“The most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.“- Mother Teresa
Raven awoke with a strangled cry. Her chest heaved up and down heavily, her eyes frantically roaming her room.
She rubbed her arms just to check that she still had the sensation of being alive. She counted her fingers and toes, double checking that she was even awake. Sudden memory of what her dream was had her hands slapping up to her neck, feeling the smoothly scarred skin that had once been burned off by a silver noose.
Her door burst open, making her jump. Normally she would have jumped up and bared her teeth at whoever it was, but her current state had no room for that.
Ezekiel stood in her door looking like he was about to kill someone. After a quick assessment of what the situation was, his frightening expression changed to one of guilt.
Without a word, Ezekiel closed her door and came to her bed. Hesitantly, Raven scooted over and allowed him space next to her. Ezekiel lifted her silk sheets and slipped into them.
A heartbeat passed between them before Ezekiel scooped her body into his arms. Raven hadn’t realized she had been shaking before until now.
Her cheeks were wet with tears as she risked peering up at him. He gave a small, sad smile back down at her, wiping her cheeks with his thumbs. Raven whimpered softly, about to burst into tears again. “It hurts.”
“I know it does. I’m sorry. I’m here now.” Ezekiel whispered, his voice thick with emotion.
His words sent her into a sob, and she wasn’t sure it was because she was sad or happy. She pressed her frame closer to his, using his chest as a pillow. Her tears creating a small wet stain on the thin fabric of his shirt.
Ezekiel began to hum softly to her, lulling her to calm down. A few more soft whimpers came from her as she tried to fight back her tears, listening to her mate’s hum.
She eventually calmed enough, swallowing that lump that had been in her throat. He never moved, keeping perfectly still as she recovered.
“Why were you crying?” He quietly said into her ear.
Raven looked up at him again, her eyes puffy and red from crying. She didn’t respond for a while, her hazel eyes searching his green ones. “I’m still alive.”
His eyes turned sad, but he clutched her even closer. She had never felt more safe than she did in his arms. “Nothing will take you from me, Raven. Not even death.”
She cast her eyes away from his, looking elsewhere. He pressed a lingering kiss on the top of her head, resuming his humming. Raven melted a little more into him, confident he would protect her from anything.
Raven awoke later that morning in an awfully comfortable position. She felt warm all over, and took a few seconds just to enjoy the feeling.
She stretched her limbs out, moaning softly at how good it felt. After stretching, she snuggled back into the heat behind her.
A rumble of approval came from Ezekiel, who had his arms securely wrapped around her middle. He hadn’t left last night, and they had eventually fallen asleep spooning.
His rough fingers traced small patterns on her exposed stomach, her shirt having been rolled up sometime in her sleep. Raven closed her eyes again, wanting to believe that this moment would be the rest of her life.
They stayed like that for a while, both just taking in each other’s scents, and basking in what was the mate pull. But she knew that their moment would have to end soon.
“Raven.” His husky voice said her name behind her. His voice sent pleasant shivers down her spine.
She gave a soft hum in response, not trusting her voice not to crack.
“I want you. You’re my future, Raven, no matter what happens. I want to spend my life with you. My mate.” As he spoke, he pulled her closer to him. Raven’s breath caught in her throat, momentarily speechless. When she didn’t respond, he started again. “I never expected to find you. I’m beginning to realize all of my mistakes.”
Raven opened her mouth to respond, but was crisply cut off by a knock at her door. Ezekiel voiced his annoyance, but didn’t move from his position. Raven began to sit up, but Ezekiel pulled her back down.
A soft giggle left her lips, now facing him. He had continued to let his beard grow out, now slightly more than just stubble. Her eyes wandered over his face, taking him in.
The light streaming in through the crack in the curtains illuminated his face, and the sight made Raven’s heart beat a little faster than before.
Their moment was once again cut off by another knock at the door. This time whoever it was didn’t wait for approval, and opened the door. In stepped one of the maids, looking pissed off at having to have waited out there for a while.
They certainly looked like they had a few things to say about the matter, but the words slipped from their tongue once they saw Ezekiel cuddling with Raven.
Immediately the maid bowed, keeping her head down. “My apologies, Alpha. I was just going to do a routinely clean up of Raven’s room.”
Ezekiel grunted, but said nothing in reply. Instead he watched her, still in a bent position. She wouldn’t rise until he said so, and he was taking the opportunity to punish her for her disrespect towards his female.
She may not have accepted being in his future, but she was still his mate. Just by that, she already had some deserved respect and entitlement. He wasn’t about to allow someone as low as a maid get away with that.
After a minute, he was satisfied enough to mumble out a, “Rise.”
A sigh of relief escaped the trembling maid. To some, even something like that was considered cruel. However, with in mind what Ezekiel was truly known for, she was relieved. In contrast, it was basically like receiving small chastisement.
“Leave.” The maid opened her mouth to protest, but was cut off. “Come back later to clean her room. Now leave.” The maid gave a scared nod and hurried off, closing the door behind her.
Ezekiel settled back down beside his mate, looking over her frame. He sighed and stroked her cheek. “We’ve got to work on how people treat you.”
“I killed the Beta’s wife. I don’t expect anyone to treat me with respect anymore.” Raven responded sadly.
“We’re all murderers, love.” Raven looked away from him then, suddenly feeling unworthy of him.
She sat up, pulling away from his embrace. She put her face in her hands, rubbing underneath her eyes. She had forgotten that her back was exposed, but she remembered right as she felt his fingers begin to trace some of the already-forming scars.
Emotion filled her, and she snapped out of the trance she’d been in. She was flooded with memories on that stage and hanging from the Lonely Tree, and brief moments she had seen him and Grace together.
Suddenly, she didn’t feel so important to him. She knew very well she was not the only woman in his life. And it had taken him a long time to even come see how she was healing.
“Get out.” Raven spoke, her voice raw with anger and sadness.
“Are you o-” Ezekiel sat up too, ready to comfort her and soothe whatever emotional turmoil she was feeling.
“Ezekiel, please get out.” Raven whispered this time, sounding defeated.
He nodded solemnly, pulling back the sheets and walking over to her door. He was only in a black shirt and boxers. As he was holding her door open, he turned back to her. “I’d like you to join the pack dinner tonight, as my equal. I don’t mean Luna. I understand you aren’t ready just yet. Wear something nice. Give them something to talk about.”
With that, she was left again in silence. Her mind was racing, thinking about everything that had happened last night and this morning. Something had shifted between them, and she had a feeling it wouldn’t be going back.
She wanted nothing more than to be with him. Her soul ached and burned with a need, something she knew only he could satisfy. But something was holding her back.
Some things had to be settled before she could be his mate, his equal, his Luna. Things needed to be fixed, and put in their place. She had to prove herself worthy of being his Luna.
That day passed by quickly now that Raven had something to ponder over. Her mind raced over every possible way to go about things, and every possible outcome.
Eventually she had given into the thought of the pack dinner, and began planning her outfit. She settled with a warm looking, gray sweater dress and black leggings. Whoever had picked out her wardrobe had certainly pleased Raven.
When the time came around, a knock sounded at her door. “Come in.” Grace opened her door and quickly looked over Raven, a smug smile crossing her features. Without saying anything, the small female gestured that they leave.
She sighed and followed behind Grace, nervously picking at loose strands on the sweater dress. Grace offered no comfort to her, her back straight and not turning around for conversation. Down the stairs they went, and Raven could faintly hear the chatter of her pack mates.
Grace led them down to the dining room, and graciously opened the door for Raven. Hesitantly, Raven stepped in and looked around. Almost immediately, the chatter died down as about a hundred heads turned to look at her.
The dining room was a grand room, with high ceilings and an extremely long table. At the very end of said table sat Ezekiel, who gave her an approving nod.
Grace extended her hand, showing her to her seat. The only seat available; the head and opposite side from Ezekiel.
Raven wanted nothing more than to cower and return to the safety of her room. Instead, she swallowed her fear down and stuck her chin out. She straightened her back out, making her appear taller than she already was.
People darted their gazes away from her now, secretly afraid they’d become her next victim. Her reasons were still unclear to the pack. Raven sat gracefully at the seat presented for her and scooted in.
Without a word, servants began filling the room and placing food onto the table. Hundreds of dishes were laid out in front of the hungry pack mates. They piled their plates full of food, including Raven, until practically nothing was left.
Yet not a single one of them dared to eat even a crumb.
Ezekiel cleared his throat, and the entire table looked at him. Anticipating.
Raven found herself leaning forward as he finally took the first bite of the meal, and everyone watched him chew and swallow. When he was finished, his eyes met Raven’s.
Oh god, no. He doesn’t really expect me to do this, does he? Raven thought to herself. But he did.
Again she forced herself to bite back her fear, as she reached out and gripped the base of the glass that held her drink for tonight. Sarcastically, she tipped it a little in his direction, to which he smiled a full wolf-grin back at her.
She placed the cold glass to her lips and took a small sip, the pack watching on. When she finally set the glass back down, the table erupted once more into talk. The chatter quickly died once more, occupied with stuffing food in their mouths.
Raven helped herself to the various different types of meat on her plate, directly avoiding looking at someone. She did not want any conversations tonight.
“Hey, so uh. You two a thing?” A male sitting to her left called her attention.
Mouth full of meat, Raven lifted her eyes to assess him. The male wasn’t much in her eyes. He had the basic muscles that every wolf had around his age, but that was as far as it went.
A low growl bubbled in her throat, and he looked taken back. “I am his equal. Treat me so.” It was mostly her wolf speaking for her at the moment, her head raised at the disrespect presented to her.
Raven may not have said yes to Ezekiel yet, but her wolf had already deemed herself as Luna, and nothing would change that.
Her black eyes flicked back to her normal hazel, her wolf seemingly satisfied to have scared the puny male. His face was pale and turned away from her, his eyes downcast.
Smart move, Raven thought. It was the biggest form of disrespect for a wolf to meet the eyes of someone who was a higher status than them. If he had looked her in the eyes, Raven was positive her wolf would have thrown a fit and ruined the entire dinner.
When she looked up again, she was surprised to be met by the cold ones of the beta. He was assessing her with pure hate in his eyes, calculating something in his mind.
He sat on the right of Ezekiel, who did not notice the interaction happening. Instead, what Raven saw next had her wolf bristling. Grace sat at his left, having changed clothes. Normally that spot was reserved for someone special to the alpha.
Grace had her elegant strawberry blonde hair pinned up in a bun wrapped around by a braid. Her neck was adorned by beautiful jewelry, which matched her gown. Grace was sending a clear message about who she wished to be seen as.
Raven stopped eating, having lost her appetite. Her wolf was pacing and clawing at her skin, begging to put this low female back in her place.
Ezekiel smiled at something she said in his ear, laughing. Colton noticed the shift in Raven’s mood, and a small smile played at his lips.
Ezekiel finally noticed Raven had been staring at them, and so had half of the table. Some had stopped eating when Raven did as an automatic response, and they began to search for the source of her distraught.
The smile slipped off of his face, and the entire table grew quiet. Grace turned her head toward Raven, her dangling earrings whipping around with her head. She gave Raven the nastiest glare anyone could, sending Raven’s wolf into a tantrum.
A full on growl erupted from her chest, her eyes flickering between brown and black. A few pack mates scooted their chairs out, as if to avoid being caught in the middle of the glaring contest.
Grace’s eyes met Raven’s.
And they did not move.
Ezekiel, next to her, paled. He knew that a wolf’s pride was nothing to be disrespected, and Grace was about to pay.
Both females stood and assessed each other once more. Raven no doubt could hand this female’s ass to her, and Grace was well aware of this fact, yet stood her ground.
Raven’s eyes settled on black, her wolf taking over now. She calmly walked over to Grace, the rest of the room watching her in fear. They had not forgotten who she was. And what she was capable of.
Raven held the height advantage, Grace realized, as they stood toe to toe and chest to chest. But that hardly mattered. The female trembled slightly at having Raven so close to her. She could pretend to be a strong female all the wanted to, but here in front of her was a real one. Raven’s chest rose and fell heavily with her anger, nostrils flared.
The tremble caused Raven to snarl at her. In a flash, Grace was pinned against the wall by her throat, Raven’s snarling face right up in hers. She cast her eyes away from Raven, trembling even more. “You dare touch my mate? Share secret conversations behind my back? Who the fuck do you think you are?”
Grace only whimpered in response as Raven’s elongated nails were now sinking into the soft flesh of her neck. Small streams of blood flowed down her neck, ruining her white dress.
“And then you look me in the eyes. How fucking dare you. You are not equal to me. Yet you still thought you could get away with it. What insults me most is that you didn’t keep your footing. You challenged me and insulted me by backing down.” The streams of blood were beginning to become thicker, as Grace began to struggle for breath.
No one moved to help her. They all knew she had brought this upon herself, and Raven was in the right place. If someone moved to pull Raven off of her, it would be a disgrace to both females.
“You are living in a fantasy if you think that you could steal him from me.” Raven’s voice was lowering now, becoming much more threatening. “I could rip your fucking throat out right now, Cinderella.”
The smell of piss was suddenly very evident, clogging Raven’s nose. The smell furthered her fury, and she snarled again. “You have no idea how badly I want to spill your guts over that table behind us. Treat me with respect, Cinderella. Next time your eyes meet mine, I will make you choke on your own fucking eyeballs. You got it?” Grace gave a weak nod.
Raven held her there for a second more before she released her. She clutched her bleeding throat as she crumpled to the floor, whimpering and crying. She reeked of urine, and the smell was beginning to saturate the room.
Raven spun around and looked at Ezekiel, who looked like a scolded puppy. He was ashamed to have been associating with such a weak female. And he now felt like an even bigger disgrace now that his mate had put that female in her place.
“You fucked up.” Raven’s bloodied finger pressed against his chest.
He didn’t fight back, but instead accepted what she said. He wanted her to tell him how much he disappointed her. Tell him that he’s a piece of shit. Yet she didn’t. She only gave him an angered, hurt look and shook her head.
He suddenly felt a thousand times worse.
Raven made her way out of the room, stopping to bare her teeth for a moment at the male who had slightly disrespected her earlier. And then she left.
Grace was done.
Colton was next.