“Killing her this way just isn’t going to work. You’re going to have to get more creative with this one.” He’d boxed himself in and no amount of research was going to help. “I told you in the beginning there were only so many native plants that were poisonous.”
No matter what anyone said, writers were just as insane as any other artist.
Dakota gave me a scathing look as his pacing increased to an almost frantic level. “There has to be another option. That’s the point of the series.”
When he’d started his series based on a small town that had lots of crazy deaths, it had sounded like fun, but he hadn’t expected it to go on long enough that he’d run out of local plants that were poisonous or could remotely be from that region.
“What about an invasive species or someone who’s moved into the area from a weird part of the world?” I rolled over and stretched out on the floor. Desks were for boring people. “You said the college was going to be hiring next year. Just move up the timeline a bit.”
He huffed, a sign that while he didn’t like the idea, it might work. But talking him off that ledge would have to wait. Whoever thought Austin was the most dramatic of the group had never worked with Dakota. He was just the quieter form of crazy you could take out in public easier. “You’re going to have to pout another time. We’re meeting Bradley and Wade for dinner in twenty minutes.”
“It can’t be time for that already. We had two hours to go just a few minutes ago.” He started looking around with a frown on his face. Before I could remind him that he’d left his phone in the kitchen so it wouldn’t distract him, he marched over to the computer and found the time. “Damn.”
“Why do you persist in questioning me?” Anyone would think that after five years of working together, he’d stop questioning my internal clock.
He gave me a frustrated look and rolled his eyes. “Because one day you’re going to be wrong.”
“Well, it’s not today, buttercup, so let’s get going.” We did this song and dance every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday when it was time for me to leave. It was so familiar I could have done it in my sleep.
He glanced over at his computer like it should be personally offended that he was walking away. “I’m not done figuring out how she decides—”
“Nope. We’re not going to be late because you had just one more scene to write.” I’d learned that lesson in the first few months after I’d started working with him. “Wade does not need an excuse to cancel dinner.”
And that got him going.
“Fine.” He tossed the pen he’d been playing with back on his desk and started shuffling papers around.
I’d seen that tactic before, so I started shooing him out. “You look like you haven’t bathed in a week. Go change clothes. You have fifteen minutes.”
He actually had almost half an hour, but telling him that would guarantee we were late. That was another lesson learned early in our odd partnership. Dakota tried to come up with another excuse, but I shot him a tough look and pointed toward the door. “Go.”
Constantly being in charge of him was exhausting.
I’d made him get a shower when I’d shown up earlier, but he still managed to look rumpled and almost homeless. I got another frustrated expression from him, but he headed upstairs to hopefully fix his hair and find a shirt that didn’t look like he’d been rolling around on the floor.
Hell, I’d been rolling around on the floor and I looked more presentable.
When he’d admitted five years ago that he needed a keeper, I’d thought he was humoring me. I’d needed additional income to help support what I was making from my art and I’d been convinced it was just a ploy. I’d been willing to look past that, but it turned out he really did need help.
He was a great writer—but not really a functional adult.
I heard Dakota moving around upstairs as I started straightening up his office and putting everything back where he’d think he would have left it—which was never where he’d actually set it down.
When I’d first started working for him, it’d been mainly research and helping with his social media accounts, because while he liked talking to his readers, he hated everything else about the different platforms.
It’d developed into more when I realized he wasn’t always showering on the days I didn’t come in, and once, I’d discovered him trying to finish a book for a deadline and he hadn’t slept in over twenty-four hours. Yeah, he really had needed a keeper—or a Dom.
Once I’d cleaned up his office and had taken all the dirty cups to the kitchen, I texted Bradley that we were on track to be on time. He and Wade knew not to leave the house until they got the all-clear signal from me. After sending another quick message to Wade, I headed out to the living room and started playing on my phone.
Dakota had another five minutes until I had to start reminding him we were leaving, so I enjoyed the break. I loved helping him research for his mysteries and I even loved the social media work I did for him, but keeping him focused on the real world wasn’t always easy. Once he was away from his work he was a completely normal human, but I had to get him out of the house first.
A text from Graham caught my eye and I had to fight the urge to smile. It was a simple message about a meeting to go over a few last-minute details, but something about him always made me want to grin. He’d never even flirted with me, but when I thought about him, I just wanted to either curl into him or throw myself at him. It was insane and probably inappropriate because I had a feeling he was involved with someone else, even though he never talked about anyone.
Graham’s personal life was still a touchy subject with Shane, so I hadn’t been able to ask him about it, either. The one time he’d talked about his cousin before it all came out that Graham wasn’t quite as vanilla as Shane had assumed, he’d said that Graham was single.
But single guys didn’t give off that married-and-trying-not-to-look vibe, so I had questions.
Lots of unanswered, slightly inappropriate questions.
I sent back a text apologizing for taking so long to respond and letting him know that I could meet tomorrow whenever it was convenient for him. As I hit send, I heard Dakota clomping down the stairs, so I stood and started heading for the door. “Your phone is in the kitchen. Let’s go.”
If I let him stop in the office, it would be another ten minutes before we could get out of the house. Just letting him detour to the kitchen was dangerous. Last week I’d found him making notes on napkins when he’d gone in there to grab a bottle of water before we left.
I used to feel bad about interrupting his work, but then I’d realized he’d talk to the people in his head all day if I let him, and no matter what he thought, he needed to hang out with real people too. Not that he always saw it that way. Dakota would end up one of those weird hermit people if he didn’t have friends.
He always refuted that argument with how much work he could get done if we left him alone, but I had firsthand knowledge about how well he was doing since I was the one paying his bills, so I knew he could afford to take a break once in a while. When there was too much silence in the kitchen, I called out, “Let’s go. You’re running late.”
Well, he would be if I didn’t keep him going, so it didn’t count as a lie.
Dakota started clomping through the house again and gave a dramatic sigh as he approached the front door. “They’ll understand if I—”
“Nope.” He’d been even more of a hermit lately now that Austin and Tanner had found their alphas. He kept saying he was fine, but it was clear he wasn’t. Not that I could blame him. We were all feeling a little jealous, which was why getting out of the house was important.
Hell, we’d never meet eligible alphas if we never left the house, because the kinky fun ones definitely weren’t online.
Opening the door, I kept moving him out of the house. As predicted, once we left his little lair of cozy mystery, he was more functional. “When did it get so late?”
Okay, so maybe not that functional.
He needed a keeper that was a lot bossier than I was. Someone had to rein in his tendency to overwork and they had to do it with more tempting things than dinner out a few times a week. Sex and some pain were going to be required to keep him in line.
Sighing, I handed him his keys and pushed him toward his car. “I’ll meet you at the restaurant.”
I wasn’t going to answer stupid questions—at least, not when I wasn’t on the clock.
The drive over was thankfully quiet and uneventful. I didn’t even have the radio on. I loved helping Dakota and I appreciated the extra income, but he was more stressful than he realized. My natural inclination was to be just as distracted as he was, so it felt like I was constantly battling who I really was with who he needed me to be.
Two half-functional subs did not make a whole functional person, no matter what Dakota thought.
Dakota pulled up beside me as I parked, and I glanced over at the door to see Wade and Bradley waiting for us. Bradley was a little OCD about being on time, so more often than not he’d be waiting inside with a drink playing on his phone when we arrived. Wade must have guilted him into waiting for us, even though we weren’t late.
As we climbed out of our cars, Dakota looked at me and I could see the wheels turning in his head. “No.”
Work was done.
“Write it down in your notebook and you can play with it later.” That expression always meant he had a great idea, but he was taking a few hours off. I could see stubbornness setting in. “Behave or I’ll tell Wade how many hours you’ve been working lately.”
A little birdy had told me that somehow Wade thought Dakota had been getting out of the house on a regular basis. “Do you know that he’s somehow under the impression that you’re going to the gym?”
Dakota had some weights at the house that he used a few times a week when he needed a mental break from whatever he was working on, but he didn’t even have a gym membership anywhere, so I wasn’t sure where Wade had gotten that idea from.
Dakota shrugged but reached into his notebook to start jotting something down as we made our way across the parking lot. I’d always been impressed with his ability to make notes and walk at the same time. I hadn’t ever seen him walk into any walls or oncoming traffic, so I wasn’t too worried. His alpha could worry about that when he found him.
Keeping him alive wasn’t in my job description.
“Finally.” Bradley didn’t hide the long look he gave his phone as he checked the time.
Wade smacked his arm, but I just rolled my eyes. “We’re not late, asshole.”
God, he needed someone to help him unwind before he just exploded. I turned to Wade, ignoring the asshole who was in desperate need of a spanking. “How are you doing?”
“Great.” Wade smiled, but there was something in his eyes that made him look tired. “The bathroom is finally finished and it looks wonderful.”
Every year around the anniversary of his husband’s death we could see the stress start to build. Over the last few years it’d started to fade, but this year it seemed to be getting worse. Instead of just cleaning out a closet or rearranging furniture, he’d completely remodeled the bathroom.
“That’s wonderful.” I was hoping the energy he’d expended had helped him work out some of his emotions, but I wasn’t sure it’d done the job this time.
Judging by the looks Bradley and Dakota exchanged, we were all on the same page with that. “I can’t wait to see it.”
Making a mental note to stop by and see him later in the week, I gestured toward the door. “You guys ready?”
“Starving.” Bradley was still in his on time is late bit, so I just gave him a smile and followed him in. Pointing out his bad behavior never really helped.
He was another misbehaving omega who needed a keeper.
We were creatures of habit, so we were seated and had everything ordered in minutes. As we relaxed in our favorite booth at the back of the restaurant, the conversation turned to the club again. Wade set his glass down and smiled. “How are the last of the plans going?”
“Good.” I fought the urge to look at my phone and see if Graham had texted back. “I think we need one more meeting to iron out the last of the details and then he’ll start the remodel.”
Our unwillingness to explain the real purpose of the club had been reasonable, but when Graham had figured out it wasn’t just a social club, he’d insisted there were hundreds of little details that needed to be addressed. My schedule was the most flexible, so I got to spend the time deciding most of the crazy details Graham was convinced were terribly important.
I was probably the easiest to deal with as well, but he was too polite to point that out.
“It feels like it’s coming together so fast.” Wade glanced between Dakota and Bradley. “What do you guys think?”
The cranky-pants omegas knew better than to bring Wade down, so they actually smiled. Bradley even sounded slightly cheerful as he spoke up. “I think the timetable is looking very good. Redoing so much of the plans has put us behind where I wanted to be at this point, but I think it’s for the best.”
“Yeah.” Dakota nodded, fiddling with his pen. “I think the overall functionality of the rooms will be much better this way.”
Being able to answer Graham honestly had made some things much easier, but it was also even more awkward now. When all I’d had to do was smile and pretend to be a boring omega, it’d been easier to ignore how he pulled at me. Being honest was much harder.
It’d been one conversation after another about kinks and fetishes and what people might need to use in each space. How was I supposed to talk about all that with a hot alpha I was pretending wasn’t hot and more than likely kinky as hell because nothing he mentioned seemed to shock him at all?
I had so many questions that all had to go unanswered.
Wade grinned. “And the fact that Jonah gets to spend all that time with the sexy alpha isn’t bad either.”
I groaned. “Nothing’s happened. And really, I’m pretty sure he’s seriously involved with someone.”
Shaking his head, Wade picked up his glass. “Shane seems to think he’s single.”
“Shane thought he was vanilla too.” But what family had those kinds of conversations? I would have assumed Graham was a traditional alpha too. “He gets a lot of texts from someone who makes him smile and he just comes across very taken.”
No single guy felt that guilty about flirting or checking someone out.
Yeah, we’d played the game of discreetly checking each other out and pretending we hadn’t, but he’d radiated some kind of confused guilt. At first I’d thought it was because of Shane or because of the kink confusion, but now I wasn’t so sure.
“That sucks.” Wade frowned, taking a sip of his soda. “I wonder why Shane doesn’t know?”
Bradley rolled his eyes. “Because he’s clearly seeing someone their family wouldn’t approve of. If he’s a single, kinky, or at least open-minded alpha, he should have flirted more with at least one of us. So far all he’s done is exchange longing glances with Jonah.”
“Hey, I haven’t been exchanging longing glances with him.” They were insane.
Wade and Dakota both laughed. Even Bradley cracked a smile as he responded again. “Oh yeah, you two have repressed sexual longing down to an art form.”
“You two are nearly as hot as Austin and Silas are when you start staring into each other’s eyes.” Wade started fanning himself dramatically.
“No one can top those two.” Changing the subject seemed to be the best idea, so I focused on Austin. “Speaking of Austin and Silas, are they still on for their interview tomorrow?”
Unfortunately, Austin’s love life was now major tabloid news. One of the asshole cops who’d been hassling Silas had leaked photos of Austin and Silas. They’d decided to handle it by doing a big TV interview, hoping that would take attention off anything else.
Being in the spotlight like that would have killed me, but Austin liked the attention, and Silas liked anything that made Austin happy.
Wade nodded. “They’re heading up first thing tomorrow morning. There were a few reporters sniffing around the store this morning, so they decided not to open it just in case. Silas is low on their list, though, because last I heard they still thought Austin was in love with a porn star.”
“No, now it’s a politician.” Bradley rolled his eyes. “I forget his name. He’s supposed to be for omega rights, but there are some rumors about his past.”
“That’s a new one.” For the most part, they’d been trying to pair him with celebrities and porn stars. “Is it someone who might be worth talking to about the omega rights issues?”
That was another reason Austin and Silas had been willing to play up to the cameras. Austin’s goal was to start pointing out the hypocrisy of calling it omega rights when omegas couldn’t even control their sexuality.
I had a feeling the network wasn’t going to know what hit them.
Bradley shrugged. “I thought it sounded like a bunch of conspiracy nonsense, but I guess it’s worth looking into. I’ll call Austin after we’re done and make sure he saw it. I think they’ve been avoiding most of the press, so they might not have seen it.”
“Yeah, they’ve been avoiding it. Austin can’t even go pick up his dry cleaning without being followed. They even followed his new driver home last night because they thought he might be the mysterious new alpha that Austin Johnson is in love with.” It was my turn to roll my eyes. “If this keeps up, his assistant is going to require an assistant.”
Austin wasn’t a complete control freak when it came to most things, but he hated to delegate anything unless he trusted the person who was going to handle it. There had been a few assistants who’d seemed nice up front but had then gone behind his back and sold details of his personal life to the tabloids. Fortunately he’d been careful with the details he’d shared with them, so it had mostly been silly things, but it’d still left a mark.
We’d decided that I’d help him out with anything behind the scenes and if anyone needed to be the face of his brand, then he’d do it or his publicist would. Thankfully, over the past year he’d been more focused on the business side than the attention-whore side, so I’d had less I needed to organize. With all the crazy going on for the past couple of days, that was starting to pick up again.
“One of the paparazzi even followed Marta to the grocery store the other day. It’s getting ridiculous. I can’t wait until it blows over.” Even though Austin was convinced he could keep the media distracted, I didn’t want to risk the club coming out into the open.
Dakota smirked. “Do you really think Austin going on TV is going to help anything blow over?”
“Uh.” I had a feeling it was going to be a long week.
Love is worth waiting for—at least, that’s what Jonah keeps telling himself.
Taking care of everyone else while he tries to find the alpha of his dreams isn’t easy, but he loves the family he’s found. However, he’s starting to wish there was someone who just wanted to take care of him. But when omegas are supposed to demand equal rights in everything, how is he supposed to confess that all he wants is to surrender completely?
Russ has always told Graham that their omega would be worth waiting for. Unfortunately, it’s taken longer for the two alphas to find him than they ever expected. But Russ knows when his hesitant lover comes home talking about the sweet omega he’s working for that the future they dreamed of is finally within their reach.
Sometimes love really is worth waiting for—especially when it comes in an unconventional package.
Story Contains: M/M/m sexual content, BDSM elements, non-shifter alpha/omega dynamics, edging, and spanking.
Author’s note: While future stories in this universe might contain mpreg, most books will not. Also, there is a free prequel to the series you can find here.