“I can’t think of anyone like that, guys - there are so many people - I made a whole new life after I left town.” I said for what felt like the millionth time. I could understand their tension and their need to fix this but what else was I supposed to say if I couldn’t think of anyone? Xena was pacing in the hall, trying to remember if there was anyone she knew who was in our life post Reece - since the two of us were basically joined at the hip.
Reece let out a frustrated growl and she threw me a frantic look of alarm.
“Reece, you’re making my mate nervous.” Nate told him, placing a hand on his shoulder to calm him down. Ever since he found out the truth about the whole scenario, he had demanded to speak to Isla himself - the poor girl was so startled because he’d projected his dominance all over her, unable to control his temper. I had to get him out of there and calm her down before he did something he’d regret.
He’d been very aggressive and dominating in the meeting as well, but it was passive, and now it was all finally coming out as if he couldn’t hold it inside him. I knew that it was only a matter of time before he blasted, but there was nothing I could do. In my opinion he needed to get it out of his system, but hopefully if we were around him then he wouldn’t hurt anyone and we’d get to him before that happened.
Reece gave Nate a blank stare and without another word, Nate took Xena by her hand and led her out of the room. She threw me a worried glance but I simply nodded, he’d never hurt me. I moved to where Reece was sitting once they’d shut the door of our conference room. Everyone was out doing tasks and keeping themselves busy and maybe that’s what we needed to do as well.
“I think that maybe you should rest a while. Some sleep would help calm your nerves,” He groaned and put his head in his hands but otherwise didn’t make any move to get out of this room towards a bed. “I can’t sleep until we catch these people!” He spoke into his hands, and something in his voice made my resolve to deal with him in a strict manner weaken.
“Reece?” I placed my hand on his shoulder and he immediately scooped it up in his own large, warm palm. Familiar sparks flew across my skin but it didn’t seem to do him any good. “Reece it’s okay we will catch him.” I couldn’t understand what was going on with him. He was usually so controlled and authoritative, it was a surprise that he seemed so unstable - especially when we were doing everything we could and there was no immediate threat - if anything Isla had told us that they hadn’t perfected the poison yet, so we could be hopeful that they wouldn’t release this to anyone else.
“I just..” His voice broke towards the end of that sentence and suddenly I wasn’t holding his hand anymore. I was wrapped around him like I was trying to protect him. I snuggled into him, giving him as much comfort as I could give so that he would calm down.
“Reece! Reece, it really is going to be okay!” I tried again, cooing gently into his ear as I stroked his hair. He held me tight, as tight as he could and I let him. There was something about him, being so vulnerable in front of me that made me want to protect him twice as hard. I knew these were absolutely rare moments for him.
And then everything shifted. His hold on me tightened, and his body stopped shaking. He froze, his grip stone hard but not painful and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to move out of the hug, to get a look at his face but he didn’t let me move. “Reece?” My voice shook.
“How are you so unaffected?” The voice that came from the man in who’s embrace I was, was dark and sinister. It was ten times more fear inciting than Reece’s had been. It was my turn to freeze.
“How come this isn’t bothering you like it should have bothered? Like it is bothering me? Why are you so calm about this?” The voice didn’t modulate. Like controlled fury. I gulped, suddenly needing the old Reece back.
“Answer me, my princess.” His voice was merely a whisper but it drove me to an edge. I wanted to get out of his arms and get a good look at him.
“Stop struggling. You will not get away from me.”
“Tell me, how to deal with this .. fury. Tell me how to deal with this fury before I kill everyone in my sight - everyone who didn’t do anything and everyone who was even remotely involved.” A chill ran through my spine as I heard his words. Suddenly, I knew what everyone was afraid of. Why the Alpha King was so respected, loved but also feared. He was so dangerous if left wild.
“It wouldn’t make any difference.” I answered, still struggling in his embrace. “Zuka, let me just look at-”
“Do not struggle against me, Queen.” His words were sharp and allowed no arguments. Oh how could I show him that I didn’t intend to leave, I just needed to look at him?
“What do you mean by that?” His dark voice had in no way subsided and I stilled. Taking a deep breath I carefully answered, “I mean, it doesn’t matter anymore because they failed. They tried to split us apart-get the throne, but it didn’t really work for them. In a way, it seems that they couldn’t entirely mimic what your deity gave you. Me.” I finished, my confidence rising. He stiffened a little, but otherwise didn’t interrupt me.
“I know that their actions are despicable, but I know that the best way to deal with this is with a calm mind. They didn’t get to you, we’re marked already and I stood to the Alpha command you unleashed on Brianna that day so we have enough proof that -”
“Don’t doubt that you’re my mate! I NEED NO PROOF!” His anger got the best of him and I immediately amended my words, “I know, Zuka. I’m just saying that this evidence only points to the fact that they failed. How long will it be till we get the next King? They’ll have to try again then. And yes, they might use the poison to harm others in the chain of command but I’m sure that by now we can easily alert people to this, and ask them to be vigilant. I’m sure we have the time to find the perpetrators easily.” I spoke warmly, this time aiding my words by rubbing his back lightly. His tense posture seemed to ease lightly at my touch.
“So, you’re saying that you’re not worried because we’ll manage somehow?” He sounded dubious but I nodded vigorously.
“Yes! We got this. How long can Deta be in hiding? We will find some lead on all levels, you’ll see.” I told him with confidence and he took in a deep breath, loosening his grip till I could move in front of him and face him. I was still awkwardly perched on his lap, but I got a good view at his face. The dark, possessed eyes, and sinister face indicated the presence of his wolf at the surface. I didn’t shy away. Taking my hand and placing it on the side of his face, I moved my thumb across his cheek gently. “It’ll all be okay somehow.” I promised, strongly believing in my own words.
“I’m worried that I will lose you again.” He confessed, the raw pain evident in his deep baritone but also his black eyes. They weren’t soulless, they were consumed. My heart hardened at his words and I took his face in my hands. “Now you listen to me, my wolf. You are not loosing me again, I won’t let you do that to me.” My voice was firm and authoritative. “You have to believe it, Zuka. You have to trust the bond, they’re your words, not mine.
“When the time comes, you believe in the sparks.” He repeated his words from memory and I nodded.
“Exactly. Trust your people to do the same. They will believe in them too. And nobody will go astray. There is a limit to every potion, every poison. They might never be able to fool people entirely.”
“And if they can?”
“Till then we, all of us together, will find them.” I assured him. For the first time since I had met Zuka he actually broke into a faint smile. It was a ghost of one - but it was there nonetheless. I was left gaping at him as his expression morphed into one of remote happiness and it blew me away.
“Smile more.” I blurted out, and then immediately blushed. Zuka’s smile widened into a more realistic one and he moved his lips to plant a kiss on my cheek. “I will, now that you are here.”
“Besides, you should be glad about this! I can’t guilt trip you into buying me fancy things to win my forgiveness, because you’re probably as innocent in all this as I am! What a relief - phew!” I raised a hand to wipe imaginary sweat off my forehead. Zuka began to whole heartedly laugh, his chest shaking with the wonderful baritone.
“You could ask me for anything, and I would give it to you.” He told me after a minute and I hugged him. “I know, but you know that all that doesn’t matter to me. I’m a simple girl. And probably richer than you.” I told him mock disdain, and looking down my nose at his gorgeous face for effect.
“Well, Miss Lori, be my sugar mommy?” Reece was back - his voice deep and sensual. I flicker of desire ran through my stomach and suddenly me straddling him by basically sitting in his lap didn’t seem like the best idea.
The door burst open before I could reply. Sienna came barreling in, her face flushed as though she had just run the entire way. “We got Brianna.”
“Where did you find her?” Reece asked, and Sienna gave him a dark look. “At their old house.”
“What is it? What is that look for?” I asked as we made our way to another one of the rooms in this massive hotel. One of these days I was going to have to ask Sienna to give me a map of this place.
“The old house - it’s abandoned. Brianna’s dad died, and they never went back to that house again - too many memories.” Her dad had died? “What happened to her family?” “Uh, rogue attack if I remember correctly. She was very small, and doesn’t even remember it. Her dad held them off till back up from the pack came. He managed to save his wife and daughter but it was too late for him.” Sienna supplied as we speed walked to the room where Brianna was kept.
“It’s not that far from here, they should be here by now.” Sienna added and Reece nodded, “And where’s Hank? He was assigned to find her mother as well, did he find her as well?”
“Hank is the one bringing her in. He managed to track her down to the place. It was a miracle.” We were almost at the end of the corridor. Sienna stopped by a door with no room number on it. She was about to open the door when it swung open, inwards and Hank stepped out. He had small scratches all over him, but they were healing with every moment. “It’s bad.” He told us as he shut the door behind him.
“What happened?” Reece inquired and something strange happened. Hank’s lip quivered. We all noticed it. “I managed to track her to the old house. You should see the place. There was a cage, silver chains, Brianna was sitting in front of the empty cage and simply sobbing. I had to get four men just to secure her and make sure she didn’t shift. She’s in a state right now. Her crying ebbed and she’s completely frozen, won’t respond to anything I say at all.” He surmised. A gasp left my mouth at this information and they all looked at each other in concern. Hank looked like he would lose his shit any second now.
“We found evidence that it was her mom who was being kept captive and there’s a high chance that she was blackmailed into administering the doses to you, and discrediting Flora.” Hank added, breathless by now. But something in his expression told me that the worst was yet to come.
“What is it? What is it that you’re not saying?!” I asked, pleading Hank with my looks and he looked away from us, breaking into a sob. His right hand went to wipe his eyes as he spoke in a shaky voice, “Noori, uh. Noori said that she’d been abused. Since a-a while now. There’s-there’s marks all over her body she said.”
Tears rolled down his cheek and I was wide eyed and teary myself. Sienna gasped. Reece’s grip on my hand loosened as he embraced his own gamma with his free hand. “Listen to me, Hank. This is not your fault. You didn’t know. Nobody could have known-”
“But I was her cousin! I should have been protecting her! Instead I let her suffer through something like this in silence! We’ve been treating her like a greedy criminal when maybe she’s just as much of a victim as we are! As you are!” He yelled, barely controlled now and I flinched.
“As I am.” I added, and Hank looked away from me. “Flora....” Sienna muttered, horrified and I shook my head, “No, he’s right. If we are going to fix this then we must do it with no bias at all.”
“I-I can’t even. She looks like a mess. I got her here and Noori lifted her shirt because there was some blood from when she was scuffling with one of our men. The wound wouldn’t stop bleeding b-because someone had been injecting her with trace amounts of silver. Making s-sure that she took her own human time to heal, felt the terrible pain of the abuse they inflicted on her.” His voice was a broken track that seemed to threaten a fresh round of tears as he fought to keep himself in check. My heart clenched at his words. What monsters did stuff like this? Sadists! Hank kept sobbing softly, his head lying on Reece’s shoulder as Reece patted him with an expressionless face. But I knew he was as horrified as Sienna and me - he knew he had to be strong for Hank’s sake.
“Listen to me Hank, the best thing we can do right now is find out who did this to her. To all of us. We have got to get it together!” He told him, his voice warm but commanding at the same time. Hank understood and nodded. I knew he would do his work with all his attention, but how long would it be before he forgave himself for this?
“We will find out who did this.” I promised, firmly squeezing his hand and he gave me a ghost of an expression. Would he ever be able to? How many more people are hurt before we catch these assholes?!
“I respect you, Queen.” Hank bowed to me before he walked away, a broken man, a broken brother. Reece looked at his retreating figure while I looked at Reece. What was going to happen between them all? Were all these secrets going to rip my family apart?
“I’m going to go after him, and call Zia to come back from her work. It’ll be good for him if his mate is here. You guys try to go inside and get her to talk.” Sienna told us, before taking off after Hank.
“He was her cousin.” I repeated. And Reece gave me a questioning look, breaking out of his dark daze.
“Cousin!” I repeated, the gears in my head turning as I removed my hand from his grasp.
“Mate?” His voice grew in concern but I was too busy sorting my own head as I unraveled a new piece.
“How could I not have thought of this!”
“Thought of what?” He asked me again and I shook my head. It was a hunch - I’d verify it and let him know then. “Is Daniella with Grey going back through Deta’s records?” I asked him, already walking backwards and he nodded, giving me a worried stare. “They’re at B2.” He told me and I nodded. “And where are Nate and Xena?”
“They should be with them as well.” He supplied. “Flora what is it? What struck you?” He asked me, the urgency obvious in his tone and I shook my head. “Go inside! I’m just going to check up on something and link you if I hit something!” I told him and took off running in the opposite direction.
If I was right, this was a lot more premeditated than we could have ever imagined.
God, I hoped I wasn’t right.
The clock was ticking and we had Brianna’s mother to find.