Arabella is the one who set the fire that was supposed to have killed me.
A few years ago I would have thought Selene was out of her mind for suggesting such a thing. Before the fire, Arabella seemed like the same vapid teenager I’d always known: Vain, self-centered and far too used to getting her own way. Dad and I spoiled her after Flynn died, letting her get away with murder out of misplaced guilt and convincing ourselves her antics were harmless.
In some ways it served us right to be manipulated by her – if we were foolish enough to buy the act when she batted her lashes and played the delicate flower, well, that’s on us, not her. And though I was always aware the innocent act was just that – an act – I never imagined Arabella was concealing anything truly malicious.
| underestimated her desire for power, as well as her ego and cunning. She’d always been intelligent, but I hoped she would put her talents to a more noble use than social climbing. For a time I was even hopeful she would live up to my high expectations. When Selene was alive Arabella was always there for me when I needed a shoulder to lean on or ear to bend, she always understood my perspective and empathized with my struggles.
I didn’t want anyone’s pity or sympathy after Selene died, and Arabella’s repeated attempts to provide it anyway slowly twisted and mutated into something much darker. Rather than affording me the blame I so clearly deserved for my mate’s demise, she placed the responsibility on Selene – never coming out and saying so directly, but always implying, always insinuating. Eventually Arabella began criticizing Selene outright, ignoring my outraged rebukes every time.
When she finally colluded with the Elder Council to engineer a marriage between us, her machinations came fully into the light, breaking the last straw on the camel’s back. Over the years our relationship disintegrated further and further, until it became nothing more than a shadow of the friendship I once believed we shared. No matter how many times I tried to make headway or repair the damage, Arabella jumped at every opportunity she saw to try and insinuate herself into the role of my mate – unraveling whatever progress or hope I’d managed to scrape together.
It has become only too clear that Arabella wants to lead the pack regardless of who she must cross or charm, and though I still don’ t want to believe the little girl I grew up with could be capable of such evil, I’ve seen too much of the world to think my mate’s accusations’ impossible.
Arabella set the fire? I repeat gruffly.
Whatever Selene expected, it clearly wasn’t belief. She takes an uncertain step back and for a moment I think she’s actually going to answer, but then she pauses, seeming to remember her leverage. I’m not answering any more questions until you take me back to Lila.
As much as I want to hold onto my own advantage, I can’t put off such important answers. Let’s go. I order, setting off at a trot.
Selene follows closely on my tail, huffing indignantly every time I slow my pace for her sake, and complaining every time I stop for a seemingly unnecessary break. I’m as impatient as she is to get back, but while she might be willing to push herself past her limits to reach her pup, even her answers are not sufficient enticement for me to risk my mate’s health.
Aiden and Donavon are waiting at the safehouse when we return. The secluded space has been cleaned since we left, and Lila is happily playing in the front garden when we reach the edge of the wood. It takes a few minutes to help Selene shift back into her human form, but once her whimpers have quieted and her lovely skin has been wrapped up in warm clothes once more, there is nothing left to stop her reuniting with her pup.
Lila seems mildly oblivious to her mother’s heightened emotion as Selene smothers her with hugs and kisses, but I feel my mate’s relief and outpouring of love as if it is my own. I want nothing more than to join them and offer my own affection, but the moment I take a step forward Selene bares her fangs in my direction, shielding Lila from me with her small body.
The corner of my mouth twitches, I’ve always loved seeing Selene’s fleeting flashes of ferocity. They were utter rarities during our marriage, but never failed to remind me of a grumpy kitten. Even now, when I know her aggression is real, I can’t help but find it adorable.
Lila babbles away, filling in Selene about her night with my Betas, and we move into the house while Aiden and Donavon set up a perimeter outside. As impatient as I am for answers, I discover that I don’t mind waiting to finish my conversation with Selene, not when watching her interact with her daughter is so fascinating.
She gives Lila her full attention, intently listening to every word out of the pups mouth and asking eager questions, all the while
keeping me locked in her periphery. When Lila’s focus shifts to me, her lips stretching in a wide, toothy grin and her bright eyes lighting up with excitement, Selene glares at me over the child’s head.
She reluctantly lets Lila tottle to me, and I scoop up the precious being with gentle hands, “Hello pup. Did you have fun with Uncle Aiden and Uncle Donavon?”
Selene snarls at the sound of the nicknames, but Lila doesn’t notice. The child nods happily, “We went in da car!”
“She loves the car.” Selene shares, watching us closely. “There’s not much space for them in Asphodel.”
“Well if you come to Elysium you can ride in the car every day.” I divulge conspiratorially
Color floods Selene’s cheeks even as Lila squeaks with excitement, but I can’t bring myself to feel guilty. I don’t care how dirty! have to play – I’m going to get my mate back.
“How dare you!” Selene plucks Lila from my grasp, furiously muttering, “We aren’t going anywhere near Elysium.”
“I beg to differ.” I drawl. “You clearly aren’t safe here, and I’ve yet to hear your accusations about Arabella. So at the moment Elysium seems like the best option.”
Selene looks angry enough to scream, though she keeps her cool. “First of all, it isn’t your decision regardless of where the danger is greatest.” Then, ignoring my foreboding rumble, she adds, “And Arabella is guilty of everything I told you and more.”
“So tell me, Selene.” I encourage firmly, nodding to the child in her arms, “I kept my end of the bargain.”
Muttering mutinously, Selene sets Lila on the floor in front of one of her toys, before returning to the kitchen and glaring at me head
- on. “The night of the fire, Arabella turned up as soon as Odette left the cabin. She’d clearly been watching and she told me her actions were my own fault for not leaving when she originally told me to. Then she locked me in the closet and lit the match.”
prowl forward, sending out enough sinister energy to keep my deceitful little mate on her toes, to keep her honest. “When did she originally tell you to leave?”
“I was always planning on leaving after the rejection ceremony.“ Selene replies guilelessly, “But I started to second guess myself after she tried to push me down the stairs at the hospital – the only reason she went down was because she lost her footing.”
The words slice into me like a knife. Could I really have been so oblivious to what was happening under my own nose? The memory of Arabella wailing on the hospital gurney appears in my mind’s eye, closely followed by the image of Selene cowering in the cabin, eyeing me as if I was her executioner. She knew Arabella had blamed her for the fall, and she assumed I would take the other woman’s side over her own.
“So when we spoke at the jewelry store she made it abundantly clear that she would kill me if I didn’t go through with my plans.” Selene continues sulkily. “But Gabriel’s death made that impossible… I couldn’t go through with it. So she made me. She proved she was good for her word.”
“If this is all true,” I begin rigidly, “why in the Goddess’s name didn’t you tell me?!” My temper is a roiling tempest in my chest, how could she have kept such things from me.
“Because you picked her!” Selene cries, “You chose her over me, time and again.”
“Never.” I insist. “I never once chose her over you!” She opens her mouth to object but I hold up my hand, forestalling her words. “I can’t take back what happened in the past, Selene. I’m sorry I made you feel like you weren’t my choice because you always, always were.” I vow. “I didn’t have any idea what Arabella was up to. I had no idea she was capable of such things or had any intentions for me until long after I thought you were dead.” I admit with chagrin.
“I never wanted to hurt you, and I never imagined she was telling you all those lies.” I catch my mate’s hands in my own. “Please believe me, little wolf.” I beg, “Because I believe you – and I will make Arabella pay for her crimes.”
“I don’t believe you.” Selene shakes her head, lowering her voice so that Lila won’t overhear her harsh tone. “You had a thousand chances to make the right decision in the past, and you wasted all of them.” She hisses. “You don’t get anymore.” Her two-toned eyes are hard as stone, her silky voice rough and callous. “My daughter is staying with her father, and I’m staying with her. Go back to Elysium, and forget about us.” Selene orders, “With any luck – We’ll never see each other again.“