Chapter 4: Calm Storm
Ashley returned to her penthouse after her visit with Veronica Bacardi. The visit was brief, but Ashley always found herself in a better mood after chatting away with that delightful woman. Ashley changed out of her dress as she contemplated in her closet. She changed into a more comfortable white knit sweater, paired with her favourite pearl silk skirt. As she meandered out of her closet, she grabbed a clip off her dresser and twisted her hair into a chignon that sat low on her head. Ashley didn’t find it worthwhile staying in on such a sunny day. So, she slipped on a wool coat and grabbed her purse off the table, before she went out to the middle of Fifth Avenue in Central Park.
Ashley roamed the stores along the Fifth Avenue street and she got quite a lot of shopping done. It wasn’t her intention to walk out of each store with a new wardrobe piece. Not that she regretted it, she found spectacular gems. She even got a gift for Isaiah and the rest of the guys she met today. Even though she had caught them by surprise and intruded their home, they all welcomed her nicely. That wasn’t what she expected to happen from such big, intimidating men who looked terribly threatening. But they were easy to talk to, which definitely surprised her. Although, she didn’t know when she was going to get the chance to meet them again. She’d probably have to make up some excuse again so she could give them their gifts.
Ashley stopped in front of a cafe for a treat. She ordered herself a coffee and got a warm slice of fruit cake. Ashley added an extra sprinkle of sugar making her cappuccino perfect for her taste buds. The cake went deliciously with her warm beverage too. Ashley sat in front of the large window where no one else was. It was quite a busy day outside the cafe. Cars were bustling through traffic and cyclists were rushing through the cars that were stuck. Ashley contemplated calling for a car to pick her up, since she had so much to carry. But in this traffic, being in a car would be horrendous and a punishment.
When Ashley’s feet rested enough, she gathered her bags and sauntered out of the cafe. Ashley snuggled into her coat when the brittle breeze startled everyone. She turned to the alley to avoid the rush of people that came off the local bus, but it was also, so she wouldn’t have to walk against the cold wind- that harshened this beautiful day. Ashley cut through the alley hastily because this wasn’t a route many people would take. But Ashley didn’t think too much of it since it was broad daylight outside. With speedy feet, she reached the other end. It was then she found her way to another crowded street. Ashley quickly turned and went down the way that would provide her a shortcut to the Plaza hotel.
In seconds dark clouds festered above her and covered the blue sky. The sun sneakily hid behind the thick clouds blocking out Ashley’s only light source. Ashley kept her head down and continued down her path even though she extremely regretted it. Ashley knew that it would take her at least ten more minutes just to reach the main street again. Just like she hadn’t hoped, an ominous chill slithered down her back, and it wasn’t because of the cold. Ashley’s heeled feet took wider steps to get away from whoever was behind her. She didn’t even dare to check who it was that gave her such a scare.
Ashley was close to reaching the end of the dark alley. She heard the busy street right in front of her, so she couldn’t help but sigh in relief. But just as she left the alley behind her, something cold and bony skimmed her jacket near her butt. Ashley froze. Dropping her bags, she turned away and then slammed into a hard surface.
“Ashley,” a familiar voice called out for her.
Ashley’s eyes snapped open. She looked up to find Isaiah holding onto her arms to steady her feet. “Isaiah,” his name slipped out of her mouth like she was thanking her goddess, Maya.
“What’s wrong?” asked Isaiah with hard grey eyes.
Ashley confronted the alley where someone had followed her. She didn’t see anyone in the dark when she turned back. They probably ran off after seeing Isaiah. Irritation grew in her, because whoever followed her left the moment they saw someone as scary and intimidating at Isaiah.
Isaiah suddenly lowered his head to her height. “What are you looking at?” he asked while eyeing the alley with her.
“Someone was following me,” she told him crossly. She bent down to gather her dropped bags.
Isaiah stepped closer to her helping her with the bags too. “Are you alright?” he asked. His steel grey eyes searched hers for an answer. “You’re not hurt?”
“No, just a little shaken up,” she told him. “I’ll be fine. Thanks for saving me, again.” Isaiah composed expression slightly cracked, and that fiery gaze flared through Ashley, brightening her mood without even realizing it. “We have to stop bumping into each other like this,” she chuckled.
“I agree,” alleged Isaiah. “Stop getting into trouble so much.”
Ashley grinned. “I meant that we should meet on better terms-” Isaiah blinked at her blankly- “Go on date or something.” Ashley followed him closely, although he was going in the opposite direction of the Plaza hotel. “What are you doing here anyways?” she asked him. “Getting some Christmas shopping done, perhaps?”
Isaiah jaw clenched. “I had work here,” he told her briefly.
“We met three times in two days,” she said. “Feels like fate, doesn’t it?”
Isaiah grey eyes that matched the storming clouds focused on her smile. “Stop getting yourself in trouble-” he leaned down to her- “and go home.”
Ashley pouted. “Can you drop me off?” she asked wondering how he’d react. Would he tell her off like most people would? Or like she was expecting, would he take her to his car. “I have so many bags, and my feet hurt in these shoes.”
Isaiah looked down to her leopard printed heels. “I’ll bring the car around,” he said.
Ashley shook her head. “Let’s go together,” she said and joined his steps. They were much slower from before. He had slowed his pace down for her, which made Ashley smile tenderly. They reached a black Mercedes pretty quickly. Isaiah opened the door for her and they both climbed in the back seats, that were pleasantly warm.
“Lazarus and Zeiden are also with me,” he told her.
“It’s fine. I can wait,” she said. Ashley placed her shopping bags on the floor of the car. She rummaged through the Burberry bag. “I got you a something. I didn’t know I’d meet you so fast. So, I’m glad that I bought it when I did,” she said.
At the store, she had immediately thought of him and bought it without any judgements. Ashley pulled out a scarf from the bag. The soft cashmere was a steel grey that reminded Ashley of his tempest eyes. Ashley struggled with the tag, when suddenly, a slick blade barely missed her fingers taking the tag straight off. Gaping at the dismembered tag; “That’s convenient,” she chuckled that he had a pocket knife in his hand.
Ashley moved over towards him, he didn’t push her away nor did he retreat from her hands. Ashley opened the button to his black wool jacket, which was structured perfectly for his broad shoulders. In the tight space of the restricted car she adjusted the scarf around his taut neck, it was then, she got a trace of his dark cologne. Commonly, men would go for a lighter mint scent that would have a soft touch of wood. But Isaiah chose a cologne that was like fiery whiskey and dark leather, which showed her that he had passion under his cool and collected demeanour. Ashley wondered if this smell was his natural scent, maybe that’s why it weakened her knees to such an extent. Ashley straightened his burgundy tie, which complimented the scarf. Assessing her job, she smiled and looked up to see his eyes on her.
“Looks perfect,” she said, but she didn’t move from his side.
“You keep giving me gifts,” he remarked. Isaiah didn’t seem to mind that she was seated closely in front of him.
“I adore shopping for people I like,” she told him, which was the whole truth. “I even bought gifts for the boys.”
Isaiah suddenly put his sturdy hand on the small of her back. It was unexpected, but she realized only after that he was supporting her position. His touch against her body was completely different from when the person in the alley touched her. Isaiah’s firm hand was reassuring and protective, like he’d never let anything happen to her. Not because he liked her or thought she was special, but because that’s just how he was with anyone.
Ashley realized that his demeanour was a bit off today. He wasn’t relaxed like how he was this morning when she visited him. “Did something happen?” she asked him.
Isaiah’s warm eyes turned forbidding. “It’s just work stuff,” he told her curtly.
“Seems like it’s tiring you out,” she believed.
He released a weary sigh. “It has been for years,” he confessed.
“Take a break then,” she suggested.
“I wish I could,” he said. “But my pack needs me.”
“I’m not saying to leave the pack,” she clarified. “Take a day off, like today. I’ll make sure you have a good time.” Isaiah didn’t have time to answer because the doors abruptly opened. Lazarus and Zeiden entered in the front seats.
“Hey boys,” she greeted, surprising them.
“Ashley-” they said together.
Zeiden turned around to greet her. “How’d you-”
“I was out shopping when I bumped into Isaiah,” she answered before they asked. “Oh, and I got you all something. Consider it an early Christmas gift from me.” Ashley grabbed the two small bags that had black polished leather wallets. “I got the same for Ronin and Adrik too. I hope you like them.”
“Thanks,” said Zeiden.
“Take the route to the Plaza hotel,” instructed Isaiah. Lazarus turned the ignition on and drove through the streets.
Ashley kept a light conversation with them. They all seemed to be worried about something, which was apparent when even Zeiden who was the light-hearted one was nervous too. Lazarus; Isaiah’s brother and beta didn’t even try to hide his grim mood. His green eyes were hard and concentrated on the strip of road in front of him. Since his long blonde hair was tied back, she got a good look at his stern expression. His lips were held in a straight line and his brows were furrowed. If he didn’t have such a scary expression all the time, she was sure that he’d look even more handsome. Zeiden looked more like Isaiah, expect that he was slimmer than the alpha. He had short black hair, unlike his brothers. And his grey eyes were more sterling blue in the light. And of course, he had the tattoos like the other guys.
“Did you all eat lunch yet?” she asked them.
“No, not yet,” answered Zeiden.
“There’s a really good restaurant just around the corner on the street we’re on,” she said. “Brasserie 8 1/2. Their food is exceptional. It’s fine if you guys don’t want to. I’ll just go and be bored all by myself.” She knew she used a lame excuse, but she felt the need to lighten their moods.
“Lazarus, turn the car,” said Isaiah.
Ashley smiled. “We should get some dessert too,” she said fleetingly. They parked the car and got out. Ronin and Adrik joined them from their own car that had been following them the whole time.
“I was wondering where you guys were taking the car,” remarked Ronin with a grin. “But it seems it was Ashley that was leading us.” Ronin had a charming smile that allowed any person the littlest hope, that they could approach him. His dark tousled hair was almost a dark auburn and he had striking hazel eyes. It wasn’t obvious to them, but Ashley knew that Ronin kept all of them from looking way too daunting.
Adrik on the other hand wasn’t what she had expected to see when she visited Isaiah’s home. The menacing aura that emitted from Isaiah’s cousin was recognized by Ashley’s wolf. Her wolf even warned Ashley to stay away, but Ashley knew that her wolf wasn’t being rude, she was just trying to protect Ashley. Adrik had a rugged look to his handsome face with black hair that was cut short. But it was that brutal scar that tore through his right eye that caught her attention. Although, the angry scar distracted everyone from those deep sea blue eyes. They darkened and deepened from calm ocean waves during a bright morning day to a harsh storm in an instant, capturing Ashley’s attention every time he was near. But in those vivid sapphire eyes, she saw intelligence and warmth. Maybe not for everyone, but he undeniably felt love for his pack members.
“We’re all about to go eat lunch,” she told the boys that joined the plan. “Come on, right this way.”
Ashley took them to the restaurant she always ate at. It had exceptional European and Italian cuisine that blew her out of park every time. Ashley’s reserved table was always available when she came. They were taken to the second floor, which displayed a beautiful view of New York city. They sat at a private table away from all the eyes in the busy restaurant. Ashley ordered the main dishes she loved to eat and asked what the guys wanted. They didn’t shy away and told her upfront what they wished to eat, which made it a lot easier. The last thing Ashley ordered was light wine for them.
As they ate, their moods had lightened tremendously. Ronin and Zeiden didn’t seemed bothered anymore, like when they were in their cars earlier. She was glad that Lazarus’s frown had disappeared and he enjoyed the food with much delight. Adrik was still the same. He had a stern expression but he ate just like his pack members, so she knew that he was fine. It was Isaiah she was worried about. His eyes were still occupied with thoughts apart from being at the table.
Isaiah ate just like them, but he barely spoke in the conversation. She didn’t know what was wrong, but she tried her hardest to get his mind off things.
“Here-” she poured him more wine- “do you not like your steak?”
Isaiah shook his head. “It’s good,” he told her.
Ashley gaped at the window behind him. “It’s snowing,” she instantly smiled and put her food down. Snow was the one thing that could get her attention off a hot meal. “It’s so magical,” she sighed dreamily. “I can stare at snow all day,” she shared. “Sadly, from the hotel I don’t get to watch it pile up on the ground.”
“Our property drowns in snow every year,” said Zeiden. “Sometimes, we can barely get out the parking lot.”
“That must be so much fun,” she exclaimed feeling zealous. “Sitting inside, near a fire while it snows is a dream of mine. Oh, have you guys decided what you’ll be doing for Christmas?” she asked them. But none of them answered. “Don’t tell me you don’t have any traditions for the holidays.”
“We’re always busy working,” Ronin shrugged.
“What about a tree?” she asked, but their blank expressions told her they didn’t do such a thing. She suddenly thought that she had her work cut out for her. But with a smile, she told them; “It’s fine, you can always start now.”
They finished their lunch. Ashley insisted that she pay for them since the lunch idea was hers. But Isaiah ignored her protests and paid at the end. They promptly returned to their cars. Ashley gave Ronin and Adrik their gifts too, which they loved and thanked her for it. Zeiden, Adrik and Ronin went off to the small bakery across the street. They bought a box of pastries for Ashley, since she had gotten all of them a gift. But she told them to share it with her, because she wouldn’t be able to finish the big box herself.
They settled down in the bakery, meanwhile it was still snowing outside. Ashely took the seat with them surrounding a round table, that was painted an egg-shell white. As Ashley devoured a chocolate-vanilla swirl cupcake, she marvelled over this small group whose bond was more than just heartwarming. They silently took care of each other. Never once, did Isaiah stop them from doing anything they wanted. And the guys never gave Isaiah the chance to complain. Ashley found herself lost in their love that they didn’t realize how much they actually had for one another.
“You should come over for dinner,” said Zeiden.
Ashley blankly looked up from her cupcake. “Dinner?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Lazarus cooks a mean barbecue.”
Ashley looked over to the beta who was enjoying his own white chocolate cake, that was decorated with red and green icing. “You can cook,” she astounded to Lazarus. “I can barely cook anything, but I’m a great helper though.”
“It’s days like this that makes one crave charcoal roasted steak and sausages,” said Ronin. Suddenly, all of them felt the impact of that sentence and imagined a hot grill sizzling with juicy meat.
“I’ll have to go grocery shopping then,” groused Lazarus with an irritated frown.
“You already had to do it,” barked back Zeiden. “Just go right now.”
They shared the last piece of truffle cake, but they gave Ashley have the heart-shaped piece of white chocolate. “I can help you,” she offered to Lazarus.
“If you want to,” he answered. She knew that he wasn’t one to fret over who joined him. He just hated the task of doing groceries that much. So, it would be fun to tag along with him.
“Maybe, we should all go,” suggested Ashley. “It’ll be much faster that way.”
Lazarus shot her a beaming smile. “Great idea,” he announced. “We should all go.” Lazarus just didn’t want to do groceries, and if he had to, then everyone had to suffer with him.
They left the bakery and got into their cars. Lazarus drove them to the closest supermarket. Zeiden and Ashley got them the cart before they entered. The market was fairly empty since it was a weekday and everyone was probably still at work this hour. Isaiah and Ashley pushed the cart as Lazarus and Ronin dropped pounds of meat, vegetables and sauces in the cart. Zeiden returned with Adrik with loads of beer boxes.
“They seem to be in better mood now,” mumbled Ashley.
Isaiah looked over to her. “You did all this to help their mood?” he asked.
She nodded. “I felt like you boys needed a distraction,” she told him. Isaiah regarded her with a smile, that was completely unwarranted. She had no idea it was in her that she could manage to make him smile again.
“You’re really something else,” he amused. “I’ve never met someone like you before.”
Ashley tilted her head. “I’ve never met anyone like you either,” she told him. “Someone who wears his heart on his sleeve.”
He frowned. “I’m not like that,” he disputed.
“You don’t realize it, but your family thinks so too,” she said. “They love you a lot.”
The trouble in Isaiah’s eyes melted as they watched her joyful expression igniting pleasure in his heart too. “You just met us, how can you tell?” he asked curiously.
Ashley shrugged because she didn’t know how to answer the question where it would make sense to him. “It’s the little things,” she revealed after much thought. “How they all take care of you, and you them. You never disrespect each other and that’s probably because you saved them in the past.”
Isaiah didn’t even flinch when she mentioned his past. Instead the warmth in his eyes vanished, they became cold and brutal, like the storm outside. “I just did what I had to,” he whispered unexpectedly.
Ashley was stupefied. She would have thought that he would shut this conversation down as fast as possible. But he didn’t. He shared his thoughts to her. A smile crept up her lips because this was what she meant when she told him, that he wore his heart on his sleeve. “You’re so adorable,” she cooed. “I just want to hug you and never let go.”
Isaiah flustered on the spot. “In my thirty-three years of life, I have never been called adorable,” he told her softly so no one could hear him.
“You’re a lot of things than just adorable,” her blues eyes winked with mischief.
Isaiah’s eyes darkened though. “Yeah, I know what this society calls me,” he grimaced.
Ashley raised a brow. “I don’t care what they call you,” she said. “What I meant to say was that you’re very handsome and those tattoos are to die for.”
Isaiah blanked, his ruffled eyes looked at her amused expression. “Oh,” his voice deepened and he looked away.
“I don’t usually prefer tattoos. But on you, it’s an entirely different story,” she confessed openly.
“Do you have any?” he asked her.
“Not one,” she said. “I’m afraid of the procedure, it seems terribly dreadful.”
“It’s bearable after you get the first one,” he sounded like he was trying to reassure her and lay her fears to rest.
Ashley smirked up at him. “I doubt I’ll ever get one,” she said. “But if I ever desire to see one, I’ll come looking for you.” Ashley chuckled at his rattled reaction.
They left the grocery store after getting food that could last her a month, but these boys were planning on devouring everything tonight. After they put the groceries in the trunk, they dropped her off at the Plaza hotel promising to meet again for dinner.
Ashley stepped into the elevator with her arms full of shopping bags. The elevator quickly climbed to the twentieth floor, with a loud ping, the door opened to the floor of her penthouse. She hastily closed the door behind her and dropped her shopping bags on the couch. Ashley couldn’t describe the feeling, but she was excited to see them all again tonight. It’s been a long while since she’s felt this sort of thrill from meeting people and spending the day together. As Ashley prepared for the night, she had totally forgotten that her feet were sore anymore.