Ashley Garrison POV
Austin placed me on a bed in a small, dark room. There was a tiny octagon window above a twin bed. A dresser sat against the wall and a full-length mirror hung on the back of the door. There was a lone bulb that hung from the ceiling, casting a yellow light down on us. If I didn't know any better, I would have bet this was a converted walk-in closet, considering how small the room was.
“Austin, what the hell is going on? Who are you? Who was that man? What happened? Why am I here? When can I go home? Where am I?” I whispered-yelled question after question in rapid fire. My chest constricted and ached. I wanted my mom. I wanted my room. I wanted some sense of normalcy. Hell, I would take Mister Miller’s Chemistry homework right now over this living nightmare.
Austin sat at the foot of the bed and gave me a once-over look. Then he reached out to pull my t-shirt over, covering my bandages. “I will start with the easier questions. You are in Ridge, near the marina, at the Royal Family's home. That man, as you called him, is my uncle Prince Anatole Volkov. We are what popular culture calls werewolves or lycans. No, you cannot go home, and you cannot leave either. You now belong to my uncle.” He held a lone finger up to stop my budding protest. “Let me finish,” he warned with a growl.
What is with all these people and their growling at me? Am I some sort of animal to them that they need to constantly growl a warning? I mean, seriously!
“We have always lived among humans, and tried to live in peace. The government has known about us since the Civil War. Recently, the new President Bedin decided to break the peace treaty and declared war on the packs in the United States and convinced the United Nations that we posed a danger to humanity.” Austin sighed and continued.
“Two days ago, a large military force attacked King Leonard Volkov and his council of elder wolves. The King was injured and open war on all humans was declared. Simultaneously, a blizzard hit Southern, Maryland. You were collateral damage. The bus transporting you was T-Boned by military transport that was in open conflict with several pack members.” Austin’s voice remained calm as he spoke.
“You were pulled from the wreckage and placed with the dead. When you woke up, you were in the middle of a clean-up operation. Imagine my shock when I realized you were alive.” Austin looked me in the eyes and I saw the pain in his. I could not imagine how many of our friends died on that bus.
I licked my drying lips. I wondered why I wasn't freaking out. I wondered what he wasn’t telling me. “Go on, Austin. Please,” I whispered.
Before he could, there was a knock at the door. “Enter,” Austin said in a stern voice.
I looked at a young girl who was carrying a tray of food, a cup of what looked like coffee, and two bottles of water.
“Set it there,” Austin motioned to the bed. “Thank you, Jane. Close the door on your way out.”
Once the girl left, Austin opened the water bottle and offered it to me. I gulped it down eagerly as though I were dying. Maybe I was. I noticed there was toast and bacon on the plate. “May I?” He nodded, and I greedily ate four pieces of bacon, and the toast, drank all the coffee, and finished the first bottle of water, all the while Austin looked at me with an amused look.
“What? I was hungry.” I said as I handed him the second bottle of water to open. I tried, but with my left arm and shoulder broken it was hard to twist the cap off. “So what is the rest of the story? What are you not telling me? And why am I not freaking out? And who was that woman who dragged me through the house? And just who are you? Where are my parents?”
Austin held the bottle in his hand for a full minute while he sat silently. “That was Dimitria. She was first in line to become mated to my uncle. She comes from a powerful bloodline and people tend to cater to her. Ever since the war started, she has not attempted to hide her hatred of humans. And since the Prince showed an interest in you, she felt the need to hurt you to make a point.”
“What do you mean, he showed an interest in me?” I blurted out impatiently as ever. I am after all a teenager with emotional issues.
Austin ran his hand through his hair. “Okay, how do I explain this? The Prince ordered medical attention for you and ordered that you be brought to the southern encampment. The medical treatment could be looked at as charity or benevolence, but humans are not ever taken to the southern encampment. It is the royal family's private home. No one not blood-related or mated is allowed on the property. The Prince has laid a claim to you.”
“What the fuck? I'm not a piece of property or belonging to lay claim to.” My anger was tenfold, and I didn't give a rat's ass if the entire house heard it. I inched to the edge of the bed, dipping my feet over the edge. I intended to leave. But the dizzying pain stopped me.
“Calm down, Ashley. You can’t leave. The Prince has ordered you to be sequestered for your protection. So stay in bed. And I am going to remind you that I am a werewolf as well. You know as in, can turn all furry and angry.”
The look in Austin’s eyes made me think twice. I moved, so my back was against the headboard. I brought my knees to my chest and closed my eyes. Austin telling me he was a werewolf only made me feel small and insignificant. I wanted to hug my mom and cry on her shoulder. “Will I ever see my parents again?” I peeked from my folded arms to look at him.
“I don’t know, honestly.” Austin moved, so he was sitting beside me, his back on the headboard as well. “I haven’t been made privy to what my uncle is doing with you besides what I have told you.”
I closed my eyes and focused on breathing as I ran through scenarios in my mind. I was trying to decipher everything he told me about the war and the bus accident. I decided to start with something simple to process. “Before all of this happened, back when we were just high school students,” I turned my head to watch him. “Was there a chance that we would have been friends? Or was dating a human out of the question?”
Austin placed his hand on my cheek, using his thumb to calm me. “If this had not happened, I was going to ask you out after the game on Friday. I told Jean that you were my type. I know everyone thinks Jennifer Jones is my girl, but I don’t date sluts.”
I laughed a sharp laugh. I called Jennifer the same thing. I didn’t know if she was a slut, but it seemed like it. Jennifer was always hanging on a popular guy's arm, and her neck always had love bites. Unlike me, I have never even held hands with a boy. Well, there was that time in kindergarten when Tommy Smith proudly took my hand and said he would marry me one day. I remember Garrett Jensen pushing Tommy away and declaring he was going to marry me. The two boys got into a wrestling match and Miss Jones broke them up, telling them that the Alpha would be upset. I wonder what happened to Tommy after his family moved away.
Wait a minute, did Miss Jones say Alpha?
I force myself not to think about anyone but Austin. “So, you like me, huh?” I gave a dry laugh. My mind was a battleground of questions and concerns about my life now versus what it could have been.
“Austin, I am so confused. I should be scared about what's happening,” I felt my emotions becoming strong and my eyes watering. “But I’m not.” I reached over and took his hand in mine. Austin is my only link to normalcy. “I am just tired, in pain, and utterly confused by all of this.”
Austin reached over and pushed a few strands of red hair behind my ear. “Trust me, I understand. Two days ago, I was a high school senior who was worried about the game with Great Mills. And,” he laughed. “I guess I was worried about you saying no.”
It was at that instant, everything in the world melted away except the two of us. There wasn’t a war with mythical creatures, no bus accident, and no dead friends. It was only my crush and I sitting here talking.
“You were worried I would say no? Me? Come on now, no one ever approached me. It's like there is some cosmic barrier that keeps all boys away. I mean, I know my dad is scary, but he isn't unreasonable.” My dad is Admiral William Garrison, the base commander, but he is also human. He is just a normal man to me.
I glanced at Austin, seeing something flash in his eyes. I couldn't tell what he was thinking, but his face seemed shocked. “I didn't realize no one had ever asked you out before.” He shrugged. “I figured you just dated in private. I mean, given who your family is.”
I knew he was talking about my military parents. Both my mom and dad were in the Navy. Mom worked on P3 Orion's, and well, dad, he did whatever a base commander needed to do. “Nope,” I said the P a little forcefully. “But let's pretend you did ask me and I said yes. Where would you have taken me?”
“That’s easy, the skate station. My cousin Cathy owns it.” Austin smiled.
Until this moment, I had never truly looked at Austin. I knew he was handsome, but sitting this close, I could see his high cheekbones and square jaw. His nose was sharp, and his eyes were the color of the tropical ocean, deep blue. I guess for my first crush, I did good.
“I haven't been there in a year. Not since Donnie Sanders tripped me on purpose and Jennifer Jones posted the video on BookFace. I was always too embarrassed to go back.” I sighed and moved my legs, so I was a little more comfortable.
From somewhere outside, I heard the roaring growls. It sounded like the fight scene from a movie about Lycans living in the sewers. I guess it was time for the two of us to return to reality. “I don’t suppose you can let me use your cellphone to call my family?” It might have sounded like a question, but it was a statement. I knew Austin wouldn’t allow me to call. I was a captive here, and I knew approximately where I was being held. I was a security risk.
“You know I can’t. But maybe I can check on them,” Austin offered.
I reached out and took his hand, squeezing it to show my thanks. I leaned over and rested my head on his shoulder. “I am scared,” I admitted.
It was entirely too much to comprehend. Werewolves were real, and our government decided to wage an open war on them. It was unbelievable. And somehow I was right in the middle of a situation I didn't understand. And my only contact with the real world is my first crush, who turns out to be a werewolf. I need to wake up now.
I watched as Austin’s eyes turned yellow and then returned to their normal blue. “I have to go. Do not leave this room. I cannot protect you if you do.”
I watched him climb from the bed. I wanted to rebel and follow him to the door, but I was overcome with the need to sleep. It was quick and I couldn’t fight it. I felt like one of those people in a movie after they were drugged. “Aus…”
“Shush, sleep now. I promise you, I will do all I can to protect you.” Austin leaned down, kissing her forehead before rushing out the door.