The Beauty of Grey

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Chapter 35

My cheeks burned as I stepped into the cool evening air, the smell of the polluted city null in the presence of Zacharias’ pheromones. We were so close that it seemed my molecules—my genetic makeup—shuddered with angst. I hadn’t felt that I had missed him. Not until this moment, at least. It took all I had to resist thrusting myself into his arms. I couldn’t even look at him.

I watched his feet facing the street step to the side before facing me. Fancy dress shoes in place of the black boots he usually sported. He wore dress pants as well. I couldn’t see him joining my father and I for a meal. I wondered why he was dressed so nicely. It wasn’t as though he needed to make a first impression with me. He had made one five years ago. It was one I wouldn’t soon forget.

I breathed in deeply, arms wrapped around myself as I stayed a safe distance of two feet away from him. My toes curled in my flats and the skirt of my purple dress billowed in the breeze. My body tingled with pain, ached as though I was coming down with the flu. I hadn’t gotten sick in five years, not even plagued by the common cold.

“Edie,” he said, and I watched his shoes inch towards me. I didn’t want to cause a scene, unwisely, so I didn’t step away from him. I didn’t want my father getting concerned, not unless concern was necessary if not critical. I willed myself to look up at him. He halted as we made eye contact. “My beautiful Edie.” He breathed.

He looked aged—more weathered, as though by grief rather than hard work or the sun. He had bags beneath his eyes and the beginnings of crows feet. He was as handsome as ever, however, the years doing nothing but help him age like a fine wine. He had a streak of grey here and there, body just as fit as it had been years ago. I hated the way heat pooled between my legs.

I wondered what he thought as he looked at me—if he dissected me the way I dissected him. I wondered if he thought I was getting better with age. I wondered briefly how we would’ve aged had we aged together—would we have kept each other young, or would we have exhausted the years? We had been miserable—I had been miserable. Would happiness have been in our plan at some point?

I took a deep breath again. I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. I pursed my lips, a million different questions whirring in my mind like a cyclone but my lips sealed like a locked gate. My knees began to shake, suddenly, my eyes watering. I realized I was not, in fact, blithe to see him. No, not even close.

I was afraid.

And it seemed he could tell by the way he looked at me. He had traumatized me and damaged me irreversibly all those years ago. I missed him, yes, only because the bond permitted it. My humanness, however, allowed adequate fear. Was this what he had meant by adequate fear?

“I’m not here to harm you,” he tried reassuring me. I felt cold, suddenly, even though it was warm outside. I could see my body gather gooseflesh. “I’m not here to take you back, Edie. I would never take you by force again. I’m just here to give you a warning.”

Immediately, my brain perceived warning as a threat. My brows furrowed as my eyes widened. My mouth was parched. “What kind of warning?” I managed to croak out, voice instantly suspicious.

He seemed to flinch at my suspicion. “my beta has informed me you didn’t come here alone. You have an admirer,” he said, which instantly set a stone in my stomach. I did my best to hide it. “He doesn’t know how long he has been watching you for, but he believes he’s been watching you for a while.”

“Why didn’t he tell me this?” I asked, the tingle in my body increasing. “Why hasn’t he warned me? Why is it you telling me this?”

“I needed an excuse to come and see you, Edie. If I had no reason to see you, I’d flake out. You make me feel weak,” he ran a strong hand down his face. I longed for his touch. “You intimidate me. I’ve never felt intimidated before. You have power over me.”

“Has your beta described what my admirer looks like?” I felt uncomfortable. I needed to change the subject away from me.

“Distinct red hair,” he snickered to himself breezily. “A redhead. You’ve gotten yourself a redhead. My beta said he was good looking.”

I felt it again, that same judgement. I hadn’t even known I was being followed, yet Zacharias still had a way of making me feel like I was having an adulterous affair. Even if I was, I would not consider it infidelity. I never loved Zacharias. “Does your beta know who he is?”

“He has his suspicions. And so do I.”

I raised a brow at him. “Who do you think he is?”

“I think he’s your lover. I think he’s more obsessed with having you than I was. I think he’s someone you had a fling with—maybe still are. My beta has seen him in front of your house. But why him, Edie? A redhead? He is nothing compared to me.”

“He is not nothing compared to you,” I snapped at him. I ran a hand through my hair. I shook my head, appalled at him. “You haven’t changed at all. Do you think I could even fathom sleeping with other men? I find myself feeling attraction, but it stops at that. I have no desire to be with other men. Do you understand that? You have ruined other men for me.”

“Well, then, who is he?” He asked me. He looked as though he was so well-meaning he could’ve sported a golden halo above his head. “What is his purpose with you?”

I took slow, tiny steps toward him, my mouth curled in a sneer. Even now, he questioned me on everything. He didn’t trust me, not that I expected it was in his nature to. But he had no grounds to question me on anything. We were tied through the moon and, falsely, it ended at that.

I stood less than half a foot away from him, looking up at him. “If I were to tell you the truth, would you believe it to be a lie?”

He said nothing as he looked down at me. His hands balled into fists, but I knew he had no desire to strike me. He was trying to resist reaching out and touching me. In a way, I supposed, I was egging him on. I wanted to feel his touch just once. Through my fear and sense of loss, I just wanted to feel him trace his fingertips against my skin. I would never ask him to, though.

“He was the detective who interviewed me after my return. I came up with a half-fast, bullshit story and he didn’t hesitate letting me know he didn’t believe a word that came out of my mouth. I fled the day after the interview. I think he’s trying to find evidence through my actions. But you,” I laughed bitterly. “You think I’m...fucking him?”

It was his turn to take a step away from me. He never broke eye contact, however. “What did you tell him?”

“I’m not a rat,” I felt the need to say. “I said Zach. The closest he’d think was Zachary, if even that. I told him I was kept in a tiny room, chained to a bed in the middle of nowhere. Believe me, no matter what I told him he could never trace it back to you.”

“I wouldn’t be concerned even if you had,” he reassured me. I pursed my lips again. “I have no fear of humans. Especially not redheads.”

I couldn’t help the small smile that tugged at my lips. I coughed it away, however. “What’s your issue with redheads?”

He grimaced at my question. “In lycan myth redheads have the tongue of a snake. They’re liars,” his eyes held a sense of urgency. “I don’t trust them. And neither should you.”

“I never trusted him anyway,” I began to walk away from him. “My father is waiting. I told him no more than five minutes. Five minutes is up.”

“I thought you hated your father,” he said from behind me. I stopped for a moment, turning back around. He eyed me with disapproval. I felt ashamed for a moment. “Why are you having a meal with him?”

“I’ve hated you all these years but I still came outside to talk,” I gave him a sweet smile. “Good night, Zacharias.”

I walked back inside, thankful once again to be in a room that didn’t smell like Zacharias. The pain in my body seemed to fester and fester until I thought I was going to explode. I felt more sweat bead on my forehead. But just as quickly as it came it went away, and I was back to normal.

When I locked eyes with my father, I saw his cellphone was pressed to his ear. This wasn’t unusual. My father was a busy man—often when I’d use the washroom and come back out he’d be on the phone. I never thought much of it. He’d usually be ending the conversation as I sat down, then he’d roll his eyes and laugh as he hung up.

But this time, when we locked eyes, it was as though I had caught him in the middle of doing something he should not have been doing. I watched his cheeks blanch for a moment, before he dropped his eyes to the table. I tried to hone in on what he was saying, but he was whispering too quietly amidst the loud chatter in the restaurant. He nodded quickly before he hung up. Then smiled at me.

Something told me to turn around and so I did before I took my seat. I saw a fancy car pull from the curb and do a u-turn, tires screeching as it drove in the opposite direction. I looked back to my father who gave me a funny look and shrugged. “Wrong restaurant, maybe?”

I rested my hand on the back of my chair. I didn’t sit down right away, something tugging at my insides. I felt like I was about to have a vision or something, brain activity sending me into overdrive. I tucked my hair behind my ears. “Who were you on the phone with?”

“Oh, no one,” he waved a dismissive hand. He was either a fantastic liar or he was telling the truth. “Just someone calling in to tell me they’re sick and can’t make it to work tomorrow. They must have a terrible immune system. They’re sick every weekend!”

I laughed lightly. I was most likely just being paranoid. Seeing Zacharias did that to me—it always had. No one was safe or cleared from my radar whenever he was around. I’d have to kick that mindset, even after all of these years. It was going to ruin my life.

“Who was your friend? He’s a handsome fellow.” My dad asked as I pulled out the chair and felt safe enough to sit down. He raised both of his brows, urging me to spill the details. I laughed again. A nervous habit. I forgot about my redheaded stalker.

“Just a friend from university,” I lied, smoothly I hoped. “We were estranged after we both graduated.”

And again, another man looked at me as though they didn’t believe me. I gave my father a tight smile and found myself shifting uncomfortably in my chair. Zacharias didn’t have the look of someone who wanted to get into physiotherapy—he didn’t look urbanized at all, really. Like detective Roth, my dad knew I was protecting whoever I had spoke to outside.

“Don’t worry about it.” I told him gently, just wishing I could forget about the encounter.

But by the way my father looked at me, I knew the last thing he was going to do was stop worrying.

We stayed at dinner longer than I anticipated. I was thankful I didn’t have work tomorrow. It was pitch-dark outside and the wind had picked up. I suspected when I woke up in the morning I’d see a blanket of grey in the sky and a torrent of rain against my bedroom window. I always found my skin felt sticky when it was to rain. The late air humidity made the ends of my hair curl.

As I turned to pull in front of my house, I noticed a vehicle was parked where I parked. I sighed as I realized I would have to parallel park. It was not something I looked forward to doing this late at night. I was tired and still fretful over my meeting with Zacharias. As much as I longed for his touch, I also longed to never see him again.

I was about halfway into my parallel park when that pain radiated in my stomach again, sending vines of it throughout my entire body. My foot pressed the gas, and I nearly shot into the vehicle behind me, but by the grace of God my foot jutted onto the brake last second. I gasped loudly as I hunched over the steering wheel, crippled from pain.

But hey, at least I was finished parking.

Hands shaking like a stop sign in the wind, I pushed the gear into the park and wheezed myself into a tizzy. The pain was worse than it had been earlier ten-fold. I was certain something had went wrong and I was suffering from internal bleeding. It was the worst stomach cramping I had ever gotten. I was certain I was going to pass out.

I heard a vehicle door slam, and through foggy eyes I looked up, seeing it was from the vehicle in front of me. A tall, bulky finger started walking towards me. The first thing I looked at was the head, making sure it wasn’t a head full of red hair. It wasn’t—it was a head as black as the sky.

I suddenly wished it would’ve been a head of red hair. I knew exactly who this figure was. And it seemed the closer he got, the more my stomach started to hurt. I wanted to scream at him to back away until I could no longer see him, but my stomach took my breath away and made it feel like my throat had constricted. I considered myself to have a high pain tolerance, but I was close to praying for death.

He knocked on my window. “Unlock the door. I feel it too,” he seemed less pained by it than I was, however. I suspected—well, knew actually, that he had been through worse. “I know how to make it stop. Please. Allow me to help you.”

“I—I don’t need your help,” I cried out, the pain reaching its climax. I felt as though I had been pulverized in a blender and lived. “Please, step away from my door.”

And, feeling merciful, he did. I felt like I had whiplash again, trying to prove to him that I didn’t need his help when I desperately wanted it. I was strong with or without him, and I wasn’t going to allow him to forget that. So I held my breath as though it would help as I stepped outside, my knees shaking the way they so favoured again. Once I was outside of my vehicle, I used it to stabilize myself as I closed the door behind me and locked it.

As soon as it was locked, I turned around and faced Zacharias. I ran a hand through my hair. “Why are you here?” More importantly, why had James shown him where I lived when he knew how much I didn’t want to be around him?

Instead of responding, he wrapped his hand around my wrist and pulled me to his body. We were pressed like two statues bronzed together, tightly and without any gap room between us. The moment I was enveloped in his arms, my keys fell out of my hands as instant relief alleviated the excruciating pain from my body. It suddenly made sense as to why I had longed for his touch; in the back of my mind, I knew he was the only one who could cure my pain.

Thankful for the absolute ecstasy my body was in, I allowed myself to go weightless, lowering myself onto the ground. Zacharias lowered himself onto the ground with me, both of our sides pressed into my car. I felt my keys digging into my ankle, but I couldn’t care less. I was so thankful for the relief. My body had, literally, ached for him.

“And you feel that too.“He breathed into my ear, before pressing a kiss to my cartilage. My eyes, once heavy, were now wide and alert. My fear seemed to disintegrate all at once, gratitude taking over. I couldn’t resist him; in this moment, as much as I wanted to deny it, I needed him. I needed my mate.

“My body felt you before I could,” I said. “It is dependent on you.”

“Even though you are not. Funny how the moon works, isn’t it?”

“Why are you here, Zacharias?” I asked again.

“Because I had to see you once more before the full moon tomorrow. I don’t want to stay away from you, but I know you hate me. You will never love me,” he sounded emotional. “Every full moon that passed by was harder and harder without you. Not even running with my pack could make up for your absence. I could not make it through tomorrow without seeing you again.”

“The full moons have gotten easier,” I said. “They don’t hurt me much anymore.”

“You’ve become immune to them,” he explained to me. “It hurts everyone the first time.”

“Have you seen another during the full moons?” I asked him before I could stop myself. It shouldn’t have mattered even if he did, but I was curious. I had been...loyal, for lack of a better term. But had he?

“I never once had the desire to see another. You are the only one I desire,” he said to me. I looked up at him. I wondered if my neighbours were witnessing this—this strange man and I holding each other on the road against my car. In that moment, I couldn’t have cared less if they were. “Other women repulse me. This bond isn’t one-sided like you may think.”

I hated how I was allowing him to hold me, but I hated myself more for allowing myself to succumb to my moment of weakness. It seemed now, five years later, I was more accepting of him than I had been back then. I hadn’t lied when I told him I hated him, because I did as long as he wasn’t around. But the moment he was in front of me, holding me, that hatred fizzled away into acknowledgement. He had been right. I couldn’t hate him, not as long as we were face to face.

“Zacharias...” I breathed out softly. The temperature seemed to drop by ten degrees even in the warmth of his arms. “I want to hear from you why you sent me away. If I had fought to stay, would you have allowed me?”

“No. I had my mind set on sending you away, and I don’t regret it. You are still alive, are you not? I was afraid if I kept you with me, you wouldn’t make it. Those dates were going to lead to your downfall.”

“Doesn’t your date end this year?” I asked him.

I felt his neck bulge as he swallowed. He quickly changed the subject. “Have you thought about me at all these five years away from me.”

I felt his grip tighten on me with anticipation. It was my turn to swallow. “It would’ve been impossible not to. You left me incomplete. I had to think of you in order to help piece myself back together again. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive you for putting me through what you did and then sending me away. You had my mind in warfare.”

I grabbed my keys and stood up, thankful the ache in my body hadn’t returned. I didn’t need him—no, of course I didn’t. I didn’t need him these years and although I wanted him now, I didn’t need him. I was healthier without him. It was in this moment I knew I had never developed Stockholm syndrome for him.

“I think you should leave, Zacharias. We’re no good for each other.” I recognized the pleading in my voice.

But he stood up too. “I’m not here to try and make you love me back, Edie,” that L-word again. I flinched as though the word was embodied and had slapped me. ”I love you. I always will. I do not expect you to return it.”

“I don’t know how you could live with that,” I told him, shocked. “Isn’t that what love is, loving someone in the hopes they’ll eventually love you back?”

“I expect nothing from you,” He said as I pressed myself against my car. I looked up at him as he positioned himself in front of me. “I’m done playing give-and-take with you. We’re not giving nor taking anything from each other from this point on.”

“Have you ever wished you were mated to someone who could one day love you back?”

He caressed my cheek with one hand, resting the other on my waist. He tucked my hair behind my ear, before bending down and leaning in close to my face. “Never. Not once.”

And then he kissed me.

I was unresponsive at first, trying to resist his seduction. At his beck and call, however, I could not resist for long. It was like reliving a fond first kiss—not the first one him and I had shared. But as if with someone who love was shared with. My fingers knotted before my hands found his scalp and nape. More heat pooled between my legs.

His hands were on my waist as he hoisted me up, and instantly I wrapped my legs around his abdomen. We were kissing fervently and deeply as he began walking us to my front door. Rain began to sprinkle from the sky, and my skin went from cool to so warm I expected to hear it sizzle as it landed on me. This was not love—for both of us. This was lust stemmed from deprivation.

He walked us up my steps and rammed my back into the front door. Tearing my hand with the keys from his hair, I held out my house key as i struggled to find the keyhole through our kissing. I was so desperate for him that I couldn’t even pull away for half a second. The rain started picking up.

Finally I found the keyhole and unlocked the door, and he forced his way inside. The moment we were in he kicked the door shut and my back was against it again. Still kissing, I kicked my shoes off with ease as Zacharias struggled to remove his. I managed to find the key rack and hung my keys up.

Finally, I pulled away to take a deep breath, panting loudly as I rested the back of my head against the door. Zacharias buried his nose in my chest, kicking his shoes off finally. When I breathed in through my nose, I could smell male pheromones. Zacharias tried to kiss me again, but I rejected these advances.

The pheromones did not belong to him.

Another man had been in my home while I was gone.

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