Emma stepped out of the bathroom and into the bedroom she shared with her husband. She braced herself because she'd heard him come in and wondered what he would find out of place today.
She did her best to keep everything as he liked and that was a full-time job.
“Emma," he bellowed.
She shuddered but pasted on a smile. “Lucien? Do you have to yell?"
“When my woman doesn't have dinner on the table right away, then yes I do."
She entered the kitchen where dinner was ready to serve and looked him up and down. “You don't even have your coat off. Or your shoes."
“I work hard to keep this roof over our heads. If I want to keep my shoes on I will."
It had been a discussion for all five years of their marriage. If he took off his shoes, the house would stay cleaner. He'd never listened to Emma and she had to sweep the floor every day. He shrugged off his coat, hanging it on a hook by the door. He flopped into his chair and picked up his silverware, looking pointedly at Emma. “Don't just stand there."
She hurried to the stove and put the stew she'd been cooking onto his plate. Lots of meat: just how he liked it. She set the plate in front of him then spooned out her portion. She sat across from him at the scarred wooden table. Putting her fork into the meal, she ate in silence.
Lucien gobbled down the food as if table manners didn't matter. He was the Alpha of their pack, so who would question him.
His father hadn't been this way. How had Lucien turned out so gruff? Emma would never know and each day she spent with him, she cursed that she'd let her parents talk her into this arranged marriage.
Lucien hadn't even bothered to be charming in the beginning. She'd begged her parents to pick someone else, but, according to them, he was much better than the man she'd been dating at the time. They'd insisted that Dex had no prospects.
“How was your day?"
“Crappy as always."
Lucien often complained about whiny pack members. “Sorry to hear that."
He paused, his fork midway between his plate and his mouth. “Really? Are you Emma?"
He treated her badly, then questioned her sincerity. What had her parents been thinking? “Lucien."
“Don't 'Lucien' me. You're always ready to spend the money I make."
As if her closet was full of designer clothing. Her car was ten years old. It needed new tires. The kitchen appliances barely worked. From the outside, the house looked like a dream, but inside it was a nightmare. She'd begged him to let her upgrade, but he didn't care. His pack didn't come here for meetings so they would never know that their leader lived in squalor.
She didn't want to fight. Besides, she had a book club meeting tonight and if he was in a bad mood, he wouldn't let her go.
Lucien went back to inhaling his food. “I have a meeting tonight."
“So do I."
He paused. “Oh?"
He frowned. “I don't see the point, but I guess if I'm not going to be here then it's okay."
Good. At least she could get out of the house for an hour or so.
“Where are they meeting?" he asked.
“At the bookstore downtown."
He seemed to ponder that. “Okay."
“I know that house burned down. Does that family need anything? I can collect donations of clothing or something tonight," she said.
He blinked at me. “Don't you dare get involved. They are being taken care of."
Lucien never let her get involved in pack business. She'd heard that many pack members though tof her as lazy or snobby. She was none of those things. Lucien hamstrung her efforts to get to know people. This was her pack, her family. She wanted to know every one of them as the Alpha's mate and wife. Lucien didn't see the point.
She went back to her meal. Lucien finished up quickly, then rose. “The Council of Wolves is bugging me for an heir. We need to get on that."
They'd been trying for a year to have a child. Part of Emma was glad they hadn't, unsure of what kind of father Lucien would be. “I'm still not pregnant."
“Then we need to take care of that."
“What else can we do, Lucien. You won't go to the doctor to see if the problem is you."
He rose to his full height, his eyes shifting from their usual green to a dangerous red. “There is nothing wrong with me. You must be broken, Emma. I've done as much as I can do."
This old argument. She suspected that the problem lay with Lucien, but she wouldn't tell him that. The doctors had cleared her to get pregnant, not seeing any problems on her end.
She pressed her lips together.
“I have twenty minutes before I need to leave."
“Right now? I'm eating."
“You can finish when I'm finished," he said.
Not letting her argue further, he headed in the direction of their bedroom. As the Alpha's mate, it was Emma's obligation to give him a child. An heir. Someone to take over the pack when he was gone. She sighed, pushing back her chair.
This wouldn't take long. He wasn't worried about her pleasure and she could just lay back and think of something else. If she said no, he would be angry, but he would at least respect her wishes.
The thing was, she wanted a child. Badly. Her heart ached every month when she saw evidence that she wasn't carrying a child.
She found him undressing in the bedroom. He rose when she entered, a rare smile on his face. He was cold and distant most of the time, and the bedroom was no different. She never could have stomached doing this with him if she didn't want a baby.
In ten minutes, he was on his way to his meeting. Emma showered and dressed, hoping that maybe this time she would get pregnant.
At least she had her friends to see tonight. A few women from the pack who had befriended her despite the rumors that swirled around her. She grabbed her book, then headed downtown to the bookstore. Fang City was a small town that was shrouded from human sight by magic. Fang City Books hosted several types of book clubs.
Tonight, her thoughts kept straying to her old lover, Dex. She wondered where he was, and what he was doing ,but she pushed away thoughts of him. That was another life.
Julia, one of the younger members, was already in the backroom at the bookstore. It looked out on the alley where a few of the town's bars sat. Periodically someone would stumble past after a few too many drinks.
“They really should clean up this town," Julia said.
“Don't you like to go to bars?"
“Not when it's full of married men looking for a quickie. I want a man who will come home every night."
Lucien came home every night. Sometimes smelling like another woman, but he came home. Julie didn't know what she was wishing for. Emma's father had slept around also. Glancing out the window, Emma thought she saw someone familiar. She was right.
Julia saw him also. “I'm sorry, Emma."
She waved it away. “He gets to do what he wants as the Alpha."
Julia squeezed her hand. “It's still not fair."
Most of life wasn't fair and the sooner that Julia figured that out the better. “It is what it is."
Emma hoped she would be asleep by the time Lucien arrived home tonight. She watched her husband hanging onto someone and walking away. Her heart hurt, but she pasted on a smile for Julia.
Julia shuddered but didn't say anything more about their pack leader. Emma didn't want to discuss it.
Lucien once again had embarrassed her. This was her life. She'd chosen to follow what her parents had wanted and here she was. Unhappy and not pregnant. Maybe the not pregnant part was good.
She pondered what her life would be like if she'd defied her parents. If she'd gone with Dex when he'd asked her to. He would have taken her away. At least that's what he'd promised. She frowned. Thoughts like that were not productive.
“I loved the book," Julia said and Emma was thankful she changed the subject.
“I did, too, except for the ending. It wasn't realistic to me."
“I was okay with it. I wonder what's taking everyone so long to get here."
“I don't know, but I need to leave in an hour."
Julia frowned but didn't say anything else. Emma's gaze went out the window again. She once again saw a familiar figure. She gasped.
“Are you okay?"
“Yes, I just think I saw someone I knew."
Emma rose and used the back door to the bookstore to get a better look. Yes. It was who she thought it was. She called his name. When he turned she gasped again.