HEAT

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Chapter 10: It Doesn't Matter

Leander

I’d paced a path through the carpet in my office, anxiety running rampant through my body. Hycinth was in good hands with Ever, but it didn’t stop me from stressing, particularly after her interaction with Sydney this morning. I cringed. Of all the shit conversations to have, my little mouse had somehow convinced me to give her a list of my past lovers! I cursed myself again and again for allowing that to happen. Nothing good would come of it.

Of course, I hadn’t expected Sydney to come off with that level of aggression. That part surprised me. Maybe it shouldn’t have. Sydney hadn’t been pleased when I broke it off with her three years ago. Truthfully she’d been relatively relentless in trying to change my mind over the years, but I couldn’t do it.

I told Ever to remove her collar during her session with Sydney and her team of she-wolves because I’d been sure a fight would break out. I’d even thought about attending the session myself, trying to head off the problem, but if I did that, it would only make Hycinth look weak, so I’d stayed away.

When Ever had reported what happened, I wasn’t sure how I felt. I was immensely relieved to find Hycinth hadn’t been in hand-to-hand combat and I was seriously impressed at the way she’d handled herself. She was definitely ballsy. But on the other hand, I worried at the greater truth. Maybe they hadn’t been able to rile her up because she didn’t think I was worth fighting for. That thought made my stomach turn and made me wonder if she and I would ever work.

..........

I was still wondering that, four weeks later.

Hycinth and I had spent many days together over the last four weeks, interacting with the Pack and also alone together. But I could tell, we were no closer to her agreeing to the Claiming Ceremony than we were when she first arrived. It was frustrating the hell out of me, but I suspected now that my frustration was due to more personal reasons than the Claiming Ceremony.

Over the past four weeks, during all of the time we spent together, a shocking revelation hit me.

I liked her, a lot.

And not just in the ‘she’s my mate, so I have to make this work’ way.

No, I really, really liked her.

She was bold and sexy with a killer sense of humor. She didn’t take shit from anyone, including me. And I desperately wanted more.

But every time we got closer, the same thing would happen. We’d be having a good time, actually laughing, and getting along and sometimes, even getting close to a physical connection. She’d let down her walls, everything else would fade away, and it would just be the two of us.

But then, she’d remember.

I could always see it happen in her eyes. Her laughter would fade. Her smile would falter, and then a frown appeared. Her body would stiffen, and she’d pulled away. All because she remembered the one thing she couldn’t get past—what I’d done three years ago.

I had to give it to her. She was shockingly resilient to fight the bond like that, to refuse her mate, to ignore what I suspected she actually wanted. And not just physically, but on an emotional level. There were too many times when we’d gotten closer. But it just wasn’t happening. We hadn’t made any actual progress in the four weeks she’d been here.

And now I had a decision to make.

Should I just proceed with placing my mark?

She wouldn’t want me to, but the reality of the situation was pretty clear.

Ever interrupted my internal conflict. “Why don’t you just tell her the truth?”

I exhaled heavily. I’d asked myself that same question so many times and always came to the same damn answer. I just stared off into space, swirling the Bourbon in the bottom of my glass. There was only one answer, and the words were too difficult to say.

He pressed harder, “I’ve seen how you are with her... you’re different. I’ve watched you change over the last four weeks. Do you love her?”

I groaned, “Fuck if I know.”

“Then why aren’t you fighting for her?! Tell her the damn truth!”

“You don’t think I’ve thought about it?” I snarled. “You don’t think I’ve played it in my head a thousand times? I have! Over and fucking over. And it always ends the same way. I killed her parents. That fact will always remain. The details don’t matter!”

“How can the details not fucking matter?!” He was on his feet now, hands clenched into fists. The heat of his anger flushed his face red. “I dare anyone, anyone, to hear that story, to know those details, and then disagree that he needed to die! The bastard needed to die! Both of them needed to die. They were equally complicit!”

I shook my head and grunted bitterly, “If only it were that easy.”

He strode across the room to me, and continued adamantly in my face, “It is that easy! You know what he did that day. I’ve been through a lot of wars and seen a lot of things, but what he did was evil...it was fucked up. Anyone who could—”

Snapping to my feet, I cut him off with a fist to his face, growling, “Don’t fucking say it! Don’t you say another fucking word!”

I’d spent three and half years trying to get those fucked up images out of my head, trying to forget the details of that day, what I’d seen. My chest hurt with a familiar ache, the pain intense, it felt like I was drowning.

His head snapped to the side. He wiped the blood from his lip under his sleeve. “I think another fucking word needs to be said because you’re not listening!”

“I am listening,” I replied. “Don’t worry. I’m not backing out of my responsibility. Hycinth doesn’t have to know the truth. I’ll mark her one way or the other.”

“You think this is about the fucking Claiming Ceremony?” he yelled, exasperated, and threw his hands in the air. “You think my priority is a pup I’ll probably never have when I’m watching my best friend lose his mate...right before my eyes?! No, you stupid motherfucker, this is about you!”

I tried to swallow past the lump in my throat and sighed heavily, “Okay, here’s a thought. Say I did tell her, walked her through every gruesome detail, do you think she’d believe me?!”

He didn’t say anything.

I continued ranting, “She thinks that fucker hung the moon! She never saw the monster. He made sure of it!” A large part of me was thankful she was never exposed to those horrible truths, but it sure as hell sucked for me right now.

Ever just stood, staring at me silently, his expression a mixture of frustration and lost hope. Because he too knew the answer, she would never believe me. I said quietly, “You need to go home. It’s been a week since Gwen finished her heat. She’s going to need you tonight.”

Now his expression looked pained for an entirely different reason. His mate had finished her heat seven days ago, and within hours, he would either scent a pup in her belly, or she would begin the process of expelling the birthing byproduct no longer needed in the absence of a pup.

He nodded, turned and left.

I sank back down into the chair. After another moment, I finished my drink. I missed my little mouse. There was still some daylight left, and there was some place I wanted her to see.

..........

“Where are we going?” She looked up at me curiously as we walked through the woods.

“A place of refuge and adventure I went to as a young pup.”

“Oh,” she breathed and then lapsed into silence.

After a moment, I asked, “Did you see Mimi or other members of the pack today?”

Hycinth had done amazingly well blending into the pack. Most of the Wolves had been hesitant about her at first, but many of them warmed up to her, and she spent much of her time interacting them.

She bit her lip and said quietly, “No. I went to see Gwen.”

Her answer surprised me. She’d told me she didn’t want to see Gwen during the week after Gwen’s heat and I hadn’t forced the issue. I said softly, “I thought you weren’t going to see her until after this week finished.”

Her cheeks flushed, and she lowered her head. “That was wrong with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought I couldn’t handle her pain. Not after how Ever had described it,” she murmured. “So, I planned to stay away. But that was wrong.”

“How was she?” I asked, even though I already suspected the answer.

Her face twisted and she whispered, “Not good.”

Goosebumps came up on her arms. I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and rubbed them away with my hands. She allowed my embrace for a moment and then pulled away.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She shook her head, her shoulders slumping.

We walked in silence, lost in our thoughts. After several minutes, I stopped. “We’re here.”

The sun had gone down. However, we could easily see with our wolf vision. She looked around in confusion at the trees that surrounded us. ”Where exactly are we?”

“Look up,” I said softly.

She craned her neck toward the sky and breathed in awe, “Oh!”

It was all I could do not to press my nose into her beautifully elongated neck and inhale her addictive scent, as she stared at the treehouse thirty feet above our heads. Her eyes sparkled with excitement. “How do we get up there?”

“This way,” I extended my arm toward a tree.

She walked and quickly examined it. Without another word, she followed her instinct, leaping to reach the low hanging branch and then swung her body around to climb on top of it. She began to make her way up the natural climbing footholds for the next fifteen feet while I jumped onto the limb she vacated. When she reached the ladder, she continued for another ten feet, until she was under the belly of the treehouse and pushed open the hatch. I watched her feet disappear as she scrambled inside, squealing her delight.

I joined her in the next minute and felt way too fucking happy just to see the pleasure that crossed her expression as she looked around in awe. “It’s like a tiny little house...perfect,” she murmured as she walked through the little living room, letting her fingers trail along the detailed woodwork, the condensed-sized couch, and two comfortable chairs, with a quilt thrown over the back for cold weather.

“It even has glass windows,” she said in amazement as she stared at the large paned window that took up most of one of the walls.

“Come,” I murmured. Hycinth followed me up a trail of steps, hidden on the other side of the massive tree in the middle.

“It has a second story,” she breathed, eyes darting all around to take in the queen size bed, little dresser and pictures on the wall. She made her way to the bed to the door on the other side, opening it and stepping out onto a deck. She inhaled sharply as she looked around. I stepped out onto the deck with her. It was an amazing view. Her eyes went up again, and she whispered, “Look at the Moon.”

I looked up. The full Moon was stunning. I couldn’t stop myself. I pressed my front against her back, holding her tightly by the hips, my head low by her ear as I said huskily, “You’re so beautiful in the moonlight.”

She gasped and shivered, and for a moment, she melted into me. I inhaled her scent, orchid and jasmine. But then her body tensed. I whispered, “Shh...don’t pull away. I can be gentle. I can give you unimaginable pleasure...if you would only just let me.”

Her breathing was ragged, and she said the words I knew would come. “I can’t....I-I’m sorry.”

It felt like I’d been kicked in the gut.

I turned her around to face me. “Why?”

“You know why,” she pulled out of my embrace taking a step back.

“No, I don’t. I’ve heard you. I know what you’re going to say, but I don’t accept that answer.”

“It’s the only answer you’re going to get,” she repeated my words from four weeks ago.

I ground my teeth together. “Like it or not, you are my mate.”

Her lip quivered as she stared up at me with wide eyes. “It doesn’t matter.”

And there were those words It doesn’t fucking matter.

Nothing else mattered, except what I’d stolen from her.

“Would it change things if you knew the reason I did it?” I asked gruffly. “Do you honestly think I didn’t have a reason for what I did? Do you think I just randomly kill various wolves on a whim?”

“The reason...won’t bring them back,” she whispered and pulled away from me.

I closed my eyes in defeat.

“I can’t do this...I can’t do this with you,” her voice broke, and she turned and ran, back through the little house and out the bottom door, into the tree, before I could comprehend what had happened.

“Shit!” I swore and ran after her.

She was shockingly agile and made it to the ground within seconds before she took off into the forest.

“Wait!” I called after her, but she didn’t stop. When I finally made it down, I tracked her scent. She wasn’t on any trail. She was just randomly running, and she couldn’t possibly know where she headed. Abruptly, I realized what direction she was going and what day it was! There was a small clearing ahead—the very same clearing where Gwen went on the night, she realized there was no pup in her belly. “Oh fuck,” I went faster, following my nose because her footsteps were silent, even in all of the underbrush, she snaked her way without making a sound.

We were getting too close. In another moment, Hycinth would be right on top of Gwen and Ever. And now my senses told me, that Gwen was indeed in that clearing because an agonized howl rose up to the Moon. I’d heard many things in my life, but not many sounds of raw, gut-wrenching heartache. It grated on my teeth and hurt my ears. Another howl was released, long and mournful. Ever.

Fifteen feet ahead, I saw Hycinth. She crouched on the ground, still hidden by the trees, but she could see Ever holding his mate in his arms. Gwen was sobbing now, “I’m sorry...I’m so, so sorry...please forgive me!”

“Stop it!” his voice cracked as tears rolled down his cheeks. “It’s not your fault! It’s never your fault. I fucking love you...please, please listen to me,” he begged.

I stayed as silent as I could, praying they wouldn’t notice us. When I reached Hycinth, I placed my hand on her back. Her shoulders were shaking. She was sobbing as well, unable to tear her eyes away from the crying wolves. I couldn’t speak for fear that Ever would hear us, so I just pulled on her arm gently. She lifted and silently followed behind me as we made our way home.

I tried to get her to speak to me, but she just ran, still crying all of the way to my room and into the bathroom, where she locked the door behind her. A moment later, she turned on the shower, the sound muffling her sobs.

I sat down on the bed to wait, my shoulders slumping forward, still feeling the heavy burden of their pain.

He was my best friend. And his agony killed me.

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