Blaze's dreams just may come true when the top Beta, Darien, finally notices him.
For years Blaze had a crush on Darien. Yet, the Beta never looked twice at the shy, small Omega. Why would he? After all, Blaze is the packs' art teacher. He was never anything special and Darien was way out of his league.
Darien spots Blaze in the cafeteria and instantly drawn to the Omega. At first Darien thinks he's blown things when he'd forgotten that he had known the Omega when they were both young. Luckily, Blaze forgives him. But, just as they are getting close, a danger looms, threatening the entire pack. Has Darien found love only to lose it? Or will they overcome the evil is out to get them?
It was a hundred degrees outside. Darien’s new trainees weren’t progressing at all. His old head wound was giving him yet another migraine. Then, to make things even worse, he was going to be late getting home. Which would mean that he was going to miss American Horror Story. For the second week in a row.
Trying hard not to show the pain that was slicing a path of evil through his skull, Darien watched the Dire Wolves in training. It was all he could not to shake his head in disgust. How was it possible for somebody to reach the age of eighteen and still not be able to do a simple jumping jack? Yet, he had three—count them three— men who were struggling through it.
Even though he knew better, Darien glanced over at his brother Corey’s, group. They were already working as a well-oiled machine, and they had started their basic training the same day that Darien’s group had.
Maybe Darien should be harsher on his Wolves, like Corey was. Corey didn’t hesitate to yell, add extra drills, and keep his team out way past midnight if need be. Darien just didn’t have that in him. It made him wonder if he was any kind of Beta at all. Corey always turned out the strongest warriors. Darien on the other hand got the emotional basket cases. It was like karma had it out for him or something.
He and Corey were very close in age, Darien only being a year younger. The two of them couldn’t be any more different. While Darien liked to look at the bigger picture before he reacted, Corey acted first then asked questions later. Since Corey had a better battle record than Darien, it made him think that Corey was the one in the right here.
Darien would be much better at planning battle attacks. He could look at a map and decide the best course of action every time. The thing was when they were attacked, there wasn’t time for that kind of stuff. The enemy was already at their throats and they had to react instantly or die.
So to put it in blunt terms, Darien’s skills didn’t count for shit. Which made Corey the better Beta and that was never going to change. So Darien may as well get used to it. That, and hope Bishop didn’t get sick of him and send him to another duty. Like say, cleaning out the horse stalls. Not that they had any horses, but who’s to say that they couldn’t start? Although, Darien seriously doubted any horse would put up with them. All natural animals could smell the Dire Wolves in them. That didn’t make for a great kinship.
Several years ago, before Bishop had finally found his balls and became Alpha of their pack, Darien had worked on a nearby farm. There sure were a lot of them in their small town of Holly. It had never failed, all the animals had hated him. With the exception of the dogs. They would always roll over and expose their bellies to him. The farmers could never figure out the weird behavior. Meanwhile, Darien had known all along what had been going on.
Not that he could share it with them. If he had shared he was actually a Dire Wolf shifter, one of two things would have happened. First, their secret would be exposed and they would have human hunters on their asses. Nothing brings more money on the black market than the pelt of a Dire Wolf shifter.
Second, and the most likely, was he would find himself in a mental hospital. Nobody in their sane mind would ever believe that shifters actually existed. Call him crazy, but Darien didn’t want to live out the rest of his years in a mental hospital.
“Hey, sir,” one of Darien’s trainees said. “Can we go to the chow hall now?”
Part of Darien wanted to say they wouldn’t be going until all of them knew how to do the basic shit, like say, jumping jacks. He just didn’t have it in his heart to be that mean.
“Go ahead,” he said, relenting.
As soon as he did, his group left so fast they nearly bowled him over. So much for respect. He let out a sigh. Bishop had been wrong. There was no way that Darien was cut out for this.
At the same time, Corey’s group left. They all made sure to give him a wide berth, though. Not that Darien blamed them. The last one who had ran into Corey, still sported a black eye.
“You really need to make them respect you,” Corey said.
“Respect is earned not taken,” Darien replied.
“There is a difference between friendships and training Betas,” Corey countered. “They respect one thing only and that is brute force. I’ve been watching them. There isn’t one that you can’t take out.”
“I’m not the same as you,” Darien replied with a sigh.
“You better get that way. We could be attacked again at any moment and we need every man and woman we can get ready to fight. We’re not that big of a pack, so we need to be better warriors.”
Damn! Darien hated it when Corey was right. Darien did need to be tougher on his group, otherwise they were going to be slaughtered. That was the last thing that Darien needed on his conscience.
“Fine, I’ll start putting my boot down tomorrow,” Darien conceded.
“If I were you I would start by putting it squarely in somebody’s face.”
“Have you ever thought about therapy? You really have some anger issues that need to be worked out,” Darien suggested.
Corey gave a wicked grin. “I have my own way of relieving stress when it gets to be too much.”
Darien ran a hand through his hair. “Please, do me a favor and don’t share. I have enough nightmares of my own to suffer through without you adding to it. Let’s go and get some food. Do you want to go to the house or to the mess hall?”
“Angel is cooking. What does that tell you?” Corey cocked a brow.
“To the mess hall it is.”
Like Darien and Brian, Corey shared the same color brown hair and eyes. Many assumed that was a trait that all Alphas and Betas had. Although, Darien didn’t quite believe it. He had plenty of Betas that were not only blond, but also some of his best fighters. Although, that didn’t say much with his ragtag group of warriors.
Since they were still a young pack, they didn’t have a fancy training facility or mess hall. Both had once been barns and had since been converted. The smell of hay and animals still lingered. Even the fresh coats of paint and new lumber couldn’t cover it up. It didn’t help that Dire Wolves had a heightened sense of smell, either. But, it was better than nothing, so nobody could really complain.
Darien and Corey walked in to get their food. It was already packed with Betas and the few Omegas that worked with the soldiers. If it weren’t for the Omegas then there wouldn’t be any organization or stability. They were the real thinkers in the pack.
He and Corey filled their trays. It wasn’t anything special, just spaghetti, but it still beat anything that Angel would be making. The only one who ate his junk was his mate, Bishop. That was only because Bishop loved him and didn’t want to break Angel’s heart.
They had just sat down when an Omega walked by. He paused long enough to give Darien a nervous glance, before he rushed on. He was carrying his own tray of food. He must have not been looking where he was going because one of Darien’s Betas stuck his foot out. The Omega tripped over it and fell flat on his face.
The hall erupted in laughter as the poor Omega was coated in his own dinner. Spaghetti sauce mixed with salad dressing and orange sherbet covered the Omega from head-to-toe. How that happened when the Omega’s tray hadn’t been that full in the first place was a mystery, but that was the least of Darien’s concern at that moment.
Darien jumped to his feet, grabbed his offending Beta by the front of his shirt, and then hauled him to his feet. “Is this how we are supposed to treat our Omegas?”
The Beta blanched. Omegas were supposed to be the most protected and revered part of the pack. Many harbored special skills. Ones that were so treasured by the pack they had to keep them a secret lest the Omega get stolen away by a rival group. The first rule was that Omega were to be protected, not to be the butt of some dumb Beta’s joke.
That was why they always said that Angel’s mate, Bailey, was a vet. In reality he didn’t know a thing about medicine. Sure, he had a degree and license, but they were both in law. The pack just always made sure that whenever they helped an outsider, they told them that lie. It was to protect Angel’s special and coveted gift of being able to heal just by touching somebody.
“I’m sorry, sir. It’s just Inkblot. He’s not anything special. He doesn’t even have any real Omega gifts. That is unless you call splotches of paint, art,” the Beta said.
“Albert, isn’t it?” Darien asked the Beta, who he still had a grip on.
“Yes, sir. That’s my name.”
“I hope that you’re a good long distance runner. Tomorrow, you will be running up and down the bleachers, the whole time chanting this Omegas real name,” Darien ordered.
Albert paled. “For how long?”
“Until lunch. Then when that is over, until dinner. After everybody is off duty, you will continue to do it until the morning,” Darien informed him.
“There’s no way I can do that. I barely make it through the five miles you make us jog every morning.”
Darien finally let go of the Beta and made a big show of straightening out the Wolf’s clothes. He even went so far as to act as if he were dusting them off. All the while, the whole room had grown silent as they watched the situation play out. Which wasn’t too surprising. Darien had never come down that hard on anybody before. But then, none of his trainees had ever pissed him off that much. All Darien could think about was that Omega and how humiliated he must be.
“Well, if you fall over from exhaustion, you get back up and keep on going,” Darien said. “That is unless you’re not strong enough to cut it in training.”
Albert’s eyes grew wide as he opened and closed his mouth for a few moments. He looked more like a carp than a soldier. Darien knew that Albert was very afraid of flunking out of training. He had even voiced that concern many times to Darien. As the youngest of three, Albert feared not measuring up. His brother and sister had the reputations of being some of the best fighters in the pack. Albert’s parents had stated that they expected no less of Albert.
“I can do it,” Albert insisted.
Darien cocked his head to the side. “Really? Because, today you couldn’t even do a jumping jack. The pups in the schoolyard can manage that. Should I get one of them to come by over the weekend and give you lessons?”
Albert shook his head. “I promise that they’ll be perfect by tomorrow, sir.”
“They better be or else you’ll be doing your punishment for two days instead of one. Now, apologize to the Omega and then clean up the mess you made.”
The Omega glanced up and Darien nearly forgot to breathe. Unlike most of the other Omegas who had blond hair, this one had hair so dark that it was blue in places. The hues went perfectly with his deep, blue eyes. Ones that seemed to stare straight into Darien’s soul. While he may have been small, even for an Omega, his body screamed all man.
“I can clean it up, sir,” the Omega said, averting his glance. “I should have been looking where I was going. Please, don’t punish him on my account.”
“Why, is it your responsibility to watch out for assholes that are trying to be funny by tripping those who are weaker than them? Because, if that’s a new job description, I’ve never heard of it.”
Inkblot, and Darien even hated thinking of him by that name, gave a half shrug. “I’ve kind of gotten used to it.”
“Well, it ends now. We’re not that type of pack. I’ll speak to my trainees tomorrow and I’ll have Corey do the same.”
Corey gave a thumbs-up. “Although, if you punched some of them in the nuts a few times that would help you out. Think about it, with you on the ground, you’d be in the perfect position to get them. The best part is that they would never be expecting it from you.”
The Omega’s eyes grew huge. “But, wouldn’t I get in trouble for hurting a Beta?”
“Omegas are the most important members of this pack. We all seem to be forgetting that,” Darien stated as he shot his group a filthy look. “Just because you haven’t found your specific gift, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Every Omega has one. It just takes some a bit longer to figure it out.”
“Yeah,” Corey added, “and if you want me to teach you how to punch them in the nuts, I’ll be happy to give you a lesson.”
That shocked Darien. Since when had Corey gone out of his way to be nice to anybody? Then Darien looked over the Omega one more time and noted how damn good-looking he was. Oh, no! There wasn’t any way that Darien was going to let Corey snatch this Omega away from him.
Darien helped the Omega to his feet. When the smaller Dire was standing, Darien didn’t let go of his hand. It felt nice. The Omega’s skin was soft, yet there were callouses on the fingertips that let Darien know that the Dire didn’t sit on his ass all day and watch TV court shows.
“Why don’t we start with you telling me your real name?” Darien said.
Albert was at their feet, scrambling to clean up the mess. The Omega gave a nervous glance down. Darien just chose to ignore the Beta. Albert could have spontaneously combusted and Darien couldn’t have cared less. All he wanted at that moment was to learn more about the Omega. That and to figure out how in the hell Darien had never noticed the attractive man before.
“My name is Blaze,” the Omega said, a slight flush appearing on his rounded cheeks.
“Really? That’s not another nickname?”
Darien hoped it wasn’t, because he was already fond of it. It wasn’t a moniker that one heard often. Darien thought it made the Omega all the more special. It was unique, like Blaze himself was proving to be.
Blaze shook his head. “Nope, that’s my real name. My mother wanted us to all be original. I have a brother who is named Star and a sister called Dew Drop.”
“You’re kidding me, right?” Darien asked.
“I wish I were, believe me.”
“Here, come with me and I’ll help you get another tray,” Darien offered.
He barely registered the fact that Corey let out a muttered curse. Too bad for him. Besides, Corey was the last person who should be with somebody as timid as Blaze. Corey would walk all over the Omega. Even if he didn’t mean to do so. It didn’t take a therapist to realize that the pair would make for a poor match.
Now, Darien, one the other hand, knew to handle timid guys with a gentle touch. Okay, so maybe he hadn’t had that much experience. But, he didn’t go through men like Corey did. It was almost as if Corey were playing his own game of Pokemon and had to get them all. By all, that meant every male in the pack that wasn’t related to them.
Turning his back to Corey, Darien led Blaze back to the food line. It wasn’t until they were halfway there when something occurred to him. How he could have forgotten it, given the strange name was astonishing.
“You’re the Bunton’s grandson,” Darien exclaimed.
Blaze’s cheeks turned bright red. “I was wondering when you would figure that out. I know you’ve been busy, so we haven’t seen each other in a while. It would make sense that you would forget me.”
Darien wanted to kick his own ass then kick in his own teeth. What a way to start things with a guy. By completely forgetting the fact that you’ve known him for all of his life. Which was only a mere twenty years. Yeah, that was no big deal. Cue, heavy sarcasm.
“I honestly didn’t recognize you. I am so sorry that I was such an asshole,” Darien admitted. “In my defense, you’ve done a lot of growing up.”
Blaze looked himself up and down. “Actually, I think I only grew two inches in the past three years.”
Darien was getting a serious case of foot-in-mouth syndrome. He wondered if he should just find a way to excuse himself and leave before he made an even bigger fool of himself. Then he took one more look at how sexy Blaze was and Darien instantly changed his mind. He could handle a bit of embarrassment if it meant getting to know Blaze better.
Darien snapped his fingers at a kitchen staff and they threw him a clean towel. The fact that Blaze was still covered in food made it pretty obvious what he needed. Darien gently began to clean off Blaze’s face. The sauce was the hardest since some of it had dried.
One of the ladies on staff seemed to understand, because she handed Darien a damp rag. Darien then began to scrub a bit harder. He finally managed to get off the sauce, but not without leaving red marks on Blaze’s skin.
“You don’t have to do this. I can go into the bathroom and take care of it myself. Better yet, I could just go home and take a shower and forget that all of this even happened,” Blaze said.
The sad tone in Blaze’s voice made Darien angrier with himself. He didn’t care what it took. He was going to find a way to make all this up to Blaze. Once Blaze forgave him, Darien was going to get to know the Omega so much better.
“If you leave, that lets them win,” Darien said. “It shows you’re ashamed by what they did to you. Don’t let them win. You have to stand up to them.”
Blaze gave him an are you stupid look. “I said I was used to it, that still doesn’t make me feel less of a Wolf every time it happens. The last thing I want to do is make more of scene. Plus, we both know what they will do to me if I try to make a point. They will beat my ass before the sun even sets.”
Darien shook his head. “That’s never going to happen again. I promise you that.”
Blaze gave him a sad smile. “That would be nice if I could believe you. But, not even you can be everywhere at that same time. You won’t always be there to protect me.”
Damn it! Darien hated to admit it, but Blaze was right.