Queen (Cats of Felidae Academy #4) - River Ramsey
“Alright, just a little bit further,” Axel said, his hands still covering Ella’s eyes as he led her out onto the porch. The house was just off campus, and since the baby news had already been broken to everyone in the colony, there was no point in continuing to live in the dorms.
The experience of living with Axel again had been surprisingly pleasant, but she still hadn’t seen Bishop since the night of the ball. He’d been absent from school--and, as far as Ella knew, from the pride itself.
“What is this?” Ella asked, reaching up to touch Axel’s hands. Like all tigers, it was a bit worrying whenever he was in a playful mood because he didn’t really know his own strength. In this form, the greater concern was whatever was waiting on the other side of the door.
“I told you, it’s a surprise,” he grumbled, finally taking his hands away from her face. “Alright, you can look.”
When Ella opened her eyes, the sunlight made her squint. Once they had adjusted, she found the blazing red SUV in the driveway even more blinding.
“What is this?” she asked, looking up at him.
“It’s yours,” he answered proudly, slipping his hands into the pockets of his uniform. “I was gonna get something cool, but then I remembered you trip on your own feet, so I decided to go with safe.”
Ella looked between him and the car, blinking. “You got me a car? I can’t even drive!”
“That’s why I’m gonna teach you,” he said with a shrug. “You’re having a baby. You need to be able to get around if me or Sterling aren’t here.”
Ella looked back at the car, a strange feeling welling up in her chest. It matched the tears filling her eyes, which came a lot easier those days. Axel immediately looked like a deer caught in headlights.
“Please don’t cry,” he groaned. “Why are you crying? Do you hate it? Because I can get something else…”
“It’s not that,” Ella said with a laugh, draping her arms around his shoulders. “It’s perfect.”
“Oh,” he said, resting a hand on her back as he held her close to his chest. “So...you’re happy crying?”
“Yes,” she sighed.
“Good.” He breathed an audible sigh of relief. “You’re confusing enough. You should come with a manual during pregnancy.”
She gave him a playful shove. “I’m not that bad.”
“Mhm,” he said dryly, leading her over to the SUV. “Come on, try it out.”
“Now?” she asked doubtfully, eyeing the SUV like it was a giant beast. To her, it might as well have been. Emily had always insisted there was no need for Ella to learn to drive because, in her words, “Where would she go?” Now, she felt like it was too late. Everyone else had learned when they were sixteen, and Axel was right. She wasn’t exactly the most coordinated person on the planet. Especially not for a cat shifter.
“Yeah, now. You need to get out of the house,” he said matter-of-factly. “You can’t keep sulking over Bishop being a complete douche.”
“Axel,” Ella muttered.
“What? It’s the truth. He wouldn’t have bailed on his pregnant mate otherwise.”
Ella knew the words weren’t meant to hurt her, but they stung anyway. Axel had never been one for tact. “His mother is missing.”
“That’s supposed to be an excuse?” he scoffed. “If mine was gone, I’d throw a fucking fiesta.”
“That’s hardly the same,” she said flatly.
“Come on.” He opened the driver’s side door and offered a hand to help her in. “You’ve gotta learn sometime.”
Ella reluctantly let him help her inside. The SUV felt like a tank, especially from behind the wheel. She ran her hands over the steering wheel, trying to make sense of the vague unease that came over her whenever she was in a car.
She brushed it off as nerves and took a deep breath as she buckled herself in. You’re going to be Empress. You can drive a damn car.
Not that she felt like she was qualified for that role, either.
“Alright, so first things first, put your foot on the brake,” said Axel.
“Before I start the car?”
She did what he said and turned the key in the engine. It roared to life, and Ella looked down at the gearshift, frowning. She really wished she had taken driver’s ed now. “Which one?”
“D,” he answered, grinning.
Ella rolled her eyes and put the car into gear. She hesitated, feeling the rumble of the engine through the steering wheel. “Okay, what now?”
“Now, press lightly on the gas pedal.”
Ella nodded, letting up on the brake before