“…What?” I dropped my hands instantly and moved backwards out of his arms. “Feelings for me? Like friendship? Because we had always been friends in my mind, Cai. It was you who denied it, remember?” My chest was beating so hard that I felt like I was about to faint.
He walked towards me, immediately closing the space I‘d just made between us, and cupped my face in his hand to make me look up at him. I felt frozen in place staring up into his eyes that appeared to be completely serious. “You know what I meant, Aria,” was all he said to clarify.
I felt my mind go completely blank as he held my gaze, having been taken completely off guard by his sudden confession. But finally, after a few moments, reality kicked in.
I pushed my way backwards again, confusion slowly registering over everything he’d just said.
How could that even be possible? If that was true, then why would he have waited so long to tell me? Why keep it from me for two years? And then a sickening realisation came to me. A reason why he might have waited so long before making a move on me.
“…How many times have you used that line on girls before?” I finally asked. “…You think that now, because I‘m older, that I‘m fair game? That I‘m just like the girls you would take to empty classrooms on your lunch breaks to screw?”
His face fell and he looked taken aback. “What? Aria, no–.”
“I thought you would have grown up at least a little bit whilst you were gone,” I said, my voice increasingly becoming more agitated the more I thought about it. “Is that actually all you wanted?
Did you even care about fixing things between us? Or was it just that you‘re in town for a party and you’re looking for a quick lay before you go back home again?” “Aria, no, you‘ve got it all —.” “You’ve been back in my life for not even twenty minutes, Cai, and already you’re trying to pick me up after ignoring me for two years?”
He’d gone from admitting he‘d hurt me… to trying to hit on me. Which part of that did he think I would ever consider okay? I was willing to forgive him, to move on and mend something that had been weighing me down for so long… but this…? I could feel angry tears beginning to fall down my face again as I furiously swatted them away. “You know what? No. F#ck you, Cai. I‘m not going to be some name on your playboy to-do list.
F#cked a Saintess? Better tick that one off, aye? Bet you won’t find another one of those in the country, right?” “Aria! Will you please just—.”
“I never cared that you went around doing it. It was never my place to judge. It still isn’t. But don’t go dragging me into some sick game to tease me, Cai.
I‘m not the same vulnerable girl I used to be years ago. And I don’t need you to pour fake pleasantries over me just to feel validated.”
“What the f#ck, Aria–.”
“No! Enough. There are plenty of girls who will be interested inside… but not here.” He looked hurt as he went to leave but I told myself it was just because I hadn’t given in to his ridiculous attempt of getting into my pants. … Because it was better than the alternative.
The alternative where he was actually being sincere and had real genuine feelings for me, not just the typical Cai feelings about women.
Because that was something I didn‘t want to consider, something I couldn’t consider. The implications of being with someone like Cai were extremely messy for myself and my current position
Not to mention I had been reborn with the purpose of surviving to stop the future from happening again. There was no room for romantic feelings or more heartbreak.
I’d already lived through that once… I’d already been killed for that. I turned around to hide my face so I wouldn’t have to watch him walk out. It was already too difficult to deal with without having to see those goddamn sad eyes of his.
He knew just as well as I did that us being together would only cause problems, so why would he even try? Or why not just be honest and say he only wanted a one night stand? At least then I could have turned down the offer without him making me feel so emotionally confused.
All I had wanted was for us to be friends and mend what had gone wrong. It made him seem as if he had no respect for me or our friendship if he would even attempt this. As if I were going to just fall at his feet, grateful he was even talking to me again. Is that how all the other girls reacted?
I didn’t know how long I stayed out on the balcony, but it felt like an eternity. I didn’t want to go back in and accidentally have to make awkward eye contact with Cai.
Nor did I want to see him taking me up on my advice for him to find another girl. I‘d already seen enough of Cai hitting on women for one lifetime. And yet I felt conflicted inside.
A lot of thoughts and feelings I wasn’t sure how to process, or know whether or not I even wanted to process them. ….You did the right thing,‘I heard her whisper inside; the old me. ‘Either way, this is the best thing for us.‘ “I know that!” I hissed angrily to myself. “F#ck… give me a break, you cynical bitch.”
“Are you okay?” a voice then said behind me, making me jump in surprise. I quickly turned around and saw a girl. She was young, maybe not much older than myself, with black wavy hair and bright blue eyes.
I didn’t recognise her from the Winter Mist but, for the lack of a better word, she was actually very beautiful. She handed me a handkerchief and I wiped my eyes with it, clearing my throat. “Oh! I‘m fine,
really. Just… the cold breeze caught my eyes. Thank you though.” She smiled reassuringly, seeing through my obvious lie, but ultimately decided to keep walking.
She must have been able to tell from my tone that I didn’t want to talk about it or want company. But as she left, I couldn’t help but notice her looking around.
“…Are you trying to find someone?” I asked.
“Oh… sort of,” she said, turning back around to smile timidly at me. “Well… not really. It’s complicated.” Her cheeks blushed slightly. “Maybe I can help? I’m from this pack.”
“Oh, could you? That would be amazing.” Her eyes lit up instantly with my offer and she walked back over to me eagerly. “Their name is Alistair Carter, have you heard of them before?
I frowned. Yes, I knew who they were. “Why are you looking for them?” “Oh… well…,” she said. “I don’t know… it‘s silly.” She awkwardly shuffled on their feet and tucked her hair behind her ear, embarrassed. “They sort of… saved my life.”
This only made me more confused, something she noticed and quickly continued. “I was in terrible danger about two years ago and their information ended up saving my life.
I’d actually be dead right now if it weren’t for them,” she said, talking excitedly as if retelling a fairytale.
“I managed to track the letter trail. It brought me to the name of someone in a pack around this region… but I’m starting to think that maybe my search has gone cold.” Yes, I knew who Alistair Carter was.
I knew who they were because they were me. It was my alias name.
This meant that this girl was likely Iris Sullivan, Alpha Raymond Sullivan‘s daughter from the eastern Hidden Moon pack. The same Alpha I had amassed my original fortune from.
Funds acquired by… less than noble means. “…So, you want to find them to… thank them?” Her cheeks blushed even deeper. “Ah… It might sound crazy but… I thought that maybe they could be my mate.”
I stared at the girl in front of me, completely taken aback. I definitely hadn’t been expecting that.
“…Why?” I asked.
“Well… they knew information about me that should have been impossible. I’ve been wracking my mind on how they could have possibly known what they did in order to save me… and all I could come up with was that maybe we were connected and it was divine intervention.” ‘Or maybe they were working with the kidnappers.’ The thought came to me but I didn‘t say it aloud.
But as she looked at me with her big, eager blue eyes, I couldn’t help but do my best not to laugh. It was horrible, I knew that, but something about the whole situation occurring was insane.
I also made a mental note to ensure Lucy did a better job of hiding her tracks in the future. I was genuinely happy to see her alive and well though.
Through all the upsetting things that had occurred this night, it was nice to see a product of something good that could happen. I got that same fuzzy feeling inside looking at her, just like when I looked at Myra. She shouldn’t be alive right now… and yet, here she was. Because of me.
The problem now was that I couldn’t tell her Alistair was actually me because it would ruin my anonymity and start a line of questions I wouldn’t be able to answer.
So, should I tell her that I didn’t know him? I considered it for a moment but the thought of this girl spending more time travelling the country in search of someone who didn’t exist made me feel guilty. She was hopeful that the love of her life was some foreign man who saved her via their deep connection.
Would anyone ever be able to live up to that standard? Hell, even I could see how that would be stupidly romantic. “…I knew Alistair,” I said slowly. I could feel the excitement wash over her as I said it.
“But he died of old age last year, I’m sorry to say.” And just like that, I forced her journey to come to an end. By claiming he had passed, it left no room for hope that he might be her mate.
I could see the light in her eyes die at my words and I really did feel terrible. But it was for the best.
“Oh! …Oh,” she said, disappointment thick in her voice. It took a few moments before she was able to force a smile and try to laugh the whole thing off.
“That‘s okay, I guess. It was just a stupid fantasy anyway.” “Ahh… I’m sure they would be glad to see you doing well though if they helped save your life, right?”
I was trying to think of things to make her feel better but I honestly was at a bit of a loss for what to say. She smiled a little brighter. “Yes, I suppose so.”
“I’m Aria Chrysalis, by the way,” I said and held my hand out to her.
She shook it and I could see her relax with the topic change, a more genuine smile spreading on her face. “Iris Sullivan. You said ‘Aria‘, right? I‘ve heard so much about you.”
I cringed internally. I hoped this wasn’t going to turn into a conversation about my mark
“You’re a bit of an inspiration for girls like me. What with being a Beta heir and all.”
“Oh?” I said. I didn‘t realise that would be the reputation that would precede me.
“Well, I‘m the only child of an Alpha… Growing up I was forced to accept that my fate would consist of being mated off so I didn‘t interfere with the ranked roles.”
Oh… of course. She was a ranked daughter. Naturally, she would be denied any claim to the –Fouraged married the position. Though I knew it would be even worse for her.
Beta was one thing… but an Alpha? It was basically the same boat I was in with my marking; she would potentially be starting political unrest within her own pack if she went for the top spot.
“Not to say I’d actually pursue it but… any advice?” she asked. I frowned apologetically. “I wish I had any… but if I can be of any help, let me know.”
My situation unfortunately was different since she didn’t have a mark. I had taken a huge gamble when I invoked that lie about the Goddess guiding me and it had luckily paid off, something she wouldn’t be able to do.
I hoped, at the very least, that once I became Beta it would show others that females were just as capable of doing the job. “Well, if I need a Saintess, I know where to look, right?” she said with a wink
With moves like that, I knew she wouldn’t have any trouble finding a mate, that’s for sure. For someone who was as attractive as her, I was surprised she wasn’t seeing anyone already; whether that be a destined or a chosen mate.
“But, with that said, I should probably head inside. It was nice meeting you though.” She looked up at me, starting to move towards the door. “And I hope you feel better soon…you know, with the breeze and stuff.”
“Oh, yeah, of course.” I smiled, half laughing at myself while I wiped my face again. “Believe it or not, I’m actually meeting someone else here… I suppose you could call them a hot date. Someone alive this time though, I swear,” she laughed. “But I hope we can meet again one day.” “I‘d like that.
Good luck with the hot date, Iris.” She smiled at me one last time as I watched her walk back inside. When she finally rejoined the crowd of people, I turned back around in thought over everything that had happened. It felt like such a bittersweet night. I felt so… messy inside.
Cai coming back just to play with me… but then seeing Iris alive was something I could have never anticipated. After several moments had passed, I finally sighed in defeat and stared down at my hands… only to realise I still had Iris’ handkerchief.
Internally cursing, I quickly ran inside following the direction I thought I saw her go. But when I finally saw her in the corner, I stopped dead in my tracks. Because Cai was there greeting her, a big smile on his face as he brought her into a close hug, his arms wrapping around her waist intimately. But it was when they parted that I got the real kicker.
Because I saw Iris k!ss his cheek as they pulled away. I instantly spun on my heels and walked straight back outside without interrupting. Yes. This was exactly why I had stayed on the balcony. What was the term Iris had used? ‘Hot date’?
Well, that figured. I was angry at myself for even remotely thinking Cai had been serious. I really should have known better than to think for a second it might have been true given bis history.
I mulled in my own frustration for some time before, finally, the howl of a wolf carried out into the night, breaking me away from my thoughts. And I realised that it must have come time for Aleric’s first shift.
But when I looked out, below the balcony, it wasn’t Aleric by the forest that caught my eye. No, it was something much closer.
And I finally realised what I had been forgetting the last few months during my busy new schedule. I finally realised what had been nagging me inside my head so badly.
Because it was standing just below the balcony staring directly up at me. V Thea.