Loving Soren (Shifters of Greymercy Book 2)

1

Soren

To be fair, when I volunteered to help my brother landscape the backyard, I had my own ulterior motive—and that was an excuse to come see the yummy older guy who worked in the lawn and garden department at our local hardware store.

Shame on me, I know, but I couldn’t help myself. I’d never been the type to get hung up over some silver fox in a smock—especially not an Alpha—but damn if the man didn’t have me twisted up in knots. It wasn’t like things would ever go past the occasional flirting, but I could dream, right?

I meandered down the wide aisle, its shelves filled with little cement animals holding “welcome” signs and pretty blown-glass lawn ornaments and a couple fancy brushed steel fire pits. Hunter was nowhere to be found. Ah well. I nibbled on my lip. Maybe I could talk Hux into buying one so we could spend the summer roasting marshmallows…and give me another reason to come back.

I pushed the squeaky shopping cart through the store, its wheels rattling under the weight of three bags of potting soil. A twangy country song played from the speakers overhead and I wrinkled my nose. Ugh. Whoever truly thought tractors were sexy were out of their minds. Now I’d have an ear-worm for the rest of the day.

“Hey, stranger.” Pike Harmon was behind the register when I strolled up. He leaned against the counter, a wide smile on his face. Short and fair-skinned, with fluffy blond curls and bright blue eyes, the wolf looked damn near angelic. I knew better. “Get everything you need?”

“Almost everything,” I replied, then as nonchalantly as I could manage, I asked, “Hunter’s not working today? Didn’t see him back in lawn and garden. I had a few questions…”

Pike groaned. “Oh my god, you’re hopeless. You know he’s like, twice your age, right? The guy’s old enough to be your dad…unless maybe you’re into that sort of thing.” He waggled his brows with a crow of laughter that had my pulse zipping along at the speed of light. “Would explain a lot, actually.”

Like the fact that I’d turned him down several times? Heat crept up my neck. I huffed. “Whatever.” So maybe I was into older guys. What did it matter to him? Or maybe I was just horny because my heat was so near. Damn it all.

“Called it.” Pike’s tone was annoyingly smug. I wanted to reach out and slap him, but we both knew I wouldn’t dare. I might’ve had fifty pounds on the guy, but I was an Omega—and Pike had never once tried to hide the fact that he was all-too-willing to claim me as his. I bristled at the thought and took a quick step back from the counter, as if the Alpha might read my mind.

I swiped Huxley’s credit card. Pike’s fingers tapped over the keyboard and the machine beeped.

“Chillax. You need help loading this crap into your car?” He offered me the receipt, still smiling, though it had definitely dimmed a few watts. Good. I’m not interested. The end.

“Nah. I got it. Thanks, though.” I tucked the strip of paper into my wallet, then stuck that in my pocket. I tugged my keys free of their depths at the same time and with a curt nod to Pike, I rolled the cart right out the electronic sliding doors. The wheels clattered over the metal runner, but I just kept walking.

After hitting the button on my keyfob, the trunk of my white Impala popped open with a click. One by one, I tossed the plastic bags of soil into the back, then slammed the trunk shut. There. I rubbed my sweaty palms against the denim of my jeans and slid into the driver’s seat. Then and only then did I heave a sigh of relief.

Safe.

I felt kind of bad, though. Kind of. It wasn’t anything against Pike, besides the fact that he was the typical pushy Alpha male. It was me. Maybe if my life had been different, I would be free to be the bubbly person that was hidden away, the man who only ever dared to peek out from behind his shell when his brother was around.

Because Huxley was safe. He was my safe haven, my protector. He’d rescued me from a fate worse than death, and he was the only Alpha I trusted.

Maybe the only Alpha I’d ever trust.

I knew myself better than to think I’d ever get lucky with Hunter, but it was a nice mental image. I’d probably spend my life alone, without a mate to call my own, but if I had to choose an Alpha, it’d definitely be someone like him. The stag was a bit growly and rough around the edges, but there was a kindness in his mossy green eyes that tugged on my timid heartstrings.

The fact that he wasn’t a predatory shifter helped, too.

Nope. Never happening. Besides, what would Hunter see in a guy like me? With a groan, I put the car in drive and took off down the highway. The radio was on a local throwback station and an old Maroon 5 song was playing from the speakers. I cranked up and volume and sang along to Harder To Breathe—and then I was screaming.

With a squealing crunch of metal, my car jolted forwards and slammed headlong into the guard rail. It threw me against the steering wheel, the seatbelt cutting into my neck. I yelped. What the hell? I blinked the stars away and tried to focus. Did someone hit me? My neck twinged when I turned to look.

Sure enough, there was a black truck smashed up against my crumpled rear end. Smoke puffed out from beneath the hood in thick gray wisps. That wasn’t a good sign. Was the driver okay?

“Come on, damn it…” I fumbled with the buckle of the seat belt when I heard a car door slam. I pushed the door open with a squeak of hinges. Footsteps crunched over gravel, coming towards me. I turned to face the driver, an apology on the tip of my tongue, but the words died in my throat.

My breath caught when I looked into shrewd blue eyes, eyes sharp enough they could cut glass. My blood turned to ice, trickling cold through my veins, and I staggered back.

No.

“We meet again,” Uncle Erick said around a fanged grin and my wolf shrieked in terror. It built up inside of my chest as a scream, but the Alpha moved faster than I could ever hope to. He pinned me up against my car, his hand squeezing over my mouth hard enough to hurt. I squealed and kicked at him, panic singing loud and clear.

No, no, no. I would rather die than go back there. “Stop!”

“Quit fighting, you little brat. You knew I’d come for you. Your foolish brother only made it harder for you,” Erick hissed in my ear, but it only made me struggle harder. I twisted and yanked, but he shoved his fingers into my mouth, choking my cries before they could escape.

I didn’t think—I bit down, hard. The coppery taste of blood erupted hot in my mouth. Uncle Erick screamed his outrage, but it gave me precious seconds that I refused to waste. I kneed him in the groin and leapt over the guard rail, already mid-shift as I tumbled down the steep embankment. I galloped through the woods blindly, not knowing where I was.

Too far from home. Too far from safety.

Erick’s howl filled my ears. It gripped my soul in a deadly vice. God, save me—someone, anyone. I couldn’t go back there, couldn’t go back to that. The thought of what Erick would do to me made my lungs shrivel, made my heart scream like a trapped animal. No. We’d fought so hard to get away from them. Why now?

The big Alpha was on top of me in moments. Crying out, I hit the ground and tried to kick myself away from him. His fangs sank into the meat of my thigh, dragging me back. Teeth punctured flesh and he tore into it, shaking his muzzle back and forth to do damage. So I couldn’t run anymore. So I couldn’t escape him again.

I lunged at him with a screech of anguish. His teeth snapped dangerously close to my face. I shrank back, choked by fear. I knew he could smell it, the ripe scent of my heat that lurked just beneath my skin. I knew exactly what he’d do to me, too. It didn’t matter that I was blood; in fact, he’d always preferred keeping it in the family.

I clamped my tail between my thighs and let rip a frightened howl. His big body covered mine, his fangs scoring my neck and biting down. I tucked my hips and bucked, my leg throbbing in reply. He snarled and his claws gripped at my sides. I shuddered. My entire body began to tremble, because I knew. I knew what he’d do the moment I lost the energy to fight him.

I howled again, the most mournful cry I could utter. Could Huxley hear me? Were we close enough to home that he might come save me? From the woods behind us, a beast bellowed—but it wasn’t a wolf’s cry.

A shadow fell over me. Moments later, Erick was tossed to the side.

I didn’t waste a moment. I scrambled to my paws and dove headfirst into a patch of underbrush, kicking myself deeper into the rough thicket despite the way thorns dug into my skin. My heartbeat hammered in my skull and I watched, in shock, as a massive tawny buck put himself between me and my worst nightmare.