Authors: Faleena Hopkins
By The Alphas 4
By Faleena Hopkins
Cover Image Ali and Calt © Artem Furman
Cover Image Wolf © Outdoorsman
Cover Image Moon © Suppakij17
Published by Hop Hop Publications
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the express written permission of the publisher.
Copyright © 2015 Faleena Hopkins
All Rights Reserved
li didn’t know
who she really wanted, so the choice was made for her in a contest she devised. The rules were hers, but is she happy with the outcome? Can it really be that easy? When fate pulls us in a direction, sometimes in order to meet it, everything around us must explode.
You were once wild here. Don't let them tame you.
his gaze on the jagged doorway and listened for sounds of a return. There would be none, and that was oddly disappointing for reasons he couldn’t quite grasp. In the aftermath, the room felt itchy and hot, as did his nerves.
His pack backed away like they didn’t know what to do with themselves, now that the battle was over. Dak and Calus were in wolf form, everyone else, not. Only Shaynah looked graceful as she glided to the fireplace and sat down in its glow.
Glancing quickly to Borhan, he noted the wolf’s keen stare and wondered what he was thinking. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good, and frankly, Calt was tired of that. The constant strategizing. The planning. The caution. He could not help but wish that Borhan was more like Red. That
wolf was a hell of a lot more fun.
“They have all left.”
Ali laid a weak hand on his chest and tucked herself against him. “I know,” she said on a whisper.
He stared at her.
Is she disappointed? Had she not wanted me to win?
Distracted, Calt called out, “Lucin!”
“A fire,” the young wolf answered before the order had to be given. “I’m on it!” He ran out of the cavern.
From where she watched with her back against the wall, Lorn offered, “I could boil some water?”
With eyes on Ali, Shaynah agreed, “Yes, let’s bathe the child. She will feel more like herself.”
Calt blinked as though awakening, the healer’s voice slipping past the fog. He stood taller and tightened his grip around Ali, his arms flexing under her naked, spent body. He glanced to Shaynah. “Yes, a bath.”
Lorn dipped out of the room on a bow, and Dak and Calus shifted into their human forms. Calt waited for them, knowing they must want to say something. As soon as he could speak, Calus cleared his throat and offered, “Sir, I would like permission to search the campsites for more human food for your mate.”
Calt’s eyebrows rose, and Dak drew his attention by adding, “We need to do something. There will be no lying around tonight.”
Calus gave a curt nod, stretching his shoulders out from the change. “Exactly.”
Sometimes they seemed telepathically connected, the conversation between them so little and yet they knew what the other was thinking, always. He envied that kind of friendship, and again he thought of the other alpha, which disturbed him. On a long exhale he told his protectors, “Fine. But do not call me ‘sir.’ It is
to you, always.” Each gave an acknowledging smile and left the room.
Maybe that’s why I don’t feel like I have a ‘friend’ here. This position of pack master keeps everyone at a distance.
“They won’t be back for a while even if they find anything…which they might not, so…” Bloo trailed off, running to the far side of the fireplace to collect as much cooked meat as her hands could hold, muttering, “She’s gotta be hungry. I’m starving and I was only watching.”
With steady eyes on Borhan, Shaynah stood up as Calt started for the door. “Perhaps you should rest that leg. By tomorrow, there will be no sign it was ever broken.”
Her tone drew the alpha’s curiosity and he glanced back to hear the answer. He found his friend’s gold eyes razor sharp, his lips flat and pale as he stared off in his own world.
Calt shared a questioning glance with the healer and asked, “Borhan?”
Distantly, the wolf answered, “It’s over, isn’t it? We are no longer at war with them now. There will be no fight with them, or anyone.”
“No.” Calt frowned. “There will not.”
“My leg is fine,” Borhan muttered, walking past Calt to the door. “I will return before sunrise. I am going for a run.” His body bent forward and his strides changed from two legs to four, his rust-colored crest raised and stiff as he disappeared to the left through the passage.
“What was that about?” Calt demanded.
“He loves a war.” Bloo shrugged. “You know Borhan.”
“Bloo, go get him. I want to join him.”
Her eyes rounded and she dropped the meat, not noticing that much of it rolled off the granite slab onto the dirt. “Oh! Okay. I’ll be right back!” Just as Borhan had, she shifted mid-exit, only hers was on a run.
Ali stared after her. “I wish I could do that.”
Calt frowned at the sadness floating on her face.
She wants to run…? Where…away from me?
Did she want him to win? Is that it?
Will she be unhappy here?
He walked into the passageway where the cold air hit him harder than it had on any other night.
Will she grow more distant as time goes by?
What have I won, if that is the case?
What was all this for?
As though mirroring his emotions, a shower of sparks shot out from the fireplace as Calt walked into his den. Lucin rose up, grinning, “This fire wanted to be built! Easiest one I ever made.”
Calt said nothing as he headed for the bed. Lorn ran in behind him carrying an iron pot that slopped out water with each hurried footstep. She brought it to the fire and set it directly on the logs, wiping the heat from her hands as she quickly drew them back.
“How are you going to pick that up again without burning yourself?” Lucin asked.
Lorn stared at the pot and pursed her lips. “I don’t know.”
Shaynah arrived in the arched doorway. “I’ve got some rags. You’ll have to wait until the fire dies down.” She raised an eyebrow. “That’s quite a blaze.”
“Thanks!” Lucin beamed.
As Calt laid Ali down, she caught him staring and hastily offered a small smile, but he did not return it. “Will you be happy here?”
The smile flickered and a tiny crease appeared on her forehead. “Of course.”
“You do not sound certain.”
“I’m just a little shell-shocked, Calt.” He grunted and turned to leave, but stopped as he felt her warm fingers wrap around his leg. “Don’t go yet.”
But his wolf had no interest in remaining, and his anger made the beast’s pull more powerful. He was about to shake her hand off when he caught Shaynah’s all-seeing gaze. The beast inside him paused long enough for Calt to kneel by the bed, taming his voice with effort. “The females will tend to you. They want to help. Let them.” His teeth ground together as his wolf thrashed around inside him. “I will be of no use to you like this.”
She touched his cheek. “If that’s what you need.”
He grabbed her soft hand and held it to his skin for a moment before returning it to her, then cleared the room in several rough strides. Shaynah moved out of the way, averting her eyes, her job done.
“Lucin. Come with me,” he growled as he left.
Lucin jumped to attention and was instantly right behind him in the passageway. As they neared the main cave entrance, they ran into Bloo and Borhan returning. “Bloo, go do what you were going to. Borhan, you and Lucin come with me.”
Borhan nodded, changing directions. The three wolves walked out into the night.
eturning to their den
, Red’s pack went about its normal routine. The brothers moved the boulder and Kyren and Gypha walked inside to do whatever was needed. Red did his usual scan of the perimeter, looping out in circles, listening for predators, human beings, or anything suspicious and unusual. There was nothing. The woods were as though nothing had changed, when to him everything had.
He heard Tawny behind him, running at a respectful distance, and while he’d not asked her to be there, he did not object. He was numb, and the company was welcome. As the distance grew, he knew without a doubt that his family was safe, but the knowledge didn’t make him turn back to join them as it normally did. He didn’t want to be around them just yet, the stink of defeat still on him. He didn’t want to know how the tree felt without her in it. He didn’t want to lie down on his bed, again alone. He did not want to act as though everything was okay. It wasn’t.
A new future would have to be planned for.
She padded nearer him as he stopped in a field of grass a good distance from the den. He glanced to her for a moment, but then looked away and lay on the cool blades, his long, dark brown snout tucked into them. She didn’t come any closer, but he could feel her there. She was keeping watch to make sure he remained safe. She was giving him this moment, and her compassion soothed him in a way he desperately needed. No questions. No judgment. She was just…there. But this was not the outcome he had planned on. It was the wrong ‘she.’
He had not given serious consideration to the possibility that he might lose. When he accepted the challenge’s terms, and had run with Calt and his pack, and then slept in his bed, he always thought that in the end Ali would be his, and he and Calt would shake hands and never see each other again. Not that he didn’t like the alpha, because he unexpectedly did…but it would have to be that way. Red was not the type to share nor spend any time around a wolf who wanted his mate. But he had lost.
With the crisp breeze waving across his fur, he stared into the past to a time when he was merely human. He saw her walking through the hallways with her black backpack hanging loosely off one shoulder, her eyelashes rising to glance his way, the mascara inexpertly applied and a little smudged, her mahogany brown hair a little messy. He saw the popular girls snickering as she walked by, her plump body more filled out than theirs were, and much more enviously eye-catching to the boys. He saw Robyn Cline following Ali when she didn’t know it, mocking Ali’s walk behind her, her hips swaying extra wide. He saw himself as a teenage boy waiting for Ali to pass and when Robyn looked over her shoulder to her friends, Jared tossed his folder on the ground and made her slide on it like a boogie board, collapsing a moment later in a heap while her friends laughed. “Fuck you guys!” she cried, smoothing down her skirt with tears rolling down her cheeks. No one had seen him do it. Not Robyn. Not her friends. Not Ali.
As the night breeze picked up speed, he traveled further into his memories, seeing her eating lunch with her girlfriends…he never knew their names. He was always with Garrett, Connor, and Liam on the other side of the courtyard, in the shadows where they preferred to eat. The guys were talking about the usual, sports and phones, and didn’t care that Jared never joined in. He saw the students around them doing what students do at lunch hour, as he stared and asked himself what it all meant. Then Ali would laugh, and he’d catch it. The world seemed to slow down…and make sense, when she did that.
She made the world make sense.
The swaying branches of an oak tree brought him back to the present and he glanced to it, lost. Then he remembered he was not alone. He listened to Tawny’s heartbeat, heard how calm it was as she surveyed the perimeter. Shifting to his human form, he relished in the cracking and reshaping of his bones, a reminder that he was something greater now. He held out his hand and Tawny padded to him and bowed her head.
He rubbed the soft fur behind her ears. “Why is it there are so many people in this world, yet one can affect you more than any other? You don’t even have to talk to them. It’s like you’re connected just by being born.” He stared at the blanket of stars and dropped his hand to the ground, leaning back with his elbows locked.
She transformed from four legs to two, lowering herself onto her side, facing him with her small breasts gently held by gravity. She focused on a blade of grass and clipped it between her nails as she answered, “I think God does that to teach us a lesson.”
His eyebrows rose. “Oh yeah? You believe in God?”
She smiled ruefully, rotating the slip of green in her fingers. “Yeah. When I look at all of this,” she swept her hand out, “how can I not?”
“So what’s the lesson?”
“To teach us we’re not infallible. That no matter how careful we are, love can still sneak in and change us even if we don’t want to be changed. I don’t think we’re in control.”
“I think we are,” he said, staring at the sky. “But then we butt against other people’s will power and so life doesn’t always go our way.”
Remembering, he glanced to her. “Ali couldn’t see in the dark, her eyes aren’t like ours…but then when she got angry at me–I was really pissing her off last night–she said things came into focus, and then went away again. When did you start to have night vision?”
She frowned, remembering. “It was when I made the change. Not before. And don’t bother thinking about it. She’s not one of us.” She threw the blade away and rose up to kneeling position, her hands on her thighs. She held his gaze.
“I wasn’t thinking she was, but then–”
Tawny stood and started walking back. The look on her face when she glanced back told him she realized she’d just left her new alpha behind. He held her guilty look as he stood up and wiped off his body from the itch the grass left in his skin.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered, as though it were hard for her to say. “I’m sensitive to the subject of her.”
He held her gaze as he passed her, motioning for her to follow. It was rude of her to walk away when he was confiding in her, and that was enough to annoy him, but to act rudely when you’ve just asked to join a pack that didn’t have to take you in? To show selfishness and leave as though you are the one who dictates when a conversation is over? That there are not two being involved? It was not admirable, and he took note. Kyren would hopefully be a good influence on her. He didn’t need subservience; he needed common manners. “Come.” She jogged up, but stayed a couple steps behind him. “Walk with me, Tawny. You don’t always have to walk behind.”
“Sorry,” she mumbled, catching up and pushing her hair back from her face as she frowned.
He cocked a sideways smile her way. “I have a feeling you’re going to find life a lot easier with us.”
She argued, “It wasn’t hard there. He wasn’t…I just…” Off his look, she changed gears and forced a smile. “I guess I just need to relax.”
“Amen to that. Hold on.” He stopped and looked around, his gaze falling on a group of pine trees, brown needles blanketing the ground beneath their great size. He picked up a pinecone and threw it, waiting for the sound of its fall. A light, faraway thud vibrated back to him and he nodded, satisfied by the distance. His gaze traveled upward, looking for the moon’s position. By it, he could tell there was still some time before morning. He didn’t feel tired. Not at all. He felt irritated and uneasy. Something had to be done about that. He didn’t want to return to his pack without a sense of peace, or at least acceptance. “You want to go for a run?”
“Yes!” A laugh rippled through her. “I could use one.”
He froze, staring toward the mountain. “Do you hear that?” He’d heard one faint howl, then more joined it. From her face and the tension in her body, he knew she’d heard it, too.
“It’s Calt,” she said, under her breath. Her eyes drifted to meet his, but he was staring off toward the pained sound. It disturbed him to hear it. It was not a joyous release or even an expression of their primal selves…it was agony and anger combined.