“You mentioned something about the leopard brothers showing up again?” Dustin asked me as the three of us sat at a table.
The restaurant was small and cozy. Low lights and shiny glasses, soft music and murmured conversations. It was a quite a welcomed deviation from the nightlife at Feral. The table we chose was small and square. I sat cross from Riley and Dustin sat between us.
“Uhuh, they came over to the bar the next night. Greg and Felix. Nice guys. Sweet.”
Riley and Dustin shared a meaningful look. I raised an eyebrow at them, but they were not forthcoming with an explanation, so I filed it under those things that they did that I was not a part of because they had history with each other which I could only ever dream of being a part of. Which is why I turned my attention to our waiter.
He was tall and had a kind innocent face, broken out with an unfortunate case of acne, but he held a certain charm. “Hello there, hot stuff. Care to give us the specials?” I grinned.
He turned bright red--an endearing look-- and stuttered, looking back and forth between Riley and Dustin.
Very irritating considering I was the one speaking. “’Scuse me.
Over here.” I waited for him meet my eyes again before I said, “The specials. I’m all ears, love.”
“I see what you were talking about,” Riley mumbled softly to Dustin, but of course I heard. I was a shifter after all. What were they talking about? I knew it concerned me, and I was not too proud to ask.
The waiter rattled on and I ordered. For myself and the gossiping nancies I would soon be mated to.
When he left, I deliberately sipped my water, looking at Riley and Dustin in turn over the rim of my glass. “Care to share? Or is it one of those inside jokes I’m not a part of.”
Riley’s first reaction was to smirk mysteriously, but my voice must have given away my true insecurities because his expression sobered up and he reached for my free hand.
Before he could reach it, I tucked it under the table on my lap. I hated being pitied. I hated the comfort that came with being pitied even more.
I ignored the look of dejection on Riley’s face and played with my napkin. What could I say? It was beyond me. There was no fixing it. There was nothing to fix. They had done nothing wrong. I was just a little sensitive. I was the one who needed to fix her wayward emotions.
“Freya,” Dustin said, tentatively.
“No. Leave it. I should really check my emails. My family could have gotten back to me. “I pulled out my phone and scrolled through it, as Riley and Dustin had one of their eye-only conversations.
Jealousy. Such an ugly emotion. I knew they could feel it through our half-formed mate bond. I in turn could sense their trepidation and discomfort.
Minutes went by and the silence only became more awkward and tension-filled.
It was suffocating. “So, Tristan and I were talking about applying to college together.”
Their hurt hit me right in the center of my chest, and I cursed myself. Now it seemed like I was throwing Tristan in their faces.
“I meant to talk to you guys about it first, but he brought it up and I had no idea that there as a college two hours away. Please don’t look at me like that. I’m not devious, I swear,” I mumbled the last part. I felt a bit like Minnie.
They laughed, their faces clearing a touch.
Riley gave me a small smile. “I don’t think you have a devious bone in your body, Freya.”
“College sounds good. Anything in particular you’re considering?”
“Business like you guys.”
“Oh okay,” Riley said. “Should be fun.”
“Is it what you’ve always wanted to do?” Dustin asked. “Cause four
years can be an awful lot doing something that you’re not passionate about.”
I turned to Riley. “Riley did you always want to do business?”
“Uhh.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “Umm. Well, I never really gave it any thought.”
“What?” Dustin was shocked. So oblivious of Riley’s love and devotion.
Riley shrugged, looking uncomfortable. He tugged at his collar and gulped down almost half his glass of water. “Yeah. You were doing it and I needed to be close to you. Come to think of it, Feral is the only thing I’ve ever done that was completely independent of you.”
“Wow. Just wow!”
“You have no idea,” he said, laughing uneasily and turning bright red. “I would have become a weatherman for you.”
Dustin chocked out a laugh, just as our food arrived.
Two steaks for me. Protein, carbs and veges for the rest. I would never understand the enthusiasm for anything non-meat.
I winked at the waiter and he scurried away.
“So what you’re trying to say is that you’ll do business because of us,” Dustin said, a matter-of-factly.
I nodded. That is exactly what I was saying.
“Is that healthy?” Riley asked with a raised eyebrow.
I raised my own. “Pot, kettle,” I said. “Anyway. The thing is I never planned on going to college. We never said it out loud, but Zisa-- that’s my elder sister-- and I planned to run off when I turned
twenty-one. She would have been twenty-three and our Siren scents would have just led wolves to our younger siblings. We couldn’t have risked it. We would have left and most likely.... eventually found, and that would have been the end of our free existence. So you see, zero college.”
Dustin growled, cursed, banged a fist on the table. “That’s so unfair. Your sister, Zisa...did they take her too?”
“No. I saw her escape. Our youngest, Vali....he got caught, but he’s only seven.” I shuddered. “We could not let them take him. So we went back and we fought. I got captured in the process. Not her fault, Vali was more important than me.”
“That’s a horrible decision to have to make. Choosing between siblings. I reckon it’s like choosing between mates.”
I shook my head. “Nah. I would have done the same. I repeat, he’s only seven. What those alpha’s do.....I could have survived it. Zisa could have survived it. But Vali.....” I swallowed down the bile rising in my throat. “The only guilt she feels is that she had not left sooner. I know her. She’s most likely blaming herself for the whole attack. Surely she believes her scent brought the wolves to us.”
“That time when you asked me how you smelled, then how Riley smelled, it was the whole mate thing, right?” Dustin asked.
“Yes. We only smell like rainbows and unicorns to you. We smell differently to other people. I smell like a Siren, he smells like a....what are you!” I burst out in frustration.
All that time and I had no idea what kind of shifter Riley was.
He guffawed and almost fell over with his chair. Dustin gazed at him with undisguised affection. Affection he would have never shown weeks ago. He was growing into Riley. Maybe growing into me too.
Riley dabbed at the tears at the corners of his eyes. “I can’t believe you still don’t know that, Freya!”
“Hey, I was respecting your privacy. Waiting for you to tell me on your own. You’re not a reptile shifter or something, right? I mean I’ve seen your claws and everything.”
“No, I’m a canine. Like you and Dustin.”
I thought for a second. “A dog?”
Riley’s face turned serious real fast and he glared at me. Heat or no heat, I could hardly tell.
I smiled bashfully at him.
“Coyote,” he said, eating a fork full of potato mush.
This time I was sure time his glare held heat. Angry, displeased heat.
“Tell us about your parents,” Dustin said, smoothly taking over the reins of the conversation.
“Oh. The whole story?”
“Yeah. I want to know how an alpha builds a happy home with a Siren.”
I smiled. I too wanted a happy home. “Well its starts with my