House of Cards
“Nooo!” Sydney dropped to her knees in front of me.
I didn’t need to explain.
She fully understood just from my reaction. Arms wrapping around my shoulders, she held tight. Her voice quivered, “I’m so sorry, Luca.”
We sat on the floor for several minutes while I composed myself. Sydney was silent...just there with me.
Kneeling for so long caused my legs to feel numb. I shifted position so that I was sitting on my butt with my back against the couch, my elbow resting on my bent knee. My head felt heavy, and I struggled to keep it up, finally just dropping it back on the couch behind me with my eyes closed.
Sydney’s voice came soft, “I want you to keep it.”
Lifting my head to look at her, I found she was also still sitting on the floor across from me. Her eyes glistened with emotion.
I looked down at my still tightly clenched fist and opened it to reveal the tiny gold treasure. I was desperate to keep the little locket, but I didn’t know Sydney’s sentimental attachment to it. Forcing the words out of my mouth, “Are you sure? She was your sister.”
With a sad nod, Sydney replied, “Yes. She was. But she was your mate, and I know she would want you to have it.”
Exhaling slowly, I swallowed down another sob. “I know why.”
One of Sydney’s eyebrows rose. She tilted her head, not following my statement.
Fuck. I had no idea how to tell Sydney that her sister was dead because of me. I thought I’d rather have my heart jerked out of my chest then be the cause of my mate’s death. I was beginning to understand Hycinth’s guilt. I didn’t kill Madison, but she most definitely lost her life because of me. My voice hitched, “I’m so...s-sorry.”
Sydney’s brows furrowed. “What are you sorry for?”
“It’s my fault that Madison’s gone.” The words tasted vile on my tongue. The truth truly was an ugly thing.
Sydney inhaled sharply but didn’t say anything, just waited for me to continue. I tried, but the words stuck in my throat. The silence lingered between us. Closing my eyes, I hissed under my breath, “I can’t believe I ever called that bastard my father.”
I couldn’t look Sydney in the eye and hung my head with my eyes closed. Rubbing the delicate trinket with my thumb, I worked to gather enough courage. “Yesterday, Oracle Memoree visited us. Apparently, according to Alpha Grant, Leander wasn’t good enough for Hycinth, so they devised a plan to kill him. Your sister didn’t just get caught in the middle. She was targeted...because of me. Another Oracle revealed to them she was my mate. That bastard had it all planned out. He felt if both my and Hycinth’s mates were out of the picture, that we would choose to be together.”
“No!” Sydney whispered.
“But he was wrong. Hycinth and I grew up as siblings. We never had any other affection for each other than that. Madison is gone simply because she was fated to me.” My shame was too heavy. Throat locked tight, I couldn’t hold my head up. It dropped lower.
For another long moment, Sydney didn’t say anything. Finally, she whispered, “You don’t really believe that, do you?”
Her response wasn’t what I expected. I lifted my head. I expected to see anger or disgust because those emotions stifled the air and suffocated me. Instead, there was just immense sadness reflected in her almond-shaped eyes.
“How can I not?” I choked out. “If it weren’t for me, Madison would still be alive. And then I treated you like shit.” Regret washed over me. I shook my head, remembering all the times I’d provoked Sydney unnecessarily. “I’d always felt drawn toward you, and it just pissed me off because I didn’t understand it. Fuck. I was a dick...I’m sorry.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “What’s done is done. None of us can change the past. For a long time, I blamed myself for Jason’s death. He died defending my sister. If she hadn’t been my sister, he would still be alive. We can all look back and say ‘what if,’ but what good does that do? We’re still here, and we gotta just keep going. I didn’t get a chance to know him, but I know it’s what Jason would want for me...and I know Madison would want the same for you.”
My throat clenched tight. I wiped away the trickle of tears that didn’t want to stop. “What was Madison like?”
Sydney’s lips curled into a small smile as her eyes unfocused, remembering the past. “She was feisty. Even though we were twins, as you can see from her picture, we didn’t look at all alike, but we did share the same ‘strong-willed’ attitude.” Her smile grew mischievous. “Drove our parents crazy.”
“I wish I could’ve known her.” I gave Sydney a bleary smile and looked down at the precious image in my hand. Madison—honey blonde hair swept back into a messy bun, green eyes crinkling as she smiled into the camera like she could conquer the world. I didn’t doubt it. With just one look, she’d captivated my entire heart. The pressure in my chest tightened. “Fuck, what I wouldn’t give for just one minute with her.”
Silence hung heavy in the air again. There was nothing Sydney could do to fix it. She knew that so she didn’t bother to even try. When I didn’t say anything further, she murmured quietly, “You asked me a minute ago if Hycinth returned, would I challenge her for her position and Leander.”
My shoulders tensed, unsure where she was going.
“Leander kept me alive after my mate and Madison died. He made me breathe even when I screamed at him that I couldn’t.” She brushed away a stray tear. “I truly didn’t think Leander thought of her as a mate, not after what happened with his mother. I thought he was just doing his duty for the pack.”
“And now?” I pressed. “How do you feel about him now?”
She met my stare dead on. “I feel...hate.”
Her words shocked me.
“Not for Leander... I hate the Diamante pack.” A low growl reverberated from her voice. “They stole everyone precious to me. Jason, Madison and then Leander when Hycinth arrived.” Reaching for a box of tissues on the nearby side table, Sydney pulled one out and dabbed her eyes and nose. She let out a heavy breath. “I know Leander will never be mine. It was pretty clear the night he punished Dagger. There were no doubts left in anyone’s mind after that. And in hindsight, I was stupid for thinking anything else. The mate bond is so much stronger. Honestly, I was shocked that Hycinth had the strength to walk away.”
Memories of Hycinth floated through my mind...her barely able to get out of bed and the haunted look in her dead eyes. I shook my head sadly. “Hycinth may have had the willpower to walk away, but what good is it when she’s left miserable without him?”
Sydney studied my expression. “Hycinth really wants to come back?”
Bringing my other knee up, I rested both elbows on them and nodded. “She’d been making strides...grieving and facing the past. I hoped it would only be a matter of time before she was strong enough to make the decision on her own, and I think she was getting there slowly but surely. But she’s devastated after everything the Oracle told us yesterday. Alpha Grant hurt so many wolves in his effort to manipulate her future. Right now, she’s internalizing guilt for all of them and can’t see how anyone would want her when she was the catalyst for all of the pain.”
Sydney contemplated my words. “The pack is hurting now without their Luna and the effect her absence has had on Leander. I’m not saying it will be easy, but wolves instinctually want the family dynamic more than anything, and Hycinth did give so many of them a gift that no one else could give.”
That was true. I asked curiously, “How many wolves conceived that night?”
“All ten mated pairs are with pups. That’s never happened before. Usually, only one or two conceive...at the most, five...and that was out of a group larger than just ten mated pairs. It really is a miracle.”
I stared at Sydney in shock. The Oracle’s words played in my mind, “Her Army will be born with her.”
Was this what she meant?
It had to be.
Whatever destiny Hycinth’s daughter had was intrinsically intertwined with these other pups. I was sure of it.
“They are sad and afraid because of the upcoming war with Diamante, but at the same time, we have hope again. When your father killed Isabelle and her baby, we thought her destiny had ended. But now—”
“Wait a minute!” I interrupted, a cold feeling of dread slithering down my spine. "Isabelle...she was Leander’s mother, right?”
Sydney stared at me in confusion at my abrupt change in demeanor. “Yes.”
Somehow, I just knew I didn’t want to hear the answer to the next question but I had to ask. “What do you mean Alpha Grant killed her baby?”
Sydney’s brows pulled tight together. “Of course, he did. You already know this.”
I inhaled sharply. “No, I sure as hell didn’t.”
“Yes, you did,” Sydney insisted. “Hycinth told Leander she knew her father had tortured Isabelle and cut her baby from her womb.”
Her words hit me like a lightning bolt.
Cut her baby from her womb...??
I was gonna be sick.
My stomach lurched. I gasped for air. “Are you telling me that Leander’s mother was pregnant when Alpha Grant killed her?!”
The realization that we had vastly different versions of the story was finally beginning to dawn on Sydney’s face. She leaned forward, her expression intense. “Luca, this makes a difference... tell me exactly what you and Hycinth know.”
My head was spinning. “Beta Julian told me the fight had been terrible, gruesome...he emphasized that word. He said there was a lot of blood, but in the end, Leander’s mother lost the battle. He said that Leander was the one to find her, and at that point, Alpha Grant and the Luna retreated because when Leander showed up, they were outnumbered. They planned to continue the battle another day. There was no pregnancy! Why was a pregnant shewolf in battle anyway?” I was having a hard time keeping the hysteria out of my voice. “How could there be a baby?!”
“Luca, Isabelle wasn’t in battle. Cyril hadn’t sent her to fight. He would never do that, certainly not when she was outnumbered and carrying the hope of our pack. Your mother lied to her, enticed her into a fake peace treaty, and then they kidnapped and tortured her.”
“Oh, no...no...no...” I mumbled and gagged, choking down the bile coming up my throat. Out of all of the recent devastating revelations, this was the worst by far, even more than the death of my own mate. At least she had gone quickly and without prolonged pain.
...this was true evil.
Unable to sit still any longer, I lurched to my feet and paced across the room. The images in my head were wrecking me.
Hycinth was right...
...every fucking thing about our lives was a lie!
I reached the far wall and banged my head against it again and again. “Why, why... why??!”
Hand gripping my shoulder tight, Sydney stood behind me, trying to stop my assault on the wall. She asked softly, “You really didn’t know, did you?”
Forehead throbbing, I stopped inflicting blow after blow, but I didn’t have the strength to push away from the wall. A sob came up my throat. “No.”
Sydney tugged on my bicep. “Come on. Let’s get another beer. We clearly both need it. And then we can talk.”
Docile as a lamb, I let her lead me back and sank down on the couch, before she went into the kitchen to retrieve two more beers. I’d never felt so defeated and lost.
When Sydney returned, I twisted the bottle open and turned it up, letting the cold liquid soothe my parched and thick throat.
I needed to think. There were just too many pieces, too much happening at once. I couldn’t miss anything. There was something in the back of my mind, something Sydney said before. What was it?
Something about Isabelle’s baby...
...I remembered now.
“What did you mean when you said the baby was the ‘hope’ of your pack?”
Sydney took a swig of her drink. “Everyone was shocked when Isabelle became pregnant at such a late age. Her pregnancy should have been impossible. We all knew her baby was special. You could just feel it around her. It was confirmed when the same Oracle you spoke with yesterday visited us. She explained the baby girl was meant for great things. She would unite the werewolf nations.” Sydney lifted and pulled a bent leg beneath her before settling back in her chair.
I was beginning to understand...
Hycinth was carrying the second-chance baby...which meant I would bet everything I owned that Leander’s sister was the first-chance baby whose life was tragically cut short.
Sydney continued quietly, “Every loss of life is tragic, especially one so precious and innocent, but we just couldn’t understand if her destiny was to change the world, how could she have died? Our hope died that day with her. We didn’t get it back until the week after Leander’s mating ceremony. When all ten mated-pairs conceive, we felt it again. We don’t know what it means. We’ve reached out to Memoree, but she has refused our requests to talk.”
I had the answers she was seeking...
...but there was no way I could tell her before Hycinth told Leander.
“How was your Luna pregnant without all of the packs knowing?” I don’t remember even ever knowing that.
“We kept it a secret, trying to protect her and the unborn child. But Isabelle was too softhearted. She believed the lies when your mother reached out with a false promise of peace. It was just too enticing—it was the one thing Isabelle wanted more than anything. So, she took a chance that in the end cost her her life. Leander will forever regret he didn’t get to her sooner.”
“And Leander believes that Hycinth knows all of this?” I asked, gutted. Everything made sense now. Hycinth wasn’t wrong when she said something changed the day we left. No wonder Leander reacted so badly.
Fuck! This news was going to shatter Hycinth. I had no idea how I was going to tell her without breaking her completely.
Abruptly, I knew I couldn’t stay another minute longer. I had found what I needed to know..and much more than I ever wanted to know. Now, I needed to get back.
Sydney’s eyes widened when I abruptly stood to my feet and walked to collect my discarded bag.
She joined me by the door. “Where are you going?”
“I’ve got to go home,” I mumbled.
Eyes full of compassion and understanding, she murmured, “I hope to hear from both of you soon.”
The three-hour motorcycle ride home felt endless. It was late by the time I arrived. Quietly letting myself into the loft, I found Tommy relaxed on the couch. Hycinth was nowhere to be seen. He sat up when I came in, instinctually reaching for the firearm on the table next to him.
“It’s just me,” I muttered.
“I didn’t expect you back today,” he grunted.
“Yeah, I didn’t plan on coming back this soon either.”
“Did you find the answers you needed?”
I cut my glance in his direction. I hadn’t given him my agenda for the trip, but he was perceptive enough to pick up on the nuances of what I hadn’t said anyway. “Unfortunately,” I gritted through my teeth.
He studied me for a long moment, his expression darkening. “She’s not okay.”
“I know,” I exhaled heavily, “I’m working on it.”
Tommy stood to his feet and tucked the Glock in the back of his pants. On his way to the door, he reached out his hand to me. I clasped his fist. He gripped my hand tightly, pulled me forward and slapped me on the back. He didn’t bother to use any words, but he didn’t need to. I completely understood.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude that we had at least one real ally in the middle of this nightmare. “Thanks for staying with her.”
Tommy made a noise in his throat and then left.
I closed the door behind him and immediately went to Hycinth’s room. Opening the door quietly, I found her snoring softly.
We needed to talk but it was late, and she was already exhausted from the pregnancy, let alone all of the revelations we’d been hit with...not to mention the bombs I still had waiting to drop. No, it would be better for her to sleep. We could talk in the morning. I closed her door and went into my own room, falling on the bed.
A scream in the middle of the night jolted me out of bed—Hycinth!
Instantly, every one of my senses was firing on high alert. I lurched to my feet and tore into the open space living area. There was a crash in her room. More than one male cursed, “Bitch!”
Who the fuck was in our home?!
My heart thundered in my chest, the beat so sharp and hard, it was painful.
I didn’t make it to her room before six large males burst from her room, two of them roughly pushing Hycinth into motion toward the door. She fought, kicking and screaming, but couldn’t overpower them especially in her condition. Launching my fist into the nearest male, I fought with everything I had. But there were too many of them.
In the mayhem, I didn’t recognize any of them except one—Dagger!
Claws out, I went for his throat. Two of the bastards jerked me off of him, but not before my claws caused deep rivets of blood to flow from his chest. But the male didn’t seem bothered in the least by his wound. If anything, he gave me a spine-chilling cruel smile of intent. He didn’t have to say what he intended to do to her. His face said it all. He was going to hurt her...and enjoy every minute of it.
I couldn’t let them take her!
But I was outnumbered.
Abruptly, one of their boots smashed down on my shin. There was a sickening crack. White-hot fire ran through my leg, dropping me to the floor.
“Should we finish him?” A burly male gruffed.
Dagger’s smile widened. “Nah, let him enjoy his time alone. Let’s go!”
As a group, they rushed down the stairs. I hobbled after them, more tumbling then running, blood flowing from my leg and several wounds to my back and chest.
But I couldn’t stop...
When I rolled out onto the street, they had already loaded Hycinth into a waiting black SUV. My eyes locked on the license plate number before it sped away.
My body shook uncontrollably, pain and horror washing over me in equal measures. I had no idea how I made it back up the stairs, only that I had no choice. When I finally limped into the bedroom, I swiped my phone from beside the bed and fell to the floor. My hands were trembling so hard, I could barely key in the number.
It rang once. A male voice answered gruffly, “Hello.”
Why did he have Leander’s phone? There was no time to ask.
“Ever!!” I gasped. ”I need him...where’s Leander?!”
“Luca?!” Ever’s voice rose sharply. “What the fuck is going on? Are you okay?!”
“He took her!” I panted, my heart beating out of control. “That bastard, Dagger...he took Hycinth!”
“Fuck!” Ever snarled.
“Ever, I need to talk to Leander! Why do you have his phone? Where is he?”
There was a beat of silence that caused even more alarm to split apart my chest, but I shoved it back down when Ever replied, “I’ve mindlinked him. He’s on the way to me now. He’ll be here in a few minutes. Tell me what happened.”
I couldn’t catch my breath. “Dagger and five other wolves broke into our home. They took her, Ever, they took her!” Hysteria bubbled up my throat. The memory of Hycinth’s terrified screams replayed through my mind. What little breath I had left whooshed out. I hunched over, struggling for air. I was losing too much blood. Black spots impeded my vision. I forced myself to stay conscious. I couldn’t pass out now! Hycinth’s very life depended on it.
I knew when Leander was in the room from the loud, furious growl in the background.
“What the fuck happened?!” he snarled into the phone.
I didn’t bother recapping what I’d already told Ever. Ever would’ve already relayed the information via the mind link while we spoke. Instead, I gave Leander as much detail about the vehicle as possible including the plate number. It was my only hope to find her. “Do you have a way to run the plate?!”
Leander cursed loudly, “No! We’ll have to break into a police station. I’m on my way!”
“Actually, I think I might know someone. The bikers we mentioned earlier. They frequently live on the wrong side of the law. I’ll call them and call you right back.”
"Done,” Leander barked. “We’re leaving now.”
“Leander,” I sucked in a breath in an attempt to control my fear. “Bring a healer.”
There was a loud growl on the other end of the phone. “Of course.”
The line went dead. I slumped against the chair, my head ringing with anxiety. Leander had assumed the healer was for Hycinth. And in truth, it was. But I feared much more for her baby, the pup Leander didn’t even know he had.
There was a change in the wind, a shift in the Earth’s dynamic.
A storm was coming...
...and when he arrived, he would burn the world down to get to Hycinth.