Darkness turned to blinding white light. I was floating on a sea of…clouds? Nothing? I didn’t know, and that fact made me both elated and sad. There was no pain where I was, only emptiness, and somehow, that was just what I needed.
I heard voices—strange ones. They didn’t sound like my parents of Zach or even the bratty, snarky tone of my brother, Emery. They sounded official, but then they faded away and I was left in complete and utter silence.
For hours the silence lengthened until I was certain I had lost my hearing. Then…muttering. Someone saying something about rejection or being rejected. I wanted to reply to that, but didn’t know what to say. Then there was breathing, heavy and deep, and the sweet scent of pine, like I had fallen asleep in the shade of a fir tree. It reminded me of the holidays, but that couldn’t be true. The holidays weren’t for months from now, and my mind went back to the last thing I remembered.
Zach. Something about Zach and…his father? I struggled to make clear my mind, to remember, but nothing came. In fact, the fragments of the mate bond I felt with him were gone. I was completely alone like it never existed, not even a hint of it remaining to muddle my brain and make me want to connect with him.
In fact, I couldn’t reach out to anyone, and I knew I must have been in some altered state of consciousness where my—
I could hear something, though I knew it was only in my head. A soft whimper like a beast whose cry was too soft to latch onto. My wolf? Was she the one whimpering? The sound was so faint that I could almost believe I imagined it until the sound faded and I heard a steady beeping assaulting my ears. Like the few times I’d had to be hospitalized at the pack clinic, the sound was familiar, but only because I could now smell the antiseptic fragrance of heavy cleaners and bleach.
I was in a hospital of some sort and I struggled to get my eyes to open. My lids were heavy and I felt a moan rumble in my chest. A deep breath that I knew wasn’t my own filtered through the air as I heard air whoosh past teeth and flesh harshly a few times before evening out and becoming normal.
Normal. I would never be normal because I was mated to…
Shit. I remembered. I was mated to no one and the hot prick of tears at the back of my eyelids made me want to crumble and sink back into sleep or coma or…whatever it was when I didn’t feel anything at all. Yes—that would have been better than this. The initial hurt of rejection usually took days to overcome, and I felt too weak to face it head on, no matter who or what came to my aid. I was broken and, no matter what, would always have a hole in my heart that nothing and no one could fill.
The beeping in the room moved just a touch faster, letting anyone that was paying attention know I was coming to. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t sleep anymore and had to face my demons, for better or for worse.
My eyelids finally opened a crack, taking in an ivory-colored room that made me think of the color of the calla lilies in the backyard of my house. The were pressed up almost against the house, something my mother had done on a whim one year. It had surprised the hell out of me after the bulbs kept producing huge, beautiful blooms almost larger than my hands when I was in my early teens. It was both saddening and comforting as I let my bleary eyes focus on the slightly darker floor-length curtains at the windows.
My head shifted to the left, taking in a figure who sat leaning towards me, his dark head bent over an even darker shirt, the jeans he wore spattered with mud.
I locked onto his eyes and knew, instinctively knew, I had to be dreaming.
“No,” I whispered out.
Time seemed to stand still and I could barely get my eyes to blink. They dried up and I was forced to, even if only to clear away the fog and moisten them. When they opened back up again, the man was still there, still staring, his mouth hanging open slightly as if he was trying to will himself to speak.
Tousled black hair over tan skin and chocolate-colored eyes was all I could see. I forced myself to look deeper, past the haunted look in his irises. He looked familiar, but then again, not. His straight nose was tilted upward slightly at the end over pink lips that were dry.
I want to lick them.
No, I didn’t. I didn’t think that. They just gave me some really awesome pain medication.
The smell of pine wafted to my nose again as the man shifted in his seat, his head ducking a bit as if uncomfortable. Days-old scruff on his chin made me wonder if it would be soft or harsh against my skin, again the errant thought making me mentally shake off the strange thoughts of getting close to the man.
All his features seemed like they were chiseled out of stone, making think he was a hard man on the outside, but perhaps soft when you dug beneath the skin. I don’t know why I thought that, but it seemed true all the same.
I struggled to make a sound besides my sharp breathing and before I knew it, words were tumbling out.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
His lips pressed together and he licked them, pulling my focus to his tongue as the cracks in them disappeared almost before my eyes.
I have to find out what pain medication they have me on. This stuff is the shit.
“My name is West Harkin and you’re at Destiny Pack in northern California.”
I opened my mouth again, searching for words to the man’s raspy timbre and finding myself mute once again.
“What’s you name?” he asked.
“Lucy,” I replied, amazed I could even utter a word with how parched my throat was. “Lucinda Wallace, but everyone calls me Lucy.”
He smiled, the gentle curve of his mouth softening his hard features into a completely different face. Where he seemed daunting and dark before, he now seemed to be lit by a radiant light from within.
“What is that smell?”
His brows lifted and the shadows over his eyes to lightened like he had discovered something wonderful.
“What smell, little wolf?”
“Pine. Like the forest.”
“Ah…that would be me you’re smelling.” He nodded his head to confirm I wasn’t going nuts.
“You…you smell like pine?” I didn’t get it. The only other time a fragrance was so potent to me was when I scented Zach’s. He had a light, fresh-cut grass scent that made me think of summer and sun. It was comforting and wholesome and—
Not mine anymore.
I felt my lips quiver and draw down, causing the man before me to look at me in concern.
“What is it? What’s wrong? Are you in pain? Should I get Doc D. to look at you?”
He almost bolted upright in his chair and I had to shake my head a good few times to get him to relax.
“I’m not in any pain,” I told him. “I was…was just remembering something.”
“Is it how you came to be washed up on the banks of the river? That’s where I found you, me and the enforcers that were doing patrols along the borders of Destiny. What happened? Did you fall?”
The concern in his eyes was touching, and I felt bad when I shook my head and his eyes creased up at the corners. Like I had wounded him somehow, his eyes became glassy and his lips thinned into a perfectly straight line.
I looked away, as hard as that was. Something was trying to pull me back to look into his face and admit everything. The early bond, the rejection, the hopelessness and pain I felt when it hit me directly in the chest and stomach. How I had wanted it to all go away and tossed myself off the side of the cliff by my waterfall.
No. Not my waterfall anymore.
I forced myself to press my eyes shut, but the tears came anyway before I was able to stop them. They flowed like the river I had fallen into, hard, hot patters on my cheeks that made me want to forget everything, down to even my name.
The man was talking to me, trying to console me, but I couldn’t hear his words over the roaring of my heartbeat in my head.
“Lucy? Come on, baby, talk to me.”
Baby? Who was this man and why did he smell like the forest in the spring when the dew was heavy on the tree branches?
“I’m sorry. Sorry.”
I kept apologizing. I hated when people saw me cry—even my family—but he only moved closer, coming onto the bed to sit beside me. His warmth was comforting, the ache in my soul diminishing with every touch, every caress until I was crying onto his shoulder like a small child in her mother’s arms.
“What are you sorry for, sweet girl?”
“I…I—” I sniffled loudly into his chest. Fuck it. It’s not like his clothing wasn’t ruined already. “I hate crying in front of people. It’s ugly.”
His body vibrated and my next words cut off as I looked up at him, my face probably red and ugly. He was laughing and hugging me, rocking my body back and forth until my shoulder started to ache.
Guys are fucking weird.
“W-why are you—”
“It’s not you,” he said. To my surprise, he kissed me on my temple and released his strong grip on me. “You…it’s just that of all the things to cry about, it’s about crying.”
I saw his point, but was still a little flustered as to why he found it so humorous.
“And here I thought you were going to reject me this whole time.”
I was a regular one-note-Johnny, stuck with one-word responses like a record with a skip in it.
And I had no fucking clue what this guy was talking about.
“Yes. When I found you on the riverbank miles from here you said one word. Rejected or rejection or something. I thought maybe you had somehow intuited that I’d been rejected several years ago until Paul—uhm, that’s my best friend and the Alpha of Destiny—said it might have been because you wanted to reject me.”
Nothing was making sense to me. Whatever medicine I was on needed to clear up soon. I was completed addled in my mind.
“No, no.” I shook my head at him. “I was rejected by my mate, He was forced to by Alpha Command. I had known he was mine since we were 14 years old.”
“An early bond forming?” He seemed intrigued. “That’s quite rare. Why was he forced to reject you, little one?”
“I’m…I don’t really know. Something his father did I’m certain. He’s being forced to forge a bond with another female. Why? I don’t know. I don’t know if I can’t remember or if he never told me. It’s foggy. I just remember the basics. Him telling me he had to reject me on Alpha Command and then—” I shuddered. “The pain. It was like a knife ripping through me. I’d never felt anything like it before.”
The man hummed in my ear and I took a deep whiff of his skin. Pine. He was right. The smell was purely all him.
“I know that feeling, and there’s no greater pain than the bond breaking between wolves.”
“Yes. My rejection, remember?”
There was a pause as I searched for something more to say.
“But…you seemed alright now.”
If he was alright then, with time, I would be alright as well. Right?
“Yes. The pain of it is gone now, and all because of you.”
My head popped up so I could look into his eyes. Our faces were devastatingly close. One inch more and I could swipe my tongue out to taste his skin. And God I wanted to do just that for some crazy reason.
“Yes, you, little wolf.” He granted me face-splitting grin and leaned slight closer, catching my light eyes in his dark ones. They were absolutely mesmerizing.
If possible, his smile grew even wider and it was hard for me not to mimic it for a moment.
“Because, I finally found you, pretty girl. My second chance mate.”
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