Thursday, April 9, 2015

Discover the #Wolves of Willow Bend! Bayou Wolf is here


The rise of so many lone wolves into a prospective sixth pack brings the Alphas of all the North American packs to Willow Bend for a summit. Having so many powerful dominants in one place invites challenges and hazards. No protocol can be ignored and none feels the strain more than Lincoln Buckley. He’s been charged by his Alpha to act as liaison for the Delta Crescent Alpha—the fierce and wildly beautiful Serafina Andre.

Serafina stands apart from her ‘fellow’ Alphas. As the only female to hold sway over a North American pack, she only has Delta Crescent’s interests in mind. She expects challenges from the other male Alphas, dominants all, due to their need to protect females. It doesn’t surprise her in the least to find out the wolf assigned as her liaison has also been tasked with her protection. What does startle her is the depth of her interest in him.

An Alpha doesn’t submit, no matter how much the woman in her might crave him. Her pack must come first, especially since what Willow Bend proposes is insanity…

Read the first chapter!

Ryan slid his hands in his pockets. If the wolf demonstrated no other tells, the act of tucking his hands into the pockets of his slacks told Mason a great deal. His father-inlaw—a grounded parent, clever attorney, and dangerous wolf in his own right—remained uncertain about Mason’s proposal. While not entirely certain it would work, Mason believed the gamble to be worth it.

“Who else have you discussed this with?” Ryan asked into the quiet. Melissa lay sound asleep on her tummy on the thick rug in front of the fireplace. At eighteen months, she’d long since mastered walking and ran everywhere. Her boundless energy, however, came at a price. When she collapsed to sleep, she crashed hard.

Plucking her blanket off the back of the sofa, Mason crouched next to his daughter and covered her. Alexis currently trained with Claire Buckley, an odd match-up Mason wouldn’t have considered before his mate interceded on a fight between Ranae and Claire—well, a one-sided fight anyway. Turned wolves didn’t always know their own strength or how to use their speed to their advantage.

A natural born wolf, Claire not only survived her years in Sutter Butte, she’d also proved tenacious in her oath to attack no one since being allowed to return to Willow Bend. Will and skill combined to make her a formidable fighter. Talent and disposition made her an invaluable instructor. Mason wanted the best for his mate and Claire delivered.

Some questioned his choice, but Mason trusted his instincts. He’d trusted Claire when she said, “I want to come home.” Her mating to Tyler back on track, Claire proved an invaluable member of the pack and the perfect instructor for Mason’s mate. Not that Alexis will ever need to fight to survive, not again.

“Mason?” Amusement colored the reminder, and Mason pushed to his feet. “Only Alexis. She has unique perspective on wolf politics.” And he’d only discussed the bare bones of the idea with her.

“Does she know about you and Serafina?” Shocked, Mason swung around to stare at his father-in-law. How the hell did Ryan know about Serafina? It had been brief, hot, and over years before. The faint hint of amusement on Ryan’s face vanished. “I know a lot of things. It doesn’t matter how I do. What does matter is whether bringing Serafina Andre here along with the other Alphas bothers my daughter.”

His daughter. “She’s my mate.” Mason met stony glare for stony glare. “One has nothing to do with the other.”

“You keep telling yourself that, son.” Ryan shook his head and glanced at the sleeping baby on the floor. “That said, it isn’t done. Meetings between Alphas, on the very rare occasion that they happen, typically occur on neutral territory. It’s safer for everyone involved.”

“We did all right with Salvatore.” He’d liked the Italian Alpha, a far more powerful wolf than he ever let show, yet he’d been a gracious guest. If he’d chosen to make Luciana’s cause his, he could have been a terrific threat. Scratching his jaw, Mason wrestled with the plan. “How often have Alphas met, anyway? I remember representatives at Serafina’s ascension. None came to mine. Brett was already Alpha
when I left Willow Bend—newly-minted, but still Alpha.”

The same Alpha who’d granted Mason sanctuary for a time, but without Mason bowing to him, he couldn’t stay in Hudson River. They’d parted amicably enough. Hell, Mason half-considered the New Yorker a friend.
“Honestly?” Ryan shrugged. “Toman met with none of them if he could help it. I think the last time may have been at the end of the war, but that was before my time. He never hosted them here. It’s a crazy kind of dangerous to bring all the alphas together in one location, especially if the location happens to be your territory.”

“I’ve already considered the potential downside to having them here versus a more neutral location. Having them here gives us an excuse for the meeting…”

“An excuse?” Ryan’s eyebrows rose. “Mason Clayborne is hosting a personal auction of his territory, first come first serve?”

He chuckled and clapped Ryan on the shoulder as he circled the sofa and headed into the kitchen. The bar separating the two rooms let him keep an eye on the sleeping cub while he poured coffee. “Yes, something that lets the alphas save face with their own packs, yet agree to the meeting within territory. I’m young enough, they can see it as a foolish gesture without threat while appreciating the additional security it will provide them.”

“What are you up to?” Intrigue filled the sharp wolf’s eyes, exactly the expression Mason hoped to see.
Spurred on by glee, he smiled. “That’s the point. They’re all going to wonder what I’m up to, or at least some of them will. Brett will come because, while I owed him a favor, he owes me one now.”

“Gillian?” Not much escaped the attorney. “Exactly. He bonded with her during her previous visit, and she’s still tacitly connected to him. She’s my wolf, but I think he still needs her on some level. So she’s all
the leverage I need there.”

“Okay, that’s one,” Ryan said then folded his arms. No longer uncertain, he seemed to understand Mason had a plan. “What about the other three?”

“Serafina owes me a favor. I’ll call that in to get her here. Cassius…I have an in with Cassius.”

Ryan frowned. “Tyler won’t like you asking Claire to do that.”

“No, he won’t. But Claire will do it and, between us, we can get Cassius here. That only leaves Diesel.” The Yukon Alpha wouldn’t be easy to persuade. Chances were he wouldn’t show up at all, except Gillian would prove very useful in persuading their healer to come for a visit. The healers talked, they all did. Some thought their alphas didn’t know, or maybe they simply didn’t care if their alphas did, but the healers shared bonds. With everything that happened in Brett’s pack, coupled with the headache Mason
continued guarding in Nebraska, a conference of the healers would give them all the
cover they needed. If the Yukon healer came, then Diesel would have no choice.

“Oh.” Ryan laughed softly. “You are an evil bastard.”

“Yes.” Mason grinned, raising his coffee cup. “I am.”

Chapter One

The mid-morning sun flooded the windows with a bright glow, warming the tiled floors. Seated in a tilted chair, balanced on its back legs with her feet propped on the edge of the table, Serafina soaked in the buzz of conversation surrounding her. Amy Lange, the Delta Crescent Traiteur, occupied the breakfast nook bench. A cup of coffee sat on the table to her right, some beignets to her left and her hands full of a crocheting project she’d become obsessed with while Trish LeClere swiped one beignet after the other. One of her pack’s finest Hounds, Trish pulled rotation for guarding the Alpha, but she would
have been at coffee regardless. A morning among friends offered her the perfect start to
the day.

“What is that going to be?” Trish asked, nibbling on her second swiped beignet.

“Theoretically?” Amy grinned. “Or actually?”

“Pretty sure she meant what it’s supposed to be.” Serafina eyed the wool concoction. A deep shade of evergreen, it filled Amy’s lap before spilling onto the table. Still, she continued hooking and tugging the yarn.

“Well, I wanted to make a scarf, then it got too wide. So I thought maybe a shawl, but I couldn’t figure out the angles, so now it’s going to be a blanket.”

“For a horse?” Regina paused in cursing the eggs she fried to glance over her shoulder. Her platinum blonde hair seemed to glow beneath the rainbow streaks of blue, green, purple and pink.

Instead of being offended, Amy simply stuck her tongue out. “Maybe.”

Serafina chuckled. She loved having them all so close. Sometimes life sent her wolves in different directions. Delta Crescent had nearly three thousand wolves all told.

One of the largest packs in the States, but they were scattered over the Gulf Coast with some wolves living as far away as the Florida Keys and as far north as southern Virginia. By right of territory, she controlled one of the largest assets in the States and preferred Louisiana to all of them.

Born there, she’d likely die there. Another sip of coffee and she debated whether she should turn her phone over. With so many pack members, someone always needed her. If it were an emergency, they called. All other messages were sent via texts or emails. The information age made life both easier and far more complicated.
As if summoned by the thought, her phone rang. Scowling, she flipped the phone and stared at the caller identification.

Mason Clayborne.

The others quieted as she answered. “Good morning, cher.”

A soft masculine chuckle greeted her. “Good morning, Serafina. First or second cup?”

The problem with former lovers—they learned all the bad habits and how to use them to their advantage. Third, actually.”

“Excellent, then you’re available for a business call.”

“Unfortunately.” She glanced at Amy, and the woman rolled her eyes, but she bundled her crochet before grabbing her coffee. Trish scooped up the plate of beignets and led the way out to the long porch on the far side of the house. It gave Serafina privacy, yet they remained close enough for her to join them after she and Mason finished.

Regina set a plate of bacon and eggs in front of her, then raised her eyebrows. She’d been fixing breakfast for all of them. Should she stay or should she go?

Serafina considered the question while asking Mason. “Is this in regard to our earlier conversation?” In other words, was he calling about the missing wolves? Mason and Julian, the Chief Enforcer, had been a pain in her ass over the last several days.

Mouthing ‘go’ to Regina, Serafina drained her third cup of coffee. Only once her ears told her she was alone did she ask. “What’s going on?”

“I want to invite you to bring your healer to Willow Bend along with a nominal number of Hounds, if you feel it necessary.”

An unexpected invitation. “I’ll repeat my earlier question, what’s going on?”

“Truthfully? We’ve got a big problem. I want the healers here to confer on some information my healer uncovered over the last year, things I think they should really put their heads together about while you, me, Cassius, Diesel and Brett discuss another, graver matter.”

All the Alphas? In one place? Mason was either insane or dangerously brilliant. Unfortunately, those ideas were not mutually exclusive. “What is the graver matter?”

“We found the missing wolves,” Mason continued, his tone even and assured. She concentrated on catching any nuance of a lie, though in her experience Mason played it straight with her from the day she’d met him up to the day he’d walked away.

“And you’re calling me instead of Julian because…?” Rayne Barrows had been one of her people. He’d grown up only a few miles from her and functioned as a Hound for her father when he’d been Alpha. Like her and so many of the other Hounds, he’d defended her father’s right to rule. When Papa passed, Rayne surrendered to her rather than fight for dominance, then he’d left to go Lone Wolf. She held a lot of affection for Rayne and his family. If the Enforcers hunted him, she wanted no part of it.

“Because the missing wolves formed a pack.” The words dropped like a localized detonation. She’d seen enough construction jobs where they imploded a building before they began to recognize the sensation. Her nostrils flared and she scented the air, assuring herself no one lingered close enough to hear his words. “Before you say anything, the Enforcers were handling it, but the new pack is nearly two hundred strong now. This isn’t some rebellion. It’s a full pack, led by an Alpha.”

“Isn’t that the job of the Enforcers?” she asked slowly. “To keep the Lone Wolves in line so we don’t get a clusterfuck of this proportion?”

“Yes and, to their credit, they tried.” Since Mason liked the Enforcers even less than she did and lived under their thumb for several years, she accepted the defense. “The Alpha isn’t one of our Lone Wolves, but…”

“Rayne’s mate.” He’d gone and mated himself to some Italian wolf and brought her back to the States with him. She knew the story, heard the reports from the Enforcers while they investigated the missing wolves. “They were collecting wolves.”

“Pretty much. Sera,” Mason dropped any pretense of boldness and sounded a tad tired. “They’re tucked away in a town in Nebraska. I have it surrounded by Hunters, and I locked them down. The Enforcers can’t take on a whole pack. Even if they worked in concert, it would be too much for them. It’s up to us.”

“Sounds like it’s up to you.” His request didn’t fool her. Mason already assigned enough wolves to handle the task. “Are you planning to bring the other Alphas together for a little assassination and takeover plot?”

“Yes, because Willow Bend isn’t large enough for me. I need the whole country.” He laughed. Seriously?”

“It’s a thought, a clever one, really. Why do you really want us? Do you want to sanction them?” Shock rippled through her at the possibility.

“I don’t know.” Honesty echoed in his words. “It’s a thought. I have a unique perspective most of you don’t possess. I’ve been a Lone Wolf. I know how it feels to be on the outside, to feel like there is no place I belong. This Alpha, she’s young in her power, but she has the right idea. She knows she faces threats from all sides, yet she isn’t backing down, not even to her own brother. And he’s one of the most powerful wolves I’ve ever encountered. Sera, I need your help and your wisdom. You have another unique

“Because I’m a woman.” She didn’t have to guess what he hinted at with that comment. The role of Alpha didn’t traditionally go to women. Not because they weren’t capable of leading, but because they weren’t usually tough enough to take on all challengers. Male wolves, especially male dominants, wanted to protect women. The women, while powerful, usually focused more on protecting the pack. In some ways, her gender made her a stronger leader, but she accepted the handicap present when dealing with other males outside of her pack. She’d spent years proving her capability in leadership to her pack.

They’d follow her into fire.


Serafina smiled faintly. Trust Mason not to split hairs. “Mason, inviting all of us into your territory is a bold move. What makes you think one of us won’t take you out and absorb Willow Bend?”

“I can take care of myself, Sera. I’m also offering an escort from my pack to liaise
with each of you.”

“Nice.” She chuckled. “You’re giving us a guard dog who can also assassinate.”

“Hopefully not. You’re a woman of your word. I’d like to think mine means something. I do not want Delta Crescent, and this is not a plot to take it from you. I will guarantee your safety while you are on my land. If someone goes after you, I will be in your defense. I am extending this promise to each of you. What I want is a face-to-face for all of us. We have a lot of issues that should be hammered out, not to mention a major problem if the dissolution and isolation of the Lone Wolves led to this rise of a pack.”

“And we need to decide what to do with the pack.” She rose and prowled around the kitchen, her hunger and breakfast forgotten. “Mason, are you prepared for Cassius to eradicate them?”

“I’m prepared for anything. We won’t move without a consensus.” She heard the steel in his tone which she remembered so well. “Cassius may think killing them is the easy answer, and he isn’t wrong. It would send a very hard and resounding message to all Lone Wolves, but is it the right answer? Does it serve our packs?”

She had to admit, “I don’t know.”

“Me either. I am not making the decision for all of us, and I want a conversation. So, will you come? Will you bring your Traiteur with you so she can meet with Gillian and Emma?”

Leaving Delta Crescent held no appeal, but neither did the decision being left in the hands of whichever Alphas agreed to attend. “I will come. When?”


Linc Buckley took a step back and checked the frame to make sure it looked even.

Hammers echoed as their team put the finishing touches on the fourth guesthouse they’d put up from scratch in the last three weeks. Thankfully, early winter weather held off, so they’d been able to get the frames up and roofs on without snow adding any complications. Each of the Alpha houses sat equidistant from each other and from Mason’s main residence. It had taken some patience and thorough measurements to make sure none could complain one they were closer than the others.

The scent of his Alpha warned him of Mason’s arrival a moment before he spoke, “Looks good. How close are we to being done here?”

“We’ll have it ready. The Sullivans are already finishing the painting inside.” One of about a dozen human families considered pack, The Sullivan family lived within the precincts of Willow Bend proper. Other humans were part of wolf families, though just as many eventually chose the bite to become a part of the greater pack. The Sullivans were fifth or sixth generation Willow Bend—humans, every single one, save for their greatgrandmother, who’d married into the pack and taken the bite much to her sons chagrin.

“Good, good.” The frown Mason wore didn’t match his statement.

“You wanted humans only inside once we’ve finished.” Unless he’d misunderstood the pretty specific orders, Linc didn’t see a problem with the choices he’d made. “We even left the outlets to be screwed in by them after the wiring was finished.” Only humans entered the new houses, a rule devised to keep the wolves’ scents out. Since the homes would be considered territory for the visiting Alphas, their scents needed to be the dominant ones inside.

“It’s fine.” Mason bumped his shoulder with a light fist, his attention sweeping over the wolves trimming back and clearing some of the trees. One of the youths drove in a pattern with a riding mower and had been making rounds of each of the properties to cut the grass. Hell, even Thomas Halifax, the mate to their healer, devoted time to the project, alongside Tiffany Huston, to get winter blooming flowers in place and well fertilized. Mrs. Huston paused amidst the blooms and waved to Mason. Despite his distraction, Mason paused to put a hand over his heart and nodded to her. Alexis’ parents and Felicia—the surviving mate of their former Alpha—were the only people Mason bowed his head for. Respect, as Mason often said, had to be earned, and those three elders more than earned his.

A pack effort, as it were.

“If you don’t mind me asking, Mason, you don’t sound like it’s all fine.” Unlike his brother A.J., Linc wasn’t tight with him. If anything, he’d clashed with Mason on too many occasions to be comfortable.

Pausing, his Alpha gave him a long look before a smile eased his stern expression.

“Sorry, Linc. I’m thinking through all the plans. Protocol has to be observed with every incoming Alpha. Some are harder to predict than others.”

“We’ve got this, Mason.” Owen Chase called from across the clearing. He’d arrived about an hour earlier with a delivery of fresh fertilizer he and Gillian purchased for Thomas. Neither his mate nor Ranae, Linc’s kid sister, rode with him unfortunately.

“You need to relax, boss.”

“Uh huh.” Mason scratched his jaw. “You and Gillian should already be on the road.”

Shaking his head, Owen shrugged. As a senior Hunter and one of Mason’s counselors, he had a lot of latitude with their Alpha. Though, according to rumors, Owen clashed with their Alpha upon occasion and he was still breathing. It gave Linc hope for his own future. “Gillian already talked to Brett this morning.”

“Huh, he answered her call.” The comment implied he didn’t answer Mason’s.

“Always.” Owen growled, then his expression softened. “Hard to say no to her.”

“Agreed. How far out is he?”

“He has Trent with him, so he’s stopping every two hours for bathroom breaks. Gillian told him to stop giving the boy pop, but whether he listened or not…” Owen shrugged again. “He’s due at the border by sundown. We’ll be there in plenty of time to lead him in. Do you want to see him tonight or let him have a night to settle first?”

“Let him get settled and spend some time with Gillian.” The assessment sent a dark cloud over Owen’s face. Linc shifted the hammer in his hand and concentrated on not stepping into the brewing storm. Had Mason really suggested Owen let the Alpha of Hudson River spend time with his mate?

As quickly as his expression darkened, the Hunter grinned. “She’ll charm him back to his old self in no time.”

“Thank you for not minding this assignment.” The emphasis on the beginning of the statement was one of the reasons Mason earned Linc’s respect as well as his trust. He hadn’t always believed in their Alpha, particularly in the first months following Toman’s death and Mason’s ascension. Mason genuinely cared about them. “Getting Brett here is important. He wouldn’t come for anyone else.”

“He likes Gillian. Sometimes too much, but he likes her. More importantly, he trusts her.” Owen folded his arms. “You still want us to be his liaisons?”

“Yes, more than ever. Besides, I know he wants Gillian to spend time with Trent.” He sighed, then gave Linc a passing look. “As a liaison, you’re going to hear a lot of stuff. I need you to keep it to yourself, understood?” A pulse of command underscored the question.

“Of course.” Linc dropped his gaze and lowered his head. “You have my word.”

“Good.” Mason looked at Owen. “I need Brett to be comfortable here, more than any of the others. Cassius will be a bastard, but Claire can handle him. Ty’s not thrilled, but he trusts his mate, and she knows Cassius better than any of us. Linc will work with Serafina.”

That’s news to me. Great, I get the Alpha bitch. Linc kept his thoughts to himself. He’d thought he’d be stuck with Diesel from the Yukon, since no one knew anything about him.

“I’ve got Dylan on his way north to meet Diesel in Canada.” Poor Dylan—or maybe poor Yukon Alpha. Dylan could be annoying when he put his mind to it. “He can handle Diesel’s gruff ass and need to control every situation.” If Mason said so.
“So that leaves Brett to us.” Owen sighed. “Well, to Gillian.”

“He’s still linked to her, Owen.” Mason’s neutral tone lacked any friendly notes. Linc’s wolf crouched. Their Alpha was not a neutral kind of guy. “She will give him the feeling of pack, plus she genuinely cares. You and I both know that. Something’s…something’s off with Brett. Has been since that mess with his wolves. If anyone stands a chance of getting through his guard, it’s her.”

“I know.” Owen sounded agreeable, but his wolf flashed in his eyes. “Gillian is looking forward to seeing Trent, too. Emma’s coordinating the healer meeting, right?”

“Yes. Emma will lead the actual meetings, allowing Gillian to come and go as necessary. She’ll ensure Brett is involved in Trent’s assessment and training, which is going to distract him from meeting with the other Alphas. I need him distracted.”

Linc didn’t see a reason why they’d need to distract the other Alpha, but Owen scratched his jaw. “He’s touchy. Too many threats in one room… You’re worried he’s going to be the one that starts something.”

“Not worried because I won’t allow it to happen. Brett’s survived enough losses. I won’t let him lose his pack over this bullshit. Tell Gillian to do her best to fix him, and I’ll suck it up that he’s still attached to her.” In those few, simple sentences, Mason made it clear why they’d follow him into hell.

“Glad you can.” Owen’s grin belied his words. “However, if he invites her into his bed again, I reserve the right to pound the crap out of him.”

“Noted, just observe protocol.” The sentiment too dry to be a joke, but he added a faint smile to keep it from being too serious. “We need to make this work.”

“Mason.” Linc spoke, seeing an opening. “Mind if I ask exactly what our goal is?”

“To not have to massacre two hundred wolves,” Mason said, his tone chilling.

“We’re going to need a unanimous decision. Otherwise, we’re going to have war. I don’t intend to lose anyone, not on my watch.”

Neither Owen nor Linc mustered any response. Across the yard, another truck pulled in. A.J. loped across the grass wearing a grim expression. As triplets, Tyler and A.J. were Linc’s best friends and brothers. Having A.J. home healed a lot of wounds, though his current disposition suggested he brought more issues for their Alpha.

Mason exhaled a long breath and pivoted to face his second. “What’s wrong?”

“Ty’s having a fit over the Cassius thing. He’ll be fine.” A.J.’s tone didn’t invoke the confidence of his words. Linc and Ty came to blows when Claire Webster—now Buckley—rolled back into town. Unlike Vivian, A.J.’s mate, Claire did abandon Tyler and it took Linc longer than either of his brothers to forgive the she-wolf for the pain she’d inflicted. Still, they proved a solid pairing. His brother’s happiness mattered a hell of a lot more than Linc’s reservations.

“I thought he trusted Claire’s assessment.” Sharpness edged each of the Alpha’s words.

“He does.” A.J. didn’t flinch from the harsh tone. “Cassius called her about a half hour ago.” He flicked a look at Linc, worry lurking beneath his calm exterior. “Cassius is bringing three of his Hunters with him. No healers.”

Their Alpha said nothing, even his breathing seemed to stop. The stillness sent a nervous titter through the other wolves nearby. Linc swept a look around the field and the wolves present seemed frozen in place, all eyes on Mason.

“Fine,” Mason said slowly. As one, the other wolves began to breathe. “Then he can be shit out of luck about what the healers know. Tell Claire to handle it as she sees fit.”

The level of trust floored Linc. He exchanged a look with A.J.

“You sure you want her to do that? She wants to tell him no healer, no trip.”

Understanding kindled in Linc’s gut. No wonder Ty was pissed and A.J. worried.

Claire planned to threaten an Alpha. Tough as she might be, Cassius ruled Sutter Butte and had for years.

“I’m positive.” Mason smiled and relaxed his posture. “She knows him and, if I read Cassius right, this is a test of our authority in the matter. Let her throw down the gauntlet. And don’t worry, boys. She has all of us to back her up. I have no problem knocking some sense into Cassius if I have to.”

One-by-one, the surrounding wolves returned to their work and A.J. reached for his phone, muttering. “You better be right, because I am not letting Ty near that bastard in his current mood.”

The sour scent of nerves perfumed the air. The tension in town would rise before it got better.

“Linc.” Mason commanded his attention. “Walk with me.”

Leaving A.J. and Owen to their tasks, Linc obeyed. They walked a considerable distance, following one of the winding routes through the woods. Though it possessed no true path, some areas had worn down from the recent traffic of workers coming and going. They’d long-since passed earshot for most of the wolves at the house, but Mason continued onward without saying a word, so Linc kept pace.

After the protracted silence lingered for the better part of a mile, Linc slid a sideways glance at his Alpha. “Just to be clear, if you’re taking me somewhere to kill me, I didn’t do it this time.” He was only half-kidding.

Thankfully, Mason’s laughter eased his rising concern. “No, you didn’t, and you’re not in trouble. The only Buckley pissing me off at the moment is Ranae, and she’s being dealt with.”

The mention of his sister made Linc sigh. She wasn’t a baby anymore, but he still saw a little girl with pigtails in her. Her open defiance and blatant attack on Claire earned her probationary status and assignment to Owen’s detail. She’d not been allowed back in Willow Bend proper, though Mason granted his parents the right to visit her once a week if Owen said she’d behaved. So far, so good. If she could get it together, Mason was fair.

He’d let her come back home.

“Good to know,” Linc said when Mason didn’t seem in a hurry to add anything more.

Finally, Mason paused and eyed a tree. Alongside of it, just barely out of sight,

Linc spotted a string tying back a branch. Stupid kids. Without commenting, Mason triggered the trap, caught the branch and then freed the spring. “I need to ask you to do me a favor, one that will put you in a very uncomfortable position.”

A favor, not an order.

“Name it.” He didn’t hesitate. “Provided you’re not asking me to go against A.J. or Tyler.”

The caveat gained him a grin. “No, I wouldn’t ask you to get into the middle of anything with the two of them. The three of you beat each other up enough for any ten families.”

“All right, then.” Relaxed, he nodded. “What can I do for you?”

Thrusting his fingers through his hair, Mason faced him. For the first time in longer than Linc could remember, he saw the man and not the Alpha. “You’re going to be Sera’s liaison. I need you to protect her at all times. She won’t want it and, frankly, in a physical fight, you don’t want to face her. She is a vicious combatant, and she doesn’t hold back…but she will get some flack from the other Alphas. They’ll all want to coddle her and test their dominance against hers. Unfair perhaps, but not unexpected. I’ll deal
with the other Alphas, if she doesn’t slap them down first. What I need you to protect her from is Alexis.”

Shock struck Linc mute. Was Mason seriously worried his mate would attack the Delta Crescent Alpha?

Clearing his throat, Mason said, “Sera and I were lovers once upon a time and Alexis doesn’t know that…yet. She will before Sera gets here. I won’t have it used as a way to undermine her or this effort.”

Linc’s jaw locked.

“That said, Alexis has a temper.” Understatement of the year. “I do not want Alexis and Serafina left alone together. Ever. If Lexi shows up, call me immediately. I will answer your calls, period, no matter what I’m doing.”

“Mason…” He tried to cobble his concerns together to form a coherent sentence.

“I know, and I need you to promise me you’ll do this. I won’t order you. It’s a hell of a thing, but I need you to promise me you’ll never let them be alone. I don’t care what Serafina orders or Alexis, for that matter. In this, you have my permission to override Alexis.”

A pit yawned out in front of Linc, and it looked suspiciously like his own grave.

“If Lexi goes for Serafina…who the hell am I supposed to protect?” Instinct would always put his Alpha’s mate before the Alpha of another pack.

“Both of them.”

Oh. Yeah. No problem

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