Thanking the gods that I wasn’t Dave’s best man and the one having to deal with my friend’s nervousness right that second, I paced the hall outside the wedding chapel located inside the hotel, dealing with my own jittering nerves. I’m sure those who saw me wondered why I was anxious. I wasn’t the one getting married after all. I won’t lie; a part of me was strung tight in anticipation for the event on Dave’s behalf. He and I had been friends since birth, and this was a big deal for him. We had gone through every life-changing event imaginable together, but this one was a big one, and with all of the upheaval surrounding it, I was terrified something would go wrong at the last minute.
I had heard of little else but Dave’s plans to marry his bride-to-be since he met Danielle a little over four years ago, not that I minded listening to my friend’s happy chatter. I was ecstatic for the man. If anyone deserved happiness it was him, and Danielle was a sweet girl. A bit shy and boney for my taste, but her mellow, easy going yet confident temperament was a relief in comparison to other women we knew. Most women in our pack were weak and submissive in the extreme. Danielle’s demeanor probably had to do with the fact that her parents were raising her and her siblings outside of pack territory and not under the strict rules of the Council, of tradition, and of the supernatural world in general.
We—by we, I mean the males of our world—have a tendency to be overprotective and misogynistic. Most of this has to do with the fact that our men outnumber the women four to one in most species. In the past, those numbers were even higher, but in the last hundred years or so, they’ve evened out. Some of our women are taking on more roles in our world, but a lot of our older men still treat them as if they should be locked up in their homes birthing babies and nothing else, and without question the women submit to their will.
Thinking of Danielle’s differences turned my thoughts to why she was different and to why she lived in the human world and not in the supernatural one, and thinking of that person brought on an entirely new wave of nerves, as I anticipated seeing that particular female again, which made me pace faster. She was the real reason my wolf was about to jump out of my human skin, if the truth be told.
Danielle’s sister, Leigh, was human, voluptuous, delectable, and if I had my say, would be mine before the night was over. Despite the need for her coursing through my veins, the mere thought of her put me on edge. The jitters didn’t necessarily come from the way I felt about her, but from the way the rest of my pack felt about humans. Every conversation I had or had overheard the two days we were at the hotel revolved around how angry, revolted, annoyed the person or persons were that she was there. I kept my mouth shut for fear of causing the poor woman and her family any more trouble, but I had a hard time doing so. My family and pack weren’t mean people to each other, but to outsiders, they could be outright vicious. The Council trained them to be. To survive in our pack, you had to hate anyone who wasn’t pack, or the Council would be displeased, and it was dangerous to go against the Council.
I had only caught a few glimpses of Leigh over the last year as Danielle’s and Dave’s family planned the wedding. For reasons that pissed me off, a fact I had voiced many times to Dave but to no one else, Dave’s family had insisted that Leigh not be in the wedding. The pack Council had insisted that she not be there at all. Danielle fluctuated between begging them to let her come and threatening to leave the pack if they didn’t. Her persistence made them come to a compromise to allow her to come to the actual event as long as she stayed in the shadows. Up until then, her family had had to make excuses and be downright mean to their eldest daughter to keep her out of the preparations and town as much as possible.
I could tell that this had hurt Leigh but, at the same time, relieved her. She seemed to want to be on the outside of things. I had an idea why, and that pissed me off more. She didn’t see herself as worthy or beautiful enough to stand up in front of the chapel with her sister and all of the rest of the women in the wedding party. That view of herself came from the snide comments pack members have made in her vicinity over the years.
Shapeshifter genetics and metabolisms ensure that most shapeshifters keep a fairly trim and muscular figure. That doesn’t, however, mean that every one of our kind is physically beautiful or good-looking. In many cases, their personalities make them hideous, despite their outward appearance.
Everything about Leigh was beautiful. Anyone who could smile through all of what she has had to deal with has to have a strong soul. Anyone who could love their family after all said family has put her through has to have a beautiful heart. Her physical appearance was stunning as well. She had the most luscious breasts, a soft oval face, and sexy curves. The thought of her full body brought a low growl to my throat that I was thankful no one was around to hear.
Thinking of her voluptuous body shifted my emotions, but not in the right direction. I was no longer nervous about the wedding or of seeing her, but greedy to have her. If Dave hadn’t needed me there, I would have sought her out, offered to escort her to the chapel or to my room. I held myself back, though, knowing that that simple act would draw unwanted attention to her and cause problems for her and her family. Besides, by that time she would already be heading to the chapel if she wanted to see her sister get married.
Ten minutes before the wedding, she turned down the hall wearing a calf length, sleeveless black dress with a lace shawl. The sight of her bare legs and arms stopped my pacing and took my breath away. She had to be the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. If only she had looked up at that moment to see me staring at her, she would have seen the raw need I had for her burning in my eyes.
She didn’t look up though. She kept her head down until she reached the door I was blocking. I startled her by asking if I could escort her to her seat before she could walk into me.
“Huh…what…” she asked, jerking her head up to look at me.
I stuck out my arm and asked again, “May I take you to your seat?” There were ushers inside the chapel, but I was sure one of Dave’s parents had issued orders for them to ignore her, and as snobbish as most of them were, they would obey said orders. Besides, with the way I felt, I’d kill any other man for touching her.
“I… Oh, no. That isn’t necessary. I’m sure I can find a place on my own.” She moved to sidestep me, but I was faster. I moved in front of her, grabbed the door handle with one hand, and placed my other on the small of her back to gently guide her into the chapel. The electrical jolt that ran through my body at that contact shook me and caused us both to pause for a fraction of a second. She gasped, then the heady scent of her arousal hit me, and I had to suppress a growl. I did slide my hand to her waist and grip her tightly, trying to tamp down my urge to bend her over a pew and take her.
The lustful feeling didn’t last long, fortunately. The noise inside the chapel dampened our emotions an instant later. She moved first, but my hand never left her body. If so many people hadn’t surrounded us—some were even the human hotel staff—the scent of our lust would have gotten the attention of the supernaturals closest to us.
I started to take her to the front where most of Danielle’s family was already sitting, but Leigh moved out of my grasp and to a seat in the back right corner mere seconds after we entered the room. I glowered at her but followed her to where she sat.
“Miss,” I said, purposefully not saying her name, because simply thinking it and watching her ass move in that dress made me harder than I’ve ever been before. “The rest of your family is up there.” I pointed to the first two rows.
Sighing deeply, she turned to me. A lifetime of anger, despair, hatred, and pain crossed her eyes. For a second, I thought she was going to spill those emotions, but in a blink, the tears cleared, and she smiled brightly, falsely up at me.
“That’s all right. I want to sit here. My family won’t mind. I won’t be hurting anyone’s feelings. Now, I’m sure Dave and the rest of the wedding party will be looking for you. Thank you.” She cut her eyes to someone behind me as she spoke and flinched.
“Please, you should go,” she said, when I didn’t move. Her eyes never shifted back to me.
Leaving was impossible at that moment. I was too angry to walk away. If I opened my mouth, did anything, said anything, I was going to ruin this day for my best friend. Despite how horrible his parents were, Dave deserved to have a wonderful wedding. I held my ground for a long moment, breathing in and out slowly, trying not to attack those who were causing the scent of fear and sadness that was emanating from her.
She cut her eyes back over my shoulder, sighed again, and took her seat, purposefully not looking at me. I looked to where her gaze had been and saw Dave’s mother and older brother glaring daggers at me. I smiled brightly as if I didn’t have a clue as to what was going on, then turned back to her, and said, “As you wish.”
I left the chapel quickly, needing some way of venting my anger and frustration and needing something to keep me from returning, snatching her up, and carrying her out of the room, this hotel, and this city. From the first time I set eyes on her, I’d wanted to shelter her, shield her, but those emotions paled in comparison to the new need that had overcome me the second I touched her. The one that told me to protect her with my life, to pull her against me and ensure that she was never outside arm’s reach again.
Something had happened to me when I placed my hand on her back, something magical…something I didn’t want to explore at that moment. Over the years, I had felt drawn to her when we were near one another, but I had thought it was mere curiosity of the unknown, but yesterday, things had changed. Being so near to her in the lobby, the elevator, her room, had intensified that pull. None of that compared to what I felt right then, though. My wolf kept screaming, mine, mine, mine, repeatedly in my head. He had never done that before with any woman.
I couldn’t think about any of that right then, I reminded myself. I just had to get through the day. When everything was over and Dave and Danielle were on their honeymoon, I would investigate those feelings.
Having said that, I couldn’t help stewing over the fact that Leigh hadn’t deserved to be treated the way my pack had treated her. By the look in her eyes, she needed someone to love her, and I didn’t think I was going to be able to hide my feelings for her from her or my pack for too much longer.
Hearing one of Dave’s brothers call my name from the hall, I rushed to where the wedding procession was lining up. I stood behind Allen, Dave’s brother and best man, my arm locked with Tiffany, a tall redheaded bridesmaid with no hips, small breasts, and cute freckles. She was Danielle’s cousin. Tiffany was adorable, and at one time, I had contemplated asking her out, but then she spoke, showing me who she truly was, and that thought had dissipated.
We had been at a birthday party for Danielle when I had talked to Tiffany for the first time. A minute after I thought of asking the girl out, Leigh had walked into the room, and she had been all I could think about the rest of the day. Even though she has never spoken more than a few words to me in all the years I’d known her, she has stayed on my mind.
Tiffany’s comment, the one that had made me instantly dislike her, had been about Leigh. That comment had been my first glimpse at what Leigh’s life was like amongst my people. I had been so shocked by what Tiffany had said that I hadn’t been able to respond to it in time. Danielle had told her to shut her mouth, then she had left the group to meet Leigh to keep her away from us. I barely had time to make eye contact with Danielle’s beautiful sister before Danielle had steered the woman away, looking back at us with a snarl.
Tiffany had turned her appalled look my way as if I shared her outrage, but I turned from the girl in disgust. I hadn’t known then who Leigh was. I had seen glimpses of her a time or two at different social events, but she hadn’t stayed long enough for me to inquire about her. That night, I had turned to Dave and asked all about her as if I hadn’t a clue who she was, so that he wouldn’t sense my interest in her.
“That’s Danielle’s sister,” he had said in a low whisper even though we were already out of earshot of most of the supernatural beings in the room.
“Why haven’t I seen her around all that much?” I asked.
“Danielle says that even though they haven’t told her our secret or hers, she knows she isn’t one of us, so she usually only pops in at family functions for a second to say hello to her family, then heads back to wherever she lives,” Dave said.
“Just because she isn’t one of us doesn’t mean she can’t spend her sister’s birthday with her,” I said, scowling.
“No, but who wants to be somewhere they aren’t wanted?”
“Why would she not be wanted? Because she isn’t pack doesn’t mean she isn’t loved and wanted by her family.”
“Look, I don’t know how they feel. I assume they love her or they wouldn’t have kept her, but you have to admit she’s different, and having her around is a bit inconvenient, and, well, look at her.”
“What do you mean, ‘look at her?’ I am looking at her. She’s beautiful. Outwardly, she doesn’t look any different than the rest of us.”
“Yes, she does. Look at her.”
“What? Just because she isn’t stick-figure Barbie, like those girls,” I pointed to Tiffany and a group of other girls gathered around a table talking, “doesn’t make her different.”
“Man, I don’t know what’s gotten into you, but let it go. She’s of no consequence to us, and in a few years, she’ll be little more than a faded memory to everyone in this room.”
Not believing that my best friend could be such an ass, I turned from him and went in search of Danielle and her sister. I hadn’t known it at the time, but Dave had been playing a part, pretending to go along with the status quo, to keep the peace. I had every intention of introducing myself to the girl and doing my best to prove to her that we weren’t all so hard to like. My search proved fruitless though. By the time I caught up with Danielle, her sister had left, but not before giving her the birthday present she had brought.
“Happy birthday, birthday girl,” I said, giving the love of my best friend’s life a one-armed hug. “Whatcha got there?”
“A present from Leigh.” My heart broke at the sight of the tears that were flowing down her cheeks.
“Your sister’s here. Where is she? I haven’t officially met her yet,” I said, all but cutting off the rest of her sentence, wanting to jump right to the Danielle introducing me to her sister part of this conversation.
“She left,” she said, looking down at the gift in her hand so that I couldn’t see the tears in her eyes. “She couldn’t stay long. She only wanted to give me her gift.”
“Doesn’t she have to fly into town? Could she not find an earlier flight so that she could spend more time with you?” Danielle didn’t react to my judgmental tone. She simply looked at the lilac-colored paper, sighed, and tucked the gift away to presumably open later before going to find Dave.