Leighton is a broken man with a broken wolf. Finding a mate is the last thing he needs or wants.
When a woman who risks her life to keep the shifters of Broken Peak Pack safe shows up in his territory, his wolf has other ideas. She’s smart, funny, and sexy.
There’s only one problem…
He’s not worthy of a mate, especially a woman as good as her.
Danielle is intent on keeping the shifters of Broken Peak safe, especially Leighton, even if she only knows him through pictures and computer files. When her employer discovers she’s sharing their secrets with Vixen, it’s not just her job at risk, but her life.
With the safety of Broken Peak Pack in the balance, destiny and love face the danger looming over them. Will Broken Peak lose its Mage and Leighton lose his mate? Or will Danielle's love for Leighton be enough to convince him he can keep her safe?
Leighton wandered through the silent lodge. Everyone was asleep. Well, practically everybody. It was Jackson’s night to patrol. Ever since Broken Peak faced two attacks by forces intent on taking Jackson’s son, Foster, away, they safeguarded the territory borders during the night. The pack didn’t have adequate numbers to sustain the rigorous schedule, but the other shifters in the area volunteered to help.
Roose, the resident curmudgeon and bear shifter, rounded up Gareth and the other mountain lions to reinforce the pack’s skeleton crew. Even Mac, the old coyote shifter, put a few hours in the woods every night. For the time being, the pack managed, but Leighton knew they couldn’t keep it up for long. The combination of routine and exhaustion would lead to someone overlooking the signs of a raid.
And next time, the pack wouldn’t be so lucky.
Vixen, his alpha female, was a formidable ally with a deadly griffin lurking inside her, but she couldn’t hold the government off indefinitely. And once the government figured out what animal hid beneath her skin, they’d redouble their efforts. The military, or whatever agency was intent on seizing the four-year-old boy, had limitless funds, better weapons, and an infinite supply of warm bodies to hurl at the pack. Eventually the government would prevail. Broken Peak only had a Vixen and a folklorist desperately working to figure out if the volumes filled with the ramblings of long-dead shifters held any true significance or were just gibberish.
Leighton had money on the writers being gibbering idiots.
On the nights when Leighton wasn’t slated for patrol, he’d wake up throughout the night and couldn’t get back to sleep until he confirmed that everyone was secure and asleep in their beds. He started with the alphas, never actually opening the door to check and instead relying on noises to confirm all was well. Usually, it was Bray snoring, but occasionally it was just the sound of a blanket shifting against a sheet. Then he moved on to his pack mates, starting with the youngest, Tevin, and moving up to the oldest, Jackson. He checked on Foster last. Foster might have been
Jackson and Eleanor’s son, but he was the pack’s pup too.
The only room he entered belonged to Foster. Both Leighton and his wolf didn’t rely on sleeping noises, they required the comfort of contact.
Leighton pushed wide the door. Expecting the same quiet silence he encountered every other night, he was unprepared for the pressure of the heated air that twisted across the floor and nearly flattened him.
Warmth. No. Not warmth.
Fire. The room was on fire.
Leighton stepped into the room, but with each step the bed moved further away.
The smoke grew heavier and despite his best efforts to draw oxygen into his lungs; he failed. Falling to the floor, he dragged his body toward the bed. For every inch he gained, the bed pulled back a foot.
Panic won its battle and Leighton’s heart pounded against his ribs. His lungs ached and his palms burned, but he refused to admit defeat. Leighton raised his head, searching for the bed, for Foster’s tiny body under the blankets, but the bed was gone.
The room was gone.
Leighton stood in the middle of the forest, glowing orange as the flames danced and hopped from tree to tree.
Foster shifted back and forth from boy to wolf, less than fifty feet away from Leighton.
The fire crept closer, but ignored Leighton. It wasn’t hungry for the male. The fire wanted the boy. Leighton let out a roar, dug his feet into the ground and raced for the boy. He could beat the flames if he just moved fast enough. He covered half the distance, but Foster hadn’t moved any closer.
Foster’s cries grew louder than the howling of the flames, but Leighton still couldn’t reach him. Leighton drew strength from some unknown reserve deep within him and shoved hard off his feet. Except instead of driving forward, his feet sank into the soft ground. Leighton struggled to wrench his legs free, but the earth swallowed his ankles, locking him in place.
The land, his land, betrayed him and aligned itself with the fire. The earth would absorb Foster’s ashes. It would take its payment. Leighton was powerless to do anything except watch. He would be witness to a pup’s death. He’d have to be the one to return home and confess his failure. He couldn’t save Foster.
Leighton wasn’t worthy.
As the fire licked at Foster’s skin, and the boy’s cries of fear changed to wails of pain, Leighton screamed with him.
The roar of the fire eased and the cries of the pup faded, but Leighton’s screamed pierced the night.
“Leighton?” Vixen knelt in front of him.
His mouth snapped shut, and he jerked his head back, striking the hard surface of the wall. Several blinks later and he found himself in the corner of his room, squeezed between the dresser and his bed. “A dream?”
Vixen nodded and reached her hand toward him. The next step in their dance required him to take her hand. She never touched him first. They’d performed this maneuver enough times. He recognized the cues. Even Bray, lurking in the hallway just outside the door and observing his mate, knew what transpired next.
Vixen had a limitless reservoir of patience. She would wait all night, kneeling in front of him with an outstretched palm if she had to until he placed his hand in hers. Leighton had no problem sitting on the floor all night, but he wouldn’t inflict his penance on his alphas.
He wrapped his hand around hers and they helped each other to their feet.
“Let’s get you into bed. I’ve slept on enough floors to know a bed is preferable.” She brought him to his bed and straightened the sheets and blankets he tore off the mattress during his nightmare.
Once the bed had been restored and Leighton was back under the covers, Vixen sat down next to him. He’d gotten better over the months. He no longer clung to her until sleep returned. Leighton closed his eyes and counted to thirty. Most nights, Vixen left him alone before he reached twenty. Tonight was not most nights.
“They’re getting worse. You need to talk about them. It doesn’t have to be me, but you need to tell someone or the nightmares will consume you.”
He said nothing. Seconds afterward, Vixen squeezed his shoulder and left him alone in his bedroom.
Leighton wasn’t worthy.
He wasn’t worthy of the pack, he wasn’t worthy of Vixen’s attention, and he wasn’t worthy of a mate.