Book 3 in the Fae Touched Series
Will dealing with the ghosts of the past threaten their future?
Wolf shifter Jacob Tucker would love to claim the beautiful she-wolf as his destined mate, but the timing couldn’t be worse as news of his estranged twin reaches him. The same twin who might be under the enemy Fae Lord’s control.
Tucker knows he must find his brother before it’s too late but hunting him down will be dangerous. If he fails, he’ll lose more than his life. He’ll lose his future with Johnnie.
Johnnie Long has always been drawn to Tucker, her instincts telling her the sexy alpha male is her fated mate. Yet her heart was wrong before. Just when she determines to prove to herself—and Tucker—they belong together, he tells her he’s leaving and might never return.
Is she going to allow her stubborn shifter to go on some perilous journey alone? Hell no. Johnnie won’t give up on her happily ever after that easily. She has a plan.
The stakes are high. Time is not on their side. Will saving his brother bring Tucker and Johnnie together or break them apart forever?
They’re about to find out.
*Fae Devoted, book 3 in the Fae Touched series, is a lightly angsty, highly emotional paranormal romance/urban fantasy novel featuring a protective alpha hero, a brave heroine, a bit of cursing, a little violence, and some steamy scenes—tastefully done, of course.
Book 3 in the Fae Touched Series
Read an Excerpt
Wolf shifter Jacob Tucker crept toward the perimeter of the rebels’ compound, his muzzle low and his paws silent. He waded under a starless sky through the field of overgrown weeds, staying downwind. Each step brought him closer to a voice he hadn’t heard in decades but immediately recognized.
“I do not…harm…females.” His brother’s words sounded strained and shallow, as though spoken through a constricted windpipe.
It had been less than twenty-four hours since Tucker discovered that Jeremiah Grayson was involved with the Athair; a group of rebel Fae Touched hellbent on destroying the fragile peace between the magical community and the larger human populace.
Tucker froze, his ears pricking as a melodious voice answered his twin.
Shit, shit, shit.
He’d been holding onto the slim hope that recent events pointing to a full-blooded Fae leading the insurgents and residing in Earth’s realm were a fantastical rumor. But the tone of the being speaking was so pure it could only belong to a Sídhe. An Elven Lord who hadn’t returned to Faery centuries ago with the rest of his kind.
A series of thumps punctuated Jeremiah’s pronouncement as if a heavy body was hit hard, then skidded or rolled across the farmhouse’s gravel driveway. Tucker’s vision went red, and his pulse pounded, but he forced himself to remain unmoved. His brother was a traitor to the Fae Touched species and didn’t deserve sympathy.
Tucker dropped to a forward crawl as he neared the end of the natural cover surrounding the renegades’ hideout, the fur on his belly scraping the uneven ground. His smoke-colored pelt blended into the night’s deep shadows and kept his presence well-hidden. He stilled at the outer edge of the unlit clearing and waited for Samuel Walker to order the attack through the magical bond his Alpha held with every member of the pack.
To conceal the yellow glint of his eyes in the dark, Tucker took in the scene through half-closed lids and tried to ignore Jeremiah’s struggle to regain his feet. His twin had been thrown across the yard by a Fae with pointed ears, a willowy frame, and platinum hair that hung to his waist.
James Reed, the wolf shifter Tucker and the others came to the farmhouse to rescue, faced the Elven Lord with defiance. His hands were shackled in front of him, his canines overlapping his bottom lip despite the poisonous iron in the steel cuffs hindering his ability to shift. The region’s vampire prince had sent James to infiltrate the Ferwyn outcast pack—without Alpha Walker’s prior approval.
The Sídhe held his slender wrist close to James’ mouth as though expecting him to drink from his vein. Ferwyn didn’t require blood to survive like the Dádhe race. And unlike humans who were highly susceptible to a vampire’s blood manipulation, shifters were impervious to all but an Alpha’s compulsion. So, what purpose did consumption serve?
“Or I can force you to with a single spoken word and have you thank me for it afterward,” the Fae said. “Choose, wolf. Dignity or denial?”
“Neither, asshole!” Jeremiah charged out of the darkness and tackled the pureblood to the ground.
Seconds later, his brother went flying.
The spell the Sídhe unleashed on Jeremiah scoured over Tucker’s gray fur, raising his hackles. The cloying scent of lilacs heightened as the Fae curled his long fingers into a loose fist. Jeremiah’s spine arched in conjunction with the motion. His face turned bright red, then a sickly shade of purple, the scar gracing his cheek blanching stark white. A scar his twin didn’t have the last time Tucker saw him and one that shouldn’t be possible with a Ferwyn’s accelerated healing.
His muscles quivered watching Jeremiah fight for each breath, and Tucker couldn’t block the urgent plea riding his emotions as he reached for the link with Samuel.
If the attack came too soon, they could lose the opportunity to stop the Fae. He couldn’t place a single life above the thousands that would be lost if the rebellion incited a species war. Even if the life saved was his brother’s.
His Alpha answered came swiftly, aggression laced with compassion flowing through the pack bonds he held with Samuel made the order clear…go. Tucker’s wolf’s powerful muscles bunched and then stretched as he launched into the open.
James took advantage of the Fae’s focus on Jeremiah, eliminating the only other threat in the vicinity—an outcast guard. A blazing stream of flames from Carter Jenkins, their team’s covert battle witch, hit the Fae in the stomach, catching him by surprise and disrupting the killing spell.
Tucker ate the distance between him and his twin, then placed himself in front of a wheezing Jeremiah, his attention locked on the Elven Lord.
“Your brother is mine, wolf,” the Fae threatened while casting the protection of a mini cyclone around his ethereal form. “Yield now, and I’ll allow you the honor of serving beside him instead of dying where you stand.”
The magic of a nearby Ferwyn male converting to wolf form raced across Tucker’s flesh, the touch familiar and welcome. Jeremiah’s gray, identical to Tucker’s, took a fighting stance beside him. They bared their teeth in unison, telling the arrogant Lord that it’d be a cold day in hell before the Texas-born twins bowed their heads to a Fae.
The garage bay on the east end of the Harbor Complex was a hive of activity; the Guard members stationed on Mud Island in Memphis, Tennessee, were in the middle of a shift change. Tucker maneuvered around the armored vehicles and East South Central’s law enforcement teams preparing for duty. A few of the warriors acknowledged his presence with respectful chin lifts, but most moved out of their superior’s way.
Tucker stormed into Commander Walker’s office and slammed the door behind him to ensure privacy against the enhanced hearing of the other Fae Touched in the vicinity—and defuse a fraction of his mounting frustration.
“No additional information on your brother’s whereabouts, I take it?” Samuel looked up from the papers spread on his desk. Although he was the Príoh of Clan Walker and Alpha of the local Ferwyn pack, his royal appointment to Commander of the Guard made Samuel the third most powerful official in the East South Central Region. As his beta and first lieutenant, Tucker was second in command of all three in the ESC.
“None,” he answered, striding back and forth across the limited width of the room.
“We’ll find him before he turns feral.” Samuel’s steady amber gaze held the same promise as his words. “But it’ll be more difficult if he’s already left our territory.”
It’d been a week since Jeremiah Grayson, Tucker’s only sibling and the well-respected Alpha of a prominent Ferwyn pack in the West South Central Region, was caught inside Clan Walker territory. Seven days since they challenged the Elven Lord at an old farmhouse and lost. One hundred and sixty hours since his brother slipped away without an explanation for his betrayal of the magical community.
Jeremiah’s unlawful entry into the ESC could have been overlooked with a formal petition and a generous bounty paid by the neighboring Clan’s príoh, Dugan McCoy. The exorbitant fee would have returned the foreign Alpha to his Texas home, chastised yet unharmed. But it was harder to forgive his brother’s establishment of a rebel, Ferwyn pack. The illegal act would have signed Jeremiah’s death warrant if not for the extenuating circumstances and Samuel’s compassion.
“We won’t give up on him. I swear it.” The commander rose from his seat and rounded the wooden desk, the circuit-like connections that bound him to the Alpha of his pack telegraphing Tucker’s inner turmoil. Samuel gripped him by the nape and halted his pacing. “There is no way you could’ve known about the Fae’s influence over Jeremiah. Now or in the past.”
“I abandoned my brother when he needed me the most,” Tucker pushed the admission through lengthening canines. Then Ferwyn laws restricting all non-outcast male shifters from crossing Clan borders, along with his stubbornness and pride, kept him away for over half a century. He hadn’t spoken to Jeremiah in six decades, but he checked on his birth pack often. If evidence existed that his former clanmates did less than thrive under his sibling’s leadership, Tucker never discovered it.
“You didn’t have a choice.”
“I could have stayed.” And dug deeper to discover the cause of Jeremiah’s uncharacteristic behavior instead of walking away.
“You heard what James said in the debriefing. He is convinced that your twin was bound to Príoh McCoy and Lord Daimhín at the same time.” A dual state of being thought impossible for any Ferwyn.
Samuel shook his head. “There’s no way to determine when the binding took place or the level of control Daimhín exerted over Jeremiah in the beginning. If you had questioned him too closely, his wolf might have viewed it as a challenge to his status as pack Alpha and sought to eliminate the threat.”
“It never would have gone that far.”
“You can’t be sure of that.”
No, he couldn’t. And now that Príoh McCoy had severed their connection and branded Jeremiah an outcast for his involvement with the Athair, the sole buffer against Daimhín no longer existed. Without the stability of his bond with McCoy, his wolf would break. But did Jeremiah have the usual year like other unbound Ferwyn males, or would his time be shortened because of his tie to the Fae?
“He needs a new Clan príoh.” Jeremiah’s time was running out, and few males were strong enough to gain his brother’s submission. Although no longer a pack’s Alpha, Jeremiah’s wolf was still an alpha with a dominance level that exceeded the majority of other shifters.
“I’ve promised to offer him my bond before it’s too late.” Samuel squeezed the back of Tucker’s neck and returned to his desk. “I haven’t changed my mind.”
It was a generous offer considering Jeremiah was culpable in the WSC’s Dádhe King’s abduction of Samuel’s truemate, Abby. Yet Tucker couldn’t allow his brother to accept his príoh’s gift until they discovered the depths of the Fae’s intrusion, or Lord Daimhín was dead. Whichever came first. Either way, Tucker was determined to save his littermate. No matter the personal cost.
A pair of sparkling hazel eyes and smiling lips flashed in his mind, but he shoved the vision aside.
“Request denied.” Samuel cut him off, correct in the assumption Tucker was about to ask for a leave of absence from his duties with the Guard and Clan to pursue Jeremiah.
“Commander Walker…” A warm wave of brotherly love and pack loyalty brushed his senses. “My Alpha—”
“You don’t have to do this alone, Tucker.”
Samuel was one of a handful of Fae Touched aware his loyalty once belonged to Jeremiah and the Grayson Pack. That he relinquished his birthright, his Clan, and the surname Grayson a human-lifetime ago. Now, almost everyone routinely referred to him as what they thought was his last name. Tucker.
Only one person called him by his given name of Jacob.
Joan Helen Long, Johnnie to her friends, was a spirited she-wolf who joined the Walker Pack a year ago. Tucker called her Jo, and he wanted far more than mere friendship with her.
But the Fae’s appearance and his brother’s subsequent betrayal made the dream an impossibility for now.
“Johnnie’s birthday is coming up.” Samuel sat, his attention on the computer screen in front of him, voice deceptively bland.
Damn Alpha bond.
“Next week, if I remember correctly,” he said as if making an off-hand remark of little importance.
As her Alpha, Samuel knew exactly when Jo turned twenty-five; the age when a Ferwyn female was old enough to accept the bond of their Ca’anam, their truemate. An event Tucker once anticipated, but now dreaded.
“Lieutenant, about Johnnie,” Samuel closed the laptop with a soft click, his tone no longer teasing, “don’t allow the past and what-ifs to dictate your future.”
“I have no future until Jeremiah does. I owe him that much.” He turned and walked to the exit.
“What happened to your brother wasn’t your fault. You couldn’t have known about Lord Daimhín, so don’t place blame where it doesn’t belong.”
Tucker opened the door and stepped outside the office without looking back. “Too late.”
Tucker arrived at Mud Island Hospitality Management five minutes early, carrying a tall to-go cup from the Riverfront Café. The office was the third on the left in a row of businesses housed in the Harbor Complex and consisted of two employees who came and went as demand required. Jo handled the daylight hours, and Noreen, a Dádhe, covered the nightshift.
The management company dealt with all aspects of any Fae Touched moving to the island community, the service including everything from finding suitable housing to recommending a reliable plumber. But relocations were infrequent, so the females also fulfilled hostess and concierge duties at the Queenstown Inn, and in his she-wolf’s case, acted as a de facto den mother to incoming Ferwyn college students.
“Hey, Jacob,” Jo said from behind the room’s single desk while focusing on her computer’s oversized screen. “I’ll just be a minute.”
“No hurry.” Tucker planted his shoulder on the doorframe, content to wait. Content to watch while he still could.
Jo’s auburn hair was piled on the top of her head, a vivid purple band binding the locks in place. She leaned down to return a folder to the bottom drawer, and the misshapen knot bobbed precariously.
He chuckled, the weight of worry on his heart suddenly lighter. Something Jo was able to do without even trying.
“What?” Her chin raised at his quiet laugh, and the messy bun drooped to the side.
Shoving off the doorjamb, he cut between the two client chairs facing her desk and reached across to give the tangled skein a gentle flick with his finger. It slid another inch toward her ear.
“Oh, that.” She rested an elbow on the polished wood and propped her chin in her hand. “It’s always getting in my way at work. I’m thinking of chopping it off.”
Tucker choked, then coughed, almost swallowing his tongue, repressing a firm no.
“Or not.” Her eyes danced with mischief.
She-wolves were world-renowned for their extraordinary hair. Commercial ads touted everything from shampoos and conditioners to vitamins and miracle creams promising that human women could achieve the same thick, lustrous manes organic in Ferwyn females.
Jo loved her hair almost as much as Tucker did, the color a glorious combination of chestnut, rust, and copper. She’d never cut it short.
“Maybe you should.” He gave a nonchalant shrug.
“I should?” A dainty crinkle formed between her brows.
“A bit scraggly looking.”
“What?” Jo straightened from her relaxed position, hand flying to the flopping bun. She yanked out the bright tie and dragged a hunk of the silken mass to within an inch of her nose. “I haven’t changed my hair products, but I did buy a new blow dryer. But that shouldn’t matter unless…maybe it runs hotter than my old one?”
“Could be.” He ducked to hide his smile.
“I haven’t noticed any difference. And didn’t you tell me a couple of days ago my hair was pretty?” Her eyes crossed as she examined the healthy strands. “Wait, is that a split-end?”
Tucker laughed, and damn, it felt good. Jo had a gift for making everyone around her happy. It was one reason she excelled at her job. She was good with people and great with him. He would miss her when he had to leave. Because permission or not, he was going after his brother.
Jo released her hair and sank into her chair, crossing her arms with a loud huff. “Hardy har har,” she said with a scowl that quivered suspiciously. “Funny male.”
“Try harder.” She grinned and flung a random pen at his head.
He easily dodged it.
Jo powered off her computer and stood, her gaze dropping to the cold drink dangling from his fingertips. “Is that smoothie for me?”
“Isn’t it always?”
He nodded. It was her favorite.
Tucker bent to retrieve Jo’s makeshift projectile and placed it with the other multi-colored pens in the ceramic coffee mug printed with the Mud Island logo of an illuminated Hernando de Soto Bridge.
“I brought you something too.” She walked the few feet to the office’s mini-refrigerator and dipped into a crouch. Her full skirt billowed, the lace hem brushing the floor as she retrieved a glass pan with a red-silicone lid. She rose with equal grace. “Baklava.”
After Jo unearthed Tucker’s weakness for sweets, she lavished him with her homemade sugary treats, sometimes using them to get her way. Baklava was his favorite, but he knew it was a time-consuming dish to make.
“What do you want?”
“Why do I have to have an ulterior motive?” She balanced the dish in one hand and grabbed her purse with the other, expression wide-eyed and innocent. “Maybe I wanted to spoil you.”
“Jo,” he warned, exchanging the yogurt smoothie for the square pan.
“Okay, okay, there might be a little something,” she conceded, leading him into the hallway and locking the door behind them. “Did I mention I made the phyllo dough from scratch?”
“Who do I have to kill?” He could count on one hand how many times Jo baked this particular dessert since she moved to the island.
Jo smacked him in the stomach.
He oomph’d and rubbed his firm gut as if her light slap hurt.
“Oh, puh-lease,” She wrinkled her freckled nose at his dramatics. “It’s a tiny favor. Minuscule. It’s not even for me. Not entirely.”
She turned toward the lobby, sucking loudly on the smoothie’s straw.
“It’s no big deal.” She refused to meet his eyes, steps quickening.
“Bak-la-va.” It was worth repeating.
“Mom and I want to watch the new romantic comedy tonight, and Dad’s pushing hard for the latest action flick starring that stone guy.”
Stone guy? “You mean The Rock?”
“Stone…rock, whatever. The point is, we need your vote. If I have to watch the sequel to The Godfather again, I’ll scream.”
He hid another smile. “Your sire is next in the rotation.”
The Long family held movie night in their home every other Thursday, and for the past six months, Tucker joined them whenever he could. Unless Jo’s older siblings were visiting for the weekend, the even gender dynamic often led to draws which were broken by the alternative selection rule. In the result of a tie, they took turns choosing a classic to end the stalemate. Ellis Long chose The Godfather II every single time.
“You could vote on the action film and avoid the substitute pick altogether.”
“Jacob, please? I promise to side with your choice next time.”
Would he even be here next time?
Jo stopped at the Complex’s front exit and stuck out her pretty bottom lip in an exaggerated pout. Tucker wanted to bite that lip, then soothe the sting with his tongue, but he didn’t have the right. Might never have the right now that he had to chase after his brother and somehow circumvent Daimhín’s influence without getting them both killed.
Tucker forced his thoughts away from things he couldn’t have, at least not yet. “A romcom, huh?”
“I used walnut and pistachios.”
“Roger’s honey?” The human beekeeper harvested the best in the territory.
“Who else would I use?”
He opened the glass door, and Jo walked outside.
“Drizzled extra over the top too.” She skipped down the steps, confident in the belief she’d already won.
And she had.
Tucker followed, his heart squeezing tight. He would do almost anything to make his she-wolf happy. Except she wasn’t his, was she?
“So,” Jo’s gaze dropped to the pavement, her pace slowing as they walked side by side to her nearby apartment, “I was wondering if you still planned on coming to the majority party next Friday?”
“You are coming, right?” She stopped in front of her building, eyes remaining on her feet.
“I’ll try.” If they discovered Jeremiah’s location prior to the celebration at Chess, he’d have to leave before the trail went cold.
“But…” Her brows lowered, the smoothie straw pushing in and out of its lid so fast it squelched. Her mouth closed, opened, and closed again. A frown marred her pretty face.
“If I can be there, I will be.” How could he even consider missing one of the most significant milestones in Jo’s life?
She nodded but didn’t look up.
Tucker tilted her chin with a finger, bringing her gorgeous hazel gaze to his. “I want to be there, Jo.”
I want you. Forever.
“Okay,” she said after a long pause, then smiled at him. “I’ll see you later tonight at Mom’s and Dad’s, right?”
He shouldn’t go. It wasn’t fair to act as though nothing had changed when everything had.
“Yeah.” He dropped his hand to his side, his other holding Jo’s bribe. He should start pulling away for Jo’s sake, but he was a selfish bastard. He didn’t want to forfeit these last precious moments as the hunt for his brother might keep him away from his she-wolf for a long time.
They climbed the outdoor stairs to her second-floor apartment, and Jo inserted the key. “Great, we can meet at your house, and you can show me around. I’ve been dying to see it. I can’t believe you’ve made me wait this long.”
She didn’t notice him stiffen.
“I’m coming straight from work.” he hedged, mouth dry. “I’ll show you another time.”
“But I haven’t seen it since they started the renovation.” Jo spun to face him, the pout real this time.
“It’s a mess.” He purchased the home last spring, and it’d taken the entire summer to remodel the outdated house to his specifications. Tucker had only moved from his apartment a week ago, but none of those reasons had anything to do with why he kept Jo away.
“Mom and I offered to help you unpack boxes, but you turned us down flat.”
“Us to see it finished. So you said…repeatedly.” She sighed and stepped into her small rental. “I guess I can wait a few more days.”
“Thanks again for the baklava,” he said, returning to the street, avoiding another half-truth. She wouldn’t be seeing his new place anytime soon.
“Just remember our bargain, Jacob Tucker,” she called after him. “I own your vote.”
Jo owned more than that. She owned him—and always would.
Johnnie scanned the crowd for Jacob, taking advantage of the bird’s-eye view from the VIP section of Chess reserved for the evening’s guests of honor. The club’s quarterly majority events were always well-attended, but in the past three months, two other local Fae Touched also reached adulthood status, and the place was jam-packed.
Where was he?
She should have pressed for an explanation as to why the handsome beta might not be attending the party, but Johnnie promised herself she wouldn’t push Jacob—not in this. Or maybe she was simply afraid to hear the night didn’t hold the same significance for him as it did for her. Maybe—
“You look awesome, by the way.” Noah raised his voice above the volume of the DJ’s current mix.
“Thanks.” Her emerald-green cocktail dress and ridiculously high heels were a far cry from the everyday casual skirts and jeans she usually wore. The messy updo and chic ensemble Abby helped choose for the occasion made her feel sophisticated and a teeny bit sexy. Johnnie wanted to wear something extra special—just in case all the doubts and maybes were wrong.
“Drooling is gonna be his new religion.”
“Whose?” She was half-listening when her clanmate swung a tuxedo-clad arm around her neck and leaned in close as though sharing a secret. “It’ll be the only path to his salivation.”
Johnnie couldn’t help it; she giggled. Although her friend’s puns were often terrible, the pack’s resident jokester always managed to make her laugh.
“And that should do it,” he said, gulping the last of his Champagne.
“Do what?” Her lips continued to twitch.
“Set a fire under Tucker’s ass.”
“Why would you want to do that?” Johnnie followed Noah’s gaze to the approaching Clan beta, and a flush stole up her neck to heat her cheeks.
“Here we go. Contact in four, three, two…one.”
“Is it hot in here? It’s hot, right?” The butterflies in her stomach went into flutter-mode.
“Nope.” Noah’s light brown eyes danced with merriment.
Well, crap. Was her attraction to Jacob that obvious? Did the entire pack know?
“Lieutenant Tucker, glad you finally made it.” There wasn’t a contrite bone in Noah’s body as he greeted the scowling beta.
“Go,” he replied, attention locked on Noah’s hand on her shoulder.
“I was just—”
“Right, gotta run.” Noah palmed Johnnie’s left cheek and tilted her head to kiss her right temple before removing his arm. The innocent peck earned him another fierce scowl. “Happy Majority, kiddo.”
“Kiddo? You’re the same age as I am.”
“Not for long.” His grin was contagious.
“Long enough,” she shouted at his retreating form. Johnnie’s birthday was three days ago. Noah reached his majority last winter, right before joining the Guard.
Declaring a child an adult at twenty-five was a practice observed by all three magical races within Fae Touched society. Even the timeless vampires required their kind to wait the full quarter-century after a successful Infusion to hold senior positions within a Dádhe House, no matter their human age when turned.
Noah descended the three flights of stairs to the main level and lifted his empty glass in salute. Next, he set the drink on a nearby bar, then cut through the gyrating masses and snagged the hand of a pretty witch on the dance floor. Johnnie lost them in the mad crush but continued to stare, not quite ready to confront Jacob. She took a deep breath to control her jitters, but his mouth came to her ear before she got control of her jangling nerves.
“Gorgeous,” he whispered from behind her. The warmth of his breath on her skin the only part of their bodies touching.
A single word, yet the yearning in his voice caused Johnnie’s heart to swell with hope. Maybe they were finally making progress after months of standing still.
“Noah was right.” The staccato beat of her pulse competed with the thrumming music.
“You really are late.”
“Got held up.” His chin hovered above her head.
Crap on a cracker. Could he smell how much she wanted him?
“Oh.” Johnnie turned and stepped away, putting distance between her and Jacob’s enhanced senses. It hadn’t registered he was in the Guard’s uniform of cargos and a black tee instead of a suit, the butterfly shindig in her stomach wildly distracting. “You should have told me you were on duty tonight. I would have understood.”
Been disappointed but accepted it. Jacob’s duties as Samuel’s second in command were vast, outweighing the needs of a single she-wolf, especially one he hadn’t claimed as his own.
“I wanted to be here.”
“Well, I’m glad you came.” Something strange in his tone made Johnnie ask, “It wasn’t something to do with the knights again that held you up, was it?”
The Knights of Humanity were getting bolder, attacking the Fae Touched without ramifications beyond the American government’s weak denouncements. The forest on the northern end of the island peninsula was set on fire by members of the hate-group last spring. The wounds on the pack’s running land would take years to heal.
And a few months ago, someone breached security to strike at the center of their magical community. Unknown assailants induced a feeding frenzy during Chess’s peak operating hours, the dark spell inciting the Dádhe to bloodlust inside a nightclub filled with humans. The heinous act set in motion events that threatened Fae Touched sovereignty. The KoH hadn’t claimed responsibility for that incident, but they hadn’t denied it either.
“No, it was personal.” He placed his hands on his hips, stretching his shirt taut across his broad chest. His biceps flexed.
Johnnie’s throat went dry, and she retreated another step.
Personal? The two of them spoke every day. Okay, so maybe Johnnie talked, and Jacob mostly listened. He was a great listener. But if something were bothering him, he would have confided in her at some point. Wouldn’t he?
“Anything I can do to help? Do you want to talk about it?”
He shook his head, posture rigid.
“Are you okay?” she couldn’t stop from asking. He certainly didn’t appear okay; he looked worried.
Jacob’s dark eyes softened, and he held out his hand. Johnnie didn’t hesitate to take it, despite knowing her smell would divulge a tangle of conflicting emotions. Emotions she needed to contain before she embarrassed herself. Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt. She hoped the tangle would confuse the beta’s sharp wolf-nose.
“Yeah,” he replied. “But I’ll need to leave the island to take care of it.”
“Leave the island?” she repeated, stunned.
He nodded again but didn’t explain. Jacob was as succinct as Johnnie was verbose, a dichotomy that didn’t bother her—until it did.
“For how long?”
“Not sure.” His thumb rubbed her sensitive inner wrist.
“Where are you going?”
Johnnie pinched his forearm, giving the skin a good twist at the end, something she did whenever Jacob’s reticence exceeded her limited patience.
He didn’t even wince.
She tugged free. “You’re leaving Queenstown.” You’re leaving me? “And won’t say why or when you’ll be back. I thought we were…friends.”
Johnnie was beginning to hate that word when it was applied to their relationship. She assumed—was desperate to believe—once the official festivities took place, Jacob would move their friendship to the next level. But maybe he wasn’t waiting for Johnnie to come of age at all. Maybe he never planned on asking her to start the Mating Dance?
No, she couldn’t be wrong about this feeling between them…not again. There had to be another explanation for why he was holding back.
“I’m sorry, Jo, but I can’t explain, not yet.”
She spun, horrified by the telltale sting behind her lids. It took a moment to respond, to ensure her voice wouldn’t break. “I don’t understand. If it’s personal, why can’t you tell me?”
“It is.” His tone held frustration. “But it’s also indirectly connected to things I’m not authorized to discuss.”
“I see.” She didn’t see. Not really. Was he implying it was tied to Guard business or the pack’s? “When do you leave?”
“Not sure. I’m waiting on a piece of vital information.”
“You won’t leave without saying goodbye first?” Johnnie carefully placed her wine on the nearest table and clutched the waist-high railing, the brightly dressed gathering below a wet blur. The queen set aside the nightclub’s strict black and white dress policy for the majority parties, and most of the guests were taking full advantage of the relaxed color code—Johnnie included.
“Yeah,” he promised from directly behind her again.
“Okay.” She blew out a breath, willing the tears away. “How do you plan on surviving without your weekly allotment of my chocolate chip cookies? I suppose I could freeze an extra-large batch for you to take with you when you go. That way, you’d have a quick fix whenever you needed one…prevent sugar withdrawal and all that.”
Johnnie bit the inside of her cheek to stop her inane chatter.
“I’d like that.”
“You’ll call or at least text me while you’re away?”
“I will,” he said, looping a delicate chain over her head. The pendant settled between her breasts.
“What’s this?” She lifted the necklace to get a better look.
The opposing profiles of two wolf’s heads positioned muzzle to muzzle formed the arches of a heart while a Celtic knot wedged at the bottom created its point. The pendant appeared to be an antique, its silver finish worn and slightly tarnished.
“Happy Majority, Jo.”
The rumbling bass near her ear raised goosebumps on her skin.
“It’s beautiful. Thank you,” she managed after swallowing the lump in her throat.
“I’ll miss you.” Every. Single. Day. “Is what you need to do dangerous?”
A noncommittal grunt.
“Jacob, promise me you’ll be careful.”
Full lips and short whiskers grazed the skin where the clasp of his gift rested beneath her upswept hair. The sensation gone so quickly she might have imagined it, but Johnnie knew she hadn’t.
Ask me to start the Dance…ask. There’s nothing stopping you now. Ask, dammit.
Breaking her self-imposed rule of waiting for Jacob to make the first move, she turned and placed her palms on the cotton material of his t-shirt. The tendon in his jaw jumped, and the ridged muscles of his abdomen tightened beneath her fingertips, but he didn’t move away.
She rested the side of her face over his heart, lulled by its comforting beat. “Please promise me.”
A sigh escaped him, tense muscles relaxing under her cheek. He lifted a hand to cup her gathered hair, and she tilted her chin to meet eyes tinted wolf-yellow. Jacob’s gaze dropped to her lips, and his head slowly lowered. Johnnie’s pulse rate skyrocketed.
“Johnnie,” Abby shouted from the level below, her attention on her feet as she climbed the steeps steps. Samuel was right behind her, carrying a huge box tied with a bow.
Jacob stiffened at the interruption. His arms dropped to his sides, and he straightened to his full height. Well over six feet, he towered above Johnnie’s five-foot-nine…including the heels. Taking a step backward, Jacob shoved his hands deep in his pockets and greeted his Alpha’s mate.
Johnnie felt bone-deep disappointment but plastered on a smile for her friend.
“I thought I’d missed you.” Abby’s cute pixie face was devoid of makeup, her long white-blond hair tied into a sloppy ponytail, a baggy t-shirt that smelled like Samuel covering her jeans almost to the knee.
“What’s wrong?” The Abby MacCarthy she knew never went anywhere without being a hundred percent pulled together. If she hadn’t been wearing her standard sky-high shoes, Johnnie would be bracing for news of a death, or at the minimum, a natural disaster.
“Nothing.” She glared at the Alpha. “Someone didn’t wake me up in time for the party.”
“You needed the rest.” Samuel shrugged, unrepentant.
Abby had been through a lot since coming to the island a few months ago. She’d survived an assassination attempt on the queen, a mugging at gunpoint, a high-profile new job, and the added responsibilities that came with mating a Ferwyn Clan príoh.
“It’s okay. You brought me a cake with candles on my actual birthday.”
“But I wanted to be here for the majority celebration. I know it’s a big deal.” She snatched the present from the Alpha’s hands and almost dropped it.
They all made a grab for the falling package. Jacob was faster than Johnnie and had a better angle than Samuel, catching it before it hit the ground.
“Crap, I forgot how heavy it was.” Abby’s cheeks went pink, the hazy blue lighting of the club emphasizing the purple smudges underscoring her eyes. She looked exhausted. It was no wonder the Alpha let her sleep.
Samuel wrapped an arm across the front of his tiny mate’s shoulders and pulled her against his broad torso. She sighed and capitulated, hanging both hands on the rock-solid forearm pressing on her collarbone. “It’s the electric mixer I noticed you admiring online.”
“Oh, Abby, you shouldn’t have.” Johnnie refrained from bouncing on her toes, but it was a near thing.
“It’s from Samuel too.” She smiled tiredly. “But he’s expecting an increased quota of the treats you bring to the Guard’s lounge on Fridays. I just want more cookies.”
Abby’s fatigue faded for a moment, her expression brightening. “Anything chocolate.”
“Done.” It was too expensive a gift, but she loved it. Johnnie considered opening a bakery shop before finding her true calling. She adored baking for others, but it was more of an enjoyable way to work off her seemingly boundless energy—along with a good long run. “What color is it?”
“Red, but you can return—”
“No, that’s perfect, thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Her jaw stretched in a wide yawn.
“Time to go home.” Samuel swept Abby off her feet.
“I can walk,” she replied, indignant.
“I know.” He kissed her on the forehead, hitching her higher.
“Stubborn Ferwyn,” she grumbled, rolling her eyes at Johnnie.
“Happy Majority, pack sister.” Samuel carried his Ca’anam down the stairs, and Abby waved goodbye over his shoulder, fighting another yawn.
“Thank you, Alpha,” Johnnie called with less enthusiasm than planned, throat thick witnessing the happy couple make their way to the exit.
She wanted what they had more than anything. Yearned for the connection only truemates shared. But Johnnie didn’t want it with any male, she wanted it with Jacob. Unfortunately, he wasn’t cooperating.
Stubborn Ferwyn indeed.