"Helen, are you ready?" Sam asked, as he leaned lazily against the door frame, waiting for me to put on my shoes.
He looked effortlessly sexy in his faded denim jeans, brown lace-up boots, tight fitted white t-shirt, teamed with a red and black chequered, lumberjack shirt that he wore open.
His hair was styled high and brushed over slightly, his short beard was trimmed neatly along his strong masculine jawline.
I'd purposely stalled for time, knowing that as soon as I walked through that door, I wouldn't see this place for three whole months. It was as if someone had punched a hole straight through my chest and tore out my beating heart. I never thought I could hurt so much... but I did. With every heavy thump of my heart, I felt a deep painful ache.
Sam told me he could sense my feelings through the mate bond, so I tried to put on a brave face just for him. I wasn't going to allow myself to cry until later. Maybe find somewhere like a lay-by where I could pull over and bawl my eyes out.
I'd seen this day coming for the entire holiday. I'd promised myself I wouldn't get upset but time was running out so quickly, just like dry sand slipping through my fingers.
Sam's grey eyes seemed to glisten in the light and for a second I thought I'd imagined it. I thought I saw him shed a tear but his hand brushed against his cheek so quickly that I'd have missed it anyway. He sniffed, then cleared his throat.
"Your mom wanted us there, no later than noon." He swallowed hard, his gaze was fixed firmly on me.
He was waiting on me and had his car keys clasped in his hand ready. His steely, grey eyes studied me intensively as if he could tell exactly what I was thinking. I knew he didn't buy my ′everything's fine' act for a single second.
None the less, I kept up my façade. "Speaking of my mom, how do you think she's going to react when she finds out that I'm pregnant?"
"Do you want to tell her today?" Sam asked, while twirling his keys around his finger and catching them in his hand.
He looked a little nervous, it was cute. Surely, he wasn't afraid of making the announcement to our parents... I wasn't.
"I better," I replied, giving him a firm look to suggest I was serious. "She's my mom. I don't want to keep something as big as this from her, besides, I'm gonna need to ask her for pregnancy advice," I replied, thinking logically.
I didn't have 'What To Expect When You're Expecting' etched inside my brain, nor was everything textbook anyway, so Mom was my next best thing.
I wasn't sure whether or not I could go to a regular doctor. That'd be something I would need to find out before I went back to campus, tonight.
Sam's lips curved up at one side in a half smile. "Alright, let's go give them the good news."
I gave one last look around the cabin with a heavy-heart, before stepping out through the front door. Sam pressed the key fob to unlock the car so I could get in, while he locked up behind us. I fastened my seat belt, not having the strength inside of me to risk one last glance.
The lump in my throat was burning away like a blazing inferno. I brought my elbow to rest along the edge of the doorframe. I chewed my thumbnail, so Sam wouldn't see my bottom lip trembling.
It also gave me an excuse to stare out of the window to hide the fact that my eyes stung with unshed tears. If I blinked enough and tried to think of something that wasn't sad, I was pretty sure I could absorb them back.
"Penny for them?" Sam asked as he climbed in alongside me and pulled the door shut.
I wished he wouldn't ask me that when I was borderline ready to bawl my eyes out, yet he did it every time. Of course, he wasn't going to start the car until I'd given him a response. I felt my throat getting all gooey, so I had to cough to clear it before I trusted myself to speak like a normal human being and not like a sixty a day smoker.
"Just thinking about my project," I lied. "I'm gonna have to finish it tonight and tomorrow morning before my class starts."
OK, the last part wasn't an all out lie. I still had to make a few tweaks here and there before I handed it in tomorrow afternoon. I'd chosen the painting of Sam, fishing in his bear form down by the lake. The other painting: the family of deer, was now hanging pride of place in ′what was soon to be' the nursery in the cabin.
Sam said he'd work on it while I'm at college. He mentioned something about needing to buy neutral colored paint, so I told him to just wait until we could find out the gender. We both didn't care what we were having as long as we had a happy, healthy baby... I mean cub.
Sam let out an irritated huff. "I want you to rest up as much as you can for the next three months. I mean it, Helen. No pulling any all-nighters. Don't think I won't be checking up on you," he responded in a stern voice. "Promise?"
"I promise. No all-nighters," I replied, rolling my eyes.
To be honest, I was feeling really tired these last few days. Surely to God, pregnancy hormones don't kick in this quickly? It had to be a shifter thing.
"Good," Sam replied, satisfied. He was busy concentrating on avoiding the dips in the dirt track that led us back to the main road.
"Shifter pregnancies aren't exactly the same as human pregnancies. You may experience some....changes." There was a hesitation in his voice as he delivered a subtle warning.
That was enough to grab my immediate attention. "Huh?" I turned my head quickly to face him. "Changes?" My brows scrunched in confusion. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?" I contemplated his words. They sounded ominous to say the least.
"Yeah," Sam dragged out the word. "I'm not entirely sure what'll happen until I get a second opinion. You're human and you're carrying a bear shifter cub. I'm not sure how your body will adapt for the pregnancy."
"Will it change me? Would I be like you?" The panic was clear in my voice, I wasn't mad about it, I was just worried about what was likely to happen to me and to the baby... jeez, I mean cub! This was so confusing.
Sam's posture stiffened. "I honestly don't know. Why? Wouldn't you want that? It's OK if you don't. I'm not going to force you into something you don't want," Sam replied picking up on my fear.
"No." I placed a hand protectively over my lower abdomen. "This is our baby. I don't care if it changes me if it means we're a family Sam," I told him honestly.
Sam relaxed in his seat and let out a relieved breath. "Oh, thank God." A small smile crept across his lips.
I chuckled, shaking my head at him. "You're an idiot."
He was grinning now. He must have been scared stiff in case my answer was to terminate the pregnancy. There was no way in hell I'd ever even think about doing such a thing. I planned to make many more bear shifter babies with Sam.
"Yep, so people keep telling me," he replied, shooting me a side glance.
His hand reached over and gave my knee a squeeze. I placed my hand over the top of his and we entwined our fingers together, holding hands while he drove, only letting go so he could change gear.
We stayed that way, holding hands. Every now and then Sam would lift our entwined hands up and kiss the back of my knuckles, and each time his lips made contact with my skin, it sent a tingling sensation up my arm.
We turned onto the dirt track that ascended up the mountainside to our parent's cabin. The overgrown foliage on either side of the road formed a dense canopy overhead, where natural light struggled to spill through. It gave the impression we were driving through a dimly lit tunnel made from leaves.
We came out at the top of the track to where our parent's cabin was tucked away nice and snug amongst the forest. It was so quiet and peaceful up here... another good reason to love this place.
There was a familiar jeep parked alongside Jack's. "Hey, Luke's here," Sam announced, cheerfully. "Looks like they're planning on giving you the grand send-off."
"Hmhm." I snapped out of my reverie, lost in deep thought about becoming a mom. I was wondering whether I would be having a boy or a girl and about how awesome it would be to live out here forever.
Sam chuckled. "Where did you go? You were somewhere else for a while." We slowed down to a crawl as he parked the car right beside Luke's Jeep.
"I was just thinking about the baby." I absentmindedly placed a hand over my abdomen. "What do you think we'll have, a boy or a girl?" I asked dreamily.
Sam unclipped his seat belt and swiveled in his seat to face me. "If you really wanna know, lift up your shirt." He had a loving sparkle in his eyes, he was just as excited about finding out as I was.
I pulled up my t-shirt, exposing my stomach. Sam edged closer, leaning down so that his nose was pressed against my skin, then inhaled. Moments passed and Sam was still scenting my abdomen with a questioning expression on his face, whereas I burst into a fit of giggles.
"You're acting crazy." I tried to pull my top down, thinking that he was just fooling around.
"Stay still," he mumbled, pinning my wrists away.
"Your beard tickles." I giggled.
Sam inhaled again, then pressed his ear against my stomach, then after a few seconds, sat back up looking surprised. "We're having twins," he announced, shocked.
My jaw dropped with disbelief. "Can you tell what we're having?" I asked in excitement.
Sam cupped his hands over his face, his breath trembled with a mixture of shock and soft laughter. He leaned forward with his head resting along the top of the steering wheel, not freaking out, it just seemed as if he was as shocked to learn that we were expecting twins as I was.
When he sat up straight again and faced me, his handsome features beamed with pride. "I can't tell what we're having as I can only just scent them, but there's definitely two in there." His grey eyes grew huge in amazement. "Twins, huh? I got good swimmers, babe," he said, gesturing towards his groin with a chuckle.
My eyes welled up with tears of joy. "Oh my God, Sam, this is wonderful!" I threw my arms around his neck and pulled him down into a deep kiss.
I briefly opened my eyes to catch Sam cracking one eye open. "Our parents are looking at us through the window, probably wondering what we're doing," he mumbled against my lips.
Reluctantly, we broke apart, not wanting to put on a show for the curtain twitchers, so we decided to head inside.
"Hello, it's just us," I called out, as we let ourselves in. The smell of homemade lasagne wafted through the air, making my mouth water profusely.
"Through here!" Mom called out from the kitchen.
They must've run from the sitting room as soon as we noticed them staring. My lips curved into an amused smirk as I followed the sound of my mom's voice into the kitchen. I wasn't sure when to drop the baby bomb but as soon as Jack's and Luke's eyes landed on my abdomen, I knew they could tell.
They both exchanged overjoyed glances which confused my mom. She stood with her hand on her hip giving them a perplexed scowl. "What's wrong with you two? Do you both know something that I don't?" She asked, arching her brow in a quizzical expression.
There were nervous glances all round before I turned to face my mom, placing a hand over my stomach. Her eyes followed my movement, then darted back up to meet with mine. "Mom, we're pregnant with twins." I couldn't stop my grin from spreading.
Mom clapped a hand to her mouth as she let out a happy squeal. "Oh my God, that's so sudden but none the less wonderful!" She chuckled, then rushed across the room to engulf me in a hug. "Congratulations, the both of you," she expressed, pulling Sam in, too.
She turned to Jack who was being congratulated by Luke. "We're going to become grandparents," she squealed, excitedly.
Luke held out his hand to Sam. As soon as he took it, Luke pulled him in for a hug. "Congratulations, man."
"Thanks," Sam replied, clapping him firmly on the back.
"This calls for a celebration. Who's for some vodka? Helen won't be needing it now she's pregnant." Mom's eyes widened as she playfully mocked me.
I rolled my eyes. "That's right, go ahead and drink all my vodka," I mumbled, resentfully.
"Aww." Mom scrunched her nose. "I want these next three months to fly by. I wanna see my baby through her pregnancy."
Mom held onto my shoulders as she ushered me to sit down at the kitchen table. "You have to rest, take it easy, having one baby takes it out of you, never mind having two growing inside of you."
Although she fussed around me unnecessarily, I let her have her moment. She was happy, so I was happy. As soon as she leaned across the table to lay out the cutlery, I caught a glimpse of the mating mark in the crease of her neck. I smiled, a warm and settled feeling of peace crept over me. Mom was gonna be fine, I was gonna be fine, we both were.
Luke and Sam came to join me at the table. Jack helped Mom bring out the food and arranged the dishes along the table. The lasagne looked to die for. There was a bowl of mixed salad, fries and a plate full of garlic bread.
All three guys were chatting away happily whilst they began digging into the food, passing dishes back and forth and cracking open cans of beer.
I cupped a hand over my airways when Jack wafted a plateful of garlic bread under my nose. A strong feeling of nausea bubbled in the pit of my stomach.
"Ugh, God the smell!" I gagged, waving my free hand out in front of me. "Take it away!"
Four pairs of concerned eyes landed on me. "Helen, are you alright?" Sam asked, worry lines formed across his forehead.
Jack moved the plate over to the far side of the table. "So it's starting, huh?"
Mom narrowed her eyes and tutted at him. "Don't be so ridiculous Jack, it doesn't happen this early on. Don't worry honey, I'll buy you a book that explains each trimester in detail."
Jack, Sam, and Luke, all stared down at their food. Every now and then they would glance up to give each other an amused smirk, obviously sharing some kind of private joke.
"Mom." I rubbed my tender stomach. "Shifter pregnancies aren't the same as human ones. I don't quite know what to expect," I admitted.
Mom's eyes widened with alarm. "She's going to be alright though, isn't she?" She looked to Jack for reassurance.
"Yeah, of course, Elena. Don't worry. As soon as she's done with college, she'll be back here. Doctor Thorne will see her through the pregnancy," Jack answered in a way that suggested it would all be perfectly fine. "Shifters mate with humans often, and they're alright. No reason why Helen shouldn't be," he added with a casual shrug.
"Have you thought of any names yet, or is this way too early?" Mom glanced between me and Sam, waiting to see which one of us had an answer.
"I like Ashlyn or Aimee for a girl," I mentioned.
Sam added, "And I like Caleb or Colton for a boy."
Jack scrubbed a hand over his stubble while he thought. "Say you had one of each and you had to pick two names, which would you choose?"
I answered for us, "Ashlyn and Caleb." Then glanced towards Sam to see if he was happy with that. "Is that OK with you?"
Sam was smiling. "I think we just named our kids." He reached over to clasp my hand in his. "The next time I see you, I'll put a wedding ring on this finger." He pressed his lips against my finger and my heart practically melted with love.
Luke cleared his throat. "Shall we eat or are you two just gonna eat each other?" He grinned at Sam.
My cheeks exploded into a red-hot blush, you could've fried eggs on either side. For a moment the whole wide world had faded away while Sam and I gazed lovingly into each other's eyes, forgetting that our parents and Luke were there...eating.
We both mumbled an embarrassed apology, respecting that we were in company. Between all five of us, we demolished Mom's lasagne. I passed up the garlic bread, not wanting to feel sick while driving home. Funnily enough, none of the guys touched the salad. Luke made a comment about it being rabbit food.
We talked, laughed, joked and talked some more. Hours flew by so quickly and before long it was time for me to say my painful goodbyes. The very moment that I'd been dreading ever since I had first laid eyes on Sam.
Luke loaded my bags into my car whilst I stood kissing Sam as if he was my life essence. Neither one of us wanted to let go first, and when I felt moisture against my cheek, I realized he was shedding silent tears.
"I don't wanna go," I mumbled against his lips, tearfully.
"I don't want you to, either, but it'd be silly to give up on college now. Especially when you've only got one semester left." Sam's deep husky voice sounded strained and raw with emotion.
He held me close to his chest so that my body just molded into him. I could feel the slow beating of his heart against my cheek. He tangled his fingers in my hair, leaned down and inhaled my scent.
"I love you so much. I'm gonna miss you. Call me whenever you want," Sam whispered lovingly.
"I love you too. Come visit me when you can." My chest tightened and I felt the painful squeeze around my heart.
I pulled away to see the wet tear stain I made on Sam's shirt. His reddened eyes held so much sadness and longing that I almost couldn't muster the courage to leave. Mom held out her arms for a hug, pulling me close and sobbing against my shoulder.
"I'm so proud of you, honey," Mom whispered, stroking my hair.
I squeezed my eyes shut, wrapping my arms around her waist. "I love you, Mom."
Jack and Luke were hovering around waiting for their chance to say goodbye. Mom and I broke apart and Jack pulled me into a hug, placing a soft peck on my cheek and wished me a safe journey back to campus.
"Drop us a text when you get there, so we know you got back alright," Jack spoke in an unusually cracked voice.
A tear escaped my eye and rolled down my cheek as I grinned at Luke. The goofball was giving me a comical look whilst holding his arms out for a hug.
"C'mere, you." He grinned.
I chuckled through short uneven breaths. "Aw, Luke, don't go all soft on me now," I croaked. My throat felt as if it had closed up, burning as if I'd just gulped down a large shot of whiskey.
"Take care of yourself, drama queen," he joked, referring to the first day we met and how he made fun of my t-shirt.
"Same to you, you oversized, boy scout." I giggled, through tears. "Look after Sam for me, Luke."
"Always do," he replied softly.
Sam was waiting for me beside my car, wiping his eyes on the back of his hand. Despite the tears that were falling freely down my face, I walked towards him with a wide smile.
"You know, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me, right?" I admitted.
Sam's chest vibrated unevenly with each harsh, snatched breath.
"Are you kidding me?" He struggled to speak through tears and laughter. "I almost didn't come here for the holidays. My dad insisted that I show up to meet my new step-mom and step-sister. I wasn't looking forward to it at all." His eyes creased while he chuckled, shaking his head.
"Me neither," I confessed. "Mom begged me to come, too. I can't believe that I almost blew off coming here to party with my best friend in her parent's condo." I shuddered as I recalled how I'd almost made such a colossal mistake.
Sam smiled, raising his brows in amusement. "Funny how fate plays a part in everything, isn't it?"
"You're right, it is," I agreed. "I'm so glad I met you, Sam." I reached up and cupped his face with my palm, stroking the tears from his cheek with my thumb.
I leaned up on my tip toes to press my lips firmly against his. It wasn't like our earlier kiss. Even though it wasn't as passionate, it was filled with raw emotion. Only this time it was more of a promise. He belonged to me and I belonged to him and that was all that mattered.
We parted ways smiling. Sam held open the door for me, and as I got in, he fastened my seat belt, then closed the door. As the engine started up with a roar, Sam tapped twice on the window with his fingertips and extended his hand into a wave. I returned a genuine smile and waved back, looking around him to where Luke, Mom, and Jack were all waving back at me. I slammed my palm against the center of the wheel, giving two farewell toots of the horn before steering the car carefully down the narrow dirt track.
It felt weird driving my car again after two weeks. As soon as I got onto the main road that lead me away from Bear Creek, I started to feel a strange tugging feeling against my heart. It was weird how in such a short time, this place felt more like home than anywhere else.
I wasn't sure if it was the pregnancy hormones acting up but I started to get all emotional again. So much so, I had to pull over in a lay-by, just so I could let it all out. Tears flowed freely down my face as I cried my heart out.
I knew I needed to pull myself together and be strong. I needed to finish college and get my art degree but it was funny how two weeks could just alter my whole perspective on life. I wasn't sure I even wanted to be an illustrator anymore. Sam's guest house dream appealed more to me now than anything. Art was my passion, Sam was my life. Somehow, I had to find a balance between the two.
I reached inside the glove compartment, pulling out a packet of disposable tissues, taking one out and using it to wipe away my tears as well as blow my runny nose. I didn't care that I looked like shit. The only person I wanted to look good for was a few miles in the opposite direction.
Sam wouldn't like me getting all upset like this. I plugged my phone into the in-car charger, where power began to seep into the drained battery. Then I turned on the radio to distract myself, listening to the upbeat songs that the DJ played. Before I knew it, I was out of Forest Lake, halfway down the freeway and well on my way back to campus at Strayridge City.
By the time I pulled up in the campus parking lot, I was feeling ready to drop. I was exhausted and I still had some work to do on my project. I switched on my fully charged phone, ignoring the umpteen notifications that beeped through, and sent a text to Mom and Sam, that I'd arrived safely.
Then got out of the car, yawning as I stretched to relieve my stiff aching joints, and retrieved my holdall from off the back seat. The rest of it could wait until the morning. I felt bone tired, my limbs ached and my eyes were stinging with fatigue.
There was hardly anyone around by my dorm. It was nine thirty on a Sunday evening. All my friends that I usually hung out with were probably all getting an early night, ready for the start of the last semester.
I huffed as I turned the key in the lock and slumped through the door, half-assed. "Hey." Emma sat up in her bed to greet me.
"Hi, when did you get back?" I replied, dropping my bag down and throwing myself face first onto my bed.
"I got back around six this evening. How was spring break? So, did you get mauled by any bears?" Emma chuckled at our parting joke.
My body vibrated through stomach spasms as I giggled into my pillow. "Yeah, the whole town was crawling with bears. Big, huge grizzlies." My laughter grew louder.
I felt a pillow hit me on my ass. "How come you barely texted me? I sent you like a gazillion messages." I turned my head to see her peering over me. Her sweet blue eyes were as wide as saucers. "I've missed you, dumbass." Emma pouted.
"Guess what?" I spoke in a lowered tone, trying hard not to smile like crazy and give it all away too early.
Emma sat down on the edge of my bed, eager to hear my news. Her huge, blue eyes sparkled with curiosity. "What?" She asked, with keen enthusiasm.
I couldn't keep it to myself any longer.
"I've met someone."