Chapter 2. Drop It
“What am I—?”
Hale cut me off, yanking me into his chest so hard I bumped my nose against his collarbone. “Nothing is ever so hopeless that you need to do THIS, Kora!”
Do… what? I was nearly suffocating against his skin. He smelled nice—like soap and sage. I felt his warmth through my shirt, and was terribly, terribly aware that he was quite fit.
And quite naked after shifting.
“It’s just a rejection. You’ve had two already. It’s not any reason to kill yourself,” Hale scolded me, finally giving me enough room to breathe. He looked down at me, panic in his eyes but a scowl on his face. He turned to pick up his boxer shorts that were lying behind him from before he’d shifted and slid them on.
The way he spoke to me, I was reminded of the days when we were younger when his father had still been alive. We’d been best friends. THAT Mason Hale I would expect this reaction from. This one?
A nervous laugh escaped me. It was all just too ridiculous. “Alpha, I’m not here to kill myself.”
Hale wasn’t listening, or he didn’t believe me. He gave me a shake. Then another. “Goddess, Kora!”
I lifted my shoulders in a shrug, and the vodka nudged against his hip.
Hale looked down and growled. He snatched the bottle from me and shook it in my face. “What is this?! You’re a guardian, for Goddess’s sake. You’re not supposed to be drinking!”
“My shift is over, Alpha,” I sighed, a headache forming behind my eyes. “I just got rejected again today. It’s painful.”
Painful. As I said it, I suddenly realized that this was no excuse. Yes, it’s painful.
I always knew that, but pretended not. Was it the sudden concern that made me vulnerable?
“Painful?” Hale asked, his eyebrows drawing together. “When did I ever cause you pain? Surely you can’t have expected—”
I carefully extricated myself from his arms. “Alpha, maybe it’s best you just leave me alone.”
Hale studied my face, but as usual, it was blank. I gave nothing away these days and didn’t care to. Emotion was a weapon that could be turned to be used against you.
“You want me to leave you alone,” Hale said slowly, “while you’re standing at the edge of a cliff.”
“I was sitting on the edge of a cliff,” I deadpanned. “Now, I’m standing on the edge of a cliff.”
“Two more inches and you would have been laying at the bottom of a cliff,” Hale snapped.
“Guess those are two important inches, then,” I said. I looked at the vodka in Hale’s hand and knew there was no chance of me getting it back. Pity.
Hale must have seen me eyeing the alcohol because he shoved it behind his back. “Go back to the dormitories,” he ordered. “You can rest there.”
As it was an Alpha’s order, I couldn’t resist it if I wanted to. I nodded and started in the direction of the mansion.
“Kora,” Hale said, stopping me for the second time that evening.
“Yes, Alpha?” I inquired.
“WERE you trying to kill yourself?” Hale asked softly.
I gave him what I thought might be a reassuring smile, even though I didn’t owe him that. “No, Alpha.”
Hale’s features became shuttered.
But I had the distinct impression he didn’t believe me.
The next week was strange to say the least. From the time I gave Hale a lackluster reassurance about having no intention of committing suicide, he suddenly began popping up in my vicinity much more often than usual. Drill, patrol, and even kitchen work seemed to have become suddenly interesting to him.
It was a relief to find myself a spot on the riverbank as I was resting on patrol. Though the river was dangerously deep, it flowed quietly, still kids in the pack were forbidden to come here. I thought I was alone, but then the foliage rustled.
I was instantly on my feet, ready to do battle. Only it was Hale’s Beta, Eddie Brookfield.
“Stand down,” Brookfield said.
I lowered my defenses. “Beta Brookfield?”
Brookfield walked down to the water, examining it, then my bare feet, then my boots a few feet to my left. “The river had been requisitioned by Alpha Hale for his own private use. You will need to leave.”
I blinked at him. “I apologize, Beta. Does… does Alpha Hale want the… the whole river?”
“Yes,” Brookfield responded. “Gather your things and go.”
I swallowed my frustration and pulled on my boots, chalking this up as just another in a litany of indignities I was supposed to endure in this life. I didn’t even spare Brookfield a sigh. I simply gathered my things and left.
The following day, we were practicing drills in a field near the mansion. I was paired up with Shawn, which was a nice change.
Unfortunately, during our sparring, I cut my finger.
Shawn apologized profusely and offered to bind up the wound, but was called away to spar with someone else.
I turned to face my next opponent, ignoring my bleeding finger, when Beta Brookfield showed up again.
“Beta?” I asked, staring into the wide wall of his chest.
“You’re hurt,” he said. “Go to the medical wing and get that looked at.”
“I…” I looked down at my finger in confusion. “Beta, it’s just a very small cut—”
“Did that SOUND like a suggestion?” Brookfield barked at me.
I straightened up. “No, sir!”
“Where are you going?” Brookfield tested me.
“The medical wing, sir!” I said obediently.
“Good. I’m glad we understand each other. The whole team of doctors are waiting for you.” Brookfield raised an expectant eyebrow at me.
I turned quickly on my heel and all but ran to the medical wing.
As I sat on a cot with a frowning doctor binding up my finger, I mulled over the events of the last week.
“Take better care of yourself,” the doctor grumbled when he finished. “I don’t want to catch hell from the Alpha again.”
Catch hell? Something truly bizarre was going on. Did Hale really think I was suicidal?
I really shouldn’t have cared. On most levels, I really was indifferent. What did I care what Mason Hale thought or didn’t think?
But a little imp in me, confused over being monitored this way, took my feet to the library in the middle of the night. Hale left it free for public use.
There was one old man there, reading under a green lamp at a wooden table. He glanced at me as I searched along the shelves for something that would prove my theory.
I pulled down a copy of “One Hundred Suicide Puzzles,” tucked it under my arm, and wandered out.
Sure enough, the next day, the whole shelf where I’d gotten the book from had been cleared.
The old man was still there—or there again—his eyes following my every move.
“No books on suicide, huh?” I asked.
“No,” he said coldly. “The Alpha decided they were dangerous.”
Dangerous. To me. “Thank you,” I said, going back out the way I came.
When I got to the room I shared with another female guardian, I felt something was amiss. Things on the dresser had moved slightly. Drawers were just barely ajar. And I was not surprised to find that my bed had been remade—and the book was gone.
“I can’t believe he actually cares,” I mumbled to myself, confused.
“THERE you are!” came an unwelcome, nasally voice.
I turned to the doorway and saw Giselle standing there with her hands on her hips.
“If Alpha Hale knew you were such a lazy slug, he’d have words for you,” Giselle went on. “Obviously, someone needs to tell you what to do with your time.”
I was on my one-hour-long break for lunch, which Giselle would have known, but I didn’t say anything.
“Well?” Giselle said. “Hurry up and come with me!”
I followed Giselle out of my room and down to the kitchen.
Giselle gestured at a heaping pile of dishes. “Do these.”
Do these. The dishes were Giselle’s responsibility. Dishes she’d clearly let pile up for two days while she did Goddess only knew what.
“Hurry up,” Giselle said with a nasty grin, folding her arms.
Apparently, she intended to watch. I didn’t say anything, and rolled up my sleeves, starting the water. No interest in arguing with a 25 years-old kid.
“Ugh, you are so useless,” Giselle complained when it took me too long to fill the sink.
“Why do they even bother to keep you around?” she added when I took too long scrubbing dried-on two-day-old scum off a plate.
“You’re not even trying. Put your back into it!” Giselle snapped when I couldn’t get all of the baked-on greases off a pot.
I scrubbed some more, but it was hopeless. The staining was old—older than two days, probably older than two years.
“You are one dumb b*tch. You can’t even scrub a pot properly,” Giselle said snidely, though she did not offer to come over and help.
I finally set the pot aside and reached for a knife.
Giselle grabbed me roughly by my hair. “You’re not finished with that pot!”
I jumped and felt the knife touch my wrist.
Then there was a crash, and Giselle was gone, replaced by a hand wrapped solidly around the wrist of the hand that was holding the knife, so hard my bones creaked and rubbed together.
“Drop it,” Hale said.