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"I just will not do it, and there is not a soul on this earth that can make me.” Alexis stood up straight and stared her parents down for the first time in her life. "And that includes the two of you." She immediately shrank back into the kitchen chair, tears welling up in her eyes despite her best efforts.
"We know you don't understand now, Lexi," her mother reached out to stroke her dark hair. "But, in time you'll realize that marrying Leonidas will be the best thing for our family, and our entire community."
"What about what I want?" Alexis asked as she swatted at her mother's hand. "Why did you let me go to college if you planned all along to enslave me to that self-centered weasel?"
Alexis' father stepped in, pointing a finger at her. "That self-centered weasel, as you call him, is going to be the leader of our entire community—probably sooner rather than later, given his father's condition—and since we didn't have a son to challenge him, we must offer a daughter to better our place among those of us who were born into this." Alexis’ father stopped and looked at the ceiling, shaking his head. After a moment, he stared back at her, his pointed finger still hanging in front of him. “We must preserve our place among the royal line, Lexi.”
Alexis tried to put up a defiant front but even as she narrowed her eyes at her father, she felt the tears burning down her cheeks. She knew her father was gruff, but he basically just told her that he wished he had a son instead of a daughter. Her skin tingled and she felt her blood coursing hot and angry through her veins; each beat of her heart sending a thump to her ears and a mix of fury and sadness coursing through her entire body.
"I can take care of myself," Alexis said. "Maybe I'll challenge him myself, and then our family will be the leaders in this community—in this royal pack of wolves."
"Don't be ridiculous," her father waved his hand as if swatting at a fly. "Keeping our secrets through childhood and four years of college is not the same as fighting another to the death. Besides, there has never been a female alpha in any pack that I know of."
"Well, maybe ours will be the first." She planted her feet hard on the floor at her bold statement. She remembered back to all the times Leo picked on her when they were children. She thought about those times he threw rocks at her, or tried to stick his hand up her dress. She'd always hated him for that, even though she never did anything about it, all the way up to when they attended Gilmer County high school together. His actions served as motivation for her to make good grades so she could get into college, and get away from Ellijay, Georgia. She remembered fighting him off almost daily when she started developing into a woman. He apparently thought she was his for the taking, and she wasn’t afraid to put him down if he went too far.
But Alexis knew it would never come to this. She would not have to challenge Leonidas for the top spot in their pack. She also knew that her parent’s plan to betroth her to him would fail. She would never be married to him—never be mated to him. That is, if her dreams were real. That is if she wasn’t as crazy as her parents, and the psychologist they sent her to since childhood must have thought. Now was the time to let them know what her friend had really been telling her through all those years.
“Well,” she said, staring at her mother and father with a conviction she hoped would not result in their laughter, “I’ve been told I will never be mated to Leonidas.”
“By who?” The look in her mother’s eyes changed from anger to something else, something more like … disappointment. “Did this prophecy come from your imaginary friend?”
“Yes,” Alexis squeaked, “and Tatianna is not imaginary. She is real, and comes to me in my dreams.” As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized how crazy it all sounded. She knew she couldn’t explain how her friend was real, even if she was the only one to see her, and her parents simply would not understand without some kind of physical proof.
“If she is real,” her mother’s disappointment showing in her voice now, “why did she remain a child as you grew into a young adult?”
“I don’t know,” Alexis said, hoping her short response would put an end to the conversation.
“I thought we’d gotten through this,” her mother said as she shook her head. “I mean, it was fine when you were a child, but to cling to this still? You’ve been to counseling, and I thought you said you had not talked to her since before college. Why bring it back up now?”
Alexis frowned and shrugged her shoulders. The truth was that Tatianna came to her a month before her college graduation. That is when Tatianna told her about the arranged marriage and that it would not happen, or that she could not let it happen, she couldn’t remember precisely. But she was not going to subject herself to more of her parent’s disparaging looks, and more counseling by telling them of her last visitation.
Then, her mother crushed her spirit completely. "Lexi, this has been planned since you were both children. You know there's just not that many naturals of our kind left. You have a chance to keep our bloodline clean and true."
Alexis had nothing to say in response to her mother. She knew she was losing and needed someone to agree with her. She looked over to see her Grandfather sitting in an armchair, listening to the whole conversation. He started shaking his head in a "no" fashion but it was too late. She was going to bring him into this argument as her only ally.
"What about you, Grandpa?" Alexis asked, feeling more positive at the possibility of his agreement. "Don't you think I should have the right to make my own decisions? Don't you think—"
"Alexis," her Grandfather cut her off mid-sentence. "I believe that you should understand that your parents are only trying to do what's best for you. They are doing what is best for the pack by preserving the purity of our bloodline."
"Screw you." Alexis said, stomping her feet for emphasis. It was all she could think of to say. Without her Grandfather's support, she was alone and defeated. Tears dripped off her cheeks wetting the fabric of her dress, and her heart sank into the pit of her stomach. She tried to appear strong, but as she opened her mouth, a wailing sound escaped, exposing her defeat. She ran out of the house, slowing only long enough to snatch her purse off the hook by the door, and continued through the apple orchards, swearing and wailing all the way to the storage barn. She ran inside and found her dark corner behind stacks of apple crates. It was a place she had gone many times before. It was a place she considered safe when she felt defeated. She vowed to herself, in that dark corner, she would never allow Leonidas to have her. She would take him out or leave the pack before she would allow him, or anyone else to make decisions that were hers alone to make.