=Chapter 38 Marriage Proposal
“I swear to the Goddess.” Donavon crumples the magazine in his hand, lobbing it at the wall, “Where do they get this s**t?”
The shiny pages slacken as it falls, brightly colored tabloid headlines peeking out of the wrinkled ball of paper, “Alpha’s secret love child.”
Unfortunately I have an idea where these rumors are coming from. I’ve seen the way Arabella looks at my son, and I can’t stop hearing Selene’s last words to me: She really hates me. She’s attempted worse. Half an hour later my daughter-in law was dead, then Arabella was miraculously found unharmed a few days later – with an iron-clad alibi for her whereabouts at the time of the
Even so, those are not the kinds of accusations one makes without evidence, and a few words from Selene in the height of a very stressful moment isn’t reliable intelligence. I could have completely misinterpreted her meaning. “Does Bastien know?” i query. gesturing to the tabloid.
“He hasn’t left his rooms since the fire.” Donavon reminds me, shaking his head. And he’s not speaking to anyone.”
I understand better than anyone. The only reason I can get myself out of bed in the morning is because Bastien needs me so badly. I’ve been letting him mourn while I run the pack, not that anyone knows what’s happening behind the scenes. However the situation in Elysium is deteriorating without his leadership, and the rumor mill is out of control.
What’s more, I’m deeply afraid that Bastien cannot go on like this much longer. Young as he is, losing a mate can kill a wolf of any age, and as much as I want to give him time to heal, I can’t risk letting him grieve himself to death.
“That’s not all, ma’am.” Donavon says, pulling my attention from the magazine. “We also received a letter from the Elder Council. They want Bastien to increase the frequency of his security reports.”
“They’ve been weekly since Gabriel’s murder.” I scoff, “What do they want, a daily update?”
The Beta purses his lips and raises his eyebrows, confirming my guess.
“That’s ridiculous.” I snap, “They’ve never had that kind of oversight before.”
*Clearly they want to use Selene’s death to bolster their own power.” Donavon complains, “frankly I’d like to tell them where they can shove their reports.”
“I’ll talk to Bastien.” I resolve, “he’s got to come back to work, we cannot cave to this sort of pressure.”
The large man grimaces, “be careful, Odette.”
I straighten my spine, giving my old friend an imperious glare, “I’m his mother, he can huff and puff all he wants, but he won’t follow through.”
“He’s not your son right now,” Donavon relates gently. “He’s an Alpha who lost his mate. Pushing him is dangerous.”
I notch my chin up. “He’s not the only alpha who’s lost his mate, Donavon. And I’ve had more time to heal.”
The apartment is such a mess my first instinct is to douse the entire space in bleach, starting with my son. The air is perfumed with an unsavory blend of hard liquor, dirty laundry, spoiled food and even from the other side of the doorway, I can smell the many days Bastien has gone without showering.
It takes all my strength not to immediately gather a garbage bag and begin filling it on my way through the space, but I maintain my focus and head straight for the giant unwashed wolf in the center of the living room.
He’s unconscious on the couch, his golden skin grimy and his jaw covered with weeks’ worth of stubble. An empty bottle of whiskey dangles from his limp hand, and the table in front of him is scattered with beer cans. He wears only a pair of sweatpants, and the weight he’s lost in the last few weeks is noticeable.
I reach for his shoulder, but his massive hand closes around my wrist before I can touch him. His powerful fingers dig into my skin, and my attention leaps to his face. His eyes are wild, staring at me without recognition. “Sweetheart, you’re hurting me.” I tell
My voice jogs a bit of recognition into his hard features, and he slackens his hold. “Mom?”
“The one and only.” I confirm.
Bastien sits up and rubs his eyes, “I’m sorry, you startled me.”
“I can see that.” I remark tartly. “You, my son, need to take a shower. And then we need to talk.”
His expression is suddenly so similar to the one he made when he was little and wanted to escape a bath, I have to bite my lip to keep myself from smiling. “Do I have to?”
“Yes.” I put my foot down. “You do.”
While Bastien is getting cleaned up I take up the helm cleaning the apartment, trying not to judge the mess. I know all too well how crushing grief can steal your will to care about anything and everything.
When he finally emerges, clean-shaven, wet-haired and smelling of soap, the space almost looks inhabitable again. He sits down at his kitchen island, watching me work with a far odd look in his silver eyes. “You don’t have to do that, Mom.”
“Someone has to.” I murmur, holding out the sponge in his direction. “Of course, it would be better if you did.”
He takes the implement from me without complaint, replacing my spot over the sink and beginning to scrub dishes while I find a drying cloth. “I know it feels pointless, and silly and tedious, but you just have to force yourself to go through the motions for a little while. Eventually, you’ll be able to find sense in taking care of yourself again, in living.”
“Please don’t pretend you know what I’m going through, Mom.” Bastien rumbles. “You lost a mate who adored you for more than 30 years. I lost a mate who I never even got to claim. We never had any happy years, we didn’t get to build a life together.” He drops the spunge and closes his fists around the edge of the counter, “1 failed her, I wasn’t there when she needed me, I caused her nothing but pain.”
“That isn’t true, Bastien.” I argue instantly.
“She rejected me!” The bark is so vicious I take a step back, putting some distance between us. “That is the last thing she did before she died. I accused her of kidnapping, put her under house arrest and forced her to run into a situation that killed her.” Bastien thunders, “Still she called me for help! But I didn’t pick up, I failed her one too many times. And she rejected me.”
My heart sinks, and only with much restraint do I stop myself from reaching for him. “Darling, why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because she was right.” He growls, “She was right to reject me. I never deserved her, and we both knew it.”
The gears of my brain turn rapidly as I search for the right thing to say – a hopeless quest. Empty comfort and denials won’t help. If Selene truly rejected him, no one will ever be able to convince him she was wrong. Platitudes and cliches won’t work either. There is no soothing this kind of sorrow.
Finally I decide on tough love. “Then you have a choice.” I tell him. “You can lie around in your own filth and drink yourself to death, and prove her right. Or you can try to become the man she did deserve, and pray to the Goddess that when you reach the otherworld and see her again, you’ve done enough.”
6 months later,
The elder council sits on a raised dais in Nova Hall, their chairs forming a tight semi-circle from which they can look down upon the empty chambers. I stand before them alone and on edge. This is the last place I want to be.
I‘ve worked hard over the last few months to fulfill my responsibilities to the pack, but despite my mother’s promise that going through the motions would lead me back to myself one day, I still can’t bring myself to care about anything in this life. Her advice to make myself worthy for my mate in the next, got me out of bed and back into the office, but I feel no pride in my work.
Rumors continue to swirl around the pack about my fitness to lead, especially now that Selene is gone. For the most part, all anyone can talk about is the fact that a heartbroken Alpha is about as reliable as a broken clock. They might land on the right time every now and then, but try to guide your day by them and disaster ensues.
Along with the continued gossip about my relationship with Arabella, my reputation has taken a significant hit. I’m not sure what
the elder council requested this meeting to discuss, but I know it can’t be good.
Alpha, One of the gray, grisled men begins. “We have the utmost respect for the losses you’ve endured this year.”
Fat chance. Axel grumbles in my head, getting a little more vocal every day.
*However we are concerned for your own wellbeing, as well as the balance of the pack’s leadership.” The counselor continues. “Unmated wolves are not as stable as those with wives and families, and as you know an Alpha’s mate has a vital role in ruling the pack’s she-wolves. In combination with your grief. well to be frank your situation puts the pack at risk.”
“Seeing as my mate is dead,” I snarl, making the speaker blanche. “I don’t see what we can do about that.”
The elders glance at each other hesitantly, Alpha, we respectfully propose it’s time you take a new mate.” As the leader speaks, a counselor on the far left gestures to a guard at the side door. One of which the council approves this time.”
The door opens, and to my shock and disbelief, Arabella steps in.