After taking my quickest shower on record, I headed toward the falls, at least twenty minutes ahead of schedule. I hoped he was early too, because even though I knew if I was dreading what he would say, I also didn’t want to read too much into it either.
Maybe his father wanted to have an old-fashioned mating ceremony first? It hadn’t been done in a few decades, but Alpha Artemis was known to be a bit nostalgic when it came to customs and traditions. He was forever having old mating balls and inviting visitors from other packs, hoping to expand and deepen his foothold in the rolling hills of northern California.
I looked past the falls and to the northwest, my gaze far-off toward the foothills and craggy peaks of the mountains in the distance. I knew there was another pack out there that was surrounded by the rugged topography of the land, but it had been a while since I had heard anything about them and wondered who they were and how they lived. Were they all that different from us? They were even more off the beaten path than we were, and we were in the depths of the wilderness ourselves.
The falls, our favorite place to meet, was awash with extra water from the previous rains over the past several weeks, and though it was deafening to my sensitive hearing, I pushed the sounds out as panic started to set in.
Every passing moment felt like an eternity, and I looked at the bluish hue of the peaks in the distance, wishing I could see the world from atop one of them. It had to be an awe-inspiring sight.
And far away from my problems here.
I had always pushed away my troubles before. It was my safety net from getting hurt.
My mind reached back as I watched some clouds pass over the mountains and I remembered the time before last when we had met here at the cliffs overlooking the water and seeing into our future. A future that I didn’t know would be set aside in just seven days.
My mouth opened to his and his tongue swept into my mouth. It tangled and stroked at me as I let out a needy moan. It was so hard not to get carried away and mate with him already, but I knew that once I was marked by the scent of his release upon me, his overbearing father would be sure to be pissed. I didn’t think my mother would mind all so much, but my father was always on the fence about knowing anything of his daughter’s intimate life. His medical background got mixed up in his feelings about me being marked and mated, and I’m sure he felt odd about possibly seeing his pregnant daughter giving birth to an Alpha heir, even if we were marked and bonded. It was why I was glad we had Dr. Sauer, the female intern that was working under my father, who headed the clinic and small hospital next to the packhouse.
It almost was funny when I had found a stash of condoms—the largest kind they made, mind you—in my backpack one day. When I approached my mother with them, she almost snickered and claimed she knew nothing about them. It seemed Doctor Dad didn’t want to see his little girl grow up too fast. He was always complaining about “babies having babies” whenever he watched the news. It wasn’t so bad in a community as tightknit as ours, but in the human world, many young moms were looked upon as scandalous. Just look at that show, Teen Mom, and the idiotic teens who were struggling to be parents.
That was the main reason I was glad to be born with shifter blood. That and the high sex drive males always had. Part animal, part human, we rutted like the wild beasts we could be, even if we were in human form.
As Zach’s tongue stroked against mine, I could feel the press of his cock against me, hot and rigid. He ground against me in a slow circle, hitting me in just the right spot to make me whimper helplessly into his mouth.
“Fuck, baby, I’m gonna have blue balls if we keep this up,” he told me when our lips finally parted. I couldn’t help but grin.
“You’ve had blue balls for the past four years,” I told him. “What’s another week or so of enduring them on the daily?”
Besides, even if I wasn’t sexually experienced in the basest of ways, I knew how to get him off with my hands and mouth.
He rolled off me and laid by my side, his head propped up on one fist as he stroked my belly through the comfortable cotton of my t-shirt. He lingered a little longer below my navel, and I could almost see the wheels turning in his head. His mother had become pregnant with him within a few short months of being mated, and I knew Zach loved children.
“You know what’s pretty fucked up right now?” he asked, still continuing to caress the flat of my belly.
“That you’re thinking how quick you can impregnate me after mating?” I didn’t pull any punches. We were completely honest with each other. If he was thinking it and I knew it, I was bound to blurt it out sooner rather than later.
He gave me a wicked grin in response.
“Can’t get anything past you, can I?” he asked, chuckling.
“Nope,” I told him. I reached up to his face and twirled one of his silky curls through my fingers. “I’ve known you since we were practically babies. I might know where your mind’s going even before you do.”
“True,” he said. His fingers skated over my jeans and came to rest on my thigh. I could feel the warmth of his hot skin even through the thick material and rested my head on my right hand, palm up.
“I can’t wait to make you mine,” he said softly, as if it was a pipe dream and not some certainty that within a week I would bear his claim on my skin.
“I already am yours,” I told him. “Even if not officially.”
That made him smile, and his dipped his head to take my lips with his again before my other hand fisted into his hair. Our kiss was cut short when he stilled and I sensed he was being linked by someone with enough power to break down the walls in his mind. It could have only been his father, and I sighed as I leaned back and separated from him.
“You gotta go?”
He nodded unhappily. I hated when he frowned, though he looked utterly delicious even when irritated like he was.
“Dad wants to talk, or so he says. He’s got the worst fucking timing. Man’s got ‘cockblocker’ written all over him.”
“It’s like he knows precisely when to interrupt us.”
This wasn’t the first time we were together and his father called on him to come home. It was like he had some supernatural GPS locator attached to the two of us and he always intruded on us just when things were starting to get interesting.
Zach stood up from the ground before dusting off his immaculate pants and stretching. He leaned down to give me hand up off the ground and I took it, even if only for the small comfort of his skin against mine. I was no wilting flower, but Zach was a gentleman that way and always made sure I was taken care of, first and foremost.
We held hands on the way back to the community, talking out our dreams of how we wanted our mating to go before we split from each other, him to the west to his house, and me to the east in the direction of my own home.
Or at least what I thought would be my home for maybe another week or so. Once you were mated, there was no separating the two of you, and you shared your bed with the other half of your soul.
I blinked moisture from my eye and sniffled. How simple life seemed just a week ago. Now I was standing here, waiting for Zach to arrive so he could tell me what his father said to him.
A few minutes later, I heard the rustle of leaves and topsoil being dispersed and turned around to meet Zach’s eyes.
He looked terrible.
I wanted to cry. Two simple syllables were about to break me down, tear me apart.
Rip out my soul.
“No,” I whispered.
I ran from the falls, faster and faster, falling over gnarled roots and hidden tree branches. I was usually more observant than that, but how could I see when the tears in my eyes wouldn’t—couldn’t—stop falling?
Zach—he explained everything to me. He said that he was going to try and work something out with the foreign alpha, and I told him he should just mark me anyway. He refused.
That wasn’t his fault, though. His father gave him the Alpha Command, and I knew what that meant—go against him and be exiled as rogue, or suffer a painful death. In this case, Zach said, the penalty was death.
I hated Artemis Greenwood with a passion. I hadn’t been too fond of him since a little after I felt the mating pull to Zach, and his disdain of me had only heightened over the years. Zach said he didn’t hate me, but I saw now that Zach was wrong.
And what had he done so wrong that he owed this neighboring alpha anything, much less his son’s happiness and soulmate? What had he done that was so grievous that money couldn’t repair whatever damage he had done? Whatever it was, it had to be bad. Really really bad.
I sped through the forest at top speed, not knowing where I was going, but also not caring. I thought I heard a howl far off in the distance, but it could have been just my imagination. At any rate, I couldn’t bear to go home to my mother. I didn’t want her sympathy or her condolences. I wanted to be left alone in my misery. At least for now.
Rejected. I was going to be rejected so that my mate—mine—could take up with some Alpha’s daughter for reasons I couldn’t understand. I didn’t want to understand them either. They were killing me with their intrigue and stabbing at my heart with their raw brutality.
No! This couldn’t happen. I had known he was mine for almost four years—four happy years—and I wasn’t going to go down without a fight. Until he rejected me officially, I was going to do all I could to try and fight this, whatever this was.
I didn’t get back home until well after dark that night. I had been out for over twelve hours, wandering around, getting lost, then finally picking up my own backtrail to the falls before sniffing around. Zach had been long gone, and that only wrenched my already tattered heart farther.
A figure stood up from the front porch. My mother. She immediately opened her arms and I ran, tears streaming down my face as I leaped into her arms. I was done being alone, done with trying to be strong. I needed a few minutes of coddling, and my mother was just the person for it.
“Zach came by. Hours ago.” I could hear the watery croak of her voice and knew she was crying too. “He…he explained what happened. Baby, I’m so sorry.”
So, she was giving up too? Was I the only one that held out any hope? Was I the only one that was going to fight for what was mine?
I wanted to rail against her, make her see reason. Most of all, I wanted to make the alpha see reason. He obviously had never had to deal with this type of situation before, and I was certain he didn’t feel any remorse for what he had done to his son and me. If he had an ounce of pity, he would have tried harder to save what Zach and I had.
Again, I thought about how much I hated the man. It was like a burning knot in my stomach as I wept, only it kept getting bigger, making my chest and abdomen ache with a pain I had never felt, even when I had broken my arm falling from my bicycle when learning to ride on two wheels ages ago.
“You…you think I should give up, don’t you?” I pushed my mother back, holding her at arm’s length from me.
She bit her bottom lip, wet them with her tongue and closed her eyes.
“An Alpha Command was not meant to be broken,” she said softly. “It will kill him if he marks you. Would you want his death on your hands?”
I had no family right now. I didn’t have Zach.
I had no one, and no one had me.
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