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Love After 40

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

Chapter 1 - Hale

There is nothing weirder and more unsettling for someone my age than to be lying on a twin bed in their childhood bedroom. I haven’t been in this room in twenty-six years. Not since I moved out to be with Jennifer.

It’s like a time capsule here. Anything I didn’t take when I moved out was still exactly where I left it. Though I think it was cleaner than when I moved out.

Not a surprise my old room is still spotless. Mom never did like things to be untidy.

I furrowed my brow as I thought back to living here. Mom was always trying to keep things clean and in order. As I reflect on it, I don’t think it was because she needed it to be spotless, but because he did.

Shit, I’m a terrible son. How much abuse did I not notice growing up? How much did I turn a blind eye to?

If I had noticed back then, I could have done something. I still had Jason back then. I’d have been strong enough to take my father on with Jason.

I could have taken it to Alpha John, and maybe then mom would have been strong enough to reject him, to survive the choice to put herself first and leave a toxic mating.

And now, because of my inaction as a young man, I’m back in this room, in this house, all to be sure my mom doesn’t break down and hurt herself or try to get to my father while he serves penance for hitting her. I couldn’t stop him that night.

I could have reacted fast enough if I wasn’t some useless wolfless werewolf. Am I even truly a werewolf if I don’t have Jason?

All I know is I didn’t react fast enough, but little Suzie did. Well, she’s not little anymore as she is old enough to be my new daughter-in-law.

Then Austin handled the aftermath. He went through the proper channels and took the abuse to Alpha Logan. I don’t know if Alpha John would have handled my father as roughly as Alpha Logan did, but I know he wouldn’t have been kind.

Alpha John and his ranked wolves, including my late father-in-law, Beta Thomas, had strike policies regarding abuse. But Alpha John wasn’t as short-tempered as Alpha Logan.

Not that I’m saying it’s a bad thing. Alpha Logan is a damn fine Alpha, and I won’t find fault in him or Luna Aurelia for giving my father a proper beating.

My father has only ever recognized one thing in this world, power. So perhaps a display of Alpha Logan and Luna Aurelia’s strength is what he needs to get in line and change. Not that I’ll hold my breath.

“Hale?” Mom whispered my name and poked her head into the room, holding a tray.

“Mom? What are you doing? It’s late. Shouldn’t you be resting?” I frowned, sitting up.

“Oh well, I was worried about you. It’s been a long time since you slept at home. So I thought you might have trouble sleeping… so.” Mom meekly shrugged, offering a tray of warm milk and cookies.

I sighed. When I was little, mom would bring me warm milk and cookies. But I’m not a little kid anymore. I’m here for her, not the other way around.

“Mom… I appreciate it, but I’m here for you. You don’t need to fuss over me. If you can’t sleep, maybe you’re the one that needs the warm milk and cookies.” I reminded her.

“I’m your mother. No matter how old you get, you’ll always be my pup. I could never put myself over you.” She shook her head.

“I get it, mom. I appreciate it, but I’m worried about you.” I frowned, getting up and taking the tray from her.

“Why don’t I make you a cup of chamomile tea? I remember you drinking that most evenings.” I offered, putting an arm around her to steer her toward the kitchen.

“Well… I… if you insist.” She relented with a subtle flinch.

“Mom, you realize you don’t have to do anything you don’t want, right? I’m not him. I’m not Dad. If you don’t want tea, that’s okay.” I assured her.

Goddess, how deep does her fear of him go? How deep-rooted must it be if she’s even afraid to upset me or possibly anyone? It breaks my heart.

“I.. well, may some Irish coffee, heavy on the Irish, would be nice.”Well, maybe, She softly answered.

“You got it, mom. Coffee extra Irish.” I smiled, nodding as I directed her to the kitchen table.

As I was making her coffee, I froze as I added the whiskey. A long-forgotten memory comes to mind at the smell.

“Mom, you never drank Chamomile, did you? You would always drink this. This was how you coped with him. How you coped with his abuse.” I frowned, putting the bottle down.

She lowered her head to not look at me as I brought her the drink. That’s a silent yes. How did I miss that? How could I not remember it before now?

“Mom, I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up for you and didn’t stop him back then.” I apologized, sitting down.

“Oh Hale, you make it sound like being with your father is some horrible thing.” She sighed, almost dismissive of his actions.

“I love him, and he loves me. I know what you all saw last week was shocking, but he isn’t abusive. He was just upset.” Mom defended him.

“You’re lying, Mom. Lying to me and worse to yourself. The smell of the whiskey reminded me.” I shook my head,

“A long forgotten memory of being a kid. I found you on the kitchen floor, you had a red handprint on your face, and the bottle of whiskey was broken on the ground.” I frowned, recalling the memory.

“It was nothing, Hale. Your father doesn’t like liquor in the house.” Mom shook her head.

“Mom, please stop trying to cover for him. You would always talk away what he did and send me off with cookies and milk.” I sighed, shaking my head.

“I know it’s hard for you to understand, Hale. But all relationships are different. No matter what, I always know your father loves me at the end of the day.” She defended.

“And no matter how much you or Clemmy or even Alpha Logan tell me he’s a bad man, I love my mate and would never leave him or speak ill of him.” Mom shook her head as she sipped her Irish coffee.

I sighed, getting back up and kissing the top of her head, telling her goodnight. She’s right. Nothing I say is going to change her mind.

To her, this is just how their relationship is, and there is no changing it. All I can do is watch over her and do what I can to ensure my father never hits her again.

I spent two weeks with my mom, taking time off from work to be there with her. It worked out well, as she went into heat shortly after Austin and Suzie returned from visiting her brother. I didn’t want to be in the house when she was in heat.

I felt out of place enough living with them that I considered staying a little longer to watch my father, but Alpha Logan told me to go home. He assured me my father would be monitored closely in ways he would not detect.

Things around the house settled into a routine with the three of us. It was nice having a female in the house after so many years. But I’ll admit it made me miss Jen all that more.

I was in my office working on some reports for work and figuring out how this new staff member HR hired would fit into upcoming marketing projects when a knock caught my attention.

“Come in.” I called out, turning my attention to the door as my son and Suzie walked in.

I furrowed my brow as both looked a bit like a kid who thinks they got away with sneaking treats before dinner. What did they do? And then I noticed Suzie was holding my cell phone.

“Suzie? Why do you have my phone? I thought I had it charging here on my desk.” I questioned.

“You did.” Suzie shrugged.

“Dad, when you are focused on something, you don’t notice anything else.” Austin smirked.

“Well, may I have it back and explain why you would take it?” I sighed, holding my hand out.

“Of course, Hale. But well, don’t be angry at us, especially at Austin. This was all my idea.” Suzie sighed, hesitating about giving me my phone.

“Suzanne Bernice, give me my phone, or I will use the landline to call your mother.” I threatened.

“No need for that, Dad. Plus, if she told Edith why she took your phone, I bet money she’d be okay with it.” Austin chuckled.

“What did you two do?” I sighed as Suzie finally handed over my phone.

I was scrolling through my apps, looking for anything strange. Then I saw it. An Icon I don’t recognize.

“What is this?” I demanded as I hit the icon.

My eyebrows raised as a dating app, a Goddess damned DATING APP, loaded. They installed a dating app on my phone!?

“It’s called Kindred Spirits. It’s a dating app. But it’s not like most dating apps meant for hookups.” Austin shrugged.

“I should hope the hell not. Why would you install this? I may not have my wolf anymore, but I am not the sort to sleep around even wolfless.” I frowned at the app.

“I’m not judging anyone who does. I’m just not that kind of man. And I’m going to be forty-six this year. I’m too old for dating.” I sighed.

“I wouldn’t even know how to date. The only person I’ve ever been involved with was your mother. I don’t think it needs to change.” I shook my head.

“But that’s the thing, Hale. You’re miserable. We know it. We can see it. We know seeing us makes you miss Jennifer. And while I never met her, I can’t imagine her wanting you to spend the rest of your life sad and alone.” Suzie frowned.

“Give it a chance, Dad. Suzanne is right. I know mom wouldn’t want you miserable and alone like this. She’d want you to be happy.” Austin folded his arms.

I know they are right. At least about Jennifer. She was such a vibrant, passionate woman who always smiled and tried to make me smile. Not that it took much. Just looking at her made me smile.

“And this app is well reviewed. You match based on common interests, and no photos are revealed until the third day of communication. So you won’t get women swiping right simply because you’re handsome.” Suzie explained.

I rolled my eyes cause she was only saying that to A. butter me up and B. because Austin is a younger version of me. I want to tell them, no, but I can tell they are doing this for my benefit.

“Fine, I’ll try it. I make no promises. After all, no one can ever compare once you’ve met your soulmate.” I conceded to their grins.

“Thank you, Hale. We know no one can or would replace Jennifer. But the capacity for love is infinite. Good luck. You already have like twenty matches.” Suzie grinned.

“Have fun, Dad. We’ll be out of your hair for a few hours. Heading to the movies.” Austin waved, wrapping an arm around his mate as they left me to look at this app.

I scrolled through the profiles of the twenty women I was matched with. I wasn’t even sure where to begin. I stopped on a profile called EMomma. A single mother of two noted as new to Portland, nature lover, career-oriented, and creative.

Well, at least we could share parenting stories. I won’t hold my breath that this would lead to anything.

‘Hello, EMomma? I have no idea what I’m doing on this app. So pardon the awkward greeting.’ I frowned at the message but hit send anyway.

Chapter 2 - Erin

As fed up with life in Massachusetts and mostly how people treated my kids, I wouldn’t have dared to dream of getting a job that would give me the freedom to move and pay me to do it. Yet here I am on the other side of the country while movers unload the truck.

I still can’t believe this is all real. I’d had so many phone and zoom meetings recently as I looked for a new job, but nothing seemed to stick. Then I got an interview with Kinsley Industrial for a marketing job.

I was supposed to have three interviews, but the third interview was canceled as the Marketing Director would be on leave for two weeks. Since they hired me, Mr. Shelton must trust Mrs. LaRose from HR and Mr. Andrews, the marketing manager.

Kinsley is already the best company I’ve worked for, and I haven’t even been in the office yet. They covered all the moving expenses and set us up in this lovely three-bedroom duplex.

All I had to do was pack and then deal with surviving a cross-country drive with my kids. And while I love my kids, being stuck in a car with them for the three thousand-plus mile trek.

It gave a new meaning to that old game Oregon Trail. Sure no one died or got sick. Unless you count Sage throwing up their strawberry milkshake, delaying us by a couple of hours as I had to clean the car and get a hotel for Sage to clean up. I think my car still has a lingering smell. I need to get it deep cleaned and use a LOT of air freshener.

I wanted to keep an eye on the movers, but I also knew I shouldn’t take my eyes off my kids. Hearing a scream from one of them, I realized exactly why I shouldn’t leave them unsupervised.

I ran around to the back of the house to ensure they hadn’t gotten themselves hurt or in trouble. I sighed in relief as I saw them climbing the giant oak tree. River was already halfway up the tree. Sage was on their ass in the snow at the tree’s base.

“Give me a heart attack, why don’t you? Why are you screaming?” I held my chest, letting out a breath of relief.

They have a knack for doing things like this. I can still remember when they were younger and playing in the woods with some other kids. Sage came running, crying and screaming that something was after them and had River and the others.

It had me so worked up I called the cops, only to find out it was a prank from some of the kids. I didn’t find it funny, nor did the cops or the other parents.

“Why else? I fell on my ass.” Sage rolled their eyes, standing and wiping snow off their pants.

“I suppose that does make sense. But can you both save the death-defying antics for after we’ve settled in and I’ve gotten more than four hours of sleep?” I bartered.

“Maybe!” River shouted from the tree top.

“River! Get down here, now! I want you both to make sure everything is in your rooms and start unpacking!” I instructed.

“Ugh… fine.” They groaned in unison.

I stood watching River climb down. My heart would stop for a moment each time they slipped on a snowy branch. It felt like I didn’t breathe until they were on solid ground.

It is a miracle I don’t have a head of all gray hair with how often these two do something dangerous. Climbing a snow-covered tree is subdued for them. I don’t think anything will top when they tried to make some ballistic gel to test the effects of their popsicle shivs. That was fun to explain when the case worker showed up for a surprise visit.

I followed them through the back door into the house. With what I guess was their warrior cry, they ran to the front of the place where their bedrooms were. The movers raised eyebrows as they got out of their ways. I gave them apologetic smiles while returning to ensure all the furniture was how I wanted it and boxes were in the correct rooms.

I was given a week to settle in before I was expected to go into the office. Which sounds like plenty of time, right? But it wasn’t just unpacking I had to do. I needed to ensure my kids were set up with all the necessary assistance and that there would be somewhere for them to go during winter break from school while I went to the office.

My first day in the office was a whirlwind of introductions and starting my onboarding training to learn their computer system and what would be expected of me. The programs available here were head and shoulders above what we had back home. So while I tried to process everything, I was at least assured my kids were okay.

I still haven’t formally met Mr. Shelton a month into working for Kinsley. I’ve only seen him in passing, and as the horrible person I am, I stare any time I see him pass through my department to talk to Mr. Andrews.

What? He’s a very handsome man. If I’m attracted to him, I know he’s the wrong kind of man. Sure on the outside, he seems to be this put-together nice guy. But I seem to always fall for the wrong type, so something dark must be lurking under that nice guy exterior. Just another reason beyond him being my boss not to consider him.

I heard giggling in the living room while making dinner after a long day at the office. My kids’ giggling can be sweet, or it could be something to be terrified about. Turning the stove to a simmer, I walked around the breakfast bar separating the kitchen from the living room.

I could see River’s spring green hair; if Sage weren’t wearing their white werewolf headdress, I’d have seen their amethyst hair. As I crept closer, I could hear them whispering.

“No, mom doesn’t like that. We should choose this.” River groaned.

Oh, now I’m curious. What are these two devious children doing, and what does it have to do with me? I moved closer to see what they were doing. My eyes widened when I saw them holding MY phone and filling out a questionnaire.

“What are you doing?” I demanded.

They nearly fell off the sofa, startled by my sudden appearance over their shoulders. They turned to give me the most innocent faces they could muster. I wasn’t buying it.

“We’re just daddy shopping.” River smirked.

It took a moment for their words to sink in. But I didn’t know how I felt about it once they had.

“Da…daddy shopping? What is this nonsense? What are you filling out? And why are you suddenly interested in having a dad?” I questioned.

“It’s a dating app, duh.” River rolled their eyes, still filling out the questionnaire.

“We thought you might have better luck with men since we are in a new place. So we signed you up for Kindred Spirits. Sounds like the place you’d meet a good match.” Sage smiled.

“And this is more about you than us. We’re cool without a dad. We have you. But we are growing up, and you need companionship plus, how long has it been since you got laid? Since we were born?” River added.

I was stunned by this whole situation. I wanted to be angry, but it was so sweet of them. They were thinking of me, and I can’t be mad about that.

“Fine. Any good-looking ones?” I sighed while taking the phone from River.

“Don’t know. That’s not how it works. You have three days of interaction with a match before you unlock their pic.” Sage explained.

“Well, that’s nonsense.” I frowned.

“Not if you think about it. This way, you match on common interests and no physical judgments.” River pointed out.

“And look, you already have a ton of matches.” They smirked, pointing to the match counter that was going up.

I blinked as it finally stopped at forty. How the hell do I have forty matches? Now I’m worried about what they put into that questionnaire.

I wrinkled my nose as the messenger box started blowing up. Hesitantly I opened the first one, wrinkling my nose at the lame greeting that included a proposition of sex. I guess it’s a good thing this app doesn’t let you send pics till three days of interaction, or I bet these guys would be bombarding me dick pics.

“Oh god, this is just as gross as any other app.” I rolled my eyes, deleting and blocking every gross communication. “The only benefit is they can’t send me dick pics. These messages are lame and looking for a hook up with a MILF.” I frowned.

“You’ve gotta sort through the dicks to find the right dick.” River shrugged, struggling to keep a straight face while Sage had fallen over with laughter, the wolf headdress falling off their head.

It was annoying to have it buzzing the whole time. I finally got fed up and turned it off. After dinner, I turned it back on and sorted through the messages again. I knew I’d only find the wrong kind of men, even on an app. But one message wasn’t some cheesy pick-up line looking for a hookup.

MountHD: Hello, EMomma? I have no idea what I’m doing on this app. So pardon the awkward greeting.

MountHD? I guess I can’t judge. My kids made my username EMomma. At least his message came off as endearing. He’s unaccustomed to online dating and using dating apps.

EMomma: Hello, MountHD.

EMomma: It’s okay. I’m not sure why I’m on this either.

EMomma: My kids created the account. They think this is how to go ‘daddy’ shopping. *eye roll emoji*

EMomma: Oh crap, I shouldn’t have said that last part. Please ignore it.

I cringed as I realized the implications of what I had just told him.

EMomma: I am not looking for a father figure for my kids. Nor am I looking for a sugar daddy or something weird like that.

I frowned, hoping maybe I’m not coming off as weird as I know I sound. Because, of course, I managed to come off as super cringe to the one guy who didn’t start with a line or proposition.

I furrowed my brow, watching the three dots on the chat, indicating he was typing. A knot forming in my stomach as I probably just became one of the creepy women he’s had to deal with on this app.

Chapter 3 - Hale

After sending that initial message to EMomma, I’d put my phone aside. I finished work while my phone buzzed with new notifications for this Kindred Spirits app. It was getting annoying.

It’s one of the rare moments I can be relieved I don’t have Jason. He never liked the notification sounds from my cell or my computer. He called it nails on a chalkboard and would say he’d rather have someone blowing a dog whistle in his ear. He’d have crushed the phone after the second notification.

I know Jason. If I still had Jason, he would be against this dating idea. He’d probably have growled and snarled at Austin and Suzanne for signing me up. He would have seen this as an insult to Jennifer and our undying love.

And while I don’t entirely disagree with that line of thinking, I also know Jen wouldn’t have wanted me to spend my life alone and waiting for the time I could finally join her. She’d have called it morbid.

If I’m going, to be honest, I considered it several times in the first couple of years after her death. I tried to kill myself, wanting to be with her. But then I’d look at one of her photos with Austin and knew I couldn’t. I knew I couldn’t leave Austin. She’d not want our son to become an orphan.

So I’ve stuck it out. And now Austin has a mate, but I can’t leave him yet. He may not need me the same as he did as a boy, but there are still milestones I can’t miss, for my sake and Jennifer's. I have to be here to tell our grandchildren about her.

I need to stop thinking about her. Austin and Suzie signed me up on this app to help me move forward, possibly seeing there is still a chance for love even if the Goddess does not design it.

“Goddess, guide me. You too, Jen. Cause this…” I frowned, opening the app to find numerous messages. “Is terrifying and new territory.”

I cringed as I started going through the messages. I always knew the internet was a deranged place. And I am counting my blessings that this app doesn’t allow sharing of images until the third day of interactions.

These human women are bold with their messages. And all the innuendos about my screen name. MountHD? Why do they have to take a shorthand of where I live, Mount Hood, and turn it into a sexual thing? I’m not looking to get mounted.

I shuddered as I deleted yet another message suggesting a meet-up for some ‘nookie’ in the woods. Do people still say nookie? I thought that died forever ago. Did it make a resurgence, or is the woman just showing her age? I don’t know or care either. I am not on this app to get laid.

I thought to delete this and apologize to Austin and Suzie later. I’m sure they would understand that I do not want to be on an app where I’ll be bombarded with messages like these. And if they don’t understand too bad, it is, after all, my life.

I thought I’d deleted and blocked all the cringe-worthy messages, but my phone buzzed FIVE times. Groaning, I opened the app, fearful of five new messages. To my relief, it wasn’t five messages from different women, but one.

It was EMomma responding to my message. Not sure why she responded five times. Perhaps she hit the send key too many times by mistake? I furrowed my brow as I realized the messages were different, so not an error, and each one got a little further off the rails.

And while her kids signing her up for the app to go ‘Daddy Shopping’ sounds weird, it means she’s in the same boat as me of having the account created for her. And her trying to explain what she said was awkward and adorable. I just wasn’t sure how to respond.

MountHD: It’s okay. I get it. I’m in the same boat. Well, regarding how I got on this app. My son and his fiancée signed me up.

EMomma: Phew, well, I’m glad I didn’t manage to scare you off with my rambling. At least I’m not the only single parent here whose kids are meddling in their non-existent love life.

MountHD: So it seems. Though I wish I’d gotten a warning. It’s challenging to be thrown to the sharks.

MountHD: Not saying you’re a shark. It’s just dating apps, and the like isn’t something I’m used to. And people here are rather forward.

EMomma: Yeah, I don’t think of myself as a shark. You’re the first guy I’ve connected with that didn’t start with a pickup line and/or sex proposition. So I understand completely.

MountHD: *cringe emoji*

MountHD: On behalf of the male population that doesn’t do that, my sincerest apologies.

EMomma: lol, and on behalf of the female population, my apologies.

EMomma: Based on the minimal profile, I saw you’re a single father, have lived in Oregon your whole life, and enjoy nature. So guess time for twenty questions.

EMomma: Have you ever wanted to live somewhere else?

EMomma: How old are you? You said your son is engaged, but that doesn’t narrow it down.

EMomma: What do you do for a living?

EMomma: Favorite place in the area to go on a nature hike? I ask since I just moved and want to know where the good sites are.

EMomma: And it might be bold, but how are you a single father? You don’t have to go into detail if you don’t want to. It’s just not often the dad is the one raising the kid.

I sucked in a sharp breath at her last question. The others are so much easier to answer. She certainly doesn’t waste time—one thing at a time, Hale. Just tackle one question at a time. I knew people would ask eventually.

MountHD: Well, that was some rapid-fire questions. I’ll answer one at a time then.

EMomma: Sorry to bombard you. Online dating is strange, and I’d prefer to learn some basics to decide if I should keep talking to you.

EMomma: Sorry if that came out mean.

MountHD: No worries. I’ve never done online dating.

MountHD: I don’t know. I’ve never really considered living somewhere else. This is where my family and friends are. I have heard excellent things about Sicily, and maybe someday I’ll visit as my future daughter-in-law’s brother moved there.

EMomma: Oh, Italy does sound nice. I love Italian food. :)

MountHD: They do have good cuisine.

MountHD: Where are you from? Your profile said you recently moved. Is Oregon where you wanted to be, or is there a dream location to live?

EMomma: I’ve lived in a few places but moved here from Massachusetts. I moved here for a new job. It’s nice so far, the work and Oregon. As for my dream place to live, it’s less of a set location but more of somewhere that meets my requirements.

MountHD: And what are your requirements for the perfect place to live?

EMomma: I would want to be somewhere with a great arts community, plenty of nature to get out and enjoy, and a must-have is a community that is LGBTQ+ supportive and accepting.

MountHD: Well, we have plenty of all that here. My company does a lot of events year-round in support of the LGBTQ+, and many events happen around Portland and other cities during June.

EMomma: It’s a significant factor in why I took this job. That’s cool about your company. Mine does that too, and my kids can’t wait to participate in all the events.

MountHD: I don’t want to be rude, but where under the umbrella of the LGBTQ+ do your kids fall?

EMomma: It’s not rude. They are both non-binary. One is pansexual, and the other is demi-sexual. Is that going to be an issue for you? I mean, if this goes anywhere?

MountHD: Not a problem at all. My hometown is very open and accepting of everyone, no matter their differences. A bigot may have raised me, but I didn’t turn out to be one.

EMomma: Okay, good. Because that’s a deal breaker for me, my kids always come first.

MountHD: On the same page. While my son is an adult, I don’t think I could get involved with anyone who wouldn’t accept him.

MountHD: Now, back to your questions. What was next? Right age. I’m 45. I’ll be 46 in May. I would ask you, but my mother said you don’t ask a lady their age.

EMomma: I don’t mind. We’re the same age, though my birthday is in October.

MountHD: Then I don’t have to worry about a generation gap. Some messages I received had slang and shorthand that I think I’m too old to have received the translator for, lol.

EMomma: LOL. I’ve stayed up to date on it all, but my kids are fifteen, so I need to know these things.

MountHD: That makes sense. My son is 24 going on 25, so I never learned it all *shrug*

MountHD: Let’s see next question. I’m a Marketing Director. You said you moved for a job. What do you do?

EMomma: We’re in the same field! I got hired as a social media marketing administrator. So it looks like we have more than just nature and being single parents in common :)

MountHD: So it appears. Let’s see hiking recommendations.

Of course, most of my preferred areas I can’t recommend to her. I can’t tell a human about the trails around the pack. That would put everyone in danger, especially her. So I had to search my brain for hiking areas I’ve enjoyed outside the pack.

MountHD: Well, if you are closer to Portland and can handle a five-mile hike, I would say the Macleay Trail. It runs from Lower Macleay Park to Pittock Mansion. And there is a detour from that trail to the Portland Audubon Society, a wildlife rehabilitation center.

EMomma: Oh, that sounds cool. I’ll have to take my kids and check it out. Thanks.

Now came the dreaded question. I mean, I have to say something, right? I can’t and don’t want to pretend like Jennifer didn’t exist or that she abandoned me with Austin.

MountHD: As for your last question. Well, that’s a harder one to discuss. But I suppose the most straightforward answer is that I’m a widower.

There, I said it. It’s out there. And now I hold my breath to see how EMomma reacts.

Chapter 4 - Erin

Okay, this guy doesn’t give me red flags and warning sirens so far. You know the stuff I’ve ignored in all my past relationships. But I won’t get ahead of myself. If we matched, there has to be something wrong with him.

So far, he’s checking all the right boxes. He’s financially stable, my age, knows what it’s like to raise a kid solo, and is not only understanding but open-minded. Plus, he’s adorable with his answers. I won’t get my hopes up. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop.

And there it is in his last message. So maybe him saying he’s a widower isn’t show dropping, run for the hills info. I need to approach this delicately. I don’t want to be rude or intrusive as this is our first interaction.

I want to know if it was recent and if he’s still hung up on his wife. I probably shouldn’t keep talking to him if he's still focused on his wife. If he’s still mourning for her, I don’t want to be that rebound, plus I don’t want to invest in a man who won’t invest in me.

It took me a few moments to decide how to approach this. Again discussing a deceased spouse or lover is a delicate conversation. And even if this means he should probably delete the app, or maybe we only talk as friends, I don’t want to put my foot in my mouth. I’m new to the area, so having a friend wouldn’t be the worst.

EMomma: I’m sorry for your loss.

EMomma: I don’t want to sound rude, and of course, you don’t have to answer. How long ago did your wife pass?

I held my breath as I watched the flashing dots indicating his typing. I can’t imagine how hard this probably is for him, especially if it was recently. But if it was recently, would his son have signed him up? I doubt a child would encourage a parent to move on from the death of their other parent too quickly.

MountHD: It’s been… eighteen going on nineteen years.

Wow! Okay, so that might be a good thing. It’s been nearly two decades, so he should have processed his grief, and maybe his son is trying to give him this nudge to get back into dating. Better than him saying it was last year or something. Now I’m wondering whether he hasn’t dated or just hasn’t dated online.

EMomma: I see. I’m sorry if I’m coming off weird. I don’t know what to say in this situation.

MountHD: It’s okay. No one does. I don’t even know what to say. Cause I don’t want to sit here and go on some long tangent talking about her. Because even if I’ve not done the dating scene stuff, I at least know talking at length and especially fondly of a previous relationship is how you have someone stop talking to you.

EMomma: Yeah, that’s probably true.

EMomma: But if you want to talk about her, you can. I won’t get offended. She was your wife, and even if it’s been a long time since she passed away, she was an essential part of your life.

MountHD: I probably shouldn’t. I doubt your kids signed you up on this app to listen to some random widower talk at length about his wife. I also know my son and daughter-in-law wouldn’t want me to focus on what I’ve lost when they try to get me to date.

EMomma: lol, fair. Just know you can if you want to. If this goes anywhere, discussing exes is an important step.

MountHD: exes would imply I’ve been with anyone but her.

EMomma: So your wife was your only relationship? No one before or after her?

MountHD: No. We met in high school and were married as soon as we were both old. And after her, I couldn’t bring myself even to consider it.

MountHD: I’m on here because my son urged me, and if he even thinks it’s time, maybe I should try. And now I’m here talking to you.

EMomma: :) Well, I’m glad we’re talking. I admire you; you knew she was the one, and while tragically she passed away young, you got to know that kind of real love.

MountHD: Um, thanks? I’m not sure how to take that. But thanks. However, you make it sound like you haven’t known that kind of love. What about your children’s father?

I wrinkled my nose as he mentioned my ex. Dane Blackburn is hands down the worst of every man I had ever been with. And it was just my luck that’s the one a condom breaks with.

EMomma: I attract the wrong kind of guys. I always ignored the toxic assholes with lots of red flags because they had the bad boy look, and I had some foolish notion they could be good inside, or I could change them.

MountHD: Ahh... so the father falls into that category. Not to pry, and you don’t have to answer, but is he involved in their lives?

EMomma: No, thank God. He was the worst of my exes. I was glad he ditched me before I told him I was pregnant. My kids don’t need a guy like him around. And as much as I hate him, he gave me my kids. And they are the best part of my life, even if they are like sour patch kids in human form, lol.

MountHD: Sour patch kids? Do you mean gummy candy with a sour coating but a sweet flavor?

EMomma: Exactly! Sometimes they are troublemakers, but they are the sweetest at other times. They’re on the wild side and do whatever comes to mind—giving me plenty of scares over the years.

MountHD: That might be all kids. My son was such a sweet boy but losing his mother took its toll, and he changed. It’s my fault that for so many years, he became an asshole.

EMomma: I doubt it was your fault. Everyone deals with grief in their way. And often, kids lash out.

MountHD: Yes, but I wasn’t present enough. I’d shut down those early years, and my parents stepped in to help raise him. So, it’s on me that he emulated my bigot father.

EMomma: You were grieving too. But I’m assuming your son came around later

MountHD: Yes, but at a cost.

EMomma: A cost?

I can’t imagine what cost there could be. But then again, something had to trigger his son’s change probably. No one changes because they woke up and decided not to be an asshole. It felt like forever watching those flashing dots. What’s MountHD writing a novel?

MountHD: My son had been preparing to join the army and several years ago went to Sicily with some others to something like a training camp. It was a way to physically and mentally prepare individuals to know what being a soldier and going to war could be like.

EMomma: That sounds odd, but I guess simulated war is better than real. What happened?

MountHD: Yeah. Well, it wasn’t stimulated enough. My son was in an incident of his fault for not following orders, resulting in his injury. He lost his left leg from the knee down.

EMomma: *gif of Barbie covering her mouth in a gasp* Wow! That’s intense. You said it was several years ago, but still. Is he okay?

MountHD: Yes, he’s doing fine now. But while he was in the hospital, one of the men in charge gave him some advice after witnessing my son’s behavior throughout the camp. And when he returned home, he’d pondered that advice and decided the man was right and chose to change.

MountHD: He let go of the backward mindset my father instilled in him. He took charge of his life and made a plan he wanted, rather than what my father wanted. After recovering from the injury, he went to college and is currently a physical therapist. It was a good thing, too, as it was through his job that he re-met his now fiancé and the sparks first started.

EMomma: Oh wow! That must have been some advice. And wait, re-met? So, he knew her before?

MountHD: Yes, she’s the daughter of a friend of mine. He even grew up as friends with her older brother. It had just been years since he’d last seen her. It’s all rather cute. And her parents and I are thrilled they are together.

“MOM!!!” River shouted, coming out to the living room and rubbing their eyes.

“You don’t need to shout. I’m not deaf.” I rolled my eyes. “What’s wrong?” I questioned, turning my head to look at them.

“It’s midnight, and you’ve still got all these lights on, and it’s keeping me awake. What’s so interesting on your phone? Don’t tell me you already found a daddy.” River taunted, trying to look at my phone.

I quickly pressed my phone to my chest to block them. I don’t need them reading my messages. I hadn’t realized I’d been talking to MountHD for so long. It doesn’t feel like it’s been hours.

“I’ll turn off the lights and go to bed shortly. So go back to bed and don’t worry about my social life.” I waved a hand at them.

“Uh-huh. Don’t stay up too late sexting.” River snickered, dashing away.

“I’M NOT SEXTING!” I yelled.

“WHATEVER YOU SAY, MOM!” The chores of River and Sage shouted back.

Ugh, I was right to call them sour patch kid—little turds. I love them, though. Sighing, I take my phone from my chest to message MountHD.

EMomma: Well, I’m glad he turned his life around and was able to find happiness with a girl he probably hadn’t considered before.

EMomma: Not to cut this short, my kid just came out to scold me for being up at midnight. *eye roll emoji* So I’m going to sign off. I have work in the morning.

MountHD: Is it really that late? Shit. Well, have a goodnight EMomma. Like you, I should sleep so I can function at work tomorrow.

EMomma: Night, MountHD.

I smiled as I turned off the lights and checked the locks as I headed for my room. I’m not still undecided about MountHD and his potential to be more than just someone to talk to. I hope he wants to continue talking. But for now, I had a good time talking to him.

I was in a rush as we got a late start. Of course, my kids taunted me the whole morning, from when we woke up to when I dropped them off at school. They think I stayed up too late sexting someone on the app. They didn’t listen when I said I was only talking and nothing sexual with a match.

I wished I had worn flats as I was trying to run in my red leather three-inch heels, and I’m sure the pencil bottom of my gray ruched, cross-over shift dress was making running any easier. I cannot be late even by a few seconds today. I have a meeting with Mr. Shelton bright and early.

I need to make the right impression on this guy. I’m new here and have to prove I was worth not just hiring but moving all the way here. I just made it to my desk, out of breath, but damn it, I made it. I’d just booted up my computer and punched in when Mr. Andrews stopped at my desk.

“Morning, Erin. Ready for the meeting with Mr. Shelton?” Mr. Andrews smiled.

I don’t have any issues with my boss, but does he have to be so chipper in the morning while reminding me I’m meeting with his boss in five minutes. As if I wasn’t nervous enough. It’ll be my first sit down with Mr. Shelton, and while I’m sure he’s some douchebag like most men I find attractive, he is still handsome.

“Yes, sir. I’m prepared.” I assured him, holding up my company tablet with multiple ideas ready to present.

“Good. Mr. Shelton isn’t easily impressed, but I’ve looked over your ideas, and I’m sure he’ll like them.” Mr. Andrews nodded as he walked away.

I did a triple-check of my presentations before heading to Mr. Shelton’s office at the other end of the department. Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the office door.

“Enter.” The rich voice of Mr. Shelton called out.

Damn, even his voice is hot. Stop thinking about him that way. Remember, there must be a huge character flaw that would take all that sexiness and make him hideous.

Yeah, that’s what I keep telling myself as I step into his office. He’s even better-looking up close, sitting at his desk, blonde hair neatly combed with a touch of gray on the sides. His blue eyes focused on his laptop, brow furrowed slightly, his hand holding his chin in thought.

He was the clean-cut man I generally avoided with his black suit jacket and dark red sweater over a crisp white dress shirt. I don’t care how good he looks. I know that appearances can be deceiving.

I cleared my throat, unsure what to do. I didn’t want to assume I should sit but standing here was also getting awkward.

“Please take a seat, Miss Carlisle. I’ll be with you in just a moment.” He didn’t even look away from his computer as he gestured with his free hand to a chair.

“Of course, Mr. Shelton.” I nodded, trying not to let the dismissive gesture annoy me.

I’m calling it now; this meeting will not go well.

Chapter 5 - Hale

I can’t believe how late I’d been on my phone chatting with EMomma. Other than the uncomfortable parts, like talking about Jen, I enjoyed the conversation and connect with someone I haven’t known my whole life. As much as I love pack life, you run into the fact you don’t meet many new people.

Heading to bed was an adventure and learning exercise for all parties that multiple people are living in this house. As I quickly turned around and covered my eyes, I found myself missing Jason. Not like a day goes by that I don’t miss my wolf. But if I still had him, I would have known Austin and Suzie were home and getting physical in the living room.

“Oh my God! We are so sorry, Hale. We thought you were in bed.” Suzie stammered out an apology.

“Way to cock block, dad.” Austin grumbled. “What are you doing up so late? Don’t you always turn in around ten? Don’t tell me you were busy chatting up all the women on that app.” He taunted.

I rolled my eyes, sidestepping to the stairs, keeping my back to them, not wanting to risk seeing more. While I am happy Austin found his mate and don’t mind them living here, I wish they’d keep their sexcapades to their bedroom.

“Goodnight. And try to keep your sexcapades in your bedroom. Don’t forget you live in my house, and communal spaces shouldn’t be minefields that no parent wants to see.” I sighed.

“Sure, dad. If you keep it in mind when you hook up with someone from that app.” Austin taunted as I headed upstairs.

He is getting ahead of himself. It is doubtful I would have a romantic, let alone an intimate relationship with any of the women on that app. Friendship, sure. But more, I won’t guarantee.

Of course, the subject of the app and me being up late carried over to the morning. I don’t need my wolf to know I’m being watched or that my son has something bubbling inside he wants to say. I sighed, setting my phone down to look at my son as we sat around the kitchen table for breakfast.

“What is it? “I questioned, sipping my coffee. “You’ve got something to say.”

“Well, you’ve been looking at your phone since you sat down. It’s glued there today. And I can’t help but wonder if you are looking through messages from the app. Maybe chatting with someone while you ignore us and half-heartedly eat the bacon and eggs Suzanne made you.” Austin smirked.

“You’re being ridiculous and jumping to conclusions.” I shook my head. “And if I neglected to mention, thank you for making breakfast, Suzie.” I added with a smile to my daughter-in-law.

She’s a good girl. And despite being told she doesn’t have to cook or clean for more than herself, she keeps taking on the chores. Though she still makes Austin wash his clothes and be the one to take out the garbage. But since she moved in, she’s insisted I let her handle things around the house. I still manage to do some chores around the house.

“You’re welcome, Hale. You let us live with you while we save for a place. So, it’s only fair that I pull my weight.” Suzie shrugged.

“Yes, well, you do too much. Remember, you will eventually move out, and if I get too dependent on having you around, I’ll be useless when I’m living alone.” I reminded her.

“If that app works, you might not be living alone.” Austin teased.

“Knock it off. And to your assumptions about why I was looking at my phone. I was sorting my work email. I had several emails sent to me overnight. I wanted a general idea of what shit storm I will be walking into this morning.” I explained.

“But about that app. What made you choose MountHD? Do you know how many inappropriate assumptions about its meaning I received? I understand human women tend to be bolder, but I spent a chunk of time just deleting the propositions I was receiving.” I shuddered.

Austin laughed loudly, slapping the table. Even Suzie was giggling. “I’m glad someone finds it funny.” I shook my head. “I certainly didn’t. It was terrifying. Let’s not forget the only woman I’ve been with was your mother. And your mother, while not holding back in speaking her mind, was not that sort.”

That seemed to get them in line. “I know, dad. But it’s also been eighteen years. I commend you and all, but you need to do more than jerk off the rest of your life.” He wagged his fork at me, bits of egg splattering before he finally shoved the remaining into his mouth.

“What your dumbass son means is it’s been a long time since you had companionship. And you don’t have to accept any advances from those women. It’s on them for jumping to conclusions about the screen name. It just means Mount Hood.” Suzie frowned, kicking Austin under the table and making him yelp.

“You say it means that. I agreed to the screen name because it could be an innuendo. Like Mount Hale Dillon, Mount Hot Dad, Mount Hale’s D…” Austin started to rattle off optional meanings, each one getting worse till I had to cover his mouth not to hear more.

“That is enough, Austin. I got the picture. Now I’m going to finish getting ready for work. I have a meeting with a new hire and emails to address. Make sure Suzie gets to school on time, so no hanky-panky.” I instructed, rising from the table.

“But morning hanky-panky is fun.” Austin smirked.

“Not today. I have a math test first period. So, I cannot be late today. You’ve made me tardy enough since the holiday break ended.” Suzie rolled her eyes, gathering the dishes and plopping them on Austin’s plate. “Now do the dishes. I’m going to get my stuff.” She commanded, walking away, flipping her long braid over her shoulder to hit my son in the head as she did.

“You heard the boss scrub those dishes.” I snickered, patting his shoulder as I left the room. I could faintly hear him grumbling before the sound of running water drowned it out. Oh, they will have quite an interesting relationship as the years go on.

My hour commute turned into an hour and a half due to a multi-vehicle accident on 84. It’s a good thing I leave earlier than usually necessary. I was still rushing to my office to prepare for the day. I don’t like being late for anything. My mom would say it’s a Shelton trait, given we are always born before our due date.

So, beyond my natural preference to be early, I knew I couldn’t be late for my meeting with the new hire, Miss Carlisle. It would be unprofessional to be late for an appointment I scheduled. That’s not the sort of first impression I want to give a new member of my staff.

Of course, as the meeting was about to begin, a new email from the production department came. This email required my full attention and had a bearing on the discussion I was about to have. I hope Miss Carlisle isn’t offended that I hadn’t looked away or given her a proper greeting.

I frowned as I reread the email. These changes would mean having to start all over with our campaign for this product. But things like this happen. We can only roll with the punches and make switch changes. It’s just a pain in the ass to start over yet still meet the same deadline.

“My sincerest apologies, Miss Carlisle.” I apologized, turning my attention to the woman in my office. “I know it’s poor manners to not greet someone, especially for a meeting you requested.”

I felt my heart skip for a moment as I looked at her. She’s been in the office for a few weeks. She was hired while I was on leave to watch over my mother. And I’m sure I’ve seen her around the office but never really noticed. I tend to have blinders as I focus on the task.

But even then, I have to wonder how I missed her. Waves of auburn hair hung loose past her shoulders, bright baby blue eyes narrowed ever so slightly at me, plump bottom-heavy lips flattened, giving her round face an annoyed expression. Yeah, she’s annoyed with me. I suppose I can’t blame her.

If Jason were still here, he’d have some comment that even annoyed she’s fuckable. He never was one to pull the punches, always speaking his mind. It was strange to find her attractive. Not anything against the woman, but she’s so different from Jen. Jen had blonde hair and brown eyes and was never very curvy. Miss Carlisle is the epitome of the word curvaceous.

Ugh, where are these thoughts coming from? I’m going to blame Austin and Suzie for enrolling me on that dating app and the conversation this morning. Though I suppose I could take this as a good sign. I haven’t been attracted to anyone since Jen. Of course, it would be someone I’m a supervisor of at work. So, nothing can or will ever come of it.

“It’s fine, Mr. Shelton.” She nodded, trying to be polite in her delivery. I’m sure this woman would rip me a verbal new one under other circumstances. But she’s new here and isn’t ready to tempt fate by saying whatever is really on the tip of her tongue.

“No, it isn’t. It wasn't polite of me. I have a bad habit that everything else gets tuned out if I’m focused on something. That is unfair to you as your time is just as valuable as mine.” I assured her.

“The email I had just received heavily impacted our meeting.” I began to explain gestures to my laptop. “It was from the production department. They have decided to overhaul the product completely.” I sighed.

I saw her eyes widen and the color in her cheeks fade with concern. “And what does that mean for the campaign I’ve been working on? The reason I was asked to have this meeting.” She questioned, gripping her tablet tightly.

“Unfortunately, it means all the work, while appreciated, is no longer relevant. Again, my apologies. These situations can occur, though I assure you it is rare for a product to change to such a degree after being sent to us for a marketing campaign.” I sighed.

“So, I have to start all over? Has the deadline for the campaign launch been moved back?” She questioned.

“Yes, you will have to begin again. I’ll forward you and Andrews the new product info and have the production department give you access to the new product to test and get a feel for to best build a campaign.” I nodded.

“However, despite the changes to the product, the launch date remains the same.” I frowned, delivering the worse news.

“Are you kidding me?!” She shouted, starting to rise before realizing she had just yelled at her boss. “Sorry, sir. It’s just that I put a lot of time into this campaign and had three great ideas to present to you.” She apologized, sitting down and looking at the floor.

“I understand your frustration. I’m not happy about these changes either. I wanted to have this campaign finalized this week and run a trial run before a full-scale campaign launch. But it appears neither of us is getting what we wanted.” I shrugged.

“To not use more time, you can return to your desk. You’ll see the email shortly to be able to start work.” I suggested standing. “And since I haven’t said this formally, welcome to Kinsley Industrial, Miss Carlisle.” I smiled, offering my hand.

“Yeah, no time to spare.” Sighing as she rose from the chair. “And oh… um, thank you, Mr. Shelton.” She blinked at my offered hand cautiously, shaking it. I raised an eyebrow as she momentarily blushed before hurting out of my office.

Shaking my head, I sat back down, forwarded the email, and moved on to the next item on my to-do list.

Chapter 6 - Erin (06/18)

I was ready not to like him. I was prepared to find out he’s just another inconsiderate asshole. Most men are, especially the handsome ones. So, you can imagine my surprise when he wasn’t. Are there nice guys out there? Or is this just him acting professionally?

That must be it. When I’ve seen Mr. Shelton around the office, he’s being polite and friendly. Okay, all is right in the world. He’s just one of those chameleon guys who can be charming in specific settings but shows his true colors in others.

And at least he wasn’t dismissive of me for no reason. I can’t believe production would do this to me…er us. I may have been responsible for preparing the campaign options, but Mr. Andrews and Mr. Shelton also have a hand in the final campaign.

That’s my excuse for yelling at my director. I’m not usually so unprofessional, but I’d worked hard on this campaign and had three presentations to show Mr. Shelton. I’d walked into this meeting expecting him to pick through the ideas I had, maybe offer constructive criticism, and ultimately select one he wanted to go forward with.

Now I have to start all FUCKING over! Ugh! This is not a good way to start my workday. I feel like going to the ladies’ room and screaming out my frustration. Despite how pissed I was, my brain fizzled when he welcomed me to the company with a smile and handshake. I probably made a fool of myself, blushing over a handshake as I hurried out of his office.

I slumped into my chair, putting my head on my desk. “I am so pathetic. It really has been too long since I was with a man if I’m blushing over a damn handshake with a hot guy. No wonder my kids signed me up for a dating app.” I grumbled to myself.

Speaking of Kindred Spirits, I haven’t checked it this morning. I know my phone vibrated a few times. Maybe MountHD sent me a message. I could use someone to vent to, and possibly he can be that person. And if he hasn’t, perhaps I should send him one.

I quickly glanced around the office to ensure no one would notice me on my phone. Everyone was busy, so I quickly took my phone out and opened the app. I wrinkled my nose as I glanced at the inbox of flirty messages.

I must hand it to some of these guys. Taking away their ability to send dick pics has made them more creative. For example, XxDarkestDaysxX had my attention, at least at first glance, to his message. It quickly went downhill when I reread it.

XxDarkestDaysxX: Good morning, lovely EMomma. A woman like you should be waking up to breakfast in bed. I’m an excellent chef, and I bet you’d really enjoy my sausage in your mouth. ;)

Ugh. Did this guy seriously just say that? It’s too early for this shit. And if his ‘sausage’ is the size of a breakfast sausage link, I don’t want it. You know what? I’m going to tell him that. Men need to learn sex innuendos and dick references aren’t what women want.

EMomma: If your sausage is that small, no woman will want it. And FYI, women don’t want pick-up lines and dick references, least of all first thing in the morning. So, move along. We’re done here.

XxDarkestDaysxX: Frigid bitch! Bet you’re a fugly porker who couldn’t get a man to touch her if they saw her face. No wonder you’re on an app like this.

Did his words hurt? Sure. I know I’m on the heavy side and that the media has pushed this idea that beautiful women are skinny, so men are conditioned to look for women like that. I don’t want or need men like that in my life. Been there, done that, didn’t even get a t-shirt.

So, I didn’t bother interacting further with him, just blocked him and moved on. If only you could block people in real life. I decided to stop checking the new messages and find my ongoing chat with MountHD. There was nothing new from him, but that’s not a bad thing. He said he’s a marketing director for a company. He’s a responsible adult and is at work. So, of course, he wouldn’t send me a message.

What does that make me, then? I’m sitting at work about to message him. Will he judge me for it? I could sit here stressing and overthinking how he’ll react to a message sent during business hours, or I can send it, maybe vent my frustrations, and then focus on my new task.

EMomma: Morning. I’m sure, like me, you’re busy at work. But I was hoping you’d be willing to let me vent.

I set my phone aside and pulled up the email Mr. Shelton forwarded with the new product details. I wasn’t going to hold my breath for a fast response. If I don’t hear in a few minutes, I’ll just move on with my day and vent after work when he probably has more time to chat.

Fuck, they really did change it. I had thought it was just a few modifications, but this is an entirely different product. I hope to use some of my ideas, so I’m not starting completely from scratch. But it’s going to be a stretch. As I started reading the details, I nearly jumped out of my skin as my phone buzzed.

I thought it was a call or message about one or both of my kids. I haven’t had any since I got them enrolled at school here and into a special program geared to individuals on the Autism spectrum. But it’s only a matter of time.

People need to listen to the context before concluding anything about my kids or anyone’s meaning. I got calls often back in Massachusetts because my kids would say or do something that they couldn’t handle or that their method of handling only made things worse. Like Sage getting put on suicide watch at a hospital because they expressed frustration over constantly being intentionally misgendered.

I exhaled in relief when it wasn’t the school but a notification from Kindred Spirits. I glanced around the office again to confirm no one was paying attention to me before quickly opening the app to see if it was MountHD. I smiled when I saw the notification was for a new message from him. Work could wait a little bit longer. It’ll still be there for me to stress over in a few minutes.

MountHD: Good Morning, EMomma. And well, you are right, I am at work. I’m taking an early coffee break. Today is one of those days I will need plenty of them. And sure, feel free to vent.

EMomma: I hear that. I’m about a second from taking a break to scream in the ladies’ room. My morning hasn’t gone the way I wanted. An assignment I was working on just sank like the Titanic.

MountHD: Oh wow. What went wrong?

EMomma: I got in to be told by my boss’s boss that everything was changed, and I have to start over but still meet the same deadline. *eye roll emoji*

MountHD: Ouch. That’s the worst. My inbox blew up with messages early this morning for something similar.

MountHD: And, of course, I had to be the bad guy delivering the news. I don’t like giving bad news.

EMomma: Aw, I’m sure if you told them empathetically, they wouldn’t be too upset.

MountHD: I hope I came off as empathetic. Though my employee was upset and a bit frazzled when leaving my office. Did your boss come off as some asshole?

EMomma: A little? I don’t know. His words could be dismissive, but he had a polite smile. Hard to read what’s real and what’s fake. *shrug*

MountHD: Oh, I know that type. The ones that will smile to your face, but with their choice of words, sometimes you can’t help but wonder how fake that smile is and what they think and feel about you.

EMomma: Exactly! And since I’m new to the company, I want to prove myself, which makes this setback on my first actual project harder to swallow.

MountHD: I’m sure you’ll do well. You’re a woman that can handle anything life throws at her. If you can manage your twins solo, you can handle this. Remember, in an office setting, you have others you can lean on and collaborate with to reach the goal.

I smiled because I started this chat to vent and probably still feel frustrated about the situation, yet MountHD had turned that all around. He’s right. I can handle this. It’s nothing compared to all the things I handle from moment to moment with my kids. And I do have resources here. I know I can ask my colleagues; I can approach Mr. Andrews, and if I’m feeling brave, I could approach Mr. Shelton.

EMomma: Awe <3 Thank you! You knew just what to say to make me feel better. You must be magic or something. I think I can tackle this project now. :)

MountHD: Glad to be of help. Good luck. I should get back to work. So have a good workday. Maybe we can chat more this evening.

Yeah, I know I’m grinning like a fool. What of it? He’s so sweet. Plus, he wants to keep chatting! I want to keep talking to him too. Even if it never goes anywhere, he’s already proving to be a supportive friend.

EMomma: Sounds like a good plan. Have a good day too! TTYL.

With my worries lightened, I put my phone away and put all my focus on the new campaign. And when I started to feel the pressure mounting again, I remembered what MountHD told me. So, by my lunch break, I was still feeling good and had even sent some initial concepts to Mr. Andrews and Mr. Shelton to keep them in the loop of my progress.

My stomach dropped as I sat in the company cafeteria, only for Mr. Shelton to stop at my table with his lunch. “May I sit, Miss Carlisle? I know this is your lunch hour, but I had something I wanted to discuss.” Mr. Shelton’s deep voice sent a shiver down my spine.

“Um… of course, Mr. Shelton.” I conceded, gesturing to a chair across from me.

My mind was sorting through all the possible reasons he would want to talk to me. I knew I’d sent an email before signing out for lunch. Did he not like my idea?

Chapter 7 - Hale

I know I should have been working; I have plenty to do, but I was making myself a cup of coffee messaging with EMomma. And our conversation stuck with me as I went back to my office.

The parallel to my morning was too much to ignore. And while Portland has many companies who could have newly hired a social media marketing admin, I don’t believe in coincidences.

I may lack a wolf, but I still believe faithfully in the Goddess, and she leaves nothing to chance. So the moment I got to my desk, I pulled up the personnel file on Miss Carlisle. Erin Carlisle, mother of two, last residence… Massachusetts.

Yeah, this is not a coincidence. No way that everything EMomma has told me could match with the information I have about Erin and it not be the same person. Let’s see the similarities. E could stand for Erin, mother of two children who made her Kindred Spirits account.

Part of me wanted to just let it go. Let myself believe it’s a coincidence and carry on as if nothing has changed. Even without Jason, I know exactly what he would be saying. He’d be sarcastic and tell me, ‘Sure, all the companies in Portland are bringing in single mothers from Massachusetts with the first initial of E. Yeah, and I’ve got beachfront property in Utah to sell you.’

I need to know for sure. Because if EMomma is Miss Carlisle, nothing can happen. Kinsley has policies about interoffice relationships. And just to refresh myself on the policy, I pulled it up from the HR pdf. As I’m skimming through the list of procedures, I reach number six and found the article that references this situation explicitly as I’m the marketing direction. I may not be her direct report, but I’m still above her in the company hierarchy.

“Any supervisor, manager, executive, or another company official in a sensitive or influential position with Kinsley Industrial must disclose the existence of a romantic or sexual relationship with another co-worker. Disclosure may be made to the individual’s immediate supervisor or HR director. Kinsley Industrial will review the circumstances to determine whether a conflict of interest exists.” I sighed, reading the article.

While I can at least say there officially is no romantic and least of all sexual relationships between myself and Erin, there had been a slim possibility. And while I know the policy states you would have to report such a relationship to HR, I can’t see it being deemed appropriate given my role in the company and hers.

So with that in mind, I put aside any thoughts or considerations for continuing contact with EMomma. At least until I can confirm if she is or isn’t Miss Carlisle. If EMomma isn’t my employee, I won’t have an issue continuing to talk to her. But if I’m right, and this isn’t a coincidence, all communication in that app will end. It wouldn’t be appropriate to talk to an employee outside business hours and in a dating app, for Goddess sake.

I did my best to focus on work, not how I would address the EMomma/Erin issue. Not an easy task since I’m generally the type that if I get focused on something, I am blinders up to everything else. So, I am sad that I didn’t accomplish much before my lunch break.

My mind was going over the various possibilities. I already know what steps I must take if they are the same person. But her reaction is the variable here. I don’t know her well enough to judge her reactions. If EMomma is Erin, I’ll be disappointed because I won’t be able to keep talking to her. And if EMomma isn’t Erin, I can keep talking to her. A part of me would still feel disappointed because I don’t know what EMomma would look like, but I know I’m at least attracted to Erin.

Before taking my lunch, I reviewed the email from Erin about the new campaign. She has excellent ideas. I’m sure the campaigns she had planned to pitch earlier would have been great and exactly what I was looking for. Probably another good reason why, if Erin is EMomma, I shouldn’t pursue anything with her. I don’t want there to be any weirdness on a professional level.

I typed out a brief but professional email to Erin with Andrews cc’d indicating which direction I am leaning toward and a couple of suggestions in that line of thinking. With that handled, I grabbed my lunch from my mini fridge and headed for the office cafeteria to eat.

I hadn’t intended to address the EMomma/Erin situation until later but given how little I accomplished before lunch with it on my mind, spotting Erin eating alone seemed like a perfect opportunity. I, of course, caught her off guard by asking to sit with her, and it probably didn’t help that I was vague on what I wanted to discuss.

“Was there an issue with the initial ideas I emailed before lunch?” Erin quickly assumed me sitting here was business related. “They were just drafts, so obviously are subject to change and will need improvement.”

I could take that as a sign she isn’t EMomma. Or maybe she just hasn’t pieced together that I’m MountHD. Who knows? Well, I will once I bring the subject of the app up. But first, business, I suppose.

“It’s not about your initial thoughts for the change to the campaign. I replied with some suggestions and directions based on your ideas.” I assured her. I could see her visibly relax, but only for a half second.

“Then what did you want to talk about, Mr. Shelton?” She arched her brow, taking a cautious bite of her sandwich.

I wish I had Jason about now. He was never the shy or hesitant type. He’d have just blurted it out, probably with no tact, but he’d have said it. But I’m not Jason, and he’s not here. We are at work after all, and there are plenty of packmates in the cafeteria right now who could overhear us. So, I have to do this my way. That means thinking through what I’m saying and how I’m saying it.

“This isn’t the easiest subject to broach, especially given we only officially met this morning.” I began. “And even though this is rather embarrassing to ask for my peace of mind, I must. Have you heard of an app called Kindred Spirits?”

Erin practically choked on her sandwich at the mention of the app. Crap. She is EMomma, or I am assuming based on her reaction. I quickly offered her the water bottle she had. “Here, have something to drink. Are you alright? I didn’t mean to startle you like that.”

It took her a few moments, but she got her coughing under control before looking at me. “I… why do you ask? Are you on the app?” She questioned her expression somewhere between terrified, curious, and hopeful. A strange combination, but I guess I can’t blame her. I felt that way when I thought she was EMomma.

“Yes, my son and his fiancée signed me up. I’m asking because I noticed parallels between a woman I’ve been talking to and you, especially during our morning meeting. So, I’m just going to ask, are you EMomma?” I questioned.

All color drained from her face, and she started to sink into her chair. Well, that’s undoubtedly a nonverbal answer if there ever was one. “I…oh god.” Erin covered her face with her hands. “Are you MountHD?” she whispered, her words muffled by her hands.

“Yes.” I sighed because that left no doubt. She is EMomma, and now I have to uninstall that app and pretend it never happened. Okay, uninstalling the app might be extreme. There might be other women who aren’t just looking for someone to fuck. But it does mean I have to terminate all contact with EMomma.

“Fuck. I should have known something was going to go wrong. MountHD seemed too good to be true.” Erin grumbled. “This is just my luck. I don’t know if this is better or worse than Mount HD turning out to be a total asshole like every guy I like. But then again, him being you still leaves that chance. Cause there is no way you aren’t an asshole or something.”

I furrowed my brow as she continued her mumbled rant. “You were or rather are expecting me to be an asshole or something along those lines? You said you tend to attract or rather be attracted to the bad boy type who end up being toxic assholes. But….” I gestured to my mild-mannered dad office look. “I’ve never been that type.”

“So, you say. But I’m sure there are secrets and skeletons in your closet. I wouldn’t be interested in you if there weren’t some hidden issue. Something that would send me running for the hills. And honestly, MountHD sounded too good to be true. No one could be that nice or know just the right things to say.” She shook her head.

Okay, so she’s not wrong that I have secrets. I can’t tell her I’m a werewolf, or I was one. I’m still unsure if I can be classified as a werewolf when I don’t have a wolf. But either way, I can’t tell her anything about that or the pack. But I’m not some toxic asshole. I am nothing like my father.

“I think everyone has secrets they keep. We always keep things about ourselves private, so judging someone for what secrets they might have is unfair. I’m sure you have secrets of your own.” I shrugged.

“But all of that is moot. You are one of my employees, so all communication and interactions should remain professional. I wanted to confirm my suspicion that you were EMomma. And now that I have, I will cease further conversation in the app.” I sighed, gathering my lunch and standing.

“I wish you the best of luck in the app, Miss Carlisle, and I hope that you and your children continue to find more things about this great state and city to explore and enjoy.” I nodded my head. “Have a nice rest of your day.”

As I returned to my office, I told myself this was for the best. It’s the right thing to cut all nonprofessional contact with Erin. I have never crossed a line in business and will not start now.

Chapter 8 - Erin

Fuck my life! Seriously, this is the story of my life—same song, different tempo but still the same song on an infinite loop. I knew there would be some issues with MountHD and that there was no way Mr. Shelton could be as friendly as he presents himself. And bam, he drops the hammer, revealing he’s an asshole, and so is MountHD.

The worst part is that I went from having at least the start of a friendship, one person to talk to that isn’t my kids, to having an annoyed boss that knows I’m attracted to. A boss that I’ve told personal things to. A boss who has told me private things. And we are supposed to act like its business as usual.


I frowned, pushing away my lunch, no longer hungry. The man soured my stomach; worse, he did that in front of everyone here. Okay, neither of us spoke loudly, so they probably didn’t hear what was being said. Yet I felt people looking at me like they knew and listened to every word of his business-like breakup with me.

What’s wrong with me? It wasn’t a breakup. A breakup implied there was a relationship. I’d talked to him twice on that app. Did I enjoy talking to him? Of course. Did I hope I could have found a friend and, at best, a lover? Hell yes. Am I disappointed? You bet. Am I going to wallow? Hell No!

I hate the feeling that people are gossiping about me. I know I’m just paranoid as it’s loud in there, and it’s almost impossible that people would have heard us. Yet I can’t shake the feeling that the people glancing at me are whispering about me, that they know. Gathering my dignity, I dumped my lunch and left the cafeteria.

I tried to put the thought out of my head and do my job. As Mr. Shelton said, I had an email from him when I returned to my desk. I can do this. I can be a fucking professional. I didn’t balance my kids, work, and college to waste my degree and ruin this chance at a new start for my family.

If Mr. Shelton can manage to be professional in the office, so can I. And putting aside his somewhat cold and dismissive words about our Kindred Spirits connection, his suggestions about the campaign are good. He knows what he’s doing. Of course, he does. I’m sure he has plenty of credentials to be the director of this department. So I kept my head down and focused on work as much as possible.

I’ve never been the type who can focus for long, mainly if something else is weighing on me. So despite my best efforts, and trust me, I was trying hard, my mind kept returning to MountHD, or I suppose Mr. Shelton. I still don’t even know his first name. Everyone in the office calls him Mr. Shelton.

Okay, I’m hitting stalker vibes, but I pulled up the company’s employee roster. It shows all the departments and who is in each department— a way to put faces to names and know who to email for specific issues. I opened my department's page, and his handsome face was at the top of our department hierarchy—Hale D. Shelton, Director of Marketing.

I wonder if that’s what the HD stands for in his screen name, Hale D. Mount Hale D. Not knowing what the D stands for is sending my mind spiraling into inappropriate places for what the D could mean in his screen name. Mount Hale’s Dick? I suppose that’s better than the ones I’d thought before I knew who MountHD was.

Mount His Dick, Mount Her Daddy, Mount Hard Daddy, Mount Hard Dick. I’m a perv and probably among the many women who made such conclusions about his screen name. I was smart enough not to bring them up, especially after he said those comments were a turn-off.

I really shouldn’t be thinking about what turns Hale off or on. He made his stance clear. He wants no contact with me that is not work-related. I don’t know the policies here, but I’m sure most companies discourage relationships between supervisors and employees. I’m sure he had his reasons.

So professionally speaking, he was doing the right thing. I moved across the country for this job. And while the possibility that something could come of my connection with him on the app sounded great, it wouldn’t be worth the risk of my job. I have to put my kids’ stability first, and risking my job is the opposite. I don’t care how good-looking Hale is.

I can and will keep things professional. That’s what I told myself the rest of the week. While at work, I was perfectly professional, focused on my job, and only communicating with Hale, I mean with Mr. Shelton, via email. At work, things were the same as before. He didn’t directly talk to me; all emails Mr. Andrews was cc’d on were always business.

It was at home that things weren’t the same. I was itching to talk to MountHD about the various things happening in my life. Not work stuff but general life. Like I wanted to tell him, I told my kids about the Macleay Trail he recommended, and we had plans to go there Saturday. I wanted to talk about some of the funny messages other guys have sent so we could laugh at the ridiculous pick-up lines.

“Mom? What’s got you all blue?” Sage asked as they flopped onto the sofa, leaning on my shoulder to peer at my phone.

“Yeah, you’ve been glum all week. Some dill weed on the app ghost you?” River questioned, lowering their tablet to peer at me over their glasses.

Oh great, just what I need an inquisition from my kids. “No one ghosted me, technically. He at least told me he wouldn’t be messaging me anymore.” I lamented. People may underestimate my kids since they ‘act out,’ but they are bright and notice things—no point hiding it from them.

“Rude. Did he say why? Was it that guy you were talking to late that first night?” River furrowed their brow.

“Yes, it was that guy. And yes, he told me why. It turned out MountHD is my director Hale Shelton at work. So it would be an HR violation for anything unprofessional to take place.” I frowned, shrugging. Nothing I could do about it, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t suck.

“Who cares about HR policies?” Sage scoffed. “Rules are meant to be broken.” They grinned. “You should message him. Ask to meet outside of the office. I bet there is a way to work it out.”

“That is assuming he would want it to work out. And he had a valid point. If we had become anything, we would have to inform HR, and if our relationship was deemed inappropriate due to our positions in the company, one of us could get transferred or, worse, fired. And given he’s the senior staff member, I’d be the one getting the short end of the stick.” I tried to reason.

“Well, we can hope Mount Hale Daddy doesn’t have a short stick.” River laughed. I rolled my eyes as Sage joined in laughing. I would ask how my kids got such dirty minds, but then I remember I’m their mother.

I was about to make a witty reply when my thoughts were interrupted by the doorbell. I can’t imagine who it would be. I’m not expecting a package or any delivery. “We aren’t done. I’ll eventually remember what I was going to say.” I pointed my index finger at them as I set my phone down to check the door.

I glanced back at them, narrowing my eyes as they feigned innocence. I don’t know what they are up to, but it will have to wait. Whoever is at the door is an impatient cunt who thinks they must lean on the doorbell. “I’m coming. Hold your horses!” I shouted as I pulled the door open.

All color drained from my face when I saw a ghost from my past. A ghost I wished had stayed there. Dane Blackburn, asshole extraordinaire and deadbeat father. Though I guess it’s not fair to call him a deadbeat father. He’d have to be told about my kids to be a deadbeat and not paying child support.

I never contacted him about being pregnant. So why is he here? Better question: how did he find me? We haven’t seen or been in any contact in sixteen years. What kind of creepy ass stalker shit did he pull to find my address?

I went to slam the door in his face because while I have a million questions, I remember the kind of man he was, and I don’t want that near my kids or me. Before I could shut the door, his big boot stopped it as he grabbed the door with a scowl.

“Aren’t you going to invite me in?” Dane questioned that too familiar menacing expression on his face.

“Fuck no! Get the hell away from me.” I shouted, trying to shove the door closed. “You have no business here, stalker prick. I don’t know how you found me, but you can forget my address.”

“I’m not here for you, cow. Been there, done that. I didn’t want more. I’m here for my sons. Hand them over.” Dane demanded, starting to push at the door. My bare feet began to slip as he was stronger.

“Then you have no business here. If you have sons, they aren’t here. I don’t have sons. Now go away before I scream so loud my neighbor hears and calls the cops!” I threatened. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that. If the cops get involved, it could result in a custody battle and Dane getting to see my kids. I won’t let that happen.

“Don’t lie to me. It took a lot of digging to find you, and I know you gave birth to twin boys several months after I left your ass. I have a right to them, and you can’t keep me from them. So call the cops. I’ll tell them you’ve been hiding my sons from me. So don’t go threatening me, Erin. I can make your life hell and take them from you.” Dane sneered.

Each time he misgendered my kids, I felt my left eye twitch. I hate when people do that. I hate it even more because Dane is calling them his sons. As if he has some claim to them. I’ve raised my kids. I’m the one that loves them and accepts them for them. He knows nothing about them and hasn’t wanted to know anything about them.

“SHE SAID TO GO AWAY!” River shouted as they and Sage rushed forward and helped get the door shut and locked. This is not how I wanted them to meet their sperm donor. I never wanted them to meet him. And now they have, and worse, he’s seen them.

Dane pounded at the door, making it quake with each hit. I swore if he hit it much more, it would break. When did Dane get this strong? What drugs is he on that are making him this strong!?

“I know where you are. I know you have my sons. I will be back, Erin. And I will take back what is mine.” Dane threatened. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I reached out to pull my kids to me. Dane stomped away, and I heard a car door slam and the engine rev before the tires squealed as he peeled away from the curb.

What the hell am I going to do now? If I go to the police, they might side with him. They might force me to let him near my kids. I don’t care what kind of claim he thinks he has. River and Sage are my kids and will be staying with me.

Chapter 9 - Hale

Who would have thought avoiding a woman would be so complicated? Especially a woman you’ve only talked to a couple of times before realizing it was an HR violation to pursue her. I’ve had to take a new path through the office to avoid her desk. Yes, I know it’s childish. But better safe than sorry. So if I don’t see her, I’m not tempted to get closer to her.

I’ve kept communication to business emails only. And while I haven’t blocked Erin on Kindred Spirits, I’ve not reached out to her, nor has she reached out to me. It’s for the best. Even if I want to apologize for my delivery of the information, I’m MountHD, and we can’t have any non-business contact. I was rude to drop that on her. To make the decision and walk away without giving her a say.

It doesn’t sit well that I possibly hurt her feelings. I tell myself it was all for the best. I’ve even tried to reassure myself she’s probably talking to several men on that app. Losing me as a match is no significant loss. There may be some creeps out there, but there must be others looking for a connection that would find Erin to be the beautiful and unique woman she is.

I’ve tried to connect with some of the women who have messaged me or whom I matched with. But the conversations, if you can call them that, always turn sexual quickly, and I’m not looking for a hookup. I was never that sort of man. And when I tried to steer the conversation back to normal, getting to know each other, they would stop talking to me.

I suppose this modern dating and the women who use this app are simply looking for a quick fuck. Well, not Erin. She didn’t seem interested in jumping directly to sex. The closest our conversations got to that subject was discussing past relationships. I’m not sure if her children’s father was the last man she was with, but she did know Jennifer was the only woman I’d been with.

This is another thing when conversations with other women go to marital status. apparently, there are married people on this app, and at least a couple of the ladies learned the hard way. I was honest and said I’m a widower; some were about it, and others stopped talking to me.

I rolled my eyes, putting my phone aside as another conversation quickly turned to the woman trying to sext me. I blame Austin for even knowing what a sext is. I’d have been fine going the rest of my life not knowing about it. I’m all for dirty talk and role play, but only in person and private.

“Why so glum, dad?” Austin questioned, taking a seat on the sofa and taking the remote from the coffee table. Of course, he’s going to change the channel. I don’t mind. I was staring through the episode of whatever cooking show I had on. I don’t know what the name of the show was. That’s how much I was paying attention.

“Who says I’m glum?” I countered, arching my eyebrow. Austin flipped through the various offerings our collective streaming services offered before putting on an old favorite of his, Monty Python and The Holy Grail. Not sure where his interest in it came from as I didn’t watch them, and I know my father wouldn’t find them funny.

“I do. I’m not blind, dad. You’ve been moping all week. What happened? And issue with a woman on the app or multiple women on there?” Austin arched a brow, turning to look at me.

“I want to uninstall that damned app.” I huffed, glaring at my phone to the amusement of my son.

“What’s the problem? Too many women looking to get with you? And think they haven’t even seen your face. Say what you want about grandfather, but we Shelton men are a handsome bunch.” He winked before swiping my phone before I could stop him.

“Austin! Will you knock that off? Give me my phone back.” I insisted, getting out of my recliner and holding my hand out.

“I want to see what kind of messages you are getting.” He chuckled while scrolling through my messages on the app. “Wow, these women are fucking bitches. So dismissive. How dare you want more than a one-night stand. You’d think that’s what they’d want too. The app was promoted as a place to find a real connection, not a quick fuck.”

“Oh wait, here’s someone you talked to more than once. EMomma. And it looks like you both had some serious conversations. But you haven’t talked to her since Monday. What happened?” Austin furrowed his brow, still keeping the phone out of my reach, pressing his foot into my chest to keep me at bay.

“Nothing happened. It’s not something to be concerned with.” I assured him. I didn’t want to discuss details with anyone, least of all my son.

“Oh really, because she’s typing, and that’s not from her. How can she or whoever is messaging under her account know your name, like your real name?” Austin questioned, letting his guard down enough I was able to snatch my phone back. “I didn’t see you give it out, and stuff like that doesn’t start to be revealed automatically until the third day of interactions.”

“What are you talking about? Erin would not be messaging me in the app. We haven’t spoken since Monday for a reason.” I frowned, turning the phone to read the screen. Well, there were messages alright from EMomma, but nothing about their verbiage sounded like Erin.

“Erin? Do you know her name? The plot thickens.” Austin mused. I wasn’t paying attention while reading the rapid-fire hate texts her children were sending me.

EMomma: Hey, Mount Hale Dickhead! Fuck yourself with a rusty fork!

EMomma: What kind of turdblossom are you to not realize our mom is the best!?

EMomma: You made our mom sad, fucktard!

EMomma: Only a total idiot would turn down an opportunity to be with a goddess like our mom for some HR bullshit!

EMomma: Take your HR rules and shove them up your ass!

I was going to send a stern reply advising these kids that they should leave such matters to their mother and me. While I appreciate them standing up for her, wanting to protect her, and wholeheartedly agreeing, I am a total idiot. That, yes, Erin is a goddess. I can’t in good conscience do something that would harm her career. But I didn’t get a chance to finish my first sentence before another message came through.

EMomma: We know we were rude, but Mom needs you! If you know where we live, get here NOW! Something terrible is happening!

EMomma: Someone is trying to force their way into our house! HURRY!

I felt my heart stop and the air in my lungs freeze. This had better not be some trick Erin’s kids are playing. I don’t take pranks like this lightly. But only one way I can find out is to go to Erin’s house.

MountHD: I’m coming, don’t do anything foolish. Just lock the doors and windows. And call 9-1-1.

With that message sent, I quickly got my boots on and grabbed my jacket. “Dad!? DAD! WHERE ARE YOU GOING!?” Austin shouted after me as I hurried to my truck.

“If I don’t text or call you in an hour, call David! Have him track my phone or something! I might need a cop!” I shouted out the window as I quickly backed out of the driveway.

Fuck I don’t know her address. So I did what you shouldn’t do. I was using my phone while driving since my phone has access to company information. I hope Alpha Logan and Beta John will forgive a breach of protocol as I used my position in their company to look up Erin’s address. I plugged the address into my onboard GPS and followed the voice’s directions.

Of course, she has to live closer to Portland than I do. They put her up in Southeast Portland, which feels fitting for the type of person she is, or at least the person I think she is from our conversations. But it’s still almost as far from my place as the office.

I know the speed limit on Interstate 26 is only sixty-five, and while I’m usually a cautious driver who always obeys the traffic laws, I was going eighty-five. And while breaking the speed limit, I turned an hour drive into around forty minutes, with traffic occasionally slowing me down. I can only hope that during the drive.

I pulled into the driveway of the one-story duplex, somewhat reassured, only to see one vehicle that I assumed was Erin’s with the Massachusetts plates. Though walking up to the door, any relief I had went out the window. There were visible cracks in the wood. These weren’t marks from a weapon. Someone powerful beat on that door.

Times like this, I wish I had Jason. Because I can’t imagine a human cracking a solid wood door like that without leaving blood without being on some drug, as I lack a wolf, I can’t scent anyone supernatural. But this is Bloodmoon territory, no one since Noya has been foolish enough to mess with our pack territory. There is the Portland vampire clan, but Ductus Caleb keeps his clan in line. They feed, following his law. So they wouldn’t try to force their way into a random civilian’s home.

I’ll have to get this looked into. Though I still can’t imagine Erin having a connection to anyone supernatural. For all I know, someone scented her as mate and got aggressive. I’m not too fond of that idea. It doesn’t sit well with me that she could be someone’s long-awaited mate or second chance. I took a breath and gently knocked on the door.

“I told you to go away. I will call the cops, you son of a bitch!” Erin shouted through the door. Well, whoever had tried to break in, she is expecting or fearing them returning.

“It’s Hale. You children messaged me on the app that you were in danger.” I explained, stepping back from the door so she could see me through her door’s peephole.

“What did you two do!?” Erin exclaimed before hesitantly opening the front door. To my relief, she was fine. That is to say, unharmed. Not that she isn’t fine in the other meaning of the word.

She had changed from the skirt and blouse she had worn to the office. Her face was clean of makeup; honestly, I liked this better, with her hair in a messy bun. Trading in business attire for black lounge pants and an oversized black tie dye hoodie, she was trying to hide a tee with some saying I can’t read because of the hoodie.

“Why are you here? You didn’t need to come.” Her brow furrowed as she tried to hide with the hoodie. “How did you even know where I live? I doubt my kids would have told you the address.”

“They sounded urgent in the messages. Said someone was trying to break in, and judging by your door, they weren’t exaggerating. So, I may have a bent company policy to get your address from the company server.” I explained. “Are your kids okay? Are you okay?” I questioned, concerned for their safety.

“Oh… I’m fine. So are the kids. I’m sorry you came all this way for nothing. You can go home. I wouldn’t want to violate an HR policy.” She huffed, folding her arms as she half hid behind the door.

“I deserve that.” I sighed, gritting my teeth. I can’t fault her for being cold. I was the one who clearly and albeit rudely told her we could only have a professional relationship. Yet I’m at her door because her kids said she was in danger.

“Fuck yes, you do!” A teenager with spring green hair scoffed, amber eyes narrowing at me behind black square-framed glasses.

“Seriously, how far do you live? We messaged you an hour ago. Big help you turned out to be, Mount Hale Dickweed.” A second teenager, practically a mirror copy of the other except this one had amethyst hair.

“Um, hello to you too. And I live near Mount Hood, thus my screen name. That’s an hour away.” I answered.

“I’m sorry they are incorrigible. It is my fault that I left my phone unattended. They shouldn’t have messaged you.” Erin sighed. “But I suppose you would meet them since we work for the same company. Mr. Shelton, meet my kids, River and Sage. Kids, can you politely greet my boss?”

Mental note, River has the green hair, and Sage has the purple. They didn’t look thrilled despite being the ones that wanted me here. “Hello, Mr. Shithead.” they greeted me with a roll of their eyes, still getting a dig in.

“Since you came all this way, maybe you should talk some shit out with our mom. If you hauled that pretty ass an hour from home cause mom was in trouble, you already violated your precious HR policy in your heart.” River adjusted their glasses, giving me a once over before grabbing their twin and heading out of view further into the house.

“Delightful children you have. Remind me of mine.” I smiled, seeing a bit of Austin in her twins. “I don’t wish to impose. If you want me to leave, I will. I’m just glad you are all okay.”

Chapter 10 - Erin

All I wanted when I came home from yet another tense day at the office of failing to not think about Hale was to relax. And I honestly thought that was going to happen. I’d changed into comfy clothes, and because I didn’t feel like cooking, I was going to suggest we order something. Then it all got derailed.

I could have gotten things back on track after the kids started asking me about Hale. They are adorable when they get all protective of me. But I can handle myself just fine. I don’t need them getting me in trouble with Hale. He is still my boss, and I need this job.

What fucked my evening, the something I couldn’t come back from or find a way to salvage the evening, was Dane. How the FUCK did he find me? My social media accounts are private, and I don’t have my face or my kids’ faces on my profile pictures or cover photos. That must have required a LOT of digging.

And what was with that strength and crazy shit? He was an asshole and would get drunk and dabble with drugs. But the hell? This isn’t the Dane I knew. Some serious shit happened to him since we parted ways, and I don’t care what they are. All I care about is that he stays far away from my kids.

He must have been on something substantial. I don’t even know what was going on with his eyes, but I swore they were glowing. And the strength he was showing, Dane was never the muscular type of guy. So, he had to be on something. I’m lucky the three of us could force the door closed. It’s going to be hell to explain to my landlord. I’ll probably have to replace the door out of pocket.

“Who was that!?” River demanded after a few moments, pulling out of the tight hug I was giving them and Sage.

I sighed, looking at my kids frowning. They deserve answers. It’s not like I never told them about Dane. But that’s all he was to them, a story. They knew he was real because they existed, but otherwise, he was as good as imaginary and rarely thought of, let alone talked about.

“That was Dane.” I started. “Do you remember me telling you about him long ago?” I questioned as we all got up and went to the living room, hoping Dane wouldn’t return soon.

“Sperm donor. Yeah, we remember.” Sage nodded.

“Yeah, but I don’t remember the stories saying he was like that? What the fuck is wrong with that guy?” River snorted, flopping onto the sofa, totally chill like we didn’t just have a crazy asshole try to break down the door.

“I’m not sure. That’s not how Dane was when I knew him. I mean, he liked to drink and would get high. I don’t want to guess what drug or drugs he was one to beat on our door like that.” I let out a breath as I sat down.

They cocked their head, looking at me curiously. “Why did he even come?” Sage questioned. “He didn’t give a fuck for fifteen almost sixteen years. Why start now?”

“I don’t know. Dane was trying to claim you.” I frowned because I didn’t fully understand it. Why now? Why care now? He had years to reach out, to try and be involved in their lives. So why show up when they are practically grown and want to claim them? What does he want with or from them?

“Well, he can get fucked!” River shouted. “I don’t want a damn thing to do with his ass. And I doubt Sage does either. You’re the only parent we have and need. He’s fifteen years too late for us to give two shits about him.” They snorted.

“He won’t take us. We would fight him every step. He can’t take us from you. Right?” Sage frowned.

“I would never let anyone take you from me. I will never let anyone split us up. I would fight legally and, if necessary, my fists to ensure you stay with me.” I promised. The only way my kids will be taken from me is over my dead body.

Just as I thought things might have settled down and we could focus on anything that wasn’t Dane, a knock at the door startled us all. It wasn’t a heavy knock, but still, I feared the worst. What if he came back with a new tactic to try and get into the house?

I don’t know how I felt when it was Hale at the door. Sure, I felt relieved it wasn’t Dane. Anything would be better than Dane. But my mind and heart were at war on how to react and feel about Hale being here. Again, I made a mental note to talk to my kids about privacy and not using my phone. But that’s later. Right now, I have to decide what to do about Hale.

I can’t believe he came. He was the one that said we needed to be professional, yet he rushed an hour from home to make sure my kids and I were safe. That is not something a boss would do. So, does that mean he cares about me? I mean more than he let out in the office. Now I’m left with the question: do I let him in or make him go.

“You drove all the way here based on what could easily have been a prank from my kids. I can’t just make you turn back around instantly.” I conceded, stepping aside to let him in.

“Thank you.” Hale nodded as he stepped inside. Shit, I haven’t felt this anxious about having a guy over since high school… maybe. But having Hale in my house is turning my stomach into knots.

“Don’t mind the mess.” I tried to explain the mess. I don’t want him judging me on how my house looks. “We haven’t finished unpacking, and well, I have kids.”

“It’s fine, Erin. My son is in his twenties, and if his fiancée hadn’t moved in, I’m sure his bedroom and our living room would be a toxic jungle.” Hale assured me with a smile.

My heart skipped a beat when he used my name. He called me Erin, not Miss Carlisle. I shouldn’t read too much into this. I won’t get my hopes up just because he used my name or drove an hour to ensure I was okay.

“We’ll be in our rooms!” River smirked. Sage had a matching smirk as looked between Hale and me. I sighed, rolling my eyes as they disappeared down the hall, bedroom doors firmly closing.

“Um… do you want something to drink? I’d offer food, but I didn’t cook, and the plans for ordering got derailed by….” I gestured to the front door.

“I’m good. Why don’t we sit down, and you can explain what happened if you want to?” Hale suggested to my living room with one hand, his other touching my back.

I sucked in a breath. I could feel the warmth of Hale’s touch even through two layers of clothes. But it was gone quickly as if he realized he’d done it or as if touching me burned him. “Sorry…” Hale mumbled.

I need to remember this is a widower, a man who has only ever been with one woman. I don’t know if he’s sorry because he thinks he crossed a line or if that sorry was even to me. For all I know, in his mind, even that slight touch was like a betrayal to his wife.

“Right… um, not much to say.” I shrugged, deciding to ignore the touch and lead the way to my living room.

“The state of your front door would say otherwise. So, what happened? And why send an SOS to me and not call the police? I told your children to call the police.” Hale had the stern boss look as he sat down, well started to before sitting up to move Sage’s arctic wolf headdress before sitting.

“Talk about irony….” Hale muttered as he carefully put the headdress aside. I’m not sure what that means, but whatever.

“I don’t want the police involved. The person that beat on my door is my ex.” I shook my head. The last thing I want or need is the cops. I don’t want any legal system trying to give Dane access to my kids.

“Ex like the father? The worst of the toxic assholes you’ve dated?” Hale quested, arching a brow. Why does he have to be so good-looking? It would be much easier to have this conversation with someone I’m not attracted to.

“That would be him. I don’t know how or why he chose now to find me. But he was on something because the Dane I knew wasn’t like this.” I shook my head, trying to figure out what could have happened to Dane to make him like this. “He’d get drunk and high, but this was different. His whole demeanor was different, and the strength needed to do that damage… he wasn’t the most muscular man when I knew him.”

“I see. Anything out of the ordinary beyond strength? Why did he say he was here?” Hale questioned, not batting an eyelash at Dane’s behavior. He’s really out all of this. Which I guess is good because him being calm is keeping me calm.

“Um…no. Well, Dane’s eyes appeared to be glowing, but I’m sure that was just my eyes playing tricks on me or something about whatever he was on. As for why… he wanted my kids. Said he came to claim his ‘sons.’” I rolled my eyes at the misgender.

Hale nodded, though I saw him stiffen slightly when I mentioned Dane’s eyes glowing. I wanted to ask what that reaction was about when my doorbell rang. I stiffened, worried it was Dane again. “I’ll answer it.” Hale offered, getting to his feet.

“I’VE GOT IT!” River shouted. Oh crap. Hale and I quickly headed for the door, worried that it could be Dane again. “Hot damn! MOM!? You ordered a stripper?! A bit inappropriate when your boyfriend is here!” River laughed.

I want the earth to swallow me whole. If it doesn’t, I’m going to die of embarrassment. Hale looks as embarrassed as I do as we reach the door to the sound of a deep rich laugh joining River’s. “Well, sorry to disappoint, kiddo. I only strip for my wife.” A drool-worthy state trooper smirked, ruffling River’s hair.

I feel like a cougar even looking at him. I’m probably old enough to be his mother, but I can’t help it. Even with Hale standing next to me, I’m looking at this Trooper, fully understanding why River thought he was a stripper. Dark black hair, ocean blue eyes, multiple ear piercings, tattoos peeking out the collar and down his muscular arms from the sleeve of his uniform. A uniform that fits him VERY well. Are all men in Oregon this hot?

“Boyfriend? Hale… didn’t realize you finally took my old man’s advice and joined the dating pool for the first time.” The Trooper smirked, obviously very familiar with Hale. “Austin didn’t mention I would find you at your girlfriend’s place. Want to fill me in on why I’m here?”

Hale sighed, rubbing his temples. “I forgot to contact my son. When I left, I told him to call David if I didn’t contact him in an hour. I should have given a longer timeframe to account for the drive here.”

“In fairness, Austin didn’t wait that long to call me. Said you took off, and he was worried. I was wrapping up my shift, so I used the tracker on your phone, and here I am. Now you don’t look hurt. The only thing that looks damaged is the front door.” David cocked his brow, waiting for an answer.

“Whoa. Are all men in Oregon hot? I thought it was just Mount Daddy.” Sage giggled, poking their from behind me. These children are going to be the death of me.

“River, Sage, why don’t you look up delivery places. We’ll order something for dinner. Let me and Hale talk to Trooper David.” I suggested. I was hoping that the promise of the food of their choice would be enough to get them to leave.

“But we want to stay.” They smirked in unison. Now is not the time for their cuteness. “Plus, we don’t know any good places to order from.” Sage added.

“Um… here…” Hale dug out his phone, opening some app before offering it to Sage. “My son and I have ordered more than our share of take-out. Look through the favorites and order whatever you want. Just make sure you change the address to here, or my son will eat your dinner.” He offered.

“Within reason!” I shouted as I saw the way their eyes lit up at his offer of ordering whatever they wanted. I know my kids; they are bottomless pits when they want to be. I will not have them charge a ton of food to Hale’s card.

“Don’t worry, Miss. Your kids couldn’t order more food than Austin.” Trooper David snickered. “So, what happened here?”

“It’s nothing that needs to be reported. It’s under control, Trooper.” I assured him. I do not want to have this become a police report. I don’t need any reason for Dane to get a toe in the door regarding getting near my kids.

“Are you sure about that, Miss?” Trooper David arched his pierced brow looking from the busted door back to me.

“Yes, everything is under control.” I repeated.

“It’s fine, David. She has it under control.” Hale assured. “Erin, would you mind making sure they aren’t going too overboard with what you are ordering and maybe make sure they got something you’ll eat? I’m just going to walk David to his cruiser.”

“Yeah… I can do that. Sorry for the trouble, Trooper David.” I apologized to David.

I’m not sure what Hale might want to talk to him about. I hope he doesn’t go behind my back and get the police involved. I’ll handle Dane myself.

Chapter 11 - Hale

My brain is trying to keep up and process everything going on. There is a lot to address, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few points I should have handled. Like River calling me Erin’s boyfriend. David’s arrival had me thrown off.

And now David believes I’m romantically involved with Erin. I’d be less concerned if this were any other person in the pack. But this is David. This kid has had a knack for running his mouth since he could talk. Which would be a pain in general, but he is a Luna guard. I do not need gossip about my life being told to our pack leaders.

Because unless he’s going to tell me something supernatural is going on with Erin’s ex, there is no reason to involve Alpha Logan or Luna Aurelia in my business. There I go again. This is Erin’s business. I don’t have any stake in it. I’m her boss, so I should act accordingly. But I don’t think I can.

I exhaled in relief when Erin agreed to check on her kids so I could talk privately with David. If this is supernatural, I don’t need her finding out in whatever shocking delivery David would use. Subtly is not a Bryant trait. They aren’t bull in a china shop level blunt, but they don’t sugarcoat things either.

As soon as she had left, I stepped out of the house, shutting the damaged door behind me. “So? What in the name of the Goddess is her ex? I’m hoping for just a drugged-out human. But that damage doesn’t look human-made.” I sighed as we started walking to his car.

“Well, I’m glad to see wolf or not; you haven’t lost your touch, Chief.” David smirked, leaning on his cruiser. “Congrats, by the way. It’s good to see you finding someone to care about. Miss Jen was a great lady from what I remember of her. Always smiling and wanting everyone to feel safe, loved, and happy. She’d want you to be happy.”

“Focus, David. And don’t call me Chief. I haven’t been that in eighteen years.” I clenched my jaw. I don’t need him to remind me of what I’ve lost right now. I need him to answer my question about Erin’s ex.

“And despite what her child said, we are not involved. She works in my department at Kinsley.” I sighed. “Now, answer my question regarding her ex. I don’t know how much time we will have to speak privately before Erin or one of her children interrupts.”

“So touchy. And sure, whatever you say, you drove all the way here for an employee. What did she text you that her ex was trying to knock down her door? Odd thing for an employee to do. But you live in your land of delusions.” David smirked, patting my shoulder.

I glowered at him. If I still had Jason, I’d be growling. David just laughed. Of course, the little shit laughed.

“Easy, Chief. If looks could kill. Gonna count myself lucky that you don’t have Jason. He’d be looking to snap my neck.” David chuckled. “Now for the ex. Your instinct is right. He isn’t human. So, I get your girlfriend doesn’t want the police involved, and I’m on board with that, but she’s going to have to deal with Alpha getting involved.”

I felt my heart sink. I was hoping it was just a matter of a human high on some strong drug. Knowing Erin’s ex is supernatural means her kids are hybrids of something, which means I have to break the news that the supernatural is real. This is going to go well.

“What is he then? Do you know if Alpha was expecting or approved for anyone to enter the territory? Or maybe Ductus Caleb was expecting someone?” I questioned, folding my arms. Whatever this guy is, he’s a moron if he didn’t get approval to enter the territory from Alpha or, at the least, Ductus Caleb.

“No visitors have been approved to cross into our territory. A werewolf crossing our borders and fucking with a human, especially one that works for Kinsley. Her ex is in for a world of hurt. Alpha won’t care if the guy is trying to claim his hybrid children. Hell, that’s an even better reason for Alpha to kill him.” David scoffed.

Fuck. That’s not what I wanted to hear. “Rogue?” I questioned, trying to assess how dangerous this guy would be. If he’s a rogue, it’ll be easier to handle. It won’t involve another pack and dealing with the red tape and legal shit that comes with killing another pack’s member.

“I wish. It would make this a lot easier. Could track his scent and kill him, and no one bats an eyelash. I bet you were thinking the same thing.” David sighed. “He’s part of a pack that I don’t recognize the scent, so I can only assume he’s not from a pack near us. Where’s your girl from?”

Well, that certainly complicates things. Now we not only have to find the asshole but find his pack to tell his Alpha to come to get him before he gets himself executed. “That does complicate things. Erin’s from Massachusetts, and will you stop calling her that. We are not dating.” I grumbled.

“You want to be, but whatever you say, Chief.” David winked. “You got a name for this ex? I’ll get the Deltas to track his ass down.”

I rolled my eyes and tried to remember if she’d said his name. I can’t check my phone, her kids have it, but I don’t think she said his name in our chats. But then I recalled she mentioned his first name when we were talking inside. “All I have is a first name, Dane.” I wrinkled my nose as I said his name.

“Not a lot to go, one.” David sighed. “Wait, you said your woman… I mean Erin….” He smirked, correcting himself. “Works for Kinsley. The company didn’t happen to set her up with this house?”

“Hm… I think the company did. Is this one of the properties Alpha owns?” I questioned. Following his thinking, I turned and started to look more closely at the property, looking for signs that it was connected to Kinsley. And there it was, a small, almost missable flashing red light above her front door on a camera.

“My eyes aren’t what they used to be. Tell me that the security camera has the Bloodmoon or Silvercloud logo.” I nodded to the front door. A smile spread across David’s lips as he looked at the camera.

“Jackpot. Silvercloud security. That will make it even easier for Silvercloud to track this guy down. I’ll handle finding him. You get the fun part of telling her that her ex is a werewolf and her kids are hybrids. Good luck.” David winked, climbing into his car before I could get a word in.

I had to move away quickly so I didn’t run over as he pulled away. I was mentally cursing him as I made my way back to her house. I paused at the door, looking at the camera. I have faith in our Delta couple. There isn’t a place on the planet someone can hide from them. Dane’s time is running out.

I pushed the door open, furrowing my brow as I heard slightly raised voices. “What did you two do!? He offered to let you order food, not have free range on his phone.” Erin scolded her children as I entered the room.

The troublemakers were laughing on the sofa, devious grins on their lips as their amber eyes lit up, seeing me walking up behind their mother. “Honestly, Mount Hale Daddy should thank us. We just told some skanks he’s already getting his dick wet.” River cackled.

“You two are in so much trouble. When Hale leaves, we will have a long conversation about personal space and privacy. And maybe we should also have a chat about what is appropriate for you to say.” Erin sighed, running a frustrated hand over her face.

“I’ll take my phone back, Erin. I’m sure the damage they did can’t be that bad.” I said, startling her as I took my phone back. “While I’m certain whatever they may have said to matches on the app was highly inappropriate and inaccurate, there are more pressing matters than the invasion of my privacy.”

“Oh… I am sorry about my kids. They don’t always think before they do things. Or rather, they don’t think of the consequences.” Erin apologized, turning to look at me. Her brow furrowed as she probably noticed the solemn look on my face. “What’s going on? You have a somber look. What did your cop friend say?”

I suggested gesturing for her to take a seat. “David is not my friend. His father is, but that’s beside the point. I think it’s best if you sit down. What I’m going to say is shocking and hard to accept.”

“That sounds ominous.” Sage frowned, sitting up as they and River stopped laughing. At least they can sense how serious a matter this is.

I don’t even know how to go about telling them. It’s not like I can prove it either. I don’t have my wolf, so I can’t just shift to prove the existence of werewolves. David left, so I can’t have him do it. That leaves me with one option for confirming that I’m on the level.

I swiped away the angry notifications from the app. I can deal with mad women later; they are far from a priority right now. Instead, I pulled up my texts and opened my chat with Austin.

Hale: Austin, I need you to come to 4031 SE 73rd St Southeast Portland.

Austin: Are you okay? Did David find you?

Hale: I’m fine. Yes, he arrived and just left. I need you to get to the address I gave you quickly. I will explain everything when you arrive. Just know I need you.

Austin: Okay… I’m on my way.

I sighed, pocketing my phone, realizing I had three sets of eyes focused on me. “Right, so I just asked my son to come by. What I’m about to say will require his assistance. But in the meantime, I’ll explain the best I can and answer what I can.”

“Hale? What’s going on? What would you need to explain that requires your son?” Erin questioned, looking even more worried. Great, I didn’t want to cause her more worry, but it seemed unavoidable.

“I’m going to start with a simple question. Do you believe in the supernatural?” I questioned, sitting in one of the chairs so I could face all of them comfortably.

“Like magic?” Erin arched an eyebrow. I’m not sure if she’s skeptical or onboard with the possibilities.

“Vampires? Werewolves? Demons? Witches? Gods? Goddesses?” Sage and River rapid-fired alternated, listing off supernatural beings leaning forward and getting excited. Sage put on the arctic wolf headdress when the mention of werewolves.

“Yes, all of it. Do you believe they exist, or are they simply fiction? I get the feeling the kids are believers or wishful thinkers.” I sighed, focusing on Erin. She seemed to be the one more on the fence about all this.

“I believe all things are possible. But what does that have to do with anything? You’re worrying and confusing me. What’s going on?” Erin questioned.

“Okay, well, that’s a start. Because it’s all real. You’re living in werewolf territory, Bloodmoon to be exact.” I began.

“Is this a joke? I don’t know why you would be joking right now. Because none of this is making any sense.” Erin shook her head.

“Seriously? We’re in werewolf territory?” River questioned, grinning.

“That’s so cool!” Sage exclaimed, bouncing on the sofa and holding the headdress on tighter. “Oh shit, is something like this offensive?” They questioned, holding the hat to their head, frowning.

“Um, no, Sage. I don’t find it offensive.” I assured them. “And I’m not joking, Erin. I wouldn’t joke about my pack. I’m a werewolf, or I was. It’s complicated.” I sighed.

“What does that even mean? You're a werewolf? How can you be a werewolf? How can someone stop being a werewolf?” Erin questioned.

“Um… well, a werewolf is born with a wolf spirit. That wolf spirit awakens when we turn sixteen, and we shift to our wolf form on our first full moon. My wolf, Jason, was white like Sage’s headdress. But when my mate, soulmate, wife, whatever you wish to call her. When she died, Jason died too. Jason died taking all the pain to ensure I would live to raise Austin.” I explained. “As I said, complicated.”

The looks on their faces were so varied. The twins looked like they wanted to hug me but weren’t sure if they should. While Erin, I don’t know what her expression means. But I can guess one feeling, confusion.

Chapter 12 - Erin

My brain has imploded. I always thought of myself as being open-minded. I believe that all things are possible in a universe of infinite possibilities. I’ve always considered myself a Pagan and have always enjoyed books and programming about the supernatural. But even with that mindset, I still didn’t believe any of it was real.

So to be sitting in my living room and having the guy I’m interested in, my boss, telling me he’s a werewolf, I’m flabbergasted. He must be messing with me. But he says he’s serious, and he looks serious. Yet still, my brain can’t wrap my head around this.

Hale is a werewolf, or he was. I was stumped on how it’s possible to stop being a werewolf until he explained. If my heart didn’t already break for him losing his wife before, it was shattered now. She wasn’t just a wife to him; she was his soulmate.

The softness to his voice and the pain I could see in those blue eyes as he talked about losing her and his wolf. No wonder this man hasn’t dated since her death. How the fuck could anyone compare to that? What woman could measure up to a soulmate? I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell.

I didn’t even know what to say or how to react. But my inability to find a proper response to all this didn’t matter. My kids didn’t have the same reservations as I did that this was true or the same concern about having to measure up to not just a deceased wife but to his soulmate.

They launched themselves at poor unsuspecting Hale, hugging the air out of him. My kids have always been the aggressive hugger types. They will hug you like Elmyra from Tiny Toon Adventures if they hug you. I winced on Hale’s behalf as he and the armchair he was sitting in nearly toppled backward at the force of two hundred-ish combined pounds landing on him.

They didn’t even say anything, just latched onto him, hugging him so tight he gasped for breath. “Ow…um… thanks. But think… you could let me… go? I… need air.”

“Stop trying to hug the life out of him.” I scolded, trying to pry my children off Hale.

“But mom…” River pouted. Their grip holding firm on Hale. This is not what I need today. I doubt having my kids hugging the life out of him fits into keeping things professional. Granted, Hale being here isn’t in line with being professional.

“He lost his wolf and soulmate.” Sage sniffled, squeezing Hale tighter. Why, thank you, Sage. The man I’m attracted to, who happens to be my boss, isn’t just any widower but lost a soulmate. That’s just what I needed to be reminded of.

“I know, Sage. I know you both want to show you care and comfort him. But remember, people need to breathe. So let him go and return to the sofa.” I tried to reason with them. Begrudgingly they let him go and returned to the sofa.

“Are you alright?” I arched my brow as Hale leaned forward, rubbing his neck where Sage had been squeezing him, taking deep breaths.

“I’ll be fine. I haven’t been hugged that hard since Edith nearly crushed the life out of me at the memorial service for Jen.” Hale nodded, still catching his breath.

I’m not sure who Edith is, but I’m going to assume his wife’s name was Jen.

“Right. Um, so I’m still confused about all this. Especially how any of this has to do with what’s happening with my ex.” I shook my head, wanting to focus on anything that isn’t Hale being a wolfless werewolf and supernatural being real.

“Right. Well, it has everything to do with it. Because I don’t have my wolf, I could scent it myself. But David…” Hale started to explain.

“Stripper cop is a werewolf!?” River exclaimed.

“He isn’t a stripper, River. David is an Oregon State trooper and an essential member of my pack. He’s our Luna’s bodyguard.” Hale explained. “But as I was saying. David was able to pick up the distinct scent of your ex. Given your reaction to what I said, you didn’t know, which makes sense as all supernatural safeguards the secret of our existence. But Dane is a werewolf.”

I practically fell back into my chair. “Dane is a werewolf? No…that. That doesn’t make any sense. I mean, I can’t say I know many werewolves. But Dane is very different from you or even that brief encounter I had with David. If you are an example of what a werewolf is, Dane couldn’t be one.” I shook my head in disbelief.

“Wait, if sperm donor fuckhead is a werewolf, does that mean we are too?” River sat up, excitement dancing in their amber eyes.

“That would be so cool. I want to be a werewolf. Are there non-binary werewolves? What about trans? Lesbian? Gay?” Sage was bouncing in place again as they started peppering Hale with questions.

“Slow down.” Hale held a hand up. “It would make you hybrids, yes. This is not a guarantee of having a wolf spirit. It will take a skilled person like our Beta female to identify if a wolf spirit is within you before your sixteenth full moon.” He explained.

“So, there is a chance? What are the chances we will have wolves?” River questioned.

“April needs to get here like yesterday! I want to turn sixteen and see if I have a wolf!” Sage’s smile widened. “I want to know what my wolf will look like. Will they be non-binary like me? So many options.”

“I think we all need to take a moment and not get ahead of ourselves. We are still basing this on Hale saying he’s a werewolf. No offense, but there isn’t any proof werewolves exist. And I’d rather the kids not get excited about something that might just be nothing.” I rationalized.

“I understand your apprehension, Erin. That’s why I texted my son to come. I may not have my wolf anymore, but he has his. So, he can provide proof.” Hale assured. At least he wasn’t expecting me to buy into this so quickly.

“Now, to answer your questions. I’m unsure if trans, non-binary, or gender fluid members are in the werewolf community. I know there aren’t any within my pack. As for the sexuality of werewolves, many fall under the LGBQ umbrella.” Hale began calmly answering Sage and River’s questions.

“So, the werewolf community is accepting of all that?” River questioned as Sage blinked in awe at the idea of not only a supernatural community but a community accepting of others.

“We do. Werewolves mate for life. It doesn’t matter what the gender or our mate is. A mate is your soulmate. They are your other half, the piece that completes you. So, everything else doesn’t matter. One of my pack members learned that the hard way a few years ago when he found himself mated to an Alpha of a pack in Sicily.” Hale nodded.

The way he talks about mates is just driving the knife deeper into my heart. There is no way I could measure up to his mate. She was his perfect match, the one that completed him. I need to put it out of my mind. Hale is not going to be the guy for me.

“That is so cool! So there is an Alpha who’s gay? What’s he like? How many packs are there in the world? How many are in your pack? Are there other supernatural creatures beyond werewolves? Where are they? What are they?” River and Sage started to bombard Hale.

Most people would get annoyed with their constant and loud questions. Yet Hale smiled calmly, letting them get their questions out before answering them. Does this guy ever get agitated?

“Yes, Alpha André is gay. From my understanding, he’s been out since younger than you. I’ve never met him myself, but my son and his fiancée describe him as over the top, always smiling, always looking to improve the lives of others.” Hale described this foreign Alpha.

“I don’t know how many packs are out there, but I’m sure it’s in the thousands. In Bloodmoon, we are over two thousand and growing with each new pup born and mate brought to live here. There are many supernatural creatures, but the dominant groups are werewolves, vampires, demons, angels, and witches. There is a vampire clan here in Portland. My pack is friendly with them, having a pact with them.” Hale answered all of their questions, not once sounding exasperated.

“THAT IS SO COOL!” Sage exclaimed.

“Can we meet the vampires? Are there any angels and demons we can meet? What about witches? Are there witches around?” River continued with their questions.

“I don’t know the clan personally, but possibly. The pack to our north, Silverclaw, has a vampire as their Delta female. I don’t know any angels or demons personally. As for witches, I think the closet coven is Seattle.” Hale shrugged.

This was getting to be way too much. All of the supernatural creatures are real? My kids readily accepted this, hanging on Hale’s every word while I was still trying to process this. I sighed in relief when someone rang the doorbell.

“That’s probably all the food my kids ordered.” I assumed, heading for the door. Maybe some food will help get me through this. I blinked, opening the door to see a good-looking blonde that reminded me of Hale. He wasn’t holding delivery bags, so he was not the delivery guy.

“Let me guess, EMomma?” The blonde smirked. Well, that confirmed who I was looking at.

“Let me guess, Austin?” I arched my brow.

“The one and only. Where’s my dad? Is he alright? He said he was, but your door looks like something big and dangerous tried to break it down.” Austin questioned, looking past me.

“Oh, never mind, I hear him.” Austin nodded and walked past me. Rude little shit, I don’t care whose son he is, I’m gonna smack him. He just waltzed into my home without being invited in.

“Hey, I didn’t say you could come in!” I yelled, following him. He didn’t even seem bothered by me as he looked at my kids on the sofa, still grilling Hale for answers about werewolves and everything supernatural.

“We signed you up for a dating app, and you find the one with hybrid kids from thousands of women. Well, I guess the Goddess has her reasons. So, what did you call me here for? And if it’s to babysit so you and their mom can go screw, you are shit out of luck. I have a date with Suzanne tonight.” Austin chuckled, no filter whatsoever.

Hale groaned, running a hand over his face. “Austin, do not make me use your full given name. You are acting rudely. First, apologize to Erin for barging into her home and drawing inappropriate conclusions.”

“Oh, come on, dad.” Austin groaned.

“Apologize, now, Cl….” Hale started to speak, but Austin’s growl cut him off.

“Fine. Just do not say that name.” Austin grumbled, turning to me. “My apologies, Miss Erin. It was rude to walk into your home when you hadn’t invited me in. A request to come here from my dad doesn’t give me access to roam freely around your home. As for the comment about you and my dad screwing, I’m sorry if it offended you. I was just trying to tease him. But he does need to get laid.”

I blinked, not sure how to reply to his apologies. “If mom and Hale Daddy want to fuck, they can go to mom’s room. We’ll just watch a loud movie. But answers first!” River shouted as Sage giggled. I covered my face with both hands. I wish they could learn to censor themselves.

“Answers?” Austin raised an eyebrow. “What did you call me here for, dad?”

Hale cleared his throat, giving a stern look to my kids before answering his son. “You already said they are hybrids. I’ve explained as much as I could about werewolves being real. However, I cannot prove it.”

“Prove it?” Austin furrowed his brow. “You called me here to strip for your girlfriend and her kids? That’s messed up.” Austin chuckled.

“Strip? Whoa, he’s going to strip?” River and Sage shared a curious look as they sized Austin up.

“No one is stripping!” I shouted. “Why would your son need to, as he calls it, strip?” I questioned, looking at Hale.

“When a werewolf shifts to their wolf, their human clothes are torn. Austin is being crass about it, but he would need to undress to avoid ripping his clothes.” Hale explained.

“Let’s get this done then. Give me some room. If you would, Miss Erin, take a seat. I wouldn’t want you to get hurt when I shift to my wolf accidentally.” Austin gestured me to a chair.

“Um… okay.” I frowned, still skeptical, as I moved to the chair. My kids even sat quietly, all their focus on Austin as he started to disrobe.

I’m officially going to hell. I’m sitting in my living room with my kids, the man I’m attracted to, watching his twenty-something son strip down to his boxers.

Continued in Love After 40 Part 2

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