Blurb for Omega Shelter: One is missing. One is pregnant. One will die.
As an alpha, Mark is steadfast, organized, and above all loyal. When a cub goes missing, Mark sets out ahead of an oncoming storm to save the child. But when Mark finds a runaway omega hiding on their land with a bloody knife and a secret, everything he believes about true mates and loyalty is put to the test. Will Mark put it all on the line to save an omega who betrayed his own alpha and mate?
Gale has always been a good omega. He mated the pack Alpha and did everything to please him. But when Gale’s mate threatens their unborn child, Gale has no choice but to run. Can a stranger, an alpha, offer Gale everything he’s been too good to let himself want? And if so, will their fragile chance at happiness survive after Gale’s past catches up to them?
Omega Shelter is a fast-paced, satisfying mpreg omega werewolf romance that will leave you hot and bothered with a happily ever after to melt your heart.
Clouds hung low and heavy over the valley, their gray-bottomed cotton hiding the peaks of the white-capped Montana Rockies. The Pine Creek Lake werewolves lived high in the Absarokas, south of Livingston, in a smattering of stout log cabins surrounding the main lodge. A couple of adolescents, in wolf form, were dashing about, trying to get the last bit of their energy out before the storm came. Most of the adults were already inside except a few in human form, like Mark, doing the final checks of the area, making sure all of the cabins had adequate firewood and the guiding ropes were strung from door to door in case someone needed to get to a neighboring cabin in whiteout conditions.
If there was such thing as a “by the book werewolf,” Mark was it. It was odd for an alpha to be as controlled as Mark. Or uptight, as some of the other wolves whispered. Mark served as a second to his older brother, Donovan. Though Mark’s alpha nature made him vaguely want to lead a pack of his own, he enjoyed being a second. He liked knowing his role within the pack and taking care of the other wolves. He respected his brother, and he fulfilled his duties with precision.
Mark had just finished tying off a loose line when Don’s omega, Bertrand, his belly large with twin cubs, briskly waddled over. Bertrand wore a thick winter coat, beneath it a long Renaissance-style tunic, yoga pants and heavy boots. Though naturally thin, the pregnancy, and especially carrying twins, had brought a fullness to Bertrand's face. His long black hair was pulled back in elastic bands, revealing pink ears that were slightly pointed at the tips. An echo of his wolf.
“Mark!” Bertrand shouted frantically. “Have you seen Peter?”
Peter was Bertrand's second youngest cub. He was always getting into trouble. At age eight, he wanted desperately to be as strong and independent as his 11-year-old sister. So he tagged along, trailing the larger paw prints of Leora and her friends. Mark’s stomach sank. He had not seen Peter at all during his walk around the perimeter of the cabins.
“When did you last see him?”
“Leora and the others ran out this morning to the lake. I told Peter to stay here, in the valley, but I bet he followed them. And now Leora and the others are back,” Bertrand pointed to the main cabin. “But none of them have seen Peter. None of them! I can keep looking here, and maybe we’ll just find him asleep in some corner in the main lodge, but…” Bertrand ran his palm over his pregnant belly, “There's no way Don’s gonna let me to go hiking out in the woods. Not now, before a storm, not like this. Can you…?”
Mark knew his duty. And he certainly couldn't allow Bertrand to get himself lost in the snow. Especially not in his pregnant state.
“By the lake?” Mark confirmed.
Stopping only to grab his “Go Pack”—a backpack full of basic supplies kept in his cabin—Mark set out. Speed was of the essence, so he slung the pack over his shoulders and shifted into his wolf. In wolf form, he could smell the sharp brightness of the leading edge of the storm. An electric energy rustled through his fur as he ran.
Mark’s wolf body, like his human, was large, long limbed, and powerful. Mark was a gray wolf with a shock of white just behind his right ear. The streak of white was mirrored, off-center, in human form through his dark brown hair. No matter how many times Mark dyed the white to match his proper hair color, it always came back within a couple of days, so he had long ago given up. He would just have to look lopsided.
In spite of his uptight nature, Mark loved running before storms. He loved the scent of snow, the sting of the wind, and the feeling of something unstoppable in the air. But he couldn’t lose himself too much in those sensations. Not now. Though the pack had carefully built and placed shelters at the lake and into the peaks beyond, a small cub could easily have hurt himself or gotten lost, even in the woods he had frolicked through his entire life. If Peter was out here, Mark intended to find him. And grab him up by the scruff and give him a firm talking to about worrying his bearer dad and the rest of them.
Mark didn't consider himself a romantic, but he wondered what it would be like to have an omega and a family of his own. Though he hadn't felt a special spark or connection with any of the omegas of the neighboring packs, he still held out hope that he would someday find his true mate. Someone who, like him, understood implicitly the importance of doing things the proper way. Though Mark was more attracted to males, he would accept a female so long as the female was his true mate. In his secret soul, the part he rarely acknowledged to himself, he longed for this. A mate. A family. Something beyond duty and pack. Not that Mark didn't love and respect his brother and the pack.
When Mark reached the lake, the wind had picked up, whipping waves along the normally glassy surface. Mark howled, hoping Peter, if he was there, would hear him and respond. Without the wind, his howl would have echoed, but instead the sound was snatched away and distorted. Mark circled the lake as the first flurries of the storm whipped over his fur.
There was a shelter just beyond the first curve of the lake, nestled in an outcropping of rock. All of the cubs had been shown where the shelters were and knew to go to them if they got injured or caught out in a sudden squall, and while Peter was a precocious cub, he wasn't stupid. He would go to the shelter if he needed it. If he wasn't too injured to make it there.
When Mark arrived, the door to the shelter was slightly ajar. Relief mingled with slight annoyance that the cub had not closed the door behind him, but at least in there he would be safe. Mark shifted, and the bite of the elements flashed burning cold over his naked skin. He opened the door, and swiftly shut it behind him. Inside the shelter was dim, cold, and dark. Probably, the little cub hadn't figured out yet how to start a fire in the fireplace. The wood was still stacked neatly, along with a large stack of cornmeal, and on the shelves, salted jerky, canned vegetables, beans, and a cooking pot.
“Peter,” Mark called out.
“Peter, your dad is worried. Come out right now.” Outside, the wind had begun to whistle a bit as it picked up speed. Mark hoped that there would be enough time to get them back to the valley, otherwise the two of them would have to hunker down here until the storm had passed. Hopefully it wouldn't dump too much snow on them. Otherwise, it might take days for Mark to dig the two of them out. What had he been thinking about wanting cubs of his own?
Still no response. Though the walls of the log cabin shelter were strong enough to keep the wind at bay, it was still chilly inside. Naked in his human skin, goosebumps pebbled his flesh and Mark's irritation rose. He reached into his backpack and pulled out his tactical flashlight. A bright circle of light shown on the opposite wall.
“Peter, stop playing. I'm going to find you. If you don't come out right now, you're only going to make this harder.” Mark kept his tone level. He wanted the cub to come out on his own, show signs of taking responsibility for his actions. Though the hiding at least showed guilt. Mark said, “If we don't get out of here soon, were going to be stuck together for the next couple of days. Imagine how worried everyone's going to be then.”
Mark moved his flashlight in a precise arc around the cabin. He stopped when it settled on a boot, sticking out from beneath a large, brightly covered quilt partially covered by a burlap sack. “Peter, I see you. This isn't funny—” then Mark smelled the blood.
“Stay away from me!”
It wasn't Peter. The voice was too deep, and the boot, now that he could see it more clearly, was too large for a child. Mark froze. “Are you hurt? Who are you?”
The scent of blood mingled with a cinnamon musk—omega. The flame of desire filled Mark. It was ridiculous. Mark had smelled omegas before, but none had drawn him like this.
“Just leave me alone,” the omega shouted. “Go away!”
Mark couldn't do that. There was an omega, maybe hurt, hiding on their pack's land. Worse, Mark’s senses, his instincts, whispered that this lost omega was his true mate. Holding his free hand out, palm down, fingers wide, he said, “I’m Mark, of the Pine Creek Lake pack. What's your name?”
“Gale. Now go away.”
Mark took a step closer. “I'm not going to hurt you.”
Gale, probably realizing that Mark wasn’t going anywhere, sat up and glared. Gale was slight of frame with a narrow face and thick, matted dark brown hair. His thin lips were drawn back in the echo of a wolf snarl. He dropped the quilt he’d been huddled under, revealing bony shoulders and a too-sharp collarbone, protected only by an off-white tank top with the fabric thinning in places. In his left hand, Gale gripped a bloodied switchblade.
But the worst of it was on his neck. Thick burn marks marred his skin in an inch-thick ring around the circumference, just below his Adam's apple. Mark blinked in shock and horror. The skin there was irritated, aggravated, sick and reddened like a chemical burn. Like silver. What kind of monster had collared his omega in silver?
“I won't send you back to whoever did this,” Mark blurted out. “You have my word.”
Gale stared at Mark with wide gray-green eyes. As Mark glanced down to where the quilt now pooled around Gale’s narrow hips, the rounding of the omega's belly became unmistakable. Gale was pregnant. Farther along than Bertrand.
About to pop.
Mark wanted to ask, but he was afraid to make Gale even more upset. Mark wanted to hold the omega, to erase any and all of the pain that his true mate had been dealt by the alpha who had so obviously and horribly mistreated him. But he needed to be cautious. The last thing he wanted was to send the omega running back into the storm.
Mark said, “I have food. Some energy bars. They might help.” Sitting down a couple of feet from the terrified omega, he began to unzip his go bag.
“Why are you helping me?”
“Your mate—” It hurt Mark to say those words knowing this omega was rightfully his. And whoever it was who had claimed Gale had no right to be called a mate. He had no right to continue breathing. “He shouldn't have done that to you.”
Mark pulled out three of the energy bars and slid them across the floor to Gale. The omega hesitated, still tightly gripping the knife as he leaned forward and grabbed two of the bars with his left hand.
“Eat. You have to be hungry.”
Gale fumbled with the wrapper, the cold clearly messing with his coordination. After a couple of tries, he put the edge of the wrapper between his teeth and ripped it open, devouring the first energy bar in three bites. “I'm sorry,” he said after he had swallowed. “After the storm is over, I'll be gone. You'll never see me again.”
“I want to see you again.”
“Why?” He rested his palm on the slope of his pregnant belly. “I have a mate.”
“I wouldn’t call whoever did this to you a mate. You can do better.”
“Not at all.” Mark was surprised at his own forwardness. Maybe it was Gale’s scent. Maybe it was the fact that Gale so clearly needed help. Still, it was not Mark’s usual way of doing things, to offer to mate, a lifetime commitment, with someone he had barely met. Someone who was carrying another alpha's child. Mark had never truly believed the stories about true mating, even though his own alpha and pack omega were so clearly and quickly in love, but now he understood. He didn't want to let Gale go. Not yet. Not ever.
The intensity of his own emotions scared him. Best to keep it to himself, for now.
“How close are you, do you think?” Mark glanced at Gale's belly.
Gale shrugged. “Soon. Within a week is my best guess.”
“Your pack doesn't have a midwife?”
“It's difficult to say these things exactly.” Gale averted his gaze. “I shouldn’t be shifting now. That's why when I saw this shelter, I thought I might be able to stay for a bit. Until…” He shrugged. “I didn't really think it through too carefully. I shouldn't be telling you this. This is all my fault.”
“I doubt that.”
“It was an honor to be chosen to mate with the pack leader. My parents were so proud…” Gale shook his head. His eyes were shining, and Mark’s need to hold Gale grew sharper. He moved closer to Gale until the edge of his naked thigh rested along the side of Gale's quilt. Thankfully, the cold air inside the shelter hid the most obvious sign of Mark’s desire. It shamed him to want this omega, at this moment, when Gale's mating had caused him so much pain.
“You've got to be freezing!” Gale said, as if he had only just noticed that Mark wasn't wearing any clothes. He bit the edge of his thin lower lip and then taking a breath, as though fortifying himself, lifted up the edge of the quilt. “Come on.”
Mark shimmied inside and wrapped the quilt around him, holding it with his right hand. Gale's delicious scent filled the folds of the fabric, and though Mark didn't put his arm around the other man and hold him as his body desired, he could still feel Gale's heat.
“You smell good,” Gale said softly. Then in a harried rush of words, he added, “I'm sure I smell awful. I didn't kill Jeff. Just knocked him out. He hopefully stayed out long enough for the storm to cover my tracks. If not, you shouldn't be here if he finds me.”
“It would be my pleasure for him to find me.”
Gale tensed, and an acidic scent of fear filled the narrow space between them.
Mark said, “I told you I wasn't going to hurt you. And I'm not going to let him get his hands on you either.”
“Thank you.” The quilt shifted in a rustle of fabric as Gale turned and pressed a soft kiss to Mark’s cheek. He pulled back almost immediately. “I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry.”
“I like it,” Mark said. His cheeks were warm. “I think you are my true mate. That's why you smell so good to me.”
Gale held the other half of the quilt up to his throat. As he lowered himself back down, his side pressed against Mark’s. He was wearing soft, loose pants. Mark was grateful for the thin layer of fabric that kept him from touching Gale's naked flesh. If Gale had been naked too, Mark would have been compelled to touch. To taste. Already, as a wolf who prided himself on control and routine, Mark’s control was beginning to fray.
Gale asked, “Who’s Peter?”
Shock and shame stabbed through Mark. Peter! How had he let himself it so distracted?
“Peter is a cub. Eight years old. I'm out here looking for him. Shit.” Mark reached into his go bag for his phone. “He's probably back at the lodge. Bertrand sent me out looking for him, and I thought when I saw that the door was open that…” Mark flipped through his contacts and called Bertrand. But when he held the phone to his ear, all he got was three sharp beeps. No signal.
“Eight years old? Is he gray? With two white paws?”
“You saw him! Where was he?”
“Further west, past the lake. Come on, I can show you.”
“No! Stay here. Just tell me where he went.”
“You're not going to find it on your own. If I'd known that he was so far from his pack, I'd have…” Gale shook his head. “I'm sorry. I just didn't want to be seen. I can show you if I see where I was.”
“You shouldn't be outside right now.”
“I'm going with you. If Jeff comes back, I don’t want to be here on my own. And I can help. If I'd known the little cub was lost, I'd have had him come with me.”
Mark wanted to argue. The sensible option was to insist Gale stay here, but Devon didn't like the idea of leaving the omega alone and unprotected any more than Gale wanted to be left behind.
“Okay. You'll stay with me. I'm going to shift, and I have some more clothes in my bag. Put them on.” Mark glanced at Gale's belly. “As best you can.”
“At least you're a couple sizes bigger than me,” Gale said with a smile.
Gale dressed Mark shifted to wolf form and held a rope between his teeth. Gale took the other end and the two of them set off into the storm. The snow was falling steadily now with occasional gusts of wind whipping over Mark’s fur. With Gale behind him, Mark couldn't run, though he was surprised at the brisk pace that they were able to set as they made their way around the banks of the roiling lake.
Thankfully, though the snow was falling harder, it was not whiteout conditions. Mark's intimate understanding of the landscape and his keen sense of smell made it relatively easy for him to find his way. But he couldn't help asking himself: if Peter had been out here and seen the storm, why hadn’t he gone to the shelter? Why had he gone further into the mountains?
Gale tugged on the rope. Mark looked back. Gale was waving toward an outcropping of rock. He shouted something, but the sound was lost. Mark started toward where Gale had waved. When they reached the outcropping, the relentless beat of the wind eased a little. The steady snowfall had left almost three inches on the ground since they’d started walking. It made movement slow and slippery on the rocks. Behind them, their tracks were being covered over.
Mark pressed his nose to the ground and breathed deeply.
He scented it faintly—Peter. They moved further into the trees, past a smattering of pine, to a copse of willow, larch and aspen with the occasional dried and shriveled leaf clinging to its branches as the wind threatened to break its hold. Peter never should have ventured out here. He should have gone to the shelter. Marcus stopped and howled. The wind was strong, but here, sheltered by the tree trunks and rock, his howl echoed some distance.
Nothing. Guilt and fear settled like a film over his skin. If Peter was hurt, then every second that Mark had wasted in the shelter had put the cub’s life further in danger. It was Mark's fault. He had abandoned his duty. He howled again.
As the sound mingled with the screeching wind, Mark strained to hear the cub. Was that a yipping? Mark dropped the rope and jerked his head toward the rock outcropping.
“Wait!” Gale shouted, but Mark was already running. If Peter was hurt, then Mark would need to be able to use all of his speed to get to the cub quickly and carry him in his jaws back to safety. He ran for maybe one or two minutes when he saw Peter, hopping up and down beside what looked like a puppy. Peter yipped and moved so frenetically that even as a wolf, Mark couldn't quite understand what the cub was saying.
How had a puppy wandered so far into the mountains? The dog was brown with large floppy ears, something like a cross between a pit bull and a chocolate lab. She tried to stand but her little back leg would not hold her and she flopped to the ground again with a whimper. It was clear that Peter had tried to grab the little puppy up by the scruff, but he hadn't been strong enough to carry her very far. Not in the storm.
Mark picked the puppy up and, caught between annoyance and pride in Peter who had seen a creature in need and done his best to help, started walking back the way he had come. Thankfully, most of his tracks were still visible. He glanced behind him occasionally as he walked to verify that Peter was following and hadn't decided to run off and rescue anything else. But the cub jogged in lockstep with Mark as they both made it back to the outcropping where Gale waited.
When they reached the omega, Gale was sitting on the ground, hunched forward, huddled in his borrowed coat.
Mark put the puppy down in front of Peter, who curled his body around the dog to keep them both warm.
“Mark?” Gale said. “Is that Peter?”
A flash of agony passed over Gale’s features. He breathed heavily. Mark sniffed at the omega, desperate to find out what was wrong.
“I'm fine,” Gale said. But then he took another sharp breath and clutched his stomach.
Was the baby coming?
They had to get back to the Lodge, where the pack’s midwife would have everything she needed to bring the baby into the world. But he didn't think that Gale would make it that far. Not if the baby was coming. With how Gale was looking, he wasn’t even sure they’d make it back to the shelter.
Even in the best of situations, which this was decidedly not, Mark didn’t know how to help Gale give birth. Being an alpha, and an unmated one, he had never witnessed a birth. He did know that male omegas were more likely to have complications than females, and it didn't take a doctor to know that being half starved, scared for your life, and giving birth on the side of the mountain in the middle of a storm was not ideal.
Peter howled at Mark, jerking his head toward Gale and then looking back at Mark, the question apparent in his body language and tone: “What's wrong?”
“We have to get back to the shelter.” Fear gripped Mark’s insides more chilling than the icy wind. He had left the pack’s settlement in the early afternoon, and counting for running to the shelter, his time with Gale, and their time searching for Peter, it would be dark soon.
“They're far apart,” Gale said. “This has happened before. The baby isn’t due yet. I can walk.”
Mark hoped that was true. He nosed at the rope for Peter to grab it. The cub needed little encouragement. Mark could smell the fear and confusion in his fur, just as he smelled the fear and pain on Gale.
Mark picked up the puppy gently by the scruff and led the way, following his memory of the land even as the blowing snow obscured the markers that he usually depended on. The wind had picked up now, and with Gale having to stop every couple of minutes as another contraction came and went, it was slow going.
Mark despaired that he might miss the shelter altogether and all four of them might be found in a couple of days, frozen to death. But either through some instinct, or scent, or just the instinctive memory, Mark stopped, sensing the shelter was close. Checking to make sure that Peter was still behind him, he led them forward until he literally, nose first, smacked in to the side of the cabin.
The puppy whined.
Mark followed the perimeter of the building until he reached the front door. Then, setting the puppy down, he shifted to human to open the door. The pain of the shift combined with the frigid blast of icy wind almost took the breath out of him, and his fingers were awkward on the cold knob, but he managed to turn it and shove inward with his shoulder. Peter followed, and then Gale, who had picked up the puppy and held her inside his coat.
Peter and Gale shoved the door shut.
“We need to get a fire going,” Mark said. Gale was shivering, the quilt around his shoulders sopping wet, dripping a cold puddle around his feet.
Peter didn't look much better. Ice clung to his fur as he leaned against Gale. Peter whimpered as he looked up at the puppy, which Gale sheltered in his arms.
“There should be a couple more blankets in the closet,” Mark said, pointing to a closet next to the shelves that were covered in dried goods. “Peter–.”
But Gale cut Devon off. “I can get a blanket. You should start the fire.”
Yes, the fire. Mark nodded. He was frantic with fear for Gale, the baby, and with the storm—everything was out of place. He hated being so far out of control. He was used to being able to handle the problems that life sent him. A mate and a baby…right now, it was too much. But he had no choice. Gale was his now, his responsibility. And even though he was carrying another man's child, Gale was his true mate. Nothing else mattered.
At least inside, sheltered from the storm, Gale’s contractions did not appear to be getting any worse. Maybe he had been correct, and it was a false labor. Mark would have no way to tell the difference. But Gale was an omega. He would know about having children. More than Mark, at least.
Mark quickly set the kindling with some ripped up pieces of paper and cotton balls and, taking a match, lit it beneath a tepee of wood. Within a few minutes, the fire was crackling. Only then did he look back to see that Gale, Peter—who had shifted back to human and was now wrapped in a towel and a heavy blanket— and the pup, were seated on the floor behind him in front of the fire.
Mark breathed a sigh of relief. “You're all okay?”
“I'm hungry,” Peter said. “Can I have some of that jerky?” He pointed at a shelf.
“Yeah, go get it.” Peter crossed the room, leaving Gale and Mark to themselves for precious seconds. Unable to contain his relief anymore, Mark sat down besides Gale and folded him into a hug. Gale lowered his chin so that their lips met, and they were kissing hungrily, a mix of relief and desire and something deeper. Mark’s lips parted as their tongues met, and in spite of how exhausted he was, how worried he still was about Gale and the baby, his body flared hot with desire.
Embarrassed, Mark leaned back, pulling the edge of the blanket over his crotch.
“Is that guy your mate? Why didn't you bring him to our pack before? Is that your baby?” Peter had found a pair of shorts somewhere. They were tied around his waist as tightly as he’d been able to manage. In his right hand, at almost half of his height, was what looked like a shotgun.
“Where’d you get that?”
“Top shelf. There’s shells up there too. The gun’s not even loaded. I know how to check. Leora showed me.”
“Give it to me,” Mark ordered.
“I wasn’t going to shoot anyone. So is Gale having your baby?”
“Fine,” Peter sighed and handed the gun over.
“Gale and I just met today. And the rest of it isn't your business. Not yet.”
Gale groaned. Not a moan of pleasure, but pain.
“Are you okay?” Peter knelt at Gale's side, all thoughts of kissing and grossness put aside as he grabbed Gale's hand and said, “What’s the matter?”
Gale took a breath. “I think I’m going to have this baby,” he said.
“Now?” Peter's tone of shocked disbelief and mild affront summed up Mark's feelings exactly. Well…if he added stark terror. Mark had no idea what to do, beyond what he'd seen on television shows. Which, if they were as accurate about childbirth as they were about werewolves, did not fill him with comfort or hope.
“What do we do?” Peter asked.
Good question. Mark glanced at Gale. “What do you need?”
“I don't—” he moaned again, clutching his belly. “I need to get out of these pants. And, some water. And the knife for the cord. I think.”
“Is this your first baby?”
“Yes. I mean, I helped Mama, but she was female, and I'm the only male omega in our pack. But giving birth is natural. I'll be fine.” Gale's smile looked strained.
Mark took a deep breath. He wasn't a midwife or a doctor, but he knew how to stay calm and to do things in order. Panicking wouldn't help anyone. Besides, it was possible that the baby might take a long time to come, until after the storm had finished if they were lucky.
Gale said, “It hurts, but my water hasn't broken yet, so we have time—!” Gale closed his eyes and with tight fists began breathing rapidly.
“That's good,” Mark said. “You're supposed to breathe. Just keep doing that.” He looked over at the cub. “Peter?”
“Take the dog. She can sit on that sack near the fire. And then I'm going to need you to get the pot off of the third shelf and go outside and get some snow. We will boil it.” The shelter cabins didn't have running water or electricity, generally not a problem for werewolves. In a snowstorm, boiling snow was usually good enough. But with Gale giving birth, things would need to be clean. So Mark would need to sterilize the knife before cutting the umbilical cord.
“Gale, how many cubs are you having?”
“Just one—” he groaned again. “I think.”
Peter dashed off to grab the pot. “Can I use your socks?” he asked.
“Yeah, just be quick out there. Run in and out.”
Peter did as he was told for a change. Mark knelt in front of Gale, unbuttoning his pants and pulling at the legs until they were off. Mark piled up the blankets so that there was a soft nest for Gale to sit on. Or was it better for Gale to stand? He didn't know. Gale leaned back on the blankets, lifting his knees. Omegas birthed faster than humans did, at least that's what his bearer dad had said. But first babies took longer in labor than later births.
Not knowing what else to do, Mark sat beside Gale and stroked his forehead.
“I shouldn't have run. I just couldn't… My child… I couldn't have him or her grow up with Jeff. I could take it, but my baby…” Gale’s lashes glistened with tears. “But I made it all worse.”
“You're going to be okay. We'll get through this.” Though Mark's heart was beating double-time with panic, he felt the confidence of his own words. Gale was his true mate, and the gods wouldn't be so cruel to have Gale die just when they had met. Mark had to believe that. And whatever was in his power to control, he would.
“I'm glad you ran away,” Mark said. “If you hadn't, then I'd have gone my whole life without knowing my true mate.”
Gale took his hand, gripping it tightly. “Thank you.”
What was taking Peter so long? All he had to do was run out grab some snow and come back in. If he had gotten himself lost, or hurt, Mark wasn't sure if he would cry or kill the cub.
“I need to check on Peter,” Mark said. “Will you be alright for a minute?”
Before Gale could respond, the door to the shelter was flung open, and a large, angry alpha with a scabbed over knife wound on his cheek came in, half lifting, half dragging Peter by the back of the neck. “Where the fuck is my mate?”
Mark growled. Though he was in human form, the growl rumbled from his chest as he stood, teeth bared. “You have no mate here. This is Pine Creek Pack land, and you are trespassing. Get out.”
“The hell I’m getting out. That’s my fucking omega. Gale, you shit! You stabbed me!” Jeff threw Peter to the ground as if he was garbage and strode toward Mark and Gale. Peter shifted, scrambling away as he did so, and a huge gust of wind and snow blew through the open door.
“I told you to get out.” Mark planted himself solidly, knees slightly bent, naked and furious in front of the other alpha. Jeff looked to be near forty, but years of drink and probably drugs had taken their toll, even accounting for his werewolf healing. Mark could smell his sickness in the sourness of his skin and the foul unwashed scent of his clothing that persisted even though he had been walking for some time through the howling storm. Jeff, in human form, stood half a head taller than Mark, and he was heavier too, but his weight tended toward fat. He had a tremor in his right hand, and he didn't move with the usual fluid grace that all werewolves possessed.
Still, he was dangerous.
Feral. Entitled. And as pissed off as a rooster in a sack.
“Leave Gale alone! Or I'll shoot!” While Mark’s focus had been entirely on the threat of the other alpha, Peter had gotten to the shotgun. The cub, naked and shivering, held the gun with shaking hands. It wasn't loaded, but Jeff didn't know that. Even so, Jeff seemed calm. His lips even twitched, almost smiling, as he said, “Fierce little one, isn't he?”
“I mean it!” Peter shouted.
Jeff moved with werewolf speed, almost a blur, at the cub. Mark matched him step for step, and they reached the boy at the same time, both knocking hips with the side of the shotgun, which was wrenched from Peter's hand as he clung to it, two fingers on the trigger, and it discharged with a horrific bang.
Mark’s ears were ringing from the shot, but thankfully he hadn’t been hit. Neither was Jeff, unfortunately, though the right side of his leather jacket smelled singed. Most of the damage had hit in a spray of carnage along the left wall of the cabin. Jeff turned to the omega, Gale, who was shouting something. Jeff ran to him and grabbed the pregnant omega's left arm, pulling him up to get him to stand.
Peter was sobbing on the floor. Clearly Leora hadn't taught him the correct way to check if the gun was loaded.
Gale struggled, trying to break away from Jeff's grip as another contraction overtook him. Mouth open, eyes shut, he fell back onto the pile of quilts. Jeff hesitated, and then proceeded to try and scoop the omega up inside of his nest of quilts.
“Put him down,” Mark ordered.
“This isn't your business. It's our pack business. And Gale is my mate, which makes it doubly my business and nothing of yours.”
“Gale doesn't want to be your mate. You can go. But Gale stays.”
“You steal my omega, and it’s war. How many wolves do you have? Twenty? Thirty? Our pack is a seventy strong. Fifteen alphas. We will crush you, and take what is ours over the blood and bone of your kin.”
Seventy wolves? That was a third again the size of the Pine Creek Lake Pack. At the same time, Mark could not, would not, allow this miserable excuse for an alpha to take away his true mate.
“I challenge you,” Mark said.
Jeff laughed. His teeth were off-white and large. “Why should I accept a challenge from a whelp like you?”
Fury, disordered and hot, rose in Mark, combining with the overwhelming need to protect his mate, who even now was struggling to bring a child into the world.
“I challenge you. Here. Now.”
Gale grabbed Jeff’s hand and bit down on the flesh of his wrist, hard. Gale was in human form, but it was a wolf bite, ripping through skin and flesh. Jeff cursed and shoved Gale away.
Seeing his opening, Mark leaped. He shifted as he flew through the air and hit with teeth and claws still forming. Jeff jumped back, arms wind-milling as the two alphas slammed into the floor. Mark ripped his claws into soft belly flesh as the other alpha shifted. Hoping for the quick kill, Mark bit again, tearing at Jeff's neck, with hope of a quick kill. But even with the drugs, and the drinking, and the tremor Jeff had shown before, the older alpha was still strong. Somehow he got his back legs beneath Mark and shoved him off.
Mark skidded across the floor about a foot before righting himself. The two wolves circled each other. It was too small inside the cabin for a true alpha battle, but the weather had provided no other choices, and now, in the heat of blood and rage, both were determined to see it through.
Mark was too focused on Jeff, so he barely noticed the movement of fabric as Gale staggered to his feet. Gale’s water had broken, leaving a pool of wet seeping into the blankets.
Jeff charged Mark.
Mark, anticipating his movement from the direction of his paws, shifted his weight to dodge, but he was wrong. Jeff wasn't the fastest, but he was a cunning fighter. So instead of biting Mark on the left side, he went right, and though Mark was fast enough to avoid the decisive blow, the other wolf still got him at the shoulder. Teeth clacked against bone, wrenching Mark’s shoulder free of its joint in a spike of horrific agony.
Mark, desperate to get a blow in on his opponent, snapped wildly at the larger alpha werewolf. But Mark was injured. Hot blood seeped into his fur, and he knew that if he didn’t finish this soon, he’d lose consciousness and he, Gale, and Peter would be at the other werewolf’s mercy.
Jeff bared his teeth, flinging his head almost as though he was laughing.
Mark struggled to stay conscious. His left leg was useless, but he had three more, and though it was torture to stand, to coil the spring of his two back legs so that he could jump again, he did it. He threw himself at Jeff’s exposed neck, teeth bared, but with a mighty swoop of his claw, Jeff batted Mark away as though he, too, was a cub. Mark landed in white-hot agony. He growled, prepared to bite with his last breath, but there was a hard, hollow thump and Jeff swayed.
Gale stood above him, holding the shotgun by the barrel as he slammed it down again. Jeff managed to avoid the second blow, twisting toward Gale, teeth bared, muzzle and claws bloody as with a mighty bite, he clamped down on the gun and wrenched it from Gale's grip. Gale stumbled, falling to his knees.
Jeff reeked of rage and bloodlust as he stalked toward “his” omega. Mark, drawing from his pain, rage, and the promise of a future that Jeff intended to snatch away from him, threw himself at the other alpha. Landing on Jeff's back, he clamped down on the alphas neck and dug his back claws into Jeff’s back. Gripping with his teeth at the nape of Jeff’s neck to keep from being thrown off, Mark clawed at the side of Jeff’s neck with his one good paw. Hot blood streamed from the wound. Somehow, he’d hit the jugular. Mark did it again. A habit of thoroughness.
The two alphas fell together. Jeff, twitching in a pool of his own blood, and Mark on top, teeth still buried in the alphas neck. Mark’s shoulder screamed in agony as he landed.
“Mark!” Gale had his arms around Mark, sobbing. “You’ve got to be okay. Please!”
Mark knew changing form would bring horrible pain, but as a wolf, he could do little to help his mate, so he shifted back to human. He had never felt such pain as his bones and flesh rearranging themselves into his human form with his shoulder mangled and out of socket, and for a time all he could do was lie in Gale's arms and try to breathe. His dislocated shoulder hung limply, and he could smell his own blood mingled with that of the alpha he had killed.
As the blood slowed, Jeff also shifted, a human corpse as outside the wind howled in a mockery of mourning.
“This is going to hurt,” Gale said, and before Mark could ask what, Gale steadied his hand on Mark's back and in one smooth, painful motion, popped the shoulder back into place.
After that brief torture, the pain settled to a dull ache.
“Is he dead?” Peter asked, creeping out from behind the sacks where he had hidden in the far opposite corner. “I tried. I didn’t know it was loaded. I'm sorry.”
“Come here,” Mark said. Holding out his good arm. Peter ran to him and the three of them shared a warm, tearful hug.
Then Gale said, “I think—” He doubled over.
“Can you lean on me?” Mark wrapped his good arm around Gale's upper torso. If they could at least make it back to the blankets, it would be better.
“I'll get some snow!” Peter said, jumping to his feet.
“Forget the snow! Just put the knife over the fire. Now.” It was his job to stay calm. The cub his mate was bearing deserved a chance at a better world than his own father would have given him. “Let’s get Gale to the blankets. Okay?”
Together, Mark and Peter got Gale to the nest of blankets, and as the storm painted the world around them in white, together they helped a new life into the world.