Breakfast consists of a grumpy gramps and a chatty grams. I convinced him not to tell father yet while I figure it all out and make a decision. He reluctantly agreed with a little pressure from grams.
The snow has melted thanks to the unpredictable weather here in Indiana. The ground is soggy and my thoughts are muddy as I try to adjust to the fact a Native American tribe lives in our woods and that some of them shift into wolves. I could make a best seller out of this mess.
Nik is waiting for me in our usual spot under an old pine tree, this time in human form. We take in the sight of each other and the feeling of his eyes on my body sends shivers down my spine. My brown eyes meet his and he smiles brightly.
“I almost thought you changed your mind.” He says softly, treating me like the prey I am.
“Of course not. Gramps had a hard time with me leaving this morning but with grams’ help I finally got out of there.”
“That old man is a stubborn one.” He shakes his head and I giggle.
I can’t argue with that. Gramps has become different since yesterday. Though today is a little warmer than yesterday Nik offers to carry me. I tell him he’ll spoil me if I continue to let him do that. He says he doesn’t mind and I tell him I need the exercise anyway and point to my stomach. He goes into a lecture and I can’t help but laugh.
“Please tell me you aren’t still hung up on that stuff Ellie. Stop trying to be something you’re not. I like you this way. You are... I’ll save it for later. Anyway, I thought we could go back to my place today and maybe there you can get to know me better.”
“I am what? I want to know what you were going to say.” His cheeks are red and he clenches his jaw. Is it that bad? A million bad things run through my mind and I begin to feel rejected. Maybe he really thinks I should lose weight?
“Stop it, Elliana. I can feel the rejection rolling off you. It’s not like that. I like everything about you. Including your curves.” He whispers the last part and I barely catch it.
“Wait, you feel my emotions?!” He rolls his eyes as we walk into his home.
“Yes. Before you ask, I can read others emotions but not as strongly. You are my mate so it’s intensified with you. Those days we spent in the woods I could feel our bond strengthening. It was amazing, Ellie. Feeling you begin to trust me, to desire being with me even in my wolf form, to want me as company as you spent your time out there. Like invisible strings pulling me in. Making me want to be your protector, your partner.” I stare at him in shock like a deer in headlights. What he just said was unexpected and so intimate. I’m frozen. I can’t bring my mouth to move.
He senses my hesitation and kicks off his boots before walking toward the hallway. The last door on the left opens and I’m standing in his bedroom. I glance nervously at him. What does he expect from me? I didn’t think getting to know each other meant physically. My heart begins to race and I break into a sweat. His brows knit together and then he rolls his eyes.
“Would you relax? I brought you in here to show you my space. I thought maybe it would help you see who I am. I’m not trying to have sex with you. Although, if you couldn’t help but throw yourself at me I wouldn’t object.” He grins mischievously and I smack his arm.
The walls are made of cedar just like home. They are bare and the bed frame matches the walls. A simple black and white checkered quilt hangs haphazardly across the bed. He has a desk with a small stack of books and paperwork and a bookshelf next to it.
As I take in the books I notice some familiar favorites. I smile when I see The Adventures of Nik and Ellie next to Fahrenheit 451.
“You read it? I didn’t realize you knew about that.” I grin and he blushes.
“Yeah, your grams sent it to me. She is quite the meddler which I am grateful for. It gave me hope. Hope that you remembered me. Hope that you would still want to know me if we met again.”
“Well, thank you Grams. I guess her meddling finally did some good in a way.” He laughs and shakes his head in agreement.
We spend the day learning about each other and reminiscing. We end up in the living room with a stack of blankets piled beneath us in front of the fireplace roasting marshmallows.
“Hey Nik, what is a mate?” I ask quietly watching the flames dance lazily. He tenses beside me and I regret my question.
“That’s...complicated. If I tell you then it will overwhelm you and I can’t lose you again. I just got you back.”
“I’m here aren’t I? I haven’t run for the hills so far. Try me.” He shakes his head and ignores my plea. The atmosphere grows awkward as the sun fades away.
“I should go.” I say and rise from my place on the floor. He follows me out the door and we walk quietly into the woods. His frustration is practically tangible when we get to the cabin. He glares at the silver SUV in the driveway.
“Perfect.” He huffs. Father waits for me on the porch. I don’t know which is worse, facing father or staying here with an angry Nik. I pause at the edge, hidden by the trees. Father can’t see or hear us from this distance.
“Do you want to stay at my place tonight? Or I could go with you to your house to make sure he doesn’t try to steal you away again?” His fists clench and I instinctively reach out to hold his hand. It seems to soothe him and his body seems to relax a little.
“I don’t know. I should probably talk to him alone but what if he does try to make me leave? No. I’m a grown woman. I can handle him.” I tell myself. Nik seems amused at my pep talk to myself.
“I don’t like it. He separated us once before.”
“I had no choice. I was seven. I am twenty three dang it. It’s time to act like it.” I stamp a defiant foot and he chuckles.
“Meet me in the woods tomorrow?” I whisper. He kisses my hand and then holds me close.
“And every day after that.” He watches me walk up to the porch. I feel his eyes on me long after I disappear into the house.
I spent every day for the last sixteen years missing my best friend. I am determined to never have to do that again. So, with my head held high I greet my father and prepare for the war he’s ready to wage.