Authors: MJ Compton
His father and grandfather waited for him in his living room.
Gramps looked pained, as if he was suffering from indigestion or something. His dad’s solemn expression hid a still-seething temper.
“How did this happen?” Gramps asked.
Luke swallowed the sarcastic response that immediately formed on his tongue. This was serious. He needed his family elders on his side.
“We met at the Moonsinger company picnic. She was in the talent show. She wanted me to show some of her songs to Tokarz.”
“She didn’t get pregnant writing songs.” Gramps was still sharp for an old man.
“No, she didn’t.”
“How?” Gramps wanted to know. “If she’s not your mate, as you claim, then how is she pregnant with your child?”
“Good question,” Marcus added. “I’m more human than you are, and until I met your mother—no mating.”
Luke’s face heated. “There are these pills—humans take them for what they call erectile dysfunction. I was able to get hold of a couple.”
Judging by his expression, Gramps’ indigestion turned severe. “Why? You know mating is sacred.”
“Not for humans,” Luke retorted. “I see things on the Internet, and I wonder. Dad, didn’t you ever wonder?”
So much for having someone on his side. Of course, the Internet hadn’t been around when his father was a single half-breed looking for love. His father had been content to stay in Loup Garou and work in the accounting department of the brewery.
But Luke—he was on the road. Constantly. Playing drums for Toke Lobo and the Pack was the best thing that had ever happened to him, because it had introduced him to women. Human women, who didn’t think sex was sacred. Who didn’t think a guy belonged with one female for life. He’d learned a lot about sex from those honky-tonk angels.
And the Internet. The Internet could teach you anything. Except how to feel. And Luke wanted to feel. Feel good. The other members of the band, the other members of the pack did their damnedest to make him feel unworthy. Useless. Less than they were. But the women he seduced while on the road? They made him feel like a man.
How did he explain that to the men whose DNA spiraled in his blood? He should try, though.
“Sorry, Gramps. Dad, you must have been picked on a lot when you were younger.”
His father shrugged. “There wasn’t anything I could do about it. I never knew anything else.”
Luke nodded. “That’s what I mean. With the Internet, I learned being abused because of my . . . race is wrong. And when the band is on the road, the other members—even the roadies and the drivers—treat me like scat they’d scrape off the soles of their boots. The only time someone wasn’t making my life miserable was when I was with a woman. Women are always trying to hook up with the band members. So I let them pick me up. I bought their drinks, and I wasn’t the lowest of the low. I was Luke Omega, drummer for Toke Lobo and the Pack. I was a big deal. I was someone they wanted to be with, not someone to mock and ridicule.”
His father and grandfather didn’t react.
“So I told the women I was diabetic—that’s a human condition that prevents sufferers from drinking alcohol and can cause . . . erectile dysfunction.”
“I suppose you learned that on the computer, too,” Gramps muttered. As if he’d never seen a TV commercial. The old man lived in front of his flat screen. “Your penis isn’t dysfunctional. You’re more werewolf than human. You should have known better.”
“I found out about the meds and wondered if they would work for me. It took a while for me to be able to buy a couple of tablets. You need a prescription to buy it at the drugstore, but there are ways . . . and I received the package the morning of the brewery picnic. I swear. That’s all. It wasn’t mating, it was meds. And she was as eager to get naked with me as I was to get naked with her.”
“You didn’t smell her fertility? And don’t give me the same kind of bogus answer you gave Tokarz.”
“All I smelled was turned on woman. A little blood after the first time. And to be honest, when she asked me about a condom, I told her I’d had the mumps when I was fifteen and was sterile. That,” he said to his grandfather, “means I can’t father children.”
“You never had mumps,” his father said. “What are they?”
“A childhood disease that if contracted in an adult usually destroys the male’s ability to produce sperm. Do you want to know what sperm is?”
“I can still blister your ass,” his father replied.
And Luke would let him. He was an obedient son.
“Why did you tell her that? If you were going to cavort like a human, why didn’t you use a condom?”
Points to Gramps for knowing what a condom was. Maybe that was Granny’s doing.
“She wasn’t my mate. How could I get someone pregnant if she’s not my mate?” Some of Luke’s bewilderment seeped into the tone of his voice.
Both older men nodded. So his logic wasn’t faulty.
“Okay,” Gramps said. “That doesn’t change the fact that she’s pregnant, and you admit the child could be yours. You have to do the right thing. You have to be honorable. You have to be responsible, Luke.”
Luke swallowed. Hard. “I’ll support the mother and child.” Thank the Ancient Ones the band was making money on top of the money everyone in the pack got from the brewery. “But don’t take the possibility of mating away from me.”
He closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe he was saying the words coming from his mouth. He couldn’t believe mating, of all the archaic werewolf habits, actually meant anything to him. But the possibility of it vanishing on him was stunning.
“Are you ready for your audience with your alpha?” his father asked.
Panic swelled in Luke’s chest. But he’d requested this. Now he wished he’d asked for more time to think. To figure out a better solution.
“You were right to send the woman home with your grandmother,” Gramps said. “Did you happen to mention to her you’re mostly werewolf?”
Abby was shocked her legs still held her up. That she could put one foot in front of the other. That she wasn’t shrieking, blubbering, or in
Maybe she wasn’t. Coherent, that is. Maybe this was all a bad dream, because Gary had knocked her unconscious when he figured out she was pregnant.
A shudder rippled through her. No, better that she have these . . . hallucinations than be unconscious and at Gary’s mercy.
The big hall was chilly, despite the pack of people. Gary had interrupted some sort of celebration when he dragged her through the doors and started shouting about Luke Omega and her pregnancy.
If she never saw Luke Omega again, it would be too soon. But oh look. There he was. And Toke Lobo. And the crazy-eyed fiddle player from the band. And a press of strangers. Hearing her shame. No doubt judging her humiliation.
Nearly all of the words snarled were mortifying. She managed to unload a few resentments of her own, but mostly the men in the room postured and made way too much noise with words that made no sense. Gary must have knocked a language screw loose or something when he hit her. Mates and alphas and omegas . . . it was all a swirl of pain, terror, and frantically grasping an edge of her sanity.
Luke looked as furious as Gary. Toke Lobo didn’t appear much happier.
Then an old woman put her arm around Abby, who winced at the contact. Gary might have broken a rib.
“Let’s get you out of here,” the woman said. “Let the males do their posturing. You’ll be staying with me tonight while they pee on each other. You can call me Granny, like everyone else does.”
“I’ll drive you,” another woman said. “Looks like the party is over anyway.”
Abby let them lead her out of the building. She felt more like a balloon than a woman, bobbing along in the wake of whatever force was more determined than she was. At least she didn’t have to depend on her legs to hold her upright.
“I am so ashamed of my son,” a third woman said as she slid into the seat next to the driver. She twisted to peer at Abby who was huddled in a corner of the backseat. “He won’t get away with disrespecting you like this.”
Oh God. Luke’s mother. The woman must hate her.
Abby didn’t respond. She couldn’t. What was there to say? She was pregnant from that night at the lake with Luke Omega. Gary figured it out and started whaling on her. If Libby’s screams hadn’t alerted Mama as to what was going on, Gary might have beaten Abby to death. That much she knew. Her hand strayed to her abdomen.
Please let the baby be all right.
When Gary dragged her out of the house and tossed her into his car, she was positive he was taking her someplace where he could kill her and easily dispose of the body. She never expected to crash a party and confront Luke. Never expected Toke Lobo himself to stand up for her. Never expected Luke to . . .
“Are you okay?” The older woman—Granny—was perched next to Abby. “I’ll examine you as soon as we get to my house.”
“Mom’s a midwife,” the driver said. “We’ll make sure you and the baby are okay.”
“My mama had a lot of miscarriages,” Abby mumbled. No point mentioning her stillborn sisters. “I think Gary thought—”
“Gary thought wrong.” Granny’s tone was firm. “Your baby has good, strong Omega genes. Unless you don’t want—”
“No.” With as many babies as her mother lost, how could she even think about doing something to get rid of the one in her own belly?
“Good.” Luke’s mother sounded satisfied. “My first grandchild.”
Granny patted Abby’s knee. “I guess you didn’t pick up on everything back there. It was kind of chaotic. I’m Granny Omega. Macy, my daughter, is driving, and Colette, my daughter-in-law and Luke’s mother, sitting up front with her.”
She was surrounded by Luke’s female relatives. Abby closed her eyes. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Neither would her feet, legs, lungs, heart. Palsied. Thank goodness it was dark; she couldn’t read the condemnation in their eyes. Not that their judgment could be worse than the flash of disappointment on her own mother’s face, before Gary’s reaction overshadowed every other breath and heartbeat in the house. Good girls didn’t get pregnant before they got married.
The trip was short. Abby found herself herded inside, down a hall, and into a bedroom. Granny thrust a bundle of flowered fabric at her and instructed her to change.
The flannel nightgown was a bit snug, but the soft material against Abby’s skin comforted her. And there were flannel sheets on the bed, too.
“I need to examine you,” Granny said as she and her entourage returned to the bedroom several moments later.
Abby shook her head. “I’m not bleeding. I checked.” Her face warmed. She didn’t want the old woman seeing . . . anything.
Granny’s expression said she was concerned, but how could she be? Luke’s family had to hate her.
“I think she has a lot on her mind, Mom,” Macy said.
“If she’s not bleeding, she’s okay,” Colette added. She smiled at Abby. “You look as if you’re scared to death of us. Don’t be. We’re not angry with you, but with Luke for treating you so badly. I thought I raised him better than that.”
They needed to know the truth. “He wasn’t the only one in the truck that night,” Abby whispered. Then she realized how bad that sounded. “I mean, he didn’t force me or anything like that.” Indeed. The things that had happened that night were some of her fondest memories.
“I’m going to fix her some squaw tea,” Granny said. “Just to be on the safe side.” Granny left Abby with Colette and Macy.
Colette sat on the edge of the mattress and took Abby’s hand in her own, which bordered on feverishly hot. “What happened between you and Luke was completely natural. Completely normal. If you weren’t supposed to be his . . . woman, nothing could have happened. And don’t worry. Luke will make this up to you.”
“I don’t want anything from him.” Abby knew she sounded miserable, but then she was. Mama had married Gary so Abby and Libby could keep their home in Oak Moon, so Gary could take care of them. Look how well that turned out. Abby was not going to step into a similar trap.
Libby. Oh, dear God, she had to get Libby out of there. Before Gary—
She swung her legs to the floor. “I have to go.”
“The bathroom is the first door on the left,” Macy said.
“No. I need to go home. My sister—Gary will—”
Colette stood. “I’ll let Tokarz know.” She followed Granny from the room.
Macy tucked the blankets around Abby’s legs, helped her settle into bed again. “That’s Toke Lobo’s real name.”
“I need the police, not a country music cowboy.”
“You need to stop worrying over nothing. The stress can’t be good for the baby. You’re going to need to control your emotions, or you’ll be swilling Mom’s squaw tea for the next several months. Trust me, you won’t want to do that.”
“Do what?” Granny asked as she came into the room with a steaming mug in her hand. The smell coming from the tea was awful.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” Macy muttered, as she stepped away to make room for Granny.
An eerie howl shattered the stillness of the night. The wolf sounded close. Loup Garou was higher up the mountain than Oak Moon, closer to wolf territory. Abby drew her knees to her chest. The animal sounded as if it were right outside her window. A more distant wolf answered the call.
“Drink this.” Granny thrust the mug at her. “It’s an old native concoction that’s quite effective.”
The odor was enough to make Abby want to vomit. She held her breath and took a sip. The liquid scalded her tongue. That was one way to avoid tasting something that smelled like sewage.
“Effective at what?” Abby couldn’t help but be suspicious. For all she knew, these women were putting on an act and were really plotting to abet Gary.