Derek Hale, Duke of Beacon, was exactly the kind of handsome mystery upon which people loved to speculate. Sole survivor of the tragedy that took his family, Derek Hale had poured his energies into the restoration of Beacon Hills and its manor house. His collection of mystical artifacts was said to rival that of the British Museum’s. He attended few social gatherings, preferring instead to spend time with his rather motley pack. Bets were placed each year on whether some pretty thing- werewolf or human- might finally turn his head. More than one mother had pictured her offspring as the one to finally land such a catch.
With so many options at his disposal, no one was prepared for the moment when the withdrawn Duke of Beacon fell hopelessly, foolishly in love with the Ton’s most disinterested young lord.
Lord McCall’s parties were among of the few that Derek felt compelled to attend; they were cousins, after all. Additionally, Scott understood Derek’s need to escape the gatherings, and made allowances for the way he typically ended up reading on one of the fat leather sofas in the library.
Derek was making his way around the corners of the McCall ballroom, intent on reaching said library, when he spied his cousin laughing with the single most gorgeous young man Derek had ever laid eye on. Tall, lithe, all clinging breeches and elegant hands- the spike of lust was one Derek hadn’t felt in years. The man laughed again, an infectiously charming sound that brought a smile to the edge of Derek’s mouth.
Derek drew near enough to hear their conversation, which seemed to center on the faults of Lord Harris’ newest wig. To be sure, the piece merited the disparagement with which they discussed it. He stepped closer, drawn by their laughter and the man’s sharp wit.
“Cousin! Are you going to grace my gathering with your attention, for a change?” Scott smiled knowingly at Derek. “Come and meet my friend, Lord Genim Stilinski. Genim, my cousin Derek Hale, Duke of Beacon.”
Lord Stilinski grinned readily at Derek. “Your Grace, a pleasure. I’ve heard rumors of your map collection. You must allow me to visit, for they say your African selection is the finest in London, and I am planning a tour of the continent.”
“Indeed it is. You would be welcome anytime, sir.” Derek bowed low over Lord Stilinski’s hand. His lips barely brushed fine-boned knuckles, where a hint of musky cologne made him dizzy. Derek took another, deeper breath as he stood. There was something about that scent. Cologne, yes, and an expensive one at that, but underneath it, a tea-and-honey mix that rolled across the back of Derek’s tongue as he tasted the air. It made him want, deep inside, past the place where he enjoyed Genim’s admittedly nubile form.
No scent had ever affected him in such a primal way. Derek made his excuses and retreated to the library, where he sat in thought far after the rest of the guests had left.
Four days later, Genim presented his card to the doorman of Duke Hale’s manor house. It was... beautiful, but imposing. The house sprawled across the grounds like a beast. Was it like this before the fire, he wondered? Did it thrust itself into the world as if in silent challenge?
What did such a house say about the man who owned it? Scott spoke of his cousin as quiet, loving, loyal; Genim knows the Duke stood by the McCall’s side even after Scott’s father dragged them all into scandal. He had been demurely polite upon first meeting. And yet... there was a spark of something brazen in his eyes as he glanced at Genim.
Ushered silently into the Hale library by a well-trained footman, Genim was soon too caught up in research to lend himself to thoughts of the house and its master.
Derek lingered over his breakfast, deliberately giving Lord Stilinski time to get settled. He understood the draw- books and maps of far-off locales, artifacts brought back from his travels- his library was full of items to lure one away from oneself.
It was all Derek had wanted for a time. To step away from himself, from his memories. Now, though, he spent his time reclaiming them. He’d rebuilt the manor house , larger and stronger than before. A stone behemoth, ready to withstand anything- even fire. He saw to the tenants and their crops, managed his home and his land until Beacon was twice as wealthy as before.
Derek was proud of what he’d built, the home he’d remade, the pack he’d brought together. And now the scent of his mate trailed through the halls, the finishing touch he hadn’t known it needed.
He followed the tea-and-honey warmth to a table in the reading room. Genim’s attention seemed to be on another continent, with one hand splayed across a map, the other tapping fingers absently against his chin.
A polite cough would have been the appropriate announcement of Derek’s presence. Instead, Derek couldn’t resist coming up behind him to lay a hand on his shoulder.
Lord Stilinski startled violently. “Oh, Duke Hale, my apologies, I was... a thousand miles away, I’m afraid.”
“No apologies necessary- I’m quite familiar with the sensation myself. I admit, I was quite curious as to what you were analyzing so closely.”
They poured over the maps together as Derek grew more and more delighted by Genim’s wit and curiosity. Their debates on routes, supplies, and necessities sent Derek digging into his own travelogues for reference.
“Perhaps, your Grace,” Stiles said, “you should come with me, as you are convinced that this is the correct path.” He gestured to a river crossing on the map. “And then you will be at hand when fate forces me to utter the words ‘I told you so.’”
Genim’s smile was sly, his face a challenge to which Derek couldn’t help but rise. He leaned over, cupped a hand against Genim’s smooth cheek, and brought their lips together. The contact made him swoon as a delicious thrill ran through his blood. This was it, his mate, the other half of his soul, destined to run together as-
A cool palm cracked against his cheek.
“How dare you, sir? You do not even know me, and you would presume so much?” Derek sat in shock as Genim shoved his chair back, a hectic flush on his cheeks. “I’m afraid I must bid you good day, sir.”
“Wait, Lord Stilinski, please. Let me explain.”
Genim didn’t pause in his long, furious strides to the door. Derek didn’t know why the man was so angry, but it was obvious in every line of his body.
“No explanations are necessary when one is obviously an uncouth lout, Duke Hale. I came here in friendship, prompted by my friend’s advice, but I can see we were both sorely misled about your generosity. Good day.”
The slam of the door was a bucket of cold water dashed against Derek’s spirits. How could his mate have rejected him so quickly?
“And then he kissed me, Scott! Apropos of nothing! As if it were a lark, or a whim!” Genim’s voice increased with every sentence, until he was nigh on shouting. “Scott, are you even listening?”
“Mmm,” Scott nodded from where he sat at his desk, putting pen to paper. “Whimsical larks, yes.”
“For the love of- who are you penning sonnets to now, that you can’t focus on the pain and tribulations of your dearest friend?” He snuck a peek at the letters scattered across Scott’s desk. “Ohhh, no. Not Christopher Argent’s daughter. Haven’t you learned anything? That man would cheerfully see you dead.”
“But his daughter would cheerfully see me alive, and in love.”
Genim shook his head. Trying to persuade Scott on the topic of the delightful Miss Argent was hopeless, and he had his own concerns. “Scott- what am I to do about Duke Hale? He kissed me!”
“Derek is a good man, Genim, and my own cousin. You could do far worse, truly.”
Genim sighed as he threw himself into a plush velvet chair. “You know my mind on the matter, Scott. I do not intend ever to marry, even to someone as inarguably suitable as Duke Hale.” And he was extremely... suitable. Genim could admit that much.
Scott looked up, pensive. “It’s been five years since your father passed, Genim. Do you not think it might be time to let go of your vow? Your father would want to see you happy.”
“Love doesn’t make men happy, Scott. Not you, nor your mother, and most certainly not my father. Love put him in his grave, and they will be putting me in mine before I make the same mistake.”
“No, Scott. No. I never want to see that... scoundrel again.”
Under different circumstances, the skill Genim deployed in avoiding him might have amused Derek. He had attended more parties in the last three weeks than in the last year. At each one, all anyone seemed to talk about was the absence of young Lord Stilinski, who normally adored such gatherings. The young man was clearly a sneak and a rapscallion, and now Derek found himself stalking the park in order to catch a glimpse of his wily mate.
Only a burst of supernatural speed let him catch up to Genim, who sat atop a very fine horse and glared at Derek’s hand on his bridle.
“Three weeks, Genim. Three weeks I’ve called on you, and every time you’ve rejected my card. Please, let me explain my undue forwardness. Just give me a moment.”
Genim and his horse snorted in tandem.
“I do not believe, Duke Hale, that I’ve given you permission to speak to me so informally.” An elegantly-booted foot was planted against Derek’s chest, knocking him back a step in sheer surprise. “Good day, sir.”
“Wait,” Derek said, desperate. “Genim- Lord Stilinski- you’re my mate!”
Genim’s mouth dropped open as he stared at Derek in shock. Mates were sacred, rare- and typically very, very private. Announcing the mate bond in public was tantamount to announcing an engagement.
A hush fell over the park. It was a lovely, sunny day; the lawns were full of people enjoying the air. And every last one of them had just heard the Duke of Hale proclaim Lord Stilinski his mate.
The hush turned to furious speculation as Lord Stilinski gathered his reins and left Derek in the dust.
How dare that man say such a thing, Genim fumed. What did he need to do, run the ridiculous fool down in his carriage? They barely knew one another- there was no possible way that Genim was anyone’s mate. He would not be bought; he would not be used to decorate the fine home of a fine lordling. He had his sights set on bigger things- the wilds of Africa, the mysteries of China, the lawless Americas.
The fact that Duke Hale was clearly a man intrigued by the same travels and adventures as Genim himself made no difference. Neither did the fact that everyone knew the Duke’s pack had free rein to do as they wished, unlike the alphas that held their pack and power in an iron grip. The tiny, insignificant, unimportant part of Genim that had thrilled to the Duke’s kiss mattered least of all.
Duke Hale could find himself another mate to pant over. Genim would never, never belong to that man.
Derek’s valet stuck his head in the door, cautiously. “Mr. Lahey for you, sir.”
“I am not at home, August. To anyone,” Derek mumbled from under the covers of his bed.
“He did say that would be your response, sir. I was instructed to tell you that it would be either Mr. Lahey, or Lady Boyd.”
“I am not at home to visitors, August. You can tell the eminently nosy members of my pack that I will see them at the full moon, and not before.”
“Yes, sir. You are aware, of course, that the full moon passed not two days ago? I believe Mr. Lahey is... quite concerned that you did not attend as per your usual.”
“Out, August.” Derek did not lower himself to shout at the staff, but no one tested him the way his valet did.
Derek was well aware that he was sulking, nay, wallowing in his own misery. Surely word of his humiliation was all over London at this point. The distinguished Duke Hale, rejected, in public, by his mate. Such a thing hadn’t happened in over fifty years. The people he saw in the street didn’t even have the grace to laugh, or whisper behind their hands. Gossip he might have shrugged off, but it was pity that was writ large across their faces. He’d had enough of pity in his life; he did not wish to see anymore.
Derek pulled the blankets back over his head and shut his eyes.
“I’m leaving, Scott. I’ve been planning this trip for years, you know that.”
“I know that you’re leaving months sooner than you anticipated. I know that all of London says Derek declared you his mate. I know that you’re running away from just the thought that someone might love you.”
Genim focused on the checklist in his hand as he nodded at a servant and studiously avoided Scott’s eyes. There were final preparations to be made and packing to finish- he did not have time to deal with Scott’s foolishness.
“Duke Hale does not factor into my decision-making process.”
Scott snatched the checklist out of his hand. “Like hell he doesn’t! Why can’t you admit it?”
“There’s nothing to admit.”
“Do you even remember the research you did when I was bitten? Werewolves don’t lie about the mate bond. If Derek acknowledged a bond between the two of you, he was telling the truth.”
The lantern in Genim’s hands dropped to the tabletop with a thunk. “And what if I were to go to him, Scott? What then? Should I accept the bond and become his husband? Stay in his manor house, entertain his pack, host his parties?” Scott started to speak, but Genim rode right over the top of him. “Better yet, perhaps Derek would be a perfect mate, exactly what I’ve always wanted, until some tragedy happens upon us. Which would be better, Scott- for Derek to die from a broken mate bond, or for myself to follow in my father’s footsteps and simply drink myself to death?”
There was no response from Scott. Genim passed a hand over his face.
“I do not need a mate, Scott.”
“Perhaps not,” Scott said finally. “But I know you too well, Genim. Your heart is too large to wall everyone out forever.”
Derek sent the first letter a month after word reached him about Genim’s departure. The first letter went unanswered, as did the second, and the third, but Derek continued to write. He poured his heart out onto the pages, each letter sealed with the hope that Genim might one day look upon him with affection.
While I understand your first instinct will be to burn this letter on sight, I hope you will grant me the grace of reading it first. Please, do not blame Scott for his part in revealing the address to which this has been sent; I have it on good authority that the Lady Boyd practically badgered the information from him.
She is difficult to resist.
I do not wish to be a burden to you, Lord Stilinski. I realize that I was... overly hasty, in saying such things as I did. If you were in London, I would do my best to make amends. With matters as they are, I must hope that my words alone will sway you towards forgiveness.
I realize this is unlikely. I have never been overly verbose, and you have already discovered my talent for making any situation worse.
Derek, Duke of Beacon
...Today we welcome the first child born into the new Hale pack- a daughter, Kathryn Rose Boyd. Isaac has already taken to calling her Kitty; I suspect the name will stick...
...The weight of this house presses upon me at times; none more so than today. I visited their graves, attempting to remember only the good things about each of them, and not their dying cries...
...I dearly hope you are enjoying your travels, wheresoever you may be at this moment. Perhaps Scott has never told you- I do not like to admit the story- but I discovered that camels have a deep and unnatural dislike of werewolves. I have never in my life been spat upon so enthusiastically...
...Genim- I may call you this, in a letter, since you are not present to remind me that I have not the permission- Genim. I wish only for your happiness. I do believe that we are destined to be mated, and that I could bring you that happiness, but if your joy is to be found elsewhere, I do not begrudge you that...
...I imagine that one day we might travel together. I dream of discovering a sight new to both our eyes...
...I did not know that it was possible to miss someone with whom one has spent so little time. My heart aches for you, Genim, for the time to get to know you, for the moments we might share. I hold these possibilities close to my chest. My cousin looks at me as if he knows my thoughts, and my pack, well- the less said of their ribbing, the better...
Nearly eighteen months passed before Derek received a response to his numerous missives, which contained a single sentence; ‘As my return is eminent,’ Genim wrote, ‘please allow me to call upon you Saturday next.’
Derek’s heart climbed into his throat. Genim was... returning to London. May already have arrived in London, in fact, given the date of the letter. He had not responded to any of Derek’s letters, neither cordially, nor with the fervent anger Derek had expected. Months with no word, save what he could glean from Scott. Had Genim saved up his replies in order to flay Derek in person?
It certainly seemed like something he might do.
The next week was spent in what- were he other than who he was- might have been called a panic. Derek was far too dignified for such an emotion. Autumn was approaching, which justified the overhaul of both his manor house and his wardrobe. If he paid his tailor an absurd commission, well, so be it. He was a Duke and was entitled to such things as rapid service. The sparklingly polished floors of his manor house were a credit to his name and his lineage, nothing more.
No one but his valet knew Derek had changed shirts three times on the Saturday morning in question.
The bell rang. Derek twitched, but forced himself to remain seated. Not even a werewolf could discern emotion from a quiet footstep across a marble floor, but Derek strained to, nevertheless. The footsteps stopped, and then they were staring at each other from across the room.
Ask him to come in, Derek’s mind urged. Offer him a seat.
“Lord Stilinski,” Derek nodded. Formality, yes, the politeness he had disregarded in his messages.
“Lord- Lord Stilinski? Really?” Genim’s eyebrows were in his hairline. “Thousands of words, a veritable sheaf of letters, and now you sit there in your fine suit and call me Lord Stilinski?”
Genim stepped closer. He had a tan now, Derek noticed, skin burnished to a gold that offset the deep brown of his eyes and the pink of his mouth. It was... inordinately attractive.
“Genim,” Derek whispered.
“I should think so, Derek. It is only right than one call their mate by their first name, is it not?”
A hot mouth pressed against his for a moment that passed far too quickly. Genim eased onto the couch beside him and tangled his fingers with Derek’s.
“I cannot promise that I am ready for marriage. There are still many things that I wish to see, and do, and know. But perhaps... Perhaps we might do some of them together, as you wrote.”
He hated to ask the question, to break the joy swelling in the room, but Derek had to know. “What brought about this change of heart, Genim? Surely my letters were not that persuasive.”
“Well, not quite,” Genim chuckled. “They were charming, that much is true. But also- I saw things, Derek, many things. And while it sounds a dreadful cliche, the most common, enduring thing that I saw was love. No matter where I traveled, where there were people, there was love, for good or for ill. At first I was angered that I could not escape it, and then, eventually, I began to recognize the way in which such love could be a boon. A strength.” He stroked a finger across Derek’s cheek. “And I wished for the man who had shown an angry, bitter young lord love without asking for anything in return. You swore your heart to me in those letters, Derek. Will you accept mine in return, however long it may take before your ring graces my finger?”
Derek’s kiss left no room for doubt.