The thick book grazes the edge of the couch and lands on the wood floor with a dramatic thud.
I look up curiously, my hair sliding over the velvet cushion and falling past my shoulders. My harasser grins at me, utterly pleased with interrupting my new hobby. Watching the ceiling and thought processing seems to be the only excitement in my life these days.
“What?” I ask, aloof.
Carson removes the stack of books from his lap and stands in front of me. He playfully taps the edge of my foot with his shoe. “My friends are having a small get-together tonight.”
My eyes widen, and I sit up from my slouched position. “You have friends, little rabbit?” I gasp mockingly.
“I have more friends than your cranky ass,” He quips. A scornful smile crosses my lips, and I flip him the middle finger. “As I was saying,” he chuckles, “it’s Myra’s birthday, and she’s invited a few of us to her house tonight. I was thinking we should go.”
“We?” I laugh, “You want me to hang out with some teenagers?” For some reason, that idea doesn’t sound too good for my social status.
Carson makes an annoyed face. “You’re only three years older than me. Look, do you want to come or not? It beats staying cooped up in this stupid gift shop all night. Ms. Hattie and Blair are doing some work in the study, so we can skedaddle the fuck out of here.”
Despite my emotionless face, I consider the offer for a moment. I could continue to sit here, wasting away or hang out with Carson and his friends. The distraction would be a good thing for me right now. My brain has been screaming for a mental break for the past hour.
My father called this morning for the…well, I lost count. But unlike other times, I answered the phone.
At first, rage and fury coated his sharp tone, the blade slicing straight through my eardrums. I’d never heard that man scream as loud as he did. I was sure he’d never forgive me, but I knew exactly what to do to win him over. I apologized for leaving, making my voice sound extra small and meek. A split second was all it took for his stringent alpha shield to break down, and I was daddy’s little girl again.
He sighed a deep exhausting breath, one that all fathers of daughters know. “I thought I knew what fear felt like, but I was a stupid man to believe that. I didn’t understand the true meaning of fear until my firstborn left her pack with half a million dollars clinging to her life. Only then did I know the true meaning of fear.”
I remember thinking: Ahh, shit. My heart twisted at his words. The old man should get rewarded for the world’s best guilt speech because that performance would take first place.
“I’m sorry, dad,” I told him repeatedly. But I also wasn’t that sorry for leaving. He would have fought me to the ends of the earth, told me to stay home. Even though I trust my father’s advice, I couldn’t risk the safety of my pack.
At one point, mom joined in on the conversation. She asked if I was enjoying my time in Salem as If I were on vacation. And then repeatedly asked how Arlo was doing, which was code for, “How are you and Arlodoing?”
The conversation grew tense after that. “I don’t trust that motherfucker,” Dad growled many times. And many times, I told him he was too overbearing, and I could handle myself. And besides, if Arlo wanted to hurt me, he would’ve done it the second he got me alone.
But the worst part of that conversation was towards the end when Mom and dad got eerily quiet. It could only mean one thing.
Dad remained quiet for some moments longer before he finally broke the news to me. The witches have been sneaking around the city. They’ve tried to break into our pack borders.
I called for more patrollers and didn’t have anything else to say after that. I’d never felt so useless and unworthy. I escaped to Salem to protect my family, and instead, I drew more attention to them. Way to go, alpha of the year!
I run my fingers through my hair, hoping to ease the headache prickling my temples. Carson crosses his arms and taps his foot, waiting impatiently for an answer. I need this distraction.
“Can I bring Nicole?” I concede, hopeful. Carson only smiles in response and heads downstairs to tell Blair we won’t be staying long. And I’m surprisingly looking forward to our plans.
It’s after eight o’clock when I peer at the grandfather clock. We have some time to kill before we leave, so I spend it downstairs reading some spell books. For the first time in days, I feel a sense of peace wash over me. But it doesn’t last very long.
“Carson?” I close the book in my hands and turn around, half expecting him to be standing there. But this is Salem, and I should know better.
At the end of the hall stands a small boy, a toy car placed in his hand. He looks at me with those haunting black eyes before he darts to the left, right in the direction of the room with the red door. Without a second glance, I face forward and open the book again.
The old souls of Salem are tenacious creatures, and when they demand attention, they expect to be given it. Whispers of my name travel down the hall and spread shivers down my spine.
Astrid. Astrid. Come find us.
I close the book once more, my feet carrying me upstairs, which seems to be the only safe zone. So, I stay there until Carson comes to find me later.
“I thought you said this was a small get-together?”
Carson doesn’t respond and scans the crowd for his friend. I stand in the foyer, looking around at all the drunken bodies swarming Myra’s not-so spacious house. Even though her house seems big, it isn’t nearly enough space for the endless number of guests.
“Everyone knows that small get-together really means the whole neighborhood” -Nicole glances at the group of warlocks shuffling through the front door- “and then some,” she says.
“Oh, there she is,” Carson nods to the living room. I spot the girl sitting on the leather couch with a red cup in her hands. She’s talking with a friend, but the second her eyes find Carson, she abandons her without explanation.
I know as soon as she wraps her arms around him that Carson is the only guest she wants at her party. When she looks at him, her eyes light up and outshine the glitter covering her chest, which is on full display from the black halter top. One I’m sure she picked out just for Carson’s eyes.
“Happy birthday, Myra,” Carson smiles, handing her the small box with a bracelet wrapped inside, picked out by yours truly. Had I not said something, he would have shown up to his friend’s party empty-handed. I won’t mention this aloud, though. I’d hate to kill the happiness plastered on her face.
Myra tries to be patient with the unwrapping but gives in to the excitement halfway through. She stares down at the charm bracelet in awe. “This is beautiful. Thank you.” She doesn’t notice the nervous shift Carson does with his feet as she fervently peers up at him.
Carson gestures to Nicole and me and gives us a quick introduction. Myra takes my hand, her eyes widening in surprise. “Oh, right, your sister-in-law! Nice to meet you,” she chirps over the loud song playing in the background. Sister-in-what?
Myra’s friends happen to appear behind her mid-conversation. They exchange a girlish look. “Oh, Arlo or Kane?” The witch with braces asks.
“Technically, I’m mated to Arlo, but we’re not-“
“Oh my god! You’re so lucky. He’s the hottest one,” The witch giggles with the others. Carson looks slightly offended and mumbles a disagreement under his breath.
Nicole grins and leans closer to me. “Yeah, so hot,” she mocks. I roll my eyes and push her face away, smiling. “So, are we gonna party or stand here all day? Carson, where’s the beer?” she asks.
He leads us through the crowded living room and kitchen, several heads turning in our direction. I’m sure they aren’t used to having a couple of wolves as guests. We shuffle past the pizza line and through the backyard, where the keg is placed. Carson fills three plastic cups, and Myra is soon pouring shots for the four of us.
We stay in the backyard most of the time, occasionally going inside the kitchen to catch a break from the cold air. I take a seat with Nicole at the patio table and do some people watching. Meanwhile, Carson and Myra disappear somewhere out of sight.
“Do you think the guys are having this much fun?” Nicole asks. I know she means Derek and Liam, whom I’ve left in charge of the search party. Arlo thought it would be best if they’d separate into two groups, one River Ash and Blood Rose. I wonder if it was for the benefit of finding the pups quicker or more for the separation part. It can’t be easy falling under the orders of another alpha, one from the opposing pack.
I sit back in the chair as I watch some drunken warlocks laughing and throwing energy balls at each other. The electrical charges meet in the middle and erupt with a loud explosion, sending the warlock’s back a few meters. Everyone laughs at their stupidity, including Nicole and me. “Not even close,” I giggle.
“Room for one more?” A masculine hand lands on mine and Nicole’s shoulder, and I instantly recognize the voice.