Father calmly paces the porch as I walk up. He greets me with a frown. I stare blankly back at him. He scans the tree line and stares at a spot for awhile. Is Nik still there? I know dad can’t really see him but it’s still intimidating to think they are staring each down.
I open the screen door and slip into the house hoping he follows me so he will stop staring into the trees. He does immediately. The door slams behind him and my mother scolds him from the kitchen table.
She reaches out for me and I join her. She soothes me by stroking my hair and handing me a cup of hot cocoa. It’s store bought and tastes awful compared to Tatiana’s homemade version. I gulp it down gratefully anyway.
“I’ve already packed your bags. We are leaving now.” He says calmly. I roll my eyes.
“You can’t take me this time. I’m an adult.”
“Ha! You think I won’t?”
“Greyson!” Grams and mom interject but he just stares at me.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, Elliana. You will get yourself killed and I won’t let that happen!”
“Gramps should never have called you. You are wasting you time.” Gramps looks at me apologetically.
He clenches his jaw and mother sits forward in her chair. She finds his green eyes and silently pleads with him. He shakes his head no. She sighs.
“Grey, she should know the truth. Please, I can handle it.” Mom coaxes. He reaches for her hand across the table. She reassures him with a gentle squeeze.
“Mary, I cant do that to you. I can’t.” She tucks a red hair behind her ear, sits a little straighter and tells him to tell the truth. When he is silent she begins.
“I have always regretted the way we handled finding out about that boy. We should’ve never left like that. When you stopped speaking my heart broke. I thought I’d never hear my precious girl’s voice again. Your father was only trying to protect you. When he was sixteen he met a girl named Raven. She was a shifter and she was his mate.”
All this time I thought mom and dad were so happy and now, seeing dads pained expression I know he still holds love for someone else. I don’t know whether to be understanding or angry. Then I remember Nik saying those words earlier today and I’m sympathetic.
Though he never came out with it I knew that being mates was important. I knew it meant he wanted us to grow in love and that maybe he was already on his way there. I wanted him to confirm that but he wouldn’t say it.
“What does that mean dad? That you loved the girl? I have asked everyone for an explanation and no one will explain.”
“Darling, hasn’t Nik told you yet?” Mom asks. I shake my head and she looks shocked.
“He said he’s waiting because he doesn’t want to lose me again after he just got me back.”
“He’s got restraint. I’ll give him that.” Dad chuckles without humor. He speaks next.
“A mate is more than someone you love. They are the other half of your soul. For a shifter it’s common to wait for that one person. Accepting the shifter means you are vowing your very life. You are promising to be their forever through all the danger their life could bring to yours and the children you will eventually have.”
I suddenly see dad through different eyes. I feel such sorrow for him. Grams is silent but tears form in her eyes. Mom holds herself together and I don’t know how. Why would she even marry dad and compete with that?
“Did you reject your mate?” I ponder quietly. Nik said something earlier about not being with your mate destroying a person.
“No, I loved Raven very much. One look and I was hooked. I met her when I made a trip with gramps to visit Nate, Nikan’s dad. We actually used to be close like family until the incident. I... I need you to know I love your mother very much. She’s my life now and I am so grateful to have her.” Mom squeezes his hand in reassurance.
“But, human love is different than loving a shifter. She should know that dear. Please don’t hold back.” Mom encourages. Dang this woman is strong. My heart breaks for her and a tear runs down my face.
“Now, don’t you even think of feeing sorry for me! I knew what I was doing when I married your dad.” She winks and wipes my tears.
“I’m sorry Ellie, don’t cry. Your mom is my world. You are too. I know what I did tore us apart but try to understand that I wanted you safe even if it meant broken because at least you were alive.”
I sniffle at the horrible memory of being dragged away from my home, from Nik, and grams and gramps.
“What happened to her?” I ask. Now it’s dads turn to tear up.
“We were in town at the mall Christmas shopping. It was a rare thing for a shifter to leave the tribe because if a lone wolf finds a shifter it’s a fight to the death. The lone wolf is deranged and believes killing a shifter will help it gain power. She was on edge the whole day. I was unaware that there was a lone wolf
walking through town in human form. But, she could sense him. We decided to come home but the man followed us. We didn't know. I took her home and the wolf followed us. An hour later Nate was at my door saying the tribe was attacked.”
Mom walks to the other side of the table to hold dad and stroke his hair. I’ve never seen this side of him. Never even got the chance. I spent my years building a wall of hate. Grams comes to me and pats my knee. Gramps looks uncomfortable with all this.
“It was my fault. She was only seventeen. We had two wonderful years together but because I was stupid I put them all in danger. She and another shifter were killed before the tribe knew there was a threat. Nate killed the lone wolf but it was too late, she was gone.”
“I’m sorry for hating you all this time. I didn’t know daddy, please forgive me.” He smiles a melancholy smile.
“I’ve never once blamed you, baby. You should know choosing Nikan means you cannot go back into our world. You’ll be stuck here for as long as you both live. If you stay it’s still dangerous. Lone wolves can cross paths with you in these woods.”
“I don’t want to lose my best friend again.” I whisper.
“Honey, spending time with Nikan sends a signal to him you are trying to create a life together. That you’re giving fate a chance and...” Grams says gently.
“And, that you could see a future together not just as friends but as his mate, wife and partner in life.” Dad finishes her thought.
“Oh...” my head is spinning. Is that I how I feel? I’m not sure. Right now I just feel confused as all these emotions slam around in my head.
“I know you don’t agree with it but I tried to shield you from this. I know it was wrong to rob you of the opportunity but I didn’t want you to go through losing a mate. It almost killed me, until your mom walked in to my life and patched me up. I became okay enough to survive. We grew in love and though my mate is gone I found it possible to receive and give a human love full of happiness and you were the greatest gift you mother has ever given me.” I hug dad and mom and we all wipe our tears away.
“It’s late. Let’s all sleep on it and in the morning we will figure it out. C’mon Grams, I need you to tuck me in.” Grams laughs and follows gramps to bed.
Mom follows me to my room and tucks me in like a child. She caresses my face and kisses my head.
“Don’t let your father’s fear scare you. If you could see yourself loving Nikan you should go for it. I saw the strain being away put on you. You deserve happiness darling.”
“I love you mom.”
“I love you too, baby.”
“Will you stay awhile?” She smiles and curls up next to me.
“I missed this.” I say.
“Me too.” And with that I fall into a restless sleep. Nightmares of wolves plague my mind. Nikan being attacked. My family dead. The tribe torn apart.
Sometime in the night my mind cannot take anymore of the bloody images and I’m blessed with a dream.
I’m in the woods in a white gown. Nikan is in a tux running from me as I chase him. He laughs like when we were kids. I trip over the gown and he disappears. I scream his name and he reappears as his wolf.
When I reach him he whimpers and shifts back. He has bite marks on his neck and he bleeds uncontrollably as I attempt to stop the bleeding. The last words he says are “Why did you kill me? This is all your fault!”
I wake with a start. My heart is racing and so is my mind. I dress in a grey sweater and jeans. I throw on my boots and jacket. The clock on the wall says 6:06 am. I don’t mind that it’s early.
I sneak out the door and head for the woods. In a way, I hope Nik is there but mostly I just need the fresh air after a night of suffocating dreams. I make my way to a familiar path and climb up an old hunting stand.
I need a place to think and this is as good a place as any. The dying pines provide some coverage from the cool wind. I bring my knees to my chest and think about the new world I have been thrown into. Do I want to dive deeper into it or go back to the shallow end I’m used to where it’s safe?