9 days ago.
“Welcome to the rogue rebellion.”
It felt like hours since Brenden spoke but I knew it had only been a few short minutes. His hand was resting on my cheek, stroking it with his calloused thumb. My eyes were locked on his, trying to decode the man in front of me. My mouth had gone dry much like my tears, and my throat was sore from screaming. My thoughts pumped tirelessly through my brain, breaking through gray matter as they ran round and round.
I had this nasty feeling that instead of setting me free, Brenden had just dragged me into a larger problem I wanted no part of. I had heard about the rebellion briefly, and from what I had gathered, participation would earn me the opposite of what I had dreamt of. Imprisonment? A permanent place on the rogue registry? I wasn’t sure, but I knew that in the end, it wouldn’t bring me to my end goal.
What was that again? Returning to my lonely life? Being a slave to my secret identity? Finding a place where I could be myself on my own terms? Having a family, a mate? Zach’s goofy grin flashed before my eyes. His insistence that he knew where I belonged, and what was best for me leaving craters in my road of rational thought.
My balled fist rose to my chest as a sharp pain shot through my shoulder blade and into my heart. I inhaled sharply and blinked while gnashing my teeth together. I needed to go back. Back to where I could have a home. “L. . . Let me out.” I shook as I spoke.
Brenden had been watching me as intently as I was him. “Sshhhhhhhhh, breathe Ade.” He soothed while his eyes drowned in concern. His electric touch assaulted my senses and my wolf howled confused. This was my mate, but Zach? I had agreed to let him mark me. She wanted to be marked, she needed to feel whole. The promises that used to bubble up from the depths of my soul, the whispers that promised me fulfillment were dragged from the dark corners I had shoved them in.
Now in the light, the whispers had become a dull roar. Ravenous thoughts, and feelings that left me painfully bare. Both my fists now rest on my barren chest cavity, and I was pummeled from the inside. “I have to go back,” I whispered in-between shallow breaths.
Brenden’s touch remained soft, while his green eyes grew hard. Pulling me to him he tugged down my blanket then ripped the collar from my left shoulder. His eyes examined my shoulder and collar bone before resting on my birthmark. Moving forward he shoved me into his chest and laid his lips on the mark. My whole body shivered and a moan involuntarily left my lips.
I should have been embarrassed by this intimacy as we were in a crowded van, but I wasn’t. His lips on my collarbone brought the roar back down to a whimper and some primal urge had me tangling my fingers in his copper locks. I pulled slightly, demanding more, and he moaned hotly onto me. His warm breath had my back arching. His lips parted, his teeth grazed my skin, and my core clenched in agony. I wanted him to bite down like I had never wanted anything in my life.
I could feel his need for me, his unadulterated want for my body, and everything it offered him. He wanted me, and his want made me want him more. There was a possessive beast growling in the back of my mind, telling me I belonged to him. I had a feeling that the beast was his. Our breathing was ragged and I whimpered when his lips crashed down over his teeth and he pulled away with a kiss.
When he pulled away my heart jumped back in the race and my body began to shake. Waves of uncertainty started to crash down on me, beating my weather-worn body down into the black undercurrent of my mind. His eyes locked on mine and they mirrored the pain I was feeling. He nestled his head back into the crook of my neck, and the storm died down. Small tears, the last traces of the waves ran down my cheek. Their saltiness burned my dry lips.
“What did he do to you?” Brenden whispered, holding me tighter. “Nothing. I. . .I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” I answered resting my head on his shoulder. He pulled me up so I was now straddling him. His fingertips ran up and down my back slowly, his nails leaving little paths of pleasure.
“It looks like she’s having withdrawals.” The woman sitting on the opposite side said, still looking out the window. Brenden clenched his fists into my shirt and growled. “Withdrawals?” I gasped out, turning to look at her. Her eyes roamed over my reflection, and I could see her grimace before she faced me. Nodding, she pushed her black, chin-length hair behind her ears.
“Yes. It’s like your wolf is having a panic attack out of fear of leaving your mate. She craves his presence. She’s scared. We see this in wolves with abusive mates.” I shook my head aggressively. “N-no he didn’t hurt me. I’m not having withdrawals.” She smiled at me sadly.
“How would you know?” I shot at her angrily, hating her pitying stare. She knew nothing about me, and she knew even less about Zach. “Brenden, move away from her,” she demanded. Growling, he pulled away from me. My body was suddenly colder without him. His eyes hardened in pain and anger as I began to shake and hyperventilate in front of him. Not being able to meet his eyes anymore I looked away. “I’m sorry,” I cried, confused.
“No, don’t you dare do that.” He seethed pulling me back into his chest and placing his lips back on my birthmark. My body calmed instantly. “How?” I managed to say to the woman while sucking in a frantic breath. “My mate was also an alpha. He hunted me down and when I kept escaping, he locked me in his basement.”
My eyes widened as I studied her. “That’s horrible.” She tried to smile and shook her head. “I escaped one too many times so he started injecting me with wolfsbane to dull my wolf, and came down to sleep with me every night to strengthen our bond. When I was finally freed and my wolf was allowed to return, I had withdrawals for weeks. It was horrible. Luckily for you, you have another mate.”
“I am so sorry,” I whispered. “Don’t be.” She looked down to inspect her hands and suddenly I understood. She didn’t want my pity. She didn’t deem her experience worthy of it. Her experience wasn’t mine though, and she had to know that. She had to know that Zach wasn’t as bad as her mate.
" Zach never has, or never would have treated me like that,” I explained, trying to make her understand. “Even if he didn’t, every alpha has his limit. How long do you think you had before he lost his patience with you? Before he forced you into his pack and into accepting his mark?” Her voice shook, and her eyes flashed angrily as she spun to look at me.
My eyes rose to meet hers. He was forcing me to stay with his pack. I had also known that my time, our time, playing nice would run out and that I would be forced to make a decision. He was only leaving room for one option, and one option only. I had realized that I wouldn’t be leaving his pack, but her words stripped away everything I had done to polish over that fact.
“He could disguise his need to own you, his need to control you as love, as protection, but at the end of the day, an alpha needs to feel like he is in control of everything and everyone around him. You’re either beside him or under him, don’t fool yourself into thinking that your alpha worked any different,” she spat. I flinched at the ferocity in her words. At the conviction with which she had preached them. Everything I said would sound like an excuse to her.
She looked at me like I was some kicked dog who was eagerly trying to run back to her master. Maybe I was. She had been right about him forcing me to stay with his pack. The night he found Brenden I had to watch as he fought off the urge to mark me. He wouldn’t let Brenden go unless he knew he already had me. He wouldn’t create an opening for a scenario he couldn’t control by letting him go.
“I wasn’t in danger; he wouldn’t have hurt me,” I reiterate meekly. I felt weak and stupid under her gaze. I sucked in another painful breath and laid my head down on Brenden's shoulder. Part of what she said was true, I needed to realize that. At the same time though, I knew she was wrong about Zach. He would have never hurt me to get what he wanted.
Despite being a prisoner on his land, I felt safe with him because I knew that. After everything that had happened, I think I had found safety in the inevitable. As fucked up as it was, I had found comfort in the fact that I would just give in one day. At least I knew what that future looked like. Unlike now. I had no idea what was waiting for me.
My heart rate picked up as hurt, fear, and confusion burned through my firewalls. “I just need to go back,” I wheezed. Brenden squeezed me tighter as if he was afraid I’d vanish from his lap. “No, Ade. I know it hurts, but she’s right. It was only a matter of time before he showed his true colors,” he whispered against my forehead.
I knew I should listen to them. He had taken me from my home, forced me into the rogue registry, then refused to let me leave. He had begun admitting me to his pack without my consent. He had announced to his pack that I was his mate before I had accepted him as such. He had admitted that he could give me space, but he could never fully grant me freedom.
It was toxic, it was wrong. Love shouldn’t work like that. Yet, he had never tried to hurt me. He had protected me. He never forced himself on me, and he genuinely tried to make me happy.
Being nice didn’t make what he did okay though. Zach had done a whole lot of wrong, but still, I couldn’t bring myself to think of him as a bad person. Was that the bond talking, or was it the knowledge that fate had placed us both in a fucked up situation? We were both caught up, trying to do what we felt was right with the hand that life had dealt us. Is that what I wanted to return to?
Despite his wrongdoings, I couldn’t accept that Zach was the villain they made him out to be.
“You don’t understand,” I pressed. Brenden sighed, “No, you don’t understand Ade. You’ve been there with him for a month. That whole time your bond has been growing.” I groaned my frustration into his chest.
“ Ade, you couldn’t even leave his house without a guard. What made you stay?” He asked through pursed lips. His chest rose and fell rapidly, taking me with him as we rode out his emotions. “I had nothing. Nowhere to go, no money to use. I figured if I could get them to trust me, I would have a better chance, or maybe they would let me go.”
“Ade, he would have never let you go. Not without marking you first. Not without making sure you couldn’t leave him. You had to have known that.” He pulled away, searching my face for acknowledgment. Shame spread throughout my chest. I had known that.
“I had everything under c-control.” I sputtered out; fists clenched. Why was it so hard to say he was right? “So under control that you were going to let him mark you tomorrow night?” He half yelled while he shook my shoulders gently. “Yes,” I said, looking him in the eye as coolly as I could while shaking.
“Why? Why would you agree to that?” He asked, scanning my face. There was a fear in his eyes that I recognized a little too well. It was the same look Zach had when he thought that I would want to leave with Brenden. “I proposed it, so of course I would agree.”
Hurt. Unimaginable hurt and shock splashed across his face before he neatly tucked the emotions away with a deep cleansing breath. “Why Ade?” He closed his eyes and bowed his head, readying himself to hear something he really didn’t want to. Instinctively wanting to heal his hurt, my hand rose to his cheek.
“Because it was inevitable, and I was tired. I knew once I accepted the mark that I could begin to move on and be happy again.” His head rose to look at me, his eyes flickering between green and gold. “And because it would save you. I knew he would never let you go without knowing he wouldn’t lose me. I figured I owed you your freedom. Since I would be marked one day anyway, I figured I would make it good for something.”
“I was never in danger. You don’t think I could have taken your alpha if I had wanted to? Never sacrifice yourself for me again,” He puffed out his chest angrily. My shaking became more violent as I brought my shaking hands up to rub my temples. Sighing Brenden embraced me again, trying to calm the quakes my heart had caused.
“You’re still defending him, although it sounds like you shouldn’t be. He hurt you, Ade. He imprisoned you. Did you love him?” The woman asked, head tilting to the side in interest. Although her voice was kinder, I still felt like she was looking down on me. “I am because you guys are making it sound like I’m the victim of some crazy abusive ex. It wasn’t like that. Love him? I don’t know. I did, well part of me did. I was starting too.”
Brenden looked down, and my hands grasped his shoulders like he was a life preserver in turbulent seas. I was scared of how he would feel about this admission even though I knew he had no room to be upset with me. He left me on my own, he couldn't be mad if I started to develop feelings for someone else. Closing my eyes, I attempted to suppress the tremors that were still forcing themselves from me. I probably looked like a recovering crack addict to these people. Or like I was an abductee with a raging case of Stockholm syndrome.
“There are many different kinds of abuse. It doesn’t have to be physical, and it isn’t always obvious. What helped me was to discover the lie, the thing that I believed would happen without him and I disproved it.” The woman said reaching forward to give my arm a squeeze. My brows furrowed in thought as I rested my head against Brenden’s shoulder.
“The lie?” I whispered to myself. “Yes, why are you scared? What do you believe you can’t have without him?” My heart stopped in my chest. I swallowed thickly as my eyes misted over. Words crowded at the tip of my tongue, ready and waiting to be spoken. Words that weren’t just mine, but ours. My wolf wanted to speak. That primal, and simple side of me that I often pushed down, had something to say.
Taking a deep breath, I gave up the notion of control that I thought I had. I welcomed this part of me instead of fearing it, and in return, I didn’t feel scared or repressed. I felt like I was intuitively in sync with myself. I felt like I had been operating with one hand tied behind my back and suddenly I was free to use both. I was suddenly so much more.
“I’m afraid that if he finds me, he will never trust me enough to let me make my own decision. That any chance I had at a choice will be gone. I’m scared that without him, without my chance at being in a pack, I will never be able to be my true self around anyone. That I will never get to really be with anyone. That I will spend the rest of my life alone, hiding and pretending to be something I’m not.”
“That’s the lie, Adeline,” The woman said sternly. “That is what you have to overcome.” Nodding my head, I realized I had no idea what her name was. I wasn’t sure about everything she had said, but she had tried to help. “Thank you. I’m sorry for not asking you before, but what’s your name?” I asked. “It’s Gabriella, but you can call me Gabby.” She smiled and reached out for my hand.
The man in the front passenger seat laughed as we shook hands. “It’s Gabby because she never shuts up.” Gabby leaned forward and swatted the backside of the man’s head, and he laughed while dodging another hit. The man made me realize where I was and who was listening. Placing my head in Brenden’s chest I hoped no one noticed the angry flush that was spreading on my cheeks.
I had just confessed to a van full of strangers how emotionally screwed up I was. I was showing Brenden that I was a broken, pathetic excuse for a mate. I am sure he was just as embarrassed as I was. Everyone must be feeling sorry for him. Thinking he could be mad, upset me even more than I already was. How could I hold any value to him like this? Why did I suddenly care so much?
“I’m sorry. You don’t deserve this.” I whispered, meeting his eyes. He shook his head and grabbed my face. “No, Ade. You don’t deserve this. I’m the one who should be sorry.” I could feel his regret pulsing through me like a lighthouse shining through a storm. “You can have all of that without him, without a pack. This is my fault for leaving you alone.”
He touched his head to mine, and for a moment we just stayed like that. I marveled at our shared hurt. Why was I able to feel this now, when I hadn’t before? Something was waking up inside me and it scared and excited me. Was this the bond?
It had to be. Why else would I be straddling a man I barely knew? When our heads separated, I moved my head to his shoulder. I yawned and he shifted himself in the seat so that he was leaning back and I was laying up against him. I had so many questions for him, but I didn’t want to ask them here, like this.
I needed to organize my thoughts first and find a moment that was more private. I needed to fully understand what he expected of me, and if I had just stumbled into another trap. Another situation I would be forced into. I needed to establish where we were before I could decide what I needed to do. I yawned again, and this time when my eyes closed, I had to pry them open.
A light rumbling beneath me told me that Brenden had fallen asleep. Turning my head so I could look out the window, I watched water droplets race down the pane. There was something soothing about watching the droplets forge their own path down the smooth glass. Some obscure metaphor about life and freedom came to me, but before I could completely dissect it my eyes closed. Consciousness left me, and every wise think I thought I had thunk went with it.
Happy New Year!
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