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Running with the Pack by Lola Glass

 

Running with the Pack - Never run from your mate.
So there’s a name for what I am.
Ruby Wolf.
And apparently, the rules don’t really apply to us.
For one, we come in pairs. The other half of mine is a douche named Ezra, and he’s convinced that walking around naked is all it will take to talk me into choosing him. If we don’t mate, I’ll die. Period. End of story.
But I won’t betray Roman like that, so I’m dying slowly and painfully.
Until he goes and signs up for the trials that can make him like me.
The trials no one has survived in more than a hundred years.
Things are pretty much a mess, but that’s not new. I’ve survived worse.
And if I don’t, well, the last few months of happiness were worth everything and more.

 

Running with the Pack by Lola Glass Book Chapter One

 

The sun warmed my fur despite the cold of the snow beneath me. A small house rested a few feet from a frozen lake to my left. The sun was setting off to my right, and the chill in the air was growing less tolerable by the minute.

A month ago, I would've been fine to sleep in the forest at night, even in the middle of winter. Now, I was already shivering.

Oh, the joys of dying slowly.

A woman with cinnamon hair stepped out onto the little house's patio and waved her arm through the air. I let out a deep sigh, the noise foreign to my wolf lungs.

If I didn't get up now, she'd start yelling. And then she'd come grab me and lecture me. I hated lectures.

And she was right; the cold was bad for me.

I stood slowly on shaky legs. Walking was easier in my furry form because if I crashed, the ground was a hell of a lot closer. Breaking my human face on the floor? Not fun.

My legs carried me to the porch slower than a damn turtle. I shifted back to skin after reaching the patio, and silently accepted the woman's help as she guided my arms into the sleeves of the fluffy robe.

"How are you feeling?" She asked, eyebrows furrowing.

I knew the exact conversation that was about to ensue, and I was way past tired of it.

"Fine." I gave her a tight smile, only because it would up my chances of not being smothered.

She pressed her fingers to my neck and lifted the watch on her wrist, checking my pulse. I stood and waited while she counted, holding myself up with my hands on the back of a patio chair.

"Too fast." She clucked, removing her fingers and slipping my arm over her shoulder so she could help me walk. "You need to mate with Ezra and let him heal you."

I said nothing. My response would've contained more cuss words than she deserved, in all her kindness.

"But you're still not going to do it, are you?" She prodded, helping lower me into the living room's giant rocking chair that could practically eat me whole. It was the only piece of furniture that smelled like me and no one else, so I pretty much lived in the thing.

"Nope." My arms wrapped around my stomach. "Thanks for the suggestions, though." I gave her another tight smile. This time, because she was my grandma… and because unlike most people, she cared about my well-being.

We'd reached a delicately balanced truce in the first few days I'd been there. After I stole her SUV in an attempt to escape… and crashed the damn thing when my legs decided to give out on me. I offered to pay for it if she retrieved my phone from the Alphas of All, but she decided I should keep my money and stay trapped.

I'd still pay her whenever I finally had access to a computer again, because she was my mom’s mother. If I ever had access to a computer again, that is. Roman was nowhere to be found, and I had zero ways to contact anyone in New York. Although Marie and Ezra both had laptops, neither of them would give me the passcodes and I was about as far from a computer hacker as a person could get.

"Henley…" She sat on the edge of the couch, not far from me.

"Yes, Marie?"

"Grandma." She corrected.

I said nothing. We both knew I wasn't actually going to call her grandma; it was too weird.

"You have to mate with him." She said.

"I don't have to do anything."

Yeah, that would always be a sore subject for me. I’d always hated being told what to do.  

"If you want to survive, you do." Marie countered.

"I won't give my body and soul to someone I don't love." My eyes caught on a photo above the fireplace. It was a big photo of Marie, her mate Randall, and a teenage version of my mom. It didn't belong there, but she said she brought it with her wherever she went. "You loved Randall." I reminded her.

Randall, my grandfather, died not long after my mother went off the grid because of her secret pregnancy. I was her last close relative, which was why Marie had taken work off for the entire month I'd been in Ruby City. She was determined to keep me alive, and as a trained nurse, she was more equipped than most people. If I'd been dying from a normal disease, she definitely would've dragged me through my recovery.

Unfortunately, my disease wasn’t normal. Hell, it wasn’t even a disease. I’d taken permanent damage from holding all those packs before I left New York, damage so bad that only a ruby wolf could heal… after I mated with him, that is. Ruby wolves had all sorts of weird shit go on after mating.

"I did." She leaned over and caught my hand. "But you could love Ezra, if you gave him a chance. He's a good man, and-"

"And I already have a mate." I cut her off. "He may have abandoned me, but he's still mine." My eyes fell to the ring on my left hand. Roman and I had never gotten around to filling out a marriage license to make things official the human way, but I still considered us permanent.

After I got over the initial shock that he'd actually dumped me in Ruby City like yesterday's poisonous trash, I talked Marie into taking me to the city’s jewelry store, and I bought myself a ring like the damn independent dying woman I was.

Fine, I bought it with Roman’s credit card, but only because I didn’t have my own with me. I’d sure as hell be paying him back, if I ever saw him again.

But the ring was a simple silver band with a single tear-drop shaped diamond, and I was completely obsessed with it.

Hell, I even bought Roman one too. Not a diamond one, obviously, but a thick ring made of metal and wood. I'd worn it on the middle finger of my right hand since it arrived, and although it was huge enough to slide off my sickly fingers, I hadn't let go of it for a second.

"The New York Alpha isn't your mate." Marie said.

I think she was under the impression that if she said it enough times, I'd start to believe it.

She was wrong.

I was as stubborn as a damn cockroach.

Which was why I'd tried to get back to New York so many times in the first week I'd been there. But I was too weak to physically fight then, and even more so now.

"In every way that counts, he is."

"He left you, Henley." Her voice raised, as it did when she got frustrated. "He wants you to be with Ezra."

I narrowed my eyes at her.

"He would never want me to be with anyone else."

Did that sound crazy?

Probably. It felt crazy.

He had left me, after all.

My body was falling apart and my spirit was going with it, sadness replacing pretty much every other feeling.

But I hadn't questioned my mind in years and wasn't starting now.

Marie's lips pressed together.

"The New York Alpha doesn't want you to die."

No, he definitely didn't want that.

If he did, he wouldn't have bothered ditching me in some other dick's house.

She stood.

"Ezra will be here soon. I'll get you some hot cocoa and then leave you two to talk."

"Yay."

Marie tutted me like she was my damn mother as she headed into the kitchen.

The front door swung open and a tall, swimmer-shaped man came strolling in. The messy hot pink hair on his head was spiked up in its usual artsy style, and as always, he was completely naked.

"Hey, sexy." Ezra walked right over to me.

"How many times have I asked you to put pants on your tiny dick, pinky?" I drawled.

I'd have snarled and tried to look scary, but I was about two-weeks past having the energy to scare anyone. I probably just sounded tired.

"We both know this is the biggest cock you've ever seen." He gestured to his junk.

"Keep telling yourself that." I accepted the hot cocoa from Marie when she came back with two cups—always getting one for Ezra, too. Because he was the prince of the pack, and everyone absolutely adored his obnoxious ass.

Everyone other than me, obviously.

"I hear the New York Alpha has already chosen a new mate. One of his she-wolves… I believe her name is Lilac?" He lifted an eyebrow at me.

Low blow.

Yeah, that hit too close to home.

I was on my feet in an instant, too furious with Ezra to notice the way my body swayed, too damn weak to hold me up for long.

"Watch your mouth." I dared him to argue again.

"I'm too busy watching yours." He said.

That was it.

I swung my fist into his face and immediately regretted it. As my fingers collided with his face, my weak-ass bones—you read that right, even my damn bones were weak—broke on impact. A scream tore from my throat and the world went black for a minute.

Everything came back into focus and I was on my knees, Ezra's arms around me, holding me up as he licked my fingers. I could feel the bones knitting back into place quickly.

"Get the fuck away from me." I spoke through a clenched jaw. "Don't touch me."

"Let me heal you." He kept licking my fingers. I knew his statement wasn't about the hand—it was about the rest of me.

I was pretty damn weak, but not too weak to protect myself. I grabbed a hardback book off the coffee table beside me with my good hand and turned it sideways, smacking him in the face with it hard enough I hoped something broke.

He grunted at the impact but didn't release my fingers, so I smacked him again. He caught it that time before it could break his face.

"No, Henley. You like this face." He said, finally letting go of my fingers. I ducked away, stumbling over my own damn ankles.

I wanted to scream. There wasn't much I hated more than not being able to protect  myself, but being told what I liked and didn't like ranked up there too.

It was time to break out the big guns.

Really, there was only one gun.

My dad.

AKA, the only dude in the pack who was stronger than Ezra.

"If you touch me again, I'll call Hansen." I warned. "He may want us to mate, but if I tell him you're attempting to force yourself on me, he's going to have problems with it."

"You wouldn't." Ezra sneered.

"Try me."

I hoped he would.

"Are you really going to let me find another woman to heal these wounds?" His cocky smirk was the opposite of attractive as he gestured to the bruise on his face. "Because the ladies are lining up. Maybe seeing me with another girl would finally push you into getting naked with me, and-"

"That's never going to happen." I interrupted him. "I have a mate, one who would never threaten to cheat on me to get what he wants."

"If he loves you so much, why did he abandon you?" Ezra stood, stepping closer. He was trying to intimidate me, to scare me into giving into him or make me sad about Roman. Some shit like that, but I wasn’t a weepy girl, or one easily manipulated.

All that did was piss me off.

"He didn't abandon me. He went back to New York, taking care of his damn pack." I said.

It was a lie.

I mean, maybe it was true, but I had absolutely no idea. The last time I saw Roman was right before he dragged me into a plane with Hansen and flew me to Ruby City.

Marie told me he hadn't left my side for days while I was unconscious. He waited while Sylvie took every one of my people I’d added to my pack from me, and then he ran a background check on Marie to make sure she was trustworthy.

After he knew I was safe, he left.

The only thing I had when I woke up was one of his credit cards and a sheet of paper that said,

"Do whatever it takes to stay alive. I loved every damn minute you were mine."

He didn't even sign the thing, but my eyes burned a bit every time I read it.

Asshole.

He'd said goodbye, left me with Marie, and someone had taken my phone too, so I had no way to contact him or anyone else I loved.

Maybe I should've hated him for it. Hell, the fact that I didn't probably made me a complete fool. But I understood him too well to hate him for making the same choice I would've made in his situation.

If I could either watch him die or shove him into someone else's arms, I'd choose the latter too. And then leave like the devil himself was chasing me. The world needed Roman too much to let him go.

Just because I understood Roman’s perspective didn't mean I was actually going to jump into Ezra's arms, though. I'd rather die—literally—than betray the mate I'd chosen. I'd been through worse shit than hanging around while my body shut down slowly.

Marie still assumed I'd warm up to Ruby City, that I'd fall into my role and be the happiest wolf there ever was. She didn't know what I'd been through—or what I was going through. But she took care of me, so I was grateful to her anyway.

When Sylvie had me dropped in Ezra's house, at least she'd given me a beautiful place to die in.

If I couldn't be with my favorite people in New York, at least I could walk out into the forest and look out at the frozen lake, marveling at the beauty of the world I'd be leaving soon.

"We're going to a party tonight." Ezra told me.

"Maybe you're going to a party tonight, but I'm sitting on my ass watching Grey's Anatomy again."

"Sylvie agreed to let you have your phone back if you'll go."

I stared at him.

Getting my phone back was a game changer. I'd searched the house for it top to bottom before I'd tried to escape and hadn't found it. So either it was really well hidden, or Sylvie and Hansen had it.

"Swear it?"

He didn't seem like he was lying, but you could never know with a real asshole like him.

"Scout's honor."

As if he was a boy scout.

"Fine."

I was desperate to talk to Jamie and London and Arla.

And Roman, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up. He hadn’t ghosted me so we could do the long-distance thing.

"Great. Your dress is in our closet." He smirked, heading off to the house's one bedroom, still butt-naked.

"I'll go get the dress." Marie said quickly. I flashed her a grateful half-smile, and she returned the expression, diving into the ruby asshole's room. Both of us were living with Ezra—not by choice, in my case—so they’d gotten friendly.

In an entirely non-sexual way, despite how that last sentence sounded.

She came back with a garment bag and then helped me to the bathroom. When she unzipped it, my eyes narrowed at the white silk inside.

There was only one reason a woman wore a fancy white dress like that.

"Mating celebrations are held after a couple becomes mates." I said.

"Usually." Marie gave me a tight smile.

"You knew about this?"

She said nothing.

I shouldn't have let myself trust her.

"At least when I die, I'll be free of all the lying and manipulation." I muttered, tugging the tie on my robe off. I slid out of it as Marie pulled the white dress from the bag. I would've refused to wear it if it was anything else on the line, but getting my phone back so I could talk to my girls?

They were worth wearing the damn thing.

"You're not going to die." Marie said, her voice clipped. "I won't lose my husband, daughter, and granddaughter before I go."

I didn't argue, because that would be rude and she didn't deserve my rudeness.

But if my options were betraying my mate—the man who had saved me and protected me and loved me more than any person deserved—by giving my body to an asshole of a stranger and death, I'd choose the latter.

She zipped the back of the silky dress. It clung to every inch of my malnourished skin, the string-thin straps and open back only serving to make me look even less healthy somehow.

Funny enough, it was exactly the type of dress I would've chosen for my real mating celebration if Arla hadn't buttoned me into that hooker-bride contraption I'd worn. Simple, classy, and sexy all at once.

But now that I was dying, it just made me look like a zombie bride. The shimmering silk and ultra-bright pinkish red of my hair emphasized the lack of color in my cheeks.

"Let's put the hair up." Marie suggested gently.

I guess she got the same Walking Dead vibes I did.

"The hair stays down. Everyone needs to see that she's definitely a ruby wolf." Ezra said, from outside the door. I jumped at his voice and then scowled, hating that he'd snuck up on me. My senses had gone to shit with the rest of my strength.

Dying sucked.

Ezra and Sylvie had already traipsed me around the pack the first few days I'd been in the city, so if anyone still doubted my hair color, they could go to hell.

My eyes met Marie's in the mirror and I saw the hesitance in them. She knew exactly what I was going to say. Or at least, she knew I was going to say something that contradicted what Ezra said.

"I'm thinking we do two braids and wrap them around my head like a crown. My sister-in-law wore something like that once, and it was gorgeous."

I dropped the sister-in-law thing just to bother Ezra. Marie's eyes closed for a long minute when he growled outside my door.

"You don't have a sister-in-law."

"Whatever helps you sleep at night." I called back.

His footsteps as he walked away had to be the most satisfying sound on the damn planet.

"I haven't French-braided since Hazel was young." Marie admitted.

"That's alright, let's just throw it up in a high-ponytail."

I had an ulterior motive for getting my hair up off my neck. I hoped that if Hansen could see how thin and lifeless I looked, maybe he'd take pity on me and save me from Ezra. It wasn't likely considering mating with him was my only option if I wanted to stay alive, but it was pretty much my last shot at having a peaceful death.

Marie began to coax my dry, limp hair into a ponytail. When she pulled my hair off my shoulder, she gasped.

"What?" I bent my head awkwardly, trying to see what scared her. We'd already had a conversation about my tattoo, so that couldn't be it.

"You let Ezra bite you." She whispered, her eyes glued to the crook of my neck.

Ohh… the scars from that thing Roman and I had done.

Her eyes lit up with excitement and she hit me with questions.

"When? I must've been sleeping. You could've asked me to leave, I'd be happy to—"

The door slammed in, and Marie and I both jumped back from the swinging wood slab.

"Move." The ruby snarled at my grandmother.

"Don't talk to her like that." I stepped between her and Ezra, though my legs wobbled and I had to grab the countertop to stay upright.

Ezra's eyes landed on the marks on my neck, the orbs shifting to wolf form almost immediately.

"Roman and I traded bites. It's a cute little thing regular werewolves do to mark each other as taken. And I am taken." I said, laying it on thick and flashing my glittering ring at Ezra.

"It's not a cute little thing. It's the way a ruby wolf connects their soul to one of their enforcers, allowing them a touch of power." He snarled. "Biting is the first part of the ruby mating process, too. You've sullied your soul with—"

"With my mate?" I interrupted him again.

"That's why you still smell like him; I knew it wasn't in my head."

My eyebrows lifted, and I sniffed myself. I'd know if I smelled like Roman; the man's scent was my favorite smell in the world. Though I couldn't smell anything, I chalked it up to dying.

"Cool." I shrugged, grabbing the hair-tie off the counter since Marie seemed good and spooked, just holding my hair off my neck with her hands.

"That's not cool, Henley. Ezra has the right to kill the New York Alpha for biting you." She pressed. Neither of them ever called him by his name; they were trying to distance me from him by calling him "the New York Alpha". As if that would work; I'd been calling him my Alpha for ages.

I snorted.

"Good luck with that. Roman's a lot bigger than you, and he hasn't spent his life being worshipped by everyone in the pack."

Despite my words, I really hoped Ezra wouldn't challenge Roman. Roman would probably win, but I hated the idea of him fighting for his life again because of me.

"I'll remove your connection." Ezra said, his teeth sharpening and growing as they shifted.

"You bite me right now and any chance you have to convince me to mate with you disappears." I snapped back, holding an arm out to keep him away.

"Hansen warned that he'll throw you in the basement if you do anything without her permission." Marie reminded him, stepping beside me. "Leave me to get her ready."

He stepped toward me. His nose was still busted from earlier, but I grabbed the curling iron off the counter and swung it at him. If I couldn't protect myself with my own arms and legs, I'd use what I could find.

He dodged the hot tool, barely avoiding getting his bare-chest singed. I wished he was slower, or that I was faster.

"You were meant to be mine." He snarled my way.

"I'm the only one who chooses who I give myself to." I swung the tool again. "I'm going to your damn mating party for my phone, and that's it. I'm not yours; I'll never be yours. So back the hell off."

I stabbed with the curling iron and he finally stepped out of the room far enough that I could swing the door shut. The lock was busted in, so it wouldn't do much good, but it still made me feel a little better just to have a divider between us.

"You're not really going to let yourself die." Marie said, though she didn't quite look like she believed it.

She was getting smarter.

"Arla wouldn't let me go to a party without eyeliner and mascara on." I calmly set the iron down, avoiding her question. She really didn't want to hear the answer. "I don't think we have a foundation the color of 'pale death', but a little blush could help too."

Marie slowly opened a makeup bag on the counter. I'd assumed it was hers, but she pulled out a load of brand new makeup and set it out on the counter.

"Amy had someone drop this off while you were napping." She said, her voice quieter than it had been. "Joel is worried the women in the pack won't approve of you if you don't look strong."

I lifted an eyebrow. Amy was my grandmother on Hansen's side, and I'd met her all of once, for about a minute when her mate dragged her in to meet me. Joel, my grandpa, was actually kind of hilarious. He stopped by to watch a movie with me most mornings, and the way he ignored whatever was on the screen told me it was just his excuse to try to talk to me.

Strangely enough, I didn't mind. Especially when he brought me news about the New York Pack—which was every time. He was my only connection to the people I loved.

Well, most of them. The one person he'd said he straight-up wasn't going to talk about was Roman. He'd never pushed me to mate with Ezra, but it was clear he thought I had to do it. 

"Why do I care if they approve of me?"

"Because the pack's women will make your life hell if they think you aren't worthy of Ezra. A lot of them already blame you for the loss of the women who died in the trials before," She stopped.

"Before what?" I checked. "And wait, what the hell are the trials?"

"Before we knew you existed. The trials are the way a normal werewolf becomes a ruby."

My eyes widened.

"That's a thing?" I demanded. "How? Why? What does it take?"

"Slow down." Marie said, her lips tilting upward. She liked it when I had energy.

Probably because it made her think I wasn't going to let myself die.

"The trials are a month-long series of tests that turn a normal werewolf into a ruby, and anyone can go through them. But no one has ever passed the trials when there are already two ruby wolves in a generation, and if you don't pass, you die."

Damn.

"So their people died in the trials and they blame me because I didn't know I was a ruby?" I went back to part of the conversation that had led to this, since this apparently wasn’t a way I could be with Roman.

"Really, they should be blaming Hazel." Marie sighed. Her eyes filled with sadness at the mention of her daughter. "But you're the closest thing they have, so yes. They blame you."

"Cool." I sighed,  grabbing the eyeliner off the counter and leaning closer to the mirror to swipe it on. My hands were shaky, so it didn't look awesome, but it was better than nothing.

I put on a little of the blush and mascara, then called it good. Ezra waited just outside the bathroom, leaned up against the wall in a tuxedo.

The outfit brought back flashes of memory.

Roman's fingers inside me in an elevator.

The way he'd held me after we survived the Alpha fight.

His tongue on my thighs as he followed the string of my thong down my ass after the mating celebration.

Hot damn.

I missed him so much it hurt.

"You like the way I look in this." Ezra purred.

My nose wrinkled.

"No."

"I can smell your desire."

Aw shit.

"What were you thinking about?" He prodded.

"Roman talked me into having sex in an elevator during our mating celebration," I shrugged.

It was mostly true.

There was sex in an elevator, but he hadn't had to do any convincing.

"Henley." Marie protested.

Ezra growled.

"Continue." He commanded.

My eyebrow lifted.

Ezra wanted more details? He was giving me the chance to piss him off?

"That's what I was thinking about. Elevator orgasms. Roman's dick. His ass. His muscles in his tuxedo." I paused for dramatic effect. His smile was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn't want this conversation to lead into the serious area. "That's why we'll never be mates. Roman has my heart, mind, and body. I'm his, even if I can't give him my soul."

I stepped past Ezra.

"I'm not wearing shoes to your party. My feet have to be on the ground so I have a better chance at staying balanced." I said.

He didn't respond, grabbing my arm and dragging me out to the garage too quickly for me to keep up with him. I wasn't strong enough to yank myself away, so as we went, I called a goodbye to Marie, telling her I'd see her that night.

 

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