Declan O’Halloran rolled down his window so the icy air flowed over his face. He inhaled the wonderful pine scent of his hometown. God, it felt good to be home, but fuck, what a drive. He hated the hours cooped up in the rolling cage, hated the traffic, hated the fucking snow that had slowed the drive down to a snail’s pace. Crap, it was only the end of October. It looked as if they would be in for a hard winter.
He drove up the long gravel road, stopping at the gate to key in the combination. Before it was fully open, two wolves came barreling through, growling and baring their teeth. They stilled instantly and flopped onto their backs to expose their bellies, baring their throats in submission. “Hey, Adam, Cullen. I’m just gonna go up to the house and crash. I’ll empty my Range Rover later.”
Adam rose to all fours and nudged Cullen to his feet. Instead of taking off the two wolves stepped close and pressed against his legs.
Declan ruffled his fingers through their fur, oddly touched that they were so comfortable showing him affection. He’d almost forgotten how much most wolves needed physical touch to convey their emotions. He’d also forgotten how much he’d missed having the touchy-feely pack members around him. He’d obviously been gone far too long. “I missed you too, guys.”
The wolves pulled back a little and head-butted him, clearly wanting to play. He indulged in a quick wrestling match, but his exhaustion caught up with him within minutes. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Get on with your rounds now. My dad will be pissed if he finds out you were kibitzing with me instead of protecting pack territory.”
Adam rolled his eyes—quite an accomplishment while still in wolf form—and let out a soft huff. He nuzzled Declan one last time before issuing a sharp yip at Cullen. The two wolves raced away, their paws crunching over the crusty surface of the snow.
He watched until he couldn’t see them anymore. They’d been his two best friends for years, but his absence had put a distance between them. Phone calls and e-mails could only do so much for a friendship.
Frigid water had started to seep through his tennis shoes by the time he got back into his SUV and drove up the long driveway again. He shivered, looking forward to getting into the house.
A small thrill shot through him. He was home and about to become alpha, something he’d always known and had been groomed for since birth. God, he’d waited for this moment. Not that he wanted his father to die, but everything inside him wanted—demanded—to see to his pack’s needs and protection. The only reason he’d left in the first place was that two alpha personalities as strong as his and his dad’s made for a very uncomfortable living arrangement.
He eased the Range Rover between the BMW his mom was so proud of and his dad’s pickup. The snow was even higher here, drifting off the rear field to pile around the cars. It looked as if the snowblower would have to be extracted from the shed and fired up by morning.
Snow slipped into his shoes when his feet hit the ground, and he winced. He probably could have worn more appropriate footwear. But he hated driving in winter boots, and it certainly hadn’t been snowing in Toronto when he’d left.
The house beckoned enticingly, the jack-o’-lantern still grinning at him from the front porch. It was too bad he hadn’t arrived a few hours sooner. It was Halloween and the pups would have been around in their costumes. His mom would have been loading their bags up with all kinds of candy.
He let himself into the house with the key he hadn’t used in years. A lamp had been left on for him, and he smiled. His mom always did things like that.
Declan dropped his keys onto the small table next to the door and wandered through the foyer toward the kitchen, intent on grabbing a bite to eat. He rubbed his stomach when it growled loudly. He should have stopped at a fast-food joint on the way here, but the snow had been flying and he’d just wanted to get to his pack’s territory.
The kitchen still smelled of home, the air perfumed with cinnamon and fresh bread as well as an underlying note of meat. He grinned and rummaged through the fridge. Only a werewolf would appreciate the scent of meat lingering in the kitchen.
He pulled out a platter of sandwiches and read the note attached to the plastic wrap. The fridge here was fully stocked, something he usually forgot to do.
Large hunks of lamb were layered with slices of tomato, pieces of lettuce, and slathered with mayo, all held together between thick slices of fluffy white bread. He snagged a plate and put a couple of sandwiches onto it before returning the rest to where he’d found them. He probably shouldn’t get used to this, though. His parents would be leaving for the council soon and he would be back to fending for himself. At least Smooth Rock Falls had a decent Chinese place. Or it did the last time he was here, anyway.
Oh, man. There was a container of milk stashed in the back where his mom swore the fridge was coldest. Score. He would bet anything it was fresh and tasty, unlike the milk he’d poured down his drain that morning. He poured a glass of creamy goodness, grabbed a couple of peanut butter cookies from the ever present jar on the counter, and carried everything into the cozy front room.
He nearly dropped the whole lot when he crossed the threshold. There, asleep on the floor in front of the fireplace, was the most beautiful man he’d ever seen. The man’s expression was troubled and he mumbled under his breath. Mr. Gorgeous threw his arm out and whimpered, clearly terrified of whatever he was dreaming about.
Declan’s heart squeezed. No one should be so tormented in their sleep, let alone someone who was this damn young. He would put the man at no more than nineteen, although it was hard to tell. The man’s blond hair swept across his forehead, and there wasn’t even a hint of whiskers shadowing his jaw.
His heart wasn’t the only thing that was being squeezed. His cock was currently pressing against the fly of his jeans. And since he routinely went commando, the zipper was probably leaving a vivid mark on his dick. Maybe he could convince the pretty boy over there to kiss it better. If he was of age, of course.
He set his plate and glass down on the coffee table and adjusted his cock. His hand lingered on his bulge, stroking just a little.
God, the man was out cold. There was no sign that he was even aware of Declan’s presence, which made him frown. Wolf pups were taught from an early age to be aware of their surroundings, even in their sleep. That the sexy-as-sin guy over there hadn’t so much as cracked an eye open since Declan had walked into the room could only mean one of two things. Either he hadn’t been taught how to use his senses or he was dead tired.
Or the fact that he hadn’t woken up could be because of a combination of both, considering the physical state the man seemed to be in. His mouth turned down even more when he crossed the room and squatted next to the sleeping man. The circles under those eyes spoke volumes, as did his slender, downright skinny frame. It was dangerous for a werewolf to get that thin. The animal could take over and go on a killing rampage in a desperate attempt to get enough calories to simply live.
The man didn’t even stir when Declan pulled a soft blanket up to his chin.
Unable to help himself, he reached out and traced those gorgeous cheekbones. His heart pounded and his dick jerked in time with his pulse. He’d been wrong before. The man did have a light smattering of whiskers scattered over his cheeks and jaw. They were just so pale he hadn’t seen it from across the room. And, fuck, it was soft. It would feel wonderful rubbing against his balls.
He ground his palm against his aching shaft, trying to give himself some sort of relief. How sick was he that he stood there, lusting after a man who was obviously just recovering from some sort of trauma?
The man’s eyes fluttered as if he dragged himself out of sleep. Deep brown irises flecked with gold shone up at him fuzzily.
Instead of the sleepy warmth Declan expected to see reflected in those eyes, he was surprised by the abject terror in them. His pretty boy crab-walked backward and flattened himself against the wall. “Please don’t hurt me,” he whispered.
Well, that was not the reaction he’d been expecting. “Hey, it’s all right. I’m Declan, the alpha’s son. I’ve been called home.” He didn’t bother to add the fact that he would be the new one in a couple of days. There was no use panicking the young man further.
If the guy got any closer to the wall he’d leave a dent. He was pressed against the plaster so hard. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.
Declan approached the man as carefully as he would a wounded animal. The smell of fear was rank in the air, and the alpha in him was compelled to soothe and comfort the terrified man. “There’s nothing to be sorry for. I didn’t mean to scare you.” He continued walking toward the young man, his hands held up in a nonthreatening manner.
Whimpering softly, the stranger turned his head as if expecting to be slapped. “I need to go.”
Declan backed away as he stood and let the young man squeeze by him. The scent of fear as he rushed past should have made Declan’s wolf squirm to give chase, but something held him back. He followed the pretty guy to the base of the stairs.
The man hurried up to the second floor and disappeared into a room directly across from his own.
There was obviously more going on than Declan realized. He was torn between chasing after him to soothe the fear or to seduce him.
A throat clearing from behind him meant he didn’t have a choice at all anymore. The young man would have to wait. “Hi, Dad.”
Rory O’Halloran was still as intimidating as he’d always been. The aura he gave off was one of absolute power and control, and absurdly, comfort. He opened his arms for a hug, and it was all Declan could do to stop from throwing himself into his arms.
“It’s been too long, son.” The gruff voice of his father never failed to relax him, and he cuddled close for a second, taking the affection his wolf demanded. It was a good thing he’d left when he had or else he wouldn’t still have such a great relationship with his father.
“You’re right. It’s been way too long. I saw Adam and Cullen outside and realized how much I missed this place.” He followed his father back into the front room where his dinner was still waiting. He offered the plate to his father before grabbing a sandwich and chowing down.
They ate in companionable silence for a few minutes while he wondered how to bring up the young man without seeming too abrupt. “How’s Mom?” he finally asked.
“She’s very well. Very well indeed.” The smile on his father’s face spoke volumes. Rory had fallen in love with Fiona more than a century ago, and seemed to fall in love more and more every time Declan saw him. The fact his mother felt the same way told him how happy the two of them were.
It was time to get down to business, though. “So, congratulations on accepting the position at the Council of Elders.”
Rory grinned, his chest puffing out, practically preening. “Thank you, and congratulations on becoming alpha. I know you’ve been waiting a long time, and I appreciate the fact you delayed becoming alpha instead of challenging me for the position.”
All the time he’d spent in Toronto, crammed into a small box of an apartment and forced to run in a small strip of forested park land during the full moon, suddenly seemed worth it. Now he had both his pack and his dad. “I’m glad too. Listen, there’s the small matter of this mating thing. Want to explain it to me again?”
Rory sighed and shook his head. Only his father could pour so much feeling into a damn gust of air. So maybe Declan hadn’t paid as much attention to his werewolf history classes as he should have. He’d been too busy working toward an acceptance to the University of Waterloo. “You remember an alpha’s power intensifies when he takes up the official position?” When he nodded, Rory continued. “Alphas need someone to ground them, to help channel their abilities. Mates do that.”
Ah, that’s right. Unmated alphas tended to go a little psychotic if they weren’t mated. In fact, it could get so out of hand the council had actually introduced a bylaw stating all alphas had to be mated before they formally took over a pack.
He thought back to how happy his parents were together. They had been a love match from the beginning, and it seemed the feeling had only increased over the years. He wanted what his parents had; he really did. He just hadn’t met the right person yet. Not that it mattered now since he had to mate with someone before he took over as alpha. Unbidden, an image of the young man he’d met in this very room entered his mind.
It was Declan’s turn to clear his throat. “Who’s the blond? A new houseguest?”
His father’s grin widened, and Declan wanted to smack himself in the face. He could have at least worked the man into the conversation with a little more finesse.
“Like him, do you?”
The heat rising in his cheeks told him that he was blushing, something he hadn’t done since his mother had caught him kissing a much older she-wolf when he was thirteen. “He seems scared.” He grabbed his glass and took a huge gulp to cover his embarrassment.
His father’s smiled faded and was replaced by an expression of such rage Declan leaned back in his seat.
“His name is Quinn Gallagher. He came to us about eight weeks ago from a pack the Elder Council dissolved in British Columbia. I don’t have all the details, but I do know Quinn is a submissive wolf.”
That explained why Declan’s hadn’t felt the need to assert its dominance or to chase Quinn when the smell of fear had permeated the air. A male submissive was fairly uncommon but not completely unheard of.
What his father said next made his blood boil. “All I know is Quinn called the Elder Council and reported his alpha’s abuse of submissives. When representatives made a surprise visit, whatever they found caused them to dissolve the pack immediately.”
What the fuck? How could any alpha abuse the submissive wolves in his pack? It was ingrained in all dominants to protect submissives, and it should have been a compulsion for the alpha to protect Quinn. Unless the alpha was unbalanced or something. Anger sliced through him, sharp as steel and twice as cold, at the thought of anyone hurting such a fragile being, especially someone who was supposed to protect the weaker members. His fangs fought to drop and it was only because he was an alpha he was able to keep himself under control
“He’s been here for eight weeks? He’s so damn skinny.”
Nodding, his father sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Quinn only picks at his food. Your mother’s been harping at him to eat, but it’s like he’s lost all purpose in life and is just waiting until he fades away to nothing.”
Declan gazed at the small stack of cookies he still had on his plate. There was someone else who could use the calories much more than he did.
The chair groaned a little when he stood. Nodding to his father, who looked at him speculatively, Declan gathered his plate and glass. He walked into the kitchen and placed his glass in the dishwasher. As much as he wanted to see Quinn ingest some calories, there was no way he was going to risk his mother’s wrath by leaving a dirty glass out.
He put another sandwich on the plate, added two more cookies, an apple, and poured another glass of milk.
The house was silent and his dad was nowhere to be found when he walked back out of the kitchen. Dad had never gotten out of the habit of waiting up for him, and now that he was home, his father had probably taken himself to his bed.
Declan carefully made his way up the stairs, avoiding the one that had creaked since he was a child, and wandered over to the room he’d seen Quinn disappear into. Juggling the glass and plate, he managed to knock on the door and entered when a soft voice bid him to come in.
Man, if he’d thought Quinn was beautiful before, nothing could have prepared him for how stunning the man truly was.
Flat on his back with the sheet pulled up to his waist, his bare chest exposed and nipples beading in the cool air, Quinn literally took his breath away.
The desk lamp was on, its light throwing a soft glow over the young man. With one hand lying on his chest and the other resting at his side, he looked like he’d stepped out of a romance novel cover.
Only one thing marred the man’s ethereal beauty—his emaciated frame. Declan could count every one of Quinn’s ribs.
It hurt his heart to know Quinn had been abused, though he didn’t know the details. Obviously, food and nutrition, or rather the lack of it, had been used to punish him. “Hi, Quinn. I brought you something to eat.”
Quinn’s fingers worried the sheet and he tugged it up a little more. “Thank you, but I’m not hungry.”
The words were said so quietly Declan had to strain to hear them. He stepped closer and placed the plate and glass on the nightstand. Of course the man wasn’t hungry. His stomach had probably shrunk to three quarters of its normal size. Normally, Declan would have left things well enough alone but he just couldn’t leave without seeing Quinn eat something. “Well, maybe I did bring a lot. How about if you eat half the sandwich, one cookie, and the glass of milk?”
Quinn looked at him as if he were an alien or something, but reached for the sandwich.
“Can I sit?”
Nodding, Quinn swallowed and reached for the milk. Declan sat on the edge of the bed and watched carefully as Quinn lifted the glass to his mouth. And what a mouth it was. Quinn’s lips were plump, the lower one just a little fuller than the upper. It was made for kissing.
There he went again, lusting after the guy when what the man needed was to be coddled and cared for.
Quinn didn’t say anything else but kept a wary eye on Declan even as he ate the prescribed amount of food. He seemed to be forcing the cookie down, but at least he was eating.
Declan’s fingers itched to soothe the man. Wolves were naturally physical, often drawing comfort from touch, but Quinn looked as if he would bolt at the slightest contact.
Instead he flexed and straightened his hands, making sure to keep them out of Quinn’s sight. “I really didn’t mean to scare you earlier. I just want you to know that if you need anything, you can come to me.”
The younger man nodded again, looking even younger when he lowered his eyes. Declan’s heart broke at the pain and nervousness he saw in Quinn’s expression.
“How old are you, beautiful?”
Quinn’s gaze shot to his and a blush crept up to highlight those amazing cheekbones. “I’m not beautiful. I’m ugly. I’m too skinny and my hair is a funny color for a werewolf.”
The color of his hair was unusual for a werewolf, and Declan wondered what the color of his fur would be when he shifted. But he didn’t think it was ugly at all. The blond hair served to make Quinn unique and Declan wanted nothing more than to run his fingers through it. Or fist his hands in it to hold him still while he kissed the daylights out of him. That would probably scare the bejesus out of the man.
He wasn’t quite sure what to say or do to reassure Quinn, though. He doubted there was anything that could convince Quinn he was telling the truth about his beauty.
Declan snapped back to attention at the whispered words. “Pardon?”
Huh. The shy wolf was older than he’d thought.
He looked around the room and spied a small bar fridge stashed in the corner. He picked up the plate with the rest of the sandwich in one and the half full glass of milk with the other. Opening the fridge, he slid in the plate alongside the cans of Boost and other high-calorie treats. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who wanted to see some meat on the young man’s bones. “I’ll just put these here in case you get hungry later.”
Quinn didn’t reply, just continued to stare at him with that watchful way he’d had since Declan had entered the room.
Wow. Declan had never felt his awkward before. He kind of felt like a teenager talking to his first crush. “Well, good night.”
Quinn lay back down and pulled the sheet over his legs and hips; his muscles bunched as he moved. Declan’s cock took interest and immediately filled. He shoved his hands into his pockets in an attempt to hide his desire. The last thing an abused submissive needed to see was a dominant wolf with a stiffy.
He eased the door shut until it clicked quietly and padded into his room. Holy fuck, his cock had never ached like this before. He would never be able to sleep with a hard-on this huge and he certainly didn’t relish the idea of a cold shower. There was only one solution.
He ripped off his clothes and yanked open the drawer on his night table. Please let it still be there. He nearly cried with relief when he found the small tube of lube he’d stashed there three Christmases ago. Now if it wasn’t all gummed up, he would be set. Dry friction sucked.
Luckily the lube was still slick when he poured it into his hand. Not even bothering to get on the bed, he grabbed his dick, which was attempting to get friendly with his belly button, and began tugging.
He tightened his fist around his shaft. In his mind, it was Quinn’s mouth providing the hot, wet sensation. God, how perverted was he?
It didn’t take long before his balls were pulling up tight. Normally he would try to extend the pleasure by pulling his hand away, but he was too desperate for that kind of torture.
He grabbed the edge of the bed as his vision faded to black-and-white and his eyes shifted. His dick jerked wildly and pumped ropes of cum onto the bedspread.
Thank God he’d had the sense to at least stand near the bed because his knees buckled and he collapsed face-first onto the mattress, his abdomen making contact with the still-warm puddle of spunk.
It took a couple of minutes before he was able to feel his legs again, and even then, he didn’t want to move. It was the cooling mess under his belly that finally inspired him to get up. He stripped off the bedspread and fetched a spare blanket from the box at the end of the bed.
He crawled back onto the mattress and arranged the blanket around him. An image of Quinn settled into his brain and Declan entertained himself with thoughts of holding the wolf in his arms until he fell asleep.