Jack had loved the nights of Full Moon Run ever since he’d been a kid. There was something special about the pack gathering to run together under the night sky, surrounded only by the sounds of the forest and each other. It was a symbol of both belonging and freedom. It gave them a chance to come together as one and to run without worry, knowing that there was always someone close by, ready to come when called upon.
The participation wasn’t mandatory and most members of the pack missed a run from time to time, but not Jack. He had attended all of them except one—and that had been because he’d been eight at the time, he’d been sick, and his mothers had insisted he stay in bed. He had tried to sneak out, even then, but Mom B had caught him before he’d gotten down the stairs.
Jack had run with either Julia, his twin sister, or Terry, his best friend, among others, but with both of them away for college, these days he usually stayed with the main group, unless he needed some time alone.
Tonight, he’d started out with the big group, but then he’d grown restless and had ultimately taken off on his own, following his instincts. He hadn’t realized where he was going at first, but when he got to the outskirts of the forest and saw an old house through the trees, he knew—and he wasn’t all that happy about it.
He came to a halt. No, you’re not doing this, he told himself, but his wolf whined under his breath. The pull was strong and, after a short struggle, Jack finally let himself move closer. Some things never changed. Tomorrow there would be time to berate himself, but tonight he wanted… He needed to be right where he was.
He hadn’t seen Connor since that day over two weeks ago when they’d literally crashed into each other, almost precisely eighteen months after Jack had watched him leave Harrington Hills behind.
Jake had been on the way to help his friend David pick up new tiles for the bathroom when the car coming from up ahead had swerved on the road and had headed straight at them. David had managed to avoid a head-on collision, but they’d hit a tree instead, and the other car had bumped into their side. After checking on David, Jack had jumped from the truck and run to the other car to make sure everyone was fine. Then he’d frozen a few steps from the driver’s door.
Connor Warsen. Connor Warsen, who hadn’t even noticed him, had stumbled out of the car in a hurry to check something in the backseat. And before Jack had been able to back away—hell, before he’d been able to take another breath—Connor had been standing there, barely a few feet away, holding a baby who’d smelled like fear and misery and had wailed painfully loud.
Then Connor had looked up, and, when he’d seen Jack, his eyes had opened wide. He’d stopped rocking from side to side and making shushing noises, which had made the baby cry louder.
The baby. The baby who’d smelled like Connor.
Jack had taken a step back—and another. Then he’d turned, walked to the other side of David’s truck and leaned against it, facing the forest. In the back of his mind, he’d registered David making a call then saying help was on the way. Jack hadn’t known if David had been talking to him or to Connor—with the baby—but he’d nodded. He hadn’t been able to even open his mouth to speak.
And now, two weeks later, Jack was standing on the outskirts of the forest behind Connor’s family house and he was reaching out with his senses before he could talk himself out of it. He knew he shouldn’t be doing this. There were rules about privacy and boundaries in the pack, but he just— He just had to. He was powerless to do anything else, to be anywhere else.
He’d been at this house numerous times years ago, but it smelled different now. The bitterness, while sharper than before, was mixed with a fresh, sweeter scent. Jack lifted his head and inhaled deeply again, focusing further. The sweetness was likely due to the baby in the house, but he wondered about the other part. Was it Connor’s father? He’d always been bitter and cold but had he become more so, living on his own? Or was it Connor? Could he regret coming home this much already?
Jack’s sense of smell had always been better than his hearing, so it took him a while before he finally heard the murmur of conversation. After another minute, he could recognize the voices and the words.
“I meant what I said. Don’t think I didn’t.” Leonard Warsen’s voice was biting and hard. “If you think I’ll change my mind, that I’ll take pity on you again and—”
“I don’t need your pity,” Connor cut in and something sour twisted in Jack’s stomach.
“You did need it as recently as two weeks ago, as I recall. I told you then you could stay three weeks and the clock’s running out. You better believe me or you’ll be very surprised come Thursday morning.”
“This house is half mine.”
Connor’s father snorted. “Are you gonna fight me for it? Take me to court? Or, better yet, go running to the Harringtons?” Jack tensed at the venom in the man’s voice. “That I’d like to see. The Alpha could enforce the law, but she won’t, will she? Not after you broke her precious little son’s heart.”
“Watch it.” Connor’s voice sounded like he was grinding his teeth and Jack tensed even more. He had only seen Connor angry twice, and both those times had been because of his father. It hadn’t been a pretty sight.
“You’re the one who needs to watch it.” There was a sound of a glass against glass and a chair being shoved. “Come Thursday morning, you and the kid better be gone—or I will make sure you leave.”
A moment later the door shut loudly. The silence that followed was full of anger and bitterness and an underlying note of loneliness.
Jack swallowed a whine that wanted out and he dropped down to rest on his stomach. He wasn’t any kind of a guard but he could just…be there. Then maybe Connor wouldn’t feel so alone.
He had no idea how long he had been lying there, staring through the trees at the Warsen house, when he heard something to his right. Someone was coming. Jack got up and faced the direction of the sounds of crushed leaves and snapping branches.
He caught her scent right before he saw her. Of course. Mom B appeared between the trees and paused when her gaze fell on him. She looked from Jack to the Warsen house, then back at him. She shook her head. Under different circumstances, Jack usually found it funny how similar she acted as a wolf and a human. Right now, he just felt ashamed.
He hung his head low, putting his ears flat against his skull. He could hear her coming closer, so he just stood there, waiting.
She bumped her head under his chin then rubbed the arch of her snout over his neck. She breathed out warm air right into his ear and he almost yapped in a laugh. It had been her way of tickling him ever since he’d been a little boy, but she hadn’t done it in years. Jack nuzzled her, too, inhaling the scent of home and family. He hooked his head around her neck and closed his eyes, trying to empty his mind and wishing he could forget what he’d just witnessed.
Finally, she drew back a bit and tilted her head in the direction they’d both come from. Jack nodded and followed her through the forest, forcing himself not to look back. There was nothing there for him, anyway.
* * * *
The next morning, Jack wasn’t even a bit surprised when he went down for breakfast and found both his mothers waiting for him in the kitchen.
“Hi.” He took a glass out from the cabinet and poured himself orange juice after he sat down at the table. “Have Taylor and Kevin eaten yet?” It was likely, since Jack’s brother and his mate tended to get up early, but Jack still hoped there was a chance they’d offer a diversion.
“Yes. They’ve already left.” Mom A looked up at him from above her coffee cup. “Did you sleep well?”
Jack bit the inside of his cheek but decided to play along. “Yes, but now I’m starving.” He reached for the tower of pancakes in the middle of the table and loaded three onto his plate.
As both his mothers watched him eat, he counted the seconds until one of them would break. He got up to sixty-four.
“Your mom told me where she found you last night.” Mom A, predictably, was the one who spoke first.
“Mm-hmm,” Jack hummed, his mouth full. He would gladly stuff himself with pancakes until the end of days if it would take him out of this conversation, but he knew he had zero chance of that happening. And he had something he needed to say, too, so he swallowed the rest of the food and nodded.
“You shouldn’t have done that, Jack,” Mom A said, shaking her head. “You can’t just…”
Mom B leaned on her elbows on the table. “I know you cared about Connor very much, but we were hoping you’d left it behind you.”
Jack had no answer for that. ‘So was I’ would sound like a lie, because he knew better. He was far from leaving it behind. He wasn’t going to admit it to his mothers, though.
“I get that him coming back to Harrington Hills, especially with a child, has to be difficult for you.” Mom B glanced at Mom A. “But going there in the middle of the night—”
“I wasn’t planning to go any closer,” Jack defended himself.
“But how long would you have stayed up there if I hadn’t found you?”
Jack shrugged. “I don’t know. Why did you come after me, anyway?” They were always allowed to go wherever they wanted on these runs and no one supervised them once they’d turned seventeen.
Mom B shrugged. “I sensed you needed me, kiddo.”
He frowned, but before he could ask anything else, Mom A spoke up again. “Even if you wouldn’t go farther, you still shouldn’t have done what you did. You know that, right?”
Jack looked down at his plate. “I know.”
Mom A sighed. “You reached out, didn’t you?”
There was no point in lying to them. “Yes.”
Both his mothers started to talk at the same time.
“There are rules in place for a reason—”
“You can’t just do something like this—”
“I know!” Jack cut in, and they fell silent. “I know, okay? I know about the rules and I know I shouldn’t have done it. I get it. It’s not like I planned the whole thing.” He folded his hands over his stomach. “This was the first time I did it and I’m not going to do that again. But I’ve heard something I need to tell you about.”
Mom A shook her head. “This is—”
“I’m not telling you because you’re my moms. I’m telling you because you’re the Alpha pair of the pack, okay?”
That got their attention. As Jack repeated everything he’d heard last night, he watched Mom A go from irritated to pissed off. He was glad it wasn’t directed at him.
“I will show this—”
“Calm down,” Mom B cut her off, grabbing her hand and squeezing it. “We need a plan. We can’t just go there with our claws out without talking to Connor.”
Mom A shook her head. “And he won’t come to us.”
“He may not have a choice.”
“I’m not waiting for that.”
Jack’s eyes widened as the realization hit him. “He didn’t come to you, did he? After he’d come back?”
Mom A hesitated before she shook her head.
“He didn’t. I assumed he might be waiting for the Full Moon Run. We could’ve had the Joining Ceremony on the fly. It’s not like we need preparations for a baby. She’s already a part of the pack by proxy, since he is.” She rattled her fingers over her cup, making Mom B grimace. “We’ve been patient, but now I have to do something.”
Jack couldn’t believe this. One of the first things Connor should have done after arriving in town was to ask for a meeting with the Alpha, especially since he’d been arriving with a baby.
“I thought you’d met with him and just…didn’t tell me about it.”
He’d been both disappointed and relieved not to see Connor and the baby last night, but he’d figured it had been discussed with the Alpha. A baby of a pack member didn’t necessarily have to go through the Joining Ceremony right after the first full moon, but to not even contact the head of the pack for so long…
“Wow, he really doesn’t want to deal with anything related to me,” Jack blurted out before he could stop himself, then grimaced. He hadn’t meant to say it out loud.
Mom B leaned closer to him and caught his gaze. “It’s not on you, you hear me?”
“Your mom is right.” Mom A nodded. “He should have come to me, and if he was too afraid to look you in the eye, he could have arranged the meeting somewhere else. I’ve been patient, but that’s not going to fly any longer.”
Jack sat up. “What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to go talk to him, of course.” Mom A shrugged with that quirked-up smirk that meant trouble.
Jack leaned toward her. “Mom, don’t be too harsh on him just because he”—broke my heart—“messed up in the past. I know he did, but if his father is serious, Connor’s in trouble and we have to help him.”
“We.” Mom A pointed at herself and Mom B. “We have to help him, and we will. You need to stay out of it.”
“You just told me it’s not on me,” Jack protested.
“And fixing it isn’t on you, either. And Jack, honey”—Mom A’s tone turned gentle—“I don’t want you to get mixed up in this. I don’t want you to get hurt again, okay? And seeing you hurting won’t endear Connor to me, to be honest.”
Obviously. “You’ll still help him, though.” Jack didn’t turn it into a question, but he still needed to hear her say it.
“Of course, I will. I’m the Alpha to the entire pack, not only to those I like. But I can help him then teach him a lesson or two about—”
“Jolene,” Mom B cut in.
“Fine.” Mom A raised her hands and sat back. “I’m going to help him. Jack stays out of it. Period.”
He was fine with it. It wasn’t like he wanted to get involved in all this.
No, really, I don’t.