Fit For Fire

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God Save the Queen

I went to bed angry and hungry. After showering off, I laid in the middle of the bed on top of my covers and just stared at the ceiling. This beast raged inside me, demanding to be heard. Demanding the destruction she felt was owed to her. Running my hands through my hair I pulled, frustrated with how the night turned out.

I had still been battling with my daily dose of confliction, but for the most part I had been feeling pretty good. Good enough to explore my connection with Zach. Good enough to see what it would feel like to be a normal couple, to forget everything for the night and be nothing more than a man and a woman bonding over a steaming plate of fajitas. My stomach growled. I could easily go down to the kitchen, but I wasn’t ready to see Zach.

The worst part of all of this was that I had managed to speak my mind, and nothing was even resolved. I dropped a bomb on him and instead of witnessing the devastation, I had turned tail and marched off. I wonder if anything would have changed if I had stayed. Our problem wasn’t that we were unwilling to communicate with each other, it was that when we did, it became abundantly clear that neither of us was going to give in. At this point I didn’t feel I should have to. I was bending so hard, it was a miracle I didn’t break.

I should have ran. I should have ran, and ran, and ran, until he was too tired to come after me anymore. I should have beat him down with my will and words, made his life a living hell until he realized that working with me was easier than working against me. I should have . . . my thoughts stretched on endlessly. I should have, I should have. It made me sick.

In the end I would have done the same thing. Gained their trust, and stayed compliant while looking for any and every opportunity. Hell, if he would have let me continue going to work and living at home while I took his classes, I may have come to him on my own. If he had shown me that he valued my feelings, and my happiness, that I was free to make my own choice, I may have decided that my best choice was him. Instead his fear, and pride had led us here.

Where was here? It was hard to tell with us. We shifted from hot to cold so quickly that I half expected to see cracks in our smile lines and in the crinkles of our eyes. I expected to watch the glass facade fall away each time we came together after we ripped ourselves apart. Yet, each time we held, the damages felt but left unseen. I was unsure how long we could hide, how long this game could last before we met reality.

As if sensing this truth, he knocked on my door. I knew it was Zach without asking or looking. I could smell him, god I could feel him. “I can’t Zach.” I moaned out, covering my face with my eyes. “Please Adeline.” The door opened and a chill from the hallway rushed in carrying his scent with it. “Please, I really can’t.” I had fought too hard to see tomorrow to shatter tonight.

“Please, I need to be close to you.” He walked in and stood over my bed. Opening my eyes, I sat up, my wet hair dripping down my back. “I meant what I said you know. Every word of it.” I warned him. He needed to know that if he came here looking for some formal apology he was wrong. I wouldn’t, in fact I couldn’t take back what I said. Truths like that don’t come home when they’re called. Once they’re free, they’re free forever.

“I know.” he croaked. Biting my lip I nodded my head to the side, telling him he could come sit. He did, my bed dipping under his weight until he was situated. Laying on his back he clasped his hands on his stomach and he stared at the ceiling. I laid back down, my body mirroring his.

“You’re not my prisoner Ade.” I turned to him, studying his face. He kept his eyes on the ceiling. “Don’t.” I said so softly, I almost doubted he could hear me. “It’s true. I’m yours. I am so trapped by the fear that something will happen to you, that there could be an outcome for me that doesn’t involve you that almost everything feels justifiable if it prevents the eventuality that you may not be here.” My heart stopped. This wasn’t an apology, it wasn’t surrender. It was an alibi.

“You think you can fix this with a few pretty words.” My hands locked onto my wrists and squeezed, reminding me to see the honesty he was offering. “No, but I want you to know this for what it is. Know me for what I am.” Turning towards him, I propped my head up in my hand as I stared at his silhouette. “And what are you?” I spat, rolling my eyes.

“Your mate. I’m your mate, and I would fight, kill, and even die for you because that is what I was made to do. You can hurt me, you can hate me, and I would live with it all if it meant keeping you safe.” Sitting up, I felt the weight of his words sink to the bottom of my stomach. “What is it you think I need protecting from? What horrible thing is waiting for me if I go home?” His head rolled over to the side lazily. “Other packs aren’t as forgiving with the rogues they catch. There are also hunters out there Ade. There is a lot about this world you still don’t understand. We have reason to believe that the hunter who shot you wasn’t just some random guy with a crossbow, but a trained werewolf hunter.”

My breath hitched. I had been targeted by an actual werewolf hunter? “What?” Turning to his side, Zach reached his arm around me and pulled me to him. “I found out today, I wasn’t sure if I should tell you, but now I think you should know. You need to understand.” My body grew stiff and the fear I felt in the ravine rushed through me.

Zach wrapped his hands around my waist and buried his face in my hair, his closeness calming me almost instantly. “What are you saying? What is it that you want me to understand?” I closed my eyes, and swallowed, waiting to feel the full weight of his words. “That you aren’t going home anytime soon Ade. Not until we resolve this. Hunters don’t work alone, and I won’t send you out into the city alone when you are safest here. I’m sorry but I need to protect you and this is the best way.”

My world stopped spinning. “I would never force you to be with me if that isn’t what you want, but I can’t just ignore what could be a possible threat to your life. After the party, I can arrange private living quarters for you if you want, and I can find you a job. That is my compromise. You will become a protected member of this pack however, and for now you will be staying. The rest is up to you.”

I crumbled in on myself and squeezed my eyes shut. He seemed to crumble with me, offering me support as my thoughts raced. Was he telling the truth? If he was, how could I argue my case when getting what I wanted meant endangering myself ? Regardless of whether he was telling the truth or not, I knew I didn’t have the luxury of deciding what I wanted to do about it.

Even though I had a lot of doubts about my future, this moment made me grateful for one thing. With Zach I was protected. I knew he would never physically hurt me. I felt safe with him knowing he would never take advantage of me, and he just proved that. He was willing to let the prospect of ‘us’ go in order to keep me safe. I felt a million things all at once, and the strength I had saved up for the fight left me as I melted into his arms.

I had wanted something he couldn’t give me so he had decided to give me the closest thing to it. I wasn’t free to leave yet, but I was free to leave him and live a life that was close to what I had. I wondered what would happen when all this business with the hunters was over. Would I still want to leave after living life in the pack? Would it be too hard to leave if I didn’t?

“Zach?” his arms tightened around me in response. “The hunters aren’t the reason you wanted to stay in tonight were they?” I turned my head towards him, and I could feel him adjust his chin on my head before he spoke “ No, they weren’t.” So he didn’t trust me. I felt hurt, but then I realized I shouldn’t. He had been right earlier, I had been banking on using our relationship as a way out if I had to.

“Can I ask you something then?” he stiffened and I smiled in the dark. “Sure.” he shifted and I could feel his hesitation. He didn’t want another fight. Luckily neither did I. “Do you not like fajitas? If you don’t, I don’t think this is going to work.”

He laughed, his chest rising and falling against my back. It sounded so good that I couldn’t help but join him. “I love fajitas.” he whispered into my hair. “That’s good, you may have a shot after all.” Straightening up, he pulled me so that I was flat on my back. “Just a shot?” he looked down at me, and even in the dark I could tell his eyebrows were raised. “Don’t feel bad, I have an incredibly complex vetting process.”

“Yeah I’m figuring that out.” He laughed again, before lowering himself down next to me. I laughed with him, cuddling up on his chest. When we stopped, we stayed silent. I rode each rise and fall of his chest, eyes closed and ears trained on the soft ‘thump’ that dictated his life cycle. Soon our chests expanded and deflated in cadence, and I was lulled to sleep by the primal song of my mate’s existence.

***

In the morning, I woke up alone. Walking downstairs, I found that breakfast had been made for me. Zach had a housekeeper, a widowed wolf named Anna who did his shopping and cooking on the weekdays. I had been cooking breakfast the last couple of weeks so she hadn’t come by. I briefly wondered if he had called her in before I looked at the platter.

A small smile formed on my lips. I knew this morning’s meal had been prepared by Zach. The pancakes were the size of dinner plates and the bacon was a bit too crispy. Piling my plate high, I sat down and marveled at my food. Before Zach, a man had never made me breakfast. Men had bought me breakfast, sure, but made it? Never.

Zach was constantly doing things like that. Small, considerate things that made my heart ache a little each time. Why? It was because they were such little things. It made me wonder why no one had cared enough to do them before.

Looking down at my now empty plate, I pondered if this was the root of my problems. I had never been loved, not truly. So how could I recognize it when it was given? Blinking, I numbly moved from my seat, and still deep in thought I moved to the sink. Staring out the kitchen window, I scrubbed my dishes clean, and then moved to the pans Zach had left on the counter.

My eyes roamed over the lush landscape without seeing any of it. It wasn’t until I felt his hands on my waist, and my eyes met with his reflection that I realized where I was and what I was doing. The dishes had been done ages ago and yet I had stayed there, gaping out the window. His hands traced the curve of my body before they found my arms. Sliding down my arm, he grasped my wrists before gently turning me.

“Hey, where’d you go?” He asked tenderly, his finger brushing my ear as he tucked a stray strand away from my face. ‘There he goes again’ I thought as my heart rammed against my ribs. “I’m not really sure.” I said to his chest as I struggled to pull myself out of my own fog. Stepping into me, he kissed my head. “That’s okay. Hey, I’m sorry about last night, and I would understand completely if you wanted to stay home tonight.”

“Your mom had someone alter the length of a dress for me though.” I looked up at his face, brows furrowed. “I would hate to have had her go through all this trouble for nothing.” He gave me a reassuring smile, and my eyes were instantly drawn to the pink of his lips. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll tell them it’s my fault. My dad would have no problem believing that. Trust me, no one would blame you.”

I could tell his offer was sincere, but the thought of backing out now didn’t sit well with me. “No, I’ll still go.” His eyes widened, and his lips pulled up at the edges in a slight smile. “Really? You’re sure?” He asked almost as if he didn’t believe it. “Yes, I won’t leave you to the wolves.” My lips mimicked his at the way his eyes lit up at my pun.

“My mom is going to drop off your dress later today, and I had Jeremy take some guys to go pack up some of your stuff. I’m taking the day off to help make sure everything is ready for tonight. Would you like to come along?” He was having my stuff moved here? My mouth opened, but then snapped shut. Last night’s conversation came back to me. I was going to be staying awhile.

“Sure, I’ll come. I really don’t feel like sitting here by myself today” I shrugged. Zach took a step back and eyed me suspiciously. “Really?” His voice carried the surprise that I was feeling. “Yes, really.” His shoulders slumped and he threw his head back in relief . “Thank goodness. I still have to pick out centerpieces.” Thank goodness indeed.

***

Music played from Zach’s laptop, while I pushed another bobby pin into place. I had borrowed the device so that I could find a Youtube tutorial that would teach me how to do my hair. I had to watch ten different videos, but my hair was finally curled, and pinned back into a low elegant bun.Checking the clock, I panicked seeing the time. Today’s errands had taken us longer than I had anticipated.

Taking the last Bobby pin from my lips, I secured the bun one last time. Gently pulling a few pieces loose in the back, I studied the final effect before giving it a good misting with hairspray to freeze it in place.Satisfied that my hair would stay put, I rummaged through the bag of goodies Zach had brought from my apartment. It held all my hair, and makeup products. He had also had boxes of my clothes and books packed up and delivered. They sat on the floor of my room just waiting to be unpacked. I had ignored them though. Unpacking felt permanent.

Choosing my favorite eye shadow brush, I began applying my makeup. I chose to do a neutral smokey eye with a pop of gold on the middle of my lids. I ended the look with winged eyeliner that took me 3 tries to get even. Wiping off the fallout from my eye shadow, I moved onto the rest of my face. Checking the time once more, I silently cursed under my breath. Only I would choose a winged liner when I knew I was on the clock.

When I finally stepped out of the bathroom, I only had my dress and my lipstick to worry about. Walking to the bed, I looked at the dress that I had laid out. Running my hand over the soft black material, I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t belong in this moment. This was all so surreal. A couple months ago I would have never pictured myself getting gorgeous to dine with elite werewolves.

‘Yet here I am’, I thought as I picked the dress off of the bed. ‘Off to dine with a bunch of wolves, who will be watching to see if I’m worthy of a title I’m not even sure I want.’ I wondered, was this how Jane Grey felt when Northumberland told her she would be queen of England? She had fainted, but eventually attempted to take on the role. If this was to be my future, I hoped I made it longer than nine days.

Unzipping the dress, I stepped into it. Pulling it up, I reached back and did up the zipper. Looking in the mirror, I did a clumsy little spin, marveling again at how much the simple v-neck, and tight waist of the dress did for my figure. With the skirt still swirled around me, I took a step forward, watching as my pale leg and thigh were revealed from the slit that ran up the side. I don’t remember when the last time I felt this sexy was, but I was sure that this slit would make me feel out of place at dinner.

Grabbing my red lipstick out of the bag, I quickly filled my lips, looking carefully for any smudges. Going back out towards my bed, I grabbed my shoes off the dresser before sitting down on my bed. I had the first shoe on when there was a knock at my door. Picking up on a familiar scent, I couldn’t help but smile. “Come in.” I called out, knowing it was Zach.

Zach walked into the room hesitantly. He was dressed in an all black suit that fit his lean figure perfectly. His hair was slicked back and the stubble he was growing was trimmed to highlight his strong jaw and chin. I felt myself grow hot just looking at him. He had stopped inches in front of me, seemingly as in awe of me as I was of him.

“You look beautiful, Ade.” He breathed moving towards me. “Thank you.” I smiled. “Let me help you with that.” He picked up my shoe. Lifting up my foot for him, he grabbed me by the ankle and raised it higher, the slit revealing my bare leg to his un-expecting gaze.

His body went rigid as his hold on my ankle tightened. His hand began to slide down my leg automatically. “Zach” I huffed as his rough hands slithered down my smooth skin. He ignored me, his eyes rapidly changing from brown to gold.

Grasping my thigh just above my knee, he moved forward. His heated gaze landed on the juncture between my thighs, and even though I was covered, I felt completely exposed under his intense stare. He gently squeezed, and a pulsing heat rushed to my core. Sliding his hand underneath my thigh, he teasingly moved down my leg, leaving a trail of sparks in his wake. Closing my eyes, I felt his hot breath hit my lips as he leaned down to kiss me.

Once his lips touched mine, it was like a flip had been switched in my mind. I responded to his kiss automatically, and he deepened it, drinking me in like he was starved. Each move of our lips, and every flick of our tongues left us dancing dangerously close to the boundaries our well-meaning self control had set for us. Every short breath and soft moan leaving us quaking with the knowledge that our instincts, our want, could consume us at any moment and we would be next to powerless to stop it.

His free hand grabbed the back of my neck as he leaned over me. The hand on my thigh moved under the fabric of my skirt and came to rest on my waist. His long fingers ran over the front of my black lace panties and I hungrily bucked into him. Asking for more. An animalistic rumble burst from his chest, as I moaned, and suddenly both his hands were under my hips as he grasped my thighs and moved me back onto the bed.

Leaning back on my elbows, Zach wedged his knee between my legs as he hovered over me. Our lips still working in sync, our bodies high off the lack of oxygen our relentless kissing had caused. His fingers had just slipped into my panties, when the slamming of a door left us both frozen in place. He pushed himself off me and quickly stood at the sound of footsteps nearing the stairs. “ Zach, I brought the cuff-links you wanted, I’m coming up, I hope you’re both dressed.” Mrs. Williams joked.

“Welcome to my teenage nightmare.” he mumbled as he extended a hand to help me up. Taking his hand I sat up, straightening my dress. Grabbing the shoe he had discarded on the floor next to the bed, I offered him my foot as he slid on my heel and buckled it. Mrs. Williams walked in just as he was finishing. She took one look at us and the smile on her face only grew. “It’s nice to see that you two are getting along, but honey, I think the lipstick looks better on Adeline.”

Narrowing his eyes, he moved to my bathroom. Following him, we both froze in front of the mirror. My red lipstick was smeared over both of our lips. “I’ll leave the cuff-links on the dresser. See you at the party!” Mrs. Williams called out as she left the room, laughing all the way down the stairs. “Sorry.” I muttered, as I watched Zach scrub the red from his lips. “Don’t be. I’d wear your lipstick to work if it meant we could do that again.”

Thirty minutes, and a silent car ride later, we pulled up to the front of the pack’s community center in Zach’s SUV. The large building was lit up, with all the surrounding trees and bushes decked out in fairy lights. Parking the SUV in his designated spot, Zach ran around to my side and opened the door for me.Offering me a smile, and his hand, I slid out of my seat and out of the car. My heels noisily clacked against the asphalt and he closed the door behind me. Squeezing my hand, I tried to draw as much strength from him as I could as we walked towards the building.

Earlier, I had been surprised that he would be holding such a fancy event in the community center. After seeing the huge, top of the line kitchen, the elegant dining room with floor to ceiling windows, and the adjoining lounge, it all made sense. The large building had been created to be a safe space for the pack members to hang out during the week, and to host large meetings and gatherings. It even had a small indoor theater and gaming room. The dinner party had been staged in a section designated for more prestigious events, and it was designed to be both comfortable and beautiful.

Walking under a lit archway, we approached the greeter at the door, who upon seeing Zach, bowed. He opened the door for us, and we entered into a long hallway. The mouth watering scent of steak, and spiced ham greeted us instantly. Soft music and chatter could be heard from a room down the hall and my feet stopped working. “What’s wrong?” Zach stopped next to me, giving my hand a squeeze. “What if I say, or do the wrong thing in there?” I whispered, my eyes glued to the doorway where the music was coming from.

“Ade, look at me.” Dropping my hand, he grasped my chin, turning me to look at him. “You are going to be fine. There is nothing anyone in there can say or do to hurt you. Not with me around.” His eyes darkened and a quiet look of ferocity overtook his normally passive expression. The look in his eyes was so intense I had no doubt that he meant what he said.

“Okay, just don’t leave me alone in there for too long” I nodded towards the room. “I promise I won’t leave you alone. Patrick, Jeremy, and my parents are here. You will never be alone.” he soothed. Releasing my lip from my teeth and relaxing my shoulders, I tried to school my face into a strong, calm, expression. “Okay, I’m ready. Let’s go.” I placed my arm in his, and we walked towards the room.

Entering, I noticed the lounge was dimly lit. The fire burning in the marble fireplace cast an orange glow over the rug and occupied love seats to the right of us. String lights had been strung across the ceiling and candelabras lined the walls on long decorated tables. The two chandeliers that hung from the ceiling in each half of the room had been dimmed, but still sparkled brilliantly. The whole back wall had floor to ceiling windows that opened the room up to a view of the pool.

Servers popped in and out of the crowded room with trays laden with champagne and hors d’oeuvres. The guests were all in formal attire and they lounged on the couches and in chairs or stood in small groups. We had only made it a few steps into the room when the guests immediately stopped talking and watched as we walked in. Turning towards us, they all gave Zach a smooth bow. I could feel their stares as their eyes shifted from him to me. Zach returned their bows with a curt nod, and the party resumed, but I could still feel them inspecting me.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Zach motioned towards a bar at the back left corner of the room. “Yes please.” I am grateful for any distraction at this point, especially alcoholic ones. He pulled his arm from mine and the realization that he would be leaving me alone had me latching onto him. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to leave you alone.” He whispers, knowing exactly what I was afraid of.

Patrick steps up and offers me his arm. “May I?” He asks with a grin that looks more natural and less robotic than what I was used to. Smiling shyly I took his arm, worrying that this may be more awkward than being alone. Seeing that I was situated, Zach kissed my forehead and walked towards the bar. My eyes scanned the room, looking for anything or anyone familiar. I just needed something that could rescue me from this moment.

“God, I hate these things. Everyone here is waddling around with their chests puffed out like their penguins rather than wolves.” Patrick murmured. My head snapped up to look at him, and my mouth fell open. That was the last thing I expected him to say. Dragging my eyes from his face, I looked around the room. Bringing my hand up to my mouth I stifled a laugh. Suddenly I could see it too.

Everyone around us walked with their heads held high, their heads on a constant swivel, eyes poised towards the most prominent pack members in the room. A tall, beach-blonde goddess in a silvery dress practically glided past me. Her eyes snapped to mine as she passed and she took me in with a sneer on her lips. “I don’t know, that one seems much too vicious to be a penguin.” I muttered as she began to ooze power the way most aristocrats ooze charm.

“That’s Kaily. She’s an alpha born from a refugee pack we took in a few years ago. I’m glad Zach found you. It was becoming clear that she had big plans for her role in this pack.” He nodded towards her, and I could tell that she noticed us watching her.

Whatever remained of my smile fell and my eyes turned to slits. This party just got a whole lot worse. I never considered that Zach may have been dating or had prospects before he brought me here. Clenching my jaw, I looked for Zach in the crowd. He could have warned me that I may have to face a jealous ex girlfriend.

" So her and Zach were close?” I asked, trying not to look in her direction. It felt weird to ask but I had to know. “Zach and Kaily? No.” Patrick snorted. “So she wasn’t trying to become your luna? When you said she had big plans, I thought that was what you meant.” I clarified, feeling both relieved and embarrassed that I had assumed wrong.

“Oh, she was. Trying to become luna I mean.” My eyebrows furrowed and I looked up at him “If she had no relationship with Zach then what gave her the idea that she could become this pack’s luna?” Patrick laughed for a minute before he looked down and noticed my serious expression. “She’s the daughter of an alpha. Her bloodline makes her a natural contender for the position.” He explained.

“So that’s it? That’s all she had?” I asked and his eyes widened in disbelief. “That’s all she would technically need if Zach had decided to take a choice mate, yes.” I cocked my head to the side and looked up at the lights overhead. “So that’s all you need to be in the charge of the welfare of hundreds of people. Daddy’s status. That’s what’s wrong with the world. That’s how so many bad men rise to power.” I thought aloud.

Patrick continued to stare at me for a moment before he smiled. “I am starting to like that you know so little about wolf culture. Your view of our world is so different from what I grew up with. Almost innocent. Kaily believed the position was practically owed to her because of her rank, and here you are, in the same position as her and the actual mate of the alpha and you haven’t even seriously considered taking on the position.”

“Of course I haven’t.” I shifted my gaze so I was looking at him. “In what way am I qualified to be a leader of a pack? None. I’ve never even been in one, and what do you mean by ‘the same position as her’?” I asked, annoyed he would compare us. I didn’t know the woman but I had a strong feeling I wouldn’t like her.

“Jonah is pretty sure that you’re the daughter of an alpha, or closely related to one. Your father was probably an alpha just like hers.” He explained, looking me over with interest. “I don’t know what my father was, but whatever he was he obviously wasn’t a good one.” I muttered, turning away from Patrick’s intrusive eyes. The revelation of my father’s possible pack status did nothing to change my feelings for him.

“Adeline. . . ” Patrick began, only to be interrupted by Zach clapping him on the back. “Sorry it took so long. I swear everyone in here approached me either on the way to the bar or on the way back. At least that’s over with.” Zach handed me a glass with a pink cocktail garnished with an orange slice and a cherry. Taking it, I took a small sip. It was surprisingly good.

“You’re fine. I figured that would happen. I’d keep an eye on your mate. Kailys' been eyeing her, and she isn’t the only one.” Patrick said, nodding towards a slender brunette with pouty lips, and huge eyes. “I won’t be letting her out of my sight again. No need to worry.” Zach joked as he wrapped his arms around my waist.

“I have a feeling it’s not her we have to worry about.” Patrick joked before being flagged down by a redhead near the back of the room. “Gotta go.” He quickly said before he disappeared into the crowd. The woman smiled as he approached her, and I couldn’t help but think about how much he looked like a puppy who’s just been called by his master. “So just how many women do I need to look out for in here?” I motioned towards the brunette and blonde who stood whispering together, having possibly joined forces.

“ They have no reason to be upset. I’ve never been in a serious relationship with a woman, but that didn’t stop them from trying to get serious with me.” Zach turned red, and he scratched the back of his head. “You’ve never been in a relationship?” I reiterated, the thought too absurd for me to believe. “Nothing more than a few dates or two. There was no point in starting something with someone when I knew my mate was out there.” That made sense. “Wait.” I looked from my drink to him as a sudden thought crossed my mind. “Are you a virgin?” Zach turned a darker shade of red, and burst into nervous laughter.

“No, I’ve never slept with anyone in my pack though. Mates usually save themselves for their partner, but I was starting to think I would never find you.” I smiled at him, honestly relieved. “Um, are you? A virgin, I mean.” Zach asked and the relief I felt morphed into unease. If mates saved themselves for each other then Zach had probably expected his mate to be a virgin. “No, I’m not.” I answered, not bothering to explain myself or try to apologize. He knew my story and I wasn’t about to feel bad for something he did as well.

“I, ugh, don’t mind that you aren’t. If you’re worried about that.” He made small circles with his glass, avoiding my gaze. “Thanks, but I wasn’t.” I answered just as Jeremy walked up with Zachs’ parents.Perfect timing, that was getting real awkward, real fast. They all bowed their heads towards us. Looking to Zach, I mimicked his reaction by bowing my head back towards them.

“I’m glad you both made it.” Mr. Williams said with a smirk, and a small look towards Mrs. Williams who snickered. I blushed, remembering what Mrs. Williams had walked in on. “Have you had the chance to meet anyone yet?” She asked me politely, a small smirk still on her lips. “No,not yet.” I answered, looking around at the people around us who were all still mingling.

“That’s odd, you’d think people would be more interested in the woman their alpha has on his arm.” Mr. Williams exclaimed, giving Zach a pointed stare. Zach’s eyes locked on his fathers and they stared at each other. It occurred to me that they were linking each other when Zach growled. “What’s going on?” I asked Mrs. Williams, who rolled her eyes at the men in front of her. “Zach’s been using his aura to scare people off you since you got here, and Jonah thinks he should stop. He thinks you can hold your own, and that a luna should be approachable.”

“Using his aura?” I asked, taking a sip of my drink while the men continued to stare and growl. It wasn’t worth bringing up to them that I hadn’t agreed to be their luna. I just needed to make it through a few more hours of this without fighting with anyone. “Remember how you could feel Jonah’s rank when he introduced himself to you? The power you felt coming off of him? Zach’s doing that.” She explained easily, watching the men wearily. “Why can’t I feel it?” I looked around the room, noticing for the first time, that the other guests seemed to be keeping their distance. “Shows of strength like this can sometimes put off weaker or more easily intimidated mates, so you won’t feel it unless he wants you too.” Jeremy answered, giving me a smile and an elbow nudge.

“You look really nice tonight.” He added, bowing his head towards me again. “Thank you, you don’t look half bad yourself.” I smiled as he did a little spin in his navy blue suit. “Thank you. Thank you. I had to come and stand by Zach just to keep the ladies off me.” He bragged while mussing his hair and staring off into the crowd like a model in the middle of his shoot. Mrs. Williams and I both giggled, the sound snapping Zach and Jonah out of their little staring contest.

Both men looked embarrassed when they faced us and realized they had an audience. “Ade, I’m sorry if my actions have come across as being overbearing. If you want to mingle, I’ll gladly take you around and introduce you to everyone.” Zach proposed, shooting a very smug looking Jonah, a tired look. “No, it’s okay. This is fine.” I responded, not having the desire or the energy to walk around pretending like I want to be here.

The smile slid straight off Jonah’s face as Zach puffed his chest out. “Don’t worry, this will get easier. I loved the work I did as luna, but I always HATED these things.” Mrs.Williams squeezed my shoulder. “Everyone's curious. We can’t hold them off for-” a tinkling bell rang out through the crowd, cutting off Jonah mid-sentence. All eyes moved towards the source of the sound. A single server stood in the doorway of the lounge, a small silver bell in hand,

Reaching for my hand, Zach gave it a little squeeze before he led me towards the server. Once we reached the door, he turned and smiled at everyone. “Thank you everyone for coming. Before we go to dinner, I would like to take a second to thank you all for your continued loyalty and support. Moon ridge wouldn’t be the pack it is today without you.” Everyone clapped and I joined them, keeping my eyes glued on Zach. “Now, if you will all follow me to the dining room we can get dinner started.”

Zach led me from the room, and walking down the hall, we entered an opulent dining room. There were four tables evenly spaced out. Each one was decorated with scarlet tablecloths, and every place setting had a gold charger with a white dinner plate, and a folded linen swan on top. Silver and gold embellished silver ware sat on either side of the plates. Looking at the number of forks and spoons each person had I realized that I was horribly unprepared for this party.

Leading me to the head table, Zach pulled out a chair for me near the middle of the table. Placing my drink by my plate I sat down and he pushed my chair in. Sitting to my left, he pulled out his napkin and sat it on his lap so I did the same. His father came and sat on his left, and his mother sat on my right, effectively flanking us. Patrick sat across from Zach, and a couple, who I assume are his parents sat next to him. Jeremy sat next to him, and people I have never seen before came to sit beside him.

The people sitting next to Jeremy didn’t look like family. In fact, I never heard Jeremy talk about his family. “Adeline, these are my parents, Frank and Lucille Delano, the former beta couple of this pack.” Patrick introduced the people next to him. The man had heavily silvered hair, and bushy brows, but and the same eyes as Patrick. Patrick’s mom had warm blonde hair and deep smile lines. “It is very nice to meet you both.” I smiled at them, not knowing what else to say as I had no honorific, pack, or anything really to attach to my name.

“We are thrilled to meet you.” Lucille said, sounding sincere, but looking anything but. She turned to look at the person next to her and began a conversation. Patrick’s dad-Frank continued to eye me suspiciously before he began talking to Jonah.Looking across at Jeremy, I realized no one was talking to him. He gave a small stretch before he slumped in his seat. “Don’t slouch dear, it’s horrible for your back.” Mrs. Williams hissed, and Jeremy smiled before straightening up.

“Mrs. Williams.” I whispered, looking back down at all the forks and spoons. “Please call me Nat.” She said with a warm smile. I know she was trying to make me more comfortable, but since we didn’t know each other that well it was still weird for me. “Nat, I have no idea what to do with half of these.” She laughed while taking a drink of her champagne. “ I don’t think anyone here does. I bet half the people here don’t even attempt to use them. Just watch me, you’ll be fine.”

“Thank you.” I lifted my own drink and took a large gulp. A warm hand squeezed my thigh, and putting my glass down, I lifted an eyebrow at its owner. When our eyes met, Zach smiled at me. His expression saying everything he couldn’t say out loud. The sudden ‘clank’ of filled salad plates being placed in front of us drew my eyes away from his and to my plate. “Everyone has been served alpha.” A server to Zach’s right said. “Thank you.” He smiled up at him and looked down at his salad.

Remembering what Nat said about the alpha taking the first bite, I placed my hands in my lap and I waited in silence with everyone else. Zach picked up his fork, and speared a bite of cucumber and lettuce, but instead of bringing it to his lips, he held it out to mine. “If he acknowledges you as his mate at the party, he will wait until you eat before he takes his bite.” My mouth fell open, as a few of our table mates gasped. He was basically announcing to everyone here that I was his mate. Nat told me this could happen, but I didn’t think he would actually do it.

My eyes locked on his, and I could see the fear and the vulnerability buried in those brown depths. To him, this was more than just a courtesy. He was putting himself on the line in front of the elite members of his pack. I thought about rejecting him, but remembering the way I had led him on in my bedroom, I realized that I had brought this on myself. Leaning forward, I dropped my eyes to the tablecloth as I took the bite of food from his fork. I could feel the whole room watching me as I chewed and swallowed my food. The moment I swallowed, he picked up his fork and took his own bite. Then the dining room erupted in silent chatter and the clinking of silverware as the meal officially began.

***

Here it is guys. It's finally done. It is also over 7,000 words. Since this chapter is still in it's first edit, I may revisit it later. For now though, I am just happy to have it finished.

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