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Warrior's Redemption

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

Chapter 1 - Clement

Returning from Incubi was hell. As glad as I was to be home in Bloodmoon territory, I returned in a sorry state.

I was one of the few injured sent home first and in the worst state. Only I would manage to lose a leg in a fight. I made a stupid mistake, and now I’ve fucked up the rest of my life.

Grandma will probably fuss until grandpa tells her to stop babying me. I can just imagine what grandpa is going to say. I’d try to imagine what dad will say, but I am sure I’ll be met with indifference.

As Doctor Bryant finished his examination, my hospital room’s door flew open. The whirlwind of the Shelton family burst through. They got here faster than I thought.

“Clemmy!” My grandmother called, hurrying into the room with a tote full of I don’t want to know what. Probably another sweater or scarf long enough to turn me into a mummy that she knitted.

“Michele, stop trying to fuss over him.” Grandpa commanded in his gruff voice.

In an instant, grandma took two steps back and lowered her head, folding her hands in front of her. “Of course, Dillon.” Her voice was soft and weak.

I furrowed my brow. I don’t know if I ever noticed this before. Grandpa will use the harsh voice and grandma just obeys and quietly bows her head to him. As I think about it, this is normal for them.

I always just thought this is how mates are. That the female is obedient to her mate. But as I really look at my grandma, I see defeat. I see a woman who has been broken and forced into a mold of her mate’s making.

Why didn’t I notice this before? Because I didn’t want to. Because it was easier to just believe she was happy. She always puts a smile on when I’m around.

“How is he, Phil?” Grandpa questioned Doctor Bryant.

Doctor Bryant, however, ignored my grandfather. He turned to my dad, who had slunk into the room behind my grandparents. The bags on his eyes look a bit worse, but it’s hard to tell.

My dad has looked like shit for as long as I can remember. I can’t blame him for that. I mean, most mates die when they lose their mate. In dad’s case, only his wolf died.

Leaving my dad as the wolfless werewolf of Bloodmoon. The broken man that just goes through the motions of living. It’s a sad sight.

‘You shouldn’t be so hard on him. He lost his mate and his wolf. How would you feel if you lost me?’ Jax questioned.

‘I’d probably look as shitty as Dad. I’ve seen pictures of him from when mom was alive. I look just like him but not hollow. And I’m glad I still have you, Jax. Bad enough, we probably lost our shot at a mate.’ I frowned.

‘Don’t say that. Our mate won’t care about a leg. She’s made for us and vice versa. You just better not treat our mate like Dillon treats Michele.’ Jax scoffed.

He can be an optimist all he likes. I’ll be the realist. No female is going to want a mate who’s missing a leg.

“Hale, they treated your boy’s injury very well in Incubi. Good clean amputation.” Doctor Bryant explained, speaking directly to my dad.

I could see my grandpa fuming at being ignored. Something tells me Doctor Bryant knew precisely what he was doing when he ignored my grandfather.

“So he’ll never be a warrior again. And his plans to join the military are out of the question.” Grandpa huffed.

“As I was saying, Hale. It’ll heal well enough, and then we get him fitted for a prosthetic. It will be a hard road learning to walk with it.” Doctor Bryant explained.

Most people wouldn’t bother talking to dad about me and certainly wouldn’t ignore grandpa in favor of dad. Oh yes, Doctor Bryant knows precisely what he’s doing. The sly smile on his face says it all.

But Doctor Bryant is the exception. He was friends with my dad. I suppose he still is. I don’t keep tabs on my dad’s social life.

“Not to mention his wolf learning to walk with three legs. But plenty of canines the world over survives just fine with three legs.” Doctor Bryant shrugged.

“Thanks, Phil. We appreciate what you’ve done.” Dad nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets and not making eye contact.

“I’ll leave you to talk more as a family.” Doctor Bryant nodded.

“Clement, just use the call button if you have any discomfort. You should be discharged tomorrow, and we’ll go from there.” He smiled.

“Always a pleasure to see you, Michele.” He winked at grandma, earning a growl from grandpa. Doctor Bryant chuckled as he left my room.

“Never liked that boy. And his son’s no better. And of course, now they think they are better than others cause his boy is the Luna’s guard.” Grandpa scoffed.

“Oh, shut up.” I groaned, running my hand over my face.

“Excuse me? Did you just back talk to me, boy?” Grandpa growled.

“I said to shut up. I didn’t stutter, old man. My leg hurts, I’m tired, and I don’t want to listen to you talk shit about other families. Your fucking paranoia about people being better or thinking they are better is pissing me off.” I blew up.

A lifetime of frustration spilled out. It was one of the things that always irked me about my grandfather. And I’ve gotten to the point I just don’t feel like keeping my mouth shut.

It barely stung as his fist connected with my face. He’s hit me before, though under the guise of training me. Not the first punch I’ve taken and won’t be the last.

His punch is getting weak with age. And after taking an ass-kicking from an Alpha heir, everything feels like a slap from a pup.

“Don’t you ever talk back to me.” He warned, wagging his finger at me.

“Especially as you are now, you worthless little shit. Worthless, the lot of you. First my son lost his wolf and now his son loses a leg. The Shelton family line has become this.” He snarled.

“You hit like a pup. Getting weak in your old age.” I scoffed, pressing the button to raise the bed more.

“Your son lost his wolf rather than his life when mom died. Name one person that didn’t die when their mate did?” I snorted.

“Been better if he had rather than living as a shell of who he was.” Grandpa narrowed his eyes at dad, then at me.

“And now I see the weak genes passed down to you.” He sneered.

“Weak? I went to war against magically influenced wolves and lost a leg. And yes, this has messed up my plans for the military, but it’s not the end of my life.” I argued.

“Before I was shipped back, I was told, the Goddess guides us on our paths. But we all have to put in the work to find our destinies. That person told me that I should look within and find who I am.” I countered.

“Ha. That person is a fool and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. You’re going to amount to nothing now. A three-legged wolf, a lot of good that will do the pack.” Grandpa scoffed.

“That fool, as you called him, is Alpha Heir André D’Amore.” I smirked.

“Though now I hear he’s going to be Alpha André claiming the title of the pack his father was at war against.”I shrugged.

“And trust me, he hits a thousand times harder than you ever could.” I added.

My grandfather seethed even as grandma rubbed his arm, trying to calm him. I’m sure he has a million things he’d like to say. But he bites his tongue because André is an Alpha, and the thought of disrespecting an Alpha knowingly scares him.

“I think you should go home and rest, grandfather. Before you shove your foot any further down your throat, your toes poke out your ass.” I smiled.

“Come, Dillion. Let’s let Clemmy rest. You’re probably hungry. You get grouchy when you’re hungry.” Grandma tried to soothe the situation.

I shook my head as she led him out. I noticed that dad hadn’t budged. Hell he hadn’t said a word. Because, of course, all grandfather needs is a snickers bar.

“Dad?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Austin…” Dad opened his mouth. I don’t know why he always used my middle name, but only when my grandparents weren’t around. I never understood why.

“Why do you call me that? My name is Clement. So why do you call me by my middle name?” I decided to ask what I had always questioned.

“Your m… your mother called you Austin. She wanted to name you Austin, but your grandfather insisted you get his middle name as a first.” Dad shrugged.

Now it at least made sense. Dad preferred to use the name mom wanted, but he couldn’t give me without pissing off the old man.

“Oh, I didn’t know what. Why do you let grandpa do that? Walk all over you? Why let him decide on my name if mom wanted to call me Austin?” I frowned.

“You’ve been the old bastard. He railroads everyone. So we conceded and used Austin as your middle name. We would call you Austin when they weren’t around. It was easier than fighting him.” Dad shrugged.

“But you… you got your mother’s fire. She’d be proud of you.” He smiled sadly as he spoke of her.

“I don’t know. I did stupidly break formation and lost my leg. Essentially ruining my plans for joining the army. This injury has thrown all my plans into the trash.” I shook my head.

“And just like that, Alpha André said. The Goddess guides us. This was your path. Now you must navigate it. You have a chance to remake yourself, son. You’re young. Take this time to heal and find the man you truly want to be.” Dad patted my shoulder.

“Now do what your grandma says. Rest up.” He smiled slightly before leaving the room.

After a week of healing and walking with crutches, I was able to be fitted for my prosthetic leg. Six months of working with a human physical therapist just to be able to walk correctly with the prosthetic.

He was amazed at how quickly I progressed and healed. Certainly couldn’t tell him it was because I’m a werewolf.

It took Jax a total of seven months to learn to walk and finally be able to run as a three-legged wolf. Generally, I shift and run in private to avoid specific comments that have been whispered around the pack.

And it wasn’t just attending physical therapy I had to deal with. I also saw a pack psychologist to deal with whatever PTSD and such I might have developed from the war and losing my leg.

I gained an appreciation for what my physical therapist Grant does throughout all of it. Not just for me but for everyone that comes to his physical therapy practice.

After much consideration, given that the pack doesn’t have a physical therapist, a lightbulb went off in my head. I realized what I should do. I enrolled at a local college to start studying to become a physical therapist.

Chapter 2 - Suzie

“Come on, Suzie…” Shannon pouted, tugging on my sleeve.

“It’s a bad idea, is all I’m saying. And I really should just go home.” I shook my head, shutting my locker.

“Oh, come on. Stan’s going to be there. Aren’t you a little interested in seeing him shift… or rather seeing him before and after.” Shannon giggled, wiggling her eyebrows at me.

I roll my eyes but smile a little. Stan is handsome, and he only got his wolf this past full moon. So far, none of the she-wolves in our pack are his mate.

Shannon grinned. “Yes. I knew I’d get you with that. “

I rolled my eyes, zipping up my winter jacket. “You realize no matter what he looks like naked, he’s going to be insignificant if I compare to Amelia’s big brother.”

I blushed just thinking about the handful of times I’ve been in Madonie and seen little Ivan. His mate is a fortunate woman, that’s all I can say. And she, of course, knows it.

We were happy for Ivan when he found his mate two years ago when Amelia made him go to a Madonie hosted mate gathering. Their mating caused quite a stir.

But their mating was overshadowed by Beta Alexander being mated to Delilah and his older sister Beta Zoe having two mates the same size as Ivan. Now that was a crazy story from what Amelia told me.

“Earth to Suzie.” Shannon was snapping her fingers in my face.

“Stop daydreaming about your brother-in-law’s third leg. He has a mate and pups. Focus on the unmated males right here.” Shannon sighed.

“Oh, my Goddess. I can’t believe you called it that.” I rolled my eyes. “And I wasn’t thinking about his massive cock.”

“Who’s massive cock are we not thinking about?” Diann laughed as she threw her arms around both of us.

Unlike Shannon and I, Diann just turned sixteen. It sucks to have friends that shift before you. At least Shannon won’t turn sixteen before me. I have a year before my birthday. She has a year and a month.

“No one.” I sighed.

“Suzie was supposedly not thinking about her giant Italian brother-in-law’s cock. I’m trying to get her to focus. Stan asked if we all wanted to ride up in his truck to the woods. He and Sullivan want to show off their wolves.” Shannon smirked.

“Oh well, I’m totally in. I’ve seen them both, but I’m all for seeing it again.” Diann laughed as we headed out of the school.

“Hey, Suzie.” Paul waved from the back of Stan’s blue pickup.

“Awe, look, it’s your boyfriend.” Diann taunted me, poking my ribs.

“He is not.” I muttered. Paul is just a friend and has been since we were in diapers. I would never see him romantically.

“Hey, Paul.” I nodded as my eyes turned to the cab as the doors opened.

Sullivan Webster pushed back his black hair with one hand as he grinned at us, showing off his canines. “Hey, girls. Ready for some fun?”

“Always.” Shannon winked, skipping forward and kissing his cheek.

“I call sitting in the cab.” She declared, not giving Diann or me a chance to say anything as she hopped into the cab to sit between Stan and Sullivan.

Sullivan smirked, shrugging. “Looks like you ladies are sitting in the back with Paul.”

Diann huffed but jumped into the bed of the truck. As I moved to follow, Stan had come around, opening the tailgate. “Want some help, Suzie?” he offered with a smile.

I could handle myself, but the offer was tempting. I am a sucker for blondes, and Stan has that cute dimple.

“Sure.” I shrugged. I laughed a little as he grabbed my waist, lifting me onto the tailgate.

“Make sure you hang and stay safe back here. Wouldn’t want something bad to happen to you. Especially before your first shift. Maybe we’ll be mates.” Stan winked.

I rolled my eyes but knew I was blushing. I would just blame the cold winter air. Yeah, that’s it. That’s why my cheeks are pink. They’re cold.

I settled into the truck bed, holding on tightly as Stan drove away from the pack high school. Diann, Paul, and I bounced around as Stan went off the main road heading into the forest.

I know where he’s going. There’s a spot in these woods that young wolves like to park. Both in the human sense of ‘parking’ where you make out, some even have sex.

But we also just park to shit for our pack and run in our wolf forms. No one really says anything or thinks twice about it.

Alpha Logan has never cared at most we are told to be careful to not be seen by humans.

Shannon had opened the little window from the cab to the back so we could hear the music Stan was blasting. Shannon was giggling, leaning closer to Sullivan.

Shannon has never been shy when it comes to going for what she wants. It doesn’t take a wolf’s vision or hearing to know what she’s doing. And she wants Sullivan even if he doesn’t end up being her mate.

I rolled my eyes at her brazen acts. Before I could call her out, it was clear I wasn’t the only one who noticed. The truck fishtailed in the snow as Stan watched Shannon give his buddy a hand job more than he was on the road.

“Watch the road!” Diann shouted. Like Paul and I, she clung to the truck’s sides for safety.

“It’s fine! Don’t worry so much!” Stan shouted back.

Jinx. Stan just jinxed us by casually dismissing the hazard of traveling on this show covered road distracted.

It happened too fast, but I’m sure Stan was still distracted by Shannon and Sullivan getting hot and heavy because he hit a deer and lost control of the truck. I just remember screams.

I was screaming. Everyone was screaming as the truck went off the road, rolling over the edge and sliding down the edge of the mountain road until it slammed with a sickening crunch of metal into a tree.

My head was buzzing, and it hurt to breathe. I blinked, trying to get my bearings. Groaning, I tried to brush whatever was dripping into my eyes away.

OH shit, that’s blood. I’m bleeding. I winced as I felt a pain in my legs. I could barely lift my head to see part of the truck was on them.

Oh fuck. This isn’t good. I tried to look around to find my friends, but it hurt to even move my head.

I saw a silvery gray wolf slipping down the incline from the road. It must be someone from the pack. “Find… find the others….” I strained to speak.

I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I heard someone shouting at me.

“Oh fuck. Walterson! Stay the fuck awake!!” A gruff voice grunted. I still couldn’t manage to keep my eyes open, but I felt the weight on my legs fading as the ground shook.

“Hey… Walterson! Come on! Open your damn eyes!” The voice shouted.

I groaned, squinting at the blurry face looking down at me.

“Don’t go dying on me, kid. I already called for the emergency crew. Just stay awake.”

He seems familiar, but I can’t place him right now. “I’m going to check on the other idiots.” The guy scoffed as his blurry face disappeared.

I woke up warm, feeling someone leaning on me crying, or I think crying, given the sobs. Opening my eyes, I spotted my mom leaning over me, holding my hand crying.

“Mom?” My voice was strained.

“Oh, baby!” Mom exclaimed, sitting up quickly, cupping my face with her hands. “Oh, my baby! You’re okay.”

“Yeah… I’m… I feel like I got hit by a car.” I groaned as everything hurt.

“Technically, you did. You’re lucky to be alive, Suzie. I have many questions, but I’ll refrain from asking them till you feel a bit better.” Dad sighed, kissing the top of my head.

“You are so lucky that someone was in that area to find you kids.” He frowned.

“Wait, my friends? What happened to them? Are they okay?” I asked as the events started to flood back.

“Who found us?” I added.

“They are okay. They’re all in the hospital too. Of course, you three that haven’t gotten your wolf yet are in worse condition.” Dad sighed.

That makes sense. Stan, Sullivan, and Diann have their wolves to help them recover faster.

“I’m glad we’re all okay then. But who found us? We need to thank him.” I asked.

“It was… well, it was Clement.” Mom sighed.

I blinked. “The hell?! Clement? Clement Shelton? Dickhead extraordinaire? Since he returned from Incubi, he’s become like a hermit or something. Avoiding most people in the pack.” I shook my head.

“He lost a leg. I won’t fault the boy for avoiding people. He had a lot to deal with and people can be cruel. Especially if they think you got what was coming to you. I’m just glad he saved you.” Dad shook his head.

I frowned because that’s a lot to consider. I owe my life to Clement Shelton? The thought left a bad taste in my mouth.

“I’ll send him a thank you card and a basket of goodies or something.” I sighed because I had to repay him somehow.

“So what does the doctor say? Will I be okay? I remember… the truck was on my legs.” I questioned, wanting to think of something that wasn’t the utterly insane thought of owing my life to Clement.

“You’ll recover, but Doctor Bryant did say you’ll need crutches and physical therapy as your legs are in rough shape. Only one was really bad. They had to put some pins in it, and you’ll have the cast for a month or two.” Dad explained.

I blinked and looked down finally, pulling the blanket back to see my right leg was in a cast. Well fuck. “I knew I should have just gone home.” I grumbled.

“Yes, you should’ve. But we can’t change the past.” Mom narrowed her eyes at me.

Oh, I’m grounded for life after this. I’d blame Shannon, but she’s probably just as bad off as I am.

“So we’ll focus on your recovery. Doctor Bryant already gave us the name of a physical therapist in the pack. He’s fairly new and works at a human practice but takes on anyone from the pack.” Dad said, holding up a card.

I frowned, looking at the card. “Austin Shelton PT, ATI Physical Therapy?” I frowned because I couldn’t think of anyone in the pack named that. But then again, I don’t know everyone in the pack by name.

“Yes. We’ve already called and have you an appointment scheduled for when your cast comes off.” Dad nodded, taking the card back.

I couldn’t really argue. So for the next two months, I dealt with the crutches and having to accommodate for the cast.

Stan apologized more times than I could count for what happened. Dad wasn’t hearing any of it and told Stan that he would use his carcass for fertilizer if he came near me.

Shannon was in worse shape than me having a neck injury and her arms both broken. Her parents sent her to live with her grandparents in Colorado to be homeschooled until she was old enough to shift.

Mom dropped me off at the physical therapist's office for my first appointment. I sighed, leaning on my crutches as I made my way into the building.

I signed in at the front desk. Before I could sit down and wait, I heard a familiar voice call my name.

“Suzanne Walterson.”

I turned my head in the direction of the voice. And there he was, Clement Shelton. His blonde hair was styled in a pompadour fade, and he was wearing slim fit navy scrubs, blue eyes locked in on me with his arms folding, holding a clipboard. I couldn’t even tell his left leg from the knee down was a prosthetic with how he was standing.

“Suzanne? Are you ready for your session?” Clement questioned, arching an eyebrow.

“I… yes. But I am supposed to be working with someone named Austin.” I furrowed my brow.

Clement’s brow stayed arched as he tapped the name tag on his chest. I squinted, not wanting to get closer. “You changed your name?” I asked.

“It’s my middle name. Now come on. We need to get started. I have other appointments after you.” Clement… I mean, Austin gestured for me to follow him.

Cautiously I followed him, and as he walked, I could see the slight limp from the prosthetic, but otherwise, if I didn’t know he had lost his leg, I wouldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure what to expect as we started the session.

To my surprise, he was professional but also strangely put me at ease as he helped me through different exercises. He was oddly easy to talk to. It’s like he’s an entirely different person from the dick I knew as a kid.

Chapter 3 - Austin

I’ve spent the last five years getting my life together. Unless it’s required for all pack members, I have distanced myself from the pack.

Not in a sense that I want to turn rogue or something stupid like that. I don’t want to leave the pack.

But early in my recovery, if I trained in either human or wolf form around others, I got unsettling looks and heard their whispers. Which shows they wanted me to hear them bad-mouthing me.

We’re werewolves, so they know I could hear them, and if they didn’t want me to hear it, they’d have used a direct link to who they were gossiping to. So it was done with intent.

I get it. I was an asshole for… well, my whole life. So to avoid such situations, I trained at human gyms and would let Jax out in areas where I wouldn’t run into packmates.

Random pack members weren’t the only people I spent less time around. Grandpa has written me off and for the stupidest of reasons. He’s pissed that I decided I wanted to be known as Austin going forward.

I put Austin on all my university paperwork, and even the Alpha knows I’ve decided to go by my middle name. If my grandpa can’t deal with it, he can shove it.

I’m done with his shit. And the moment I decided I was done, dad seemed to decide the same thing.

I feel bad that my dad only put up with my grandpa because of me. Too bad there is no way for grandma to get away from him.

I still go visit her, though. Grandpa always grumbles and growls, eventually leaving when he realizes I’m going to ignore his ass and visit my grandma whether he likes it or not.

I’d been out running near what is still considered the make-out spot for the young pack members. I would usually avoid the place, but it’s winter. Only idiots try to come up here this time of year.

Yes, I’m up here, but I’m here for strength training for Jax. He’s gotten good at being able to run with three legs. So we like to push his limits and run in different terrains. So the snow-covered area had perfect conditions.

Or it was perfect until Jax heard the squealing of tires and shrieks of fear. Jax surged forward as fast as three paws could carry him. We got there to see a truck roll down the steep incline and hear the crash.

Looking down the side, I could pick up six scents. They were all packmates. ‘We need to help them.’ Jax insisted as he was already starting to carefully slide down the incline.

‘PATROL! Anyone on patrol near make-out point! We have a single-vehicle accident. Count six sents. All pack. Three shifted and three non.’ I called out through the link to alert someone to come help.

I didn’t know what I was expecting but finding Suzie Walterson pinned under the truck wasn’t at the top of the list. I had to use my powers to jack the truck off her by raising the ground around her.

She, of course, wasn’t worried about herself. Kept telling me to find her friends. Once I knew she was safe, I did find the other idiots.

The two males in the cab were out cold and wouldn’t be of any help. I managed to get them and the other female out of the cab. Then I found an unshifted male and a shifted female.

The girl seemed surprised to see me as she had shifted and was trying to keep the boy warm. ‘Bring him over with the others.’ I instructed through the pack link as I returned to where I’d left the others.

I laid down by Suzie and the other non-shifted female so they’d be kept warm by Jax’s fur. The males may be unconscious, but they’ll stay warm naturally as they have wolves. The she-wolf kept the boy warm until a patrol unit arrived.

Once I knew the dumbasses were safe and would be sent to the pack hospital, I headed home. I didn’t expect to get a call from Maxton Walterson the following day. He wouldn’t stop thanking me for saving his daughter.

And if Maxton calling to thank me wasn’t enough of a surprise, getting a referral from Doctor Bryant for Suzie to come to see me for physical therapy certainly was the cherry on top.

Ha cherry. Fitting as the Walterson family runs a cherry farm. A fact grandpa has always looked down on them for.

Insert heavy eye roll here. Grandpa looks down on everyone. All because his father was Alpha Alexander Kinsley’s Beta.

Big fucking deal. It doesn’t make us Beta blood. The only rank in Bloodmoon that is blood-based is Alpha. The rest are selected by the Alpha when they prove their worth.

So grandpa should shut his trap. Obviously, he didn’t prove his worth to Alpha John Sr. He picked Thomas James over grandpa because Thomas James probably wasn’t a stuck-up prick.

When Suzie arrived for her first appointment, she obviously didn’t know I had changed my name. I think she was even a little miffed about the supposed deception.

But we made it through the first session with only a bit of friction. I could tell Suzie had a lot she wanted to say but held back because we were in a public setting.

‘Probably helps you didn’t prod her.’ Jax scoffed.

‘I can be a professional.’ I rolled my eyes at him.

Suzie has been coming here for three months now. She’s been doing well. She’s not progressing as fast as someone with a wolf would. But she’s doing better than a human would.

Today would actually be her last session. While I was between appointments, I took a seat in the break room, taking my prosthetic off to give myself a break.

“You’ve been busy recently. You have a full schedule.” Denise smiled at me, leaning on the counter.

I nodded, rolling my shoulders. “But that’s a good thing. More clients mean more practice. More practice means more pay to continue my education.” I sighed.

“Yes, but, Austin, you have to remember to make time for yourself.” She smiled, walking closer.

It’s really a good thing no one else is in here. Because Denise is certainly crossing that work-appropriate line.

“To have fun. If you know what I mean.” Denise batted her eyes, stroking a delicate finger along my cheek.

I don’t have much reason to turn her down beyond not wanting to get involved with anyone at work. But I have to admit a little fun does sound good right about now.

I went to open my mouth to respond when I heard an annoyed sound and the door to the break room slamming. I jolted in my seat, turning to see what had happened.

A pie tin was on the ground, and an innocent cherry pie was smashed into the tile floor. Cherry pie? Cherry pie!

“Crap.” I groaned, hurrying to get my leg on jumping over the stupid pie.

“Hey Austin, your client Suzie was just here looking for you. Did she find you?” Jordan asked, glancing up from where he was spotting his client.

“Oh yeah, she found me all right.” I assured.

I hurried in enough time to catch her arm as she was trying to duck out of the building.

“Suzie? What the hell?” I demanded.

Because this doesn’t make a lick of sense. Suzie’s fifteen minutes early. And why the hell did she bring a pie, let alone drop it and rush off in a huff.

“Of fuck off… Clement.” Suzie snorted using my given name.

Oh, she did that on purpose. That was a dig on me. It took a lot of control to not growl and out myself to my place of business as a werewolf.

“What your mouth, little girl. I don’t know your problem, but don’t take your shit out on me.” I fired back.

I blinked at how those green eyes darkened with anger as she narrowed at me. If she was closer to sixteen, I swear I’d say her wolf was starting to wake up.

“You’re not even worth explaining it to. Who wants to explain simple shit to someone with rocks for brains. Today was going to be my last session anyways. I think I’ll skip it. Have a good life, Clement.” Suzie snorted, yanking her arm out of my grip.

She exited the building with a toss of her long honey brown hair and the soft curls slapping me in the face. I furrowed my brow watching her leave. She wasn’t even dressed for physical therapy.

A mid-thigh black skirt, white blouse, jean jacket, and brown suede three-inch heel ankle boots. Nothing about what Suzie was wearing would be appropriate for a physical therapy session.

“Who shows up for physical therapy in a skirt?” I shook my head, turning back around.

Piper, our receptionist, was just shaking her head. “Men are so dense.” She muttered as I went back inside.

I shook my head and went back to the break room to clean up the mess Suzie had made. I walked in to find Denise on her knees cleaning up.

I cocked my head cause not a bad view. “Sorry about that. Not sure what got into that girl.” I shook my head and got down to help.

Denise snickered.

“What?” I asked since I’m apparently missing something.

“This pie was for you, Austin. Seems like your client has a crush. Can’t blame her. You are cute.” Denise laughed softly.

I blinked, falling on my ass.

“A crush? On me? Suzie Walterson?” I shook my head.

“You’re crazy.” I scoffed.

“Suzie does not like me.” I rationalized.

“If anything, she might have brought it to be polite because it was going to be her last session.” I concluded.

“Whatever you say, Austin. But getting back to what I said earlier. What do you think? Dinner with me tonight?” Denise smiled as she threw the trash and remnants of the pie away.

“Don’t generally mix business with pleasure.” I pointed out.

“Generally doesn’t mean never. So?” Denise gave me a hopeful smile.

‘Jax? Speak now, or I’m going for it.’ I warned.

‘Suit yourself. But this messing with humans ends the second we find our mate.’ He reluctantly conceded

This is the same conversation we have any time I hook up.

“Alright. Dinner tonight.” I agreed with a smile.

Under the surface, I was still wrapping my head around Suzie’s behavior and what Denise said about the girl having a crush. There is no way that she has a crush on me.

Chapter 4 - Suzie

OH, MY GODDESS!!! How can he be that dense!? How can I be this stupid!? Ugh!

Why would I think after three months of talking and what I thought was subtle flirting meant a damn thing to him? It was all just in my head.

I BAKED him a PIE! I don’t bake for ANYONE! I can’t believe I baked him a pie.

I went through the effort of styling my hair, putting on makeup, and picking a cute outfit. And none of it mattered.

I walked in on Austin with one of his coworkers. I can’t believe I was so wrong about this.

I grumbled, digging out my cell to call Diann to come back and get me. I’m going to feel like such an idiot for this.

I had told Diann about my cute physical therapist and the flirty vibe I’d been picking up. She’s the one who encouraged me. Hell, I’m wearing her skirt!

“Hey, girl. Why are you calling? I dropped you off like a minute ago. Was he out sick or something?” Diann asked with a chuckle.

I, however, wasn’t laughing.

“Suz? Oh no. We misread his signals.” Diann lamented. “I am so sorry, girl. I’ll be right there.” She assured me.

“Thanks…” I sighed, hanging up.

Closing my eyes, I tilted my head up. I will not get upset over some asshole like Clement Shelton, who can’t even get a clue.

My back straightened as I heard voices, and I quickly tried to get out of sight. I do not need anyone from the therapist’s office to see me. I’m sure they aren’t as dense as Austin.

“So you finally made your move?” The receptionist questioned. I don’t remember her name, but I recognize her voice from coming here for three months.

“Yep. For a moment, I thought it was going to go south. That client walked in, and he chased after her.” A different voice I recognized answered.

I gritted my teeth from my hiding spot behind the pillar. It was that woman who was practically in Austin’s lap. And she’s talking about me!

“Yeah, I saw that. It was hard to watch. Austin’s cute, but he ain’t bright. The girl has been making eyes at him for a couple weeks now. And he didn’t realize she had a crush.” the receptionist scoffed.

“Yeah, he did seem to be not only oblivious but very certain there was no way she’d be into him. Not sure about the history there. Don’t care. He’s obviously not interested and agreed to a date tonight.”

The slut… no, I won’t call her that. I am better than that.

I don’t know her, so I shouldn’t judge her. Austin is single and free to be involved with anyone he likes. At least until he finds his mate.

Then girls like that one, and I will not stand a chance. The mate bond is something you do fuck with. With how much Amelia suffered when her original mate cheated against the bond, I wouldn’t put anyone through that.

“Way to go, Denise. You’ve had your sights set on him when he was just a client for Grant.” the receptionist chuckled.

“What can I say? I’m a sucker for a broken man working on picking up the pieces. And I’ve watched him work hard over the years. I like work in progress guys, but now he’s more stable, and all the workouts for his training have made him hotter.” Denise laughed.

“Well, have a fun night. I want a full report tomorrow.” the receptionist laughed.

I peered around the pillar to watch Denise head for the parking lot.

“Oh, you bet, Piper. I know you can’t wait to find out if he’s good in bed.” Denise laughed as she got in her car.

I clenched my jaw as the urge to growl was high, even if I didn’t have my wolf yet. I can’t believe these women. He’s not some broken toy to fix or be played with.

I was glaring in the direction Denise drove off when Diann honked her horn. I nearly jumped out of my skin, startled by the sudden sound

“Yo! Suz! Come on, girl, why are you hiding behind that pillar?” Diann called out, rolling her window down.

I groaned and came out from hiding, and hurried into her car. I frowned as I slumped into the front seat and buckled up.

“So what happened?” Diann questioned, eyeing me as we started driving.

I sighed because where do I even begin. “So I went to find Austin. I walked in on him and one of the girls that work here… Denise.” I wrinkled my nose as I said her name.

“What were they doing? Hot and heavy? You see skin?” Diann tried to lighten the mood with a job, but I’m not in the mood.

“It wasn’t hot and heavy. Denise looked to be propositioning him and halfway in his lap. I dropped the pie and ran. He chased after me when he realized I’d been there. But he was totally oblivious. And it just pissed me off more. So I walked out.” I quickly explained.

“On snap. I’m so sorry, Suz. Males are so dense. This is why the Goddess gave us mates. You scent your mate, so there’s never this issue of misunderstandings, and bullshit like humans do.” Diann sighed.

“Yeah. Maybe I should just wait till I find my mate. No point getting interested in a guy who isn’t my mate. And honestly, it’s not like he’s the type of guy I’d want for a mate.” I frowned.

“Girl, don’t say that. Sometimes it takes years to find a mate. And no harm in having companionship until then. And you said this Austin guy was hot. And if he’s a physical therapist, he is probably pretty flexible and knows just how to make your body bend.” Diann laughed with a wink.

I couldn’t stop it. I blushed. Because I was thinking about some of the stretches Austin helped me with and the feel of his hand applying just enough pressure to my body to push my limit without hurting me.

“See, I’m right. So don’t give up so easily. So some girl is also into him. What could she possibly have that you don’t?” Diann scoffed.

I glanced down at my A cup chest and remembered even in the scrubs, Denise was more endowed. “I can think of at least one thing beyond being old enough to drink.”

Diann threw her head back, laughing. “Oh, who cares about that. Maybe he’s more of an ass man. You’ve got a lot of junk in that trunk.”

“It doesn’t matter. Today was my last session. I won’t see Austin again. He made his choice. I overheard Denise talking to the receptionist. She’s going out with him.” I sighed, shoulders slumping.

Diann frowned, glancing at me. “Are you sure? We could find out where they are going on their date and crash.”

I chuckled, shaking my head. “As fun as that might be. It also sounds super embarrassing and stalkerish. I’ll just put him in the spank bank and move on. Not like he’s someone I’d want to be with forever. He’s…” I tried to think of what to call him.

“Dense. If Austin didn’t realize you were into him or what a catch you are, he’s obviously stupid.” Diann smiled.

“True that. I want my mate to be sweet and endearing. Someone like my dad and brother. I want someone who will support me through good and bad times. And I mean, it wouldn’t be one-sided. I’ll support my mate just as much as he supports me.” I sighed.

“I think we all want a mate like your dad. Your parents are mate goals.” Diann smiled as she pulled into my driveway.

“Keep your chin up. You’ll shift soon, and then you can join me to go around the world to gatherings looking for our mates.” Diann smiled.

“Yeah. It’ll be fun and a good reason to visit my brother’s family in Sicily. They have some really hot guys in those packs.” I chuckled.

“Thanks for the ride. I’ll wash and return your skirt.” I waved goodbye as I got out. Diann waved as I went inside.

I decided I would put Austin out of my head. He’s not the type of guy I want. It was pointless when I thought about it.

“SUZIE! You’ll never guess what’s happened!” Mom shouted the moment I walked in.

I was worried for a moment, but then I realized she was happy. “What’s going on?”

I was not sure what news could make mom this excited. She hasn’t been this excited since Grace joined the family.

“Stephen just called. Amelia is pregnant! Two months along, they wanted to wait to say anything. The Goddess has blessed your brother and Amelia with another baby.” Mom squealed, pulling me into a tight hug in her excitement.

“OMG! That’s… Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m going to be an aunt again! Grace will get to have a brother or sister!” I let myself get swept into the excitement.

Amelia had been told she couldn’t have children. We were all so happy when Grace appeared on their doorstep four years ago.

The pregnancy news took my mind off Austin and everything that happened with him. I spent the next six months focused on school, preparing for my first shift, and contacting Amelia and Stephen.

Like the rest of my family, we had learned Italian sign language to video chat with Amelia even when Stephen wasn’t there. It’s been so fun keeping up to date on her pregnancy and seeing how excited Grace is to become a big sister.

Chapter 5 - Austin

I haven’t seen nor heard from or about Suzanne Walterson in months. She hasn’t had to come to the office now that her sessions are over. And I tend to keep my distance from pack gatherings, so we don’t cross paths.

Even if she lives down the street, we don’t generally cross paths. I went years without seeing that kid. Since her brother moved to Madonie, I haven’t had any reason to go by her house.

Not that Stephen and I were ever good friends. Mostly I was his ride since I had my own car. And given how we left things, his fist in my face, we aren’t really going to be mending fences.

I hadn’t thought that three months of seeing her three times a week would change anything. I got by just fine, not talking to or seeing her before.

So why have I missed seeing her? Miss the low-key banter during her sessions.

I’ve attempted to distract myself with Denise. She’s not a bad person. I get along with her well enough, but she’s human and not my mate.

Unlike the she-wolves at the pack who have snubbed and gossiped about me since I lost my leg Denise doesn’t care. She’s a physical therapist, just like me. She knows that losing a limb is painful on many levels, but it doesn’t make you less of a person.

We’ve actually been going out for the last few months. We went on a handful of dates early on, but nothing serious.

Granted, nothing serious did still include sex. Don’t judge me. The likelihood of finding my mate is no greater than any other werewolf but the likelihood that she would accept me with my missing leg… it’s low.

So sue me for taking comfort in the arms of a human woman that sees past my injury. I’m not looking for forever. This is the woman that doesn’t believe in the supernatural.

I subtly prodded when talking about books and movies. Denise doesn’t go for any of the fiction that talks about vampires, demons, witches, angels, or werewolves.

So obviously, I can’t tell her about what I am. And because of that, I’m in this limbo-type relationship with her. Always having one foot out the door, ready to walk at any moment.

Something she’s noticing. She’s not an idiot after all. Last night’s fight certainly proved it. I sighed as the night replayed in my mind.

Full moons always make me on edge. Every werewolf is on edge at a full moon. I usually don’t come to Denise’s place on full moons, but the pack run tonight isn’t mandatory, and it’s her birthday.

So I skipped the run and took her to her favorite restaurant, and we ended up at her place after. I was a bit nervous as I gave her the gift I had picked out.

The only woman I’ve ever given a gift to was my grandma. Okay, I’m sure I gave gifts to mom before she died, but I don’t really remember them.

And this was the first gift I was giving Denise, so I wasn’t sure how it would go.

“I got you a present too.” I explained, digging the square box out of my jacket pocket after getting to her apartment.

“Aw, how sweet of you, Austin. You didn’t have to get me a gift. Taking me to dinner and being with me today is enough.” Denise assured me, but given how her eyes were lighting up as she took the gift, that was a half-truth.

If anything, she probably didn’t expect me to get a gift. I had considered not getting her a gift but felt like an ass if I didn’t.

“Oh, it’s beautiful. Thank you!” Denise squealed as she took the rose gold bracelet out of the box.

I’m a dick, but I’m not a total dick. So I tried to go safe but personalized. The bracelet had her favorite flower, jasmine, and her birthstone.

“Who knew you could be so sweet.” Denise teased, pulling me into a kiss.

A kiss turned into making out on her sofa. Making out turned to moving to her bedroom, a trail of our clothes being left in our wake.

I will give credit where credit is due. Denise’s a damn good lay. Okay, I was a little rougher than I have been, but the full moon is to blame.

“Whoa. That was... Wow.” Denise sighed, resting her head on my chest, fingers stroking my chest, tracing lines of my muscles.

“Happy birthday?” I tried to play it off since I can’t really explain to her that the full moon makes me a bit more aggressive.

Denise giggled and kissed my chest. “Happy birthday to me indeed.”

She sighed, and it was one of those heavier, thinking sighs. I braced myself for whatever serious conversation she’s decided to talk about.

I’ve not had any serious relationships before, but I can only assume it can’t be good when a woman wants to have a serious talk after sex. And oh, how right I was.

“Austin, we’ve been together for a while now. And I think we should take it to the next level.” Denise moved to lean upon her elbow, looking down at me, her long black hair falling over her shoulder, the ends brushing against my chest.

“The next level?” I arched my brow.

I’m not sure what it means for a human, but it’s probably not good for me. She has no idea I’m a werewolf.

She’s never met anyone in my family. She never stays or even comes to my place. She’s accepted that I don’t invite her to my place since I live with dad to save money for college.

So what does this ‘next level’ mean to her?

“Yes. I think it’s about time I met your family. And while I get you still living at home to save money so you can continue your education and get your doctorate. But you could still save money if we moved in together.” Denise explained, smiling down at me.

I froze. Denise wants to meet my family? Yeah, that won’t be happening. Dad may be cool about it, but even he is hoping I find a mate.

She sure the fuck won’t be meeting my grandparents. Even if I was on speaking terms with grandpa, he’d lose his shit if I introduced him to a human. That would blow up in my face.

And move in together!? That would not work. There’s no way to live together and keep what I am a secret.

My panic at her suggestion must be readable because she looks pissed now.

“You don’t want to introduce me to your family? Or live with me? What the fuck, Austin? Do you not love me?” She demanded, sitting up, her entire mood shifting.

I sighed, running a hand over my face as I sat up. How the fuck am I supposed to answer any of that? Jax wasn’t helpful as he just sat silently looking at me, basically saying I was on my own.

“Denise…” I groaned.

“My family is complicated, okay. They expect me to be with a certain kind of person. Someone from a family they approve of.”

I tried to explain without saying I had a soulmate out there, and my family wouldn’t accept anyone but her.

“So what? I don’t want their approval. But they should know about us. And you still haven’t answered about us living together or if you love me.” Denise huffed as she wrapped the blanket around her sliding out of bed.

“Tell me now. Answer me, Austin. Do you love me? Can you see this going somewhere? Because I can. I can see us being more. I can see a life with you. I can see a family with you.” Denise demanded.

Oh fuck. I groaned, running my hands over my face. There is no way I can answer this, and it ends well.

“I care about you. Love? I don’t know. It feels too soon to throw a word like that around. And… I don’t know what my future holds. I don’t generally think too far out beyond my career.” I was trying to be diplomatic. Trying to spare her feelings.

It wasn’t working. Denise’s eyes were brimming with tears, her features and stance changing to anger.

“GET OUT! GET THE FUCK OUT! I will not be with a man who doesn’t love me! A man that can’t commit to me!” Denise started shrieking at me.

“I thought we had a future. That this feeling you always had one foot out the door was just your insecurities. But ugh… I was fooling myself. GET OUT!” She ranted as I hurried out of her bed.

I got my prosthetic back on and started gathering my clothes. I got dressed as I followed the trail to the living room.

“Denise… I…” I wasn’t sure what I would say, but she cut me off.

“I don’t want to hear it. We are over. Hot sex isn’t enough for me. I want someone to build my life with. And obviously, to you, I’m just someone you’re passing the time with.” Denise scoffed, throwing her birthday gift at me as she shoved me out of her apartment.

I still don’t know if there was ever a way to have made things work. I liked Denise well enough. But I would always know that out there is my mate.

Even if my mate rejected me, what life could I have built with Denise when she can’t know what I am? Maybe it’s for the best we broke up.

‘We shouldn’t have been dating her, to begin with. She’s not our mate, and I will never accept anyone but our mate.’ Jax huffed.

Yeah, that too. I rolled my eyes, focusing on my breathing as I used the leg press at the pack gym. I know, pack gym? What the hell am I doing here?

Last night was a full moon, so a dozen or so youths shifted for the first time. And usually, the first day after the full moon, a few seasoned pack members get voluntold to babysit.

Babysit might be dramatic. Basically, we are supposed to take them out for a run and some light training with their wolves. I had the misfortune of getting my name drawn.

I got to the training center early to get a workout before dealing with newly shifted. My presence here hasn’t gone unnoticed, given the looks cast my way and the whispers asking what I’m doing here.

I sighed as I heard this exact thing again. I turned my head as I pushed the seven hundred pounds with my good leg.

“What’s it fucking look like? I’m doing leg presses, you dumbass.” I snapped at the group as the doors opened, bringing in a burst of cold air and a group of young wolves.

My head turned to the door, not because of the teenagers’ loudness or even the bitter cold air. I turned my head sharply, letting the leg press clang back into place because the scent of honey and cinnamon hit my nose and had Jax on high alert.

‘MATE!’ He shouted, trying to surge forward.

The force Jax put into trying to shove me out of the way had me stumble off the leg press machine. I ignored the group that I had just called out for whispering.

Managing to get my footing, I made a beeline for the group that had just walked in the door. My eyes were shifting through the faces looking for whoever would be reacting to my scent.

And fuck me, the source of the warm sweet scent had just shoved a boy’s arm off her shoulders and pushed others out of her way. Green eyes shining brighter-looking around with purpose until they landed on me.

Suzanne Walterson was staring back at me, lips parted in a soft gasp as she realized I was who she was looking for. I didn’t have to be close enough to know her heart was beating faster than a hummingbird’s wings.

Mine was doing the same thing. When the boy whose arm she shrugged off tried to touch her, I let out a menacing snarl.

I recognize him. He’s the idiot driving the truck when Suzie got in her accident.

“Touch her, and I won’t be the only pack member missing a limb.” I growled.

“Y… you?” Suzie finally spoke.

I arched an eyebrow, not really sure how to answer that. Let alone how I was supposed to take that. For all I know, this is the beginning of the end.

Granted, Bloodmoon law forbids rejection unless your mate would be abusive. But that doesn’t mean she has to accept me, let alone right away.

“Me.” I answered back for lack of anything better to say.

The group she had walked in with here all hovering unsure what was going on. The dumb boy was still hesitant to leave her side.

“Suz? Babe? You okay?” He asked.

I growled again. Jax pushed me out of the way, not okay with some punk-ass pup calling our mate ‘babe.’

“My human wasn’t clear enough. So let me enlighten your dim ass. Walk the fuck away from my mate or lose some limbs.” Jax snarled.

I saw Suzie’s breath hitch when Jax blatantly claimed her as mate. The boy at least had the sense to take two substantial steps back at Jax’s threat.

A blonde girl, I recognize her too. She was in the accident with Suzie. The shifted she-wolf. She stepped out of the crowd throwing her hands up.

“Nothing to see here. Move along. We have places to be people. You act like you’ve never seen two people find they are mates before.” She shooed the group grabbing the boy’s arm.

“Let’s go, Stan. That ship has sailed and ain’t coming back.” She rolled her eyes, pulling him away with the rest of the crowd.

Leaving just me and Suzie staring at each other. It was a staring contest or something. Neither of us was blinking or talking.

Just waiting to see who would flinch or break the silence first. Suzie was the first to break, green eyes dating to my lips when I licked them. They felt like the desert, and the urge to wet them with her lips was so much I almost gave in.

“I win.” I smirked.

Her eyes darted back to mine, narrowing. “Asshole.” she grumbled.

“You stink, by the way.” She rolled her eyes, intentionally looking away from me as she folded her arms.

Like the rest of the group, she came in with she was dressed in the tear-away clothes our pack uses. It suddenly dawned on me she was one of the newly shifted wolves I was supposed to be taking on a run.

“Liar. Your wolf seemed to like how I smelled. She was shoving punk-ass pups out of her way to find me.” I smirked, gripping her chin, turning her face back to mine.

Her wolf flashed in her eyes as the mate bond sparked at the contact. Jax was practically purring at the contact.

Chapter 6 - Suzie

The most awkward thing about being a werewolf is the nudity part of shifting. Sure we grow up around it because every adult you know shifts, and not a single kid in the pack hasn’t seen their parents naked because of it.

I think it makes us more adjusted than the humans who are just so conservative and worried about nudity. Are some people’s naked bodies more impressive than others?

Oh hell yes. I’ve seen Ivan Furlan naked. Now that’s impressive.

So while nudity is normal and part of the culture, it is still awkward to shift around the other kids getting their wolves for the first time. My parents took me out to the woods on the full moon night, where everyone was taken to shift for the first time.

It was me, Shannon, Paul, and a few others. Overall there were about ten of us shifting on this full moon. So it was our families and Alpha Logan and Luna Aurelia with us.

“You’ve all been preparing for today your whole life. Shifting to our wolves is as natural as breathing.” Alpha Logan started to explain.

“Unlike breathing, it will hurt. The pain will eventually fade the more you go through the transformation. Your parents are here to help alleviate some of that pain. Remember, only family or a mate can help dampen the pain of the transformation.” Luna Aurelia picked up where her mate left off.

“The moon is about to rise, and your wolves will feel the urge to push forward. Remember your training.” Alpha Logan continued.

“In your mind, it’s like a control room. You and your wolf share this space. All you have to do is make the hand-off. Let your wolf come forward. Don’t fight it, just let it flow, and it will hurt less.” Luna Aurelia assured us.

‘Just let me take the lead, and everything will be okay.’ Kayla assured me.

I sighed, feeling the moon’s call as I closed my eyes. Like everyone here, I was in tear-away clothes, ready to shift.

I could picture the room in my mind as Luna Aurelia explained it. Kayla was sitting on one side. She’s beautiful. Not that Kayla needs me telling her that. She knows it.

Her fur was almost a mirror of my honey brown hair with the same chartreuse eyes as me though they seemed brighter. She looks like mom’s wolf Adelina. Which makes sense, given I take after mom more than dad.

‘It’s time.’ Kayla announced, getting to her feet and walking towards me.

‘Just breath, baby girl. It’s going to be fine.’ Dad’s warm, reassuring voice entered my mind.

I sighed and started to walk to Kayla. I trust her. She knows what to do. I trust my Alpha and Luna. And I trust my parents are here for me.

I whimpered as my bones cracked and reshaped as I gave Kayla control. But soon, it was over, and I was standing on all fours in wolf form, looking around. The rest of the sixteen-year-olds had shifted.

‘You did great, honey bee.’ Mom encouraged as Adelina rubbed against me.

I was smiling, feeling this unimaginable freedom now that I’ve shifted. I looked around at the others who shifted, sniffing the air. None of the males here is my mate.

I don’t know if I should be happy or disappointed. I know Stan will be happy. I’m not saying I’ve been dating him.

We’ve hung out some though dad still doesn’t like him because of the accident. I know Stan hoped I’d be his mate, especially since I told him I wasn’t getting involved with anyone but my mate.

I made the mistake of being interested in a guy once. A delicious cherry pie was ruined in the aftermath. So I decided not to get involved with anyone but my mate to save myself the heartbreak.

‘You have all done well.” Alpha Logan praised us in the pack link.

“Luna Aurelia and I will lead you through the forest for a run to join up with the rest of the pack for a full moon run. Tomorrow you will report to the training hall to start training with seasoned pack members to better control your wolves.’ He instructed

It was a fantastic night running with the pack. Even if I didn’t scent my mate among those there, it was still a great night.

“You look incredible.” Stan’s voice started me. I nearly jumped out of my skin as I hurried to get dressed after shifting back.

I’m sure I was blushing brighter than the ripest cherry my family grows. I glanced over and quickly looked away, realizing Stan was still naked.

“You should put clothes on. It’s cold out. Shrinkage is a terrible thing.” I commented as I quickly got my clothes on as a gust of cold winter air hit me.

“Shrink…age…” Stan sounded confused before he finally realized what I was referring to.

I snickered as he hurried to put his clothes on.

“Trust me… it’s bigger than that.” He tried to recover.

“Don’t worry about it, Stan.” I assured him, finally facing him since we were both dressed.

“Yeah, everything looks small compared to her giant brother-in-law.” Shannon laughed as she walked over, holding hands with Sullivan with a grin.

I arched an eyebrow at her, and she nodded, still smiling. “Congratulations on being mates.” I smiled, giving her a hug.

“Good for you, man.” Stan did the bro hug thing with Sullivan.

“What about you two?” Sullivan asked, looking between us.

“Nope. Guess I’ll still be looking.” I shrugged, making sure there was space between Stan and me.

“I better go. My parents are waiting. I’ll see you tomorrow.” I made an excuse, waving goodbye as I hurried to my parents.

Before going to bed, I logged onto my computer to video chat with Amelia, Stephen, and little Grace. I grinned when Grace’s face filled the screen.

“Zia Suzie!” she exclaimed, signing as she spoke.

She’s five and has been learning sign language since before she could actually talk. So even when she’s not talking to her mom, she uses signs while speaking. It’s so adorable.

She doesn’t have to sign to her mom, given Amelia’s hearing is perfect. Signing is just how Amelia talks, and little Gracie doesn’t think twice about it.

“Hi, Gracie baby. Where are your parents?” I asked, following her lead signing back.

“They’re right here.” Grace said, moving so I could see Stephen and Amelia in the living room behind her.

“Grace! Bring the computer over here. Your mamma is not waddling… ouch… not walking over there.” Stephen called out, wincing as Amelia hit him for saying waddling.

I’m so envious of my brother and parents. They are still sickenly adorable. Especially as I watch him bend down, giving her sweet kisses, then kneel, kissing her very round belly.

Can’t believe we are so close to her due date. Soon I’m going to have a nephew! At least if the ultrasounds didn’t lie.

“Okay, papa!” Grace called out as she carried the laptop over to her parents.

I waved, smiling as Stephen sat down next to Amelia on the sofa, pulling Grace into his lap so they were all on-screen.

“Hi, guys. Just wanted to call before I go to bed. I shifted tonight.” I greeted, signing as I spoke.

“Kayla, my wolf, is beautiful. She looks like Adelina but with green eyes. Tomorrow I start my wolf training.” I explained

‘That’s wonderful. Did you happen to scent your mate during the pack run?’ Amelia questioned.

I sighed and shook my head. Of course, my brother looked relieved while Amelia felt some sympathy.

‘Well, I’m sure not all of Bloodmoon was on the run. And if your mate isn’t there, maybe you’ll find him when you visit after baby Asher arrives.’ Amelia signed with a smile.

“Let’s not have my sister focusing on her mate. She just shifted. She should be focusing on learning her gift and controlling it and her wolf.” Stephen suggested.

Amelia rolled her eyes. ‘As long as her mate isn’t a jerk, everything will be fine. And if he is a jerk, Suzie isn’t the type to stand by and take it.’

“Amen, sister. I’m not going to let some male mistreat me because he’s my mate.” I scoffed.

“Exactly. So right now, just focus on you and your wolf. And go get some rest. The first shift is always the most draining.” My brother encouraged me.

“Alright… I’ll go to bed.” I yawned, damn him reminding me how tired I am.

“Goodnight. Have a good day.” I signed and then waved as the call ended.

I was so excited this morning when I woke up. I rushed through breakfast and hurried to meet everyone at the training center. It wasn’t just us newly shifted, though.

Stan and Diann were with us. They, of course, aren’t the seasoned wolves Alpha Logan was talking about. They only shifted last year.

Everyone was talking, buzzing with excitement to start our training when we walked into the building. As the doors closed behind us, a scent filled my nose, overriding every other scent around me. Kayla perked up, moving closer with interest.

‘Mate.’ she purred as I took a deep breath, and that scent engulfed me.

It was like summer, and I wanted to wrap myself in it and live in the scent. The scent of fresh-cut grass, garden herbs, and wildflowers were wonderful.

I shrugged Stan’s arm away and started pushing through the crowd to find where that scent was coming from. I didn’t smell this last night, so they weren’t at the pack run, whoever my mate is.

When I finally pinpointed the scent, I was in utter shock and disbelief. Standing in front of me in the pack tear-away shirt and shorts was the same person who months ago was too dense to realize I liked him.

Kayla growled when Stan called my babe.

‘If our mate doesn’t kill him, I will. I already didn’t like him putting his arm around your shoulders.’ Kayla growled.

I gasped, unable to focus on anything but Austin is my mate. And oh fuck. His eyes changed to silver as his wolf came forward.

I shouldn’t get turned on by him threatening Stan. But his wolf just claimed me in front of everyone, which was hot.

I’ll have to thank Diann later for getting everyone, especially Stan, to go away. Leaving just me and Austin staring at each other.

Has he gotten hotter since I last saw him? Or is it the whole being my mate thing that makes him more attractive?

‘What’s it matter? Our mate is hot and staked his claim.’ Kayla preened with excitement.

‘Kayla, control yourself. This is still Clement. A shithead by any other name will still smell like….’ I started to explain.

‘Heaven. He smells like heaven. Don’t try to lie to me.’ Kayla snorted.

I wasn’t going to show weakness to him. I wasn’t going to yield to him, but that bastard distracted me.

His tongue darted out, licking those kissable lips. And damn it, my eyes looked at his lips, imagining what they would feel like and taste like.

Of course, he celebrates it like it’s some victory. I had to think of something to say.

Something to put him in his place. So I lied, and he called me on it.

But when his hand gripped my chin, it wasn’t roughly, and the surge of sparks from the bond made my brain fizzle. I couldn’t form a sentence if I wanted to. It’s his fault I lost control over Kayla.

“She’s still holding what happened at the physical therapy office against you.” Kayla spoke through me while I desperately tried to pull her back.

‘Don’t tell him shit like that!’ I yelled, pulling at her.

Austin chuckled softly, fingers gently rubbing at my chin, moving to cup my face.

“I bet she’s pissed you told me that. Why don’t you tell me your name before she manages to pull you back.” Austin suggested stepping in closer, leaving an inch between us barely.

“You know her well, mate. And you can call me Kayla.” Kayla purred, closing that gap, so my body was now touching him, our lips so close we could be kissing.

“Nice to meet you, Kayla. Jax can’t wait to meet you when we shift soon. How about you let Suzie take control? She’s gotta be seething.” Austin rubbed his nose against mine as he sweet-talked Kayla.

Seething? I’ll show him seething. Fucker teasing and messing with my wolf like this.

“Fine, only because I’ll meet Jax soon.” Kayla conceded, finally stepping back and letting me take control.

The first thing I did was smack his face and take a step back to put space between us.

“Asshole.” I glared at him.

Chapter 7 - Austin

‘Smooth. Real smooth. Dumbass.’ Jax chuckled while I rubbed my cheek where she slapped me.

I’ve been slapped more than once by a she-wolf, but Suzie certainly packs a punch. Maybe rubbing my nose against hers was too forward for her taste.

“I see you got Edith’s strength.” I groaned, still rubbing my face.

“And I was holding back.” Suzie snorted.

“Not a fan of rubbing noses. Noted.” I smirked as she glared at me.

“Maybe you should go see if…. Denise likes rubbing noses.” Suzie huffed, turning away from me.

Okay, that might have hurt more than the slap. Especially as it reminded me that just last night, I was in Denise’s bed.

‘Yeah, until she threw you out of it because you wouldn’t commit to her. And the reason you couldn’t is standing in front of us.’ Jax snorted.

Though wait, how would Suzie know anything about Denise? I furrowed my brow because even my dad didn’t know about Denise. And I know I do not have her scent anywhere on me.

Taking a step around her to be in front of her again, I tilted her face to mine. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

Those angry green eyes were back on me again. Jealousy? She’s jealous. But I still don’t know she’d know anything about Denise.

“That last I knew, you were dating her. Or at least she told the receptionist you were going on a date.” Suzie shrugged.

‘You better not lie or omit here. Suzie’s our mate and will find the truth. Then that slap is going to be a full-force punch.’ Jax warned.

I sighed, running a hand over my face. No matter how I say this, it will piss Suzie off. I just feel it.

I glanced up at the clock. We don’t have much time before I and whoever else Alpha Logan assigned to this need to get the newly shifted kids started with training.

“Okay. We don’t really have the time to hash through all this before training.” I sighed.

“So we will discuss it in more detail, I promise. But I can assure you, I am not involved with Denise.” I assured her.

Her eyes narrowed slightly as she looked at me, trying to determine if I was being honest.

“I promise. I swear on my grandmother’s life, I’m not involved with Denise.” I added as emphasis.

It’s not a lie. I am not with Denise anymore. She dumped me last night. So I am being honest with Suzie.

“So you didn’t date her?” Suzie arched her brow at me.

“Clement! Come on, we need to start! Stop flirting with Stephen’s baby sister.” Scott called out from the other side of the gym.

I winced, clenching my jaw that he used that name. I hate that name. I made it very clear I was going to be going by Austin. Even Alpha Logan calls me Austin.

I was about to correct Scott when Suzie beat me to it. She turned to glare at Scott.

“Hey, Scott! His name is AUSTIN! If you can’t get my mate’s name right, don’t say it all!” She snorted before turning back to me.

Scott’s mouth hung open in utter shock and disbelief. Not that Suzie would mouth off, that’s kind of her MO, but that I’m her mate. Ignoring the dumbstruck looks we were getting, I chuckled, shaking my head at her.

“What? You’ve been going by Austin for years now. He hasn’t been living under a rock, so he should know it. It’s rude to call someone a name they obviously don’t want to be called.” Suzie huffed.

“You just shouted in a room full of werewolves that I’m your mate.” I chuckled because that was funnier and probably what had most people gobsmacked than her reminding Scott of my preferred name.

When it dawned on her, I could see the realization of her actions settling in. Her lips parted in a surprised gasp, eyes widening, and cheeks flushing.

“Oooh. I did.” She gulped, glancing at the group she walked in with. They were all gossiping about us.

“Wait, so that’s why you’re here? You’re one of the seasoned pack members who is supposed to train us?” She blinked as that tidbit finally hit her.

“Yep. Wouldn’t be here if Alpha Logan hadn’t told me to be. Guess was bound to happen eventually. Everyone gets told to pupsit at least once.” I shrugged.

“Pupsitting?” Suzie scoffed, hitting my shoulder, not hard like the slap but still enough that I almost lost my balance.

Of course, she’d hit my left shoulder, where my prosthetic leg doesn’t offer me as much grounding. Some things just can’t be helped.

“Oh shit… I’m sorry.” Suzie quickly apologized as she saw me having to correct to keep my balance.

“I’m fine. You didn’t hit me that hard. I can stay standing.” I assured her.

“And it’s what every older wolf calls this duty. It was called pup sitting when your brother and I were standing here as newly shifted. I’m sure it will be called that until the end of time.” I shrugged.

“Which, we should get to that training. You apparently could use it, so you learn to control Kayla’s strength.” I teased.

Suzie sighed, rolling her eyes. “Fine. But we have a lot, and I mean A LOT, to discuss after training.”

I held my hands up in surrender. “That’s fine by me. I can give you a lift home after training.”

“And FYI, that dickweed who walked in with his arm around your shoulders will not be your sparring partner and probably should stay six feet away from you….” I started to explain.

“Oh, do not start that territorial macho male bullshit with me.” Suzie poked me in my chest.

“If you don’t want Jax to rip his arm off, he stays away from you. It’s not macho bullshit. It’s called being a werewolf.” I reminded her.

“Being territorial of our mates, especially when they aren’t marked, is natural. Unless you can tell me you wouldn’t mind me getting up close and personal sparring against one of those she-wolves.” I countered, arching my brow.

I smirked as she didn’t even have to answer. Her growl said it all.

“Exactly. So you spar with one of the she-wolves, and I’ll spar against one of the males, or we spar with each other. Now come on, let’s get this over with.” I pressed my hand to the small of her back, guiding her to the others.

The gossip stopped when we reached the group. The little shits switched to the link instead.

“Wake up and pay attention, you snot-nosed pups!” I snarled, making them jump a little.

“Now that I’ve got your attention. I’m Austin, and this is Scott. We drew the short straw this month and have to spend a perfectly good Saturday morning training you on how to shift into your wolf and control the power of your wolf.” I fell into my gruff, annoyed voice.

I know I sound like a dick. But well, this is how the wolves that trained me handled us. It seemed to work. And if it ain’t broke, why fix it.

“Pair off, and we will get started.” Scott commanded.

When they didn’t move fast enough, Scott let out a sharp whistle that made me wince. Fucker doesn’t need a real whistle or a dog whistle. He can just hit that pitch on his own. I hate it.

“I SAID PAIR OFF!” Scott shouted.

The group hurried to find partners. I shot daggers at Stan with my eyes when I saw his head look at Suzie. He must have felt my glare because he ducked his head and went to find one of the males to train with.

What is he even doing here? He shifted over a year ago. I turned my attention back to the rest of the group, relieved that Suzie was paired with one of the she-wolves.

I ended up taking the boy who had been in the accident with Suzie, who hadn’t shifted. He lucked out to not getting injured as badly as Suzie had.

“Um… should I… should you…” The boy seemed unsure of himself as everyone spread out to start.

I arched my eyebrow. “Should you what? Should I what?”

He gulped, nervously glancing down at my leg. I sighed, rolling my eyes.

“Trust me, kid, with or without the prosthetic, I can and am going to kick your ass.” I assured.

The kid actually looked skeptical. This little shit actually thinks he has a chance in hell. This made it more amusing, given I can already tell he has an Omega wolf.

“Just attack me, pup.” I sighed, gesturing to him to make a move.

He hesitated, glancing over at Suzie, who easily beat her partner. I didn’t like that he looked at my mate. I don’t like that he’s hesitating.

“Which is it, kid? Do you think you can take me, or are you going to bitch out?” I questioned, folding my arms.

“Ain’t no reason for you to be looking at my mate. She ain’t gonna save your ass, and I don’t need her to save mine. So either attack, or I will.” My eyes narrowed as I cracked my neck.

Apparently, this caught his attention because he took a swing. “A male like you doesn’t deserve someone like Suzie.” He exclaimed as he threw his punch.

I didn’t flinch. I didn’t dodge. I took the hit, scoring it in my mind as I shook my head, not even needing to rub my jaw.

“A little critique. My sixty-nine-year-old grandfather can hit harder than that. Shit, I’d bet money Princess Roselyn could hit harder.” I sighed.

The boy growled. He doesn’t like being told a sixty-nine-year-old man can hit harder, let alone a five-year-old girl.

He went to tackle me, at least trying to be smart about it, aiming for my waist, emphasizing on my leg where my prosthetic is. Too bad that means he underestimated my balance without my leg.

Chapter 8 - Austin

With a quick pivot at the moment of impact, I remained standing as the boy crashed to the floor, holding my prosthetic leg.

“Stop trying to cuddle my prosthetic, you weirdo.” I rolled my eyes, taunting.

“While not a bad thought to try and unbalance me, you seemed to be under the false impression that I haven’t learned how to move and fight without the leg.” I sighed.

“Don’t underestimate your opponent because of their outer appearance. Now come at me again.” I explained once more, gesturing for him to come at me.

The kid was frustrated, tossing my leg aside as he rushed me again. I was laughing as I hopped out of the way.

“Toro, toro.” I taunted as he lunged at me. Then with a laugh, add, “Oh lay” when he’d miss.

He was huffing out of breath, and a few of the other sparing pairs who apparently felt they had practiced enough had circled up to watch. The giggles of the crowd seemed to just piss the boy off more.

“Stop playing with him, Cl… Austin.” Scott sighed, correcting himself as he almost called me Clement.

I sighed. I was having fun, but I should wrap this up. The Sooner training wraps up, the sooner I can get alone time with Suzie.

‘So let’s put an end to this.’ Jax snorted.

As the boy blindly rushed me again, I extended my arm, clotheslining him. Catching him before he could go down, pulling him into a guillotine chokehold, encircling his neck with one arm, and locking the old in place with my other to restrain him.

“Tap.” I growled, feeling the boy starting to fade even though I was holding back. I wasn’t looking to seriously hurt him after all.

As I felt him lightly tapping my side, I released the hold, careful to not just let him drop. He was gasping for breath as he scrambled away from me.

I arched an eyebrow looking at him and then around us at everyone watching. Not sure what those looks were for. It was like they were surprised. Are they surprised I can still fight with one leg or that I let him go?

Whatever. Doesn’t matter. It’s time to have them shift and end the sessions with a quick run in wolf form.

“What are you all standing around gawking for? Weren’t you supposed to be sparing, not observing?” I questioned, narrowing my eyes at the trainees.

“Everyone outside to shift. We’ll do a mile run to end training today.” I instructed.

“You hear him. Let’s go, pups. Mile wolf run.” Scott clapped his hands as he started herding everyone to the doors.

“You didn’t have to be so rough on him.” Suzie frowned, handing me my prosthetic.

“Yes, I did. I should have been rougher.” I scoffed, taking my prosthetic.

“In a real fight against an enemy, they won’t go easy on him. Me going easy on him just signs his death certificate if he gets sent to battle.” I shook my head, only putting my prosthetic back on for the walk outside.

“I don’t think Paul would ever get sent into battle. If I’m being honest, he doesn’t have a violent bone in his body. He wants to work at the preschool.” Suzie sighed.

“All the more reason he should learn. If he works with the young of the pack, that means if something goes down, he is the one thing standing between the enemy and the pack’s future.” I pointed out removing my prosthetic leaving it just inside the door of the training center.

“I hadn’t thought about it that way.” She frowned, watching as everyone else had shifted, tear-away clothes breaking apart to the ground.

A number of the newly shifted were whimpering in pain as this is their second shift, and they don’t have their parents here to metaphorically hold their hands. But that’s part of this training. Being able to shift needs to be as easy as breathing. You won’t always be with your family or mate when you need to shift.

“Time to bring Kayla out.” I instructed.

She hesitated for a moment, glancing at her fellow newly shifted, seeing the pain they went through. I sighed. She’s worried about shifting without her parents here.

I took the risk of getting hit again. Cupping Suzie’s face, I turned her face to mine. I shuddered as the sparks of the bond shot through my fingers and up my arm.

“I’m right here, Suzanne. So you’ll be fine.” I assured her, placing a kiss on her forehead.

I do like her surprise look as I let her go.

I turned and let Jax come forward. I landed on my paws, Jax shaking out his silvery gray fur, stretching out his muscles, ready and eager to meet Kayla.

‘Come on. You’re holding everyone up.’ I taunted through the link.

It took a moment, but she came out of her stupor, narrowing her eyes at me. Her eyes started to get brighter, and I knew Kayla was coming forward.

Unlike the other newly shifted wolves, Suzie didn’t whimper as she shifted. If I hadn’t been shifting for years, I probably would have noticed the difference in ease of shifting with a mate nearby.

‘Kayla is gorgeous.’ Jax grinned as he finally got a look at his mate.

She takes more after Edith and her wolf with the golden fur, but Kayla has those bright green eyes like Suzie. Unlike Suzie, Kayla is more forward as she rubs her head against me in greeting.

‘Now that everyone has shifted, we have a mile to run. Move it!’ Scott shouted through the pack link.

I had to tug at Jax, who had other ideas that didn’t include doing the run. ‘Jax, we need to finish the training session. Do not piss off Alpha Logan.’ I warned.

Being reminded that we are here under Alpha orders at least got Jax on board. With Kayla on his heels, Jax showed that missing a leg didn’t mean he’d be the slowest runner. Sure, I’m not as fast as with all four legs, but we are still outrunning some of these slacker wolves.

Suzie was not on the slackers. She was keeping pace. Maybe she’s as eager to end this training as I am. That could be a good or bad sign for me.

Scott slowed down to push the stragglers while I stayed near the front. Being among the first to arrive back at the training center.

I didn’t think twice about shifting back to my human form. I’m a werewolf. Nudity is part of life. And while I know I’m getting looks, I don’t care.

Apparently, Kayla and Suzie do. I raised my eyebrow as I saw Kyala growling at one of the she-wolves putting herself between me and the others.

“Are you serious right now? You’re trying to hide my nudity?” I chuckled, shaking my head as I started getting dressed.

The girls had mostly just turned away and went about finding their clothes, shifting back. One of the she-wolves that had been looking shifted to her human with a whimper, obviously having no issues being naked as she looked past Kayla at me.

Kayla growled again, and I sighed, rubbing the fur along her neck. “Down, girl.” I whispered.

“You got a problem, Melody? I’d say take a picture; it would last longer, but I’m getting the vibe my mate would rip you apart at the idea you’d have a nude picture of me.” I sighed, finishing getting dressed.

“I wasn’t trying to look at you naked.” Melody wrinkled her nose.

“I was more interested in the nub of your leg. I’ve never seen someone who was missing a leg before.” She shrugged.

Kayla snorted. Apparently, she didn’t buy that. I shrugged and leaned against the wall to get my prosthetic back on.

“Well, now you have. Go put some clothes on and go home.” I shooed Melody away.

Melody rolled her eyes as Kayla growled again before walking away, slowly and intentionally like she wanted me to watch her walk away. Too bad I wasn’t watching. I was looking at Suzie.

“Hey, Kayla, come on. Time for Suzie to shift back and get dressed.” I encouraged stroking her fur.

Kayla snorted, scooping Suzie’s clothes up in her mouth and pushing the training center’s doors open. I cocked my head and followed as she trotted through the training center to the she-wolf’s bathroom.

I almost followed her when another she-wolf growled at me, putting an arm across the door.

“You can’t go into the she-wolf’s bathroom.” The she-wolf scoffed. “Pervert.”

“Pervert? That’s my mate who just went in there.” I pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter. Obviously, she wants her privacy.” She scoffed, rolling her eyes.

I sighed, shaking my head, and leaned against the wall waiting for Suzie to come out. We’re going to be having a conversation about that.

I mean, I won’t complain that other males didn’t see her naked, but she got to see me naked. Unfair that she intentionally ensured I wouldn’t see her.

Chapter 9 - Suzie

I wasn’t the only one that was impressed watching Austin fight Paul. Paul has never been much of a fighter. He was below average in our pre-wolf training.

But even being a below-average fighter with an Omega wolf, people thought Paul would have fared better. They didn’t think Austin would be able to fight as easily with his injury. He proved them all wrong.

I, of course, was betting on Austin. Even before losing his leg, Austin was no slouch as a fighter. After months of working with him as my physical therapist, I know how strong he is and how easily he can move even without a prosthetic.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel bad for Paul as he got embarrassed. I’m sure he won’t be living that down any time soon.

And while I originally thought Austin could have taken it easier on him, he made a valid point. Even though Paul is an Omega, he will need to grow stronger if he wants to work with the pack’s children. He will have to be able to protect them if something happens.

And as surprising as that revelation was, all thoughts seemed to go poof when he kissed me. Okay, so it was a kiss on my forehead. But it was still a kiss. It was still his lips touching me.

It was sweet and tender. It took me off guard as he shifted to his wolf, not letting me have the chance to react.

‘Let me out, and I’ll react for you.’ Kayla assured.

That, however, worried me more than the potential pain of shifting for the second time. I don’t know how much I can trust her.

‘Fine. But I swear to the Goddess you go too far with him, and you are NEVER getting free again.’ I conceded with a warning as I let her come forward and shift.

It didn’t hurt as much. It hurt even less than last night when my parents were with me. So this is how much of a difference the mate bond can make. Even when unmarked.

I was worried when Kayla rubbed against Jax. So help me if she does something that crosses a line. Thankfully she behaved, and we could go on the run with everyone else.

As we returned, I was contemplating where to shift back. I’m still not the most comfortable shifting around some of the boys. I don’t want to deal with their looks.

Kayla, however, was more concerned with she-wolves looking at Austin. He obviously had no issues with being naked around everyone. And well, from the glimpse I got before Kayla went protective mode, he certainly has no reason to feel shame about his body.

‘You realize this is ridiculous. We don’t need to shield Austin with our body. He doesn’t care that he’s naked.’ I sighed.

‘I don’t like those bitches looking at him. He is ours.’ Kayla growled, narrowing her eyes at Melody, who still kept looking.

I didn’t like how Melody was looking at him. Just wanted to see the stub from his missing leg. Yeah right. What a shitty excuse.

And she better not think I didn’t notice how she swayed her hips walking away. I saw her glance back, hoping Austin was looking.

‘We should rip her apart.’ Kayla suggested.

‘Tempting. But no.’ I shook my head.

“Hey, Kayla, come on. Time for Suzie to shift back and get dressed.” Austin encouraged stroking Kayla’s fur.

‘He’s right. We should shift. Grab my clothes, and let’s go shift in the bathroom where we can get dressed in private.’ I suggested taking more control back to ensure Kayla did what I said.

Kayla snorted, scooping my clothes up in her mouth and pushing the training center’s doors open. We went directly to the girls’ bathroom, knowing Austin couldn’t follow.

Okay, so he could if he really wanted to. But I smirked as I heard another she-wolf tell him he couldn’t follow me in and called him out as a pervert.

‘I don’t know why you wanted to change away from him. Let him see you naked. He’s going to see it sooner than later. Very up close and deliciously personal.’ Kayla rolled her eyes.

‘Because mate or not. Austin will have to earn every touch, every kiss, and most definitely has to earn seeing me naked.’ I snorted as I shifted back.

I cracked my neck and rolled my shoulders, adjusting to being back in my own skin before slipping on my training clothes and pulling my hair up into a messy bun. I sighed, checking my reflection in the mirror.

I’m not the sort that really gets down on her looks. I know my limits. I’m not like a supermodel or some great beauty. I know I’m attractive enough, but…

I frowned, looking down at my chest. Remembering how Denise was obviously more endowed than I am, even in scrubs.

And even if Austin said they weren’t together, I can’t help myself. I was comparing myself to her and worried that he was full of shit.

‘We are his mate. All others will pale in comparison. And he has no reason to lie to us.’ Kayla attempted to reassure me.

I scoffed. ‘Kayla, you don’t know him. Maybe you should take some time and sort through my memories beyond the recent ones that involve him.’

‘His past is not my concern. The man he is now is what matters. And if he has truly bettered himself, there is no reason to pass judgment because of his past.’ Kayla rolled her eyes.

I frowned because she had a point. It isn’t fair to Austin to hold past misdeeds of Clement against him. I’d seen how he changed and became a better man over the months he was my physical therapist. He is still a clueless man but better than he was.

I sighed, pushing the bathroom door open, wincing as I heard someone grunt in pain. I snickered, looking around the door, seeing Austin was who I smacked with the door.

His blue eyes narrowed at me, not as amused as I was. “Why do I feel like that was on purpose?” He grumbled, rubbing the side of his head.

“Happy coincidence.” I shrugged, snickering as I let the door shut.

“I doubt you’re concussed or anything.” I teased, reaching up to touch the side of his head.

The moment my hand touched him, he froze. I worried for a moment I’d done something wrong touching him. But his eyes softened, lips turning into a smile as he leaned into the touch.

Gently I rubbed where he’d been hit, getting to touch him for technically the first time. There were moments during my physical therapy we would touch, usually him touching me to help guide me through a stretch or activity.

This is different. I’m not Austin’s patient. I’m his mate. The look on his face, the way he’s looking at me. My heart started beating faster, butterflies filling my stomach as his scent overrode my senses.

His eyes darted to my lips, and oh shit, is he going to kiss me? Wait, didn’t I say he’d have to earn such things.

I quickly brought my hand down, stepping away from him. Kayla whimpered as Austin’s brow furrowed, and his smile turned into a slight frown.

“I should head home. You said you’d drive me. And there was mention that there would be a conversation.” I arched my brow at him.

Austin sighed, nodding as he pushed off the wall. “Alright. Let’s go then. And we can talk about that stunt you pulled.”

I rolled my eyes, falling into step with him as we left the training center.

“Hey! Suz! Are you coming!?” Stan called out, waving his arm.

I arched an eyebrow, hearing Austin growling next to me. Goddess knows what shit he’d say. I better say something before he does.

“No thanks, Stan! I’ve got a ride!” I assured, taking Austin’s hand.

I don’t know why I did that.

Okay that’s a lie.

I wanted to make sure he didn’t go do something stupid.

Alright, that's a half-lie.

I also just wanted to hold his hand to make it clear to Stan and others that I had found my mate.

“Um… right. Get home safe.” Stan nodded, casting a worried glance at Austin.

“Safe.” Austin scoffed.

“Snot-nosed little shits that cause car accidents shouldn’t talk about getting somewhere safe.” He grumbled, tightening his grip on my hand and leading me to his jeep.

“You’re never going to let that go, will you?” I sighed, shaking my head.

“Hell no. I decided I didn’t like that shithead when I found him after the accident. I knew he was the one driving. And I also saw the state of his dumb pal and your friend.” Austin snorted.

“Oh, look at you being subtle. Don’t want to just call it like it was? We got into the accident because Stan was busy watching Shannon giving Sullivan a blow job.” I chuckled.

Austin shook his head, running his hand over his face. “You really do have no filter.” He chuckled, opening the passenger door.

I blinked at the gesture. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the sort of girl who would get upset at someone opening a door for me. I just, well, I didn’t expect it from him.

“Never have and probably never will. You knew that.” I shrugged and jumped into the passenger seat.

“Thank you, by the way. For opening the door.” I added quietly.

He just smiled, giving me a wink as he shut the door.

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