After fourteen years of being away, Ricky Pike is back on Wild Lands Ranch. He can’t wait to spend the summer running around the ranch with his birth pack, which he hasn’t seen since his parents separated when he was five. When he gets there, however, he’s less than thrilled to see a giant for sale sign in the front yard. Confronting Zack Abbey, the last of the humans on the ranch, becomes complicated when Zack’s possessive boyfriend steps in.
Seeing Ricky again makes Zack happy. They’d been best friends, but a lot has changed since they were kids and Zack not being able to afford the upkeep on the ranch anymore is only the start of it. When Zack’s relationship with his boyfriend becomes violent, he needs all the help he can get and Ricky and the pack are glad to step in. To them the Abbeys have always been family and Ricky is determined to keep them all together on the ranch they call home.
Summer break was going to be absolutely amazing. Ricky Pike was sure of that as he counted down the hours from his last class of the semester to when he’d be getting on a plane and going home for a whole three months of uninterrupted running, playing, and generally getting into trouble as only a wolf could. Maine was nice. That was where his dad lived. Maine was where the Bangor pack he’d spent the past fourteen years in roamed. But it wasn’t his home. That was always going to be southern Colorado, on a massive stretch of land known as Wild Lands Ranch. He’d spent the first five years of his life running through those thousands of acres, and he couldn’t wait to spend the next few months doing so again.
Less than twenty-four hours after his final class had ended—and Ricky was absolutely thrilled to be done with statistics for the rest of his life—but less than a day after saying goodbye to his teachers, he was being dropped off at Wild Lands Ranch. The air smelled the same—that perfect mix of dry earth and brittle grasses baked in the Colorado sunshine. He absolutely loved it.
What he didn’t love, however, was seeing a giant For Sale sign sticking out of the ground in front of the farm house. “What the actual fuck?” he growled as he slung his backpack over his shoulder and marched to the front door. Sure, he hadn’t lived on Wild Lands Ranch since he was a kid, but someone should have mentioned to him that his pack’s ancestral home was being sold. He banged as hard as he could on the heavy wood. A couple of minutes passed with no answer. He kept banging until someone yanked the door open.
The man who opened the door smelled human. There was no reason that Ricky could think of why he’d hide who he was when Ricky needed information from him. But this man was not Zackary Abbey. Ricky knew Zack’s scent. He’d grown up around Zack. All of the wolves his age had. They’d played together as children up until the time Ricky’s father had decided to join another pack, after he and Ricky’s mother had separated. Whoever this man was, he did not belong in the Abbey house, and he did not belong at Wild Lands Ranch. Ricky bared his teeth.
Ricky smiled in relief at the sight of Zack coming out of the kitchen. He ignored the man in front of him for the time being as he rushed over and hugged Zack as tightly as he could.
“Be human,” Zack whispered to him, and Ricky instantly understood. The other guy didn’t know about the wolves, and Ricky didn’t want to expose them.
“We need to talk.” Ricky was adamant about that. Probably without the other guy around, too. He hadn’t seen Zack since he was five, but he was sure he could make Zack listen. His mom wrote him letters all the time, and she always said how nice Zack was and how sweet he was to everyone in the pack. She’d mentioned every change that had occurred on the ranch, such as when Zack’s great-uncle Colin moved off the ranch and into a senior center when his Alzheimer’s got too bad for him to live without constant care, long after his wolf, Tomah, had died. Ricky wondered why she’d never mentioned Zack was selling the ranch. That was something he should have been told.
“No, we need to go to dinner.” The guy came up and took Zack’s hand, pulling him away from Ricky. “Say goodbye to your underage... whatever he is. Seriously, are you friends with him? Since when do your friends randomly run up and hug you like some crazy person?”
Ricky felt the tops of his ears growing warm. “I’m nineteen,” Ricky corrected him. The man smelled angry, and Ricky tried to hold back his growl. Being aggressive with humans was bad. Since the pack had been trying to integrate more with the modern world around them, they were all taught from a young age to treat humans as if they were easily broken porcelain dolls.
Zack gave him an apologetic smile. “We’ll talk later. Right now I did promise Carl I’d go out to dinner with him. It’s our six-month anniversary.” He looked proud of that. Ricky wondered if he was supposed to congratulate a human on that kind of an accomplishment or not.
“Promise?” Ricky asked hopefully.
Carl laughed. “Quit whining. And no one has explained to me how you two know each other yet.”
“Family friend,” Ricky said automatically. Wolves usually used that excuse. It worked with humans. “Ricky Pike,” he remembered to introduce himself. He didn’t offer Carl his hand, though. He didn’t want to touch someone who smelled like so much anger. He didn’t need that scent rubbing off on him when he went to the pack later.
Carl frowned. “Like the mountain?”
Ricky shrugged and looked to Zack again. Now Zack really was smiling at him. “I thought you looked familiar. Haven’t seen you in years. I was eight, right? And you wore your hair in a braid back then.”
Ricky blushed. The idea that Zack would remember how he’d kept his hair when he’d been five, of all things, made Ricky happy for no real reason. He touched the ends of his hair, which now reached to his shoulders. He hadn’t been able to keep it as long as he once had after he became the one responsible for keeping the tangles out, instead of his mom. “Yeah.”