I woke up with the biggest headache I’ve had since I had a 200 pound wolf knock my ass into the pavement. My sleep was interrupted with tossing and turning all night. The more I thought about what I uncovered the more questions I had. I jumped at the sound of my phone ringing by my side.
“Emma!” Chloe’s voice was so chipper. “The ladies are going out for lunch today and picking out dresses for the Mating Ritual.”
“Okay.” I rubbed my eyes and sat up in my bed.
“That was an invitation, Emma.” I could tell she was getting annoyed with me.
“Yeah, of course. I said I would go to lunch with you and I meant it.” I flung my legs to the side of the bed and stood up, my head pounding some more.
“Great. I’ll see you in the square in about an hour.” We hung up and I went straight to the shower, still thinking about what I found. There had to be another explanation. Why would Nick save me if he was the one behind the explosions? Why would Jackson orchestrate an explosion that got him killed? Things weren’t adding up, and I had more questions than answers.
By the time I got to lunch, Chloe and Natalie were already giggling like school girls.
“Hey.” I joined them prayed the pills I popped before I left were going to ease my headache.
“Where have you been?” Natalie asked, eyeing me suspiciously.
“With Emmett?” Natalie raised her eyebrow at me.
“Spill the details.” Chloe chimed in.
“There are no details to spill.” I tried to defer the conversation from going farther.
“Liar. I know you two hooked up.” Natalie smiled and Chloe gasped.
“Emma!” She grabbed my shoulder. “You didn’t tell me!?”
“Where do you get your information?” I asked Natalie. I should be asking her to help me with my mother’s case since she figured things out so quickly. She’s like a damn gossip detective.
“I don’t rat out my sources.” “So, how was it?”
“I should be asking you the same.” I turned the tables on her. “I hear Derek’s apartment is nice.”
“Oh please.” She rolled her eyes. “I couldn’t get him to shut up about you long enough to even put his tongue to good use.” That shut me up.
“Enough about the boys.” Chloe broke the silence. “Where would you ladies like to shop for your dresses?” The Mating Ritual was formal, very formal. All females wore beautiful gowns and the males wore tuxedos until they stripped down to their fur to enter the ring.
“I don’t want to go anywhere but to Roxanne’s, she has the best gowns any wolf could ask for.” Natalie smiled that fake smile at me. I don’t know why I hang out with her.
“Have you and Nick ever—“ I asked Natalie, remembering their night together in Rizzo’s.
“You two looked pretty cozy.”
“You and the Alpha?” Chloe looked at Natalie in shock. In all the years Nick has been alpha he never once showed any female attention.
“I had to force him to touch me.” Natalie rolled her eyes. “I was kind of glad you interrupted when you did.”
“You interrupted?” Chloe chimed in again. “I feel like I’m way behind on all this gossip.”
“I was pissed off about something that happened at the training center is all.” I lied. Thankfully the waitress came over to save my foot from going in my mouth.
“I’ll leave you ladies with the check. Take your time.” I snatched it up before anyone else could.
“My treat for ditching you guys the other night.” I pulled some money out of her purse and handed it to the nice girl. She had it easy, I could tell she was barely sixteen, she didn’t have to deal with the Mating Ritual until she was of age. I envied her.
The girls thanked me for lunch and we moved on to find out dresses. Roxanne’s was packed with unmated females rummaging through the shop. This was going to be harder than I expected. I wasn’t used to all this girly lunch and shopping. I wasn’t used to getting all dolled up for a male either but I didn’t have a choice. The elders didn’t take too kindly to wolves who didn’t follow tradition and I owed Josephine a big favor.
“What do you think of this one?” Chloe held up a beautiful baby blue gown with sparkles and beading down the breast line. “I think this would really compliment your hair, Natalie.” She held it up to her and Natalie looked in the mirror. Chloe was spot on, her blonde locks matched perfectly with the pale blue.
“Wow.” Natalie breathed. “There won’t be any wolves left for you, Emma, they’re all going to be fighting for me after they see me in this dress.”
“Come on, I’ll help you try it on.” Chloe ushered her to the fitting room, leaving me alone with all the dresses. But I was far from alone with all the anxious females shopping for that one special dress.
“Emma!” I turned at the sound of my name.
“Oh, hey, Krista.” Krista worked at the bar with me. She was a sweet girl, freshly twenty-one. Blonde hair like Natalie’s and eyes as baby blue as the dress she just went to try on.
“You look good! Did you get your house painted?”
“What? Oh yeah, all finished.” My dad told my coworkers I was painting my house instead of recovering from an explosion that the Alpha wanted everyone to know nothing about.
“Great! I can’t wait for you to come back to work. We miss you!” She was all smiles with her bright white teeth. “You’ll be coming back a mated wolf I would assume.” She tapped my arm lightly.
“Uh yeah...you too.” I continued to look through the dresses, maybe she would catch on that I wasn’t interested.
“I’m sure Derek will love any dress you pick.” Maybe not.
“Derek and I are just friends.” I don’t know why I said it when I knew it wasn’t true. He made that perfectly clear right before we got our fur burnt off.
“Yeah, right. I see the way you two are together when he comes into the bar.”
“What about you, Krista?” I changed the subject. “Any suitors you’re looking to impress with your dress?” She giggled.
“I mean, let’s be honest, most males around here aren’t ready to settle down. I think there will be more than a few females without any suitors.” As sad as it was coming from her lips it was true. Participation was mandatory for the females but not the males. They didn’t have to fight for someone they didn’t want.
“How do I look?” Natalie’s voice pulled me to her. I smiled at her smile. For once, it wasn’t fake.
“You look beautiful, Natalie.”
“Well duh.” She flipped her hair off her shoulder and gave me a spin.
We all left Roxanne’s with dresses. I picked mine out last minute as Natalie complained she needed to get home for her date. Chloe’s dress looked more like a bridal gown which was just perfect for her. Unlike the rest of us, she knew the outcome of the Mating Ritual and her little white-picket-fence happily ever after was just two days away. I was walking home on my own, Natalie and Chloe living the opposite direction of me, when suddenly I felt eyes on me. I was being followed. I waited until the wind blew just right and took a deep breath until a familiar smell filled my nostrils.
“Is dress shopping suddenly not allowed either, Alpha?” Nick came into my view and he did not look happy. Oh sweet Moon Goddess, he knew. He knew I looked into those files. Was he here to kill me? Did he already take Josephine’s life?
“We need to talk.” His raspy voice sent goosebumps down my spine.
“Not here.” He growled. He wanted to get me out of the streets, somewhere private where no one would see him kill me.
“Here is fine.” He growled at me again and grabbed my wrist. “Ow, dammit Nick that hurts.” I ripped my arm from his grip.
“Move. Now.” His orders didn’t force me to move, but the fear his voice installed in my bones had me walking to my house a little faster than I should have. The only time I wanted Emmett to be waiting for me on my porch and he wasn’t. Damn him. Nick slammed the door behind us and I set my bag on the kitchen table.
“Listen, Nick, I know you told me to stop looking into this.” I needed to plead my case to him. Maybe somehow I could get him to understand and he wouldn’t kill me.
“I told Josephine to show you that file.” My jaw dropped at his words.
“I don’t understand.”
“I knew you weren’t going to stop. I’d be an idiot to think for once in your life you would actually follow your Alpha’s wishes.”
“Sorry.” I whispered.
“I wanted you to see what was in that file.”
“Why?” I took a few steps back into my kitchen. By looking at that file I came to the conclusion that he was behind this. So why would he want me to see the file that got me there? Was this a set up? I leaned against my kitchen counter, my knife set was just inches from my hand. I needed to be ready if he decided to attack.
“Because I know it looks bad. And I know you’re trying to grab a butchers knife to defend yourself but I promise you, Emma, you have nothing to worry about.” Damn, he was smarter than I was giving him credit for. “I saved your life. Twice actually. Why would I try to hurt you now?”
“To cover all of this us.”
“I’m only covering it up to give me time to find the truth. I’ve been looking into this for eight years. The second Phillip was killed and I was Alpha I began looking into this.”
“Why, Nick? Why would you keep this all a secret?”
“Every wolf in this pack is not as trustworthy as you think. The second someone finds out I’m looking into this, the whole pack would know, including the traitors.” He wasn’t wrong there, if Natalie could figure out that Emmett and I hooked up then how hard could it be to figure out our Alpha was sorting out a traitor?
“I thought you did it.” My voice was almost a whisper as shame coated my tongue. “I thought you were behind everything.” I looked up at him to find his golden eyes.
“I know.” His voice was thick with sadness.
“I’m sorry I didn’t trust you.”
“I didn’t give you much to trust.” We stared at each other in silence for far too long. “I’ll give you some advice, Emma.” I nodded at him. “You should really clean up, this place smells like a brothel.” He turned on his heels and walked out of my house as my cheeks cherried up faster than a racehorse. The stench of sex was all over my living room and my dumb ass rubbed it in my Alpha’s face. Oh sweet Moon Goddess, take me out of my misery now.