Markus

Chapter One

Zoey

        Sighing heavily, I run my hands over the top of my head, locking my fingers at the back of my neck and focusing on the ground at my feet. Today is one of those life changing days that I don’t really want to face. Today is the day, I’m leaving my lovely cabin and everything in it. I’m not selling it, but I will be coming back. The way I feel right now, well, I feel like I’m going to be fucked up forever. My eyes are heavy, my mind foggy and my body feels genuinely worn out despite not doing much. Last night was another sleepless night for me. One of many.

        My tiger is a naturally solitary creature, I enjoy living in a small town. Maxton wasn’t like that anymore with weekends being so busy. And don’t get me started on winter when it was so crowded, I was on edge the entire time. Even the small free clinic on the other side of town was so busy it felt like I was working at a hospital in Chicago. It’s to be expected though, with so many alpha males living in one place. Nothing draws in horny women like blood, broken bones, and testosterone. I love my work at the clinic and don’t want to quit but I have to get out of Maxton for a little while. My tiger is becoming unmanageable, edgy, and always looking to bleed something. These days she seems to always be scratching at my skin, shredding me, trying to punish me. For what, I have no fucking idea.

        A damp, earthy smell is heavy on the breeze, a sign that a rainstorm is on its way. My excellent hearing picks up the vibration of rumbling in the distance. A thunderstorm, even better. It will match the turmoil inside me a lot better than a simple pitter patter of raindrops. I love storms. Especially the sound of the rain as it crashes down onto the metal roof of my cabin. It’s a soothing lullaby that often lures me to sleep when my animal won’t settle, which is often lately. Damn, I love my cabin in the woods, quiet and secluded just on the edge of town. A delicate cool breeze blows, the metal and wooden wind chimes decorated with butterflies and flowers hang from my roof, clanking together to create a gentle, soothing rhythm. Red, orange, and yellow leaves fall gracefully from the arthritic branches of the trees surrounding me and towering far above the ground. Fall. It’s my favorite season. Usually, anyway.

        Today though, I can’t raise any of my usual joy for the season. Of course, it’s hard to muster anything when there isn’t a spark of happiness or joy inside me. Most days all I feel is the aching pain in my heart, tightening my chest to the point that I’m certain I’ll quit breathing. I want to quit breathing. It hurts too much. Every breath a reminder. My nights and days are empty with only the constant pain and searing emptiness to keep me company. God, my heartbreak runs so deep, feeling like a river of acid burning through my veins, making every organ in my body ache, my heart clenching tightly with every beat.

        Maxton used to be a smallish country town where hardly anything happened, but it had a homey warmth to it. It was a place where locals were like a Norman Rockwell painting, everyone knew everyone. Everything changed when the all-shifter logging crew moved into town to work at the lumber mill. The whole atmosphere of the town changed. There was always some brawl going down at the mill. Being a nurse, I got called often to patch someone up or snap a broken bone back into place. Shifters weren’t the only ones who worked at the mill, humans did too. Vampires, and even a couple of Fae. They were just the ones who shook everything up.

        Now, the small town is crawling with shifter groupies, that’s what I call them. They’re women and men who come on vacation looking to bang some kind of supe, usually a shifter and for those looking for something with a little more edge, a little more danger, Vampires and Fae. Yeah, Fae are far from the tinker bell fairies humans imagine them as. You’d think that after being out in the open for so long people would stop having such a stereotypical view of Fae, but nope.

        Pages are set up on Facebook and Instagram so women could brag about who they slept with and the exact size of their big dicks. Supes had great stamina, so naturally women have explosive orgasms that put every other sexual experience of theirs to shame. Some married women return regularly. Bachelorette groups became the norm any day of the week. I’ve gotten used to walking past groups of women stumbling down the street as they bar hopped looking for their last fling before their wedding.

        Tears blur my vision and I press my eyes tightly closed to try and stop them, it’s in vain of course, but I still try. Melancholy slips over me and a hard-lump forms in my throat. I force myself to swallow it down because I refuse to have another crying fit. I’m done breaking down over the bastard. It’s all I’ve been doing for two months, sixty days, every day, all night, cry and cry until my eyes were swollen and my throat so sore from sobbing that I couldn’t swallow. One would think I didn’t have any tears left but apparently as long as there was pain, there were tears. God, I wish I felt nothing. Emptiness would be better than this constant, perpetual sadness that clings to me like a shadow. Always there, always waiting like a crocodile ready to strike and pull me under.

        It was supposed to be the happiest day of my life, my mating celebration. Fuck, I still had the damn ceremony announcement up on my fridge. Today I really feel like I need a joint and a bottle of Jack. A mating ceremony is taking place today, just not mine.

        Blowing a quick breath out between my pursed lips, I shake my head. I want to know how any of this is possible. Seriously, one night he went out to the bar with some friends and just didn’t come home. It wasn’t unusual for him to take off when his wolf got too hard to manage, but it was unusual for him not to tell me about it. I went to start looking for him or information about him, but I had to get gas, that incident changed everything. Waiting in that line was how I found out that my future mate was shacking up with some bimbo.

         Homewrecking whore is more like it and my supposed best friend. A feminine, delicate model type with killer curves, long blond hair and lips so full they made men think of nothing else but being wrapped around their dick. At least that was the first thing Cody said when he met Sara. Guess I should’ve known then. What kind of man says that to his mate about another woman? The fact that he could even think it was a big red flag that I totally missed. As if all that weren’t bad enough, the bastard decided to mate with the cunt only a few days after giving me my claiming mark. Bastard. I still don’t understand how it happened. One minute we’re happy and in love, the next I’m crying into my wine in front of my fireplace.

In the beginning, I was so angry at Sara, blamed her for everything because I didn’t understand how someone who was supposed to be my friend could do that to me. After a while, I realized it the blame wasn’t all on her. Oh, plenty of it was, but really, she wasn’t the one who committed to me. Sara wasn’t the one who made promises and took the step to bind us together in the way of our people. She also wasn’t the fucker who just laid low because he was too much of a damn coward to tell me to my face what he did. Nope, that was all Cody.

        There’s really nothing worse than being the last to know what everyone else already knew. God, I’m still not over the humiliation. Walking down the street, trying to ignore the looks, the whispers. Pity filled eyes as someone asked for the millionth time if I was doing okay. Yeah, it’s a good thing I’m leaving here because I swear to god, I’ll bite the next person who asked me that question with that look. These days this town is  full of gossips and I knew most of them were walking around talking shit behind my back.

Cody.

        Despite my resolve to hate the bastard, everything in me cries out at the thought of being permanently separated from a man who was supposed to be my mate. I even miss the son of a bitch, how disgusting is that? I know the remnants of these feelings have to be from the fading claiming mark because I hate the son-of-a-bitch. A deep growl rumbles from my chest.

        I know, I coo rubbing my chest.

        My tiger wants to know how this happened too, but what she really wants to do is bleed Cody’s new mate, who happens to be human, and bleed Cody too. Another reason I am leaving town. She’s getting more and more unmanageable and I can’t take the chance. My tiger’s ready to move on, perhaps she always knew Cody was a bastard, but I wouldn’t listen. Right now, she’s hurting because I’m hurting. She wants to eliminate what’s causing me pain. The last thing I want to do is end up in Supe-max, a prison for supernaturals, over two assholes who obviously never gave a shit about me.

        Cody and I chose today for our ceremony. We were both so excited. As much as I try to understand him falling in love with and then mating with someone else, I don’t fucking understand how the fuck they could choose today of all days for their own ceremony. Stabbing me in the back wasn’t bad enough, they had to twist too. Sara was behind that decision. She always was a vindictive, jealous bitch when she was in a relationship. Sara had to make sure I knew Cody chose her and that I was nothing to him. She was the important one. Like I hadn’t gotten that vibe when I saw them in town, her sporting a halter top to show off the red, angry bite, fresh and still healing. The same spot he bit me. Right where the shoulder and neck met. Harsh was a little bit of an understatement.

        Ironically, I chose not to bite Cody back the night he pledged himself to me. I wanted to wait until the night of our mating ceremony, but honestly, my tiger didn’t feel the pull to bite him and because of that, I had to hold back. I figured she would come around by the ceremony, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe she knew the whole time that he was a bastard and I was blind to his true nature. Funny how shit happens. It’s like … fate. This situation is pretty damn hard, and I can’t even imagine how hard it would be if I claimed him back. Just the thought makes my stomach turn violently.

        Absently, I run my fingers over the scar on my shoulder. The uneven skin throbs under my fingertips. Yearning washes over me, the intensity of it so strong it becomes a physical ache. My chest hurts, my heart squeezes like a vise is tightening around it and I feel like I can’t drag enough air into my lungs. Running my hands over my jean-clad thighs, I wipe away the sweat coating my palms. I fucking hate anxiety. The fragile bond between us is breaking, and it’s painful. It’s like feeling the pain of him claiming Sara all over again.

        Can’t win for losing and ain’t that a bitch.

        Mate, I shake my head bitterly, what a fucking joke.

        Cody is no one’s mate. Soon enough, the same thing that happened to me will happen to her. The truth will nip her in the ass and then she’ll be the one crying and suffering, just like me. Being human won’t save her from experiencing the soul numbing pain of a broken bond. Infidelity’s a bitch. It’s supposed to be impossible for shifters, but obviously there are exceptions. There’s no sympathy in me for Sara. As a matter of fact, I’d like a front-row seat. Sara deserves everything coming to her.

        Staying here, in this cabin, the only thing I’ve done is nurse wounds that hurt worse than any physical ones ever could. I shake my head hard, trying to snap myself out of the deep hole of self-pity and depression that I’m sinking further and further into. Time heals all wounds they say, but is that even true? Or did someone just make it up to make someone else feel better? I bet that’s it because it doesn’t feel true. It feels like I’m going to bleed on the inside like this forever. I don’t want to feel the stab and twist to my heart that I feel right now every damn time I think about Sara and Cody happy, in love, and someday starting a family.

         The way I feel right now, I don’t know if this hole inside me will ever heal. God, I hope I’m not going to wind up one of those lonely, bitter old women. Living out in the woods like a hermit. Yelling at people who come too close to my house. Snarling at couples who hold hands, walking close together and gazing happily at each other like there is no one else in the world. Glaring at them as I walk past.

        Being alone seems like such a bleak future, but I can’t deny that it has its appealing aspects. Like never being hurt again. Lied to. Betrayed. Made to feel less or somewhat lacking. No arguments or bending to some alpha male’s will.

No.

        I shake my head hard. No matter how appealing the fantasy of being alone is, I know it’s not that easy. Far from it. It’s a road I’m determined not to go down. Not because of fear. I’m no coward. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for anyone right now, but I hope that things will change one day. Maybe when I’m all cried out over douchebag and what he’d done to me, then I’ll be ready to give someone else a chance. The door to love isn’t open right now, but the window is cracked just enough to let the possibility breeze in.

        My cabin is a cute little place on the edge of town, far enough away to skip the hustle and bustle of the night life but still close enough to work. I fell in love with the place from the first time I saw the ad online. There is a wraparound porch that is amazing to sit on and watch the sunset. It’s perfect for s my old, rickety rocking chair where I read, and enjoy a cup of tea in the evening and coffee in the morning.

        The woods behind my house are pretty secluded with no hiking trails close by. It’s the ideal place for when my tiger needs to go for a run or just prowl around. I planned on living here forever with my mate. Now, I can’t stand the sight of this place. Everywhere I look, is a painful memory of how happy I was for a short time; it only makes the hole in my heart bigger. My fireplace is the thing I love the best, with all the rock work and wooden mantle that I painstakingly made from a log I found in the woods. Well, that and my bedroom with the French doors that opened up onto the deck. I always left them open for a long time in the spring and summertime, but not anymore. Nothing was happening here anymore.

        A loud vibration thrums the wood under my ass. My cellphone is buzzing like crazy next to me. It’s the fifth time it’s gone off. He’s persistent. I don’t have to pick it up to know who’s there. Cody. He’s been calling all morning and when I say morning, I mean early like two a.m. Unconventional way to spend the morning of your mating ceremony. Then again, nothing that Cody did at this point would shock me. He isn’t exactly a conventional person in life, love, or commitment.

The one time I tried to listen to the bastard’s explanations it made me so angry, I almost shifted and tore into him right in my front yard. His pathetic explanations were really more of a plea to feel sorry for him because he was suffering so much. His excuse? He didn’t know what happened. He literally said, I don’t know what happened. What he didn’t understand was how his animal chose someone else after he chose me. He couldn’t stop it because it was instinct after all and what shifter could fight instinct? There were even tears in his eyes. The fucker had the nerve to cry in front of me like he was the one to feel sorry for. Fuck that noise. I don’t feel sorry for him. I hate him. Actually, that isn’t entirely true. I want to hate him, wanted it so fucking bad that I ache with it, but I still care about the son of a bitch.

        He’s the main reason why I need to get away. Getting Cody back is the last thing I want, but if I stay here, I know exactly what will happen. Cody will keep coming over and I’ll wear down, wanting physical affection, wanting to feel him again. You know the type. Pathetic, needy, accepting scraps of affection. I don’t want to be one of those women, just thinking about it makes me sick. Falling prey to Cody’s manipulation isn’t something I intend to do, and that is why I’ve got to leave this place.

        The ringing stops before starting back up again seconds later. Unlacing my fingers, I tuck my hair behind my ears and raise my head. Asshole, flashes across the screen right under the picture of a middle finger. Why I hadn’t taken his name out of my phone, I don’t know. I guess because deleting it made things feel so permanent, which is ridiculous because this is permanent. Going back is definitely not an option, no matter how big the temptation. I won’t allow myself. I refuse to be second best, ever. The phone buzzes again, long and loud as an envelope flashes across the screen. Voicemail. Twenty of them since last night. Why can’t the fucker just leave me alone? Do me one small favor and let me leave in peace?

        I stopped listening to the voicemails after the first five from two months ago. In the messages, he was tripping over his apology, trying to explain how this shit storm had happened and how he had no control over it. No control? That pissed me off. No control, sorry my ass. He knew what he intended to do from the minute he walked out of that bar with Sara. Whether he intended to bite her or not I don’t know, but he sure intended to fuck her and that tells me everything I need to know. Betrayal is something you can never take back. This mating is as much as a joke as ours would’ve been. Cody’s animal is just as fucked up as him. I will get over this and I won’t be bitter. On that, I’m determined. Cody and his wayward penis aren’t going to break me.

        The phone starts ringing again. Groaning, I snatch it up. The bastard doesn’t give up. I have a good mind to chuck the damn thing into the woods, but I need my phone. I don’t wait for it to stop ringing to turn it off, I slip off the back and remove the battery. The only thing Cody is interested in, is explaining his perspective. Like his fucked-up behavior can ever be explained. Why he’s being so persistent, I don’t know. Nothing he says, nothing he does, will change anything. It will never go away. I want him to leave me alone. Healing is hard enough, but hearing his voice, reading his words, is making moving on damn near impossible. He had to have found out I’m leaving town. It’s the only explanation for this stalkerish behavior. God, why couldn’t he leave me alone?