Chapter 12 - Aubree (Part 1)
When darkness took the place of the Goddess’ exit, Aubree returned to consciousness.
The crackling of the fire stirred her, making her turn away from the brightness of the flickering flames.
Stone groaned as he roused and scooped her up in his arms from behind. Her back pressed against his hard chest as his nose buried itself in the curve between her neck and shoulder. He inhaled and exhaled sharply at first and began to slow as his tense body relaxed against hers.
She could feel every emotion—anxiety, relief, joy—seep through her skin at his touch on her neck.
The flames of the campfire were burning low as the Spirit Walker sat nearby, poking it with a stick.
“So, you had a nice visit?” he asked, his eyes following the tip of the stick as he stirred the embers. Sparks flew up with a little pop from his prodding.
Aubree felt like a kid again, spending one weekend every summer camping with her father. Her mother never enjoyed camping, but she tolerated it. She liked lounging at the side of the lake of the campsites and working on her tan. Fond memories of being held against her father’s chest as they roasted marshmallows flickered in her memory as she watched the flames dance. She had been surrounded in warmth and love then as she was now.
“Yeah,” Aubree said as Stone nodded his head, his short stubble scratching her skin. “It was a weird—but good—feeling. It was nice to meet everyone, especially the Goddess.”
“Yes, She was the most demanding one of the bunch,” Clear Waters said. “You must have done something to offend Her.”
He wiggled his eyebrows at them, thereby tugging on the corners of Aubree’s lips.
Silence fell among them for a minute before Stone said in a gravely voice, “I rejected Her blessing at first.”
He brushed his lips across her collar bone in a gentle caress as his arms tightened an inch around her. Tingles danced across her nape, as his love and affection warmed her.
“That would do it. They get offended easily, you know.”
Clear Waters groaned as he rose to his feet. His knee popped, making him grimace. “I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered under his breath.
He ran his hand across his weathered face, his eyes drooping with heaviness. “I’ve prepared a tent for you both to sleep in. It’s about a mile out there in the desert to give you both some privacy. I was instructed that you might need it.”
As heat flushed her face, Aubree pressed her lips together to conceal her blush. “Thanks.”
“Goodnight, you two,” Clear Waters said before yawning. “May the path before you be beautiful.”
She watched him drag his feet toward the house, exhaustion pressing down heavily on his shoulders.
“How old is he?” she found herself asking Stone in a whisper.
He shrugged. “A couple of centuries.”
Pulling away and turning, Aubree looked over her shoulder at Stone to gauge his expression better.
How was it that everyone she met recently was so old?
She heaved a sigh as she settled back against him. “I’m never going to get used to this.”
Stone pressed a smile to her neck again. “Wait a century, Love, and then it won’t surprise you so much.”
Lowering her gaze, she pulled her legs up to her chest and rested her chin on her knees.
To live a century or more...
The Goddess did say that, but she still couldn’t wrap her head around it.
She could become like him. A beast like him.
While the thought of being with Stone and everyone else she had come to love for an endless amount of time sounded wonderful, it came with forced transformations into a beast every full moon. Did she really want that?
It’s your destiny.
“Relax,” Stone murmured into her ear as his hands rubbed her arms. “We have time. Take as much of it as you need.”
Swallowing, she pulled away again to face him.
She saw her reflection in his eyes as the shadows danced across his face from the flickering flames.
He will not claim you until you’re ready, she reminded herself.
Reaching up, she touched his cheek with her palm and leaned in to press her forehead to his. Exhaling a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding, she refilled her lungs with his warm, earthy scent and let the warmth of his emotions spread through her and soothe her.
“I love you.”
“I love you too,” he whispered back.
With an arm draped around her shoulder, he held her for another minute before urging her to her feet.
He scooped up some earth and dumped it on the low-burning fire, extinguishing it. Dusting his hands off on his jeans, he turned his back to her and got down on one knee. She climbed on before he wrapped his arms around her legs and ran off into the desert.
Daylight was still a few hours away, and the only light to serve them came from the bright silver sphere in the sky and the sprinkling of stars that scattered across the vast inky heavens.
Aubree stared up in awe at the thousands of stars as they bounced along. How could there be so many? How had she not seen them all before? There were pockets of misty clouds surrounding hundreds of them, forming almost a line across the sky. It was so wondrous and heavenly that she finally understood why the sky was often referred to as the heavens above. It was too beautiful to be real. Too divine and spectacular to wrap her head around each star as its own sun with its own planets and solar system surrounding it.
Before she knew it, Stone was setting her down carefully on the ground, while she continued to gaze upward. Even when she went camping with her parents, she’d never seen the sky at night like this.
Stone stepped up close to her, blocking her view as he smirked down at her. “You like what you see?”
Grinning back at him, she quirked an eyebrow. “I was until someone blocked my view.”
“That’s a shame because I’m enjoying my view.”
Her cheeks pinched as she swatted his chest playfully. “You’re the peanut butter to my jelly sandwich.”
“I don’t get it.”
She giggled to herself. “Well, you aren’t chunky.”
He continued to stare at her, clearly not making the connection.
Realizing that it would take some explaining for him to get it, she wrapped her arms around his neck and played with the tips of his hair. “I just mean that... sometimes, you have a way of saying things that make me realize how lucky I am to have you.”
“Blessed, Love. There is no luck with the matebond. We have been blessed.”
Cupping her cheeks in his palms, he bent down and pressed his lips to hers.
Why did he have to kiss her so softly? All her fears and insecurities about his beast and turning into one slipped away with each tender caress.
It was still difficult to believe when he was so gentle with her. His beast looked anything but gentle, but he hadn’t harmed her. She hadn’t had a chance to see him in action though. She was certain he could be destructive when he had to be.
He pulled away, his breath hot on her face as he leaned his forehead against hers for a moment. Licking his lips, he withdrew without a word and went to the tent that was set up for them.
With his presence gone, the cold desert air struck her and she tugged her hoodie tighter around her. Looking around them, Aubree noticed that they stood in another large circle. The tent was in the middle of it with about five feet stretching around it.
While Stone spread out some blankets on the ground—half in and half out of the tent—Aubree’s eyes wandered to the desert around them and the various scraggly shrubs and cacti illuminated in silver light.
After getting a feel for her surroundings, she tilted her head back up to the sky. By then, Stone was done setting up their bed and returned to her side.
Towering over her again, he smiled as he brushed his fingers through her hair. “Now I can share my favorite thing to do with you.”
He nodded. “You don’t know how much I’ve missed seeing the sky like this. It’s been over fifty years. And I’ve missed having my soulmate by my side to share it with me.”
His fingers trailed over the arch of her ear and down to the lobe before falling along her neck and sending delightful shivers up her spine.
“I’ve missed you, Aubree. I’ve missed you for so long.”
Digging his hand into her hair above her nape, he clasped her lips with his again. It was bittersweet and she could feel the ache, the loneliness that had consumed him for a hundred years since her soul departed him.
She could have argued that she wasn’t Adelaide, but did it matter? In her heart, she knew he was talking about missing the connection with her soul, missing the feel of her soul’s presence. It wasn’t about her personally, nor her body. It was his soul speaking and reaching out to hers.
They nestled down on the blankets, one arm hooked behind his head, and the other underneath hers and wrapped around her shoulder as they looked up at the sky at the mouth of the tent, their legs inside and their torsos outside.
They lay there in silence for some time, appreciating the beauty before them until Stone sighed next to her. Looking over, she could tell something was up with the way his eyes fixated on the sky.
Propping herself up on an elbow, she gazed down at him. Trouble brewed within those depths that even she could see in the reflected light of the moon above. Resting her hand over his heart, she felt it drumming away gently.
Swallowing, he pulled his arm out from under his head and rested his hand on top of hers. He brushed his thumb over her knuckles before closing his eyes and bringing it up to his lips.
“There’s so much I want to tell you,” he said. “That I need to tell you. For you to understand.”
She waited as his brows knotted and he lowered her hand to his chest.
“I’m not sure how to tell you this.”
“It’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it right now if you don’t want to.”
He shook his head. “No. You deserve to know.”
Anxiety crept up her throat as she watched him, trying to figure out what could possibly be running through his mind now, but without any clues, it was impossible to tell.
“You remember the Goddess saying that my heart was hard on humans?”
Nodding her head, Aubree struggled to swallow.
His thumb stroked her knuckles again. “My heart had always been hard on humans. I have not had positive experiences with them—until you. It’s important to me that you understand why.”
He heaved a sigh, his face twisting in a grimace.
“Aubree, humans murdered my parents.”