When they reached the area, she let out a low moan, knowing the pain from the change was coming. Even though she’d done this countless times before, the transition between wolf and human, human and wolf, never got any easier. For people like Bram, who seemed to excel at everything he did, it looked as if he gently flowed from one form to another. He never showed any signs of weakness, never looked like he wanted to pass out from the pain. That was probably why he was an enforcer and protector for her Uncle Kade, the Alpha of the Redwood Pack.
And why she was still caught in the in-between without a clear duty or purpose.
Her bones popped, her muscles tearing as her body completed the unnatural change between her two forms. It wasn’t like in the movies the humans had made before the Unveiling. This wasn’t full of sparkly magic and wishes. It was an intense agony infused with faith in the moon goddess that Charlotte wouldn’t get stuck halfway between her two halves.
She’d had nightmares about that when she was little.
Of course, the fact that she’d seen it happen to her brother’s…experiments before she’d come to the Redwood Pack probably had something to do with it.
When she was finally back in her human form, she stood on shaky legs and let out another breath. Her body was sweat-slick and achy, but the run had done her good. Her wolf had needed the escape, and Charlotte had needed to be alone with Bram. Even if just the idea of it was a sweet agony.
He was her best friend. Her everything.
The one man who the goddess had chosen to be her mate.
But when the mating bond didn’t come, her heart had shattered into a thousand pieces. She’d always known she’d never be good enough for a wolf such as Bram, yet some small part of her had hoped the moon goddess would allow her that one piece of happiness. But the blood in her veins spoke loudly to those who dared to listen, and because of that, Bram would never be hers.
There would be another chance for him to mate, she knew. There were potential mates around the world for every shifter in existence. One only needed to find them. They could choose whom the moon goddess put in front of them, or wait to find someone their human half could love.
Charlotte had thought Bram was hers. Her wolf knew it to be true.
But no bond had come.
So she would remain his best friend, and when he found another wolf to complete the bond, she would step aside and shatter, breaking every day until she took her last breath.
Strong fingers gripped her chin, and she pulled herself out from beneath her blanket of self-doubt.
“Charlotte.” Bram’s voice soothed her, even as it brought her to the edge and made her ache.
“What?” she breathed.
“You need to stop thinking so hard,” he said softly. His eyes were dark, yet the yellow ring around the irises told her that his wolf was close to the surface. “You’re hurting yourself; pushing yourself until you’re bound to break.”
She’d already broken.
But she didn’t tell him that. He knew it already since he’d crumbled right next to her when the bond hadn’t come.
“I’m fine.” A breathy answer. She cleared her throat. “I’m fine,” she repeated, her voice far stronger. She was good at pretending she held a strength within herself she would never actually possess. Her sister, the only mother she’d ever known since Ellie had raised her from a small child, had taught her how to pretend, how to face her fears even if she may never fully overcome them.
Bram frowned, and she wanted to rub away the little line that formed between his dark brows. She loved that line, just like she loved every inch of his face, though she’d never told him that. She never would.
His skin was smooth, dark brown, and encased muscles that held the strength of a Pack leader. The squareness of his jaw, and the broadness of his shoulders had only intensified as he’d grown into himself and his position in the Pack, and she’d fallen for him early on in their friendship. Their one night of passion, however, would have to be the last time, as the bond hadn’t come when it should have.
Bram was not hers, and he never would be.
But she couldn’t fight for her Pack in this time of war if she spent her days mooning over a wolf she could never have.
Resolute, she rolled her shoulders and took a step back from him. The hurt that crossed his features mirrored her own, but both she and Bram were good at pretending.
Oh so good.