West of Destiny (Book 5 of The Claimed Series)

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Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Lucy

Birthdays in the past had always been special occasions, but this one—the one tomorrow—would outshine them all. I would turn 18 and be able to feel the full potency of the bond I felt for my true mate.

Zach.

We had known what we were to each other since a little after our 14th birthdays, and no matter how much time passed, I was still in awe of how much I felt for him, even if we had started out only as friends. It was a rare thing, to feel the bond prematurely like we did, but I could only think of it as a blessing and not the torture might have thought it would be—to truly be with your destined mate in all but the basest of ways.

It was tradition in Arrowhead Pack that the Alpha and his progeny would wait until their mate had turned of-age before marking and mating with her—or him—and Artemis Greenwood, Zach’s father, believed staunchly in that tradition.

Not that we hadn’t fooled around. I knew what Zach’s dick—holy fucking shit!—looked like and he had made me come with his hands and mouth, but he had never penetrated me, though we had come close to toeing that line more than once.

Okay—a lot more than once.

It killed me to have to stop from giving him my virginity, but I always knew in the end that it would be better once I was his, and we were each other’s.

Mating after marking was as close to marrying in a shifter’s world as you could get. It was akin to going to your bridal bed as a true-blue virgin in the human world. It was sort of sweet, but when you knew who your destined was for almost four years, it was frustrating as well.

My mother wanted to have a big party for my 18th, but my father knew it would be no use. Once I turned 18, the pull to be with Zach—and only Zach—would be too great. Very few with an alpha bloodline would be able to resist marking and mating the very day they found the other half of their soul.

I was glad my father had intervened, because I was wanting to make plans of my own, which was why I was heading over to Zach’s house to speak with him.

Though we “dated”—for lack of a better term—freely in front of his father and mother, I had a feeling they always thought it would be short-term, and the steely look in Artemis Greenwood’s eyes would always send shivers up and down my spine whenever I came over to meet up with my boyfriend. Zach said he never told his father that he already knew who his true mate was, though I always thought both his parents had their suspicions.

And while Cleo Greenwood was a warm and caring soul and loving mother, I always had a sense the woman was hiding something from me, something she knew and couldn’t say—or was forbidden to say.

That was more than likely the problem. Artemis used his alpha command to keep his wife under his thumb, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he used it on occasion with Zach and his siblings, Leah and Nolan. He was authoritarian in every sense of the word, and he wouldn’t let anyone prove him wrong in way. His way was the right way, be it resulting in a good or bad outcome.

In a good old Webster’s Dictionary, his photo could have accompanied the word “stubborn” with damned good reason.

As I dashed across the territory and through the wide-open spaces between houses, I wondered if I should just text Zach to meet me by our waterfall, and if going to his house on the eve of my 18th birthday was a good idea at all. Something told me that the Alpha would not be as happy to hear we were true mates, but as he’d seen us together for four years already, hand in hand, I pushed the thought away and strode brazenly up to the front door before knocking.

I don’t know if he had sensed by nearness or could smell me, but Zach was the one to open the door and shut it behind him before giving me a thorough kiss on the mouth. His tongued twined with mine, flicking and sucking until a soft moan bubbled up my throat and was nearly devoured by his own lengthy groan.

“Baby, we should go to the falls,” he told me once our lips parted from their lusty greeting. “My father’s been a damned pain in the ass around here. Very cross and snapping at everyone. I don’t want you to have to witness that.”

I nodded up at him, a smile lighting up at the beautiful gleam in his eyes as they roamed over my face. As he linked our fingers together and guided me off the porch to head toward the woods, I could hear a thumping inside his large house. It sounded like the stomping of boots, and I could only imagine what had gotten the alpha in such a state to be so agitated.

“What happened?” I asked as soon as we were out of earshot of anyone else. We were already past the tree line and were making our way east to Arrowhead Falls, an unimaginative name if there ever was one.

“Don’t know, but he’s been a beast every since I reminded him of your birthday tomorrow,” Zach told me. “He said he wanted me to work with him on something in his office, but I said that it was your birthday and I promised to spend the day with you. His mood soured immediately.”

A grimace replaced the smile I had donned and I blinked back a tear or two.

“He hates me,” I said, feeling the sting of tears continuing to prick the back of my eyes.

“He…he doesn’t hate you. He—”

“Then why else does he look at me like I climbed out of a sewer and shook it off like a dog onto his Persian rugs every time I come around?” I questioned. “It’s like my mere presence pains him. I hate going over to your house for that very reason.”

Zach looked grimly back at me, his mouth a thin line over his thick, defined jaw.

“I don’t know what problem my father has with you, but I’m certain it’s not because he doesn’t like you,” he claimed. “He’s stated many times that you are a fine she-wolf and would make someone a very happy man when you found your mate.”

Someone’s mate. Not his son’s.

Zach didn’t have to say it; it was all too clear that if push came to shove, he would have no problem saying he thought I was nice, but just not good enough for his son. I didn’t know if it was because my family were omegas or if there was some other reason, but we were kind and decent folk that didn’t deserve whatever hostility he felt towards me and my family. After all, my father was a doctor for the pack and cleaned up many wounds after disputes or invasions by hunters and rogues. Dad had even delivered the alpha’s youngest child, 13-year-old Nolan, the next in line for Alpha should something happen to Zach.

Heaven forbid.

“But let’s not talk about all that,” he said, pulling the thin line of his mouth into a tight smile. “Let’s talk about tomorrow. What do you want to do for your birthday?”

What I truly wanted to do was scream to the world that Zach was mine—really mine—before going off into one of the mating cabins on the territory and becoming bonded with him for good. I didn’t need any pomp and circumstance, but it would be nice to be able to lay claim to him, I had wanted it so long. The only people who knew were my parents, Zach, and me. Emery, my little brother, wasn’t even aware of our situation as of yet.

“Let’s watch a movie and cuddle.” I wasn’t big on going out on fancy dates or flaunting our relationship to the public usually, and apart from wanting to scream he was mine to the world, I was pretty happy with it just being me and him, playing games or in front of a television set and watching old reruns of That 70s Show, or The Big Bang Theory. I was a no-frills kind of gal, and Zach had told me many times it was one of the reasons he loved me.

Yes, he had said he loved me, even if we weren’t mated already. He’d told me just under two years of dating, on my Sweet 16, of all days, and I had said it back. And I did love him, with every fiber of my being, even if his father seemed to hate me every breath in his body. I didn’t care what Zach said—his father must truly hate me to have become so agitated when merely reminded I was to turn 18. Zach was of-age now, and if my theory was correct and he already knew that we were true mates, it was the only reasoning I could think of to anger him so.

He didn’t want me for his son. Why? I didn’t know, but there wasn’t a lot he could do to keep two true mates apart.

At least, I didn’t think so.

We made plans to watch a few of our favorite movies together—we enjoyed much of the same type thankfully—and said we would let the marking and mating take place naturally, though I didn’t think we would get through all the movies that we planned on bringing to one of the cabins in the woods. They were a mix of Rom Coms and dramas, and we decided to start with an old favorite of ours we had watched countless times before. The Mirror Has Two Faces.

It had a little bit of everything—love story, comedy, heartbreak. I felt for Babs’ character because she really loved the man she fell in love for, but I wanted to strangle Jeff Bridges to within an inch of his husky timbre. So blind some men were to the jewel they had underneath their very noses. Good science wasn’t a recipe for a happy marriage, and he had found that out almost too late.

After making our plans and promising to meet at the cabin at 10 AM the next day, I went home to round up all the selections we had decided upon and grab an overnight bag for the next day. I wanted to be prepared for what was to come, and I didn’t know if the outfit I had prepared for my mating would survive an alpha’s fierce claws if he got a little out of control.

In any case, I was prepared for all outcomes, and it took me far longer to go to sleep than it normally would that night.

When I woke up the next day, it was to birds chirping cheerily outside my cracked bedroom window. They greeted me gaily, but a niggling in the back of my head had my blood pressure spiking at an alarming rate.

You awake, Lulu?

Zach sounded frantic, almost desperate through the pack link.

Here, yeah. Just woke up. What time is it?

My eyes were still blurry and too unfocused to latch onto any solid object, much less the alarm clock on the nightstand by my bed.

8 AM, he shot out quickly. I have to speak to you about something. I…I know why my father doesn’t want us to mate. You were right all along. He always knew what we were.

What is it? What’s wrong? Why can’t we mate? We’re true mates to each other.

Please—just meet me at the falls as soon as you can. I’ll explain everything. Maybe we can…I don’t know. Maybe we can work something out. He’s very insistent about us not mating today.

But—we made a promise! On my 18th we would do it! Why wait?

Just meet me at the falls, Lulu. I’m sure we can think of something that can be done if we put our heads together.

He cut off the link and I charged into action. I was up and out of bed and heading to the hallway bathroom as if my skin was on fire and the only water in the house was the rickety old shower. I scrubbed so fast and hard it was a miracle I didn’t lose skin in the process. But the only thing in my head was to get to Zach at the waterfall and hear what he had to say. I knew the sound of his voice and he was…I didn’t know. Scared? Worried? Upset?

If I had to guess, it was a mixture of all of them. The only other time I had heard him sound this alarmed was the time we admitted we felt the mating pull at the age of 14. That was an unnerving experience, but every day since then we had been okay with it. Some of our other friends had even thought it was a long time coming, though we had only been good friends for long before that. What made them all think that way—well, I hadn’t a clue, but we had almost seamlessly gone from friends to boyfriend and girlfriend. I had prayed for years that the transition to mates would go just as smoothly.

My biggest worries were that it would not, and those deep-rooted fears were all coming together to tear Zach and I apart.

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