Two days after his eighteenth birthday, Trace Spencer Eliot raced toward home after collecting the mail. An envelope with the logo of the Naval Academy had the young man so happy he was having trouble holding it inside.
He'd received his acceptance letter months ago so this would be his intake information. He hurried toward the house anxious to share the news with his parents. The ground eating jog that had carried him from the main road dropped to a walk when he saw his Uncle Don standing on the porch next to several pieces of luggage. His father's pickup was missing.
"Uncle Don?" Confused blue eyes looked up at his uncle by blood and beta to his older brother's alpha of the Cimarron Strip pack of shifters that took wolf form.
"It's time, Trace." His uncle spoke softly.
"Time for what? Where's Mama and Daddy?"
"Your father took your mother for a drive."
"Left you to do his dirty work as usual." Trace's temper started a slow burn.
"Trace …" His uncle had moved down the steps reaching out to his nephew. "You knew it was going to happen. The arguments … The insubordination. It's only a matter of time before you'd want to assert your dominant status. That's why he didn't argue when you wanted to go to the Naval Academy."
"I'm leaving in a month anyway—why is he kicking me out now? It's not like I WANT to be alpha." Trace watched his uncle's expression closely.
His ability to read body language made him seem psychic.
Don Eliot felt his heart break for his nephew. Always the most open and loving of his brother's cubs, Trace had always battled with his father on the running of the pack, especially when it was something he felt deeply. He disagreed with the way his brother was handling this situation with his eldest child, but he had not been able to change his mind.
"Trace …" He reached out to comfort the younger man. "As you said it's only a month until you move east—there are worse places you could stay than the bachelor pack."
"No!" Trace stepped back as tears filled his eyes.
He'd heard horror stories about the bachelor packs. Sometimes older shifters not strong enough to win the battle for a pack practically enslaved younger males and females to keep them from challenging for a higher place in the pack or leaving. The alphas had tried to come together to put a stop to the practice, but there were still those that chose not to follow the tenets of the Council of Packs.
"If that is truly the type of situation they want to send their only son, then this pack can go right straight to hell." Trace growled as he jerked what looked like a set of dog tags off his neck, and threw them at his uncle's feet. "If this is what being a member of a pack is about then I'm done."
He stalked past the pack's beta, grabbed the luggage off the porch and threw it in the back of his pickup. Don was so shocked by his nephew's actions that the truck was halfway to the main road before he collected his thoughts and reached down to pick up the pendant that identified Trace as a member of the Cimarron Strip pack.
The boy had just made himself a Lobo.
Once settled in at the Academy, Trace kept to himself, did as he was told, tolerated the hazing all Plebes received, never once let on he was anything other than human.
His academic work and physical prowess got him noticed by instructors who always had an eye out for students that might be cut out for special training like SEALS and such.
Having no home to visit during school breaks, he stayed in Annapolis studying for upcoming classes, and roaming the streets of the historic city. One afternoon he was sitting at a café in The Market House, reading over a proposal from one of the SOCOM groups, when a scent tickled his nose. He lifted his head and scanned the café as though looking for his waitress. There.
A slim man with curly brown hair who appeared to be around thirtyish sat with a paper and cup of coffee. This was the first hint of any shifter in the vicinity of the Academy since he'd arrived. He'd been surprised when he'd searched the entire grounds and found no sign or scent of any other shifter. The military was the perfect place for them to live within a pack structure without the humans being the wiser.
The breeze gusted, sending more of the stranger's scent. Trace breathed deeply. There was something tantalizing about the stranger that called to the dominant that he'd ruthlessly squashed to get through his schooling without black marks on his record for insubordination and conduct unbecoming.
Pale eyes narrowed—right there—he concentrated—he just had to talk to this man, and find out who he was and if he belonged to anyone—for once the wolf would not be silenced. Closing the file, he paid the waitress then casually circled around until the wind carried his scent to the older man. A bench under an ancient oak was the perfect place for him to wait. Re-opening the file, he read as he watched.
A few minutes later the paper was laid down and the man casually surveyed the square. Trace kept his head down as keen ears heard the chair scrape back and footsteps approach.
"Excuse me, but I …" Words trailed off when Trace looked up and two sets of blue eyes locked.
Everything fell away as two members of the Old Race recognized each other, and though he was older, he bowed his head and bared his throat in recognition of a dominant. With a nod of acceptance at the gesture, Trace held out his hand.
"Trace Eliot." He used the grip from their handshake to pull the other man down on the bench.
"New to Annapolis?"
"As a matter of fact … But how did you know?"
"I make it a point to know who's in town." Trace answered casually. "Staying long?"
"Just the weekend. I'm doing research, and auditing a few classes at St. Mary's University in Baltimore."
"Let's walk." Trace tucked his file away, and led them toward the nearest park.
By Midsummer, Trace knew Nathan was The One. This man was to be his beta …His … Everything. The days that followed was the first time he'd shifted since leaving Oklahoma. He and Nathan spent weekends roaming different state forests in wolf form.
Snuggled in a nest of covers in front of the fire, Trace let the sound of the rain lull his senses as his fingers combed through Nathan's sweat dampened curls. They had played in the rain like cubs before tumbling through the door, and into a bout of lovemaking that had him thankful the owners had outfitted the cabin with log furniture. Feeling sated and relaxed—the intimacy of the moment allowed him to speak his heart.
"Stay." He said softly.
"Hmmm?" Nathan mumbled from where his head lay on Trace's chest.
"Stay … As my mate … My beta … We'll start a pack …" His words fell away when Nathan jerked upright.
"What!" Nathan blinked to clear the lethargy from his mind. "No! I can't. This was just supposed to be a summer fling while I was away from Boston. Everything's …" He stood and started pulling on his clothes.
"Everything's what?" Trace growled as he stood from the place where he'd just offered everything he was to this man.
Nathan's eyes widen as Trace … No … The Alpha stood naked, beautiful and projecting an icy rage at his rejection. The scholar in him marveled at the magnificent creature in front of him. The submissive in him bowed his head. He had thought he could have this summer of freedom before he got married. He loved Maggie Collins with all he was, but Trace filled that one spot that as a human she could never seem to reach.
Blue eyes narrowed. Trace never wore anything to identify his pack. His speech and mannerisms put his origins somewhere in the southwest. As a student of both human and shifter history, Nathan knew all the packs and their current leaders. Trace had the intelligence and force of personality to usurp any alpha. The aging members of the pack would be shuffled into advisory roles if a young shifter were to take over leadership. His brain shuffled quickly through the names of the current alphas. Eliot … Eliot … Darius Eliot was the leader of the Cimarron Strip pack, but why wasn't Trace with the bachelor pack instead of here?
He must have said this last thought out loud because there was a snort of disgust from Trace.
"Things might be all rosy and perfect in the big civilized city of Boston for bachelor packs." The young man sneered. "In other places it's like being enslaved. They've become roving bands of thieves, thugs and whores. This is what MY leader—MY father wanted for me because he couldn't wait until I left for school."
"You're a Lobo." Nathan's tone was aghast at the thought of living outside the pack.
"You say that like it's a bad thing." Trace turned to get dressed.
Throwing on his jacket and grabbing his bag, he turned back to Nathan one last time.
"Your wedding? To your HUMAN fiancée? Don't plan on cubs … If by some miracle she gets pregnant and carries to term, the child may live until puberty, but if they do they will always be trying the shift—always a fight going on inside their own bodies until it kills them."
The sound of the antique pickup's throaty engine jerked Nathan from the shocked paralysis that gripped him at Trace's cold angry words—they couldn't be true. He ran to the door to ask Trace how he knew things about shifters that he didn't, but he was gone.
Nathan looked at the names on the folders Dubenich handed him. 'Alec Hardison', 'Eliot Spencer', 'Parker'.
"You got Parker?"
"Is there someone better?"
"No, but … She's insane. These people are all loners. They don't play well with others."
"That's why I need you." Dubenich's smile was sly.
Back in his hotel room, he read through the files drinking his dinner from the mini-bar. By the time he got to Eliot Spencer he was bleary eyed, his brain sluggish. There was something familiar about the retrieval specialist, but his alcohol soaked brain wouldn't pull the information forward. He'd had glimpses of Spencer's work during his time at IYS, but there had never been the slightest bit evidence to prove he'd done the deed, only rumors and innuendo. From what he could tell, Eliot Spencer didn't show up on any radar until 2005 when he was touted as the man for any job, no matter how difficult. If you could pay his exorbitant fee, Spencer would do the job.
Eliot Spencer stood looking down at the man passed out on the bed in yesterday's clothes. He reeked of scotch and body odor. Shaking his head at the wasted life before him, he breathed deeply scenting all the things Nathan Ford had become. That day in the cabin had been one of transformation for both men.
Though his name wouldn't change for several years, Trace Eliot died that day. All he had become was because of Nathan Ford's rejection. Yes, he made his own choices but Nathan shredding his heart and soul that day had a starring role in many of those decisions.
He was feared in human and shifter circles alike. He was the boogey man that parents used to keep their cubs in line. He was the ghost that could get you any time any place. He was the reason there were no longer such things as bachelor packs.
Now they'd come full circle. They would never again have what they'd had that summer. Their scars ran too deep, but they could have something stronger. Parker and Hardison were already his. He'd led them to him with tantalizing trinkets and baubles. Here in this time and this place 'his' pack would begin to come together. It was time for the Lobo to come in from the cold.
~ Fini ~