“Elle!” My uncles voice calls out as soon as I step inside. As Phoenix steps inside my aunt and uncle’s eyes grow wide. Alex tries to hide his obvious smile by rolling his lips into his mouth. He stands quickly drawing everyone’s attention, “I’m going to let you all talk privately, I’ll be outside.”
I don’t miss an almost imperceptible nod between Phoenix and Alex as he makes his way past us and out the door. I’ll have to remember to ask one of them about that later.
“Umm, Elle?” My aunt almost whispers, “you brought royalty home?”
“Uh, yeah, sorry. This is Phoenix ....the...prince?” I stutter out like I’m asking them who he is.
Phoenix chuckles beside me, clearly not nervous or worried at all. He steps forward, extending his hand, “I’m Phoenix . It’s nice to meet you.”
My uncle stares at his outstretched hand like it’s a two headed snake. My aunt quickly leans forward, taking his hand in both of hers, “Your Majesty” she says with a bowed head.
“Please, call me Phoenix. We’re family now.”
My uncle lets out a heaving choked cough.
“Um, we’re... Phoenix and I are...”
“We’re getting married,” Phoenix explains, putting an end to my stuttering, babbel.
“Married?” My aunt whispers. She looks at her uniform, then back up to Phoenix . I can see her mind exploding. This is too much to take in so unexpectedly. Last they knew I was going to spend some time with the prince because Alpha Orin thought it was a good idea. I never mentioned how deeply I felt for him or how connected my wolf felt to him.
“Yes,” Phoenix says calmly but with a distinct authority.
He isn’t asking permission, he is telling them. It makes my heart flutter. Even if they tried to fight him on this his tone makes it crystal clear, he won’t be backing down.
“You’re marrying my niece?” My uncle finally finds his voice, “You’re the Prince, you’re a vampire.”
Phoenix nods but doesn’t speak. I have never seen my uncle so un-opinionated and quiet. He’s being uncharacteristically calm.
“My niece is going to be the Queen?” He questions and I can see the wheels turning in his head, he’s working out all the ways he can use this to the advantage of the resistance.
Of course the thought crossed my mind, the idea that our relationship can be used to help my people but anger swells inside of me. Once again, as usual, I don’t matter here. He doesn’t look concerned with whether or not I am happy or comfortable with this. I am ecstatic, I am marrying the single greatest person I’ve ever met but he doesn’t know that, and it would appear that he doesn’t care. The way we survive is group before self, always, but it would be nice if he cared about me, too.
I feel Phoenix tense beside me, he knows I’m upset. He can sense it somehow and, equally mystifying, I can sense that he can sense it.
“I love her, very much,” Phoenix tells them and my anger melts away. He sees me, he cares about me and he wants me, not for any reason other than love.
“She is beloved to me, the life and light to my dead heart.”
I cringe, never having heard him speak about himself like that before.
“Phoenix...” I whisper as I intertwine our hands together. I focus all of my love, all of my admiration and fondness into my hand, hoping that it will flow from me to him through our unspoken connection. He lets out a relieved sigh and I know it’s working. When I look at him he’s already looking down at me, a heart stopping smile on his perfect face. He squeezes my hand in his.
My uncle awkwardly clears his throat. Oh yeah, we aren’t alone. I blush and Phoenix chuckles.
“Your niece will be Queen. I’m sure you can appreciate that this is a bit of an intense situation. My kind are not known for their open arms, welcoming nature. I want to introduce her to the Kingdom tomorrow. People will be growing restless without answers, soon. I was supposed to pick a wife at a gala last night, they won’t wait long to question why I never showed up. I would invite you but for obvious reasons I think it would be better, for your safety, if you don’t attend. I apologize for keeping you from such a monumental event but we need to consider who else will be in attendance.”
My aunt and uncle nod in agreement.
Phoenix continues, “I also understand that this is new to you and moving quickly but I am going to have to insist that Ellie stay with me, starting now. I won’t be able to handle not having her near, I need to be able to protect her.”
My aunt nods again, while my uncle pulls his lips into a tight line. I can see that he wants to push back on that but wisely, decides against it.
“Can we speak to her for a moment? Privately?” My aunt asks.
“Of course, I’ll be outside.” He pulls me gently to him, kissing me lightly before whispering “come get me if you need me.”
I nod and watch him walk out the door. I know he will be outside but the thought of not having him next to me makes me nauseous.
“Elle!” My aunt squeals “he is over the moon in love with you!”
I can’t hide the smile and blush that rush to my face.
“It’s mutual by the looks of it,” my uncle sits at the kitchen table, “How does your wolf feel about him?” He asks, his face serious.
My aunt gasps and turns, waiting for my answer.
“I-I... I mean... I feel... I can’t even describe it. I trusted him immediately even though I tried to fight it. It’s like... I don’t know I feel uneasy right now because he isn’t right beside me, even though I know he’s just outside. He makes me feel... pick an adjective, really. I’m calm, peaceful, alive, open, seen... I feel everything. I didn’t know it was possible to feel like this, so completely connected to someone. It’s weird, it’s like we can sense each other.”
“Like there is a... bond between you?” My aunt asks with a huge grin on her face.
“Yeah, like there is a bond between us.”
“He’s your mate, Elle.” She says quietly.
“It’s a part of our culture that we don’t speak about anymore. It caused too much pain.” My uncle grits through his teeth. “Sit, Elle, I need to explain this to you.” He notices my anxious glance toward the door, “I’ll be quick, sit.”
“You know that wolves are the children of the moon. That we were created and loved, immortal and gifted with beauty, strength and a deep connection to the earth. We were also gifted a mate. Our souls are tied to another. Mates are considered sacred, one soul in two bodies. The bond is limitless, deeper than love or desire it is a ceaseless need for one another. Your soul and his are one, you can’t live without eachother once you meet.”
My mouth hangs open, I can’t believe they never told me about this before.
“We stopped teaching this part of our history because we can no longer feel our mates. Once we are collared we can’t feel the bond. No one wanted to get married for fear that their chosen partner was not their true mate. There were a lot of broken hearts for a long time.”
I wipe the tears streaming down my cheeks. “How awful.”
“While we obviously want to free our people from oppression and abuse, there is concern among the leaders that if we are ever able to remove the collars...” my uncles voice trails off.
“That a lot of marriages will split up because people will find their true mates...” I whisper in shock.
“It will rip families apart...” my aunt wipes a tear from her eye.
We all sit quietly, sadness etched on each of our faces. I want to ask if my aunt and uncle are mates, if my parents were, but I can’t hurt them like that.
“How did it work? Finding your mate. I mean.”
“All it took was one glance,” my uncle smiles, “usually it happened around thirty, when a wolf stops aging but it was known to happen younger.”
“What about... wolves and vampires or wolves and humans?”
“It was more rare but it did happen,” my aunt said with a small smile “vampires have a similar connection...”
“Beloved..” we all say together.
My aunt and uncle look surprised and I smile down at my lap, my cheeks heating under their stares.
“Has the Prince told you about this?”
“He has... he... I’m his. I am his most beloved.”
“Well, that’s... I guess he really is your mate then,” my uncle shakes his head in disbelief.
A light tap on the door stops our conversation. I stand and pull my uncle into a hug as my aunt answers the door.
“Alpha Alex told me not to tell him about my wolf yet,” I whisper to him quickly before turning to see Phoenix standing in the doorway.
“I’m sorry, love but, we have to go. Right now.”
My wolf whimpers, something’s wrong.
We quickly say our goodbyes and rush out the door. Alex is standing in front of the trolley, talking to Sloane. They’re faces set in deep scowls.
“We’ll be in touch,” Phoenix tells him as we slide into our seats.
He nods, turning on his heels, walking up the steps, going back into the house.
Sloane speeds down the small, bumpy road. The closer we get to the castle wall the more dread and anxiety build in my stomach. My throat feels tight, I’m panicking and I don’t know why. Phoenix is holding my hand tightly to his chest, his leg is nervously bouncing up and down.
“Phoenix ?” My voice is small, panicked, “what happened?”
“While you were inside... a guard came. It’s my mother.”
Tears drip onto my shirt, I don’t know what happened but I know it’s bad, I can feel it. My wolf is pacing circles in my brain.
“She’s dead,” he whispers.