When Brady was given a free pass to sow his wild oats, as long as he’s back with the pride before fall, he never dreamed he’d meet his mate…or that his mate would be a man.
As the pride’s alpha heir, Brady knows the weight of responsibility. He’s expected to settle down, find a mate and have an heir of his own. But first he’s given the opportunity to travel and visit other prides, an unspoken opportunity to get his attraction to men out of his system before he comes home and does his duty.
Mason has his hands full fostering Jonah, an abandoned teen soon to have his first shift. He doesn’t have time to babysit a visiting alpha heir, but duty calls. As the second son of the alpha, he knows his place, and when he’s given a task, he does it.
Brady and Mason realize almost instantly that they are mates…and both also know that it can never come to pass. With the expectations they need to fulfill, this short time together will be the only chance they have to taste what could be. But they are tied together by more than just instinct—old crimes and hidden connections come to light and they are forced to make hard choices between duty and love.
Publisher's Note: This book is the sequel to Pride and Joey.
General Release Date: 18th October 2016
Brady froze when he heard a branch break behind him, then sighed, knowing that the coming scene was inevitable. “I was trying to make a clean getaway, Vance.”
“Yeah, well, this is exactly why I’ve been keeping an eye on you. Ever since you started making all those trips to the city, especially when you started sneaking out huge-ass suitcases with you.” His cousin Vance stalked into view. “And boxes. Why do I get the feeling that if I checked your drawers and closet, they’d be cleaned out?”
Brady glanced around. He knew that Vance was always on his side, but the last thing he wanted to do was attract attention from any other pride members. “Let’s talk somewhere else.” He might as well shift here. He was wearing throwaway clothes on purpose, since he’d planned to leave them behind and cross the refuge in his lion form to get to his car, which he’d left as far away from the compound as possible. “Come on.”
Vance made a frustrated noise but started to strip when Brady did. Once they’d both shifted, Brady led the way to Vance’s lair, a private niche in the riverbank where they’d spent so much time together throughout their lives, getting away from their pride.
He’d stashed a small bag with his car keys and an outfit he wanted to keep in there, so he’d planned to head to the lair anyway. Now that the gig was up, he realized that, had he really wanted a clean break, he could have made it happen.
Subconscious at work.
In retrospect, it was probably for the best that he explain his decision to leave the pride to Vance. That didn’t mean it was going to be easy, though.
He crossed the creek and paused to pull air in over his tongue. No new scents, only the faintest trace of Vance and his mate, Joey, probably from last week. Just as he’d left it when he’d been there a few days ago.
Vance pushed past him, irritation pouring off him. He leapt up first then balanced on the ledge for a token check of the cave before heading inside. Brady jumped easily to the ledge then started his shift before walking in. To his surprise, Vance hadn’t yet shifted back to human. He was pacing back and forth, his tail whipping in displeasure.
“So, what? You drag me here then you don’t want to talk to me?”
Vance growled deep in his throat. “You’re the one who needs to do the talking,” he sent through their mental bond. They’d shared that way of communicating since they were young. Then, to their surprise, Joey had also been added to their connection in this very cave when Brady had given his alpha blessing to their mating.
Brady supposed that adding his bite to Vance’s on Joey’s neck at the time had mentally connected the cougar to them in a way that was typical for alphas and their pride members. It was too big of a coincidence to be anything else. But he didn’t have any hard facts to support that guess. Since the pride was still firmly under the leadership of Garth, his father, he wasn’t privy to all of the details about being an alpha, even though he was born to that role and would—far in the future—eventually assume leadership of the pride.
Or maybe he should say a pride. Not necessarily this one.
Vance stopped pacing. “What do you mean”—he began to shift—“not this one?” he finished aloud in a growly tone as he surged awkwardly into his human form.
Oops. Must’ve thought that a bit too…‘loudly’.
It was tough getting used to having to censor his thoughts, though it seemed that the flow tended to go more often in the other direction. Through trial and error, he’d learned that it took just a little concentration to either keep his privacy or block Vance’s and Joey’s mental ramblings, but he hadn’t quite gotten the knack of a consistent wall.
Brady sighed and faced his oldest friend in the world head on. “I have to go. At least for a while.”
“Why? I don’t get it. I mean, after everything that went down… It proved that Garth isn’t homophobic. At least not as bad as we’d thought.”
Brady nodded. It had been about two months since they had fought for their lives after Joey had been kidnapped by some members of their pride in a bid for power. Once Brady and Vance had figured out that individuals in their pride, their family, were responsible for holding captive the sick cougar they’d met during his escape from their compound, they’d assumed from Joey’s description of the kidnappers’ leader that it was Garth, their alpha, who was behind it all.
It had been a shock to everyone, especially Vance, to discover that it was his father—Garth’s twin, Peter—who had been trying to take over their pride. He’d long been thought dead by everyone in the pride, including Vance. In reality, Garth had been unable to follow through and kill his brother after his first coup attempt long ago and had instead banished him, keeping Vance and raising him alongside Brady.
Vance had had no such compunctions, and when it had come down to Garth’s life versus his father’s, he hadn’t hesitated to pull the trigger and kill the man who had given him life. If it weighed on him—having his father reappear then almost immediately thereafter having to shoot him to defend his uncle—Brady hadn’t been able to sense it affecting his cousin. But Vance had been busy since then. Joey had also been wounded defending Garth in that final altercation, and his recovery process had been a definite distraction for Vance.
“How’s Joey doing?” he asked. He’d not only been healing from the gunshot wound, but also his leukemia. Something about the mating bite and transference of Vance’s blood had proven to be a cure for his previously out of control blood cancer, though his immunity was low and he was still weak, especially for a shifter.
Brady was glad—Joey had been closer to death from a disease than he’d ever seen any shifter, so finding and mating Vance had happened in the nick of time.
As always, his mate’s name made Vance’s face soften a bit. “Much better. Best I’ve ever seen him, actually.” Then he narrowed his eyes at Brady. “Quit trying to distract me and answer the damn question.”
“I’m not sure I have a straight answer.” He gave a short laugh. “Freudian slip. The gist is that, while Dad has come a long way and isn’t nearly as homophobic as he used to be, there’s no way in hell he’s going to allow me to have what you and Joey have. You know that as well as I do. I’m the sole alpha heir. So you know what that means.”
Vance shivered then walked to the back of the cave where there was a large wool blanket folded up on a natural shelf. When he pulled it off, Brady’s bag fell to land at his feet with a thump and jingle of keys. Vance gave Brady a raised eyebrow. “I take it you parked your car down by the slough?”
“Crap, you really planned this out.” He wrapped the blanket around himself then sat on the makeshift bed area. “So…you’re just leaving us?”
Brady clearly heard the hurt in his cousin’s voice. “I’ll be back,” he promised.
“When? And, geez, come here—you look like you’re freezing.” He made room for Brady and opened the blanket to include him in its warmth, adjusting it around them both when he sat down.
Sitting next to Vance, he didn’t have to look him in the eyes, which made the words flow a little easier. “I want to get out of here and see if there’s someone for me. At the very least, maybe I can have a connection with a guy or two before I have to come back here. Something to think about later.”
Vance blew out a frustrated breath. “What should I tell Garth when he notices you’re gone?”
Brady nudged Vance with his shoulder before admitting the startling truth. “Who do you think suggested I go?” He remembered what Garth had told him a couple of weeks ago, catching him alone while Vance had been at the hospital with Joey.
“You know this thing with your cousin hasn’t changed anything as far as the pride’s expectations of you, son. So I want you to visit at least one of the other clans in the city. I’ll make the arrangements. Go sow your wild oats and get it out of your system. Then come home and assume your responsibilities as alpha heir.” It had gone without saying that part of those expectations included taking a mate. “I’ll expect you back with the pride by next fall…or sooner.”
He’d argued at first but his dad—his alpha—had been resolute. “I’d rather have you do it now than come to resent your obligations later. And we need an heir after you. I’ll miss you, son.” A rare, rough embrace had conveyed more than anything that Garth was dead serious and would not take no for an answer.
“The fuck?” Vance exclaimed through their mental connection, then panned slowly to face Brady, who nodded. “Why all the sneaking around then?”
“Why do you think, Brother?” He’d wanted to avoid any emotional farewells from his brethren, especially his best friend. He gave in to his need for touch and embraced Vance in a one-armed hug. “But it’s better this way.”
“Damn right it is,” Vance mumbled against his hair before separating. “I can’t remember when we’ve been apart for more than a day or two. And you never said when you’ll be back.”
“I have until the start of next fall.” He anticipated and cut off Vance’s protest. “I know, it’s almost a year, but it’s not like I’ll be overseas or anything. I’ll be coming back for some visits before then. Meanwhile, I’ll be hosted between a few different prides in the region, starting with one based in the city. Look”—he settled the blanket around Vance’s shoulders then stood—“you have Joey now, and this is my chance to get out of here before I have to start thinking about choosing an alpha mate for the pride.” At least that was what Garth wanted. “A sabbatical of sorts. The time will fly by.”
Then he’d have to make the hardest decision of his life.
“Fine.” Vance also stood and tossed the blanket haphazardly on the pallet. “I have just one more question before you pull your disappearing act.”
“Yeah?” He braced himself.
“Want some company on the way to the slough?” Vance gave Brady a crooked grin.
Brady sighed in relief that he wasn’t going to have to argue about it anymore. He had to smile, knowing that Vance was fighting his real feelings on the matter to make the parting easier on Brady. But as much as he wanted to stay in his cousin’s company for as long as possible, he didn’t want to drag things out. “Go on home. Get back to Joey and give him a goodbye kiss from me.” He gave Vance one last hug. “Take care of everyone for me.”
Vance swallowed and nodded.
Before the ache in his throat could worsen, Brady went into his shift. After butting against Vance, scent transferring one last time, he grabbed the bug-out bag in his jaws and bounded out of the cave.
The desire to linger grew the farther he went from his home… And so he ran faster.