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Alpha (Shifters #6)(9)

By:Rachel Vincent

I’d insulted Marc personally and politically. I’d stabbed him in the back and in the heart at the same time. And considering how very public our troubles were about to become, I now considered myself lucky he was even speaking to me.
“Is this going to hurt us, politically?”
“You’re not on trial this time, Faythe.”
But we both knew I was. We all were. Everything a Pride cat does reflects on his Alpha, and all of it was fair game during the vote. Which is what we’d been counting on, with respect to the bloodstained feathers still in my inside jacket pocket.
Unfortunately, that sword sliced both ways.
“Are you mad at me? Or disappointed?” Somehow, that mattered more to me than the collective opinion of the entire council.
My father took off his glasses to polish them on the tail of the shirt showing through his open coat. “I would have been both, if this were just a game. If you were trying to make Marc jealous, or rebelling out of boredom. But if this is really more than that…I don’t see how I could be mad without calling myself a hypocrite. You can’t help who you love, Faythe. No one can.”
I blinked, confused. “You mean Mom…?”
He put his glasses back on, and a wistful smile stole over his lips. “She was engaged to Bert Di Carlo first. But then I came to the territory to enforce for your grandfather the summer after my freshman year in college, and we both fell, hard and fast.”I sat stunned into silence. I knew my parents were still crazy in love—how else could any marriage last so long?—but I’d had no idea there had ever been such complications in their relationship. “How have I never heard this?”
“Why open old wounds? The past is the past, and it worked out for the best for all of us, in the end.”
“Was it hard?”
My dad shifted on the log to face me, and I could see the pain on his face, still very real even three decades later. “I’m not going to lie to you, Faythe. Bert didn’t speak to either of us for two years.”
“But now…”
“Now he’s one of my best friends and biggest supporters.”
And if it worked out for them, it could work out for us, right? No matter who I chose. Except… “Do you think he would have gotten over it if he hadn’t found Mrs. Di Carlo?” I fiddled with the zipper tab at the hem of my coat. “If he hadn’t fallen in love with someone else?”
“I honestly don’t know. He might not have. New love can help heal some pretty big wounds.”
Jace and I knew that better than most. But love could also open wounds. Big, gaping, gory ones.
“I don’t know what to do.” The ache in my chest was as strong as ever, and it deepened at the thought of letting either of them go. “I know I’m too old to be coming to you with boy trouble, but I’m lost, and I’m pretty sure that whatever I decide, I’m only going to make things worse. But Jace loves me, Dad. For real.”
That time, his bittersweet smile was equal parts angst and sympathy. “First of all, you’re never too old to ask your father for advice.”
I forced a smile with tears still standing in my eyes.
“And second, I have no doubt that Jace loves you. He’s been watching you like you hung the moon from the day you came back to the ranch. I just didn’t realize he’d gone beyond staring. I didn’t think he would, after Marc got ahold of him last time.”
“Jace is changing. He’s…challenging Marc, and not just over me.”
He nodded slowly, staring into the branches as if he were seeing something else. “I saw that, too. Ever since Ethan… I just hadn’t put two and two together.”
I swallowed thickly and bark cut into my palm when I gripped the log beneath me. “I think he could be an Alpha. He could be a good Alpha, Dad.”
He nodded hesitantly. “Maybe so, with some training aimed at leadership. But that’s not the most important question right now. What I need to know is, do you love him?”
More tears came, and this time I let them fall, hot on my frozen cheeks. “Yeah.” I blinked, and my father’s face blurred. “I don’t want to love him—this would be so much simpler if I didn’t. But I do. He’s funny, and passionate, and strong, and he believes in me more than I even believe in myself. When he looks at me, I feel like I could take on the whole world and come out standing tall. I like myself better when I’m with him, because of how he sees me. He makes me feel beautiful and powerful, like I’m the most important thing in the world, and I don’t know how to walk away from that. I don’t know how to walk away from him.” 
Jace was like a drug, steadily, stealthily subverting my willpower. And there was serious heat between us. The kind that can knock down buildings or make a person spontaneously combust.
My father looked stunned, and it actually took him a moment to recover from my discourse on new love. “And you still love Marc?”
“More than I can even explain. He’s my rock—strong and steady, and ready for anything. He knows what I need before I know it, and he pushes me to work harder, and look deeper, and be better. He challenges me, and infuriates me, and he lights me on fire, deep in my soul. And he has never, ever let me down. Sometimes it feels like he’s the only thing keeping my heart beating. I love him so much that it feels like I’m dying a little bit every day that he won’t smile at me. Or touch me. Not even a hug. He keeps this distance between us now. And Jace has to do the same, because they have this weird, fragile truce that isn’t quite working, but I know better than to make them break. But this truce is going to break me.”
The tears fell faster, and a truly pathetic sob followed. “I love them both, and they both love me, but neither of them will even hold my hand, and I’m more alone now than I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s all my own fault.” I sniffled, my nose running from the cold and from the tears. “It’s not supposed to be like this. Love isn’t supposed to break your heart. Or anyone else’s. There aren’t supposed to be two of them. How did this even happen? I mean, I know how this happened, but I can’t make any sense of it. Even if I hadn’t…connected with Jace the night Ethan died, this all would have surfaced eventually, and I can’t think of any less painful way it could have played out.”
He pulled me close, one arm around my back, and I put my head on his shoulder like I hadn’t done since I was a child. “Faythe, your heart doesn’t answer to your brain. And neither do theirs. If that were the case, do you think Marc would still be waiting for your answer?”
“Of course not. If his head were in charge, he’d have kicked me to the curb years ago.” I sobbed again, and this time my father chuckled. “What’s so funny?” I demanded, tilting my head when my cheek got his coat wet.
“You didn’t cry when Kevin Mitchell broke your arm, or when you got stabbed in the hip the last time we were here. But boy troubles are still enough to reduce you to tears.”
“I think this runs a little deeper than ‘boy troubles,’ Daddy.”
“Yet I’m reminded of your freshman year in high school, when you sat in your room crying over…what was his name? Chad Baker?”
“How on earth do you remember that?”
“You’re the only daughter I have, Faythe. I remember everyone who’s ever hurt you.”
I pulled away to stare at him in awe, still wiping sloppy tears from my increasingly cold-numbed cheeks. He was serious.
“Anyway, on the bright side, you do have one advantage most other tabbies don’t.”
“I do?” I blinked, thoroughly at a loss.
“This doesn’t have to be a political decision. In fact, it shouldn’t be. You don’t have to marry an Alpha, Faythe. You’re going to be an Alpha. I have no doubt in my mind that by the time I’m ready to retire, you’ll be ready, no matter who you choose. So you have to follow your heart on this one. You owe that to yourself, and to both of them.”“That’s what Marc said.”
My father’s eyes widened, and I saw unmistakable respect in his small smile. “He did?” I nodded. “Then he must really mean it, because though I see great potential in Jace, right now Marc’s better prepared to help you run this Pride.”
“I know.” My brain was whirring, while my heart only beat sluggishly in protest. “But I don’t need to run it right now. Right? And in a few years, that could change?”
“Of course. That’s why the only advice I can give you is this…” He sat up straight and twisted on the log to face me, his gaze boring into mine. “Don’t confuse the issue by trying to figure out who loves you the most, or who needs you the most. In the end, it only comes down to one thing: choosing the one you can’t live without.”
“How’d it go?” Jace whispered, standing next to me at the counter as I poured Coke into a glass of ice. The cabin was crowded now, but the kitchen was empty. Still, werecats have amazing hearing, even in human form.
“He’s not mad.” I lifted the glass for a sip, and soda fizz sprayed my nose. “I thought he’d be furious, but he… He said you can’t help who you love.” I looked up at Jace, and his cobalt gaze seemed to burn right through me. “It turns out my mom used to be engaged to Bert Di Carlo. I think… Jace, I think he really understands.”