Alpha instinct, p.6
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       Alpha Instinct, p.6
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         Part #1 of Moon Shifter series by Katie Reus
Page 6

 

  Now that the offer to mate was on the table, it felt like more of a business arrangement. Who was she kidding?

  It was.

  He might have been gentle in his embrace last night, but he’d left her before. He could do it again. Lord knew her pack needed the protection now, but that didn’t mean she’d fully submit to him. Ana was positively resolute to keep this temporary. He’d already stomped on her heart once, and she wasn’t a masochist. If she could figure out another way to keep her pack together on this land, she’d do it.

  Still, the thought of him taking her under the full moon and sinking his canines into her neck, marking her and bonding them together for life, was strangely erotic. The image of their two bodies intertwined flashed in her mind and her face flushed. Obviously it had been too long since she’d had sex. It was the only explanation for her fantasies.

  From a logical standpoint she understood why he wanted to mate. She had land, a strong line and a highly probable chance of producing equally strong offspring. It all sounded so awful when she thought about it in those terms but that’s the way it was sometimes. To shifters, propagation of their kind was more important than love. Even thinking about their agreement made her want to cry.

  Ana took a sip of her coffee and set it back down on the kitchen table. Her two sisters, Noel and Carmen, and her favorite cousin, Teresa, sat around the table with her. Erin was upstairs taking a shower. Ana needed to discuss some things with her pack and didn’t want the other she-wolf to hear. Not that she didn’t trust her; she just didn’t know her.

  “We don’t need any protectors,” Noel, the youngest, grumbled in response to what Ana had just laid out for them. In human years her sister was sixty, but looked about twenty-two. She acted like it half the time, too. Having grown up on various ranches along the East Coast, surrounded mainly by other lupine shifters for most of her life, she had little knowledge of the outside world.

  Their father had always protected the pack and looked out for them. Just because they’d always known that high level of safety and security didn’t mean things would always be that way. Ana had to be a realist when it came to her pack’s well-being. And staying together on land her father had worked hard to buy was important for all of them.

  “Yes, we do. That fire is only the icing on the cake. I’ve been trying to keep you guys in the dark about the other things happening around here, but now I realize that was a mistake. ” Cattle deaths, horse deaths. And someone had cut a few of their fences, allowing their best cattle to escape. The fire was an escalation, and she knew it wouldn’t be long until Taggart’s pack did something else. Something worse. She wouldn’t let her packmates get hurt because she’d been too proud to unite with Connor. She’d seen the way Taggart treated his own females, and after his attempted assault on her, she doubted he’d be kind to her sisters if he trapped one. Even the thought of one of her sisters at his mercy made her see red. “We might be alphas”—she gestured to the four of them at the table—“but none of us are Alphas and certainly not of the warrior class. ”

  All true Alphas were also warriors, though warriors weren’t always Alphas. They were just damn good fighters. Warrior shifters were so different from the rest of the population. Bigger in human and shifted form, they seemed to be born with slightly different DNA, even from their shifter counterparts. They embraced their animal side a lot more than their human one. It’s what made them the protectors of the rest of their kind. Ana might hate it and crave complete independence from outsiders, but she wasn’t an idiot. She wasn’t an Alpha or a warrior, and if it came down to it, it was better to embrace someone like Connor as pack Alpha than an unknown.

  Teresa grabbed her hand under the table and squeezed it. “Your sister is right. It’s better she takes a mate now of her choosing than us lose our land to some asshole who challenges her for dominance. Do you really want a crappy Alpha? Someone like Taggart?” She practically spat the last word.

  The effect was perfect. A shiver of fear rolled off her younger sisters, so maybe they weren’t as blind to the things going on at the ranch as Ana had originally thought.

  Carmen finally spoke up. “What about the day-to-day stuff? Are those goons going to come in and take over everything?”

  “First of all, they’re not goons. They’re going to be your packmates soon, so you better get used to it. And second, we could use the help. Now we’ll have someone to patrol and keep better security on a regular basis. Do you want to lose another horse? Or more cattle? What if Taggart decides to burn down our homes next time? Or assault one of the betas?” Betas depended on alphas and warriors and, most important, their Alpha, to protect them. They weren’t emotionally or intellectually any weaker, just physically. In their wolf form they were as small as regular wolves and had about the same strength. When it came down to brute strength, they were no match for the rest of the shifter population.

  “What about our bank accounts? Or our homes? Or even ourselves? What if they try to force us into a mating?” Noel demanded.

  “Your money is yours, our homes are ours and no one will be forced into a mating. Do you actually think I would allow something like that? Or that the Council would?” Ana’s voice was heated. Connor had given her his word on that and if he tried to go back on it, Alpha or not, she’d kick him off their land and end their arrangement.

  “I’ve heard rumors of it happening before,” Carmen muttered, in an attempt to back up Noel’s ridiculous question.

  “Yeah, from pack Alphas with archaic ideals like Taggart. You both know that’s not the norm and that our neighboring pack has no one but themselves to blame for not reporting their Alpha’s misdeeds. If Connor tried to implement something like that—and I know he won’t—we’d report him to the Council and take our chances with finding a new pack. ”

  “I guess some of Connor’s packmates are pretty cute,” Noel murmured, and Carmen’s cheeks tinged pink in silent agreement.

  Ana smothered a smile. At least her sisters had noticed the new wolves. It would make her life a lot easier if they were on board with the union. Since Teresa was supportive, her cousin’s three younger sisters would be too. And Ana had already spoken to Isabel, one of her other cousins. The oldest of her four sisters, Isabel would have no problem convincing them this was the best thing. She and her sisters were all betas anyway. Whatever Ana decided, they’d go along without argument. They might not like it at first, but betas went along with pack decision because they trusted their leaders to look out for them.

  She glanced at the wall clock, even though she already had a good idea what time it was, and tried to quell the nerves fluttering in her stomach. “It’s time, ladies. ”

  Silently, they all placed their mugs in the sink. In the foyer, they slipped into their coats and gloves. While they were getting ready, Erin appeared at the top of the stairs. She paused and a wave of fear rolled off her. Most shifters learned to mask their emotions as cubs, but it was obvious life hadn’t been kind to this one. Ana doubted she was afraid to go to the meeting, but she was probably fearful of being treated like an outsider.

  Carmen had the softest heart of anyone Ana had ever met. Before anyone else reacted, her sister hurried up the stairs and linked arms with Erin. “You stick with me today, okay? I’ll show you the ropes. ”

  The redhead nodded gratefully, and a burst of relief coursed through Ana. She needed everyone to get along. At least in the beginning. She knew there would be typical spats among the pack, and a new female always added a strain to the mix, but if this was going to work, their union had to start strong. That was the only way it would weather any future problems.

  She’d barely been able to sleep last night knowing she’d be mated to Connor soon. Physically she wanted him. Even if she wanted to, she couldn’t deny that. The practical part of her had known something like this was coming. Not with him, of course. As an all-female pack, they’d eventually have t
o take on a new Alpha or assimilate with another group of males if they were to survive. Their world was a lot more black and white that way compared to that of humans. She’d always thought she’d fall in love first before choosing a mate. Like her parents.

  Love was always secondary to survival, though.

  Unfortunately her human side ruled her heart more than most. When her intended mate had died with the rest of the males of her pack, she’d mourned, but her heart didn’t feel a great loss. She felt guilty about not missing Alejandro as much as she missed her parents, but there had been no love between them. Just an understanding. They’d been intended mates, not true mates.

  Now it seemed she was going to be in another loveless union. In a way, it hurt that it would be with Connor, despite her attraction to him. At one time Connor had been her best friend, even though she’d wanted more. A lot more. She’d thought he did too, but he’d never offered for her. Never asked her father if he could join their pack. Never even kissed her. Instead he’d left without a word. Like she meant nothing to him. One day she’d gone to their secret meeting place, as usual, and he hadn’t shown up. For weeks afterward she’d continued to wait for him, until it was obvious he wasn’t coming back.

  He’d never made any promises to her, so maybe she shouldn’t have made any assumptions, but she’d always thought something more would happen between them. He and his brother had been passing through where her pack lived all those years ago, and instead of a brief stay, Connor and Liam had stayed with them for almost seven months. They’d helped around her father’s ranch and everyone had seemed to like them. And Connor had seemed happy. Then … he was gone.

  As she remembered the feelings of anger and hurt at his disappearance, her resolve to keep him at arm’s length strengthened. One way or another he was going to tell her why he’d left. She didn’t care if it was a petty demand. She deserved to know.

  “Have you seen Ana today?” Liam spoke low enough for only Connor to hear.
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