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Sugar Cookies and Mistletoe
Kay Doherty © 2018
All Rights Reserved
Preston Callahan walked down the street with the other unmated alphas and glanced at the pack members lining the sidewalks in front of their homes. The wolf pack didn’t celebrate Halloween, but some had decorated their porches for fall with scarecrows, pumpkins, and wreaths made from colorful leaves.
“I hate this damn parade,” he said to his twin sister, Penny, who walked beside him. “It’s antiquated.”
“Shush. I have hopes,” Penny replied while scanning the crowd with a critical nose, trying to catch the scent of her future mate.
The annual mating parade had been started centuries ago by one of his ancestors to boost the ego of the alphas and remind the others who was in charge. With the change in times and culture, it wasn’t as necessary as it had been back then. He felt the ritual had long outlived its usefulness. It took place every year a few months before mating season so they could peruse the unmated betas and gammas, and so that the parents of wolves who’d recently turned eighteen could present them to the pack alphas for consideration.
Expectation and excitement scented the air as the alphas passed. It was considered an honor to be chosen by an alpha in this way, so it was always quite the event. The unmated wolves would dress up in their finest, and a massive bonfire with food and dancing would take place later that night to celebrate any new pairings that occurred. It happened with enough frequency that the annual parade continued to take place by an almost unanimous vote by the alphas; almost because every year, Preston would vote against it.
He was twenty-eight years old, and in the decade since he’d started taking part, Preston had yet to scent his mate. He’d found plenty of lovers, but they were just betas willing to have a few nights of fun in an alpha’s bed. Preston doubted they even cared whose bed it was, only that it belonged to an alpha. He also doubted this year would be any different, so he’d made no effort with his appearance. Unlike his fellow alphas, who had dressed nicely, Preston wore jeans, combat boots, and a well-worn long-sleeved T-shirt in deference to the late fall chill. Winter, and mating season, would be on them in a few short months.
He made eye contact with a handsome young man in a well-fit gray suit who just might make an enticing plaything for the night. Penny suddenly looped her arm through his elbow. Her excitement vibrated through her, and he glanced down. His twin had always been far more demonstrative in her emotions than him.
“I can smell him, Preston.” Penny beamed up at him with a happiness he’d not seen since they were pups running freely in the forest behind the pack house without a care or worry in the world.
“My mate, Pres. I finally found him. He’s over there.”
She pointed to a group of young men who appeared to be in their early to midtwenties. He recognized a few of them as new arrivals to the pack, which explained why Penny hadn’t scented him until now.
“Congratulations,” he murmured.
“Don’t be so sour about it,” she grumbled as she slapped him on the chest.
He hadn’t meant for the envy and jealousy he felt every year during this thing to bleed into his words, but that was apparently beyond his control.
“I was beginning to have my doubts, too, you know. That I’d ever find my mate this way.”
Penny stopped walking, tightening her grip and forcing Preston to stop as well. She glanced over her shoulder. Preston watched a good-looking young man break away from the others and start walking slowly down the street, watching them closely. The gamma wolf would keep his distance until Penny approached him.
“But there he is.” Penny looked back to Preston, smiled beautifully, and began backing away toward her gamma. “You’ll find yours, too, one day. I know it.”
Preston watched as his twin jumped into the gamma’s arms with an excited yip. The crowd around the couple broke out into cheers, clapping and yelling their congratulations as the alpha claimed her mate. Historically, only one or two alphas per year would find their mate during the parade. He was happy Penny was one of them, but it left him feeling more alone than he had before. His younger brother Declan, who walked about fifty feet ahead of him, was still unmated as well, but the rest of his sizable family was paired off and having pups. He secretly craved pups of his own, which would never happen because he was gay, so he played it off as undesirable.
Lost in thought, Preston walked the remainder of the route without really seeing anything. He looked around, but nothing truly penetrated until he neared the end of the route. A powerful, sweet smell drew his attention to the small house set back a little farther from the street than the others. It was the house Preston’s father, the pack alpha, had designated to his right-hand beta, John. John was the lead pack enforcer, the wolf equivalent of a human sheriff.
John and his mate, Joanne, were standing on the sidewalk having a lively conversation with Declan. Their nineteen-year-old daughter, Brittney, was unmated and doing her best to attract Declan’s attention. Enticed by the delicious scent wafting from the house, and the desire to say hello to a long-time family friend, Preston approached the group.
“Congratulations,” Joanne said with a smile as Preston joined them on the sidewalk. “Word has spread that Penny found her mate today. That’s so exciting.”
“Yeah,” Preston agreed, but his mind was short-circuited by the smell. “Are you baking cookies or something? Smells delicious.”
Joanne’s smile fell slightly as she regarded him and answered with a soft “no.”
“You smell cookies?” Declan asked. He sniffed the air. “I don’t smell anything.”
Brittney sidled up to Preston with a coquettish smile. “Maybe your mate is nearby,” she suggested.
“Seriously?” Preston asked, doubt and irritation lacing the word, and moved away from the flirtatious girl.
“Be right back,” Declan told the family and yanked Preston back out into the street. He kept his voice down due to keen wolf hearing, but he seemed to be content that they were far enough away not to be overheard. “Stop being a cynical ass, Pres. You are smelling your mate. If you actually took the time to talk to newly mated couples, they’d tell you that. Hell, go talk to Penny. Or, gee, I don’t know, any of our brothers and sisters.”
Preston took that news to heart and glanced over his shoulder at the enforcer and his family. He shook his head and turned back to his brother. “Brittney is not my mate.”
“Maybe not,” Declan agreed. “But someone nearby is. The way Grace told it, she followed the scent until it got really strong, and the moment she saw Max, she knew. Max tells it different. There’s no scent for the lower ranking wolves, apparently. Max says it’s more of a pull.”
Preston rolled his eyes skyward and took a deep breath. That scent was still teasing his nostrils. He vaguely remembered one full moon several years back when his brother-in-law, Max, had asked Grace if he still smelled sweet to her. It hadn’t made sense to him, and he hadn’t cared enough to ask about it. He’d simply written it off as some lovey-dovey mate talk he wanted no part of.
“Smells heavenly?” Declan asked softly. Preston snapped his attention back to his brother. “Because the look on your face…”
“Heavenly’s a good word for it.”
Declan put his hand on Preston’s shoulder and smiled. “Let’s go identify your mate, big brother.”
Preston was both exhilarated and terrified by that idea, but he allowed Declan to steer him back toward the house. The closer they got to the small bungalow, the stronger the scent became until Preston was certain that his mate, if all that talk was true, was inside the house. He studiously ignored Brittney and her hopeful expression. A quick glance at Joanne showed she was optimistic his mate would be Brittney as well. He focused his attention instead on John. The older man lifted his eyebrows in question.
“Who’s inside the house?” Preston asked.
John shook his head, clearly confused. “My nephew.”
“Oh, yeah, I forgot he was coming to live with you for a while,” Declan said. “How is your brother doing?”
Annoyed by the conversation his brother struck up with John, Preston sighed. Yes, it was sad John’s brother had lost his wife and second son in childbirth, but that wasn’t what Preston was interested in right now. Preston edged past the men as they conversed, his sole focus getting into the house. He eased the front door open and was immediately overwhelmed by an intense, delicious scent that made his mouth go dry and his nerve endings zing. Preston hadn’t known who or what to expect when he stepped into the bungalow, but it wasn’t the adorable, dark-haired boy sleeping on the sofa.
Preston couldn’t take his eyes off the miracle that lay before him. He squatted beside the couch and took in the sight. The air in the room shifted as the others joined him, but he didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge them. He watched in utter fascination as the boy stirred, waking up slowly, and then locked eyes with him. The kid didn’t sit up or shift his position on the sofa, but Preston saw the mate recognition spark in the boy’s chocolate-brown eyes. Preston smiled.
“Hey there, cutie,” he murmured. “What’s your name?”
“Dylan,” the boy answered. Dylan held Preston’s gaze as he pushed himself upright and folded his legs beneath him.
Preston nodded as he rose to his feet. His intention to sit beside Dylan on the sofa and get to know him was sidelined when Declan slammed him back against the wall.
“What the hell?” Declan whispered, looking at Preston intently.
“He’s my mate,” Preston answered, glancing at his brother in confusion before returning his attention to Dylan’s dark eyes.
“Shit,” Declan breathed.
“No!” John barked.
John stepped in front of Dylan, blocking Preston’s view of him. Preston bared his fangs as he growled at the beta who dared stand between him and his mate. The beta looked nervous, but he didn’t back down.
“I’m sorry, alpha,” John said, lowering his eyes in deference to his superior, but he didn’t move. “You can’t have him. He’s only twelve.”
The mate scent was overpowering, but the longer the beta blocked Preston’s view, the quicker his senses returned. And John’s words were finally able to sink in. He’s only twelve. Intense anger and revulsion blasted through him, and he shoved Declan away. Preston surged from the house and stalked toward the forest as the rage boiled beneath his skin. His human psyche and his wolf both howled at the injustice, the unfairness. Why would fate lead him to Dylan, his mate, when he was still just a child? What had Preston done in his life to deserve such cruelty? Needing to take his anger out on something, he went to his favorite hunting spot in the woods, undressed, and shifted. He needed to kill something.