Home > Haven (Relentless #5)(9)

Haven (Relentless #5)(9)
Author: Karen Lynch

Francis scoffed when I walked up to them. His attitude annoyed me as usual, but I didn’t totally disagree with him in this case. I didn’t know why Maxwell wanted Pete and me in the Beta selection when there were only so many slots and a lot more experienced members who wanted them. The only reason I could think of was it was another one of his lessons in responsibility. Not that I hadn’t had enough of those to last me a lifetime. I hoped this one wasn’t as humiliating as some of them had been. One thing about Maxwell, when he made a point, you never forgot it.

The back door of the farmhouse opened, and Brendan emerged. He was two years younger than Maxwell, but they had the same reddish-brown hair and similar facial features. They were the same height, but Brendan was stockier. Brendan was also the least severe of the two.

He stopped in front of us, and everyone turned to face him. His gaze swept over us, meeting each of ours, before he spoke.

“Max and I will be observing you and the other candidates who’ll be here for the gathering. And don’t be surprised if one of us pulls you aside to talk. Stay on your toes because you won’t know when we’ll be watching.”

Francis smiled as if to say, “Bring it on.” I had no doubt he was already planning the changes he would make when he became a Beta. The Alpha had final say in all major decisions that affected the pack, but the Betas would make suggestions to him. I was sure my cousin had lots of ideas for how things should be done.

“Shift,” Brendan barked.

No one questioned him, and we all began to strip off our clothes where we stood. Nudity was nothing to us. Werewolves had to disrobe around each other all the time unless we wanted to shift and destroy our clothes.

I let my wolf out the moment my last piece of clothing hit the ground. A surge of joy filled my chest as my body grew and reformed. When I was younger, the change was painful because my wolf was slower to emerge. Now, he came out so fast I barely felt a twinge.

Shawn’s brown wolf circled me. Damn, Roland, what the hell have you been eating? When did you get so bloody big?

I looked down at my chest, but it didn’t seem bigger to me. I’d always been larger than my friends; my mother said I got it from the males on both sides of my family.

Pete’s eyes met mine, and he gave me a wolfish grin. Guess all those drills paid off.

A growl drew our attention to Brendan who had also shifted. He and Maxwell were the biggest wolves in the pack, and their size and power had always made me feel small in comparison. Even as an adult, I was in awe of them.

According to my mother, both of her brothers were strong enough to be Alpha, but when the time came, Brendan had said Maxwell was the true leader. I’d asked her how he knew that, and she said Maxwell’s Alpha blood was too strong to follow another wolf, even his brother, and he had all the traits that gave an Alpha power to lead a pack. I felt that power when I was around Maxwell, and it made me respect him and submit to him as my leader, even when I didn’t agree with him. It was a power that could be abused in the wrong hands, another reason we were lucky to have Maxwell as our Alpha.

Betas also had power, although nowhere as strong as the Alpha’s. I didn’t know if a Beta got his power once he was made a Beta, or if it was the power that made him a Beta. That stuff was never explained to us. I wondered if I would find out at the end of all of this.

Brendan didn’t speak. He walked up to Cody and locked his gaze with the other wolf’s. Cody shifted uncomfortably, and I felt a knot of unease in my stomach. Staring another wolf down was an act of dominance, and not something adult wolves did lightly. Younger wolves did it all the time for fun, and it didn’t mean anything. But it took on a whole new meaning when you reached maturity, especially when it was the Alpha or Beta staring you down.

After ten seconds, Cody lowered his head and tilted it to the side, baring his throat. Without a word, Brendan moved to Mark and began to stare him down. At first, I’d thought Brendan might have some beef with Cody. Now I realized he was going to do this with all of us, and the knot in my stomach grew. What was Brendan trying to prove? We all knew he was the dominant male here.

Mark lasted a few seconds longer, probably not wanting to be the fastest one to give in. I didn’t blame him, even though I had a suspicion Pete or I would have that distinction, being the youngest.

Pete was next. His head dropped after five seconds, which wasn’t bad when you considered he was staring down a Beta wolf more than twice his age. I’d be glad to last that long.

After Pete was Francis, who managed to keep eye contact for at least twenty seconds. Damn, even I had to admit that was impressive. I watched him shudder and take a step back when he finally lowered his head. If Maxwell and Brendan were looking for aggression in a Beta, then Francis was definitely their man.

And then it was my turn. I steeled myself, but there was no way to prepare for a contest of wills with a wolf as strong as Brendan. Lifting my eyes to his, I was shocked to see we were at the same height, and unlike the others, my gaze was even with Brendan’s. I quickly discovered my height gave me no advantage. As soon as my gaze locked with his, I felt the weight of his power pressing down on me, making my legs shake and filling me with the urge to lie down.

My knees bent, and I knew I wasn’t going to last long. I told myself there was no shame in submitting to a wolf who could have been Alpha if he’d wanted it bad enough. But my wolf stubbornly fought for dominance until I was a quivering mass of fur and my eyes felt like they were burning from the heat in Brendan’s yellow stare.

I dropped my head, struggling to stay on my feet. I might not have lasted as long as the others, but I’d be damned if I would lie down like a whipped dog. I did have my pride.

I opened my eyes and saw Brendan’s legs moving away from me to the next wolf. My breath came in heavy pants, and I couldn’t raise my head for a long moment. Man, how the hell had Francis managed to hold out so long? I felt like I’d just gone through one of Maxwell’s training sessions.

When I finally looked up, I found Pete and the others staring at me. My body stiffened in annoyance, and I felt my hackles rise a little. Okay, so I’d folded like a bad poker hand. Did they have to make it worse by reminding me of it? It wasn’t like some of them had lasted much longer.

Brendan’s voice filled my head. That will be all for today. You can go.

I turned away from the others’ stares to look at him. That was it? We’d come here just to be shown we couldn’t stand up to him in a staring contest. I could have told him that and saved myself the embarrassment.

I shifted and dressed, wanting to be anywhere else but here. Without looking at the others, I started around the house to the driveway. Why the hell had Maxwell made me sign up for this? I didn’t want it, and I obviously wasn’t good enough for it. Brendan’s little demonstration had proven that quickly enough. Maybe it was their way of narrowing down the candidates, and they’d tell me tomorrow I was out of the selection.

“How did you do that?”

I spun to see Pete following me to my car. “Do what?” I growled, still angry at myself.

He held up his hands. “Whoa. Chill.”

I shook off the anger. None of this was Pete’s fault. “Sorry.”

He stared at me for a moment as if he was making sure it was safe to talk to me. I sighed and ran a hand through my hair. “You want to go for pizza with me? I missed dinner.”

“Yeah, sure, but first I want to know how you did that…without you snapping my head off.”

“How I did what?”

His eyes widened. “How the hell did you last that long?”

I scowled at him. I expected taunts from Francis but not my best friend. “Go ahead and have your laugh with the other guys. And then you can pay for my pizza.”

“What are you talking about?” He frowned, looking confused. “No one is laughing at what you did; trust me.”

“Jesus, was I that bad?” I must have looked pretty pathetic if even Francis was taking pity on me.

“Bad? Roland, you almost stared down Brendan.”

“What?” I could not have heard him right. “I didn’t even last as long as you.”

Pete snorted. “Funny guy. You lasted longer than anyone, almost forty seconds.”

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