It was raining that day. The autumn leaves that flew with the wind touched the skin of her shoulder, causing her to remember Lukas’s silly grin as he pulled her into a pile of fallen leaves he had raked about only a few minutes ago.
Now, Lukas was just a memory too. She sat under a maple tree’s shade, keeping herself away from the warm sun while the cold winds of August played with her ink-black hair.
The sound of a twig snapping made her look up, causing her heart to crumble as the flash of red hair and sad mournful blue eyes caught her.
“Is Lukas here?” The wolf asked.
The pink floral sundress she wore made her look delicate as if she wouldn’t be able to hurt anyone. But Katie knew better. The woman in front of her was the woman who tore her brother’s heart apart.
“No.” She simply answered.
‘I know but I had no choice. It was her life on the line and… and I…’ A voice whispered behind her head. It was warm and smooth, comforting even.
Katie shook her head, focusing her attention on the memory of her brother’s mate.
“Where is he?” She asked again.
Katie only smiled while darkness started to form in her heart.
“He’s dead now, you can find him buried six feet underground.” Katie breathed, stifling the tears that threatened to leak from her eyes.
The woman’s reaction made it worse. Why was she crying? She had no right to shed a tear after she rejected Lukas. With the intermingling smells of the outdoor, one made her chest constrict, preventing her to breathe.
“You’re pregnant,” she gulped. “I smell a Remmington in you, an Alpha or at least someone with an Alpha’s blood.”
The woman never spoke. Instead, she heaved in a heavy breath and walked away, leaving Katie lost for words as she watched her walk away.
Katie felt trapped in her body. She felt the things around her about she didn’t have enough energy to move and open her eyes. Questions flood into her mind as she tried to find the answer to why she ended up here. But where exactly is ‘here’?
With all the strength in her body, she tried her hardest to open her eyes and saw a glimpse of a stranger, wearing a sad look in his eyes. He was missing an eye but the one that remained shined so brightly with pain that all she wanted to do was reach her arm out and touch him.
‘So you want me to go through what you did? Not follow my heart and throw everything away?’ The stranger asked.
She sensed how his shaky voice was engulfed with fear and pain.
‘N-no! That’s not what I meant. I’ve sacrificed my happiness for the greater good. For our family.’ Another voice dawned upon her.
This time, Katie’s heart shrunk into the deepest corner of her being. She knew that voice and now, hearing it made her want to disappear.
Katie paused not wanting to hear more and hurt herself. She pulled herself back, relaxing as sleep started to draw her in.
She didn’t know how long has it been. But inside her mind, while she hoped for the best, she was reminded with Nathaniel’s gentle hands. She had always looked up to him. Because of his kindness, and disposition to eagerly help people those around him, Nathaniel was very easy to lead.
She wondered if it was wrong of her to touch his skin and bury her hands through his hair. Was it that selfish for her to want a sense of peace that she found within him?
With Nathaniel, his kind and understanding glance made everything easier and understandable. She managed to convince herself that Nathaniel was enough and that his mere presence was enough to quell the emptiness in her and to forget her past.
‘Nate,’ She whispered as she looked at him across the room. He was standing on the balcony, gazing up at the Moon, a look of contemplation plaguing the ocean of his eyes.
His reserved gray eyes looked somber as he looked at her with a trained and tight smile.
‘What is it?’ He walks to her. He was still very well naked after making love. But instead of cuddling or staying to be in her side, he resumed working like he always does.
Though there was probably another reason as to why he preferred to look away from her every time they made love but she was much of a coward to face the truth that maybe Nathaniel thought she wasn’t enough.
‘I love you, Nathaniel.’ She offered him a smile after the half-truth words slipped from her tongue.
He nods and kisses her forehead.
‘Okay.’ He simply murmurs. ‘Good night, Kayla.’
By now, she was used to feeling this way. How his hollow response always made her quiver.
Though his brief answers made her worry, she looked back at one memory and all of her insecurities somehow faded momentarily. The moment when Nathaniel had vowed to never leave her side.
It was the same day when her brother’s mate had returned. Katie had spent all day under the maple tree, still mourning her brother’s death even though Lukas has been buried for more than a week.
She decided to go home when the sky had turned into a musky tone of gray, a burgeoning storm bringing with it a brigade of thunderous clouds. In the packhouse, her heartbeat skyrocketed as the sight of Alpha Nathaniel comforting his brother caught her attention.
Nathaniel was embracing Jacob, holding him tightly as his younger brother sobbed and cried against his chest.
Over the years of watching the Alpha, she had begun to consider him like an older brother. Always so caring to the point of impatience when she would not answer him. Though she understood where his concern was from. Her parents had died years ago during an attack and both Alpha Jacob and Nathaniel vowed to repay their actions by looking after Katie and Lukas.
With Nathaniel, she knew she was safe and valued. If her brother felt the same way with his mate, would he still be alive?
She gulped, walking towards the two brothers. The first one to spot her was Nathaniel. His gaze was overflowing with pity. The look in his eyes made her shrink.
“Why did it have to be him, Nate?” Jacob murmured softly. “I don’t want to be alone.”
His gray eyes darken with unspoken sadness as he ran his hand up and down Jacob’s back, trying his best to comfort him.
“I’m always here for you Jacob, you know that. How could I ever leave you?” He asked.
“You always say that Nate but at the end of the day, I end up alone.”
He grimaced. “I won’t let that happen. You are my brother and I will always love you.”
Katie was engulfed in an overwhelming emotion of jealousy. She was jealous because no one was left to treat her that way. To handle her delicately the way Nathaniel kisses his brother’s forehead with love and to have someone look at her with admiration and love.
She wanted what they have, security and family. Was it too much of a crime to covet such a thing?
“I believe you.” Jacob nodded. “Thank you.”
“I won’t let your trust in me be in vain.” Nathaniel smiled. “Now go before your teammates see you in this crying mess.”
Jacob nodded and wiped the tears in his eyes and left after giving Nathaniel one big hug. He ran towards the group of young boys, dressed in their sports attire. All that remained was her and Nathaniel.
Nervousness took control of her as she steps forward. She took a sharp breath and formed her lips into a wry and tired smile.
“How are you feeling?” He asked, cupping her cheek.
Katie leaned against his warm calloused hand. By the time she meets her mate, will he be this gentle with her? Will he look at her with love instead of disdain the moment she tells him about her human side and sickness? Will he hold her tightly?
She looked at Nathaniel, seeing his caring side shine. She didn’t want someone like Nathaniel. What she longed for was him.
“Alpha…can I speak to you in private?” She struggled to say the words under her tongue.
His expression contorted into a serious and worried look.
“Of course,” He answered. “Follow me upstairs.”
His tall composure and burly body shadowed over her as she followed him through the packhouse. Nathaniel brought her to the second-floor balcony, where the wind blew roughly. She knew him well enough that this was his favorite place in the pack. On the balcony, he was able to look after his pack. He could see their happiness and in turn, their happiness made him happy.
Nathaniel leans against the railing as he waited for her to speak.
All that she could think of was how was she going to say the words in her heart? She didn’t want to blurt out everything. What would he think of her when she confessed that she wanted him not the prospect of love but for her to never grace the searing pain of rejection?
There were other ways of saying things and maybe one day, he would forgive her if she told him the truth.
“I saw Rosemary walk out of the pack gates. Did you talk to her?” He lowered his head.
“She was looking for Lukas but she didn’t stick around long enough for a conversation and well, she was carrying someone else’s child.”
He nods. “I’m aware of that. I can smell her and the child she was carrying from a mile away.”
“Did you also recognize the scent? I know what someone with a Remmington’s blood smells like. They’re the monsters that killed my parents.”
“No, but Rosemary is a wolf of the Remmingtons after all. Though if I may be honest, I did not expect her to be a mate with someone from the main family. If only we could get the chance to see their reclusive Alpha’s face, we’d stand a chance to finally destroying them.” Nathaniel spoke. “But enough of that, I’ve arranged for our border patrolmen to not let her enter our lands again. You don’t need to worry about her anymore.”
“Thank you, Nate. But that’s not what I’m here for.” She breathed.
There’s nothing wrong with being selfish. She was only looking out for herself. Everything that she was doing was only to keep herself alive.
“Tell me, what I can for you?” He asks.
“My brother… I don’t want to end up just like him.” She trembled.
“You won’t, Katie. You have us as your family.” Nathaniel answered, placing his finger under her chin, forcing her to meet his benevolent stare.
“I don’t want to be rejected.” She says. “Promise me that you won’t let that happen.”
His conflicted stare petrified her fragile heart. In the brilliance of his cold gray eyes, she saw sadness. She would do anything to replace that expression with a fleeting sense of happiness. His reaction was already overwhelming. It mirrored that of rejection and the longer it took for him to form a response, the more pain it brought her.
“Katie… I don’t—”
Before he could say anything else, Katie leaned forward and claimed his lips. It was the first time she had ever kissed anyone and she was sure that it was his first kiss too. Nathaniel on top of his kindness was also gravely conservative.
Katie feared that she might not be able to sway and steer his heart. But she was prepared to do anything, damn the consequences.
When she managed to pull away, she looked at the fleeting sight of regret in his eyes.
“Please, Nathaniel.” She buried her flushed face unto his chest.
She could hear the beat of his heart, so loud and intense that it made her legs wobble. She felt his arms wrap around her.
“I promise, I’ll never let anyone hurt you.”
That was the memory that she held on to for dear life. She knew that Nathaniel would never break his promises and even if he could never repay the same amount of love she had given him, his words were enough to consolidate her emotions
For what seems to be hours, Katie slept soundly. Though she was aware of everything that was happening around her. She knew someone was watching her but whoever that, she felt safe under their care.
Suddenly, the side of the bed that she laid in sunk and the stranger’s voice chimed into her ear.
“Mom, Dad, what am I supposed to do? I’ve failed as an Alpha and Selena she…damn it!”
The person’s words sliced her heart knowing that she couldn’t do anything. Katie fell into a deep slumber.
She was back to a state of paralyzing silence. She let her mind wander back to Nathaniel. Was he going to save her from this place? He was probably already looking for her now.
But out of nowhere, she heard Nathaniel’s voice whisper something.
‘Goodbye, Katie. I’m sorry.’
Katie jolted awake, gasping for air as she rose from the bed. Immediately, all she wanted was to call Nathaniel’s name. But she turned silent when a man with hair as dark as night sat across the room.
The murderous presence he exuded caused her to become petrified and the way his eyes shined with lethal intent was enough for her to rethink her decisions of speaking.
“Finally, you’re awake.” The man spoke. “What’s wrong? You were calling out that asshole’s name in your sleep, I know you’re not mute.”
She stared at him, fearing that he was only goading her on. One mistake may cost her her life.
“Why am I here?” She asked.
Katie did her best to wake up her wolf but she couldn’t. There was something else inside of her mind and for the first time in her life, she felt strong but why was that? Her cancer always weighed her body down but this time, she felt free.
“That’s the same question I want to ask. Why are you here, Kayla?” He asked.
There was trouble with the way he spoke. The cold room made her shiver as the man stood and pushed his chair aside.
“Why do you know my name? Take me back to my mate.” She exhaled.
“Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Francis Remmington, though I do prefer using my middle name rather than my surname. Francis Highcliff-Remmington, nice to meet you, Kayla Marie Smith, the whore of Alpha Morris.” He grinned darkly.
A Remmington? That smell, the color of his eyes, and that domineering posture the wolf took. It was everything a wolf from pack Remmington would have.
“You’re making a big mistake. Nathaniel will come for me.” She gulped.
“Nathaniel?” He chuckled. “He gave you to us.”
Katie’s expression fell into a grimace. She wanted to believe that the man was only lying but everything started to flow into her head now that she was awake. Alpha Highcliff rejected her and after that, she fell unconscious.
Her hand dove unto her neck and noticed the stinging pain once she touched the tender part of her mark. She remembered now. Nathaniel had given her up, that’s why he apologized. And that man who was beside her the whole time, the presence she felt, the stranger who wallowed silently in wait, and the person who sank his teeth into her skin, Talon Highcliff.
“That look on your face,” Francis murmured.
“Wh-what?” She asked.
He simply grins and approached her.
The beat of her heart picked up as she waited, anxious for his next moves. His tall and lean body was threatening and it was obvious that he could easily hurt her. Francis took out his blade and sat on the bed, leaning closer to her. The blade’s silvery sheen reflected the dread that she wore.
Was this it? Did she wake up only to be killed?
Though if this was the Moon’s punishment, she wouldn’t even be surprised. Talon when she saw him for the first time, she found in him everything that she was afraid of.
The moment their gazes connected, she saw how disgusted he was. His disappointment was immeasurable and his rejection was deadly. If the man in front of her truly was a Highcliff, then it would plausible if Talon contracted this person to end her life.
But then why go through the lengths of marking her? Maybe he wanted a slow and painful death for her, to make her suffer. There was no other way to explain how he was able to reject her with so little compassion and too much cold blood. Talon Highcliff was a cruel wolf.
Whatever was going to happen, this was only the consequence of her actions. The punishment for taking Nathaniel and hurting Selena.
“I’ve seen that look before. Right now, I bet you’re thinking of many ways to escape. You’re worried and afraid that this is how you’re going to die. Though I wouldn’t blame you for it.”
Katie stiffened at the daunting stance Francis took. He waved his blade slowly against her face. The cold steel touched the skin of her cheek. She breathed sharply as pulled herself back.
“You don’t want to do this.” She murmured, holding back her tears.
He stared at her, flummoxed for a few seconds, and laughed.
“On the contrary, I do. I really, really do.” He grinned.
“Why? I never did anything wrong to you.” She gritted her teeth.
Francis shook his head.
“You know, it’s been a few months since I’ve gouged someone’s eyes out. But I do so like it when I hear them beg me for mercy. It makes my enemies shrink while the effect is opposite for me. I feel power.”
Besides the notorious streak of crimes pack Remmington was known for, their cruelty with their victims shares the same limelight. She knew this man was not exaggerating, she could feel his excitement radiating from his trembling body. All points lead to the man being ultimately unhinged.
Her eyes flew everywhere, hoping to avoid his daunting gaze. While the beat of her heart hammered inside of her, she tried her best to breathe smoothly despite Francis being so close.
“You’re sick.” She gulped.
“I’m sick?” He asked. “What about you? I may have killed a few dozen wolves but do my deeds outweigh yours?”
She didn’t bother to answer. She was well aware of what he was doing, taunting her so she would easily bend to his words. Her eyes averted to the side table, spotting a sheathed blade laying on top.
If she were quick enough, she might be able to reach it before he could react. But no, if she tried to move now, he would most likely be quicker.
In the meantime, she needed to focus on how she was going to talk herself out of this. Though would that be possible when in his eyes, she saw how determined he was to kill.
“Listen, I just need to go home and be with Nathaniel that’s all I want. I don’t mean to anyone harm, just please…”
With a rueful sigh, he pulls his blade back, hiding it under his shirt.
“Don’t pretend to be so innocent, Kayla. You’ve done so much harm in my family and with your aversion, I can perhaps safely conclude that you’re a person of subnormal intelligence.”
Her heart prickled with a sudden pang of guilt. Did he mean Selena?
“I didn’t know she was his mate…no one told me so.” She answered.
But if she were being honest, some moments caused her to rethink otherwise. The dinner, the words she and Selena shared in the hospital, and the moment she first laid eyes on her.
Katie wasn’t unfeeling. She knew a terrified heart when she saw one but at that moment, she simply set it aside thinking it was because her pack was recently attacked and that face she wore was only a look of worry.
How did Selena feel when Katie had kissed Nathaniel multiple times in front of her face?
It became clear to her that she was not only responsible for breaking hurting Selena, she also forced Nathaniel to go along with her and in return, she made him lose the most important thing for a wolf.
But he already knew that when he agreed to stay with her, right?
“That’s beside the point, wolf. You don’t simply take someone as your mate. It’s just wrong.”
She grimaced. “You wouldn’t understand what a wolf like me would do. You haven’t been desperate enough like me.”
No one would ever understand. Because of her sickness, those who saw her weak looked away with disgust and those who understood showed no compassion. There was only Nathaniel that swept her away and saved her from the world.
“What makes you say that?” Francis raised a brow.
“Because you are a Remmington under the good graces of pack Highcliff. You wouldn’t know prejudice even if faces you.”
He pauses for a moment, calculating his response.
“Let me tell you this, my cousin wouldn’t have left to go and eat if I hadn’t convinced him. If it were other people, he wouldn’t have listened. But he trusts me and he trusts my words. He trusts a Remmington when my uncles and aunts are responsible for the death of his parents.”
“He trusts you because you’re his cousin…that’s the only reason.”
He smiled. “No, he trusts me because he knows what my past is.”
“And how does that correlate to my words?” Katie dared to ask.
“When you say I don’t know what prejudice is or desperation, it makes me want to throttle you.” He darkly murmured. “Because when I was a kid, I was taken away from my home. Raped, beaten, and caged. But do you know what I did to not freeze to death? I hoped that they would come at night so I won’t die from the sheer cold and while I lay on the cobblestone floor, that woman rode me. I remained still knowing that I wasn’t going to sleep alone. So now after hearing this, don’t you dare use desperation as an excuse.”
Katie breathed in sharply. What happened to him was indeed significantly worse than what fell on her. But the circumstances were different and she was nowhere near as strong as him.
She had long since admitted to being a coward. She ran from everything too much to handle for her heart, so afraid about every single thing.
Try as she may, Katie had a very hard time formulating a response.
“I’m telling you this now as a warning.” He suddenly spoke after so much silence. “Your arrival has caused my family to split. Selena and Talon haven’t spoken to each other in two weeks and both of them are hurting because of you. I despise the silence, it makes me deaf and if it worsens, I am prepared to make you suffer. I’ll gouge your eyes out so you can’t see, cut your tongue so you can’t scream, and then finish you off slowly by letting you bleed.”
With overwhelming fear coursing through her veins, she lost control and felt her thighs become saturated with her pee. Francis grins once he draws the reaction he was hoping for.
Her fear-stricken eyes, pale complexion, and trembling body were what brought his satisfaction. Her dam leaking was only an add-on prize.
He stood, walking back to his seat.
All Katie wanted was to cry. While Francis now was far away from her, she still felt the seriousness of his words. He wasn’t toying nor threatening. He was giving his promise that he would mercilessly end her life.
And in a moment filled with despair and hopelessness, clarity flickered in her thoughts and only one thing was on her mind. Is this how Selena felt?