I woke up mid-afternoon with a jolt. I’d forgotten where I was for a few seconds and the shock almost gave me a cardiac arrest. The slumbering mountain lying next to me turned around and draped a huge muscular arm across my waist.
“Oof! Axel, wake up. I need to use the bathroom.” I heaved the heavy weight of his arm off my bladder.
“Hmhm, what time is it?” He mumbled, sleepily.
The side of his face was smashed into the pillow and his eyes were closed.
“I squinted at the old-style alarm clock on his bedside table. The damn thing looked antique; it was one of those wind-up clocks that had two bells on the top.
“It’s ten past one in the afternoon,” I replied, irritably.
I now had one foot flat on the floor and was attempting to limbo myself underneath his arm.
“C’mon Axel, lift up! I’m not a damn contortionist,” I grumbled as he tightened his grip.
“Go on then, I’ll be up in a minute,” he huffed and released me from his vice-like grip.
I raced off to the bathroom, desperate to use the toilet. No sooner had my backside touched the seat, the equivalent to Niagara Falls started to flow out of me. I gave a huge sigh of relief and closed my eyes. A slight smile curled my lips as the ache in my bladder ebbed away.
“Riley, are you running a bath?” Axel yelled from the bedroom.
His deep manly laugh rumbled through the wall as he amused himself with his own joke.
I wrapped toilet paper around my hand, breaking off a good handful to clean myself. He was such a sarcastic ass. Although I had to admit, I did find his comment funny. So much so, I was also giggling to myself and thinking of a good retort.
I wasn’t used to men making me laugh. They usually bored me to death, talking about business or the stock market. Axel was different, I could tell that he didn’t have much. He wasn’t rich. He lived a humble life and came from a working-class background. Not that I minded.
He seemed fun to be around. Even if he did tease me a lot, he wasn’t exactly unpleasant about it. I knew I’d never get bored.
I washed my hands and dabbed cold water on my face. The mattress creaked as he got out of bed and I heard heavy footsteps walking across the hall.
He tapped lightly on the door. “You want some company?”
I opened the door slightly and peered through the crack. “If I let you in here, we’re just showering,” I said, flatly.
“Just showering?” Axel cocked an eyebrow as if he had other plans in mind.
I left the door ajar as I turned to switch on the shower, then placed my palm under the running water to check that it was warm enough this time.
“I mean it, no sex. I’m starving,” I complained.
My stomach growled as evidence. I stepped in first, followed closely by Axel. At least he was a gentleman and allowed me to wash first. He stood back to admire me while I scrubbed myself from head to foot. I wasn’t used to being this appreciated, and to be honest, it felt rather good.
I know this might seem weird but it felt as if I’d known him for years, like being with him was just as easy as breathing air. I stepped out, allowing him more room to maneuver around as he scrubbed that huge body of his.
“Can I have one of your shirts to wear? I don’t have any clothes,” I asked, wrapping a bath towel around my naked body.
“Second drawer. Take whatever you want. Put on a pair of my boxers if they’ll fit,” he offered, splashing water as he rinsed off his shampoo.
I clutched the towel in place with one hand as I ventured back to his room. My wet hair dripped water down my shoulders as I rummaged in his drawer for something to throw on. I let out a snort of laughter as I held up a t-shirt that had ’Graceland’ on it, just as he walked through the door.
“Not that one.” He snatched it out of my hand and folded it back up, neatly.
I pulled out a plain, grey marl t-shirt and put that on, instead.
“Don’t worry, your Elvis stuff is safe from me.” I sniggered as I left him there, now on a mission to find something edible from the kitchen.
I opened the fridge, finding only: beers, fish, a tub of butter and some milk. There wasn’t much else to satisfy the palate. There was bread in the cupboard, and a jar of marmalade, so I decided on toast.
While I was waiting for the bread to pop up in the toaster, I switched on a small television that was on top of the kitchen work surface. It was an old-style analog T.V that had a metal coathanger for an aerial. It didn't have a remote or anything. I had to mess with the dials in order to pick up a channel.
The toast popped up just as I’d found the CNN news channel. I searched around until I found the cutlery drawer, grabbed a knife out and began to spreading butter and marmalade on my toast. The anchorwoman was busy announcing the daily news. As soon as I heard a clip of my mom’s fearful plea, I dropped the knife, causing it to clatter onto the kitchen floor.
“You alright in there, Riley?” Axel called out, after hearing the sound.
“Axel, get in here!” I replied, urgently.
He came hurrying in, just in time to hear the rest of the news report.
“We have breaking news: Miss Riley Griffiths....”
They then displayed a photograph of me across the screen and I cringed with shame. It wasn’t the best photo ever taken of me. Surely it wasn’t necessary to show a picture of me falling out of a limo, drunk, with Paris Hilton, but that's the press for you.
“I fucking hate the paparazzi!” I whined, mortified.
The reporter straightened her papers and continued reading from the script.
“The only daughter of multi-billionaires, Carlton and Sasha Griffiths has been reported missing. It’s feared that the heiress has been kidnapped with the intention of being held to ransom. Police are appealing for any witnesses to come forward.”
They then show a clip of my car and of my room in the guest house. Joe, the guy at the guesthouse, gave a witness statement but had no recollection of seeing me leave.
As soon as Axel heard how serious things had gotten in a matter of hours, he started to panic.
“Shit, Riley! They’ve got the fucking FBI out looking for you!” He ran a hand through his hair, cursing at the television screen.
“What did you expect?” I replied, turning the volume up to listen.
The reporter continued, “There appeared to be no sign of a struggle; all her belongings were left in the room. Forensics are on the scene, dusting for prints. No contact has been made with the kidnappers as of yet.”
They started to show the clip of my parents making an emotional appeal for my safe return. I scowled at the screen, shaking my head from side to side in utter disbelief as my parents, who couldn’t stand one another at the best of times, hugged each other tearfully, begging and pleading for my safe return. I let out a high pitched shriek as my dad announced a ten million dollar reward.
“Is that all? Ten measly million. Oh c’mon!” I slapped my palm down on my thigh, fucked off to high heaven. “That’s pocket change for them. I’m their daughter! Is that the price they put on me? They can fart ten mil in a day. Fucking cheapskates!” I spat, angrily.
I was livid. Absolutely fuming.
Was that all I was worth to them? They could spend that in the blink of an eye. The pointless shit that they were known for blowing money on was unreal. Then they insult me with this bullshit!
“Riley?” Axel blew out in a breathy voice. “Maybe you should go back.” He paced the floor, nervously. “We need to fix this, quickly before this all blows way out of proportion.”
“What? You think I should leave?” I immediately snapped out of my thoughts.
I knew what would happen the second I went back. My parents would have Axel’s ass thrown in jail for kidnap. A look of conflict clouded his handsome face. He gripped his hair in both hands, evidently scared about the media storm this had caused.
“Humans can’t come snooping around here, Riley. This could put the whole shifter community in danger,” he stated, in a panic.
“You want me to go?” I asked, sounding a little shocked. His announcement took me by surprise.
I thought he said I was his mate? Didn’t it mean that we should be together?
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Of course I don’t want you to go. Which is why I need to figure a few things out, first.”
“Look, my parents haven’t gotten along like that in like—ever. I think I’m gonna let them stew a little while longer. So, if this is an excuse to dump me now that we’ve had sex, then just drop me off somewhere close to town and I’ll call somebody to come pick me up.”
Who the fuck does this guy think he is? Using me for sex! I feel so fucking stupid. Ugh! Why did I think he was different?
“Riley, what the fuck are you talking about?” Axel scowled, looking as if what I had said deeply offended him.
“You heard me.” I folded my arms across my chest in a defensive pose.
He huffed, giving an exaggerated blink as he shook his head, slowly.
“You’re fucking crazy, you know that?” He expressed, placing his hands on his hips.
“I need you to understand something.” He paused, giving me an agonized look. “Your world and my world are completely fucking different. You and I may belong together, but our worlds can never meet—if that makes sense?”
I didn’t answer him, choosing to stare at the linoleum, instead. He stormed straight past me, muttering under his breath. That only increased my irritation.
Axel disappeared to the bedroom so that he could put on the rest of his clothes. I sat on the couch in silence as I waited for him to give me a ride. His little outburst hurt more than I thought it would. I’d never felt this kind of connection with anyone before. I refused to let him see me cry though. I was way too proud for that.
‘Our worlds could never meet’. What sort of lame excuse is that? It was almost as bad as ‘It’s not you... it’s me’.
I glanced around the sitting room of his cabin, looking at all the old-style wooden furniture. The rug was threadbare, the couch was well worn and was torn along one arm, there were two windows in here but the curtains didn’t match. There wasn’t even a TV in here, so the portable one in the kitchen was the only one he had.
I was used to luxury, living between my mother's mansion and my father's penthouse, being showered with expensive gifts and eating at Michelin Starred restaurants. I was known for dating film stars as well as partying with socialites. But where I really wanted to be more than anywhere else, was right here with Axel Thorne. Everything else was just stuff.
He strained a smile as he grabbed his keys off the side and held the front door open for me. We walked around to the side of his cabin, where he kept his battered red truck. I climbed in feeling the cold leather against the back of my legs.
Axel started the engine, looking genuinely upset. His lips were pressed into a tight thin line and his blue eyes glistened as if he was holding back tears.
“We’d never have worked out anyway,” I muttered, fighting to form words through the burning lump that had developed in my throat.
He cast me a fleeting look before turning his attention back on the road.
“Why do you have to say shit like that to me?” He replied, unable to keep the sadness from his voice.
I folded my arms, feeling anger rise up inside me from God knows where. “Because you’re chicken shit, that's why.” I scowled at him with an air of disdain. My chest heaved and my nostrils flared. I had to grit my teeth to stop myself from screaming.
I couldn’t hold back anymore. “So what if the whole fucking SWAT team burst through the door? I agreed to stay here with you. Not against my will, but because I thought that maybe you would be worth it. I thought, here’s a decent guy. Why not take a chance for once. And not only that, you chose me, in case you’d forgotten.” My tears gathered on the edge of my eyelids, clouding my vision until I blinked, causing them to spill down both cheeks.
I wiped them away quickly, looking at my wet hands in shock. Here I was, for the first time in my life, crying over a man. My chest burned as if my heart had only just started to beat for the first time. I sucked in a shaky breath as I tried to rub the ache in my chest away with my palm.
Axel did an emergency stop, causing me to jolt forwards. “Chicken shit, huh?” He gripped the wheel so tightly, I could hear the leather creak in protest.
I let out a sob and crossed my arms. “That’s right, I can practically see the feathers sticking out of your butt. I’m actually waiting for you to lay some eggs because I’m still fucking starving.” My voice sounded strained as I responded with sarcasm.
The next thing I knew, Axel had slammed the truck into reverse and was driving backward like a maniac up the dirt track. I held onto my seat with one hand whilst gripping the door handle with the other. The backward motion made me feel as if I had left my stomach behind.
We came to an abrupt stop back at the side of the cabin. I glanced nervously at Axel, who was breathing heavily through his nose.
“Did you think that I was taking you back because I didn’t want you?” He threw the question at me.
There was a quizzical edge to his voice that made me crumble internally.
Had I overreacted, reading the situation wrong?
“Why? Wasn’t that what you were doing?” I cringed, sheepishly.
Axel let out a shocked laugh.
"No. I was going to request some leave and go with you," he replied, making me blush with humiliation.
"Is that why you were pouting and stomping your feet like a petulant child?" He grinned, seeing straight through my stroppy mood swing.
"I figured because I caused this mess, it's my job to clean it up." He shrugged.
Ugh, I was wrong. He wasn't letting me go. He wanted to come with me.
As much as I hated being wrong, I was glad I was this time. Getting an apology from me was as rare as rocking horse shit, but with Axel, I felt the need to grovel.
"Nobody even knows I'm here. I just wanna stay with you, is that so bad?" I winced at the sound of my own whiny voice.
Was that me? Did I really just sound so needy?
Axel's gaze burned into the side of my face as if he wanted me to elaborate. Just as I was about to apologize for acting like a bitch, he hit me with a proposal.
“Are you saying that you want to stay here and mate with me?” His bright blue eyes shone with hope as he gazed down upon me.
“Yeah, I guess I am.” I didn't even need to really think about it.
I knew what I wanted, and that was Axel.
“Once we mate, there’s no backing out. You’re stuck with me for life.” He brushed his large hand up my leg, stopping with a gasp as he realized that I wasn’t wearing anything underneath his t-shirt.
I relaxed into the seat, placing my hand on his groin and feeling the bulge that was developing there. He jolted as I ran my fingers along the stiff column beneath the denim.
“Promises, promises,” I answered his question.
So that was it. We would mate first then go back to face the music. Now I just had to convince Axel of the plan.