My father has been asleep for a day and a half. I am trying not to get my hopes up but I’m praying to God this works. I need time to fulfill Raven’s wish, time to say goodbye, time to love him like this instead of
the man I grew up with. This man, I understand.
Nik has stayed here with me to keep an eye on Raza and Mackenzie but I think they are growing on him. He enjoys hearing Raza’s stories from the tribes he’s been to. Winnie also is enjoying spending time with other brainiacs.
When Nik and Raza are deep in conversation I lead Winnie to the kitchen and pour the coffee in a mug. She takes it and sits at the table.
“How is Juniper?” I ask her.
“Unrestrained as ever. That child shifts like the wind. I’ll be glad when she’s Rylin problem. She needs someone steady to anchor her.” I laugh.
“There’s nothing wrong with a free spirit.” I assure her. I would know, I’m mated to one.
“I had high hopes she would follow in my footsteps but the girl doesn’t have the concentration to finish a sentence let alone perform life saving surgery.” We both laugh this time.
“Her father was the same.” She sounds bittersweet.
“What happened?” I ask and take her hand.
“I’m so sorry Winnie.”
“It’s part of life dear. I’ve learned to cope.”’she says but the words don’t reach her eyes.
“That’s not true. Missing someone never becomes easy.” She simply hums an agreement so I drop it.
“Is she alone in the storm?”
“No, I sent Rylin to babysit her.” She snickers.
“You torture him Winnie.”
“It’s fine. I trust him. Besides, he didn’t refuse. He likes being able to care for her.”
The days pass slowly as the snow melts. Father wakes and progress takes over. He begins to look less fragile. Raza and Mackenzie work with him and he is no longer bedridden. The wheelchair helps him get around. It’s slow going but we see it’s working.
Nik, Nate, and Winnie have been in and out of the house and Nate has invited them to help Winnie at the hospital and train a few of the people who are interested in medicine. Between their online courses and Raza and Mackenzie’s presence Winnie is able to create a phenomenal hospital. Her stress eases and she finds joy in the opportunity to teach more students.
The holidays are behind us and spring is around the corner. I have spent the last two months at the school as the librarian and I am beginning to feel at home. The teachers were happy to have me on staff and I even made a friend. Lily is the teacher for the second grade class and she was most helpful when it came to getting me settled.
She came up with the idea of a game where the kids could teach me the tribal language. So far I only can say about ten words correctly but I am picking up on some of what the kids say in class when they aren’t using English.
Next week is supposed to be perfect. Sunny, warm and dry, so we have decided to get married Friday. Nik has been spending a lot of nights patrolling the perimeters and a lot of days with the doctors searching for a cure to the madness.
Tonight Nate will perform the ceremony in which Nik becomes official chief and alpha. I’m so excited to be able to participate in this and see another ceremony. Lily stays after school and we talk for awhile before I head to mine and Nik’s cabin. On my way home Rylin finds me.
“Momma bear! Wait up.” His long legs easily catch up to me.
“Rylin, if you keep growing you won’t be able to fit through the door.” He smiles proudly.
“It’s a wolf thing.” He tries to be nonchalant but I see his smug smile peak through. I laugh at him and he pays no mind.
“So, you ready to be an alpha?”
“What? I’m just me. Nik is the alpha.”
“Not true, momma bear. When you and Nik mate you’ll become his equal. Some packs would call you Luna but in ours we just call you both alpha.”
“Just call me Ellie. Or momma bear. I’m not so sure about leading anyone. I’m not even a shifter.”
“Don’t have to be. Those are the rules. You take equal responsibility in decisions, caring for the people and you get cool perks.”
“Mhm. You’ll be able to read shifters thoughts even if they don’t want you to. You’ll also be able to give alpha commands and you can shut shifters out of your thoughts if you want them private.”
“Interesting...” I suddenly want to know everything Nik has ever thought about me. Mostly, he probably just wishes I was naked but still I’m curious.
I head home and get ready for the ceremony. Nik’s mom is waiting at the door. I greet her with a smile and a hug.
“Hi sweetheart. I’m here to help you get ready for the ceremony.”
She parts my hair into two braids and weaves colorful ribbons and beads through my red hair. The turquoise ribbons match my porcelain skin well. Next she helps me into the dress she made for me. It’s breathtaking. The red fabric flows to my knees. It doesn’t hide the jagged scars but I’ve grown to not care who sees.
Black fringe hangs down both arms and tribal designs in gold and turquoise are woven into the bottom. She wraps a thick belt around my waist and I slip into a pair of her black moccasins.
I no longer feel out of place. Though I may look different than the tribes people I’m beginning to feel at home and my love for not only them but my place here has grown.
We walk together to the meadow where a bonfire has been started. The flames crackle and rise up high.
In the distance I hear Nik howl in triumph and then the pack enters in creating a magical chorus. The people cheer and I join in. I feel him before I see him come out from the tree line. My heart races with anticipation since it’s been days that we’ve gotten to spend any real time together.
His red brown fur trembles in the wind. His warm eyes find mine and he barks happily. The earth trembles as they make their way to us. The kids cheer excitedly and pet the wolves. They bow and let the children have a moment. It warms my heart.
As he gets closer I notice something I couldn’t see from afar. His mouth is covered in blood and a huge mountain lion hangs from between his teeth. He tosses the large cat and it lands at my feet. Nik bows and looks at me expectantly.
“He’s theatrical like his grandfather. The cat is a gift. If you accept it you are saying you accept him as your mate.” His mother rolls her eyes. I don’t think theatrical is the word I would use here. But two can play that game.
I pretend to ponder the gift and make him sweat it. One ear flops over as he cocks his head to the side in question. I smile and finally bow. The people cheer and he shifts into his human form. His mother quickly covers him in a tribal shaw and he doesn’t hesitate to kiss me in front of everyone. This kiss is deep and full of fire and excitement. Like lightning crackling in the air. This kiss leaves me dizzy. Especially so when I remember that large dead cat at my feet was just in that mouth.