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Redwood Pack Book 7
With her blue-black hair and striking green eyes, Cailin Jamenson is the epitome of beauty and the exemplar of strength. She has fought the enforced boundaries of being the lone Jamenson daughter and Redwood Pack princess, but it is the potential future with the dark wolf in her path that threatens everything she thought she desired.
Logan Andersonís own darkness provided the reasoning for his abandonment of his former Pack, the Talons. Now, newly accepted into the Redwood Pack, this jade-eyed wolf and all she represents could be his own undoing.
In this final installment of the Redwood Pack, unimaginable tragedy strikes, and the two wolves who have fought the longest for their independence now face the uncertainty of fate and the epic battle that could end the warÖ and their lives.
The couple looked so in love, so at peace, that Cailin Jamenson thought she might break out in hives or a cold shiver at the thought of them. Her palms itched, and a line of sweat trailed down her back. She licked her lips, trying to keep her mind off of the rabbit hole of heartache her thoughts would eventually find. It wasnít that she was upset her brother North had finally found his mate, Lexi. Just like it wasnít that she was sad that the rest of her brothers had found their mates as well.
No, it was something much worse.
She was jealous.
Like angry-green-monster, wolf-howling-rage jealous.
Jealous and refusing to do anything about it because once she didÖwell, once she did, everything sheíd fought so hard for would have been for naught. It had taken years, but she finally felt like she was worth something more than the titleóat least in her mind. Going down the path where her wolf begged to be led wouldnít accomplish anything but pain and rapid denial.
The wind picked up, knocking a strand of hair out of place and she tucked it back behind her ear. She could hear the sounds of her Pack, her wolves, sniffing, murmuring, and paying attention to the ceremony. The noise mixed with the sounds of nature, the birds chirping and the leaves rustling in the breeze. None of that centered her though. No, she only knew of one way to do that. One way she wasnít ready to face.
Her wolf might crave the dark wolf with rough edges who haunted her dreams, but that didnít mean the woman inside would succumb.
She was stronger than that.
She was Cailin Jamenson.
Redwood Pack princess.
Lone daughter of the Jamenson clan.
Younger sister to six over-protective yet loving brothers.
Aunt to countless nieces and nephews.
The Betaís assistant.
So fucking lost.
She knew what the others saw when they looked at her, the raven-black hair, the light green eyes. So many others had told her she was one of the most beautiful people theyíd ever seen. What a load of crap. Even if they werenít just saying that because of who she was, she wouldnít take it at face value. Sheíd seen true beauty in the selfless acts of her sisters and friends. They were the beautiful ones. Cailin usually responded to those who spoke only of her looks that they hadnít seen that many people. Most didnít see beyond the surface, beyond the blood in her veins.
Someone murmured something behind her, and she blinked, forcing her attention to what was going on in front of her rather than wallowing in the shames she should have buried. Shames that werenít really shames at all, not in the grand scheme of things. Sheíd always tried to be so strong for others, and in turn, hadnít treated those she now loved with the respect they deserved. Sheíd tried to fix that over time, but she wasnít sure she was worth it. Others worried so much for her and her safety, she knew they werenít taking care of themselves like they should. She needed to stop acting so self-centered, so hurt and broken when it was her own doing.
When her father, the Alpha of the Redwood Pack, put his hand on Northís shoulder then did the same to Lexiís, solidifying their bond and mating in front of the Pack, Cailin sucked in a breath and pasted on a smile.
She was happy for them, she really was.
She hated herself for wanting what they had and what they were just beginning.
North cupped Lexiís face, kissing her so softly it looked as if it was barely a whisper. Their gazes never left each other, though Cailin knew North couldnít see Lexi. Heíd been blinded in their last battle with the Centrals, but that didnít stop him from living his life to the fullest. Cailin swallowed hard, burying her own pain. Her brother looked so in love, so whole after being alone for decades, hiding his own darkness until Lexi came along and found what Cailin and her family had missed.
North had needed his mate, his Lexi.
Had needed her more than anything in the world.
He needed their son, Parker, and the bonds that came with mating and fatherhood. Those grounded him and kept his wolf calm.
Cailin would never allow the love and connections to settle her.
She vowed she wouldnít. At least, thatís what sheíd told herself over and over, what she said to herself the moment sheíd laid eyes on Lexiís brother.
Her gaze met that of the other man at Lexiís side, and she raised her chin. She wouldnít have him. Couldnít have him. She just needed to remind her wolf that.
Remind everyone who thought so much of her of that fact.
He gave her a small nod, and her wolf brushed against her skin, a soft caress. A plea for submission, dominance, mating, and everything in between.
Logan. Lexiís brother.
Cailinís potential mate.
No, she wouldnít be mating with him. Sheíd lived her life with seven dominant menónot even counting the others in the Pack whoíd watched her grow upótelling her what to do, how to act, how to behave. Sheíd vowed to herself long ago she wouldnít be following the same routine for eternity tied to a man she felt was even stronger than her brothers.
Even darker than her brothers.
The wolf wouldnít be able to stop himself from dominating her, and that wasnít what she craved, what she needed in order to survive whole.
Logan narrowed his eyes, but Cailin didnít miss the promise in his gaze. Promise of something far greater than the anticipation and trepidation sheíd been burying deep inside since sheíd met him. Damn it, sheíd run out of time. Sheíd been dancing on the fine line of temptation and playing hide and seek for far too long when it came to the wolf standing across the aisle. The wolf wouldnít wait for Cailinís cue anymore. No, heíd take what he thought was his. What he thought the Pack and she herself wanted.
Cailinís wolf, though she panted as well, sneered. Well, heíd just have to wait an eternity for that, wouldnít he?
Cailin wasnít some weak-kneed little girl. Sheíd fight for her freedomójust like sheíd always done.
ìStop growling, little sister. Youíre scaring the children.î
Cailin winced at her brother Maddoxís words and tried to smile again. It came out more like a grimace, but at least it was something. ìSorry,î she whispered. Sheíd let her emotions get the best of her and let others know what was going on inside her mind when she hadnít wanted them to know too much. Not the best way to observe a mating ceremony while trying to remain stoic and happy at the same time.
Maddox put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her close. Her wolf calmed down from the storm Cailin wasnít even aware was brewing. She didnít sigh or relax, even if her wolf was ready to bare her belly for her brother who seemed to know just how to make her feel loved and cared for. This was why wolves were such tactile creatures. The barest touch and her wolf felt cemented, loved.
Her brother bushed his lips over her temple. ìThe ceremony is over, Cai. You can go stand in a corner and hide from the big bad wolf if youíd like. No one would fault you.î Though his words were teasing, the meaning behind them held the hints of truth she wasnít ready to face. And having her brother call her meekness out filled her with a rage she knew wasnít fully on his shoulders.
He would bear the brunt of it anyway.
Cailin turned and faced him, her claws scraping along the insides of her fingertips at the taunt. She lifted her lip and bared a fang. Maddox only laughed, the scar on his face tightening as he did so. Her heart tugged at the sight. She despised that damn scar and all it represented. The now-dead Central Alpha, Corbin, had carved him up years go. The bastard had tortured her brother because of a prophecy that hadnít even been about Maddox to begin with.
No, it had been about North.
The same North that had killed Corbin anyway.
The prophecy had been correct, and Corbin had scarred the wrong brother.
The fact that she couldnít kill Corbin again enraged her and she had to push that familiar feeling back. No good would come from what-ifs.
Her brother bopped her on the nose, that smile on his face infectious. God, she loved this Maddoxóthe Maddox that smiled, laughed, and looked happy. His mate, Ellie, had done that, and Cailin would always be grateful.
Taking a deep breath, she forced her hands to relax. Instead of beating her annoyingly astute brother up, she patted the scarred side of his cheek, something she hadnít done in the past because of her fear of hurting him. Sheíd been an idiot, and the lack of touch had only pulled him deeper into himself, away from his family and those that loved him. Now she tried to make sure he knew that she loved him, scars and all.
ìThank you, big brother, but I will not cower.î She refused to. There would be no hiding from the wolf that haunted her dreamsÖand now her days. She might not want to deal with it, but she wouldnít run away with her tail tucked between her legs. That wasnít who sheíd been her entire life, and she wouldnít resort to becoming that person now.
Maddox raised a dark blond brow. ìIf you wonít let me beat Logan up, or at least maim him a bit, then youíll have to do something about him.î
Cailin rolled her eyes. ìStay out of it, Mad.î
Maddox traced a line down her cheek, and she sighed. Her wolf brushed along the inside of her skin, settling under her brotherís touch. ìI donít know that I can, Cai. Your wolf isnít happy, I can feel it. The woman isnít that happy either.î
Her wolf rumbled, agreeing with the man. No, she wasnít happy. She wouldnít be without a certain dark wolf.
Damn them both.
Her brother was the Omega of the Redwood Pack, meaning he could feel the emotions of every Pack member other than his twin, North. He had once been unable to feel his mate, Ellie, before theyíd bonded, but now their mating bond was stronger than most. His role was to ensure the emotional needs of the Pack were met and they were healthy from the inside out. It also meant he took in each pain, hurt, and overabundance of happiness right into his soul. Cailin just thanked the moon goddess he had Ellie now to share that burden.
His role as Omega, though, didnít mean Cailin liked having her brother intrude on her feelings. It wasnít that he was reaching inside her through that fragile bond that connected him with the Pack on the emotional level. No, when she was this angst-filled, she was apparently blasting her emotions clear and far. She was usually much better at hiding everything having to do with that and erecting a shield from his nosy wolf.
ìIím fine. Butt out, Maddox.î
Maddox growled a bit but put his hands up. ìDeal with it, Cailin. Youíre on edge, and this isnít the time to have your wolf weak because sheís not getting what she needs. Weíre Pack animals, Cai. We need touch. We need that connection.î
She ignored the last part of his statement, concentrating on the part that dug deep. Cailin lifted her chin. ìIím not weak. Despite the fact that I donít have a penis, which you Jamenson boys think one must have in order to be strong, I can and will fight for my Pack.î
Maddox lifted a lip, his eyes glowing a soft gold. ìFirst, donít say penis. Youíre my baby sister. Youíre innocent and pure.î
Cailin snorted. Her brothers kept saying that. If they only knewÖ
No, she didnít want to give them all heart attacks. Or go attack her ex, NoahÖor hurt Logan for playing some key parts in her dirtiest fantasies.
And it was time to get her mind off that particular track.
ìSecond, what the hell do you mean about women being weak? Have you seen our mates? Do you really think any of the six of us consider our mates weak? If thatís what you believe, you arenít looking close enough, and itís fucking insulting. Get your head out of your ass, Cailin, and fix this. Find a way to deal with Logan. Either mate with him or let him down. Running away and hiding behind your need to find another way to live isnít helping anyone. Weíre at war. And even if we werenít, you deserve to be happy.î
Chastened, she took a step back, her heels digging into the ground underneath her. ìIím sorry. I didnít mean that the way it came out.î Oh, she did, but only when it came to the way they thought of her, but that was another matter. ìIím going to go get some air.î Maddox raised a brow, and she shook her head. ìI know weíre outside, but I need different air. Jamenson-free air.î
Maddox pulled her into a hug then kissed the top of her head. ìI love you, little sister. Iím sorry for pushing, but youíre so bottled up Iím scared for you. Somethingís coming, something darker than weíve ever faced before, and I want to make sure youíre as ready as you can be for it.î
She had the same oppressive feeling as Maddox and the rest of her family. There wasnít any way to tell what the darkness was or what danger it might bring, but she knew it was coming.
They all did.
Cailin cupped Maddoxís face and leaned forward. He was a full half foot taller than her, but in heels she could rest her forehead on his scarred cheek. ìI love you, Maddox. Iím sorry. You wonít have to worry about me. I promise. I wonít let you down.î
Maddox squeezed her. ìYou could never let me down.î
She pulled away with a small smile at his lie, then turned toward the line of trees, needing space. Maddox might have said she could never let him down, but she knew that wasnít true. Sheíd been letting everyone down around her for years. Her brothers were all around seventy years older than she was and had practically helped raised her along with their parents. Kade, Jasper, Adam, Reed, North, and Maddox didnít know how not to be overbearing and protective.
It was just their way.
They, however, all had roles within the Pack, whether it be powers blessed from the moon goddess herself or roles theyíd created for themselves so they were worth something.
Cailin had always been a step behind.
She hated it.
What worried her more than all of that, though, was the fact that her brothers didnít trust her to take care of herself. No matter how grown up she thought she was, sheíd always be their baby sister, too weak, too frail to fight in the war with the Centrals.
Theyíd been at war for almost four years.
Those years didnít even include the tension and pain theyíd experienced for decades before the Central Pack summoned and teamed up with a demon named Caym. The other Pack had sacrificed their own princess, Ellieís twin sister, and brought forth hell into their world. One by one, year by year, Cailin had watched her brothers not only fall in love but fight for their lives against the cruelty that was the Centrals.
Now, though, the war was coming to an end.
At least thatís how it felt to Cailin.
The Centrals had lost two Alphas in those four years, Hector and his son, Corbin. Now Caym ruled them with an iron fist. His own dose of dark magic prevented the Redwoods from being on the offense, forever on the defense and trying to scramble the protection needed to survive.
Oh, sheíd fought by her familyís side when they let her, when there was no other way to hide her behind closed doors. God, she hated sounding so ungrateful for her familyís worry and care, but the smothering had to stop.
And mating with Logan would only intensify that feeling. She was sure of it.
She took long strides toward the tree line, nodding at other Pack members who stared at her as if they knew what her innermost thoughts were. Her innermost fear and insecurity. Knowing the way she couldnít seem to hide anything today, she wouldnít be surprised if that was actually true. No one called out to her, telling her to come to their side and join them in the celebration.
She was alone.
Just like sheíd always thought sheíd be.
Just like sheíd forced herself to be.
ìWhat are you doing out here all alone?î
The deep timbre went straight to her core, her body shaking at just those words alone. Words that didnít mean anything beyond the fact they were spoken by the one wolf sheíd truly tried to hide from.
Cailin stopped moving, her hand pressed against a tree as she prayed for composure. It wouldnít do well to bite and snap at him or, worse, press her body up against him and rub her scent all over him. She turned to face Logan and tried not to swallow her tongue. No matter how hard she fought her attraction to him, her wolf ached for the man in front of her.
The woman wanted him as well but tried to hide it.
Those hazel eyes bore into her, the dominance held within them not begging for her wolfís submissionóonly the womanís. Within those eyes she could see the man and the wolf, two halves of a whole. Two distinct ideas and desires. One wanted her submission, the other wanted her by his side. That was the difference between him and the other wolves who might have laid claim to her.
The difference she wasnít ready to accept.
The difference she wasnít sure she understood.
Her hands ached to run through his dark hair that heíd recently shorn so it lay close to his scalp. At five-five, she wasnít the shortest of women, but next to Loganís size, she always felt small, fragile.
And thatís why she would never mate with him.
She needed to be strong, not weakónot how she felt around him. How she feared heíd make her be once she gave into the yearning both she and her wolf craved.
ìFollowing me now like a lost puppy?î she sneered.
Logan pinched her chin, forcing her gaze to his. She narrowed her eyes, but her damn inner wolf wouldnít let her move back. No, the annoying canine wanted to rub up all along the man and make sure all those women eyeing him at the ceremony kept their paws off of him.
Not that sheíd been paying attention to them.
No, but she had felt their gazes digging into her back and on the tall drink of water in front of her.
If her mind had been making any sense at all, she should have been happy other women wanted to lay claimóif only for an evening. Instead, she battled within herself so much her head ached.
ìYou should be with your family,î he said, his voice low, tempting. ìItís a day of light rather than the darkness youíve been fighting for far too long.î
ìYou say that as if you arenít a Redwood.î She held back a wince. Damn it, she did not want to get into a conversation with this man. Not when she needed to breathe, to feel like she had a choice in the matter.
Logan rubbed her chin with his thumb before pulling back. Cailin immediately wanted his touch back, the loss almost overwhelming.
Her wolf whimpered.
ìI might have the bond with the Alpha, but we both know that finding your place within a Pack is more than a bond and a promise.î
She blinked up at him, surprised at his insight. That sliver of connection to the man in front of her sheíd tried to ignore thickened just enough that she had to hold back a gasp. Her wolf wanted that bond, badly.
They stared at each other for a few more moments, though it felt like longer before she shook her head, clearing thoughts of forever and a promise sheíd never intend to keep.
ìI should get back. Theyíll be wondering where I am.î And wondering how to fix her because everyone knew something was off, that the broken parts within her were fragmenting even more.
ìIíll walk with you,î Logan said, his voice low, enticing.
Stop wanting him, Cailin. Donít give in.
ìI donít need a chaperone, Logan. Iím a big girl.î
His gaze raked over her body, and she fought the urge to wrap her arms around him and never let him go.
ìI know who you are, Cailin. I never forget that.î
She glared. ìYou know nothing. Donít follow me.î
She stormed off, knowing the wolf prowled right on her heels. Damn him. Damn fate. Damn everything.
Someone stepped on a fallen branch in front of her. A deliberate action alerting her to his presence. Her wolf stood at attention, ready to run toward the sound. Toward the comfort.
ìCailin, come here, baby girl.î
Her head shot up at her fatherís words, and she went to his side, wrapping her arms around his waist and burrowing into him. Her wolf immediately calmed, their Alpha soothing hurts she hadnít known sheíd hadóor maybe known all along but ignored for far too long. The daughter, though, needed her father, and the feeling grated. She was an adult, yet she wanted her fatherís hold to make it all better.
Maybe her brothers were right and Cailin wasnít ready to grow up.
The doubt ate at her, but she ignored it, inhaling her fatherís crisp scent of forest and home, letting it wash over her so she could breathe again.
People milled around them and she could feel their looks, but ignored them. Apparently when sheíd run from Loganóor rather, walked quickly awayósheíd made it back to the celebration in the field without even realizing it.
ìFeel better?î her father asked, his voice so low she knew that his words were just for her and no one else.
She pulled back so she could look up at him but kept her arms around his waist. ìYes, thank you, Dad. I didnít know I needed a hug so much.î
Her father cupped her face, and she leaned into him. She was a daddyís girl at heart, and everyone knew it. ìYou crave touch, darling girl. And not the touch an Alpha provides. Your wolf is restless.î
She knew her father was treading the line on the subject of Logan, but she couldnít speak about it. Not then. Maybe not ever.
ìIíll try to hang out with the pups more often.î
Her father raised a brow. ìAs much as we all love how much you care for your nephews and nieces, we both know that wonít be enough. Thatís not the type of touch you need.î
She blushed hard at her fatherís words. ìIím so not talking about this with you.î
ìI really donít want to talk to you about this either. Iíd rather your mother handle it, but Iím here and I care. If you wonít do anything about Logan, then what about that wolf you were secretly seeing, Noah?î
Cailin closed her eyes, wishing there was a hole to swallow her up and take her away from this conversation. ìNoah and I are just friends now. And if it was a secret, why does everyone seem to know about it?î
Her father patted her back. ìWeíre a Pack, darling.î
Meaning there were no real secrets. Not anymore. Not that there ever were. ìIíll figure it out,î she said after a few moments of silence.
He cupped her cheek and smiled. ìI know you will, baby girl. I know I donít say this enough, but Iím so proud of the woman youíve become. Youíre so strong, Cailin. I know between me and your brothers you sometimes feel like you canít breathe, but itís only because we love you. I love you, Cailin. Never forget that.î
Tears filled her eyes, and she hugged her father hard. He knew the exact words to say to make her feel better. She didnít know what sheíd do without him.
ìI love you too, Dad.î
A chill washed over her, and she pulled away, her hand on her fatherís arm, not wanting to lose his touch. The trees seemed to freeze in the wind, their leaves rustling no more. The birds had stopped chirping, their song of silence a warning of what was to come. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and she inhaled the scents around her, trying to discern what was wrong, what had changed.
Her wolf bucked, rubbing along her skin, ready to break free and find the danger that had arisen out of nowhere.
ìWhat is it?î she whispered.
ìSomethingís coming.î Her father didnít sound like the warm man who had just comforted her then. No, he was the Alpha.
Everyone around them quieted, their wolves going on alert. Cailin straightened, her senses going out, trying to feel what was out of place.
Her father stiffened then looked over his shoulder at his Pack. ìGrab the children and run!î He turned to her, his eyes gold, Alpha. ìThe Centrals are right outside the wards.î
The others didnít waste time, grabbing their pups and moving at their Alphaís command. Cailin focused on the clearing in front of them, her wolf ready to howl. She wouldnít run with the others, she would stand and face what was coming. The maternal wolves and submissives would take the pups and do what they were born to doóto protect what was theirs.
Cailin would do what she was born to doóto fight for what was hers.
Then a sharp pain slammed into her, her knees going weak. The connection she had with her den snapped and bile rose in her throat. Her father gripped her elbow, keeping her steady.
ìThe wards,î she whispered.
ìI know, theyíre gone. The Centrals have come to us. Fight well, baby girl. Fight hard.î
She met her fatherís gaze and nodded, pride filling her, warring with the fear. She looked out into the clearing again and swallowed hard.
Dozens of Central wolves in wolf form prowled into the clearing, ready to kill, to fight. That wasnít what scared her.
No, the demon who led them brought forth the fear to end all fears.
The demon with dark hair and chiseled features gazed in her direction and smiled. The chill shooting down her spine made her want to retch. She pulled her gaze away, instinctively searching for the one person she had to be sure was okay.
Logan stood by her mother, his fists clenched. He met her gaze and nodded.
Immediately, a small trigger relaxed within her and she lifted a lip, baring fang as she turned toward the demon. She was ready. Caym gave her one more slow smile, then nodded.
With Caymís nod, the Centrals attacked, teeth and claws bared.
The battle had begun.
The war had come to the Redwoods.
It was time.