The Cursed Kingdom

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โ€œHere. Try this one."

Jerium shook his head slowly, the corner of his lips twitching upwards. "Alright, alright..." He reached over and grabbed the mixed berry macaron from my grasp before taking a small, tentative bite. I'd made it myself with the help of Ingrid, who showed me around the palace's kitchen, and I stared closely at his face that flickered orange and dark because of the fire in the fireplace. Watching every painfully slow up and down movement of his jaw, I waited eagerly for his reaction. His Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed and I looked at him expectantly. "It's good." His voice went up an octave, sounding impressed, and he finished the rest of it in a large bite. "Really good," he added with a mouthful of the blue pastry, probably just to appease me. But I didn't care. He said he liked it and that's all that mattered.

"Raena made all these here." Ingrid waved her hand over a section of the quickly put together picnic we'd spread out on the floor on top of a wool blanket, which was as close to the fire as it possibly could without setting ablaze. "And these are mine." She gestured to the other half, looking particularly proud of the small sandwiches she'd brought, whose unique flavors I'd forgotten already.

Only half an hour had passed since Ingrid's arrival when Jerium walked in on us, the loud shrieking of the heavy table's legs dragging against the hardwood floor as we tried moving it into the hallway catching his attention. After seeing what we were doing, without saying a word, Jerium helped us move the rest of the furniture away, somehow using his magic to make it light so he could lift it with one hand, and finally joined us after we didn't stop insisting.

"They all look delicious. Thank you, ladies, for allowing me to join in on your celebration," Jerium said, grabbing some crackers and what looked like goat cheese before quickly popping them in his mouth. He sighed and leaned back on his elbow while using his other arm to pick out and nibble on whatever caught his eye. It was probably the first time I'd ever witnessed Jerium completely relaxed, the hybrid not seeming to have a care in the world or a single thought behind those red locks of his.

Ingrid reached into her wooden basket beside her, the one she'd brought the sandwiches in, and pulled out a bottle full of garnet liquid, my eyes perking up at the sight. She set it aside and then grabbed three of the five glasses with the Cursed Kingdom's crest engraved in the sides that she'd stolen from the palace's kitchen, proceeding to pour half a glass in each before handing them out.

I happily took the cool glass from her hand, which was soothing against the heat of my palms, and leaned down to get a whiff of the liquid inside, swirling it around in my glass. It smelled fruity and sweet, just the way I liked my wine, and I thanked Ingrid again for bringing it.

"So... Would anyone like to make a Winter Solstice toast?" Ingrid suggested, her eyes bouncing between Jerium and I expectantly.

I dropped my glass slowly away from my lips, trying to act as casual as possible and like I hadn't been planning on taking the largest sip of alcohol in my life before she'd spoken.

Jerium nodded his head towards me, cradling his glass and staring at the drink inside uncaringly. "I think our future queen should have the honors," he said, sending me a smile paired with trusting and mirth-filled eyes. My insides churned with guilt and something else distasteful and my mouth suddenly felt dry.

My gaze flashed to Ingrid, who wore a tight grin with knowing eyes that were heavy with sadness. It made me wonder if she felt culpable or regretful. After all, she was partly responsible for sparking my desire and hope of escaping in the first place and proceeded to endorse itโ€”or at least, she didn't try to stop me or turn me in to anyone, which I saw as some type of support nonetheless.

The Healer suddenly gave me an encouraging nod, halting my mind altogether, and I realised that I truly didn't want to think about any of that that night. For the first time in what felt like forever, I just wanted to drink wine, pretend to be normal, and spend time with my new friends and not feel guilty because they weren't the ones I'd lost.

So I looked away from her and towards the fire ahead of me, a lump making its home in my throat.

"I don't know how to do a toast," I admitted sheepishly, looking down at my glass and eyeing the silhouette of my head in the wine, my frizzy hair in particular catching my attention. "I'm afraid I'll be garbage at it."

"Nonsense." Jerium waved my words off like they were a meager fly. "Anything you say will be delightful, Madam."

I inclined my head, heartbeat racing with anxiety. "Right," I said and then forced the lump in my throat down with a single swallow, shifting awkwardly in my futile attempt to get comfortable. I sat up straighter and crossed my legs over themselves, something completely unladylike in the eyes of society, but I didn't care. And by the grinning looks on both of their faces, I knew Jerium and Ingrid didn't care either. I lifted my glass and raised my voice a bit louder than normal and it unintentionally sounded a bit deeper as well. "To us, Human, Mage, Lycan, and other-beings, alike. May our days from this moment until forever be filled with prosperity and peace and, most of all, happiness."

I raised my glass over my head. My speech felt too short but Ingrid and Jerium raised theirs all the same, smiling proudly at me. "To happiness," they said almost completely in sync.

Their words were like water that washed away the sinking feeling I'd been feeling and replaced it with something better, allowing me to throw my head back and take a large swing of my drink without care. The burn of it going down and settling in my stomach put me at ease and I relaxed, leaning back on the palm that wasn't responsible for holding my glass. Smiling, I looked to Ingrid only to be confused when I saw her staring at the doorway with an odd look on her face, her thin eyebrows raised in a comical fashion.

At the unexpected sound of feverish clapping behind me, I twisted around to see a familiar face that had a sour expression instinctively appear on my own, my stomach churning with something distasteful.

"That was beautiful, Madam!" the female said, still clapping so enthusiastically that in my head, I doubted it was genuine.

Looking as much as a goddess like the first time I'd seen her leaving Henrik's office, the female wore one of the most elaborate white dresses I'd ever seen paired with strands of sparking pearls around her neck and adorning her ears. Had it not been the Winter Solstice, I would've confused her for a brideโ€”a very beautiful bride, my thoughts added, again making me frown deeper. The tight fitting dress showed off her impressive curves and the deep v-line revealed her abundant cleavage along with the mark I'd once confused for Henrik's.

Jerium shot to his feet, nearly spilling his wine on his cotton shirt in the process, and bowed until his upper body was parallel to the floor. "Lady Calandrea," he uttered with respect for the female clear in his tone.

She smiled and shook her head at the hybrid in amusement. "Please, Jerium, enough with all that nonsense." She turned to me and spoke to me as if she'd known me her whole life. "My mate and I practically raised this one when he wasn't Henrik's shadow. He was just a wee thing when he arrived, weren't you, Jer Bear?"

Jerium, now standing up straight, and nodded sheepishly in response, embarrassed by the female's nickname. Beneath the orange glow from the fire reflecting off his skin, I could've sworn he was blushing a red that matched his hair.

"Oh, and please, Madam, call me Cal or Callie." She smiled so bright that it physically hurt to look at her face. Her teeth were as pristine as her dress and practically glowed against her warm caramel skin. "We're practically sisters, you and I."

No. No we are not, the snarky voice in my head hissed, but I bit my tongue and kept its remark to myself.

After sending the female a tight lipped smile, I stayed silent and took a slow sip of my wine, feeling overwhelmed by the negative emotions I'd originally felt for the Lycan, despite it being confirmed that she had a mate that was, in fact, not Henrik. But just the idea and image of them being together intimately was like a stubborn parasite who ate away at any possibility of me possessing a positive thought about her.

It made me want to drink more wine.

"Callie is Henrik's cousin and most trustworthy advisor," Ingrid told me, grinning up at the said female with nothing but friendliness in her blue eyes.

Feeling like I'd just been thrown into a pit of cold water, I choked a little on my drink, the liquid burning my throat. "You're his... cousin?" I asked Callie, my voice hoarse and my eyes widening.

"Well, technically second cousin," she replied with the beginning of a giggle at the end of her sentence, completely unaware of the shocked expression on my face. "My grandfather was Henrik's great uncle. But who's keeping track?" She laughed and seemed to finally notice our set up and beamed down at it with glee. A small gasp left her parted lips. "You guys are so cute! Are those macarons? They're my favourite!"

"Really? Me too," I replied slowly, my voice shaky with embarrassment.

I felt so stupid, a sensation that was becoming much too common for my liking. Regretting the way I'd behaved, I could only beg the gods that Callie hadn't caught onto my distaste for her at the beginning. Truly, I'd never been the judgmental or jealous typeโ€”had always prided myself on that fact. And after that experience, I vowed to never feel such animosity for another person again. It was quite debilitating.

"Favourite flavour?" Callie asked, hands on her hips, raising a brow. Gods. When she did that, she did resemble Henrik. Although their physical features were a bit off, with her having a much darker complexion and Henrik possessing a sharper bone structure, their facial expressions were nearly identical.


Pleased with my response, she nodded and her eyes literally glowed with excitement. "You and I are gonna be very good friends, Madam."

"Please, call me Raena," I uttered with a smile, watching her give a wider one in return. "Would you like to join?" I gestured to the open spot between Jerium and myself.

She seemed surprise that I offered and I didn't blame her

Inviting her to join us, I figured, was beneficial all the way around. Not only did it appease my conscience and wipe away some of the guilt from being so rude to her, but it would allow me to spark a relationship with perhaps Henrik's closest living relative. I knew if Henrik saw her, his cousin and advisor, someone whose word he obviously sweared by, trusting me, the easier it'd be for him to do the same.

"Oh, I'd hate to intrude," Callie responded, although her eager feline-shaped eyes told a different story as they bounced between the plates on the floor.

"No, please," Ingrid stated, pointing to the same area I had, "we have more than enough food and wine and it'd be a shame for it all to go to waste."

Jerium agreed and sat back down, patting the spot next to him while scooting over to make even more room.

"Alright. You've twisted my tail," Callie said giddily, almost childlike, and gracefully descended onto the rug. Her hand, as expected, immediately went for the bowl of multicoloured macarons. "So, Ingrid, how's the little one?" She took a bite of the pistachio flavored treat. By the look on her face, I could tell she was more than pleased with its flavor.

"He's alright. He and Furkan definitely spend a lot more time together than they used to. His canines are starting to develop and Furkan says that's the first sign of when a young Lycan is about to shift." She sighed and brought her glass to her lips. "It's a shame how fast kids grow. I could've sworn I just gave birth and now my baby's turning ten."

I knew Ingrid had a child but I'd never thought to ask details about how a mortal and Lycan's blood worked when mixed together. Would their child be immortal like his father and Ingrid be subjected to growing old while her family remained as they were?

The thought made me feel sick to my stomach for a strange reason and I found it very hard to find a position comfortable enough for me to relax. Whether it was the floor digging too far into my tailbone or my arms cramping when I leaned on them for too long, no posture seemed pleasant enough to allow me to truly laze for long.

The next time Ingrid offered to refill my glass, I found myself politely rejecting it with some pitiful excuse I created on the spot. Although it was as delicious as I could've hoped for, something in the corner of my mind held me back from drinking anymore.

I leaned back and watched the hypnotising flames in the fire while the trio around me drank wine, ate food, and talked amongst themselves. Of course, I got involved in some of the conversations and even laughed a couple times, smiling here and there and giving one word responses when it was appropriate. But the majority of the time I allowed my thoughts to muffle out most of the outside world so I could focus on them instead.

It was peaceful.

At some point during the night, the three of them together had drained two bottles of wine one overflowing glass at a time. After what I'd counted to be their third and fourth glass, I started to notice Ingrid's and Jerium's speech begin to slur, causing Callie and I to giggle every now and then, until suddenly, after around two hours of drunken prattle, there was silence.

After a few moments of strangely undisturbed quiet, I finally averted my gaze from the dying fire to see both Jerium and Ingrid fast asleep.

I sighed through my nostrils and looked up at the clock on the mantle. It was past midnight and seeing my friends sprawled out on the carpet elicited my own hidden desire to do the same.

"What were you thinking about?"

I jumped in my seated position and gave Callie a startled and confused look. "What?" For a person who'd drank four glasses of wine, she appeared surprisingly lucid as she set her empty glass down beside her, looking at me expectantly.

"You were staring at the fireplace pretty intensely there and I know a pondering female when I see it," she replied smoothly, a shadow of a smirk along her lips. "Were you thinking about my cousin, perhaps?"

"What? No!" I replied defensively and earned a look from her that told me very blatantly that she didn't believe me. Again, her facial expression reminded me of Henrik and my heart lurched for a reason I couldn't comprehend, my mark pulsing faintly.

Flustered, I sighed exasperatedly and tore my eyes away from her, trying to focus them on something elseโ€”on anything elseโ€”and desperately wished that Ingrid or Jerium would wake to detour Callie's attention.

"It's ok if you were. You're all he thinks about," she said so softly and simply that it had my stomach churning with an unfamiliar emotion. I didn't dare to look her in the eyes in fear that she'd see it.

There was a pause of silence filled with the soft snoring from Ingrid and the quite obtrusive ones from Jerium, whose curly hair was starting to frizz from rubbing against the blanket. As he shifted in his sleep, he nearly knocked over his own empty glass with his leather clad foot, causing my heart to leap into my throat. When he stilled and nothing shattered, I let out a relieved breath.

"Do you want to see the Feuer?" Callie suddenly asked, making me frown at the last word. Like Henrik, her accent had thickened when she said it.

"You mean the bonfire?" I said and stretched my sore limbs, the joints in my neck letting out some particularly loud cracks. My mother had always scolded me for doing that, saying it was gross and unladylike. But if Lady Calandrea was offended by it, she made no effort to say so. "I didn't think I was allowed," was my response to her subtle nod.

"Of course you are. You're the future queen," Callie said and nudged my shoulder with her own. I caught the scent of the perfume she was wearing, something indescribably sweet. "But I can make sure no one catches us, if you want. Not even Henrik. I am a master of sneakiness after all." There was a pause with me squinting my eyes and looking towards the ceiling, my thoughts leaning towards declining her offer. Callie didn't need to use her Lycan senses to see this and proceeded to clasp her hands underneath her chin, sticking out her crimson bottom lip. "C'mon, Raena. Please..." She gave me her best puppy dog eyes, which I thought was quite ironic given her species and the wolf-gold color of her irises.

Perhaps it was the small amount of alcohol still in my system or the same bad judgement that'd gotten me trapped in the Cursed Kingdom in the first place that had me saying: "Sure. Why not?"

* * *

I shivered and cursed when I tripped on a thick tree root hidden beneath the thick later of snow.

Callie instantly stopped and made sure I was alright before helping me brush off some of the snow off my trousers. Thankfully the thick leather material kept most of the moisture from reaching my skin and did well at keeping me warm.

Before we left, Callie had made me change out of my white dress and into warmer clothing, blabbering something about how Henrik would kill her if I fell ill on her watch. Since I didn't want to be unwell again myself, I did so without a problem. However, having Callie quite forcefully shove three layers of clothing onto me, socks and mittens included, I found to be a bit too much. It made me regret agreeing to go to the Feuerfest before ever stepping outside the palace and by the time I did, the emotion was just as brutal as the winter night's freezing air.

According to one of the books I had read, Lycans were naturally much more immune to the cold than most species, a trait that had something to do with their normal body heat being ten degrees above a human's. But I hadn't realised the extent of that immunity until I saw Callie walk outside. I watched enviously underneath my embarrassingly large hat and scarf as Callie practically frolicked through the snow, barefoot and only wearing her stunning dress. Her cheeks weren't at all flushed either, which I found intriguing, while my teeth clattered together uncontrollably and my toes were already beginning to freeze.

"Let me know if you feel the sickness coming and we'll head straight back," Callie told me, looping her arm through mine casually. I think it was more for my benefit than hers and I leaned subtly into her warmth, wishing I could wrap myself in it like a blanket.

"I don't think that's how diseases work," I laughed, quite stunned by her wording. I knew humans in comparison to creatures of magic were seen as weak and frail. But in listening to Callie, it sounded like she'd never gotten sick. Ever. The thought of that just didn't seem plausible to my mortal brain, who always got terrible sinus infections for weeks at a time in the autumn. Perhaps getting sick sounded just as strange to her immortal one.

Callie looked down at me with a smile, and I found myself gawking at her eyes. In the darkness, they reflected just like that of an alley cat only much, much more alluring.

I couldn't help but wonder if Henrik's did the same, thinking back to when I'd seen him in the gardens and his eyes held a similar hue.

Breaking away from her gaze, I stopped and my heart lurched when I heard the most haunting sound to ever make contact with my ears. It was soft and like a whisper but there all the same, slow singing echoing off the trees, wrapping us in a cocoon of pure childlike wonder. I couldn't make out any of the words, since it seemed to be in a different language full of smooth vowels and harsh consonants.

"What is that?" I asked, not knowing whether to be fearful or awestruck. If we weren't in the mountains, I probably would've mistaken it for sirens trying to lure me into the sea.

Callie answered, "Feuerfest." She was proud to say the word, proud of her heritage and its traditions. I wished I could be as proud of mine but most of our holidays surrounded death and past wars, acting more like nation-wide funerals than genuine days of celebration. "They're singing the Ghost Hymn. It's supposed to call on our ancestors to help guide us into the light of a new beginning so we might not be lost to the darkness forever. That's what the Winter Solstice means to our people: new beginnings."


I swallowed audibly and followed behind Callie reluctantly when she started moving forward. The further along we walked, the louder the music got and at some point I realized I'd stopped shivering because of the cold but rather because I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the situation, the song echoing off the snow-covered trees in between the sounds of our feet crunching in the snow. It felt otherworldly.

Their voices were more than angelic. They were heaven itself turned into song.

Eventually, I could see the flickering glow of firelight against the trees and snow until we came upon a clearing that took my breath away. Standing on top of the hill, I made out hundreds upon hundreds of peopleโ€”no, Lycansโ€”singing and dancing freely around a single fire all dressed in garments of white. A group of young males and a single female played the drums, creating the rhythm for their music, while the rest sang along.

Children too were in attendance and followed their parents' leads, eager to be as much a part of the celebration as the adults. A particular little girl caught my attention, and I smiled as I watched her attempting to be in sync with her father's movements and singing, her unblinking eyes glued adoringly on him, clearly wanting to be just like him.

The fire itself was bigger than I ever could've imagined, almost like another, smaller mountain, and I could feel its heat from hundreds of meters away. Beside it, I could make out an upside down hog, hanging from a log, that was really just a mere skeleton now except for its head. But from all the people and the pungent smell of cooked meat in the air, I knew there had to have been more food than just that, my human eyes not being able to see what was in the shadows where the firelight couldn't reach.

"It's beautiful," I told Callie, who nodded down at the celebration with longing.

"It was my father's favorite holiday," she said, explaining her solemn expression. "He loved the singing since it reminded him of my grandmother. Us kids and my parents would stay until sunrise and watch as the light slowly returned and casted out the darkness. My father would use it as an excuse to tell us every year 'See! There's a sunrise to every night. Even the long ones.'" She laughed. "He wasn't very poetic. But I understood what he was trying to say."

I didn't know how to respond. Because I'd never met my own father, I found it quite difficult to determine what she needed at that moment. A hug? Space? Or should I have tried to change the subject with something lighthearted? But there was no way for me to know. No way for me to ever know. So I stood in silence and watched the flames.

"What are you doing here, Calandrea?" a voice questioned from behind us.

The said female instantly swivelled around to face the source of the voice behind us and I followed suit, gulping immediately when I faced the tall male dressed in a uniform similar to what the palace guards wore but slightly bulkier. Besides Henrik, he was perhaps one of the scariest Lycans I'd ever seen, bulging with muscles and covered with tattoos.

Callie groaned, obviously irritated, and cursed beside me. Now she definitely reminded me of Henrik.

I watched silently as he visibly sniffed the air, his nostrils flaring. His head snapped to me so quickly that it was startling. "You smell of my mate," he said as a fact and then eyed me up and down, judging me.

"Furkan, this isโ€”"

"Madam Raena." He bowed his head and then straightened instantly afterwards. "It's a pleasure to finally meet my mate's new friend, whose company I'm afraid is starting to become much more desired than my own." Ingrid's mate gave me a lopsided, teasing grin, his eyes glowing.

"Don't be silly," I said with as much jest in my tone. "You're all she raves about, of course."

Furkan seemed pleased by that and his smile widened, his male ego satisfied. "I like you," he said, sharing a knowing look with Callie. He shook off the snow collecting in his blond hair and then suddenly stiffened, muttering something under his breath.

A growl rang through the air and I jumped when I saw a familiar, towering figure prowl through the snow straight towards us. As he got closer, I noticed the snowflakes that visibly stuck out against his pitch black hair and eyelashes.

"You said you weren't coming," Henrik bit out angrily, his eyes that were almost as bright as the Feuer showing just how much fury he was truly feeling.

As he strode by, Furkan bowed respectfully, an action that was completely disregarded by his king, who only seemed to be able to focus on me and snarling until the tree branches shook.

"I changed my mind," I retorted and hissed when a large gust of wind slapped my face. I pulled my scarf up and over my nose, trying to spare it from the sting of the cold. My eyes began watering and the familiar sensation of my toes going numb emerged.

"You're going to get sick!" he practically yelled, his voice a mixture between man and beast. I tried to ignore his bare chest, full of scars and tattoos. He was only wearing loose white pants kept together by an elastic band at his hips. When he crossed his arms over his chest, beneath the swirls of black ink, I could make out his veins bulging beneath the skin of his biceps.

"I grew up in this weather my whole life. I'm fine," I spat, annoyed at his strange obsession with my health. What I'd had had just been a tiny cold. It's not like he'd seen people die by choking on their own mucus or watched as his mother slowly suffocated when her lungs stopped working. But I had. And I knew better than to let myself follow in their footsteps. I didn't need his worry. I didn't want it.

"Get back to the palace. Now!" he screamed and I flinched at his tone and the closeness of his face to mine. I could've counted his eyelashes if I'd wanted to. Or his pores.

"Henrik, knock it off," Callie said, coming to stand between us. Henrik growled at that and snapped his teeth at her. Without hesitation, she did the same thing back at him, advancing towards him with her back to me. "Control yourself," she snarled. "You're frightening your mate and ruining everyone's fun. Stop being a dick and we'll go."

I looked up and took an immediate step back when I noticed dozens of golden eyes staring at us from the woods, some in their wolf forms and others not. By their stances, I could tell they sensed their king's agitation and were ready to attack if necessary.

I couldn't make out exactly what they were saying, but out of the waves of whispers I could make out one word: "Human."

"I will escort them back, Your Majesty, if that's your wish," Furkan said tentatively with his head still lowered, frightened to upset Henrik even further.

"Yes. But I need to have a word with my cousin here," Henrik replied, only sounding the faintest bit calmer. His eyes flickered to me, noticeably softening before hiding once again under a mask as dense as stone. "Make sure my mate is given some hot tea and extra blankets tonight. If she starts to sneeze or cough or complains of body aches, have your mate sent to her quarters, understood?"

"As you wish, Your Majesty. Come, Madam," Furkan said and held out his elbow, subtly pleading for me with his eyes to do as was asked of me.

I huffed and trudged straight past Henrik as fast as I could, our arms almost grazing each other's. I could feel him staring at me the entire time but I didn't give him the satisfaction of making eye contact. Instead, I kept my firm stare on Furkan until I looped my hand through his awaiting arm.

"I didn't mean to yell, Raena," I heard Henrik say softly from behind me. The distinct sound of snow crunching made me aware that he'd taken three steps closer to me.

"I don't care," I grumbled so quiet that no human ear could've detected it. However, Henrik wasn't human. And it was my very intent that he heard every word.

Thankfully, he knew better than to respond.

Taking the first step forward, I nudged Furkan to do the same. He did so instantly and silently, although I could feel the tension in his bicep against my own as if all the unspoken words he wished to say were trapped inside of it.

As we walked into the woods, surrounded by eyes, I questioned if Furkan or Ingrid had much trouble when she first moved into the Cursedlands. By the way she spoke about her mate, a smile always on her face and in her eyes, it seemed like their relationship was spotless. But I knew that couldn't have been true. Nothing was perfect.


I looked down at the sound of the soft voice, stopping Furkan in his tracks. Once I saw who'd spoken to me, I smiled gently down at the young Lycan girl, whose head barely reached my hip and who couldn't have been older than three. She grinned brightly up at me, ear to ear, as she stared at my mark. My heart felt as if it would scorch my ribs from the amount of warmth her tiny baby teeth and dimples filled it with.

"Paige, stand back please," the female standing beside her, who I guessed to be her mother, said. She looked at me wearily while trying to subtly push her child behind her. By the way her nostrils dilated told me she was smelling me, trying to determine whether I was friend or foe, but then she saw my mark and there was an emotion I wasn't expecting that possessed her features. Shock.

I allowed Furkan to take the lead the rest of the way, overwhelmed and realizing more as each second passed that these creatures could easily kill me within seconds if they wished it. All one had to do was reach out and slice my throat with their claws. The image had me shuddering.

As I looked around, most if not all of the Lycans I'd seen around the bonfire now surrounded me, murmuring and sniffing the air in my direction. One male got too close for Furkan and I's liking and Furkan was quick to bare his teeth at him, growling ferociously until he backed away with his head bowed. At that moment, Furkan was my only protector and the only person I could trust and I instinctively leaned into his warmth until we were out of the judgemental eyesights of the Lycans.

"Henrik's not angry at you, Madam," Furkan assured me about halfway through our journey, looking uncomfortable about bringing up the said male's earlier behaviour. "He was just worried about your wellbeingโ€”as any mate ought to."

I didn't even try to be polite and respond to that. Worried or not, the way Henrik had yelled at me, gotten in my faceโ€”well, it just didn't sit well in my abdomen. And it wasn't because of his sharp teeth, glowing eyes, or claws. No. I'd unfortunately become numb to those and even if he was a man, I still would've felt the same.

It was his behaviour in general that bothered me and, as I lied in bed later that night, I discerned that would be the ultimate thing to drive me away.

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