Never Ago (Book 1)

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The sight once used to flutter her heart like butterfly wings. She'd imagine him tucking her hair behind her ear or pulling her into a warm firm hug.

Now, the sight of him clawed at the delicate fabric of her soul. He was still the same strikingly gorgeous man, unapologetically muscular and strong. The black shirt he had on stretched to accommodate his broad shoulders and heaving chest. He magnificent but he was cruel too.

"Wow. You talk faster than light. Probably why couldn't get a word of it." Lily praised, a pinch of sarcasm in her tone.

Ezra sighed and combed his fingers through his hair. He had a lot to say. His wolf had a lot to express. Then there was conscience and underneath all a cry from his heart that couldn't reach his head. All the buzzing thoughts rushing to the front of his mind prevented him from forming a coherent sentence.

"I know you're mad–"

"I'm not."

"–and you're hurt–"

"Very much."

"–and you want to lash out at me–"

"I really don't."

"For fuck's sake, would you let me speak?!" Ezra snapped angrily. "I'm trying okay? I've never done this before. I never had to and probably never will. I don't explain myself to anyone. And you're making it hard for me."

Lily was about to counter then thought better of it and nodded. She shifted her gaze from his blazing blue eyes to a stack of cards by her feet on the bed. Marie must have been playing cards before she woke up.

"Alright," she said. "I won't talk until you're done."

Ezra groaned and rubbed his temples. "Where do I start?..." he muttered under his breath.

Lily peered at him from under her lashes pointedly. "I'd suggest from where the end of this begun."

He was flustered and started to fidget in his seat. He reminded Lily of a ticking bomb. There was a lot bubbling in his head, conflict battling inside him which reflected in his eyes and he was suppressing his overflowing energy.

"I grew up in a home where I was never denied anything." He started softly. "Whatever I even thought of, I had it. My parents never let me experience loss. I guess a lot of it had to do with the fact that mom couldn't conceive another child after I was born. I was their only child and center of attention. My rank didn't help either. Everywhere I went, people followed me. Hell I never even had to ask a girl out, they were the ones who did all the asking and chasing. That impacted my idea of love."

When he started picking at the threads on his pants, his agitation made him pull it aggressively.

"You're going to walk out of here without pants if you keep doing that." Lily pointed out with tone one would use with a child.

Ezra stopped when he realized what he was doing. Lily sat up in the middle of the bed and gathered the cards before handing it over to him.

She beckoned to the wooden bench by the wall and said, "Get the bench over here."

Ezra was bewildered with the change of atmosphere but complied without questions. He picked the bench like a toothpick and placed it near the bed.

"Do you know how to make a house of cards?" She asked. "You can build one while you're talking. It's more productive and less destructive... if you don't mind."

Ezra was even more confused than he was when he started his explanation but shrugged and moved to the ground. It would help him focus on his thoughts if he channeled his energy on one task. Besides he had done it a thousand times with his father. His large hands started aligning the cards on the bench.

"There. Now you can continue without distractions."

Ezra busied himself in the task but his eyes kept flickering up to her. Part of him wanted to impress her like school boy.

"Well..." He continued his story. "It started from high school. I had a lot of relationships back then. Each of them claimed they loved me. But it always felt shallow. Who am I kidding, I wasn't even feeling the shallowness of it. It was the looks for me, then the class, the dressing sense, the way they stood out. It effected them when things ended even if we discussed it beforehand that it wasn't serious. It never bothered me because I never got attached to anyone. For me, it was test driving. I was looking for the best one in my list of candidates."

When his eyes flicked up, he caught her attention entirely on him. Her gaze was seeping through his barriers, almost looking at his soul. Her silence encouraged him to spill his words with ease.

"By the time we met, my opinion was concrete. Emotions made you weak. It made you submit to the ones who had the power to mess with them. If I had no one who could control my feelings, I would be strong. Untouchable. Indestructible. Completely in control–"

He faltered when a card fell from the second foundation of the triangle. He released a breath when he placed it back without disturbing the rest of the cards.

"Then you came." His gaze flickered up to her then back at the cards. "The moment you saw me, you made me feel superior. It didn't matter to you that you didn't know me. You instantly made me the pillar supporting your world. At first, I told my friends you were exactly like all the other girls. Naive and predictable. You were proving my theory from the get go."

Ezra was too focused on the cards to notice the disbelief in her eyes. Lily stared at him stoically but her heart sank faster than Titanic. She knew he used her. The news was he used her and let his friends in on it. All this time, they knew. They were probably even laughing behind her back this whole time. She was a laughing stock amongst his friends.

It wasn't between him and her. It was them and her.

"I realized after spending time with you that... that I hurt you." He sighed deeply. "You were different because you saw me. Not Alpha or Ezra. It mattered to you because your feelings were involved. Everything with you is genuine. It's raw, it's different, it's beautiful."

He placed the last two cards on top of the standing pile of cards and completed the triangle with giddy sense of excitement. Fucking idiot.

"What I'm trying to say, Lillian,"–he stood up carefully and maneuvered round the bench–"Is that I get where I went wrong. I was looking at everything from the wrong angle. Even if I was right, I didn't have the right to play you like that. I get that I hurt you and I'm sorry. I really am."

Lily took a second to compose herself. Her gut was shrinking rapidly and her lungs were restricting her windpipes. Her breath hitched before she sucked in a chunk of courage to look into his eyes without tearing up.

"Okay, I understand." She assured him quietly and ignored hope flaring up in his eyes. "I understand that you made the wrong prediction which led you to make a mistake and now you're sorry that you were wrong–"

Ezra frowned and opened his mouth to protest but Lily's raised hand stopped him. "I want to ask a few questions. And if you really want my forgiveness, for some reason unbeknownst to me, you have to answer them honestly. I give you my word that I'll forgive you if you were truthful. It doesn't matter how you answer them. Just answer them honestly and I'll forgive you."

Ezra lit up like a Christmas tree. "I promise, I'll be honest. I swear." He rushed.

Lily nodded and slipped to the edge of the bed. Her dizziness had subdued the moment he entered the room. She allowed his hands on her waist to help her stand on the tiled floor. He didn't let go and she didn't object because she wanted direct access to his eyes.

The eyes will never learn how to lie.

"First question." She her fierce gaze met his. "Which friends of yours knew about your plan?"

He hesitated for a mere second then answered. "Zeke, Gabe, Cole and... Madaline."

Lily braced herself for the blow coming for her gut when she asked, "Where did you see us when you first met me?"

Ezra bit his lip nervously. Lily gripped his withdrawing arms firmly. "Honest answers, Ezra. I'm not going to make this deal again."

He huffed in frustration. "Fine. I was going to... Uhm... reject you."

The strike was deadly. When she was lying awake in her bed, dreaming about him and carrying his pups, he was laughing at her stupidity.

Her voice was weak when she asked, "Your list of candidates, as you put it, has Madaline on the top. Right?"

A nod was all it took to crush the last of her hope. Before Ezra could clarify that she was not a candidate on some stupid list she struck him with another question.

"Where do you see us in the future now?"

The question seized his sane mind. A part of his mind restarted. His mind was foggy with everything happening around them. He had no clue where he stood with her or her with him but the initial plan he had was no longer a part of his life.

Lily bit the inside of her cheeks when her eyes threatened to spill her fluid pain. She had to be strong. Her next question spared him from the obvious conflict he was going through.

"Why were you playing me? Why not just reject me and move on with Madaline like you wanted to?"

There was no escape from the dead grip she had on her arm and perhaps his mind too. She didn't let him move or pace to get his thoughts straight.

"I..." he faltered.

"I thought it would prove how right I was." He tried again. "Part of me wanted to witness my victory and part of me wanted to teach you a lesson of how wrong you were. I knew it would hurt you but I thought you'd get over it and learn something from it."

After a beat, Lily smiled at him broadly. She let go of his arms slowly and moved past him to kneel by the bench in her hospital gown. She peered up at him from over the top of the triangle house of cards.

"Do you have time to my story now?" She asked, surveying the house he built with wonder.

Ezra was struggling catching up to her random mood swings but the delighted gleam in her eyes forced him to blurt. "Of course, I am."

She nodded. "My parents died when I was in my early teens. I grew up in a home of less materials but more love. The love my mom shared with my dad and the happiness it created for all of us was my role model dream. When they died, it left a hole in my heart. A chunk of me was missing. I still somehow managed getting my life together and helping my sister through her trauma and her studies. It was hard. Really hard. Then it went from hard to harder. She killed herself."

She paused for a brief moment to breath. Ezra moved in behind her and stood there wondering if she'd let him touch her. She ignored him and continued.

"The hole got bigger. I could've shoved something in there but I didn't. I grew up with half a heart and a dream that grew bigger everyday."

Her fingers ghosted over the house of cards absentmindedly. Her fingertips were a hair breadth away from touching the cards.

"People don't just wake up one day and have a dream, you know? Little things that I saw everyday and couldn't have added scrapes to my dreams. Like these cards. I'd see kitchen gardens and imagine them in my dream house. I'd see a ridiculous jacket and wonder how my mate would feel if I ever gave him one. I'd see china cups and think about another color that I'd love to have in my home. Happiness, laughs, giggles, children, couches, sofas, beds, pots literally anything my eyes fell on became a part of my dream. I just wanted a home where I'd belong. A home like this." She gestured to the cards.

Ezra was taken aback by the intensity in her voice. Her eyes were sparkling like she was in her dream as she spoke. How could a simple brick building mean this much to anyone?

Lily sighed wistfully and gazed up at him over her shoulder. A sad smile dulled the light in her eyes.

"Then I met you." Her voice shook slightly as her eyes flickered back to the bench longingly. "The girl who could hardly bring herself to open up and trust someone put all her trust in one person... I felt like the gaping hole in my being is going to close up and heal. I thought I'd finally feel whole after all this time. My dream was going to come true. But... All you did was this—"

Both her hands swung and sent the cards flying everywhere. Shock went through his entire body as Ezra helplessly watched the scattering cards. Lily hung her head and sniffled.

What would you do if you were in her shoes? 😶

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