Philip’s life is in limbo. He can’t leave the house where he was taken when he was rescued from Oscar, the man who raped him until he got pregnant with a boy. He isn’t sure he wants to anyway. He and Myron are safe there, and for the first time in his life, he has friends, people who care for him. He even has a crush on Abel, one of the council members, but he knows nothing can come of it. Abel has his life in hand. He has an important job and no reason to be interested in Philip, not with the kind of baggage Philip comes with.
Abel has had a crush on Philip since the first time he saw him. He hasn’t told him anything, because he knows it’s not the right moment. Philip’s son is only a few months old, and neither of them can leave the Bishop house. Abel can’t help but hover close, though, helping with Myron when Philip needs him to—and falling deeper in love with him as the days pass.
The council is still torn in half, even now that Oscar is dead. The man who is going to choose his replacement, Alpha Grimes, is the same man who handed Philip off to Oscar, and that means nothing good can come out of his decision. But when Alpha Grimes dies, everything becomes possible again.
Philip was doing his best not to stare, but Abel in a suit was hard to ignore. He wore it so well, and it was such a change from Abel’s usually comfortable-looking clothes. It fascinated Philip, and it made him want to look even more than he normally did—which was already a lot.
At least he had something to focus on. He looked down and smiled at his son, cooing when Myron gave him a toothless smile. Myron caught Philip’s finger and pulled it closer, no doubt to put it into his mouth.
“Do you want me to hold him for a bit so you can go dance?” Nico asked.
Philip shook his head. “I don’t dance.”
“So you can go to the bathroom, then.”
“Thank you, but I’m fine.”
“He meant so you can finally go talk to Abel,” Nico’s twin, Chris, intervened.
Philip wondered why he was sitting with them. He liked them, and most of the other carriers he was forced to live with, but sometimes they were a bit much. Maybe it was because Philip had been hidden and locked up most of his life, first by his family, then by the man who’d raped him and had killed his little girl before she even got a chance at life.
Philip swallowed. He couldn’t think about that, especially not at a wedding celebration. Seamus and Alex deserved to see smiling faces around them, not Philip’s horrified expression when he thought about his past. So Philip forced himself to smile. “Why should I want to talk to Abel?”
Calum snorted from the other side of the table, but he didn’t say anything, and Philip was grateful for that. He was never sure how to talk to Calum, and he suspected he wasn’t the only one. Calum spent most of his time in his room, and he was present tonight only because, well—Philip wasn’t sure why. They hadn’t been forced to attend the wedding. But Alex was a badger, and the badgers were the ones who’d offered Philip and the other carriers a safe place to stay while the council was hunting them to lock them up. Being there for Alex’s wedding was a show of respect. Philip would have come just to make Seamus happy, though, and since Alex had been the one who’d rescued him from Oscar’s claws, he had a special affection for him.
“Come on, Philip. Who are you trying to fool?” Chris asked.
Nico elbowed him in the ribs, but he didn’t seem to care. Philip wasn’t surprised. Chris was the next in line to become the alpha of his clowder, even though he was a carrier. He behaved like an alpha already, even though he was young and wouldn’t take his father’s place for years. He was used to people listening to him, and that hadn’t changed just because he wasn’t living with the clowder right now.
Philip shook his head and did his best to resist the urge to look at Abel again. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he murmured.
“No? Well, I was talking about the fact that you always look at Abel like you’re thirsty and he’s the only one who has water.”
Philip knew his cheeks were red. He could feel it.
“Or maybe he’s the water,” Nico mused.
Philip wanted to strangle them both. “It’s not—I don’t—”
He wasn’t surprised when Nico reached for his arm and squeezed it. He was the sensitive twin, the one who always made sure no one got hurt by what he said or did. Chris cared, too, but he wasn’t as soft and gentle as his twin. “You know we’re just teasing, right?”
“Not about the way he looks at Abel,” Chris said. “That shit’s real, and everyone but Abel knows it.”
Philips’ stomach sank. “What?”
“Come on, Philip. We all have eyes, and the two of you have been dancing around each other ever since you arrived with him. He’s been protective and shit, and we see the way he looks at you as well as the way you look at him.”
Philip shook his head. “I’m sure you’re wrong.”
Chris arched a brow. “About you wanting to jump him?”
And there went Philips’ cheeks again. “No.” He supposed he might as well admit that. Like Chris and Nico were saying, it was obvious to most people, although Philip hoped it wasn’t to Abel. He didn’t know what he’d do if the man knew how he felt about him. “About him looking at me that way.” Or any way.
A small commotion made the three of them look up. Several people, including Seamus, were heading inside the house. Philip wasn’t sure why, but from who those people were, he could take a wild guess. They were no doubt going to talk about what was going on in the forest and how they could try dealing with the part of the council who thought carriers were nothing more than incubators for whoever paid them the most money.
“Abel’s going with them,” Nico noticed.
“He is a council member, you know,” Chris said. “Even though he gets all soft and nice when he’s with Philip.” He turned back to Philip. “So? What’s the problem? It's not that he’s not your type, not when you look like you want to eat him up.”
Goddammit. Couldn’t they have stayed distracted? “He’s a council member,” Philip said quietly. “That means he needs someone he can take to whatever parties and dinners the council has. He needs someone he can be proud to be seen with.” And that could never be Philip. Not a lot of people knew what he’d been through, but the ones who did were enough. No one had ever judged him for it, for what had been done to him, but that didn’t change the fact that it had tainted him.