I feel so on edge. I miss Nik and it’s only been a few hours. I head into the woods knowing I won’t see him yet somehow I feel closer to him by being in those woods. I’m sure to take my bow now that I know lone wolves are more common than I thought.
As soon as I step out of the clearing and into the woods I run into something hard. I look up to see I’m currently face to face with Nik. Well, face to chest. He grins and his teeth shine against his tanned skin.
“Miss me already?” He teases with an ear splitting grin. I blush hard.
“Y-yes.” I breathe out. He crushes me into a hug.
“I missed you too. More than you know.”
“My parents took my grandparents into the city for dinner. Would you like to come in?” He ponders on my offer and agrees. We walk hand in hand to the cabin.
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“Starving. I haven’t had a chance to eat. It’s been a...busy day.”
Nik sets the table while I pour the potato soup I made earlier into the bowls. After we eat we end up in the living room on the couch. He wraps me in his arms and I snuggle closer.
“Ellie, we need to talk about something very important.” He whispers as he strokes my hair. I raise up to meet his eyes.
“Well, uh, there’s a lot you need to know about well, a lot...” I laugh as he fumbles.
“I want to know everything. Don’t be afraid. I want you to be honest with me.”
He stares into my eyes for a moment and I forget how to breathe. This time I’m the one to initiate the kiss. I lean in slowly and he stares at me intensely. His lips part, inviting me in. His eyes flicker from my lips to my eyes as his breathing picks up.
I kiss him softly and he sighs into the kiss. When my hands find his hair he pulls me onto his lap and grabs my hips, pulling me closer. He groans against my lips and I am focused on nothing but the way his lips taste against mine.
“Elliana, I lo-.” I cut him off by pressing a finger to his lips.
“It’s my turn to talk.” He chuckles and I begin to blurt out my feeling before I lose courage.
“Nik, I missed you so much. I just needed to come home for closure and what I found was better. I still can’t believe you’re here, that you’re real. That you want me. I love you. I’ve always loved you. I always will.”
He stares at me dumbfounded by my admission.
“Say it again.” He whispers and pulls me close again.
“I love you, Nik.”
“I love you too Elliana Rose. And I always will.” He places a chaste kiss on my lips and smiles at me. My heart goes haywire and he laughs gently. I know he must hear it.
“There’s so much I need you to know. I am afraid when I tell you that you will change your mind.”
“Impossible.” I tell him and he looks at me with such love that I could melt. I’m sitting on his lap facing him When I go to move he presses his hands onto my hips.
“First you should know that I am the alpha, or leader, of my pack. There’s me, Rhiannon, her mate Koda and her brother Rylin. My parents, her parents, Lee and Kodas father make up our council. The council are all shifters as well except Lee. They appoint a human elder every five years. My father was the alpha before I took his place therefore he is the Chief of the tribe and head of the council. If you decide to mate with me we will become the leader of the pack and tribe as well. We are all also supposed to take over their seats on the council.”
“Wait, there’s more shifters?” He nods. I remember his mom telling me she protected us as kids. I didn’t realize they all were shifters. I feel stupid.
“And I’m not sure about leading anyone. I’m just human...wait, will I be a wolf too?”
“Honestly, I don’t think you will turn. It has to be in your bloodline. The only outsider to mate with someone from our tribe that we know of was...”
“Yes, they never fulfilled the mating process because they needed to be eighteen. So since they hadn’t got to that we can’t know for sure. I don’t know what will happen to be honest. There have been humans to mate with shifters within the tribe and they didn’t shift. Don’t worry though. I’ll protect you no matter what.”
“What exactly is the mating process?” His cheeks turn red and I realize when it comes to intimate topics he is just as awkward as me.
“Well, uh, when a shifter finds their mate it means they’ve found the other half of their soul. They will begin the process by vowing their life to that person and they get married. We traditionally marry in the spring since it signifies new beginnings. In my tribe we have a simple gathering with our families and say vows, then we do this thing with ribbons. We tie them in a knot over our entwined hands symbolizing the unity of our souls and then begin life together. The children get to tap the maple trees for sugar and we end the evening by dancing around the fire. It’s different for mates. We are basically in a marriage that can’t end in divorce. Rejecting your mate is serious. It can kill one or both of the mates.”
“You literally die of a broken heart?”
“I guess so, yeah. It’s like trying to fly with no wings. It’s almost impossible to live without your mate.”
“How did my dad survive?” He shrugs.
“Fate gave him a second chance. I guess fate knew I would need you.” Now I know why my father has never seemed genuinely happy. There’s moments with mom but they seep back into bitterness. I don’t know how mom does it. She’s a strong, caring woman.
“Anyway, mates have to then quickly finish the process by...becoming one and then the shifter must mark their mate joining their souls completely.”
“Yeah... they allow the wolf to emerge half way, allowing the canines to elongate enough to puncture the skin on their mate. This signals others to stay clear of them. Kind of like a wedding ring.” His fingers brush my shoulder.
“You...have to...bite me?” What sounded like a magical fairytale quickly turned into a nightmare.
“While becoming one, yes...” he suddenly finds the ceiling interesting. I stare wide eyed at him. He swallows and smiles half heartedly. He wants to bite me while having sex?!
“It’s actually enjoyable, or so I’ve heard. In my tribe it’s something that shifters are taught is sacred and is looked forward too.” He seems disappointed that I’m not exactly excited about being bitten by him.
“So is there anything else I should know?”
“Aside from the fact my father convinced the council that you have to mate me before New Years and prove yourself worthy to lead on the council and tribe?” He rushes out the words and I have to process them. When I do I am angry.
“He what?! He thinks he can decide when we get married? Why would he go against a sacred tradition?”
“And he wants you to stay here. He doesn’t want us out in the city or even the world you know. We would have to stay here until we sit on the council. Then I can take you anywhere you want to visit. I won’t ask you to leave behind the world. I know it’s too much to ask. The others agree that we should overturn that rule. Not just for you but for all the people.”
“Why does he hate me?” I ask curiously.
“He doesn’t, I don’t know why he’s punishing us for your fathers past.”
“It was an accident!”
“I know that Ellie. My pack is determined to help you prove him wrong. They are angry with the council for their decision. They’ve gone against their own parents for us. My mother and Rhiannon’s father were the only ones opposed to the decision.”
“They don’t even know me. Why would they care what happens to me?”
“Because you are meant to be their leader, my mate and my wife. They know how much I love you and so they love you too. Koda and Rhiannon know the pull of the mate bond. They know I can’t be away from you long without growing restless.”
He looks at me like he’s looking at prey that’s ready to run.
“Okay. I’ll do it.” I say before I can change my mind.
“You will?” His astonishment is clear. I laugh and so does he.
“Yes. Let’s get marri-.”
“Wait, I haven’t even properly asked! I thought you’d need time.” He stands up and my feet hit the floor. He digs in his pocket and brings out a thin silver band decorated with small diamonds. I smile at him.
“When did you have time to do that?” He winks at me and gets down on one knee. He slips the ring on my hand and squeezes.
“Elliana Rose Mayfield, will you make me the happiest wolf in the woods and promise to be my mate and my wife?” I tear up at the realization that he is all I have ever wanted. If I said no there’s no one who would ever compare.
“Yes! I love you, Nik.” He lifts me up and spins me around. I kiss him fervently and suddenly I am aware we aren’t alone. He nods shyly at my family.
“I heard them coming and figured grams wouldn’t wanna miss it.” He admits sheepishly.
“You’re darn right, honey! I’ve waited so long for this day!” Mom and grams come over and pull us both into a hug. Nik laughs and tentatively embraces them. I turn to dad and gramps. They both look uncomfortable. Dad comes up to me and crushes me in a hug.
“Congratulations isn’t the right word Ellie. I love you. I am happy to know you’ll have someone’s complete devotion but it scares me to death.”
“It’s okay daddy. I’ll be alright.”
“Mr. Mayfield I promise I won’t allow anything to happen to her.” Nik says and dad takes his hand signifying a truce I hope.
“You better keep your promise.” Is all he says.
Nik stays with me until late in the night. We snuggle up close on my bed, my heart full of joy. When he leaves he kisses me gently.
“I’m sorry it is kind of simple. If you want a different one I’ll get it.” He says pointing at the ring. I frown.
“Why would you do that? It’s perfect. You even got the right size.”
“Ah, yeah grams may have helped me out there.” He chuckles. That meddling woman.
“Meet me in the woods tomorrow?” I ask sleepily. He tucks me in with a swift kiss.
“And every day after that. I love you Ellie.” My eyes shut and I drift off into a peaceful sleep.