My body vibrated, energy bouncing around like numbered balls in the lotto, suspended and smashing into one other. Wood clamped between my teeth, as I tried to think of something else, anything else. I didn’t sleep the night before, too worked up over what was coming the next day, which probably didn’t help my nerves that were completely shot. No one could tell me what to expect so even though they were telling me that everything would be fine, they didn’t actually know. How could they? They’d never met the Crearer before. It wasn’t exactly a good thing to be visited by the Crearer. And they always spoke of it as an entity, not an individual. Like one would say, the police were coming. What was going on in me right now, no one could help or put at ease.
A large, warm hand slid onto my thigh, putting pressure on it, forcing me to stop bouncing my leg. It was alright, though, the other one was still going strong under my desk. Looking over at Gearden, I saw the sympathy in his eyes, but I didn’t want to talk about it. We were supposed to be listening to whatever Mr. Boyen was saying, but I gave up taking notes fifteen minutes ago.
Chomp. Oh, ugh! I’d bitten into the eraser of my pencil, again. Off and on through the morning my pencil kept making its way in my mouth, like a toddler looking for something to teethe on. Dropping my it, I picked out a bit of pink rubbery stuff off my tongue.
“Calm down,” Gearden soothed in my mind, using the telepathic communication line our mating gave us. At least, he tried. It wasn’t working. He tried all night to help me sleep, put the thoughts of the Crearer out of my mind so I could rest. But we both just ended up sleepless when morning came.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I groused at him. “You don’t have the freaking Lycan secret service coming out to chat with you.”
A wave of caution came over me suddenly, and I turned to see his eyes flash silver before quickly reverting back to his mossy green. “This is anything but easy, for me, Maeleigh. I’m doing all I can to keep my wolf at bay, knowing that my mate could be coming to trial before the boogeymen of our people.”
Dang, when he put it that way. Suddenly, I was more concerned about him than myself— hey, look at that, mission accomplished—and reached down to clasp his hand on my thigh, giving it a squeeze and holding it. “I’m sorry,” I told him.
There wasn’t anything else I could say to help him with that. It was inevitable for him to worry; it was in his nature. The alpha in him didn’t help the drive to protect his mate, even from invisible threats. It just amplified things. We learned before we finalized the mating that his wolf wasn’t a part of him, like the average Lycan’s was, a wild nature that influenced some decisions and came to the forefront when shifted. Instead, his was more of a symbiotic relationship, like mine. Our wolves had different personas, demanded a say in things, sometimes, even when we were in human form. My wolf was a little quieter, though not by much, so I didn’t have to worry like he did to keep himself in check during the day.
With Bri at one last homecoming committee meeting, I knew it would be up to me to keep things from getting out of hand. Trying to calm him, I forced my other leg to freeze, then did some yoga breathing, relaxing the rest of my body. In for the count of six and out to the count of four. In. Out. In…Out… It took about ten sets, but I finally felt the last bit of tension ease out of my muscles. Slowly, I saw the lines between his eyes ease. At least that was something. The last thing we needed was him to lose it at school. If it happened again, I’d be forced to take him home. I knew his worry fed mostly on mine, so I made an effort to distract him. Distract us both, more like. Leaning over, I kissed him softly on the mouth, holding there as we both relished the feel of one another. When he sighed against my cheek, I pulled back, resting my forehead on his shoulder. He pecked me on the temple and then pulled me back. “Mr. Boyen.” He warned.
Glancing up, I noticed that our teacher was watching us with an annoyed expression. “Sorry, Mr. Boyen,” I apologized. Looking to Lisa, I signed, “WON’T HAPPEN AGAIN.”
Mr. Boyen didn’t reply, just switched his glare to Gearden before turning to continue his lecture. I kept my grip on Gearden’s hand the remaining thirty minutes of class and pulled him along into the hallway when the bell rang. We had the next class together as well, but I needed a snack. My nerves were getting the best of me and that cereal bar I ate this morning was already burning off. Hitting the vending machines, I selected a power bar, knowing it was going to be tasteless cardboard, but at least it would keep my stomach from revolting.
Peeling it open, I took a hearty bite. He was glaring at someone across the quad when I held it out to him and asked, “Want some?”
Slowly, he dragged his eyes away from whatever it was that caught his attention to eye the offensive snack. He gave a disgusted shake of the head and reached for my other hand as he led the way to class.
Bri met up with us at lunch, and I was thankful I had someone to help me keep Gearden grounded. The more effort I put into keeping my muscles relaxed and my mind on the teacher during the last class, the more my body felt worn out. It was exhausting being calm.
“HOW’S HE DOING?” She signed to me, tipping her chin towards her best friend. As his beta, and lifelong friend, she knew more than anyone how to keep him in check.
Though her sign was coming along, much faster than I expected, I still spoke aloud as I signed back. “So-so. I’m trying to stay calm, but he still seems to be on edge.”
She nodded, seemingly unsurprised. Being Gearden’s best friend, she probably had a good idea of what was happening in that mind of his. We both knew that there really was no alleviating the strain his wolf was putting on him though. As long as the unknown of the Cearer’s visit remained, his wolf would be on high alert to protect me, his mate.
“WANT TO GO DRESS SHOPPING LATER?” She asked me, signing mostly in individual letters to get the message across.
I signed “YES,” hoping she wasn’t going to take me to some super classy dress shop. Since I’d been staying with Gearden’s family, I hadn’t exactly had the opportunity to ask Mom or Dad for money for anything. I only just started talking with mom again, and she’d recently moved into a small two-bedroom apartment. She made it clear that I was welcome to move in with her, but that her and Dad were having a break. I guess we both needed our own kind of break from Dad. He didn’t exactly make either of us warm and fuzzy with all his lies and omissions. It might be time for me to get a job. It was kind of hard for someone like me to get hired, in general. The fact that we now lived in a smaller town, didn’t exactly help matters much. Sure, there were non-discriminate laws in place to protect me but that doesn’t mean I would even make it to the interview process if word made it up to the right person. My application could magically disappear or get lost in some random person’s mountainous inbox.
Still, I’d try to find something. I couldn’t expect Gearden’s parents to cover stuff like fancy dresses.
Excited, I could swear I saw stars light up behind her eyes. She may be the pack’s beta enforcer in training, but she certainly had a thing for shopping. “Ok, let’s go tonight. We can—”
Like a Debbie downer, I stopped her there. “CAN’T. First night of training with her majesty.”
She scrunched up her nose and peered at me with a lot of words behind the silent glare she gave me. Though, I didn’t get the feeling the look was for me specifically. More like it was for the Unseelie queen herself, raining on her shopping parade.
“Tomorrow?” I suggested hopefully.
Slowly, Bri’s obvious disdain turned to one of reservation. She couldn’t quite argue with responsibility. I’d made a deal with the faerie queen, and it was deadly to negate on it, or so I’d been warned. Dad had told me the faerie were sneaky and very literal. I wondered if that meant my sarcasm would just breeze right over her head or if I’d find myself walking funny at the end of the day.
“Any word on the Cearer?” I asked her
“No. Dad just knows they left Wales yesterday. They weren’t very forthcoming on travel details.”
I considered how long it would take to fly from there. “So, they should be here already, then, right?”
Bri bit into a bruised apple she’d pulled out from the depths of her backpack. I eyed it wearily, wondering how long that poor thing had been in there. She shrugged.
She might be the enforcer in training, but she was a far cry from spy quality. Which was ok, because we had Ro for that, apparently. He’d been on queen detail since she left the O’Connell house that day after we rescued Jerry’s family from the Westboros. Where she insisted that she train me to unlock my druid, or fae as she called it, powers and I countered that she trains Caleb, too. If anything, he’d be able to tell me if she was training me something dangerous or not. Which I was pretty sure was all she intended to teach me. Danu hadn’t gone into details, but she did tell me I was different from the other druid and the next moment I made a pile of stone turn into piping hot missiles, or, as I’d like to call them, fireballs.
Which reminded me. Turning, I placed my hand on Gearden’s thigh to get his attention. He was deep in conversation with Caleb and held a finger up to pause the younger boy. Turning, he smiled down at me.
“What is it?” He asked, his voice like a stroke to my nerves that sent an unexpected shiver through my system. I closed my eyes as I rode the wave and when my body eased back to normal, I opened them to find Gearden wearing the most satisfied expression I’d ever seen. I didn’t bother denying it either, seeing as how a blush painted my cheeks and warmed my ears for all to see.
“I have training with the queen today,” I reminded him.
But he just nodded, not seeing where I was going, apparently. “Do you think that’s a good idea what with the Cearer’s arrival and all?”
He considered it, then shook his head. “It should be fine. The queen is aware of the Cearer. Neither has jurisdiction over the other.”
“So, it’s alright if the Cearer know what I can do? Are we going to tell them what I am?”
Ah, yes, there it was. I can tell know from the dumbfounded look on his face, that he hadn’t considered that. It was one thing for the queen of faerie to know who and what I could do, as it was impossible to keep it from her, seeing as it was her people’s prophecy, and it was a whole other for the lycan enforcers to learn of it. After all, depending on which side you asked, I was either a welcomed prophecy or a damning one.
According to it, I would be able to lead the three sects that had separated and evolved to the Lycans, vampires and druids, back to their original people, the Faerie. To some, that could mean the end of their culture. To others, it’s a renewal of one.
“I’ll talk to Dad,” Gearden said, pulling out his phone and climbing out from the picnic table we were at, making his way to a quieter area where he could talk to Liam away from the crowd.
Looking back over to Brianna just in time to see her bite into the pitiful apple, I cringed. She didn’t notice though, and just licked a droplet of juice at the corner of her lips. I tapped a finger on her arm, regaining her attention, telling her in both sign and aloud. “GEARDEN IS GOING TO TALK TO LIAM. I’M NOT SURE IT’S A GOOD IDEA FOR THE CEARER TO KNOW WHAT I CAN DO.”
“BUT HOW ARE YOU GOING TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN YOU AND VIC?” She pointed out.
“I’LL HAVE TO DOWNPLAY IT.”
“THESE GUYS AREN’T DUMB, MAELEIGH. AND THEY AREN’T PEOPLE YOU WANT TO MESS WITH.”
The conversation was slow with how much we each had to annunciate what we were saying, both in sign as well as verbal. She had a point, too.
I would just have to figure out what was the lesser evil. The Cearer learning what I could do and possibly painting a new target on my back or keeping to an outrageous lie and risk a different target entirely.
“UNTIL WE FIGURE OUT IF WE CAN TRUST THEM NOT TO START SOMETHING, I’M JUST A REGULAR WOLF LIKE YOU AND THE REST OF THE PACK,” I told her.
She nodded. It was the best plan we had and, again, we would risk an entirely new enemy coming to the surface if they learned I was the prophesied person the Faerie, Vampires and Druids had told tales about for centuries.
Bri took another bite of her apple and I turned away, a disgusted look curling up my lip. Gearden returned then. “So?” I asked him.
He looked weary, which didn’t exactly make me feel warm inside. “I spoke with Dad, and he agreed, at least for the time being.”
Yeah, I knew there was a shoe somewhere that was about to be thrown down with a resounding thud. “But…”
Sighing, externally and internally, he told me, “But… he wasn’t able to reach the queen.”
My mind stuttered at that bit of info. “How can the Selena, queen of the unseelie, the silver haired enchantress—”
“Maeleigh, careful, she might—”
I continued over him, “Not be reachable?”
If looks could kill, I could burn on the spot form the warning I saw in his gaze. “Be careful! Powerful fae are known to have power in just their name.”
“And yet,” I eyed him dubiously. “She can’t answer her damn phone.”
He frowned at me, but I ignored him.
“Great. So now I have to play with a double-edged sword of crap,” I grumbled. He let me stew about it, thankfully, which I seemed to need. There wasn’t much to be happy about lately. Save for our recent mating, that is. And suddenly, my poor mood faded away with thoughts of his warm caresses along my ultrasensitive skin and the penetrating kisses he peppered on me from my lips to my toes. A shudder ran through me as Luna gave a satisfied rumble in the back of my mind.
I must have kicked off a new scent, because, just then, Gearden pressed his body into mine to burrow his nose into my shoulder where his mark lay under my shirt. His wolf’s bite was a little higher and peeked out from the collar now and then, but so far, no one had noticed, or dared to ask about it. I found that I rarely found myself socializing with humans, nowadays. Probably because I no longer felt human. I guess I never was, really. Which made for an easier time when it came to my relationship with Gearden, my mate. Everyone knew we were paired, and everyone knew not to question the marks on my body.
I nuzzled into his shoulder too, the need to take his scent in as strong as ever Sandalwood and fresh rain in the forest, it was specific only to him, I would know it anywhere.
He moved slightly, and his lips were on my neck, his hand pulling aside my shirt, giving himself access to the marks. He jerked when someone tapped him on the shoulder then, making me jump back, too. Bri, telling us the bell had rang, time to make our way to the locker rooms.
Later, when we arrived at the house, I walked straight to Liam’s office. Without preamble, I strode through the open doorway, asking, “Any word?”
Calm amusement flickered over his face as he sat back in his chair to watch me. “From whom are you meaning?”
I didn’t see the danger in his eyes that contradicted his features. Not at first, anyway. “Anyone? Cearer? Queen?”
“No,” he told me.
His answer wasn’t satisfactory for Luna and I wasn’t quick enough to tamp down a growl that gurgled up from my throat. The moment I felt it, I jerked back, contrite, “I’m sorry!” Though, that wasn’t enough for the alpha in him. Slowly, he stood to his full height and glowered down at me. I could feel the wave of his strength come over me, forcing a whimper to leech out from me. Turn your head, show your throat, Luna said, then chanted over and over rapidly.
But I didn’t. I was scared yes, and sorry, most definitely, but I refused to show my inferiority.
It didn’t make sense, but something else inside me screamed at me not to succumb. That my apology was enough and I didn’t need to bow down to someone.
He’s alpha, Luna abolished.
We’re equals, I answered, the revelation coming from the depths of my mind that held my magic. I couldn’t explain it. It was as if whatever source my magic came from, it also housed another persona. Which was just great. Weren’t the mood swings once a month punishment enough? I didn’t just have Crazy Luna to deal with, anymore, there was a whole new player offering its opinions.
Movement caught my eye and I turned to watch Gearden stride into the room, halting when he picked up on what was happening. His dad, still on the other side of his desk, had lowered his chin to stare at me from under darkened eyes, shadowed by thick frowning eyebrows. His lip ticked up as he showed his canine that grew before my eyes.
The next second, Gearden leaped for me, eating up the distance between us in a heartbeat, to stand in front of me, shielding me from his alpha, from his father.