Safe and Sound
Omega Wolves, Book 2
by Willa Okati
Ebook ISBN: 07624-02458
[ Werewolf Romance, MM ]
Zachariah is everything Ivoire needs, and Ivoire is nothing Zachariah thought he’d ever want again, but nothing good was ever gained from playing by the rules.
Wolf howls split the evening air so loud they fairly made the air shake, and very nearly cost Zachariah his right foot.
He managed — just — to swing his ax wide and instead divert the blade into the side of his barn with a splintering thwack. The blow reverberated clear up his forearms and made his skin tingle.
Zachariah glowered first at the ax, then up at the source of the racket. With that much commotion, it had to be the Wasp Lake pack’s deputies. Deputies, hah! A fine and fancy name for a group of roughnecks who liked nothing better than to lay down the law as they interpreted it. They weren’t bad when taken one or two at a time, but with three or more they tended toward mob madness.
Every now and then they tried to recruit Zachariah. They liked his size, his Alpha status, and his stoicism. Would have been better off saving their breath. Zachariah wanted nothing to do with them. With any wolf, come to that, and for good reasons. He lived at the very edge of the pack’s boundaries, and he kept himself to himself. Their troubles were none of his concern.
Still, unless Zachariah stuffed his ears with cotton wool he couldn’t help hearing the wolves howl and yelp, and though he wasn’t in wolf form he could still understand their yammering.
Hunt! Smell! Smell here? Smell there?
No smell here. Want them, want them. Trail by lake?
Must find, must find. Smells good, want him —
Want him, want him, yes! Take him —
Zachariah rolled his eyes. So they had mating on their minds, and an Omega in their sights. Too bad for the Omega, but whoever he was, he sounded smart enough to lead the deputies on a decent goose chase.
He shrugged the intruders off, knowing they’d pass through his land and be out of his hair soon enough, and scowled at the ax sunk into his barn wall. Tugging it free was relatively easy, but the hole it left behind would be a bitch and a half to repair. He poked at the splinters with a grim scoff, wondering if the Packmaster would hear a demand for restitution. He was a young man, this new Packmaster, and supposedly fair minded.
Maybe so. Zachariah would believe it when he saw it.
He sank his ax into the chopping block to get it safely out of the way. Like the barn wall, it gave way far too easily. Zachariah hadn’t built either cabin or barn. He’d bought them from an Alpha moving north to join a Barrow pack. They must have been good in their day. Well-loved.
Too bad for them. Zachariah wasn’t the man or wolf to give love to anything. How could he, when his heart had died the day his mate and pup did?
He might be better off tearing down the barn and building a new one, he decided after a moment’s thoughtful rubbing at his chin. He had no need for such a large outbuilding anyway, since he didn’t keep goats or cows, and if he got rid of the barn then he could tear down the thickly overgrown herbs that surrounded it, too. Someone must have put a great deal of care into that garden once upon a time, though their choice of planting had always baffled Zachariah. Lavender, lemon basil, rosemary — and peppermint, that last choking everything else half to death.
Zachariah kicked carelessly at the peppermint, releasing a cloud of nose-blinding reek, then drew up short in surprise.
He wouldn’t have been surprised at anything taking root there, but the last time he’d checked he hadn’t had any Omegas growing in his garden.
Zachariah looked again, but his eyes hadn’t deceived him. An Omega had hidden himself in the heart of the peppermint tangle, crouched and ready to run at a split-second’s notice. An overstuffed rucksack with the marks of wolf showing on its carrying strap rested at his feet.
He froze when Zachariah looked at him, his blue eyes wide with alarm behind the tangle of soft brown curls that tumbled over his face. He was all but naked, dressed in tatters that barely covered his dignity.
Zachariah blushed and looked away, but the face lingered in his mind’s eye, tempting him until he glanced back. The peppermint drowned out any hint of Omega scent, but as dainty and sweet-looking as the young man was, he couldn’t be anything else.
Two and two came together in Zachariah’s head. So you’re the one they’re hunting, hmm?
The Omega raised a finger to his lips and gave Zachariah a pleading look.
Pretty smart to hide in the peppermint. Zachariah hadn’t smelled a thing.
Not his problem. Still…
Zachariah raised one shoulder and turned away, back to the barn.
A good thing, too. Seconds later, one of the deputies barreled into his yard, nearly knocking himself unconscious on the chopping block before he tumbled to a stop and shifted into man shape. He sneezed mightily once he got a whiff of the reeking peppermint and scrubbed irritably at his face. “Have you seen an Omega come through here?”
Zachariah gave the deputy a sideways look and pulled his ax free of the chopping block.
To give credit where credit was due, the deputy had balls. He took a step back at the sight of the ax, but didn’t tuck his tail between his legs and run. “Well? Have you?”
Zachariah chose a hefty chunk of wood and braced it on the chopping block, then split it neatly in half before he answered. “Nope.”
“He’s the packmaster’s cousin,” the deputy went on, either brave or stupid or both. “Packmaster got called out to a territory dispute, and he’ll be gone at least overnight. The cousin was supposed to have come in today, but he didn’t make the meeting point and no one’s seen him.”
Zachariah scoffed quietly. He chose another section of firewood and set it up for the strike. “That a fact?” Arm raised, he aimed. “I don’t know about this Omega. But if it were me, I’d probably run like hell from all that ‘take him’.”
Thwack! He hit the log dead center with his ax.
The deputy’s face went ghostly pale. “Fuck it, man. Just let us know if you see him.”
Zachariah raised the ax in what could have been either agreement or warning. He didn’t much care how the deputy interpreted the move so long as he got his mangy hide shifted and off Zachariah’s property.
Which, Zachariah was grimly glad to note, the deputy did. Pretty damn fast, too. Zachariah stacked firewood while he waited to be sure the whole gang of them were well away, and didn’t make a move toward the peppermint before he was certain.
Then he stalked to the overgrown garden patch and parted the weeds with two hands to glower down at the Omega still hiding there.
The Omega grinned up at him. “Thanks. Mind giving me a hand up?”
“I don’t need your thanks,” Zachariah grumbled, stripping off the flannel-lined coat he wore to toss it at the Omega. “Cover yourself up.” He waited until the Omega was done with that before he took the Omega’s hand and pulled, helping him to his feet. Good God Almighty, he was heavy for such a small thing. He —
As the Omega stood upright, Zachariah saw the reason why. No wonder he was heavy, with a belly like that on him. Not just an Omega, not just pretty —
No, not pretty. Beautiful, rather, lovely in a way that Zachariah had thought he’d forgotten how to recognize, a way that sent a punch of hungry wanting through his guts.
Beautiful, and plainly unmated, and pregnant as all hell.
And hiding in his peppermint. Zachariah dropped the Omega’s hand as if it’d burned him. “What the devil are you playing at?”
* * *
“What am I doing? That’s the million dollar question right there.” Ivoire put both fists to the small of his back and arched to ease the strain at the base of his spine. Oh, that’s better. He hadn’t realized before he got pregnant how the weight up front would pull at his bones — and he had three months to go.
The Alpha wolf who’d saved Ivoire’s bacon stood as if someone had nailed his feet to the ground. Grim-looking, isn’t he? Too bad. He had the kind of face that could be handsome if he knew how to smile.
Of course, that could be circumstantial. Ivoire cocked his head to one side, considering. The Alpha had fixed his stare on Ivoire’s belly the way a munitions expert might size up a suspiciously ticking package in their afternoon mail.
Ivoire decided not to mention that. His sense of humor had always been a little off-kilter, and he’d learned when to keep his observations to himself, though he refused to stop thinking them. If you weren’t able to laugh, sometimes you wouldn’t be able to do anything but weep.
Anyway, it wasn’t a new sort of reaction. Ever since Ivoire’s pregnancy had started to show, he’d gotten plenty of that. Faced with a pup in the oven, Alphas tended toward either ball-clenching terror or salivating while they eyed Ivoire up like a rare steak.
“It’s a good question,” the Alpha said gruffly. “You didn’t answer.”
“That I didn’t.” Ivoire tried to pat discreetly at his eyes, stinging from overexposure to mint. “Mind if I come out and join you? And what’s your name?”
The Alpha wrinkled his nose but took a grudging three steps back to give Ivoire room. He watched as intently as a hawk until Ivoire had freed himself, then grunted. “Zachariah.”
“A man of few words, Zachariah?” Ivoire held out a hand. “I’m Ivoire. The packmaster’s cousin, in case you were wondering. The same one those bully boys were chasing.”
“Figured that.” Zachariah frowned at Ivoire’s hand, but finally, briefly took it. His was so large that Ivoire’s disappeared inside his grasp, but firm and warm and dry, rough from hard work.
Ivoire approved. His back didn’t, especially after the run those deputies had given him. He kneaded the base of his spine through the flannel-lined jacket and glanced about. Looked like the only place to sit was the chopping block, which struck him as just a hair too much in the way of poetic irony, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. He pointed. “Do you mind?”
Zachariah grunted again but stepped out of the way. Ivoire supposed that meant no. Or maybe yes, he did at least mind the interruption, but he’d allow Ivoire to sit anyway. At least for now.
It wasn’t a bad seat, actually. Almost comfortable. And seen up close, Zachariah did have a nicer face than his scowl would have a casual observer believe. Angled cheekbones, lovely firm jaw, Roman nose. Something about the eyes that suggested he could be kind, if someone taught him how. Something heated, and… appealing. Yes, appealing.
The urge to make him smile overcame Ivoire’s better judgment. “Do you want the whole story, or just the Cliffs Notes version?”
He almost got what he’d been looking for. Just a tug at the corner of Zachariah’s mouth before he pressed his lips together. “Just the facts.”
“They’re pretty simple.” Ivoire turned both palms upward. “My pack is based outside Whittier. When I went into heat I chose an Alpha who said all the right things — he was a charmer — but who did all the wrong things. He promised he’d marry me if I got pregnant, and I believed him. I shouldn’t have. So here I am.”
Zachariah’s mouth twitched again. “About that.”
Ivoire tried to neaten his hair, which felt like it had exploded into a halo of tangled curls and reeked of mint. “That’s a little tougher. My cousin must have sent that group of idiots to escort me back here, and their hormones took over.” He propped his chin glumly in his hand. It’d happened in Whittier, too — more than once. “I gave them the slip, and I was lucky enough to find your garden.”
“Worth it.” Ivoire rested a protective hand on his belly. He might be alone in this pregnancy, but he wanted this pup. He hadn’t chosen his Whittier Alpha on a whim. Ever since he’d presented as an Omega, he’d yearned for babies of his own to love and care for. At twenty-three, he’d been so tired of waiting for that to happen that he’d made it happen. Come what may, and no matter what, he could never — would never — be sorry about the pup. “Do you think they’re gone?”
“I think you smell like a jar of mentholated chest rub. Even if they’re not gone, they’ll run the other way if they catch a whiff of you coming.”
Surprised, Ivoire laughed out loud — and was delighted to see Zachariah’s twitch bloom briefly into a real smile. It did wonders for his face. Indefinable, but whatever it was seemed to tug Ivoire toward him. To make him…
Oh. Ivoire sat up straighter, focus turned abruptly inward. He hadn’t felt desire in months, not since his last heat cycle — and all things considered, figured it was a case of good riddance. He’d thought perhaps he wouldn’t have an interest in anything below the belt until after he gave birth, that it was part of the process. But this? Oh, this was different. Warmth kindled inside him, a low simmering heat that tickled at his nerve endings and woke them from their long sleep. He shivered, his skin suddenly over-sensitive.
He pressed his thighs together to relieve the need for friction and returned Zachariah’s narrow look with a frank one. He couldn’t smell a blessed thing over the mint, but to his fascination he saw Zachariah’s pupils dilate. He felt it, too, then.
What is it about you? Ivoire wondered. Why are you different?
Zachariah’s focus sharpened. “You okay?”
Embarrassment warmed Ivoire’s face. For heaven’s sake. An Alpha’s the last thing you need right now, kiddo. “Me? Fine. Just fine.” He boosted himself back to his feet — but too quickly. The weight of his front overbalanced him, and he stumbled.
“Careful!” Zachariah had quick reflexes and caught Ivoire before he fell, taking him by the elbow. As Ivoire struggled for balance, the only thing he had to catch himself against was Zachariah’s tall, solid torso.
Ivoire bit back a whimper at the feel of Zachariah’s muscles, hard as stone. His body heat radiated through Ivoire, and squeezing his legs together against the rush of arousal barely helped.
Zachariah stared down at him, eyes dark and deep enough to drown in.
“Thank you,” Ivoire said when he could trust himself to speak. The urge to lay his hands on Zachariah was almost more than he could bear, and he had to make himself go on. “Can you point me toward my cousin’s homestead? He said it wouldn’t be far past the old overgrown barn, which I assume this is.”
To his surprise, Zachariah’s frown took on a new angle. He stepped back, tucked his hands in his pockets, and shook his head.
Ivoire missed his warmth right away. “Something the matter with that plan?”
“‘Not far’ doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does outside bigger cities,” Zachariah said. “He’s a good ten miles off.”
“Oh, no.” Ivoire’s heart sank. “And it’s getting dark.”
And the deputies were still out there. They might not be too put off by the mint if they laid eyes on him. Ivoire wrapped his arms protectively around himself, then bit his lip. If he ran for all he was worth, then maybe…
No. He’d never make it. Ivoire raked his hand thoughtfully through his hair. There was only one thing he could do, and he’d just have to hope it didn’t come back to bite him too sharply.
“Sanctuary,” Ivoire said, planting his hands on his hips. No Alpha could deny an Omega safe haven if he asked for it. Not even if he hadn’t been the packmaster’s cousin. “I claim sanctuary.”
Zachariah growled low in his throat. “I was afraid you’d say that.”
“Is that a yes?”
Ivoire thought he spied a glint of reluctant — very reluctant — admiration in the Alpha for his nerve. “You’re a piece of work, Omega,” Zachariah said. “All right. Since you ask so nicely. Just until Packmaster’s back. Understand?”
“Deal,” Ivoire said, putting out his hand. “Shake on it, and we’ll call it good.”