I look up into summer sky eyes, full of the warmth of sunshine and love. Noah’s lips are tipped up. Hasn’t this moment been centuries in the making?
“Ah, not really.” I glance nervously at the trees behind me. I appreciate that Noah took me for a walk to calm my nerves. He would have sensed how much this evening has unsettled me. It’s just that it didn’t really work. “Are you sure there are no surprises?”
“Very sure. Your Were-in-law wasn’t allowed within a Glade’s-width of the preparations.”
That has me smiling. Tara, proudly bonded to Noah’s twin, Mitch, is also the Alpha of our neighboring pack. They have their hands full with the Channons. And their mutineers.
“And I think they finally found something that actually holds her focus.”
Being newly bonded didn’t keep Tara occupied for long. The prospect of college after the holidays certainly didn’t. Even an unsettled, divided pack wasn’t enough to keep Tara from organizing anyone in her orbit. But the discovery that she’s carrying Mitch’s child? Now that did the trick.
“Who knew Tara would take up knitting and take it to a whole other level?”
Noah chuckles. “After she painted the nursery walls in a forest diorama.” He pulls me in close. “But you’re changing the subject.”
“You changed it. I just ran with it.”
I blush. A month bonded and you’d think I wouldn’t every time Noah’s voice dips like that. It’s a voice that captures the life we’ve forged. The future we’re facing. The nights we’ve discovered. “Thanks. What’s that, forty-eight times now?”
“Hey, when half of the Prime Alpha pair reaches eighteen, it needs to be acknowledged.”
I arch a brow. “Consider it acknowledged with the flowers, the cheesecake and the all-vegetarian family lunch.”
“So you don’t want your present?”
“What?” I glance around the clearing we stand in. This grassy opening protected by trees is the Phelan land we’ll build our house on one day. It’s the place close to the family who has accepted me with hearts as big as Wyoming. It’s the place where a future I never imagined will set its foundations. It’s the place I’ll live, laugh and love with my bonded mate. “You’ve already given me everything, Noah.”
Noah’s hand is in his pocket, that soft, sexy smile tipping up his lips. His eyes never leave mine. “Well, I want you to know…”
His hand tugs up and a fine gold chain is wrapped around his fingers. I gasp when I see the matching gold pendant swinging from the fragile links.
My hand comes out to grasp it as the sun catches the edge, light glinting and refracting. The wolf outline, a head thrown up in a howl, is identical to the one that is imprinted on Noah’s chest. And every other Were in existence. “It’s beautiful.”
“Eden.” I look up and my breath evaporates at the warmth and sincerity in those blue pools. I wonder if he notices his hand brush his chest, touching the mark that I’ve indelibly changed. “You have my heart, my love, my life. Now you have a part of me.”
I’m never sure what I’ve brought to Noah’s life. Sure, I’m a Changeling. A part-Fae who can connect with animals, but it’s also a heritage most Weres will never know about. All that creates is complications and tension as Weres discover the leader to lead all leaders isn’t one of them.
“Thank you.” My voice is breathy and a little choked.
He takes the chain and lifts it and I raise my hair as he clasps it. The wolf, golden and fragile, settles on my chest. It’s warm and cool and full of promise.
“You’re one of us now, Eden.”
The kiss that graces my lips demolishes any trace of doubt that had considered germinating. The warmth, a glimmer of the heat I’ve discovered we create, a fulfilment of the connection I can’t live without, envelopes me. My arms rise and clasp his shoulders. He’s given me something that shows what his mark had already become even before we had bonded. Noah belongs with me.
And I belong with Noah.
As we pull away, all too conscious of how new our passion is, how easily it gets carried away, a wry thought adds itself to the reality of our connection.
We just need to convince Weres of that.
Noah rests his forehead on mine, and I breathe in the spiced sandalwood weaving through the emotion we’re cocooned in. “I love you Eden, more than love you. What I feel for you is so much bigger…deeper… stronger…than that one little word.”
“I know. It’s always been more.”
“Let’s show them what more can mean.”
I smile, a genuine one. This has got to be the reason we were chosen as Prime Alpha. Noah, the boy who couldn’t change until I was threatened. Me, the girl with a secret identity that connects to Weres in a way they’ll never know about. Our connection is so binding, so deep, it shows the potential that partnership can mean.
Noah steps back, pride and love practically bursting from him. “We’d better get going to the Glade. Don’t want to be late.”
I pull in a breath. And then another.
The short walk back to the Phelan house is quiet. There’s a breeze that is trying to gain some momentum, and it blows my hair back. I lift my face to it. With our hands held, I can feel everything Noah is feeling. The nervousness and uncertainty I can relate to. The anticipation, the low buzz of excitement I cling to. Those are the emotions that speak of hope and faith.
Back at the house I realize Noah’s walk had more than one purpose. Because in the time we were gone, a truck has parked in the Phelan driveway. A big, shiny new truck. A big, shiny, silver truck with a whopping red bow on it.
“Noah, you can’t afford this!”
Noah shoves his hands in his pockets. “Not on Prime Alpha wages,” he jokes.
There’s a pause, and I drag my astonished eyes away from the gleaming metal hulk to find his brief smile falling away.
“But your mother can.”
My head swings to the truck then back to Noah. “Alexis bought this?”
Noah nods, watching me carefully. Maybe a little cautiously. “For your birthday.”
I settle my gaze on the truck. “Why would Alexis buy me a car?”
“A top of the range, brand new car.”
Moving in with Noah seemed to shatter the final, fragile column which was holding up my relationship with Alexis. I’ve been living with the Phelans a month now and she hasn’t visited. Hasn’t called once. The appearance of this truck has been the first contact from her.
“She contacted you?”
Noah purses his lips. “She rang me and said she wanted it to be a surprise.”
“What did you say to her?”
“I asked her why now.”
“She didn’t answer. I told her she could bring it over, but you’d make your mind up about what to do with it.”
Anger, firing fast and hot, has me stepping away. I don’t know what Alexis is trying to say, probably trying to buy, but I’m not willing to find out. “I don’t want it.”
Noah has ‘I thought you’d say that’ resting between his furrowed brows. He understands the relationship I have with my mother. He’s seen the distance between us. He knows he’s never heard my name pass her lips. “What do you want to do with it?”
I cross my arms. He knows she’s the one person I can’t stop being angry at. “I’m going to do with it what I’ve done with every other overpriced, unnecessary piece of pseudo-parenting she’s ever given me.”
“Shove it in your wardrobe back at the Inn?”
I feel my lips twitch. “Give it back.”
The front door of the Phelan house opens and my best friend’s voice reaches me a moment before she does. “You could give it to me.”
My smile breaks free as Tara loops her arm through mine, the breeze playing with her red hair. “You don’t want this truck.”
Tara takes in the gleaming silver, the tires that have barely done the rounds. I look a little closer. The leather seats. “I kinda do.”
“You really don’t.”
Tara sighs. “Are you sure?”
“You’d have to thank the benefactor for their generosity. Probably be indebted for a very long time.”
Tara drops my arm, frowning. “I suppose grey is the color of haggis.”
Noah slips his arm around me. “Or whales.”
Tara shoots hazel darts from her eyes. “Or dead people.”
Mitch joins us, wrapping his arms around Tara. She melts into him, her hand coming up to caress her gently curved stomach. He throws his twin a don’t-poke-the-bear glare over the top of her head. Tara is synonymous with emotional and impulsive. Pregnant Tara is volatile.
Noah grins but raises his hand in a conciliatory gesture. Their dad, Adam, strides past, his gaze saying ‘smart move.’
Beth comes to stand beside me. “This is going to be amazing.”
I glance at Noah’s mother, a smile belying my nervousness. They’re all looking at me and my nervousness dials down a notch. I’m surrounded by love and acceptance. I’m surrounded by faith. It’s a novel feeling I still marvel that I was lucky enough to bond into.
I take a deep breath, wrapping one hand tightly around Noah’s, the other coming up to clasp the wolf pendant. “I’m ready.”
Tonight, the eve of the full moon, we run for the first time as Prime Alpha. It’s momentous. It’s intimidating. It’s inevitable. By now, every Were knows we exist, they know of the fateful day when Tara’s younger sister, Dana, had me surrounded by wolves with death in their eyes. If the crowd that had amassed hadn’t seen me subdue them and Noah strip a Were of his power, then the phone calls long into the night would have made sure they knew about it.
But tonight we show what the Prime Alpha is. A massive white wolf. With a human girl riding on his back.
A human has never joined a run, never seen it.
Tonight we make history in more ways than I would have liked.
Like he knew my thoughts were starting to be weighed down by the seriousness of this all, Caesar comes rushing out. He throws his great big German Shepherd body at me, tail wagging.
Bracing myself, I bend down to rub his head. “We’ve been over this, big boy. You can’t come.”
“I wish I was going to be there.” Tara is leaning back a little, hand on the small of her back. It’s the classic pose of a pregnant woman…if she had any more than the gently sloping belly Tara is lovingly caressing.
Apparently Weres can’t shift once they’re pregnant.
I rub her arm. "There’ll be others."
“But gob dash it, it’s your first one,” Tara wails.
Caesar looks up at me, like he agrees with what she’s saying.
Mitch rubs her back too. “You could come, stay at the Glade.”
It’s about the only way a Were could be human at a run.
Unless it’s me.
Tara turns, indignation straightening her spine. “We talked about this, Mitch. Who knows when the cravings could hit!”
Noah snorts. “Now there’s a scenario none of us are equipped to face.” He shrugs. “Unless we bring the cheese stuffed pretzels.”
Tara punches him in the arm. “I can’t have them cold, you gooseberry.”
Noah arches a brow. “What was I thinking?”
I place my hand on Tara’s arm to distract her from the murderous thoughts she’s obviously entertaining. “Look on the bright side. Were babies grow faster, so you’ll be joining us sooner than you think.”
Like a bomb, Tara instantly diffuses. She rubs her belly again. “That’s true, I’ll just stay here and work on growing Jellybean.”
I glance at Mitch. Jellybean? He shrugs as he grins. It seems their child has been named for the moment.
I glance at Caesar. See, you need to stay home and keep her company.
Thankfully, Stash takes that moment to come out and join us. Caesar’s tail is already wagging before the Phelan’s Labrador has joined us. Patting them both, I send them inside. They’ll park themselves at the door, making sure Tara doesn’t even notice she’s alone.
Not one Were will raise an eyebrow that she won’t be joining us. Weres can smell a pregnancy almost as soon as it’s conceived. Since they discovered their Alpha is carrying an heir, her pack has been too busy celebrating.
Tara’s smile is the smile of the content. “You kids go. I want to hear about it when you get back.”
I step forward, walking past the brand-new truck to Noah’s familiar, beaten one. “Let’s run.”