The pain was the first thing to greet me as I stirred awake in bed. My whole body felt sore. Multiple times, I tried opening my eyes, but even that was too painful at the moment. I felt the urge to shiver from the cold chills wrapping around my skin but refrained from doing so. It took me a moment to hear the people arguing in my room. The voices sounded a lot like my parents.
“You cannot keep them apart. Astrid is a grown she-wolf. She is perfectly capable of making these decisions for herself.”
“I can, and I will. I refuse to let my daughter run off with that demon. I forbid it.”
“I can’t believe how petty you’re being,” Disgust laced in her voice, “I know my daughter will choose right. We’ll see how well your plan goes when she mates with him,” Footsteps followed the argument.
“GRACE,” My father roared with so much force, I swore everything in our surroundings shook with fear. The footsteps halted. I’d never in my life heard him speak to my mother that way. I could almost picture my mom turning to look at him in disbelief. I was too much in pain and shock to fully understand what the argument was about in the first place. I kept trying to fight through the pain and gain full consciousness to see what the problem was but to no avail.
“Don’t go there, Jonah. I will pack my things and leave right now,” My mother warned him, adding to my shock though I couldn’t blame her for threatening to leave him. An unnerving silence passed before he decided to speak again in a much softer tone.
“Do you even care about her at all?”
“How could you ask me that?” She cried, “She’s my daughter too. I only want what’s best for her.”
“Then help me keep our daughter alive and far away from that scum. Otherwise, she will end up with the same fate as your friend, Loretta Blackburn.”
His words knocked the air out of my lungs. They were fighting about Arlo and me being mates. But wait…how did they find out about us? My eyes snapped open, and I forced myself to sit upright in bed. Instantly, I moaned in pain and held my abdomen. That’s when everything came flowing back to me. Those warlocks beat me and tried to rape me, but Arlo saved me.
My parents dropped their argument and came rushing to my side.
“Lay down, baby,” Mom ran her fingers through my hair and kissed my cheek, “You need to rest.”
I squinted my eyes, adjusting to the bright operational lights above. When I pinched the bridge of my nose, I saw the yellow bracelet with my name and information. I was lying in a bed at my parents’ hospital. I shivered under my dad’s ice-cold hand as he pressed it against my forehead. Everything felt so ice cold.
“She’s running a fever.”
“Dad, what happened to your face?” I gasped when I got to have a proper look at him. His nose looked slanted and red. Both of his eyes swelled with dark bruises.
He gave me a pointed look, “Ask your mate,” Just speaking, the latter looked like it pained him to form that four-letter word. I gulped, sinking deep into the hospital bed. He was clutching the side of the bed as if it were my mate.
What happened while I was out?
“Jonah, please,” Mom rasped, “She just woke up from a very traumatic experience. Now is not the time.” There’s a certain glare mom gave when she was done arguing. It was a mechanical reaction before someone pushed her over the edge. Dad, my siblings, and I knew that look all too well.
Dad smartly lowered his gaze, turning on his heels, “I’ll get something to help the fever.”
After his exit, mom climbed on the bed and massaged my scalp until I fell asleep. I was grateful that she didn’t ask any questions because I didn’t feel like talking. I didn’t realize how long I’d been asleep, but it seemed like an eternity when I woke up.
The room was now full of the people I cared about most. Mom and Dad seemed calm this time as they made the space comfortable for me. Nicole, Derek, and Keaton were watching tv, patiently waiting for me to wake up. Khloe was in the last spot my mother was, massing my head that throbbed painfully.
“You’re awake,” Khloe smiled, mid-caress of my hair. At her announcement, everyone surrounded my bed with concerned looks. Even Sylvia was present, mixing some liquids in a potion bottle. Mom must have called her. Although I was glad to see my family, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed as I scanned the room, searching for a special silver-eyed hybrid.
“Please, keep going,” I groaned to my sister, “My head hurts so bad.”
“It’s those nasty side effects from the drug,” Sylvia said, stirring the liquid once more before offering it to me, “Drink this. It will help with the pain, but I’m afraid it will knock you out again. You might feel slightly different when you wake up.”
“I don’t care. Just make the pain go away,” I muttered, reaching for the bottle. The taste was bitter and awful, but I forced myself to gulp every drop. After a few minutes, the pain in my head finally subsided, and my eyes fluttered shut again. The third time I awoke, my room was spinning, completely crowded with some of my pack members visiting. I couldn’t concentrate on anything or anyone. I now understood what Sylvia meant by slightly different.
“Hey, sleeping beauty, ready to eat something?” Derek asked, setting down a tray of food. He didn’t have to ask twice. I was up, stuffing my face with the soup and sandwich he put in front of me. “Mmm,” And some incomprehensible nonsense was the only response I had to the food. Before I knew it, my tray was empty, not a crumb in sight.
“Don’t beat yourself up, kiddo. It can happen to the best of us,” Uncle Ryan said when my fight with the warlocks was brought up, “Just ask your old man,” He nudged my dad sitting next to him, “I still remember our first hunt when the coven down south turned him into a goat. He was eating grass for a week. Do you remember that, Grace?”
“Like it was yesterday,” Mom laughed, “She was too young to remember, and the twins weren’t born yet. Astrid would climb up on her daddy’s back, and he’d give her rides through the field. Sylvia was the only witch willing to change him back,” Dad lowly growled as everyone broke out into a laughing fit. Mom and Uncle Ryan had tears in their eyes, hunched over from laughing so hard.
“You never told me this,” I said, my eyes widened.
“It’s not worth mentioning,” Dad waved me off, sullen and glaring at my mother.
Nicole sat at the edge of my bed as the laughter died down, “You should be proud of yourself, Astrid. You sliced those witches down like the sun wouldn’t rise again tomorrow.”
“I suppose,” I sighed, recalling my struggle until…
I smiled and nodded absentmindedly as everyone continued complimenting me on my swordsmanship skills. My mind was still trying to process the craziness of being attacked by countless magical creatures and being paired with a hybrid. My heart ached. This sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach drowned me further in sadness. I knew it was the mate bond tugging at my emotion strings.
Would he come to visit me?
Does it even matter?
We’d be rejecting each other soon.
Get used to it, Astrid.
Thought after thought clouded my mind until my surroundings became non-existent, and I fell asleep again. The fourth time I awoke, no one was in sight. It was just me, my thoughts, and the four white walls.
The digital clock on my nightstand read 2 am. Overwhelmed from today’s events, I was about to turn over and fall asleep for the rest of the night when I heard my mom and Sylvia speaking in hushed voices in the hallway. The door was creaked open so that I could listen to their conversation perfectly.
“I do not understand what you want me to do. Leading this pack means everything to her. I cannot force her to choose him over ambitions.”
“By all means, convince her. Troubled times are coming, and one will not survive without the other. Mother is coming to take back what has been stolen. Convince her, Grace, before it’s too late.”
Mother is coming to take back what has been stolen?
My brain didn’t have time to figure out Sylvia’s riddles before my wolf began pacing inside me. She’d been silent all this time until now. That’s when I heard those familiar steel boots thudding down the hall. Mom and Sylvia turned around. My breath caught in my throat as his intoxicating scent hit me.
“She’s sleeping, but you can stay for a while,” Mom whispered, “My husband won’t be back until morning.”
“I’ll be gone before then,” That deep masculine voice made my stomach dip, goosebumps erupting my skin. Mom and Sylvia left before the door opened wide.
The silhouette of his tall figure standing at the entrance had butterflies in my stomach fluttering rapidly. His glowing silver eyes found mine. He paused.
“I didn’t mean to wake you. I just needed to make sure you were okay,” Arlo said with his hands in his pockets, lazily leaning on the doorway. His pose sent my heart racing. Between the bond and the witch crack, I could hardly control myself.
“It’s alright. I’m glad you’re here.”
An awkward silence stretched as we stared at each other, at a loss for the right words.
I fidgeted with the blankets and shifted to one side, patting the bed, “Come sit. The bed is nice and cozy.”
“You sure?” He asked, eyeing the small space on the bed. We both instantaneously looked at the three vacant chairs in the room. But I wanted nothing more than to be close to him.
“Of course…I mean only if you want. I just thought the bed might be more comfortable for you. But no pressure! That chair in the corner looks pretty lonely.” I inwardly cringed.
The chair looks lonely. Seriously, Astrid?
The demon-wolf swiped the English language from my brain just by his appearance. Arlo stared at me for a moment before he grinned and chuckled at my stupidity.
“Please,” I smiled nervously, patting the bed twice more, “Sit down.”
God, Astrid. Could you be more desperate?
Arlo shut the door quietly and walked to the bed. He sat down slowly as if I were made of glass and pulled the covers over me when I shivered. I couldn’t help but lean in closer, our thighs pressing together. Discretely, I took long breaths of his scent, calming my wolf.
“How are you feeling?”
Better now that you’re here.
“Good,” My voice came out perky, “I can’t feel anything,” I grinned like a Cheshire cat, the loopy side effects still active.
“Yeah. I’m well aware,” He chuckled, making my thighs tingle, “Sylvia has the good shit,” He said, looking down at his hands as if remembering something.
“Soooo,” I nudged his arm, smiling like an idiot, “I heard you kicked my dad’s ass.”
The smile instantly faded off his face. “Astrid, I’m so sorry. Your dad and I…”
“You have nothing to apologize for. I’m sure my dad started the fight,” I shrugged, “He probably deserved it.”
Arlo rose a brow and grinned nervously, “We’ll see how you feel about it in the morning.”
We stayed sitting on the bed, talking. At one point, we both became comfortable with the closeness and laid down. His back was turned to mine as silence abruptly fell upon us.
“Arlo, are you awake?” I whispered, knowing the answer.
I swallowed the emotions building in my throat, “Thank you.”
He turned, peering over his shoulder, “For what?”
“For saving me,” I responded meekly, “There were so many of them. Without you, I’d probably be lying dead somewhere,” My voice broke at the latter. Tears fell down my face, and I buried myself in the covers.
“Astrid, look at me.”
I peered over my shoulder slowly, ashamed of my weakness.
“Promise me something?” He asked.
“No matter what happens after this, we stick together.”
My eyebrows pulled together in confusion, “But we’re supposed to reject-”
“Mates or not,” He interjected, “No matter what problems come our way, we face them together,” He held out his hand, waiting for my acceptance.
I smiled through my tears, in awe of the hybrid’s kind words. Arlo chose to be a part of my life. He chose to fight alongside my battles. He chose to make our friendship work.
I reached up and intertwined our fingers, signifying the agreement and birthing those electrifying sparks. It was him and me from this moment on.