Deleted Scene #1: NICK
“He doesn’t hate you, you know,” Sawyer said after he’d stared Nick into taking the painkillers.
“Why not? I do.”
“Because he understands. There wasn’t anything you could do.”
“I could have tried harder to find them.”
“No, you couldn’t have.”
“I waited four years before trying. I should have done something. I knew something was off, even then. I just didn’t know how to figure it out.”
“I know you don’t want to hear this, but Mama Thea was right to give you that charm. It blocked your memories of being in the house until you took it off.”
Nick didn’t say anything. Sawyer sat next to him on the bed and bumped his shoulder.
“I wish you didn’t have to work so much. Maybe if we could have connected sooner, this wouldn’t have been such a shock. For all of us. Maybe Mikey wouldn’t be laying on a bed in there. Some kind of family we are.”
“You mean not every family has a loser lion shifter, a kid with second sight, and, oh, let’s not forget, the Chosen One?” Nick asked.
“You’re not a loser.”
“I’ve been trying to save a bunch of kids that were rescued over ten years ago. One of which happens to be one of your mates. Not to mention, I only have a GED. And all I do is deliver packages all day.”
“Listen to me. You were up against a god. Not just some magic user, but an actual god. There was no way you were going to be able to find them again. And by shielding you from it, Mama Thea and the coven saved your life. And all of theirs. Probably ours too. Did you know she worked with the witches to try to find the house? For years. They had seers, and they couldn’t find it. There was no way for you to find it. Not until it was time.”
“And now it’s time? What possible good could come from this? Do you not see how fucked up this all is?”
“The magic is realigning. Everything is significant even if it doesn’t seem to be.”
“Easy talk from the Chosen One.” Nick wrapped an arm around Sawyer and pulled him close. “I’ve been looking for so long. I’ve wasted my life, with nothing to show for it.”
“I wouldn’t say nothing. I seem to recall a big, bad hellhound following you around like a puppy.”
“He just happened to be there when I found the house. Did he mention that he brought a faun with him?
“Cosmo?” Sawyer laughed. A bright, happy sound Nick didn’t think he could feel again.
“He called me a malfeasant.”
“Sounds like him.” Sawyer shook his head and smiled. Nick envied him. He had his mates. And some sort of mission. Nick didn’t have anything now. His quest had been an abject failure from the beginning, and now he didn’t even have that anymore. He just felt lost.
“I don’t know what to do now.”
“What do you want to do? I’ve got money, you know. You don’t have to work so much. I can help. You can do anything you want now.”
“I don’t need your money. What do you think I do with the money from all my extra shifts?”
“Is this why you took so many? The money?”
“No. It wasn’t just the money. The money helped, don’t get me wrong. Mostly I took them so I could cover more ground. And not just sit around my apartment watching the walls. I searched nearly every inch of four different counties for that damn house. And if I had to sit at home and stare at my maps all day and night, I’d go crazy. Crazier. Crap.” Nick shook his head. “So I’d go out and drive. Sometimes I just didn’t have service. Mostly, I just felt like such a loser. All the time. And you were getting your degree. Mikey’s shop is kicking ass.”
Sawyer dragged Nick into a hug. “We thought you just didn’t want us to bug you.”
“You guys thought it was to get away from you? Fuck, I really fucked things up. But I guess I did, in a way. I just didn’t think I had anything to offer you guys.”
“Of course you do. You’re still our big brother. You’ve always been there for us. Remember that time you went after that kid that was picking on Mikey?”
“Little fucker had no business talking smack about him.”
“Well, you put a stop to it, that’s for sure. For years to come. No one bothered him or me after that. I guess that makes us your pride, huh? When can I see your lion?”
Nick growled and shoved Sawyer over.
“So you never answered the question. What are you going to do now, Alpha Smith?”
“I don’t know. I still want to help. In any way I can. For all we know, there may be more of us out there. Maybe I can hep find them, even if I couldn’t save these. I have some experience there.”
“Then we’ll make that happen. Let’s talk about it.”
Deleted Scene #2: JEDREK
Jedrek was bored and keyed up. The adrenaline hadn’t quite worn off yet, and he was spoiling for a fight. Any kind of fight. At least the bar was open again. Jedrek was proud of his community. They’d really come together to find places for all the shifters that had shown up in the parking lot outside. Old packs had grown and new packs had formed, nearly overnight. All of them working together to make sure everyone was safe. But now. Now…he shook his head.
“I know what you mean,” Callie said from next to him. She was leaning back against the bar with her elbows braced behind her. A few of the regulars were checking her out, even though they knew they had no chance with her. She winked at one of them. He’d been brave enough to approach her once, and the shoot-down had been spectacular. There’d been tears. But he’d managed to earn her friendship, and that had made him a legend around the bar.
“Want me to take him out?”
“Nah. He’s harmless. And totally in love with Simone.”
“They’re back together?”
Callie nodded. “A couple months now.”
“Good for him.” Jedrek took another look around the bar, but nothing had changed in the last…three minutes since his last check. Except the newcomer that had just entered and was making his way to them. “Two o’clock,” he whispered, watching the man moving towards them. He smiled and opened his arms when he got four seats away from them, but passed them and greeted the table behind them.
“Simmer down, boy. Not everyone is a threat. Besides, look around. Everyone’s happy.”
“For now. Besides, they don’t know any better.”
Callie stared hard at him for a minute. “I’m going to go watch the door now. Try to cheer up, would you?”
He didn’t bother answering beyond lazily flipping the bird as she walked away. After so much going on in such a short amount of time, nothing was happening. Well, that wasn’t exactly true; a lot was happening. The bar was packed. And Callie was right, they were extra cheery. The newcomers weren’t causing trouble. And that was the crux of the boredom.
Seriously, so bored. Nothing ever came from boredom. The braids in his beard were a testament to that. It was far from over. They all knew it, but they were in the wind-down stage. For now. Or wind-up. Jedrek couldn’t tell. It was hard to believe it had only been a few days ago they were teasing Shaq.
He’d think Cosmo had spelled the place again, but he knew better. Shaq would drop him on an iceberg and ward the place to keep him from coming back if he even tried, and the faun knew it.
No, this was different. The alpha had been promoted, sort of. And he had found a mate. These things just didn’t happen. Not anymore, anyway. Not for centuries. Drew stumbling into the bar was nothing short of a miracle, and everyone wanted to be part of it. Even their regulars knew something special had happened. They may not be clued in to their other natures, but they knew this wasn’t your ordinary boy-meets-boy meet cute.
Not only that, but Solomon was the alpha of the hellhounds now. And he had his mate too. In fact, Cody was manning the bar, with Solomon scowling from his usual spot at the end.
Jedrek was happy for them. Thrilled beyond belief. Now that there was a lull in the fighting, every clan and pack in the area had come by to pay their respects and congratulate both couples. The back room overflowed with gifts and tokens that had been presented to them. Everyone, everything, knew any minor infractions with extreme prejudice, tearing apart anyone that would disrupt the calm.
“Times, they are a changing,” Walt said with a clap on the back as he sat on the stool next to him.
“Sure are, my man. What brings you out here. Usually you don’t leave the sanctity of the kitchen when it’s all good out here.” It was true. In all the years he’d known the man, he could count the number of times he’d ventured out on his own on one hand. It was zero. Sure, when there was trouble, Walt was the first out, shotgun in hand, leaning heavily on his uninjured leg, daring someone to get out of line, but otherwise, he hunkered down in the back, well away from people.
“Just thought I’d take in the view from the other side.” He smiled as he watched Shelly pour a couple of beers and set them on the bar.
“Ah. Things going better between you two now?” Jedrek smirked at him. Walt and Shelly were the most popular soap opera in the bar. Some of the regulars had even started a pool on when they’d finally get together. Walt had been a human prior to the fight with the wolves, but the Goddess had blessed him. He was now a hellhound, part of Sol’s pack, and a damn fine addition. She’d healed his injuries, and you could see his awe in nearly every step he took. Jedrek didn’t know if it was the extra strength of the hellhound coursing through him, or the relief of being pain-free for the first time in decades, but the change in Walt was remarkable. He laughed, a carefree sound Jedrek had never heard from the man. He smiled, too, sometimes. Mostly at Shelly, but that was okay. It was time for them to come together. Besides his money was on the next week. If he could just…. No. He wouldn’t do that to him.
“I don’t know….”
Jedrek grabbed his shoulder and turned to face him. “That woman is crazy about you. She was before all of this, she still is now. She knows what we are, what you are now, and she doesn’t care. She loves you man. And you love her. Just go talk to her about it. And stop overthinking it.” Goddess help him, but he thought they needed some bright side in all this mess.
Walt’s face clouded with doubt, but then Shelly made her way to their side of the bar. “You boys need anything?” she asked.
Jedrek raised an eyebrow at him and Walt cleared his throat before speaking. “Can we, uh, talk? In private?”
Shelly beamed at him. “Izzy, the bar is yours!” she shouted as she ducked under the partition. She was around the bar and dragging Walt to the back room before he even knew what was happening.
“Finally,” Ollie said as he took Walt’s now-vacant seat.
“What are you doing in here? You’re underage.”
Ollie snorted. “Like that matters.”
Jedrek turned his eyebrow on the wolf, and Ollie shrunk away.
“Dad sent me.”
“Really. I have his blessing this time.”
“So, how is everyone doing? With the whole,” he waved a hand around. He was a little surprised the Jerricks had allowed Ollie out without insisting on a hellhound escort and traveling by portal. Ollie shrugged like it didn’t really matter. “Who brought you here?”
“Ben. He’s still got a few weeks on break, and he needed to get out of there too.”
Jedrek looked around and found Ben sitting at a booth near the entrance. Three of the regulars were there, laughing and smiling with him.
“He doing okay?”
“Yeah.” He looked over at his brother with no small amount of pride.
Jedrek understood. Those kids…to not only survive, but thrive, in the face of everything they had been through. Well, it figured one of them would become a Guardian. And then finding one who had escaped all those years ago. Their resilience was astounding.
The door opened and the scent of shifter wafted in. Jedrek and Ollie both turned to watch the newcomer enter. “Fox,” Ollie mumbled.
Jedrek had to agree. Not only did the scent give it away, but his almost delicate features and slight stature certainly evoked the image. As they watched, he gave a reverent head bob to Sol and waited for it to be acknowledged before he turned around to survey the room. His face lit up in a smile when his eyes lighted on Ben. He made a beeline to the table where the big bear sat.
Ollie shook his head and let out a dramatic sigh.
“He’s just.” Ollie didn’t say what he was, but Jedrek caught the sentiment. Someone had finally caught Ben’s eye, that much was clear.
“He been around a lot lately?”
Ollie nodded. “He’s in class with Ben this semester. They paired up on some essay or another and now he won’t leave. This is the second time he’s followed him home.”
“Ah.” Jedrek hid his smile against his arm. It was tough being the littlest brother, watching his siblings find another person. “It’s just new. He’s making friends now, right?”
“Yeah,” Ollie grumbled. “But what if they hurt him?”
Such a worrier. Jedrek hooked his arm around Ollie’s neck and tugged him close. “Then I take him to the middle of the Everglades and drop him off. He’ll be gator chow before you know it.”
Ollie poked him in the side but relaxed. “Thanks, Jed.”