A Wolf’s Fate
The Holiday Ball, Book 2
by Marie Mason
[ Paranormal Christmas Romance, MF ]
Broken in both body and soul, Gunner knew better than to wish for a mate. But what he’d forgotten was under the light of a full moon, Christmas magic was at its most powerful.
Gunner Barringer watched as his brother guided his newly acquired mate around the dance floor. They did little more than sway to the music, his brother constantly touching the curvy woman—her waist, her hips, her generous ass. His touch stopped just shy of gathering the large globes in his hands and squeezing tightly.
It wouldn’t surprise him if his brother’s control snapped and he took her up against the nearest wall. As the night had worn on, the Holiday Ball—or the fuck ball as he liked to call it—had progressed from light flirtations to heavy petting, to fast and furious couplings in a darkened corner of the room.
In order to escape the hungry females on the prowl, he’d decided to hide away in one of those corners. He’d had to chase away a demon and succubus about to get it on from this shadowed corner of the room.
He needed the shadows. Shadows would conceal him, shield him from any prying eyes.
He was male enough to enjoy the way the women ogled him, but cynical enough to dismiss it. He was a wolf and it didn’t matter about anything else. His scars. His fucked up state. Nothing. He was a strong, virile wolf who called to their feminine side.
He took a sip of the whiskey he’d taken from a passing waiter’s tray, welcoming the burn as it slid down his throat. It had been years since he’d attended one of these events even though he remembered his father hosting his share in the past. He remembered those frantic couplings in the dark when he was younger, a wolf on the prowl.
It was his brother’s first official event as alpha and Gunner had attended out of respect for his brother. And the fact that his father had insisted. Even though Adam Barringer had stepped down as alpha, he was still Gunner’s father and one tough assed wolf.
His wolf didn’t stir when he heard footsteps behind him. His wolf had burrowed itself deep inside Gunner, its soul broken and twisted by the events of the last year. As enforcer for the Elder Council, he dealt with the bottom of the barrel in the shifter world. He dealt with those no longer able to control their animalist urges—to hunt. Or kill.
He had faced his most difficult challenge six months ago. A wolf who had turned rabid and rogue, taking out his family and several members of the Townsend pack who had tried to stop him. Gunner had stopped him. He shook away the memories, unwilling to relive them yet again.
He fingered the scar that ran from the end of his brow to the corner of his mouth. A wolf did not scar unless he received a near fatal injury.
The scent of his younger brother hit him and he relaxed. Slightly.
“Hey, bro.” Lucas’ voice was deep, almost soothing. As well as being the youngest of the brothers, he was the kinder, gentler Barringer. And not just because of his age. He’d just turned eighteen a few moths ago. No, Lucas had inherited their mother’s restful spirit. He stopped at Gunner’s side and Gunner sensed his hesitation in touching him in greeting. Hayden had done the same damn thing earlier in the evening. Were his brothers afraid he would snap and attack his own blood? Again, memories of the rogue wolf threatened to flood his mind. He pushed them away. He knew his brothers hesitated in touching him because for a while, right after the incident, he’d been unable to tolerate the touch of others. A wolf needed physical contact in order to stay grounded, but taking down the killer wolf had broken something inside him.
Gunner started at the softly whispered words. It wasn’t his wolf. The animal hadn’t spoken to him in months.
“Did you say something?” Gunner turned to face his brother.
Lucas shook his head. “No, man.”
Gunner believed him and turned his attention back to the dance floor.
“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Lucas’ voice held a note of wistfulness. Gunner didn’t need to ask which woman. Both of their gazes locked on the dark haired woman laughing in Hayden’s arms.
“Yeah, she is.”
“She’s, umm, curvy, too.” Gunner felt rather than saw his brother shift his weight. No doubt, the younger wolf was remembering the scene they had interrupted in Hayden’s bedroom earlier tonight. His brother had been fucking his mate from behind. Her rounded hips had cushioned each thrust and her heavy breasts had swayed in time to the pounding her pussy was taking.
“She’s damn near perfect.”
Lucas turned to him, his brow raised. Gunner could tell the younger man already considered her perfect. “What would make her perfect?”
“If she was my mate.”
Gunner cupped his brother’s shoulder, hearing the concern in his voice. “Don’t worry little brother. I’m not about to fight the alpha for his mate. I just meant having a woman as curvy, as beautiful would be good.”
“Yep, there’s nothing like having a curvy woman in your bed. I think you discovered that tonight, didn’t you?” He couldn’t resist the taunt and was rewarded by the red staining Lucas’ cheeks.
“So, you want a mate, brother.”
Shit. Gunner cursed himself for the Freudian slip. He didn’t want a mate. Didn’t need a mate.
This time Gunner swung around, his fists clenched. “Tell me you heard that?” he demanded of his brother.
Maybe his senses were off. He hadn’t been around this many people in months. After he’d taken out the rogue, he’d retreated to the family’s hunting lodge high on Breakneck Mountain. He’d spent weeks there, trying to reconnect with his wolf. He’d made progress, but apparently not enough to rejoin society if he was hearing damn voices.
“Nothing.” His eyes scanned those around him. For a moment, his gaze lingered on a rounded woman who looked to be in her late—fifties? For some reason it was difficult to determine her age. She reminded him of pictures in a fairytale book his mother had once read to him. He continued to scan the area, assuring himself all was well. When he turned his attention back to the woman, he could have sworn she winked at him. She did wave the tiny wand she held in his direction, releasing a shower of red sparkles.
He motioned over a passing waiter carrying a crystal tray filled with shots of whiskeys. He took the tray from the man and placed it on the table. Champagne just wouldn’t cut it. Not tonight.
“So, what do you think about Dad and his new mate?” Lucas watched as his older brother threw back a shot of whiskey. And then another. Hayden had told him Gunner was getting better, but right now, it didn’t look that way to him. Yeah, he’d laughed for the first time tonight in a very long time. But right now, he was jumpy as a cat in a roomful of rocking chairs.
“The question is how are you doing?” There was deep concern in Gunner’s voice and it warmed Lucas’ heart. He loved his older brothers and would anything for them. He knew that feeling was returned tenfold.
Gunner had always appeared unfeeling and cold at times. Lucas knew the opposite was true. To be a good enforcer—and Gunner was the best as far as Lucas was concerned—you had to be able to read every emotion a shifter had. Love, sadness, anger, killing rage. It was that last emotion that had almost taken his brother from him.
“I’m great with it. I think Mom would have been, too.” The brothers had lost their mother over five years ago. The days after her death had been hard, but he’d never begrudge his father the chance at happiness again.
Gunner nodded in agreement. “Hayden and I were wondering. You were always closer to Mom.”
“You mean she babied me.” Lucas spoke with all the teenaged angst of a male wolf. And all the true affection a son could have for his mother.
The brothers shared a smile and another shot of whiskey. That was the second—no his third smile of the evening, Gunner thought. From the moment he’d walked into the party, he’d felt a sense of peace fluttering around him. Maybe, just maybe, he was on his was to healing.
The brothers stood in silence watching the dancers until a group of younger wolves walked up, asking Lucas to join them.
Lucas hesitated before leaving. “That okay with you, Gunner?” He wasn’t asking permission, but letting Gunner know he’d stay if his brother needed him.
Gunner could tell this was the first time most of the male wolves had attended the ball. He remembered the first one he’d attended—and the lecture he’d received from both his father and Hayden. Thanks to all the sex demons and pixies attending, pheromones were thick in the air. It didn’t take much to make a wolf lose control. “Yeah. Just make sure you stay out of trouble.”
Lucas rolled his eyes, but promised to stay safe.
Gunner smiled at the memories of the holiday balls he’d attended as a young wolf. Fighting and fucking were two of the best things to happen. Because he’d never found his mate. But then, he hadn’t been looking for one, wouldn’t have known what do to with her if he had found her. Wolves were not easy mates. They were intense, relentless. Hunters of the wild. He fingered the scar on his face again. With the demons still riding his back, Gunner would make an even more hellicous mate now. But, he knew deep in his soul, if he ever found his mate, he would never let her go.
Damn it, what was in the air tonight? That was the second time he’d sounded like a lovesick pup.
Love is in the air, wolf, and it’s time you experienced it for yourself.
Gunner blinked and could have sworn he saw more red twinkles of light out of the corner of his eye before his vision cleared. Suddenly, a sharp pain ripped through his chest. Something broke free and for the first time in months, he felt his wolf.
“Hey man, you okay?”
Gunner felt himself sway and Lucas’ voice sounded far away, as if it was coming from inside a long tunnel.
“Bro.” Lucas caught him as he started to fall.
A rage of need, so unexpected, so strong that it made him forget everything else jolted through him. Gunner inhaled slowly, his fists clenching and unclenching. Nothing in his life prepared him for this moment.
Mate, his wolf growled from inside him. Mate here.
“Well, look who showed up this year.”
Autumn Covington rolled her eyes at the snippy remark made by the blonde headed pixie standing by mahogany bar tucked away in the corner of the large room. Her cousin Trixie. She was flanked by two other pixies of the same small statue and blonde tinted hair.
Autumn picked up a flute of champagne from the display on the bar more for something to do with her hands than wanting to taste the bubbly liquid. Of course, what she really wanted to do was wave her hand and see if she could make Trixie disappear.
Her cousin didn’t like her very much because Autumn wasn’t a pure pixie. Her mother had fallen head over heels in love with a human man when she’d gone away to college. Thanks to that union, Autumn was a mix of pixie, human, and much diluted witch. Hence, her doubt if she could actually make anyone disappear. The witch was courtesy of her father’s father’s mother. Autumn was just a whirlpool of supernatural DNA and pixies were somewhat prejudice. Plus, Autumn looked nothing like a pixie should—she was taller than the average pixie and had inherited the curvy gene from her father’s human side of the family.
“I thought you were too good for these parties.” Trixie cast her a snooty glance before continuing. “Didn’t you call them a meat market for bimbos?”
Autumn refused to be drawn into an argument. She’d never tried to hide her disdain for the annual event. The Holiday Ball was simply an excuse for supernaturals to go wild and succumb to their baser instincts.
Women—mostly witches—were put on display by their covens in front of a bunch of horny wolves in the hopes of making a fated match. It was a little less obvious than from days gone by when the witches were shackled and dragged to an auction block once a year. Now they were enticed inside with champagne and canopies but still paraded around, this time in skintight dresses and diamond necklaces.
Oh, they said the Holiday Ball was open to all single supernaturals, but everyone knew the real reason for the ball—stirring up the mating heat in wolves. Not that the other supernaturals didn’t take full advantage. Some, like the incubi who had approached her earlier in the evening, wanted to soak up the sexual energy filling the air. Or create a little of their own.
Autumn had avoided this annual event in the past, using school or work as an excuse. This year, she’d had no choice but to attend. The pack hosting the party had hired her company to provide ‘support’ for the party. Autumn was a peace pixie and worked in the same capacity as a mediator would in the human world. Just being in the same room with her usually dulled any aggressive behavior. Apparently, last year’s ball had resulted in several challenges being issued. That was something this year’s alpha hoped to avoid. Thus, the room was scattered with others like Autumn.
“I’m working, Trixie. That’s why I’m here.”
“Of course you are cousin. Cause we all know no one, especially a wolf, would want a fat thing like you.”
Autumn’s hand tightened on the glass in her hand, refusing to respond to the other woman’s jabbing comment. Oh, what she wouldn’t give to be small and blonde like her cousin for just one day. But what the other woman said was true. Autumn was the plumpest pixie around. Even though she stood five-foot-five in her bare feet—several inches over the tallest pixie—her figure was round and curvy. Large, melon sized breasts, generous hips, and thick thighs.
Drawing on some of her peace making abilities for herself, she said, “You all look very beautiful tonight.” She included Starlight and Willow, Trixie’s two younger sisters in her comment. They were not nearly as snippety and uppity as their older sister.
Trixie tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder, preening under the praise. Just like a damn pixie. “Oh, this old thing? Just something I had in the back of my closet.”
Autumn snorted the champagne up her nose drawing a glare from her cousin. She knew for a fact that Trixie had ordered the dress three months ago. It was made from imported silk and lace rumored to have been handspun by a direct descendent of Rapunzel.
Grabbing a napkin, she dabbed at her face, continuing down her throat to the exposed skin of her chest. Her dress hadn’t been special ordered, but it had been a special gift from her fairy godmother—yes, they did exist, along with the pixies, witches, incubi, and demons. And wolves, her inner voice reminded her. Yummy, panty-wetting wolves.
Autumn force her gaze not to stray from her cousins to the dark shadows at the back of the room and the wolf she had seen steal away earlier.
She was saved from any more cruel comments by a group of wolves walking and giving the three sisters more than one hungry look. Thanks to her witch’s blood, Autumn knew right off these were not the intended mates of the pixies. They were after a good time, and from the flirting going on, the Yarrow sisters were looking for the same.
Autumn sighed, watching the women walk away. As she finished her drink, she couldn’t help herself and turned her gaze to the back of the room. The man’s features were obscured by the shadows, but she could tell he stood well over six feet, his shoulders broad and massive beneath the dark blue tailored tux he wore. The jacket fell open and the rich fabric of the dark slacks cupped his crotch, clinging to the wide muscular thighs. His air of raw sexuality made her nipples tingle and her pussy dampen. For one brief moment, she felt a flash of heat and her heart raced, thinking maybe…
She turned and placed the empty glass on the bar. It was time she went to work. Mingled. All she needed to do was walk among the crowd. Without even touching another being, her peaceful aura could make even the meanest of wolves or demons or most any other supernaturals dial back any anger they might be experiencing.
Her attention was still so focused on the man in the shadows, she almost missed her fairy godmother lingering on the edge of the crowd.
“Poppy, what are you doing here?” Autumn hugged the other woman, immediately feeling better about herself and her appearance. That’s what fairy godmothers did. Helped a woman be the best that she could be.
“Hello, dear, are you having a good time?” Poppy twittered, hovering by Autumn’s side, her small feet several inches off the ground. If one looked closely, one could see her fairy wings fluttering behind her.
“I was until Trixie.”
The other woman patted Autumn on her shoulder. “There, there now dear, don’t let her get the best of you.”
Thankfully, Poppy wasn’t overly found of Trixie either. What was the saying—you couldn’t choose your family?
“Do you like your dress?”
“The dress is gorgeous, Poppy. As always.” Autumn smiled, smoothing her hands down the sides of her emerald green dress. It was a much brighter green than she would have chosen for herself but it matched her coloring beautifully. Her skin held a naturally olive hue—another reason her cousin didn’t like her since a full-blooded pixie couldn’t tan. Trixie called Autumn’s hair brown, but it was more than that. It was brown, and gold, and red, a mixture of colors that made her hair seem alive.
The dress and matching shoes had been delivered to Autumn’s house the night before. All of her fancy dresses had come from Poppy over the years. One for her eighth grade graduation, her junior and senior high school proms and a cotillion she’d attended when she was in college.
Every time she received a dress, it made Autumn feel desirable and beautiful. This dress had too—until she’d started comparing herself to Trixie and her two sisters.
“Such negative thoughts, dear,” Poppy scolded her gently, “Are not good for you or those around you.”
“I know.” Autumn grimaced and leaned over for another kiss. “I need to mingle. Do you see anyone that needs anything?” Fairy godmothers were assigned to more than one person at a time. They were, however, limited to helping females. Again, Autumn’s attention turned to the wolf in the shadows. Was it his dark, brooding aura that was drawing her to him? Knowing she might be able to help him if she got close enough? Autumn was certain it couldn’t be anything else. There was no way someone like him would ever look at someone like her. Definitely no way fate would make such a mismatched pair.
Autumn didn’t notice the other woman looking in the same direction, a soft, secretive smile on her happy face. “No, dear. Not yet. Soon though. Very soon.”
“What?” When Autumn turned back around, her fairy godmother was gone, disappearing in a burst of red sparkles. Autumn frowned. She’d never seen red sparkles before.
It was an annoying habit the way her godmother would simply vanish into thin air, but Autumn had gotten use to it over the years. Just like in the Cinderella stories, fairy godmothers performed their magic and disappeared without another mention in the story.
The question was what had Poppy been doing here in the first place?
“Well, hello there.”
Autumn let out a small squeak of surprise as a deep, masculine voice sounded behind her. Sparkles of pink flew from her fingertips. The sparkles were harmless—this time. Last year one of her male cousins had tried to frighten her and she’d turned him into a dragonfly—and he’d been stuck that way for the whole day. It wasn’t wise to sneak up on a pixie. Especially one who was part witch and had not quite gained full control of her witchy powers.
“Don’t do that!” she ordered, turning around to see a tall, dark wolf looking down at her. He raised one hand and casually brushed the pink flecks from his black tuxedo jacket. Sweet heavens, was the room filled with wolves who had been touched with the pretty wand?
“I beg your pardon. I did not mean to frighten you.”
“Well, what did you mean to do?”
He grinned. “Just trying to make the night more interesting.” His smile faded as he looked over her shoulder. “And to repay a debt,” he murmured quietly.
Autumn blinked in confusion. Was he flirting with her? Or trying to make another woman jealous? She smothered a snort. If that had been his intention, he should have picked someone besides Autumn. He should have picked someone pretty. And thin.
Dang it, why was she letting her cousin’s comments get to her tonight? Yeah, she was different from almost every other female supernatural at the party. She was curvy, voluptuous, a big girl. Whatever you wanted to call it, she had more stuffing than most. And most days she was quite alright with the way she looked. But some days…she refused to allow her attention to wander back to the wolf tucked away in the shadows. Some days it really bothered her.
“Look, if you’re hiding from someone I’m not sure I’m the best person to help you.” Sometimes other supernaturals sensed her witch blood more than others. And assumed she was indeed a practicing witch. There was little she could do to help this man. She didn’t know any invisibility spells or how to make cloaking potions. Because of her mixed heritage, her abilities from both sides of her family were watered down. And sometimes dangerous.
Again, he looked over her shoulder. She turned her head, trying to figure out what was going on. Maybe she could help him. If he’d pissed off someone’s boyfriend or flirted with a potential mate, she could no doubt alleviate some of the, umm, testosterone that had been fired up. Hadn’t she been hired to diffuse arrogant wolves?
“Don’t,” he ordered, refusing to allow her to turn around completely. His hand cupped her shoulder and for a moment, she felt something stir inside her. Maybe her witchy side did have a connection with wolves.
Or at least she thought he was a wolf. Her eyes narrowed trying to take a read on the big man. As he stepped closer, she realized he reminded her of a cat.
“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?”
“Are you a cat shifter?”
“What? No, what gave you that idea?”
She almost laughed at his affronted expression. “The way you moved.”
“Well, darling, I don’t know if I should be insulted or not. I am very much a wolf. Would you care to take a closer look to confirm that?” He licked his lips and suddenly Autumn felt like the Little Red Riding Hood character come to life. He looked like he wanted to eat her up.
“No, that won’t be necessary.” She used the prim and proper voice her godmother had taught her to ward off unwanted advances. To date, she hadn’t had much opportunity to try it out and seeing the flare of appreciation in the wolf’s eyes, she wondered if she should be using it now. When was the last time she’d been the object of a man’s desire?
“Shall we dance?”
While they had been talking, the big wolf had steered her onto the dance floor. Before she could protest or agree, he swept her into his arms, one of her small hands held gently in his while the other provided rigid support across her back. The pose was technically perfect for a waltz—if their lower bodies hadn’t been so close together. With each step, she felt his powerful thighs brushing against hers.
“So, why is such a beautiful woman still unattached and attending this ball?”
Autumn sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. His posture and manner just seemed to invite it. Disappointingly, his presence didn’t elicit any other feelings except what one might feel for a mischievous best friend.
Feeling the brush of his hard thigh against her again, she amended the thought to friends with benefits. There was something innately sensuous about the man. Still feeling the hard press of his cock against her belly, she pushed at his shoulders until he eased his hold.
He looked down at her, his brown eyes regarding her green ones. “Perhaps another wolf shifter has caught your eye?”
Thinking of the wolf who had captured her interest, her pussy flooded with arousal and she hoped he couldn’t tell. Wolves had a keen sense of smell. To be on the safe side, she mumbled a few words, hoping that little touch of magic didn’t back fire on her.
“Maybe.” She shrugged and the movement caused the neckline of her dress to slip to the side just a little, revealing the rounded smoothness of her shoulder. The hand holding hers moved until he could brush his fingertips across the exposed skin.
Her head popped up. “What was that for?”
“Oh, just a little teasing.”
“Well, don’t.” She gave him her fiercest glare, and then lowered her head again. For some reason, it now seemed wrong to have this man—wolf—touch her.
They danced for a few minutes without talking. “Your fairy godmother would be very disappointed in you.”
Autumn resisted the urge to roll her eyes. No doubt, he was referring to her refusal to take him up on his unspoken offer. Well, not completely unspoken. He was still partially aroused. Did all men picture themselves as a shiny Christmas present a woman couldn’t wait to unwrap?
He twirled her around, making her dizzy. As the song the small orchestra was playing came to an end, he dipped her over his arm as she’d seen other men do during the night. “Remember little pixie, some men refuse to see what’s right under their noses. They refuse to see until it’s nearly taken away.”
“What?” Her head was spinning rapidly right along with the skirt of her dress. The fabric swirled around her legs and she prayed it would land in a modest way.
“Tell me your name.”
“Because I’d like to know the name of the woman I’m about to get slammed in the face for.”
He straightened abruptly, guiding their steps into the flow of the music with effortless form and style until they reached the edge of the dance floor. Her hands clenched at the lapels of his tuxedo jacket at the dizzying moves.
“That’s enough, Townsend.”
Autumn gasped as the rough voice sounded behind her. That was twice in one night a wolf had managed to sneak up on her. This time every nerve in her body snapped to attention. Excitement pumped through her, followed by a bolt of desire that gripped every inch of her body and stalled the air in her lungs.
Her diluted witchy radar tried to warn her. Warn her who stood behind her. Her wolf. This was her wolf.
“Enough what, Barringer?” Her dance partner nudged her to the side, pushing her slightly behind him.
“Let her go.”
The wolf holding her laughed. The sudden change in his demeanor frightened her. The almost sinister sound of his laughter traveled down Autumn’s spine causing her to step away. His arm tightened around her and all she managed to do was put a small amount of room between them. Her startled gaze flew to his and he gave her a barely perceptible wink.
“Oh, but she is just such a delicious little morsel. I can’t wait to gobble her up.”
Autumn squeaked for the second time that night as rough hands took her away from her dance partner. She wasn’t certain how he did it, but her dark wolf jerked her from the man’s arms with so much powerful grace that it didn’t hurt. Those same hands crushed her against a hot body, held rigid by anger. Immediately, her natural instincts kicked into high gear and she started sending out soothing thoughts.
“Not this time, Townsend.” The words were ground out, as sharp as razor blades.
Her hand flattened on the chest of the new wolf as she allowed her energy to flow through her into him. She wasn’t surprised when sparkles of pink filled the air where they touched. She started at the feelings of hurt and confusion racing through him. And so much anguish that Autumn’s knees almost buckled. For a moment, she thought she felt the brush of fur beneath her palms, as if his animal had rubbed itself up against her.
“What the fuck?” he cursed and took a step back.
She kept touching him, her hands smoothing across the wide expanse of his chest, even running her hand beneath the dark blue jacket. Accidently, her fingers found the hard point of his nipple. Instead of pulling away, she drew a small circle around it.
He didn’t acknowledge the arousing power of her touch except for the bruising force on her wrist as he hugged her to him. As if she was his.
Her body felt strange, as it had from the moment she’d seen this wolf across the room. Languid and pliant. Disregarding the voice of common sense that told her not to do it again, she traced another small circle around his nipple. His chest stopped moving as if in anticipation of her next touch. Not one to disappoint, she pinched the jutted bud between her thumb and forefinger. All thoughts of calming this big, bad wolf were instantly erased by the low, succulent curse that burst forth from his please-kiss-me-all-over lips.
The wolf growled, a sound so earthy and sexy that she’d never heard it from a man or beast. He swept her up in his arms before she knew what was happening.