Alpha instinct, p.19
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       Alpha Instinct, p.19

         Part #1 of Moon Shifter series by Katie Reus
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Page 19


  Maybe he shouldn’t have walked away from her. He could have let her choose. She’d been so young then. So happy and deeply immersed in her pack. So very secure of her place in the world. He could have asked to mate with her, but if she’d said yes her father would have banished her.

  She could have chosen her family over him, though, and he wasn’t sure he could have lived with that. The not knowing was better. At least he had something to hold on to: the dream that she would have picked him. Hell, even if she’d chosen him, she’d have resented him in the end. Taking her away from everything she’d ever known. Her sisters, cousins, parents.

  He shook his head as he ascended the stairs. It was time for a shower. A cold one. He’d had a hard-on the entire ride back to the stables, thinking about her. He’d planned to take things to the next level tonight but he had a funny feeling he’d be sleeping in the doghouse instead.

  Of course, that was if she didn’t kick him out of her life entirely.

  Chapter 8

  “Press the cookie cutter like this, Vivian. ” Ana motioned with the rounded cutter and pressed it into the thick dough.

  The dark-haired girl used both hands to mimic Ana’s actions. “Like this?”

  “You got it. Think you can finish the rest of them?”

  She nodded, then ducked her head shyly and focused on her task.

  As Ana pulled the roast from the oven, Carmen strode into the kitchen. “You need any help?”

  She shook her head and motioned toward Vivian. “Help her with the polvorones. ”

  “Yum. ” Carmen’s eyes lit up as she sat at the kitchen table and started talking to Vivian. The girl mumbled a few words, but Carmen talked enough for three people and she seemed to understand Vivian’s quiet nature.

  Vivian had said only a few words. Ana guessed she was probably about ten years old in human and shifter years. She didn’t know much about feline shifters, but she was pretty sure they developed at the same pace as wolves. Vivian was a tiny thing, even for her age, but she seemed to be well-adjusted. A kitty cat living among a bunch of wolves. Ana grinned to herself at the thought. If she’d been that age she’d have likely been scared out of her mind. No, she knew she would have been. Especially without her sisters or family around.

  As her thoughts drifted, she frowned. She didn’t understand why Connor had kept the existence of the cubs from her. Maybe he’d fathered one of them and hadn’t wanted to tell her. Did he think she’d shun him because of something like that? If he did, then he didn’t know her at all. That stung almost as much as the blatant lie. He could argue that it was simply an omission, but to her it was a lie. And a big one.

  She heard the front door open and shut. No one bothered locking doors on the ranch during the day. Well, except bedroom doors. Front doors didn’t matter much. They scented each other coming long before anyone reached the front stoop. Sometimes she hated that ability. Like now, when she knew Connor was likely making his way through the house, toward the kitchen.

  Her fingers clenched around the bottle of wine she’d grabbed from the cupboard but she forced herself to relax. If he was lucky, she wouldn’t toss it at his head.

  “Something smells good. ” Connor’s deep voice enveloped her, but she refused to turn around.

  Carmen saved her. “Yeah, Ana’s been working all afternoon. Well, Ana and Vivian. I can’t believe you didn’t bring this adorable little cub around sooner. ”

  Connor cleared his throat. “Ah …”

  Carmen wasn’t through with him. “Why is that, Connor? She’s been such a big help around here already with these cookies. I don’t think Ana could have made them without her. And I’m pretty sure you are not going to get any tonight. ”

  Vivian giggled softly, so Ana pushed aside her fear and turned to face them. Like a total chicken, she averted her eyes toward the table. Away from where Connor hovered in the doorway.

  “I helped set the table,” Vivian said proudly as she slid from her seat and came to stand next to Ana. For the first time since she’d met her, the little she-cat beamed.

  “Yes, you did. You’re a much better helper than my sisters. ” She winked at Carmen. When Vivian grabbed Ana’s free hand, her heart squeezed. She hadn’t said anything but it was obvious her mother wasn’t around. Or worse. As someone who had just lost both her parents, some part of Ana wanted to do everything she could to protect this cub. “You want to help me by telling everyone upstairs that dinner is ready?”

  Vivian nodded but didn’t let go of her hand. Instead she looked up at her with big brown eyes that could melt snowcaps.

  “You want me to go with you?”

  She nodded again.

  Ana looked at Connor and shoved the wine bottle into his hand. “There are two more in the cupboard. Would you mind putting them on the table?” She kept her tone civil, bordering on saccharine sweet. Only because she knew it would bother him.

  At least he had the decency to look uncomfortable. “Of course. Do you want to talk before dinner?” His voice was low, but Vivian was inches away, practically attached to her.

  “About what?” She lifted a mocking eyebrow.

  “We’ll talk after dinner, then. ” His jaw clenched tightly, and a perverse part of her took immense pleasure in it.

  In response, she snorted loudly, which earned her a quiet giggle from Vivian. Talk after dinner, my ass. But what did he expect? He was the liar. Not her. And she wasn’t going to have this conversation in front of anyone else, especially not a cub.

  Still holding Vivian’s hand, she strode through the attached dining room, where two long, rectangular tables held more than two dozen chairs. Some of the men would be patrolling and she was pretty sure Liam was still in town, so there should be enough room. If not, they’d add more chairs.

  As they reached the top of the stairs, Vivian clenched her hand tightly. “Will you read me a story tonight?”

  Surprised, she looked down at the girl. “Sure. What kind of stories do you like?”

  “I have a lot of books but I like the one about the princess and the frog. My mommy used to read it to me. ”

  Used to. Those two words answered her earlier worries. Ana’s throat clenched, but she crouched down so that they were at eye level. “Where’s your mommy now?” It was extremely rare for a shifter to abandon their young, but it did happen on occasion.

  Vivian looked at a spot on the floor. “She’s part of the earth now. ”

  Ah, dead, then. “I’m sorry she’s not here. ”

  “Me too … You look a lot like her. ”

  That explained why Vivian had been so attached to her. Ana’s heart warmed even more. She didn’t care where this cub had come from or the fact that she was a feline. She’d do everything she could to make sure she fit in. Clearing her throat and fighting back the lump in it, she stood. “Come on. Let’s get everyone for dinner. ”

  Connor stabbed a piece of beef with his fork. Ana had been effectively ignoring him all through dinner. Not in an obvious manner. She was civil, sweet even, when he asked her a question, but she’d kept her attention on her sisters and Vivian all night.

  He doubted anyone else could sense the dissension, but he knew her well enough that she was just waiting to let loose on him. When some of the pack started to get up, he reached out and placed a hand over Ana’s. The movement was slight but she tried to pull back from him.

  He tightened his grip and turned her hand over.

  Her lips pulled into a tight smile but she didn’t struggle against his hold. “I need to help clean up. ”

  “The others will take care of it. You cooked. ” He kept his voice low but there was no denying the subtle order.

  “Yeah, we got it, Ana. Me and Carmen will bring out the cookies later. ” Vivian jumped down from her chair and balanced her plate in her hands as she headed for the kitchen.

  “What do you want?” Ana
asked quietly through gritted teeth.

  “To talk. ” He lightly stroked her wrist with his thumb.

  Her cheeks tinged pink at the gentle caress, but her eyes didn’t soften. Damn, I’m in trouble.

  “Fine. Back porch?”

  Nodding, he stood and pulled out her chair. With a straight back, she marched past him with her nose held high. The haughty angle of her chin made him bite back a groan. Even pissed off, she got him hotter than anyone else ever could.

  He walked outside first, and when he was sure they were alone he stepped back and let her onto the porch. She leaned against the wooden railing and crossed her arms over her chest.

  Connor gave her space and sat on one of the rocking chairs. “Vivian seems very taken with you. ”

  “And I’m very taken with her. She’s easy to love. ”

  “I should have told you about her. ”

  “Yes, you should have. You should have told me about her and Lucas. ” Her voice was tight and her eyes spit fire.

  He searched for the right words. “I’m sorry. ”

  “For what?”

  “For not telling you about the cubs. ”

  “You mean for lying to me?” Now there was no denying the heat in her voice.

  “I didn’t—”

  “Yes, you did! Don’t try to sugarcoat it. You lied to me. After everything I’ve agreed to, I don’t understand why you’d lie about something so stupid. So trivial! It makes me wonder what else you’ve been keeping from me. Are you the father of one of the cubs? Or both?”

  “No, I’m not. ”

  It was slight, but she let out a sigh of relief at his answer. She pushed off the railing and took an angry step toward him. “Then why? Explain yourself, or I swear I’ll back out of our arrangement right now and you can get the hell off my property. ”

  An icy fist clasped around his heart. Back out? He couldn’t—wouldn’t—let her. “Vivian is a jaguar. ” He said the only thing he could think of.

  “And?” She spread her hands in front of her questioningly.
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