“You are not broken,” I snap.
“I am. I thought I was okay. I thought I could do it. He wasn’t a threat, but then I saw him near you, and it—it just flung me back there. My panic at losing you brought me back, but then the nightmare came. I’m so weak. I’m so sorry, Thea.” He tries to scramble away, but I hold him tighter.
“Zale, you are not broken. I don’t understand. Why do you fear the wolf?” I question, needing to know. Simon is important to me, as is his mate, but I will not let this hurt my mate.
“I—” He hesitates. “I couldn’t stand you thinking less of me.”
“I never will,” I tell him honestly, and he searches my gaze and nods before he swallows. His tongue darts out to lick at his fangs nervously.
“I was a nobody at my court, not like the others, but I had friends, and I was happy. I knew I would never rise in the ranks, and I didn’t mind. It was a good life. One night, a group of friends and I, all freshly changed, went to a blood party.” I know them well. I went to enough before my presentation. It’s basically a big orgy of sex and blood drinking for those fresh and new—a safe space to explore. “On our way back, blood drunk and being stupid, we took a detour. It was a way we had never been before. We ended up getting lost, and before I knew it, we were surrounded.”
His eyes become distant, but he leans into me.
“Wolves, werewolves, they were everywhere. Our court had never had issues with them before, but I knew our history, knew our two races hated each other and it wouldn’t be good. I tried to look for a way out, a way to escape, while the others either tried to flee or fight. I could hear the screams of terror and pain from the ones who ran into the trees as the wolves tore into them. They wanted to kill us. They weren’t defending their territory, weren’t attacked or provoked. No, they played with us. They wanted our pain. They hated us. I saw it in their eyes, Althea, and I never knew why.”
Oh god. I cover my mouth, and he carries on.
“I managed to scramble over this massive boulder and just started running. I could hear them chasing me. My friends had either left me or were dead, so I was the last. I couldn’t save them. I couldn’t. I just kept running. One managed to catch me near the water, and I killed it. I was hurt, but I had always been faster than anyone in our court, and I made it back. I told everyone what happened before passing out. When I woke up, I was in a locked room.” He meets my eyes. “They blamed me for my friends’ deaths and called me a coward for not saving them. I promise, Althea, I couldn’t. It all happened so fast, and there were so many wolves, I nearly died myself, but my court did not care.”
I don’t even have time to tell him that I believe him because he laughs bitterly. “I was punished before them all and made into a laughingstock. No one trusted me, and I was shunned, so I left. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I started to internalise their hatred and jokes and began to believe I was to blame. I wandered for so long, trying to deal with it. I learned how to brew tea and how to survive, but I was never the same. One night, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to hunt down some wolves. It didn’t matter who they were or what they had done. Unluckily or not, I didn’t get far. I was heading into pack lands, and you had to go through this gate of sorts. I didn’t know then why it was avoided, but I do now. The stone gate was empty, but when I drew close, it began to swirl, and before I knew it, a huge shape leapt out. I was bitten and dragged through. When I woke up, I was in a cave. I realised it had been a portal, a prison of sorts for a mythical being—a black dog. I thought it meant to kill me, but then I looked into its eyes and I could see a different plan. It changed me, but I didn’t know it then, didn’t know it had bitten me while I slept and turned my blood. I escaped once more, thinking I was so smart, but in reality, it let me go. I ran to the nearest court for safety. They took me in, and I dropped into a deep fever. At some point during my slumber, I changed. I changed into a beast just like him. I barely remember the days after. The next thing I knew, I was human once more, covered in blood with the remains of one of the court’s houses splattered around me. I killed them, ripped them to pieces. I was evil. I ran once more, seeking an end to this.” He pauses and takes a deep breath.
“If I’d survived, I would have changed more people and, in turn, freed my creator who was a god, a cursed one. The others stopped me. They killed me, but when I came back, I still had the black dog inside of me. I could then control it, since it was part of me and not evil like I thought. It could be used for good and bad. I thought I was over it all, but seeing that wolf brought it all back. I’m still that scared little vamp running in the dark.”
“No, not in the dark, not ever again. Zale, I cannot change what happened to you. It’s terrifying, and what those wolves did . . .” I shake my head. “But you know, just like vamps, some are evil and untrustworthy. We cannot blame an entire species for what they have done,” I say softly.
He jerks like I slapped him, but I see the truth in his eyes. He knows that.
“It is your past to overcome, but I will be right here with you, and I will never let anyone hurt you ever again. If you need to be free of wolves, I will make it so, and if you need to face it, I will be right there with you. You are so much stronger than you could ever realise. You survived so much and tamed the beast inside you. You took a curse and made it good again. You can do this too. I know it. You do not want to hate and judge an entire race over the actions of a few.” I place my hand on his heart. “But we can take it one day at a time. I cannot thank you enough for telling me. I’m so sorry I didn’t know and made it worse tonight.”
“Never,” he croaks. “None of us expected it to be that bad. I am so sorry.”
“Do not apologise to me. We all have the things that haunt us, but that’s what this is—a haunting. It cannot hurt us unless we let it.”
“How can you still touch me knowing I’m a coward?” He frowns. “Knowing this creature, this thing I am, was once evil?”
Eyes narrowed, I lean in and bite his lip hard, seeing his beast peek out. “I do not fear your beast, and you should not either. You said you found peace, but I think part of you still worries about it around me. I don’t want that. Let the beast out to play, Zale. It won’t hurt me; neither of you will,” I murmur, sliding my lips along his.
He suddenly rips himself away from me and rolls onto the edge of the pit.
Panting, he tilts his head like an animal. His eyes are alight with the flames of his beast, and the growls he lets out has me shivering as I lie back, waiting for my beast to devour me.
“I do not want to hurt you. I couldn’t live with that. I would rip my own heart out.”
“That is proof enough that you never will. It is time to take down that last barrier, Zale. It is time to move on.” I hold out my arms, waiting for him.
“Althea,” he growls in warning.
It’s clear he’s holding back, and I realise that every time we have been together, he has been doing just that. I hate it. I want all of him. Maybe I’m greedy or selfish, but I want every single inch of him.
Tilting my head with a smirk, I trail my fingers across my shirt to the hem and slowly tug it up and off, leaving me in nothing but a red lacy bra. My nipples harden, peeking through the snake winding through the flowers over the cups. His snarl grows louder as he rolls as if his beast is trying to get out.
“Zale.” I pout, trailing my hand lower to the waistband of my skirt. I slide it down my thighs and throw it towards him. He grabs it with a clawed hand and presses it against his nose as he watches me lean back once more. Now, I’m wearing nothing but a matching thong and bra.
Spreading my thighs, I let him see my pussy, feeling my wetness coating the fabric of the thong.
I slide my hand around my throat and down my chest as I widen my legs. “I need you, Zale. You don’t want to leave your queen unsatisfied, do you?” I purr, sliding my hand over my stomach and down to cup my pussy. I grind my hand into my wet flesh. My moan is real, the spark of pleasure causing me to wind my hips, and it’s that noise that finally breaks through his control.