As soon as the words had left my mouth though, I slowly started to take in what I was actually seeing before me.
Because it was Cai, but… true to the excuse he‘d provided, he really didn‘t seem well.
I could recall how he‘d appeared worn out the last time we’d met, however this was on an entirely different level.
He looked pale with dark circles under his eyes, perhaps having even lost some weight. The difference in his appearance was almost like an entirely different person from the man I‘d first met all those years ago.
“Aria,” he greeted, his voice having a rasp to it that hadn‘t been there before.
And, inside, a pang of guilt hit me.
It seemed I really had dragged him out of his sickbed.
“Take a seat,” I said, gesturing to the chair on the other side of my desk, and he complied. “I appreciate you coming here to meet with me.”
“You didn‘t give me much of a choice,” he replied.
I simply nodded in turn. “Well, you can‘t blame me. Your pack is still refusing to join the alliance and you can probably figure out what that means given my current position.”
“I‘m not refusing you anything, Aria,” he argued, a cough following his words. “I‘ve been too sick to be involved with politics; something that has lasted for months now since no one can figure out what‘s wrong with me. Yet, despite sending word to you of that very fact *multiple times*, you still insisted! come here.”
“You won‘t be able to sit idly by in your bed if your pack is being killed outside your doors,” I replied harshly, my eyes narrowing. “Apologies for dragging you out here but surely you can understand the very precarious position we‘re in right now. Only you can help convince your father to join back into the alliance.”
“Really, Aria? Not even five minutes and already you‘re threatening a war?”
“Do you even understand the full gravity of the situation, Cai? There are only two options for me here. Either you join our alliance again… or I‘ll have no choice but to declare war. You already know I would rather avoid the latter.”
“I came here only because you said you needed me, Aria,” he said, his eyes meeting mine with unwavering intensity. “Needed *me*. Not my title.”
And, suddenly, just like in the past, I could start to feel that magnetic energy form in the air around him, wanting to draw me in and listen to him. To give in to him and try to make things right.
Only I knew exactly what it was this time.
And it had nothing to do with what ** wanted to do.
“Stop that,” I hissed, pushing past the influence threatening to sway my mind.
Now I knew what I was looking for, it was easy to tell when he used it. And it definitely wasn‘t natural. Internally, I scolded myself for being so caught up in his affection to not see it earlier.
But he only frowned, confused by my abrupt response.
“… Stop what? I‘m just telling you the truth,” he said slowly. “Using me for what I can offer you politically was not what I‘d had in mind.”
“No. I mean stop doing that thing,” I replied, gritting my teeth. “It might have worked to get me into bed with you but I know what you‘re doing now. Stop trying to manipulate me.”
“Wh… What the hell are you on about?” he said, sounding completely genuine.
And I actually believed him. It looked as though he really didn‘t know anything about the original lineages or his family‘s attribute. His confusion sounded sincere.
However, whether he knew what he was doing or not, it didn‘t really change anything. The fact of the matter was that it was definitive confirmation that he‘d been influencing me during the times we were together. Now I would never know if what I‘d felt during those moments was even real or just a byproduct of an ability.
“How about this then…,” I started, doing my best not to let myself get further angry over that realisation. “If you agree to speak to your father about joining the alliance, I, in return, will let you speak to Elder Luke. There are things about you that, apparently, you don‘t even know about yet, things that would change your entire perspective. And who knows? Maybe he can help you with your mystery illness.” 1
“Wait, so let me get this straight…,” he said, his frown deepening. “You want to withhold access to someone who might have vital information to potentially cure me… on the condition I serve your agenda for Alpha?”
“…I‘m doing what I need to do for my pack,” I replied flatly.
But that, evidently, was the final straw for him.
“I‘m finished here,” he said, standing up, and began walking to the door.
Immediately, I got up and followed behind though, trying to make it there before him… only I was too late.
“Wait a second,” I said, finally catching up. “Cai! Think about what you‘re doing. About what this means for both of our packs.”
He paused at my words, his hand still on the handle, and looked down at me. It was as though he were searching my face, trying to look for something there,
…Only I found something before he did.
“…I don‘t know who you are…,” he started coldly, “…but you‘re not the girl I met all those years ago in high school.”
And perhaps I would have flinched at his words if it hadn‘t been for the sickening discovery I‘d just made myself.
A discovery I couldn‘t believe I‘d failed to distinguish sooner.
In my defence though, it had been hidden behind him the entire time, difficult to discern.
Quickly, without giving him a chance to leave, I then snatched his hand away from the handle and, with m y other hand, I grabbed his throat, pushing him back up against the door behind him.
“Aria!” he choked out in surprise, struggling to pry away my grip.
But I was stronger than him now. Not just because of the training and my mark, but he was significantly weaker in his condition. He wouldn‘t be able to escape me no matter how hard he tried.
“Where is she?!” I demanded, my body instantly ignited in a rage I hadn‘t thought possible. “Where the f**k is she, Cai?”
“I don‘t know who you‘re talking about,” he wheezed.
But I just tightened my grip in response, his denial only further angering me. There would be no way out of it this time. I would finally get my answers. No matter what.
“Don‘t play stupid!” I screamed back. “I can smell her on you! You think I don‘t know what that b***h smells like after living with her for six years?!”
Cai‘s natural scent had always had an undertone of sweetness to it that, given I now had enhanced senses from my shift, I hadn‘t initially picked up the obvious difference at first. I‘d brushed it off thinking it was just me smelling his scent properly for the first time.
But, no. Now I was up close, there was no mistaking it. No mistaking that overly sugary sweet smell that made my nose wrinkle.
He could deny it all he wanted but the evidence was there….
…He had Thea‘s scent on him.
It might have been just a trace amount but I would know it anywhere.
“Aria, stop!” he pleaded, still trying to pry my hand away. “I don‘t know who you think this scent belongs to, but I can tell you right now that it‘s my mate‘s; it‘s Caitlyn‘s.”
Instantly, my whole body froze and I loosened my grip on him out of sheer shock.
…He couldn‘t be serious… could he?
But if that were true then…
...And my vision immediately turned red.
“You‘ve been f*****g Thea this entire time?!” I screamed. “What is wrong with you?!”
“Aria, I told you, it‘s–.”
“Thea! You complete idiot! She obviously gave you a fake name! Why is it that every time I get involved with a man, they end up s******g her?!”
I took a step back and ran a shaky hand through my hair, in complete disbelief this was even happening. Happening *again*. How had both my lives led me here?
His brow only creased though, still adamant he was right. “You‘re wrong, Aria. We have the mate bond. I know she‘s not lying.”
“There is no mate bond. She‘s not your mate, Cai! Why can‘t you see that?” I yelled back furiously. “You want to know why you‘re so unwell? Whatever your ‘mate‘ is doing to make you think you‘re together, is probably the same thing that is making you sick!”
“But I feel the mate bond…,” he stammered, sounding even unconvincing to me. “I mean… I think I do. Well, it‘s not… no, I know she‘s my mate.”
“Cai! Wake the f**k up!” | bit back. “Her scent was on me that night you found me sleeping in the trial grounds. I‘d just come from trying to kill her, remember? If she was your goddamn ‘mate‘, you would have smelt her as such back then!”
I didn‘t know how she did it, but somehow she‘d managed to create some sort of artificial mate bond, Enough to make Cai see her as his mate.
But something like that was completely unheard of.
…Unless, of course, Selene had something to do with it.
After all, there were already a bunch of us apparently running around with god powers.