31. The past that haunts us
Wrapped in a soft blanket and with a cup of warm, strong coffee in hand, I curled up in the rocking chair on the veranda and listened to the gentle patter of the rain droplets that landed on the trees and foliage around the cabin. I watched, enthralled as the colours around me became more vivid than usual, leaves and grass shimmering all around.
My eyes closed, and my mind wandered as I took it all in. The sounds, the smell, the coolness of the air made me shiver a bit. I loved the fresh, clean scent of the air when it rained. Hell, I loved it when it rained all together, but here the whole experience was completely different from the wet days in London. You could actually pick up the natural smells of the wet earth, the grass, and the surrounding forest.
I cracked open my eyes and continued to admire the view in front of me. It was still early in the morning, the rain clouds slowly beginning to scatter, allowing the soft morning rays to shine over the sleuth. Not that much sun got to the ground- the giant redwood trees were like an enormous umbrella that towered over the bear cabins, protecting them from rain, wind and sun. Still, it was beautiful to watch as the beams of sunlight tried to sneak through the branches of the tall evergreens.
It was hard to believe that the Highland Bears sleuth had been my home for a week already. The past seven days slipped through my fingers like tiny grains of sand- so fast that I didn’t even realise when it happened. I spent my time getting to know all the bears, from the youngest to the oldest, under Mara and Catriona’s careful guidance and support. They taught me about their traditions and their daily life, while Jack also gave me a crash course or two on the timber construction business that the sleuth ran. To my greatest shock, I even had a few small talk conversations with Jade and her posse, both of us walking away with our body parts still intact after each encounter.
The sleuth had its own ways, its own rhythm and I loved it. It was so completely different from my life in London. Here everyone greeted each other and people knew their names- a community so tight-knit yet friendly that you could not help but feel at home once you were let in. I couldn’t even remember if my neighbours down south introduced themselves when they moved in two years ago, let alone know anything about me. And the last time I saw someone smile at me in the busy London Tube was such a distant memory that I wondered if maybe I had even imagined it.
Sure, the sleuth could not compare to the cosmopolitan capital, neither in numbers nor in diversity, but the way this place made me feel was everything. I truly felt a part of it and even more so after Mara put my name forward to take care of the sleuth’s youngest members, who attended the little nursery-kindergarten that Callum had built a few years earlier.
Although the older kids were part of the local schools in the Loch Lomond area, it was too risky for the little ones to join human kids their age as they were still learning to shift and control their bears. Some of the women in the sleuth were taking turns to oversee the kids, but a more permanent solution was clearly needed, and Mara believed that I was the perfect candidate for it. Despite her confidence, I was definitely not convinced it was a good idea; yet, it only took a few hours with those adorable cuties to make me want to return every day, much to Mara’s delight. I was still a newcomer though, a human on top of that, so my agreement to accept the position was on the condition that I was only going to take over in a couple of months so that I had the time to learn everything that I needed to know about shifter kids.
The pride in Callum’s eyes when I told him about it all was undeniable. My mate had kept his distance during the time I spent with his bears, but I knew it was because he wanted me to build my own connection with all of them. Had he joined me, no matter how good his intentions would have been, the bonds forged would have never been genuine as the presence of the Alpha would have inevitably influenced how everyone behaved around me.
But we didn’t miss out on spending time together. When the day was over and we were both done with our responsibilities, we would meet at home and make dinner together, talking about what we had been up to, with Callum updating me on his Alpha business and asking for my opinion on various points.
My favourite time, however, was when we put aside the sleuth business and we were just Scar and Callum, be it cuddled up on the veranda, watching the starry sky- sometimes even nestled up against Mahon as I stroked his soft fur- or having unforgettable sex in front of the fireplace. Frankly, I didn’t care what we did, as long as we were together. His embraces gave me life, his kisses filled me with energy, but it was his presence alone that filled my lungs with the air I needed to breathe.
People slowly started to emerge from the cabins down the hill, and I watched as the sleuth began to come to life again. The joy that spread to me while I looked on made me realise that I was so happy that Callum had persuaded me to spend the time with him and the bears, and find my place with them. Although, I was convinced that this was his cunning plan all along- make me fall in love with the sleuth and even more head over heels with him so that I could never imagine my life without them again.
I was also grateful to my best friend. Even though I had every intention to be by her side to help her prepare the ceremony, Riley very diplomatically turned down my offer, telling me to focus on my own situation instead. In all fairness, she did point out that Aiden and Rafe were just as involved in getting everything ready as she was and that they had two wolf packs and one dragon clan ready to deal with any task that needed handling, so no extra pair of hands was needed. As much as I didn’t want to miss out on being there for my friend during this special time for her, I realised now that she was right- the Highland Bears was where I needed to be. Where home was.
“You left me alone in bed,” Callum’s sleepy voice snapped me out of my thoughts.
I turned around to see my bear man walk out of the cabin barefoot and wearing nothing but his favourite lounge pants. My mouth salivated a little as I admired that ridiculously sexy six-pack of his, my dirty mind immediately conjuring naughty memories from last night.
My mouth on his skin.
My tongue leaving a wet trail as I made my way further and further down until it found his bulging erection.
His pulsating cock in my mouth as the tip pushed against the back of my throat.
The way I made him lose his mind until he spilt himself inside me.
Licking my lips as I watched him now was instinctive, the taste of him still fresh in my mind.
Fuck, I needed to get my mind out of the gutter before I ended up jumping him on the veranda for the whole sleuth to see. Luckily, he grabbed a t-shirt from somewhere and covered up, putting an end to my eye-fucking...for now. If I had to be honest with myself, my desire was always sky high whenever I was near him. Sometimes even just thinking of him was enough for lust to take over every rational part of my mind.
“You know, that’s the cruellest thing you can do- depriving me of waking up next to the most amazing and beautiful woman in the world,” he continued, and I felt my cheeks heat up. I was still getting used to the adoration with which Callum also spoke about me.
“I couldn’t sleep any longer. And I love watching the sleuth come to life in the morning- it energizes me for the day.”
My hands ran through his messy bed hair when he leaned down to kiss me, making me want to drag him right back into bed. His cool, minty breath sent tingles across my mouth, drawing out a low moan of appreciation from my side.
“Is that so? I can always think of other ways to energize you for the day- I reckon I would be quite successful at it.” He smiled smugly, and I was about to roll my eyes at his overconfidence until he nuzzled my neck, nipping my skin with his teeth, leaving me unable to protest.
“You are insatiable,” I whispered when he finally moved away before he pulled a chair and sat next to me.
“For you, Flame- always.”
I wasn’t going to admit that the same was also true for me. His ego was already way too big for his own good, so I had to change the conversation if we were to get anything done this morning.
“I’ve been meaning to ask you- what’s Catty’s history? I heard someone mention that she wasn’t originally from the Highland Bears, but whenever I brought up the subject with her, she avoided the conversation.” I really liked Catriona, and in no way I wanted to pry. I simply wanted to learn more about the woman who raised my mate.
Callum’s brows furrowed in response to my question, which only made me wonder more about what was going on. “Don’t take it personally, Flame. Catty doesn’t like to talk about her past because it’s quite painful for her. I know that she came from a sleuth down in Wales, where her father was the Alpha but he eventually drove the sleuth to complete poverty, causing many of the bears to abandon it. Her mate was from here though, so she joined the Highland Bears after they mated and she has been one of the most upstanding members of it ever since. Catriona takes great pride in how well our sleuth is doing and always tries to maintain the bear traditions here.”
“I’m sorry to hear about her previous sleuth.” I truly meant it, yet I was still confused about the whole story. “But why doesn’t she want to talk about it? She is not responsible for her father’s mistakes- surely no one ever held it against her.”
“Of course not. Everyone loves her. However, Catriona is a very proud bear shifter, and what happened back in Wales...well, she sees it as an embarrassment. Life was not easy for them when the sleuth hit rock bottom, so she vowed never to let another sleuth go down like that. It’s also why she worked so hard for the Highland Bears and why she always taught Fergus and me to think about the good of the sleuth and contribute towards it.”
“I guess that makes sense. I can see how her past might have affected her.”
“There’s more to it, actually.” A sigh escaped his lips. “It’s quite tragic, really. She never talked much about it with Fergus and me, but we heard the story from the elders as we grew up.”
The way Callum struggled to continue told me that whatever it was, it was bad.
“Catriona’s mate and her daughter were killed by a rogue bear when her little one was just a couple of months old.” My heart stuttered hearing the awful revelations of what Catty had suffered. My soul ached for her- not only did she lose her mate but also her child. I couldn’t even grasp the pain that she must have been carrying ever since. All I could do was sit there in silence, my eyes filled with tears. “It makes me sick to my stomach that someone would do that to a child. And she was my age, you know?” He added, looking into the distance.
Without thinking, I jumped out of my chair and wrapped my arms around him after I sat in his lap. Even if this was not his story, I knew that it pained him as well—two children, both of the same age, both suffering so much at such a young age. And while Callum lost his parents, Catty’s daughter lost her life.
I hoped that my presence, my touch, could soothe him, but the reality was that I needed him close to me just as much to comfort my own emotions.
“I guess it was faith that brought Catriona and me together. My parents didn’t want me, and Catty had lost everything. In a way, it was generous of them to leave me at her doorstep.”
“How long after her family was killed did you end up here?” I muttered, my arms tightening snuggly against his chest.
“Not long, really. Maybe a few months,” he paused for a second. “And then another tragedy struck….”
My eyes widened at his words. What else could this poor woman have suffered? I was already weeping over all the heartache she had endured. It was no wonder that she didn’t want to talk about her past.
“She met another bear in the sleuth, someone who had also lost his mate. He was actually the main contender to take over the sleuth as the Alpha at the time was battling serious illness. I guess that their grief brought them together, and they fell in love, so Catriona ended up pregnant with Fergus. But before he was born, his father died in one of the battles for the Alpha’s place. It was a freak accident really- usually, no one is seriously hurt, even if the fighting is vicious.”
By the time he finished, I was a blubbering mess. “So Catty had to raise you and Fergus all on her own?”
I suspected that something must have happened to Fergus’ dad because neither Callum nor Catriona ever mentioned him. Still, I had truly not expected that it was such a tragic story. All of it, everything that she had gone through, was so harrowing.
“Hey, baby, don’t cry.” His thumb wiped away my tears while he placed a gentle, lingering kiss on the top of my head. Slowly but surely, the vast sadness in my soul began to dissipate. The more I breathed in his scent, the calmer I began to feel. “Catty is an incredibly strong woman. Was it hard for her? Absolutely. But it all turned out okay in the end. I mean, Fergus and I don’t have the closest relationship in the world, yet that’s another story.”
“I know.” My voice was still shaky from the crying, but at least my breathing was returning to normal now. “It is just so heartbreaking what happened to her, but also to you. My heart aches for both of you. And Fergus! He never even got to meet his father.”
His hand caressed my face before he tilted my head towards him, his gaze meeting mine. “And I love you for your compassion, Flame, but it also pains me to see you hurting, even if it is on behalf of others. So, please, beautiful, smile for me.” I didn’t want him to be sad either, so I did my best to give him the most genuine smile I could muster, but it wasn’t easy.
He studied my face so intently that he could have easily been mistaken for a judge at a smiling competition. “That’s a good start but I have seen you truly smile, Flame, and that’s not it.″ He shook his head in disapproval. “Come on, baby. Your best friend is getting mated today, so I want you to be happy, not sad. Actually, you know what- now might be the perfect time to show you my surprise.”
Hooray, it’s finally the day of the triad’s mating ceremony!
I know this chapter was meant to come out on Friday... but it just turned into a huge beast of 4.2K words that I only managed to finish today. As a result, I have decided to split it up in two (mainly to spear you from reading an excessively long chapter!) and do a double release today; so, hopefully, you will forgive me. 😉
This was the sad part (how tragic is Catriona’s past 😭), although I loved getting an insight into Scar and Callum’s life over the past week. It’s so cute that she will be taking over the nursery-kindergarten. Even without any kids for these two, they both have such a strong connection with the Highland cubs.
Part 2, on the other hand, will make you melt so keep an eye out for the notification in the coming 30mins or so.
Can’t wait to hear what you all think, so I look forward to your comments/likes/reviews.