Ava is not given time to think.
Time To Think
Athanasios looks down at me before he pulls me close and kisses my forehead. Was it only this morning I was formally introduced to him? So much has happened in a short space of time, my head is reeling. Before I can make head or tail of it, my father adds to it.
“You’ll be married before you leave for Greece,” he states. I gape at him. I haven’t seen him in nearly three years and now he’s marrying me off?
“Father, wait a darn minute!” I declare. Both men turn to me but I can’t allow this. “Do you not think Athanasios and I need to work this out first? Ourselves? I haven’t seen you in three years, and the first thing you do is marry me off?”
I fold my arms across my chest. Today alone, I’ve faced off a minister, fought as a champion, killed a shifter as part of a legal judgement, and now suddenly, I’m to be married, without so much as asking me if it’s what I want. Or giving me the time to talk about it. “I need time to process this all, father.” Turning on my heel, I begin to walk away. I can sense him behind me. As he calls out my name, I cast a protective bubble, pushing him and everyone else away. Time. I require time.
Seeing Ava stalk away, I turn to her father, glaring at him. Ava’s aunt does too.
“Ach, Archie, you’re a damn bulldozer! That wasnae the way to do it,” she scolds him. I can feel the hurt and anger rolling around inside of Ava, mounted with a lot of confusion and frustration.
“It would have been better had you given her the time to consider the answer. Two minutes isn’t long enough.” I declare and begin to follow her. Her sister steps before me, stopping me. As slight as this woman is, I can feel the same magical energy that Ava has, come from her. Like most shifters, my sense of smell is heightened. Alison has a very different scent from Ava, not unpleasant, but she’s not my mate.
“Here, Aunt Em, take Eunice for me? I’ll go and talk with her,” she declares. The child is handed over, peacefully, and Alison quickly follows her sister’s path. Her father backs away a little as I turn to him.
“She’ll need the matrimony bond to help protect her,” he declares. I growl at his response, Ava has had a chaotic day, marrying me, as much as I need that, isn’t something she needs to deal with.
“And ye couldn’t have maybe talked her into it, rather than railroading the poor lass?” Em declares. “Honestly, Archie, that woman’s taken any sentiment ye had for the kids right outta ye,” Em scolds. I do not understand Em’s reference, but it is clear Archie does, as he pales at her words.
“I do not know why you would ask her to decide, then make the decision for her,” I declare, crowding him. “That is not how anyone will treat my fated mate,” I state. Archie swallows, the sweat begins to show on his brow and as I go to take a step forward, Em steps between us.
“Archie, you’ve made your point. Badly. Athanasios, where are you staying tonight?” I back away a step and look at the woman who has raised Ava. Where is Ava’s mother?
“I am not sure,” I declare. “My intention was to talk with Ava, meet her family. Where is her mother?” I look around for another woman that looks like Em, but her brother squirms.
“She died, in childbirth, with me,” he states, sadly. I can feel the self-blame he carries, the hurt. I offer him a hug and he takes it. He feels starved of affection.
“She did, but it wasn’t your fault, Aonghus, we’ve told you that,” Archie declares. Em slaps his arm, hard, making him wince.
“Ye really need to shut up and learn to talk to people Archie,” Em scolds. Then she turns to me, pulling Ava’s brother in for a hug. “What my charming brother-in-law means, is that it wasn’t your fault, Aonghus. It was just one of those things. I’ve raised Ava since she was five. I’d have had Alison and Aonghus too, but someone didn’t want them to go too,” Em declares, staring at her brother-in-law.
“We raised them,” Archie declares.
“You’ve done nothing but fight, dad. That’s all you and Vicky ever do. Why do you think I don’t want to live there? Why I’d rather spend the night in the garden house, or the arena, than at home?” The fire within Aonghus ignites, I can sense it and almost see it. “Nothing is good enough for you, it never was. Yes, you’ve taught me the blades, it was the only time you ever spent with me.”
The hurt is evident in his voice and for a moment, I am not sure what his father will do. I growl a warning, I know Ava would defend her brother from her father if she needed to. I will do the same.
Archie glances at me and thinks about saying something, but I am not interested in excuses from him. I let my Dragon come forth a little. Em places her hand on my upper arm.
“Archie,” Em’s voice cautions. “No more excuses. Ailith wouldn’t accept them from you,” she cautions. “Neither will we. No more.” I see Archie’s shoulders drop, the tension leaving him. I draw my dragon back in, but Alexandros is reluctant to submit and gives off a last warning growl at Archie.
“Father, you need to speak with Ava,” Aonghus advises, none too gently. “She was already considering leaving with Athanasios. Being married to him for the mating bond to take hold would have been initiated anyway, a fact I’m sure Ali is telling her.” Aonghus stands before his father. “Vicky’s chased everyone away, we’ve feuded enough,” he states as he walks off, leaving his father to think on his words. Em nods and turns, leaving me to do the same and follow Ava and Alison.
I leave my father behind and follow the path through the woods to a quiet vantage point between the Castle and the home I’ve known for most of my life. Finding a fallen log, I sit, remove my boots and dig my toes into the earth. Slowly, I breathe deeply into my stomach, taking in as much air as I can, before I slowly let it out. I grip the bark of the log as I dig my toes into the soft earth. I repeat the breathing, trying to find balance in the maelstrom that’s brewing within. Merrick wasted his life and as a Witch, I believe every life is precious. Taking his, even in a legal judgement, sits heavily on my soul.
On one hand, my father is right: the mating bond would be initiated the moment we physically shared each other, that much I know. Do I want it to happen tonight? I can hardly think, but I know how I feel when I think about Athanasios returning to Greece, without me. Bereft just about does the emotion justice. A twig snaps and I glance up to see my sister walk towards me, a gentle smile on her face, concern and love showing in her eyes.
Something inside me relents and she becomes a blur. Her arms are around me, holding my shoulder and tugging my head into her. Within her warm embrace, all the emotion, frustration and senselessness of today, flows out of me like a dam bursting.