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When Lightning Strikes

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Jared’s been waiting his whole life for his mate.

There have been periods of time, especially as he got older, when it was all he could think about. Wondering who it would be: male or female, were or human, short, tall, blonde, brunette, geeky, hip, bold, shy… the list was endless.

But no matter what they looked like, their background or job, Jared would love them. The one person that was made solely for him. His mate.

Jared knew some members of the pack were getting nervous at Jared not finding his mate yet. It was uncommon for a mate to be born outside the pack, so werewolves usually mated young, around 18 to 22 years of age.

As the years passed, he grew more and more restless, watching as all his friends mated and the older ones that reached werewolf maturity (generally around 30), started families of their own. He wanted what they had, what his dad and mom had.

When his twenty-seventh birthday came and went and still no mate, he tried to curb his worries as best he could. He knew his mate was out there. Thought maybe he would have found them by now if Dad didn’t have such a tight leash on him. His dad was the alpha, all his decisions were final and while he had let one of Jared’s friends, Chad, leave Lukos a few months back on a mating quest, he had forbidden Jared from doing the same.

Which meant that Jared’s mate had to come to him.

Problem was, patience was never Jared’s strong suit.

But maybe, just maybe, his wait was finally over.

~ ~ ~ ~

There was a picture over the fireplace, the only one of his mom that Dad kept in the house after her death. It’s of their bonding ceremony, much like a wedding for humans, only much more sacred. An announcement to the world and to the Gods of your commitment and love, signaling the completion of the courtship with a bonding of the two souls.

A mated pair.

It’s the day every werewolf longs for.

“Looking at that picture again, Jay?” He heard Sam ask behind him and turned around.

“They look really happy,” he said to the woman who had practically raised him.

“They were. The whole pack was. It’s not everyday the alpha chooses a mate.”

Jared looked back at the photograph, the almost secret smiles on his parents faces, the gentle way his dad was looking at a woman Jared never knew, eyes filled with so much tenderness and devotion. Eyes that Jared had never seen his father have.

He felt Sam place her hand on his shoulder, give a small squeeze. “I heard you and the alpha yelling earlier. I know you want more freedom but you and Jeff are all he has left. I know he comes off as cold sometimes, but he’s doing the best he can. When your mama—” She sighed deeply. “You have to understand, he loved her with all his heart, and when she died, it was like she took that with her.”

Jared shrugged off her hand. “I know.”

Sam stepped in front of him. “No, you don’t. Until you mate, you have no idea. And to have your mate so cruelly taken away, to stand over their dead body? It’s not something I would wish on my worst enemy.”

He’s heard it all before. “That’s why most werewolves die shortly after their mate does. I know.”

“I don’t think you really do, Jared. It’s like your will to live is broken. And your dad, he’s strong, the Padalecki line is one of the strongest and purest in the world. He had two small children, so he did what so few can. He survived.”

But as Jared glanced at the picture, he couldn’t help wondering just how much of his father had actually survived his mother’s death.

“Why does he keep it here, why not just box it up with the others?”

“That’s something you’ll have to ask him. Now, what is this I hear about you wanting to go out tonight?”

Jared sighed, shoulders sagging at the reminder. “You heard the argument. I’m not allowed to go out. I don’t understand, Sam! I’m a grown man, dammit! Why can’t I leave town as I like?”

“If you’re so grown-up, then why are you pouting?”

“Am not,” Jared said, bottom lip sticking out even more.

Sam’s mouth tugged up. “You remind me a lot of your mama, you know that? Her father was also extremely protective, wouldn’t let her have a moment alone with any suitors, least of all your dad.”

Jared widened his eyes; he’d never heard that. “How did she and Dad ever mate then?”

“Your mama had her ways. Once her heart was made up on something, nothing, least of all self-preservation or common sense, would get in her way.”

Eyebrows furrowed, Jared said, “I don’t understand.”

“Did they teach you nothing in school, boy? What do you know about our history with the Montana pack?”

He blinked, surprised at the question and tried to remember his lessons from the lone school in Lukos. “About sixty years ago, we were both the biggest packs in North America. The alpha of the Montana pack, him and granddad didn’t get along.”

Sam snorted. “That’s putting it mildly. They hated each other’s guts. Their pack invaded, killing your grandfather and a good number of our pack before going for your dad next.”

“But Dad stopped them, killing their alpha instead.”

Sam was shaking her head before Jared finished speaking. “That’s where you have it wrong, Jared. Your dad was outnumbered, three weres had him surrounded, and he was miles away from the rest of the pack. He would have been killed if your mama hadn’t shown up.”

“What was she doing there?”

“Neither ever did say, but I have a feeling your parents would meet up from time to time, whenever she could sneak away.”

Jared wasn’t sure what to make of that. He had always assumed his parents courtship had been an easy one. Most were, it was a joyous time for not only the pair but their families as well. Surely her father couldn’t have hated Jared’s dad enough to deny their mating? To refuse a child’s mate was nearly unheard of. So, why would his mom need to sneak away?

It seemed like there was a lot of things about his mother he didn’t know. “Some of the pack… they say she was a great fighter.”

“She was. It was her that killed Montana’s alpha. She may have been as gentle as a lamb, but make no mistake, if you threatened someone she loved, she’d rip your throat out.”

He swallowed, it was hard to imagine the sweet and dainty looking woman in the picture, cheeks a pretty rose color and soft cornflower eyes, was capable of murder.

“Why do you want to leave town tonight, Jared?” Sam asked.

He shifted uneasily. “Just wanted to head into Denver, see what the nightlife was all about.”

“You’ve been acting weird since you came home from work today, hell, since last Thursday. And your wolf seemed very restless during the full moon. Did something happen?”

Jared couldn’t quite meet Sam’s eyes. “No. Same old, same old. Just want a night out, is all. Didn’t think it would set Dad off.”

Sam hummed, studying Jared. “You’d tell me if you met someone, wouldn’t you?”

“What? Yes! Of course,” he said, trying quickly to mask any expression. “If I did find my mate, you’ll be the first to know.”

She appeared not entirely convinced but eventually nodded. “Okay.”

“But, uh.” Jared rubbed the back of his neck. “If I did meet them, how would I know for sure?”

Sam smiled, a glint in her eyes. “It’s different for everyone. It could be a look, a smell. The sound of a voice. But once you meet your mate, it’s like lightning striking your heart. You’re drawn to them, feel a pull like an unstoppable force to be with them, can’t get them out of your head. And once the courtship is complete, there will be no doubt in your mind they are your mate.”

“Oh… well, nothing like that has happened.” He bit his lip, glancing at the floor. “Guess I’ll just spend the night in my room or something.”

“Good idea. And you know what?” she asked, already walking out of the living room. “I suddenly have a hankering for venison. There’s a restaurant a couple towns over that has the best venison stew I ever ate. I think I’ll make your dad take me tonight.”

She paused at the doorway, turning partway to glance at Jared. “I’d bring you back some but I suppose you’ll be sleeping by then?”

“Yup! I’m feeling really tired, probably turn in early.” He stretched and yawned wide.

“I’ll make sure you aren’t disturbed then. See you in the morning.”

Jared watched as Sam left, then grinned from ear to ear.

~ ~ ~ ~

He only managed to wait five minutes after hearing Dad’s truck leave before grabbing a bag filled with the supplies he needed and crawling out his bedroom window.

He couldn’t run as fast as when he was in wolf form, but he could still outrun a human easily. The eight mile trek hardly caused a sweat to break out.

The cabin he came to was built over a hundred years ago by his mom’s father. It was rare for a werewolf to live alone and no one had ever told Jared why his granddad had done so. He supposed it didn’t really matter anymore, the place had been abandoned for over thirty years. He wasn’t sure how many of the pack even remembered its existence.

After shouldering the door open, his lungs and nose were immediately assaulted by the musty, stale air and he coughed violently, quickly opening both windows to let the place air out. Then he got to work, cleaning and scrubbing and dusting until it looked as hospitable as it was going to get.

The cabin wasn’t very big, only one room with a small hearth and wrought-iron cooking utensils around it. There was a wood table and a couple chairs on either side of it against one wall, three wooden shelves and a wash basin on the other.

Once Jared finished cleaning, there was nothing else to do but wait. He stared out the larger window. It was dark out; he couldn’t really see anything and lit another candle.

The cabin was difficult to find, purposely built away from any roads or trails. But Jared had given excellent directions and a vamp’s sense of smell was second only to a werewolf.

Christ, a vampire. Jared had invited a vampire to come out here. No one knew where he was; it would take them too long to come if he howled to them for help. If the vampire brought his coven, Jared was as good as dead.

Of course, that was assuming he would even come. He hadn’t been pleased when they met earlier today, snarling and growling until Jared had really thought he was about to die, but there was something in the vampire’s eyes… something that told Jared maybe what he was feeling wasn’t so one-sided.

Jared’d hardly been able to get the vamp out of his mind in the five days since they had first laid eyes on each other. All weekend, he’d thought of nothing else, his near-obsession driving Jared to purposely seek him out after work today.

It had been foolish, Jared could have been killed, but he couldn’t resist, needed to learn his name, to see him again.

Logically, he knew that the chances of the vampire coming tonight were close to zero. He probably thought it was a trap, a way to lure him away, especially with it being so close to Lycos territory. He probably thought the whole damn pack was lying in wait for him here.

But Jared’s heart knew he would come.

And when the door finally opened behind Jared, he didn’t turn around, kept on looking out the window at the moon shining above the trees. Waiting until that smell hit his nose.

“How it is that a vampire smells like the forest?”