SEALED WITH A KISS EXCERPT
Brooklyn White hated love songs. Every single one of them. And not because she was some angsty eighteen-year-old who didn’t understand the meaning of love, but because she did. She understood it better than most middle-aged adults. The sacrifice, the loneliness, the need, not to mention the loss of identity. But unlike most, who immediately fell victim to the so-called emotion, she refused to succumb. What was love other than a dangerous concoction of chemicals saturating the brain? A potent mixture of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin—the chemical literally responsible for driving people temporarily insane. And wasn’t that just the perfect definition of love?
Yeah, no thanks.
She winced at the sound of Taylor Swift wailing on about a long-lost love or something. Who the hell even listened to this crap? But it was her sister’s engagement party, which lent itself to mushy love songs, much to Brooklyn’s dismay. And if that wasn’t bad enough, someone had chosen the worst color scheme. The room was draped in so much pink, it looked like someone had robbed a dollar store of all their Valentine’s Day decorations. Colored streamers hung from the roof, balloons hovered in every corner, and scented candles surrounded neatly arranged rose bouquets on each table. Pink as far as the eye could see. And what the hell was that smell? Jasmine? Ylang, ylang? Hard to tell with how it suffocated her senses.
Her sister, Maddie, didn’t even like pink. Hell, who did? But engagement parties, weddings, baby showers…those sorts of events always tended to lean toward the more feminine colors. Maddie ran a damn ranch, for crying out loud. She woke up at four o’clock in the morning every day to ride hard with cowboys and raise cattle.
“So, whaddya think?” a gentle voice asked, rousing Brooklyn from her thoughts.
She turned to find a shapely blonde walking up to her. Certain words always came to mind whenever Brooklyn spotted Skylar Callahan. Words like spitfire and bad-ass, but most importantly, alpha. Sky was a female werewolf, yes, but she’d never let that hold her back. The woman was the epitome of dominant. Tonight, though, she sure as hell didn’t look the part. The flowy dress that hugged her lithe curves was nothing like her normal leather attire. She’d even softened her face with a light dusting of makeup.
“Well?” Sky prodded.
Brooklyn’s nose wrinkled as she gestured toward the room. “A little…girly, don’t you think?”
Sky’s face split into a wide grin, the sort that turned heads wherever she went. “It’s an engagement party.”
“Yeah, for an alpha werewolf and a mountain lion shifter. Not some love-drunk sorority sister.” Brooklyn’s words rushed forward. She needed to make Sky understand that Maddie would hate this. “I know my sister. She doesn’t own anything pink. Her wardrobe is mostly plaid and denim.”
“I’m aware,” Sky commented, her voice rich with sarcasm. “Would it help to know your sister chose the color scheme and decorations? I just put it all together for her.”
Brooklyn stiffened. “She did?”
“Mhmm. This here is her vision. It’s what she wanted.”
“But…” Brooklyn turned back toward the room, her brow furrowed. Had her sister lost her ever-loving mind? Or was this what happened when someone surrendered to all the damn serotonin?
“Come on, kiddo.” Sky looped an arm around Brooklyn’s shoulders and drew her close. “People change, you know that. Love’s funny that way. I used to tell myself that I would never settle down. Especially not with an alpha like Wyatt. I was adamant that school and my career were far more important than something as trivial as finding a mate.”
“Because they are,” Brooklyn grumbled.
Sky rubbed Brooklyn’s arm. “School is damn important, and so is a career. Hell, I left my pack to pursue those things. Exiled myself, even. But I eventually realized they weren’t the only important things in life. You’ll understand one day.”
Oh, God. Not that nonsense again. She was so tired of everyone telling her she’d understand when she was older, that someday life would make more sense. Brooklyn shrugged away from Sky with a derisive snort. She understood plenty. Just like how she understood that taking a mate was forever. Forever was a damn long time when you were only eighteen.
Thankfully, Sky didn’t say anything more on the topic. Brooklyn wasn’t sure she could take much more of it. Ever since she and Maddie had found their supposed soulmates, they thought they knew everything. The two of them were so perfectly, and disgustingly, content with their lives. And now that Maddie was “off the market,” as others loved to say, everyone kept looking to Brooklyn, wondering when she planned on settling down. Teasing her that she was next in line to marry. Like that was all they cared about in life. Like that was all that mattered in life. And whenever she voiced her opinions, they laughed and told her she’d change her mind when she met the right guy.
The right guy.
Pfft—she’d already met him, for all the good it did her. But that wasn’t something she spread around. It was no one’s business but hers and Sebastian’s.
Brooklyn shook her head and focused on the present. Anything to distract herself from thinking about Sebastian. He was so the last thing she needed right now.
“Have you seen Maddie yet?” Brooklyn asked.
“She texted me to say she’d be here in a few minutes. She had to pick up Axel and Paige before heading here.”
Right. Axel Galliard—werewolf extraordinaire and her sister’s soon-to-be-husband. Just thinking about him roused a faint smile from Brooklyn. She couldn’t imagine the gruff Cajun would appreciate the décor any more than she did. In fact, she couldn’t wait until he arrived. Watching him walk beneath the giant ivory and pink balloon arch would be the highlight of her night. The man was so alpha, he practically oozed it with every step. That didn’t tend to go hand-in-hand with roses and ribbons.
Brooklyn still couldn’t wrap her head around this whole thing. Her sister was getting married. To Axel. The man who had broken her heart so many moons ago. Of course, things had changed since then, and they’d patched up their relationship. But there were moments when Brooklyn couldn’t help but wonder how Maddie could forgive him so easily.
Axel had realized he and Maddie were mates when they were much younger—at a time when werewolves had just come out to the public. The humans hadn’t responded well to that little tidbit. Brooklyn had only been seven or eight at the time, but even she remembered the hostilities. The protests, the riots, the attacks… According to Axel, their father had feared for Maddie’s life and had demanded Axel walk away. So, he’d left, but doing so had destroyed Maddie. She’d forgiven Axel since then because that was who Maddie was, but Brooklyn still didn’t understand. Why marry someone who had already proven himself unreliable? He should have fought for her, should have told their father to stuff it. Instead, he’d left her for nearly ten years!
Brooklyn liked Axel, of course. It was hard not to after everything he’d done for her family. Without him, who knew what their lives would be like now. Maddie would be dead, guaranteed. Hell, maybe they all would be. But that didn’t mean she was ready for him to become her brother-in-law.
Everything was moving too quickly. Five months ago, their lives had been normal. Their father had been alive and well, and the ranch thriving. Then some radical extremist with a major hate-on for all things shifter had set his sights on their family. Not only had the sick bastard murdered her father, but he’d also slaughtered a member of Axel’s pack before he’d nearly killed Maddie—a notion that terrified Brooklyn to this day. Losing their father had been hard enough, but if they’d lost Maddie as well… Brooklyn couldn’t even think about it.
And now her big sister was getting married.
Was it so much to ask for a moment to breathe?
“You know, Wyatt and I never had an engagement party.” Sky’s wistful tone dragged Brooklyn out of her thoughts. “There’s always something going on that needs his attention, you know? And I understand that. It’s just how life is when you’re marrying the alpha werewolf. But I think I would have liked to have one.”
Brooklyn blinked away the cobwebs and glanced at Sky. “You still could, you know.”
“Nah. The wedding is in three months, and there’s still so much left to do. Besides, I suspect organizing another party might kill me.”
Brooklyn chuckled. She’d heard a great deal about Wyatt’s and Sky’s impending nuptials. Maddie had confided in Brooklyn how relieved she was that Axel was fourth-in-command of Wyatt’s pack. The lower rank meant they didn’t have to invite all the big wigs, as Maddie put it. Add in Sky’s high-profile career, and every official from all over the country had been invited. Like a royal wedding, which wasn’t too far from the truth, seeing as Wyatt was the Alpha of the Colorado Basin Pack.
“Still,” Sky mused, her shoulders shifting with a dreamy sigh. “Something small like this, cozy, with just the pack and close friends would have been nice.”
Brooklyn tensed. “Wait. What? The pack is coming tonight? As in your pack?”
Sky frowned. “Of course. Axel belongs to the pack. So everyone was invited tonight.”
Brooklyn’s heart plummeted, like a heavy stone in a still pond. “Does that mean… Is Sebastian coming?”
The shadows cleared from Sky’s face and a sudden clarity brightened her eyes. “Yes, hun. He’ll be here. In fact…” Sky lifted her chin, and her nostrils flared as she scented the air. “Ah, there he is.”
Brooklyn swallowed a pitiful squeak. No, no, no, no… Her damn stomach clenched at the thought of seeing him. A part of her had wondered how she’d react if he showed up here tonight, but she’d somehow convinced herself he wouldn’t. Who wanted to come to an engagement party? Brooklyn hadn’t been given a choice, seeing as she was the maid of honor, but Sebastian wasn’t obligated to do anything. The worst part was now she wanted him here if only to see him. How fucking complicated was this?
How she wished her heart would settle on one, instead of leapfrogging back and forth without any warning. When Sebastian wasn’t around, she could think clearly, tell herself that she didn’t want a mate, that love was nothing more than a trick of the mind. Things weren’t so clear whenever she saw him. It was hard enough keeping her damn hands to herself whenever he was nearby. So desperately confusing.
Like right now.
His scent hit her a second later—deep, masculine, and so very intoxicating. A smell she’d long since committed to memory, and one she would know anywhere. She still remembered the first time she’d laid eyes on him. Sky had ordered him to protect her younger sister, Paige. Brooklyn hadn’t liked the thought of a werewolf watching her baby sister, but then she’d caught a whiff of him, and everything had changed. She remembered lifting her head to find this massive brute of a man dwarfing the entire entryway. Her friggin’ mouth had gone dry, and her knees had trembled. But inside, her inner lioness had started to prowl. Her cat had known what she’d wanted the second she’d spotted him. Logic be damned. It didn’t matter that he was a wolf, her cat wanted him.
Worse, Maddie had witnessed this very private moment. And soon afterward, Sebastian had started working on the ranch, a part of the team sent by Wyatt to help restore order. The alpha took the ranch’s security quite seriously, considering Axel was now part owner. Which apparently included patrolling the grounds, a role Sebastian had taken on. Brooklyn had tried to keep her distance, but as Maddie had pointed out a few months ago, it wasn’t going well. And she wasn’t sure how much longer she could refuse to go on a date with him, or ignore his calls and texts.
“I need to go,” Brooklyn finally whispered.
Brooklyn shook her head, ignoring Sky’s concerned glances.
Sebastian hadn’t entered the room yet. He was in the building, yes, but not in sight. That meant she had a chance to escape before he spotted her. She wasn’t ready for this. He’d want to talk to her, ask why she insisted on hiding from him—and Brooklyn couldn’t handle that right now. Maybe not ever.
“Brooklyn…” Sky’s gentle hand cupped her elbow, halting her abrupt exit. “Listen to me. Running won’t accomplish anything. I know how frightening this is. Trust me, I felt that way once, too.”
“Don’t,” Brooklyn snapped. “Don’t tell me how love conquers all. Or how you overcame your fear because Wyatt was the right man for you. This is different.”
Brooklyn’s hackles rose, but when she met Sky’s soft gaze, she realized the woman genuinely wanted to help. Unfortunately, Brooklyn didn’t have an answer. She stammered out something nonsensical. Something about how a mountain lion and a wolf would never make it work. Ridiculous, of course, considering her sister and Axel.
“But they’re a perfect example as to why Sebastian and I would never work,” Brooklyn babbled. “Axel left her because he didn’t want to risk Maddie’s life. And things are worse now than they were back then. Humans First doesn’t give a shit about any of us, and they’re determined to destroy every last shifter. They killed my father, Sky. They almost killed Maddie! What if they…” She choked on her words, unable to speak the rest. It was bad enough that she’d suffered these thoughts, but uttering them aloud seemed worse, as though giving life to her darkest fears. The thought of someone hurting Sebastian invoked such a rage within, one that had her cat spitting and hissing in the darkness.
Oh, God. Her heart flatlined at the sound of his voice.
A faint whimper scraped past her throat. All she had to do was turn around. She could feel him behind her, his presence so overwhelming, she couldn’t think or even breathe. But if she turned, she’d cave. She’d give in to everything she’d been fighting so hard against.
Love is nothing more than a rush of chemicals, she reminded herself for the umpteenth time. Just your brain soaking in excess serotonin and dopamine. It isn’t real.
It sure as hell felt real.
“I—I’m sorry,” Brooklyn muttered. “I need to go. Tell Maddie…tell her…I, just…I’ll be back later.”
And on that note, Brooklyn beat a hasty retreat toward the exit, all the while fighting the urge to turn and throw herself into Sebastian’s arms.