Aaric Tamang leaned against the bar. He surveyed the pack commons, taking in the ridiculous amount of Halloween decorations strewn about the room. It looked like a party store had thrown up, depositing a plethora of skeletons, ghosts, spiders, and pumpkins on every wall, the pillars, and even the ceiling.
Lifting the beer to his lips, Aaric took a sip of the dark brew. “Well, that went well, Adriana. You did real good,” he stated, complimenting his sister’s efforts.
Adriana, younger by two years, beamed at him. “Thanks!” She grabbed a beer from the fridge, then plopped down on a stool near him.
Aaric held out his hand and she handed him the bottle. He popped the cap, then handed it back to her.
“Thanks,” she said again before taking a swallow. Leaning her back against the bar, she surveyed the nearly cleaned room. “I did do a good job, huh?”
After looking around the room again, Aaric nodded. “You did. The cubs loved it.” He pointed at the old-fashioned wooden tub and the nearly empty bag of apples beside it. Puddles of water still littered the floor due to the bobbing-for-apples activity. He smiled at the memory of the squealing, splashing kids as they stuck practically their whole heads into the tub trying to snag an apple in their mouth.
“I remember bobbing for apples,” he said quietly. “It was one of Mom’s favorite parts of Halloween.”
“Yeah. I always think of her a lot this time of year,” Adriana replied.
Their mother had been human and not their father’s true mate, but they’d loved each other right up until her end almost fifteen years before. When she’d passed, everyone had expected their older brother, Abbott, to take over as alpha. He’d refused. Instead, he’d helped Diego move past his grief.
His brother had known a thing or two about that…what it felt like to lose a chosen mate. Emily hadn’t been Abbott’s true mate, either, but he’d married and bonded with her as if she were. When the curse had struck and she’d died in childbirth, he’d been devastated.
Abbott threw himself into caring for his newborn son, Vail, which had kept his brother from losing himself in his grief and forcing his family to put him down.
Dangerous thing, losing a mate, fated or not.
With the realization that his nephew had broken the curse, Abbott, Adriana, and Diego hoped that, maybe they’d find their true mates. Aaric hoped they were successful even while knowing he’d never have that chance.
Aaric had already met his true mate. Melissa.
While driving through the night to reach home after spending a few days negotiating with a neighboring pack, Aaric had stopped at a small, rundown gas station. She had been manning the counter. Even while looking nervous at having his big, unshaven frame in her store at nearly two in the morning, she’d smiled shyly.
Nearly coming in his jeans at her scent, Aaric had almost asked for her number, already thinking of some excuse for sticking around the area. However, as he thought about what he’d say to his father, he’d remembered Abbott. His brother had lost Emily just a year and a half before that.
Aaric had paid for his coffee, his fuel, and left.
After nearly seventy years, her memory only caused a pang of regret as opposed to debilitating pain. Almost twenty-five years before, even his wolf had stopped whining when his thoughts turned to his missed opportunity.
“You’re staying for the adult party, right?”
Adriana’s question pulled Aaric from his musings. Grimacing, he rolled a shoulder in semblance of a shrug. “Maybe for a few minutes. Vail’s coming tonight and there’s no way of knowing how much longer he’ll be in the area.”
He figured he’d better spend time with his nephew when he could. Vail was part of a nomadic pack, a group made up of various shifters, humans, and even a vampire. Most of the group was mated, including his nephew. Even though Vail’s mate kinda made Aaric uncomfortable—Draven was a vampire warlock hybrid—he tried not to let it show too badly. Still, the moment Draven had shook his hand, the man had given him an understanding smile and shrugged slightly, as if to say it is what it is.
Nodding, Adriana grinned. “I hope Luc shows. He’s a hottie with that French accent. I wouldn’t mind me a little piece of that.”