Just as I thought Hunter was about to turn around, and that magical moment I had dreamed about would happen, Hunter turned back to the car and held his hand out.
My heart stopped as I saw a manicured hand reach for Hunter’s. The smile fell off my face and was replaced with a look of betrayal.
Carter held my hand, and now I realized why he stood by my side.
He knew about Hunter and I kissing, he knew about my crush on Hunter, and he knew that I would be crushed when I saw him.
My eyes didn’t leave Hunter’s back as he helped a stunning girl out of the car. One look at them both and you knew that the worst had happened…
“Aarya, I’d like you to meet my mate, Lana Reed,” Hunter said.
My wolf pacing wasn’t because of Hunter being my mate but because Hunter had a mate. There was a big difference.
Tears threatened to fall, but I refused to let them. Hunter couldn’t see how much this affected me; I needed to be strong.
I turned to look at Carter, who had a guilty look on his face. I smiled sadly at him and shook my head. It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t Hunter’s, really; you can’t pick your mate.
Although this is the one time that I wished that you could. Seeing the person you pined for take his mate around and introduce her was like a stab in the gut.
A waste of my four years, sitting and waiting like a complete and utter idiot for him.
Hunter was making his way down the line with his mate. The smile on his face was another blow for me.
I wish he had that smile when he looked at me, but that smile was reserved for his mate, and that wasn’t me.
I let go of Carter’s hand and wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans. Hunter was introducing his mate to Sai and Zoya; it was me next. I couldn’t let him see how upset I was.
Instead, I would be happy for him, like everyone else. Hopefully I would manage to get through this introduction without crying.
I took a deep breath as Hunter moved down to me. Suddenly the memories of us four years ago flashed before my eyes. His gorgeous smile, that amazing kiss, his promises.
Closing my eyes, I snapped out of my daydream. When I opened them, Hunter was smiling at me, not like he used to. Just a friendly smile, like he had done with everyone else.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Lana. Good luck taming this one,” I joked.
Lana laughed and said, “I like you! You’re funny. Hopefully we can hang out more. I need more female friends.”
My gut twisted at her words; she was so nice. That made it more difficult to hate her.
“Of course. I would love to hang out with you.” I smiled. Damn me for being too polite. Why couldn’t I have just told her that I didn’t want to hang out with her?
Lana smiled back, and the couple moved down the line. Carter had left, and I was left standing there with only my thoughts.
Zoya gently touched my shoulder, causing me to jump. I looked at her to see the sadness in her eyes. I sighed and shook my head.
I didn’t want to talk, and I didn’t want the sympathy. I just wanted to sit in my room and cry, but I couldn’t leave just yet.
Instead of my eyes following Hunter and Lana, I focused on Carter, who was currently talking to the council members.
Once he was finished talking to the council members, he turned to look at me, probably sensing my gaze, which was firmly locked on him.
He came over to me and whispered, “Go home, Aarya. I give you permission. Don’t stand here while you are breaking. You need to go home.”
I looked at him with tears in my eyes and whispered brokenly, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Carter looked upset. He wiped the stray tear that had escaped.
“Oh, Smiley. I didn’t know how to. I didn’t want to tell you over the phone or through a letter. I wanted to tell you in person, but I didn’t get a chance to. I am so sorry.”
Sniffling, I sighed, “It wasn’t your fault. I have to move on, but I also need some time to come to terms with this.”
Carter nodded his head, understanding what I was saying. He kissed my forehead and I turned around, heading back to my house.
I heard Carter tell my family and everyone that he let me go home because I was tired. As soon as I got in my house, I rushed upstairs and got changed into comfy clothes.
I used to wear Hunter’s T-shirt every night to bed, but I got it out of my cupboard and chucked it straight in the bin. I shouldn’t wear it anymore; I lost all right to Hunter when he found his mate.
His mate. My heart broke even more, if that was even possible.
Collapsing on my bed, I let the tears fall. I let them soak my pillow, and I let myself cry. All this heartbreak was too much for me.
After all this time of wanting a mate, wanting what my parents had, I found myself not wanting a mate. I didn’t want someone to love me; I was broken. I didn’t want the pain of having a mate.
Mates were meant to be this magical thing, and I used to believe in it wholeheartedly, but now I don’t. Mates cause pain and sadness. Who wants that?
The tears didn’t stop as my family came home. I heard my mom stop outside my door, and I hoped she wouldn’t come in.
I held my breath to stop my sobs. If Mom heard me cry, she wouldn’t even hesitate to come in my room.
“Tara, let her sleep. We have an early start tomorrow,” my dad’s voice said quietly. I heard the footsteps fade away, and I glanced up at my ceiling. Dad was right, we had an early start tomorrow. I needed to get some sleep.
Closing my eyes, I let myself get lost in my world of dreams.…
A loud buzzing made me groan as I rolled over and turned off my phone alarm. Today was the day of the Lycan Ball.
I was dreading it because I knew I would be tired. Hopefully I could fall asleep in the car.
Forcing myself out of bed, I got dressed and cringed when I saw the bags under my eyes. Clearly last night was not the night that I was going to get a good night’s sleep.
Sighing, I got ready and put some makeup on to look a little more alive.
When I came downstairs, my parents were drinking their cups of tea, and Sai and Zoya were eating breakfast.
Suddenly four pairs of eyes turned to look at me, and I saw the same thing in them. Sympathy.
I didn’t want their sympathy. All I really wanted was to lie in bed and cry all day, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. I needed to prove to Hunter and to myself that I was strong.
My dad handed me a cup of coffee, and I smiled.
Mom and Zoya talked about how amazing the ball would be to me since this was my first time. I was grateful for the distraction.
Once we had eaten, it was time to hit the road. I got into the car and immediately blasted my music out of my headphones and rested my head against the cool glass.
Dad and Mom left me alone as I let the music take me into my own world. Before long, sleep took over, giving my body a much-needed break.
“Aarya, wake up.” My mom gently shook me.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and realized we were at a service station. Stretching my arms, I got out of the car. Zoya and Sai got out of their car and waved to me.
“Go and get something to eat and make sure you go to the toilet. We still have two hours left,” Mom told me, handing me some cash.
Sighing, I walked into a shop to get some food. I think I had a permanent scowl etched on my face because everyone looked at me but then quickly looked away.
“Smiley. Or should I say Scowly? Why the long face?” Carter ruffled my hair.
“Urgh, seriously? Why the hair?” I complained, pushing Carter away and fixing my hair.
“Because I haven’t been able to do that for four years, and your reaction is priceless, as always.” Carter chuckled.
Rolling my eyes, I trailed round the shop but stopped in my tracks when I heard the sickeningly sweet laugh of Lana. Oh great, the last thing I needed was to see Lana and Hunter.
“Come on, Smiley. Let’s quickly grab some food,” Carter said softly, taking me in the other direction of the shop.
I picked up a wrap along with a chocolate bar and a bottle of water. As I was standing in the queue, I heard that laugh again. They were behind me.
Deep breaths, Aarya, deep breaths. All you need to do is pay and leave. Don’t pay them any attention, I told myself.
I put my items down on the counter and rolled my eyes as I heard Lana laugh yet again. What the hell was Hunter saying to her? Actually, scrap that, I didn’t want to know.
After I paid, I rushed out of the shop, desperately needing fresh air. I wanted to wait for Carter, but I also didn’t want to risk running into Hunter and Lana.
Decisions, decisions. Obviously I went with the best option, which was to go to the car and avoid seeing Hunter and Lana.
Luckily, Dad was already in the car. He smiled as I climbed into the backseat. I found myself looking outside the window, and I saw Hunter and Lana.
Even just one glance at them, they looked like that lovey-dovey couple that everyone hates. The ones who are always showing PDA and annoying the heck out of everyone.
Hunter had his arm over Lana’s shoulder and was kissing down her neck, in public! If I could see, then everyone else could as well. Lana seemed to be enjoying it though.
I made a face and, at the same time, made eye contact with Carter, who was gagging behind them. That caused me to laugh. He smiled at me, seeing me laugh, and pretended to cut his throat.
At least I knew I wasn’t the only one who hated seeing this.
Once Mom was back in the car, Dad told us we had just under two hours left. It was already 11 a.m., so we would be there about one-ish.
As Dad started driving, I spent the first hour eating my food and reading my book that I had packed. No more romance novels for me, this was a thrilling mystery book. Definitely more up my alley.
The second hour, I fell asleep yet again. It was probably a good thing; I needed sleep before the Lycan Ball tonight.
Mom woke me up when we arrived at the hotel. Carter came over to our car and grinned when he saw me rubbing the sleep from my eyes.
“Sleeping Beauty finally awakens,” he says, handing me his hand.
I took his hand and said, “Whatever. I needed sleep, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to survive tonight.”
“I also needed sleep, but no, I had to do the damn drive here,” he complained as we walked into the hotel reception.
I laughed at Carter’s face and said, “Well, get some sleep when we check in.”
“So, Smiley. Tonight, be my date to the Lycan Ball. I can’t imagine going with anyone else. You’re the oxygen I breathe, the…,” Carter dramatically said.
I playfully hit him, “Okay, Mr. Dramatic. Tone it down. I guess I will go with you.”
“Good. If you said no, I would have just forced you anyway.” Carter winked at me and went to where his parents were checking in.
I giggled at how silly he was. Carter was doing a good job at distracting me, and I knew that was why he was acting sillier than usual.
As I walked over to my parents, my ears zoned unintentionally on Hunter and Lana’s conversation.
“I can’t wait till we get our room. I just want to tear these clothes off you,” Hunter said.
“You can’t say that! Everyone can hear you,” Lana exclaimed.
“Let them hear. I don’t care. I just want to show you off tonight at the ball,” Hunter replied.
Shaking my head, I focused on anything else. I felt like I intruded on their private conversation, but it still stung.
Hunter clearly didn’t remember what happened four years ago, or he doesn’t care. He is happy, and he has moved on.
My plan was to go with Hunter tonight because in my dream world, I thought we would be mates. I would be in the position Lana was in, but I wasn’t.
The sooner I realized this, the better it would be for me.
Sighing, I made my way over to my parents, who handed me my room key. Thank God I had my own room because right now I was trying so hard not to let the tears fall.
Dad and Mom were on a different floor to me, so I headed off. Mom warned me to start getting ready at 4 p.m. because the cars would be here at 7 p.m. to pick us up.
Zoya and Sai were on the same floor as my parents, so I was alone on this floor.
Luck was finally on my side as Hunter and Lana were not on my floor. Zoya messaged me just as I got into my room and said they were on her floor.
Carter messaged me asking me what floor I was on, and of course he was on my floor, too.
I quickly unpacked and plugged my phone in to charge. The images of Hunter and Lana haunted me.
Finally alone, I walked onto the balcony of my room, fully prepared to bawl my eyes out until I had to start getting ready.
I sat down in a hanging chair, and looked out at the view of the royal pack, tears already starting to blur my vision.
The hotel was very close to the palace, and from this vantage point, I could see just how expansive and luxurious it really was.
I would be heading there tonight for the ball, and for the first time, I actually felt a short-lived twinge of excitement about the evening to come.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, and as I looked closer, I could just barely make out the faint shape of a wolf running frantically back and forth in the field behind the palace.
I tuned into my werewolf senses, and after a moment, I swear I could even hear the wolf howling.
It wasn’t a howl of excitement. And it wasn’t a howl of aggression, either.
It was a howl of deep emotional pain.
As I listened to the noise, my wolf started to stir inside me.
I didn’t know what was happening.
All I knew was that I felt drawn to the wolf.
Like I wanted to get close enough to touch him.
Like I wanted to be the one to heal his pain.
Could that be Adonis Dimitri Grey.
Could that be the king?
There was no way to be sure. But I was desperate to find out.