Winter Wars

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“Why is it under everything?” Sitting under the newly picked out clothes Claire and Tyler got for me is the red bandanna Tyler gave me. Grateful Myra had no say in what was bought, I went through everything. Jeans, cargo pants, basketball shorts, oversized t-shirts, crop tops (probably Claire), camisoles, underwear, bras, workout outfits (gross, spandex), and some girlie crap I’ll probably give to Trina.

After a shower, I explore the copy of Westmoor. Same drapes and curtains and carpets and paintings and everything you would find in the average mansion. The only difference is that dad’s office isn’t his office and it’s twice its normal size.

A long mahogany table fills up one side of the room with high-backed gilded chairs. This is to the left side of the room. To the right, another table is set up, but this one is built for sturdiness, not prettiness. A map of the U.S. is pinned to it. From Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana over, the states are tinted red. The rest of the states, the western half, are tinted blue. Red push pins are set in major cities on the eastern half with small notes under each.

Dad’s quickly scrawled handwriting litter each.

Chicago: Should we take this city? Important?

Jamestown: Real base? Maybe.

Virginia: D.C. to win.

Springfield: Not enough space. No forests or clearings.

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” someone says. I stand up straight and almost rip the last note from under the pin.

“I’m not supposed to be in a lot of places,” I say.

Greg walks in and stares at the map. “I was here when they put that together. Your mom and dad. Never saw a pair so focused.” He looks to me and normally hard gaze softens. “You’re a lot like your dad. A very earnest man who was more focused on the safety of others than his own. Your mother hated it.”

“Doesn’t that sound familiar?” I smile. “I got a question for you,” He nods for me to go on. “Do you think I have what it takes? Do I have what my dad did?”

“I think you have everything your dad did. You’re brave, selfless, have the drive to want to help others. The only real problem is that you don’t know anything. That and you don’t think before you act.”

“You wouldn’t be the first to point that out.” My hand wanders to my necklace and someone I hadn’t thought about in a while comes to mind. “Did you know my aunt? Tressa Lee?”

His expression darkens. “Yes, I did know her.”

“Do you know why she didn’t like us or mom and dad? I’ve never done anything to her.”

Greg nods. “She was jealous of Clara. As children, they never got along much to begin with because of Clara’s gifts. Tressa only had clairvoyance while Clara was saddled with retro- and precognition. Even though the powers are beyond the wielder control, all except clairvoyance, as I’m sure you’ve experienced.”

“A pain in the ass if you want my opinion.” I lean against the map table focusing my full attention on Greg.

He nods. “Clara’s gifts were particularly sensitive and she was often bedridden because of it. Tressa wanted what Clara had because of all the attention she got—even if the attention was because of her being sick. As the two of them got older, Clara became, more or less, in control. The attention faded, but Tressa still wanted retro- and precognition. She searched for a way to obtain both while keeping her own gift, but always came up short. She could never find an answer. Then, Clara met Victor, and the two of you were born.

“She was so distracted by her greed, she never thought too much on the future and then it was too late. She became so bitter and angry, the day she left she said, “One day you’ll regret that you never paid me any mind. Maybe one day you’ll be begging me for forgiveness.” Then she left and no one ever saw her again.”

I twist the necklace between my fingers taking it in. Five years had gone by and she was still so bitter about the past. “We saw her the day after the fire.”

Greg jerks in surprise. “Ryner didn’t say anything.”

“Maybe he didn’t know anything.”

“Right. He was only a child.”

I smile. It’s nice to know Ryner isn’t complete in the know. However, my smile soon fades as a bad thought comes to mind. “Greg, you don’t think she’s so bitter that she’d fight against us? I mean, maybe she has a grudge against mom, but she knows why this war started.”

“Love and hate are two sides of the same coin and equally vicious motivators. Maybe she’s too blind to realize what she’s doing.”

I shake my head. “I know Aunt Tressa. She’s precise and accurate. She’s too motivated to be blinded and make mistakes. If she wants something done it gets done. I just hope she’s on the right side of this.”

“Perhaps she will, but I wouldn’t hold out hope,”

“Who are you?” I wonder. “You know a lot and so does Ethan because he was so close to my parts, but I’ve seen Ethan before. I’ve never seen you.”

Greg offers me a small smile. “I was their third in command. Most didn’t trust me when you and Trina were born because your grandparents had only taken me in only a decade before. I was a rogue.”

“A rogue… I’ve heard that before. What is it?”

“A rogue is a wolf that’s beyond the control of any Alpha. Mostly they run from the life they were given because of life-threatening situations. Unlike most, though, I was born into it. I ran away from my parents and was nearly dead when Carter found me. I earned his trust, I owe my life to him.”

“Do you have a choice in listening to the Alphas?”

“Since I was born into it, it’s more like a sometimes thing. When it’s important to the Alpha, I don’t have a choice, but it you were to tell me to leave you alone because you were trying to focus on something, I could stay and keep bothering you or obey and leave.”

“If it makes you feel any better, I trust you. More than I trust Ethan at least.”

“Thank you,” Greg smiles. “Ethan is trustworthy, he just has a lot of anger.”

I have a lot of anger. And it’s not even that I don’t trust him. I just don’t like how he seems to blame his problems on other people instead of trying to solve them.”

“Do you try to solve your own problems?” Greg asks.

“I do what I can,” Which involves not dealing with them and pretending they don’t exist. Not a sure fire method but it helps me focus on more important things.

Greg frowns as if he knows what I’m thinking. “Hmm, I’d get out of here if I were you. Ethan is on his way. And try not to be too upset when you get woken up.” He adds as I head towards the door.

“I’m always upset when I get woken up. I’m not exactly a morning person.”

“You must have a death wish,” I mumble seeing Ryner loom over me. “What the hell do you want?”

“I want you to get up and be downstairs in fifteen minutes.”

“Even if I was awake I’d need more than that to find my way downstairs.” I glance at the clock and drag the blanket over my head. No decent human being would be up at five in the morning.

“You have much to do. Trina did not fuss.”

“That’s Trina,” I roll over and throw back my covers. “She’s a morning person. Besides, what reason do you have for waking me up?”

“Beta insists you be trained.”

I groan and swing my legs over the side of my bed. “I already have that department covered.”

“It does not matter. Downstairs. Ten minutes.” I glare at his retreating form and go to the bathroom. Whatever reason Ethan has for putting me through this torture, I could take a stab at. But does it have to be so early in the morning?

In the bathroom, the spandex workout clothes I had tossed aside are folded on the counter. Should have thrown them out when I had the chance.

Dressed and ready to pretend I’m not going to die, I make surprising time down stairs and to the kitchen. Jayson, Trina, Ryner are already eating. Trina is dressed in similar spandex only hers is purple instead of black. Ryner dons a sleeveless workout shirt that says NO PAIN, NO GAIN while Jayson has a shirt that says, YOUR WORKOUT IS MY WARM UP. Knowing the two of them, there isn’t a doubt in my mind.

“Good morning,” Trina smiles. “You look like death.”

“I feel like death,” Jayson slides me a plate of pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits, and a large glass of orange juice. “I can’t eat all of this.”

“That’s what I said,” Trina says. “Jayson said I’d regret it if I didn’t at least try.”

I slide onto one of the stools and start to eat. Twenty minutes later and a lot of cursing on my end, Ryner got me outside. In the early morning light, the fog that’s settled over the open field almost looks pretty. If not for the impending training session from Ryner I’d almost enjoy it.

“Before we start, I need a few answers.”

I yawn. “Go for it, dude.”

“I know that you are not the most active of people, but tell me, what all did you did you do in the company of Sebastian?”

“Oh, that.” I kick the ground. “If I had to run, I ran. If I had to fight, I fought. I never had any trouble with it. It was all second nature. I’m not one for hand to hand combat. Takes too much energy.”

“I see,” he frowns. “If that is the case, then you would not mind sparing with me.”

“I would mind,” I stand up straighter and crack my knuckles knowing that no matter what I say I won’t get out of this. “I’d much rather have Jayson. He’d let me win.”

“That is why I am your trainer.” I barely have time to dodge as Ryner attempts to punch me.

“You couldn’t have given me a warning?” Instead of answering, he tries again. I narrow my eyes and concentrate on his movements as I dance around his attacks. I take in his breathing pattern, his stance, the way he clenched and unclenched his hand. Everything.

Muscle being something Ryner has plenty of and something I have almost none of, letting him land a blow won’t be within my best interest. Factoring the height difference and the probable weight difference puts me at a disadvantage, but I’d be at a disadvantage regardless since he’s probably used to fighting opponents of all different sizes. Any fighting prowess he has is likely to surpass mine—it’s been two months since I’ve really gotten into a fight.

Not many options are open and I can’t keep dodging him for forever. Strike first is out, I could never get close enough to land a hit. I’m already on guard—I can’t be more on guard than I already am. If I bum rush him it might give me the element of surprise, but he knows me. I like to face things head on, which means I’ll have to step out of my comfort zone. Instead of trying to overwhelm him, I have to work the angles, get within his guard, and think my way through the fight.

With a plan in mind, I go for the kill.

As Ryner changes his stance from attack to defense, preparing for another punch, I step forward as he swings grabbing his wrist and swing out my hand aiming for his throat. For a moment, his shock gets the better of him and I almost hit him.

Instincts kicking in, Ryner ducks and goes to kick my feet from under me. Still having hold of his wrist, I pull and bring him off balance.

Despite the proximity, we find it hard to hit the other. I can get within his guard, but he’s so fast that I can’t do much of anything. Ryner can grab me or be close to hitting me, but no matter what he does, I can always twist and shift out of his hold or line of fire. I never knew a fight could be so aggravating.

The hours pass in a blur and when Ryner calls time, I fall to the ground and refuse to move.

“That was good,” Ryner says and I give him a finger in response; you can take a guess as to which one it was. “If you will allow me, I need to stretch you.”

“I’m too tired to care,”

“I will be invading your personal space,”

“Still too tired to care.” If not the warning, I might have kicked him. When Ryner stretches my legs, it’s okay in the beginning, but when he places his hand on the back of my thigh I do my best not to strike out. Had anyone else tried stretch me like this, where it involves hovering over me and lots of touching, blood would have been split.

“You are very flexible,”

“Thanks, I don’t try.”

Ryner sighs. “Would it kill you to kill the sarcasm?”

“Wow, you almost sounded like a person your age. And yes, it would because you woke me before the sun was even up to make me do something I already know how to do. You’re gonna deal with it.”

Ryner rubs the bridge of his nose muttering to himself. “You are acting like a child.”

“Ryner, I know everything is all serious and whatnot, but unless you’d really like me to take this seriously, which is not a good idea, I’d suggest you let me be sarcastic while I can. Soon enough, the real war will start and while I want to be prepared, I don’t want to be completely absorbed into it.”

Ryner pulls me to my feet when I hold out my hand. “I do understand you thoughts, but please work with me, not against me. I have little patience as of late.”

“I think everyone is a little short tempered right now.”

I start when I hear Trina cry, “Stop! You’re gonna kill me.” From the trees, Trina burst through running full speed from Jayson who seems more amused than angry at her behavior. “I’m so tired I can barely stand.”

“But you’re running from me which means you still have energy.” Jayson reasons. “One more round I promise we can call it quits on fighting.”

Trina comes to a stop and glares at him from behind me. Considering I’m shorter than her, I have no idea why she’s hiding behind me. “You’re a slave driver. I’ve been working for hours.”

“Never thought of Jayson as that type of person,” I say.

“Well, yeah,” Trina grumbles. “That’s because he’s afraid of you.”

“I won’t deny that,” Jayson smiles. “But we’re almost done. Come on Trina.”

“No,” she whines. “I just wanna lie down.”

Sighing, Jayson relents. “Fine. Ryner, can you stretch her out?” Trina falls to the ground in the same manner I did and Ryner gives her the same warning. Tyler comes outside to deliver water. I take two. They’re gone in under a minute.

Sitting down I watch as Ryner struggles to get Trina to stay still and relax. I chuckle knowing that Ryner and Jayson have their work cut out for them. Trina hasn’t been flexible since middle school. Since high school, she’s had jobs and AP classes that prevented her from having time to work out.

Jayson sits beside me a small smile on his lips. “I don’t think I’ve really seen you smile,” I say. “Do you like this kind of thing?”

“I like being out side and moving around, but I don’t like fighting. It’s also kinda nice to see someone side from me struggle with something.”

“Yeah,” I snigger as Trina starts complaining that she’s nowhere near as flexible as he thinks she is. “This is gonna be a fun.”

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