Taking a deep breath, I finished my internal pep talk mixed with a very convincing speech I had been reciting in my head all morning. I could do this. Squeeze out a couple tears if I needed to, but I was somehow going to convince him.
I peeked into the living room to see my father watching golf in his armchair. Well at least, I wasn't interrupting anything. I attempted to act causally as I laid across the couch. The two players were doing their final putts for that hole. I watched quietly as the first one finished up.
"Hmmm...." His eye remained on the screen as the ball looped around the edge of the cup, before going in. The crowd cheered, and the player had his victory moment.
I'd never understand golf. "So Dad?"
"One second, Aden."
With a sigh, I collapsed into the cushions as the other golfer had their turn. It took him two painfully long attempts, with way too many practice swings, to get it in.
"Yeah, what do you need?" He stretched out his legs as the commercials came on.
Sitting up, I took a deep breath. "I want to go back to Northern Ridge."
"Dad," I whined, flopping backwards. "You didn't even think about it. Titus is acting normal again. You've seen him."
"It's too soon."
"How long do I have to wait? It's been two weeks. Darius says he's over it. Xavier says he's over it. Mom says Titus has been traumatized for life, so if I want something, now is the time to ask."
He chuckled. "Sweet as can be with a little sass. Gotta love that woman."
"Dad!" I groaned. "Stop being difficult."
"Aden," his eyes met mine, "you are eighteen with a horrible track record when it comes to making your own decisions. So trust mine. It's too soon."
I rolled onto my face and screamed into the cushion. "I hate it here."
"Teenage meltdowns are not going to change my mind."
"It's not a meltdown." I turned my head to the side. "Just let me go back. Titus is never this hard headed."
"Give it a few years, and you'll figure out the fake fits from the real."
"It's not a fit," I snapped, rising to my feet. "I'll just spend another summer rotting away in my room. Something last year you were so concerned about that you made me scrub damn port-a-potties!" I marched to the stairs and up my bedroom.
"Just like old times then, and I do recall the reason you met Titus was because of that great character building opportunity scrubbing port-a-potties."
"You're not funny!" I slammed the door.
Well, that was a fail.
I slumped down in my seat and patted the back of my spoon on my pile of potatoes. WIR politics were today's dinner topic. Another reminder, I was stuck here mateless. It would be easier if my dad would at least let me go somewhere.
"Aden," my dad sighed. "Are you going to stop moping? It's been three days. This isn't going to change my mind. "
I shrugged. "It's the teenager coming out in me. It's like Titus and his beta hormones, we all just have to suffer through it."
"There's a huge difference," stated my father firmly. "I work for WIR, Aden. Everyone goes through the teenage years, but very few are alphas and betas." He took a bite of his green beans. "If you want me to let you go back, you might want to try acting more mature about this. Titus hit you." He locked eyes with me. "I'm not saying we can't work toward forgiving him and getting passed this, but there has to be a punishment. Just like there would be in any werewolf society."
Letting out a deep breath, I nodded. "'kay."
"Eat your vegetable, dear," said my mother pointing at them with her fork. "Heavens know, you've not getting them up there."
I laid sprawled across the couch with Demon sitting between my legs, chewing on my sock. I had accepted the fact I was going to be stuck here forever. My father would never give in.
My dad entered through the front door with a grocery bag and went to the kitchen. I heard my parents talking, but couldn't make out what exactly was being said.
He appeared in the entryway and walked over to his chair. "What are you watching?"
"Reruns." I tossed him the remote. "Have at it. I've been watching the same show all day, and I'm tired of it."
Changing the channel to the sports network, he settled in to review the old highlights. I stared blankly at the screen, moving my leg around to taunt Demon.
"What did you do today?"
I shrugged. "Nothing, but watching TV. Mom said you were call into WIR. What did they want?"
"Just to talk, I'm going back to work next week. Xavier was there. He says you're welcome back anytime."
"Like maybe tomorrow."
I sat up and watched him closely. This was a trick. For him to let me go, without begging or tears, meant something was up.
His gaze remained on the screen. "It seems they're having a celebration to recognize Darius and Titus as the next leaders of the pack. It's a pretty big deal, and packs from around the area are coming to show their support. Being mateless wouldn't be the best way for your husband to start his career as beta."
I waited for him to continue. "But?"
"Your mother and I are going as well, and if I even have the slightest feeling that Titus doesn't have that damn wolf under control, you're coming right back home with us. Do you understand"
I leaped off the couch, nearly taking out Demon in the process and hugged him. "Thank you!"
"I mean it, Aden. I'll bring you back with us."
The stern father persona started to break down, and he hugged me back. "I just want you to be careful, alright?"
"I will. Thanks, dad." I leaned back. "I'm so excited; I need to go pack." With a huge smile plastered across my face, I ran to the stairs.
My mother was waiting. She placed her cellphone in my hand. "Give Titus the good news." She patted my cheek. "It'll turn that grown man into a pup," she chuckled with a wink. "I can promise you that."
My dad stopped the ATV, and I jumped out of the back. I was finally back, and it felt amazing.
"Aden, bags," my father called before I could get too far.
Let out a heated breath, I went back and grabbed an armful.
My mom took in a deep breath of fresh air. "It's so nice up here. So peaceful." She jumped back as a pair of pups raced past her. "But strange, very strange."
I laughed to myself. I guess that was a sight no human would ever get use to. Another ATV pulled up next to ours and joined the line of about ten others. A woman with fiery red hair stood up on the driver's seat and threw her head back. Her head snapped in my direction as she inhaled.
"Sage!" yelled the man as he tried to undo his seatbelt. "Sage wait!"
She ran at me. I dropped the bags and held up my hands to defend myself as she pulled me into a bear hug. Lifting me off the ground, she squeezed the oxygen out of my lungs. My mother stood there in shock along with my father.
"Look at you." She set me down and cupped my face. "You're the cutest little thing." She put her arm around my shoulder. "Thomas, hurry. Come meet our grandbaby-in-law. Look how beautiful he is." She squished up my cheeks as the man approached.
I stood there frozen. Who were these people?
"Sage please." The older man batted her hands away. "Introduce yourself first. They're human, remember?"
She rolled her eyes. "Fine, we're do it the proper way." She spun me around. "Aden."
I nodded, confused. "Yes?"
"I'm Sage. Titus's grandma, and I am so proud of him for finding such an adorable little thing." She hugged me again and messed up my hair. "I'm sorry it took us so long to visit." She brushed her hand along my jawline. "We travel from pack to pack, and by the time we got word, the mating was over and done with."
My mother moved forward. "Hello," she waved, "I'm Aden's mom, Karen."
The woman looked between her and my father and sniffed. "Are you sure they're not werewolves?"
My father chuckled.
"Positive dear," said the man. "I'm Thomas." He shook my mother's hand before mine. "Titus's grandfather."
"You're the one who's human born then," my mother said excited. "Aden mentioned Xavier's dad was human. I have some question I need to ask you."
He nodded. "Sure. I'm surprised you knew, though. Every since Sage retired as beta, it's become a pack secret. Xavier always been slightly embarrassed about being half human." He motioned between himself and me. "He thinks our type only cause problems," Thomas said in a hushed voice.
The black and red werewolf appeared on the path to the parking lot. "Mom, dad, you're early."
"Not early, I simply drove," Sage chuckled. "Now where are my grandson. I need to congratulate them both for keeping up the tradition."
The alpha nodded toward the cave. "Just finishing up a few things." He looked to me. "Aden, Karen, Quint, I hope the road were good for you. I sent the boys out the other day to fix all the potholes from the spring thaw."
"It was perfect. I liked to get out of your way," said my mother. "Same room as before?"
He nodded. "It's ready for you."
She picked up her bag. "It was good to meet you both." She nodded to Xavier's parents as she passed.
I gathered my load and followed her to the cave with my dad bringing up the rear. We weaved through the main chamber to the back room. It was strange to see the cave so full and everyone running around. I hadn't seen Titus yet, though.
I dropped my parent's things and grabbed my bag. "I'm going to my room."
My father cleared his throat, narrowing his eyes.
"Come on. You can't seriously make me stay," I exclaimed.
His serious expression turned into a smile. "I'm kidding, Aden. Get out of here." He waved me off.
"That wasn't very nice," muttered my mom.
"I've put up with his attitude for weeks. I can tease him a bit."
Shaking my head, I hurried into the hall and jogged to my room.
"Titus," I called, throwing back the curtains. It was empty and very clean. Not just things put away clean, but dusted, polished and swept. He had even made the bed and washed the mirror. I sucked in my lips, smiling. He was a strange werewolf, but a cute one.
I sat down and opened my sketchbook, lining up with the edge of the desk. I flipped through it and landed on the one of River. After everything that happened, I'd forgotten about him. Once things settled down, I was going to have to check on him. Hopefully, Xavier kept him safe through all this.
I turned in my seat as the black werewolf burst into the room. He couldn't contain his joy, his tail wagging wildly.
He gathered me in his arm and held me to his chest. "I'm so glad you're back."
"Me too," I whispered.
We parted, and he held onto my upper arms, beaming at me.
"Don't mess up, though." I pointed my finger at him. "My dad get's one bad vibe, and we're done. He'll drag me back to Harper's Creek."
He nuzzled my cheek. "I'll be on my best behavior then," he laughed in my ear. "For a werewolf, at least."