If not for the loud clang of Sera dropping a pan in the kitchen, I wasn't sure what would have happened in that closet. We had been so distracted by one another, so immersed and ignorant of the rest of the world, that I wondered how long it would have taken us to leave otherwise. Perhaps we would have stayed there for hours, not even noticing time passing. Perhaps he would have kissed me again; the mere thought of which made me smile slightly stupidly as I remembered. But what might have happened wasn't important; what had happened was.
We both jumped at the noise, our surprise double than what it would have been normally. I felt like a deer in headlights as my head jerked in the direction of the sound, Jake mirroring my actions perfectly. Neither of us were breathing as the seconds passed, tense as the shock wore off.
And then I let out my air in a sigh, and laughed. A soft, quiet laughter, further muffled as I let my head fall against Jake's bare chest, unable to resist humming contentedly at the contact. He was chuckling too, his chest rumbling beneath me, the warm and rich sound making me smile. The arm around my waist was still there, something for which I was glad for, because it just felt so right having it there; so right that I found myself lamenting the fact that it was probably going to disappear, and soon.
But the vaguely formed reluctance of having him move away disappeared into oblivion when I raised my head to meet his gaze, and caught his breathtaking smile. I would never tire of seeing this; of seeing his charming grin directed my way, and making me shiver with delight. It was the kind of grin that you couldn't help but smile back at, the grin you couldn't take your eyes off. I could have spent hours staring at it; if not for the fact that he was suddenly releasing me and turning away.
The absence of his touch was immediately clear, my mouth forming a small frown before I'd even properly registered his movement. But my frown turned right back into a smile as he paused in the doorway, turning his head in my direction.
'Come on.' He said, taking my hand and tugging me after him. His grip was warm as he pulled me through the house, heading straight for the front door. Despite this being his first time in the house, he had no problem whatsoever finding it, leading me through it with ease. As we stepped outside, I had to grab for the towel still wrapped around my shoulders as the wind gusted into us, forcing my hair back from my face. It was still raining, and raining hard, the sound of the drops slamming against the house far louder outside.
It was then that I began to wonder where exactly we were heading.
'Jake, where are we going?' I asked, having to speak loudly over the weather. Surely we weren't headed back into the storm? After all, we'd come here to get out of it and dry off, hadn't we?
I got my answer just a second later. Taking an bewildering turn to the left, where there was nothing but the wall of the house and our short veranda, he walked a few paces before easily dropping down to the floor, letting his back slide down the house until he was sat down against it. I had just enough time to raise my eyebrows at him, and to take in his knowing smile in return, before he pulled me down next to him, the unexpected fall making me gasp as I hit the wooden floorboards, my body knocking gently against Jake's in the process.
'Sit with me?' He asked softly, looking down at me. I gave him a reproachful look, but the affect was ruined by the enjoyment I could feel showing on my face.
'Shouldn't you have asked me that before you pulled me down here?' I retorted. Jake laughed, letting his head fall against the wood as he looked down at me.
'Maybe.' He replied, his complete lack of apology making me smile. 'But I've never really be one for asking; I usually just do it.' For some reason, that struck a chord with me, and I turned thoughtful as I mulled it over; though it didn't take me long to figure it out.
'You know, I'm kind of like that as well.' I said with a smile. 'Maybe that's why I like it when you do it to me.' He grinned at that, which was good, because I really hadn't meant to say it. It was true, of course, but that wasn't the kind of thing you usually threw out there when you'd met someone only a day earlier. Still, his happiness, which I could both see on his face and feel through the imprint, was worth it.
It would always be worth it.
For a moment, I had worried that I'd been too bold; that pulling her down next to me without asking was assuming too much. But while she was trying to give me a look of disapproval, I knew otherwise. The corners of her mouth were upturned as she fought a smile, her eyes dancing with the same happiness I could feel through the bond; happiness that mirrored my own as I remembered the heavenly feeling of her lips against mine.
She was soft, so soft; her small form had moulded against me as I pulled her close, her lips gentle as they met my own. It had been a sweet kiss, so wonderfully sweet, but nowhere near long enough; the taste of her, the feel of her, was too good. Now I could think about was kissing her again, my mind replaying over and over again the memory of it in my mind. I wanted it; wanted it too much.
And it certainly didn't help that she felt the same. She had been sad when I moved away, sad when I had released her; it taken a great deal of restraint not to immediately take her back up in my arms. But I had resisted, resisted that which it seemed we both wanted, because the imprint was telling me to wait.
It was strange, really, to even think of the imprint telling me anything; but it did. Not by speaking, but by feeling, nudging; a feeling of hesitance here, a good feeling somewhere else; there was no way to describe it and do it justice. But nether-the-less it was there, and it was directing me. It urged me to follow her to the linen cupboard, so I did. When I wondered what she would do if I put my hands on her waist to help her, it all but did the movement for me, the compulsion it brought about fierce. And despite the fact that the last thing I wanted to do after kissing her was to release my hold, the imprint told me to – gave me a strange feeling in my stomach – so I, reluctantly, let her go.
Because no matter how much I might want to, there was no fighting the imprint; it was too powerful, and for a reason. I might not know how or why, or understand at all why it wanted me to do something, but there was always a purpose. It was connected to her – knew far more about her than I did – so if it was saying stop, then I was sure as hell going to stop. And while it held no logic whatsoever, and any sane person would think me crazy, so far it was working.
So when I got the feeling in my gut that somehow translated into wait, that was what I did. And here I was, sitting against the house, her warm body beside me, wondering. Wondering why the imprint was telling me to be careful, telling me not to put my arm around her shoulders, telling me not to brush away the stray strand of hair that had fallen across her forehead.
Wondering if the restraint the imprint was urging had anything to do with the buried worry and sadness I'd been feeling from Thea constantly since we'd met.
She tried to hide it. Sometimes it would flare up, and she would almost immediately stifle it, shoving it back down into the recesses of her heart so that I could barely get a sense of it. But though she tried not to let me feel it, she couldn't keep it hidden away completely. It was there, all the time, hovering in the background.
And I couldn't help but think about why. What was she worried about? What was it that caused her to be seemingly permanently sad? And why was she so determined to hide it?
I wanted to know; I needed to know. But I couldn't ask. The imprint was telling me to wait, to not speak the questions that were circling round and round my mind. But while I trusted the imprint, I couldn't help but worry.
Even when she smiled at me and told me that she liked me not asking her consent before pulling her beside me – a confession that made me grin because it wasn't in the nature of an alpha to ask permission, and she'd probably experience whole lot more of it of she spent any amount of time with me – I still worried.
For her, I would always worry.
The hour that followed went fast; too fast. So fast that it seemed barely a minute had passed, when in reality it had been so much more. And all because talking to Thea had become one of new favourite things to do.
It was effortless. I didn't have to watch what I said, which was a luxury I rarely had these days. When such a major part of my life was a secret from all but a small few, simple conversation required care; but not with her. She knew about the supernatural; she was supernatural. And it was surprisingly how much of a relief it was to let down my guard. But it was more than just not having to hide.
She was so easy to talk to. I wanted to tell her things, had an irrational urge to spill all my secrets. What really struck me was for once, I actually had secrets. I was so used to the pack knowing every thought in my head that it was almost strange that she didn't. She didn't know my secrets; but I wanted her too. And even more than that, I wanted to know hers.
Not just her secrets, but the little things too. I wanted to know everything; and I would, eventually. I had only known her less than two days; it was impressive that she had already told me as much as she had. Still, I wanted to know more.
But more would have to wait. I'd been monopolising her time lately, and while I wasn't the least bit sorry about it, I couldn't say I was surprised when she excused herself, saying she'd promised to spend the rest of the day with her sister and niece. And while the imprint didn't particularly like the idea of letting her go, and thought it was perfectly acceptable to not let her ever leave her side, I knew it wasn't.
And so it was with reluctance that I watched her disappear into the house, having to content myself with the fact that this what she wanted, and that that was what was important. The smile she sent me as she headed inside was enthralling, making the imprint throb, and for a moment, making me forget that she was walking away from me. But it didn't take long for me to feel her absence as I walked through the forest, and just as I had been ever since we'd first met, I found myself once again contemplating the enrapturing mystery that was Thea.
The ear-splitting scream that tore through the air was easily the most horrifying thing I'd ever heard. I felt my eyes widen and fill with an irrepressible panic, the sound freezing me in my tracks as it stole my breath away. It had come from the south of the woods, the direction I had been heading in, and there was only really one place that scream could have come from. I had to bite back the sick feeling that assaulted my stomach, finding myself whispering a name without consciously meaning to.
'Aunt Cass?' It was the broken, barely audible croak that broke me out my stunned fear. I threw myself into a sprint, thrashing through the forest wildly, not caring as the branches and twigs tore at my clothes and caught in my hair. When the small wooden cabin I was after came into sight through the trees, I heaved a sob of relief, fighting back the shakes that threatened my limbs as I burst through the doorway.
And immediately wished I hadn't.
At first it didn't register that the horrified scream searing my ears was my own. I had gone numb, the sound fuzzy and distant to my ears, the world spinning on its axis as I slumped against the doorway, clapping my hand over my mouth. My eyes couldn't move away from the terrible sight before me, my mind refusing to process the body. Even as I recognised that the red liquid pooling on the floor could be nothing but blood, my brain refused to accept it. It wasn't until I hit the floor with my knees, the shock jolting out of my paralysis, that the truth of the situation rammed home.
That there was in fact a body strewn across the floor, that the body was covered in blood, and that the body was my aunt.
Letting out a heart breaking wail, I lurched across the wooden floor, tears blurring my vision as I quickly covered the yards that separated us. Even as I reached her side, keening as my knees almost slipped in the warm red blood that coated the floor, the tears were spilling down my cheeks, my lips quivering.
'Cass? Aunt Cass? Oh, please, please…' I sobbed, my hands twisting and writhing in the air over her body as I frantically searched for something to do, something to save her. Her eyes were closed, and I couldn't see her chest moving from her breaths, fear blooming uncontrollably within me. She couldn't die; I wouldn't let it happen.
'Please don't be dead. You can't be dead, Cass, you just can't!' I croaked, but I was only crying harder as my eyes reluctantly took in the large and deep slash across her stomach. My hands ever so delicately traced the wound, the shear amount of blood that coated my hands making me wail softly, my whole body shaking with the heaving sobs that were wracking my frame. Moving my trembling hands to her neck, I found her pulse point, unable to repress another horrified cry when I found nothing.
'No! No no no no no!' I wept, shaking my head furiously as my fingers trailed over her motionless face, feeling the unnatural coldness of her skin that confirmed that which I knew, but didn't want to accept. 'You can't- I can't- I won't-' I couldn't even form a proper sentence any more, my mouth speaking disjointed phrases because my brain and heart were being crushed by the devastating truth.
She was dead.