Risking Alex Excerpt

1

“What’s so bad that we had to get out of the house so you could tell me? Matt didn’t bother waiting until his longtime friend could sit down in Steve’s living room before asking the question. He watched his friend, knowing whatever he had to tell him, it wouldn’t be good.
Steve looked away. “You should know, I asked her if I could tell you. She’s the one who suggested we come out here.”
“Just spit it out, man, the stalling is only making it worse.”
From the reluctant look on Steve’s face, Matt knew something was seriously wrong with JV, Matt’s sister and Steve’s mate.
“Matt, man.” Steve paused. “She was raped.”
The world went silent. His stomach churned. “What? When?” he blinked several times.
Steve sat in the recliner. “While she was still in college.”
Matt sat on the sofa, dropped his elbows on his knees and his face into his hands. “Why didn’t she tell us?”
“She didn’t tell anyone, not until I got it out of her.” Steve sounded miserable but Matt didn’t look up.
He stared at the floor for several seconds, not bothering to hide his tears as he cried. He didn’t know how much time had passed before he got up and paced the floor.
“I’ll kill the son of a bitch,” he said after several passes.
“You’d have to stand in line, but we’re both too late.” Steve’s eyes tracked him back and forth across the room as he recounted the chain of attacks and killings ending with, “they caught him and executed him before we even knew about it.” He flexed his fingers as if wishing his claws would emerge from under his nails.
Matt’s chest hurt. How had he not known that something this huge, this life changing, had happened to his sister without him knowing? Had he been so absorbed in his own life that he’d missed something so huge? “I’ve got to get out of here. I need some air.” He headed for the door.
“Take your time. Keep an eye out for my enforcers. I don’t think there are any around that you haven’t met yet, but there may be one or two around.”
“Will do.” Matt shrugged into his jacket and tugged his cap down over his ears before going outside. He hurried off the porch of the small cabin and into the patch of woods separating it from the larger cabin style house that the clan’s Khan and Karhyn lived in. Instead of taking the trail leading through the narrow strip of forest, he detoured and skirted the clearing that held the main house and large parking area that was now filled with vehicles. There were so many trucks and SUV’s that they lined the long driveway as far as Matt could see from where he stood in the woods near the house’s front yard.
He was torn. He wanted to go inside, pull JV into his arms and just hold her. But now wasn’t the time. There were too many people here. He didn’t want to embarrass her in front of her new pack, and he thought confronting her in front of them during a holiday gather-ing would do just that. Instead, he prowled the woods for nearly an hour, until he was sure he could contain his rage and desire to pro-tect his sister.
By the time he’d exhausted the worst of his rage his nose and ears had gone numb. He knew he needed to go inside and warm up, but he was reluctant. He didn’t want to ruin the holiday for JV. In-stead he went to the front porch and sat in one of the chairs there. He was sheltered from the wind so, while the temperature was still below freezing, he was warmer. Kicking his feet out in front of the chair, he crossed his ankles and scowled at the toes of his boots, trying to come to terms with what he’d just learned.
#
He didn’t know how long he’d been sitting there when the light crunch of footsteps on gravel and ice caught his attention. Looking up, he saw someone in a hot pink jacket approaching. The bulky coat and the hood pulled up over her head kept him from seeing much about her but he liked the way she walked. She strode with confident steps despite the somewhat treacherous footing of the icy gravel driveway. His eyes never left her as she came closer, reached the foot of the porch and made her way up the steps. He pulled his feet out of her way and watched as she walked by, going to the door as if he wasn’t there. She knocked, the door was opened by the en-forcer stationed there who invited her inside. It irked him that she hadn’t even said hello on her way past.
Matt frowned. Why did it bother him so much that she hadn’t even acknowledged him? He really shouldn’t care. He had enough to think about without adding her odd behavior to the mix. He pushed her out of his mind and stood. Wandering around the house, he headed back to Steve and Jade’s cabin for a little while. Just until he could get his head on straight. He’d reached the rear of the house, but not yet made it to the stretch of trees separating the two residences, when he heard the back door of the house open.
“Matthew Jayson Walker, what do you think you’re doing” His mother’s voice pulled Matt from his thoughts. “Why are you out here freezing instead of spending time with your family?” The tiny woman who had raised him stood with her hands on her hips, wait-ing for an answer.
He looked at her a moment then looked away. “I’m just not good company right now, Mom. I need to be alone for a little while.”
Her eyes narrowed, and she watched him for a moment. “They told you, didn’t they?”
He glanced at her then looked away again. “Yeah. I don’t know how it got past me. How could I have missed it?”
“Now you listen to me and listen good.” Her voice was low but hard. “You are not responsible for what happened to your sister. It’s not your fault she kept it to herself, either. You had your own life and your own troubles. What matters now is that we do everything we can to support her and help her to heal.”
“She seems to be doing well enough.” He couldn’t look at his mother. The guilt wouldn’t let him.
“She is, mostly. But I can see she still has a hard time some-times. We can love her and show her that we don’t see her as a vic-tim or weak. She’s stronger than any of us gave her credit for and she deserves to know it.”
Matt had no words so he just nodded.
“Now, you’ve been out here more than an hour and she’s going to notice soon. I’ll give you another five minutes to get your shit together and come back inside. If you’re not back by then I’m sending her after you. I don’t think you want that, do you?”
“No,” he glanced at her again. “Just give me a minute. I’ll be in in a couple.”
“All right.” She turned on one booted heel and went back in-side.
Matt sat on the rough wooden porch step and dropped his head into his hands. He took a deep breath and tried to shove the turmoil of his emotions down. He didn’t want to make JV feel bad. He didn’t want to make her have to relive her horror just because it was fresh in his mind. After taking several deep breaths and letting them out slowly, he was able to draw on the calm focus that let him con-trol the cat inside him. He held on tight to that as he went inside. The warm air hit him as he stepped through the back door. He knew he’d been out there a long time but he hadn’t realized how cold he was until the warmth hit him. He pulled off his outer layer and hung it up before joining everyone else. He couldn’t paste a smile on his face but he was at least able to keep from letting his unhappiness show.
In the kitchen, he found his mother, Kim, and Tina, Steve’s mother, serving desserts and making sure there was enough for eve-ryone to drink. Walking up behind his mom, he wrapped his arms around her and gave her a tight hug. She patted the arm across her chest with one hand, letting him know she wasn’t upset with him, while she continued to talk to Tina. After a moment, he released her and moved into the main room where the Khan and Karhyn were still seeing visitors. He stood for a moment, watching them and the best description for it was holding court. They were there letting people come to them and pay their respects. While it might not fit in modern society in general, it wasn’t inaccurate for clan life. In effect, the Khan and Karhyn were the king and queen of the clan. Everyone had to respect them, or fear them, in order for pack structure to work. Looking around, he didn’t see Steve, but Jade was once more on the sofa beside Rebecca. He caught her eye and tipped his head toward the back of the house, hoping she’d come talk to him for a few minutes.
Can you give me a little bit? I’m not quite ready to talk about it yet. Her voice whispered through his mind. He nodded once and moved to where his father stood visiting with Mike, Steve’s father, and a cou-ple other men that Matt didn’t recognize. He stood quietly, listening to the conversation without adding much for several minutes, until his father turned and looked at him.
“Why are you all flushed?”
“I needed some time to myself so I was outside a while.”
His father looked him up and down a moment, as if trying to discern what Matt wasn’t saying. “Had to have been a good while for you to get that cold, unless you forgot your hat.”
Matt shrugged, choosing to let his dad think he’d forgotten to dress for the weather rather than tell him he’d just been out that long, and why.
“You think you’d know better.” The older man gave a slight shake to his head. “You live where the weather’s worse than this.”
“I guess I just wasn’t thinking about it when I went out.”
“Take better care of yourself.” His dad patted him on the back then turned back to Mike. “I wasn’t prepared for as cold as it is here, were you? I always thought of Arizona as desert, not mountains and snow.”
“I wasn’t either.” Mike said. “But leave it to Steve to find someplace as beautiful as this to settle down and find a place for himself.”
#
Later that night, Steve, JV and Matt had retired to the cabin his sister shared with his best friend. Matt sat in the large recliner an-gled so he could see both the TV and the couple on the sofa.
“I don’t want to make you relive what you’ve been through. I don’t want to bring it all back for you, but I have one question. It’s one I really need to know the answer to,” Matt spoke slowly, trying to find the right words to say what he had to without upsetting his sister or her mate.
Steve sat sideways on the couch, one leg bent against the back with his foot planted in the seat, the other on the floor in front. JV sat in front of him with her legs curled to one side as she leaned against him. Looking at them, it might have looked like she was de-pendent on him for strength but Matt knew better. She sat on her own, choosing to lean on him for support and comfort. It was a subtle difference but one Matt could see.
“What is it?”
“Why? Why did you keep it to yourself? We would have been there for you. We would have helped you.”
She looked at the floor and took a deep breath. “The short an-swer is fear. Fear and shame. But it’s not that simple and it’s taken me a long time and some counseling to see that.”
“What do you mean it’s not that simple?” He watched her, waiting.
“You have to understand. I’d only recently gained my freedom. I loved being able to go somewhere and not have to ask permission or justify why, or even tell anyone if I didn’t want to. I knew if I went home and admitted what had happened, then I’d lose that. You’d all close ranks around me and I might never escape again. But it was more than that. I was ashamed that I’d let it happen. I’m a shifter. I should have been able to fight back, to get free, and I couldn’t. Even afterward when I couldn’t shift for a long time, it terrified me and shamed me. I felt like it was my punishment for not being able to fight my way free.”
He felt the hot sting of tears and didn’t fight them. Instead he looked down at his fists clenched in his lap then back up at her, let-ting the tears slide unhindered down his face.
“I hate that you went through it alone. I hate that you didn’t let us help you. I can’t understand why you did it now but I think it’s my own stubbornness. I keep thinking you should have, you should have and it does no good now.”
He looked back down at his hands. The short nails were digging into his palms leaving small red crescents of blood. He heard movement but didn’t look up until JV’s sweats brushed against his knees. He looked up and met her gaze. Her eyes were concerned but not terrified or even particularly sad. She knelt in front of him, took one of his hands in both hers and pulled it toward her. She forced his fingers to uncurl and looked at the palm of his hand.
“Stop this.” She looked up at his face, meeting his gaze. “Stop it right now. You are not to blame for what happened or how I chose to deal with it. It’s over and I’m healing. I’m not the same person I was before, and I’ll never be. I don’t want to be.” She looked back down at his hand and ran the tip of one finger over the quickly healing wounds still visible there. “This does no good. For anyone. We all have things we have to go through to get where we need to be. My attack was something I had to deal with to drive me to come after Steve.” She looked over to where he still sat on the couch. Her face softened and she smiled. “I can’t regret what I’ve found here. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t easy, but it’s over.” She looked him in the eye. “I need you to be okay with that.”
Matt turned his hand over and took one of her hands in his. “I’ll try. I can’t be right now but give me some time. I’ll try to be okay with it.” She squeezed his hand and smiled up at him. He was glad to see the smile reached her eyes, for a long time her smiles hadn’t. He knew, at least in part, Steve was why they did again. As much as he didn’t like the idea of JV with someone as old as he and Steve, he understood some of it now. Aside from the mating instinct that was. He’d never felt it himself, not even with Connie, who he’d loved with all his heart, but he believed in it.
His chest ached as he thought of Connie. He missed her. She’d been gone two years and he still felt her loss every day. He missed what they almost had, the family they’d almost been when the accident had killed her and their baby.
“I know that look.” JV said from where she still knelt in front of him. “It’s not me you’re thinking about anymore.” She squeezed his hand again. “I hope you find your own mate someday. Sooner rather than later would be good.”
Matt gave her a rueful smile. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”
“Ready don’t have nothing to do with it,” Steve said from the sofa. “When you find her that will be all that matters. You and her.” He held one hand out towards JV. She went without a word and curled back on the sofa in front of him, letting him wrap his arms around her as she leaned up and kissed his cheek.
Seeing his sister and his best friend so happy together made him forget the anger he’d had when he’d first found out she was with him. He’d been angry at Steve for taking advantage of her, though it was nowhere near what had happened. In fact, he’d stayed away from her for a long time to keep that from happening. Matt respect-ed that. Now, he just had to come to terms with his new knowledge. She obviously had and that was what was most important.

 

To continue Matt’s story, pick up Risking Alex anywhere  you buy eBooks or click here.