Antheia charged at me, a huge grin on her face. For a moment I was hesitant to open my arms, not wanting to find myself slapped again as Sophia had done. Yet one look at her ecstatic face had me caving, bending down to one knee so I could scoop her up and hold her close. I never would have imagined I could miss her as much as I did. As annoying as my little sister could be, she was my whole world, and my arms were itching to have her close, my wolf craving to check her over and make sure no harm had come to her during our absence.
As always seems to be the case with the women in my life, I made the wrong call. Antheia dodged around me at the last minute, scenting the air and running towards Sophia instead, leaving me kneeling on the floor awkwardly as she asked a million questions about the baby.
I was in the middle of standing up, dusting off my trousers as I did so when I felt a sharp jab to my ribs and another round my head as Antheia stood on her tiptoes to deliver her punishment.
“That,” she huffed, “is what you get for leaving without saying goodbye. And that,” she kicked at my shins when I dodged her next swinging punch, “is what you get for staying away for so long.”
She continued to swing at me, tears pooling in her eyes when her emotions got the better of her. I pushed down on her forehead and kept my arm straight as I held her at arm’s distance, trying my best to avoid being savaged by her again.
“If you don’t get one decent kick in his useless nutsack, you’re training with the babies again,” we both froze at my dad’s half-mocking, half-serious tone. I pulled Sophia close to me, wrapping my arm around her waist to keep her pinned to my side as we all turned to watch my parents descend the steps into the back garden and stand before us.
My mother looked as beautiful as ever, her eyes wide with unshed tears. There was a coldness there that hadn’t been there last year, and I felt my stomach drop in guilt as I realised I was the cause for this. My dad looked no different. He was as fierce as always, his gaze cold and glaring.
“Eros,” my dad said, inclining his head towards me slightly, his legs slightly parted and his arms folded over his chest.
A true warrior’s stance.
I stiffened, feeling the rejection of his greeting.
“Dad,” I muttered back, my tone as equally cold, mirroring his posture and meeting him glare for glare.
I understood his anger. I can’t imagine what my parents had been through without me here, worrying about me all the time. I could see the strain hidden behind my mother’s eyes that no amount of smiling could disguise. I could see the new lines at the corners of my dad’s eyes that gave away his true emotions at my absence. I was the next Alpha; they needed here me to help keep the park dynamics running, to ease the other wolves’ worries and keep everything harmonious.
More than that, I was their son.
Their firstborn child.
I understood, I really did. Yet I was a grown man with a life of my own. Did they ever consider what I had been through this past year? The reasons I had left when I did? Did they have no faith in their training that allowed me to defend myself and my mate? I wasn’t the scared boy anymore, being pitted against Grey’s warriors and in need of my parents’ rescue. I was more than capable of holding my own, and I needed to find a way to change their perspective of me.
My father and I continued to stare at each other for long, drawn-out seconds until my mother sighed her displeasure and snapped at us, “enough! The pair of you are being utterly ridiculous! Look at Sophia! Look at Antheia! Can’t you see that everyone has had fucking enough!”
“Sorry mum,” I muttered, looking down at the floor in shame and scraping my toes along the pebbles feeling once more like the little boy I had moments ago sworn I had grown out of. My dad muttered something that may have been an apology, but then again, knowing my dad, he could also have been shooting back something sarcastic. My mother glowered at us, tutting whilst she shook her head.
She opened her arms to Sophia and pulled her into a hug, “hello again, darling. I’m sorry for the greeting, I’m sure it’s the last thing you need right now.”
Sophia hugged her back, shaking slightly as her nerves got the better of her. “Trust me, compared to some of the other packs we’ve visited, this is a welcome committee with all the trimmings.”
“Were you ever hurt by anyone?” My dad barked, making her jump as his voice boomed out into the open space. My mum shot me a little wink and I bit the inside of my cheek to stop myself from smiling.
This was typical of my dad. He wasn’t happy; he was barely containing his wolf who wanted to show everyone here who made the rules, but family came before anything. If he thought anyone had been harmed, he was ready to fight their corner, eliminating anyone who dared to treat them with disrespect. Even if he himself didn’t respect the person or their decisions.
“Nothing we couldn’t handle, dad, you trained me well,” I responded.
“Eros has been wonderful,” Sophia chimed in, nodding her head enthusiastically as she sensed the thawing in my dad’s attitude. “He’s always made sure we were well protected and safe, especially now,” she beamed a proud smile as she ran her palm over her flat stomach.
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, I saw my mother close her eyes and mutter something under her breath and my little sister cringe and shrink back from the inevitable.
We all held our breath, waiting for the moment when my dad would make his displeasure known. I almost passed out with shock when he simply gave a tight lip smile and offered his congratulations.
“I’m going to be an auntie!” Antheia exclaimed, clapping her hands together in excitement. “Can I listen?” She pleaded, pointing at Sophia’s stomach.
“Go ahead,” she laughed, stroking Antheia’s hair when she fell to her knees and pressed her ear against Sophia’s soft belly.
“How are your animals responding?” My mother asked, smiling at the lovely scene in front of her.
“My wolf is ecstatic. She hasn’t stopped purring since we found out. My panther is happy, but... I don’t know, she’s been off with me for a while. Not responding to me when I call her, hiding away in my mind - it’s almost as if she’s rejecting me.”
“Maybe the baby is going to be a pure wolf?” My mother asked hopefully. I knew she didn’t mean it the way it sounded, but I saw the hurt flash across Sophia’s face before she disguised it with a smile and looked back down at Antheia.
“I don’t think so,” she said sadly, “I can already sense the panther in them. The baby is a hybrid, unfortunately.”
“Shh!” Antheia muttered angrily, “I’m trying to listen!”
I took this opportunity to link with my mate, “she didn’t mean it that way, baby. You know that. She just wants what’s best for her grandchild. We need to show them that the childhood you had is not the childhood every hybrid has.”
“I know. It doesn’t make it any less hurtful though, does it?”
“She sounds really strong!” Antheia grinned, interrupting any reply I could have grinned.
“Goddess help them in that case, that’s the last thing this family needs. Another female ordering us around.” My dad said sarcastically.
“You don’t even know whether or not the baby will be a girl,” I told Antheia as she stood back up.
She frowned at me, “shut up, nobody likes a know it all!” She stomped on my foot and moved to stand closer to Sophia. I glared at her, my wolf growling in anger, but she held her own, growling back at me and meeting my eyes, the ultimate challenge to a wolf.
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, you two! Enough! I swear you’ll send me to an early grave at this rate.” My mother rolled her eyes at us, “come on Sophia, let’s get you inside and out of this cold, and you can fill us in on everything that your letters missed out.”
That went much better than expected. At least Khaos hadn’t thrown us out of the pack or ordered Eros immediate execution and strip him of his rank.
Eros had laughed when I had told him about my secret fear. He even looked slightly disappointed in me. He assured me that his dad wasn’t quite as brutal as the rumours made him out to be. Not towards his own flesh and blood, anyway. Didn’t I remember the man I grew up around, the man who had been like a second father to me?
Of course I remembered. But, as much as I tried to push it out of my mind, I also remembered seeing him a rogue alive because they had wandered too close to the pack land when Antheia had been out on her first hunt.
Khaos was a scary man when crossed.
We spent a few hours with them, leaving no details out as we told the story of our experience alone this past year. Khaos was interested in the other packs, wanting to know how they responded to the news that I was a hybrid and if we had come across anymore. Of course, we all knew that hybrids existed but to find one my age was extremely rare, they were usually killed in infancy.
We told them about Jeremy and the experiments he had been performing on his own shifters, creating freakish monsters that obeyed his every command. Khaos’ jaw tightened at this and he stood up, walking away to stare out of the window.
“We know all about the monsters Jeremy is creating. We weren’t going to tell you this, but the day you left, the pack was attacked.”
“What?” Eros cried, jumping to his feet looking utterly heartbroken and defeated. This was exactly what we had been trying to avoid by leaving in the first place!
“Sit down, boy! Your mother handled it perfectly, and the casualties were minimal—”
“Minimal means there was at least one. Who was it?” Eros demanded.
“You remember Antheia’s friend Axel? It was his mother. His father was out with me and the other warriors, and she refused to enter the safe house. One of the creatures got to her before your mother could and ripped her throat out with his bare hands.”
We were all silent a moment whilst we digested this piece of information. I felt sick to my stomach hearing this.
Khaos broke the silence once more. “This is your home, and we will offer you all the protection you need,” we all looked at each other and grinned, knowing Khaos was the biggest obstacle to overcome and once he accepted us, everyone would. That is, until he spoke his next words. “However, you stay here only until Jeremy has been eliminated and then you leave to form your own pack. I don’t agree with your mating and I can’t accept it. You’re a lovely girl, Sophia, but a panther and a wolf do not belong together, and I won’t allow my pack to be unnerved by the secrets in the packhouse.”
“Khaos!” My mother snapped. “Take that back immediately! What an awful thing to say to your son!”
“No, Violet, you’ll allow me my own say for once, woman! Panthers and werewolves do not belong together. It’s just the way that it is. They would never have been mated together if it wasn’t for Hades and for that I take some responsibility, which is why I am offering our protection during Sophia’s pregnancy.”
“Violet, please. Do not push me. Look at Sophia. Look at everything she has been through in her life. If the two of them had decided not to have children, it might be a different matter. As it is, they are making the decision to bring another hybrid into this world. One that is going to be ridiculed and abused their entire life. We have Antheia to think about as well – we’ve gathered man enemies over the years, and if they were to hear about this, they wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to use it against us. And Antheia will be the one to suffer because these two were too selfish not to breed! Surely they understand! They left because of Antheia in the first place!”
I began to cry softly, and Eros wrapped his arm around my shoulders, a frisson of anger running through him like an electric current. “Fuck your offer of protection. I’ve protected her so far on my own, I’ll continue to do so. Who are you to decide what’s normal and what’s not? Sophia is living proof that hybrids are not born feral, they’re not abominations, they’re not deformed and brain-damaged, or whatever else has been said about them over the years. There’s no reason to believe our baby will be either!”
“Eros just ignore him - he’s angry and hurt and no doubt confused, he doesn’t mean it!” my mum pleaded.
Eros turned his angry gaze on her, “I’m sick of you defending him! You might have no problem allowing him to speak to you like shit and walk all over you time and time again, but I do!”
I held my breath as the words left Eros’ mouth, knowing this would not go well. I heard rather than saw his dad shift. It all happened so fast. All I could make out was a blur in the corner of my eye and the next thing I knew, Eros was pinned to the floor by a huge, angry wolf who snarled down at him, spit dripping from his sharp canines as he pulled back his lips and bared his teeth to him in warning.
Khaos’ wolf met Eros gaze, his wolf ordering Eros’ to submit as it struggled to burst free. A whine escaped his throat before he could stop it, his wolf obeying the Alpha command and retreating away.
But Eros would not back down.
He met his gaze as his human son and showed his disdain for him, and his rejection of me.
They were so caught up in each other, Violet’s angry shouts, and Antheia’s terrified sobs filling up the room that we didn’t hear the alarms sounding, didn’t hear the people outside as they ordered the vulnerable to the safe room.
The first indication we got that there was something amiss was the warrior that burst through the door, his arms around the wounded Lycan who struggled to stand by himself.
We froze, our gazes falling to his torso as his legs finally gave way and he fell to the floor as the warrior desperately tried to keep him up straight. I felt the pang of pain as his pack bond was severed in death, the Lycan’s features turning soft as though he welcomed his fate. I looked at his torso once more and recoiled at the gaping, burning hole just below his ribcage.
Khaos was the first one to react, shifting into his human skin and demanding answers. The only answer he got was the exploding of the grenade that had been launched through the window, knocking us all off our feet. My head smacked against the wall and the last thing I saw was the beautiful, tiny Antheia, her face covered in blood. I fought against the dark current that threatened to pull me under and tried to reach for her. Her eyes were wide and unfocused, glazing over as I watched, her arm falling limply at her side. I closed my eyes, giving in to the pull of the darkness, unable to fight any longer as Violet’s horrified, heartbroken screams rang out in my ears.