That beautiful face that had plagued my restless dreams for years was now here—real and directly in front of me.
I am fully aware of his studious eyes on me as my fingers touch the smoothness of his cheeks, and I feel the tick of his jaw as I trace the strong outline of his face... the sensation of his skin against my fingers confirms that I am not dreaming.
He looks exactly how I remembered, though maybe not as tall. Surely he is over six feet but when you’re only three feet from the ground as a child, your perception is a little skewed. Regardless, he still dwarfs my five-foot, eight-inch frame.
His brown eyes remain innocent, holding tightly to thoughts and emotions the world will probably never see. They’re warm and inviting, tempting me to fall within their depths and lose myself forever in a rolling tide of milk chocolate.
Then again, I have always thought of Theron and Angel as separate beings. I often wondered what Theron may look like in human form but never did I imagine he would be so dangerously handsome. This is my friend... my best friend. And though at six years old I didn’t quite understand the concept of ′best′ friends, I still never replaced him with anyone else where the definition of such a title might be more fitting.
Now, I’m certainly in a conundrum.
Theron is Angel.
Angel is Theron.
As I had gotten older, my dreams had become more risqué (blame it on my werewolf side for we are very sexual beings by nature). The thought of having even one passionate dream about my friend is embarrassing enough but knowing that I had woken up countless nights with a sweaty body, racing heart and an unquenchable urge between my legs is beyond shameful. I should never think of him in that way.
I cannot think of him in that way.
But here he is, in the flesh... a flesh my hands want to explore, a skin my tongue wants to taste...
A fit of sudden anger consumes my body. I’m mad at myself for these thoughts and feelings and that’s probably where it should stop. It’s my problem, not his. And yet, I can’t prevent the incoming storm of emotions. As the thunder gets louder, the timbre of fury within my body rises to meet it.
Had he ever shown me who he was just once, had he been honest with me when I was six years old standing in the kitchen gawking at his human form, I would not have spent years and years building and molding the fantasy of a stranger I so lovingly refer to as Angel in my head. Over a decade of pent-up sexual frustrations and fleeting fantasies could have been avoided and I wouldn’t be standing here now trying very hard not to allow even the tiniest scent of arousal to awkwardly waft through every werewolf nose in this small cottage. Had he never left me my feelings would probably have remained the same: an innocent little girl with a best friend that was male.
It could have been so simple.
And if he had never gone away, my home may still be standing, my happiness and memories locked tightly within the four walls of that wooden cabin.
If Theron would have stayed by my side, spent his years with me, my dad might still be alive. Theron would have protected us, I know it.
Images of my father flash through my mind and now I am no longer devastated—I am pissed.
And maybe slightly irrational but I don’t care.
I’ll never eat his pancakes again; never see him smile or hear the rarity of his laugh. He will never again make me read book after stupid book on all there is to know in this galaxy and beyond. He’ll never call my name again or tell me he loves me before I fall asleep. He would never meet my future mate.
Motherless I can handle, that’s how I had grown up. I was accustomed to it, but without my father I am lost.
Theron was off somewhere living his life and doing whatever the fuck his sexy lone wolf ass wanted to do and I was here, wondering every day when he would return.
The life I had known has been ripped away from me so quickly that I haven’t had time to process my grief for each separate incident. I wasn’t given time to discover the reasoning behind everything that had just happened to me and now, without dad, I have no one to help me through it all.
Theron, my friends, the other three Ancients—so many people in one room and yet I feel more alone than ever.
He should have been here and it should have been years before now.
I’m not one to brag about having a poker face for I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve. I can try to plaster my face with fake smiles and stoic expressions but it never holds for long and it’s always forced. Honestly, I probably appear to be more constipated than anything. Currently, any type of façade I could attempt would ultimately fail.
Theron knew the second my thoughts went south because the light faded from those pretty browns. Confusion, disappointment, call it what you will—it’s obvious he had hoped this reunion would go better.
It probably would have had he done things differently.
Unfortunately for him, he spent too long away. He doesn’t know me anymore... I’m not six years old. Everything I now know came from either my father or personal experience. Theron wasn’t there to guide me, give me advice, and help me acclimate. No. He chose to spend his time elsewhere like I didn’t need him.
Like I didn’t matter.
So fuck him.
Seeing no other way to release my anger, a flurry of emotions and new revelations burst forth in the form of my fist connecting straight into his stupidly perfect nose.
Theron’s head snaps back but that was it. His feet do not move, everything from his neck down stays in exquisite alignment with the rest of his annoyingly gorgeous body. A snarl resounds from his beautiful fucking throat as his head comes back down... his eyes now swirling with the multitude of colors I remember so well. Blood gushes from his nose though he doesn’t seem bothered by it.
Almost immediately, that nose cracks back into place on its own accord, his werewolf/lycan blood fixing whatever ailment may need attending to. He stands before me, a feverish look on his face. I’ve started a fire within him that is now evident on those irritatingly flawless features he has been so graciously blessed with.
I admit, I gave a quick thank you to my Goddess for such perfection but that was it. I refuse to get roped into his devilish good looks.
“Why the fuck does this keep happening today?” He grits, his expression murderous but he never makes a move to tear me apart so I stand my ground, unwavering.
I faintly hear Kai laughing in the background so obviously, it’s not the first well-deserved hit he’s received this morning and I feel a bit jealous about that.
“You left,” I stress. “You left me! My dad... the house, where were you, Theron?! I needed you!” I try desperately to keep the despair from seeping into my voice but I’m fairly sure I fail and at this moment it’s only a secondary thought.
I need him. I have always needed him so when I said to him, ‘I needed you,’ it not only covered the tragedies I have just gone through but my whole life as well. How different would I have been if he hadn’t left? I feel vulnerable, helpless... heartbroken. Maybe even a bit jealous because I can’t imagine what was so important that he chose it over me.
And I know I’m being childish. I understand that I can’t expect an Ancient to care about the feelings or needs of a little girl but damnit, I feel as if I had been taken back to that exact age. The age where I didn’t know anyone or anything, where the world was too big and scary and dad would hold me when I felt overwhelmed. Being in that frame of mind, I could do nothing but watch the scene before me unfold as if I was just a spectator among the crowd.
Theron’s eyes soften. He takes a deep breath and clasps both my shoulders in his large swoon-worthy hands. Dipping his head down to my level, he makes sure our eyes connect, “Lina, I’m sorry. I should never have left you but please... please know that I never wanted to—I had to. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t think about you or that I didn’t try every day to get back to you—”
“A once a year birthday present does very little to help your case!” I exclaimed, clenching my fists. Words mean nothing to me. They are false declarations and empty promises.
Actions are everything.
His eyes stray to my neck and I know immediately what he’s pointedly staring at. It only takes a second before a shadow of a smirk adorns his face, “I never saw you return any of them.”
Instinctively, I grab the necklace, wrapping my hand around it tightly like I always do when I need strength—the same necklace he had gifted me on my sixteenth birthday... The one I wear every single fucking day because it had once meant something. However, when that meaning became nothing more than words on a stone to me, I still could not take it off. Maybe, somewhere deep inside I just wouldn’t allow myself to accept that all hope of ever seeing him again was lost... Or maybe it’s just pretty and I get a lot of compliments on it. H will never know my reasoning because he doesn’t deserve to.
So I choose to ignore the comment but I can’t overlook that almost smirk... one that says he knows he has me—that whatever I’ll reply with next will be invalid because I chose to keep each present he sent.
Annoyed he would even consider acting so arrogant towards me, I poke my finger into his chest over and over again, moving my feet forward. His eyes widen with surprise and with every step I take, he retreats one back, “Every year—every single birthday I wished for nothing more than for you to come back and every year it was the same wrapped up, store bought box of meaningless shit!” I will not mince my words. I am not that regular werewolf that will bow to him because he is the most infamous of the Ancients. As far as I’m concerned, we are on equal grounds.
I notice the slight flinch of pain on his face like I had hit him right where it hurt the most but I don’t care now. I’m on a roll and I am not going to let him deter me from saying everything I have ever wanted to say, “Year after year only brought more disappointment until I finally gave up. You could have called! Why? Why didn’t you at least call me?!” I try miserably to blink away the tears that have begun to well up at the remembrance of many nights I cried myself to sleep wondering if he was okay—if he was still alive, because surely he would have contacted me somehow just to let me know.
But that assurance never came.
“I... I just thought—I thought we were friends,” I whisper, upset with myself for being so weak. For showing him that he did actually affect me. As love turned into resentment, I had forced those thoughts and feelings deep down, determined to never bring them back to life. Yet, here I am, being the emotional, passionate wolf I’m known for; digging that damn bone up from the long-forgotten cold, hard dirt.
Theron raises his hands like he might touch me, then must decide against it because they drop to his sides, “We were—are! We are friends, Lina! That hasn’t changed.” I can detect the desperation in his voice and it tears at my heart. I want to believe him, believe in him but so much time spent thinking I’m not important enough for even a two-minute phone conversation had sabotaged that trust.
I don’t want to hurt him. I never want him to feel the way I felt—abandoned and forgotten... not worthy. However, I cannot prevent my mouth from voicing my thoughts, “But I have. And do you know what I learned after that change? Friends. Never. Leave.”
I’m done now.
I don’t wait around for an argument or another empty form of pleading. I swat away the hands that reaches up in a weak attempt to halt me and stomp up the stairs.
I need a shower.
The smell of smoke, blood, and bitterness is making me sick.
One hour, one shower, a spare change of clothes, and a good cry later, I find myself sitting by the window in the second bedroom.
In the distance, I watch Theron as he stands on a jutting boulder overlooking the river. His back is to me but I can clearly see the tension in his body—the way his muscles move and flex fluidly under his fitting white t-shirt and black basketball shorts. I can’t help but wonder what his everyday clothes look like... probably much better than the standard ‘after shift’ attire.
I can tell he’s lost in thought and part of me feels guilty. My heart begs me to go to him, to apologize and make things less awkward between us but my brain is more stubborn. Every time I blink I see that fucking hole in my father’s head and my body refuses to move. I know logically I can’t continue to blame Theron but so lost am I in my grief that I cannot let it go either.
I am numb.
I am stuck.
I would watch that cabin burn to the ground a thousand times over if only it would spare my dad.
And then there is Alex...
I should have known what he was. I should have sensed it. Those red lights flashing in my head should have made me pause, but they didn’t. I was too wrapped up in Ian Malory to consider anything beyond what related to that son of a bitch. It had been too easy for the hunter to allow me to believe he was an FBI agent. I never asked. I just assumed and I assumed because of my involvement with an international drug lord.
So technically, my father’s blood is on my hands and mine alone.
But I will not make that mistake a second time. If I ever see Alex again, I will kill him where he stands.
The sound of the old wooden door opening tears my eyes away from Theron and my thoughts from something much darker. Without asking for permission, Kai walks his little happy ass right in and stands at the window beside me.
Now we are both staring at Theron.
“You two are too stubborn for your good,” Kai says softly, never straying his eyes from the Ancient outside.
I scoff at his audacity, “Excuse me? You don’t know me.” I literally just met him last night. It doesn’t matter that I had been acquainted with Theron and DeLoren—fifty percent of those damn Ancients—I had never met Kai and he could not claim he knew me by association because knowing of someone and knowing someone is completely different in my book.
“Oh, but I do,” he chuckles, a bitter undertone in his amusement, “I have been your silent guard dog for fourteen years.”
Now that makes my gaze snap from Theron to Kai, “What are you saying? You’ve been stalking me since I was six?” Surely I didn’t hear him correctly or had misinterpreted the meaning of his words because I would have sensed someone watching me at least once from six years of age up until now.
And I never had.
“I’m saying I was asked to do a favor for a friend,” his jaw juts toward the window, his eyes falling on Theron. “And while you and I have never spoken, I know you better than anyone in this house, Lina,” he claims, adamantly, “I know both of you.”
Although I understand what’s being implied, I don’t understand the meaning of it and something tells me Kai is going to force me to figure it out on my own. And if that’s true, I need a bit more to go off of, “You’re saying Theron sent you? And why would he ever do that?”
“Theron’s loyalty has always lied with Theron and Theron alone.” He sighs, “For thousands of years he has cared for nothing but himself... until now.” Kai turns his head from the window and narrows his eyes at me, “So before you go accusing him of not caring, maybe you should consider the implications of that and at least hear his reasoning because that werewolf right there,” his head motions to the window, “would lay down his life for you if you so desired it.”
I cannot prevent the deafening sound of my beating heart as I approach Theron. I know he must have heard the fluttering long before I came to stand by his side. But if he did, he doesn’t openly acknowledge it.
In fact, he doesn’t say anything at all.
I watch the roaring river, imagining what he could have been thinking about this whole time. I had often looked to this river when I, myself, was pondering life—to me, it felt akin to my soul... wild, raging, and swiftly heading in only one, unstoppable direction.
My life, my being, is just as untamed as this river.
Where is it going? Will it ever calm its churning tides? Will it ever merge with another body of water? Is there a final destination... will it ever stop?
Will it finally find its way home?
Will it even have a home?
I will forever be like this powerful river, rushing towards the unknown, never knowing if I’ll get there or if there even is a ”there.” My life is now just as out of my control as the direction the river is forced to run.
I no longer have a home.
I no longer have a family.
I have no one who can even understand what I am currently going through. Sure, Keeley lost her brother but she still has the rest of her family, living comfortably and happily, hidden tightly away inside their cozy home.
I assume, just like this river, my home will now be the rugged, wild and mountainous landscape of Tennessee.
I have nowhere else to go.
And now, I’ve also shoved away the only other person who apparently cared enough for me to walk through hell and back. My stupid mouth had thrown up a wall, thick and tall between me and my former best friend. Why would he bother to scale it?
I probably added barbed wire to the very top anyway.
So what do I say to fix this?
I have no freaking idea... But the more I think about it, the more I decide that I’ll take my own advice. I refuse to be a hypocrite.
So I don’t need to speak and neither does he. We stand, in silence, side by side in front of that river while the sun starts to dip below the tree line. And when my hand brushes his, I know exactly the best way to show my apology.
I remember his promise and now, I will give him mine in return. I only hope that it’ll be enough. A tiny, seemingly insignificant action that speaks so much louder and more truthful than I ever could...
I wrap my pinkie finger around his.′Today, tomorrow, and forever...′