Chapter 30 - Stone (Part 2)
Stone listened in silence to the conversation taking place between his mate and the male werewolf, hearing more, seeing more, and smelling more than the simple words that were spoken.
He saw brief glimpses of Aubree’s memories before he quickly locked up his own mind to prevent himself from witnessing more.
She had a life before him—he had to keep reminding himself that. She couldn’t possibly know that he existed and that they were soulmates.
How could he blame her? It was human nature to lust after an attractive male and there was no denying that Jackson was not only physically desirable, but he possessed the qualities that marked him as an alpha—confidence, pride, and an air that drew others in and made them feel comfortable.
Mentally, he separated himself from the pair as they talked. Stood back and observed. Smelled the acidity of remorse seeping from their flesh.
The stench of guilt and regret was always one of the most pungent odors to the lycan nose.
And yet, his pack put up with the stink of him for a century.
The most loyal beasts he could ever ask for.
The furrow in his mate’s brows told him that she understood the consequences of her actions and how they affected Jackson.
Tangled emotions, a pair of flies, caught in a web of lies.
“I’m sorry you had to find out this way,” Jackson said. “You weren’t supposed to find out, but seeing as you two are mates, it was bound to happen.”
“Is there anything further you wish to discuss with us?” Stone’s voice was flat, concealing everything he didn’t want to reveal to both his mate and the young alpha.
Jackson pulled himself together at the sound of Stone’s voice and looked him in the eye.
Alpha to alpha.
“No,” Jackson responded. “I see no reason to press charges, lock you both up, and inform the Lycan Council of your wrongdoing because you have done nothing criminal. You have not taken a human against her will, and while the outcome of her marking is questionable at this moment, no lycan would willingly harm his human soulmate in the manner we all fear. And you are soulmates, I sense that much for certain.”
He made a sweeping motion with his hand toward the doors. “The elders of my pack are just concerned, as I’m sure you can understand. Luna Aubree was once a human who lived among us and is a dear friend of Brooke’s. If anything happened to her, Brooke would have enacted her revenge. She is one of our strongest female warriors. I’m sure you can appreciate that level of honor.”
“Where is Brooke?” Aubree asked.
He jerked his head toward the doors. “Waiting out in the hallway with everyone else. She was finishing up her evening training session with the other warriors when you both came. She’s ready to tear your mate ‘a new one’ when she picked up your scents, but she’s holding herself back to hear you out. I think you both have a lot to catch up on.”
She pressed her hand to her face, the tired ache in her head matching his own. She sighed. “I need a minute.”
Jackson nodded and turned toward the windows lining the back wall, overlooking the green space behind the community center.
She cast a sideway’s glance at Stone but didn’t raise her gaze up to his. He felt her gentle prodding against his mental barrier and opened it up to let her in.
[You’re angry with me,] she said.
[I’m not sure ‘angry’ is the right word. Disappointed, yes. Frustrated, yes. Frankly, I’m exhausted. Kaput. I want to leave so I can relax. I can’t relax in front of another alpha.]
She nodded, sucked in a lungful of air, held it for a second, and then slowly released it. Closing her eyes, she did this two more times before straightening her spine, rolling her shoulders back, lifting her head, and wiping her palms on her sides.
“Okay. Let’s go. I’ll handle Brooke and we’ll get going.”
Jackson turned from the window as Aubree turned toward the double door. Both were interrupted by Stone.
Jackson caught his eye and gave him a nod and turned away again.
Hazel eyes looked up in confusion as Stone closed the distance between them. He took her hands in his, entwining their fingers, and raised them to her shoulders as he leaned down to press his forehead to hers. The creases on her forehead smoothed as her eyes closed and leaned forward to meet him.
They breathed in together and exhaled together. Her heartbeat fell into a synchronized rhythm with his as the tension between them slipped away.
Her forehead wrinkled against his. [I’m sorry I disappointed you.]
He rubbed his thumbs along hers. [You lived a life before me. I have to accept that. Goddess knows I’ve made worse mistakes.]
She pulled back and brushed her thumb against his cheek. [Accidents, Love. You didn’t mean to harm anyone.]
[Except for the rapist.]
[Yes, well, I’m sure he would have kept on raping women if you hadn’t stopped him.]
[Are we ready now?]
“We’re ready, Alpha,” she said.
Jackson gave them a nod before walking to the doors, unlocking them, and pulling them open.
A rush of hostile and agitated musks assaulted him before he saw them. Growls and snarls at the bloodstains on Jackson’s clothes had them seeing red and looking to spill blood.
Jackson immediately raised his hands to halt them. He ordered them to stand down, much to their disgruntlement, as he explained that the situation had escalated due to a misunderstanding, but assured them that the issue had been corrected and that Stone and Aubree were free to go.
The elders refused, insisting that they conduct a proper “inquiry,” before setting them free.
Jackson shut it down.
“The night is almost upon us and we have to hunt.”
His mate was immediately at his side, her eyes showing concern and worry for his physical state before she shot a steely glare at Stone.
Stone ignored her and instead focused his attention on Hector and Rosemary, standing along the windows of the hallway overlooking the street and the parking lot before the community center.
Aubree was pulled aside by a taller female with dark brown hair, firing questions off without pause. Aubree tried to deflect them, not wanting to answer them in front of the crowd of werewolves. “Tomorrow. I’ll tell you everything tomorrow at our Fourth of July party.”
The girl, Brooke, stole a heated glare Stone’s way before Aubree scolded her on it.
“Well, this seems interesting,” Hector whispered to Stone as he reached his cousin’s side and leaned against the windowpane with his arms crossed over his chest, watching Aubree and Brooke whispering back and forth. “I would love to hear the details, especially regarding the blood on the young male.”
He spoke in Lykostroya, knowing that the language was ancient and long-forgotten to the werewolves, so they wouldn’t understand a word of it, but Stone still did not want to utter the truth to his cousin.
“It was as the Alpha said,” he responded in their language.
The corners of Hector’s lips quivered as he struggled to maintain an emotionless expression. “Somehow, I doubt that.”
Hector’s eyes followed the werewolf alpha having a mental conversation with the ruffled-looking elders around him. “Looks like you’ve given them all something to talk about, though. The alpha who survived the fist of a lycan.”
He couldn’t contain himself then and let out a bark of laughter.
“Good. I’m done,” Aubree grumbled loud enough for everyone to hear and divert their attention to her. “Next person to cross me is getting bitch-slapped.”
Ignoring the glares from the elders, she trudged across the hallway to Stone and wrapped her arms around his waist and leaned into his chest. Squeezing her eyes shut, she took a deep breath, inhaling his scent, and relaxing as his arms enveloped her.
Giving Jackson a curt nod, he turned her toward the stairwell to return to the ground floor.
Hector and Rosemary followed them out and assembled into their car. They drove to Aubree’s parents’ house, where Aubree had to lie about “popping over to Brooke’s real quick” even though they were seeing her tomorrow.
Sandy invited Stone to spend the night in the guest room beside Aubree’s room.
Aubree huffed in response but said nothing.
[It’s too soon for her to accept that we’re already sleeping together,] she whispered in his mind, followed by an apology for her mother’s behavior.
[It’s fine, Love.]
He was walking a thin line with her mother, he knew. He had to play by her rules for the sake of Aubree’s happiness.
He never had in-laws to argue with—besides Alistair. This was one more challenge for him, and he welcomed it, knowing that at the very least her mother wouldn’t forcibly try to break them up.
Or kill them.
If the Council found out, what would they do?
He settled into his bed, listening to Aubree’s parent’s talking across the hallway in their room, while listening to Aubree settle in her bedroom next to his with a bathroom between them.
At least they had the mind-link to talk to each other until they fell asleep.
[My bed is cold without you,] he complained to her.
He heard her stifle a giggle. [So is mine.]
[I’ve been spoiled. I got used to sleeping alone and now I can’t bear it.]
She hummed as she climbed into her bed, the floorboards creaking one last time under her feet.
His room was immaculately clean like the rest of the house. He had to open the window to let in the fresh air. Even the bedsheets smelled freshly washed with a hint of lavender. Closing his eyes, he ignored the sounds of her parents whispering to each other as they prepared themselves for bed, and turned his attention to his mate.
[Sometimes, I forget how old you are,] she said. [How old everyone is. What’s it like to live eight hundred years?]
[Sometimes, time crawls... while other times, it flies and you don’t even feel it passing by so quickly. Like with the pups. One minute, they fit in the palm of my paw, and the next they’re screaming in agony with their first shift and there’s nothing I can do to ease their pain.]
[Oh god, don’t tell me that!]
[I’m sorry, Love, but that is one of the hardest things to endure as a parent. Watching your pup reach adulthood. It’s the most painful but necessary shift in life. And I will endure it with you. I won’t leave your side.]
[It still scares me...]
[When we go back home, I’m going to spend more time in my beast form so it won’t frighten you so much.]
[It’s not that...]
He grinned to himself. [You’ll survive the shift, Love. Don’t worry about that. Will it help if you watch me shift a few times?]
[The more you see it, the less foreign and frightening it will seem.]
She sighed. [I know.]
[I’ll let everyone in the pack know that they must only interact with you in their beast forms.]
[Aw, come on!]
He chuckled lightly. [What else can I do, Love? The next full moon is in two weeks.]
[I don’t know. I’m probably just building it all up in my head and making it worse than it probably is.]
He didn’t think that was possible, but he kept that thought to himself. She didn’t need to worry more than was necessary.
Silence fell within their minds as he listened to the wind blow through the trees outside, a car pass by every minute, before Aubree interrupted his train of thought, asking him to share a memory. Any memory.
A smile formed as he recalled memories of Gwen and Gavin when they were puppies: playing tug of war with him, learning how to crouch without being seen by prey, pouncing on Alistair while he pretended not to sense them there. He told them to go for the jugular and Alistair fake screamed for help.
Aubree was stifling her laughter with a pillow while warmth filled him with the sound.
It had been a long and stressful day. The sound of her laughter was all he needed to put his soul at ease.
They continued talking, sharing more memories and stories, while Aubree’s parents fell asleep, their soft snores filling the silence of the house.
The clock on his bedside table glowed after one and neither he nor Aubree had fallen asleep, despite their exhaustion.
They fell quiet, trying to settle down for the night, but sleep wouldn’t come.
[That’s it,] she finally said as she slipped from her bed. Her feet padded softly across the floor that creaked slightly under her. [I can’t take it anymore. I’m coming over.]
[Breaking the rules, I see. Such a rebel,] Stone teased.
[You’re worth my mother’s wrath.]
[She is pretty fierce for a human female.]
[Ugh! You have no idea!]
She slipped into his room, locked the door behind her, and crawled into his arms where they both heaved a sigh and were asleep in moments.
Her mother was the least of his worries before darkness took him.