The next few hours were spent laughing and talking, learning more about the sleuth and its Alpha from Jack and Mara. The respect they both had for him was visible and it was obviously not simply because he was their leader- Callum had won their trust and their loyalty with his kind-heartedness but also with his fair and caring leadership of the sleuth.
I was still mind-blown by the fact that Jack was actually one of Callum’s competitors for the Alpha’s position when the previous Alpha stepped down, but he was so impressed with my mate and his vision for the sleuth that he withdrew from the round during which they had to fight, acknowledging that Callum was the man to lead them. The friendship they struck during that time had been going strong since and it made it a no-brainer for Callum to pick Jack as his Beta.
By the time we were done, the afternoon was nearly over, the sun shining with gentler rays over the sleuth.
“Goddess, we lost track of time,” Mara exclaimed. “Right, we better get going, baby- I don’t want us to get in the way of Scarlett’s promised tour of the sleuth. And all those dishes back home are calling your name.”
A low groan escaped from Jack’s end, one that I could only imagine that he made inadvertently because Mara’s irked gaze was on him before he even finished.
“Did you just groan at me?”
“No, baby. Not at all,” he whispered as he looked at Callum and me with pleading eyes.
“Then what was that?”
“Maybe you ima-”
Men! The poor idiot was slowly digging his own grave, and he didn’t even seem to realise it, so I had to come to his rescue. After all, we were friends now- yet maybe not the type who would trust each other with their coffee.
“What Jack meant, Mara, is that he is so excited about cleaning up after all the delicious food that you prepared that he is moaning with excitement. Right, Jack?” I smiled at him, hoping that he was smart enough to go along.
His enthusiastic nod in response made me smile even wider. “Absolutely. Our future Luna is so observant- that was exactly what I was thinking.”
“You see, Mara, all the excitement.” Jack’s petite mate was not stupid, so she wasn’t going to fall for our bad attempt at getting him out of the hole he dug himself into but it was unbelievable enough to amuse her to the point that her annoyance fizzled out. “You know what, it is so exciting that Callum will even join Jack once we are done with the tour,” I giggled as I threw my own mate under the bus while he was lazily enjoying his coffee.
Callum’s eyes widened as a spatter of dark liquid flew out of his mouth. “Me?”
“Yes, you,” I confirmed, snuggling against his chest like a kitten. “It’s the least we can do to thank them for the lovely food. And you need to set a good example for your bears, right Alpha?”
My mate was not pleased by the turn of events but he knew better than Jack, who was trying to suppress his snicker, not to argue.
“Maybe we should move to the tour before you get any more ideas like that, Flame?” Callum said, encouraging all of us to get up finally.
“Shouldn’t we tidy up first?”
“We can take care of that, don’t worry about it,” Mara reassured me as she began to collect the empty plates and cups.
I couldn’t believe that the time had finally come for me to meet the rest of the sleuth. To be presented not only as myself but as the mate of the Alpha, the man these bears respected and looked up to. To say that I was nervous was an underestimation- this was worse than meeting your future in-laws. At least in the latter scenario, there were only two people to win over. The Highland Sleuth had over one hundred members, young and old.
Don’t be anxious, mate, Mahon’s comforting voice sounded in my mind. They’ll love you. And we will be with you all along.
His words assured me but I also didn’t want to be some damsel in distress, counting on her man and his bear to save her. Nor did I wish to be coddled. I wanted to earn the respect of the sleuth on my own as Callum had.
Ready to start, I waved Mara goodbye and pulled Callum towards the stairs until Jack showed up, blocking our way.
“I nearly forgot to give you this. It was meant to be with the things I brought over from Windcrest, but it had somehow slipped under the front seat of my car,” he explained, revealing a gorgeous envelope with a wax seal and a silk ribbon.
Our names with Callum were written in beautiful calligraphy on one side. Giddy with excitement, I hastily untied the ribbon and opened the envelope. The deck-edged invitation was so elegant with its violet and copper palette, but my mind only paid attention to the words etched on the paper.
You are cordially invited to the mating ceremony of
Aurelie Moreau, Rafe Macalister and Aiden Hayes,
and the joining of the Windcrest Pack and the Fire Dragon Clan.
My best friend was getting married, even if the invitation had fancy words like mating ceremony and so on. I was beyond elated that she had finally found happiness and two sexy, strapping mates. Of course, they were not as amazing as my bear Alpha but Riley definitely did well.
I still couldn’t believe that the same girl who was telling me months ago that serious relationships were not for her was going to commit herself in a way that was really meant forever. Then again, if their bonds were anything like what Callum and I had just experienced, I did not doubt in my mind that Rafe and Aiden had already marked and mated my free-spirited bestie.
“I can’t believe they are actually doing it,” Callum blurted out with a surprise, which made me cock an eyebrow.
“What- a public mating ceremony?”
“Hell no, that’s very common amongst shifters, especially Alphas.” His reply came out so matter-of-factly like it was some well-known fact. And perhaps it was- for everyone else but me! My mind immediately wondered whether this was also going to be the case for us. “I see your brain spinning, Flame. Don’t worry, it’s not really a traditional practice amongst bears...unless you want it, of course.”
There he was again, accommodating my needs and wishes. Could that man stop being so amazing?
Did I really want a public mating though? Surprisingly for me, it did not actually sound appealing. As long as everyone knew that Callum was mine, public mating or marking or whatever it required, that was all I needed.
“I was actually talking about the joining of the wolf pack and the dragon clan,” he continued, running his hand through his hair while he spoke and totally distracting me from my thoughts. “I’d never heard of such a mixing of shifters before, but this tribe that the three of them are planning to set up will be looked at with such hope by some and yet also with so much distrust and malice by others.”
“That’s Riley for you- capable of winning countless people over while gaining a score of enemies at the same time.”
Callum laughed. “Yeah, very much like her mates. She is definitely their perfect match, as unusual as a triad is.”
My eyes glanced over the invitation once again, one tiny detail making my jaw drop. “Oh my god, their ceremony is next week. I knew it was soon but not that soon! There are so many things I should probably help Riley with.”
The To-Do list was already accumulating in my head, my mind bursting at the seams with endless ideas and reflections.
“And you will, Flame. But right now, you are all mine. For the next few days, at least. Riley-approved, remember?” A smug grin blossomed on his face and I knew that I couldn’t really argue with that. “Shall we now?”
Without any hesitation, I took his hand, waiting for me and we began our walk from his cabin. The energy that flowed through me, rising from our clasped hands, was exhilarating. I felt stronger, calmer, capable of taking on anything because Callum and I were stronger together.
The more we walked through the sleuth, the more captivated I was by the charm of it all. Cosy log cabins of all sizes were nestled between the giant redwood trees. The subtle fragrance of the latter- mild spice with earthy undertones and a tinge of sweetness- played hide-and-seek with my sense, elusively appearing at times, bringing calm and delight, just to disappear again moments later. But the air also carried the smell of delicious, home-cooked food and the sound of laughter of the sleuth members. Some gathered around their private cabins, savouring the early evening, while others assembled with friends and other bears in various locations of the sleuth to train, play games or enjoy a drink around the fire.
While Callum showed me the training grounds, the sleuth’s infirmary, the headquarters of the timber construction business that the Highland bears ran, I couldn’t help but admire the pride with which he spoke. It was evident that a lot of blood and sweat had gone into getting the sleuth to the prosperous levels it was at now, and I had no doubt that he was the driving force behind it all. And although the bears used a lot of the infrastructure of the local community, mingling with the humans in schools, stores and restaurants, I was impressed to find out that Callum had even created a special nursery and kindergarten for the bear families, as well as a space and a programme for the young members of the bear community to learn about their shifter side, their history and culture, and even about other kinds in the supernatural world.
Everywhere we went, people greeted us with a smile, bowing their heads to their Alpha as a sign of respect, but also to me, acknowledging me as his mate. I had no idea how they knew- maybe word had spread around about the mysterious human redhead that wandered around their territory, or perhaps those strange whiffs that some of them took around me carried Mahon’s warning not to mess with me. Regardless, women and kids wanted to hug me, while men cordially shook my hand, keeping respectable distance every time Callum cleared his throat to make his presence known.
My mate was loved by his people and the fact that they were willing to give me a chance, even if because of him for now, filled me with joy and hope. Maybe this- being the Luna by Callum’s side- could really work, after all.
Whatever the case, there was not even a smudge of hostility coming from any of them...well, aside from Jade and her posey, who clearly ignored the commotion that my tour with Callum had caused and stayed well on the sides, unwilling to interact. Probably better for them because my not-so-subtle passive-aggressive wit was certainly going to come out to play if they tried to engage.
“Alpha, Alpha, we want to meet the pretty lady too,” loud and overexcited kids’ voices screamed as a group of youngsters surrounded us out of the blue while we walked along a calmer path between the cabins.
They were all adorable and no more than ten years old, although there was one cute little, curly boy who was at least a couple of years younger than the rest. The way they all looked at me with curiosity and admiration had me melting, so I crouched down to meet them properly.
“I want to have fire hair like our Luna one day,” one girl exclaimed while she played with my locks, while another one proceeded to hug me.
“Vanilla or chocolate ice cream?” The boy next to them asked with such seriousness that one could have easily thought that this was a life-or-death question.
Then again, that was not far from the truth for me as these kids’ approval seemed to rest on the right ice cream choice.
“Hmmmm,” I mumbled as I pretended to be thinking hard. “Both, definitely both at the same time.”
The little man narrowed his eyes at me before he turned around to Callum and smiled. “I like her. Definitely a keeper.”
A genuine laugh broke from my mate’s chest in response. “I think so too, Noah.”
“Will you come to watch us train, Alpha?” A few of the kids surrounded my mate again, giving him the best puppy dog eyes that they could muster. “Pretty please. Come watch us with Luna.”
I didn’t even need to look at Callum to know that his answer was going to be an absolute Yes. He seemed to adore these kids as much as they adored him. I struggled not to giggle as I watched how they all waited for his reply with bated breath, as if he was Santa Claus, ready to reveal if they got the toys they’ve been wishing for all year or not.
Shrieks of joy sounded around me when my mate picked two of the kids, throwing one of them over his shoulders while he carried the other one under his arm, and headed for the playground that was right ahead of us.
“Come on then, kids. The last one to get there is only getting two scoops of ice cream this weekend,” he roared, and the youngsters all rushed towards their destination.
I walked behind them all with a lazy pace, revering how good Callum was with them. He clearly had a knack for dealing with kids, and he did it with such care and joy that my heart hurt over the fact that I was never going to be able to give him kids of his own.
The shadows of my self-doubts began to rise again in my mind until my ice-cream friend shouted in my direction.
“Hurry up, Luna- we are about to start.”
By the time I got there, all the kids had already shifted into the cutest bear cubs I had ever seen. It almost looked like an invisible whistle had gone off when they all began to chase each other at the same instant, rolling and tumbling around in the process. The whole thing resembled a game of tag, except here, when caught, they jumped and pounced on each other, mouthing, nipping and nibbling on one another.
“Aren’t they going to get hurt?” Even if I knew that they would have healed in no time, I was worried for the safety of the little ones, my instincts pushing me to protect them. “Maybe we should end the game.”
My anxiety was partially soothed when Callum’s strong arms wrapped themselves around me and he pulled me in for a hug.
“Relax, beautiful. Bear cubs tend to play-fight a lot- it’s part of their training for later on. You may even see them bite, wrestle and box with the other cubs but that’s normal. We learn to shift at a much younger age than other shifters, so it is only natural that our animals are as playful and mischievous as kids are at that age.”
I still had so much to learn about this world! But for now, I chose to relax in my mate’s arms as we continued to watch the cubs play with each other.
By the time the little rascals tired out, dusk had settled all around us. We made sure all the kids got dressed and we walked them back to their homes, much to the content of their grateful parents. Alpha or not, Callum had a huge sway on the children, so none of them even argued when he told them that it was time to go home, eat their veggies and go to sleep. A few of the families I knew back in London would have definitely paid crazy money to know the secrets of his child whisperer ways.
Ready to call it a day ourselves, we headed back to the Alpha’s cabin, enjoying the warm, peaceful evening along the way, until an unfamiliar voice stopped us in our tracks.
“So, you introduced your mate to everyone but me, ey Callum?”
******************************👀👀👀👀 Hhhmm, who might that be?
And how adorable are Noah and his friends! I think Scar has just won herself some more fans, other than Jack and Mara.
I know I am late with the chapters this week but I hope you will forgive me as this chapter is nearly double the usual length. And yes, there is still no kick-ass action but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you are enjoying the glimpses into Scar and Callum’s time together at the sleuth. 🙂
We are nearly done with the bears though as the triad’s ceremony is just around the corner. 😍 Can’t wait to see Riley and the boys again. Here is a sneak peek for those who are just as impatient as I am.
I’ll try my best to get another chapter out by Sunday but don’t hold me to it as I have been feeling a bit under the weather this week, so writing has been rather slow.
Don’t forget to comment if you enjoyed this chapter in the meantime (and click on Love or leave a review if you like the book in general :) ).
Have a great weekend, lovelies.