Ian often requested to patrol late. At first it had been because he was one of the only single shifters in his pride, and his acute hearing had enough of hearing everyone else boning for half the night, but now he lived outside the main house, it was mostly because he was used to being a night owl. Starting at six o'clock in the morning would have been a nightmare for him.
After they'd renovated the cabins belonging to their alpha female in the woods of Lakesides, Ian claimed the furthest one from the town. It was quiet up there, he could rarely hear a car, even in the middle of the afternoon.
At the end of his shift, Ian headed to the pride house to give a report to his alpha and catch up with whoever was awake at the crack of dawn.
"I can't stand dogs!" were the first words he heard.
Jas. He followed her voice to the lounge, and smiled at the familiar picture. She was glaring at a white and brown bulldog, shamelessly spread out on his back on one of their sofas, tongue hanging.
The object of the female enforcer's contempt had once been an underfed, pungent fleabag. Now, the beast was spoiled, fat, and considerably less stinky, when they could keep him away from fox shit. Which admittedly wasn't often.
Ian had gotten used to the stray. Rescue. Foster dog. Wait, were they still pretending that they were only keeping him while waiting for an adoptive family to fall in love with him?
The nine kids in the Wyvern pride would riot if anyone attempted to take him away. They'd called him Cutie and all of them loved playing with him, particularly Zackary, the alphas' two-year-old toddler. No one wanted to incur the wrath of Zack. Two-year-olds were monsters.
"No way am I spending fifteen minutes in a closed compartment with it. It smells. Find someone else to take him to the vet."
"Cutie doesn't smell," Lola protested, pouting.
She was four, and just as monstrous as Zack, particularly when she flashed her dimples and looked up with her big round eyes.
Just then, Lola spotted him and scurried over to him, and wrapped her little arms around both of his legs. "Uncle Ian!" she batted her eyelashes.
"Hey, pudding. You're up early."
She bobbed her little head. "I wanted to talk to you!"
Ian narrowed his eyes.
"Do you love me, Uncle Ian?"
Hell no. What was she up to now?
"You know I do, little monster."
"Do you love me a lot?"
"Enough to slay a dragon for you."
The little girl tilted her head. "Why would you slay a dragon? It's better to cuddle them, you know."
Of course she'd think so.
It was no wonder that the kid understood words like slay already. She lived around a bunch of people who didn't spend a week without killing something—their animals needed it. Generally, they stuck to deer, mostly because they were starting to overpopulate their woods. Sometimes, they got to fight with the occasional idiotic shifter trying their defenses. That was always fun.
"Good point. Now, spill. What do you want?"
Ian sighed. He couldn't say he was surprised. It had been a couple of weeks since they'd roped him into slaving away in the kitchen. Most enforcers had to cook once a month, max, as they were contributing to the pride's welfare another way, but his pridemates always wanted him to cook.
"Who made you tell me that?" he asked suspiciously.
"My tummy!" she replied with her best smile.
"All right. If you're good, I'll cook tonight."
"Yay!" the little girl let go of his legs and rushed to their alpha male's side, holding her hand up. Rygan Wayland high fived her.
Ian glared. He'd been played like a goddamn newbie. Again.
"Getting a baby to do your dirty work?" he asked the alpha. "You could ask me yourself if you want me to cook, Rye."
The alpha shrugged unapologetically. "Girl always gets results."
He had a point.
Of course, as the head of their pride, Rye could have ordered him to cook, every day, all day—but that just wasn't the kind of alpha he was. Hence why Ian had followed him from the very beginning.
"I need to go shopping," he said. "Do we need to take Cutie to Valley Vets? I can do it while I’m out.”
His offer was very casual. Rye didn't read anything into it. He could have, if they'd been in their feline forms; as alpha, Rye could brush their minds and catch their superficial thoughts. Again, Rye wasn't the type to do it. They only communicated mentally when they wanted to.
"Yeah?" Rye asked, surprised. "That'd be a great help, thanks. He has an appointment for his second set of shots at five. Does that leave you enough time to get some sleep?"
Ian checked the black clock hung on the living room wall. Six twenty.
"Should do, if I go now," he replied. "Say hi to everyone for me."
On that note, he turned around, and headed outdoors, jogging home.
Ian was smiling, his mind traveling to the very enticing veterinarian he'd seen the last time he'd gone to Valley Vets.
It was unlikely that he'd see her again; there were a number of vets in the practice. But if he caught even a glance, it'd certainly be a nice bonus.