The conversation I had with Tristan replayed in my head until a headache whispered at my temples. What did he mean? How did the Vampire King have a backup plan? Was there some way I could refuse the throne, and why would I sorely regret it?
My inner monologue was cut short by the sound of Breyona waking up. The two of us headed down to her kitchen where we cooked a huge breakfast. As her Mom and Dad were particularly useless in the kitchen, they sat on the sidelines with steaming cups of coffee in their hands.
Breyona hadn’t worked up the nerve to tell her parents she found her mate, let alone tell them he was a vampire. They both had asked a couple questions about Breyona’s mystery mate, but quickly dropped the subject.
Once we finished with breakfast, Breyona insisted on sorting through her closet to find me the perfect outfit for this afternoon. I wondered what lengths Asher had gone to for my birthday celebration and how large the party would actually be. Breyona wouldn’t let a single detail slip, claiming I could use a positive surprise after all that’s happened.
She managed to find me a little black dress, the sleeves hung low and exposed my shoulders. It was a far cry from other dress Breyona had given me, the one I had suffered a stab wound in. This dress was longer, much more appropriate for a birthday party.
Breyona managed to keep me thoroughly distracted until late in the afternoon. She had applied a thin layer of make-up to my face, using black eyeshadow around my eyes. After a generous helping of concealer and loose powder to the scarlet mark on my shoulder, it was successfully covered up.
Though I could no longer see the mark, I could still feel the weight of it on my skin. She also curled my raven hair into large ringlets, brushing them out so they framed my face perfectly.
My pleas at leaving the house had gone unnoticed. She had denied my idea of visiting Giovanni, knowing I would use the opportunity to sneak a peak at what Asher and my family had been up to. We were both worried about the future, and how the pack might react to Giovanni.
“If Asher’s my mate, their Luna will be a half-breed.” I shrugged, though it didn’t ease the worry in my gut.
“Maybe–maybe Giovanni and I should just leave.” Breyona frowned, concealing the pain burning in her eyes.
“No.” I shook my head, my voice hard. “I’m not letting anyone drive you away. If Giovanni is truly on our side, he’s part of this pack. Anyone who has a problem with that can come to me.”
I wasn’t ready to voice what Tristan had told me; that he was in fact on our side. Tristan’s loyalty came with conditions, but he was willing to stand against my Father.
Most in the pack would follow Asher’s word as law, but there would be some who retaliate. People like Alpha Bran had a long standing vendetta against the Vampire’s and would never accept them into their lives. If I were to become Luna, would I be able to do what must be done? Those who rise against Asher would have to be snuffed out. I couldn’t expect Asher to react to treason with mercy.
We left the house around six in the afternoon. Breyona promised to stay at the party for as long as she could, but had to leave to bring Giovanni some blood.
Asher allowed Breyona to take blood from the pack hospital, so long as it was nearing it’s expiration date. Asher had been respectful when questioning Giovanni, even though he still didn’t trust him.
Confusion was written on my face as we approached the pack house. The large yard spanning the front of the house looked exactly the same.
The flower beds along the porch had been tended to, the bright gardenias and poppy flowers were swaying in the afternoon breeze. As we got out of the car, I was battered by a hundred different scents.
Upbeat music trickled through the open windows of the pack house, the breeze carried the scent of roasted chicken, sugary icing, and various barbecued foods. If I listened hard enough, I could hear the faint chatter and laughter of people.
Breyona led me through the pack house with a grin on her face, placing her hands over my eyes at the last minute. With an amused scoff, I let her lead me through the house. She slid the backdoor open, my nose and ears showed me what my eyes couldn’t.
The chattering had died down as the door opened, replaced by hushed whispers. Now that I was closer, I could make out the scent of each food. My stomach rumbled in response as Breyona removed her hands.
The large garden behind the pack house had been completely renovated. It was clear how I hadn’t noticed it from my window, as the party strayed from that side of the house. The sun was slowly lowering in the sky, casting buttery light across the plush clouds.
Twinkling lights had been woven through the rose bushes and over the canopy of trees. Various fountains sat around the garden with stone benches circling each one. A couple large grills were scattered about, my Dad manning one of them.
Grilled meat was piled onto large platters and placed onto long buffet-style tables. Although it wasn’t dark outside, lit torches lined the garden. The party wasn’t refined or proper, making it absolutely perfect.
Something strange swelled inside my gut as I looked on at the crowd of people who had come to the party.
Most came for the celebration, needing a bit of happiness in the midst of all this horror, but Asher and my family had planned this entire party for me. I blinked back the tears that pricked my eyes and grinned at the crowd of people.
“Happy Birthday, Lola!” Breyona grinned, glancing at the plates of steaming food.
“Where’s Asher?” I couldn’t help but ask. I was practically shaking at the thought of seeing him, at the thought of finding my mate. For a moment, sympathy flashed in Breyona’s eyes and my stomach dropped.
“He’ll be here.” Breyona smiled softly, understanding the anxiety boiling in my gut. “He’s stationing the rest of his and Alpha Bran’s men around the borders. We don’t want any surprises tonight. Come and enjoy the party, I know you’re dying to eat as much as I am.”
I traveled down the porch steps with Breyona, heading over to the grill my Dad was cooking on. His eyes crinkled as he saw me, pulling me into a hug before I could say anything more.
“Your Mom would be so proud of you, Lola.” Dad grumbled, wiping away the tears that formed in my eyes. “You might have not come from me, but I watched you grow and learn.
I was there when you first shifted and nearly took Sean’s head off. You’ll always be my daughter.”
“And you’ll always be my Dad.” I chuckled a little breathlessly.
I breathed in his familiar scent as it mixed with the smell of grilled food. No matter who my Father was, I already had a Dad. The man who raised me could be replaced by no other.
I grabbed a piece of grilled chicken from the large plate my Dad had, giving him a cheeky grin as I plucked the piece in my mouth.
“Hey, Lola!” Sean shouted, maneuvering through the crowd to greet me. “Happy birthday! There’s someone here who wants to talk to you!”
I turned from my Dad with a wave and followed Sean. For a moment, my heart was hammering in my chest. I assumed it were Asher who wanted to speak with me, but my excitement quickly turned sour as I caught Mason’s gaze. He was seated at one of the stone benches, watching the water trickle from one of the many fountains.
This particular fountain was wide-rimmed with a voluptuous woman standing in the center. Water poured from her open hands, her face a mask of serenity and peace.
Mason had seen better days, but seemed to be putting on a brave face. His eyes were bright but ringed with darkness. His usual lopsided smile was missing, replaced with one of uncertainty. Sean clapped a hand on his shoulder, giving him a reassuring smile that held a certain familiarity.
‘It seems Sean took our advice.’ Maya murmured, ‘Hopefully they help eachother cope with everything.’
Sean left the two of us alone, and I shifted uncomfortably on my feet. The upbeat music seemed out of place with Mason’s solemn face. I half expected him to yell at me, to tell me how it was my fault Adrienne had died. Instead of yelling, an exhausted sigh left his lips.
He mustered up a half-hearted smile and waved me forward. I sat beside him gingerly, keeping my eyes on the fountain before us.
“Happy Birthday, Lola.” Mason smiled, his voice held a hint of the friendliness he felt before. A shard of guilt pierced my skin as I looked into his eyes and saw the lonliness within them.
“Thanks, Mason.” I breathed with uncertainty.
“I forgive you, y’know.” Mason frowned, running a hand through his tangled hair. The haunted look on his face nearly brought me to tears. “I know it wasn’t your fault. It never would have worked between us, I know that now.”
“I can’t explain how sorry I am, Mason.” I frowned, fighting to keep my voice strong. “I’m sorry for everything.”
“I know you are.” Mason sighed, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. I leaned into his touch with a small smile. I hoped everything would be okay, and that Mason might find some semblance of happiness in his life.
We sat in silence, watching the water fall from the porcelain woman’s hands. Her eyes were closed, an intimate smile on her face. I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between the stone woman and Adrienne. Both were curvy with angular faces and full lips.
The only difference was the statue had a look of peace on it’s face, while Adrienne had a look of disdain.
“I fell for you, Lola. I fell hard.” Mason’s voice held such confusion and sadness that my heart lurched in response.
An amused chuckle left Mason’s lips at the look of shock on my face. A sliver of his lopsided smile had returned as his fingers brushed against my reddening cheek.
I had never thought of Mason in that way, and felt guilty for that fact. Asher had always been on my mind, followed by brief thoughts of Tristan.
“Just let me finish.” Mason smiled softly, halting my words. “I know you don’t feel the same, and I’m not asking you to choose me. My Mom was abused by her Dad. Even when he was old and frail, she was still so afraid. I think I fell for you because of how fearless you are.
You’ve never been afraid of the things thrown at you, you face them head on. I hope you find your mate, Lola. You deserve a happy ending.”
After fighting the urge to convulse into tears, Mason shooed me away. He wiped the tears from my eyes and told me to enjoy my birthday. My heart felt heavy and light at the same time, both free and horrifically weighed down.
I cleared my mind, determined to enjoy this sliver of heaven while it existed. I danced with Breyona until my limbs ached, and ate until my stomach groaned.
A head of black and silver hair pulled me from the dance floor and I stepped into my Grandma’s arms. Even with a million different scents in the air, I could point out Grandma’s lavender scent effortlessly.
Her dress matched the delicate pink of the rose bushes, making her look much younger. The dress flowed over her curves in a sea of pink silk.
Even though I wasn’t related to her by blood, my soul recognized her own. The love in her eyes was mirrored in my own, as was the beaming smile. The worry that plagued her eyes was gone for the moment, replaced with fondness and excitement.
“Happy Birthday, my beautiful granddaughter.” Grandma grinned, pulling me into her arms. “I wanted to give you some time with your friends before pestering you.”
“You could never pester me, Grandma.” I laughed, leaning into her embrace.
“Your Dad would say otherwise.” Grandma scoffed, “Alpha Asher and your Dad seemed to be under the impression I work too hard. They refused to let me lift a finger while they set all of this up.”
“Asher wouldn’t let you help?” I snickered, giving Grandma an innocent smile.
“Wouldn’t even let me bake the cake.” Grandma scoffed, “Men. Can you believe it?”
“You mean I have to endure this entire night without any of your pastries?” I gasped in horror. The horror wasn’t entirely forced, as Grandma’s pastries were addicting.
“Of course not.” Grandma snickered, looking like a devious teenager. “Since when did I let a man tell me what to do? You’ll find a few containers in my car.”
“Did you make your lavender brownies?” I questioned, my eyes flickering over to my Dad.
Dad seemed oblivious to our conversation and was enjoying his job at grilling all of the food. It had been too long since Dad had gotten out of the house.
“Of course, and enough coconut macaroons to last you the weekend.” Grandma chuckled. “Now, tell me what’s been bothering you.”
“Bothering me?” I asked with a frown.
“You can’t hide the troubled look in your eyes from me.” Grandma shook her head, “Even your Dad hasn’t mastered that art. Better to get it off your chest so you can continue enjoying your birthday.”
“I visited Tristan last night, the Vampire that marked me.” I sighed, letting Grandma lead me away from prying ears and over to one of the founta ins. “He brought me this time. He was trying to warn me, Grandma.”
Little lights sat at the bottom of the fountain, making it look as though the water were glowing. This fountain had three tiers, spewing water from each level.
“Warn you?” Grandma frowned, the troubled expression on her face matched my own. “Do you believe this Vampire cares for you?”
“I think he does, in his own strange way. The feeling isn’t mutual.” I sighed, “Something he said worried me. He said the Vampire King has a backup plan in case I reject the throne. He said I’d sorely regret it. How could my Father have a backup plan?”
“The only backup plan I could think of is having another daughter. Vampires can only reproduce with their marked mates, and I’m positive your Mom never had another child.”
Grandma grimaced, shaking off a bad memory. “This Tristan could have been lying to you, perhaps to force you into taking the throne. Do you believe he was being sincere?”
“All I know is, this is the first time he hadn’t tried to make a move on me.” I shook my head, trying to sort through the hurricane of emotion I was feeling.
“He looked genuinely concerned. He even told me he wasn’t on my Fathers side, that he doesn’t want to get rid of all the werewolves.”
“I think it would be best if you proceed with caution. Do not take Tristan’s word as truth, but I wouldn’t dismiss him quite yet.” Grandma nodded, looking oddly serene. “If what he says is true, he could prove to be a valuable ally.”
“His loyalty comes with a price. He wants me.” I grimaced.
“It seems Tristan is playing a dangerous game. Regardless, if he truly cares for you, your happiness is paramount.” Grandma shrugged, but gave me a reassuring smile. “I’m much too old for these kinds of things, but I’ll help you in any way I can.”
“You’ll never be old to me, Grandma.” I grinned, feeling as though a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Grandma led me back to the party, demanding I set aside my worries for tomorrow. While the issue of Tristan and his questionable loyalty had been set aside, I had another concern pressing at the edges of my mind.
Where the hell was Asher? I hadn’t seen him during the party, and hadn’t heard from him through the mind-link. The few times I attempted to contact him, I came up short.
While Alpha’s had the power to block a mind-link, it worried me that he had chosen to do so.
Other than the delicious scent of charred meats, I hadn’t smelled anything intoxicating and alluring. Maya was still on the lookout for our mate, though Asher had been at the forefront of our mind.
After quite some time, Breyona managed to catch back up with me. The sun had long ago sank behind the clouds, leaving behind a deep indigo sky. The twinkling lights looked like fireflies resting in the trees and rose bushes, making the entire garden look like a magical oasis.
“Leaving already?” I asked, noticing the dreamy look in Breyona’s eyes.
“I’m sure Giovanni is starving by now.” Breyona chuckled, the pink tinging her cheeks was noticeable by the torch light. “He won’t hunt for anyone, but I don’t want him to suffer.”
“No worries, I believe you.” I chuckled, though the thought of Giovanni hunting a human made me equally uncomfortable and hungry.
“This is for you. It isn’t much, but I know you’ve never been one for expensive gifts.” Breyona teased, handing me a small box wrapped in silver paper.
“I’m sure it’s perfect. Thank you so much.” I smiled softly, “Tell Giovanni I said hi.”
“You have to stop by sometime. He’s really amazing. I think you two would get along quite well.” Breyona grinned merrily, and I couldn’t help but return the smile.
“I’ll stop by tomorrow.” I replied, waving as she headed back into the pack house.
‘Happy Birthday, Lola.’ Asher’s rough voice murmured through my mind.
Irritation formed at the edges of my heart, though my stomach fluttered excitedly at the sound of his voice.
‘And where have you been?’ I grimaced, ‘You spend all this time setting up a party and have the nerve to not show up.’
‘Let me make it up to you.’ Asher purred, his warm voice coiling around my agitated heart. ‘Look towards the forest line, Lola. Do you see the blue lights?’
I scanned the forest line as Asher suggested, noticing a thin string of cobalt lights wrapped around the trunk of a tree.
‘I see them.’ I nodded.
‘Good, follow them.’ Asher murmured, his voice thick. ‘Come to me, Lola.’
My legs moved on their own and before I knew it, I found myself in front of the thick oak tree. Using the string of thin lights as a guide, I let them lead me deeper into the forest.
The brush around me was dark, but I had little trouble navigating through the dense forest. It seemed as though a path had been cleared for me, the ground leveled so I would have little trouble walking in the dark.
Further up ahead, I could make out a warm light. Little balls of orange light twinkled in the trees, cascading down the branches in a sea of white and orange. The emerald leaves stood out against the light, making the forest look completely different at night.
Twenty feet away, at the edge of a little clearing, stood Asher. Dressed in a black suit, he looked incredibly beautiful but completely out of place. His devastatingly handsome face was serene, but even from the distance, I could see the worry gleaming in his eyes.
The orange and white light gave his honey eyes more depth and seemed to draw out the golden hues within them. From where I was standing, I couldn’t grasp his scent.
As the anticipation and worry began to build within me, I stepped forward. A thin sweat broke out over my skin, and my heart hammered mercilessly.
I couldn’t help but notice how my dress matched Asher’s suit perfectly, as though Breyona’s clothing choice had been intentional.
As I stood ten feet away from him, the air around us seemed to shift. A gentle breeze whipped past Asher, ruffling the hair on his head.
All at once, his scent swirled around me, battering me senseless.
Rich and earthy, sweet and musky, both dark and alluring. His scent was a beacon drawing me forward, awakening parts of me that had been sleeping for so long.
The shock and joy in his eyes mirrored my own as the mate-bond snapped together with an audible click.
My legs moved on their own accord, propelling me forward until I slammed into his hard chest. The golden hue in his eyes had been replaced by endless darkness and longing.
“Mate.” Asher murmured in awe, his voice soft and fragile.
Asher had always been a strong Alpha, willing to do what needed to be done. I hadn’t realized he had fears and hopes of his own. I never thought this moment lingered in his mind as much as it did my own.
The dazzling light danced off our skin, reflecting in our eyes. The word left his lips like a song, full of longing, relief and excitement.
“Mate.” I repeated, Maya’s voice blending into my own.
A weight had been lifted from my shoulders, one I had never noticed. The weight of my potential mate had been pressing down on me, suffocating me into exhaustion.
A dazzling smile formed on Asher’s face, one that left me weak and enthralled. My heart fluttered at the sight, realizing he had reserved that smile specifically for me. The smile lit up his face, and I wondered if I had ever seen another person so full of joy.
My hands crawled up to his face, and a smile of my own formed as sparks ran the length of my skin. Dad had told me countless times what it would feel like when I found my mate, but words seemed to fall short in comparison to this moment.
Everything other than Asher and I seemed to fade away, the importance of everything else drifting away. I knew what I was fighting for, who I was fighting for.
“I knew it, I knew it.” Asher laughed lightly, though his eyes were blown wide with wonder. “I’ve never loved someone like this. I’ve never loved someone so completely.”
“You love me?” I breathed, shocked at the sound of my own voice. I had never heard myself so full of happiness before, so carefree of the dangers that lie ahead.
“I do.” Asher smiled, flashing his dazzling teeth. “I have for so long.”
While I had experienced his embrace countless times, this felt entirely different. My soul soared to meet his own, blending into something new yet familiar. Our light touch wasn’t enough, and yet it was everything I would ever need.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” I asked, my voice coming out in a breathless laugh.
“I needed to know–I needed to know you were mine first, that you weren’t meant for someone else.” The pain in his voice broke something within me and I clamored to erase the flash of pain in his eyes.
“I’m yours. I always have been.” I smiled softly, the stubble on his jaw tickling the pads of my fingers.
“As I am yours, Lola.” Asher murmured, his face lowering to meet my own.
His lips had been nothing like what I expected, as they held more emotion and passion than I ever could have anticipated. His lips were soft against my own, but held the pain and worry we both had been feeling for weeks now.
My fingers tangled in his silky hair as our lips meshed together, our pain and passion melting into one. Every ounce of stress or anxiety I had been feeling melted away under his gentle touch.
Asher had relinquished control, allowing me to part his lips with my tongue. I was drowning in his scent, in the blissful sparks that consumed my entire being. I could feel a piece of him burning within me, marking me as his equal, as his Luna.
Any past experience had not prepared us for this moment. Even after every touch and caress, our bodies were completely unprepared for one another. Our lips moved together slowly, savoring every taste and sensation blasting through our bodies.
It took every ounce of strength within me not to leap on him, as I had forgotten our surroundings completely. Maya was a love-struck mess, willing to seal the deal out here in the open.
“I want you to mark me, Lola.” Asher murmured, smiling slyly at the look of shock on my face. “I’ve waited far too long to claim you as my own. If it weren’t for our surroundings, I would complete the mating process right now.”
The passion in his words left me speechless, fumbling for some semblance of control. Instead of waiting for an answer, Asher held me against him and looked deep into my eyes.
“Mark me, mate.” He purred, “Let me mark you in return.”
My lips knew what to do on their own, finding the softest piece of flesh to sink my teeth into. The scent wafting off his skin left me dizzy. A low growl rumbled in his chest as I dragged my canines along his neck before sinking them into his soft flesh.
Asher remained still as I lapped the blood from his skin, smiling softly at the wound I created on his neck. Somehow, I knew once it healed, it would be saphire in color.
Neither of us felt the need to speak, as our eyes communicated what needed to be said. I tilted my head to the side, unable to stifle the whimper that left my lips under his touch.
“You’re so beautiful.” Asher purred against my skin, his tongue flicking over my neck slowly.
His canines were cold against my skin, yet they heated me to my core. Pain melted with pleasure as his teeth pricked my skin, drawing blood that trickled down my collarbones.
‘Alpha we have a problem. Luna Freya’s men have invaded the pack–the blonde Vampire is leading them. They barreled through our defenses on the Northern perimeter and are heading south.’
“Breyona and Giovanni.” My voice came out in a breathless rasp, fear settling into my bones.
Any kindness I had felt for Tristan vanished, leaving me wondering why he had come in the first place. I knew the blonde Vampire was Tristan, just as I knew he was spearheading this entire attack. His false promises left a bitter taste in my mouth.
Asher sprung into action, planting a hasty yet passionate kiss to my lips before speaking.
“I know you want to come, but stay here, Lola.” Asher breathed, fear burning in his eyes that I hadn’t seen before. “Go find your Dad. I’ll take care of this.”
I gave him a weak nod, the same fear burning in my own eyes. I knew Asher could handle himself, yet I couldn’t fathom a world without my mate, a lifetime without Asher.
I couldn’t imagine how Mason and Sean survived, as the thought of losing Asher was enough to bring me to my knees.
I watched on in silence as Asher shifted and bounded off into the forest, taking a part of my soul with him.
A new weight pressed on my shoulders as unspoken words dripped from my lips. Covered under layers of concealer, the scarlet mark on my shoulder remained untouched and intact.