Jessup only trusts a few people, and he’s perfectly fine with that. After the way his parents hurt him, he doesn’t need anyone but his friends in his life.
He especially doesn’t need a mate.
Rory has no idea what’s happening. He was at the grocery store, and now he’s locked up in a van with two other terrified people. He wants out and is ready for anything.
Except meeting his mate.
During a raid, Jessup notices a van and finds his mate inside. Rory is about to end up in the lab, and the thought terrifies Jessup as much as giving Rory a chance does. So Jessup doesn’t.
Rory isn’t easily deterred. Jessup is avoiding him, but he’s already planning to move to Jessup’s town, and as long as Jessup doesn’t tell him to fuck off, he’s not going anywhere. There are hurdles to deal with, though, like how a group of humans who call themselves hunters are supplying people to the labs and Jessup’s fear that after being abandoned by his family, his mate will do the same.
Luckily, Rory is as stubborn as they come.
“Everyone knows the plan,” Moore said, looking around the room. “Like always, if you don’t feel up for it, let me know, and we’ll find a way around it. I don’t want anyone to do anything they’re not ready for.”
Jessup stayed silent, like everyone else in the room. No matter how horrifying what they’d find in this lab would be, they all wanted to be there. They knew what those people were going through, how much pain and horror they felt. They’d been in their place, and no matter how hard it was, they were ready to do whatever they could to save people from having to go through that again.
Moore nodded, clearly satisfied. “All right. Take a few minutes. We’ll be ready to go as soon as everyone is done saying goodbye.”
Jessup leaned back in his chair as the people around him got to their feet. They never knew what would happen during their missions, and it made sense for the mated mutants to spend a few minutes with their mates before leaving. Jessup didn’t have to think about anyone but himself since he wasn’t even dating anyone, and while that made the situation easier, he couldn’t deny that seeing Moore with Jolyn and Hayes with Rikar made him a bit jealous. Would his turn ever come?
He sighed and got to his feet. Even if his turn did come, he didn’t need a mate. He had plenty of things to live for and people he cared about, and really, what would he do with a mate?
He peered at Rikar and Hayes, who were sitting next to him, their heads close together as they talked. Normally, Rikar wouldn’t be at this meeting since he wasn’t a mutant, but he was the leader of the tribe with which the mutants lived, and of course, he was Hayes’s mate. That probably meant more than anything else to the people in the room. The fact that he’d welcomed them when they didn’t have a home was also one of the reasons the mutants trusted him.
“I’ll be here when you come back,” Rikar promised.
Jessup stepped back, but instead of slipping away quietly, he bumped into Teddy. That would have been fine if Teddy hadn’t tripped on a chair, drawing everyone’s attention, including Hayes’s and Rikar’s.
“Everything all right?” Rikar asked as he studied Teddy.
Teddy nodded. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
“He was distracted by your kissy faces,” Jessup said.
Hayes glared at him, but Rikar seemed to find it amusing. “Was he? Maybe he was jealous that we have someone to make kissy faces to.”
Like always, he’d seen right through Jessup. Jessup had to resist the urge to glare at him, but even if he did glare, Rikar wouldn’t care. They were becoming friends, mostly through Hayes, but why they were becoming friends didn’t really matter. They were in each other’s lives to stay, considering they both cared about Hayes, and that was okay.
Sometimes, though, Jessup wished Hayes could have a less perfect mate. Hayes made everyone jealous, including Jessup, who knew it was better for him not to find his mate anytime soon.
It wasn’t just the mate thing, either. Hayes had many things Jessup wanted, and sometimes, he wondered if Hayes knew how lucky he was. He’d spent time in a lab like all of them, and he’d come out a little different, but he’d had a family before and still had them. They’d looked for him the entire time he’d been gone, and they’d been happy when he’d come back. His mother wasn’t dealing very well with the fact that Hayes wanted to work with the mutants, but she’d come around, especially since Hayes and Rikar had adopted a little girl.
But Jessup didn’t have any family. He didn’t have anyone but the mutants he considered brothers and sisters, which he supposed was okay. Sometimes, though, it was odd to realize that he didn’t have anyone from before, when he’d been a normal shifter. The few people he cared about back then hadn’t cared about him the same way, and they’d barely noticed he’d been gone. He hadn’t gone back afterward and had no intention of ever doing so. His place was with the mutants now, and he was fine with that.
Most of the time.
“Do you have anyone to say goodbye to?” Rikar asked.
He sounded worried, but then he always did. There was always something or other that wasn’t going the right way, and as a good tribe leader, it fell on his shoulders to take care of it. He was good at it, too, but realizing Hayes was his mate and bonding with him had made things worse. Rikar was worried more than ever about what would happen when the mutants went on missions. Still, he hadn’t asked Hayes to stop, which made Jessup respect him even more.
Jessup still wished Rikar hadn’t singled him out. He didn’t want to talk about his loneliness and the fact that he didn’t have anyone but the mutants. It would only remind him of all of it, and right before a mission, that was the last thing he needed.
“Is everyone ready?” Moore called out.
Jessup could have kissed him, although he suspected that Moore’s mate wouldn’t have been happy with that. Instead, he nodded curtly at Rikar, stood up straighter, and turned his attention to the leader of the mutants.
The people in the room were tense, but it wasn’t different from any other day they had a mission. The moments before they shimmered there and snuck into the labs were the worst. There was a lot of waiting, anticipation, and worrying. Soon it would all be over, and they’d be coming home before they would even realize it.
But first, they had asses to kick.