I decided to stay.
I loved Duke, but I couldn't imagine a life with him. There was too much under the bridge, too much heartache for him to ever be able to fix me completely.
And it wasn't his job to fix me.
I had to work on myself before I could be part of a couple - I'm not quite sure that's exactly what Alpha Theo meant when we spoke, but it was the lesson that spoke to me.
The time Duke and I had spent apart so far hadn't been enough. I needed more.
I retreated to my room and went back to my old friend - exercise. It wasn't what I had planned, but it brought me comfort. It helped me to hide from myself.
So that's where I was when there was a knock at the door, and Alpha Theo poked his head round.
"You have a visitor, Grace. Remember what I said to you earlier, about hiding you from things you weren't ready for? Maybe that wasn't my decision to make. Your mate is here, and though I'm not trying to sway your decision in any way, he looks absolutely beside himself. Should I let him in?"
I bit my cheek to stop myself from smiling when I heard the angry voice roar from the other side, "I'm going in anyway! That's my mate in there!"
"He's a testy one, isn't he? Do I need to perform a certain removal of a certain body part to calm him down? Just say the word, honey, it's been ages since I've had a bit of bloodshed."
"That won't be necessary. Let him in, Alpha, and thank you."
"Anything for you, Grace." He pushed the door open and stepped back, gesturing for Duke to enter. As Duke crossed over the threshold to my room, Theo stuck his leg out and tripped him over, giving Duke a shove on the back for good measure.
Duke rounded on him, growling his ferocious growl.
Theo went wide-eyed with mock innocence, holding his hands up in surrender. "I have these awful leg spasms. It's an old-age thing, you know? Really, it's uncontrollable. Hey Doctor!" He yelled, walking down the hallway, rubbing his leg. "It happened again, these leg things. That poor Alpha just humiliated himself in front of his mate because I can't control these legs. Oh, what am I going to do? What?" a soft voice spoke back to him, but we couldn't hear well enough to make out the words. "Well, yes, of course I pushed him! But that's not the point! There's no support in this pack, none at all..."
His voice trailed off as he met up with the Doctor and they moved further away from us.
"That's some Alpha you have there, Grace." Duke said softly, all of his anger disappearing.
"The best of the best. Why are you here Duke, and why do you look like shit?" I sniffed the air, feeling my own anger grow. "Whose blood is that?" I demanded
"Whose. Blood. Is. That?" I muttered through gritted teeth.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me."
"What?"He asked, frowning at me in genuine confusion.
"You had no right to do that. It was my job to ensure he paid for his crimes."
"This wasn't because of you, Grace! It was a long time coming--!"
"Yes! Because of me! Because of what he did to me! And now I don't even get to make him pay!" I turned my back to him so that he couldn't see the tears pooling in my eyes.
He sighed heavily, "what do you want from me? I don't understand how to make this better..."
I rounded on him, snarling my words. "I wanted vengeance, Duke! I want the world to suffer as I have suffered! I want to be the one to hold the fragile thread of life in my hands and to sever it as they look at me in horror. I wanted to know that it was me who was their final fate!”
“Grace, there’s no one left! They’re all gone! We have to have faith that the gods will punish them as they see fit!”
“It’s not enough! It will never be enough! My dad--”
“What about your dad?” Duke interrupted, snarling back at me.
“I killed him! I watched him as he struggled for breath and I sat back and loved every minute! I was crying, but it wasn’t for that man or the loss of his pathetic life! I was crying because I needed more! The bastard was already half dead by the time I got to him. I want to slaughter everyone that was involved!”
“Don't you dare fucking “sweetheart” me!" I was too far gone to stop myself. He had opened the dam, and all of my feelings came pouring out.
"You stole that moment from me, Duke! I should have been the one to kill Stephen, and instead, you swooped in playing the hero, always trying to rescue me! Where were you when I needed you?! You were victim-blaming, trying to shame me! Even if I had slept with the entire goddamn pack, it should never have been an issue! I have never once questioned the amount of women you have slept with because your past is irrelevant to me. So long as I was your future!”
“No! I will not let you speak and talk me down. You’ll try to reason with me and get me to see your side and I won’t have it! My feelings matter, my opinions are important! I’m sick of you trying to rescue me, Duke, especially as it’s always too fucking late!”
“I wasn’t trying to rescue you this time! I know what it’s like to live with murdering someone. If you had killed Stephen--”
“What? I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself? I’d never have been able to look in the mirror again? Oh, please. I’d have looked at my reflection and seen the happy face of a champion, a survivor! What, because I’m a woman, I can’t handle death and destruction? I’m incapable of being fierce and deadly? News flash, short of murdering children, there’s not a single person in this world I wouldn’t slaughter for my own protection. If that makes me cold-hearted and a nasty, evil predator then pass me the goddamn crown and allow me to wear it with pride because I don’t give a fuck!”
“I suppose that extends to your own family?”
“Family? Ha! I have no family! But look at the imbeciles that tried to raise me and you’ll have your answer - I’d kill them all in a heartbeat.”
Duke laughed, “You’re so stubborn and pig-headed! Thomas wasn’t your father, Grace! He’s still out there, watching… waiting.”
“Let him watch. His time will come. He’ll get sick of waiting eventually, and when he makes himself known, my time will come. I’m in no rush. What is it they say? , “The past will set you free”? I’m fucking free, Duke. For the first time, I’m free. My life is my own, I have nothing to hide and I finally, finally, understand that I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
"I didn't come here to argue with you."
"So why did you come here?" I demanded, flopping down on the edge of the bed.
"I came here... I came here to make it better. To beg and plead for you to not end things like this. I want you, Grace, I need you. I love you."
"If you love me, Duke, you need to let me go. I can't be with you. My place is here, with Alpha Theo and Paul--"
Duke growled under his breath, "I swear to the Goddess, if you have jumped straight from my bed to his then--"
"Then it would be none of your business," I said softly, not matching his angry tone. "Duke. I've made my decision. I want you to go." I couldn't look at him.
I placed my head in my hands, and sobbed softly, letting out a small cry of distress when I heard him walk towards me and place a small kiss on the top of my head. "I love you, Grace. I will always love you and I will wait as long as it takes. Come to me, whenever you're ready. You own my heart, and I'll wait for the day you come home and make me whole again." He whispered into my hair.
I didn't respond.
I was frozen.
It was only when I heard the soft click of the door that I let loose, allowing myself to fully cry out the pain of my heartbreak.
"That was the oldest trick in the book, Grace. Did you really think I would leave that easy? Now, tell me why it is you're not coming with me?"