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Authors: Sophie Stern

Red: Through the Dark

BOOK: Red: Through the Dark
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Copyright © 2016 by Sophie Stern
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

For my readers

May you find your wolves

One

Red

 

 

“You only have a month before your mating ceremony,” Aunt Germaine says with a frown. “Are you sure you don’t want to try that diet I told you about?”

With a blush, I look down at my too-wide hips and curvy belly. I’m not fat. I keep telling myself that: I’m not fat. I’m curvy. I’m fluffy. I’m average. I’m not
fat
, though.

Still, I’m no wolf, and that’s obvious to anyone who looks at me.

I’m not like the other women in
The Silent Canines
.

No, the women here everything I’m not. They’re tall and lean. They’re athletic and muscular. They all have this long, thick hair and these thin, slender waists. They look exactly the way I don’t. Most of the time I don’t let it bother me, but today I’m questioning my appearance.

I’m questioning everything.

My fiancé, Nash, is now the Alpha of the pack. After killing my brother, he took his rightful place as the head of
The Silent Canines
and it’s his job to lead the group. Supposedly, I’ll be his helper and companion in his mission. Supposedly, I’ll be helping him guide his group.

Right now, though, the only thing I think I’m good for is being made fun of. It’s been an entire two weeks since Nash took over the pack and it’s been a very, very long two weeks. It’s very obvious to everyone that it’s my fault their esteemed leader, Jeffrey, is dead. None of them even liked him, yet somehow, I’m the Alpha-killer.

It’s also my fault the pack’s new leader, Nash, is unavailable to be mated to a wolf, as is tradition.

“Nash thinks I look fine,” I whisper, suddenly doubting my appearance. I don’t want to admit to Aunt Germaine that I need a diet. I don’t think I do. I’ve actually lost weight in the last few weeks due to stress, but I don’t bother telling her that. I still have a little bit of padding on my tummy. I still have a bit of a butt. No matter what I say, she’ll just compare me to the other wolf girls who are my age.

No matter what I say, I’m going to fall short.

“Nash thinks I’m fine the way I am,” I repeat. My voice wavers. Even I can hear the doubt as I speak.

“Well, if you say so, dear,” Aunt Germaine gives me another once-over, and I cringe. I turn back to the mirror and smooth over the thin red dress I’ll be wearing for my mating ceremony. The strapless gown looks more like a prom dress than a wedding dress to me, but I love it. It hugs my curves, making me look feminine and fragile.

I don’t look fat in the dress: I look lovely. I look soft. I look delicate.

What will Nash think when he sees me wearing this? What will he think when he strips it off me after the ceremony? It’s not white, but it’s bright and lovely and it’s everything I think the perfect gown should be. Paired with my red cloak and a pair of black heels, I’ll be unstoppable in this.

“Are you sure you’re okay with red?” Aunt Germaine asks. She’s nervous about mixing our cultures. I think she’s afraid I’m going to freak out if I don’t get to wear a white gown on my wedding day.

In a wolf pack, the bride never wears white. At least, this is what the other unmated females tell me. They’re the only ones who will even talk to me in the pack, but I have a feeling it’s because they’re hoping to find some information they can use against me.

“I’m okay with anything,” I say honestly. “What matters is that I’m marrying Nash.” That’s all that matters. I fully believe this, but I know others in the pack don’t feel the same way.

I hear all the whispers, all the questions, all the comments they make about me. None of them like the fact that I’m not a shifter. None of them like that I’m human or that I stole away one of the most attractive bachelors in the pack.

“It’s still a bit snug,” Aunt Germaine comments. “So if you decide you change your mind about that diet…”

She lets her voice trail off and I bite back my sudden tears.
Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry. Please don’t cry.
I’m overly sensitive about my weight, I know. I just really want my mating ceremony to be perfect and when people constantly tell me how huge I am, it’s hard not to believe it.

I know Aunt Germaine is disappointed that I don’t fit into the pack better. She supports my mating with Nash and is happy about our ceremony, but she’s still a wolf. She still expects me to blend in: not stand out. That’s what being a part of the pack is all about. It’s about being one unit.

And try as I might, the one thing I’ve never been good at is fitting in.

Not even when it comes to Nash.

With a sigh, I nod and slip out of the dress. I hang it back up in Aunt Germaine’s suite, then look at myself in the mirror. Maybe I
should
try her tried-and-true diet. It couldn’t hurt. Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe I do look a little bloated.

Damn.

“Okay,” I whisper, realizing it’s time I just gave in. “I’ll go on the diet.”

“Wonderful!” Aunt Germaine sounds instantly cheered. “Nash will be so happy when he sees you in the dress. Now, here’s the recipe for the mush you’ll be having,” she hands me a card that was conveniently ready in her pocket. It reminds me of one of my grandmother’s recipe cards she used to keep in a little box in her kitchen. Only those cards always had the ingredients for things like apple pie and brownies. When I look at the ingredients on Aunt Germaine’s recipe card, I can’t help but cringe.

It’s mostly a weird porridge mixture with zero sugar, zero meat, and zero fruit.

In other words, I’ll be starving myself until the damn wedding.

Perfect.

 

***

 

Nash returns from the hunt tired. I can already tell we won’t be having sex because he looks so damn exhausted. He’s naked when he arrives in our suite close to midnight, and I can’t help but eyeing the hard lines of his body. Yeah, I like what I’m seeing.

Nash is all wolf. He’s sleek and rugged and handsome. His eyes are so bright they practically glow in the dark. His skin is tan from years of being outdoors, but it’s soft and smooth beneath my touch.

Still, it’s not fair for me to expect him to put out just because I don’t have any self-control. Isn’t that what the other female wolves whisper about?

How I’m a human who can’t control myself?

That’s why their leader left them for a human girl. That’s why their leader chose to mate a non-shifter. I must have seduced him somehow. I must have tricked him. Nash is such a handsome wolf that he must have felt sorry for me if he’s with me instead of them.

He deserves better than me.

At least, that’s what they say. The thought wraps slowly around my heart, choking me. I know Nash doesn’t feel that way. At least, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, but it’s still hard for me to cope with. It’s hard to ignore the words when I hear them whispered constantly in the caves.

“Hey,” I say, sliding off the bed and going to him. I reach for him, wanting a hug, but he pushes me away gently.

“I’m sweaty and dirty,” he says. “And you look so perfect.”

“That never bothered you before,” I whisper, pained at his sudden rejection. This has become a regular thing since he became pack leader. He’ll come in tired and just want to go to bed. There are always random excuses, but the sweat thing is new. I know every couple has an adjustment period where the honeymoon ends, but this seems so extreme to me. Is there something wrong with me?

Maybe I should have started Aunt Germaine’s special diet weeks ago.

Nash must sense what I’m feeling because he looks weary for a moment, then nods slowly.

“You’re right.” He reaches for me and pulls me close, pressing his body to mine. Despite the thin nightgown I’m wearing that separates us, my nipples harden at his touch and I’m instantly wet. Oh, I want him inside of me tonight. After the day I’ve had, I just want to forget. I just want him to make me come undone in his arms.

I just want my man.

Even though things have been tough for us lately, I want to feel close to him. I want him to make me forget all the whispered words, all the rumors, all the ways I don’t fit in this new world we’re a part of.

“You look tired,” I murmur, and I feel him nod, but he doesn’t let me go. He just holds me, and for a moment, all is right with the world. For a moment, I’m not worried about the mating ceremony or pleasing his aunt. I’m not worried about the female wolves. I’m not worried about anything but Nash and me and our bodies meshing together.

“It was a good hunt. I got a deer.”

“A deer?” It sounds delicious. I lick my lips as I think of all the ways I can cook venison. My grandmother taught me this amazing recipe for stew, but then I remember my stupid mating day diet, and my heart drops.

No meat.

No meat for another month.

“Yeah,” Nash doesn’t seem to notice my anxiety as he heads toward our in-room hot tub and turns the water on. Slowly, hot water begins to fill the large tub. “Ryder and Thorn each got one, too. So did Tessa.”

My blood runs cold.

Tessa?

Tessa went on the hunt?

Of course she did.

I should have known.

She’s part of the pack, after all. Why wouldn’t the hottest woman in the caves go on a hunt with my man? Why wouldn’t she be naked with my man? Shaking my head, I try to ignore the feeling of dread that comes over me. Tessa is just another wolf in the pack. She’s nothing to me: no one. She means nothing to Nash. He loves me.

It’s just that Tessa is beautiful.

And she’s a wolf.

And she hates my fucking guts.

She’s made it clear that after Nash’s cousin Elise died, Jeffrey had planned for her to be his mate. Elise and Jeffrey had been in some sort of relationship until he went insane and killed her. That’s my big brother for you. I shiver as I think of all the horrible things he did while he was alive. It’s horrible, but I’m glad he’s gone, glad he’s dead. I’m glad I don’t have to be afraid of him anymore.

Because Tessa thinks Jeffrey wanted to have her as a mate, she feels cheated by his death. She thinks Nash should take her as his bride, to make things fair.

She thinks she’s destined for leadership of the pack and that I should step aside so she can have everything she’s owed.

She thinks I’m standing in her way.

“Honey?” Nash is in the hot tub now, and I turn back, pasting a smile on my face. “What’s wrong? Don’t you want to get in?”

“Of course,” I say, slipping out of my nightgown and climbing into the tub with him. I try to ignore the fact that I’m not as thin as the wolf-shifter females and instead, take comfort in the fact that Nash wants me. He wants me. He does. My insecurities are silly and petty. I’m better than that. Wiser. Smarter. I don’t need to be afraid he’s going to leave me for a wolf.

I snuggle against him in the hot water and instantly, I feel his body relax. Leaning up, I press a chaste kiss to his cheek. Then he turns his head and kisses me on the mouth. My heart lights up. Maybe something
will
happen tonight, after all. After the day I’ve had, I could use a good, hard fucking to cheer me up. I could use something to feel close to him.

I wrap my arms around Nash and pull him closer to myself, kissing him deeply. He opens his mouth and returns my kiss eagerly, reminding me that everything is going to be okay. Everything is going to be fine as long as we’re together. Things haven’t always been easy for me and Nash, but the past is behind us and our future is wide open and bright.

We have tonight.

We have forever.

Slowly, I trace my fingers down his broad chest. His tan skin feels soft beneath my hands, sturdy. Nash is my rock in so many ways. He’s hard where I’m soft, strong where I’m weak. I bite his neck as I trace my hands in random patterns on his skin, just enjoying the feeling of him, just enjoying all of him.

Slowly, I scoop a handful of the water into my cupped hands and let it fall over his chest. Then I rub him slowly, tenderly, cleaning the sweat, the grime, the dirt away.

“Baby, your hands feel so good on me,” he murmurs.

“Good,” I grin. “I like touching you.” Nothing feels more perfect.

When my hand starts to move lower, he doesn’t push me away, and I grip Nash’s thick cock with my fingers. He groans, and I smile at the expression on his face. I love this. I love stroking him, making his dick hard, seeing the way his eyes look when he’s turned on.

He might be the pack leader, but I love knowing how I affect him. Despite my human status, Nash loves me. He cares for me. He protects me. When I was captured by some of my brother’s wolves, Nash was the one who saved me. They could have raped me or even killed me, but Nash risked his life for me. Now we’re together, truly one, and soon we’ll have our mating ceremony. We’ll announce loud and clear to the whole world – and to the whole pack – that we are going to be together forever.

Forever.

I grip his dick tighter, stroking him. Up and down, my hand moves in familiar motions, knowing exactly what his body needs, just as Nash knows what mine needs.

BOOK: Red: Through the Dark
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