“Hey, Jensen. Ping my phone and send a car to my location. I think I got one with some potential.” I pull my car over and park. When I double check the rearview mirror, I can see the girl still sitting on the curb.
“You sure?” Jensen asks with a sarcastic tone in his voice, making me roll my eyes.
“Have I ever been wrong before?” I snarl into the phone at my oldest brother.
“Hey, don’t get an attitude with me, you little shit." He snarls back. “I’m not sending out a car unless you’re sure.”
“Send a car, asshole." I say, and hang up on him.
I take a deep breath and frown internally. Now it’s time for the part I hate the most. It feels more slimy and disgusting every time. Secretly, I want to get out of the family business. I don’t know how I could even approach Dad with the subject.
I step out of the Range Rover and smooth my clothes down before I approach the shabby-looking girl sitting on the curb.
“Uh, hi. This is kinda a rough part of town. A-are you okay?” I squat down, examining her carefully. The last thing I want is for her to bolt and hide.
She looks and smells like she hasn’t had a shower in days, if not longer. Bruises and infected scabs dot her pale, thin face. She looks at me with cold, empty blue eyes. Her light brown hair is in a dirty, matted ponytail. I watch her blink a few times, like she’s trying to decide if she should speak to me or not.
Under her natural stink, the slightly sweet tang of ketamine is exuding from her skin. To humans, it’s odorless, but werewolves can smell and taste it. It’s one of the few drugs our kind can use to get high. She doesn’t look like she’s down a k-hole. Maybe she’s coming off the high? Maybe someone drugged her?
“Twenty dollars." She says with no emotion in her voice.
“What?” I feel hopeful about this one. Maybe she’s just an addict, but I don’t think so.
“You gotta pay, just like everyone else." Her tone is dry. “If you want me to suck you off, it’s an extra ten dollars.”
“Oh, no. I-I’m not trying to… I don’t want to have sex with you. Just a nice guy making sure a pretty girl, sitting on the curb in a bad part of town, is okay?” I put my hand on my heart and sit next to her.
She rolls her eyes at me. “Don’t be stupid. Everyone wants to have sex with me.”
I ignore her tone of voice and raise my eyebrows at her simple statement. Everyone? That’s a good sign for me. I lean back on my hands and glance at her midriff exposed below the gray crop top she’s wearing. There are deep scratch marks from where her last John dug into her skin. A distinctive sideway ‘M’ birthmark is on her back, right above the waistline of her jeans. Sigma. I was right, as usual.
“Look, I’m not trying to trick you. I want to help you. I swear. My name is Keller.” I put my hand out for her to shake.
She snaps her head with a wary look and stares at me, considering if she should trust me or not. She slowly puts her hand out and shakes mine. “Katie.”
“Nice to meet you, Katie.” I nod and gesture with my head to the surrounding area. “How long have you been out here?”
“About twenty minutes. My last… uh, job was a little rough, but my wolf will heal me so I can get back to work soon."
“I see. Sooo... just curious. How old are you, Katie?” I tilt my head at her, trying to sound genuine.
She gives me a dazed look before she answers. “Nineteen. Maybe twenty. What’s today?”
I look at the date on my phone to be sure. “July seventeenth.”
A blank look crosses her face as she turns back toward the street. “Huh? I-I must have lost track of the days. We turned twenty, three days ago.”
“Well, happy late birthday, Katie.” I press my lips together and think for a moment. I’m pretty sure she said ‘we,’ but I don’t know who else she would talk about. “So, where do you live when you’re not on this curb? Do you have a pimp, or are you a free agent?”
“I don’t have a boss. I stay in motels when I have the money for it.” She shrugs. “If not, then you know, whatever.”
“That kinda sounds like it sucks, Katie. Um, what if I told you there are better things out there than this? You could leave this life behind. Start you out fresh with a shower and clean clothes, warm meal. All that jazz.” I lean back on my hands, speaking casually. “I could introduce you to people who can help you, if you’d like.”
“Nobody helps me.” She squints at me when she talks. “What’s in it for you?”
“Family business. We help sigmas get off the streets. Give girls like you opportunities for something better. Consider it philanthropic.” I shrug.
“How’d you know I’m a sigma? And what’s philanthropic mean?” She furrows her brow at me, trying to pronounce the large word correctly.
“You’re a rogue. I can smell it. Female wolves almost never go rogue unless you’re following a mate. You’re not marked. So, it was a kind of process of elimination.” I explain to her, ignoring the fact that she just told me she turns tricks and she has an exposed sigma birthmark, while she scratches a red spot on her neck. “Philanthropic means charitable. A charity of sorts.”
“So… free. You’d help me for free?” Katie gives me a suspicious look.
“You only have to promise you won’t come back to this kind of life.” I confirm, nodding at her reassuringly.
Katie tugs at the end of her grimy ponytail for a minute and bites her lip. “I-if I have a friend who’s like me, could you help her too?”
My heart hits a hard beat. A two for one? Today is my lucky day. “Of course. If she’s… like you, I would be glad to help her too.”
Katie looks around to make sure we’re alone. “I’ll get her. Will you wait here for us?”
“I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere until you get back.” I pat both hands on the ground to show I’m not going anywhere.
Katie stands up and makes her way into the abandoned building behind us. A sedan with dark tinted windows pulls up to the curb. I stand up as the driver puts down the passenger side window.
“Well? Where’s she at?” My middle brother Skylar sighs at me as if he has better things to do with his day. “Don’t tell me you scared her off.”
“Nah, man. I never scare them off. Not like some dickheads I know. She’s getting her friend.” I lean against the ledge of the window.
“I’m going to ignore the dickhead comment because you got a twofer.” He grins broadly. “Dad will be happy.”
I hear shuffling behind me. I stand up and turn around to find Katie standing in front of me. She’s holding the hand of a girl who looks like she could be her clone. Her clone is high as a kite.
“This is your friend?” I ask, while my brain tries to process what I’m seeing.
“Well, she’s my friend, but she’s also my twin sister.” Katie frowns and wipes some dirt off of her sister’s chin. “She hasn’t been able to handle things as well as I have.”
“I can see that.” I nod, looking at the zombie of a girl next to Katie. “Katie, I really want to help you. Both of you. And I think I can. You just need to get in the car and your life is going to change.”
“Okay, but if we go with you, can we stay together?” Katie asks. I look away from her sister and into Katie’s eyes. She looks like she might cry if I say no.
“We will do everything we can to make sure you and your sister stay together.” I don’t know if it’s the truth, but I don’t want her to bolt. I open the car door. “This is my brother, Skylar. He’ll take you to a safe place. You two can get cleaned up, fed, and get sober.”
“You’re not coming with us?” Katie asks me with trepidation. She looks at Skylar and stands up straight.
“I’m going to spend the afternoon making sure there aren’t more girls like you two roaming the streets. You’re in excellent hands with Skylar. He only looks like a creep. He won’t hurt you. I promise.” I motion my hand for the girls to step inside the car. Katie gives me a hopeful smile.
“Come on, Kara.” She whispers to her sister, who doesn’t seem to hear her. "No more scaries. We’re gonna be safe now.”
I help Kara into the car and put her seatbelt on, then Katie gets in. “Thank you, Keller.”
“You’re welcome, Katie.” I close the door with a smile. I hope she’s right. Katie and Kara are safe for now, but I know there are no guarantees for a sigma.
I pick up my phone and dial Dad. “Ah, Keller, my baby boy. Jensen said you hooked one already.” I can hear the pride in his voice when he picks up. “Two actually. They’re twins.” I correct him, feeling good about the acquisition. “Keep them together if you can. I sort of promised them.” “Twins!” He exclaims. “Haha! They’re way more valuable together than separate. Definitely keeping them together. Good job, son.” “Thanks, Dad.” I can’t help but smile at the rare compliment from my old man, even if I feel like a slimeball. “I’m putting a little extra in your account as we speak, and I want you to take the rest of the day off." He starts off happy, but his tone quickly changes. "But first, I have other things to discuss with you.” “What’s up, Dad?” There’s always a catch with my dad. “Mom and I have been talking. We decided it’s a good time for me to think about retirement.” He sounds serious now. “That means I’m most likely going to be handing the business over to Jensen if he ca
I stand up from the booth and walk toward her. “Guys, I-I’ll be right back.” Sam peeks over the top of the booth. “Oh man, is that chick okay?” Jasper says something too, but all I can hear is my heartbeat and Rocky losing his mind at the sight of our mate. The night manager, Lucy, is patting the girl’s hand, trying to comfort her. The girl’s eyes get wide with fear as I approach, and she tries to pull away. “No! Lucy, no! Don’t let him hurt me, please.” She backs away and sobs. I grab her by the upper arm before she can take off and lead her to the kitchen. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” I announce a little too loudly. “Lucy, can I take her to the back?” “Uh, y-yeah, that would probably be a good idea.” Lucy looks nervously at the other customers who are staring at the scene. “NO! PLEASE! DON’T HURT ME! PLEASE!” The girl claws my hand, trying to pull away. “I’ll pick up their tabs.” I point to the customers and drag the screaming girl into the kitchen. As I tow her along, I no
Fifteen minutes later, I pull up in front of a white house with blue shutters. There’s a silver car in the driveway as well as two sedans from the pack fleet. “Mom is here!” She sounds relieved and tries to open the door. “You stay in the car with Sam and Jasper for a minute, Zara.” I lock the doors before she can open it. “I need to have a word with your mom first.” I look in the rearview and watch Sam take a swig from a bottle of rum he found in the back seat and try to hand it to her. She shakes her head sadly at him and looks out the window at her house. I step out of the SUV and walk up to the house. I’ve never met a sigma who still has a family. How did they not know they were putting her in danger when they sent her to the Mating Gathering tonight? There are a couple of lights on even though it is after two-thirty a.m. I ring the doorbell and stand back. After a minute, a woman peeks her head through the skinny window beside the door, then cracks the door open an inch.
I pull into an empty shopping center parking lot so I can concentrate. “Ahh, I hate when he gets like this.” Jasper says into the back seat. “Give him a minute, Zara. He’ll have something brilliant to say soon.” I drum my fingers on the steering wheel, then get out of the car. I open the back door. “Zara, can I talk to you outside for a moment?” “Here?” She asks, looking around the empty parking lot. “What? Now you don’t trust me?” I put my hands on my hips. She tries to get out, but it’s a far drop to the ground for how little she is. Especially since she isn’t wearing shoes. “C-can you help me… Please?” “I could just put you in my pocket.” I smirk at her, holding out my hand. Sam, who usually laughs at my dumb jokes, is suspiciously quiet behind her. I look over and see him passed out, hugging the empty liquor bottle like a baby. Jasper is scrolling through his phone, pretending to ignore us. Zara slowly slips her hand into mine and lets me help her out of the car. “You don
When I get back into the thick trees, Zara is curled up in a ball, crying silently and rocking herself back and forth with her arms over her head. Rocky flashes an image of me giving her a comforting hug. I consider it for a moment, then I sigh heavily and roll my eyes when I realize he is trying to manipulate me just as much as she is. “No, Rocky. Just be happy I’m cutting this one loose and not in for processing.” I snarl at him. “Get up, Zara." I reach my hand out to her. “I want to teach you something before I leave.” At first she doesn’t answer, she just stops rocking and holds still in her crouched position, just like they all do. I stand patiently with my hand outstretched for at least ten minutes before she lifts her head up and looks at me with fat tears rolling down her cheeks. “Wh-what?” “I’m going to teach you how to shift.” I lean forward so she’ll take my hand to stand up. “You need to shift before the sun comes up so your wolf can get her full strength. Otherwise, y
I make the drive out to my parents’ place in the late afternoon. We have over two hundred acres of land where their house and both of my brothers’ houses are. The sigma processing facility and research lab are also there, hidden deep in the woods, away from prying eyes.“Mom? Dad? I’m home!” I look around, hoping Dad isn’t actually in the house. He hates when we yell inside. The smell of food is coming from the kitchen, leading me in that direction.“How’s my baby boy?” Mom gives me a kiss on the cheek. “Dad’s out back with your brothers. I hope you’re hungry.”“Do you need help, Mom?” I ask, looking around the kitchen.“Just set the table for me. Always such a sweet boy.” She coos at me with sparkling gray eyes. Her dark brown hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail.As usual, Mom has gone completely overboard with cooking. She insists we eat dinner as a family once a month, whether or not we want to. She gets excited when all of us are under the same roof. One big happy family. We
Zara’s POV“We just need to survive for a month. Hopefully, there is space in the dorms, Lavender. When I go back to town, I’ll stop by the housing office on campus and find out.” I look around at the small pond of water Lavender found in the forest. “I have enough money in my savings to pay for a room since I won’t be moving with Liam, Sylvie, and Mark, but I still need to work at the diner otherwise I won’t have money for food once school starts.”“I think we can manage that.” She says with a sigh. She lets the duffle bag slide down her neck and lays down on the dewy morning grass, rolling around to cool herself down. “How about we shift for a while? I could use a break.”“Okay, how does it work? Like, the opposite of how I shifted into wolf form?” I ask. Keller only explained shifting into wolf form, not back into a human.“Sort of like that, yeah. Just imagine you are stepping forward into your own skin and I’ll fall back the way you did.” Her instructions sound like nonsense, but
Keller’s POVTwo days after I watched Lavender bolt into the forest, Jasper and I start vacation out with a bang. Specifically on his parents' private jet, with the ‘stewardesses’ he hired for the trip. As soon as we land, we drop our bags off at his parents' beach front condo in South Beach and head to the bars.We spend our days on the beach and our nights at the bars, with more alcohol and women than one werewolf should have in a lifetime, let alone three weeks.I didn’t realize how much I needed to get away from work until I’m relaxing on the beach in Miami for a couple weeks. The heat of the sun makes all the images of scrawny, strung out girls melt away from my mind like bad dreams. The hopeless words and empty eyes fade from my memory more with every passing day. Even the crazy series of events from the night I met my mate are no longer consuming my thoughts. I’m able to convince Rocky that Lavender would take care of Zara until she finds a friend to stay with, and we don’t need