“I know you wanted to spend spring break with your friends at the lake, but I promise, you will like everyone.” Emma frowned. Since they’d packed up their car earlier that morning and left their apartment, her sister hadn’t said a word. “Please talk to me.” She hated when Cassidy shut her out, especially when they were both doing something new, like taking a trip with someone else’s family.
They'd grown up together for a short time, at least. Emma had raised her sister from the minute she'd been born, literally. Their mother died in childbirth, and their father, bless his soul, had passed within days of their mother. The powerful connection between mates left an indelible mark on his soul. The doctor called it a broken heart. She believed it. They'd been together for twenty years before she'd been born. When she was six, Cassidy had been born—all chubby and pink. Emma still liked to tease her about it every so often.
Thankfully, her parents had left them with enough—everything—to survive. Emma and Cassidy both had trust funds, their educations had been provided for, and their clan had made sure they had somewhere to call home . . . until the new alpha arrived. Then, they ended up in the human foster-care system with only the clothes on their backs and two bottles of formula for her sister. She realized, even at a young age, the alpha had done it in spite.
It pissed Ulric off when he couldn't touch their money, and for that, she'd been grateful to her parents. It came in handy when she matured out of the foster-care system and decided to adopt her sister. Spending twelve years in the human system and trying desperately not to shift, even though some humans knew of their existence, had been the hardest thing Emma or Cassidy had ever done.
When they arrived at Turnskin University, the first thing they’d done together was run through the hills as bears. It was the first time in many years that she heard her sister laugh. Emma promised herself, from that day on, she’d make sure she heard it every day, no matter what.
“They’re all older,” Cassidy whined. “What am I supposed to talk about with any of them?”
“Everything,” Emma answered. “They’re going to love you. I think once you get to know them, you’ll like them, too. From what I understand, Bell and Hayden have cousins . . . younger ones, your age, I think. They’ll all be there.”
Her sister still didn’t look convinced. “We’ll see.” Cassidy crossed her arms as they pulled into the small parking lot of Sigma Epsilon Xi that Mr. Dryer, and his brothers, built for Bell, when they added onto the house.
Since the third week of September, the house had been a flurry of action, becoming a renovation dream and nightmare. Between Bell having to submit blueprints to the college, to her father adding onto the house, it sometimes seemed like an uphill process. The one saving grace; Mr. Dryer had ordered prefabricated house frames. In three days’ time, he had the whole new section of the sorority house assembled. From there, it had taken a few more months to finish building the rest of the house.
By January, people were moving in, while others were finding their mates, and she sat on the outside looking in. Not because she didn’t have a special someone she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, she did.
He didn’t know, though.
“Not like we can go home,” her sister sighed. “I wish we could.”
So did Emma. “Me, too. But, hey, home is where our heart is. We’ve done well together. You’re almost a senior, and you’ve got colleges vigorously trying to recruit you. You should be so proud of yourself, Cassidy. Mom and Dad would be.”
“Yeah, maybe.” She sat forward and looked out the windshield. “So, this is the place, huh? Pretty big.”
Mr. Dryer tried to stay with the original look of the house. The same off-white stucco they blew onto the new sections of the house matched the front, same with the trim color. All told, they added six new bedrooms, three bathrooms, a study room, and an entertainment room, to an already four-bedroom house. Those who wanted to live there after they pledged could, and those who wanted to visit, could. With the added land Bell received after winning her case, her uncles also built them an area for picnic tables and a gazebo. It gave all of them a place to safely run and enjoy the outdoors.
“Cool.” Cassidy popped opened the door and got out. “Where are we putting our stuff?”
Emma glanced out into the parking lot where two SUVs and two trucks sat. “I think over there.” She pointed to the vehicles as she got out with her sister.
“Are we going to fit?” Cassidy cocked a brow.
“We should.” Emma closed the door to her car. “Come on, let’s go see what everyone is doing, and then, we’ll load up our stuff.”
Three weeks ago, Hayden had come to her excited as all get out. Her stepmom, Loraine, was in the final weeks of her pregnancy, and the baby was due any day now. She wanted to go home, so she could be there for the birth and spend some time with her parents, but she also wanted to celebrate everything with her friends. So, they made a sign-up list, all of Hayden's family would be going to Window Rock, Arizona, including a few of her closest friends, like Emma and her sister.
Emma knocked on the door and waited. When it opened, she was greeted by a very loud, very rambunctious group of people. Hayden grinned and ushered them inside. “Hey, Emma! Wait . . . I don't think we've met.” Hayden's curious, blue-eyed gaze latched onto Cassidy. “I'm Hayden, and you are?”
“Cassidy, younger sister and tag-along.” Her sister grinned, and her brown eyes glittered with mischief.
Hayden glanced at Emma. “Dude, why didn’t you tell us?”
She shrugged. “I guess, I got comfortable.” She hadn’t said anything because it seemed the more she talked about raising her sister, the more people pulled away. Most of the time, they muttered about baggage and too much responsibility. She didn’t see it as such. Emma would do anything for her sister.
“People are dip shits,” Cassidy explained. “They give Emma a hard time when she tells them about me.”
Emma’s eyes grew round with surprise. “Cassidy!”
“What? It’s true. You and I both know it. It’s easier to have friends when people are in the dark. I get it.” Her sister shrugged.
“Well,” Hayden said, ushering them in. “Any sister of Emma’s is welcome here. We are, after all, a couple of misfits.”
“Cool.” Cassidy shrugged. “So, when are we leaving?”
Hayden glanced around. “Soon. I think everyone is here.”
Across the way, Emma caught a glimpse of Bodhi–the reason she’d agreed to this little trip. For the last ten months, he’d been all she could think of. If he’d known how deeply she’d cared for him, he’d probably think she had psycho tendencies. He was handsome–tall, muscular with rugged, good looks. He always had a few days’ worth of scruff on his cheeks. She noticed when Hayden and Bell’s family worked on the house, they all kind of had it. He had piercing, blue eyes, a shade darker than Hayden’s, and full lips.
He didn’t walk, either; he stalked everything. Emma sometimes wondered if he realized he did it. Probably not. He was also on TSU's football team. He caught the ball when Alex threw it, which had been the extent of her sports knowledge. And, every cheerleader, football groupie, and basic girl in college wanted him.
Which meant, once more, Emma was on the outside looking in.
“Bodhi’s here,” Hayden said, pulling Emma out of her thoughts. “You should go say hi to him.”
“We’ll have plenty of time later . . . on the road . . . you know,” she answered, growing more bashful by the second. She questioned whether or not Hayden had read her thoughts or maybe she’d said his name out loud, again, and hadn’t realized it.
Her friend leaned in. “Your secret is safe with me, but between us, you need to talk to him. He likes you.”
Emma snorted, then instantly regretted it when all eyes were on her. “No thanks.”
Hayden pulled her through the crowd towards their renovated kitchen. “Look, he likes you and has been working up the courage to talk to you.” She glanced over her shoulder. “I know how intimidating he can look, but you have to understand, he’s always been a little . . . unsure.”
Emma narrowed her eyes. “What? Why? I don’t understand.”
“Look, it’s not my part of the story to tell, but give him a break, okay? He’s not the kind of guy you think he is.”
“What’s your part of the story?” Curiosity gripped Emma. She had to know everything. Wanted all the small details, the minutest parts of their lives. Yep, definitely entering psycho territory.
“Mine?” Hayden shrugged. “Our car broke down in front of my uncle’s Sheriff’s department.”
Confused, Emma shook her head. “I don’t think I understand. Weren’t you raised together? We know Loraine is your step-mom, you tell us all the time, but nothing else.”
“It'll be easier to show you than to tell you,” she announced, turning her back towards the crowd. “Which means, you have to pick a car.”
“I think I should pick one with enough room for Cassidy and me,” she said before nibbling on her lip.
“Yeah, so, Miss-I-have-my-own-secrets, why didn’t you tell us about Cassidy?”
They walked through the group of people still inside the house to where Bell stood holding a clipboard. “Well . . . everyone sees her as a complication. I see her as the last bit of my family, and I'd do anything for her.”
“You never have to feel like that around us. We would have always accepted her as part of the prick,” Hayden replied.
Emma cocked a brow. “Prick?”
Hayden nodded. “We’re trying out new variations of what we are. “Last week it was paid.”
“Um . . .”
“It’s a work in progress,” Hayden stated.
“Hey guys,” Bell said with an easy-going grin. “Have you signed up for a car to ride in?”
“No,” Emma answered. “I need space for two. Me and Cassidy.”
Bell glanced at the list. “Cassidy signed up for Tate's truck. She'll be with Tate, of course, Henry, Victor, and Shelly. By the way, who's Cassidy?”
“My sister,” Emma answered. Maybe she’d been a little too cautious when it came to keeping things to herself. “Surprise.”
“I already gave her the speech, don’t look at me,” Hayden said shrugging as she squeezed past them. “Are we ready to get this shindig on the road?
“You and I have so much to talk about on the way,” Bell said, as they headed for the door. “Lucky for you, we have one more seat in Jackson’s truck.”
Emma grimaced. “I don’t know. I don’t want to interrupt anything with you, Christoph, or Jackson.”
“You won’t be,” Bell answered, waving her off. “Besides, Bodhi is joining us.”
What, did everyone know about her deal with Hayden’s twin? “Uh . . . well . . . I guess, right? I mean it is the last spot.” She gave a nervous laugh.
“Oh, don’t be such a silly billy,” her friend chided. “We’re going to have fun. It’s only for a few hours.”
“Right. A couple of hours. What could go wrong?”
“Are we ready to go?” The deep, soulful sound of Bodhi's voice rocked Emma to her core.
“We were just finishing up car assignments.” Bell beamed. “Let’s go every—”
“They’re already outside, I came back in to get the both of you.” Bodhi pointed at Emma. “Little brunette out there said, and I quote, “you suck, carry your own shit,” end quote.”
“I am going to kill her.” Emma rubbed her forehead. “Sorry. She’s mad because she’s not at the lake with her friends.”
“’S okay,” Bodhi said. “I grabbed your stuff and put it in the back of Jackson’s truck.”
Did he have ESP, too? “Uh, thanks.”
“You’re welcome. We’re burning daylight, though.” Bodhi motioned for them to get going.
“You heard the man,” Bell said. “‘We’re burning daylight.’”
Two hours into the trip, Bodhi thought he’d blow a gasket at any moment. The intoxicating scent of his mate made his head spin and his gut knot. He itched to hold Emma in his arms and inhale her natural, honey and sugar perfume. The worst part? She didn’t even know it.
When Hayden told him that she wanted to go home for spring break, he’d been all for it. It would give him a chance to see his family and hopefully spend time getting to know Emma, too. Since the Greek Shifter Games, he’d tried to put himself in her way, but nothing seemed to work and, most times, he didn’t have a clue where she’d gone after classes were over. He thought about approaching Terri and talking to her, however, he also didn’t want his intentions to make the gossip rounds around campus.
Now, seeing her there, it all made sense. She had a younger sister she’d been taking care of. No wonder she never stuck around for idle chit-chat. He liked Cassidy, from the little bit he talked to her. She reminded him of Colin. His cousin had a no-nonsense approach to life. He also had a mouth like his father, Kalkin. His aunt Keeley had given up on reprimanding Colin, especially when his father took advantage of her temper—in a sexual way. Their little trysts were legendary and were only rivaled by his aunt Danielle and his uncle Caden.
He realized at a young age, mates were different from most couples. Their bond was deeper, unbreakable. They were tied together in more than one way—sometimes. The idea he could physically knot his mate, when the moon was full, blessed by the spirits . . . it made him more determined to win Emma over. Sure, they were young and had time to live and get to know each other before they had kids, but still the body wanted what the body craved, and his yearned for her.
But, how did he tell her?
Every time he got close to her, she clammed up. The smell of her arousal would thicken, and then, she’d run away. She had to know the truth. She had to realize what they were by now. Right?
Bodhi eased forward. For the last hour, Emma had been doodling in her journal. He hadn’t thought much about it. Yet, her hand kept making the same motion. He’d gotten good at observing people. Following in his uncles’ and then his dad’s shadows had honed his skills. What the hell is she writing? Curiosity gripped him, and he leaned closer.
Emma Diane Raferty.
E + B Forever ♥.
It’s a nice day for a white wedding . . . .
Holy shit. He sat back, trying to process what he saw, compared to what he believed he saw because he wanted her. Could it be? How many times had she written his name or their names together in that book of hers? Inquisitiveness said he should take it from her and look through it when she wasn’t paying attention, yet, he didn’t want to be an asshole either. She had to come to him willingly. It was what his uncles and his father had taught him. Never force a mating. If the right one comes along, you’ll both know, and it’ll happen, naturally.
Yeah, well, he had to find out if she meant what she wrote, too. He inched forward again, this time placing his face next to hers. Her intoxicating scent shot straight to his head and groin. “Whatcha doin’?”
Emma gasped, her hands slammed down on the page she’d been doodling on. Hearts and squiggly lines surrounded their names along with little bows, and bells. He found it adorable.
“Nothing. Bored is all.” Her gaze slowly slid towards his. “What are you doing?” A pink tinge colored her cheeks and the bridge of her nose, darkening her freckles. God, he loved those, too. She was everything he wanted in a mate . . . and then some.
“Bored, too. Getting hungry. Bell, when are we stopping to eat?” His eyes never left hers as he talked to his cousin. Whatever connection they were building in those scant few seconds, he didn’t want to break.
“In about thirty miles,” she answered, turning in her seat to glance back at them. Her blue-eyed gaze sparkled. “Emma, are you okay?”
She gave a shaky nod of her head. “Uh, sure. No problems here. Need to stretch my legs, though.”
Bell frowned. “This is always the longest part of the trip. I swear it gets easier from here. Hey, how about some music to distract us?”
“Nothing from Bodhi,” Christoph growled.
“Somehow, I don’t think Wheels on The Bus, fits this little journey,” Jackson added.
“Fuck, you guys,” Bodhi chuckled. “One time I get hacked, and you never let me live it down.” The problem hadn’t been his, anyway. Lacey and her hench-bitches had messed with his equipment and tried to ruin Bell’s party. Thankfully, once Christoph saved the day with his phone, Bodhi used the skills his aunt Keeley taught him, and with a few simple strokes of the keys, he fixed the issue. The other hench-bitches were dealt with by Bell.
“I have mixtapes!” Emma began rummaging through her bag, uncaring that she had eights sets of eyes on her.
“A mixtape?” Bodhi cocked his head to the side. “Serious?”
She glanced at him. Excitement and a bit of happiness hit him square in the solar plexus as it washed over him. “Yes. All of my favorite songs are on it. Well, some of them.” Emma giggled. “I have more at home. I thought maybe a few for the trip would be plenty.”
Bell frowned. “Emma, Jackson doesn’t have—”
“It’s okay. I brought my own with an AV cable. I come prepared.” She grasped what she’d been looking for. “Ah-ha! Got it.” She pulled out the clear case with a clear cassette inside with pink and yellow writing on it, along with a small, black tape player.
Bodhi had seen stuff like she held at Mrs. Martin’s place all the time. In fact, she used to have books on tape; ones specifically for kids, and he’d listen to them for hours. However, he’d never seen one outside of her shop before. “That’s really cool.”
She blushed again, this time a deeper shade of crimson. “Thanks. I’m kind of old school, I guess. I get it from my mom. She loved 80’s music. It’s how I keep her close. You know?”
Sadness washed over him as he listened to her. He wondered what happened to her parents to cause her to care for her younger sister. But, by the way her scent changed, he knew the answer. Her mother died. Fuck.
“We’d be honored to listen to it then,” Jackson whispered. “In honor of her memory.” He reached out for the tape player and cable.
Emma sighed. “Thanks guys, for . . . you know, not making fun of me.”
Bodhi growled. “No one as special as you should ever be made fun of.”
Her mouth fell open. “T-thanks.”
“You never have to thank me for imparting the truth. So, what kind of songs are on this tape of yours?”Emma settled, turning slightly toward him, and Bodhi considered it a small victory. “Only the most kick-ass music ever made!”
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