The Defiant Alpha (West Coast Wolves #2) - Susi Hawke

One

“Thirteen”

Present Day…

I instantly came awake when I heard footsteps on the cement sidewalk outside my window, a sound so expected I kept the time by their passing. Closing my eyes, I focused on the tread. Heavier than last time, with a barely noticeable difference each time the right foot lowered with its slightly more metallic thunk. The steady plonk-thunk-plonk gait told me not only was it now midnight, but Jones was working.

The shifts changed twice a day, at noon and midnight. Six large alphas, always around, patrolled once an hour to ensure nobody got in—and none of us got out. This was nothing new, a fact of life I knew since my earliest memories. The day shift guardians were slightly nicer, but the night crew was to be avoided if possible.

Especially when Teacher and his two assistants were absent. Or any of the three support staff members who cooked and cleaned, for that matter. Teacher, and the rest of the people who worked here, weren’t any kinder or much better than the guardians, but my brothers and I at least felt safer when they were around. They might speak harshly and force us to obey hard rules, but they didn’t stare at us like we were a treat for their taking, as so many of the guardians did.

To my knowledge, the only person here aside from my brothers and our supposed guardians was the night nurse. He wasn’t to be disturbed except for emergencies, though we wouldn’t have anyway. We tried to avoid anyone outside of our small circle of trust. Anyone working to keep us locked away here obviously wasn’t on our side, even if they were merely in it for the paycheck.

I didn’t know where the rest of the staff went when they weren’t working, but I didn’t think it was very far. Another building on the property, perhaps? But then again, I didn’t know very much beyond these wooden walls. Asking questions was against the rules, so unless I witnessed something during our weekly walkabout or someone accidentally shared information, I had no way of knowing what I couldn’t see, hear, or smell for myself.

Holding my breath, I didn’t dare move a muscle until his passing was nothing more than memory. I knew from experience how these thin, wooden walls worked. If I could hear the guardians, they could hear me. Best—safest, really—to let Jones think I was sleeping. The last thing I wanted was to be found awake and vulnerable during the wee hours by any of the alphas, but Jones in particular. Something about his sharp gaze, and the overly familiar way he stared whenever he had a chance, kept me on high alert.

Since it was safe, I was out of my bed in a flash and creeping across the room to quietly double-check the chair I kept wedged under the knob. We weren’t allowed locks, and the chair wouldn’t stop anyone who really wanted in, but the legs scraping against the cement floor would wake me from even the heaviest sleep. And even better, the sound would echo through this old barn and make Jones—or any guardians with ill intentions—think twice about whatever they might have planned.

“Eleven? Are you awake? Seven? Three?” My brothers and I each had hidden, powerful gifts. We didn’t know why, and we weren’t asking because it was the one secret we’d been able to keep from Teacher and the staff. One by one, around the time we hit puberty, we’d come into our powers, like my ability to mindspeak.

My brother Six had an intuitive talent we all respected, and he was firm on one thing: Teacher and the staff couldn’t be trusted. Master, either, but his shiftiness was a given since this place was under his control. Luckily, we normally didn’t see him more than twice a year, when the Missus came along to celebrate one of our birthdays, or for Christmas. Seeing him a third time was bad—it meant one of my brothers would be leaving, never to be seen again, like One, Two, and Twelve.

Blinking back hot tears at the thought of my lost brothers, I firmly pushed my worries about Master and the Missus to the back of my mind and tried again. “Is anyone awake? If you are, be careful.”

“I’m awake, Thirteen.” Seven sounded as sweet and natural in my head as he did when we were face to face. “What’s going on?”

“Jones is on patrol and heading to your side. After he tried… well, you

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