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by Kaje Harper
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Gay Fiction
Description: Becoming Alpha made Aaron responsible for protecting his new pack against outside threats, but fighting his own desires might pose an even bigger challenge. When Aaron took down a crazy dominant wolf and inherited half a pack, he knew the Alpha job wasn't going to be easy. A week later, he's finding out what an understatement that was. Having a gay wolf in his pack brings lethal threats from other werewolves. Then humans locate his wolves and move in to try to capture and exploit one of them. Aaron has enough pressure and demands without letting his long-suppressed sexuality escape his rigid control. But keeping his distance from a young man who appeals to all his senses could be Aaron's biggest challenge.
eBook Publisher: MLR Press, LLC/MLR Press, LLC,
eBookwise Release Date: May 2012
16 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [428 KB]
Reading time: 285-400 min.
I'm running through the woods, full out on four legs, over leaves so dry they crumble beneath me. The air is still and hot, summer's last breath. I'm not running for my life. If he catches me, it will be death for one of us, but the death might be his. He's old now, his hair streaked with grey as a man, his wolf's muzzle frosted white. A senior, a veteran who never quite made Alpha, and bitter with it. He taught me well; in my desperate fury I might take him. But if I do, I'm not sure I'll be sane afterward. I can feel the black abyss hovering, an emotionless darkness where I could go and let my wolf take over. My wolf wouldn't hesitate. Hatred runs hot and acid in my throat and only iron control keeps me from turning to finish this. I'm running for my soul, and there are heavy footfalls coming fast through the dry leaves behind me...
I gave myself a quick smack to the head. The gesture was juvenile, but there was no one else in the room with me, and it jolted me back to the present. Bad enough that the nightmares had invaded my sleep again, claiming the few hours I allowed myself. It was unfair of them to sneak up on me when I was awake. Well, nominally awake.
I let myself have a moment, put my head in my hands and just closed my eyes. Breathe, for one moment don't think and just breathe. I'd taught myself meditation long ago, for relaxation, for control when control was the difference between life and death. I used it now to gather energy. I was tired.
Make that fucking exhausted.
Of course I was also angry, and frustrated, and worried. And admit it, Aaron David Tremaine, scared. Actually, you could take one of those charts from school, the name-your-emotions ones with the silly faces, and just put a check next to all the negatives, and that would pretty much sum up my current state.
And don't forget the one that's not on any kids' chart: horny. After thirteen years of locking my need away where it couldn't influence me, that one tumultuous night a week ago had brought it roaring back to life, worse than ever. And it wasn't even a night when I got any sex.
Maybe being tired was good. It took the edge off all the rest.
I rubbed my face briskly, sat up in my chair, and laid my hands flat on the desk. This was no time to be indulging myself. When you're the Alpha of a werewolf pack, even a pack as small and non-traditional as mine, you have to be Alpha. No doubts, no worries, at least where the lower-ranked wolves can see you. I'd been faking that all week, ever since pack leadership had fallen into my hands.
Since I'd ripped it from Karl's bleeding body.
A rap on the door startled me, then the door was flung open before I could respond. Vincent looked in. His normal air of detached amusement was replaced with a frown. "Aaron, there's trouble at Simon's."
"Damn." I was up and moving immediately. "Do you know who or how many?"
"Who's on guard duty?"
"Son-of-a-bitch." It was only a figure of speech. There are no female werewolves. If there were, maybe we'd have a much more relaxed attitude about sex and reproduction, and this whole mess wouldn't be happening. I didn't mean it as an insult to Andy either. He was just the wrong person to be on deck for any kind of trouble. Young, submissive, and easygoing, Andy had the softest personality of any of my wolves. And if anyone had hurt him and I caught up to them, they were going to be eating through a straw for a month, werewolf healing or not.
"Do you want me with you?" Vincent asked eagerly. The old wolf had been a surprise addition to my pack. I hadn't expected any of the seniors to come my way. He'd appointed himself my secretary, and was so useful I had no desire to depose him, even though secretly I thought he decided to be mine mainly out of boredom. Joining my pack gave him a ringside seat at the circus. Some people weren't made for retirement.
But Vincent wasn't above stirring up a little extra excitement, just to see what happened. Which was the last thing I needed. "No. Stay here. Call Joshua and tell him I'm about to come down on some wolf of his. Again."
Vincent made a face. He'd have preferred the chance of a fight over making an unwelcome call to the no doubt pissed off Alpha of a different pack. Especially since Joshua was too dour to make it fun for Vincent to rile him up. But he would make the call, and--I gave him a hard glare until he dropped his eyes--he would control the impulse to be snide. It was a good thing Vincent accepted my authority. I left him to it.
Simon owned a small house with a white-fenced yard. It was far enough from the neighbors for privacy, which was turning out to be a good thing. When I pulled in the driveway, four men were standing on the front steps. On the bottom step, in a dark parka and boots, stood a stocky, brown-haired man with a reddened face. He looked in his mid-thirties, but I knew he was sixty-six. I also knew he was short-tempered, right-handed, of average intelligence, and he was as violently homophobic as they come. Daniel. Shit.
A few steps behind him was a man who might have been his clone, but for the lighter hair and eyes: Geoffrey. He had been eighth ranked in our old pack, and was now Joshua's Third, and not a stupid man. But he was cold, and calculating, and had no love for any wolf of mine.
At the top of the steps stood my two men. Andy was dressed for the weather, his gloved hands clenched into fists, the hood of his jacket pushed back to give him a full range of vision. His breath streamed out in puffs of white, and I could practically taste his fear, but he held his ground. Behind him, oblivious to having bare feet on the frozen porch, Simon stood still as stone. Short but wide, built like a fighter with muscles rippling under his copper skin, Simon was not a wolf to take on lightly. A fact Daniel apparently acknowledged, since he was still at the bottom of those stairs.
They all swung their heads to look at me as I got out of the car. Andy's posture relaxed immediately. I winced inwardly at his faith in his Alpha, even as I appreciated it.
Simon held his ground, unmoving. But then he had his lover, Paul, in that house behind him. No one was getting through Simon to come close to Paul. And he trusted no one, not even me, to take that responsibility from him.
"Geoffrey," I said coolly. "Daniel."
"This is none of your affair, Tremaine," Daniel snapped. I noted that Geoff was holding back and letting the lower wolf speak up. Interesting.
"Of course it is. My wolves, my problem. Want to tell me what's going on?"
"I'm here to challenge that...that...thing that you're letting walk around like he's as good as the rest of us." Daniel pointed a finger at Simon. I took into account the slight tremble that was due to rage, not fear. Stupid of him to underestimate Simon, but that was Daniel.
"In the first place," I told him, "you can't. He's not in your pack now. You want to take on one of my wolves, you have to face me first. And I don't think you want to do that." I glared at him, and it took less than two seconds for him to drop his eyes. I might have been only a few ranks ahead of him in the old pack, but I was an Alpha now, and his body knew that even better than his brain. "In the second place, Simon would wipe the floor with you, if I let him."
"Bullshit," Daniel blustered. "He's nothing. Stinking faggot. He's bowed his head to me a hundred times."
"Because he chose to. Think, you fool. Simon beat Frank in a fair fight. Frank!" The big tawny wolf had been our Fifth, and a vicious fighter. In the scrambling events of that night, when I killed Karl and everything had changed, perhaps the biggest surprise had been Simon rising victorious from Frank's body. I had known he was holding back, hiding in the middle of the pack. I hadn't realized how much.
The memory of that night flitted across Daniel's face too, and he paled a shade, but he wasn't the kind to ever back down. "Bullshit," he repeated. "I can take him."
I turned a calm eye to Geoffrey, who was watching us both. "Is this challenge sanctioned by your Alpha?"
Geoff shook his head. "I don't believe he ran it by Joshua first. But he does have a complaint."
More than the standard gay werewolves are the spawn of Satan and should be destroyed?
"My house!" Daniel sputtered. "Someone took orange spray paint and wrote things on my house!"
I turned an inadvertent snort into a cough. Not funny, not funny. "What things?"
Daniel's face had regained its red hue. "Words. Insults. And he did it." He turned to glare at Simon again. "You know he did. Cowardly, sneaking around, afraid to face me. He wrecked my house!" He made a lunge up the stairs.
I grabbed his arm, and swung him around to face me. "Shut up and stand down," I hissed, with all the menace I could put into it. Apparently it was enough, because he sagged like all the air had leaked out of him. "I will look into this, and if your property was damaged, I'll see that you get compensation from the guilty party. But it wasn't Simon. I've had men watching him for his protection all week." I gestured at Andy. "Simon didn't do anything to you. So go home, and let your Alpha deal with this. Unless you'd rather challenge me?"
He didn't even try to meet my eyes. "No, Alpha."
"Go." I gave him a shove toward his parked car.
From where he stood watching, Geoff said, "Maybe it wasn't Simon this time. But your pack's out of control. You're only asking for trouble, letting this go on. Follow the law, get rid of the human who knows about us, deal with your fag, and then we can live in peace again."
"Over my dead body," I said coldly.
"Perhaps." Geoff looked me up and down, then shifted his gaze to Simon, and to Andy still trying to look tough and protective. When Geoff turned back to me his lip was curled in a sneer, although he couldn't quite meet my eyes. "Perhaps someone will take you down, and then deal with this...perversion... the way it should be handled."
"But not you." I stepped forward, pushing into his personal space, and he backed off a step, then two. "And not today. Now get out of here."
I held my ground until they climbed into their car and drove away. Then I sighed. Damn. I so did not need this.
Behind me Andy said softly, "I'm sorry, Aaron."
"For what?" I turned to look at him. "You did what you were supposed to. When trouble came, you called me and backed up Simon until I got here. What else could you have done?"
"I wasn't much backup," he said miserably. "Daniel would have walked right over me."
"It's not your job to stand up to wolves like Daniel. It's mine. You did fine." I climbed the steps and slapped his shoulder gently. "Take off, Andy. I'll be here for a while, and Damian will be on patrol soon. Go get something to eat and warm up." Not that we wolves felt the cold much.
Andy ducked his head. "Okay." He turned to Simon. "You okay, bro?"
Simon dredged up a smile. The two had been friends a long time. "I'm fine. I'm glad you didn't get dragged into a real fight, but it was good to have you here."
"Right, sure." Andy waved a hand toward the house. "Bye, Paul." He pulled his hood up over his ears and headed off down the road to wherever he had parked his car.
I turned to Simon, still standing immovable in his doorway in sweatpants and a T-shirt. "Let's take this inside," I said gently. "You're letting in the cold, and you may not feel it, but Paul does."
Simon came back to me with a start. "Yeah."
He led the way into his house. Just inside the entry, in the shadows of the hall, stood his human mate, Paul. Simon went to him quickly, perhaps unconsciously keeping himself between me and Paul. Neither one was tall, but Simon was wide, hard with muscle, while Paul was slender. Simon was dark, copper-skinned, and black-haired. He was good-looking, with regular features and that muscular build, but not remarkable unless you caught the spark of humor in his eyes.
Paul was dark gold of hair and eyes, and beautiful. All the more so because he seemed unaware of it. Simon, anything but unaware, practically pissed circles around him when other men came too close. It would have been funny, under other circumstances.
I looked at them for a moment, then shut down the bond that linked me to Simon's emotions. I couldn't concentrate with the force of Simon's fear and love and anxiety pressing in on me. The odd echo that was Paul went with it. My head felt a little better without the intense stress I'd been getting from the two men.
"Can we sit down?"
Simon led the way into the living room, bringing Paul with him. He kept his hand on Paul's arm like he needed the contact. I dropped onto the couch and Paul sat in the chair across from me. Simon chose to stand behind him. Paul craned his neck back to look up at his mate and sighed, but forbore to comment.
"So," I told them, "I'll check into the spray paint thing. It's not your concern. But this pattern of threats against you is not going to go away."
"I didn't think it would." Simon's voice sounded as tired as I felt. "Once the word got out, I knew we had a problem."
"It's all over the pack websites. So far a dozen Alphas have called for me to purge my own pack or they'll do it for me. Most are calling me a liar to my face, for taking you in as a pair. They're suggesting I should be eliminated immediately myself. The mate bond thing is making them have kittens."
Paul snorted, as I'd hoped he would. Simon just looked grim.
"On the plus side..." I continued.
"There's a plus side to this?" Simon asked.
"I have eight queries from other wolves either putting out tentative feelers about joining our pack or asking me to explain how the mate bond between two men worked."
"Which helps us how? You're not going to invite strangers into the pack right now."
"No. But it's proof that eliminating you and Paul won't get rid of the issue of gay wolves. We need to address it, not try and stuff it back in the box. Which is the point I'm trying to make on the Net."
"How's that working for you?" Simon asked acidly.
"It's an uphill battle," I agreed. "But I think I'm getting a shift from 'kill them now' to 'check the situation out and then kill them.'"
"Which is so much better."
"Of course it is," I snapped. Even without the bond open, I could almost feel the darkness pulling Simon down. For a wolf who had faced his own imminent death more than once with a can-do attitude, he was awfully negative now.
Not that he didn't have a good reason. We both knew there was a serious chance that Paul would not survive this. Even though they would have to go through Simon to get to Paul, and through me to get to Simon. Problem was if enough wolves really wanted to, they could do just that.
"You think if the others find out there are lots of queers among us, they'll magically become okay with it," Simon said sarcastically.
"Of course not. Even humans aren't all okay with it, and we wolves seem to be programmed to be even more homophobic than they are. But the pack does change when it has to."
"What about you?" Paul interrupted. "Do we make your skin crawl, Aaron?"
That had to be a quote from someone. Simon looked stricken, and made a move as if to touch Paul's face, but caught it short.
"No," I said, calmly and forcefully. "After I left my home pack, I met lots of humans and lived in lots of places. Gay people are just...people. But I also know how long it took me to be convinced of that, to the marrow of my bones. I know how instinctive my revulsion was, when I was young."
And that was the truth, if not the whole truth. I remembered my father's heavy blows, his voice, "not tough enough, not wolf enough, hell, not man enough." And my fear--did he know, did he guess? I remembered not just accepting the pain but welcoming it, needing it, hoping desperately that if I took it well enough it might somehow work, might purge this shameful, disgusting part of me, make me true pack. I remembered vividly how I felt each time it failed, each time I lived through one of his beatings and came out the other side unchanged. And all the years after, stumbling to some kind of weary resignation that I wasn't ever going to change. And only later, finally, to a complete acceptance of both wolf and gay. I had been looking at it from the inside, and even then it was a long journey. And for the safety of all of us, one that had to remain secret.
"I still can't believe they hate gay werewolves enough to come hunt us down," Paul said.
"It's not just that," I pointed out. "There have been rumors about gay wolves, in this pack and in others, forever. No one cared enough to make a crusade out of it, outside their own pack. I think deep down, most of us realize that extermination isn't possible. There are lots of queer wolves already out there under cover now, as proved by those emails. Killing you won't solve that problem."
Simon snorted. "It'll just make them feel better."
Paul elbowed him in the hip. "So why are they so rabid now?"
"It's the mate bond. And the idea that a human man knows our secrets and is being allowed to live because of a male-male mate bond. They don't believe it can be true, don't want it to be true. And if it's not true, then Simon and I are both traitors to our kind, and all three of us need to die."
"To the point where they'll show up from miles away and kill us?" Paul said disbelievingly.
"Oh, yeah, babe," Simon said. "Secrecy is our holy grail. Nothing is too much when it comes to keeping the secret."
"But I haven't betrayed your secrecy. Can't there be some kind of probation for human allies? Surely they would eventually see that I'm not a threat."
"We don't take that chance," I said quietly. "Bonded mates are safe, because they are linked to their wolves. As a bondmate, you feel what Simon feels and to a lesser degree what happens to the rest of the pack. If we are captured, imprisoned, killed, you would feel it. That's our insurance. But if you were just his human friend, who knows? Who can say that you won't get mad at him and betray him, or get bored and leave and let the secret slip one day? The decision was made eons ago--only bondmates learn our secret and live."
"That's pretty fanatical."
I shrugged. "It's worked so far. It has allowed us to set a clear policy, and not depend on the judgment of any single wolf or even a single Alpha about who can be trusted. I can't even say I disagree with it. I've seen some pretty vindictive ex-wives who were once beloved spouses. And even if our days in hiding are as numbered as I think they are, I'm no more eager to be outed to human society than most other wolves."
Paul stared at me. "So you think it's okay to go around killing people? Maybe you should kill me yourself, and just be done with it."
I shook my head, giving Simon my best Alpha glare to hold him in place. "I don't like killing. I'll go a long way to avoid it, if any other alternative is possible. And anyway, you are Simon's mate. You're part of my pack, you're in my head, and mine to protect, to my last breath and beyond."
"But you'd kill me, if I wasn't," Paul persisted.
He was entitled to the truth. "Maybe. If I couldn't persuade you this was all a fantasy, drug-induced hallucinations, something. To keep Mark's little boy out of a cage for the rest of his life, with scientists sampling him and poking him to make him shift in the name of research, yes, I might kill you." Paul's gold eyes bored disdainfully into mine, but he wasn't going to win this one. "Tell me you humans would never do a thing like that to a child."
His eyes finally dropped. "We probably would. But it doesn't justify..."
"It does to me. One day, we'll have to come out to the humans, and take our chances. But the more time human society has to change, to accept the weird and wonderful, and the more time our numbers have to increase, the better our chance of survival. I won't do anything to deliberately endanger that."
"So what choices do Paul and I have?" Simon asked. "We don't have that kind of time. We can wait here until some wolf kills us, or we can try to run and hide, and pray no one finds us."
"My hope lies in the fact that it's your bond that's making them rabid. And your bond is a matter of fact, not opinion. They don't need to like you. They just need to acknowledge that you are bound together. If Paul is accepted as a packmate, he'll be a hell of a lot safer." Killing a bonded mate was only slightly less bad than killing a young pup. Under normal circumstances, it would bring the wrath of all the packs down on you. Wolves protected mates and young. Although up until now mates had always been women.
"How do we prove anything?" Simon asked. "I can sense my bond with Paul. As my Alpha, you can too. But other wolves can't tell for sure. If they won't take your word as Alpha now, what would make them change their minds?"
"They can't sense the bond directly," I pointed out. "But it gives you two some abilities that would be hard to explain any other way. With a true mate bond, you know when something happens to Paul, even from miles away. You can find each other over a big distance. You can sense each other's emotions. Those are things that can be demonstrated."
"Demonstrated? Like passing a test? You think anyone will buy that?"
"I'm trying to persuade the other packs to send a delegation to test you. We shift the emphasis from whether gay wolves should be allowed to exist in the first place, to whether they can form a true bond. The first question is a matter of opinion, and we have no hope of winning right now. The other is a fact that we can prove. Protecting and trusting our mates is instinctive. Get enough wolves convinced, make them see that you and Paul are both linked to the whole pack, and we might live through this."
Simon was shaking his head. "It's too risky."
"What other choice is there?" I asked. The silence stretched out for a while. Simon looked down at the floor. Finally I added, "It's this, or run. If you feel you have to run, I'll help you all I can. But if you run now, it will be forever. You'll have to keep hiding, always worried about being found. They won't let a human walk off with pack secrets. They won't stop looking. And Paul loses everything he's built here, his practice, his home, friends, everything."
"Except his life." Simon's fingers whitened on Paul's shoulder, and the young man winced silently. Just as quickly, Simon's hand opened and he rubbed gently where he had gripped too hard. "Sorry, babe," he whispered. "I'm so sorry. About all of this."
"Shut up," Paul told him. "You didn't cause the problem. We got into this together, and I don't want to run. Anyway, you were the one who told me how important the pack was to you, how hard it would be to live without it."
"That was before half the wolves in the known universe found out about us and decided we should be wiped off the face of the earth. Don't worry about me. That's not relevant now."
"It's part of the equation. I don't want you feeling empty and alone because you decided that protecting me was more important than your ties to your pack."
Simon knelt by his chair, looking him in the eyes. I knew this wasn't the first time they had gone around with this. "We can't stay. It's too risky. You haven't seen how rabid some of the comments are. They all want you dead."
"And whose fault is it that I haven't seen them?" Paul's voice was heated in its turn. He looked over at me. "Will you tell this idiot that I'm a big boy, and I can handle a few insults and threats? He's being all protective to the point where he won't let me read the forum postings anymore."
I could understand the protective instinct, but I raised my eyebrow at Simon. "Don't you think Paul's strong enough to be a full partner here?"
From Simon's wince, I knew I'd hit a sore spot. "It's not that. Of course he is. I just...I don't want him to see...to read what other wolves..." He trailed off.
"I think Paul has already seen us at our worst," I said gently. Simon looked as ragged as I felt. "He hasn't walked away yet."
"What will happen to you," Paul asked me, "if you let us get away?"
"Probably nothing." Nothing for Paul to worry about, anyway. I was his Alpha, not the reverse. "Some will consider it a breach of security, but I can handle my end. You need to think about yourselves."
"I want to stay," Paul repeated. He looked back at Simon. "I don't want to spend the rest of my life running. And more." His voice took on a deeper resonance. "Simon, in this looking-glass world I've fallen into they kill thirteen-year-olds for being gay. If you and I have a chance to change that, how can we walk away from it?"
"I can," Simon muttered. "I can walk away from anything to keep your blood inside your body where it belongs."
Paul just looked at him, his hazel-gold eyes dark and quiet. After a long time, Simon said, "Damn." He looked up at me. "All right, okay, he's right. We have to do this. Into your hands, my Alpha. Tell me what you want me to do."
It was the decision I had wanted, but I still felt a little sick. Simon was giving me control over the most precious thing in his life, and we could all end up dead. But I also had the memory of slaughtered kids walking at my shoulder. I felt like I had to do this too.
"I'll get online," I said, "and try to set up a meeting open to all the packs. If I can persuade the other Alphas to send delegates, they may not send assassins." I looked at the two hollow-eyed men in front of me. "You two get some sleep. It's Sunday, the day of rest, you know. You look like a pair of raccoons."
Paul sighed. "Simon won't sleep. A leaf hitting the ground a block away has him leaping out of bed."
"Sleep at my place." My wolf liked the idea of having the threatened members of our pack under my roof. "If you trust me to keep you safe. There's a spare room. Feel free to use the shower and the bed."
"We don't need to..." Simon began.
"I think you do. You can't protect Paul if you're falling over. Follow me home and get in a few solid hours. We'll talk again after." I put a little Alpha push into it. I apparently didn't yet have a good handle on the command part of an Alpha's power, and Simon winced like I was giving him a headache.
"All right," he said slowly. "You're right. My brain is mush right now. Thank you."
"I'll pack a bag," Paul said. He glanced at Simon. "A few things we might need." The heat that flashed between them as Simon returned his gaze almost scorched me.
Even without my Alpha bond open, my body reacted to their desire. Shit. I needed to get laid. Except that that complication was the last thing I could afford right now.
I sighed. "I'll call Damian and let him know he should watch my house instead of yours." I'd keep a patrol on them, but trouble was much less likely at an Alpha's home. That was probably just as well. Damian was the hothead among my wolves. If he had been on those steps facing Daniel, I would have arrived in the middle of a fight. I rubbed my forehead. I could use some sleep too, but this wasn't the time.
At least these two were coming back to my place. That was right; I could feel my wolf settling a bit. I could put them where I wanted them, behind me in any fight. And maybe my wolf was an overprotective control freak, but I realized that having them there would make me feel much better. For a few hours, I would know exactly where Paul and Simon were and could keep them safe myself.