I was asked about excerpts for Relentless, and forgot to respond because it's been one of those months o.O My apologies, and here is a longer excerpt for y'all-
Oh. No. Fucking. Way. That was the refrain screeching through Zane Mitchell’s head as he sat at a table in the Larchmont Lodge reception room. His second thought, as he pushed back panicked laughter, was that his Uncle John’s threats and manipulations had all been for nothing.
The Dux Ducis alpha of the Southwestern Territories had called a meeting of all of the lesser alphas—Civitas alphas, who were in charge of all packs in their states, and those like Zane, who were just alphas, or leaders, of individual packs. Attendance was mandatory, as the newly appointed Dux Ducis wanted to familiarise himself with the alphas under his command. Not a bad plan, Zane had thought, wanting to meet the man who was farther up the totem pole, so to speak.
Except…holy fuck! Zane watched as the Dux Ducis, a shifter by the name of Aidan Criswell, made his way into the room. Criswell would have stood out no matter where he was. The man was at least six five and looked to be heavily muscled. No doubt Criswell was considered gorgeous, with his short, pale blond hair spiked, rich brown eyes that tilted up at the outer corners, and a chiselled face graced with jutting cheekbones and a cleft chin. Then there was his mouth, which drew Zane’s gaze; that mouth was made for sin, full-lipped and… fuckfuckfuck! Zane ’s balls tingled and his cock leapt to life.
This could not be happening! There was enough trouble in Zane’s life right now; this would be the last nail in his coffin for certain. Dux Ducis Criswell turned his head in Zane’s direction, sending bolts of panic shooting through the alpha of the Gila National Forest shifters. It wasn’t strong enough, however, to wipe out the pull of desire that started simmering in Zane. Jesus, he felt like every fibre of his being was pulled towards Criswell…and that could only mean one thing.
Zane needed to get out, now. As Dux Ducis Aidan Criswell’s eyes met Zane’s, he realised he was already too late making his exit; any hope he’d had of avoiding this whole issue evaporated when gold-flecked brown eyes met Zane’s for a brief moment. The attraction was instant and reciprocated—the Dux Ducis’ eyes burned with a need that sent a scorching response throughout Zane’s body.
One little problem there-- well, okay, a really big problem-- Zane couldn’t be gay, no matter how much his body reacted to the higher-ranking alpha. So this had to be some kind of a fluke.
“Are you certain?”
The words popped into Zane’s mind, and he felt his cock leak and knew he was in deep shit. He looked up to see those brilliant speckled eyes staring straight at him, felt them on him like a lover’s touch.
“Are you absolutely positive?”
Hearing that voice in his head a second time had Zane pushing up from the table and bolting for the door as he slammed a barrier up against the mental link to make it impossible for that voice to get through again.
No, he wasn’t certain, or absolutely positive. The only thing he knew was that he was hard and horny, and if that voice he heard inside his head belonged to Aidan Criswell, then Zane was in seriously deep shit.
Zane’s hands shook as he packed his clothes, shoving them in the black duffel bag angrily. Why was this happening? Was this karma’s way of kicking his ass for all the mistakes he had made since taking over as alpha? Because, hell, Zane had made so many, and now the one thing he had never dared to hope he would find, knew he didn’t deserve, had appeared. It didn’t matter, really, that Zane’s mate was another man; any shifter would do whatever he or she could for a mate. The attraction between a pair of mates was unbelievably strong.
That wouldn’t matter, though. Once Zane had gotten past the shock of finding out his mate was a man—and the Dux Ducis of this territory at that—the impossibility of their union remained apparent. After all, Zane had done something that had left a foul taste in his mouth and a permanent stain on his soul. He could see no way to work around it, excuse it or forgive it, and God knew he would never forgive himself.
Why should he? He didn’t deserve forgiveness, didn’t deserve a mate, and certainly any mate deserved better than him, especially Aidan Criswell. Fuck. It made it so much worse, to know that Criswell would have to spend the rest of his life knowing he would never have a mate because there was no way the man would want Zane. Zane wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone.
If he’d only been the alpha he should have been, so much pain could have been averted. Now, here he was hurting another person, albeit inadvertently; it wasn’t like he could change whatever it was that made him Criswell’s mate or he would.
As Dux Ducis, Aidan Criswell would need a strong mate, someone who wasn’t a fuck-up and who wasn’t afraid to stand his or her ground. But the fact that Zane, as alpha, had not taken a stand for what he knew was right… Zane had doubted his ability to lead every since. A strong leader would have refused to be bullied and found a way to protect the innocent. He hadn’t, and that was something that tormented him daily. Yet even more so than the failure in his leadership, the failure as a friend was wearing on his soul.
And now this. He’d found his mate, and no amount of running would set either of them free. The Dux Ducis would have no problem finding out who he was, especially as Zane would be the only pack leader not at the mandatory meet and greet. Not to mention the man had already managed to establish the mind link that existed between mates. Hell, he could find Zane anywhere in the world just by scent.
Zane zipped the bag and double-checked to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. Leaving was the right thing to do, for both of them. Sure, he could be found with little or no trouble on Aidan Criswell’s part, but really, why would the man bother once he found out how Zane had treated Mika?
Aidan remained calm despite the frantic beating of his heart as he watched his mate flee. There wasn’t really any other word for it. It would seem his mate wasn’t very happy about their pairing. Well, it wasn’t exactly the most opportune time for Aidan, either, but the panic he’d felt when linking to the other man’s mind was something to think about.
“Mariska,” Aidan pulled the captain of his guards aside. “Find out who that was.” He had no doubt that Mariska had caught the exchange between him and his mate; her attention to detail and quick intellect was why she held the position of captain, something very few women attained. Aidan was well aware that the shifters as a society were slow moving and needed a swift kick in the ass to shake their archaic views on women and homosexuality.
The Alpha Anax was very much of the same opinion, which was one of the reasons Aidan had been appointed Dux Ducis for this territory. Change was coming for the shapeshifters whether they wanted it or not.
“That would be the man who upped your body temperature by several degrees then ran like his ass was on fire? The goodlooking, terrified dude who is probably packing as we speak?”
And there was the downside to having Mariska as his captain—the woman was a master of sarcasm. Her green eyes gleamed as she grinned at Aidan. His captain dearly loved to poke at him.
He barely kept himself from rolling his eyes, because that would set off another round of volleys from her sharp tongue, and besides, she was probably right. Again.
“Yes, Mariska, that would be the one I’m speaking of. Evan and Jordan will remain here while you do as I asked.” Though he shouldn’t have to ask. Mariska was supposed to follow orders. She did, but tended to be rather…unpleasant if he didn’t couch the order in the form of a request. Aidan gestured to his other two guards who quickly came to his side. Mariska flicked a quick glance their way before giving them a short nod.
“Jordan, Evan, you are to stay with Dux Ducis Criswell until I return. Do not let him out of your sight.” Her eyes sparked with the promise of retribution should her men fail to do as they were told. Jordan and Evan nodded and yes, captain’d appropriately before dropping to Aidan’s flank.
“Geez, Aidan, did you do something to set that woman off?” Evan kept his eyes on Mariska’s retreating form. Aidan laughed, shaking his head.
“You know that’s simply her way, just like addressing me as Dux Ducis to you both. She knows damn well it irritates me and that none of you are to use the formal address whether we are out in public or in the privacy of our own rooms.” Aidan mulled it over in his mind before continuing. “And you also both know that change has been too slow to come upon the shapeshifters; there are far too many who would look for any excuse to disbar a woman in a position of authority. As they would anyone who didn’t fall into what is, unfortunately, considered the collective norm for us.” He let his gaze encompass his two guards, easily scented as a mated pair. There were too many who would exile Jordan and Evan but for their strong link as mates, and their protection as valued pack members, which Aidan and the Alpha Anax made implicitly clear.
“That’s true,” Jordan grumbled, “but at least she hasn’t had anyone try to kill her just because she’s a female.”
Evan dipped his head in agreement. “At least no one’s tried to kill us since the Alpha Anax and Aidan intervened. That’s a bonus to working for one of the top dogs.” Jordan’s rare grin was brilliant and infectious, lightening the heavy mood that had threatened to take over.
Aidan clapped a big hand on each of his guard’s backs. “Yeah, that’s true. Working for me is all about the bonuses.” He kept his hands on Jordan and Evan’s backs, forcing them to stand beside him rather than behind as they started walking towards the large table where he would sit and greet his alphas. Somehow, that whole setup just seemed pretentious. Aidan grabbed a handful of each man’s shirt, pulling them to a halt and earning him two irritated glares. He made sure his smile was guileless.
“You could have just stopped walking, Aidan, instead of nearly jerking us back on our asses.” Jordan was so easily irked that Aidan found it impossible not to do little things to prick the man’s temper.
“I could have, but then your lover and I would have missed the red tipping your ears and the somewhat acrid scent of anger that you emit at the slightest provocation. In other words, buddy, this was just much more fun.” Evan laughed, and Jordan darkened with embarrassment before giving up and laughing as well. Aidan waited until he held their attention.
“Okay, here’s what we are going to do. I am not going to sit up there,” Aidan turned and pointed to the elegant table fit for a king in the front of the room, “like some pompous ass while my alphas come to greet my one by one.” Four arched brows greeted Aidan when he faced his men once again.
“Oh, come on. You both know me better than that. Now, let’s get out here and have a real meet and greet, boys. But,” Aidan’s teasing demeanour dropped in the blink of an eye as he faced Jordan and Evan, “if anyone, and I mean anyone, alpha or not, shifter or not, gives you even a wayward look, you are to let me know. Change is coming whether I have to pound it into some narrow minds or they accept it on their own. Best smiles, everyone.”
Turning back to the room, Aidan took a steadying breath and prepared to schmooze like a pro if it worked, but knowing he’d let fly with the intimidation at the drop of a hat with equal skill.
Zane was headed back to Gila National Forest, had in fact been on the road for a few hours when he realised he didn’t want to go back, not yet at least. Hell, he didn’t know if he wanted to go back at all, but he would. Sometime between now and then, though, Zane needed to decide not only what he wanted to do, but also what was best for his pack. The nagging voice in his head telling him that whatever that was wasn’t him had grown steadily louder over the past several months.
Now with the newfound discovery about his mate—Jesus fuck, he still couldn’t wrap his mind around that—the voice had reached a shrill pitch that threatened to leech away the last of his confidence. That was one thing an alpha must have to lead, and Zane wasn’t sure he would ever get his back. Was even less sure he deserved to have it back.
And then the whole mate thing… Zane exhaled hard enough that his chest burned. What kept popping up every time he thought about big blond Aidan Criswell wasn’t I’m not gay. There were no feelings of disgust in regards to fucking another man—though he would admit to quite a bit of fear at the thought of being fucked.
No, what ate at him the most was that Criswell would not want a mate who had done what Zane had to the gay shifter in his pack. Any disgust he felt was for himself, something he had rather grown used to, more so since Mika and his mate Gabriel had actually confronted Zane on pack property. With that move, Mika had commanded all the respect Zane thought an alpha should have, at least from him.
The fact he had actually bowed and apologised to Mika and Gabe… The pack had seen that as a sign of weakness. Funny, those were about the only two things Zane had done in the past year that he felt sure were right. Why was it so wrong for a leader to admit he had fucked up? Why had he ever thought he was the right man for the alpha position his uncle appointed him to when the older man stepped down?
Or had he ever really thought that? God, everything was so messed up in his head right now, but he was pretty sure the whole mate issue would soon be a non-issue. There was no way Aidan Criswell would want to be saddled with someone who had acted little better than a gay basher in the past, no matter what the reasons.
The person who was getting screwed over the most was Criswell, and Zane was very aware of that. Shifters only ever had one mate, and they were damned lucky to find them. Criswell had found his, all right, and the Dux Ducis was going to come to the realisation that he would rather give up the once in a lifetime connection that all shifters dream about rather than be with someone as messed up and cruel as Zane had proven himself to be.