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Running With Alphas: Seasons: Winter by Rivard, Viola (1)

Chapter 1

December, 2007

As they passed through the long stretch of evergreen forest, Shadow began to fall behind. This far into winter, the dim sunlight scarcely touched the ground in the region, leaving heavy deposits of snow to trudge through. Even his father, with his long, powerful legs, was slowed by the snowdrifts.

After watching his pup struggle to paw himself free, Hale turned back a few paces and inclined his head, plucking Shadow from his self-made hole. Ever the rebel, Shadow squirmed in protest, but his father held him firmly, keeping his shaggy head high so that Shadow hung just above the top of the snow.

Shadow had been born Henry, a name that had been unanimously panned by her pack mates. Taylor had lost the battle for her son’s name. She lost almost every battle when it came to Shadow. He had been born prematurely, but unlike his twin sister Fawn, he’d been healthy, strong, and assertive. As an infant, he’d been the first to cry for feedings, finishing his breast and then demanding his sister’s once she’d nodded off on the nipple. Instead of sleeping through the night, he'd slept like a wolf, sleeping in two-hour intervals and then waking with boundless energy. Even before he had learned to shift, Taylor would sometimes wake in the night to find him out of his cot and into trouble. Once he had learned to shift, it'd been all over. She'd gone from having a precocious and unusually capable baby to an oversized, hyper-intelligent puppy. In the first year of his life, he'd escaped the cabin so many times that Alder and Hale had assigned two of their betas to be on permanent watch.

At six months, he’d made his first kill—a field mouse. After only a cursory investigation of his prey, he’d swallowed it whole and then went on to catch two more. Soon after, Alder had begun taking him on full hunts. That had been another loss, and Taylor had fought much harder for that than she had for his name. But in the end, it had been Shadow who had decided, by jumping through a window to join his fathers as they pursued a stag.

At six months, Shadow had been indistinguishable from a similarly aged wolf. Now, at a year and a half, he was already larger than the average full-grown wolf. This was not normal, even by shifter standards. Fawn was still small enough to be cradled in Taylor’s arms in either form, and her wolf form was plump with distinctly puppy-ish features, like her big, green eyes, tiny snout, and rounded pink nose. It had been nearly a year since Shadow had shed his puppy fat. Like his fathers, he was long, limber, and muscular. The features of his wolf form were sharp and defined, and in his eyes was a keen intellect. While Fawn was still toddling around and babbling in baby talk, Shadow had enviable posture and could speak in full sentences.

Her son was remarkable. He was also stubborn, fiercely independent, and at his core, a mama’s boy.

When he tired of Shadow’s struggling, Hale turned his head and deposited the pup onto his back. Taylor struggled to scoop him into her arms. It was like trying to hold onto an overgrown husky. Shadow’s fur was covered in clumps of snow, which somehow managed to creep into the crevices of Taylor’s layers of clothing. Though she was averse to wearing animal skins, it was too cold out to have such scruples. She wore a soft, well-tailored buckskin shirt beneath an outer layer of speckled doe hide. Unapologetically ugly, her coat was nothing but a bunch of brown and white rabbit skins that had been stitched together. She hated it, but it was too warm to get rid of.

Shadow delivered several licks to her face and then used his teeth to help reposition her hat, which had been knocked back by his assaulting tongue. His head then went for her chest, but she gently swatted him away. For all of his intellect, he was always forgetting that he couldn’t nurse in wolf form.

“Not with fangs,” she said, chomping at the air for emphasis.

Shadow whined and then nuzzled the side of her cheek to let her know he understood.

He cuddled for another moment and then slid off his father’s back, plopping down once more into the snow. The snowfall had lessened as they scaled the hill, and now the powder rose only a half foot off the ground, allowing Shadow to move more freely. He bounded in a circle around his father and then dashed over to hop alongside Glenn.

“Where does he get the energy?” she mused aloud.

She’d grown accustomed to talking to herself over the past few days. They’d been traveling for a week, and so far, her companions only took human form when they stopped to make camp. Even Glenn, who could usually be relied on to make casual conversation with her, had told her flat-out that it was too cold for him to be trudging along in human form. Taylor couldn’t argue. If she could turn into a wolf or a fox like Holly, there was no way she’d be slumming it in human form.

It was probably for the best that she couldn’t make conversation because she had very little to say that was positive. She took no pleasure in long trips through the wilderness, and the snow only made it worse. And between missing Christmas and missing Alder and Fawn, she was downright miserable.

Eight days ago, she and her mates had been at home, arguing over a Christmas tree, or more accurately, Hale’s Christmas tree. The evening before, she had tasked both Alder and Hale with finding her a tree to decorate for Christmas. She had never been a fan of the holiday but had always imagined she would go all out in celebrating it if she had kids. The year before, she had just started decorating when a massive snowstorm had swept through the valley, burying her cottage and leaving her stuck in the den for most of December.

This year had been on track to be the perfect Christmas. She had presents, decorations, and oodles of holiday cheer. She had even gotten Shadow to take human form and help her craft ornaments for the tree. That’s what they’d been doing when Alder had returned, carrying the perfect Christmas tree. It was just the right size and vibrantly colored, each needle on each branch intact. It even sported dainty pine cones.

She had not anticipated that Hale would also bring back a tree. In fact, when she’d asked them about getting her a tree, Hale had thought the idea of chopping down a tree to bring indoors was “moronic” and “a complete waste of my time.” So, when he had arrived just minutes after Alder, hauling a giant monstrosity of an old spruce that still had its dirt-clumped roots attached, she’d politely asked him to take it back and replant it. In the long-winded complaint that followed, Hale had inadvertently revealed that he’d spent the entire night searching for a tree for her, and in the end, she had been guilted into wedging the tree into her tiny cabin, the top quarter of it bowed against the ceiling.

Taylor had been in the process of rearranging her home when the messenger had arrived. The message was from Sarah, the mate of Cain, Alder and Hale’s older brother. It had said only that they were needed urgently and had mentioned Taylor by name, saying that it was imperative that she come. The message had been delivered by an enterprising hawk shifter who resided near to Cain’s pack, but he was not a member and he knew nothing more regarding the urgent matter.

It was decided that Hale, Taylor, and Shadow would go. Both of her mates were patently against Shadow going, but Taylor had insisted on the basis that he was still nursing. This had failed to persuade either of them, because both of them, Hale more vocally than his brother, believed that Shadow was well past the age of being weaned. Desperate to keep at least one of her pups by her side, Taylor had used the last weapon in her arsenal—she’d cried.

Over the past couple of years, she had learned that Hale was virtually immune to her tears, except during situations where he thought she might be physically hurt or in pain. Alder, on the other hand, tended to remain calm when she was hurt but responded in earnest when it seemed she might be in emotional turmoil. As predicted, Hale had tapped his foot impatiently and told her to quit her antics, but at the last minute, Alder had reluctantly taken her side.

They’d set out that night, accompanied by Glenn, Holly, and Karin. Karin was a Whiteriver transplant. She had met Alder and Hale while hunting in the valley, in passing at first, and then gradually they’d begun hunting together. Years of having to rough it out in the barren Whiteriver territories had made her resourceful and dogged, and soon after joining Halcyon she’d quickly become an integral and valued member of the pack. Taylor liked her well enough, and she was rarely jealous about all the time Karin spent hunting with Alder and Hale, though this was mainly because in her human form, Karin was a bit of an eyesore. Had she been even remotely attractive, Taylor probably would have been seething inside every time one of her mates dashed off to chase after one of her leads.

A short bark from Hale signaled for the group to come to a stop. Even Shadow skidded to a halt, careening into Glenn’s hindquarters. Taylor surveyed the area, looking for why they might have stopped. The area looked much the same as the other places they’d traveled through that day. The mountain slope was thick with evergreens, their branches laden with deposits of snow. The air was still and quiet.

Hale sat, causing Taylor to slide down his back. She muttered a complaint but was immediately distracted by Shadow, who came running up to her, barking excitedly. As she scratched her pup’s head, she watched her mate trot in the direction of a rocky outcropping. Squinting her eyes, she noticed a tall, narrow slit in the bedrock. A cave.

Hale just managed to squeeze through the entrance, and Shadow dashed off to follow his father. Taylor wasn’t keen on having her son exploring an unfamiliar cavern, but she trusted Hale to keep him safe.

After a few minutes of waiting, Glenn came to her side. He had shifted from his shaggy wolf form and stood in the form of a tall young man, swathed in a deerskin pelt.

When Taylor had first met Glenn, he had been a gangly, awkward juvenile. Over the past two years, he had matured considerably. Almost a foot taller than her, he stood only slightly shorter than Hale. His once-patchy beard had filled in to cover his handsome jawline, and his brown eyes no longer projected hesitance and uncertainty. In most matters, he seemed confident and self-assured.

“Do you think he wants to stop here?” Taylor asked. “Isn’t Cain’s pack only a few more hours out? I thought we were just going to push through.”

Glenn shrugged. “We’ll probably only stop for a couple of hours. Everyone’s pretty worn out from traveling uphill.” He gave her a sly, sideways look. “Also, he wants to sleep with you.”

Taylor suppressed a smile. It was not long ago that the mention of sex would have had Glenn blushing. She still remembered her first summer in the valley when he’d come to wake her and had accidentally gotten an eyeful of one of her breasts. While it was not uncommon for shifters to be naked around one another, the males got weird when it came to seeing a naked human female.

“Probably,” Taylor said, feigning exasperation.

She wasn’t the least bit annoyed though she did feel a little guilty. After all, the letter had said that the matter was urgent. Of course, if everyone was tired, and they had to stop anyway, would it be so wrong to indulge?

Even with the passing years and the addition of children, sex had never gotten stale between Taylor and her mates. Certainly, there were times when her drive waned, like right after the twins were born, or the previous summer when it had been too damn hot to be bothered with anything. There were some times where it felt like they were going through the motions, but those times were few and far between. Most of the time, the sex was fantastic.

Taylor attributed this to her mates constantly trying to outdo one another. If one of them began to grow complacent in bed, the other was eager to pick up the slack, and before long they’d be right back to fighting for ‘top dog’. Taylor would never tell them, but their efforts were futile. Despite being identical twins, Alder and Hale were nothing alike in bed. Alder was slow and passionate and could make love to her for hours. Hale could make love for hours, too, though generally in quick bursts, followed by brief naps. Hot, hard, and wickedly efficient, he knew how to tick all of her boxes in rapid succession.

Though she tried to play it cool, Holly blew her cover.

“You’re salivating. Gross,” she said, coming to stand opposite of Glenn.

A head taller than Taylor and a solid two points hotter, Holly was an unofficial beta female of the Halcyon pack. Unofficial, because she was a fox shifter, and therefore lacked the pack instincts of the wolves, but still sort of a beta because she held a great deal of confidence and authority within the pack. Holly occasionally set Taylor’s jealousy bells to ringing, especially when Taylor and her mates were bathing and Holly would just show up, frolicking in the lake like some fabled nymph. She took solace in the knowledge that neither of her mates had ever shown any interest in Holly, mainly because she was such a massive bitch.

“Am not,” Taylor protested.

“Right,” Holly said dryly. “Just try to keep it down. Some of us have actually had to exert ourselves today. We can’t all be hauled around like a princess.”

Taylor smirked. “I’m sure if you asked, Glenn would let you ride him.”

At that, Glenn cleared his throat loudly and trudged off in the direction of the cave, leaving Taylor to stand with the flustered fox shifter. It took a lot to get under Holly’s skin, but the mention of her and Glenn generally worked.

It was a strange development. Taylor had always expected Glenn and Lark to be together, but Lark seemed ignorant to his burgeoning adulthood and still treated him much like a brother. For the rest of the pack’s females, a rather abrupt shift had happened in the last summer, right around the time Glenn had secured a position as a beta male. Women who had been previously oblivious to Glenn were now fawning and fighting over him as though he were a prized stallion.

In spite of her brash, straightforward nature, Holly seldom expressed interest in other males, except to critique them. She suspected that Holly might have slept with Hale in the past, but neither had ever said as much and Taylor couldn’t bring herself to ask. Even after two years, Taylor still had trouble interacting with females that had slept with either of her mates, and she became borderline-violent when she caught a female trying to flirt with one of them.

If she were among humans, her possessiveness might have called for therapy, or at the very least some serious soul-searching. Among shifters, however, it was expected that she bare her teeth to any female that sought to attract one of her mates. Likewise, her mates were equally possessive. Hale, in particular, could be so possessive at times that he’d snap at his own brother, though thankfully that didn’t happen often.

Softly, so that her voice wouldn’t carry, Taylor said, “If you had any interest in Glenn, I’m sure it would be reciprocated.”

After his promotion to a beta male, Glenn had been put on the same rotation as Holly. Most of the week, that meant that they had to watch over Taylor’s cabin, ensuring that no one snuck in, or out. Their post had given Taylor a front row seat to their budding romance, such as it was. Their interactions mainly consisted of Holly teasing Glenn, but not quite like she teased other males. Her jibes were more playful and coquettish. In the mornings, when Alder and Hale left early, Holly would storm the cabin, bringing in an assortment of foraged foods that she would cook up in the cabin’s makeshift kitchenette. She always cooked enough to feed Taylor and Fawn but would take special care with Glenn’s plates, arranging each item just so. Then, she would stand over him as he ate, watching his reaction as he tried each item. Taylor knew for a fact that Glenn abhorred anything that wasn’t meat, so it was especially charming to watch him clean his plate while trying not to retch.

Holly clicked her tongue. “I’m not a human and Glenn is not an alpha. We’re not going to have some epic love story. Give it a rest already.”

“I’m not saying you should have an epic love story,” Taylor said, flicking Holly’s shoulder. “I’m just saying that you’re both looking pretty tense and maybe you could loosen each other up.”

“As if,” Holly said, the words having no real bite to them.

Taylor collected Hale’s furs from his pack, just in time for her mate to emerge from the cave. Shadow was at his heels and hopped in circles around his father as Hale shifted into human form.

Taylor never ceased to be captivated by her mates. They were both tall and broad-shouldered, with the sort of heavy muscles that came from protein-rich diets and rigorous physical activity. Taylor could tell them apart at a mere glance, mainly because Hale had picked up several more scars than his brother, including a deep gouge on his shoulder that he’d gotten while hunting a boar during the previous spring.

The snow that had been caked on his fur quickly melted in the heat of the shift, making steam rise from Hale’s golden skin. Though he was never cold immediately after the shift, Taylor still rushed to wrap his fur around his shoulders. His eyes, one light blue, and one golden amber looked at her with naked affection. He hooked an arm around her waist and bent to touch his forehead to hers.

“Do you want me to hunt something fresh?” he asked.

Taylor shook her head. “No. You look tired.”

She meant it. Up close, she could see the lines of fatigue on his otherwise youthful face. They had traveled hard the past few days, and he’d neglected rest many times in favor of keeping watch. Though she knew he wouldn’t admit it, having both her and his pup so far outside of his territory was a constant stressor for him. She hoped that whatever Sarah’s urgent matter was, it was worth all the strain it had put on Hale.

Hale gave her a smile that made her toes curl. “We’ll see.”

As quickly as it had appeared, the sultriness vanished from his face and at once he was all business, ushering Taylor and Shadow into the cave while issuing commands to Holly, Glenn, and Karin.

It was too dark to see inside, and for a while Taylor could only sit with her son in her lap, waiting for Karin to start a fire. Shadow shifted into his human form, hands and mouth instantly seeking out Taylor’s breasts. Just as when he’d nursed alongside his sister, he started on the right breast, draining it in earnest. Taylor hummed softly to him, stroking his hair and rubbing his back as the fire slowly crackled to life.

Shadow looked very much like his fathers, except that his hair was a little darker and his skin, a little paler. He'd inherited a set of beautiful blue eyes and a dimpled chin from them, though he had Taylor’s softly rounded forehead and fine brow. While he was already half as tall as her, he was still lean and lightweight, and his size didn’t prevent him from molding comfortably into her lap.

While she nursed, Hale brought her dried meats from their bags. He made no effort to hide his disapproval, and Taylor paid it no acknowledgment. Ever since Fawn had been weaned, Hale had been quite vocal in his stance that their son should follow suit, though Taylor never gave his arguments any heed. Yes, Shadow was huge and intellectually advanced, but emotionally he was still barely a toddler and she wasn’t going to be shamed into forcing him off the breast before he was ready.

Shadow continued to suckle for a while after draining Taylor’s second breast. His eyes were closed, and she leaned in close to listen to his breathing. Certain he was asleep, she tried carefully extracting him from her nipple. Her efforts were met with a growl and a bite.

Had he been a human child, the bite would have been only a step above an annoyance. Unfortunately, Shadow not only had all of his teeth, but also a set of sharp, pointed fangs. In short, the bite hurt like hell.

Taylor yelped, her hands flying to his face in an instinctive attempt to detach him. She hadn’t needed to. The instant she cried out, Shadow realized what he’d done. He let her go at once, his eyes welling with tears of alarm. Gritting her teeth against the pain, Taylor set to soothing him. She pulled him into a tight hug, murmuring assurances that he hadn’t hurt her, but had only surprised her.

She knew that she wasn’t supposed to have favorites. She absolutely adored Fawn, but she felt a connectedness with Shadow that she’d never felt with another living creature. The love she felt for his fathers was different. It was intense and passionate, but there would always be a divide between her and them that could be touched, but never quite crossed. It was different with Shadow. She was so in tune with him, and it often felt like he was a part of her that had been missing for most of her life.

Once she’d calmed him back to sleep, she reluctantly passed him off to Holly. As standoffish as she could be with adults, the fox shifter turned doting when it came to the pups. She held Shadow close and rested her pointy chin on the top of his head.

Wordlessly, Hale stood and offered Taylor a hand to help her up. She accepted and tried to play it cool as he led her away from the others. He knew better than to pounce on her as soon as they were out of sight. Everyone knew what they’d be doing, but she certainly didn’t want them to hear it.

Unlike the Halcyon den, the cavern was small and just one long tunnel that ended abruptly with no webbing passageways. While she’d been nursing, Hale had come down to lay down furs and light a small fire. The air was still cold enough that she wanted to stuff her hands into her pockets, but instead, she buried them in her mate’s hair.

Hale’s mouth came down on hers, his hands gripping her hips to grind their bodies together. Even through all the layers of clothes, she could feel his stiff length jutting against her belly. Her insides flared with awareness, her skin heating, and the space between her thighs beginning to throb.

He broke away from her lips long enough to say, “I’m so fucking hard for you.”

As if she didn’t know. She laughed and tried kissing him again, but Hale wasn’t finished talking.

“It drives me insane, having you straddling my back all day.” As he spoke, he removed her bulky coat and ran his hands up the sides of her body. “I wanted to toss you off my back and take you up against a tree. Or on the ground. I would have if the pup wasn’t there.”

“What about the others?” she asked, already knowing what his response would be.

“Like I give a damn.”

Hale was forever vowing to claim her in front of the rest of the pack, but as of yet, had not made good on the promise. Taylor wouldn’t have let him—that was too weird, even for her—and she didn’t think he would actually do it. He was too possessive to let other males see her while she was bathing, never mind making love.

He was in the process of saying something about how he could have her anytime that he pleased when his hand reached up to squeeze her left breast. It was a measure of how distracted he was because Hale seldom bothered with her breasts anymore. Previously accustomed to manhandling them, he had quickly fallen out of the habit once she’d started nursing, back when her breasts had been sore and constantly leaking.

Ow!” she yelped, jerking back from him on reflex.

At once, Hale appeared alarmed and apologetic, his expression identical to the one his son had given her not long before. But then, his eyes narrowed and his jaw took on a stubborn set. He pulled open her shirt to expose her breast, emitting a low growl when he saw the state of her nipple.

“I thought I smelled blood,” he grunted. “He bit you. Again.”

Taylor hastily moved to fix her shirt.

“It was an accident,” she said. “It was my fault. He had just nodded off, and I startled him.”

He rolled his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. At least now you’re finished nursing him.”

There were two ways Taylor could take that statement. She wanted to convince herself that he meant “finished for the day”. If she did, they could continue what they were doing, and then argue later. Trouble was, she was already way too pissed to let him off the hook.

“Excuse me?” she said.

She saw the same indecision flash over his face and knew that his next words would be a toss-up. Either he’d take back what he’d said in order to get in her good graces, or he’d be too stubborn to correct himself.

He opted to double down.

“You heard me,” he said. He tended to get more authoritative when his twin wasn’t around, not that anything ever came of it. “I told you the last time he bit you. I said the next time he bit you that was it. This is the next time. You’re done.”

Taylor vaguely remembered him saying something to that effect, but it was nothing new. He was always trying to set a deadline for Shadow’s nursing. It would have driven her crazy if it weren’t for Alder always having her back.

“And before you say anything, Alder agreed with me. That’s two to one, so you’re done.”

She wanted to believe that he was lying, but Hale had long-since learned better than to claim that Alder said something he hadn’t. Even so, it wasn’t like Alder to go behind her back and make such a big decision without consulting her. She opened her mouth to voice this, but once again, Hale was a step ahead of her.

“Alder agreed to it the night we left. He wanted me to be the one to tell you because he knew you’d get emotional about it. He’s wanted you to stop nursing for months now, but every time someone brings it up, you start crying. And don’t bother doing it now. You know it won’t work on me.”

Taylor could have smacked him.

“My body, my decision,” she said, jabbing a finger at his chest.

Hale let out a huff of frustration. “He’s almost as big as you, Taylor. He should have stopped nursing a year ago like Fawn did. If he had, you’d already have another pup at your breast, one without fangs.”

Taylor threw her hands up. “And there it is. That’s what this is really about. How many times do I have to tell you? I’m not ready.”

“Of course, you’re not,” he said, folding his arms across his chest. “You’re still nursing.”

“It’s not about the nursing,” she ground out. “And you know that. I don’t want to get pregnant again. The last time was terrible. I was a wreck for almost the entire time—not that you would have known. You were checked out for over half of it. And when the twins were born…” She paused, trying to keep her voice from cracking. “…when the twins were born, Fawn almost died. I still have nightmares about that. I don’t want to go through it again.”

Bringing up Fawn’s birth was a surefire way to get Hale to back down on the subject of having more pups. It wasn’t something Taylor did to manipulate him, but rather the inevitable course of the argument. If it had been up to her, she would have never mentioned the experience again.

After a pregnancy fraught with frequent bleeding, the birth of the twins had been abrupt. They had come early, and although the birth had been quick, it had been excruciating. Shadow had come first, and Fawn not long after. Taylor had been delirious with pain by the time her daughter was born, ostensibly lifeless. Though they’d managed to get her breathing, it had been weeks before Fawn had been out of the woods, and they’d had many scares along the way. More than once, she’d stopped breathing in the night, and one of her mates had had to resuscitate her while Taylor sat by, gripped with terror.

Hale’s voice softened, but his stance was resolute. “You keep saying that you’re not ready. I’m starting to wonder if you’ll ever be ready.”

Taylor looked away. It was cowardly, but what she really wanted to do was walk away, so she figured it was the bravest she could manage to be.

“I don’t think I will be, Hale. I…”

She had rehearsed the words in her head, preparing a logical and eloquent speech, detailing every reason she had for not wanting more pups. Now, her mind was too muddled to draw upon the words in their entirety, and all she could do was offer an apology.

“I’m sorry, I just won’t. I don’t want to. Please, stop asking me.”

The moment that followed was quiet and tense. Taylor felt torn between guilt and indignation. She had become Alder and Hale’s mate because she was in love with them. She had wanted to stay with them and have a place in their pack. But Alder and Hale, while they had loved her, had also wanted children. Shifter females were nearly all infertile, which made it necessary for them to take a human mate in order to procreate. Giving them children had always been part of the deal. Since the twins had been born, she'd had many fluffy, hormone-driven moments where she thought for sure she could do it all again, that it wouldn't be so difficult the next time around, that she'd have her pack and her mates to support her. But in the end, her mind would always come back to the same dark places it had been on the night of Fawn's birth, and the awful nights that had followed.

Alpha's mate or not, it was her body. Taylor hadn’t spent her formative years in a wolf pack. Where she had grown up, having only one or two kids was the norm, and a woman was certainly not obligated to have more. She wanted to rail against Hale’s chauvinist assumption that he could dictate when it was time for her to get pregnant.

“Fine,” Hale said.

She knew Hale too well to be relieved, and she braced herself for him to say something stupid that he didn’t mean.

He didn't disappoint.

“If you’re done having my pups, then I’m done being your mate.”

Taylor had not anticipated such a bold declaration and was momentarily speechless.

“You were my brother’s mate first. You can stay my brother’s mate,” he said, driving the nail deeper into her chest. “I’ll have no trouble finding a female that’s willing to do what you won't.”

“Why do you do this?” she burst out, not caring if her voice carried. “Why do you say such fucked up things when you’re mad? Do you think that after you apologize, I’ll just forget? That you aren’t hurting me?”

Hale’s upper lip curled. “Is that what you think? That this is just another petty fight and I’ll come around? Fuck that. I’ve been upfront with you since the twins were born. I’ve told you countless times that I’ve wanted more pups and you’ve dismissed me at every turn as if it’s just some sort of whim that I can be distracted from. When are you going to realize that I have things that I want, too? That I don’t just exist to serve you?”

Taylor had tried for so long not to cry, but she couldn’t take it anymore. She turned her back on him because the last thing she needed was him berating her for crying on top of everything else.

“I can’t keep doing this with you, Hale. If you really want to find yourself a different mate, then fine. It’s not like I can stop you.”

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