So the hunt begins... - Brock's POV
The small white home was tucked in the woods, the silence surrounding it making it all too clear how isolated it really was on the outskirts of his prides’ lands. Brock had made good time in his shifted form, Alden following shortly behind him in the car.
Using the prowess of his lion, he scented the air. The air flowed in a steady intake, the subtle honeyed citrus underlying Lara’s own stench. That damnable scent filled the area, causing Brock to curse internally. If Lara’s scent was here, it meant he was too late.
A woman with dark hair came stumbling from the house. “Cora,” she yelled as she burst through the door. Her voice was stilted and breathless, her steps were unsteady. The concern for Cora, however, was evident in every part of this woman’s body.
Brock shifted, Alden throwing him something to cover his lower half before he could approach the woman. Had it not been for Alden’s concern for his sire’s respectability, Brock might not have given it a second thought. Or was there something more to it?
“Where is she,” he asked, fighting to keep his voice steady as he approached her.
“I-I don’t know,” she whimpered. Her fingers pressed against her temples, the stress warring against the pain that she must be feeling from the gash at the back of her skull. The evidence was obvious in the matting of hair just below her crown.
Though the urge to grab hold of the woman was vicious, he refrained by the barest of threads as he fisted his hands beside him. “Think! Is there anything you can tell us? Anything at all that might lead us to Cora?” The strain in his voice was only too noticeable as he was losing the battle of attempting to sound calm and patient. It certainly wouldn’t help to start barking at the woman in the state she was in.
She pressed her fingertips firmly against her temples as she massaged them in a way that made Brock wonder if she thought to conjure up the very memory of everything that happened. Alden stood rigidly next to him, not really offering him much by way of support at the moment. Though he loathed hearing it, he already anticipated what would come.
“That woman...she took her. She took Cora, but,” she hissed in pain as she placed her head in her hands.
Brock stuck a hand out and placed it on her shoulders, trying to help soothe her pain. If only she had joined his pride in earnest, he would have the ability to do so. At the moment, his attempts were fleeting, at best.
“Is there anything you can remember that might help us find her?” He was clinging to a thread of hope he wasn’t sure was going to manifest, but he was out of options.
“I-I…” Darcy looked up into Brock’s face and he felt a sudden tremor flick over his spine. “She called her Arwen.”
Those words caused Brock to stumble back. A blow to the gut would have done less to unnerve him. Arwen! The name fluttered through his head over and over. His feet kept moving back as he fought to stay upright.
When his back hit something hard, he was able to find his footing, but only barely. “Brock?”
His head snapped over his shoulder to see Landon standing behind him. His hand was wrapped around Brock’s elbow in an effort to help him stay on his feet. Quietly, Brock was thankful for the support.
“Arwen,” it was all Brock could manage to say. Landon simply nodded his assent. “But, she-”
Landon stepped around to face Brock more fully and shook his head. “They never found a body,” he said softly.
For more than a minute, they stood staring at one another. The hard, dark brown eyes of Brock meeting the softer hazel ones of Landon. The wisdom within those hazel eyes made his spine stiffen.
“You knew,” he stated.
Landon dropped his head, looking at the dirt-covered ground. “Not at first. I just knew that she...smelled familiar.” He glanced back up to look at Brock, searching his face. “Did you-” Landon winced as he watched Brock frown. Brock knew what was coming, and a part of him was ashamed that he had not recognized his little Arwen.
“No,” he shook his head as he whispered the word. He squared his shoulders and stood tall, the effects of his discovery no longer holding him in its clutches. “No, I didn’t.”
As Brock moved away from him, Landon’s hand fell from his elbow. Alden was handing the dark-haired woman a steaming hot cup, a blanket already wrapped around her. Though the woman was grateful for the assistance, there was an edge there that Brock felt in his own bones. An edge that screamed for him to go rescue his beloved, and he wondered if that was the same edge that this woman felt.
When he stood before her, Alden stepped beside Brock. “This is Darcy, Cora’s adopted mother.” Though he spoke low, there was a tone there that Brock could not quite put his finger on.
He returned his focus to Darcy, understanding that there was something about Alden's behavior that he would need to come back to later but now was not the time. Cora was his main focus...and he felt his time was running out.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Darcy did not seem to know that Cora was Arwen until recently, or the fact that she seemed nearly as desperate to find her as he did, Brock might have snapped at the woman. “How did you come to adopt Cora?” His tone was sharp, more irritated by his inability to recognize Arwen than at the woman before him.
Darcy’s hands shook as she held the little porcelain cup in her grip. The liquid tossed around in the cup, sloshing over the sides as she fought to bring it to her lips. After taking a small sip and wiping her mouth on the blanket at her shoulder, she turned her focus on him.
“Anton brought her home one night. Said he found her on the road alone.” Darcy’s shoulders fell forward, her eyes peering into the cup in her hands. “I never would have thought...It wasn’t until days later that we found out that the king and his wife had died. The word was that the daughter had been dragged off by...wolves.” The woman shuddered, most likely from an understanding of the implication. Alden moved to step closer to the woman and Brock flashed him a quick, curious glance, the same glance Darcy shot him before she continued. “But, Anton...he’s not-”
Brock raised his hand. “We can figure out the details later. Lara signed the adoption papers?” The woman merely nodded, her attention drawn back to the liquid in her cup. “Can you think of anywhere that this woman might have taken her?”
As she shook her head, Brock felt the nagging irritation starting to fester, another question forming on his lips before Landon moved beside him. “Have you tried using the bond?” His voice was low, whispering between them. No doubt the wolf before them still heard the question.
Brock let out a sigh. “Of course, I have. I am not without thought!” It sliced into his pride that his little brother thought him so daft.
Landon smiled. “And in which direction did you feel the tug the strongest?”
Frowning, Brock grumbled at him. “How in the devil does that help us locate her? I might be able to point out the direction, but how in the hell does that help find her? I have tried to pinpoint her already, but-” Landon smiled, causing Brock to grimace. “Out with it,” he grumbled at his brother.
“Well,” he started, then the smile spread further.
Brock felt a surge of hopeful energy course through his spine. “You can find her?” It was spoken with more certainty than a mere question. He knew his brother well.
“When you have spent as much time with little Arwen as I have, you learn to keep a few tricks up your sleeve!” Landon smirked at Brock, but Brock’s mind was already whirring.
“She’s not the same,” he glanced at Landon before his gaze slipped to Darcy. She watched him, her teeth catching her bottom lip between them. “Cora is...meek.”
Landon chuckled loudly. “Arwen? Impossible!”
“Not impossible,” he returned, his focus narrowing on Darcy. When she turned her head away from him, he knew she understood precisely what he meant. Raising his voice, he asked, “How is it a young, vivacious and confident child becomes meek, submissive, and unsure of herself?”
Darcy dropped her head, drawing the blanket closer around her. “You couldn’t understand! I tried to protect her...we tried to protect her. They would have taken her away from me - two wolves raising a lion, they threatened to take her. We left the Kingley pride to come here, hoping that your pride would be more accepting. To allow me to raise her and protect her from-”
When she hesitated, he roared. “From who?”
“I-from-” Her head jerked up to meet his eyes. “From the pride’s king. I was told...we were told that he would take her and put her in an asylum. He would take her from us. From a loving home.”
Brock’s frown furrowed his brow, an incredulous expression marring his features. “Why would he do that? That doesn’t make any sense to put a child in an asylum.”
Darcy shook her head. “I don’t know. It never made sense, but a woman came by and I heard her tell Anton. She said that the child would be taken from us and locked away for her entire natural life unless we took her away from that pride. We left, no questions asked, that same day.”
The sensation of knowing covered him like a shroud. “Did you know the woman?” He knew, even if she didn’t, who was pulling the strings.
Darcy shook her head more vigorously. “I-I don’t.”
Brock sneered at his next words. “Not even her voice?”
Darcy let her head fall forward as she gave it some thought before jerking her head up once more. “No,” she whispered in disbelief. “It can’t be.”
“Oh, but it is!” Wrath burned white within Brock, the evidence stacking up against his former fiance. “Landon, the tug comes from the west. What now?”
Landon’s gaze was locked on Darcy, compassion warring with disbelief. “Now, we find her.” Without another word, Landon spun on his heels and shifted without regard to the clothing he wore.
Darcy stood abruptly, the blanket slipping from her form. “I’m coming!”
“No,” Brock started to command her before she stepped forward to confront him.
“Whether you like it or not, that is my daughter, and I mean to make that woman pay for all her crimes against my family.” The passion in her words gave her courage that she might not otherwise have had, confronting the king of the pride with which she currently resided. She shifted before he could utter another word, her wolf’s dark fur shimmering in the late afternoon sun. Alden was quick on her heels before Brock could assert any arguments.
“You can have what’s left,” he muttered before shifting himself. So the hunt begins!