Exclusively featured in New Year, New Boo.
Home was the last place I wanted to spend the holidays, although I suppose that wasn’t entirely fair. I’d been home from Archibald Reynolds College for two whole days now, and so far it hadn’t been as bad as I expected it to be.
Last Christmas break my sister, Sydney, had hit us with the fact she’d mated the enemy. There was an old war between Collier and Larken wolves, and this news had opened all sorts of old wounds, although it wasn’t her fault that Luke Larken turned out to be her one true mate.
Before I was even born, Jedidiah Larken had a falling out with our Alpha, Zach Collier. He’d caused enough commotion and gathered his own alliances to break away from Collier Pack and create Larken Pack. They never left the area, but they had torn my family in two, literally. My parents stayed with Collier, but my Uncle Sid and his family sided with Larken. Growing up I barely heard his name spoken, aside from the fact my sister was named after the man. I had never met him or anyone from the Larken side.
When Sydney had mated Luke, I wasn’t sure my father would ever recover from it. Luke was a good guy though, and alongside our current Alpha, Thomas Collier, he merged the packs together and began mending some of those old wounds. There was the occasional scuffle across old lines, but for the most part, Luke and Sydney worked tirelessly to make it a success.
I was proud of my sister, and her mate. Dad had sworn never to forgive her, but grandkids had a funny way of softening even the hardest heart. He had even come around and was making amends with his brother, my Uncle Sid. All of that was still a work in progress, too.
I had managed to stay out of most of it by joining a study abroad program where I spent my summer break in France.
I had other reasons for wanting to stay away though. My roommate, Marie, was the only one I’d ever confided in. Last New Year’s with the celebration of the pack merger, I’d caught the scent of my true mate. It hadn’t been easy to stay away. I was completely miserable, but it was what he wanted.
I didn’t know him, but I did know who he was. He’d seen me too. There was no mistaking that one perfect moment we’d shared from across the room. Our eyes had locked and it felt as if time stood still. Everything around us melted away and then he was gone. I’d looked around. I even casually asked about him only to find out he had left.
He saw me and he left.
I was mortified and my wolf had been in mourning for the last year.
Tim Smith was a grade A asshole and I was far better off without him.
I’d spent a year trying to convince myself of that, but it hadn’t really worked. I wasn’t much of a partier, so even Marie hadn’t realized anything was wrong at first. I studied hard and kept my nose clean. Outside I kept up the appearance that nothing had changed, but inside everything had.
Being back just reopened those old feelings of rejection.
“Jessie, are you okay? I’m worried about you.” My mom walked into my childhood bedroom to check on me when I hadn’t surfaced yet for the day.
I looked at the clock on my nightstand. It was noon already. I groaned.
“Sorry, Mom. I told you yesterday that finals were exhausting this term. I’m just catching up on sleep.”
I was a wolf shifter and our kind rarely got sick. Human girls didn’t realize just how well off they were. I had nothing to blame for my desire to curl up in bed and tune out the rest of the world. We didn’t even get periods either unless I were to go in heat, and then everyone within three packs would be sniffing around. I was an unmated female after all.
My wolf growled in my head. She didn’t like that sort of thinking. Pictures of Tim flashed through my mind. I hugged my pillow to my face. “Not again.”
“What was that dear?” Mom asked.
“Nothing. Let me grab a shower and then I’m all yours for the day.”
With that promise, she finally left me in peace. I should have gotten right up and jumped into the shower, but instead I curled up into a ball and pouted. She must not have heard the water going in a timely manner because it wasn’t long before my mother peeked her head back into the room.
I huffed and threw the covers off of me. “I’m up already.”
“Good. Hurry along then because I need you to drop off a few things with Sydney.”
I rolled my eyes. Only a year ago and my parents could barely speak my sister’s name. Mom would cry and Dad would have turned red in the face in sheer anger. Don’t get me wrong, I was thrilled my family had been able to mend their differences, but being away for that healing process made coming back all that much weirder.
A lot had changed while I was away this year. Sydney was a mother, and I had a nephew. Little Hunter was the cutest little pup to ever exist. I adored him and Syd had kept me in his life through social media updates, texts, and weekly live streaming. I hadn’t actually held him yet though. I’d only got home the night before and long past his bedtime.
Knowing Mom’s errands for me took me to Syd’s and to baby Hunter put a smile on my face and a pep in my step. I showered in record time and bounced down the hall to the kitchen to find Mom.
“Well, if I’d known that was all it took, I would have mentioned your sister sooner,” Mom teased.
“Is she home or are you just torturing me with errands that won’t end with my hands on my nephew today?”
Mom grinned. “I suspected that was what you’d want today.” She handed me a basket with a colorful red Christmas plaid towel covering it.
“Those are the sandwiches I promised Sydney and her friends for lunch today. They are meeting in fifteen minutes and she’s called a dozen times this morning reminding me. Please speed things up.”
I frowned. “I’m party crashing?”
“Yup, and babysitting so she can enjoy her Christmas luncheon.”
“If you pick up the pace and get out of here.”
“Thanks, Mom.” I kissed her on the cheek, grabbed the basket and left.
Luke had moved into Sydney’s home shortly after they mated when the trailer park that had housed his Larken Pack had burnt to the ground. She lived on the edge of town in a new development that simply never filled up. Because of that, when Luke and Thomas had merged the Packs together again, the Larken wolves took over that neighborhood.
I knew it well, but I hadn’t been back there since the official merger, New Year’s Eve, the night I was rejected by my one true mate. It was the last place I wanted to be.
As I drove up to her house, I tried desperately to push all thoughts of Tim away and concentrate on the excitement of meeting my nephew for the first time.
There were a dozen or so cars lining the street in front of Sydney’s house. I pulled in the driveway behind her car, effectively blocking her in. I knew she wasn’t going anywhere, and even if she did, I’d just move it.
I reached for the basket and quickly hurried out of the car and up to the front door. I knocked, feeling like an idiot. I had never knocked at my sister’s house before, but it wasn’t just her anymore.
The door swung open and Sydney stood there looking poised and sophisticated in a pencil skirt and heels. I looked down at my own jeans and T-shirt paired with an overly worn pair of Chuck’s and frowned.
“You’re late, even for you,” she argued.
“Sorry.” I held up the basket from Mom as a peace offering.
“And why are you knocking?”
“I don’t know. It feels weird knowing Luke lives here too.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, come in, come in. Get that to the kitchen so we can put it on a tray.”
I nodded and hurried inside.
“I’m really happy you’re home.”
I looked back and Sydney smiled.
It was hard to stay in a funk with my big sister grinning in obvious excitement that I was there.
“Just drop the basket on the counter. I’ll get them sorted in a minute. Hunter’s napping but come on. I can’t wait for you to see him.”
The nursery was done in pale blues and browns, and it had that faint scent of baby powder. My eyes misted as I peeked over the side of the crib. My hands flew to my mouth.
“Look how sweet he is. Syd he’s even more perfect in person.”
She smiled proudly and wrapped me into a big hug.
“Mom told me you were having a party and I thought there would be a ton of people here. Plus, there’s a bunch of cars out on the street.”
She laughed. “There’s always cars on the street. I swear, every former Larken wolf has bought a new car this year with the new stipend program, plus increased wages for those working at the dairy.”
“Oh, so no party?”
“There is a party. But it starts at two.”
I looked down at my watch. I was half an hour early. I frowned. “Mom said it was a luncheon.”
“More like afternoon tea,” she confessed.
“Oh. So fancy,” I said in my worst possible British accent.
She giggled and nodded towards the door.
“I don’t want to wake him. He should be down for another half hour if we’re lucky.”
“Lucky? Auntie Jess wants to hold her nephew.”
“You’re going to be home for three weeks. You can wait half an hour. Besides, I need help putting sandwiches on platters.”
I groaned. “If I must.”
“So, tell me all about school. How was your semester? Did finals go okay?”
“Yeah. Everything was fine,” I said, unable to muster any excitement.
“Did you meet any boys? You know you don’t have to wait to find your one true mate to have a little fun.”
“Are you encouraging me to whore myself out?” I asked feigning shock.
“Basically, yea. That’s what big sisters are for.”
I laughed. “Well, sorry to be a disappointment. I’m not really into that scene on campus.”
“You mean you still aren’t going to parties?”
I sighed and shook my head.
“Jess, I thought you were going to live it up this year.”
“Is it really so bad I don’t find any interest in going to wild and crazy frat parties? You didn’t even go away to college.”
“I know. I just want you to experience everything possible in life. Fall in love, have your heart broken, go to wild parties, maybe even get drunk and loosen up a little.”
“I can’t even believe we’re having this conversation. Plus, what makes you think I haven’t already had my heart broken?” I blurted it out without thinking first.
She gasped. “That’s it. That’s why you went away to France for the summer and have been wallowing so badly.”
“I’m not wallowing,” I protested, though I couldn’t muster a lie to cover up the rest of it.
“Mom’s words. She even called this morning and said you were definitely wallowing.”
I growled. “I literally got in late last night. I’ve been up for the last week with finals and I just wanted to sleep in.”
“Honey, you came home two nights ago. You barely got out of bed yesterday according to Mom’s reports.”
“What day is it?” I suspected she was right. They just all seemed to be blurring together on me.
“Yeah. So, are we wallowing over a boy?”
“No,” I said stubbornly. It wasn’t the boy, it was more like licking my wounds. I may not have ever been in love, but Tim Smith had destroyed my heart when he answered our mating call by turning his back on me and walking away.