“Trick or treat!”
“We’re coming!” Frederick hustled to the front door of the Alpha house, his white lab coat billowing behind him. “Happy Halloween.” He opened the door and smiled down at the young ones crowded on the mat.
“Who’re you dressed as, Alpha?” asked the latest princess to grace Frederick’s doorstep. This one wore a green dress.
“He’s a doctor!” said a tiny zombie. “See, he has a doctor uniform.” He tugged on Frederick’s white lab coat as he spoke.
“Billy!” The cub’s mother rushed forward and dragged him aside. “We don’t touch people.” She looked up at Frederick from underneath her lashes, keeping her head respectfully lowered. “My apologies, Alpha.”
“Nothing to be sorry for.” Frederick waved her off casually. “I am a doctor,” he said to the children as he crouched down to their eye level. “But not just any doctor.”
Through the large picture window at the front of the house, Mitch could see their eyes widen with interest. That was his cue. With a sigh, he got up off the living room couch, picked up the giant bowl of candy, and then walked to the front door, slowing his pace and making his steps jerky as he neared.
“What kind of doctor are you, Alpha?”
“I’m Dr. Frankenstein,” Frederick said. “Do you know who that is?”
“Frankenstein’s the big monster,” said a little girl.
Rolling his eyes, Mitch began stomping loudly to get the children’s attention. He had told his brother the young ones either wouldn’t know who Frankenstein was or wouldn’t know enough to understand the concept of the doctor and his monster, but Frederick had always been a bookworm and a fan of old movies, and he was sure they were the perfect choices for Halloween costumes.
“Argh.” Mitch walked over to the children with his arms straight out in front of him.
“Frankenstein is the doctor,” Frederick explained patiently. He scooted back, pulled the door all the way open, and pointed at Mitch. “That’s my monster.”
All eyes turned to Mitch, and it was a toss-up as to who was more frightened—the children or their parents. The all-black suit, green face paint, and bolts glued to the sides of his neck made him look like a scary monster to the cubs. His six foot seven inch, two hundred twenty-four pound hulking frame, coal black eyes, shaved head, rough face, and history as the person responsible for eviscerating the three men who had served as their Betas while his brother killed the previous Alpha made him the stuff of nightmares to their parents. The fact that Mitch and Frederick hadn’t asked for the battle and that the men had all been abusive to their pack wasn’t enough to completely eliminate their fears.
The children, at least, were easily soothed. Mitch gave his best monster growl, thrust the bowl at them, and within seconds, he was surrounded by costumed cubs grabbing candy. The adults stood a few feet away, tight smiles on their faces. When all the kids had shoved handfuls of treats into their pillowcases and bags, they turned on their heels and ran off, presumably heading for the next house.
One of the parents reminded them to say thank you, and without slowing down, squeaky voices yelled, “Thanks, Alpha! Thanks, Mr. Grant.”
“You can call me Mitch,” he said for what felt like the thousandth time.
“That was fun.” Frederick closed the door. “I’m going to call Donia before the next wave of kids hits.”
“You called after the last group left and that was less than five minutes ago,” Mitch said pointlessly. His brother’s protectiveness became more pronounced when his mate was carrying their young, and Donia was five months along with their second child.
“Lucy sounded tired,” Frederick said about his three-year-old daughter. “You know she can be a handful, and in Donia’s condition, she might be too much to handle.”
Mitch snorted and shook his head. “I dare you to tell your mate she can’t handle her own daughter.”
Never mind that Donia was smart, capable, and an excellent mother. She was also the biggest, strongest woman Mitch had ever seen. At five foot eleven inches, she was only an inch shy of Frederick’s height, and though her build was more feminine, she was just as muscular as her mate. On top of that, Donia was an Alpha wolf in her own right, something rare in females.
When Kristof, the previous Alpha, had refused to release ebony-skinned Donia from the pack because he had issues with her mating ivory-skinned Frederick, she had been ready to challenge him. But Frederick got there first and walked into an ambush no person could have survived alone. Fortunately, Frederick hadn’t been alone. His twin had been by his side as usual. So when the Alpha and his three Betas attacked Frederick, Mitch had killed the Betas and stepped aside to let his brother get rid of the Alpha. Together they had sent a clear message that underestimating the Grant brothers was a very bad idea. And they had inherited a pack in the process. A pack in a remote mountain town hundreds of miles away from the nearest big city.
“Lucy!” Donia said. “Quit climbing all over your uncle.”
As he’d done all their lives, Frederick spoke for him. “Mitch is lying on the ground. I’m pretty sure that’s a silent invitation to play.”
Though she had warmed up to Mitch over the years, Donia was still tense around him. Frederick never addressed it, either because he didn’t notice or because he was accustomed to people being on guard with Mitch, so it didn’t register as unusual.
“Are you sure?” Donia asked.
“Yes,” Frederick said. “How’re your feet? Do you need a massage?”
“We were only trick or treating for an hour. I’m fine,” Donia said with a chuckle, sounding more pleased than exasperated.
“Why don’t I rub them anyway?” Frederick lifted Donia’s feet onto his lap. “Just to be sure.”
“We have four more months of this.” She lay on couch and stretched her long legs across it. “You’re going to get sick of spoiling me.”
“You’re my mate. I love spoiling you.”
“Yeah?” Donia asked, her voice uncharacteristically soft. Normally she exuded confidence and strength.
“Yes.” From his perch on the sofa, Frederick kicked Mitch’s leg. “Tell her, Mitch.”
Most shifters had predestined mates, who they put first in all things. But Alphas were unique. An Alpha’s primary function was protecting the pack. So Mother Nature blessed mates on Alphas only if they were strong enough to both lead their packs well and cherish their mates as they were meant to be cherished.
In addition to being infrequent, Alpha matings were rarely desired because most Alphas were happy to enjoy the attentions of the single wolves. The Grant brothers were different, both having longed for a mate since their youth. As they’d aged and found partners to warm their beds but not their hearts, they’d both despaired that being Alphas would preclude them from having the love and affection offered by a mate. Then Frederick saw Donia when he and Mitch were taking a trip in celebration of their thirty-third birthdays and knew he was looking at the other half of his soul. From that day on, their lives had changed irrevocably, and four and a half years later, Mitch had no doubt Frederick wouldn’t want it any other way.
Lifting tiny palms off his eyes, Mitch glanced up at his sister-in-law. “It’s true. He loves taking care of you.”
“Okay. In that case go ahead.” She settled into the sofa with a sigh. “Rub away.”
Frederick opened his mouth to respond when his eyes widened.
“I smell it too.” Mitch sat up, keeping hold of Lucy so she wouldn’t topple over. “Go to your mom, sweetheart.”
Shooting up off the couch, Frederick said, “Take Lucy into the bedroom and lock yourselves in.”
“Why?” Donia looked around worriedly. “What’s going on?”
“We smell blood,” Frederick explained. “Go to safety and we’ll deal with it.”
It was the exact wrong thing to say, something Mitch knew immediately but Frederick apparently missed in his frenzy to protect his family.
“If there’s something that needs to be dealt with, we’ll be doing it together,” Donia insisted.
“Honey, be reasonable.” Frederick pointed at his wife’s distended belly. “You’re in no position to help.”
Donia narrowed her eyes in warning.
Seeing a debate brewing, Mitch picked Lucy up and started walking out of the room.
“Where do you think you’re taking my daughter?” Donia snapped.
“To safety,” Mitch answered simply.
There was no time for a discussion. Lucy was his brother’s child, his kin. Her security came first. After he had her secured, he’d return for her mother. She could kick and scream if she wanted, but Mitch wouldn’t allow Frederick’s mate to remain in harm’s way. If he had to, he’d protect Donia from herself.
“I can take care of my own child!” Donia half walked, half waddled over to him, her gait changed from the pregnancy.
“You’ll take her to the cellar,” Mitch commanded, rather than asked.
“You want us to go sit in a cellar?” she said incredulously.
The small room off the kitchen was used only to store food, so people would be unlikely to look there. Plus it had a door to the outside, so if things went wrong, Donia and Lucy would have an escape route.
“It’s safe,” Mitch said by way of explanation.
“I’d point out that my mate, the Alpha of this pack, suggested we go to the bedroom, but I know it’d be a waste of time.”
“Mitch is right,” Frederick said.
Donia huffed and reached for Lucy.
“The cellar,” Mitch repeated as he handed the child over. Once Donia nodded, albeit grudgingly, he stepped aside so she could leave the room.
“I count four,” Frederick said. “You?’
Mitch dipped his chin in agreement. “The blood isn’t theirs.”
Raising his head in the air, Frederick inhaled deeply. “You’re right. But there’s something…familiar about it.”
“Yes.” Mitch closed his eyes and concentrated. Instead of his brain processing the scent, it seemed to lodge itself in his chest.
They walked to the front door silently, both of them focusing on the people that neared.
“They’re pack,” Mitch said. “Pat, Bryan—”
“Paul and Chris.” Frederick finished the list. “But the blood …” He furrowed his brow. “It smells like…” He looked at Mitch. “Like you.”
“Like me?” Mitch asked in confusion.
Before Frederick could explain, a knock distracted him. He turned to the door and, with Mitch at his back, opened it.
“Alpha.” The four men they’d scented tilted their heads to the side and exposed their throats deferentially.
There was nothing in their body language that spoke of danger, but they had a few scratches on them and their clothes were disheveled, indicating a fight, so Mitch stayed on guard.
“What happened?” Frederick asked, getting right to the point.
“There’s a shifter in town. One who isn’t pack.”
“Just passing through?” Frederick asked.
Shaking his head, Paul said, “Judging by the campsite, it’s been a couple of days.”
Instinctively, Frederick growled low in his throat. Driving through town was one thing, setting up camp was quite another. No shifter would stay in a pack’s territory without making an introduction to the Alpha unless he meant trouble.
“May we enter?” Chris asked. “There’s more you need to know.”
Torn, Mitch kept his body between the men and the house. On the one hand, they were pack. And on the other hand, they smelled of blood, and Lucy and Donia were in the house. But that scent…there was something about that scent. With a reluctant grunt, Mitch stepped aside.
“Yes.” Following his brother’s lead, Frederick opened the door wider so they could come in. “Tell me what you know and we’ll go deal with the intruder.”
The men beamed, clearly pleased they had information their Alpha found useful. As they walked by, the scent of the stranger’s blood got stronger and, without thought, Mitch’s chest rumbled. All four men moved as far away from him as possible while still entering the house and walking toward the living room.
“The blood,” Frederick said, articulating Mitch’s train of thought. “It’s not yours.”
“No,” Pat said disgustedly. “But don’t worry, we left the Omega for you to finish off.”
“Omega?” Frederick’s posture straightened, and his tone changed from suspicious to concerned. “You found an injured Omega? Where?”
A growl sounded right before Donia stormed in. “He doesn’t need an Omega! He already has a mate.”
“You’re not supposed to be out here,” Mitch said to Donia. “Where’s Lucy?”
“I grew up with these guys.” Donia pointed at the men in her living room. “When I realized who was here, I took Lucy to her room where she can be comfortable, and I came out to join my mate.” She stomped over to Frederick, grabbed his shoulders, and pulled him down for a passionate kiss. “Mine,” she said, her voice low, but still audible to the rest of the room.
When choosing sexual partners, Alpha wolves generally preferred Omegas. And though it wasn’t an absolute, on the rare occasions Alphas had mates, they were most frequently Omegas. The dominance, possessiveness, and protectiveness inherent in Alphas melded well with the submissive, calm, deferential nature of Omegas.
Frederick’s mate was the furthest thing from an Omega, but she needn’t have worried because Frederick wasn’t a typical Alpha. Their mother had always joked that Frederick traded a share of his dominance for Mitch’s charisma. Both were important traits in an Alpha, but Mitch clearly had more of one, while Frederick was blessed with the other.
“Yes.” Frederick circled his arm around Donia’s waist. “I’m your mate.” At six feet, their eyes met easily. “But there’s a wounded Omega, Donia.”
The mix of emotions was clear on her face—jealousy, protectiveness, and concern. The characteristics that motivated her to eliminate anyone she perceived as a threat to her mating were the same as those that prevented her from turning away a wolf in need. Especially because Donia had a soft spot for Omegas.
“Don’t worry, Donia,” Bryan said with a laugh. “Your mate won’t want this Omega around. We would have gotten rid of him ourselves, but we thought our Alpha would want the honor.”
“Him?” Frederick said. “Did you say him?” He jerked his gaze to Mitch whose mouth had dropped open and heart had started racing.
“Yeah.” Paul nodded. “A male Omega.” He scrunched his nose and pursed his lips, as if he tasted something bitter. “He tried to act tough, but scents don’t lie.”
With two big steps, Frederick was in Paul’s face. He took hold of his wrist and looked at his fingernails. “This is his blood?”
“He wouldn’t leave so we had to—”
“It’s his blood?” Frederick barked, clearly uninterested in an explanation.
“Yes,” Paul replied hesitantly. “He’s a male Omega, Alpha. They’re useless to a pack. Less than useless.”
“Stop talking!” Mitch shouted. There was something about that scent, something that called to him. Knowing it came from a male Omega gave him hope for a future he had long since thought impossible. Mitch squeezed his hands so tightly, all his knuckles cracked and then he looked at his brother hopefully. “Freddy?”
With his gaze glued to Mitch’s, Frederick raised Paul’s hand to his nose and inhaled deeply.
Time slowed to a stop while Mitch waited for his brother’s reaction.
“Tell my brother where to find the Omega,” Frederick said quietly, still looking at Mitch. He lowered his chin in a barely perceptible nod. “Mitch will take care of him.”