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Chapter 6

Lily

Well past midnight, we crept through the dark, eerie forest, trying our best to keep to the shadows. It was important to leave very little scent behind. Thick undergrowth surrounded us, scraping and brushing against skin and clothes as we moved. Single file. A trail of shadows. Cassius up front, Axel at the rear.

Ferns, moss and thick bushes covered the earth, creating a shadowy backdrop to the scene we found ourselves in. It was quiet-peaceful, almost. Tiny glowing eyes of night-time creatures followed us, moving at the same pace we were until they too disappeared behind leafy greens. Not a single creature stirred as we passed.

The smell of earth and mould swaddled us in a familiar blanket of pleasant woodsy smells. Home. It smelled like home. I inhaled, greedily pulling the essence of the forest into my lungs and relished the giddiness of anticipation building in my stomach. I knew what was waiting for us up ahead, or rather, who.

The narrow, hidden footpath lead us deeper into the belly of darkness. We were going to ‘The Lair’, our usual meeting place. It was nothing special. A basic clearing in the woods with a few fallen tree trunks, nestled amongst trees and, most importantly, situated in the unclaimed space between our two packs. We moved swiftly and quietly through the dark, staying close and keeping our senses focused, more so than usual after the rumours of recent killings. Nothing seemed out of place. There were no foreign scents, no footprints or other markings in the soil. Everybody seemed at ease. Typical nocturnal sounds surrounded the group. Crickets, owls and other critters floated around us in natural harmony; music to any wolf’s ears. It calmed my soul, filled me with peace and awe for the forest and everything that lived in it.

By the time we arrived at the lair, our friends from Shadow Creek already waited. I smiled, looking upon the discreet little fire they had built in the middle of the clearing, its flames and smoke smothered by the large trees looming over us. It looked cosy, welcoming. As soon as I stepped out of the underbrush and into the light, I found myself in Raiden’s awaiting embrace. He pulled me against his chest as though it was second nature to him and immediately nuzzled my hair. I closed my eyes, melting into his warmth. Home, I thought again and sighed deeply, his scent a wave of familiarity.

Raiden pulled us to the side, making space for the rest of the wolves to exit the forest behind us. We’d been blocking the path, but I didn’t care. All I cared about was Ray’s touch as he slid his hand gently up and down my back. He smelled of campfire, mint and something woodsy I couldn’t quite place. His warmth seeped into me; I wanted to have him all to myself.

“Glad to see everyone made it.” Gunner’s powerful voice pulled me out of my little bubble.

I looked up and found Ray already staring down at me, his features set in a look of wonder. “Hi,” he said, the dimple on his left cheek deepening.

Warmth crept up my neck at the sight of it. It was so rare to see even a glimpse of it. Raiden never liked his dimples. He’d been teased about it endlessly as a pup, his authority as future Alpha often undermined by his enchanting facial features. I smiled, bringing my hand up and brushing a thumb over the indent. “Hi.”

His calloused hand slided over to cover mine where it cupped his cheek. Raiden brought my hand to his mouth, turning it over and pressed a soft kiss to the centre of my palm. Butterflies filled my stomach, excitement bubbling from within.

The last of the Hollow Stone wolves exited the forest, their voices mixing with those of Shadow Creek’s. Ray kept his eyes on me, his lips pressed to my palm. “I missed you,” he whispered, the softness of his lips tickling my skin.

“I missed you more.” He smiled, both dimples popping out, making their existence known.

Axel moved past us, clearing his throat loudly, “alright guys, leave the soppy shit for when you’re alone,” he grumbled, waving a lazy hand in the air.

I shook my head, my gaze following him where he plopped down next to a pretty girl from Shadow Creek. Axel’s behaviour didn’t faze Ray in the slightest. He was used to my brother by now. The two of them got along just fine, although Axel hadn’t opened up to Ray yet. He didn’t allow anyone to get close to him, not as close as Cassius and I got. Axel had always had a brick wall around his heart. I didn’t know what had made him build it, but I knew that he was vulnerable underneath. He got hurt easily and kept everyone out to protect himself. Ray squeezed my hand, lowering it and guided us closer to the fire. Gunnar patted a fallen trunk beside him and moved up, making space for us to sit next to him.

“Welcome Luna, it’s about time you lot showed up,” he said, handing me cider I didn’t recognize.

Ray’s arm curled around my shoulder, pulling me closer. “Don’t mind him, we didn’t wait that long,” he murmured into my ear and his breath brushed against the side of my neck, sending a lovely wave of tingles down my spine. Conversation picked up around the fire and everyone got comfortable with a drink in hand, compliments of Shadow Creek. Tonight was their turn to provide beverages.

Although the lair was quite a distance from Hollow Stone’s border, we preferred travelling in our human forms for social gatherings such as these. After all, nothing made a get-together awkward faster than a bunch of naked people sitting around for a casual chat. It’s not like we couldn’t handle the distance anyway; we covered greater distances during our weekly training sessions in both wolf and human form.

Because of that, I’ve never seen Raiden, nor any other Shadow Creek wolf, in their wolf-form. According to Gunnar, Ray was a larger than usual, light-brown wolf with a dark face and back. I had pictured him in my mind many times, but couldn’t wait for us to come of age so our wolves could finally meet.

Not only would they be able to meet then, but we could be bonded for all eternity. I mean, if he was my fated mate. I knew there was a chance that he might not be, but I couldn’t bear letting my mind linger on the subject. Raiden was the first boy I’ve ever loved. I needed him to be the last. It was like his soul called to mine, intertwining our very beings. I couldn’t imagine anyone else being my mate. It was him, I was sure of it; it had to be.

I craved his presence and knew he felt the same. I hoped it would stay that way, or rather, intensify once Raiden turned eighteen. He would be the first to realise since he was older. Soon, his feelings for me would either be reinforced when the mate bond snapped into place, or I would be left behind, shattered. I sighed beside him on the stump, my mind made numb by the irrational thought that we might soon be separated.

As though he sensed my worries, Raiden turned his attention away from Gunnar, bent down and placed a lingering kiss on top of my head. The gesture was sweet; exactly what I needed to calm my troubled heart. His scent surrounded me, the warmth of his hands on my body turning me to putty. I melted into him as we listened to the ongoing chatter and laughter of our friends, unaware of what lurked in the shadows.

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