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The Quiet Giant's Mate

Updated: May 27, 2023

Chapter 1 - Ivan

“ZIO IVAN!” Grace’s small fairy-like voice called out.

She gleefully raced through the rows of grapevines, having quickly spotted me out in the field. I’m easily spotted unless standing amongst a thick grove of trees.

I was born and raised to be a Gamma. Too bad becoming Gamma, no matter how briefly I held the title, came at such a high price. If you’d told me five years ago that I would own my ex’s family winery rather than being the Madonie Gamma, I would say that you were out of your mind.

The blood that stains my hands will never wash away. I will always be haunted by the cries of those I’ve killed, their faces caught in terror as I took their lives. Innocent lives were taken by my hand—all in the name of Ignazio, or more so in protecting Amelia from him.

And given what he did to my sister, who could blame me for wanting to keep her from him? Even more so to have learned she was meant to be his fated mate. I may not have been thrilled at her taking a chosen mate, but Stephen is a far better man than Ignazio would have amounted to. He cares for my sister and loves her, not for a mate bond but for who she is.

“Got you!” Grace squealed in delight as she latched onto my leg, or at least to the best a four year old can latch onto a calf as thick as mine.

I sighed, smiling as I looked down at my niece, with her dark locks and purple streaks indicating her status as a hybrid. She may not be my niece by blood, but her arrival in my sister’s life saved her from a depression that Stephen and I couldn’t pull her back from. Grace is a bright light for our family. When she smiles at me, I feel the burden of my sins lifted. Almost.

“Do you?” I asked as I leaned down and lifted her. “Or do I have you?”

She giggled as I held her upside down by her ankle, bringing her so we could be eye to eye. My usual stone expression cracked, and I felt a smile tug at my lips as my niece laughed, her eyes sparkling with joy as she looked at me. Few people in the pack look at me like my niece does. I’m tolerated, but only because my sister is the Gamma, and I was the first to pledge my loyalty to André D’Amore.

Tolerated. That’s all I can hope to be in this world. To many, I’m just a reminder of the war. I’m the reminder of the pain, suffering, and shame brought to all three packs of Sicily. And I have accepted this. I know what I did, and this is the consequence. I’m fortunate to be alive—yet another thing I owe to my baby sister. Many wanted my head, but even without her voice, my sister was the loudest.

‘IVAN!’ My sister’s voice shouted in our family link. ‘Put my daughter down.’ Amelia commanded.

I adjusted my hold on Grace, turning her right side up and placing her on my shoulders. I arched my brow as I looked down at my sister. She’s taller than even some men, but I’m still two feet taller than her. She narrowed her brown eyes and held her arms out, silently demanding her daughter back.

“We were having fun, mama.” Grace pouted as I passed her to my sister.

‘The time for fun has stopped. It’s time for lunch and then a nap for a certain little girl.’ Amelia sighed in our link.

“Lunch time.” I short-handed my sister’s words.

“Ooo, LUNCH!” Grace exclaimed as she wiggled out Amelia’s arms, ready to return to my villa.

She didn’t get far as Amelia took her hand with a heavy sigh. Grace is a bundle of energy. She wanted to be a mama, but she had to realize it would come with moments like this. I know how much my sister loves her daughter, but even our mama would get exasperated despite her endless love for us.

I suppose if Amelia could speak to her daughter if things were different.

Because I failed to protect my sister from Ignazio, she lost her ability to speak outside the link. Of everything I did five years ago, outside of my parents’ deaths, failing to protect Amelia is my greatest regret and shame.

And it’s not like Grace will get the family link when she’s old enough. Adopted children can’t share in a family link. So, we will have to wait until she gets her wolf and can be in the pack link.

‘We will walk back together.’ Amelia signed one-handed to Grace.

“Yes, mama.” Grace conceded.

She’s very bright for a four year old. I doubt many her age would have picked up on LIS. But Grace is as fluent in LIS as in Italian and English. She’ll probably learn French, German, or Spanish when older. Though if she puts her mind to it, I bet she could take on all three. I opted for Spanish in school, and I’m not what I’d call fluent. I can probably limp through a conversation if needed, but that’s it.

We walked in relative silence through the rows of grapes in the direction of what used to be the Pavesi family villa, but since Zelma sold the property to me, it has been my home. The massive, elegant renaissance-influenced Mediterranean home is far more home than I require. I don’t use the second floor unless my sister’s family visits me.

I opened the back gate, letting my sister and niece walk into the fenced yard first. Stephen was on the veranda setting out lunch on the table. His head raised when he either heard us or felt my sister nearby. He smiled as he set a pitcher of lemonade on the table and squatted with his arms open.

“There are my two favorite girls,” Stephen called out.

“Papa!” Grace shouted as she broke free of Amelia’s hand, running around the fence surrounding my pool and straight into Stephen’s arms.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, noticing the far-off look in my sister’s eyes.

‘We need to talk.’ She sighed as she continued to the veranda.

“How was hide and seek in the vineyard?” Stephen asked as he kissed Grace’s cheek and then kissed my sister.

“I caught Zio Ivan.” Grace proclaimed proudly.

‘It looked more like he caught her as I found them with her holding her upside down by the ankle.’ Amelia huffed in the family link to ensure I heard her.

‘She was fine. Our Papa did similar to you at her age.’ I pointed out.

“Sounds like you managed to catch the Madonie Giant. Excellent, Gracie.” Stephen praised their daughter as he put her into a chair.

“Let’s eat lunch. I’m sure you worked up an appetite chasing your Zio.” He ruffled her dark hair while Amelia put a helping of pasta alla Norma on Grace’s plate.

“Did you talk to him yet?” Stephen asked as we all settled in for lunch.

“No. What happened?” I asked as I arched my brow and waited for one of them to answer me.

I’d been wondering all day why they made this unannounced visit. I didn’t want to question or sound like I was complaining. I enjoy seeing my family, so who am I to complain? If they are here for other reasons, I want to know. If it’s something that could cause them, especially Grace pain, I want to know. I don’t want my sister to keep secrets again. The last time she kept a secret, she almost died.

‘I was about to tell him.’ Amelia sighed in the shared link.

I set my fork down and gave her my full silent attention.

Amelia sighed, reached into her purse, and placed a purple envelope with my name written in gold, sealed with the Madonie pack symbol. I furrowed my brow as I took the envelope cautiously. Was I being summoned by André? I can’t think of anything I’d have done that would require a summons.

I’ve only left my property when given permission, and even then, it’s only to see my sister. All my supplies are delivered from a nearby grocer. So, I don’t even go into town. I have people that operate the vineyard, make the wine from the grapes, and handle the distribution. I don’t run any company meetings, at least not in person. On rare occasions, I join a video meeting with investors or distributors that want to see the face of the man behind Ebon Moon winery.

My brow furrowed as I broke the seal, and purple and gold glitter in the shape of masks fell onto the white linen tablecloth. I shouldn’t be surprised that glitter would be involved. This is André D’Amore I’m dealing with. But why masks? Why purple and gold? These aren’t Madonie colors. And if anything from André, I’d have expected rainbow flecks of glitter.

My expression didn’t change as I took the card out and read the contents.

“Alpha André & Aleph Darren of Madonie present their first Masquerade Mate Ball? Your presence is requested for an evening of mystery & company & a Chance at true love?” I wrinkled my nose and tossed the invitation on the table.

“What s…nonsense is this?” I asked as I stopped myself from calling it shit.

‘Exactly what it is. Your invitation to the gathering Madonie is hosting this year.’ Amelia rolled her eyes.

“You’ve declined to attend any gathering hosted over the last five years.” Stephen pointed out.

“And?” I turned my hard gaze at him.

‘And I’m sick of it!’ Amelia snorted in the link.

‘I am over your woe-is-me act. I am over you, behaving like you aren’t worthy of a mate. Your mate is out there waiting for you to find her.’ Amelia scolded and gestured away.

‘Out there is a she-wolf yearning for her mate, probably attending gathering after gathering and losing hope because you’ve written off the chance of having love. You’ve decided for yourself that the Goddess would shun you.’ Amelia stood as she grew angry.

‘I haven’t. You, Ivan Noè Furlan, are going, and that is final.’ Her words held no room for argument.

‘I will not have my brother waste away his life, punishing himself for something he was forced to do. It hurts me to see you like this. So please… for me go.’ Amelia pleaded with tears pooling in her eyes.

“Fine. If it will make you happy.” I conceded.

I’m not a monster. I have a heart. And I cannot bear to see my sister in pain even more when that pain is felt on my behalf. I’ll go to this masquerade ball. Then when I go home alone, perhaps she will give up. Even if I find her at this ball, she will reject me because I’m me. Because there’s no way someone like me deserves a mate. I kept that thought to myself.

‘Thank you!’ Amelia smiled as she moved around the table and hugged me.

I can do this. I can attend a ball if it makes my sister happy.

Chapter 2 - Regina

“Stop frowning, Delilah. It’s making it difficult to finish your makeup.” I sighed with the eyeliner held steady in my hand, inches from my best friend’s eye.

“I’m sorry, Regina.” Delilah apologized and sat up straighter as she stopped frowning.

“It’s just I don’t get the point of me going tonight.” Just as I was about to apply her eyeliner, she started talking and moved her head.

I sighed and lowered the eyeliner to avoid stabbing her in the eye. I know how she feels. Not in a sense that I know because I think the same way. But I know how she feels because I’m her friend and she tells me everything.

“You’re doing this because my cousin insisted. And he was right to insist.” I said.

“But why? What’s the point? I’ve made up my mind, so why try to make me find a mate who wouldn’t change my mind but would cause unnecessary stress.” Delilah frowned.

“We all know you’ve made up your mind. And what you are doing for my cousin is amazing and incredibly selfless. But you need to see it from his point of view.” I sighed as I leaned against the vanity.

“He doesn’t want you to go through with this and then halfway through find your mate, and it causes an issue,” I explained. “So, by having you come to the ball, if you don’t find a mate in any pack in Italy, he can feel secure taking your offer.”

“Okay, you make a good point.” Delilah conceded.

“Not that finding a mate after I’ve started the process will change my mind. If my mate can’t or won’t accept and support my choice, he’s not my soulmate. A soulmate would understand what’s in my heart and why I’m doing this.” She added.

“Whatever you say.” I sighed.

“At least you won’t run the risk of seeing Alexander.” I pointed out.

It’s been two years since she went no contact with him after walking in on him in a compromising position with his then-girlfriend, Lia Borgnino. None of us blamed her for wanting to distance herself from him. It was one thing to have a crush on him when he only had casual lovers, but quite another when he committed to someone. I think she’s taken it too far by letting it carry on this long. He’s not even with that lying piece of shit anymore.

“I don’t want to hear his name.” Delilah pouted.

“You really should let it go. Elsa that shit. He’s not with Liar. I mean Lia.” I scoffed. “He’s been single for over a year now and, from what I know, hasn’t taken any new lovers.”

“And he’s currently away looking for his mate, and I wish him the best of luck. Even if he were still in Madonie, it wouldn’t change anything. I’m going to help André and Darren.” Delilah said sternly.

She has been more confident and vocal since she returned from Bloodmoon. It’s not a bad thing. My brother wouldn’t know how to handle how she’s changed, and it would be HILARIOUS to watch him try. I held my hands up in defeat and finished her makeup.

“Whatever you say. But Alexander or not, every male at this ball will be looking at you.” I smiled as I stepped out of the way for her to look in the mirror.

Sure, we’d be wearing masks tonight, but that didn’t mean we shouldn’t do our full makeup. Delilah and I had both chosen golden gowns for tonight. Delilah’s gold slip dress had a deep v of gold sequins that I know will have many males drooling. I had gone with a long sleeve backless ball gown, the top shimmering with sequins and tulle for the lower half.

“I rather doubt that. Besides, I don’t want anyone that isn’t my mate, and I know I won’t find him tonight.” Delilah said confidently.

“Well, I think I will. I just have this feeling. Gioia is super antsy and eager to get to the ball. That must be a sign. It’s like she knows he will be there.” I sighed.

In the days leading up to today, my wolf has been on edge, ready and waiting to find our mate. She’s been prepared to find him since I first shifted. But I’ve not found him in any of the Sicilian packs two years later. So, this ball is my first step looking further away. All the packs of Italy have sent their eligible members to this ball. That’s twelve more packs of males that may hold my mate.

“I doubt Valter will be happy about that.” Delilah brought my mood down.

“He can get over it. I knew dating him before getting our wolves was a bad idea. And I’d told him if we dated, he had to accept that it would be over after we turned sixteen if we weren’t mates.” I straightened my shoulder.

“And that promise to take him as a chosen mate?” Delilah arched her brow.

“Was his idea as a backup plan, and only after we’d searched the world for our mates for at least five years.” I rolled my eyes, stepping away to get my phone out of my clutch.

“Now, hold still. I want to get a pic to send to your sisters.” I gestured for her to turn.

Delilah shook her head but did as she was told. After I instructed her to pose a few different ways, I was satisfied with the pictures. I sent them off in a group chat with her sisters, my sister, and my mother. Then I opened my text thread with my brother and sent my favorite one to him.

Me: All eyes are going to be on Delilah tonight. Eat your heart out, dumbass.

I didn’t expect a quick reply from him. I’m unsure what country he’s in tonight, let alone the time zone. Yet his response was nearly instant.

Alexander: I do not need this bullshit. I have dinner in twenty minutes with three Alphas, the biggest homophobes I have had the displeasure to meet, and I’m supposed to play nice and not cut out their still-beating hearts with a butter knife as they bash my Alpha’s sexuality.

Me: What jackasses! No Sicilian pack should be associated with them! Ditch them. Don’t show up.

Alexander: You have a lot to learn about being a Beta. I can’t just do that because that could cause a war between Madonie and these douchebags. So, if none of their daughters is my mate, I can get out of the dinner fairly quickly and never see these people again.

Regina: Well, good luck with that. Please don’t sleep with any of them. Though I’m sure, you learned your lesson after Lia.

Alexander: Never mention that name again. Have fun tonight, and watch out for Delilah.

Me: Delilah can take care of herself. She’s not the delicate flower her name makes her sound like. Enjoy your dinner, brother.

I sighed as I put my phone away. Even though Delilah’s not talked to him in years, my brother still needs to care for her. He always worries about her. He will probably lose his shit when he discovers what she’s offered to do for our cousin. The only thing that could and would get under his skin more would be her finding her mate.

“Knock knock!” André grinned as he walked in wearing an outfit that was so André it’s not funny.

I doubt any males at the ball tonight will be as fashionable as him. Few could could pull off wearing a black and gold brocade suit jacket with a matching bow tie. Of course, my cousin would go over the top with his suit for the evening. Though I bet he has Darren wearing something similar, they make an adorable couple.

“Oh, you two are gorgeous.” He beamed as he pulled us into a hug. “I hope that tonight brings you what you desire.”

“Thank you, cousin.” I smiled. “I feel tonight’s going to be a good one.”

“Thank you, André. I hope Regina finds her mate even if it means I must deal with running interference with Valter.” Delilah sighed.

“Don’t worry about Valter.” André bopped her nose. “We ranked Madonie are going to be chaperoning the ball. If anyone, Valter included, gets upset that someone finds a mate that isn’t them, we will deal with them.”

“That’s good to know.” I sighed.

I doubt he would. I don’t want to think the worst of Valter, but I don’t want him to make an unnecessary scene. He is the Incubi Delta heir, so he should know better than to act out publicly. But I also don’t want him to try and privately start trouble with my mate, should I find him tonight.

‘We will find him tonight. I can feel it. And Valter can fuck off if he thinks he gets an opinion.’ Gioia once again affirmed her feelings.

“Now then, let’s go, ladies. The limo awaits!” André shooed us out of the guest suite we were staying in at his villa.

We hurried from the guest wing to find a limo in the driveway with Darren and Valter waiting. I was right that Darren was dressed to match his mate. I smiled softly as they kissed. Yep, they are adorable. Valter sighed and shuffled away from them to stand next to me. He looked nice, wearing a black suit with a gold tie. Looking at him, it’s easy to understand why I was enamored with him before I got my wolf.

‘But I am here now, and we aren’t enamored with this little shit. I don’t care if we are fifty and haven’t found our mate. I’m not approving of taking a chosen mate.’ Gioia snorted.

“You look stunning, Regina.” Valter smiled, moving his arm to slip it around my waist, but I moved away before he could.

“Come on. I’m eager to get to the ball and find my mate.” I grinned.

“Wait… pictures first. I must send pictures to the family.” André hurried to take his phone out.

I went to stand with Delilah, and like a lost puppy, Valter went to stand next to me. André frowned and lowered his phone.

“Did I ask you to be in a picture, Valter? Get in the limo.” André dismissed Valter.

Valter sighed but did as he was told. This isn’t like when we were kids, and all lived in Incubi. He can’t treat André like a fellow heir. André is an Alpha, and we are in his territory; therefore, his word is law. Delilah and I held back our laughter as André had us pose for a few pictures before finally letting us climb into the limo to be whisked away for what I know will be a night to remember.

“Here. You will need these.” Darren explained as he handed us each a mask.

“I will be giving the rundown of the rules for tonight to the males. André will be giving the same rules to the females. When we arrive, Valter, you will stay with me.” Darren continued to explain as we looked at our masks.

I haven’t been to many gatherings, but I doubt others would go so far as to provide custom masks. I glanced at the purple half-face mask Valter was given and the swirls of gold and black decorated it. I then looked at the more delicate purple eye mask in mine and Delilah’s hands with the gold details and purple stones to make a tiara effect. They are gorgeous, and I will keep mine forever, especially if I find my mate tonight.

The Madonie pack house was lit up and decorated in rich purple, gold, and black to match the ball’s theme. As we exited the limo, Darren led Valter to the other entrance, where all the males gathered. Delilah and I helped each other tie our masks on as we joined the five dozen she-wolves waiting to go inside. Everyone had gone all-out picking gowns for tonight, wearing dresses in the approved colors.

“Welcome to Madonie’s Masquerade Mate Ball!” André greeted as he stood on a small podium.

“I am your host, Alpha André D’Amore. Now I will tell you the rules of tonight’s festivities.” He smiled.

“No removing your masks till midnight. Follow your noses and wolf instincts as you seek out your mate. There will be no leaving till midnight, even if you have found your mate.” He outlined.

“Use tonight to get to know your mate in a deeper way, and no, that’s not me making a sexual innuendo. If I don’t get to find a dark corner to fool around with my mate, neither do you.” He chuckled, getting some laughs.

I know my cousin, and he barely keeps his hands off his mate. Usually, when he does, it’s because Darren is telling him business first. So maybe they will make it through this party without having a quickie or at least a make-out session. André looked at his watch and nodded to the attendants at the double doors.

“I wish you all luck in finding your mates and a lifetime of happiness only found with the one the Goddess fated for you.” My cousin proclaimed as the girls hurried inside, bringing Delilah and me along in the wave of she-wolves.

Chapter 3 - Ivan

I feel ridiculous standing here. I stand out like a sore thumb, not just because I’m two feet taller than the next tallest man in the crowd. No, I stand out because I got put into a no-win situation regarding my attire. I was going to wear my simple black suit I have had for years for formal events. When I arrived at Amelia’s earlier today, I was told it wouldn’t do.

I tried to protest that what I wore was more than acceptable for the event. Amelia made it very clear that I didn’t have a choice. She brought me to a guest room where a dark purple suit jacket, waistcoat, slacks, and tie with a black dress shirt hung from the closet door. The suit was custom tailored for me and ordered by Alpha André. So, despite feeling utterly foolish dressed like this, I am wearing the damned suit to avoid getting on our Alpha’s bad side.

‘You’re already going to stand out with your height. Let’s make you also stand out for being the best dressed. Alpha Andre sent this for you, so you are wearing it!’

My sister’s words repeated in my head as I felt the stares and heard the whispers of every male standing here when they were supposed to be listening to Aleph Darren as he gave us the event rules. I looked sternly at those from Madonie, and they quickly went silent. Having a reputation doesn’t always have to be a negative.

Thankfully even the wolves from packs outside Sicily stopped gawking and whispering when the doors opened. Typically, when somewhere over five dozen males all move in one direction, you’d expect people to be shoved forward. I’m not a typical person. I remained stationary like a pillar that no amount of pushing would budge. Males had to part around me to get inside.

I felt someone glowering at me and noticed Aleph Darren, still at his podium, was looking directly at me. It could be because I’m the tallest person, but I doubt it. He wouldn’t have that exasperated look as he folded his arms.

‘Do not make me get your sister, Ivan.’ Darren threatened through the pack link.

My shoulders sank slightly as he threatened me with my sister. Low blow but effective. It worked better than using an Aleph command, and he knew it. So I walked forward, keeping my stride short. I’m in no hurry to get inside. Despite that I was moving forward, I knew Darren was still annoyed as I was the last eligible male to walk into the western entrance of the Madonie grand ballroom.

Growing up, I have attended many events in this ballroom and the rare ones since André took power. And this is the most I’ve seen the space transformed. Purple, gold, and black fabric draped elegantly from the center chandelier of the room and down the walls. I assume André asked a favor of his sister as candles floated in the air, just far enough from the fabric not to be a hazard but high enough that they wouldn’t even hit me in the head.

Round tables were off to one side of the room near a row of buffet tables. Then most of the space was clear as a dance floor. A chamber orchestra was on the stage and had already begun playing, giving the event some additional ambiance as people started to mingle, following their noses in search of mates. And if they didn’t scent a mate, they were at least searching for some company for the night.

I was tempted to go to the buffet and make a plate to sit for the evening. However, my feet weren’t moving, at least not toward the food. Cain had other ideas as he growled the word I dreaded, ‘Mate.’ I wanted to go in the opposite direction, to force my way out of the ballroom. I wanted to go anywhere that wasn’t in the direction of the enticing aroma of black currant, jasmine, and bourbon vanilla.

‘Stop being so damn stubborn.’ Cain growled as he forced his way forward to make me move.

Cain didn’t care as he shoved past people searching for the scent. I managed to wrangle control back as we reached the center of the dance floor, accidentally knocking a female to the ground by stopping so suddenly. I grimaced because this is the problem with being a big guy. It’s easy to knock people on their asses. And sure, some people need to get knocked on their asses. I tend not to like doing that to females.

“Sorry.” I gruffly apologized as I looked down and offered my hand to the she-wolf.

Strands of her brown hair had been knocked loose when she collided with me. Blue eyes peered up at me from behind the mask that hid the upper half of her face. The candlelight that hovered above us made the bodice of her dress sparkle like real gold while the tulle of her dress fanned out around her petite frame. She gasped softly as she took my hand, her soft pink lips parted in a perfect ‘O’.

The moment her delicate fingers touched mine, I felt the spark surge up my arm making me suppress a shiver. Crap. I knocked my mate to the floor. I debated how best to escape this situation while Cain growled his argument that if I took one step in the opposite direction or attempted to leave her behind, he would tell Amelia I found and ditched my mate.

“Watch where you’re walking, giant bruise.” A male growled as he pulled my mate’s hand from mine and brought her closer to him.

“Are you all right, Preziosa?” The male looked at my mate with obvious affection.

‘Rip his fucking head off and shove it up his ass!’ Cain snarled.

‘While the rules may not have stated there could be no violence, you know I’m not allowed to lash out in violence or risk what freedom I have.’ I reminded him as I took this opportunity to start to step away.

My mate has a boyfriend, given the familiarity of how he spoke to her. This would make it easier. She’s already involved, so she can reject me on those grounds instead of the long list of other reasons she’d come up with once she knows who I am. At least this would be an out my sister couldn’t get upset or upset with me about.

I could have easily extradited myself from this situation if I was a smaller man. Sadly, I’m a giant, and as I tried to get away, I bumped into a couple that had started dancing, earning an annoyed growl and glare from them. I shrugged my shoulders in silent apology as I tried to walk away again.

“What the hell? Please leave me alone. You are ruining this for me.” A voice that, despite the harsh tone, sounded as delicate as her scent scolded.

“Ignore my friend. He’s just being an asshole.” She called after me as I felt someone tug at my jacket.

‘Take another step away from her, and I will link Amelia and Faith.’ Cain threatened.

Even my wolf would leverage my sister against me. I can’t win. Why is everyone against me? What’s wrong with living my life as a bachelor? No female in their right mind would want to be involved with me. I’m under house arrest for war crimes. I’m a war criminal. That’s not a stigma I want to pass on to my mate.

“Please, don't go.” Her soft plea, just loud enough to hear over the music, stopped me.

My shoulders sank because despite what I’ve done, despite the blood that will forever stain my hands, I am not some heartless monster. And no matter how much I wanted to run from her and the inevitable rejection, I couldn’t stand hurting her. I sighed and turned around to face her. Okay, to look down at her.

She’s so petite. Everything about her looks delicate, while I am the manifestation of a bull in a China shop. Me and delicate don’t go well. I’d break this girl, crush her like the grapes at my vineyard. Grapes that I don’t pick for that reason.

I’m twenty-three, and yes, I had a girlfriend long ago, but I’m still technically a virgin. Zelma either underestimated my size or overestimated her ability regarding sex with me. Because the most I ever got was a disappointing attempt at a blow job and mostly hand jobs after she couldn’t take more than the tip.

“You do not want me.” I shook my head.

“Says who? Him?” She asked, pointing at the pouting male that watched us in envy.

‘Forget the gnat. She doesn’t want him, so what he thinks is irrelevant.’ Cain scoffed.

“Or you? Because I don’t think either of you gets to tell me what I do and do not want.” She scolded, putting her hands on her hips.

For someone as petite as her, she does have rather wide hips. Or is it the dress that makes her appear curvier than she truly is? It’s always hard to tell with women’s clothing. There are so many ways fabric can play tricks on the eyes. For all I know, my golden pixie barely has any curves.

‘She has fire. That’s good. She isn’t the type of female who will bend to or under the whims of others.’ Cain nodded in approval.

“I…” I started to try and explain myself when she was knocked into me by another dancing couple.

“If you aren’t dancing, get off the dance floor, cow.” The she-wolf sneered at my mate.

Cain did not care for her tone or choice of words and growled menacingly and loudly. I’m generally quiet, but my wolf…he’s anything but. The she-wolf and her mate, or at least dance partner, startled and craned their necks to look at me. The color faded from their faces.

“We were just leaving. The dance floor is too full of uptight bitches with two left feet.” My mate chimed in with a warm smile as she delivered her dig at the she-wolf.

“Let’s go sit and talk.” She suggested as she took my hand.

If I didn’t already feel like I stood out with my size and wearing this attention-seeking purple suit, I certainly did now. I was being led through the crowd by the hand of a golden pixie. I should feel some amount of embarrassment, yet I didn’t. I was amused. She amused me. She didn’t care about the stares and whispers around us.

She had set her mind on something, and nothing was deterring her. I am sure that will change when she realizes who I am. While my infamy is mostly confined to Sicily, even people in other packs have probably heard of me. After all, I am the only surviving ranked member of the infamous Madonie traitors. No female will want to bind themselves to a war criminal.

Chapter 4 - Regina

If I didn’t have to chase after my mate, I would have turned Valter into a statue. How DARE he interfere in my first meeting with my mate! And to call me precious and pull me away from my mate, I will make him pay later. He will pay big time. Even more, if his stupidity made Ivan decide I wasn’t worth giving a chance.

Yes, I said Ivan. I don’t need him to remove the mask to know it’s him. I may have been following the scent of black orchid, jasmine, and rich vanilla when I ran into him, but I knew when I looked up and saw the giant towering over me. I knew in an instant who it must be. Because under the tantalizing aroma of the mate smell was the scent of a Madonie wolf. And there is only one giant in all of Sicily, Ivan Furlan.

I haven’t seen him in years. The last time I saw him was when my cousin had his Alpha ceremony here. We danced. Or rather, he stood there like a statue while Delilah, Suzie, and I danced around him like a maypole. I assumed that it was Amelia, or more likely my cousin, that chose Ivan’s suit for tonight. I can’t imagine stoic Ivan Furlan willingly selecting to wear a purple suit and stand out more than his height already makes him.

‘Forget dancing around and decorating his maypole. I say we climb it.’ Gioia licked her chops while I avoided turning red in embarrassment at her graphic innuendo.

I had more pressing matters to deal with than fantasizing about how my 5’5” self would manage to climb the Mount Everest of men. Like the fact that he doesn’t think I would want him. I know his past in detail. I know what he did, and I understand why. There is a reason my cousin spared him, and it wasn’t simply because Amelia is his Gamma.

André knew there wasn’t evil in Ivan’s heart, not like there was in Icky Iggy or Gastone’s. My cousin is an excellent judge of characters, after all. I trust my judgment of people’s character. And while I’ve not spent much time around Ivan since the war, no one who is supposed to be evil, cruel, and heartless would have put up with three tween girls laughing and dancing as he did.

No one undeserving of love and happiness would be so kind to Suzie the way she claims. I know how he’d put her on his shoulders to amuse her. I also know how deeply he cares for his sister and how gentle and loving he is with his niece. No, a man who would bend backward and do even the unthinkable to protect and care for those he loves is evil.

And while I know who he is, I feel he hasn’t placed who I am. That miffs a part of me, but I’ve told that part to shove it. I haven’t seen him in years, and I have changed since I was barely a teenager. I hope he doesn’t break down when he discovers who I am. If he already thinks he’s not good enough for a mate, I’m not sure how he will feel knowing his mate is his Beta’s sister, his Alpha’s cousin, and a Beta heir herself.

I needed to get him somewhere that we could talk. Preferably somewhere away from snotty bitches that are lucky I didn’t turn them to stone. And definitely somewhere that Valter can’t intrude on. I’d say somewhere that my cousin and his ranked wolves wouldn’t spot us, but I don’t think there is such a place. Someone would notice if we attempted to leave the ballroom to go anywhere else in the packhouse. Ivan would be easily spotted, even if he had worn something less bold.

‘Delilah, I need a favor.’ I called out through the pack link, knowing she was probably somewhere wall flowering the evening or talking with one of the Madonie-ranked wolves.

‘You sound… agitated. What do you need me to do? What’s wrong?’ Delilah quickly responded as I led Ivan to an empty table.

‘Find Valter and lock him in a closet or something. He had the balls to interfere when I met my mate and give him the impression that I was with someone.’ I huffed in the link.

‘That jerk!’ Delilah exclaimed. ‘You just enjoy tonight with your mate. I’ll handle it. I doubt André will get upset if I mummify Valter in poison ivy and shove him in a closet for the night.’ She assured me.

Two years in Bloodmoon changed my best friend. Or maybe it was the bitterness of having her heart broken when my brother started dating Lia. Or perhaps it’s from getting her wolf, though her wolf Helia is about as sweet as Delilah typically is. I love her new attitude, especially if it means Valter will get what’s coming to him.

I finally reached a far-off table where we could get what little privacy is allotted in such an environment. A few tables away, couples spoke in hushed tones, feeding each other bites of the delicious food my cousin had prepared or just making out. At least over here, no one was looking at us. They were more focused on each other. I hope no one decides to forgo decorum and mate on one of the tables.

“There. Now we can speak without interruptions.” I sighed as I turned to look up at Ivan.

The corners of his lips had upturned very slightly, and maybe it’s the trick of the light or the height difference, but I think there’s amusement in his eyes behind that mask. Well, that’s a start. I hope to keep him in a good mood as the evening progresses, especially when he finds out who I am. I don’t want my status in Incubi or ties to ranked members of Madonie to deter him.

“Okay, so having to look up will hurt my neck.” I sighed, already feeling a crick in my neck.

“So sit down, and we can end your ridiculous rationale that I wouldn’t want you,” I said with a gesture to the chairs.

“Fine.” He grunted as he sat.

The chair made an unpleasant sound as it tried to support his weight. I grimaced as the metal legs bent, and my poor Ivan crashed to the floor. The thud of him hitting the floor alerted many people around us, whom all turned to gawk. Ivan let out an annoyed breath as he got to his feet and picked up the deformed chair.

A few chairs scraped across the floor as people thought he would explode angrily. That’s not at all what my gentle giant did. He frowned at the chair and proceeded to unbend the legs before placing it back. I smiled because his behavior wasn’t what anyone watching probably expected from a man of his stature. He moved to the far side of the table, closest to the wall, moved the chair out, and sat on the floor, leaning against the wall.

I pulled out the chair next to him and sat down. Even sitting on the floor, he was mostly visible above the table. Sitting down like this, we were at eye level. So, it worked out perfectly. He still looked upset about the chair, so I reached and placed my hand over his.

“It’s not your fault, Ivan,” I assured him. “And this worked out well as we are closer to eye level.”

His eyes widened when I said his name, and realized I’d slipped up. I sighed, knowing there was no sense hiding. I know my cousin had rules about not removing the masks, and I won’t violate them, but he never said we couldn’t while getting to know our mates tell them who we are.

“Yes, I know who you are.” I smiled. “There is only one giant in Sicily.”

“Do I know you?” He asked, on edge that I knew him.

“Yes, though it’s been years since we’ve seen each other. So don’t worry, I’m not offended you didn’t recognize me, plus there are probably many women my height with brown hair and blue eyes.” I began.

“I know we aren’t supposed to remove our masks, but nothing in the rules says we can’t reveal our names.” I took a deep breath and silently prayed that he wouldn’t freak out.

“It’s me, Regina Petridis,” I said, revealing who I am without removing the mask.

I could see the wheels turning in his head. The moment it clicked who I was and was related to, he started to get up. I glanced down at his legs, and from the knees down, they turned to stone, rooting him in place. I was not going to allow that. I’m not letting him run away from me because of who my family is or because of his past. I’ve been looking for him for two damn years. He’s not getting away that easily.

“You have walked away from me once tonight, Ivan Noé Furlan. That won’t be happening again. We are mates, and you don’t get to escape the fate the Goddess gave us.” I declared, sitting up straighter as I tried to emulate the confidence and air of my mother and my father’s authority.

“Regina…” He growled my name and a shiver went down my spine, and trust me, it wasn’t a shiver of fear.

‘Oh, just imagine him saying your name while naked, filling you with what undoubtedly is the biggest dick in Italy.’ Gioia practically purred.

She needs to stop with the horny wolf routine. I’m trying to exude confidence and authority. I can’t do that if I’m blushing and getting turned on trying to picture what Ivan would look like naked. I’m not from Madonie, so I’ve never seen him post-shift. I haven’t even seen his wolf as I was a minor during the Alpha ceremony and was driven by car to the pack house for the celebration while he would have run with his pack.

“Do not take that tone with me, Ivan.” I scolded.

“I will unpetrify your legs if you promise to stay put.” I offered. “Can you do that?”

I won’t release the paralysis on his legs until I am confident he won’t run off again. I also don’t want to resort to getting others like his sister or my cousin involved in keeping him put. That would be going too far. He is my mate, and the Goddess wouldn’t have made it if I couldn’t handle him myself.

Chapter 5 - Ivan

The Goddess has a very wicked sense of humor. She must to pair me with a Petridis. Not even the elder sister but the youngest. The one the older two and the entire D’Amore family is protective of. The only way this could have gone worse for me is if it was Delilah Fayte behind that mask.

Beta Alexander already doesn’t like me, which being his baby sister’s mate, will move me higher up his shit list. To make matters worse, Regina inherited a form of her mother and sister’s gift. So I’m stuck in a sitting position because, from my knees down, my body is granite. I don’t have much choice but to agree to her terms.

I still cannot fathom why she chased me down earlier if she knew who I was. I don’t get why she is insistent that I stay. As a member of the Incubi Beta family, she knows EVERYTHING that happened five years ago. And sure, five years ago, she, Delilah, and little Suzie Walterson had fun dancing circles around me at the pack ceremony after the party. However, dancing around me with her friends when they were all kids is very different from being with me.

“Fine,” I grunted.

‘You need to say more than that. I’ll take over if you can’t say more than a few words to Regina. I can and will say plenty.’ Cain threatened.

I sighed heavily, shoulders sinking because it was not an empty threat. Cain is the loquacious one. He always had something to say. And knowing him, he would say more than I want and more than is necessary.

‘If I’m the one doing the talking, I can guarantee this night would end with our mate in our bed with a mark on her neck.’ Cain confidently boasted.

‘Like hell.’ I scoffed.

“Any time you and your wolf are done. I’ve got all night. It’s your legs at risk from lack of blood flow.” Regina shrugged as she casually leaned back in her chair.

That caught my attention. I was NOT aware the De Luca stone gaze or touch was that risky. I knew it could be permanent if not reversed, but is she serious? Would I truly be risking losing my legs?

“Are you serious?” I asked, looking at my granite legs and then at her.

“Of course I am. You’re used to how Zoe and Mama’s power works. Mine is different. They can’t localize what gets stoned,” She explained.

“Because they paralyze the whole body, it preserves the person. I’ve only stoned your legs, so no blood is flowing into your calves and feet. Soo…” She tapped her wrist as if she had a watch.

“Tic Toc, my quiet giant.” She smiled.

I furrowed my brow at her pet name for me. Or I assume that’s what she intended as she used it possessively.

“Fine. I won’t leave.” I conceded.

Her whole face lit up as she smiled. With a blink of her eyes, my legs were restored, with only some granite dust on my pants and the floor as evidence it had ever happened. That and the tingly feeling you can get in an extremity deprived of blood. It’s probably good that I can handle almost any pain inflicted.

“Are you okay? I didn’t leave your calves and feet in granite too long, did I?” She asked as she rubbed at my calves as if inspecting them.

I arched my eyebrow at her tiny delicate hand, unable to cover the side of my calf muscle. It only went to show how bad this pairing is. I’d break her without even trying. She wouldn’t even survive the mating. This is nuts that I’m even thinking about that. I completely blame Cain for putting the thought of her in my bed in my head.

‘Right. It’s all my fault. Has nothing to do with you checking our mate out and noticing the curves of her body.’ Cain scoffed.

“I’m fine,” I answered.

‘What did I say? You need to talk more, or I’ll take control, and then we’ll see if she’ll break or was truly made for us.’ Cain warned.

“You wanted to talk. So stop touching my legs, and let’s get this over with.” My words came out gruffer than I meant, but her touching me, even through the fabric, drove me up the wall.

“There’s no need to be rude. Was me touching you a problem?” Her head cocked slightly, and I’m sure I’d see her eyebrow raised if the mask wasn’t in the way.

“No. And I wasn’t trying to be rude,” I grumbled.

“You wanted to talk, so talk.” I gestured for her to carry on as I moved my legs out of reach.

She sighed and sat back, placing her hands in her lap. I appreciate that she ensured her hands were where I could see them, but Cain was livid. He was growling at me for making her stop touching me. Cain didn’t want her to stop touching me. He wanted her to touch me more and preferably with fewer clothes. He can shove his ideas where the sun doesn’t shine.

“Why did you think I wouldn’t want you?” Regina asked, cutting straight to the heart of it.

“Given that you know me, you know exactly why.” I shrugged one shoulder.

“I wouldn’t be asking if I knew why. I can make assumptions, but that isn’t a definitive answer.” Regina rolled her eyes.

“If you have it in your thick skull, I wouldn’t want you because of the war. Then you are as dumb as my brother says.” She shook her head. “And we both know you aren’t.”

“I have blood on my hands, Regina. Blood that will never wash clean.” I shook my head as I looked at my hands.

I may not be able to see the blood, but I often flash back to it. I sometimes will see the blood of my packs’ Beta couple stained my hands after I crushed their skulls. I am not the sort of man anyone should be with, least of all someone as innocent and delicate as Regina Petridis.

“So what? Many people have killed someone.” Regina rationalized.

“You don’t get it.” I groaned as I quickly stood.

“I participated in a coup d’etat. I killed my pack’s Beta couple. I killed Tomaso and Areti, a couple I had known my whole life. A couple that I called Zio and Zia.” I managed to keep my voice down, not wanting to cause a scene.

“Ivan, sit back down,” Regina commanded as she pointed at the floor.

I wanted to ignore her command. It’s not like her words had any official hold over me. I could walk away. I had even plotted out my exit path. But I had said I would stay, and I am a man of my word. So with a heavy sigh, I sat back down.

“I know what you did. I also know why you did what you did.” She smiled softly, and I saw her hands twitch like she wanted to reach out to touch and comfort me.

“I know you wanted to protect Amelia. I know you wanted to protect the Madonie people. I know you orchestrated the underground railroad Gildo ran. He was the face, but you were the brains.” She said.

“That changes nothing.” I sighed, looking away from her, and instead focused on one of the floating candles above us.

“It changes everything.” Regina declared moments before I felt the surge of the mate bond.

Her soft hands cupped my chin as she looked down at me. Sitting on the floor or lying down was the only way anyone could look down at me. Even if I wanted to look away from her blue eyes, I couldn’t. Her face was so close to mine that it filled my view. Our faces were so close, our masks were almost touching, and I could smell the spearmint toothpaste she must use on her breath.

“By your way of thinking, my Zio Alec is a monster undeserving of love and his mate. And that’s not true. What blood my Zio has spilled is far greater in volume than you, but all were down for the sake of others. What you did was terrible, and I’m sure it haunts you, but it does not define you.” She passionately argued.

So, she had me there since I couldn’t speak against Alpha Alec. I mean, I could in my head. But I’m not dumb, least of all dumb enough to speak ill of my Alpha’s father, let alone to the man’s niece. She’s already turned my legs into stone once tonight. I don’t want to know what else she’d do if I were to insult her family. Plus, Alpha Alec is much older than I am, and even if half the rumors about him are true, he’s killed many, including his parents.

“Nonetheless, I am a war criminal. I am, at best, tolerated by my people. I survived the war and shall spend the rest of my days under house arrest because Alpha André deems it so. And he only let me live for my sister’s sake.” I reminded her as I attempted to lean further away to escape her touch, as it was making my brain fuzzy.

My plan needed to be better thought out. I should have realized it when Cain was silent. He would not have silently let me extract myself from this situation. He’s a wolf, and he wants one thing… his mate. So, in hindsight, I should have seen this was coming, a setup as it were. My sudden movement caused a domino effect.

My head hit the wall, and she slipped forward as she tried to stop me from leaning away. That distance that separated our faces was gone, our masks collided, then our lips met - awkwardly with the masks, and the only reason she didn’t land in my lap was that I grabbed her waist to support her.

The whole series of events caught me so caught off guard that I didn’t manage to keep Cain in check. He had me pull her into my lap instead of holding her waist to keep her away. And before I could stop him, my head angled to make the kiss a kiss so our masks weren’t in the way. Regina didn’t seem to mind as she giggled and then moaned against my lips as her hands moved from my face to around my neck.

‘You’re welcome.’ Cain snorted.

When my brain gets out of this mate bond induced haze that kissing her and having her so close had caused, I’m giving him a long lecture about consent and not taking control of my body unless it’s life or death. And I do not think this is a life-or-death situation. It might have been if Alexander had been here. He’d have been livid to see me kissing his little sister.

Chapter 6 - Regina

Does he seriously believe that? That my cousin only let him live for Amelia? That he’s STILL under house arrest? My cousin and I will be having one hell of a conversation later about that. He led Ivan to believe he was being monitored for FIVE years and his movements were restricted.

That’s either malice on my cousin’s part or gross incompetence to never have told him that the terms were for TWO YEARS! Even I know that Ivan’s house arrest was for two years. As long as Ivan showed he was a loyal member of Madonie in those two years and held no ill will against André and his position as Alpha, his house arrest would be void.

And if André never told him, why wouldn’t Amelia? She should have known his sentence was for two years with good behavior. And while I didn’t spend much time in Madonie in those first two years after the war, I know Ivan never stepped a toe out of line. So somewhere, somehow, someone in the Madonie chain of command fucked up, and I’ll see them pay for it.

I can deal with Madonie’s leadership later. I first need to get it through my mate’s thick skull so that he is as free as any other member of Madonie. I don’t know if I will ever be able to get him to forgive himself. But he needs to see and understand that outside of Icky Iggy and Gastone, everyone that fought in that war did so against their wishes, himself included.

Convincing him of all this is going to be an uphill battle. At least it felt that way as he tried to pull away from me. His movement triggered a series of comical unfortunate, or fortunate, depending on your perspective, events that ended up with me in his lap and him kissing me. I found the whole situation funny until his lips pressed against mine.

‘Now that’s what I’m talking about!’ Gioia exclaimed as I wrapped my arms around Ivan’s neck and deepened the kiss.

I’ve only ever kissed Valter before this, and well Ivan already had Valter beat. Though that’s probably because of the mate bond as the kiss was closed mouth and tragically short. I was getting into it when he lifted me off his lap, used the probably two hundred-ish pounds of muscles he has on me, and set me back into the chair.

“My wolf acted out of turn.” He explained, or maybe that was also an apology.

I did my best not to sulk, but seriously he was blaming his wolf, and worse, he was APOLOGIZING for kissing me! What the hell! We’re mates. Kissing is part of the package. And I liked how his lips felt on mine. I wanted more. I wanted that kiss to go somewhere, and by somewhere, I don’t mean me back in the chair with a meter or so between us.

“Are you blaming your wolf and apologizing for him? If that kiss was because of your wolf, at least he took action.” I sighed.

“Cain acts without thinking.” Ivan tried to explain.

“Perhaps you are the one thinking too much, Ivan.” I frowned. “I like you, always have, and now that we are mates, it isn’t some unspoken crush,” I confessed.

“You… liked me?” Ivan frowned.

“Like. Liked would be past tense and imply I stopped.” I rolled my eyes.

“You were, and still are, this handsome towering giant.” I smiled as I gestured to his body.

“You didn’t speak much. Which made it even more important when you did, and your words hold more value. And you were so sweet and gentle in how you interacted with Suzie. You have a big heart, Ivan.” I explained with a soft sigh.

“You don’t know me to say that.” Ivan protested.

“Perhaps not. But I can have my own opinions and first impressions. And I want to know you. You’re the one that doesn’t seem to want to know me or give this a chance.” I pointed out.

“I’m not sure how to be clearer.” He sighed.

“It is nothing personal against you. I am not the sort of man anyone should be mated to. Add in all the other reasons the Goddess got this pairing wrong.” He sighed.

“First, the Goddess is never wrong,” I stated.

“She paired my sister with Ignazio.” Ivan countered.

“And Melania had twisted his mind before Amelia could have stood a chance to set him on a better path. And ultimately, it was because the Goddess made that pairing that your sister was led to Stephen.” I pointed out.

“To quote my cousin, The Goddess guides us on our paths. But we all have to put in the work to find our destinies.” I added.

“Everything we have lived has brought us to this point. To each other. Don’t you get it, Ivan? We were always meant to meet tonight. And it is now in our hands to accept this gift the Goddess has presented us and move forward….” I could only hope my words got through to him, as he didn’t stop me from taking his hand. “Together.”

“Regina…” He sighed as he slowly shook his head and took his hand from mine. “This is a bad idea for so many reasons.”

“I don’t see any, so why don’t you tell me your reasons, and I’ll tell you why you are full of shit.” I snorted, knowing there wasn’t a valid reason for us not being together on this planet.

He grumbled but sat up straighter and complied.

“I’m a disgraced Gamma, war criminal under house arrest.” He held his long thick index finger up.

‘All his fingers are long and thick. Just think how good it will be when we get past all this talking nonsense, and he’s touching you with those big fingers.’ Gioia snickered.

“Everywhere I go, I am sneered at or at the least looked at as an oddity.” Another finger went up.

He’s seriously going to count off all the reasons he thinks we shouldn’t be together. He is so frustrating. Yet it’s the sort of frustrating that makes me want to climb back into his lap and kiss him till he forgets all this nonsense.

“My people do not care for me, so I imagine Incubi holds a similar opinion.” Another finger went up.

Okay, so he may have a minor point about how people view him, but that’s their problem, not his. Anyone that has a problem with my mate will have a problem with me. And a Petridis with the DeLuca gift isn’t someone you want to have a problem with.

“You are the Incubi Beta heir.” He added, but I don’t see how that could be an issue.

“Your family hates me.” He raised the last finger on his left hand.

“That is not true.” I protested.

“Your brother does.” He stated with a shrug.

“I am, as you’ve put it, a giant. While you are a pixie, I’d break you.” He started counting on his right hand.

‘Oh, what a way to go.’ My wolf laughed.

“You would be subjected to the stares and gossip of the masses for being with me.” A seventh finger went up.

“Oh, and let’s not forget you have a boyfriend.” He concluded his list of eight with one of the most inaccurate items.

“Are you done?” I asked, ready to shoot down all his points.

“I believe so.” He nodded as he checked his eight raised fingers to ensure he didn’t miss a point.

“I HAD a boyfriend,” I stated as I put his right middle finger down.

“I broke up with him when I shifted, and we knew we weren’t mates. I wouldn’t consider a relationship with anyone but my mate.” I stated.

“If he doesn’t accept that reality, it is on him, and any behavior from him where he tries or will try to act like we are more than friends will end in pain for him,” I assured him with a small smile, thinking about Valter currently shut in a closet wrapped in poison ivy.

“I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks about me, including me being with you. If people stare, I’ll carry signed pictures of us to hand out so the memory of seeing us can last forever.” I smiled proudly as I made him snort-laugh as I put his right index finger down.

“You may be a giant, but I’m average size. I suppose I would be a pixie compared to you. But that doesn’t mean you’d break me. Don’t forget I was meant to be with you, and I’m tougher than I look.” I winked as I put his thumb back and lowered his right hand.

“My family doesn’t hate you, even Alexander. And if Alexander holds any ill will against you, he will keep it to himself or spend some time in marble time out.” I snorted as I put his pinky finger down.

“I’m only a Beta heir because my siblings moved on to be Betas of other packs. You’d come to Incubi with me and be a Beta when I take my father’s place.” I explained as I put his ring finger down.

“But….” He started to counter, and I placed my finger on his lips.

“No buts,” I stated.

“As stated before, I don’t care what other people think. That includes what they think of you. Let clothes have their opinion. They don’t know you. And anyone that gets too loud with their opinions about you will find out why you don’t mess with a Petridis.” I smiled as I put his middle finger down.

“Anyone that wants to sneer at you will learn the meaning behind the old saying ‘don’t make faces they could freeze that way’ when I put them in a stone time out.” I scoffed and put his index finger down.

“You are not a disgraced anything. You were the Gamma of Madonie in its darkest hours. You acted with courage as he protected Amelia and your people from Icky Iggy the only way you could, by remaining in his inner circle and feeding that information to Gildo to get people to safety.” I hoped my words were sinking in.

“Some may call you a war criminal, but I don’t see you as a criminal. You are no more a criminal than anyone who participated in the war. Your hand was forced, and if you had refused, you’d have been put under Melania’s spell too, or worse, killed, and I’d never have found you.” I frowned, not liking that thought at all.

“And you are NOT under house arrest. I’m not even a ranked member of Madonie, and I know that. Your sentence was for two years.” I sighed as I finally put his thumb down.

“Someone from the ranked members should have told you. I don’t know who dropped the ball on that but trust me, all of them will pay for letting you live these last three years in exile when you didn’t have to.” I assured him.

The range of emotions in those brown eyes, wow. Did Ivan truly not know? Did someone tell him, and he didn’t believe them? The latter does sound feasible, as I cannot imagine Amelia would allow Ivan to think he was still under house arrest. Has he been stuck so deep in his self-doubt and mental prison that he couldn’t imagine being free?

The confusion, pain, and relief I saw in his eyes broke my heart. This sweet giant has punished himself for far too long. All I wanted at this moment was to hug and comfort him. I don’t know if he’ll want that but to hell with it. I was already leaning forward, so I wrapped my arms around him and, having caught him off guard, pulled him to me for a hug, our height differences working out with me in the chair and him on the floor.

Chapter 7 - Ivan

I listed all the reasons being with me would be a bad idea, and she shot down each one like targets at a shooting range. I don’t know what I expected her to do or how I expected her to react to my reasoning. But finding counters to them wasn’t something I’d accounted for.

Sure, I at least figured she’d have a counter to the boyfriend thing, but given how the little shit acted on the dance floor, I get the feeling he didn’t get the memo. And that made me angry. If what she said was true and they ended things two years ago when they realized they weren’t mates, he needed to fuck off. And some part of me, okay, mostly Cain, but some part of me wanted to find the fuckwad and break his bones.

‘Embrace the jealousy and desire to protect what is ours.’ Cain laughed smugly.

‘Shut up.’ I grumbled at him as she kept giving counters to all my reasons.

Some of her answers seemed more like a joke than her being serious, like talking about how she’s stronger than she looked with a wink. However, I don’t know if she’s taken anything I said seriously. She hasn’t considered the logistics of someone as petite as her being with a guy like me.

‘Oh, I bet she’s thought about it and is eager to put herself to the test.’ Cain snickered.

I swatted him away because I didn’t need his dirty mind infecting mine. I refuse to go down that mental path. It won’t lead anywhere but regrets and rejection. Been there, done that. So, I’ll pass, as it would be far worse to have Regina reject me after realizing a physical relationship wouldn’t work out.

Okay, I did laugh when she talked about handing out signed pictures in a literal ‘take a picture, it will last longer’ mentality. As amusing as her suggestion was, it once again made me question how seriously she took my concerns. She doesn’t know what it’s like to be me. She doesn’t know the looks she would be subjected to, the whispers, the rumors, and the blatant lies that would be spread. My sister doesn’t face such issues of being related to me because she helped end the war and save our people in a way they saw.

She can’t truly speak to her family’s opinions of me. I know her brother doesn’t like me. Whatever, I’m not his biggest fan either. I may have had a girlfriend before the war, but she was the only one I’d been with, and even that was limited, given my size. Only a fool gets sexually involved with multiple women, especially within the pack they hold a title. He screwed around in Incubi, where he was going to be Beta, then came here and fucked around and briefly was serious with Lia before that went south, as I predicted.

Thinking about it, that might be part of why he doesn’t like me. The only time I was around when he was involved in Lia, I slipped up and said what I was thinking. Lia wasn’t the type of she-wolf to change her ways even for her mate, which Alexander wasn’t. I asked if he enjoyed getting Gastone’s and many males of the pack’s extra sloppy seconds.

She hadn’t told Alexander Gastone was her mate before he died. She punched me in the stomach and hurt her hand. And Alexander also took a swing, and I let him because I wouldn’t raise my hand against my pack’s Beta. I did pledge my loyalty to them, after all. Alexander told my sister to get me out of his sight and keep it that way. I haven’t seen him since, but I heard their relationship dissolved, or more so imploded, shortly after.

‘Too bad for him. Regina is OURS, and she seems to be in the same mindset that he can fuck off if he has a problem with it.’ Cain snorted.

It’s easy to say these things, but I can’t imagine her doing them. I can’t see her hurting her brother or freezing people’s faces when they sneer or give us dirty looks for me merely existing.

‘She was willing to freeze your legs to make you stay in place, and we’re her mate.’ Cain pointed out. ‘Our mate has fire in her. She is our fire pixie.’

I couldn’t find fault in what he said. Thus far tonight, Regina Petridis has shown herself to be fearless with a touch of violence on top of the sweet nature I remember of the girl she was. And it was getting harder not to accept her answers. Her counters to every reason I thought this shouldn’t and wouldn’t work. But of all her answers, it was the last that left me floored and numb.

Alexander had been serious? I thought it was a rouse when he came to my villa three years ago. That he was fucking with me as he told me I was no longer under house arrest with that smirk on his face. How could I take anything from his lips seriously? Least of all, when he was smiling like that. It wasn’t a thrilled smile like he was happy with the news.

So, of course, I didn’t take him seriously. My sister encouraged me and said I should try leaving my house more when I still hadn’t left the property after his visit. That told me they were still monitoring me. While I don’t think for a second, my sister ever hoped I’d slip up and do something bad. I just felt that it was a trap or something.

I did go out once, and the looks I got were reason enough to stay home. After enough instances of me adamantly telling my sister I was better off where I was, she stopped trying to push whatever the ranked agenda was. I should have believed my sister, even if I didn’t believe Alexander. Not that them granting me my freedom meant shit to the people that stared or sneered at me that time I went into town.

It felt different hearing it from Regina. She’s not from Madonie and not part of our ranked families, but she even knew. She knew what my sentence was. And the conviction in her words, the fire in her eyes when she said she’d make someone pay for me remaining in exile these past years. I was so stunned that I didn’t react when she pulled me closer and hugged me to her chest.

‘Could certainly get used to these pillows.’ Cain snickered, and I rolled my eyes.

Against Cain’s wishes, I pulled away from Regina’s embrace. It isn’t right that she should blame my continued exile on anyone’s shoulders. They told me, but I didn’t believe them. And the one time I tested it, the locals ensured I felt unwelcome. That isn’t on any ranked wolves, even her brother, who could have delivered the news more professionally.

“It isn’t any of their faults,” I assured her.

“How can it not be? You’ve just told me you are under house arrest when I know you aren’t. Someone is at fault for you thinking that way.” She frowned.

“I’m responsible,” I stated.

“I swear to Goddess, if you are going to blame yourself for someone else’s fuck up.” Regina shook her head.

“No, I am responsible,” I repeated. “Your brother came to tell me I was no longer under house arrest. I didn’t believe him because he gave the news with that stupid smirk on his face.”

“And when I didn’t go anywhere like normal, my sister urged me to leave the villa. I thought that was proof I was still being watched if they knew I hadn’t left the property. That it was some test.” I sighed.

“So, I tried.” I frowned. “I went into the little town my vineyard sits at the edge of. People stared, sneered, and glared at me. Many whispered about me and how it was wrong for me to walk the streets.”

“I’ll still be giving my brother a piece of my mind. His delivery left you feeling like it was a trick, and that’s not right.” Regina sighed.

“And the nerve of the residents of Toria to make you feel unwelcome like that. You have done nothing to deserve such treatment. And doesn’t Ebon Moon employ a fair number of the residents in that town between working in the vineyard and the winery? Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.” She scoffed.

“You know about Ebon Moon?” I asked, hoping to distract her from her tirade against the residents of my small coastal town.

“Of course, I know about it. Some of the wines are sold in shops in Incubi.” Regina smiled.

“Sure, the wines sold now weren’t made since you bought the vineyard, but they only became available because you started the business and expanded further than Zelma’s family would have.” She shrugged.

“So, you drink my wines?” I asked, still hoping to keep her off the subject of the residents of Toria.

“I’ve sampled a few. They aren’t bad, but I bet the wines made since you took over will taste even better after they have aged longer. Though I know something that will always taste better than any wine.” She smiled softly as she brushed her thumb across my lips.

‘I like where this is going. If you want to distract Regina from being even a little angry with the ranked wolves or the people that live in town, you know what to do.’ Cain encouraged.

I hate to admit it, but my wolf had a point. I hate even more than her simply touching my lips sent a surge of desire through me that made me inclined to listen to him. Gently I touched her jaw and brought her mouth to mine for a kiss. This time kissing her was all me and intentional. At least this time, it wasn’t my stupid wolf controlling my body.

Her lips parted with a soft gasp as I applied light pressure to her jaw. It’s been a long time since I’ve kissed someone, and the memory of kissing Zelma doesn’t even begin to hold a candle to kissing Regina. Her tongue was hesitant as if she feared one wrong move, and I’d stop as mine took its time exploring her mouth, savoring her taste. When I groaned, that seemed to be her indicator that it wasn’t some fluke.

Her arms wrapped around my neck as she slid off the chair and into my lap, not a thought given to the delicate fabric of her dress as she straddled me. Her tongue was no longer hesitant in its movements, rising to the call of my tongue to dance circles around it as she once danced around me. I growled as her dance ended with her sucking at my tongue.

Holy fuck! I didn’t want to think where she learned that move, so long as I’m the only person she’s never kissing like this from now on. Where the hell did that thought come from? Hadn’t I been trying to convince her we shouldn’t be together? And despite her counters, there was still a big issue to consider. She will be the Incubi Beta. Would Alpha Alec and Luna Crista even approve or accept me as a Beta in their pack?

Chapter 8 - Regina

I knew what he was doing. I am not as naive as some people like to think. He changed the subject to his vineyard, so I’d not focus on how he’s been treated. I allowed the subject to change, but it doesn’t mean it is closed.

Ivan may have accepted his share of the responsibility for not believing my brother or his sister, but that doesn’t put the ranked wolves in the clear. My brother might be in another country, but he will get an earful about decorum and professionalism. He should know better how to deliver such news; smirking or coming off like he was joking is NOT it.

I won’t be as harsh on Amelia. I’m sure she has tried her best. But she is a young mama with responsibilities that keep her from visiting Ivan often. I’m sure she’d love to see more of him. I’m also sure of everyone she knows her brother the best, and I get the feeling that when he digs his heels in on something, you’re more likely to move an actual mountain.

However, my cousin does not get a pass. It’s been three years of Ivan not leaving his property unless expressly told to. It would be my cousin’s or at least Darren’s duty as the Alpha and Aleph to come to Ivan and stress that his house arrest was over. There should have been official documentation given to Ivan, so it wasn’t just him taking my dumbass brother’s word for it.

As for the residents of the town where Ivan lives, they’ll learn quickly how rude it is to stare and make people feel unwelcome. How they have treated my mate is unacceptable. And I will not stand idly by and let them get away with it. I intend to take Ivan for a stroll through that town. I’d like to see the coastal town he’s called home all these years and the vineyard and winery. It will be a perfect way to put them all in their places.

Now, as I knew the change in subject was to distract me, it was obvious, and so was the kiss. I’m a film major who has seen thousands of movies and written screenplays. Specifically, I’ve been working on a screenplay about my parents’ love story. So I know a cliche kiss someone to shut up and/or distract them moment when I see one. I’m just not calling him out on it because, duh, he’s kissing me with TONGUE!

I’ve kissed plenty with Valter in the years we dated. We never went past that. Not even touching the outside of clothes. I’d swat him away when he’d try, as I didn’t feel comfortable with him touching me like that. I was always apprehensive about kissing as it felt like a betrayal of someone I hadn’t met yet and, worse, of myself. And now I’m wishing I’d never let Valter kiss me. Not that his kisses measure up to Ivan claiming my mouth and erasing any memory of Valter’s lips.

Maybe it was the mate bond or Gioia, but either way, I felt emboldened by how his tongue explored my mouth and his balance of soft and firm grip on my chin. So I took the chance, wrapped my arms around his neck, and let myself slide into his lap, wanting to be as close as possible. And then I did something I’ve NEVER done. I swirled my tongue around his and sucked on it.

This was a move I’d been told about. You don’t grow up with Zoe as a big sister or cousins like Katrina and André without learning a few tricks. I never used said tricks with Valter. I felt something like that shouldn’t be wasted on just anyone. And given his reaction, I’m glad I did.

Being in his arms, I felt that growl in every cell of my body. I wanted to make him growl like that again. I wanted to make him growl my name like he did earlier but in desire. I know we’re sitting on the floor; anyone passing us would easily notice us. I didn’t care. This is a mate ball. It should be expected that once mates find each other, they will get physical. It’s not like we are doing more than kissing.

‘I bet we could manage to slip out of this place and do more than kiss.’ Gioia suggested.

I ignored her because there was no way we could get out of the ballroom without someone seeing us. Ivan is too recognizable even in a crowd. We’ll have to bid our time till midnight, and then we can leave. Though that begged the question, at midnight, where do we go? I’m staying at my cousin’s villa in a room I’m sharing with Delilah. And I assume Ivan is staying at his sister’s home.

‘Okay, neither sounds like a good place to get our brains fucked out. After living with her mated sisters, Delilah doesn’t need that added trauma. And I doubt we want Amelia, Stephen, or their daughter to hear you screaming Ivan’s name.’ Gioia commented.

She was a distraction, and now I can’t stop thinking about what will happen after midnight. It made it difficult to enjoy being in Ivan’s arms and our kiss. My distraction timed out well, with us both pulling back to catch our breath. His wolf must be coming forward. This close, I could see some gold in his brown eyes. I’m sure there is some silver in my eyes from Gioia being so far forward.

“Regina… w…what’s going on here?” Valter sounded out of breath as he ruined the mood.

The gold in Ivan’s eyes grew brighter, which could not be good. I rolled my eyes as I shook my head subtly.

I contemplated how I would handle Valter and his intrusion when I heard a yelp followed by a thud behind me. I turned my head to see what happened and saw Valter wrapped in vines with Delilah glaring at him with her hands on her hips.

“What did I tell you?” Delilah questioned.

As Valter opened his mouth, an apple stopped him from speaking like a ball gag as more vines wrapped higher up his face. She didn’t want to hear his answer.

“I said you could enjoy the party IF you didn’t bother Regina and her mate.” Delilah clicked her tongue in disappointment.

“I’m very sorry for even letting him free to use the restroom.” Delilah apologized.

“I’ll drag him back to the closet, where he’ll remain for the next couple of hours. Please enjoy the rest of your night with your mate.” She smiled before her eyes went wide as if she had finally noticed whose lap I was in.

“Ivan?” She asked.

“You look very dashing. I love that shade of purple for you. I’ll leave so you can return to getting acquainted.” Delilah smiled warmly.

As she waved goodbye, the vines that confined Valter grew legs and carried him off. The crowd parted like the red sea as they watched curiously at the male being carried off by a planet and the smiling she-wolf following behind. It was truly a sight to see.

“Was that Delilah Fayte?” Ivan asked.

I chuckled and turned back to look at him. His wolf’s anger when Valter intruded had faded, and now I saw amusement in those brown eyes rimmed with gold. Good. I don’t want him to be angry. As annoyed as I am at Valter’s intrusion, I don’t want it to ruin our night. I also don’t want Ivan to do something that could cause trouble for anyone. Not that I thought he would, but his wolf might.

“I am so sorry about him. He’s behaving like a total idiot. And if he weren’t the Gamma heir, I’d have nothing to do with him.” I apologized with a heavy sigh. “And yes, dating a fellow heir was not a good idea.”

“It’s fine,” Ivan said.

I know it was like two words; some might say that shouldn’t be enough to be comforting. But it was because this was Ivan. I know he doesn’t say more than he needs. And maybe if his tone were different, I’d take his short answer as a concern. But his voice was soft, so I knew he wasn’t being sarcastic or placating.

“Okay. Then let’s not allow him to ruin our night.” I said.

“We have another couple of hours till the party ends.” I smiled, remembering what Delilah had said. “How ever will we use that time?” I teased him as I leaned closer and kissed him.

‘Good plan. We talked a lot already. I say we spend the rest of the party kissing and decide where to climb that maypole afterward.’ Gioia approved of my decision.

And for a while, I thought Ivan liked this idea too. We’d returned to kissing, and it was bliss while it lasted. I don’t say ‘while it lasted’ in a bad way. But the music stopped, and a voice I was all too familiar with filled the air and caught our attention as we pulled back from the kiss.

“As our evening is starting to wind down, we ask only those who have found their mates to come to the dance floor as a special song is played for those beauties that found their beasts.” André’s teasing voice filled the air, and I didn’t need to look to the stage to know my cousin probably winked at the end of his announcement.

There were a few grumbles as people dancing with people who weren’t their mates left the dance floor. My cousin may not have the infamous reputation of his papa, but the name is enough to strike fear in most. No one would outright defy an Alpha, especially when they are a D’Amore. I sighed and used Ivan’s shoulders for balance as I got up and fixed my dress.

“Shall we?” I asked, offering him my hand.

“Can’t dance.” Ivan shook his head.

“I don’t buy that for a second.” I shook my head.

“Unless Madonie had different heir lessons than Incubi or Nebrodi, I know as an heir, you would have been taught to dance. Even as a Gamma, you’d have to know this to dance at such events.” I pointed out.

“I didn’t say I wasn’t taught. I said I can’t.” Ivan shook his head.

“Everyone can dance, and if you’re worried that you’ll step on my feet or something, don’t. I’ll be fine.” I assured him.

“Regina… this is a bad idea,” Ivan warned, looking past me with concern at all the couples heading to the dance floor as the concert orchestra readied for the song.

“I promise it will be fine.” I smiled as I tried to reassure him. “If you forget a step or are unsure, I’ll lead you. You won’t step on my feet or hurt me in any way.”

“And them?” He nodded to the dance floor. “Even if I don’t fuck up. They will all stare.”

I sighed. Ivan is far too self-conscious for a man this good-looking and sweet. I need to work on his self-confidence. It’ll take time, I’m sure. But one of these days, Ivan Furlan will walk down a street or into a room with his head held high and no fucks to give for what other people say, think, or feel about him.

“Let them stare, Ivan. Though honestly, they should be more interested in looking at their mates than other couples. I know I will be.” I smiled when he sighed, knowing I’d won this battle.

While I could ignore the looks, I know it’s not easy for him. So, as we headed to the dance floor, I squeezed his hand in reassurance. I didn’t take him to the very center of the dance floor. That would be putting him on the spot too much. However, I didn’t stick to the edge either. Sure, with our height difference, I can’t put my hands on his shoulders, but I won’t protest a reason to touch his chest.

Chapter 9 - Ivan

If Regina hadn’t been in my lap when that little shit dared to intrude, they’d be scraping him off the wall. And when I considered moving Regina to do just that, Delilah Fayte intervened. I watched in shock and confusion. I’m impressed with how the youngest Fayte turned out.

I’ve heard plenty of the might of her older sisters, but I’ve not witnessed any of it. So seeing the soft-spoken Fayte, known as the sweet one taking Valter down with aggressive vines, complete with apple gag, was something. This was proof that you shouldn’t judge someone by what you see. Everyone has a depth you’d never know unless you look closer or provoke them.

I froze when she recognized me. I was waiting for disapproval. I did commit unforgivable things during the war, including against Nebrodi. Alpha Tiberius, still weird to call him that, still won’t look at me. I won’t blame him. I was forced to kill the Nebrodi Delta couple to kill Tiberius’ parents. Even in death, I cannot forgive Gastone for killing my parents or Ignazio for cutting out my sister’s tongue. So I have accepted that Tiberius could never forgive me.

But there wasn’t even a hint of disapproval that Regina was my mate and the improper scene she found us in. She seemed almost happy about it. That or maybe the smile she had was that she enjoyed the torture of Regina’s ex. That’s highly probable, and I can’t blame her. I wasn’t even the one that took him down, and I was fighting back the urge to laugh.

Once they were gone, I wouldn’t let Regina apologize. It’s not on her. She should not apologize for other people’s actions. She doesn’t control his actions and shouldn’t be held accountable. People should only have to answer for their actions.

When I told her it was fine, I half expected an argument. For her to think my words were dismissive and that I didn’t truly mean it. However, she went a completely different route. There was no argument, nor was there a renewed conversation. And I don’t think I should complain that she’d rather spend the rest of the night kissing.

Even if I’m still concerned about her underestimation of the logistics of this going further physically. And even if there are still things we should be discussing. Again logistics, but more about how we would even be together. She said I’d come to Incubi to be her Beta mate. And I get that I’d be the one to move as she holds the higher rank. But it would be up to her Alpha and Luna if they’d accept me as a ranked member.

‘For someone who doesn’t talk much, you sure think too much.’ Cain rolled his eyes.

He had a point, as my thoughts distracted me from Regina and our kiss. That isn’t fair to her. She deserves my full attention. So, I pushed aside the thoughts and, for now, gave into the bond and enjoyed kissing and having her in my arms. After all, this could be the only time I get to do this. I know I’m a pessimist. I accept that about myself. I find it hard to believe us being together will be as easy as she thinks.

‘Nothing worth having is ever easy.’ Cain pointed out.

‘You’ve never been afraid to work to get what you want.’ He added. ‘And don’t lie and say you don’t want her, that you don’t want a mate.’

I internalized a sigh when Alpha André made this announcement calling for those who had found mates to come to the dance floor. I wrinkled my nose at his wording, certain there was some innuendo or deeper meaning to the words. I hoped Regina wouldn’t give in to her cousin’s request.

And this is what I get for having optimism. I’ve been brought to the dance floor, a place I don’t want to be, to appease Regina. She can make all the promises she likes, but nothing in life is ever guaranteed. I have two left feet when it comes to dancing. Regina was right. I had to take lessons, and my instructor gave up after a week. So, I have a bad feeling about this.

I grimaced as the orchestra started, and the unfortunately familiar tune Tale as Old as Time from Beauty and the Beast, one of Amelia’s favorites as a child, began. And now André’s words made more sense. He was hinting at what song would be played. Regina smiled as she took my free hand and placed it on her waist, and rested her hand on my arm.

“Look only at me. Block everyone else out.” She encouraged me with a smile.

“It’s a basic waltz. Step forward with your left foot, then step to your right, back with your right, and to the left. We’ll repeat it.” She outlined the basic box step instructions I already knew.

I was hesitant as she stepped back and pulled me forward. I tried to cut my stride down and still managed to step on her foot. I winced, but she didn’t flinch, moved her foot, and continued the dance steps. I could hear the snickers when I messed up again.

“What was she thinking?”

“He’s too big for dancing.”

“They should leave the dance floor.”

“He’s going to put her in the hospital at this rate.”

“What a horrible dancer.”

“No way are they mates.”

“Does he have cement shoes?”

Regina had been ignoring them all till that last comment. Her eyes only cut away from mine momentarily and locked on the feet of the couple who had said the last line.

“No, but you are.” Regina scoffed before she looked back at me with an innocent smile as she led us further from the couple.

“What the hell!?” Someone shouted before there was a thud.