MAN TROUBLES (part 8)
a short story by Alexis Morgan
The time between when Lydia left Silas at the mall and she finally heard from him was the longest half hour she'd ever spent. It had nearly killed her to drive out of that parking lot alone. She made it all the way home and up the steps to her apartment with all of their shopping bags before her phone finally buzzed.
I'M OKAY. JUST HOPPED ON THE NEXT BUS BACK. SHOULD BE THERE SOON.
With shaky hands, she fumbled with her keys and finally let herself inside. After dumping the bags on the floor, she dropped into her favorite chair and waited for her pulse to return to someplace close to normal. What was going on? What had spooked Silas so badly at the mall that he'd ordered her to leave? As soon as that man got back, he was going to answer some hard questions.
Now that she'd caught her breath, she remembered she hadn't actually had lunch. She grabbed a tub of yogurt out of the refrigerator and ate it as she paced back and forth the length of her small kitchen. It was enough to take the edge off, but she needed something more. Maybe a banana strawberry smoothie would do the trick. Either that, or she could hike down the street to see if the doughnut shop had another one of those bacon maple bars. Or maybe half a dozen. It was definitely one of those kind of days.
She got out the blender and dumped in two cups of strawberries, ice and a cup of coconut milk. But when she reached to get a banana out of the trio of baskets that hung from the ceiling on the far side of the sink, she spotted someone prowling around the parking lot behind the restaurant. Make that a couple of someones. Considering the place was closed for the day, there was no good reason for anyone to be hanging around back there.
It was tempting to call the police, but what could she say? That her temporary tenant is a werewolf and she thinks his pack might have picked up his scent? They'd either write her off as a crackpot or haul her off for an emergency psych-eval.
At the very least, she could warn Silas. Before she texting him, she waited to see what the guy was getting out of his trunk. If it looked like a weapon, she'd hit the floor and summon the cops. He handed several things off to his buddy, who started sticking them together to form a car jack. The next thing out of the trunk was the spare tire.
Relief mixed with embarrassment. They'd pulled into the lot to fix a flat, not to hunt down her handsome twin-souled guest. Granted, she wouldn't have considered the two men a threat at all except for the incident at the mall. It was amazing how quickly Silas's welfare had become so important to her.
She added the banana to the blender and hit the button, not that she really wanted the smoothie any more. She poured it into a glass and carried it back to the living room to watch as a bus pulled up to the stop down the block. Silas was the first person off. He paused on the curb to look up and down the street. Evidently deciding all was clear, he started toward the restaurant, his long-legged gait eating up the distance in no time.
When he crossed the street while still halfway down the block, she stepped out on the landing. She felt the power of his smile even from that distance. When he reached the bottom of her steps, she didn't hesitate to invite him up.
"Come on in. I have your stuff, and I want to hear what happened."
She wanted something far more personal than an explanation from him, but that might still be the vestiges of the renewed adrenaline rush talking. In the long run, the bacon maple bars would be a lot less dangerous to her heart than Silas would be.
But evidently she'd developed a taste for living on the edge. The two of them stepped into her private space and closed the door, shutting out the rest of the world. Silas stared down at her with those ice blue eyes as if waiting for her to make the first move.
So she did.
Damn, Lydia tasted sweet-like ripe strawberries, bananas, and sexy woman. Silas savored the kiss, for the moment letting her take the lead as he waited to see where this went next. Her hands slowly slid up his arms to his shoulders, where she dug her nails in just enough to stake her claim. He smiled and tugged her body flush against his, a perfect fit as if she'd always belonged there.
When was the last time he'd actually felt welcome anywhere? Too long.
And the reasons for that were still hot on his trail. He had no right to get involved with anyone, much less a woman like Lydia, until he could make sure his presence wouldn't put her in danger. He did his best to bank the fire, to ease back, wanting her to know he wasn't rejecting her.
When he finally retreated a step, she stared up at him, her dark eyes full of confusion, her generous mouth swollen from his kiss. When he tried to cup the side of her face with his hand, she ducked back out of reach.
"I'm sorry, Silas. I don't know what I was thinking."
His laugh was rueful and just a little bit bitter. "I suspect it was the same thing I was thinking. How much I wanted that to happen."
If anything, she only looked more confused. "Then why did you stop?"
"Because of what happened today. Because of why I ended up here in the first place."
He walked over to the front window to study the street below. "I can't get involved with anyone as long as I'm being hunted. The pack wouldn't intend to harm you, but that doesn't mean you couldn't get caught in the crossfire. They'd feel bad about it, but that wouldn't make you any less dead."
It was surprising how much this next part hurt. "I'll be packing up my stuff and leaving tonight. I'll do my best to draw them away from here."
A second later, she joined him at the window, her hand resting on his lower back, the touch anchoring him in that moment.
"I think it's time you tell me exactly what's going on, Silas, and what we need to do to end this."
He turned to look at her. "We?"
Because that one word carried a lot of weight in his world. A wolf, even one that shared his soul with a human soul, was a pack animal at heart. Being alone for any length of time would gradually destroy him.
"We," she repeated firmly and leaned in closer to rest her head against his arm. "You have friends. Me for one, and I know Joseph will do whatever he can to help."
Then she offered him a teasing smile. "Besides, you promised to wash dishes for me until I hire a replacement."
So he had, and it was so damn tempting to spend every possible moment he could with Lydia. However, she had no idea what kind of risk she would be taking if she sided with him in this mess.
He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, taking comfort from the close contact. "Hold off on that offer until you hear me out."
"Fine. Let me make a fresh pot of coffee, and then you can tell me everything."
It felt so comfortable, so right, to sit at her small kitchen table and watch Lydia as she ground the beans and filled the coffeepot's reservoir with water. Once she set it to brew, she dug a container of cookies out of the freezer and put a heaping pile on a plate and set it on the table. When he reached for one, she playfully slapped at his hand and ordered him to wait until the coffee was ready.
A few minutes later, she set two mugs of coffee, the sugar bowl, and a small pitcher of cream on the table before sitting down in the chair across from his. Giving her a narrow-eyed look, he tried for another cookie. When she didn't protest, he grabbed a second one.
She took one for herself. "Don't think I'm not keeping count, mister. Half of those are mine. Now start talking."
So he did. He described his pack, its territory, and more about the nature of the twin-souled in general. Then he told her about running into Haakon. To his surprise, his coffee had grown cold by the time he finished. He got up to dump his in the sink and poured himself a fresh cup and then topped off hers.
"So that brings us to what's happening now."
The part that hurt the worst.
Lydia seemed to sense that was the case. She smiled and relaxed back in her chair. "Take your time, Silas. I'm not going anywhere."
He drew a deep breath and launched back into the story. "I took over as the alpha of the pack when my father died. Our numbers had dwindled thanks to a combination of things-hunters, several severe winters in a row when food was scarce, and so on. Looking back I was probably too young for so much responsibility, but I had no choice but to assume leadership of the pack. I was the eldest son. Dad had a couple of younger brothers, but neither of them were strong enough to hold off any challengers, and it was imperative I keep the pack together. We either survive as a group or we die separately."
"Your pack still exists, so you must have succeeded."
Shrugging, he stared past her toward the window. "On some levels, I did. Our numbers slowly increased. I forced the pack to keep evolving as times changed. For example, we made sure that our healer kept up with modern medical practices. We're not subject to a lot of human illnesses, but we can still die from major trauma. We have reduced the infant mortality rate. I also insisted our young be educated and have a say in what careers they pursue. Against some of the old-timers' wishes, I made sure that was true for the males and females equally."
"Good for you."
"Thanks, but what I saw as progressive, some people saw as a betrayal of our culture. Maybe if I'd done more to follow some traditions, they wouldn't have turned against me."
He sighed. "Alphas have two main duties. One is to protect the pack. The other is to mate and produce the next generation."
"I take it that last one is the problem."
Time for another cookie. Lydia showed such amazing patience with him, letting his take a breather when the story became too much for him.
"Yeah. For a long time I was too busy just trying to keep everyone fed and our enemies at bay to think about taking on any more responsibility. After a while, I was pressured to pick a mate and start making babies. Don't get me wrong. If I'd met the right woman, I wouldn't have hesitated to do exactly that."
He rubbed his chest, the pain in his heart a constant ache. "A certain faction led by my younger brother banded together and demanded that I choose a mate from among the available females. I refused, knowing it would only make both me and the woman miserable. I even offered to visit some of the neighboring packs to meet other possibilities, but that wasn't good enough. They didn't want any outsiders taking over such a high position in our pack. In the end, I left and let my brother take over."
Lydia laid her hand over his. "Their betrayal must have been devastating."
"Yeah, it was. They just couldn't understand that I wanted more from my mate than her ability to produce pups. Deep down, I've always wanted what Haakon has-a mate who loves him and stands at his side as they rule their pack. A strong alpha couple makes for a strong pack. Haakon has always said he took one look at her and just knew she was the one. That just never happened for me."
Then he shifted his gaze to hers. "Until now."