The cold acted like a new layer on my skin, numbing my nose and the tips of my fingers. Even wrapped up in maybe a dozen layers of clothes (based on Grace’s demands) and my natural body temperature, hours of being outside still affected me. I shook out the bag of salt onto the walkway to start the deicing, feeling the weight lessen by the second.
“What color is the ground?” I asked Mia, my breath clouding around my face. My sides had started to burn. Earlier, I shoveled the driveway and I changed the oil in Liam’s Chevy. I told Liam to give me work. If I worked, I wasn’t going crazy watching Drew sleep.
Grace said she also hated watching me watch Drew because apparently, I looked like I could start a fist fight with Grim Reaper.
“White!” She slammed her foot in the ground. She really liked the way the snow crunched, and I got a kick out of watching her almost fall twelve times a minute. Her curls were smashed underneath a knit cap. She had to tilt her head all the way up so she could take over her scarf. Her puffy coat made her look like a giant pink marshmallow.
“Good. What color is...” I glanced around. “What color is the sky?”
She stopped to scowl at the sky and me. “White?”
“Correct! Which means it’s cold! So,” I shot her a finger gun. “You need to go back inside, Boss.”
“Come back with me,” She whined, bobbing on her knees. “I’m bored and no one will play with me.”
“Alright,” I sighed. With one hand, I grabbed the salt bag and the with the other, I picked Mia off the ground. She squealed and giggled and kicked while I lugged her back to the Inn. The moment my skin touched the heat of the house, my whole body cried out in relief. Mia wriggled out of my hold and dashed into the kitchen. I could only use the kitchen entrance to avoid the guests and the town that basically survived off of Liam’s food.
By the sink, Ryan quickly scrubbed at the dirty dishes. He jumped when I dropped the bag of salt. “Oh!” Ryan used the back of his sleeve to wipe his face while his hands were covered in soapy water. “Hey Zach, uh...”
I took off my hat and shook the water out at Mia. I chased her around the kitchen as she screamed.
“Zach!” Ryan called out again and I did a double take when I realized he was talking to me.
“Yeah? What’s up?” I stripped off my jacket.
“Grace told me to uh, tell you that Dr. Singh is on his way to check on your friend upstairs. She uh- didn’t specify which one.”
“Boyfriend, Ryan,” I gave him a look as Mia ran out, picking up the kettle and mugs and the packs of hot chocolate. I chuckled, “You don’t call the guy you make-out with your friend.”
“Right,” Ryan let out a high-pitched breath, instantly blushing all over.
“Hey, Mia, what color is Ryan’s face?” I lifted her up so she could fill the kettle with water.
“Red!” She cheered and his face went from apple red to rose red.
“Correct, again!” I grinned and kissed the side of her head before letting her run off to grab the marshmallows from the open shelf of goods. There was a walk-in pantry, but there was tons of stuff in label jars and baskets by the wall. Herbs dried from the ceiling, alongside pots and pans.
“Will you turn on the water?” Mia pulled on my sweater. “Mommy said I’m not allowed to touch the stove.”
I winked at her and turned on one of the back eyes. “You got it, Boss.”
Liam blew through the room with fresh rags. “Hey Zach, my car looks great. How long have you worked on cars?”
“I was an apprentice for six months under a local mechanic,” I explained, losing myself as Mia held up two mugs and waited for me to pick one. “I had a job lined up when...”
“When?” Liam asked.
The room paused, looking at me.
I cleared my throat. “When life happened.”
A knock on the back door rescued me. I hurried over, opening the door for the short Dr. Singh and a tall woman behind him. Like him, she had dark skin and eyes rimmed with bags. She had light hazel eyes and long black hair, tied in a ponytail. While she frowned, he smiled and wagged at finger at my head. “Yes, that’s a fine haircut.”
“Dr. Singh,” the woman walked around him with her hand out to shake my hand. She clarified, her voice dignified like a queen. “The other Dr. Singh and I’m happy to meet you, but I’m furious that my husband hid you from me and I had to accuse him of cheating on me for him to tell me the truth.”
She was much taller than her husband and around the same age with the same streaks of gray hair. She dressed in a nice pants suit and a huge pea-coat. She was pretty in that old Hollywood movie way, a classic beauty.
I accepted her hand. “Nice to meet you. It’s Zach.”
“It’s a nice haircut,” the male Dr. Singh nodded again. “Your color is descent too. Could be better. The eyes though. Still crazy.”
“Eyes?” Ryan glanced back. “What’s wrong with Zach’s eyes?”
“Go home Ryan,” Liam said. Ryan jumped like it was a scolding. Flustered, he dropped the plate and looked around like a lost little puppy, until I threw him one of the new towels. We all watched and waited for him to bolt. He realized he wasn’t wanted and quickly grabbed his jacket, deciding to dress outside.
“Who wants chocolate milk?” Mia asked the doctors.
“Thanks for coming.” Liam sighed and lifted himself off the counter. “I’ll get Grace. Grace!” He shouted, venturing back into the dining room that led to all the places I wasn’t allowed to go.
We waited for Grace with some hot chocolate, but I couldn’t just sit there. I took my mug upstairs. Pushing open the door, I glanced inside as if there’d be any change. Drew was still sleeping, breathing heavy. It had been almost a week of being here. I sat in my designated chair and said, “Hey you. I got to work on Liam’s car today. It was nice to work on a car. It felt... familiar.”
I sipped on the hot chocolate, a bit too sweet for my liking. Drew would like it. I scratched my jaw, waiting. All I’ve done this week was wait. “It feels so strange, doing all this stuff without you. You would’ve made the hot chocolate. You would’ve played with Mia while I finished salting the sidewalk. You’d make friends with everyone. Dominic would like me more just because I couldn’t be so bad if I got a guy like you to love me. Do me a favor,” I leaned closer to his face, “please wake up soon.”
I kissed the top of his head, taking a deep breath of his scent. I let it fill me with the warmth that not even the heat of the house or the hot chocolate could give me. It brought me right back home to my house with the big yard. It brought me back to my room and my mattress without a headboard that I would let him sleep on.
“He will,” Grace said from the doorway.
She walked inside. Her hair was up in a bun. She wore an over-sized sweater, leggings and thick furry socks. “Liam says you’re a dream,” Grace smiled, but made an unreliable face. She shrugged. “Not in so many words, but he keeps complimenting your work all day and he doesn’t do that a lot and please don’t tease Ryan. Dom will think you’re flirting and he’ll kill you.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I chuckled and moved Drew’s hair out of his face. Dr. Singh wasn’t going to let him needing a haircut go either. Hopefully, the female Dr. Singh could multitask.
I straightened up. I caught Grace’s eyes. She didn’t make that noise, which left only one person. We both snapped our eyes down at Drew, who shifted. His brows scrunched together and I bent down to take his hand, his cold hand. I tried cooing at him, hushing the sour look in his face and his pained groans. “It’s okay,” I whispered. “It’s gonna be okay.”
I froze again.
“Jess,” Drew whispered, calling out to me and I would be more flattered, if a block of dread didn’t lodge itself in my throat. A vat of icy fear splashed into my veins and I slowly looked up to meet Grace’s face once again. Her brow narrowed at me, a shadowy fury veiling her eyes. Voices approached from the stairs, past the hallway and Grace trudged over to the door, slamming it close and locking.
“Grace?” Liam asked, muffled.
“One second!” She snapped and I squeezed Drew’s hand. She walked to the armoire, revealing small chests and boxes. On top, she took out an old stereo and plugged it into the wall. Throwing on the switch and turning up the volume, old rock and roll ripped through the crackling speaker. Walking right up to my face she seethed. “Start talking! Who’s Jess?!”
“Grace-” I wanted to make up an excuse, maybe something about Drew sleep talking nonsense.
“Don’t Grace me.” She stuck a finger in my face as the others knocked on the door. She yelled back at them, “I said a second!” When she turned around, she spoke in a low voice, something only the two of us could share. “I haven’t pressed you for details. I’ve let you run around my home for a week, because I thought I could trust you.”
“You can,” I insisted. “I’m not going to hurt anyone.”
“I haven’t brought up the fact, you call yourself Lyle’s mate, when he doesn’t even smell like you. That nasty bite smells like someone else. How does that make you look?”
“Right, but I thought I had a good read on you.”
“You did. Grace, I’m...” I closed my eyes. “I’m Jess.”
“His name is Drew.”
“How can I trust that? Why lie? Why lie about your names?”
“We’re...” It was a struggle to get out the words, unaccustomed to the truth and hearing my own tragedy. I’ve never had to tell anyone this. Drew already knew. He lived it. We never discussed it. I sighed through my anxiety and admitted, “We’re on the run. I told you before, I made Drew wait.”
“Well, you said you made Lyle wait.”
“Do you want the truth or not?”
Grace crossed her arms and motioned me to continue.
“I made Drew wait, so even though I knew we were mates, I didn’t bite him. I didn’t mark him. Even before we were Rogues... I guess, I thought I had time and then, another wolf marked him. I won’t go into more detail than that, but Drew saved my life that way and that’s all I’m going to say.”
“But why? What could hurt-”
“I didn’t want our names to spread and get back to that wolf. I didn’t want to start a game of telephone that would lead anyone into finding us. We’re on the run.” In the moments that passed of neither of us speaking and just staring, the rock and roll filled the gaps. Outside, the others still knocked and asked for Grace. I squeezed Drew’s hand again.
“Well okay,” Grace finally nodded. She stared at me, attempting to catch me in a lie or maybe, she wanted to compare what face I made when I actually told the truth. I was a Rogue. I was bound to tell many more lies.
She walked calmly back to the radio and killed the music, making it easier to hear the bickering outside. “Quit whining!” Grace barked at them and threw open the door, but she didn’t step out of the way. She held a hand out to them and then motioned me, presenting me as if we were doing introductions for the very first time.
“Well?” She insisted, her eyes widening in an annoyance “Tell them...” Obviously, she wasn’t going to move until I did as she asked.
I sighed, conveying this was against my will with a glare directed at Grace and her Holier than Thou attitude. “My name isn’t Zach,” I admitted and while the Doctors looked to Grace in amazement, a realization dawned on Liam. For Liam, everything was falling into place and he nodded along as I said, “My real name is Jess.”
“So that’s why it takes you forever to answer if I call you,” Liam continued to savor the truth. He might have had a suspicion all along.
“And,” Grave egged me on, but I crossed my arms. I raised my head high, holding my small act of defiance close to my chest. She had another thing coming if she thought I was just going to crumble and let her walk all over me.
“And I’m not sorry for lying. I had my reasons, but-” I cut Grace off before she could rip me a new one. “But,” I said a bit calmer, taking a deep breath. This wasn’t a lie. I wanted them to know every word was genuine. It was painful to admit because I knew this only ended one way with me disappointing them all. The best case scenario was one day they would wake up and we would just be gone.
“But I really do appreciate what you’ve done for us. I’m pretty sure we’d be dead without you so...” I chewed on the inside of my cheek. “I have to protect us, but I’d do anything to pay back your kindness. I’d never do anything to hurt you guys so...”
“Well that is a very good thing to know. Dr. Singh, let’s do our part.” The male Dr. Singh smiled, shuffling past Grace with his giant medical bag. Drew was given his usual check up and both of the doctors seemed optimistic. They were also happy to hear that he was talking. He prescribed me more rest.
“Actual rest,” he peered at me closely, scowling over his thin glasses. “What was the last movie you watched?”
“What my fellow Doctor means is...” the female Dr. Singh stated, leaning across her husband. “Take it easy. No more hard labor. Let your body heal, Jess.”
My name draped around my shoulders like a warm blanket. It was finally something familiar in a world full of the unknown. I rested against the bed, taking Drew’s hand again. I’ve heard that mates can speed up the healing process, but I’ve been avoiding this room. I’ve been avoiding sitting here and dwelling on all my mistakes and the terrible ‘what if’s’. I hated seeing him this way.
“And you two,” the female Dr. Singh shot a warning finger at Liam and Grace. Liam put his hands up, insulted he had been lumped into this. “You have to tell Cameron.”
“Why?” Grace whined.
“Because he’s the Alpha.”
“He’ll tell me to kick them out and I’m not going to do that,” Grace said, grabbing my shoulder. Her grip was tight. “He’s too young to take a chance on them. He’s a fresh Alpha. One word of there being Rogues here, he’ll kill them.”
“You don’t know that.”
“I’m not taking a chance. Not on their lives.”
I reached up, taking her trembling fist. I smoothed the worry away, but I didn’t speak. I let them fight it out while I watched Drew’s sleeping face.