A very tempting smell of buttered toast assaulted my senses. Like a ghost under the sheets, I rose straight up and sat on the bed. I blinked a few times to clear the sleep from my eyes and then looked around.
The wall stood intact, surviving the night between a very untamed werewolf Alpha King and me. Huh. Didn’t think it would actually happen. The aroma of maple syrup hit my nose and the blanket was off me in a flash.
In all my just-got-out-of-bed glory, I bounded down the steps, two at a time and announced to Xena, “I hope you’ve made for a whole army because I’m starving!”
Only it wasn’t Xena. It was the same Alpha King I had shared half of my (or was it his?) king sized bed with.
As if on cue, my stomach made a gurgling sound which much to my dismay, his werewolf ears would have picked up. I think even deaf ears would have picked it up. Blood rose up my cheeks at the embarrassment. It hadn’t even been five minutes and I was already embarrassing myself!
Reece’s chiming laughter broke through my startled expression and I gave him a sheepish look. He was standing before the island kitchen counter and flipping a pancake in the air with the ease of a professional chef. It burned me when someone was better than me in everything.
Did I mention that he was shirtless? He wasn’t even wearing an apron for god’s sake! Wasn’t he worried about the flying oil? How was a girl to not be enchanted by the view he presented?! Aaaaah! Life was truly testing me today morning!
“Come on then, army.” He smiled his crooked smile at me, his eyes twinkling. “I-I thought you were Xena.” I admitted, looking away from him and he laughed even harder.
“Brush and come. I’ll set up the table till then.”
Oh, right. I forgot to brush. I need to sort my priorities.
Before I could say something to dig a deeper hole for myself, I quietly slipped upstairs and brushed my teeth. I considered changing my clothes but my food was getting cold!
Reece set the living room table and gave both of us generous helpings of food. I sat down with restraint, trying not to come off as a savage beast.
Oh wait, that was him. I snickered at the thought and got his attention. Reece raised an eyebrow at me but didn’t push it when I said nothing.
“Where’s Xen?” First order of business.
“She said that she had some work in town. She had to go fix a meeting with this company director.” He supplied, reaching for the maple syrup.
I vaguely remembered her talking about it but I didn’t know that she planned to go today. He was an emerging man in the field of renewable energy and his company also worked a lot for the safety and prevention of cruelty to animals. It had been a huge score for Xena when her boss had asked her to go interview him and conveniently he was based in the same place that we had decided to vacation.
The food looked delicious, and I couldn’t wait anymore. Reece had sliced fruit, he had made fluffy pancakes, he had spent his time also making toast and they were perfectly done. I beamed at the impressive display but decided to egg him on.
“The hotel has a buffet breakfast.”
" I know that.” He rolled his eyes to imply ‘It’s my hotel.’
“They have a wider spread.”
“I’m aware of that as well.” He seemed slightly miffed.
“But, thank you.” I said with a sudden change of heart and Reece beamed at me.
“I owe you a talk,” he said a moment later, his voice still holding some of it’s enthusiasm. “I figured we could do it over breakfast.”
I nodded in understanding, he was giving me a chance to clear my head. I’d slept on it and now I was much more relaxed.
“OH MY GOD! Did you make these by yourself?!” The pancake I had bitten into had flooded my mouth with it’s warm, sweet taste. It was by far one of the best pancakes I’d ever had! Reece gave me a sly smile, “It’s my grandma’s recipe.”
“Can I-” I swallowed, “Can I have it?”
“Nope.” he said bluntly and my hands flared up in indignation.
“Sorry, non-virgins only.” he said cheekily and my cheeks flared hot. How dare he! Meanie. I huffed in annoyance and continued to consume the maple goodness. He’d made it so fluffy and light!
“So, whenever you would like to start.” Reece prompted, bringing the conversation back on track and I nodded, hoping that my face had returned to it’s normal shade.
“When did you know you were the next reigning king?” I shot my first question as he poured himself some juice.
“When I was three. My mom actually found out, I didn’t really know what I was doing.” He chuckled.
“So how does one know their king?” I continued, taking the salt shaker from his hand.
“The Alpha King is granted with the power of telekinesis. He can move things around him with his mind.” He said casually, like he didn’t just admit to a super power.
My mouth fell open as the memories came back to me - when I was on the ground and had just realised that he was a werewolf. All the rocks around him, around us were moving.
And Sienna had told me that only I could calm him down.
“Okay so moving on, what is the job of an Alpha King?” I asked my next question.
“The post of an Alpha King is that of a king, along with one major addition which is total discretion about the werewolf community.” Reece answered as he took the last bite of his toast
How had he finished it so fast?!
“So if I was bitten by a werewolf, I’d become one?” I shot the next question but at this Reece let out a cough.
His eyes averted my curious ones and he took out another toast.
A small part of my brain registered his huge appetite.
The larger part was intent on not letting him get away from the question.
“Reece?” I prodded further and he sighed.
“But that’s such an easy question!” I protested further.
“I will not eat till you answer.” I added, strengthening my resolve and he gave me an annoyed expression.
“Not all humans turn by bites. For most people the bites are just wounds - cuts.” He said softly and I nodded.
“And the rest?”
“They do turn.” His answer was curt and it flared my curiosity further.
“So how do you identify the difference?”
“Okay I’ve changed my mind. If we are going to do this then it’ll work both ways.” He said suddenly and my movements halted.
His smirk grew as he noticed my hesitation.
I was never one to talk about myself - I didn’t find it comfortable - and he knew that.
Nevertheless, I was going to rise to the challenge.
Let him see that the two years have changed me to become much stronger.
“Deal.” I bit out and had the satisfaction of seeing his smile falter.
He hadn’t expected me to concede. Now he’d have to answer as well.
“So have you dated anyone else in these two years?” His question made me cough suddenly.
Man was he direct!
I answered awkwardly, “Umm, no. Not dated.” I chose my words carefully - not wanting to lie to him.
He seemed to catch on though - his eyes narrowed and changed to a darker shade. I unconsciously gulped.
“But..something else?” He whispered lowly and suddenly the whole atmosphere shifted. It wasn’t a carefree picnic anymore, it was an interrogation.
I resisted the urge to cower under his gaze.
After all, why should I? I had no obligation to stay true to him. We were nothing at that point.
“I believe it’s my turn to ask a question.” I said defiantly, knowing I was right and he would have to give in.
What I didn’t count on was the fact that when it suited him, he chose to ignore basic logic.
Reece moved forward leaving a breath of air between us, his one hand had pushed the food aside.
His dark eyes bore deep into mine and I could see the instability in them.
“Answer me, Flora.” He spoke almost dangerously and I knew it’d be stupid to point out that I didn’t have to.
His words compelled me into a trance, and I felt the sentences tumble out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“I tried to have hook ups - always in the hopes of getting over you - never managed though. I’d always be interrupted by this agonising pain and collapse.” I answered honestly and I felt him stiffen.
He wasn’t angry anymore, I knew that, but now a new emotion flitted across his face - guilt.
It lasted there for only a second - before he abruptly let go of me and went back to his food, thrusting mine in my hands.
“Your question?” He asked after a moment of stunned silence from my end and I was brought back to reality.
What was that?! No control at all!
“Umm -I - ” I couldn’t remember what I had been about to ask, or even what we had been discussing before this whole issue came up. Reece sat there patiently till I got my bearings.
“So how long do werewolves live?” I asked him something new.
“We can live for thousands of years, Flora.” He answered easily and I felt like there was something pressing at the back of my mind.
“Eat.” Reece instructed again and I nodded, before digging in. The food was really great!
“Did you ever...hate me?” He asked softly and my attention snapped to him instantly.
“I don’t know, to be honest. I think it was more hurt than hate.” I refused to remember those flashes. Why pain myself by thinking of the past?
Reece nodded, wordlessly, but I felt his own emotions mix with mine and the need to console him suddenly overtook me.
I extended an arm out, placing my hand on his and said, “hey, it’s okay. It’s done now, don’t worry about it.” I said gently and his eyes flashed back up to mine, his face unreadable.
Oh how I wish I could read your head too.
“It can’t be so easy.” He stated softly, so softly that I barely caught the words.
I gave him a bewildered look.
What was this guy on?
“How can you just forgive me? After everything I did? I didn’t even pause to give you a chance I just...cut you out of my life. My own mate, disregarded.” By this point I knew he wasn’t talking to me.
There was so much..agony.. in his words that I found it hard to keep my own emotions down.
This part of my past, which had been haunting me, which I tried to keep under lock and key threatened to spill out.
When I’d first moved away, I was constantly struggling. There was not a moment of peace or escape from the pain.
Xena had made things a lot better though. She practically nursed me back to health, and encouraged healthy activities. She was a big part of why I wasn’t a mess.
Still, the ache in my heart - it only dulled, never completely going away, and flaring intensely if I tried to get close to any man.
I closed my eyes tightly and fought to remain in the present moment only.
It’s over now, it’s in the past now, everything is okay now.
I chanted to myself.
I could feel his gaze on me and I arranged my features to a more collected look before opening my eyes again.
He was looking at me with an expression I could not decipher, but it made me want to change the topic immediately.
“So has Sienna found her mate?” I was amazed at how many distractions I could come up with. Seriously, I could win some sort of prize for it.
Reece nodded, a small smile made it way up to his lips. He must like the guy.
“Yes, she found him a year ago. His name’s Cole.”
“You like him.” I pointed out and Reece let out a chuckle.
“That’s an understatement. Sienna...her life has been very difficult. It came to this one point where she couldn’t take it anymore and left the pack - became a lone wolf.” A small gasp left me as I motioned for him to continue.
“Then she met Cole and initially it was a disaster. He’d tried several methods of persuasion before abruptly giving up on being nice.” Reece let out another light hearted laugh.
“Anyways, eventually they worked things out and Cole came up with multiple solutions to her lone lifestyle. This hotel, for one -it’s good for her. She likes managing the hotels - she’s learnt so much in just a year. And it keeps her centered. I owe a lot to that guy.”
That explained the rogue remark Brianna made. I wonder what happened that made Sienna want to leave?
But I knew I couldn’t ask Reece. It wasn’t his story to tell.
“So where is he?”
“He’s an enforcer. So he keeps going away for work.” Reece explained and I nodded as I chomped down some more of the toast and reached for the juice.
Swallowing a sip I said, “And an enforcer is..?”
“Oh, an enforcer is one who keeps peace between packs. He acts like the King’s hand and has to often travel to the regions of dispute and resolve them.” Reece explained, reaching for one more pancake.
“Why does it not sound peaceful?” I asked him after a moment and his expression hardened.
“It isn’t sometimes. It’s not easy to maintain peace with non violence only. There are always wolves who get greedy, mates who have altercations and are from different packs. A wolf who loses his mate goes out of his mind and nothing is black and white to him anymore.” His tone took a serious turn and I decided to look at my food instead.
“Does that happen often?” My own voice was meek.
“Not that often. Werewolves are absolute when it comes to their mates, but some of them desire more power and they think that they can get that only when they are mated to a higher ranking wolf.” He explained casually, for my benefit.
“So these ranks, do they change? Or is it nepotism?” I smiled slightly at my own joke, but one look at Reece made me stop grinning. He had finished his pancake and was pouring himself juice.
“They can be challenged. A fight to the death if accepted by both parties. However it is rare as the Alpha blood gives one party an edge. Very few cases are recorded where a Beta or Gamma has won against an Alpha. The same however, is not for the King. The Alpha King can emerge from anywhere and he automatically gets the throne.”
“Mh-Hmm.” Reece agreed, while finishing his second glass of juice.
“Is this something that you wanted?” I asked him suddenly and he stopped focusing on his food. I’d struck a nerve.
“I like this job. I like the power, I won’t lie, but there are several risks that come with it and those risks are rarely to me, but for the people dearest to me.” He spoke after a minute of thinking. I suppose he was right. As the Alpha King who is supposedly the strongest werewolf in the world, along with the added benefit of telekinesis, nobody would outright challenge him but there would always be politics in play. People who could double cross him to get what he has, and they would most often play it cheap by hanging the swords of family and friends over his head.
“Being mated to me.. it instantly puts a target on your back,” he whispered, his hand suddenly clenching the empty glass a little too firmly. His words sank in and I stiffened. The reality of this situation seemed to keep reminding me how much of a challenge this was going to be. Not only did I have added responsibilities but there was also surplus danger. I took in a calming breath and let his words wash over me.
“Don’t worry though, I would never let anything happen to you. You are the most precious thing to me.” He said without hesitation, looking up from his glass into my eyes with a genuine spark in his eyes.
Look at him being all bold and confident and yet vulnerable at the same time. And then there is you, who won’t even make a small romantic gesture, or initiate one. I needed a less honest conscience.
“I’m a little scared.” I admitted. “There is so much I don’t know.”
“There are many more breakfasts to go.” He rhymed with me, making me smile.
I was pretty full by this point and since he was done stuffing himself as well, I took that as the cue to clear away the table. Reece joined me, speaking nothing as he let me go over whatever information I had gotten till now.
Which wasn’t much. All these recent events needed to be spotlighted too. We left the dirty plates and glasses in the sink after Reece assured me that he would have someone come and clean them up. Perk of knowing the hotel owner, he said.
And that is how the two of us ended up walking along the resort’s jogging track in the morning. I had changed into joggers and a loose tank top after Reece eyed my shorts like they were infested with bugs.
Men, so possessive.
Alpha men? Even more so.
Before I could even ask him a question, Reece began to speak on his own.
“I was blessed to be the King at a very early age and my father knew that, but he wanted me to understand the value of life, love, friendship, money too. He wanted me to be kind, and selfless. The werewolf kingdom has had several occasions where the Kings would end up self invested. So he chose for me to live in a regular world. I went to a normal, human school and I studied with them and played games with them. I never contested his decision, he is my father and I believed that he had my best interests at heart.” Reece took a pause to let that sink in.
“So you knew throughout that you were royalty?” I asked and he nodded.
“And then I met you. Your scent was so appealing, you were my mate - I was sure.” He looked at me and I swallowed.
“I didn’t want to scare you away, we were only 19! So I chose to make you fall in love with me.” He said softly.
We continued to walk the path, several joggers passed us by. A few of them slightly bent their heads to Reece in a subtle show of respect. They probably did it for my benefit- thinking that I was human.
“The human way...” I finally gathered, my heart beating faster.
Reece gave me a nod.
“Yes, correctly put, I suppose. And then one day Brianna- I’m sure you remember her - came to me with a bunch of men.” His eyes hardened immediately.
“She came with evidence - evidence that suggested that you knew who I was all along and you wanted the power of Luna Queen.” I sucked in a sharp breath and Reece immediately came closer to me. We had strayed off the path and stepped into a hiking trail into the woods.
“But then she showed me such facts, I didn’t even stop to think. I was young and I’d just started to control my wolf. My temper rose and I only saw red.” He continued as he walked ahead of me, leading the way through the trees as the forest got thicker.
“And it was so rare! For someone to get a human mate! And then to top it off, she claimed to be my true mate.” At that my eyes widened.
I-I can’t listen anymore!
Reece’s grip on my hands tightened, as if he was afraid I’d run off.
“In werewolves, the female ones know their mate at the age of 18 while the males take three more years for confirmation. And then all of a sudden I could feel the same thing I felt for you, from her too.”
I whispered, “How?” And he shook his head as he stopped walking.
“Till we are 21 we only have hints, we’re never sure.” He looked so broken, so confused. Like a little lost boy.
“And so, I believed her.”
Reece immediately pulled me into his arms. I stumbled right into his chest due to the uneven ground, and tried to find my bearings as his hand stroked my hair.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!! You have no idea how much I’ve hated myself for that!” He kept squeezing me, my waist, my shoulders, my hand, always touching me and maintaining contact.
“And nobody knew what to do, you were human and I just got so mad.” He continued, his voice quivering but my heart tore.
“After all that time how could you let someone break your faith in me?” I sobbed and Reece hugged me tighter. It occurred to me that he had intentionally led me away from the man made track to allow us some privacy.
“Flora, I have tried and tried, gone over everything, every feeling to understand why I felt the bond even from Brianna’s side but I don’t have an answer.” He admitted, trying to control his own emotions and mine.
“And then I came here, finally 21, on a routine errand about some unruly wolves and guess who stays on the same floor as us! The second you opened that door, your face in pain and your breathing heavy I could smell you.” he admitted, his own voice breaking a little but he continued.
“And then I grabbed you and I was electrocuted. I knew right there that I was the worst man alive.”
I was still whimpering. Reece had opened all my old wounds.
Wounds that I’d tried to heal desperately but never really did.
I was bleeding..
Make this stop...this pain.
“I wanted to fall at your feet right there. Apologize profusely. It was not the time for evidence and proof. It was a gut instinct. So powerful and sure that to not listen to it would be complete idiocy. You were mine and I was sure.” He said the words with conviction, his tone no longer pained.
“But your eyes, they held nothing but distrust and hatred for me, for all of us. I knew that you wouldn’t understand what was going on. There was so much I couldn’t explain to you without revealing who I was as a species! And at that point, in that pained condition I knew that you would not take this well.” He explained further, trying to make sure that his words were getting to me. Reece pulled me away from his embrace to gaze down at me, his forest green eyes matching the surroundings and captivating my own, watery ones.
“You were mine and I cast you away. You were mine and I looked the other way.” Reece said softly, he was trying to not break and I knew it.
I could feel the sincerity in his words. He truly didn’t intend to hurt me the way he did. I could understand..but could I forgive?
I could forgive but could I forget?
I could forget but could I try again?
I don’t know..
“I know this sounds crazy. You just found out so much and I’m sure you want time to think it over but know this, I’m never going to give up. I’ll always fight for you and I will never let you go again.”
Reece was still holding me tight, his hands around my waist and I realized how much comfort they gave me.
He’d left a bleeding gap in my heart, a gap I’d tired to fill unsuccessfully for two years now, but I’d found no remedy.
Was it because only he could patch it up? I already knew I loved him, unconditionally so, but did I trust him?
And then, my brain saw a way out.
“How can you be sure this time?” I asked him, my voice a whimper and his arms tightened around me.
“Well you said you felt the mate bond from either side, so how can you be so sure it’s me? What if a year later you feel it through someone else?” I asked and he raised my head to make me look at him.
“Because I just do. I know this - this is how it’s supposed to feel. Nobody can beat these feelings.” He spoke with absolute conviction.
“Maybe you’re wrong. Maybe you’ve got it wrong and I’m not your mate.” I said nervously.
Did I believe what I was saying? Not at all. Even if I didn’t take his feelings into account, everything I felt stood to trial about it.
Every feeling he described for a mate, I felt them, confusingly so.
“You’re trying to run away.” He stated after a moment and my head whipped up to him.
“You know I’m your mate but you’re trying to find a way out.” He said again, reading me to see if his assumption was true.
“Flora?” He lowered his head this time and I tried to move behind but his hands didn’t allow any movement.
“Hmm?” My thoughts were getting clouded. My heart was working overtime. These feelings I had were making a mess inside of me and my mind went blank.
Reece came impossibly close and I found that I was unable to even look away.
My nerves were tingling, every muscle in my body was screaming, even my bones knew the truth.
He was my mate.
“You can’t argue this one out on technicality, Flora. What your heart and body feel will always trump your mind.” He whispered as his lips grazed mine and a shock ran through me.
His breath made my mind go fuzzy.
Slowly he spoke, “I know you’re scared and I know you’re hurt. I can feel what you’re feeling and I know you feel like you’re not ready for this risk but you’re going to have to try.” He whispered and I felt my vision getting blurry.
“I know you feel it too. So please, stop fighting this for one moment and trust me. I will never break your heart ever again.” His voice was deep, his eyes were firm and his lips...they were gentle. He pressed them against mine so softly, and gave me a slow, long kiss before he backed away.
My eyes, which had shut of their own accord, opened slowly as he put an arm’s space between us.
He was watching me with every little piece of hope that he had in his system. All his dreams and wished were resting on this moment and even though I had told him I was going to give him a chance, this moment warranted more.
He needed assurance that I was there for him after he told me what had actually conspired two years ago. He wanted me to have a choice after knowing the full story.
And then ever so slowly, I nodded.