A few days after the beach trip, I entered the café in our downtown area to start my shift. I was on the early shift, so I had to be there at five in the morning to clean and prep everything for opening. I always started by wiping down all the tables and counters and sweeping the floor. They cleaned the evening before too, but Valerie, the owner, was very obsessive about cleanliness, which I appreciated. Then, I went to brew the drip coffees. Valerie was busy pulling everything out of the oven and putting it all in the displays. She had arrived even earlier than me. Valerie almost never took a day off and often worked twelve-hour shifts. She was very curvy, with curly red hair and a fiery personality to match. She never took crap from anyone.
As all the different coffees were brewing, I went to open the register. At six, we switched the sign to "open." When I first started the job, I thought I'd never learn everything, but now I was an expert at all the different espresso drinks—cappuccino, latte, Americano, macchiato, mocha, flat white—if it could be done on an espresso machine, I could do it. Even though Lucy had been working here longer than me, she still got the drinks confused sometimes. She mostly helped with decorating cakes and making dough for all the different pastries anyway, since that was her true passion. She was basically Valerie's protégé and always helped her whenever someone ordered an elaborate cake—especially for weddings.
The morning rush normally lasted from 7:30 until 10:00, as most pack members would stop by the café on their way to work. I pretty much had everyone's orders memorized. During the school year, when it would slow down after the morning rush, Valerie didn't mind if I studied while I stood next to the register.
Lucy came in at 7:45 for her shift. Valerie glared at her, looking at her watch. "Fifteen minutes late today! At least it's better than yesterday!"
Lucy put her hands up and ran into the back to drop all of her stuff off and put on her apron. Then she rushed to take her place at the register so that I could help Valerie put together all the drink orders that were coming through. Lucy loved working the registers because she could flirt with every single male that came in, no matter their age. Valerie believed that's why there were so many regulars, and one reason she put up with Lucy's terrible punctuality.
"Oh, hello, George! You're looking good in that suit today! The usual Americano and chocolate chip muffin for you this morning?" I heard Lucy from the register. I just rolled my eyes at her nonsense. As it got closer to nine, I heard Lucy say, "Hello there, Mister Alpha! Damn, you're looking fine today!"
I turned around to see that Blake was standing at her register to place an order. He smiled at Lucy and said, "As I do every day. Just a large black coffee, please." Lucy rang it in and moved onto the next customer to take their order.
I ran to grab the ticket and made his order, then I went over to hand it to him. He looked straight into my soul with his piercing blue eyes and said, "Thanks, Jasmine. Nice to see you." Then he turned and walked out the door.
I left work at 1:30 when my shift ended, and I decided to go for a bike ride around the pack territory instead of going home. After riding around aimlessly for about an hour, I rode out to the lake on the outskirts of the territory and found a shady place to sit under a tree where someone had left behind their towel. I shook it out and sat down, staring out at the glistening water, the sun's rays reflecting off it. It was so peaceful that I pulled out my cellphone to read a book, leaning my body against a large tree trunk. I became so immersed in the book that I lost track of time.
It had to have been over two hours that passed when a huge wolf with brown fur so dark that it almost looked black came sprinting out of the woods and shocked me. I sniffed the air and realized the wolf smelled just like Blake. Being a werewolf gave us a heightened sense of smell, and we could differentiate people just by their scents.
He looked at me for a minute and then mind-linked me. "Mind if I borrow your towel?" We could communicate telepathically with other pack members when in our wolf forms to compensate for the fact we can't speak. His mind-link reminded me I was currently sitting on a towel and stood up to give it to him.
He took it with his mouth and ran into the woods. He emerged a minute later with it slung around his hips. "Thanks, I didn't want to be the one to corrupt you," he smirked. I couldn't help but stare at his broad shoulders, muscular arms, and well-chiseled chest and abs as he approached. Damn, he had an amazing body. He sat down next to me and asked, "So, what are you doing out here?"
I took a seat next to him, baffled by his sudden appearance, and replied, "I was riding my bike around the pack territory and ended up here. It was so relaxing by the water I stayed and read a book."
"Do you come here often?" he asked, holding my gaze. Goddess, he had the most mesmerizing eyes.
"No, not really. But I didn't feel like going home yet and this seemed a good place to be alone."
"I know the feeling," he looked at me sincerely.
"What brings you out here?"
"I like to run through the forest in my wolf form. I wasn't planning on stopping here, but then I saw you and thought it looked secluded enough that I could work my charm on you and get in your pants."
I widened my eyes, not knowing how to respond.
He smirked and said, "Don't worry, I'm joking! Anyway, one of the first rules of being Alpha is not to screw around with pack members. Just makes things really messy!"
I relaxed. "What are some other rules of being Alpha?"
"Well, let's see, make sure you walk around shirtless as much as possible so that your abs can be admired, and don't think I didn't catch you looking," he winked at me, "and don't let drunk girls embarrass themselves by falling over at the beach." I glared at him. He smirked and continued, "Also, it's probably best if you're not naked when you hang out with now-sober girl at a different beach, especially if your first rule is not to screw around with pack members."
"You wish," I replied.
"Oh please, if I took this towel off, I bet you one hundred bucks you couldn't resist me. Trust me, the Alpha genetics don't end at my abs," he smiled mischievously.
"Well, you're not my mate, and my rule is no screwing around with anyone that isn't your mate," I replied earnestly, annoyed with his belief that I would just fall at his feet to be with him.
"Wait, so are you a virgin then?"
My cheeks burned at his question. I nodded my head, not able to speak the answer.
He kept looking at me, "Wait, seriously? Have you really never done anything with anyone that isn't your mate?"
"No, I haven't." I could tell that I was completely red, the skin on my body burning. Why did I have to blush so easily?
He stared at me for a while, his piercing blue eyes not blinking. Finally, he asked, "Have you ever kissed anyone?"
"No," I responded.
"Wow, I can't believe I've met a unicorn in the flesh. You're actually completely saving yourself for your mate? I didn't think anyone did that anymore."
"I'm not the only one!"
"Well, I definitely haven't met many others like you. And most that I have were still in high school."
"I'm very religious. Anyway, my parents would never let me date anyone that wasn't my mate and I still live with them."
"What they don't know can't hurt them. Also, it makes things kind of exciting when you have to sneak around," he smiled, and seemed to zone out as if he were remembering something.
Suddenly, I felt my phone vibrate. I looked down to see my mom was texting me, asking me where I was. Oh, shit! I had totally lost track of time. I quickly texted her back to let her know I was on my way home. "Shit, sorry, I have to go home. I didn't realize how late it was."
"No worries, it was nice to hang out with you for a little while. Maybe we can do it again sometime," he said, then added, "Next time, I'll have some clothes on, but only if you want."
I laughed, waved goodbye to him, and turned to go. As soon as I was about to toss my leg over my bike to peddle away, he called out to me, "Hey!"
"Yeah?" I turned back to look at him curiously.
"Did you want your towel back?" he asked as he stepped toward me, his thumbs hitched inside the top of it, as if he were about to remove it.
"Oh," I felt my face burn in reaction. "It's not mine."
He nodded, a mischievous smile on his face. I turned back toward my bike and immediately left, speeding back toward my house. I wasn't sure what to make of our meeting. It was so hard to read him. But something about him made me feel comfortable while simultaneously putting me on edge.
JASMINE The following weekend, Lucy invited me to attend a friends-and-family plated-dessert experience at her culinary school to celebrate the end of the school year. She had to be there early to set up, so she took the family car. In turn, I borrowed my parents' Tesla SUV and drove down with her mom, Ivy. Because we lived in the middle of nowhere, the drive took us an hour and a half to get to her school. She had told me how long the drive was before, but I couldn't believe how far she commuted now that I had actually done it myself! We parked and entered the school, following the sound of people until we found where tables were set up with white tablecloths and desserts displayed. As soon as we walked in, Lucy spotted us and came over wearing a white chef jacket and hat , her eyes lighting up, greeting us both with hugs. I looked around and saw that everyone had put out intricately designed dessert plates. They looked more like art than fo
BLAKE My father and I were, once again, in a heated argument. He always played the nice, fatherly Santa-type in front of the pack but, behind closed doors, he terrorized my mother and me. I wouldn't be surprised if his goal in life was to do as much psychological damage to me as possible before his ultimate death. There were days I considered killing him myself. It was common in some packs for an Alpha son to kill his father to assume the Alpha title, especially when not handed over peacefully, but I had yet to be driven to that point. He was still my father, as much as I hated him, and I wasn't in any rush to assume his title. I had been eager five years ago, ready for the power, but things changed… "I compromised and let you have your fun for four years," my father raged. "You think Siberia is fun?" "I don't give a shit if it is or isn't. It is your duty as my heir to assume the title of Alp
JASMINE In early July, my parents and I were sitting together at the Monday morning service. It was a small crowd today—only the totally devout along with the alpha and beta families. I was having trouble concentrating during the meditations and kept sneaking looks at Blake while everyone else's eyes were closed. Suddenly, Blake opened his eyes and looked up at me, catching me staring. He gave me a quick wink and then closed his eyes again. Was I developing a crush on Blake? How basic, having a crush on both the alpha and the beta. Could I be any more of a cliché? After the service, I excused myself to go to the bathroom while my parents mingled with the congregation, as usual. It seemed like they came here more for the gossip than the actual service. When exiting the bathroom, I almost crashed into Blake, eliciting a gasp from me. "We meet again!" he exclaimed, smiling widely. "Hi, Blake," I replied, not knowing what else to
JASMINE He led me down a different path this time. It took about another hour to get down to the bottom. He was not wrong. It was now afternoon, and the sun was beating down on us. By the time I reached the water, I was ready to jump in. He started peeling off his clothes until he was only wearing his boxer briefs, his muscular body on full display. My breath hitched as I tried hard not to stare while the sun reflected off his broad shoulders and bare torso. Damn, he was so jacked and sexy. Before I could lose myself in my gawking, he sprinted to the water on his bared muscular legs and jumped in. "The water feels great! Come on in! I know you want to!" I had an internal argument with myself. It was ridiculously hot, and, logically, underwear wasn't much different than a bathing suit. Thank Goddess I had chosen dark-colored underwear this morning. The devil over my shoulder won this time. I gestured for him to turn around. He rolled his eyes
LUCY It was well into summer and hot as hell. We didn't have central AC in our house, so we relied on window air conditioning units. It also didn't help that our gas oven was old and baked the entire kitchen every time I went to use it. Today I was making cookies to put in a care package for Luke—something I had done weekly for two years. I chose today to bake because it was my day off but was now regretting my choice as I unstuck the front of my shirt from my wet body. We were in the midst of a heatwave, and I felt as if I had just showered, sweat dripping down my face and back. I, with all my brothers, still lived at home. There were seven of us living in a small, old four-bedroom house. My parents had five kids that they had to support on just my dad's modest warrior salary. That's why everything we had was old and in need of updating. Our windows were drafty and many of the tiles in the bathroom and kitchen were cracked and in need of repair.
*** One and a half years earlier *** LUCY I planned an elaborate trip to visit Luke for my eighteenth birthday. Three months earlier, my friend Emma from school had turned eighteen and realized that my brother Kyle was her mate after months of grossing me out with the two of them hooking up all the time. But after they realized they were mates, it made me feel hopeful about my own relationship and that it could happen for me too. In the same way that Emma and Kyle were attracted to each other long prior to knowing they were mates, I was sure it was the same for Luke and me. In honor of the occasion, Luke booked a luxurious hotel room in Quebec City for the weekend. He made a reservation for a fancy dinner at a steak restaurant at 8 pm so that we would be dining just as dusk hit on my birthday on April 23. I planned to lose my virginity and allow him to mark me that night after we knew for sure that we were mates.
JASMINE About a week after Blake and I went hiking, I was working with Lucy. I had opened that morning and working a shorter shift than normal. It was just after nine and the rush had slowed. I was looking forward to leaving in an hour when my replacement, a new hire named Reena, would be taking my place. Lucy was on her cell phone and put it back down next to mine as a customer entered. She quickly took his order, and I ran to go make it. After I handed him his drink, I looked to see the screen of my cell phone flash. I was about to reach for it, but something caught Lucy's eye and she grabbed for it first. "Ooooh! Who's this 'Blake Sexy AF'? Is that Alpha Blake?" Her eyes darted up at me. Shit, I forgot to change his name in my phone. "And here I was thinking you're a lost cause!" "What do you mean by that?" "I mean, you're such a prude. I don't mean any offense by that, but damn, I guess I had you all wrong! Blake Sexy
JASMINE He drove to and parked in the same area as last time, immediately exiting the car and coming around to my side. Upon opening my door for me, he held his hand out to me to help me down. He then grabbed his backpack from the back seat and led me to the base of the mountain so we could hike to the top. Once we got to the summit, he spread the blanket out for us to sit down and pulled out some sandwiches. "I put a little more effort into lunch today." He grinned and handed me a ham and cheese sandwich and water bottle. We sat in silence eating our sandwiches looking over the landscape below. All different species of trees stretched for miles, a carpet of green forest, with openings for bodies of water. I spotted the pond where we had gone swimming below, the sun reflecting off it, giving it a glass-like appearance. The view was spectacular, and I could see why Blake liked coming here. "Do you bring all your girls here?" I asked, suddenly wonderin