Talia blinked herself awake and the first thing she noticed was the darkness.
It was definitely past dinner time, but Talia didn't mind.
She buried her head deeper into the pillow, indulging in the softness and warmth that came with the scent of the forest and dark chocolate.
Talia paused and took a few sniffs to confirm that her nose is not playing tricks on her.
Talia looked around to ascertain that she was on her own.
She was confused. The room didn't smell like Damon before she fell asleep, but now it did.
She liked his scent; it was a mix of her two favorite things: forest and a sweet treat. Talia wondered if Damon came to check on her while she was sleeping.
Talia shook that thought away. Why would a scary Alpha come to check on her?
It's more probable that Stephanie or Maya brought something that had Damon's scent on it. But she couldn't see anything different.
Talia decided to stop thinking about it. It doesn't matter.
She listened carefully, and there were no sounds she could pick up. Considering that it was dark and late, Talia thought of one pressing matter which included her going to the forest.
Talia was happy that the underwear she washed earlier dried off.
Putting those thongs on or going without would be uncomfortable.
She got black leggings that reached just below her knees, and a dark blue t-shirt with a picture of two kitties sleeping in Talia's chest area.
Unfortunately, other than shiny flip-flops that Maya gave her earlier and running shoes with cracked soles, Talia didn't have any other footwear, so she opted for flip-flops.
The packhouse was quiet, with only dim lights along the hallways.
When Talia reached the main floor, she remembered that Stephanie told her how she can go anywhere, kitchen included, so Talia decided to find a snack before heading out.
Damon spent most of his afternoon coming up with various scenarios related to handling his relationship with Talia.
He didn't know if he can pretend that Talia is not important. Her scent was addictive and the sparks amplified it, and considering Damon's uncaring nature, it would be only a matter of time before people notice that he is acting differently around Talia.
But maybe if he keeps his distance from Talia when others are around, it might work.
No matter what happens, he was confident in one thing: he needs to keep her safe.
Maybe later, when Talia's physical condition improves and she gains confidence, he will reconsider, but for now, it's better to keep her importance a secret.
People close to him will probably notice, but those are only a few that Damon trusts anyway, so when they ask him about it, he will explain, but not sooner than necessary.
Dinner was a lonely event without Talia, but Damon wanted to let her rest, remembering her sleeping face and the way she held onto his hand.
Damon barely noticed Cassie's presence. She was quiet and didn't try to get close, so it was easy to ignore her.
After dinner, Damon met with Maya and Caden in his office.
They normally do this status meeting once a week, but since they were away for a few days, they decided to have one before calling it a day.
They discussed ongoing issues and made decisions when needed, they finalized their story about Talia's presence in the pack, and of course, there were a few random topics at the end.
"How is Talia doing?", Maya asked Damon.
"She is resting.", Damon responded. He was not sure if Talia was still sleeping, but she was when he left her room, and he assumed that she would come down after she wakes up.
"What are we going to do about Cassie?", Caden brought up the topic. "You told her to leave, but she is still here. Based on disobedience, we can escort her out of our pack's territory."
Damon puffed his cheeks while thinking about the best solution. "Let's ignore her. In a day or two, she will get bored and leave. I believe that she understood I'm not going to put up with her antics and that's why she was quiet over dinner."
Caden and Maya both frowned at this.
"I think that Cassie was quiet because she is up to something.", Maya said.
Damon didn't disagree with this, but... "I would love to kick Cassie out. Unfortunately, I can't do it without her committing a serious offense because I need to think about the pack. Based on Cassie's behavior so far, she is only after me, and saying that she is annoying is not a good reason to risk straining the relationship with the Steelbite pack. After Cassie leaves, we will send a memo to the Steelbite pack and any other in the area, that outsiders can't come and go as they please. Let's come up with a story that due to increased attacks, we raised our vigilance, and non-members can't come without previous approval. That will allow us to stop Cassie at the border next time." Damon spread his arms toward Caden and Maya. "If you have a better idea, I'm all ears."
There were no better ideas. They all knew that Damon was right.
They were in charge of a pack, and they had to put their personal feelings aside, even if they are backed up by facts. Unless there is firm evidence against Cassie, they can't just kick her out.
But this was progress.
Damon never considered preventing Cassie from coming to the Dark Howlers pack and the fact that she could come and go freely, emboldened her.
Maya would love to be there when Cassie finds out that she can't come again because she doesn't have approval from Damon, Caden, or Maya. And Cassie will never get approval, unless it's official business and Alpha Richard (aka Cassie's father), sends her as pack's delegation.
Of course, they all knew that Cassie is not coming here without someone supporting her, and that is probably her father.
A girl with self-respect wouldn't allow repeatedly to be used by Damon when he feels like it. She definitely has an agenda.
After the meeting, Caden and Maya left for their room and Damon went to get himself a drink; a glass of water or maybe orange juice, the same one Talia drank that morning.
Damon planned that after having a drink, he will go and check if Talia is awake.
"Alpha Damon?", Cassie called when he passed by the living room, and his steps halted.
"Can I help you, Miss Cassie?"
Cassie waited for Damon the whole afternoon, and she even looked in the common areas, but he was nowhere to be found.
Over dinner, Damon acted like Cassie was not in attendance, but he didn't chase her away either, so Cassie was confident that whatever made him upset earlier that morning, passed.
This was her chance to get closer to him.
She bit her lower lip and gave him a coy look.
"Alpha Damon, I apologize for my behavior this morning. I was not sensible of what's going on, and I acted recklessly."
Damon cocked an eyebrow. "And what do you think is going on?"
"You were stressed and instead of being mindful of your needs, I acted on mine. I didn't mean to be disrespectful. I was only excited to see you again."
Damon didn't buy it, but he was curious what she was up to and if he just calls her a liar, there was no way she would admit it.
"Apology accepted.", Damon said and made a step to the side.
"Where are you going?"
"To get a drink.", he responded.
"Can I join you?"
'Why are you considering it?', Damon's wolf grumbled.
'This is a good chance to be with another woman.', Damon said, and when his wolf started growling, he quickly added, 'It's to protect our mate. This will be a test to see how far I can go without exposing myself and mate. It's better to check these things without an audience, and no one is around now.'
His wolf didn't respond, but Damon sensed the resistance fading.
Cassie's expression lit up when Damon told her that she can accompany him, and she was quick to latch herself onto his arm.
Damon gritted his teeth and forced himself not to push Cassie away. He is a mighty warrior, and he can endure this.
He was so focused on examining his emotions and containing his impulse to shake Cassie off, that he didn't notice another presence in the kitchen.
Cassie turned on the lights and Talia froze with an apple in one hand and a broken chunk of bread in another.
Looking at Talia's clothes and bruised unknown appearance, Cassie assumed that she is looking at an Omega. After all, if Talia has any standing, Cassie would remember her.
Cassie frowned at Talia. "Are you stealing food?"
Talia's eyes widened and her heart thundered in her chest at the unpleasant memories that resurfaced due to Cassie's expression and way of speaking.
On instinct, Talia swiftly placed the bread and the apple on the kitchen counter like they burned her hands.
Talia saw Damon glaring at her like she shouldn't be here, and her heart cracked a little.
Talia lowered her head and closed her eyes while trying to suppress the swelling of negative emotions.
Why did she think that this place will be any different?