A dark shadow looms outside and circles the cabin. It stops underneath the window and paces back and forth as the morning sun rises. The silhouette of a wolf stretches along the leaf-scattered ground, but I know who it is before he enters.
“I thought I’d find you here,” Caiden says after he shifts from his wolf-beast to human form.
His once striking solid white wolf is turning a dingy gray as the cursed beast residing within him fights for control.
“Yup, I’m here.” My legs dangle over the edge of the couch and my bare feet wiggle to get warm by the heat of the fire.
Caiden walks to the bedroom and my ears perk up at the sound of drawers opening and closing. He walks back into view wearing red plaid flannel pants and an oatmeal-colored thermal shirt. My lips twitch exposing a wry smile. Damn, he looks sexy.
“Is everything okay?” He asks.
“Yeah.” But everything is far from okay. I’m freaking out. Now that Sammy and Grace’s ceremony is over and they left for their honeymoon, Caiden and I are at the center of attention. Mia handed me a twenty-page survey so she can start planning our ceremony. And that was just to decide what food to serve.
I close my eyes and turn my head away from Caiden.
As the daughter of an Alpha, I was raised to be a Luna. My father promised my hand in marriage to Dylan when I was born. So I know what’s expected of me as the mate of an Alpha. But I’ve also always done what I wanted and when I wanted to do it. The list of rules and regulations the Blood Moone pack has, not to mention their unwritten traditions and unspoken expectations are daunting. And I’m realizing now that my time alone, living outside of a pack, changed me in ways that I don’t think will ever be fixed.
“Then what’s up?” He asks.
“Nothing, I’m fine.” Lie. Why am I lying to Caiden? He’s my mate. I should trust him with everything. Don’t I expect the same from him? Would he–has he ever lied to me? I watch him through the small slits of my eyes. No, I don’t think he would ever lie to me. My heart drops to my stomach and I suddenly feel queasy for lying to him.
He lifts my legs and sits on the couch, placing my legs across his lap.
With a calm tone he says, “Lucinda, I can tell when something’s bothering you.”
“No–” I take a deep breath and let out a long sigh. My shoulders slump forward and my chin dips to my chest. Do I look as pathetic as I feel? A quick glance to Caiden’s piercing stare answers my question.
“I know you want to slow things down,” he says. “But our pack has certain traditions that we can’t ignore.” My pulse quickens at the thought of the Mating Ceremony and the Alpha’s Ritual. Why am I nervous?
“I told Mia to lay off the planning for a few weeks, but as the Alpha, the pack holds me to a certain standard.” He leans his head back and runs his hands through his hair.
“By claiming you the way I did and keeping it a secret, we already broke several of the traditions.” I know it weighs heavy on him. Breaking tradition, as other pack members have made very clear, is a major taboo.
“I know.” I reach up and brush his cheek with the back of my fingers. As our skin touches, the little sparks soothe nerves and I smile.
Caiden leans his head against my fingers and says, “Mia thinks she can drag out the planning for several months, but not more than a year. Will that give you enough time to settle whatever it is, or are you having second thoughts about us?”
“What? No, never.” I crawl over and straddle him so I can stare into his never-ending blue eyes. “Caiden Lee Moone, I love you with every piece of my shattered heart. You found each part and glued it back into place with your kindness and affection. I will never doubt our love or regret our mating.”
“Then what is it?” He asks.
I fidget on his lap and he grabs my hips to hold me still. Leaning forward I lay my head on his shoulder and whisper, “Your pack is overwhelming.”
“What?” By the jerk of his head and change in his heartbeat, I lean back and study him. Is this a surprise, or did I offend him?
I bite my lower lip and say, “I don’t know. Maybe it’s me.”
“Talk to me, tell me what’s going on in that head of yours,” he says and taps on my forehead. “Especially since you won’t use the damn mind link.” Yeah, because that is just another rule you broke by giving it to me before I am officially accepted into the pack.
I snuggle closer to him and his arms tighten around me. His scent of bergamot wraps around me and my inner wolf calms my racing pulse.
“I haven’t really been part of a pack for a while-”
“It’s only been five years,” Caiden says. True, but a lot happened in those five years. I’ll never sleep the same again, well, unless I’m wrapped in my security blanket of bergamot.
“It’s actually been much longer. Ever since the bond first struck and Dylan stepped away from me, well, he was the to-be Alpha so everyone took his lead. They left me alone and I was treated as an outcast in my own pack.”
“I had no idea-”
“It’s not your fault. Dylan probably doesn’t even realize it either.” I say. “And your pack is at least five times the size of mine, so it’s a lot to take in.”
“Don’t worry about it. You’re my mate and nothing else matters,” he says while twirling a piece of my long chestnut hair between his fingers.
Yeah, I’m your mate that’s the problem, but I can’t tell him that. He won’t understand. What else am I, though? Where do I belong in the pack, other than the Alpha’s Mate?
“What is it, four more weeks and you’ll have met everyone in the pack,” Caiden says. As if that’s supposed to cheer me up.
Yeah, four more weeks of pure hell. If only he knew what those stupid parties were like- everyone judging you based on how you look and what you say. I hate that tradition with a passion.
“How are the meet and greet sessions going?” Caiden asks.
“You mean the weekly potential new member parties?” He smirks disapprovingly at me. “Oh they’re swell,” I say with sarcasm dripping from my lips.
Under normal circumstances, one of the Blood Moone Pack’s traditions is that a new person who wants to join the pack socializes with the members and then goes to vote. But with the large influx of people wanting to join after leaving Felix’s band of rogues, the Elder’s created these parties where groups of twenty potential new members meet with roughly fifty pack members in a casual setting to socialize, and the groups rotate each week. It’s been a long six weeks and there are still four more to go.
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” Caiden asks.
I shake my head against his chest.
“Are you sure? Because your heartbeat is racing,” he says.
Just tell him already. The problem is- us. The pack rumor mill is torture. The members treat me differently because I’m the Alpha’s mate. They’re either extra warm and friendly, or cool and distant. If I’m lucky they’ll be indifferent. Though, I’m more interested in those that are borderline hostile. One woman accused me of special treatment. Which is when I decided I wanted to be accepted on my own merits, not because of who my mate is.
Tears well up in my eyes and threaten to fall. Damn it.
I love Caiden so much, but sometimes I wish we waited to mark each other. I wish we took things slow and followed their stupid traditions. Then I could’ve been accepted, or not accepted, into the pack for who I am, not because Caiden’s scent is all over me and threatening their judgment.
“Lucinda,” Caiden’s voice pulls me from my thoughts and he wipes away a tear that escaped, “talk to me.”
I take a deep breath and say, “Sabrina’s always there.”
He nods and then kisses my cheeks, my forehead, and my lips in the most gentle kiss he’s ever given me. I close my eyes and slow my breathing. I don’t deserve him.
“I know. The Elder’s reprimanded her with Community Service and part of that includes potential new member activity,” he says.
I’m grateful that in his spare time, Caiden is teaching me the inner workings of the pack politics, which include different programs and organizations they have. Caiden said he’ll help me find a position after I’m accepted into the Pack. But at the new member meetings, they tell us it’s hard for new pack members to get a position. Why is everything so complicated?
“I thought Mia runs the Community Outreach Programs?” I ask.
His lips move down my neck, and he breaths against my warming skin sending little shockwaves traveling through my body.
“She is,” he murmurs. “But since she was busy with Sammy and Grace’s ceremony, she was too distracted to fight against the Elder’s decision.”
His lips leave my neck and he cocks an eyebrow and asks, “So it’s just Sabrina that’s bothering you?”
At the mention of her name, his ocean blue eyes flash red, and I know the cursed beast within him is fighting for control. Does he realize how often it happens? It happens more often than not these days. It’s getting worse and the pack notices a difference too. We decided it best not to disclose everything to the pack. So we didn’t tell them about Caiden, Dylan, or even Felix’s curse. Gavin said, ‘In simple terms, it’s on a need to know basis and the general public doesn’t need to know.’ I couldn’t agree more.
Of course, Caiden’s escalating aggression and mood swings haven’t gone unnoticed by the pack members, so it’s just another thing they blame on me. One lady called me ’scandalous’. But she didn’t stop there, she continued to verbally batter me. First, I caused Caiden to break pack tradition, and then also to break the pack rules. What’s next? Where will it end? And the sad part is, she’s right.
The red flaming orbs have overtaken Caiden’s eyes and his movements become forced and jerky. He flips me over onto my back so that I’m laying sprawled on the couch, and he hovers over top of me. His red eyes roam my body and he licks his lips with a hungry gaze.
“No,” I say and scoot out from under his body. Rolling off the couch, I land on the floor with a thump. Turning back to Caiden and his penetrating stare, I muster all my control and say, “Not right now. I’m not in the mood.”
I stand up and rush to the bedroom without sparing another look back. I want Caiden more than ever, but not like this, not when his beast has control.
After entering the room, I make the mistake of turning around to close the door. My eyes find his and lock in an intense stare. His Alpha calling to me; his wolf calling to his mate. It takes all my strength to ignore him and not be submissive. I flash a painful smile through the small opening before latching and locking the door. I flop onto the bed, curling up under the covers to wait out the tantrum of the beast in the other room.