“No way, Mia!” Gunnar roared.
I punched his arm and glared at him. “Stop being so damn loud! People are already staring at us.”
His green eyes flashed as he balled his hands into fists. He looked like he was about to burst out of his skin. “I won’t let you sleep in a tent. Outside. Alone!”
I rolled my eyes. “Gunnar, there is no harm in that. I did that multiple times when I was a child, and guess what? Nothing ever happened.”
I grabbed the tent and threw it into the card next to the sleeping bag and inflatable mattress.
Gunnar stepped closer, lowering his voice. “When you were a child, there was your pack around to protect you. Things have changed, and people might be looking for you.”
“No one knows I’m back yet!”
“Exactly. Not yet! But things have changed now. Your pack isn’t there anymore and the people who killed them are still out there.”
He leaned down, so we were on eye level, and searched my eyes with a frown. “Don’t be reckless.”
I understood his point, but I didn’t have a car to drive back and forth between a hotel and my house. Besides, I wanted to save money.
“You aren’t my alpha, Gunnar. Around here, I’m the alpha and I will take the risk of camping outside. I appreciate your concern, but you can’t change my mind.”
He winced and straightened his back. “This isn’t about power. I don’t want to order you around, and I know you have more power here than I have. I just don’t want to see you getting hurt.”
I smiled and grabbed his hand with both of mine. “Don’t worry about me. This is only temporary. I will sleep inside the house in no time.”
He sighed, and his shoulders sagged. “I hope you are right.”
I squeezed his hand and let it go with a smile. “It will be fine.”
I pushed the cart to the cleaning supply and loaded several products into it, before heading to the wallpaper department.
“The amount of options here is driving me nuts.”
I pulled out several white wallpapers, and they all looked the same to me, but probably weren’t
“I think you should hire companies to renovate for you. You have very high ceilings, and you don’t seem experienced with renovating.”
I frowned. I knew he was right, but all the money I would have to spend gave me a headache.
“I have pack members who-”
I interrupted him. “No, your pack members don’t need to help. I will hire people from around here if I need to. There is no need to bother your pack.”
He crossed his arms. “I don’t know why you are so against my pack.”
I smiled. “It’s not that. I want to take care of things on my own. I’m a big girl. Besides, I promised Tyra to go wild coloring the walls. That will take an enormous burden off my shoulder already.”
He beamed at me. “I’m sure she will transform your house into something great.”
“Pretty sure she will do wonders. I can’t even imagine that, looking at it now.”
“Do you want to keep all the furniture?”
I shook my head. “I want a fresh start. Besides, they are very old and incredibly dusty. I think it would be best to get rid of them.”
“Better rent a dumpster then.”
“Good idea. I should take care of that as fast as possible.”
After paying for the goods, Gunnar helped me store them in the car. Afterward, we picked up a few things for me to eat and headed back to the house.
“Are you sure you want to sleep outside? It still gets very cold during the night,” Gunnar said, while we pushed through the high grass in the backyard.
I huffed. “I will turn into my wolf then. She will keep me warm.”
Gunnar muttered something under his breath. I couldn’t make it out, but I was sure it was just him voicing his unhappiness about the situation again.
We stopped when we reached a suitable position behind the house. Trees and bushes would hide the tent here, and I felt relatively protected.
“I wonder what happened to the sheep,” I said, looking at the opposite side of the garden where they used to graze.
Gunnar dropped the bag with the tent on the floor. “Sheep?”
I opened the bag and emptied it. “My parents used to have sheep. My mother made wool and knitted all kinds of stuff.”
Part of the fence looked broken. Maybe someone rescued them when no one returned, or they broke through it themselves. I felt bad that I left them here on their own. Even worse, they didn’t even cross my mind after everything went down.
“I’m not happy about this idea,” Gunnar complained after we finished setting up the tent, and I was about to pull the mattress inside, so it would fill itself up with air.
I smirked. “Good thing you don’t have to sleep here then, right?”
He crossed his arms and stared at me from the outside. He almost acted as if this was some kind of torture chamber.
“Camping isn’t too bad. Have you ever gone camping before?”
“We camp frequently, but it’s a group activity and not one female wolf on her own,” he grumbled.
I laughed. “Gunnar, please. I don’t need a protector. Now, don’t be such a party pooper and come inside. It’s really comfy.”
He frowned but crawled into the tent.
“See, not so bad, right?”
“It’s not about comfort,” he huffed.
I fell back on the mattress, staring at the roof of the dark green tent. We specifically choose a color that would blend in with the environment. I almost fell off when Gunnar dropped on the other side.
We remained silent for a while, listening to the chirping birds outside.
“Do you have a phone with you?”
“I haven’t used it since I broke up with George. I’m scared to see messages or missed calls from him.”
“Are you worried that you want to get back together with him?”
“I just don’t want to hurt him.”
“But that already happened. Seeing the messages will hurt you because you might regret what you did.”
I rolled to the side and looked at him. He had his arms propped up under his head, and when he saw me looking at him, he turned his head to my side. His eyes were soft as he waited for me to say more.
“Maybe you are right,” I admitted, chewing on my bottom lip. Perhaps I would be too weak to ignore him, and to keep him at a distance. When I heard nothing about him, it was easier to forget.
“I can imagine that it’s hard for you, but you need your phone. Not only do you need it to hire people, but you also need it in emergencies. If you don’t have it with you, I won’t be able to sleep at night.”
I rolled on my back. “You worry a great deal about someone you only met recently. Basically, a stranger still.”
“You are hardly a stranger, Mia. That can’t be your excuse anymore to refuse my concern.”
The amount of private conversation we had is far from what I would say to a stranger. But I wasn’t ready to admit that to Gunnar yet. I wasn’t ready to see him as more than someone I met at my workplace and cared more for him than a stranger.
“Could you check my messages and block him for me?”
He sat up and stared down at me. “No. I won’t let you run away from that. Don’t be afraid of your feelings. It’s fine to feel sad, and it’s fine to question your decisions. But don’t run away from them. You are stronger than that.”
A lump formed in my throat as I fought to keep the tears away that threatened to spill over. I felt like throwing myself into his arms and just crying my heart out. All I wanted was to run away from George’s pain.
I sat up too, staring at my trembling hands, and suddenly didn’t feel like a big girl anymore. I didn’t feel independent and fearless. Right now, I wanted someone to take this burden off my chest, but I knew this was for me to deal with. George deserved I treated him with respect, even after our breakup.
Gunnar moved closer and pulled me into a hug, surprising me. I listened to his steady heartbeat and leaned into him, letting out a shaky breath. For a moment, I let myself be protected by him. But I didn’t cry. I refused to show even more weakness in front of him.
I carefully pushed away from him and cleared my throat. “I suppose you are right.”
He smiled. “You were with him for years. I would be surprised if you wouldn’t react the way you do. Sometimes we just need someone to put things into perspective.”
“He was more than my fiancé. He was my best friend,” I said and swallowed hard once again. “He was always there for me. We spoke about everything. But now everything contains so many things I wouldn’t be able to speak about.”
“That’s why we stay with other wolves. It’s hard to keep secrets from each other after you get too close.”
I remembered the way he reacted so harshly about Jelto’s human girlfriend. It’s not because he disliked humans, but because he didn’t want Jelto to get hurt. That’s the same reason he pushed me to reconsider my relationship with George. He probably imagined how much I would struggle if I got my wolf back and how unfair it was for George. He cared. From the very beginning.
“During that time, I didn’t think I would ever be a wolf again.”
He sighed. “I can understand that, and I can also see why you distanced yourself from the wolf community, but maybe we could have helped you. Even when you couldn’t feel your wolf, your blood never changed. Once an ancient wolf, always an ancient wolf.”
“It was hard to trust other packs when my kind killed everyone I loved,” I whispered.
He patted my shoulder gently. “I’m not judging your decision. I just wished we would have met earlier, so you wouldn’t have felt so alone and in so much pain.”
I smiled. “Thank you.”
“No problem. And now be the big girl you said you were and grab your phone. It’s getting dark, and I need to go home soon.”
I sighed. Hopefully, I wouldn’t fall apart after I switched on the phone.