Only an hour had passed by, but my feet were killing me and I was tired of putting on a fake smile.
I was now standing in a small circle surrounded by three other couples. They were the future Alphas of their own pack, but they seemed to be only slightly older than Nathan. Ben and Krista were the next for the Blackmoor Shade Pack, John and Angela next in line for the South Shade Pack, and Daemon and Liz inherit the Thornton Shade pack.
They were all engaged in some talk about the packs. I realized I knew almost nothing of their way of life. Although Shifters go to these events to find their future mate, an Alpha just has to be eighteen in order to imprint. Not only that, but the Alpha and Luna—male and female leader of the pack—have to fight every male and female in order to prove their title. If the challenge is failed, they are unable to rule their pack and are pretty much kicked out.
I couldn’t hold up my false smile anymore as a prickly sensation came over me, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Someone’s watching me. I turned around, looking for anybody around me, but found I was alone. Then I spotted them. Some people from across the room stared me down, revenge gleaming in their eyes. I felt the breath in my body leave as I zeroed in on one. I could tell he wasn’t a Shifter, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a threat.
Junto followed my stare, his jaw going slack as he saw the small group. He didn’t look at me as he spoke. “I have to go speak with some people real quick. I will be right back, okay?” I nodded, still not trusting myself to speak with this unexplainable fear going through me. “Stay here, I’ll be back soon.”
I watched Junto’s retreating form approach the small group with determination. I saw the others turn to Junto, ready for an argument. I didn’t know what was going on, but I couldn’t help but feel it had something to do with me.
I tried to re-focus on the group. Junto was going to straighten this out, and the last thing he needed was me breathing down his neck. Krista is going on about some sort of movie she’s excited about when a familiar blonde head flash from behind her. No way, I say to myself. What is he doing here?
I excuse myself quickly and go after the retreating figure, trying not to fall now that I don’t have Junto or Claire to hang on to. I stumble into the next room, but he’s gone. It’s like I never saw him.
Great, now I’m seeing people. I shake my head at myself, scanning the room again. I grab a drink from one of the waiters walking around with trays and take a long sip. Maybe I’m just so thirsty, I’m seeing things.
“Elana?” I spin around and come face-to-face with Ryan. I did see him!
Ryan takes in my appearance, scanning my body. “You look . . . wow!”
I look down at myself, confused if he saw the same thing I saw earlier. But then I realize he was still looking at me and cross my arms in front of myself, trying to cover myself. “Thanks.” I change the subject. “What are you doing here?”
Ryan is dressed in a dark purple shirt, white slacks, and a white bow-tie. To pull it all together, he has a pure white suit jacket and smooth, combed blonde hair. “I should ask you that question.”
Before I could answer, Ryan outstretches his hand to me. “Dance with me, my dear?”
My mind instantly went to Junto. He told me to stay put and said was going to be right back, so should I go back and wait for him?
I looked at Ryan again. I knew he wasn’t a Shifter, or Manipulator for that matter. No way could he be a Vampire or a Foreseer. So what was he doing here? Curiosity got the best of me and I took his hand, setting my glass on a nearby table.
I let him take me to the ballroom where I was dancing with Junto earlier. This was by far the largest room in the building. Easily the same size as my entire home in Nevada. The ceilings stretched up to both floors, making the room incredibly tall and even more spacious. Extravagant paintings lined the walls in expensive-looking gold frames that were carefully carved with intricate designs. If I didn’t know better, I would think this place was for royalty.
Ryan placed one hand on my waist and grabbed my hand with the other. I placed my other hand on his shoulder and he pulled me close enough for our chests to be touching. Every fiber in my being told me this was wrong and my body instinctively pulled away a little. Ryan looked disappointed, but didn’t fight with me.
“So, Elana Berret, What are you?”
I felt my body tense at his question. What not Who. I panicked and all I could think of was to play coy. “What do you mean?”
Ryan pulled me closer so he could whisper in my ear. I wanted to pull away again, but maybe this was something he wanted nobody else to know. “My parents are Shape Shifters and my brother is a Mind Manipulator. Everybody in the pack has a purpose. Now, tell me, what is yours?”
Ignoring his question, I pulled back to look at him. “How did that happen?”
He shrugged and pulled me close to him again. “My brother and I are adopted. My parents find kids like us in the system and adopt us.
My mind floated to Derek. If Stephan says no, maybe Ryan’s family could take him in. I fought the urge to pull back again and started explaining my thought process to him. I needed to be nice if I wanted him to help me.
I moved my head from his shoulder and leaned back so I could look in his eyes. “Do you think you could talk to your parents for me?”
Ryan smiled at me and tilted his head down. “Anything for my favorite tutor,” he said, his breath brushing against my lips. Our faces were only inches away. I tensed. Sure, Ryan was an attractive young man, but did I really want to kiss him?
I went to put some space between us when Ryan left me and was flying across the room in seconds. Nathan occupied the space behind him and had his back to me, chest heaving in anger. The music from the live orchestra ceased as all eyes turned to the three of us. He stalked towards Ryan like a cat teasing his prey.
“No, Nathan, don’t!” I raced after him as fast as I could in these darn heels.
My words went in one ear and out the other as he continued his pursuit. By now, someone had helped Ryan to his feet. He was cradling his right ribs as he tried to straighten his posture. “What the heck, man?”
Nathan reached Ryan and punched him in the face. The sound echoed through the room and a series of “ouch”s and “ooh”s floated through the room. Why was nobody helping? This is a room full of Shape Shifters and nobody is helping?
I finally reached Nathan and placed my palms flat on his chest. “Nathan, stop! What are you doing?”
Nathan finally noticed me for the first time, anger still burning in his eyes as he looked at me. “What do you mean ‘what am I doing’? He just tried to kiss you!”
My mind clicked in disbelief. “So what? You’re not in charge of me.”
Another wave of “what”s and gasps echoed through the room. I turned around, expecting to see someone else getting punched, but only saw Ryan looking defiantly at Nathan with his now split lip.
Stephan came from behind Nathan and grabbed his shoulder. Nathan turned with a raised fist, waiting to punch his attacker, but then lowered it in shame as he came to see his Alpha.
“Maybe you two should take this outside,” he advised. I could tell it wasn’t a suggestion, but an order. And for the first time in my life, I didn’t mind taking his order.
Nathan shrugged Stephan’s hand off his shoulder and stomped out of the room. I gave Ryan an apologetic glance before following after him, allowing him to trudge his way through masses of people who stopped to watch the fight. I apologized in his behalf to some people when Nathan bumped his broad shoulders into them.
We burst through the kitchen and made it to the back door which opened onto a wrap-around patio. The cold air circled around me in seconds, a heavy contrast compared to the scorching how ball room I was just in. I’m just grateful when I realize there is nobody else around.
Nathan placed his back to me and stood with his fists clenched. I contemplated what to say. Maybe I should apologize? Yell at him some more? Force him to say he’s sorry to Ryan?
I nearly jumped out of my skin as Nathan smashes his fist into the pillar closest to him, blowing a large chunk out.
“What are you doing?” I scream as I rush to put myself as a physical barrier between him and the helpless cement.
“What am I doing?” Nathan scoffs and turns around, running his hand through his combed hair roughly. He turned back on me now that there was distance between us. “You’re the one going around kissing random guys! What if I didn’t show up in time? Do you know what you could have done?!”
Nathan started pacing on the concrete porch. He thinks I would just kiss any random stranger? I am wounded by his words, but try not to show it. “I can take care of myself!” I yell, instead.
“You don’t understand,” he mumbles and continues to pace.
My arms are starting to turn numb and I rub them, trying to replace a little warmth. The snow has picked up since we went in the house and is now piling high on the ground.
I fight the cold and step closer to him. “You’re right. I don’t understand. I don’t understand because someone has been keeping secrets from me and won’t tell me anything! I’m sorry I don’t know that much about your world! I’m sorry I’m a supernatural that has grown up knowing nothing about the supernatural world! Just explain it to me!”
Nathan closed the distance between us, grabbing my face with his hands and bringing my lips to his roughly. Unbelievable sparks explode from my mouth as his lips make contact with mine. The whole world around me is tuned out as I solely focus on his kiss. I move my numb hands from my side and to the base of his head. I find his hair, pulling at it and undoing all the work he put into making it look nice. He moves his lips against mine and my toes curl as another set of fireworks set off every part of my body.
Nathan pulls back slightly and fear invades my mind. What if he pulls away? I pull my arms tighter around his neck and kiss him back, my entire body on fire from the uncontrollable lightning spreading through my body. Our lips move perfectly together, as if they were made for each other.
A low moan escapes from my lips as Nathan deepens the kiss. Nothing has ever felt this good. That’s all he needs before moving his hands from my head and to my hips. He pushes my body up to the pillar he just punched a hole in, digging his fingers into my hips gently, but with force. Don’t stop!
Suddenly, Nathan’s lips abandon mine and he peels himself from me, nearly running to the other side of the porch. His warmth leaves with him and I feel my skin prone to the harsh cold again. “No, I can’t do this.”
I instinctively touch my lips, which are swollen from the kisses. “Why not?” I almost whisper, breathless from his kiss.
His chest is heaving heavily like mine is and I know in that moment he felt the same thing I did. I have kissed other guys before, but they were nothing compared to his.
Nathan turns around, as if afraid to look at me, and then starts pacing again. “No, I can’t do this. You aren’t good enough.”
My heart drops into my stomach. “What?” I whisper, still out of breath.
Nathan stops pacing and looks at me again. I think he’s going to tell me something or come closer to me, but then he just turns and heads to the door. “I’ve gotta go,” he mumbles.
His words echo in my mind and I close my eyes, trying to save my heart from having to watch him leave me. You aren’t good enough. I can feel Nathan’s warm body retreating back into the ballroom and don’t dare to open my eyes. I feel tears start to puncture the back of my eyes and I fight them, trying to stay collected.
I mean, he’s just a guy. Who I just met a few months ago. Yeah, he’s really hot and is an amazing kisser, but he’s still just a guy who will break your heart at the end. Heck, he probably has dates all the time, including the one tonight with your Best Friend. Don’t fall for him, Elana.
Problem is? I think I might already be halfway there.
“Elana, Help me!” A voice calls to me from the distance.
My body goes rigid as the familiarity of this woman’s voice registers in the back of my mind. But it can’t be. I try to swallow the lump growing in the back of my throat, but it only grew. More tears strangled my voice and a small squeak escaped my lips. “Mom?”
All cold leaves me and my body goes on autopilot and I enter into the ballroom again. I’m searching desperately for the woman who abandoned me years ago. The walls glisten from the detailed luxurious living style protruded here. Bustling crowds and groups of people parade up and down the rooms, dancing and singing along to the music.
My heart pounds. Palms sweat.
She’s hurt. I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. I’m the only one who can help her. I need to help her.
From a distance, I can hear my name in a faint whisper. “Elana . . . I need you.”
I force myself to run. My pathetic attempt of running in heels is slowing me down, so I stop long enough to throw off my heels and continue my endeavor. My dress wraps around my legs and tries to trip me, but I only run faster. I don’t know how to describe it, but I know she is hurt. I have to help her. Even if she did ruin my life all those years ago. The trepidation builds in my chest, as if my ribs are crushing my lungs. I press my hand to my heart, but the beating never slows.
The room starts to spin and I feel like I’m running in circles. I try to focus, but my light-headedness increases and I lean against the wall and take a second to breathe. I try to figure out where I am, but not a single thing looks familiar now. I’ve entered the space behind the ballroom, a space I haven’t been before. This was my dream. I dreamed about my mother.
“Hurry, Elana. Where are you?” There’s her voice again. It’s louder this time. I’m closer.
Wait. The people. Where’d they go? Everyone disappeared. It doesn’t matter. I need to find my mother before she dies.
I’m in an endless, shadowy, marble hallway with ceilings vaulted as high as they can go with the picture-less walls.
Completely alone, I can hear the voice calling. “I’m here, Elana. Over here. Please, hurry.”
The anguish in the voice brings me to my knees. I’m powerless and unsure. “I can’t find you!” I call out. “Tell me how to find you!” Tears stream down my face as I lose control of my emotions.
My heart pounds like a bass drum. What’s happening to me?
I press my hands to my aching chest again, just as a dim light appears up ahead. Simultaneously, a door behind me whips open.
Someone’s behind me. There’s a faint silhouette, but not enough to know who it is. Turns out I’m not as alone as I thought. I reach out for Nathan’s location, knowing he’s always there when I need him, but he’s on the other side of the building.
Then I see her. She isn’t moving. She lays on the cold tiles—lifeless. Blood makes a large pool around her as I see her life fading from her body.
“Hurry, Elana. There isn’t much time!” The woman’s voice is full of more pain than it was just moments ago.
I push myself up off the floor and back on my feet. I have to move. I have to help.
I try to run, but my legs are lead anchors. I force myself to move, but I’m stuck in slow motion.
“Elana!” The voice cries out. Desperate. Pleading.
“I’m almost there!” I shout. “Hold on!”
As I get closer, the woman on the floor starts to vanish, dematerializing into thin air. I don’t understand. Where is she going? What’s happening?
My mother’s body evaporates from my view just as I come to a sliding halt on my knees. I reach out desperately to grasp onto her, but her body disappears from existence.
A deep, hollow laugh echoes through the long hallway and the shadow at the end of the hall starts coming closer. “I’ve got you now,” he proudly proclaims, and I could feel the smile on his face.
A small prick pinches my left forearm and I inspect the unexpected sore. A small dart is protruded in my left arm. My vision starts to blur, but I fight it, yanking the dart from my flesh. I try to focus on the dart, but my vision is blurring even more and I start to feel dizzy. I try to push back the feeling again, but this time it’s too hard. I barely feel my body hitting the ground as my vision dissipates.