Today, the boys were running the Inn. Grace, Liam and the girls left to visit her mother. I walked Drew to the bookshop and came back to cook Cameron and the others something to eat. Before Mark could sneak out, I handed him a bagged breakfast with a muffin, an apple and one of my signature, “I know what’s really going on” kind of looks. He glared at me with no comment and told Cameron he had bedhead, in order to get him to run upstairs back to the bathroom and like he came, Mark left in a swirl of panic.
Those two obviously never had to sneak around before.
A huge duffle bag sat on the island in the middle of the kitchen. More stuff seemed to appear on the counter through the hour when Dominic found something to add. It was after the breakfast rush, not that there wasn’t more work to do, but Ryan got off early today. He wore jeans, hiking boots, a plaid thermal underneath a vest, a beanie and a gray puffy jacket.
Meanwhile Dominic wore the thinnest sweater in the world and ripped up jeans.
“I still need to get a portable charger, just in case and I think I should get a package of water,” Ryan said, mostly to himself as he took off his backpack. He slapped it down on the counter and packed it with the little snacks Liam made for him and his friends. He planned to stay at a cabin in the woods this weekend. He went through his backpack, listing off his supplies without even realizing Dominic was intently listening.
Ryan would suddenly move, and Dominic would move with him, magnetized by the red head. There was an angry worry line down the middle of Dominic’s forehead that was impossible to smooth out. This made Ryan anxious and Ryan’s anxiety just deepened Dominic’s wrinkle.
It was an excellent show.
Cameron and I were occupying ourselves with compiling silverware with napkins doing a poor job at pretending we weren’t listening. We might as well have given up the ruse and popped some popcorn. Cameron however did eye my thick black engagement ring, waiting for an explanation to form, but I wasn’t saying shit until he actually grew the balls to ask me.
“Why didn’t you do this yesterday?” Dominic asked, his brow perpetually narrowed.
“I had my midterm,” Ryan snapped back.
“Red, you’ve known about this trip all month.”
“Who cares? It’s fine! I’ll be fine! I just...” He looked at his bags. “I just have to remember a few things.”
With a long tortured sigh, Dominic took off his necklace. There wasn’t a day I saw Dominic where he wasn’t wearing that piece of jewelry, a silver safety pin at the end of a chain. He reached behind him for one of Liam’s writing pads and pulled a pen from Ryan’s backpack. “Tell me what you need again,” he insisted.
As Ryan rattled off every single item, Dominic studiously wrote them down. Dominic muttered the last few things, “Package of water, stuff to makes smores and remember to tell Dominic how handsome he is.”
Ryan laughed, which inspired a proud little smirk from Dominic’s lips. “You didn’t really write that did you?” Ryan touched Dominic’s shoulder, leaning over him to catch a peak. Meanwhile, Dominic was showing him how well he could blush too. Ryan shook his head, “like you really need me to remind you of that?”
Dominic tilted his head, causing Ryan to realize how close they were to kissing. All they needed was a little push. Ryan’s eyes flickered to Dominic’s lips before he meekly let his hand go. He turned to the counter and fixed his beanie. Dominic chuckled and folded his list. He stuck his safety pin necklace through the paper and walked behind Ryan. “I didn’t put this either, so I just need you to remember to text me when you get there.”
“What are you?” Ryan snorted. “My mom?”
“No,” he said. “I’m not.”
Dominic draped the necklace around Ryan’s neck, locking the clasp. He said, leaning close to Ryan’s ear. “I want this back, okay? So, you better be careful.” As Ryan whipped around, Dominic snatched both bags from the counter and trudged outside. I wanted to applaud him out of the room. Dominic called back, “Come on, Red! I’ll drive you!”
Ryan was certainly red, hovering his hand over his ear. He sputtered, unable to form a coherent sentence together. He looked at Cameron and me, still innocently wrapping silverware at the table. I couldn’t help it. I gave him a solid thumbs up. Ryan dropped his hand and took one step towards the door, when Cameron stopped him.
“Ryan, hold on,” Cameron spoke up. He used the Alpha voice. I was beginning to tell the difference. This voice was deeper and a bit stern, unlike Cameron’s usually easy-going tone. He peered at Ryan. “Who are you going with?”
“Um,” Ryan blinked. Even as a human, he stood a little straighter like he was being scolded by the teacher. He fidgeted with his hands. “I’m going with Connor, Zane, Olivia and her girlfriend Madison.”
Cameron hummed. He leaned forward, crossing his arms on the table. “Which trail are you taking?”
“The Sparrow Trail-”
“That’s good. Tell Connor and Olivia that Cameron wanted to remind them that the far trail, the Finch trail is off limits, alright?”
“Okay,” Ryan nodded, unconsciously reaching for Dominic’s necklace.
“Good,” Cameron smiled. “Have fun.”
Ryan scurried, a little confused by the entire exchange, but he didn’t question it.
“Olivia and Conner,” I started nice and easy. “They’re wolves, huh?”
Cameron’s thick brows lifted. “Yeah.”
“What’s happening at the Finch trail?”
“Oh, it’s not that big of a deal. There’s been a lot of coyote sightings, which they could take care of no problem, but Ryan and Zane might be a little confused if their friends suddenly have inhuman strength and fangs.”
“The tails might warrant explanation.”
Cameron chuckled and nodded along.
“Though,” I said. “It might help Dominic out if Ryan just finds out about us.”
“Dom has his own problems. He’s a runner, so the longer he doesn’t have to face the problem, the longer he gets to stay with Ryan without drama. The moment things start getting difficult, Dominic usually gives up. He just doesn’t know how to fight for things without blowing up his life,” Cameron explained. He shrugged. “We went to high school together. We were in different years, but the Alpha’s kid sort of watches everybody, anyways.”
I laughed a little and stood from the table. “I didn’t realize you were so wise.”
I hoped the sarcasm landed. I would’ve hated to inflate his ego even a little bit. Nabbing two mugs from the shelf, I wandered to the drip coffee maker. I knew Cameron’s eyes were still on me, studying me. He sometimes looked at me like a frog on the dissection table and he needed to label all my parts.
Cameron spoke up so casually, but every word pressed harder and harder against my chest. “I’ve gotten to know you decently well too, Jess. You’re the kind of guy that would jump on top of a grenade to protect, well anyone. You’re a protector, Jess. Which is why I find the fact that you and Drew were Rogues, all on your own, very intriguing...”
Filling the coffee mugs, I pretended to be unruffled. I just sauntered back to the table and laid a mug in front of Cameron. I stayed standing. I wanted to be the tallest guy in the room. Cameron just looked up at me. “That’s an incredibly risky position and I know, you’d never put Drew in a dangerous situation. So, that tells me that your pack was the more dangerous option...”
“I’m not telling you what happened,” I stated, unmoving like a bolder. No room to budge.
“I’m not telling you to tell me,” Cameron huffed. “I’m just saying I get you, or whatever.”
Rolling my eyes, I couldn’t help but chuckle. It was annoying to think I was so obvious that Cameron could read me like that. I sipped some coffee and shrugged. “You’re not as dumb as everyone says you are.”
Cameron perked up. “Hey! They don’t say that, do they?”
I just laughed and laughed. His Alpha persona switched off too easily. Cameron chucked napkin after napkin at me, until I fled the room.
I stopped by Athena’s shop, asking when she wanted me to come in that Saturday. A couple of the older guys stopped what they were doing to give me the side-eye. Usually, I would’ve waved and presented one of my best eat-shit smiles, but I could feel the ghost of one of Grace’s swats to the back of my head. I mustered up what I thought was a polite smile.
“What’s wrong with your face?” Athena asked.
I just scowled.
“There’s my guy.”
After that, she introduced me to everyone. The guy that was having a baby with his mate, hobbled over to me and pulled me into a hug. He dampened my shoulder just a little bit. Eventually, he told me his name was Thomas. Other guys were a little less welcoming, a little colder, but I didn’t care. I no longer needed to convince the whole world that I was a good guy. I just knew I was one. With an easy-going smile, I promised to see them all this weekend.
“Tell Drew that my wife loved the book of sonnets,” Athena told me on the way out.
Just his name caused a smile to creep back onto my face. Dropping my hands into my jacket pockets, I ventured into the chill of winter. With Dearest being so close to the mountains, the wind could be merciless and could probably knock poor Mia over. The sky above was milky and empty, threatening me with an army of snowflakes. I walked carefully to the Bookmiser, waving to Giovanni from his restaurant. It was the oddest sensation being recognized again. I had previously assumed we weren’t going to stay in this town long enough for that to happen.
I waltzed into the Bookmiser to the typically quiet shop. The two book nerds still managed to busy themselves. Drew was making a display for Black History month with a collection of books by African American authors and a few books suggested by the local community. Maybe out of favoritism, he added Grace’s suggestion to the very front.
“I won’t bother you,” I promised, walking up behind him and kissing his neck. I moved the ends of his hair. Drew chuckled, leaning towards me.
“You can bother me.” Drew insisted with a coy look as he glanced up at me.
“No, he can’t!” Reiko shouted from the top floor. “You have to be done with that before you abandon me!” Putting my hands up in surrender, I backed up until I saw Reiko leaning over the balcony. I just smiled innocently until she was satisfied and found my place at the little tables. After waiting to be Drew’s mate for so long, I developed a pretty healthy amount of patience. I nabbed my copy of Lord of the Rings, reading until Drew was freed.
The evening had settled into Dearest and the sky opened just a crack to let a meager amount of fluffy snowflakes flutter to the ground. I opened the door for Drew when a blur rushed past us. Out of instinct, I yanked Drew back into the store and stepped in front of him. It took me an extra second to recognize the figure. “Dominic?” I cocked my head and joined him on the sidewalk.
Dominic was out of breath and flushed. His thick brows were so narrowed, they almost touched with eyes wide in a crazed panic. He gripped the middle of his sweater. Actually, he was sweating a lot. He looked like he was having a heart attack.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“What is it?” Drew followed, staying close behind me.
“There’s something wrong,” Dominic managed to choke out. He rubbed over his heart and up to his neck. He kept looking around as if waiting for the answer to jump out at him. “I can’t... I can’t figure out why or...” He didn’t seem to notice the snowflakes were soaking his sweater.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I said, getting close with my hands up. I didn’t mean any harm and I wasn’t going to try to touch him. Behind me, Drew clutched my jacket. I told Dominic, “We’ll figure this out.”
From down the street, I spotted Cameron hurrying towards us. He had a sort of lost look on his face too, until he spotted our group. His sights narrowed and he ran that much faster, almost teleporting to us. His usual blue eyes had brightened to pure gold, which shimmered in the lamp light. He asked, his mouth full of sharp teeth. “What’s going on? I was on my way to the Inn, when I felt something... off.”
It didn’t take a genius to know which one of us was having the problem. He looked at Dominic, his brow narrowing deeper and deeper. “What is it? What are you feeling?”
“Like I’m gonna explode,” Dominic choked out the words. His winced, bending slightly and holding onto his side. “I- I can’t breathe.” He closed his eyes. “And I can hear voices, a handful of them and...” His face went pale. “I think I can hear Ryan.”
Cameron and I locked eyes.
We knew. We both had a feeling like this before. Each and every time Drew was in danger, I could feel it. Even when I hadn’t marked him, I could feel it. If Dominic was feeling this bad and this strongly, it meant Ryan’s life was being threatened. It’d be the kind of danger that could sever, not only his bond with Dominic, but with this world.
“We need to get to Ryan’s cabin,” Cameron stated.
“Shit,” Dominic gasped, bending over and holding his knees.
“This isn’t the time to pass out,” Cameron insisted, rubbing Dominic’s back. Then, he did something that surprised me the most. He looked up at me. He spoke with his deep, Alpha voice and asked me, asked me as if he was offering his hand in solidarity. “Will you help us?”
I straightened up. The hair on the back of my neck stood. “You want my help?”
“I need your help.”
“Go,” Drew said, making me whip around. He smiled weakly, his attention pulled between me and Dominic. Crossing his arms, he said, “I’ll be fine, and I’m worried about Ryan. Just...” He bit his lip. “Just be careful.”
I nodded, touching his arm as I leaned in for a quick kiss.
“Mark is at the Inn,” Cameron explained to Drew. “Tell him we’ll be back soon.”
Drew agreed and with that, Cameron, Dominic and I dashed for the nearest alleyway away from the light and the masses of people. I closed my eyes and for the first time since I met Cameron, since we fought, I let go of all my restrain. I relaxed my muscles, letting them pound and double in strength. I became a creature of the earth, just as strong and full of grit. It was like being unmade and built back up again, better and faster than before. I ran twice as hot, my veins full of molten lava. From a great light, I landed on all fours next to Cameron, a pure white wolf with golden eyes. Now, I realized he was just a bit bigger than me. On my other side, Dominic stood, a dark brown wolf with streaks of grey running through his fur. His eyes were so black and so endless, I could almost see my reflection.
Since I wasn’t a part of their pack, Cameron just nodded at me and I knew to follow. Cameron rushed forward, leading the way into the forest. My paws touching the forest floor sent shivers through my bones. It had been so long. Every step, every breath of air sent little flurries of magic through my body. It was as if the Moon Goddess was welcoming me home.
We traveled up and up. Even with my eyes, it was difficult to maneuver around these unfamiliar woods. It didn’t help that the moon was covered by snow clouds. Thankfully, Cameron’s white fur was bright enough to track and his smell, more minty than I had ever noticed helped.
However, soon the smell of smoke and embers tickled my nose and my chest twisted in dread. We all ran faster towards it, over a hill and a widening path when we saw it. The front windows shattered, splintering all over the snow. The light of the fire was blinding, shining against the clean white sheets of snow. Tons of holes had punched through the cabin walls as if the fire intended to crawl out to escape. Even from far away, the heat nipped at my flesh like tiny hot needles and I gasped, throwing myself back onto my two legs.
A few people were on the ground, ambling away from the violence of the flames. The other two followed me. Cameron took out his phone, dialing 911. “Hello, yes, this is Cameron Hawthorne. There’s a cabin fire currently at the top of the Sparrow Trail, cabin 216...”
Dominic and I ran to the people in the snow. I was forced to squint between the smoke and the light attacking my senses. I scooped up the closest person, a girl and moved them farther away. There were only four people here, going in and out of consciousness. Another girl was on her hands and knees, hacking out a lung as if choking on the clean air. Dominic grabbed the shoulders of one of the guys.
“Ryan!” He screamed, shaking the guy. “Where’s Ryan?”
“Ugh,” the guy wavered. “He- he was right behind us.” He closed his eyes tight, searching for a scrap of consciousness to hold onto. Just then, the roof of the house caved in with a loud horrible groan. There were dozens of things inside the cabin, crumbling and shattering.
“Dom-” I started to shout, but it was too late. Dominic dashed for the cabin. “Dominic!” I shouted again in vain and cursed. Picking up my shirt over my nose, I moved the rest of the people away. The smoke scratched lines down my throat and chest. It smelled like poison, putrid enough to nearly knock me over with nausea. This was the downside of being sensitive to smells.
I watched the house, waiting for Dominic to reappear.
I got antsy. Too antsy.
“Jess,” Cameron said, warningly. “You promised, Drew you’d be careful.”
Cursing again, I took one step to run into the cabin, when the front door was kicked open and thrown off its hinges. Walking down the steps, Dominic held Ryan in his arms. Ryan gripped Dominic tightly around his neck like a human scarf. He coughed horribly, half sobbing. Dominic stomped right over to Cameron, still on the phone.
“Are they coming?” Dominic asked.
“They have to helicopter-”
“How long?” Dominic nearly growled. I walked around Dom, trying to get a look at Ryan and his injuries. Like the others, he was slick with sweat and covered in soot. The main difference was Ryan’s leg was bleeding and his ankle looked like it was turned the wrong way. The bottom of my stomach fell out.
“As fast as they can, Dom,” Cameron insisted, but Dominic nearly spit he seemed so mad. He eyed the trails, hiking Ryan up his arms to secure him. “Dominic Flores, you saved him. It’ll be okay. Just let the paramedics take over-”
Dominic shook his head. Nothing looked like it was going to convince him.
Not even his Alpha.
I sighed. “If you do this, if you run him to the hospital, you won’t be able to hide anymore. Dom, you won’t be able to explain this away.”
Dominic looked down at Ryan, trembling and clutching onto Dominic for dear life. “I don’t care,” Dominic said. He took a hard swallow and narrowed his eyes at the forest. “Nothing else matters right now.”
Without another word, Dominic was a blur, dashing back into the forest and disappearing into the darkness.