Warning: Mild nudity and language.
Five years ago:
Looking up at the house, Andrei sighed. This was where he’d be living for the next four years while he went to school. It was kind of ridiculous that he had to rent a room off campus, but Caleb was against him staying in a dorm. And for good reason.
“I see you found the place alright. Welcome to the Heights, Andrei.”
Andrei turned around to find a beautiful blonde standing in front of him. “You must be Ariany.”
“I am. It’s nice to finally meet you. Caleb has told me such wonderful things about you.” Caleb had told him some things about her too, but none of it was wonderful. In fact, Caleb had warned him to be careful of Ariany Lecroix and her pack. If it wasn’t for his erratic Changing, he wouldn’t even be here. But living off-campus with a pack was better than him wolfing out in a building full of humans.
Looking back at the house, he sighed. “Nice to meet you too.”
He watched as her eyes lowered to his lips and he felt himself smiling. She had to be in her mid-twenties – not that he was complaining – but she was looking at him like a predator. He’d be flattered, if he could muster up some interest.
“If you need anything – anything at all, just give me a call. You have my number, right?” She wasn’t even trying to be subtle.
“Umm, yeah. I have it.”
“Great. See you around Dre.”
“Yeah, see you.” He watched her walk to the sidewalk and get into a blue Chevy. Ariany was the wulfric of the pack in Roaring Heights, so he was surprised and a bit confused as to why she would even waste her time flirting with him.
Turning back towards the house, he sighed and headed up the stairs.
Dre turned the television off and grabbed a towel to wipe the sweat from his brow. Three months. He hadn’t Changed the entire semester, but he was getting antsy again. He took a swig from his water bottle and headed towards the kitchen. He’d hoped working out would help ease the ache in his bones, loosen his muscles up a bit – he’d been wrong. It just made the feeling worse.
Byron, one of his housemates, stopped him by the stairs. “You look like hell, dude.”
“Thanks for stating the obvious, man.”
“How are you feeling though?” Byron was nicer than his other housemate, Jerrick. He was the closest Dre had come to finding a friend.
“Honestly? Like I want to shed my skin, just so the itchiness will stop. Everything I do just makes it worse. It’s driving me insane.”
“Is it the wolf? Cuz Ariany told us about your problem…”
Great, so much for keeping his condition a secret. He couldn’t fault her though, she had to protect her pack.
“Yeah. I think my luck has run out.”
Byron patted him on the back. “It’s cool man. The solstice moon is in, like, a week. If you can hold out that long, it will be easier. Meantime, you need to get rid of all that energy.”
“I know.” And that was the problem. He was causing himself undue suffering because he was pining over some girl who wouldn’t care if he had sex with every female on campus, as long as he didn’t touch her.
“If it makes you feel better, we’re having a party tomorrow night.”
Andrei looked at Byron, incredulous. “How does that make anything better? I can’t be around people right now.”
“Well, we’ll be here and maybe you’ll hook up with someone. De-stress a bit.” Byron gave him another sympathetic pat and walked away.
Yeah, that was a great idea, if he could just get Cinder out of his mind. He’d been shocked and a tab bit too excited when he’d seen her in the campus library. They were going to the same damn school and he hadn’t even known. He’d tried to speak to her, but she’d seemed less than pleased to see him. Not wanting to embarrass himself in case she snubbed him, he’d nodded and then walked to the bank of elevators in the back of the building. That had been a week ago, and the next day, he’d started to lose his ever-loving mind. He knew she was the reason his control of the Change was slipping, but damned if he knew what to do about it.
Hearing loud cheering, Andrei walked into the dining room and noticed a guy was doing a keg stand. Idiots, he was surrounded by idiots. He couldn’t understand why people drank beer. It was disgusting and it made you do stupid crap. He had to admit that it was fun to watch all the drunks on campus though. College kids did the weirdest things once they got even a little bit of freedom. Sadly, it took a lot of liquor for him to get even a buzz going, so he contented himself to laugh at other people’s stupidity.
He noticed Byron’s red hair and smiled when he saw him speaking to a girl. At least one of them would get laid tonight. Andrei had invited Cinder to the party, but she’d never responded. Hopefully, she would come. It would be nice to see her again.
The girl leaned in and kissed Byron. Shaking his head and smiling, Andrei started to walk towards the kitchen doorway. As the girl’s face came into view, he stopped. No damn way!
Andrei stared in disbelief as he watched Cinder and Byron kiss in front of him. He closed his eyes, hoping he was mistaken. But nope, when he looked again, it was still Cinder lip-locked with his friend.
He cleared his throat and tapped Byron on the shoulder.
His housemate turned and smiled, “Yo, Dre. What’s up?” Cinder gasped and pulled away from Byron.
Andrei just stared. He didn’t know what to say. She’d come, but not for him apparently. Shaking his head, he walked away. He was such an idiot! He couldn’t keep doing this. She was not worth the pain and aggravation and it clearly wasn’t a werewolf thing, but she was hooking up with Byron. He was done with the bullshit.
He spent the next hour avoiding Byron and Cinder. Seeing them cuddled up in the kitchen, he veered right and ran right into Ariany.
Great, cuz the night couldn’t get any better.
“Andrei, mon chiot.”
“Nice party.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Byron lead Cinder upstairs. He stomach tightened. This couldn’t be happening. Byron must know by now who Cinder is. But he didn’t seem to care. So much for being friends.
“Hey, what are you staring at?” Ariany looked over her shoulder. “Oh. I see. Do you know her?”
“Don’t want to talk about it,” Dre said through clenched teeth. He really didn’t. Even thinking about what they were doing up there was too much. He needed a drink.
“If you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a keg.” As he walked away, he heard her laugh. So she thought this was funny. The woman he loved hated him because of who he was, but was upstairs having sex with someone just like him? How the hell was that even remotely funny?
This was his fourth keg stand and finally he was starting to feel a bit buzzed. It sucked having a strong constitution. Standing back on his feet, he grabbed the nearest bottle of hard liquor and took a swig.
An hour, Byron and Cinder had been up there for an hour. No way were they just talking. He wanted to go up there and find out what they were doing, but he wasn’t drunk enough to make that much of an ass of himself. Instead, every time he had the impulse to go charging in like the animal she thought he was, he did a keg stand. Swaying on his feet now, he put the vodka bottle down and headed for the living room. He needed to sit down and just think for a minute.
When he reached the living room, he found Ariany sitting on the couch. Dre eased himself down next to her and smiled. She was really beautiful.
“Hey.” She smiled back at him. She had gorgeous teeth and piercing blue eyes. And she was so nice. So very very nice. To him. To look at. She even smelled nice. Yeah, she was…nice.
“So, sitting alone.” She was probably very lonely. He was lonely. His twin should have come with him to Roaring Heights. Or he should have been smarter so he could go with Tony to Oasis Landing. Instead, he was stuck here with these wolves who were all backstabbers and liars and couldn’t be trusted. And…whoa.
He was kissing Ariany. How the hell did that happen?
She pulled away from him and winked. “You’re thinking too much. Not a good idea when you have a lot of alcohol in your system.”
She tasted nice. Which is what he’d expected since everything else about her was nice. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her closer to him. “You are so smart. Smarter than me.”
He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers again. This was exactly what he needed. Make out with Ariany, forget about the things Cinder was doing with Byron underneath his own roof. Forget that he wasn’t good enough for her. Byron was an asshat, but he was right. What he needed to do was get laid.
Something wasn’t right. Andrei opened his eyes and stared across the bed. There was a woman in his bed. A pretty blonde. Holy shit! Ariany was in his bed. Shit, shit, shit.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him. “Don’t panic Dre, I’m getting up.”
He watched as she got out of his bed, naked, and started to collect her clothes. Shit. He looked down at himself and noticed he was naked too.
As she put on her clothes, she asked, “How’d you sleep last night. How’s your head?”
That’s right. He’d been drunk. So drunk that he’d slept with Ariany. Shit! “I’m good, I mean my head is good.”
She smiled and pulled her dress over her head. He started to feel a bit weird with her fully dressed and him naked but for a thin sheet, so he got up and pulled on his pajama bottoms.
“Umm, look Ariany, about last night,” he began.
Laughing, Ariany shook her head, “Oh dear Lord, don’t. Don’t give me the ‘Morning After’ speech. We had sex Dre. We had fantastic sex and now I’m going to go home and shower and grab something to eat. Maybe I’ll come back this afternoon and we’ll see each other, maybe we won’t. Please don’t make this a big deal.”
“I just. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea…”
“Andrei. Enough. I’m a smart girl. I know this was a one-time thing. I know it had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with Cinder. I’m okay with that.”
She put on her shoes and smiled at him. He had nothing to say to that because she was absolutely right. It didn’t make him feel any less like an ass though. He watched as she checked her phone. Her smile turned into a grin and she winked at him.
“Last night was a good night for all of us, apparently.” She started to walk out. “I’ll see you around Andrei.”
After she left, he sat back down on the bed. What the hell was wrong with him? He lowered his head to his hands. He didn’t know how long he sat like that before realizing the itchy feeling in his skin was gone.
Two years. Andrei took one last look at the sea floor before making his way to the surface. He hadn’t seen Ariany for two years after getting Cinder out and she just happens to be at Eva’s opening. Yeah, right. He felt bad about leaving Eva, but he couldn’t stay there. So he’d ran. Like the coward that he was. And he’d continued to run. It sometimes felt like that’s all he’d been doing since the night he’d saved Cinder. He still didn’t know if the life he know had to live was worth her freedom. It was a terrible thing to think but there it was.
Pulling off his mask, he swam to his boat and lifted himself up onto the deck. After checking and storing his diving equipment, he made his way inside and headed back to port. He’d managed to avoid Ariany and her pack of backstabbing animals for two years but his grace period was up. There couldn’t be any other reason why she would be in Beach City. So he’d said goodbye to his brother and took the first flight to Isla Paradiso. Who would think to look for a wolf in the land of the sun and surf? Hopefully, Ariany still didn’t know about this location. He just needed a little bit more time. Once this semester was over, he would pack up and move off the grid. He would have left already, but not finishing college wasn’t an option. His mother would kill him. Never mind that Ariany had this perverse fascination with him and wouldn’t leave him the hell alone. No, school came first.
Shaking his head, he turned south and headed back to dry land.
Waking up to the sound of his 5am alarm, Dre pulled on his sneakers and headed down the stairs to check the mail. Since he lived out at sea most of the time, the post office delivered his mail bi-weekly. Mondays were mail day. He tried to make it a point to be in port on those days.
Opening up the box, he pulled out a stack of letters and flipped through them quickly. Bills, bills, ad, bills…pulling a letter from the stack with his name and address written by hand, he stared at the postmark: Moonlight Falls. His heart quickened, could it be from Cinder?
He hadn’t spoken to her in four years, not since he’d put her on a flight back home. He’d contacted her cousin, Maya, and let her know when to be at the airport to pick up Cinder. He hadn’t heard from either of them since. He’d tried to reach out, but Cinder wouldn’t return any of his calls and she’d never returned to school. He did try to keep track of her though, if just to keep Ariany away from her.
He opened the letter and skimmed it quickly and then went back and re-read it slowly. His eyes flicked down to the name at the closing: Regretfully, Maya Charles.
Cinder was dead.