By Julie Trettel
Westin Force: Book Three
Copyright ©2021, Julie Trettel. All rights reserved.
This is an excerpt intended as a sneak peek into this book for readers only. Do not copy or use for any other purpose.
Chapter 1 – BAINE
Most days I tried not to think about it, but I always knew the past would come back to haunt me.
Since the moment I saw their faces taped to Trevor Daniels’ wall on a last-minute intel mission, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Every time I closed my eyes the memories plagued me. I wasn’t sleeping well. I should hate them all, but I couldn’t. I still blamed myself.
After another restless night, I got up and splashed water on my face. For once we actually had a weekend off. I didn’t really care much for downtime. Too much time alone always invited the ghosts of my past to visit. I was struggling enough with them as it was.
Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, I told myself not to do it, but I couldn’t stop myself from reaching over to the nightstand drawer and pulling out her picture. I stared down at the beautiful blond hair blue eyed girl that still haunted my every dream.
Olivia. Despite the years that had passed by, she remained the best and the worst part of my life. The bitch of it all was that I still loved her.
My friends all seemed to be finding their true mates. Some days I prayed I’d find mine too. I didn’t exactly spend a lot of time with bear shifters though. Sure, I knew my true mate didn’t have to be a bear, but odds were high she would be. I liked my odds and despite my desire to have a mate simply to help me forget the girl I couldn’t have, I also purposefully steered clear of bears because I wasn’t quite ready to give my heart to another. My bear roared in my head at the thought. We were still in agreement there.
I set her picture down on the nightstand and forced myself to get up and dress. There was no point in wallowing over the past. My decision may have been made for me, but I’d chosen to honor it and that was on me. Sometimes I wondered what would have happened if I’d stayed and fought for us. It was highly likely I’d be dead by now if I had.
Olivia’s father, Pike Murphy, was our Clan Alpha and he didn’t take too kindly to me when the situation came to light. I’d been like a cub to him, but that hadn’t mattered in the end. Kano I had expected to turn on me. He was Olivia’s oldest brother, but Killian had been my best friend in the entire world. It had devastated me when he turned against me and demanded I stay away from his sister.
Pike had sided with his sons. I’d been given the choice: stay and die or leave and never return. They hadn’t even let me try to explain and I was forced out of Clan territory without even saying goodbye to Olivia. That was what had hurt the most. I thought I’d been family to them. I loved her and was prepared to stake my claim on her the second she came of age, but that hadn’t seemed to matter. I wasn’t good enough. I’d been ousted and never looked back except in my dreams and the occasional weakness when I pulled out the one picture I couldn’t bring myself to destroy.
Times like this called for one thing and one thing only—a trip into town. When life got me down, I got a new tattoo. Cole Anderson owned a shop in town and was one of my best friends. He only lived in San Marco half the year and, fortunately for me, this was his half to be here.
I left my small apartment at the Lodge and made the drive into town. I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before and it was already well into the afternoon, so I swung into the Crate and ordered four burgers, two large fries, and two Cokes before walking next door.
The bell jingled over the front door.
“Just a minute,” I heard my friend yell.
I didn’t have quite as keen a sense of smell as the wolves, but even I caught a whiff of the aroma of sex.
“It’s just me. Take your time and finish your business,” I yelled back.
I pulled a small table over to one of the couches in the waiting area and started eating. I grinned as the sounds of hot wild sex filled the air. It wasn’t the first time I’d been in this position. Maybe the proper thing to do would have been to leave, but I was hungry.
I was already into my second burger when Cole and his mate stepped out. Her normally perfectly pressed clothes were disheveled, and her hair was a bit of a mess.
“I brought extras, Elizabeth. Help yourself. Sounded like you worked up an appetite.”
Her cheeks reddened, but she laughed and smacked me on the arm. Then she stole one of the burgers before kissing her mate and giving me a quick wave goodbye.
“You’re an ass,” Cole said with the shake of his head.
I handed him up a Coke and shrugged. “She loves me.”
We ate in comfortable silence.
“Thanks for the food.”
I smirked. “Sounded like you earned it.”
He snorted. “Love that girl. Always have.”
His words resonated with me. Cole and Elizabeth had been young when they discovered they were true mates. She’d denied it and they both had lived more than a decade in misery with an unresolved bond before finally getting together again.
Olivia and I didn’t have an unresolved bond, but my heart sure didn’t seem to understand that. What I wouldn’t give to someday have my girl back. I wasn’t jealous of my friend though. I was happy for him. I knew Cole before he reconnected with his mate and he’d been living in agony. I liked this newer Cole much better. No one deserved true happiness as much as him.
“So, you here to just hang or getting work done today?”
“I have a three-day weekend, so if you aren’t busy, thought we’d work on the sleeve some more.”
“I can do that. Are we sticking with the blockish tribal like thing we’ve got going on?”
“Yup. Want to add a ring around my wrist.”
“Is it okay to go that low?”
“Cole, I’m not actually in the military despite what Silas thinks. Patrick doesn’t define what we can and can’t do to our skin. I checked the contract to be certain of that.”
“Great. I’ll wash up and get things ready.”
He got up and started to walk back to his room.
“Don’t forget to scrub down the chair after your last little, um, session.”
He flipped me the bird and kept walking away.
I gave him time to clean up while I picked up the trash from my lunch and disposed of it. Then I walked back to join him.
“Take a seat and we’ll get started.”
I raised an eyebrow at him.
“Yes, I cleaned it already.”
With a smirk I sat down. “Just making sure.”
He already had everything prepped. He grabbed my arm and stretched it out to examine his new canvas while I gave him a quick description of what I wanted. We’d been working together enough times that I trusted his judgement and his artistic ability. There was no need for him to stencil it out. I was positive whatever he came up with would be perfect.
We chatted over the hum of the gun as he inked my skin. It wasn’t a big one so we were done in record time. He pulled back and examined his work, made a few last second marks and then sat back and nodded.
I really took the time to look it over. It was perfect, exactly what I wanted.
“It’ll do.” I always told him that just to get a rise out of him.
Cole Anderson was a perfectionist and wouldn’t settle for anything less.
“Just okay then?”
“As always,” I teased with a grin.
“You really are an asshole. I don’t even know why we’re friends.”
“You have a big enough head around here without me gushing over your work like a little schoolgirl. Just keeping your feet firmly planted on the ground.”
“So I should thank you then?”
“Of course. I think a seventy-five percent discount would be appropriate in this situation.”
“Ten but only if in cash.”
“Deal.” I pulled out my wallet and paid him on the spot. I always pretended I didn’t realize he gave the same offer to all his clients, well, at least the shifter ones.
“Big plans this weekend?”
“I have absolutely no idea what I’m going to do with this much time off.”
“Kyle and I are going fishing. Come with us.”
“Fishing? Is that supposed to be some sort of code word for something else? Something actually fun perhaps?”
“Fishing is fun. Besides you’re a bear. Aren’t bears supposed to be great fishermen?”
“Probably. Do you really think I give a shit? I hated fishing growing up. I’m terrible at it. You’re supposed to be calm and quiet. That is at complete odds with my ADD.”
“Your ADD huh?”
“It’s not my fault I have attention deficit disorder. ADD is a very real and serious problem.”
“I’ll let you throw an explosive in the water when we’re done.”
“Is Kyle gonna be cool with that?”
“Is Kyle gonna be cool with what?”
We both turned to see Kyle Westin, the magnanimous Alpha of Westin Pack, standing in the doorway.
“Didn’t hear you come in,” Cole said.
Kyle shrugged. “I’m stealthy like that.”
I snorted. “Sure, that’s it.”
“So, what am I going to be cool with?”
“Me crashing your fishing trip to throw dynamite into the water.”
“I didn’t say dynamite,” Cole protested.
“You said I could blow the water up when you were done.”
“Something smaller maybe?”
“Fine, I have some mini grenades I need to test out. It’ll likely only take out a fish or two.”
Kyle laughed. “Is that supposed to be better?”
“Depends. If you move fast enough you can snatch them up to take home for dinner.”
“Sure, why not? A dead fish is a dead fish. Once you filet it no one will ever know.”
He looked torn in his decision. “Yeah, come on, we’ll try it. I’m terrible at fishing. So boring.”
“So why are we doing it?”
Cole nearly choked trying not to laugh. “Kelsey wants fresh fish for dinner and Kyle opened his big mouth and said he could just catch it for her.”
“I wanted out of the house. I was planning to just hang out for a few hours and then swing by the market on my way home.”
“You really don’t think she’d notice the fish was frozen?” I was starting to wonder about his intelligence and ability to lead a pack of wolves.
“No, the fresh kind in the meat market.”
“Flash frozen,” I told him. “And probably not even a variety found around here. They rarely carry local fish.”
“How would you know that?” Cole asked.
“Because, my furry friend, as you so keenly pointed out, I am a bear and bears like fish. I don’t have to like fishing to enjoy eating it thanks to modern civilization.”
With our plan in place, we headed down to the river. It only took us two hours to concede and agree fishing really wasn’t for us.
“I can’t go home empty handed. I’ll never hear the end of it.”
“You’re Alpha of one of the largest wolf packs known throughout history and you’re scared of your female?”
“Have you met his mate?”
“Kelsey is not like normal females,” Kyle insisted. “Besides, I don’t want to disappoint her either. I’m an alpha, dammit. I should be able to provide for my family.”
I sighed. “Fine. Stand aside already.”
I didn’t bother using a pole. I wasn’t entirely joking with Cole about my ADD problems, but I was a bear shifter and I knew how to fish.
I waded into the water about knee deep, then squatted and waited. When a large trout swam by, I swooped my hands into the water and grabbed it before the thing even knew what hit him. I tossed it onto the ground and soon grabbed another, and then another.
“You shouldn’t be getting that wrist wet, dude,” Cole cautioned.
“Whatever. It’s fine. How many of these things do you need?” I asked. I was already bored with the catch.
“I thought you said you couldn’t fish?” Cole insisted.
“I said I didn’t like it and I suck at it compared to most bear shifters. Trust me on that. Now, Kyle how many do you want? And then I’m holding you to your promise and blowing something up before we head back.”
Kyle laughed. “Uh, two more? Kelsey’s never going to believe this.”
I snagged two more before walking back out of the water. Mumbling under my breath about what a bunch of pansies they both were I picked up a fish, forced its mouth open and carefully placed a hook off Kyle’s pole through its lip. I knew it wasn’t going to hurt the thing. I did one more on Cole’s pole.
“Hold them up already and look proud.”
I picked up my cell phone where I’d tossed it onto the ground before going into the water and snapped a few pics. I texted them to the both of them, and then positioned the remaining fish across a large rock and snapped a few more to send.
“There, now you have proof of your amazing fishing trip. Can I please blow something up?”
“That was awesome. Blow up whatever the hell you want,” Kyle said.
“Nope, as Pack Beta, I’m gonna override his overzealous gratitude here. We agreed small grenades only.”
“I’m aware. That’s all I brought.”
“No, not really. You should always be prepared for any situation possible.”
“Like what? We’re fishing in the middle of nowhere.”
“There could be bears,” I insisted.
“You’re going to blow up a bear? Really?” Cole challenged.
“In a heartbeat,” I insisted.
“Just set off one of your small bombs and let’s get out of here. Elizabeth was working today and should be home by now.”
“Yeah she was,” I teased.
“I’m not even going to ask,” Kyle said shaking his head.
I retrieved one of the new mini grenades I’d bought to test out, pulled the pin and threw it as far as I could down river.
The ground shook as water exploded into the air.
“Shit! Did you see that?” I yelled excitedly. “That was awesome. These little guys pack quite the punch.”
“Are we done then?” Kyle asked.
“You don’t want to see another one?” Truth was I knew they would be going back to their mates and I was going back to an empty room filled only with ghosts. I wasn’t ready to leave, and I really did love blowing things up.
“One more, then we really need to head out,” Cole insisted.
“Fine.” I pulled the pin on a second one and threw it as far as I could. The thing exploded midair and I could feel the spray of it even from this distance. “These were well worth the investment.”
“Did I pay for those?” Kyle asked.
“Of course. Who else?” I chuckled.
Chapter 2 – Baine
“How was your weekend?” Tarron asked.
“It was good. Nonna made a feast. You should have come over.”
“Thanks, but she wanted to spend time with you.”
“There were like thirty people over,” he protested.
Tarron’s Nonna was a little old wolf shifter who lived in San Marco. Tarron was a fox shifter. They were an odd mix that for some reason adopted each other. It was cute and the old bat was sweet most of the time. She seemed a little crazy to me and was always pulling my friend out of his comfort zone and forcing him into weird situations. She was a major town gossip and every bit as conniving as you’d expect from a fox, not a wolf. She always had something up her sleeve and kept Tarron on his toes. She also had a heart of gold and loved him fiercely. I liked to tease that coming here had made him more of a wolf than a fox.
Nonna had never been able to have pups of her own. She had a large extended family of nieces and nephews and their kids, but for her, it was all about Tarron. And she certainly didn’t hide the fact that she wanted him to give her great-grandpups sooner rather than later. Every time I turned around, she was lining up a date for him. He took it all in stride though. I was convinced there was nothing Tarron wouldn’t do for his Nonna.
“So, how many dates did she set you up with this time?”
He sighed. “Two. One for Tuesday night and another for Friday. Painter hinted that we may have a new assignment being announced today. I’m hoping it’s an away mission for an excuse to get out of at least one of them.”
I laughed. “Painter doesn’t hint,” I reminded him.
“Fine, I overheard him prepping Emma for the possibility we were leaving.”
“Nice. I hope you’re right. I could use a break from this place after a long boring weekend. Cole and Kyle dragged me fishing. That was the highlight of my weekend. How pathetic. Maybe it’s time I asked Nonna to hook me up.”
His head quirked in interest as he slowed his treadmill. Mine was still at full speed as we ran and chatted. Normally morning runs occurred outdoors, but this morning it had been pouring down rain and storming so Silas moved our run indoors. I had this gut feeling that it was a sign of bad things to come today. Just a sense of doom lingering in the air.
“You want a date? You could have any girl you want. You always turn them down.”
He was right. I didn’t date. I didn’t let anyone close to me. I’d vowed a life of celibacy until my true mate would come and help erase the memory of Olivia. People always let you down. The only ones I could trust were my brothers on the Force and, someday, my true mate. I was that jaded. Maybe it was time to put myself out there though. I’d been depressed all weekend thinking about my life back in the Clan. It was time to lay the past to rest. For my own self-preservation, I had to.
“Thinking about changing things up some. I think it’s time.”
The guys didn’t exactly know about Olivia, but most of them knew something big had happened to get me banned from my Clan. I didn’t talk about it, ever.
“Well, good for you. I’m happy to hear that. And hey, if I’m wrong about leaving for a mission, I could always see if Nonna can arrange us a double date. You know, ease you into the scene and all. I could be your wingman.”
“You really don’t want to go on this one, huh?”
“Absolutely not. She’s trying to set me up with Christine Canine this time. She’s a sweet girl, but really not for me. Plus, she’s kind of obsessed with finding her true mate and that for certain isn’t me.”
“No one but you and maybe Nonna would call Christine sweet. She’s a bitch in the truest form of the word and she owns it.”
“I was trying to be nice.”
“And that, my brother, is your biggest problem. Stop being so nice. Better yet, grow some balls and tell Nonna no for once.”
Workouts followed the run and after laying on my ass wallowing much of the weekend, I actually felt them too. When we were done, I stretched and then showered.
“Five minutes in the conference room,” Silas announced.
I wanted to groan. The suckiest part of depression was that when I gave into it, it wanted to pull me under even further making it that much harder to climb back out. Forcing myself out of bed and even showing up on time had been a chore this morning. All I wanted to do was crawl back into bed with my memories and regrets.
One foot in front of the other I walked through the motions and made my way to the conference room. I was the last one to arrive. Mumbling an apology, I took my seat.
“You okay man?” Grant asked.
I nodded. We both knew I wasn’t. Normally anytime I was the last one in, I made a grand production about it. I could be quite the showman when I wanted to be. I just didn’t have it in me today.
Taylor jotted something down on a piece of paper and passed it to Grant. The two were happily mated and working together. I had no idea how they managed it.
He shrugged, and I felt both pairs of eyes staring at me.
I had to shake this off and get my head back in the game.
“So,” Silas started looking a little confused at me. I thought maybe he was waiting for me to do something stupid.
“Proceed,” I managed to say as the others chuckled and the stress levels dropped across the room.
Shit. They all had noticed.
“Well, okay then, as you know during the Daniels’ residence search we found some disturbing pictures that could be possible upcoming attacks. Based on camera footage we’ve acquired since, thanks to Tarron’s setup, we believe his next focus is on Colorado. There’s a local bear clan there that they seem to have a serious interest in, and we need to figure out why.”
Ben’s hand shot up as Silas nodded to him. “We’ve had Archie monitoring the surveillance cams and activity in this area since the find. What changed?”
“The pictures we found there of Baine’s Clan were moved out of the closet to a new board in the main office. We think this is a sign that the focus has changed to them. There’s also a rumbling of a possible disappearance but because the bears live so remotely it’s hard to discern local gossip of a runaway verses truth,” Tarron updated.
My body froze. I knew what was coming next and it couldn’t happen.
“So, pack up boys, we’re headed for Colorado in an hour. These grizzlies aren’t exactly known for hospitality towards outsiders so Baine I’m going to be counting on you to assist with getting us a meeting with the Alpha.”
“Nope. That can’t happen and you know it.”
Ben had just taken a sip of water and nearly choked. No one told Silas no. I think they were all shocked when he didn’t respond harsher to my insubordination.
“I need you on this one. It’s time to let bygones be bygones.”
“That’s not up to me, Silas. The Alpha hates me. I was excommunicated from the Clan or have you forgotten that? Trust me, I’m the last person on Earth you want by your side assisting with this one.”
“Why does he hate you so much?” Painter asked.
“Because, his son was my best friend growing up and I made a promise that I’d help protect his little sister with my life and I did from anything and everything, but me.”
“You took her virginity, didn’t you?”
I flinched. It wasn’t exactly something I wanted to talk about.
“How about we place some bets on this,” Tarron teased.
I growled. “Leave it,” I warned, though the irony wasn’t entirely lost on me.
“That was a long time ago, Baine,” Silas reminded me.
“Let’s just say the Alpha sided with Killian on this one. I wasn’t even given a trial let alone a fair one. It’s a life sentence. That’s not going to be forgotten or forgiven,” I said sadly.
He huffed in frustration, “Well, plane’s about to leave. We’ve wasted enough time talking, pack up and get your ass on that plane, Baine. That’s an order. Maybe bring some of those new grenade things you’re so fond of in case this truly does backfire and we need a quick exodus.”
The boys snickered.
I was screwed. I didn’t know how to get out of this mess without losing my job or my life. Without a job I didn’t have much of a life anyway. I resigned myself to my fate. There was a tiny spark of hope though. At least I’d get to see Olivia one last time before I died.
“We’ve got your back, brother. Stop worrying so much,” Ben said. “Painter won’t leave your side and I’ll have eyes in the air ready to take out anyone who threatens you. This is a peaceful mission and Silas will make damn sure they know it.”