Austin O’Malley doesn’t intend to stay for the wedding reception. He’ll watch the service and offer his congratulations before leaving. While he’s happy for his friend, he doesn’t want to bring down the spirits of the other guests with his dark attitude. Then he plans to head to his mountain retreat and enjoy a secluded vacation that’s been a long time coming. He needs the time to come to grips with the deaths of his two middle brothers as well as what he must do next—reach out to his estranged youngest brother with the news of what’s happened.
All Austin’s plans change when the headiest aroma teases his nostrils while at the wedding. Sitting in the back, he doesn’t know where it’s coming from, making the ceremony the longest twenty minutes of his life. Afterward, he tracks the smell to a cute little twink with soulful brown eyes. A whispered question to a friend he’d seen talking to the man reveals his name is Pete Saugner, a councilman’s private mechanic.
When Austin approaches Pete, he’s alarmed by the fear he spots in the much smaller man’s eyes. A fellow shifter shares what Pete’s scent should have told Austin. His mate is human, although he does know about paranormals. Can Austin figure out how to connect with Pete and keep him safe from a specter from his past?
Sitting on the side of the bed, Austin O’Malley stared at the contact information on his phone. He hovered his thumb over the green call icon. With a huff of frustration, he tapped the sleep button instead.
Austin knew he shouldn’t keep putting off calling his youngest brother—Bran. The man had a right to know that their middle brothers—Gaston and Ephram—had been put to death for siding with a rogue ex-councilman. He just couldn’t figure out the right words.
How do I tell my estranged brother, a man I haven’t spoken to in over fifty years, that our brothers are dead?
Bran had never forgiven Austin for walking away from their water buffalo shifter herd to become a council enforcer. It hadn’t mattered that Austin had sent money home to their mother every month until the day she’d died. Bran had held the belief that Austin, as the oldest, should have stayed in their herd to care for her after their father had passed.
Austin hadn’t shed a tear when that man had died. He and their mother hadn’t been fated mates. Their mating had been arranged by their alpha, and his father hadn’t been a nice man. Austin had known if he’d stayed, he would have ended up in the same situation—mated to some woman of the alpha’s choosing and urged to pop out several kids to strengthen the herds’ numbers.
He’d left as soon as a viable opening appeared.
Having Gaston and Ephram follow in his footsteps, also becoming shifter council enforcers, had been the tipping point.
Bran had stopped returning his letters.
And now, they’re dead.
Even though technology changed with the invention of the phone, and Austin had discovered Bran’s phone number decades before, he’d never tried calling him.
Will he even answer?
Rubbing his palm over his face, Austin scratched at the edges of his goatee. When he lowered his hand, he glanced at his alarm clock on the nightstand. Heaving a sigh, he rose to his feet.
“Time to get changed,” he muttered to himself, placing his phone beside the clock. “Don’t want to be late for Dane’s wedding.”
As Austin changed into a nice pair of black jeans and a navy green polo shirt, his black dress boots completing the outfit, he thought about Dane Drudeson. The Komodo dragon shifter was a fellow council enforcer. While out on a job, he’d met his mate in a small human male, Danny Nunez. After stopping Danny’s father from trying to sell him to a slave ring, Dane had popped the question, and Danny had said yes.
Marriage wasn’t traditional for shifter couples, but Dane had wanted to do right by Danny in human terms.
Weird, but whatever.
Austin didn’t understand it. They were fated mates. Dane had claimed Danny, creating an unbreakable bond between them. Danny would live as long as Dane, and they would be together forever.
What the hell was the point of marriage?
With a shrug of one shoulder, Austin dismissed his thoughts. It wasn’t his place to worry about. He would go to the wedding and support his friend. Then he’d start his own vacation.
After sliding his belt through the loops of his jeans, Austin clipped on his phone carrier. He grabbed his phone and slipped it into the holder. Then he picked up his keys in one hand and his duffel bag with the other. He slung the strap over his shoulder so he could carry his hiking boots, too.
Austin didn’t plan on returning home for two weeks.
Thinking of his remote cabin near a river and pond, Austin’s water buffalo rumbled in his mind. It had been ages since he’d taken the time just to wallow in water. He could hardly wait.
He would have started his vacation earlier that week, but he hadn’t wanted to miss Dane’s wedding.
With that thought in mind, Austin hurried through the side door and into his attached garage. He stopped at the passenger door of his metallic-gold 1972 T-top Stingray Corvette. Adjusting the way he held the keys in his hand, he opened the door.
After placing his boots and bag on the floorboard, Austin closed the door and rounded the vehicle. He slid his fingertips along the hood of the classic car, smiling faintly. He looked forward to spending a couple of days racing along the curvy back roads.
Austin climbed behind the wheel, reached up, and pushed the button on the garage door opener attached to his sun visor. Hearing the door behind him rumble as it moved, he slid the key into the slot and brought his baby roaring to life. Austin ran his palms over the steering wheel for a few seconds, just enjoying being behind the wheel of his favorite toy.
It had taken him a couple of years to find just the right model he’d wanted and another four years to bring her back to her shining glory. The labor of love had been worth it, though. She looked amazing and ran like a gem.
His Vette was the one thing that could make him smile these days.
Hopefully, my vacation will help me put my loss behind me.
As Austin headed to Councilman Regales Colearian’s estate where Dane and Danny’s wedding would take place, he pondered just how the hell someone had managed to twist Gaston’s beliefs around so badly. While Gaston had always been a bit on the bigoted side, Austin hadn’t realized he’d become that indoctrinated. The pair of ex-councilmen who’d gone rogue had convinced a number of enforcers to go with them. They’d held the belief that Fate didn’t pair those of the same sex. They’d also believed that shifters should have been at the top of the food chain. They were even willing to sell their own kind for experimentation to further their ends.
Fortunately, they’re dead now, too.