Sweat dripped down my face and back, and just about every inch of my skin, relentlessly. My lungs rejected the oxygen in the room, and my heart was beating a painful pattern onto my ribs.
The thirst was the worst though. My throat was dry and sore, and no mater how much water I drank, the thirst just would not go away.
The worst part? Worst of the worst? My wolf was gone. I could not hear her, sense her, feel her. Nothing at all. She was no where to be found. It was as if she rejected the very body we dwelled in.
I jumped at the sound of my name.
"Marie," I said, turning to face her.
She stood hovering between the door that led to the helps' quarters and the kitchen. "Is there anything I can help you with?"
I must have looked so suspicious-- my back against the cabinets, and my hand clutched at my chest.
I cleared my throat. "Umm. Uhh.." I laughed nervously. "Do you know if there's any palm root in the house?"
She studied me with her sharp assessing gaze. "I have some back in my kitchen. I'll go get you some. Take a seat." She turned on her heels and disappeared through the door.
I lowered myself heavily into a kitchen chair. My breathing was rugged.
How can I feel anything other than hate for the person who gets to claim Riley as their own.
Could I win this?
Did I want to win this?
If I gave up Riley to Dustin, would I get Dustin?
No. No. And no.
I'd end up with nothing.
"Here, dear. I'll just mix this up for you," Marie announced, returning to the kitchen holding a small bag filled with what I could smell was palm root.
Five minutes later, I sat with a steaming mug of palm root concoction and a worried Marie opposite me.
I took my first sip. My parched throat sort of rebelled against the hot liquid.
The first sip had no effect on my fever, but I knew it would kick in soon.
Palm root could soothe any shifter fevers and some other shifter-ailments. It was so ingrained into our cultures because it is one of the only herbs that has any effect on us.
Not that shifters fell ill that often, anyway. We didn't. It was either our powerful immunities or that our bodies were so different from humans that none of the human diseases could inhabit us.
"Your fever is just like the ones Master Riley used to get. Is it not?"
I stared into her eyes--she had such kind eyes--and I knew she knew the truth; the fevers were exactly the same. Her eyes dared me to lie.
I nodded. "It will pass," I said.
She snorted. "Of course, it will. Until it returns tomorrow and the next day after that. And the next."
We stayed quiet. I continued to slowly drink the tea. The steam was quite comforting against my face despite my overheated body.
"So what's wrong, Mistress Freya? Has Riley said something to upset you?"
I wrinkled my nose. "Please call me Freya. My mom would have my head if she found out I was letting someone call me that."
"Freya, did Riley upset you? Should I talk to him?"
"No," I burst out. My strength was returning. "No. Riley has been nothing but nice to me. He cares for me." I smiled, remembering us at the club, eating burgers and mixing martinis.
Marie watched me with speculative eyes. I looked away because her gaze was so intrusive--it felt as if she could peer into my soul.
"Master Dustin, then," she decided.
I sputtered a "no", but I hesitated for just enough beats to let her to know it was all bull.
"You care for them both," she said gently.
I laughed bitterly as Dustin's words played over and over again in my mind. "You must think me awful. Both of them, and now I’m ruining their friendship ..." I sighed. "It's complicated."
She raised a hand to stop me from saying anymore. "Love is complicated, Freya. And it's never the same for any one person. We are all different after all, are we not?"
I nodded slowly. "Yeah."
"I don't judge you. My only concern was for young Master Riley's heart."
"He loves Dustin," I whispered.
"Yes, he does. But then Diana came along--" she paused, looking hard at me, "--and then the fevers began."
That much I knew. I wondered if this woman knew how close she was to uncovering shifter secrets. I frowned at her.
She waved her hand at me. "In my day, people fell sick over love all the time." She took my cup and filled it with more palm root tea. "After Diana left, Minnie showed up. More fevers. Then you show up. You, though, you're his. Riley's. I'm glad for him." She sighed. "Problem is that now you're love-sick over Master Dustin."
"I'm fine, Marie," I assured her. "I would never hurt Riley. I know how much he's been through."
I expected her to do it. She did not disappoint me.
"Freya--" she gave me a levelled look, "--you could die. Do not treat this lightly. It's not as complicated as it seems. The heart can love as many people as one is willing to let in."