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Reverse Harem Romance

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When Hollis
Met Cricket

When Hollis Met Cricket

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“Guys, I'm gonna have to kick you out of here in a minute. I told—I have somewhere to be in an hour.”

Cas and I glance at each other before looking at Theo. Today is the first day the three of us have hung out all week. And that's only because Cas and I drove over to Theo's house first thing this morning and forced him to go up to the mountains with us. We came back to his place to play video games, but we haven’t even been here an hour yet. We used to spend the whole day together running around the forest or hanging out in Theo’s loft.

“Are you kidding me?” Cas asks, clearly pissed. “You can't go one day without seeing her? There are only a few days left of summer.”

Theo’s expression turns hard, and I know he’s too stubborn to change his mind. Before Cas starts a real fight with him, I suggest a compromise.

“Why don't you just invite her to hang out with all of us? We want to meet her, anyway.”

Which is true. He’s been cagey and secretive all week, ditching us to hang out with some mystery girl. He won’t tell us anything about her. I know Cas is just as curious as I am.

“I'm just not ready for you guys to meet her yet,” Theo says, tapping his fingers against his leg anxiously.

“Why, is she fucking ugly or something?” Cas asks with a sneer.

Theo laughs. “Fuck no. She's perfect.”

She’s perfect? I can't believe those words just came out of his mouth. He’s always been a player. While it’s surprising to see him finally showing a girl this much attention, it bothers me more that he’s keeping so much from me and Cas. We’re supposed to be best friends. We’re his betas, for fuck’s sake. What does it mean for our pack if Theo’s shutting us out for something that shouldn’t be that big of a deal?

I sigh and give him a look. “It's fucking weird to see you acting this way. You won't even tell us her name.”

Cas scowls from his spot on the floor. “You've always said you wanted to hook up with as many girls as possible until you get trapped by your mate.”

Theo growls, flashing his teeth in warning. “Maybe I changed my mind.”

Something occurs to me, and I go completely still at the thought. I’m an idiot for not considering it before, but is it possible he met his mate? Is that why he’s being so weird and secretive, and so completely unlike himself when girls are typically involved?

“Whatever, dude.” Cas stands up, casting his glare in my direction. “You ready to go?”

I consider saying something and confronting Theo with my theory. I meet his eyes, and he grimaces. The second he looks away, I bite my lip to hide my smile. It makes so much sense, the more I think about it. I give Theo one last inquisitive look before following Cas downstairs and out to my truck. Theo doesn’t say another word or try to stop us.

By the time I slide into the driver's seat and turn on the truck, Cas is already slumped down in the passenger seat. He's sulking and texting on his phone furiously.

“Did you still wanna hang out?” I ask as I pull out of Theo’s driveway and head toward Cas’s place.

“Shit. Sorry, Hollis.” He grimaces at me, holding his phone up. “I just asked Sara to come over.”

I roll my eyes. Sara is one of the most annoying girls I've ever met. Theo can't stand her either. Cas has been dating her on and off the past couple of years. He's fully admitted he just uses her for sex, and it's easier to get back together with her than it is to pull the same shit Theo does in order to meet new girls.

Personally, I don't get how they can do it. I’m not saying I’m a saint. I’ve tried the one-night-stand thing a couple of times, and I had a long-term friends-with-benefits for a while last year. All of those situations turned out horribly by the end, and I still feel guilty every time I think about those girls. It’s just that any feelings I do ever potentially catch for a human girl would only be temporary until I meet my mate. I can’t promise human girls anything real, and it feels cruel to lead someone on like that.

“I just need a distraction,” Cas grumbles. “Theo’s seriously pissing me off.”

“You shouldn't be so hard on him.” I smile.

He looks at me like I'm insane. “Dude, why the fuck are you smiling? He's acting like an asshole.”

I smile even wider, unable to hide it. If I’m right, this is a huge deal for our pack. “I think Theo met his mate.”

“What?” Cas reels back, horrified.

“Just think about it. We both know Theo would never act this crazy about a girl normally, no matter how good the sex is. Plus, if he was only having sex with her, he'd be giving us a hell of a lot more details.”

Cas looks terrified as he runs his fingers through his hair. “But he can't have. Where would he have even met someone? Why wouldn't he tell us?”

“Huh, I don't know. Maybe because he knew your reaction would be something like this?” I roll my eyes at him. Cas is always so fucking dramatic.

If Theo has found his mate, I'm sincerely happy for him. It sounds cheesy, but I've always been excited at the idea of finding my mate. Somebody who will complement me perfectly and vice versa, who will be my absolute equal in everything. I've never met a mated pair who weren't happy and completely perfect for each other.

I haven’t told my friends or family, but I’ve been pretty bummed the past few weeks ever since we got home from the pack meet-up in Montana. I thought for sure this would be the year I’d meet my mate, and it was devastating to realize none of the wolves there were the one.

Without warning, Cas reaches out and punches the dashboard. “What the fuck! We were supposed to have one more year together!”

“If you break my fucking truck, you're buying me a new one.” I barely hold back a snarl.

Cas ignores me as he puts his face in his hands and rests his elbows on his knees. I knew he might be a little upset, but this is ridiculous. Cas has always thought of finding his mate as a prison sentence. He insists that wolves who find their mates become completely changed and brainwashed. I don’t think it’s changing so much as growing up, and growing together. My brother Ezra and Cas's older sister Colette are mated to each other. They were best friends growing up. When she turned sixteen and got her mate mark, they were both completely over the moon.

“Theo's still the same person. Knowing him, his mate is probably going to be just as wild as he is.”

He looks up and groans. “No, watch her be some prissy little goody two-shoes who gets offended at everything we fucking say or do. She won't let him have any fun. This is a nightmare.”

I laugh, pulling into Cas's driveway. “Just give Theo some time to adjust. He’ll introduce us soon, and it'll be alright.”

He rolls his eyes and hops out of the truck. “Whatever. I'll text you later.”

I drive aimlessly. I'm not really sure what to do now. It's still pretty early in the afternoon, and my best friends are busy for the rest of the day. I guess I should just go home, but I already feel myself getting bored and mopey at the thought. When I pass by the sign for downtown Emery Ridge, I decide to stop by Flora & Feathers Books. I’ve been avoiding the place all summer, ever since Paisley started working there. But I could use some new books that don’t come from the library where my mom works, and it’s always fun talking to Aurora, the witch who owns the shop.

Hopefully Paisley has the day off, or maybe she even quit. I feel bad for thinking that way, but I can’t help it. Honestly, the girl has always been incredibly sweet to me, and she's never actually told me to my face that she likes me. But she left me so many secret-admirer notes last year, and I’ve caught her following me both in and outside of school on several occasions. Her obsession creeps me out, but I hate confrontation.

When I park outside the bookshop, I say another silent prayer that Aurora or her assistant manager Luca are working today. I walk slowly up to the door, keeping my fingers crossed and trying to think of what I might say if Paisley is working after all.

The second I walk into the shop, every thought I had before flies out the window. My heart goes absolutely still, and I swear I stop breathing.

First, I’m hit with the most incredible, mouth-watering scent. My wolf trembles beneath my skin, and I barely keep myself from shifting as I flare my nostrils and blink dazedly. A few feet in front of me, the most beautiful girl I've ever seen in my life is standing up on the ladder that slides from one end of the bookshelf to the other. Her shining golden hair is gently blowing in the breeze coming from the open door, framing her face perfectly. She's wearing a short white dress that enhances her phenomenal curves. My eyes follow the curve of her leg down to her bare feet, where one foot is daintily hanging off of the ladder. I can't stop staring at her, drinking every bit of her in.

Without warning, she jumps down from the ladder and lands delicately on the hardwood floor of the shop. She's wearing a bunch of different bracelets and necklaces, and the clinking sound they make startles me back into reality. I let go of the door handle, and it closes behind me with a soft click. I keep staring at her, willing words to form on my lips.

Instead, I just keep staring at her like an idiot.

“Can I help you with something?” she asks, her face lighting up with this insanely gorgeous smile.

It takes a few seconds for my brain to catch up with my dick and my flabbergasted wolf, and I nearly flinch at my stupidity. She works here? Since when? I shake my head and quickly walk past her to the back of the store where there are more bookshelves to hide behind. I'm a fucking idiot and a coward. I didn't say one goddamn word to her!

I'm irrationally furious with Paisley. Damn her and her stupid crush for keeping me out of here all summer. Logically, I know that’s my fault and nobody else’s, but fucking Christ. I’ve never reacted to anyone so strongly. Not only is the girl up front stunning, but her scent is literally making my mouth water and I’m still fighting my instincts to shift. I’ve never had issues with my control. Not even when I was a pup. Not like this.

After I’ve had a few moments to calm down, I realize there’s a very high possibility that girl is my mate. A mate mark is the only true way to tell if someone’s your soulmate, but every mated wolf I know says it’s instinctual too. I should be able to tell just by looking at my mate, by smelling her. Seeing a matching mate mark on her wrist will only confirm what my wolf already knows.

There’s no question. I have to talk to her.

For once, why can't I be more like Theo or Cas? They never have trouble talking to girls. While her scent is amazing, it’s obvious she’s not a werewolf. I can’t just march up front and spout off my theory that she might be my soulmate. She probably already thinks I’m an asshole for the way I acted when I walked into the store. I don’t want her to think I’m crazy too.

Let's see. She works in a bookstore, so she probably likes to read, right? We already have something in common. I'll just ask her if she's read anything interesting lately. I can do this.

I spend at least five minutes pacing up and down the same aisle, trying to work up the nerve to face her again. I’m so excited and beyond anxious I’m going to screw up. On my way back up front to talk to her, I blindly grab a book off the closest shelf. I figure I need an excuse for coming here in the first place, and for spending so long walking around the store.

When I walk around the corner, I hesitate when I see her standing behind the register. She’s reading a book, completely engrossed. I frown at the realization that she obviously wasn’t as affected by me as I was by her. I have to remind myself she’s a human, so I can’t be mad that she’s not freaking out at the thought of talking to me. I slowly approach the counter, feeling so nervous it’s stupid. I automatically flare my nostrils and inhale her scent, and holy fuck, I completely lose my mind again. She smells so good, I can barely concentrate on anything else.

She raises her eyes to meet mine as I approach, and she smiles like she’s surprised to see me again.

“Hello,” I say quietly. I set the book I'm carrying on top of the counter without looking away from her. Her eyes are a crazy beautiful combination of blue and brown.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” she asks.

I nod, my eyes darting down to her mouth at the sound of her voice. I’m embarrassed at the way I’m acting, just fucking ogling her like a pervert. But I can’t control myself.

She looks away from me and picks up the book I grabbed. I open my mouth to ask how long she’s been working here. That’s a normal question, right? I glance at her wrists hopefully, but she’s wearing too many bracelets for me to tell if she has a mark or not.

Before I can utter a word, she looks up with a smirk and raises one of her eyebrows teasingly.

“Interesting choice,” she says.

I furrow my eyebrows in confusion, and she holds the book up for me. My eyes nearly bug out of my skull when I read the title. She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman.

“Oh,” I mumble. Holy fucking shit. I’ve never been so mortified in my life. I can’t even look at her. I finally potentially meet my mate, who is fucking gorgeous and likes books, and I’ve completely humiliated myself in front of her.

What else can I possibly say? Somebody please kill me. I open my mouth to apologize and explain that it was a mistake. Maybe she'll think it's funny? She definitely won't go out with me, but then at least maybe she won't think I'm some weirdo pervert.

Something lands on my shoulder and startles me before I manage to say anything, and I turn my head to see a small Siamese cat rubbing its face against my neck and jaw.

“Stella!” the girl says, reprimanding the cat. She reaches out to grab the animal, but the cat hops to my other shoulder and out of her reach. I’m so confused and mortified at the entire situation I’ve gotten myself into, all I can do is stare at the beautiful girl in horror.

She grimaces at me. “I’m so sorry. She’s not normally like this.”

The cat jumps down to the ground and runs toward the back of the shop. I take a step backward, away from the counter. I’ve got to get out of here before I make things worse.

“I, uh, I don’t really need that book anymore.”

She says something, but I don’t bother listening. I’m fucking heartbroken enough for ruining what should have been an amazing moment. I don’t want to hear her make fun of me or realize how stupid she thinks I am. I spin around and walk out the door as quickly as I can without running away.

I drive all the way home feeling like punching myself in the face. I consider calling Cas or Theo, but they’re busy with their girlfriends. Besides, I know they'll just end up laughing at me. I’m way too devastated to deal with that.

I didn’t even get her name.

“You don’t need to come with me. I know you think the bookshop is boring, and I’ll probably be browsing for a while.”

“Not like I have anything else to do.” Cas shrugs, oblivious to my hints that I want to go by myself.

It’s been two days since I went to Flora & Feathers and met the girl of my dreams. At least, she’s definitely the girl of my dreams now. I can’t get her scent out of my nose, and she’s all I see whenever I close my eyes. Further proof that she’s probably my mate.

I spent all day Friday and Saturday sulking about what happened, and all the ways I humiliated myself in front of her. Theo came over yesterday to hang out, probably out of guilt. I thought about telling him what had happened, but he was a huge dick. He still won’t tell me any information about his secret girlfriend and possible mate, so I figured there was no point in telling him about mine.

When I woke up this morning, I decided there’s no way I can make things worse. I can’t stop thinking about that girl. I have to talk to her. Even if I just end up embarrassing myself again, I have to face her. Unfortunately, Cas called me just as I was getting ready to leave and asked to hang out. Theo’s working with Hawthorne today, and I couldn’t think of a good excuse to say no to Cas. Especially when he’s already so ticked off at Theo for ditching us lately.

The car ride is mostly silent. Cas is staring out the window, not messing around on his phone like he usually is. But I’m too anxious to focus much on him. Maybe it’ll actually make things easier if he’s there with me? He’ll at least do a better job of breaking the ice so I can talk to her like a normal person.

“I broke up with Sarah,” Cas says out of nowhere.

“Already?” I ask, mildly curious.

They break up every few months whenever Cas meets another girl he wants to hook up with, but then he and Sarah get back together shortly after. Cas says Sarah prefers that over having an open relationship, but it’s never really made sense to me. But they’ve only been back together a few weeks this time—Cas broke up with her before we went to Montana for the pack meet-up, just in case he met his mate there.

“Yeah, for good this time.”

His voice sounds weird, and I can’t help but feel concerned. I didn’t think he really liked her, not more than physically, anyway. “Are you…upset?”

“No.” He scoffs. I roll my eyes, wondering why he’s even bothering telling me. He clears his throat and mumbles, “I have been thinking though. If Theo’s met his mate, well…it’s only a matter of time before we meet ours too.”

There’s no set timeline for when a wolf meets their mate, but it typically happens between age sixteen and twenty. I’m turning eighteen in a few weeks, and the guys will be eighteen later this year too. So, it’s not like this is news to Cas.

“Yeah?” I shake my head at him. Should I tell him about the girl from the bookshop? Or will he freak out the way he did when I suggested Theo might have met his mate? “Have you changed your mind about not wanting a mate? Or do you still think it’s going to ruin your life?”

He snarls at me and crosses his arms like a petulant child. I roll my eyes again and park along the main street, just a few stores down from Flora & Feathers. He’s still pouting when he gets out of the truck and walks beside me on the sidewalk.

“You’re the one who brought up mates,” I say exasperatedly.

“I still don’t want a fucking mate, okay?” He growls. “I’m not going to change my whole life around just because of a stupid mark on my wrist that I never asked for. You’re probably going to be even worse than Theo. I bet you’ll drop to your knees and worship the ground your mate walks on the second you see her, even if she turns out to be fucking hideous.”

God, I want to punch him. Cas is one of my best friends in the world, but I can’t stand being around him sometimes. Theo’s always balanced us out perfectly, so I’m glad school finally starts tomorrow. He won’t be able to hide from us there.

“So, what? If your mate isn’t insanely hot with huge tits, you’re just going to reject her?” I ask sarcastically.

“No,” Cas snarls, looking at me like I’m the one being an idiot. “My mate’s not going to be ugly. I guarantee she’s going to be way hotter than yours.”

I…honestly don’t even know how this argument started. It’s fucking stupid. Even stupider is how pissed off I feel. I shove Cas’s shoulder roughly once we reach the bookshop, and I growl low in my throat at him.

“Chill the fuck out, would you? I don’t know what your problem is, but you’re the one who wanted to hang out.”

He glares at me as I open the door, but thankfully keeps his mouth shut as he follows me inside. I catch her scent almost immediately when I walk in, and all my nerves and anxiety come rushing back. Despite being nervous, I’m excited too.

Glancing around the shop quickly, I don’t see her anywhere. My heart drops in defeat when I see Luca behind the counter. He greets us with a friendly smile that I try my best to return. If he’s working though, that means the gorgeous blonde girl probably isn’t here.

I turn to look at Cas, but he has a weird, dazed look on his face. I don’t want to ask him what’s wrong and accidentally start another fight, so I walk to the back of the shop. For a few minutes, I pretend to browse while I check all the hidden spots in the store just in case the girl is working in the stacks instead of up front. I don’t find her, but her scent is all over the place. How pathetic is it if I spend all day here just for an excuse to keep on smelling it?

After a few minutes, Cas walks back to the fantasy section where I’m hiding. He still has a weird look on his face, but I decide not to comment.

“I’m gonna head next door to get a coffee real quick. You want anything?”

“Sure, thanks,” I mumble. It’s probably his way of apologizing for snapping at me, so I’m not going to make a big deal of it. I ask him to get me a vanilla Frappuccino, and he nods before turning and leaving the shop.

There’s nobody else in the store right now, so after Cas leaves, I swallow my pride and head up front to the counter. Luca sets his phone down and grins when I approach.

“Hey, Hollis. Haven’t seen you here in a while.”

“Yeah.” I chuckle awkwardly. “I, uh, actually came in the other day.”

His lips twitch like he’s amused. “Oh, yeah?”

For the first time, it occurs to me that he already knows all about the situation. If he and that girl are co-workers, it makes sense for her to tell him all about the creepy guy who came in and made a fool of himself.

“There was a girl here, um…” What can I reasonably ask without coming across as even weirder and more pathetic than I already have?

Luca laughs. “That’s Cricket.”

“Cricket,” I repeat her name with a sigh, feeling my mouth curve up in a ridiculously cheesy smile. It’s such a fun, silly name. I only saw her for a few minutes, but I feel like it fits her perfectly somehow.

“She just stepped out to run an errand,” Luca says, definitely amused.

“So, she’s coming back?” I ask way too eagerly.

“Later, maybe.” He tilts his head like he’s considering how much he should tell me. “I’m sure you’ll run into her tomorrow though. She’s starting school here, and she’s in the same year as you.”

I exhale in relief. I should have trusted fate to bring us back together again somehow. If she’s new around here, that gives me an excuse to possibly hang out with her and show her around.

The bell chimes over the door, and I glance up with excitement. It’s just Cas though. He walks through the shop over to me, shoving my drink at me without making eye contact. His face is red like he’s embarrassed, and I furrow my eyebrows in concern. He was only gone for a few minutes, but something clearly happened.

“You okay, Cas?” I ask carefully. He doesn’t even have a drink for himself.

He brushes his fingers through his hair, glancing at Luca for half a second before grimacing. “Can we leave? I know you wanted to look at books a while longer, and I know I was a jerk before. I just…”

Cas trails off. I can’t help but feel bad for him. Something’s obviously wrong. I don’t know if it has anything to do with his breakup with Sarah, or maybe his internal crisis over Theo finding his mate, but I decide I should cut him some slack either way. I know he’s been having some trouble at home lately too, though he’s pretty tight-lipped about it with me and Theo. Besides, it would be extremely pathetic for me to hang around the bookshop for hours in the hopes of seeing Cricket again. There’s no way I’ll miss seeing her at school, and that’s a way better place to naturally run into her.

“It’s cool.” I nod at Cas. I give Luca a grateful smile and follow Cas out of the store. “Wanna grab lunch and then head up to the mountains?”

I'm just getting out of the shower when my phone buzzes from my dresser. It’s a text from Theo saying he's on his way over. God, I'm fucking tired. Why does school have to start so early? I finish getting dressed, still feeling half asleep. It probably doesn't help that I barely slept last night.

Cricket, Cricket, Cricket. I’ve been saying her name on repeat in my head since talking to Luca yesterday, and I keep imagining different scenarios of running into her again. I’ve decided I’m going to tell Theo and Cas what happened too. Even if they tease me, I know they’ll help me win her over and track her down at school.

I grab my mostly-empty backpack and shuffle downstairs. My mom is in the kitchen, starting her coffee for the morning. She'll be leaving for work soon, and I know my dad's already left. I quickly kiss her on the cheek and make my way out the front door.

My eyes are still bleary as I slowly walk over to Theo's jeep. Cas isn’t riding with us. His family is dealing with a bit of a crisis at home with his youngest sister, Ellie.

I’m completely zoned out when I open the passenger door of Theo’s jeep, so much so I don’t even notice someone already sitting up front. I look up to find Cricket smirking at me, and I jerk back in surprise. She's even more beautiful than I remember.

“Hello, Hollis,” she says in a sexy, breathy voice.

I’m so taken aback, and I have the insane urge to shift when I meet her eyes. Just like I felt the first time I saw her. Did Theo somehow find out about what happened and find her for me?

When I glance over at him, I realize again what a fucking idiot I am. His eyes are feral as he stares between us. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Of fucking course. Cricket is the girl Theo has been seeing all week.

“Um...” What do I do? Fuck, what do I say? I thought she was my mate since she affected me so strongly, but if this is who Theo’s been seeing…

“Hollis, this is Cricket,” Theo says in a voice with the slightest hint of authority. He’s making it obvious to me he’s staking a claim on her.

I just stand there. I'm so confused and heartbroken. I look down at her wrist, but she's wearing a ton of those bracelets again. It's impossible to tell if she has a mark at all. But if she does, it’s obvious it’s probably Theo’s mark. No wonder she wasn’t interested in me when we met at the bookshop the other day.

After a moment, she smiles up at me and takes her seatbelt off. Before I can think to ask what she's doing, she turns around and leaps into the back seat. Her foot gets stuck, and she spends a few seconds tugging on it. The whole thing is funny and adorable, but I’m trying really hard not to stare at her or show much interest in her at all. If she’s Theo’s mate, I need to calm the fuck down and get over myself. Even if the thought of her being his mate instead of mine makes me feel like I’m being stabbed in the chest.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Theo laughs, turning in his seat to watch her.

She flips him off and blows her messy hair out of her face once she’s sitting upright in her seat. “I'm letting him sit up front, duh.”

I wince when I realize I'm still standing outside of the car like a dumbass. I didn't mean to make her switch seats. Just the thought of inconveniencing her or making her angry makes me want to fucking die. I slide in and quickly close the door behind me.

The moment I close my door, I widen my eyes and hold my breath as I tremble uncontrollably. Being locked up in a small space surrounded by her scent is torture. My wolf is begging me to shift, to turn around and claim the delicious girl I’ve been thinking about constantly all weekend. How the hell am I going to survive the drive to school with her so close?

“Dude, what the hell is wrong with you? You and Cas have been bugging me all week to meet her. And now you're acting like, I don't even fucking know! She's going to think you're a weirdo.”

She definitely already thinks that. But I don’t want her to hate me, and I don’t want Theo to think I don’t like his mate. I clear my throat and awkwardly stutter, “I'm sorry. I don't–it's just...”

“We actually sort of met the other day!” Cricket cuts me off.

Theo goes still and then spins around to look at her. “What? When?”

I shuffle lower in my seat. God, please. I do not want to relive that horrible incident. Especially with her sitting right here.

“Hollis came into the bookshop while I was covering for Luca.”

She sounds so casual, like it wasn’t a big deal at all. And god, hearing her say my name is making my heart flutter. I’m a fucking mess.

Theo's nostrils flare, and he glances quickly at her wrist. I instinctively perk up. He's checking for a mate mark after hearing that she met me? So she's not his mate?

“Why didn't you tell me?” he asks with a possessive growl.

I still can’t bring myself to turn and look at her, but she sounds annoyed when she answers. “I didn't know he was your friend. We barely talked for two seconds before Stella scared him off.”

Maybe that’s the end of it. We can move on and never bring the incident up again. Cricket doesn’t sound like she’s bothered about what happened. But Theo flares his nostrils again and turns to glare at me.

“Hollis, tell me what happened.” He's using his alpha voice. Fuck me.

Cricket attempts to save me from answering. “I told you, he—”

“Cricket,” Theo interrupts, still using his alpha voice. “I want Hollis to tell me.”

I'm startled when I realize she's listening to him, and I peer behind me to see her glaring at him. Theo seems surprised that she's listening too, smiling at her in triumph. That should only work on wolves in our pack, meaning only me and Cas. She’s not a wolf, but it’s pretty obvious she has some kind of connection with Theo.

I'm not given any more time to think about that when I feel Theo's penetrating gaze on me again. I groan and rub my hand over my eyes, like that will make this easier.

Feeling ridiculously embarrassed, I quickly explain what happened when I met Cricket the other day. The alpha order makes it impossible to hold back, so I admit my attraction to Cricket and how I planned on asking her out. I glance at her to gauge her reaction, but she still looks angry at Theo for using his alpha voice to keep her quiet.

Theo's face slowly breaks out into a stupid grin when I finish talking. “What book was it?”

Come on, I fucking told him what happened. Haven’t I humiliated myself in front of Cricket enough? “God, please...”

“It was She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman,” Cricket says in a flirty voice.

I cover my eyes with my hand, and Theo starts laughing really fucking hard. Jesus, this is so embarrassing. This is actually worse than when it happened in the first place. Especially because I’m so confused about her relationship with Theo and how I can possibly feel so crazy around her if she’s my best friend’s mate.

After what feels like forever, Cricket sighs dramatically. “You know we're going to be late now. So, thank you, Theo.”

“Worth it, little witch.” He chuckles, wiping a tear from his eye.

Wait. Did he just call her a witch? I raise my eyebrows in shock, but I bite my tongue to keep myself from asking the question out loud. Aurora’s the only witch I’ve ever met, and she’s always been a bit closed off about giving me any information. I know a few things about witches from bombarding her with questions for so many years, but I was under the impression they were pretty rare.

“Oh my god, you're crying? Jesus, it's not that funny. Hollis will never be my friend now, you idiot.”

She slouches in her seat with her arms crossed, pouting adorably. She actually sounds upset that I might not want to be her friend. I’m still in shock that she’s not making fun of me, and that she might possibly be a witch and my best friend’s mate. But setting those issues aside, I’m pretty fucking desperate to be her friend. To be her anything. She has nothing to worry about there.

“Don't be ridiculous. Of course he's going to be your friend.” Theo laughs, finally pulling out of my driveaway to head to school.

He sounds so confident, like it's no question at all. I turn my head to look at Cricket, and she gives me a brilliant smile. I can't help smiling back, even though I'm still nervous and definitely confused.

For the next few minutes, I look back and forth between them. It's obvious she knows who I am, which means Theo has been talking about me and Cas to her. From the way they're talking to each other, it seems like they're friends. It’s not how I expected Theo to act around the girl he's supposedly been secretly dating for the past week. And while he’s clearly into her, it’s not how I expected him to treat his mate either.

I’m determined to get to the bottom of this. If Cricket’s not Theo’s mate, then there’s hope that she still might be mine.

"So, how did you guys meet?”

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