Ellery should be free. Alpha Carter is gone, and now that the Green Hill pride has Gal, things are getting better. But Ellery is tainted by his father’s attempt at killing the alpha mate, and no one will let him forget it or show that he didn’t have anything to do with his father’s plan.
Forest isn’t in Green Hill to stay. He’s doing Gal a favor by playing beta to his alpha for a while, but he’s never been one to stay in one place. He can’t, not unless he wants his mother to drag him home and finally seal the arranged marriage with the alpha’s daughter.
Ellery isn’t going anywhere, while Forest is planning to leave. But when they meant, they realize their mates—and that something needs to change.
This was heaven—or rather, it would be heaven if the mosquitoes hadn’t decided they needed to eat Ellery. He hoped they’d get indigestion. He hoped they died because of his blood.
He scratched his arm again and contemplated what to do next. He could go back inside, which was thankfully sans mosquitoes, but he didn’t want to. He was enjoying being outside too much after spending most of the recent years locked inside the house.
The entire pride had been stuck inside, and it hadn’t been easy or fun. They’d been allowed outside to a small patch of vegetables in the garden, but even that source of food hadn’t been enough for the entire pride. But Alpha Carter had been convinced this was the best way to lead the pride, and everyone had followed. He was the alpha. He should have known better.
Except he hadn’t, and he’d almost killed the entire pride. Ellery hadn’t realized it at the time, and neither had anyone else, or if they had, they hadn’t said anything. But now the pride was free, and it was weird getting used to it. It was strange to be able to leave the house whenever they wanted and even be encouraged to do so. The old alpha hadn’t wanted them to work outside the pride. He’d wanted to be the one to provide for the pride, and he had, at least in the beginning. But now, Gal wanted all of them to find a job, and he’d been clear that he wanted them to enjoy what they would do.
That was one of the reasons Ellery was here. He wanted to find a job to help the pride. He wanted to find a job so he didn’t have to stay in the house anymore. He didn’t know what he could do, though.
He’d been homeschooled, like everyone in the pride, and he knew that it wasn’t anywhere close to a college degree, but it was something. He could probably find a job in town, but he hadn’t yet applied for anything because he didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life.
He hadn’t had a life until now. He’d thought he would continue to live the way Alpha Carter had made him live—locked in the house, going crazy having to share space with so many people. The only thing that had helped Ellery deal with it was patching up the house when it needed to be, which had become more frequent as time passed. He and Liam and a few others were the main reason the house hadn’t crumbled down yet, and Ellery was proud of it. He just didn’t know if he wanted to make a career out of it.
And wasn’t that weird? He could build himself a career. Gal would support him, even after what Ellery’s father had done.
Some days, Ellery couldn’t believe his dad had tried to kill Gal and had almost killed Liam in the attempt. Other days, he understood how his father had been pushed to it. He didn’t agree with what his father had done, of course. He liked Liam and Gal, and even if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have supported it.
Ellery would always love his father, but he couldn’t support a man who’d almost killed two people because he wanted to become the alpha, especially after seeing what being the alpha did to a person. Alpha Carter had ended up going out of his mind. He’d tried to kidnap Cooper after Cooper had left to live with his mate. That was the thing that had precipitated the situation, and it was the reason they had Gal now. Not that Ellery cared. Gal was a better alpha than Alpha Carter had ever been, and Ellery was grateful that Gal had met his mate and had decided to stay.
That didn’t change what Ellery’s father had done, though. Most of the pride was still looking at Ellery as if he’d had something to do with it. He hadn’t. Of course not. He and Liam were friends, and they were becoming closer now that they were allowed to. But when they looked at him, people could only see what his father had done, and they didn’t care that Ellery had nothing to do with it or that he would have stopped his father if he’d known.
“Here you are,” a voice said, making Ellery jump.
His heart raced as he looked around, only relaxing when he saw Liam walking toward him. “What are you doing here?” he asked.
Liam grimaced and flopped onto the stone bench next to Ellery. “Running away from Sandra.”
Ellery chuckled. “What did she do now?”
“I don’t know. I ran before she could find me. But she has a lot of requests, and she thinks I should listen to her because she’s an elder. I don’t think she has a lot of trust in me, or in the fact that I’m the alpha mate.”
“She’s not used to it. None of us are.”
Liam’s shoulders slumped. “I’m not used to it, either. I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it, to be honest. Me, the alpha mate. Who would’ve thought?”
Ellery thought that Liam was going to be a great alpha mate, but he didn’t tell him that. He already had, and repeating it wouldn’t change that fact or that Liam didn’t believe him. Liam needed to trust his abilities, but he didn’t yet. The time would come, though. Ellery knew it. And if Liam needed him to, he’d be right there next to him to help him face what the future held for him in the pride.
“You have to be firmer with her,” he suggested.
Liam narrowed his eyes at him. “Firmer? She’s going to tear my head off with her bare teeth, and I mean her human teeth, not her tiger ones.”
Ellery couldn’t help it—he laughed. “No, she won’t. You’re younger and stronger, and probably faster.”
“And that’s the only reason she won’t hurt me? Jeesh, El. Thank you.”
“No. The reason she won’t hurt you is that she’s afraid of the council and of being kicked out of the pride. She’s demanding, but she’s just trying to see if she can influence you. That’s what she wants. That’s what most of the elders want. They want to be an important part of the pride, and they want to make decisions.”
Liam scowled. “They should have become alpha, then. They could have made all the decisions, and I’d be able to spend more time with my mate.”
“But Gal is the alpha, and nothing is going to change that. That means you’re the alpha mate. Sandra is harmless, but you need to be careful with what you tell her. She won’t forget even one word. You know how she is. And she’s going to use everything she remembers to her advantage, even if it’s against you.”
Liam sighed heavily and tilted his face toward the sky. He closed his eyes and basked in the sunlight, just like Ellery had done until a few minutes ago. “Being the alpha mate is so fucking hard,” he muttered. “I wish I didn’t have to do this.”
“But then you might not have Gal, and that’s not something you want to happen.”
Liam opened one eye to look at Ellery. “You’re right. I don’t want that to happen. I’m not letting him go now that I have him.”
“And things will become easier once his friend arrives, right?”
It was the talk of the entire pride. Instead of asking one of them to become the beta, Gal had asked one of his friends. Apparently, it was fairly common for groups involved with the council. The council sent alphas and betas to the shifter groups who needed them, and they helped those groups build themselves up.
The difference was that the alphas and betas usually left once that was done, but Gal wasn’t going anywhere. He’d met Liam, and he’d settled down. Most of the pride agreed that Gal would be a good permanent alpha. But he needed a beta, and he’d explained that while he was proud of the progress the pride was making and how its members were behaving, he didn’t think that any of them could become a beta. No one had that kind of experience, and after spending so much time under the thumb of Alpha Carter and his beta, they couldn’t shoulder the job and responsibilities it implied.
So he’d called someone from outside, and a lot of pride members hadn’t liked it, Sandra included. Ellery was ready to bet that was why she was hounding Liam, even though there was nothing he could do about it. He might be the alpha mate, but he didn’t make those kinds of decisions. Gal did.
Ellery reached out and patted Liam’s knee. “Everything is going to be okay. You just have to stand up to her, and to anyone else with something to tell you. You’re the alpha mate. You should be respected, just like Gal.” Ellery knew all about losing respect, and he never wanted that to happen to Liam. It was already more than enough that he was a pariah in his own pride.
He would never wish that on anyone else, not even his worst enemy—not even Sandra.