Disclaimer: Language…oh the language!
The house was empty. She was gone. He walked up to the front door anyway. The last time they were together, it had felt like a goodbye. When he hadn’t heard from her by week’s end, he’d known for sure. Stuck on the door was an envelope with his name on it. She’d written him a note. He smiled a little as he opened it.
“Dre, last weekend was amazing. Thank you for showing me the ocean and celebrating the Feast of St. Raphael with me. I hope that he heard us. I will be away for a while, but will call you when I can. There’s a lot that I have to tell you and a quick note just won’t do, will it? Know that if I’d had the time, I’d have chosen to spend it with you. Yours, Maya”
He frowned a little after reading that and looked around again. He didn’t like that she was gone – she wasn’t well. From the moment he’d met her at Cinder’s memorial service, he could smell the illness on her. He didn’t know what exactly was wrong, but the entire time they were together, he’d sensed it.
He hadn’t meant to start caring so much about her well-being, but when she showed up on his doorstep, soaked and visibly upset, he’d wanted to protect her from everything. She was so different from the women currently in his life. She was open and trusting, which was what had drawn him to her in the first place. She had no ulterior motives and no unfounded resentment towards him. It was nice to know exactly what a person was thinking for a change.
He sighed and turned to go back home. She’d looked so fragile and sad when they’d said goodbye for the last time. He’d tried to make the weekend as fun and as memorable as possible for her, but now she was gone and he didn’t know where to start looking. He also had to get back to Roaring Heights.
He tucked the letter into his pocket. Damn Ariany and her tricks. He was due back by the end of the week. Maybe it was a good thing Maya was gone. Their relationship couldn’t go anywhere anyway. He was already mated.
“Pushing it kind of close, don’t you think?” Ariany checked her nails. She was sitting casually on the living room sofa, but the tension was rolling off her in waves. “Where’ve you been?”
“Liar.” She slammed her hand down on the couch cushion.
“Excuse me?” He raised an eyebrow. What did she care as long as he came back?
“I can smell the bitch on you.”
Dre sighed. “What do you want from me, Ariany? I’m here aren’t I? I came back, just like I swore I would. You can’t be upset with me for sleeping with other women.”
She jumped off the couch and growled. “I forbid you to cheat on me again.”
He smirked. “You may be able to force me to come back to you, but that’s as far as your hold on me goes. Sorry love, I’ll sleep with whomever I want.”
She was fuming now. He watched her dispassionately. He liked pushing her buttons; the more irritated she was, the longer he could stay away. He wasn’t a mean person, he actually liked to think of himself as a good guy, but there was just something about Ariany that got under his skin. Maybe it was the whole tricking him into marriage thing. An image of Maya in her pretend wedding dress flashed in his mind and he smiled.
“Are you listening to me?” Ariany stood in front of him, hands balled into a fist, her facial features contorted in her anger.
“Yes, Ariany. I just don’t particularly care. I’d have to acknowledge you as my mate for that or at least as someone I respect. But I don’t.”
He walked out of the room and headed to the kitchen to get something to eat. On his way there, Byron stopped him. “So you’re back. About time you came home.”
“Fuck you.” He kept walking, or he would have, if Byron hadn’t grabbed his arm.
“Did you kiss your mate with that mouth?” Byron taunted.
He shook the offending hand off his arm. “Touch me again and I’ll bite it off.”
“Look man, I just wanted to talk. Cinder dying…that was like a wake up call. Life’s too short to hold grudges. I was hoping we could find some way to be, if not friends, at least okay with each other.”
Dre just stared at him. Was he serious? “You’re the reason she killed herself. We won’t ever be okay.”
“I didn’t want her to kill herself. I liked Cinder. I never wanted to hurt her.”
Dre laughed. “That’s bullshit. You liked her so much you turned her into the one thing she hated the most.”
Byron sighed. “I know you won’t ever believe me, but I had no idea who she was that night. We were just supposed to show the guests a good time and turn the ones that seemed willing. I swear man, I thought she was willing. It wasn’t until afterward that she started to freak out. Apparently her friend brought her to the party but didn’t tell her what was going on.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this. You turned her that night?”
“Yeah. We did a lot of people that night. That’s how it works. Get them used to the power before the moon forces them to change. They’re more likely to survive that way. I thought you knew.”
“You all are sick. Don’t talk to me again.” He walked away from Byron, heading upstairs to his room, his appetite was gone.
“I’m not in the mood today Andrei.” Ariany sighed. “I have somewhere I have to go this afternoon. Will you come with me?”
“Can’t. I have to pack. I’m heading out tomorrow.”
“What? You just got back! You can’t leave yet.”
“Why not? I came back before today like you told me to and I will be back before your next designated date. But I’m not staying here any longer than I have to. So, no. I can not go with you.”
She looked at him with barely contained anger. He didn’t give a shit. She’d tricked him into this mating and he would be damned if he spent one minute more than he had to with her. So screw her!
“If you come with me today,” she said through gritted teeth, “then you can stay away for a year. As long as you come back before this date next year.”
He looked at her skeptically. A whole year? What was the catch? “And what about next time?”
“Don’t push your luck. One jailbreak at a time. Do we have a deal?”
“You should go change. I don’t have all day.” A whole year. He watched her walk away. Whatever she wanted to do today, it must be important.
Andrei watched as Ariany stood in front of a grave and cried. “Ariany?”
Of all the places she could have dragged him to, she brought him to a cemetery. He was ready to be flippant, but then she’d started to cry. He probably should have tried to console her, but no amount of tears was going to get him to touch her. He might be a jerk for it, but he didn’t care.
She wiped away a tear and said, “His name was Kevin. He was a tiny thing, but so full of life and energy. God Dre, he was always on the go. It was like he knew…he knew his time here was short. He was walking by one and had started to talk. I was his mommy for 2 years. And then, just like that, he was gone.”
Turning to face him, she said, “I tried everything I could, but I didn’t know how to stop the Change. He was too young and I didn’t know how to save him. I – I tried. I thought it was just a fever; kids get sick all the time. I didn’t know…”
Andrei frowned at her and looked down at the grave. She’d had a child and it had died young. Today was the anniversary of his death. Wow, he’d never realized she was a mother. “I’m sorry for your loss, Ariany. I didn’t know.”
She turned back to look at the headstone again. They stood like that for a while, until he became a bit uncomfortable just standing there. “Listen, I’m going to make a phone call. I’ll be right over…”
She whirled around and said, “A phone call? Who the hell is more important than your son?”
He’d started to back away from her anger but stopped when the words sunk in. “What did you just say?”
She wrapped her arms over her chest. “Kevin was your son. Our son.”
“No.” He frowned. That wasn’t possible, was it? They’d only slept together once. And they’d been careful, hadn’t they? He tried to remember, but it was mostly a blur. He had a son? “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I tried. I called, left you messages, I even came by to see you at the apartment you moved into, but you were avoiding me. And then again when he got sick, I tried. Nothing. Not even Caleb would answer my calls.” All the anger seemed to drain out of her body, and she tightened her arms around herself. “I’m so sorry Dre. I tried to save him, I did.”
She reached out for him but he pulled away. No, he couldn’t do this right now. He couldn’t keep finding out that he was too late to save the important people in his life.
“Dre? Please don’t go.”
He hadn’t even realized he’d turned away until she said that. He didn’t stop though.
He’d had a son that died and he hadn’t even known. Of all the things she could have done to him, this was the worst. When he’d walked away from her at the cemetery, he’d been so angry. But after hours of just wandering around the city, he found himself standing on the beach, staring out at the ocean.
He’d give anything to be on his boat and out there, away from Ariany and her games, her calculated actions, her machinations and just…everything.
Dre sighed. If he was being honest with himself, everything she’d said was right. He had avoided her after that night, too ashamed to face her. He’d moved into an apartment across town a week later. He couldn’t stay in that house with Byron and Ariany as reminders of Cinder’s betrayal. He’d left her to deal with her pregnancy alone. No one had warned her about the curse and their child had died because of it.
He walked further down the beach. He was as much to blame for that baby’s death as the actual curse. His family kept the details about the night of his first Witch’s Moon a secret. No one knew that he’d tried to Change that night and died. It’s why he’d decided he didn’t want children. He hadn’t wanted to put his family through something like that. There was no Rebecca to help out the next time it happened. But he’d been reckless anyway. It explained why Ariany was so nasty to him. He’d abandoned her when she’d needed him the most. He’d failed her like he’d failed Cinder, like he’d failed his son. Reaching for his phone, he dialed Maya’s number.
Looking out at the stars reflecting off the water, he waited for her to pick up. Please pick up, Maya. When the call was dumped to voicemail, he sighed. Brushing a hand through his hair, he listened to her outgoing message. God he missed the sound of her voice.
“This is Maya, I can’t come to the phone right now, probably eating – you know how it is – please leave your name and a message and I’ll get back to you. Bye. Oh, and your number!”
“Hey Maya, it’s Andrei. I just wanted to check in – you never called me. It’s been a couple of weeks and I had to leave the Islands for a bit. Didn’t want you to think I abandoned you. Anyway, I was just thinking of you. Call me when you can.” He left his number and then hung up.
He wanted to talk to her about Ariany, the baby, and every crazy thing in his life, but Cinder had taught him well. Don’t ever lead with what you are or what you want. You’d just be giving people the key to break your heart.
He stared at his phone as if Maya might call him back at any moment. When it remained stubbornly silent, he dialed his brother’s number and hoped like hell he was home. When Tony picked up, he sighed in relief.
“You’ve been gone for a while.”
He looked up to find Ariany standing by the stairs in her nightgown. He didn’t even bother responding to her. He wasn’t in the mood for a fight, not after what she told him today.
“Andrei, would you just stop for just a second!” She reached out to grab his arm but he jerked away.
“Don’t touch me Ariany. I am not in the mood.”
“When are you ever in the mood? I wanted to talk to you, that’s all.”
“What do you want?” He just wanted to go to bed. He was leaving first thing in the morning; he didn’t want the added drama tonight.
“Are you still leaving tomorrow?” When he nodded, she sighed. “I’d like to make a deal with you. You give me something I want and I’ll let you stay away for as long as you want.”
He frowned. “I already have a year.”
“I don’t know, maybe I’ve decided to change my mind…”
Andrei closed his eyes and took a deep breath. She inspired murder. “What do you want Ariany?”
Smiling, she said, “First, I want to show you something. Come.”
He watched her climb the stairs. He didn’t deserve this, he really didn’t.
She opened a door and stepped in. Following her to the middle of the room, he looked around and felt his chest tighten. It was a nursery. It was his son’s nursery.
“I don’t ever let anyone in here, but I thought you’d like to see it. He was happy here, Dre. It didn’t last long, but the life he did have was a good one.”
He was so weary. She wanted him to grieve with her, but he couldn’t do that. He’d had a son, and the boy had died. And he felt the loss, but not on the same level as she did. He could never appreciate that baby’s life like she did.
“Andrei, I was a good mother and I want to be one again. Do you think…?”
“You’ll make a good mother again someday, Ariany.” She was a bitch, but she always put pack first. He’d seen her interact with other members and she was fair and patient. She kept all her hatefulness for him alone – at least he knew why now. He could say many things about her, but he believed her when she said the baby had been happy.
She walked closer to him and he became immediately suspicious. “I’m glad you think so. I was hoping we could try soon, like tonight.”
“Whoa. Wait, wait, wait. When I said…I meant – I didn’t…” He stopped and took a deep breath, “No. No Ariany.”
“No? But you’re my mate. Who else am I going to have a child with? It has to be you!” She looked confused, like she didn’t know how crazy she sounded; how much of a bad and impossible idea that was.
“Ariany, is this what all of this is about? Asking me to come back by today and taking me to that grave. You want me to give you another child?”
“Yes! You see why it has to be you, right? I’m sorry I had to trick you, but you were making it so difficult. All I wanted was for you to come back to me. For us to do it right; mating, having young. Together we could make sure nothing bad happened to the next child.”
He was already shaking his head. “No. I don’t want children Ariany. Even if I did, I could never…no.”
She stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. “You will do this. You will give me what I want or I will find a way to keep you here. Do you think I like having my mate come home smelling like sex, but won’t even touch me? Do you think that I don’t know what people in the pack say about me? What was so great about Cinder? She was whiny and selfish and she didn’t fucking want you! Yet, here I am, willing, able, and you won’t even give me the time of day. It’s bullshit.”
She leaned closer, “Here’s my deal: You get me pregnant and you can stay away as long as you want. No, in fact, I’ll let you out of the oath. I’ll let you leave the pack. It’s exile, but your family will take you in. Just…give me my child.” She didn’t wait for him to answer, she just turned to walk away. “I’ll be waiting in my room.”
When the door closed behind her, he looked around the room. He’d lied earlier. She was a horrible human being who didn’t deserve to have a pack, much less a child. And yet, she was the wulfric and now wanted a baby. From him. She was offering him his freedom and all it would cost was his soul. He stood there for what felt like hours, thinking; but eventually he came to a decision.
She was already in bed, laid out like a sacrificial virgin when he walked in. He rubbed his tired eyes. He couldn’t keep doing this. She kept making promises, kept playing him and he continued to hope that this time would be different; that she would mean it one day. But she would never let him go, not ever. No matter what she said. If she changed her mind anytime in the future, he would still be bound to honor his oath, he would have to come back to her. He could run from her, staying away for extended periods of time, but he was essentially trapped. He realized that now.
He climbed onto the bed and hovered over her. She smiled and reached out to touch him but he pinned her hands by her head. “If we do this, you can’t touch me. If you do, I’ll stop. Understand?”
“I can’t touch you?” She frowned in confusion, “I don’t want you to fuck me; I want to make love, like we did the first time.”
He stared at her incredulously, “I can’t make love to you; I’ve never made love to you. That first time is a drunken haze for me.” He shook his head at her, pissed off at her complete lack of understanding, “I don’t love you Ariany. You have to accept that. No matter how much you wish it, it won’t happen.”
Maybe he was being cruel, but she needed to listen and understand. Keeping his wolf tied to her was wrong. It would just drive them both insane eventually. He was done being the good guy. If she wouldn’t let him go, then he would make sure this mating was as unpleasant as possible for the both of them.
“Get off me.”
She turned her head away from him and tugged at her hands. He closed his eyes and sighed in relief, letting go of her. He rolled off and sat on the edge of the bed, letting his head hang down, breathing in deeply. He didn’t want to do this; not now, not ever, and it infuriated him that she thought it was okay to demand this of him.
Ariany sat up and pulled her knees up to her chin, wrapping her arms around herself. “What’s so distasteful about me? What is it about me that’s so horrible?”
“Ariany…” He scrubbed his face with his hands.
“I want to be alone now.”
Now he felt like an asshole. No matter what she’d done, he had no right to say those things to her. She’d had his child. If nothing else, he needed to show her at least a little respect. He was treating her the way Cinder used to treat him. As if her feelings were insignificant because they didn’t coincide with his own. They were mated, of course she would expect him to give her children. But why she would think he’d agree to that with the way things were between them?
He tugged on her arms until she looked up at him. “Nothing is wrong with you. I just can’t give you what you’re looking for.”
She looked away but nodded. He narrowed his eyes, that had been too easy. Something was wrong. Letting her go, he stood up. God, what a long ass day. He was suddenly exhausted. He would go back to his room, pack, and finally get some sleep.
He heard movement behind him and watched Ariany stand up from the bed. She still wouldn’t look at him. “Ariany, listen, I’m sorry about what I said. That was incredibly rude, but if you want kids, I’m not the right mate for you. I just don’t see that happening with us.”
She burst into tears.
Shit. Now what was he supposed to do? She kept brushing away tears even as more poured from her eyes. He couldn’t stand crying women; it always made him feel inadequate as hell.
He pulled her to him and rubbed her back, making what he hoped were soothing sounds until she stopped sobbing. He kissed her on the forehead and looked down at her with a smile. “All better?”
Nodding, she pulled away. “I’m not normally like this, you know that. It’s just, today is always hard for me. I’ll be fine in the morning.”
He studied her for another minute; the last thing he wanted was for the tears to kick in again.
“Would you stay with me tonight?” When he started to frown, she quickly said, “Not to have sex, just…I don’t want to be alone. Please?”
He sighed. Well there went his resolution to stop being a good guy. “Sure, Ariany.”
He walked over to the other side of the bed and lay down on his back. He stared at the ceiling of her bedroom, waiting for her to crawl in on her side, wondering how he’d gone from indignant anger to acquiescing to sleep with her. When she was settled, she turned on her side to watch him. He closed his eyes and tried to fall asleep; he didn’t trust her, but he was so damn tired.
First Cinder, now a son he hadn’t even known existed. The ache in his heart that he’d thought had faded came back, full force. He’d had a son named Kevin. He would have to ask Eva to light some candles for him.
“Could you hold me?
Opening his eyes, he turned his head and looked over at her. Could he hold her? She’d seemed genuinely upset today. It was maybe the first time he’d seen real emotion from her – not some calculated act, but a vulnerability he hadn’t thought was possible for her. He didn’t trust her, he didn’t even like her but if he couldn’t be kind to her today of all days, then when?
He moved over to her side of the bed and wrapped his arms around her, letting her use his shoulder as a pillow. He looked down into her eyes for a minute. “Goodnight Ariany.”
Then he closed his eyes and went to sleep.
Dre woke up early the next day. With everything that happened the night before, he’d never managed to pack. He slid off Ariany’s bed, making sure not to disturb her and headed to his room.
He finished packing in record time. It didn’t hurt that he’d only brought a duffel bag with him. He loathed coming back to this place where he was surrounded by wolves he didn’t trust, who jostled for the best position in the pack, no matter who they had to stab in the back.
As he headed down the stairs, he noticed Ariany and Byron talking in the hallway. Just his luck. He’d have to walk past them in order to get to the front door. He made a beeline for the door, not bothering to make eye contact of either of them. But as he got closer, Ariany stopped him with a gentle hand on his shoulder and a tentative smile. “Leaving already?”
“Flight’s in a couple of hours.”
“Oh. I guess I’ll see you in a year?”
Byron frowned at that and Dre’s eyebrows rose up, she was going to keep to that? “Yeah.”
She nodded once and turned back towards Byron. He started to say something else. What, he didn’t know but his phone rang just then and the moment was gone. Byron and Ariany walked further down the hall, still talking. Dre reached for his pocket, hoping it was Maya returning his call. He picked up without checking caller ID.
His sister’s frantic voice came on the line, “You need to come home right now.”
“Eva?” He was already on the move again, making his way to the pickup truck he used when in town. “What’s wrong, what happened?”
“It’s dad, the bitch drugged him! Come home now!” The line went dead and he wasted no time driving to the airport. On his way there, he called the airline to book a ticket to Moonlight Falls.