Authors: Samantha Horne
“Because you’re the Alpha, and it’s your duty?”
“No. Because you’re worth the very best care, and you deserve it. No-one’s going to hurt you again.”
I tried to focus on what he said, honestly, but the blessed darkness was calling me, and before I knew it, I was asleep.
The next day, I was bored of resting and too eager to explore the town again now I knew most of its secrets. My arm was bandaged up, but the painkillers were working wonders, and the constant throbbing had eased to an occasional ache. It still hurt like a bitch when I moved it, but if I kept it still then I could pretty much ignore it. I was sitting outside in the beautiful gardens of Jackson’s house which were surrounded by miles of forest. I breathed in the clean air, and pulled out my laptop with my good arm, opening it and turning it on. I knew it probably wasn’t the best idea to be typing all day with my bad arm, but I needed to get some work done or I was going to go stir crazy. I had always loved to write. It was probably the only thing I’d ever been good at, or even enjoyed at school, and from a young age I knew I wanted to do it as a career. I had gone to university to do a joint honours degree with creative writing and journalism - I know, the two of them didn’t really mesh that well - but I had enjoyed every second of it. When I sat down to write, it was like everything else just went away, and nothing else was important anymore. Whether it was working on the sci-fi novel I was hoping to publish, or writing my blog which had been featured in a national women’s magazine, I just loved to write. I was lucky enough to have been left with a large inheritance sum when my parents had both died. Well, lucky wasn’t really the right word. I had been only eight when my parents had both died tragically in a car accident, changing my life forever. With no brothers, sisters or even cousins, I suddenly found myself alone in the world. I grew up with the most amazing foster families, but it was never really the same thing. As soon as I turned 18 I was allowed access to my inheritance, and I just wasn’t the type of person to waste it all and be broke again within a year. It was enough for me to be able to spend my time building up my customer base for my freelance work, and I was thankful every day for my parents providing me with the means for me to pursue my dream and do something I loved for a living. Of course, I’d rather they still be with me, but sometimes the world was a cruel place and you had to just try your best to get through it each day. Maybe it was one of the reasons why I had warmed to this community so quickly, or why I was so desperate to belong somewhere. I hated to think about going through the rest of my life alone, and already felt more secure knowing I had the pack behind me, even if they didn’t all like me. I felt safe; and maybe that was the most important thing that had eluded me so far.
I had been writing for about an hour, when I jumped back at the wolf that suddenly appeared on my right side. I quickly relaxed and smiled when I recognised the piercing green eyes that were watching me. His tongue lolled out in a goofy way and I laughed as he walked up to me and licked my cheek, before bouncing off with a yip.
“Eww gross!” I laughed and wiped my cheek, pretending to be disgusted when in fact I thought it was pretty damn adorable.
It should have taken me longer to process the fact that I was living with actual, real-life shifters, and if you’d told me a few months ago that I would sitting in the forest and mucking around with wolves, I would have probably called someone up to come and take you to the padded rooms. As much as I’d love to say this was all just a crazy dream, there was no denying that those eyes belonged to Jackson, and it made more sense to believe it than not to. I just decided to go along with it, because I was a lot happier now than I had been before, so surely that meant that as crazy as it was, it could only be a good thing.
Sitting down on the floor, Jackson looked even bigger. The power he commanded was given readily with no physical act required, and I understood why he was the alpha. Strength radiated from him like heat from a fire. There was no denying his dominant aura, and I was captivated as I watched him surveying his surroundings, as if waiting for something to happen. I stood up so I didn’t feel so small, and observed as he stood up straighter when three more wolves came out of the trees. I should have been terrified, but I knew these were from our pack. Funny how I thought of it as
pack instead of
pack. I relaxed, just enjoying the visual spectacle that the huge wolves presented. Every single one of them was beautiful, and they were watching me as if waiting for me to run away screaming. I didn’t want to run away, in fact what I really wanted to do was go over to them and show them I was okay with them. I wanted to see for myself if their fur was as soft as it looked, but as a newbie who had no idea of the etiquette and protocol behind these things, I had no idea if that would be okay or not. Jackson must have read the questions on my face, because he ducked his head slightly and the three wolves moved slowly towards me, as if trying not to spook me. They would never spook me though, this was the coolest thing that had ever happened to me and I felt like a child at Christmas with excitement bubbling up inside me. I never realised before how important eyes were when differentiating between people, but just by looking in to these wolves bright eyes, I knew exactly who was stood in front of me. Noah’s eyes were easy to pick out, and his wolf was a light brown chocolate colour. Ethan and Blake’s wolves were harder to tell apart, until one of the wolves poked their tongue out and started rolling around on the floor - the childishness of the whole scenario just screamed at me that it was Blake, and I laughed at his behaviour. I laughed even harder when I saw Jackson rolling his eyes, and felt a nudge behind me as he used his head to push me closer to the other guys. I presumed this meant it would be okay if I touched them, and reaching out with a shaking hand, I touched Noah on the head - figuring if he was anything like human Noah then he would be the calmest of the bunch - and was pleasantly surprised by how soft the fur was. It felt like silk and the warmth that radiated through me from his body heat made me so comfortable I could have probably fallen asleep right then. I giggled when Blake suddenly used his head to push my hand off of Noah, and on to his own head. Just like normal dogs, they were each vying for my attention and I kept that thought to myself in case being compared to dogs was offensive for them.
It wasn’t until about an hour later that I realised I had spent my afternoon sitting in the garden with four wolves, who had just sat there and kept me company. After about ten minutes of petting them and giving them equal attention, I had sat down and they had copied me, lounging on the ground and soaking up the sunlight. It was hands down the most bizarre situation I had ever been in, but I had never felt so content. Seriously, if you ever feel stressed just sit with a bunch of wolves and you’ll feel loads better. Just shifters though, I really wouldn’t recommend it with your average wolf. I had filled the silence with my endless chattering, and was surprised to find that after an hour they were still sat there just listening to me go on. I guess it just felt nice to get some things off my chest, and I was embarrassed to remember how much I had slagged off Craig, men in general and relationships. I guess that because they couldn’t answer back, I had forgotten that they could hear and understand every word I said. I really hoped that Jackson wouldn’t think badly of me after that, and would realise that my real frustration was with my cheating ex-husband. Talking about him just reminded me that I needed to get the divorce finalised - and fast. I didn’t think I would ever be able to fully move on otherwise. Realising I had been speaking way too much, and Blake had actually fallen asleep right next to me, I settled back and just carried on writing, enjoying the silence only punctuated by the sounds of the wolves breathing and the tapping of my keys. The wolves who stayed in a circle around me; keeping me safe.
It had been a week since Jackson had told me the secrets of the town and I had spent time with the wolves in his garden. It was like a huge weight had just been lifted from my shoulders. I knew I should have been freaking out more than I was, because - let’s face it - everything had been pretty unbelievable. However, I couldn’t deny what I had seen with my own eyes. Yesterday, Jackson had introduced me formally to the pack members. God, it felt weird to say that. He had explained to me the bonds between everyone and how his men would often patrol the area because they were protectors, and keeping it safe from intruders. I remembered back to a conversation I had had with Logan during my first few days here, where he had referred to his wife as his mate before swiftly changing his wording. I wondered if this had anything to do with being a shifter, so when I had seen Jasmine sat on the porch swing outside Jackson’s house, I cornered her to try and get some more information, and asked her what the word ‘mate’ actually meant.
“Okay, so you know humans get married when they fall in love?”
“Yes,” I swallowed as I thought back to my failed marriage, and tried to remain on the conversation at hand.
“The word ‘mate’ in the shifter world just means husband or wife.”
“So, are you Noah’s mate?”
“Yes. He’s mine too. Mating is similar to marriage but also so much more. With shifters, we mate for life and divorce doesn’t even exist.”
“Really? What if you fall out of love for each other?”
“It’s difficult to explain. When we find our mate, it’s like nothing else matters in the world. Our whole life suddenly revolves around that person, and we would do anything for them. Yeah, we argue of course, but it never lasts very long. We realise how much better people we are when we are together. The guys like to act all tough, but each and every one of them is searching for their mate. It’s what we all strive for.”
Now I felt even more devastated for Logan.
“Logan’s mate died and yet he’s probably the happiest person I’ve seen here.”
The light in Jasmine’s eyes dimmed slightly as she thought about Eva.
“Eva died a long time ago. There was a point where we didn’t know if we would ever see the old Logan again. He lost himself for a while; it’s taken about 60 years for us to get him back to this point.”
“Wait, 60 years? He doesn’t look older than 40!”
“Shifters age slower than humans. We aren’t immortal, although we are strong so it takes a lot to kill us. Logan looks 40 but he’s actually around 180 years old.”
Okay, now my brain was definitely about to explode.
“Yes, and he had around 50 years with his mate, so I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for him when she was no longer with him. It is possible to find another mate, but it takes time.”
“God, I hope Logan finds someone. He deserves it more than anything.”
“I think that’s why he’s so fond of you. He kind of sees you like the daughter he never had.”
“They never had children after fifty years together?”
“No. Shifter children are incredibly rare. It takes years for a female shifter to get pregnant, and even then most times they never carry to full term. I lost two children before having Annabelle.”
“I’m so sorry.” I reached over to hold her hand, as sadness filled her eyes.
“It was a long time ago. Annabelle is so precious; I don’t have time to be sad. It’s hard for her because she doesn’t have many friends. There are a few children in the area, but we have no need for a school so we home school them, and I know she finds it lonely. She was so excited when you came to stay; I think she just loved having someone new to play with. Thank you for being so good with her.”
“Oh, it’s not a hardship, believe me.”
Jasmine smiled, and we sat there in silence for a few moments just swinging gently on the porch swing. Noah had been out all day helping to construct their new home, with their own money but also funds donated by Jackson and the rest of the town. Apparently this long life malarkey meant you had enough money to spend on things like building houses when a crazy arsonist burnt them down.
“So, this mating business. Has a shifter ever mated with a human?” I regretted the question as soon as it left my lips, as Jasmines eyes widened and a smile graced her lips. She knew exactly who I was referring to, and it made me blush that he managed to have that effect on me. When did this crush get so ridiculous?
“Well, it’s rare, but I’ve heard of it happening through the years. Apparently, it is something pretty special. I don’t know the details, but the times I’ve heard it happening, sounded amazing. Shifters have a high level of – um – stamina! Plus natural power. Mating though – that’s different. The humans ageing slows naturally after mating happens, extending their life span and allowing them to live a full and long life with the shifter. It’s an element of the shifter that is shared if you like – without the part that means you turn in to a wolf!”
“So, mating and sex aren’t the same?”
I made a mental note to delve further in to that when we were in a less public setting.
“And can they have children?”
Children? Haven’t even had sex yet but already thinking about children. Standard Laura.
“It’s difficult, but not impossible. Although the woman finds it harder to get pregnant, the child is born a shifter and pretty much as healthy as can be. I’ve heard of it happening, it’s just rare. May I ask if there’s anyone in particular who has got you thinking of these questions?” She winked at me and I blushed.
“Is Jackson always so serious?” I tried to change the subject, and epically failed when Jasmine laughed.
“Jackson’s a little more difficult to describe. Don’t write him off as being miserable, though. He has a lot of pressure keeping this pack safe, and he feels his responsibility for everyone here. I’ve never seen him smile as much as since you arrived though, so I think you’re good for him.”
It was the next day and I had been mulling over my conversation with Jasmine, when Jackson had approached me and asked to introduce me formally to the pack now I knew about their secret. He had asked me to go with him to the pub where various members of the pack were waiting to meet me properly, and I was feeling pretty nervous. I’d met most of Jackson’s men briefly through my visits to town, and when they popped over to talk business with him, but it felt different this time. Jackson introducing me properly felt like this huge thing, and I had butterflies in my stomach as we had walked in to the pub. Just like that first night, all eyes had fallen on me, but with less hostile gazes this time. The first thing I noticed, was Logan working behind the bar. He gave me a quick wave, and went back to cleaning some glasses. It was then that I noticed the pub was full of men. I’d seen these men around town, but close up they looked even larger and more intimidating. They were stood around the room watching me, but with mild curiosity in their gazes, so I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all.
“Okay, so I’ve explained what my men do, but I thought it would be useful for you to meet some of them, in case you need anything and I’m not available. They are not only my most trusted men who help me when I need advice but they also act as the local law enforcement, and hand out justice when they need to. If you ever need anything or you feel threatened in any way, then find one of these men. There will always be one nearby.” I saw the resolution in Jackson’s eyes and I knew he was still worried about who had set fire to the B&B, as they were no further on in their investigations. They knew that the Grove Pack were responsible, and were hanging around like a bad smell, but with shifters leaving no scent to other shifters, there was nothing for them to track, and it was stalling their efforts.
Jackson started pointing to various men in the room, and I tried so hard to remember their names but I knew I would forget them in about five minutes. Each of the men was huge, with built bodies that clearly showed a physical job, and various tattoos. They each had the paw print tattoo on their left hands, and now I knew what they were it made a lot more sense. Each of the men had longer hair apart from one guy who stuck out because his head was completely shaved. He also had a tattoo on his face by his right eye.
“Okay, so that’s Jacob, Max, Liam, Joseph, Mason, Nathan, Elijah, Leo, Lucas and Tyler.” Ah, the one with the shaved head. Okay, so I was going to try and remember their names but it seemed impossible at this point. The one named Tyler stepped forward with a grin, and shook my hand.
“Well, he didn’t tell us how beautiful you were.”
I smiled when Jackson growled beside me. If he getting jealous of the other guys then that was definitely a good sign. Tyler winked before stepping back, and Jackson turned back to face me.
“Everyone in the town now knows you are a member of this pack. Human or not, it doesn’t matter. They will treat you like pack or they will suffer the consequences.” God, he was hot when he got all bossy like that. My body heated and my face flushed with embarrassment as I worried he could use his shifter senses to detect how I felt. I blushed harder when I saw his lips turn up slightly, and I could tell that he knew the effect he was having on me.
“The rest of my men are out working, but I can introduce you another time.”
We walked back outside in to the late afternoon sunshine, and I was confused when Jackson pulled me in the opposite direction to the car.
“Where are we going?” I asked, as he took my hand and pulled me in to the trees.
“You’ll see,” he answered, squeezing my hand but not letting it go. My inner girl squealed at the fact he kept hold of my hand, and I tried not to scoff at myself for being so ridiculous.
A few minutes later, and Jackson moved to the side so I could see what he wanted to show me. I beamed as I saw a picnic blanket laid on the floor, with a hamper full of food and a bottle of wine with two glasses. My eyes widened in shock as Jackson pulled me down next to him on the blanket.
“What is this?” I asked, still in a state of shock.
“I wanted to do something nice for you. You’ve been through some tough times since arriving here, and I wanted to show you it’s not always drama and doom and gloom. You handled finding out about us really well, and you’ve become a part of this town. You’ve lifted people’s spirits around here, so I wanted to thank you in some way.”
My heart warmed at his words and I didn’t think my smile could get any bigger.
“So, is it just the people’s spirits I’ve lifted? Because I swear I just saw a smile cross your face.” I nudged him playfully and gasped in shock as he pulled me in to his body so our noses were practically touching, and he stared in to my eyes with such intensity it took my breath away.
“You’ve done something to me, alright. I’ve never been that much interested in finding a woman. My main duty is to my pack.” His hand caressed the back of my neck and I shivered.
“I can’t explain it, but there’s something about you. You make me smile when I find it hard to, and I can’t stop thinking about you. I’d always scoffed at the idea of getting a mate, and never understood the love that Noah and Jasmine have for each other. But since meeting you, it’s become clearer in my mind.” I melted at his words, and tried to put my brain back in to motion and say something useful, when he leaned down and kissed me softly on the lips. I opened my mouth and his tongue entered, massaging my tongue and eliciting a moan from deep within me. I’d forgotten how much I missed just kissing. I felt his hand slowly reach under my t-shirt and I shivered when his heat touched my chilled skin. I pulled him closer to me when he ended the kiss, panting and looking at me like I’d hung the moon.
“Why did you stop?” I panted, cringing with how needy I sounded.
“I’m not gonna take you in the woods like a damn animal.”
“Well…when in Rome?”
He laughed and gave me a hard peck on the lips. “Are you calling me an animal?”
“If the shoe fits?”
“Any other sayings you want to throw at me there?”
I giggled, like a bloody schoolgirl. “No, I think I’m done.”
“Laura, I haven’t felt this way in a long time and I want to do it right. So, how about we start casual dating? You know, formally seeing each other?”
“Okay, so if it’s casual then you’ll be okay if I see some other guys too?”
He growled, and kissed me again with a ferocity that took my breath away.
“They can try, but I’ll kill them.”
I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. Oh yeah, he was definitely an alpha.
We sat there for hours just enjoying the picnic and learning more about each other. I admired the love he had for not only his family, but the members of his pack and it was shown in the pride that shone in his eyes when he spoke of them. He loved each and every one of them, and it made me like him even more. I knew that we had only recently met, but I’d felt more affection for him that I had ever felt for Craig and the feelings were so much more intense they terrified me. It was probably a good idea Jackson wanted to date for a while before anything happened. I had a feeling that if we had slept together in the forest right then, that I would have spontaneously combusted. And that would have been embarrassing for everyone, I think we’ll agree. He held my hand all the way back to the car which was still parked at the pub, and we drove back to his in a comfortable silence. His hand never left mine, the whole drive home.
“So, what did you do last night?” Jasmine shouted over the fitting suite door. We had both decided that some retail therapy would do us some good and perk us up, so we were currently trying on clothes in booths next to each other. Jasmine had been bombarding me with questions about Jackson since we’d left the house and it didn’t look like she was going to let up, anytime soon.
I was trying on a floaty, fifties style dress which I never had any occasion to wear anywhere but I’d fallen in love with as soon as I’d seen it.
“Um, the usual. Jackson drove us out to an amazing restaurant in the next town over.”
“Wow, Jackson voluntarily spending time in a human town? He must really like you!” She shouted, while I blushed, thankful that she couldn’t see me. The night had been perfect and was mine and Jackson’s third date. I’d kind of been hoping that it would end up with him ravishing me in the car, or the woods - I mean I wasn’t really fussy - but he’d been a perfect gentleman once again.
The drive over had been lovely and I’d been in awe of the beautiful surroundings. I knew Jackson was uncomfortable leaving the town to hang out with humans, but he’d done it for me and I admired him so much for it. He’d told me on the way to dinner, that although I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about the shifter town or the pack, that I was in no way a prisoner there, and if I wanted to visit the local areas then I could. I loved the fact that he always thought about my well-being, and my feelings for him were growing stronger by the day. Our relationship was so new, but I felt like I’d known him forever, and I knew I was ready to take our relationship to the next step.
“Well, we know that spell definitely works!” I shouted back over the door, remembering the horrible way I felt when Jackson had driven us back in to town after the meal. Jackson - being a total sweetheart - had looked mortified and apologised for causing me distress but I assured him that I was completely fine and the bad feeling soon evaporated. It was similar to the feeling I had when I’d first arrived in the woods and my car had broken down. Had my car not stopped working, I would have driven through and never stopped in the place, purely because of the negative vibes I was getting from it.