The house is located in the centre of the Silver Mountain territory. A fact I am grateful for, because it saves us from having to run further. Blake and my house is located on the very edge of the town, and although it is still well within the pack grounds it is the furthest anyone lives from the alpha family.
I follow behind Arrow as she darts towards her parents. Behind me, gravel shifts and when I turn I see Blake jogging from the forest, tugging a sweater on. Arrow and Rowan shift and head inside the second we hit the porch. I stick to my fur, and Ryker does the same although I know the reason he doesn't shift is because he can't; his wolf is still very much in control. He nods his head to the door that Rowan is still holding open, and I carefully climb the steps.
I know they are expecting me to shift, but I'm not ready to do so where they can see. I'd be totally naked- my clothes torn into shreds on my hallway floor-and I'm not ready for them to see the physical scars from my time with Seth.
Although the scars had faded when I shifted for the first time, they would still be plainly visible to the sharp eyes of werewolves.
They've seen the pictures....my wolf reminds me. I push her away, focusing on walking forwards.
But its different, seeing a picture and seeing the skin.
And knowing that, knowing they would see the marks and possibly realze the true extent of my torture, makes it impossible to risk shifting anywhere close to them when I have the control.
"Arrow," I call into her mind. She turns towards me to let me know she is listening. "Can I borrow some clothes?" She nods and bounds up the stairs, while I focus on anything other than her naked body.
20 minutes later, everyone is dressed and seated around the living room. The alpha had called in Beta Deacon and Gamma King to join us.
I tug again on the shirt that Arrow had given me. The neckline is too low for my liking, but every time I tug it up the bottom rises and my stomach shows.The pants she'd given me arethankfully bigger. They might have been capri pants on her, but on me they covered all the way down to my ankle. I had wanted to ask for a different shirt, but didn't want to seem ungrateful. So I just continue to sit, uncomfortable and embarrassed. I tug again at the neckline, my nerves making it easier for me to focus on the skimpy shirt over everything going on around me.
"What happened?" Luna Cardinal breaks the silence.
My eyes snap up to meet his, before I lower my gaze to the floor and fold my hands in my lap. I hear someone step forward. I glance up to see Blake moving back to his seat from where he'd handed the package to Alpha Cardinal. His husband leans into him, eyes searching the box.
I hadn't even realized that Blake had brought the box with us, but it made sense. They would need to see it.
My jaw clenches as I realize that they were about to be exposed to even more of my tragedies.
Nothing like physical proof to make the pity grow, I think to myself.
I feel Ryker's gentle caress in my mind, and I relax a little more into my seat. I feel almost happy that he is pushing kind thoughts into my head, and I return the favor, hoping that it might help his anger. I feel his shoulders relax just slightly.
The alpha couple each look at the contents before passing the box to their right, so the Beta can look. Once he has seen, he passes it to the Gamma. Each one gains a stormy look across their face as the contents of the box are exposed.
"That was dropped on our front porch. No one was around or walked up the driveway. It's like it dropped out of the sky." Blake rumbles. I clench my jaw. I feel a surge of anger, but again recognize it as Ryker's, not my own. I flick my eyes to where he is seated beside me, still in his wolf form.
I wish he would come closer. It would make me feel more... secure. When he touches me, it makes me feel like the world might stop for a while so I can catch up. I think again how odd it is that I seem to crave Ryker's touch, when everyone else repulses me.
The second that the thought floats into my brain, he shifts towards me. He flicks his eyes up to me and then lets out a whine. He licks his lips, pressing his nose to my arms. I raise my eyebrow at him in confusion.
"Lift up your hands." He whispers into my mind. I furrow my brows before doing what he asked. The second there is space between my hands and my lap, his massive head presses in. He rests his jaw on my thighs, and I shiver at the feel of his fur brushing against the slit of skin visible at the bottom of my shirt.
"Better." He breathes. I shake my head at him. He glances at me with one eye, before drifting both eyelids shut.
I feel him focusing more on his breathing, and with every breath I feel his anger get more under control.
Carefully, I lay my hands down onto his head. Without thinking I start petting him, twirling my fingers between his fur. He groans and I feel my face flush.
I can hear the others start talking again, but I am too focused on the feeling of Ryker. Everywhere we touch feels like fireworks. With every moment that he relaxes more against me, I feel myself relaxing into him.
We begin breathing in unison, and I notice that my heartbeat slows to match his. I open my eyes when someone clears their throat and blush a deeper red when I realize that it is a smirking Alpha Cardinal that is trying to get my attention.
"S-Sorry..." I breathe. I brush through Ryker's fur again, seeking comfort. Alpha Cardinal smiles brightly at me and then shakes his head.
"It's quite alright dear. I was just asking about how they would have got these?" He jerks his head at the box. I bite my lip and think back, feeling myself tense up again. Ryker brushes into my mind again, and I run my fingers through his fur in thanks.
"T-the police cut them off of me w-when they found me.... Blake told me t-they left them there, but I always imagined they were in the e-evidence locker with the p-police." My voice is weak. I focus on stroking through as much of Ryker's fur as I can reach.
Alpha Cardinal nods. "I don't know how they would have gotten them from either place. It's my understanding that the place you were held has been demolished." I nod, and bite my lip.
"W-why does it matter?" I question. Alpha Cardinal smiles at me, and my breath catches at the nervousness I see behind it.
"It just might help us figure out what secrets exactly he has up his sleeves..."
I furrow my brows. "What do you mean?" He smiles again at me.
"Well Arrow told us that back at the house, Ryker said Seth" I flinch at the name "called you his mate?" I frown and glance down at Ryker.
"Yeah.... I w-was sharing my memory from w-when I woke up after I was k-kidnapped, trying to remember past the p-pain in my head, and he suddenly exploded into his wolf...." I trail off. Luna Cardinal leans over to his husband and whispers in his ear, too low for me to pick up. He smiles down at him in return, nodding his head.
"So there was something in your memory that Ryker saw.... Son I think you might need to explain." He glances down at the wolf in my lap, and he sighs before turning his head towards me. I yelp as his cold nose brushes my exposed stomach, but he ignores the sound. He takes in two deep breaths before reluctantly pulling himself away from me.
"I'll be back." He pushes into my mind. I nod at him and then he turns and stalks out of the room.
I feel him shift the second he is out of my view, and I blush as my wolf tries to force me to my feet to follow him. I feel his dark chuckle pass through my mind, and I scowl, realizing that he can feel my wolf fighting me for control. I try to put my walls back up, but it causes a searing pain to the back of my skull as I try to sever the connection between me and Ryker.
I feel him shake his head. "It's not that easy..." he breathes into my mind. I shiver. "If you really want, I'll help you cut the connection, but in all honesty I think we need to keep it, at least for now...." he trails off. I furrow my brows. "Why?" I feel him smile. "The only reason I'm human right now is your presence in my mind. Take it away and..." "you'll go wolf again?" "Exactly. And I think it's better if I explain what I saw in your mind." I sigh before accepting.
"Ok. We can keep the connection..... for now." He smiles and then enters the room. I blush at the sight of his naked chest. Thankfully, he is wearing a pair of low hanging jeans.
"Andy was remembering the first moments that she was conscious in the cellar." He starts as he walks over to me. He frowns down at me, and I stare back. He sighs and shakes his head before sinking down to the floor, to rest his back against my legs. I feel like he is annoyed with me, but I can't figure out why. I hadn't called Seth my mate, whatever that was. He shakes his head at me. "I thought you'd get up is all.." he breathes into my mind Before focusing back on his father. I narrow my eyes, confused. I feel my face flush bright red again as I realize that he'd wanted to sit in the chair I was sitting in, possibly with me in his lap. Ryker chuckles into my mind again and I glare at the back of his head.
"She was in a lot of pain, and her memories were fuzzy.. When I started listening in, her wolf pointed me in the right direction. She remembered the conversation.... He was talking to Steven on the other side of the pipes, where she couldn't see him. And he said that she was the light of his life, the key to him unlocking his full potential. And Steven asked him why he was doing this.... " He shudders and I reach down to brush my fingers through his hair. It feels different than his fur, and I find myself enjoying the sensation. I can feel through our connection he is as well. He clears his throat.
"He said, 'no one is going to stop me from claiming my mate.'" Alpha Cardinal frowns and pulls his husband tighter to his side. "Did he say anything else?"
"Not that she remembers. She passed out from the pain. He likely kept talking to Steven but we can never know for sure."
"Why would he call her his mate?" Beta Deacon questions. "That is strictly a wolf connection.." I frown in confusion, but don't voice it.
"I'm not sure. During the trial, he smelt nothing but human." Blake explains. Ryker sighs and reaches up to grab my hand from his hair. He twines his fingers with mine and I tighten the grip. His anger that had spiked again while recounting my memories fades the tiniest bit.
"I'm not sure what's happening, but I know what he said." "B-but what if I heard wrong..." I breathe. All eyes flick to me. I shrug and focus on the feeling of Ryker's hand in my own.
"I m-mean I didn't even remember it. Ryker saw it in my memory. I h-had to focus so hard because of the p-pain...." Ryker shakes his head.
"It was there. You don't use words like 'Mate' especially back then. You didn't know it as anything other than a British word. And although you were focusing on the pain..." he winces, no doubt remembering the feel of the memory. "It wasn't all that your dormant wolf was aware of." I frown down at him.
"W-What do you mean?" He sighs. "Although you hadn't shifted yet, your wolf was still a part of you. And she was alert enough to remember things that you couldn't." I nod and focus on Alpha Cardinal as he begins to speak.
"We need to look into Seth's family history." He orders. I wince at the casual use of his name. "He might have had some knowledge of our kind, through some remote connection. Leave no stone left unturned. We need to find out what he was thinking, so that maybe we can get ahead of what he's going to do next." He sighs and rubs his hands together before turning to look at both Blake and I.
"I think it might be best if the two of you move in here, just while we figure out what Seth's plan is." I clench my jaw, nerves racing over me. Alpha Cardinal sighs, no doubt sensing my discomfort.
"It will only be temporary. And it's just to keep you safe."
Arrow moves into my line of sight. "Andy, you're so far out there that it's easy for anyone to slip in and out, unnoticed. Just look at that delivery today... if there had been a patrol out..." she frowns. "I think dad's right. You at least need to stay here, where there's guards and defences." I sigh before giving a single nod. I don't like that I'm not going to be able to sleep at all until this thing is over, but I do understand where they are coming from.
Blake sighs. When I turn to look at him he gives me a weak smile. "I'll just miss home." He explains with a shrug. I frown, not liking the sadness and frustration I can plainly read in his eyes but knowing there is nothing I can really do about it.
"Ok. Then we'll get your stuff and you can have the guest room upstairs. Just until Seth isn't a big question mark anymore. Blake, you can stay in the safe house next door, if that works?" Alpha Cardinal smiles. Blake nods and follows the beta out of the house, showing him to the house. Everyone nods before standing up. I bite my lip, curiosity and confusion pushing up.
"Alpha..." I call. He pauses and turns his attention back to me.
"W-what's a mate?"
Everyone freezes. I feel Ryker's eyes burning a hole in the side of my head, and the feeling of wariness creeps over me.
Alpha Cardinal smiles at me, and steps closer. "Why don't we talk in my office?" I nod and stand up. I feel Ryker push to his feet beside me.
"Not you, son. Just Andy." Ryker whines. I turn to him, and offer him a small smile. His eyes are liquid gold again. He looks like he wants to say something, but before he can open his mouth his dad calls for my attention once again.
"Come on then, Andy." I manage to tear myself away from Ryker's eyes, and I follow the alpha back to his office.
Once we are settled in the same chairs I had told him all about my misfortune in, he starts offering me drinks and snacks.
"N-no thank you sir. " I whisper. He smiles at me.
"I'm not quite sure where to start with this particular issue, I'm afraid." He wrings his hands together in front of him. "Normally, wolves know everything about being a wolf by the time that they're ready to shift." I nod, encouraging him.
"So you know the structure of the pack, and what it means to be a wolf. You know that your wolf is a part of you, that you can heal faster, move faster, that you're stronger and have better vision." He pauses and tugs at the base of his braid, looking thoughtful.
"I guess I'll explain the basics of mates...." I nod, excited to finally lose this confusion.
"In our histories, everything traces back to the same tribes. You remember the story of the first werewolves?" I nod and he smiles at me. "Good. Years after the chief and his pack were given the ability to shift, other wolves were born. He passed his genes down, and the moon goddess blessed other warriors with the same gift. The packs grew, but as they did other problems arised. Female wolves were rarely born, and human women were scared of the more animalistic natures of the wolves. With more and more male wolves being made, there grew to be a shortage of suitable partners for the wolves. Because of this, the men started fighting- an all out war was decreed between two tribes because of it. The great granddaughter of the first werewolf had been born a shifter and every male wolf wanted to tie themselves to her. Her opinion meant little to the wolves, because they were all stubborn and pigheaded- much like the men of today." He pauses to wink at me and I laugh. "Eventually, the fighting got so bad that the Moon Goddess was forced to step in to stop them from slaughtering each other."
"W-what did she do?" He smiles. "She went to the wolf, and asked her who her choice was. The Moon Goddess is very wise, you see, and knew that the woman was already in love with someone. The girl pointed out the wolf she loved. The Moon Goddess was pleased with her choice, because he was the perfect half to make the wolf into a whole. They complimented each other perfectly, so the Moon Goddess tied their souls together. In that instance, she got the idea for perfectly designed mates."
"The Moon Goddess cried out to stop the fighting, and when the last wolf turned to her she announced the new couple and gave them her blessing. The male wolf was ecstatic, for he had been in love with her since childhood. They walked off together and lived happily until the end of time."
"And t-the other wolves?" He smiles. "They were all disappointed. One asked the Moon Goddess how she could pick that male when there were so many others. She smiled at him and told him that she had a perfect match picked for every wolf, and they would meet them when the time was right. She promised that each wolf had a specially crafted soul that was meant for them and that there would be no more fighting for mates. The wolves agreed to her terms, and eventually she disappeared again. She crafted the first mates from humans- there were so many more of them. She picked the best match for each of her wolves, and then set up a plan for how each one would meet their mate. It took some time, but eventually they did. And when they met those mates... nothing more sacred or wonderful had ever been felt. This connection was the best gift the Moon Goddess had ever given to her children. They brought peace, and serenity, love and happiness to each other, and as more wolves met their matches the strife felt by their communities lessened."
"Wow.." I breathe again. He smiles wider at me.
"The wolves were blessed by the Moon Goddess, and that blessing has been passed down through the generations to us. It is our most sacred history, and something every wolf reveers."
"And e-every wolf has a mate?" He nods and folds his hands in front of him on his desk.
"Every one." I nod, getting lost in thought.
So because I'm a wolf, I must have one....
"T-tell me more." I beg. Alpha Cardinal laughs.
"Every wolf has the opportunity to go out into the world and find their mate. There are special traditions and opportunities to help make sure that every wolf finds their fated match." "D-does that mean every w-wolf finds their mate?" His face falls. "Most do. The rare pair never meets, but it is one in a billion. There are special groups to help introduce these mateless wolves to one another."
I nod. It seems sad that some would never meet their mates, but it's nice to know that most wolves would.
"H-how do you know you've met your mate?" I question. His smile comes back brighter.
"Once a wolf has shifted, they can find their mate at any time. There's a few signs. The smell of your mate is absolutely intoxicating. The touch of their skin on yours is like fire, or electricity. And when you look into their eyes for the first time, the entire world falls away. Nothing else in life matters, for your soul is finally complete...." he trails off and his smile turns dreamy. He must be thinking of his own mate, and their first meeting.
"Luna Cardinal is y-your mate, right?" He focuses back on me.
"Yes, he is. We met when we were in our twenties- he was working as a waiter in a cafe in town. He'd come this way for college, but wanted to stay near a pack.. I walked in for lunch with my parents and just knew...He was the most beautiful person in the whole world...." he trails off again. I smile back at him. He shakes himself before turning serious.
"Mates are a great blessing, Andy. Something one should not take lightly, or push aside. That's something I try to impart on all that I come across. Mates are sacred. The connection we share is unexplainable, and if it's lost... There are no words to explain the suffering." I nod, solemn.
Suddenly, the outrage everyone had felt at Seth calling me his mate makes sense. I frown down at the desk and fold my hands together, nervous.
"H-he couldn't be my... my mate?" I whisper. I hadn't wanted to ask the question, but part of me needed to- to know for sure.
Alpha's eyes widen.
"No!" He cries. I swipe my tongue across my lip, air slowly being allowed back into my lungs. "No, I know for a fact that he isn't your mate." I frown deeper and look up at him.
"How c-can you be sure? If only s-shifted wolves can f-find their mate..." He shakes his head. "Andy I promise you, he has no claim to you. And even if he did, if the Moon Goddess had made a huge mistake and tied you to him, you wouldn't have to be with him."
I frown. "B-but you said mates are s-sacred, that not b-being with them causes unimaginable s-suffering." He nods. "That's true, it does. But no one would blame you for walking away from Seth. And it doesn't matter anyways, because he's not your mate."
"H-how do you know?" I whisper. He smiles. "I just do. Trust me." I swallow past the lump in my throat and nod. He smiles.
"Do you have any other questions?" I chew on my lip, thinking for a moment.
"N-no, I don't think so...."
"Ok."He nods his head towards the door. "You can go and join my children. I'm sure they're waiting anxiously for you." I smile at him and stand, getting ready to leave his office.
He calls out to me before I pull the door open. "Andy..." I turn back to him. "Don't get too.... overwhelmed. Even if things seem... overwhelming. Everything will work out, and we ALL will protect you from everything. No one will hurt you again." He smiles at me before looking down at his desk and shuffling through some paperwork. I turn and exit the office.
My senses flood with the delicious smell of the woods, of oak trees and thunderstorms and sunshine and I glance around to try to locate the man I know is standing somewhere nearby.
Ryker is standing just outside of the door. I trace my eyes along his massive form starting at his tree trunk legs. I trace my way up his body, feeling butterflies flutter in my stomach with every muscle I find. I follow his massive chest up to his sharp jaw, and up along his nose until my eyes lock with his.
He smiles down at me, and I find myself getting lost in his eyes once again. I feel him reach out towards me, and the second that his fingers lace with my own I gasp. I feel embarrassment and stupidity wash over me as everything clicks. Sparks dance along my fingers, and everywhere he touches me feels alive and tingly. His eyes melt into liquid gold once again, and I feel my own shining back in response.
My wolf howls, finally having a word to put to the feelings Ryker brings up in me. My world spins, my
breathing quickens, and everything in my life shifts.
Everything in the world shifts.
Ryker gasps beside me, feeling the same things that I am. My heart stutters as I step closer to him, pressing my chest against his. Instantly the same sparks dance along every inch of my skin and I shudder against him. My eyes flutter shut and I know his do the same. He rests his forehead against mine and takes in a deep steadying breath.
"Mate." He growls out, voice thick. I shiver and press myself closer.
"Mate." I whisper back.