Time seemed to stop for me as Xena spun around. In slow motion, her hair twirled behind her as she stepped back into the room. Her eyes were wide in fright and her expression was stuck that way too. I didn’t know what she saw in the hall downstairs but it definitely wasn’t helping their case.
“Flora get out!” She yelled, just as she was about to fling the bedroom door close behind her but instead, I got up and moved towards her. The emergency exit window from the basement was not really a window anyway. She took one step away from the door and towards me. The door was nearly shut when a single foot stuck out from behind at the last second and prevented this from happening. The lack of the ‘bang’ alerted her and all the blood drained from her face as she spun around once more, standing protectively in front of me.
Even in this moment, her first priority was me - despite the severity of the situation, my heart warmed at her actions. I’d do the same for her too.
So there we stood, me nearly at the back of the room besides the bed. Xena standing in front of me with her hands held in front of her in a defensive position. Nate standing in front of us, breathing heavily and with his eyes obsidian black.
And behind him stood Reece, Daniella, Hank, and Grey, each of them holding Nate behind. Noori was nowhere to be seen. I knew that they had been listening, and it made me feel bad to put her in this spot but little did I know that she would reach such conclusions!
Nobody made a sound and all I could hear was Nate’s loud breathing. If he was a dragon, this room would smoke within seconds. Xena didn’t budge from her position, but I moved next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder. She was stiff like a rod, rigid and taut, like a coiled spring ready to be let go. At my touch she only stiffened more.
Not taking her eyes off of them for a single moment she spoke, “Flora get behind me!” A sense of deja vu crossed through me at our position. But instead of Reece and I it was her and Nate, back to the very first day of this holiday. She wasn’t going to be reasoned with right now, and nor was Nate. I understood how he felt through the pack. His feelings of betrayal and even the thought of losing his mate was not something he was willing to contemplate.
“You are not going anywhere!” Nate ordered, pain laced through his voice. Xena moved behind as if she had been struck by an invisible force. Her guarded and defensive stance went to one that was wounded. She staggered behind and I caught her at the last minute.
“Xena!” My panic for my best friend seemed to break them all out of their frozen spell. Nate’s eyes shifted in and out of focus - switching between black and bright blue eyes as he battled internally. Reece moved forward and turned around to face Nate. He said something that none of us heard, but Nate put his head down in submission and whimpered.
“Leave us alone!” she screamed, clutching her side as she did, still trying to shove me behind her. Daniella zoomed towards us and supported Xena from the other side despite Xena’s refusal. Together we both got her to sit on the bed but she still didn’t calm down.
“Flora! Get out of here!” She screamed at me too. I could feel tears well up at her condition. How tough it must be for her to side with her mind and break her heart? The pain that the bond brought her? She was so fucking strong.
“Xena! Xena please just calm down and listen to us!” I tried, sitting in front of her and turning her face so that only I was in her peripheral view. Her confusion morphed into disbelief and she shook her head violently, “No! Listen get out of here! Don’t believe them!”
“Xen, trust me. You need to hear their side of the story too.” I urged gently and she seemed to be listening. Her head went back and forth between me and Nate, as if trying to decide.
“Let me talk to her.” Nate’s clear voice rang through and our heads turned to him. His eyes were back to their normal color and I let out a sigh of relief. At least he wasn’t out of control anymore! Xena on the other hand was close to hysterics.
Grey and Hank let him go as he walked closer to us. Xena struggled in Dani’s grip and her wide eyes sent alarmed signals to me. “Don’t come any closer!” She yelled emptily, but her words didn’t stop his steps. A somber feeling surrounded him as he reached right in front of her and got on his knees to be at eye level with her. I moved away, realizing that this was something only he could fix. She eyed him with distrust and hurt but didn’t take her eyes off to look at anyone else in the room.
Dani had already left her arms.
“You’re so brave.” Nate spoke softly, almost adoringly. The words registered in her head and her terror ebbed to give him a bewildered look. She said nothing and he continued. “It must be hurting you so much, to do this.” Her bewildered look switched to one of disbelief. He picked up on it. “Yes, I know how you must be feeling. It’s all so confusing and crazy.” I saw her mask crack and her eyes glistened. I moved forward to give her a hug but a voice in my head stopped me in my tracks.
No, he needs to do this. Let him, mate.
“I know you’re scared. I know it doesn’t make sense and that’s okay.” He continued, “But please don’t ever think that any of us would hurt you, or Flora. We wouldn’t hurt anyone. I promise you this.” Nate raised one of his hands to her cheek, and let it hover there for one second. Xena was transfixed. “I will always protect you.” He finally cupped her cheek. Her eyes squeezed shut as she cried, but she didn’t flinch away from him. My heart ached from the pain she was going through. The internal conflict that was killing her. All I wanted was to snatch her away and make it okay but I realized that there was someone else now who wanted to do that too. And I couldn’t be more glad.
“It’s okay. It’s okay to be scared and not have all the answers. I’ll give them to you whenever you want.” He whispered, not taking his hand off her cheek. I knew what he was doing, subduing her through the bond. No, more like trying to make her understand through the bond.
I felt a buzz as someone tugged at my hand. Taking my eyes off my best friend I came face to face with Reece. Everyone else had already left the room. He tilted his head towards the door and I nodded. We should give them some space. Once outside the room and down the stairs into the living room I was engulfed in a bear hug. I let him cocoon me with his warmth, his smell, the hard yet safe muscles. A contented sigh left my lips as we stood there.
“She’s going to be okay, love. You can stop crying.” Huh?
I pushed him away to touch my face and sure enough, it was wet. Reece gave me a sad smile, “didn’t even realize?” I shook my head. “You’re the one that got through to her, you know?” At that I whipped my head up to look at his face. Stupid tall people.
“Your pain. She saw you crying and calmed down. She saw how much it hurt you - what was going on. It was the only reason she calmed down enough to listen to Nate.” he spelled out for me but my head just wouldn’t accept the explanation. I thought Nate just had that effect on her.
“I don’t know about that. But I’m happy she calmed down.” I told him, not in the mood. Reece’s fingers came up to my face and wiped the residual tears away. “I need you to stay strong, my Queen. We seem to have a lot of work cut out for us.” With that he gave me a quick, lingering kiss on my lips.
Yes. Yes we did. With the information that Xen had gathered we now knew that something was going on. Something related to the girl in the woods and the local Alpha.
“So this is what we have so far-”
“Tell me you didn’t fire the girl.”
“I didn’t fire the girl.”
“And you wont fire her in the future either.”
“God, Cole, I won’t!” Sienna finally reached the end of her patience.
“What girl?” Grey asked curiously and I nodded too, we were all curious.
“The assistant from last night. The one who didn’t report Deta.” Cole said in an explanatory tone. Sienna and her mate Cole, Dani, Grey, Theo and I sat across the large table filled with food but I could barely touch my plate.
It surprised me that they were still arguing about this while we had a potential killer on the loose. All of us had settled in the lunchroom where I met them for the second time since coming to The Wolf. It didn’t escape my notice that they had put in a new door - the one I’d escaped from. I was so sure Reece had broken right through it when I ran out and locked them in. Good times.
“ANYWAY,” Cole said, grabbing our attention all over again, “this is what we have so far. Deta arrived at nearly 3am, he was in a bad state. He came, asked for Reece and when he didn’t find Reece he began to get really hysterical and lashed out to no one in particular. Before the security even reached the hotel after the receptionist pressed the buzzer, he was already out the door. The metal piece that Xena mentioned matches what we found in Isla’s throat-”
“We know the girl’s name? I thought she wasn’t speaking a word?” I asked, truly hopeful that she was opening up to us.
“No, she still isn’t, but we did a little further digging and she came up in a cross reference with Deta’s personal travels within the country. She’s a healer from a local pack nearby.” Sienna answered, running her hand through her unruly hair. She looked exhausted. Truth be told, all of them looked exhausted. Had they stayed up all night?
“How come the local pack didn’t report her missing? Didn’t she communicate with them frequently?” Grey asked, his eyes narrowing is disapproval. Packs were family. Everyone on the table was on edge. I could feel their collective emotions, the conflict and battle. Restlessness.
“No, apparently she traveled frequently, was one of those lone backpacker, hitchhiker people. Plus it feels like forever but it actually has only been three days since we found her.” Cole answered again.
“I thought mind links worked across long distances?” I couldn’t help but ask. There was still so much to learn. “Well, no. The stronger the bond the larger the distance it can take, but it usually doesn’t range longer than a couple of miles.” Daniella answered factually. I nodded, absorbing everything that I could.
“So why was she here?”
“We don’t know, but from their correspondences it seems that Deta himself asked for her to come here. Apparently they were a bit of a thing.” Sienna continued for her mate. Cole was officially here now, the enforcer. It was his job to investigate this as much as anyone else’s because he was the King’s hand in keeping peace among local packs. And now that Isla’s pack had been informed, it was only a matter of time before they sought blood. The only problem was that their Alpha could not be found anywhere.
“His trail ran cold twelve miles from here. Our trackers couldn’t go beyond that because of the rain last night, and he has half a day head start on us.” Cole continued, his eyes turning hard. The atmosphere in the room was not the best.
“And then there is the little fact that he’s been buying wolves for his company.” Grey added with clenched teeth. Surely as werewolves they felt deeply for someone harming and experimenting on wolves.
“Are we sure that he was buying them for - ahem - research?” Dani asked timidly and Cole nodded. “Yes, because he bought several ones of the same weight, color, gender and so on.”
“What happens when we catch him?” I asked. They all looked at me in silence.
“Well..we don’t know. We don’t know what he has done exactly.” Sienna supplied in almost a whisper. A fierce whisper. It dawned on me that all of them had that anger in them as I did too. If he did that to Isla, he was a monster for sure.
“But he also hurt Isla, surely we can-”
“We don’t actually know if he did that, unless the woman would talk!” Some of Grey’s anger leaked into his words and I sighed. I wish I could make them all feel better, more at ease. But I understood very little of how they felt - all through the bond. Maybe there was a way..
“I want to try talking to her.” I spoke softly, almost quietly but they all heard me. I could tell from their faces that this was not an idea they would entertain. Dani shook her head firmly, “It’s not safe enough. She’s really unstable.” Everyone nodded in silent agreement except Theo, who looked like he was in deep thought. “Well, one of you can come in with me. I’m sure it will be fine.” I spoke more sternly. I was tired of them always worrying about me.
Speaking of worrying, they still hadn’t told me what happened after the party yesterday. Reece promised he’d come back and tell me what was going on. We had to wait for some blood tests and Noori was still working on it. I wasn’t worried though, if anything I felt stronger.
“I don’t know about this..” Grey muttered but he was wavering. I knew I could get them to agree if I tried harder. “She probably doesn’t want to deal with any werewolves now! Besides, we saved her life so I think she might open up to us.”
“But it is still really-”
“Oh! Everything has risks - plus this is highly unlikely. One of you can wait right outside the door.” I insisted yet again. They still weren’t entirely convinced. Theo gave me a sideways look, “You are the Queen, we can’t make such a decision.” He spoke slowly, almost as if he were choosing his words carefully. I narrowed my eyes in doubt before I understood his hint.
Smiling, I said, “As the Queen, I order you to take me to her.” Everyone’s eyes averted mine. They couldn’t deny me, could they? I let out a triumphant grin and Dani looked at me disapprovingly. “Reece will kill us all.”
“No he won’t. It was my call. If anyone’s dying it’s-”
“Please don’t finish that sentence.” Sienna muttered, shaking her head in resignation. I gave Theo a sideways glance and he raised an eyebrow. Why didn’t he just mindlink me?
“Let’s finish eating first.” Grey said looking at my untouched plate with a grimace. My appetite renewed with new enthusiasm.
“And then we go?” I asked, hopeful and they all looked at each other. Reluctantly, Cole nodded, “and then we go.” Satisfied, I went back to my enchilada. Reece was going to come back at night, he was going to interview the rest of Deta’s pack members with Hank and I would have enough time before he got back to stop me. I was such a rebel.
“Why do you think he did that? What is he experimenting with?” Sienna muttered, directing the question mostly to her mate and he shrugged, taking a second helping of some stew. I shut my eyes, trying to think of anything I could remember from meeting Deta that day, on the road beside the woods. But there was nothing, he looked so normal, as if he didn’t even know who it was. Did he even see her? Or did Reece and Grey get her out of there before he arrived? I couldn’t remember.
Aaaah! I just wish I could make them all feel better! I wish I could just blanket them all in comfort and keep them away from horrible people who could do that to a person like Isla. I knew that Reece was the king. He was well protected and he had a lot of people behind him, but things like this always had collateral damage. The worst part was not understanding if this was something directly related to the crown? Or did we just stumble upon an inter-pack dispute that had turned gruesome?
A part of me felt that this whole situation wouldn’t involve the others if Xena and I had never stumbled into those woods, but then Isla deserved justice. And in a way I was glad that the crown was involved now. Reece would be able to help her much faster than anyone else would. But the wolves? What about Deta and his experimentation? I would have to ask Xena if she found anything else that was interesting about Deta that she had dug up.
It felt like just a few days ago this was not serious at all. But now, all of a sudden at the base of my stomach was this horrible unsettling feeling that I couldn’t seem to contain. Like, this was much much bigger than we could comprehend. This feeling....I wanted to protect everyone from it. All their anxiousness that I could feel, they also knew that this was unraveling to be something bigger than we thought.
A warm hand on my shoulder made me spring my eyes open. Oh! How long had I zoned out? Everyone was looking at me in awe and I felt myself growing conscious. Theo looked proud. I tilted my head quizzically, wondering what was going on. “Sorry, zoned out for a bit.” I mumbled, looking away as my face turned red.
Nobody said anything for a while and the table ate quietly. I could feel a change in the air, everyone was calm. It wasn’t an uncomfortable silence or anything, but I did catch a few of them exchange glances.
Once lunch was over, and we all got up, Theo rounded around the table and put his hand on my shoulder. I glanced up at him and he gave me a warm smile. “Don’t worry about us, young Queen. We are fine.”
My wide eyes looked from him to everyone else and they all gave me simultaneous supportive smiles. How did they know? I shut the mindlink! Oh well. “You don’t even know your influence yet.” Sienna spoke kindly and I gave her another surprised expression. Why was everyone so fond of riddles?
“Huh?” Everyone was standing now, except me who was still seated with Theo’s hand on my shoulder. Feeling awkward, I got up immediately and Daniella laughed, muttering something like, ‘cute’ under her breath.
“Ready to go?”