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Chapter 31: Again

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At exactly ten o'clock, I leave Maude at the pack house and follow the route we took yesterday to my mom and sister's guest house. The weather—still on its downward trend—is cooler and darker as the summer is officially behind us. Blocks of somber clouds blow lazily overhead, but even in their breaks, sunlight doesn't shine through, and the horizon shows no promise of better conditions. Actually, it looks like it might rain by the end of the hour.

The sky isn't the only overcast thing about this morning, however. I woke up annoyed in my empty bed after the same dream as yesterday morning roused me out of sleep. From the looks of it, Theo never came home as I expected he wouldn't. His scent is ebbing out of the room again.

The abrupt ending to my reoccurring dream is no longer my biggest frustration; it's the distance between me and my mate—something I dreaded happening ever since our last quiet spell.

I know my reaction to Theo's war decisions is playing a large role in our detachment, but I can't force my views on killing and fighting to change just because I'm mated to an Alpha who's particularly gifted at them. My life was restricted and monitored at Rowan but it was also free of war, border infiltrations, death, and the perception that violence is an acceptable response.

But I've also learned how fabricated Rowan's pleasantries can be, so maybe I'm better off living the truth than I lie, even if the truth can be brutal.

I hurry to the covered porch of the guest house but stop just shy of knocking. I lower my knuckles at the sound of Lily's shouting.

"I can't do that!"

Our mother's response is too muffled to hear.

"Ben died. My mate is dead—he's never coming back—our bond was shredded in my chest—do you know how that feels? You don't! If you did, you wouldn't ask these things of me!"

"Lily! Compose yourself!" Mom demands, probably worried neighbors or Draven members outside will overhear them.

"No! Celeste is right. S-she's right about you and Dad, a-and I should have listened to her." Lily's shouts wither into soft cries. I press my ear to the door.

"I know it hurts, Lily, believe me. But weeping and lying in bed isn't going to save you from the realities out there. You can't depend on your sister to protect you when she has yet to protect herself." Mom pauses and then says, "Do what I'm telling you to do. I'm the only person truly looking out for you."

"I can't." Lily's voice becomes so small that I can hardly hear her. "He's not Ben."

"No one will ever be Ben, but Alpha Belrose understands your pain—he's felt it. What more could you hope for than a partner who understands you?"

Lily cries, and my hand wraps around the door handle, squeezing. Mom wants Lily to offer herself to Alpha Belrose as I was meant to do.

Belrose's pack must be where Dad ran off to.

"I-I need time," Lily says.

"You know there isn't any—your father's waiting for us."

I rap my knuckles on the door and a second later, Lily is swinging it open with watery eyes and pink cheeks. Mom appears some steps behind her, but Lily comes out onto the porch and shuts the door behind her, seemingly without a second thought.

She moves past me. "Can we go somewhere else?"

I spin around and catch up to Lily as she storms along the walkway. "Mom wants you to offer yourself to Belrose? To be his Luna?"

She wipes furiously under her eyes, hiccupping tragic laughs.

"Is she insane?"

"She wants me to be a Luna," Lily says jokingly. "I was mated to a Beta, and she was satisfied, but Ben..." Her feet halt and her hands come to her face.

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