Dear God, kill me now. Megan Warden pretended to sleep rather than engage with her insane mother and listen to her prattle on and on about men, children and pregnancy as she had for the last seven hours. Seriously, the military should look into using Beth Warden for interrogation. No terrorist could ever hold up under this stuff.
“I was telling Grandma, there are going to be many single wolves at this event, Megan. Who knows who you might meet,” her mother repeated for the thousandth time.
Megan kept her head down, her chin against her chest and tried to regulate her breathing. She’d been drinking “special” coffee all day long but werewolf physiology meant the alcohol wore off relatively soon.
So her mother continued talking, knowing Megan wasn’t really asleep but Megan kept pretending anyway. Oh the little games you play with family.
“You can’t hide under those dark glasses forever,” Layla cracked from her place next to Megan. They hurtled down the road in the huge SUV her older brother Lex had arranged for them. She’d taken the farthest row back, hoping her mother and grandmother would get into the other car in this caravan of horrors but no, they both decided to ride in this one.
“Shut the fuck up. You’re married and you’ve bred. You’re the freaking golden child.” She kept her head down and her voice low but they’d hear her anyway. Damned wolves.
“Megan, did you just say the F word?” Her grandmother tsked at her. She had a twinkle in her eye as she said it, proving she was just as much a Warden as the rest.
“She started it.” Megan knew she sounded petulant but she was past doubting her sanity, and full throttle into cursing her life.
Tracy snorted out a laugh and not for the first time, Megan wondered why in the hell she’d agreed to take a road trip to a wedding with her mother, grandmother and her married sisters.
Because she was the Enforcer of the Cascadia werewolf pack and it was the only way Lex would agree to them going without a full escort of armed wolves. As it was, Dave, her cousin and her sister-in-law Grace’s personal bodyguard, was there in the car behind them along with two other guards.
And okay, so she did love her family, and her sisters were all in from out of town and she didn’t see them nearly often enough. On paper, conceptually, it sounded like fun to hang out with the Warden women for a week or so.
Stuck in a car with them for hours on end? Not so much with the fun.
“Can we stop sometime soon? I have to pee.” Tracy ran a hand over her belly and smiled at Megan. “Maybe she’ll stop for a few minutes.” She winked and Megan rolled her eyes.
“We should be stopping for the day at some point anyway. Tracy has got to be uncomfortable and Grandma needs to rest.” Beth turned around in the seat. “Oh you’re awake now!” she said when she caught Megan with her eyes open.
Damn. The woman was diabolical.
“I think we should at least get to the California border before we stop. And I’m fine. I’m just pregnant for goodness sake. But dinner would be nice. I’m hungry.” Tracy’s lips quivered, barely holding back laughter.
That suggestion met with enthusiasm and Tegan called out that she’d pull over in the next town.
Their noisy group took over pretty much the entire small town Oregon restaurant. Megan wanted to laugh at the picture they all made. Boisterous, happy, all of them emanating that vibrant otherness Weres seemed to.
“Why are you bogarting the catsup?” Tegan demanded.
“Just to annoy you apparently.” Megan shoved the bottle at her sister with a smirk. She looked back over to her mother, pasting sincere-looking concern on her face. “You know, you might be more comfortable in the other car with Dave. You can feel the road more in our car I think. You and Grandma both.”
Dave kicked her but it was every werewolf for herself.
Nina laughed from down at the other end of the table but didn’t offer her opinion on the matter. Better for her anyway as Megan was her bodyguard as well as the pack Enforcer. One suggestion from Megan to Lex about Nina’s safety and suddenly her sister-in-law would have to go everywhere with three bodyguards.
“Well, aren’t you sweet? But we’re fine. We’ll be stopping for the night soon enough and I don’t get enough chance to visit with Grace and Tegan now that they’re on the other side of the country.” Her mother smiled, patting Megan’s hand.
She’d go in the other car herself but with Grace and Nina along, that was two Alphas, including the Supreme Alpha, so as the Enforcer, Megan needed to be there. Gah.
“Here, Beth, have I shown you the pictures of little miss I’ve-got-my-daddy-wrapped-around-my-finger? Last month we took her for her first haircut and I think Cade might have cried.” Grace, her sister-in-law and current savior, grinned at her before turning her attention back to Beth. “I know he baked two dozen cookies when we got home.”
The pictures began to circulate from several directions and Beth eased back, happily engrossed in her grandbabies. For the moment, Megan let herself relax and enjoy the people who vexed and charmed her most in the universe.
After another several hours, they finally pulled into a hotel off the freeway and Megan skipped the late night pie and ice cream and headed to the room with Tracy and the bags. Nina would be right next door but no one in their right mind roomed with her but Lex. Nina was not a fun roommate, she was nosy, never shut up and thought fart jokes were hilarious.
“You did a good job with her today, you know. She just wants you to be happy but I remember how hard it was to be her target.” Tracy groaned as she put her feet up on the bed in the hotel room she shared with Megan.
“I know she does, Trace. But hello, do you think it’s my choice? This whole wolf mate thing is sort of out of my hands. Plus, kinda busy you know? Being Enforcer is a big job. I don’t have the time mom does to think up ways to torture other people. My days are filled with keeping Nina in line and watching over Gabriella so Lex doesn’t stroke out when she plays at going up and down stairs. The usual.”
“I know. It’s just I’m so happy, I want it for you. I know it’ll come when it’s meant to and all that mystical stuff but I remember waiting. I remember wanting. I…well I think it sucks you and Jack aren’t mates. Or any of my wolves. I’d love to have you at Pacific with me. This having a baby thing is sort of scary. My mother-in-law is nice and all and with Ben’s kids living with us, it’s wonderful and I feel like I’m a mom already, but I want you. I want mom.”
Megan moved to lie beside Tracy and her sister put her head on Megan’s shoulder with a soft, contented sound. The contact eased her frustration and they both relaxed.
“Portland isn’t that far. I can be down there in three hours. All you have to do is ask. You know that, right? I love you.” Megan’s heart squeezed. For all Tracy’s tough talk, it was Megan who was still surrounded by the Pack they grew up in while Tracy was in Portland with her new family.
Tracy sniffled. “I know. I’m just a bit weepy. The hormones are insane. I do love how Nick and Gabe just agree to whatever I demand though. That’s some heady power tripping.” Her sniffle morphed into a giggle and they both started laughing.
“Oh man. Cade baking cookies when his daughter needs a haircut, Lex popping a vein when Gabby decides it’s super cool to jump from the middle of the stairs down to the bottom floor. Sid is the coolest dad ever and lets the kids take over his studio to make giant art projects and Layla, the most uptight woman I’d ever known before Sid is all laid back when her daughter has blue paint stains in her hair for a week. And now you guys. It’s so cool. Tegan and Ben are trying. It’s me and Dave now and he’s totally abandoning me when mom starts sniffing around. Believe you me, if Jack was my mate, I’d have nailed him ten times a day since we first met. Alas, nothing.” She shrugged. “I’m not pining. I’m super busy. It is what it is. I can’t change it. My life is really good except for the non-mate part. I date. I have sex. I have a great, albeit nosy family, a wonderful job.” She exhaled sharply. “Aside from the really insane idea of a road trip to LA with my mother to a wedding, I’m happy.”
And it was true, Megan reflected the next morning as she’d shuffled into the car, a giant cup of coffee in one hand and a huge bagel stuffed with ten kinds of protein in the other. She was happy. It wasn’t something she thought about really. Some wolves were lucky enough to find mates early on. And others faced the horrible fate of losing them like Tegan had. It would happen when it happened so Megan thought it was utterly pointless to worry about it. It wasn’t who she was anyway.
* * *
By the time they pulled up to the front of the swanky resort/hotel the wedding would be held in, Megan was ready to pull her hair out. Or shove someone out an airlock. Take your pick.
“Hey, hold your horses!” Tegan said as Megan got out even before she’d put the car into park.
“I need to stretch my legs.” She wanted to grab her suitcase, get into her swimsuit and sit out by the pool. Things had been good in werewolf politics in the two years since Cade had taken over National. No drama. No civil war. Megan was sure something would happen again, it always did, but it’d been some time since she’d had an actual vacation so it would be nice to have a little leisure time.
Still she couldn’t just abandon her grandmother in order to race to the registration desk. So she grabbed her grandmother’s suitcase as well as her own and held her arm out.
“For a girl so fond of all the worst cuss words, you’re a good granddaughter.” Lia Warden smiled at Megan, mischief in her eyes.
“I think I’ve heard you use a few in your time.” Megan winked and her grandmother laughed.
The check-in process should have been quick. So of course it wasn’t. Her second cousin Sherry came squealing around the corner along with her mother who squealed equally loud and enveloped their mother into a hug. A three person, hopping, squealing unit that made Megan cringe and back slowly away.
“What the fuck is that?” Nina murmured.
“Why hello, Alpha Warden!” Megan smirked as a plan began to hatch. “That’s cousin Sherry, the bride to be, and her mom. Nancy is my mom’s favorite cousin. There are six sisters and they’re all just like Nancy only Nancy is the calmest one.”
Nina’s eyebrows rose in alarm and Megan laughed.
“You’re shitting me?”
“I told you it was going to be like chewing tinfoil. I told you we should have flown. But does anyone listen to me? Nope. And you’re the Alpha so get on over there and start squealing too.” Megan shoved her and Nina sent her a look of alarmed murderous intent as Beth caught her arm and dragged her into the melee.
“Dude, she’s going to get you for that.” Tegan sidled up to her side, chuckling. “Still, it’ll be worth it just to remember that look on her face. Over and over again. Do you think she’d notice if I took a picture with my camera phone?”
Megan had the camera out already. “Well it’s a wedding. We need pictures don’t you think?”
Grace approached. “I saved you at the restaurant last night,” she said quickly.
“So you did.” Megan snapped a few pictures of Nina smushed up against several women wearing blouses with at least two dozen pieces of flair on them. She hoped she could find a way to work it into the conversation that Nina needed one just like it. Payment would be steep so she had to make it worth the retribution Nina would heap on her head.
Nina’s eyes flashed as the camera did and the other Warden women who’d stayed in the background burst out laughing.
“I’m going to get checked in so we can get the bags squared away,” Megan announced as she quickly stopped at the throng, kissing and hugging everyone. She didn’t even wince when Nina pinched her side.
Thankfully, her grandmother seemed to want to get away from all the noise so Megan helped her to her room with her bags.
Once she got her grandmother settled, she turned to leave but Lia Warden wasn’t ready for her to go just yet.
“Megan, darling I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately.”
Uh oh. She turned and smiled but her grandmother had that faraway look in her eyes she got when something witchy was brewing in her head. And the thing of it was, as much as they all made light of her grandmother’s little pronouncements, she was always right. Damned spooky.
“Is that so? Should I be worried?”
“Well big things for you. All of my grandchildren are destined for greatness. But none of you has had an easy path. I wish I could say I thought it would be different for you. But I don’t. You have a trial ahead. I don’t know if the ending will be something you want or not.” Her grandmother cocked her head and touched Megan’s cheek. “But you’re strong. Your heart is full and you know to count on your family and who you are.”
“Is this about a dude or politics or what?”
Her grandmother shrugged and then leaned in to kiss Megan’s cheek. “I never know. I didn’t know about Nina, just that her brother would get killed. I sensed Pellini but not Grace. Could be your mate, could be something else. You’ll be ready for it. I know you will. You’re my girl.”
With that, she was dismissed as her grandmother turned on the television and exclaimed when she saw it was an episode of Law and Order. Once Jerry Orbach was on the screen, Megan knew she’d been forgotten so she waved absently, called out her thanks and that she loved her, and let herself out.
Despite her grandmother’s little talk, Megan was free. Blessedly so for the first time in a few days and that in and of itself was cause for happiness. She quickly got herself to her room, sighing happily after she closed the door and began to root through her suitcase for her swimsuit.
But of course ten minutes after she’d ensconced herself in the sun, a cool ice tea at the ready, her iPod working and her sunglasses shading her eyes, her mother showed up.
“Megan, we need an extra set of hands. We’re stuffing the favors for the tables. Well don’t you look nice? My goodness that’s a very sexy swimsuit.”
With a sigh and a bit of a cringe at her mother saying her suit was sexy, she heaved herself up from her lounger. She barely had time to yank her cover-up on as her mother dragged her over to the big table just across the pool area where she saw the rest of her family had gathered.
“Okay, I’ll give you a freebie because, as Dave reminded me, I did give you a hard time just last month with Lex.” Nina looked so magnanimous when she said it Megan snorted.
“I let your ass go off to the garden show with just one guard and then you got your butt hauled in to the stationhouse because you started arguing with a cop. Lex yelled at me for twenty minutes.”
Nina snickered. “Yeah, like I said. But don’t abandon me again.”
“Whatever. I got years of freebies after being your guard. Don’t forget it the next time I need a favor.”
She really got a look at the table and suddenly wished for those hours back in the car on the way south. Piles and piles of neatly cut squares of… “What is this?”
“Tulle! Isn’t it precious? It matches my bridesmaids’ dresses perfectly! You see how I’ve got three shades of purple?” Sherry actually giggled and Megan had a few uncharitable thoughts about her cousin and her predilection to speaking in exclamation points.
“So you take this cashew mix, and isn’t that clever? Because you know everyone else does Jordan almonds but we did cashew mix with a little bit of sugar on the outside!” Sherry’s mother had the same giggle. “And you put three or four pieces here in the center and then tie it in a bow like this.” Nancy made quick work of the little packet and put it aside. “Just be sure to use the ribbon that coordinates with the tulle.”
And so began three hours of nut stuffing into tiny squares of differently hued purple net. Three hours. Even Layla began to get cranky after hour two.
Finally they broke for dinner and headed back to their rooms to get changed.
Nina’s and Megan’s rooms adjoined so Nina threw the connecting door open and then dramatically fell on Megan’s bed with a howl. “Oh my God. Seriously? Your mother is insane. She enjoyed that. Every minute of fucking ribbon talk and she got a spoon and ate it up. I’m officially brain dead.”
Megan laughed as she swiped some lip gloss on and zipped the side of her dress. “And you thought she was on you to have kids before you finally ponied up and had Gabby. At least you didn’t have to go through this to get married.”
“Yes well, I nearly died and all, which sort of gives me a get out of tulle free card.” Nina rolled over and sat up.
“Whatever. You can’t live off that one forever. You’re like the queen of the Pack now so stop whining. Anyway, you snuck off four or five times to call home. And by the way, calling home does not include hanging out having ice cream on the other side of the pool. If you’re going to skive off, at least hide it better.”
Nina wandered into her room grumbling and returned some moments later, yanking a dress on and turning her back to Megan. “Zip me, sister.”
Megan zipped the dress and swatted Nina’s rear. “Zipped. And you know? I mean, silly tulle and twelve shades of purple aside, she was totally happy to be getting married. That’s pretty cool even if she works my nerves. You should be that excited to be uniting your life with your partner. Sure, sure, in a less annoying fashion would be my preference, but when I finally sniff out Mr. Right, I’d like to be that flipping into it.”
Nina smiled. “Yeah, you’re right. But if we have to do anything like that tomorrow I’m faking appendicitis. Do werewolves have appendicitis?”
Megan laughed as they left to meet the rest of the group for dinner.
After the three-hour dinner where yet more exclamation-point-littered conversation about tulle and purple ribbon took up nearly every last bit of oxygen, Megan escaped and fell into bed, exhausted.
At least she’d managed to have a quiet word with Tee about heading off for shooting and shoes, two of their favorite things. They hadn’t schemed together like that in a while, so that had made her heart lighter.
Visions of targets and the perfect pair of heels danced in her head as she finally dropped off to sleep.
But she should have known it was too good to be true.
As she and Tegan quickly and quietly made their way down the back stairwell and through the side of the lobby to escape for their day of freedom, they halted at the sight of their mother blocking the doors.
“There you girls are! You two look so pretty today. It’s funny,” she said, grabbing them both and turning them away from freedom and leading them back toward the interior of the hotel, “you two look so much alike when you’re together trying to outmaneuver me like you did when you were little. You weren’t leaving were you? Because Layla is over with the groom’s mother and sister at the fitting and I just caught Nina and sent her to go ride along with Sherry to take one last look at the flowers. Isn’t it nice we had an expert? And Tracy is sleeping in this morning, she says she’s not well after the trip, poor dear. But you two and Grace can help with errands.”
Tegan looked over the top of their mother’s head at Megan and they both rolled their eyes. It’d been a long time since the two of them teamed up to outwit their mother and it’d been fun while it lasted. At least she wasn’t off with Sherry looking at roses like Nina was.