Grace gently moved the sheet and light blanket, recovering Hycinth’s lower body. With a quick glance at the pump that was pushing much needed nutrition into Hycinth’s frail body, her careful brown eyes assessed the steadily dripping feeding tube for a moment. Satisfied with the performance of the medical apparatus, Grace turned back to me. “That’s it for now.”
“Okay.” I hadn’t forgotten about Luca waiting outside. Once again, I took a minute to focus on my Wolf’s emotional stability. The last thing I needed was for him to erupt in a protective violent outburst at the presence of another male this close to our mate.
He felt my inquiry into his mind. All was calm, his thoughts somber as he replied, “Bring him in.”
I exhaled in relief but was also surprised to hear a small amount of hope in his thoughts. Not only was the animal in control of his baser reflexes, but he was ready to try anything, including bringing in a non-blood-related male if it meant there was any chance Hycinth would respond and awaken. It would devastate him if the other male was able to get through the impenetrable barrier in Hycinth’s mind that he could not, but his own feelings didn’t matter to him. Not anymore. I intimately understood his fear and insecurity. A part of me worried that Hycinth wasn’t responding simply because it was me asking her to. Sydney had said that Hycinth wanted to return to me but that was secondhand information. Maybe she’d been wrong. Maybe Hycinth still didn’t want me even now. Could her aversion be so severe that even she couldn’t overcome it in her mind? My heart clenched painfully at the thought.
I shook my head, forcefully shoving out the devastating thought. I couldn’t let my own insecurities cripple me emotionally. Not now. Now, I had to remain strong for our mate. Once she was awake, I would deal with the aftermath and face whatever came my way, but not now.
Pushing my thoughts into the mindlink, I silently reached out to Luca, “Now.”
He didn’t need any more clarification or invitation than that. Instantly, soft footsteps outside conveyed that he had gotten to his feet and approached the door. The handle turned slowly, and the door opened. Luca’s bulky frame blocked much of the sunlight coming through the door as he stepped inside.
Absinth eyes dilated, adjusting to the lower light and flickered quickly around the room until they landed on Hycinth in the bed. His brow furrowed, deep creases forming in his forehead when he saw her small frame, pale and sickly. Sucking in a sharp breath through his mouth, he swallowed thickly and let it out. His attention riveted back to me, his tone thick with emotion, “Can I…”
I nodded my consent.
Moving stiffly across the room, he stood by her side and leaned down to her ear, whispering softly, “I’m here, little sister. Can you hear me?”
My Wolf and I held perfectly still, waiting with bated breath, hoping and praying for a response.
But there was nothing.
Luca found her fingers through the covers. He squeezed gently and tried again, forcing lightness and humor into his words, “Remember what we talked about, Cinn? No laying around in bed all day. It’s time to get up.”
Still no reaction at all. Hycinth remained motionless except for the slow rise and fall of her chest.
I mentally reached into our one-sided mate bond, searching for anything, any change or indication that she’d heard him, but I came up blank.
Anguished eyes turned to me, uncertainty burning in his irises. He didn’t know what to do or say to make her better any more than I did.
“Keep trying,” I muttered gruffly.
With renewed determination, Luca pulled his composure together, his chest expanding with a deep breath, and released it. He forced his upper body to relax and began to rub gentle circles with his thumb over top of the covers on Hycinth’s hand. “I miss you, sis. We all do. None of this is your fault. You are loved so much. Please come back to me,” his voice broke. He swallowed thickly before continuing, “I need you.”
None of this is your fault. His choice of words resonated with the uneasy pit in my stomach. Was that the heart of the matter? Guilt? Sydney had said something similar. She’d said Hycinth thought that I and the pack would not want her back. How very wrong. I wanted my sweet little mate with every breath I took, so much so, that my chest ached painfully just thinking about it. For two and a half days straight, I’d urgently whispered my love and affection. But it hadn’t been enough. Was her mind too weak and fragile to overcome her fear and doubt? Did her brokenness have something to do with the loss of her Wolf? Frustration washed over me because I had no answers to any of these questions.
From the side of her bed, Luca continued to murmur soft reassurances in Hycinth’s ear. I listened as he began to talk about everything and nothing at the same time. He told her about his day as if she were awake to hear him, ignoring her obvious lack of responses and just persisted on as if it was the most ordinary conversation he’d ever had.
I appreciated and understood his attempt at normalcy and his variation of tactics in an effort to get Hycinth to engage in a response.
Several minutes went by. The only sounds in the room were Luca’s even murmuring and the soft vibration of the pump feeding nutrition into Hycinth’s body. Grace kept a careful eye on Hycinth’s vitals, while I watched Luca and continually gauged Hycinth’s emotional stability through the mate bond. She was in no pain. Calm. But nothing else, no hint of awareness or sign of awakening.
The sudden beeping of the medical pump caused Luca’s head to jerk up. He looked at the machine and then swiveled his attention to Grace, a question in his eyes. I was equally focused, watching Grace move swiftly to the pump. With the quick push of a button the sound cut off. She met my gaze. “I need to flush the line, and I suspect she will need your assistance in about twenty minutes or so.”
I understood Grace was discreetly referring to Hycinth’s likely need for a change of a diaper soon. Luca certainly didn’t need to be on hand for that process. My mind ticked through options. All I really wanted to do was never leave Hycinth’s side again, but there were loose ends to tie up, questions that needed answers, and even though Hycinth remained unconscious, I didn’t want her hearing our conversation. I wasn’t willing to risk anything we talked about upsetting her.
“Luca, let’s talk outside.”
Understanding lit his expression. “Of course,” he quickly replied and then leaned down. I was amazed when my Wolf didn’t even blink an eye as Luca kissed her cheek softly, murmuring, “I love you, little sister. I’ll be back soon.”
“Sydney,” I reached through the mindlink. If I knew anything about my third in command, she remained in close proximity. “Come inside.”
I was right. Almost instantly, the door opened, and Sydney slipped into the room, quietly shutting the door behind her. “Yes, Alpha?”
“Stay with Hycinth,” I ordered.
She gave me a hard nod and repeated, “Yes, Alpha.”
“I won’t be far.”
Grasping the door handle, I turned it and forced my body to take one step after the other away from my mate. Luca followed, closing the door softly behind us. As we crossed the small clearing, my Wolf’s presence shone in my eyes. His knowledgeable gaze flickered to all points on the horizon, assessing the surroundings for any threats, tasting the scents in the air for any unwelcome wolves and eyes raking over each of the males still present. Tommy, Asher and our father were gone. Only Ever remained along with the Sentinel wolves posted along the perimeter for our protection.
Ever’s head never turned in our direction, but his posture and stance revealed his attentiveness to his duties as protector and the heavy stress that weighed on him. Back ramrod straight and chest out, his eagle eyes also scanned the skyline, hands flexing into fists before releasing again.
Reaching the edge of the trees, I motioned toward the cut logs that had been evenly spaced, providing seating. Luca sank down onto one while I sat across from him on another.
A thousand questions swirled through my brain. I wanted to know everything that had occurred while we were part, every moment I had missed out on and demanded gruffly, “Tell me what happened after you left.”
Luca rubbed the back of his neck. “It…hasn’t been easy.” He swallowed thickly. “I don’t know exactly what to tell you, what she would want me to share.”
Anger zigzagged down my spine. “This is not the time to hold back from me. You saw her. She’s fighting for her life, weak and frail, bones sticking out, far too thin for a pregnant shewolf!“
“I know,” Luca whispered, his shoulders rolling forward. “I tried…to get her to eat and work…but she just couldn’t…keep anything down. All she did was cry and hide in bed.”
All she did was cry and hide in bed. His words didn’t surprise me. After all, her Wolf was gone. There was no more hard-core proof that Hycinth had not only suffered physically but had also deteriorated emotionally. How much damage had occurred even before Dagger got his hands on her?
“You tried…,” I repeated, my fury accelerating. My hands clenched into fists. “During all those moments of trying to care for her, did it ever occur to you to reach out to me?”
“Yes,” Luca stared at the ground, “but…she begged me not to.”
His words were like a kick to my gut but the facts remained. From his description, Hycinth had quickly gone downhill just as I had, but it was worse for her. There was so much more at risk—her lost wolf and our pup. Luca had been the only male around, thus he bore the responsibility for her care. “And so you just sat by? Has she even seen a healer for her pregnancy?”
“No,” his voice was barely audible.
Rage vibrated through me. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Lurching to my feet, I spat, “You saw her physically and emotionally wasting away, her Wolf is gone and God only knows the damage done from lack of prenatal care to my unborn female, and you did nothing!”
Luca recoiled as though my words had been a direct punch to his chest, his body curling into himself even more. I took a step forward, my hand automatically clenching into a fist. Luca was smart Wolf; he understood my attack was imminent, but he made no move to protect himself.
Instantly, Ever was between us, his hand out, palm flat against my chest. “Leander, stop! He did what he had to do! It’s no less than I would have done. Right or wrong…doesn’t matter!”
“I’m sorry.” Luca’s head hung low, his voice thick with emotion, “I should have called you. I know that now.”
Earthy brown eyes locked on mine, Ever spoke softer, beseeching me to listen to him, “He stood by her side…because there was nothing else he could do.”
I glared at Ever. I didn’t like his answer, but I couldn’t deny his truth. There was no better example of unwavering loyalty than my own Beta. Ever supported me no matter the circumstances. Even when I was being a stubborn fool, he stood by my side. Luca had done the same for his sister. I forcibly exhaled, pushing all of the air out of my lungs, to release the tension from my body.
Holding my gaze, Ever silently encouraged me in the direction he knew I was headed. After a long moment, I finally took a step back and sank back down onto the log.
Ever’s rigid stance relaxed. He nodded and then turned before returning to his post.
Luca continued to stare at the earth beneath his feet and swiped a hand across his face, collecting the tears that had fallen from his eyes. His devastation was palpable, so thick in the air, I could almost feel it. The choices he’d made obviously hadn’t been easy for him.
Hello, Peaches, I wish it were longer. Part of the delay right now is not only my personal life, which is a admittedly chaotic, but also, we are at a part in the book where I need to include several different elements and determining the correct order and how to present those is hella complicated. I have all of the pieces in my head but assembling the puzzle into a cohesive story isn’t easy. Hopefully, I will be able to break through and it will start to flow easier. Much love.