Alpha Jax by C.J. Primer

CHAPTER ONE

Quinn

“Earth to Quinn!” My friend Kyla’s voice slips into my daydream, startling me back to reality.

“Huh?” I swivel my head around to face her, blinking, as she sets two frothy pint glasses of beer in front of me on the bar top of the brewery where we both work.

“For table six.”

“Right,” I nod, reaching for the glasses. I pick one up in each hand and start to spin around to head out from behind the bar. Before I can take a step, though, Kyla reaches out to grab my arm, halting me.

“Hey, what’s with you today?” she asks, searching my eyes with her dark brown ones. “Having trouble sleeping again?”

I shake my head quickly, my long brunette hair swishing in front of my face. “Nah,” I lie, blowing a loose strand out of my field of vision. Kyla’s giving me that stern look that says she doesn’t believe me, and I heave a sigh in defeat. “Okay, yeah. A little.”

I shrug her hand away and turn around to deliver the beers, jumping a little when I feel the smack of the bar towel on my ass.

Kyla waves the towel at me, smirking. “Hurry and drop those off so you can come back and tell me all about it.”

I roll my eyes, making my way out from behind the bar. I don’t really wanna talk about it, but if I know Kyla, she won’t let it rest until I do. We met when I started working at Cedar Ridge Brewery at the beginning of the summer and we’ve grown really close over the last few months. She’s one of my only friends these days- after high school graduation, everyone seemed to have a plan for what to do next. A bunch of my friends went off to summer training camp for the security squad, while others went off to college or settled into new jobs that were waiting for them after high school. But me? I didn’t have a clear plan for the next step.

It’s not like there are a lot of choices in our little corner of the world. Wolf shifters generally stick with their own kind; stay close to the pack. Most of us don’t venture far from our territories because there’s safety in numbers- we all look out for each other. Here, we don’t have to hide who we are; being a shifter is as normal as living and breathing. And with the formation of the six-pack alliance several years back, our territory has expanded considerably.

The packs work together to run the businesses on the outskirts of the territory to bring in revenue for the packs. The biggest attractions are Cedar Ridge Ski Lodge and Cedar Ridge Brewery. While the ski resort and lodge are shuttered during the summer months, the brewery is a year-round business, so I was able to pick up a summer job as a waitress.

At least I kept telling myself it was a summer job. Now that summer’s coming to an end, I have no idea what my next move is going to be.

Before I graduated, I had a few fleeting thoughts about trying the college thing- but leaving my pack for months on end and integrating with the human population? No thanks. Besides, even if I’d wanted to, I doubt my dad would’ve allowed it. He’s the alpha of our pack and he’s always been overprotective of his only daughter.

I also considered going out for the security squad to become a fighter for the six-pack territory, but my boyfriend talked me out of it. If I made it, I’d have to live up at the squad complex, and for some reason he was vehemently opposed to living a twenty-minute drive apart. At the time, I thought it was sweet that he couldn’t stand the thought of being away from me. Now, I can see how it was just another way he tried to control me.

Clay Masterson. We started dating at the end of our junior year of high school, and he was everything I thought I wanted: handsome, sweet, charming. I thought he hung the moon. We continued dating through our senior year and when graduation came, he begged me to stay in Summervale with him. Even after we both turned eighteen and the full moon confirmed we weren’t fated mates, he said he’d still choose me as his mate if I stayed. And like a fool, I believed him. Designed all my plans for the future around him.

Until I caught him in bed with another girl.

I still can’t get the image of it out of my head. Clay, all sweaty and grunting, on top of Camilla, a girl I used to consider my friend. I got off work early and went to surprise him, and boy was he surprised. He ran after me, tried to beg my forgiveness, but I couldn’t even look at him. I’ve never sobbed harder- I felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest. I confronted Camilla a few days later and learned that it had been going on all summer, right under my nose- and that’s when I knew it was really over between Clay and me.

That was two weeks ago. I’ve been walking around like a zombie ever since- barely eating, rarely sleeping. I’ve run the full gambit of emotions; at first, I was heartbroken, then I was angry, and now I’m just… numb. I wish I could just forget about Clay and move on, but every time I start to, something reminds me of him and I’m right back there, standing in the doorway of his bedroom, my world shattering around me.

“Here you go, boys,” I breathe, setting the glasses of beer in front of the two customers seated at table six. “Can I get you anything else?”

They both turn their full attention to me, and the guy on the left gives me a blatantly obvious once-over before his lips curl into a smile. “Yeah, how about your number?”

Real smooth.

He’s cute- college aged, tousled dark hair, charming smile. He’s also decidedly… human.

I chuckle, setting a hand on my hip. “Sorry, I’ve got a…” my voice trails off before I can say ‘boyfriend’. I guess I don’t have one of those anymore. And once again, Clay’s taking up real estate in my mind.

“A what?” he asks, slyly reaching out to brush my arm with the backs of his fingers.

I recoil from his contact, sidestepping to break it- then I quickly regain my composure, drawing a breath and glancing over to the bar as my mind races for an excuse. “A girlfriend,” I say, tossing Kyla a wink.

Even though she probably can’t hear me over the brewery noise, she tips her head at me and smiles as she fills a pint glass from the tap.

“Whoa, that’s hot,” college guy’s buddy says, staring at me wide-eyed.

I laugh softly, rolling my eyes as I turn away. “Enjoy the beers guys.”

Shifter hearing can be a curse- the two of them discuss the way my ass looks in my shorts all the way back to the bar. Pervs.

“So are you gonna tell me what’s on your mind?” Kyla asks as I round the corner to walk behind the bar. She leans one elbow up on the bar top casually, tucking her shoulder-length blonde hair behind her ear with the other hand.

I sigh, stepping closer to her and folding my arms over my chest. “You already know. Don’t make me say it.”

Kyla blows out a breath. “Figured as much.” She reaches out to stroke my arm reassuringly. “That asshole didn’t deserve you, Quinn. The quicker you move on, the happier you’ll be.”

“Easier said than done,” I grumble as my eyes flutter to the floor.

“That’s it,” Kyla snaps. I look up at her questioningly and she’s got a determined glint in her eye. “You’ve been moping around this place for long enough. We’re going out tonight, and you’re gonna find someone who will make you forget all about that cheating scumbag.”

I shake my head. “I don’t think…”

“I’m not taking no for an answer,” she interrupts, holding up her hands in front of her. “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.”

“What?!” I choke on a laugh. “Did you just make that up? I don’t think I need some rebound fling.”

“Oh you absolutely need a rebound fling,” Kyla says matter-of-factly. “You’re coming to my place after our shift ends. We’ll get all dressed up and go break some hearts.”

I wrinkle my nose. “On a Wednesday?”

“Especially on a Wednesday.” She waggles her eyebrows. “Hump day.”

I let out another laugh, swatting her arm. I could continue to protest, but I know she isn’t going to take no for an answer.

If I’m being honest, I’m actually a little bit intrigued. Kyla’s from Stillwater and I’ve never been out to the bar there. Before going to work at the brewery, I never really ventured outside of Summervale’s territory- there was never any need to. I should be taking advantage of the fact that there are other packs in the area, other towns I can go to where I won’t run into Clay. That guy will never leave the cushy familiarity of Summervale.

“Fine,” I sigh.

Kyla’s lips spread into a grin as she lets out a little squeal, balling her fists in front of her and jumping up and down. “Yes! This is gonna be so fun!”

I can’t help but giggle at her reaction- she looks like a little kid. Even though Kyla’s got two years on me age wise, she looks super young. I’m not sure if it’s her short stature or her round doll-like face or the smattering of freckles dotting her nose and cheeks, but the girl could easily pass for a high schooler.

“Okay, I’m gonna text Tony and see if he’s down,” she adds, reaching into her back pocket for her phone.

Kyla’s mention of her boyfriend takes my enthusiasm down a notch. I was assuming this would be a girls’ night, just the two of us. The addition of Tony changes the dynamic.

It’s like she can sense my hesitation. “Is that okay?” she asks, blinking those big brown eyes of hers.

“Yeah, of course,” I breathe, faking a smile.

Can’t wait to third-wheel you and your boyfriend’s night out.

Kyla’s small fingers move across her phone screen quickly as she taps out a message to Tony, hitting send before she looks back up at me.

“Perfect. We’re off at nine, so I told him to meet us there at ten. Should give us enough time to get ready.”

I nod, forcing another smile. “Sounds good.”

Kyla looks past me, a smirk creeping across her face. “Looks like you’ve got some admirers at table six.”

I chuckle, rolling my eyes. “Yeah, about that…”