“You’re lucky you aren’t an alpha.”
Dare nodded at the man named Jonas. He couldn’t bring himself to look Jonas in the eyes.
Jonas sighed. “What a fucking mess.”
“What do you mean?” Dare asked softly. He had a bad feeling about this meeting with Jonas, and hoped if he kept the guy talking, maybe there wouldn’t be bloodshed. Dare was catching on and remembering things he’d heard about wolves, and guessed the same hierarchy applied to the shifter variety.
“I mean,” Jonas began, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees as he looked at Dare.
“It wasn’t all that long ago that any humans-turned-shifters were killed, along with whoever made them,” Jonas continued. “No begging for mercy—or no listening if anyone did beg. Just automatic death sentences.”
Dare gulped. “T-that’s h-harsh.”
“So I keep getting told. And also, not politically correct, and also, I’d be the biggest asshole in the world if I offed you three morons, and my pack would hate me, and Arin would disown me, and I’d be ruining True Love and interfering with Fate and Destiny and yada yada yada. I can’t even fuckin’ alpha my own pack!”
Dare couldn’t help it; he reached for his own neck. “Are y-you—d-do you w-want to k-kill us?”
Jonas shot out of his chair and flung his hands up. “Do I want to kill anyone?” He snorted. “Well, yeah, those coyotes needed to go.” Then he sat down again. “I’m the alpha. It’s my job to protect my pack. I don’t like killing, even the fucking coyotes. It’s worse to have to kill when someone is in human form. Harder, because I can’t—well, it’s just worse, but I do what I have to for my pack.”
While that sounded admirable, Dare didn’t want him or his guys to be killed. Before he could say as much, someone knocked on the door.
Jonas sniffed then bellowed, “What the fuck do you want, Bowen?”
“Bowen?” Dare smelled him then too, just as the door was flung open and Bowen stormed in.
“You aren’t touching him or Chiz,” Bowen snarled. “Alpha or not. I’ll take them somewhere else if I have to, if you’re so insecure—“
“Shut up,” Jonas said quietly. “Now.”
Bowen stopped talking.
“Sit.” Jonas pointed to the floor. Dare was in the only other chair, and he started to get up so Bowen could have his seat. “No. Bowen can put his ass on the floor like a good little submissive wolf.”
Bowen sat. Dare reached over and held out his hand, then breathed easier when Bowen took hold of it.
Jonas rubbed at his temples. “Don’t come into my space and sling insults, Bowen. That’s a stupid thing to do around an alpha. It doesn’t endear you to me at all and makes my wolf want you dead.”
“Sorry,” Bowen said. “But I can’t, I won’t let you hurt them. This is all my fault.”
“Arin said it’s his fault.” Dare tipped his head toward Jonas, fearful that he’d provoke the alpha, but feeling quite brave at the same time. “I heard him talking to some other shifter.”
“God damn it,” Jonas grumbled. “I’m going to whip Arin’s ass.”
No one spoke for a moment, then there was a sound in the hallway.
“Your other mate, no doubt.” Jonas nodded at the door. “Aren’t y’all going to help him?
Dare and Bowen were up and at the door in seconds, with Dare opening it and Bowen racing out to reach for Chiz.
“What’re you doing up? You’ve got to rest,” Bowen scolded.
Chiz looked awful and adorable at the same time; weak, bandaged all over, but so fierce and sexy that Dare’s heart throbbed with love for him. It was the same way he felt when he looked at Bowen, so intense and standoffish, yet clearly—to Dare, at least—craving the love he could have, if he wanted it. And Dare believed he did.
“I couldn’t let you two face the big bad wolf alone,” Chiz replied, his breath shaky as Bowen then Dare each took hold of one of his arms to help support him. They made their way into the room carefully. Dare insisted Bowen sit in the chair, then he helped Chiz settle on Bowen’s lap—or tried to, but Chiz wasn’t ready to sit. Instead, he leaned on Jonas’ desk and pointed at him.
“You’re the alpha, but this shit here—“ Chiz pointed at himself then at Dare and Bowen, “This is none of your business. Killing us is beyond stupid. Who the hell do you think we’re going to narc about shifters to, and with what repercussions? We’re all shifters, too! You want to kill us? You’re going to die trying.”
“Don’t—“ Jonas leaned close to Chiz, until they were almost nose to nose. “Threaten me, little wolf. I’ll have you and your mates made into rugs.”
“Diplomacy!” Dare shook his head even as he blurted the word out. “Chiz, we have to respect Jonas and his position and show some diplomacy, er, use some diplomacy?”
“Be diplomatic in our dealings with him,” Bowen supplied.
Chiz growled. “Yeah? Well, he’s threatening the men I love, and me, too. How am I supposed to be diplomatic about that?”
Jonas moved surprisingly fast, and thumped the tip of Chiz’s nose. Chiz yelped and stepped back. Bowen grabbed him and pulled him onto his lap.
“That hurt!” Chiz rubbed his nose. “You—“
“Enough,” Jonas said. “Just shut your mouth and let me think. Threatening me is never wise.”
“It stirs up his wolf,” Dare whispered. “Makes him less human and more beast.”
Jonas nodded curtly.
“Well, I’m new to this crap,” Chiz complained. “And he’s threatening the men I love.”
Bowen and Dare exchanged glances. Dare nodded.
“And we love you too,” Bowen replied. “But we have to learn about this new part of ourselves. Pack, I mean, and for you and Dare, yeah, being shifters. Seems like I didn’t know everything I should, either.”
Jonas clapped his hands once. “And there you go. I failed you, Bowen. I admit it, and because of that, I will not take your life, or your mates’ lives.”
“But?” Dare prodded, because he knew there was going to be a ‘but’.
“You have to become pack, and that means respecting my authority,” Jonas informed them.
“Been watching South Park?” Chiz asked.
Jonas scowled. “Call me Cartman and I’ll rescind my offer. What you three must understand is, if other shifters see this and think y’all got away with turning humans without repercussions, they will think they can do the same. They’ll think I’m weak and that I can’t lead this pack. There will be challenges, and eventually, someone will kill me, because any challengers must be fought immediately. I’ll tire out, and be easy prey. That’s the problem I’ll have to face if I let y’all live.”
“Jesus.” Dare hadn’t known that, and judging by the looks on Bowen and Chiz’s faces, neither had they. It hadn’t occurred to any of them that, by allowing them to live, Jonas would most likely die.