Colin has been living half a life for the past twenty years, ever since his father caught him kissing William. Instead of standing up for their relationship, Colin allowed William to be thrown in jail and married the woman his father chose for him. He loves his two sons and even Justine, but they were never meant to be together, and they’ll never be truly happy as a couple. That suits Colin just fine because he doesn’t deserve to be happy. His son Brandon does, though, and when Colin’s father decides to arrange a marriage for him, Colin finds the courage he never thought he had and finally stands up to him.
A half-shifter created in a lab, Matt has been working undercover for the past fifteen years with very little time as his real self in between cases. When he gets shot and realizes he won’t be able to go back to his job, he’s surprisingly relieved. He’ll finally have time to be himself and to cultivate his relationship with the few friends he managed to make in between jobs. And best of all, he’s met his mate. Maybe now they can get to know each other and see what’s possible.
Things aren’t that easy, though. Even after Matt and Colin talk, Colin is still married, still guilt-ridden over the pain he caused William, and still terrified of his father. Justine finds her courage first and tells Colin it’s time for them to get divorced. He agrees—but can he overcome his terror and stand up for himself and his mate?
Colin ignored his mother’s hopeful gaze and focused on his food. He wasn’t even sure what he was eating—everything had the same taste to him. It always did.
Justine cleared her throat. “I don’t think we’re quite ready for a third child.”
Colin was glad when his mother’s attention turned to his wife. “Not ready? Jason is already fourteen!”
“He is, but Colin and I are still young. We can wait another ten years to have a third kid.”
Considering Colin hadn’t had sex with his wife in years, it was going to take more than time for them to do that. Not that he planned to have another one—but his mother didn’t need to know that, and most of all his father didn’t need to know it.
He could feel his father watching him, and he knew he’d be in for a father-son conversation later, once they were done with dinner. His father would never say what he had to say in front of the ladies. He wouldn’t want to offend their sensibilities, or in Justine’s case, he wouldn’t want her to come to Colin’s defense and talk back. His father might still be able to knock Colin around, but he’d never touch Justine.
But Colin would hear what his father had to say, and his father would expect him to obey, just like he always did. His father had wanted Colin to get married, and he had. His father had wanted Colin and Justine to have children, and they had. He’d wanted Colin to stay away from William once he’d been released, and even though Colin hated himself for it, he had. His father had always ruled his life, and he always would.
Colin was weak, and he didn’t deserve anything different. God knew he’d tried to be stronger when he was younger. He’d been a rebellious teenager like many other kids, but his father had quickly squashed that. A few beatings had been enough to put Colin back on the right track, or rather, back on the track his father thought was right. No one had cared back then, not when Colin’s skin had been more black and blue than pink, not when his arm had been broken. And now that things were different, it was too late. After what Colin had done, no one cared, and he couldn’t blame them.
He’d been an asshole to William, the only man he’d ever loved, and he was still paying for it. He didn't think anything he went through would ever be enough to repay his debt to his old lover, but at least William was happy now. He had a mate and a son, a job he enjoyed, and friends—so many of them. Colin was happy for him, but he also couldn’t help but be jealous.
As much as he liked Justine, he’d never loved her as more than a friend, and she wasn’t his mate.
No, Matt was.
Colin swallowed a bit of food—was it meat? Or a potato—and let his thoughts drift to his mate. He’d only seen Matt once, but that had been enough for Colin to know, both that they were mates and that they’d never be together. He wasn’t sure who Matt was or even if he was a shifter, but since he hadn’t reacted to Colin’s presence, he was probably human.
That was strike four of five against him—or it would be in the eyes of Colin’s father.
Matt was a man. He was probably human. He worked for the council—Colin had been able to ascertain that, at least.
Someone kicked Colin’s leg under the table. He snapped his head up, looking around. From his expression, Brandon had been the one to kick him. Colin had no idea why, at least until his father said, “So? What do you think? Isn’t it time for Brandon to settle down?”
Colin blinked, the words taking a few seconds to register. “I'm sorry?”
His father’s eyes narrowed, and the familiar roiling of fear in Colin’s guts made him want to throw up. He didn’t, and he stayed where he was. This wasn’t him they were talking about, but his son. He might not love Justine like he should and like she deserved to be loved, but his sons were everything to him, and he’d be damned if he’d ever let his father dictate their lives like he had with him. “He’s eighteen.”
“I know that. One of the girls I have in mind for him is still a bit young, only sixteen, but her grandfather is one of my oldest friends, and I'm sure he’ll talk to his daughter if we decide she’s the one for Brandon.”
Colin looked at Brandon again. This wasn’t anything they hadn’t heard before, but it was the first time Colin’s father brought it up since Brandon had turned eighteen. Colin knew why, of course. He and William had gotten together when he was twenty, and his father had blamed himself for giving him too much freedom, even though he’d never known for sure that Colin and William had been a couple. He’d suspected, Colin was sure of that, but he’d been more than happy to go along with Colin’s story that William had forced him to kiss him.
But Colin couldn’t allow his father to do to Brandon what he’d done to him. He might be terrified, but things were different now. They’d been different for years. Even though people tended not to like Colin, Kameron was a fair alpha, and Colin didn’t doubt he’d intervene if there was a need.