“Life is a matter of choices and every choice you make makes you,”
-John C Maxwell
“What was in that drink you gave me?” I ask before continuing to gulp down water rapidly, thankful that all the dancing I did covers the fact that I’m sweating for an entirely different reason.
Roman furrows his brow. “What? You mean the juice we had with our meal?” He asks and I nod my head with fervency. “Nothing, why? You seem upset Maeve, did something happen, are you feeling alright?” He presses, his voice becoming more worried as multiple scenarios flash in his calculating eyes.
“If someone were to get in this pack, you’d know right? You’d be able to tell,” I ask, trying to hide the pain that enters my words as my chest begins to tighten and my breaths become more rapid. I blink back tears and mask my pain to the best of my ability.
Roman’s concern, however, doesn’t cease and he cups my face with his hands, staring down at me intently, “Of course not, you have no reason to be fearful. No one could possibly enter this pack, regardless of all the Superiors and the King him himself for the sake of the goddess. No one has breached the walls of this pack for hundreds and hundreds of years. You’re safe,” he says, a small smile lingering on his face out of the hopes to ease my worry.
It doesn’t work.
I push against his hands and he drops them instantly. His lingering touch leaves sparks resting on my skin, tinged pink and still warm from dancing near that fire. My eyes dart around briefly. I wonder if Ollie saw that, if he can see how closely Roman stands to me now. How intimate the stare of worry he gives me is.
Too close, I’m too close.
I retract a step and run my hands through my hair. “Maeve,” Roman says lowly, a voice that intends to snap me back into reality more than anything and I remember his gaze. He can see every inch of my sanity slipping before him and the last thing I need is for him to ask why.
“I’m just warm. The fire,” I say before moving back into his vicinity, closing my hand around the open palm that rests at his side.
His furrow doesn’t erase completely, but it relaxes somewhat, “Right,” he mummers, before tightening his hold on me. “Nobody is going to hurt you, Mae, not here or anywhere,” he says with such conviction I feel his words shudder through my veins.
My throat bobs as I gather my emotions, willing them to disappear entirely. “What’s the time anyway,” I say, shifting the subject and he pulls out his sleek black phone.
“Around eleven o’clock,” he says and I nod, appearing normal despite the raging sea of nerves erupting into a storm within me. “Are you tired? We can go back if you want,” he says and I squash every spark of panic that rises within me. What was Oliver thinking? How the hell am I supposed to get to a willow east of the paddock? I don’t even know which way east is.
“No, I’m fine. What time does this end?” I ask.
“The festivities will end at sunrise but I presume most leaders will leave before then to prepare for tomorrows schedule,” he explains and I nod, thinking over foolish plans as they arise in my head one after the other. “Maeve, you don’t look yourself, are you sure everything is alright?” He questions again, that dreaded worry working its way back onto his face. I need to get rid of that worry because the more he worries over me the less chances I have of evading his intent stare.
“I’m fine I just need to sit, we should go back,” I say, glancing over at the other Alpha Superiors and Roman nods, though that scepticism remains.
For thirty consecutive minutes I lie in Romans hold, drawing off that calming power that the bond provides and sifting through ideas like shuffling a deck of cards. He either feigned to not notice my quiet nature or was content in the fact that I wasn’t showing obvious signs of stress. Regardless, he didn’t make a move to poke into my behaviour and instead engaged in conversations I didn’t listen in on or simply relaxed with me pressed tightly to his chest.
I waited, biding my time until a conversation with the King and other Alpha’s came up that was important, one about financing that was full of enough debate I knew it’d last a while longer yet before I pushed off of Romans chest. He broke from the group easily, snapping his attention to me as I distanced myself slowly from his body and sat upright.
“What’s wrong?” He asks and I smile, the effort to merely move a few muscles harder than I thought with all the pure dread pillaging my brain.
My tone is soft, sweet-not an inch of room left for any ill intent to pour into my words. “I’m gonna head up to bed, its getting a little late for me,”
He moves to get up frown his inclined position also but I gingerly place my hand on his chest, urging him to stop. “I’ll come,” he says and I force my smile to remain unflinching.
“No, stay, you were in the middle of something and I don’t want to interrupt. Just come join me when you finish with the festivities,” I urge and I notice the way his face softens at the edges as he registers my words.
Join me, an invitation and a wording choice that he doesn’t miss. Its not seductive or provocative by any means but it is a gesture of codependency that I know he craves from me so bad. It’s a signal that his unrequited love isn’t simply just that even if the symbol itself is a farce.
“Alright, I’ll contact the guards so you’ll just have to wait a moment,” he says and my gut wrenches at the window of opportunity slowly opening-at the reality of my situation.
I’m glad that I am still seated because even now I can feel my very knees wobbling at my words, “Let them rest, its supposed to be a night of relaxation and happiness, the last thing I want to do is drag them out to walk me back,” I say light heartedly, the lie tainting my very soul.
Romans brows knit together but he doesn’t move to take out his phone, nor do his eyes gloss over into that pearly white fog. “Maeve…” he starts but I place a hand on his chest and raise a brow with my smile still in tact.
“Relax, it’s only a five minute walk, I think I’ll manage,” I say but he doesn’t look convinced, “Didn’t you say yourself that no one could get into the palace walls anyway?” I press jovially and he smiles.
“Alright, I shouldn’t be too much longer here but don’t wait up, who knows where getting in a debate with this lot could lead me,” he jokes and I laugh, playing the part like it was written for me.
“Don’t rush on my behalf, I’ll still be there in the morning,” I reply through a sheepish grin but the words wrench at my heart and I wonder if he can sense it-that sheer pain.
He gives my hand a gentle squeeze and we both mummer our goodbyes before I turn around and begin walking, feeling his intent stare on my back the entire way into the enclosed halls.
The second I pass through the threshold I fumble with the small compass on my wrist, noting the red arrow as it points to behind me, navigating its magical way to Roman and then to the golden arrow which flutters towards the bold N. I glance to the East section and suck in a harsh breath, exhaling it shakily before turning back around. A couple passes me and I wipe the look of trepidation off my face, smiling as they incline their heads towards me slightly.
The second they pass I move East, my feet carrying me in a casual flurry as a million thoughts whir through my mind, leaving a buzzing thrum in their wake. Oliver. Every step I take towards him makes me want to just burst into tears and the longer I hold myself together the harder it is to conceal that.
The truth is I have no idea if doing this is the right thing, I couldn’t explain to myself why in this very moment I have decided to break the tiny inkling of trust Roman and I shared if I truly tried. Whats more scary than that is the fact that I have no clue what I am walking towards, who I am walking towards and it is enough to make me want to curl myself into a ball and let my entire being eviscerate.
I try, as I march down the halls unsure of the time or where in the vast world of East the willow I am searching for is, to think about my husband. The man I knew and loved and cherished for years yet everything that I knew about him was founded on lies. I trust the legitimacy of my heart more than anything and I know that we shared a love so strong we didn’t just want one another we needed each other. But I can’t trust the past that we shared, all the memories and decisions that I made with him were subconsciously guided by this entire past that he never told me of.
Being a hunter for Christs sake. Knowing-for however long in the districts of the rebels and informing me only when I discovered it for myself. When you keep so many little secrets they begin to compile and they become more than secrets-they become lies that grow thicker and stronger like a rose vine developing thorns.
Maybe it is reckless to visit him, to hold onto the hopes of a married woman so tortured by a past of having no one care that the second someone did, she latched onto it tightly- too tightly. Because as much as I want to deny it that is what it was. My entire childhood all that I yearned for was stability, a family that would die for me and I them and the second Oliver came in like a knight in shining armour, holding out that precious, tempting future on a silver platter I snatched it up. Never mind that he kept things from me, decided on things for the both of us because he cared. And I placed so much of my life in the palms of that care, willingly hoping that he would be the one to fix me but I was wrong. I thought that I was fine but that’s because I was living in oblivion and things whether I like them or not are so much different now.
And when I finally come face to face with Oliver again I just hope to hell that the man I knew is still in there beneath the one that I didn’t.
There it is. Perched atop a grassy mount in the widespread garden, a labyrinth of its own sort made from plants and vines and flowers that curl in without the suns rays. It was an effort to find it and for all I know the time could have well and truly surpassed midnight. There is no chiming bellower to let me know, this isn’t a fairytale.
And underneath that weeping tree, encased in sagging leaves of a light lime green is nothing. No Oliver, no rebels, no secret code. My heart felt like a deflated sack in my chest, weighing down as I peered through a cluster of blooming lilacs onto the vacant space. I truly was going mad. My vision must have been warped by the fire or the music or the energy of the dance-
“Maeve.” The words are a whisper on the cool nights breeze and I turn, my eyes glossy and my cheeks reddened by the stiffness in the air.
“Ollie.” My face crumples in despair and I let the tears I’d been holding back spill over my cheeks in a steady stream. He looks healthier, his body more honed underneath a veiled white shirt and his face full again. But those eyes… when I’d seen him all those weeks ago in the kitchen of the palace his eyes were so empty and washed from agency, that green twinkle that shines at me now back and glowing.
He reaches his hands out to me and runs his covered fingers over my cheeks, wiping away the tears as they spill. I glance down at the gloved velvet that still rests upon my ivory skin and shudder at what it means. A barrier between us, a symbol of the intimacy that we’ll never again share.
“I wish I could hold you,” he says, leaning down to whisper the words into my ear whilst maintaining that tiny slip of space where out flesh meets.
“W-what are you doing here,” I stammer, my lip still quivering. “How are you here?”
He pulls back from me and furrows his brows. “I’m here for you, to save you,” he says before a flash of pain covers his face. “Didn’t you get my note? I told them to get it to you but-”
“I got the note,” I cut in before biting down onto my lip. “I didn’t get what it meant, not truly,” I say, peeling back the lid to a can of worms that will undoubtedly erupt in due course.
His shock doesn’t dwindle but it doesn’t increase either. “Mae… I saw the footage from the execution, from the ceremony- I know what he made you do. I know he has said things and done things to influence you but you need to think levelly. I wanted to remind you what your freedom is worth because I mean it truly when I say it is worth much more than a forced bond and pretty castle,” he says and his words made my heart tighten.
I gulp. “And if I came with you I’d be free?” I ask, my voice coming out weak and nimble-empty like the promise of sanctuary he offers.
His brows furrow even further, a look of disbelief crossing over his face. “Of course,” he says, like my question offended him. “The rebels are real, Mae, they have enough measures to be able to keep you safe, you’d be free,” he reiterates and I mull over the words, letting them sink in.
“Free from him isn’t free. Not if I walk straight into another prison intent on keeping me safe,” I say dejectedly, masking my pain with a strong pain, even if it still lingers beneath the surface.
“Prison? Maeve I’d never- I’d never imprison you, what are you even saying?” He says, not just pain on his face but panic, too.
“They killed her, Ollie. Killed her like she meant nothing. How can I go there? After everything Ollie how can I go there?” I ask, gripping onto my resolve tightly.
His hurt cracks a little at that, at mention of how terribly wrong the first attempt for me to escape went. He looks like he wants to reach out and hug me, comfort me, but instead his lips purse into a thin line. “And you think that she wouldn’t have been brought up to that execution block if she survived?” He asks and his words hit me like a slap.
“I know that she wouldn’t,” I retort, my words every bit as defensive as I intended them to be.
“How can you be so sure? How can you trust them after everything they’ve done?” He asks and I stare at him through eyes of steel.
“How can I trust you?” I say, my words quiet but firm nonetheless and from the way he visibly flinches I can tell he felt that.
Pure hurt overcomes his face and he nearly stutters as he says, “Maeve…” But I don’t allow his pain to affect me, not like it always did.
“You didn’t tell me.” I say firmly and I wait for it, wait for the response my body has been itching to know ever since his lineage was exposed.
He pauses, the statement catching him off guard and from the intermediate silence that develops between us I know he knows what I am referring to.
“I couldn’t,” Is all he can manage and the answer makes me peeved, triggering that hidden part of me that never escaped during all those years.
“You couldn’t? For five years, Oliver you were apart of this organisation that killed people systemically and you led me to believe some bullshit lie that you were a soldier. God, it just seems like something that you’d tell a girl before you started dating, let alone get married,” I sneer and the hurt in his eyes gutters, flicking instead with a tinge of anger.
“Maybe that is precisely why I didn’t tell you. You never would have even given me a chance if you knew and it didn’t matter anyway, it was a part of my life that didn’t concern you and didn’t impact you. If I thought for a second that my curse would harm you I’d have done everything in my power to change it,” he says and I stand firm in my spot but allow him to exhale a shaky breath.
“I was a soldier, Mae, that part wasn’t a lie. And I don’t know what sort of story that man has fed you but we are not your enemy, not in the slightest,” he says, hot red anger flashing in his eyes at mention of Roman.
“So it’s a lie? Hunters don’t kill people,” I press and his stare is full of steel.
“We don’t kill people, Mae we kill monsters,” he says and the words gut me worse than any soft proclamation he could have made, not for its content but for the way in which he said it… the pure truth coating his statement.
“How could you say that?” I whisper out, a crack in his words and his skin pales as I slowly unravel further.
“Mae, they took you, they take people from their homes and force them to-to,” a different sort of pain crosses over his face and I know what runs through his mind. “Did he-”
“No.” I cut, my voice firm and I notice the relief that washes over him. My mind flashes, treacherously to those moments that I did share with him and I gulp.
“They are just people the same as you or I. Maybe they are a little different and there are most definitely aspects of their species that need to be reevaluated but they don’t deserve to die,” I confess and he appears… torn, almost.
“They shouldn’t be here at all, Mae. Getting rid of them would be doing us all a favour,” he says softly and I flinch.
“You don’t mean that,” I say and the words come out with a sob. “You don’t mean that,” I reiterate, before shaking my head and looking at his tortured expression. “You are cursed, Ollie, cursed to think that way I know you don’t mean it, not deep down,” I say and I feel it-feel that drift between us widen.
“Sometimes the burden we bear isn’t ideal, sometimes you have to do messy, compacted things for the better of everyone and getting rid of them, Mae, it is just a means to an end. A step out of suffering and into a world of liberty-thats all I want for you, Mae, liberation,” he says, the rhetoric of his words so delicate yet clandestine all the same.
“And if they told you to kill me?” I ask and it is like I slapped him square in the face, but I don’t let his reaction stop me, not as more tears fall down. “Well? If they told me to kill you what would you say then? Is my life meaningless because I am tainted now?” I ask, anger beginning to arise in me because I am angry. I’m angry that my life is just a pawn in everyone else games and I am angry that people think it is okay to just dispose of me to suit others.
“I would never kill you, they would never kill you. I came to save you, Mae, save you and bring you back to safety,” he says and it strikes me, so sudden like a flash of lightning that he hasn’t got a clue.
“Those ribbons, did you send them?” I ask, my keen eyes detecting the confusion that riddles onto his skin instantly.
“Ribbons?” He asks and my breathing suddenly isn’t as regulated as before.
“Your father,” I say and that confused face morphs into further dissent, my direction taking him so off course he can’t gather a response for a few solid moments.
“What about my father?” He asks and I think my heart stops beating in my chest-out of relief or fear I’m not sure.
“He tried to kill me.” I say and I expect the look that passes over his face to be shock but instead he stares at me like I’m the one being crazy.
“Is that what they told you? Maeve you can’t trust them, you can’t trust any of them. The hunters would never harm you, the rebels would never harm you and I most certainly would never harm you,” he says and I look at him in pure disbelief. He thinks Roman made it up, spoon fed me stories and indoctrinated me into believing lies. He thinks I’ve been brainwashed.
“They didn’t tell me that, I found it out for myself. There was an attempt made on my life, one where I nearly died and then another where your father contacted Noah in the hopes he would get close enough to finish the job. I know for certain that it wasn’t a lie, Roman would never put my life at risk like that-not when it means so much to him and his precious pack,” I reply and the mention of Roman makes him clench his jaw.
“My father wouldn’t try to kill you, I have talked with him myself and the plan is to get you out, to bring you to safety and help you not to end your life, Mae,” he says like he can’t comprehend the words coming out of my mouth and I realise the predicament we are in because neither of us can recognise the words of the other.
“He did. I’m not lying Ollie, whoever you are working for wants me dead. If I leave Roman, he can track me down, if I stay away for a prolonged period of time I will die. There are some parts of this bond that can’t be evaded and I sincerely doubt that if I walk into enemy lines they will save me,” I say and the lines on his face deepen into a frown.
“Don’t you hear yourself? Of course that is what he wants you to believe, he has tricked you into thinking that the only way to exist is to exist next to him so that you won’t even try to leave,” he says and I think over his words, the puzzle of truth I had assorted in my mind fracturing further and further.
“But I’ve felt it, Ollie. I have felt this connection between us and I know in my heart that if I die, so will he, regardless of anything else-I’m not deluded,” I say firmly and his impassive face tells me he doesn’t believe me for a second.
“I don’t think you are deluded, Mae, I think you need to get as far away from that man as possible before he makes you settle for a life like this-a life you do not deserve. The rebels, they can give you that, Mae, I can give you that,” he pleads but his words fall on deaf ears.
“Think about it! They kill me, they kill him. You said it yourself that sometimes the burden we bear is messy and I can almost guarantee you that the second you walk in there with me, we will be separated and they won’t hesitate to finish me off. I am a means to an end, face it. No matter where I go or what I do I am a means to an end,” I say, not bothering to hide the tears of frustration that I can’t suppress any longer.
“You are so much more than that,” he says but there is no substance to his words.
“Not to the people you want to take me to,” I say and he purses his lips for a moment before sliding off the velvet that encases his hands.
“You’ll see Mae, you just have to trust me,” he says and then reaches that hand out towards my moonlit skin.
Holy toledo exams are not my thing. I just want to forget the entire last week happened and shove my head in the sand smh. But heyyyy I managed to like write a bunch whoop whoop go me. (i can never refrain lmao its a bad habit at this point)
ALSO if you notice any like plot holes or characters stuff ups in this book or, more helpfully, in TO LOVE HATE then don’t be shy to call me out in the comments lol bc I am trying to refine it to the best of my ability for the WATTYS :)
Alsoooo, inkitt readers this may mean a few things for y’all including the temporary de-publishing of the first book in this series on the Inkitt site so that I can qualify but I'll update more on that when the time comes.
*throws confetti and a rainbow smoke bomb bc I am in a happy mood