Ember found Emerson by himself, playing a solitaire game and growling lightly in the family room.
“Where’s the little woman?” Ember asked him, her voice shaking slightly with nerves. She shuffled a bit from foot to foot nervously in the doorway because she hadn’t started a conversation with him willingly in quite some time. She wasn’t sure how he would react.
Emerson looked up, answering, “She went to some shopping thing with her mom and her aunt. She mentioned to Dad about you going, but he said you had other plans.”
“Yeah… um… Why didn’t you go?” Ember asked as she slowly walked into the room.
Emerson snorted as he went back to his game. “Like I want to go shopping with a bunch of women.”
Ember nodded and sat down on the edge of the couch. Biting her lip, she nervously began making circles on her knee with her forefinger.
“Why are you talking to me anyway? Did Mom force you to come and speak to me?” Emerson asked, not looking at her.
Ember softly huffed before mumbling, “Not exactly. Well, sort of, I guess. Mom started talking about protection, and I ran.”
Suddenly Emerson had Ember by the shoulders and was practically nosed to nose with her. His eyes were glowing as he growled low.
“Emerson, stop, that hurts!” Ember whined as she struggled to get loose.
“Why do you need protection? Who do you need it from? Tell me, right now, Ember,” Emerson demanded in a growling shout.
Emerson sounded angry, and his wolf was showing in his voice and his glowing eyes. Ember didn’t understand why, though. What had she done to make him angry? She pulled back as far as she could as he continued to snarl.
“Tell me, Ember,” Emerson repeated. “Who is trying to hurt you that you need protection from?”
Frowning, Ember realized he’d misunderstood. She began to shake her head vigorously. “No, not… ugh… Emerson!”
Ember felt her face once more heat and let her head flop forward to lean onto his shoulder. Once there, she breathed in his familiar scent and relaxed, realizing how much she had missed him.
“I miss you, bubba. I miss us,” Ember whispered. “I should have come and talked to you instead of letting it fester and destroy our bond.”
Emerson sighed. Then he wrapped his arms around her and leaned back against the couch with her.
They sat there silently for a long time before he spoke. “I knew when I did it, it wasn’t right, but still, I did it. I called myself protecting you. I knew you and Ryder were always close, and that day I watched your eyes follow him everywhere. We were sixteen, Ember! Our mates could have been right around the corner, and I feared you would be so busy watching Ryder you’d miss seeing you mate.” He sighed heavily, “You were so close to him that I was afraid you’d be torn between him and your mate.
“So, you thought you’d help by running him off?”
“Yeah,” Emerson agreed in a sad tone. “I’m sorry, Ember. By the time I realized how wrong I was, you refused to talk to me.”
“I was so hurt, Emerson. I don’t make friends easily as you do, and Ryker was my best friend. If you had come and told me your concerns…”
“What? What would you have done?” Emerson asked as he looked at her.
“I’d have told you that yes, I did have a crush on him, but I knew acting on it could hurt us both,” Ember answered. “That’s why I never did.”
Emerson gave her a solemn look. “Are you sure you could have done that? Because when I saw the two of you, you both looked… content, almost as if you were a mated couple. It worried me, Ember, and all I want is what is best for you.”
“There was something different that day, but I never could put my finger on what it was. So, I chalked it up to getting my wolf and hoping I’d find my mate.”
“And Ryker?” Emerson asked.
Ember shrugged. “Ryker seemed the same, my friend, nothing more.”
Emerson gave her a sheepish nod. “Okay, well, maybe I jumped the gun a bit and…”
“Maybe?” Ember skeptically asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
“Okay, okay, I did jump the gun.”
“Yeah, you did, but I still love you, bubba,” Ember told him. “I’m sorry it took me so long to remember that.”
Emerson pulled her close again. “I love you too. Now, tell me who you need protection from.”
Ember groaned again. She had been hoping Emerson had forgotten about that. “I don’t need protection from someone, bubba. Mom wants me to take protection for someone.”
“Not from… but for someone?” Emerson muttered; his eyes narrowed in thought. Suddenly they widened. “Oh!”
“Yeah. Dad’s taking me out tonight to see if my mate is Pack,” Ember stated.
“Yes, I am, so let’s go.”
Turning, they found their dad leaned up in the doorway with a big smile.
“I’m glad to see you two acting like brother and sister again instead of mortal enemies,” Dad commented.
Ember looked at her brother and smiled. “Yeah, me too.” Then she stood and took her backpack from Dad that he was holding.
“Good hunting, Ember,” Emerson softly said.
“Thanks,” Ember said before following her dad to the door.
Then the two of them headed out together. When they arrived on Oliver Road, Dad pulled over and cut the engine, saying, “Okay, Ember, here’s what you’re going to do. First, shift. Next, close your eyes and let your wolf rise completely, allowing her to take over. She’ll be able to find your mate faster than you will.”
“What if he has no wolf?” Ember asked.
“It doesn’t matter. If your mate is here, your wolf will find him. I don’t know how it works; I just know that it does,” Dad explained.
“Let’s do this then,” Ember said as she stepped out of the car and closed the door. After quickly stripping, she shifted.
When she was finished, her dad got out of the car and put her clothes in her bag. Then he helped her put it on her wolf’s back.
“Now, remember, Ember, you have to let your wolf have total control for this to work,” Dad reminded her yet again. Then giving her one last pat, he stepped back.
Ember moved a bit away from the car to stand. Lifting her snout to the sky, she breathed deeply as her eyes closed. She let herself fall back as her wolf moved forward. Taking in another lung full of the night air, Ember felt her she-wolf take complete control.