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Chapter 17: Meeting

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I sit in the living room off of the study as Theo and Corbin prepare for my meeting with my mom and Lily. It hasn't been long since I last saw them, but it feels much longer.

My family hasn't always been ideal in the ways we function—I wished my parents could be more forgiving or open-minded—but we've never been at odds like we are now. We've never been at war with each other, but, even if I could've predicted this intense of a division, I wouldn't have thought I'd be on the opposing side alone.

I slept in the guest bedroom again last night, and I'm not sure why because it's easier to sleep in Theo's bed, but his scent must be fading from the sheets by now.

All of this distance and coolness between us isn't putting me in the greatest mood to confront my family. I couldn't imagine saying no to this meeting, though. Lily's panicked by the prospect of war, and I'll try to console her despite knowing Theo's attack is looming on the horizon.

I look up when Theo and Corbin come out of the study.

"We're ready to go," Theo says. "The two other guards are meeting us at the border."

I follow them to the foyer as Theo fills in Corbin on the particulars of my meeting, where he and the other guards will be taking me, and where they'll wait for me to finish. Theo adds, "We agreed to let them talk in privacy but don't go too far. If she shouts, you should be able to hear her."

"And Rowan's Beta is adhering to that?" Corbin questions, disbelieving.

"Unless he wants this to become our first battle, he will." Theo holds the door for me and eyes me as I walk out. "If anything happens, Celeste, you shift and run back. Don't wait for Corbin or anyone."

I say, "Okay," but if Lily was caught up in a dangerous situation, I couldn't turn my back on her and save myself. When we swam at the lake, I was her raft. When she had a tear-worthy nightmare, I welcomed her into my bed. My protectiveness can't be thwarted by our mates, our mother, or any amount of unclaimed land between us. She needs me now more than ever, and I can't keep cowering behind Theo's border. Mom's nonsense and Ben's hatred for the Draven pack are poisoning her thoughts—I know she wouldn't be acting like she has without them in her ear.

Theo shuts the door, and Corbin starts walking, so I wander after him but my mate surprises me by taking my hand. I look down at the connection like a phantom touch, but it's real, and he doesn't match my confusion.

Hand-in-hand, he walks us to Corbin and beyond. He talks effortlessly about avoiding an altercation while the sensation of touching makes it hard for my feet to move one in front of the other. Days without contact—without him holding me in bed—must have made me touch-starved.

I'm mad at him, I remind myself, but I can't let go.

Two wolves wait for us with another unshifted guard at the Eastern border post, a small building with a slim wood tower that sits just above the treetops. From below, the lookout makes me grateful for being on the ground. One strong gust of wind, and I wonder if the thing could be toppled—probably not, but I still wouldn't climb up.

Theo lets go, and my chin drops from the tower to my empty hand.

"Ready to shift?" Corbin asks me.

"I guess so. Should I just..." I gesture to the trees behind me.

Theo surveys the shifted guards with crossed arms, seeming more judgmental than usual. "Maybe I should come."

"Whoa," Corbin says, "that wasn't part of the agreement. No Alphas. That's what you told me."

"Their Beta is her sister's mate; he's looking after her. Celeste is my mate, so I should be able to do the same."

Corbin steps closer to Theo, speaking quieter. "I've got it handled. We'll be careful."

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