Portland Pack Chronicles: Book One
Some people might call Avery Babineaux a prick. He’s a hedgehog shifter from an old-money Louisiana family, with a penchant for expensive shoes and a reputation for being a judgmental snob. His attitude is why he and his fated mate are estranged. Not that Avery cares. He doesn’t want to be mated to some blue-collar werewolf anyway. Or so he keeps telling himself.
No werewolf likes to be looked down upon, least of all Dylan Green. He doesn’t need a mate, especially not some snotty hedgehog who sneers at his custom motorcycle shop and calls him a grease monkey. But when Avery gets into trouble with a shady loan shark, Dylan can’t stand by and let him be hurt—whether he wants the brat or not.
Yet once Dylan steps into Avery’s world, he realizes there’s more to Avery than his prickly exterior, and that unexpected vulnerability calls to Dylan’s protective instincts. The sassy little hedgehog needs a keeper, and despite their horrible first impressions, Dylan starts to believe he might be the wolf for the job.
AVERY BABINEAUX hated bars like these—peanut dust, a different sport on every television, strains of eighties hair metal blaring from the jukebox in the corner. Shudder. How had he let Jaden talk him into coming here? Oh yeah. Jaden was panting over one of those werewolves near the pool tables. What was his name again? Something ridiculous, more appropriate for a steroid-abusing gym bunny than a tattooed, prematurely graying biker. Brock? Brody? No, Broderick. That was it. Or Derick, as Jaden occasionally called him, though he seemed to prefer drawing out the full name, emphasis on the “rod.”
Annoyed, Avery shook his head and turned his attention back to his harvest ale. The underlying hint of spice from the cinnamon and nutmeg really made the brew. That was one positive for Wolfhound—they had a decent beer selection. But then, this was Portland. A pub wouldn’t last a week without having a good variety of microbrews on tap—not even one that catered to shifters, as this one did. The tongue-in-cheek name didn’t discourage the werewolf clientele. The exterior sign even included a depiction of a massive Irish wolfhound, a breed known historically for being used in wolf hunting. Whoever owned the place had a sense of humor. Still, it wasn’t Avery’s scene. He and Jaden almost never came to Wolfhound to pregame before hitting the clubs. Except tonight Jaden was on the prowl, hoping to talk Broderick into joining them.
Avery snorted. As if some surly looking, unfashionable biker with grimy fingernails would ever fit in at any of the clubs he and Jaden frequented.
Though Avery could see the appeal. In a way. Despite his silvering hair, Broderick had a striking face—straight nose, heavy brows over dark, mysterious eyes, and a full lower lip that begged to be nibbled. At the same time, he was… rough. And too old by far. Jaden was barely twenty-three, and Broderick had to be in his midthirties, if not older.
The good thing was, for the most part, Broderick ignored Jaden. Oh, it wasn’t that Broderick didn’t want Jaden. Avery could judge a man’s interest—and Broderick was sure as hell interested. But Broderick was a beta, and Jaden was son to the alpha of the Portland pack. As such, most pack members adopted a strictly “look but don’t touch” policy with him. It pissed Jaden off, but really, who wanted to be the wolf the alpha scented on his son? Not even a shower could fully disguise the musk of sex on a wolf.
Poor Jaden. Honestly, though, he could have his pick of humans. No reason for him to risk his father’s wrath by bedding a packmate. In Alpha Odell’s mind, no doubt Jaden was still an untouched virgin waiting for his fated mate. Ha. If Odell only knew what sort of debauchery Jaden had gotten into when he and Avery shared an apartment in Eugene.
The University of Oregon’s campus didn’t lack fresh meat, even other shifter species like Avery, who had to obtain permission from Alpha Odell to attend the school and, later, to move to Portland itself, as the Portland pack’s territory included Eugene. During their four years of college, Jaden had taken advantage of being free of his father’s constant watch. Now that he lived in the city, his father’s eyes and ears were everywhere. Clearly this crush on Broderick had nowhere to go. Jaden persisted anyway, for reasons that mystified Avery.
Avery tossed back the rest of his ale and signaled to the bartender for another. “Gotta take a leak,” he told Jaden, yelling to be heard over the music. Dear Lord, was that “Wanted Dead or Alive” by Bon Jovi? Shoot him now.
Jaden didn’t even spare him a glance, his gaze laser-focused on where Broderick leaned over to line up a shot.
Avery rolled his eyes and slid off his stool. The room went blurry, and he reached out to steady himself on the bar top. Whoa. Those four glasses of ale had snuck up on him. Maybe ordering another wasn’t the best idea.
Once his vision refocused, he wove his way to the back of the pub, passing the pool tables as he went. Broderick had apparently missed his shot since his companions were heckling him about not being able to aim his stick. Avery smirked, slowing subconsciously. Had he been clearheaded, he wouldn’t have lingered, not wanting to draw attention. But as he moved on, his presence was noticed. Glenn, one of the big bearded wolves, elbowed the man next to him and lifted his chin.
“Well, if it isn’t our favorite little prick,” Glenn called, his beer bottle dangling from his fingers.
The other guy laughed. “I thought I smelled a rodent.”
Avery narrowed his eyes. “Here’s a zoology lesson, Rover: hedgehogs aren’t rodents.”
Glenn shrugged one beefy shoulder. “I’m sure if I ripped off your quills, you’d look plenty like a rat. Wanna test the theory?”
Avery opened his mouth to respond, but Broderick’s rumbling voice cut in. “Leave him be, Glenn. You know the alpha doesn’t like pack members harassing each other.”
Glenn scoffed. “He’s not pack.” He refrained from saying more when Broderick turned a disapproving look on him.
“He lives here under Alpha Odell’s protection. He might as well be pack.”
Avery bristled at Broderick’s assumption that he couldn’t handle himself in an argument with this overgrown asshat. “You don’t have to defend me. He’s right. I’m not pack. Hedgehogs aren’t pack animals. Another lesson for you.”
“How about I shove your lessons up that little prickly ass of yours?” Glenn snarled.
“Aiken!” Broderick rounded on him, the word grated out on a growl, his muscles seeming to swell as his anger flared. “One more time and I’ll take it as a personal challenge.”
Glenn instantly dropped his gaze and tilted his head, exposing his neck to his beta. Avery wanted to say something snide, but Broderick cut him a glare that sent a cascade of goose bumps along his spine.
Avery wasn’t predisposed to submit to a stronger shifter—there was no hierarchy in hedgehog culture, and males could be notoriously aggressive with each other when provoked—but he also knew when to pick his battles. He was too drunk to defend himself. Even if he hadn’t been drinking, well, not even a supernatural hedgehog stood much of a chance against a wolf in a physical fight. It wasn’t as if he’d shift into a man-sized powerhouse of spines, claws, and fur. He’d be the same size as any wild hedgehog—puny.
With a haughty lift of his chin, Avery stalked off toward the restrooms. He did his business and glowered at himself in the mirror above the sinks as he washed his hands.
What the hell was he doing here with these ignorant dogs? Jaden excluded, of course. He was the only respectable, intelligent wolf in the bunch. Much like the Cajun wolves Avery knew from back home in Louisiana, these were volatile, quick to anger, and just as fast to laugh it off, except when it came to him. They reveled in every primal pleasure—feasting, fucking, and fighting.
To Avery’s family, werewolves were undisciplined heathens who ran the woods surrounding the bayou, terrifying the smaller shifters and keeping everyone awake with their howling during full moons. Avery’s parents despised wolves. His father had hated having to ask Alpha Odell permission for Avery to live on pack land. He’d done it because Avery wouldn’t let him rest otherwise.
Avery had fallen in love with Oregon when he’d visited the summer between his junior and senior year, but despite his fondness for the city of Portland and how it called to his soul as home, the Northwest was a veritable breeding ground for werewolves. Their numbers were concentrated there, with forests aplenty and natural wolves to help disguise their presence from humans should they be discovered while in shifted form.
This was really no place for a small-species shifter like himself. Yet, regardless of his upbringing, he might have tried to make a place for himself in the pack if it wasn’t for—
No. Avery shook his head. He wasn’t going to go there. He wasn’t going to think of him.
Avery paused at the dryer for a few seconds, then left the restroom with his hands still damp. Distracted by unwanted thoughts, he collided with something hard and unmoving as he exited the hallway that led back to the main bar area. Avery stumbled back and nearly lost his footing, but even as he struggled to stay upright, the familiar scent struck his nose and made his entire body react. His skin heated, pulse quickened, cock filled, and that ache inside him—the one that longed for its mate—returned with a vengeance so strong it robbed him of breath.
Avery gaped as Dylan Green tossed him a glance over his shoulder. The musky scent of this particular wolf burned in his nostrils and made the animal inside him stir. He both loved and loathed it in equal measure. His eyes greedily took in the broad back beneath the lines of Dylan’s leather jacket, the long legs encased in formfitting denim, the strong square jaw. Dylan’s light brown hair was wet from the drizzle outside and shorter than the last time Avery had seen him, but it worked with his high cheekbones and bold features, and his dark stubble emphasized his well-sculpted mouth.
Dylan turned away, dismissing Avery without a word. It was then Avery noticed he had his arm draped over the shoulders of another guy. A human from his scent. A good-looking human who seemed mighty comfortable all snugged up against Dylan’s side, as if it were his right to be there.
Avery fought back a hiss. Fuck that. No one else has the right to—
He cut off that line of thinking. How dumb could he be? It was as though his thoughts in the bathroom had somehow conjured Dylan just to torment him.
Dylan, his destined mate. The wolf who’d rejected him and their potential bond two years ago. The one whom Avery should most assuredly not be staring at or admiring, because there was nothing between them and there never would be.
When it came down to it, Dylan wasn’t even his type. Avery liked slender men with minimal body hair, men who were more his size and height, not big hairy brutes who towered over him and made him feel small. But a part of him, the part he held no sway over, rebelled at the thought of desiring anyone other than Dylan.
Damned pheromones. Damned fate. Why would destiny think they were an ideal couple? The mating pull paired complementary personalities, matching the people who had the best chance of making each other happy for life. It didn’t take into account little things like gender or conflicting shifter species. But it wasn’t infallible. It couldn’t be. A hedgehog mated to a wolf? Plumb ridiculous, as his mama would say.
Avery tore his gaze away from where Dylan held the human close. The animal inside him screamed in anger. It wanted its mate. It wanted to rip the guy away from Dylan and take his place. It yearned still, even after all this time, and that would probably never go away completely.
Avery pushed past Dylan, chin up, shoulders straight. “Smells like wet dog in here,” he sneered as their arms brushed. He felt Dylan stiffen, but there was no reply, and Avery didn’t stop moving. He continued to the bar where Jaden sat waiting.
Jaden gave him a concerned look when he dropped onto his stool with a huff. “What’s wrong?”
Jaden’s gaze shot to the pool tables, where Dylan and his little friend had joined the other wolves, before returning to Avery. His sympathetic expression made Avery’s stomach clench. “Do you want to leave?”
For a moment Avery was tempted. He didn’t want Dylan, but no shifter could watch his fated mate with someone else and not be bothered. Fury vibrated inside him, making him feel sick. At the same time, he chafed at the idea of Dylan knowing he’d run Avery off. Hell no. His pride wouldn’t allow him to leave. Not yet. Not before Dylan had seen Avery having a good time and not caring at all that Dylan was there on a date with someone else.
“No, it’s fine.” Avery waved a dismissive hand.
Jaden squeezed his arm briefly but didn’t call Avery on the lie. They both knew nothing about the situation was “fine.” Instead of pressing the issue, Jaden said, “One more beer and we’ll head out. I need to dance, and you need to get laid.”
Avery picked up the beer the bartender had delivered while he was gone. He toasted Jaden before draining most of his glass. “You, sir, have the best ideas.”
REFUSING TO give in to Avery’s prodding, Dylan watched the princess prance his way across the room and back to the bar. He also refused to acknowledge the twist of jealousy in his chest when Jaden leaned into him. Dylan had no claim on Avery, and he didn’t want one. Still, the urge to storm across the bar and drag Avery out kicking and screaming was strong. It took everything he had—and the cute blond anchored to his side—to tamp down that stupidity.
“Do you need something else to drink?”
A moment passed before Dylan realized the soft question was directed at him. Chance. Dylan pasted on a smile he didn’t feel and glanced down at the man blinking innocently up at him. Chance looked good there, felt comfortable in his arms. He was a dancer, and a damned good one, all long limbs, smooth porcelain skin, and platinum hair. Dylan had plans to test out his claims to being “bendy in all the right ways” later.
“I’m good.” Dylan winked and decided to change his focus from the mate who didn’t want him to the man on his arm who obviously did.
“It’s just, you keep glaring at the bar. If you want another beer, I can go get you one.” Chance’s flirty smile wavered before brightening again. Damn.
Why the hell did Avery have to pick Wolfhound, of all the places in the city, to show up? It was Dylan’s domain. After Avery graduated and moved to Portland from Eugene, they’d run into each other now and again, but Dylan had assured himself he wouldn’t need to worry about checking Wolfhound for his supposed mate. Dylan shook that thought off. Mate. What a joke.
Throwing a quick glance at the bar, he snorted. Should have known Avery followed the alpha’s son there. Dylan narrowed his eyes, a growl rolling in his chest when Jaden’s hand landed on Avery’s thigh. He quieted down quickly. Avery could do whatever and whoever he wanted. Even Jaden, if that was what he was into. The memory of his mate’s scent hit him as if Avery were standing in front of him. Dylan’s cock twitched and his wolf howled at the knowledge of Avery being so near yet untouchable.
He grimaced. Get ahold of yourself.
Dylan was happy with his life the way it was. He didn’t want a mate. He knew what fate had in store for him if he chose that road. One look at his mother and father told him what he’d have to look forward to. Same fate, different mate. Dylan didn’t plan on being stuck in an unwanted mating, much less with a mate who didn’t want him. He was perfectly content with his life the way it was—uncomplicated.
“Come on.” After glancing once more at the bar, Dylan tugged Chance along to where his crew gathered around the blue-topped pool table at the back of the bar. As they neared, Dylan leaned in close and whispered, “That’s Kirk.” He motioned toward a group of guys, at the small man with a dark halo of hair. Among all his friends, and even the other men at the shop, Kirk was the smaller, quieter, more introspective of the bunch, but his wolf was damn powerful. Next to Dylan, Kirk’s wolf was the strongest, definitely the boldest.
Dylan pointed. “That’s Sawyer.” He wore the look of a stereotypical biker—long hair, inked sleeves, and a permanent scowl. “Don’t let his broodiness scare you. He’s a big teddy bear.” Sawyer’s unflappable expression didn’t budge as he gave Chance the once-over, then turned his attention elsewhere. To those who didn’t know him, Sawyer was intimidating and standoffish. Dylan had known him for a long time, long enough to know Sawyer preferred it that way.
“And this guy here”—Dylan detached himself from his date and clapped Lucas on the back—“is Lucas Marshall, my best friend since I was four.”
Lucas landed a warm smile on Chance, and Dylan watched the kid’s cheeks blaze pink. It was the same effect Lucas had on men and women alike. A couple of inches taller than Dylan, with boyish good looks and perfectly combed golden blond hair, Lucas looked like he’d walked off the pages of GQ and fallen into a leather bar. His muscles stretched the thin cotton of his vintage T-shirt, and all eyes tended to be drawn to the strategically worn holes at the knees, thighs, and, when he turned around, right below the ass of his jeans. On the outside, Lucas wore a mask to enthrall the masses, but Dylan knew the softie on the inside—the one who liked to snuggle under the covers and take long walks on the beach. Okay, maybe he made the last one up. Maybe not.
Dylan didn’t have to understand it, though. To each his own.
“Nice to meet you.” Lucas held out his hand in greeting, and when Chance grasped it, Lucas raised Chance’s hand to brush a kiss across the top. Rolling his eyes at his friend, Dylan smiled at Chance’s blushing giggle.
With a brow quirked, Lucas trained his knowing smirk on Dylan again and winked, then tipped his head toward the bar. Leave it to Lucas. He didn’t miss anything and was about as subtle as a flying brick. “Yes, I know,” Dylan bit out. “And no, we’re not talking about it.”
Lucas huffed out a laugh and went back to his game, but not before throwing the next comment over his shoulder, his tone all but indifferent. “He almost got his ass handed to him by Glenn a little bit ago. You barely missed it.”
And damn if that didn’t hit the mark exactly as Lucas had intended. The hair on the back of Dylan’s neck stood and his shoulders tensed as he searched for Glenn’s ugly face. He wasn’t there. A growl lumbered in Dylan’s chest. Regardless of his feelings for Avery or Avery’s for him, Dylan couldn’t rid himself of his protective instincts when it came to the hedgehog.
“Wanna play?” Lucas trained a slow smile on Chance as he bent over the table and racked up another game.
Closing his eyes, Dylan sighed, never more grateful for Lucas’s flirting. Dylan felt like he was about to lose his shit, and, thankfully, Lucas could probably tell.
When he opened his eyes, Chance was watching him, head tilted curiously. Dylan almost laughed. Chance had to know something wasn’t quite right, and Dylan liked the guy more for not asking.
Dylan took a seat at the nearest table and forced his focus to his group of friends, trying to keep up with the game. It soon became obvious Chance had no idea what he was doing. Dylan wouldn’t have doubted it if told the guy had never played billiards in his life. He was horrible.
“No.” Lucas laughed from across the table, his big indulgent grin all for Chance. “The stripes. Aim for the stripes and this time try not to hit the big black ball with the eight on it.”
Dylan grinned. Jesus, with Lucas and the flirting, but he was just that guy. The nice one with great hair and shiny charisma. He was charming in ways most people only dreamed. He made friends everywhere he went. Case in point. Dylan shook his head when Lucas leaned in and whispered something in Chance’s ear. The poor guy’s face and neck turned beet red, and he looked away giggling.
Dylan might never get laid again.
Unbidden, Dylan’s gaze drifted to the bar where the one person he was doing his best to avoid sat. Avery threw his head back in a full-bellied laugh. Dylan could hear the forced happiness all the way from across the bar. The twinge that had started in his chest at the first glance of Avery bloomed into a full ache, and Dylan wanted to ignore it, wanted to run from it, but with Avery so close and Dylan’s friends there as witnesses, he wasn’t running. He wasn’t a coward.
Instead, he squeezed his eyes shut. Ignoring the damned bond between him and Avery didn’t make him a coward. It made him smart. What wolf in their right mind wanted to be tied forever to a mate who didn’t want them? Dylan’s mother’s smiling face flashed behind his eyelids, a strained smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. Not many of them did.
He rubbed a fist over the pain in his chest.
Lucas’s low chuckle brought Dylan back to the present. When he looked up, Lucas was leaning against the pool table, smirking back. Dylan narrowed his eyes.
He could have kicked himself for telling Lucas about his first time meeting Avery at Jaden’s twenty-first birthday and Avery’s haughty words—“Mechanic? As in blue collar? Do you really think I’d waste my time with a low-class loser?”—but there had been alcohol involved. A lot of it. Avery’s words back then had angered him more than they had hurt. The best thing those words had done, though, was reiterate every reason Dylan didn’t need nor want a mate.
The teasing glint in Lucas’s eye gave way to sadness, not pity or apathy. His friend was more understanding than judgmental. Fuck knew what it was like for a wolf who actually wanted to be tied down. Dylan shook his head against the voice—which sounded an awful lot like his best friend—that whispered it was exactly what he wanted too. He had already been forced to sit through Lucas’s lecture on the gift of mating and how Dylan should be thankful for what he’d been given. They’d agreed to disagree.
Lucas tossed his cue to Kirk and wandered over to Dylan’s table. “Just so you know, Derick had your boy’s back with Glenn.”
Dylan rolled his eyes. Why not dive bomb the giant pink elephant in the room?
“He’s not my boy.”
“Whatever. You know what I mean.”
Yeah, Dylan did. Didn’t mean he liked it. Then the rest of Lucas’s revelation registered. Dylan bristled. Another wolf shouldn’t be watching out for Avery. Not that Dylan was standing in line for the job. He sighed. “Did Avery start it? Did he cause any trouble?” He wouldn’t put it past the prickly brat.
“Dunno. Don’t think so. Glenn was being his charming dickhead self.” Lucas gave a snort-chuckle, and Dylan shook his head. For a man of such model perfection, he was a dork sometimes. “Good thing you have pack betas to look out for the little guy, huh?”
“Yeah, good thing,” Dylan grunted.
“You could go talk to him, you know?”
“Not a good idea.” Dylan took a drink from the beer he’d ordered from a passing waitress. He didn’t need to ask whom Lucas was talking about. He’d been trying to get Dylan to talk to Avery for two years. It hadn’t worked yet.
“You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself, D.”
Dylan really didn’t want to have this conversation. “Not now.”
Lucas pursed his lips, then glanced at the table where Kirk hovered over Chance, their bodies pressed flush as Kirk demonstrated a shooting position. A soft growl caught Dylan off guard, and he turned to find Sawyer staring at the pair, the strangest expression on his face—puzzled, like he was trying to sort something out, but angry too. Dylan might have to keep an eye on that.
“You are not your folks,” Lucas continued, as if Dylan had been paying attention to him. Dylan brushed off the comment in exchange for studying the scarred surface in front of him. “Fine, you’re not going to talk? You can listen.”
Dylan could have walked away then, and their friendship would have remained intact, but he didn’t. Instead, he continued to feign ignoring Lucas by taking another swig of his dark ale while staring blankly ahead.
“You know I think of your mom like she’s my own….”
Sadness and longing in his voice almost had Dylan caving and tugging Lucas into a hug. He had been there when Lucas’s world shattered with the death of his mother. Dylan still felt the loss. He’d loved Michelle like a second mom, so yeah, Dylan knew how he felt.
“And I know Law is a complete asshat to her and to you,” Lucas continued.
Law. Dylan smirked at Lucas’s blatant disregard of his father’s edict that he should be called Mr. Green instead of Lawrence or Law by his inferiors. One of Law’s Laws, as Dylan and Lucas had called them. A remnant of his days as one of Portland Police Bureau’s polished and perfect captains before he retired a couple of years ago. He’d been a good cop but a shit dad.
“Here’s the thing. Your mom—she’s strong, stronger than any woman I know. And if she didn’t want to be exactly where she was, she would find a way out.”
Finally turning his gaze on Lucas, Dylan snarled. Everyone knew that once a wolf was mated, that was it. Although, not all wolves found their mates, so some married for love instead of waiting for fate. Once a mating bond was completed, there was no out.
When Lawrence Green had batted his baby blues at Betty Wilkerson thirty years ago, their mating had been all but a done deal. Dylan’s mom hadn’t stopped to think, to get to know him. As a result, she’d spent the past thirty years with a beta wolf who controlled her every move, who talked down to her, who degraded her at every turn. She was a servant in her own home, and if Dylan could have gotten her out, he would have. Thank heavens Law never hit her, because Dylan might have been forced to do something he might regret.
No. There was no walking away from a permanent mating bond. Fate controlled the spirit of the bond, even though it wasn’t infallible. Before accepting the bond, the decision to take up the bond or ignore it was up to the individuals, but a bond, once cemented, was unbreakable except upon death. To walk away was the forfeiture of sanity, making the most sedate of wolves violently feral. No alpha could allow an out-of-control wolf to roam free.
Lucas held his hands up. “Gimme a sec. Betty knows what she’s doing, and I’d bet good money that she runs that house. I’d bet even better money she knows precisely how to play Law into making him think her ideas were his all along. She’s a smart woman, and you may not want to hear this, but I don’t think she’s as unhappy as you think she is.”
“Lucas,” Dylan warned steadily, narrowing his eyes, “you’re crossing the line.”
“Fine. What do I know?” Lucas sighed and sat back to watch the game, which had turned into a free-for-all, whoever could get whichever ball in whatever hole. Their friends laughed and joked back and forth with his date, all of them running around the table like they were trying to win a race. Chance fit in well, but Dylan didn’t have it in himself to smile.
“You’re wrong,” Dylan told him, finally.
His gaze cut to where Avery leaned against the bar. He was surprised to find that hard brown-green stare aimed at him. Heat washed through Dylan, head to toe, and stole his breath. For that moment, it was difficult to remember all the reasons he didn’t want or need a mate. Shaking his head, he blinked away the questioning look from Avery before he turned back to Lucas.
“Whatever you say, dude.” Lucas flipped his attention from the bar back to Dylan, sounding for all the world like he knew something Dylan didn’t. “I hate to see you let a good thing get away because you’re afraid your parents’ bad luck will carry over to you.”
Dylan grunted and downed the rest of his beer.
“It would be a shame for you to figure it out too late.” With the parting shot of wisdom, Lucas gestured with his chin in the direction of the bar and walked away.
When Dylan would have turned, knowing what he would find at the bar, Chance pranced into his line of sight, parted Dylan’s knees, and slid himself between them. His smile was radiant, and Dylan beamed back at him, even though he didn’t feel it.
He dropped his hands to Chance’s hips, tugged him closer, and whispered in his ear, “You ready to go?”
Dylan felt a shiver course over Chance’s frame. Chance nodded, his blue doe eyes full of fire. Dylan took a moment to let himself feel the regret of the letdown he’d surely be to this man.
Icy fingers stung his neck, the feeling of being watched. Dylan flicked a glance over Chance’s shoulder and met a hazel gaze trained on them. A lock of dark blond hair haphazardly covered one of Avery’s eyes. With long graceful fingers, he brushed it aside in a harsh swipe, his narrow jaw tensed.
Then Jaden leaned forward, whispered something in Avery’s ear, and kissed him on the cheek. Dylan despised the hatred burning inside him at that moment. He beat down the desire to rip Avery’s friend limb from limb. It wouldn’t do Dylan any favors to mangle the alpha’s son.
Especially with so many witnesses.
Time to get out of there. Wrapping his hand around Chance’s, Dylan stood and guided him toward the door. “C’mon.” If a part of him reveled in the jealous look Avery shot in their direction, Dylan didn’t let it show.
As they stepped out of Wolfhound, a chill in the evening air cut through him as forcefully as the stab of guilt over knowing he wouldn’t be following through with Chance. Another wave of resentment and blame, directed at Avery, trailed after that.
Unable to continue the charade, Dylan pulled Chance to a stop. Doleful eyes stared up at him. “It’s not gonna happen tonight, huh?” Chance asked.
Smart kid. Dylan shook his head. “Sorry.”
“Don’t give me the ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ line, okay?” He looked down, and when his gaze drew back up, the openness he’d displayed earlier shut down, became guarded, shuttered. “The guy that bumped into you?”
“It’s not….” Dylan thought about denying it, but Chance hadn’t done anything wrong. He deserved some semblance of the truth, so Dylan tried again. “It’s… complicated. I didn’t mean to lead you on.”
A sad smile pulled at the corners of Chance’s mouth. “I get it.” He held up a hand when Dylan opened his mouth to apologize. Again. “No need to say you’re sorry. I promise we’re fine. I understand,” he reiterated. Then almost too low to hear, he mumbled, “More than you know.” In fact, had it not been for his superior shifter hearing, Dylan probably would have missed the last bit.
Pulling Chance into a hug, Dylan held him close for longer than necessary before letting go. He noticed a sheen of tears in Chance’s eyes but did the gentlemanly thing and ignored it. He didn’t think it had anything to do with their botched date, and it wasn’t Dylan’s place to ask.
Without preamble, Chance reached out and snagged Dylan’s phone from his pocket and sniffled while he busied himself tapping the touch screen. As Dylan watched, the thought of figuring out how to lock his phone with a passcode flitted in his mind. Not that his phone held any state secrets—Dylan had just figured out how to make calls and text on the damned thing. Technology was not his friend. And that was if he remembered to charge it or to grab it when he left the house at all. If he didn’t need it for work, Dylan would’ve tossed it a while ago.
“There.” Chance smiled and handed it back. “You have my number. You know, in case you change your mind.”
Warmed, Dylan brushed his lips over Chance’s forehead. “Thank you,” he said, “for everything.” Dylan tapped his phone and listened for the ring. A buzz sounded from Chance’s back pocket. “Now you have my number. Call if you ever need anything.” Dylan was surprised that he meant it, but the sadness and vulnerability Chance tried to hide had Dylan wanting to make sure he was safe, in the most platonic of ways.
“That I do. Thanks.” He nodded and stepped back. “Take care of yourself, Dylan.”
“You too, Chance.” Then he watched as Chance got into his hybrid and drove away.
Dylan’s pulse raced—partly with a need to return to the bar and claim his mate, partly out of anger toward the same man. He shook his head and walked toward the two-wheeled black devil he’d custom built for himself. Getting away from Avery would do wonders for straightening out his head.
Dylan had told himself the lie more than once. Maybe this time he would believe it.
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Island Counselor by Sue Brown eBook