Langdon and I sat outside on a back porch overlooking the north garden. Darcie had just efficiently dismissed us so she could speak with Coal alone. I was surprised Coal had relinquished me so easily into Langdon’s care.
Well in truth, he hadn’t, not until Darcie convinced him. Her presence and wisdom seemed to have a calming effect on him. Still, it was surprising behavior for any alpha wolf to go against their instincts based on the word of another wolf.
But Darcie wasn’t just any other wolf. She was special. Coal had lost his mother even younger than me. I wondered if he too felt the same motherly connection to Darcie that I did.
I stared out at the snow-covered landscape, the white powder providing a glistening shine as the bright sun reflected off of its surface. Darcie had been right. It was beautiful.
Langdon was still. From my peripheral vision, I could see him studying me. After a moment of comfortable silence between us, he murmured, “Are you happy?”
I glanced over to find his features tight. My teeth chewed on my lower lip, trying to decide how to answer his question. Happiness wasn’t my prevailing emotion. Happiness required a sense of peace and tranquility. Coal and I didn’t have the luxury of either. Not with his father hellbent on keeping me out of Coal’s future, even if Alpha had to take my life to ensure it. My voice came out as a whisper, “I’m scared.”
“Scared for him to challenge his father?” he guessed quietly.
I nodded. “Yes. I hate that Coal has to kill his father to be with me.” My face twisted as I choked back the tears. I had always dreamed of having a father, a man who loved me and who would swoop in and rescue me from the horrid Alpha’s clutched. But that never happened. In my daydreaming, I loved my father with all my heart, and could never imagine hurting him.
But if I were honest with myself, I couldn’t be sure of how I would feel because there were many wolves like Coal’s father—cruel and angry. Maybe my father had been the same way. Perhaps that was why he had so easily discarded me in the clutches of Alpha. The thought made my heart clench.
But still, family was family. Coal had to love his father on some level. I whispered, “Am I doing the right thing? Am I selfish...to want my mate, no matter who it hurts?”
Langdon’s gaze was severe, his topaz orbs glowing as he hissed, “Your Alpha deserves to die!” He stood to his feet and paced the deck. I watched as he made the same circuit three times.
Finally turning back to me, he was a little calmer. “As much as I hate to admit it, I understand much better now why Coal did what he did, and why he didn’t challenge the Alpha when you were sentenced to be punished.”
“What do you mean?” A small shudder went through me, the pain of that event still sharp in my memory.
“He stood by for the same reason I did,” Langdon replied grimly. “I saw his Wolf in Coal’s eyes. He was seconds away from challenging his father, but he held back. I’d also considered challenging your Alpha to stop the punishment. But I didn’t...”
Langdon stopped, struggling with his own memories of that day. He took a deep breath in and continued, “I didn’t challenge him because I knew I couldn’t win; which meant, in the end, my challenging him wouldn’t have changed your punishment and probably would have made it much worse, once he had disposed of me.”
I looked at him in alarm, shocked and dismayed at the thoughts that had run through his head. I wouldn’t allow him to put himself at such risk for me, and demanded fiercely, “Promise me you will never challenge Alpha! It’s bad enough that Coal’s life is at risk. I couldn’t bear to add you to the list of those who could be hurt because of me.”
Langdon chose to ignore my plea. Instead, he continued with a razor edge, “I knew the Alpha didn’t like you, but I had no idea just how deep his animosity ran until now. Coal is right. There must be history between Alpha and your mother or father.”
A shiver ran down my spine. I wrapped my arms around my body tightly. “But what? My mother never said a word.”
Langdon shook his head. “We’ve already searched through the archives, and Coal has no idea as well. Until something shakes loose, I think we should continue our plan of making you a stronger fighter, and getting Coal ready to challenge his father. Aside from another alpha, Coal is probably the only one that could take on his father and succeed, but it will take grueling training to get him to that point.”
Langdon studied my pensive expression and returned to my side on the outdoor couch. He spoke softly, “I can’t imagine how hard this has been for you.”
I was lost in my thoughts. The last months had been the hardest of my life. But even though I had my mate now—I had Coal’s affection and his desire to be with me—my daily existence was going to get more difficult because of the extreme danger I was now in. I met Langdon’s worried gaze and whispered, “If Alpha finds out, he will kill me.”
It was the truth. There was no doubt in my mind. I had seen and been witness to his murderous intent. The only things that had kept Alpha from following through were Coal’s arguments and rejection of me.
Langdon’s hand curled into a fist. His mouth pressed into a hard line. He spoke through clenched teeth, “We won’t let that happen.”
I shook my head sadly. “But you can’t be there with us.” As much as Langdon and Darcie wanted to help, they couldn’t be on Ravenwood territory without express permission from Alpha, which meant Coal and I were on our own.
An even more troublesome thought came to mind. “Now that Coal has broken up with Calla, Alpha will be suspicious.”
Langdon’s lip curled into a snarl, revealing a sharp canine, his irritation, and frustration with the situation clear. “All the more reason to prepare Coal as quickly as possible.”
As if on cue, Langdon tilted his head, and his eyes took on a faraway sheen. He was communicating via his mind-link. His other pack members must be close. A moment later, I heard footsteps as they drew near.
I twisted my head around to find two large males entering through the back gate. The taller of the two stood around six feet, older, probably mid-thirties, and broad-chested, with dark hair and dark eyes.
The other was shorter, but not by much, less than an inch. His boyish features and the mischievous glint in his sparkling hazel eyes made him appear surprisingly young to have already achieved the status of an Enforcer. He sported dark ginger locks in careless disarray on his head, pointing every which way, adding to his boyish charm.
They both shared equally wide grins, obviously excited for their task at hand. Their levity was a welcome change to the seriousness of my situation, and I found myself smiling in return. Langdon also seemed to lose some of his tension.
As they walked up the steps to the porch, Langdon introduced them, nodding toward the older wolf first. “Brinley, this is Daniel and Jax.”
I extended my hand, and they each shook it in turn. “It’s nice to meet you. Thank you for...” I trailed off, not sure what to say.
Daniel interjected smoothly, “No worries, we’re glad to help.”
“Yeah,” Jax’s grin widened with enthusiasm, “An opportunity to kick the ass of an alpha? We wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Daniel jabbed him in the side with his elbow.
“Ow!” Jax exclaimed, his youthful gaze turning to glare at his older counterpart. “What’d you do that for?”
“That alpha is her mate,” Daniel replied as if explaining to a young pup.
“Oh, is that all?” The amused smirk returned to Jax’s features as he disregarded Daniel’s admonition altogether and snorted, “She probably understands better than we do. I’ll bet he drives her crazy. Every alpha does.”
I couldn’t help the small giggle that slipped my lips at Jax’s lack of a filter. I appreciated his transparency. There was no subterfuge or pretext in his expression. It was refreshing. And he was right. Coal did drive me crazy.
“Come on,” Langdon interrupted with an eye roll and began to walk into the house.
When we returned to the living room, Coal stood to his feet, his eyes sweeping over my frame, looking for confirmation that I was alright. It was a programmed response. Every male mate, especially alphas, were extremely protective.
I gave him a shy smile, still unsure how I should act around him. My response seemed to calm his beast, and he focused all of his attention on the Enforcers who entered behind me.
After a quick introduction, the five of us made our way down the stairs, while Darcie slipped into the kitchen. I would have preferred to have her by my side because every step closer to the pit-of-hell caused my anxiety level to rise exponentially. I could even feel the testosterone coming off of the eager males.
Once in the basement, the Onyx Moon warriors all removed their shirts, their eyes alight with excitement. Coal was already shirtless, thanks to my earlier eagerness during his kiss upstairs. A blush painted my cheeks at the memory. I turned away slightly inclining my head, letting my hair cover the side of my face. Thankfully, none of them seemed to notice, too wrapped up in each other.
Jax opened up the conversation with his boyish enthusiasm, “So, to what do owe the pleasure of kicking your ass?”
Coal stiffened and looked at Langdon. It was clear he was surprised that the Enforcers didn’t already know. Langdon replied quietly, “Not my story to tell. No matter what you share, they can be trusted.”
Coal tilted his head and eyed Langdon as if seeing him in a new light. He murmured tightly, “Thanks.”
Langdon just gave him a hard nod.
Coal turned to the other two wolves and spoke through gritted teeth, “I’m going to kill my father.”
The atmosphere in the room changed. All playfulness gone. Daniel and Jax froze, their gaze going from Coal to me and then to Langdon. After a moment, they recovered their surprised features. Daniel said slowly, “Okay...let’s get started then.”
I was shocked that neither asked why. Coal raised an eyebrow as well, having expected at least one follow up question between them. After a moment of silence, Coal turned to Langdon and murmured, “Go ahead and tell them the details. It would be safer for them to know what they’re getting in to.”
Another hard nod from Langdon. All three Onyx Moon Enforcer’s eyes glazed over as Langdon communicated through their mind-link. While they were busy ’talking′ Coal turned his attention to me, his hands coming up to rub my shoulders. I shivered at his closeness. His bright blue eyes bore into mine, his words deep with concern. “Are you going to be okay watching this? You don’t have to if you would rather stay upstairs with Darcie.”
I shook my head. I was certain they were going to make quite a racket. Wolf fights were never quiet, even in skin form. It would drive me crazy to listen and not know what was happening. “I’d rather be able to see what is going on with my own eyes, rather than worry and wonder upstairs.”
“Okay,” he brought his lips down and pressed them gently to my forehead. Sparks rattled through me at his skin-to-skin contact.
A small rumble reverberated through his chest. He was just as affected as I was. When he pulled back, the obsidian eyes of his Wolf stared back at me. My Wolf surged forward, eager to see her mate through my eyes. I reached my hand up and brushed my knuckles along his cheek, acknowledging my other mate’s presence. His Wolf was pleased with our attention.
After a lingering moment, Coal turned to face his opponents, a feral grin on his face as he purred, “Shall we begin?”
By thirty minutes into the training, my nerves were a wreck, and I was seriously reconsidering if I made the right decision to stay and watch.
As anticipated, they were loud. Thunderous growls echoed off the walls of the enclosed space as they sparred. The Onyx Moon Enforcers moved and fought fluidly as a unit, almost one mind in three bodies.
I was sure they were communicating via mindlink, but their reactions were so fast, there was no way they were a result of particular orders. It was obvious they were familiar with each other’s strengths and used them to their prime advantage. When one fell away, the other two surged forward, always targeting Coal’s blind or weak spots.
Coal held his own, darting, spinning and jabbing with incredible speed. But there was blood. A lot of it. All four had taken direct hits, splattering the crimson liquid in every direction.
I had never seen Coal fight before and was shocked at his fast response and strength. My Wolf purred in my head. She had no problem watching her skin mate take on the other wolves. Her opinion of Coal had radically changed now that we knew the truth. And now, she purred even louder whenever he made a particularly forceful strike or had the upper hand. She loved his dominant display. And so did I.
…in between my anxiety and fears for his safety.
Two and a half hours later, Darcie interrupted the training when she walked into the room carrying a tray of ice cold lemonade. I could almost tell the instant all four wolves sniffed the inviting cool concoction because they abruptly broke apart, and all four heads swiveled to Darcie. Their eager and similar reaction was almost comical to watch, and I stifled a giggle.
I must not have wholly suffocated the sound because Darcie glanced over at me and gave me a knowing wink. None of the males seemed to notice she, and I even existed as they snatched the drinks from the tray and gulped them down. Darcie had also thought to bring two additional pitchers of drinks, and they were emptied quickly as well.
When their thirst was satiated, Coal returned to my side. He looked exhausted, but his eyes were bright. I examined him from head to toe. He was covered in spatters of blood, but I was relieved when I couldn’t find any permanent damage.
Our attention was diverted when another shewolf entered the basement. Tall and thin with almost raven colored hair that pooled in soft locks around her shoulders and chocolate brown irises. I didn’t recognize her. Coal stiffened beside me, immediately anxious regarding the newcomer.
The shewolf stared in shock at the scene before her, her eyes darting from one person to the next. I understood why. With all of the blood everywhere, it looked like a small mass murder had occurred. My question to her identity was answered when Langdon quickly stepped to her side and murmured, “Amber.”
Now I knew who she was. I couldn’t help the blush that crept along my cheeks as embarrassment flooded through me at the memory of reading her text to him.
Coal’s attentive gaze cast down to me, one brow raised in question at my reaction. I muttered, “Later,” and cringed inside. I wasn’t looking forward to having to tell Coal what I’d done and then read on Langdon’s phone.
If I had my way, I never would have shared that story with anyone, but it seemed I was stuck with explaining my unusual reaction to her, and no doubt, Coal would find my blunder hilarious as well.
“What happened to you?” Amber gasped.
Langdon smirked, “I’m fine. We were just having some fun.”
“Some fun,” she repeated with a question in her voice. Her gaze trailed to Daniel and Jax, who were both grinning madly, and then stopped on Coal and me.
Coal had positioned himself slightly in front of me, his expression severe, his Wolf glaring at any threat she might represent. Amber inhaled sharply and shrank away from him. Her eyes dropped to the ground, unable to hold his gaze. Langdon introduced her quickly, “Coal, this is Amber, my...um, she and I are going out.”
I found his awkward response sweet. It was obvious they hadn’t given their relationship any formal definition. Langdon continued in a meaningful tone, ”Amber can be trusted.”
Coal relaxed his stance but said nothing. Langdon continued easily, “Amber, this is Coal, the future alpha of Ravenwood and his mate, Brinley.”
At my name, her face lit up. She peeked out from under her eyelashes at Coal and immediately turned her focus to me, raising her head to look at me fully. Her voice was smooth like honey, “Brinley, it’s so nice to meet you! Langdon has told me so much about you.”
I was warmed by her heartfelt welcome but had no idea how to respond. No female in our pack had ever been kind to me before. Quite the opposite. They all seemed to embrace Alpha’s orders fully and took it upon themselves to be as cruel as possible. The juvenile males had been assholes, but they were nothing compared to the hatefulness of the females.
As a little pup, I’d been tortured by their relentless abuse, pulling my hair and tripping me in the halls. Three and four girls would gang up and take turns, seeing who could hit me the hardest. I couldn’t fight back, and the more I cried, the more they laughed. I’d spent hours with silent tears running down my cheeks as I was forced to sit in class while they tormented me with hateful words when the teacher wasn’t paying attention. Although given our wolf hearing, I suspected the teachers heard every word. They just didn’t care. And many of them were Alpha’s whores. They thought I didn’t know, but I cleaned his room. I recognized their disgusting scents on his bed sheets.
Amber was waiting for my response, and once again, I hated the fact that I had such limited social skills. I felt like a fish out of water, floundering around as I mumbled, “Thanks.”
Amber didn’t seem put off in the least by my less than enthusiastic response. I was grateful. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to interact with other shewolves. I just didn’t know how. My lip quivered as I struggled once again with my lost childhood and feelings of inadequacy.
Darcie seemed to sense my uncomfortableness. She set the tray down and came to my other side, positioning her body protectively. She slipped her arm through mine and pulled me close to her body. Her response was so natural and effortless. I clutched at her arm, and she patted my hand absentmindedly while she spoke, “Why don’t you boys go get cleaned up. There are several showers to choose from and spare clothes. Langdon will show you where to go.”
Coal didn’t miss her reaction and studied me intently, trying to determine the cause of it. He had never been with me in school, so didn’t know the traumatic abuse I had been subjected to. I hadn’t even shared those details with Darcie, but she was also a female and knew enough to understand how awkward I felt and why. I was close to tears, overwhelmed by her loving display.
Coal dug in his heels, refusing to leave my side, alarmed by my emotional response. Darcie looked up at him and spoke soothingly, “Go on young alpha. She will be perfectly fine. This will give us girls an opportunity to chat and get to know each other better.”
Coal continued to hesitate but looked torn. His physical instinct to protect me from whatever unknown element had upset me, waged war against his trust in Darcie’s calm assessment of the situation. Finally, he gave her a hard look, both an agreement but also an unspoken warning that I’d better be okay while he was gone.
Darcie didn’t look surprised at his reaction. She expected it. She really did understand how to handle dominant males. The men disappeared up the stairs. Coal seemed surprisingly comfortable right in the midst of them. I was a bit shocked at how easily they interacted now, especially after the grueling three-hour training session where it appeared as if they were genuinely trying to kill each other. Whatever the reason, I was thankful for the reduced tension between them.
Once they were gone, Amber and I followed Darcie up the steps and into the kitchen. Darcie motioned her head toward the tall stools next to the granite counter. I climbed up on one and Amber settled herself next to me. Amber began, “Langdon tells me your training is going very well. He says you are unusually strong.”
I blushed and looked down, mumbling again, “Thanks.”
Darcie flitted around the kitchen, gathering cups as she made coffee. She stretched to reach another cup in the cabinet, and interjected without looking at us, “Yes, we think Brinley must have favorable genes. She learns at an amazing pace.”
I blushed even redder. I hadn’t known Langdon had said those things about me. Darcie then took the conversation off of me and focused it on Amber. They spoke back and forth. Both included me, making deliberate eye contact, and asked my opinion on things. I did the best I could at answering, but mostly just studied their casual interaction, trying to learn as much as I could. I felt comfortable with them, but still struggled frequently, and each time I floundered, Darcie would guide the conversation. Her words were always effortless, soothing my embarrassment.
After twenty minutes, Coal returned. His hair was wet, a drop of glistening liquid rolled down the side of his neck, and his blue eyes sparkled upon seeing me.
I inhaled sharply and had to force myself not to stare at him like a piece of candy I wanted to lick. I must not have done a good job at covering my out-of-control hormones because he took one look at me, and the corners of his mouth turned up wickedly. He knew.
Thankfully, Langdon also returned with the other two Onyx Moon enforcers in tow, breaking the sexual tension between Coal and I.
Daniel and Jax made their goodbyes and disappeared out the door. Langdon went to Amber’s side and coiled an arm around her back, asking, “Are you ready to go?”
Amber smiled brilliantly at him and nodded.
He then looked up at Coal and asked, “Same time tomorrow?”
“Yep,” Coal grunted.
Amber accepted Langdon’s hand as he helped her jumped down from the stool. She looked at us and chirped, “It was very nice to meet you both.” With that, they also disappeared out the door, leaving just Coal and myself with Darcie.
Coal’s voice deepened as he murmured gruffly to Darcie, “Thank you...for everything.”
She smiled back at him. “Of course, young wolf. You are always welcome in my home. I look forward to getting to know you better.”
He just nodded, emotion swirling in his eyes as he stared at her.
Wrapping his arm around my back, he turned and led us out the door.