Chapter 3 - Cameron (Part 2)
An emptiness hollowed out his body. The world pressed its weight on him. Pushed him down as far as it could until he could hardly breathe on his own.
Ribs protected his heart and lungs from the crushing will of the world, but it was still engulfed in pain for what was lost and could never be returned.
Amnesia stole four years worth of memories. Memories he would never get back. Memories of people he’d never see again.
He and Andrew had been best friends since they were in diapers. Their mothers were friends and did everything together. Their pups all grew up together.
Life without him now would never be the same.
The injuries Cameron sustained during the battle had healed, but the weeks of being comatose obliterated his muscles. He would require months of therapy and exercise to rebuild himself. Years to regain the strength he once had.
It was as if he had returned to being that pup on the cusp of adulthood. Only this time, he didn’t have his best friend at his side.
His only consolation came in his budding friendship with Samuel.
Sam was Andrew’s younger brother, an unexpected addition to the family late into their parents’ lives. No one thought his mother could have more pups, but the Moon Goddess blessed her with another son before closing her womb.
Sam was a sickly pup, slower to grow and mature. Self-conscious to the point where he let the other pups walk all over him and didn’t fight back or stand up for himself. His father wasn’t proud and his older siblings saw him as the weak link in the family, but Andrew loved Sam. Despite the nine-year age gap, Andrew made Sam his world.
When Andrew died, Sam was as devastated as his parents, if not more so. Always the outcast in the family, Sam tried to end it all at the tender age of thirteen.
That was when Cameron stepped in.
Andrew was gone. He’d never get his best friend back and Sam would never get the big brother who loved him more than his own father did.
Their shared brokenness and emptiness was the foundation they built their friendship on.
Sam became a little brother to Cameron and while neither of them had the funny-bone Andrew had, Sam looked up to Cameron. Through each other, they found a sense of purpose to grow and become stronger individuals.
As the days turned to weeks, and the weeks into months, and then years, Cameron got stronger, but a part of him ached with a longing emptiness that he couldn’t place. He worked hard. He climbed the ranks of the pack, visited neighboring packs with the other unmated wolves in hopes of finding his soulmate, without any luck.
Younger, unmated females or females who lost their mates in the battle vied for his attention, but the sight and smell of them made him sick. He couldn’t stand their touch and the pungent odor of their sexual needs raised his hackles in fury and disgust. He recoiled at the slightest hint of interest from any female and physically removed himself as soon as he could.
He feared that he had briefly met his mate in the battle and she was killed before the truth could be revealed.
Was it possible?
He prayed it wasn’t true but as the years passed, he feared the worst.
Five years after the battle, he found himself once again wandering along the shore of Aspen Beach with Sam. After all this time, he hadn’t regained any of his lost memories and he had accepted the fact that he never would. Since waking up from his coma, he found a recurring tugging of his mind whenever he would visit. Something about this place kept drawing him there.
Maybe it was because a hotel key card had been found in the pocket of his muddy, rain-drenched clothes and destroyed cell phone after the battle. Why did he have a hotel key card? No one knew what he had been up to in the town and couldn’t offer him any answers. The staff at the hotel did have a record of him booking a room for two nights and ordering room service, but there was no other information available for him.
At least once a month for the last five years—twice a month in summer—he found himself wandering the beach aimlessly and having a beer on the patio of a pub and watching the sunset over the lapping shoreline.
He had a feeling he was forgetting something important about the town, but anyone he asked had no idea what it could be.
Bending down, he picked up a rock on the sandy beach and pitched it into the water, mentally cursing his amnesia for the thousandth time before shoving his hands into the pockets of his board shorts as the water lapped at his feet.
Sam trailed behind him in silence, speaking only when spoken to, as if he knew Cameron needed this time to think and connect with a part of him that was lost.
The sun was high in the sky, beating down on him as sweat gathered on the back of his neck and brows. No breeze blew to offer him relief. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply when a hint of something wonderful tickled his senses.
Blinking, he inhaled deeply again, questioning his senses for a moment before looking around for the source.
It was her. The one he’d been looking for since he woke up from his coma. His soulmate. The one made just for him.
As he looked around wildly, Sam straightened his back and regarded him with interest at his sudden emotional shift.
All around them, families huddled together on the sand, sunbathing or building castles, and people swam in the water, shouting and splashing around.
There were too many people around to narrow down the source. Briskly, he walked away from the water and toward the smell with Sam close on his heels, his eyes scanning around the beach and glancing at the storefronts for any sign of the source.
With each passing moment, he grew more anxious. Fear coiled around him at the thought of missing her after all this time of looking.
“What’s going on?” Sam asked in a low voice.
“She’s here. I can smell her.”
Cameron nodded, ignoring the human females along the beach who ogled and tried to catch his attention.
Finally, she appeared before him amidst the crowd fifty yards away in front of the shops. Her auburn hair shone brightly in the sunlight. A green sundress hugged her curvy torso and fell gracefully over her full hips. As stunning as she was, what caught him off guard and had him stopping in his tracks and holding his breath was the four or five-year-old child holding her hand and eating an ice cream cone with the other.
His heart sank into the pit of his stomach.
His human mate had already been claimed by another.
The ache within him seized him and all he could do was stare at them. His stomach churned.
He was too late. He could never be with her now. He’d never forgive himself for ripping her away from a family she already had.
A whimper crept up his throat.
Through the pain, the urge to run to her and steal her away surged through him and he took a step forward only to hold himself back, telling himself to stop.
She doesn’t belong to you.
Then she looked directly at him and stiffened. Her eyes widened. Was that recognition? Fear?
His heartbeat quickened.
Whirling around, she tugged on her daughter’s hand. The little girl with long dark brown hair protested before starting her cry. Her ice cream cone splattered on the ground from the sudden movement.
His mate picked her up into her arms and quickly began to walk away. She glanced over her shoulder, caught his gaze, and began to jog.
Instinct gripped him and he charged forward.
She had recognized him! And for whatever reason, she was running from him.
There was no male with her. What kind of a pathetic man would leave his female and pup unattended? Were they not precious enough to him to go places and spend time with them?
If that was the case, perhaps he had a chance after all? Maybe he had a chance to be the mate she never knew she had? Maybe he could be everything she never knew she could have?
He caught up to her when she reached her car and put the child inside, slammed the door shut and spun around to confront him with such hostility that he felt as though he’d been hit by a truck.
“Stay away from me!”