In the Shadows

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Thirty Seven

Hakota had taken my words to heart. He had upped his game in his efforts to 'woo' me. Clearly his male pride wouldn't let him be outdone by some werewolf. At first I had found his antics annoying, like how every time I was within arms length he would pull me in for a devouring kiss that lasted only seconds and always left me unsatisfied and wanting more, or when he'd see me alone and insist on helping me cook even though I preferred to do it myself. However, he was growing on me and instead of being irritated when he plopped himself down on the couch next to me and snuggled up to me, his fingers trailing over my shoulders, neck, and stomach distracting me and making it impossible to read or think, I found it adorable. He reminded me of a pup demanding constant attention from its mother.

But, Hakota couldn't be with me at every second of every day so I found myself enjoying the company of Pine whenever Syn wasn't around. Due to a certain scrawny male werewolf with a horrible attitude and dirty mouth, Syn was almost always occupied nowadays.

I didn't mind it much because I found a friend in Pine. He wasn't demanding or controlling like Hakota and the now deceased alpha that had been a potential mate. I was sick of everyone trying to control me so being around Pine was refreshing. He was always sweet. He was never rude or snotty even though I could tell how angry and upset he'd be whenever he saw Hakota around me. He also never pushed me to give him answers about the relationship between Hakota and I and where he stood. He didn't threaten me or tell me to choose. It was almost like he really only wanted to be my friend and didn't even think about me as a possible mate.

I didn't know how I felt about that. Disappointed maybe? Though if that were the case why was I fine with being friends? I didn't try to entice him or urge him to pursue a different type of relationship with me. I had never even given him a sign that I might be interested in him that way. Was it because I was too invested in Hakota? Or was it because Pine didn't want to go against Hakota to get me? Whatever the reason was, it kept us at a basic friendship level which was more than I could have asked for.

Pine was the first one to ask me about me without assuming things. He asked about my childhood, finding out all about my dormant wolf and its big entrance into my life. He was easy to talk to, easy to laugh with. Everything about him was perfect and it made me nervous. I felt like I was making a huge mistake by not taking that step with him and ditching Hakota. Pine was the answer to all my problems. I could have him, have that life, that mate I've always wanted and the respect of my pack and approval of my father.

Who was I kidding? I'd never be able to kill Hakota. Turning my back at him was as far as I'd go. Even then my father would only see that as another failure on my part and my pack would think me weak for not being able to stomach killing a lycan, mate or not.

Being with Pine was easier but being with Hakota was...

I didn't really know. What was it about Hakota, about a relationship with him, that was so appealing to me? What did he have to offer that was worth scrapping my life plans for? He wasn't as nice as Pine or as easy to talk to as Pine. He was domineering and controlling unlike Pine. He was a lycan, not a werewolf. He was quick to anger, not level headed and cool like Pine who seemingly could brush anything off his back. So what was it?

I took a bite of my venison jerky, chewing thoughtfully as I mauled all this over. I was only when Pine spoke that my train of thought was interrupted.

"I thought you were waiting for your jerky to spontaneously combust with the way you were glaring at it," he chuckled "what are you thinking so deeply about?"

I swallowed down the half chewed jerky. "You," I answered honestly while tearing off another bite. "And Hakota," I said around a mouthful of meat.

Pine didn't tense up at the mention of the lycan, rather he sank further on his elbows that propped him up in a half seat half reclined position while facing the river we had first met at. It had become our favorite place to hang out simply because of the peace and quiet it had to offer—save for the rushing water—but the roaring died into the background after a short while.

"Oh?" He asked his voice calm and smooth, almost too lax sounding. Over the last two weeks of our budding friendship I had learned that when his voice slightly shifted to this particular tone it meant he was preparing himself to hear something he wouldn't like. "And what about us were you thinking?"

I shrugged, wiggling my toes of my now heal foot. It had taken a week before I could walk on it and another week before the swelling and bruising went away along with any remnants of pain. "Just wondering why I make my life so difficult," I replied vaguely.

Pine frowned, not entirely sure what I meant by that. He thought it over for a second but upon coming to no good conclusion he said, "I'll bite. What do you mean by that?"

With a heavy sigh I pulled my legs in to my body and folded them, drumming my fingertips on my knee cap. "You are the better choice Pine," I decided to be completely honest with him. He never seemed to judge me anyway and what was the point in lying to him? I'd only be lying to myself too. "It would be so easy to fall in love with you," I murmured looking him straight in his hazel eyes.

"But you aren't going to pick me," he finished for me, not able to conceal the bitterness in his tone. He pushed himself up so that he too was in a fully upright seated position. "Why?"

I massaged my temples with my thumb and forefinger. "It's hard to explain. Hakota..." I stared off into the trees while thinking about the lycan alpha. I let my eyes wonder as my thoughts did the same. "Hakota is just so...him," I said turning my gaze back to the werewolf who was watching me intently. "He doesn't try so damn hard," I tried to explain my thoughts. "Which is actually kind of annoying," I admitted, "but he does these things unknowingly which makes him that much more genuine." I groaned putting a hand to my head in exasperation. "I'm doing a terrible job of explaining this." I thought again for a moment trying to piece together my thoughts to make a coherent and understandable sentence. "It's like he isn't extravagant or extra. He doesn't give big gifts of take me to romantic spots. He doesn't do any cheesy predictable stuff like writing notes or some sappy poems. I'll admit that sometimes I have a hard time believing he cares about anyone, that he can care. At first I thought he was so cold and uncaring but now I can see how much he cares for his pack, how loyal and protective he is. He makes mistakes, a lot of mistakes, but he doesn't try and make up for them or hide them. It's like take it or leave it with him. You can't just accept part of him, you have to take him all and he makes sure you know that."

These last two weeks had been an eye opener for me. I had realized in this short amount of time how well Hakota knew me. When he helped me cook he knew I hated cutting up the onions and any fruit with a core so he always did it for me. He also knew that I never used yellow peppers. I always sorted out the green, red, orange and yellow peppers and never used yellow so he'd never pick them when helped me shop for food which was almost everyday because I liked having everything fresh. He threw out all of the pink lilies from Frayah's flower bouquets she made as a hobby knowing their scent gave me a headache. He never sat on the far right side of the couch because he knew it was my spot on the couch and I wouldn't sit there if it was otherwise occupied. He always took the opportunity to cuddle with me these days so he made sure my spot was available.

Hakota wasn't one to outdo someone on extravagance, but he beat anyone at the small things. He knew all those little things about me that even my own father still didn't after years of living in the same house.

"It's like he knows me, not things about me," I shot Pine a look from the corner of my eye to see him staring at the ground, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Does that make any sense?" I asked him.

Pine exhaled a breath, "And you love him based off of that?" He looked up from the ground, his beautiful hazel eyes finding mine.

I bit my lip and shrugged, "I don't think I love him. Deeply care for him maybe." I looked skyward watching the white fluffy clouds slowly make their way across the blue expanse of sky. "I guess I'm just wondering when my 'acting' didn't become acting anymore."

"How can you love a murderer?" Pine asked, thudding his first onto the ground, "how can you look past the fact he killed your mother?"

"It would be very hypocritical of me to not give him a chance because he kills people. I've killed plenty of rogues and werewolves that posed a threat to us."

"That's different," Pine muttered.

I quirked a brow, "Is it? Taking a life is taking a life. Besides I've given Hakota a hard time for what he did to my mother but I've forgiven him so there's no use in holding a grudge. I've seen what that can do to people."

"And you'll still pick him over me even knowing that this whole thing is could be an act to get what he wants?" He asked miserably while plucking grass from the ground.

I placed a hand over top of his getting him to look at me. "Do you remember that day you first found me?" Pine nodded slowly. "Well the reason I kicked that rock was because someone from my father's pack had informed me of their plans regarding Hakota. He threatened Hakota and there was this feeling I got. At first I thought it was just anger that they were hiding more secrets from me and didn't bother to ask how I felt about it. But now I know it wasn't anger, it was fear." My finger tightened around Pine's still hand. "I was scared, I am scared that someone wants him dead. I'm scared that so many people want him dead."

"And shouldn't that tell you something?" Pine raised a good point.

I laughed, "I'll admit he is not the ideal choice, he comes with a challenging future but I've always enjoyed a good challenge." Pine huffed, not agreeing with my answer. I knew he probably didn't want to hear this but I felt like he deserved a justified explanation from me. Especially because I may have been stringing him along these past two weeks while I had finally come to a decision. "Meeting you has helped me realize that I do care about Hakota more than I'd like to admit. You are exactly what I thought I wanted, but Hakota is what I need."

Pine released a shuddering breath, "this is hard for me to hear Cleo."

"I'm sorry, Pine. There's someone out there that you need but I'm not that person."

"How can you be sure?" He asked me sharply withdrawing his hand from mine. He stood up staring down at me his lips set in a thin line of determination. "Just kiss me. One time," I rose to my feet, brushing off my pants and opened my mouth to speak but he put a finger to my lips to shush me. "And if it doesn't change your mind than I am more than happy to just be friends."

I sucked on my cheek, unsure if this was a good idea. If anything it might just make this harder.

Pine gave me a convincing smile, "Come on Cleo. Fair is fair."

I caved, he was right he at least deserved a chance. "Alright," I gave in, "just one."

The smile that lit up his face nearly broke my heart. He cupped my face in his hands and leaned in giving me the gentlest of kisses. I couldn't help but compare it to Hakota's kiss. He'd just taken what he wanted, so rough and dominating but Pine was a giver rather than a taker. His kiss was so light and sweet. Perfect. But I didn't want perfect. I wanted the conflicting emotions to pile up in me, I wanted to feel something. Pine was too innocent for me, too pure.

When he finally pulled away he gave me a crooked smile, "Well I think that settles that."

I was so relieved that Pine already seemed to know he'd lost and was good natured about it. I caught the twinge of sadness in his eyes but I knew he wouldn't have much trouble moving on.

It was like a huge burden had been lifted from my shoulders. The path before me was clear now. My father and the hunters were the past behind me, Hakota and the lycans were the future ahead of me. Although there was no epic love story between Hakota and I it felt more real than anything else could have. I wasn't a believer in finding love quickly. You had to experience the ups and downs with someone to know if you truly loved them and there had been plenty of challenges for Hakota and I. I still did not love Hakota, not yet at least but I knew I would grow to love him in the future and that was all I needed.

I grabbed hold of both of Pine's hands, letting them hang between us as I gave him a grateful smile, "Thank you Pine."

He squeezed my hands, "If you're happy, I'm happy."

I chuckled shaking my head, "Sweet talker."

Pine dropped my hands like they were on fire, whipping his head to the left. He sniffed, just once before he turned to me with wild frantic eyes. "Run," he breathed.

I felt it then. An aura of anger threatened to suffocate me as soon it back the only thing I could feel. The fury was so heavy I nearly collapsed to my knees. Something so powerful could only be emitted by that of an alpha. And there was only one alpha I knew that could make their rage felt so strongly.

Hakota was here and he was not happy.

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