| Nathalia |
“That’s... How can you exactly break up with a mate?” I asked morosely. Cassy slipped her hand under the table and held mine.
Uncle Elias released a harsh breath before continuing, “You and your sister are special. If anyone can survive rejecting the mate pull, it will be the both of you. And you’re not yet marked so it is still possible.”
Losing all my appetite, I wiped my mouth with a napkin and stood up. “Please forgive me Uncle but I’m tired. I’d like to retire for the night. Tomorrow...” I cleared my throat and looked at anywhere but the Vulgari around me. “...tomorrow we can talk about this.”
I couldn’t sleep. I spent the first hour tossing and turning in my cot but sleep wouldn’t come to me. Counting sheep wouldn’t work either.
We’re killing his father.
Giving up on sleep, I sat up and piled another pillow on top of my current one to elevate my head. I reached for my phone and opened my photos app. I scanned my pictures and paused at one selfie that Theo and I made before I was discharged from the infirmary. He made losing felt like winning because he himself was already a prize.
No matter what, I’ll be on your side.
I made small circles on the screen with my thumb, tracing the outline of Theo’s face. His hair was tied in a low bun and his eyes had a pleasant sparkle but at the corners were evidence of tired lines probably from staying with me the whole night. A lone tear escaped my eye. Denial was my greatest shield but I couldn’t keep lying to myself. I cared for him. A lot. He was kind and honest and everything a girl could ask for a soulmate.
I brought my phone down and stared at the ceiling, imagining every moment I spent with him. It was too fucking short. If I had known it would be that short, I would have... what exactly? There was nothing else I could have done.
Removing the extra pillow from my head, I tried to sleep again. This time, my eyelids fluttered heavily, and my last thoughts were that of Theo’s lopsided smile.
I woke up at daybreak. With light steps, I crept out of the cabin and watched the battle of night and day. The warm orange hue of the sun was rising on the horizon, its rays piercing the darkness, shining the world with a new light.
Dropping on all fours, I growled first before initiating the shift, allowing my bones to realign and my skin to be fully covered by fur. I let my wolf lead, my subconscious lying back in the corner. She ran with exquisite grace, her restlessness from being afar from her mate evident. She explored the territory, savoring and familiarizing the scent of the forest. I pushed my consciousness to her when we reached the lake, pausing at enough distance to admire the sparkling clear water. The temperature had significantly risen up overnight and the snow was almost gone.
My hearing registered the approach of incoming wolves. Their scents were familiar so I stayed still and counted the footsteps, arriving at the conclusion that there were eight wolves in total. I turned around and faced them.
The russet wolf in the center shifted to Uncle Elias. “Lia?”
I wagged my tail in response.
He sat not too far from my wolf, a warm smile plastered on his face. “Derek has told me that you’re a black wolf. But this is the first time I’ve seen it for myself. Your wolf is magnificent.”
Shifting back to my human form, I sidled to Uncle Elias and sat beside him. “Thanks, Uncle.”
“I’m sorry if I took you by surprise yesterday love,” he said sincerely.
I smiled timidly. “It’s alright. I guess breaking things gently with me is also not a good option.” I chuckled.
Uncle Elias placed his hand on top of my head and sighed. “You look too much like him it breaks my heart you know? I am terribly sorry that the Prince is your mate. If I can make this easy, I will. But we’ve been working on this for a long time already.”
“What is this exactly?” I asked.
“The Orion Lia, the name of the rebellion.” He removed his gaze from me and turned it towards the lake. His smile was still present but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Did you see how the five buildings in Mesina academy forms a star? That’s also how we arrived with the name for this cause─a representation of all five races. The death count is piling up love and if no one tries to stop it, the numbers will only continue to rise.”
My hatred for the law resurfaced. I grabbed a handful of grass and curled my fists around it. The memory of Papa and Mama’s lifeless bodies came back to me in a flash as well as the countless nightmares I suffered after their deaths. Cassy, Me, and Lana─we may be the only children who lost our families through the law, but those couples who were murdered surely had families who grieved over them. Uncle Elias was right. It must be stopped.
“How did Ethan learn about the assassins, Uncle?”
“Hazel told us that you and your sister are going to the academy. Do you really think I would allow that without having someone guard you girls?”
I snorted. “In short, you had someone stalk us all the time. Just like...” I bit my lower lip to stop myself from finishing the sentence.
“Just like your mate?” Uncle Elias finished for me. “We know that too. But he withdrew his men after he found out you’re his mate. We, on the other hand, continued. Jorge reported that he saw someone leave the infirmary with a blood vial. We all assumed it was your blood and that the Council already had suspicions about who you are. So we doubled your security.”
Blood? That dream! I had a dream of someone taking my blood. So it actually happened? And why the heck did I not notice that I was being followed all the time? Was I too absorbed in being ‘mated’? I groaned. My only consolation was that my moments with Theo on his property were all private. It would be terribly embarassing if they report back to Uncle Elias that his bestfriend’s daughter spent most of her time dilly-dallying with the Prince.
“Come, love. Let’s go back to the pack house. Breakfast is ready and I’d like you to meet the rest of the pack.”
Uncle Elias stood up and held his hand out. I accepted it and scrambled to my feet. Together, we ambled back to the forest and took a new direction with seven other wolves following behind us. With only a few minutes in our hike, I already had a glimpse of a beautifully constructed log cabin of monumental size nestled on top of a small hill. When we came near it, I gasped in awe at the intricate landscape decorating the threshold of the cabin. The wolves around us started shifting and I wasn’t suprised that one of them was Ethan. Introductions were made before we all went up to the wooden stairway and into the main entrance.
The rest of the day was spent doing a complete tour of the pack house, the surrounding forest, and lots and lots of introductions. By late afternoon, I was already exhausted and was glad to find myself alone and back at Aunt Hazel’s cabin.
Humming a soft melody to myself, I swung the cream cotton hammock with my left leg. I fell in love with it the instant I discovered it hanging alone in the backyard. So I figured I would claim it for the time being.
Just thinking about all Uncle Elias wanted me to do for the next days was already making me tired. He wanted me to train with Aunt Hazel and learn more spells. He also wanted me to train with Ethan for physical combat. If they would just ask me what I wanted to do.
The back door opened revealing Ethan. I adjusted my position on the hammock and squinted at him. And here I thought I could finally have some alone time.
“Here,” he said, offering me an old-model iPhone.
I looked at the phone suspiciously. “Is this a trap?”
He chuckled. “No. Dad told me to let you use a phone. This is a burner phone though.”
“Alright, thanks.” I gingerly took the phone from him. If he changed his mind, I would be bummed. I beamed at him with starry eyes and took out my own phone to check my contacts.
Now who to call first? Lana or Theo?
I’ve entered Lana’s number when I noticed Ethan still lingering around. I gave him a pointed look and made a dismissing motion with my hand. “Shoo.”
Ethan hesitated before clearing his throat. “Lia...” he began.
“Yes?” I asked him with an impatient tone.
“Just remember that you may not go back to the academy for a long time. Our ultimate goal is to kill the Lupus King and his family will most likelt be caught in the crossfire. Your mate will be forced to choose...and a wolf always chooses his own.” Having said his piece, he whirled around and left.
It was several seconds before my finger had the courage to press the call button.
Lana answered after three rings. “Hello?”
“Bi-atch,” I greeted, a small smile tugging on my lips.
Lana gasped on the other line. “Oh my God Lia! Did you call Theo? He’s going mad! I don’t know what to say to him. He was just here a moment ago.”
My hand trembled. “In the Ilwani dorm?”
“No! Here in the old storehouse.”
I heard an audible sigh before Lana spoke again. “Listen, Hazel already informed me where you are. I am going to follow you there but not now. I will try to convince Kagame first. And may Ilwa guide me because I don’t know how to kidnap a Princess from her royal bodyguards.”
“Well, she was able to sneak out last time.”
“Yes, but this is different. This is serious Lia. The Orion is going to start with the Lupus Kingdom and the rebellion needs the four of us if we want to have a chance of winning.”
I sat up straight. “You know about the Orion and you never told us?”
A pause. I could only hear Lana’s breathing and I was pretty sure she was feeling guilty. “I’m sorry. I swore an oath to the cause and with Theo turning out as your mate and you acting so in love─
“I am not in love with him!” I interrupted.
“Oh come on. We’re adults here. You can stop pretending─
“I am not pretending. I care about him but it’s not...love.”
Lana exhaled loudly. “Whatever, Lia. Anyway, you should really call Theo. Goodluck and see you soon.” And just like that, Lana ended the call.
That bitch is so heartless.
I punched Theo’s digits next, not needing to look at my contacts because I memorized it by heart. Staring at his numbers, I squeezed my eyes shut before hastily pressing the call button.
My breath hitched when it only took one ring before he answered, “Hello?”
I pressed my free hand to my mouth to stifle a sob while slow silent tears blurred my vision.
I took the phone away from my ear and covered the receiver. After taking numerous calming breaths, I brought it back slowly. “Theo.”
Theo sighed in relief. “Oh, Thank God! Baby, are you alright? Where are you? I was so worried. Your car is still in the dorm and you’re not answering your phone. Whose number is this?”
I listened to his words, wanting him to keep going. I wanted to embed his voice in my mind but at the same time hearing it shattered my heart into a million pieces. “I...” I swallowed the lump in my throat and tried to speak as nonchalant as I could. “Theo, we need to split.” I looked upward and blinked repeatedly. Fuck fuck fuck! “I told you we’re only a fling right. So we need to stop now.”
“What? Baby, is there someone else with you right now? Are you perhaps in any danger?” I could hear Theo’s ragged breath and yet his words were delivered calmly.
“Theo... Listen. I never liked you. I never liked your long hair. Long haired boys are not my type. In fact, I hate boys with long hair.”
“Y-You’re not making any sense, baby,” Theo rasped, his voice growing weak. “Just tell me where you are and I’ll go there so we can sit down and talk. Let’s work this out, okay?”
“No! Just... let go okay? Forget me. Forget the stupid mate bond.” I grabbed a chunk of my hair in frustration. “I’m not coming back, Theo. Goodbye.”
After quickly ending the call, I hit my forehead repeatedly with the stupid burner phone, my tears already falling like a waterfall. I sank into the hammock and buried my face on the small pillow. Squeezing its ends tightly, I cried and sobbed loudly like a child. There was only one thing I was sure of─I was a liar. Because no matter how hard I tried to deny, the truth was...I love him.
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