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Alpha (Shifters #6)(6)

By:Rachel Vincent

“You can’t go by yourself,” Marc insisted. “Malone and his men might already be here.” And they were gunning for all three of us, after the trespassing/kidnapping/assault crime trifecta we’d pulled off the week before. Not that we’d had any other options.
“Blackwell came down yesterday, so even if Malone’s here, he’s not alone,” I responded. “And he’s not going to make trouble just hours before the vote.” But the truth was that both Jace and Marc had more to fear from the Appalachian Pride than I did. Malone still needed me alive, but since the council had yet to officially recognize Marc’s readmission into our Pride, he technically had no rights within our society. Which meant that his word alone would not stand against his attacker’s, should it come down to that. 
And Malone was just looking for an excuse to get rid of Jace—his stepson—without witnesses.
“You guys stay and wait for my dad. Please.” Our Alpha had ridden from the airport with Umberto Di Carlo and his men, so they could talk strategy on the way. “I’ll be right back.” Then, before either of them could argue, I shoved my bare hands into my coat pockets and took off at a brisk walk with them both staring after me.
We could all three have gone together, but frankly, after hours spent on the plane, then in the car with both Jace and Marc and the choking amounts of testosterone they were dumping into the air, I really needed a little time to myself, to clear my head.
To think about my decision. And the fact that I didn’t want to choose. Or tell anyone else what was going on. But the expiration date on that option was rapidly approaching, even if Alex Malone and Colin Dean hadn’t been telling stories yet.
My father was definitely suspicious. If we weren’t in the middle of the biggest series of catastrophes ever to hit the south-central Pride in a single month, he’d have already figured it out. We’d delayed telling him before to keep from adding to his stress level, but now our time was up. I’d planned to tell him on the drive from the airport, but I lost that chance when he rode with Di Carlo instead, so now I’d have to make time to get him alone and try to explain. Before he heard from anyone else.
Jace was sure my dad would throw him out. Marc was worried about the same thing. Or rather, he was worried that if Jace got thrown out before I’d come to a decision, my father would pressure me to choose him in Jace’s absence, even if that wasn’t what I really wanted. Marc didn’t want to win by default. He wanted to win for real. Forever.
But my dad wouldn’t kick Jace out. Not now. Not with everything else going on. Probably not ever. Jace was a part of our family and, like Marc, he had nowhere else to go.
“Damn, somebody sure did a number on your face,” a familiar voice called, drawing me from my thoughts.
My hand flew to my left cheek and my pulse raced so fast my heart felt stressed by the effort. I looked up to see a tall form in the shadow of the cabin ahead. His clothes were a dark blur, but his height and shockingly white hair were unmistakable. As was his voice. Colin Dean.
Damn, damn, damn.
“I was gonna say the same to you.” I forced my hand back into my pocket without letting my fingers trace the thin, straight scar running from my left cheekbone to the corner of my mouth. Dean had put it there. He’d carved up my face slowly while I’d stood frozen, afraid to breathe too deeply for fear of pushing the blade farther into my skin. But in the end, he’d gotten the worst of our little exchange—I’d buried the knife in his gut and left him bleeding. But not before Marc had broken his nose and one cheekbone, and Jace had sliced the side of Dean’s face wide-open.
Surely his scars were worse than mine.
Dean stepped into the light, and for the first time since we’d met, his face made me smile. His scar was thick and knotty, and unlike mine, he could trace it from the inside with his tongue. His nose had healed straight, but was still kind of swollen, even after a full week and ample time to speed his recovery by Shifting. But the faded yellow bruises around his eyes and the darker one on his cheek only made Dean look scarier and more pissed off than I’d ever seen him.
Maybe my father was right. Maybe we should have killed him.
For a moment, I regretted my decision to come by myself. I’d assumed Malone and his men were staying in the cabin on the other side of the main lodge, where they’d stayed last time, in which case I wouldn’t have run into any of them alone.Either I was wrong, or Dean had come looking for me.
He stalked toward me, and my options raced through my head. I could run, but then he’d chase me, either for fun, or because he truly couldn’t control his cat’s instinct to pounce on anything resembling prey. Or because he didn’t want to control it.
I could stand up to him and fight. But that would be stupid with the vote coming up. I couldn’t risk doing anything that would make my father look bad.
I could yell for Marc and Jace, but that would label me even more a coward than running would.
Or I could keep walking and hope Dean had orders not to touch me—surely Malone wouldn’t want to get his hands dirty, either, this close to the election.
I walked on, and Dean altered his course to intercept me. “How many stitches did it take to hold your guts in?” I asked, clenching my fists in my coat pockets as he fell into step beside me, like we were old friends.
“Nowhere near what it’ll take to sew you back together when I’m done with you.”
“That sounds like a threat.” My voice came out cool and confident, and I hoped my racing heartbeat didn’t ruin the impression. Yes, I was a damn good fighter, but Dean outweighed me by more than a hundred pounds and had been training at least as long as I had. Probably much longer. And his grudge against me had moved far beyond the desire to see me dead—he wanted me broken and humiliated first. If he wasn’t under orders to play nice, we were both going to walk away from this one with new scars. Assuming we walked away at all.
“Caught that, did you?” His shadow stretched past mine on the brown grass crunching beneath our feet. “Sooner or later, you’re gonna find yourself alone with me, and I’m gonna find out what it takes to make you scream like the bitch you are.”
I shrugged without pulling my fists from my pockets, relieved to see that we were now within sight of the main lodge. “We’re alone now. What’s stopping you?” Aside from the dozen or so enforcers in the lodge ahead, well within hearing range, should one of us shout.
“Formalities…” Dean growled, stepping in front of me to block my path. “But after the vote, the council’s gonna put you in your place, and I’m one of the toms who’s gonna keep you there.”
I raised both brows in silent challenge, confident now that if he was going to throw a punch, he’d already have done it. “You have no authority over me, and the council can’t change that.” Even if Malone became council chair, he couldn’t reassign me to his own Pride, nor could he make my father hire Dean as one of our enforcers. No council chair had ever even tried anything like that. There was no precedent to support it. 
“In case you haven’t noticed, things are changing around here, and Cal knows exactly how to purge the impurities your Pride breeds so the rest of us can live clean.”
Impurities? Motherfucker was talking about Marc! I pulled my fists from my pockets, but before I could act on my rash impulse, Dean was talking again.
“Cal has plans, including consequences for little girls who step beyond their boundaries. And I just might be one of those consequences.”
I laughed out loud. I couldn’t help it.
Dean’s eyes flashed in anger and suddenly I realized his fury was completely impotent. He was goading me because Malone had him on a tight leash, at least for the moment.
My fists relaxed. I propped my hands on my hips and looked up at him. “Can I see it?”
He blinked, still scowling. “See what?”
“Your scar.” His expression darkened like a sudden eclipse, and I let my gaze grow cold. “You want to hear me scream? Give it your best shot. But until then, every time you take off your shirt, you may as well be handing out my business card. I shoved my blade deep inside you and loved every single inch of it. When I can’t sleep at night, the memory of you screaming like a little bitch is my lullaby. And everybody knows exactly what that scar means—that you got your ass handed to you by a little girl. Again.”
“You fucking bitch…” Dean picked me up by both arms, and my toes barely brushed the ground. It took every ounce of self-control I had to let myself hang there, instead of kicking.
“Do it,” I said, staring straight into his eyes. Daring him. “Hit me. Throw me. Pick a fight, hours before the vote. I’m sure Malone will understand.”
Dean growled. His hands tightened around my arms, and my fingers twitched when he squeezed a nerve.
“You fucking moron, put her down!”
I couldn’t see the speaker—couldn’t make myself look away from Dean while he held me like a rag doll—but I’d know Alex Malone’s voice anywhere.
“You put a single bruise on her, and my dad will find new ways to skin a cat.”
Dean dropped me, but his furious glare never left mine. I landed with my knees bent and barely resisted the urge to rub my arms where he’d held them. “He won’t get the chance. Touch me again, and I’ll gut you. And I don’t need a knife to do it.” Thanks to the partial Shift of one arm.