When reformed shifter Danny comes back to Texas as part of his twelve-step program, Declan couldn’t be less interested in forgiving him. Declan thinks Danny got scared when he left five years ago, and has labeled his ex a coward. When he finds out the truth, though, Dec sets about letting Danny know he’s welcome to come home anytime.
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He didn’t remember leaving home. He’d been drugged into pure idiocy, mad with the agony of being torn from his mate, and trapped in the back of a paddy wagon and howling at the moon.
Daniel sighed softly, trying not to relive that night, but it was an impossibility, especially now knowing he had to go back, face those green eyes, and apologize for hurting one of their own.
It had been a full moon and they had been running, flying over the ground on a hunt when a trio of big males attacked, one taking Declan down with a thud. He smelled the blood of his mate, sharp on the air and he lost his mind, destroying everything in his path. He woke being dragged by strange men to the wagon, his limp body bouncing on the dirt, his mother keening about how he’d destroyed them all, committed murder.
Almost killed his mate.
There was something wrong with him. His wolf was psychotic, just as his mom had said, and he needed help — violent, awful assistance to fix him.
To protect his mate.
The brotherhood — Father Vincent, really, because no one else seemed to make the rules — had forced him into the mold that he deserved to be in. The punishment of not being able to control himself was eternal, endless.
How was he going to do this? Look at Declan and walk away? How could anyone do that?
Danny still loved him, more than life itself. Of course, it was his love that protected Declan, didn’t it? His control was the only thing that protected his mate now — from his wolf and from the threat of the Brotherhood itself. His control and the way the rules of his brothers kept him physically weak.
Thank the goddess that Mother had told him that Declan had survived. It was the only reason he didn’t remain dead after the first time they stopped his heart.
He sighed softly, folding and unfolding his note of apology again and again. He was sorry — so sorry. He would have been the happiest man on earth — happy with his lover, with his mate. Happy living off the earth, with the cattle and the dogs and the moon. Happy bathing together under the…
He shook his head and then dug his fingernails into his wrist, the sharp pain making him shudder with a chill.
There, that was better.
It was a sin to wish for earthly things, to desire what he would never have again. He deserved his pain.
He deserved his shame, his ache, his loss.
He would face his greatest desire and walk away. It was the best thing. It would prove his dedication to the Brotherhood and they would never have to drown him again.
* * *
Declan stepped back from the last post hole and grinned. He wiped sweat off his face before clapping his hat back on his head. He worked hard, but it was worth it to have his own land, to have a place where he could run safe. He loved it, every bit of it, from the stall mucking to the fence riding.
This land was his, and he knew every fucking inch of it, had defended it from all comers — human and wolf. Hell, his family was sunk bone-deep here. This had been his folks’ land, his grandparents’ lands, longer.
Now it was his and his alone.
Ever since Mom and Pop had gone up to Colorado, up to his sister’s pack, he’d been completely on his own. A lone wolf.
He knew that his folks were happy up in the mountains, though, being spoiled grandparents to seven grandbabies. The pictures they sent were stunning — Lizzie living in a bowl surrounded by the Rockies. To quote his sister, “It was good to be mated to the alpha.”
A pang of near overwhelming loneliness threatened to crush him. The only thing missing was his mate. Too damned bad his mate hadn’t loved their life like Declan did.
Fucking idiot. One goddamn fight where asses got kicked and the little coward had bolted. The asshole probably wasn’t worth keeping. Fucker.
Didn’t stop Dec from missing him like a sore tooth. Didn’t keep him from jacking off in the middle of the night dreaming about that tight ass, either.
It had been worse for the last week, too. Like a sore tooth that he couldn’t stop poking at. Everything he saw reminded him of that evil, cowardly, yellow son of a bitch.
He saw Danny’s eyes in the blue of the sky, smelled Danny in the barn. He even thought he heard the asshole singing to him, howling for him through the night.
It had been sixty-two months. Sixty-two months, one week, and four days, for fuck’s sake.
He threw his shovel down, the damn thing rebounding back and hitting him in the chest.
His phone rang, vibrating his hip, and he rolled his eyes, thankful for the distraction from his less-than-productive thoughts. If Billy down at the feed store had fucked up that order again. “I swear to God, Berger, if you can’t get this right…”
He almost dropped the phone in utter shock. Hadn’t he just been thinking it had been five years? Five years since he’d heard that voice, and now it felt like getting a call from a ghost.