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About the Book


Alex is the pack's alpha, and he’s always known he’d need to bond with a woman and produce an heir to someday take his place. It would be an easy thing to do—if he weren’t in love with Lonnie, the pack healer. They've been friends since they were kids, but Alex has wanted more for years. He's kept it to himself because it made his life easier, and because he didn't want to lose their friendship.

Lonnie has been in love with Alex since they were kids, but he knows Alex doesn't feel the same way. He's had enough girlfriends to prove it, and Lonnie knows he'll have to watch the man he loves bond with one of the women Alex's mother keeps pushing at him, both to keep the pack happy and to produce an heir. That's why he's always kept what he feels to himself—there's no sense in ruining their friendship, not for a dream that will never come true.

Lonnie starts dating Casvain, one of the fey warriors in charge of Zal's protection, and it changes everything. Alex finally realizes he'll lose Lonnie if he doesn't tell him he loves him, and it's the last thing he wants. To his surprise, Lonnie loves him too, but it doesn't mean everything is suddenly rainbows and sunshine in their lives. Casvain is behaving strangely, and when both Lonnie and Zal disappear, Alex knows he needs to find them. Will he be in time, or will he lose one of them—or both?


The Healer’s Alpha

By V.M. Sanford


The Healer’s Alpha


Written and published by V.M. Sanford

Cover by Natasha Snow

Copyright © 2016 by V.M. Sanford


All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author or publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. No persons, living or dead, were harmed by the writing of this book. Any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please visit your favorite ebook retailer to purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 





Table of Content


About the Book

Copyright Page

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Epilogue

About the Author







Chapter One


Alex stretched and made his way to the kitchen. He needed coffee, and he needed it now. He yawned as he stepped into the kitchen, rubbing his eyes.

There was a squeak, and Alex’s eyes snapped open. Zal was standing by the stove, a pan in one hand, a packet of bacon in the other. He was staring at Alex and blinking fast, and Alex grimaced. He reached for the tea towel hanging on the wall and placed it strategically in front of his groin. “Sorry. I’m not used to having so many people around the house.”

Zal swallowed and waved his pan. “It’s fine. Trust me; it’s more than fine.”

I’m not sure Jackson would agree.

Zal put the pan on the stove. “I might be with him, but I have eyes, and I’m grateful for them right now.”

Alex grinned and started to move his towel. “In that case—”

I might be grateful, but you know Jackson will bitch if he finds you anywhere near me naked.” Zal sighed and sneaked another peek. Alex looked down to make sure everything was covered. He didn't really care about who saw him naked, but he was trying to get Jackson’s friendship back, and hanging around Zal naked wouldn’t help.

“I’ll go dress.”

Zal smiled and gestured at the stove. “You do that. I’m starting breakfast, so take your time.”

“I knew there was a reason why I accepted to have you and Jackson move in with me.”

“I thought you did because you liked me.”

“I like your breakfast making skills.”

Zal swatted the pack of bacon at Alex’s naked chest. “Shut it, Alpha. You know you said yes just because you’re scared of Grandmother.”

Alex shuddered. “God, don’t mention your grandmother while I’m naked.”

“Stop being a pervert and go dress.”

Who’s being a pervert?” Jackson asked as he entered the kitchen. He was greeted by Alex’s naked ass, and Alex groaned. That wasn’t going to make Jackson happy, and if Jackson wasn’t happy, no one was.

Jackson growled and put himself between Alex and Zal. “What are you doing naked in the kitchen?”

“I forgot I had guests.”

Jackson frowned. “Well, you better remember it from now on. We’re not guests. We’re here to stay.”

Alex sighed. “Don’t I know it.”

And we don’t want to see your naked ass.”

Zal sighed. “Speak for yourself.” He yelped when Jackson swatted his ass. “Hey!”

“You shouldn’t be ogling Alex, especially not when he’s naked.”

Aww, come on. You can’t deny he’s hot. Besides, you got to sample the goods, so you have nothing to say about it.”

Alex laughed. “He’s right, Jack.” He wiggled his ass. “You did get to sample the goods.”

Zal’s eyes widened and his gaze flickered from Jackson to Alex. “Just what did you two do together? Was it handjobs, or maybe blowjobs? Something more?”

Jackson pressed his palms against Alex’s chest and pushed him. “That’s none of your business, Zal. Alex, go get dressed before I decide you don’t need the goods anymore and get rid of them.”

Alex made a strangled noise and cupped his dick. “You’re not coming anywhere near the goods if you want to chop them off.”

“Then go put some clothes on.” Jackson grinned. “Or I’m calling Lonnie.”

Alex stuck his tongue out at Jackson and turned around to leave. Pain flared in his ass cheek when something hit it, and he yelped, turning around and glaring at Jackson. He was still holding the towel he’d used to swat at Alex’s ass, and he pointed at the door.

Alex rolled his eyes and turned back. He looked down, pulled the towel away from his dick, and hung it back where he’d found it before leaving.

“Eww, Alex. That’s disgusting,” Zal protested.

Alex ignored him and went back to his room. Damn, he wasn’t sure he liked living with someone, at least not someone who wasn’t supposed to see him naked. Zal and Jackson weren’t, but Alex wouldn’t have minded it if Lonnie wanted to see him naked.

They had seen each other naked, of course, but it had been to shift and nothing more.

Pity.

Alex’s smile widened when he saw Aeldeth coming his way along the hallway. Aeldeth’s gaze flickered to Alex’s cock, but he didn't say anything as he passed by Alex. Alex saw his lips twitch, though. He really needed to find a way to ruffle the guy’s feathers. His calm wasn’t natural. Why wasn’t he reacting in any way to Alex’s naked cock?

Alex shook his head and pushed open his room’s door. The jeans he’d worn yesterday were still on the floor. He pulled them on, grabbed a T-shirt from the dresser, and went back downstairs.

Everyone was in the kitchen—Zal was cooking, Jackson was setting the table, and Casvain and Aeldeth were sitting at the table, talking. Alex nodded at Casvain and went to take a mug from the cupboard. Once it was filled with coffee, he turned around and leaned back against the counter.

The first sip was heaven, and he closed his eyes.

He was still having a hard time getting used to having other people in his house, but he didn't really mind. He liked the company, and he loved having someone who cooked for him. He’d survived on takeaway and his mom’s frozen dishes before Zal moved in, and he wasn’t looking forward to going back to them.

Zal loved to cook, and Alex loved to eat. They’d be the perfect couple if Zal weren't already banging Jackson, and if Alex wasn’t smitten with Lonnie. Not that anyone knew that because Alex kept it hidden, but he couldn’t help how he felt.

What’s on the agenda today?” he asked when he opened his eyes.

Jackson rolled his eyes. “Work. You know, that thing most of us have to do if they want to earn money?”

“Very funny.”

“I wasn’t trying to be. What are you going to do today? Sit on your ass in your office?”

“Yep. I still have to finish coloring that page from yesterday.”

Zal shook his head. “Children, go sit down. Breakfast is almost ready.”

Alex obeyed. He knew Jackson was joking, but he couldn’t help the twinge of pain in his chest. They both knew Alex couldn’t afford to work away from the house. He had enough work to do with the pack. Making sure everyone was happy and taken care of was a job on its own. He owned several shops in town, and their rent was what gave him the opportunity to dedicate his time to the pack and its business.

A plate appeared in front of Alex and jerked him out of his thoughts. Zal smiled at him when he looked up and squeezed his shoulder, and he didn't need to say anything for Alex to understand him.

Alex shook his head and pushed a strip of bacon into his mouth. It was salty and crispy, and Alex moaned. Damn, it really was a good thing to have Zal stay with him. The other three he could have done without, but not Zal.

“You sound like a whore,” Jackson said. His tone was playful, or at least as playful as Jackson could be.

“I’ll be a whore for bacon any day,” Alex answered after washing down the bacon with a gulp of coffee.

“You’re that easy?”

Hell yeah. I’d do anything for bacon.”

“You need to fix your priorities.”

“Don’t ruin my happiness, sourpuss.”

Jackson narrowed his eyes, but before he could say anything else, Zal slapped the back of his head. “Eat. You have to go to work in half an hour, and I need you to give me a ride, so we can’t be late.”

Jackson’s face softened as he turned to look at Zal. Alex sighed. He wished he had someone to look at like that. He wished someone would look at him that way, too. He might be the alpha, but it didn't mean he didn't want love in his life. He wanted it, more than almost anything, but he wanted it with one man in particular, and he knew he couldn’t have that man. It didn’t matter that he was the alpha, not in this case.

Being the alpha couldn’t make Lonnie fall in love with him.

****

Lonnie ran after the squirrel. He wasn’t going to eat it, but it was fun to chase it. Lonnie’s wolf was happy, and it was more than Lonnie could say about himself.

The only times he was really happy was when he was in his wolf form. He was able to forget about the unwanted feelings he had when he was a wolf. It was easier to give in to the instincts and let go of his human half.

The squirrel climbed a tree, and Lonnie almost hit it. He managed to stop just before his nose touched the bark. He wrinkled his nose and huffed. The squirrel was gone, and Lonnie was going to have to find something else to have fun with.

He sat down and looked at the sky. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but he probably needed to go find Alex. Lonnie was waiting for a shipment of medicines he needed, and he couldn’t see his patients if he didn't have them, at least not all of them.

He was worried for Hank. The old man refused to see a doctor, and there was only so much Lonnie could do against cancer. He was doing his best, but it was obvious to everyone that Hank wouldn’t survive, not if he insisted on being treated only by Lonnie. Lonnie understood it was tradition—the pack members only allowed the pack’s healer to take care of them. It had been that way for centuries. Alex’s father had followed that unwritten rule, and it had cost him his life.

Lonnie did his best, but he didn't have a hospital on hand. He couldn’t do anything against cancer, no matter how hard he tried. The only thing he could do was give Hank painkillers. He was glad Alex knew how to get them without having to answer questions, but they weren’t going to be useful for long.

Lonnie sighed and got up. He left the squirrel in his tree and made his way back home, slower than when he’d ran into the forest. It was getting harder and harder to deal with Alex, or at least to do it without blurting out that he loved him.

Lonnie knew Alex wouldn’t care that Lonnie was in love with a man—his father might have, but Alex was different. He’d welcomed Jackson and Zal in his home, and they were a couple.

No, he wouldn’t care about that, but he would care about the fact that Lonnie was in love with him specifically. Lonnie didn't think he’d be able to stand to look at the pity in Alex’s eyes if Alex ever found out. He knew they couldn’t be together. Even if a miracle happened and Alex loved him back, Lonnie wasn’t alpha mate material.

He wasn’t someone Alex needed by his side to guide the pack. He was too quiet and introverted, and more importantly, he couldn’t give Alex an heir. Alex needed to have a son who would take his place when the time came. He needed an alpha son, and Lonnie didn't have the right equipment to do that.

Lonnie might have tried to tell Alex about his feelings if he’d thought they had a chance, but he knew they didn’t. It was better and easier for everyone to keep his mouth shut and his feelings under wrap.

He climbed the steps to his small house and slid in through the dog door. He shifted once he was in the bathroom and turned the water on in the shower. He smelled of the forest, and while he liked that smell, he was dirty. He’d rolled around on the floor, and his skin was dirty with earth and bits of dead leaves.

Lonnie kept his shower short, and once he was done, he dressed. He sighed as he walked toward the door. He didn't want to see Alex today, yet he wanted to see him more than anything.

He kind of hated his life sometimes.

Maybe Alex had left the medicines Lonnie needed in the entrance, or in the living room. That way Lonnie wouldn’t have to see Alex.

He softly snorted as he walked toward Alex’s house. Of course Alex hadn’t. Those meds were dangerous. He’d never leave them where anyone could take them.

It didn't take long for Lonnie to get to Alex’s house. Most of the pack’s houses were close enough they could walk from one to the other, but Lonnie’s house was especially close to Alex’s because of who they were. Alex was the alpha, Lonnie the pack healer. Traditionally, Lonnie should have lived with Alex in his house, but he’d refused. It hurt enough as it was to see Alex every day. The last thing Lonnie had wanted back then was to have to see Alex from the moment they woke up until the moment they went to bed.

He still felt that way, and Alex had stopped trying to convince him. He did ask every so often, but he never insisted, and Lonnie was glad.

Lonnie was surprised to find Casvain on the porch when he got to Alex’s house. The man lived in the house, along with Aeldeth, Jackson, Zal, and Alex, but Lonnie hadn’t really talked to him yet. He’d tried, but Casvain seemed to be a lot like Lonnie and kept to himself.

Lonnie nodded at him when he passed by, and he was surprised when Casvain nodded back.

He found Alex in his office, the box of meds he needed sitting in one of the chairs in front of Alex’s desk.

Alex beamed when Lonnie knocked, and Lonnie’s heart skipped a beat. How was he supposed to stay away from Alex when Alex was so beautiful? When he looked at Lonnie like Lonnie was the center of his universe?

“Good, you’re here to save me,” Alex said.

Lonnie arched a brow. “Save you from what?”

Alex gestured at the sheets of paper on his desk. “Paperwork. That and the ghost hanging around the house.”

“The ghost?”

Alex waved toward the front of the house. “Casvain. I swear that guy is making me anxious just by being around the house.”

“Why?”

“Because he doesn’t do anything! He’s just there, sitting somewhere or other and waiting for Aeldeth and Zal to come back from school.”

“Isn’t that his job?”

“Well, yeah, but I thought he’d do other stuff while Zal is gone.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know. Watch TV? Read? Heck, maybe even knit. But instead he just sits around and stares into space, and it’s creeping me out.”

Lonnie rolled his eyes. “You're overly dramatic today.”

Alex sighed. “I guess. Mom called earlier. She’s coming by, and she’s bringing Vanessa with her.”

Lonnie grimaced. He liked the two women, but they were a bit much to take together. Usually they visited one at a time, and Vanessa always brought her kids with her. Since Alex hadn’t mentioned them, they probably weren’t coming, and that could mean only one thing—the women wanted to talk to Alex.

“What do you think it’ll be this time?”

Alex shrugged. “How would I know? They probably want to start organizing the holidays or something.”

“It’s only mid-November.”

“So? They started planning the Halloween party in August.”

“Shouldn’t they be busy with Thanksgiving? I mean, it’s in a little over ten days.”

“I’m pretty sure they already have everything organized for that.”

Alex licked his lips, and Lonnie couldn’t help himself. He tracked the move, wondering how that tongue would feel on his lips and if Alex tasted of the coffee he seemed to drink by gallons.

He shook himself when he realized what he was doing and pointed at the box. “That’s mine?”

“You know it is. How’s Hank?”

Alex was every bit the alpha now, and Lonnie loved him for it. “Still stable for now.”

“You tried to convince him again?”

Yeah, but he insists that if the pack healer was good enough for his father, it’s good enough for him.”

Alex shook his head. “I could order him to go to the hospital, but…”

I know.” Alex would never do something like that. He never micromanaged the pack members’ life. He said it wasn’t his place, and Lonnie agreed. Alex was a good alpha.

The phone rang, and Alex sighed. “I have to take this.”

“I’ll take my box and leave.”

“Take Casvain with you,” Alex said before answering.

Lonnie wouldn’t get anything more out of Alex, so he took the box and left the office. Casvain was still on the porch, and Lonnie paused. Had Alex been serious about him taking Casvain for his round? Maybe not, but Lonnie could always use some help, and Casvain didn't seem to be doing anything. Lonnie could ask.

“Hey, are you busy?”

Casvain looked up, his brows high on his forehead. “Are you talking to me?”

“No, to the guy behind you.”

Casvain’s lips twitched, and Lonnie wondered if he’d nearly managed to make the man smile. “I’m not busy, no.”

Lonnie nodded. “Good. Would you like to come with me?”

“You’re the healer.”

“Yeah, so?”

“You want me to come with you while you work?”

“Why not? Like you said, you’re not doing anything, and as you can see, I could use some help.” Lonnie hiked the box higher as he talked.

Casvain stared at him for a moment before slowly nodding. “I’ll come with you.”

****

Alex had managed to lose himself in his work, so much that he startled when his mother entered his office.

She arched a brow at his reaction, and he plastered a smile on his lips. “Hey, Mom. Where’s Vanessa?”

“In the kitchen. We brought you lunch.”

That meant they were going to stay for a while. Great. Alex looked down at his desk and wondered what he could use to delay the inevitable. Not much. He still had a few phone calls to make, but they would take time, and Alex’s mother wouldn’t wait, not if she had something to tell him. And she did. He could tell from her expression.

Alex rose from his chair. “Right. We should go to the kitchen, I guess.”

“Where is everyone?” his mother asked as they left the office.

Zal’s at school with Aeldeth. Jackson’s at work and Lonnie and Casvain are visiting Lonnie’s patients.” Even though he’d been the one to suggest that Casvain went with Lonnie, he didn’t like it. It made him feel like he needed to go too, to make sure Casvain kept his hands to himself. Not that Casvain had ever done anything to suggest he was interested in Lonnie, or in anyone else, but Alex didn't like it anyway. The guy might seem cool and unaffected, but Alex was ready to bet he was anything but.

“I still don’t get why they all live here with you. It’s the alpha’s house. You should be living here with your family, not with a bunch of men.”

Zal’s the heir to the fey throne, Mom. Where else should I have put him? Besides, I was living here alone, so it’s not like it’s a problem.

Alex’s mom tsked. “You were living here alone for now, but what will happen when you finally decide to find yourself a mate and build a family? You’ll have to make them move, yes? Wouldn’t it have been easier to have them live somewhere else from the start?”

Alex sighed and stayed silent. There was nothing he could say that would change his mother’s mind. She’d lived in Alex’s house—the alpha’s house—for most of her life. She’d mated Alex’s father when she was eighteen, had moved in and had started popping out kids. She’d had to stop at two, but she’d lived with Alex’s father in the house until he died.

Alex had been relieved when she’d decided to move out. He’d never have kicked her out, of course, but having her around all the time, sticking her nose into Alex’s decisions as alpha, wasn’t the perfect situation. It made Alex look weak, and it was the last thing he needed. His pack members had to trust him and respect him, and having his mom argue his decisions wouldn’t help. Sometimes he wondered why she did it. She never had with his father. He wouldn’t have allowed it. Alex knew he was more lenient than his father had been, but she was his mom. What else was he supposed to do?

Vanessa was in the kitchen, taking containers out of a bag. Alex smiled. They’d brought lasagna, his favorite. Well, one of his favorites.

His smile faded. That meant that whatever they had to say, Alex wasn’t going to like it. Actually, he’d probably hate it and end up angry as fuck.

He waited until the three of them were sitting around the table to speak. “So, what’s up?”

Vanessa batted her lashes at him in a way he knew she thought was innocent. It might work with her mate, but it didn't with Alex. He’d grown up with her after all.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

Alex gestured at the table with his fork. “You both came, without the kids, and you brought lasagna. It has to be bad.”

Alex’s mother sighed. “It’s not bad.” They both knew it was bullshit, and Alex stared at her until she finally spilled the beans. “We just set you up on a date with one of Vanessa’s friends.”

Alex groaned. “Mom.”

“Alex.”

I don’t need your help to get a girl.” Or a boy, but Alex wasn’t going to say that. He didn't want to fight with his mom, at least not any more than he’d already do today.

“It seems to me that you do. Your father and I had already been bonded for years when he was your age, and both you and your sister were already born.”

“You make it sound like I’m about to die from old age, Mom. I’m only thirty.”

And that’s ten years too old. You need an heir, Alex. The pack needs you to have one.”

“I know that, but I’m not going to bond with the first woman I see just because you think I need to have a kid.”

Alex’s mom narrowed her eyes. “I don’t think you need to have a kid. I know you have to. Who is supposed to take your place when you die?”

Alex huffed. “Do we really have to talk about me dying? I don’t have one foot in the grave, Mom. I’m fine. I’m only thirty, and I’m perfectly healthy.”

So what? How long are you going to wait? Until you’re forty, or fifty? You’ll be healthy then too, God help us, but you won’t be young anymore. You’re not that young now to being with.”

“I’ll wait until I meet the right person.”

Alex didn't mention he’d already met the right person, that they’d met when they were toddlers. He couldn’t have children with Lonnie, obviously. He didn't care much about that, but his mother was right on that front—he needed an heir, and that meant he had to have children. He needed an alpha kid to groom and take his place, and they didn't grow on trees. He couldn’t just adopt the first kid he saw.

Alex’s mom snorted. “The right person? All right, and how are you supposed to meet her? You spend all your days in your office.”

“That’s kind of my job, Mom.”

“Of course it is, and you’re doing a great job. Your father would be so proud of you if he could see you. That’s why you need to continue doing your job, and as much as you don’t want to hear it, bonding and having an heir is part of that job.”

She was right, but it didn't mean Alex had to like it.

He also knew she wouldn’t let go. When she was onto something, she was like a dog with a bone, or rather, a wolf with a bone. For some reason, she’d decided Alex need to bond soon, and she’d do whatever she needed to do for that to happen.

Alex sighed. “Fine. I’ll meet that woman, but I’m not promising anything. I know having kids is part of the job like you said, but it doesn’t mean I want to have them with anyone. I’ll choose the person I have them with.”

“Of course you will. It doesn’t mean I can’t introduce to the women I like.”

Alex’s mother looked smug, and he let her be. He couldn’t very well tell her he was in love with Lonnie, that he’d been in love with him since they were teenagers. Alex might have experimented with Jackson, but he’d always wanted Lonnie. Lonnie had never shown any signs of wanting him, though, and Alex didn’t want to complicate his life or to lose his best friend.

He might if lose Lonnie if Lonnie didn't share his feelings, and if he told his mother about it, complicated would be an understatement. It was easier to meet Vanessa’s friend, go out with her, and let her down gently. He still had time to think about having kids and who he would have them with. He’d need to face it sooner rather than later, but in the meantime, he wasn’t going to worry too much.

Vanessa reached across the table to pat Alex’s hand. “You’ll see, you’ll love Crystal. She’s a lovely woman, and she wants children, at least three.”

Alex had to fight not to grimace. He’d never actually wanted to have kids. He didn't have the patience because the little of that he had was spent on the pack members. Besides, kids were sticky and drooling. He’d always known he’d have to have them, though, but he’d planned to stop as soon as he had an alpha male. Hopefully, his first born would be.

****

When Lonnie came back to Alex’s house, Alex was still in his office, and he was alone. Alex had texted him that his mother and his sister had lunch with him, and Lonnie was relieved he wouldn’t have to talk to Alex’s mother. For some reason, she didn't seem to like Lonnie, and the feeling was mutual.

Not that Lonnie had anything against her. She was pushy and nosy, but she loved her son, and it was enough for Lonnie. He knew she wouldn’t approve of Lonnie’s feelings for Alex, though. Lonnie wasn’t planning to tell him, and while he knew why Alex’s mother wouldn’t approve, he couldn’t help the bitterness he felt toward her and Vanessa. They were always meddling in Alex’s private life, and Lonnie had no doubts that was the reason why they’d visited Alex today.

That was why he’d come by instead of going home. Casvain had left to do his job protecting Zal. That meant Aeldeth was probably going to come back soon, and if Lonnie wanted some alone time with Alex, now was the moment. It wouldn’t be the kind of alone time he really wanted, but talking and shooting the shit was good enough.

Lonnie knocked on the door even though it was open. Alex looked up, his frown shifting to a smile when he saw it was Lonnie. “Hey. Come in. Why did you even knock? You know you’re welcome here anytime you want.”

“You looked busy.”

Alex sighed. “I am, but then when am I not?”

Lonnie slumped into one of the chairs in front of Alex’s desk. “What are you working on?”

Alpha Richards needs more men. I was trying to work out if I can do without a few for a week or two.”

Lonnie wrinkled his nose. The pack wasn’t big. They had soldiers, like every pack, but not many of them. He wasn’t sure sending some away was a good idea, especially with that fey still after Zal, but he wasn’t the alpha. “Why?”

Looks like he has a poacher on his hands. One of his wolves was almost killed.”

Lonnie grimaced. He didn't know Alpha Richards well, but the man seemed nice. “Can you spare a few soldiers?”

“I don’t know. I’d rather not with the Zal thing, but I’m not sure I have a choice. Richards is a friend, and he’d help if we needed it. Besides, Zal has Aeldeth and Casvain. They’re here just for that.”

Lonnie hummed. That much was true. “You could tell the fey queen that you’ll be missing some men for a while. She’d probably send you other knights.”

Yeah, no. I don’t want to depend on her. She might be Zal’s grandmother, but we both know she wouldn’t have problems eradicating the pack if she needed to.”

That was true too. Lonnie hadn’t spent much time with the fey queen, but she looked like she’d do whatever she had to in order to defend her people.

Alex dropped his pen onto his desk and leaned back. “Anyway. How was your day?”

“All right.”

“Hank?”

“Still holding on. Still refusing to go to the hospital.”

Alex shook his head. “Do you really expect him to accept?”

Nope.”

“But it’s not going to stop you from trying to convince him.”

Lonnie shrugged. “You can bet your ass I will. I can’t force him, but I can try to bug him until he goes.”

Alex snorted. “He’ll probably die before he accepts.”

“It’ll come to that.”

“Yeah, I know. How was Casvain? Did he give you any problem?”

Nope.” Casvain had been a surprise. Lonnie had expected him to be silent for most of the time, and he had, but he’d also helped. He’d carried Lonnie’s stuff around, had even distracted a kid who’d broken her arm while Lonnie took care of her. Lonnie had been surprised, but he’d realized he didn’t know Casvain. He was probably a great guy under his tough exterior. “He was nice, actually.”

Alex arched a brow. “Nice isn’t the first thing I think of when I think of Casvain.”

“He’s nice when he’s not on the job, I guess. What about you? What did your mother and Vanessa want?”

“Ugh. Don’t remind me.”

“It can’t be that bad.”

“You know them, Lonnie.”

Let me guess. They wanted to try to convince you it’s time to bond and breed.”

Alex grimaced. “Yeah. That. You’d think I’m about to die, the way Mom talks.”

Well, you know they’re right.” As much as Lonnie hated the idea, it was Alex’s destiny.

Lonnie had always known Alex would one day find a woman and have kids with her. He had to. The pack couldn’t be without an alpha.

It didn't mean Lonnie had to like the idea, though. Sometimes he wished he could have been born a woman, but really, he liked his dick too much.

He’d watched Alex go on dates with women since they were teenagers. He knew Alex liked men too, and sometimes, he thought that maybe he should talk to him, maybe have sex with him. It wouldn’t be anything more than sex, though, and Lonnie didn't think he could stand that, not with the way he felt about Alex.

No, it was better to stay away, to keep his distance. To stay Alex’s friend and nothing more.

“What did you tell them?” he asked.

Alex bit his lower lip. It wasn’t something he normally did, and Lonnie straightened in his seat. “Well, Mom told me she arranged a date for me, with one of Vanessa’s friends.”

That had never happened before, at least not as far as Lonnie knew. Alex’s mother pushed him to date, but she didn't usually set up those dates for him. “Who?”

“Uh, Crystal? I’m not sure which one she is.”

Lonnie knew her. She was pretty. Blonde, blue eyed. Tall. If Alex chose her, their kids would be gorgeous.

Lonnie hated her.

He sighed. It wasn’t exactly true. He probably hadn’t talked to her since they were in school. He hated the idea of her, though, the idea of what she could be. It didn't take him much to imagine the date and what Alex would do with her.

Would they kiss? Probably. Alex had to show his mother he was at least trying, and Lonnie had no doubts Crystal would give Vanessa a by the second replay of the date. Alex’s mother would know if Alex kept his distance, and she’d nag him.

“She seems nice,” he said. What else could he say?

“I don’t know, Lonnie. You know this isn’t how I want things to go.” Alex huffed. “I want to bond with someone I love, not someone my mother chooses for me.”

Then maybe you should actually look for someone to love. That way your mom wouldn’t have to do it for you.”

Alex stared at Lonnie for son long that Lonnie started to squirm in his chair. He looked away and swallowed, wondering what the fuck was going on.

“How do you know I haven’t already found someone? That I’m not already in love?”

Lonnie jerked toward Alex and gaped at him. “Are you?” Lonnie wasn’t sure why Alex was saying that but he needed that answer. He didn't know how he’d react if Alex said that yes, he was already in love. Lonnie wouldn’t have thought it possible, because as far as he knew, Alex hadn’t gone on a date with anyone in weeks, if not months. And if he was in love with a girl, why hadn’t he told his mother? It would have been the most perfect way to get her off his back and him out of the arranged date,

Alex shrugged and finally looked away. “It doesn’t matter.”

Why not? I mean, if you already have a girl—”

“I don’t, okay? Now can we talk about something else? Mom already nags enough. I don’t need you to do it too.”

Alex’s snappy tone surprised Lonnie, and he raised his hands. “Fine. There’s no need to be an asshole.” Alex was hiding something, and he wasn’t going to tell Lonnie about it. It made Lonnie even more curious, but he didn't push. Alex had obviously already enough of that with his mother. Lonnie just wanted Alex to be happy, and if it meant shutting his mouth and keeping his questions to himself, then that was what he’d do. Actually, it was probably better if he did that anyway.

He didn't want to know how Alex and Crystal’s date went.


Chapter Two


“You’re naked again.”

Alex didn't even turn to look at Zal. He finished drying his chest and wrapped his towel around his waist. “I’m in the bathroom. I think that’s one of two rooms where I can be naked without offending your delicate sensibilities.”

Oh, my sensibilities are just fine, especially after what I just saw.”

Alex arched a brow at Zal in the mirror. “Jackson isn’t home?”

Zal stuck his tongue out. “I could ogle you even if he was.”

“Yeah, right. You need the bathroom?”

Yep. Aeldeth made me meditate outside. Do you know how cold it is? My balls shriveled and try to hide inside me. I need to coax them out with hot water.”

“I don’t want to know about your balls, Zal. I like mine where they are.”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

I’m pretty sure Jackson wouldn’t mind nailing mine to the wall. I swear he looks at me like he wants to kill me most of the time.”

He does. Now are you done? I really need to shower. I’m freezing.”

“As long as you hurry. I need to get ready.”

“For what?”

Date.” Not that Alex wanted to go, but he didn't have a choice. His mom had already called twice this afternoon, giving him pointers on where to take Crystal and what to talk about. As if Alex needed her to help him with that.

It wouldn’t be the first time Alex went on a date with a girl. He knew how it worked even though he didn’t want to go.

Zal leaned his hip against the counter and crossed his arms over his chest. “Date? You finally got your head out of your ass?”

“What do you mean?”

Zal narrowed his eyes. “Please tell me it’s Lonnie you’re going on that date with.”

Alex’s heart skipped a beat. How could Zal know about Alex’s crush on Lonnie? Was he obvious? Probably not, or his mom would have noticed, but then how did Zal know? “What are you talking about?”

He’s not? Alex, who are you going on a date with?”

“Uh, one of my sister’s friends, Crystal. I don’t think you know her yet.”

Zal let his arms fall to his side. He looked angry, and Alex couldn’t understand why. “Seriously? You have a girlfriend?”

Alex rolled his eyes. “Not yet. I need to get ready, Zal.”

Stop being an asshole.”

Since Zal didn't look like he was going anywhere, Alex grabbed his toothbrush. He might as well get ready. He knew Zal well enough to know the man wouldn’t move until he’d said what was on his mind, probably in a shrill voice. He looked angry.

“Why are you going out with that Crystal?”

Alex shrugged. He was glad he had the toothbrush in his mouth. That way he didn’t have to answer. He wasn’t sure what he could say.

Zal shook his head. “Okay, so you’re not going to answer.”

Alex shook his head and spat out the toothpaste. “My mouth was full, Zal. I’m going on a date with Crystal because she seems like a nice person.”

That wasn’t exactly true. Alex did remember her now, after his talk with Lonnie, but he couldn’t have talked to her more than a few times since they were kids. She came to the pack meetings, but Alex didn’t hold many of those, and when he did it usually was because there was a problem and the last thing he thought about was looking at women.

He still wasn’t sure why his mom and Vanessa thought Crystal of all people would be a good mate for him, but it didn't matter. If Alex didn't choose her, they’d probably come up with a dozen alternatives. He’d have to choose one sooner or later. Maybe Crystal would be the right one.

She wouldn’t be Lonnie, though, no matter how nice she was.

“She might be the nicest person in town, but it doesn’t tell me why you’re going out with her when you’re in love with Lonnie.”

Alex froze. “What?”

Oh, don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about. I wasn’t going to say anything, but you’re being an idiot, and I don’t want you or Lonnie to be hurt.”

Alex slowly turned around. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Alex, anyone with eyes knows what I’m talking about.”

“What do you mean?”

Zal threw his hands in the air. “Everyone knows you’re in love with Lonnie and Lonnie is in love with you. It’s so obvious it hurts, and I don’t know why no one has tried to talk to either of you yet.”

I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Alex repeated. His heart was beating too fast. Zal had to be wrong. It was the only possibility. Alex would have known if Lonnie felt the same way about him than he felt about Lonnie. Someone would have said something. Alex’s mother would have pointed it out. “Lonnie and I are best friends. That’s all.”

If thinking that makes you feel better, then all right, but you won’t be able to lie to yourself for much longer, Alex. Do you really want to hurt Lonnie that way? To make him watch while you go out with a woman? Why are you even doing that?”

“Do you know anything about shifters, Zal? Have you asked Jackson to tell you about us? Or are you just learning about the fey?”

Zal frowned. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Answer me.”

He filled me in on the basis, I guess, but we haven’t really talked about it. I’ve had so much stuff to do that I didn't have the time to wonder about anything other than college and Ahwain’s stupid lessons. I swear that guy is a pain in the ass even without coming here. He left me enough notes I’ll have stuff to read for years.”

Right. Alphas are born, usually from another alpha. My father was the only one of his siblings to be an alpha. I’m my generation’s alpha, and my parents didn't have any other kids after me because they didn’t need to.” And because Alex’s mother couldn’t have another pregnancy, but Zal didn’t need to know that.

Zal looked like he didn't understand what Alex was saying, and he probably didn’t. “So?”

“So I have to have children. I have to have an alpha son who’ll take my place when I’ll die or have to step down from the alpha position.”

“I still don’t see what it has to do with you ignoring Lonnie and going out with a woman you don’t even know.” Zal frowned. “Wait. Are you telling me you’re going out with that girl because you need to—to impregnate her?”

Alex burst out laughing. It wasn’t really funny. Actually, it made Alex wish he could stop being the alpha even though he’d been taught to be one since he’d been a kid. But it was either that or punching the wall, and Alex didn’t want to have to redo the bathroom. “I’m not going to impregnate her, at least not until and if we bond. My mom would kill me if I had a kid out of wedlock.”

Zal gaped. “So you’re going to marry her?”

Alex shook his head. “Not today, but it’s a possibility if we like each other enough.”

But What about Lonnie?”

Look, Zal, I appreciate that you care, I really do, but there’s nothing between Lonnie and me. We’re best friends, have been since we were kids. That’s all.”

Shit. Zal had that stubborn expression again, and Alex knew he wouldn’t get out of this without problems like he’d hoped to. For some reason, Zal had decided he needed to take care of this. Alex wasn’t sure what he was after, but he had to nip this in the bud.

Zal, this has nothing to do with you. You might be a guest here, in my house, but it doesn’t mean you can stick your nose in things your nose doesn’t belong in. Lonnie and I are friends, and I’m going out with Crystal. I don’t know what’s going to happen with her. Maybe we’ll end up just being friends, or maybe we’ll fall madly in love.” Yeah, fat chance of that. “I don’t know, but again, it’s none of your business. I’d appreciate it if you stayed out of my business, and I’ll stay out of yours. Or do I have to remind you that you’ve been avoiding to talk about how you’re going to be the fey king?”

Zal scowled. “I was just trying to help, but fine. If you want to ruin your life, then be my guest, but leave Lonnie out of it. He doesn’t deserve what you’re putting him through, and you’re an asshole for doing it.”

Alex growled, but Zal was already leaving the bathroom. He slammed the door behind himself, making Alex wince.

Alex sighed and stared at the door. That could have gone better. At least he hoped it would keep Zal out of his business for a while.

He snorted.

Fat chance of that, too.

****

Lonnie trotted between the trees. He usually would have been over at Alex’s house at this time of the day, but he couldn’t bring himself to go there.

It was the day Alex went out with Crystal, and Lonnie didn't want to be there to see him get ready. Knowing he had no possibility to be with Alex didn't help to get used to the idea of him going out with Crystal.

Lonnie had tried to think of her as just another date, another girlfriend, but he knew it was more than that. She’d been chosen by Alex’s mother. That meant they were halfway to bonding already. The only thing missing was Alex’s approval, and if his mother pushed enough, he’d probably give it. It wasn’t like he had anyone in his life, and he was already thirty.

Lonnie remembered Alex’s words about being already in love and wondered if there had been some truth in them. Was Alex in love with someone? If he was, who was it?

If it was a woman, his mother probably wouldn’t have problems with him being with her, as long as she could give him children. If it was a man, though Lonnie couldn’t even think about the possibility Alex was in love with him. Alex would have told him long ago if he was, Lonnie was sure of that. Alex wasn’t the kind of guy who kept something like that hidden.

So if it wasn’t Lonnie, who was it? Lonnie thought it probably was either Jackson or Zal. He couldn’t tell which one, though. Not that it mattered. Zal and Jackson were in love with each other. If Alex really was in love with one of them, he wouldn’t do anything about it. He’d never risk hurting either of them.

Lonnie stopped walking and plopped his ass down on the ground. It was getting colder, but his fur was more than enough to keep him warm. He didn't want to go home. He’d be alone there, and it was the last thing he wanted. He also didn't want to be around Alex, though. Or Zal.

Lonnie shivered at the thought. Lonnie had seen how Zal looked both at him and Alex, and he knew Zal had probably noticed Lonnie’s feelings. He’d want to talk about it, and Lonnie really didn't want that. He didn't want Zal’s pity over not being loved back, over having to watch Alex go out with a woman.

Something moved further into the forest, and Lonnie looked that way, his head cocked. He couldn’t smell anything that shouldn’t be in the forest, and he grinned when Casvain walked from between the trees. Lonnie couldn’t tell him anything, but he could make him feel welcome.

Casvain stopped and looked at Lonnie. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a wolf smile that way.”

Lonnie widened his grinned and let his tongue loll out. It made Casvain chuckle. It was the first time Lonnie saw him do anything close to laughing, and damn, the man looked good with a smile on his face.

“It’s a bit hard to talk to a shifter when he’s in his animal form, though.”

Lonnie shrugged and got up. His ass was half-frozen, but he’d survive. He trotted to Casvain and licked the man’s hand, huffing when Casvain grimaced and cleaned himself on his pants. Lonnie bet Casvain wouldn’t have done that if he’d licked him in his human form.

Lonnie considered the idea. He’d had sex with guys, of course. He might have been in love with Alex since they were kids, but he was a man. He’d never fallen in love with any of his boyfriends, which was probably why he’d never been with them for long. They just couldn’t be like Alex.

Lonnie knew he’d been holding a candle for Alex forever, and that he’d have to stop sooner rather than later, but he wasn’t sure he could. He couldn’t help how he felt. God knew he’d tried to stop loving Alex. He’d never had any success.

Casvain was sexy. Lonnie liked his blond hair. It was long, unlike Alex’s. He also liked Casvain’s pointed ears and wondered how they would feel if he touched them. Would Casvain even want him that way? Did Lonnie want Casvain that way?

He certainly wouldn’t say no to sex with Casvain, but he wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Casvain was Zal’s bodyguard, one of them anyway. He wouldn’t just leave if something went wrong. Lonnie would have to see him every day for a long time. If they did have sex and something went wrong, if they broke up and ended up hating each other, they’d still have to be close. He wasn’t sure he could stand having to avoid Casvain as well as Alex.

Because that was what he was going to do. Lonnie loved Alex, and he probably was going to love him forever, but he’d had enough of hurting. Maybe if he didn't spend as much time with Alex, if he didn't have to see him going out with Crystal, being happy and laughing, it would be easier to forget him.

Not that Lonnie would ever forget Alex, but maybe his feelings would fade if he stayed away. Maybe sleeping with someone else would help.

“So, what are you doing out here on your own? Aren’t you usually with Alex at this hour of the day?”

Lonnie snarled, showing Casvain his teeth. Did he really have to remind Lonnie of Alex? Not that he knew what Lonnie was thinking, but still. Why did all everyone seem to want to talk about was Alex?

Lonnie turned around and headed toward home. He didn't know if Casvain was going to follow him, but it didn't matter. Lonnie was angry, mostly at himself, but he didn’t want to be reminded of Alex.

I take it you don’t want to talk about Alex,” Casvain said. “I won’t mention him again if that’s what you want.”

Lonnie nodded.

“All right. Can I come with you? Zal and Jackson are…busy, and I don’t particularly want to have to listen to them.”

Lonnie snickered. He never stopped walking, and Casvain followed him. He stayed silent until they got to Lonnie’s house. Lonnie went in through the dog door before shifting. He opened the door, letting Casvain knew he could enter, and hurried to his bedroom. He didn't have the time to shower, or rather, he didn't want to leave Casvain alone for too long, so he just put back on the clothes he’d taken off earlier.

He raked his fingers through his hair, trying to press them down a bit. He knew it was a lost cause, and he hoped Casvain didn’t mind crazy hair. Casvain was looking at the paintings on the wall when Lonnie walked into his living room. Lonnie hesitated, unsure what to say. Why had Casvain wanted to come with him? He’d kept to himself since he’d arrived. What had changed?

“So…” Lonnie started.

“These are good.”

Lonnie looked at the painting Casvain was looking at. It was a painting of the forest, but then that was what Lonnie always painted. “Yeah. I like the woods around here.”

You painted it?”

“Yep.”

Casvain looked at Lonnie with a spark in his eyes. It made him look even sexier, just like the small smile playing on his lips did. “You’re a man of many talents.”

“I guess.”

“I wonder what else you’re good at.”

Lonnie’s eyes widened. Was Casvain alluding at something? At sex? He didn't seem the type, but unless Lonnie had become really bad at flirting, it looked like that was exactly what Casvain was doing.

He cleared his throat, wondering how to answer Casvain’s question. “Uh, I’m not bad in the kitchen.”

Casvain’s smile widened. “In the kitchen?”

“You know, cooking. I’m not bad at cooking. What else could you do in the kitchen, right?” Lonnie laughed nervously.

I can think of plenty of things to do in the kitchen, and most don’t involve cooking.”

Lonnie shook his head. “Okay, who are you and what have you done with Casvain?”

Casvain frowned. “I’m not sure what you mean.”

It’s… nothing. You’re just behaving weirdly, at least compared to the way you behave normally. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk this much, and I certainly have never seen you flirt.”

That’s because I don't usually flirt with people I don’t like.”

“Oh. And you like me?”

Casvain grinned, showing teeth. “Very much so.”

Lonnie wasn’t sure what to do about it. Actually, he knew what to do about it. He shook his head, hoping Casvain wasn’t one of those assholes who became nasty when they were rejected. “Look, I like you, but I don’t think we should have sex, not right now anyway.”

“Oh?”

“Well, you’re Zal’s bodyguard, and I’m…”

“In love with Alex.”

Would it change anything if Lonnie negated it? Probably not. “Yeah. I’m in love with him, and I don’t want to use you as a rebound or anything.”

“What do you suggest, then?”

Lonnie swallowed and tried to dry his damp hands on his thighs. “Do you think we can be friends?”

“Friends?”

“You know, watch movies together, stuff like that. At least for a while. I don’t want to rush into this.”

Casvain’s eyes softened. “If that’s what you want.”

Yeah, for now anyway.”

“All right. What movie did you have in mind?”

****

Crystal was nice. Alex couldn’t deny that. She was pretty and sweet, and she didn't do anything for Alex.

He’d picked her up at her house and had driven her to the restaurant his mother had suggested. She wore a nice red dress that Alex would have loved if he’d been able to actually care. He couldn’t. All he could think of was Lonnie and what he was doing right now. He wasn’t answering any of the texts Alex had sent him since they’d last seen each other the day before, and Alex couldn’t help but wonder why. He was starting to worry.

He looked at Crystal, who was sitting on the other side of the table, hoping to distract himself. She pushed her hair behind her ear and looked up at Alex, almost shy-looking. Alex smiled, but it was strained. He didn't think she noticed.

So you went to school with Vanessa?” he asked because he had to talk about something.

Umm, no. I’m younger than her by a few years. I guess I’m closer to your age than to hers. No, we became friends over her kids. She was looking for a babysitter a few years ago, and I like children.”

Crystal smiled, and Alex tried to imagine having kids with her. It wasn’t hard to picture. The kids would probably be blond, maybe have Crystal’s wide green eyes. For some reason, it didn't appeal to Alex. He’d rather have children with Lonnie’s brown eyes.

He shook his head and pushed Lonnie away from his thoughts. It was hard because Zal’s words from earlier kept on popping into Alex’s mind. Alex wanted to believe them so much, even though he knew they weren’t true. They couldn’t be.

Alex pushed his glass a few inches to the right. “That’s great. Vanessa needs help sometimes. I guess she didn’t think three kids would give her that much work, and I can’t help her much.”

At least Vanessa had their mom. Alex didn’t think she’d be able to deal with the kids on her own, not after her mate died.

“You have too much work of your own to do.”

“Yeah, exactly.”

“You’ll have to make time when you have children of your own, though.”


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