THERON

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SEVEN.

“Then you are the most breathtaking bowl of Fruity Pebbles I have ever seen,” I whisper, and I mean it. But that still does not negate the fact that more questions arise from the physical attributes of Lina’s wolf than I am comfortable considering. As befuddled as my emotions have been lately, I should no longer be surprised by a mixture of confusion, wonderment, dread, anxiety, and adoration. They swirl and spin inside me like cake batter in a mixing bowl, leaving my mind reeling.

To an outsider, all signs point to Lina being an Ancient. Her fur is white but iridescent—a combination of maroon, yellow, green, and blue... colors only me, Kai, DeLoren, and Marius, respectively, have been gifted.

Then there are her eyes. The Ancients are, again, the only ones that sport the churning eye trait, sharing not only the same colors as the other brothers but also the color of our human eyes. It really is a ridiculous amount of hues crammed into such a small fucking area. Over the years, we had just decided that the colors were nothing special, only distinguishing features and more than likely just a bad joke from a spiteful goddess.

However, all these colors now connect to Lina who is not an Original.

Why?

The most staggering revelation, the one that has me most disturbed, is the marking on her forehead. I can accept the mirroring of our colors and I can ignore the pressing issue of why such a young she-wolf appears as a cursed Ancient, but that mark will haunt me.

A fucking symbol that is stamped to each of our foreheads, like a damn crown, now also sits on Lina’s—again, another trait of the Ancients. That isn’t a big deal considering everything else on her body. However, the fact that her symbol also held mine is throwing up a million red flags.

There, front and center sits a waxing crescent moon with four slash marks over it. It’s bold and black, contrasting with her luminous fur. And while it is absolutely gorgeous, taking into consideration the dueling feelings I currently hold for the blonde beastie, this fucking symbol is the only thing I truly find disturbing about her wolf form. I know whenever we shift, it will stare me directly in the face, teasing me—demanding I discover its meaning... its secret.

“Lina,” I start, cautiously, “do you know what this symbol on your head means?” I run my thumb over it absentmindedly, hoping she has all the answers. But I know all hope is dead when the only reaction she gives me is a bewildered blink, “What symbol?”

“The symbol on your forehead,” I reply simply, slowly. Surely she understands what I’m asking. Lina’s eyes widen and I swear I see her gulp, “I... I have a symbol?”

Instantly taken aback, I eye her incredulously. She, indeed, does not know. How could she not know? “Yes...” I say carefully, drawing out the word. Though I find it entirely unbelievable that a young she-wolf has not checked their wolf form out in front of a mirror at least once, I can entertain the idea. Fine. Whatever. I didn’t hang out with any females so what did I know? But surely her father would have mentioned it. “Do you truly not know?”

“The only thing I ′truly’ know is that you’re fucking with me again,” she rolls her eyes and snorts. “Only the Ancients have markings.” I itch to snap at her disrespectful assumption. How does joking with her once automatically condemn me to the maturity level of a thirteen-year-old? I would never kid about something so dire. Maybe normal Theron is better received... Stupid me for assuming I could be myself.

Well then, mistake learned.

With an irritated growl, I whip the cell from my back pocket. Gently grabbing her snout, I force her movements to still and shoot a quick photo. I do not bother to hide my annoyance as I shove that phone in front of her fucking face. She thinks I’m joking? Well, here’s proof that I certainly am not.

I will not be ashamed of the scowl I know is on my face as I watch her eyes flash conflicting emotions—disbelief, awe, perplexity... every single feeling I had just experienced seconds prior, she’s now enduring the same.

"No,” she whines, ”no, no, no, no, no! What the actual fu... wasn’t told... why... how... dad... freak... makes no sense... Theron... me... terrible werewolf... secrets, betrayal... fucking hel... what am I..." Lina’s thoughts are like rapid-fire through my brain—unfiltered, unorganized, and unyielding. I have never met a werewolf that could not control the ability to mind link but if there was going to be one out there somewhere in the world, it would have to be Lina because that’s just the fucking bullshit Fate likes to throw at me.

Her voice echoes inside my mind—unfinished sentences, broken descriptions, fragmented emotions, and severed curse words all screaming at me simultaneously, like a thousand different radio stations playing all at once I can not power off. So loud and passionate are these thoughts, such a physically painful ringing inside my head, that I unconsciously cover my ears and squeeze my eyes tightly shut.

Too much, too much, too much...

“STOP!” My roar tears through the forest and down the mountainside. Birds squawk, fleeing from their perches in the trees above. Woodland animals scurry into their burrows, rustling the bushes and underbrush carelessly in their attempt to hide. It seems as if nature herself has paused, not even allowing a single gust of wind to break the silence that now envelopes us.

My beast paces feverishly, agitated from all the uncontrollable chaos thrust intrusively inside my brain.

Need silence...

Need calm...

Need time...

Breathe in...

Breathe out...

In...

Out...

Fuck.

She needs to learn how to block her thoughts or both of us might not make it through this journey sane and alive.

"I’m sorry,” her voice is soft and her beast whines in agreement. “It’s okay,” I grit, not actually believing my own words but I have no right to be angry with her. It isn’t her fault. Now Lucan, (goddess rest his soul) will get a piece of my fucking mind if I ever come across that bastard again. I mean, I am kind of hoping I will, eventually, one day, die. Earth cannot last forever...

“Before we go any further, you must learn to harness your thoughts,” I tell her flatly. I cannot go through that ever again, Goddess help me. Multi-colored eyes peer up at me, full of sympathy and doubt... a side of Lina I never expected to see.

Doubt.

“Imagine your thoughts placed inside of a house. They’re safe and secure under one roof, right? Now, every time you want to send me a thought, open that front door and kick that son of a bitch out.” Her snicker brings a smile to my lips. I can almost see the weight lift from her shoulders. “It is not hard, Lina, I promise. I am sorry that you were never taught how to do this. I won’t lie, it takes some practice, but... I’m right here.” I run my fingers over her head and behind her ears. Her coat is soft, shiny under my fingertips. It emanates an instant reassurance of warmth and comfort, much like her scent.

She gives me a quick, determined nod, confidence redeemed once more. Self-assurance and motivation radiate underneath my hand. “That’s my girl,” I coo.

I cooed.

I fucking cooed.

The fuck?!

Ignore it, I tell myself.

“Now turn around because ′I’m not stripping in front of you!’” I mock in the best Lina voice I can muster.

I think I nailed it.

***

"We’re here,” I slow my pace, glancing up at the mossy rock wall. Up there, around the corner will be a small cavity, hidden among the boulders and stony outcrops... and we’ll have to climb to reach it. Six hours it has taken us—six hours to get here and we are not even done yet.

"Well damn..." Lina lays down on her belly, eyes scanning the ridge before us, ”I was expecting a castle." A castle for a vampire queen? Only in Hollywood... I turn my head to her, meeting her swirling eyes, ”Guess I should have been more specific.”

"I’m starting to think you’re a real dick, you know that?" she deadpans, one wolf brow cocked in suspicion. I want to laugh, to chuckle, to smirk—to hope she’s teasing, but there’s too much truth in that statement. I snort, annoyed by the veracity that is me, ”Name’s Theron, nice to meet you.”

I watch Lina rise to her feet and take one last glance at what is soon to be a perilous climb. But just as I am starting to wonder if I angered her, she turns her attention back to me, stepping closer. She shoves her head into my neck and nuzzles me. I stand stock-still, my muscles stiff in uncertainty... all except my heart, which seems to pound a little stronger. Her snout nudges under my jaw, animal instinct requires I lick her face. I don’t know why... it’s a stupid wolf thing, I guess.

Yep, blame the wolf, my beast grumbles bitterly.

"Let’s get on with it,” Lina murmurs begrudgingly. She heads towards a tree to shift, leaving me alone with my thoughts... Those words suddenly make me feel puzzled as to whether I am comforting her or she is attempting to comfort me.

What the hell just happened here?

***

“You good?” I look up and beside me, watching Lina struggle slightly to find a steady rock to latch on to. Her climbing skills are definitely lacking. If only she were Lycan, she could use her claws...

“Yeah,” she grunts as she pulls herself up another foot away from me, “have you been here before? To see the queen, I mean...”

“No,” I climbed closer to her. Her biceps shake and spasm, causing me concern. The last thing I need right now is to watch her fall to her imminent death. All I can do is pray she’s able to keep her grip. Of all the things in this long, miserable life of mine, she’s the only thing I am not willing to risk losing.

I wonder if I could survive that.

“I’ve never met the queen,” I mutter, this climb is giving even me a serious workout. “I’ll be honest, I do not know what to expect,” I speak only the truth. I’ve been unfortunate enough to come across quite a few vampires in my time and I can unabashedly say, they are some scary motherfuckers.

Silly humans, romanticizing them in movies and books, make it obvious that they have never seen an actual vampire before. They’re not mythical beings that belong in the numerous love stories they have been immortalized in. Even Bram Stoker had not gotten these creatures entirely correct.

“Did your father teach you about vampires?” I inquire as I test the rock above me for sturdiness. It’s not as if a fall would ever be my demise but I did not want to have to start this climb over again if I ended up at the bottom once more. That, and we’re quickly running out of time. I need to speak with the queen and then we have to get the fuck out of here before sunset. This is vamp land and while I had killed a few in my days, a swarm of them is more than I can handle. I’m not willing to gamble Lina’s safety.

“A little, but--” Lina’s foot slips abruptly, causing her to gasp and jerk in panic. Not waiting to see if she can correct herself quick enough not to fall, I instinctively slam my forearm against the small of her back, pinning her safely to the rocky wall. But I’m fairly certain that is not what made both of us instantly freeze.

Nope.

That would be too obvious... too simple.

And my life is anything but simple.

My fingers wrap around Lina’s waist, and just so happen to have conveniently (note sarcasm) landed between her shirt and her yoga pants—which would be no biggie except for the fact that her shirt has ridden up quite a bit as she was stretching for the next ledge. So yes, those damn fingers land smack dab on no other than bare flesh... something I did not need at this very moment.

Soft...

Smooth...

Warm...

Blood courses through my hand, up my arm, over my chest, and downwards as erotic snapshots flash through my mind. I want to know if every inch of her body felt the same under my touch.

Soft.

Smooth.

Warm.

Wet...

I sigh, irritated with the stirring inside my pants. “Keep going,” I growl, thoroughly aggravated with the story that is my life, not specifically Lina, herself. I’m almost certain it does not translate that way, but at the moment, I feel like that is the least of our worries.

Onward we scale up further. Another twenty minutes tick away quickly until we finally reach the narrow pathway ledge. “Slide the rest of the way on your stomach. The cave opening should be right around the corner,” I instructed her. I hoped my source had not been lying with these directions. Right now, I’m not sure I will be able to control my beast of this ended up being all for nothing.

My jaw clenches, realizing almost immediately that my orders were not very well thought out as Lina’s ass is now directly in my line of sight.

Do I have time to close my eyes and recompose myself?

Nope.

Do I have the ability to disregard the view in front of me?

Probably.

Am I really going to?

Fuck no.

I may actually be cursed in more ways than one...

The imaginary clock ticks on, endlessly—torturing me—allowing plenty of time for my eyes to linger and study every moving muscle in those lovely glutes. The way they flex and tick, gliding effortlessly under those snug-fitting pants. My only saving grace seems to be the fact that she did not wear shorts today... It’s the small things in life that are now keeping me sane.

Once we round the corner, there’s indeed an opening, sitting six feet back on a smooth, wide ledge... but it’s not your typical mouth of a cave, like those found in Tennessee that lure in tourists from around the world. Oh no, again that would be too fucking easy. This is small; two-foot wide, jagged crevice-like entrance. Random rocks and boulders guard the opening, hiding it from humans that may accidentally pass by, though I am not convinced anyone, human or otherwise, would desire such a climb for the “fun of it.”

Lina can fit through the opening comfortably. For me, however, it’ll be tight.

“Stay behind me,” I know I will find the vamp queen in the far recesses of this cave, and should she become agitated by my unannounced visit, Lina will at least be guarded by my body. That terrifying thought leads me to another I strongly feel needs voiced. Before squeezing through the entrance, I turn to Lina, looking her square in the eyes, “If something should go wrong—if I sense the slightest, minuscule amount of danger, do not argue or ask questions... just run. Leave. Do you understand? Whatever I tell you to do, you need to listen and follow every instruction to the tee. It’s extremely important, Lina.” She nods, brown eyes wide in understanding but I still don’t feel as if that is enough to calm me or my beast. “Promise me,” I demand. I was not convinced that would quell anything either, but it’s worth a shot.

Lina links her pinky finger around mine, an unspoken vow that now seems to cover more than just one past promise. A light squeeze from her finger to my finger is enough to not only assure me she will obey my request but also, unintentionally, remind me why I have been so adamant in making this journey...

I now have something immensely precious and irreplaceably priceless to protect.

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