HALF LIFE

 

Chapter 1:

 

Ivy paced the length of her living room again; agitation, worry and anger beating furiously around her body, setting the blood in her veins on fire with every step. Angrily, she flipped her phone open again only to find that nothing had changed. Her brother, Colton, had not called her back, or returned her messages. She snapped the thing shut again, throwing it against the wall in frustration. Fragments of plastic flew around the room and she screamed out wordlessly.

 

She threw herself to the floor. ‘Why the hell aren’t you answering my calls, Colt?’ she shouted. Her twin would always answer when she rang even if he was in the middle of doing his new alpha’s bidding. When he’d left her the previous winter, she’d felt his absence like her heart had been torn out leaving just a ragged hole in her chest. The only way she got through each day was by talking to him on the phone, but she hadn’t heard from him in three days, and she felt her world beginning to unravel.

 

Breathe. Just breathe, she told herself. Her mind calmed for a minute only to come back to thoughts—dark thoughts that she didn’t want to contemplate. What if he was hurt, or had been captured? What if …? Ivy shook her head furiously. No! She would know if he’d been killed. She would have felt it. But she couldn’t escape the memory of the pain that sliced through her body a few days ago.

She’d brushed it off at the time putting it down to a simple muscle spasm, but desperation and doubt clawed at her skin now. What if that was the sign she was looking for. Stopping abruptly, she cracked her knuckles and thought. She couldn’t stay there.

 

She had to go and see him.

 

She had to know.

 

Ivy threw some clothes into a duffel bag and shoved it into the trunk of her car. Her boss at the law firm had already given her some time off, but she still couldn’t leave straight away. She had to get permission from her alpha first. Hitting ‘2’ on her speed dial, she held the phone to her ear while speeding down her street and taking the corner too quickly. Her tires squealed as she wrangled the car back under control again.

 

‘Ivy,’ Mathias said into her ear.

 

‘Alpha,’ she replied hesitantly. It is now or never. Do it for Colt. ‘I … I need to come and speak with you.’

 

‘I’m busy with work at the moment. Can you come around tonight?’ The power of his authority sent tingles down her neck.

‘No. It has to be now.’ Ivy blurted out. She sucked in a breath realizing her mistake. ‘Please,’ she added.

 

Soul-shredding silence answered her until finally he said, ‘Fine.’ Hanging up the phone, Ivy shifted gears and turned up the radio; the familiar streets and lights blurring into smudges through her windows as she made her way to her alpha’s house.

 

Mathias’s house was typical of the area they lived in—double-storey, redbrick, sash windows—but if you looked a little closer you would see the extra security measures put in place like the surveillance cameras and the security shutters that rolled down over the windows should any threat breach the electrified fences. On one of the pillars near the gate was a sign advertising Mathias’s legitimate human business of stock management.

 

Parking her car in front of the garage, she hopped out and hoofed it up to the front door. She didn’t even have to knock. Her beta would have been monitoring the place and known when she’d driven onto the street. She stood in front of the door, breath sawing in and out of her partially opened mouth, heart pounding unsteadily. Damn it! Where was her courage when she needed it?

The door opened then, the familiar frame of a childhood friend filling up the space. ‘Ulf,’ she said. This was the first time she had seen him in about a month.

 

‘Ivy,’ Ulf said, his lips lifting into an unsteady smile. ‘It’s good to see you again.’

 

‘I’m here to see Mathias,’ she replied, the not you hovering uncomfortably between them. She didn’t need to be this way with him, but she just didn’t know how to act around him now.

 

His expression was pinched, but he nodded. ‘Come in. You’ll have to wait. He’s having a conference call with a business associate at the moment.’

 

Ivy nodded and stepped over the threshold. The hallway was dimly lit, but warm. She turned around, slamming into Ulf’s wide body. Shaking, she took a step back from him. Like all betas, he had this unmistakeable power about him. But unlike most of the wolves in her pack, Ulf was short and stocky—built like a wrestler.

 

‘I’ve missed you, Vee,’ he said, reclaiming the step she’d taken. Her cheeks flamed remembering the last time she’d seen him. About the time Colton had left, he and Ivy had started spending more and more time together. It was innocent at first, but it didn’t stay that way for very long. He was in love with her, but she was not in love with him. And then a month ago, he’d asked her to be his mate.

 

Unwilling to ruin their friendship, she’d told him she’d think about it, but already knew the answer. She just wasn’t ready to settle down with anyone yet.

 

Ulf was staring at her—waiting for her to return the sentiment. His wolf’s rust-red eyes were peering through pale blue more often than not. ‘Have you thought about my offer?’ he asked, rubbing the back of his military-style haircut; his blond hair rasping against his calloused hands—hands that had touched her in a way no other male had touched her before.

 

No. ‘Yes.’

 

‘And?’ He took a step towards her. She could smell only him now; the familiar heady scent drugging her and dragging her under his spell. Why did he have to want more? Weren’t they okay the way they were?

 

She opened her eyes, unaware that they had slid shut in the first place. ‘I need some more time.’

 

He frowned at her. ‘If this is about getting approval, your brother gave it to me months ago.’

 

 Colton had? And he hadn’t told her? She shook her head, brushing the thought away. ‘It’s not about that.’

 

He took another half step towards her. Being the same height meant she was looking directly into his cornflower eyes. She could feel the heat beading off his body, bathing her with a strange combination of warmth and his own unique scent. She did love him—they’d been best friends since they were kids after all—but she wasn’t in love with him.

 

‘What’s it about then, Ivy?’ His fingertips grazed her cheekbone and her eyes slid shut again. Her heart was pounding too hard in her chest. Ulf would have been able to hear it, to taste her reaction to him. He had so much power. Female wolves were practically powerless against it. Their wolf wanting to find the strongest mate sucked sometimes.

 

‘Ivy?’ Mathias’s voice punched through the suffocating intoxication that was Ulf. She didn’t realize how close they’d gotten just then. Their thighs, hips and chests were touching intimately.

 

‘I have to go,’ she said, her voice coming out as a barely audible whisper. Sliding along the wall, she edged away from Ulf and slipped into her alpha’s office.

 

‘This better be important,’ Mathias growled, planting himself behind his desk. He had dual screens set up on one side of the all glass surface and another laptop on the other side.

 

‘It is.’ She stood by the door, waiting.

 

‘Sit down,’ Mathias told her, watching her carefully as she did. ‘What were you and Ulf discussing outside?’

 

She glanced up, but didn’t hold his gaze. ‘Nothing.’

 

He chuckled. ‘I could smell his lust. Trouble in paradise?’

 

Ivy could feel the blush crawl up her cheeks. She didn’t think anyone knew about them. But of course her alpha would know. He was like the great and powerful Oz. ‘He wants me to be his mate,’ she admitted, rubbing her palms on the top of her jean-clad thighs.

 

‘That’s quite an honor. Ulf doesn’t like many people, you know that.’

 

‘I know, but I’m not ready yet.’

 

Mathias’s chair creaked as he leaned forward. ‘You’re of breeding age, Ivy. You will have to take a mate soon.’

 

‘I know,’ she repeated. ‘But the reason I came today isn’t because of Ulf. It’s about Colton.’

 

‘Your brother? Why? What has he done now?’ he chuckled. Colt was always getting in trouble growing up. He liked to get into fights with other males knowing that Ulf would jump in and rescue him.

 

‘Nothing, Alpha. It’s just,’ she cracked her knuckles, ‘I haven’t heard from him in three days.’

 

‘Perhaps he’s on assignment for Antain,’ he suggested.

 

Ivy risked a glance in his direction. ‘He would have told me if he was. We talk every day.’

 

The chair creaked again. ‘What do you want me to do about it?’

 

This is it. ‘I need to go and see him to make sure he’s okay.’

 

Mathias was silent for a long time. Ivy began to wonder whether she was going to be punished for making that request. ‘I cannot let you leave pack land right now.’

 

Anger bubbled in her blood, but she tamped it down quickly. Mathias did not respond to anger very well. ‘Please. He’s my brother.’

‘I understand what you’re feeling, Ivy. I really do, but you cannot leave.’

 

‘But—’ Ivy met his eyes, hoping that he would see just how desperately she wanted to go.

 

‘But nothing!’ Her alpha’s eyes swam with the color of his wolf—emerald-green. ‘We’re not going to discuss this any further. You may go home now.’ Mathias’s attention went back to his computer screens. The European market would have just opened. Ivy sat there just staring at him, anger tearing ragged holes into her. She stood up, the movement drawing her alpha’s eyes away from the figures on the screen.

 

‘Thank you, Mathias.’ Ivy tried not to sound pissy and left the room, closing the door silently behind her. When she turned around, Ulf was waiting outside for her.

 

‘Ivy,’ he said softly. ‘Is everything okay? You look upset.’

 

‘I’m fine,’ she replied, squeezing her hands into tight fists. Ulf’s eyes flickered down to her hands before finding her face again.

 

‘You’re not okay. You can tell me what’s wrong.’

 

She sighed. ‘It’s nothing you can help me with. Don’t worry about it.’ The only person who could help her now was herself. ‘I’ll talk to you later, Ulf.’

 

His hand snagged her wrist as she reached for the door. ‘Can I at least get a kiss goodbye?’ he asked; his voice rough—needy. Did he somehow know what she was planning? Not wanting to raise his suspicions further, she leaned forward and kissed him chastely on the cheek. She turned to leave again, but he pulled her back; throwing her off balance and making her stumble into his broad chest. ‘Not good enough,’ he said in a husky voice that betrayed his lust.

 

Ulf’s mouth was meshed with hers half a second later. His tongue breached her lips and teeth, finding her tongue like a heat-seeking missile. She melted into him, his arm cradling her against his huge body. Angling his head, he deepened the kiss, his tongue searching, his teeth biting. Ivy groaned as his erection pushed up hard against her stomach. He held her closer, his arms constricting enough to cut off her ability to breathe.

 

After what seemed like an eternity, Ulf relinquished his prize and held Ivy steadily in front of him. Her head was swimming, eyes unfocused, knees weak.

 

‘Call me soon,’ he rumbled before walking her out to her car with his hand possessively placed on the small of her back. Once Ulf was back inside the house, Ivy leaned over the passenger seat and opened the glove box. She was sure she had … there. She pulled a map for the east coast out, tracing her finger along the interstates until she found the quickest route to Buxton. It would take her at least half a day of driving if she sped, but she would do it if it meant she could see Colton again.

 

 

 

© 2018 by Lauren Dawes