He ran into the wind. This was definitely his favorite season, when the nights grew long and the crisp air made him grateful for the extra hair on his skin. Getting thirsty, he turned west, towards a stream that ran across the forest path. Reaching its banks, he lowered his head to take a long gulp. Plunging his whole head into the clear cold waters, he felt refreshed. Pulling back, he shook droplets from his hair. The skin around his muscles pulled tight, trying to accommodate the strength coursing through his body. He looked down at his reflection in the stream. He pulled his lips apart, sharp teeth smiled at him. He loved this time of year.
He wondered how long it would take the pack to catch up to him. Taking a deep breath, he could smell the wolves coming fast and strong. She was so close now that he could smell her anger. He stood up straight, gazing with a lazy look, in the direction he knew she was coming from. He sniffed the cold air again. The scent of the pack was strong. He could almost taste their excitement, was almost carried away by it, intoxicated by it. Shaking himself, he focused on the one leading the pack, Ariany Melisande Lacroix.
The underbrush bent, the earth quivered and then she was there. He stared into eyes the color of frost, listening to her faint growl.
He lowered his head, the sign of submission and respect among werewolves for one of superior rank. He kept his golden eyes on her face though. He was not some pup, intimidated by a female, even if she was the wulfric of this pack.
Yes, she was magnificent. Her white blond hair was windblown from the run through the wind. He watched her shake herself, resettling the gorgeous strands. Her eyes caught his gaze before shifting to look towards the rest of the pack. Then she started to Change. In an instant, a beautiful woman stood before him, her long hair cascading down her back. She was shoeless and wore a long nightgown, as if she’d been in bed beforehand. Most likely someone had informed her of his presence on her land and she’d come to him immediately. She stretched, glancing back at him.
“Andrei, you are getting too careless.” She snorted in disgust and turned to address the wolves that stood, tense, around them.
“I want to talk to Andrei in private. I’ll meet up with you later.” She turned to the male nearest her and instructed him in a low voice. The male lowered his head and led the rest of the pack away from the clearing.
By this time, Andrei had changed back to his human form as well. Technically he shouldn’t have even changed without her permission, but he had a feeling she would want answers. “Ariany—”
“Don’t!” She turned to face him, furious. “How dare you come into my territory without warning or my express permission!”
Ariany marched up to him, forcing him to look directly at her. Perhaps it was because he’d grown up with humans, but he was so tired of the posturing of werewolves. He didn’t care what the rules were. “I want Cinder,” he said simply.
She stared at him in amazement. After a moment she backed away and laughed, “And I’m just supposed to hand her over, is that it?”
“She is mine! She doesn’t belong here –”
“She belongs here more than she ever will with you. What is she to do when the Change occurs? Hide in the woods until the moon sets – like you do?”
He glanced at her sharply and rose to his full height. He was done with the niceties. “Will you give her to me freely or will I have to take her?”
She turned away from him, walking a few paces before she said, “You know I cannot force someone out of the pack against their will unless it is to exile them. Is that what you want for her? Never allowed among her people again, living a lie just so she can die as a human? Never to mate, never to bear children, never to have her own pack? How well did that work out for your family?” She taunted him, knowing that he hated hearing about his family’s past.
He wanted nothing more than to rip out her throat. But there was no way he would make it out of these woods before someone discovered the murder. And he still needed to save Cinder. Andrei struggled to reign in his anger. He couldn’t afford to get Ariany truly upset. She was right. He was in her territory without permission and if she maimed or killed him, there was little anyone could do to her. At least not without bringing humans into it and that was never going to happen.
Growling softly, he said, “May I at least speak to her?”
She turned and looked at him contemplatively, “You really want this one then? Interesting.” She shrugged. “Fine, you can see her, on one condition.”
“You become my mate.”
Andrei laughed, “That will never happen!”
She bristled before forcing herself to calm down. “I know, I know. You love your little Cinderella. So because I’m an awesome person, I’ll give you a couple of years. You can sow your wild oats; realize that Cinder wants nothing to do with you; settle your affairs.” She smiled at him. “You want her. Well, I want you.”
Fuming, he glared at her. She couldn’t be serious. He didn’t love her and he wouldn’t mate someone he didn’t love. He was not his sister.
He ended that line of thought immediately. Eva was doing what she thought was right and he couldn’t fault her for that.
“So in order to free Cinder, I need to become your mate?” He thought about this for a minute. His freedom for Cinder’s. He would do anything for her. But to be bound to this woman forever? Looking at Ariany, he thought, what other choice do I have? Cinder, the only person he’d ever truly wanted despised him. She’d never mate with him and without her, did it matter who he ended up with?
“Okay. Fine.” Guess he was just like Eva after all.
She looked a bit surprised but a grin spread across her face. “Excellent!”
He couldn’t stand in the rain and watch Ariany gloat while Cinder was locked in that house, a captive to this crazy woman. “Take me to her – now!”
Walking into the room where Cinder sat gazing out of a window, Andrei cleared his throat. She turned to face him and the smile he wore faded at her expression. She was not pleased to see him.
“What are you doing here?” She hissed, rising and backing away from him.
He was silent for a moment before flushing in anger. “I’m here to rescue you!”
Cinder laughed. “Rescue me? Do I look like I need rescuing? Do I look like I need anything from you?”
“Cinder,” Andrei began, but she cut him off.
“No. You can go to hell Andrei London. You’re the reason I’m here in the first place. I can’t go back home. How would I explain this to my parents? Where would I go? Ariany told me about you. About your family.” She started to pace around the room, making sure to keep as far away from him as possible. “I always knew you were weird. But I didn’t know you were cursed as well.”
He took a step towards her, wanting to touch her.
“Stay. The hell. Away from me! Don’t you dare touch me!” She was practically screaming.
And he couldn’t blame her. Everything she said was the truth. “I’m sorry Cinder but I can’t let you stay here, you don’t know these people like I do. They will turn on you the minute you’re no longer useful. Trust me.”
“I don’t want to go back. I can’t go back.” She turned away from him and stared out the window again.
“There has to be someone. What about your cousin? Maybe she –”
“Who, Maya? You can’t be serious!” She scoffed.
“She’s the one that told me you were missing.”
Cinder turned to face him, her expression full of doubt, but hope as well. “She called you? She noticed I was gone?”
“Yes.” He took a hesitant step and when she didn’t protest, he crossed the room towards her. When he was standing in front of her, he looked into her eyes, begging her to believe him. “She cares. You can go back to her. Couldn’t you?”
He hoped so because she was right. She couldn’t go back home to her parents. If anything, they were worse than Cinder had been in their hatred and skepticism about Supernatural beings. They’d raised their daughter to despise anything she couldn’t understand. They would not welcome her back as a werewolf. Not now, not ever. But this cousin of hers – she’d seem to genuinely care for Cinder. And Andrei had to hope that would be enough to get Cinder to come back to Moonlight Falls with him.
When she nodded, he immediately looked around the room. “Do you have anything that you can’t leave behind? I want to get us out of here ASAP and the less we have to carry the faster we can be on our way.”
“There’s – there’s nothing here that’s mine. Not even the clothes I’m wearing.” She seemed deflated. All the fire was gone out of her and Andrei realized it had been a front to hide the pain and fear. She’d been afraid to go home and face rejection from her family.
He could understand that feeling. His mother, although loving, wasn’t the most enthusiastic person when it came to Supes. His brother was a prime example of that. He smiled down at Cinder and took her hand, leading her out the door of her room. But once they got downstairs, he found the way blocked by Ariany.
“Where are you taking our friend, Dre?” She asked coldly. She’d changed into a blue and white sweater dress. A much more appropriate piece of clothing.
“We’re leaving. Cinder has made her choice.” He pulled Cinder behind him, protecting her from the wolves that stood in their way.
“Is that so?” She looked past his shoulder to Cinder. “Leaving so soon Cin?”
“Y-yes,” Cinder said in a quiet voice.
“Did we do something to make you regret your choice? You swore a vow to me. Don’t you remember? You can’t just leave now. Not without my permission. Dre knows that.” She turned her gaze back to his. “I’m sure it just slipped his mind.”
“We had a deal,” he growled softly. What did she want now? Of course, she wouldn’t let them just leave. She was a conniving she-wolf.
As if reading his mind, she said, “I want a lot of things Dre. But for the moment, I just want your oath that you will come back. We’ll start slow.”
He inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Anything that got them away from her. He’d promise her anything. He nodded. “Fine. I’ll come back.”
She laughed. “I need a bit more than that. Swear it on the Witch’s Moon.”
He paused. This felt like a trap. Cinder shifted behind him, getting antsy. “Fine. I swear it on the Witch’s Moon. There, can we go now?”
Ariany stepped aside to let him and Cinder pass. As he headed out the door, she said, “Don’t try and hide from me, Dre. I don’t like to be tested.”
Andrei escorted Cinder out the door and secured her in his car before speeding away from Ariany’s home. He couldn’t leave fast enough. Ariany had always been ruthless but now that she was the wulfric of her pack, she’d become cruel and power-hungry. Hopefully, she’d get bored and forget about him again.
He couldn’t help but feel uneasy about the oath he’d given her though. He would ask Eva about it the next time he saw her.