Chapter 21 ♕
With my mate still in my arms, I closed the door behind us with a loud bang. My thoughts were no longer with the witch we’d left unconscious behind that door. Instead, my full attention was on the woman who was looking at me with a radiance of shock and playfulness in her eyes.
I moved my hands under her bottom and lifted her a little further into the air. When I regained my firm grip, I put my hand on her neck. We looked at each other for a second. When she’d been challenging me before, I was determined that I would pay her back, but when I saw that soft look in her eyes, the whole feeling disappeared.
I might not be able to explain exactly what happened before, or why my mate had suddenly turned into someone I hadn’t recognized. In this exact moment I saw the vulnerability in her eyes. And that was why I placed my hand in her neck and pulled her against me, so that she didn’t see the dungeons we passed and the horrors they hide. She seemed to know what my intentions were, because she let me have my way and just snuggled closer to me.
Once above ground I saw that the corridors were deserted. With just a look outside I saw that it must be late at night. I hadn’t realized how long I must have been down there. Maybe Magnolia had come down to find me because she couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t think of another explanation so quickly, but she shouldn’t have been there. Something could have happened to her.
She might have noticed my anxiety because a second later her head came out of my neck and she looked me right in my eyes. “Are you sure you’re all right?” Maggie asked again, probably just to be on the safe side.
“No, I’m definitely not okay,” I said in a raspy voice, feeling the same sensation going through my body as before. Immediately I saw the fear cross her face as she glanced across my body as if she were looking for an injury she had missed before. It almost made me laugh, but in the end I managed to suppress it.
I kept my face straight, but inwardly I thoroughly enjoyed the way she seemed to worry about me. In the past week, I really thought I had gotten to know my mate better. Her generous smile, her listening ear and above all her kindness.
But when I saw her face Giselle and watched her defend me and Bethany, I saw a completely different side. Then it was as if she had never known a shred of fear. Perhaps there was still so much that I didn’t know about her.
I was startled when I felt something warm against my face. When my gaze returned to focus, I saw her face was only inches from mine. Her skin had turned white and her eyes were full of concern. Apparently I had left her alone with her thoughts for too long. She genuinely thought someone had done something to me. That someone had hurt me.
“Alaric, talk to me. What’s the matter?” she said, putting her other hand to my cheek too, so that now I was forced to look straight at her. I drowned in those unique eyes. Those eyes that looked like the deepest ocean and the greenest fields.
It had been meant as a joke when I said to her that I wasn’t doing well. I just wanted to see how she would respond. Whether she cared. But now. The evidence was all over her face. She did care. I meant something to her.
I was overwhelmed by a feeling a thousand times stronger than sensation or lust. I loved her. I took a deep breath and sincerely hoped I wouldn’t stammer again.
By now we had arrived at my quarters, which allowed me to close the door behind us to prevent anyone from hearing us. Silently I walked to my bed and put her there softly. I couldn’t allow myself to seek distance from her, so I leaned over her.
The look in her eyes was still nervous.
“Listen Mags, I don’t expect anything from you, so please don’t feel obligated to answer my feelings. I’ve been waiting for you all my life, I’ll survive waiting a little longer,” I said in a raspy voice.
“What are you talking about?” Maggie said in such a soft voice I could barely hear her. She had started to feel uncomfortable by now and was trying to get out of my grip, as if I would allow that.
I moved just a little closer to her, my breath caressing her skin. She froze. I kept a close watch on her eyes, for I had learned by now that those eyes of hers would always give away how she really felt. She wasn’t scared, just a little shy.
“What I’m trying to say, Mags,” I said in a calm voice, “is that I love you”.
I heard her suck in air and then she stopped breathing completely. I didn’t move, even came up a bit to create some space between us.
I wanted her to know she had a choice. That I wouldn’t blame her if all this went way too fast for her. Immediately her words came back to haunt me. “I am not about to declare my ever burning love to you here. I am far from getting to that point”.
Only a week had passed.
There was silence and I got nervous. In fact, I averted my gaze just to not have to look at her. It was really hard because every part of me wanted to claim her. Including the Lycan screaming at me in the back of my mind that I had screwed it all up once again. The room had become so quiet that I could hear her heartbeat. It went very fast, so fast that I started to worry after a while.
Finally, I gathered myself and looked back at her. Her eyes were wide and in them I saw a mixture of emotions. She opened her mouth, but there was nothing more than a soft sound. No words, no response, no answer.
It felt like I was being destroyed from within. I had poured out my heart to her and she couldn’t even find it in her to answer. Suddenly I couldn’t bear to be so close to her anymore. I wanted some distance, so I got up. But before I could actually stand on my feet, I felt something tug on my shirt.
I looked down. Magnolia kept her hand tied tightly around the fabric of my shirt. She had started shaking. I wasn’t sure what to do. On the one hand, I wanted to take her in my arms, but on the other, her answer had been more than clear to me.
She gently tugged at my shirt and I finally gave in. I put my hands on either side of her head and leaned forward again. It went without saying. Finally I felt her body brush against mine. Sparks shot through my inside and I was immediately warm. I drowned in her eyes again. I could no longer take the silence.
“Say something, please,” I almost begged her.
And then she smiled. It was not a mocking laugh. This was a laugh of happiness. Her hand let go of my shirt and this time clung to my collar. After one last little giggle, she pulled me gently towards her, until our lips touched.
A second later I grabbed her and claimed her lips with everything I had. My brain switches off and I enjoy her like a thirsty man. Her whole body was glued to mine. Her scent overpowered all my senses and I was driven insane. I deepen the kiss so that our tongues meet, and I explode.
I sat up in one smooth motion, so that she ended up on my lap. Her legs closed around my waist. The whole time I made sure to keep our lips in contact with each other. I could hear myself gasping as if I were a starving dog. I groaned through the silence and she did the same.
In all the years when I had walked this planet all alone, this was the feeling I had been looking for all along. She was the one I had longed for all along.
I suddenly froze as I felt her slowly grinding against me. She was probably carried away by the moment. But that didn’t help the growing bulge in my pants. I could hardly contain myself. Maggie had put her arms around my neck and ran them through my hair.
Cross out the thought I had that I knew my mate. I had no idea who this woman was, yet in that one minute my love for her had doubled. Especially when she grabbed my lower lip between her teeth and gently bit it. I had never felt so alive. So much so that my whole body started to shake, confronting Maggie with the impressive bulge in my pants. Her moans broke the night’s silence.
I honestly thought it would be over after that. That Maggie would withdraw in shame and wouldn’t dare look at me, but instead her eyes pierced into mine. Her look was exactly the same as that in the dungeon, full of lust. Neither of us said anything. Her gaze slid to my lips for a moment, then back to my eyes.
This time it was I who took the initiative. I simply couldn’t resist her. Couldn’t take my eyes off her. I grabbed her roughly by the neck and pulled her so tightly against me that I heard her scream briefly, but that was until I covered her lips with mine. She’s so close, so perfect, so warm.
“Mine,” I growl, moving from her lips to her neck.
I buried my face in her neck and inhaled her scent so that it filled my head and I could no longer think clearly. And before I knew it my fangs had penetrated and they were now stroking her soft skin. Right where my mark should be.
I was about to do it, when I realized what I was actually doing. I immediately came to my senses. I forced my fangs back in and took a deep breath to order my thoughts. Then I put my arms around her and pulled her close to me. I felt my heartbeat calm down.
Finally I felt her arms slide around my neck. This time it meant nothing more than a warm hug. And it was absurd to think that I found this almost as exciting as the kiss from before. She is really gonna give me a whiplash with all those different sides of her. I smiled and pulled her just a little closer to me.
“Alaric, about what you said,” I heard her say, gently pulling herself out of my embrace.
I felt my heart tighten. I was already about to interrupt, reassure her that I didn’t need an answer. But then I stopped, because I just needed to hear her answer.
“Maybe I’m not quite at the same point as you, but I can’t deny that I feel something for you. I’ve only known you a few days, and to my ears this sounds like madness, but my feelings for you have definitely grown stronger in that time”.
She took a deep breath. As if she had to gather all her strength together.
“So I’ve decided I want to give this a fair shot. Tomorrow I’m going home to get my things and quit my job. Then, if you’re okay with it, I’d like to come back here and see where this takes us”.
I stared at her in bewilderment. It took a moment for her words to sink in. “So you will stay with me,” I asked confused. “That’s what I want,” she said with a laugh.
There it was. The words I’ve always longed for. Someone who chose to stay with me, despite everything I was. I didn’t know why, but suddenly I had to think back to when I ended my uncle’s life. What feeling I had longed for at the time, but never felt. I felt it now.
I felt it heating up my body. A broad grin broke out on my lips. It felt strange to some muscles, probably because they were so little used. “Who could have thought that” she said, “you are even more handsome when you smile”.
Now I had to laugh out loud. I just looked at her. The way her tousled hair fell over her shoulders. How her flushed cheeks lit up in the light of the fire. But above all the warmth with which she looked at me. She was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
Suddenly I felt myself getting tired. The feeling came out of nowhere. It was something I was not used to at all. During my hunting period, I had never stopped to sleep even once. I thought I didn’t need it, but now I was having trouble just keeping my eyes open. I felt Magnolia put her hands against my face.
“Let’s go to sleep,” she just said, before gently pushing me backward and landing me on the mattress. “I’m staying here with you,” I heard her say softly.
Those words kept repeating themselves softly in my head, like a welcoming lullaby. I closed my eyes, felt Magnolia lay down next to me. How her hand found my neck and started caressing it. I groaned blissfully.
She was here now. That was all that mattered.
I had no idea what time it was, but given that I was still asleep, not much time could have passed. I didn’t know what exactly caused me to wake up, but when I wanted to go back to sleep I felt it more clearly.
All my life I had become very good at erecting my mental walls to ensure that no thought was accidentally shared with others. That was exactly what happened now. Someone tried to talk to me trough the link that we shared as a pack.
Still half asleep, hoping for the one who bothered me that it was life-threatening, I lowered my wall. A voice I recognized as one of my guards rang through my head.
“Sorry to bother you, Your Majesty, but we’ve detected movement again at the border. But this time our senses are saying it’s more than just the witches” said the low voice.
I growled deeply, which caused my mate next to me to wake up startled in a mixture of swinging limbs. I glanced aside before making up my mind. This time I wouldn’t leave her. I couldn’t. She was just taming her hair when I grabbed her wrist and dragged her out of bed. With just a quick glance at her pyjamas, one of my blouses reaching almost to her knees, I decided it was enough.
Without giving her any chance to argue with me, I picked her up and rushed out the door. Startled, Maggie wrapped her arms around my neck and held on tight. She said nothing, apparently she realized something was wrong.
I had left the castle behind and was already running towards the edge of the forest. There I came to a stop. For a moment I considered handing over control to Maximus. My border guard said it was more than just witches, it probably wasn’t anything, but with Magnolia I couldn’t take any chances. And I knew that in the end I couldn’t rely on Maximus to hand over control once I asked for it. Again I told myself that he and I needed to work on our condition seriously, except I had no idea where to start.
I lifted my nose to get an idea of which direction to take. I immediately caught several scents. I recognized those of my guards. Then there was that of the witches, only their scent seemed to be mixed with something else. Blood, I recognized a second later. Finally, there was another scent. Somehow these seemed familiar to me, but I didn’t know exactly from what.
I saw that the path from which the scents came was overgrown with protruding branches. I looked down on my mate. Her face was still hidden in my neck. I held her so that none of the branches could leave a scrape on her body.
I had begun to wonder if it really had been such a good idea to bring her along. But every time I’d left her alone in that room, it felt like my heart had been ripped from my chest. This way I could at least keep her in sight.
I tightened my hold on her and continued my way. I barely felt it as the branches scraped against my skin, leaving wounds here and there. I could already hear sounds coming in the distance. Also, all the smells were becoming stronger.
I saw movement in the bushes nearby and immediately recognized some of my warriors in their wolf form. Apparently, whatever had happened in that field ahead was enough to keep my warriors at bay.
I passed the last row of trees when I felt something against my foot. When I looked I saw a witch’s head that was separated from her body. She had claw wounds on her face and her eyes were scratched out. Then I looked up.
The whole field was full of it. Everywhere I looked I saw heads, limbs and organs. Not a single body appeared to be completely intact. The normally green grass was literally black with blood. I felt Maggie move, but I immediately put my hand on the back of her head to keep her from seeing this.
At that point I was again struck by the scent that I had not been able to place before. Only this time I recognized it immediately. My first instinctive response was a deep vengeful growl that rose from my chest. That was addressed to the figure bent over a body on the other side of the field.
“I thought I had made it clear that I never wanted to see you again, Ascian,” I said in disgust.
He stopped what he was doing and slowly got to his feet. His long white hair, held together with a leather band, fell over his shoulder. Upper arms, almost the same size as mine, tightened as he turned toward me. Eyes like mine, filled with mockery, narrowed. He now raised himself to his full height. In the corners of his mouth I saw traces of dried blood.
“And I thought I had made it clear that I don’t obey anyone,” he replied with a deep mockery in his voice, then he crossed his arms and raised the corner of his mouth.
“Long time no see, cousin,” he said simply.