Caught in a Lie
The Oracle walked out the door, leaving both Hycinth and me gutted and raw with the truth, utter devastation in her wake.
Unable to make my body move, I slumped in the chair across from Hycinth. Her arms were wrapped around her middle, clutching her belly. Tears streamed down her cheeks. She rocked back and forth. Confusion swirled unchecked in her irises, mirroring mine, trying to wrap her head around the impossible.
But neither of us couldn’t any make sense out of what we’d heard.
Nothing made sense anymore...
Lost blue eyes focused on me. “I thought it was about the war, Lucky—the decades-old conflict between our pack and Leander’s—it was supposed to be about the war!” Hycinth wailed, gasping for breath. Desperation colored every word. “Not me! Why did they have to kill Leander’s mother and your mate because of me?!”
I inhaled slowly and let the breath out. I wasn’t sure I could talk about my mate without breaking down into a puddle on the floor, so I focused on the first part of her statement, hoping to undo just a little bit of the damage done, “We don’t know for sure they killed Leander’s mother because of you,” but even as I said it, the words rung hollow.
“You know it’s true,” Hycinth insisted, twisting her hands together. “It has to be connected. Why else would they have been there? Why else would they have attacked her...if not an attempt to get to Leander?” Her eyes cut wildly, darting back-and-forth around the room. She was losing control. This revelation was just too much for her. She loved our parents. So had I, with my whole heart...
...but they hadn’t loved me.
Not even a little.
They couldn’t have...not, and still do what they did.
They stole the most precious gift from me.
My thoughts shifted darker—what kind of death had they given her? Had it been quick and painless, or had they been ruthless and showed no mercy? I shuddered at the thought. The cold pit in my stomach churned.
I knew her name—Madison—but I needed to know more. Someone else in our pack had to know. Maybe my father’s—no, that wasn’t right, that bastard didn’t deserve the title and I refused to think of him like that anymore—maybe that jackass Alpha Grant’s old beta, Julian, knew something. Of course, that was if the little rat was still alive. Hycinth and I had left in the middle of the battle. We hadn’t seen firsthand who lived or died. When Ever dropped the bomb that our pack still existed, I’d been so shocked, it hadn’t even occurred to me to ask him about individual wolves.
“It’s all my f-fault,” Hycinth whispered, her voice hitching, “All my fault.”
“What did I tell you about that?” I practically growled. So much pain had been needlessly inflicted. They’d caused so much heartbreak. It had to stop...and it had to stop now. “I’m not going to let you take the blame for their actions.”
“But what about my actions?” she countered dismally, a hard shudder running down her spine.
I frowned. “What do you mean?”
“I left Leander...my soulmate! And my Wolf...” Her face contorted, the words dying on her lips. She slumped forward, one hand fisting her shirt right over her heart, and struggled to breathe, sucking in gasping lungfuls of air.
Instantly, I eased out of my chair and dropped to my knees in front of her. The added stress of our parent’s betrayal on top of everything else was not good for the baby. I worried about the little life squirming in her belly. Lifting her head gently, I held her tortured gaze. “Breathe with me! Slowly. In and out.”
She nodded and forcibly worked to control her hysteria, sobs and hiccups coming from her lips.
“You did the best you could with the information you had.” I squeezed her fingertips and smoothed a stray lock of hair away from her face. “You said it yourself. You thought Leander’s mother’s death was a result of the war. So did I.”
“It was all a l-lie,” she whimpered, her voice catching. “None of it was real, every moment, of every day—meaningless. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
I couldn’t deny her statement. I felt the same way. Losing the last bit of strength I had, I dropped my forehead to hers. “I know...I thought I was a beloved son...but I’m nobody’s son.”
Once an orphan, always an orphan...the chant went through my mind.
Just a pawn to be played with.
“Oh, Lucky,” Hycinth sobbed, her shoulders shaking. “I’m so sorry they did this to you.” Her head snapped up, her bleary gaze turning fierce. “You may not be their son—they never deserved you—but you will always be my brother.”
Her love washed over me, tangible in the air. My heart twisted in my chest. Holding tightly to her fingers, I sat back on my haunches, and spoke through gritted teeth, “I wish it would have been me.”
Hycinth’s brow furrowed as she searched my expression. “I don’t understand.”
“To kill them,” I hissed, a muscle jumping in my locked jaw. “Leander deserved their blood...but I deserved it even more. It should have been mine to take.” My Wolf’s claws itched for blood. I didn’t know how she would take my next statement, but I couldn’t keep it bottled inside. “If I could bring them back right now, I would...just so I could stare into their eyes and revel as the life went out of them.”
The sadness in her eyes deepened. She didn’t disagree. She spoke barely above a whisper, “You’re right. It should have been you.”
We sat silently for a moment until she shook her head and murmured, “I don’t understand that kind of evil.”
I shook my head. “No. It will never make sense. The only thing we can do now is move on.”
Her bottom lip quivered. “How?”
Knowing that my mate was dead radically changed my perspective on Hycinth’s choices. She had something precious, something I would never have. She couldn’t throw it away. Not for any reason. My goal had always been for her to grow strong enough to return to Leander, to let go of the past and have the future she was always meant to. And during the last few months, she’d been opening up, slowly but surely. She had made progress. But now I realized time should never be wasted. Even one minute apart was too long, not when there was no promise of tomorrow or even the rest of today. “You know what you need to do, don’t you?”
She understood exactly what I meant. Tears breached her crescent lashes, the salty liquid trailing down her cheeks. “Lucky, I’m not fixed, I’m not better. I’m worse. I...I’m broken.”
My resolve strengthened. Now was the time. “Yes. This news has been a hell of a hit to both of us, but you can’t keep running from your problems. You ran from Leander three years ago, and you’re running again now.”
Hycinth sucked in a sharp breath. “What are you trying to say? That we should never have run three years ago?”
“Maybe...as much as I hate to admit it.” I ran my hands through my hair. The more I thought about it, the more I questioned our decision because the facts all pointed to one conclusion. “What happened after he finally caught you? He did everything in his power to make you love him.”
Hycinth shook her head. “It’s not that easy. Lucky, you didn’t see his face that day. He wasn’t happy to find out I was his mate. You heard him yourself. He thought of me as his whore when he first found out. That’s not someone who intends to be gentle and loving.”
“True...” I acknowledged, “but happy or not, the bond is powerful. I haven’t experienced it personally...and now I never will,” I swallowed to contain the lump in my throat before continuing, “but, I know it to be true. Think of it this way. How many names did you call him in those early days as well? We both did. Leander didn’t say anything more harshly than we did. The truth of the matter is we didn’t know each other, not personally. Everything we said was based on assumption, who we assumed he was. Everything Leander said was based on assumption. But if you had given him a chance, given the bond a chance, instead of running, I have to believe he would have treated you then the same way he treated you now. He would have done everything in his power to make it work.”
She was silent for a long moment, and then shook her head, the sadness in her eyes deepening. “I don’t know if I could have handled it. You told me once that you didn’t think I’d really ever faced our parent’s deaths. If I couldn’t face the truth away from Leander, how would I have been able to grieve while living with their killer?”
“Maybe you’re right.” I exhaled heavily. “Everything is just so fucked up right now that I can barely think. And it doesn’t do either of us any good to consider what might have been. We can’t change the past, but you can change your future.”
She swallowed thickly. “Lucky, he isn’t going to want me back. Not now, not when his mother was killed because of me, and not after I walked away from him. Something changed that day. I saw it in Leander’s eyes. You saw it too. You told me how angry Ever was. The packhouse was empty when we left. No one said goodbye...because no one wanted me there anymore.” Fresh tears ran down her cheeks.
“I have to believe your mates for a reason. Fate brought you together. Everything got fucked up, but there has to be a way to fix it. You have to fight for him!”
"How?!” Her face crumpled into tears. " How can I fight when I’m so fucked up inside? I’m so confused. My entire life has been a lie. I don’t even know who the hell I am anymore, but I do know one thing, I’m not good enough for him. Not after what I’ve done. Even my own Wolf doesn’t want me.” She dropped her head into her hands.
I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and held her tight while she sobbed against my chest. “Shh...it will be okay.” I rocked our bodies gently, soothingly, back and forth. After a few minutes, her tears began to subside.
“You were both hurt by each other’s actions...but did either of you intentionally try to harm the other?”
She pulled back to look at me. “No...of course not. I never wanted to see him hurt.”
“Okay. Then start there.”
Her brows pulled together. “Start where?”
“With each other’s hearts,” I explained softly. “None of your actions were maliciously done. Yes...you both inflicted pain on the other by choices each of you felt was right, but sometimes, you need to look past the circumstances and the actions and just looked at someone’s heart to see the truth. That’s when forgiveness comes. You just have to show him your heart.”
“I don’t know,” she bit her lip. “You make it sound so easy, but at the same time, it feels impossible. I kept this pregnancy from him. He’s going to hate me.”
“I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. You just need to be willing, and let the bond to the rest.” She certainly did have an uphill battle. I couldn’t deny that. My earlier thoughts resurfaced. “I’m going to return to the pack. I want to find out more information on Madison. While I’m there, I will try to feel out whomever Leander has put in charge. Then, when I get back, we can figure out a way for you to approach Leander.”
There were equal amounts of hope and fear in her eyes. She nodded and muttered, “I hate that you have to go alone. I should be going with you.”
“Not gonna happen,” I replied firmly. “Your pregnancy needs to stay under wraps until Leander can be told first. Besides, I don’t know what I will be walking into. Obviously, the Alpha and Luna of our pack were not who we thought they were, and I don’t think they acted alone.” Hot fury washed over me again.
“Okay. How long will you be gone?”
“I’ll return as soon as I can, maybe a day or two. But in the meantime, we need protection for you while in gone.” I didn’t like the thought of leaving her on her own.
Hycinth was already following my train of thought. “Are you going to talk to Tommy and Frank tomorrow morning?”
I nodded. That was exactly my plan.
The following morning, Tommy and Frank showed up right on time for their almost daily tattoo sessions. Before Tommy could even get settled in the chair, I approached him. His attention sharpened instantly from the expression and my body language, but I couldn’t hide my anxiety.
“What’s up, Whiskey?”
“I’ve got to take a little trip. Not more than about two days, I hope.”
“Okay...” he responded, knowing there was more to come.
“We don’t have any family here to keep an eye on Hycinth.”
Understanding lit his expression. “And you want us to look after her while you’re away?”
Finally settling in the chair, he made eye contact with Hycinth and grinned. “That’s easy enough, baby girl.”
My hands curled into fists. The timbre of my voice dropped into a warning, ”Without the sexual innuendos.”
“What?” Tommy looked at me with the innocence of the newborn, but couldn’t quite hide his smirk, and then he became serious, “She’s family. You both are. Never think you are without again.”
Warmth rushed over me. I was desperately lacking in regards to family, and he’d said exactly what I needed to hear.
The Suzuki Gladius purred beneath me as I rolled into our old pack. Memories hit me in waves of nostalgia, yet I questioned every one of them. How many were real? Or were they all just pretty lies made up to cover ugly truths?
I hadn’t phoned ahead, so my arrival caused quite a stir. And news spread quickly. I’d barely cut off the engine before two large males I’d never seen before approached. From their body language, it was clear they held authority. And neither of them looked pleased to see me.
“I’m Luca...Diamonte,” I introduced myself, barely stomaching the last name.
Muscles rippling beneath his tightfitting black T-shirt, the bigger of the two studied me with razor-sharp blue eyes. “We know who you are,” he replied shortly. “Why are you here?”
Well, shit. This wasn’t going well.
“I’m not here to cause any trouble if that’s what you’re thinking,” I tried to reassure them. “Just wanted to say hello to some old friends.”
His eyes narrowed, a clear sign he didn’t fully believe me, but he didn’t press the matter. “I’m Duncan and that’s Forrest.” He nodded in the other male’s direction while maintaining a steady glare at me.
I eyed the other man. Dirty blonde hair and brown eyes, he stood with his shoulders back and feet planted apart in a matching black T-shirt and black cargo pants. His expression was not as harsh, but he certainly wasn’t welcoming. I gave him a short nod which he didn’t bother to return.
“Where will you be staying?”
I hadn’t thought about that. The home I’d grown up in had burned to the ground the night we left. Before I could reply, a familiar but unexpected female voice came from behind me, “He can stay with me.”
I turned around to find Sydney, looking cool and indifferent, all business. We hadn’t left on the best terms so I was surprised at her offer. What was she up to?
Duncan was also suspicious. He frowned, but before he could object, Sydney continued smoothly, “The house I’m staying in has two bedrooms. There is plenty of room.”
Interesting that she felt she needed to clarify our intended separate sleeping arrangements. I waited patiently for Duncan’s response. I held no authority here and understood it would be best not to make waves.
After a long moment, he grunted in agreement and then walked away. Forrest finally acknowledged my presence with a curt nod, but he too turned around left without another word.
Sydney didn’t seem to be in the talking mood either, only uttering, “Come on.”
I walked the bike behind her. It only took about five minutes to reach the modest house she was staying.
As soon as the door shut behind us she spun around, eyes flashing. “What the hell you doing here?”
“It’s nice to see you too,” I replied dryly.
Stepping right into my personal space, she placed a hand on my chest. “Luca, this is no time to play games.”
Now she had my attention. Much more was going on here than just our usual verbal sparring. Setting my small duffel bag on the floor, I walked around her into the small living room and sat down on the couch. When she was seated across from me in a large overstuffed chair, I murmured, “I’m not here for games. This is my pack. It’s purely a social visit, and then I will be on my way. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
Sydney bit her lip, hesitation reflecting in her eyes and then she seemed to make a decision. “The tension between the two packs is at an all-time high. We’re on the verge of war once again. For Leander’s sake, I don’t want you caught in the middle. You need to leave.”
Her words crashed into me—war?
“What? Why in the hell are you a war? The old Alpha and Luna are gone. It’s clear Leander has his own wolves in authority here, and from my understanding from Ever, it’s been that way for more than three years. What changed?”
Crystal blue eyes darkened. She spat through gritted teeth, ”Really? You were that bastard’s son, and you’re asking me why?!” The skepticism and hatred in her voice caught me off guard. Clearly, the information she had was necessary for me to know.
I switched tactics, working to soothe her bristled fur. Speaking softer, I decided to go with full disclosure on my part, well as much as possible. “Sydney, I can assure you, I do not consider the late Alpha Grant my father, and no, I really don’t know what’s going on. I just received news that my m-mate...” my throat closed up tight at the word. I had to swallow several times before I could continue, “was killed. I just came back to get answers. That’s all.”
All of the animosity trained from her face, replaced by confusion. “I’m sorry for your loss, and I hope you get the answers you seek. But it is a very dangerous time right now. You are standing in the crosshairs of a volatile conflict. We have not been able to confirm where everyone’s loyalties stand. For your own sake and that of your sister, it would be better for you to return to her right now. Stay away because the blood of many wolves is going to be shed.”
“I can’t leave, not yet. Tell me what happened. Have you tried negotiations? I didn’t come here for that, but maybe I can help.” Truthfully, the last thing I wanted to involve myself with was a war. Hycinth needed me now more than ever.
Sydney replied flatly, “We’re at war because Hycinth left him.”
And then I understood...
My heart sank.
Swallowing thickly, I tried to contain my dread. “What happened to Leander?” Somehow, I just knew I wasn’t going to like the answer.
For the first time, all of her defenses were gone. Her bottom lip quivered. “He’s not...well.”
Fuck. It was true.
And in hindsight, I was stupid not to see it coming. I leaned forward, hands clasped together with my elbows resting on my knees. “But he’s alive?”
She nodded but didn’t offer any more information.
“Sydney, I thought the feuding ended when Alpha Grant died. Who is leading the opposition and why?” It just didn’t make any sense to me, but clearly, I had been left out of critical political events in the past.
“We don’t exactly know. We’re pretty sure about several wolves but not others, and we think they may be getting help from another pack. As far as their reasoning, we just assumed it was the same as it’s been for decades—territory.”
I considered her words and wasn’t quite sure I could believe that land was the motivating factor after all I’d recently learned. But for the moment, it was secondary to the more important question. “What happened with Leander? Is he strong enough to fight them?”
“I don’t know,” she whispered hoarsely, her voice catching. “H-he’s lost without her. His Wolf wants to die. He’s already tried to take his own life. I’m afraid he’s going to use this conflict to try again. He’ll end it but at the cost of his own life.”
Her words slammed through me.
Leander’s Wolf had already tried to take his own life?!
The thought was inconceivable, and yet, it wasn’t. I understood the pain of losing a mate. So far, I hadn’t had time to dwell on it, but the devastation was pulling me apart bit by bit, and I’d never even met my mate. I couldn’t imagine how I would cope after living with someone and loving them only to lose them forever.
I sucked in a ragged breath.
Before I could speak, Sydney said the one thing I never expected her to say. “Luca, do you think you could convince Hycinth to return? H-he needs her.” Her plea was sincere and heartfelt. It didn’t seem to be motivated by war, but only by the Alpha, she worried about. Hands twisting together, she anxiously waited for my reply.
I just hadn’t expected it. If anything, I assumed she would try to capitalize on the fissure in their relationship, but I answered honestly, “She wants to return to him. She’s been working through her issues. She just doesn’t know how...and she doesn’t think he either Leander or the pack will welcome her back.” It really wasn’t my place to say, but enough was enough. Leander couldn’t give up. Not now.
Sydney’s eyes went wide, clearly not expecting my response either. I watched the calculation begin as she absorbed my information. The gears of her mind churned. After a long moment, she replied, “I can’t speak for him, but I have to hope that somehow...” her words drifted off. She recognized the uphill battle they had just as much as I did.
As much as she appeared sincere, Hycinth’s future and that of my precious niece was at stake. There was one thing I needed to confirm and cut right to the chase, “If she returns, do you plan on challenging her from Leander?”
Sydney’s expression fell. Sadness overwhelmed her irises. She stood up from the chair without answering me and walked into the kitchen.
Anxiety turned the pit in my stomach. I’d assumed she was sincere but maybe it was just to accomplish her own motives. Pushing to my feet, I followed her into the other room. She had another thing coming if she thought I was going to allow Hycinth to walk into that kind of a fucked up situation.
Sydney was silent as she pulled two beers from the refrigerator and handed one to me. Flicking her wrist, she twisted off the cap and turned up the drink, swallowing deeply. Wiping her lips with the back of her hand, she refused to look at me and stared off at a point on the wall to the side. I studied her profile. Her bottom lip quivered, but she was trying to hold it together. The rush of emotions playing along the surface surprised me. She looked in pain.
Rather than speak, I opened the beer I was holding and took a swig, waiting for her to answer my question. After a long moment, she swallowed and whispered, “I hate this pack so much.”
It wasn’t what I expected her to say, and I’d never seen her so transparent, so raw. I wasn’t even sure if her words were meant for me or just bubbled out of her obvious hurt. Placing a hand on her forearm, I murmured, “Why?” I had some guesses, but her behavior led me to believe they could all be wrong.
She looked at my hand and then up at me almost surprised to see me. Her troubled eyes glistened. “They killed my mate.”
For the second time, I felt I’d been punched in the gut. No, this conversation wasn’t going to go anyway I had expected. Pulling her into my embrace, she rested her head against my chest but no tears fell. We just stood that way for a moment before I finally stepped back. With an arm still wrapped around her side, I tugged her forward, back toward the living room. “Come on.”
She let me lead her back to the chair and sank down before taking another swallow of her drink.
“Tell me what happened to him.”
“H-he was actually from your pack. His name was Jason.”
I remembered him. He’d been one of the wolves that went with Alpha Grant when Leander’s mother was killed. Fresh new anxiety worked its way down my spine. The coincidence seemed too unlikely. Resisting the urge to ask more questions, I waited to let her speak.
“I only saw him that one time. Just once...” her features softened, her gaze no longer focused as she looked at memories in her mind, “before he was stolen from me forever.”
She took another swallow from her drink. “He and I knew it instantly, of course, and the timing couldn’t have been worse. There we were, standing on opposite sides of the war, meeting for the first time. And then everything went horribly wrong.”
Fuck. I could not even imagine that. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
She went on as if I hadn’t spoken, still staring far away. “I could never figure out why your Alpha suddenly wanted to kill her.”
“Kill her?” I questioned. “Do you mean Leander’s mother?”
Her gaze focused on me. “No. My sister. I never understood why he went after her in the first place. We were in the middle of discussions...and then suddenly, everything changed. Alpha Grant charged toward her. By this point, Jason knew who she was to me. He reacted instinctually. He tried to save her, but the Alpha’s claws took out his throat with one mighty sweep. First Jason, and then Maddie, and I never understood why. Obviously, our talks end—”
“Wait!” My heart thundered in my chest. No, there was no coincidence here.
Sydney seemed surprised by my abrupt interruption. Her eyes widened at, what I was sure was, a murderous expression on my face. She whispered, “What’s wrong?”
“Your sister, Maddie,“I could barely get the words out, “was her name Madison?”
Brow furrowing, she replied, “Yes. How did you know that? Did you know her?”
“I think so,” My hands shook, the beer in the air wobbling as I tried not to drop it. “Do you have a picture of her?”
“Yes.” Sydney stood to her feet and headed toward the hallway.
I had no intention of just waiting for her to return and quickly scrambled after her. If she was bothered by my presence right on her heels, she didn’t say anything. We entered one of the two bedrooms, and she made her way to a small jewelry box. Lifting a gold locket, she held it out to me.
It took me a moment to get the clasp undone, but when I did, just one glance dropped me to my knees. I wasn’t sure if I would have been able to recognize her on sight without the benefit of her smell, but my Wolf new immediately. There was no doubt in his mind. Clutching the tiny piece of jewelry like my life depended on it, my body curled in on itself. I held it to my lips. “It’s her!” my voice hitched as a sob broke from my throat in both devastation and unimaginable gratitude that I had this little gift...
...I finally knew who she was and what she looked like.