Chapter 22 - Aubree (Part 1)
The act of experiencing someone else’s memories—especially ones as painful and emotionally charged as the ones Stone had shown her—was both enthralling and overwhelming. She could feel his every emotion that raged through him. Felt his anger, his hatred, his disgust, his fear, his guilt, and his utter devastation and remorse through his mind and touch. She couldn’t even grapple with her own thoughts and feelings as she experienced the mental projections, as if she’d been walking in his own shoes.
She wanted to slaughter the rapist when he did. Fall down to her knees with the baby as he did.
She didn’t know his world had been so cruel. How his life had been touched—tainted—by humans.
And he was expected to turn a blind eye and let them hurt others?
She didn’t understand his world, and she couldn’t help but wonder how she could ever fit in it.
She didn’t press him, and he didn’t bring it up. They stayed locked in each other’s arms on the chair, holding each other and sharing in the comfort they both sought.
Letting go of Gwen took on a whole new meaning to her.
Gwen had been there when he was exiled and wracked with guilt. She stayed at his side when they crossed Europe, the ocean, and the United States. She helped maintain the pack. She took over her mother’s role when no one else could. She was there during her father’s grief.
She was so much more than a daughter to him.
All of them were so much more than simply pack members.
Pride and love grew within her for each of them.
This was the way family should be. The way she thought a pack should be.
She wanted to make them proud as their Luna and hoped she could be as good as Gwen and Adelaide had been. The Blauwald Pack deserved it if they had to lose Gwen as well.
After half an hour, they pulled away from each other to start the day. Their stomachs growled, but Stone insisted she do her training first.
She groaned. “Can’t I do it later?”
“You’ll throw it all up if you train with a full belly.”
She began to protest, but he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried her down the stairs.
“Afraid not, Röslein. But I’ll allow you to have a single slice of toast. How about that?”
Huffing, she relented as he carried her down.
Step number one to becoming Luna was to get in shape. Boy, did she need to get in shape. She didn’t miss those disapproving looks Stone and Gunner exchanged. She knew she sucked, but she wasn’t one to admit defeat. Her stubbornness wouldn’t let her.
Dom, Mari, and their other two pack mates were out hunting, Stone said when they reached the living room and found it empty.
When she asked how he knew, he tapped his temple. “Gunner and Gawain. They’re still on patrol.”
They went into the kitchen and a minute later were joined by Alistair as Aubree waited for her bread to toast.
“Good morning, meine kleine—”
“No more German pet names, Alistair,” she interrupted, quirking a brow in challenge.
He sputtered, his mouth grappling for words. “B-But, Mausi—Hasi—Spatzi—Zuckerschnecke!”
“I don’t know what any of those mean!”
He eyed her up and down as a slow, crooked grin began to creep up his face.
[Okay, what are you up to?] she asked him with narrowing eyes.
He wiggled his dark brows at her as he began to circle around her. He held his hands behind his back and lifted his chin up, peeking at her from the corner of his eye. [Nothing.]
Stone was standing back and hiding a grin behind his hand. He caught Aubree’s eye as she raised a brow at him. [You just going to let him call me all those names?]
[They are kind of adorable...]
She scowled, to which he cleared his throat to draw Alistair’s attention. ”Zuckerschnecke?”
“What does that even mean?” she fired back.
“Beats those lame names you give her.” Alistair puffed out his chest. “Mine suit her much better.”
[He’s got me there, Love.] Stone smirked.
She threw her head back with a groan. “What does Zuckerschicker-schlicker, or whatever, even mean?”
Stone face-palmed as Alistair busted out laughing.
[Mausi means mousy. Hasi means bunny. Spatzi means sparrow. And Zuckerschnecke means sugar snail,] Stone mentally filled in.
The big, dark-haired demon-dog pulled her roughly against his chest that continued to vibrate with guffaws. “Priceless. Where’s my camera when I need it? This is worth remembering a hundred years from now.”
She pushed herself off his chest. “You’re such a jerk sometimes.”
He clutched his chest. “Oh, babygirl. That name hurts. Call me Handsome or even Cheeky is fun.”
“How about I call you, Fluffy, huh? Or Poodle-doodle?” Her eyes widened as a grin began to spread across her face. “Oh, how about Mr. Powder-puff-tail, huh? Yeah, I like that one. Like a French Poodle with a skinny ass and one of those pompom tails.”
He laughed. “Yeah, I do have a skinny ass, don’t I?”
Her mouth fell open as he continued to smirk.
This was why he stuck with Stone all these years.
The man had no shame! No shame at all! He wouldn’t know shame if it bit him in the butt!
Alistair frowned, his bottom lip extending as he gave her the big puppy-dog eyes.
[Aw, is that what you think of me, babygirl?]
Oh, he was good.
The toaster popped, making her jump as she had forgotten all about her toast.
[Dammit! Get out of my head!]
[Push him out, Love, and pull up your barriers like I taught you,] Stone said, trying to maintain a straight expression, though the corners of his lips twitched with effort.
[Aw, but I like it in here. Her thoughts are so refreshing.]
She pushed the pressures out of her mind and pulled up her shield as she inhaled a breath and held it for a second before releasing it.
Alistair pouted again. “Darn it. You two are no fun...” He brightened. “I’m going to go tease Gwen and Lance.”
Before Alistair could scamper out of the kitchen, Stone grabbed his shoulder. “You leave them alone.”
He stared intently into Alistair’s eyes. The humor left Alistair’s face and it hardened as the muscles in his jaw clenched. His hands balled into fists at his sides. His brows pulled down. He gave Stone a curt nod before turning on his heels and marching out the sliding door without another word.
Aubree gaped at his retreating form before he disappeared into the forest.
Staring out the sliding door, Stone brushed his fingers through his hair as his voice jarred her from her stunned thoughts. “I told him that Gwen was leaving. He needs to burn off some steam now. It’s his turn to patrol anyway, so Gunner and Gawain can return.”
She heaved a sigh. “Couldn’t we try talking to Eramis and ask for more time? I mean, I’m sure he can be understanding of Gwen’s health. She is going to be their future Luna after all.”
As much as Aubree hated saying it, she knew Gwen would have to leave. Eramis didn’t seem to want to budge on that, but surely he could be more flexible about her travel given that she was still recovering from injuries?
Stone turned to the entryway. “Please, come in.”
Aubree didn’t notice anyone standing there, but without their heightened senses, it couldn’t be helped.
Lance emerged with his head hanging low. “I just came to get Gwen some milk...”
He padded in softly, his shoulders slumped.
Aubree bit down on her bottom lip as she watched him wade toward the fridge, as if trying to slip through icy waters, his eyes on his feet as he took each tentative step forward.
It was painful to watch him. She turned to the cupboard to fetch a glass for him and he thanked her meekly.
“What do you think, Lance?” Stone asked in a low voice as Lance opened the fridge door for the milk. “Do you think Guinevere is well enough to travel right now?”
Lance’s eyes darted up to his, before dashing off as he shook his head, no.
He poured milk into the glass and closed the door. As he turned to leave, Stone asked, “Do you think your parents can be reasoned with?”
He hesitated. “Yes and no. They’re both the most stubborn lycans I’ve ever met.”
Stone nodded. “I’ll call them up right now.”
“Wait,” Lance interjected. “Give me a few minutes, okay? Dom told me what’s going on, but you’re right. Gwen’s not well enough to travel. She’s my mate and I want what’s best for her too.”
Aubree could feel a hint of Stone’s relief and a swell of pride in the kid, which only added to the love she already felt for him.
Stone nodded and Lance left, carrying himself higher than when he entered.
[He might make a great Alpha someday,] Aubree said, turning to address her meager breakfast.
Stone wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her back against him. He kissed the side of her head as she tried to wiggle out. [I believe you may be right, Love.]
[Of course, I’m right. I hate to be wrong.]
About to spread jam on her bread, Stone grabbed her hips and spun her around. She squealed before colliding with his chest as he wrapped her up in his arms. Pressing a grin into his chest, she slipped her arms around him as he nuzzled the top of her head.
[I don’t know where you get your stubbornness from, but I like it.]
The smile faded from Aubree’s face as she turned her cheek and pressed it against him. [My mother.] She sighed. [I should call her later. See if we can’t reach an understanding of our own.]
It would be hard. Her mother was probably as stubborn as Eramis, but she knew she had to try. Her mother would always be her mother, no matter what happened. They would get through their opposing views eventually once her mother learned to let go of her daughter and trust Aubree to make her own decisions for herself.
She looked up to catch Stone’s gaze and he nodded, having heard her mental conversation with herself. With a hum, she smiled and snuggled into his chest again.