Beta Kristoff Dumanovsky has loved his alpha, Jeremiah Tolliver, for years. However, Jeremiah wasn’t ready to move on from the love he still had for his dead wife. When tragedy struck, Kristoff blamed his focus and left not only the Iroquois Pack but Jeremiah as well.
When Stefan Mukhankin, an enemy from Kristoff’s past threatens his safety, Jeremiah uses this as a reason to try and bring Kristoff home. It won’t be an easy battle.
Kristoff’s survived before and feels he’ll survive again. He was trained to elude the enemy even if it’s the man he loves, so Jeremiah is in for the fight of their lives.
Can an alpha help his mate believe their bond is true, or will his mate find yet another place to run?
Kristoff’s trip to the market had been a good one. Mrs. Hilliard would be pleased. The fresh squash and green tomatoes she required for her seafood gumbo were plentiful. After fending off the farmer’s daughter’s useless flirtations, he had acquired a few other items for himself. He would enjoy Mrs. Hilliard’s gumbo, a delicate blend of herbs, spices, and a bevy of crustaceans along with fresh vegetables. Poured over white rice, it was the thing of fantasies. Kristoff pulled the bag tighter against his waist and headed home.
“Thank you, Kristoff. These are perfect. Good color, and”—Mrs. Hilliard lifted the squash and tomatoes to her nose—“perfectly ripe.” She hummed appreciatively, then looked up at him, narrowing her eyes. “So, was Jessie there today?”
“Jessie?” Kristoff questioned.
Mrs. Hilliard sighed. “Yes, Kristoff. The farmer’s daughter. Was she there?”
Ah, now the trip to the market was beginning to make sense. She was up to it again, trying to find him a mate. Well, it was too late for that. He already had one. A mate he’d left behind with no intention of ever seeing again. It was for the best. He’d already made a mistake once, and it could have cost him the lives of everyone he held close. He wouldn’t repeat it.
“She asked me about you the last time I saw her, all bright and sunny, ripe for the picking.” Mrs. Hilliard watched him with hope sparkling in her eyes.
Mrs. Hilliard was dear to Kristoff. In many ways, she reminded him of Mrs. Dunham, the alpha’s caretaker. Mrs. Dunham was like a mother to the pack, keeping secrets, caring for them all, especially Jeremiah. She’d been there when Jeremiah lost Sarai, his mate, and helped to mother Dan and Conner, the children left behind. Kristoff was sure Mrs. Dunham and Mrs. Hilliard would like each other. Mrs. Dunham, too, meddled in her alpha’s love life. She’d often hinted that Kristoff should “tell the blind man who can’t see the love before him it was there for the taking.” But none of that mattered anymore.
When Kristoff had made a choice to go outside his typical mode of operation, to interject himself in such a way to draw attention to only him, everyone important to him could have died. Alonya Romanoff, the bitch who wanted Peter’s coven for herself, had seen Kristoff as another way to draw Peter out. It took his nephew getting his wits together and coming to the rescue to save his sorry hide. Something that should never have happened.
He had failed. It wouldn’t be the first time, but it would be his last. He had been trained to kill and protect from the age of a child, to never lose focus. He had, and why? Because of a man who couldn’t leave his wife’s ghost behind. He’d been a fool.
Kristoff leaned back against the counter, sliding his hand along the icy marble. Mrs. Hilliard’s husband was responsible for all the work in the kitchen, from the cabinetry to the countertops, to the gray tiled floor on which he stood. He loved the window seat with space for Mrs. Hilliard’s well-worn cookbooks below the plush seating. The openness of the room was inviting and housed a massive oven with all the bells and whistles, along with enough nooks and crannies to keep all the tools necessary to create her mouthwatering dishes.
It was work that spoke of love, a testament to the more than forty years the two had shared before a wrong turn on a sharp bend in the road took Mr. Hilliard away. That didn’t stop Mrs. Hilliard from trying to help others to find the same love, and Kristoff understood. There was no hope for him, but he appreciated how hard she worked to fill the space where someone to love should be.
“That may well be, Mrs. Hilliard, but I am not the man for her, nor for any other woman. Well, except the divine creature standing before me.” His wolf stirred in agitation, but Kristoff urged it to settle.
Mrs. Hilliard’s laugh was husky and full, making Kristoff smile.
“Well, I’m still in love with my Rory, so you’ll have to make do.” She shook her head and turned away from him. Setting the items on the oak wood table, and picking up a knife, she said, “Well, if it’s not a woman, then maybe a man? I know a boy or two…”
Kristoff didn’t need a boy. No, what he needed, what he craved with every pull of air into his lungs, was his mate, Jeremiah Tolliver. The thought of his alpha, his mate, pained both him and his wolf. For years, he stood next to the man, serving as his right hand. He’d fought for him, bled for him, because no matter how peaceful nearby packs could be, there were always those who refused to respect the laws that would help all to abide in peace. Many accepted the rules governing the interactions of the different peoples, including the preternatural groups. Yet, as with any society, there were those who didn’t follow them. A pack was as mighty and as fruitful as its leader, but that could not exist were it not for those responsible for protecting it.
There was no question of Jeremiah’s strength or of his power, which was far-reaching and sometimes even earth-shaking. If Kristoff closed his eyes, he could see the vivid blue eyes of his alpha. His former alpha. On a warm day like this, he’d be wearing a worn thin shirt and walking the compound, Kristoff beside him as it should be.
No, not should be.
Kristoff shook his head, trying to make the image of the breadth and width of Jeremiah’s broad shoulders disappear. He needed the ache gathering at the core of his soul to evaporate. Jeremiah’s absence made Kristoff feel dead inside. And he knew this was what drove Mrs. Hilliard to help.