The slow strokes of the bristles dragged along the corners of my canvas. A cool grey color was left behind in its path. Even though I’d wanted to paint something more joyful, I kept coming back to the same dark grey skies, releasing its angry raindrops on the heart of the city.
I imagined the civilians rushing to take cover. They’d flee to their cars or the nearest store, hoping to stay dry. Perhaps it was a visual representation of the emotions bottled up inside me- no matter how hard you tried to run away from the rain, you’d still have the storm.
I was too engrossed in perfecting the café’s building to notice Rachel standing behind me. She cleared her throat to announce her presence. I submerged my brushes into the water cup before turning to see Rachel with a smile on her face as she held a small cup of coffee.
“You seem to be lost in your work these days,” Rachel said, placing the cup on my stand. She took a step back with her arms crossed and tilted her head slightly as she admired my art, “Another storm painting?”
“What can I say? I’ve been a little under the weather lately,” I muttered, wiping the residue off my hands with a towel. If only it could be this easy to wipe away the problems from my life.
Rachel smiled lightly, pretending not to hear the grimness in my voice. She didn’t want to ask, and I was glad for that because I didn’t feel like talking about it. She dismissed my comment and continued to look at the painting with her hand resting under her chin.
“The precise detail in the streets and the buildings make me feel like I can step into the painting. It’s beautiful, but I still like the hurricane painting better,” She told me truthfully before the gallery’s doors chimed. She left me to attend to the guest while I got back to work. My artwork was the only thing I’d look forward to these days. Especially after finding out about the situation.
Three days had come and gone, and tomorrow I was required to return for another board meeting. The land dispute would take longer than necessary because multiple packs were fighting for a property being sold by the council. The committee would soon have to come to a mutual agreement with the buyer.
In my spare time, I had come up with different excuses to miss the meeting. None of them seemed reasonable enough to get out of it. Never have I wanted to be so irresponsible in my life. It was all because of him.
I was still having a hard time believing Arlo Blackburn, of all people, is the person I’m paired with. We were night and day, winter and summer, fire and water. Nothing positive would come out of our pairing because he’s a demon hybrid and his mere existence was the ultimate sin. I didn’t understand why this was happening to me.
Rejecting him was the only thing I was sure of, although I needed to give my wolf some time to process this. The thought of rejecting him upset her deeply, and she refused to let me go through with it, but she had no other choice. I didn’t want to be mated with someone like him, and there was only one way out. He couldn’t fit in the future I’d envisioned for myself.
For the rest of the morning and afternoon, I painted until my hands gave out and the four walls of my studio bored me before I finally decided to leave for the day. By now, my insides were screaming at me to eat something, so I drove to the nearest food court to get a sandwich from my favorite spot.
I was in line paying for my food when I noticed a familiar brunette walking along the busy streets with large shopping bags in her hand. I instantly recognized it was Sylvia. It was hard to miss her because of her unique and bewitching features that stood out amongst the crowd.
I quickly turned around and tried to act casual, but she soon spotted me, flashing her bright smile and waving her hand. I hurriedly paid the cashier and got out of line as fast as I could. Talking to Sylvia was the last thing I wanted to do, and I now understood why my father disliked her. She was the bearer of bad news.
“Astrid!” She shouted over the people behind me as I weaved my way through the crowd. I kept walking forward, pretending not to hear her calling me. I was so desperate to get away from her; I started shoving people out of my way. In return, I got a few ugly glares, but I couldn’t care less. My only goal was to reach the safety of my car.
“Astrid, wait!” She shouted once more before she caught up with me. I stopped, turning to face her with the fakest smile. I had to fight the urge to groan out loud. I didn’t want to talk to her, but I wasn’t rude.
“I saw you in line. I tried calling you,” She said, out of breath and slightly irritated from trying to chase me down.
“I’m sorry! I couldn’t hear you over all the noise,” I said, motioning towards our surroundings. At my ridiculous excuse, she gave me a pointed look. The low conversations and busy traffic weren’t enough to interfere with my superhuman hearing.
“You looked right at me,” She muttered in disbelief.
“Really?” I said with a high-pitched tone and a shocked expression, “I must’ve overlooked you,” By the blank look on her face, I could tell she didn’t believe the bullshit that came out of my mouth. For a second, I’d forgotten she knew how my mind worked. She smirked slightly before asking, “Or could it be that you were avoiding me?”
I shook my head, “Of course not,” I lied to her anyway, “I would love to catch up with you, but I really should get going.”
“I stopped at the deli on my way here. Sit and eat with me, or your food will get cold. We can talk over lunch.”
“That sounds nice, but I really should get going now. I’m swamped today.”
She chuckled and hooked my arm with her free hand, “I know your schedule is free, so you can stop lying now,” I sighed in defeat as she led me to the sitting area, hoping that Derek, Nicole, or Liam would call and save me. Unfortunately, no one called, and I was stuck with her.
We sat at the nearest patio and casually conversed as we ate our meals. The topic of conversation was mostly about my experience so far as an alpha. She was happy for me and admired my ability to learn quickly. At first, she didn’t mention anything to me, but as I was about to leave, she asked with a sly smile, “So have you met anyone new recently?”
I slowly sat back down, contemplating how I should answer that. It instantly irritated me because I didn’t want to talk about it. I spent enough time overthinking the situation. My brain was completely fried and done for.
“Not that I can think of,” I answered casually. She rose a brow.
“If you know so much, then you can answer that yourself,” The annoyance came out sharp in my tone
“There’s no doubt I know everything, and I know all about your situation too. Isn’t that what you like to call him?” She teased me. I was sipping out of my tea when she began laughing at my shocked expression. I wanted to wipe that smirk off her pretty face. She was taking this as a joke, and I didn’t appreciate it.
Without thinking, I slammed my cup of tea down on the table, causing some of it to splash out, “I’m leaving!” I exclaimed. She suddenly stopped laughing and frowned as I got up from my seat and reached for my bags. She looked utterly clueless at my behavior.
“What’s wrong?” She asked, gripping my hand when I was about to storm off. Her fake innocent look enraged me even more, but she continued to ask, “Are you upset with me, Astrid?”
“Yes, Sylvia!” I snapped, “I’m very upset, and I don’t want to see your face anymore. Don’t talk to me again.”
At my aggressive tone, she took her hand off mine, clearly appalled by my actions. She went too far, and now she was learning about my nasty attitude when someone pushed me too much. Our friendly conversation had turned hostile in a matter of seconds.
“You’re acting very rude, Astrid. Are you turning into your father now?” She scowled at the latter, crossing her arms. I’d never disrespected someone older than me. I wasn’t raised this way, but I was too angry to care at the moment.
“My father was right about you!” I pointed an accusing finger at her, “You only bring bad luck to those who cross your path,” My words caused her face to fall before it was replaced with rage.
“Your father knows nothing about me! I see that ignorance doesn’t fall far from the tree,” She stood from her chair with her palms on the table, not breaking eye contact. Meanwhile, I was gripping the strap of my crossbody bag, trying to stay in control of my wolf. She didn’t like being talked down to, and neither did I. She wanted to show Sylvia who the alpha was here.
Things were getting uglier, and neither of us planned for our conversation to go south. I liked Sylvia, but she betrayed me in the worst way, or so it felt.
Suddenly, her face softened, diffusing the tension. “What happened, Astrid? I don’t understand. I thought we were going to be friends.”
“I thought so too, but you knew this whole time,” I gritted through clenched teeth while I walked to my car, “You knew he was my mate, and you didn’t tell me.”
“I said you were in for a hell of a surprise, didn’t I?” She said from behind me.
“That’s not the point, Sylvia,” I sighed as she followed me to my car, “You knew exactly how I’d meet him, and instead of warning me, you smiled to my face and fed me false hope, knowing I could never be with him,” My voice broke as I spoke about him. I was heartbroken more than anything because I wouldn’t get a happy ending like everyone else in the pack. It’s what my wolf and I craved for most.
“You can’t?” She questioned, stepping in front of me all of a sudden. I had to halt my steps to prevent running into her. There was a look of disappointment and concern that crossed her face. It puzzled me to see her react that way, almost as if she feared that I was serious, which I was.
“No,” I said, with my brows pulled in confusion, “He’s an alpha and a hybrid. I cannot be mated to someone like him. He’ll only bring trouble to my people and me.”
“What makes you so sure? You know nothing about him,” She persisted, blocking me from the driver’s side door. It reminded me of the first time we’d met. Last time it was I who wanted to get more information, and now the roles had reversed.
“Oh, and you do?” I retorted before shuffling past her and successfully reaching the door handle. I started my car and buckled my seatbelt, but before I could drive away, she stuck her head in my window.
“It’s like you said before, I know everything, so I know that Arlo is a great guy. He’s more of a man than these dogs here in the city. You’re a very lucky she-wolf to be paired with him. He will take good care of you if you let him,” She assured me, flashing her best smile. Although I couldn’t believe a word she said, my wolf was happy to hear her talk highly of my mate. It made her yearn for his love and attention even more.
I threw my head back on the headrest and chuckled mirthlessly, “Is that after or before he drags me to the pearly gates of hell,” I mocked. For a moment, she looked at me pensively as silence fell upon us. I could tell she was deep in thought as she never broke eye contact with me. She looked as if I was her daughter telling her something disapproving. I somewhat felt bad about it.
“So, you’re not curious to know anything about Arlo? Not even a little?”
I gave her a lingering look as I contemplated her question. I thought about Arlo Blackburn more than I’d wanted to. For the past three days, he’d occupied my mind more than anything and, I couldn’t help but wonder if he felt the same.
I found myself wanting to know the simplest things about him. Like what were his hobbies and interests? Was he a morning or night person? Did he like to go for long walks on the beach like me? Was he thinking about me at all? Hell, I even wanted to know his favorite color, but it wasn’t because I cared. The mate pull was making me feel these things. The mate pull was doing a lot of things to me.
At night, when I was alone in my bed, I caught myself thinking about him lying next to me. Just the thought of it excited my wolf. She was already making me fantasize about us in bed together, but I couldn’t blame her. Anyone with eyes could see how incredibly handsome he is.
“I don’t care about him,” I lied with a straight face, “I already know everything I need to,” I shrugged, pretending I didn’t want to ask her a million questions about him.
“Alright,” She nodded, backing away from my car. I watched as she slowly stepped back with her arms open before a portal with a mixture of colors appeared behind her. It caught me off guard, and I found myself staring, baffled by her magic. It wasn’t every day that I watched a witch open portals.
“But just remember, Astrid,” She waved her finger at me while the portal waited for her, “Fate has a funny way of bringing people together. Whether we like it or not, sometimes people are meant to be in our life for a reason. Even the ones we think are no good.”
“If you want nothing to do with him, then I understand. But let’s see how well you two can resist the mate bond,” She grinned like a Cheshire cat before the portal swallowed her. Meanwhile, I sat there in my car, planning to avoid my mate at all cost, even if he’d be just a few tempting feet away from me.