"I, Sheena Griffiths, take you, Byron Valentine, to be my lawful, wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death does part." Sheena watched the same clip of her wedding video through raw, bloodshot eyes.
The heartbreaking image of her jubilant, smiling face, haunted her in her sleep and had done for the past month since she'd discovered her cheating husband's affair. Her fingers clutched the pillow that rested on her lap, hearing the material begin to strain in protest.
Humiliation boiled inside of her as she watched the playback of herself, repeating her vows in front of all her friends and family. Her teeth began to grind in her mouth with temper.
The priest turned to the lying bastard, whose face she wanted to rip off and asked him to recite the sacred vows before God. He took hold of her hand and she whimpered as she watched it on her widescreen TV.
"I, Byron Valentine, take you, Sheena Griffiths, to be my lawful, wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death does part."
The sight of his smarmy-looking face caused her temper to reach supernova.
"Liar!" Sheena screamed at the television, tearing apart the cushion, which sent a flurry of feathers soaring into the air.
She bowed her head, turning her palms limply and allowing the torn fabric to fall to the floor. Her hands shook as she sobbed, broken and empty. Just like the future she had planned with Byron.
"How could he do this to me?" She cried until she had no more tears left inside.
Her mother had been right, she hated to admit it. She should've waited for her fated mate, wherever he might've been. She was almost twenty-six years old and desperate to start a family. How could she be expected to wait for her mate? For all she knew, he could've died or met someone else because she would have sensed him by now.
Her family was well respected within the fox shifter community. Being a Griffiths was the equivalent to being of royal blood. Her family were Billionaires. Money could buy her almost anything, but it couldn't bring her the happiness she so desperately craved. After all, it was her money that Byron had been interested in.
All she had ever wanted was to become a mother. The gentle-natured fox had been pining for a child for years. Now it seemed those dreams lay shattered at her feet, the same as the wedding photographs that lay smashed in their frames on the living room floor.
Goodness knows how long she had been sitting there, staring into space. The noise from the intercom buzzer startled her out of her thoughts. Sheena flicked her eyes up to the communication box on the wall and let out a heavy sigh. Her visitor was persistent, keeping their finger on the button. She huffed as she stood, kicking aside the debris and scraps of her wedding gown. That had been one of the first things to suffer the wrath of her temper. The only way she could cancel him out of her life was to obliterate everything that he'd touched, owned, or chosen together.
Sheena snatched up the telephone and held it to her ear. "Hello?" Her bereft, hoarse voice sounded nothing like her usual cheery self.
"Thank goodness, you're home. I've been worried sick about you. Don't you answer your phone?" Her mother lectured, despite the lingering hint of relief in her voice.
Sheena had been avoiding her mother, not wanting to hear the words, 'I told you so' slip from her lips.
"Let me in, something terrible has happened," her mother informed.
"Fine, but excuse the mess," Sheena pre-warned her in advance.
She had been living like a slob for the past few weeks. Gravitating around the apartment in a depressive-like state. She couldn't remember the last time she had washed or eaten a proper meal. Her long red hair hung in a state of greasy disarray and there were dark circles under her glassy blue eyes. She looked a washout. Her breath was stale enough to kill a small colony and her leg hair had grown half an inch since she last shaved it. Goodness knows what her underarms were like and her downtown resembled that of a dense rainforest. Her disheveled appearance and her trashed home represented her mood right now, so her mom would get a first-hand glimpse into how bad her only daughter was feeling.
Sheena opened the door to her apartment, holding it open as her mom stepped over the threshold. Her mother lifted her sunglasses from her eyes, hardly believing the sight before her.
"Have you been robbed?" She asked, sounding shellshocked.
Sheena didn't know where to begin. Instead, she held her mother's concerned gaze, letting all her pain glisten through her eyes. Her mom's face crumpled with sympathy, understanding what that meant.
"Oh baby, I'm so sorry. What happened? Did he hurt you?"
Sheena just nodded. "You could say that."
"I knew he was a good for nothing bastard," her mom exclaimed.
They both took a seat at the kitchen table after making some coffee and Sheena told her mother everything. All about Byron's affair with his secretary. How he'd wined and dined her at his and Sheena's favorite restaurant. The one where he'd proposed to her. How she'd found receipts for the jewelry that he'd bought. The trashy underwear that she'd found, stuffed in his shirt pocket. And the empty condom wrapper that she pulled out of the glove compartment of his car.
He tried to say that she was being paranoid. That he'd taken his secretary along to business dinners. That the jewelry was just a 'thank you' for helping him land monumental deals for the company. He said that the underwear was planted there by a friend who was pulling a prank. But the condom wrapper was the one that he had fought hardest to squirm his way out of. Sheena and Byron had been actively trying for a baby without any success for the past six months. Condoms were the last thing that she expected to find. He knew she wasn't stupid. When he came up with the lame excuse that he had lent his car to a friend, he knew she didn't believe a word that he said.
Little did he know that she could scent his seed all over the leather interior, along with the scent of his secretary. Byron was human and knew about Sheena's secret. But there were some secrets that she kept to herself for safe keeping. Like how she could scent bullshit a mile away. Not only had he broken her heart beyond repair, but he had shattered her trust too. It was a double betrayal. An unforgivable act of disrespect. Now she was scared that he would tell the world about shifters and the turmoil was keeping her awake each night.
How could he do this? After everything that she had given him.
Sheena's stomach rolled with sickness and betrayal. She had given her heart to this human and this was how he chose to repay her. By throwing it back in her face. She was done with love, done with trying. Too many times, had men like Byron taken advantage of her generosity. Sheena had too much love to give and she'd been wasting it on assholes who didn't deserve her. When Sheena loved, she was committed, she was all in.
So why wasn't Byron?
"Have you seen the news?" Her mom asked, diverting her mind elsewhere.
Sheena shook her head. "Why? What's happening with the stock market now?" She asked, wondering why her mom looked so grim today.
"The other news." Her mom emphasized with her eyes. Signaling her in a 'not so subtle way' in reference to the shifter community.
"No, why?" Sheena replied with an indifferent shrug.
"Forest Lake was attacked last night," she told her, earning a shocked gasp from her daughter.
"What? How?" She asked, her eyes flaring wide with alarm.
"The vampires made a move on the Alpha of Stonevale. They recruited hunters to storm through the towns, wreaking havoc on the communities. Not only the wolves but the cats were hit too. As far as we know, the bears were left alone, but some were sent to join the fight," she revealed, much to Sheena's horror. "Beta Grayson released a press report, early hours this morning. He said the death toll had reached triple figures."
Sheena brought her hand up to cover her mouth. "Shit!" She murmured, closing her eyes as she took a moment to process the loss.
Even though they weren't foxes, they were still shifters all the same.
"How's uncle Carlton? Alpha Alec is his best friend," Sheena enquired, concerned how this would impact her own family.
Her mom let out a heavy sigh. "As well as can be expected, given the current circumstances. He's flying back from Brussels to meet with him as we speak. Stonevale's destroyed. I don't know how long it'll take them to rebuild but at least they can seek refuge in Hawcroft until it is."
The current situation in Forest Lake took precedence over her bitter break-up with Byron. This devastating news allowed her to forget about him for a little while.
"We should do something to help...like send them money?" Sheena suggested, wanting to at least be of some use to her shifter cousins in their time of need.
Her mom waved a hand in front of her in dismissal.
"They don't need money, sweetheart. They have stacks of cash like we do. The bears will help them rebuild and I'm pretty sure they won't see the cats go without, either. What they need right now is some moral support. The Beta reported that pups and cubs were orphaned, poor things." Her mom released a saddened sigh whilst placing her palm flat against her chest. "He's looking for someone who could take them in and raise them as their own. Like foster families," her mom explained, more clearly.
The maternal cogs began to turn inside Sheena's brain. She had more money than she knew what to do with. More time on her hands, now that she had severed ties with Byron for good. She looked around her modern apartment, hating everything that it stood for. As the thought occurred to her that she could be of some use, she snatched the opportunity up without a moment's hesitation.
"I'll do it. I'll foster those orphaned kids," she announced, making up her mind in a heartbeat.
"Huh?" Her mom looked at her as if she'd gone batshit crazy.
Sheena hurried to the living room and ripped out that joke of a wedding video. She flicked through the TV channels until she found the exclusive shifter channel that was only known to her species. There, on the bottom of the news broadcast that played on loop, was a helpline.
Sheena felt her heart chime inside her chest. She snatched up her mobile phone from the coffee table and set her thumbs to work, typing in the number, then pressed the green phone symbol to make the call. She waited for someone to pick up, turning to witness her mom's baffled look from behind her. But Sheena didn't care, sparing her mom an accomplished grin.
As soon as she heard the female's voice down the other end of the line, her concentration was focused. "Hi, yes, I saw what happened on the news. I wanna help," she told the helpline operator.
The lady on the other end of the line replied with enthusiasm, asking if she could take down her details.
"My name is Sheena Griffiths," she told her, hearing shocked gasps of excitement at the other end of the line. "Yes, that's right. I'm Carlton Griffiths's niece."
She held her mother's shocked gaze as she spoke.
Everything happened for a reason, Sheena thought. The good, as well as the bad. She was put on this earth to make a difference, so that was exactly what she intended to do.
"I'm interested in fostering all of them," she replied, feeling as if she'd finally found her true calling at long last. She was the founder of a children's charity after all. "Thank you. I'll look forward to the meeting." She ended the call with high hopes.
Her mother waited with her palms facing up at her sides. "Honey, are you sure that you know what you're doing? How many kids are we talking about here?" She cast her daughter a dubious look.
Sheena responded with a subtle roll of her eyes, half-expecting her mother's pessimistic response.
"Mom, do you fancy coming house hunting with me? I'm going to need your help if I'm going to find a house big enough for eight kids," she mentioned, ignoring her mother's gobsmacked expression.
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