Chapter 7 - Possessive
An old anger that I had become well acquainted with burned afresh through my blood as Pala told me about the man she saw in the Look-Through. After they betrayed and left me, I had made it clear that they were not welcome anywhere near Awenasa. Mariana and Louka were testing those boundaries. They wanted to see if they could get away with sending one of their own spies to an event that they knew I would be watching. There was no other explanation for what Pala saw.
I would show them that I was not weak. I would finally demand the respect that they are so unwilling to give me.
It was time to show them what they had reduced me to.
It had been late when I finally returned to the rent house with Sean and Mathis. The guys all wanted me to stay at the clan house but I needed to check on Jack and Amy. Amy was already asleep when I got home, but Jack and I sat and talked about how she was doing before we both decided to get some sleep. I thought that I was going to have trouble falling asleep because I had more than a million things on my mind, but the moment my head hit the pillow pure exhaustion took over.
Unfortunately, being exhausted didn’t stop the nightmares. Images of Alexei’s head sliding off his shoulders and echoes of Derik’s harsh words morphed into a horrific scene that jolted me from sleep. It took me several minutes of searching my empty room to realize that I was looking for the twins. This was the first night since the attack that they hadn’t spent the night with me. That realization left me cold and shaking, and I didn’t completely understand why. I had spent the last three years completely alone, I knew I was strong enough to sleep alone. But no matter how much I rationalized what I was feeling, I couldn’t overcome the empty feeling in my heart.
After an hour of trying everything I could think of to calm my out-of-control nerves, I finally broke down and called Max. I know that it was the twins that usually consoled me at night, but Max always knew exactly what I needed to feel better. He answered the phone on the first ring and didn’t sound sleepy like I expected. I glanced at the clock on my bedside table and saw that it was just after four in the morning.
“Ray? Are you okay?” Max immediately asked and just hearing his voice settled my heartbeat.
“No,” I admitted because I was tired of trying to be strong. “I think coming home alone was a mistake. I know it is in the middle of the night, but can you come over?”
“Of course. We will be there in ten minutes,” Max said, sounding relieved for some reason.
“We?” I asked in a small voice.
“The twins came into my room when they couldn’t sleep. I told you, Valkyries are social people. We need our clan to be close to us, especially in troubling times. We will all feel better soon. We are on our way,” Max said and I could hear noises in the background before the call disconnected. I crawled out of bed and waited for them in the living room. Eight long minutes later I saw their car pull up and got up to open the door. Blake was the first one to reach me and he barely slowed down as he crashed into me and wrapped his arms around me.
“I think we need to move in,” Blake said in a deadly serious voice while I let the feeling of being in Blake’s embrace chase away all of my anxiety and fear.
“That’s not a bad idea,” I heard Connor grumble from behind Blake and I moved to give him a hug too. Before I really knew what was happening, Connor had me up and in his arms and he was walking up to my bedroom. He placed me on the edge of the bed and I looked over to see Max had dark circles under his eye.
“I should have just let you sleep,” I said as I got up and traced a finger along with the delicate and darkened skin.
“We weren’t sleeping either,” Max said in a soft voice and cupped the side of my face. “We couldn’t sleep away from you. I know this isn’t a strictly reasonable request, but after everything that happened this past week would it be okay if we stayed over with you at night?”
So Blake hadn’t been joking about the moving-in comment. But the four of us couldn’t share this one room and I didn’t want to pull the Three Musketeers away from Elijah and Derik. I also didn’t think I could just abandon Jack and Amy.
“It’s too late to be talking about this. We have all been up too long. Let’s just lay down and get as much sleep as we can before we have to wake up to go to Regina’s stupid Matching,” Connor growled and picked me back up. He was no longer wearing shoes and sat down on the left side of the bed with me in his lap. He scooted to the middle of the bed and then laid down with me still on top of him. Blake crawled into our left and Max moved to lay down to our right, leaving no actual mattress space for me. Connor reached up and gently pulled me down to his chest until I was lying completely on top of him.
I laid on top of Connor as stiff as a board for a second because this felt a lot more intimate than the other times that we had cuddled. But after a few moments of hearing their soft breathing, I was able to relax. What felt like minutes later, my alarm was blaring and waking me up from a peaceful sleep that was free of nightmares. I took a deep breath that smelled of Connor and opened my eyes to see that Jack was leaning in the door frame, brushing his teeth and looking at me with raised eyebrows. Or rather, he was taking in the whole scene before him. I followed his gaze and saw that sometime during the night Max had lost his shirt and his lean but clearly defined chest was on full display.
Before I could rationally think through my actions, I jumped off of the bed and was standing between Jack and my Three Musketeers. Shields that Jack couldn’t see snapped into place around each of the guys and I narrowed my eyes at my best friend. I knew it wasn’t exactly rational, but I had found the last guy I had feelings for naked with Jack in a dirty auto shop office. I wasn’t quite sure what was developing between me and the guys, but I was one hundred percent sure that I was not okay with Jack ogling them while they slept.
Chuckling from behind me broke the moment and I tore my eyes away from Jack to see that Blake had a goofy smile on his lips and looked happier than I had seen him in days. That smile did a lot to heal my own heartache and I forced myself to drop my Shields. When I looked back at Jack I saw that his eyes kept jumping from the guys who were still on the bed and then back to me. I knew that he had questions and this wasn’t exactly normal, but I was so not in the mood to try to explain my bond with the guys right now. I slowly walked forward and Jack refocused on me. I must have not let go of all of my indignant possessiveness because he was quick to step away from me and out of the doorway. When I was close enough, I reached out and snapped the door shut in his face.
When I turned around Blake’s smile had only grown. “Awe Ray-Ray! I think I like you being all protective and possessive of us,” Blake said in a teasing tone and the full weight of what I had just done hit me. I had been inches away from calling a blade on Jack.
That was not okay. I really was starting to lose control.
And what right did I have to feel this way? I really didn’t have any right to be so jealous about the idea of Jack with one of the guys. I mean, I was honest enough with myself to realize that I had a crush. The problem was that I had more than one crush. I had no right to act this way when I felt so confused about what I was feeling. I felt my cheeks start to heat and I lowered my eyes to the carpeted floor in shame. What would Blake think if he knew that I had nearly jumped out of my skin because Jack had seen Max shirtless?
I was slowly sinking further into the depths of my confusion and shame when I felt warm fingertips touch my face and my chin was raised until I was looking directly into Blake’s electric green eyes. The playfulness from earlier was gone, replaced by a somber tenderness that I wasn’t used to seeing from Blake.
“Why do you look guilty right now? You did nothing wrong,” Blake stated in a quiet, steady voice filled with conviction.
I tried to look away from him, but he refused to let me run away from this. I had no idea how to express the multitude of emotions raging inside of me so instead I tried to show Blake exactly what I was feeling. I dropped all my walls and let him see the real me without any pretense of bravery or strength. I think that he was starting to understand because his grip on my chin increased until it was just shy of painful.
“I am so confused,” I admitted in a small voice. Blake finally let go of my chin and crushed me into his chest before winding his arms around me in a powerful hug.
“Baby, it is okay to feel confused. As long as you let yourself feel. Don’t bottle that shit up or push it away. Nothing that you feel is wrong or inappropriate, it is just going to take some time to adjust to. Just do me a favor okay?” Blake asked and waited for me to pull back and look at him again before continuing. “Don’t try to figure this shit out on your own. We are here for you and going through the exact same stuff. Talk to us. Come to us. We will always stand with you and be here for you. The only person that can keep us away is you.”
I narrowed my eyes at him and tried to understand if he was being serious. Because of my Truth Gift, I knew that he wasn’t lying, but I had a hard time believing that he knew what he was talking about. Because I was hella confused about having feelings for at least four people. One of which was him. I knew that he and Connor shared girls, but this was all new to me. I looked over at Max because as far as I knew, Max only ever dated one person at a time. That thought made me think of Annabel and I wondered if he was still seeing her. The very thought of another girl being with Max sparked that ever-present ember of anger within me. When had I become this jealous? When I first met the guys I didn’t feel this way when they were around other girls.
Max just looked back at me with understanding and something that looked a whole lot like hope. The look of hope cooled my anger and caused my blood to heat for a completely different reason. Oh boy, I was in so much trouble. And I so didn’t have time to figure this out right now. I had Royals to outmaneuver politically, Hidden to find, and Jack was probably standing right outside my bedroom door listening to everything we were saying.
Now was so not the time for this conversation.
I gave Blake one more hug to reassure him that I wasn’t completely blowing him off. I had heard what he had to say but I needed time to think about it before we continued down the road I think they were offering me. I walked straight into the bathroom and locked the door behind me. Running away from a problem wasn’t usually my style, but for the sake of my sanity, I really hoped that the guys gave me a little time to process everything. I mean I had just been completely burned by Jonas not even a week ago. My heart needed a little time to heal before jumping into the next possible relationship.
Now if only I really believed that. Because I was pretty sure that the feelings were already there and only growing stronger by the day.
I did exactly what Blake asked me not to and pushed everything I was feeling away and focused on getting ready for the day. After the whole Florence ordering me into an ill-fitting dress fiasco, I decided to wear a form-fitting dark maroon dress with long sleeves that Oswald had left in my closet. Luckily the skirt was long enough to hide the fact that I was wearing normal back tennis shoes because there was no way I was going into a potentially dangerous situation wearing heels. We had no idea how the Hidden were going to react and I wanted to be ready to run if I needed to.
When I got out of the shower my room was empty and I heard voices downstairs. Everyone including Derik, Elijah, Mathis, Sean, Jack, Amy, and the Three Musketeers were all standing about with mugs of coffee in their hands. When I asked if we were going to eat breakfast, Elijah told me that they were serving breakfast at the Palace this morning before the giving ceremonies started. When I just lifted an eyebrow in question he explained that today each royal line would present Regina with a gift to demonstrate their support of her upcoming rule.
Thank goodness Regina wouldn’t become queen for another fifteen years or so, because right now I am pretty sure the entire kingdom would implode if she tried to take over. I was mildly curious about what kind of things that other royals would gift Regina until I remembered that royals could and have asked for Shifter children in compensation. I really hope no one tried to give Regina a person today because I would totally lose my cool. And with the power surges to my Gifts that I have been experiencing, I don’t think losing my cool would be good for anyone involved. I was about to ask that question point-blank when I remembered that Jack and Amy were still in the room.
Keeping these two sides of my life separate was really starting to wear thin. I walked over to Amy and gave her a hug before walking them to the car that Max was letting them borrow. Today was the first day that Amy and Jack were going back to school after Amy’s overdose and I was worried. Skyline High was not a nice or friendly place and now I wouldn’t be there to protect them. After they pulled away from the curb I took a moment to text Luna and Chastity, asking them to keep an eye out for my protected. Both were quick to reply.
Chastity: Got you covered. No one will touch that beautiful girl under my watch! Go kick some stuck-up ass at the Matching.
Luna: The Pack and I always keep an eye out for them, but I will spread the word to pay extra attention today.
Luna: How are you? We haven’t talked much since the whole kidnapped thing.
Luna: I heard that you beheaded a king. Is that true?
Luna: Please tell me that is true. I want to be friends with the most awesome Val in existence.
Luna: P.S. Law is really interested in the answer to that question too and also wants to know how the Matching is going.
I smiled as text after text came through from Luna. She was in the local Shifter Pack and had come to my rescue after Madison had played a really nasty prank on me at school. Since then we have slowly been becoming friends. She had also been there to witness when I discovered Jack and Jonas and had been totally cool and supportive about it. It was nice to have a girl to talk to, especially now that I seemed to be completely surrounded by men twenty-four seven.
Elijah called that we needed to get going and I texted back both Luna and Chastity as we rode to the Palace. Once we passed through the gates and handed the keys to a valet, I pushed everyone except Derik and me into the void. Elijah had teamed up with Sean last night and they had assigned each pair to a different set of important royals to listen to throughout the day. My nerves jumped at the thought that one of the Hidden could be here right now and I itched to join the rest of my clan in the void to start searching for them. Instead, I just clutched my phone in my hand, refusing to put it down so that I didn’t miss any important texts for the guys.
I must have been lost in my thoughts because Derik cleared his throat and gestured inside while keeping a clear space between us. I hated that space and purposefully stepped into it causing our arms to brush up against each other. Derik flinched from the contact but I refused to let him get away with that. I looked at him straight in the eye and then intertwined my fingers with his. It wasn’t really him that attacked me and I hated that he still felt guilty. I understood it, but I hated it. I wasn’t going to let him pull away from me because of it. I needed him too much for that.
Derik gave me this small heartbreaking smile before tugging me towards the ballroom that was now filled with fancily decorated tables and people chatting over breakfast. As we walked through the doors there was a sudden hush followed by a ripple of whispers that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I hated being the center of attention like this. I swallowed down my sudden anxiety, tightened my grip on Derik’s hand, and then walked over to a person that I recognized and was okay with talking to at the moment.
Ethan looked a little surprised when we walked straight up to him, but graciously offered us the seats across from him and a cute blonde hair boy. As soon as Ethan started the introduction process to let me know that his name was Bradley Hughes, the boy in question jumped to his feet and stood as straight as a board while removing his hat. He then executed a polished bow and I heard the waves of whispers start up again. People were only supposed to bow to the ruling royalty for the Kingdom that they were in. I was most definitely not a part of the Collins’ Royal line and therefore he was making a huge faux pas that I was pretty sure he meant as a compliment.
“It is my absolute honor to make your acquaintance,” Bradley said in an honest-to-god British accent that I couldn’t not smile at. “Please don’t hesitate to call on me or any of my brothers for anything you might need. The Kingdom of England would be most willing to assist you in any way we are able.”
I tore my eyes away from the adorable man because I was starting to get distracted by his dimples and looked imploringly at Ethan. I raised my eyebrows at him silently asking if this Bradley character was for real right now. “You will have to excuse Brad. Both he and I are so far from the throne that we usually just get ignored by the princesses. He can get a little formal when he is excited,” Ethan said in a friendly tone and a tinge of pink started to stain Bradely’s cheeks. It was kind of cute.
“Ah, well I am not a princess,” I told Bradley while smiling kindly at him. “No need for formality here. Just treat me as you would anyone else.” Bradley looked completely taken aback and confused at the same time and Ethan started chuckling before turning his attention to me.
“You just disappeared yesterday. I was going to ask you to come with me to see that case of Dragon Warts. Although it really wasn’t that exciting. What did you end up doing,” Ethan asked while Bradley finally decided to sit down again.
“Oh, I helped Miku with the Siren that had enthralled the vampires at Solace,” I said distractedly while looking over at the huge buffet of food. It looked and smelled amazing.
“What?” Ethan hissed out in such a surprised tone that I looked back at him to see that the color was draining from his face. “You actually entered the same room as a disturbed Siren?”
I was a little taken aback by his attitude and gave him a hard look before slowly saying, “Yes. She needed my help, so did the vampires. It really wasn’t that big of a deal. I Cloaked the Siren and Connor Compelled the vampires to sleep until the enthrallment is broken. The whole thing didn’t take us more than a couple of hours.”
Ethan must have understood that I wasn’t happy with his reaction because he was quick to explain. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap at you. It’s just that Sirens are extremely dangerous. If one enthralled someone as powerful as you, they could use you to attack. A lot of people could be hurt that way. Something along those lines happened decades ago, and now as a rule we are taught to give Sirens a wide berth.”
I hadn’t even considered the possibility of me falling under Desi controlling me and my Gifts. I had mostly been worried about the guys being enthralled. I let out a deep breath and was just about to tell Ethan that it was okay when Ekon, the amazing warrior that lost to Goro the day before, approached the table with two plates that were both laden with food.
“Valkyrie Olsen, Prince Deveroe, Prince Huges. May I join you while we break our fast?” Ekon said in his heavily accented voice. I smiled up at him because I was a little mesmerized by the giant man and then looked at Ethan. Technically this was his table, so I was going to leave the decision-making of who joined us to him. Ethan was quick to agree and someone behind Ekon that I hadn’t noticed brought a chair over so that he could sit at the head of the table to my right. After he sat down, Ekon presented me with the two plates of food indicating that I could choose which one I wanted.
My smile only grew as I looked at the plates piled with different types of food. It was a close race, but the plate with pancakes piled high with fresh fruit and with a side of bacon and hashbrowns won by the slimmest margin. After I pointed at the plate I wanted, Ekon placed it in front of me with a flourish and took the other one for himself. I thanked him graciously and then started eating because I was starving.
Our little group descended into a silence that was gradually gaining weight, so I started a conversation with Ekon. It felt like the right thing to do after he brought me such a beautiful plate of food.
“You are an amazing fighter,” I said but apparently it was the wrong thing to say. Ekon stopped eating and bowed his head in defeat.
“I did not win,” he said in a dejected voice. He sounded so distraught over one sparing session that I didn’t think twice about reaching out and placing my hand over his. A strong clan bond bloomed through the contact and Ekon’s head snapped up causing his intense gaze to clash with mine. No one was wearing the color contacts here and I could see his piercing green eyes that had dynamic dots of black mixed in.
“Winning isn’t everything,” I told him in a bright tone, still trying to improve his mood. “You fought amazingly well and should be proud of that. Yes, you lost but I am willing to bet you learned a lot from that fight and now you can continue to train and possibly win the next time you fight.”
Ekon’s eyes warmed considerably at my little speech. “Yes. I will win at your Matching,” he declared with conviction and I furrowed my brow. That wasn’t exactly what I had meant. Ekon reached out and covered my hand with his other palm so that my hand was now sandwiched between both of his.
He didn’t say anything else, but I was starting to get uncomfortable with this level of touching. All I had wanted to do was support him when he was feeling bad. I used to lose fights all the time when I was little, so I knew what it felt like. I pulled my hand away and Ekon was quick to release his hold on me. I think Ethan realized how awkward I was starting to feel because he tried to change the subject.
“I haven’t heard anything but hopeful rumors. When are you planning on holding your Matching?” Ethan asked and the entire ballroom went eerily quiet. Like if everyone was holding their breath and waiting anxiously for my answer.
I looked over at Derik and silently begged him to take over this conversation for me, but he gave me a little smirk before returning his gaze to our surroundings. He was taking the whole role as my bodyguard very seriously, but it was good to see a little of the old Derik in that teasing smirk. When I returned my attention to the table, I saw that Ethan, along with everyone else, was still expecting me to answer.
“Umm,” I said without a single shred of eloquence, “I don’t know. I only learned about Matchings like a week ago. My grandfather said that this was a good opportunity to see what they are and how they are run, so I am assuming we will decide everything after Regina’s Matching has concluded.” I ended on a high note, making the statement sound more like a question than a statement.
“Smart thinking. After you have decided what it is you would like, my family and I would be honored to host. It would give my niece a chance to see how one is planned, so really you would be doing us a favor,” a voice said from behind me and I turned to see Goro was standing proudly while managing to look down his nose at everyone but me. It was quite impressive.
It was more than his stance that made Goro look extra intimidating today. Gone were the sparing clothes that I had seen him in yesterday. Instead, he wore what looked like a loose and beautifully crafted black high-waisted skirt that was embroidered with intricate gold designs and a shimmering silver loose jacket with wide sleeves. I was fairly sure this was the male version of a kimono and he looked breathtaking and powerful within it. If we did have my Matching in Japan, then I was so making all of the guys wear something similar.
“Africa is equally willing and able to host your Matching,” Ekon said in a booming voice that carried through the ballroom and snapped my attention away from Goro and his clothes.
“Ray’s family is from the Americas Northeast. If any kingdom will be given the honor of hosting her Matching, it will be mine,” Ethan was quick to add, surprising me a little. I had thought that he disliked all of the political games just as much as I did.
“Nonsense. It was the Americas that allowed Valkyrie Olsen to be so mistreated by her father and then be raised by humans,” a voice said with venom, but I had no idea who the voice actually belonged to. “The Northeast and the West have wronged her enough. They are the last kingdoms that should be allowed the honor of hosting her Matching.”
Oh my Bananas. What in the world was happening right now?
The entire situation continued to devolve from there as Regina and Kadien entered into the argument to defend the West. Then more people were quick to denounce their ability to keep me safe due to the whole being kidnapped by Russians thing. No one asked my opinion or even really looked my way once the argument gained momentum, and I was happy to just sit back and watch. I even Cloaked myself so that I didn’t get dragged back into the unnecessary drama.
My sick fascination with what was developing into a full-blown brawl quickly disappeared when my phone vibrated and I looked down at it to see a text from Blake.
Blake: 2 Hidden. Hernan’s study. Hurry.
I snapped my gaze up and shared one terrifyingly intense glance with Derik before we both started running full out towards Hernan’s study. When we finally reached our destination and burst through the closed doors only to find an extremely startled Hernan and Eli Norwood. I had been in such a hurry to get here that I forgot to push us back into the void. I ignored Hernan’s shouted questions and immediately pushed Derik and me back into the void.