Chapter 9

Disappointment continued to bubble within me as I scanned the room looking for Aiden. His trip with his Dad was taking longer than anticipated, and I refused to stay at this party longer than necessary. I promised myself I’d wait another half hour then make my escape. I would just have to meet up with Aiden this afternoon, alone, as he suggested.

As Adley wandered over to one of the tables, Leo approached me. His face was friendly, and for a moment I allowed myself to relax. Irritation blossomed within me as I watched his eyes flicker over to Adley, lingering on her exposed legs for a few seconds too long. I didn’t blame Adley for all of the attention she received, as most of the time I felt sorry for her. It was normal for people to want what they couldn’t have, as most of the unmated males had floundered for Adley’s attention at one point or another.

‘I take back what I said.’ I murmured to Rayna. ‘Being mated to Leo would be a nightmare.’

‘I think being mated to any of these males would be a nightmare.’ Rayna grunted.

“Hey, Rachel.” Leo offered me a small smile, holding his hand out as the rest of the unmated males had. “Happy Birthday!”

“Thanks.” I smiled, taking his hand and suppressing the sigh of relief at the absence of sparks.

Leo didn’t bother trying to hide the relief that echoed across his face, nor the lingering glances he sent Adley’s way. I wanted to convulse into laughter, as Adley held little interest in men. She had refused countless advances from the men in town and yet none had considered the thought that she might not prefer their company.

‘Narrow minded townies.’ Rayna snorted. ’Are we truly that unattractive?′

“Could you do me a favor?” Leo smiled sheepishly, brushing back his sandy blonde hair with a wave of his hand. “I’ll be forever in your debt.”

“A favor?” I asked, my eyebrow cocking at the boldness in his tone. If his favor had anything to do with Adley, I might truly laugh at the poor guy.

“I know you’re close to Adley. Is there any way you could put a good word in for me?” Leo asked, a sheepish grin on his face. “She’s absolutely stunning—not that you aren’t, but I’ve wanted to get to know her since she moved into town.”

“Leo.” I sighed, wondering if I should tell him the truth. Adley had never been secretive about her preferences, but I wasn’t sure if she wanted me spreading the information around. “She’s not going to be interested, trust me.”

Leo’s eyes narrowed, and I knew I had made a mistake. The friendly expression on his face vanished in an instant, contorting into a suspicious grimace.

“How do you know she won’t be interested?” Leo asked, his tone sour. “It sounds like you’re jealous of the new girl.”

“Jealous? As if.” Adley snorted, taking a sip of wine with an amused smile. The sour look on Leo’s face vanished, replaced by what he thought was a charming smile. “Have you looked at Rachel? Sweetheart, she has nothing to be jealous of. Beauty comes in many forms.”

“I’m sorry, I just thought-”

“She is right though. I’m not interested.” Adley shrugged, “If any of you relentless males had the balls to ask, I’d tell you I’m not into men.”

“You’re not into men?” Leo scoffed, as if the idea were completely foreign.

“It’s not a new concept, Liam.” Adley snorted, “Although, I’m starting to realize I’m not missing out on much.”

“My name is Leo.” He spat; his narrowed eyes locked on Adley. Adley was unflinching under Leo’s glare, unfazed at the narrow-minded thinking in this town. “How are you going to reproduce if your mate is another, she-wolf?”

A hot spike of anger embedded itself in my spine, heating my insides with liquid fire. I had hoped this town would leave behind it’s old-fashioned way of thinking. Adley’s romantic preferences were her business. Yet, the hatred rolling off Leo was purely the result of being rejected by Adley. How could his tiny mind comprehend that she might prefer a woman over him?

“Life isn’t all about reproduction, Luke.” Adley shrugged.

Rayna’s strength coursed through me, her thoughts agreeing with my own. As Leo opened his mouth to speak, my clenched fist snapped forward, connecting with the soft cartilage of his nose. A sickening crunch sounded, followed by Leo’s painful groan. Scarlet blood coated his nose and upper lip, while his eyes looked down at me in surprise.

“Whatever you were going to say, keep it to yourself.” I snapped, looping my arm through Adley’s to pull her away.

From behind, I could hear the few chaperones rushing over to Leo. I wanted to roll my eyes at their dramatics. His nose would heal within the hour, though it would heal crooked if it wasn’t set right.

“Your Mother will hear about this, young lady!” An older woman’s voice spat from behind me. I didn’t recognize her voice, but from her tone, I would have assumed her name was Karen.

Without looking back at the crowd of people, Adley and I strolled through the front doors. We were instantly greeted by the blinding sun and thick humidity, but I continued walking from the Community Center.

“I don’t say this enough, but you’re amazing.” Adley cackled, draping her arm over my shoulders. An earsplitting grin formed on her face, her seafoam eyes twinkling. “Did you see his face?”

“You’re right, you don’t say it enough.” I snickered, returning Adley’s grin with one of my own.

“You’re going to be in so much trouble, Rachel.” Adley chuckled, shaking her head as we continued walking down the sidewalk.

“Oh, no doubt.” I nodded, “It was still worth it.”

“I feel sorry for whatever she-wolf is paired with that fine specimen of man.” Adley snorted, “Can they really blame me for being attracted to females?”

“They can try, but I don’t blame you at all.” I laughed, “Especially with the options in this town.”

Adley walked me to my house, but had to leave as she got a phone call from her parents. We made plans to hang out tomorrow if I wasn’t grounded for the rest of my life. My phone rang as I stepped onto our withered porch. Aiden’s name flashed across the screen, making my heart leap.

“Where have you been?” I groaned, leaning against the house. “The party was a nightmare.”

“Give me a chance to make it up to you?” Aiden chuckled, making it hard for me to remain angry.

“Depends.” I shrugged, “What did you have in mind?”

“Meet me out front of the Antique shop tonight.” Aiden suggested, his tone laced with amusement.

“Alright.” I sighed, unable to resist. Even though I found his meeting place strange, I couldn’t miss the chance to see Aiden and finally discover if he was my mate.

“I’ll see you tonight, Ray.” Aiden replied, and I could practically see the smirk forming on his face. “Happy Birthday.”

I knew the news of me hitting Leo would travel fast. As soon as I walked into the house, I was greeted by my irate Mom. Her face matched the color of her flaming hair, her eyes narrowed as she pointed a finger at me. Dad sat silently at the kitchen table; his eyes hard as he looked my way. Dad was the one to chew me out for my antics, but when Mom was made, that was a problem. Mom was more carefree than Dad, and was extremely hard to anger.

“Can we not trust you to go anywhere by yourself, Rachel?” Mom grimaced; her words hard. “You punched a boy in the face. Really?”

“He’s a werewolf, Mom.” I rolled my eyes, unable to conceal the sarcasm in my words. “His nose is probably already healed.”

“That’s not the point, and you know it.” Mom growled, but I refused to back down. I had roamed this town countless times, usually managing to stay out of trouble. “Luna Maria set this entire party up for you to find your mate. Does that mean nothing to you?”

“You want to know the truth? No, it doesn’t.” I snapped, my own temper flaring. “Did you see the party they had for Connor and June? Do you know how much money they spent setting everything up? How can they blow money like that when their people are living in run down shacks?”

“That’s what this is about?” Mom scoffed, “They didn’t spend enough money on your party?”

Rayna snarled in my mind, yet I managed to rein my anger in. They only seemed to hear half of what I was saying, as they made their own assumptions. Nothing I said or did would convince them of the truth, that this pack was the last place we needed to be. We were better off living on our own than staying in a pack where the Luna and Alpha refused to help its people.

“It was never about the stupid party.” I sighed, wiping the beads of sweat from my forehead. “It’s about the state of this house, of this town. With half of the money the Luna and Alpha have, most of the people in town could live in better houses. This place is falling apart, Mom. That is why I want to leave this place. What kind of pack doesn’t take care of its own people?”

I turned on my heel and headed up the stairs, unable to stand another moment in their presence. I knew neither of them would listen to me, that neither of them would understand. I wanted so much more than what this town had to offer, but like most of this town, they were stuck in their own ways. I would never thrive here; I would never blossom and reach my full potential. Like a flame, this town would smother me.

“You are grounded, Rachel.” Mom growled as I retreated to my bedroom, “Don’t even think about leaving!”

I closed my door and leaned against the frame, fighting the anger fueled tears that pricked the backs of my eyes. I could feel Rayna coil around my head, soothing my frayed nerves. Rayna had always been quick to tell me when I was wrong, but this time she said nothing. Her silent agreement was enough motivation to move me forward. As I trudged towards my bed, something lying across my pillow caught my eye. The sun reflected off of it, scattering rainbow shimmers along the wall.

My eyes scanned the thick sheet of paper with visible unease. My jaw dropped as something clicked within me, realization crossing my eyes. The paper felt heavy in my hands. My fingers curled and uncurled around it as my eyes scanned the thick script that seemed etched into the paper.

An invitation to Iridian sat in my hands, addressed to me.

To,

Rachel Tress

You have been invited to this year’s Iridian, a game designed to trick the mind and ensnare the senses. Adventure, mystery, and deceit lie in the palm of your hands. Desire alone will not be enough to win this game, as the odds are placed against you. This year’s prize is one of a kind, fashioned from the magic of the games. Only one will know victory, while nineteen of you will know defeat.

This year, the rules have changed. Something dear to your heart has slipped from your grasp, pulled into the game, awaiting your victory. Be warned, to find what was lost, you risk losing yourself in the process.

From,

The Game Master

“No.” The word escaped my lips in a panicked hiss as I tossed the letter to the floor. I scrambled over to my closet, digging through the contents like a mad woman. Rayna’s voice filled my head, but I couldn’t make out her words in the midst of my horror. I darted from the closet to the aged bookshelf in my room, tearing through the contents and watching as they clattered to the floor. I tore the covers from my bed in my search, tossed my pillow across my room.

The box Grandma Kent had given me was gone, along with it all the photos that filled me with hope and wonder.

Comments (82)
goodnovel comment avatar
Mother of Gremlin
they took some photos?? I thought it was going to be Aiden or something
goodnovel comment avatar
Samantha Dooley
OK glad she has the invitation now she can leave… So tired of hearing how many times she’s bored or hates this town
goodnovel comment avatar
last phantom
They took the chest? I thought they’d take Aiden, Adley, or Zack. Though she does have her savings in there, without that she’s stuck.
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