After my tears had dried, she patted my shoulder with a reassuring smile, and we both returned to our spots, continuing to work on the wallpaper in comfortable silence. Only the sound of the radio Tyra brought filled the room with the latest hits.
Later in the day, the windows got replaced. It made the house look a lot better already, now that the holes were gone. The constant soft breeze also disappeared, which meant I finally wouldn’t heat the outside anymore either.
“It looks a lot better now,” Tyra said.
“Looks less like a rundown house now.”
She laughed. “I’m still surprised that no one entered the house and made themselves comfortable while it was empty. It would have been a great hideout.”
“I guess I can consider myself lucky.”
She smiled. “How about we take a break now? I think the children should be ready to eat something now, too.”
My stomach growled in response. I had been eyeing the cake the entire time we have been working, and I couldn’t wait to finally eat a piece.
We washed our hands and brought the cake outside. The kids played in the tent, but when they spotted us, they hurried outside, dragging a blanket after them.
“You all go wash your hands,” Tyra said, snatching the blanket out of their hands.
They rushed inside without complaining while Tyra and I spread the blanket on the grass and placed paper plates on top of it. Tyra put a piece of chocolate cake on each of them, and when I saw the melted chocolate dripping down the top, and the fluffy texture of the dough, I could barely contain myself to stuff it into my mouth in its entirety. But I waited until the children returned before I finally took my first bite.
“This is heavenly,” I groaned, as I felt a chocolate explosion in my mouth. It wasn’t too sweet nor too bitter, it was the sweet spot right between it.
Tyra chuckled. “I’m glad you enjoy it. It’s my secret brownie cake recipe, and Gunnar’s favorite.”
I pushed the rest of the cake into my mouth, grabbing another piece before I even swallowed. “I can see why.”
“If you want, I can share it with you.”
“That sounds amazing, but I can’t bake to save my life.”
She shook her head. “That’s nonsense. It’s the easiest recipe in the world.”
I shrugged. “People who are good at baking always say that, and then my kitchen is on fire because I trusted their words.”
Tyra laughed. “Fine. I will show you how it’s done, and then you can see for yourself how easy it is.”
“But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
I may suck at baking, but I imagine it could be fun to bake with Tyra. When I was young, my mother never wanted to share the kitchen with me or anyone. It was her domain and no one else was supposed to make a mess inside it. That’s why I never really learned to cook or bake before the incident. By now I can cook fairly well, but baking? It’s horrible, and I even love baked goods so much.
After the children finished eating, they nervously moved around the blanket, just waiting to be excused.
“Can we play again?” Freya asked eventually, her siblings nodding along, looking at their mother with pleading eyes.
Tyra sighed dramatically, but a smile spread over her face. “Okay, up you go.”
They pulled on their shoes and jumped up, storming back into the tent. I took the chance to grab another piece of cake without looking like a complete glutton, but Tyra wasn’t even looking at me. She watched her children with sad eyes and her smile slipped off her face.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, placing the piece on my plate.
“I just wish their father could see them growing up so quickly. Freyr looks more and more like his dad, and I worry he misses out on all the things his dad could have taught him, which I can’t. There might come an age or time when he would rather want to confide in his father. I’m glad Gunnar is there for him, but I doubt it’s the same.”
I nodded, looking back at the children laughing with each other. “It’s too bad he isn’t there to see it, but you are doing the best you can. You are caring for them so much, and they are loved. Gunnar and the rest of the pack will surely help to give him the guidance he would need if there is ever a time when your guidance might not be enough.”
She dropped her gaze back to me, her eyes slightly teary. “I hope you are right. All I can do is to be there for them and to remain strong.”
I patter her hand. “Everything will be fine. I’m sure of that.”
“Now, if you would only take your own words to heart, too,” she said and nudged me.
I laughed, picking up the cake again to take another big bite. “Don’t call me out for being a hypocrite, okay?”
She shook her head and snatched the last piece of cake off the tray. Deep inside me, I hoped she might ask me to take it, but I think I already reached the daily limit on sugar today.
“Did I ever tell you why we called them Freyr and Freya?”
I shook my head. “Not that I can remember.”
“Freyr and Freya are both parts of Norse mythology. Freyr was the god of peace and fertility, rain and sunshine, while Freya was the female counterpart. His sister is in charge of love, fertility, battle, and death. When I got twins, we thought it would be a nice idea to name them this way.”
“Funny that the goddess was all for battle and death, while the god was for peace and sunshine.”
“You would expect the opposite, right? That’s how we got trained to think, after all. But women can be strong warriors too. That’s why female alphas play such an important role, and that’s why they are supposed to be strong, too. Strong enough to protect their partner from harm.”
Her voice broke as she stared into the distance, her chin trembling.
“You think you didn’t protect him well enough,” I guessed.
She shrugged. “There was nothing I could have done better. He told me to protect the pups, and that’s what I did. I never expected he wouldn’t survive. But when he didn’t, I felt like I failed him.”
“I don’t think you failed him. You did what you had to do, and he did what he had to do.”
She offered me a genuine smile. “I know that now, but I also know how important it is to have a strong partner. Especially as an alpha. That’s why Gunnar also needs a strong partner by his side.”
I rolled my eyes, already expecting what she would say next.
“Don’t roll your eyes at me. We both know you are interested in him!”
I blushed, feeling heat crawling up my neck uncomfortably. “You are exaggerating. He is a nice man, but that’s all.”
Her eyes widened. “How dare you blatantly lie to me! I saw how you are watching him when you think no one is looking at you. It’s very safe to say I’m not exaggerating, and that he isn’t just a nice man.”
I buried my face in my hands, feeling like my head was steaming. “Stop that!”
She sighed. “I wish I could understand why you are stopping yourself from getting too close to him. You are both interested in each other, and yet you are actively pulling away. Why?”
My wolf howled in my head, agreeing with her. Of course, she would. She had been fanning over Gunnar since she first laid eyes on him. But it’s not as simple as that.
I dropped my hands. “George and I split up not too long ago, and it would be wrong to see someone else. More time has to pass.”
She raised a brow at me. “Who exactly sets deadlines on things like that? Does it really matter how much time has passed when you are already feeling something for someone else? Besides, I never said to forget about all the things you feel for George and to forget the past, but you also shouldn’t suppress the feelings you might feel for Gunnar. As I said earlier, follow your heart. You are way too scared to be judged. By whom, even? Strangers? Does that matter? They are not living your life, you are.”
“It doesn’t sound fair to give in to Gunnar when I’m not over George yet.”
She crossed her arms. “It’s not fair that you actively stop being interested in Gunnar, just because you have a weird sense of guilt towards George. I thought we already established that things between the two of you weren’t as glorious as they appeared. There is no reason to feel guilty. And you know Gunnar likes you.”
I tensed. “How do you know that?”
She grinned. “I didn’t exactly. But I suppose you know more than I do.”
“You are so mean!” I pushed her over, tickling her until she wheezed for air.
“Okay, okay. I give up,” she said, in between breaths, as tears of laughter streamed down her face.
“What in the world is going on here?” Gunnar said from behind us, making me jump.
“Nothing,” I said.
He grinned. “Nothing? Is that so?”
“We were just enjoying ourselves,” Tyra said, straightening her bandana that slipped down her face.
I nodded in agreement, hoping he didn’t arrive during our conversation.
“How is the progress inside?” Gunnar asked, glancing at the empty tray of cake. “And where is all the cake?”
Tyra pointed at me. “She might not look like it, but she inhaled that cake. But I still have a few left inside. You can eat them later.”
“Tyra!” I gasped. I can’t believe she called me out like that. Gunnar snorted, and I glared at him.
“What? It’s true. But anyway, we are halfway done with the kitchen. The high ceiling makes it hard to reach the higher spots, though.”
Gunnar nodded. “I will help you, then. Also, there was an envelope in front of your door.”
I took the envelope from him, looking at my neatly written name on it. “Thank you.”
“It’s the first letter you’ve received since moving back here, right?”
I nodded, having a weird, unsettling feeling about this letter.
“That’s exciting! How about you check out the letter while Tyra and I got back inside to continue,” Gunnar said, already turning around before I could protest. I didn’t feel like opening the letter right now, but they both had left, and when I was sure they wouldn’t come back out, I ripped it open, pulling out one small piece of paper.
Your time will come soon.
I crumpled the paper in my hand, looking around and trying to see someone who wasn’t supposed to be here. I sniffed the air, but couldn’t make out anything unusual. Not even the letter had a smell on it.
My heart was beating up in my throat, as my wolf paced up and down in the back of my mind, irritated by this threat. But she also couldn’t seem to find anything suspicious close by. The only person who came to mind was the wolf from the other night. Maybe he had something to do with it. Perhaps he wasn’t just a stranger passing by, being unnecessarily aggressive.
No, there was only one answer for this: The Vindictoria pack found me, and they were ready to fight.