The light turned green, and Kyle's Jaguar lurched as he accelerated. The first hiccup wasn't bad, but the second was worse. The car went from handling as smooth as glass to sputtering and jerking in the space of ten minutes. Kyle kept his eye out for a gas station, hopefully one with a service department instead of a mini-mart. His luck held, and he coasted to a stop near the water and air portion of a brightly lit Shell station.
It was barely 7:00 p.m. Kyle pulled his coat in tight against the late fall wind. Kennewick was already getting chilly, and the cold and the dark seeped into everything. He walked quickly toward the cement block building that had a faded "Service Department" sign on it, his steps faltering as he realized that they were shut down. Damn. What would he do now? His car wasn't going to move an inch without help. Hopefully, he could leave the car until morning, otherwise he'd have to call AAA.
The wind tugged at his scarf, and Kyle swung away from the service area toward the store section of the building. He'd ask about leaving his car and find out what time the service bay opened.
The bells on the doorway gave a sharp jingle as he entered, and the blast of warmth made Kyle perk up. He'd had a long meeting with a Jen McMaster and her soon-to-be ex, and he was exhausted. The husband was a complete prick, and every time they met, Kyle felt like he'd brushed up against something greasy.
He was also pretty sure that whatever was wrong with his car, it was probably McMaster's fault.
The guy at the counter gave him a sharp look, which caught Kyle's attention. He was good looking, though he could do with a haircut and some higher quality clothes. Like half of Kennewick, he was dressed in a flannel shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap. Kyle would bet money that he had on cowboy boots, too.
"When's the service bay open?" Kyle asked.
"It doesn't." The guy's drawl said he was from the south, probably Texas. "It closed about three years ago."
"Shit." AAA it was. He sighed heavily and took out his cell phone. He was not looking forward to this. He'd call Sheila, his assistant, and get her to find a garage.
"Car broke down?"
Kyle nodded. "Unfortunately, yes."
"That's a shame." The guy shook his head, hair brushing the back of his neck. That Texas drawl made Kyle's heart beat a little faster. He had a little bit of a thing for real cowboys, and the guy -- Warren, according to his nametag -- certainly fit the bill.
Warren looked like he'd noticed something special about Kyle -- Ping! Ping! Ping! the almost audible sound of gaydar going off, Kyle thought -- and let his gaze roam over Kyle's body. He obviously liked what he saw, and Kyle couldn't help preening a bit. He worked out and kept himself fit. He might not be the tallest guy in the room, but he was one of the better-looking ones.
He stepped in closer, leaning against the counter that separated them. "I'd call it something worse than a shame, I'd call it malicious mischief by a man old enough to know better." Kyle glanced back at his car and clenched his fists. He was going to make that bastard pay for it, as a rider to the settlement.
"Hate crime?" Warren's eyes flashed gold, and his voice dropped into a low growl.
Kyle felt all the hair on his arms stand on end as Warren brushed a hand over his forearm. The sudden intensity made him catch his breath, and he had to wave the suggestion away, his mouth too dry to speak. He got himself under control and cleared his throat a couple of times. "Just an asshole, upset over divorce proceedings. I'm a lawyer."
"Got it." Warren nodded, and the violent undertone eased, though Kyle's skin still tingled where Warren had touched him. He took a deep breath, then let out all the tension. Lord, that was a moment. He'd done scenes that were less intense than that.
"I know a good mechanic, Mercy Thompson. She does a good job and won't overcharge."
"Are you in the habit of rescuing damsels in distress, Mr. ...?" Kyle left an opening for the last name.
"Warren'll do." Warren gave a long, slow grin, and Kyle felt like fanning himself. That was definitely a come-along smile, the type that had seen Kyle slide into the back room a few times in his life.
He let his gaze travel down Warren's long, lean, muscular body, and quirked an eyebrow at him. "What time do you get off?"
"Let me get you Mercy's number." Warren grabbed a pen and a Post-it from the pad on the counter behind him.
Without thinking too hard about it, Kyle pulled out one of his cards and grabbed a ballpoint with a plastic daisy on top from the mason jar currently being used as a pen holder. He scribbled his cell number on the back, then handled the card over to Warren when Warren gave him the number for the mechanic.
"Tuesdays are good." He flashed a smile and headed back to his Jaguar, already dialing Mercy Thompson.
The first date went very well, in Kyle's opinion. They met for drinks at Ice Harbor Brewery, enjoyed some great beer, and shared a couple of appetizers. Then they had awesome, breathtaking sex that made him shiver all over -- he really needed to tell someone about it, the sex had been that good -- before Warren went back to his shift at the gas station.
Kyle sprawled out on his bed, too satiated to move, boneless and happy. Warren brought the same intensity Kyle had glimpsed at the gas station to his lovemaking, and Kyle felt the result in his arms, back, and ass. He gave a happy sigh. Warren was definitely a keeper.
After several months, Warren started asking Kyle to stay over, and from there, it wasn't long before Kyle asked Warren to move into his place, but Warren kept turning him down. It became a pattern in their conversation, and Kyle was starting to get frustrated with Warren's easy-going but negative response.
Kyle bumped into the nightstand as he crawled into bed and had to lunge to catch it before it fell. Not that falling and breaking would be that much of a tragedy, but Warren would hate it. "You know, if you moved in with me, we could both crawl into the bed without tipping anything over."
"Like I said, that ain't gonna happen. I like my place, it's close to my job. And your place is too huge for me to be comfortable. Everything is so.... There's a lot of space."
It was true, there was more space in Kyle's house -- along with a pool and a four-car garage, he had a gourmet kitchen and a bedroom big enough for a king-sized bed. What was a plus for Kyle didn't seem to be for Warren -- but they'd had this argument before, and Warren was unlikely to budge. Kyle looked at the closet, which held some of his shirts. He glanced at the bathroom, which held his toothbrush and hair gel -- and only his hair gel, since Warren wouldn't be caught dead putting product in his hair. Then he glanced at the floor, where the new hand-woven rug that he'd thought Warren would like covered the weird stain that seemed a permanent part of the floor.
His books were on the bookshelves, his underwear in the laundry. He'd brought over a better sauté pan than Warren had ever purchased, given how little he cooked. Kyle had matching leather furniture and antique sideboards, while Warren's stuff look like it had been purchased from a thrift shop. If Warren couldn't bend on this, then Kyle could.
"Fine. I'll move in with you," he said, and settled down under the covers. "I'm almost living here as it is."
"Uhmm, I like that." Warren leaned over him and smiled, his teeth glinting wolfishly. "Like the thought of you living in my lair." He nipped at Kyle's bare arm, his teeth barely brushing the skin as Kyle's heart sped up in response. Warren seemed so passive to the world at large, in both his job as a gas station attendant and in letting Kyle direct their relationship, but here in the bedroom, he let his dominant nature shine through. Kyle stretched out and relaxed into Warren's touch, giving him control and loving every moment of it.
Seattle during holiday time was a wonder to behold. Kyle made reservations for them at the downtown Sheraton so they could go see The Sound of Music at the 5th Avenue theater on Friday night, then spend the rest of the weekend sightseeing. The city was dressed to celebrate the season, and since they were downtown, there was a lot in walking distance like Pike Place Market and the waterfront, plus a lot of attractions just in the free ride area alone. Warren wistfully mentioned the monorail and the Space Needle, and so, even though it was expensive and the food wasn't that good, Kyle happily made them reservations for Saturday dinner at Sky City, the rotating restaurant at the top of the needle.
He hoped that when they got out of Kennewick, Warren would relax. He was jumping at shadows lately, and there were a lot of strange, middle-of-the-night phone calls that Warren took into the bathroom, closing the door behind him. Kyle was starting to wonder if Warren was messed up in the drug trade somehow, maybe running meth. It twisted his stomach to think about it; he loved Warren too much to want to lose him to something like that. He'd tried talking about it to Mercy once, since she'd known Warren longer. Her eyes had gotten huge, and she'd been very emphatic about it not being anything like that, but she also made it clear that it was Warren's story to tell.
Her reaction had convinced him that it wasn't drugs, but she did know what was going on. Maybe Warren had a lot of debt, and the calls were from bill collectors. If that was the case, there wasn't much Kyle could do. Warren wouldn't take anything more than a fair share of the rent, even though Kyle could certainly afford it.
When they sat down at the restaurant, Warren paled at the prices, but let it pass; he'd agreed to let Kyle pay for the trip as a six-month anniversary present. He ordered a steak and a beer, and Kyle smiled a little at the order. Warren never could let a good hunk of beef pass him by, the rarer the better. Kyle got the salmon for himself and the Dungeness crab cakes as an appetizer; Warren tacked on a cup of the clam chowder just for fun, and they split the tiramisu for desert.
They had their photos taken while they dined, Warren in his best cowboy hat, boots, and pearl-buttoned shirt, the one that brought out the color in his eyes, and Kyle in a black polka-dot button-down. They ate too much, laughed too much, and when they took the elevator back down to the landing, they got to watch the snow fall up around them.
The night was almost perfect, the moonlight spilling brightly over the city and glinting off the tiny scattering of snow around them. They decided to take the monorail back, as they were just ahead of closing time. Hand in hand, they climbed up the stairs and into the sleek car, and no one gave them a second glance. Kyle's heart beat a little faster as he looked out onto the buildings and streets of Seattle, Warren sliding up behind him and wrapping him in a big bear hug before kissing him gently on the back of his neck. He felt warm, comfortable, and safe -- along with incredibly horny. He couldn't wait to get back to their hotel and enjoy the bed.
The air was crisp as they exited the monorail landing and walked out onto the streets of Seattle. The snow that they'd seen falling up as they went down in the Space Needle elevator looked like dust around them; nothing too exciting for anyone in the tri-cities area. The other passengers scurried around them, heads bent, gloves pressed tight to their bodies, muttering about getting to the bus before the snow storm.
Warren laughed, and Kyle smiled back, their hands linked as the rest of the passengers left them behind, just the two of them walking through the dark valleys of skyscrapers and streetlights. Two and a half blocks of department stores shuttered against the night, waiting for the morning's string of customers desperate for those last-minute bargains.
They should have been safe. Kyle kept going over it in his mind later, trying to remember if he'd heard footsteps or shouted obscenities before the assholes slipped out of a parking garage after them, but all he could remember was Warren lifting his head, stock still, and exploding into action before the first cries of "get the faggots" even reached his ears.
As Warren stepped in front of him, Kyle saw that his eyes glowed slightly golden in the moonlight, and his lips were curled back in a snarl. He slammed the first guy hard in the stomach, while grabbing the baseball bat from the next. Kyle thought he heard something snap, and hoped it was the bat. Warren twisted and swayed faster than he'd ever seen anyone move before, hitting, punching, and kicking like a rodeo bronco. He was like a young Chuck Norris.
Kyle tore his cell phone out of his pocket to dial '9-1-1' just as the last attacker went down. Warren grabbed him before he could flip the phone open.
"Please," Warren begged, his eyes still glowing dimly yellow in the moonlight. "No cops."
"It's a hate crime," Kyle said flatly. "These homophobic assholes thought they'd beat up some fags for fun."
"They're drunk kids--" Warren said.
Kyle cut him off. He'd heard those kind of excuses before. "First off, I'm a lawyer. I'm obligated to report it. And second, I don't let scum like that walk."
"I can't-- I can't--" Warren's eyes no longer glowed as he took his hand away from the phone. "I can't get involved with the police." He sounded full of despair and looked around at the five attackers on the ground. Each of them was holding an arm or a leg, or had a hand over their gut. One guy had thrown up, and all of them looked pretty rough. "They're bruised, and I doubt they'll do something like that again." He squatted down in front of the first guy, and shook his shoulder. "If you or your buddies ever try anything like that again, I will find you. Got that?"
The guy nodded, whimpered, and puked.
"Good." Warren stood and looked pleadingly at him, but Kyle couldn't let it go.
"It's wrong, Warren. And they might try it with someone who can't fight back." He shook his head and swallowed. God, this night had gone so wrong. "Let me do the right thing."
Warren took a deep breath, closed his eyes, then turned and headed back to the hotel. His head was down, shoulders hunched in his plaid woolen jacket, boots kicking up the snow as he walked.
Kyle stared after him, then looked down at his cell phone. Dammit, he shouldn't be in this position. Warren should be standing beside him on this. "Fucker," he muttered as he stuffed the phone back in his pocket and hurried to catch up.
The month after was pretty bad as far as Kyle was concerned. Warren seemed to grow more distant and secretive. Kyle was getting to the point where he knew he couldn't live with the secrets any more, and Warren wouldn't say a thing about them.
Then some new guy named Samuel basically kicked Kyle out of Warren's house with no real explanation, and Warren let him. So when Mercy pulled him aside and asked him to take her for a drive, it all spilled out: the mysterious phone calls, the stonewalling, the secretive meetings in the middle of the night. He finally ran out of steam, and that's when she changed into a coyote, then dropped her bombshell: Warren was a werewolf. And he couldn't tell Kyle anything without disobeying a direct order, for which the punishment was brutal.
He was completely blown away, and didn't begin to know how to respond. The fact that werewolves might exist had never even entered his mind, let alone that his partner might be one. It added a whole new layer to being in the closet. He drove Mercy back to Warren's in stunned silence, and when Mercy told him to wait to talk to Warren, Kyle said he would -- at least until whatever they were dealing with was finished.
But then Warren joined in the hunt for Jesse Hauptman, the kidnapped daughter of the local werewolf Alpha, and pretty much dropped out of Kyle's life for a while. Kyle went back to his house, but it felt as big and empty as Warren said, and Kyle felt utterly alone.
Once she was safe, then Warren and he would talk. He had a few questions about Warren's pack and why they always came first.
The Spaghetti Junction was as nice a place as Warren could afford. Kyle knew it, because he knew how much the gas station paid him, and it wasn't a lot. He did better since Kyle had asked him to act as a process server on occasion, when it looked like the situation might get tough. Kyle knew it was a bribe and an apology, but by the time dinner ended, he was seething inside. He barely made it into Warren's house before he asked the question he couldn't mention in public.
"Mercy said that your pack would do something brutal to you if you told me you were a werewolf. I took that to mean that they threatened to kill you if you gave away secrets, like any other gang. Is that true?" Kyle kept his face bland, his hands in his pockets as the door swung shut behind him. Now was not the time to get emotional, or the discussion would end before it even got started.
"It's the Law of the Pack," Warren said, looking a little to the left of Kyle, his back stiff, arms folded tightly across his chest. "The rule is that the only person you can tell about it is your mate."
"Your mate?" Kyle stepped into Warren's personal space. He was a lawyer, and he knew how to intimidate when he chose. "We've been living together for over a year. Don't I qualify as your mate?"
Warren hesitated, then spoke carefully, his drawl evidence of the stress he was under. "You're my partner--"
"Isn't that the same thing?"
"Not to the pack." He cut a glance at Kyle. "The pack's part magic, part instinct. Part wolf instinct."
Oh, he was so not going there. "And that's what, biologically based? There are no gay animals, is that right? So no gay werewolves?" His voice turned frosty and cold as his anger built. "Don't you dare try and pull that crap with me, Warren. I get enough of that on the TV and radio, and I don't need you to tell me there is some mystical, magical power out there that dictates that only men and women can mate. I support gay marriage, and I thought you did, too."
"You don't get it. Bein' a wolf, it's not like you think. Most of the time, you have to hide, because if you don't, someone will try to kill you."
"Tell me about it. Didn't that happen to us just last Christmas?"
"The pack is the only way you can stay safe. You follow the rules, and the pack supports you. I can't explain it any other way."
Kyle shook his head. "It doesn't sound very different from anything else in the world."
Warren held up his hands, then dropped them again. "I've spent most of my life as a lone wolf, living outside of a pack. An occasional stringer if someone needed something. This is the first time I've felt like I belong, and I can't give that up."
"But you'll die if you break one of the pack rules."
"Texas is big on capital punishment, so I don't see the difference." Warren heeled off his boots, then looked intently at Kyle. "Adam is the first Alpha that would let me join as a full member of his pack, and he gave me a place. I'm third, and everyone has to respect that, in Adam's pack. It's the best--"
"The best you can hope for." Kyle said it as coolly as he could. His body was rigid with anger, and he kept himself firmly in check, just as he would in a courtroom. "You're gay, and you are so lucky to be allowed to hang on to whatever scraps they allow you to have."
Warren shook his head. "It's just the way it is! The pack has a hierarchy, and everyone follows in line. Get out of line, you get whacked."
Warren gaped at him. "Mercy is different. Adam claimed her as his mate before the whole pack. She's an exception."
"And I'm not." Kyle couldn't keep the bitterness from his voice. "I'm human, and I'm a man, so I can't be your mate."
Warren seemed to crumple in on himself. "Pretty much."
Same shit, different day. "So you lie to me, and you avoid me, and you don't tell me what's going on in an attempt to protect me from people in your pack who want to kill me, just like the assholes in Seattle. Doesn't sound like a wonderful organization to me." Kyle buttoned up his coat; he couldn't stay here. The lies were too thick, and Warren's misguided protection was going to suffocate him sooner or later. "I love you, but I can't live with your pack."
Warren didn't say anything when Kyle left.
Kyle didn't bother with moving his stuff out right away. He'd kept up payments on his own house, and he had far more stored there than he had at Warren's, so he moved back. Despite the gaping hole in his life, he was able to function: to eat, to sleep, and to work. He smiled at the appropriate times and made the appropriate jokes. If he was a little more vicious in going after settlements, well, that was good for both his clients and his reputation. Everyone said he looked well, but Kyle felt brittle and broken. He hated going home to his beautiful, empty house each night.
God, but he missed Warren.
Kyle was driving when his phone rang, so he hit the answer button on his headset. Mercy's voice came through clearly: "Warren's hurt. I don't know how badly, but Adam called in the troops."
His stomach clenched, and he felt the prickling of sweat along his brow. Somehow, he knew with rock certainty that it was bad, and that he had to get there fast. He demanded to know where Warren was, and Mercy helpfully told him that Warren was at Adam's house.
That meant that this fuck-up had to be pack business.
"I'll be there shortly," he said as he gunned the car and clicked off his phone. He didn't think, just headed straight there as fast as he could, and damn anyone that stood in his way. He didn't beat Mercy there, but he wasn't far behind her; she was still arguing with the guy blocking the doorway. If she hadn't grabbed his arm and dragged him into the house, he would have shoved the guard out of the way himself.
Damn this fucking pack for getting Warren into whatever shit had gone down.
He momentarily froze as he caught sight of Warren in the upstairs bedroom, but he knew how to set aside what he felt and deal with the current situation; he'd been a go-to guy for a lot of domestic violence cases over the course of his career, as well as a gay rights activist for most of his adult life. He'd seen people beaten up, cut up, and burned, but Warren looked worse than anything he'd ever seen.
He couldn't even piece together Warren's face; his body looked like so much stew meat lying on top of the bed. He slid onto the floor next to Warren and laid his fingers on the bit of arm that looked whole; there was a doctor at the foot of the bed patiently quilting Warren together with fine stitches. Kyle started talking about little league baseball to keep himself from screaming; he crawled up on to the bed to give CPR the moment he felt Warren's heart stop.
Samuel, the doctor who had been working on Warren, seemed to have dozed off at the foot of the bed. Warren-as-wolf lay with his head against Kyle. Honey, who had distracted the guard so that he and Mercy could enter, came in carrying a platter with some water and some sandwiches. She'd been in earlier, and Kyle remembered her crying, but he hadn't remembered the bruise on her face. His attention must have been all on Warren.
"You know, if you're married to the guy who hit you, I know a great divorce lawyer."
She set the tray down on the bedside table and leaned back against the headboard on the other side of wolf-Warren. "It's not what you think."
"In my line of work, I hear that a lot." He arched an eyebrow at her. "You don't have to hide anything from me."
"That's right, Warren said you were a divorce attorney." She gestured at the bruise on her face, which looked like it was fading as Kyle watched. "It's not like it is with humans. My mate would never do something like this. Now, someone with a higher place in the pack..." She let her voice drift off and sighed heavily. "I disobeyed an order, and they had a right to hit me. That's what wolves do."
"Doesn't that bother you?"
She shook her head, hair brushing the back of her neck. "Adam's pack is a good one. A little thing like this will heal in an hour." She hesitated. "I've been treated a lot worse."
"No one should treat another human being like that."
"That's sweet of you, Kyle, but I'm not human."
The thought rocked him, and he looked down at where Warren lay against him, at his hand threaded into the thick fur. "You still should be treated decently, no matter what."
"I am treated well, in pack terms." She tucked her feet around so her toes were pressed against Warren's fur; Kyle realized that Samuel had a hand on Warren as well, that all of them had a need to touch and reassure themselves that Warren was still alive. "I get to live comfortably with my husband, and no one tries to get between us. Adam sticks up for us, the pack protects us, and all we have to do is follow the rules. Adam even trained us all in hand-to-hand combat, which most Alphas wouldn't do. It's rare for a woman to survive the change, and those that do are often treated like property." She eased onto her back and stared up at the ceiling. "It's much better to live here."
It sounded very heartfelt.
"Couldn't you live on your own?"
"Wolves are pack animals, and the ones that live alone are a little...peculiar, I guess. Though some just go crazy. Wolves like structure and hierarchy. They like to know where they stand. My husband's a submissive, on the bottom of the pack, and so I'm always going to be on the bottom, as well. But he loves me, and he lets me know that every single day I'm alive, and I let him know how much I love him, too." She turned onto her side and propped herself up so she could look a little left of him, looking at him without meeting his eyes. "Werewolf lives are violent, Kyle. We're monsters. Those of us that can find love are the lucky ones."
Kyle couldn't say anything after that. She settled down next to Warren, and they lay like that for a while, all of them silent, breathing in sympathy with one another, until at last both Honey and Samuel slipped away. Kyle stayed in the bed, listening to Warren's breathing, and thought about what Honey had said.
Warren had to be caged once he recovered enough for the wolf to be awake and aware, since Warren was still too weak to control him. Darryl, Adam's second, had tried to order Warren back to bed when Kyle wanted to shower and shave, but Warren's wolf didn't want to obey. He bit at Darryl, and Kyle got nipped when he tried to get between them. Even though he insisted that Warren would never intentionally hurt him, that it had been an accident, Adam deemed it too big of a risk for Warren to stay free. Kyle moved into the basement, setting up a sleeping bag, an air mattress, and a laptop so he could stay close. He didn't plan on leaving Warren again. He had his assistant reschedule all his appointments; he was lucky enough not to have any court dates.
While he worked, he spent some time talking with the members of Warren's pack, becoming more comfortable with what they were. He still thought the whole pack thing backward and stupidly macho, but he also noticed how carefully they treated each other, and how gently they treated Adam's daughter. It wasn't exactly like he had thought when he had first learned about werewolves months ago, and as the days passed, he could see, just a little, why Warren might want to stay with a pack.
Of course, there were still some assholes like Paul who couldn't believe that a faggot deserved to rank higher than him. He made a few crude remarks about Kyle, as well, but Kyle couldn't be bothered to listen. He flipped the guy off on principle, and made a note to check into the guy's finances just for the hell of it.
The word was soft, yet it rumbled through Kyle's body. He shoved everything to the side and ran over to the cage. "Warren?" He leaned against the silver-infused cage bars and spotted his Warren near the back. He was in human form, naked and in need of a shave. Kyle drank in the sight, looking for any of Samuel's stitches.
There wasn't a single one that he could see in the dim electrical light. Warren's skin looked smooth and whole from where Kyle stood outside the cage, but he needed to get in there. He had an almost visceral need to touch every part of Warren and assure himself that Warren was alive.
"Hey," Warren said weakly as he rolled to his side. He tried to lever himself up, but Kyle could see his arms tremble with the effort. Warren lay back down, then pulled himself over close to the cage door, as close as he could get without touching the silver reinforced bars. He panted with the effort. "When did you get here?"
"Since they found you in the trash. I haven't left." Kyle slid down until he was leaning heavily against the cage and tried to thread his hand through, but there wasn't enough room. "Warren? I'm going to go get Samuel."
Warren finally looked up, and Kyle thought his heart would break at the pain and loneliness there. "I don't want you to go. I'm better as long as you're here."
Kyle had to swallow hard before he could speak, his eyes misty with tears. "I'm not going anywhere, sweetheart. I'll stay as long as you want." He pulled out his cell and called upstairs, and felt Warren's fingertips brush his own. "Warren's awake."
Samuel let Kyle sit next to Warren while he worked his way through about five pounds of raw steak and a gallon of water. Anytime the fork or glass was down, Warren had his arm wrapped around Kyle: around his shoulders, his hand on Kyle's thigh, clasping their hands together. Kyle didn't want to let go, either, the warmth of Warren's body reassuring in some way Kyle couldn't quite express. When Samuel finally gave the okay, and Warren was allowed out of the cage, Kyle fully expected to go back to Warren's house with him.
Instead, Paul was waiting for them the moment they got upstairs so Warren could dress.
"Formal challenge?" Warren's drawl was more pronounced than normal as he headed into the bedroom.
Paul nodded, scowling in Kyle's general direction. "Pack business, so your boy isn't allowed."
"Kyle is my partner," Warren snapped back. "So you better get used to holding your tongue around him. Don't worry, I'll be there."
Kyle ignored Paul as he followed Warren into the room. He could not believe what was happening. "You just got off your deathbed! You are shaky and thin and pale... You're no match for him like this."
"Don't matter. I'm still gonna kick his ass." Warren grinned, a shadow of his former bright smile.
Kyle ran his hand down Warren's arm. "I don't want you getting hurt again."
"Hey, listen. You can't protect me from this. It's a part of pack life. Everyone has to know who is stronger." He buttoned up the fly of his jeans and pulled on a black T-shirt. "Besides, you think I was deaf as well as near dead? I heard what he said to you when I was in the cage, and there's no way in hell I'm going to let a guy like that treat my mate worse than a dishrag--"
"Your mate?" Kyle felt like he'd just tripped while running. "You mean that? Your mate?"
"Oh, yeah." Warren leaned in and kissed him; Kyle found himself melting into the warmth of it. "You are my mate, and some day, I'm going to be allowed to stand up in front of the pack and claim you just like Adam claimed Mercy. But first, I gotta put this asshole in his place." He drew away slowly and squeezed Kyle's arm. "Get packed. I don't want to stay too long without you."
Kyle nodded back, feeling truly content for the first time since Warren had been injured. "We'll be ready to go the moment you get back."
"Good," Warren said. Then he ambled out of the bedroom and into a very short fight.
The fight for pack rights and marriage took longer than they wanted, but less time than Kyle had expected. Eventually they were able to stand in front of the Colombia Basin Pack and publicly acknowledge: "He's my mate." Warren even let Kyle pay for their honeymoon.