That’s how long Riley and Dustin avoided me.
Two days of Riley waking up at awkward hours to cook ridiculous amounts of food that lasted the entire day. That made it easy to sneak away with their breakfast.
Lunch and dinner though...
If Riley came out to pick and warm up their lunch, Dustin would come out for their dinner.
And I was always there.
Watching them totally ignore my presence.
I let them have the first day. They needed it.
The second day was, I have to admit, hurtful. My wolf, ever my opposite, was irritated beyond measure. She wanted to hunt them down and shove their rudeness down their throats.
That was the first thing that came to mind the next morning. The apartment was quiet. I could not smell chicken or bacon or coffee or anything. Not even those disgusting pancakes that they loved so much.
So now they weren’t making me food. Lovely!
I got cleaned up and headed into the kitchen. Zero trace. No one had been in there since I had for dinner.
That’s when I smelled it.
I ran to Riley’s bedroom because “sick” was not a thing shifters did. I raised my hand to knock just as Dustin pried it open. His eyes were wild and scared.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He barely glanced at me as he furrowed his brows. I could see the wheels turning in his head. Finally he looked at me and studied my face for the longest minute of my life. “Riley has a fever. It’s much worse than any he’s ever had. ”
My gut dropped.
He rushed to the front door, picked up his keys from the small table and turned to me. “Watch him. I need to go get him some palm root.”
“Watch him? I don’t-”
He grabbed my shoulders and shook hard. “Please, Freya! I can’t be two places at once.” He took a calming breath. “I’d die if I lost him. So please.....”
I was already nodding, yes. “I’ll watch over him. You won’t lose him.”
He left. I raced back to Riley’s room. I knocked softly, more to check if he was awake.
“You can come in.” His voice was weak.
I did, and the sight on the bed tore at my chest.
Riley was lying limply on the bed. His face was shiny with perspiration and his blond hair clung to his forehead.
“Riley,” I whispered, taking long steps to his bed. I got the towel from the bowl of cold water on the bedside table and dubbed his face with it. “My poor mate.” The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could help them.
His eyes snapped open. “I’m not your mate.” He tried to glare at me, but his eyes were so dull and so tired.
My wolf whined. At his words. At his state. I shared her sentiments.
“Shh. You’ll tire yourself out.” He could tell me whatever he wanted after he got better. Nothing mattered except him getting better.
“No,” he said weakly. He pulled his head back from my hand. I let it drop at my sides. “I already have a mate.”
Dustin...I had suspected as much. The way he pulled away from me when Dustin had caught us almost kissing. My not-so conflicting emotions for the both of them.
I had sensed it yesterday when Dustin and I had touched. The burst of electricity that could only be a fated mate bond. Same as I had felt for Riley.
Dustin and Riley being mates too was the only scenario that made sense.
But even after knowing all that, Riley’s words still broke my heart.
“When are you going to tell him?” I asked, blinking back my tears. I pressed the cool cloth to his forehead, again. “The mating fevers can kill you, you know. You need him. You can’t continue to ignore the bond, especially not for as long as I suspect you have. He’s so worried for you, Riley. I’m sure if you told him--”
“He’s not gay,” he interrupted me. “He likes girls. He likes you. You’re his fated mate.”
“That’s not the way mate bonds work, Riley. They can’t be one-sided. If he’s your mate, then you’re his, too.”
“Mine is.” he croaked. He looked at me. “And so is yours.”
I wanted to flee to save my heart but my wolf was stronger and made me stay. We could die later. That’s what she was trying to tell me. We had to take care of him now.
I wrung out the towel again and pressed it to his face, mourning silently as I did.
I really had to leave this place. How could I have gotten between two fated mates.
I steeled my resolve. No matter what, Dustin had to be told he was killing Riley by ignoring his mate bond.
“Please don’t tell him.”
I startled when Riley spoke.
“It’s funny,” he said, bitterly. He turned his back on me. “I’m aware of you in ways I only ever wanted to be with Dustin.”
Because I’m your mate, I wanted to say. I didn’t though. I did not want him to reject me again.
A harsh laugh, followed by, “He doesn’t even know what fated mates are.”
“How comes you do? Aren’t you both not part of a pack?” I asked.
“My family taught me before I lost them. I was seven at the time. But I remember everything; my memory is good like that. I’ve never forgotten a thing.”
We stayed in silence for a long time. I watched the shadows move across the room as the sun began to set.
“I don’t understand it.”
“What?” I asked.
“Dustin is my mate. He always has been.” He paused. “But...but so are you.”
My heart drummed in my chest.
He groaned. I jumped to make sure he as okay but his next words stilled me. “You’ve been crying for hours. It’s eating me alive.” It sounded like whine, but deep instead of squeaky. It made me smile.
He turned over to face the ceiling and I could not resist touching his forehead to check his temperature. He was still far too warm. I swallowed thickly. Where was Dustin with that palm root?
“I’m sorry I made you cry. That was cruel of me. I wanted you to hurt like I’ve been hurting all these years. Maybe if someone else was hurting for a change, I would not feel so silly about the whole thing.”
I started to lay next to him, then hesitated. “May I?” I asked. He shrugged.
I lay on my side right next to him, so that I pressed against him, so that my lips were against his ear. “Riley, if I could I would take all the pain you carry. I’d take it all for you, for the rest of your life just so you wouldn’t have to hurt.” And then I knew exactly what to do. Though I’m pretty sure my wolf had a lot to do with it. “Let me take some of your pain?”
He stared at me. I stared back. Then slowly he nodded and turned his back to me. I spooned in behind him and wrapped my hands snuggly around his body, burying my face in his neck. He smelt like cinnamon. I loved the way it smelled. It was my favorite scent right next to chocolate. Even though I had no idea what any of them tasted like, I had smelled them all over town, back home.
Slowly, my heart felt heavier and heat crept all over my body.
His pain was seeping into me.
It felt like those drugs again, only a little closer to my heart; just because it was Riley.
But I did not care. I was doing this for my mate. And that made it so much easier.