Dave sat up in bed and tried not to snarl at the pretty young thing flirting with him. The last thing he needed was some big-breasted Puma thinking he needed some TLC. And even if he did have leanings toward the soft and feminine, the fact that he knew who his mate was would have kept him from doing anything about it.

It was the lack of a mating mark. He knew that. He was fair game until Ben decided he was worthy to wear Ben’s mark.

 

Dave snorted. Yeah. Like that was ever going to happen.

 

“Hey, stranger!”

 

Dave winced. Oh, God. Please, no. Don’t let it be—

 

“Move it, sweetie, the man doesn’t swing your way.”

Emma.

 

Pretty, blunt Emma Cannon, the Curana of the Halle Puma Pride and the only woman he’d ever met strong enough to stand up to Belle, gently pushed the blushing, stammering nurse out the door and shut it firmly behind her. “I brought you some real food.” She held up the white paper bag, the smell filling the room now that the perfumed nurse was gone.

 

“Oh, God. For that, I’ll switch teams.”

 

She laughed and handed him the bag of medium-rare burgers fresh off the grill. Frank’s Diner had the best burgers in the tri-state area, and Dave was rapidly becoming addicted. “So. Rumor has it that Ben has been sent to New York to negotiate a pass-through treaty with the Coyotes.”

 

Dave nodded, trying not to feel anything at the sound of his mate’s name. As far as he was concerned, from now on Ben was just another Wolf.

 

Yeah. Right. Someday he might even believe that.

 

“Rumor also has it he thought you were an alcoholic.”

 

Dave choked on the bite of burger he’d just tried to swallow. Emma pounded on his back with hammer-like blows.

 

She was dainty, but she was mighty.

 

“You okay?”

 

Dave nodded, red-faced for more than one reason. Who had told the Curana that? “I’m not.”

 

“Psh. Please. I know that.” She waved her hand at him and picked up one of the burgers, checking under the bun for God knew what. When she didn’t find it (or did, Dave had no clue), she bit happily into the sandwich. “Mmm. Damn. These are so good.”

 

Dave eyed the extremely rare, bloody bit of beef between the buns held in her small hands. “Um. Emma? Are you feeling okay?”

 

“Never better,” she moaned. “You gotta try this.”

 

Even for a Wolf that was some pretty rare meat. He wondered if Frank had even bothered to sear the outside or just slapped it raw onto a bun. The only time Dave ate meat that rare was when he wore his fur. “Will it moo at me?”

 

Emma giggled. “I thought that’s the way Wolves liked it.”

 

“Only in my fur. My human taste buds prefer medium-rare.” He took a bite of his own burger, happy to note that it had definitely had some intimate moments with a grill.

 

“Anyway, he’ll be there for a few days, so you should be able to return home without him bothering you. After that, you’re on your own.”

 

Dave shrugged. He wouldn’t worry about it. His trip to Disney World was coming up in a few weeks. With some luck and careful planning, he’d probably be able to avoid Ben for that short amount of time. The distance would help keep Dave from assaulting the man. If he did, he didn’t know if he’d mark him or beat the shit out of him.

 

How could Ben think so little of him? And why hadn’t the man ever asked him if he drank? All of the pain and sorrow of the last nine years could have been avoided if Ben had only spoken to him. But no. Ben had chosen his path, and now it was time for Dave to choose his.

 

Starting with Gay Pride Week at Disney World.

 

With luck, Dave would find that he was one of the rare Wolves who had more than one mate. It was so far from common that most Wolves looked only for one, but if Dave was one of the fortunate few, he’d find someone who loved him. Someone who didn’t have the emotional baggage he and Ben had.

 

It didn’t matter that he still carried around that stupid shirt, hoping Ben would come to his senses. It definitely didn’t matter that, even if Ben did, he’d never have the balls to wear it. It had become the symbol of Dave’s hopes and dreams, and he took it everywhere he went. It was under his pillow at night, in his desk drawer during the day. Hell, he’d even taken it on vacation before, but not this time. Dave reminded himself not to pack it. He wouldn’t need it. The odds of Ben showing up in Disney World, looking for his ass and ready to apologize, were pretty damn slim.

 

His fingers dove under the covers, his hand clenching around the soft material of the T-shirt.

 

God, he was such an idiot.

 

“What’s your plan? Going to torture him? Going to make him beg for forgiveness?”

 

“Rick told him about the migraines?”

 

Emma snorted. “Rick was all set to Outcast him.”

 

Dave froze. Oh hell no. No. No matter how pissed he was at Ben, he couldn’t picture putting his mate through that torture. Ben would be stripped of his powers as Marshall and sent down the mountain. He would be fair game to any Wolf who thought they could take him. Odds were good he’d be dead within a year or two if he didn’t find a new Pack and Alpha willing to take a chance on him.

 

Most wouldn’t. Most would assume he’d been Outcast with good reason and would drive him away with prejudice. That new Wolf living in Halle, the pretty one with the green hair and the huge Bear mate, was the exception to the rule, and the only way she’d managed was by staying wolf for years at a time.

 

“Please tell me he didn’t.” Because if Ben had been Outcast Dave would go to him, rejected or not. Dave would protect his mate until they found a new place, a new home.

 

Dave would kill Rick if his mate died.

 

“He didn’t.”

 

Dave collapsed, his fingers once more brushing over the material of that goddamn shirt. “Fuck. Don’t scare me like that.”

 

When he looked over at the Curana, he saw that she’d had every intention of scaring him just like that. “Honey, you need to claim him.”

 

Dave snorted. Yeah. No shit. Just the thought of Ben in danger was enough to send his wolf howling for the door, any thought of protecting himself or his heart gone in an instant.

 

Maybe that was what was needed. Maybe, instead of waiting for Ben to take matters into his own hands, Dave should do the claiming. Ben might be older, but apparently he was nowhere near wiser.

 

Maybe, just maybe, the trip to Disney would restore Dave’s spirits and make approaching Ben easier. He grinned and bit into his burger.

 

Maybe it was just what the doctor ordered.

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Dana Marie Bell.

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