Briony smiles at me- God, I love her smile- and then she starts to eat some macaroni off her fork. Mum makes the best macaroni and cheese, but my mate doesn't seem to enjoy it as much as her siblings do.
Robin still looks angry as he scrapes cheese sauce off his plate whilst Olydia just looks upset. Faye is still sat on Briony's lap, watching her older sister eat over her. When I was seventeen, I never would've been able to care for my two siblings alone, and yet Briony cares for three.
'Charlie and Lukas will come tomorrow to interrogate her.' Dad tells me, still on edge with her in our house but willing to compromise because mum wants him to. 'You need to convince her to stay the night.'
'Okay.' I reply, accepting mission impossible. Briony seems like the stubborn type, so she won't accept our offer until she feels like there is no other option.
Finally, dad leaves with mum in hand, Dan trailing behind them, and my mate's shoulders sag in relief. I keep my voice low, "Do you want me to leave you in peace as well?"
She glances at me, smiling a little as she chews, "If you want to stay, I won't stop you."
Smiling as well, I settle in my chair again. Robin is holding his clean plate and looking at Briony with a question in his eyes. She looks at his plate and frowns, leaning closer to me. "Is it considered rude to lick your plate clean?"
"Generally, yes." I tell her, and then I look at Robin, "But my mum's not here right now, so knock yourself out."
He grins, starts licking his plate like an enthusiastic dog. I can't believe I hadn't been able to tell he was a wolf when I met him. It won't surprise me if he first shifts at least a year before the average adolescent wolf does.
Melissa pops her head around the door, "I'll drop the stuff in your room, Tommy. Is that alright?"
I nod, thanking her whilst Briony puts down her cutlery and goes to stand, "I really need to change Faye." She glances at her other siblings, "Can you please watch them for a moment?" She asks hesitantly.
I really don't know how Briony does it. She seems to take better care of these kids then herself.
"Of course." I smile, wanting her to know that Robin and Olydia will be alright. "Up the stairs and first door on your left." I watch her leave, pausing outside the kitchen door cautiously before going up the stairs.
Melissa comes in the kitchen with a bag, pulling out two kids magazines, "I got these for you guys." She holds out the truck magazine and another one with princesses on it. Robin and Olydia both widen their eyes and grab for them, murmuring their thanks.
'What did dad say in the end?' She asks me, coming to sit in Briony's chair. Already, my wolf is missing my mate, but I try to not get attached. After all, she doesn't want to stay with me.
'They're letting Briony stay the night, although she doesn't want to.' I frown, 'The Alphas are coming round tomorrow to determine her case.'
'You think he'll banish her from Burnham?'
'Can Briony be banished if these kids are enrolled in the school and she owes an apartment?' I wonder. Usually, rogues aren't welcome on our territories, but Briony isn't an ordinary rogue.
Melissa says something but a pain goes through my stomach and suddenly I'm sprinting up the stairs, "One second, Melly!"
I run into my room and see Faye laying on the floor, already in a new nappy. There's a retching sound from my en suite and I open to door to see Briony kneeled over the toilet, throwing up.
A foreign feeling surges through me as I drop to my knees beside her, reaching out to touch her shoulder but hesitating. "Briony?"
"Tommy." She rests her head in her hands, looking pale and sweaty. "I'm fine."
"I don't think you are." I say just as she starts to heave again, "Are you sick?" My minds starts running through all the possible viruses she may have picked up.
"No," she shakes her head, avoiding my eyes, "I'm just not used to eating rich, homemade foods like that."
"You barely had three bites." I murmur as she spits into the toilet bowl. She hums in response.
I look her over, only just noticing how skinny she is. How did I not see that before?
"What do you usually eat?" I ask, placing a hand on the top of her back and rubbing small circles. She instantly relaxes.
"I can keep some of those microwaveable meals down," she shifts away from the toilet, holding herself up on her hands and knees, "Game is the only thing I can eat without getting sick though."
My heart hurts, "Oh, Briony," who knows the last time when she was able to hunt? By caring for her siblings, she's harming herself, and it will only take so long until the damage became permanent.
"Don't," she says, "can you get me some water, please?"
I stand, filling up the glass that I keep in my bathroom with tap water. I crouch beside her again, passing to to her, "Small sips."
"I've dealt with Robin and Olydia when they get sick, Tommy," she teases before taking a sip.
Her blonde hair is stuck to her forehead and matted with dirt from her time on the run. I want to tuck her blonde locks behind her ear but I stop myself. She looks exhausted, dirty and weak.
"You should have a shower and get some sleep." I murmur, settling for holding my hands in my lap. "I can watch the kids for a while, and they're tired too."
"I need to feed Faye with a bottle."
"My mum can do that," I say, and a scowl forms on her features, "or I can do it, if you don't trust mum, but I'm what the French call 'incompétent' when it comes to babies."
My attempt at a French accent makes her smile, but I will go to the end of the earth to make her laugh. It's true what they say about mate bonds, "I'm sorry about last night." Briony says, climbing to her feet.
"For what? A few scratches?"
"For getting your Uncle killed." She looks away as I stand beside her, "For hurting you. For pissing in your dad's eye. For everything."
"You pissed in my dad's eye?" I repeat, and she nods sheepishly. I start to laugh, "That's a good trick. I'll keep that in mind in case I'm ever on the run."
"It's not fun, Tommy." She shakes her head, looking at the floor. "When I was with my parents, we were constantly running away from wolves. You never get the sound of snapping jaws out of your head." She shudders and I want to pull her close, swear to protect her, but I can hardly defend myself in a fight.
Like the saying goes; I'm a lover, not a fighter.
"Please stay the night, Briony, for my peace of mind," I beg.
My blue eyes scan me, "One night, Tommy. I don't like relying on people."
I nod, feeling relieved, "There's shampoo and body wash in here. I think Melissa has conditioner in her en suite if you want that as well." I say, changing the subject.
"That'll be good, thank you, Tommy." She smiles up at me, and something in me wants to keep her near forever.
After I get the conditioner and some towels, Briony locks the bathroom door and I hear the water switch on. Carefully, I lift Faye into my arms and carry her downstairs. In the kitchen, Melissa's sat with Olydia, helping her colour in a picture of a princess whilst Dan and Robin scour through the truck magazine, making 'oooo' and 'ahhh' sounds.
Melissa looks up at me, "Everything alright?" There's a hint of amusement in her tone.
"Yeah." I shift Faye, feeling slightly embarrassed. "Briony's having a shower, and then I'm hoping she'll sleep. We should get these guys down as well," I nod at Faye, "Bri said she needs a bottle."
Melissa purses her lips, "Alright, you sort that, and I'll organise Robin and Olydia on the sofa bed."
With that, I walk to the lounge where my parents are speaking quietly. I can only guess mum is still annoyed with dad for kidnapping Briony's siblings, but now, I can see the benefits of having them all here. For one, they're guaranteed a safe night sleep and some hot meals.
"On baby duty already?" Dad asks, noticing me first.
"It's no bother." I shrug, turning to mum. "Can you please organise a bottle for Faye?"
"Of course, sweetheart." Mum stands, walks past me but pauses to take my chin, "I'm so proud of you, Tommy."
I blush, not sure what to do with the compliment. Dad scoffs after she leaves, "I hope you remember our deal, Tom."
"I do." And I'm starting to really regret agreeing to it because if Briony said the word, I'd withdraw my application to university in a heartbeat. "We've solved the rogue problem, haven't we?"
"By housing the rogue and having four more mouths to feed, yes." It's not like we can't afford to. "Remember that what happened to Uncle Joey could happen to me, son."
"Don't say things like that, dad. I wouldn't be able to bear losing you." Faye reaches out and touches one of the scars that snakes around my jaw.
"A true Alpha learns to bear losing people close to them." Dad stands, coming close to me. "They aren't emotional beings who put the needs of their mate above the needs of their pack."
"Before we chased Briony, she didn't harm us." A file in dad's hand catches my attention, "Is that her citizenship record?"
When Grandpa Michael took over Burnham, he made a law that made it impossible to buy a property unless you had a citizenship to the town. That way, it could be monitored who's living here.
"She came here two months ago, but apparently she was born in Devon." Dad says as if he thinks it's a lie. "Works three jobs in Burnham, had a handful of other jobs since she was fifteen- I'd guess that's when her parents left."
"But Faye's no older than one." I tell him, jostling her in my arms when she sticks a finger in my ear.
"We'll have to find out the truth tomorrow." Dad sighs, "Myself, Lukas, Charlie and my dad will question her and come to a conclusion. I think it'll just put her off telling us the truth if you're there." I swallow hard. "If she's deemed as not a threat, then she can stay at her apartment- with the kids- as a token member of Firestone Pack."
"And if you think she's a threat?"
I dread his next words, "Then she'll have to move on. We can possibly keep the kids-"
I shake my head, "She won't leave those children, dad. You've seen what they're like- they won't be able to cope without her."
He visibly swallows, "She reminds me of your mother. Always wanting to take on more responsibilities and not letting other people help."
I sigh, switching to our mind link, 'She can't keep down human food, dad, and it's not like she can hunt when she's looking after her siblings.'
He rubs his forehead, looking perplexed. 'Maybe she can hunt tomorrow, if Melissa and I go with her.' I nod, not offended that he doesn't want me to come. I'm a terrible hunter and it might be good for Briony to be in wolf form without me around so she isn't side tracked or anything.
"Tommy!" Mum calls from the kitchen. I give my dad one final tight smile before taking Faye out of the lounge. Robin and Olydia aren't at the table anymore, only Dan who's still flicking through the magazine. I assume Melissa has been able to get those kids to trust her.
"The important thing with formula milk is making sure it isn't too hot." Mum tells me, taking a dish from the microwave and pouring the milk into the bottle. Faye seems to smell it and start gurgling, squirming in my arms. Mum laughs at my strained expression, "Babies will do anything for milk, especially pups."
She screws up the bottle and passes it to me. "Aren't you going to show me what to do?"
"You'll manage fine if you follow your instincts." She says, patting my arm as she passes me.
I walk into my bedroom to see dad setting up a crib at the foot of the bed. He smells me and starts to explain, "You're sleeping on the couch tonight, right?"
"Yeah." Anything to make sure Briony gets a good night of rest. The shower has been turned off, but I hear bottles being lifted on and off the counter. I smile, she's probably exploring all my toiletries.
I sit on the edge of my bed, shifting Faye so she is leaning against my arm. "Dad, do you just..."
"Just put it to her mouth." He tells me, still focused on his task. "She'll know what to do, and she's probably strong enough to hold it with both hands as long as you support it."
I nod, doing what he instructed. My dad has been training me to become an Alpha for the past year, but I never would've thought that he would need to train me for a thing like fatherhood.
Faye soon latches onto the teet of the bottle and closes her eyes as she starts to suckle. Dad leaves in silence, giving me a knowing smile and I see him knock on Melissa's door, probably to apologise. He gets in weird funks when it suddenly seems like he's holding the weight of the world on his shoulders, which is what happened earlier.
'Melly's putting Robin and Olydia to sleep.' I tell him through the mind link so I don't disturb Faye. He gives me a thumbs up and goes downstairs.
Behind me, I hear the door open and her soft voice reaches my ears, "I've never showered in an en suite before. Very fancy."
"You've been enjoying my cocoa butter body moisturiser." I say back, inhaling deeply, "But what do you actually smell like, Briony?"
She comes around to my side of the bed, wrapped in a towel that makes heat flood to my cheeks. I think we're too early for me to be seeing her like this. Her wet hair is hanging over one shoulder which reveals the opposite collarbone, sharply defined against her tanned skin. God, she's so beautiful.
The only thing about unsettles me is the faint bite mark on her neck, but I don't say anything. It may just be from an injury, or another rogue attacked her and tried to claim her as his. I try to ignore those thoughts- as they just make me angry.
"Like Parma violets- whatever those are." She sits beside me, our thighs just touching as the towel rids further up, revealing more of her toned legs and a tattoo of half a broken heart just above her right knee,. I avert my gaze to Faye, noticing that the same ink marking is on her skin as well. "That's what dad told me, anyways. I don't think I've ever known my own scent. I've always been taught to mask."
"What's with the tat?" I ask, glancing between the one on Faye and the one on Briony.
"Oh, just something my parents did. I have no idea why." She brushes her fingertips over it, "Robin and Olydia have it as well, but Faye never properly met my parents, so I gave it to her," she reaches over to touch her sister's leg, "I think it's a marking to group us, like how pups born into packs carry a scent."
"Do you think you can learn to drop the shields?" I ask, referring to her scent again.
She shakes her head, her eyes resting on Faye. "It's like asking me to forget how to breathe, Tommy."
"Sorry." I say, feeling awkward.
"Don't be sorry." Very slowly, she rests her cheek on my shoulder and I freeze as pleasurable sparks spread over my skin. "You, on the other hand, have the most delicious, intoxicating and mouth watering scent I've ever encountered."
Delicious, intoxicating, mouth watering. Those are three words that have never been used to describe myself. In school, I have a fairly big group of friends, but none of them are girls. I've never even been asked out by a girl before.
"Briony." I say, waiting for her to hum before I continue. "How can a girl as amazing and stunning as you be interested in a guy like me?"
She turns her head to me whilst keeping her chin on my shoulder. I feel her trace one of my scars with her index finger, sending a rush of pleasure through my face.
"We're mates, Tommy, the moon goddess destined us to be together." Her voice is warm against my ear, sending chills down my spine. "Shouldn't you be asking why you got paired with the seventeen-year-old rogue who can't read?"
I pause, not wanting the sensations coursing through my body to stop. "You can't read?"
"I've never been to school, and my parents had more important things to teach me." She leans upwards to press a soft kiss against my cheek. My heart feels like it's about to explode when she pulls back, "Still want me, Tommy Stone?"
"Uh, um," I cough and try to pull myself together, "of course, I do."
She giggles as she completely pulls away and nods down at Faye, "My favourite part has always been the nightly feed." I give her a confused look, "When a pup's parents just leave and someone else becomes their guardian, that wolf produces milk for the pup."
My jaw drops, making her eyes drop to her lap, "I know that it technically makes Faye my illegitimate child, and no mate wants a wolf who-"
"Don't finish that sentence, Briony Taylor." I growl softly, trying not to wake Faye. "You gave her the strength needed to live, and that will never be wrong in my eyes."
"Thank you for understanding and not judging me." She says, nuzzling her face against my arm.
"I won't always understand, but I'll never judge you." I say, "Even if you don't decide to stay." She doesn't reply, which makes me think that she still plans on leaving. "You should get some sleep, Briony." I suggest, standing up to place Faye in the crib which Briony smiles at, "You can take my bed, I'll sleep downstairs."
"Oh, I can't-"
"You deserve a good nights sleep in a real bed." I smile at her gently, "Please, Briony."
She looks torn as she glances between the bed and myself. "Where are Robin and Olydia going to sleep?"
"On a sofa bed, downstairs as well." I explain, "Melissa got them ready for bed, and she has pyjamas you can borrow." I can tell that she's a bit stuck on what to do now her siblings are sorted. "I promise you. Everything's fine; you can sleep in peace."
She looks at me sincerely, "Thank you, Tommy. I really appreciate everything you've done."