She was hurt, and I let her go. I knew my Lucy. and she needed to be alone with her grief, so I let her run off. But when she didn’t come back and the walls in her mind were still up after a few hours, I think I lost it a little. I lost the better part of myself already, so what’s a little more to shave off?
I would never be or feel whole again, that much I knew.
After letting Lucy’s mom know what was happening, I went back to the house, my feet dragging. I’m pretty sure my heart was too, and I wanted more than anything to go and find Lucy, but I had receiving a link from my father to get back to the house. We had company.
“Zachary, you’re home.” My mother’s warm voice failed to get through to me. I only nodded, the lump in my throat growing harder and more difficult to swallow down.
I hated my fucking father.
Knowing that if I was going to be meeting company and my father, I went upstairs to change into something nice. I looked down at the outfit I had taken out in preparation of spending the day with Lucy and quickly averted my eyes. I didn’t want any reminders of what today should have been, so I walked to my closet and grabbed the first nice thing I saw.
Slipping on the fresh clothing felt like an out of body experience, or like I was covering up who I was inside. I wasn’t the guy who wore nice slacks and a dress shirt only to say things like, “yes, Father,” or “right away, Father.” I was heir to the pack and deserved some level of respect, even if it was from my old man.
Quite dawdling, I heard my father say through the link.
I didn’t say anything more. As far as I was concerned, the man may have been my alpha, but he was my father no more. No loving parent would do this to their son, no matter what the circumstances were. Arranged marriages didn’t happen anymore, not even in human society, but that was basically what this was, just with a little more heartbreak added in.
I slipped past my mother again without saying a word and wandered off to the kitchen. Grabbing a bottled water and downing it quickly, I crushed the plastic and dropped it into the bin, just going on muscle memory. Every step I took toward my father’s office was like a knife to my throat, threatening me with a pain I had never before felt in my life. The pain of heartbreak.
“Yo, bro! Wass—”
I cut off my younger brother’s greeting with a cutting gesture of my hand. It must have looked more forceful than I had meant and his words cut off before he stared at me as I walked by.
I could hear music coming from Leah’s room, as usual, but it all sounded new to me. I couldn’t understand what tune it was, though I thought it sounded vaguely familiar. Everything sounded like a lie—one big fat falsehood—and I grimaced as I knocked on my father’s study door.
I opened the door and looked around. My mother must have cleaned up after my hissy fit this morning because it was no longer a mess. The top of the desk still probably bore the deep scratches from my claws, but it was covered with a wide table runner in deep scarlet that covered the majority of the desk and fell off a few feet on the sides.
Appearances. It was all about appearances.
It always was.
“Zachary, this is Alpha Seneca Strasser and his daughter, Enid,” my father politely introduced before narrowing his eyes on me. Their message was clear: Be courteous, my disobedient and willful child.
Yeah? Well fuck you, Artemis Greenwood. Fuck you and your shady, fucked-up deal with this prick.
The man in front of me was grinning as he thrust his hand out to me. I couldn’t say it was a welcoming smile, but I nodded back and mumbled a faint, “pleased to meet you” as I pumped his fist a few times with my own.
“Pleasure to meet my future son in mating finally,” the man said.
I listened to more of his polite chatter as I studied him from the top down. He was a good-looking older male, approximately 40 to 45 years of age I’d say. His dark hair was longer than I would expect of someone his age and bluish midnight black. The bangs brushed over dark eyes and thick brows that gathered in the middle over a long, aquiline nose. His lips were thick with a divot down the middle of the bottom one. He had a strong jawline and a dimple in his chin that almost faded away under the short beard he maintained.
The other visitor in the room was his exact opposite. It was surprising, as the alpha was all dark features. His daughter had blond hair and light blue eyes with a button nose. She must have taken after her mother for the most part. She lacked the vigor of the older man. She was light to his dark.
Which made me think. Mother. Where was this young girl’s mother?
“Enid, dear, come over and meet your future mate,” the man said to his daughter. Dutifully, she wandered over, her hand out to take mine with a soft grip. We shook and I murmured a greeting before shooting my father a brief look. But he was stone. Solid, unyielding stone. Like none of this was affecting him at all, and like he was watching some strange ritual occur from behind the safety of a screen on a TV set.
He was a spectator; like a mere bystander and not the catalyst in all this. But I remembered. I would always remember. If I lived to be a 120 and forget my own name, I would remember what this man did to me.
Enid nodded to me and I sort of felt bad for her. I wasn’t unsympathetic and she hadn’t asked for this, of that I was certain. She had lost a mate somehow as well in all this, even if it was four months or four years ago.
“Your father has told me that you refused to mate with my Enid at first,” the man said. “I understand—”
“I have a mate already, sir. We just have yet to forge the bond.” I knew it was rude to interrupt, but I couldn’t help myself and the words leaked out before I could stop them. “I love my mate, alpha. I’ve known she was mine for almost four years now.”
The man looked surprised and arched a questioning brow at my father.
“Is this true? You felt the bond before your maturity?”
I had to give him credit. At least he asked me and not my father. If it had been Artemis, he would have deferred to the alpha in the room.
“Yes, sir. Quite true. We’ve known what we are to each other since a little after our fourteenth birthdays. That’s why I have to ask you—no, beg you—to reconsider. I can’t be without my Lucy. She’s everything to me.”
He patted my arm like the condescending prick he probably was, his thick, wet lips mashed in a straight line over his chin.
“It’s a shame alright, but this has to happen in order to repair the damage done between our two communities. My Enid’s been through some rough times after the loss of her mother a few years ago, and then her mate being made rogue and then dying. If it were up to me—”
“I won’t ever love your daughter, sir.” I gave an apologetic nod to Enid, whose face remained placid as if I had merely said the weather was lovely today. “I already found my love, and there is nothing that can make me love another. Please. Don’t make us do this. We can think of something else that can right whatever wrongs my father has done. Please.”
I was begging at this point, and unashamed of the fact. I thought I was making some headway when the man started to look conflicted, a thick haze of fog covering his eyes before he cleared his throat and stood up straight once more.
“I’m sorry, son, but there’s nothing else that I need except for my daughter to be mated to someone worthy of her. Her true mate was not. He was a vile, despicable—”
Her voice came out like a whisper, and my head shot to hers just as the first tears started to fall down her face.
Her father must have had no soul, because he looked stern, as if her tears were completely unwarranted.
“Well, he is—or was. What he did—” He cut himself off and cleared his throat again, as if ashamed of even the memory of what the man was like. What one of his pack members was like.
“There’s no proof. Only hearsay,” she reminded him softly as she wiped away the tears from her eyes. If I hadn’t been determined to keep my distance, I would have offered a tissue or even a shoulder to cry on. After all, this wasn’t her fault either. It was my father’s—for whatever he did to deserve such a punishment. My punishment.
“Enough, Enid,” he told her, recalcitrant. The severe look on his face brooked no argument and she became silent except for the occasional sniffle. He turned back to me.
“Enid will make a good Luna to you and you’ll have strong pups between you,” he told me. “Many strong young children. Her mother was only able to grant me her, so I’ll leave my pack to your second son. The friendship between our two communities will grow—”
I shook my head quickly.
“Don’t you understand, sir? Don’t you have a heart?”
I could see my father getting ready to interject and I cut him off with a look. This was my fight.
“Quiet, old man,” I growled at him. “This is your fault in the first place. I need to have my say and try and convince our guests that this would be wrong.” I turned back to Seneca. “It is wrong, sir, to keep true mates apart. I’m sorry for your daughter’s loss and my heart goes out to her, but I can never love another like I love my Lucy. Please, let us put our heads together and think of some other way we can mend the rift between us.”
He shook his head immediately, the stubborn bastard. It was like talking to a brick wall for all his leeway.
“I understand it may take a few months, but get to know my daughter,” he urged. “Your father has said that you will wait a little while before you mark and mate with her, and I can understand that as you are near-strangers right now. I agree with those conditions, but before the day is out, you must reject your true mate. Let her go. I will not bend in this decision and your father, as he told me, has placed the Alpha Command on you. You must do it or face certain, painful death.”
Fuck him, but he was right. If he didn’t bend as I wanted him to, what was the point of refusing at all? Deny the visiting alpha and I was dead and Lucy would be heartbroken. Reject her, and break her heart anyway. No matter how this played out, someone heart would shatter, but at least if I rejected Lucy, she had a chance to be happy with someone else.
The thought made jealousy burn in my gut, but what could I do? The man was insistent I mark his daughter. If I didn’t reject Lucy, she would lose me anyway by my death.
My head drooped to my chin as I gave up the last hope of my happiness. I was fucked.
Seneca clapped his hands once as if he had sealed some long-awaited deal.
“Then it’s finally settled. The two young ones will get to know each other for a while and we can probably expect grandpups—”
“Finally?” I blurted out as I eyed the two alphas in the room. “Just how long has this deal been in the works? I was under the impression it had only been for a short amount of time.”
Seneca laughed. Laughed. He slapped one meaty hand on my shoulder condescendingly and chuckled his motherfucking black heart out.
“Son, you’ve been promised to my daughter since you were 16 years old,” he told me mirthfully. “We only started ironing it out in the past couple of months.”
My father averted his gaze from me, looking shamed.
Stepping forward to him, I spoke.
“I hate you,” I told my father. “I will always hate you. I will do as you ask, but only because no matter what, Lucy and I are fucked as a couple. If I deny you and go against your Alpha Command, I die. Appease you and we’re just heartbroken. I can—and will—find some way past this, but mark my words, old man. I. Will. Never. Forgive. You.”
I stalked out of the office and slammed the door shut without any protest. Clothing came off quickly as I ran out of the back door of the house. Leaping off the veranda, I shifted mid-air, my boxers and undershirt shredding as my wolf’s skin burst into its thick coat of fur and flesh.
Howling as if in pain, I raced off into the woods in search of solitude. I was going to try and find Lucy, speak with her, but I had no idea what I would say to her when we met as mates for once last time.
By the time I could smell her around the community, it was well after dark and I shifted back to my human skin and got dressed quietly in my bedroom.
Lucy, I linked. We need to talk. Now, please.
Midnight was only a couple of short hours away. I had to do this before we both lost everything.