Jessie rejected his mate years before, and he’s regretted it ever since. He knows Ezra is probably better off without him, though, and he hasn’t tried to reach out to him. Instead, he’s been dating women who won’t remind him of the man he lost through his own fault.
Ezra has been staying away from Gillham and Jessie, just like Jessie asked him to do twelve years before. He’s become an enforcer, and Whitedell has been his home for the past decade.
That changes when their old alpha escapes from the council jail, wanting revenge on the two men who put him there—Jessie and his twin brother, Max. Ezra can’t stay away when his mate is in danger, so he goes back to Gillham.
When Jessie finds out Ezra is there, he realizes he’s been given a second chance to be with his mate. He needs to make things right with him, though, and it won’t be an easy task, not when Alpha Reddings is out to kill him.
Will Jessie manage to get Ezra to forgive him? And will Ezra be able to keep his mate safe?
It wasn’t working, and Jessie knew he ought to say something. He couldn’t bear the thought of being the one to take away the smile on Stella’s face, though, which was why he’d agreed to the date with her.
They were strolling down Gillham’s Main Street hand in hand, and Stella was talking about how her week had gone. She worked as a secretary for a doctor, and she always had interesting stuff to say.
Jessie wished he could make himself like her as more than a friend, but it just wasn’t working. They’d been dating for a few weeks, and he’d known right from the beginning that they wouldn’t work as a couple. He needed to tell her, but what was he supposed to say? I was stupid enough to push my mate away twelve years ago, and I’m still pining for him? You’re a great girl, but you’re not Ezra? Or maybe it’s not you, it’s me?
She’d probably slap him or something. Still, he didn’t want to lead her on, and it wasn’t like she was in love with him, not in two weeks.
“Jessie? Are you listening to me?”
Jessie startled out of his thoughts. “Of course.”
Stella rolled her eyes. “I can tell you’re lying.”
Jessie smiled at her. “Prove it.”
“All right. What did Mr. Haddock do in the waiting room today?”
“I…have no idea. Okay, I wasn’t listening.” Why couldn’t he fall for Stella? She was great—pretty, intelligent, sweet. She’d be a good partner, a good mother, probably a good lover, too.
If only Jessie could push Ezra out of his mind.
It had been twelve years since Jessie had last seen him. Ezra’s expression had been twisted in pain from what Jessie had told him, and he’d left, never looking back. He was probably married by now, or Jessie hoped he was, anyway. Ezra was his mate, but he was a good man, and he deserved the happiness Jessie hadn’t been able to give him all those years before.
He was still beating himself up over it.
He’d been young and scared, and it had been so easy to push Ezra away. Jessie had really believed they couldn’t possibly be mates. He’d believed that all his life, no matter how old they were when they first realized what was between them or how much Ezra had tried to show him it was true. Even watching Max meet Dane and fall in love with his mate hadn’t helped as much as Jessie had needed. Alpha Reddings’ words had been playing on a loop in his mind at the time, and he’d told Ezra to leave.
Ezra had, and he’d never come back.
Jessie still thought about Alpha Reddings, even though the man had been in jail for the past twelve years. He supposed the demon of his childhood and teenage years would stick around for the rest of his life, although he hoped not. But having someone tell you over and over that you were a freak and that you would never be loved hurt. Having someone tell you that you couldn’t have a mate because you were gay—or bisexual, but Alpha Reddings hadn’t cared much about that difference after he’d realized Jessie was staring at his son’s ass a bit too much—marked you for life.
“Jessie, you’re checking out again.”
Stella pulled Jessie toward the side road were the Gillham animal shelter was. She stopped on the sidewalk and put her hands on her hips, looking straight at him. She was just a bit shorter, so she managed to look him in the eyes without him having to tilt his head.
“What’s up?” she asked. “And don’t tell me it’s nothing. We might have been dating only for a few weeks, but I know you well enough. And even if I didn’t, the fact that you can’t seem to focus on me when I'm talking to you speaks volumes. That, or you’re just not interested, and that’s insulting.”
She was giving Jessie the perfect out. “I don’t want to insult you.”
She sighed and let her hands fall to her sides. “So you’re implying you’re not interested. I’d ask if it’s the topic of the conversation, but I guess it’d be pointless.”
“I want to like you. I want us to work.”
“But it’s not. It’s okay.” She patted Jessie’s shoulder.
Why was she the one comforting him when he was the one dumping her? “No, it’s not.”
“It is. I like you, but I'm not in love with you. You’re a good enough man, but it hasn’t been insta-love or anything, and I’m not stupid enough to think I'm your mate. I know how you shifters are. You date, but you always keep the mate option open in case you meet them.”
Jessie shook his head. “That option’s not open, not to me anyway. And I do like you. Just not like I should.”
Stella cocked her head and stared. “Do you want to talk about it? The mate thing, I mean?”
“No.” There was nothing Jessie wanted less.
Stella shrugged. “I thought I’d ask, since this date is over anyway. I should probably go home, though.”
“I’m sorry, Stella.”
“Nothing to be sorry about. I didn’t date you thinking we were eventually going to get married, and really, I'm happy you said something now rather than waiting longer.”
She hiked her purse higher on her shoulder and kissed Jessie’s cheek, ruffling his hair as she moved back. “I don’t know what happened with your mate or why you don’t have the mate option anymore, but I know you’ll find someone eventually. You just have to keep searching, just like I do.”