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Ghost visits Hoot

[cross posted were_ghost and bq_karl and w_qb_hoot]

Takes place after Ghost/Karl Mirror Image

Ghost maneuvered his bike through the narrow side streets to Hoot’s Place. He was still chuckling over the look on the interior designer’s face. You would think she had never seen a man wearing leather. He missed the way they snugged up to his body. He had never found jeans that performed the same way. The wolf pendant might be a bit over the top but it was special, from a stressful time in his life. A time he lived through and remained sane.

He parked his ride right out front and entered the dim interior. He could tell even before rising from his bike that this place reeked of weres. Why no one noticed it he didn’t know. It was like strolling into an active den. ‘Welcome to packland’. Packs weren’t bad; Lucinda had been part of a pack and she is/was wonderful. Rene worked in a restaurant frequented by large numbers of were, and as long as they kept their paws off his boyfriend it was okay. Ghost headed straight for the bar.

Hoot’s night man hadn’t shown, but he knew that was one of the chances one took when hiring those who were in need of a job short-term. Scrubbing at a stain and wondering where it came from, Hoot sensed the unknown were the moment he’d entered. Well, maybe unknown wasn’t quite accurate. The scent was vaguely -very vaguely - familiar. Lifting his eyes from the bar, he blinked and blinked again. While the entry way was dim, the main floor was adequately lighted, but from this distance... “Karl? What the hell are you...” Stopping, he frowned. The man moving toward him may have looked a bit like Karl, but the smell was dead off.

Ghost didn’t react to the “barman’s” surprise or the familiar scent of the were or even the quiet whimper of his wolf. He kept his pace even and strolled straight up to the bar’s edge. “Not Karl, but I am looking for him.” He looked the other were over carefully, or at least as much of him as could be seen above the bar. He was attractive, ruggedly well-built, but something about him troubled Ghost’s wolf. He felt disturbingly vulnerable in his presence, and that had nothing to do with the obvious fact that this were was in charge. He tipped his head slightly in respect to the alpha. “You must be the Hoot I’ve heard so much about.”

“I am... and now that you’re close, I can see you’re not Karl - sorry.” But damn, couldn’t the were before him pass for Karl! “You’re new here, right?”

“Relatively speaking. I haven’t been here before. Karl suggested I stop by for a drink.” Ghost couldn’t decide why this were seemed familiar, and that bothered him. He didn’t like feeling off like this.

Fastening the last button, Karl kicked the door closed behind him and skirted the first table. When his lifted his eyes from the task, he smiled at Hoot; the grin grew as his eyes slipped past the alpha and landed on the man at the bar. “Ghost... you made it.”

Ghost’s eyes shifted to his “twin”. Karl was more perplexing than the alpha who stood in front of him. “Of course, how could I turn down a drink or something to eat?”

“Great burgers here - anyway you like. Hey Hoot... where’s Jason?” Dropping onto a stool, he gave his new acquaintance the once-over. “Still think I’m a bit better looking.” Sliding the bowl of mixed nuts toward him, Karl grabbed a handful. “Oh, you’ll love this. First drink? On the house.” With his free hand, the bowl was pushed toward Ghost. “And we don’t bite... unless asked.”

Ghost scooped up a handful. “Nice and rare? Just like mama used to catch it?” Not that he remembered any of his mama’s shared meals. Dad did most of the catching and sharing when he was younger. Ghost chuckled at Karl’s attempts to make light of the situation. The other were certainly was more outgoing than he was or would ever be. Ghost had spent too much time alone. His people skills were rusty. He was lucky if he could make it through a board meeting without biting someone. “As for that drink, Jim Beam neat, if you got it, or any whiskey will do - and hold the biting ’til later.” Ghost popped the nuts in his mouth one at a time and settled himself on a seat so he could see the rest of the room.

Hoot shook his head. It was... fucking amazing. “You two - twins.” Pouring out the drink, he answered Karl’s first question. “Guess he left... transients - I expect it.” Shrugging, he went to place the order for two burgers - both what had become known as ‘Karl Specials’. Returning to his beta, Hoot grinned. “Think you’ve met your match there, Karl... “

Turning so he fully faced the other were, Karl studied Ghost’s face. “Maybe - but then again,” now addressing the man next to him, Karl smiled, “we could just decide to ‘gang up’ on you, Hoot.” He was having difficulty trying to figure out how to bring up the subject of any possible relation between them - Ghost and himself.

Hoot snorted and walked away, tossing over his shoulder as he did, “A bunch of pups learning how to play rough does not frighten me.” He winked at Ghost before he stepped into the small kitchen to check on their order.

The comment tugged at something in Ghost’s memory. The accompanying frown came and went as he focused back on the remaining were. “Pup, huh? I should thank him for the compliment. No one has called me that in over a....” His mind meandered for a second. There was something about today… “Birthday?” he muttered and then shook his head and returned the task at hand - the twin beside him. “Interesting place. So, ah....how would you feel if we were related?”

Karl opened his mouth to answer, but paused, wanting to give it the though it deserved. Inside he’d felt a jump of pleasure at the idea... “Actually - I think it’d be great. Grew up pack, so had my parents around, but not... would be nice to have family member that belonged to me and me alone. Make sense?”

Ghost gave a rare smile. He could appreciate Karl’s enthusiasm. Obviously the pack meant much to the younger were. Being a loner, Ghost didn’t quite understand it but he figured it had its benefits. He had been alone since his father was killed. He didn’t even consider Katerina as family, so Karl could be very important to him. To Ghost, the pack was he and his father. ‘Father…’ There was that nagging feeling again. It started right after he met Hoot. Why did his mind keeping trying to drift back to that time? Ghost mentally shook his head. All this talk of family, that’s all it was. “It makes perfect sense. Everyone needs to have someone else in this world.”

Ghost’s eyes took in the various pairs and groups in the bar. A rowdy bunch for sure. They’re wolves - pack wolves. Beings that were comfortable with one another. Banded together for protection and belonging. Karl fit well in that picture. “This might seem like a odd question in light of the reason that I’m here but......pack means a lot to you, huh?”

Swallowing, Karl nodded, eyes dropping to the drink his hands held. “It does. I was, uh - I was, well, I left before I could be kicked out of mine back in Ne... back where I’d come from.” Rolling the glass between his palms, Karl’s body moved with the breath he took. “Liam and Hoot... they’ve been good to me - didn’t push for answers, and hell, Hoot even converted a decent sized storage room into a place for me to stay.” To some, that might sound weird, but to Karl who was used to wiggling into a body all night, bumping and snuggling, large empty places set him on edge, so the small room was perfect.

“Never quite understood the pull of the pack.” Ghost put his hands up. “I’m not putting it down, or anyone who finds it desirable, but I just don’t get it.” Reaching for his glass again, he took a healthy swallow. “Never had a pack growing up. Just me and dad, which was fine for more than a century. The one time I attempted to join a pack, I had to fight every inch of the way, and then it was for nothing in the end. Guess we have that in common too.” Ghost sighed. He still turned a bit grim when he thought of Lucinda. He had courted her for what? He’d ended up killing her, even if it wasn’t his claws that struck the fatal blow.

Ghost stared into the amber liquid as if it held the answers, but he wouldn’t find them in there. Shaking his head, he looked back at the mirror image before him. Karl might be able to help if Ghost could figure out the right questions. “So.....should I give you my life history and then you can give me yours? I’d ask you what’s your sign or when you were born, but that’s kind of a 70’s thing and I’m not looking to get in your pants.” Ghost chuckled.

Snorting, Karl shook his head. “Considering how we both look the same, can’t imagine it being much different down there... kind of like playing with ourselves.” Reaching out, he patted Ghost on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about the pack thing... it’s all about what we were accustomed to... you, it was just you and your father, me, it was being surrounded by others like me. Oh, and my sign? Gemini. Kind of fitting since my ‘twin’ is sitting next to me.”

Ghost snorted. “That’s funny. Now if it’s also your birthday today, I’m going to get really serious.”

Nuts half way to his mouth, Karl slowly lowered his hand, eyes staring. “Why... I mean it is, but why?”

“What do you mean, it is? You have a strange sense of humor, Karl.” Ghost put his drink on the bar and took a quick scan of the room. Everything seemed the same. There were a few double-takes when Karl joined him in the room, but whether because Hoot was present or these weres were more laid back than others, no one reacting too strongly to the double vision. “I have never known anyone that looked like me except another Ghost. The birthday facts are too much of a coincidence.” He looked Karl up and down. “At least we aren’t the same age.”

Karl was beginning to wonder at their connection.... “Are you so sure?”

Ghost could see the astonishment in Karl’s eyes. The pup was obviously no threat to him. This could actually be fun. “Quite sure, Karl. You don’t look like you are much over 40, nor do you act it. Far too much energy for an old man like me.” Not that Ghost couldn’t keep up with the younger were but he was more settled, less “wiggle” to him.

Frowning, Karl looked behind Ghost, then to his side. “Don’t see any canes, walkers, or hearing aids...:” Offering an innocent grin, he fluttered his lashes. “But if you want me to call you grandpa, I will.”

Ghost snorted. “Smart ass pup. Have respect for your elders and see if you can pour me another drink - and I’m not your grandpa. Can’t be. Haven’t had pups yet.” He liked this spirited doppelganger. “I like you, Karl. Finding out whether we have a common history should be fun.” Ghost relaxed a bit and settled himself back on his stool. “I’m .....renovating a loft here in town and a..... I could use some construction workers. If there are any weres who have done that kind of work, I’m hiring. I figure Hoot’s and The Den are good places to advertise.” Getting back to the reason for the visit, he continued. “So besides the fact that we were born on the same day, though over a hundred years apart, what else do we have in common? Where do you hail from, Karl? I grew up in the Northwest, around Oregon and Washington.”

Sliding around the bar, Karl poured out another drink, tipping the bottle back expertly so nothing dripped. “New Zealand originally, though I’m not sure if my parents originated there or not.”

Ghost grabbed a couple of cocktail napkins from the bar and a pen from his pocket. “If you would be comfortable doing so, you could write down a few family names and my man can match them to my family’s history,” he requested, sliding the items toward Karl. “A very thorough history was collected back in my grandfather time to record the “Ghost” line from the time it entered the New World until now. A few of the branches are included too.” He took the drink and sipped at it. “It is said that only the “Ghost” males have the special talents, but I sometimes wonder about the validity of that. If you don’t mind me asking, what are your talents?”

“Nothing out of the ordinary, I’m afraid; excellent in battle... not bragging. And because I’m so dark in form, I blend into my surroundings very well - perfect for surveillance. And then, just the usual.” Jotting down a few names, Karl tried to think back to what his parents had told him. “I think I’m third or fourth generation New Zealand...”

Ghost thought back on what he recalled of possible branch-offs. “My great-grandfather was pack. He had a lot of pups that may have spread out. He had the “Ghost” look too. Only a few of the Ghost males look like me - us.” He snorted again at the similarities between them. “Our animals certainly don’t look alike.” Ghost glanced at the names. None looked familiar but he hadn’t thought it would be that easy. “I have a blending ability too, but it is more than just my coloring. It is part physical, part mental. I’m not seen because I choose not to be seen, but I can’t mask my scent.” Ghost sipped his drink and pondered his abilities. He no longer thought about what he did, he just did it. “So we look alike on the outside and we have the same birthday but that’s about it. Coincidence?” Ghost glanced at Karl and raised an eyebrow, questioning.

shaking his head, Karl frowned a bit. “I don’t know... we look way too much alike for it to be just coincidence... or maybe I’m just hoping for family again.” Shrugging ruefully, the dark wolf sighed. “Not going to lie, I’m hoping it turns out we are related.”

Ghost patted his lookalike on the knee. “Don’t give up too quickly. My company guy has a lot of resources. If there is a connection he will find it. Besides, it gives me a good feeling to think that I might have a cousin.” He finished off his second drink and grew serious. “I will say that if you ever run into some Russian bitch with a high opinion of herself and she wants to know when you plan to give her a pup, run for the hills.” Ghost chuckled to himself. He was sure he would need to explain that one to Karl and it would prove valuable information if Karl turned out to be a relative.

Looking inquiringly toward the door through which Hoot disappeared, he asked casually, “So how are those burgers coming?”

Pushing through the door with his tush, Hoot gave a mock glare. “Hell, you’re as impatient as Karl.” In each hand he held a plate piled high with curly fries and burgers - the burgers easily a pound each. “Chow down, boys...”

Now Ghost was a bit embarrassed. He’d let thoughts of Katarina spoil his mood and he’d tried to change the subject. “That looks real good, Hoot. I don’t really cook myself so I’m dependent on the skills of professionals or whatever I can catch.” Ghost tasted a hot fry and savored the smell of the delicious grilled meat. It was less complicated than the were who brought it in. He fingered the wolf pendant hanging around his neck. He’d bought it after his father died. It was a bit obvious but it was a reminder of who he was on the inside. Ghost shook his head. There was something about his father’s death and....he looked sharply at the alpha. ‘I remember you.’

Karl paused with the dripping burger between his plate and mouth and looked between the two men. For the time he’d known Hoot, the alpha had only been with one were. Raising one eyebrow, he took a bite and smirked around it. It was always the quiet ones you had to watch.

Yes, Ghost remembered Hoot. Of course no names had been exchanged, and parts of that time were fuzzy due to the amount of alcohol Ghost had consumed, but he was sure it had been Hoot. His nose didn’t lie. His father had been killed by a hunter of supernaturals. Ghost had tracked the piece of shit for days and finally caught up with him. By the time the were was finished there wasn’t enough left to identify, but the blood soaked everything. The angry were howled his rage and drenched himself in revenge, staining his white fur crimson. When it was over, he tugged his father’s hide down off the wall and carried it draped over his back to one of his favorite family homes, shifting back to human only when it was time to bury his father’s remains.

Ghost had his revenge on the garbage that killed his father, but he couldn’t make the oppressive loneliness go away. To escape, the were wandered into some nameless town in human form and headed straight for the nearest bar. He couldn’t remember how many days he had been there or how often he returned. He would drink himself blind and then shame himself into leaving, but then the solitude of the forest, which used to comfort him, would grate at his sanity and he’d run back into town to start the process all over again.

Ghost focused on the alpha still standing at the bar, and a piece of the memory became crystal clear. A stranger walked into that no-name bar in that no-name town. Another were. He was tall, attractive, well built, and most importantly, clean. While Ghost was unrecognizable. He was dirty. His deerskin leathers were stained. His hair was long and tangled. His face was covered by a thick beard. He had a weary, beaten look in his eyes, but then this stranger came. “I remember you.” All the emotions and turmoil of that low time came rushing back and for the moment Karl and family were forgotten.

Stopping in the middle of wiping off a condensation ring, Hoot stared at Karl’s twin. “You do?” Shaking his head, the alpha frowned, “Sorry... you look like Karl and all, but I’m sure if I’d met you, I’d have recognized you in him - know what I mean?”

Ghost felt a twinge of hurt but just pushed it aside. It had been some time ago and rather brief. What made it memorable was the devastating circumstances that preceded it. It was definitely the same were; his nose didn’t lie, but he wouldn’t make Hoot uncomfortable. His nose could smell the other were on Hoot. “Not necessarily - I was quite a mess.” He switched his attention back to the burger. It did look delicious. “This really does look good.” Now that was awkward.

One thing that made Hoot a good alpha was his ability to read those in his pack... and those not. “How did I know you... where did we meet?” Stepping closer, he looked down at the burger and smiled. “Not much we offer here, but those are...”

Ghost glanced discreetly at Karl, who was standing there obviously enjoying the entire uneasy interaction. Perhaps this was a conversation for another place or not. “Washington...sad little bar in a grimy town. A disheveled drunken were covered in hair and dirt.” He studied the alpha. “I doubt you would have seen any resemblance with your beta,” motioning toward Karl.

Hoot caught the look and gave his second in command look of his own. “You want to go get a table for later, don’t you, Karl.”

Burger part of the way to his mouth, Karl blinked and then nodded. He wasn’t so dense that he couldn’t figure out Hoot and Ghost had some private things to discuss. “Right... over there in the corner then.” Grabbing his plate, he snatched up a catsup bottle and moved to it.

Ghost watched his doppelganger move off and shook his head. “Strange place, New Orleans. My mate has a look-alike here too, but you, I never expected to see again.” He gave the alpha the once-over. “Honestly, I only have a vague image of you but I trust my doggy senses. They don’t lie.” Before the alpha could form the wrong idea, Ghost added, “I’m not here to cause trouble for you and... whoever he might be. I just came to talk to Karl, but to you I’d like to say thank you... whether you remember or not.”

Ghost remembered. He remembered the were who pulled him out of that bar and told him life was worth living. The were let him rage, let him grieve, even let him cry, and then there was some rough play followed by tenderness and then the stranger was gone. After that Ghost cleaned himself up and decided it was time to look for a mate.

The voice was familiar, as was the scent.., to a degree. “Some dinky little bar... damn, a few years ago. You, uh... your hair was longer, less - tamed?”

Ghost could see the dawning recognition on the alpha’s face and suddenly he was embarrassed. It was a terribly awkward feeling for him, and just about the time he had thought to cut his losses, grab that list of names from Karl, and beat an hasty retreat. This was one of the biggest reasons he had no desire to be pack. His size and abilities made him natural alpha material, but he didn’t have the temperament for that diplomatic garbage. Hoot could have it. He would never fight the alpha for the position.

“Funny, but even in my drunken state only an alpha could have taken me down.” Ghost raised his eyes to the alpha in front of him. “It was one of the two lowest points in my life.” He wouldn’t speak of Lucinda until he knew these weres better.

“You didn’t speak much the time we met, more... grunts. But... I do remember you were, well, aside from shitfaced most of the time, you were also very low.” Noticing a customer, Hoot called for Karl to come tend bar for a bit. Gesturing toward the far end of the bar, the side that led to his and JD’s private entrance to the stairs that led to their home, Hoot lowered his voice. “Let’s move down there away from the crowd, okay?”

Ghost’s eyes wandered around the room. A lot of curious ears out there. Not a lot of secrets in the pack. “Yeah, okay.” Ghost nodded discreetly and gathered his plate and glass, then reseated himself in one of the last stools at the bar. “Nice place you got here, and this really is a good burger,” he said, still feeling a tad awkward.

Finishing off his burger, Karl ordered another from the cook and ignored the pointed looks at his still flat belly, muttering low about how he worked it off. The fact that Hoot had moved to the end of the bar indicated his alpha wanted privacy, and he’d ensure the man got it.

“Keep the pack well fed and they’re less likely to be trouble.” Folding his arms and resting them on the bar rail, Hoot stared at Ghost. “Want another, or do you want to talk?”

‘Talk? Talk about what?’ “Just the burger. No real need for talk. You just surprised me, that’s all. I came to talk to Karl about, well....that should be obvious.” Glancing over at Karl and then back at Hoot, Ghost added, “Why does your beta look like me? There may be a family connection, and I haven’t had one of those in a few years. Thought it was worth looking into. As for this - ” pointing between the two of them - “that was just one were helping out another. I needed help and you were there and now we both got “others” and that’s it, right. Well, except for I’m real grateful. If I can return the favor, help the pack out, you give me a call. My mate and I are local now.”

Hoot knew a brush off when one tripped in front of him, so he accepted it. “I’m glad I was able to help. And I’m sure my pack would appreciate any assistance should the need arise.” Smiling, he poured out a soda for himself and nodded at the glass in front of Ghost, “Want another?”

“Sure....” What was he doing? The wolf had saved his life and he was brushing it aside to avoid the awkwardness that might arise from their short time together. “Look, I didn’t handle that right. I’ve been a lone wolf for too long with only myself to depend on. You came along at a time when I was being very stupid, and then I compound it by sweeping it aside with some token promise of help and a lame thank you.” Ghost shifted uncomfortably in his seat. This was worse than just admitting he needed help. “The wolf in me refuses to admit defeat. You would think my years would have taught me that no one is invincible.” The rant did stop there because Ghost was on a roll. He had much on his mind. ‘That there are things stronger in the world than you, Ghost.’

Karl didn’t eavesdrop, but he certainly did keep an eye on the pair, wondering at their intense expressions as well as low-toned conversation. Mentally shrugging, he wiped up the spilled liquid and rinsed the dishrag.

“It is the animal in us, never wanting to admit our own... humanity.” As alpha, even Hoot knew his days were numbered - that someday someone stronger could come along and challenge him. The question behind that was, was he ready. “Can I ask what demons drove you at that time?”

Ghost drew his hand down over his face as if he was trying to wipe away sweat, only he wasn’t sweating. “My father was killed, butchered by a hunter of our kind. The bastard tacked his hide up on his wall. He couldn’t just kill him, he had to take a trophy.”

“Oh fuck...” Hoot’s stomach roiled, causing him to swallow. “You saw this? No wonder you were so screwed up.” It was pure instinct to want to comfort the other were that had him reach out and rub at Ghost’s shoulder. “I’m sorry for your pain.”

Ghost pulled back from the touch. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate it. It was just not his mate. “Thank you.” Ghost returned the touch briefly. “I must have made little sense back then. I’d soaked myself so thoroughly in booze that I couldn’t feel anything. The anger, the guilt over not being there. I’d drink it all away until I was numb.” Ghost rambled on. “He was all I had in world.” Glancing toward Karl, he hesitated. “Well, he used to be all I had. Do you think it’s possible? Could Karl be....”

“Honestly... the resemblance is just too strong for you two to not be related in some fashion.” Studying his bartender, Hoot was nearly 100% positive - it was too uncanny. “How are you going to find out?’

“I have a guy in my employ who specializes in genealogy. He keeps the records of the direct line of the family as well as those branches he can find. Karl gave me a few names to start with. I’m hoping my man can do something with them. If all else fails, there is always DNA comparisons.” Ghost watched Karl as he explained his plan. “Are there any weres in the medical profession here? Someone who can be trusted with blood samples.”

“I’d have to check with Liam on that one... but it’s not a bad idea - if the tracing doesn’t turn up results.” Giving his beta a look, Hoot shook his head. “There’s just no way the two of you aren’t related.”

Ghost nodded and leaned close to the alpha wolf to whisper quietly while watching Karl. “You know it’s your beta’s birthday, today. You don’t have any traditions for celebrating such days? Before I lost my father, he would run me to death just to remind me that I was still alive and to point out any physical weakness that I needed to work on. It is a hard life that we live and we depend on our strength to survive.”

“This pack... we’re still finding our way - it’s not that old, since most scattered because of Katrina.” Giving Karl a look, Hoot shook his head at the easy flirting the man did. “Since... maybe you and he could do that... make it a family tradition?”

Ghost chuckled, thinking about how the two met. “Yes, I suppose we could at that. Funny, but that’s how we met. I found Karl patrolling near my shack in the bayou. My place is just outside pack territory, though I‘ve been moving closer to pack lands as easy game became sparser. I’m moving into town soon, so it might be prudent on my part to introduce myself and my mate to your prince.” The were paused and reached for his glass but it was empty. “Hey, Karl, how ’bout another?” He raised his glass and winked at the alpha. “I think we have tortured your beta enough with all the private talk. Wouldn’t you say?”

Drawing out another, Karl brought it over, a rueful smile on his face. “You two were thicker than thieves.” He wasn’t asking for information; aside from being rude, it would also earn him a bit of a smack from his alpha.

Ghost accepted the refill and cast a speculative eye at the big alpha. How would he like to handle this? This was Hoot’s pack and he had to deal with them every day.

Unable to stand the silence, though it may have only been a moment, Karl fidgeted, eyes sliding between the two. “Do I have food on my face then?”

Hoot shook his head even as he chuckled. “How about you and your friend take off for the night... enjoy a birthday - something. Start a new tradition?”

Karl started, still glancing between the two men. “Uhm...” Unsure how to reply, he sputtered to a stop.

Ghost chuckled softly. These wolves were going to be fun even if they were pack. Ghost downed his drink in a one long gulp and slid off his chair. The were left the empty glass on the bar and sidled over to the confused wolf. Sliding an arm around the younger man’s shoulder, he stated matter-of-factly, “See, it’s like this, Karl. My father had this little ritual to celebrate each new year of life. He would give me about a minute start and then he’d run me down. Said it helped me take stock in what I’d gained or lost in the past year. Now seeing that you are new to the game, I could give you a little leeway and give you a full two minutes.” Ghost winked at Hoot in amusement. He hoped that his “twin” was as good-natured as he thought.

Turning aside, Hoot hid the smile, using the pretext of placing the glass into the wash bin as his cover. Karl, for all his easygoing manner, was still a prideful wolf. “Sounds like fun...”

“So Karl, are you game?” Ghost bumped the other were’s hip in hopes of getting a response.

Blinking and finally closing his mouth, Karl nodded. “Sure... “ A small frown furrowed his brow for the shortest of moments - there and gone - before he shook his head. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say the two of you already figured out I’d go.”

“He’s giving you the night off. Don’t look a gift wolf in the mouth, Karl.” Ghost raised his eyebrows good-naturedly. “Which would you rather? Clean up after this lot all evening or have a good run through the swamp?”

Waving his hand dismissively at the crowd, Karl snorted. “Them? Hell no, they don’t even say bye when they leave me.” Winking, he moved from behind the bar, tossing the towel onto the counter. “Let’s go before someone changes their mind.”

Ghost clapped his “twin” on the back. “That’s the spirit. Take the lead. I’ll be right behind you.” Ghost turned toward Hoot. “Good to meet you, Hoot. I’d like to arrange for my mate and I to meet your prince, just as a show of respect. I’ll be back for my bike later. You might let these pups know I’m pretty possessive about her.” He winked s and dipped his head in respect to the alpha.

“Oh don’t worry... they know better than to mess with anything around my place.” Hoot grinned, but there was little levity in it - instead the inner wolf peeped out, dangerous and very alpha. “She’ll be safe or someone will pay for it... in many ways.”

Turning his eyes to Karl, Hoot smiled at the childish excitement in his beta’s eyes. “Go... let your pup play with his uncle.”

Grabbing Ghost’s arm, Karl smiled and tugged. “Come on there, old man, let’s go play.”

Ghost gave a hearty laugh out loud and then growled playfully. “I’ll race you to the spot where we met.” Ghost tugged at the closures on his leather vest. They could leave their clothes here and retrieve them when they returned later tonight.

“Might want to strip down in the back - don’t want to start a riot.” Grinning, Hoot moved a few feet away. “Oh Karl, find a safe spot to hide the key for when you return.” Giving the younger man a once over, he chuckled, “If you can find one.”

Ghost pulled off his vest and slung it over his shoulder. “What? I thought this was a pack. Now who’s being the old man? I would think they’d seen such.” Ghost was feeling in an unusually playful mood after the tension of the earlier discussion. He started toward the back of the bar. “Come on, Karl, time’s a-wastin’.”

“Oh, we are pack, no problem there... but considering how, uhm, how selective Karl is about who gets to see his hide, I just didn’t want a riot as the bar clamors for front row seats for the disrobing.” Grinning widely, Hoot winked at Karl and moved off.

“Shy? Wasn’t very shy in woods yesterday. It’s like looking in a mirror to me.” Ghost grinned and then slipped through the kitchen door.

Karl grinned back and followed. “We can leave it here - no one will bother, and uh... I’m not shy about anything.” Kicking off his shoes, he slipped out of the jeans and stood naked as his shirt was dropped on top of the pile. “Let’s go play.”




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