Standing here alone, in the early morning light, I bid farewell to the last family member I had. As they lower my father into the ground, a tear escapes down my cheek. My attention is entirely focused on what’s happening in front of me, which is how I miss him at first. But when Rowan wraps his arms around my middle from behind, I break.
I didn’t know I needed someone to hold me up until he was there. I don’t want to show any weakness in front of anyone, but this is a special circumstance. It’s not every day you bury your father. Instead of pushing him away like I should, I turn in his arms, bury my face in his chest, and let the tears flow.
Rowan doesn’t speak a single word as we stand there. He simply holds me. Before long, rain starts to pelt down on us, and still, he remains. Strong and sturdy.
“We’re getting soaked,” I croak into his chest, trying to regain my composure.
“Doesn’t matter,” he replies close to my ear. “We can stand here as long as you need.”
“I’m okay now,” I say, pulling away from him. “We should head back.”
Rowan nods before moving into step beside me, worry etched in the lines on his face. He wraps his arm around my shoulder again, pulling me to him. His warmth and scent comfort me, making me feel better in this desolate, heart-breaking moment.
In the back of my mind, I know I shouldn’t let him comfort me, but I can’t push him away. Later, maybe tomorrow, when I am back to myself, I’ll be able to re-erect my walls and keep him out. One thing is for certain: I can’t get used to having Rowan there because this mating will be over in two weeks.
When we reach the outskirts of town, I finally try to pull away, but Rowan holds on firmly. My gaze strays to the side of his chiseled face, taking in his clenched jaw.
“Not now,” he says lowly so only I can hear.
I want to argue, but then I see what has him so suddenly tense. Odette. It’s nice to see some things haven’t changed. She looks exactly the way she did in high school. Always trying so hard to be the center of attention. My gaze tracks her as she makes a beeline directly for us.
“There you are, Rowan,” she exclaims, her gaze glued to the position of Rowan’s hand.
“Odette.” He acknowledges her but doesn’t stop walking.
“We need to talk,” she says.
“No, we don’t. I said all I had to say last night,” Rowan replies.
My posture goes stiff. Last night? Our mating bond isn’t even broken yet and already he is sniffing around the next bitch! Typical. I try pulling away again, but Rowan only tightens his grip. A deep sigh leaves him before he stops, turning to face Odette.
“This is exactly what I was talking about last night,” Rowan says angrily. He releases the grip on my shoulder only to entwine his hand with mine. After a gentle squeeze, he continues. “I am destined to mate with Kira, and you need to make peace with that. I told you that you would never be my mate, that I was waiting for the one I was fated to be with.”
“You can’t just throw me away like trash!” Odette screeches.
“Odette, you’re causing a scene,” Rowan says with a growl. “Nothing is going to change my mind, and you need to accept that.”
Watching Odette closely, I see her start to lose control, the change already rippling along her skin.
“You would choose this gemors over me?” she says before launching in my direction.
Rowan wasn’t expecting the move, that much is clear, because he doesn’t respond immediately. But I do. Pushing him from me, I spin away from the clearly crazy woman. Turning back to her, I find her fully shifted.
“Kira!” Rowan shouts, trying to get to me, but Odette is directly between us, her panther already bloodthirsty.
When she springs into action, so do I, shifting mid-jump. She’s smaller than me, and with the years of training I have done with Max, Calum, and the rest of the wolves, she couldn’t best me on my worst day. It doesn’t take me long to have her pinned beneath me, my fangs wrapped around her throat, ready to rip her jugular out.
“Kira.” I hear Rowan’s voice over the pounding of the adrenaline running through my veins. “You’ve proved your point.”
Long moments stretch out as I contemplate ending her. Memories flash in my mind’s eye. All the abuse, the bullying, my entire childhood filled with memories of this fvcking horrible bitch making my life a living hell. But I’m not going to stoop to her level. Instead, I release her and let out a roar to the sky before stalking home, not even bothering to shift back to my human form.
“Jesus Christ, Rowan!” Silas exclaims when Kira stalks off. “You need to put a leash on that fvcking female. She’s a menace.”
I turn my glare on him. “How about you get your sister to accept my fvcking decision instead of trying to kill my mate?” I challenge.
“Mate?” Silas gasps.
My anger drains as Silas helps his hysterically crying sister to her feet. I’m not angry at him. Rather at Odette and this fvcking situation. This is my fault. I knew Odette wanted to be my mate, and yet I still fvcked her whenever I felt like it. I played with her feelings, and now I must deal with the consequences.
“Yes, Silas. Kira is my fated mate.”
Silas doesn’t acknowledge me, instead speaking in hushed tones to Odette. She nods slowly before walking away from us.
“Fvck, man,” Silas says, running his hand through his hair. “This is going to cause so many fvcking problems.”
“You think I don’t know that?” I ask him as we walk toward the main house. “Kira can’t stand me or anyone else in this pack. She’s already trying to find ways to end our mating.”
“What do you mean to end your mating?”
“She doesn’t want to be my mate. She doesn’t want to be here any longer than is absolutely necessary,” I reply.
“Can you blame her?” Silas asks. The question has my panther waking. Who the fvck is he to judge us, to question us?
“Don’t get all prissy. Think about this. You know I’m right.”
“Of course, you’re fvcking right!” But what the fvck do you want me to do about the past? It’s not like I can snap my fingers and erase her memories.”
“No, you can’t,” Silas says as we reach my front porch. “But you can show her that you’re not some dumb kid anymore.” Silas turns on his heel and strides down the path leading to the center of town.
“Why are you trying to help me, Silas?” I call after him. “This is driving Odette insane.”
Silas turns to me, sadness swimming in his gaze. “My sister will have to learn to deal with the choice she has made. You were always clear on where your relationship with her was headed.” Smiling sadly, he adds, “And it’s what a good beta should do,” before walking away, leaving me to ponder my predicament on my own.