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Chapter 4

JASMINE

The following weekend, Lucy invited me to attend a friends-and-family plated-dessert experience at her culinary school to celebrate the end of the school year. She had to be there early to set up, so she took the family car. In turn, I borrowed my parents' Tesla SUV and drove down with her mom, Ivy. Because we lived in the middle of nowhere, the drive took us an hour and a half to get to her school. She had told me how long the drive was before, but I couldn't believe how far she commuted now that I had actually done it myself!

We parked and entered the school, following the sound of people until we found where tables were set up with white tablecloths and desserts displayed. As soon as we walked in, Lucy spotted us and came over wearing a white chef jacket and hat , her eyes lighting up, greeting us both with hugs.

I looked around and saw that everyone had put out intricately designed dessert plates. They looked more like art than food. I'd only ever seen desserts like this a few times in my life.

"Come right this way," Lucy said, leading her mom and me to a table. "These are my creations." She smiled, looking like a little kid showing off a painting she did in preschool.

I looked down at the table and I was in awe. "Wow, these are amazing!" On display were minicakes that she had clearly spent copious time detailing until they were perfect. She had put out three options—what looked like a chocolate cake detailed with swirls and whipped cream with chocolate spirals and raspberries on top, a very fancy-looking strawberry shortcake, and what appeared to be crème brûlée plated with mini macarons and various berries.

"Try all of them." She looked at us eagerly . I took the chocolate cake first, grabbing a spoon off the table. It almost looked too beautiful to eat.

"Wow, this is so good!" I gasped after taking a bite. I mean, I'd always known Lucy was a good baker, but something about a dessert being so pretty made it seem like it wouldn't taste as good. I quickly finished it and Lucy took my plate from me, handing me the next cake. Her mom, similarly, praised Lucy, which made her glow.

Before long, more people began coming in. Lucy's face lit up as different people approached her table to try her desserts. I'd never seen her look so passionate about anything before, besides maybe Luke. Later on, she took Ivy and me around and introduced us to her classmates while we sampled all of their creations as well. Others had done a nice job but—maybe I was biased—Lucy's were definitely better. It was like you could taste the passion as you bit into her desserts. By the time we'd walked around to everyone's tables, I was starting to feel nauseous and bloated from all the sweets I'd eaten. "I really need to go for a run after this," I said to Lucy, clutching my stomach. Lucy laughed and rubbed her stomach in agreement.

Signaling the end of the event, the chef quieted everyone and made an announcement that he had two awards to hand out. The first award was for perfect attendance, which went to one of Lucy's classmates.

"The second award is for our student of the year. This year's award goes to Lucy Owen. Congratulations, Lucy!" Everyone clapped as she went up to collect her certificate. She rejoined Ivy and me at her table, a huge smile on her face.

After everyone filed out, she began cleaning up. Ivy and I offered to help, but she turned us away and said, "No, it's fine. It'll only take me a few minutes, and I'll be right out." We left the room and found a bench to sit on and wait for her. She came out about a half hour later.

Once Lucy joined us, the three of us walked down the street to a café to wash down the desserts we'd just stuffed ourselves with, enjoying the nice weather. While Lucy's mom went up to the register to place the order, Lucy and I grabbed a small table by the window.

"Thanks so much for coming today. It means a lot to me!" Lucy said, a wide smile on her face.

"No problem," I replied. "Your desserts were really good."

 "It's nice being the customers for once," she said, leaning back in her chair and looking relaxed. We normally worked at the café back home on Saturdays, but our boss, Valerie, had given us the day off for Lucy's showcase.

"Congrats again on getting the student of the year award," I said.

"I know, can you believe it?"

"You always had it in you. You just needed to find something you actually enjoyed studying," I replied, feeling pride that Lucy had finally found her calling after years of trying to motivate her to care about school.

"Thanks, Jaz. You've always been a really good friend to me." She sighed, suddenly looking troubled.

"Is everything okay?"

She looked at me seriously and said, "It's just that things are going so well right now. I'm doing good in school, Luke's coming home at the end of the summer, and Valerie's finally trusting me to decorate wedding cakes without supervision. I just keep feeling like disaster's around the corner." She suddenly looked very vulnerable, a side of herself Lucy didn't often show.

"You should just enjoy the feeling and not worry. My grandma used to say worrying means you suffer twice." As I said this, I realized how lame the advice was. If stressing out were a sport, I would be an Olympic champion. I can't recall a time in my life when school didn't bring me constant, overwhelming anxiety.

"Yeah, you're right," she replied, but didn't look convinced. Her mom joined us, and Lucy went back to being her old bubbly self.

"Any plans for this weekend, girls?" Lucy's mom asked, making conversation with us.

"I'm trying to convince Jasmine to go to a party Emma got invited to! But she's using the old you know how my parents are excuse," Lucy playfully whined.

Ivy laughed and said, "Jasmine, your parents need to lighten up! These are some of the best years of your life and you can never get them back! Once you find your mate, it's all diaper changes and feeding schedules. After I realized Lucy's father was my mate, we couldn't keep our hands off each other and just popped one pup out after another!"

"Mom, stop!" Lucy shrieked.

Lucy's mom laughed and continued, "We used to throw tons of parties when I was growing up. It was much easier back then because they didn't patrol the party lake as much. Tons of sex at those parties too. Nothing like alcohol and a dark forest to encourage naughty behavior!"

"Oh my Goddess, Mom! We definitely don't need to know this!" Lucy started to look a little green. I was on the edge of my seat, wanting to hear more. My parents never told me stories about growing up in their respective packs, and we never talked about sex in my house. They made it seem like no one ever dated when they were growing up. I was riveted by the information Ivy was revealing, especially knowing that my dad had graduated in the same class as her—although I'd prefer not to imagine him as one of the people that were having sex at those parties. Ick!

"Just make sure you use protection." Ivy gave us both a severe stare. "It's okay to not be careful with your mate, but it definitely complicates things if you already have a pup once you meet them."

"Wow, could you imagine if that really did happen?" I asked, horrified at the idea of it.

"Well, yeah, I know someone. Poor girl," Ivy replied.

"Who?" I asked, curious to know.

Ivy hesitated, but then replied, "Oh, just a girl I went to high school with. We lost touch."

"What happened to her?" I was dying to know the story now.

After a beat, Ivy replied, "Well, I had a friend named Katie growing up who had a pup with someone that wasn't her mate, and the father left her after he found his true mate. Then, to rub salt in the wound, her true mate rejected her after he realized she'd had someone else's pup. Things were a little more traditional twenty or so years ago."

"What happened to Katie?" I asked.

"I tried to be there for her and support her while everyone else in the pack shunned her. But, after I started having my own pups, it was very difficult. She stayed about four or five years after her son was born, but it became very hard once the father of her son had a pup with his own mate and she had to witness the two of them raise their pup all while ignoring her existence. Her parents found a new pack to accept them out in the Midwest, and they all moved there together. She wrote me a letter, not long after, to inform me that she told her new pack that her mate had died."

"Did she ever find another mate?" This story was piquing my curiosity.

"Actually, I don't know! We lost touch," she looked pensive. "Maybe I should look her up on F******k! Everything's on the internet these days. Much harder to hide your past!"

After we finished our coffees, we walked back to our cars. Ivy drove her own car home and Lucy hopped in my car. We drove to my house so we could go for a run in our wolf forms to burn off some of the desserts. My house was further out in the outskirts of the pack, so my backyard was very forested. We walked a few yards in until we found a place to leave our clothes and shifted into our wolves.

Lucy's wolf emulated her, with a tall, elegant build, thick, golden cream fur, and blue eyes. Mine was smaller and covered in brown and black fur with a white belly and amber eyes. We took off for a run, enjoying the freedom of running through nature, succumbing to our animal brains. After some time, we stopped to drink some water from a brook and lay down.

Lucy mindlinked me, "Well, some good news is that I spoke with Luke on the phone last night, and he agrees with me that if we don't find our mate within the next two years then we should become chosen mates."

"Why two years? That seems a bit arbitrary," I replied, mindlinking her back, finding myself annoyed by topic of conversation she'd chosen. Lucy and I had spent a year discussing, ad nauseam, the notion of taking Luke as a chosen mate, and she knew my stance on the matter—it was completely disrespectful to the Moon Goddess to reject a fated mate for a chosen one.

"Because we love each other, and we don't want to wait any longer to be together. Plus, at twenty-one I'll be old enough to drink at my own wedding. I tried to convince him that we should just go ahead and move in together as soon as he comes back, but he told me that we need to wait. I asked how long, and he originally said until I'm at least thirty, but I talked him down."

A dull pain stirred within me, as if my inner wolf were aching, a feeling that had become familiar every time I conversed about Luke with Lucy. Although I hadn't seen him in almost two years, I had a hard time forgetting him, and to this day held an unexpected longing for him.

I couldn't even say for sure what it was about him that I coveted. Was it because he was the first man that I ever had a carnal attraction to? Was it how much we seemed to have in common? I knew my crush on him was silly bordering on crazy, but no matter what I did, I couldn't seem to push him from my mind. And it didn't help that he was Lucy's favorite topic of discussion.

"But what if you meet your true mate and realize you're meant to be with them?" I asked, trying a different approach with Lucy, hoping she'd see how foolish she was being.

"I can't imagine that happening. There's just no way. The way I feel about him, I will never feel about anyone else. The Moon Goddess made a huge mistake when she didn't fate us to each other. Either way, it's almost archaic, the whole idea of it—like an arranged marriage. We should be allowed to choose who we love. Why does some invisible person get to decide for us?"

"The Moon Goddess doesn't make mistakes! There's a reason she mated you to someone else." I was quickly becoming exasperated by this conversation, and my need to explain the obvious to Lucy.

"Look, I know you're really religious but I'm not, and anyway, I can feel he's meant to be my chosen mate. We love each other. Plus, he's amazing in bed!"

I cringed internally at her statement, envisioning the two of them in the act with their perfect bodies, both of which I'd, unfortunately, seen in the buff, and was now able to conjure a full visual. I tried to wipe it from my mind as I blurted, "I hope you're at least using protection! You just heard the story your mom told us about Katie."

"Calm down, PJ! We're using condoms. If this place wasn't so backwards and the clinic didn't refuse to prescribe it, spouting nonsense about interfering with the Moon Goddess's will, I'd go on birth control. I've thought about going to a human clinic to get it but, anyway, who cares if I get pregnant. We're going to be chosen mates anyway. This would just speed things along."

I started to feel nauseous imagining Lucy getting pregnant with Luke's pup. Although they had been dating for almost four years now and were clearly in love, it felt wrong. It was wrong. She was fated to someone else. Luke was fated to someone else. Then, I thought something that I couldn't even admit to myself that I thought—Luke could be fated to me. I instantly pushed the idea from my mind, not knowing where it came from.

But I knew where it came from. It was all because of that one day before he left, a month before my eighteenth birthday. After that one day, I suddenly didn't want him to be with anyone else, as irrational as it all seemed. I realized, with horror, that I wanted him to be with me. But there was nothing I could do without being a terrible friend and, quite frankly, seeming crazy. Lucy had been with him for four years and he clearly loved her, not me. Out of every unmated male in the entire pack, I had to develop a crush on my best friend's boyfriend. And, as much as I tried, I could not forget the feeling I had as we sat next to each other that one fateful night—the overwhelming feeling that he should be mine.

I couldn't bear to talk about Luke anymore and decided to change the subject. "So, what do you think of Blake?"

"I saw the two of you getting hot and heavy at the beach last week! Maybe you should hook up with him! It would be good for you!"

"Hook up with the future alpha!? First of all, I'm not hooking up with anyone until I meet my mate. And second of all, what makes you think the future alpha would want to hook up with me?"

"Because he's an unmated man and you're cute! He was clearly enjoying you all over his body at the beach. There's nothing wrong with having a little fun before you have to settle down forever. Just don't tell your parents." She paused and appeared lost in thought for a moment, then continued, "Besides, this would be great! You and I are best friends and Luke is Blake's future beta! We could go on double dates!"

"What, that's ridiculous! Blake and I are not happening. Anyway, I'm pretty sure he's not looking for a girlfriend right now."

"Who said anything about being his girlfriend? You should just hook up with him for now until you find your mate."

"Oh my Goddess, Lucy. If I didn't make it clear, I am no way, no how either dating or hooking up with Blake. First of all, I am saving myself for my mate, and second of all, Blake is the friggin' future alpha who can have anyone, so why would he waste his time on me?"

"He just came back from Siberia and that place can't be much fun. He's probably desperate to get his dick wet."

"You did not just say that!"

"You're such a prude! Come on, that guy is hot. If I didn't love Luke, I'd be lining up to wet his dick myself. If you don't feel the same way you're either blind or a lesbian. And I know you're not a lesbian because you were obsessed with Taylor Lautner for a while."

I wasn't blind either.

After spending some more time in the forest, we finally made our way back to our clothes and shifted back to our human forms. Once I got inside, I offered to make dinner. This was something my parents expected me to do on the days they worked, but I usually helped my mom on the weekends too because I knew it was helpful to her and I also enjoyed cooking.

I put on music and danced around the kitchen as I cooked. I may have also spent a little time fantasizing about Blake. What? I didn't intend to actually act on any of my fantasies, but Lucy was not wrong. He was very hot. And mysterious. Although there was also a part of him that seemed dark and ominous that I wasn't sure about.

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