Axel was fully absorbed at the moment, too busy screeching at the top of his lungs and gyrating his hips and strumming on his air guitar. He didn’t even notice us enter through the heavy double doors at the far end of the corridor.
“Number forty-seven said to number three.”
“You’re the cutest little jailbird I ever did see....”
“I sure would be delighted with your company....”
“Come on and do the jailhouse rock with me....”
“Everybody, let’s rock....”
“Everybody in the whole cell block was dancing to the jailhouse rock,” he crooned, amongst the wincing inmates, blissfully unaware of us approaching.
I scrunched my lips, feeling my temper rise.
How dare he be enjoying himself!
I inhaled a sharp breath through my nasal passages, only to regret it. The air in here smelled vile. Even as I rubbed my wrist against my nose, vigorously, my perfume couldn’t mask it.
The stale overpowering aroma inside this shitty cell block was killing me, along with the lingering stink of tobacco and alcohol breath. It took everything I had not to run, bolting back through the door to hurl.
I needed to breathe clean, sanitary air. As soon as I dragged my hulk of a husband back home, I fully intended to have a Dettol bath and burn this dress outside in the back yard.
I’d like to say that I wasn’t a snob and that I didn’t judge, but fuck that! Yes, I was. I was a fucking snob when it came to this. This was a crime against humanity. I’d seen cop shows on TV but they were nothing like this place.
Those cells on TV didn’t show urine stains up the walls—and the rest.
The slow clack of my heels silenced. I stopped and turned to peer between the ceiling to floor bars of cell number three, raising a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. Axel, who was now reaching the crescendo of his strangled cat impersonation, swiveled round in his stockinged feet, eyes widening with shock at the sight of me, mixed with approval.
He paused before letting out a low whistle.
“Babe, you clean up real good. You don’t smell like you, but hey, I ain’t complaining.” He ran his fingers through his unruly blonde hair, his lips stretching into an awestruck grin.
I placed my right hand against my cocked out hip, noticing his eyes lingering on my exposed cleavage.
“Gee, thanks. Can’t say the same about you in that tacky orange jumpsuit,” I retorted, casting daggers at my smirking husband.
He pointed his forefinger in my direction. “Are you...” his eyes winced then he jabbed his finger against his own chest, “...mad at me?” His brows scrunched, questioningly.
I felt my own eyes blaze like two fireballs bulging out of my sockets. He folded his huge arms across his chest, making his biceps bulge as they strained the cheap polyester material to full capacity.
“I was the one that got tased, babe,” he replied back in an indignant tone.
My eyes flinched as he pulled the emotional blackmail card.
“I could really use a little sympathy right about now.” He gave a smoldering gaze through the bars, then started singing a verse of another Elvis song, making me glance away, biting the insides of my cheeks, putting all my efforts into not smiling.
“I got stung by a sweet honey bee...” he serenaded, much to my embarrassment.
Dad and Alec exchanged amused glances between them, whereas, Leah stood alongside me, dumbfounded. Probably thinking the same as me ‘dear Lord, please don’t make it rain’.
He wanted me to crack a smile. That way, he’d win and I’d stop being all moody. This was supposed to be a rescue mission, not some karaoke sing-a-thon. I expected him to be sitting in a corner somewhere, rocking back and forth, mumbling to himself because that’s what I would do.
My eyes raked all over the grime-covered cell, then observed the nonchalant expression on Axel’s face and I immediately saw red.
“I was worried sick about you,” I hissed, swatting away my dad's sudden attempt to hold me back.
I gripped the iron bars that divided me from Axel, then abruptly slapped my satin clutch bag against my dad's chest, forcing him to take hold of it. Shocked and startled, he passed it from hand to hand like a hot potato.
“Daddy, it’s a purse, it won’t bite,” I huffed, annoyed.
Axel grinned. He seemed highly amused as if this was all one big joke, flashing his perfect white teeth, which only fuelled my rage.
“And here you are.” I let go of the greasy bars in disgust, jumping back in repulsion, then wiped my palms along my thighs. “Having the time of your life!” I pointed my finger at him, “I should just leave you in here if you like it so much.”
Axel’s grin won out, spreading wide across his face and creasing his blue eyes as he let out a boyish chuckle.
“These guys are cool,” he dragged out his words in a lazy tone, swinging his arm around the shoulders of a dirty looking biker with a handlebar mustache. “His name is Mike, Mitch...” he thought for a second. “What did you say your name was again?” he asked, scrunching his brows together.
The guy mumbled, unenthusiastically, “Miguel.”
“That’s right.” He clapped him on the back, causing the tensed guy to jolt forward. “Babe, this is Miguel. He tried to hold up a gas station with his finger in his jacket pocket,” he laughed as he spoke, then turned to Miguel. “That really was a dumb-ass move, but you weren’t to know the place was full of cops on a training exercise, right?” He chuckled to an unsmiling Miguel.
Axel continued, “That’s karma for you. Kicks you right in the balls when you least expect it.” He slapped Miguel on the back again, jerking him forward for the second time.
“Lady!” Miguel approached the bars, pleading to me with desperate eyes. “You’re really not going to leave him in here with me, are you?” He shook his head ever so slightly, his brown eyes flaring wide with dread.
An amusing thought popped in my head. I clicked my tongue and tapped my chin with my finger. “Hmm, I don’t know.” My eyes narrowed as I dragged out my words with sarcasm. “You boys seem to have made friends and I’m not one to break up a party.” I shrugged.
Dad and Alec both turned to me with their brows cocked in a ‘what the fuck' look.
Leah sniggered as if she understood my joke.
“That’ll teach you to not break the law,” she chastised Miguel in a whimsical tone while trying to maintain a straight face.
In pure frustration, he tried to rattle the bars right in front of me. I stepped back, maintaining a safe distance, just in case he tried to reach out and grab me.
“Give a guy a break and I promise, I will never so much as hold up traffic any more. C’mon, lady, I can’t stand Elvis. This guy is killing me here,” he whined, revealing his rotting yellow teeth.
Axel took offense at his comment, scrunching his face back as if Miguel had said something insane.
“Leeroy here, doesn’t seem to mind, do you, Leeroy?” He yelled over his shoulder to a grey-haired African American guy who looked well over eighty.
“What?” Leeroy yelled back, cupping his ear as if he was hard of hearing. “Did you just say something to me, boy?”
Axel sighed, swatted the air. “Ahh, never mind.”
The old guy was clearly deaf and hadn’t heard a word of what had been said. He turned over on the bench, pulling a grey generic blanket over his head as if to go back to sleep.
Alec cleared his throat to grab our attention.
“We need to get him out of here, quickly. We don’t exactly have a great deal of time. Leah’s influence will only last a few minutes before it wears off,” he explained, anxiously.
“Influence?” I asked, confused by what he just said.
“Yeah,” Leah spoke. “I have a gift that allows me to compel people to do whatever I want.” She placed a hand on top of her swollen belly and rubbed it affectionately. “My baby is zapping most of my energy these days, so my power isn’t as strong as it could be, but it was enough to get the guard to hand over the keys to the cell. So we really ought to get moving,” she encouraged, producing a set of keys and jingling them in front of her.
She began trying key after key until she found one that fit the lock. “Bingo.” She grinned at Axel. “This almost makes us even, big guy. You saved my ass more than once,” she commented.
Axel smiled. “Yeah, well, friends don’t keep count.”
Just as she went to twist the key in the lock, her husband, Alec, went to stand alongside her, flashing the cellmates a deadly glare as if to suggest ‘stay there and don’t even think about moving’. None of them looked as if they harbored a death wish so they either stayed put or backed away towards the far wall.
Alec pulled open the cell door to let Axel slip past. The heavy, barred door clinked and clanked as it was closed back over and locked again.
Axel broke out in song once again, gripping me around my waist, twirling me around in circles with my face contorting in a motion sickened grimace. “Baby, let me be your lovin’ teddy bear, put a chain around my neck and lead me anywhere...” He pressed his lips against mine, then dropped me back down on two feet, holding me steady as I staggered, dizzy and disorientated back down the corridor.
“I’ll put a chain around your neck, alright!” I muttered as my heels scraped along the concrete floor.
“Now now, kids...” My dad cut in to prevent a squabble. “Act casually as we try and make our way out of here, for goodness sake.”
Alec brushed past us both and peered around the door. He glanced over his shoulder at us and beckoned us forward. “Shh, quickly. Nobody’s around.”
I pointed to the cameras that were literally everywhere. “CCTV,” I hissed, mindful that everything was being recorded.
“Scrambled,” Leah whispered, smugly. “Perks of having a combined shifter military means we’ve thought of everything.”
Alec’s eyes flicked to Axel. “One of Beast’s new toys,” he mentioned, to which Axel seemed to understand.
A pure look of wonder etched across his face at the sheer mention of this awesome technology. “Maybe I should’ve joined the military. Especially if you get to play with cool gadgets like that.”
Axel rolled his eyes, his voice coming out in a lowered tone. “Ugh! That means the smug fucker will never let me live this down,” he muttered, under his breath.
“You know...” I eyed Axel with suspicion, “I’m gonna interrogate the shit out of you when we get home. Seems there are lots I don’t know about you and your friends.”
Axel smirked. “Yeah.” His eyes narrowed on me as he drank in every detail like I was his favorite dessert.
“You’re the one with the secrets, babe. I’m an open book. I always knew you were a fox but I didn’t know you were a fox,” he emphasized his words, flexing two fingers on each hand, “I thought you smelled differently, I just wasn’t exactly sure what it was. I thought your dad’s name sounded familiar, too. That’s what I get for not paying attention to politics,” he finished, giving an indifferent shrug.
“Yeah, well, I didn’t know either,” I admitted, noticing my dad press a finger to his lips to silence us. “I’ll tell you about it later,” I whispered.
Alec ushered Dad and Leah through the door first, then me and Axel. He followed closely behind us, closing the door quietly and dumping the keys on top of the abandoned desk.
Gabe, who had been waiting by the front doors, held it open looking nervous and agitated, waving his hand to hurry us up.
“Hey!” A voice yelled from the office behind the front desk. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”
Leah waddled over to the desk, looking the officer in the eye. “We’re going home and you’re not going to stop us.”
His angry frown relaxed, changing to a vacant expression. “I’m not going to stop you,” he repeated.
Leah hurried back towards us. “Quick! Before someone else comes.”
We broke into a scrambled run, not wanting to take any more chances, bolting through the double doors and out into the darkened street.
My lungs were gratefully appreciative of the cool night air as I sucked it in greedily. Traffic fumes or not, it smelled like heaven compared to what it was like in there. Never ever again was I stepping foot inside somewhere as gross as that. I’d rather have eaten my lunch in a public toilet than spent another second inside that hell hole.
“You look good enough to eat.” Axel grabbed my ass, pulling me towards him for a kiss which I had to stand up on my tiptoes to return.
We snatched celebratory kisses at the side of the road, forgetting for a second that we had company.
The sound of screeching tires had us breaking apart. A huge armored truck swerved around in the middle of the road, mounting the curb before bouncing back down onto the tarmac. The brakes screeched as it came to an abrupt stop, right in front of Dad’s car.
“Here’s our ride,” Alec announced, cheerfully.
Leah turned to us with a relieved smile. “Don’t worry about the human police. There wasn’t any time to go through the proper channels, but rest assured, it’ll all be taken care of by the morning.”
“Thanks again,” I returned the friendly gesture, raising my hand to wave. “If there’s ever anything we can do to repay you, then all you have to do is ask,” I offered.
Alec paused to think as his wife was helped inside the huge truck by a big, muscular guy, offering her his hand. His dark hair was shaved close to his scalp; his piercing brown eyes stared back at me in a curious analysis. His huge, muscular arms were completely covered in tattoos. Some of the gothic writing along his forearms looked like they might spell out his children’s names: Ava, Aimee, and Blaze. The gorgeous giant gave Axel a courteous salute and a grin stretched across his stubble coated face.
“Axel.” His voice was a raw, guttural rumble.
Axel responded with a polite nod in acknowledgment. “Beast.”
There seemed to be an air of friendly rivalry between the two men. Nothing hostile. More like old acquaintances or comrades in arms. His dad had mentioned a guy called Beast. A retired cage fighter who Axel had said fought alongside him not so long ago. This was something that I was dying to find out more about.
“Have you asked him again?” The humongous inked guy asked Alec.
Alec, who seemed to be thinking of how best to address something, glanced between Axel and me with an air of wonder playing on his perfectly chiseled face.
“We want to make you an offer to join our cause. Axel, I know you were more than happy to keep your role as a ranger, but I’m thinking now that you’re gonna be in the public eye, maybe you and Riley would consider a more prominent role.”
It was a worthy cause if there ever was one. If I could use my once conceited social status to do something good for people like us, then I was game.
“Sure,” I answered for both of us, ignoring the startled expression on my husband’s face. “We would love to. Think of it as a huge thank you for what you’ve done for us,” I added, knowing that Axel couldn’t exactly refuse since I had put it that way.
Alec held out his hand in turn for Axel and me to shake. “Welcome aboard—finally.” He beamed, grasping my hand firmly, then Axel’s.
“Thanks again, Alec,” Axel responded with genuine gratitude.
Warmth spread across Alec’s handsome features. “Don’t mention it, you came through for us when we needed help.”
He turned to my dad, clasping his hand with a slap. They pulled each other in for a bro hug.
“See you at the next meeting, buddy,” Dad spoke, fondly.
“You’re buying the drinks afterward, Griff,” Alec replied, giving Dad a wolfish grin.
Alec gave us one final wave, then got inside the truck. Leah leaned across Beast and waved, smiling brightly. I liked her. She wasn’t what I expected when I was told she was the Luna of the werewolf community. I half expected someone headstrong, cocky and dominant, but she wasn’t anything like that. Instead, she was friendly, decent, and kind. The sort of person that’d make you question your own personality. Despite that, I got the impression that she wouldn’t stand for any shit, which was good. Just like me.
Beast gave a curt nod and a two-fingered salute, then revved the engine. We watched them pull away as Gabe ushered us into Dad’s car.Axel placed his hand on top of my knee. Both of us were sitting in silence in the back of the car, with me squashed between him and Gabe. Dad was sitting in the passenger seat, engaged in a deep conversation with the driver. The two of them were discussing how terrible the road surfaces were and how they thought that someone was controlling the stop signs, just for shits and giggles.
“You came for me?” Axel spoke, awestruck.
“Yeah, you’re my husband. I wasn’t just gonna leave you to rot in jail.” I rolled my eyes at his stupidity.
Of course, I would come for him. What did he expect? I loved the crass, loudmouthed asshole, after all.
“Thanks, babe,” he spoke in a softened tone.
The twinkle of the street lights reflected in his blue eyes. “I’m sure as hell glad you came.”
For a second, I almost forgot how to breathe. I didn’t even realize that I was smiling. He did that. Without even trying, he brought out the best in me.
My fingers laced with his. “About me being a fox,” I began, feeling as if I owed him some sort of explanation.
“I thought there was something different about you,” Axel commented. “I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize your surname. I mean, your dad is legendary. Who knew that one day the fox king’s daughter would show up in Hawcroft, not to mention that she’d be my mate. Jeez, opposites really do attract.” Axel shook his head with a boyish smile. “A fox. My wife is a fox.” He seemed to like how the words sounded out loud.
All the way home, he harped on about how our children would be hybrids: fox-bears. Happiness stained his face, stretching an enchanted smile across his lips. Axel wanted more than anything to start his own family, it was written all over his face.
I was and always had been a spoiled selfish brat. Children never came into the equation. Not once. Not even after my cousin, Sheena got married. Yeah, her husband was a good for nothing, cheating scumbag, and she had finally seen the light and decided to divorce his ass, but still, we all thought the next step for her was going to include children. Many of our friends were envious of her when she got married. Whereas, I saw family life like a ball and chain, shackling me around the ankles, stopping me from enjoying life. Boy, was I wrong?
I was thrilled to be Axel’s wife. More importantly, I wanted to bear Axel’s children. Everything had changed. I had changed. Well, my priorities definitely had, anyway. Pregnancy, late-night feeds, diaper changes, the whole shebang, I was ready.
The minute we began driving through the more elaborate part of town, I sensed a change in Axel’s posture. He sat up straight, gripping my hand tighter. Sitting in a shitty jail cell didn’t seem to phase him one bit, but the way his body tensed as we drove through billionaires row, he looked terrified.
“You OK?” I asked, in a soothing tone. My lips a mere inch from his ear as he leaned across to get a better look at a lavish mansion, slack-jawed.
“Yeah,” he responded with a sigh that convinced me otherwise.
Axel sat back and glanced over at Gabe. He turned to me, widening his eyes and jerking his head as if to ask ’what’s wrong with that guy?’
Gabe was unusually silent and had been all the way home as if he had been procrastinating something for a while and was now thinking of putting his plans into action. His eyes reflected a distant look on the inside of the glass as he gazed through the window, lost, deep in his thoughts.
My lips twitched up to one side as I gave a slight shrug in answer to Axel’s silent question.
I didn’t know.
Gabe was a mystery. Whatever it was that was eating him up, I hoped he would be okay.
“Hey, Riley.” Dad craned his head around in the passenger seat to talk to me.
“What, Daddy?” I answered, forgetting my present company for a second and sounding like a seven-year-old child. “Dad,” I corrected quickly, feeling the blush heat my cheeks.
Dad continued. “When we get inside, you know your mother is going to make a fuss over both of you. Probably want to talk you into having a human wedding ceremony, that she’ll no doubt insist on arranging. If you want to avoid an ambush, take Axel straight upstairs. I’ll have some refreshments sent up if you’re hungry.”
Dad’s little attempt at prewarning me was welcome. We both knew that Mom would switch to full-on meddle mode.
I leaned my head against Axel’s shoulder. “I think I will. I’m beat, and I suppose we’ll have the press on our backs now, too. I bet Mom has already made arrangements for an interview.”
“I’ll bet you a hundred dollars you’re right.” Dad chuckled. “Besides, there’s no way of avoiding the press, Pumpkin. But you don’t need me to tell you how to work the media. You’re a pro.” His eyes flashed to Axel. “You, however, need a quick lesson on how to handle paparazzi. So before the gala tomorrow, you be sure to come to see me, and I’ll give you a few pointers.” Dad flashed Axel an encouraging smile.
“What?” I blurted out, releasing Axel’s hand as I gripped the back of Dad’s headrest. “That’s tomorrow?” My scatterbrain flooded with panic.
I fucking hated that jolt in your heart that you get when you remember something at the last minute.
“Shit! I literally have nothing to wear,” I exclaimed. “Oh, God, this is a catastrophe,” I muttered, feeling completely fucked up the ass by life, once again.
“You’re fucking telling me,” Axel huffed with anguished sarcasm. “Must be a nightmare, having to decide between Gucci and Valentino. The fuckin’ trauma.” He shook his head.
Dad scrunched his face. “Aww, you’ll be fine, Pumpkin. We can organize last minute outfits for both of you. It’s not like designers won’t be falling over each other for the opportunity to dress you,” he commented with certainty. “Axel, you’ll have to embrace your new found celebrity status. You better get used to appearing in public because the press is gonna eat you up, and this charity gala will be a great opportunity to mingle and meet some influential people. You’re in a position of power now, you better get used to this lifestyle.”
Axel blew out a nervous breath through puckered lips. “What if I embarrass you?” He aimed his question at me, his brows creasing with worry lines.
Dad’s expression softened, turning back around to give us some privacy. “You won’t,” I reassured, squeezing his knee.
Axel’s jaw locked tight, pulsing as his eyes darted back and forth between mine. “I might say or do the wrong thing.”
I stroked my thumb back and forth on his knee, over the cheap orange material of his jumpsuit.
“You could never embarrass me. If anything, I’m proud to be with you,” I told him, meaning every word. “So think of it as me showing you off to the world.” I smiled, dragging my gaze from his eyes, down to his lips and back again. “Like, hey bitches, hands off, he’s mine.”
The fact that he felt he wasn’t good enough bothered me. Axel was awesome. The kindest, most decent person that I had ever met. He just had to realize his own potential and I was hell-bent on making that a reality.
A smirk curved across Axel’s lips as his eyes flicked up to where Dad was sitting, making conversation with his driver. Axel’s silent message said it all: kissing could wait until we were in private. Like he knew the both of us wouldn’t be content with just a kiss. Both of us needed to finish what we started hours ago in our cabin.
I snuggled into him as we drove up to my prestigious family home, feeling so darn lucky I could scream. He was mine. He placed his arm around my shoulders, pulling me close and smelling my hair. Warmth filled my heart, spreading throughout my chest. Nobody could take him away from me. Nobody. Not the cops, especially not that psycho friend of his from Bear Creek.
“Axel,” I mumbled against his chest, listening to the steady rhythm of his beating heart.
“Hmhm,” he responded, contented.
I hated having to drag this up now and risk ruining a perfectly good moment, but the suspense was killing me. Ever since I heard her name, it had been gnawing away inside of me. “Who’s Rebecca King, and why haven’t you ever mentioned her before?” My heart flooded with dread, feeling Axel’s pulse quicken.
There was a long pause before he responded. The torturous wait was like a kick to the gut. Axel wasn’t a fuck boy. Whoever she was, she must’ve meant something to him. It was only natural that I felt a twang of jealousy.
“I hurt her,” he mumbled, sadly.
“I’ve known her since we were cubs. She was my best friend in the whole world. Then when we grew up, she wanted to be more than friends and I didn’t,” he concluded. The wistful tone in his voice told me he still mourned their broken friendship. When he wouldn’t elaborate further, I took it as he didn’t want to discuss it.
“Oh,” I responded with a deflated sigh.
I sort of gathered she had ratted him out of jealousy, but this was serious, and he had a right to know who had his ass thrown in jail.
“She was the one who called the cops,” I informed, regretfully.
Axel didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. The hurt that glistened in his watery eyes spoke a thousand words. One of which stood out the most.