“Forty-nine bottles of beer on the wall, forty-nine bottles of beer...”
“Ugh,” I groaned as I leaned against the seat. My head was beginning to ache. There weren’t enough ear plugs to drown out the sound.
“You seem a little cranky.” Vinny Votelli glanced over at me with a curious look in his eyes. I was sure they’d been a chocolate brown when he was a human, but now that he was a ghost, they were the color of a light ale.
“Cranky is one way to put it,” I muttered under my breath. Seriously, to say that I was cranky would have been putting it mildly. It didn’t even begin to describe the emotions I was feeling. Irritated beyond belief was much more like it.
“We’ll be there soon,” he tried to reassure me, patting my shoulder, even though all I could feel was a cool breeze sweep against my skin at his transparent, ghostly touch. “Then you can take a nap. Which I think would be a really good idea. You really seem to need one.”
I rolled my eyes at him, even though he wasn’t wrong. I was exhausted. None of us had slept since we’d left New Jersey for North Dakota twenty-three hours ago, and although werewolves technically didn’t need to sleep unless we got into a fight or did something that drained of us of our energy, I’d been struggling to keep my eyes open all evening. I’d been drinking coffee like it was going out of style, but it was barely helping at this point. My eyelids felt like heavy weights that I couldn’t seem to keep open.
Not that I would have actually been able to fall asleep and stay asleep even if I wanted to. Colby Jackson was on my last nerve. I wasn’t sure how his mate, Emma Taylor, was able to put up with him all day. I would go insane.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Colby was incredibly nice. There was no doubt in my mind that he was a good guy, and he really seemed to love both Emma and the rest of the Tala pack tremendously. But for the entire car ride, he had been the bane of my existence.
As if spending all this time together in the RV we’d rented for the trip wasn’t bad enough, Colby Jack’s influence had led Declan, Oliver, and Thane to sing annoying songs for the past five consecutive hours (which had, quite possibly, been the longest hours of my life). He’d somehow even managed to get typically boring, no-fun-to-be-around, stick-up-his-butt Akar to sing. But instead of recognizing the miracle in that, the only thing I could seem to think about was the fact I’d been listening to the guys sing “The Song That Never Ends,” “There’s a Hole in My Bucket,” and other songs I’d been trying my hardest not to pay attention to.
They’d been singing, “99 Bottles of Beer” for about the seventh time. They’d only reached 45 bottles of beer on the wall, and I was already contemplating tossing Colby—and anyone else who didn’t stop singing—out of the RV.
“Okay, Colbs, you’re going to pull off at this next exit. The motel should be right here on the left,” Samara said, raising her voice over everyone’s singing.
“Will do,” Colby mumbled before resuming the song as he turned off onto the exit.
Samara glanced over her shoulder at me, darting her golden brown eyes over in my direction and shooting me a small, apologetic smile. I was pretty sure that, like me, their singing was driving her nuts, too. It also seemed like she somehow felt responsible for it, probably because her pack member was the one who had gotten the ball rolling.
When Colby pulled the car into the parking lot, everyone finally shut up. I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
As I unsnapped my seatbelt, Emma tossed her long, straight blonde hair over one shoulder and wrinkled her nose as she stared out the window. “Okay, this is so not the place we made reservations for online.”
“It looks the same to me,” Akar replied with a shrug.
“No. No, it doesn’t,” she replied firmly. “It looks shady—like the type of place you’d probably find bedbugs at.”
“It does,” Colby agreed. “Or fleas. And the last thing we need is another flea infestation.”
“You’re right about that,” Samara agreed. “I’m not in the mood to comb fleas off of you guys again.”
“I don’t think I even want to know.” I shuddered. I’d never heard of any wolves getting a flea infestation, but just the thought of those creepy little buggers crawling around on my skin and biting at it gave me the heebie jeebies.
“Trust me, you don’t.” Samara laughed.
“Well, unfortunately, this was the only place with vacancy,” Declan said as he rose to his feet to climb out of the RV. “So I guess that means we’re stuck here.”
“Hopefully we get those twins back soon so we won’t have to stay here for long,” Emma muttered as we all piled out onto the parking lot.
As I stretched my legs, relieved to finally stand up, I silently hoped we would get the twins back soon, too. But for me, it had nothing to do with the motel. I didn’t care where we stayed. I’d literally lived in a cave for almost my entire life, so it didn’t matter to me where we slept.
I was just worried about Chance and Hunter. I’d grown up with them, so of course all I could do was wonder if they were okay. I was worried they were scared or that the pack they were being forced to stay with wasn’t treating them well.
“I’m going to go check in,” Declan said as he turned for the motel.
Samara fell into place alongside him. “I’ll go with you.”
I watched as the two of them headed into the main lobby to check in, unable to ignore the twinge of jealousy. She wasn’t much older than me, and yet, somehow, she’d found her mate already... and he wasn’t even the first one. She’d also been mated to Luke Davenport before he’d been killed.
Akar glanced over at me with a knowing look in his eyes. He must have been listening in on my thoughts, as usual. He thought I was too young to worry about finding my mate—that I had my whole life to meet him. And even though I knew he was right, it didn’t make me want to find my mate any less.
I’d been trying to fight against the feelings, especially since I knew my primary focus should have been on finding Chance and Hunter ASAP. But being around Samara and Declan, who seemed to have the most perfect relationship, and even Colby and Emma, who just seemed to fit together like two pieces of a very oddly-shaped puzzle, made me realize how much I hated being alone. I wanted someone whose thoughts I could hear, someone who I could be connected to.
Of course, I knew that I probably should have been content with my love life at the moment. Just two nights ago, I’d kissed Milo, the guy who I’d been crushing on. And it had felt so right. The only problem?
Although he had werewolf genes, Milo was a human, which made things...well, slightly complicated, to say the least. While relationships with humans technically weren’t forbidden in the werewolf world, Johnny V., the former Alpha of the Koto pack, had forbidden anyone in our pack from being in one. What was more complicated was that Johnny had been murdered two days earlier, and, as far as I knew, fate hadn’t chosen anyone to replace him yet. I wasn’t sure how that would affect anyone in the Koto pack if we wanted to date anyone who wasn’t a werewolf in the future, but for now, one thing was for sure: I was going to make sure that Milo stayed far away from us.
As it was, I’d already allowed him to get far closer than he ever should have gotten. I’d put his life at risk by making him a part of mine, all because I had feelings for him. It was the most selfish thing I ever could have done. And if it wasn’t bad enough that I’d put him at risk, his sister, Kristina, who also happened to be one of my best friends, had been hospitalized due to me. Whoever had killed Amanda had pushed her off a balcony in an attempt to kill her and most likely frame me. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she never would have gotten caught up in this whole mess if it weren’t for me and my pack moving to Rosa.
My cell phone beeped from inside of my pocket. Pulling it out, I glanced down at the new message that filled the screen.
Speak of the devil. It was Milo.
I ignored his text message and shoved the cell phone back inside my pocket. I needed to be firm on this. I couldn’t give into him, no matter how badly I may have wanted to. He’d actually offered to come to North Dakota with me, to help us get Chance and Hunter back, but I wouldn’t let him. I couldn’t let him. Humans needed to stay out of werewolf affairs, so unless I decided to bite him and make him a wolf, too, that meant I needed to keep Milo as far away from us as possible. It was just safer for him that way.
“Okay, so we got the keys,” Samara’s said, her voice cutting through my thoughts. “We have three rooms—two rooms for the boys and one for the girls.” She glanced at the numbers on the doors of the motel rooms and said, “We’re right here, actually. Rooms twelve, thirteen, and fourteen.”
“You mean... I have to sleep in a different room from Colby?” Emma’s grew wide with horror.
I tried to stifle a giggle at how adorable it was, even if it did sort of border on pathetic. And then the realization that her reaction was exactly the way I wanted to react to not being able to spend the night in the same room as someone hit me.
“We’re only going to have to do this for a few nights,” Samara said. Then quietly, she added, “I hope.” Even though she didn’t say it, it was obvious from the tone of her voice that she wasn’t happy about spending the night away from Declan, either.
As both sets of mates said their goodnights, Thane turned to me. “Goodnight, Skye.”
“Goodnight.” I shifted in my shoes awkwardly. I wasn’t sure how to react to him. Even though he and I hadn’t gotten along for the past week or so, I’d ended up waking him up and, ultimately, saving his life after he’d almost been killed by a silver bullet two days earlier. The old myth said that the love of a werewolf’s life could wake them up, but, according to Colby, it usually only applied to mates. Though I wasn’t actually sure if I was Thane’s mate or not, it did help him to recover.
I was grateful that he’d survived. The idea that he could have died had absolutely killed me, especially because I felt somewhat responsible for the gun wound. If Thane hadn’t followed me from Alaska to live in New Jersey, he never would have gotten himself caught up in this whole mess. But he had and he’d done it for me, which was why I felt like it was my fault.
There was a part of me that felt like I should hug him, because I was relieved he’d lived, but there was a bigger part of me that didn’t want to send him the wrong message, either. I didn’t want him to think that I was in love with him the way he was with me, or that I wanted us to be mates. Even though I did love Thane, I wasn’t sure what it meant exactly. Hugging him would only blur the lines and complicate things. I didn’t want either of us to get our hopes up in case we didn’t turn out to be each other’s mate.
So, instead, I took a step back as I waited for Samara and Emma to detach themselves from their mates.
“Skye?” I heard someone call my name.
I glanced over my shoulder to find Akar staring back at me. “Goodnight,” he said when my eyes locked on his.
My lips curved into a small smile. “Goodnight.”
Samara peeled herself from Declan’s embrace and said, “We’ll take Room Thirteen. You guys can have the other two keys.” She handed them over to him and then stepped onto the sidewalk alongside me. She unlocked the door, revealing the musty scent of the room, and flicked on the lamp.
“Ugh, I reiterate: this is so not the place we booked online,” Emma complained as she entered the room. She sighed as she shut and locked the door behind her and set her bags down on the floor.
“It’s just going to have to do for a night or two, Em.”
“I guess. But I refuse to sleep on the actual mattress. I’ll cover it with my own blankets, thank you very much,” she said as she began to spread a red blanket out on the comforter.
“Okay.” Samara glanced over at me. “Skye, you can take that bed and I’ll share with Emma.”
Emma glanced over at Samara with curious eyes. “How are you feeling, by the way? The car ride wasn’t too much for you... was it?”
“I’m...okay.” Samara’s face seemed to drain of all color, and her body seemed to stiffen with uneasiness. “Doesn’t this feel like old times? Having a girl’s night?” she asked in what I could have sworn was her best effort to change the subject. It seemed like she wanted to avoid talking about whatever was going on in front of me. And even though part of me felt slightly left out, it wasn’t like I knew either of them that well. We’d only met for the first time two days earlier.
“Yeah, except I don’t remember ever having a girl’s night in a shady place like this.” Emma shrugged and then yawned. “And I used to be able to stay up all hours of the night, but I’m exhausted. Seriously, if I have to hear about another beer on the wall, I think I might throw a bottle at someone’s head.”
I laughed. “I’m glad I’m not the only one who found that annoying.”
“Oh, trust me. You don’t know the half of it. You should listen in on my mate’s thoughts for, like, an hour. Colby can be really funny and sweet sometimes, but then there are other times when I wish he would just take a nap so I don’t have to listen to him.”
“But you still love him?” I asked with raised brows.
She nodded. “That’s the thing, Skye. It’s what sets your mate apart from everyone else you’ve ever known. There are going to be moments when you can’t stand him, when you completely loathe him... but you still love him anyway. You’d rather die than not love him. Your souls will be forever intertwined, whether you want them to be or not, so you get used to it. You overlook every single one of his annoying habits and all of his flaws, and you do it out of love.”
As Emma climbed onto the bed and flicked the lamp off, I allowed her words to sink in. The way I felt about Thane was exactly the way Emma was describing Colby. Even though he had so many habits and quirks about him that drove me nuts, there was a part of me that overlooked them. I overlooked them because I cared about him; I couldn’t deny that. No matter what happened, I was positive that I would always care about Thane.
Did that mean he really was my mate?