Alpha instinct, p.4
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       Alpha Instinct, p.4

         Part #1 of Moon Shifter series by Katie Reus
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Page 4

  That’s when he scented it. Someone who didn’t belong. Definitely male. And he was close.

  Danger.

  Something deep and primal inside Connor flared to life. Protect Ana. The two words sounded in his head like a gong. He had to protect his mate. At this point semantics didn’t matter. She might not be mated to him, but his inner wolf would protect her at all costs.

  His canines started to lengthen but he willed himself not to shift forms. Not until he understood the situation.

  “Ana!” he called her name as he ran after her.

  She glanced over her shoulder at him but barely paused. Now he was thirty yards from her.

  Panic surged through him. What the hell was she doing? Didn’t she smell the threat? As he covered the distance between them he spotted a pair of glowing amber eyes in the forest. The animal hovered just inside the tree line to the east. It was far enough away that it couldn’t attack Ana, but he didn’t care.

  A feral growl tore from his throat. The sound was foreign even to him.

  Twenty yards and closing.

  “Damn it, Ana! Stop!”

  To his surprise she jerked to a halt. Because of his command? He wasn’t sure. As he came up to her, she didn’t turn to look at him.

  “What the hell are you doing, woman?” he barked.

  “Adalita,” she said softly, still not glancing at him.

  “What?”

  “There. ” She nodded to the west, right by the tree line, but didn’t make any sudden movements.

  A brown horse whinnied and kept trotting back and forth nervously. Connor had been so focused on Ana and the threat that he hadn’t noticed the other animal.

  “She’s my horse and she was locked up earlier,” Ana continued.

  The nervous, almost pained note in her voice told him a lot. She truly cared about this animal.

  “Stay here,” he murmured, and headed toward it.

  “No. ” She grasped his upper arm tightly. “She might run from you. ”

  “Trust me, okay?” He looked into her dark eyes. She opened her mouth once as if to argue but nodded.

  It was a small act but it touched him that she was putting her trust in him. “I saw a wolf to the east of us. It’s probably one of Taggart’s and I think it’s gone, but don’t go anywhere. ”

  Without waiting for a response he strode toward Ana’s horse. Keeping his movements steady but casual, he quickly breached the distance. Adalita pounded her hoof against the ground twice, as if ready to charge, but the closer he got, the calmer she became.

  Animals had an innate sense of survival. She knew he wouldn’t hurt her. By now she was obviously used to the scent of lupine shifters. Connor murmured soothing sounds until he stood directly in front of her. He reached out his palm and let her smell him. When she didn’t bolt, he gently petted her, then loosely grabbed her mane.

  Without bothering to get on her back he hurried the horse back toward Ana, who hadn’t moved.

  “Thank you. I—”

  “Ride her back to the barn. ”

  “What?”

  “I don’t know if Taggart or his wolves are still in the woods. Now ride. ” He could barely think straight, knowing danger lurked so close to them. To her.

  She wanted to argue. He could see it in the stubborn set of her jaw, but she did as he said. Part of him knew he needed to stop with the demands, but he didn’t want to waste time worrying about being polite when all he cared about was getting her to safety.

  As Ana rode back to the barn, he ran toward the fire. Flames still licked into the sky, but the extinguishers did their job. After what felt like an eternity they managed to douse the flames. Tonight could have gone a lot different if not for Ana’s preparedness.

  He couldn’t help but be impressed by how quickly she and all the women had acted. Even if he hadn’t been there the Cordona women would have had no problem taking care of the fire. Of course, it never should have happened in the first place.

  The dwindling smoke curled into the cold night air, wrapping around all of them. The chemical scent of accelerant was unmistakable. Whoever had set this hadn’t tried to cover it. Even a human could smell the kerosene permeating the air. He stiffened as Ana circled around her packmates, heading straight for him.

  His heart beat faster and he had to contain the lust flowing through him. He didn’t want to scare her even more.

  She stopped a foot away from him. Her dark eyes were expressionless. “I’ll do it. ”

  “What?” He frowned, unsure what she referred to.

  “I’ll mate with you on a temporary basis. If it’ll save my pack I’ll do almost anything. I just can’t agree to be your bondmate. I’m sorry, Connor. We haven’t seen each other in decades, and I—” She shook her head and her voice broke on the last word. Her normally silvery voice was distant, remote, and it clawed at his insides.

  Not exactly what he’d wanted to hear. And it was his own damn fault. He should have romanced her, courted her, like she deserved. Taken things slow. Told her how he really felt about her and why he’d left all those years ago. Instead he’d barged in like a jackass and made demands. After what had happened she’d probably agree to mate with just about anyone who wasn’t Taggart, to save her pack. Shame burned through him like swift, hot lava at the way he’d pushed her into that proverbial corner, but he couldn’t take back what he’d said. Demanded. If he was honest with himself, he didn’t know that he wanted to. Part of him—a very selfish part—knew that if he pushed her now he could probably get her to agree to be his bondmate. But the human part that deeply cared for her won out and he kept his mouth shut.

  Despite his better judgment, he slipped an arm around her shoulder and pulled her close. She didn’t look at him, but kept her face against his chest. She felt so fragile in his embrace. It killed him to think she’d been by herself the past couple months, taking care of her pack without any help. And he couldn’t understand why she hadn’t contacted him. He buried his face in her hair and inhaled her fresh scent. This close to her, it overpowered the smoke.

  “Ana, are you sure? I …” I’ll protect you anyway. The words were on the tip of his tongue. He shouldn’t have made those demands, but he couldn’t squeeze out the words. He was a selfish bastard. He’d wanted her for so long, the need nearly smothered him sometimes. Instead, he wrapped his other arm around her and pulled her into a tight hug.

  She stiffened for an instant before slipping her arms around his waist and returning his embrace. That small gesture of surrender turned him inside out. Her fingers dug into his back with surprising intensity, and he wondered how long it had been since she’d let someone hold her. The mere thought of someone else comforting her sent another dagger through his chest.

  After a long moment, she looked up at him. There was a flicker of something in her dark eyes that he didn’t recognize. Wasn’t sure he wanted to. Finally she spoke and her voice was soft. “I’m sure. I’ll be proud to call you my mate. ”

  Something foreign pushed up inside him. He was a mongrel who’d been roaming the globe since his parents died more than a century ago. After his father had shamed their family by not protecting what was his, he and Liam had been thrust out into the world on their own and with nothing. She shouldn’t be proud, especially when she deserved better. Hell, she was probably saying what she thought he wanted to hear. Swallowing hard, he reluctantly released her. “I’ll make the announcement in the morning. Have your she-wolves meet in the barn at seven. ”

  She dipped her head in acknowledgment and stepped out of his embrace. As he looked around the quiet circle of wolves, he realized kerosene and smoke weren’t the only things he smelled. Desire and hunger rolled off most of his pack.

  As long as it wasn’t directed at Ana, he didn’t care. He might be their Alpha, but they’d all agreed to come here after a vote. His guys had all been loners for decades until he and his brothe
r had convinced each of them to form a new pack. A stronger pack. Settling here and taking mates was the best thing for all of them if they wanted to flourish.

  Teresa, Ana’s cousin, stretched out on Ana’s bed and put her hands behind her head. “You think Carmen and Noel can hear us?”

  Ana rolled her eyes as she pictured her two sisters as she’d left them, drinking wine and munching on salty popcorn. “No. They’re downstairs, watching one of those stupid reality shows. ”

  Her cousin grinned. “They’re worse than my sisters—but that’s not what you want to talk about. Since you and I both know we could have handled that fire on our own, I can’t believe you actually agreed to mate with Connor Armstrong. ”

  Ana scowled at her as she paced at the end of the bed. “This isn’t about the damn fire and you know it. Things have been escalating, so what choice do I have?”

  “We could contact the Council and tell them about Taggart’s harassment. ” There was no fire behind Teresa’s words and Ana knew why.

  “Great idea. And then what? They’ll send an investigator down here and likely find him guilty. I’m sure there’s at least one female in his pack willing to testify against him, in addition to me. ”

  Teresa raised both her eyebrows. “Those females are so weak and brainwashed, I doubt it. ”

  “Whatever. Speaking hypothetically, say he’s punished—and probably executed. You know what will happen after that. The enforcer will clean up his mess, but instead of being free we’re the ones who will get the shaft. Not right away, but eventually it will happen unless one of us mates with an Alpha. ” Some days she hated pack law so much she wanted to run screaming to the humans to intervene, but she knew that would cause more trouble. Humans didn’t understand anything about their laws and would just make everything worse.

  And the Council wouldn’t allow her to remain in control indefinitely if she came running to them with every little problem. Even if Taggart was out of the way, she knew another pack would come sniffing around, wanting to take their land under the guise of protection. Most Alphas would take no for an answer and leave her alone. But all it would take was one land-hungry Alpha challenging her for control of the Cordona pack, and there would be no one to stand up for her family. She could appeal to the Council if they didn’t want to assimilate with that pack, but they’d have to make a choice on who they wanted as their leader. Or they could just sell their land. Without valuable property, neither she nor her pack would be of any interest to other packs. Absolutely archaic and total bullshit, but that was just the way it was. And while she hated some of the laws, she loved the others. Having the protection of a strong pack meant sleeping soundly at night and not worrying about survival. Their rules dated back thousands of years and though one day they might change, it wouldn’t be now. Hell, their own North American Council had been around only forty years, and that semi-unification was a pretty big, civilized step for their kind. They’d been created to keep communication open between packs and to protect packs in positions such as hers. Without them she’d have had no one to turn to in this kind of situation.

 
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