I was still fuming when I entered the church of the Salem coven. I was in a good mood this morning until that bitch who called herself the head priestess spoiled it. How dare she pull a fucking dagger out on me! Was she really planning to stab me or trying to scare me off? Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t think twice to slice her face off if she pulled that shit again.
The church was crowded when I walked inside. The witches stood at the front of the room, summoning the location of the pups, which involved them holding hands and reciting a spell in Latin while a crystal dragged across the map on the table. Everyone watched intently as the crystal moved swiftly across the map.
Louisa glared at me as I walked down the aisle of pews. I returned the same dirty look and found my seat between Nicole and Derek. I noticed her eyes fell on the tip of my sword, peeking from the harness on my back. She wasn’t the only one who liked to play with sharp toys.
I tried to pay attention to Blair as she stood at the table, spellcasting over the crystal. But her wife was irritating me. Annoyed with her scrutinizing looks, I discreetly mouthed ‘fuck you’ and smiled. Louisa angrily grumbled something under her breath and turned away. How was it possible for someone as sweet as Blair to marry a raging bitch like Louisa? Love truly is blind.
Just when I thought my mood would be spoiled for the rest of the day, Arlo peered over his shoulder. I’d forgotten about everything the minute he smiled at me. This warm fuzzy feeling came to life in my stomach as I remembered last night. We were completely alone with no one to bother us. I could’ve sworn he was going to kiss me. Why didn’t he try to kiss me? God, I’ve got to stop thinking like this. I cleared my dry throat and tore my eyes away from him.
“Things with Mister soul-sucking demon man must be going pretty good,” Nicole whispered, eyeing me suggestively. I scooted closer to her, whispering back.
“He’s actually not a bad guy. I don’t see why everyone talks so poorly of him.”
As soon as I said this, Arlo used his telekinesis to stop a potion bottle from falling off the table. Derek visibly tensed. “Don’t be so sure. You’ve barely known the guy for a couple of weeks. It isn’t normal for a wolf to have powers like that,” He muttered, warily watching Arlo’s every move.
I frowned. “He hasn’t given me any reason to think otherwise. And just because Arlo has powers doesn’t mean anything. Every hybrid develops special abilities.”
“Yes, but not deadly ones like his. I’m just saying you should be more careful with him, Astrid. Don’t be so quick to trust a guy you barely know, even if he is your mate,” Derek warned me, and my wolf groaned. Any other time, I would have listened to Derek because he was like my big brother, who had my best interest at heart. But he was talking down on my mate, and I couldn’t ignore it. That mate pull twisted painfully in my chest every time someone brought up Arlo in a negative light.
I rolled my eyes, scrunching my nose up at him. “Yeah, okay. You sound just like my dad.”
Derek shrugged unapologetically. “Can’t blame us for trying to look after our girl.”
“Oh, shut up already, Derek. I was talking to her first,” Nicole hissed, earning a death glare from him. I pressed my lips in a thin line, holding back a laugh. Derek was always the “think about how it will affect you in the long run” kind of friend when Nicole was the “fuck it, you only live once, so you might as well go out with a bang” friend. I needed both equally in my life.
Nicole turned to me and smiled mischievously. “So how was last night? Did anything exciting happen between you two?” She didn’t need to say much more for Derek to get the hint. He got up and sat next to Liam, excluding himself from girl talk.
“No, it’s not like that. We didn’t even sleep in the same bed.”
Nicole raised her brows. “It’s not like what?”
“We’ve decided to keep things civil after the bond is broken.”
“Huh?” Did she really not get it, or was she pretending?
“We’re just friends, Nicole. We’ll remain friends after we break the bond, and there’s nothing else I can say about it,” I clarified, shrugging. Nicole stared at me like she was trying to solve the world’s greatest puzzle before she hunched over and laughed. Arlo, Kane, Derek, and Liam, sitting a row in front of us, turned around, confused. I sank in my seat and held my forehead.
“Sorry,” Nicole mumbled, straightening up. The guys exchanged a funny look and turned back around, focusing on the witches.
“Do you know how ridiculous that sounds?” Nicole whispered when the attention diverted to the magic crystal. “If you reject him, then you won’t be able to stand being around him. The pain will be too much for your wolves to handle. Geez, didn’t our parents teach us this stuff when we were like 15?”
“Why are you acting so surprised? We’ve had this conversation before,” I reminded her.
“Yeah, but I didn’t think you would actually reject him. For a second, you had me believing that you would give him a chance. You said it yourself that he’s not a bad guy, so what’s holding you back?”
What was holding me back? I stared at her pointedly, narrowing my eyes. Nicole, of all people, knew damn well the reasons behind that question, yet she acted obliviously.
“Are you seriously asking me that? Should I remind you of our family history, maybe the part where his – extremely scary and dangerous- great, great, great grandfather ripped out the beating heart of my very pregnant ancestor would refreshen your memory. Twice might I add. Not to mention that Arlo’s a hybrid which would be breaking the law.” I rose a finger in the air, “And we’re both alphas.”
Nicole huffed, leaning back in her seat. “You can speak those lies to everyone else, but I know you. You don’t give a shit about your family’s history. In fact, you wish people would stop re-telling the stories. Admit it. You’re just scared to allow yourself to fall in love with him because loving him means leaving. And you don’t want to disappoint the ones you love the most.”
Silence took over as we stared at each other intensely. I would never admit it out loud, but Nicole was right. I was scared that my family would hate me, especially my dad. He watched me work my ass off, pour blood, sweat, and tears to prove to those overcritical council members that I was the right leader for River Ash. He wouldn’t look at me the same if I let our hard work go to waste.
Could I throw it all away for a man? Hell no!
But what about our mate? Could we live without him? My wolf reminded me. A huge part of me knew the answer was no, but I could do nothing about it. I was stuck between a hard place and a rock.
Nicole looked both ways to see if anyone was listening. She grabbed my phone out of my pocket, saving a number. “I have this friend who works for the council. He’s an incredible lawyer, and he works on cases related to yours. I know you think rejection is the only option, but he can help you, Astrid. If Arlo is the person you want to be with, then don’t let anyone keep you from your happiness.”
I stared at the name and number Nicole saved on my phone. A million different scenarios played out in my head, one where I call this man and win over the council with his help. But then I remembered everything I’d been through in the last few years, and I pushed those thoughts out of my mind.
“Look, Nicole, I appreciate you wanting to help, but my mind is made. At least Arlo and I will always be friends.”
“No, Astrid, things don’t work like that. You either reject him and deal with the heartbreak or mate with him, and…” She paused, watching Arlo have a hushed conversation with his brother. A genuine soft smile crossed her lips as she continued, “Be happy for once and stop trying to kill yourself by proving your strength and capabilities. Anyone who can’t see how great of a leader you are is an idiot. Let go and be with the person you’re destined for.”
“So, what are you saying exactly? I should just let my brother take my place. I leave the pack, mate with Arlo and become his Luna?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Nicole confirmed, grinning from ear to ear. I didn’t have time to be shocked.
“I got something!” Blair announced, claiming the room’s attention. It was then I noticed the crystal stopped moving. “According to the map, the pups are being held captive in Vermont. We should get going now before their captors realize we’ve caught them.”
Everyone was up and on their feet as Blair announced this. Upon further investigation, Louisa revealed that the captors belonged to a dark coven in Vermont. Arlo, Kane, Blair, and I came up with a plan to sneak into the coven without tipping them off while the others distract them.
The rest of the day was spent driving with Arlo as we headed for Vermont. This time Blair and Kane joined us. The energy in the truck was intense and nerve-wracking. No one spoke a word the whole drive to Vermont. I could tell that Arlo was nervous about taking me to the same coven that wanted me dead. But this had to be done for the safety of our pack pups. They had to be okay; otherwise, I’d never forgive myself.
By the time we crossed the borderline, it was dark outside. I bit my nails and shook my leg as we finally pulled into the small town where the dark coven resided. I hoped to goddess that nothing terrible happened to the pups and we’d find them safe and unharmed. But my senses screamed trouble the second I spotted the coven house. Arlo parked the truck behind the trees, miles away from sight. But I could see the creepy old house sitting in the middle of the empty field.
I inhaled, smelling a mixture of blood and rotting flesh.