Alpha instinct, p.17
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       Alpha Instinct, p.17

         Part #1 of Moon Shifter series by Katie Reus
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Page 17


  Chapter 7

  Ana placed her hands on her hips as she looked up at Ryan, one of the new wolves. He was tall and broad, even for a lupine shifter. Taller than Connor. “Is there a problem here?”

  “Yes, there is,” Teresa interrupted. “He wants to change how I stock everything. ”

  Ryan’s jaw clenched once in frustration. He appeared to be in his early thirties by human standards, but Connor had told her he was almost 150. Older than most shifters she knew. Shifters might not age at the same pace as humans, but their eyes gave them away every time. Right now he was tempering his annoyance. “I just thought it would make more sense to move the saddles in where the halters and leads are stored. It’ll clear up some space, and then we can move the feed so that it’s in a less damp area, which will save more money in the long term. ”

  “There’s not enough room to move everything around. ” Teresa’s voice was heated.

  His gaze snapped back to hers. “If you’d let me finish what I was saying before you bothered Ana, I would have told you that I planned to build and mount a wall rack for your saddles in addition to building more storage shelves. That’ll clear up all the space you need. ”

  Teresa’s cheeks turned bright pink. “Oh. ”

  Ana bit back a sigh. The barn was so thick with sexual tension, even if she didn’t have extrasensory abilities she’d be able to see it. “Have you worked on a ranch before, Ryan?”

  He nodded. “I owned one many years ago. ”

  When it was obvious he didn’t plan to explain, she continued. “If you see anything else around here that could use some improvement, run it by Teresa first and I promise she’ll be willing to listen. ” She tilted her head in her cousin’s direction. “Isn’t that right?”

  “Yeah,” Teresa muttered.

  Shaking her head, she started to leave them when a gray wolf cub tumbled past her. “What the … ?”

  A second later, a female jaguar cub followed hot on his tail. The spotted animal raced past her so quickly, it took a moment for her to digest what she was seeing. Ana turned and started after them, to find Ryan scooping them up, one in each hand.

  “What the hell is going on?” She hadn’t meant to shout but the words flew out.

  The few horses whinnied nervously. By now they were used to wolves, but the scent of a jaguar was something else entirely. A new predator—tiny as she was—would take some getting used to.

  Both cubs buried their faces against Ryan’s neck. He grinned and held out the tiny jaguar. “This is Vivian. ” She tried to scramble away but he held her tight. Then he held out the gray wolf, who attempted to wiggle out of Ryan’s hand. “And this is Lucas. ”

  Her heart instantly warmed at the sight of the two cubs. Even the jaguar. It had been a long time since their family had any little ones running around. Most of her packmates were younger than her and weren’t interested in settling down yet. And all the pregnant shifters, with the exception of her mother, had died from the poisoning. Almost on cue, an ache sparked in her chest at the thought of her mother dying from a broken heart, unable to live without her mate. But Ana pushed past the pain as she eyed the little ones. Seeing them somehow made the ache inside easier. Life was treasured among her kind and, well, the cubs were totally adorable. “This might sound like an obvious question, but who are they and where did they come from?”

  “Uh …” Ryan looked down and for the first time since she’d met him, he seemed uncomfortable. His neck turned a dark shade of red.

  Behind Ana, Teresa chuckled at his obvious discomfort, which earned her a glare from Ryan.

  Okay, if he wasn’t going to answer, she’d try another tactic. “Were they with you guys the other night in the woods?”

  He shrugged and the jaguar tried to burrow deeper against his neck. “Sort of. ”

  “That’s not an answer,” she said through gritted teeth.

  “I think you should talk to Connor about this. ”

  “Well, he’s not here, is he?” He’d gone out with some of the men to scout their property. And if he knew what was good for him, he’d stay gone for a while. Ryan didn’t respond, which only infuriated her more. She was Connor’s mate—almost—so he should be answering her. “Where have they been sleeping?”

  “Our cabin. ”

  She glared at him but softened as she looked at the cubs. “You guys want to come with me and get cleaned up?”

  The jaguar turned her head around and stared at Ana. Almost instantly, the little feline jumped at her. Muddy paws and all. Something warmed inside her when the cub curled up and rested her head on Ana’s shoulder. Cubs were so trusting sometimes. They just wanted someone to take care of them. “Do they have any clothes?”

  “Yeah. ” Ryan shook his head as Lucas dove for the ground and scampered off.

  Ana was tempted to run after him, but he’d been fine by himself for the past day so she let him go.

  Ana nodded at her cousin. “Grab this one’s belongings and bring them to the main house. I’m going to move her in there for a while. She shouldn’t be stuck with all those males. ”

  “Man, I’m glad I’m not Connor right now,” Teresa muttered as she walked away.

  She should be. Connor had a lot of explaining to do. Hiding this from her was just stupid. As she headed for the house, she held the she-cat away from her. “You’re Vivian, huh?”

  In response, she licked Ana’s face and her heart melted. No wonder Connor had taken them in. Even though she was pissed he hadn’t told her about them, looking at this one’s cute face was enough to melt most of her anger. But not all of it.

  Liam shifted against the booth and discreetly wiped his damp palms on his jeans. He’d been watching December’s store all day from across the street—and trying not to feel too much like a stalker—and no one had bothered her. Unless a couple of yuppie-looking assholes in ski jackets hitting on her counted. Or they might have just been buying books. Either way it didn’t matter to him. The most primal side of him didn’t want any males talking to her. Barbaric, yes. Just the way it was.

  He checked his watch again, even though he knew barely a minute had passed. He’d told her he’d be at the pub today, waiting, and she was only five minutes late. Maybe he should have expected her not to show. Especially after what had happened earlier that morning. Still, she hadn’t seemed like she had a vendetta against shifters.

  Unlike her brother.

  Something familiar tickled his nose. He looked across the sea of tables and booths. In the darkened atmosphere, booze, cheap perfume, and stale smoke drifted around him, but one scent nearly knocked him over.

  He stood when he saw her. December tucked a bright curl behind her ear and glanced around at everyone. Her nervousness nearly overpowered the soft, fresh scent she emanated. He wasn’t sure what it was, but it almost smelled like fresh linen. Crisp and clean, just like her. She wore a button-up cardigan underneath her thick down jacket. And her dark jeans were loose. Instead of showing off her delicious curves, it seemed she was intent on hiding them.

  Not that it bothered him. He didn’t want anyone else looking at her anyway. Still, he’d give anything to put his scent all over her.

  “I wasn’t sure you’d come,” he said when she stood next to the booth.

  “I almost didn’t. ” Self-consciously she turned the bruised side of her face away.

  On instinct, he reached out and touched her chin, forcing her to look at him. “I’m sorry this happened to you. ” If he’d been there, the person who’d hurt her wouldn’t have gotten out of her house alive.

  She shrugged, but he didn’t miss the flare of fear in her eyes. At least she didn’t pull away and that surprised the hell out of him. “It could have been a whole lot worse if my brother hadn’t been there. He wasn’t even supposed to be there, but his washing machine died so he was at my place doing laundry. After dinner he ended up falling asleep
on the couch, watching television. I don’t know what I’d have done if …” She trailed off as a shudder overtook her.

  Unlike her brother, Liam would have ripped the guy’s head clean off his body, but he didn’t voice that out loud. No need to scare her before dinner.

  A surprisingly violent urge ripped through him as he thought about what could have happened to her. He’d been keeping those thoughts at bay all day so he wouldn’t go mad. As unwanted images flared in his mind, the lock he’d kept on his thoughts popped open. Immediately he wanted to kick himself for putting off those pheromones. When shifters exuded too much emotion they didn’t hide it well. The nearby humans might not understand exactly what was going on, but they’d be able to sense the shift in the air.

  “Are you okay?” December asked softly.

  “I should be asking you that. Do you want to sit?” He motioned to the booth.

  Hope bloomed inside him when she slid in and dropped her purse next to her. She shrugged out of her coat. “I don’t know why I’m here, but I wanted to see you. I feel like you did something to me. ”

  His eyebrows rose. “Did something?”

  “Put a spell on me or something,” she muttered as her cheeks flushed.

  He tried to hold back a bark of laughter, but failed. “That’s called chemistry, baby, but I’ll do anything you’d like me to. All you’ve got to do is ask. ”

  The stain on her ivory skin flushed deeper but at least she wasn’t running out the front door. Once the waitress took their drink orders, he relaxed against his seat. If she was ordering a drink, it meant she planned to stay.

  Liam just hoped he could carry on a decent conversation. He swallowed hard and focused on her bruise. “Did that bastard do anything else to you?”

  “Ah … no. And I’m sorry my brother dragged me out to your place earlier. I’d told him about what happened in the store with your brother—the guy who said he was your brother—and he jumped to conclusions. ”
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