Chapter 21: Love Hurts
Sleep eluded me. As soon as I closed my eyes, I saw those bright green eyes. I saw the shock, the anger, and the betrayal in them.
And then I saw my mate running away in pain.
My entire life I had dreamed of meeting my mate, and in my worst nightmare I would not have imagined what just happened. I sobbed into Remi’s sleeping form, she had crawled in with me in the hopes I’d settle down and get some rest. I had poured out my feelings, my disappointment in myself, and my anger until two in the morning and she fell asleep before I could.
My life was spiraling out of control, and I had my foot on the gas pedal, speeding it up. What the hell was I thinking? What kind of hormonal slut can’t keep her legs closed for a few months? Now I’m knocked up, I’ve betrayed my mate AND my fiancé, and I have no idea how to get out of the situation I’m in.
If I leave Mark, I’m leaving a good man I was falling in love with. A man who is a tender and considerate lover, who has wanted me for years, a man whose child I am carrying. There will be no happy family, no picket fence and two kids, no peaceful human existence. I would crush him, tossing aside what we had for a mate that may not even want me anymore.
If I stay with Mark, I’m giving up on my true mate. His wolf is beautiful, I’m sure his human is as well. He’s the man who was made just for me, who completes me in every way. I felt the tingles, I’ve seen the kind of love that true mates have for each other, and I’ll be tossing that away. I’ll also be giving up on werewolf life completely; there will be no Alpha male at my side to protect me and run our Pack. I had given up on the idea of rebuilding my Pack, thinking I couldn’t be a leader, but now I realized it could happen again and quite easily. Mating with an Alpha male would automatically reestablish the Pack, and I’m sure a number of former members would return if they heard it happened.
The houses would be filled again, and things would return to the way my parents had left it.
No matter what I did, I was going to get hurt, and hurt people I love.
I don’t know if I even got any sleep, but all too soon the alarm was going off. Remi left after breakfast, she didn’t want to go but had to get back to her Pack. She invited the three of us to spend Christmas with them, and I said we would think about it. I had planned to visit some of the surrounding Packs to the three remaining targets as part of my plan to build allies for my revenge.
Marge and Mabel both held me up as we watched them drive away. “It’s down to just us now, Ella, we’ll be fine,” Marge said. They led me back into the house and sat me at the table. “Now, we know there’s a lot going on in your life right now,” she said, “but you don’t have to go through anything alone.”
Mabel grabbed my hand. “You need to take a break, and let yourself relax and come to terms with some things. All this stress isn’t good for you or the baby, and right now those are the two most important things. Not revenge, not Mark, not your mate. You.”
“I know, Mabel, but it’s hard.”
“One thing at a time then, Ella. You don’t know who your mate is, do you?”
I shook my head. “I know he was involved in the attack on our cars, he’s the one that stopped and looked at me before running away. He’s a member of one of the four packs, likely an Alpha or Beta son. He has bright green eyes, I’m sure I would have noticed them if I saw him in human form.”
Mabel squeezed my hand. “I know it hurts that he ran, but he must be confused. It can’t be easy smelling another man’s seed in your mate when you first discover her.” I turned crimson at this. “He can’t reject you in wolf form, no matter how much he hurt. He will be back, you can count on that.”
Marge agreed. “The pull to your mate is too strong, if he tried to stay away it would hurt him physically. He will have to come to you again, and when he does you need to talk to him. Who knows how much he knows about what has happened to you, and what you’ve done. You owe it to him to answer his questions, and only then should he accept or reject you.”
My jaw fell when she said ‘reject.’ No she-wolf wanted to consider her mate rejecting her; for it to happen, something must be wrong with her, and she would be shunned and talked about for years afterwards. Of course, if he thought I was pregnant with a human’s baby, he might reject me just for that. The whole thing twisted my stomach around. The closeness, the love and the great sex seemed like a good idea at the time, but now it felt like a millstone around my neck. When I lifted my head up, both of them were looking at me with tears in their eyes. “What do I say to Mark? Last night was so good, he was so tender and loving, to push him away now will crush him.”
“I don’t know an easy way to do that, Ella. The real question is, are you, right now, willing to reject your mate when you see him next?” Marge always knew how to get to the bottom of things.
I couldn’t do that. I owed it to him to give him a chance, he was fated to me, he was my other half. “No, I can’t do that.”
“Then you have to stop this thing with Mark immediately. It’s not fair to either man.” I started to cry, and she pulled me to her chest and held my hair as Mabel rubbed my back. “The sex has to stop, you need to tell him he’s back to friend status until you can figure things out.”
Great, I’m putting him back in friendzone and I have to give up on the massages and the sex. “I can’t keep him away, he’s the father of the baby.”
“And you should tell him that, you aren’t rejecting him, but you have a choice to make and it isn’t an easy one. Communication is a good thing in a relationship, explain to him how you feel and why. If he loves you, he’ll wait.” She looked up at the clock. “Now you need to go get cleaned up, you need to leave in ten minutes if you’re going to be at Tom Harris’ office on time.”
Marge handed me a tissue and I wiped my eyes, then blew my nose. “I look like a hot mess, don’t I?” At least they were honest enough to nod at me. I got up and went to my bathroom, washing my face and tying my hair back in a ponytail. I grabbed the papers we had gathered from my parent’s office over the weekend and headed out.
Tom’s office was in the downtown strip of Stanley, North Dakota. Stanley was the eighteenth largest city in the state, which sounds impressive until you see the sign that says “Population: 1458.” It didn’t even have a stoplight, just a few stop signs along the main drag. It was still early, so I found a parking spot in front of the brick 3-story building and grabbed my stuff.
I walked across the street first to Badlands Brew and got a large coffee and cream. After my night, I figured I would need to have this on a constant drip to make it through the day. There were a few people I knew inside, and I accepted their greetings and sympathy with a strained smile. It would be a while before I would move past the loss of my parents and pack.
I showed up at Tom’s door right at nine, and he opened the door just as I was ready to knock. “Ella!” He pulled me into a hug, then walked me into his large office and closed the door. He had a conference table opposite his desk, and he pulled a chair out for me on one side.
“Thank you, Mr. Harris.” I smiled as I set my coffee and manila envelope down.
“No need for that formality, Ella, you’re practically family.” He noticed my face fell and he looked in my eyes and saw the conflict. “Trouble in paradise?”
I was so glad he was fully informed about werewolves and Pack life, having been involved with my father and grandfather for decades. It made the next few minutes much easier. “You could say that. Last night Mark came over, things were going well, we were both happy when he left.” I looked at my hands. “Then a wolf showed up, one I had seen before. I don’t know who he is, but I do know what he is. He is my mate, he recognized me, and I could feel the tingles in my arm when I touched him. He smelled me, and I could see his anger. He ran away from me, from us.”
Tom didn’t say anything for a bit. “I’m sorry, Ella. I’m sure this was the last thing you expected when you and my son started to get serious about each other.”
“Yes.” I put my hand on his. “I have to tell him tonight, please don’t say anything before then. I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I have to step back and take time to figure it all out. I don’t want to hurt him more than I already have, more than I will when I talk to him tonight. I need you to know because marriage is not on the table for me right now. As we go through my affairs, we need to assume that I won’t be married or mated anytime soon.”
He squeezed my hand and I looked up at him. “I understand. It’s probably for the best, you need to be sure of what you want before you take such a big step. I would love to have you as my daughter, but I don’t want you to regret it later.” He handed me a handkerchief and I wiped my eyes, I swear I have cried more in the last few weeks than the rest of my life. “Now, we have a lot of stuff to talk through and things for you to sign, so we should get busy.”
The sheer volume of paperwork required to deal with my parent’s estate was mind boggling. We started with the death certificates and insurance paperwork. The life insurance was easy, the auto was more complicated. He had sent copies of the accident report and the coroner’s report in. Since it was a single vehicle accident, there was no one to sue. I signed the various forms, and he told me the money would arrive in the next few weeks.
Next up was the estate. He had already been granted executor status by the state, but we had a lot to go through. He did the formal will reading, which left everything to me. I had a lot of forms to sign, transferring the ownership of our house and the various lands we owned independent of the Pack. Our trucking business had been sold for a decent price to a larger firm as well. We took a break after a few hours, and I popped back across the street to get more coffee before heading back.
The piles slowly got smaller as we worked through the division of the Pack assets. Our dissolution plan had given him the authority to do the sales and the breakup in our stead, and he had done a great job with that. I giggled a little as I looked at the sale prices of the Bakken mineral rights; we had gotten out just weeks before the market tanked. My eyes bugged out when he was talking about the capital gains taxes that would have to be paid, but unlike Alpha Goodwin, I’d cashed out at the right time.
We took a late lunch, then we started on my assets. This went pretty quick; I had told him before to keep assets liquid so a lot was in cash, short term bonds or market funds. He had been looking at lands surrounding my current properties, and I gave him the go-ahead to make offers on a few of them. I also asked him to arrange the purchase of the houses owned by former Pack members on the road to my house.
“Why? What would you do with them?”
“Well, long term I think it may be possible for our Pack to be rebuilt. I don’t want them to have their assets tied up in a house they aren’t using, and I don’t want it sold to a human before we get it all straightened out. I’d rather take the costs and risks myself to keep the options open. I should know in a year or two whether it is possible.”
He rubbed his chin for a moment. “Would you be open to something else?” I nodded. “Let me contact the owners first. We agree to lease the houses for a year and tell them why; the lease income will cover their taxes and upkeep. I can write the lease so they can cancel it on short notice, so if they decide to move back it’s easy. That way we don’t have to deal with two sales in a short time.”
He was right. “Do that, but if someone isn’t interested just make the cash offer for the house. If nothing else, it can be an investment property.” We finished up the paperwork about three in the afternoon. Now for the fun part.
“Tom, I need to set up a company. Call it a research company, but I need the ownership hidden. I need to lease some office space near here, with room for a dozen or so employees and a conference room.”
He looked at me, a little concerned. “Why?”
“Don’t think I’m going to let my pregnancy or my love life stop me from getting my revenge. I want to bleed them dry, weaken them and isolate them from other Packs. I want them to get sloppy and desperate before I move in to take out the Alphas. This company is going to help me find and exploit their weaknesses, in business, finance, even legal and government affairs. I want to make their lives miserable.”
He sat back, thinking. “So this office space, is it going to be for humans or werewolves?”
“Humans primarily. I plan to hire some recent graduates and those still looking, backgrounds in business, finance, even social media and government. I will be hiring some werewolves for things that require this knowledge, but the humans will be ignorant. I’ll tell them I’m thinking of buying these privately held companies, but I need to do so without them knowing I’m interested. Once they understand the companies and their weak points, I’ll find ways to exploit them.” I leaned forward. “Don’t worry, anything this company does will be perfectly legal. I won’t discuss anything beyond that with you.”
He put his fingers to his nose, pinching it as he thought. “I’d advise you to get a different lawyer if you go that way. Preferably someone with a Pack background, you’ll be dealing with both human and werewolf law, potentially.”
“I understand. Put about a million into the new business as startup capital, no leases longer than a year. I’ll advertise for a manager first and let him hire his team. I want this company up and running by spring.”
“All right, you’re the boss here. Just stay safe, Ella. Make sure you hide your involvement in all this, they need to see it as a run of bad luck not an attack, or they’ll come after you hard.”
“Damn right. I don’t want them to know who is behind this until they are on their knees before me.”