"Hakota, I swear to Lune," Innoko griped to the alpha who was not present, "if this is another one of your pack bonding exercises you and I are going to have issues."
"Don't pretend you didn't enjoy jumping down that waterfall," Sani commented, guiding the blindfolded female.
Innoko twisted her head up to the sound of his voice. "Yeah, because the part where I almost drowned was so much fun." She squeezed Sani's hand, purposefully digging her claws into his palm. "Why can't we be paired up with our mates? Roshan is probably being a gentleman to Frayah and you're trying to kill me."
"Well, you'll be more thankful I'm your partner when we win this scavenger hunt." He yanked Innoko to the side harshly for no reason, enjoying harassing the female and being able to get away with it. "Whoops, almost let you walk into a tree again." He lied.
The female growled, grumbling to herself. "Why did we elect you as leader again?" she turned her head as if searching for me. "Sitka, please tell me you are still here and haven't abandoned me with this moron."
"Still here," I said from behind her. Then I muttered under my breath, "unfortunately."
"You two are really mean," Sani pouted, "I'm a fantastic leader. You'll apologize when we get there first."
"You're crazy if you think I'm staying on your team when we are finished with this first part." The female cursed as she stumbled over a rock Sani had forgot to warn her about. "Damnit Sani!" She hissed and started hitting him, whacking her hands blindly at the lycan.
"Argh! Hey stop hitting me!" He protested, ducking away from her punches. "Ouch!" He shouted, swatting her away. "Don't bite me either! Frayah is the only one who has that honor!"
I groaned, casting my eyes skyward. Why did I have to suffer with these two? I was starting to regret not joining Kieran and Nahta in their group. This was the very situation I had been trying to avoid and knowing those two I bet Milo had a pretty good idea what I was feeling right now. "Look, can you two focus so we can get to the second half of this activity?"
They both ignored me, continuing their petty arguing like children. In fact I bet their own kids were being more mature than them in this moment.
"Again, was jumping off the waterfall really necessary?" Innoko asked dryly.
Sani grinned even though Innoko couldn't see it. "It was a short cut."
When we broke through the trees I saw the other groups gathered at the meeting point. "Oh thank Lune," I breathed.
"What, are we there?" Innoko demanded, whipping her head from side to side as if she could somehow see them through her blindfold.
We were certainly not the first group like Sani had insisted we'd be but we weren't the last group either.
Innoko ripped off her blindfold as we finally came to a halt. "This game sucks. I curse whoever came up with this month's game."
To be fair, the game itself had initially sounded like fun. We were grouped in pairs and each pair was given a clue to find a blindfolded member of our pack hidden somewhere in the woods. We then had to guide the blindfolded member back to the meeting point where we would switch teams and search for the last members in the castle. The first team to make it back to castle gardens with their blindfolded member would win the game. It was just bad luck that Innoko had ended up being our blindfolded member.
I looked around to see if Winter or Hakota were available but they weren't present among the lycans gathered. Winter was one of the blindfolded members needing to be found but as the last group arrived, it looked like she was one of the ones to be found in the second round.
I wasn't surprised. I was shocked she'd even wanted to play. She was in her last term of pregnancy and walking around blindfolded through the forest didn't seem like such a good idea. Since for the second half they were all hidden somewhere in the castle it meant she was safer too.
I looked towards Hakota who had arrived last with his team of Iris and Sasha. We met eyes and I took a step forward, ready to ask him if he wanted to team up but he turned away and asked Innoko to be his partner before I could even open my mouth.
Dejectedly I lowered my eyes to the ground and felt a wretched lump catch in my throat.
I hated this. I hated the distance between us. There was so much anger and distrust between us now and I didn't know how to fix it because my alpha wouldn't even give me a chance.
"Sitka, you come be on a team with Elias and I," Cleo, my saving grace called me over. The little boy waved at me with a huge smile, his other hand tightly grasping his mother's.
Hakota's eyes snapped over to his mate and he glared at her, obviously annoyed she was helping me and betraying him.
Cleo only stuck her tongue out at her mate before blowing him a kiss. The alpha female linked arms with me and pulled me over to the basket with the name of the lycans we'd have to find in the castle.
Elias reached in, shuffling the papers around before drawing one out. "Mathias," he read aloud, showing us the paper.
"Alright hold onto that paper, honey." Cleo said to her son.
Malik popped up out of nowhere, snatching up a piece of paper. He read it and scowled, crumpling it up in his hand. "Are you kidding me?" He snarled and chucked the paper ball at Cahtta who unwrinkled it and then showed it to Cleo and I.
We all sighed and watched the young hybrid stomp away, not even waiting for his team member.
"We love family bonding," Cahtta mumbled before hurrying to catch up to the young boy who had surprisingly agreed to play.
"Alright beta of mine, let's go!" Cleo's competitive nature kicked in and we set off for the castle.
We stayed on the paths that would lead us to the city just outside of the castle. Cleo kept her arm linked with mine, letting go of Elias's hand so he could chase after a cricket that had caught his attention. We stopped on the dirt road and the female looked on fondly at her son who wondered off to find the bug.
"I tried talking to him for you, you know," Cleo started, not turning to look up at me.
I kept my own eyes trained ahead, watching Elias crouch down and search for the grass for his cricket. "You didn't have to do that."
She sighed, "I thought he was going overboard. It's been weeks. I told him it was time to get over it and just talk to his best friend and stop moping around. He's actually pretty miserable with this depressed and gloomy look everywhere he goes." She mused, a wry smile curling up her lip as she snorted, "he only looks angry when you're around."
"Oh great, thanks." I replied sarcastically. "I'm glad to know just the sight of me is enough to make his blood boil and make him forget about being sad." I looked down at the female. "So are you telling me that I'm never going to be able to fix this with him because he always reinforces his grudge every time he sees me?"
Cleo clicked her tongue, "Oh I didn't mean that."
"Mommy look!" Elias held up his cricket between his thumb and forefinger, beaming proudly.
"Good job dear," she replied shooting him a thumbs up. The child let the bug go and skipped back over to us, grabbing his mom's hand as we continued on.
"So what did he say when you talked to him?" I inquired.
Cleo sighed noisily and tilted her head left and right. "Well I got him pretty drunk first so I could actually get the truth out of him without him being an angry prick and lying about it."
I shot her a look from the corner of my eye. "And?"
"And he is actually just an angry prick," she said unhelpfully. "He raged for the good part of an hour, and then broke down and started crying afterwards."
Guilt filled me and I hung my head. I had truly made my friend miserable.
Cleo bumped her hip with mine. "I'm not telling you this to make you feel bad," she said, "I just want you to know I've never seen him this hurt before. I didn't know you broke a promise as well by lying to him Sitka. You broke his trust twice because of this, once for not trusting him enough to tell him what was going on and again by lying to him therefore breaking your promise."
"I know," I croaked.
"I also talked to Jeko," she said after a long period of silence stretched between us. "I tried to connect with him and share my own experience but he wouldn't listen. I just pissed him off more in the end."
"Shit," I said, rubbing at my eyes as they began to burn uncomfortably. I really was just creating problems for everybody.
Cleo stopped and pulled her hand away from her son, going up on her tiptoes to cup my face. She smiled tightly at me, brushing her thumbs under my eyes. "We're going to figure something out," she promised me, meeting my eyes. "You will have your family Sitka. I don't want you to have to fear your happiness comes at a price for the rest of us. We are a family and families fight for each other and make sacrifices."
She pulled me down and placed a kiss on my forehead. "Besides, I'm tired of being the Forest Kingdom's bitch." She settled back down on her feet and patted my chest. "The worst he can do is declare war on us." She shot me a sly smile and quirked a brow. "If it comes to that then we'll just beat them again and show them we won't be given ultimatums."
I was really touched by her speech until she added, "no one threatens my son and gets away with it." She thumped her chest with a fist and gave me a dead serious look rivaled an angry mamma bear.
"Son?" I cringed at the word, grimacing down at the female who was nearly a century younger than me. I really didn't like thinking too deeply about how my mating with Winter changed my relationship with her parents. Hakota was my best friend, not my father-in-law it. It was too awkward to think about him that way.
Cleo planted her hands on her hips, enjoying watching me squirm and only added to the awkwardness, "You're my daughter's baby daddy, shouldn't I start calling you my son?"
There were so many things in that sentence that made me uncomfortable. "Please don't."
"Alright fine, I won't. Even if I enjoy seeing how much more uncountable it makes you than me."
I just gave her one of those looks in reply and Cleo burst out laughing. "Like Mother like daughter, huh? Both of us get a grouchy, serious old man for a mate. How unlucky."
Before I could reply, she swooped up her son and sat him in her shoulders, grabbing his legs firmly before she sprinted off.
Elias shrieked in excitement as they ran down the dirt path.
I scratched the back of my head, unable to help the smile that crossed my face.
Cleo really had changed from the first time I had met her. She had truly grown into an alpha female any pack would be proud of and a mother anyone would be lucky to have.
And she somehow always knew how to make me smile.
Sorry for being MIA for like 3 weeks. I'm currently working on another project I'm trying to get published for real and actually make some money on. Anyway, I'm determined to finish this book today! I will be updating all throughout today let's see if I can meet my goal and finish this baby!
*rolls up sleeves, cracks fingers and gets ready to type like crazy*