Joel has known he would have to make a choice since he was a teenager—marriage or putting himself in the hands of the council that rules the shifters who live in the Allegheny forest. He’s running out of time, his twenty-fifth birthday is only weeks away, and he has to find someone to marry before then. His choice almost naturally falls on Eddie, the best friend of the man his brother married the year before.
Eddie has had his eye on Joel for months, ever since he first met him. He never expected Joel to choose him as a husband, not when he could have anyone he wants. Eddie hasn’t planned for an arranged marriage to take over his life, but once he realizes Joel has chosen him, he doesn’t hesitate to propose.
Joel and Eddie rush into a marriage neither of them wanted. Will it be enough to keep the council away? Will they be able to make it work and be happy even though love isn’t what brought them together?
Joel’s hands were too tight on the steering wheel, but there was no way he was going back. He had a right to be there. He didn’t visit the part of the forest that belonged to the bears often, but his brother was married to the sleuth’s future alpha, so no one would say anything about his presence there.
Joel tried to relax his hands, because he felt like he was about to tear the steering wheel off and that would make it difficult to drive. He was almost at the house Levi shared with his husband Dimitri and their newborn son Evan, and so far, no one had tried to stop him. He’d half expected that to happen—the sleuth and the cete were joined since Dimitri and Levi had gotten married, but Joel didn’t often leave cete territory, and he certainly didn’t make a habit of invading other shifters’ homes.
Rationally, he knew no one would have anything to say. He was Levi’s brother, and Levi was the next alpha’s husband. He’d be in charge of the sleuth one day, along with Dimitri. That didn’t make Joel feel any more comfortable or welcome. At least Levi’s house was only about forty-five minutes away from Joel’s, and the roads were all minor and not used often. That would change as the cete and the sleuth got more comfortable with each other, of course, but Levi and Dimitri had only been married for a year. The bears and the badgers were still trying to get used to sharing a territory.
Joel knew that as his father’s son, he should lead by example. He’d never be the cete’s alpha, but he might be an alpha’s husband one day. He couldn’t think of any future alphas he wanted to marry, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t happen. He kept expecting his father to tell him he’d found him a possible husband as he had for Levi. Of course, Levi had been twenty-six, over the age before which the carriers could choose their husbands.
Joel was twenty-four, so he still had a little time, but not as much as he wished. And if he didn’t choose someone, the council might find out and do it for him, and that was something no one wanted to happen. He’d be sold to the man who’d offered the most, and that never made for peaceful, loving marriages.
But he wasn’t visiting Levi for that reason. He wanted to see his nephew, and his sudden need to see the baby had nothing to do with a certain bear shifter.
Nope. Not at all.
Joel sighed. He couldn’t even fool himself. He wanted to see Eddie again, and this was the easiest way to get that. Of course, Eddie might not be at Levi’s house, but it was possible, since he was Dimitri’s best friend.
Joel knew he shouldn’t want to see the man, but was it so bad? It wasn’t like they’d do anything. There was no way Eddie could care about Joel in any way except as Levi’s little brother, or at least that was what Joel reminded himself every time he thought about Eddie.
The small settlement in the middle of the forest where Levi lived finally appeared in front of the car. It wasn’t the first time Joel had come to visit, so he knew which house belonged to his brother. He’d only been there once, though, right after Evan was born. He’d let his fear rule him, and he regretted that now. He wanted to be part of Evan’s life, and that meant visiting him as often as Levi brought him to the cete.
Joel parked the car and turned the engine off. He wasn’t even out of the car when the front door opened, revealing his brother. He had Evan in his arms, and he was beaming. Joel felt his lips stretch in response. He hopped out of the car and rushed toward his brother, stopping just before flinging himself into Levi’s arms.
“What are you doing here?” Levi asked, stepping aside to let Joel in.
Joel walked past him, the warmth of the house prickling his face even though he’d been out of the car only a few moments. “What, I can’t come visit my brother and my favorite nephew?”
Levi rolled his eyes. “That would mean more if you didn’t only have one nephew. Unless Alex became a dad since the last time I saw him? It wasn’t that long ago, but I guess anything’s possible.”
Joel snorted. “You know better than that.”
“He still hasn’t gotten his head out of his ass about Seamus, then?”
“What do you think?”
Levi shook his head, a fond expression on his face. “We’re going to have to intervene sooner or later.”
“Probably.” Seamus was only twenty, so he wasn’t in any hurry to get married, even though he only had eyes for Alex.
They settled in the living room, and Levi handed Evan to Joel. Joel gathered the baby against his chest and finally got a peek. It looked like he’d grown some, even though it had only been a week. “He’s getting bigger.”
Levi snorted. “Of course he is. That’s what babies do. With the amount of milk he drinks, I’m surprised he’s not already twice as big.”
Joel had no idea how to deal with babies, so he was lucky Evan was asleep. He stroked a finger along Evan’s plump cheek and smiled. The baby was adorable. Joel knew it wouldn’t last long once Evan woke up, but it was nice to sit on the couch and hold him. He smelled of baby, a scent Joel wouldn’t have been able to describe even if he’d tried. He rubbed his nose on the top of Evan’s head and looked up to tell Levi something, but the way Levi was looking at him stopped him in his tracks. “What?”
Levi shook his head. “Nothing. You look good with a baby.”