We had gotten close in the last six months since her parents died. At first it was just for comfort, but I liked to believe something else was going on. I never would have imagined having romantic feelings for Eliza, but things were different now. When she walked out of that pack meeting with her head held high, I couldn’t help but fall for her a little bit more. When had she became such a strong, independent woman?
If I closed my eyes, I could still see her bright blue eyes flashing at Amos in defiance when he told her that she was rejected. It must have hurt her, the humiliation. Instead of crying, something I figured anyone in her place would do, Eliza stood there and took it. I admired her strength, wished that things were different, but knew that some things were never going to change.
Now that she was gone, I couldn’t hold back my anger anymore. It was a big deal; I couldn’t just let it go. “Why the hell did you have to do that?” I yelled at my new alpha.
He didn’t care what he had done to her. Amos had always been so cold, but this was different. He had gone too far this time. If he wanted to get rid of her, fine, but he went above and beyond anything that was necessary. He didn’t have to do it in front of everyone, so publicly, so humiliating. All of that was by design, and I couldn’t stand him for it.
“You forget yourself, old man. You’re talking to your alpha.”
I shook my head. I hadn’t forgotten anything. And I was forty, I wasn’t old. Amos was in his mid-twenties, and was inexperienced, as shown by the big fiasco he had just created. Someone who was older and wiser would have never done such a thing. He probably didn’t even understand that he was going to pay for that miscalculation. There was something special about Eliza and the more that she was abused, the more I could see her strengths. So many times, I wished I could save her, and I had failed to do so yet again.
“I haven’t forgotten anything. You have been the leader for less than ten minutes and you have already fucked everything up. What kind of precedent are you setting? You are just going to throw everyone away when they don’t meet your standards? How many of our pack members are you going to make loners? This is not how we get our strength. Our strength comes from working together. I thought you knew that,” I chastised Amos.
I knew that scolding the new alpha was probably the worst thing I could do, but damned if I could do any different. I just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t see how badly he was fucking everything up. I didn’t feel this way just because I felt something for her.
I’d fallen for Eliza a couple of months ago, but even before then I cared about what happened to her. I saw the way people treated her, how my own best friend had pushed her to the side. It would make some people weaker, make them bitter, but not Eliza. It had just turned her into a diamond. Her strength was admirable, and her beauty was too. I could deny neither.
Did it matter now, though? She was gone, and I blamed Amos. I wanted him to pay, even if in the end it would be me who paid for my stupidity. I didn’t care. All I cared about was making him see the error of his ways. How could he be so stupid?
When Amos didn’t respond, I punched him hard in the face, watching with satisfaction as his head snapped back. Amos was the one who got Eliza, and I hated him solely for that reason, but then he rejected her and kicked her out of the pack. It was far worse than him having her, he made it where nobody could have her. He ruined her life, and she did not deserve that.
Amos smiled smugly and I waited for him to beat the shit out of me. The whole pack saw what happened, and he would have every right to do what he thought was justified. “I will give you one free shot, old man, because I know you were close to her. Do not ever put your hands on me again or you will not get another chance.”
Considering that I had just challenged him, and he didn’t even find me worth the fight, I could start a fight to the death, or I could walk away. If I was a little bit younger or a little bit surer of myself, I would have taken it to the death. Instead, I walked away. I needed to look for Eliza anyway.
The last thing I needed was for her to go somewhere and I would never see her again. I needed to convince her to try to make peace with Amos somehow. If she could do that, he might let her stay where she would be safe with the rest of the pack. Being all alone was not only lonely, but it was dangerous for a shifter. Humans didn’t like us, we had warring packs all around us, and she could get caught in the middle of it. I needed to keep her safe, so I had to help her see that staying was the only way to move forward.
I cursed when I got to the bunkhouse and found she was already gone. Eliza didn’t have a car, so she had to be at the Greyhound station, waiting to go God only knew where. I had to find her and fast.
I got to the bus station but there wasn’t a bus around, so I went to the ticket counter to find out if there had been a bus leaving recently and if Eliza was on it. He didn’t want to give me information at first, but as I started to get upset, he quickly decided that it was easier to just give me the information I wanted. I was willing to go to about any length to find her. I should have said more, done more, kept her safer. I was never going to forgive myself for it, so I had to make it right.
He told me she got on a bus headed to a town not too far from here. I hoped I would be able to find her and bring her back quickly. I had wanted to be close to her, but I was never willing to risk it. Things could have been so much different, if I would have been stronger.
I drove back home to pack a bag. I felt like nothing was ever going to be real and true again. I realized quickly that the only reason I had even a shred of happiness in this town was because of Eliza. Now that she was gone, there was no point in me being here.
When I got back, I couldn’t help but hear that Amos was calling for more war. I had heard him talk about his desire to get back more of our ancestral land. We had been fighting about territory for as long as history could remember. We all had enough, but pretended that we didn’t, and everybody wanted just a little bit more. Amos was no different. He started a battle cry on several local enemies—really just different packs that lived nearby. It looked like Amos was bound and determined to make things even harder for his people.
Everything was changing and I was ready to change with it. I was ready to see if Eliza and I had a chance together. That fiery woman made me want to be more, and I had to know if she felt the same way.
“Iam telling you, Eddie, if we don’t find someone to take care of it before that audit, I don’t think we’re going to be in business any longer and Sterling will kill us. He will say that we should have warned him sooner.”
Eddie shook his head. “It isn’t that easy to find a bookkeeper who is willing to sift through the crap that was our paperwork. Now, if we were looking for a cowboy, or somebody to cook or clean, those are easy enough positions to fill, but someone who can do all that math, that’s going to be a little bit more trouble. You know Sterling has been looking for several of the other ranches.”
I scoffed. I didn’t need Sterling to hire people for me because I most likely would not like who he picked. I liked to keep some autonomy in running Mystic Falls Ranch. If I went to him with staffing trouble, he was going to think I needed him to step in. I did not.
“What do you think we should do, then?” I asked him.
Eddie and I were commiserating over beers. I was hoping that as I got drunker, something would come to me. I was about three or four beers in, but nothing had happened yet. I was unusually optimistic.
“What the hell are you looking at? Are you even listening to me?” I asked Eddie when I realized he hadn’t responded to a damn thing I said. His attention was on the other side of the bar, and I looked over there, I immediately understood why. There was a damn pretty woman.
She was short, blonde, and I could tell immediately that she was one of my own kind. Her crystal-blue eyes were downright lovely. I had never seen her before, and I wanted to walk her way.
“Not so fast,” I told Eddie when he started to get up.