“I can’t believe you’re mated to Arlo Blackburn.”
Her light blue eyes blinked up as if searching for the solution amongst the stars. The whispers of the wind gave no response, only offering goosebumps on her fair skin.
Nicole and I laid on the roof of my house just like old times. The only difference between then and now we faced bigger problems than scheduling matching outfits and mustering enough courage to speak to our crushes.
“Yeah,” I sighed heavily, “Sorry for keeping you this long. I hope Michael isn’t too mad at me for interrupting date night.”
“He doesn’t mind. He understands the importance of emergency BFF meetings,” She assured, but it didn’t stop me from feeling guilty. Her fresh makeup and stunning updo would go to waste, and Michael was probably at home making the best out of a microwavable dinner.
From my peripheral, I saw her glance at me with uncertainty before she turned her gaze back to the moonlight. The wheels were spinning viciously in her head to form the right words, but it was impossible. No amount of her comfort could make the situation disappear.
“So, you’re really going to reject him?” Her voice came out weak, but I heard her perfectly. She felt sorry for me.
“No,” I shook my head. Her eyes widened, and she snapped her head in my direction at the idea of me possibly giving into the mate bond. I clarified, “He has to be the one to do it. I’m not strong enough for that kind of pain,” Her body visibly relaxed, but her expression turned sorrowful.
“I can’t even begin to imagine how that feels,” She mused, sitting upright and hugging her knees. She gulped audibly, “You know it doesn’t have to be like this.”
I sat upright next to her with my brows furrowed, not fully understanding what she meant. Before I could express my confusion, she explained further, “You could avoid putting yourself through all that torment and sorrow.”
“How?” I asked, intrigued by her newfound tricks to escape the mate bond without suffering the consequences. She could win a noble prize if it worked.
“Well…” She hesitated, “You could just give him a chance,” She shrugged as if her words had no gravity to them.
Did she really say that? I must be hearing things.
Moments passed as I stared at her blankly. No amount of time could help me process her words correctly. The grimness in her face told me she was dead serious, and I indeed heard her right the first time.
“Are you crazy?”
“What? I don’t see the problem in choosing your happiness over everything else. Maybe he’s a nice guy.”
“No, Nicole!” I exclaimed, my eyes bulging out of their sockets with the stupidity of her idea, “He’s a hybrid—a demon hybrid for that matter. People like him and I don’t belong together. Mating with him would only cause more damage in the long run, and the council will have our heads!”
“That’s not true. If that were the case, the world would have no hybrids. The council gives chances to those who are mates,” She argued.
“Still doesn’t help the fact that he’s a dangerous man, Nicole. You saw how bad Bryson looked. Had I not been there, he would’ve burned him to a crisp.”
After Bryson regained consciousness, I convinced Nicole to explain that Arlo was only protecting me since I did him a favor by changing my vote. She had to drive him home beaten and sore while I disappeared. Although he understood, she had to beg him not to come looking for me or retaliate at the next meeting. Everyone was already upset with me, and if Bryson changed his mind again, it would be a complete disaster. The meeting would be pushed back further.
However, I was more worried that Bryson would see the dark hickeys decorating my neck. It would upset him to find Arlo’s scent on me, causing more problems for us both. No one was supposed to know about our pairing, and I’d intended to keep it that way.
Nicole rolled her eyes. She never liked Bryson, said he wasn’t my type, and I could pick someone much less of a pansy-ass.
“Oh please,” She scoffed, pointing to herself, “I could punch Bryson in the face, and for him, it would be the same as if I’d run him over multiple times.”
“You weren’t there, Nicole. It was scary, “I admitted, gazing off into the distance.
Images of his calm pose as the bright blue flames danced on his body flashed in my mind. Other creatures have been reported to have elemental powers like such, but Arlo’s fire was unique and more deadly if that was even possible.
For a second, I thought I’d heard the flames call out to me, inviting me to let it wrap me in a fiery embrace. It was terrifying and intriguing all at once.
A disturbing thought crossed my mind, and I spoke weakly, “What if I end up like Loretta? I’m sure when she mated with a demon, she wasn’t expecting to get beaten and abused for the remainder of her life. What if he’s like his father and leaves my body to rot in an empty field,” I paused as the terrifying thoughts invaded my mind one after the other.
“What if the legend is true? Am I going to wake up one day as a monster who feeds on human flesh? Maybe my soul does belong to the devil because of the curse Jackson Blackburn put on my family. I’m paired with his demon descendant for the devil’s entertainment before he drags me to hell. Oh my god, the mother of beasts is coming back for me…”
My fingers combed through my messy hair as I took my head in my hands. I never considered all those absurd rumors about me to be true. My stomach churned. What other chaotic surprises would come barging into my life?
Overwhelmed by my rambling, Nicole shook her head in frustration and placed a firm hand on my shoulder, “Astrid, look at me,” She demanded. I meekly peered up at her determined eyes as she stated confidently, “Those tragic events did happen with your ancestors and their Luna’s, yes, but that doesn’t mean you’re cursed. For all we know, it could’ve been your predecessors passing this down to secure their lifelong feud with the Blackburn’s. They would never want the pack to forgive them for Jackson Blackburn’s actions.”
“As for your pairing,” She sighed, glancing up at the moon for answers, only to be disappointed with silence, “Our creator doesn’t pair us for fun and games. She knows what she’s doing. I truly think it’s just a coincidence. Who knows, maybe this is meant to happen for the sake of our packs.”
The heavy emotions bottled up inside me began trickling out of my eyes. I felt a sense of relief from talking to someone about my situation- someone who was my best friend since birth. Keeping such a big secret was eating at my soul.
“Hey,” She wiped the tears running down my cheek, “Nothing is going to happen to you. Everything will be alright,” She wrapped her arms around me as I reached for her. No matter how shitty things got, I could always count on Nicole to be there for me. She and Derek.
“Thanks for listening,” I sniffled on her shoulder, damping it with my tears. She didn’t mind, or at least she didn’t show it to my face.
“Anything for you…but please doesn’t kill me in my sleep, okay?”
“Too soon,” I tried to sound angry, but a smile crept up on my lips. She laughed with me for some time before her expression turned serious, “No matter who you’re mated to or what life throws at us, I’ll be here for you always,” She promised as she held my hand.
The next few days passed quicker than I’d expected. Work kept me busy for the most part because I picked up Rachel’s duties. Clearing her schedule for the week after running an exhibition event all alone seemed like the only way to thank her. She went above and beyond for me and the gallery’s success.
On top of that, the pack received its first surprise visit from Jefferson. As promised, he expected nothing but perfection out of my people and me. He made sure I was handling my title appropriately and following all protocols. To my surprise, he left the pack pleased with my leadership.
Although my responsibilities occupied my body, it didn’t have the same effect on my mind. The silver-eyed hybrid disrupted my thoughts and demanded attention. He stayed on my mind day and night.
In my free time, I found myself drawing his perfect figure any chance I got. Canvas and sketch papers piled in my studio with his beautiful face plastered on them. I even sketched him sitting in the same chair he did that night when he came looking for me.
I didn’t know how to stop thinking about him. Did I want to stop thinking of him?