Walking through the familiar corridors of Council Hall, I was amazed at how much the place had changed. They'd livened it up with plants to offset the dark undertones of the wood panel walls and added a fountain that sat several feet behind the glass divider of the front desk.
As I approached the older lady sitting behind the marble counter, she pulled back from her keyboard and looked at me with what appeared to be recognition from above the rim of her bright red glasses.
"Hi, I'm here to see—"
"Your father. You look just like him. He's in a meeting at the moment. You can go up and wait if you'd like. Suite 202. Then again, you're more than welcome to sit here and keep me company until he's done." She purred, twirling a lock of her graying red hair around her finger.
I couldn't help but smile internally and shot her a prizing winning grin. Leaning across the counter, I could easily detect the scent of a male embedded in her flesh. She leaned in just as far and shivered from my closeness.
"Is that what you want, Jean?" I quickly glanced down at the plaque on her desk, "For me to keep you company?" Her lips parted as they moved closer to mine, and she nodded. "And what would the male keeping your bed warm think?"
At that, she looked stunned. I tapped the tip of my nose with my finger. Falling back into her seat, she brushed away the imaginary wrinkles in her skirt and returned to typing.
"What he doesn't know won't hurt him, but go on up. I'll inform Harold that you're here." With a quirked brow, I shrugged off what she said, picked up my bag and turned toward the elevators eager to put some distance between this lady and me before she pounces.
"You're welcome, hot buns."
I glanced over my shoulder and chuckled as I caught the old bird looking at my ass with a hungry look in her eyes. Of all the things I'd forgotten about this place, it was the number of unmated cougars on the prowl.
The elevator came to a stop, and when the doors opened, I stepped out, once again marveling at the changes made to the building. Each entry was now labeled with a gold plate that had the names of each of the council members engraved on them and a portrait of them beside their doors. Once I reached room 201, I noticed an empty frame with my name engraved in gold underneath. I guess they were serious about awarding me a seat.
Turning back to my father's door, I knocked first, just in case. When no one answered like I expected, I let myself into the room. Everything about it spoke of my father. From the color scheme to the way the furniture was arranged.
When I was younger, I'd purposely move things just to make him chase me. He never thought of it as amusing and never realized it was my way of breaking the stress of his day. Smiling, I went to sit in the comfortable looking armchair in front of his desk, but before I could, the door opened, and an older version of myself walked in. He didn't look happy to see me as he simply stared and his lips formed a perfectly straight line.
"Dad," I stood and bowed my head at him as a sign of respect. I've always looked up to my father and aspired to be the loving mate and father he was. Even though I'd been gone for half a decade, I still considered him my biggest inspiration.
"Dominic," he retorted just as calmly before breaking into a smile and pulled me in for a hug. "It's been a long time, son. Too long." His arms tightened around me, and for as long as they were, I embraced him just the same. Most wolves killed themselves after losing their mate, and since no one has heard from me since the day of Alice's funeral, I'm sure they'd expected that of me. "We thought..." his voice faltered and emotion shone through him for a moment. Being an only child, I know the way I just took off was hard for my parents. Although it was time I needed, there was regret for doing that to them.
"I know, and I'm sorry. I just couldn't deal with being here when everywhere I turned, I saw her face."
"I understand. There is no need to explain it to me. Your mother, however, I think she will try to take you over her knee once she gets over the joy of having you back."
I smiled recalling the times she had taken to her own form of capital punishment when I pushed her too far.
"Yeah… maybe we shouldn't tell her I'm home just yet."
"I love you with all my heart, boy, but I have to sleep beside that woman, and there is no way I am going to do that and risk her turning her fury on me. So, how have you been? Where did you go?"
He motioned for me to sit as he took a seat behind his desk and listened to every detail from how I just took off to escape my pain, to how I came upon the beach house I called my home. It took some time for me to track down the owner, but he all but gave it to me since the waters weren't really swimming friendly. I put all my time and energy into fixing it up, keeping busy so I wouldn't have to think or feel and just like the girl with the amber eyes, I pondered walking into those waters on many nights, joining Alice to be happy again.
He stilled when I said the last part, and as he brought the rim of his coffee mug to his lips, I caught the slightest glimpse of pain in his eyes.
"Well, I'm glad you're still with us. I really am sorry you had to experience that, and I hope that somehow you've found peace. It's been hard to go on, not knowing where you were and knowing that there was nothing I could do as a father to help ease your pain. If there is anything and I mean anything that you need, please come to me." I simply nodded, diverting my eyes to the floor to mask any emotions. "Other than that, how have you been?" He brought his mug to his lips again.
"Good, I guess. Until I claimed a human."
Coffee instantly shot from between my father's lips. His eyes bulged as he stood frantically swiping at the almost invisible stain on his black blazer.
"A human? Son, you just don't go around springing something like that on someone as old as I am. What do you mean… I mean, how did this… you told her about us? Did she see you in wolf form?" One after another, question after question sprouted before he'd finished the others. His eyes scanned mine from his tensed position on the other side of the desk.
"No, that's just it. I didn't have to explain anything to her. She knew what I was without me having to tell her and rather than freaking out over it she was just upset that I tried to claim her."
The puzzled look on his face grew more intense. "Those were her words? She knew that you biting her meant you were claiming her? That doesn't make sense. The only humans that know about us are the ones that are mated to wolves. How could she have already known? Are you sure she wasn't already marked?"
A growl rumbled through my chest at the thought. I couldn't control the sudden anger and ended up answering him with my teeth clenched and my fists balled up tight.
"I would have sensed it. There was no scent around her other than her own. The crazy thing is her scent wasn't that distinctive scent humans have. It should have worn off minutes after she left, but I could still smell her all over my bed sheets and even on my skin. She smelled so good that it called to my wolf and I just lost control."
"Wait a minute," my father stopped his pacing and looked at me curiously, "What do you mean left? Where did she go?"
I sighed pinching the bridge of my nose, feeling like this attempt to seek advice from my dad wasn't going too far. There were too many holes without the whole story, so after taking another deep breath, I relented and went over what happened as quickly as possible.
"I don't know where she went, dad. I don't even know her name. I was walking by my open bedroom window when her scent lured me out to the beach. I saw her go in the water, saved her, then took her inside to help her dry off. She kissed me, one thing led to another, and my wolf decided he wanted her. When she woke up a few hours later, she freaked out, and against my better judgment, I let her go."
My agitation was evident in every single word spoken. I couldn't direct it at anyone but myself. It was my fault she wasn't in my arms now just as it is my fault Alice was no longer here.
"And now, I have to find her. Before I marked her, I felt this pull toward her that wasn't as strong as what I felt when I had Alice, but afterward, I felt like she belonged to me. I know this may sound crazy, but I think I'm getting a second chance at having a mate and if that's what this is, I want her."
A deep breath of air rushed from my father's nose as he dropped back in his chair and rubbed his chin. I felt like a kid coming to him with a ridiculous request for him to somehow fulfill. As if he were some kind of superhero, I sat on the edge of my seat and waited for him to do or say something. Anything.
"There has to be a logical explanation behind this, and when we get to it, I hope it's not something so disappointing that you'll leave us again. Those years were hard, and your absence hurt more people than you realize. Let me think this over while I make arrangements to set you up with a place in your uncle's territory. It's not going to be easy considering we don't have a name for her, but your mark should help us at least sense her when you're near. I can't promise you anything, Dominic, but if you truly believe this girl is your mate, I will help you find her."
I jumped to my feet excitedly then quickly readjusted myself, extending my hand to my father correctly. "Thank you, Sir. I really appreciate this." Accepting my hand, he stood and pulled me into as much of a hug as the large oak wood desk between us would allow.
"Don't mention it. Just do us both a favor and go see your mother."
I nodded, grabbed my bag, and headed for the elevators fully intending to go see my mother, but not before I pop in on Lance. Being the strong wolf that he is, he should be able to pick up my missing mate's scent from the towel I used to dry her hair. With his help, she'll be at my side by the end of the week.
Monday rolled around with me dodging Kenya's calls, giving Jaxon the silent treatment, and still no word from Cameron. It shouldn't have come as a surprise that he hadn't attempted to talk to me at all since that night, but a part of me was still clinging to hope that Cam would come around and say he didn't mean what he said.
Everything I did before he stepped on my heart was to catch his eye, including the way I dressed. Since he made it clear that he doesn't care, I settled on ripped jeans with a low cut black v-neck t-shirt, a pair of boots, and called it a day. I left my hair in its natural curl to cover the mark on my neck and didn't give my appearance a second thought.
On the inside, I felt like shit, and I'm pretty sure I looked it on the outside, too. Judging by the stares I was getting since I arrived on campus, I guess everyone agreed.
Walking past a group of girls on my way to my first class, I heard my name being said, then laughter and the mentioning of Cameron and Marissa. When I turned around and faced them, they all stopped talking and diverted their eyes to the floor only to resume their conversation the second my back turned. Then they laughed again.
Shrugging it off as best as I could, I continued walking through the hall encountering more chatter that didn't stop and referred to me as a "sad, pathetic, freak of a mate."
Clutching my bag and my books close to me, I quickened my pace until I was damn near jogging through the corridors to escape the whispers and fingers pointed at me.
Too busy looking at the floor, I ran into a muscular back, and when I looked up to apologize, I caught a glimpse of my brother's face then Cameron's before I heard a loud thud and growling. Shoving through the thick crowd until I was in the front of the circle that formed around them, I immediately dropped my things and tried to pull my brother away from my mate. His body was shaking beneath my hand, his wolf sitting just below the surface.
Cameron's nose crunched underneath Jaxon's fists, causing blood to pour down his face and onto his black shirt.
"Stop it, Jax!" Somehow I managed to get a good grip on his arm and tried with all my might to pull him off of Cameron. Still, he sent blow after blow into his jaw. "Jackie, please!" My pleas and fruitless tugging only resulted in a mere shifting of my brother's weight before he hopped to his feet and sent his heavy boot into Cameron's ribs.
The crowd parted, and Braden raced towards us, placing himself between the two.
"That's enough, Jaxon!" He compelled them both to stand down and resist fighting. Eyeing Cameron's blood covered nose that was already beginning to heal, he looked to Jaxon with all seriousness, "What's going on?"
With his eyes still locked on Cameron, Jaxon took a threatening step forward as if he were preparing to step around his best friend to get to him. "That asshole hurt my sister and is parading around here with that slut on his arm like my sister doesn't exist."
Cameron chuckled as he gripped the bottom of his shirt and pulled it up to clean off his face, "I should have known she was going to come crying to you rather than just deal with it."
Jaxon snarled and tried to sidestep Braden again, "Just deal with it? How about you just deal with me shoving my foot down your throat!"
"Do what you want, Jaxon." Cameron leaned forward to pick up his notebook and held his hand out for Marissa who'd been standing off to the side with her hand over her mouth watching in horror. "Nothing you do or say will change the fact that I don't want her. Whether you like it or not isn't my problem."
He looked at me with amusement then walked off through the crowd with Marissa trailing behind him. Everyone then turned and looked at me with pitiful stares. If it weren't bad enough that people were already gossiping about what happened at the party, now they'd be talking about the way he just walked away from me with another female at his side. Without saying a single word to my twin or even looking his way, I picked up my bag and notebooks and scurried off down the hall to class. The whole time I was looking down at my feet.
I didn't look up once until I got to the classroom and sought out a seat in the middle of the room. If I could somehow blend in with the rest of my classmates during this hour-long lecture, maybe, just maybe I can get through this day. As I weaved through the seats, my presence seemed to cease the hum of the conversations going on. Finding one that had empty spots on either side of it, I shrunk back, dropped my head in my hands, and waited for the professor to walk in so I could get this day over with.
"I ought to kill you for trying to kill yourself!" Kenya whispered harshly in my ear. I groaned and popped my head up, meeting her scowl with a look of defeat.
"Not now, Kenny, please." I snatched up my books, shoved them into my bag, and stormed out of the room with Kenya hot on my trail.
"Then, when? You've been avoiding me since the party, and for that, I should kick your ass double time! You should have told me what was going on, not Jaxon!"
Thankfully the hall was empty when she said that because something in me snapped and I really couldn't deal with people talking about that too.
"You want to kick my ass? Fine! Here it is!" I motioned behind me, turning my back to her for a brief second, "But do me a favor and make sure one of those kicks go to my head so I can get some peace if only for a damned second! In the last three days, I've endured my mate cheating on me, had him blatantly disrespect me in front of everyone, was bitten by a stranger, and now everyone has another reason to talk about me! Forgive me for not seeing the sunny side to life right now and jumping to have a girl bonding session!"
Her brows fused, and she looked at me, confusedly, "Bitten?"
"Bitten," pulling the collar of my shirt to the side I showed her the still reddened bite mark and watched her eyes pop out of her head. "And it has been throbbing like crazy since I got it." She inched closer to it as if taking in the details of the bite then turned my head with her thumb and forefinger, forcing me to look at her awestruck face.
"That's not just a bite, Jade. You were claimed," she paused, allowing a huge smile to spread across her face revealing her extremely deep dimples, "...by someone other than Cameron! Do you know how wonderful that is?! What did he look like? You don't know his name? That sucks! Was he hot?" She wailed excitedly and gasped dramatically throwing her hand over her mouth, "Did you sleep with him? How was it? This is so great! We have to rub this in that jerk's face! When can I meet him?"
I stared at her in shock, unsure of where to really begin answering her questions, so I picked one question and skipped over the others. "He said his name is Dominic. You know this isn't a good thing, Kenny, right?"
"Of course, it is! You can only be claimed once, and since it wasn't by Cameron, you can tell that loser to kiss your ass once and for all! You have to make it good, though. I think you should say it calmly with a slight smile like, 'Do me a favor Cam,' then blow him a kiss and slap your ass. His name sounds sexy by the way. Is he?"
I sighed out of frustration and couldn't keep my mind from floating back to those deep, smoldering, eyes and even the faint scar above his lip that made me absently lick mine. Sexy isn't even the word I'd use to describe a man that had captured me as much as he had. Realizing what I was doing, I shook my head to rid it of those thoughts.
"Yes, he was, but it's not as simple as that. This mark hasn't exactly changed how I feel about Cameron or the fact that he's still my mate. I will admit that I kicked myself for leaving Dominic, but he isn't my mate. When I saw Cam and Jaxon fighting earlier, I felt this need to protect him, and when he walked off with Marissa's hand in his, I wasn't just hurt, I was jealous. I should hate him and just let go, I know, but I can't. We get one mate and while mine doesn't want me and according to him, never will, I can't look at this," I pointed to my neck, "the same way you do. What does it mean? I have a mate, but I belong to someone else? How is that even possible? There are laws against that aren't there?"
Kenya shook her head and shrugged, "Maybe he is your mate, Jade. Maybe that gene of yours has made you more special than you realize."
I snorted rather unladylike and smirked, "There is nothing special about me, Kenny. I'm pretty much a human girl in a wolf world. If I were special, my mate would be by my side, holding my hand."
"You are special, Jade and don't ever let Cameron or anyone else for that matter, make you think you're not. Maybe this happened for a reason. Maybe the fates are making it up to you by giving you another mate. I say they owe it to you." She smirked, stepping closer to me and threw her arm around my shoulder. "As for what you tried to do, don't ever in your life think you can just up and leave me like that. This friendship is like a marriage, and you can't divorce me. This," she motioned between us, "is forever. Til death do we part. Do you hear me?"
"I hear you."
I laughed and laid my head on her shoulder, and she rested hers against mine. I love this girl like a sister and honestly, don't know what I'd do without her. Pulling out of our embrace, she fixed my hair to cover the bite mark, basically showing me that she understands that we have to keep it between us. Then, she looped her arm around mine.
"Since you have your books and I really don't feel like going to class, why don't we go to the Cafe' and talk more about this Dominic." Her eyes lit up once again as they had before. Giving in, I giggled and followed her out the door smiling genuinely for the first time all day.
What was supposed to be us skipping our first lectures turned into us taking off nearly the whole day. In our quiet booth in the corner of the campus diner, we sat and discussed everything that'd happened that night. The conversation quickly turned from Cameron to Dominic with her wanting to know exactly what he looked like and how far things actually went. Just as I was explaining the strange warmth and pleasure I got from his touch after he bit me, the bell on the door chimed and in walked Braden with Jaxon close behind him.
They joined us at our booth. Braden nuzzled Kenya's neck with his nose before he leaned across the table and pulled one of my curls as he usually did until it sprung back into place.
"What's up, Jadie Bug."
God, I hated that name.
"This isn't the first time you're seeing me today but, hi, Braden." I rolled my eyes playfully. The fact that his mother and my mother grew up as best friends paved the way for the closeness we have now. He is pretty much welcome in my house like we were his second family.
"You look like you're feeling better. Good thing, too, because you had me ready to jump on the beat Cam's ass train, myself."
"You should have. Jade is like a sister to us both, and that asshat deserves to get beat on for how he's treating her."
Braden waved Kenya off, putting his arm around her shoulder, "That's right now. When he sees that Marissa is no prize, he'll come crawling back to Jade. Either that or when he gets tired of Jax punching his face in."
Underneath the table, I felt something touch my hand and looked down just in time to see my brother interlocking his fingers with mine. I looked up at him reluctantly and saw the sorrow in his eyes. Instantly I knew what it was for.
We've always been able to sense the other's emotions, and just like he knew I was upset about what he'd done, I knew he was upset for the same reason. He has always protected me, so it was no surprise that he'd taken matters into his own hands the second he saw my mate. Rather than saying something, I leaned my head against him, silently telling him all was forgiven. He kissed the top of my head, making Kenya and Braden "Aww" and laugh.
"Shut up." I tossed one of my now lukewarm onion rings at them. "What are you doing here, anyway? Didn't you see the sign that said no boys allowed?"
"Nope, all I saw was my girl on the other side of the glass, and my wolf demanded I fix that." Braden winked in Kenya's direction.
"Oh he did, did he?"
"Yeah baby, want to hear it from him?" He threw his head back and let out a playful howl luring everyone's eyes to us. While I covered my face to hide my embarrassment, Jaxon chuckled, and Kenya grinned from ear to ear. "That was him saying, we missed those dimples, and you should give us a kiss right now."
"What if I want more than a kiss?" She wiggled her brows, placing a kiss on his chin. Braden growled, pulling her closer with eyes darkened by lust.
The bell on the door chimed behind them somehow breaking their gaze from one another. We watched as Cameron walked in with Marissa tucked into his side, his hand shoved into her back pocket. He stopped as they neared our booth, looked at me, smirked, then continued toward us.
"Hey, Jaxon, I was doing some thinking, and I forgive you for what happened earlier. I realized that if I had a defective sister, I'd be pissed, too. So as a peace offering, your drinks are on me." He pulled Marissa even closer as he dug through his pocket with his free hand and pulled out a balled up twenty dollar bill. Jaxon lunged at him, but Braden jumped up and stood between them.
Chuckling, he walked off toward a table a few feet away from us. He pulled out a single chair, plopped down, and sat Marissa on his lap.
She looked over at me apologetically as he ran his hand up and down her thigh and blew kisses into her neck. She quickly turned away from me and kissed him back as if I weren't even there.
Defective? That's what they thought of me as? A defect? A mistake?
My chest tightened, and I felt like I had something stuck in my throat. My breaths grew quick and labored, and at any second, I knew tears were going to find their way down my cheeks. I stood as much as I could and pushed past my brother and Braden to get out of the booth, but Braden caught my hand and tried to pull me back.
"Don't let him run you off, Jade," his tone was soft and just as sad as the look in his eyes.
I glanced over my shoulder and saw Cameron with his tongue down Marissa's throat, and my heart fell to the pit of my stomach. Yanking my hand free of Braden's grip, I jetted out of the diner without looking Cameron's way again.
I felt his eyes following me the whole way, and I could sense him smirking and internally laughing as I rushed out of there with my head hung low. I heard a loud gasp and laughing as the door opened behind me and Jaxon jogged to catch up to me. Against everything, I looked back to see what was happening and caught Kenya standing over my mate with her strawberry milkshake turned down over his head. She ran out behind us, laughing so hard that Braden was practically carrying her. When she caught up to us in the parking lot, she shrugged her shoulders and coolly smoothed the hair back into place.
"What? He said the drinks were on him."
Braden and Jaxon joined her in laughter and for a moment I, too, couldn't resist a smile.
I spent the rest of the day with the three of them, trying to front like I was ok. In all actuality, I was anything but. I'd heard many things and have been called many names, but hearing Cameron, my mate, the one who was supposed to see me and automatically have love in his eyes for me, call me a 'defect' hurt more than words could explain. Now, I firmly believe that I don't belong here with the wolves I've known my entire my life, and I consider going back to that beach to try a second time.
When I got home, I pushed through the door, set on closing myself off from the world. On my way up to my room, however, my ears perked up at the sound of laughter. Oddly, my heart seemed to take on an extra beat.
My feet moved on their own, leading me into the living room behind Jaxon, where I froze.
There he was, Dominic, sitting on the couch next to my father with a photo album in front of him. He sniffed the air and stiffened, looked up at me and our eyes locked, causing him to stand mid-sentence looking just as Godly as the first time I'd seen him.
"I was hoping the two of you would come straight home today." My father jumped up happily, "This is Dominic Cruz, a good friend of mine and the best wolf I've ever trained. Cruz, these are my kids I was always talking about, Jaxon and Jade."
As he closed the distance between us, his eyes zoomed in on me, making me shiver from his scrutiny. Suddenly he looked away from me and turned to my brother.
"I've heard so much about you," he shook Jaxon's hand then took mine into his, caressing the back of it lovingly with his thumb setting off that strange feeling of warmth and pleasure that I felt just before I left him. With me, his voice took on more of a seductive purr, making me blush. "And it's nice to finally meet you."