Fated Surrender by Alanea Alder

  Oh yeah I’ll have to check on the others later. Who wouldn’t be fucked up over that?

  “I wish you had said something earlier. I hate to think you have been suffering because I wasn’t paying close enough attention.” Connor sat back, disgusted with himself.

  Aleks snorted. “It’s not like you were just sitting around, Connor. You were racing around town talking to everyone months after the virus was cured, making sure everyone was okay. I don’t think I would have opened up earlier than this anyway. I would have been too ashamed to admit what I had been dreaming. The nightmares are what made me realize that maybe I needed some help. Why did you come here anyway?” Aleks asked, eyeing his brother.

  Connor pointed to the bag and smiled.

  “Ma,” he said simply. Aleks smiled back and nodded.

  “I can’t believe I’m a grown man with a baby on the way and she can still read me like a book.” Aleks reached for the bag and brightened when he saw the biscuits and honey.

  “I don’t think that will ever change,” Connor said, grabbing a biscuit and coating it in the amber goodness.

  “You’re probably right.”

  “You good?”

  “Talking about it helped more than I thought it would. I thought if anyone found out they would hate me. But you’re right, what we were experiencing then cannot be compared to today. Thanks, Connor. You always know the right thing to say.” Aleks threw a packet of honey at Connor who caught it, smiling.

  “That’s my job,” Connor reminded him gently.

  Aleks stared at him blankly for a moment and then threw his head back laughing. “I keep forgetting about your degrees. It just seems like you are easy to talk to and everyone feels better after talking to you.” Aleks grabbed another biscuit. Connor shrugged.

  “A diner barstool works just as well as a couch in a stuffy office. Besides, we’re shifters. We don’t exactly like admitting weaknesses do we?” Connor asked and raised an eyebrow at Aleks, who looked a little shamefaced.

  “I bet you’ve been pulling away from Rebecca, too, leaving her wondering if you still love her. I’m surprised she hasn’t cooked up some half-baked scheme already.” Connor grinned down at his biscuit. His head flew up to his brother as the man stood so suddenly that his chair tipped over backward.

  “Oh God! When I left the house she was on the phone with Rian. I have to get back home before they pull some crazy-ass stunt. Later, Connor, and thanks.” Aleks left the station at a run. Chuckling to himself, Connor ate the last biscuit and threw the bag away. Feeling proud of his work so far this morning, he tucked his hands into his pockets and headed back to the diner.

  When he got to the corner of High and Market Streets, he noticed that Marcus Evans had Johnny Lawson pinned to the side of the theater. He growled under his breath and picked up his pace until he was close enough to hear what was being said.

  “You need to quit playing hard to get. Just go out with me already.” Marcus gripped Johnny’s arm tightly. The small man’s face was full of anger.

  “Get the fuck off me, you psycho! The reason no one in town will date you is because you are a douchebag. Quit being lazy and look for someone outside of Arkadia, because I can almost guarantee that no one in town wants your pathetic ass. Just remember no means no or you’ll find yourself locked up in a human jail,” Johnny said, struggling to free his arm.

  Marcus hissed at him. “You little shit.” He pulled his arm back to punch Johnny, who raised his other arm up to protect his face. Connor stepped forward and grabbed Marcus’s fist before it could connect.

  “I know you weren’t about to assault Johnny. That would not be advisable,” Connor said, squeezing Marcus’s fist until he heard several bones snap. Marcus howled in pain and turned his rage-filled face to Connor.

  “Go flip some burgers and mind your own business. You’re just a short-order cook.” Marcus spat at Connor’s feet.

  Grinning, Connor tightened his grip and several more bones cracked.

  “Short-order cook or janitor. My last name is Arkadion. I was born and raised to defend Arkadia and her people. So no matter what, I will always outrank you, even if all I’m doing is flipping burgers. Now head home like a good kitty, and as you’re letting that hand of yours heal you really might want to rethink if Arkadia is still the right place for you to live.” Connor released Marcus’s hand.

  Cursing under his breath, Marcus cradled his broken hand to his chest and hurried away.

  Connor turned to Johnny. “You okay?” he asked. Marcus

  “Thanks for the help. That guy has been getting worse lately, especially after he was humiliated by Prince Gabriel when he chased him away from Ashby. I think he feels like he has to prove he’s a big strong man or something. Too bad he’s just coming across as an asshole.” Johnny rubbed his arm.

  “Let’s get out of this weather, he said and nodded.

  “Good idea. I was on my way there when the jerk-off waylaid me,” Johnny said, falling in step with Connor.

  When they walked through the diner’s doors, Connor could smell that Ma had started the bread rising for lunch. Before he knew it breakfast was over and they were in the middle of the lunchtime rush. He was serving up another bowl of his award-winning chili when Kate, Caleb, and Bran walked in.

  “Caleb, hey man, glad you’re here. Can you give me a hand in the back real quick?” Connor asked, wiping his hands on a dish towel.

  “Sure thing, be right there.” Caleb dropped a kiss on Kate’s head and walked with Connor to the back of the diner. Connor opened up the door to the large walk-in freezer and both men walked inside. Connor shut the door and turned to Caleb.

  “What are we grabbing?” Caleb asked.

  “I lied actually. I just wanted to get you back here where Kate and Bran couldn’t hear us,” Connor said.

  Caleb tensed. “This can’t be good,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest.

  “Just checking on you, man. Someone recently told me what kind of decisions you all were making when you didn’t think there was a cure to that virus. I just wanted to make sure you were okay.” Connor watched Caleb’s face carefully. The man’s brows snapped together.

  “That’s none of your damn business,” Caleb spat out. Connor sighed.

  “Do you really think I got your hairy ass back here to be nosy? I know if it had been my mate dying from that virus, the kind of choices you all were facing would have fucked me up for a while,” Connor said honestly. Connor could tell the second the fight went out of Caleb, as the larger man’s frame relaxed and almost began to collapse in on itself.

  “He was going to leave me. My Alpha was going to leave me to face their deaths alone and raise the twins. I would have lost them both.” Caleb turned to face the back of the freezer.

  Shit, it’s worse than I thought.

  “Have you talked to Bran about this?” Connor asked. Caleb shook his head.

  “No, after Kate recovered, it was like nothing had ever been wrong. I didn’t want to mess that up for him.”

  “So he put on a smiling face and acted like everything was okay?”

  “I guess.”

  “Kinda like what you’ve been doing?” Connor suggested and Caleb turned back to face him.

  “Do you really think it’s bothering him, too?” Caleb asked. Connor nodded.

  “Look, I’m not trying to get in your business. But I really think you need to talk this out with Bran. If you need a friendly ear, call me. We’ll take up ice fishing or some shit. Just the two of us,” Connor offered.

  “You know, I may take you up on that. It’d be nice to be able to talk to someone about this. Normally I’d go to Kate, but I don’t want to upset her this late into her pregnancy.”

  “Come on. Grab a couple cases of soda and we’ll head back to the front. Just remember, Bran is probably just as twisted around the axel about what happened as you are,” Connor said, lifting a couple cases of soda easily. Caleb nodded and grabbed a few more.

  “You’re right. I probably should have said something sooner.”

  “Sometimes it’s harder to see when you’re in the middle of everything. It’s why friends are important. We usually have a clearer view from the outside.” Caleb bumped shoulders with Connor.

  “Ice fishing?” he asked, laughing as they walked out of the freezer.

  “Yeah. Fuck that. I’d freeze my ass off,” Connor said, laughing. Caleb chuckled and helped him to stack the soda next to the cooler in the diner.

  “No doubt.”

  “What’s so funny?” Kate asked, her smiling face glowing with her pregnancy.

  “Connor wants to take up ice fishing,” Caleb said, winking at Connor.

  “Good. For a second I thought you were moving in on my man,” Kate said, scrunching her nose up at Connor, who laughed.

  “He is a sexy devil.”

  “No way. If Connor ever switched teams, he promised me first at bat,” Rian yelled from two tables over where he sat eating lunch with Damian. Connor nodded.

  “It’s true. I told him if I ever started to like boys that we would go out.”

  “Seriously? How old were you?” Kate asked, laughing.

  “Shit. Rian, we were in what? Ninth grade?” Connor asked. “Yup, it was about that time that I really started to love gym class.” Rian wagged his eyebrows.

  “Didn’t the other guys mind?” Kate asked.

  Bran and Connor shook their heads. “Rian and Damian were too likeable to really get mad at. They were never really pervy about it and were never aggressive about coming on to other guys. It just became normal to have Rian catcalling in the locker room or slapping us on the ass. The one that used to bother me was Harvey Miller,” Bran said, shuddering.

  “Who was Harvey Miller?” Kate asked, completely riveted by Bran’s reaction.

  “Harvey Miller was this sicko from high school. He had to repeat like three grades so he was older and much bigger than most of us. He would get all weird in the locker room, like breathing heavy and staring at us while we were changing kinda weird. He was constantly cornering Rian and Damian in the shower stalls. In my senior year I caught him when he had Gavin shoved against the lockers trying to get his hand down his pants. The next day he had a little accident with some cement and his family decided to move out of Arkadia,” Connor said, shooting a glance to his ma and pa to see if they were listening. Ma turned to face him.

  “I knew you boys had something to do with that! I just never knew why. Good!” she said, wiping down the counters. Pa just smiled into his coffee.

  “Cement? No wonder Rebecca fits into your family so well. Tell!” Kate demanded. Connor looked over to Ma, who waved him on. Shrugging, he continued his story.

  “After I beat the ever-loving shit out of Harvey, I calmed Gavin down and sent him back to class. I stuffed Harvey into a locker and locked it. Then I interrupted Mr. McMillan’s World History class to pick up Emmett and Duncan, telling Mr. McMillian that I needed my brothers to deal with some family business. We got Harvey out of the locker and dragged him by the ankle down the stairs, through the back field, and to a briar patch to the edge of the perimeter. Duncan stole a cement mixer, we added some quick-set cement, and we had ole Harvey sit in a box and we filled it with cement up to his neck. By the time he came around the cement had hardened nicely. We told him if he ever so much as made another person uncomfortable, the next time he would be on the outside of the perimeter and we wouldn’t stop at his neck. His dad had to shift to track him down. The next day they were moving.” Connor shook his head at the memory and looked over to Kate.

  “Kids can be crazy huh. So you’re having two, right?” he asked wickedly. Her eyes widened and her hand went to her belly. Ma laughed.

  “Connor, be nice,” she admonished.

  “Harvey should have known better than to mess with my friends and my little brother,” Connor said reasonably.

  “Man I haven’t heard that time in years. Is that asshole dead yet?” Gavin asked, walking in.

  “No clue. What’s up, littlest bro?” Connor asked.

  “Hungry,” Gavin said shortly and sat at the counter next to Pa.

  “Hungry, man-food hungry? Or need-to-pick-at-my-food-while-I-think hungry?” Connor asked. Gavin thought about it for a second before answering.

  “Man-food hungry, though I reserve the right to pick at dessert.”

  “Okay one pot roast meal coming up,” Connor said, making up a plate.

  “What has you picking at your dessert, baby boy?” Ma asked.

  “Magic,” Gavin snarled. Everyone turned to look at Gavin.

  “What about it?” Caleb asked.

  “It doesn’t make sense. It’s never consistent or measureable. It varies from user to user. It defies all documented forms of science. Actually, can I get that to go, Connor? I want to head back to my studies,” Gavin said, sounding frustrated.

  “Sure thing.” Connor easily transferred the food from the plate to a to-go box and added a large slice of pie.

  “Thanks.” Gavin picked up the bag and, muttering to himself, walked out of the diner.

  “I know that Rebecca has been going nuts trying to understand how it all works, too,” Kate admitted.

  “Lord help us all if she starts dabbling in magic,” Connor said out loud. Nearly everyone in the diner swallowed hard.

  “Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch,” Rian said, crossing himself.

  “Since when are you Catholic, Rian?” Damian asked. Rian looked at his friend, surprised.

  “I’m not, but sometimes you need all the help you can get,” Rian said, unfazed. Connor couldn’t help laughing.

  “Yup, Rian, if I were to ever switch teams, you’re my first stop.” He grinned at Rian, who blew him kisses.

  “Hey, family,” Emmett said, walking in the diner.

  “Hey, Em,” Connor said, bumping fists with his brother.

  “It’s slow at the hardware store, so I left Duncan there to close up and decided to come here to help out with the dinner rush.” Emmett hung up his coat and walked behind the counter.

  “Good. Connor, why don’t you head home early. You’ve been here since before dawn prepping for breakfast. You should relax and turn in early. Get some sleep,” Ma said.

  “Subtle, Ma. Real subtle,” Connor said, kissing her cheek.

  “I don’t have to be subtle. Now go home and rest. And don’t show up back here till after breakfast that’s an order,” she said, kissing him on both cheeks.

  “Yes, Ma.” Emmett looked at him, a worried expression on his face.

  “You okay?” he asked.

  Connor nodded. “I stayed up late watching monster movies on Syfy this weekend. Threw my entire sleep schedule off,” he said, grabbing his coat.

  “Right. I’d believe that except I know that you don’t have cable since I tried to watch football at your house last weekend. So try again,” Emmett said, crossing his arms over his chest.

  “Really. I’m cool. Just need to get some more sleep, that’s all,” Connor said quietly.

  “Then carry your ass home and get some sleep,” Emmett said, pushing him toward the door.

  “Roger that. Bye, everyone.” Connor waved and headed to his truck.

  * * * *

  The drive home was quick. He showered to get the grease from breakfast off and then settled on the couch to watch some television. He made it all the way past Jeopardy before he found himself sitting at his computer. Sighing, he logged in and checked his email.

  “Motherfucking son of a bitch!” he yelled out loud and clicked on the email with the subject line.

  He got two more.

  Pulling up the email with the attachments, he got comfortable and began reviewing the information sent to him.

  When he looked up from his research he saw that the sun had come up and he had yet to get any sleep. He replied to the email with his notes and advised them to contact him again if there were any new developments. Sighing, he picked
up his phone and called his ma.

  “Ma, I’m sorry but I won’t be in today. I’m just now heading to bed,” he confessed.

  “Do I need to come up there? Are you okay?” she asked worriedly.

  “I’m fine, Ma. Just got caught up in some work. I’m going to bed now. I’ll be in tomorrow for sure.”

  “We’re going to have a long talk when you come in, Connor,” she warned.

  “Yes ma’am. Love you, Ma,” he replied.

  “I love you, too, baby boy. Now eat something and go to bed.”

  “I will. Bye, Ma.” Connor ended the call and stared at his phone. He had lied. He knew that he wouldn’t be getting any sleep anytime soon with the images from that email in his head. He didn’t feel like eating either. Feeling completely out of sorts, he decided to go for a jog.

  * * * *

  He was jogging up the driveway when he saw a car parked out front. Shaking his head, he slowed down and walked through the front door. As the door closed behind him, he was greeted by a familiar voice.

  “So your mother tells me that you aren’t sleeping. Get in here so I can check your vitals,” Doc Claybourne said from the den.

  “My mother doesn’t really respect her children’s privacy,” Connor said, heading to his bedroom.

  “This will be easier if you cooperate,” Doc yelled.

  “Just washing up, Doc. I just finished a ten mile jog, I’m funky,” Connor yelled back.

  “By all means,” Doc shouted. Grinning, Connor washed up and pulled on his comfortable sweats.

  “Okay, Doc, poke and prod to your heart’s content,” he said, collapsing into his recliner.

  “Get on the scale.” Doc pointed to the floor.

  Connor pulled himself out of his chair and stepped on the scale. He was surprised at the number.

  “Connor, did you know you’ve lost nearly fifteen pounds since your last checkup three months ago?” Doc asked. “I didn’t realize I had lost so much weight,” he admitted.

  “You’re working another case aren’t you?” Doc asked.

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