Someone to Kill
For a moment, my head swam. Where the hell was I? My pulse thudded like a hammer between my temples. Cracking one eye open slightly, I took in my surroundings.
Oh, yeah...the treehouse.
The dim evening light didn’t completely hide the telltale signs of my descent into madness. The place was a mess. Empty liquor bottles littered the floor. Clothing tossed everywhere. I’d clawed through the sheets and destroyed most of the furniture.
Since I’d been released from medical care six weeks ago, I’d given up trying to stay at the pack house. Ever hadn’t liked it but even he’d agreed that having a little more space for my Wolf was a good idea. The animal had gone from infinite despair to a bloodthirsty mongrel, not safe to be around other wolves, snapping and biting at the least bit of provocation.
The nearby scrape of boots across the hardwood treehouse floor made me lurch to attention. Claws extended from my fingertips. Coiled and ready to spring, a feral growl ripped from my throat, my Wolf excited at the prospect of tearing into fresh meat.
“It’s just me,” Ever’s voice was low. He’d spoken softly, but the Wolf in his eyes belied his calmness. Spine slightly curled, he wasn’t posturing aggression but he was ready for my assault if it happened.
I shrank back, appalled again at how out-of-control I was. I’d been less than a second away from blindly attacking my best friend. “You need to go...I don’t want to hurt you...by mistake. You have a pup to think ab...” My voice trailed off, my throat closed tight. I couldn’t finish. The loss of what I would never have—a pup with my mate—was too much. My heart constricted to the point where I thought it was going to explode.
Ever scoffed through gritted teeth, “You won’t hurt me.”
Eyes squeezed shut, I lay back on the bed and took ragged breaths. I wasn’t sure I had his confidence in my ability to stop myself before doing something I regretted.
Ever slid his big body down the far wall until he settled on his butt with his elbows resting on his bent knees, making himself smaller, further relaxing my volatile Wolf. My head lolled to the side. I forced my eyes open to look at him.
Ever’s acute gaze drifted through the room, assessing every detail. “You need a bath.” His nose wrinkled at scents of stale alcohol and sweat.
I snorted. Of everything I needed, a bath was of least importance.
“I brought you something.” He shoved a brown paper bag across the floor. It slid to a halt in front of the bed. “Mimi thinks you need more than just raw meat.”
I grunted my appreciation and lifted the bag. Opening the top, I dug through the contents, my sensitive snout detecting the smells of honey-glazed pork chops, mac & cheese, and an applesauce muffin. My stomach rumbled in hungry anticipation. I began with the large container of meat, gripping each pork chop in one big paw and easily stripping the meat from the bone with my canines.
Ever sat silently while I ate. I sensed this was more than just a friendly visit. He had something on his mind and whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
He also wasn’t dressed casually. Instead, he was in full tribal warrior gear. Soft moleskin pants hugged his lower frame. Lace-up boots covered his feet and shins. His upper body was bare except for an interlocking buffalo bone breastplate. Inch and a half wide leather strips wound around his wrists. And in addition to traditional weaponry of knives strapped in various places, Ever also had a Glock handgun holstered around one meaty thigh. No, this definitely wasn’t an informal visit.
Ever absentmindedly fingered the claws from the freshly killed bear coiled around his thick bicep. He’d tried to give them to me but I’d refused. I had no desire to wear a reminder of that day. I already had permanent marks attesting to my pain in the ragged crescent-shaped scar of the bear’s teeth across my chest as well as long scars on my shoulder and back. So, Ever had kept the bear’s teeth and claws while Asher took the hide and fur. The rest of the pack had greedily eaten the meat as well as dried some into jerky for the winter. No part of the bear had been wasted. It was a delicacy they didn’t often have.
Spearing a bite of mac & cheese with a fork I found in the bag, I couldn’t wait any longer and grunted, “What is it?”
A muscle twitched in his jaw. “Their increased activity indicates a strike might be imminent.”
He didn’t need to explain who he was talking about. Of course, it had to be her pack. They had long since lusted over our land which was plentiful with forest and animals, an abundance of food that we had carefully cultivated over the years to grow and maintain.
I’d made a mistake in letting them live. A mistake I had no intention of making again. My Wolf salivated at the thought. He thirsted to feel his claws tear through their lush flesh and taste their blood dripping down his tongue.
“Has she returned to them? How much do they know?” I gritted out. It was a well-known fact my mate was gone. It was the reason the bastards were getting so bold. They anticipated my weakness. But Ever had tried to keep just how significantly I was affected under wraps. It hadn’t been formally announced in our pack, but it was pretty obvious since I was no longer around that my father had reassumed the reins as Alpha.
“No, Hycinth has not returned to them,” Ever replied tightly. “And we don’t think the Diamontes have knowledge of the day you tried to...” he grimaced, unable to complete that sentence and instead muttered, “....and what has happened since. But it’s impossible to know exactly how much information they have on your current condition. We think they are reacting off of the logical assumption that you are at reduced capacity, testing our borders to gauge our strength and reaction.”
“What about Lucky? Has he returned?”
Ever shook his head. “No. Our sources within the pack have heard no talk that either Hycinth or Luca are involved or plan on assuming their roles.”
I contemplated his answer. A huge part of me was relieved. The last thing I wanted to do was go to war with my ex-mate and her brother because I wouldn’t hold back now. The lines had been drawn in the sand. Hycinth had made her choice and now my pack was my first priority. They had my absolute loyalty and I would kill anyone who threatened to harm them. Even her. It would destroy me in the process, but I was already dead inside, and I would stop at nothing to keep my wolves safe.
But I wondered why she hadn’t returned. Why hadn’t she sought the safety of her home? Did she just enjoy the life she’d made away from them more? She’d done well for herself with the tattoo business and her painting. Maybe that was the reason.
Whatever the cause, I was thankful for it.
As usual, Ever picked up on my thoughts. He spoke carefully, “I could send someone to check on her...if you want...just to confirm they are not involved.”
“No. I promised her...freedom,” I worked to swallow down the bile that pushed up my throat, “and I will give her nothing less. It’s better this way.”
“Okay.” Ever let it go.
Even without Hycinth and Luca in the picture, I didn’t like the odds. “What about a preemptive strike? I don’t want to even give them the opportunity to wage war on our soil. It’s too risky.”
“We’ve activated the escape plan for the shewolves who can’t fight. They won’t touch our pups,” Ever hissed, his face a mask of hostility, but there was an edge of fear as well. He was right to be afraid. I didn’t have to tell him the atrocities the Diamante pack was capable of.
“Okay, but it’s still better if they don’t make it to our borders. Maybe an offensive strategy is more appropriate? What has Cyril said?” I forced myself not to scratch behind my ear, my Wolf itched with bated breath, waiting on his reply. There was nothing he wanted more than to go on a killing spree.
“Cyril wants to wait until we have more Intel. We know a few of the players for certain, but he suspects they are getting help from another pack. It would make sense because they don’t have the numbers alone. He’d rather confirm everyone’s loyalties before making a move.”
“How much time do you think we have?”
Ever’s brows pulled together. “I don’t know. Without knowing their true strength and potential, it’s hard to gauge.”
“Maybe, we should let it leak how damaged I am,” I offered, considering the possibilities in my mind. Maybe, just maybe...
“The fuck?” Ever’s eyes snapped wide. “Why would you say that?”
“We don’t want to give them enough time to organize a force strong enough to breach our land, and attacking them now without knowing all of the people in play is too risky, so maybe we should meet them in the middle.”
Ever rubbed the day-old stubble on his chin. “What are you proposing, exactly?”
My lips curled into a wicked grin. “A trap. We dangle a carrot in front of them they won’t be able to resist—me.”
Understanding lit his expression. He mused out loud, “We let them think you’re completely broken and draw them out to a time and location of our choosing.”
I nodded. “Exactly.”
“But how is your Wolf?” Ever asked, his voiced edged with concern. “Is he stable?”
I chuckled but there was no humor in the sound. “Fuck, no. Far from it. He’s gone from suicidal to homicidal.”
But my response didn’t bother Ever in the least. Quite the opposite. His mouth curved into a cruel grin, gleaming white canines on display. “Alright, then let’s give him someone to kill.”