HEAT

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Pack

Leander

Luca raised his head. Tortured green eyes searched mine. “What did you mean when you said her Wolf was g-gone?”

I blinked, unsure how to answer. He didn’t know? The horrifying loss of Hycinth’s Wolf had been immediately obvious to me but clearly he hadn’t detected her animal’s absence, and Hycinth must not have told him.

Mouth opening and closing, I tried to speak, but my heart constricted. Every fiber in my being rejected the words that were just too painful to say.

“No...” Luca whispered, dreaded coloring his tone as he interpreted the raw agony he saw transfixed on my face.

Pain-filled silence lingered between us. As much as he was able to correctly read my expression, I understood his. Shock. Anguish. Fear. He waited for me to speak, desperate for me to correct his wrong assumption. But I couldn’t. I just shook my head.

“She can’t be gone. She can’t,” he insisted.

When I remained silent, his shoulders slumped in defeat. “I knew her Wolf hadn’t spoken much...but not gone. How is that even possible?”

“It’s rare,” I spoke around the lump in my throat.

“Can you get her back?”

“I don’t know. I’ve been trying...but so far...,” my words trailed off.

“She loves you, you know,” Luca murmured.

The radical shift in conversation threw me off for a moment. I couldn’t even process his statement let alone reply.

But Luca wasn’t waiting for my response. “After we left, I never saw any happiness in her eyes. Just pain. It broke my heart. When I insisted, she tried to function normally, but it was all an act. It was just so clear to me. She missed you. She needed you. But she couldn’t find a way in her heart to reconcile the past. She’s never really grieved the loss of our parents. Neither of us did, I guess.” His brow pinched. Troubled eyes looked down.

I remained silent. A minute ago, he’d been hesitant to share anything with me. Now, his thoughts flowed without reservation. I desperately wanted him to clarify what he meant when he said Hycinth loved me, but he was telling me everything I wanted to know, what I had missed, and I had no plans to interrupt his turbulent musing.

Picking up a dead leaf with his fingers, Luca crushed it in his fist. “They never deserved her tears,” he hissed. His head came up again. Agitation pushed his Wolf close to the surface, the pigment in his eyes darkening to match that of his beast. Both stared back at me. Undisguised malice and hate swirled in his expression. “I swear to you, she didn’t know the full truth of who they were, the evil they’d done. Neither of us did. Not until Oracle Memoree visited us.”

At this, I couldn’t help myself. “What exactly did Hycinth know?”

I’d been devastated when Hycinth chose to leave me, but the much greater betrayal had been thinking that Hycinth chose to honor her dead parents,the cause of unspeakable pain and suffering to me, over the sacred mate bond that she and I shared. I couldn’t understand it. I questioned who she was at the very core. Now, it made so much more sense.

“War,” Luca replied simply. “Our packs had fought for decades. We’d been told the dispute was over land and holdings and whatever else the elders of each pack had accused the other of. And because our kind are vicious in nature, an eye for an eye, every kill seemed to result in yet another Wolf dead. Vengeance killing. And it was exactly that...until it wasn’t.”

There was no pretext in Luca’s response, just simple transparency. He was telling me the truth.

“We just didn’t know it had changed. We never knew about that bastard Alpha Grant’s vendetta to keep Hycinth away from you...and give her to me.” His breath hitched. He turned away. Reaching for a small gold locket around his neck, long fingers began to absentmindedly rub the small trinket.

I could guess what it was and what it meant to him. I understood his pain. I’d experienced the loss of my mate but at least Hycinth had remained alive somewhere in the world even if it was without me. Luca didn’t even have that small consolation. His mate was gone from him forever.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I murmured.

I truly was. It killed me any time one of my wolves lost their other half. And Luca was mine now. He’d chosen me as his alpha and I would take care of him just as I did the rest of my wolves. Reaching across the small space between us, I placed my hand on his shoulder.

Luca’s head came up, soulful green eyes lost and confused locked on mine. “I don’t know...what to do now,” his voice broke and his large body began to shake.

Sliding to my knees in front of him, I wrapped both arms around his shoulders to help him control the violent tremors coursing through his body. Instantly, Ever joined me, positioning himself on his knees at Luca’s back, big arms wrapped around both of us, forehead resting on Luca’s opposite shoulder.

“I know you don’t,” I spoke quietly, “but you don’t have to do this alone.”

Ever didn’t audibly speak but his Wolf spoke for him, a loud rumble emerging from his chest, his Wolf comforting Luca in a language only our beasts understood.

Inside our embrace, Luca broke. A mournful howl emerged from his throat, and his body convulsed as he sobbed on my shoulder. Ever and I held him tighter. There was nothing we could say to fix it. Some Wolves endured, like my father, never whole again but could function. But some Wolves didn’t. The pain was too great and they ended it all. Only time would tell Luca’s fate.

After several minutes, Luca’s cries quieted down. Pulling away slightly, he mumbled, “Sorry.”

“Never be sorry for showing how you truly feel,” Ever spoke fiercely, taking the words right out of my mouth. “You are family now. You are Pack.”

Ever was right. And from everything I’d recently learned, Alpha Grant may have called Luca his son, but it was obvious Luca did not have confidence in truly being a part of family. He was clearly broken, and not just by the loss of his mate, but also by the cruel revelation that the one male he thought would protect him at all cost had instead betrayed him and torn the most precious gift away from him. I’d also noticed that Lucky had already disassociated himself. A moment ago, he’d referred to him as Alpha Grant and not as his father.

Opening up a silent connection with my father, I quickly replayed the last couple of minutes. Cyril had mentored many of our wolves. No one understood better than him what it meant to lose a mate, particularly due to violence. And how ironic that both Cyril’s and Luca’s mates had been killed by the same evil beast.

“Understood,” Cyril replied directly into my head.

Closing the link, I refocused on Luca.

Luca wiped the back of his hand across his eyes to clear the rest of his tears. He still looked a little lost but definitely more in control. Ever released his hold and stood to his feet. Scooting back, I returned to the log I had been sitting on.

Nodding to a nearby split-tree, I spoke to Ever. “Join us.”

There was no hesitation and no questions asked as Ever lowered himself onto the makeshift seat. Currently, enough Sentinels were on duty to cover his absent post, and he and I did not need to exchange words for me to communicate why I wanted him there. I had no doubt that Ever intrinsically understood my command and agreed with me, Luca would benefit from our combined supportive presence.

“I was not aware of Alpha Grant’s true intentions either,” I went back to our earlier conversation. “Just like you, I thought his motivation for killing my mother and sister was our ongoing war, a way to destroy my father.”

Luca listened intently.

“But I didn’t kill him out of revenge or even feelings of vengeance,” I said, referencing Luca’s earlier comment about war amongst wolves. It was important to me that he understood.

“I get that now,” he replied. “They were evil.”

I nodded. “That’s right. What I did was justice because evil like that had to be put down.”

“Yes, it does,” he agreed somberly.

“But it doesn’t stop the guilt,” I mused, a familiar ache twisted my gut.

One of Luca’s eyebrows rose. “Guilt?”

“Ultimately, it was because of me. My mother and sister were tortured and killed because Alpha Grant was trying to get to me.”

Ever grunted his disagreement but didn’t speak.

“Oh,” Luca exhaled heavily. Deep sadness etched into the lines of his face. “She feels the same way you do, but it’s worse for her.”

Sydney had said something similar. I didn’t need to ask Lucky the reasons why Hycinth felt guilty. I could pretty much put the puzzle pieces together. But what I didn’t know was whether or not her feelings of guilt and lack of self-worth were the catalyst to her current coma. He wasn’t a doctor or healer in any way but he was the closest person to Hycinth, and I wanted to know his opinion. I swallowed thickly. “Do you think that’s why she won’t come back to me?”

“I don’t know,” Luca replied quietly.

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