#Chapter 29 Arabella’s Offer
Ever since I got pregnant I’ve been sleeping through the night (and in fact, much of the day) without any problem; but tonight! wake closer to dawn than dusk, feeling nothing out of order beyond a heavy weight pressing down the mattress near my hip. I blink and rub my eyes, surprised to discover I can actually see Bastien through the pitch black night.
He’s sitting by my side, his elbows braced on his knees and his head in his hands. He’s stripped off everything but his boxers, every hard ridge and valley of his powerful form exposed to my view. I sit up slowly, unease fluttering in my belly.
“Bastien?” I reach for his shoulder, settling my hand firmly on his warm skin and beginning the tender caresses I already know he needs. “What’s wrong?”
His head turns my way, an oddly hollow look in his usually soulful eyes. “I’m glad you weren’t there tonight.” Bastien tells me roughly, “If this is what it’s going to be like, the more time we spend apart the better.”
I retract my hand abruptly, feeling as if he punched me in the gut rather than speaking. I pull my knees up to my chest, unsure whether I should stay or leave. Bastien doesn’t seem to notice I’m no longer touching him, though I’m not sure he realized I was touching him to begin with.
“I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.” He announces. “This isn’t
it wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
As ever, my eyes betray me, flooding with tears large enough that my husband can smell the salt. He reaches for my hand, his mouth twitches in a grimace, “I’m sorry I put you through this.”
“I’m sorry too.” I sniffle, feeling as if my lungs have collapsed in my chest. “More than you know.”
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Arabella is standing in my doorway, her bleached blonde hair piled on top of her head in a complicated twist. At first I’m confused to see her in the Pack House so late, then my mind jumps to the worst.
“What’s wrong?” I jolt to my feet, “who’s hurt? What’s on fire?”
Arabella greets my cynical panic with a tinkling laugh, “Honestly Bastien, you should write greeting cards.” She teases. “Nothing’s wrong. I came to check on you.”
“Oh.” I breathe, slowly lowering back into my chair and glancing at the clock. “At midnight?”
She flashes her gleaming white teeth. “I was on my way home from the bar and saw your light on.” As quickly as she smiled, she switches to a pout. “You’ve had a really rough few weeks.”
“Yeah,” I agree. “It’s been rough without Dad. I’m sorry I haven’t checked in with you more. How are you doing?”
Arabella has been putting on a strong front since the murder, like she always does, but my father raised her from the time she was a child. I know how much pain she must be in. She shrugs, “I’m keeping my head up.”
“Bella, you know I’m here if you ever want to talk. Right?” We‘ve only connected a few times since the funeral. For the most part she’s kept her distance, but she’s always preferred to grieve alone. It was the same with Flynn. Even so, I have to wonder whether she has anyone to truly confide in.
“I know, Bastien.” She murmurs, “And you know that goes both ways right?”
“I don’t think you have enough time for that.” I joke.
“Try me,” Arabella offers.
“Well you know most of it.” I grumble. “The pack hates me. Mom’s barely hanging on. The investigation is going nowhere. I was too selfish after Dad died to let Selene go and now I’ve subjected her to the pack’s derision and put her in danger from whoever is so determined to bring down the family.” The words pour out of my mouth in a rapid stream. “And I’ve probably undone all my father’s hard work in less than a month of being Alpha.”
“What is happening with the investigation?” Arabella prods.
“Not much.” My voice sounds strange to my own ears, too devoid of the emotion eating me alive on the inside. “The enforcers know how the murderer got in, they know a male wolf was responsible, but beyond that?” I shrug, “another couple of weeks and they’ll label it a cold case.”
Arabella sits up indignantly, “So fast?”
“It’s not about the time that’s passed since the crime, it’s the time that’s passed since they had a lead, and they’ve never gotten
anything beyond the initial crime scene.”
“That’s unbelievable.” Arabella complains with an odd note in her voice. “He was the Alpha, he deserves better.”
“I agree.” I state, absentmindedly shuffling the papers on my desk. “But hanging onto cold cases too long prevents them from investigating more recent crimes with stronger leads, and that cannot be allowed.”
“You’re so good,” Arabella praises me warmly.
I snort, “You’re just about the only person that thinks so.”
“That’s not true.” She insists, sidling around to me and perching on the armrest of my chair. “You have more support than you think.” Her graceful hands land on my shoulders, massaging my tight muscles. “In fact, if you need help – with anything at all – | want you to call me. I’m serious, I want you to put me to use, it’s the least I can do.”
I can’t explain it, but something feels off about her stroking hands, as if the movements are just a bit too slow, a bit too languid to be innocent. Before I met Selene, I always planned on making an offer or marriage to Arabella and she knew it. However after finding my mate I vowed to provide for Arabella financially rather than wedding her.
Now I’m beginning to wonder if she might believe things will go back to the way they once were after Selene leaves. I shrug off her hands. I don’t want anyone other than my mate. I would rather be alone my whole life, than choose another.
“I appreciate that, Bella.” I try to smile, but only half succeed. “Actually the most help you could be, might be to my mother. She’s really having a hard time. Bizarrely, things going so badly for me seem to have given her a little motivation to carry on-like me needing her has provided some of the purpose she lost. If you could help make her feel needed I would be eternally grateful.”
“Of course.” Arabella promises, “Like I said, whatever I can do. And I love Odette.”
“Thank you, sister.” I say pointedly, hammering home my intentions.
“Anytime.” She purrs throatily, “Alpha.”
For the second time in as many days, I wake in the middle of the night.
However this time, Bastien hasn’t entered our room and I have no idea what roused me from sleep. I scan the room and then check in with my body, staring at my belly curiously to see if nausea or the increasingly frequent need to pee is going to set in.
Neither happens, but I’m so awake now I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to sleep. Instead I slide out from the silky sheets and grab my robe from the h**k on the door, exiting into the main apartment.
Nothing. Not a sight or sound.
I glance at the clock. It’s almost 1:00 AM. Bastien must still be in his office working – that or he’s passed out over the keyboard. With a sleepy groan I shove my feet into a pair of slippers and head down the stairs to the main house, hoping Bastien won’t be angry with me for interrupting or waking him.
After everything he said after the festival, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells around him – which isn’t a great way to feel in one’s own house. Granted I probably won’t be here much longer based on his words.
As I near the second floor landing one of the sentries pokes his head around the corner, “Is everything okay?” He asks,
“Yes,” I whisper, conscious of Odette’s bedroom door standing only a few feet away. “Is Bastien still working?”
“I think so.” The sentry answers, “Ms. Winters arrived a little while ago and has been in with him since.”
I freeze momentarily, gradually finding the will to respond, “Thank you.”
I don’t know why I continue down the stairs. I know I’m not going to find anything I want to see. If anything, I’m going to find only heartbreak. It’s not a surprise exactly, not after the jewelry store, but I never imagined they were carrying on the affair inside my own house.
My heart sinks as I approach Bastien’s study, the unmistakable sounds of voices audible within. Just before I enter the office corridor I hear the door click open. I halt immediately, peering around the corner just in time to see Arabella planting a kiss on Bastien’s cheek as she departs.
If I thought I couldn’t hurt worse than I already did, I was wrong. Seeing them so happy together, sneaking around even while the world seems to be crumbling around this family.. it’s too much to bear.
I barely recognize my mother. Her once glowing skin is pallid and gray, her usually bright eyes are dull and glassy, and even her hair seems to be losing its color. She’s barely left her room since my father died, staying in bed all day and hugging his pillow as she cries.
As distant as Selene has been lately, she seems equally concerned about my mother’s health, now hovering beside me outside the master bedroom and peeking worriedly through the gap in the door.
“You have to talk to her. She urges.
“And say what? I counter helplessly.
Selene’s two toned eyes cut to me. “She needs a reason to go on without Gabriel.” She proclaims. “To be reminded of how much she still has to live for.”
My head shakes back and forth. “She’s lost everything.”
“Not everything. My wife says pointedly. “If there’s one force on this earth stronger than love for a mate, it’s love for a child.” She nudges me toward the door, “If her purpose as a mother can’t pull her through, nothing will.
Utterly dejected, I drag my hand over my face. “But she doesn’t want to pull through.”
Selene c***s her head to the side, waves of long, dark hair streaming over her shoulder. “You’re the one who’s always saying being an Alpha is about giving people what they need, even and especially when they don’t want it.” She emphasizes. “Odette isn’ t in any state of mind to know what she wants right now.”
Everything she says makes sense, but none of her logic or encouraging words can budge the tangle of guilt lodged in my chest. It shackles me as completely as any irons. “It feels selfish to keep her here when she wants to be with him.” I admit, the irony of our situation taunting me mercilessly. It used to be that there was only one woman I was forcing to stay with me. Now she herself is campaigning for me to do the same to another.
“And what would your father have to say about it?” Selene inquires, a hard edge in her sweet voice. “Do you think he would want you to stand by and let her waste away? Do you think letting her suffer and die is somehow more humane than helping her live, or that he would forgive you for letting her go when you still need her so badly?”
The truth of her words shines through clear as day: my father would never forgive me if I let mom throw her life away for him. He would probably haunt me to the edge of madness, then greet me with more punishments when I join him in the otherworld.
Without another word, I carefully push the door open and quietly approach the bed. “How are you feeling today, Mom?”
She doesn’t answer, instead burying her face deeper in the pillow to breathe in my father’s lingering scent. She frowns when! open the drawn curtains and sunlight pours into the dark room, but she does not speak.
My mother has always been a force of nature strong and composed, intimidating and poised in equal measure. Seeing her brought so low is painful, and I wish I’d inherited more of her traits than my father’s. She always knows exactly what to say, even in the worst of times,
“I was hoping i might persuade you to come have dinner with Selene and me.” I propose gently. When she only gives me a blank look in response, I press. “There are some things I’d like to talk about, I need your help, Mom.”
A flicker of concern filters through the hollow well of pain in her eyes, though still she does not speak.
“I don’t know what to do about the Pack.” I breathe, feeling a slight weight lift from my shoulders by virtue of simply speaking the words aloud, “I always thought Dad would be here to guide me when I took over. He prepared me for war, for crises and natural disasters, but he never prepared me to face it all alone.”
My throat tightens. “Everything feels like it’s falling apart.” i contess “Every time I think I’ve got a handle on a problem, something else comes along and sweeps the rug out from under me.
And the pain is only going to keep coming, Axel growis. Do you really think you can survive losing Selene on top of everything else?
Not now I bite back, in no mood for my wolf’s continued pressure to claim my mate before she can reject me.