“OK...OK...I’ve got it.” I spun on my heel to face Axel after having an epiphany.
He flinched at the sound of the police giving another loud rasping knock on the front door.
“What have you got in mind?” His nerves were getting the better of him as his eyes desperately searched mine.
“Just trust me and go with it,” I replied while smoothing my hair and straightening my appearance.
I held out my hand for Axel to take, curling my fingers around his as we walked down the stairs, our boots making a light thud down each step.
“Now remember, let me handle the press. I know how to play them to our advantage. The police will have to back off when the story of our star crossed love is splashed all over the news,” I spoke with an air of confidence.
Alright, I may not have had any experience with this kind of scenario, but I was pretty much an expert when it came to manipulating news reporters. You sorta had to be in my world. Those guys were vultures if you weren’t careful. They could ruin your life in seconds.
Axel scrunched his face confused. “Starcrossed, huh?” He asked as if to say 'what the actual fuck?'
I cleared my throat then opened the front door. The sound of weapons being locked and loaded, the blinding flashes that came from the cameras, made the scenario very real indeed.
Shit, here goes absolutely nothing.
An officer, who looked more like a Swedish pornstar with a handlebar mustache, called out. I didn’t know whether to laugh or take pity.
“Release the hostage,” he yelled, then beckoned me to walk towards him, slowly.
The police had their weapons raised and pointed them directly at Axel. They looked as if any minute they’d open fire the second I stepped away, so I buried myself closer into his side.
I held my left palm out in front of me, my right hand clutched tightly onto Axel's forearm.
“Wait! This is my husband,” I announced, to which there was a series of shocked gasps all around.
The commanding officer narrowed his eyes as I turned my hand around to show off my ring.
“See, we’re married.” I shot Axel a reassuring smile, then winked in an attempt to signal to him that I was activating the second part of my plan.
Turning towards the hoard of reporters who were all stood there open-mouthed, I called out, “And all this stress isn’t good for the baby.” I placed my hand over my abdomen, protectively.
We were then engulfed in a series of blinding, flashing lights from the cameras as well as bombarded with question upon question, which meant one thing, it was working.
“Miss Griffiths! Miss Griffiths! Is this true, are you really married?”
“Did you marry because of the pregnancy, was it unplanned?”
“Who is this mystery guy? He’s not the type you usually go for, but he’s hot!”
“Does this mean that Leonardo DiCaprio is definitely off the scene now?”
“Why all the secrecy, Miss Griffiths?”
I waved my hand as a sign that I wanted to speak.
“First of all, I’m happy to answer your questions, but please...my name is Mrs. Riley Thorne, now.”
I felt Axel’s posture stiffen beside me.
“Leo? The Titanic guy? You gotta be fucking kidding?” He whispered, abrasively.
My eyes blazed as we had a little mini-heated argument.
“Fuck no, those were just rumors. I passed out drunk on his yacht...that’s all!”
I composed myself and addressed the press.
“No, my parents didn’t know. Not that they’d understand or anything, they’re so money orientated. Axel is just an ordinary, decent, kind, hardworking guy who I fell in love with, and yes, the baby was planned. We see it as the product of our love. ” I met his questioning gaze with an apologetic smile.
He leaned close, his lips barely moving as he muttered. “Baby? Seriously?”
I nudged him with my elbow and hissed, “Just go with it.”
Axel looked with uncertainty, back and forth between the press and myself.
“Um, yeah, we’re really happy. She knocked me off my feet this gorgeous specimen. She’s definitely a wild one.” Axel put his arm around me and pulled me closer into his side.
The police all began lowering their weapons, some rolling their eyes.
The rich and famous were renowned for doing wild, spontaneous shit like this. I could see it now, my friends would say I’d gone and pulled a Britney, but that I’d topped her Vegas marriage by getting myself knocked up.
“Almost ran me over, that’s how we met. Then—Bam! Love at first sight,” he continued, with a slight over exaggeration.
“Alright, that’s enough,” I whispered, giving him a dominant glare. “Let me do the talking.”
The press were loving it, they were lapping up every word. Even the police were backing away. All was going so well, then Axel reached inside his jacket pocket to retrieve the mating license to offer as proof and found himself unexpectedly tased to the floor. There was nothing on the documentation to suggest he was a shifter. To the outside world, it was nothing more than a certificate of marriage and that was that.
One officer fired, then another, wires crossed over Axel's convulsing body to the point where he was foaming at the mouth.
I screamed in shock. I initially thought they’d shot him, but they hadn’t. They could have—easily, but they’d only tased him. They thought he was reaching inside his jacket for a weapon.
Arms grabbed me from behind, just as I managed to pick up the mating license from the ground.
“It’s alright miss, you’re safe now.”
“No, look I have proof. We're married. He’s telling the truth,” I cried out, in desperation.
If only they’d just read the fucking document, they’d see it for themselves.
I wrestled against the strong arms in a desperate attempt to free myself from the officer's grip.
“Get off me, you’re making a huge mistake!”
Cameras flashed, the press were roaring cries of protests towards the police for being unreasonable. They had thankfully bought my story and were showing concerns for the ‘Non-existent baby’.
I watched in horror as an unconscious Axel was placed in cuffs and was carried off to a police van.
“Where are they taking him?” I demanded. “Axel! Axel!” I screamed, whilst being dragged away.
“That’s not your concern, Miss Griffiths.” The officer struggled to form words whilst restraining me.
“It is. I’m his WIFE! Get me my lawyer!” I screamed in outrage.
“Miss Griffiths, uh, I mean, Mrs. Thorne,” a female reporter called out, thrusting a microphone in my face. “Can you tell me why a resident of Bear Creek tipped off the police with information about your whereabouts?”
My eyes narrowed as I scrunched my face in confusion.
Who would do something like that?
Then it occurred to me that they might for the ten million dollar reward. There were plenty of curtain twitchers living in the cul-de-sac where Axel’s parents lived. I couldn’t see his parents doing that to us, and I could think of no one else it could've been.
“Are you familiar with the name, Rebecca King?” She asked, rushing her words.
I shook my head, baffled. “No, I’ve never heard of her.”
Who was this mystery woman?
My nostrils flared with temper.
No way was she benefitting from the ten million dollar reward, although she may be needing it to pay for plastic surgery as soon as I rearrange her face for what she’s done to Axel.
The officer dragged me over towards the helicopter that was waiting to take off.
“I’m just doing my job, Miss Griffiths,” he huffed in irritation at my last attempt to struggle.
I struggled as he forced my head inside. I was being dragged home whether I liked it or not.
“Your parents are waiting for you at your mother's place.” He slid the door panel shut and backed away from the revolving blades.
My father's head of security, Gabe, which was short for Gabriel, was riding inside the helicopter with me. He wasn’t a tall guy at five foot five inches, but he was stocky. I cast him an icy glare as I strapped myself in. I needed to find out where they’d taken Axel. I needed to convince my parents that this wasn’t a kidnapping. I felt the folded up mating license between my fingers and opened it out, my eyes burned with tears as I read the document.
Gabe cleared his throat.
“Congratulations on your mating, Mrs. Thorne.”
My head snapped to look in his direction.
“Huh? How do you know? What did you say?” I stuttered, shocked that he’d just said mating and not marriage.
I could barely make out his face due to the darkness that engulfed us. A shadow cast over him, disguising his coppery red hair, the only light source coming from the moonlight that spilled in through the windows.
“Your father will be interested to know that you found your mate. He’ll be a little shocked that it’s a bear. He thought you’d eventually mate with a member of your own species,” he added, sounding amused by the recent revelation.
My mouth flopped open and closed as I tried to digest the spontaneous, random crap that Gabe was spouting at me.
“Huh? What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked, feeling fed up to hell with everything and in no mood to be fucked with.
“Don’t play the innocent act with me, vixen.” The leather creaked as Gabe relaxed into his seat, then yawned lazily. “You stand a better chance of getting your mate back if you approach your father for help. Your mother isn’t all that keen on shifters, after the shock of finding out about your father, but saying that, I’m pretty sure your little stunt caused them to reconcile.” He took off his Men In Black sunshades, allowing the moonlight to reflect in his glacier, blue eyes.
I have no idea why I believed him, I just did, and I wasn’t even scared. Not really.
I had to ask, even though I already knew the answer. It had also occurred to me that there was the possibility that Gabe was one too.
“Dad's a shifter, isn’t he?” I replied, in a matter of fact tone.
“That was why they’d divorced. I can vaguely remember my mother screaming at him, about having lied to her. That’s what it was all about- he’d cheated though. I heard her accusing him of being unfaithful. I thought mates were supposed to be faithful.” My heart sank in my chest as if someone had crushed it with their bare hands.
Gabe’s lips twitched up into a cocky smirk.
“He’s not just any shifter. Carlton Griffiths is a fox shifter. He holds dominion over the entire business world. Ever heard the phrase 'as cunning as a fox?' He may be a sly old fox, but he never cheated on your mother. The only thing he was guilty of was hiding his true identity. She just thought that he was into some weird, kinky shit when he marked her. To be honest, your mother could be mistaken for a dragon. As for your father, the guy's a legend, an inspiration to us all. Many of our kind have infiltrated governments all across the world, thanks to him. Don’t underestimate your father's capabilities, Riley, go to him, appeal to his better nature.”
“So, you’re a shifter too?” I cast him an evaluating look.
He was loyal to my father, that much I could work out, but was he sympathetic towards shifters in general? That still remained to be seen.
“Yes, I’m a fox shifter like your father, just like everyone else who works for him,” he revealed.
My mind was bombarded with thoughts, memories of all the niggling doubts I’d had over the years.
Dad had never gotten sick, never needed a trip to the doctor, dentist, nor did he need to wear glasses, and thinking back, neither did I.
We sat in silence during most of the journey, while I remained lost in my thoughts. I wasn’t angry with my father. I probably should've been, but I was always so resilient when it came to my feelings. I was mated to a bear shifter for Christ's sake, what kind of a hypocrite would I be if I held resentment towards my own DNA? I hadn't shifted, like ever. It also made me wonder what mine and Axel’s children would be like. Would they be a mixed species of shifter?
Ouch, my brain hurts with all this thinking.
Deciding I ought to focus my attention on something more helpful, I rounded on Gabe.
“Do you know anything about this mystery female who ratted us out? Some woman called Rebecca King.”
“Ahh,” Gabe smirked. “Miss King. The jealous ex-best friend of Mr. Thorne.”
“What?” I blinked and shook my head quickly. My girly brain registered ‘ex’ before the rest of the information had the chance to filter through. “Ex-best friend as in 'no longer friends?'” I asked, curiously.
Gabe picked up on my little flash of jealousy and decided to torture me by being vague with information. “Oh, Miss King and Mr. Thorne had been friends for a long time, since they were cubs, in fact.”
My throat felt dry as I attempted to swallow. The thought of Axel having a jealous female friend left a sour taste in my mouth.
“Am I right in believing she lives right by Axel's parents?” I asked, even though I was already second-guessing the answer.
Gabe’s deep husky chuckle filled the cabin.
“You’d be correct. She called as soon as you left his parent's house, rambling something about you not being right for him and that he and she should be together, instead. She was under the impression that you were just merely a human—not that she came out and said it, but it was implied that way.”
“So, am I not really human?” I mumbled, more to myself.
"Not entirely," he replied.
“Uh, God.” I facepalmed myself, then I saw how Gabe looked on with concern. “I know. I know. I just needed you to confirm it.”
“You’re a hybrid,” Gabe corrected me. “Your parents should've told you. I’m probably going to be in so much shit for telling you any of this, but fuck it! You're a grown woman, you ought to know the truth.”
“Wait-wait-wait, so this bitch wants to get between me and Axel?” The green-eyed monster in me resurfaced, wanting to scratch her beady eyes out. Whoever the hell she was.
“Is that all you’re bothered about?” Gabe laughed out loud, trailing off with an amused expression playing on his face. “You don’t want to ask me about whether or not you have the ability to shift, you’re just concerned about having competition for your bear's affections?” Gabe sat there, grinning his ass off. Luckily for him, I was strapped into a harness. He wasn’t even within slapping distance and there was nothing around me that I could throw at him.
“Oh, c’mon, Riley. I think it's sorta cute. I’ve never seen you so concerned about anything before. Except when your mother wanted to donate some of your toys to charity. You threw such a tantrum that you—”
I cut him off bluntly. “Shut up!” My voice came out as a screech. “Just stop judging me. You don’t know the first thing about me.” My eyes set into such an intense, hardened glare, that I swear if I could have, I would've turned him to stone.
My hair probably resembled that of Medusa's anyway.
Gabe looked clearly taken back. He’d hurt me by dragging up my childhood and he knew it too. My parents could sugar coat it all they want, but my childhood was far from a happy one. Kids don’t just want their parents to buy them stuff, they only want their time. The one thing that doesn’t cost a damn thing was the one thing that they could never give me.
“You think you got me all figured out, don’t you? That I’m a spoiled little brat who had everything. But you know what? I didn’t. My dolls were the only real company that I had, and when my mom gave them away, she said, 'we all have to grow up some time'. Do you know what it's like to go for days, having no one to talk to? I’ve been lonely for as long as I can remember. There has never been anyone who has really cared about me like he does, you know?”
I broke off, placing my hands over my face as the tears started to fall freely. I’d never really cried before. I’d never broken down and cried my heart out, up until now.
It’s true what they say—love hurts.
Gabe fell silent. The playful smirk faded from his face, leaving behind a look of remorse.
“Will you help me, please?” I looked to Gabe, begging him with my eyes full of desperation, not knowing what else to do.
“I’ll see what I can do. Your bear is from Forest Lake. His elders will want him back. And anyway, there’s someone from Stonevale who owes your father a favor,” he answered in a softer tone, seeming regretful for how he came across earlier.
Gabe pulled out his phone, his thumb scrolling through his contacts before he pressed to dial and placed the phone to his ear. His lips curled over his teeth into a grin as soon as the person on the other end answered.
“Hey, Alec, long time no see. I'm not bad, buddy. Congratulations on getting mated. About Axel, that’s why I’m calling. You saw what on the news? Did they broadcast that already? Shit! Yeah, absolutely, but this time we’re gonna need your help. What’s it gotta do with the foxes, huh? I’ll tell you what. You saw that cute little redhead that your bear shifter pal was with? Well, that’s Carlton Griffiths's daughter. Oh, I thought that’d grab your attention. You know how this could benefit your safe, not so little sanctuary? Your reputation precedes you, Alpha. Nice doing business with you.” Gabe ended the call, looking rather pleased with himself.
I'm glad he was because that made one of us. I was left hanging, nervously holding my breath and practically clawing at the leather upholstered seat with anxiety.
“Well? What did he say?” I blurted out, impatiently.
Gabe grinned. “You just got yourself a damn good lawyer, that’s what.”