We sat in silence as the daylight faded. She reached over and rested her hand on mine. The simple, tender contact broke me. I’d been everyone’s adversary for so long I wasn’t sure how to handle comfort.
I turned my hand over and clasped hers without taking my eyes off the autumn leaves, as if she might turn into a pillar of salt if I looked at her. Time stretched out as the moody sky colored above us.
She threaded her fingers with mine and squeezed until I finally turned to meet her eyes. Her tone was soft and introspective. “I hope I’m not dreaming.”
“Are you sure about that?” I scoffed, trying not to smile. “You could wake up and not be holding hands with a werewolf.”
She shrugged a shoulder with the sunset in her eyes. “I was referring to you telling me the truth.”
I sobered. “I didn’t lie to you. I just—”
“Omitted. Yeah.” She lifted her left arm, showing off an intricate tattoo of a dragonfly where a watch would usually go, and instead of a watchband, the wings wrapped around her wrist. “I got this after I lost my mom. It’s a symbol of transformation and a reminder to live life to the fullest. Dragonflies were her favorite.”
Her voice softened as she lowered her hand and broke eye contact. “I didn’t find out until she was dying that she’d been ‘omitting’ my father my entire life.” A single tear escaped the corner of her eye, but she made no move to wipe it away. “It still feels like a betrayal every bit as much as a lie. She thought she was protecting me, but that doesn’t change that the person I loved most in the world didn’t trust me with the truth.” She looked at me again. “I’m telling you this because I need you to understand. If you’re going to lie to me, I’m going to leave.”
The pain in her eyes stabbed at me like a dagger to the chest. I reached over and cupped her cheek in my hand. Her skin was soft and warm as I wiped the tear away with my thumb. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you what I am and what I was dragging you into here. I convinced myself you’d be safer not knowing.” I got lost in her deep-blue eyes, my heart racing like a damned thoroughbred. “If I agree to no more omissions, then there’s something else I need to tell you.”
“Should I brace myself?”
I almost smiled as I nodded. “Probably.”
She tightened her hold on my other hand. “You’ve met Bigfoot?”
I chuckled, shaking my head. “I have not.” I took a breath and forced out the words. “Last night, when we shook on our deal…my wolf recognized you.”
I studied her eyes as she took in my words. “Recognized me… But we’ve never met before.”
“I’m trying to tell you that you’re…you’re my mate.”
A crease formed in the center of her forehead, but she didn’t laugh or run away. I held my breath as she moved back. I lowered my arm, grateful she hadn’t taken her other hand out of mine. “How is that possible? What does it even mean?”
“I don’t know how it works, but when we touch our mate skin to skin, the wolf inside recognizes her.” My mouth went dry. “If I hadn’t been sitting last night, I might’ve fallen over.”
“I remember your eyes dilated.” She looked down at our joined hands. “And what happens if you find her and she says no thanks?”
“Then I let her go.” My heart sank as I released her hand and leaned over, resting my forearms on my legs, hoping she couldn’t see the disappointment in my eyes. I shouldn’t be disappointed. I’d never expected to find her and I sure as hell hadn’t been looking.
I didn’t tell her all this to force her into anything, no matter how much my wolf protested. We barely knew each other, and she didn’t have the same instincts I did. I’d told her because I need her to help me with this mission. That’s all.
But my heart still ached as if I’d put it in a meat grinder.
“Would you find someone else?”
“Not to love.” I shook my head. “Fate chooses our mate, the other half of our soul. And just as wolves only have one true mate, so do werewolves.” I sighed as I forced myself to meet her eyes. “I thought my mate would have already found a nice guy and be married with kids by now. I almost hoped she had. You deserve so much better than me.”
She raised a brow. “You have a pretty low opinion of yourself.”
I broke eye contact, clenching my jaw. “I’ve ruined a lot of lives, and if that research gets declassified, I’ll seal the fate for shifters all over the world. Those little boys you met at Asher’s tour company are werewolves, too. None of us asked for this. We were born this way. But once the world sees that video footage, none of it will matter. You shouldn’t be stuck with the man who brought on the extermination of werewolves.”