Chapter 16: Emotional Prisoner
Two Months after the rejection
Meri: Baby, where are you? I’m feeling lonely without you.
Tanner: Working late at the office. Don’t wait up.
Meri: Again…? Can’t someone else do whatever it is that you’re supposed to be doing? I’m aching for you to--
I slam the phone against the desk, the wood moaning as the cellphone embeds itself into the top of the desk. I daren’t stay away from her too long, otherwise she might try to come and find me, wrap me around her little finger-- both literally and figuratively. Wouldn’t be the first time she has ambushed me at work...I cannot describe what she does to me...it was all Jerry could do to not ban her from coming to the office all together. OR from the Clan all together.
I don’t really need to stay late, but it is the only relaxation and peace I can get. Especially since that night on the Nolan ranch. Sighing, I push away from the desk and go into the gun case, pulling out a bottle of whiskey and a clean glass, deciding to lounge on the couch and drown my sorrows...I find drinking passes the time, as well as numbs the pain as well as the disgust. The passing of time is both a blessing and a curse. The clan hasn’t been the same since she’s been gone.
I down my first glass, my mind on fire as I recall that night, a month ago when the world shattered...and it was all my doing, though not without some coaxing from Merigold. I pour myself another drink, intent on trying to forget but my mind and my Beast Wren does not care what I want.
The rejection was wrong the moment the words escaped my lips, but like for so many years, I couldn’t stop them from spilling out. I felt like I was on the outside of my body looking in. Desi in her royal iridescent silvery purple dress, bloodied and torn, and her eyes...oh her eyes, filled with shock and betrayal and then...hatred.
I have been in love with that woman even before the mate bond was there. But her father and mother encouraged me to fight against it until she was ready to accept us.
“She is my mate! I should be allowed to tell her!” I had reasoned defiantly. It was the week before her thirteenth birthday and we had returned from a long day of training to have dinner with the General and his family. I had watched the way that Jerry and she had interacted...it made me crazy, Wren especially. He wanted her just as much as I did, all to ourselves.
“No, you cannot and you shouldn’t!” Pearl had snarled, her own beast Rubi coming to the surface. Wren took control then, moving to snarl back when General Roland was there in front of me, glowering at me to silently back down. Bearing my neck, I slowly backed away.
“Be reasonable, son: she’s twelve, barely thirteen yet. She is not ready yet for the responsibilities or the burden that comes with having a mate.”
“I wouldn’t burden her!” I whined, not liking the way I sounded like a petulant child. Both Pearl and the General exchanged a look-- a silent conversation that made me feel even worse. Without looking back, Pearl left me and he to talk--man to pup. I did not like his reasoning, nor the thought of being denied my mate...but I relented and did as he requested.
I knew she had hopes and dreams to follow and I was willing to wait for her. Now, had I known that waiting would leave me open for Meri to weasel her way into my life, I would have listened to Wren and did what I wanted to do. I would have pursued Desi and also supported her choice to have a life.
Merigold…I remember her scent as she cornered me in the laundry room at the Nolan ranch...she was thirteen, a week or more older than Desi...and she...
“That fucking bitch!” I snarled, throwing the crystal tumbler into the wall so hard it not only shattered but left a large dent in the wall. I sank to the floor, gasping for air as tears began to fall down my face. Everything turned to shit the day of the party--Desi’s party. I had meant to get something out of the laundry room for the party, but when I caught her scent, let her caress my face and kiss my lips...I lost everything. Call it animal magnetism, hypnosis...whatever it was, Meri did something to me that made me desire only her--losing all sense of self control and thought, loyalty to myself, my Alpha, my true mate, and her family...gone.
I betrayed Desi and my best friend for a status-climbing whore. I knew something was fishy when Meri tried to say Desi wasn’t as pure as the driven snow. I’ve known her since she was a pup, we all grew up together and here I was, the imbecile who took the word of a manipulating wretch, who rejected her own mate, my best friend over my true mate.
“You don’t know her the way I do, Tanner. All those extracurricular activities, all the other males she flirts with. How can you not see the way she treats them – above all, how she throws herself at Alpha Josiah’s son?”
“What are you getting at Meri? Jerry has known her as long as I have. No, no you’re wrong – Desi is the purest soul.” At first I tried to fight off the accusations coming from Meri.
“You know exactly what I’m saying. Even before I knew who my true mate was – I tried to see if Jerry would accept me.” Wait, she what? And when I looked at Meri – questioning her gall, she shrugged, “what? Oh, wait – you thought you were my first choice?” She actually found humor in my skepticism.
“Oh, Tanner – baby, no. No, you weren’t my first attempt at goading your dear Desdemona. But, when I saw them together, how they looked at one another. I knew, I knew how she plans on making a name for herself in this Clan.”
“So, are you trying to tell me, she is manipulating everyone and using her what to gain Luna status?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. She never waited either to loose her v-card to her mate…”
That was the last straw. She couldn’t have been intimate with other males. I’d smell them on her. I was getting so frustrated and Wren was scratching at the surface – howling at the mere impression Meri was trying to paint of our Desi.
“I have proof –“ Meri choked as I realized my hands wrapped around her throat.
Looking back, the thing is - I didn’t see the point--then or now--as to why it mattered so much where she came from or what she was.
Though our clan wasn’t always so progressive and inclusive, we were one of the only Lycan clans who openly incorporated the new reformations after Alpha Seamus had been overthrown by Jerry’s father. Change was a slow burning fire but word soon spread like a wildfire. While most Omegas were still treated like slaves, Alpha Josiah made sure to use his Alpha impulse to push the omega changes through. At least now, they would be paid a salary, they own their own homes, cars, material possessions. They’re a part of the clan – the community.
Omega born Lycans are now a part of the clan police department, any civil servant position was theirs and they got paid a salary and benefits. Some were the best teachers I ever had in school. That’s why we have the largest amount of omega refugees fleeing their old packs, for freedom from their tyrannical clan regimes. That’s why I didn’t understand why Meri was so insistent on trying to win me over. But, for some reason, I couldn’t say no to her.
Everyone that knew Desi loved her. She was my mate, but for whatever reason that all changed quickly when the rumors finally reached me. That’s what caused me to make my dreadful decision. I admit, I’m a coward.
Meri’s agenda to ruin Desi – to bring her down was as close to instantaneous as you could get. The moment she moved to town, I witnessed how kind Desi tried to be to Meri and her parents. Meri’s father was the gym teacher and worked for the sheriffs department. He even helped at the dojo for training the warriors and clan security. Her mother was a business owner of a successful bakery and sweetshop in town. But Meri had become relentless.
She and her minions – Leoni, Crystal, and Renee started off small – claiming she was cheating on exams, she was using enhancements from her parents apothecary workshop to surpass her in sports, training, and combat. She had people thinking and eventually me believing she was a bully.
Now the rumors of her being a pack whore and impure – the proof I saw caused Wren to have a breakdown. I lost him for a few weeks – to be honest I thought I’d never get him back.
After I rejected her, it was as though something snapped. Our carefully cultivated bond broke, shattering beyond repair. The moment she accepted my rejection, our bond was severed and I couldn’t link to her even if I wanted to. It’s like she just dropped off the face of the earth. There have been countless search parties for her, no one felt her soul pass over into the Ambient, or heaven, as our Lycan brothers and sisters call it.
Taking a shaking breath, I stand wearily to my feet and look at the mess I have created in my office. I look at my watch and grimace at how much time has really passed. If I am lucky, Merigold won’t come here.
Locking up my office, I turn to leave when I notice that Jerry’s office is still open. Walking over, I open my mouth to joke about him burning the midnight oil when I see he’s not alone. Both Jensen and RJ turn away from their hushed conversation and, seeing me, glower. RJ is especially hostile, his eyes flashing dangerously as his Beast threatens to come to the surface.
“Hey, guys, what’s going--?” I begin casually. Taking a step into the room, the mood instantly changes from jocular camaraderie to frosty hostility. Instantly, both RJ and Jensen tense--both their beasts taking control to unleash a low, threatening growl. Wren tenses inside me, a low growl building inside us as I prepare to throw around my title as Beta when Jerry is suddenly there.
Standing to his full height, he looks down at me. His eyes hooded and, this close, I notice how tired and wan he looks. Wren instantly calms down but not before Jerry sees him in my eyes. His eyes flash dangerously as he frowns at me.
“Good night, Tanner,” Jerry bit out, throwing an equally frosty glare my way as his voice- his Alpha voice -compels me to leave. Without a word I backed out of the room and turn to leave as the door slams shut in my face. Despite my rank, my actions and decisions have managed to ruin my life…and I cannot undo it.
Just when we take one step forward, we come up empty and take ten steps back. We continue to search in the woods, we continue to smell her faded scent in one area, but it’s dwindling fast and if we don’t get a lead soon, I’m afraid of the outcome.
“We have to bring Lennon in for questioning. It’s too much of a coincidence that her scent is strongest closet to the threshold of his property.” I cringe to even consider she went anywhere near his cabin.
“I can’t argue with you on that – Jer. But, come on Des is too smart to mess with that creep. You know all those concerns we raised with our fathers over him, but the old farts in the counsel have refused to rid us of him.” RJ shook his head, refusing to believe his baby sister would entangle herself with him.
“RJ is right – man. You know Des. We’ve all warned her to stay away from that corrupt charlatan.”
Turning around – looking at pictures from the past in frames on my wall and credenza, my shoulders slump and the bridge of my nose begins to ache. Crow is making his presence known. He wants to find an excuse to bring Lennon in and rip him limb from limb. I just want my Desi back – unharmed in my arms and in her mother’s house.
The night he rejected her; I was fuming. There was no doubt that I was consumed with was rage. When I saw him, I kicked his ass first and asked questions much later. I didn’t speak to him after I broke four ribs, broke his jaw, and damaged his ear drum. Lucky for him, we heal fast.
Just when we were ending the search for the day, I got an actual phone call. Hunters were in the areas surrounding Lennon Merrick’s cabin. He lives near the banks of the creek for a water source since he uses it as a conduit for spiritual connections. The hunters found a body resting on the banks of the slow-moving creek.
I mind-link with Pearl and Tanner. Although I am apprehensive to include him in my efforts to find her, he’s still my Beta and as such, his role is needed in this capacity – my back up.
In a blink of an eye, Tanner showed up and shifted - running in the direction of Lennon’s property. Pearl was by my side right as Tanner blew past. We both hasten chase – trying to get Wren to pull back and calm down, to let Tanner have control. Crow demanding, he stopped and waited for us to prepare transport if it was indeed our Desi. But, of course like typical Tanner/Wren, he ignored me.
Three weeks after I knocked him around, Tanner informed me of his reasons for his rejection and I just couldn’t believe it.
“Believe what you want about your sweet and innocent – pure as the driven snow Desdemona, Alpha. But I know what I saw. If I didn’t think what Meri said was true, I wouldn’t have rejected her.”
“That’s right Tanner I don’t believe any of it. I refuse to rely on the word of a known mate rejecting, manipulating, clan whore that our Desi, that we have known all our lives – since she was in diapers was…” I gagged at the word – was. “I meant is a bully, cheating, disloyal, status hungry clan whore. And for you to immediately take the side of your chosen mate over your true mate is despicable.”
Everything he was trying to pass off as who she was - was not my, our Desi. She was a brilliant lycan, a powerful warrior, a genius with an IQ of 145, she was raised better than what Tanner was told and for him to believe the ranting’s of an obviously jealous she-lycan was appalling. So, I forced him to partake in every search, every nighttime pursuit. I didn’t care what his chosen mate thought.
As we reached the clearing, we both nearly slammed into Cameron. His face, his entire body was shaking as he tried to speak. Tanner glowered, looking around him when Cameron touched him.
“You should wait here,” he said, trying to sound fierce. Tanner stared at his hand, then at Cameron. Before he could say or do something he might regret, Cameron backed away so I could be the first to observe the scene.
While also my Omega advisor, Cameron was a brilliant police officer and had secured the scene-- barring even Lennon, who had been bequeathed the land, from stepping near the cordoned off area.
RJ and Jensen arrived as well, Pearl in tow. Cameron did not move from where he stood, blocking Tanner, but turned his head to address the two. His eyes softened when he saw Pearl.
“What happened? Did you find her?” Pearl asked, voice quivering with emotion. Before Cameron could say anything, the wind shifted. The blanket that had been covering the corpse flew up, revealing a slowly decomposing female body. Both Crow and Wren began to scream and howl inside my head as the scent of rotten flesh combined with a scent I had known since childhood—marshmallow and fresca. The night under the stars of our first kiss on her sixteenth birthday.
When it was just her and I, wrapped in a blanket in our special place, with the moon lighting the forest, the crackling of the campfire – the glow on her skin, and the sweet crisp scent of pillowy marshmallows and fresh fallen snow. That’s when I knew, she was my mate – too.
The impression of where we all gathered stirred me back to reality. I knew...we knew...we all knew...oh goddess...
My body began to tremble as I slowly turned, knowing the scent had hit them all. Cameron and I exchanged a look and he looked away quickly, shaking and trying to keep him and his beast from breaking out in sobs. The moment her brothers caught the stench of death they lost it-- faces paling, eyes widening before turning and vomiting, the bile in the pits of their stomach rising from the depths and hitting the soil faster than a doe could outrun an arrow.
Using my Alpha voice, I commanded, “Someone cover her up, NOW.” The other officers- human and Omega Lycans -did my bidding, covering the body instantly. But it was too late...Pearl had seen her body. Without preamble she began to scream.
Cameron moved then, grabbing Pearl as she began to fall to the earth, sobbing and screaming in denial. Soon Jensen and RJ were there, consoling their family and crying, unable to hold back anymore. And then there was Tanner-- standing alone, away from everyone with a dumb, blank expression. Anger seared through my being, Crow growling and howling inside-- begging to be unleashed. I shifted, ready to let him out to play-- make Tanner and Wren pay for the shit and harm they had done, to rip Merigold Newton limb from limb.
But when he looked up at me, I saw it-- the denial, the devastation, the horror. Both Crow and I felt ourselves calm, our anger fading away for now. Though we had not made our intentions known or our feelings to anyone else, we knew he could understand better than anyone the loss. And it was all his fault-- her devastation, her ruin, her death. NO, Crow snarled-- our bloodlust rising along with his. I stared at Tanner and took a sniff. I could smell him, his emotions, as well as the slight wreak of rotting flesh-- Merigold. The true culprit…
The Whore is at the heart of this treachery...but why? Status cannot be everything, Crow mused thoughtfully. I frowned, listening to his words that rang true as a silver bullet.
Tanner tried to contain the devastation, but I saw in his eyes, he needed a moment to himself. As he stepped off to the side, he placed his arm on the bark of an old oak and laid his forehead in defeat on his forearm. I don’t think I was the only one who could hear his desperate weeping. Standing tall, I slowly began to approach him.
As I approached Tanner, his demeanor was indescribable - heart breaking. But Wren, his beast...oh, he was fearsome, detached, and unhinged. Though trembling and saddened, Tanner’s body was his but his eyes-- they were no longer golden hazel as autumn leaves but black as pitch upon Devil’s Night or Samhain.
I stilled, standing but perhaps a yard from my former best friend and Beta. Wren allowed Tanner to shift back into his human form, but still at the surface. “Wren, I demand you loosen your hold on Tanner. Give him control of his body, now!” I practically growled.
His head snapped at me, snarling as his face contorted with flared nostrils and elongated teeth. “Why, so he can screw this up too! If I had full control, he wouldn’t have lost our mate! He’s weak, Alpha. Our mate is dead because of him.”
I nearly flinched, surprised, and taken back by his reaction. I stared at him, watching as Wren seethed and stared at me. Tanner’s voice was deep and raspy in his human form. That’s what most women liked about him, but when Wren took control and his voice resonated with anger it was a whole ’nother level of scary. He one time made someone’s ears bleed because he used such power in his voice. Being a descendant of an Alpha bloodline did have some perks but that was one of the most frightening.
Taking a deep breath, I placed my hand on his shoulder, which momentarily caused him to tense. Wren left, allowing Tanner to return to himself. He sighed, slumping forward and into me. I caught him and gently helped him stand up right. He saw the Nolan’s and Cameron, huddled together and crying together. He took a small step forward.
“Don’t,” I ordered, though not putting my Alpha tone into my words. He stared at me, eyebrows slashing down as his mouth twisted in preparation of telling me to go fuck myself or something more but I stopped him.
“Your condolences would not be welcome right now, especially as you no longer have a claim to Desi. Go run it off-- I will make arrangements for the family and Desi’s body being removed.” I said, reminding him of his hand in this. Tanner’s head jerked up, his eyes meeting mine as his mouth hung open yet no words came. But he took off, running and leaving. I hoped for his sake that he went somewhere-- anywhere --but home or near Merigold. As he left, Jensen and RJ just nodded toward their dejected Beta.
Lay our angel to rest – a week after a body is recovered
It has been only a week since we discovered Desi’s body by Lennon’s land. Jerry silently carried on an investigation but came up with nothing. Lennon’s home was spotless, even his truck was missing-- “sold,” he said. Even had the papers to prove it. To some chick named Delta Rose Carter-- what a stupid ass name.
Despite Lennon’s disappearance, Jerry helped Pearl in tracking down another Druid priest who was familiar with our culture, as both Irish travelers and Lycans, who would be comfortable performing the ceremony. He even made allowances for Pearl’s Catholic background as well-- asking an open-minded Catholic priest at a nearby parish to say a few words and offer blessings for Desi’s soul to pass over to Ambient. Pearl was born human Irish Catholic and Roland, Sr. was a traditional Irish Traveler with ties in Scotland too, plus ancestors were druids. Her funeral will have all the elements of our clans’ customs.
I look at myself in the mirror of my hotel room, trying to make myself look presentable. Today we lay to rest my ex-mate - my true mate - my true love forever. As I straighten my tie, reflecting on my choice of grey pinstripe suit, I hear Wren scowls inside my head at my posturing. I sigh, steeling myself for what is coming.
Your fault, your fault- you’re doing, her blood on your hands, Wren constantly huffed and snarled, spitting my hand in her death back in my face. Though for the past two days he has been silent-- still seething, but silent. Because I locked myself away-- not even telling my parents or Jerry where I am, mostly because it will keep Merigold away from me. She has been texting and hounding me all week, threatening to track me down...but she won’t. I ordered her parents to keep her at home all week as Jerry and the Clan prepared for today, Desi’s day of being laid to rest.
I made the mistake of going home that day, Meri waiting for me, an over eager expression on her face. She ran down to meet me, it was almost comforting...then she opened her mouth and shattered the illusion.
“Is the slut dead? Did you find her-- how did she die? Was she r--?”
It was all I could do to not slug her or, with the way my body reacted to her, fuck her senseless there-- in broad daylight, on my own front lawn. Instead, I somehow managed to be tight lipped-- silent, moving fast, packing, and leaving before she could snatch me and give me conciliatory or triumphant sex.
As I figured, the only person who didn’t blame me was Meri. No, she didn’t blame me, she blamed Desi for being weak and feeling guilty for being a slut. Every time she bad mouthed Desi, Wren would disappear in the recesses of my mind a little more.
“Shut the fuck up – Meri!” I barked like a rabid dog. I wanted to snap her head off.
“What did you just say to me?” Her beast snarled. Her hand is cocked back, ready to take a swing at me – out in the open – aimed to release a handprint on my face.
“Are you insane? Raising a hand at me! Who the fuck do you think you’re pointing that rage to?” I intercept her hand, clutching her manicured digits tightly in the palm of my hand. We glared at one another for what seemed like a lifetime, too long if you asked me. So, I shucked her hand away from me. “You are nothing to me! You do not get to say anything vile against my true mate – ever again. As far as I am concerned – we are done, Merigold!”
I will not have her memory of who she was-- who she really was, to me and to this clan --tarnished further by her antics and whoremongering. Little good it has done me, though, as my efforts have gone unnoticed.
As I drove towards the Nolan Ranch, I wondered how the funeral would play out. Would RJ and Jensen recognize me as their Beta and old friend? As I parked with the others and strode towards the house, my ears picked up whispers and slander on the wind-- all directed at me.
“What the hell is he--?”
“Some nerve to be here. Beta or not, he--”
“--is the reason for her”
“Dead. All because of him.”
“Wrong with that boy. Had I been younger and unmated--”
“--a good girl. Poor Pearl. All alone now, save the boys.”
Attending the funeral had more to do with clan solidarity and appearances than my being wanted or truly needed. I was not asked to be a pallbearer. Just when I thought I was granted their forgiveness for rejecting her and choosing Meri as my mate - RJ’s ex, I was wrong. The family blocked me out-- silently blaming me for her death. At first, it was unfair and unusually cruel as I had loved-- used to love, loved --Desi, but in the end I couldn’t fault them for feeling that way.
They began the march to the pack house for viewing with Amazing Grace on the bagpipes. No words spoken, just silent goodbyes, tears, and prayers to the Gods, Moon Goddess, and her mothers’ God.
I found my parents in the crowd and even though they were disappointed in me, they still wanted me by them at the service. I stood between my mother and father. Both looked so lost. My mother loved Desi like she were her own child. We lost my youngest sibling – a girl when my mother delivered her, a still born. So, my mother latched on to Desi as a surrogate daughter. My father was her godfather, he felt the loss just as my mother did.
I chose not to step forward and look upon her. They did their best to prepare her for viewing, but she would never look how I wanted to remember her. Her friends were there, the four of them, all holding hands as they laid her favorite flowers in the casket with her – hydrangeas.
My eyes carried me to the forlorn face of Pearl Patchett. Poor Pearl – first her mate General Roland, now her child. Her baby girl. She shielded her grief behind a pillbox hat and black laced screen – wept as she clutched her rosary. RJ and Jensen continued to burn metal pokers in the back of my head. Their beasts wanting to disembowel me – in front of all the mourners. I held no animosity, I deserved all of it. All the anger, all the hate, and all the guilt. I had an enormous amount of guilt caving in on me.
The entire clan felt my rejection and her acceptance. They loved her and was mourning the loss of a family member. Especially the children of the pack, she loved all of them and was active in their care and education, volunteering her time to the schools. Our community was a near utopian society and it was partial thanks to her. And even with all of this, I still rejected her.
After the viewing portion, the march lead by the musicians and carried by the chosen males, brought her to her final resting spot, the family mausoleum in her and her father’s favorite clearing deep in the forest. It was lush land, green and pure, the smell of wet leaves and the chirping of birds, the sound of the rushing stream where she loved to fish was the ideal spot. The sunlight greeted us through the canopy of trees as the musicians played her favorite Scottish folk song.
The family got to make their speeches-- there wasn’t a dry eye in the room while Pearl sobbed her way through her speech, not even mine. While I tried to appear stoic, I could not let them think I felt nothing, yet the looks I was given…it was as though they wished I were the one dead.
As Jerry approached the podium, he tried to adjust his facial features- calm, composed, stoic as a stone. But he could not hide from me-- we were friends before being a Beta and Alpha, respectively. I could see, plain as day, how Desi’s passing had affected him. His eyes were puffy and bloodshot-- without a word I pulled out a pair of sunglasses I kept in my pocket. No words exchanged, he took them and stood up at the front, his eyes hidden and framed by darkly tinted sunglasses.
Jeremiah cleared his throat before he spoke. As soon as he opened his mouth, the music stopped and the mass of grievers became silent.
“What do I say about my best friend? How do I say goodbye to my…”? His voice boomed, only halting as he tried to form his words. I studied him, taking in his stance. He looked lost, off kilter. For a moment, I thought he might almost lose his balance. Clearing his throat, he tried again.
“How do we say goodbye to the beating of our hearts, the reason we are all better people and lycans is because of the woman lying in that casket, too young to be put in the ground?” He looked straight at me as he spoke those words.
“Ever since we were babies, we couldn’t be separated. When she was brought home from the hospital, her parents moved them into the pack house. And our parents knew right off the bat we had a deep seeded connection, so much so they had to move her crib into my room.” His face grinned at that memory.
I could not help but smile, remembering this as though it was yesterday. I have to admit; I was jealous of their bond. I swear it ran deeper than just “best friends.” I glance over at Pearl and she has a small smile on my face but when she notices me looking at her, her face closed up and she turned to listen to Jerry.
“I still recall her getting up in the middle of the night and instead of waking her parents, at three years old I would grab the bottle of milk and climb into her toddler bed to feed her. Then, I’d hold her like a doll and hum her back to sleep.” Jeremiah continued, voice wavering only slightly now.
“As we got older, I could tell that our connection was wearing on her. She began to act differently, her smell matured, and her mate call wasn’t developing. I thought it was strange, but I didn’t want to confront her, because I know she wanted so much more for herself. Desi was determined, smart, and strong willed-- nothing was going to stop her. It was always hard to tie that girl down. You can’t keep down a person with a higher IQ than your own submissive.”
At this, a few of the older Lycans chuckled--especially the men. Jerry continued speaking, the clan in rapt attention at his every word.
“Some of you might not know this, but Desi wanted to go to MIT, but she knew she couldn’t be that far from her clan, so she decided to compromise and attend Oswego in the fall. We were so proud of her. She wanted to be an archeologist and not only learn about ancient human civilizations, but she wanted to learn and discover things about ancient lycanthrope clans--perhaps discover our purpose for being here.”
For a moment, Jerry paused-- his face staring at the podium. For a moment, no one stirred or said anything--waiting. Looking up, he removed his glasses and stared at the crowd, his eyes finding me and pinning me to my chair. His eyes were shining bright, filled with unshed tears and emotions so potent I thought for a moment that Crow and not Jerry was in control. Finally, he spoke- his voice raw and filled with sorrow and regret.
“I now understand my feelings for her. I was going to tell her that night, but it was taken from me, she was taken from me.” He whispered that last sentence as his eyes again met mine, the anger roiling off him in waves. I whimpered at his animosity towards me, looking down at my hands when I caught his next words.
“Rest with the Gods of your father, rest with the Goddess my…our Desdemona.”
My head snapped up, meeting his eyes that were now not only angry but anguished that burned into my soul. An anguish I recognized, felt as keenly as my own...because it was my own. As was Desi.
My mate, he mind linked me, his voice inside barely a whisper in my head - yet with the force like a bullet to the skull. I slumped in my seat, recalling every interaction we had had together, leading up to my betrayal and now, Desi’s disappearance and death.
Mate...Jerry’s mate. No that...it’s not possible. I thought and I froze, my skin prickling. Wren stirred inside me, his voice rough and reproachful, It has happened before, yet never like this.
I pondered his revelation as he stepped down from the podium and stood next to his parents and Pearl as the Priest led us in a few prayers for her mother. I noticed his focus turned to me as he growled under his breath. I looked away, unable to help but look somewhat jealously at how he held Pearl as she collapsed in his arms. He held her up as we all filed out of the burial place. And as the crowd dispersed, the musicians played their final resting song.
I stayed behind to say my own goodbyes. No one bothered to talk with me or ask what I was doing, though I heard a few sniffs and snickers, deriding my presence as well as my attempts to assuage any guilt. When all was silent, when I was alone, I finally spoke.
“I don’t know what to say. And yes, I know I had a lot to say that night,” I said slowly, admitting my hand in this- my role to play.
“I know why I made the decision I made, but now I don’t know if I honestly believed it. So thoughtless and destructive-- I jumped before the cart and look where it got me…look where it got you,” I said softly, my voice fading to a choked whisper, “mated to a lowlife like me--in an ornately carved cherry wood casket, at the age of eighteen. I took your life from you.”
My claws digging into my hand, I blessed the earth with my blood, sending her on her way to the heavens as I vowed, “I’m going to make this right, Desi - my mate - my true mate - my true and only love. I’ll never love anyone the way I loved you. I know it didn’t seem that way-- I realize I didn’t show it but let me show it now. I’ll clear your name. It’ll be made right. Please Goddess, show me the way.”
Suddenly, I heard a cracking of leaves and twigs rustling behind me but as I turned around to see who was there, I was alone as I howled in agony of my hell.
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