Disguise

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Paperweight

Nate’s POV

Her blood pressure was so high. I could hear it thrumming through the room as if someone had put a stethoscope to her heart and attached it to a loudspeaker. I couldn’t understand what was making her heart race! It wasn’t me, not this time. Everything in her body language screamed a warning. She was wound up tight - a single wrong move and she would spring. She wouldn’t even meet my eye. This wasn’t supposed to happen. She was supposed to be a live wire in a different way. In a ‘I can’t understand what’s going on but I want more of it sort of way.’

What is going on with her?

I don’t know, Alpha. I replied with disdain. I was already proving a poor mate.

Don’t blame yourself, figure out how to get her to talk to you. Logical sister as always.

Yeah, yeah I know I know. Seemed like some of her emotions were seeping into me. I could feel her terror as she sat there in front of me, right next to our Queen. Aaaah! I wish I could just shake her until she let her guard down!

“You guys look so serious, I’m fine!” Flora repeated for the hundredth time but I hardly heard her. I knew she was fine for now. Noori was taking her blood pressure as we spoke. I could watch my mate eye her every move. I was tempted to make her measure Xena’s instead.

Did you say something to her? The words came out harsher than I intended.

No, I haven’t even spoken to her. Nate, you have got to relax. Earn her trust. Noori replied, huffing internally. I knew she was right but my Wolf couldn’t help but pace. The worst part was that she didn’t drop one hint. Her face was a mask devoid of emotion and if I didn’t have my senses I wouldn’t ever realize how alarmed she was.

“We know that,” Reece said without skipping a beat. “We’re just making sure.” She spoiled her face. I couldn’t help the next words then.

“Is something wrong, Xena?” She blanched and immediately schooled her features. I couldn’t see a single crack in her facade. It was only her heart that was betraying her. “No, of course not! I’m just glad that she finally woke up.”

Lies lies lies. I pressed my lips into a thin line and accepted her answer halfheartedly. It hurt that she couldn’t trust me but I knew it was too soon.

Alpha, could you ask the Queen to ask her when they’re alone?

Already did. I worry about your mate too, you know. I also told her that you both are mates, so that she can try to understand how Xena feels.

We all do. Grey added. Simultaneous mindlinks from everyone else in the room made me feel better. More validated. It was fine. With everyone by my side I’d got this.

“Well, everything seems normal. Her vitals are up and at this point it looks like all she did is faint out of exhaustion.” Noori announced mostly for Xena’s benefit. I saw a ghost of doubt pass through her face before she arranged her expression to a big smile.

“Exhaustion, huh. That’s weird. All I remember is drinking too much. Man this vacation is really turning out as a mess huh?” Her troubled words, although laced with humor let us all know how guilty she was feeling. For the first time I could see Xena show some genuine emotion as she placed her hand on Flora’s. “Don’t do that. It’s not your fault.”

“She’s right. That’s a good friend you have there.” Noori added, for extra measure. Xena’s expression didn’t reciprocate any warmth.

She clearly hates us. Dani mindlinked, unabashed.

I know, I don’t get it. Everything was fine last night.

Flora picked up on it as well, but didn’t push it. Hopefully she was going to confront her after we left them alone. “Well, since I’m alright why don’t you guys go ahead and do something interesting? No need to be here babysitting the patient.”

“I’m not going anywhere. But I do agree with her, the rest of you should go.” Xena said sweetly. She couldn’t wait to get rid of us!

Well, we weren’t going anywhere...

“Okay then. I suppose we do have some pending work to do.” Reece announced, giving us all a pointed look.

...not that far anyway.

Xena looked a little surprised that we agreed, but she smiled supportively and urged us out of the room. One by one, we filed out and down the stairs, moving slow enough for a human. Everyone kept adding things like, ‘Please call if something goes wrong!’, ‘Are you sure? We can stay with you!’, ‘We’ll see you in the evening!’ We were good actresses and actors too. She stood at the top of the stairs, waving at us and making sure that we entered the lift and the doors shut on our faces.

Stop it now. I told Sienna, who was up in the technical room with Roran.

We stayed right where we were. Eavesdropping. All of us stood still, listening silently. It was the first time that I realized that everyone was as concerned about this as me. A sense of gratitude ran through me and I let my pack mates feel it too. Hank gently patted me on the back, Of course we’ll worry for your mate. She’s family for us now.

He had changed a lot in these few days. I’d only landed the day before but from what Reece told me, learning the truth about Flora really burnt his trust with his cousin. It toasted everyone’s trust, honestly, but he seemed to have taken it the worst, after Reece. I knew he felt really guilty but he’d taken this opportunity the right way and was rebuilding himself to be a better person.

Thanks.

Upstairs, it seemed that Xena just shut the bedroom door. All of us were quiet as we paid attention.

“We need to leave.”

I felt my heart shatter. Reece let out a small growl. Hank and Grey both simultaneously put a hand on each side of my shoulder: for support, warning and restraint.

“What? What’s going on?! Xen! Why are you packing my stuff!” Our Queen’s voice was frantic and I could hear Zuka clawing to come out. His domination was making all of us nervous. We were in an elevator after all.

“You don’t understand! There’s something fishy about them all! Trust me! Let’s just get out of here and I’ll explain everything to you!” She sounded like she was so close to tears. I let out a strangled whine. Were we that dangerous that she didn’t want to waste a single second?

We heard her shuffling around, something being lifted - bags? Was she seriously packing?! I felt fear pool into my veins - nothing else mattered now. I had to stop her this instant! My hands automatically went to the ridge between the two doors. I was going to pry them apart right now!

Stop. Breathe. Relax. Zuka’s deep guttural voice rang through my head. He was using his dominance to get me to calm down and my head bowed down automatically. I couldn’t fight him even if I wanted to - and I didn’t want to. My body relaxed a little. My wolf - Lax -felt the need to submit to his Alpha and I found my hands returning to my conscious control. Everyone else was oblivious to our internal chatter, but they knew that something must be going on because Hank was about to reach for my hands before I took them back myself.

“-they’re involved in some dangerous stuff! Just - okay - look at this.”

“What am I looking at?” Flora’s voice said after a minute and Xena growled in frustration. “You remember my friend from my first year as a journalist? The one who works in the police department?” Flora must have nodded cause Xena paused for only a second.

“Well, I got him to ask one of his buddies here in this precinct to get an update over the woman we found in the woods and guess what?”

“What?”

“There’s no trace of an investigation! They’ve not even filed a report! It’s like the whole thing was just covered up!” Her voice shivered and suddenly I understood. She was scared that we had something to do with the cover up. We did - but that was because she was a werewolf and we had to investigate this on our own!

“And think about it? Why haven’t we gotten to see her even once?! Yesterday I asked Grey if we could go visit her and he made up some stupid excuse saying that she was really fragile right now!” Her voice was barely controlled now.

Because she’s already healed! What would happen if Xena saw her healed in two days! I didn’t know what to say! Grey’s voice reverberated in all our heads. He was right, of course. She was healed physically, just not mentally. She mostly stared at a blank wall and had a fit if any of us came to close.

“Maybe they’re right?” Flora suggested timidly, but even we knew she was losing the battle. We heard two sets of footsteps then, as Flora got up too. Reece let out a grunt of pain - he was probably asking Flora not to use too much energy. “Maybe she is too delicate?”

Why can’t we just tell her the truth? It will clear everything up! Dani whispered and Reece shook his head. That is only up for Nate to decide. I gave him a bewildered look. How was he backing me up when my mate was basically trying to escape with our Queen?! He really had changed as well. Everyone had, with Flora’s return.

“That’s what I thought too. Maybe I’m being dramatic, you know? Just maybe this is way too paranoid but then yesterday, after we returned home, guess who I saw at the hotel lobby?” She didn’t even wait for Flora to ask, “Deta!”

Wait, what?

“How does a local CEO fit into all this?” Her confused tone mimicked all our perplexed thoughts.

“Aaah! I’m not explaining this right!”

“Look, just take a deep breath and tell me from the beginning.” Flora’s words took effect and Xena paused. Her labored, fast paced breathing slowly turned more regular and deep. She took her time to get her emotions under control and my wolf eased slightly.

“I saw Deta at the hotel late last night - Nate had just left our room and I went down to clear my head from all the screen time. He asked the receptionist for the King and said, ‘Tell the King that this is urgent.’ Now I know that his friends and a few people often call him King, I always thought that maybe it is because he’s a business mogul, but what if he’s not? What if he’s like a King of some bad underworld stuff?”

Deta was here? We haven’t been able to track him since yesterday night! Who was the receptionist yesterday?

She was human, Reece. He didn’t leave a name behind and she wouldn’t know who ‘the King’ would have been to relay the message. Sienna replied after a moment.

“He looked so angry. At one point I thought he was going to lash out at the poor woman but instead he just turned around and ran straight out the door!”

“This still doesn’t make any sense, maybe they had a business feud?”

“Because just before Deta left he yelled, ‘I can’t cover this up anymore!’ and I remembered the metal piece!”

“What are you talking about?!”

“The - the metal! You know we found something lodged in her throat? The next day when I went to interview him, I saw it there! It’s a part of a four piece paperweight set. Just rounded metal cuboids sitting there on his pretty wooden desk. I saw only three, and it didn’t strike me till I saw him yesterday!”

“How did you-”

“I looked it up on Amazon. It’s only sold as a four piece set. It really wasn’t hard to find.” She answered. “Don’t you see? They’re all connected to that murder! They didn’t even let the police find out - they wouldn’t let us see her, and -”

“Xena, I really think that there can be another explanation for this!” The Queen’s tone was gentle and reasonable. She was trying to calm her best friend down but it wasn’t working.

“Oh really? I went that extra mile too! I looked him up. His recent travels and everything. I found so many loopholes between his work and his story! And the worst part? He was buying wolves for a research project. And you know what struck me as odd? The gash on the girl - it looked like an animal had done it. Like claw marks.”

That one moment was absolute silence. Xena had arrived at such a logical conclusion that if I had to see it from her perspective even I wouldn’t be able to find a fault.

“Oh, Xen.” Flora whispered, and then Xena started crying.

“Please, please you have to believe me. I know you think you love him but-” She sobbed, and I couldn’t take it anymore. “I know separately they all look ridiculous, but together it is so obvious! They’re ba-bad news! I thought that not all of them, you know but yesterday night..”

Yesterday night I panicked when she mentioned the wolves as if I had something to hide.

Her words reduced to sobs and I knew why. The bond physically hurt her if she spoke ill of her mate, if she thought of leaving me. My heart tore and a loud growl came from within me and it was too late for any of my pack mates to stop me, and in any case I didn’t think they would. There was no way out of this but to stop them. And then explain them. I heard collective gasps and the sound of the upstairs bedroom door opening.

The elevator doors pried open and I saw her tear stained face morph into one of horror as she looked at me pushing the doors apart. Her eyes were fixed only on me, as if I was the biggest threat there was even though Reece was the King. My head was no longer in control and I let out another painful, possessive growl.

SHE WAS NOT GOING ANYWHERE!

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