Calvin was assaulted when he arrived in Gillham two months ago, after living on the streets for two years, but it wasn’t enough to persuade him to leave the town and his new life. He never expected to be assaulted again, though, especially not by the same man.
Alex has been envious ever since both his brothers found their mates, but at only twenty-one, he never expected to find his own. He especially didn’t expect the man he rescues from a beating to be it.
Calvin and Alex have to learn to navigate their new relationship. Calvin is shy and hesitant, and Alex does his best to give him enough time to get used to his presence. They move in together—as housemates—but their fragile relationship is threatened by the appearance of a teenage brother Calvin didn’t know he had. What will this mean for Calvin and Alex’s relationship? Will Calvin finally believe Alex is in it for life, or will he let his insecurity win?
Calvin stumbled into the infirmary, his legs feeling like they might collapse any second. Sei looked up from whatever magazine he was reading, and instead of rushing to Calvin’s side to help him, he grinned. “You’ve been training again.”
Calvin groaned and flopped onto the closest bed. “Yes.”
“You’re here for painkillers?”
“Painkillers, leg amputation, whatever it takes to make the pain go away.”
“You’re a big baby.”
Calvin buried his face into the pillow. He briefly considered the thought of suffocating himself, but he liked his new life way too much to do something like that. If he’d still been living his old one, well, he might have considered it a bit longer, but he was happy for what had to be the first time in his life. He couldn’t be sure, of course, but he couldn’t remember a moment when he hadn’t been in foster care, and for him, foster care meant being mostly unhappy.
But now he lived in Gillham, with the pack, and he was happy. He wouldn’t change his life for anything.
He sighed and turned his head. “Yeah, okay, I might be a tad dramatic.”
Sei snorted. “A tad? Try a lot.” He put down his book. “Come on, tell me where it hurts.”
“What have you been doing?”
“Running, mostly, but I’ve also been training with the enforcers.”
Sei blinked as he walked closer. “The enforcers? Why on earth would you train with the enforcers?”
Calvin swallowed. He hadn’t really talked about his life before Gillham to anyone. Dallas knew, although not in detail. He didn’t know everything that had happened to Calvin when he’d lived on the street. No one did. Calvin would do whatever it took to never go through that again, though, and that meant finally learning to defend himself. He wasn’t completely helpless—no one who’d lived on the streets was—but he needed more, as his encounter with the two guys in Gillham had showed him. He didn't even want to think about what would have happened to him if Dallas and Hamilton hadn’t walked by that day. He’d probably have been beaten to a pulp and left to bleed out in that alley.
“I just want to be able to protect myself,” he muttered, praying Sei wouldn’t push for details.
Sei cocked his head and stared, but to Calvin’s relief, he didn't say anything. Instead, he moved toward Calvin’s legs and pushed his sweat pants up to his knees. He started massaging Calvin’s calves, and Calvin groaned in relief. It was slightly painful, but it was the kind of pain that was actually nice to feel.
“Am I keeping you away from your work?” Calvin asked after a while.
“Nah. Looks like everyone does their best to stay away from the infirmary. I’m starting to think it has to do with me, you know?”
Calvin chuckled. “Why would they want to stay away from you? You’re adorable.”
Sei’s hands tightened around Calvin’s calf. “Adorable? Look who’s talking. You’re a damn Labrador shifter. I don’t think there’s anything more adorable than that.”
“Rabbit’s a cat shifter.”
Sei snorted. “Clea thinks Rabbit’s the devil incarnated, and there’s nothing adorable in that.”
Calvin laughed. He didn't really know Rabbit—the cat shifter mostly kept to himself—but he didn't know why Clea didn’t like him. Rabbit was a bit weird, sure, and maybe a bit rough when it came to interacting with people, but he looked like a nice enough guy. Besides, he wasn’t the only one in the pack who didn’t interact much with the other pack members. “I’m sure Rabbit’s fine. He looks nice.”
“I wouldn’t know. We haven’t talked or anything, but I do know Clea.”
“He’s your cousin. Of course you know him.”
“Exactly. So, I know he wouldn’t dislike someone for no reason.”
“He doesn’t like Daniel either. I like Daniel.”
“You like everyone.”
“Why is that a bad thing?”
“I never said it was.” Sei dug his thumbs into Calvin’s flesh, and Calvin thought it would probably be a good idea not to tell him he was wrong about anything while he still had his hands on Calvin’s body.
“What about me? What does Clea think of me?” he asked, hoping to distract Sei.
“He likes you. I thought you knew that.”
Calvin had, although sometimes he still had a hard time believing people really could like him. It was the first time it happened as far as he could remember. All his foster families had tolerated him for a while, until he had to leave them for one reason or another, but that was about it. He’d been the weird kid in school, and the weird kid in his families. The other children didn’t want anything to do with him—with one exception— and he hadn’t understood why, at least not until he’d shifted in his foster’s family living room.
Humans couldn’t have known what he was before he’d shifted, of course, but it didn't mean they weren’t able to feel something was wrong with him. Calvin knew that had to be the reason why his foster families had never kept him for long.
“We all like you,” Sei said, jerking Calvin out of his thoughts.
Calvin knew it wasn’t true, that he couldn’t be universally liked, but he didn't protest. He was with people who understood him now. They didn't think he was weird, that he was a monster because he could become a dog. He’d had a few problems with some of the older pack members, because they didn’t think a dog should live with wolves, but they were a minority. Besides, with the number of different shifters living with the pack, he hadn’t listened to them much. A dog was the most normal kind of strange shifter, really. Calvin hadn’t known about shark shifters, or pangolin shifters, before he’d arrived in Gillham, and those were definitely weird.