HEAT

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Hour by Hour

Leander

Two days had passed since we returned to the cottage, the den where Hycinth and I had mated, and conceived the tiny pup in her belly. And during that time, Hycinth had shown physical signs of improvement. Harsh purplish, crimson and black welts all over her body had turned to soft shades of green and yellow. The swelling in both eyes had reduced. And the fractures Grace found in Hycinth’s lower spine, no doubt caused by a kick from one of those bastards considering the massive boot shaped bruise on her skin, had knitted back together.

But Hycinth remained unconscious. And there was no movement from the vulnerable pup or sign from her Wolf.

My heart clenched in my chest as I stared at her sleeping form. She looked so frail and weak. Restless, her little brows wrinkled and pinched tight. Sporadic breaths caused her chest to catch, lost to the torment inside her head. Lifting on my elbow next to her, I pressed my lips to her cheek and caressed her arm with my fingertips. “Shh, my love. You’re okay now, I promise. I’m here.”

My Wolf paced anxiously in my head. A solid thrum had come from his chest, his unspoken plea to her missing Wolf. He’d begged and cried for hours on end. But there had been only silence in return. One lonely hour had turned into several. The sun rose and fell on our pain. And as each minute ticked by, little bits of hope had slowly broken apart inside of me, but I didn’t try to stop him. I just couldn’t accept that her Wolf was truly gone.

I understood all too clearly now the grievous mistake I’d made. My Wolf had mourned. He had wanted to die. He’d begged to let the bear consume us. Would it have felt any differently for Hycinth’s Wolf? Of course not! My thoughts turned angry. Of course she would have wanted to give up just like he did...and maybe she had found a way. My hand clenched into a fist. I should have seen this outcome. I never should have made an agreement with her in the first place, and I’d been a fool to ever let her go. I could have saved her Wolf...but I didn’t.

“I’m sorry...I’m so damn sorry,” I whispered, tears flowing unchecked down my face. “Please come back to me. I’m begging you. Please—” I couldn’t continue and tried to swallow past the thick lump in my throat.

A mournful silent howl came from my Wolf. He knew it just as well as I did. It was all our fault. We should have protected her at all costs. She might’ve hated me for it, but at least Hycinth and our pup would not have been subjected to unimaginable horror, and her Wolf would have been saved. Hycinth would be whole right now if I’d done the right thing. If only I had acted on what my gut and heart had told me to do. But I hadn’t. I’d ignored my instinct as an Alpha and a mate, and I was paying a terrible price for my inadequacy.

I dropped my head, no longer able to hold up the heavy weight of it.

“Leander,” Grace murmured softly from the doorway as she stepped inside.

I lifted my head and wiped the tears from my cheeks with the back of my hand.

Grace ignored my tears and walked the other side of the bed. For several silent minutes, she went through the same routine of checking Hycinth’s vitals and wounds, but when she finished her response was no longer hopeful as it has been for the last two days. Deep sadness colored her words, “Leander, we need to talk.”

Ice-cold fear trickling through my veins. “So, talk,” I replied gruffly.

She looked over her shoulder.

I followed her line of sight to find Ever standing silently just inside the door. His spine was straight, his eyes wary.

A low growl came from my chest as I slowly got out of the bed. “What is this?”

“We just need to talk with you,” Grace said evenly, keeping her intonation soft, “and it may be better to have the conversation outside.”

It was clear that whatever they had to say, both Grace and Ever felt it would be better for Hycinth not to hear it even in her unconscious state.

I looked down at my defenseless mate. A war played out in my head. I’d refused to leave Hycinth’s side, and I wasn’t sure I had the strength to cross the threshold that would separate me from her.

Understanding my intense internal battle, Ever spoke carefully, “You don’t have to go far. We can speak on the deck.”

I refused to look up at him, unable to take my eyes off of Hycinth.

Another long minute went by.

“You’ll be able to hear her if she needs you,” Ever’s tone was gentle, “and Sydney can stay in the room if it makes you and your Wolf feel better.”

Inhaling slowly to steady myself, I finally nodded my head. It wouldn’t be easy, but if they felt the conversation would be better outside of Hycinth’s ears, then so be it. I wasn’t willing to risk inflicting any additional mental strain on my already suffering mate. Stepping over to the nearby wardrobe, I pulled out a pair of pants and slipped them on.

“Have Sydney come in.” I was fairly certain Sydney was waiting outside. Ever wouldn’t have made the suggestion otherwise.

He stepped out with a hard nod.

My suspicion was confirmed when Sydney immediately entered. Her eyes darted to Hycinth and then back to me. She bowed her head slightly, waiting for my command.

“Contact me if there is any hint of awareness or she needs me.”

“Of course, Alpha.”

With one last glance at Hycinth, I crossed the room and walked out the door.

Closing the door behind me, I wasn’t surprised to find Asher, my father and Luca had gathered outside, but my eyebrows raised one my gaze landed on Tommy. Why was the biker here?

My Wolf bristled, his hair standing on end, ears flat back. Regardless of who they were, there were too many males within proximity of our female and he didn’t like it.

“They won’t stay long, son,” my father soothed. The irises of his Wolf shown in his eyes, the beast directing communicating comfort to mine. There was also a promise of violent protection behind his fierce stare. No question of loyalty in his rigid stance. At any cost, the beast would stand by his son to protect what was ours.

His words helped. My Wolf still didn’t like the presence of so many males, but he trusted our father Wolf. His anxiety eased a little.

“We know you don’t want to be gone for long,” Ever explained quietly as I crossed to the far side of the deck where they stood, “so we wanted to cover as many topics as possible to avoid multiple absences from your mate.”

I understood they needed to talk but first I needed an explanation from Grace. I turned to her and spoke through gritted teeth, “Now tell me what is going on. What couldn’t you say in front of Hycinth?”

“Leander, you already know Hycinth should have woken up by now,” Grace began, her voice low.

She spoke the obvious, but even still, I couldn’t stop my hands curling into fists. I forced myself to not react as she continued, “Since we are now in uncharted territory regarding her care, I thought it best to take as much precaution as possible in regards to her mental health, and have this conversation outside of her potential hearing.”

“Okay,” I muttered. “What are you suggesting?”

“We need to make some changes regarding her care, and we need to bring in a medical doctor,” she spoke matter-of-factly.

Her words washed over me. As far as I knew, there wasn’t a medically trained werewolf doctor in any of the surrounding packs, and even if there was, I didn’t think I could trust anyone from another pack, not right now. “How exactly are we supposed to accomplish that?”

“The only thing I can think of is bringing in a human doctor.”

A human doctor?

She had to be kidding.

“No,” I growled. “I can’t trust any human with her. And what makes you think a human doctor can do anything for a werewolf?”

Grace exhaled heavily, the stress revealing itself in her eyes. “I don’t want that either, but Leander, we have to try everything we can. I’ve never seen a case like hers, and we can’t reach out to any other pack, even to ask questions about her care because we don’t want any of them knowing the extent of her condition.”

Her words made sense, but I still couldn’t imagine how we were supposed to convince a human doctor to evaluate and treat her, and then keep him or her silent. The last thing I wanted to do was spill innocent blood, particularly someone who has helped us.

“We might have a solution,” Tommy spoke from where he stood off to the side behind Grace.

My head snapped up, eyes locking on his. So this was why he was here.

He pulled back slightly, an automatic response to my feral expression, and then continued, “We have a doctor...on payroll. Comes in handy for bullet wounds and other problems that we can’t very well go to the hospital for.”

“Can you ensure his understanding and silence?” I demanded.

He nodded. “I’ve known him my entire life. There’s no question to his loyalty.” He rubbed the back of his neck and added, “Not to say this shit won’t be startling, but he can deal, and from the sound of things, it sounds like you don’t have a better option.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t disagree with him there.

Refocusing on Grace, I asked, “You really think this is necessary? I keep thinking she’s going to wake up any minute.” I couldn’t keep the emotion out of my voice.

Grace’s expression softened, but it didn’t make her next words any easier to hear. “Leander, we can no longer assume when she will wake up. Maybe, this is just her body’s natural way of mentally healing and when she’s ready, she’ll come back to us. From her reduced bodily functions, it’s clear her body has slowed down considerably, but she can’t go on like this. I’ve been giving her electrolytes and other nutrition to help her body regulate, but it’s only a temporary solution. We are at a point now where both her and the pup need more. I recommend a feeding tube.”

A feeding tube? I’d never known a Wolf to require such invasive treatment. But regardless of my experience on the matter, if it was what Hycinth needed, so be it. “Okay, of course. Do it.”

“There’s one more thing,” Grace hesitated. She bit her lip.

My eyes narrowed. I didn’t like her tone. “What are you finding so difficult to say?”

“As I mentioned, her systems have slowed down almost to the point of not functioning,” Grace began again, choosing her words carefully. “However, once she increases her calorie intake and sustenance, I suspect her natural body functions will return to normal.” She fell silent again.

My stomach twisted in a knot. I had an idea of where she was going now, but I needed to hear it from her mouth. I spoke through clenched teeth, “Go on.”

Grace inhaled softly and let the breath out. “I’ve done some research online, and we have some options for her care. Currently, she already has a waterproof pad beneath her. We could continue with that route and just change it when necessary. However, we could also consider a catheter and there are also garments she could wear to keep any waste contained to a smaller area of her body.

With every word Grace spoke, devastation rose higher and higher in my chest, threatening to consume me. Every minute of the past two days I had anticipated Hycinth would just wake up, but now, the reality and uncertainty that she might not for any number of days, overwhelmed me.

Ever came to my side. He wrapped his large hand around my bicep. “You’re not alone, Leander. You will have all of the help you need in caring for Hycinth for as long as it takes.

“No,” I pulled my arm free and took a step away. “No one cares for her but me...especially not like that.”

“You don’t need to carry that burden alone,” Grace interjected softly.

“My mate is not a burden,” I all but snarled, vibrating in anger. “And I will give her what she needs, no matter what it is. You will show me what needs to be done, and then I will handle it.”

“Of course, as you wish,” Grace agreed quickly, dropping her chin. She motioned with her head toward the bag near the door. “I’ve already brought the nutrition and supplies you need. We can get started now.”

Before I could take a step toward the door, Ever asked for confirmation, “Shall I obtain the doctor?”

“Do it,” I answered shortly. Fierce determination washed over me. It didn’t matter how many human doctors I had to kill now. Hycinth was going to have the best care possible regardless of what I had to do or who I had to kill to accomplish it.

“Are we done here?” I asked, impatient to get back to Hycinth.

“Wait. There is another thing..” Ever hesitated.

“What now?” A muscle in my jaw twitched.

Asher came to stand beside him.

Ever’s voice deepened, “It’s the...pack. I get why you didn’t tell them the reasons Hycinth left, but she’s back now, and they still don’t know what’s going on. Anxiety...is running high.”

I turned on them, a growl ripping from my throat, “No, I didn’t share all the intimate details of my personal devastation with the pack. I’m their fucking Alpha. I don’t owe them sorid details. All they needed to know was that Hycinth was gone and now she’s back.” It hadn’t occurred to me that I might get pushback from the pack. Maybe I should have.

But worse, I never anticipated Ever and Asher to stand against me the way they were now. “If either of you have shit to say about the matter of Hycinth returning, don’t fucking hide it. Let’s get this out right here and now.”

Pain washed over Ever’s expression. His voice was thick with emotion, “I’ve always had your back, Leander. You’re my best friend. I’m gonna tell you what I think and how I feel, but when the decision is made, when you decide your course, I’m gonna ride next to you all the way or I’m gonna die tryin’. You’ve decided Hycinth will stay which means she is one hundred percent my Luna, and I will treat her as such. There’s no gap in my loyalty, either to your or her.”

His response hit me like a brick to my chest. My gaze left him to fall on Asher who wore a similar fierce expression. I swallowed before I could speak, “I am blessed to have such honorable wolves as you both.” Their unconditional support meant everything to me. “Tell me what I need to do to ease the anxieties of the pack.”

“You don’t have to tell them the details, but they need to see you. The full moon is coming tomorrow night.”

“I know,” my voice dropped to a pained whisper. He didn’t have to say more. When the full moon rose tomorrow night, we would release the four wolves who had given their all, into the afterlife. I needed to be there, not only for the living who needed my comfort, but also the dead. I owed them that much. I just didn’t know how I was going to. My breath caught in my throat, “I don’t know if I can...leaver her.”

“We understand,” Asher murmured. “I don’t know what I would do if Willow were in the same situation. We have another day to figure it out. We anticipated it would be hard for you, that’s why we wanted to talk. Just think about it for now.”

I nodded silently.

Apparently satisfied with my response, Ever and Asher walked back to where they had been standing by my father and the biker. At the same time, Luca stepped forward. He looked down and twisted his hands together. “There’s something...you need to know.”

Fuck. I wasn’t sure I could take much more.

I waited silently.

Clearing his throat, he began, “Oracle Memoree came to visit us. She told us that Hycinth was having a girl.”

I had wondered how Hycinth had known the sex of our pup. But why had an Oracle visited them in the first place? Getting involved with an Oracle could be dangerous business and did not always bode well. “What else did she say?” I asked tightly.

Luca glanced over to my father before continuing, “She said that the pup in Hycinth’s stomach is the second-chance baby...because the first-chance child was...tragically lost.

My eyebrows mashed together. What in the world was he talking about?

My father stepped forward. From his expression, he was equally confused, but he was smart enough to realize whatever Luca was trying to explain had something to do with his child, my long-lost sister, as well. “Explain,” Cyril demanded.

“Alpha,” Luca acknowledged him with a deep nod. “I didn’t understand everything she said at the time because neither Hycinth nor I knew about the child Luna Isabelle carried. But it makes sense now. The Oracle said that the child has great destiny. She’s come to replace the one who had been lost. The only explanation I can think of is that first baby was yours, Alpha.” Luca glanced up at Cyril.

The irises of my father’s Wolf burned brightly as he stared back. “Why do you think that?”

Luca continued softly, “Oracle Memoree said that her sister, Mimi, had manipulated the ceremony. I don’t know how, but somehow she used a small portion of the lost baby’s ashes as part of the preparation mist for Leander and Hycinth’s mating ceremony.”

“Mimi did what?" I snarled. This was all news to me. And where had she even obtained ashes from my dead sibling?

Luca startled at my abrupt outburst but controlled himself. Holding my gaze, he replied, “She said that Hycinth became pregnant in that moment, even before the two of you...um, came together,” he ended awkwardly.

I stood in astonished disbelief. It all sounded too incredible. I turned to my father. “Is this even possible?”

The lines of his face were drawn together as he struggled to his own painful memories. “Maybe. We’d been told Isabelle’s baby was special. We even felt it. But then she...died.” He swallowed before continuing, “I thought that was the end of it. But after your ceremony, a newness could be felt in the pack, a tangible sense of possibility. I just assumed it was because all ten mated pairs had conceived, but maybe there is more to it.”

The dull thudding I’d felt in my head over the last two days increased. I ran a hand through my hair. One thing was sure, Mimi had some explaining to do. But now was not the time. My father seemed to agree because he didn’t ask any further questions.

“Can I see her now?” Luca asked softly, pain swirling in his eyes.

He’d waited two days.

I took a minute to check my Wolf’s defensiveness, and was surprised to find the beast was unusually quiet, which meant he was okay with Luca visiting now.

“Yes,” I answered Luca, and then looked toward Ever. “Are we done for now?”

Ever nodded.

“Okay. Luca, come with me.”

.

Alright, Peaches, we are getting much closer to a radical shift in the story, maybe another chapter or two.

Thanks again for all of the well-wishes and concerns for my sister. They began her chemo again and she has an appointment with an eye specialist for next week to look closer into her eye. One step at a time...that’s what we’re holding on to. Much love, Emie

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