C4 The Alpha's Mate that cried Wolf!
A few of the same men I served the other night stand outside. They’re staring intently at me. One of them nods and another goes inside. I quicken my pace knowing Ryker might be with them. For a while, I am left unbothered, 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 instant sparks fly between us just from his touch; the sexual tension is crazy.
‘Ryker! Let me go!’ I yell.
‘No. I looked for you all night when you ran off, and all day yesterday and today. 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 up over his shoulder. I cry out in pain from the injuries I sustained, so much so, tears fall from my face. Ryker quickly puts me back down.
‘What's wrong?’ He asks.
‘Nothing, just please don't touch me,’ I say. Ryker pushes my hoodie down.
‘Astrid. I need you to look at me, please,’ he pleads. He can see the bruises on my neck and chest.
I look into his blue eyes, my tears rolling down my cheeks. I don't know why but I feel so ashamed of myself.
‘Oh, Astrid...’ he says, as he tries to gently wipe my tears from my cheek; I flinch and take a step back. I’m not used to his kindness at all.
‘Astrid, I didn't mean to hurt you,’ he says.
‘I know,’ I say, looking away.
‘Can you please walk with me to the diner and let us talk?’ I nod and we head toward the diner.
At the diner, I don't have a chance to open the door before one of Ryker's men opens it for us.
‘Alpha,’ he says, nodding. Ryker walks in while I hesitate.
‘You worked here for almost a year and now you’re afraid to come in?’ Ryker says.
‘I'd prefer Jim didn't see me like this,’ I explain. Ryker stares at me for a moment.
‘I’ll tell him to stay in the kitchen,’ he suggests. I hug my arms, nod and keep my head down.
A few moments later, I hear a ruckus of pots and pans falling, and Jim yelling ‘let me see her, damn it.’ Ryker is trying to hold Jim back; he is obviously very angry and distraught that I've been beaten again, and this time worse. I know Jim isn't going to calm down anytime soon, so I take a deep breath and go in.
‘Jim, I don't want you to see me like this; I’ve caused quite the commotion. I am so sorry,’ I say, standing at the kitchen bench, and looking at the mess of pots and pans on the floor. Jim stiffens at the sight of me. I’m glad the extent of my beatings is covered by my hoodie and jeans.
‘Astrid...’ Jim says, staring at me. His eyes well up, he steps toward me and I rescind; he frowns and looks away.
‘I'll go get you some ice,’ he whispers, walking to the freezer. The other men in the diner are all staring at me, sympathising with me for my injuries.
I make it obvious I’m feeling uncomfortable by glaring at them; they all look away.
‘Astrid, come take a seat,’ Ryker says, walking to the diner door, flipping the OPEN sign, and locking the door with the key. I am worried.
‘It's fine, Astrid. I just don't want us to be interrupted. I'll unlock the door when you’re ready to leave,’ he reassures me. I nod and sit at one of the tables with the booth seats. Ryker sits beside me. Jim passes me the ice pack without looking at me and returns to the kitchen.
‘Astrid, we need to discuss your living arrangements,’ he says.
‘There's nothing to discuss,’ I reply.
‘Astrid, do you want him to kill you? Because looking at you in your current state, another beating before your eighteenth birthday, and you probably won't survive,’ he observes.
‘Why would I not be able to survive another beating?’ I ask. All the men in the room are listening to our conversation intently.
‘She doesn't know about us, or even believe me. Yet,’ he says. The men speak to eachother with knowing looks; unspoken words pass between them via their body language; I’m not privy to their thoughts.
Jim has made me a flat white coffee and some sandwiches. I’m so hungry. I eat slowly and carefully; the pain in my jaw makes it almost impossible, hence why I haven't eaten in days.
‘Astrid, I'm going to explain everything to you and I know you won't believe me, yet, but you need to know now so you know what to expect on your birthday. No matter what I say, try and stay calm. It's a lot to take in. The world you know is about to change,’ Ryker says, forming his words very carefully.
Too sore and too tired to argue, I keep sipping my coffee and just listen.
‘I live in what is called a pack. Every pack has an Alpha and a Luna who are the leaders of the pack. If you’re not in a pack then you’re what’s known as a rogue.’ I raise my brow and tilt my head.
‘So, because I'm not in a pack I'm a rogue?’ I ask.
‘Yes, that's correct. But being a rogue isn't a good thing. It makes you weaker. And you can't just go anywhere: you need permission to go onto a pack's territory, otherwise you could be punished by instant death by a pack member in that territory,’ he explains.
‘That's not very nice; to kill someone for passing through,’ I say.
‘Well, rogues are generally a threat, and don't normally have good intentions for entering other territories. That’s why,’ he explains.
‘When you turn eighteen, something very special happens to us. Our inner wolf wakes. You will be able to hear your wolf in your mind. You’ll also be able to heal very quickly and you will be able to shift into your wolf for the first time that night.’ I laugh and look around to see everyone looking very serious; they’re all serious about this. This is no lie.
My attention turns to Jim; he places his hand over mine and gives it a gentle squeeze.
‘Astrid, I know this sounds like some kind of fairy tale to you, but Alpha Ryker is telling you the truth, and you know I would never lie to you,’ Jim says, in a serious tone.
Pulling my hand away, I stand up. Ryker and Jim stand too. I look around the diner again at all the men with their serious expressions.
‘I don't believe you. Either of you,’ I say.
‘Jim, would you like to do the honours and show her?’ Ryker asks. Jim nods and starts undressing. Disturbed that Jim is stripping his clothes off right in front of me, I close my eyes, and turn away.
‘Jim! What are you doing?’ I ask him. I hear sounds of undergarments ripping, muscles tearing and bones breaking; they’re awful sounds. I’m enlivened again with the chemistry between Ryker and I, when he gently pulls my hands down from my face with his; forcing me to watch. After no time at all, Jim's face and body are no longer his, and he is covered in fur; he has quite literally morphed into a large brown wolf. I begin hyperventilating and go into shock from what I have witnessed.
The wolf howls and walks toward me. My ongoing screams force it to stop in its tracks.
‘Wolf. Wolf. Wolf.’ I throw random objects at Jim; anything I can get my hands on: the napkin holder, the salt, the pepper, the sugar, the ketchup, my empty mug, the jar of teaspoons from the table. I try to maintain a safe distance from him but no distance is safe when you’re stuck in a diner with a wolf.
‘It's okay, Astrid. Take some deep breaths. I know this is a shock for you, but you need to breathe. It's just Jim; he isn't going to hurt you,’ Ryker says.
Bursting into tears, I sink to the ground in the corner, and hold my knees, while tears soak into the denim on my legs.
‘Ryker, please don't let it near me,’ I say. The large wolf backs away into the kitchen out of my sight, and Ryker sits on the ground next to me.
‘I told you I never wanted to see a wolf again! Why did you do that? Why do you want me reliving my mother's death? Why?’ I yell, before letting my head fall onto Ryker's chest. He wraps his strong arms around me and holds me tightly. I’m instantly comforted by him and feel much calmer. His scent and his closeness console me; they feel very safe.
‘I'm so sorry. I didn't know your mum died the day you saw the wolf. Please forgive me,’ he whispers into my hair, as he runs his fingers through it.
I’m furious with him but I desire him just as much; his arms around me make me feel a comfort I thought I'd never feel. Fireworks explode throughout my body, pressed against his so closely. I don't ever want to leave his arms. It takes me a while, sitting in silence, to digest Jim shifting into a wolf, and to recover from the flashbacks of my mum’s death.
Jim reappears in the dining room in his clothes, looking at me with a sad and heartbroken expression. I’m too scared to make eye contact with him or to even look at him; he keeps his distance. A whole hour passes, with the memory of my mother's death replaying over and over in my mind. Scenes from that day resound in my head, and poor Ryker has no idea what I’m reliving, as he holds me closely. No one dares make a sound or move; the only noises I hear are the birds chirping outside and a few random, intermittent knocks on the diner’s glass door because the diner is closed. Everyone feels sorry for me. I fall asleep in Ryker's arms.