The Rise

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Chapter Fifty-Five

Valerio brushed his fingers against Lucia’s cheek, saying goodbye to her.

“Ya know… If you ever want to watch her, be my guest. She keeps me up all night,” Aaisha complained. She took Lucia from Valerio and placed her on her hip, rocking her gently.

He chuckled. “Good night, Aaisha.”

Aaisha shut the pack-house door behind her as Valerio and I departed from her property. I linked my arm in Valerio’s. “She’s so cute,” I said.

“She is, but that girl is gonna be a wild one. She nearly broke my finger when I tried giving her back to Aaisha.” He laughed.

I closed my eyes, enjoying the sound of his laugh. “Do you want kids?”

He looked so natural with them, and honestly he seemed so much more attractive with them. I wouldn’t mind a bunch of Valerio’s running around. They’d be well-behaved kids - that much I knew.

“I would’ve liked to,” he said.

“Would’ve?”

He sighed and stared up at the moon. “When you ascended, I gave up the right to find a mate… That’s why I was so hooked on Nakida. I thought that she could be the one for me.” His voice stayed strong. I couldn’t pick out even an ounce of hurt within it.

Never have a mate. Valerio gave that up for… me? Half of me ached for him, but the darker half of me was glad that I wouldn’t have to keep up with another woman.

“Did my mom make you do it?” I asked. It sounded like something she would force upon Valerio to torture him more.

He paused for a long moment. “Yes, but it has been done for centuries. It’s a tradition among Moon Goddess’ personal Protectors. They must give up a life of potential happiness with a mate to protect the one true goddess.”

I frowned. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He squeezed my hand, his fingers slipping between mine. “I’m happy.”

My heart fluttered with excitement, but then my stupid ass asked the one question I didn’t want to know the answer to. “But don’t you wish you could find love with someone and be happier?”

He chuckled again, the sound giving me butterflies. “I’ve found love, Mae.”

“With Nakida,” I said, closing my eyes. Both hurt yet… happy for him.

“No, not Nakida.” Valerio paused, my moonlight bouncing off of his face. “I loved Nakida very much, but not with all my heart.”

We approached my cabin door, and I turned to him. “Who?” I asked, trying not to bounce on my toes like I used to every Christmas morning with Dad. It felt like I was slowly unwrapping a present that I already knew that I wanted, Valerio, and figuring out who he wanted and who he loved.

Valerio gazed at me. His wolf appeared in his eyes and lingered for a few moments. “Long before I met Nakida, I met a woman. She was amazingly strong despite her heartbreaks. She made mistakes, but she grew from them.” He stopped. His canines emerged but he put them away. “I loved her…” He smiled, sadly. “But she always loved someone else.”

I pressed my lips together, not daring to break eye contact with him, and furrowed my brows at him. “Do you still love her?” I whispered, staring up at him. “Love… more than just platonically?”

He paused for a few moments. His eyes fought between wolf and human, an internal struggle happening within him. “I do.”

My heart leapt in my chest. The spark between us had always been there. From the moment that I met him to the time he sat next to me on the bus, I was just too caught up in all the drama Damon and Luca brought to my life to consider him.

Damon and Luca both made me extremely happy, but Valerio… he was different. We made each other stronger; we complimented each other nicely. He supported me in anyway that he could and he never drove me to make stupid rash mistakes.

Valerio gave me a half-smile and turned to unlock the door. But I stopped him and pulled his hand back into mine. I stood on my toes and pressed my lips onto his. His lips were full and soft and needy. He gently placed his hands on the sides of my neck and pulled me closer, kissing me harder. With just enough heat and passion and love, the kiss felt right. More right than anything else had in my life.

I wasn’t left wondering if he would choose me over Alexandra. I wasn’t left wondering if he marked me because he loved me or because he wasn’t to defeat his greatest enemy. I felt like this moment was the one I’d been preparing for since day one. It was such an odd feeling.

When his fingers grazed against Damon’s mark and Damon’s memories replayed in my mind, I pulled away, suddenly overcome with grief.

If I brought Damon back, what would he think of this? Valerio knew very well that this was still a possibility, especially after we successfully brought Ashur back to life.

Valerio shook his head, his gaze falling on my mark. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ha-”

“Valerio, stop.” I took the keys from his hand. “You’re not sorry and neither am I.” I grabbed his hands. Sure, it was weird. My memories of Damon had driven a weird barrier between our kiss, but this feeling for Valerio wasn’t going to go away. We didn’t need to figure it out now. “We’re at our cabin, deep in the woods, where nobody will ever bother us. We have the next hundreds of thousands of years to figure us out.”

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