Avoiding Valen’s watchful eyes in the past 24 hours has been near impossible. It didn’t help that morning sickness decided to rear its ugly head. I believe that now I knew I was pregnant. Every pregnancy symptom suddenly sprang forward with an ugly vengeance, trying to swallow me out of hiding it.
He knows something is up because I had no doubt he could feel it. Zoe and Macey had been at me all day about it, and just when I thought, I finally escaped them by hiding in my makeshift office in the events hall. Thanks to Alpha Nixon, it used to be a storage room for tables and chairs, but is now my new office.
It was nearly time to clock out and head home. Valen said he would pick me up tonight, worried I would run myself off the road, confusing my fear of him finding out with nervousness about the upcoming challenge.
But Macey and Zoe weren’t giving up so easily as they burst into my office, blocking the door as I switched my desk lamp off that was running off an extension cord from the main room. I roll my eyes as they stop my exit. Looking at the clock above the door, I pin them both with my glare, they know Valen will be here any minute, or maybe that was their plan so they could out me.
“Everly, you aren’t leaving us much choice,” Macey says, folding her arms across her chest.
“That’s because it isn’t your choice, I have to challenge my father. The entire city knows about the challenge. I back down now the rogues will think I am running. I need to do this,” I tell them.
“But the risks, you can’t shift!” Zoe says, her hands reaching toward my non-existent bump like she pictured it round and full of limbs.
“I’m durable. I know what I am doing, I won’t let him harm me. Besides, he knows,” I tell them, chewing my l!p nervously.
“Your father knows, yet you haven’t told your mate!” Macey growls at me.
“I didn’t tell him, he found out for one, and secondly, if I do this, we hold reign over a third of the city; Valen held half. We only need to tip the scales a little more. Valen holds control, but not enough without my father’s pack to change the laws himself. Slasher, Shadow, and Nixon hold the other half, therefore equal votes within the council. This throws that out,”
“Yes, but not at risk to your…child. Think Everly! If you do this, you are putting yourself at risk.” Macey argues.
“I’m already at risk. This is bigger than me. For all those in the city, my life seems a no-brainer. But don’t worry, I am not planning on losing, so it will mean something. Valen can’t challenge for the title, only an heir can. My father holds the land titles. I need these land titles before Nixon gets his hands on them. This needs to be done. It is the only way to set everything right, back to the way Valarie intended,” I retort.
“The City can wait!” Macey says, and I shake my head and push past them.
“I won’t blow my chance. Every f**cking step we take, we get knocked back four. I am sick of playing this Yoyo game of cat and mouse. I am done being the mouse! The laws pass when I beat him. For the first time, I hold power. The f**cking rogues hold power for once!” I yell at them. A couple of the workers in the event hall rush out, thinking we are about to come to blows. We never have and never will. But this sh**t was getting to me.
“Everly, please,” Zoe murmurs.
“I’m tired. I’m so f*cking tired of battling, don’t you get it? How many girls have come through our damn doors looking for a place to stay and work? How many?” I ask them.
“How many times have we had to scrape them up off the floor when their families abandoned them, their packs shunned them? How many hungry mouths do we have to feed before we suddenly can’t anymore?”
“It’s not your battle Everly,” Macey says.
“It is!” I screamed. Everything became too much and erupted in anger, everything crashing and smashing relentlessly. Something’s gotta give! I am drowning here, and everything is just adding weight.
Drowning in grief, responsibility, obligation, and the restraints are so heavy, so, so heavy. I can’t keep fighting. I am done fighting. I just want to rest, and if this is what I have got to do to get it, then so be it. Tears bn my eyes and Zoe’s. Macey purses her l!ps, looks at the ceiling, and clicks her tongue. I s*ck in a breath before turning on my heel, walking out toward the doors.
“Valarie wouldn’t want you to risk yourself like this. Risk her grandchild,” Macey says, and I stop.
“That’s unfair, Macey,” I tell her, spinning around, and she shrugs.
“It’s true,” she says.
“Who do you think I am doing this for?” I tell her as tears slip down my cheeks.
“She gave me everything when I had nothing. She fought for me and all of us when no one else did. This, everything we have done and all those we helped, was for her. She had the vision to make this city free. It was supposed to be free, and they took it from her. I tell them.
“I am just getting it back and doing what she wanted. Nobody knew sacrifice more than that woman did. So yes, she wouldn’t want me to do it, but she would understand why I have to. So no, you don’t get to use her against me!” I tell them before turning on my heel and walking out before one of us says something we can’t take back.
Her words stung because I knew she was right, but Valarie too, risked her life fighting for the rogues. She could have walked away, hung up the banners and stopped fighting, given in, and reformed, but she didn’t. She lost her son and her family’s reputation, her home, and the city, and I will be damned if I let that keep repeating.
It takes me a few seconds to regain myself and I groan when I feel Valen getting closer at an alarming speed. I wipe my face just as Macey and Zoe come out behind me, and Valen runs around the corner of the main building, looking panic-stricken. Trapped was how I suddenly felt, caught between my mate and best friends, the girls I trusted more than anyone, and I was a deer in headlights as Valen grabbed my arms.
“What happened? What’s wrong?” he asks, his clothes in disarray from running. He looks around frantically for any danger before looking at Macey and Zoe behind me. I wait for it, wait for everything to unravel and fall apart again. We were so close, so close.
“I’m fine. Where is Valarian?” I ask him.
“In the car with Marcus. What’s going on?”
“Nothing. We disagreed. I’m fine, everything is fine,”
“You don’t feel fine,” Valen growls, cupping my face in his hands and looking at the girls.
I s*w, waiting for them to say something. “Why is everyone crying? Answer me, someone!” he snaps, looking at us all, and I look at them. Zoe opens her mouth, and I beg her with my eyes not to, and she closes it.
“Nothing. We had a dispute over rosters. We wanted her to take some time off,” Macey lies, looking at me. Relief floods me, and I hang my head.
“Well, that’s a good thing. I agree with them,” Valen says, rubbing my arms.
“I thought someone died or hurt you. Geez, you nearly gave me a heart attack,” he says, hugging me. I keep my mouth shut, unable to speak, but I am grateful they didn’t say anything.
Macey walks over to me, chucks her arm over my shoulder, and Zoe follows. We walk out to the car, and Marcus is leaning against the hood. He moves to the back door and opens it, and Casey climbs out.
“Everything alright?”‘ he asks Zoe, who nods to him. He doesn’t look like he believes her either, but we all say our goodbyes when Macey grabs me as Valen climbs in the car.
“Thank you,” I whisper to her.
“Please don’t ever ask me to lie like this again. But, I get it. Kick his f*cking a5s! I will be cheering from the sidelines and ready to hammer him if he hurts you,” she whispers, k!ssing my cheek and I chuckle.
The drive home was silent, but Valen kept glancing at me. I could even feel his eyes on me as I stared out the window. He clutches my hand, and I look at him before his voice flits through my head. His eyes go to Valarian in the mirror.
“If it’s about tomorrow, you can back out. I know it must be hard to challenge your father,” Valen says. I shake my head, and he squeezes my hand.
“It’s not that. Just don’t be mad afterward,” I tell him, suddenly feeling guilty. We had come so far, and now I was not only risking myself, but us, but I had a reason. And he looked at me, turning his head to the side to look at me.
“Why would I be mad? I could never be mad at you,” Valen says.
“What’s going on?” he asks when I don’t answer.
“Nothing, I think dad just got in my head,” I lie. It was becoming a thing. Lying shouldn’t be a thing, yet I knew the rogues needed this. I needed this. This would set us free. Yet why did it have to risk so much?
“If you’re scared Everly, you can back out. It’s ok to be scared,” Valen says.
“I’m not scared,” I tell him.
“Good. Because the moment I think you’re in trouble, I will be pulling you out. I won’t let him hurt you.”
“Valen, it’s a challenge, that is the whole point, and you can’t make him submit for me,”
“No, but I will. I don’t care how many laws it breaks. I know only an heir can challenge, but I will not let your father k**l you either, Everly. And before you ask, don’t ask me not to step in if it comes to that. That is something I won’t promise you, so either win or back out now because if you are on the losing end, I am getting in that arena,” he says, and I sigh.
“Ok, I won’t ask that, but…”
“No. There are no buts. That is how it is. Sorry, but if I have to pull rank, I don’t want to have to, but I will if it means keeping you alive, Everly. Don’t expect me to watch you get hurt or killed and stand there. I wouldn’t ask that of you if our roles were reversed, so don’t ask something of me. I know you wouldn’t live up to yourself,” I swallow out guilt. His words hit home a little too closely. He knows me too well, which only makes me lying to him tear me apart more.
All night I was restless and sleep didn’t come easily. Valen luckily didn’t ask me to train, insisting I needed a good night’s rest, yet when I woke up the following day. I felt anything but rested.
I was anxious, and my eyes felt like sandpaper. My stomach twisted violently and had me running for the bathroom as I retched and gagged. Once I emptied my stomach, I rinsed my mouth and w*t down my face just as Valen walked in and leaned on the doorframe.
“Nerves?” he asks and I nod, trying to catch my breath.
“You alright?” he asks.
“Yep, never better,” I lie. He nods, walking out, and I stare at my reflection, trying to get myself together. A few more hours and this city was about to have another power player, and for once the ball was in my court, I just had to win the challenge first.
“Everly, Breakfast!”‘ Valen calls out to me and I sigh. As long as I could make him submit before we came to the second round, which requires us to shift, I could win this. If not, it may all be for nothing. So that was not an option.