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Alpha (Shifters #6)

By:Rachel Vincent
Alpha (Shifters #6)
Shifters series
“Are you sure about this?” Jace hesitated, one hand gripping a bare branch overhead, the other poised over his zipper. But I could see the truth. He wanted this as badly as I did.
“Absolutely.” I pushed my last button through the hole and let my shirt fall to the ground in a patch of mottled sunlight. My skin was already covered in goose bumps, as much from anticipation as from the February cold. “Now shut up and take off your pants.”
He shrugged and grinned. “You know I’m always up for some sweaty fun.” But the look in his eyes as his gaze roamed south of mine belied his casual zeal. Part bloodlust, part real lust, and all exhilaration—just like me.
“I’m not sure that’s quite how I’d describe this.” Not that I wasn’t looking forward to a little action. It had been days, and I was really starting to crave—
“What the hell is this?” Marc growled, an instant before he tore through the brush to my left. Sunlight burst into the woods with his intrusion, spotlighting my exposed bra and Jace’s…total nudity. Damn, that boy’s fast! Fury emanated from Marc like a deep, dark glow, emphasizing his strong, dark features. “You are not doing this without me.”
Shit. “Marc, this isn’t what you think, and we don’t have time to explain…” My eyes narrowed as his last few words finally sank in. “Wait…what?”
“I said, not…without…me.” His brow rose in silent challenge, and all words abandoned me.
I blinked, lost for a moment in the possibilities, then I shook my head to clear it. “But we’re not…” I waved one hand back and forth between me and Jace, unable to actually vocalize what he surely thought we were doing. “We’re going after Ryan. I caught a whiff of him on my run.”
“Vic told me.” Yet he was still clearly pissed, even knowing Jace and I hadn’t run off for a secret, midday tumble in the…underbrush.
“You didn’t tell my dad…?”
Marc had been talking war strategy with my father when I’d come in from my run, and I hadn’t told them where we were going because I didn’t want my dad to know about Ryan. Not when we could easily take care of the problem ourselves and spare him—and my mother—the additional tension.
He shook his head slowly, as if doubting his own decision. “Ryan’s the last thing he should have to deal with right now.”
“Yeah.” And I was really looking forward to the exercise, to burn off a little stress through good, clean exertion. As opposed to the other, sweatier kind, which we were all currently denying ourselves, to keep Marc and Jace from killing each other. 
Whoever said two is better than one was either stupid or crazy. Or heartless.
“I’m coming with you, so get dressed. Now. You’re not Shifting.”
“Do not start ordering her around,” Jace growled, and dread pitched deep in my stomach, like nausea with a heartburn upgrade.
Marc snarled, and I saw the instant he lost control of his temper. He lunged for Jace. Jace leaped forward. I threw myself between them.
Both hard bodies slammed into me. Air exploded from my throat. My grunt of pain hardly carried any sound. For just an instant, I couldn’t move, crushed between them, confused by the collision of scents and hurting all over. My torso was one giant bruise—I wouldn’t have fared much better between two oncoming cars.
I’m not sure which of them moved first, but suddenly I was on the ground, staring up at two concerned, angry faces. “Damn it, Faythe, you’re going to get yourself killed,” Marc snapped.
I sucked in a painful breath, and my voice came out hoarse. “Evidently that’s what it takes to keep you two from killing each other.” Though truthfully, while Jace would eagerly defend himself, he had yet to actually attack Marc. The reverse could not be said.
I shoved them away and pushed myself to my feet, glaring at Marc as they both stood with me. “Look, I know this whole thing is my fault…”
“Not just yours.” Marc glowered at Jace over my shoulder.
“…and I know the timing could not have been worse. And I’m sorrier about both of those than I could possibly explain. But if I have to spend all my time and energy trying to keep the two of you apart, I really am going to get myself killed, and it’ll be your fault.”
Marc reeled like I’d punched him. But he recovered quickly, with a fresh dose of anger. “You reap what you sow, Faythe. And I’m still going with you.”
I crossed my arms over my chest and tried to ignore the fresh chill bumps. “I think you and Jace should stay away from each other until you’ve cooled off.”
“Why? So you two can top off your hunt with a little more…reaping and sowing?”
I closed my eyes, breathing through the acute ache in my chest, which had nothing to do with the midtom collision. Then I made myself look at him. “Do you honestly think I’d do that to you?”
“I think you already have.”
He was right, but the barb still stung. I hadn’t even come close to earning forgiveness yet, but this was not the time to try. Something always seemed to get in the way. “We’re going after Ryan. You’re welcome to join us, if you can control your temper.”
I’d never seen Marc as bitter or openly antagonistic as he’d been over the past week. His anger was getting in the way of his concentration, his sleeping pattern, and his job, but he couldn’t work around it because he couldn’t solve the problem—that was up to me—nor could he get away from it. Every time he turned around, Jace and I were there, our very presence reminding him of what had happened.
This wasn’t going to get any better until I made a decision, one way or another.
Marc’s dark brows dipped low and he stepped closer, so that I had to look up to meet his eyes. “I’m going—on my own terms.” He pulled his black T-shirt over his head, and my gaze caught involuntarily on his chest, sculpted by years of enforcer training and scarred by the rogue who’d brought him into my life fifteen years before. I wanted to trace those scars with my fingers, but I wasn’t sure I had the right to anymore. He’d barely touched me since he found out about me and Jace.“You don’t outrank me yet,” he spat. “So put your shirt on—you’re staying on two legs. And this time see if you can keep them together.”
I actually staggered backward, floored by the depth of his anger. But not really surprised. I deserved the worst he had to dish out, and he deserved the outlet, especially considering that he couldn’t vent where anyone else could hear him. But damn, the venom in his voice stung.
Jace growled and stepped forward, but I put a hand on his stomach to stop him.
I wanted to yell at Marc, to fight back, but that would only make the whole thing worse. So I swallowed my anger and stuck to the subject. “Hell, no. I’m faster on four legs.” My private run had been cut short by the unauthorized scent in the woods, and I was dying for some exercise in cat form to help clear my head and fight off the bloodlust we’d all been battling for the past couple of weeks. Ever since Ethan died—my brother murdered on our own property.
Marc snatched my shirt from the ground and shoved it at me. “Unless you’re planning to kill him, claws and canines won’t do you any good this time.”
He was right, so I groaned and shoved my arms through the sleeves, then turned my back on them both, already running toward the spot where I’d first caught Ryan’s scent. “Catch up with me when you’ve Shifted.”
I wasn’t a leader. Not really. Not yet. But my father was training me to replace him as Alpha someday, and an Alpha had to be ready to ask questions and issue orders, both of which were hard to do in cat form.
Normally, an Alpha—even a trainee—wouldn’t haul ass through the woods on her own while looking for a known trespasser. Especially in human form, and virtually defenseless against someone with claws and canines. However, this particular trespasser was more than merely known. He was reviled, scorned, and pitied. But he was not feared.
Also, he was my brother.
My pulse raced as I ran and each breath came faster than the last. I tried to exhale it all—to purge my body of the poison I’d been living and breathing since I’d started lying to Marc. That was all over. He knew that I’d slept with Jace—once, in the onslaught of grief for Ethan, while Marc was missing and presumed dead—but the truth had only made things worse. I could apologize, and I had many, many times, but I couldn’t tell him it was over. I couldn’t tell him I didn’t love Jace. Not without lying to him again.
I hated myself for that, but it was a useless hatred. It changed nothing. I loved Marc, but I didn’t deserve him. I loved Jace, but I couldn’t give up Marc. And no matter what I decided, Marc had made it clear that he couldn’t live with Jace anymore. Once the war was over, one of them would have to go. But I didn’t want to lose either one. 
Lost in my thoughts and ungainly in human form, I tripped over an exposed root and caught myself on a twisted branch, sparing only a moment to regain my balance. Then I was off again, my lungs burning from the cold.