The Ties That Bind
“What the hell, man?” I shouted, trying to dodge his next jab. My jaw was throbbing, the pain sparking a fury in me.
Bryce was coming at me again, rage in his amber wolf eyes and fangs bared. The music drowned out his growls. He swung wildly at me, his size making him clumsy. I could smell the whiskey coming from his breath and knew it was giving him the bravery to challenge me. The crowd around us was pulling away, staring at the scene.
“Bryce, stop!” I didn’t want to fight him, but the more I ducked out of his reach, the more furious he became. The veins in his neck were throbbing, protruding dangerously from the skin. He was losing it.
Asenna was behind him, trying to restrain his arms. She wrapped her arms under his and around his neck, squeezing tightly. She was dangling from him, her feet off the ground, and I could see the strained look on her face. She couldn’t hold him. Bryce was flailing is arms, trying to break free from her grip. He backed up and smashed her body against a column and her arms released from him. I saw her drop to the floor, wincing from the impact to her spine, but she was already getting back up. Bryce was flying at me again, Soren coming up behind him. He spun Bryce around by his arm and pinned it to his back, twisting it at an unnatural angle. Without giving any pause, Soren pushed him through the crowd, towards the exit. I followed with the girls right behind me.
We came out into the cool night, the bustle of the city seemingly quiet compared to the sounds coming from inside the venue. I followed Soren- still man handling Bryce- into a back alley and watched as he shoved my bear of a best friend into the brick wall.
“What the hell is your problem?” Soren shouted at him.
Bryce stood, crouched in a defensive position, snarling and glaring at me. “He knows what my problem is.” I looked at Asenna, seeing her beautiful face lit by the city lights. She looked confused, speechless. “I told you I wanted her.” His voice was more animal than man, guttural and viscous. “And you swoop in and take her for yourself.”
Soren looked between the three of us, as if he couldn’t believe what was going on. “Seriously? You’re throwing punches and challenging your future Alpha over someone who isn’t even your mate?”
“She could have been!” Bryce shouted at him. “But no. Ryker had to step in and ruin that chance.”
“I couldn’t have been your mate, Bryce.” Asenna’s voice filled the space around us. She came close to us, staring at him with an apologetic expression before shooting me an unsure look.
“You don’t know that.” Bryce argued. His voice was lower now, more controlled, but I could still hear the anger. “I could have made you happy.”
“No.” My voice was reverberating with my Alpha authority. It was time to put an end to this dream of his, even though it hurt to put my best friend in such pain. I had bit my tongue too many times, endured too many affectionate looks and gestures he gave her. I wasn’t sharing Asenna, that was certain. “Asenna is mated to me. Ever since the Howling.”
It was the first time the words had been said aloud. Asenna’s face was a mixture of emotions that I couldn’t read. Our friends looked at us with various expressions. Samantha-ecstatic. Soren- anxious. Lia- shock. But Bryce… Bryce’s face was contorted into a show of betrayal, rage, pain, and sadness.
“You knew.” He growled. “I came to you, and you didn’t tell me. You lied to me.”
“Bryce, come on, let’s just head back home and cool off.” Soren coaxed, reaching a tentative hand towards him.
Bryce batted the hand away with a sneer. “I’ll make my own way.” He shoved past us, ramming his shoulder against mine on his way out of the alley. He stopped and looked over his shoulder briefly. “So much for loyalty.”
He left us standing there, looking from one another with uncertainty. We all agreed that it was probably best we head back to Varcolac then. Everyone was quiet as we piled into the van, nobody knowing what to say. Luckily, Bryce had given the keys to Soren to be the designated driver for the evening. The van hummed along the road and I felt guilty for how things had gone with Bryce. I should have told him from the beginning. Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten so invested in the prospect of being with Asenna. Maybe he wouldn’t have been as mad. Maybe he would still be here with us.
Asenna leaned slightly against me. I could feel the guilt weighing her down as well. Her silver hair draped over her shoulders and some of the strands caught on my black shirt, standing out in stark contrast. I slid my hand over slowly, tentatively reaching for hers, and sighed in relief when she met me halfway. We were only holding hands- innocent enough- but it was the fact that she wasn’t pulling away that sent a thrill through me. I ran my thumb along her knuckles and felt the callouses of her palms. Her hands were not soft and supple, they were rough and hardened from years of abuse. I knew that she was proud of her Pack’s traditions, but my heart ached at the idea of her going through such tortures, and my wolf cried at the thought of her being alone for so long. But I was here now. And I would never let her be alone again.
I didn’t know what was going to happen, and in that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to care about the implications of tonight’s events. Right here, right now, I was warm, and felt a pleasant hum running through me. His touch comforted me and pushed the worry and fear out of my mind. The Moon Goddess had said she was never wrong in her matches, and I was starting to think she was right.
“So… Have you told your dad?” Soren asked, his eyes on us in the rearview mirror.
Ryker stiffened, his hand tightening around mine. I could feel his anxiety through our bond. “No, not yet.” He swallowed hard.
“Well, that should be interesting.” Samantha added, her voice slurring slightly. She had obviously been enjoying the bar a bit too much.
“What do you mean?” I asked with concerned curiosity.
“Drop it, Sam.” Soren warned.
She ignored him. “Oh, come one.” She drawled drunkenly. “Our dear Alpha Marcus is going to blow his top when he finds out a Spartan is our future Luna!” She laughed as if it was the most hilarious thing in the world.
The rest of us, however, sat in heavy silence. Ryker’s brow was furrowed, his jaw clenched. My hand fell limp in his grasp and the peace I had just felt came crashing down. Of course. Marcus was a proud werewolf, and he had made no secret of his opinion of me. Whenever he was near, he looked at me as a specimen, like something to study and dissect. I knew he wouldn’t be happy with this match up. In his eyes I wasn’t good enough for his son. I wasn’t fit to be Luna. The Royal Pack would no doubt agree.
I was a warrior- not a Princess.
When we got back to Varcolac, we went our separate ways. Soren and Lia supported a stumbling Samantha on their way home, and Ryker and I walked in silence to the manor. I kept my eyes on the ground, analyzing the cracks in the stone walkways. We entered the manor, the deadly quiet of the late night settling around us. Ryker led the way, walking me to my room. Once Marcus found out about us being mated, it probably wouldn’t be long before I was no longer welcome here.
He opened my door for me, and I stepped into the dark room, flipping on the light. I sighed and looked at him, his head hanging low and his hands in his pockets.
“We should probably talk.” I said quietly.
He looked at me nervously. I gestured for him to come in and he followed suit, closing the door gently behind him. He looked around the room with interest, his eyes resting on the bundle of blankets on the floor of the closet. He chuckled slightly, shaking his head.
“You’ve been sleeping on the floor?” Ryker asked, humor in his voice.
“I told you before, the bed is too soft.” I didn’t tell him it felt more like a den, more natural to me. I figured this conversation would be uncomfortable enough. “You don’t have to tell your dad anything.” I blurted.
He turned to me; his brows drawn together in confusion. “What?”
I picked at the skin around my fingers. “About…the whole mating thing. You don’t have to tell him.”
He walked over to me and tucked a strand of hair behind my ear. “What makes you think I would want to do that?” His eyes were gentle, probing.
“I know he wouldn’t want me mated to you. I have nothing to offer the Pack.” My heart was dreading the coming words. “And I heard you the night of the Howling. I heard what you told Skylar. In the hallway.” He closed his eyes and let out a heavy breath, letting his head fall forward. “Besides. You’re engaged to her already. Everyone would approve of her. I’m not cut out to be a Luna.” My brain recognized the words as truth, so why was my heart shattering like fragments of ice.
“Asenna.” Ryker breathed. He sat on the edge of the bed, running his hands through his jet-black hair. “When you came here, I was engaged to Skylar of my own will- I admit. She was insanely jealous, seeing me interested in you. She was hounding me day in and day out- she never shut up!” He sounded exasperated, like she was here right now in front of him. “I shouldn’t have even made up those things I said about you. I just wanted her to back off. I wanted her to stop talking about you. Every time she opened her mouth to say something about you, I fought every urge to…” He let the words trail off, ashamed to admit his own rage. An Alpha had every rite to sentence a member of his Pack to death, but that didn’t mean they enjoyed the killing. “I haven’t seen her since I heard your wolf song. I don’t care if she’s who my father wants me to be with, I don’t care whether or not she would be a good Luna.” He reached for my hand and pulled me toward him. “And don’t you ever think you have nothing to offer to this Pack. You are everything that our people need.”
His voice dripped like honey, full of admiration and sincerity. “You’re everything I need. I don’t want to reject our mating bond, Asenna.”
My blood was racing through my veins, my chest feeling warm and jittery. I felt a wetness on my cheek. Was I crying? In eighteen years, I had never once shed a tear, and here I was crying in front of the Alpha Prince like some sappy, love-struck pup.
I couldn’t find the words to say anything, my heart was full, but my brain couldn’t form thoughts. Instead, he just pulled me to him as he laid us down on the bed. Ryker tucked me into his arms, cradling my head on his elbow. I pressed up against him and nestled my face into his chest, breathing in his deep, enticing scent. His fingers ran through my hair, causing me to relax into the mattress and become sleepy. I felt his lips against my temple, my forehead, then my cheek. Sleep was coming for me and I sank into its dark embrace happily.
For the first time in eight years, I felt like I was home.