Chasing after me, I hear Ryker's footsteps crunching on the gravel. I run faster, but he matches my pace effortlessly. Eventually, when I am out of breath and my broken ribs cannot take any more, I am left with no choice but to stop and face him.
'Why are you following me?' I demand to know.
'You're my mate, whether or not we like it. I have to follow you. It's my business to know who did that to your face,' he says, firmly but calmly.
'You didn't care about me when you slammed your fist into the wall above my head!' I yell.
'Astrid, please, I'm sorry. I would never have done that had I known you were telling the truth about not knowing you're not human. I would have been more civil.' He looks at the ground guiltily.
'You have lost it now! Not being human? What is that supposed to mean?'
'How old are you?' His tone has changed again.
'I'll be eighteen in two weeks.' I try to avoid his eyes.
'You won't meet your wolf till then. I've had my wolf for four years. But I want to show you what I mean if you allow me to,' he says politely.
My breathing is heavy. I'm trying to stay calm and avoid feeling more upset than I already am.
'Are you okay?' He sounds genuinely concerned about my welfare.
'I don't want a wolf for my birthday, and I don't want to meet your pet wolf or any wolf!' I try to walk off, but the pain is too great.
'You've met a werewolf before?' He says, surprised.
'A werewolf? What is wrong with you? There is no such thing as werewolves. I'm talking about wild wolves. When I was little, my mum and I saw a wolf in the woods. Something bad happened, and I've been afraid of wolves ever since. I can't even go near pet dogs, let alone wolves. So if you've got a pet wolf, I'm not interested.' I try to walk past him again, to no avail, as he steps in front of me again.
'What happened to the wolf?' He is curious.
'You're not very good at minding your own business?' I scold.
'Not when it involves my mate.' His reply is quick.
'You just said I'm a rogue, and you wouldn't have a rogue as a mate. So why do you keep referring to me as your mate when you don't even want me?'
Ryker steps closer to me, and it's impossible not to make eye contact with him.
'You're so beautiful and… stubborn. All I want to do is lift you in my arms and carry you home.' He is heartfelt and genuine. 'I want you to join my pack. You won't be a rogue anymore. We can be together.' His tone has dropped an octave again. If I hear any more sincerity from him, I will melt right into this footpath. He slowly reaches his hand out to take mine.
I rescind away from him.
'No,' I say.
'No?' Ryker says, dumbfounded.
'You're asking me to be your girlfriend when we only just met. Not only that, you were an absolute jerk to me earlier. So, you only want to be with me because you feel sorry for me. And you want me to join your cult? Pack? Or whatever you call it. And talk nonsense about werewolves and fairies?' I yell.
'That's not what I meant. And I never mentioned fairies. Come back to the diner with me, and I'll explain everything to you. Everything you need to know about us, how it all works and what to expect,' Ryker tries to persuade me.
'We're werewolves?' I ask him. He stands there and nods.
'So, you're telling me I'm cursed? I'm stuck with you as a mate, and we're werewolves?' Ryker flinches,
'You're not cursed, Astrid. It's a blessing from the Moon Goddess,' he explains.
'You know what? I don't want to hear anymore. This is all too much. I am too tired and sore and don't even like you.' He stiffened at my words. I run as fast as I can toward the trees, hoping to lose him.
'Wait!' He yells, giving chase.
I hide behind a tree, trying to catch my breath, and remain as quiet as possible.
'Astrid. I know you're here. I can smell your scent a mile away,' he yells.
I dig my fingers into the mud underneath me and apply it all over my face and clothes. Ryker isn't far away from me. I can imagine him inhaling the surrounding air, trying to catch my scent. But, of course, the darkness I'm sitting in makes it easier to conceal myself.
The chase is over after covering myself in mud. I know I am safe with Ryker, scentless and directionless. The diner is on the street that I pass. I'm an hour late, and I pray Dad is out drunk or asleep. I open the front door slowly and cringe at every creaking sound. No lights are on, hopefully, this means he is sleeping. I carefully pad upstairs and open my bedroom door. With my light on, I see Dad sitting on the end of my bed with a furious look on his face.
'Dad. I'm sorry. I can explain.' He is angry.
'Not only did you come home late, but you've dragged mud through my house!' He yells. I try to shield myself with my arms from the blows to no avail. Within seconds, I fall unconscious.
Not an inch of my body does not ache. I've spent the whole day being as still as I can to let my body rest. My memory of last night when I arrived home is hazy. I know my dad beat me, but I can't remember it. By evening, I find enough strength to run a small bath and wash the mud from my skin. Completely covered in bruises, my body is proof of the worst abuse it has ever sustained. I hug my knees and cry over the confrontation with Ryker last night and the beating I got when I came home. Dad will kill me if he finds out about Ryker or about me not having a job. I wash the dishes and make some meals in the kitchen as best I can in my condition. I place them in the fridge. Dad should find them quickly enough. Sometimes I think I won't survive the subsequent beating, but somehow, I always do. I return to my room and fall asleep within minutes.
The next day, I'm still in pain but have improved a little. I get dressed, brush my long brown hair, and apply some makeup to hide the bruising on my face. Dad expects me to be at work, but I can't go back there, not after what happened the other night. I decide to go into town, a forty-five-minute walk from home, to apply for a new job. Close to the diner, I notice the black Mercedes behind me. I'm not in the mood for this. I am going to confront the person in the car. They know I'm waiting for them.
The car stops beside me, and a rear window descends. A man with dark hair and dark eyes smiles kindly. He has a weird scar near his ear, half his ear is missing. I can't see the driver, but the two guys in the back look around twenty years old.
'Why are you following me?' I ask.
'Pardon my rudeness, young lady. My name is Zenith. Every day I go to work this way. You are alone on the road. I'm just concerned someone might take advantage of you. I want to keep an eye out for you and make sure you're safe,' he explains.
'Right. The only thing that worries me out here is this car with you and the creepy people in it,' I say.
'You're an unappreciative one, now, aren't you?' He says sternly.
'Look, Zenith, if you don't mind. I've had a terrible week. I need to get into town, so I'd appreciate it if you would stop following me and just let me be.'
'What happened to your job at the diner?' Zenith asks.
'How do you know I worked there?'
'I've seen you in there when I drive past to work.'
'Right.' I turn to walk away.
'Wait, take this.' He hands me his business card.
I take it reading it, Zenith Creations CEO, accompanied by a contact number. I look at Zenith, confused.
'If you need a job, call me,' he says.
'Thanks, but I'm sure I'll be fine,' I say, handing the card back.
'No, keep it. Just in case. I'll see you around, Astrid.' He gives me a wink before his window ascends, shielding him from view.
'Hey!' I yell as he drives off. 'How did you know my… name?'
I stand there watching the car drive further and further away. The diner is up ahead. I don't want to walk past it, but there is no other road to take. The woods are the only other thing around. There are more cars at the diner than there usually would be.
A few of the same men I served the other night are standing outside the diner. They're staring intently at me. One man nods, and another enters the diner. I quicken my pace, knowing Ryker might be with them. I am left unbothered for a while, and I think this will be a non-event before Ryker is suddenly standing in front of me. You've got to be kidding me. How did he get here so quick? I step around him. 'Astrid,' he says. I keep walking, and Ryker keeps pace with me. 'Astrid.' he repeats himself. I keep my head down and keep walking. He grabs my wrist, and I feel a subtle sensation from his touch.'Ryker! Let me go!' I yell. 'No. I looked for you all night when you ran off and all day yesterday and today. So, we are going to the diner to talk,' he says. 'There is nothing to talk about!' I say, trying to pull away.Ryker grabs me by the waist and lifts me over his shoulder. I cry out in pain from the injuries I sustained. Ryker quickly puts me back down. 'What's wrong?' He asks. '
I look up to see Ryker staring down into my eyes with sadness. 'There's more I need to explain to you, but it can wait till tomorrow,' he whispers. I nod and look at the clock. It's late! My father will kill me. I should have been home ages ago!Pushing myself out of Ryker's arms, I bolt for the door to leave, impatiently turning the handle clockwise and counter-clockwise to no avail. 'Where's the key?' I ask. 'Astrid! You're not going anywhere yet, and you sure as hell aren't going back to that house!' Ryker argues.'Ryker, you said you would unlock the door when I'm ready to leave! Please, you have to let me go. He will kill me if I'm late home,' I explain, trying to force the door open. 'Astrid, I won't let him lay a finger on you again. Do you hear me?' Ryker says sternly.'He will hunt me down, Ryker. If I don't go home, he will kill me. He will look for me here,' I argue. 'Good. Let your Dad come. Because it's the last time he will ever see you,' Ryker says.'What are you g
As we run back to the diner, I fear what is about to unfold, holding hands. My Dad is sitting on the bonnet of his car with his shotgun pointed at some of the pack members outside. He watches me step out from the concealment of the woods, holding Ryker's hand. 'How many men are here waiting to have their turn with you, Astrid? Fourteen? Fifteen?' He spits. Ryker lets out a growl. 'Astrid, you need to train your pet dog to behave. Otherwise, I'll have to put him down, like the dangerous dog he is for touching my daughter.' A warning shot fires toward Ryker's feet, purposely missing them but warning him. I jump at the gunshot. Ryker doesn't flinch. Instead, he maintains a steady resolve and holds my hand tighter. He glares at my father.'The only one around here who needs to keep their hands off Astrid is you! I'm going to rip you to pieces,' Ryker yells, letting go of my hand and tackling my father to the ground. I try to grab his arms, but I'm useless. The scuffling is too unpredict
It's around 1 am when we arrive at Shadow Crest. I wake up to Ryker carrying me in his arms. It's dark and quiet. 'Ryker, I can walk, you know?' 'I know, but I want to carry you,' he says with a grin. 'Put me down, Ryker.' He gently puts me down.We are at the mansion's front entrance. It's three stories high. A giant white staircase ascends to the second floor. The balconies on the second and third floors are to die for, and I admire the white French doors and windows. Manicured green hedges border the mansion, and flowers grace the garden sweetly. A giant water fountain sculpted in the shape of two wolves is a glamourous outdoor focal point.'This is where we live. This is the packhouse,' Ryker says proudly. 'It's a massive house for just two people,' I say.'Oh, many of us live in this house.' Ryker scratches the back of his head nervously. 'You never said I'd be living in a house with a bunch of werewolves,' I say.'It's normal for the Alpha and Luna to live in the packhouse
It's a beautiful town with lush trees and plenty of parks. I see a shopping strip and some cute cafes and clothing stores. There are plenty of people around who are most likely werewolves. I feel many unwelcome eyes on me. I perk up when I spot the watchtower and go there.After climbing hundreds of steps, I take in the view Shadow Crest sure is beautiful. A dense, green forest surrounds the town for miles, and I'm unsure which way to go. Finally, I sit down, defeated, and dangle my legs over the ledge, resting my head on the rail. What am I going to do? Turning into a werewolf scares me, but I can't run from that. It's going to happen no matter where I go. I reflect on last night: My dad shot Ryker, and he protected me from my father, and how my heart ached at almost losing him.Suddenly, I feel a presence behind me. Ryker lets out a heavy sigh and sits down next to me, dangling his legs over the ledge. 'Ryker, I'm sorry I ran off. I panicked and didn't know what to do.' I explain.
We decide to watch some movies downstairs. 'Can we make some popcorn first?' I ask. 'Sure, I'll make it while you pick a movie.' I flick through the list. There are so many to choose from that I can't decide. I close my eyes and press play on a random movie. Ryker sits close beside me, holding a large bowl of salty, buttery popcorn.'What are we watching?' He asks. 'I'm not sure. I couldn't decide, so I closed my eyes and picked a random movie.' 'That's cute,' he smiles. I giggle. Then, the movie starts, turning out to be a scary horror film. I have my face in Ryker's shoulder halfway through it, too frightened to watch the spooky parts anymore.'You can hold my hand if you're scared,' he says. I laugh. 'You wish!' I laugh. 'I wish,' he says, grinning. I smile back at his confidence and jump in fright when the monster appears on the screen, out of nowhere, capturing and killing the human who tried to get away.'Aww, baby. Did the monster scare you?' Ryker asks as he swings my le
The following day, there is a knock on my locked door. I ignore it. 'Astrid, I know you're there. Please unlock the door,' Ryker pleads. I don't want to hear his voice, so I lock myself in the bathroom, run a bath, and stay there for as long as possible.I put on a pair of jeans and the most oversized hoodie I can find. It almost touches my knees. I pull the hood over my head. It makes me feel invisible like I'm able to hide from the world. It's an enormous sense of comfort. On the twelfth knock on my door, Ryker is livid and enlists Mia's help. 'It's Mia, Astrid,' she says through the door. As sweet and bubbly as she is, I still want to be left alone.'I brought you some lunch. I'll leave it at the door,' she explains. The last thing I want to do is eat food. I feel sick to the stomach thinking about how close I have become with Ryker. He wants me, but I don't understand why. I get that I'm his mate, but he had already arranged to be mates with Vanessa. Have I ever meant anythi
Last night was awful. I wasn't able to get much sleep. I got up early before sunrise and headed downstairs to the kitchen to make myself breakfast. Entering, I freeze for a moment as Alice is there, cutting up fruit. Alice pauses and looks up to see me. She becomes angry, and the knife in her handshakes. 'Good morning, Alice,' I say politely. She growls in a warning.'I'm just going to get myself something to eat, and then I'll be gone,' I say. 'Permanently, I hope,' she mutters.'Alice, I get you're upset, but I planned none of this. I didn't even know werewolves existed until recently. Maybe if we get to know each other, we might come to tolerate each other. Maybe even be friends,' I say. I yelp when her knife flies past my face and into the wall. 'I will never be your friend, and you will never be my Luna! Mark my word, Vanessa will become the Luna of Shadow Crest! I suggest you save yourself from the hurt and leave now. Because I can assure you, you won't live to see your eight