Wicked Cravings – Suzanne Wright

Dante shot a fierce scowl over his coffee mug at Dominic, Tao, Trick, and Marcus. “She’s not my mate,” he repeated for the tenth time. He knew the enforcers were playing with him, but he was too agitated to see the funny side of things. Was there a funny side to a female maintaining you were her mate to her seven brothers who wanted your balls on a plate for “abandoning” her? “All I’m saying is that you guys looked cute together,” teased Trick as he leaned back in his seat opposite Dante at the long oak table. No sooner had he set aside his empty cereal bowl than Grace, undeniably the world’s best cook, collected it. She gave Trick a reprimanding look for his teasing, but Dante could see that she was hiding a smile. “Yeah, you matched well,” agreed Marcus, wearing his usual clown-wide grin, which made most females melt while it irritated the shit out of Dante. He looked at Marcus incredulously. “I matched well with an agent of Satan?” “Someone has to have that agent of Satan.” Dominic shrugged innocently before taking a swig of his coffee. Trick gave Dante a kind, understanding smile that couldn’t have been more false. “Don’t worry, I’m sure that in time she’ll forgive you for abandoning her.” The “abandoning” part aggravated Dante just as much as the false claim. He would never walk away from his mate, even though he wasn’t yet ready to find her. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel the absence of that bond in his life.

He did, and so did his wolf. But it wasn’t as simple as that. When his mate came along, she would rightfully want all of him, she would demand to be at the center of his life, and she would expect his loyalty to be with her, first and foremost. For a Beta, that could be a problem. At present, Dante’s loyalty rested with Trey and his life was dominated by his responsibilities to the pack. A Beta was more than just an Alpha’s right-hand man, responsible for giving advice on political matters. He was also responsible for the protection and safety of the entire pack, he was the mind behind the plans and strategies, and he acted as a go-between for his Alpha when negotiating matters with other packs. He also trained and commanded the enforcers. Betas got their hands dirty doing the jobs that no one else wanted—particularly interrogating and executing enemies. Dante was well known for his skills as an interrogator.

Every day, he spent time patrolling pack territory with whichever enforcers were on duty, milling through paperwork or making important calls to lessen Trey’s workload, and being an ear for any member of the pack who had problems to address. He was just as responsible for the pack’s emotional well-being as he was for its physical safety. Also, he was in constant contact with the enforcers, so that he was always aware of any activity near the borders of pack territory. But having such heavy responsibilities was okay, because Dante liked his position and he was honored to be Beta. His mate, however, wasn’t going to be content to share him. He’d seen it happen many times before. Sure, the females were often happy at first, because it meant that they held the position of Beta female in the pack. But once they realized the sacrifices that came with it, the ultimatum soon came: “Your job or me.” It was the same one that his mother had given to his father. And when his father had chosen his job…well, life became pretty shitty.

If Dante’s mate gave him that ultimatum, he could never make the same choice his father had made. He would have to give up his position as Beta. He wasn’t ready to do that yet. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with a complicated woman,” said Marcus, topping his plate with more food. It was amazing that he was in such good shape when all he ever seemed to do was eat. Dante took a gulp of coffee. “Personally, I prefer females who, like me, are un complicated.” Rhett snorted. “Someone like that would bore the hell out of you, and you know it. Just as you know that you’re not so uncomplicated at all.

You might be easygoing and laid-back, but underneath all that you’re deep, complex.” “That’s Ryan you’re describing.” Dante gestured to the frowning wolf beside him—the only enforcer who wasn’t joining in on the whole “let’s irritate Dante today” thing. Ryan, a man of very few words, merely grunted before returning his attention to the food in front of him. “Ryan’s certainly complex,” allowed Rhett. “So are Trey and all the enforcers—it’s part of why you all became friends in the first place. Like calls to like. But we’re not talking about any of the others— we’re talking about you. Since you took up the mantle of Beta when you were an adolescent, you’ve put yourself second to everything else—the pack, our Alpha, your responsibilities. You’re a workaholic of the worst kind.

You need to find that work/play balance. You need to be as protective of yourself as you are of everyone else.” Dante really wanted to punch Rhett. The guy was genuine, loyal, and he would give any of his packmates the shirt off his back, but he would also analyze their every move, take them apart, and find out what made them tick. It was the way his geeky, analytical mind operated. Annoyingly, he couldn’t just allow people to have their problems. No, he wanted to “fix” everyone. It was why Taryn called him a “psychological mechanic.” But Dante didn’t need fixing; he was dedicated to his job, but he was not addicted to it. “Easy there, Dr.

Freud. Are you also going to tell me I secretly wanted to have sex with my mom when I was growing up?” Rhett started to say something else, but Grace shot him a sharp look. He sighed. “Fine, shut down. It’s only because you know I’m right.” “Now can we back get to the original subject? Why would Glory falsely claim I’m her mate? She has to know that it’s not going to make me mate with her.” “Maybe her pride’s stung because she’d expected to be more than a one-night stand and she wants to cause trouble to get back at you,” suggested Tao, the Head Enforcer. “But I told her before I even touched her that I didn’t want anything more than that.” Dante sighed. “Why would she expect more?” “Some people won’t accept what they don’t want to hear or see.

” Rhett’s expression was genuinely sympathetic. “Yeah,” agreed Dominic. “She’ll probably be happy once her brothers are done with you.” “See—agent of Satan.” It wouldn’t be the first time a gang of brothers had targeted Dante. At least this time they weren’t his own. “They’re all big fuckers, you know.” Trick’s lips twitched into a smile. “I heard they’re a crazy bunch, too. And I don’t mean ‘eccentric’ crazy, I mean ‘ we, the jury, find…’ crazy.

If I were you, well, I’d definitely be a little nervous.” “Nervous of what?” asked Shaya as she entered the room and took a seat at the table. The redheaded female, who had been a close friend of Taryn’s since childhood, had recently joined. Ordinarily, Trey didn’t like adding newcomers to their relatively small pack of sixteen. In fact, with the exception of Taryn, it consisted of only those who had left their old one, the Bjorn Pack, with Trey when he was banished. But he had accepted Shaya at Taryn’s request, and he had also allowed two members of the Bjorn Pack to switch with Selma and Kirk when they left Phoenix. Trick smiled at Shaya. “We’re just congratulating Dante on finding his mate.” Almost as if he sensed that Dante was close to strangling Trick—not through a loss of control, just because it would be fun— Tao quickly explained, “A one-night stand of Dante’s apparently doesn’t like that she was simply a one-night stand and has decided to tell her brothers she’s his mate and sic them on him.” Shaya winced.

“Taryn’s not going to like it when she finds out. Good luck to Trey with keeping her out of it.” Tao looked at Dante. “What are you going to do? If it was me, I’d want to go and confront her.” “That’s probably what she’s hoping I’ll do. I’m not playing her games.” Dante drained the last of his coffee. “We’ll meet Nick Axton at Mo’s Diner to discuss it like he asked. As her Alpha, it’s his right to sort this mess before it goes any further. Refusing him that chance would mess up our alliance with his pack.

No spoiled little princess is worth that.” “At least he was good enough to call and let us know what Glory’s up to,” said Ryan. “Do we mention this to our Alphas before the meeting?” Tao asked. “No.” Naturally it wasn’t good to keep things from your Alphas, but part of Dante’s role as Beta was to protect them—even from themselves. As Shaya pointed out, Trey was going to have a hard time keeping Taryn, who was heavily pregnant, from getting involved. “It’ll be better to have the meeting before telling them. That way, Taryn can’t demand to go and Trey won’t have to sedate her.” Tao and the four enforcers nodded, satisfied with the plan. “Has Jaime come down for breakfast yet?” Shaya was referring to one of the pack’s other two new additions.

Dante and Jaime had been in the same pack until he was fourteen, when he left with Trey and several others, but he hadn’t seen her until recently. As usual when Jaime was mentioned, Trick smirked devilishly at Dante, making the claw marks on his cheek darken. “Nope, not yet,” Trick answered, though his gaze hadn’t moved from Dante. “Who would’ve thought a slip of a girl could spook the normally unflappable you? It’s so much fun to watch.” “She does not spook me.” “Yes she does, she always has.” Okay, that was true. When they were kids, Jaime had followed Dante around like a lost little kitten, trailed after him like he was the answer to all her problems. The guys had all thought it was hilarious that this short, plump little girl who was four years younger was crushing on him. She’d even played practical jokes on his girlfriends, and no amount of Trick’s teasing back then had made her stop.

Apparently, she was immune to Trick’s nature. But Dante wasn’t, and because of Jaime he’d been subjected to daily doses of it. Dante had expected that her crush would have died by now. Apparently not. She hadn’t flirted shamelessly with him or harassed him, but she had made her interest in him clear with bright smiles, subtle touches, and heated looks. Dante, however, had no intention of responding to her interest— something that he had made perfectly clear to Trick last night. It wasn’t that Dante wasn’t attracted to her. Although she didn’t have the kind of face that made a guy halt in his tracks, within minutes of her company that guy would be wondering why he hadn’t noticed how stunning she was. And her mouth…Dante often found himself wanting to bite it. Her honeysuckle-and-caramel scent that his wolf had always found…intriguing…now had the distinctive tang of a mature female, and it incited his wolf.

Before Jaime, his wolf had never been attracted to submissive females. For that matter, neither had Dante. He liked feisty females whose strength matched his own, and he absolutely loved seeing them submit to him. Not that Dante had any wish to see women bound, kneeling, and calling him Milord— although that one time in Barcelona had been kind of fun. No, he liked women who would challenge him, because it made their eventual surrender that much more gratifying, and it meant that his dominance over them was real. They weren’t submitting because it was in their nature, they were submitting because he was in total control. It wasn’t that either he or his wolf had no respect for submissive wolves; they were as important to a pack as dominant wolves, in that without them, there would be no balance. A pack of purely dominant shifters would never work. Being a submissive wolf didn’t mean they were passive, weak, softspoken, or quiet. Jaime sure as hell wasn’t any of those things—in fact, she was quite the opposite.

A submissive wolf could actually be mentally stronger than a dominant wolf. However, they would never be physically stronger than one. As such, submissives never issued challenges on anyone of a higher rank. Most avoided confrontations at all cost and had an extremely difficult time saying no to anyone. Jaime had never suffered such problems because of her strength of character. Despite such strength, he didn’t believe that she—or any other submissive wolf, for that matter— would be able to handle the full force of his personality. But even if Jaime hadn’t been a submissive wolf, Dante wouldn’t have responded to those heated stares. He would never have even so much as a one-night stand with a female from his own pack. He didn’t want his true mate feeling uncomfortable when he finally found her and brought her home. Dante had seen how awkward it had been for Taryn to be around Selma, and he didn’t want to put his own mate through that.

Taryn hadn’t been heartbroken when Selma decided to leave the pack. Dante didn’t want a relationship anyway. Not just because his time was already in demand, but because past experience had shown him that a relationship between shifters was a dangerous thing. It could make things very difficult when one suddenly discovered a true mate. Dante had no intention of repeating that experience. “You could learn a thing or two from Jaime,” said Trick. “She knows how to have fun.” Dante snickered. “She’s also incredibly stubborn and a little crazy.” Feisty he liked, but crazy? Not so much.

Shaya held up her index finger. “She prefers ‘spirited.’” “She definitely knows how to have fun,” chuckled Dominic. He turned to Dante. “The other night, I found her and Shaya drinking like there was no tomorrow while laughing at a bad porn film.” Marcus nearly choked on his coffee. Shaya sighed dreamily, smiling. “Ah, good times.” “Were they touching themselves, too? Or better still, touching each other?” Marcus looked as though he was genuinely trying to picture it. “No,” replied Dominic, “but they were playing ‘catch’ with an unused butt plug.

The one you got Jaime for her birthday simply because you’re odd like that.” Marcus shrugged. “At least she’s using it somehow.” Knowing Dominic as well as he did, Dante easily guessed, “You joined in, didn’t you?” A smile crept onto Dominic’s face. “Yeah, okay, I did. It was fun.” Trick cocked his head as if listening to a distant noise. “Ah, I think that’s her coming now.” It was. There was no mistaking the source of that husky laugh.

That was another thing about her that got the attention of both man and wolf. She had a voice that could liquefy rock. Didn’t matter though, Dante told himself. Didn’t matter how much of an appealing package she was. Didn’t matter how much his wolf wanted her. Didn’t matter how bitable her mouth was or how tantalizing man and wolf found her scent. Dante was not interested in having any type of relationship, no matter how casual, with Jaime Farrow. Inhaling deeply, he braced himself for that beaming smile she always sent his way—a smile that he would never admit made his cock twitch. Marcus shuffled over, ensuring that there was an empty seat beside Dante, just as he did every morning. Traitor.

Arm in arm with her brother, Gabe—the other new addition to the pack—she entered the kitchen… and his jaw almost hit the floor. His wolf was pacing predatorily, made alert the moment he heard her laugh. In an outfit that emphasized delicious curves that Dante would never have guessed were hiding under the baggy clothes she usually wore, Jaime strode inside and greeted Grace before heading to the table. Then she did something that she had never done before, something that had his wolf growling in irritation. She gave Dante the same brief, polite smile she gave to everyone else…and walked right on past him and sat between Dominic and Shaya. Motherfucker. Jaime pretended not to notice the surprised expressions directed her way. The pack shouldn’t be so shocked that she was considering Dante a lost cause. Sure, Jaime had a major thing for Dante, but damn it, a female had her pride. He’d made it clear through his indifference that he had zero interest in her.

Chasing after a guy who didn’t want her was not Jaime’s idea of fun, no matter how hot said guy was. She could try her hand at seduction and see if he caved…Snort. She’d have more luck trying to nail jelly to a stone wall. Seduction wasn’t her specialty. Besides, she’d overheard him talking to Trick last night. He didn’t think of her that way, he’d said. She wasn’t his type, he’d said. He liked his women slim, he’d said. Superficial asshole. As if those comments weren’t embarrassing enough, she hadn’t been alone when she overheard him.

No, Shaya had been there to witness her shame. Groan! Well Jaime had not dressed in her skintight New York T-shirt and her slim-fitting blue jeans this morning to show him that she wasn’t so chubby anymore thankyouverymuch. She had not put on a little more mascara, eye shadow, and lip gloss than she usually did. And she had not even once wondered if Dante would notice. Nope, not at all. Seriously, though, who could blame her for wanting Dante as much as she did? With his wide shoulders, broad chest, and solid arms, he had a build that screamed “powerful,” “lethal,” “dangerous.” She had grown up around well-built males, had seen plenty of muscular bodies, but Dante was in a league of his own. His compelling, assertive personality made him seem as though he took up even more room than he actually did. He would have seemed unapproachable if it wasn’t for his heart-stopping, crooked grin. Given how gorgeous females tended to flock around him, Jaime wasn’t exactly surprised by his aloofness.

He wasn’t in a position where he had to settle for plain Janes like herself. Then there were the differences in their personalities. He was a stickler for rules, whereas Jaime saw them as suggestions. He had a strict moral code, whereas she had her own sense of right and wrong that didn’t always cohere with his—like something counted as cheating only if she was caught, and that vengeance was therapeutic. Dante was very much a planner, wanting to be prepared for every scenario so that he could be in total control. Jaime? She preferred to make things up as she went along, and she liked to take risks. Unfortunately, neither her wolf nor her body saw these differences as important. Both reacted to him with an unhealthy amount of excitement that never failed to needle Jaime. Even when he was a kid—a small, scrawny, scowling, defensive little boy—he had fascinated her. He’d been regarded as “the runt” by all of his older brothers, which meant they had made his life miserable.

Kind of ironic that he was now the biggest of all of his brothers, even bigger than Josh, who was an Alpha. Ha. Even though they had been total bastards to him, he seemed to have this inner strength that meant no matter what they did or how much they did it, there were certain parts of him that they had never been able to touch or scar. Growing up, she’d watched in total admiration as Dante had worked to make himself physically strong and fit until he was someone who was confident, capable, and one hundred percent comfortable in his own skin. All these years later, there was still something about him that enticed both her and her wolf. Maybe it was his piercing brindle-brown eyes or his cocky grin or the way he radiated confidence. Or maybe it was because he was amazingly and admirably always in total control of himself and of his wolf. She got the feeling that control was important to him on some level, though she couldn’t figure why. In actuality, it was just as important to her. Not that Dante was even slightly aware of that.

The only person who knew of her problems was her brother, and that was the way she liked it. Enticing though he was, there would be no more pining over Dante. No more wondering if his short, walnut-brown hair was as soft as she imagined. No more wondering if those big hands of his were as talented as she suspected. And no more wondering if he was as big in the downstairs department as he was everywhere else. But how could she not wonder about that? Come on, she was only human. Well, kind of. Since the crush wasn’t only physical, it wasn’t going to be possible to make her craving for him simply disappear by force of will. Unfortunately. As Shaya had pointed out, though, Jaime could ensure that she hid it from him.

She could fake indifference and lead him to believe she was over the craving, salvaging some self-respect. She could paste a smile on her face and appear to be the happiest she had ever been

.

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