A year ago, I never could have imagined this.
But that’s the thing… a lot can happen in a year.
I met my mate and fell in love.
I nearly died.
I became a wolf.
And as insignificant as it seems compared to all of that, I graduated high school.
I also got engaged to the most wonderful man.
I close my eyes and envision his face before me. His blue eyes, chocolate brown hair, and the adorable scruff that always covers his cheeks.
I take a deep breath and finger the white material clinging to my body.
This is it.
The day all girls dream of.
Despite the nervous butterflies flooding my tummy, a smile spreads across my face.
I know that no matter what, Caeden, is it for me.
He’s my mate.
This had to be some cruel, sick, joke. My jaw opened and closed, and my eyes were bugged out. I knew I looked like a demented fish but I couldn’t stop my reaction.
“What?” I gasped, hoping my ears had mistaken what Caeden said. He couldn’t have possibly said that, could he?
He closed his eyes, and flinched as if in pain. “Travis isn’t dead.”
I jumped up from the settee. “No, no, no, no, no!”
“Sophie, please sit down,” he said softly.
“I can’t sit down! Are you crazy! He’s still out there, Caeden! He’s been out there for months and you didn’t tell me!” Anger bubbled up in my chest and I clenched my fists. “Why didn’t you tell me, Caeden!?”
He buried his face in his hands. “I’m ashamed.”
“Well, I’m angry!”
“You have every right to be mad at me.”
“You’re damn right, I do.”
He flinched. I never cussed. Ever.
“Do the others know?” I crossed my arms over my chest and stared him down.
“No,” he breathed.
I paced the room, at a loss for words. Finally, I came to a decision. I stood in front of him and held out my hand. He looked up at me with a question in his eyes.
“Give me your keys,” I hissed out, opening and closing my hands in a ‘gimme’ maneuver.
“What?” His brow furrowed. “You can’t just leave!”
“I need to get out of here… I need to get away from you,” I whispered.
He flinched as if my words had cut him with a knife. I had never seen Caeden look so hurt before but I was too pissed to care.
“I need to get away from you,” I repeated, “before I do something I’ll regret.”
“Don’t leave me,” he pleaded.
“If you don’t hand me the keys right now, Caeden, so help me God, I’ll do something reckless and stupid.”
He dug around in his pocket and tossed me the keys.
“How long will you be gone?”
“As long as I need to be.”
I was almost out of the master bedroom when he whispered, “I love you.”
I closed my eyes and heaved a sigh. “I’ll be back.”
I stomped down the stairs.
“Hey!?” Bentley called.
“Are you okay?” Chris asked.
“I don’t know,” I stopped with my hand on the doorknob.
“What happened?” Bentley came around the couch. His golden brown eyes scanned the room for a threat.
I shook my head. “Talk to Caeden.”
And with that, I was out the door.
I climbed in the driver’s seat and slammed the lock button down, just in case Caeden decided to stop me. I quickly adjusted the seat and mirrors, and went to put the key in the ignition.
But there was no keyhole.
Instead there was a button.
What the heck was I supposed to do with a button?
I’m a smart girl. I can figure this out. How hard can it possibly be?
It took me a minute, but the engine purred to life.
I knew all three of them were watching me leave, and a part of me almost put the car in park, but I truly didn’t want to do or say something to Caeden that I would regret. I wasn’t running away, trying to be some petty, whiny, little girl. I was doing this because I knew I needed a moment to think and calm down without his guilty eyes searing into me.
I drove around the beach town and was content with that for a while. But finally, I just needed to get out of the car. I pulled over and grabbed some change. I shoved it into the meter and turned it.
It was starting to get late. The colors of orange and purple blending together to form the night sky. A star or two blinked cheerily at me.
I stuck my hands in my pockets and started down the street.
I walked with no particular destination in mind.
I scanned the windows of the odds and ends stores, but I was too numb to enter any of them. I came upon a bench that sat on the sidewalk overlooking the sand and ocean. I claimed it, and made sure to give out an aura that said, ‘don’t mess with me’.
My head dropped into my hands and I sobbed.
Travis was alive.
Caeden had lied.
Somehow, the fact that Caeden lied to me seemed almost worse somehow.
I was supposed to be able to trust him unequivocally.
My breath came out raggedly and I found myself looking over my shoulders. What if Travis was here? Watching me? Right now?
Panic surged in my stomach and my hands began to shake. I knew I was having a panic attack. I scanned every man that walked by, looking for blond hair and soulless black eyes. My heart raced in fear.
I had lived in fear for so long and that weight had been lifted from my shoulders, when I believed that Travis was dead. Knowing that he was out there, alive, made that weight come crashing down on my shoulders once more, and this time it was ten times heavier.
I dammed the tears back. I didn’t want to cry in front of all these strangers. I didn’t want to cry at all. Crying seemed like I was letting him win.
I covered the scar on my arm and closed my eyes.
I gritted my teeth.
I’m not a liar.
I’m a fighter.
And it’s time I stand up and do something.
* * *
I tried to calm myself the whole drive back to the beach house. This wasn’t Caeden’s fault. He was obviously torn up about it. I couldn’t blame him. I wouldn’t blame him. This was our fight. We needed to take down Travis, together.
I pulled into the driveway next to Bryce’s Jeep.
The gang was all here.
That thought made me feel better.
I opened the door and went inside.
Everyone was seated at the white sectional with stunned looks on their faces. Either I looked really horrible or Caeden had dropped the bomb.
“Did you tell them?” I asked, while my back was to the room, as I closed to door.
“Yes,” he croaked.
I turned to face them, the air rushing out of my lungs in a gust.
I squared my shoulders and braced myself. I plastered my Alpha face on and strode across the room to them.
I looked into each and every one of their eyes.
Determination flooded my veins. “This is just a minor setback.”
“A minor setback? The psychopath tried to kill you,” exclaimed Bryce.
“I’m aware of that,” I replied calmly.
“Should we go home?” Bentley rubbed his face before stretching his arm across the back of the couch. Chris leaned into him.
Caeden opened his mouth to agree and I held up my hand to shut him up.
“No,” I shook my head. “We’re going to have fun. For just this one week we’re going to be normal teenagers. Shifter talk needs to be kept to a minimum…” I paused. “Preferably non-existent.”
Caeden looked up at me, shocked. I wasn’t sure if he was more shocked by my words or the fact that I was overriding him. I guess it’s the Beaumont coming out in me.
“Travis can be dealt with later.”
Bryce looked at Caeden and pointed at me. “Is she off her rocker?” he stage whispered.
“I’m serious guys. There’s nothing we can do right now and rushing home doesn’t change the fact that he’s alive. Besides, he’s been alive for months,” I looked pointedly at Caeden. “And from past experiences, we know that just rushing into things doesn’t solve anything. We need a strategy.”
My pack looked back and forth between each other.
“You’re right,” Bentley said.
“Yeah, you are,” Caeden sighed. “I’m going upstairs,” he left the room without a backwards glance and ice drenched my veins. He was mad about something.
“I’ll see you guys in the morning,” I said and ran up the steps. “Caeden?” I called, pushing open the bedroom door. He was sitting on the bed with his head in his hands. “Caeden?” my voice was soft and hesitant.
He looked up at me and his blue eyes were pale, steely, and bloodshot.
“What’s wrong?” I crooked my head.
“I’m not cut out for this.”
“For what?” I was confused.
He stood so quickly that it frightened me, and I jumped back. “To be Alpha!” he yelled. I flinched and his face softened. “I’m sorry, Soph, but it’s true.”
“No, it’s not.”
“When they kidnapped you, I should have gone after them, but instead I let them run away. At least, Travis killed Peter, but I think Travis has always been a bigger threat than Peter. He’s unstable. Volatile.” He took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his dark, wavy hair. “Then, when I get the chance to take the psycho out…” he collapsed to his knees and buried his face in his hands and sobbed. I had never seen Caeden look so fragile and broken before. “I thought he was dead! Why didn’t I stay to make sure?! How could I be so stupid?! I know better than that! You killed Robert, and Bentley killed Hannah, but I couldn’t kill Travis when I had the chance! There was so much blood I thought he had to be dead.” He crumpled completely to the floor and his fingers dug into the thick carpeting. “I don’t deserve to be Alpha and I don’t deserve you.”
I sighed and closed my eyes. A part of me was still mad at him for not telling me that Travis was alive, but I could see how much pain he was in, and I knew that we needed each other. Fighting wouldn’t fix this.
I lowered myself to the floor and crawled to him. I picked his face up in my hands and lifted him up until we were eye level.
His blue eyes were so full of pain that my heart broke.
“You didn’t know that he was still alive when you left, Caeden. That’s not your fault.”
“Yes it is,” he shook his head. “And if I hadn’t went back to get his body, I’d still think he was dead. You have every right to hate me.” He put his hand over my left one and fingered the ring. “I’d understand if you called off the wedding… indefinitely.”
“Caeden,” I shook my head back and forth. “You silly, silly, man. Do you really think I don’t want to marry you anymore?”
“I lied to you.”
I didn’t really need to be reminded of that.
“You did what you thought was right, even though you were completely wrong,” I smiled. “I’m your mate Caeden. You need to tell me this stuff. I’m not some precious flower that’s going to get crushed. I’m your she-wolf, remember?”
“I thought you hated that nickname.” His lips quirked in an almost smile.
I leaned in closer to him so that my lips brushed his when I spoke, his breath hissed out. “And aren’t you the one that’s always telling me that I secretly love it?”
He grinned. “I knew it.”
He leaned in to kiss me but I pushed his shoulders back. Hurt flashed across his face, but he quickly tried to hide it.
I smiled. “Before you kiss me senseless, can we please get off the floor? My knees hurt,” I giggled.
“Good idea,” he grinned.
“We still have a lot to talk about,” I warned him as he helped me up.
“As long as it’s together.”
“Always,” I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my lips firmly against his.
This was where I had always belonged.
In Caeden’s arms.