Isa glanced at the clock on the microwave for the fifth time, resisting the urge to growl. They were all going to be late…again. If she didn’t leave now, Francine would be dealing with the breakfast crowd alone and the kids would be tardy, which meant she’d have to walk them into the front office, which meant getting out of the car and dealing with that crotchety witch in the front office. She couldn’t deal with that woman; not today.
She snagged her bag, shoving her laptop into it and returning it to the chair. What could they possibly be doing up there? How hard was it to put clothes on and brush your teeth? She asked very little of them.
“Rhys, Tristin, Kai and Quinn. Let’s go. Now. I’m not going to ask you again,” Isa shouted up the back staircase.
Four sets of feet pounded down the front stairs causing tiny bits of plaster to fall like snow from the ceiling between the living room and kitchen. She grimaced. She’d asked them not to use the front stairs. She still needed to call the guy about the leak in the bathroom. She’d managed to stop the water from pouring down into the hallway but she hadn’t had time to call them to fix the water damage to the plaster overhead. One of a million things she just didn’t have time for.
“Rhys, stop,” Kai whined. “Give it back.”
“No,” her brother scoffed, “stop being such a brat.”
There was a dull thud followed by a scuffling sound, a muffled “oomph” and finally a crash as something glass hit the floor. Then it went quiet. Isa closed her eyes, praying for patience. She didn’t know what it was but she suspected it was the vase she’d placed on the table in the foyer. It’s what she got for attempting to have nice things. She looked at her phone again with a growl, the giant numbers of the clock mocking her.
“You are going to be in so much trouble,” Tristin whispered.
“Whatever,” Rhys grumbled, “It’s not my fault Quinn tripped over his own feet. Again.”
Isa didn’t have to see what was happening to know her brother was tormenting Kai. It seemed to be his favorite pastime. Well, next to following Kai around. Rhys didn’t seem to notice the only one forcing him to ‘watch’ Kai was Rhys. She smiled. He couldn’t seem to stay away from the boy.
“You took my Gameboy and you pushed Quinn,” Kai accused.
“I was just holding it,” Rhys told him sullenly, “and Quinn pushed himself.”
“You have your own,” Kai persisted. “Why do you always have to take my things?”
Isa sighed, walking from the kitchen to the living room before the argument devolved further. A broken vase sat shattered on the hardwood floor, water and the wild flowers she’d had the kids gather yesterday strewn through the wet mess. Four guilty faces stared back at her.
“What is this? You are going to be late for school. Again. I’m going to be late for work. Again. We don’t have time for this today. You’ve been late so much lately I’m going to be arrested for your truancy.”
“He started it,” Kai swore, pointing at her brother. “He’s such a-a…dick.”
Quinn snickered and Tristin’s eyes went big as saucers. Isa rolled her eyes. If this was what dealing with tweens was like, the teen years were going to kill her. “Language, Kai.”
Rhys’ heart rate skyrocketed at the insult. Isa cut her eyes to her brother. His face flushed. Isa’s stomach sank, knowing what came next. Puberty was hard for any kid but puberty for a werewolf was ten times worse. Rhys’ jaw tensed, face twitching as his nostrils flared. He glared at Kai and Isa could smell his anxiety, his anger and something else…frustration, maybe.
“Rhys, breathe. You know what happens when you get angry.”
Kai looked leery but Tristin crossed her arms. “Yeah, don’t hulk out, dude. Isa doesn’t have time for this crap. She’s busy.”
Isa smiled against her will. Tristin had recently appointed herself Isa’s unofficial spokesperson. Isa thought maybe it was because they were outnumbered by the boys. Tristin liked to remind them often that Isa was the alpha and she was a girl, therefore all girls must be superior.
Rhys looked at his sister’s smile and growled. He thought she was laughing at him. His eyes shifted, glowing greenish gold, fangs dropping. Not now, Isa thought. Tristin was right, she didn’t have time for this crap. What other twenty-one-year-old had to deal with this? They were oversleeping for their nine am Lit classes, not raising three eleven-year-olds and a twelve-year-old. Tristin gave Isa a sharp nod and marched herself into the kitchen without another word.
Isa tried again, “Rhys, take a few deep-”
“Whatever, I’m fine. They’re the problem. Why is thith alwaith my faulth,” Rhys shouted around fangs suddenly too big for his mouth, running back up the stairs. Great. She was never going to get him out of his bedroom.
“Rhys!” she shouted, but he was gone. She looked at the wet mess on the floor. Tristin returned from the kitchen with a roll of paper towels and a dish towel, handing them to Isa like she couldn’t believe they had to deal with all this morning drama.
“Tristin, Kai and Quinn get your backpacks,” she told them, only then really looking at Tristin. The girl wore jeans, a dress, two different colored socks, one rain boot and one ballet flat. “Tristin, what are you wearing?”
Tristin’s face scrunched as she shoved a lock of dark hair from her violet eyes. “Duh, clothes. What does it look like?”
“Excuse me?” Isa asked, letting her eyes glow gold.
Tristin shrunk in on herself. “Sorry.”
“Go upstairs and change.”
The girl’s mouth dropped open like Isa had betrayed her. “What? Why?”
“Because your rain boot has a bigger heel than your flat and you’re going to end up limping all day and have horrible back problems when you’re an adult.”
Tristin thrust out her chin, crossing her arms, preparing to square off over her creative license. “I like this outfit. I don’t want to change.”
“Stop arguing-” Isa started, cutoff by the sound of the doorbell. Isa’s head snapped around, frowning at the door. She couldn’t remember the last person to darken their doorstep, especially on a Monday morning. She turned back to Tristin. “Change your shoes. Now.”
“Now!” Isa roared.
Tristin narrowed her eyes at the alpha. “Fine, but you are stifling my originality. I shouldn’t be forced to conform.” She fumed, turning on her one heel and clomping awkwardly up the stairs.
She leveled her gaze at the two innocent looking faces remaining. “I said backpacks. Now.”
“We’re hungry.” Quinn blinked at her, shoving an errant lock of his brown hair out of his face, blinking his amber eyes at her owlishly behind glasses too big for his face.
The doorbell rang again. “Then grab a pop tart. I could have made breakfast if you guys hadn’t taken so long.”
“Ah, man. I wanted waffles,” Quinn griped, but the two were already heading towards the kitchen.
With a last look at the mess, she tossed the towel on top of it and pretended it wasn’t there. She yanked the door open prepared to tell whoever it was to screw off but stopped short, blinking stupidly at the guy on her porch. He was tall. Well, everybody was tall compared to her barely five-foot frame, but he was tall enough she had to crane her head so she wasn’t staring at his chest. He was lean and well-muscled like a swimmer, with messy, dirty blonde hair and just the right amount of stubble. He also had pretty, bright blue eyes and the most earnest expression she’d ever seen.
“Yeah?” she asked, distracted as Tristin pounded back down the stairs. She looked at the girl’s rain boots and shook her head. She should have specified which shoe she wanted changed but it was too late now. “Where’s Rhys?” she asked the girl.
“Shredding pillows in his bedroom, I think.”
This might be the day that breaks her, Isa thought. This might be the day she snaps and goes rogue. “Go eat your breakfast.”
“Pop tarts hardly qualify as breakfast,” Tristin told her haughtily.
Isa didn’t dignify it with an answer. She wasn’t going to argue with an eleven-year-old. She turned back to earnest-guy, noting the tattoo snaking up his arm. He was a wolf; that much she could smell, but she’d never seen him around here before. She had to hand it to him, it took a lot of balls to come into an alpha’s territory without permission and knock right on her front door. He was clearly crazy. It was a shame too. He was hot…objectively speaking.
“How can I help you?”
He frowned, shifting nervously. “My name is Wren Davies.”
She stared at him blankly, waiting for him to continue. When he said nothing further, her eyebrows shot up. “So?”
“I heard you the first time. What do you want, Wren Davies?”
“Um, I’m the blood heir to the Blackthorne pack.”
She continued to blink up at him. “Congratulations? Listen, I’m kinda busy. Is there a point coming soon?”
“I’m your betrothed.”
Isa frowned. “You’re my what now?”
“Your betrothed. We are contracted to be married.”
Isa groaned, dragging her hands down her face. What had her life become? Seriously? What mirror had she broken to incur this amount of bad luck in her life? She didn’t have time for this. “Yeah, I have no idea what you are talking about but I have a restaurant to run and four children trying to tear apart my kitchen. You are very cute, but I don’t have time for your mental breakdown, buddy, because I’m a little busy having my own.”
She started to close the door. He stuck his foot between the door and the frame. Isa’s eyes widened and she tilted her head, letting her pupils go red. “Move your foot.”
“I’m really sorry, Isadora, but it’s important we speak-”
“Isa,” Kai shrieked from the kitchen. “We don’t have any strawberry pop tarts, just the blueberry. I hate blueberry. They’re gross. You said you were going grocery shopping. I’m hungry.”
“Move your foot or I’ll remove it for you…permanently,” she growled, voice deadly quiet as her claws extended.
“Please, if you’ll just give me a minute, I’ll explain everything. We need to talk about the betrothal.”
If he said betrothal again, she was going to rip his insanely hot throat out. “Last chance, Pretty Boy.”
Rhys’ footsteps fell softly on the front stairs behind her. She knew he’d sensed her anger. She could smell his shift. Her heart squeezed. He’d come to protect her. She didn’t look at the boy but held up one clawed hand to let him know she had this.
“Isa,” Tristin wailed from the kitchen. “We don’t like the blueberry pop tarts. We want waffles.”
The man stepped closer, putting himself near enough for Isa to have to lean back. This close to his throat, she couldn’t help but catch his scent. Her stomach swooped strangely, like she was on a roller coaster.
“If you could-” he started.
His scent was flooding her senses, making her almost dizzy. She just needed him away from her. She shook her head to clear it, sighing as she started to feel a little more like herself.
“I warned you,” she told him, letting her fist fly. The feel of bone and cartilage crushing under her fist was oddly cathartic given the morning she was having. At least until the adrenaline wore off and the pain exploded in her hand. She fought to keep her face neutral while her hand throbbed.
To his credit, he didn’t even look that shocked. Blood poured down his face dripping onto his snowy white t-shirt. He cupped his nose with one hand staring down at her with…something, disappointment? Sadness, maybe? Her heart fluttered a bit. He made no attempt to retaliate just stepped back and peeled off his t-shirt, balling it up and holding it against his damaged nose, leaving Isa staring at his bare chest and perfectly toned abs.
She swallowed hard. Jeez, he really was pretty.
Isa tried not to look. She really did. But what was she going to do? All that skin was just right there. The need to peruse was practically pathological. She licked her bottom lip, noting how the tribal tattoo that started at his knuckles snaked up his toned arm and spread across his chest. Pale hair dusted along the muscles there and down his belly disappearing beneath jeans slung low enough on his hips for her to appreciate the deep groove of his hipbones. Why was that so hot?
When she finally dragged her gaze back to his face, he pulled his t-shirt away. The blood coming from his nose, already slowing as a slow smile spread across his face. She knew he could smell her interest. She met his gaze unflinching. He was cute. She wouldn’t feel bad for looking. It didn’t mean anything.
She crossed her arms, tilting her head. “That was a warning. If you show your face again, I’ll take it as an official challenge.”
His eyes widened but she didn’t wait to hear what he had to say. Heart hammering as she closed the door in his face. She leaned her back against the door like he might try to barge his way in. She felt shaky. What was wrong with her? Had she just threatened to fight him to the death? It was no wonder she couldn’t get a date. Well, that and her three and a half kids.
She couldn’t handle anything else today. She just couldn’t.