Home > Carnal Secrets (The Phoenix Pack #3)

Carnal Secrets (The Phoenix Pack #3)
Author: Suzanne Wright

CHAPTER ONE

He was going to get bad news today. Nick knew it in his bones. The “knowing” wasn’t an unfamiliar feeling. He’d often know things. Sometimes it was just as it was right now—no more than a feeling, an itch at the back of his neck that warned him something was wrong but gave him no clue as to what. Other times it was more specific yet very mundane; he would know exactly where a missing object was, like the TV remote or the car keys. But then there were times when the knowing was a heavy weight in his gut, a warning that rang through his body…like that time when he was in the woods with his sister and he had known that if they didn’t turn back, something awful would happen, something that would change everything.

Call it intuition, call it instincts, call it a gift—whatever. The point was that he knew that bad news was coming, and it was becoming harder and harder for the Alpha to keep his anxiety from leaking out into the pack link.

He was pretty sure that the two wolves in the vehicle with him had felt his edginess, but that was only to be expected considering that—as his brother and bodyguard—they were closely attuned to him. His wolf also sensed Nick’s tension and was now pacing within him, as edgy and restless as he was. Well at least he and his wolf were on the same page, for a change—he’d missed that feeling. Nick Axton had always prided himself on the fact that he and his wolf were very much in sync with each other. There had only ever been one thing that they had been in total disagreement on—claiming Shaya Critchley, their mate.

His wolf’s stance on the matter was simple: she was their true mate, therefore Nick should claim her and bond with her and make her their Alpha female of the Ryland Pack. But it wasn’t as clear-cut as that. No, there was a host of issues surrounding this situation.

For one thing, making a submissive wolf an Alpha female was next to impossible. It wasn’t that submissive wolves were weak or passive. Hell no. Despite their aura of calm, submissive wolves could be feisty, hotheaded, and mentally stronger than any dominant wolf, just as dominant wolves could be weak-minded or emotionally vulnerable despite their aura of intensity. But these differences in aura were partly why dominant wolves were always high in rank; a dominant’s intense vibes could suppress and, thus, force the submission of any wolf they were more powerful than, thereby leaving submissive wolves vulnerable to them.

The other essential difference between dominants and submissives lay in physical strength—a submissive, no matter their inner strength, could never be physically stronger than a dominant wolf. As such, submissives were vulnerable to dominant wolves on two scores, but they were vital to every pack in that without the natural calming influence of submissive wolves running through the pack link, the dominants’ natural intensity would leave the pack unstable.

As such, though Shaya was vital to a pack and had the inner strength to match any dominant wolf, she would be vulnerable in other ways. If she was Alpha female, she would therefore be challenged repeatedly by the dominant females in the pack for her position. Of course Nick could keep her safe by ordering that no one challenge her¸ but then she would never be respected or followed or acknowledged as Alpha female. That would leave her feeling on the outside looking in, which was absolutely unacceptable to Nick, as was the very idea of her in danger.

That left him only one option if he still wished to claim her: he would have to step down from his position as Alpha. Hell, Nick would happily give it up if it meant he could have his mate. The problem was that no one in his pack wanted the position, and no one wanted the responsibility of keeping the pack stable. The old Alpha had been like a cancer, and he’d corrupted the entire pack until he’d blackened the heart of it. Although Nick had challenged and killed him long ago, past events still haunted the pack, and old wounds still tormented it.

His wolf wasn’t concerned with these details surrounding the matter. It was all very black-and-white for him—Shaya was his, so she must be claimed. As such, he was particularly angry with Nick. Not that it was unusual for his wolf to be in a somber mood. He had somewhat of a dark disposition, in fact. Well of course he did. Not only had he surfaced prematurely, but he had been born in rage and fear.

As a rule, shifters changed for the first time during puberty. Nick had been just five when, in one very bizarre moment, his wolf had surfaced to protect him. Having such a strong, powerful wolf was something Nick was extremely proud of, but it hurt to know that his wolf had been born that way, leaving scars on his soul—scars that had been deepened by the event that had later led to Nick spending time in a juvenile prison. Despite his wolf’s anger, the animal wasn’t wild or challenging. No, his wolf was still as controlled and composed as Nick, but he also viewed the world as a bleak, dark, harsh place. Shaya had been the only thing to ever stir strong emotions in his wolf.

Admittedly, she was the only thing that had stirred strong emotions in Nick. Much like his wolf, he could be hard, cold, and remote at times. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a conscience, and nor was it that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. But Nick seemed to lack a little something—like there had been a glitch in his emotional development that made it difficult for him to bond with others, to connect like they did. He felt emotion the same as everyone else—or the same as most, anyway. But bonding was something he found difficult.

Maybe it was hardly surprising. His wolf had surfaced too early, surfaced at a time when his mind and body hadn’t been ready. It would be much like a young child being plunged into the stages of puberty—it wasn’t something they were psychologically or biologically ready for, and it would undoubtedly have a fundamental effect on their development as a person: mentally, physically, and emotionally. As such, Nick was tainted and broken in so many ways. His mate, however, was much the opposite.

Shaya reminded him of a butterfly: colorful, vibrant, graceful, and always on the move. She had a certain grace and ease with people, could mingle in any crowd and charm them with her sassy attitude. Not that she was Little Miss Innocent. Oh no. He’d heard all about her legendary temper. He’d heard that she could be just as crazy as her best friend and Alpha female, Taryn. But, still, Shaya was sweet and perfect, and so different from him it was laughable.

He could still vividly remember the day he’d found her. It had been the mating ceremony of her Alpha pair, and he had offered to perform the ceremony for them. He’d had an itchy feeling all day, a knowing that something important was going to happen. The second his gaze had landed on the beautiful redhead, he’d known what she was to him. The impact of the realization had been like a blow to the chest; possessiveness, joy, and need had hit him all at once. The pressing urge to claim her had climbed all over him, entered every pore of his body, and invaded every cell…and it hadn’t left him. He craved her so badly that she was all he thought about, all he dreamed about. He itched with the need to have her, touch her, smell her, or even just be around her. The need could steal his breath, taunt his mind, and make his body restless. Basically, it was hell.

But the main reason he forced himself to endure that hell and resist claiming this one thing he wanted more than anything else was that she could find herself being burdened with a patient instead of a partner. His mother’s words rung in his head: The healing sessions are working, Nick. Don’t forsake your mate out of fear. You’re strong; you can fight this.

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