SIX MONTHS LATER: NOVEMBER
Glittering lights. Rustling fabrics and programs. Instruments tuning. Whispering voices.
A theater filled with audience members for the opening night of The Nutcracker this season at The Redwood Forest Ballet Company. A full house, as Haven had taught me.
And all of them were here for her.
The pack had bought out the house for the evening, so every single member of that audience was here because they were supporting their luna.
Because tonight, she would dance the role of The Sugar Plum Fairy.
“Thank you again,” I muttered, turning to look at Imogen.
She rubbed at a spot on her red-painted fingernails, a wrinkle between her brows. “I told you already, I needed the break. Some time to breathe, kick my feet up, and remind myself that I’m not just good at ballet, I actually enjoy ballet.” Her eyes lifted to mine, and she smiled. “Plus, it was for a good cause,” she said. “Oh, the baby is here!”
She maneuvered around me and towards the theater entrance, completely bypassing Jack, Shirley, and Scott and heading right to Tiffany, who was holding her one-year-old daughter Stella.
Stella smiled and reached for her. “Immy!” she cooed, launching herself into Imogen’s arms in a flurry of purple and pink fabric.
Maya had made her dress from the leftover scraps of Haven’s costume for tonight. Tiffany had even put a tiny tiara on top of Stella’s tight dark brown curls. I followed behind Imogen but made sure to give my in-laws a proper greeting before I gave Stella any sort of attention.
“Are you excited?” Shirley asked me as I hugged her.
“Of course,” I replied. “I’m always excited to watch Haven perform,” I added with a wink.
“WESSY!” Stella squealed, again launching herself out of someone’s arms so she could have someone else hold her.
“Hey there, Stella Bella,” I laughed as I grabbed her and spun her around. “Aren’t you just the prettiest Sugar Plum Fairy I’ve ever seen?”
“He’s only saying that because he hasn’t seen Haven dance it yet,” Imogen muttered to Jack and Shirley.
“He hasn’t? Not even in rehearsals?” Shirley whispered.
“No, she wouldn’t let him. He tried to sneak in a few weeks ago, and Peter yelled at him. I swear, he jumped higher than the redwoods around their pack,” she said as she reached for her purse. “I got it on video. Do you want to see?”
“Don’t even think about it, Imogen,” I warned her, my lips twitching. “You’ve already shown it to the entire ballet company, all my friends, my mate, my parents…”
I sighed and trailed off as she played the snippet she caught of Peter sneaking up on me as I tried to sneak into the rehearsal to watch Haven.
“It’s not my fault. She was being stubborn,” I said in defense of myself.
“Stubborn is Haven’s middle name,” Jack pointed out.
I hummed in agreement, my smile growing.
“Havie?” Stella asked, looking around the crowded theater.
“Aunt Haven is going to be up there,” I told her, pointing at the stage. “We’re going to watch her dance.”
Stella smiled and clapped her hands. “Havie!” she exclaimed.
“That’s right! When she’s done, we will cheer and clap for her.”
Stella’s little toddler arms wrapped around my neck and she hugged me, her head resting on my shoulder and her hand rubbing my back. Then she pulled away and said, “Mama!” making grabby hands at Tiffany.
“You’re pretty good at that,” Tiffany said as she took Stella from me. “You going to have one of your own here soon?”
“Not anytime soon,” I laughed, shaking my head. “We’re not ready.”
Tiffany pouted. “Leave the poor man alone! They’ve only been together a year!” Shirley scolded Tiffany. “Just ignore her. You take all the time you need before having kids.” Her voice lowered. “But I’m not getting any younger, and I’d really like another grandkid, so, you know, if you change your mind…”
I laughed even louder. “Don’t worry, Shirley. When we’re ready, you’ll be the first to know,” I told her.
The lights flashed a few times, signaling the audience that the show would begin soon, so I gave them all another quick hug and found my seat, right in the middle of the theater. Reid, Nolan, and Sebastian all sat down just after me.
“Is everything ready?” I asked them.
“Yes, just like it was thirty minutes ago,” Sebastian said with a smirk.
“And thirty minutes before that,” Nolan added.
“And thirty minutes before that,” Reid chimed in.
“Fuck off,” I growled, but they just laughed at me.
“Are you ready?” Sebastian asked as his laughter faded.
I turned my attention to the stage as the lights dimmed and the orchestra began to play. A smile spread on my face as the music of my Sugar Plum’s favorite ballet filled the theater, music I recognized from watching various versions of the production thirteen years ago.
“Of course I’m ready,” I replied, my voice barely a whisper. “I’ve been ready for this my whole life.”
The cheers and applause as I took my final bow of the night were mixed with howls, telling me there were definitely pack members in the audience. My smile grew as, through the pack link, I heard voices congratulating me and telling me how wonderful the performance was. The loudest voice, though, was Wesley’s.
“Sugar Plum,” he murmured, his deep voice sending a shiver down my spine. “You are stunning.”
“Thank you, Wes,” I replied, finding his eyes in the audience just as the curtain closed.
“I’ll meet you at the stage door,” he told me. “Take your time.”
I didn’t listen, though. I rushed off the stage to my dressing room, where Maya helped me change out of my tutu and into a long-sleeved, fitted dark purple dress. Then I was down the stairs and heading out the stage door before most of the other company members were even in their dressing rooms to change.
Unlike that first night, the night of our premiere, I didn’t mingle with the crowd. I had a one-track mind.
His scent hit me as soon as the stage door opened, and his smiling face came into my eyes. My own smile grew, and I pranced down the steps and into his arms.
“Just beautiful,” he murmured, holding me tightly. “My Sugar Plum.”
I tilted my face up to his and let him kiss me, matching the slow, gentle movements of his lips. Warmth and love filled me as he held me. I leaned back, meeting his eyes. They twinkled and glistened, and he opened his mouth to speak, but someone pulled me away from him and into the waiting crowd of fans.
“Luna!” Reid cheered, hugging me and spinning me around. “Everyone is here to see you, so you need to say hello to them first before you finish your night in the alpha’s arms. Sound like a plan?”
“Everyone?” I asked, looking at his laughing face.
“Yeah. The entire pack is here!”
I spent the next I don’t even know how many minutes being greeted and congratulated by everyone in the pack. I thought Reid was exaggerating, but he was not. The entirety of Crescent Lake was at the theater, and the only people in the audience who weren’t pack members were my family and Imogen.
“Congratulations, Luna Haven,” Harrison said as I finally reached him and Emily. “You are truly a talented dancer,” he added.
“Thank you,” I replied, hugging them both.
“Dad,” Wesley said, his arm snaking around my waist and tugging me to his side. “Can I steal my luna for a moment, please?”
His lips met the top of my head, and I leaned back into his strong, solid chest, breathing him in.
“Of course, Alpha Wesley,” Harrison replied with a wink.
Wesley led me away, still holding me by my waist. We wandered around the building and into the garden where the company hosted the gala last year. It was just as beautiful and magical tonight as it was that night. Perhaps even more so since there wasn’t a party set up within it, and its natural beauty was on display.
“I have something for you,” Wesley murmured as he sat us down on a bench.
“You didn’t need to get me anything,” I told him.
“I know I didn’t need to, but I wanted to,” he said.
He let go of me and reached under the bench, pulling out a small rectangular wooden box. I raised my brow at him, and he smiled.
“Here,” he said, handing it to me.
The wood was dark and smooth, except for the very center where my name had been stamped into it with a crescent moon behind a redwood tree next to it, the symbol of our pack. I ran my hand over it, feeling the ridges and dips of the letters, marveling at the beauty of its simplicity.
“What’s inside it?” I asked, lifting the lid.
But he didn’t need to answer. Inside was a stack of letters, letters all addressed to me.
“I’ve been writing them over the last year,” he admitted, his cheeks turning pink. “I’ve been saving them. To give to you at the right time.”
“And what makes this the right time?” I asked.
“You’ll see.” He chuckled, wiping his hands on his black pants.
I raised my brow but went ahead and opened the first one and read it to myself.
Dear Pen Pal,
I saw you for the first time tonight. Of course, I had seen you before, in photos, when we were just kids, but we’re not kids anymore. You’re definitely not a kid anymore.
You are… you are beautiful. You took my breath away. Not just because I was so shocked to see you in Crescent Lake, but because you grew up to be lovelier than I ever even imagined.
Don’t take that the wrong way. Because even in those imaginings, in those dreams I had of meeting you as an adult, you were beautiful. But those imaginings of you were incomparable to the real thing. The real you.
You are so different. You look different from your picture when you were nine, but you also act a little different from what I remember from our letters. I know twelve years have gone by since then, but clearly, a lot has happened to you in that time to make you the way you are now.
There is so much I want to tell you and ask you. I want to know everything I missed while we lost touch. I want you to know everything you missed while we lost touch. One morning of coffee is not going to be enough to make up for all the time we lost, Haven, but it is a start.
I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.
I smiled as I read it and I remembered that night, the night we saw each other for the first time. Then I read the next one.
I am sorry. I’m sorry I failed you all those years ago. I wish I could have been there for you when you needed me. I wish I could go back and change it all. Change what happened to you. What happened to Jack. Change everything so you would still be with them, and we would still be friends.
But I can’t do that. All I can do is apologize. Apologize, and do what I can now to prove to you that I have always been on your side, in your corner, supporting you and fighting for you. And hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me and let me back in.
Because I’m not giving up on you, Haven. You may be hiding behind thick, solid walls you’ve built around yourself and your heart, but I know the real you is still in there. And maybe the you that’s in there is still hurting, still a little broken, but I will be there for you in the way I couldn’t be before, the way I should have been before.
So don’t give up on me, Haven.
My cheeks heated, and I glanced at him. “I never did apologize for treating you the way I did,” I said, covering his hand with mine.
“You were hurt. And angry. And trying to protect yourself from being hurt again.” He shrugged. “I understood.”
I leaned over and kissed him, a brief peck, then read the next one.
Dear Twinkle Toes,
When I asked you on a date, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting.
I mean, I was obviously expecting us to have dinner. To talk and catch up and relearn everything about each other. To spend an evening with each other and see where things went, see if there was something between us.
But I wasn’t expecting… well, you, I guess.
You truly are something unique. Something unexpected. You have brought light back into my life when I didn’t even realize the light was missing. You make me want to be a better man because I want to be that man for you.
Although I will admit, it was very difficult for me to leave you at the end. Because I wanted to stay with you.
No, scratch that. I wanted you to come home with me.
I know that all sounds very forward and very much too fast, but I won’t lie to you. That was what I wanted. I want you to come home with me every night. I want to be your safe place. You deserve so much more than the hand life has dealt you, and I will do whatever I can to provide that for you, to give you the life you deserve.
When you’re ready. Because I know you’re not there yet. Not like I am. So I will wait. I will wait for you to be ready.
“Pretty presumptuous of you to call yourself my boyfriend after one date,” I teased, turning the paper towards him.
“Just keep reading.” He laughed, shaking his head and handing me the next letter in the stack.
I opened it and pulled it out, keeping my eyes on him until the last second.
Dear Twinkle Toes,
I am speechless. Or, I was speechless. I have words now, obviously, since I’m writing them down to you in this letter.
Shit, that’s not the point.
I told you already how I know nothing about ballet, but I couldn’t keep my eyes off of you, and that was the truth.
You lit up the entire stage. Not just with your dancing but with your smile and your stage presence. You truly have a gift. Watching you perform was like watching magic coming to life. You were graceful and elegant and beautiful and exquisite and breathtaking and…
And I am out of adjectives. But any others you can think of, you were all of those too.
I can’t wait to watch you up on that stage for every performance. Not just for this ballet but for all of them. For every ballet you ever dance in.
I may have missed twelve years of performances, but I won’t miss anymore. I will be at every single one, sitting in that theater with a bouquet of flowers for you, cheering louder than anyone else when you take your bow.
All of them.
For the rest of our lives.
I didn’t say anything to him after that one, but my heart grew, and my eyes watered. Even then, even after only a week together, he was planning our future. Like some instinctive part of him already knew we were meant to be together, that I was his mate.
With shaky hands, I opened the next.
Dear Sugar Plum,
I’m sorry. Again. I failed you. Again. I keep failing you, keep almost losing you.
But not again. I’m not losing you again.
I know you don’t fully comprehend what it means to be mates, what the mate bond means to wolves, but I’m going to show you. It’s not just a magical connection that tells me I have to be with you. It’s more than that.
Yes, a lot of times it starts as that. For a lot of mated pairs, that’s how they meet. By learning Selene fated them to be together. But that’s not the case for us. For you and me.
Because I already knew I wanted forever with you. I had already chosen you. I wanted you to be my mate even if we weren’t mates by fate. I had already pictured a future with you, a life with you. A future with us together through it all, through thick and thin, through good times and bad, through heartache and triumph.
So take all the time you need to be mad at me. It’s not the first time, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time. I’ll be right here, ready and waiting with open arms when you’re ready to forgive me.
And if you want to reject me, well, I will accept that too. I will never force you to do something you don’t want. I will never keep you from living your life.
I just hope you want to live that life with me at your side.
My hand reached for his, my throat tight. Too tight to say anything to him, too tight for my voice to come out. He took my hand and squeezed it, holding on as I continued through the stack.
To my Sugar Plum, my mate, my Haven,
I haven’t had a chance to write you a letter in a while. Everything got crazy after you accepted me, with us finding Lennox, then traveling to Greece and meeting Selene, and then Pierce’s challenge. And then, after all of that was over, we lived in this little blissful bubble, and I didn’t feel the need to write to you.
But tonight—tonight, I will give you my mark. Tonight, we will complete our bond. I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about this night a lot. I have thought about it since the day I left you crying in your apartment, and I decided I would find a way to win your heart and make you mine. Before I even knew you were my mate.
I never would have thought I would be so lucky to meet my mate in my childhood. Few werewolves can say that. Although, not many werewolves can say their mate is the daughter of Selene, either.
Seriously, though, Haven, I am so lucky to have you as a mate. Every day, you inspire me to be a better man, a better mate, a better alpha. And I hope someday (when you’re ready) you will inspire me to be a better father for our children.
I can’t wait for tonight. I can’t wait to make you mine forever. To put my mark on you for everyone to see, for everyone to know that we belong to each other. I can’t wait to spend the rest of our lives together.
Forever Your Pal,
And on they went. A letter for every event over our year together—our first Christmas as mates, the spring festival, the night of our alpha and luna ceremony—all of it in the box, all of it memorialized in his handwriting and his thoughts and reactions and words to me.
With each letter, my heart swelled more, and the tears forming in my eyes could no longer stay there. They fell down my cheeks, unfettered. I didn’t try to wipe them away or hide them. There was no point because the flood falling from my eyes would just replace what I had removed.
I finally reached the last one, and I took in a deep breath. I didn’t understand it. How, with every day we spent together, he still found ways to surprise me, to show me his love knew no end.
To some, these brief letters would just be a piece of paper, but to me, to us—they were so much more. They were a symbol of our past, brought into our future. They were what linked us together from the start and what would always link us together.
He watched me intently as I lifted the last envelope and opened it. I took my time, taking care not to tear the envelope, and I unfolded it, finding the shortest letter he’d ever written to me.
Dear Pen Pal,
Will you marry me?
The paper fluttered out of my hands, floating to the ground. Behind the paper, Wesley was on his knee, holding a ring out to me in his hand. A yellow gold ring with a twisting band and a beautiful opal framed by a small diamond on each side.
My lip quivered, and a choked sob escaped from my body as my hands came up to cover my mouth.
“Wesley,” I rasped out, leaning forward and wrapping my arms around him.
He clutched me to him, one hand on the back of my neck and the other around my waist. I cried into the lapels of his black suit jacket, not caring about staining it with my tears.
“I thought werewolves don’t have weddings?” I muttered through my tears.
“We don’t,” he agreed, rubbing my neck. “But humans do. And you’ve accepted all of our traditions with grace and an open mind. The least I can do is give you this human tradition.”
I pulled back to look into his eyes. “I don’t need a wedding, Wesley.”
“But you want one,” he breathed. “You may not have told me you do, but I know you, and I know you want a wedding. So I’m going to give you one.”
I opened my mouth, and he said, “I know, I know—pretty presumptuous of me to assume you would want to marry me.”
I smirked. “Actually, I was going to say yes.”
He pressed his lips to mine, his hand wrapping around my neck and his thumb stroking my throat, moving down to my mating mark. My entire body shuddered against his as he brushed over it with his fingers, my moan swallowed by his mouth.
“Give me your hand,” he whispered against my lips, kissing me again.
I held it out without hesitation, letting him slip the ring on, both of us looking down at my fingers as he did. The smooth opal stone shimmered in the starlight, and he lifted my hand to his lips, kissing the ring on my finger.
“I love you, Haven,” he murmured, pulling me to my feet and wrapping his arms around me again.
“I love you too,” I replied, snuggling into him as the wind picked up around us, rustling the flora of the garden.
I closed my eyes and smiled, picturing the future as we stood embracing in the theater’s garden. A future I would get to experience with my mate.
With my pen pal.