet.
So she’d sat through hours of tortured-weepy characters and listened as her friend recounted each reason she should beg George to come back.
“Paige?” Hillary’s voice came through the speaker. “Why aren’t you at the bakery? Isn’t this your day to see Adam?”
A smile curved her lips. Hillary was the only one that she ever talked to about her crush on Adam VonBrandt.
She’d followed Meg from Baltimore to Somewhere six years ago to learn the skills she needed to open her own bakery.
“Somebody goofed and scheduled me off today. I’m going in after I watch the sunrise. I just wanted to check on you and make sure you hadn’t caved.”
Her friend sighed. “Nope. No caving. George is not the right man for me, and I deserve better.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Go watch your sunrise and then drool over your obsession. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Bye, girl.” Paige tapped the red button on the bottom of her phone screen and shoved the cell back into her pocket.
She wasn’t supposed to ever have Fridays off. Meg and Berg both knew this, but every once in a while it did happen.
Since she didn’t have to show up for prep-time, she could enjoy her favorite spot out by the creek on the back of her property and watch the sun rise over the pines.
When her Granny Lewis passed away years ago, the sweet old woman left a huge chunk of change for all five of her granddaughters. Paige had used hers to buy part of what she’d always wanted—a farm. The rest of the inheritance was safely tucked away in a bank until she was ready to start her own bakery. But since seeing Adam VonBrandt had become the highlight of her week, she’d had no motivation to push forward to the next bullet point of her life plan.
Paige opened the back door and took a deep breath of the nippy November air.
There was enough light to see by, so she left the flashlight on the table next to the door and stepped out into the cold. She zipped up her coat and headed down the path she’d worn into the ground from her back door to the big rock next to the creek. It was about a ten-minute walk.
Paige slowed her pace as she came to the edge of the clearing where she liked to spend her mornings off.
The sound of two people moaning floated in the air and Paige’s eyes widened.
She ducked behind a tree and held her breath. Her rock was already occupied this morning—by a very naked couple. Holy crap!
A few moments passed. The moaning had stopped.
She peeked around the pine tree trunk and froze. The people were…changing into—? That couldn’t be right. The air shimmered around them, like the shine on a soap bubble.
Paige blinked and rubbed her eyes. When she looked again, there were no people. The bubble had popped and only two silvery gray wolves stood where the people had been. It couldn’t be real… She held her breath and waited.
The wolves hadn’t seen her, and she watched them trot off away from her. She waited until they were long out of sight and hopefully out of hearing, then turned around and walked straight back to her house.
That pot of soup she’d made for dinner last night was going into the trash. Someone at the market had to have given her some bad mushrooms or something, because she’d just hallucinated for the first time in her life. What a trip.
Paige turned toward the barn. Casper needed breakfast before she dumped out her leftover veggie soup. Then she could head in to town a little early. Some time in the kitchen would help clear her head.