A low murmur of voices drew me from my sleep, hearing my name and my mind cleared instantly. Keeping my eyes closed I listened intently. Liam’s voice drifted to me from somewhere nearby.
“Is she alright?” he was saying quietly, trying not to wake me up I assumed. I heard footsteps cross the floor coming to a stop beside me. A shadow fell over me and I felt a smooth finger brush across my temple. That’s Liam! It bothered me how I could instantly tell who had touched me. Darren’s hands are so rough though. Brushing away the thoughts I listened as Micah’s voice spoke up from near my feet.
“She’s been in kind of a daze from what I can tell.” he said softly, “Melissa is worried about her, she said Dusty was like a zombie today in class. I know she didn’t sleep a wink last night.”
“You really shouldn’t have left like that.” I heard Darren growl, “You broke her heart.” He was hurt too! My mind snapped irritably.
“You know I didn’t really have a choice,” I heard Liam sink to the floor beside me, “You remember what happened between dad and Michael. I know how the bonds work, once it’s done it can’t change.”
“Unless I die,” Darren said quietly, I stiffened remembering what happened last night. Micah snorted.
“Yeah, this moron tried to kill himself,” Micah’s voice sounded irritated, “Dusty stopped him though, she’s a lot tougher than she looks.”
“Speaking of which,” Darren piped up again, he quickly filled them in on his recent theory about me. I heard them both gasp.
“That isn’t possible.” Liam snorted, “Bonded pairs do not have girls, it’s not even feasible.” he had the same edge of disbelief to his voice that I had.
“Unless her mother wasn’t his bonded mate,” Micah chimed in cutting him off, “There have been cases of children born outside of bonded pairs before,” he said quietly.
“But never girls,” Darren said, I could hear the burning curiosity in his voice, “If it’s true, she will be the first one I’ve ever seen.”
“There’s something special about her,” I heard Liam whisper, the cushion moved in front of my face and I felt his breath brush my cheek softly.
“Unless you want to wake her up, I would suggest you don’t get so close,” I heard a defensive edge in Darren’s voice.
“How are we going to tell mom about this?” Micah spoke up suddenly, trying to defuse the instant tension I felt sizzle through the air, “She still thinks Dusty is with Liam.”
“I’ll tell her,” I felt Liam’s breath fade as he leaned away, “She understands the bonding better than any of us.” I heard a scuff against the floor, when he spoke again his voice was higher above me, “You better take care of her” I knew the threat was directed at Darren, “If you hurt her, I will kill you myself.” his voice lowered to a growl, I could almost picture the scowl that must be on his face, “I’m leaving before she wakes up, don’t tell her I was here.” the broken plea in his voice yanked at my guilt.
“I promise, she’s perfectly safe,” Darren said quietly, I’ll never let her go. I heard the thought tacked on to the end of his words, I know you’re awake Dusty. My eyes almost popped open, fighting the instinct I kept them firmly closed.
“Yeah, don’t forget I’m here too!” Micah chimed in brightly, “I won’t let anything happen to her either.” I guess it’s a good thing Liam cut himself off from the pack or he would know too. His voice swirled around my mind joining Darren’s, you’re a good actor woman, I’ll give you that.
I heard Liam’s footsteps as he walked out of the den, I opened my eyes gazing at both of them quietly. Darren had placed me on the longest part of the sectional, covering me with a blanket. Micah was sitting near my feet, a quizzical frown on his face as he studied me. I cut my gaze to Darren who was sitting in the armchair closest to the fire. I heard the kitchen door slide open and close quickly. After a moment Darren spoke.
“He came to check on you,” he explained quickly, I sat up rubbing my eyes, and glanced out the window. The sky was pitch black outside; I couldn’t even see the stars.
“That is crazy, you know.” Micah said tilting his head as he studied me, “If Darren is right about where you came from at least.”
“What time is it?” I suddenly panicked, ignoring his remark. I can find out tomorrow, mom will tell me, won’t she? If Randall isn’t really my dad? If he isn’t will she know about what he really was if it’s true? Slapping the thoughts down before they choked me, I glanced at Micah’s stunned face, “What?”
“Holy hell...he was right I can hear you too.” His expression was twisted somewhere between fascination and shock.
I heard Darren laugh and turned to him, “It’s nine-thirty by the way.” he said with a small smile, “You have thirty minutes before your grades are posted. Are you going to call your mom and tell her?”
I nodded, “I guess that would be a good idea, wouldn't it?” turning back to Micah I frowned, “What did you mean when you said Liam cut himself off from the pack?” Surely he didn’t…
“He’s still a part of us in a way, but he won’t hear any of our thoughts unless they’re directed at him.” Micah said softly, “You understand, don’t you? Why doesn't he want to listen?” I nodded feeling guilty, I pushed them apart.
“No, you didn’t.” Darren growled, answering my thoughts harshly, “Don’t even start blaming yourself.”
“He’s right, it isn't your fault.” Micah quickly added, “Bonding isn’t something we can control, it just happens. Liam understands that, we all do, he doesn’t blame you either.”
I gazed sightlessly at the floor, but if I wasn’t in the picture, you would all still be together. I couldn’t make myself speak so I thought of the words instead. The memory of all of them together at Bennett's surfaced briefly in my mind, you guys were so happy.
They exchanged an exasperated look, “We’re still family Dusty,” Darren said brushing my worry away, standing up he came to sit beside me, “Look I’m done watching you be depressed about this, it happened, okay? It won't change until I die. Unless you want me to go out in the woods and find a hunter right now so they can kill me, please cheer up. I don’t like watching you beat yourself up like this.” Micah discretely stood up and left the room leaving us alone.
“No, you’re not going to try to kill yourself!” I scowled darkly at him, “Has anyone ever told you you’re unstable? Stop threatening to kill yourself!”
“I deserve to die after everything I’ve done,” he scowled back, “What I don't get is why you keep trying to stop me!”
“Because I actually love you stupid!” I clapped my hands over my mouth as the words spilled out, his jaw went slack and he blinked at me stunned, “I mean…” I fumbled over my words, feeling my face flame.
His eyes softened a fraction as he looked at my flushed face, “Well you didn’t have to yell it that loud.” I snorted and turned away from him facing the fire, trying to block him out.
“It’s not like you actually care,” I snapped, feeling frustrated, “you said you didn’t want to love anyone else. It’s like you hate the fact that we’re bonded but you’re just accepting it.” I felt the jab as my words cut him, ``Damn this mental link! “I’m trying to make this work, but you’re pushing me away at every turn. You almost treat me like a little sister!” I growled, except you definitely don’t kiss your sister like you kiss me! “I know I’m confused; I did love Liam. He made me believe in myself.” I bit my lip choosing my words carefully, “I still do, but it feels so different. It’s like you’re my gravity, I can’t stop myself from wanting to be around you.” in my peripheral I saw his blank shock, “Maybe it is the bond, but right now I really don’t care about bonds. I want you to stop threatening to hurt yourself!” fuming I glared into the flames moodily.
It seemed like he was frozen in shock, several minutes passed and he didn’t say a word. Fear nagged at my mind; Did I break him? I shot him a worried glance. His jaw was slack as he stared at me stunned.
“I guess you want bugs in there huh?” I said softly, turning his mother’s words against him, trying to break him out of his stupor. His mouth snapped shut and set in a determined line.
Without a word he suddenly reached out pulling me into his arms. Alarms blared in my mind as his lips slanted angrily across mine. Fissures of heat shot through me instantly, holy hell! His rough palms skated up my sides under my shirt and it felt like a live wire arched across my skin. Easily picking me up he pulled me astride his lap. I broke the kiss gasping for air looking at him stunned. A muscle ticked in his jaw as he glared back at me. Shit, he’s mad!
Bringing one of his hands around he screwed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose looking frustrated, scrubbing at his chin roughly with his palm he finally refocused his angry gaze on me. “I said I didn’t want to love anyone else, yes I did,” he spoke slowly, I could hear the barely leashed rage, “The reason is because I don’t want to hurt anyone else.” he paused, “Ever again.” the edge of pain caught me off guard, “I never said that I wouldn’t love anyone else.” he carefully emphasized his words like he was explaining it to a child, “You have no idea, do you? How much restraint it takes to keep my distance from you.” The words hit me like a battering ram, “I’m trying to respect what you had with Liam, I’m trying to give you time to heal.” his eyes were as cold as steel, “Never make the mistake of thinking I don’t want you.” he fell silent still glaring at me.
I was speechless as I gazed back into his hard glare, the steely blue softened back into a warm Mediterranean hue and I knew I was forgiven. His eyes are like a mood ring, I couldn’t stop the thought as it tripped across my mind. Gingerly I reached up brushing my fingers across his cheek under his eye, he flinched as if I slapped him. Why am I doing this? My other hand automatically reached up to cradle his face, then I knew. When did it happen though? I sifted through the few memories I had of him. When did I actually start to like this man? He stayed silent, listening to my thoughts. I know that it’s not just because we’re bonded, that doesn’t force me to love him. I puzzled over my thoughts, his hands loosely encircling my waist as he sat perfectly still. What are you thinking right now? I directed the thought at him, a small smile curled the edge of his lips. That would be telling, wouldn’t it? His warm thought came back at me mischievously.
Give it a break guys I’m trying to write my graduation essay up here! Micah’s voice cut rudely into our internal monolog. Darren’s grin widened; I felt my face heat instantly. Sorry Micah! I heard an incoherent grumble. I bit my lip as a ripple of laughter threatened.
“Do you really want me to stop staying away from you?” Darren’s quiet voice broke the silence, I nodded silently. His arms wound around my waist tightly and he buried his face in my neck, my mind instantly felt at peace. The warring thoughts and feelings faded away as a soothing warmth spread through me. Curling my arms around his neck I rested my cheek against his soft hair.
I felt him shift slightly and his warm lips pressed into the hollow of my throat, my head tilted back instinctively. The kisses were soft, each one leaving individual scorches on my skin as he slowly found his way to my lips. It was gentle and sweet when the kiss finally came, his hands slid around gripping my sides as a slow heat burned in my chest, just like rum, a low and slow burn, his words came back to me. I felt his hands skate up my sides to cradle my face like spun glass and he deepened the kiss. It was spontaneous combustion, incinerating my thoughts as he wound his fingers into my hair.
Leaning back slightly he gazed at me, his eyes are glowing! My heart skipped at the subtle light flickering in the depth of his eyes mirroring the fire, this is the Alpha. Watching me carefully he bent to touch his lips to my shoulder and I felt a sharp sting. I clenched my teeth against the pain, it was like venom spreading from my shoulder swiftly. He quickly reclaimed my lips, catching my cry as it turned into searing pain. My shoulders shook as it steadily worsened, I could feel it at the base of my skull, the tendrils of white-hot fire licking up my spine slowly. Then as quickly as it began, I felt it ebbing away like a tide. It washed back down my spine and recentered in my shoulder, throbbing painfully before it faded completely. He released my lips and pulled back gazing at my shoulder, I glanced down. What is that? It looked like a triquetra, blazing against my skin in a bold red. Sharp pain in my hand made me flinch, I raised it watching in shock as the wheal smoothed from my skin.
He marked me! The realization dawned on me in an instant and I glanced back up at his burning gaze. The corners of his mouth were tugged down in a hard frown. A ghost of our conversation from the bash came back to me, I’m not about to duck out on him for one of his brothers! I said that.
“You didn’t,” his voice was so low I barely heard it as he answered my thoughts, “Not intentionally, what happened was against your will. You couldn’t have prevented it even if you tried.”
A dizzying tide washed over me when I heard his voice and my mind instantly cleared. Wow, I could hear the leashed authority, chills raced across my skin. Reaching out a gentle hand he caressed the mark on my shoulder. Every muscle in my body flinched toward the contact, oh...my. I couldn’t find a word to describe the feeling. Inhaling sharply, my eyes shuttered as his warm scent encircled my mind. Like wild sawgrass and mesquite, it was intoxicating. This is what it feels like to be bonded, my senses were impossibly sharper. I could feel his commanding presence, everything about him screamed, you will obey me. I couldn’t even make myself meet his gaze. Come to think about it neither one of his brothers ever met his gaze either, it must be a dominance thing.
“Look at me,” his soft command brought my gaze up instantly, he gently stroked my cheek with a sober expression, “I promise I won’t avoid you anymore.” his finger drifted under my chin lifting my lips back to his. The touch was brief but still sent my senses reeling.
A faint ringtone brought me out of my daze, glancing around I saw my phone glowing under the cover where I slept. Sliding off of his lap I fumbled under the covers and brought it out. He watched soberly as I sifted through the messages.
“Oh,” I glanced up at the clock quickly, “It’s an SMS from the university, it says grades have been posted.” he stretched languidly, I heard the bones in his shoulders pop sharply.
Standing up he walked across the room and opened yet another panel hidden in the wall that I had never noticed. Inside was a high-tech computer system, pressing his thumb over a small pad on the tower he started it up.
“User recognized, welcome Master Cross.” an automated female droned out of the device, “How may I help you?”
“Fielding University, end of the semester final exam grade results.” Darren said firmly, “Dusty Rae Rivers.”
The screen blinked rapidly, “Student found, retrieving grades.” He moved aside so I could see the results flashing across the screen.
I breathed a sigh of relief, my four-semester cumulative grade was an A. So, I passed! The only rough grade was from the math final earlier, well of course it was.
“Good job,” he sat on the arm of one of the chairs watching my relieved expression, “You are pretty smart, aren’t you?” I shot him a hard scowl.
“Are you implying that you thought I wasn’t smart?” I stiffened, a small smile curled his mouth and he raised his hands defensively.
“I’m happy for you that’s all.” he stepped forward off of the chair arm and grabbed my waist pulling me back against him, “Do you still want to call your mom?” his warm voice in my ear immediately quenched my irritation.
“I’ll text her,” I said weakly, batting at his arms, “Let me go, hey! Quit that!” a surprised yelp escaped my lips when he nipped at my earlobe.
Twisting away I tugged my phone out of my back pocket and took a snapshot of the result screen. Sending it to her I tucked my phone away and gave him a guarded stare. Looking immensely relaxed he was reclining against the chair watching me with an easy smile.
“Are you still sleepy by any chance?” his question confused me; I shook my head slowly.
“Of course not, I just woke up,” I said frowning, “Why would you ask something like that? He gave me a mysterious smile and sauntered away to the kitchen without answering me, “Hey, where are you going?” I followed him cautiously.
He strode to the counter and began busily pulling bowls and other utensils out arranging them on the countertop. I perched on the edge of a stool watching him curiously. Digging into the refrigerator he pulled out some eggs and a few other things and then turned to me with a predatory grin. What are you up to? I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Surprising me he walked directly to me and leaned down until he was at eye level.
“Do you trust me?” I immediately frowned when he asked, “Yes or no, come on.” he didn’t seem in any hurry at all.
“About as far as I can throw you, but that’s beside the point,” I said curiously, “What are you going to do?”
“You’ve got to trust me,” his smile turned genuine, “It’s time to test your cooking skills.” I blanched, nearly falling off the stool.
“I can’t cook!” he laughed at my expression of terror, “I’m serious! I burn water, please, I don’t want to burn your kitchen.” he pressed a finger to my lips, silencing me.
Grasping my fingers he pulled me to my feet, “All you need is a good teacher.” spinning me into his arms he placed his hands over mine like a puppet master, “Now pay attention.”
I tried to force myself to pay attention, it was next to impossible with him so close. His arms were wrapped loosely around me as he guided my hands across the countertop picking up individual things. Leaning down he spoke softly in my ear explaining what we were doing.
“You’re teaching me how to cook my own dinner for a graduation gift?” I asked meekly, but he didn't answer. Using my hands, he skillfully cracked eggs and chopped vegetables. “Is this Bok Choy?” he nudged my cheek; a bit of stubble made my hair prickle alarmingly.
“Shh, I said pay attention,” he said quietly, I could hear the mirth in his voice, he loves cooking too. I wondered at him as he continued moving my hands across the food, clearly enjoying himself. What else don’t I know about him?
I fell silent watching as he used my hands to create a meal. For once something created by my hands wasn’t a mess. A warm heady scent began to fill the kitchen making my stomach growl plaintively. Releasing one of my hands he reached forward, scattering garlic and ginger across the hot wok. Leaning down, he kissed my cheek and smiled.
“This part can get a little dicey, stand there and watch, okay?” he poured oil in the pan and it immediately blazed. I jumped in alarm but he calmly poured in the vegetables with the eggs and tossed them letting the heat sear them. Wow! That’s so cool! After a few minutes, he pulled them from the heat and sprinkled soy across them. “Sit,” he commanded.
I scowled at him, “What do I look like a puppy?” he burst into laughter, “I’m going to get plates thank you.” I smartly turned away and got plates out of the cabinet.
“I know this isn’t much of a graduation gift,” he said quietly, I put the plates down and turned to him. He was leaning against the counter looking sheepish, “I’ve just been watching you for the last few days and you haven’t eaten much of anything. I wanted to fix you something to eat but I know you don’t like people doing things for you.” he glanced up at me, “So I helped you make your own food, that way you wouldn’t try to turn it down. You need to eat Dusty, you’re losing weight.” I glanced down at myself; I’d never even noticed. My clothes were looser than they were when I first got them but it was so slight a difference that you would have really had to be paying attention to notice, tears pricked my eyes.
That’s so sweet! “Honestly I think I’d rather have this than some pricey gift anyway,” I mumbled quietly, my voice cracking as I swiftly turned away to put the plates on the island. Damn it, he used to be so arrogant. I didn’t know he paid that much attention to me. After a minute he came across to the table and served up the stir fry. “Who taught you to cook?” I tried shifting the topic.
His eyes misted immediately, “My dad when we were kids, he always let me sit on the counter and watch him cook.” sitting beside me he picked at the food moodily, “Mom wasn’t a great cook either, but he loved cooking so he cooked instead.”
“Your dad seems like he was alright.” I tried the food cautiously, holy crap so good! He smiled watching me eat.
“I don’t want you to make yourself sick, okay?” his voice was subdued, sad almost, “I don’t care what it is you need, all you have to do is ask, okay? Even if you ask me to leave you alone, I’ll do it. I just want you to be happy.”
I nearly choked on the bite of food as my throat went dry. He reached across and poured some ice water into my glass. “You don’t have to coddle me you know.” finally forcing the bite of food down I turned to him, “I’m a lot tougher than I look.”
A smile lit up his face, “I know, that’s what makes you so special.” he winked and turned to his food, “I do it because you’re worth it.” with that cryptic remark he fell silent. Mom is really going to like him. The thought made me smile as I finished eating.
About the author
I am a single mom of four who is also a published author! I use writing as a second income to help me raise my kids so every little bit helps! I write Erotic Fantasy novels and poems. if you love my work thank you! I appreciate your time!