I'm standing in the same room I woke up in this morning, with Clem doing her best to make me look presentable at this party, wondering what I've gotten myself into. When Gabriel said a party, I kind of assumed that meant like a casual barbeque or something, but Clem is searching for a dress that I should wear.
"I still don't understand why we're all getting dressed up," I grumble as I slip out of yet another outfit that she's deemed unacceptable.
"Because this is more than a simple backyard bash. It's kind of like your coming out party, in a way. Everybody wants to meet their Luna and you're supposed to meet all of your pack," she explains.
"What's a Luna?" I ask, taking a new dress from her hands.
She sighs, "We Werewolves believe in the moon goddess, right?" she asks, making sure I'm with her. I nod, since it seems like that's what I'm supposed to do, but really, how was I supposed to know about some kind of moon goddess? "Well, the Alpha female is supposed to be the human embodiment the moon goddess, like an earthly extension of her."
I raise my eyebrows. "So everybody at this party thinks that I'm a goddess?" I ask monotonously, amused but also incredibly intimidated. I finish pulling the dress on over my head and straighten everything out.
She shrugs, "Kind of, but not really? I guess the best way to describe it is that we all know that you're not a goddess, but we also believe that a part of her spirit resides in you. None of us are expecting you to be capable of anything supernatural. That would be kind of cool though," she trails off, distracted by her new train of thought.
I snort, "Supernatural? Like turning into a wolf?"
She rolls her eyes at me and takes a step back, looking my body up and down, "I think we have it." I look down too, having not paid much attention to it before.
It's a light bubblegum pink. The style is similar to the dress I wore yesterday, but the fabric is a lacey texture and the arms go down to my elbows, where the fabric ruffles down to the middle of my forearms.
"This really isn't my style," I comment, realizing that the majority of my wardrobe consists of dark colors.
"You look amazing, now put these on," she says. I look over and see her holding a pair of tan tights in her hand.
"I'm not wearing those," I say, crossing my arms.
She rolls her eyes, "Yes, you are. Even though a lot of the pack won't care, some important people won't support you if you don't dress appropriately. Now stop whining and put them on."
I take them from her, but I'm not happy abou tit. "You know, the way you're bossing me around makes me wonder why you're not the Luna," I tell her, sitting on the bed and struggling to work the material up my legs.
"Yikes," she says, her eyes widening dramatically, "I'd never want to be Luna. I'm really not reliable enough for the job. I mean, I bet it'd be cool for a little bit, but I'm awful in tight situations and I get really panicky if somebody's not around to tell me what to do."
I grin, "I hate it when people tell me what to do. Gabriel says that'll make for a good Alpha female." Just saying his name has my whole body in tingles. The kisses we shared earlier today still take my breath away. I've done my fair share of kissing, it was never like that. Gabriel made everything in me grow weak. In those few moments, I felt like I was exactly where I belonged. Unfortunately, we had to get back to the territory and Gabriel had to go get some pack business done while I get ready. I can't wait to see him again, though.
Clemency laughs and nods, "Yes, you'll make a wonderful Luna, Avenue."
I finish pulling the tights up, hopping a bit at the end to pull the top up to my waist. "I have a question," I say, a little nervous to ask.
"Hmm?" she asks, digging through her makeup bag.
"Once I actually become the Luna and shift and stuff, will you still treat me like this?" I ask softly.
Her head snaps up and I quickly begin talking again, "It's just that you're becoming such a great friend and people already treat me differently even though I'm not really anything to the pack yet and it'd just really suck if you started being all formal and everything," I ramble.
Clem giggles, "I can treat you anyway you want. If you prefer me acting like this, which let's be honest, is more than likely anyways, I'll do it. If you want me to be formal, I'll try to respect your wishes."
"I want you to treat me just like you did in the coffee shop. Before you knew anything about me other than I didn't know I was a werewolf," I say quickly.
"Then that's what I'll do," she says simply, leaning forward to begin putting makeup on my face.
"I'm not really used to wearing very much makeup," I warn her.
"Don't worry, I'm only putting a little eyeliner, mascara, blush and lipstick. You're naturally beautiful so I don't want to ruin it by painting over it."
I nod, fighting not to blush at the compliment, and let her do her thing.
By the end of our little session, my hair is done in loose curls that fall effortlessly down my back and my makeup is flawless. The dress is still something that I wouldn't have picked out for myself, but it's growing on me. Clem practically forces my feet into a pair of heeled brown ankle booties with little ties at the back.
"Am I presentable?" I ask, spinning around.
She smiles proudly and nods, "Yep, I think you are. You stay right here and I'll go get Gaby for you."
Clem skips downstairs, leaving me alone in the hallway.
I sigh and lean against the wall, crossing my arms and staring at my feet.
"She's right upstairs," I hear Clem's voice drift to me from the first floor, then I hear the thumping of footsteps before Gabriel steps around the corner and sees me.
"Hi!" I say, instantly happy to be near him.
"Hi," he says, smiling back as he reaches out to me.
"How was the business you had to take care of?" I ask, staring dazedly up at his face, a silly smile on my lips.
"Boring. How was getting ready with Clem?" His grin turns into a smirk when I wrinkle my nose. "That bad, huh?"
I shrug, "It wasn't that bad. I'm just not used to having someone help me get ready like that."
He steps back and looks at what I'm wearing for the first time. "Well, you look incredible. There are a lot of elder members of the pack who are still pretty traditional in their ways. They'll like seeing somebody so young that doesn't go around showing a lot of skin." He pauses and makes his voice go lower as he murmurs, "Plus, I'm pretty sure the fabric will remind them of their childhood curtains…"
I gasp and lightly slap his arm as he starts chuckling. "That's mean! And I still don't understand why I had to wear this. My usual style doesn't show that much skin either," I say, frowning.
He raises an eyebrow, "Yesterday you came here in a dress that showed off your legs, chest, and arms."
"And a jacket!" I defend myself, realizing how that might've looked. "And if I'd known that I would be meeting a group of Werewolves, I might have dressed a little differently."
He laughs, "I'm sure you would have, but then I would've have gotten to see all of those delightful bits of skin."
I feel myself blush as Gabriel's eyes zero in on my neck and upper chest before he leans down and nips lightly at my barely exposed collarbone. I sigh and lean into him, resting my hands on his shoulders as his lips begin trailing up my neck and to my cheeks. He places a soft kiss on my nose before I can't stand it any longer and pull his lips to mine. It's not passionate like the ones we had earlier, but it doesn't fail to give me goosebumps all over.
We don't pull apart until somebody coughs behind Gabriel. Turning, we find a blushing, shy looking, guy who's probably a little older than me standing in front of us. "Alpha Gabriel, Miss," he says, nodding to each of us before turning back to Gabriel again, "People are beginning to arrive."
"Thank you, Tommy," Gabriel says.
Tommy turns to leave but I call out for him to stop, "Wait!" He turns to me again, waiting patiently as I take a step forward, "Please call me Avery," I tell him.
He frowns, "Yes, Miss Avery."
I shake my head, "No, just Avery. It's what I prefer. I'd also appreciate it if you'd try to spread the word a bit. Please be clear that if anybody doubts you they can feel free to ask me themselves." I smile politely and wait for his response.
"So you want me to address you informally?" he asks slowly, moving his gaze from me to Gabriel.
I take a large step to the side and block his view of his alpha. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying," I say, speaking clearly. He seems to understand now and turns to leave, "Thank you, Tommy," I call after him.
I turn around to find Gabriel smiling at me. "What?" I ask, suddenly self conscious.
"You handled that really well," he says proudly, making me blush a little. "However, are you sure you want them calling you by your first name?" he asks, putting a hand on my back before leading me down the hall to a bedroom I haven't been in before. I assume it's his when he guides me to sit on the bed and then begins searching through the closet.
"I'm positive, actually," I say. "I think I'm a bit too young to be called Miss. Besides, I want people to feel like they can approach me and connect with me. You can't do that when you feel like you're insignificant compared to someone," I explain, thinking back to all of the people in my life who chose to go by formalities and I felt like I could never actually enjoy myself with them.
Gabriel walks out of the closet in dark pants and no shirt. My mouth waters as I look at his sculpted upper half. I knew he was fit, I could tell without even touching him that he would be, and when I did touch him he was like a rock, but actually seeing his body is completely different. I gulp and find myself unable to look away. "Avery? Avery…" I hear distantly. I only realize that I've been staring when his hand covers my eyes and I'm confused by the sudden dark. When I pull away and realize what I've just done, I gasp and cover my face with my hands.
"Oh my god, pretend that didn't just happen!" I demand, completely embarrassed.
I can hear Gabriel's loud, infectious laughter, so I peer through my fingers to see him holding his stomach as the laughter continues rolling from him. Once he's calmed down a bit and only a few chuckles are escaping his mouth, he cups my face in his hands, "Oh, honey," he says, bending down and kissing my forehead, "That was perfect." This makes him start laughing again, probably replaying the entire thing in his mind.
"Stop," I complain, finding it difficult not to laugh with him.
He just keeps chuckling as he looks for a shirt to wear. He ends up wearing a gray suit with a white button up shirt underneath. He leaves a few of the buttons undone and forgoes a tie.
"Nobody finds out about what just happened," I tell him as we walk hand in hand down the hallway.
Gabriel starts chuckling again but nods, "I'll do my best." When we reach the top of the staircase, he stops us. "I should warn you, there will be a lot of people down there."
I frown. "This isn't going to be one of those grand entry kind of things, will it?" I ask with distaste.
His simple grin tells me everything I need to know and I groan, "Gabriel."
"What?" he asks innocently before sighing, "Look, this is a big deal, okay? Twenty four is pretty old to be finding your mate. They were starting to think it'd never happen… So was I." That last part was said softly. Gabriel slowly nudges my chin up with his index finger so he can place a light kiss on my lips. "We're all glad I found you. Especially me."
I smile, "Even though I almost gave you a heart attack by nearly getting hit by a car?"
He growls at the memory, "Yes, even still. However, if you ever do something like that again you'll never be allowed to leave the territory again."
I raise one eyebrow at him, wondering if he remembers the chat we had at the store about his liberal use of the word "allowed".
Instantly he sighs, "Okay, so I can't actually keep you from leaving the territory, but I won't be happy about it."
I grin and tug on his hand. "Let's get this over with."
He laughs, "Geez Aves, control the enthusiasm."
I shake my head, finding that I really like the Gabriel that I'm beginning to see. Beyond being kind of grumpy and completely controlling, he's actually a sweet and funny guy.
As soon as I see the large crowd of people outside, I want to turn around. "You'll be fine," Gabriel promises, whispering in my ear.
I nod, but I don't really believe him. As soon as we entire the backyard, everybody goes silent. Gabriel's deep voice comes out loud and clear as he addresses his pack.
"Everybody, I would like you all to welcome someone very special to the pack. This is my mate, Avery." At his introduction, every person in front of us lowers to the ground and bows. It's overwhelming to see so many people do the same thing at one time.
We start making our way through the crowd, stopping to introduce me to every person we come across. Each person grabs by hand and squeezes once, welcoming me to their pack. I'm pretty sure that at least fifteen people call me Luna, and only one person gets on their knees to bow again. There's no way I can remember the name of each person here, but I manage to memorize a few.
A man, John, I think his name is, comes up and pulls Gabriel away for some more pack business. Gabriel sends me an apologetic look but I just smile and push lightly against him, "Don't worry about me. I understand." He still looks unsure, so I laugh and say, "Go." He smiles and kisses my temple before jogging off after the guy, stopping to stand with a group of older men.
I look around and see everybody talking and laughing with each other. I realize now what a tight community this is. Whether it's a pack of Werewolves or not, it's clear that these people are all family to each other. Standing by the food tables is a familiar face, so I make my way to him.
"Hey Ollie," I say, smiling at the huge man in front of me.
His face shows no emotion as he looks down at me, "Hello, Luna."
I scowl, "Please, call me Avery."
"Please, call me Oliver," he responds.
I smile widely, "But I really like calling you Ollie."
"And I really like calling you Luna," he says dryly.
"You know, I'm starting to think that that straight face is really just a secret smile," I say, bumping my shoulder into his side.
He huffs, "I don't smile."
"I'm sure you don't, Ollie."
He huffs again, but I can tell that he's warming up to me. "You know," I tell him, "you seem different than the people here."
"How so?" he asks, sounding like he doesn't care at all.
I don't mind his disinterest, though, and quickly fill him in on my thoughts. "Well, for starters, you're way bigger than anybody else here, and the men here are already huge. Plus, everybody else is busy enjoying themselves and the people around them while you're standing here, alone."
He's silent for a few moments and I wonder if I crossed a line or something. Then he answers, "I'm not a Werewolf."
I frown, "So you're just an insanely large human?"
"No… I'm a Werebear."
At first, I'm amused by the fact that Were and Bear rhyme. Then his words actually hit me. "Holy crap, there are Werebears?" I exclaim, absolutely amazed by this. A few people turn to look at us but quickly go back to minding their own business when they see that it's me.
For some reason, I never considered people being able to change into anything but a wolf. This is definitely exciting. "So you can literally just change into a bear?" I ask him excitedly. He nods and I laugh, "That is seriously the coolest thing I've ever heard! Can I see it?"
"No," he responds immediately, making me frown.
"Well obviously not now," I say, shaking my head.
"My bear isn't very good around humans, so until you shift, you'll be far away from me whenever I do," he says, leaving no room for discussion.
"Aww, Ollie, you care about me!" I coo, being intentionally annoying.
He grumbles something under his breath before I decide to take pity on him. "I'll leave you alone now, big guy. See you soon?" I ask, starting to walk away. He simply nods and goes back to avoiding me.
As I walk through the crowd, I happen to overhear a few people talking.
"Ugh," a woman groans, "she's a human! I mean, Gabriel could've done a lot better than her." I look and see that it's a girl with light blonde hair talking.
"Come on, Liz, she's his mate. You can't get better than a mate," A petite girl with a soft voice says.
"Whatever, like it even matters. You know how Gabriel is; soon he'll get bored and move on to the next girl. Mate or not, Gabriel is still Gabriel," that girl, Liz, says.
"I don't think that's how Mates work," the petite one starts talking only to be interrupted.
"Oh shut up, Ava, you don't even have a mate so what are you whining about?"
As far as I can tell, none of them have mates, so what she said doesn't make any sense.
Another girl jumps in, "Liz, stop being mean, you know she's a hopeless romantic."
"All I'm saying is that I'm the one who woke up in his bed the morning he met her. It should be me having this party, not her."
I feel like my entire heart has just dropped from my chest and I quickly walk away from the group of girls. Gabriel and I haven't talked about this yet, but hearing something like that hurts a lot more than I expected.
I don't really know what to do with myself now. I don't want to stay and pretend to fit in with all of these people, but I can't exactly leave. When I see a group of kids playing off to the side, I walk up to them. "Hey, do you guys mind if I play?" I ask, desperate for a distraction.
They all stop and stare at me, making me feel completely awkward, until one of the little boys points at my feet, "You can't play in those," he says.
I nod in agreement before crouching down and pulling them off. Then, I rip a hole in the bottom of each leg of my tights so I can slip my feet out and wear them like leggings. "Okay, whose team am I on?" I ask when the soccer ball drops to the ground.
"Mine!" they all shout, holding their hands up.
I laugh, "How about I go back and forth?"
They all nod and separate. I head to the group with the boy who first talked to me and we start to play. They're so competitive and skilled at the game that I find myself laughing at how horrible I am compared to them.
"You guys are way too good for me!" I exclaim a while later as I breathlessly plop down to the ground.
They all seem to follow my lead and sit in a circle, all facing me.
"So, what was it like thinking you were a human?" a little girl asks.
"I don't really know. It wasn't weird because I didn't know I was a Werewolf. In fact, finding out that Werewolves even exist is a little weirder than finding out that I am one," I admit.
"I like your name," a tiny girl says in a tiny voice.
I smile and look down at her. "Thank you. What's your name?"
"I'm Lilly," she tells me, smiling a gap-toothed smile where she lost her two front teeth. I stop myself from ‘awing' at her and instead tell her how pretty her name is. This seems to be the deciding factor for her because almost as soon as I say it, she's crawling toward me and sitting in my lap. I laugh and hug her close.
"What about you guys, what are your names?" I ask, looking around the group.
One by one they tell me their names and I find myself remembering each of them much easier than I did the adults. Raden is the boy who first spoke to me. He's also the oldest of the group. True is Lilly's big sister. Then there's Lia, Max, Conner, Madison, Iris, and Luca.
We continue talking and talking until I feel somebody wedge their way between me and Luca, who's sitting on my left. Lilly is still on my lap and Maddie is on my right. I turn to see who it is and frown when I see Gabriel. The kids are all completely silent and looking at him with wide eyes.
"Hey," I say, my voice hard.
"How's it going?" Gabriel asks us.
None of the kids are voluntarily speaking to him, which confuses me a bit, so I answer him, "It's going good. I didn't realize you guys had such amazing kids in the pack," I smile at each of them.
"We're not kids, we're pups!" Lilly tells me, lisping the entire time.
"Oh, you are?" I tease.
She nods and adds, "Yeah, and one day, I'm gonna be a wolf just like my mommy and daddy. It's gonna be so cool!"
"I'm sure it will be!" I tell her excitedly.
There are a few moments of awkward silence before I have an idea, "Hey guys, how about another game of Soccer? Alpha Gabriel can play with us too."
They all look at me with wide eyes, clearly thinking I'm crazy.
"That's a great idea, isn't it, Gabriel?" I ask him pointedly.
He smiles at me and nods his head, "I'd love to play with you guys if I can."
This sets all of the kids off in excited chatter as they jump up and start heading to their sides. I set Lilly down and watch as she runs ahead.
"What's up with them being so weird around you?" I ask him, pushing my frustrations about earlier to the side.
"What's up with you being so weird around me?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I tell him before running over to join a team.
For the rest of the game, I do my best to avoid Gabriel, even though he does his best to be beside me. I don't know what he wants from me. I've never felt like this before. I'm constantly stuck somewhere between being scared of everything happening so fast, excited to be around him, overwhelmed by how intensely I want him, and then now jealousy is added to the equation.
Gabriel's team wins by two points, which is mostly because they had Raden. I console my team, telling them we'll kick their butts next time, and then we all go our separate ways. Gabriel is walking by my side and I know I can't ignore him forever.
"You never did tell me why they acted so weird around you."
He shrugs, "I haven't had many opportunities to connect with the kids of the pack yet. None of them really know me."
"Well, that needs to change," I tell him firmly. "They're so great."
"I believe you. I never meant to not be close to them, but it's a lot of responsibility running a pack by yourself. I haven't had much time for anything else."
"Well, from what I heard, you've had plenty of time to open your bed to the world," I say even though I told myself I wouldn't mention it.
"What?" Gabriel frowns.
"I overheard someone talking about how you're a player and that pretty soon you'll be over me. I didn't mind until she mentioned being the one you woke up with the day you met me." Just saying it out loud hurts, but I know we have to talk about it.
"I don't really know what you want me to say," he says after a stretch of silence.
That hurts a little more, "It's cool. I don't really know why I even care." I try to move away from him, but he holds onto my arm and keeps me close.
"Avery, I…" he doesn't know what to say.
I force a smile onto my face. "Seriously, it's not like either of us expected this to happen. I can't be angry at you for living your life. I mean, I don't even know what the future holds for us. It's stupid for me to act like I have a right to be jealous. I think maybe it's a really good reminder that we just met, you know? I'll be going home in a few days, and you'll be staying here and that's all there is to it."
He runs a hand through his hair, disheveling it. "That's not all there is to it and you know it."
"I can't be with somebody I can't trust, Gabriel. Ever since we met, you've been telling me all about how we're made for each other and how you've been waiting your entire life for me. I believed you. Hell, I still do believe you, but it's clear now that our ideas of waiting for somebody are completely different. I want to be with somebody who thinks I'm special and worth actually waiting for. I'm not going to be sloppy tenths."
"That's not what you are to me. God, you know that! I have been honest with you. I've never, not for one second, been anything but. We are mates. We are made for each other. I have been waiting for you. Yes, I shared my bed with other women, but never, not for one second, did I confuse anything that I did with what I would share with you."
I let out a harsh laugh, tugging at my own hair, "Do you think that makes it better for me? How would you feel if I told you that yesterday, just hours before you met me, I'd been f****d by somebody else?"
His response is a growl so low and dangerous that I can feel it from three feet away. "Were you?" he asks, yelling, "were you with somebody?"
I shake my head, struggling between laughing and crying. "This is such a f*****g joke," I eventually say before turning away from him and walking into the house, up to my bedroom, and away from the entire day.