The speeches were over. The walk was complete. The caps had been thrown. And now, she stood, with her parents’ arms around her, feeling an immense sense of anti-climax.
“Caia, we’re so proud of you!” Her mother wrapped her arms tightly around Caia’s shoulders, and Caia smiled indulgently.
“Ky!” Jason waved to her, seeing her need to escape the tears and sentimentality. She delicately removed herself from her parents and hurried over to her group of friends. Isla hugged her, tears pouring down her face, Valerie stood off to the side, looking out at the old stadium and school. Dylan and Henry were holding each other, a private moment the rest of the group chose not to intrude upon.
“I can’t believe it. Finally, we made it out alive,” Isla laughed and passed Caia along to Jason, who wrapped his arm around her shoulder.
“I can, I’ve been marking off days on the calendar since my junior year,” Caia laughed.
“Don’t be such a spoilsport. Can’t you at least pretend to have human emotions today? Shed a fake tear, say something nice that happened here?” Jason poked her in the ribs, making her giggle.
“Mmm, I hung out with some people that annoy the hell out of me?”
“Hey!” Jason and Isla said together.
“And, I love them dearly,” Caia laughed and gave Jason a peck on the cheek.
And, at that moment, she felt his eyes on her. His low growl audible, his power radiating and making her want to tremble.
But she’d known this would have to happen sooner or later. Slowly, reluctantly, she turned to face him.
His eyes bore into hers, a mess of anger and lust.
She told her friends she’d be back. With a subtle tilt of her head, she indicated that he should follow her; they needed to talk somewhere private.
He led the way to a more secluded area of the lawn, closer to the bleachers, away from the recently graduated high school students and their families.
“Congratulations, Caia,” he said softly and handed her a bouquet of flowers.
“Thank you, Cedric.” She tried to ignore the tingles that felt like fire moving up her arm as his fingers brushed hers. He’d found her two weeks ago. Should she not be used to this by now?
“I thought I told you to stay away from that boy.” His eyes had narrowed, looking back towards Jason.
Caia raised her eyebrows. Of course, they couldn’t have a normal conversation. Hadn’t had one the entire time they’d known each other. Today wouldn’t be any different.
“And I thought I told you that Jason is one of my closest friends and you do not get to dictate who I do, or do not, hang out with. I don’t tell you who you can be friends with, why the hell are you trying to do it to me?”
He bent closer to her, his dirty blonde hair lifting slightly in the breeze, his bright blue eyes flashing dangerously.
“Because I am your mate and no other—”
“Oh, fuck off, Cedric.” If she had to hear the speech again she was going to vomit, “Other men are in my life. Friends, coworkers, my father. You are going to have to deal with that and I am not having this damn argument every other day because your fucking Alpha pride can’t take it.”
His eyes had dimmed, deepening in color.
“It doesn’t matter anyways. Now that you’ve graduated, you’ll move to my territory, and—”
“Hold up. When did I say I was moving to your territory?”
It was his turn to raise his eyebrows. “You’ll have duties, as Luna, we’ll need an heir, first and foremost, and—”
She interrupted him for the third time. “What the hell are you talking about? You expect me to give up my life, move everything, to become your baby making machine? What the fuck is wrong with you?” Caia could not believe this was a real conversation.
“It is your duty as Luna to produce the next in line for the Alpha title. I need a son. You will give me one,” Cedric said flatly, as though discussing something as simple as the pleasantness of the weather.
Caia gaped at him. “Putting aside the fact that women can be Alphas you misogynistic piece of shit, who the hell even said I wanted kids?”
“Women change their minds all the time.” He waved his hand, as if he could physically brush aside her comment and continued, “As I said, it’s your—”
“My duty is to go to college, get a degree, and get myself a job. I am going to move as soon as possible and there is not a damn thing you can do to stop me.”
He towered over her, giving her a look that would make even the strongest man tremble, but Caia could not back down now.
“You are my mate, and you belong with me, by my side. You cannot go traipsing across the country when your role is with the pack, with me, helping me rule. You will be Luna of the Sacred Shadows pack, whether you like it or not. I will drag you there myself, if I have to.”
They stood, facing each other, each seething, fury building, threatening to mount to something Caia would not allow.
“You really think so?” she asked, quietly. He nodded, eyes black, his canines threatening to protrude from his mouth. And her mind was made up. She took a deep breath, mentally preparing, as every part of her steeled itself for the words about to come forth. “I, Caia Alman, re—” He immediately whirled her around, clamping his hand over her mouth, but she said the words into his palm, “—ject you as my mate.”
It was as if a part of her had been torn from her chest, ripped apart at the seams. She was ice, frozen from the inside out, and his hands were no longer on her. She was a world entirely unto herself, filled with nothing but pain, and longing, and misery.
Through a haze, she could see the outlines of her parents. Caia managed to stagger to her feet, using the bleachers by her side to stand, and began to make her way over to them. She didn’t know where Cedric was, or where or when his flowers had fallen from her hands.