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Five by Riley Ashford

by Riley Ashford

Changeling Press

eBook BIN: 06031-01935

Mallen Driftwood is on the run. From her fate. From her life. From her husband, the alpha of the Driftwood pack. As the alpha’s wife, she has committed the one unforgivable sin: She is barren. She cannot bear to fail her pack and her mate, especially when her stubborn husband refuses to divorce her or at least take a second wife. Mallen feels she only has one option left: Invoke the protector spirit of the Diego. Only when the Diego takes her life will she be able to ensure the future of her pack… and her mate.

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Chapter One

One week. Three days. 14 hours.
He hadn’t come for her yet. Or maybe he was giving her time. Space. He’d always been good at predicting her needs, her moods.
He shouldn’t have loved her.
He shouldn’t have mated with her.
Mallen Driftwood looked out the picture window at the swirling snow. The dim yellow of the porch light barely penetrated the darkness. Yet she knew that rolling mounds of white covered the entire area — all the way to the tree line.
The cabin was isolated, one of several rentals near the lake. She couldn’t remember the name of the water. Earlier in the day, she’d been white-knuckle driving in the snowstorm, and yet had managed to see the sign for cabin rentals. The woman manning the single desk in the tiny rental office was chatty, friendly. She said only one other cabin had been rented. She happily relayed that Mallen’s closest neighbors were Hubert and Sarah Gilmore, who were celebrating their fiftieth anniversary by staying in the same cabin where they’d honeymooned.
Her gaze drifted through the tall pines. Mallen could just make the faint yellow glow of the Gilmores’ porch light.
Yes, he would come for her.
But so would the Diego. The spirit protector of their pack. The one who would make her pay penance for her crime. She would die. Die gladly so that her mate and her pack would be okay.
The Diego would devour her. David would choose a new mate. The pack would thrive.
She’d been running. From David. From fate. From the life she could never have.
Her brothers used to call her Five.
She was the fifth pup. The only girl. The weakest one born to her family. In some packs, the weak pups were left in the woods — either to die or to prove they had the strength to survive. But even though she was a mewling, tiny thing, her family kept her. She was nurtured by them all. Loved. But not coddled. She was expected to pull her weight. To do as well as her bigger and stronger brothers. To take care of herself.
They also prepared her for her expected place in the pack. Her father was among the wolves that patrolled the borders of their territory. He was a soldier. Not an officer. Not a wolf with opportunities for advancement. Her father seemed satisfied with his life. Whether or not that acceptance had been easy — well, she didn’t know. So, as the youngest child of wolves with lesser rank, she was expected to follow in their footsteps. Either she followed her mother into administrative work or she joined her father as part of the protectors.
Mallen learned to fight. Every pack member learned to fight, but she wasn’t one to seek violence when cleverness and intelligence could more easily win the day. She was curious about the world. Unafraid to ask questions. To dream bigger. To want more.
Is that what David had seen in her that day? When the new alpha assumed leadership, custom dictated every single female of age present herself to him. As long as anyone could remember, the alpha would choose several bride prospects who would then engage in a series of challenges. The winner got to marry the alpha.
It was a stupid tradition.
She had no intention of participating. Not that it mattered. No alpha in his right mind would pick her. She was too small, looked too delicate, and her family was too low of a rank. So she was never a serious contender.
Not being considered competition had its advantages. She wasn’t picked on by the other women. Of course, that may have been because she had four protective older brothers, who were handsome and more than willing to satisfy the bedroom urges of willing females. And they did not take kindly to slurs against their little sister. The long-held rule of “I can pick on my sibling, but you can’t,” was very much gospel in their family. Mallen had gotten used to being ignored, even looked at with pity. She didn’t care about the opinions of others, anyway. She knew her own mind. She didn’t need approval.
She only went to the choosing ceremony to please her parents. They knew how she felt about the pack’s archaic traditions and expectations. But still… she didn’t want to disappoint them. They’d always had her back, and she figured it would cost her nothing to honor this one small aspect of pack life.
So, no. She was not a serious contender.
Is that why she answered him so boldly? And looked him in the eye? And then she dared to question his intelligence when he pulled her from the line of women and, to the shock of the pack, proclaimed, “I have chosen.”
Not: I have chosen her. And her. And her. And her, too.
Not: I have chosen. Ha, ha! Just kidding!
He’d said, with complete confidence, “I have chosen.”
No contest. No other choices. No challenges to be met.
Just… I have chosen.
“Are you stupid?” she’d asked.
He merely looked down at her, and smiled.
That was the moment I fell in love with you, he later told her. My heart was yours.
And she believed him. Because after that look, that smile — her heart was his, too.
Regret clawed at Mallen. She stifled a sob, and turned, her gaze sweeping over the cabin. The cabin was one large room. The front door opened into the living area, which consisted of an overstuffed brown couch and one end table. A single brass lamp with its tan shade looked ready for a garage sale. The couch faced a large, stone fireplace. A cheery fire burned inside it. She didn’t want its cheer, or its warmth. But survival instincts could be strong… even for a woman who had every intention of offering herself as a sacrifice.
Mallen walked into the kitchenette with its small stove, narrow refrigerator, and tiny metal sink. There was a little table and two chairs parked to the right.
There was nothing in the fridge, but the rental fees had included stocked dry goods as well as dishes, glasses, silverware, and cookware. The king-size bed was covered by a thick patchwork quilt. The four blue-checkered pillows were propped against the headboard. It was big and comfortable-looking, but she didn’t want comfort.
She wanted David.
The door to the left of the bed led to the bathroom. It was small, almost too small for a sink, toilet, and shower crammed into the space.
Mallen couldn’t crawl into bed… not without thinking about the last bed she’d slept in. The last time she’d seen David. He was too intuitive for a male, especially for an alpha male. In the old days, his choice to think rather than to act would’ve made him appear weak. But anyone who knew David Driftwood knew he was every ounce an alpha. He’d proven himself time and time again in physical and mental agility. He broke long-held records for both physical acumen and strategy. His father had been alpha and David had been the firstborn, but no one could say that he hadn’t earned his place. He’d made sure of that.
Mallen rubbed her arms, feeling chilled despite the heat emanating from the crackling fire. The waiting was killing her. She’d invoked the spirit of the Diego, but she hadn’t wanted her death to be in pack territory. At least that’s what she told herself. Some small, cowardly part wanted David to find her. To save her.
Which was pointless.
“No, Mallen. I will not divorce you. Nor will I take a second wife.”
“You are stubborn!” she cried.
He stood in the kitchen, calmly preparing tea, ignoring her vibrating anger. The way he moved, graceful and deliberant, simply ratcheted up the anguish clawing her throat.
“Every alpha from the last five generations has been born from your family. Your bloodline… it’s sacred. Important.”
“It’s not more important than you.”
“Yes. It is.”
He stopped pouring the water and turned toward her. In that moment, she’d seen the truth flash in his eyes. His own heartbreak. The knowledge that the wife he loved could not bear him the pups he needed.
Her grief washed over her again. She had failed him. Her body had failed him. She couldn’t have children. He had chosen the wrong female. Because the stupid fool listened to his heart.
He strode forward and gathered her into his arms. He held her tightly until she relented and accepted his comfort. She wrapped her arms around his waist and she wept. His grasp tightened, and his chest heaved as he leaned down to press his face against her hair. Together, they grieved for the family they would never have.
The water splashed her hand, and she looked down. When had she started to fill the tea kettle? Mallen shut off the water. She put the kettle onto the burner and turned it on. Then she opened the cabinet looking for a snack she didn’t really want. Such mundane tasks couldn’t take her mind off David.
That night, in their bedroom, the ghosts of their grief tempered their lovemaking. Certainly they were both haunted by all the visits to various doctors, obstetricians, and fertility specialists. In fact, they both should’ve crawled into bed, but they were driven by demons.
Mallen was still fully clothed when she sank to her knees. David warned her to not make eye contact, unless he gave her permission. He removed a pillowcase and rolled it lengthwise, and then he used it to bind her hands behind her back.
David undressed. He removed each piece of clothing casually, as if he had all the time in the world. He ignored her, neither looking at her nor coming near her. His blatant dismissal had been designed to thin her patience while it increased the desperate wanting that pulsed through her.
By the time he stood before her, she hungered for the slightest look of approval or the merest whisper of recognition. Hungry need curled through her, conquering, for a while, her despair.
David stepped so close, his toes brushed the tips of her knees. Then he demanded, “Suck my cock.”
Giving a blow job on her knees without the help of her hands was awkward at first. But she had gotten him hard, had made his thick shaft tremble under the onslaught of her mouth.
He pulled away from her and she saw the shaking of his thighs. But his expression was placid. He moved behind her and grasped the pillowcase binding her. He led her to their massive dresser and untied her. “Bend over and put your palms flat against the top.”
She did so. Her hands pressed against the solid, beautifully carved wood. He pulled down her jeans and her silk panties. His fingers grazed her hips, and she knew him so well that she felt the slight tremor of his hands.
Then he slid his cock into her slick pussy, and she nearly died from the rocketing sensations.
He fucked her, telling her unequivocally that she was not allowed to come. Being told not to find pleasure had the opposite effect. Bliss coiled tight and hard, threatening to send her over the edge with every rough stroke of his cock.
David came, his fingertips biting into her hips as his cries of completion filled her ears. For a long moment, there was nothing but the harsh sounds of his panting and the low, needy whimpers she couldn’t silence.
“Stand up.”
She did as he demanded. She was overwhelmed by the need he inspired. She loved him so much. So. Much. Her body was slick with sweat and quaking with desire. His hands coasted over her belly, down her thighs, and around her ass.
Her weeping pussy was denied his touch.
“You are so beautiful, so responsive,” he whispered. “You are my wife, Mallen. I will not lose you.”
His thumb brushed her clit and pleasure jackknifed. Two fingers danced along her labia, then dipped inside her cunt. She felt the erotic press of those digits on her g-spot.
David pushed her to the brink. He was merciless. His thumb stroked her tortured clit and his two fingers worked her pussy. She bit her lower lip, begging her own body not to give in. Not until he told her.
“Come for me, Mallen.”
Her orgasm was instantaneous. The pleasure was so intense that she lost her ability to breathe, to think. Her legs collapsed. Only his arm wound around her waist kept her upright as her body convulsed. His lips pressed against her neck and his hard body cradled hers as she rode the wave to fulfillment.
The whistle of the teakettle startled Mallen out of the memory. She stood in the middle of the kitchen, lost in memory, her body aching with need. She missed him.
She loved him.
They were not like humans. They didn’t just worry about themselves as individuals. They were not a couple in love who could not have children and might choose to adopt. Wolf bloodlines were important — for genetics, yes. But continuing an alpha’s line was a sacred task. For all her thumbing her nose at traditions and the archaic beliefs of her pack, especially in the modern world, she knew the honor, the duty of carrying the alpha’s pups. But beyond that, she wanted to have David’s baby.
And she could not.
The shame of that would affect David too much as the alpha. And her barrenness would shame her family, too. At the very least they would be ridiculed, and at the worst, they would endure abuse, maybe even expulsion. Her father would suffer the most as a soldier in the protection unit. Not even David would be able to protect her family. And no one would listen to him. He would lose everything because he was too stubborn to do the right thing.
The ache in her chest weighed so heavy on her that she slumped onto the couch. She’d been running for more than a week. She just drove. Randomly. Without purpose. She wandered a confusing path so that her husband couldn’t find her easily. Or, it seemed, the Diego. She only stopped for gas. She slept in the car when exhaustion overwhelmed her. She only ate when her stomach became so gnarled with hunger she felt lightheaded and nauseous.
Tonight, she had stopped running.
She almost preferred facing the Diego over facing her furious, worried spouse.

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