Excerpt When He’s Dark by Suzanne Wright

Mar 082020
 

When He’s Dark (The Olympus Pride Series #1) by Suzanne Wright

Cat shifter Bree Dwyer doesn’t fear much. Ironically, what she fears most is the person who was put on the Earth just for her. Your true mate wasn’t supposed to be cruel and twisted; wasn’t supposed to be someone who’d never love or want to claim you. The rumors that her true mate is dead bring her only relief. Bree’s intent on moving forward with her life and building a future with someone else. Sadly, the male she wants most is one she can never have—a hot-as-sin wolverine shifter who happens to be her boss … and the cousin of her predestined mate.

Aleksandr “Alex” Devereaux detests being bullshitted, but he’s been lying to himself for years—pretending he thinks of Bree as extended family; that he doesn’t want her so bad he aches with it; that he can’t feel himself weakening against her pull. The night they spend together changes everything. He’s done fighting himself on what he wants. Someone isn’t happy about that. Possibly the same ‘someone’ who’s playing mind games with Bree, trying to scare her. They’re succeeding, because too many leads point to the possibility that the culprit could be the one person that she’s determined to believe is dead.

**
If you’ve read the Phoenix Pack or Mercury Pack series, you may be familiar with the Olympus Pride. They featured briefly in ECHOES OF FIRE (Madisyn and Bracken’s story) and then again in UNTAMED DELIGHTS (Mila and Dominic’s story). Mila has a twin brother, Alex, from the Olympus Pride. WHEN HE’S DARK is Alex’s story

Here’s a sneak peek of the first two chapters …
© Suzanne Wright

CHAPTER ONE
Doing the hungover walk of shame to work was a hell all by itself. Being waylaid by three shifters in the middle of the street had sucked Bree further into that “I want to curl up and die” vortex.
Car horns honked. Heels clacked on the sidewalk. Vehicles whooshed by. Every sound just made her want to cry. God, she despised noise. And light. And people.
And did the guy in front of her really have to talk so loudly?
Bree Dwyer sighed as the hyena prattled on and on, his smile warm and polite. She’d long ago learned that “nice” and “good” were two different things. There was nothing good about him. He oozed menace—and not in a sexy way. He had a serpent look in his eyes that made her think of the very man he claimed to be searching for.
The hyenas hadn’t stepped into her personal space, lost their relaxed posture, or dropped their amicable smiles even once. Smart. Because every store on both sides of this street was owned by her Alpha, Vinnie Devereaux. Also, most of her pride mates worked in said stores. If the hyenas made a misstep, it would be noticed, and they’d find themselves surrounded. Which would be fun for her but not so much for them.
As a rule, people tended to avoid her kind. Pallas cat shifters had a somewhat disagreeable personality. They were unpredictable. Moody. Brash.
They were also, pound for pound, one of the strongest breeds of shifter. Although her kind weren’t much bigger than a housecat when in their animal form and had the body of a harmless-looking ball of fur, they possessed an unparalleled ferocity that had been described as demonic by other breeds.
Personally, Bree thought was a little harsh.
It wasn’t as if they went on killing sprees for fun or anything. They didn’t bother you so long as you didn’t both them. But if you pushed their buttons, they’d proceed to attack in a snarling, hissing, unholy display of pure fury—giving zero thought to whether you were bigger, stronger, armed, or accompanied by backup. And what was wrong with that?
The chatty hyena sighed. His steel-gray eyes gleamed with mild exasperation. He’d introduced himself as John Jones but, no, she wasn’t buying that that was his real name. “You’re not listening to me, are you?” he asked.
Bree frowned. Did she look like she was in a fit state to hold a conversation? Apparently so. Well, that was good. Maybe her coworkers wouldn’t notice she was dying inside.
“I was. At first,” she replied. “But then I got bored because you keep repeating questions I’ve already answered. I zone out when I’m bored.” Plus, it was kind of hard to concentrate when it felt like her head was trapped in a vice. And she didn’t exactly care for the subject matter. Nor did her inner cat. The feline was pacing and lashing her bushy tail.
“You didn’t answer my questions truthfully,” he said. “I’ve assured you that I mean Paxton no harm. Yet, you refuse to tell me where I can find him.”
“You refuse to hear what I’m saying—he. Is. Dead.”
“How can you be so sure of that when there’s no corpse to prove it?”
“Because there’s been no whisper of his existence for the last four years.” Before that, there had been a constant flow of stories about the twisted shit that Paxton had been up to since becoming a lone shifter. He’d mostly worked as an assassin—not as a mere sniper, no, he’d brutalized his targets.
All pallas cats were ruthless, but Paxton? There’d been a cruel, sadistic quality to his bloodthirstiness. “People who enjoy killing generally don’t just stop.”
“True,” conceded John. “But I think he did. I think he gave up that lifestyle for the one thing on this Earth that means anything to him. His true mate. You.”
A shard of pain lanced her chest. Finding your predestined mate was supposed to be something joyous, something to celebrate. You weren’t supposed to fear them. You weren’t supposed to feel relieved that they were dead. You weren’t supposed to be paired with someone so fucked up—someone who could never love you or be a point of safety for you.
“If I meant anything to him, he wouldn’t have left me,” she said. “Paxton cared for no one.”
“You were a child when he became a loner. Eleven-years-old. Far too young for him to claim. How old were you when you first sensed he was your mate?”
Barely five. The discovery had rattled both her and her cat. It really didn’t take an omega like Bree to sense the wrongness in him.
He, too, had known they were mates. She originally hadn’t understood how someone so cold and hollow could feel the presence of their true mate. But, as Vinnie pointed out, Paxton wasn’t a person who experienced the sort of things that blocked the frequency of mating bonds, like fears, insecurities, or uncertainties.
“It must be hard for you to have a true mate who’s so dark inside,” said John when she didn’t answer his question.
Paxton hadn’t been dark inside. He’d been empty. Utterly. Empty. As an omega, she could read a person’s emotions through touch. All she’d felt from Paxton was a chilling apathy that made her skin crawl. And she often wondered what it said about her that the other half of her soul had been so devoid of emotion.
Maybe her deceased parents were right that his nature didn’t reflect on Bree; that he was just wired differently, or that his brain had suffered damage due to his difficult birth. But some of her pride mates believed that Bree must share some of “his darkness.” Nice.
“I assure you that I will not reveal his whereabouts to anyone,” said John. “You have no need to protect him from me. I just want to speak with him.”
“Then go hire a psychic medium—maybe they can help you commune with his ghost or something. Now, I have shit to do, so …” Tightening her grip on her purse strap, she walked right past them.
“Have a good day, Miss Dwyer,” John called out.
Bree didn’t glance over her shoulder as she replied, “Whatever.” Why he’d want to waste time out of his life searching for a dead man, she didn’t know. She also didn’t care.
Paxton Cage was dead. Dead.
If she repeated it to herself often enough, she might just come to fully believe it.
Standing behind the hexagon counter of the jewelry store, Bree talked with a male lion who wanted to buy a necklace for his mate. For the past hour, he’d been torn between two. Whenever he seemed close to settling on one necklace, he’d then ask to touch the other again. As store policy was that only a single tray could be out of a display case at a time, she’d repeatedly replaced one with the other. Such fun.
She had no idea how she’d made it this long without falling asleep. She wondered if it be so bad to take a nap in her locker—hey, she’d slept in more uncomfortable places. Well, the moment it hit closing time she was so out of there.
She’d worked at Pot of Gold since she was eighteen. It was elegant and inviting with the ambient lighting, pretty chandeliers, gold silk draperies, framed jewelry-art, and the gold trim on the gleaming white walls.
There was bling everywhere, twinkling under the bright lighting. Diamonds, sapphires, rubies, opals, emeralds—the list of precious stones went on. The store sold everything from bracelets, earrings, and rings to cuff links and watches.
Some items were plain yet elegant. Some were cheap and cheerful. Others were flashier, expensive, and more eye-catching.
Most pieces sat in the rounded glass cases while others were on the turnstile displays near the wall-mounted mirrors. Some of the displays were decorative, featuring scarfs or sequins, courtesy of her sales associate and good friend, Elle—the brainbox behind last night’s “let’s make margaritas” plan—who was also Vinnie’s only daughter.
Totally envious that the redhead didn’t get hangovers, Bree tossed her a little snarl. Noticing, Elle paused in her conversation with the store’s security guard, Greg, and discretely flipped her the finger. Bree only sniffed.
There was a case of collectible figurines near the consultation desk that another of her sales associates, James Devereaux, manned. As Vinnie’s brother, he was also Elle’s uncle.
James’ mate, Valentina, managed the store. She was currently talking with a customer on the other side of the showroom—a human who had no idea the store was run by shifters, since pallas cats had so fully immersed themselves into the human world that pretty much the entire race was oblivious to the existence of her kind.
Their animal counterparts were referred to as Pallas’ cats, but shifters stuck with “pallas cats.” They didn’t claim territories, but their pride members often lived and worked closely together. Most of hers resided in the two nearby apartment buildings and the cul-de-sac of houses—all of which were owned by Vinnie.
Working in a jewelry store wasn’t particularly exciting, but she enjoyed having a job that she didn’t have to think about once she got home. It meant she could relax, switch off, and not have to think about it until she next returned to work. She liked that. Liked having a little “simple” in her life—something that being an omega detracted from. In her opinion, “simple” was often underappreciated.
Not many people were lucky enough to be able to say they liked all their coworkers, but the Devereauxs were amazing. As Paxton’s mother was the sister of both Vinnie and James, the large family had pulled Bree into theirs the moment they realized she was Paxton’s true mate.
They’d rallied around her after the death of her mother when she was seven, just as they had after the death of her father when she was eighteen. Bree had no other blood relatives in the pride, but she hadn’t needed any—not with the Devereauxs at her back.
His eyes on the tray of jewelry in front of him, the lion scratched his stubbly jaw. “I just really can’t decide which necklace I like best.”
Well, yeah, she’d noticed that.
He glanced at another tray through the glass surface of the counter. “Can I look at the opal necklace again?” he asked, gesturing to a totally different necklace, which also happened to be the first piece he’d looked at but had earlier decided against.
Keeping her smile bright by sheer force of will, Bree said, “Of course.” She returned the tray and locked the glass case. Just as she carefully placed the other tray on the counter, the front door swung open, letting in a stream of street noise.
“Hey, Alex, good to have you back,” Greg greeted.
Her heart gave an excited little leap, and her head snapped up. Bree couldn’t help but drink the newcomer in as he prowled inside. He had one of those smoldering Gunslinger walks. Every step was slow, smooth, and controlled with a little shoulder swagger thrown in.
Aleksandr Devereaux—son of James and Valentina, part owner of Pot of Gold—walked and talked with the calmness of a man who was utterly sure of himself and his place in the world. He was arrogant but not in a self-obsessed, “I’m superior to all others” way. He just knew his own worth and valued himself.
Honestly, just looking at him would push any woman’s “I need quality time with my vibrator” button. Yeah, there was a reason there were rarely any batteries in Bree’s house.
His broody, watchful eyes scanned the store. When those two bottomless pools of dark ink landed on her, her body responded—no, melted. Ugh. In her experience, very few things were more annoying than being so strongly attracted to a person you could never have.
She gave him a quick smile and then switched her attention back to her customer, who was studying the opal necklace intently. Alex wouldn’t be offended that she hadn’t greeted him. He didn’t do hellos. Or goodbyes. Or manners. Or apologies.
He also wasn’t into small talk or standing on ceremony. He rarely smiled or laughed. He could be as direct as a bullet and unashamedly rude. But Bree liked that he said what he meant and that he meant what he said.
She heard his parents warmly welcome him inside and ask about his trip. He often went roaming alone for months at a time—it was typical of his kind. He wasn’t a pallas cat like his father. No, he took after his Russian mother. Alex was something even more ferocious than Bree’s kind. Something often referred to as “the devil’s spawn.”
When he was home, he usually didn’t come to the store more than once a week. He didn’t need to—Valentina ran the place just fine. But when there was something he needed to tend to, he’d disappear into his office at the rear of the store and take care of it. Which was a shame, really, because having him up front would certainly draw females inside.
All six-feet-plus inches of him was packed with pure muscle. Muscle that flexed and bunched beneath his olive, tattooed skin. He had an uber-masculine face with his strong jawline and high cheekbones. His short, smooth hair was such a dark brown it was almost black.
Hell, even his default “blank” expression seemed to work for him. She’d heard more than one woman say it just made her want to melt his hard exterior. Yeah, he reeled females in effortlessly. But he only ever engaged in shallow flings. He never went on dates or made his bed-buddies part of his life.
Many thought they’d be the one to change him; to heal the wound he’d suffered after losing his true mate seven years ago. He hadn’t felt the pull of the mating bond until moments before Freya—a relative stranger to him—died right in front of him. How shit was that?
For a long time, Bree had thought of him as an honorary cousin. It wasn’t until she was fourteen that she developed a little crush on him. Twelve years his junior, she naturally hadn’t been on his sexual radar back then. That had changed over recent years, but he seemed intent on doing nothing about it. Shame.
“I really like the other two necklaces,” the lion told her. “But there’s something about the opal pendant that just stands out to me.”
“I know what you mean,” said Bree. She shot Valentina a quick smile when the woman joined her behind the counter and began rooting through one of the drawers.
The lion rubbed his nape. “I just want to get the perfect one for her, you know. She’s an omega, like you. So is our daughter—she’s only six; she’s struggling to keep her shields up, but she’s getting better at it.”
Bree could remember how it felt to experience the world before she’d learned to shield. It was much like being a raw, exposed nerve. Every time you touched a person, the energy of their emotions zapped you. There was no energy-dial for you to turn down. You either shielded or you didn’t.
Omegas were considered the beating heart of the pride. They were emotional healers, but not empaths. Omegas could read and extract a person’s emotions, but they didn’t experience those emotions along with him—just as a doctor would recognize symptoms of an infection and treat it but wouldn’t feel their patient’s pain.
What omegas felt was the “energy” of an emotion. Absorbing a positive emotion was much like receiving a mental expresso shot. Absorbing a negative emotion caused a sudden punch of what she could only liken to severe heartburn.
“I’m guessing you’re the primary omega of your pride,” said the lion.
Bree shook her head. “Nope.”
His brow furrowed. “Oh. I can sense that you’re very strong, so I just assumed …”
“It’s not a position that holds any interest for me. It’s a lot of hard work.”
“I can imagine,” he said before looking down at the necklace once more.
Her current primary, Dani, had held the position for almost a decade. She had to learn young omegas to shield, train juveniles to control their gift, teach adult omegas how to counsel people, arrange pride events or celebrations, and regularly meet with the Alpha to keep him updated on the emotional welfare of the pride.
Truthfully, Bree made a shit omega. To be efficient at it, you needed to be friendly, upbeat, considerate, and tactful. Bree was none of those things, and no one could ever describe her as “comforting.”
People didn’t go to Bree if they wanted to be fussed over. They went to her if they wanted brutal honesty, someone to quite simply listen, or help cooking up a plan of vengeance.
“My mate has a thing for opals, so I think she’d prefer this one,” said the lion.
“Is it her birthstone?” Bree asked.
“No, she just likes them.”
Bree’s pulse skittered as Alex slipped behind the counter and sidled up to Valentina. He was so close that his dark scent—citrus, smoldering wood, and a velvety musk—swept over her and stirred up her hormones.
The lion bit the inside of his cheek. “Would you be able to try the necklace on so I can see what it looks like when worn?”
Not an unusual request. “Sure,” Bree agreed.
“I’ll clip it on,” Alex said. No, declared. His smoky, whiskey-drinker’s voice feathered over her skin and ignited her senses. He always pitched his voice low. And yet, there was always a punch of pure power there.
Bree gave him a tight smile. “It’s fine, but thanks.” She shouldn’t have met his eyes. It was a rookie mistake. The second they locked gazes, sexual tension flickered to life, just as it always did. And they both ignored it, just as they always did.
He took the necklace from the lion, moved to stand behind her, and swept her hair aside. His fingertips brushed her nape as he clipped on the jewelry, and it was like sparks of electricity danced over her skin, making the little hairs there stand on end. She felt the weight of the opal pendant settle a few inches below the hollow of her collarbone.
“It looks better on,” said the lion.
“Jewelry usually does,” she told him.
After a little more deliberating, the lion finally decided he’d take the opal necklace. Bree reached up to remove it, but warm hands gently batted hers away.
“I got it.” Alex’s fingertips once more tickled her skin as he unclipped the chain and then settled her hair back into place. Handing her the necklace, his mouth grazed her ear. “I want to see you in my office before you leave.” With that, he walked away.
She inwardly groaned. All she wanted was to go home and crash.
Barely holding back a sigh, Bree carefully boxed up the jewelry while the lion fished a credit card out of his wallet. Using the computerized cash register, she rung up the purchase and then bagged it.
The moment the door closed behind him, leaving the store empty of customers, Valentina turned to Bree. “It is impressive you did not snap at big cat,” she said in her thick Russian accent. “Dithering people annoy me. He is too weak to be lion. You know I despise weakness.”
James nodded. “Yes, we do know. You remind us of it often.”
Totally true. “He just wanted to be sure he had the perfect gift for his mate. I can’t fault him for that.”
“Well, I applaud you for not grabbing him by the throat,” said Elle. “You’re admirably good at remaining calm.”
Bree smiled. “I get that trait from my dad.”
James snorted. “Your father, God rest his soul, didn’t remain calm. He acted calm and claimed to forgive the people who pissed him off. Then he did shit like shoot your asshole-ex in the ankle from his balcony.”
“That was an accident—he was cleaning his gun.” Bree looked at Elle. “The person who deserves an applause is you. You took down that sticky-fingered human before Greg even got near him, and you did it while taking a call.”
Elle shrugged. “When you’re a person who’s looked into the eyes of the Antichrist daily since you were a child, not a lot can rattle you.”
James sighed at his niece. “Damian is not the Antichrist. And maybe you could be a little more loving toward your younger brother.”
Elle gave him an impassive stare. “Evil does not respond to love. It knows only darkness.”
James waved a hand. “Whatever.”
After they deftly went through their usual closing-the-store routine, everyone retrieved their belongings from the lockers in the break room. Once Bree had said her goodbyes, she headed to Alex’s office. She knocked on the door, heard his gruff bid to enter, and walked inside.
He was sitting in the leather chair behind his desk, one foot rested over the thigh of the other leg. Looking cool and relaxed, he stared at her so intently it was unnerving.
Bree lifted a brow. “You wanted to see me?”
“Close the door.” Damn, that authoritative tone hit her right in her core.
She shut the door without moving her gaze from his … because looking away from a predator that dangerous when you were locked in its sights would just be plain fucking stupid. Pallas cats could never be described as stellar members of the shifter community, but wolverines? Well, they stole, lied, gambled, and started fights over pure bullshit. Why? Because they could.
Positively fearless, they’d fight to the bitter end and were renowned for their berserker rages. You didn’t piss off a wolverine unless you had a morbid interest in being unceremoniously beaten within an inch of your life. Given the unrivalled scale of their madness and that they’d easily win a “Most Sadistic Executioner of the Year” award, she thought it entirely unsurprising that Vinnie used Alex as an interrogator.
He’d turned down the Alpha’s offer to join his ranks, claiming he didn’t need an official status to feel significant. Alex was a wild card, but he followed Vinnie’s lead. To an extent. She suspected that Alex would never have a true allegiance to anyone other than whoever he took as his mate.
Right then, she studied his features, trying to get some inkling of what this was about, but he gave nothing away. It was said that the eyes were the windows to the soul. Not in Alex’s case. Though those dark orbs might glitter or harden or gleam with emotion, it was rarely possible to detect just what emotion it was.
The guy was so tightly controlled, she wondered if even her omega-senses would struggle to detect his emotions. Bree didn’t read a person unless they consented. Otherwise, it was an invasion of their privacy—especially since, unlike the other omegas in her pride, she could pick up people’s thoughts when she tapped into their emotions.
It really wasn’t as fun as it sounded. Hearing another’s voice in her head grated on every part of her. It felt as if a sharp pen viciously scratched the words into her mind, the sound so piercing she was surprised her ears didn’t bleed.
“I heard from Mila that you got intercepted by three guys this morning outside the barbershop,” said Alex, referring to his sister. “Who were they?”
“I don’t know,” she replied, hoping to quickly get this over with so she could go home, change into her pjs, and die peacefully in her sleep. “The talker introduced himself as John Jones, but I don’t think that was his real name. He didn’t introduce his friends. They were hyenas. If they’re part of a clan, they didn’t say which one.”
“Mila described them for me, but they don’t sound familiar. What did they want?”
“A way to contact Paxton.”
Alex stilled. “Paxton?”
She nodded. “Jones wasn’t buying that he was dead or that I didn’t know his whereabouts.”
“Did they threaten you?”
“No. They weren’t even remotely uncivil. Just persistent and irritating.”
“Have you reported it to Vinnie yet?”
“No. I’ll call him later.”
Alex drummed his fingers on his desk. “That the hyenas want to speak with Paxton does not say good things about them. I gave Greg the descriptions of them that Mila gave me. If the hyenas turn up here, they won’t get inside. If you see them again anywhere, you call me.” It was nothing short of an order.
Bree almost sighed. She honestly didn’t know why he thought she’d bow to his will and obey him. It was like he was new here.
When it came to work matters, she did as he ordered—he was her boss, after all. But outside of Pot of Gold? Nu-uh.
Feline omegas weren’t weak and low-ranked. They were an equal blend of dominant and submissive. And, for a reason no one could explain, they couldn’t be forced to submit by anyone—not even alphas. So, yeah, she could hold her own against dominant males just fine.
Bree preferred not to waste energy arguing with them, though. She often just nodded her head, agreed with them … and then went off and did whatever she wanted. It was more satisfying to win the psychological war and make their heads explode. So she looked Alex right in the eyes and lied, “Sure.”
That dark gaze narrowed. “I’m serious, Bree.”
“Yeah, I’m sensing that. Now, if that’s all …”
“No, it’s not.”
Her heartbeat kicked up as he pushed to his feet. The hardwood floor didn’t even creak beneath his shoes as he stalked toward her—every stride fluid, slow, and purposeful. Then he was towering over her, making all her nerve-endings tingle in anticipation.
Not once in her life had she felt such a powerful, intoxicating draw to another person. Her body never felt more alive than when she was around Alex. Seriously, the amount of sexual energy that danced between them was insane. It was just chemicals, though, wasn’t it? Chemicals fizzled out. The attraction would fade eventually.
“I heard something went down between you and Mateo,” he said. “All that anyone seems to know is that the two of you had a row that led to him leaving town for a week and that neither of you have spoken since. What happened?”
Her stomach sinking, Bree flexed her fingers. She’d counted Mateo as a close friend, but after what he’d done two weeks ago … Hell, her cat couldn’t even look at him without wanting to claw out his eyeballs and stomp on them until they popped.
Mateo’s crime wouldn’t have sounded so bad to a human. But for a shifter, it had been a total betrayal that would get himbanished from the pride. She hadn’t told a soul what he’d done, though. He deserved to pay, but a part of her felt sorry for him. She knew what it was like to want someone you couldn’t have. Knew how much it hurt to see them with others. Knew just how easy it was to kid yourself into believing they’d want you back one day.
Besides, where was the sense in having Mateo tossed out of the pride when—unbeknown to Alex and most of her pride mates—she was planning to leave herself?
Plus, she’d made mistakes, too; she’d failed to see just how deeply Mateo’s feelings for her ran. She’d known he was attracted to her, but she hadn’t thought it was more than that until he bitterly threw the facts in her face. She’d have known a lot sooner if he hadn’t always been so insistent that she didn’t read his emotions.
The shit situation taught her a valuable lesson—holding out for someone you couldn’t have would only end badly. And so, she’d promised herself that she’d abandon any hope that Alex would ever be hers. She didn’t want to become bitter and twisted like Mateo.
“You two have been friends a long time,” Alex went on. “A friendship that strong doesn’t just dissolve without a good reason. What did you two argue about?”
“Ask him.”
“I’m asking you, but you’re avoiding the question. Why not just tell me?”
Because he’d beat the absolute living shit out of Mateo, just as he’d beaten the living shit out of any other guys who’d upset her over the years. Besides … “Why would I tell you? We’re not friends. We don’t confide in each other.”
“We’re not friends, no. We’re more than that. I think of you as—”
“Don’t say you think of me as ‘family,’ because that would be a humungous freaking lie. Or are you too much of a pussy to admit it?”

Alex ground his teeth. Having this conversation was not on his bucket list at the fuck all. How many times had he heard his relatives refer to Bree as “family?” Too many to count. There’d been a time when he felt the same. He wasn’t sure at what point that changed, or if it had been a gradual thing, but she was right—he didn’t think of her as family. Not any longer.
The truth? The feline enticed him with every breath she took. Everything about her tempted him. Pulled him in. Incited him.
He repeatedly reminded himself that she was the true mate of his cousin; that she was twelve-years younger than him; that she was better suited to someone like Mateo. But none of those things made a damn bit of difference to him or his beast. And his cock certainly didn’t give two fucks—it always went hard as a goddamn rock around her.
Really, Alex doubted any red-blooded male would blame him for that. Bree Dwyer was as pretty and shiny as the bling that surrounded her daily. She was hands down the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. But it would be a mistake to look at that stunning exterior and assume that very little went on in her head—she had a mind as sharp as her tongue.
He wanted to stare right into her hooded, electric-blue eyes while he was moving inside her. Wanted to see that fuckable mouth stretched tight around his cock and all her shiny gold-tinted chestnut hair draped over his thighs. Wanted to have those long, smooth legs hooked over his shoulders while he ate her out.
And the things he could do to that ass …
Honest to God, just watching her walk made him want to shove his dick in her. She carried herself with a killer confidence; always appeared so self-possessed and inaccessible with her head up, her back straight, her arms swaying gracefully, her hips swiveling slightly from side-to-side.
Alex took a long breath. Her scent flowed into his system. Mangos, grapefruit, and coconut milk. He’d missed it. He always found himself greedy for more of it.
Rumbling a flirtatious sound, his inner beast pressed against his skin to be closer to her. The animal was a cranky, sullen creature, but he turned into a damn flirt whenever she was nearby. He didn’t give a rat’s ass that she was Paxton’s true mate, or that Mateo might be better for her. The beast saw a mature, unattached female and considered her fair game.
Alexwasn’t sure what could have caused a rift between her and Mateo. The two of them had “clicked” in a way that few people did, which was why some of the pride suspected they’d imprint on each other. Alex had prepared himself for it. He often told himself he’d handle it just fine. He often told himself he didn’t share his beast’s possessiveness of her.
He was often full of shit.
Alex wasn’t anti-social, but he had a low need for social contact. He liked solace. Silence. Solitude. But there was something … steadying about being around Bree. Maybe because he felt a sort of kinship toward her—they both knew what it was like to care nothing for the person who’d been put on the Earth just for you.
Freya had been visiting her relatives in his pride near the time of her death. There’d been no rush of emotion when he first met her, no compulsion to be near her, no nagging suspicion in the back of his mind that she could be his true mate. He’d been attracted to her, but he hadn’t acted on it, because they’d both been involved with other people.
He couldn’t say he’d grieved for her the way her family and boyfriend did—he hadn’t known her. He hadn’t spoken to her much before that night when a car rear-ended Greg’s as they’d been on their way home from a shifter club.
Alex had hit his head hard enough to pass out. When he’d woken, he’d found that both Greg and his other pride mate were unconscious. But Freya … almost her entire body had shot through the front window of the car—she hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt.
Alex had gone to check on her. He’d known from the sound of her sluggish heartbeat and shallow breathing that she was dying. She’d managed to open her eyes and look at him. It was then—while he’d been dazed and concussed—that he felt the pull of the mating bond. But then the life faded from her eyes, and the pull faded right along with her.
If they’d been mated, he could have pumped strength into her system through their bond. He might have been able to save her. Instead, he’d only been able to watch her die.
Was it only natural that he hadn’t cared for Freya, given that he hadn’t known her? Probably. But he couldn’t help feeling that he should have felt some flicker of emotion for her; that he should have at least felt compelled to be near her. He hadn’t, though. The only female who’d ever drawn him was Bree.
Alex didn’t admire a lot of people, but he admired Bree Dwyer. Life had thrown blow after blow at her, but she’d never crumbled or wallowed. Over the years, he’d watched her grow, mature, and strengthen—the female had a spine of steel.
With her outta-my-way attitude, she was not your typical, gentle, soft-spoken omega. She moved to the beat of her own “I’mnot giving a fuck” drum. Any attempts to pressure her into compliance would often earn you a vacant stare. Alex got that vacant stare a lot.
Bree’s omega abilities had been weak when she was a child, but that had changed when she reached puberty. At this point, she was stronger than Dani—something he knew ate at the primary. Especially since omegas didn’t stop growing in power until they hit their mid-thirties. Dani’s power was at its maximum, but Bree’s could still grow.
The entire pride knew that Bree should be primary. More and more were instinctively seeking her out for help—it was only natural for members to go to the strongest omega. He knew Bree didn’t want the position, but she might not have a choice. There was only so long her cat would tolerate taking orders from an omega less powerful than her.
Bree sighed. “Yeah, I figured you wouldn’t admit it,” she said, sounding far calmer than she looked. But that was Bree. She didn’t overtly react to anything. Didn’t yell or throw shit or point fingers. She spoke with no inflection, staring at you with a glint in her eye that dared you to push her too far. And if you did, well, she would ruthlessly fuck your shit up.
Alex certainly wouldn’t test her. He was a wolverine; he could take on a pallas cat. That didn’t mean he wanted to. Their animals were cuteness on toast with a smattering of weird. But that overabundance of fur was nothing more than a fluffy cloak that hid the disturbing reality that they were the living embodiment of crazy.
“Well, I’d say we’re done here,” she declared.
“We’re not done until you fill in the blanks for me. I’m just as confused now as I was when you first walked in here.”
Her face took on a haughty expression. “That doesn’t sound like my problem.”
Call him weird, but that princess-to-peasant look made him want to bend her over his office desk. His cock jerked, all for that idea.
It goddamn rankled that she looked so completely unruffled by the snap of sexual attraction that had him in a tight grip. His body was hot, hard, and aching. She was cool as a fucking cucumber. The whole thing clawed at his beast’s ego just the same.
Needing some sort of reaction from her, Alex asked, “You never told anyone, did you?”
She frowned. “Never told anyone what?”
He let his eyes drop to her lips. “That I know exactly how fucking sweet that mouth tastes.”

CHAPTER TWO

Bree stilled. In all the years since it happened, he’d never brought up the kiss. Never. Neither had she, because she’d known he regretted it.
“Oh, that,” she said airily, determined to play it cool.
He blinked. “Oh. That?”
Well, to be fair, it wasn’t a big deal—they hadn’t been the only people who’d indulged in a few stolen kisses that night. It had been her eighteenth birthday party. Most of the pride had been shitfaced. She’d caught Alex watching her. The more he drank, the less subtle he’d been about it. It was shortly after she’d finished a slow dance with another guy that Alex had discretely dragged her into a dark corner and closed his mouth over hers.
“Why didn’t you tell anyone?” he asked.
Well, she’d been horribly embarrassed that he shoved her away afterward like she was on fire. Elle knew about it, though, since she’d caught them at it. But he didn’t need to know that.
“It didn’t seem relevant,” replied Bree.
“It didn’t seem relevant?” he echoed, affronted.
She forced a casual shrug. “It was just a kiss.”
“It was more than a kiss. I distinctly remember you riding my thigh until you came. Or did you forget that part?”
“No, I didn’t forget. I also didn’t forget how fast you disappeared afterward. Oh, and there was the pushing-me-away part, like I’d thrown myself at you or something.”
“You were only eighteen. Far too young for the things I had in mind.” His eyes darkened. Heated. Flashed with something that made her stomach twist. “I wanted to flip up the little dress you were wearing, shove my cock inside you, and fuck you against the wall until you screamed for me.”
“Really? How vanilla of you.”
Surprise flitted across his face.
He’d expected her to, what, blush and stammer and avert her gaze? Bree sighed. “Look, we all do crazy stuff when we’re smashed—”
“You think I was blitzed that night? If that were the case, you would have spent the rest of that party with my come inside you.”
She really wished her feminine parts would stop tingling every time he said stuff like that. She blamed that deep, gritty voice—it was seduction itself. “That’s assuming I would have let it get that far.”
“Oh, that’s exactly what would have happened if I had been plastered that night, baby girl—don’t think differently. You still make that husky little noise right before you come?”
“Probably.” She folded her arms. “Is there a reason we’re reminiscing about something you like to pretend didn’t happen? Of course, I understand why you like to keep the memory in a locked box at the back of your mind. I mean, how else are you going to keep convincing yourself that I’m just family to you?”
Clenching his teeth, he lowered his head so that their mouths were mere inches apart. “You want me to say it? You want me to admit that I’ve jacked off to the thought of fucking you more times than I can count?” His nostrils flared. “I want you. I want to feel your pussy wrapped around my dick. I want to watch you explode while I’m buried deep inside you. There. I said it.”
It took her hungover mind a few seconds to really digest his words. When the import of them finally hit her, she almost rocked back on her heels. The fuck? There was no denying that it had been a super weird day so far.
Her engines would have been well and truly revved at the sound of his rumbly confession if it wasn’t for one thing: he clearly resented that he wanted her. Nice. “You’ll never do anything about it, though, will you?”
He clenched his teeth again. “One night in your bed wouldn’t cut it for me. I’d want more. I’d take more.”
Her heart leaped. “More” could mean a lot of things—a fuck-buddy arrangement, a short but intense fling, or even something serious. Each of those possibilities sounded intriguing to her, but apparently not to him, because …“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“I’ve seen you with guys, Bree. You always have them securely wrapped around your little finger while you lead them on a merry dance—it’s not something you set out to do, they just tend to give you your own way. Me? I won’t be led anywhere by anyone, and I definitely don’t fucking dance. You’ve never been involved with one of my kind, but you’ve seen how we are in relationships—doesn’t matter if it’s casual or serious, we don’t make easy partners. The things a man like me would demand of you … You’re not ready for something like that.”
Oh, now that made her bristle. She looked him square in the eye. “The person who’s not ready is you.”
© Suzanne Wright

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