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Lion's Share

By:Rachel Vincent



What they don’t tell you about college is how much time you’ll have to spend dodging your Alpha’s calls in order to get any studying done.

Or was that just me?

My phone rang again as I unlocked my dorm room, and a glance at the face that popped up on the screen made my chest ache. I wanted to answer the phone. I wanted to hold it to my ear and let the voice over the line rumble through me, touching me in places the man it belonged to never would. But that was a fantasy. He only ever called to talk business or deliver messages I didn’t want to hear, and this end-of-semester phone call would be no different from the others.

I pressed the ignore button, even though I was all done studying, because I already knew what he was going to say, and my rebuttal wasn’t yet ready.

But to be fair, I did feel a little guilty that time.

I exhaled with relief when the door closed at my back and warmth from my dorm room enveloped me. Three and a half years in Kentucky and I still couldn’t get used to the cold or the snow. Where I came from, winter was little more than a cool breeze around the first of the year, and even though Kentucky liked to think of itself as a southern state, no one actually hailing from the Deep South could claim quite such a familiarity with the changing of the seasons.

In my part of South Carolina, we only had two: hot and slightly less hot.

I dropped my backpack on my unmade bed and took a resentful look at the bulging hamper in the corner of the room. Washing my clothes would be the mature thing to do. My laundry had been piling up all month while I studied for finals. But exams were finally over—I’d aced them, thank you very much—and the last thing I wanted to do was more work.

“Abby!” My roommate, Robyn Sheffield, pushed the door open with her elbow, carrying a steaming paper cup in each hand. Her eyes were bright and her cheeks were red. She looked happier than I’d seen her in two months.

She looked healthier too. Her appetite had come back almost a month before, and her steady hands told me she’d just about put the trauma at the campground behind her.

“Thanks,” I said as she handed me one of the cups. “Hot chocolate?”

Her smile rose higher on one side as she took a sip from her own. “Irish hot chocolate.”

“Because it was made by leprechauns in a pint-sized sweatshop on the outskirts of Belfast?”

“Because it’s liberally spiked with Irish cream. Gary’s Christmas present to the entire floor.”

Our RA was a pain in the ass nine months out of the year, but he was generous around the holidays. God bless him.

“All done with exams?” I sank onto my bed, then leaned across my nightstand to press the ratty old scarf farther into the crack in the windowsill. No matter how high we set the thermostat, the draft froze the tip of my nose all night, every night.

“Finally!” Robyn sipped from her cup. “You?”

“As of twenty minutes ago. Seven semesters down, one to go.” In six months, I’d have a bachelor’s degree—only the second ever awarded to a female werecat. In the whole world. Ever. My brothers were proud. My parents were happy for me, but they were also ready for me to be finished with my education so my “real” life could begin.

The life wherein I would move back home, marry a future Alpha, and have his shifter babies while he trained to take over our Pride from my father. That’s the way it had been for every tabby who’d come before me. All but one, anyway.

My cousin Faythe, the world’s only female Alpha, had broken the mold. But that mostly just changed the way people saw her. Faythe was the exception. The tabby who could not be tamed. The rest of us were still expected to follow the rules, because the numbers hadn’t changed. There were still only a handful of female werecats capable of bearing children, and if any of us refused to do that, the strength of our species would be compromised.

We could literally go extinct.

No pressure.

I took a long, deep drink of my spiked hot chocolate, suddenly wishing I had an entire bottle of Irish cream. Sans the cream.

I had taken Faythe’s advice and I’d always been grateful to have it. Insisting on going to college had given me the opportunity to be myself—to find myself—before I had to become a wife and mother. But now my sojourn in the human world was almost over.

The clock was counting down toward graduation, and with every dreadful tick and inevitable tock, I could feel fate’s vise tighten.

“What’s wrong? Your hot chocolate doesn’t have enough whiskey?”

“The world doesn’t have enough whiskey,” I muttered. “Nothing’s wrong. Just family crap.” After what she’d suffered during our fall break camping trip, I wouldn’t feel right burdening her with my problems.

Robyn only knew a little about my home life—just the parts it was safe for me to tell her. She knew I had five highly protective older brothers and that my parents had very “traditional” expectations for me. She knew that I could handle myself in a fight, thanks to summers spent with my cousin Faythe. She knew I was still in touch with my high school boyfriend, Brian, but that I only answered about half of his calls, because neither of us knew what to say to each other over the phone.

She also knew that a good friend of my father lived less than an hour from campus, and that he acted as my emergency contact and de facto guardian while I was at school.

What she didn’t know were words like Alpha and enforcer. And Pride, at least in the shifter sense of the word.

“So, the semester’s over!” I drained my spiked hot chocolate and stood to toss the cup into the trash, then turned to my closet, where my party clothes had been neglected for the better part of the term. “Last one dressed has to find us a designated driver!”

Three minutes later, I zipped up my shortest skirt and was just stepping into my highest-heeled boots when movement out the window drew my eye. A familiar black Pathfinder was pulling into a spot in the parking lot two floors below.


I leaned over the nightstand for a better look, and even with my breath fogging up the glass, I recognized the tall, broad figure who stepped out of the car. “Son of a bitch!”

I knew I should have answered my phone.

“Done!” Robyn stood up in the middle of the room, fully dressed. “Get ready to sweet-talk Julie Cass, because she’s the only teetotaler on this floor who has her own car.”

When I didn’t reply, my roommate rounded the end of her bed and leaned over my nightstand to follow my gaze. “What are we looking a…” When her question faded into drooling nonsense, I knew she’d spotted him. “Who is that, and why the hell haven’t you called dibs?”

“That’s Jace Hammond.” I stood, trying to slow the automatic jump in my pulse. She wasn’t wrong. He was gorgeous, in a carved-from-stone perfection kind of way.

“Wait, that’s your dad’s friend? Shouldn’t he be…old?”

“He’s old enough.” Though in truth, thirty was too young for the authority he wielded and too old for what I secretly, wake-up-aching-in-the-middle-of-the-night wanted from him. Which was why I avoided him as often as possible. “And he’s not supposed to be here until tomorrow.”

Jace never came to pick me up until the day after my last final. I’d thought I’d have the evening to talk him out of it this time.

In the parking lot, he leaned against the side of his SUV and pulled his phone from his pocket. Mine rang second later, and for the fourth time in the past two hours, his name and picture popped up on the screen. I answered the call and pressed the phone to my ear.

“You’re early,” I snapped, and Jace stood up straight to scan the side of the dorm building, surprised.

“How did you…”

“Fourth from the left, third floor.”

When he found my window, Jace took off his sunglasses and grinned up at me. Even from two floors down, his eyes shone bright blue and his grin lit little fires deep inside me, as it had since I was fifteen years old.

I stomped those tiny flames until they were nothing but embers keeping me warm. Jace smiled the same way at every woman who looked at him. That grin meant nothing, I could not afford to forget that.

Robyn had identified the problem without even knowing it. Alphas weren’t supposed to be young and hot. They were supposed to be old and wise, like my father.

“I’ll be up in a second.” Jace’s voice surged through me, stoking the flames I’d just trampled.

“No! I’ll come down. Stay there.” I hung up before he could argue, and Robyn looked at me as if I’d just threatened to cut off my own arm.

“What the hell are you doing?”

“Looking for my coat.” I eyed a suspicious lump beneath my comforter, but it turned out to be my pillow.

“You know what I mean. If that guy promised my dad he’d look out for me, I’d sure as hell let him. He looks like he could take really good care of you.”

A quick search of my closet floor revealed a cardigan, four bras, and the hair clip I’d been looking for all month. It was the only one strong enough to hold all of my curls out of my face at once. “Stop staring, Robyn. He’s compulsively unavailable.”

Her hopeful expression collapsed. “Wife?”