“Ade wake up”. My body shook as a strong hand wrapped itself around my shoulder. Tingles lit up my skin and rubbing my eyes, I opened them, expecting to see Zach. Instead, a vibrant pair of light green eyes stared back at me. I was momentarily confused before the reality of my situation hit me.
My heart sped up as I began to think over my predicament. Brenden had taken me from Zach’s pack and away from a decision I wasn’t ready to make. Truthfully, I was so upside down in that whole situation that I hadn’t been sure what I even wanted anymore. I was no longer sure what was even me, or who I was becoming. It had been tearing me apart for weeks.
I should have been grateful, but I wasn’t. His presence threatened to overwhelm every rational thought I had, and it put me back where I was with Zach. The only thing that changed was the scenery. The illusion. He was offering me freedom, but was it only freedom if I was with him, or if I joined the rebellion?
What did freedom even mean to these people? As usual, I had more questions than answers. I knew that there was a serious conversation to be had, but I also knew it couldn’t happen here. Not surrounded by people I didn’t know, and not in the midst of an escape. I couldn’t blindly trust people I had never met, who were fighting for god knows what.
After everything he had risked to help me, I owed it to Brenden to hear him out. I just didn’t want to run the risk of getting too far into something I couldn’t get out of. The trouble was the longer I stayed, the more our bond would grow. The more time we had to establish feelings that may change my mind.
As I saw it, I couldn’t trust any of them. Not even Brenden. My breakdown had shown me just how messed up this situation had me, and the healthiest thing I could do was to avoid ending up in that place again. I couldn’t tell him that though. He wouldn’t understand. He would probably tell me this was natural werewolf stuff and that I should come to terms with it.
I was tired of being told I would get used to it. That this was just how things were. I shouldn’t have to get used to fucked up situations. I should be working to eradicate them. I needed to solve the problem, not live with it. Right now, solving the problem meant getting out of another one before it started.
Sitting up, I began to take in my surroundings. I could hear the grumbles and shuffles of the other people in the van. Light poured through the windows, telling me we had driven through the night. That would mean that Moon Ridge was far behind us. Them and everything I owned. It was time I let all that go. My old life was behind me now, and there was no getting it back.
The sudden slam of a car door made me jump. Brenden laughed and the act had me bouncing up and down against his chest. Looking down, I realized that I was clothed in nothing but an oversized shirt and I was still straddling Brenden. Knowing I had been pressing my half-naked self all over his lap all night, left me too embarrassed to even look at him. His hot hands were resting on either side of my hips, almost begging me to press up against him.
I needed to solve that problem first. I scrambled off of his lap and onto the now empty seat next to me. I needed to get out of this van. Pulling the shirt down over my butt I climbed towards the open van door. Hopping out, my toes curled when they made contact with cold concrete. Hearing him climbing out behind me, I took a step forward, stepping right into a puddle.
Grimacing at my now wet feet, I started to move out of the puddle when a strong arm held me back. Turning me to face him, Brenden looked me over, his concern etched openly on his features. Remembering the intimacy from the previous night, I blushed. Seeing the red on the apples of my cheeks he smirked before he continued his inspection. Wanting to convince him that I wasn’t going to become hysterical again I attempted to give him a small smile. It must have looked as bad as it felt because he scowled in return.
Sighing, he reached back into the van and pulled out the blanket he had placed on me the night before. He shook it out before draping it around me like a cloak. “Thank you,” I said as I grabbed both sides of the blanket and held them to me. Turning away from him, I looked around to try to get some idea of where we were.
The sun was still low in the sky, so it was early in the morning. We were parked in a rental car lot that sat beside a busy street. The town around us consisted of a strip of aging red brick buildings. Graffiti decorated the bus benches and the road in front of us was covered in potholes. The air reeked of car exhaust and cigarettes.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked, feeling Brenden behind me. “Well, we are going to drop this vehicle off, and then pick up another one.” “Aren’t you worried the van could be traced back to you?” I asked, thinking of Zach’s resources. If he was able to get the kind of information he always seemed to have on hand, then other alpha’s could as well. Wasn’t this a risky move for the rebellion?
“Not at all. We have an associate who hires an associate to hire a human to rent a vehicle for us. When we drop off the vehicle, we use the drop off box and the online system. We choose a location that we have connections with to drop off the car so that any footage the security cameras get is wiped.”
“Impressive,” I responded, not being able to fathom how much work must have gone into an operation like this. “Come on. Time to move.” He said shrugging off my compliment and grabbing my hand. The group walked away from the building and down the back of the strip before ducking into a long alley. Approaching a metal trash can, the driver, a bald middle-aged man who was built like a tank, took off his backpack.
Pulling out lighter fluid and some matches, he started a fire in the can. The seven rebels took off their backpacks and then began to strip. I looked away as the males and Gabby dropped their drawers without blinking. From my peripherals, I could see Brenden doing the same. Turning my head slightly I watched as his muscles rolled under his creamy skin as he pulled off his undershirt.
His chest and abs were sharply defined and various scars littered his perfect torso. When he moved to the side to slide out of his pants, I noticed his back was peppered with scars, just like mine was. My heart sank for him, remembering the beating he had endured at the hands of the Lawsons. A beating I had made worse. When his head snapped in my direction, I quickly looked away, not wanting him to catch me studying him.
The others were all naked now. Gabby pulled on a fresh bra and panties before she walked up to the trash can and dumped her clothes inside. The other men started doing the same. “Adeline, I’m going to have to burn that,” Brenden said from behind me, still standing in his boxers. “I don’t have anything under this, or anything to change into,” I responded.
“I have clothes for you. Don’t worry.” He smiled motioning to a small pile as he placed it at my feet. I looked up to thank him right as he pulled down his boxers. A small squeak left my lips and I stared up at the sky as I tried to avoid looking down. I was no virgin, but the last thing I needed was to have that visual stuck in my head all day. Slipping on clean boxers, he laughed as he walked off to burn his clothes.
Peering at the entrance to the alley, I gnawed my lip nervously. What if someone walked by and caught us all naked, standing around a burning trash can? Would they call the cops? I had never been unclothed in a public place, in the company of this many people. Watching Brenden jump into his jeans, I realized the sooner I got this over with the better.
Not wanting to give them trouble, I grabbed the hem of my shirt. Before I began to pull it off, a still shirtless Brenden suddenly appeared in front of me. “I’d prefer it if they didn’t see you,” he motioned towards the other men. Thank god. I’d prefer that too. He spread the blanket out in front of him, blocking me from view.
Nodding, I turned to face the faded brick wall of the alley, giving him my back. “Don’t look, okay?” I asked as I pulled my shirt off. “I’ll try my hardest,” He laughed. My body went stiff as his warm hand ran down my back, trailing over my scars. “If this is your hardest, then color me unimpressed,” I said, trying to diffuse the tension. He growled menacingly, ignoring my words. “How did you get these?” he asked quietly. I shrugged, pulling on the black cotton panties in the pile.
“How did you get yours?” I countered. Peeking over my shoulder, I saw that he had dropped a corner of the blanket. “Ugh, Brenden-” I looked past him to the other rebels. “Sorry,” he muttered, dropping his hand and fixing the blanket. He said nothing else as I pulled on my pants, black shirt, and oversized sweater.
“Sorry, there is no bra. I wasn’t sure what to have them get you,” He apologized as I finished. “That’s fine, this is great. Thanks,” I smiled at him. He balled up the blanket as I walked over to the trash can and threw the shirt in. He came up behind me and tossed the blanket in after.
Wiggling my toes in the soft black socks he had provided I walked back over to him as he pulled on the rest of his clothes. Going back to his backpack he pulled out a pair of cheap tennis shoes. “I wasn’t sure what size, but I grabbed them just in case, although I was kind of hoping we’d grab you while you were wearing your shoes.” Laughing, I took the shoes. “Well if I had known I would have been a lot less naked.”
He smiled as I bent down to try on the shoes. They were a couple of sizes too big, but they would work. I was just grateful to have something covering my feet. I had already made one escape barefoot and I knew it was no fun. Once everyone was dressed, they started taking spray bottles out of their bags before they began spritzing themselves with them.
Brenden did the same before he approached me and started spraying me down. “What is this?” I asked, my nose wrinkling at the chemical smell. “It erases our scent. The clothes that we packed have been treated with the same compound but it only lasts so long. That is why we burned our clothes and changed.”
Was this how they were able to get on the property undetected? After a final spritz, Brenden sniffed the air before smiling. “There, we were never here.” I smiled at him uneasily. These guys knew what they were doing. There would be no trail to follow, no evidence left behind. I should have been overjoyed, but instead, I was worried. What if these guys weren’t the good guys?
I had no idea what these wolves would want with me, or why I would merit all this trouble. Brenden’s mate or not. Could I even trust Brenden? He was incredibly smart, smart enough to manipulate me into seeing what he wanted me to. Just like Zach had tried to warn me.
Looking over the rebels, I saw that each of them was in amazing shape. There was no doubt that together they could take me in a fight. They could probably outrun me in my human form as well. I would have more of an edge as a wolf, but I am sure that a large wolf running around a city would turn a lot of heads. Looking down at my shoes I wiggled my toes anxiously. It was the only way I could let off some of my anxious energy without anyone seeing.
Until I figured out what was going on, I needed to stay calm and trustworthy. I’m sure my previous withdrawals already had them on edge and suspicious of me. I needed to do everything I could to squash their fears of me running off and jeopardizing their safety. I glanced at each member of the group in turn, scrutinizing them for possible weaknesses. When the group erupted in laughter, my heart clenched at the sight of their happiness.
When had everyone turned into the enemy? Perhaps they always were. I spent years protecting my secret from everyone I met, not knowing what they would do to me if they knew. Had I grown so used to that state of mind that I hadn’t even realized what I was doing? Was I damaged before Zach had ever taken me? Maybe the real enemy here had always been me.
Suddenly, the group in front of me started to dissipate. Gabby left with one of the males, giving my shoulder an encouraging squeeze as she passed. Two males left right after, walking in a separate direction. The driver and the man who had been in the front passenger seat approached me with Brenden. They all smiled at me and I did my best to return it.
The driver walked towards me with his hand out and gasping I stepped backward and stumbled. I wasn’t used to my feet being this big. “Woah! ” Brenden appeared instantly at my side, catching me before I fell too far back. “Hey, it’s okay. This is Trevor, he was just excited to meet you.”
The large man ran a hand over his bald head and smiled sheepishly. “I’m sorry, I forgot that I can look a bit scary, especially considering what we just rescued you from.” Looking from Brenden's’ concerned face to Trevor, I tried to laugh off my reaction. Come on, Ade, I chide myself. I needed them to trust me. Jumping every time they moved towards me would not accomplish that.
“I’m so sorry, I wasn’t paying attention, and then you were right in front of me.” I smiled broadly. Reaching out my hand, he reached for mine hesitantly before shaking it. “It’s really nice to meet you, Trevor. I’m Adeline, thank you for helping me get out of there.” Trevor beamed, the apples of his cheeks burning at my compliment and friendliness.
“It’s okay, I should have known better. The guys are always telling me I need to think more before I act. You’re welcome. You’re Brenden's’ mate, you’re family.” Trevor sounded so sincere that it almost made me feel bad for thinking I had to be on guard around him.
The other man approached me slowly, his lanky form easily overshadowing me. His dark hair had been buzzed, and his brown eyes were dull and listless. He was the tallest member of the group but easily the least muscular. At least he seemed that way when he stood next to Trevor who had muscles on his muscles. The man reached out a cautious hand as if he was worried I would bite it.
“I’m Barty,” The man said curtly as he pumped my hand mechanically. “It’s nice to meet you, Barty. Thank you for your help as well,” I said warmly. “Barty is short for Bartholomew,” Trevor explained with a smile. “His mom thought it sounded ‘swanky’,” He laughed.
Bartys’ face darkened instantly. “Come on man!” He muttered to Trevor under his breath. “I’m sorry, Trevor here is an over-sharer,” Barty explained, still staring down at Trevor. “I’m sorry, but she knows nothing about us. I thought telling her about us would make her feel more comfortable.”
Barty pinched the bridge of his nose, “Then tell her about you man, not me.” Trevor’s face lit up. “Oh, right. I like to read, and like you, I’ve been a rogue my whole life,” He looked at me expectantly. “Oh, um, thank you, Trevor. That does make me feel better. I like to read too,” I smiled up at him.
The man wiggled his eyebrows and elbowed Barty as if to tell him he was right. “We got to move guys,” Brenden said from beside me, his eyes glued to the cellphone in his hands. “We’re going to be picked up in five.” The men nodded and Brenden took my hand while tucking the phone in his back pocket. Barty and Trevor fell behind us as we began to walk, almost as if they were flanking us.
“Where did everyone else go? Who is picking us up?” I asked, watching as he kicked a bottle top with the toe of his red converses. “It is safer and more strategic if we separate. Big groups look suspicious.” I nodded when the phone in his pocket started to buzz. Pulling it out, he looked at the message before grimacing. “Shit. The gamma is catching up. Let's hope our driver is on time.”
Gamma? Did he mean Jeremy? The group began walking faster down the sidewalk, stopping a block away in front of an old boarded-up theater that was being used as a church. An SUV with a 'LYFT' sticker pulled up to the curb in front of us. “Lyft?” I asked Brenden with a raise of my eyebrows. “They are harder to track down, and no one would suspect it. Even if they did get the right driver, the guy knows nothing about us, and probably wouldn’t even remember us.”
Brenden walked up to the window and made sure that the driver matched the picture on his phone before he waved us up. “Ladies first,” He said, opening the back door. Getting in, I slid across the leather seat until I was seated right next to the window. My hand instinctively grabbed onto the door handle, and I stared out the window. I wondered how far I’d get if I pushed the door open and ran. Then I wondered if I should even consider running at all.
Sliding in next to me, Brenden put his hand on my thigh and squeezed. Releasing the door handle, I looked at him, studying his handsome face. The sun coming in through the windshield fell in an orange slice over his face, making his green eyes shine. The light also illuminated the faded remnants of his childhood freckles that had once made a path over the bridge of his nose and cheeks. The light stubble that speckled his chin and jawline was fiery against his fair skin.
He was so handsome. If only he had come to me first. Then none of this would have happened. Trevor gave the driver directions, and we were off. Leaning my head against Brenden’s shoulder I closed my eyes, breathing in his scent. My shoulders instantly relaxed. Trevor made small talk with the driver, and Brenden started drawing circles on my thigh.
To our Lyft driver, this must have looked normal. He had no idea that we were all werewolves. No idea that I was a runaway/abducted would-be luna and that he was harboring fugitives from the werewolf government. Nope, this was just another ride. I envied that. Deeply.
“Hey, does anyone have gum?” Trevor asked, effectively snapping me back from reality. Opening my eyes, I saw him smiling back at us, his light blue eyes moving from face to face. “I have some,” Brenden offered, moving forward to open his bag. Leaning back in my seat, I tried to look inconspicuous as Brenden unzipped his backpack. Pulling the black bag open, he rummaged through its contents.
Everything looked pretty ordinary until I spotted a handgun tucked into a holster on the side of his bag. Moving a wadded up shirt, I also noticed a plastic container containing loaded syringes. Would he use one of those on me if I became too hard to handle? I felt paranoid for thinking that, but past experience told me it was a possibility. Brenden had never tried to hurt me, I had to remember that.
Focusing on the gun again, I realized the gravity of our situation. Everyone was acting so casually, but the weapon was a reminder that we were in danger. That they were more than likely in danger every day. Today they were in this position because of me. What would happen to them if Jeremy found us?
I bit the inside of my cheek and looked away. Looking out the window I clenched my hands into fists as I let a slow breath out through my nose. I had only seen a sliver of the system and how rogues were treated. How were rogues without protection treated if they committed a crime? How were they treated normally?
Deciding to relax while I could, I focused on trying to pinpoint my location. I kept my eyes trained on the window, looking for any signs or landmarks. Unfortunately, the city had already started to fade into trees and empty fields. For a moment I panicked. Then I realized it was better this way.
It was going to be okay. I wasn’t planning on finding my way back anyway. Focusing on keeping my breathing steady, I watched as the miles passed us by. This was good. This had to happen in order for me to get what I wanted all along. What I needed.
The Lyft driver pulled off the road, and into a small dirt lot. A few cars were parked around us, and there was a posted map of a trail that must have been up ahead. Groups of people toting water bottles and backpacks walked past us and down a narrow dirt path that disappeared into the trees. “Dude, I’ve been trying to get out here on my day off. It feels like everyone is hiking this trail lately,” the driver said.
“It’s beautiful this time of year, you really need to,” Trevor smiled, picking up his backpack as the driver parked. Once the car stopped, I unhooked my seat belt and practically jumped out of the car. The strong smell of pine, moss and wet earth permeated the barrier my harried thoughts projected. Closing my eyes, I pulled as much fresh air into my lungs as I could before taking a hesitant step towards the public information board. Having other people, normal people, around me made me feel safe.
I could hear the men making small talk with the driver as they got out of the car. I kept listening to them with each small step I took, waiting for someone to call out to me and stop me. I made it all the way to the sign without being stopped. Scanning over the weather and wild animal warnings, my eyes frantically searched the map, hoping to make sense of all the lines and colors. Realizing the map was only of the trail, I turned from the board.
Looking back in the direction of the car, I watched as Brenden, Trevor, and Barty walked towards me. None of them looked angry or worried about my behavior. When Brenden got close, he reached a hand out to me and expecting him to grab me, I folded my arms over my chest and took a step back. “If you need to use the restroom, there is one behind those trees over there,” He awkwardly pointed before dragging his hand through his copper locks. “Okay, thanks,” I murmured, looking in the direction Brenden pointed in.
Turning towards a couple of women who were walking that way, I took a single step before looking over my shoulder. “So, I can go?” Brenden’s head snapped up and his eyes widened. “Yeah, yeah of course.” Following the women around a wall of pine trees, I listened as they giggled and talked about their upcoming weekends. Sighing, I followed them into the restroom and leaned up against the white tile wall while they continued to talk to each other from their stalls.
Once they were out, one of the women, a spikey-haired brunette with close-set eyes and pouty lips, looked me over before nudging her friend and motioning towards me. They both gave each other ‘the look’ before going to the sink to wash their hands. Rolling my eyes, I walked into the now empty stall and relieved myself. Waiting until the women left, I walked out of the stall and up to the small sink and mirror. Checking myself out, I actually laughed.
My hair was frizzy and sticking up at weird angles. Patches of dirt covered my skin, making it look like my face was bruised. My eyes were red and it was obvious I had barely slept. Turning on the water I washed off my face before patting it dry. Wetting my hair, I used my fingers to comb through it the best I could before braiding it.
Realizing that this was as good as it was going to get, I turned away from the mirror and walked towards the door. Once there, I paused. Was I really going to just walk back to him? Wasn’t this my opportunity to run? Pulling the door open, I left the restroom half expecting to see Brenden waiting outside the door for me.
Seeing no one, I started to walk to the back of the restroom. The small brick building backed up to a small patch of grass that led into the forest. Despite it almost being noon, the forest ahead was dark, shielded by the thick canopy of trees. Leaning against the building, I weighed my options. This could be my last opportunity to leave before we made it to wherever we were going.
I had no idea who these people were, or what they expected of me. All I knew was that they were wanted and possibly dangerous. After everything I had been through, I didn’t think running was my worst option. It just wasn’t my best either. I had nothing, and nowhere to go.
No, I couldn’t run. Sinking down, I sat in the cool grass. Closing my eyes I leaned back against the building. This was nice. I just needed to be alone.
I just needed to feel okay, if only for a moment.
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