After the Lycans left, the nagging uneasiness continued to eat at me by the nature of their visit. I hated watching them poke Rosie and speak to her as if she were some wild animal that needed to be approached with caution. I wanted to speak up, but my lips were sowed shut and my hands tied. The Lycans wouldn’t tolerate disrespect, and I was in no position to fight with those dangerous creatures. I had enough problems to face already.
On top of that, they told Arlo it would be necessary to set an appointment for her examination visit next week. It would involve them taking a CT scan and injecting her with a tracker- one that would be inside her neck for the rest of her life. She’s an innocent child, for fuck sakes! What was she going to do, stab them to death with her crayons? Or worse, she’d have Mr. snuggles eat them alive.
I sat in Arlo’s truck, angrily bouncing my leg and staring off into the distance. The sound of the door slamming startled me, and I recoiled.
“Sorry it took me so long,” Arlo said, shifting in the seat, “I wanted to make sure Rosie was okay.”
“How is she?” I asked softly.
Arlo sighed, roughly rubbing his crooked jaw, “She’s okay, just a little shaken up. I don’t know how to tell her that they’re going to stick a tracker in her neck on Monday.”
I stared at him briefly before slowly turning in my seat. “She’s so young. She doesn’t deserve to be going through this bullshit,” I muttered, focusing on the view ahead. From the corner of my eye, I saw Arlo shrug his shoulders lightly.
“It’s the price we have to pay for our parents’ reproduction. Every hybrid must face it sometime in their life.”
I contemplated asking him about his tracker, but I wasn’t sure if he wanted to talk about it. He caught me glancing at his neck, and suddenly he grabbed my hand, pressing firmly on the side of his neck. A rough bump under his warm skin poked my fingertips. I’ll admit I kept my fingers there, grazing across his neck to feel the sparks.
“It feels big,” I mused, pulling away. “Does it hurt? How long have you had it?”
“The tracker is small, but it was very uncomfortable when they implanted it, which is why I’m worried about Rosie. And I was much older than her. The Lycans didn’t find me until I turned eighteen.” He told me. Oddly, there was this dark change in his facial expression as he noticed the crinkle in my brows, hinting at my confusion.
“What do you mean they found you?” Silence filled the truck. He blinked rapidly as he looked away from me and stared off in space. A shiver ran down my spine as I watched his face slightly pale, and his breathing became harsh as if he ran for miles.
“The council was aware of my brothers and me, but we stayed in hiding for years. My mother moved into a cabin just outside the borderline of Pennsylvania when she became pregnant with me. The council got involved in our lives after…um… well, after everything that happened. It’s a long story.” He waved me off, desperate for the change in conversation. Clearly, I hit a nerve that put him on edge. I wondered if he meant after his father killed his mother. It brought me back to the conversation I once had with my mother. Royal. Dark Prince. Next heir. Her words kept flooding back to me. But if his father was so regal and rich, why did he mistreat his mate and children?
The rumors that flooded the city were brutal enough; I could only imagine how sickening it was to be present in that moment. Everyone knew his father tortured his mother for all those years until he murdered her. They say he beat her senseless before burning her body and disappearing from the scene, never to be heard from again. I wanted to ask Arlo more about his father, but the negative change in his demeanor shut that thought out of my head quicker than it came. A dark and twisted past played wildly in his eyes as he gripped the steering wheel and stared at his feet. What really happened between their family, and most importantly, what did that demon do to my mate?
If this conversation didn’t take a positive turn, then I was certain Arlo would have a breakdown any minute now. Taking advantage of the mate bond, I reached over and brushed my fingers over Arlo’s arm, drawing circles. He closed his eyes, and his shoulders visibly relaxed as the sparks tingled our skin. He opened his eyes and looked at me fervently as I placed my hand over his, intertwining our fingers. He enjoyed holding my hand a lot.
“I think Rosie will be okay on Monday. I mean, she has the best supporter in the world,” I changed the subject. He smiled, appreciating my effort in making him comfortable. “I wish just wish she didn’t have to go through something so life-changing at her age,” I admitted.
“I’m just grateful that they brought her to me in the first place. Many hybrid children don’t get to see the light of day.”
“That makes me sick,” I admitted out loud, feeling an angry knot in my stomach. “How old was Rosie when she first came to the sanctuary?”
“2 years old,” Arlo said, turning the key in the ignition. He was much calmer now, but his hands were still somewhat shaky, “Her parents kept her hidden in the basement for those years, terrified the council would come after them. Eventually, they decided to surrender her in exchange for their freedom. She was so small and underweight when her birth father dropped her off at our doorstep. I’ll never forget the first week she refused to sleep anywhere but in my arms. It was like she knew we were going to be best friends from the start,” He smiled, the memories of her first moments coming back to him.
The uneasiness I felt before got lost in the warmth inside my chest as I smiled and listened to Arlo talk about Rosie. And for the second time since I’ve met him, I was utterly blown away by his love and compassion. How could someone so vile and notorious show so much love for an innocent little thing like Rosie?
“You’re really good with her,” I said, drawing circles on his hand.
Arlo half-smiled. I tried to lift my hand from his, but he held me in place. I didn’t fight against it, seeing how much he enjoyed my touch. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for that little girl. I’ve actually thought about asking her to join the pack and maybe giving her a bedroom at my place. Of course, not anytime soon but in the future” My mouth nearly fell open at his confession, and I snapped my head sideways.
“Like adopting her?” I asked incredulously. My eyes widened.
“Yes, technically I would be adopting her, but…”
“But?” I pressed, raising my brows. The thought of him adopting Rosie intensified the fluttery feeling in my chest. Picturing him as a dad sent my wolf tumbling down the rabbit hole of forbidden thoughts. I had to push her deep down in the back of my mind; otherwise, she’d make me lose concentration. The mate bond could be tricky like that at times.
“Well, I’d be robbing her of a normal life.”
“What do you mean? She couldn’t have a normal life with you?”
“I could give her a nice home and all other necessities. She’d never have to worry about a thing, but…she needs a mother.” A bright suggestive look crossed his face as he looked me deep in the eyes. And that’s when I knew the mate bond was playing with his heart and mind as it did me. I took a sharp inhale, feeling his fingers tighten around mine.
“Yeah, I suppose she does,” My voice came out in a whisper. I looked down, feeling my cheeks turn hot. Oh god, this was so awkward. I’m making this awkward. Sensing the uncomfortable shift, Arlo let go of my hand and pulled out of the parking lot.
“I suppose I’ll see what happens in the next year. Wherever Rosie ends up, I want her to be healthy and happy. That’s all that matters to me.” He told me. There was a sense of disappointment in his tone, and I wondered if I put it there. It made me feel bad for turning things so awkward. I wanted him to be open and honest with me about anything.
We drove out of the property in silence. Kane, Derek, and the others who were waiting outside followed behind us. I flipped through the stations and decided on a rock station that played in my car regularly. Arlo was pleased with my decision, and we started talking about our favorite bands, lightening the mood. The drive to Salem was a long nine hours, but it was time well spent with Arlo. I didn’t regret making the decision to drive instead of flying.
For a moment, I’d forgotten that witches were on a hunt for me as we made good conversation. He made me forget many things, including that I was supposed to stay clear of any thoughts that seemed more than platonic. But I loved how he paid close attention to me as I spoke. And he never interrupted me. It was like he took in every word and detail on my face. Even if the topic was less exciting, he still listened attentively. His voice was deep but also soft, and I couldn’t tear my eyes away from his lips as he spoke.
Kiss him. That little whisper in my head tempted me. I knew it was her, my other half, who desperately longed for her mate’s touch. Unfortunately, she’d be disappointed…this time.
Four hours into the drive, I fell asleep once again. Something about road trips made me feel sleepy: I tried to stay awake and enjoy the scenery, but the drowsiness never failed to take over me.
“Astrid,” Arlo whispered, nudging me awake. I blinked up into his beautiful silver irises, “We’re here.”
I stretched and rubbed my eyes, taking in the view. It was fairly dark outside, but the Welcome to Salem, Massachusetts sign was the first thing to come in my line of sight. And then the intense change in the atmosphere surrounded the truck. A shiver ran down my spine at the haunting vibe of this place and the extreme temperature drop. It felt as if I were entering into a completely different world. I rubbed my arms for warmth and looked out of the window. All of the buildings were styled with the same gothic architecture, adding to the intensity.
Arlo drove through downtown and passed the tourist quarter. We seemed to be heading towards the outskirts of Salem, where most of the witches resided. He took a right turn on a woodsy narrow street. For the longest time, we drove in darkness. Only the beam of the headlights could be seen in the thickness of the trees. The others lagged at a good distance.
“Finally,” Arlo sighed as the locked gate reading private property, do not enter appeared in front of us. He quickly hopped out of the driver’s side and unlocked the rusty gate. I wondered if he came here often since he had a key of his own.
Although the pathway was least exciting, the house ahead made up for it. I can’t lie; I was expecting something dark and scary, but the head house was anything but. Nothing like the rest of the town, that’s for sure. I looked up at the two-story, chartreuse-colored home, admiring its beauty. I almost missed the petite female rushing out of the front door with the brightest smile. Arlo got out of the truck, meeting her halfway.
“You’re finally here,” The woman squealed as she threw her arms over Arlo. She looked funny trying to get her tiny arms over his broad shoulders, but she managed. “You must have forgotten you had a best friend.” She commented, throwing a pointed look at Arlo.
“Well, unlike some fortunate people, I have been very busy with work,” Arlo commented, playfully tapping her nose, “I don’t have a wife to spoil me and make sure that I never have to lift my pretty little fingers. Who does that sound like, Blair?”
“I have no idea, but she sounds interesting,” The woman named Blair teased. Her familiar hazel eyes lit up as they fell on me. Arlo and Blair looked at me expectantly, and I took it as my cue to introduce myself. I didn’t get the chance to speak before she pulled me into her warm and welcoming arms.
“She’s even more beautiful than you described her,” Blair told Arlo. “I’m sorry we have to meet under these awful circumstances, but either way, I’m glad you’re here, Astrid. Someone talks a lot about you,” Blair teased, elbowing Arlo. Arlo smiled, looking down at me. I felt my cheeks turn red-hot, so I diverted the attention off me.
“Thank you for inviting me to your home,” I said, staring at her face, “Wow, you look exactly like your mother,” I couldn’t help but comment. Blair smiled in return as if saying I get that a lot. Of course, she’s Sylvia’s daughter. Blair had the dazzling eyes, smile, dark hair, and…everything to prove it. She was Sylvia’s twin.
“Speaking of your mother, where is she? I want to get a move on finding those pups soon,” Arlo said.
“Not to worry, mom’s already working on that. But you’ll have to wait until morning to go searching. It’s not safe for Astrid to travel at night, and I want to put some protection spells over her,” Blair said, leading us up the steps of the large wrap-around porch. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t necessary because the pups needed to be found soon. We should have been searching tonight, but Arlo spoke up before I could. “Agreed,” He nodded.
“Come on, Astrid,” Blair chirped, hooking our arms like we’d been best friends forever. Blair and I were going to get along just fine. “I can’t wait for you to meet my wife Louisa, the head priestess of our coven. She’s been dying to meet you,” She told me with a grin, leading me into the house. I wasn’t exactly sure her wife would be pleased to see me, but I went along with it anyway, not knowing I was about to meet the queen of sarcasm. The true definition of raging bitch.