“What happened, my Queen?”
She turned to look at Elizabeth. “What do you mean?”
“You two were so happy when you found each other. Thrilled, actually. And now you two are distant?”
“He didn’t want to stay with me.”
Elizabeth went silent as she watched them pack the cars from the lobby of the hotel. “Why do you say that?”
“He didn’t want to stay with me in the hotel yesterday.”
“My Liege, any person who spends weeks attempting to find a person truly loves them. Our King is strong. I wonder if that strength comes from tragedy.”
“If it does, why does it matter?” Eve asked, bemused, not cynical. Eve stood next to Elizabeth with her arms folded over her chest.
“Because maybe he dealt with his nightmares differently than how you want to deal with yours. You aren’t a damaged good, you’re a prized jewel.”
Eve smiled at Elizabeth. “How come you don’t feel that way about yourself, then?”
“Because my nightmare has manifested itself into a child. A beautiful, loving, innocent little girl named Maya. Your wounds will fade with time. I can’t ask Darius to look at Maya everyday and love her as his own just like I can’t allow someone into Maya’s life who doesn’t love her like a daughter.”
Evangeline simply looked back out to the cars being filled. She walked out the door before looking back at Elizabeth. “Your mate is an Enforcer of the King’s Guard. Talk to him. You aren’t afraid of him denying you and Maya, you’re afraid of if he accepts you because if he does love you as a mate and Maya as his daughter, that means you have to trust a man. And to trust a man, to you, is to be weak. Vulnerable.” She turned around again, walking to the car. “And please. It’s just Evangeline. I’m your friend, not your Queen.”
Eve looked out the window as the trees blurred passed. She sat in the passenger seat, June and Dimitri were in the car behind them with Elizabeth, Maya, and Tim.
“How are you feeling?”
Eve looked at Adlaric. “I feel much better now, thank you.”
Adlaric nodded as he drove. Eve stared at him still. “What happened? I can’t remember how I...how I got there,” she stuttered.
Adlaric readjusted himself in his seat, his knuckles turning white from his grip on the wheel. Silence took over again, but Eve knew he was just attempting to figure out what he was going to say.
As she looked at her mate and King, her breath caught in her chest again. He was so beautiful it pained her. She loved how tall he was, how wide his shoulders were, and the darkness his eyes held. He was still the same man he was before.
“Did I graduate?” She continued. “Did we,” her tongue ran over her bottom lip in hesitation. He smirked and looked at her before looking at the road again.
“We did not consummate, no. You missed your graduation.”
Eve looked down at her hands again.
“You got into George Washington University. You never told me.” He said.
“I didn’t want to go.”
“It was your top choice. You told me so.”
“I told you that when I first met you,” said Eve. “It changed by the time the acceptance came. My top choice was Saint Petersburg State University.”
He paused for a moment and turned toward his mate with confused eyes. “In Russia?”
She nodded. “I wanted to go to college, that never changed. What changed was where I wanted to go. I wanted to stay with you and I knew we had to go back to Russia. I wanted to go back, actually. I got in.”
“You never told me...”
“I was going to surprise you. Wait,” she said furrowing her eyebrows. “The night I went missing I was going to tell you...” Eve looked around, feeling the pressure of her forgotten memories. “What happened, Adlaric?” Her voice cracked.
Adlaric looked at her before turning back to look at the road.
Five Weeks Ago
Adlaric’s dark hair caught in the wind. He stood between two trunks of trees watching the children play their game of hide-and-go-seek through the canopy. Those who were lycans jumped between tree and tree, the human children played near Adlaric on the ground.
Adlaric rubbed his hands together. Never in his life would he had seen himself playing babysitter to eight children. He never thought he would be given the chance. He dreamt of it, of course, of having kids and parenting them, but something deep down always told him he wouldn’t be able to.
And now here he stood- with happy kids jumping above his head and joyful ones at his feet. Emmaline, Aurora, Eros, and Morpheus were Lycanthropes, while Cynara, Persephone, Elijah, and Aristotle were human. Persephone tugged on his pants, proudly displaying a vibrant red leaf she had found.
“Very good, Persephone,” Adlaric agreed, nodding his head.
“Can you pick me up?” She said, obviously proud from her latest adventure.
He smiled and bent down, holding the girl on his hip. She peered up at the trees, giggling when she saw her friends jumping from branch to branch. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” she said. “They always used to jump from beam to beam in the facility. I’ve always wanted to too.”
Adlaric smiled and looked up at the green of the leaves. “Hold on tightly.” He held a firm grip on the girl before bending down and leaping up. He landed on the highest branch of the highest tree in the forest.
For a moment, she clung to Adlaric. She was scared of being so high. “Don’t worry,” he whispered in her ear. “You won’t ever fall. Not while I am here.”
Persephone peered at Adlaric in hesitancy before looking around. She smiled as the wind danced through the trees and her long hair. She felt like she was on top of the world.
Eros jumped to the branch beside her. He smiled, boyish-like, as he leaned against the trunk. “Look who decided to join us!” Emmaline said, as she landed on a branch above her.
Eros smiled at Persephone. “Welcome to the trees.”
Adlaric moved the hair from her eyes and set her on his shoulders so she could see further out. She was still a bit nervous to be up so high. She smiled then, happily, as she could see buildings and homes and kids playing in the nearby park. Her laugh was so infectious, those around her smiled at the sight as well.
Adlaric could hear his mate’s voice down below, worried for the child he held in his arms. Eros and Emmaline looked at each other before jumping down and landing beside Eve with a loud thud.
Eve jumped from the sudden intrusion of space. “Don’t scare me like that!” She demanded, laughing as she pulled them in for hugs. “Where’s Persephone?”
Another thud landed behind her and she sighed as she saw Adlaric holding the little girl in his arms. “I’m going to have a heart attack with all of you.”
Adlaric smiled and walked over to Eve, pulling her into his side, kissing her forehead. Eve sighed and held up the whicker basket in her hand. “Let’s have that picnic, shall we?”
Adlaric sat, watching Eve smile at Eros and Morpheus tickling Cynara. Aurora was nestled in Eve’s lap, her hair falling onto her arms. Aristotle and Elijah played frisbee in front of them while Emmaline and Persephone pretended to fight with sticks. Adlaric had never been happier. Even with the war brewing outside, he was far more contented than he ever was. Evangeline gave him everything.
Eve watched from the hallway as Adlaric tucked the girls into bed. They begged for a story and he proudly told them the story of his mother, who bravely fought for her Kingdom. When he exited their room, he raised an eyebrow at Eve.
“You were listening,” he concluded, shutting the door. Eve looked at him with still eyes for a moment. She took a breath before grabbing his hand and holding it in hers. She looked at their hands and then lifted her head to him. Her hand wrapped around his neck, pulling him down. She kissed him with everything she had, her hands clawing at the buttons of his shirt. Successfully, she undid the middle buttons, only pulling away so she could undo the rest.
Adlaric put his hand on hers. “Evangeline?”
She looked up at him with adoration filling her eyes. She feared the love she had for him would pool over, and she was correct when she could feel his hand on her cheek, wiping away her tears.
“What happened? What is it, Moya Koroleva?” His voice broke her. She could hear the complete trust and love in his thick, dark tone.
“I love you,” she whispered. “I love you,” she repeated. She went on her tip toes again, pulling him close and kissing him soundly. “I love you so much.”
He smiled at her, brushing her hair out of her eyes. “I love you too. Why is my Queen crying?”
“Make love to me, Adlaric.”
He kissed her again, capturing her between his chest and the wall behind her. He lifted her up with one arm and instinctually, she wrapped her legs around his waist. He carried her down the hall to their bedroom where he laid her on the bed.
Soft kisses were planted down her neck. He stopped just before the valley of her breasts and continued kissing her back up to her cheeks and nose. He pulled away, only for a moment, looking her in her eyes. His hand came up and cupped her face.
“Are you sure?” He asked.
Eve smiled and ran her hand down his cheek. Her soft hand traveled lower, down his neck and to his chest. “I love you far more than any person should love another person. You are everything I never thought I could have.” She paused, her eyes wandering down. Adalric felt like she was reading his soul as she looked at him. Her eyebrows furrowed slightly as if she was staring at him with scrutiny. “You hate yourself.”
He recoiled slightly.
“You hate the beast within you because you can’t control him. You hate how territorial you are. You hate the scars on your back because they remind you of how weak you were. You hate your eyes because you hate darkness, and darkness is what consumes your soul. But can I tell you something? I love the beast as much as I love the man. I see those scars and I am reminded of my mate’s strength. And I love your eyes because they’re the windows to your soul, and you have a beautiful soul. The things you hate about yourself are the things I love about you. I’m ready, my King. If you can’t love yourself at the moment, let me love you for you.”
Adlaric kissed her again. His hands wandered up her sides and under her shirt where his finger lightly ran over her sensitive nipple. He stilled for a moment, his eyes leaving hers and staring at nothing beside her. A moment passed and his body relaxed on top of her. He looked at her with blank eyes.
“You were linking someone,” she concluded sitting up. “Who was it?” He didn’t answer as he sat on the edge of the bed. She sat up and crawled to him, placing her hand on his cheek. She turned his head toward her. “My King, my love, what’s wrong?”
“They’re attacking the south I-”
“You must go.”
“But you, the children!”
“We are safe here. They are there. You must go.” She kissed him. “But come home, alright?”
“There are going to be guards outside the door. Get them if anything happens.” He smiled at her and kissed her before leaving for the night. Had he known that would be the last time he saw her for weeks, he wouldn’t have left.
The King’s breath wasn’t labored as he slowed his sprint down to a jog. From here to his house there were about seven miles which to him felt like a light walk through the park. When he arrived, he saw Dimitri and June both sparring against their own enemies. Dimitri snapped the neck of the wolf before looking at June who bit a fatal wound in the neck of the other.
“What happened?” Adlaric barked, seeing other wolves spring from the tree-line.
“No idea,” Dimitri replied. June leapt up at the same time as another that went for an attack on Dimitri. She landed with a thud and the other wolf’s body slammed beside her, decapitated.
“It doesn’t matter why they’re here. What matters is making sure they don’t kill us,” she snapped.
“Is she always like this under pressure?”
Dimitri just shrugged at his Alpha before both fought the barrage of men surging from the trees.
Minutes passed until Adlaric had the last wolf’s head under the heel of his boot. The King cocked his head down at the wolf when it started to laugh. Adlaric took a breath, staring down at the man underneath him with blood smeared across his throat and face.
The man was clearly badly beaten, yet still, an annoying grin appeared on his face. “For someone who’s about to die, you’re certainly chipper.”
The man laughed harshly, sputtering from the pressure of Adlaric’s boot against his windpipe. “I’m not the only one about to die,” he replied.
“Last I checked, all your men are dead and I am still standing.”
The man smirked again, brighter this time. “The rumors are true; you are an egotistical shit, King. It’s no wonder you could leave your mate so easily.”
The Alpha King’s heart fell in his chest. His heart fell so low, he could feel it lodging itself in the depths of his stomach, filling him with dread and regret. Adlaric stepped away, turning around, briefly meeting Dimitri’s eyes. Dimitri conveyed the same fear through his dark orbs.
“There are guards everywhere around the house,” June reasoned. Her voice was light and even, but they all knew those guards weren’t as skilled as Dimitri or Adlaric.
Adlaric’s eyes turned colors as he picked the man up by his neck. He threw the man across the grass. “Interrogate him,” he ordered, cocking his head toward Dimitri. Adlaric’s march stopped as he heard the howls from afar. His breath shallowed in his chest, his eyes casting themselves at June. June gasped, hearing the words embedded in the throaty howls.
Adlaric was the first to take off through the woods. He was followed by Dimitri and June. Their bodies blurred passed the conifers and stopped once they landed on the porch. Adlaric’s breath was harsh, but only with fear. He surged through the front door, bustling with intenser worry.
His shouts remained unanswered as he sprinted up the staircase, to their bedroom. Clearly, judging by the books on the ground, broken glass, and strewn bedsheets, a struggle had occurred. He could see the claw marks on the floor and smell the fear that consumed her as she realized it wasn’t him who entered the door.
Why didn’t she call for him? He would have heard her and she knew that. Why didn’t she call him? He left their room and searched the rest of the house for his beloved mate. When she wasn’t found in the house, he ran outside.
He searched and he screamed, and he howled. Royal guards were stationed everywhere within a 100 mile radius. The Kingdom prayed and bereaved with their King. He never stopped sprinting across the desolate night lands. When the sun was rising passed the trees, Adlaric fell to his knees. His breath was labored.
His claws elongated and pierced the ground. His canines pierced his gums and his eyes turned into fiery slits.
Adlaric gasped from the sudden voice in his head. He clutched his heart as pain soured through his chest. He howled, painfully. He howled for his mate. He howled to the moon.
They took his heart.
And he wanted blood.
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