Twelve years have passed since Tristan and his friends were rescued by the council enforcers and brought to Gillham. Tristan’s friends have adapted. They have full lives, but he doesn’t. He’s still trapped in the grief of losing his mate in the lab they were both locked in, and he hasn’t given himself the opportunity to start healing, isolating himself instead.
Hudson knows exactly what losing a mate does to a person. He lost Paul, his mate, in a car accident twenty-six years earlier, and in many ways, he still feels the pain of that day. When he meets Tristan, he immediately knows he can help him—if not to heal, at least to have a chance to start living again.
Tristan’s shell is hard to break, but Hudson isn’t the kind of man who gives up easily. Still, Tristan has to be the one to choose to take the first step toward healing, or Hudson won’t be able to do anything for him. Will Tristan’s shroud of grief keep Hudson away, or will Hudson be able to get through to him and talk to his hurting soul?
Tristan tried to ignore the persistent knocking on his front door and focus on the document he was editing, but whoever it was, they weren’t going away. They’d knocked three times before starting a lengthy knocking every few seconds, and Tristan almost expected them to call out for Penny like in the TV show.
They didn’t. Instead, they called for him. “Tristan? I know you’re home, so stop hiding and open the door before I decide to climb in through your window,” Caleb called out.
Tristan almost ignored him. It was mid-April, so his windows were closed. Only the one in the kitchen was open, but it wouldn’t be large enough to fit a man. Caleb wasn’t going to be able to get inside the house, not unless he pulled a Santa Claus and climbed down the chimney. He had a key, but apparently, he hadn’t brought it. Still, Caleb wasn’t known to let go when he got his fangs into something, even though he was a chinchilla shifter.
Tristan had only a few moments of warning before he heard something crash in the kitchen. He sighed and saved his document, closing his laptop as he rose. With Caleb there, he wasn’t going to be able to work, not until Caleb left, and that could happen in five minutes or in five hours.
Caleb strode in, naked except for a kitchen towel held in front of his groin. “Can you go pick up my clothes? I left them outside the kitchen window.”
“How did you know that window would be open?”
“Because I know you. You always open it when you cook, and I know you like eggs and bacon in the morning. How you manage to stay so thin when you barely ever leave the house is beyond me.”
That was probably because Tristan forgot to eat more often than not, but he didn’t tell Caleb that. The last thing he needed was for his friend to decide to mother him even more than he already did. Then Tristan would never get rid of him, and while he loved Caleb, he just couldn’t deal with him more than a few times a week. That was already trying enough as it was.
Tristan was grateful when Caleb dressed after he retrieved his clothes. They might be best friends, and they might have spent two years in the wild together, but that was more than twelve years earlier. Even when they did shift together and spend time in their animal forms, Tristan did his best to avoid looking at his friends. Their mates wouldn’t appreciate it, even though Freddy, Caleb’s mate, always said he didn’t care who saw his mate naked as long as they didn’t touch. Freddy was odd, and Tristan wasn’t any closer to understanding him than he’d been twelve years earlier when Caleb had met him. But then again, it wasn’t like he spent much time with the man, and Freddy was Caleb’s mate, not Tristan’s.
Because Tristan’s mate was dead.
Tristan shook his head and peered at Caleb, whose bits were thankfully covered. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to check on you.”
Caleb narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. “Why? Same as always. Because you barely leave the house. Because you see me and the others only when we come by and you have to let us in because you know we’d make your life hell if you didn’t. Because you’re as pale as a ghost and way too thin. Because you need fresh air and exercise and to be with people instead of isolating yourself. Because I know you’re still avoiding Gentry even though it’s been twelve fucking years.”
Tristan swallowed and looked down at his hands. “I don’t need to talk to Gentry.”
Caleb rolled his eyes. “Of course you do. Pretty much everyone in the pack needs to see him. And pretty much everyone has actually gone to see him, and they’re over whatever problem they had, or at least dealing with it. You’re not. You’re ignoring it, and that’s not going to make it go away, no matter how many years pass.”
Tristan almost snapped, almost told Caleb that his problem, as he called it, would never go away. He’d lost his mate, and there was no coming back from that. He still felt the loss more than a decade after Matt had died in his arms.
Instead, he shrugged. “I’m okay, Caleb. There’s nothing to worry about.”
“Seriously? Tristan, I’m not Kameron or just any other pack member. I’m Caleb, one of your best friends, and I'm not blind. You are not okay. You haven’t been okay for a long time, and while I understand why you want to hide away from the world to avoid feeling pain, it’s not healthy. You can’t live this way for the rest of your life. It’s crazy.”
Tristan knew Caleb meant well, and he understood where his friend was coming from. That didn’t mean he was going to give in. He hadn’t all the other times Caleb, Lucas, Dane, and Ryan had tried to push him into living again, and there had been many occasions over the past twelve years.
He couldn’t live again. He didn’t want to, not without Matt. They should have lived this life together, a bonded couple, just like Caleb and Freddy, Dane and Max. Instead, he was alone, and he’d always be. There was no healing from losing a bonded mate, no matter how much Tristan wanted to. He’d felt like a part of his soul had died with Matt, and he’d never get it back.
“Please, leave,” he whispered. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t give Caleb what he wanted, and he didn’t want to hurt Caleb by telling him.