The rhythmic thud of Rocky's fist hitting his boxing bag filtered out all other sound in the guest cabin he currently called home. Pain flared up his knuckles, through his arm, and into his shoulder with each strike. The punishing workout soothed his need to lash out in anger. He needed to hit, something or someone, and the bag would suffice.
His cell phone rang, the trill ringtone a bitter reminder of his task. He considered ignoring it, but the consequences outweighed the annoyance. "Harris."
"What do you have to report?" His alpha, William Malone, had set Rocky on this task. He couldn't do less than fulfill his duty.
"Alpha Gray mated the mage."
Malone laughed. "Perfect. The Were Council will hear of this, I'm sure."
"Gray plans to report the news himself. They also killed a mage in an attack tonight."
"Even better. The High Moon Pack will have both the Council of Mages and the Were Council on their heads. The alpha doesn't stand a chance."
Which is exactly what Malone had hoped. Rocky's role as a security specialist came with a double-edged sword. Yes, he upgraded security systems for packs all over the country. But at the same time, he learned their inner workings, their weaknesses, and reported the information to his alpha through the computer systems he installed. "Alpha Gray is vulnerable." Rocky's gut clenched again with the admission.
"I think we may have found the one to take over. What are your thoughts?"
Rocky fought back a disdain-filled snort. Malone couldn't care less about Rocky's thoughts; he'd do what he wanted regardless of Rocky's response. "You're right. They're weakened. The kidnapping of their cubs has shaken them to the core. Now with a mage serving as alpha-mate? Their faith in their alpha is waning."
"Perfect. What was your role in the attack? Did you witness the fight itself?"
"Yes, Alpha. I arranged with their pack alpha to serve as witness, as you commanded." And Rocky had seen things he'd never imagined possible. The mage had thrown the wolves around like toys. If the vampire hadn't killed him, they wouldn't have won the fight.
Pack tradition demanded the separation of magical species. Rocky understood why after what he'd witnessed.
"Tomorrow, I want you to offer reparation to the alpha. He'll be forced to contact me, and it will give me the in I'm looking for. Good work."
The praise settled cold and dark in Rocky's stomach. His role as a spy had never affected him so deeply, but he'd never come across a pack that could actually fall to his alpha's machinations.
"Thank you, Alpha."
The beep of the call ending was the only response he received. Rocky tossed the phone onto the couch and returned to his workout. He switched to his legs, hammering his knee repeatedly into the canvas until his thigh began to burn with strain.
Gray's foolishness would be his downfall. It was bitter consolation, but all Rocky had. The alpha of this pack thought he was above the rules. Rocky scoffed. No one could throw away years of tradition without consequences. Pack first. The mantra all wolves lived by, and the one this pack's alpha had tossed so carelessly aside.
Rocky switched legs when his knee began to throb from the repeated hits. He'd just begun the repetitions on his right leg when the back of his neck began to tingle. Someone was close, watching.
What if they'd overheard his phone call? What if they were gathering the pack together now to deal with his betrayal?
"If you're going to stand there and stare, you might as well come in." Better to face them head-on than wait for the inevitable.
Rocky held the bag steady and continued using his knee to strike it. He glanced over his shoulder when the cabin door opened.
Cade let himself inside. "Didn't mean to spy. Heard some strange noises and thought I should check it out."
"Whatever, man." His thighs burning, Rocky stopped the set and raised his faded blue T-shirt to wipe the sweat from his face.
"So what was that you were doing?"
Rocky glared over the edge of his shirt. "Working. Out."
Something about the alpha's best friend rubbed him the wrong way. Another loyal puppy, following whatever Gray said, no matter the consequences. Some best friend. Cade should be leading the force to get Gray to come to his senses.
Instead, he stood in Rocky's cabin, his muscled arms crossed over his broad chest. Not many men intimidated Rocky from their sheer size, but Cade did. Next to Cade, Rocky looked pale and lanky. Ordinary.
"What the hell is your issue? You've had nothing but attitude with me since you got here."
Rocky gave the bag another brutal punch and turned to face Cade. He stalked over to him, stopping inches away from Cade's face. "My issue is you and this pack. I'm simply giddy over the fact that we almost died tonight at the hands of a rogue mage, and yet your alpha, in all of his infinite wisdom, chose to mate one anyway."
Cade growled deep in his chest. "Then why don't you leave? I'll be happy to help." He took the last step forward so that he and Rocky stood nose-to-nose.
Rocky would love to get the hell out of Tennessee and head back west where packs made sense and demons and mages stayed away from them, as the law commanded. He couldn't do that without going against his alpha's demands. Rocky had learned a long time ago not to cross Malone.
Rocky pushed even closer. "I'd like to see you try."
At six four and 240 pounds, Cade was the largest member of the High Moon Pack, even bigger than his alpha, and the quintessential tough guy. After the night Rocky had just experienced, he wasn't in the mood to deal with any of Cade's macho bullshit.
Cade didn't seem to be in the mood either. He grabbed Rocky in his massive arms and squeezed. Rocky let out a choked gasp. Fuck, Cade was just as strong as he looked.
Rocky leaned sharply to the side and raised his knee in a quick jab that nailed Cade right in the nuts. Cade choked out a gasp of pain and loosened his hold. It was enough for Rocky to twist free. He punched Cade in the throat and jammed his knee up into Cade's ribcage.
With a pain-filled grunt, Cade hunched over. Rocky swung his arm around, and it cracked against Cade's jaw. Cade rolled backward with the hit and spun around as he shifted to his wolf form. He leapt in a fluid motion, one moment a man, the next a wolf. Rocky had never seen anyone shift that fast. His moment of hesitation cost him, and Cade took him down.
Cade held Rocky by the throat with his mouth, his teeth sharp against the tender skin of Rocky's human neck. One snap between Cade's powerful jaws and Rocky's days of spying would be over.
Rocky forced out a breath and shifted. His transformation took longer, as to be expected from a wolf of his status. The lowest of the low. No way he could shift in midleap like Cade had.
Cade held on, his breath warm even through the fur now covering Rocky's throat. As a man, the size difference between them wasn't much, but Cade's wolf dwarfed Rocky's. Another sign of his weakness.
Cade shook his head enough to make sure he had Rocky's full attention, without doing any real damage. Rocky shuddered and arched his neck in submission. With one final tug to reinforce his point, Cade released Rocky from his hold. He shifted again, returning to his human form as quickly as he'd managed the transformation to his wolf.
After a few tense moments, Rocky shifted as well. He lay naked and breathless on the floor. A trickle started at his throat, and Rocky swiped at it. His fingers came away red with his own blood.
Cade's teeth had broken through the skin of his neck and left a small bite mark on his nape. Cade stood back, watching to see what Rocky's reaction to being taken down would be.
Rocky stayed put, not needing another example of Cade's strength and speed. He could blame his takedown on the difference in their wolves, claim that all the reds were smaller, like him. The High Moon Pack consisted of gray wolves, and most of them easily weighed 200 pounds when shifted. Rocky's smaller wolf weighed much less, maybe 150 if he was lucky. The rusty red-brown of his wolf's coat matched his human hair.
In reality, the breed of wolf made no difference. Rocky's human stature had nothing to do with his wolf form. He'd worked for years to make the most of his slender frame, adding bulk where he could and honing his fighting skills.
Still, his wolf had few defenses against a wolf of Cade's ability, no matter the size. Rocky rolled to his feet and impatiently flicked at the wound on his neck. He returned to the hanging bag and punched it viciously. The bolts holding it to the ceiling gave an ominous creak. Rocky leaned his head against the black leather and let out a frustrated growl.
Cade gave him a moment to pull himself together. "Okay, let's just, I don't know. Stop, I guess." He walked over to the opposite side of the bag and wrapped his hands around the sides. "Show me how to do that knee thing you were doing."
Rocky looked up and their eyes met. "What?" he sputtered.
"You know, that cool knee thing. How'd you do that so fast? I don't think I could keep my balance."
Rocky shook his head in confusion, and his shaggy hair dropped into his face. Why wasn't Cade lording his win over Rocky? Making it clear who'd won that battle for dominance?
He adjusted his stance and kneed the bag. "That?" He didn't raise his eyes when he asked. He didn't need to antagonize Cade.
"Yeah. But you did like, fifty of them in a row before. I want to learn how to do that."
"Okay." Rocky paused and gathered his thoughts. He might not understand Cade's attitude, but working out, he got. "Well, it's in your stance. You have to keep your base leg at an angle and keep your feet a bit more than shoulder width apart. Uh, just give it a try, and I'll show you."
Cade nodded and used his leg to hit the bag. After the third rep, he lost his balance and had to step back. "See?"
"Yeah. You aren't setting up correctly. Here, let me show you." Rocky came around behind Cade and reached out for his waist. Skin met skin. They were both still naked after their shift. "Uh, let me put my shorts on first."
Cade shrugged. "Sure."
"I'll grab you some too." Cade's jeans lay in a tangled heap by the door where he'd shifted. Skintight denim didn't suit a workout of knee jabs.
Nudity didn't bother most shifters. Part of being a shifter meant you got naked in front of other people. At least their clothes didn't rip to shreds like in the horror movies. Must be the magic. They just sort of fell away.
Rocky had always been self-conscious of his smaller size and didn't care to wander around naked, even though he wasn't the same scrawny boy he had been. The barrier of clothes made him feel safer. He ignored his discarded clothes on the floor and left Cade in the living room. Once in his bedroom, he took a deep, calming breath before he slipped on a pair of loose gray sweatpants and grabbed a pair of green shorts for Cade.
He went back to the other room and tossed the shorts to Cade. "Those should work. They're a bit big on me."
Cade stepped into the shorts and pulled them up. They were snug and didn't leave much to the imagination, but Rocky was more comfortable with them both covered.
"Thanks." Cade's stance relaxed, and he stared at Rocky for a long moment. "Look, it's no secret I'm not happy we had to bring in an outsider for security."
"I know," Rocky said and turned to the bag. "You've made it very clear."
"But I will admit we're in over our heads with all this and could use the upgrades."
An understatement if Rocky had ever heard one. When you lay down with dogs, you ended up with fleas. Being this close to a mage had Rocky itching already. He had to play along with Cade to keep the peace and get his job done, though. "Agreed."
"So, how about we call a truce. I'll try to keep my attitude in check if you'll do the same."
"Yeah." Rocky wouldn't make any promises, but he'd try to keep his mouth shut. Which meant changing the subject. "Okay--now your stance. Get set up again."
Cade complied. Rocky stepped up behind him and put his hands on Cade's hips. "Here, twist your hips a bit to the side." When Cade moved too far, Rocky stopped him with a gentle squeeze. "No, not that much. There. Now slide your foot a little more so it's angled away from you."
Rocky nodded. "Good. Now, try."
Cade kicked the bag again, repeating the motion several times before he began to lose his balance. He dropped his foot back to the ground. "I still couldn't do as many as you."
Rocky chuckled a bit. "Well, I've been doing knee jabs for years. Besides, you aren't holding your stomach tight enough." Rocky stepped a little to the side and put his hand on Cade's waist. "Here, do it again. But this time, focus on keeping these muscles tight. Right where my hand is."
They both looked down at Rocky's hand on Cade's stomach. Cade's muscles flexed, the deep brown of his skin a sharp contrast against Rocky's pale fingers. The borrowed green shorts developed a distinct bulge in the front. Cade tried to turn his body to hide his reaction.
Rocky pretended not to see, but his sweats couldn't hide his body's response to Cade's attraction. Damn hormones. Rocky blamed Gray and the whole mating thing happening just up the hill. Even if the mage was an inappropriate mate, the allure of a newly mated pair sent hormones raging throughout a pack. Right. Rocky would stick to that theory.
"No, don't turn like that," Rocky said and tightened his hold. Cade stumbled and grabbed the bag to keep himself from falling over. "Keep your hips straight."
Damn. The thick scent of arousal filled the air. Rocky's sweats tented more in response. He brushed up against Cade, his cock brushing against Cade's ass. "Yeah, like that," Rocky mumbled.
He forced his horny brain to stop his train of thought in its tracks. Cade gave the bag a couple halfhearted kicks, but if his dick was half as hard as Rocky's, he wasn't very comfortable right now.
"Okay, man. That was helpful. You think you can show me a few more tricks sometime?" Cade kept his back to Rocky, but the awareness sizzled between them.
"Yeah, sure." If his hormones kept this up, he'd love to show Cade a few of his tricks.
"Well, I'm going to head back to my place. It's pretty late. See you tomorrow." Cade let go of the bag and went for the door. He stooped to pick up his discarded clothes along the way. "Care if I just bring these shorts back tomorrow?"
"No problem." Rocky hesitated, then decided to take a risk. "Hey, Cade?"
Cade paused with his hand on the doorknob. "Yeah?"
"If I show you how to do some of this martial arts stuff, do you think you could teach me how to shift as fast as you did earlier?"
Cade looked back over his shoulder, careful to keep his hips out of Rocky's line of sight.
Rocky couldn't quite figure out what the look in Cade's eyes meant, but something had changed between them. Maybe Rocky's submission, or their bodies' reactions to each other. "Sure. I'll help you."
Rocky looked down and blew out a long breath. "Thanks."
"Night, Rocky. Get some sleep."
Rocky waited until Cade walked out of sight of his cabin and went straight for the shower. He left his sweats in a crumpled heap on the white tile floor and turned the water on as hot as he could stand it. He tried to ignore the sensations the water gave him as it pounded down on his prick, but it didn't work. After a few minutes of heightened awareness, he grabbed the conditioner and poured a glob in his hand.
It didn't take long, only a few hard strokes, before he spurted his release over the shower wall. He didn't acknowledge that memories of his hands on Cade's hips--or that mysterious look in Cade's eyes--had anything to do with his orgasm.