‘Please,’ Adeline sobbed, trying to yank her arms free, trying to dig her heels into the ice-cold mud. ‘Please! No!’
A female’s laugh, the haunting sound as frigid as the mud clinging to her legs, surrounding her ankles.
Adeline snarled and howled, twisted and yanked, bit and kicked, but her efforts to free herself were in vain.
The two invisible forces on either side of her, held her tight, harsh unseen fingers digging into her arm hard enough to leave bruises.
She snapped her teeth, baring them at anyone yet no one at all.
No one was here with her, no one except her soul and the projections it shoved onto her.
These horrible, bloody projections.
‘This is what you get when you disobey me, Addy.’ The female voice cackled again, drawing close to her blood-crusted ear.
She bared her teeth again, her lips pulling back from her teeth in malice... in vicious, deadly intent.
If only she could get her hands onto that invisible, unseen female...
Adeline let out a sharp yelp, her cry of pain ripping through the icy air, ripping through the mud walls surrounding her on all sides.
A blunt force kicked out at her, striking at the back of her knees with near bone-breaking force.
The blue-eyed she-wolf crashed onto her knees, her flesh there splitting from the hard, unforgiving mud beneath her.
She could’ve sworn there had been glass or shards of rock in that mud, especially as sharp ripples of pain emitted from her legs, slamming into her lungs.
Her throat burned.
But not from the pain...
Adeline’s eyes widened, her face draining of any color as the shadows melted away, revealing a dark form.
The mass trembled, whimpers pouring from a hoarse throat.
Just like her, the form was bleeding-- Adeline would recognize that metallic scent anywhere.
Dark brown eyes outlined in black and purple, met hers, their endless depths pleading... begging.
‘Adeline! Help me!’ Alexandra, the Luna of the Southern Pack, and Adeline’s mother, screamed, blood dripping from her no doubt shattered nose.
Adeline couldn’t bear to look at her... couldn’t stand to look at the bruises covering her mother’s bare body, covering her hips and thighs and arms.
Her beautiful, regal face.
A hand fisted Adeline’s hair just then, yanking her head back just hard enough to bring forth water to her eyes.
All she saw, was a cold, grey sky. Not a patch of blue in sight.
This world... this hell, was a mass of mud and dark skies.
Endless, neverending, damning grey skies.
‘Look at her!’ That terrible voice cooed, the syllables grating against her ear.
As if her head were controlled by strings, her face dropped, immediately obeying that woman’s every command without a second thought.
‘Adeline! Please!’ Her mother wailed.
A slim form appeared just beyond Alexandra’s trembling body, shadows clouding its face and bare forearms.
But, shining through the face of whirling darkness, was a pair of blazing, crazed blue eyes.
The same as the Beast’s...
A whip unfurled from the shadow’s hand, the slap of leather against mud echoing.
Adeline’s head spun as her throat swelled up, closing around that desperate, earth-shattering scream that so desperately wanted to escape.
‘Please, pumpkin.’ Alexandra sobbed, her upper body curling itself against her thighs-- exposing her back to the faceless being behind her.
The shadow lifted the whip, Its blue eyes flaring in anticipation.
Laughter surrounded her as she screamed, as her mother screamed.
Brushing her hair out of her face, Adeline turned her eyes to the television once again.
She tried to get sucked into the show, she really did, not even allowing her eyes to stray from the widescreen, but she just couldn’t get into it.
Why was the main character so stupid? Why was she returning to that guy so fast, even after he had cheated on her multiple times?
And to even think that she had liked this show when she was younger...
When was the last time she had even watched TV?
She finally let her eyes tear away from that horrid show when the couple fell into bed, the camera zooming in on their lips right before going fuzzy, then dark.
Reaching over to the arm of the sofa, she grabbed the remote and pressed down on the power button with her thumb.
It had been a little over two weeks since the Rage Curse had been broken, and exactly two weeks since her eighteenth birthday...
Two weeks of that mate-bond, a supernatural bond connecting two wolves to each other, fating them together for the rest of their long, long lives.
Two weeks of Finnian stalking her, always keeping his distance, but never straying far.
He followed her, his dark eyes never leaving her, his muscular body always within twenty feet of her.
But never within touching distance.
It was as if he understood her-- understood the sensation that writhed underneath her skin, crawling and scratching at her.
Even with the departure of the Beast, she couldn’t stand the feeling of being touched, even by her parents. When someone so much as brushed up against her, her pale skin would erupt in goosebumps, her body immediately shying away from the body that had dared to touch her.
And she hated it.
She hated the fact that she couldn’t stand hugs, pats on the back, holding hands, even high-fives.
Sinking back against the arm of the sofa, she let out a gentle breath, nothing more than a whisper on her lips as she turned her head to the door beside the television.
Her parents laid beyond that door, blissfully unaware of their she-wolf that had been awake for almost an hour now, desperately trying to forget about the nightmares that had plagued her all night, nightmares that had nearly sent her running to the toilet.
But, by some miracle, she hadn’t thrown up. She hadn’t allowed herself to throw up, even as the memories of her nightmares rampaged through her head, turning her brain to cement.
Yawning, she threw her arms over her head, attempting to relieve the tension that had gathered in her spine, right in the center of her lower back.
She needed sleep, of that she was sure; but whenever her eyes shut, her mind releasing its hold on reality, that was when her demons decided to show themselves.
The Beast was like a hydra in Greek mythology-- once a head had been severed, three more took its place.
A knock on the door had her practically sinking into the cushions, her breaths quickening.
The heat that had arrived hand-in-hand with the mate-bond, slithered along her bones, sending a pulse of warmth throughout her body.
She knew who precisely was at the door.
She knew it in her very bones.
Another knock sounded, softer this time.
“Adeline?” Finnian asked hesitantly, his voice rough with emotion.
His voice dropped an octave. “Are you alright?”
Before she could answer him, her eyes shot to her parents’ door in a panic.
It was almost four in the morning, if they should awaken to Finnian at their door, the poor male would be beaten to a pulp without a second thought. After all, who else would tolerate a male showing up to their suite in the early hours of the morning, wanting to see their daughter?
Before she could think, she swung her legs from the couch, her bare feet settling on the cold ground.
Hoisting herself up from the leather sofa, she cast another wary glance at her parents’ door, dread and anxiety settling over her.
But the suite remained silent, even the wild animals hidden in the forest were hushed.
It was as if the entire world was empty; all of its life long gone, hidden under a layer of unconscious hallucinations... trapped within bodies of flesh, scales, and fur.
The floor didn’t even creak under her weight as she fetched a blanket that had been folded across the back of the couch, unraveled it, and wrapped it around her body.
Her feet padded on the hardwood floor, nothing more than snowshoes moving across an expanse of snow.
Even though the Beast was gone, leaving her utterly wolfless, she still possessed the grace and stealth of a wolf; still possessed the knowledge of what the creatures were around her, and, much to that little prideful voice’s, a voice that resided in the back of her mind, dismay, she knew what she was no longer.
Tugging the ends of the blanket closer together, Adeline stepped up to the door and reached out a pale hand, her fingers immediately moving to unlock the deadbolt.
The heat from the bond heightened, warming her internal organs, her very cells.
The mate-bond. The bond connecting her soul to Finnian’s, and Finnian’s to hers.
Bonding them together for life, regardless of wants or wishes.
Her fingers retracted, curling into the palm of her hand as she took a step back.
She didn’t deserve him, not at all. At one point in her life, she would’ve deserved him, would’ve made a worthy female to lead by his side, but not now. She hadn’t been strong enough to control the wildness that had clawed through her veins, regardless of the curse. She should’ve been able to control the Beast, should’ve been able to protect those around her.
She had nearly killed her best friend, Zoë, for cry out loud! She had nearly ripped her throat out, had nearly shredded her face clean from her head!
Her former best friend.
Through the thick slab of wood, Finnian's voice was sincere, patient. "Are you alright?" He asked again.
The warmth swirling around her bones cooled ever so slightly.
A part of her wanted to open that door, to look at Finnian face-to-face, to feel his warm body wrap around her own. She wanted to be surrounded by his pine scent, to feel the caress of his rough fingers against her face.
But another, bigger part of her recoiled at that, hissing through bared teeth.
'You don't deserve his love, his affection.' It often cackled, brushing a cold, talon-tipped finger down the grooves of her spine. 'After all, who would want a female such as you? A female that almost killed multiple wolves? A female that can't stand the touch of even her own parents? A female that, quite possibly, won't be able to give him the pups that he desires the most?'
Hugging the blanket closer to her chest, Adeline let her eyes drop down to her feet. Her shoulder-length hair fell over her shoulders, shielding her face in a curtain of darkness.
She opened her mouth, trying to keep her words gentle and quiet, but found it difficult to shove them through her throat. "I- I'm alright. I just can't sleep, that's all."
She hoped that her near-silent words were loud enough for him to hear, but deep down, she knew that he had no problems picking them up. Even though her advanced hearing, sight, and smell had diminished since losing the Beast, she was certain that Finnian still fully possessed those abilities.
He still had his wolf, still had the wildness that made him a Lupis male.
Finnian seemed to struggle for words, the atmosphere between them growing tense as they both fought over what to say, what to say to each other.
They were soulmates, bonded together even before either of them had been born, but in all other aspects, they were complete strangers.
What more could she say to him?
A light thump against the door told her that Finnian didn't know what to say either.
Had he just banged his forehead against the door?
Finally, after a few moments of tense silence, he spoke. "You know, Adeline," he murmured, "you can tell me anything. Anything at all."
Her eyes shut, her eyelashes brushing against the tops of her cheekbones.
'Yes, Addy.' A voice purred in her head. 'You can tell your mate anything. Even about the dreams that you've had about him. How about that, Addy? How would he feel then, to have known that you've dreamt about slitting his throat, about tearing him apart, limb by limb?'
Another mocking laugh filled her mind, her soul.
Her teeth gritted together.
Nodding her head, knowing that he couldn't see her faked truth, she took another step back. "Yes, I know that."
She swallowed with force, trying to keep the shame of lying to him from welling up in her throat.
The heat dimmed, retreating from her limbs and head, pulling back to curl up in her chest.
Throwing her head over her shoulder, she glanced at her parents' door, then to her own bedroom's door.
The white door had been left ajar, the darkness beyond reaching for her, beckoning to her with fingers of blackness and promise.
Her stomach twisted.
Finnian's voice seemed quieter, telling her that he too, had taken a step back. "Good," was all he said.
Taking that as her cue to leave, she turned on her heel, heading right back to that sofa.
But before she could move much further, he spoke again, his voice just outside the door, and full of fierce integrity. "Please, Adeline, please sleep well-- we will be seeing each other in a few hours, and I do not want to see a single yawn from you. Not a single one."
His voice was light, amused.
She didn't smile, couldn't smile as she imagined his face, long and severe.
Before their bond had taken root, she hadn't found him all that attractive, if anything, she had considered him pretty average looking; his face was nothing remarkable, especially with his slightly crooked nose. But, as the bond grew stronger and stronger between them, it had only opened her eyes to him. He was a built warrior: well muscled, tall, broad shoulders and chest, thick limbs. He wasn't the lanky, puberty-stricken males that she had known growing up; no, he was a man, his boyhood well past him.
But instead of wielding his massive size against her, whether it be by intimidation or physically touching her, he treated her kindly... gently.
She turned one last time, her movements slow, heavy.
Sleep was right around the corner, waiting to drag her into its dark depths.
Adeline widened her eyes, trying to push the drowsiness away.
She stared at the door, imagining the male behind it, his dark brown eyes burning holes into the wood as if he could see right through it.
She wondered what he thought when he looked at her. Did he see a Beast? Did he see a female that was as thin as reeds, her eyes surrounded by dark bags, her skin pasty pale?
He was silent for a moment, as if struggling for the right words, or even pushing away what he had truly wanted to say to her.
Adeline didn't care.
The less she knew about him, and the less he knew about her, the better.
It was better for both of them if secrets remained that way.
He finally spoke, a mixture of sorrow and longing lacing his voice. "Sleep well, Adeline. I will see you in a few hours."
And, with that, she stalked over to the sofa, and laid back against the cushions.
No matter how hard the spell of sleep tried to seize her, she pushed it away with a growl.
She was done with the nightmares; done with it all.
Laying her head against the arm of the couch, she let her eyes settle on the wall beside her parents' door.
And, as the early morning hours crawled by, she did everything but close her eyes.
She had nightmares every time she fell asleep, it was inevitable.
When was the last time she'd even had a good night sleep?
As the time ticked by, the warmth of the mate-bond a constant thrum within her body, she thought back to a time of happiness, peace, and safety.
A time of prosperity, of family unity. She had been happy, lively even as she weaved through the years of childhood, and entered her early teenage years.
She had been social, naive, and slightly on the flighty side-- always keeping pace with her male friends, or moving past them.
Wrapping her arms around her knees, she pulled her legs to her chest, laying her cheek against the tops of them.
She knew that she'd never be the same female again, would never be able to stomach being that type of person again, but she wondered if she would ever get some of those qualities back.
Would she ever get back into painting? Back into the social aspects of life, such as having friends?
Would she be able to accept Finnian?
Or had the Beast taken more than just her dignity... her self-worth?
And, if so, how much of her remained untouched by the Beast's fiery reign?
Untainted by it?