The pilot announced through our headsets that he was preparing to land. I always hated the landing part and braced myself in my seat. It was that feeling of dropping, of going downward. It was the same with roller coasters, too. That tummy flipping motion, messing with my sense of gravity, churning my insides and giving me the sensation of moths instead of pretty butterflies fluttering around in my abdomen.
In an attempt to lure my mind away from the descent, I concentrated on the billions of pretty lights that made up the lively city below. Everything looked so serene from way up here. Peaceful, away from the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. I had no concept of the time. Although, I guessed it would be pretty late by now. I missed Axel, and I was worried sick.
My mind whirled with bad thoughts that played on a loop in my brain: where had they taken him, had they hurt him, and how soon could this damn lawyer get here?
I was itching to get off this helicopter. There was sweet fuck all I could do from way up here. The confrontation with my parents was inevitable, I knew that. My questions could wait. That bitch in Bear Creek could wait, too. The lies I had been told throughout my life seemed irrelevant. My parents were at loggerheads most of the time, anyway. I could imagine them using me in an emotionally sick game of tug-of-war.
There was so much I wanted to ask them and I wasn’t going to forget about it, but right now my husband was more important to me than how badly my parents had scorned me.
The moment the landing gear touched the tarmac, my fingers already went to work at unclipping my harness. Gabe was the first to climb out; he then held out his hand to help me. The stubborn bitch in me wanted to slap away his helping hand and scramble out myself, and I almost did just that.
I was annoyed with my parents, not Gabe. I knew it wasn’t his fault; he didn’t have to tell me anything, he could’ve easily just left me in the dark. So, not wanting to shoot the messenger, so to speak, I placed my hand in his and accepted his help.
“Thanks,” I cast him a grateful smile.
The rotating blades spun above us causing a strong vortex of wind that made the cool night air seem even colder; the wind swirled around me and blew my already messed up hair all over my face. Gabe directed me over the far side of the grounds to where a black stretched limousine was waiting for us. I caught a glimpse of my sorry sight in the reflection of the blacked-out windows and made an attempt to smooth down my unruly hair.
“Miss Griffiths,” My mother's head of security, Reed, acknowledged me as he held open the door. His tousled blonde hair moved around with the wind and his hazel-green eyes narrowed with annoyance as Gabe pushed me behind him. Reed's jaw clenched and pulsed, which only made his chiseled features look even more rugged.
There was a moment of hostility between Gabe and Reed. The two of them didn’t seem to get along.
“Gabriel, I can take it from here,” Reed spoke mockingly as though he thought that Gabe was a jerk.
Gabe shot Reed a steely glare as if he wanted him to drop dead. “I don’t think so, blondie. I have strict orders from her father to see that she gets back home, safely.”
Reed began to protest, “Well, her mother—”
“Will you two just stop!” I stood alongside the two muscle-bound security guys, trying my hardest to put some distance between them.
The two men would’ve been nose-to-nose if not for the height difference. Reed stood six-foot-three-inches to Gabe’s modest five-foot-five-inch height.
I was exhausted and pissed off beyond belief. My throat was already dry, making my voice sound hoarse.
“All I wanna do is talk to my parents, get them to drop all this crazy shit, and go home with my husband. That’s all. Could you two just get along for five minutes so that we can get there? Then you can go back to bickering till your heart's content.”
They glared each other down, both not wanting to back down first. Both men tensed their jaws hard enough to crack a walnut and clenched their fists, emanating enough testosterone to power a rocket ship back to planet Uranus, where I was more than convinced those two assholes came from.
“Look, I haven’t got time to stand around while you both compare penis size. Get. In. The .Car,” I growled through gritted teeth.
The limo smelled of leather polish as if it had recently been valeted. I was grateful that the driver thought to put on the heating. It didn’t take long for the cold leather interior to warm under my bare legs, enabling me to relax a bit.
It was one insanely intense car journey, that much was for sure. I got the impression that Gabe and Reed really didn’t like each other, and all the huffing and throat clearing was getting rather pathetic. They looked pissed off, like two lovers staring out of either side of the car after a petty squabble with their arms folded. I detected sexual tension, but I could have it all wrong.
I would’ve sat in the front passenger seat with the driver, only I didn’t trust them not to start throwing punches the minute they were left alone. Someone needed to play babysitter, which meant that I had drawn the short straw.
Species aside, these guys actually had a lot in common: they were both in the security business, both trained in weapon handling and martial arts. Oh, and they were both male whores who enjoyed screwing around a lot. Maybe they had been fighting over a woman? What if they shared?
Not that I’m judging. I mean, I’ve done my fair share of putting myself out there, back when I was experiencing all that life had to offer. I had always been a sexually confident woman. I knew what I wanted, and I went after it. I was no different than a man who went around nailing every woman that caught his eye, just because he could.
I was a 'Samantha' from the show: Sex In The City. Just like her, my vagina was always on the prowl for its next victim. She lived life to the full, and so did I. Some women could relate to her and applaud her strength and promiscuity, as if it sent out a message, encouraging women to take charge and stick their middle finger up to all the chauvinists and the prudes.
Some women just saw a middle-aged slut who got laid a lot, which was sad because we should be able to be who we are without being judged and penalized for it.
See, that’s my problem with society. Men just get an 'eye-roll' and a 'tsk' like that sort of behavior just comes with penis territory. Whereas, a woman is tarnished with a sleazy reputation that follows her around forever. Double standards. How is that fair? Society can go ahead and kiss my privileged ass.
Would I buy the first dress or pair of shoes in the store before I tried them on? No.
Same goes for men. How do you know who’s compatible with who unless you test out the goods first? Now, not everyone will agree with me, but I didn’t want to be saddled with a guy I had no chemistry with. I had to kiss a few frogs before I found my prince—I mean bear.
My lips curved up into a smile as I appreciated my own joke and earned a questioning look from Gabe, who probably thought I was nuts.
The smile faded as my thoughts stuck on my bear. Was he in jail? Had he tried to shift? Shit! He could be in some science lab somewhere, dissected and hacked up into pickle jars.
I scooted over towards the front of the limo.
“Excuse me? Hello...” I yelled, whilst knocking on the privacy screen to catch the driver's attention.
The driver chose that moment to speed up, weaving through traffic. He then slammed on the brakes when we came to a red light and I almost squashed my nose up against the panel.
“Hey!” I slapped my palm against the panel once more. “This isn’t race wars, Toretto!” I huffed and slumped back down into my seat.
“Apologies, Miss Griffiths.” The driver's bored voice filled the back of the limo via the speakers.
“Fine, I just wanted to ask if there was any chance you could put on the radio. I want to listen to the news.”
I glanced at both Gabe and Reed. Gabe continued to stare casually through the window, thinking about God knows what. I caught Reed casting a critical eye over my disheveled appearance.
What is he, a fashion guru?
I cast my eyes down over my thrown together outfit that Axel gave me, then tried to tidy myself up by running my hands through my hair. It looked like a rat's nest. My fingers caught on the snags, pulling out a few strands by the root.
So what? I looked and smelled like shit. I had a really bad case of nervous sweats in the helicopter at the beginning of the journey. I’d used some of Axel's deodorant this morning, which had well and truly worn off by now.
The sound of the radio replaced the noise of the engine and all the traffic commotion. There was nothing mentioned about Axel and me, which was weird.
The privacy screen rolled down and the driver spoke once again, only this time it was through the gap. “Are you alright, Miss Griffiths? You look like you’ve been to Hell and back.” I knew it was a polite way of saying that I looked like shit.
“Yeah, well, we all have our off days, don’t we?” I muttered, not feeling in the mood to think of any snarky retorts.
“Is there any booze in here?” I directed my question to Reed, who was sitting right next to the minibar.
His hardened gaze flicked to me, “No.” He applied pressure to the word as if immensely annoyed about something.
I shot Gabe a look which suggested 'Sheesh! What crawled up his butt?'
Gabe just rolled his eyes, smirking as if he agreed Reed was being an ass.
I recognized the direction where we were headed and frowned. “Why are we going this way? I thought we were going to my mom’s house?”
“We are,” Reed’s answer was short and sharp.
“Oh, I didn’t think she’d still use this place,” I muttered, in confusion. We were headed to my childhood home. The house my parents and I shared together all those years ago. Instead of selling it when they divorced, they left it to me.
The limo slowed down to a crawl as we turned onto the drive. I was half ready to fling the door open, jump out and walk the rest of the way.
“Finally,” I breathed impatiently, the second we came to a stop.
Gabe was first to get out, followed by me, then Reed. My boots crunched over the loose stone as I ran up to the front door, taking the stone steps two at a time.
“Mom!” I yelled as I burst through the door.
Through habit, I took off my boots in the hall. We had a pristine cream carpet that ran throughout the house. Mom had always held a 'no shoe' policy. We had to change into a pair of slippers the second we set foot inside the door.
“Riley! You’re back!” She called through from the sitting room.
I followed the direction of her voice and found her draped across the black leather sofa with a glass of her usual: a Bloody Mary, complete with a stick of celery. The skimpy nightdress revealed plenty of skin, especially what I now recognized to be a mating mark in the crook of her neck. I’d asked her once how she got it; she said an animal had taken her by surprise and bit her, which I guess was close to the truth.
Instead of her usual business attire or designer clothing, she was wearing a plain black silk negligee and slippers. She stood up and threw on a matching robe the second she saw my horrified expression.
Our living room was modern with all the latest technology. Everything was voice-activated: the TV, the music, the lighting, heating, and the fireplace. Every piece of highly polished dark wooden furniture cost a small fortune. This was supposed to be my house now, I wasn’t sure what the hell my mother was doing in it, and so scantily clad, too.
My eyes bulged at the sight of my father who emerged through the patio doors in nothing but his boxer shorts.
“Oh, am I interrupting your special sleepover? Tell you what, give me back my husband and I’ll be on my way.” I folded my arms, crossly as I glared between my parents, who had obviously been doing each other in what was now my house.
“Riley, you aren’t really in a relationship with that man, are you? Please tell me you were just doing this to punish me for setting you up with a job.” My mom’s pleading face angered me and I felt compelled to defend my man.
Yeah, alright, it may have started out like that but I fell for the guy. He was mine and there was no way I was gonna allow her to trash talk him or talk me out of moving to Bear Creek.
“So, you saw the news? What is it, Mom? Isn’t he good enough for me? Just because he’s not rich and he doesn’t have a fancy job, you think he’s not good enough? Can’t you just be happy that I’ve found someone who loves me for me and not because of my net worth?” My eyes darted back and forth between my shocked parents.
“Whatever you’ve said to the police, you better fix it. I want him brought home tonight. It’s all true by the way, we’re married, and the reason I didn’t come home earlier was that I knew you’d react like this. You can’t decide who I see and who I don’t. Look. See for yourself.” I pulled out the mating license and opened it up, holding it up as evidence. I saw my Dad's eyes close as he cursed, whereas, my mom could only look on with shock.
“Mr. Griffiths, if I may speak freely, Sir,” Gabe spoke up from behind me.
My Dad nodded sadly, and Gabe continued. “I tried to contact you earlier, Sir, but you were otherwise engaged.” Gabe glanced at my mother who had now turned crimson.
“We located your daughter in Bear Creek after the humans were tipped off, no doubt to get their hands on the reward.”
I rolled my eyes at Gabe’s comment. It wasn’t just about the money, not when there was a jealous woman behind it.
“I tried to intercept before any irreversible damage was done. I managed to retrieve Riley, but unfortunately, I lost her husband to the humans. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, we can’t leave a shifter in human custody without risking the exposure of Forest Lake. I’ve already taken the liberty of contacting Alpha White as it's now a matter for the United Shifter Council to handle.”
“Of course.” Dad looked defeated, pinching the bridge of his nose as he scrunched his eyes closed. “I understand the protocol, Gabriel. I am on the damn committee.”
“United Shifter what?” I asked, feeling really fucking confused.
“Will someone explain to me what the hell that is and how it can help to get my husband home?”