Chapter 1: All By Myself

 

“I’VE CHANGED my mind. I can’t do it,” Max said for the fifth time, pulling a stack of clothes back out of the moving box.

“You’re doing this, even if I have to have Zeus tie you to the hood of the Hummer. You’re moving out.” Seth grabbed the stack of clothes out of Max’s hands and threw them back into the box. He was putting his foot down this time. Max had been resisting the move into the lodge for weeks. “If Zeus comes in and catches you unpacking again, he may murder you.”

“Oh my God,” Max gasped in outrage. “You’re not doing this to be supportive of my relationship. You don’t want me to live here anymore, do you? And here I was worried about leaving you alone.”

“It’s not that I don’t love you,” Seth assured him. “But if I have to spend another night listening to you two in the bedroom, I may accidentally smother myself with a pillow.”

“How dare you. Our love is beautiful.” Max cradled a shirt to his chest.

“It’s like listening to my parents do it.”

Max seemed to contemplate Seth’s words before responding. “Okay, you’re right, that’s gross,” he agreed. “I’m going to miss you, though. Are you sure you’re going to be okay here by yourself?”

“Yes, I’ll be fine, and you’ll still be here with me at the bakery all day,” Seth said, with more confidence than he actually felt.

“True,” Max agreed, seeming pacified for now.

“Okay, let’s focus and get you moved in with your mate. Where is he, by the way? I’m surprised he put Zeus in charge of moving you.”

“He had to go out of town to meet someone who’s applying to move here. He won’t be back until next week. He says you can’t tell what someone’s really like by just doing a background check.”

Easter Valley’s resident application process was no joke.

“What are you going to do with this room?” Max asked, looking around.

“I was thinking about turning it into an office, maybe donating the bedroom furniture, but after you two love-nested all over it, maybe I should just burn it,” Seth said, curling his upper lip in pretend disgust, poking the mattress with his finger.

“You are not burning my love memories.” Max knocked Seth’s hand away. “I’ll have Zeus come back later and get it. You know, I think maybe it’s time you started looking for your mate, or maybe just date a little until he shows up. You’re really getting crotchety in your old age,” Max informed him, closing up the top of the box.

“I’m nineteen,” Seth said, rolling his eyes. “I’m not in a hurry to be with anyone. Sweets & Meats is what’s important to me right now.”

Max shook his head at Seth. “I hear the words coming out of your mouth, but all I can see is your cold, lonely soul.”

Seth laughed at the empathy on his friend’s face. “Will you stop being so dramatic. I’m fine.”

“What about Zeus? He’s single, and if you get past the fact that he’s an emotional giant, he’s quite handsome. Maybe you two could be roommates, friends-to-lovers kind of thing. Oh, we would be like the fantastic four—the alpha, omega, beta, and you.”

“Zeus is not my type, but thanks for making me sound like a completely useless superhero.”

“What exactly is your type, and why haven’t we discussed this before? I am the most self-centered friend alive.” Max sat down on the side of the bed.

“You are not,” Seth assured him, even though sometimes he kind of was. Seth threw a rolled-up sock at him to try to change the subject. “You forgot one.”

“Seriously,” Max said, catching the sock before it hit the floor and giving Seth a stern glare. “What kind of guy are you attracted to?”

“I don’t know.” Seth fidgeted with the top of the box. “Someone kind and handsome, I guess, but not too perfect,” he quickly amended. He preferred someone with character, someone unique.

“Hmm… no one’s coming to mind,” Max admitted sadly, lying back on the bed.

“I know.” Seth sighed, taking a seat next to him.

“We’ll find him. Don’t worry.” Max ruffled the top of Seth’s hair.

“Find who?” Zeus’s gruff voice drew their attention to the bedroom door as he came back in to bring more stuff down to the vehicle.

“Seth’s mate,” Max said, hopping up and handing a box to Zeus. “I think Seth’s biological clock is broken. I’m worried his penis is going to shrivel up and fall off if it doesn’t get some attention soon.”

Zeus just shook his head at them both, added another box to the one Max had given him, like they weighed nothing, and went back downstairs.

“You’re awful,” Seth said, throwing a shirt at Max’s smiling face.

 

 

 

Chapter 2: Premonition of Undecidedly Awful Things

 

“IF YOU take one more of those peppermints, I will break your little fingers.”

Seth smiled, listening to Max’s not-so-excellent customer service skills. Max was extra grumpy without the alpha around this past week.

The bell above the door chimed, followed by Max’s excited squeal. Seth walked out front to find Max jumping into the air and launching himself at Christian like a monkey jumping into a tree, wrapping himself around him.

“I thought you weren’t coming home until tomorrow morning,” Max said, looking like he was trying to burrow inside of his mate.

“I missed you, so I left earlier than planned.” Their alpha’s voice had a soothing effect on both of them. It was always hard to be without him, even if you weren’t the one mated to him.

“Ahh, I missed you too.” Max rested his head on Christian’s shoulder. “Did you hear that, Seth? He came home because he missed me.”

“Yes, I heard, congratulations. Did the new applicant not work out?” Seth asked.

“No, it went fine, he’ll be a great fit in town. He’s hoping to move in next week.”

“Is it awkward for anyone else to have this conversation while Max is wrapped around you like a monkey?” Seth asked, surprised by how comfortable he was getting talking to Christian. Before he and Max became mated, Seth couldn’t even think about Christian by his given name, although he still referred to him as alpha when speaking, out of respect.

“Nope, just you,” Max assured him, turning his head to smile.

“Well, I see some customers coming, so you might want to climb out of your man tree.” Seth shook his head at them both as they continued to hold each other.

“Sorry, can’t do it,” Max said as Christian walked him toward the side door leading up to Seth’s apartment.

“Hey, you don’t live up there anymore.” The protest went completely ignored. Seth ran to the bottom of the stairs to holler at them. “You don’t even have a bed up there.” They opened the top door, and Christian kicked it closed behind them. “Stay off of my bed!” Seth wasted his breath screaming.

I am absolutely burning my sheets. But he did have to admit he missed having Max as a roommate. He was so used to Max filling the silence in his life. He made Seth go outside of his comfort zone. Aside from Seth’s family, Max was the only one he had ever been truly comfortable around, but Christian and Zeus were fast becoming part of that select few as well.

The bell over the door rang again as customers entered. Seth would be running the front for a while. He hated working the front. Seth unclipped his bangs, letting them fall into his face.

He served up a few after-dinner pastries for folks and started to clean up for the night.

Seth was just wiping the counters when Zeus came in.

“If you’re looking for the alpha, he’s indisposed.” Seth pointed to the small chandelier shaking slightly overhead.

Zeus cringed for a second before sitting down.

“Can I get you something while you wait? It’s on the house.”

Zeus looked over at the display case like he couldn’t decide. Zeus loved Seth’s baking.

“How about I just get you some samples?”

“No candies,” Zeus needlessly reminded him, making Seth smile. Zeus was always trying to make himself seem so hard to match his exterior, but he was such a softy.

Seth dished Zeus up a plate of maple bacon donut holes and a Kobe beef guava chiffon cupcake and left Zeus to eat as he counted the cash in the till.

Zeus moaned, sliding the last donut hole into his mouth. “You are amazing,” he said after he swallowed, giving Seth a contented smile as he licked his fingers off.

“Look at you two,” Max said, walking back in through the stairwell door, his bow tie askew. Zeus looked at him questioningly as he peeled the wrapper off the sides of the cupcake and took half of it down in one bite. “I knew you two would make a perfect couple.”

Zeus started coughing, looking like he was having trouble swallowing the bite.

Max raced over, attempting to give Zeus the Heimlich maneuver. “Oh my God, I can’t reach my arms around his chest. Shit! Oh goddess, I’m so sorry, Zeus, you’re going to die, and there’s nothing I can do to save you.” Max continued hugging Zeus from behind, rubbing his cheek back and forth across his bald head.

“Will you please get off me,” Zeus said, pushing Max off him to stand up, having managed to swallow the meat without Max’s amateur life-saving techniques.

Seth snorted, trying to hold in his laughter.

“Oh, sorry,” Max said, embarrassed, as Christian walked in on the three staring at each other uncomfortably.

“I’m not even going to ask. I’m taking my mate home now.”

Max was looking at Seth like he was unsure of what to do.

“Go, I can close up.”

“Why don’t you stay and help, Zeus?” Max suggested. “It will give you and Seth some time to get to know each other on a more ‘personal’ level.” He slowly backed away from the glare Zeus was still giving him.

Christian looked at Max, obviously confused over why everyone was acting so weird.

Seth thought Christian should be used to it by now. He could recognize the scent of awkwardness; it was subtle, but if you hung out with Max long enough, you learned it pretty quickly—a little bit salty and a little bit sweet that hung on the edge of stale air.

“I wanted to do a security walk around town after closing anyways. I can help,” Zeus said, breaking the moment.

“Well, you two have a good time.” Max’s excitement showed on his face as he grabbed Christian’s hand and pulled him toward the front door.

“Thanks, Zeus,” Christian said, the door closing behind them.

“I’m never going to understand that boy,” Zeus said.

“No, probably not,” Seth agreed, watching Max jump onto the alpha’s back on the way to the Hummer.

“What can I do to help?” Zeus asked, pulling Seth’s attention back.

Seth looked Zeus over and thought about what he had left to do to close up. Even though it wasn’t needed, Seth really wanted to see the big guy in one of their Sweets & Meats aprons.

“Here, put this on. You can pull the food from the cases and put them in the large fridge in back.”

“I’m not wearing that,” Zeus said, his face deadpan, pointing to the little apron.

“Food handler’s requirement,” Seth lied, straight-faced. He really was getting ridiculously good at lying.

Zeus grabbed the apron and put it on. The visual was just as fabulous as Seth thought it would be. The juxtaposition was perfect, with Zeus dressed in his standard dark clothes, black tribal tattoos trailing up his thick, muscular neck to encase the side of his shaved head, wearing the pink-and-green apron, standing in front of the display case. It was too bad there wasn’t any spark there. Seth had lied to Max earlier; he did want to meet his mate. His lying was obviously out of control. Lately he’d started questioning if he would ever meet his mate at all.

“So do you know anything about the new guy moving to town?” Seth asked, deciding on small talk, while he flipped the Closed sign and locked the door.

“Your new neighbor?”

“My new neighbor?” Seth asked, confused.

“Yeah, he’s moving into the place next door.”

Seth had just assumed the new guy would be taking over the only open shop left with an apartment over it, available across town, not the little yellow house next door.

“What does he do?” Seth asked, now very curious, knowing Zeus did all the background checks on folks for Christian.

“He’s an environmentalist mainly, but he’s also an animal trainer. Supposedly a really good one. I think Christian is hoping he’ll train Rosetta so I don’t have to get rid of her.”

“Thank God,” Seth said. He was an animal lover too, but that dog…. “So he’s moving in next week, huh?”

“Yeah. Make sure that omega of ours is on his best behavior,” Zeus warned, grabbing a tray and turning to take the food back to the refrigerators.

Both of them knew Max didn’t really have a good behavior.

They spent the next half hour in a comfortable silence, packing everything up and wiping things down.

“Thank you for helping,” Seth said, taking off his bow tie and apron.

“Not a problem. I’m going to head out and do my security sweep,” Zeus said, taking off the apron and handing it to Seth. “I know it’s not really my place, but how has Max been doing? I know all that stuff with his dad, or the man he thought was his dad, had to have been hard.”

Seth loved it when Zeus showed his caring, softer side. “He’s good. He’s strong. I think becoming the official omega has helped make him whole.”

Zeus nodded his head in agreement. “Had to be tough for both of them.”

Seth knew he was referring to Max’s mom, since she was the one who put her husband down in the end. “Yeah, I hope they can finally have a relationship.” It was hard growing up next to Max and watching the abuse he had to endure from his father.

“Me too,” Zeus said, tapping the counter before heading toward the door. “Lock up behind me.”

“I will, Dad,” Seth assured him with an eyeroll. “Thanks for staying to help. Good night, Zeus.” Seth locked the door and headed up the stairs, ready to crash for the night.

Seth wasn’t sure what sixth omega sense Max had now that he was mated, but his phone started ringing the minute he walked into the apartment, not even giving him enough time to put his stuff down.

“Spill it,” Max said.

“Spill what?”

“You know what I’m talking about. What happened between you and Zeus?”

“Nothing happened. So you can stop with the not-so-subtle hookup, thank you. He helped me close up and then left,” Seth assured him, secretly wishing there was something between them.

“Is he not into you? Why would he not be into you? You’re adorable, and you bake like an oven goddess. And he’s a junkie for your cooking. It’s a match made in heaven.”

“He’s not my mate, Max. I’ve already told you.” Seth was sad as he felt the truth in his words.

“Mate, schmate, and don’t give me that crap about being happy alone. I believe none of it.”

“Says the guy happily mated. I’m glad you’re in this amazing relationship now, but that just doesn’t happen for everyone,” Seth said, throwing the aprons into the hamper. “I appreciate your help, but you’ve got to let it go. Now I have to jump in the shower. I’ll see you in the morning.” Seth hung up the phone and headed to the shower.

He hopped into a cold bed later, alone. At least with Max here, he’d had someone to cuddle with. He should probably get used to this, he thought, rubbing his feet together under the blanket to get warm. His skin felt very itchy tonight, and not from a lack of letting his wolf out. This felt like a premonition almost, like something was going to happen, but he wasn’t sure if it was good or bad, so of course he thought the worst and spent a restless night worrying about whatever was to come.