The bus ride passed painfully slow and after what felt like a freaking eternity, we arrived at the border of Michigan and Ohio.
I finally got the chance to finally take a good look at the object my dad had placed into my hands during our emotional farewell. It took me a bit of time to fully comprehend what he had given me, but upon further inspection it finally made sense.
He had gifted me his favorite pocket-knife, and it wasn’t just any knife. His father had trusted it to him when he was a young boy and my dad had carried it with him everyday ever since.
The blade was crafted entirely out of sterling silver, the only thing that could kill a werewolf. An evil that was sometimes necessary when it came to the protection of my kind. I took my time to memorize every curve and bend of the lovely gift.
The handle was a beautiful smooth marble that was cool to the touch and my father’s initials were carved professionally into the base. While I was endlessly grateful that he honored me with his most prized possession, it didn’t help with my feelings of being home-sick.
That, and the fact that my family had been calling me repeatedly ever since I had gotten into my seat. My phone had been buzzing insatiably for over an hour, which eventually murdered my battery in the process. The last text that I had the chance of glimpsing before the screen went black was sent from Grace.
‘I’ll miss you <3’ it read with a large heart plastered at the end of it.
As much as I hated to admit it, I knew I would miss her too. Hell, I already did! I’d never been this far from home before, which made my struggle with anxiety an uphill battle.
“I can do this,” I murmured lowly to myself.
I clutched my father’s jacket that hung lazily around my shoulders and inhaled his comforting scent. I knew that if I kept wearing it, his distinct aroma would eventually fade and the fibers of the thick denim would soon be doused in my own. But I needed the slight solace that it gave me. I needed something familiar in this big scary world that I had been cast into.
Holding my bags in front of me, I made my way off of the bus and to the ticket booth in hopes of furthering the distance between Ethan and I. As I paid for the paper stock stub, I couldn’t fend off the feeling of inevitable dread at leaving my family behind as well.
In a perfect world, I could have rid my sisters of the parasite they called a mate and nothing would have needed to change. But to my knowledge, such a world was nonexistent.
I cut my losses and decided to save my grief for the next bus. It would be a long trek, considering I was scheduled to catch a connecting ride to Vermont. I’d heard there was a bustling community of werecats there, and I figured sticking close to my kind would be good for me. I stuffed my ticket into my wallet and carefully shoved it into the oversized pocket of my inherited jacket.
I stood quickly and made my way through the fluttering crowd. All the wallowing in self pity must’ve been an adequate distraction since I ran right into somebody with enough force to have me plummeting to the ground.
Maybe the person ran into me. I couldn’t tell, and I couldn’t care less considering the fact that I had just busted my ass in the middle of a massive mob of travelers.
“Oh shoot! I am so sorry!” A delicate voice chimed from above me. “Here, let me help you. Oh my goodness, I am so so sorry!”
I looked up to meet the gaze of a young girl who sported a horrified look upon her face. She had curly red hair that was cropped at her cheeks and blunt bangs that were in dire need of a trim. Her big hazel eyes were wide and brimming with tears that threatened to litter her flushed freckles. I decided that she couldn’t have been older than fourteen and was probably more embarrassed than I was.
“Oh, don’t worry about it!” I waved off her helping hands as I hoisted myself off of the tiled floor. “Accidents happen.”
“I didn’t mean to! I was just late for my bus and I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going!” She blurted tearfully with a harrowing case of word-vomit. “I was looking for my gate, I didn’t even see you there! Gosh, I am so sorry! Please don’t tell my mom!”
“Sh! It’s okay!” I attempted to calm the poor girl. “I won’t tell your mom. Now, you’d better get going before you miss your bus.”
“Oh, thank you!” She cheered with her back already turned to me. “Again, really sorry!”
I smirked as I watched the girl sprint through the bus station. I decided to take a quick inventory of my items to make sure I hadn’t dropped anything important and realized this was likely unnecessary pretty quickly. I had both of my unopened bags, my phone, knife and wallet.
Wallet? I fondled my pockets shakily and patted down my entire body.
Where the hell was my wallet?!
I scanned the ground and prayed that it’d come into view. After seeing nothing I turned my eyes toward the crowd in search of any suspicious characters fruitlessly. I mean, the only one that looked even the slightest bit guilty was the sweet little girl that just bolted out of the building.
If she was worried about missing her bus, why would she be running AWAY from the bus station? I thought to myself as I realized how naive I had been.
I clamped onto my bags and dashed after her. That little brat robbed me! The nerve! I couldn’t believe I had actually felt BAD for her!
Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!
“Stop her!” I shouted to the idiotic bystanders that just watched the little con-artist pass with ease. “THIEF!”
I chased her down the sidewalk as fast as I could. The girl rounded a corner at the speed of light and then she was gone. She had managed to swindle all of my money and my only ticket out of here. I was screwed.
I checked every dumpster and trash can that was within a mile radius of where I had last seen her in hopes that she would just take the cash and toss the rest.
She likely scurried all the way home and would rid of the evidence there. That’s what I would’ve done in her situation.
“If I had a home,” I grumbled woefully to myself.
I had nothing now. No money, no family, and nowhere to go. I had probably missed my bus by now, and even if I hadn’t what would they do? I had no ticket and no proof of ID. I was stuck. Stranded in the middle of some hick town, somewhere between Michigan and Ohio.
“FUCK!” I shrieked furiously at the universe.
What the hell did I do to freaking deserve any of this?! Who could I have POSSIBLY pissed of this bad?! First, my family treats me like trash for most of my formative years. Then, I get paired with an abusive mate that I didn’t even like! AND THEN, I had to run away from home. Now this! Seriously?!
I continued cursing the clouds for a few more hours as my feet carried me in an aimless direction. I’m not sure how long I had been walking, but darkness had overcome me before long and I was beginning to grow a bit uneasy.
I gripped my dad’s knife securely as I pressed on. I had been following an abandoned road for who knows how long, and I hadn’t seen any sign of life in what must have been hours.
No cars. No houses. Nobody. I was completely and utterly alone. If my family hadn’t killed my freaking cellphone, I would’ve called my dad by now.
I was scared. Really freaking scared. Was it really worth it? Was my freedom really worth being this alone and terrified? I doubted it.
As soon as I can charge my phone, I’m calling dad. I assured myself as the aching in my feet began permeating through my entire lower half.
My stomach growled and I knew that I couldn’t go on for much longer. I had devoured all of the food I’d packed already, and my water supply had seemingly evaporated. I also had to pee very badly.
As if some unknown force had finally answered one of my prayers, the dim light of a building came into view at the end of the street. I quickened my pace happily as I made my way down the road and into the succulent warmth of the neon sign.
Once I had reached the parking lot of the building, I realized that it was a motorcycle bar. I choked down my new wave of fear and forced myself to push through the front doors of the beaten down saloon.
I just need to use the bathroom and borrow a phone, what’s the worst that could happen?
I just had to ask. Upon entering, the smell hit me like a brick.
Every eye in the place turned to glare at me, likely wondering what the hell an Ailuran was doing in a bar full of werewolves. I averted my gaze and rushed to the nearest bathroom in hopes that they would lose interest in me.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my God!” I whisper yelled to the toilet as I locked myself into a stall. “This is how I die.”
I finished my business quickly and rushed to wash my hands. I then waited for death to swoop in and carry me away as I ducked beneath the sinks. After several minutes of silence, I realized nothing was going to happen.
It shouldn’t at least. I didn’t provoke any of them in anyway, and as far as I knew this was a human bar. The pack outside was probably just passing through and decided to stop for a few drinks. That would make the most sense to me at least.
I breathed out a sigh of relief and took a long swig from the sink, allowing the cool tap water to rejuvenate my body. After drinking my fill, I took a hard look in the cracked mirror. The girl that stared back at me was unrecognizable. I had bags under my lifeless eyes, my hair was a mess, and my face was filthy.
Even after fixing my hair and rinsing the dirt from my cheeks, I still felt awful. What happened to me? I got run out of my house by a manipulative douche, robbed by a teenager, and now here I was. Drinking water out of a decaying faucet in a grimy bathroom, with a pack of freaking werewolves outside.
“I wanna go home,” I mouthed silently as tears stung my eyes.
I hated to cry, but I couldn’t help it. I was so scared and felt so alone, I just broke down. I had lost everything in less than a day and I was ready to give up. A deep sob racked my body and I slid down to the slimy floor. Tears cascaded freely down my cheeks and my shoulders shook so violently that my chest ached.
My blubbering was cut short when I heard the bathroom door begin to creak open and the scent of Lycan rushed into the small space. I sprung to my feet and wiped away any evidence that I had been weeping. I sniffled for a few moments before gathering the nerve to look up.
A beautiful woman with thick black eyeliner stood before me. She had short shoulder length hair that was so blond it almost looked white and her eyes were a crisper blue than the ocean. The glistening of her nose ring seemed to illuminate her tough exterior.
She wore distressed black skinny jeans with fishnet stockings showing through the massive holes, a black leather jacket, and a tight band T-shirt that had been cropped to show off her stylish navel ring. Loose chains accentuated her large bust as she tugged at her spiked choker that matched her dangerous looking leather boots.
“Got a problem?” The scary woman snipped at me and curled her lip slightly, revealing a set of pristine white canines.
“Sorry,” I mumbled while looking away.
The woman ignored my apology and strutted past me to grab some toilet paper out of one of the stalls. She then stepped in my direction and held the wad of tissue out to me. I stared at her chipping black nail polish in astonishment for a few moments before cautiously accepting the peace offering.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“Don’t mention it,” she replied dryly.
She allowed me to pull myself together for a few minutes before striking up a conversation with me, much to my dismay. Didn’t she know what I was? Surely she could smell me.
“So, where you headed?” She asked casually.
“What makes you think I was going anywhere specific?” I asked back with mock grit.
“Look, I get it. Our species don’t tend to get along,” she addressed the giant elephant in the room like it was yesterday’s news. “I don’t actually care what you are or where you’re going, I’m just following orders.”
“Orders?” I inquired completely dumbfounded. Who the hell would be ballsy enough to try ordering her around?!
“You caught my Alpha’s attention,” she shrugged. “I don’t get it either, but he sent me in here to check on you. So I’m gonna ask you one more time, where are you heading?”
“No where,” I answered honestly for fear that she might break my ankles. “I don’t have anywhere to go.”
“Well, you don’t look like you’ve spent a lot of time on the streets. Where’s your family, princess?” She gave me a quick once over and cocked her head to the side.
“I can’t go back there,” I admitted painfully.
She stared off into space for a moment as if she was listening to something really important. Her eyebrows scrunched and she looked utterly annoyed, but somehow managed to plaster a fake smile across her face when she looked up at me again.
“Grab your shit, I guess you’re coming with us.” She rolled her eyes and motioned for me to gather my bags.
“Wait, what?” I gasped. “But you’re-, and I’m-! Who’s us?!"
“My pack. We’re heading out in twenty.” She grabbed my bags for me and left.
“Get out here if you want to eat!” She called over her shoulder as the door closed behind her.
Not knowing what else to do, I followed her obediently to a withered booth across the bar. I sat with my head down in an attempt to avoid making eye contact with any of the wolves that seemed to be staring me down from all corners of the establishment.
A burger and fries were placed in front of me, which I devoured quickly. The woman sat on the opposite side of the table and watched quietly as I finished my food. She waited until I had stuffed the last few morsels into my mouth to begin speaking.
“I’m Sam, by the way.” She introduced herself with a half smile. “What should we call you?”
“Tessa,” I swallowed hard to answer clearly. “My names Tessa.”
“So I guess that’s a no on calling you Mittens, huh?” The deep voice of a burly man chimed in from behind, causing me to jump.
“Don’t be such an ass!” Sam snarled at the man before turning back to me with apologetic eyes. “This is Embry. He thinks he’s funny, but we all just choose to ignore him.”
“Oh, ouch!” Embry feigned pain in his chest at her little jab. “Someones just mad that there’s another beautiful woman in the pack, that’s all.”
Embry winked and flashed a toothy grin at me, causing Sam to roll her eyes in annoyance. I giggled at their little spat and could instantly tell that he liked her. He must be fake flirting with me to get under her skin. Or maybe he’s just a flirt in general, it was too soon to tell.
I studied Embry discreetly as he and Sam bickered comically. He had shaggy black hair with ginger highlights that could only be seen against the light, and big grey eyes that resembled tiny full moons.
He had his long hair loosely tied into a stylish man-bun and he wore a sleeveless leather vest that revealed his bare chest. He was covered in tattoos of aquatic life and I assumed he was likely a big fan of the ocean.
A massive silhouette evacuating the bar caught my eye. The figure seemed to have had a similar effect on everyone else as all of the Lycans in the room began to saunter out slowly as well.
“Time to go,” Sam interrupted my thoughts.
“Who’s she ri-?” Embry cocked his head toward me slightly as the three of us walked out.
“She’s riding with Alpha.” Sam dead panned and shoved my purse into my hands.
“Whoa what?!” I stopped and stared at the two of them.
I didn’t know much about Alpha wolves, except for the fact that they were ruthless and TERRIFYING!
“Come on, Sammi. She’s-” Embry began to plead with her.
“He wanted her, he can take her.” Sam shrugged. “Besides, he’s the only one with a two-seater.”
Embry stared at her in confusion for a moment and then broke out into a loud hearty laugh. Moisture pooled in his eyes and he doubled over for a few seconds before regaining his composure.
“Oh, yeah!” He exclaimed. “How could I forget? Alpha IS the only one with a two-seater. Silly me, welp. Looks like you’re riding with the boss, pussy cat. No exceptions.”
“But I-!” I tried to argue while being pushed in the direction of a loud motorcycle.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. Embry will carry your backpack for you and I can hold your purse if you’d like.” Sam spoke sweetly which I assumed to be out of character for her. “Just hold on tight and don’t move. Oh, and don’t talk, grab his shoulders, or breathe too loudly. Also, don’t look him in the eyes.”
“He hates that,” Embry agreed beside me as he slung my belongings over his shoulder.
I opted to hold onto my purse and gulped loudly as we reached the revving bike. I tried to avoid looking at the man who was eyeing me carefully.
“Here’s your stray!” Sam presented me happily while facing the ground.
She urged me to climb onto the back of the bike, which I did begrudgingly. This wolf seemed to have pure power and dominance oozing out of his pores. I feared my hands would melt off if I even considered touching him.
“You better hold on!” Embry shouted from across the lot as he mounted his own bike. “He drives fast as a motherfucker!”
As if accentuating his point, the Alpha wolf revved his engine one last time and sped out of the parking lot and onto the main road. I wrapped my arms around his waist frantically to avoid flying off.
I loosened my grip a bit once it had registered that I was literally squeezing the life out of this man. I desperately tried to ignore the rock hard muscles that were playing peek-a-boo with my finger tips and instead opted to focus my attention on his expensive jacket.
The shiny leather remained plain with only an intricate crescent moon sewn onto the back. His scent worked its way into my nostrils and I fought hard to control my drool. He smelled of exquisite leather and freshly cut pine. It was a very comforting fragrance. One that reminded me of my childhood.
I gazed up at his luscious ebony locks and admired the slight curls that billowed through the breeze. I peered over his shoulder and studied the strong hands that led the bike effortlessly. With a slight glance at his mirror, I was met with massive emerald eyes that seemed to cut straight through my soul.
I lowered my eyes instantly and examined the scenery instead. I wanted to apologize for staring, but I remembered Sam telling me not to talk so I avoided breaking two rules within the same ride.
My life was blossoming into something from a shitty lifetime movie. Here I was, a runaway that had been taken in by a kind pack of werewolves. Maybe I really was a stray. Did Alpha have a thing for strays?
Why does that matter, and why do I secretly want him to?!
I have a crush on Alpha! Fuck!
This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening. This had to be a dream, all of it. Any second now, my sisters would be waking me up and telling me that it’s time to go. They just had to.
But they weren’t going to. Whether I liked it or not, this was all real.
My life is a fucking shit-show, I thought to myself as I continued to ride off into the unknown with this handsome stranger.