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Rejected

Wolves of Black Bird

By Amelia Rademaker


Copyright © 2017 Amelia Rademaker




All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means, electronic or print, without the author’s permission.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is coincidence.


Table of Contents

Copyright

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

About Amelia Rademaker

Other books by Amelia Rademaker

Connect with Amelia Rademaker


Acknowledgements

Thank you to all those who helped during this process. You know who you are. Your feedback, support and work had been greatly appreciated. I’m sorry for all of the swearing.


Chapter One

Grace stopped what she was doing. She couldn’t help it. It was an involuntary response every time she caught his scent in the air. Grace stood still, eyes closed, in the middle of the sidewalk trying to pinpoint what made Jack Taylor smell so damn good.

It could have been his aftershave. No one else in the small town of Black Bird used his aftershave. It could have been the sawdust that was always lingering on his clothes. It could have been that wild smell that permeated through everything else. Whatever it was, it added up to one thing in Grace’s mind. Mate.

The one person that was destined for Grace.

“Hey, crazy, how about you stop daydreaming and help me with these boxes.”

“Sorry, Anne,” Grace ducked her head embarrassed that she had been caught, nose in the air.

Anne Kane, Grace’s best friend, just shook her head and walked into her boutique. Grace was helping Anne part time with her store while Anne looked for a permanent assistant. Her last one had moved to a different town. The two women were supposed to be bringing in new merchandise but Grace was frozen where she stood, box in hand, looking for the source of the distracting smell.

The bell over the door of Chic Chick rang as Anne walked back onto the sidewalk.

“He walked by while you were in the back. You missed him, Grace.” Anne sighed, exasperated. “Now, can we get on with business? I want to get these dresses up before lunch.”

Grace picked up another box from Anne’s car and followed her inside.

Rows of clothes hung on galvanized steel pipes that serpentined through the single room store. The exposed metal, coupled with the antique white hutches, gave the store a rustic feel. Anne’s ability to pair modern and old world styles was what made her main street shop a success. Grace may have helped build the clothing racks and paint the walls, but it was Anne who kept selling out of merchandise.

Without a word, the two women started opening boxes and shaking out dresses. They had done this so many times in the last four years since Chic Chick had opened that they had it down to an art. Anne pulled out the steamer while Grace started making room to hang the metallic and jewel toned dresses.

The weather was cooling. The snows were coming and the holiday season was just around the corner. The shiny dresses Anne had picked out would give ladies the incentive to buy new dresses. The front window was the perfect way to lure people in during their lunch breaks.

It also gave Grace an excuse to keep an eye out for Jack. In case he walked back this way again.

“I thought you had a sure fire plan to corner Jack yesterday,” Anne said breaking the silence.

Grace barely contained a growl, “I did.”

She had bribed old man Johnson at the lumber yard to call Grace when Jack arrived to pick up his shipment that week. What Grace hadn’t anticipated was that old man Johnson’s loyalty to Jack was greater than his love for butterscotch brownies. The old coot had taken the brownies but never called Grace.

That type of solidarity was typical when it came to Jack Taylor though. Jack had only lived in Black Bird for a year, but somehow he had gained more loyalty from the town than Grace ever had. And Grace had lived here her whole life! Yet she was a second class citizen. The last twelve months had hammered that point home.

“You would not believe how cunning that man is and how much people like him.” Grace grumbled. “Hell, I’ve only managed to talk to him once and I’m already in love.”

Anne shook her head in disbelief. “How has he been able to avoid you for this long? The town is so small the school is K-12.” She leaned around the dress she was steaming to purse her lips at Grace. “Only you could get mated to a man who can hide like a chameleon in a town of less than five thousand.” Anne cringed. “To be mated,” she amended.

That was the problem in a nutshell. Somehow, Jack Taylor had roped the whole town into helping him avoid Grace. Not that he had done it knowingly. They’d helped him without being asked.

When he had moved to Black Bird last year, Grace had been a part of the welcoming committee. The instant their hands touched it felt like lightning had struck. The hair on the back of her neck stood up and Grace’s wolf howled. Grace had seen Jack’s eyes widen in surprise. She had been sure he felt it too, but he had dropped her hand like it was a snake and had gone out of his way to avoid her since.

For a while, Grace let him do his own thing. She assumed it would be stressful moving to a new place. Not that Grace had ever moved. She heard people complain about boxing up their houses often enough though. Meeting your fated mate on top of that must be overwhelming. But when she started making an effort to meet with Jack, she couldn’t find him. It was only after the tenth time of “just missed him” that Grace started to suspect he was avoiding her.

“He’s meeting with Ben and the other enforcers to talk about a group of rogues that are making their way here.” Anne finally said.

The dress in Grace’s hand slipped from her fingers as she whipped her head around to see Anne’s expression. Anne was pointedly focused on steaming the wrinkles out of a gold sheath dress but Grace could see the tension around her friend’s eyes. Anne was worried.

Rogues were groups of wolves who didn’t have territory. They had been kicked out their own Packs or left to avoid the law. Rogues were half feral destructive forces.

Considering Ben Thompson was Black Bird’s Alpha, and Anne’s boyfriend, Anne would know if there was a reason to be worried. Ben scheduling a meeting with the Pack’s enforcers did not bode well either.

“Are they here for us?” The question dropped to a whisper on the last word.

In the last few years the American Packs had become volatile. With was no central leadership to police interactions between Packs groups were taking advantage of that. There were territory wars going on all along the West Coast and the smaller more isolated Packs were being preyed on.

That scared Grace the most. Black Bird wasn’t big and it wasn’t well allied. A rogue Pack of wolves could sweep through and decimate the territory.

No one could prepare for rogues. They weren’t like other Packs who organized direct attacks. Rogues were groups of lawless lunatics driven crazy by their duel natures. They didn’t strategize or maneuver in any way that could be predicted. They attacked. They gave themselves over to their animals and slaughtered.

The thing that scared Grace the most was that they had no self-preservation. It didn’t matter if the fight was one against ten, they fought. And they kept fighting even as their lifeblood drained out of them. There was no defense against that. One rogue wolf could take out three enforcers because he was too enchanted with the bloodlust.

Grace hadn’t heard anything about the Packs around them being attacked but with the increasing aggression, it was only a matter of time. No one outright said it, but the town was nervous.

“No,” Anne’s voice was clear, definitive, “they’re just a group of rogues that a few Alphas have seen passing through. They haven’t approached anyone and they haven’t been violent. Ben’s just,” Anne let out a breath, “being cautious. You can’t be too cautious.”

Grace nodded. No argument there.

Attempting to lighten the mood, Grace bumped Anne’s shoulder as she went to grab the next stack of pressed dresses. “How would our illustrious Alpha feel if he knew you were giving out his schedule to strangers?” Grace teased. “Word might get around that you have loose lips.”

Anne snorted. “I would rather have the town calling me loose lips than a loose woman. Also, considering you were planning on hunting Ben down to ask him if he knew where Jack was, I am sure he will thank me later.” Anne cocked her eyebrows tempting Grace to deny it.

Grace huffed at being found out. To be fair she had pulled that move often so often that it wasn’t as subtle as it used to be. And Anne had reason to get upset about it. Grace had crashed a few dinner dates between Anne and Ben trying to find Jack. Grace couldn’t be too upset at the bite in Anne’s tone.

“You just have trouble sharing Ben’s time.” Grace said playfully. Not that Grace could blame her. Ben was a hunk. He was tall and built, with thick black hair. Having known him her entire life, Grace could safely say that he was one of the best men on the planet.

Grace punched a price tag into a dress with too much force and the gun jammed. Throwing it down in frustration Grace snarled, “I’m so pathetic, Anne!”

“I know, honey,” Anne stopped steaming clothes and gave Grace a sad look, “but if you can’t be pathetic about your mate, what’s the point?”

It hurt that Anne was agreeing with her so quickly. Grace sank down into a chair.

“Being pathetic is one thing, but I’m turning into a creep! That man doesn’t want anything to do with me and I’m stalking him all around town.” Grace sniffed.

It was time to throw in the towel. If Jack had wanted to get to know Grace, he had had ample opportunity. Jack acted like he didn’t even want to be around Grace. If Grace walked into the diner, Jack walked out the back. If Grace turned down the same grocery aisle, he would drop his basket and hightail it out of the store.

She didn’t even know why he was doing it. This was the main reason she had started her militaristic campaign to corner him and call him out. In the last few weeks, she had started gathering intelligence and planning her ambushes. Grace was going crazy just trying to get a minute of her mate’s time and he was doing his best to deny her.

She sniffled louder.

“Oh sweetheart,” Anne walked over. “Don’t even go there. It’s not you.” Anne wrapped an arm around Grace’s shoulder. “The man probably has some rare brain tumor. He’s trying to save you the grief of having to be mated to an invalid. Or, more plausible is that his penis is tiny.” Anne wiped a tear off Grace’s cheek. “He’s a hero for not subjecting you to his tiny dick. We should throw him a parade.” Anne jumped back throwing her arms wide. “We could put banners in every storefront and we could make a float depicting his miniscule package. Mrs. Henderson’s Pomeranian could pull it through Main Street.” Anne winked.

Grace laughed weakly. “Based on what I overheard Becky Jameson say at the bar last night, we might need Clydesdales to pull a parade float of that man’s junk.”

Anne pulled her lips back in disgust. Anne hated Becky Jameson. It all began when they had worn the same dress to junior prom.

“Well, that girl dated Cory Tate for years. I’m sure in comparison, Jack’s mini weenie looked like the Rock of Gibraltar.”

Cory Tate had landed himself on Anne’s bad side after he “accidentally” mistook Becky for Anne at the junior prom and had gone home with her. Anne couldn’t take a breath to insult Becky Jameson without throwing a barb at Cory Tate too. It was as sure as an Amen after a prayer.

“I don’t know why he doesn’t want to be my mate. That’s the problem. The man is involved in everyone’s life in this town. He helps with Pack security, he visits the old folk’s home, he found Mark Boone a job but I can’t even have a single conversation with him.” Grace threw her hands up. “I can’t even make a good excuse for him because I haven’t ever talked to him!” A tear fell down Grace’s cheeks. “Why doesn’t he want me?”

This was the final blow to Grace’s self-esteem. Growing up in Black Bird was hard for a half breed wolf. It also didn’t help that her mom was infamous. Grace’s mom loved her dad so much that she had broken up with her high school sweetheart, who also happened to be her mate, and married Grace’s dad. They had been madly in love. Grace’s mom called her dad, “My heart’s mate.” And after her dad passed away suddenly a few years ago, her mom had passed on quietly only a month later. They just couldn’t live without each other.

While Grace loved her parents, the town felt otherwise. They could not forgive June Harding for not mating with Richard Pierce and they certainly could not forget that she had done it all for a human. The wolves in town barely tolerate of the humans, let alone humans who married eligible females from the Pack. Throwing Richard Pierce over for Nathaniel Copeland, a human, had gotten the entire family blacklisted.

Grace was lumped in with the witches in town, Black Bird High School’s rivals, and the IRS. Not many people passed up the opportunity to screw with Grace. Thankfully, when Ben became Alpha things settled down. Only for them to start all over again when Jack moved to town.

Grace wasn't known for being melancholy. She tried to be upbeat about life but her wolf was confused why they weren't mated and Grace couldn’t stop thinking that it was her fault. It was the recipe for a very emotional reaction.

“Let’s go,” Anne declared getting up from the chair.

Grace wiped the tear stains off her face and put her shirt in order. Without saying a word, Grace followed Anne out the front door. Anne didn’t bother locking up, so Grace knew where they were headed.

Dale Markman’s bakery was only busy two times a day: before dawn and before school. The sun was already up and the kids were in school, so the bakery was empty. Dale was bent behind the glass display counter restocking from the early morning rush.

Dale was a thin man, thinner than would be expected for a person who made donuts all day. He was just starting to show his age too. There were crow’s feet appearing at the corners of each eye and a smattering of gray in his hair.

Hearing the overhead bell ring, Dale arched his back trying to work out a knot.

“Morning ladies, getting some work in before the day starts?” Dale smiled, his eyes wrinkling even more at the corners. Grace liked Dale. He was kind and he worked hard. Everyone else in Black Bird might obsess over gossip, but Dale didn’t pay any mind to it. He hadn’t shown favorites when Grace’s mom had married her dad instead of her high school sweetheart and he hadn’t gotten involved in the Jack Taylor fiasco.

“We sure are. I don’t know about Grace, but I could use a pick me up.” Anne rubbed her hands together excitedly. Anne didn’t even like donuts. She was here purely to drag Grace out of the dumps.

“I just put out some huckleberry filled ones.” Dale pointed to a line of fat fried dough leaking purple jam. Anne ordered two.

Grace was looking over the display, waiting for Anne to finish paying, when she heard the door open. Glancing over her shoulder, she barely bit back a groan. If Dale Markman was a saint, then Pearl Pierce was the devil. She was in her eighties and was always up in arms about something.

Last year, she had tried to get the community center shut down when they threw a Halloween carnival. Everyone rolled their eyes at the irony of a shifter thinking Halloween was going to corrupt the children but it had put a damper on the town’s celebration. If Pearl liked a person, she was vocal about it but nowhere near as vocal as if she didn’t like a person. Grace just happened to be a person Pearl didn’t like.

Pearl was also the mother of Richard Pierce. Her mom’s almost mate. From the moment Grace was born, she had been on Pearl’s shit list. And that meant that Pearl Pierce worshipped the ground that Jack Taylor walked on.

“Oh dear, they are letting all kinds of folks in here,” Pearl gasp, theatrically sniffing her nose.

Anne looked back and rolled her eyes. It was no surprise that Pearl hated Anne as well. Ever since Anne and Ben had started dating, Pearl had been going on and on about the sanctity of mates and how only loose women kept company with men who they weren’t fated for. Grace had the speech memorized since it was the same one Pearl howled at the Copeland family whenever the opportunity presented itself.

“Yeah, Dale, aren’t you worried about having bags of bones around the food?” Anne said deadpan. “The health inspector can’t condone that.”

Dale covered a laugh with a cough. Grace smiled but kept her head down not wanting to draw the old woman’s wrath.

“A home wrecker with bad manners, what a surprise,” Pearl cooed. “It’s to be expected from the town’s mutts.” Pearl smiled, obviously proud of her insult.

Grace didn’t react to the bait but she could see Anne’s hackles rise. Anne wasn’t the calmest wolf in the best situation but throw her into a closed room with Pearl and things could get out of hand. Grace stepped forward to pull Anne outside before things escalated.

“Oh my goodness,” Pearl exclaimed, clutching her hand to her heart. “I only smelled two wolves when I walked in here. I thought we were alone.”

Grace nodded politely but didn’t say anything as she ushered Anne towards the door. Pearl stepped aside to let them pass. They were almost outside when Pearl threw back her final spear.

“The town is doing Mr. Taylor a favor by keeping you away from him.”

“Pearl,” Dale warned.

Grace felt Anne tense under her hand.

“She says things to cause problems. No one pays attention. Let’s just go.” Grace whispered, trying to push Anne out the door.

“Listen to what she’s telling you, Ms. Kane. Grace is the town expert when it comes to no one paying attention.” Pearl cackled.

Grace’s heart froze and she felt her cheeks get hot. She tugged Anne harder knowing it was only a matter of time before she started crying and she wanted to be out of sight when it happened.

Anne jerked free, fire blazing in her eyes. For a second, they shifted yellow. She took a menacing step towards Pearl. The woman had the smarts to hurry back.

“This town is full of fools too old or too dumb to do anything but ruffle feathers.” Anne pointed a clawed finger at Pearl. “Watch your tongue, you old bitch, or I might have to rip it out to teach you some manners.” With a snap of teeth, Anne turned to walk away.

Grace hurried to catch up to Anne. She could practically see the steam coming out of Anne’s ears. When they walked past Chic Chick, Grace asked Anne where she was going.

“This has gone on long enough. We are confronting that son of a bitch right now and settling this once and for all.” Anne’s voice dropped an octave while she raged.

“What are you doing?” The shock of Anne’s anger dried Grace’s tears. Anne had a short fuse but she usually only huffed and puffed. She rarely acted on her anger.

“Ben asked me not to interfere. ‘This is between mates.’” Anne imitated Ben’s voice. “But this is bullshit. We can’t have cowards in this Pack. It’s time for that man to face the music and talk to you.”

Anne’s hand shot out forcing Grace to keep up with her march down Main Street towards the diner. It was just after the breakfast rush but as they got closer, Grace could see a few people still sitting at the booths. One group in particular drew Grace’s eye.

Ben had commandeered the entire back portion of the diner. He was surrounded by his enforcers. Grace could see him pointing at something on the table. But it was the dusty blonde hair of the man across from him that got Grace’s heart beating.

His back was to her but she could see the collar of his plaid shirt under his shoulder length hair. He must be planning on going straight to his woodshop after the meeting. He only wore his thick plaid shirts if he was going to be working. Just seeing the back of his head filled Grace with a nauseating combination of dread and excitement.

“Anne, he is going to sprint out the backdoor the second he smells me,” Grace wheezed. Her heart was beating so hard, she could barely breathe.

“I know.” Anne’s eyes narrowed. “So let’s use that to our advantage.”



“South Creek’s Alpha said they were skating his territory when they passed by last week.” Jack looked where Ben was pointing on the map. It was a good fifty miles away from Black Bird land but that was still too close to have a group of rogues sniffing around.

Ben had called this meeting late last night after getting information from the Pack to the south. All of Black Bird’s enforcers were there: Dave Pierce, Derek Johnson, Mark Warner, Ezra and Ezekiel Tate, Paul Carlson and Jack. It was early enough in the morning that most of the town’s inhabitants were either busy getting ready for the day or still asleep. That meant they had the diner nearly to themselves. This was good, since this kind of news would cause mass hysteria if it got out.

“Did he say how many there were?” Paul Carlson asked around the waffle he was eating.

Paul was Ben’s right hand man. Jack originally thought that the man was incompetent. Paul was obnoxiously playful, a joker who flirted with everything in sight. It was impossible to take him seriously.

Late one night the first month Jack moved to Black Bird he had watched Paul hand three drunken idiots their asses. The whole exchange lasted fifteen seconds and Jack had never questioned Paul’s place as second since.

“Ethan said his security team picked up eight but that there could be closer to fifteen.” Ben shook his head.

“Does that man not know how to count? That’s a big difference.” Dave shook his head in disgust. “Eight males blowing through a town could be bad but fifteen spells chaos. And South Creek said they steered clear of the town?”

Dave Pierce was born and bred to be Pack security. He was meticulous and expected everyone else to be just as vigilant as he was. There was no room for inaccurate reports in Dave’s world. Accurate scouting saved lives in Dave’s mind.

“He didn’t hear a peep from them. They didn’t ask permission to pass through but they didn’t raise hell.” Ben looked off in thought, chewing slowly. “They seemed to be just making tracks but having that many unannounced wolves roaming through my territory doesn’t sit well with me.”

Jack nodded in agreement. Black Bird might be bigger than the other towns that rogues were targeting but they were also isolated. Ethan Summerland was the only Alpha along their borders who seemed willing to get off his ass to help. And he was a shitty ally at that. The others would probably wait until the smoke cleared and snatch up what land they could. Vultures. Black Bird was on its own if anything happened.

“Did Ethan say anything else about them? Point out any noticeable traits or particular smells?” Jack asked speaking up for the first time this morning.

Ben sighed shaking his head. “He didn’t mention anything. The man is nearly seventy and his wolves are either too old to be efficient or too young to be properly trained. I doubt they were looking very hard.”

All eight men around the table shook their heads. That level of incompetence was inexcusable and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Black Bird would end up paying for it.

Jack barely kept his mouth shut. If the West Coast was controlled by Alphas like Ethan Summerland, then it was no wonder that things were going to shit. With no strong leadership, everyone disregarded the laws. People either became lazy or they got greedy.

Ben lifted his hand, silencing their murmurs but agreeing. “You all know as well as I do that the entire area is ripe for the taking. The Alphas in this part of the country won’t give up their holdings, the young wolves are leaving for more secure locations and we’ve been abandoned to our own devices. If it wasn’t rogues now, it would have been someone more organized later.”

“Large groups of young, angry wolves are a horrible thing to contend with,” Jack murmured into his coffee mug.

“Until they pass by us, I suggest that we double our patrols.” Ben took a long sip of coffee. “Long term, we need to start recruiting more enforcers. We need more people out there now that things are escalating in the west.”

“I’ll set up a schedule with everyone for the next few weeks.” Dave looked around at everyone for their agreement.

Jack caught Dave’s eye. “I’ll take this weekend.” He had just finished making a dining room set for a client and a few days in the woods, even if he was patrolling, sounded like vacation to him. He would finally be able to relax without having to look over his shoulder for Grace Copeland.

Jack groaned at the thought of her.

The woman was never far from his mind. She haunted him. It was more like she hunted him. Nowhere was safe. Thankfully, she no longer showed up at his workshop. The first week Jack had been able to work in his woodshop Grace had surprised him. While he was working with a table saw. He had gone off the handle and sent her running. Now she realized that Jack’s workshop was off limits. Nothing else seemed off limits to her though.

She had taken to following him while he ran errands in town. Jack had gotten to know Black Bird like the back of his hand after having to duck into every alleyway to escape Grace. He chuckled quietly to himself while he pictured Grace knocking on the door of his empty house this week.

“You only laugh like that when you think you’ve ruined one of Grace’s plans. What are you planning now?” Mark wagged his eyebrows.

Jack threw down his fork.

“We were having a perfectly good meal and you had to ruin it by bringing her up.” Jack wiped his mouth. He didn’t want to admit that he had been thinking about Grace. “It’s bad enough that everyone in town dogs me about Grace, don’t start too.”

Mark just shrugged.

Without another word, the Tate twins got up and left. The meeting was officially over now that Mark had brought up Grace and the twins were not the type of people who sat around and shot the breeze. They were the textbook definition of lone wolves. They never stuck around longer than necessary.

“You can’t avoid her forever. If you really want to stop the gossiping then you should just tell her she is wrong, that you’re not her mate.” Ben’s eyes narrowed. “That is the case isn’t it?”

“Of course that’s the case.” Derek pointed to Jack with his fork. “The man has taken a girl home every time he’s gone to the bar. Everybody in town has noticed. No way he’d be doing that if Grace was his mate.” Derek’s tone was matter of fact but Jack got the distinct impression that Derek knew what was up and did not approve.

Jack growled quietly to himself.

“Grace is a good woman,” Dave stepped in. “She’s a little eccentric and she gets excited about things but that’s just part of her charm. It also gets her in trouble. I could see her mistaking intense feelings for a mate bond.” Dave shrugged. “I love the woman like family, but I will be the first to admit she comes on strong.”

Jack stared at the table. His wolf growled. He did not like anyone speaking negatively about Grace. It didn’t matter that Dave had gone to kindergarten with her. Jack got irrationally angry when people brought up Grace because she wasn’t wrong. She was his mate. The only problem was that Jack didn’t want a mate.

Grace hadn’t mistaken the mate bond. Jack couldn’t figure anyone could mistake the electric bolt that shot up his arm the first time he had touched Grace. It was just that mating wasn’t for Jack.

His parents had ruined each other’s lives because they refused to give up on the idea that they were fated mates. They shouldn’t have gotten together and they sure as hell shouldn’t have stayed together. They made life hell for each other and for him. He never wanted anything to do with mates after that. It was a point that kept being driven home.

Just because Jack never wanted to be mated didn’t mean he took kindly to hearing Dave speak about Grace like that. She was a good person, from what Jack knew of her. She just wasn’t for him.

“You know me. Can you see a man like me being with a woman like Grace?” Jack asked Ben.

Ben was intelligent. He was also one of Grace’s friends. He also knew Jack inside and out. Ben, of anyone, knew how terrible Grace and Jack would be for each other.

Ben waved one hand as if brushing away Jack’s knowing stare. “I think you won’t know how you’ll be together until you actually get together.”

Jack narrowed his eyes at Ben’s answer. He leaned back in his chair trying to get a sense of what Ben was up to. “Why the sudden change? You’ve never said anything before.”

“I haven’t gotten involved because the second I do, the whole town will want me to get involved in their love lives.” Ben shuddered. “I have enough problems sorting myself out; I don’t want to deal with everyone else’s shit.” Ben put his coffee cup down. “But I have been getting chewed out by Anne and it is driving me crazy.”

The bell over the diner’s door chimed. Awareness pricked along Jack’s spine. He turned around just as Anne stomped towards them. She radiated pure rage as she made her way across the diner. People eating paused as she passed by them, stopping to watch what was promising to be a classic Anne Blow Up.

Jack turned to Ben and smirked. “Looks like you’re about to get chewed out again.”

“Jack Taylor, you son of a bitch,” Anne roared. Ben smiled at Jack obviously delighted that he wasn’t on the receiving end of this tantrum. “Grace is in my store crying her eyes out!” Anne stood, hands on hips, yelling at him. Her face was flushed red, her anger making the air smell like ozone. Jack leaned away from her.

The fury coming off of the woman in front of him had the hairs on the back of Jack’s neck standing up. He’d never been on the receiving end of an Anne Blow Up. Her eyes were flashing yellow and elongated nails were clawing her shirt as if she couldn’t wait to tear into Jack. It made him want to tuck tail and hide. He squared his shoulders self-consciously.

“Come on, Anne,” Ben reached for her. “You promised you wouldn’t get involved. I already brought it up.”

Anne slapped Ben’s hand away. Jack’s eyes went wide. The entire diner went silent. Anne must really be pissed if she hadn’t registered that she just hit the Alpha. Even if she was Ben’s girlfriend, that was out of line. Jack shot a look to Ben but he just shook his head telling him to let it go.

Paul’s face split into a huge grin. He started shaking his head and laughing quietly. If Jack wasn’t entirely focused on Anne he would have asked Paul what was so funny.

“The whole town is involved and it is exhausting.” She threw her hands up. “They are just going to have to talk things over so that the rest of us can move on with our lives. Grace is heading here right now to get this over with.”

Suddenly, the diner felt like a bear trap about to snap shut. His eyes darted down Main Street looking for Grace. He started to stand up from the booth.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Anne went to push Jack back into his seat but Ben quickly pulled her into his lap.

“Leave them alone, Anne,” Ben reprimanded. “It’s no one’s business but their own.” Ben looked around the room making eye contact with everyone there to get his point across.

Jack stood up and said thank you to Ben while he made his way to the kitchen. Carol Johnson had gotten so use to Jack slipping out the back door over the last year that she didn’t even look up from the grill. She just raised her hand in acknowledgement. Jack glanced behind him to make sure that Grace wasn’t following as he stepped outside.

And ran right into someone.

Out of reflex, Jack’s arm shot out to steady whoever he had bumped into. Lightening zinged up his hand whipping his head around.

Standing there, blue eyes wide, was Grace. Jack felt her fingers flex against her biceps anchoring him to her. They both stood in shock for a moment.

It had been a long time since he had felt that initial mate bond. There were nights that Jack almost convinced himself that Grace had made it up. But the flush of heat Jack felt just looking into her eyes reminded him of how his mother had described the mate bond as “all consuming”. It could catch hold of your soul and burn you up. Jack’s mother had been right. It felt like Jack’s whole being was being burned up with need. It terrified him.

Pushing Grace, Jack broke her hold on him. She stumbled back a step. Jack took the opening and rushed towards the sidewalk.

“Wait.”

The airy word made Jack’s whole body tremble. Unwanted, he turned to face her.

Grace’s hand was outstretched, reaching towards him. Her eyes were still wide with shock, her face pale. Jack could see her body shaking with tension.

She was beautiful. Her long blonde hair hung past the straps of her pink cotton dress. Only Grace would wear a sleeveless dress with a winter chill in the air. It was a perfect metaphor for Grace, enticing but a bad decision. Her red lips were open like she was trying to decide what to say.

“W-why?” The word stumbled out. Grace cleared her throat taking a small step towards Jack. “Just tell me why?”

This was the confrontation that Jack had been trying to avoid. It wasn’t that he didn’t like Grace. He didn’t know her well enough to not like her. He just didn’t want to lose himself in the mate bond.

A mate meant shackles. A mate made you lose your mind. Jack would do anything to avoid that. But that didn’t mean he wanted to break this girl’s heart.

He stood there at a loss for words.

“I know you felt it.” Grace rushed, “Just now.” She took another step forward. “You have to know we are mates. It’s not just me.” Her eyes pleaded with Jack to say something.

He sighed and hung his head for a moment hating that she was forcing him to have this conversation.

“No, it’s not just you.” The tension melted from Grace’s body and a huge smile lit up her face. “But that doesn’t mean we are going to be mates,” he rushed.

Just as quickly Grace’s smile fell.

“But we are mates.” She shook her head in confusion.

“That doesn’t matter. We aren’t victims of our instincts.” Jack watched the blood drain from her face.

Faster than he could react, grace rushed the two feet that separated them and kissed him.

Lust tightened every muscle in his body the instant their lips touched. Reflexively, he grabbed her arms to draw her closer. The heat of her body against his made Jack’s cock embarrassingly hard. He pressed his hips into her needing the contact. Grace moaned and the spell shattered.

His eyes snapped open and he shoved Grace away.

“I don’t want you, Grace!” Jack barked chest still heaving from their kiss. When Grace flinched back, Jack growled at himself for yelling. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Jack ran his hand through his hair. “I just…don’t want a mate. I like how my life is. I don’t want it to change.” He gestured between them. “My instincts want me to lose myself in this-this feeling but I don’t want that.”

Grace stood stock still. Her cheeks flushed in humiliation. It made Jack feel like a monster. This is why he hated mates. All the rules went out the windows with mates. They made you do things you hated doing. You couldn’t even help yourself.

“Fuck.” Jack’s wolf paced anxiously whining. He didn’t like seeing his mate in pain and didn’t understand why Jack wasn’t comforting her. It was only making him more agitated. “I’m sorry as hell you got stuck with me, Grace. It doesn’t have anything to do with you. I,” Jack sighed heavily, “I just don’t want a mate.” He tried to offer her a friendly smile. “But, I am sure you will find a guy who is wild about you and makes you insanely happy.”

Grace still just stood there looking shocked.

Not wanting to say anything else, Jack turned around and walked away without another word. Jack’s wolf howled wildly as he made his way away from Grace.


Chapter Two

“He might as well have said, ‘It’s not you, it’s me.’” Grace shook her head in disbelief. She had cried on Anne’s shoulder for hours. Now, with her eyes almost swollen shut, she sat in shock. Her whole life, she had been waiting for a mate. Grace had gossiped at sleepovers about it since she was a kid. It was the reason she had decided to stay close to the Pack instead of moving. She wanted every opportunity to meet the person she was destined for.

She had not anticipated being rejected by him.

It wasn’t unheard of for mates to not end up together. Hell, Grace knew that. But in her mind, her mate was going to be her soul mate. She was going to have a classic love at first sight mating. When the love at first sight didn’t happen, Grace knew that it would be love at first conversation. But the first conversation she had with her mate had been him rejecting her.

“It is a bullshit excuse.” Anne angrily dug her spoon into a tub of ice cream. “I’m sure I could make a trade with Ben and get his ass kicked out the Pack.”

Grace shook her head and winced. She had a headache from too many tears and too much chocolate mudslide ice cream.

“No, I don’t think you could promise Ben anything that would get him to banish Jack.” Grace squeezed Anne’s hand. “But thank you so much for offering.”

“You’re right.” Anne nodded sadly. “It’s much more satisfying to run him out of town.”

Grace laughed halfheartedly at Anne’s attempt to cheer her up. Anne really was the best friend a person could ask for.

“Anne, what am I going to do now?” Grace flopped on the couch. “Even after all of the time I spent running after him, it never crossed my mind that Jack would legitimately reject the mate bond.” Grace started to tear up again. It felt like her heart was bleeding. Grace could feel her wolf in the far reaches of her mind, hiding from the pain. She wasn’t sure she could survive this.

“I don’t know, honey.” Anne sighed and sat down next to Grace.

“What would you do if Ben met his mate tomorrow?”

“Man,” Anne blew out a deep breath, “I have been playing that scene over in my head for a few weeks now and I still don’t know.” She gave Grace a sad look. “It’s the risk of dating someone you aren’t mated to. If I am serious with myself, I assume we will just mate each other anyways and if we find our true mates after that, then tough luck for them. But if he threw me over right now, I’d probably set fire to his house and go to jail cackling like a madwoman.” Anne stood up abruptly. “This pity party has officially been upgraded from ice cream to tequila.” Anne went off to find a bottle and glasses.

Grace stared at the ceiling. If her parents were alive, they would have lost it by now. Her father would have gone out and killed Jack while her mom would be taking Grace to an all-male strip club.

Grace smiled at the thought. Her parents had been happily mated. They loved each other. Their personalities suited each other and one thing they had in common was their “never give up” attitude. They would have told Jack to screw himself and told their daughter to move on and find someone better. They definitely would not approve of her moping around in Anne’s apartment while Jack was out there no worse for wear.

Grace groaned. She had to live in this town with him. She had to see him every day while her soul slowly died inside. He probably felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest. Grace pulled a blanket over her head as she realized that now she would be the one ducking into alleyways when he walked down the road. On top of everything else, it was humiliating.

Anne returned with cups in one hand and a bottle of cheap tequila in the other.

“I figured tonight was a night to forgo the good stuff and just get hammered.” She poured a huge shot into both glasses and handed one to Grace. “Cheers.”

Grace downed the shot in one swallow, her eyes watering.

“Damn, that was not smooth.” Anne coughed glancing at the bottle’s label. She shrugged and poured another set of shots. “Hopefully, this gets us drunk even quicker.”

Seven shots later, Grace had moved passed sad and was reaching a level of self-righteous anger she hadn’t felt in her whole life.

“It’s not fair that he just gets to walk around here like nothing happened. I spent the last year being treated like the crazy woman in this town.” Tequila splashed onto Anne’s couch as Grace pointed out the window. “If anyone else had chased their mates like that everyone would have oh’ed and aw’ed at the romance of it.” Grace snorted. “But no, half breed Grace Copeland gets herself worked up over everything! Those people don’t respect me.”

“No, they don’t.” Anne raised her glass.

“It’s no wonder that my own mate treats me like shit. He probably learned it from the town.” Grace shook her head. The alcohol was making her less forgiving of the whispers that had gotten increasingly louder over the years.

She loved Black Bird but the town was full of bigots. They hadn't approved of June Harding marrying someone who was not her mate, let alone a human. And that displeasure had rolled over to Grace.

But Grace’s mom hadn’t let their mean words stop her. She just smiled politely when people made their snide comments. Grace was sick of smiling politely.

“I’ve lived here my whole life and while I frantically tried to connect with my soul mate, this town laughed and helped him avoid me.” Grace dropped to her knees in front of Anne looking deep in her eyes. “Except you Anne,” Grace cried, “you tracked that bastard down and got him to talk to me. I love you Anne,” Grace choked, “will you be my mate?”

“I would be honored.” Anne slurred, smashing Grace’s cheeks between her hands. “We will be so happy.” Anne jumped up swaying. “I have to call Ben and tell him.” She fumbled for her phone and moaned when the light hit her eyes. After a few tries, Anne nodded excitedly when they heard it dial.

“Hello?” Ben rasped.

“Ben,” Anne whispered drunkenly, “I’m leaving you.” She nodded to Grace. “Grace has asked me to be her mate and I accepted. I wanted you to hear it from me first.”

“Anne? Do you know what time it is? Have you been drinking?” Grace could hear the rustle of cloth from the other side of the phone. “Where are you guys?”

“Don’t try to stop us, Ben.” Anne snorted indignity. “We’re in love.” Without another word Anne hung up and threw her arms around Grace.

Grace smiled sloppily right until she threw up all over Anne.



The sun was trying to kill her. At least that’s what it felt like to Grace. Her head was splitting open and the light blinding her wasn’t helping. There was a groan behind Grace. She blinked her eyes trying to clear them.

“Never again,” Anne croaked. Grace moaned her agreement.

Using the coach as leverage, Grace staggered to her feet. Grace’s stomach did not appreciate being vertical. She barely made it to the toilet before she lost her lunch.

Lying on the cold tile, Grace didn’t bother moving when Anne stepped into the bathroom.

Her hair was greasy and the raccoon eyes her mascara had left made Anne look as bad as Grace felt. They must have gotten extremely drunk because even after a night of clubbing, Anne woke up looking like a princess. It never ceased to make Grace angry and she tried not to feel too smug at Anne’s disheveled appearance.

“Are we gonna die?” Grace’s face peeled off the tile as she sat up. She immediately regretted it and flopped back onto the ground.

“I feel like it.” Anne rubbed her eyes wincing. “The only way we are going to survive this is if we get coffee now.” Anne walked over to the mirror and shook her head at herself. “Girl, you are a mess.” Turning around she pointed down at Grace. “I’m going on a caffeine run and you are going to clean up the puke.” Anne held her hand up stopping Grace’s protests. “I am walking outside looking like this for you. I am preparing to scare away all my business for you. The least you can do is clean up the mess you made last night.”

That sounded fair to Grace.

Anne threw on a hat and left to hunt down coffee while Grace was bent over a mysterious stain on the living room carpet. At least, even drunk, Grace had the thought to spray a pretreatment on the carpet. It was practically muscle memory by now though. More than a few times Grace tracked mud and blood into her apartment after a full moon run. It didn’t matter if you were dead tired you didn’t go to sleep until you sprayed pretreatment on the carpet. Day old stains are impossible to scrub out. She had the cleaning bills to prove it.

The familiar repetition of cleaning up the effects of a wild night helped clear Grace’s mind.

In the cold light of morning, cleaning up her own vomit, trying to live through the worst hangover of her life, Grace realized that she was at rock bottom.

She had put all of her hopes and dreams into the same basket. Now, she was left with nothing but broken shells. Grace was mad at her own naivety. She had assumed that her life would begin when she met her mate and that was her own damn fault.

This time the anger that was getting her heart rate up was directed at herself. It hurt like hell to have her mate reject her but it hurt a hell of a lot more realizing that she had held herself back for nothing. She should have moved years ago. She should have dated all of those men who had caught her eyes over the years. Instead, she had kept close to home and kept herself unattached all in the hopes that one day her mate would sweep her off her feet.

Not anymore.

Grace’s hands ached with unspent energy. The headache be damned, Grace was going to get her life started right away. She went into Anne’s storage closet looking for boxes. Grace didn’t pay attention to the sound of the door shutting. She just kept throwing packing boxes into a pile.

“Do you want to tell me why you’re making a mess?” Anne stood, arms folded, leaning against the door.

“Yesterday was the final straw.” Grace threw a roll of packing tape onto the growing pile of cardboard. “It’s my own damn fault waiting around for life to get started.” She whipped around furious. “Look at us. You haven’t found your mate but you’ve got a successful business and a man who adores you. All I have to show is a partially finished online degree and a sad one bedroom apartment.” Grace picked up as many boxes as she could and stomped past Anne. “I can’t even show my face in my own home town anymore. And maybe that’s for the best.”

Grace walked out the front door towards her car and started loading boxes into the back seat. Anne followed her out, standing back and watching Grace fume.

“It’s time I grew up and moved on. I’m done with living the life I am.” Grace headed back to the house for the rest of the boxes.

Anne put her hand on Grace’s shoulder.

“Let’s move your stuff to the store’s backroom until you get settled.” And without a single question, Anne put on her workout clothes to help Grace close up her apartment.

Anne convinced Grace to sit down for a moment once they got to her apartment and make a plan. It wasn’t the most thought out plan but Grace was excited about the future for the first time in a long time.

She was going to move to her parent’s old hunting cabin. It was on the edge of Black Bird. It was run down and needed fixing up but it was something that she could claim as her own. She would have to rebuild it on her own but she didn’t mind. It would be the first step in her journey to reinvent herself.

Fueled by righteous indignation and espresso, it only took till sundown to pack up Grace’s apartment. Boxes were stacked in the living room next to the furniture that was going to be sold. The cupboards were bare, the bathroom empty, and the closets only had old shoe boxes in them. Grace had thrown all her clothes into two suitcases while Anne packed all of the pictures and books. Grace convinced Anne to donate almost everything. Grace didn’t want to see it again. Everything else was going into the storage room of Chic Chick. Anne offered to break the lease with the landlord in the morning. Everything was set to go. The two women were sitting on the couch waiting for Ben to arrive to drive Anne home.

They sat in silence holding each other’s hands. Grace’s mind was on her cabin, thinking about what lay ahead of her. Anne sipped on a glass of wine, her eyebrows drawn in thought.

“You should have done this years ago.” Anne said breaking the silence. “You should have done this when your mom died.” She swirled her wine absent mindedly. “I know you have your reasons for sticking around town but I think you can do so much better than just putting up with everything. It makes me so happy to see you with this much fire in your belly. You were never the polite, whipping girl you’ve pretended to be for these idiots. I’ve been praying for you to snap for years.” She gave Grace a sheepish smile. “I may have been pushing you to do it.”

“If by pushed me to it you mean supported me even when I was acting like an idiot, then yes, you did.” Grace bumped Anne with her shoulder. “I might need more pushing to keep this attitude up. You think you’re up for it?”

“Oh hell yeah, this will be a blast.”

Ben walked in while Anne and Grace were hugging each other tightly. He walked over and sat down next to Anne.

“I’ve got some of the men ready to move your furniture tomorrow. You sure about this?”

“Yeah, I am.”

“You are pretty far out of the town in the cabin. I’m sure Anne has told you about the rogues in the area.” Grace nodded. “Make sure to be on your toes. I’m sending someone out there tomorrow to install new locks.”

“You don’t have to do that, Ben.”

“Yeah, I do” His tone brokered no arguments. “For Anne’s peace of mind if nothing else.” Anne rolled her eyes. “Don’t hesitate to call if anything happens. I’d rather send someone out there for a false alarm then for you to deal with an intruder on your own.”

“You will regret that. I think the cabin might be infested with spiders.” Grace joked.

“I don’t care. Just call.” Ben looked over at Anne. “We will close up the apartment.” He got up and gave Grace a hug. “I’ll see you around.”

Grace and Anne hugged quickly before Grace practically ran to her car. She sped the whole way through town. Once she hit the dirt road leading to the cabin she started to sing. This was going to be fun.



Jack trotted under the trees. The night was cool and clouds were beginning to roll in. It smelled like rain. There would only be a few more nights like this. The temperature would drop soon and bring the snow soon.

Jack loved roaming the woods as a wolf. He could hear all of the animals doing their best to hide from him. He could hear the small stream that made its way to the glacial river that ran through Black Bird territory. He wasn’t a fan of Pack runs but he could wander the forest by himself every night.

After the run in with Grace he had called Derek, told him where he would be patrolling and shifted. Jack’s wolf was not happy with him. While the wolf couldn’t take over completely, he made sure Jack roamed in a circle that just happened to include Grace’s apartment building.

Consciously, Jack turned to the outskirts of the border. He could smell the Tate twins in this section of the woods. It was faint, as if they had passed through yesterday. Their scent trailed out of Black Bird and into Monroe Springs, the Pack to the east.

Jack wondered if Ben or the Alpha in Monroe Springs knew that Ezra and Ezekiel Tate were creeping around. He made a note to bring it up when he saw Ben next.

As he walked the border, Jack noticed no signs of any rogues. There were a few teens that needed their asses handed to them for leaving Black Bird, but no unknown wolf had come close enough for Jack to sense them.

With no immediate threats, Jack’s mind wandered. Back to Grace. He was doing them both a favor by denying the mate bond. In Jack’s experience, nothing good had come from mating a stranger.

His parents had met by accident at a multi Pack gathering. His mom, Veronica, was an only child from a middle class family in Texas. His dad, Beau, was from a huge family in Louisiana. In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t have been on each other’s radar.

But they were fated mates. And fated mates meant they were destined to be together. Jack couldn’t help but snort.

They couldn’t have been more different and for the next thirty years, they made each other’s lives, and in turn Jack’s life hell. His mom resented his dad for taking her away from her family and the relative ease of their lifestyle. His dad was never able to get past the fact that his mom only wanted one child.

The hate ate them up. Jack grew up watching his parents whittle down to bitter people. Jack’s mom started drinking. Jack’s dad started sleeping around. They fought constantly. The shitty trailer they lived in got shittier. They ignored Jack as best as they could and blamed him for their problems when they couldn’t.

It was a nightmare: going to school in dirty clothes, being too embarrassed to play with his friends after school, not having enough money for food because his parents drank their meager paychecks.


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