Okay, so the book is finished and being proofed. I'll be sending it to the editor in a few days. Sarah York is working on the cover too! Won't be long now!
Alvin hurried home, shame dogging his every step. Several members smiled in his direction, but that wouldn’t last—not once word got out. He rushed up the steps to his cottage and let himself inside. Collapsing on the couch, he rubbed his hands over his face and heaved a deep breath.
What a fucking debacle, one that he brought all on himself. In retrospect, he wished he’d told his Alpha he was being blackmailed by Alpha Hogan. Leaning back, he stared at the ceiling, replaying Grady and Dylan’s words in his head.
“Dammit, man, you should’ve come to me. What have I done to make any of you think I wouldn’t back you?”
Dylan cleared his throat. “You’ve been pretty clear on the issue of mates.”
“In conjunction with me,” Grady snapped. “I made it clear what I wanted. I never said my feelings applied to anybody else! I sat right here not long ago and told you I’d asked Alpha Wayne for permission for my jamboree to visit his so my members could maybe find mates.”
“Yes, you told me. Did you tell the members?”
Alvin squeezed his eyes shut. The thing was, Grady hadn’t. Alvin honestly believed he wouldn’t receive help from Grady. And shame on him for thinking that of his Alpha. Never once had Grady failed his jamboree in any form. But the damn issues of mates—Grady had made it painfully clear he didn’t believe in love, that it was a fool’s pursuit.
If only he’d known Grady had changed his stance, then maybe… no. No excuses. Alvin was in the wrong. He’d committed an unpardonable sin by trying to kidnap Cade—the Alpha mate. That he hadn’t succeeded didn’t matter. He’d been desperate and would’ve done anything to stop the torture Bert was being put through. Even sacrifice honor.
And it was all for nothing. The Shifter Council showed up at Alpha Hogan’s jamboree investigating a complaint, took over, and now Grady couldn’t retrieve Alvin’s mate like he promised since the Council was involved.
A lone tear rolled down Alvin’s face. Was his mate okay? The driving need to know rode him hard. He should be there, be the one to comfort his mate. Instead he was stuck here being eaten alive with questions. Had Bert finally received the help he needed after being beaten so severely? Bert’s screams—Alvin shuddered. They’d haunt him for as long as he lived.
Maybe it was fitting he didn’t know Bert’s condition, even if it was killing him. He deserved so much worse. Grady had been well within his right to kill him. Or even banish him. Instead, all Grady did was strip Alvin of his title of delta. He’d gotten off easy. Or maybe he hadn’t. Their jamboree was a tight community that would probably turn on him. He’d become an outsider. Untrustworthy. Without honor. Deceitful.
And Bert. What was he going to do about his mate? Would Bert be accepted here? Fuck, would he be after word got out? Alvin knew beyond a shadow of a doubt he could never live in Bert’s jamboree.
Maybe it would be better for them to leave both jamborees, but the thought of going rogue was terrifying. He would lose his home, his business. True Jaguars might be solitary animals who preferred to live and hunt alone, but shifters were different. They needed social interaction and pack-like connection. Most did not do well alone.
But before he worried about where they would live, he had to first find out if Alpha Hogan would release Bert. Hell, was Hogan even still the Alpha? If Alvin ever got the chance, he’d kill Hogan, not only for what he did to his mate, but for forcing Alvin into a situation he couldn’t win.
There was so much still unknown and uncertain.
Restless, Alvin stood and wandered around his home. Should he call the Council and try to find out what was going on? Would they speak to him? Dylan was supposed to contact them, but Alvin couldn’t see Dylan getting in any rush.
Evening came and went, and he heard nothing. Giving up, he went to bed knowing he wouldn’t sleep well.
* * * *
Morning came, and yup, he’d slept like shit. Alvin stumbled into the kitchen and make himself a cup of coffee. The day stretched out in front of him endlessly. After he ate, he got another cup. Maybe he should check in with Grady, but the thought made him cringe.
Wandering the kitchen, he stopped by the windows, staring out at his garden at back. “I just need to know he’s—” Alvin jumped when someone started banging on his front door. “What now? And at this time of day. Dammit, it better not be someone here to give me shit.”
He deserved it, of course, but he was in no state of mind to deal with it. Bert occupied his every spare thought.
“Coming!” Alvin yelled to whoever was trying to beat his door down. He yanked it open, ready for anything. Or he thought he was. His mouth hit the ground when he saw who was his visitor. “Dylan? What—”
Dylan stood in the front door, frowning mightily. “Get your shit and let’s go.”
Alvin blinked in surprise, his heart pounding. Had Grady changed his mind about letting him stay? Was this it, then? “Go? Go where? Why? Did… did Grady…. Am I being kicked off the jamboree lands after all?”
“What?” Dylan reared back in surprise, wiping the frown off his face. “Oh shit, no! I didn’t mean… fuck. Sorry about that. No, Grady hasn’t changed his mind.”
“Um, okay….” Alvin scratched his head, still breathing hard from the fear Dylan’s words left behind. “Then why…. Where are we going?”
“Rhett Carrick called Grady. He’s an enforcer from the Shifter Council. He’s the one who found Bert, and we need to go. Bert is…. I’m sorry, Alvin. He’s—”
Coldness washed through Alvin. Oh fuck, oh fuck. Bert couldn’t be…. Surely he would’ve felt something if…. His stomach rolled ominously, and saliva flooded his mouth. Swinging away from the door, Alvin darted toward the half bath.
A rush of footsteps sounded behind him, but he ignored them as he skittered into the bathroom. He hunched over the commode, losing everything he’d eaten. Please, no. Please, no! His stomach cramped, his body shook, and tears flooded his eyes. This can’t be happening!
Dylan paused at the door. “Son of a… aw, dammit!”
Alvin gagged and then threw up again.
“Oh my fucking… I’m so sorry! Fuck me, I didn’t mean….” Dylan rested his hand on Alvin’s back. “Bert’s not dead or whatever the hell you’re thinking. Dammit, Alvin, are you listening to me?”
Bert wasn’t dead? Alvin gagged one last time as he fought his body’s horrifying response to what he thought Dylan had been telling him.
“I’m a fucking idiot. Major fucking idiot. Where are the….” Dylan cursed softly. “Oh, to hell with it.”
Alvin heard running water.
“Here!” Dylan stuck a wet cloth in front of Alvin’s face.
Shakily, he climbed to his feet and flushed the commode. Alvin barely glanced at what he held as he wiped his face. The coolness against his overheated skin helped settle his stomach, along with Dylan’s words. Trembling, he staggered to the sink and rinsed his mouth. Glancing in the mirror, he noticed the hand towel was gone. Alvin realized he was holding it.
“I couldn’t find any washcloths, so I just grabbed the first thing I saw.” Dylan backed out the bathroom. “Fuck man, I’m sorry. Do you want something to drink? Of course you do. Look, you sit down, and I’ll raid your kitchen. Be right back.” Dylan darted off.
Alvin left the bathroom and collapsed on the couch, leaning his head against the back. Scrubbing his hands across his face, he tried to stop his body from shaking so violently. Fucking hell. He’d honestly thought Dylan was going to tell him… yeah. Alvin’s life had tilted on its axis when he thought Bert was dead.
“Here you go.” Dylan stuck the open can of soda in front of Alvin. “Sip that.”
“Thank you.” Alvin sat up, took the can, and gratefully sipped.
Dylan collapsed next to Alvin. “Well, I guess if there’s any question of whether or not Bert is truly your mate, that answered it. I’m really sorry. Are you okay?”