Home > Don't Cheat Me (Nora Jacobs #2)(16)

Don't Cheat Me (Nora Jacobs #2)(16)
Author: Jackie May

Rook lives on the very outskirts of the community next to the river and up against the park. His home is a modest one-story, light gray with blue trim and shutters, and he has a sprawling lawn. There are no fenced yards in the compound, so I can see a giant wooden deck built off the back of the house that wraps around the side.

Instead of going inside, he leads me around the side of the house and up the steps onto the deck. I whistle. The deck is huge and has a view of both the river and the park. He’s got a grill and a patio table in one corner and a set of couches around a built-in fire pit. It’s a nice deck. “Wow. You’ve got quite the spread here.”

He grins, not a shred of humility. “Thanks. I built it myself. I don’t like to be indoors much.”

“You built this?”

Now he does shrug modestly. “I’m good with tools.”

He turns on the grill and then disappears into the house through a wide sliding glass door. I take a seat on one of the couches, and seconds later he calls out, “I have red wine, beer, Coke, milk, and water.”

“Water or Coke is fine, thanks!”

“The fire pit’s gas. There’s a switch on the side, if you want a fire.”

I’ve never seen an actual gas fireplace, so I turn on the fire. I can’t believe it dances to life literally as easy as the flip of a switch. It’s somehow not warm the way a wood fire is, and it doesn’t smell like one, but it’s still pretty, so I sit back and stare into the flames.

My phone dings again. I break down and look at the messages. Sure enough, they’re both from Parker.

Parker: I understand you’re angry with my clan, but I really need to speak with you. Will you at least call me?

Parker: If you’re ignoring me because of Josephine, please remember she was one vampire out of many. Nora, what can I do to make this right? Please tell me.

I sigh. He doesn’t deserve to be ignored like this. Losing the battle with my conscience, I respond.

Nora: I’m sorry. It has nothing to do with Henry or Josephine. I don’t blame you for their actions. I just don’t think us seeing each other is a good idea. You want more from me than I can give you.

He answers immediately.

Parker: You want it, too; you’re just scared. You don’t need to be afraid of me. I would never hurt you.

I’m not afraid of him hurting me. Not exactly. I’m afraid of losing control with him.

A long whistle over my shoulder makes me nearly jump out of my skin. “Rook!” I drop my phone in my lap and quickly scoop it back up. “Shit! You scared the crap out of me!”

The man is leaning over the couch behind me, shamelessly reading my texts. He’s got a couple of Cokes in one hand and a plate with two steaks on it in the other. I pull my phone to my chest and glare at him. “Nosy much?”

Rook laughs. “Yes.” He hands me one of the Cokes and cheerfully says, “Who’s Parker? I thought you didn’t date,” as he makes his way to the grill.

“He’s a vampire in the Detroit clan. And I don’t date. Hence, the slightly desperate texts. I don’t think he’s ever been turned down before. He doesn’t seem to know how to give up.”

“Parker…Parker…” After placing the steaks on the grill, he turns around to face me with wide eyes and a gaping jaw. “Parker Reed? Henry Stadther’s chief enforcer?”

I nod. “That would be the one.”

He whistles again.

“Tell me about it.”

While he’s still blinking in disbelief, I finally notice the apron he’s wearing. It says All this…and I can cook, too. I laugh, and when I point at the apron, Rook looks down at his chest and rolls his eyes. He stares me down for a minute, as if debating whether to let me change the subject, but then, thankfully, lets the topic of Parker drop. “It was a Christmas gift from Wulf one year. That man is worse than a meddlesome old lady. He’s determined to see me mated off. Never mind that he’s so scared of pack females he’d rather live as a lone wolf in the city.”

I smile at that. True, Wulf often rants about the pushiness and clinginess of pack females, but it seemed to me the last time I was here that romance isn’t the only thing Wulf dislikes about pack living. “Aw, I think Wulf’s happy living the way he does. He really does strike me as a bit of a lone wolf. You should have seen him on the drive here the other day.”

“I’m sure.” Rook shakes his head with a chuckle. “I can’t believe he came back.”

Rook snaps his mouth shut and turns to the grill, as if suddenly remembering that setting him up with me was the reason for Wulf’s return. I try to break the awkward silence.

“So, can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.” His word is friendly, but he sounds wary and keeps his face to the grill instead of me.

“Okay, so packs are ranked, right? Like the alpha is the most dominant, and the second strongest is his beta, and so on…?”

His whole body sags with relief at the change of topic, and he gives me a cheerful, “Yup. The books get that part right.”

“But you’re more dominant than Alpha Toth, aren’t you? Wulf is, too, right? If I ranked you all, I’d place you first, Wulf second, and Alpha Toth third. What am I missing?”

Rook closes the lid on the grill and turns to gape at me, slack-jawed and bug-eyed. “You can feel dominance?”

“I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to.”

Rook comes over to sit on the couch near me. “Most non-shifters can’t, and humans never.”

I shrug, vulnerability washing over me. “I’m a bit of a psychic. Maybe that’s why. I can feel magic, too, and Terrance told me humans don’t feel that, either.”

“They don’t.” Rook shakes his head, eyeing me like I’m something special.

I squirm under his gaze, hating that I’m different, yet again, and turn the conversation back on him once more. “So, I’m right? You’re the strongest? How come you aren’t alpha, then? What’s your place in the pack?”

Rook sighs and then goes back to the grill to flip the steaks. “It’s a long story. How do you like your steak?”

“Medium rare. And we have to have something to talk about while we eat, right?”

Rook slides me a wry glance.

When the steaks are done, we move to the patio table and I give him a look. I’m still waiting. “You are relentless, aren’t you, woman?”

I just grin.

“Oh, all right. I used to be alpha.”

My brows shoot up. I hadn’t expected that.

Rook grimaces at my look and shrugs. “Our father—Wulf’s and mine—was the previous alpha of the pack. Our great-grandfather was the one who started it when the Detroit area pack split into two. Wulf and I were both groomed from the time we were born. Wulf always hated the leadership, but I was good at it. I think everyone was relieved when I turned out to be more dominant. Just before I was ready to take over for my father, I found my mate.”

I almost spit my drink out. “You were mated?”

Rook chuckles. “Is it really so hard to believe?”

I blush and shake my head. “No, of course not, but…you just seem so adamant about not dating.”

His face crumples, and I know immediately what happened. “Rook…I’m so sorry.”

He forces a pained smile at me. “Lily was everything to me. We were mated for nearly forty years.”

I choke on my food. “Forty years! How old are you? You look thirty, at best!”

Rook rears back, startled by my outburst, then throws his head back and laughs so loudly we catch the attention of all the wolves using the park or enjoying the river. Then again, the number of wolves in view has nearly doubled since we got here, so they may have already been spying on us. But now they’re openly staring.

“Sorry,” Rook says, trying to calm his laughter. “I thought you knew about shifters’ life spans.”

“Hu-uh. Just how long is it?”

“Wolves live to be around three hundred.”

“Whoa.”

“Yeah. I’m one hundred fourteen, so that’d be closer to thirty-five, in human terms.”

   
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