Chapter 1: It All Falls Down
WARNING - the content of this book is VERY graphic and VERY dark. Do NOT read if you cannot stomach graphic violence or explicit intimacy.
Hycinth (age 15)
“Daddy!” I sputtered and coughed in the upstairs hallway, lungs already dangerously full of smoke. The fire crackled all around us—my childhood home going up in flames.
My father gripped my shoulders tightly, painfully, giving me a little shake. The eyes of his Wolf glowed with fury and hate. Not at me. But for the Alpha who had come to destroy him. The monster intent on cutting us all down and wreaking havoc...until not a person or a possession remained.
My father yelled to be heard over the roar and crackling of wood around us, “Get back, Hycinth! Go to Luca at the safe house! Go now! Run!"
“No, Daddy!” I wailed again, tears streaming down my face. I didn’t want to leave him. He was hurt. I could smell it. Blood from several deep claw and bite wounds wafted into the air. The scent of iron oxide, a byproduct of his leaking life-fluid, combined with the oppressive stench of carbon dioxide released by the flames, burning my sensitive nose. I could barely breathe.
His beautiful face twisted, the depth of his agony severe. Tears trailed down his dirty cheeks. His voice cracked, “I love you, Princess.”
I stared at him in disbelief. The Wolf who had been the strongest, the fiercest warrior in our Pack. That same Wolf who had indulged his little girl. Let me dress him up for tea parties with my bears. Sang me silly songs every night before bed. That man—the one I loved more than any other person in the world—was saying goodbye to me.
He knew his fate. He accepted it.
But I didn’t think my young heart would survive.
And that’s when I saw him.
The Alpha of Adamant Moon—Leander!
The subject of legends and horrors. Violence so brutal, his own men struggled to stomach the aftermath of his rage, the brutality left in his wake.
Like a demon, straight from the churning pits of hell, the Alpha appeared at the top of the stairs. He stood at the end of the long hallway, nostrils flaring.
My father spun to face the threat, shoving me behind him at the same time.
But I had gotten a glimpse of the death-bringer. The image seared into my brain.
Alpha Leander was bigger than life, chest so broad he filled what remained of the charred hallway. Sinewy muscles flexed and contracted with each ragged breath. Pitch black hair shined like mica even with the clinging dirt and falling bits of debris. A short, neatly trimmed 5 o’clock shadow, goatee and mustache framed the sharp-edged cleft of his jaw and emphasized his straight nose and high crested cheeks. His face was made up of angles, all hard and severe. And all man.
Hands fisting the back of my father’s shirt, I trembled uncontrollably and peeked around him, survival instinct kicking in, not willing to take my eyes off of a predator of Leander’s caliber.
The glowing eyes of his Wolf, a shocking mixture of cerulean and amethyst, swirled brightly, only focused on his target—my father, Alpha of the Diamonte Pack—as he strode toward us, death and destruction burning in his eyes.
And then his gaze flickered to me, and he froze, eyes widening in shock.
"Mate?” he mouthed the word, but no sound came out.
Time crashed to an abrupt halt.
My head spun.
I was sure my heart would stop right there as I crouched behind the massive protective frame of my father.
It couldn’t be true!
I would not accept it.
I was still a child of fifteen for heaven’s sake! Not even shifted yet.
And he was clearly a man.
I’d heard tales of the young twenty-year-old Alpha who’d taken over his father’s pack six months ago after his mother died. Rumor had it his father could no longer manage the stress of running the pack in addition to his heartache at the loss of his mate.
His father was known to be a cruel man, but Leander’s tales of destruction made his father look like a teddy bear in comparison. Leander’s violence was unmatched and unparalleled, his thirst for blood unsated and wanting.
It felt like minutes, but only seconds had gone by since Leander appeared at the top of stairs and now stood frozen, his beautiful face twisted in confusion.
My father roared, ”No...you will never have her!” He shifted and threw himself at the other Alpha, snarling and biting and clawing.
At the same time, my muscles coiled tight with adrenaline.
I exploded into action.
In the opposite direction, hurling through the wreckage, down two flights of stairs and whipping around the corner. My life was in danger. The fire and smoke inhalation could kill me. But that was nothing compared to the horror of my new reality if that beast of an alpha captured me.
No, no, no! The chant pounded through my head, ringing in my ears. I refused to believe he could be my mate. I’d felt nothing when our eyes connected. Nothing!
But the tumultuous expression in his cerulean eyes spoke the truth—Leander had felt everything. And I couldn’t deny the look that came over his face for just a split second when his lips formed the word, mate. In that one second, his features had transformed into a transcendent glow.
And then poof!
Just like that, it disappeared.
His expression snarled even fiercer, angrier at the cruel reality right in front of him—the daughter of his enemy was his mate! He left no doubt in my mind. He was no happier about it than I.
For just a blink, I wondered if maybe his hatred would be enough for him to let me go, to reject me. But even as I formed the thought in my head, I knew better. Not only had his face flickered into a glimpse of hope, but there had been undeniable possessiveness.
His Wolf would have his mate.
No matter what it cost me.
No way! No way in hell!
I ran faster. Seconds were all I had before the monster broke through the protective barrier of my father’s Wolf.
A bitter reality washed over me.
I had only seconds to escape.
But my father had just seconds left to live.
To the very end, he sacrificed his life to protect me. My young heart broke under the crushing weight of truth—I would never see him again. My steps faltered.
I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from wailing.
Not now! I forced the torturous thoughts away, shutting off my brain.
I couldn’t do this now. Not if I wanted to live. Getting emotional was a luxury I didn’t have. Breaking down would have to wait. My freedom was at stake. And I would rather die than be taken by that monster!
My father had prepared an evacuation plan for me, my mother and brother, as well as his most trusted Beta and his Beta’s mate, in the event our pack was compromised beyond repair. My mind whirled with his instructions, my body on autopilot.
Three more steps and I reached the kitchen, located at the back of the house, positioned right over the cement bunker. I threw open the back door to make it appear as if I’d run out that way, and then I flew into the large walk-in pantry, closing the door behind me.
Diving to the floor, my fingernails scraped along the wood, feeling for the security latch.
It clicked open!
Lifting the lid just enough to shimmy my body through, I agilely dropped the remaining eight feet to the floor below. The fall didn’t hurt me. Even though I had yet to shift, I had vigorously trained my entire life. My father had insisted on it, making me surprisingly formidable for my small frame.
The door settled in place above my head, and I heard the latch reengage. The avenue of my get-away wasn’t noticeable unless you were looking for it, and would probably be under a pile of debris soon, making it impossible for Leander to find.
Snaking my way through the dark and damp cellar, I opened the small door to the underground tunnel that led almost a mile, all of the way up the mountain.
It was at that moment I heard him race across the floor above me and out the back door. A second of relief rippled through my body. I’d successfully eluded him!
But then, my reprieve was gone. I still had a long way to go to get free.
I flew through the utterly black tunnel, my extrasensory nose and eyes leading the way. The moist scent of the earth combined with the aged wood of the support beams scratched my throat. My nose wrinkled at the damp smell of mildew. But it was a hundred times better than the oxygen deprived, stifling smoke-filled house from which I’d come. I focused on slowing down my panicked breathing.
In. Out. In. Out.
I was fast. It would take less than four minutes for me to reach the safe house.
And if he were alive, Luca would be waiting for me.
Not blood by birth, my adopted brother was five years older than me. But even with the age gap, Luca had always been my best friend. I'd followed him around like a relentless puppy from the time I was four years old. And he allowed it. Even during his turbulent and hormonal transition from a juvenile into an adult wolf, he indulged the little shewolf who idolized him.
Panting, I reached the end of the tunnel and flung open the door. My heart burst in my chest when my eyes found him.
Luca jumped from his crouched position, where he’d been staring at the door, waiting for it to open, and snatched me into his arms. All of the air whooshed out of him as he exhaled, “Thank fuck.”
My trembling in his arms quickly turned into full-blown shaking. He held me tighter. “It’s going to be okay, Cinn! I’m going to get you out of here. I swear on my life!”
“Lucky...” I whispered the nickname I’d given him when I was five, my voice breaking. “What about mom? Did you see her? Is she coming?”
He fell silent.
I pushed against his chest. He released his tight hold, giving me some room, but didn’t let go completely. I studied his sorrow filled face, absinthe green eyes unfocused, haunted by whatever memory he’d witnessed. His bottom lip quivered, and my heart broke. He never cried.
I knew the answer.
And my loss was his loss. My pain was his pain. My mother had been the only mother he’d ever known. He rasped, “I’m sorry.”
“No!!!” a pitiful, barely-there wail came from my lips. I didn’t have the strength for anything louder. I truly was an orphan now. We both were.
Lucky clutched me again in a bear hold, chest rising and falling with his tears.
After a long moment, I pulled back and swiped the moisture from my face with my sleeve. I looked up at him. I had to know. ”Who did it? Who killed her?”
Violence contorted his expression, green eyes shifting to the dark pine orbs of his Wolf as he spat, “That bastard Alpha! I watched him break her neck and then tear out her throat. The sicko even smiled as he did it.”
I inhaled sharply, fear causing a full body shudder to rack up and down my spine. I could barely catch my breath. “It’s…him. M-my...mate.”
Luca’s expression blackened. A hiss of disbelief came from his chest. ”Your what?!”
“My mate,” I whispered. I swayed unsteadily on my feet, feeling lightheaded. My belly churned, and I forced down the bile that wanted to spew from my throat. “Leander, h-he saw me. He said I was his...mate.”
“No fucking way,” Luca snarled as if intent on changing the Moon’s mind. His fingers dug deeper into his grip on my arms. I didn’t think he even realized he was doing it, but my pinched expression must have clued him in because he abruptly relaxed his hold. He rubbed my arms for a second and then turned to pace across the floor. “Cinn, this is bad. He’s not going to give up looking for you. Ever. We can’t stay here. Not even for the night.”
His words rang true. I sank down into a nearby chair at the wooden table and bit my lip, trying to control my emotion. “Where will we go?”
He made another circuit around the floor, absentmindedly pulling his shoulder-length, dark blonde hair out of the band holding it tight at his neck and shook out the wavy locks as he always did when he was thinking through a problem. He turned to face me, his expression controlled. “You know we can’t go to another pack.”
“I know,” I whispered.
Fate had chosen—I was to be a lone wolf.
But it wasn’t right to drag Luca into that lifestyle, not if he didn’t have to. Wolves suffered without the companionship of a pack.
I didn’t know how I was going to live and survive on my own, but I’d do whatever it took to save Luca from the same horrible destiny. I worked to make my voice firm. “I can take it from here. There’s no need for you to live that life. Any of the other packs would take you in. The Alpha isn’t looking for you. You’ll be safe.”
His eyes narrowed, a growl ripping from his throat, “What the fuck nonsense is that?”
“It isn’t nonsense and you know it,” I snapped back. I had to make my brother see reason. “You still have a mate out there. You need to be in a pack to find her, not traipsing around the country with me. Staying with me will only hurt you.” My tongue felt thick, barely able to swallow around the boulder in my throat.
Stay strong. I coached myself.
If I broke down, there’d be no chance of him walking away.
Although, as I looked at him now, jaw tight, eyes piercing, I already knew his answer. And when he made up his mind, he was even more stubborn than me. He crossed the room and sat at the table facing me, our knees almost touching. I let him take my hands which were still shaking. He spoke softly, but there was no confusion. He wasn’t giving me a choice. “We go together. We stay together.”
I looked down at our joined hands, unable to speak and just nodded.
“Good girl,” he soothed. “We’ll go north. We’ll find a remote town tucked away from the rest of civilization and close to the mountains. There are still a lot of territories not claimed by any pack. We’ve got enough cash in the bags to last us six months, plenty of time to find a place to live and employment to support ourselves. But we gotta go right now, Cinn, while the fight continues and their resources are focused elsewhere.”
He was right. Devastation at the loss of our parents consumed me, but I needed to woman-up if I was going to survive the nightmare who was my mate. I pushed out every emotion, leaving me numb and focused on the task at hand. Lucky saw my change in demeanor and recognized it for what it was.
“That’s it,” he coached as he quickly stood to his feet and wrapped his hair back tightly at his neck. We each grabbed our bug-out bags made specifically for us. They contained survival gear, food, clothing, cash and an alternate identity to get us far away from here.
Slinging it over my shoulder, I followed Lucky out the back entrance where several vehicles were waiting. He called over his shoulder, “Car or motorcycle?”
I looked at the selection. A car would be convenient in case of rain, but the motorcycles would give us more flexibility and speed, particularly if we had to go off-road.
He gave a nod of agreement and then glanced down at my outfit of torn jeans and T-shirt. His brow furrowed. “You’re gonna need to change first.”
“Oh, right,” I mumbled and dropped the bag, digging around until I found a black leather racing outfit.
Lucky turned and strode over to the waiting motorcycle, giving me some privacy while I shimmied out of one outfit and into the other. When I finished, I grabbed a helmet and leaped onto mine. “I’m done.”
He glanced over, head already concealed inside of a shiny black helmet. He flipped up the visor, absinthe eyes assessing me. “Are you going to be okay driving that thing?”
That thing was a Ducati 1098S motorcycle, currently purring beneath me. I was only fifteen but had been riding since I was old enough to walk. I gave him a determined nod.
Rolling forward up the winding path, he called over his shoulder, “Does that bag have a valid driver’s license for you?”
Oh. I hadn’t considered that. We didn’t have time to stop and look. I gritted my teeth. “I don’t know.”
“Okay, don’t get pulled over. We need to avoid a police chase if at all possible.”
I rolled my eyes. “Just try to keep up.”
“Will do, Cinn. Will do.” His words cut off as we progressed onto the nearby dirt road.
Ten miles later, the dirt road turned into pavement. It was nighttime, and we were already far from the city. Lucky nodded to me and cut off his headlights. I did the same.
With a simple twist of my wrist, the sharp rev of engines could be heard, accelerating us at a shocking pace, as we both leaned down and increased speed, keeping our bodies tight against the frame of the motorcycles, eliminating as much wind resistance as possible.
We flew through the inky blackness—the moon hiding behind thick clouds—at speeds close to 150 mph. Neither of us needed light to see. We could go much faster and were less noticeable in the pitch dark.
After several hours, the adrenaline began to wear off. It looked like we had gotten free—at least for now. And my brain was right back to the family I’d lost and the pack I’d left behind. How many had died? Did any survive? The motorcycle hummed a melody of vibration in my body while my tears flowed freely, washing down my face, wetting the black leather vest I wore, before they were whipped away by the wind.
In the tiny span of a few hours, my life had been reduced to a pile of rubble and putrid ash, simmering with leftover hotspots, occasional bursts of smoke shooting into the air only to be immediately dispersed and carried away by the Northeastern wind.
And all of those things a little girl collected and loved were lost forever. My diary and art journal. Filled with musings and colorful drawings, random whimsies of a young mind. Ticket stubs from every fair and carnival and movie, any event, really, I’d ever attended. My favorite stuffed animal, a black Wolf with white markings, two front paws and the tip of his tail looked like they’d been dipped in white ink. My mother gave him to me when I was four.
At the time, the stuffed animal had been almost as tall as I. I’d squealed and wrapped my little arms around the plush toy, barely saying thank you, before running up the stairs to my room to play.
At the still tender age of fifteen, I’d outgrown my dolls and stuffed animals. But not my Wolf. Never my Wolf. He’d slept by my side every night, protecting me, always. Until now. Now, he was simply gone, just like everything else, as if he’d never existed in the first place.
Along with my mother and father.
More tears splashed from my eyes, my chest aching with the strain.
Luca navigated his bike closer, close enough to reach out and place a hand on my fingers clutching the throttle. He’d known I’d been crying for hours. His sensitive Wolf nose could smell my tears. He was hurting just as much as me. I gripped his fingers tight for a moment, before letting go. I had to pull myself together if I was going to make it out of this alive.
And in one piece.