I could feel his eyes on us. I had been ignoring his staring for the past ten minutes but Winter was starting to get uncomfortable.
My mate and I were relaxing in the gardens of the castle. I had built us a nest out of pillows and cushions that Elias had helped me with. The little kid was the most obedient and innocent child I had ever met. Cleo really sheltered him, trying to keep him her little baby forever no doubt now that her other two children had grow up.
Even though I still hadn't fixed things with Hakota, at least having my mating publicly known made it easier to take care of Winter. I could dote and pamper her without having to worry who could be watching. We also didn't need to find excuses to see each other. Now I could simply be with her and it had strengthened our relationship tenfold. I had the time to learn about her, something I had wanted to do before getting her pregnant but it was out of my hands now.
Winter was like her parents in many ways. She had a sense of duty and obligation that had led her to accepting the mating between Jeko and herself to strength ties between the Forest Kingdom and lycans. That was something she inherited from her father. From her mother she inherited her competitive nature. She told me stories about how when she was younger she had always desperately tried to keep up with Nahta and Kieran but no matter how many extra hours of practice she put in she could never catch up.
With Kieran as the next alpha and Nahta as his front running beta I wasn't surprised they always kept ahead of her. It was an unfair occurrence that happened within lycan packs. To keep the balance the hierarchy of alphas, betas, standards and turned would never allow someone to excel outside of their rank. And rank was something predetermined. You were born into a rank and nothing could change it.
I could understand Winter's frustration but it was something she'd have to get over. She couldn't let it destroy her and it wasn't healthy for her to obsess over it.
She was still young. Perhaps more mature than the others of her age, and yet she was still ignorant. She didn't have the same experiences as me. She didn't know how to handle the stress as well as I did. She also forgot about the danger we were still in, too relieved and happy in finally having a happy mating.
Winter truly loved me. At first the bond had shoved us together and our tormented and depressed souls sang at finally finding their other half but now I could see she adored me. She had quickly learned my preferences. She knew I'd rather just have her hold my hand than bestow endless kisses on me. She could read me so well, knew when I was stressed, angry and upset. When I was feeling needy and clingy and needed her affection. She knew when to keep silent and when to offer me words of comfort.
My mate's eyes were always bright as she looked at me, full of adoration and gentleness. She was softer and more delicate like Frayah. She wasn't a hardened warrior like her mother. Cleo was always strong and serious on the outside, her stoic facade only breaking around the ones closest to her. Her softness only came out when the situation called for it or with the ones she trusted enough to show it too. As for her daughter, it was the opposite. Winter was like a delicate breeze, a delicate flower that bloomed under the sun. She was exactly what I needed, someone to combat my own personality and the person I had become shaped by decades of war and hardship. But when it came down to it, I knew Winter would let a piece of her mother shine through. She would become a warrior and fight to the death for what mattered to her.
Hakota needed someone like Cleo. Someone who would fight him and force him to share the burden of being an alpha. He needed someone who wouldn't hesitate to go against him but also someone who had his back. He needed someone as stubborn and unrelenting as himself. He needed someone who could take care of themself so he could focus on the pack.
That wasn't what I needed though. I needed a reprieve of the leaders. I needed someone who trusted me, who needed me to protect them and wanted me too.
I needed the female laying below me in the freshly cut grass lawn of the well kept garden. Propped up on my side I gazed down lovingly at the napping mother of my child. I was blocking the intense sun from her face but it was still plenty warm without the direct sunlight.
Her stomach was protruding now, it was evident she was pregnant. Luckily her pregnancy hadn't been giving her any trouble. She wasn't sick or in pain or experiencing dizziness. She was a little tired and often needed to take a nap around midday but other than that she was in perfect health.
Leaning down I kissed her stomach and then her forehead, before getting to my feet to confront the male who had been watching us with killing intent.
I walked directly over to Jeko, who was seething without sparing any effort to hide how livid he was. I understood how humiliated he must feel to watch me with his mate. Whether or not he actually loved Winter was irrelevant. It was a matter of pride and the bond. He'd marked her and no matter how thinly stretched their mating bond may be, it still made him feel unhappy and jealous to see Winter with someone else and pregnant with another male's pup.
"Let it go," I warned him. I knew that destructive look and nothing good would come out of it, not for him and not for us.
"Why can't you just leave her be?" He demanded, his fingers curling into fists. "I got her first."
He knew better than to think that meant anything. He'd still mistreated her which ruined any chance I may have had in forfeiting her. "Winter is my mate," I explained, "and she was unhappy. She asked me to help her so I did."
"By getting her pregnant?" The young male snarled, his explosive rage getting the better of him.
Calmly I returned, "I didn't intend for that to happen until I figure some things out."
He scoffed, "figure out how to kill me without initiating a war you mean."
His gaze was challenging, a dare to deny it which I never had an intention of doing. "It would be different if you were truly one of us." I admitted without pause, "your heart and loyalty still belong to the Forest Kingdom. You're a liability to this pack."
"Better than being a traitor to my own," he snapped.
It was sickeningly similar to the mess that had been dropped in our laps with the centuries of blood and old grudges that came with Cleo. In the end it had only caused more pain for those on all sides. "Your own?" I demanded, grabbing him by the collar and pulling him close to my face.
It wasn't Jeko's fault that he was completely under the thumb of his father. I wanted to help him, give him a chance to escape from all of this alive. I could only hope he'd be less stubborn than Cleo and be able to let it go at my advice and not have to keep pushing until everyone snapped. I wanted him to learn from Cleo's own past, a situation nearly identical to his own.
"You have no one just like Cleo," I kept my voice level, speaking only in grave seriousness. "You are trapped in an impossible mission to please your father and prove yourself to a pack that doesn't give a shit about you."
His hands came up to my wrists and he dug his claws into my flesh but I didn't even wince. It only infuriated him more that he couldn't get a reaction out of me. "Don't compare me to that hunter bitch," he hissed. "She betrayed her own, killed her father and then abandoned the pack she left alpha-less all for a lycan bastard."
His choice of words to refer to my alphas had me bristling at his disrespect but I kept a level head, letting him vent and spit out his poisonous insults.
Grinding his teeth he added, "Better to be unwanted and a loyal pawn than a traitor and puppet for your enemy."
I let go of him with a shove. He wasn't going to listen to me now. He was too angry to think clearly and take my words into consideration. I did however leave him with both a warning and the harsh truth, "Your impossible mission will get you killed."
And because he was still a juvenile male he couldn't resist saying, "Not before I take some of you with me."
However, I couldn't let it pass as the beta of the pack he directed his words at. "Is that a threat?"
He only snorted and shook his head before storming away.
Exhaling a deep breath I let him go. Looking down at my bloodied wrist, I sighed. History was repeating itself but I wasn't going to let Jeko hurt Winter like Hakota and Cleo had hurt each other. I could only hope the cycle would end here and after Malik got whatever he wanted from the Forest Kingdom and hopefully helped put the feud to rest, we could finally enjoy peace. I didn't want to raise my family in war like Hakota and I had been.