Abruptly, the fierce pain ended!
Alpha withdrew his canines. His head jerked back, a look of confusion painted his expression. His chest rose and fell from exertion.
Suddenly he got off of me. I breathed a huge sigh of relief to no longer be touching him. He strode across the room and grabbed the liquor bottle again, tossing it back. When he swallowed, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, staring at me intently as he muttered under his breath, “It can’t be.”
I stood to my feet shakily, adrenaline still coursing through my veins.
I knew what the problem was. At least for him.
He hadn’t been able to break the bond that Coal and I shared!
He’d attacked it with everything he had in him. The bond had shuddered and faltered beneath his assault, but it had held—it remained!
Which could only mean one thing...
Coal was stronger than him!
And Alpha knew it.
Suddenly, his head came up and snapped toward the window. His expression twisted into a snarl as he glared at me. “I told you what I would do if you mindlinked with him and led him here! Did you think I was kidding? Did you think I wasn’t capable of turning him rogue?”
“What...I, no...I didn’t,” I gasped, hope and fear surging through me in equal measures. Did that mean Coal was close? But how?
“Oh yes, you fucking did! And by my estimation, I’m guessing he’ll be here in less than thirty minutes. I can also tell that bastard son of mine isn’t alone. He brought his naïve little brother and three other wolves I can’t identify, which means one of them is probably Langdon, your fake mate, and two other Onyx Moon lackeys.”
And then I understood because my Wolf reached out again...pleading with him through our mindlink to hurry. She’d been mindlinking with him during the entire struggle! But the connection was weak, I couldn’t hear any of his thoughts back.
“Okay, time for a different game,” Alpha sneered, taking another swig of his drink, before slamming the bottle down on a nearby end table.
I didn’t like that look of cruel anticipation in his eyes, nor the implication in his words. I took a careful step away and stood behind the couch. It wasn’t much in the way of defenses. It certainly hadn’t stopped him the first time when he’d vaulted over it, but it gave me some semblance of security, so I went with it. “What are you going to do?”
Alpha’s lips curled up into a wicked smile. “Did you know as the Alpha, I can feel everyone in the pack? It’s like they’re tethered to me by a living and breathing string. It’s amazingly thin but teeming with life. An umbilical cord, of sorts, you might say.”
The hard pit in my stomach grew. I didn’t like where this conversation was going.
“It seems my bastard son is hell-bent on facing me...but how will he handle a couple of challenges along the way? Because the instant I break that tether, those wolves that are ready to fight by his side will turn on him. His very own brother will try to kill him. Brother against brother. One will die and one will live...because they won’t stop until one is dead. Quite poetic, don’t you think?”
I couldn’t breathe. I was appalled at what he was suggesting. If he turned Coal rogue now, Coal would have to fight Ryder and Langdon, and probably Jax and Amber, to the death!
“No...you can’t do that! He’s your son. They are both your sons!”
The maniacal gleam in Alpha’s eyes only increased as he added gleefully, “But that’s not the best part.”
What was he saying?!
What could be worse than forcing Coal to kill his very own brother?
Without waiting for me to ask, he continued explaining his diabolical plan, “If he does happen to put down all four of those wolves, Coal still has one very formidable foe when he gets here.”
I was pissed at his cavalier attitude and spat, “I think we both know you’re not stronger than him anymore!”
He chuckled darkly, “Oh, I wasn’t referring to me...I was referring to you.”
Horror filled my chest as I understood. If Coal were rogue when he arrived, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself. I would try to kill him!
And just like that...
I felt the tether break!
Maybe, I felt it because he was my mate and I was connected to him. But without a doubt, I knew at that moment, Alpha had cut Coal’s tie to the pack.
I gasped, “You didn’t!”
Alpha’s evil smile was all the confirmation he gave me. But I already knew the truth. I felt it.
Coal was rogue!
Just as quickly as hope filled my chest, another devastating explosion erupted inside me!
My eyes went wide with shock.
My heart thundered.
My brain rejected the truth.
But I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Alpha had. My bastard father had just stripped me of my pack, making me rogue!
If there were any doubt in my mind, Ryder eliminated it when he cried out, “No!!!!” His fists were clenched...his entire body shaking, a look of sheer horror painted on his face.
And suddenly, I realized what a precarious position I was in.
I was surrounded by four wolves who now wanted to kill me!
I didn’t have time to dwell on it because Jax was the first to attack, and he wasn’t pulling any of his punches. There was no humor in his expression, his face wiped clean of all emotion. His assault was fast and devastating. I narrowly missed his razor sharp canines in my neck. I spun defensively and landed a sharp jab to his chest, temporarily throwing him back.
But I was surrounded. Langdon and Amber surged forward into the space left behind by Jax. Their attack was coordinated like an intricate dance they’d practiced for years. One would fain forward, fake, to draw me out of my defensive stance so the other could strike the vulnerable areas on my body. Ryder hovered near the edge of the other fighters, looking for an opening, but tears streamed down his face.
My heart shredded into pieces. How dare our father do that to him!
Every single one of these wolves would continue to fight until death. There was no other option. When it was over, casualties were inevitable. I wondered who would be left standing to bury the dead.
My body reacted on instinct. Several of their strikes found purchase in my flesh, but I was able to hold them off. Their attack was meant to kill, but their faces wore matching expressions of dread.
Langdon grunted as he surged forward, throwing strikes hard and fast, one after the other. I blocked each and every one, keeping time with his incredible pace. I worked hard to defend myself, but not hurt them. I didn’t have it in me to harm them. I wasn’t compelled like they were. But the longer it went on, the more tired I grew and the more I realized the horrible truth I had tried to deny—I was just delaying the inevitable.
Abruptly, Jax made contact again, his fist striking hard into the side of my face. My head whiplashed to the side. For a moment my vision went black before it cleared again. The hit was hard enough to knock me to one of my knees. Amber took advantage, flying in fast.
I didn’t have an option not to hurt her. The only way to stay alive was to strike back and strike back hard. My Wolf had had enough. We needed to get to our mate, and his frenzied thoughts were taking over.
I spun on my knee and shot out my palm, making contact with her kneecap, shattering it into pieces. She fell to the ground screaming in pain. But at least she was down.
Langdon was next. Without even slowing down my motion, I blocked his next strike spinning him to the side and then punched the vertebrae right between his shoulder blades, at the top of his spine. He howled and fell.
“Fuck...I hate this shit,” Jax growled and struck even harder. I heard a sickening thud when his fist hit my chest. Fire erupted in my lungs—several of my ribs were broken, and I suspected at least part of one punctured my lungs. I gasped for air. Jax didn’t relent. Instead, he fought even harder. Shit, the little fucker was fast and strong. He’d apparently been holding out during earlier fights.
I spit blood from my mouth and pulled strength from my gut. I slammed my fist into his face, hard, growling, “Sorry man.”
He went down, out cold.
That just left Ryder.
Ryder circled me. He whispered, “I don’t want to do this.”
I tried to swallow past the lump in my throat. “I know...I’m so sorry he did this to us. Just let me incapacitate you. It’ll put you out for the count. By the time you heal, he’ll be dead.” It was a good plan. I had already successfully put down the three other wolves without killing them.
Ryder’s voice broke, “You know I can’t do that.”
And then he did the absolutely worst thing he possibly could.
“No!” I roared, the sound cut off as my Wolf surged forward, forcing my shift.
Ryder didn’t delay. His Wolf was on me in a second.
My Wolf swiped at him, causing deep claw marks on his chest.
Ryder’s Wolf whined but didn’t stop. He was no match for me, but I couldn’t slow down...I couldn’t hold back anymore—not when my Wolf was in control. My Wolf was going to end this.
In a lightning-fast strike, he had Ryder’s Wolf by the throat and clamped his jaw tight. Ryder’s Wolf went limp in his teeth.
I wanted to scream. I fought my Wolf for control, but he wouldn’t relent. He shook his head, growling with Ryder’s limp form in his mouth. And then he dropped him onto the ground.
Ryder’s Wolf was too hurt to hold his shape any longer. He shifted back to skin. Horror washed over me to see his broken body, blood pouring from the wound at his neck.
I was finally able to shift now that my Wolf was satisfied the foe was no longer a threat. I dropped to my knees by Ryder’s head. “No, no, no!!!” I chanted.
Ryder’s breathing was labored and broken.
There was so much blood.
My hands were bathed in crimson. I grabbed a scrap of t-shirt and held pressure to the wound in his neck.
But he was losing too much blood.
“Coal...,” he let out a coughing rasp. His eyes rolled wildly...looking for me.
“I’m here!” I cried, moving my face so he could see me.
“You...you need to...go,” his voice croaked.
“I can’t leave you,” I whispered in agony.
Tears trickled down his face. His gaze softened, the love I found in his eyes broke me.
My heart lurched in my chest.
I was afraid it was going to break into pieces.
Ryder looked at me with that same goofy expression he always gave me when we were kids. I loved that fucking expression...because it only came out when he was happiest.
Barely able to speak now, his words a jumble of emotion, “Go...get her...your mate. I promised...we’d get her back...no matter what...what it took.” He reminded me of his earlier promise. Ryder said we’d get Brinley back no matter what it took, no matter what he had to do. But not like this...I didn’t want this!
I swiped my tears away so I could see him. “Please hold on...please don’t leave me,” I begged. “You’re going to heal...it’s just going to take a little bit of time,” I reasoned, my voice quivering.
But even as I said the words, I knew the truth. If I left Ryder now, he didn’t have any chance of survival. He would bleed out before I had a chance to come back for him.
“A...mate...” he coughed blood.
I held his head to the side while the liquid dribbled down his chin and chastised him softly, “Shh...don’t try to talk.”
His eyes had taken on a glassy look. I wasn’t sure if he could even see me anymore. He continued rambling, “mate...precious...don’t...lose.”
Abruptly, my Wolf howled in my head, causing every nerve in my body to come to attention. I searched for what caused his distress, and then I felt it—Brinley’s pain!
I didn’t know what happened, but I was sure she was hurt.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!
Ryder was still lucid enough to catch my change in expression. He rasped, “It’s time...”
I pressed my lips to his forehead and held them there. “I will avenge you, brother! I swear it on my life...I will make him pay for this.”
Ryder just nodded and closed his eyes.
I kissed his forehead and whispered one last time, “I love you, brother. Goodbye...”