West of Destiny (Book 5 of The Claimed Series)

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Chapter 24

Zach

My ears perked up as I sniffed the air around me. I had heard the voice asking what I was doing here, and though it was familiar, I was too heartsore to make sense of who it could be.

A light breeze aided me, and I scented what I could only identify as orange blossoms—the kind you might find in a florist’s bouquet that my father would occasionally bring my mother when he went into town for anything. That was a rare event, and it never ceased to bring a smile on my poor, downtrodden mother’s face. I mean honestly—Nolan had brought her more wildflower sprigs than my father ever gifted her with, and she appreciated them just as much.

I watched as a flash of blond hair shifted in the breeze as Enid moved out from behind a tree. She was wearing what I would assume was her nightgown, long and flowing, and I had to admit that it was much primmer and more proper than I thought it would be. But then again, her father obviously had some antiquated ideas floating around his head about females. I wondered if he even knew what Victoria’s Secret was.

“Did you walk all the way here like that?” I ground out after I shifted to my skin side. I stood nude, but I didn’t care, nor did Enid’s gaze wander from my face.

“Couldn’t sleep,” she tossed back lightly, and for the first time, she didn’t sound as defeated and oppressed by her father as she usually did. It was like she was more herself out in the forest.

Just like Lucy had been.

I settled one knee to the cool ground before sitting with my legs crossed, my body too heated from the sudden shift to be able to feel just how cool the nights had gotten.

Enid shrugged and stepped forward. “I’m an Alpha’s daughter. You should know we run a little hotter than most.”

The girl had a little spunk, and I had to bite back a bitter laugh as she tossed her long hair back behind her as she moved closer.

“Were you going to fling yourself off the cliff?” she asked as her eyes cut to the cliff over my left shoulder.

I lied. “I was thinking about it.”

I was going to do it until you showed up.

“Because of her?”

“She’s alive and well, you know.” I averted my gaze to the ground. “And newly marked.”

“I know. And I’m sorry.”

My eyes shot to hers and saw the sadness there. Aimed at me? I wasn’t certain, but she was a kind person, so I took it for what it was worth.

“Thanks.”

There was silence. It was not uncomfortable, and it was only punctuated by the trills of the occasional bird or the sound of a far-off howl. I knew it was probably patrol communicating, but I couldn’t honestly care. It had naught to do with me. I was floundering, and everything related to pack was so far off my radar that I couldn’t even let down my walls to let in the sounds of my brothers and sisters communicating with each other.

“What happened?”

As crazy as it sounded, I wanted to open up—to tell someone everything that had occurred from the moment I rejected to Lucy up until now. Enid seemed like she would be a good listener, and I slowly told my whole story, her nodding along as she soaked up every detail.

“Harsh,” she said softly. “Him marking her right in front of you.”

I shrugged lazily. “What I deserved. Probably the only way I would have let her go, to be honest. The bond—it dissipated completely during the time I was unconscious. I can’t feel her at all anymore.”

She nodded back. “That’s how I knew Jake was gone. I hadn’t rejected him with words, so it felt as painful as if I was dying too.”

A tear dripped down her face, and she wiped it away carelessly, as if she’d done it so many times it barely registered on her radar.

Like me, she had heartache in her. More heartache than I could even imagine. I mean, at least my ex-mate was still alive and—I presume—happy.

“Did you…did you want to reject him?”

She shook her head vehemently, and a strand of hair got caught in her mouth. She pulled it out as she went to open to speak again. “I would never have rejected him. My father—he was the one who wanted me to do that. Said he was a lowly Omega and that I needed strong blood fit for an Alpha.”

“But…wouldn’t you be the Alpha? You’re the one with Alpha blood in you.” It sounded reasonable enough before thinking of Seneca’s medieval tendencies.

She scoffed, a completely foreign sound slipping from her downturned lips. “My father—as you could probably tell by now—is very old school. He doesn’t believe women have what it takes to rule a society, even one as small as Emerald. At first he wanted me to mate with his Beta’s son, but I refused. The guy… He is a dick—a real pussy-hound—and I wanted nothing to do with him. Plus, he’s quite a few years older than me. Nothing too extreme…maybe ten years or so, but along with his crap attitude about women, I wasn’t having it and put my foot down.”

“And how did you end up getting paired with me?” I gave a reluctant smile. “And who will he hand the pack down to if not you? I assume you don’t have any siblings or they’d be here with you and your dad.”

“I don’t know how this happened, but I think my father will probably take a mate—maybe at the next Claiming come summer.” She shrugged her shoulders dismissively as she looked away towards the waterfall. “At this point, I can’t say I honestly care.”

I could concur, though I think I would have felt a little off if I was looking to possibly getting a stepmother in the near-future, and especially if they planned on having babies. Picturing my mom becoming pregnant at her age made me think…

“I would assume the female would be younger than him,” I surmised. “Well within her childbearing years.”

“Probably just a few years older than I maybe.” she agreed.

She nibbled her lip, and I thought how strange it would be to have a stepparent who was only 23 or 24 as opposed to my 18. It was an eerie thought.

Enid wasn’t bad. She could listen as intently as a shrink and didn’t seem to judge, unless it was about the unfairness of her mate being taken away from her.

“Does it hurt any less with time?”

Her head shot back to me, and she blinked once before she slowly nodded. “After a while it gets…easier, I guess you’d say. The only way it will ever truly go away is to find another—either a second chance mate or claim someone else as your own. That’s what they say, at least.”

It made sense, and I wondered if my own heartache would go away if I claimed someone. I knew that the odds of a second chance for me were high as a man of Alpha stock, and I would be highly sought-after for my Alpha blood and virility, but I didn’t want to be pushed into it.

What could only be worse was if I came across some power-hungry bitch who wanted me only so they could have a higher standing in the pack, and there were plenty of females who would vie for the Luna title, I knew.

I had a feeling Enid didn’t care what title she held. She wasn’t full of pretenses or vanity. She was sitting here with me in her cozy flannel nightie and dirty slippers looking as comfortable in her own skin as she could be. Completely guileless.

I was still furious with my father, but when it came down to it, there was no going back. My Lucy was a claimed she-wolf now, and no amount of pleading or breast-beating was going to change that. I had a choice.

Move on, or lay down and die.

I didn’t think Lucy would want me to die, which I could only think was the sole reason I hadn’t tossed myself over the cliff like her, headfirst towards a certain death.

My wolf stirred yet again in my head, and I could almost feel his ears perk up as good reason hit home. He, like myself, wanted our true mate, but with the bond disintegrated and my heart heavy with grief, there was very little I could do but to accept my fate and take a different female as my own.

I stood, still naked with my body temperature cooling in the early morning hours. “It’s getting pretty cold out now. I think we should start to head back.”

She tilted her head up at me, looking surprised. “You’re not going to toss yourself off the cliff?”

“I guess not tonight.” I gave her a grim smile. “I…I don’t think she would want that, even if she was angry with me for rejecting her.”

Pausing, I stuck my hand out to help Enid from the ground. She placed her small hand in mine and I pulled, bringing her to full height, which was actually quite small, even for a female.

“I’m sorry this happened. I know you don’t want this.”

Her voice was small, almost weak sounding, and I shook my head sternly. “This isn’t your fault, Enid. Don’t ever think that it was. You and I—we were pushed into this, but it might not be all that bad.”

Starting to walk back towards the clinic, I explained. “We’re both without mates. I’m not your second chance mate, but…but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t be.”

She was quiet as we walked, and I glanced over at her to see she was looking contemplative and a bit confused.

“You…you would want to try doing what they want?”

I nodded, feeling her gaze on me. “We are both broken, both adrift at sea. Maybe we can see if this works out, if we can get along. I’m not saying we should or shouldn’t. I’m saying we get to know each other and see how our beasts react to one other. Run with me?”

Her lips twitched like she was about to open her mouth. When she ran forward, I almost moved after her before she pulled her nightgown off her body, shifted into her fur, and then picked up her discarded clothing before giving me a muffled yip.

I couldn’t help it and grinned, right before I too phased into my wolf form.

Enid had a good head start, but I was quick, and it took only a few minutes to catch up with her before I nipped at one of her heels. She barked, and it almost sounded like a laugh. She sped up, practically urging me to follow.

Around the bend of a large tree that had to be hundreds of years old, I lost sight of her, but my nose was still powerful and I got on my belly, sniffing the direction her paws went before initiating a ridiculous-looking doggy army crawl toward some thick brush. Not seeing her eyes, I figured she was facing away from me and I leaped.

But she was gone, and I watched her light, puffy tail as she cantered off in another direction. I could swear I heard her give a barking laugh.

Before I knew it, we were out of breath and it was nearly dawn. Hours had gone by as we played like pups in the forest, and I knew that people were probably getting worried.

I shifted back outside my house, walking in through the back door before seeing my mother and father at the kitchen table, their hands wrapped around coffee mugs that still had steam wafting from them. They both peered up at me, and I instantly felt horrible at the look on my mother’s tear-stricken face.

A warm body covered in thick clothing came to stand next to me, and Enid said a quick goodbye before quietly walking through the room and out to the hallway to head to bed.

The worried expression in my father’s eyes became knowing, and all the good humor from playing outside evaporated quickly.

“This doesn’t mean I’ll take her to mate yet, old man.” I turned to my mother before moving over and giving her a big bearhug. As she wept onto my shoulder, I pierced Artemis with a glare. “I will try, but I still fucking hate you for what you did, and I can’t be guaranteed to ever forgive you for your betrayal of my true mate bond.”

The man’s face fell, remorse etched in the creases of his forehead, every worry line around his mouth.

When I let go of my mother after she finally stopped sobbing, I gave her a kiss on the forehead and told them both I was going to bed.

Alone.

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