Never Ago (Book 1)

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Can't Breathe Alone

"Are you feeling okay?" Madaline checked his forehead with the back of her hand.

Ezra nodded and sipped his coffee in silence. The sandwich she had made was abandoned. The thought of eating churned his stomach.

"I was really worried. What's gotten into you? I know wolfsbane won't kill you but too much is too much."

Ezra drowned the rest of the coffee into his throat in one go and winced at the rawness of his insides. It would take a while to recover from the effects of wolfsbane but it would take longer to figure out which of the emotions in him was dominant.

Anger or pain.

"Cole was very pissed at you." Madaline warned, sitting by the egde of the bed near him. "It's gonna take a while for him to come around."

Ezra threw her a bored look.

Madaline sighed and picked the tray from his lap. "At least tell me what made you so furious that you had to drink wolfsbane to cool down."

Ezra ignored her pestering and peeled the blanket off himself. His numb feet touched the cold tiles when he stood up and tried stretching. Every ounce of his body was sore and felt raw.

"I think you should rest–"

"Madaline." Ezra stopped her calmly and sucked in a huge breath. "My head is fucking me up right now and your voice is not helping at all."

Madaline shut her open mouth in a heartbeat and scowled. "You're being rude."

"Grow up."

She scoffed. "After you."

His head snapped so fast his neck almost broke. His eyes flared up at the distant mocking of a certain someone echoing in the back of his head. The words were hooks stuck in his flesh. Avoiding tugging on them was the only solution he had.

"I'm not in the mood to argue, Madaline. Some other time when I don't feel like shit, you can say all you want." Ezra jumped on the soles of his feet a few times and groaned when a wave of dizziness hit his head.

Madaline shook her head at him. "So you're going to the ceremony."

"It can't wait. Nor do I want it to. Get my suit." He said.

She hesitated before asking. "Which one?"

"A suit, Madaline. It could be any, just get one."

Her uncertain eyes made him curl his lips inward. "A suit. You know? Pants, white button up shirt and perhaps a blazer if you please..."

She glared at him then marched into his closet. If it was Lily she would've gotten it without asking.

No. Don't even think about her.

He concentrated on the ceremony. He had taken a quick shower earlier because of the stench of wolfsbane on his body and lied down when his hangover got the best of him.

"Here." Madaline came out with a packed suit. "Should I change into something too?"

Ezra furrowed his brows at the off shoulder blue dress she was wearing and matching wedge heels. "Why?" He questioned as he slipped his shirt off and put on the button up shirt.

Madaline picked at her nails. "You're going to chose your mate today."

Ezra stilled, his fingers hovering over the buttons on his shirt. Guilt and regret tried dragging him down when brown eyes flashed before his eyes but he shook his head furiously and slipped into his indigo pants. He was swinging in conflict but he knew what his mind wouldn't let him do.

"Look, Maddie," he cleared his throat and reached for the indigo blazer lying on the bed. "What we're dealing with right now put the Lunas in danger. I'd suggest laying low for now and celebrate happily after this shit show ends."

His eyes refused meeting hers. He fingered his hair to style it in the mirror and stepped out of the room to the hallway, Madaline hot on his heels.

"Well, if that's what makes you happy I'll wait." She sounded she had a lot to say but seeing Ezra skipping steps two at a time stopped her.

"Good. It's not safe. I'm glad you understand." He threw over his shoulder and waited at the door for her to exit. Two years together and she still didn't have the keys to his house.

After the door was locked, Ezra jumped into his car. Madaline appeared in his window.

"It's going to be me, right?" She asked timidly, part of her wanted him to confirm.

He title his head and gazed up at her. "Yes." She lit up and nodded before heading to her car.

It's not like I have a choice anymore.

They drove out of his driveway and showed up at the bustling packhouse together. The hall in the packhouse was anticipating his arrival eagerly. Some of them were happy to greet their new Alpha while the others wanted to see who their Luna was going to be.

"Son," his father waved him over to the raised podium. "About time."

His father's eyes narrowed slightly at the fading redness around his eyes but didn't ask about it. The Zeta, war general, came forward with the golden feather and stood beside his father. Cole appeared at Ezra's side and grunted when Ezra gazed at the side of his face. Luke, Gabe, Zeke, Kyne and the pack advisors all gathered round the new Alpha.

Like moth to a flame, the new Alpha's heart and eyes swept the crowd in search of her. He couldn't stop himself for the life of him from hoping she'd be there. The irony wasn't lost on him yet his heart was rebelling against him.

When the ceremony minister stepped between Ezra and his father, a hush fell over the crowd. The minister chanted verses in greek that bind the new Alpha with his pack made him vow to fullfil his responsibilities faithfully. With a carved knife, the minister cut Ezra and his father's palm then asked them to dip their hands in a bowl of enchanted water.

The connections instantly snapped into places. His head filled up with hundreds of spirits. The pack members cheered and hooted when the former Alpha clipped the golden feather to the breast pocket of the new Alpha.

"Are you ready to announce your Luna, Alpha?" The minister asked expectantly.

Ezra looked at his father and saw the same question and hope in his blue eyes that he inherited.

"Unfortunately, no." He heard a few gasps. "With the current situation, this ritual was necessary. After the danger looming over my pack is dealt with, I'll announce my mate in separate more grand ceremony. I hope my pack will understand."

"We understand, Alpha." Chorused the crowd.

To honor their love and support, Ezra mixed with the excited pack members and chayted with them like they're long lost friends. The morning sun warmed the crisp cold air into a pleasant breeze and cheery brightness. The ceremony started dissolving after the afternoon buffet in the hall. Ezra couldn't shake off the growing emptiness in chest.

Cole put two and two together when he silently walked out of the grand hall and noticed Marie helping Lily up the stairs. She was slightly pale which made her dark circles more prominent and her gait was slow and jerky like a part of her was injured.

He had seen it happen before. To his sister.

That motherfucker was trying to not feel anything. That's why the wolfsbane. All his warnings and hints had fell on deaf ears.

"Marie." Lily hesitated. "I think–"

"Don't." Marie clasped her hands on top of the stairs and gave them a tight squeeze. "This is best for you. The faster you move on, the better. I'm with you on this. Sam too. You don't have to worry about a damn thing."

Lily took a deep breath and nodded. "You're right. I need this."

Marie's face split into a wide smile. "That's my baby."

Sam climbed up the stairs with a keychain twirling on his finger. "Ready?"

Together, they entered Lily's room. Marie sat her down on her bed and forbade her from moving a muscle as Sam and she packed all her belongings in two big suitcases. There wasn't much because she rarely went out. It made her laugh. Her entire possessions filled up only two suitcases.

Meanwhile Lily mind-linked Rosie and talked to her about quitting her job. Rosie met her outside in the hallway when Marie and Sam were wrestling the suitcases down the stairs.

"I would've preferred a head start." Rosie said distastefully then sighed and patted Lily's cheek. "It was good having you child. You never disappointed me and your talent is extraordinary. As long as I handle things around here, you can come back anytime you want."

Lily smiled warmly and hugged her. "Thank you, Rosie. I appreciate your kindness."

Although Rosie had a stern face and stoic expression, her eyes told a different story. She was fond of the sweet girl. In her hand was a clipboard and a few papers. She handed Lily a pen and took her signatures.

"I'll miss you, Lily. You spent 7 years of your life here. I can only hope and pray your coming life brings you success and happiness."

Pain was a becoming a selfish companion of Lily. The tiny pieces of her broken heart she managed to put together fell apart rapidly and periodically. She once believed she'd leave the packhouse with her mate. Now she's leaving because of him. How fate turns out, nobody knows.

"I'll miss you too, Rosie. Don't worry, I'm not abandoning you. I'll keep visiting you once I find my feet."

Rosie squeezed her hands in admiration and left before she teared up. Lily threw one last look at her door and turned away from it only to find herself in path of the new Alpha. His scent wasn't as strong as it used to but it still managed to flutter butterflies in her stomach.

This time the butterflies had wings of blade. The sight of him stopped her throbbing heart.

He didn't stop until he was right in front of her, blocking her path. His eyes were blank but dead set on her.

"Why did you sign those papers?"

Lily was getting crushed under the debris of her collapsing dreams yet she held her chin up. "Do you know the purpose of those papers?"

"You're giving up possession of your room and quitting the job."

"If you know why one would sign such papers, that question was plain stupid."

His gaze turned cold. "You can't leave the packhouse."

"Says who?"

"Me."

Lily moved up to his face. "Who are you?"

"I'm your...Alpha." he hesitated.

Lily cocked her eyebrows. "Sure you are. I don't see how that gives you the right to control my life."

Something flashed in those blue eyes but he covered it up before she could read it. His chest heaved and his jaw ticked. "You can't leave your job or the packhouse on such short notice."

"If I can't leave the packhouse," she drawled out thoughtfully. "Then I'll just leave the pack."

She heard his breath hitch but paid it no heed. Her temper was rising which itched her raw wounds and she didn't like the way made her weak so she stepped back, cleared her throat and worked on keeping her hands from trembling.

"I'm not leaving because of some minor inconvenience in my stay here. Moving out after I meet my... mate... was always a part of my plan. When I make plans, I go through with them."

The venomous emphasis on the word mate didn't go unnoticed by him. What sucker punched him in the gut was minor inconvenience. He was still very much suffering from what happened and to her it was a minor inconvenience.

"You'll regret it." He feigned indifference. "Plans without backup plan are equivalent of risk."

Lily smiled sardonically and sidestepped him. "Backup plan means you're not giving all of yourself to your plan. I don't hold back when I'm set on something. Besides, some things are worth risking."

Ezra started fidgeting and his heart raced with each step she walked away from him. With the effect of wolfsbane slowly fading, the wounds he inflicted on himself started bleeding. He spun and gripped the railing, dreadfully witnessed the source of his relief disappear. It took him a while to recognize the ugly feeling brewing inside him. It was longing. Deep, dark and heavy.

"Congratulations," Cole clapped behind. "You just fucked your ass with your own dick."
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