“It’s possible.” Trey rolled back his wide shoulders and turned to Rhett. “Have you found anything on him yet?”
Rhett blew out a breath. “If Nash Morelli truly exists, his history has been wiped. I’m more inclined to think that the guy changed his name.”
Jaime, the Beta female, tilted her head, making her long sable hair brush her mate’s jean-clad thigh; Dante immediately began playing with it. “Should we really assume this was Morelli’s work? We’re in contact with a few packs and prides. Sure, they’re all allies, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have some reason to record our movements.”
“Jaime’s right,” said Roni. “But since we have no way to find out who it was, the only thing we can do at this point is wait and see what happens next.” She sighed, her green eyes glittering with frustration.
Greta, Trey’s antisocial grandmother, patted Roni’s shoulder soothingly. “Don’t worry, sweetheart, my boys will find out one way or another.” By “boys” she meant Trey, Dante, Tao, and the male enforcers. The old woman seemed to pretty much despise Taryn, Jaime, Makenna, and Riley purely because they were mated to “her boys.” Roni had somehow tricked Greta into liking her.
“What I really don’t get is why Morelli would look for trouble when the rest of our kind is trying to win favor with humans,” said Gabe, Jaime’s brother. “I wouldn’t have thought all the PR work would pay off, but it is.”
When the radical, increasingly violent anti-shifter extremists had resorted to acts of terrorism that caused many human casualties, the groups had lost a lot of credibility. Even prejudiced humans were no longer so willing to listen to them; instead they seemed to be practicing the “live and let live” ethic. A lot of packs, prides, and other groups had pounced on that and had independently begun doing PR work for shifters, hoping to counter the negative stereotypes floating around about them. The last thing shifters needed was one of their kind attracting negative attention.
“Speaking of PR, your video now has over seventy million views, Trick.” Dante’s mouth twitched. “Bet you never saw that coming.”
Trick cast him a hard look. “It’s not my video.”
Dante grinned. “Well, you’re the star.”
When Trick had fought off a gang of human boys who were about to mug and possibly assault a human female, someone caught the incident on their cell phone. He’d become a YouTube sensation overnight, and he wasn’t pleased about it. He’d carried the terrified female—who’d clung to him like a barnacle—out of the alley, and the whole thing had been romanticized.
He wasn’t a hero. He wasn’t a good guy human girls should crush on. And he was damn sick of people asking him if he was the shifter savior on YouTube.
“You should be glad, Trick,” said Jaime, smoky-blue eyes dancing with mischief. “Other shifters are working hard to gain acceptance and popularity with humans by going on the radio and appearing on daytime talk shows. You accomplished that for our pack just by doing a good deed. Although I’m not so sure it would have had the same effect if you weren’t so hot.”
Each muscle in his powerful build tensing, Dante scowled at his mate. “You don’t get to call another guy ‘hot’ unless you want to get your ass spanked.”
“Maybe that’s why I did it, Popeye,” Jaime shot back with a saucy grin.
Their byplay made Trick’s chest clench and caused his wolf’s mood to sour. A deep loneliness had steadily crept up on Trick and his wolf as they’d watched their pack mates and allies find their true mates, one by one. Of the adult male wolves within his pack, only he and Dominic remained unmated. There was now a bitter edge to his wolf’s loneliness.
Dante and Jaime had known each other since they were children, when they’d all belonged to the Bjorn Pack. Trick had been a teenager when it split, and he’d left with some other wolves to form the Phoenix Pack. Jaime had remained behind, too young to make the decision to leave. It wasn’t until she’d transferred to the Phoenix Pack as an adult that she and Dante had realized they were true mates.
It wasn’t uncommon for mates to fail to immediately recognize one another. Several things could jam the frequency of a mating bond, including doubts, fears, and secrets. In other words, people often let their personal shit get in the way. They didn’t listen to their inner animals and sometimes even blinded themselves to the obvious out of fear.
Personally, Trick didn’t get it. What was so bad about having a mate? Nothing. Sure, your life would change in many ways, but you’d also be whole and happy in a way that you could never otherwise be.
Unlike some, Trick had no reservations about mating. He didn’t have any hang-ups about being bonded to someone, wasn’t fearful of commitment, and wouldn’t shy away from the sacrifices he’d have to make.
He’d always had a drive inside him to find his mate. He wasn’t sure if that was normal, but that need to hunt and claim her had always been there. Like an itch that needed scratching.
Since he didn’t have any hang-ups that could jam the frequency of the bond, Trick was positive that he’d recognize his mate on sight. Of course, the frequency might not be clear for her, and so he wouldn’t necessarily feel the tug of the mating bond straightaway, but that wouldn’t stop him from acting. He’d simply approach her, voice his belief, convince her that it was true, and then cleave himself to her. There was no reason for it to be complicated. Oh, sure, it was important for couples to get to know each other and build trust, but that could be done while they were mated as far as he was concerned.
From her position on the rug, Lydia cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention. “Um . . . if we’re finished talking about the trackers, there’s something I need to add.”
Trick frowned. Her anxiety was almost palpable. She was a submissive wolf who was usually laid-back and easy to be around. At that moment, though, she was strung up tight. “What’s wrong?”
She licked her lips and then opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.
“What is it?” asked Trey.
Her mate, Cam, gently nudged her, and Lydia inhaled deeply. “You’re probably going to be mad,” she warned the Alphas.
Taryn gave her a gentle smile. “Lydia, tell us what’s wrong.”
“I won’t lose my shit,” Trey promised. “Whatever it is can’t be that bad. Now tell us.”
Lydia’s shoulders lost a little of their stiffness. “Those of you who once belonged to my childhood pack will remember that my older brother died when I was young.”
“Damn, I’m sorry,” said Taryn. “I didn’t even know you had a brother.” Unlike most of the Phoenix Pack, Taryn hadn’t been part of the Bjorn Pack.
Lydia licked her lips. “He, um . . . he shot himself. He killed his mate, and then he shot himself.”
Taryn’s mouth fell open. “Oh my God. Wait, I think I once heard something about a wolf who turned on his mate before ending his own life.”
“Many packs got wind of the story.”
Trick had been just a kid at the time, but he hadn’t forgotten that night. Hadn’t forgotten the sadness, shock, and grief that had weighed heavily on the pack. After all, it wasn’t often that mates turned on each other like that.