THERON

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TEN.

The trip back to the mill is silent and beyond uncomfortable like a switch had flipped overnight somehow.

Long gone is the Theron of last night. Hard and dead eyes replace the love and sympathy that once was, leaving me feeling cold and empty. This was the Theron I had read about—the emotionless, desolate, soulless Ancient that cared of nothing and no one... that felt nothing for anything or anyone. What I had done to deserve this treatment, I could only guess.

I can’t say there have been many moments in my life where my self-confidence faltered. I can probably count them on one hand and not use all my fingers but with Theron... well, doubts seem to arise in the most unwanted of ways. Whatever his current problem is shouldn’t concern me. The thought that I might be the root of the issue shouldn’t even be a passing consideration in my mind and yet, I can’t help but feel as if I did something wrong. Is it my presence that suddenly irritates him in some way?

I unintentionally find myself questioning my worthiness standing in the light of such a powerful and immaculate being. Truth be told, I am quite a little abomination: A rogue wolf that doesn’t fit the mold.

I have no pack. I have no mate. My fur, my eyes, my markings—I don’t look the part. Hell, I can’t even properly mind link. Why would he see me as anything more than a pebble in his shoe? Our shared history is the only thing that assures me he will deliver me safely back to the mill. Of that, I know. What would happen after, I have no clue. If I were him, I’d cut the fuck out and never look back as nature would take care of the rest.

The queen’s words weigh heavily on my mind and it’s not the revelation that I have no mate. No, that would be way easier to swallow. After all, I never really wanted a mate. I feel I’ve accepted that, for whatever reason, my goddess did not created me to fall in love and reproduce for her, and maybe, somewhere deep down, I have known this all along. However, she had still seen the need to put me in this forsaken shit life so I know I have a purpose—flaws and all. I’m not here to suffer and waste away. No matter how pathetic my werewolf existence may be, I will always trust in her plan, whatever it is.

I am not a mistake.

It’s the insistence that I mark Theron that I’m having a hard time understanding.

Traditionally, marking a werewolf came after mating. Even more so, you were only to mark your mate. While neither of us had mates, did that give us the green light to mark each other? That’s the question I cannot bring myself to confidently answer.

Would he even want me to mark him?

Would he want to mark me?

Years of remembrance of fantasies and dreams come forth, front and center in my mind, smacking me hard in the face and demanding I investigate the sinful thoughts I hadn’t been able to control since Theron left me. I still hold tight to the defense that I didn’t know it was my best friend I had been crushing on all these years. Consciously, that’s all fine and good but on a soul level, is it possible that I have actually known all along? Putting together the conversation with the queen, if I’m the “key,” as she so adamantly suggests I am, then my mate-less life would make sense, wouldn’t it? Had I been created to be fated to Theron, the deadliest of Ancients? I am torn between the new, conscious, yet less confident side of me, and that deep, subconscious side... the unyielding song my soul hummed in his presence.

But to mark meant to mate.

The thought of having sex with Theron was enough to make me light-headed. I know I want that, the need is increasing every day, but the actual idea of executing such a primal desire is more than I can handle.

So much so, that I don’t pay much attention to my foot placement and the pesky boulder that just so happens to pop up out of nowhere. At least, that’s the story I’m sticking to.

My center of gravity seems to slide, like a slice of pizza right off the plate. Forward, I tilt, grasping desperately for something—anything—around me to save myself from certain embarrassment in front of an already disgruntled Ancient. Let’s just add clumsiness to my list of faults.

Even as I’m falling, quickly heading towards the ground and ready, hoping darkness will take me first, saving me from the awkwardness that is sure to follow. Part of me, however small at this moment, still calls to me to not give up. To fight. To face my fears. Though my father had sheltered me a bit too much, I had learned quite quickly that a weak wolf will never survive this cruel world. I have been through more in one week than most had experienced in their whole life. So why the fuck is the concept of mating Theron the last straw?

Truth be told, I think I’m just tired.

Tired of this life and these emotions and the cruel fate that has befallen me.

It seems as if Theron has unknowingly been my crutch—holding me up, making me feel disillusioned to take on the world. But the sudden shift he displays from hot to cold reminds me that I am truly alone. Whatever else is going on, how I fit into what’s happening behind the scenes, I’ll have to handle it by myself... for my crutch has apparently abandoned me.

And I can’t fathom the why of it all.

Preparing to hit the ground, I close my eyes. Even for a few seconds, everything will be forgotten. I can rest my weary mind. But the ground, so ready to welcome my tormented soul, does not get the chance.

Strong arms wrap around my waist, pulling me towards a hard, yet warm and comforting body. The initial sparks and tingling I felt upon this skin to skin contact assures me it’s Theron who has caught me. It’s Theron, who holds me up... Theron, who will not allow the ground to touch me.

Nonetheless, I open my eyes just to make sure.

How such a handsome face can continuously knock the breath clear out of my lungs, I’ll never understand. Though every time his eyes meet mine, for that split second, that one glorious moment, I’m instantly transported somewhere else. Somewhere safe and happy, where the strife and torment of Life cannot get me.

And it’s here, I long to stay.

His face a mere six inches from my own, I can feel the exhale of his sweet breath across my cheek—the tension that seems to dissipate from his body the minute he realizes I’m in his arms. The coldness of his eyes shifts to something softer, flashing those mesmerizing, whirling colors I am still so entranced by.

We both become frozen simultaneously—soul speaking to soul words we hadn’t expressed... Something, that unfortunately, leaves me feeling even more confused than before.

Hot and cold.

Like a switch; A switch that has just flipped back once again.

But, as always, it’s not meant to last.

A low rumble vibrates through Theron’s chest, eyes glaring and pitch-black now. The swiftness of this change akin to a candle in a hurricane and once again, leaving me to assume I’ve done something unforgivable. It’s only when his head snaps to the right and he pulls me closer to his chest that I realize I am not the cause of this change in demeanor.

Not this time, at least.

Rumbling transforms into a fierce warning growl as I turn my eyes towards the unknown threat that has my terrifyingly, handsome Ancient on edge.

The mill stands, just as we left it, across the grassy field meters away. I can smell my home and all that reside within. However, a bigger whiff causes my territorial instincts to rise to the surface—my wolf demanding to be let loose. For she knows immediately that something doesn’t smell right.

A whiff of danger.

A foreign scent.

A stranger that doesn’t belong...

Someone, or something, uninvited and unwelcome, is inside. And now, the growling has become contagious as it also resounds from me.

Kai busts out the door, running towards us at a speed I can only describe as gifted solely to Ancients. Theron roughly pushes me behind him, with a vicious, deadly snarl. I don’t have the time nor the mental capacity to dwell on that action.

Kai slides to a stop, hands raised defensively, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, T! Before you—”

“Who the fuck is here,” Theron roars, lycan and human voices layered and intertwined, frightening even myself... though the heat between my legs currently suggests otherwise.

Kai’s eyes widened in surprise, probably just as affected by Theron’s rage as me.

Okay, maybe not just as...

“I told DeLoren he should be doing this, but no, who does he send? Me. He sent me! Like I’m looking to get my head torn off or some shit and I told him! I said, ‘D, yo, this is a bad, bad idea,’ but did he listen to me? Fuck no. Does anyone ever listen to me? Again, big, fuck no! Am I the whipping child here? I know I’m not the black sheep. That’s definitely you, T, and in no way, shape or form do I ever want that label. You’re so grumpy all the time. Why are you so grumpy all the time? It’s like walking on eggshells man, you need to find a mantra, pick some flowers, do some yoga, eat chocolate... maybe acupuncture? I heard that it works wonders. Do something because all this negative energy you emit is literally suffocating me, bro, like the air, is so thick and sticky and—”

Kai, Goddess bless his little soul, is not reading the room well. I’ll take the blame for this one since I’m pretty sure years and years spent babysitting and not socializing had some adverse effects. I don’t know if he normally rambles or if it’s just a situational thing but regardless, he should know it’s the wrong choice in this particular moment. While he’s drowning on and on about Theron’s vices, I watch Theron carefully, though cautiously. His jaw ticks, clenching and unclenching in a rhythmic pattern that must resemble the speed at which the anger is flowing swiftly, yet surely, through his veins. His face contorts slightly, morphing between human and lycan as if he is trying very hard to contain the beast inside. His eyes, black as a starless night, pull me into a hopeless void of fury even I am chilled by.

Visions of a headless Kai cause panic to swell within my stomach. Theron’s muscles visibly tense, his back bending forward just a minuscule amount—enough to be considered a preparing stance for pouncing... the lycan is winning. “KAI!” I scream, eyes darting between him and Theron, not quite certain if I’m too late.

Kai turns his attention to me as if insulted I interrupted his rambling. How can he not see what is about to happen? He had known Theron longer than me—better than me! All I can do is redirect him to look at Theron. Really look at him.

A sudden realization overtakes Kai’s features and he inahles sharply, possibly seeing the same mental image as me. “The missing Alpha,” he gulps, “We have him.”

In a blink of an eye, Theron’s touch is gone. His body is through the door of the mill before I can even ponder the implications of Kai’s words, leaving only Kai and me staring at each other as if we know the brewing storm is about to unleash its fury upon us.

I have heard about the missing alpha. Theron had explained that they suspected a couple of alphas of selling members of their pack to Superlunar and while one had already been dealt with (I did not desire the details), there was still one left... this had to be him. At the time, even though I had never been part of a pack or experienced an alphetic rule, I still couldn’t fathom even the thought. I had grown up believing that alphas loved their pack and protected them with their lives. Maybe I was naive, or maybe I was too caught up in the romance that attached itself to such a thought. Whatever it had once been, was long gone after our visit to the queen. I have to come to terms with the evilness that plagues our world and the mysteries that lay hidden behind the guise of righteousness. Things are unfolding quickly now and I need to be able to withstand the shock of it all or be left behind.

So I silently follow Kai, back to the mill, back to reality and the bloodshed that is certain to be awaiting me.

...Another blow to my already crushed spirit.

The scene is almost surreal in that second bedroom upstairs. It isn’t Marius leaning against the wall with a scowl on his face or DeLoren with his arms crossed, smirking at the sight before him that instantly makes my stomach roll. It isn’t Kai who went and stood by the window as some undetected lookout and it isn’t Theron who is bent over the Alpha, hands on either side of the armchair, glaring, that causes anxiety to wash over me in waves.

Nope.

All of that, for some reason, seems completely normal to me. What did not belong, however, is the clear plastic tarp that lay spread flat in the middle of the room... and the Alpha bound to a chair by silver chains laced with wolfsbane, sitting smack dab in the middle of that clear plastic tarp, that unnerves me.

I’m not dumb, I know what they’re doing—I know what they want. I also know exactly which one of them will be extracting that information.

Forcefully, if necessary.

Unfortunately, I also understand instantly, once the Alpha’s eyes connect with mine, that there’s no way in this life or the next that he is going to speak one single, solitary word without provocation.

And Theron understands it too.

As if by some form of divine intervention, the tension in the air is sliced in half by the sound of ATV motors from the outside. Familiar ones, I recognize, yelling my name.

Panic...

There’s panic laced in their voices.

Years spent with my trio of warriors had equipped me with personal knowledge of each of them. I can read Keeley, Rhys, and Anthony like an open book, and this I know, is not a normal thing. They panic only when necessary, for they are above the dramatics of most in their age group.

Something is wrong...

Very wrong.

All heads inside the small bedroom whip towards the window, saying nothing.

Knowing nothing.

It’s my place, my job, to break the silence and break it, I did, “We have a problem.”

As if on a swivel—a string that connects them all—every head turns their attention towards me. Annoyance, confusion, intrigue... all various emotions written across the faces of those who are, by nature, not known to show such feelings to others. Even the Alpha, confined to his death chair, seems to sense something is out of the ordinary. His overly confident, defiant demeanor has now vanished, washed away like water to the shore.

“This will have to wait,” I declare, spinning around and marching out of the room. What awaits me downstairs, I have no clue, but it is time to slay those fears.

The cat rears her ornery head once more.

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