Authors: Lynn Hagen
He shrugged. His usual response these days. Oliver felt that was a vast improvement over his barbs and belittlements.
Blair’s disappointment radiated from him, but Oliver couldn’t bring himself to reach out. They all treated him with kindness even when he didn’t return the gesture. He pulled his shirt over his head and carefully lowered it over the white patch.
Oliver and the rest of the mates wondered what name Keata had tattooed on his chest, but he refused to tell anyone and swore the artist to secrecy. He yelled in his native tongue whenever someone tried to peek, and Loco warned them to leave Keata alone.
Drew took a seat, and Oliver noticed Cecil and Johnny moving closer, watching. Murdock was positioned at the front door, looking through tat books, but Oliver knew his laid-back appearance was just that, an appearance. His senses were alert to everything around them, listening.
Timber wolves had superb hearing, night vision, and tracking skills. They dominated all the other packs for their skills. When in wolf form, they were the largest and meanest, fiercely protecting their land and mates.
Oliver glanced back at Loco. He was leaning against a back counter, eyeing Drew. Loco had beautiful silver hairnot like an aged human, but actual glistening silver. His eyes were as black as midnight, which made Oliver leery. The dude’s eyes just creeped him out.
Oliver stood at the display case, checking out the items for sale. He had wanted to replace some of the rings and studs in his ears. They were decorated from top to lobe, adding to his F-you attitude. He liked the dragon. It looped around, promising to snake along the side of his ear. Maybe one long one instead of six different pieces? It would be a change.
“Stop.” Drew hissed.
Oliver twisted around. He could see the sweat sheen that clung to Drew’s skin. Dammit. Johnny placed his hand in Drew’s and began to gently speak to him. This seemed to calm Drew down some. This was stupid. They never should have brought Drew. They shouldn’t be here themselves.
“I’m okay, just needed a breather.” Drew nervously chuckled.
Should they call Remi? To hell with the surprise if Drew was going to relapse.
“Okay, I’m ready.” Drew blew out a heavy breath then nodded.
The artist nodded in return then leaned forward, the buzz of his gun continuing.
Everyone’s head turned when Murdock growled as a guy entered the shop. He halted when all eyes landed on him. His gaze shot from Murdock to Loco, visibly gulping.
“It’s okay, Tangee. They’re friends,” the artist reassured the guy without looking up.
Tangee slid to his left, avoiding Murdock like the plague. Oliver noticed both arms had tats running from shoulder to wrists in intricate tribal and dragon designs. His neck was a wall of flames licking at his chin and ears. Pretty cool. His hair was a light brown with red highlights, short and sprouting out everywhere. He took an automatic liking to the guy. Oliver could tell they would have been friends in another life, but this one wouldn’t allow him to have outside acquaintances.
“Done.” The tat man repeated the cleaning process then Drew stood, rubbing his arms. They needed to get him back to his mate.
Cecil paid with his credit card as everyone else pulled their shirts back on, heading for Loco and the back door. Murdock checked the back lot before waving them into the SUV.
* * * *
The mates chatted up a storm on the ride home about how painless the inking had been, with Johnny stating that it felt like a mere mosquito bite. Oliver bit the inside of his mouth to stop the laugh that begged to emerge. His attention shifted to Drew, who seemed to be doing much better. He and Loco were talking privately.
They tried to sneak back in through the side entrance but were welcomed back by six mates standing in the entrance with arms crossed over their chests and scowls on their gorgeous faces.
This did not look promising.
“And might I ask as to where the seven of you spent your evening?” Maverick looked like he was ready to chew nails. Oliver gulped. He knew that this was the one guy in the whole house to play nice with. The Alpha Maverick, Cecil’s mate, stood six foot nine, and air crackled and snapped around him. He didn’t need to try and look intimidating. It came naturally. Maverick ran his hand through his long black hair as his eyes softened on Cecil.
“We wanted to surprise our mates with a gift. Can’t exactly tell you I’m heading out to get it, now can I?” Cecil cuddled up to Maverick, making him seem a tad less frightening.
“Let’s go.” Micah grabbed Oliver’s forearm and dragged him upstairs. He closed the door then rounded on Oliver.
“Mind telling me why you and the other mates went MIA without telling anyone? What were you up to?” Micah paced back and forth in front of Oliver. His eyes had gone crimson. Oliver so did not want to go through this.
“Well? I’m waiting. Did you have anything to do with this harebrained scheme?”
Oliver fisted his hands at his side. Every time something happened, Micah immediately assumed he was in the middle of the mess. Why did his mate think so little of him? He had had it. He was tired of trying to show Micah that he was trying to change, trying to make peace.
He shrugged his shoulders and turned toward his room. He was going to avoid him if it was the last thing he did. Maybe if he didn’t see him, it wouldn’t hurt so much to see the disapproving look in his eyes all the time, to see the man he wanted but couldn’t have.
“No, you don’t, Oliver. Come here and explain to me why you snuck off,” Micah demanded.
“I don’t have to answer to you or anyone else, just…just leave me alone.” Oliver felt defeated. Why bother? It wasn’t like Micah would fawn over him for symbolizing his feelings with his name over his heart. He would probably give Oliver another lecture instead on the dangers of infected needles or some bullshit.
“Yes, you do have to answer to me. Your tone will be respectful, or you’ll be confined to your room once more.”
Oliver bit back his retort. There was no use arguing with the warrior when he would always be in the wrong. At times like this, he wished he hadn’t come here. Micah acted more like a parent than a mate, and Oliver didn’t need another parent. That aspect of his life didn’t need a reminder.
“Can we discuss this later? I’m really tired.” Oliver waited for Micah to yell at him again, but Micah just nodded and waved his hand in dismissal.
Oliver crawled into his bed, loneliness encompassing him. How many times had he reached out just for a touch, just for reassurance, only to have the wolf pull away? He wanted a relationship with Micah like he saw in the other couples, the way the other warriors looked at their mates.
He smashed the pillow under his head and closed his eyes, wishing this had all just been a bad dream.
Micah looked in Oliver’s room the next morning. His mate was already dressed and gone.
He knew he hadn’t been fair to Oliver last night when the mates ran off on their adventure. He had just been so damn scared when Oliver disappeared, so like a hothead he overreacted and made the situation worse. Micah had learned that the mates had gotten tattoos. He wondered what his mate had gotten but was too ashamed to ask after the way he had handled himself.
The urge to claim his mate was strong, but Micah treaded carefully, not wanting to traumatize Oliver any further. His father had molested him, and Micah didn’t want his mate looking at him as though he was a monster as well. When his mate was ready, he would know. Until then Micah had been relieving the pressure by his own hand with images of Oliver bringing him to quick release. If something didn’t give soon, he would jerk the damn thing off.
Micah rubbed the back of his neck as he stared out of his bedroom window. This mate stuff was complicated. If only he had the magic answer. He sat in the window seat and pulled his knee to his chest tie his boots.
“Hey, you ready?”
He looked up and nodded at the warrior Evan. “Another day in happy land.” Micah pulled the pant leg over his boots then stood.
They walked down to Maverick’s office. The Alpha was sitting behind his desk pinching the bridge of his nose. This seemed to be his natural state lately.
“The fisherman Paul called me. He says there have been a couple of strangers hanging down at the marina lately. I want Micah and Cody to go check it out. Let me know what you find.”
Dammit, Micah wanted to spend the day with his mate. He thought maybe a day outside the estate would do Oliver some good. Well, a day outside without having to sneak off. It was no use arguing this with Maverick. The Alpha wouldn’t change his mind. The wolf had instincts that surpassed everyone else’s, and he stuck by them.
Micah was in a piss-poor mood by the time he left the office and headed outside. He hadn’t been able to find Oliver before he left to let him know he would be out for a while.
He slammed the truck door after climbing in.
“Hey, treat my baby right, or I’ll tie you to the hood and let you ride up there,” Cody snapped irritably.
“I can see you’re just as thrilled as I am to be babysitting a boat dock.”
“Yeah, ‘cause I had big plans. Disney World, arguing with Storm on the proper way to chug a beer, and the crème de la crème…I was planning on clipping my toenails.” Cody started the truck, blasting the stereo before Micah could say another word.
Micah shoved his boot onto the dash when the crazed wolf peeled from the gravel drive. Who the hell taught him how to drive, NASCAR? Dude was going sixty out of the drive. Micah’s hands slammed onto the roof of the truck when Cody hit the brakes and then made a granny turn onto the paved road. Wolf didn’t make any sense to him.
With his driving skills, or lack of, they made it in five minutes. They lived twenty minutes away. His nerves were shot by the time Speed Racer pulled into the lot. Micah slammed the truck door closed, pissing Cody off on purpose. He smoothed his hands down his black T-shirt as they made their way to Pier Six.
“Hey, Paul,” Cody shouted at the boat.
Micah scanned the area. He didn’t see any suspicious people hanging around. This was going to be a long morning.
“Hey, fellas. Maverick told me you were on your way. Come on down.” The human, who didn’t know they were shifters, led them down to the galley. Paul thought they were a bunch of nice guys that helped people out. If only he knew. It wasn’t that they weren’t helpful, but their main objective was to keep the mates safe and their secret hidden well. Maverick didn’t like the unknown, and that’s why they were here.
“Guys want something to drink?” Paul pulled a bottle of whiskey out.
“Sure, why not.” Micah took the offered tumbler. They couldn’t get drunk. When shifters drank, it was for the flavor. Just because they stayed sober didn’t mean they couldn’t appreciate the taste of a good whiskey.
“So what has your hackles up?” Micah wanted to get right to the point.
“I know everyone around here. All the owners and most of their guests. There have been these three men down here lately. Never seen them before.”
“Uh, okay. That’s suspicious why?” Cody asked.
“I told Maverick I couldn’t put my finger on it, just the way they act. Don’t talk to anyone, just watching the boats. As if waiting for something.”
Great, they were babysitting someone’s paranoid instinct. Maverick needed his head examined sometimes. Micah set the glass down and rubbed his face. “I’m going up top. See if I can spot anything.”
Micah jogged up the steps. He basically was going to hang out with these two for the morning. He could think of much better things to do with his time. Like fucking Oliver until his dick fell off. Not only was Micah pissed at this bullshit Maverick had him doing, but he was so sexually frustrated he could come watching the animal channel. Yeah, it was that bad with him.