Triad Mates, 1
Erin M. Leaf
Copyright © 2018
Avery Tate tossed the lit match on top of the porn magazines and smiled as the pile caught fire with a huge whoosh, just like she’d hoped. The cheating bastard’s shit could burn all day long, for all she cared. She took a swig of his whiskey and then dumped the rest of the bottle onto the bonfire with grim satisfaction.
“I see I got here just in time,” Paige said, stepping out of the forest stark naked.
Avery gave her best friend an indifferent glance, then jerked her head toward her cabin’s porch. “I left a pair of your jeans and a t-shirt on the railing for you.”
Paige lifted an eyebrow, but walked up and dressed. “I told you to wait for me.”
Avery shrugged. “I haven’t been feeling particularly patient, lately.” Understatement of the year, she thought to herself, but didn’t say anything more out loud. Deep inside her soul, her wolf paced, and she grimaced, wishing she could let her beast out, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t shift. She was defective in so many ways. She looked down at her generous hips and breasts and pressed her lips together. Complaining about her weight or her lack of ability to change into her wolf wouldn’t change anything.
Paige sighed, then walked down and tugged on Avery’s sweater sleeve. “Come on and sit away from the volcano you’ve created before a stray ember sets your hair on fire.”
“Not likely,” Avery said, but she let her friend tug her to the porch steps anyway. She wished she had more of her ex’s stuff to burn, but he’d collected all his clothes last week. And deep inside, she knew she really wouldn’t burn any of his real stuff. She was too much of a coward for that. She always worried too much about what other people thought, probably because she’d spent all of her life feeling inadequate in comparison to the rest of the wolves in the pack. “He left this shit here just to irritate me.” Avery sat on the top step and glared at the fire. “And I mean, who even owns hardcopy porn these day, anyway? Why didn’t he just look at this crap online like everyone else?”
“Brian is an asshole not worth your time,” Paige said, putting an arm around Avery’s shoulders. “Have you tried going for a good, hard run? That always makes me feel better.”
Avery scowled. “You know that doesn’t work for me. I’ve tried running, and it’s great for a half mile, and then I feel like my wolf is trying to crawl out of my body. It’s awful. I don’t know what’s going on with me lately.” Inside her soul, her wolf paced back and forth, but the bitch wouldn’t settle. Story of my life, Avery thought, frustrated. She’d never been able to shift, even though she’d been part of Boulder Pack since her birth. She was one of those unfortunate anomalies: a werewolf who couldn’t shift. She felt like a wolf. She knew what her wolf should look like, but shifting seemed beyond her.
“I don’t know either,” Paige said, leaning her head on Avery’s shoulder. “Did you talk to any of the older pack members?”
“They don’t know anything.” Avery grimaced as she remembered how that particular conversation had gone. “Old Dame Bridget said I needed to have a litter of puppies and stop complaining. I’ve finally realized that woman hates me for some reason, but she likes my father, so I thought she’d be helpful. Ha. Not even close.” She snorted. “Anyway, no one would dare breed with me, the mutant who can’t shift. She was being deliberately insulting. I want to have children, not puppies. I don’t know what the hell her problem is.”
“Mitch’s grandma always did have a sharp mouth. She doesn’t like me either, and don’t mention her to my mother or all hell breaks loose. You know they’ve been rivals for ages,” Paige said, shaking her head. “I think she’s probably joking, but seriously? She said that, like, right after you dumped your jerkoff ex? Talk about insensitive. You told her he cheated on you?”
“Yes, seriously. I told her he cheated. And yes, she really said that, the old bitch.” Avery sighed and rubbed her eyes. She felt like shit, and didn’t see any change in that particular status anytime soon. “I don’t know where she thinks I’m going to get the sperm to start making babies, but she seemed to think that would solve everything.” She rolled her eyes. “I’d say she misses Mitch, but she was awful even before he left, if I’m remembering correctly.”
“He’s been gone for over a decade. Bridget should be used to his absence,” Paige said, then shrugged. “You know he didn’t get along with her, right? He spent all of his time growing up hanging out at our house with my brother, Fletcher. I don’t know why you even bothered asking her for advice.”
“My father, of course. He pushed me into talking to her, and I caved, rather than have yet another fight with him,” Avery said. “It doesn’t surprise me that Mitch ditched her, though. I can’t imagine growing up with her as my grandmother. She’s always glaring and complaining about something. Poor guy.” She remembered Mitch Addison’s blue eyes and dark hair, and that he seemed nice. I was only ten at the time, and still dealing with Mom dying. It’s no surprise I can’t remember much more. He and Fletcher hadn’t visited often, and the last few times they’d come home she had been away at college.
“Well, Bridget won’t be missing him much longer. He and my brother are actually headed home,” Paige said, smiling.
Mitch and Fletcher are coming home? Avery flashed on a memory of the time when Paige’s brother helped bandage her knee after she’d fallen from a swing. She remembered him looking up at her, eyes golden and bright with energy she’d been too young to understand, but now she knew that his wolf had been staring out at her. She shivered. He was ten years older than she was, and she remembered that he’d left on his travels shortly after the incident. Mitch had gone with him. They only came home for the holidays and lately not even then. She frowned. She’d liked her friend’s brother and his best friend, even as a child. Fletcher was definitely an Alpha, and he tended to scare people, but not her, for some reason. Mitch was quieter, and she remembered his intense stare. He was going to make an excellent Beta. Everyone knew that the two men were poised to take over the leadership of the pack.
Well, Paige’s dad is getting older, and I know her mom wants to do some traveling. Maybe they’re going to take over sooner rather than later. “Your mom must be happy. If they stay home, she’ll get to do the traveling she always wanted.”
“Oh, she is,” Paige grinned. “Speaking of my mom, what about her? Did you talk to her?”
Avery nodded. “Of course I asked her. She’s been like a second mom to me.”
“And? What did she say?”
Avery looked at her friend. “You know I love your mom, right?”
Paige leaned back. “Oh no. What did she say?”
“It was what she didn’t say.” Avery well remembered the speculative look Ann Lyall had given her after she’d explained her latest issues with her wolf side, and how she couldn’t stand to have her boyfriend touch her anymore. Brian hadn’t been any great prize, she knew that now, but her aversion to intimacy and other kinds of touch had been going on for months. It had to have something to do with her problems shifting. She picked up a twig and flicked it into the fire.
“I don’t know what she said, but she’s not just my mother, she’s the Alpha’s wife. She’s the one who’s supposed to help with this stuff.” Paige frowned. “You told her that the asshole called you a cold prude, right?”
“No, I did not tell her that. Are you crazy?” Avery said standing up. She started pacing. “I’m not talking to your mother about my sex life, Paige.” She stopped and glared at the ground. “Or rather, my total lack of a sex life. Ugh. I don’t even want to think about talking to anyone about that.” She ran a hand over her face, embarrassed and frustrated. God, she was tired. “I told her about my wolf freaking out, and how I couldn’t stand to be touched anymore. These are the times I really miss my mom. Maybe she’d be able to help. She didn’t get along with Bridget, either, now that I think about it.” She picked up another twig and broke it into three pieces, then threw it into the flames. She watched it turn to ash.
“You don’t seem to mind it when I touch you,” Paige said after a moment.
Avery gave her friend a disgusted look. “We’ve been best friends since before we could walk. You’re the closest thing I have to a sister, so I certainly hope I don’t start having this problem with you.” She smiled briefly. “You helped me when my mom died. You kept the bullies at school from picking on me when all I did was cry all through eighth grade.”
Paige smiled back, but Avery could tell she was worried. “If you ask me, I think you’re having pack dominance issues,” she said, not for the first time.
Avery made a face. “I know you think that, but it makes no sense. I’m a woman. Only males can be leaders in the pack. That’s simple biology. And I can’t even shift. I’m a mutant.”
“You’re not a mutant,” Paige said, then picked at the hem of her old t-shirt. “And that part about females not being leaders, well, that’s not precisely true.”
What is she getting at? Avery mused, eyeing her best friend. “Your father’s an Alpha. Your uncle is his Beta, and that’s how it works. All the rest of us are just pack members. Even your mom isn’t dominant, and she’s married to the Alpha.” Avery glanced at her friend. “And yes, I know he listens to her, but it’s only a courtesy. He makes the actual decisions.” She shook her head. “No. I’m just feeling cranky because my so-called boyfriend was a cheating asshole.” She watched the last magazine crumple into ash, and figured she probably should kick some dirt over the remaining coals so her front yard didn’t go up in flames. “Come here and help me put this out.”
Paige stood up and walked over to the fire. “You know your voice has that weird resonant thing going on sometimes. You have the vocal power of an Alpha.”
Avery glanced at her. “You’re delusional.” She kicked dirt over the last of the smoldering paper. “Help me,” she growled, annoyed all over again. She didn’t want to talk about what could be. She had to stop wishing she could shift, and be skinny, and be someone she wasn’t.
“I am helping you.” Paige grabbed the sturdy stick Avery used to poke at her fires and started stabbing at the remaining coals with it. “I have no choice but to help you.” She raked some dirt over the glowing embers.
“What? No. That’s absurd.” Avery crouched down and scooped sand from the edges of her fire pit over the mess. “You would’ve helped me anyway, even if I hadn’t said anything. I didn’t compel you. I’m not a witch.”
“Avery, I had to come here and help you. Your voice had that same tone my dad uses,” Paige said.
Avery shook her head. “Impossible.”
Paige shrugged. “You don’t have to believe me. You’ll see when you tell some other pack member to do something, and they fall all over themselves to obey you.”
Avery stood back up and stared at her friend. “I’m not an Alpha, Paige. I’m not even a wolf, not really.”
“You are a wolf.” Her friend tossed the stick back down on the hearth stones. “And you certainly aren’t ordinary.”
Avery huffed. “Well, that’s something we can both agree on.”
Paige laughed, and hugged Avery again. “Don’t worry about that jerk. He’s gone for good. I saw him throwing his shit into his car outside that shack he rents from my uncle. He’s leaving the pack.” She paused. “By the way, I saw him and your dad talking the other day outside the Sanctuary. It was weird. I didn’t think they really knew each other. I’m glad he’s leaving.”
Brian was talking to my father? What the hell? And he’s leaving for good? Avery rubbed her eyes. “I did tell him to get lost, but I didn’t expect him to go to such extremes. Not that I mind. It’ll be nice not to have to see his face around the pack’s territory. And I had no idea that he and my father knew each other. My dad told me he didn’t think I should be involved with anyone, which is completely stupid. Ugh, what a mess,” Avery said, running a hand through her hair. She could feel the beginnings of a headache creeping over her skull. “You know, Brian said I was fat.”
“Fat? As if. You’re not fat.” Paige headed for the cabin. “You’re curvy.”
“Same thing.” Avery followed her inside, wiping her dirty hands on her cutoff jeans shorts. “I have too much junk in the trunk, as they say.” She gestured to her chest. “And in the attic.”
“Oh please. You do not. You could probably outrun me, outjump me, and outlift me and all the other women in the pack. You’re strong. Not fat.”
“I can’t outrun you, and you know it, because I can only run as a human. And I’ve never lifted weights in my life.” Avery washed her hands and then pulled out the remains of yesterday’s cold pizza. “I’ll give you strong, though, but it’s just genetics. Shifter stuff. At least I have that.”
Paige snorted. “Genetics my ass. You’re strong, and all the guys are afraid of you. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a good thing.” She opened the pizza box and grabbed a slice as she sat down at Avery’s tiny kitchen table.
“Brian wasn’t afraid to cheat on me,” Avery said, staring at the box. The day she’d come home and found him banging some random bitch from the neighboring pack on her sofa was a day he’d regret for the rest of his life. She smiled grimly. “He won’t be cheating on anyone again, though. I made sure of that. If I catch even a whiff of him being that much of an asshole to some other poor female, I’ll hunt him down and make him regret it.” She glanced at the living room, currently missing a sofa. The next thing she’d done after throwing Brian out was haul the damned thing to the curb and have her trash hauler take it away. “I need a new sofa, now, too. Ugh.”
“You realize it took him over a week to heal that cut on his leg,” Paige said, taking a huge bite out of her pizza. “He bitched about you trying to cut his balls off the whole time.” She didn’t sound the least bit disturbed by Brian’s situation.
“He’s a liar.” Avery rolled her eyes. “The idiot tripped over his own damn self and fell when I caught him boning his floozie in my living room. The girl started screaming when she saw me. I don’t know what she thought I was going to do to them. It’s not like I’m built for brawling. He knocked over my antique lamp and the glass shade broke, and that’s why he has a cut on his leg. If he’d just shifted immediately, it wouldn’t have taken so long to heal. I’m still mad about the lamp. It was my favorite, and now it’s broken.” She sat down at the table and finally took a slice of pizza. She was starving. She hadn’t been eating right lately—another weird symptom of her restlessness.
“I think your reaction to his cheating is why you might have a problem denying that you’re a dominant wolf, Avery. You’re out here burning his porn,” Paige said dryly. “You’re confusing being hurt and angry with the other stuff.”
“Any woman would’ve been pissed if they’d walked in on their supposed boyfriend screwing another woman on her couch. Why didn’t he just do it at his own place?” To say Avery hadn’t enjoyed walking in on him was an understatement.
“Because he’s dumb?” Paige offered. “He has to be dumb to cheat on you.”
Avery shrugged. She didn’t really want to talk about her ex anymore.
“You going to work tomorrow?” Paige asked, getting the hint. She went to the fridge. “Ooo, lemonade!” She grabbed the pitcher and detoured to the kitchen cabinet above the sink for glasses.
Avery sighed. “Of course I’m going to work. Where else would I go?”
Paige lifted a shoulder. “I wasn’t sure. You took this past week off, so…” She trailed off as she poured them both some lemonade. “We missed you. I had to handle the Girl Scout troops all by myself. It’s not the same without you to help with the guided hikes.”
“I took that week off long before Brian decided to insert his dick into the wrong hole,” Avery reminded her.
Paige chuckled. “You have such a way with words.”
“Besides, you handled the hikes and the two outdoor education sessions just fine by yourself, from what I heard.” Avery took a bite of her pizza, then washed it down with lemonade.
“I don’t have a degree in environmental science, so I missed having you there. I couldn’t answer the questions like you can,” Paige said, running a finger down her glass. “And Uncle Marcus said Aunt Lillian was going crazy with the gift shop.”
“I’m sorry I took you away from your hours there,” Avery said, feeling bad. “I really needed that week, though.” She glanced outside. Her cabin was set back from the main road on a couple acres of the Boulder Mountain Nature Sanctuary. The Boulder Pack had lived on this mountain in central Pennsylvania for hundreds of years, and it was home. She couldn’t imagine how hard it must have been for Mitch and Fletcher to be away and traveling for the better part of fifteen years, but it was customary for the Alpha’s heir to spend time learning with other packs across the world.
“What did you do with yourself all week?” Paige asked.
“Not much.” Avery grimaced. “I moped around, to be honest. Went shopping. I even took off for a few days and stayed overnight in Manhattan. Saw a show. Went crazy in my own skin. I don’t know what’s going on with me.” She picked at the pizza box, shredding the corner of the cardboard into small flakes.
“Maybe you just need time to get over the jerk.” Paige reached out and squeezed Avery’s hand. “It’s been, what? Two weeks? Three?”
“Three, and I don’t even miss him. Not at all. What does that mean? It’s like he barely exists in my head,” Avery said, rubbing her temples. “I don’t even know why I bothered to date him. Aside from being angry that he had the nerve to cheat on me, I don’t feel any different. I’m not lonely.”
“He was cute, and he didn’t require batteries?” Paige sipped her drink. “Those are good enough reasons for some people.”
Avery made a face. “Yeah, I guess. Except I never let him get past second base.” She glanced at the door to her bedroom, just beyond the living room. She kept her one and only vibrator in there and hadn’t bothered to change out the dead batteries in at least a year. Possibly two. Brian hadn’t been all that great at kissing, let alone anything else, not that she’d gossip about it. She just put up with it, because none of her other dates had been any better. Maybe tepid kissing is all anyone ever gets? she mused, wishing real life was more like a romance novel. Torrid passion might be fun.
Paige finished her pizza, then sat back. “Maybe you’re one of those wolves who needs her fated mates in order to be happy. Anything less is just a letdown.”
Fated mates? As if. “Yeah, right. That’s a myth. No one even knows anyone who’s actually been mated for real, like in the legends. Those are just stories told to young girls. My mom was into those stories, and I remember how sad she got every time she told me one.” Avery gathered up the empty pizza box and started flattening it. “And anyway, if you remember, the only wolves who supposedly find their fated mates are—”
“The Alpha, his Beta, and the Queen,” Paige interrupted. “Yes, I know. Don’t you think it’s kinda kinky how the stories say that only a trio can be truly mated? Like, our own legends are stories about polyamory. How cool is that?” She giggled. “Old Dame Bridget would probably have a canary if that actually happened in real life.”
Avery smiled at the thought of Mitch’s grandmother faced with such a situation. “Well, I’m no Queen, so no worries there.” Avery stuffed the pizza box into her recycle bin. “And think about it. Who’s the presumptive heir to the pack?” She pointed at Paige. “Fletcher is. You’re basically saying that you want to see me hook up with your brother and his best friend, at the same time.” Avery shivered a little at the thought, not that she’d admit it. The thought of two lovers instead of one always rang her bell, but that kind of thing was just a fantasy. She liked Fletcher just fine, and Mitch, too, but she didn’t really know them. She’d been a child when they’d left to go on their walkabout. “That’s kind of weird, Paige.”
“Yeah, it’s a little weird, but I like the idea of you being my sister for real,” Paige said, unexpectedly. She smiled crookedly, her light brown eyes affectionate.
Avery went still as her vision suddenly blurred. What the hell would she do without her best friend? “Oh, Paige. You’re already my sister in my heart.” She hugged her best friend, swallowing against the surge of warmth she felt. “If I start bawling, it’s your fault.”
Paige laughed as she wiggled out of the hug, wiping her eyes. “I’m not crying, you’re crying.”
“Uh huh,” Avery said, blinking hard. She gave in and wiped at her face. “Dammit.”
Paige smirked. “Anyway, now that you know Fletcher and Mitch are coming home soon, I can tell you about my shitty day. I had to help my mom clean her and my dad’s suite in the big house. Which makes no sense, because it’s not like Fletcher and Mitch will be sleeping in there. Fletcher has his own rooms on the second floor that he and Mitch can share, just down the hall from the Alpha’s suite.” Paige put away the lemonade, then plopped back down at the table. “That’s why I’m here. I wanted to escape before she had me scrubbing the damned walls, too.”
“Those walls are made out of logs. You couldn’t scrub them if you tried.” Avery glanced outside. The sun had only just begun to dip below the tops of the trees, even though it was almost seven at night. She stifled a yawn. She needed a good night’s sleep more than anything right now.
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t put it past my mom to try.” Paige tilted her head and gave her friend a sad puppy look.
“Oh my God, stop it. You can stay here tonight. You could’ve just asked,” Avery said, chuckling. “I don’t know why you don’t move out of the big house. There’s another little cabin right down the road from here, as you know. Your uncle wouldn’t mind if you moved in there. No one would mind. You’d still be on pack property, and you’d be closer to me, too.”
Paige shrugged. “I don’t know. I like being with my family. Most of the time.”
“Except when your mom goes on one of her cleaning rampages.” Avery rubbed her arms, then walked over to shut the inner front door. The night was cooler than she’d expected, and since she couldn’t shift and sleep in her wolf’s fur, she had to do things the human way. Like usual. I’m a broken wolf. Not exactly human, and not exactly werewolf.
“Even then, I still like it. It makes me feel like part of the pack,” Paige said.
“You are part of the pack,” Avery said. “I don’t know why you feel like you aren’t. I’m the one who is the odd wolf out, since I can’t shift.”
Paige just looked away, and Avery knew this was one of those things her friend didn’t want to talk about. And since she didn’t harp on the Brian thing, the last thing I’m going to do is harp on her issues. “Come on. Let’s build a fire in the living room fireplace and play some cards or something. We can worry about tomorrow when it comes.”
Paige smiled. “Sounds like a plan.”
“Great.” Avery headed for the front porch. “Hold the door for me, will you? I’ll grab some logs so we don’t have to go out again later in the night.” She slipped out and headed for the small woodpile neatly stacked under the window. Just as she crouched down to grab a few logs, she heard it. The howl was long and low, and it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. The second howl was only a hint higher in tone, and she shivered as heat bloomed in the pit of her pelvis. She straightened up, staring into the deepening twilight. What the hell? she thought, unsettled. She licked suddenly dry lips. Those are not coyotes. I would know. And she knew the howl of every wolf in Boulder Pack, and those two weren’t familiar.
“Avery? You coming?” Paige asked, holding the door open. “We’re letting all the mosquitos in.”
“Did you hear that?” Avery asked. She didn’t look away from the woods. Deep inside her soul, her wolf paced restlessly.
Avery glanced at her friend, frowning. She thought the howls had been rather loud, but if Paige couldn’t hear them… Another pair of howls rolled in on the dusk, like the wind before a storm. Her pussy clenched, and she swallowed, hard. “That. Those howls. Did you hear that?”
Paige stepped out onto the porch. “I don’t hear anything.” She took the log from Avery’s hands. “Besides, you know my dad wouldn’t let any strange wolves onto our territory without a lot of advance notice to us. It just isn’t done. Strange wolves can drive through on the public roads, but that’s about it. No roaming in wolf form, remember?”
Avery shook her head. She knew what she’d heard, but then again, she definitely hadn’t been feeling like herself lately. She crouched down and grabbed two more logs. “Okay,” she said, even as her wolf paced faster. She rolled her shoulders, trying to push away the sense that there was something she had to do.
“We can ask my dad about it tomorrow,” Paige said. She held open the door with her foot. “If there are strange wolves running about, he needs to know. He’s the Alpha, after all.”
Avery smiled her thanks, and went inside, locking the door behind her. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Even so, you should listen to your wolf, Avery, and don’t tell me she didn’t hear anything.” Paige set her log down near the fireplace. “Your hair is sparking.”
Avery stopped short. “What?”
“Your hair.” Paige reached out for one of Avery’s long red strands, and a spark of static electricity jumped to her finger.
“What the hell?” Avery dropped her logs and ran her fingers through her hair. It felt fluffier than normal, but no static ran through her fingers. Her wolf howled in her head, and she winced, then rubbed the back of her neck.
Paige was staring at her. “Are you feeling okay?”
“I feel like I need to shift, but you know how pointless that is. I’ve tried a thousand times,” Avery said. She wanted to go outside and run and run until she couldn’t move. “God. What the hell is wrong with me?” She turned to the door.
“Maybe you should go out and try again.” Paige crouched down and began setting kindling on top of a fire starter.
Avery shook her head. “No. I can’t.” She went back to the front of her cabin and swung open the heavy inner door. The screen kept out the bugs, but not the breeze. She lifted her face and inhaled deeply, then froze. Something enticing lingered on the wind. She inhaled again, closing her eyes. Her wolf silently howled long and low in her mind, and she exhaled, but then the scent was gone. Her wolf flicked an ear at her, and then faded into the back of her head, as the beast had been doing lately. Avery nearly jumped out of her skin when her best friend put a hand on her arm.
“What is it?” Paige asked, sounding worried.
Avery waited for a long moment, tasting the wind, but the scent never returned. “Just the breeze talking,” she told her friend, and then she closed and locked the inner door.