Every unmated girl in the city was in love with Aiden Norwood. Tall, dark and sexy, he was everything a girl couldn’t resist. Add in the fact he’s the alpha of one of the top three packs in the entire US, and girls practically melted in his presence.
Whenever he entered a room, everyone couldn’t ignore him. Every human and werewolf turned their head and followed him with their stares, males with begrudging acknowledgement, some with admiration, and females with lust, hunger and unhidden invitation. But Aiden never took the willing females into his bed; he rejected so many of them, from the ugliest to the prettiest, until people started to think he might have a secret mate... or that he’s gay. But those were just the wounded females who though so; no alpha in the world could be gay; it simply wasn’t in their archaic instincts. Alphas needed - and lusted after - a woman, a mate, to continue his legacy, and no man would do.
But apparently, in the past few months something had happened to our dear alpha. He refused to bed any woman, at least according to the rumor mill, and some guy had overheard the alpha’s beta, Josh, who was also his best friend, say that Aiden started distancing himself from everyone close to him.
Right now, the same brooding alpha, was sitting a few feet away from me.
I came to the river because it was the only place I could have some peace and clarity. Work, family and friends could sometimes be too overwhelming, especially the latter. We were on the brink of the Mating Season, an unpredictable period that comes once or twice a year and makes every werewolf in the world crazed with lust, aka the Haze, which resulted in werewolves from age sixteen onward to crave sex with his/her mate, but if a werewolf doesn’t find the mate or is still young enough to actually make the act of mating, he/she finds another willing, available partner to mess around during the Season until it finally ends and the Haze is gone. Therefore, there’s no male or female werewolf after the age of sixteen who’s a virgin. Although every rule has an exception.
Anyway, my friends started pairing-up so they would have a fuck-buddy for the upcoming Season. Michelle, my best friend, wanted me to find myself a fuck-buddy too, and she didn’t tire of trying; she set me up with three of her brother’s friends, and while they seemed perfectly decent and were blunt that they thought me fit for a good time in the sack, I turned them down. Michelle hadn’t understood why, telling me I’m being picky, and I found I couldn’t tell her.
That’s right. I was the only virgin she-wolf after the age of sixteen. At nineteen, I’d been through six Mating Seasons and hadn’t had my virginity taken, no matter how sex-crazed I had been. It was very un-wolf-y of me to want to have sex for the first time with someone I cared about, since wolves didn’t treat virginity the same way humans did. But I cherished mine with my whole hear, wanting to give my first time to my mate, whoever it was.
So to escape all that pressure, I went to the river. Deep inside the central park, the river was a quiet place were only the sound of the trickling water broke the silence. I could sit there on the grass, inches away from the water itself, and watch the flowing water for hours. It was a secret place none of my friends and family knew about. At least, it was a secret for me, because from time to time I could see people coming to the river to wonder about just like I did.
Just like Aiden Norwood did now.
He was leaning on the tree trunk next to mine, facing the river like I did. He seemed to be lost in thoughts, his face gloomy and serious and his greenish-gold eyes a little glazed. His jet-black hair was disheveled, almost as if he’d been in bed before coming here and didn’t bother taking a look at it and from his profile, I could see that one dark lock fell into his face. He didn’t seem to notice. He really was somewhere else right now.
I returned my eyes to the water. What was he doing here, of all the places in the city? Didn’t he have alpha-related things to do? It was Tuesday, after all. A regular working day, even for the alpha, who had his own daily duties, like helping the innocent and doing things for the greater good for his pack members. Maybe he was taking a break of everything, just like I did. I wouldn’t blame him if he did; being an alpha is one heck of a job, especially the alpha of the second biggest pack in the States.
The sudden fish that jumped out of the water and right back into it snapped me out of my daydreaming and reminded me of another reason I had to come here. I took out of my bag my sketch notebook and a pencil. Looking for a few more moments at the river, I started absentmindedly sketching the outlines of the riverbank. It didn’t require thinking too much, and I turned my mind into automatic-pilot mode. It allowed me to empty my mind of everything, and my body relaxed as the motions of my sketching hand became almost fluid, in a way.
My parents weren’t happy with my aspirations in life. Of course they thought I was an amazing artist, but making a job out of it wasn’t on their agenda. They wanted me to do something “useful”, like being a lawyer. That’s why they’d sent me to Law school right after high school, which I dropped out of after a month because I knew it wasn’t my destiny to become a lawyer. They were furious with me, telling me that from being an artist I wouldn’t see a dollar, but I refused to listen to them. They also thought they knew what’s best for my older sister, Selene, who instead of becoming a lawyer became a fashion designer – and was goddamn good at it. Unfortunately, though, my parents hadn’t learned the lesson with her. Which was why now every time they looked at me they had disappointment written all over their face.
I love my parents. But just on this one, screw them. Once I had enough money in my savings, I was going to open my own gallery, and they would see how wrong they were with assuming that artists end up poor and lonely.
Sighing, I stopped sketching, realizing I finished the outlines. Now it was time for shadows. I did that, along the way fixing a few sketching mistakes, and then lowered the pencil and watched the result. It was nice for a ten-minutes-long sketch, and I smiled briefly to myself.
I’d just started another sketch when I realized someone was watching me. Startled, I didn’t stop sketching but did glance toward the alpha who sat not so far away from me. He was glancing at me too and our eyes met. I tensed, realized I was still looking directly into his eyes, and immediately looked away. No one in his right mind looked the alpha in the eyes. It had only two meanings: Challenging the alpha to a dominance/leadership dual which always resulted in the un-alpha part’s death, or inviting him to have sex. Since I didn’t intend to do either, my only option was to look away before it was too late and he would’ve interpreted the meaning of the gaze for me.
“Forgive me,” I said quietly, just to be on the safe side. “You took me by surprise.”
“I apologize,” he said, voice formal and polite, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”
Chancing a look, I saw him nodding at me in some sort of acknowledgement and then he stood up to his full six foot five height. Since I was still a female, I couldn’t help ogling his body for a little bit; ripped muscles evident beneath his tee and jeans, and biceps to die for. His golden skin made him look even more delicious, and his face was so brutally handsome it hurt. Even his slight crooked nose didn’t interfere with his sexy, amazing looks.
Not before long my eyes involuntarily found his again, but this time I lowered them split-second after I did so. He didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he said, “Your sketch is very good.”
My cheeks reddened a little from the compliment, and I was looking at the grass when I said, “Thank you.”
He then took off, leaving me by the river by myself. The small flame in my cheeks was soon gone as well, and I sighed.
It wasn’t an everyday-event to see the alpha out of the Pack House, the headquarters of every pack’s management and the alpha and his advisors and helpers. Mostly we would see the alpha in occasions like gatherings or balls or something like that. The fact that he was by the river today was a rare sight, especially since I, a commoner, saw him.
But I didn’t give it much thought. The alpha was still a person, as half-human as every other werewolf, and he obviously needed his time to himself, too. So I decided to keep this tiny bit of info to myself. If a word got out about this, Aiden’s fan club would go ballistic.
After all, like any other good pack member, I cared about my alpha and his welfare, and I knew if a muss of unmated, very horny girls would raid this place, that was meant for peace-seekers, in order to get him as a partner for the upcoming Season, he would be stressed and very unpleased. An unpleased alpha meant a dysfunctional alpha, which led to a dysfunctional pack and no one wanted that.
Besides, I wanted my river to be left alone.
My phone rang and when I saw it was my mother, I took a deep breath and answered a little gloomily, “Hi, Mom.”
“Where are you?” she demanded to know. “It’s getting late, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said and sighed. “I’m on my way so stop fretting, okay?”
Having no choice but to go back home now, I gathered my stuff and made my way out of the park, returning back to reality.
Melissa Mercer was a fifty-seven-year-old woman with smooth white-blonde hair, silvery eyes and soft paddings. She was also a human doctor in the local hospital, despite being a werewolf herself. Twenty-five years ago, a human man who’d been in a car accident was taken to the hospital. She hadn’t been a doctor yet, but she still helped out when he was in need of immediate surgery. After the surgery, Melissa felt the need to keep an eye on him until he got better. And so for a few days, she just watched him, brushed his brown hair from time to time, for he was still unconscious and couldn’t do so himself, and waited for him to open his eyes.
The moment he did, Melissa couldn’t move her eyes away from his beautiful green ones. They’d looked into each other’s eyes for a long time, until the recognition dawned on Melissa. He was her mate.
Mere weeks later they mated. Melissa didn’t mind that her mate was human; in a way it was better for her, since she’d always thought werewolves were too aggressive for her. Besides, how could she give her own mate up? It simply wasn’t done. And so she mated him.
A year later, she gave birth to a beautiful girl with golden locks and emerald eyes. Melissa was so happy it hurt, and bragged to whoever heard about her amazing, adoring husband and her little angel.
A few years after she gave birth, Melissa was on her way back from the hospital when she watched something abnormal; a tiny baby, a newborn, wrapped in a thin blanket and laying in an abandoned carriage. Melissa couldn’t leave the newborn alone, and took the baby back home. She tried to track down the baby’s parents, but no one knew whom she belonged to, and so Melissa ended up adopting the baby.
The baby is – or rather, was me. Melissa, my mother, told me this story many times in the past as I grew up. She wanted me to know of my adoption, but she also wanted me to know that it didn’t matter if she gave birth to me or someone else did, that I was her baby girl either way. But, unfortunately, it did matter. I still loved her wholeheartedly, of course, but I’ve always wanted to know who my biological parents were so I could counter them as to why did they think it was appropriate to abandon their child.
It still stung to think about it.
Anyway, my mother was waiting for me with a very sour face. She was in the kitchen, baking cookies, when I entered the house. That’s when I saw her making a face at me.
I sighed. “What?”
“Where were you?” she asked, narrowing her eyes.
“Erica,” I threw a name of one of my more casual friends, those whom I met once a month or so. It was the answer I gave every time I went to the river.
Thankfully, I was a good liar, and so my mother’s face softened and she nodded. “Selene comes over today,” she told me as she turned back to her cookies and I poured myself a glass of water. “Jeremy has an urgent meeting.” Jeremy, my sister’s mate for two years now, was the alpha’s personal lawyer (much to my parents’ happiness) and mostly he didn’t have surprise-meetings like the one he apparently had today. Maybe the alpha’s gloomy mood from back in the river turned even gloomier by something. Not that it was any of my business.
“Isn’t it a bit late for a meeting?” I voiced my thoughts, looking outside the kitchen window at the darkening sky.
“Apparently, not in the alpha’s opinion,” Mom said as she pushed the last cookie tray in the oven and closed it. She grinned at me. “Which reminds me, have you heard the latest gossip?”
Cocking my head in confusion, I said, “No.”
“Apparently, the alpha’s last lover, Jocelyn, is dating the beta, Josh!” she said as if it was a scandal, which it probably was but not in my opinion. “Patricia thinks this is the reason for Aiden’s recent remoteness.”
It was a plausible explanation, I guess, but for some reason I didn’t think it was the cause. I recalled Aiden’s somber face from the riverbank, his aloofness and the way his square jaw was clenched so seriously. He didn’t seem like he was getting over a shot to his ego that his best pal hook “his” woman. He seemed to have much more serious problems than that.
But what did I know? I was only nineteen, no longer a juvenile but yet to be a full-grown woman. I couldn’t possibly know what went through the mind of a man in his late twenties, let alone an alpha.
“It does sound logical,” I lied, “but seriously, Mom, stop meddling in other people’s life.”
She rolled her eyes at me. “I’m not meddling. Gossip isn’t as ill-mannered.”
Not actively, maybe. “I’m in my room,” I said, deciding it was better for our relationship to keep my thoughts to myself, “call me when Selene arrives.”
“Sure thing, sweetheart,” she said, smiled, and I took my exit.
In my room, I sat at my desk, pulled out the sketching notebook and started coloring the sketches using a brand-new pack of crayons. It took me about half an hour before I was happy with the result of both sketches, and once I was finished with this, I checked my phone for new messages. I had only one and it was from Michelle: Call me ASAP. She’d sent it about five minutes ago.
Dialing her number, I waited for her to pick up. After a few rings she finally did. “Ohmygod you’ve no idea what had just happened!” she gushed as a greeting.
“Do tell,” I said in a voice as dry as the sand. Usually she would scold me for being so indifferent, but apparently this time she was too busy with whatever it is that happened to do so.
“Mia found her mate!” Michelle exclaimed.
“That’s such a great news!” I said, faking excitement while I grimaced. Mia was a common friend of ours whose dream was to find her mate until she’s twenty, settle down and start spawning babies. Since she’s still nineteen, her dream had come true.
“You will never guess who the lucky guy is!” Michelle continued, oblivious to my unhappiness which was derived from an ugly feeling I decided not to acknowledge.
“Do tell,” I said again, feeling a little like a broken record.
She paused for a dramatic effect and then almost screamed, “Harry Milton!”
Now I was surprised. “Harry Milton?” I said, stunned. “As in, her best friend?”
“Him and no else,” she said, proud to have surprised the hell out of me. It was uncommon for werewolves to recognize each other as mates when before they were anything but. Usually mates find each other by looking into each other’s eyes and recognize the other person as his/her mate, like my parents, like my sister and her mate. Even lovers who turned out to be mates after a certain amount of time they were together was more common than what had happened to Mia. See, Mia and Harry had a completely platonic friendship. That they turned out to be mates... Yeah, it was a surprise.
“Lucky bitch,” I said, this time not faking my bitterness. It was a dream, to have a mate who already knew everything about you.
“That she is,” Michelle agreed wholeheartedly and then laughed. “I can’t believe she’s mated already! I can’t even think of mating before I turn twenty-one at least.”
“Me neither,” I mumbled, mind rilling with stupid feelings.
“Anyway I just wanted to tell you,” she said, giggling goofily, “gotta go now.”
“Talk to you later,” I said, glad to finish this conversation. Once Michelle ended the call, I simply stared at the phone for a few more moments.
It made me wonder what if, maybe, my mate was also someone close to me. But when I thought about it more carefully, it dawned on me I had no male friends, so I couldn’t really test the theory.
Sighing for the thousandth time today, I leaned my head down on the desk, letting the cool air of late November caress me. The Mating Season was almost here, every werewolf could sense it now, that it was only a matter of days. Michelle had a partner to pass this Season. So did Mia, apparently, and my other friends. I was the only one who didn’t arrange herself anyone. I could only hope this Season would be less worse than the others, that I would be able to keep my virginity intact, no matter how alluring the temptation is.
My mind flashed to a pair of green-streaked gold eyes, remembering the way the alpha’s eyes didn’t seem to really see me, probably because his mind was elsewhere. Still, I couldn’t take the image of those eyes out of my head, which almost made me snort.
Me, Aiden Norwood’s, the alpha’s, mate? Yeah, right.