I smell his scent nearby, my wolf impatiently wagging her tail for him to come inside the house and speak to us.
But after finding out who he is to me, I do not wish to see him anytime soon.
There’s a tap on my shoulder and I turn to find Zane watching me closely, his hair still wet from his shower.
“What’s on your mind?” he signs.
I try to brush him off but he insists.
“You’ve been stirring the steak sauce with the stove off for 10 minutes now,” he argues with a soft smile.
“What’s wrong?” “How is Talia handling her wolf and mark? Don’t think I didn’t see it,” I tease him, changing the subject.
Zane blushes and timidly hides his red face from me, likely mumbling something under his breath.
He turns back to me when he calms his blush down.
“Whatever it is that’s bothering you, you can tell me,” Zane signs.
“I still have time for you.” selfish with his love.
His mate and his pup should be his priority.
“Take care of your family and I will be okay,” I smile, Zane’s eyes growing sad.
“But you are my family,” He retorts.
“I can take care of you too.” His words overwhelm my heart but I know he will not let this go until he is sure I am okay.
“Pll tell you when I am ready.
I’m just not ready right now.” My reply seems to upset him but as always, he respects my wishes and drops the matter entirely, instead taking the saucepan from my hands and helping me set the table.
I feel the floors vibrate beneath my feet as Dakota stomps down the hall.
He’s started to stomp more around me to make his presence known or catch my attention and it makes me so happy he cares enough to do that.
As I reach for the dinner plates, I feel Dakota pull at my pant leg.
When I look down at him, he signs the word ‘help’ and holds out his little hands for me to give him the plates.
They are much too heavy for him so I give him his own plastic plate and cup to carry to the table and he happily trots along No one seems to have the heart to tell him that’s Zane’s place and so the little boy claims the seat.
Talia and Rionna help me bring the food to the table and as we all settle at our seats, Tylen appears down the hall.
I freeze upon seeing him, unsure if I should run and hide or pretend my heart isn’t racing now that he’s so close.
He’s much more handsome than I last remember, his brown eyes containing speckles of amber and emerald when the light hits them.
His dark hair, which is longer at the top and shorter on the sides, is messily combed upwards witha few stubborn strands hanging over his forehead.
His clean shaven jaw is sharp and a pair of thick brows frame his large eyes that look directly at me.
He wears a black t-shirt, his arm tattoos on full display.
“I invited Tylen for dinner,” Rionna explains.
“I hope that’s alright.
He just needs his space from his father right now.” I force a smile on my face and silently nod as Tylen slides into the seat directly across from me.
He signs hello but I pretend I don’t see him and pour myself a glass of wine instead.
Dinner chat quickly begins, Zane signing the entire “So Tylen…tell us about yourself…” Talia asks, Zane giving her a look of misery.
“Do you have a mate?” Tylen steals a glance at me and turns back to Talia.
“l’ve met her…but she doesn’t trust me,” Tylen replies both audibly and in sign.
“I can’t say I blame her.” “You met your mate and didn’t tell me?” Rionna glares at Tylen, hurt flickering in her eyes.
“How could you?” “It’s not for me to tell,” Tylen argues.
“I am respecting her privacy.” Rionna doesn’t reply, but I can tell this conversation will continue in private.
“If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t trust my mate in the beginning either,” Talia says as she pours juice for Kota.
“I refused to let him in but he slowly tore down my walls and gave me his heart,” she adds with a smile.
“Whoever your mate is, don’t give up on her.
She might just be afraid of her own feelings.
Give her time and patience and you’ll find a way to show her you’re worth opening up to.”
Tylen eyes the necklace on my neck and lignore him once more, concentrating on cutting my steak.
The silence which has always been my refuge is now uncomfortable and I find myself drowning in my memories.
I never change, no matter who forces their way into my life.
Not wanting to go down the painful road of my past, I look up again and find a new conversation taking place, Zane still translating for my sake.
From the corner of my eye, I notice Tylen translating as well, the kind gesture filling me with a warm fuzzy feeling.
“I hear my father has offered you his pack, Zane,” Tylen signs, Talia sitting up straighter to give him her undivided attention.
“Il assume you have questions.” “Yes, I’d like to know why an Alpha would give up his pack?” Talia explains.
“I’ve never met an Alpha, or wolf, to be honest, who would, so why would you?” Tylen does not answer right away, taking his time to formulate an answer.
“lye been on a battlefield from the time I could shift,” Tylen finally responds.
“All my wolf and I have ever known is war.
I live it, Idream it, I breathe it.
It’s in my veins.
Even my gift makes me a weapon of destruction.
Rionna tried her best to keep me off the battlefield but my sense of duty always dragged me into battle.
I had to be a warrior for my pack because that’s what they needed me to be.
A soldier who That’s what I became…and that frightens me.
I fight because I have to…but I fear the day I fight because I want to.
That’s not a good leader.
That’s a monster in the making.
My pack may need aruthless soldier now, but it will not need another ruthless Alpha later on.
You may think it selfish for me to choose to abstain from my position when there is no heir left to take the title, but I think I’ve earned the right to walk away after all my years of service.
My pack deserves a good Alpha…
and unfortunately that is not who I am.” “That’s very mature of you,” Talia replies.
“It takes a true Alpha to realize his or her own limitations and I admire your courage to step away and create your own destiny.” Tylen’s eyes meet mine one more time, loneliness and fear darkening them and he looks away before anyone else notices.
“will Zane be accepting my father’s proposal?” Tylen asks when there are no more questions for him.
“I don’t know,” Zane signs.
“How dol know! can trust him?” Tylen and Rionna exchange glances and it appears they share a few words via mindlink before Tylen has an answer.have not forgiven him for what he did to Rionna and I…lam trying to understand him.
He lost everything because of this war, his mate, his best friend, his throne.
I imagine he feared losing everything again and kept Rionna’s past a secret for that reason, but he makes it very difficult to trust him sometimes.
I don’t know.
I can’t think of a reason for him to lie but I also wouldn’t put it past him to hide his true motive and have something up his sleeve.” He settles back in his seat with a shrug, but it seems the entire situation has left him unsettled.
My wolf, Cynthia, becomes restless as she senses Tylen’s turmoil and I struggle to restrain her.
“Excuse me,” I sign, quickly getting up to leave.
In desperate need of some peace and quiet, I take a walk outside with no destination in mind.
My thoughts begin to race and I break into a sprint as I try to outrun them.
Not long into my run, I stumble into a clearing and find a large tree house perched atop a majestic oak tree.
It has a wrap around deck and steps built into the trunk for easy access to the house.
A tire swing hangs from one of the tree’s sturdy branches and I carefully climb onto it, swinging my legs to and fro while inhaling the fresh air to soothe my turbulent I have not felt butterflies in my belly since Damon stole a kiss from me the day he went off to war.
I was so angry at him for leaving that I refused to kiss him back.
It’s been 20 years and I have still not forgiven myself.
Had I only known it would be last time I’d see him, I would have savored his last kiss and told him how much I loved being his Aggy.
Now it seems the universe is mocking my pain, sending my son off to the same war that took my family and mating me to the son of the man who started it all.
In the midst of my inner turmoil, the sudden scent of sage and magnolia fills the air and I look up to find Tylen staring at me near the edge of the clearing, his eyes following me when I jump off the swing onto my feet.
“This is a nice little space, isn’t it?” He signs, taking two steps into the clearing while I take two steps back and nearly bump into the tree trunk.
Seeing my reaction he stops moving but continues speaking.
“I found it the day you left me.” I want nothing more than to run and hide but I remain still and frozen in place.
“Is my family name the only objection you have for accepting me as your mate?” he asks bluntly.
audacity he has to think that that is my only objection.
“I already had a mate,” I sign furiously.
“And he was more than enough.” His brows furrow in anger, creating a shadow over his eyes and his lips press firmly into a frown.
“So you refuse to accept me over something I have no control over?” He responds with annoyed enthusiasm.
“That doesn’t seem very fair to me.” “Well neither is being mated to you!” I retort.
“I did not ask to lose my family.
I did not ask to be forced into exile.
I did not ask to start a new life in the pack of the man I hate most in the world.
I did not ask for any of this!” “Well, what do you want?” He signs angrily.
“Do you want me to apologize for being the son of Toran Ravenstone? Do you want me to apologize for the sins of other Alphas? Let me remind you that you are not the only one who’s lost something because of this war.
You are not the only person who’s mourned the death of your family!” I don’t know how to respond and fidget with my necklace.
“Tobias was more than just my cousin, he was my brother.
We grew up together,” Tylen continues.
“He was years.
That was the plan,” he adds with a shrug.
“But s**t happens.” He walks past me and takes a seat on the swing, letting out a tired sigh before planting his feet firmly on the ground.
“We were on a mission.
Our job was to gather intel on Scarlett Haven’s underground tunnel system.
We got caught.
Tobias caused a distraction so I and another soldier could escape.
He never made it home.
Sebastian tortured him and when he had had his fun, he gassed Tobias and sent the body to my aunt in pieces as a cruel gift.” There is no emotion in Tylen’s eyes as he explains the death of his cousin and it saddens me that he has grown accustomed to grotesque loss.
“You may hate what my father and his rivals have done to each other and to us,” Tylen says as he stands.
“But you don’t know me…
and you have no right to judge me.” He walks back to the edge of the clearing, his back facing the trees and his eyes focused on me.
“I have no reservations against being your mate,” Tylen explains.
“But if you do, reject me now.” I don’t know how to respond and he holds up his hand “5” My wolf paces back and forth anxiously and if! could hear her, lam sure she would be howling in distress.
“4? My hands remain frozen at my sides and no matter how much I will them to move, I am unable to lift them up.
“Qn My heart begins to race and I feel a sudden tightness in my chest.
“y? He holds my gaze for what seems like an eternity, expecting me to move or show signs of regret, but I say nothing.
Very slowly, he lowers his hand and breaks the distance between us until he’s towering just a few inches from my face.
He cups my cheeks in his rough hands, my face bursting with sparks I haven’t felt in two decades and presses his lips harshly against mine.
Stunned, my instincts take over and my body relaxes into his kiss.
before I can reciprocate without any further explanation, and disappears into the woods.
I stare at the spot he had just occupied, my mind in complete chaos.
What just happened?