Authors: Samantha Horne
“You know he can hear you, right?”
He laughed and I felt elated at being able to hear it. I never thought I’d hear his laugh again, and the world would definitely have been a darker place.
“Exactly! Told you I couldn’t leave this place. Who else would take on the role of winding everyone up?”
“Well, that’s true.”
“How are you, anyway? Did those mutts get their hands on you? I kind of spaced out after a while.”
“They didn’t touch me. You protected me.”
“Well,” he said, with a smug grin on his face. “What else are big brothers for?”
I leaned over and gave him a quick hug, before standing next to his bed.
“You’re the best big brother a girl could ever ask for. Now, do you need anything? Food or drink?”
“Nah, I’m good thanks. A guy could get used to being waited on hand and foot though.” He winked and I laughed, feeling on top of the world that Blake was fine.
Oh yeah, with comments like that I know he’s back to his old self already.
My mind conjured a vision of how different today would have been, had we lost Blake, but I pushed those thoughts away. Blake was alive and with us, and that was all that mattered.
I was covered in face paint, glitter and sequins; yep, it was Annabelle’s 6
birthday party and she had spent most of the time showing me off - her new best friend - to her guests. It was lovely to see such a big turnout for the young girl’s party, but it also made me sad to see that hardly any of the guests were children her age. Unfortunately, shifter children were rare; just one of the reasons they were treasured and spoiled so much. Annabelle would never want for anything, but she wasn’t a typical spoilt child in the least, and seemed to really appreciate everything she had. Her eyes had lit up when she’d seen the whole town had turned out for the party, which was being held in the square in the town centre. There was a bouncy castle, a face painting stand, and a table piled high with gifts. Of course, each of the gifts were covered in bright pink wrapping paper. Nothing else would do for the birthday girl! There were a couple of children enjoying the bouncy castle, but the person who seemed to be enjoying it the most was Blake. Big surprise there. Seeing him interact with the young children made me smile, as he pretended to be hurt when they jumped all over him. Everyone was milling around, and in high spirits despite the tension surrounding the community over the past few days. The enforcers were on full alert for an attack from the Grove Pack, and it had taken every ounce of persuasion I had to convince Jackson to carry on with this party. His argument was that the whole town together would make us vulnerable, and a pack would be able to take us all out in one go. My argument, however, was that the people needed an event to lift their spirits and make them forget, even just for an hour, the drama that was unfolding. The party would show a unified pack, and we would be together in one place, meaning every single enforcer could be keeping an eye on everyone in the town, and not have to be split up throughout the forest. A few compliments about Jackson’s enforcer’s ability to be able to protect everyone, and a cheeky fumble in the kitchen, meant that he soon gave in and agreed to have the party. I was so glad he did, because seeing the happiness shining on Annabelle’s face made the whole thing worthwhile.She had not stopped smiling the entire day, and the joy that radiated from her was infectious to everyone else. Even moody pants Isaac had laughed along with everyone else at the party, and it was the first time I had actually seen him let his hair down. He had joined in with the party games, and even gave me a hug when I arrived at the party which was the most surprising thing. Turned out that he now trusted me, and the hostile glares and rude comments were a thing of the past.
I walked over the drinks table and started to pour myself a glass of Coke, when I felt a pair of strong arms wrap around my waist from behind. I’d know those arms anywhere. I tensed as Jackson placed a soft kiss on my shoulder, and I tried not to melt from the burn of his touch. Things had been going amazingly way throughout the past few weeks. We saw each other every day and spent every night wrapped up in each other’s arms. I couldn’t believe how much time I had wasted on someone like Craig, and was so happy to have found someone as amazing as Jackson. It wasn’t just him who was having an effect on me though. Every person in the town, especially Jackson’s family, had all found a place in my heart and I was so grateful to them for including me in everything and making me feel like a part of the family.
“You were right,” he said, and I smiled.
“As always.” He turned me around so I was facing him, pulling me closer and leaning down so our noses were practically touching.
“The people needed this party. How did I get so lucky to find someone so much smarter than me?”
“I ask myself that every day.”
He barked out a laugh, before giving me a sweet peck on the lips.
“How soon do you think we can sneak off?” He said, and I blushed at what he was implying. God, he made me feel like a damn virgin.
“Well, considering Annabelle is standing over there and waving at me to have a go on the bouncy castle, I’d say not imminently.”
I smiled as I saw Blake stood holding Annabelle, while she tried desperately to get my attention. I waved back, and mouthed that I would be over in a moment, laughing at the pretty butterfly that has been drawn on Blake’s face. The pink glitter really suited him.
“Damn, I should have known.” Jackson said, pulling me in tighter for a hug. “That girl loves you so much, we’ll never be able to get away until she falls asleep.” He sighed as if annoyed, but the smile on his face betrayed him.
“Are you jealous of your six year old niece?”
“No way. She might get your attention during the day, but I get your undivided attention all night.”
“Hmmm, I can’t decide which one I find more fun.”
“I think I can help you decide a bit later.” He winked at me and kissed me again, before holding my hand as we walked towards Blake and Annabelle, who had been joined by Noah and Jasmine.
“Laura!” Annabelle shouted, jumping down from Blake’s arm and running in to mine. I picked her up and was surprised by how heavy she was for such a dainty little thing. Or maybe I was just extremely weak.
Yeah, that’s probably it
. I’d been curious as to if shifter children turned in to small wolves, and had asked Jasmine one night about how it all worked. She’d told me that all shifter children aged normally until they turned 18, when they would experience their first shift, and the aging process would automatically begin to slow. I was pleased that Annabelle would get to experience a normal childhood just like anyone else before dealing with the dramas that came with being part animal.
“Will you come on the bouncy castle?! Blake’s not allowed on it anymore because he’s too big!” I laughed as I saw Blake’s disgruntled face, and he quickly tickled Annabelle causing her to squeal, before striding over to the food table.
I let Annabelle down and she ran straight for the castle, screaming the whole way.
“I’m loving this party. She’s so excited she’ll be asleep soon, which means I might actually get a few chapters of my book read tonight,” smiled Jasmine, laughing when Noah yanked her in to his body.
“If Annabelle goes to bed early, there’s no way I’m letting you read your book.”
Jasmine blushed a deep red, before giving Noah a peck on the cheek, and wandered off to make sure Annabelle hadn’t been causing too much trouble.
“Any problems?” Jackson asked, and I felt sad to see his serious face back on. I lived for those moments where he let himself go even if just for a minute, and relaxed with everyone else. The situation at the moment though was dangerous, so I did understand his constant need to be on alert at all times.
Noah’s eyes narrowed as he focused his gaze on his mate and daughter.
“Everything is quiet so far, but that worries me even more.”
“I feel the same way. They have the perfect opportunity to strike at us when we are all together, and they don’t have to split up their own forces to do it.”
I went to walk away, feeling that this was a business conversation they wouldn’t want me privy to, but Jackson just put his arm over my shoulder, and held me firm against his side. The gesture made me confident enough to join in with the conversation, and reassured me that Jackson saw me as his equal in all things.
“Maybe they are put off by the amount of your guys everywhere. They know the people are protected here.”
“I guess,” Noah said. “I’ve got a feeling though that something’s going to happen. I’m not letting my girls out of my sight and as soon as Annabelle calms down and tires out, I’m wrapping up this party.”
“That’s cool,” Jackson replied. “My men are keeping an eye on everything, you just try and enjoy yourself and let me know when you’re heading out.”
“Sure.” They did that brotherly, man-hug that seemed to be so popular around here, before Noah strode with purpose towards his family. It was just Annabelle and Jasmine on the bouncy castle, and their joyous laughter carried across the street. A pang hit my chest as I realised that that was exactly what I wanted. A family as close as that, with beautiful children who light up your day just by being there. Shifter children were rare and it was even more difficult between a shifter and a human. Would I ever have any of my own? I knew I should be freaking out about even thinking of having children when my relationship with Jackson was so new, but it didn’t scare me as much as it should have. It felt right, and I prayed that one day we would have what Noah and his family had. Annabelle looked up and noticed me, shouting for me to join her, so I shelved my contemplation of wanting Jackson forever and walked in her direction.
“I want these fuckers dealt with!” I heard Jackson shout from inside the living room as I walked down from the bedroom. He had been struggling to sleep lately, and I knew it was because he was worried about where this rival pack would strike next. It was a thought that was on all of our minds. This pack had no problems with breaking every rule that had ever been created in the shifter world. Although packs usually had to look after themselves, it was an unspoken rule that you did not harm those from other packs; else you could risk war between the shifters and the destruction of the entire race. Most shifters agreed that keeping themselves a secret, was pivotal to their survival, but recently Jackson had heard murmurings through the grapevine that various packs were unsettled. If enough of them decided to ally with each other and go up against the humans, the consequences would be disastrous. It didn’t even bear thinking about. I walked in to the living room, and saw Jackson look at me at the same time as ending his conversation and hanging up the phone.
“Is everything okay?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“I don’t want Annabelle to experience war,” he said, he pain in his voice causing my heart to break.
“She won’t. You won’t let her.”
“I’m not going to have much choice. How can I sit by while these people hurt my family? What kind of Alpha am I? I’m putting the needs of my pack above the needs of my own family. Terrified of the repercussions for everyone, I’m just letting them get away with it.”
“No, you’re not. You’ve have got your men working around the clock to look after everyone. You’ve barely slept these past few nights, and keep waking to write down plans and strategies. I pretend I’m asleep so I don’t distract you from whatever ideas you have, but I’m awake and I see you. How can you not see what an amazing alpha that you are? The fact you are putting the people’s needs above your families is what
you an amazing alpha, it’s not a negative thing. These people look up to you and they respect you. They wouldn’t do that if you were some crappy alpha who didn’t know what he was doing.”
“I’m trying to come up with something which will protect everyone, but if I have to get rid of the whole Grove pack to protect my family then I will. I’d give up my life to keep you all safe.”
“I know.” I threw my arms around his waist and pulled him in close for a hug. I didn’t tell him what I was thinking, in case he became even angrier. But I wanted to agree with him completely. I’d give up my life to keep him safe, too.
It was a couple of days later, and I had arrived back at Jackson’s after spending the afternoon laughing and drinking coffee with Logan. As soon as I walked through the front door, I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know how to describe it, but it was like the air in the house had suddenly changed, and I could feel a negative energy surrounding me. My heart dropped and I picked up my pace as I heard the distinct sound of a woman crying further on through the house. I rounded the corner to the living room, and found the room full of people, each with the same look of fury on their faces. I tried to focus on the men pacing the room, but my attention was diverted by the scene happening on the sofa. Jasmine was sitting on the sofa in Noah’s lap, his arms wrapped around her while she sobbed on his shoulder, her eyes red and puffy. My eyes widened when I saw the various cuts and bruises covering her face and arms, and I shrank back at the fury on Noah’s face as he looked at her. Jackson was pacing by the side of the sofa, a matching look of anger on his face which if I didn’t know him so well, would have terrified me. I rushed over to the sofa, and knelt down in front of where Noah and Jasmine were sitting, grabbing Jasmine’s hand which was cold to the touch.