Alpha Jeremy remained where he was, staring straight at us as he continued to smirk, his arms spread wide, inviting his entire clan of panther warriors into the house. His eyes bore into us, chilling me to the bone with the clear evil intent written in them. I had no idea what he wanted with Sophia, but it was enough to have her clinging to my side, sobbing with fear.
The last two warriors entered, this time in their human skin, dragging in a man who was tied up and completely at their mercy. He strained against his restraints, choking on the gag in his mouth with every movement he made.
“Stay calm, Sophia,” I warned over the mind-link when I heard her sharp intake of breath. “Do not reveal your emotions to your enemy. It makes you weak. Cling to me. I’ll be your strength. Let me handle this, please.”
She did as I asked, shuffling slightly behind me whilst she tried to compose herself.
The warriors hauled the man up by his hair and deposited him in front of the Alpha. I heard Sophia’s desperate cry that she tried to muffle and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the man was her father. He saw his mate, her crumpled, ripped apart face twisted towards him and he screamed, tears spilling down his cheeks.
“Come out, sweet Sophia. No one else has to get hurt. All you have to do is come down here and accept your fate and you’ll be blessed with the knowledge that you managed to save at least one of your parent’s lives. This is a onetime offer, and it stings me to even say these words. Don’t be foolish. After all this time the moment has arrived where you need to face up to your destiny.”
Sophia turned to me, her eyes wide and filled with panic, silently asking me what we were supposed to do. I put my finger to my lips and shook my head, indicating to her that we were not going to say a word. I grabbed her arm and gently pulled her behind me once more, making sure she could not see any of the horror that was taking place downstairs.
“Sophia. You need to brace yourself. As much as this is going to hurt, there’s no way we can all escape here alive. I love you so much, and I’m sorry I have to do this to you, but you know that no matter what you do, he is not going to allow your father to live.”
“I know, Eros,” she replied, her face tight and filled with sadness. I had to admire her strength at that moment. She knew that she was seconds away from watching her father die, after having seen her mother be murdered only minutes earlier, and yet she was still remaining as calm as possible.
Alpha Jeremy growled, “child, you’re testing my patience and I am not a patient man. Seth, Ricardo, you know what to do.”
The largest of the panther warriors came forward, each taking up a position at either side of Mark.
“Eros,” she whispered with a gasp, her fingernails digging into my arm.
“Link, Sophia. Don’t let them hear us.”
“What are we going to do? We can’t fight them all and win. We can’t move, because as soon as we do, they will give chase. They’ve got us trapped.”
“I’m trying to link my father. If he can bring some warriors, it will turn the odds in our favour and give us a fighting chance.”
“It’ll take too long! We don’t have that amount of time, Eros! You know what we need to do…”
I reached behind me to grab hold of her and gave her a squeeze. “I can’t do that to you, Sophia.”
“What other choice do we have? You said it yourself, they are not going to let my dad leave this alive. We wait until they strike, and the minute they’re distracted by his death, we make our move and get the fuck out of here.”
“I’m going to give you to the count of three, Sophia. My warriors are hungry and I’m not so sure I can stop them much longer than that. One... Two...”
Sophia placed her hand over her mouth, hyperventilating with her soft cries. I kept her pinned behind me, knowing that if I were to let her go, I was risking that she might run down there and play the hero. Despite what she said, I could feel her stubbornness. She was still trying to figure out a way for her dad to leave with his life intact. Jeremy was not going to let her dad get out of this alive, no matter what he said.
Jeremy shook his head, “...Three. Go ahead boys,” the panthers gave a growl and pounced on Mark. They sunk their teeth into his thighs, ripping off a huge chunk of his flesh with a squelch. I averted my gaze as I heard the agonised scream burst from his throat and saw the blood fly out of him, splattering onto the carpet and nearby furniture. I caught a brief glimpse of the newly exposed hole in his thighs and saw the angry, pulsating muscles as they beat wildly.
Mark clenched his jaw, the veins in his neck protruding as he lifted his head to the sky and let out a roar of unimagined pain.
“Eros,” Sophia whispered. “I can’t leave him down there! I will never be able to live with myself if I let him suffer through that.”
“Are you insane?” I hissed back. “I’m sorry, but you know your father is already dead. There’s nothing we can do to protect him. We have to focus on ourselves and how the fuck we are going to get out of here.”
“He’s my father,” she repeated, looking close to passing out.
“And you’re my mate. My one job in life is to make sure you are protected. I will not allow you to go down there, do you hear me?” I flinched as Jeremy began to shout more taunts up to us.
“Sophia, are you really the type of woman who will stand by and allow their one remaining parent to suffer in such a way? After all he’s done for you? The way he has sheltered you and kept you safe, this is how you repay him? Have it your way,” he gave a nod to the two men and once again they bit down on his thigh, this time ripping out enough skin to leave his bone exposed.
Mark raised his fists and punched down on the wound of his left leg as a way to remove to the pain. As his hand pushed down over the gaping hole, blood spurted between his fingers, pieces of meaty flesh and muscle sticking to his skin. The squelch of gore invaded my brain, and I gritted my teeth to prevent myself from hurling everywhere.
“Move,” I demanded, not waiting for her to listen. I grabbed her arm and hauled her down the hallway.
As we ran, I linked with her, getting her to tell me the best way out of there. I knew there was a balcony at the back of the house, but I had no idea whether or not using it would be to our advantage. I heard Jeremy issue a command with a laugh, and a backwards glance showed me that the panthers were not descending on the flabby area of Mark’s stomach. I turned away just in time as his gut was exposed, intestines spilling from his middle. Jeremy gave a clap and more panthers jumped, grabbing whatever body part of Mark they could and ripped it apart, swallowing huge chunks as they exposed bone after bone.
Mark’s screams resounded throughout the house and echoed into the night, and it gave me the kick I needed to get my ass into gear.
I grabbed Sophia and pulled her towards the bedroom that not half an hour ago we had been having the time of our lives in and closed the door softly behind us. I let go of my mate briefly to push the heavy wardrobe in front of the door to buy us some time.
“Sophia,” I whispered firmly, grabbing hold of her shoulders and shaking her. “Sophia, listen to me. We’re going to have to jump out of the window, we have no other choice.” I ran over to the window and pushed it wide open, grabbing my mate’s wrist and pulling her to my side when I heard the sound of footsteps running up the stairs. “Which animal is the strongest?” I demanded, “Which one of them are you most comfortable with and confident will make this jump?”
“Panther,” she said without hesitation, though she choked on the word with another sob. We both turned to the door as panther after panther slammed against it, the wardrobe rocking on its legs with the force of their blows.
“Then I suggest you shift and do it quickly,” I ordered, phasing into my wolf in front of her. We heard the loud crack as the door began to split and it snapped her into action. She bent down low and phased into a panther that was solid black in colour, her eyes an eerie yellow that seemed to glow from inside her.
She came forward, rubbing herself against my side, covering me in her scent so that if we were separated, I would be able to find her much easier. After one last nuzzle into my neck, she jumped, using her powerful hind legs to propel her out of the window as she leapt for the tallest branch on the tree.
I watched her front legs wrap around the branch, her lower body swinging for a moment before she swung herself up, giving me one last look before she jumped from tree to tree, easily disguised against the dark of the night.
I followed her out of the window, except I ran to the floor, knowing that if the panthers decided to follow us their paws would thunder across the ground, easily detected through the vibrations they caused. With Sophia’s height, and me on the ground, we should be able to have a good idea of where they were.
“Do what you need to do. Don’t worry about being separated from me. Keep yourself safe. I will see you at the packhouse.”
I heard the rustling of the trees above me and knew Sophia was following, though she was jumping erratically from tree to tree so that her scent didn’t go in a straight line. Something was off. I was growing more nervous with every metre of our escape.
This felt too easy.
Jeremy had us in his grasp. He could have easily ordered his warriors to run up the stairs and ambush us before we made our escape, yet it almost seemed as though he had wanted us to escape. Had wanted us to run - possibly lead him somewhere.
I couldn’t believe how stupid we had been! We were leading him straight towards my home, my pack, where the panthers would attack everyone I loved.
One on one, a wolf had a good chance against a panther, especially my father and myself, who had already sparred against many wild ones. The rest of the pack would not stand a chance, not with an entire gang of dedicated warriors. My gut twisted as I thought of Antheia, and I screamed out to Sophia over the bond and demanded that she stop.
Of course Jeremy knew about me. He would have been able to smell sex in the air as soon as he entered the house. He would have been able to smell The Heat on Sophia. It wouldn’t surprise me if he knew about me long before tonight.
Sophia jumped from the trees and phased back into her human skin when she saw me stood there naked, having shifted just seconds ago.
“Eros, we can’t stay here, we need to get back to the Blood Moon pack and warn your father, we—”
“We’re not going there.”
Sophia’s head snapped back with shock. “What do you mean we’re not going there? Your father can protect us he can—”
“No, I won’t do it to him. He offered you his protection years ago, and you all refused. Maybe if he had some knowledge of who you were, we could have prepared ourselves, but no amount of warning will give him time to adequately prepare for a pack of panther warriors, not without losing most of the pack. It would be different if he were here, away from the vulnerable members of the pack. But I can’t bring this to our home territory. We have pups there, Sophia. It would destroy him if anything happened to those babies. He already went through this once I can’t do it to him again!”
“So what do we do?”
“We run. We run far and we run fast, but first of all, you can tell me everything you know. Everything.”
Her head bobbed low, and I heard the sound of her gulp as she swallowed down her fear. I wasn’t about to have any mercy on her though, I couldn’t protect her without knowing what she was and why she came to be here.
“Khaos, something is wrong. Something is really wrong.” I gasped, dropping my fork.
We were in the middle of the dining room with the entire pack. Seconds ago I had been laughing and joking with Antheia and our Beta’s and the next, I was frozen with fear.
“What is it, sweetheart?” He asked, his brow furrowing.
“It’s Eros… I can feel him. He’s in danger.”
Every warrior in the room was on their feet in an instant.
“What danger?” Khaos demanded, not bothering to ask how I knew this.
Sometimes we just knew.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, my eyes shining bright with tears.
“What do you need us to do, Alpha?” The head warrior asked.
“He’s not responding to my links. Your Luna sent him to Sophia’s, so that’s exactly where we are going. Say goodbye to your mates now.” He warned. The warriors didn’t ask what he meant. They knew this was a risk they were taking.
“Khaos? What do you need me to do?” I asked, pulling myself together. Emotions later, strength first. My pup needed me.
I could feel the adrenaline surging through me, giving fuel to the anger that was running through my veins.
“Stay here. Protect Antheia. Assemble the remaining warriors and guards. Keep the pack safe, Violet. There’s no one I would trust more than you.”
“I love you. Bring our son back to us, Khaos, and kill every fucker that dared to put him in danger.”
“Death would be a mercy for them,” he swore, bending low to kiss my lips. “Antheia, be good for your mother. Listen to everything she says. Every last word. No questions.”
“Don’t worry about me, dad. I’ve got mum. Bring my brother and Sophia back.”
Eros didn’t interrupt the entire time I told my story. He listened without judgement, his face open and honest, ready to accept anything I had to tell him.
I was unique in this world, my mother being a wolf and my father being a panther. Of course, there were other hybrids out there but what me so special was the fact that I could choose my form. Usually, one animal is the most dominant and we would live our lives shifting into that one animal with a few characteristics of the other, such as having the advanced hearing of a wolf and phasing into a panther. I was different. I could become one or the other with ease, as well as being able to shift into a mixture of the pair of them.
Hybrids were outcast in the shifter universe, belonging to no one as no pack would have them. No one wanted their child being mated to a hybrid, many saw this as polluting the bloodline. Many hybrids didn’t survive long after birth as they were savagely murdered by the mother or eaten by the father as a pup.
Jeremy was different.
Jeremy wanted as many hybrids as he could.
He was creating an army.
Last my father had heard, he was splicing animals together in sick experimentations, trying to create the strongest, fiercest blend that he could. It had started off small, injecting one panther with the saliva of a wolf, another with the blood of a bear. When this hadn’t worked, he had upped his game, using his ever-expanding surgery skills that he had honed over the years to perform organ transplants. Remove the heart of a fox and place it inside a coyote. That sort of thing.
The cells of his pack prison were filled to the brim of poor, disfigured creatures that had been promised a life of ultimate strength and power, and instead were reduced to a shell of their former selves, living in continuous pain and suffering.
Uncle Owen had given word that his plans were to mate with me, securing himself guaranteed hybrid children that would be his to do with as he pleased. He would be able to perform any sort of experiments he wanted as he harvested the child’s body for the sake of his panthers.
Eros growled at that, pulling me close to him and pressed his nose into my hair. “I won’t let him take you, Sophia. I will protect you with my life, I swear it.”
“I can’t let you do that Eros!” I breathed, shoving him away from me. “Don’t you see? This is why I should have never mated with you, why I spent so many years keeping you away from me and holding you at arm’s length! I’m an abomination!”
“Don’t ever say that!” He roared, shocking me with his intensity. “You are beautiful, inside and out. Your differences are what makes you so special, what makes you stand out beyond any others. There is nothing wrong with you, you are not an abomination. You are my very reason for living and we will get through this together. Me and you, against all the odds, I promise,” he pulled me into another hug, and I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling accepted for the first time in my life.
“Where do we go from here? What are we supposed to do?”
“I told you - we run. Someone, somewhere, has more information on hybrids and we’re going to find them. We’ll stay moving, never staying in one place for more than a day or two. Jeremy won’t find us. I’ll make sure of it. Trust me?”
“I trust you, Eros, more than anything but...” I took a deep breath, “your parents. This will destroy them. You’re the next Alpha...”
“A good Alpha knows when to withdraw from the pack if their presence is going to offer nothing but danger. The pack will still be there in a week, a month, a year. My parents will understand. We’ll go to my Uncle Chris’ pack first. It’s far enough away that we will be able to hide our scent and rest a few days whilst we get our bearings.”
“Will he accept us?” I asked, feeling a knot form in my stomach.
“If he doesn’t, his son will. We’ve been friends since we were young, he won’t let us do this alone. Come on, we can’t stay here any longer.”
He shifted into his wolf, nudging against my legs until I did the same. I was faster in my wolf form and I knew that she needed this time to be with her mate. She had to secure the bond that was newly formed between them. We decided that it would be best to inform no one. Our trips had to be spontaneous, in order to remain undetected. So, like thieves in the night, we made our way to the Atlantis pack, not knowing what was waiting for us once we got there.
I wish that I had the power of foresight.
If I had, I would have realised there were two members of the Atlantis Pack that had an axe to grind. A battle line that had been drawn many years ago, and some grudges were not easily forgotten.