Bridged by Love Copyright © 2015 by Nancy Corrigan All Rights Are Reserved.
Hands clenching and releasing at his sides, Nic strode across the packed bar. Shifters and humans alike moved out of his way. He couldn’t blame them. No doubt he looked as pissed off as he felt. Returning to West Virginia hadn’t been on his agenda, at least not until a certain female died of old age or moved.
Pain lashed him at the thought of Riley dying. No, he couldn’t think about that inevitable fate. He’d spiral into a state of depression or rage. Neither reaction was acceptable for the next alpha of the Kagan pack to embrace. He had to think about her moving away. Only. Even that bothered him, but it was the best outcome. Too bad it hadn’t happened. She remained in Hollow’s Grove like a damn forbidden fruit and a reminder of a life he could never have.
He clenched his jaw and zeroed in on his old table in the back of the bar. The two male wolf shifters sitting there with Nic’s sister grabbed their beers and scattered, leaving Hannah to deal with his wrath.
He yanked a chair out and straddled it. “Who did it?”
Hannah lifted a slender brow. Four years separated them, but she could’ve been his twin. They both had their mother’s black hair and blue eyes. They both shifted into black wolves too, a rarity among their kind. Neither of them cared about the awe many felt in their presence. Him and Hannah? They cared about the strength the revered wolf gave them. Power was everything in their world.
“Did what? Put Dad in the hospital, or almost hit your ex-girlfriend’s car?”
He gritted his teeth. “Riley is not my ex-girlfriend.”
Labeling her that way endangered her. Hannah would know that. The next-in-line alpha wasn’t allowed to get romantically involved with humans. They were for fucking only.
“What do you call your first lover and the female you warned every available male in a fifty-mile radius away from, then?”
Had Riley been a shifter, he’d call her his mate. As it was, she was a temptation, one he had to stay away from. Human-shifter matings were sterile, and he had to produce an heir. The future of his pack depended on it. So did its safety. Without a strong alpha family, their pack was vulnerable for a takeover. “She’s an honorary member of the pack. It’s my duty to ensure she’s protected.”
“So that’s why you left her?”
He leaned across the table and allowed a snarl to slip free, just loud enough for Hannah to hear. “You know why I left. Let it go.”
He didn’t want to talk about it. Four years had passed, and he still hadn’t accepted the truth—he couldn’t keep the woman he loved.
Hannah matched his pose so inches separated them. Her eyes took on a faint glow, the first sign of her deteriorating control. “I can’t. Riley’s my friend, and you don’t know everything. She needs someone in her life to protect her. She needs you.”
Instincts flared. Whoever thought to hurt Riley would die. “Protect her from what?”
“You can’t drop something like that and not tell me the rest.” He narrowed his eyes. “Protect her from what?”
“Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.” She took a sip of her beer before focusing on him over the rim. “Riley wasn’t just in an accident. The other driver purposely swerved into her lane and forced her off the road.”
That wasn’t what he’d been told. The details he’d gotten had made it sound like a fender-bender. He sat back and studied his younger sister but couldn’t decipher anything from her blank expression. “Why wasn’t I told?”
“Riley didn’t want you to know.”
The sense of betrayal hit him square in the chest. He turned and scanned the room, seeking out Riley’s blue eyes but not finding them. She was close, though. Her sweet scent hung in the air. She couldn’t hide from him. He’d find her, and she’d tell him everything. He wouldn’t settle for anything less.
He faced Hannah. “Tell me about Dad, then.”
“What’s to tell? He’s old, and the dominants sense it. They’ve been picking fights with him every month for the past year.”
“Any challenges?” For an alpha, it meant death—either theirs or their opponent’s.
Hannah carefully set her beer down. She ran her finger along the side of the brown glass. “Not yet.”
The knowledge didn’t comfort him. He leaned forward. “Who landed him in the hospital?”
“Derek from the Tanner pack.”
With their territories sharing a border, he’d met the other male many times. Strong and ruthless, Derek wouldn’t think twice about forcing his rule over the Kagan pack.
“Yeah, shit. And he’s made it clear he’ll try again next month. Rumor has it Michael wants his family to control all of West Virginia, and Derek was ordered to claim our pack any way he can.” She covered his hand, a rare sign of affection. “You need to take Dad’s place. He won’t survive another fight.”
He yanked his hand free. “I know. It’s why I came back.”
“I’m sorry, Nic. If I was a few months older, I could take a mate and save you from this fate.”
“You’re going to tell me you suddenly stopped lusting over Alex?” Not that Riley’s brother shared her attraction. Alex preferred male lovers.
She shifted her gaze to the bar. Nic turned to look at Riley’s brother too. Alex pulled a draft of beer. He placed the mug on a tray and glanced over his shoulder as if he felt them watching him. Probably did. For a human, he was intensely aware of his surroundings. Of course, growing up with shifters had honed his skills.
Alex’s gaze skimmed over him before locking onto Hannah. She glanced away.
“Lust is part of what we are, but I never dated him.” She narrowed her eyes. A challenge showed in them. “Or almost mate him.”
For years, Nic had denied how far his relationship with Riley had gone. Few knew he’d even fucked her. It was better that way. At the moment, he couldn’t force the lie out, not after learning she could’ve died. “We were young.”
Hannah sighed. Her shoulders slumped. “What are you going to do?”
“What do you think?” A deep breath calmed the rage brewing within him. He met Hannah’s sympathetic gaze. “I’m going to take a shifter mate and assume control of the pack.”
She picked at the label on her beer. Silence stretched. He waited, knowing she’d eventually say what was on her mind. Finally, she pushed the bottle away. “Three months, Nic. That’s all we have to wait until I mature. As soon as my wolf emerges, I’ll take a mate.” Hannah leaned across the table and lowered her voice. “You can transfer the pack’s spirit to him. I know your wolf won’t want to give up the power, but convince it that’s the only way you’ll be able to keep Riley.”
That would’ve been a great plan if his wolf actually wanted Riley. It didn’t. That was why he’d left her.
He squeezed Hannah’s hand. “This is my fate, little sister. I’ll deal with it.”
“If you change—”
“I won’t.” Because his wolf’s agreement was necessary for a mating, and his wolf had made its refusal of Riley known.
Hannah shook her head. “Still stubborn as ever, huh?”
“Yep.” He stood. “Have you seen Riley?”
“Damn, you’re a glutton for punishment.”
“I want to know what’s happened to her. She’s a member of the pack.”
“You don’t need to see her. I can tell—”
“I want her to tell me. She promised she’d let me know if she ever needed me. She obviously didn’t. I want to know why.” And he needed to see her. Look into her eyes. Breathe in her scent. Freakin’ just be near her.
Hannah opened her mouth but shut it without saying a word. She pointed to the hallway. “It’s pool night. She likes to hustle the humans.”
He’d taught Riley how to play. Hell, he’d taught her a lot of things, including how to break through his control.
“Spread word to our neighboring packs that I’m shopping for a mate.” His gut churned at the very thought of binding himself to another female. He ignored the reaction and stood. “And make it clear it’ll be for sex only. I’m not marrying the girl or living with her.” Or talking to her, for that matter.
She snorted. “That’ll entice a lot of women.”
“And you think it’ll stop them?”
“Then that’s your answer. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.” He pivoted on his heel and headed toward the hallway.
Riley’s scent grew stronger with each step he took. His body responded to it, a reaction he couldn’t stop. He’d spent too many nights in her arms not to crave her. She was his addiction, one he still hungered for even after four years of trying to replace her.
Her laughter carried over the din of the bar. It swept through him, fueling his desire. He pushed aside the longing, knowing it would get him nowhere, and opened the door.
Riley’s ass in the air greeted him. It would’ve been a welcome sight if she hadn’t been draped over a human male’s body. She adjusted his grip on the cue and whispered something in his ear.
The guy laughed and took the shot. The balls clanked. Two found their way home. The human dropped the stick and kissed Riley’s cheek.
Nic lost it.
He yanked the pathetic male away from her and pointed to the door. “Out.”
“But I was—”
Nic planted his palms on the kid’s chest and shoved. He stumbled into the hallway, cursing. Nic slammed the door, cutting off the whining, and glanced over his shoulder. Riley stood by the pool table, one hand planted on a cocked hip. He let his gaze roam over her and greedily committed every nuance of the older Riley to memory.
Still curvy in all the right places and slim everywhere else, she had a body men drooled over. Her thigh-high heeled boots, clingy top, and short flaring skirt added to the image. The only change she’d made was her hairstyle. Her golden locks caressed her jaw in some choppy cut he was sure had a name. No matter, it looked good on her and would’ve showed off her delicate neck, but the turtleneck she wore hid her creamy skin. It also covered up the partial mate bite he’d left on her shoulder the last night they were together, the night of his first shift.
The night he’d almost damned his pack.
He shoved the memory away and focused on the facts. Riley might not have called him when she needed him, but she’d honored his wishes. He’d always assumed as much since he’d never gotten any shit from his dad. Still, it was nice to see.
He went to her and tipped up her chin. She could lie with the best of them. Her scent never changed nor did her body language give her away. Only her eyes told the truth. “What happened?”
She raised a blonde brow. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking. It’s nice to see you too.”
“I’m not here on a social call.” Even though he wished he could have been.
She snorted. “Of course you aren’t. Why would I think you cared? I’m only the pack’s obligation, right?”
The jab stung. He let it go. The things he’d said to her before he left sickened him. “Tell me about the accident.”
She turned her head, breaking his grip, and walked to the end of the pool table. “I told your father everything. If you want to know, ask him.”
He had. His dad had said not to worry. It’d been handled. Nic had been left with no recourse. He’d never told his dad about Riley and had no right to demand more information. “You promised to call me if you needed me.”
“Yes, but I didn’t.” She glanced over her shoulder. “I still don’t.”
“Really? So you’re going to handle the person trying to kill you all by yourself?”
She leaned against the pool table, arms crossed under her breasts. “Nobody is trying to kill me. If you’re referring to the accident, that’s all it was—an accident. Even if there was someone out to get me, I can take care of myself. I’m not naïve or weak.”
“You’re human. That’s—”
“The reason you dumped me and never told anyone about us.” She curled her hands into fists and took two steps toward him. “Did you really think I wouldn’t figure it out?”
“The unmated pack females would’ve—”
“Enough.” She closed the distance between them. “Save your bullshit for someone who cares. I don’t any longer. I’ve moved on.”
A surge of possessiveness he had no right to feel gripped him. He took deep breaths, but the calming exercise didn’t ease the anger. The memory of the human kissing her from moments ago added to it. It offered a visual for what Riley had done while he’d been traveling across the country in a band. It didn’t matter if he’d screwed women in every city he’d toured. None of those girls had meant anything. They didn’t belong to him.
Then again, neither did Riley.
A growl crawled up his throat. He stood there, vibrating with rage. He’d invited the situation on himself, practically tossed the woman he loved into the arms of another man, and he couldn’t do a thing about it.
She smiled, humor glinting in her eyes. He knew her too well. His primitive response to her words no doubt pleased her. “Now that we’re clear on where I stand in your life, what’s the real reason you’re back in Hollow’s Grove?”
He cracked his jaw and prepared to seal his fate. “I’m taking my rightful place as alpha. On the next full moon, I’ll accept the spirit of the pack and lead the Kagan wolves into the next generation.”
She held his gaze. No reaction. No acknowledgment of what it meant to become alpha. No hurt over learning the real reason he’d returned. Nothing.
He waited another moment for some kind of reaction. Not seeing one worried him. There was more to Riley than her looks. She was intelligent, cunning, and brave. If she’d been a wolf, she would’ve made a perfect alpha.
He brushed his thumb over her jaw. She didn’t move. Hell, she didn’t even blink. He cleared his throat. “Well? Nothing to say?”
“I will visit your father tomorrow to offer him my vow of silence and recommendations for a new pack doctor. I’ll be gone before the week is out.”
Her head held high, she turned and strode toward the door.
His chest tightened on a surge of emotions he wasn’t equipped to deal with. “You don’t have to do that. This is your pack too. I would never ask you to leave it.”
Except, he had. Maybe not in words, but in actions. He’d treated her like shit the night before he’d left. He’d also spent the past four years wishing she’d just move so he could return home. Faced with the reality of her leaving, though, he couldn’t accept it.
She paused with her fingers wrapped around the doorknob. “And that’s why I am.”
She slipped out the door before he could come up with anything to say. He stepped into the hallway and followed her retreating back with his gaze. He wanted to go after her and reclaim his lover, the woman who owned his heart.
Too damn bad it wasn’t happening. He’d set his path tonight, and Riley had no place in it.
Neither did love.
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