“So all this has happened because someone, poisoned me?” I couldn’t keep the incredulity out of my voice. Grey and Nate stepped back, wary of my oncoming fury. “That’s what Isla told us. She also said the Deta is innocent in all this. As in, he played a part but he didn’t know what he was doing.”
I couldn’t wrap my mind around this concept. After all this time, it was all for the crown? Or what was it? So, I hadn’t really been wrong? I’d been tricked! This..this made me feel a little better. It exonerated some of the blame that had been weighing down on me. I would have never abandoned my true mate and hurt her so much otherwise!
“This is good - this information - it helps with Flora.” Grey said, reading my mind and for the first time in a while I could actually feel better. I felt..free. How long had I been trying to figure out what was going on? What had happened? Why I thought that Flora had betrayed me and Bri had been the one who I was destined for? Is that what Flora had been trying to tell me since I got here but I was so busy worrying about her safety that I didn’t really listen to her - or any of them!
“Yes, King! We don’t have samples of the product yet but I bet we could prove it to the council that she is your true mate now!” Nate added, and both of them stepped hopefully closer to me.
“No, I don’t care much for the likes of the elders anymore.” I told them, as long as I knew it in my heart - I just didn’t need it. I didn’t need to prove Flora’s worth to any of them. Grey nodded, something told me that he was pleased with my answer. I would go and talk to Flora about this now, now that I had calmed down and explain to her why I abandoned her so long ago. I finally had some answers for her!
“What happened to the investigation we reopened into Brianna? Did we find anything there?” I barked at them and they shook their heads. “Hank has stepped out to try to locate his cousin-sister but he has had no luck so far.”
I couldn’t believe this. All this news and Flora was talking to me so calmly before? Wasn’t she the slightest bit rattled? “Do you guys think that Brianna had something to do with this or she was also a pawn?” I couldn’t get the images of her out of my head. She was here just a few days ago, acting all heart broken and betrayed but was it all just an act?
Nate hesitated before answering, “Don’t jump to conclusions Alpha, let us locate her first.” He looked over at Grey for support but got none. “Grey?” I asked for his opinion. My beta met my eyes, his swirling with doubt. “I never really liked that woman...and I do think that she is capable of such a thing. She may not have done the whole research and everything but I’m sure someone approached her and asked her to try it on you and see if it worked. Everyone always knew that she was greedy for power. It’s likely that they were the same people who made Flora seem like the fake one.”
I nodded stiffly, trying my best not to explode. All that investigation into the matter didn’t help as much as Flora both simultaneously saving this girl as well as getting her to spill her secrets. How could we have missed such a big threat?
Pulling a chair back, I took a seat at the giant table. “Call everyone. We need to have a meeting now.” My words were short and curt; an order.
Fifteen minutes later, everyone was pulled into the conference room that Atticus had set up. I knew that they could sense my mood and it was feeding their own fury. Theo, Hank, Grey, Nate, Noori, Sienna, Daniella, Cole and I were sitting in a circle. A small pile of papers was in front of me - I’d asked Atticus to print those up too. I had their undivided attention.
“All the royals in your court since you were born, Reece?” Grey asked, looking at the names on the papers. Sienna’s eyes lit up. “You think it’s an inside job?” Her disbelief was evident in her words but it didn’t stop me. I had a gut feeling, and gut feelings were always rights for us - part animals.
“When you think about it, it makes sense. Most royals in the court had voted against Flora. They had made the collective decision and had taken Brianna’s account into consideration before making this decision.” Sienna muttered, recalling that day.
“Add to this the fact that Isla said the paperwork had an official seal confirms that it is one.” Dani added.
“Also considering that not many people knew about the fact that Flora was your mate at the time.” Grey added.
“Exactly. It had to have been one person convincing the others. You know how political that atmosphere was - they kept whispering things behind my back, but they were still my trusted council.” My voice turned sour at that thought. Stupid people who didn’t have any idea about my life made the biggest decision for me. I should never have let them!
“So what do you want us to do? Identify potential people who could be involved?” Dani asked and I nodded. “The problem is that we have been chasing all these loose ends - Isla, Deta and so on. But they’re obviously pawns. Brianna - she may be involved but she didn’t mastermind this. She would have to be as young as eighteen for the timeline to fit.” I reasoned. It would have been easy to manipulate her into poisoning me though.
“Okay let’s split up the work. Divide the pile between three groups and see what names we do come up with.” Nate said, reaching for the pile of sheets in front of me.
“No, let’s just go through the whole pile together. It will be more thorough that way.” I said, placing my hands on the paper. Everyone nodded. “It might take time, but it would be thorough,” I reasoned. In any case, we weren’t in any immediate threat at the moment. “Besides it seems that if we had been thorough from the start we would have caught this in the first case.”
“Okay, so what are we looking for?”
“I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who supported Flora during the whole unfolding is not on this list. They wouldn’t be scared to voice out against her if the majority was too.” Sienna reasoned and we all agreed. I passed around the sheets - one for each of us and pens for everyone. Everyone began to cross off what names they could remember who sided with her.
“Why Brianna?” Noori asked, her voice quiet, but everyone was attentive anyway. She hardly contributed to such discussions but I valued her opinion greatly.
“Why would they ask Brianna? If they had to do this then it should have been their own daughter, or niece right? Brianna had no father and her mother is a recluse from pack activities. So I’m wondering why her?” She explained, and her question did make sense.
“Maybe they thought she could easily be manipulated?” Cole suggested but we all shook our head. She was a strong willed girl. She wasn’t likely to be manipulated by somebody that easily. Unlike me. I thought, and then immediately shook those thoughts out of my head. My pack didn’t need the self-doubt right now.
“So maybe she was being blackmailed?” Sienna supplied, her words bitter. It was hard to imagine this, but it was a possibility. “She may have wanted to mate with Reece and be Queen, but whoever supplied her with the doses had to have control over her even once she became Queen.” Grey surmised and everyone nodded.
“But blackmail her with what? She hardly cares about anyone - her mom is the only living relative and she’s never had many friends.” Hank interjected in a collective mindlink. It was true. His dad was the one who had been taking care of her and her mom - his sister.
“If that’s true then...Hank. Find your father - ask him to find out where Brianna’s mom is.” I instructed in the collective mindlink.
“The person had to know that you were dating Flora. I remember it being such a tight secret - since we were scared for her safety. So it couldn’t be people who were new, kept in the dark. Let’s look at people who had the most access.” Grey reasoned. Everyone went back to their lists, eliminating everyone who had joined within the last two years and didn’t have access to that kind of information.
“They also needed the resources to pull this off. It takes money to set up a research facility. We can assume that they didn’t use the palace resources, it’s too risky. So we’re looking for someone with a rich background who can afford this.” Cole added. Everyone gave simultaneous nods of agreement and went back to their list of people - list of suspects.
“I also want complete protection for Flora and Xena starting now. Make sure that they have around the clock surveillance and also female bodyguards as well. I want them to be in sight of someone all the time.” I added, looking at Sienna. She would put her best people on them.
“They’re going to hate that but there is no choice.” I added as an afterthought. My mind was whirring with activity. What could people possibly achieve from this? It was crazy to think that someone was taking away one of the purest things that our goddess could give us - our mates. It was a criminal mastermind plan - a fiendish plan. They would ruin relationships forever.
“I also think that it is time to announce to everyone who she is. I think you need to establish her as your mate - let these people know that their plan failed for right now.” Cole added, and he was right. We didn’t want to look weak. “But don’t mention anything about the poison because we don’t want to cause a panic yet - otherwise every mating that was between high and low status members will be called into question.” Cole added and we all agreed.
“I’m sure the kingdom realized that you marked someone anyway - they recognize their new Queen - they just need to put a face to it. How do you want to go about it?” Sienna asked, and it was a good question. I hadn’t thought of that. “What do you suggest?” I asked them all and nobody had any bright ideas.
“Hold a mating ceremony in the palace.” Theo’s words rang clear in the silence between us. “Make a grand celebration out of it. Inform all the royals of the court to attend an important event but don’t tell them what. If we have a mole - they are likely to try something in that event so just make a last minute announcement. It’ll be the next big news for all the packs if you invite all the Alpha’s over the world.” He elaborated, and it made sense. Flora deserved the recognition anyway.
“Okay, Grey when you have time, start drafting official invites to the royal pack members and all other Alphas. Ask them to set up video screening in case they cannot make it.” I instructed him.
“Daniella, make a list of everyone who RSVP’s and vet them. If they’re involved in this crime I guarantee you that they will want to be there - they would want to know what is happening. This is a good ruse to draw them out.” I told her and she nodded, her face all business-like.
“The rest of you, take the papers that are here and cross reference all of them with Deta’s travels and logs, see if there are any hits, go back at least five years and start from there.” Everyone began to get up from the table and make their way to do their respective work. On their way out, Sienna and Hank stopped beside me and she put a hand on my shoulder, I let it stay there. My nerves were on edge, I was so livid about this whole fiasco, and I just wanted to catch that son of a bitch fast enough.
Someone had literally decided to take my mate away from me! It was surprising that this had happened and nobody knew anything about it till now. It was stupid that so much had happened and nobody decided to look into it! I was the nobody - but not anymore. I was going to do everything in my power to stop these people from hurting me, or anybody else ever again! How dare they think that they could take other people’s fate into their hands like this?! When I got my hands on them they were dead meat! They were absolutely dead! I would tear them apart - limb from limb. The lengths that people would go to just to get power! It was crazy! It was pathetic. It was dangerous and it was sinister.
“You know, it’s surprising that they let Flora go. I know it sounds horrible to say it but, why leave her alive as a loose end. These people clearly leave none - we know that with Isla’s partner so how did they never think that she might make a reappearance in your life and make you question everything again?” Sienna asked, and that thought stopped me in my tracks. The thought of my true mate being dead was worse than torture, but she did have a point. It made no sense that they would. So how did she get out of this unscathed?
“You’re right. Something in all this doesn’t make sense.”
“They had to wait, didn’t they? If they killed her - you would have felt it. It would have hurt you and your wolf. You’d know that Brianna wasn’t your true mate. They were waiting for you to mark and mate Brianna after which they could -” Hank didn’t complete his sentence and stared nervously at my clenched fist and hateful eyes. Yes, he wasn’t going to mention my mate’s death in front of me again - my world just wouldn’t take listening to it again.
“Reece, calm down and listen, he’s right. Flora is alive and he is right. So that means that they still had to keep track of her. They had to know where she was till then..till now.” Sienna added, her voice turning into a whisper.
“Our plan to come here was a last minute thing. That’s what saved her? If someone was following her they’d have done their best to make sure that the two of you didn’t meet ever.” Hank continued and this is what snapped me.
“Maybe this person isn’t a stranger - if he/she had to follow her since so long then they’d be able to do it better if they just became a good friend of hers, found out everything about her life as if it was a normal conversation over a cup of coffee. It would be suspicious if they just followed her around for a year.” Sienna added as an afterthought.
“Someone she met immediately after she and Reece split.”