Last glimpse of the Sneak Peek of Gabe’s Bride!
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Neoma is the low wolf. For years, she has lived under the cruel eye of Deacon, the Alpha of Scullamy. But when Deacon decides to attend the Bridal Hunt of long-time territory rival, Hollow Hills, hosted by its new Alpha, Colton Lauren, at last Neoma thinks she’s found a way to escape. All she has to do is enter to run, become the Bride of whomever is fast enough and strong enough to catch her, and so long as that male isn’t from Scullamy, then she and her son will finally be free. But on the eve of the Hunt, Deacon discovers what she’s done. Rather than suffer the disgrace of backing out of the Hunt, he orders Neoma to run…and to be caught by the new mate he’s assigned her.
When Gabe Michaelson learns that childhood sweetheart, Maya, has entered the Hunt, he joins as well, determined to bring her home as his Bride. But in the heat of the run, just as Gabe springs to catch her, Maya is knocked out from under him and the skinniest, scrawniest Scullamy female he’s ever seen takes her place. Robbed of the love of his life, Gabe has no choice but to accept Neoma as his Bride, but—Hunt or not—he vows never to forgive or forget what she’s done.
Everyone knows Scullamy isn’t to be trusted, but right from the start something about Neoma doesn’t fit Gabe’s preconceptions of what a Scullamy spy should be. She’s too skinny, too nervous, too…haunted, and with the shadow of Deacon never far behind her, gradually he comes to see there’s more to Neoma than anyone realizes. She needs him—she and Scotty both—in ways no one has ever needed him before. As the words ‘love’, ‘honor’, and ‘protect’ take on whole new meanings, Gabe realizes he has to find a way to cut Scullamy out of both their lives.
Before he loses Neoma forever…
* * * * *
When she tried to pass him, Gabe Michaelson hooked an arm around Maya’s waist and spun her in a playful circle.
“Gabe,” she both sighed and laughed, and yet it sounded almost tired to him. It left him wondering, and not for the first time, whether she might not feel for him the same way he did for her.
They’d lived in this small town, four doors down from one another since birth. They’d grown up together. The kid sister of his best friend from kindergarten on, Maya had been his first romantic crush. He thought he’d been hers too, especially during her mid-teen years when her feminine curves filled out and her braces came off, and she started smiling and flirting back at him. But then something had happened, and Gabe couldn’t really put his finger on what exactly that something had been. They’d grown up, that was all. Grown up and grown apart. Maya left Hollow Hills for college, her brother moved to California, and Gabe met Colton. She’d been back for two years now, but it was impossible not to notice that something between them had changed.
That was all right, though. Sometimes love—the real thing, not romance novel nonsense and Hollywood movie magic—took a little time. If what she needed was a little bit more, then he could be patient. He could be whatever she needed him to be, so long as she was his. Once he’d won her in the Bridal Hunt and she got a chance to see him as Gabe her mate rather than Gabe her brother’s friend, things might improve between them. No, no might about it. He was positive. Things would get better, because they sure couldn’t get much worse.
“What path are you going to take?” he pressed. “I have to help Cole bag his Bride, but after that…”
Maya laughed again. “Gabe…That’s not how this works.”
“Says who?” he countered, but when she pulled, he let her go. The look she gave him was one of mild exasperation. She softened it with a smile, before stepping up to a food vendor and buying two skewers of roasted meat. One smelled like lamb, the other like chicken. Both were drenched in a thick honeyed sauce, but that wasn’t what he was hungry for.
God, she was beautiful—all long dark hair and dark eyes, her partial Native American ancestry still showing strong despite several generations of Caucasian influence on the bloodline. Long limbs, rounded hips, breasts he ached to get his lips on—one more day, that was all he had to wait. One more day, and then she would be running for a mate and he would be chasing her.
Remnants of her aggressive participation in the pre-Hunt games showed in the bruises she wore, but she wore them like she wore everything else: handsomely. Of course, that might just be him. He had the most fantastic urge to kiss each and every one of those injuries, from the scuffed tips of her pink-painted toenails all the way up to the small cut high on the bridge of her nose. His dark gaze lingered on that cut while she took her skewers.
“You didn’t have to do that, you know,” he finally said.
“Want one?” she offered, but he waved it away. Hard as she’d been playing, she needed the protein more than he did. Licking a drop of honey off her thumb, she bit into the chicken as she stepped into the grass to find an empty picnic table. “What didn’t I have to do?”
As if she didn’t know. Gabe arched an eyebrow at her, which she stubbornly ignored by pretending to scour the field while she ate.
“The chevolak,” he specified. “You didn’t have to defend her.”
“Nobody else was.”
“Because she doesn’t belong here, and that’s coming from someone who likes her.”
“Do you?” She looked at him, but uncomfortable with any conversation that involved Karly, the only human to have, in living memory, defiled the sanctity of a Hunt, now it was Gabe’s turn to look anywhere but back at her.
“Yeah, I do,” he admitted, though he wasn’t all that happy to do so. “What’s happened isn’t her fault, I know that. But that doesn’t change anything. She has no place here, and the sooner she figures that out, the better off she’ll be.”
The better off Colton would be too.
Against his will, Gabe felt his gaze being pulled across the field. Colton wasn’t on it anymore. He’d gone home shortly after the confrontation that landed Karly every bit as battered and bruised as Maya. Joela had been the aggressor in that fight. That made him doubly proud of Maya for standing up to the Scullamy bitch, but it also left him feeling sorry for his friend.
Colton deserved a strong Bride, one who knew their ways and their traditions and who would keep them, the way an alpha’s Bride should. A volka Bride. There wasn’t anything Colton could ask of him that Gabe wouldn’t do, but no alpha should ever mate to a human. Sleep with them, sure. He had nothing against the chevolak as a species, but to take a human Bride…it simply wasn’t done. Unless, of course, one lived in the Scruff. Companionship was companionship, after all. And Karly was nice. She was sweet and even somewhat pretty around the human edges, but she brought nothing beneficial to the community. No strength, no social ties with a stronger pack. Nothing but an abusive soon-to-be ex-husband—a cop, no less—who wasn’t going to stop causing trouble until he got Karly back under his thumb. Colton could hardly be blamed for wanting to put a stop to that. Still, this infatuation with Karly bothered Gabe. It bothered a lot of people, both in and outside of Hollow Hills. Theirs was, at best, a tenuous leadership. They couldn’t afford a misstep right now. Regardless of how much he might like Karly, she represented one hell of a giant mistake.
“If the Alpha desires her, doesn’t that automatically give her a place among us?” Maya softly countered. “Who are we to stand between the Alpha and the mate of his heart?”
“The mate of his heart?” Gabe echoed before he could stop himself. He didn’t mean to laugh, but one rolled out of him anyway. “And that right there, is why romance novels should be outlawed.”
Tossing her long black hair, Maya snorted. “You’re running after your heart’s desire. Why shouldn’t he be allowed to do the same?”
“I’m not the Alpha,” Gabe told her. “An alpha has to do what’s best for the community. He needs to strengthen his position, not fall in love. And besides, my heart’s desire is a beautiful volka woman, who would keep our traditions in ways Karly couldn’t, even if she knew what they were.”
Maya hummed, a noncommittal sound. “Perhaps if you saw what I did when the chevolak dared the Deacon bitch out onto the Field, you wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss her.”
Hooking his arm around her waist again, Gabe spun her into a waltzing step that ended when he got her back up against the nearest tree. His only regret was he didn’t do it further away from the porta-potties. “Perhaps I didn’t notice because I was too busy looking at a different benefit for our pack.”
One small hand, sticky with honey sauce, pressed against his chest. She did not push him away, but he thought he caught a whiff of barbeque-flavored sadness in her exasperated sigh.
“There is no shame in being a first lieutenant’s Bride,” Gabe told her, fighting hard to swallow back a surge of defensiveness. That niggling voice in the back of his head that kept suggesting she might not want to be caught by him grew a little louder.
Maya’s fingers on his chest splayed, as if she were feeling for his heartbeat. “I never said it was.”
“Then what is it?” His chest tightened. “You’re hoping for an alpha.”
Amber fire lit the black of Maya’s eyes. She didn’t push him away; she balled up her fist and slugged him square in the chest, hard enough to knock his arm from her waist and the rest of him a half-step backwards.
“Since when have I ever cared two twigs for rank?” she demanded, no part of her either smiling or soft anymore. “Little chevolak girls dream of big cakes, white princess dresses and fancy June weddings. From the moment I learned of them, all I have ever wanted was to run in a Hunt. So long as the one who catches me is good and kind and strong enough to Claim me, then I will be the most fierce and loyal of Brides! And I don’t care, Gabe Michaelson, if he is alpha, omega, or even from the Scruff, just so long as he is not Scullamy!”
She punched him, knocking him another step back. She was so beautiful. He couldn’t stop admiring her even when she snapped about on her heel and stalked angrily away.
Rubbing his chest, Gabe watched her go until the crowd swallowed her and he couldn’t see her anymore. He breathed in, still able to smell her. But then, she’d been in his nose for years. That she wasn’t harboring hopes of rank made him feel better, but it wasn’t going to be an alpha or an omega who caught her. Nor would it be some wanderer from the Scruff, and it sure as hell wasn’t going to be someone from Scullamy. Maya was his, in his heart if not in fact. All he needed to make it official was the rise of tomorrow’s sun.
His pulse quickened, his blood firing in his veins. Tomorrow could not come soon enough.
The wind shifted, chasing away the lingering sweetness of honeyed chicken skewers. His hackles rose at the scent that replaced it. Following his nose, Gabe found the source. It was Deacon, in his camp on the far side of the Ridge and conspiring with his latest recruit. As if his massive army of a pack required any further strengthening. A female stood with them. They grew them pretty in Scullamy, Gabe would grant them that. Like the Deacon’s own daughter, the woman was small, blonde, well-made (if a little too thin), and like everyone else from that packline, full to the Scullamy brim with treachery.
Concluding the meeting, Deacon left them, and the Scruff male and small female went into the tent. Though none of them were close enough to see the insult, Gabe spat on the ground. The ratio of male-to-female runners was such he had no doubt that every Bride would be claimed by the end of the Hunt, including the Scullamy bitches. He pitied every male forced or fool enough to Claim one. Gabe was neither, and he’d be damned if he welcomed that kind of Bride into Hollow Hills, much less his life.