The ghost of Wesley’s touch lingered on my skin, warm and soothing, and the whisper of his breath tickled the hair on my neck. My heart fluttered and raced in my chest, still pounding from the rush of our intimacy and the overwhelming pleasure from him marking me.
I stretched, inhaling the hint of jasmine and vanilla and luxuriating in the feel of the soft blankets around my body. But where I thought I would meet Wesley’s chest with my back, there was only emptiness, vast and cold.
My eyes blinked open, and I sat up, my heart now racing for a completely different reason. My clammy hands wiped against the blankets—no—the dress somehow on my body. The same dress I had worn at the temple in Greece, and during our visit with Selene.
I stood to my feet, gathering the fabric in my hands as I did, scanning my surroundings. I pivoted in place, looking around me until my eyes landed on the temple. Selene’s temple. My mother’s temple.
Everything was identical to how it was the first time I visited. The trees, the temple, the grass, the pool of water, the jasmine, the stars—all of it the same, every single detail.
It was an ache deep inside me, in my bones and my soul. A near emptiness. A missing piece. A tether on my heart linking me to someone too far away to touch or smell or hear. There but not, as if someone had tied a knot in a fire hose and the rest of the connection couldn’t be completed.
“Wesley?” I called out, even though I knew there would be no response.
“He is not with you this time.”
I turned to look at Selene—my mother. She, too, looked the same as she had when we’d visited the first time. The same clothing, the same sharp, keen gaze of a goddess who sees all.
“Why not?” I asked. “Why is he not here this time?”
“Because I called you here alone. Our business together does not need to involve your mate.”
My brow wrinkled as my eyebrows scrunched together. He was my mate. My partner. We were a team. “Anything involving me should involve my mate, too.”
She blinked at my statement, taken aback. Then she nodded slowly. “I will remember that for the next time I wish or need to summon you. But it is too late for me to bring him now. You will have to do this alone tonight.”
I sighed but nodded, and she gestured me forward, holding her arm out to me. I eyeballed it, hesitating. Did I want to take her hand, to touch her and connect with her in that way? Did I want to pretend we were a normal mother-daughter pair?
Or did I want to give her a chance? To open my heart up to her, to offer her a piece of myself? I had closed myself off from everyone and everything for so long in the name of protecting my heart that it had become my default.
I stepped forward and linked my fingers with hers, staring at our hands as they connected. The blood in my veins pulsed at her touch, magic zinging through my whole body. I gave her hand a squeeze, even with the hesitation in my heart. I wouldn’t call her mom, but I would give her this. I would try.
We strolled through the grass towards her temple. A warm breeze played in our hair and fluttered through the fabric of our skirts, rustling the grass and the vines of jasmine and creating a melody with the greenery of her realm.
“Our first meeting didn’t go quite the way I envisioned,” she said as we walked.
“I’m not sure what you expected,” I admitted. “I don’t know you. You abandoned me. You can’t really have imagined I’d just run into your arms and call you ‘Mom.’”
She gave a soft chuckle. “Yes, I suppose I set my hopes a little high for our reunion. Which is why I called you back.”
We walked through the soft white curtains draped throughout the temple, and she turned to face me when we reached the center of the open-air building, taking my other hand as well.
“I went to Zeus. After you left. I begged him to let me bestow gifts on you, to make up for everything you lost because I couldn’t raise you myself.”
“Oh,” I muttered, shuffling my foot underneath me. “You didn’t have to do that.”
“I did, though,” she insisted. “I should have fought harder for you from the start. A true mother would have done that instead of sitting idly and allowing someone to dictate how she should treat her child.”
I gave her a small grimace but said nothing. She didn’t need me to tell her she was right. She didn’t need me to remind her of how she’d failed me. But she couldn’t really think that granting me a gift or powers would make up for all of that?
“Zeus was wary, but he agreed that I could offer you one gift, the gift I asked him about specifically. He said once your mate marked you, I could grant you our lifespan and immortality so you could one day join me here in the realm I created when I had your sister.”
My eyes grew wide at her words, and I stared at her. My mouth opened and closed as I grasped at the thoughts racing through my mind to verbalize my reaction to her gift, but I had nothing. No words.
“You would be forever this age. Just as I am, just as all the gods and goddesses are. You would be immortal and ageless, just as we are.”
“And Wesley? My mate? Our children, when we have them? What about them?” Selene cocked her head to the side, her brows raised. “Would you give them this same lifespan? This immortality?”
“I-I can only grant it to you,” she murmured. “That was what Zeus allowed.”
“So I would outlive my mate? And our children? And their children?” I asked, and she nodded. “You really don’t know me or understand me, do you?” I muttered, shaking my head. “All my life, all I’ve ever wanted is a family. I’ve wanted a place I could call home, call my own. I’ve wanted someone who would love me and accept me into their life without reservations. Why would I choose immortality to spend an eternity with you over growing old and having a life with my mate and our family?!”
“You would have that. Here. With me,” she said.
“But I don’t want that with you. I don’t want to spend forever here with the woman who didn’t fight for me, who only had me because she felt she needed to fulfill a promise she made eons ago. I want to live with Wesley. I want to be by his side through it all, even if that means growing old and dying with him. That is what I want. That is all I have ever wanted, and he has given that to me. He gives me that every day without asking for anything in return. That’s love. Not this. Not a gift to prove yourself.”
I dropped her hands and stepped back, clenching my fists and my jaw. My eyes squeezed shut to block the water threatening to spill, and I swallowed against the tightness in my throat and chest.
“But I do love you, Haven. You’re my daughter,” she whispered.
I looked at her, and her red-rimmed and glassy eyes and pained face mirrored how I knew mine must look.
“I wanted to prove to you I do love you. That I’ve always loved you,” she breathed. “I wanted to do this for you.”
“And yet again, all you’ve done is prove how selfish you are. You’re not doing this for me, not offering this gift for me. You’re doing it for you, so you can have what you want. But I am not a replacement for Asteria. I am my own person, with my own feelings, thoughts, and desires, and none of them are to live out my days trapped here with you.”
Her jaw clenched at my words, and her lip trembled, but she said nothing.
“I understand what you think you’re trying to do,” I murmured. “I am grateful you finally tried to fight for me. But I cannot accept your gift. It would destroy everything in me, everything I’ve built with Wesley at my side,” I told her, my hands pressing against my heart as a tear fell down my cheek. “Please don’t take the life I’ve dreamed of away from me.”
She inhaled, her breath shaking as it passed into her lungs. Her eyes traversed the temple, lingering on each pillar, on each painting she had of Asteria and me. When they finally returned to my face, she pressed her lips together and nodded.
“You’re right,” she choked out. “You are right. I shouldn’t use you to replace what I’ve lost. I shouldn’t treat you as another Asteria because you aren’t. You are Haven.”
She took slow steps towards me, almost floating with how gracefully she moved. Her slender fingers reached for my wild hair, smoothing it and tucking it behind my ear, then wiping the tear from my cheek. “But you are still my daughter. My beautiful, strong, and brave daughter.”
Her hands cupped my face, and she kissed the top of my head. “I am so proud of the woman you have become. You will be a wonderful luna for your mate’s pack. You are exactly what he needed, what they all needed.”
My lip quivered, and I leaned forward, wrapping my arms around her and allowing her to embrace me, to hold me as a mother would hold a daughter. I closed my eyes and let the warmth, light, and love fill me and wrap around me.
“I still may give you a gift,” she whispered into my hair, her hands rubbing my back. “Zeus allowed for one gift. You may have turned down what I had in mind, but I will still give you something.”
“Like what?” I asked, tipping my head to look at her.
“Anything. But,” she added as I opened my mouth, stopping me before I could say what I wanted. “But I cannot give you a wolf,” she told me.
I frowned and shook my head. “I don’t want a wolf,” I told her. “But can I ask why not?”
“You may, although based on your response, I think you already know part of the reason I cannot.”
“Because I don’t want one?”
“Exactly,” she told me. She stepped back and placed her hands on my shoulders. “But also, because your body has not been prepared for a wolf like the bodies of my warriors. Even Eydís and her friends were trained fighters when I turned them, and they had formed their bond with their wolf companions naturally and slowly. If I gave you a wolf, your human body wouldn’t have the time to adjust to it naturally.”
“Would it kill me?” I whispered.
“No, but it would affect your body. You would be in extreme pain while in your human form, and you would be unable to dance.”
“I would hate that,” I said.
“I know.” She chuckled. “You were made to dance. I would not gift you something that would render you incapable of doing the thing you love most, the thing that has brought you joy since you were a young girl.”
“Thank you,” I breathed. “I-I know what I want,” I told her with a smile.
“Hey, pen pal,” Haven murmured, pulling me out of my deep, dreamless sleep.
I grumbled and tensed, hugging her body closer to mine. My limbs felt heavy, reluctant to leave the restorative slumber I was in. After our mating and marking, we’d both drifted off quickly in our haze of euphoria, our bodies still tangled together.
I burrowed my nose into her neck, finding my mark by the scent alone and trailing my nose along it, feeling the raised skin now there on her neck, forever showing everyone she had been claimed by me. That she was mine.
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” she cooed again, her hand rubbing my forearm holding her in place.
“I don’t want to,” I grunted, kissing her mark and squeezing her tighter.
She shivered but pushed at my arm, turning herself to face me. I allowed her that one movement. Then my arms were back around her in a vise grip, keeping her trapped in my warmth, keeping her soft, beautiful body touching all of mine.
“Mmm,” I hummed, my lips finding her mark again as my hand traveled from her hip up her tight stomach to her chest. “I do prefer this position,” I growled, squeezing her breast and rolling the nipple between my thumb and forefinger.
With our completed mate bond, every caress of my hands on her skin felt even better, her body responding even more to each stroke of my fingertips. Through our link to each other, I could sense her burgeoning desire, stronger than ever, pulling me with her into a whirlpool of want and need.
Oh, how I needed her again already. Even in my half-asleep state, I was drawn to her body, needing to feel her wrapped around me again, especially now that our bond was complete.
I rolled her onto her back, holding myself just above her body on my forearms, my face still buried in her neck. I settled my hardening cock between her already wet pussy lips, rubbing the length of it along her entrance.
“Wesley!” she gasped, a moan following her exclamation. “Wesley, wait, I-I’m trying to show you something.”
Her hands clutched at my upper arms, her body writhing against mine, her clit pulsing with need. But as I woke up more from the jasmine and plum circling around the room and filling my nose and the arousal we both felt from ourselves and from each other through the bond, I realized something.
I pulled my head out of her neck, away from my mark, and snapped my eyes open, looking at her face.
“Show me again,” I murmured, lowering my gaze to her mouth as I waited for her to talk once more.
“Hey there, pen pal,” she said.
Except, her voice didn’t float out into the space between our faces. It didn’t wander through the air and work its way into my ears.
No. It sounded directly in my head, in my mind. Her mouth didn’t move at all, but I heard her words all the same.
A mindlink from my mate.
“Did you just—”
She nodded, silver lining her eyelids as she watched the emotions play across my face and felt all of them through the bond.
“How?” I asked the only word I could get out, the only word I could think of.
“Selene,” she whispered. “It was her gift to me. The gift I asked her to give me. She offered me one gift, and this is what I chose. The ability to mindlink you and the rest of the pack.”
I laughed and dropped my forehead to her chest, my body shaking with the mixture of laughter and happy, grateful tears.
“Of all the things you could have asked her to give you, you chose mindlinking?” I replied to her in her mind, lifting my chin to watch her reaction.
Her smile grew as my voice filled her mind, her laughter joining mine in our bedroom.
“I didn’t want magic or super strength or anything like that,” she told me, continuing to speak in the link. “I have no use for any of that. And it would be difficult to explain me suddenly having a very noticeable power or gift if we’re keeping my identity a secret. This way, no one has to know except the pack.”
“That is a good point,” I linked back.
“This is so strange.” She chuckled, shaking her head and speaking out loud.
“Strange? It’s fantastic! Now you can reply to me, and if there is an emergency, I won’t have to wonder or worry about if you heard me or not. You can just tell me,” I said, moving my hand to her face.
“I know.” She sighed. “I wanted a way for us to be more connected. That’s another reason I asked for this and not something else. That’s why I—”
She stopped and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath.
“Why you what?” I whispered.
“Why I told Selene to not gift me with immortality,” she confessed, her voice almost inaudible.
“What?” I breathed, my hand tensing against her face.
“She offered me immortality, but I turned it down.”
“You… you gave that up? Why?”
“I don’t want to outlive you, Wesley. I don’t want to stay like this while you grow old. I don’t want to watch you die and spend eternity missing you and your touch and your bossiness and your awkward rambling when you get nervous,” she said, tears falling from her eyes.
My thumb caught them, wiping them away before they could stain her pale skin. Her hands moved from my arms, lingering on her tattoo mark on my neck before stopping, resting on my muscled chest, where my heart beat a rapid rhythm as I listened to her speak.
“You said you’d give your pack and your title up for me. I gave up eternal life for you,” she choked out. “Even the thought of that life, the mere idea of living that long without you by my side, is too painful, too overwhelming. To actually live it, experience it…” She shook her head. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t do that. It would end up breaking me.”
A hurricane of emotions hit me, both mine and hers fusing to create a storm of conflicting feelings. But the strongest one from both of us was love.
I covered her mouth with mine, pouring every ounce of my love for her into the kiss. There weren’t enough words in existence to explain or describe my feelings about what she’d told me, what she’d given up to live a full life with me.
So I did the next best thing. I showed her. I showed her with my kisses and my touch. I made love to her, using my body to tell her what my words couldn’t, holding her close as a reminder of where I would always remain—by her side and in her heart.