Jackson looked both ways before following Remo into the dark interior of the bar. A bold lettered yellow-stenciled sign took up two-thirds of the window of the interior door, Remo held open. It read Agua Caliente. Jackson understood enough Spanish thanks to his great grandpappy twice removed. That family story crept up at family dinners when Cousin Felix drank too much tequila. Jackson shook his head and continued on inside.
Remo rounded the bar, nodding at the blond wiping down the table closest to them. “Sandy, get a couple of burgers from the kitchen. Mine well done and yours?”
Jackson swallowed hard. Remo was politer than most alphas Jackson encountered. Experience sent chills down his spine warning him to be wary. Still this wasn’t turf he knew and a much different species than the one he left back on the peak.
“Uhmm- – -“Jackson perched on the barstool near him.
“Look dude, you look hungry enough to eat a goat raw. Sandy would appreciate it if you didn’t hunt her down tonight during the full moon. Besides good help is hard to find. And eating my business partner will get you in more manure than you need right now.” Remo finished filling the large beer glass he’d taken from under the bar. “I don’t know about your home. Here we treat folks with manners and hospitality”. Remo slid the glass across the bar to Jackson.
“Make mine like his.” Jackson picked up the glass, saluted Remo with it, and drank. Nothing unusual about the beer. Draft with a head on it and cold just the way Jackson liked his. “Thanks.”
Remo watched Sandy give Jackson the once over before she shook her head and walked into the kitchen clucking her tongue. He turned. Leaning on the bar, he motioned Jackson closer. “Dude, let me give you the rules. Then we’ll commence with intros.”
Jackson drank more beer, then nodded. He knew when to keep his wolf yap shut. Being a distant second cousin of Talbot’s Peak’s head wrangler held no restrictions. In fact, more often than not, some punk wanted to pick a fight to whoop ass to show he was wolf enough to fight the current pack alpha. Jackson stayed away from pack politics. He didn’t even acknowledge his family bloodlines so trouble couldn’t find him as easily. Whatever Remo had to say, Jackson would listen to and then decide how to eat his burger and clear out of town without causing a ruckus.
“One,” Remo began. “When a pack female gets pregnant the pack rejoices. Two, if we know who the daddy is- – -Hi Daddy.” Remo pointed at Jackson and waved.
“If we know who daddy is we give him the options.” Remo’s smile reminded Jackson of the pictures of the old bobcat his great grandma tangled with during her moonshine running days. That wry smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes and yet told you sit still before shit happened. Jackson kept nodding and swallowing more beer.
“Slow down on the brewsky son,” Remo advised. “Need your wits about ya before the food arrives.”
“I hear ya,” Jackson said. “Please go on.” He pushed the glass away from him.
“Okay, third, you got choices.” Remo laid a sheet of printed-paper on the bar.
“Choices?” Jackson reached for the paper. Remo snatched it away.
“Hear your options out.”
Jackson arched his eyebrows. “Go on,” he softly growled. He didn’t like threats. He smelled one coming.
Remo tossed back his head, laughing, howling, and laughing again. “Feisty! Good! I like variety. You’ll make a good addition.”
“A good addition?” Jackson planted his feet on the floor, ready to defend himself.
“Your options are: flee, fight, stay, or join the pack. Even a combination thereof is welcomed.” Remo tossed the paper at Jackson. “See I’m not a bad s.o.b. Just an overly protective alpha who wants to live in peace with my neighbors. Not find pieces of my family, friends, and pack all over the place.”
Jackson glanced down at the paper he trapped against the bar with his hand. What Remo had summarized read down the sheet. Two blank lines stood out near the bottom.
“And these are for?” Jackson gestured at the blank lines.
“Signatures. Yours and mine.” Remo laid a pen on the bar. A sharp point projected from one end. “Your signature indicates you’ll abide by the rules. Mine says I accept your choice and decision.”
“And if I don’t?” Jackson stood up ready to make a break for the door if necessary.
“You’re welcome to stay but. . .” Remo raised the pen. “There’s an unattached attractive female carrying your youngin’. Do you want another male claiming her and the babe? Or are you wolf enough to do your duty?”
Jackson held out his hand. Letting go of Abebi would cut out a huge chunk of him. He didn’t know if he could walk away. His heart skipped two beats every time he even considered it. “Give me the pen.”
Remo snickered. “Ain’t no pen boy. It’s a prick. We sign in blood. Our pack lives by our blood oaths regardless of our origins.”
Jackson inhaled deeply. He held out his finger, gritted his teeth, and waited. Sharp momentary pain pierced his index finger. Bright red blood welled up and over the tip, on to the paper. Remo handed him the pronged pen. Jackson scribbled his name boldly across the first line.
“Good choice mate.” Remo held out his hand. Jackson pricked the finger closest to him. Remo grabbed the pen and signed below Jackson. “Now about that job.”