“So, this is where you will be sitting. Now, we’ve made sure that your dress is comfortable and easy to move about in, but the heels…” She spoke, her glasses bobbing up and down as she continued walking around with me.
“Do you actually need the glasses?” I asked her, and she laughed a merry laugh. “These? Oh no! My eyesight is perfect. It just gives me a more sophisticated look, you know?” She told me and I nodded, not really knowing. Xena gave me a weird smile as well. We couldn’t make the heads or tails of this woman.
Zia, Hank’s mate, had finally made it to where we were. Apparently, she was a world-renowned designer who kept going away all the time to design clothes for important people. I remembered Hank being very excited about her coming the night of the midnight feast. She’d left after only one night only to come back again after she found out about Brianna’s loss. She was one weird woman, but she nevertheless had our hearts.
“Now you go do a thing. I have to meet Hank.” She told us both and we stayed exactly where we were. So far, I’d tried on twenty-three dresses before she finally found a gown she approved off. It was crazy, these designers.
“Wait so what should we do?” Xena asked me as she bounced away from us and I just shrugged. Everyone around us was doing something or the other. Some were hanging lights, others were bringing in flowers, some were setting up tables, everyone was setting the grand ballroom to make it festive. I didn’t know any of their names, but they’d all come and bowed to me at least twice. It was a disaster. Xena and I were being shown around, and we had been explained the whole procedure of the event. The official schedule and everything else had been set.
I was beginning to suspect that they already had such party plans in place for last minute events with the ease that everything seemed to have been put together. Reece, Noori and Nate were at one of the other wings because Noori had apparently gotten a breakthrough with the doses that had been given to Reece by Brianna. She said she could at the least identify the doses in food, by some or the other test and tell which ones had been poisoned from now on.
I hoped that she never had to test it.
Sienna Grey and Dani were going through the invite list. Vetting the Alpha’s around the world and checking last minute ticket prices and ensuring safe passage for them all. I had been given a book of sorts that had all their information, along with pictures that would have to be memorized soon. I shivered at the thought of that fat photo album in horror. There was no way that I would remember even twenty people from that list.
Cole, Atticus and Hank were going through non-festive things. They were combing through Deta’s life, but also through Isla and the mysterious Dr. Zhen’s life, trying to get a hit on the woman. I would probably go and help them out for now.
Hank’s father Henry and Reece’s uncle Theo were in charge of locating one Jeff Kurt, a.k.a Julian Carlson, a.k.a the guy who pretended to be Xena’s brother. Xena wanted to go and help them out for now.
I spotted Isla a little away, standing by one of the smaller doorways as she followed instructions from another person. She gave me a light smile and I returned it, partially worried about her being up and about on her feet so quickly.
“Their healing power sure is crazy.” Xena piped up next to me and I nodded. It was.
“Hey, do you feel like taking a walk?” I asked her, the palace grounds looked pretty, and nobody would have a problem if we ventured a little. Xena nodded, “I thought you’d never ask.”
The garden soil had been recently disturbed. There were new flowers planted that were growing – mostly for our arrival and the afternoon Sun was covered largely by clouds. The weather was perfect for a walk.
“Gosh, this morning has been a whirlwind.” Xena remarked and I laughed in agreement.
I’d woken up to a very angry Zia who couldn’t stop yelling at Reece and Hank about how a woman must have time to make other women dresses. And then she went into another fit when Grey tried to tell her that it was ‘no big deal.’
Lunch was a working lunch, while she worked with the two of us on our clothes and I could only be as patient before trying on so many clothes. Reece had left for his own work somewhere after breakfast.
“Zia sure is fire.”
“I wonder how Hank handles her.” Xena commented and I nodded. Although, I’d seen her when she spoke to Hank. She was careful and polite. He hardly showed any emotions in front of us, but with her it seemed different. Reece told me she’d gotten him to talk about Brianna in an instant – whereas with us he was just nods and one-word responses and in general closed off. I was glad she’d come back faster. Hank needed her.
“Your friend is following us.” Xena observed and I turned around to see April walking a little distance behind us, quiet as a cat. I shook my head at her. “Alpha’s orders?” I asked and she nodded.
“I feel like a celebrity, and I don’t like it one bit.” I told Xena as I turned my head ahead to look at her. She just laughed.
“Do you wonder about the future? Like, after we catch the bad guys what comes next?”
“You mean like when to get married?”
“No, I mean like after that. I work across the globe, Flo. How do you think that idea is going to fly with Nate?” Her forehead creased as she spoke about it and I shrugged.
“I don’t think that’s a problem. He can’t tell you what to do with your life. Besides, look at Zia, Cole, they’re doing the same things too.” I pointed out and she thought about it.
“I suppose so. I just don’t want to compromise on my career just because...”
“Just because you’re mated to someone who’s a different species?” When I said it like that, it felt ridiculous.
“I wonder how different our lives would be if we’d never chosen this place.” I laughed and that got her attention.
“Oh, I’d probably be on vacation in the Philippines, with a hot foreigner guy.” Xena mused, a playful smile on her lips and I laughed. If Nate heard her, she’d be done for.
“Instead now, here I am, marked and mated to a doctor, of sorts. Do they even have an official degree? Where do they go to learn doctoring for werewolves? Veterinary degree?” She laughed but I stopped short.
“Wait a second – you mean you and Nate did the deed?”
“Yes,” She blushed at my surprised expression. “That was my subtle way of telling you.” I stepped back and saw her laughing at me. “Why are you so surprised? We’re destined, right? What’s the wait for, then?” She asked me, despite the red face.
“I don’t know...” I still couldn’t believe it.
“Well, from your expression it’s obvious that you haven’t done it yet.” I could only nod, feeling my face heat up. “It’s okay, Flo. Take your time.” She assured me quickly and I nodded again.
Last night, when we’d been in the room things had heated up quickly. And yet, at the last moment I’d stopped his advances, feeling inexperienced and insecure. Reece had obliged immediately but had to go sleep in another room for a while to cool off.
That was funny. Not.
“Just out of curiosity though, you have forgiven him?” She posed it like a question, and I nodded. We’d stopped walking.
“And you truly believe he’s the one.”
“And he’s already marked you.”
“So…I’m a virgin. I was nervous! He came at me like he was going to obliterate me!” I said looking away with a red face. Realization dawned on her face and she slapped her hand to her face.
“Flora! Just talk to him! For all you know he still thinks that you’ve not forgiven him!”
“Why wouldn’t he? Look, Flo, it’s completely fine to be nervous about your first time. Boys are dumb. You have to tell them how you want it to happen. How you’re nervous. If he is anything like Nate,”- Her face reddened at this-“then he probably came at you with this raw animal instinct! Just tell him he freaked you out!”
“Oh?” I supplied stupidly and she shook me, hard.
“Yeah! Tell him that you want it, if you do, but he’s just really …. Not gentle.” She supplied and I nodded. That made sense. I would do that.
“and for the record, that obliterate thing, most girls want that.” She told me slyly and I shook my head in denial. “You’ll see.” She said confidently and then her phone rang.
She looked away from me and reached for her pocket. “Who in the world is calling you internationally?” I asked and she shrugged, “It’s probably my boss, I still have to get back to her and submit an official interview to the editor.”
She fished it out and the screen flashed an unknown number.
Her eyes widened and I put my head closer to the earpiece.
“Yes! Yes, it is me! Oh my god, Julian!”
“Oh my God I thought I completely lost you guys!” His voice cracked through and it had the perfect amount of concern ringing through it. Xena gave me a wide-eyed look and I gestured to her to take a few deep breaths.
“No! You didn’t! We-we just got our phone privileges back!” Xena spoke this time, but her words were a soft whisper. I gave her a questioning glance, but she gave me a look that said, ‘just-go-with-it’.
“Tell me what’s going on! I got your message! Who’s holding you? What do you mean phone privileges?!” He sounded so livid that I almost bought his act.
“I can’t talk to you right now! We might get caught, or they might be tracing all of this!” Xena told him, convincingly.
“I-uh! Yeah! Listen, whatever is going on, don’t trust anybody! I’ll call you back in three hours! Be somewhere you can talk to me quietly!” He instructed and Xena cut the call without a word.
“Well done, Xen! That was unbelievable!” I cheered and she gave me a hard gaze. “We have to get to the others. I want to catch the son of a bitch who pretended to be my brother.” She snarled. My eyes widened in shock before I realized what was happening.
“Listen, calm down.”
“Calm down?! Calm down?! I’m going to kill him with my bare hands just you wait! I’m going to show him what it means to mess- “
I linked Reece. Get here now. Xena’s getting aggressive.
“Yes, okay we will definitely catch him!” I told her, abandoning the relaxation techniques.
“Catch him? You mean kill him, right? We can’t just let him rot in a jail cell or something. He has got to be hurting. Maybe we can make a fun game out of it- “
Whoa, okay. This woman was like a whole new person.
“Xen, snap out of it. This isn’t you. It’s just the changes that the marking made.” I told her sternly, and for a second her gaze unfocused.
“Huh? I don’t understand. I’m so restless can we run back to the rest?”
“Listen to me. I had an episode like this too, I nearly attacked Reece. You have to learn to control this.”
Her face morphed into one of horror before she slapped her hands to her cheeks in astonishment. “What’s – what’s happening to me?”
“It’s fine. Hey hey hey you’re fine! Listen to me. This is normal. Please, Xena. It’s just new.” I told her, gripping her hands and moving them back to her sides.
“I don’t understand-“I spotted Nate, Sienna and Reece running towards us and breathed a sigh of relief.
“I’m here! Xen. Hey, it’s okay.” He told her as soon as he saw her expression.
“Nate, I- you don’t understand. I really really want to tear that guy apart!” The words were paired with such innocence that he cracked a smile. “I know, love. Come, let’s go on a jog.” He told her gently, pulling her hand and gesturing towards the open forest beyond the lawn.
She left without complaint, breaking into a run almost immediately. Nate sped off after her, giving Reece a boyish head nod.
“What triggered it? Who’s she talking about?” Sienna asked me, her eyes still on their retreating figures.
“Oh! Julian called!”
“WHAT?!” That was Reece.
“Yeah,” I said sheepishly. “We probably should have led with that.” I admitted, under their heated gaze.
“When? What did he say!?”
“Oh no! It’s all fine. We portrayed the perfect damsels in distress. The phone call lasted like ten seconds. He’s calling back in three hours and he’s asked us to get somewhere where no one can hear us.” I explained immediately and then relayed the entire ten seconds of conversation to them.
“Do you know the number?” Sienna asked me and I shook my head. “Sorry, he called Xen. Although since it’s a burner I doubt we’d get much out of it.” She nodded.
“Let’s still assemble the technical staff, for when he calls again.” Reece told her and she nodded. Then her eyes glazed over.
“I hope she calms down by then.” I told Reece, and he put a hand on mine. “Don’t worry. Nate’s got her. She just needs to walk it off.”
“Does that happen to you often? How do you control yourself?” I asked curiously and he scoffed.
“More than you can imagine. It took a long time to get it under control.” He gritted out and Sienna gave him a knowing look.
“What was that?” I asked, gesturing between the cousins and Sienna let out an indiscrete cough, “I have to get back to work.”
“Reeeceee?” I asked him, making him turn to face me and he let out a sigh.
“It’s just that. If I could have controlled better, then maybe I wouldn’t have lost my shit when we err, split up.” He admitted and I nodded. I sort of figured that that’s what he was thinking about.
“It’s all in the past now, don’t stress about it.” I assured him easily and he gave me a look of wonder.
“Not in my head. It’s going to take my entire life to make it up to you and I will do it without a complaint.” He told me and I rolled my eyes.
“Let’s just head back. I can think of a few ways you can make it up to me.” I winked playfully and his eyes darkened. I anyway had to find a way to show him that I was…ready.
“Next time, Flo. Mindlink.” Reece told me and I scratched the back of my head.
“I keep forgetting that I can do that.”