I woke up in a strange room, wrapped in a thick blanket. Sitting up, I looked around, taking in my surroundings. Nothing looked familiar. So how did I get here?
Bear. I could smell him on the blanket and the pillows. The night before came back to me, the fight with Salem and Rusty, making my way to his room. Asking him to sleep with me. Falling apart. Drifting off to sleep in his arms.
He must have gone to see Vivian. This early in the morning he must have had a job to do.
Vivian. My heart fell. I had forgotten. How horrible I was. Bear had a mate, a hard working female. And here I was asking him to betray her.
I frowned. But why wouldn't she stay in the same room as her? Looking around, I watched for any hint of a female presence in the room. A single picture of them together rested on the bed side table. he had an arm around her shoulders, holding her to him. They looked so happy together, so peaceful and calm. It must have been a long time ago, before they had been discovered.
Picking up my clothes from the floor, I thought about what I was going to do. he hadn't even told me no last night. he must have gone to talk to her, to apologize, to confess. I felt hollow.
I was stepping into my white skirt when the door opened, Bear slipping through the crack. "You're awake."
Covering myself, I turned around, pulling on my shirt, my back to him. "I'm sorry about last night." My tone was more clipped, guarded, than I had meant for it to be.
"I forgot about Vivian..." I shouldered past him, fighting tears. Why did this hurt so bad?
"Wait..." He grabbed my arm, his eyes confused. "What about her? What are you talking about?"
"Vivian, she's your mate... Isn't she?"
He smiled. "Vivian is not my mate, Echo. She's my little sister."
I felt my face grow hot. "But I thought...." I glanced at the picture of them.
He laughed. "No, Vivian is defiantly my sister."
I shook my head, confused. "But you two look nothing alike..."
"Do you look like your brother?"
I paused. He had a point. Dominic and I were as different as night and day.
Chuckling, he ran a hand over my long hair. "It's alright, just relax." He made me look at him, a small smile on his lips. It made my heart melt.
Smiling back, I took his hand, all of my anger and confusion from before vanishing.
"What to go for a walk in the sun?"
I nodded. "Sounds wonderful."
The forest smelled of rain, fresh and sharp. The first few golden leaves peeped out between the dark greens of the oaks and elms. I couldn't believe how fast the time went by, in just a few short weeks it would be September and the ring of school bells would fill the air as students returned to class.
I would never graduate. I was too far behind. I had run away as a freshman and never returned. Not that it mattered, nothing they taught in school would apply to the life of a Shape Shifter.
Wondering between the trees, I felt at peace, the green light filtering down between the leaves, giving the forest an eerie, glowing calm.
Listening to the songs of the birds far above me, I round myself falling into an almost numb state of mind. I felt nothing but the forest around me, heard nothign but nature.
The air was crisp and cool with the threat of an early winter, even if it was only August. But I didn't feel the cold, not enough to bother me the semi-moist ground, the cold water droplets covering my skin.
I looked back at Bear, the early woodland sunlight giving his snowy hair a pale green glow that seemed to match his eyes. He smiled at me, leaning up aginast a tree, his eyes calm and happy as he watched me wander across the forest floor. I felt so at peace here with just Bear by my side, no stuffy underground tunnels, no controlling pack mates. No bickering boys.
"I fought with Rusty last night." My voice didn't sound like my own when I spoke, it surprised me. "He says I don't have any pack loyalty."
"Because I spend all my time with you." I ripped a leaf from a low branch, picking it apart piece by piece.
"What does that have to do with loyalty?"
I shrugged. "How should I know? It's their thinking, not mine."
"But they are you family, they must have a reason."
I paused, thinking. Were they my family? Or was my Hunter of a brother my family? What about the woman who had carried me and brought me into this world, raised me, was she my family?
I had known them for three months, does that make family? This was our first time on the run together. Did that make us family?
"Hey, you ok?"
"They may be my pack, they may have taken me in , but does knowing them for just three short months make them my family? Running for our lives together, does that make them my family. I've considered them my family, thought of them as my family, but have I known them long enough to be a true family?" I tore another leaf to shreds, thinking about Shade's words to me before he dies, how the family was falling apart around him. Now I could see what he meant.
Bear wrapped his arms around me from behind, his hold warm and strong. "Relax, you'll figure it out..."
I let myself melt into his arms, relaxing, caving. I felt safe, comfortable, in his arms. I wanted to stay, right there, never moving from the circle of his arms. Forever.