Chapter 22 ♕
I stared at the sky while at the same time absently stroking Jade’s head. My back was leaning against a tree and I was so lost in my own thoughts that I barely felt the weight of the wolf head resting on my legs.
It felt good to get away from everything that had happened in the past few days. Though that hadn’t been my first thought when Bethany had been banging on my bedroom door earlier that morning and demanding that I accompany her for a run.
Apparently, both Alaric and Cayden were busy with the unexpected guest who arrived last night and had other things on their mind. So me and Bethany decided to enjoy the fresh air. We had chosen to take a short stop in an open field that was bathed in the rising sunlight at the time. But now, we were too comfortable to take another step.
I was happy to be able to spend some time alone with Bethany again. It wasn’t that we were able to actually communicate with each other in this state, but it was just nice to be in her presence again for a while. Just because I was now mythically mated to her brother for the rest of my life didn’t mean anything about our friendship would change.
I just saw the sun coming out from behind a cloud so that I was temporarily blinded by it’s bright light. Still, I enjoyed the warmth it brought to my face. I tried not to think about anything and enjoy the moment, but my mind was plagued with images from last night.
One minute I had been lying in Alaric his arms enjoying a wonderful evening and the next I was dragged into the forest and suddenly came face to face with some long-lost relative. Alaric hadn’t allowed me to look, it probably would have been better because the amount of blood I smelled must have come from somewhere. But I still heard how the other voice had called him cousin. Alaric then ordered his warriors to keep an eye on the stranger until he was back from taking me safely back to the castle.
He hadn’t returned my sight to me until after he put me on the bed. But by then the whole thing had gone so fast that I couldn’t understand it. In the end, I just made him promise to be careful before he left and I went back to sleep.
I hadn’t seen him since.
At that moment Jade lifted her head and brought me back to the present. I looked down and saw that her eyes had taken on a blurry look, meaning someone was talking to her through the link. Then she stood up, relieving the pressure on my legs.
“Let me guess,” I began, pulling myself up from the tree, “that was Cayden wondering where we were”.
I looked at her and saw Jade rolled her eyes, which made me laugh. Her legs sagged, allowing me to climb onto her back and she started running. I remembered how scary I had found it the first time, but in the meantime I had come to trust on Jade.
A few minutes later, after Bethany got ready in her quarters, we walked to breakfast. As we approached the doors were held open for us and that was exactly where we both stopped. Because there were more people than usual at the long table.
When the doors had opened, all eyes had automatically come to us and I immediately felt how tense the atmosphere was. I heard Bethany swallow audibly next to me. And I did exactly the same.
Both Alaric and Cayden were in their usual places. Alaric at the head with his Beta to his left. But that was all common. At this point my full attention was focused on the only new thing in the room, which was the stranger at the other end of the table.
He and I looked at each other, and for a moment it seemed like I was staring into the eyes of my mate. Those pale blue eyes that I have come to feel so much for over time. But this weren’t his eyes, because as I looked at him, I didn’t feel anything.
Our staring contest was interrupted when I saw the stranger attempting to get up, but before he had a chance to do so, my mate had already took the floor. He shot to his feet with immense speed, causing his chair to slide back. I looked at him in shock, especially when I saw the intensity in his eyes. Then he reached out to me.
“Maggie, come here,” he said, without any emotion in his voice.
It didn’t matter how much threat Alaric radiated at the time. My instinct told me that was just the outside. I felt he was worried, probably because the stranger looked so much like him. He was afraid that I would show interest in him. To reassure him, I gave him a smile, after which I ran to him and threw myself into his arms. Also, I was just genuinely happy to see him again.
Immediately I felt his arms tied around my waist and pressed me against him. I was lifted slightly into the air, so that my mouth was now on level with his ear. “Don’t worry,” I whispered so that only he would hear me, “I know he’s not you”.
I heard him breathe softly again and then lowered myself again. I gave him an encouraging nod, whereupon I wanted to turn to go sit down. Apparently, as his mate, my place was in the chair to his right. So that had been my seat for the past week. But when I wanted to take the first step I was immediately pulled back against a hard chest.
Alaric was apparently determined not to let me go, for he sat down again and pulled me behind him, landing me in his lap. I was about to argue with it, but then took a good look at his face. He looked pale, and by that I meant paler as normal. He just didn’t really looked good. As if he wasn’t feeling well, so instead of creating a scene, I kept quiet and relaxed in his arms.
It was bizarre how those things seemed to go. Until just a few weeks ago I had never heard of him, but now I seemed to want to do anything to make sure he was comfortable. I saw that he glanced down at me and briefly raised the corner of his mouth. Hoping to relax him a little further, I tucked my head back into his neck and pressed a gentle kiss to where he had responded so well to last night.
But apparently I was wrong, because instead of relaxed, he stiffened and grunted. Maybe next time I should think about that a bit more, shot through my mind, while averting my eyes in shame and staring at the ground instead. Then it remained silent for a moment. It turned out that everyone had been watching our little performance.
Hoping it wouldn’t stand out too much, I took a sideways glance at the stranger. Now that I took a closer look at him again, I had to admit that he didn’t actually look like Alaric at all. They may have had the same color of skin, hair, and eyes. And he also seemed to have the same unnatural amount of muscle. But there was something about the way he sat there that separated him completely from Alaric.
This man was all mockery, sarcasm and irony. He didn’t seem to have any serious bone in his body. He probably felt that I was looking at him, because his look found mine. With both legs thrown on the table, he grinned at me in amusement. This was all a joke to him. He didn’t care that Alaric was shaking as if he seemed about to lose control. He sat there as if he might even enjoy the performance.
“So what’s going on here,” Bethany interrupted the silence, “and who is that?”.
I looked at her. Cayden had apparently seen the stranger as a threat, too, for he too kept Bethany pressed against him protected in his lap. I felt Alaric shift beneath me, after which he turned his attention to his little sister. “Beth,” he said, “there is someone I have to introduce you to”. Bethany was now looking at her big brother with a strange look in her eyes. “This is Ascian. He is the son of uncle Callum and our family”.
It went completely silent again. It came as no surprise to me, but hearing the words come out of his mouth made it all real. The only son of the man who caused their parents to be killed was sitting at the same table at the time, as if nothing had happened.
“It-” she began, “it was your father who betrayed our parents”.
That comment made Ascian sit up. Also, the amused look in his eyes seemed to disappear for a second. “Take it easy there, princess. If I’m not mistaken, it was your fault that your retarded mother needed those witches in the first place,” Ascian responded.
Hearing those words, Bethany turned to stone. All color left her face. She opened her mouth, probably to reply, but nothing came out.
“Speak to her like that again, and let’s see what happens”.
The words were soft, but they were an undeniable threat. Anyone in the room could have said those words. Cayden, as her mate. Or Alaric, as her brother. But instead, those words came out of my mouth. Until recently, I had looked at my mate’s lap, but now I raised my gaze to look him straight in the eye.
Once before, I had watched helplessly while someone wanted to hurt Bethany. That was a mistake I wouldn’t make again. She had been through enough, and the last thing she needed right now was someone to blame her for something she couldn’t do anything about.
“Teach the girl to keep her mouth shut, Cousin,” Ascian sneered.
I just raised my eyebrows. There was no reason for me to turn around so I could look at my mate’s face. I could just feel the intense anger he looked at his cousin in my back. I generally kept my eyes on Ascian, but still glanced at Cayden for a moment. he hid Bethany’s face deep in his neck, while at the same time looking at Ascian as if he could tear him to pieces.
“Don’t talk to him when you’re talking about me. I am right here before you and more than capable of answering you” I said.
His gaze moved back to me, but instead of saying anything, he lifted both his eyebrows and one corner of his mouth. He was making fun of me.
I had tried to explain all the strange things that had happened to me, but the truth was, I didn’t know anything. There simply was no explanation. Yet something did happen.
I said nothing, but felt a lot. And it was as if the room around me responded to my temper. Curtains started to move, even though no windows were open. The fire in the fireplace flared higher. The cutlery on the table began to vibrate, slowly at first but then more violently.
I didn’t know what was happening, but I was simply too focused on my anger to actually pay attention to it. I wanted him to know what it was like to have words like that thrown in your face.
“Bethany has never heard of you and at your first meeting with her you insult her more than anyone could ever do. And it’s more than clear that you are the last person Alaric wants to see. So what are you still doing here. This is my family, not yours”.
It was then that I felt my mate’s fingers being buried in my skin. Multiple emotions merged with those I felt. I felt his pride collide with the rage that swirled inside me. I had called him my family. Then I felt him rest his head against my shoulder. Without words he managed to calm me down. I took a deep breath and everything in the room came to a stop.
“How dare you!” Ascian said, this time with his teeth clenched. There was not a trace of humor in his attitude. He got to his feet and hit the table with both fists. “I am of royal blood. You are nothing more than the king’s temporary slut”.
“Think carefully about those next words, Ascian. They could be your last. You’re still talking to your queen,” Alaric said, threatening in his voice.
His cousin’s eyes widened. “You have a mate?” he said.
I saw how his eyes searched over us. The way Alaric held me against him. The way he had managed to calm me down by just touching me. Most of all, the way he wouldn’t let anyone get away who would offend me. The evidence was all there.
“But how is that possible?” He said, and the tone in his voice had changed. I narrowed my eyes suspiciously. I would swear I saw disbelief and regret in his look. Even if Alaric had seen it, he decided to ignore it.
“I’ve heard enough from you, Ascian. You are no longer welcome here. Leave” said my mate.
Judging from his past reactions, anyone could have predicted he would through a fight, but instead he pushed his chair back and walked to the door without a word. After it closed behind him, the first thing I did was look at Bethany to make sure she was okay. But Cayden seemed to have managed to calm her down, for their foreheads were pressed together and he whispered something in her ear, causing her to giggle.
While they were in their own little world, I turned in his lap to look Alaric in his eyes. There I saw a mixture of emotions. “I don’t know how you did that, but it was very exciting anyway, little Mate,” he said playfully.
I put my hand to his face and smiled broadly. “Good to see that you got such a good mood from that. Because there’s something I wanted to talk to you about,” I said, leaning closer to him.
I knew he wouldn’t respond well to this, so maybe if I distracted him enough, it would be less bad than I had in mind. His only response was a questioning moan. He visibly enjoyed my skin right against his.
“We talked about this yesterday, but I really wanted to go home today to get my things and quit my job. All together it should only take me a day at most and then I will come back. I also already know exactly who I want to go with to ensure that nothing happens to me”.
Alaric had raised his eyebrows. Obviously, he didn’t like the whole idea of me not being around him, but at least he let me finish. Just then there was a knock on the door, and after Alaric gave permission, a fully recovered Rowan entered and bowed slightly.
“Are you ready to go, Luna,” he said.
I looked at Rowan with a smile, mainly because I no longer dared to look my mate in the eye. I felt his gaze burn in my back and slowly got nervous. Then I felt his arms slide possessively around my waist, after which he pulled me so close to his body that there was nothing between us anymore.
“No way in hell,” I heard him growl in my ear.