“Sweetheart, are you feeling alright?” My mother is concerned and probably questioning my sanity right now.
I can’t really blame her, though. Afterall I am the one who called her asking odd questions about my birth. Like, where was I really born? How old am I? Are you really my mother? That last one threw her for a surprise.
“I’m fine. I just want to know… Am I adopted? You can tell me the truth.”
“I spent 16 hours in labor pushing your gigantic head out of my vagina and you have the nerve to ask if you’re adopted?!” she sounds slightly offended. “Astrid, what is the deal with these questions? Are you feeling stressed?”
I feel a little bad making my mom worry about me, but ever since my visit to the Railridge hospital, I’ve been driving myself crazy with these questions. I have no doubt my mother would never lie to me, but Sarah’s side of the story was disturbing.
“I’m sorry, mom. I think I’m just a little homesick.” I decide to play it off because telling her the truth would only send her down the same downward spiral.
Blair is holding a thick folder and walking in the room when I hang up the phone. She opens the folder and throws it on the spot next to me on the bed.
“Wipe the worry lines from your face. Jonah and Grace are your parents, so stop harassing them with your questions.”
“What’s this?” I ask, taking out the first piece of paper.
“Hospital records from your birth and all the River Ash females.”
Just thinking about it makes my stomach churn and I don’t really have the desire to look at them, but curiosity gets the best of me. I skim through the first few pages, the first one dated back to my birthdate. I exhale a deep breath when I see it. In big bold letters are my parents’ names and signatures, and although I didn’t doubt them, it always feels good to be reassured.
“You didn’t see it.” Blair crosses her arms and stares at me. She opens up the folder again and points. “Look.”
“Yes, I know the records show my parents-“
“No,” Blair shakes her head, annoyed. “Look at the difference here.” This time, she points at exactly what she wants me to see.
Before my mother’s, is the name of the doctor who delivered me- Susan B. I know that doctor is a friend of my mom’s because they went to the same college and received their degrees together. She’s the same doctor that delivered my siblings as well.
I take the first few pages and compare them to my birth record. Every doctor that has ever delivered the River Ash pups carries the surname of Smith, except mine. I look between Blair and the records spread in my lap, trying to make sense of this file. And then it all hits me.
Thomas Smith’s family line was most likely sucked into the bullshit of Jackson’s cult, and the lunas of my pack were never supposed to miscarry their daughters. The doctors were purposely killing them at birth.
I scan the records once more to see if I’ve missed any important details. Something disturbing catches my eye and sends the hairs on the back of my neck to attention. Each female was born 4 days late on the same day- January 13th at 3am.
I was also born 4 days late on January 13th at 3am.
What. The. Fuck?
Sensing my mood change, Blair sits at the edge of the bed when I fall eerily silent. “Your mother wasn’t lying, Astrid. But neither was Sarah.”
My body trembles as a gust of air meets my naked flesh. I’ve just awoken from a dark slumber, and it feels like I am taking my first real breaths of air.
I reach out and grab the side of the glass in which I lay inside to sit myself up. There are similar glass tubes all around me, and a gasp leaves my lips when I see the women inside them. They share my face, and they’re all dead.
Suddenly, an ear-piercing scream echoes through the room and I see my mother standing over me. She wears a hospital gown, her lower half drenched in blood. Did she have an accident? Why am I the one resting if she needs medical attention?
“Mom?” I call for her, but my voice seems non-existent. Almost like someone has found my volume button and switched me to mute.
My father stands next to her, sharing her pain and holding her as she wails and wails over me. I look around and there are father’s and mothers crying over my dead replicas. My head hurts. They won’t stop screaming.
“I’m sorry to inform you, but your daughter is dead.” A man wearing bloody gloves and a white suit tells my parents. Why is he saying that? I’m not dead.
He’s pushing me away now, and panic takes over me. “Wait! Mom. Dad. Help me!” I try to scream, but the words come silently out of my mouth. My mother’s screams only get louder as she watches the doctor take me away into a dark room. I start crying but halt the minute he injects something into my arm. I can’t feel anything now.
“What should we do with her body?” The doctor asks.
“Ah, I think I’ll feed her to my slaves. But they like their meat cut up.”
I am dumped out of the glass and onto a surgical table like a rag doll. I’m unable to move, but for a second, I think I see Jackson and Cassandra come into my line of sight. They crouch down on the table to look at my face. My vision is blurry, but I’m almost sure it’s them.
Jackson flashes a triumphant smile as he pats Cassandra on the shoulder. “I’ve taught you well, my little demon. I’m proud of you.”
“I couldn’t have done it without mother’s guidance,” she says, running her icy fingers over my head.
There’s no use in fighting to gain control of my limbs. They’re dead weight now from the injection and my eyes are slowly losing sight. Before my vision fails, I glance up and see the outline of a shadow approaching them.
I’ve seen those emerald eyes before. They belong to that same mystery woman who chased Blair and me at the hospital. Darkness fills my eyes before I can see her face properly.
“You’ve done well, my children.” Her voice is calm, but I can feel the power oozing off her frame. “I shall gift you with wealth, power, and immortality. Now rip her apart.” And that’s exactly what they do.
I can only lay there helpless as they sink their teeth into my flesh and tear me limb for limb.
I jolt awake in bed, screaming at the top of my lungs. When my body was being ripped apart, I couldn’t scream, so I’m taking advantage of my vocal cords now.
“Look at me!” Two large hands reach out to grab me, and I’m so terrified my brain hasn’t registered the sparks yet. I continue screaming.
“Astrid?!” Still too busy screaming.
“Look at me, mate!” His voice is more demonic and firm now. This time, I feel the powerful sparks trailing up my arms and stop screaming. His concerned red eyes look down at me, and slowly, they fade back to silver. “You were having a nightmare,” Arlo says knowingly.
The second I feel his arms come around me, I burst into tears, melting into his chest. I grip his shirt and cry my eyes out for so long, letting the warmth of his body comfort me. I’m probably going to soak his shirt, but he doesn’t seem to care very much.
“Please, don’t leave me,” I plead. We still sleep in separate beds, but tonight I just want to be close to him. I can’t handle being alone right now. I still feel their razor-sharp teeth puncturing my delicate skin.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he whispers, climbing under the covers with me.
He leans down and kisses my temple when I settle in close, my back pressing against his front. His hand snakes down my side and slides over the exposed skin on my waist from where my shirt has risen. He’s so warm and smooth and everything I need right now. Why have we been sleeping in separate beds again?
We lay like that for a while before he finally asks. “Do you want to talk about it?”
I contemplate describing the terrible images in my mind, but the fear is still too fresh. I shake my head and he doesn’t press me for details.
“I’m here for you if you change your mind. I’ll always be here for you.”
“I know.” And I believe him with everything I have. He’s never failed to show me how much he loves me, even though he hasn’t said it aloud. His actions speak volumes, and sometimes it scares me.
Not because I’m afraid of his love or to reciprocate those feelings. I want to share a life with my mate. But I worry if we love each other too much, then it’ll be harder to let go when the rest of the world breaks us apart.
Turning to my side, I wrap my arm around his neck and reach up to massage his scalp. I smile when he groans in content and closes his eyes. “Do you think we’ll ever get through this?”
“I’ll find her no matter what. Don’t you trust me to take care of you?” he replies with his eyes still closed.
“No, it’s not about that.” He finally opens his eyes when I stop massaging him. “Do you think our relationship will survive after the trials with the council? We’ll have to face the court and they won’t make it easy on us. I just want you to know that if you ever feel like it’s too much…”
“I don’t give a shit what the council or anyone else has to say. I’m not leaving you,” he says, vehement and unwavering. “You’re my mate, and I’ll be damned if anyone tries to come between us. I’ll fight to the ends of the earth for what’s mine.”
My heart does a little backflip at his admission. “Promise?”
“Cross my heart,” he says, drawing a cross over his chest.
I lean forward and press my lips to his with a slow kiss. Something about the way he kisses me feels different from before. More intimate. I think it’s because for the first time since we’ve been in Salem, we’re sharing a bed like a normal couple. Being this close to him only makes me needy for more.
I grab the back of his head and allow him entrance to my mouth, deepening the kiss. He groans in content and before I know it, he’s on top of me, moving from my lips to my neck. Kissing, sucking and licking all the sensitive parts of my skin.
I don’t know what’s gotten into me, but I just want to forget about our problems for a while and show him how much I appreciate all he’s done for me. It’s not easy running a pack miles away from home, but he sacrifices the time for my safety.
Slowly, I unbutton the top of my shirt to give him better access to my breasts. He pulls back to finish the job, ripping open my shirt, his eyes darkening when he sees I’m not wearing a bra.
“So fucking beautiful,” he rasps as he grabs a handful of my breasts.
My pebbled peaks instantly harden at the touch, and then his head comes down to my chest as he sucks one into his mouth. A moan slips past my lips and I arch my back, feeling the scrape of his canines. God, it feels so good. My nipples are pink and swollen by the time he’s done teasing me. I watch in anticipation as he pulls off his shirt and leaves a trail of kisses down my breastbone and abdomen.
He kisses my navel once more and looks up at me, waiting. It takes me a moment to realize he’s asking for permission to undress me fully.
“Please,” I breathe desperately. He smirks, slipping his fingers inside the hem of my shorts to pull them down. My panties are quick to go after that, and my arousal thickens in the air as I lay exposed to him for the first time. I’m so needy and hot right now, I feel as if he’s lit the entire room on fire. I want to burn with him.
But it’s nothing compared to the burning sensation that lights me up from inside at the feeling of his fingers exploring my wet folds. “You’re so wet for me, baby,” he hisses.
I grip the bedsheets as he spreads my wetness over my swollen clit and slips a finger inside me. It’s a slow, steady pace at first and then he works me over fast, adding another finger, stretching me. I see bright, shining stars, and I never want them to go away. I want the stars, the moon, and the sun. Shit, I want him to make me see the whole fucking galaxy.
I watch as he takes his fingers out of me and sucks my juices off. “I need more,” he growls before his face comes down between my legs.