In the Shadows

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Thirty Five

Running was something I loathed. I'd always hated running, thought it made me weak. I always faced my problems head on, grabbed the bull by the horns. I didn't back down without good reason and even with a good reason sometimes I still wouldn't. When it came to Hakota it was a different story. I ran away from my feelings, and the creeping notion that I might be starting to feel genuine affection for my lycan mate and his pack. When we fought we both ran away, avoiding each other for as long as possible.

I had been running for a while now. This new information, the fact that Grey was even here, that my father had lost faith in me and sent someone else to finish the job, that Hakota could very well die, the fact I was still torn after all this time and still unsure what I wanted, what path I would take, was too much to face. The fact that Hakota may have slept with Sky after meeting me, his mate, made me feel this crushing feeling inside.

That was what I was running from. I didn't want an answer to that question. I was afraid it would be true and all of this really was a ploy for a Hakota to get his pups and he was just swallowing down his spite and disgust to get his pack what he needed. I was scared that I might once again be a no one, that I didn't mean anything to anyone, that I was just a tool to be used. I was scared it would be false and I would have no reason to hate him, no reason to betray him if I wished to do so. I was terrified his growing affection towards me might be real and in return my emotions were real as well.

I had thought that perhaps running would let me clear my head, but it hadn't. It did just the opposite.

My thoughts festered, and my list of problems only kept growing. Everything became jumbled but two feelings shown through everything.

Anger and sadness.

I had run a circle about the territory before entering the main hub, taking a side path to the river rapids where maybe the roaring water would drown out my thoughts and these feelings that I couldn't shake.

I walked about in a daze, immersed in my thoughts as I trekked down the path, the mud squelching under my shoes.

My hands balled into tight fists. I didn't want to believe Grey. I didn't want to believe that Hakota would have cheated on me. Could I even call it cheating? I mean I had pretty much established the fact I hated him right off the bat and wanted nothing to do with him. We had never been in any sort of relationship and I had told myself numerous times that 'mate' was just a word that didn't mean anything. The word didn't entitle a male to a female or vice versa.

I huffed out a breath, annoyed with my actions of defending him. I could be angry at him if I wanted. He pretended like nothing happed between him and Sky, hell he did nothing to stop her out of line behavior. Was he trying to provoke jealousy out of me or was he simply granting her leniency because she held favor with him? Did he like her more than me? Or did he find her more worthy of being his alpha female?

My anger once took the backseat as my fear took over. Was that the reason he had been late to retrieve me? I thought as I came to the riverside. The rushing water flowed past me at a rapid pace. The currents were strong, easily sweeping away anything in their path to the bottom of the river. I strolled along the bank looking for the perfect place to sit and think...or not think I suppose.

I watched my feet as I walked, furrowing my brown in concentration. Was he trying to find out if he could make someone other than his mate the alpha female of his pack? Did he hate that fact that I was a hunter so much that he hadn't even wanted to give me a chance?

I was insecure damnit! All I wanted was some solace, to stop worrying about this and know where I stood. I wished people would stop lying to me. I just wanted the truth, the good the bad and the ugly all laid bare. I couldn't put the puzzle of my emotions together when I was missing half the pieces.

I was so angry.

So, so, so...heartbroken.

Out of anger I stupidly kicked at a rock that I had failed to take the size and density into consideration. The crack of my big toe didn't need to signify I had broken it, the pain that shot through my foot was more than ample proof.

I dropped to the ground, clutching onto my foot as I howled out my pain. I rocked back and forth trying to console myself. Hot tears slipped down my cheeks, more from anger than pain.

"Oh my god!" A male voice behind me exclaimed. It was strange I was able to hear it over the rapids just a few feet behind me.

Calloused hands replaced my tight grip, knocking my hands out of the way to cradled my heel. My foot was kept suspended in the warm hand as my sock and shoe were gently slipped off . A soft finger traced down the first bone of my big toe. "Definitely broken," he said while examining my toe. He prodded at it, eliciting a grunt of pain from me.

He mumbled an apology before slowly looking up away from my injury. His eyes were hazel, a dull brown with flecks of brilliant green through them and what look like a gold circle rimming his iris.

We stared at each other for just a split second but it was enough for me to feel the connection.

The male opened his mouth and I expected him to say the magic word but instead he said, "Consider yourself lucky you are not a human. You'll heal slower than normal because you shattered the bone but your body will take care of itself and in a few days you'll be good as new. Try and keep weight off your foot for today and tomorrow at least."

My mouth dropped open as he carefully set my foot down on the grass without saying a word more.

Had I imagined it? Was he not a possible mate for me? Was it because my thoughts were going crazy about mates and Hakota that I had subconsciously imagined that feeling?

Instead of leaving like I half expected him to, he sat down next to me in the grass, crossing his legs. He locked eyes with me, tilting his head to the side. "What in the name of Lune were you thinking by kicking that rock?" He eventually said when I kept tight lipped.

My cheeks heated as I flushed a deep shade of red. I scratched the back of my head in embarrassment. "Oh, you saw that did you?"

A small smile flittered across his lips, "I'm surprised the rock didn't crack with the force you used on it."

I laughed sheepishly, hiding my face in my hands. "Oh god, I must of looked like an idiot."

"Not like an idiot," he reassured me, his deep voice soothing my worries. "You just look mightily pissed off. There a reason for that?"

I peeked through my fingers to see him staring intently at me. Slowly I dropped my hands away, letting them rest in my lap. I plucked at the blades of grass wondering why I wanted to spill out my whole story to him. He didn't even know me and I didn't know him. How was my business his problem anyway? Still, I wanted to share something with him at least.

"A certain male, two actually."

The werewolf's eyes dimmed and his head dropped a little. "Mate problems?"

I snorted, "Not exactly."

A small smirk graced my lips as I saw his eyes scan my neck for any sign of a claim or mating bite. "That's good." The whispered words escaped him unintentionally and he immediately blushed. "I mean it's good that you don't have mate problems not that you don't have a mate!" He quickly tried to backtrack.

I laughed, causing him to turn a deeper shade of red. "Don't worry about it," I told him. The male stabbed at the ground with his finger, trying to avoid looking at me.

"Who are you anyway? Why are you walking around here?"

He quickly took the opportunity to turn the subject away from his blunder. "My name is Pine, well actually it's Tallest Pine of the Forest, but everyone calls me Pine."

"What's with that anyway?" I asked. "Everyone in the territories around here have freakishly long names. Why not just name you Pine and be done?"

Pine shrugged, "I don't really know. My mother said it was because we are honoring our surroundings. We are named to represent something I guess."

"Well now I'm envious. I'm just Cleo. No reason or meaning behind it." I poked at my foot, hissing at the pain that was still present. Damn, now I'd have to hobble around for the next couple of days.

"Here," Pine scooted closer to me, pulling off his shirt. He tore it into long strands and picking up my foot by the heel, he began to bind it. His hands moved swiftly and deftly, he was completely immersed in his task, taking extra care not to jostle my foot.

When he was finished, he let my foot rest in his lap. The gesture was sweet and I couldn't help but grin.

Then my smile melted and my heart sank as realization set in. What had taken months for Hakota and I to reach any sort of sweet moment or gesture towards each other had only take Pine's a few minutes. Maybe Hakota and I really were never meant to be. We would never be able to work.

"What's wrong?" Pine instantly noticed my change in demeanor.

"Hakota," his name slipped out before I could stop it.

The werewolf sucked in a deep breath. "You're her aren't you?" He murmured. Then he looked up at me with hurt eyes. "You're his mate."

I cursed Hakota in my mind for once again running any chance I had at a friendship.

"What did he do to you?" I demanded. Pine wasn't angry at the mention of the lycan, rather he was filled with grief.

He looked hesitant to share, but when I firmly gripped his shoulder he let out a shaky breath, turning away. "He killed my brother that night at the Red Zone. I just came back today from visiting my sister to grieve with her." I saw his hands quiver where they rested on my leg. "He's taken everything from me," he whispered, "my brother, my pack," he looked up at me, his eyes piercing mine as he swallowed thickly, "my mate."

"Pine–" I began, but he shook his head.

"Come on Cleo, I can't compete with Hakota. He'd slaughter me." I grimaced, recalling the sight of my headless mate from the previous territory we'd occupied.

"I'm sorry Pine," I said because that was all I could say.

He nodded dejectedly, giving me a sad smile before standing.

I held out a hand to be helped up but instead of taking my outstretched hand, he swooped me up in his arms. I yelped in surprise earning a small chuckle from him.

My heart thudded in my chest. He had a beautiful smile and he didn't hesitate to show it to me. Hakota had smiled the same amount in three months as Pine had in our short time of meeting.

"Where to?" He asked me.

A sly smile twisted up my lips, "We don't have to go back quite yet."

Pine looked hesitant to comply with my meaning but after a little deliberation he gave in. "Well if that's the case, I do have a really awesome place to show you."

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