“He did what? That’s so sweet!”
“He completely insulted me!”
“But he did say he was sorry,” Lexi reasoned with those love-sick eyes of hers. “He’s earned some more brownie points in my books.”
“Well, isn’t that just dandy,” Chesca slammed her fist into the boxing bag, relieving some of the angst.
“So tell me you kissed and made up,” Lexi queried, before ducking and avoiding the punch that came flying her way.
“We did nothing of the sort,” Chesca proclaimed, tackling the guard to the soft grass of the training field. But Lexi leaped up and kneed Chesca in the back, making her topple forward.
“Too bad. I can’t wait to see cute little Kaidens running around.”
“Don’t be nuts! That guy hates me! There’s no way we’re sleeping together any time soon,” the Alpha grunted and continued deflecting and redirecting Lexi’s well-aimed blows. Training outside was one her favourite parts of the day. And this afternoon was no exception, as it offered her a chance to hash with her best friend about the latest Kaiden kerfuffles.
“You guys are so ridiculous,” the deep voiced addition to their private conversation startled them both. Roman jumped between them and tried taking them both down.
“You dare insult your Alpha?” Chesca glared at him, but they all knew it was a playful threat.
“Come on, everyone knows you and Kaiden are at odds with each other. Always fighting and bickering; never agreeing. I think it’s stupid you guys don’t just act like mates and get on with it.”
“Well, thanks. But no one asked for your opinion, Gamma,” Chesca easily pinned Roman’s arms behind his back and forced him to his knees. Her Alpha strength was greater than his as a gamma male, and she took every opportunity now to remind him of that. “How would you act if your mate was an obnoxious jerk?”
“I’d kiss her and sweep her off her feet. No one can resist my charms,” Roman bantered and grinned his most charming smile. The dimples in his cheeks were certainly cute, and Chesca laughed at his antics.
“Oh sure, that’s totally going to work. It will be so fun seeing you fall in love, right Lex?”
“Of course! Our little Roman all grown up and wooing a mate? Adorable!” And the head guard slung an arm around his neck and ruffled his hair with her knuckles.
“Ow ow, knock it off,” he squirmed and flipped her over his shoulder. “I’m not cute or adorable,” he puffed out his chest and stood over her. “I’m masculine and intimidating,” then he lurched forward awkwardly with a surprised expression on his face as Chesca tackled him over from behind. They all three ended up rolling in the grass, giggling and joking with each other.
Yes, this was definitely Chesca’s favourite time of day, when all she had to worry about was where the next practice punch was coming from.
She ambled over to the edge of the field and swiped up her water bottle before taking a long drink.
Someone nudged her shoulder. “Hey you,” the familiar voice sent a thrill though her heart.
“Hey yourself,” she pushed her hip into her mate’s. The warm sunshine, endorphins from exercising, and now this contact with her mate was making her giddy, but she suddenly didn’t mind. As he drank from his own water bottle, Kaiden winked at her, making her stomach do a little flip flop. It was hard to forget the way he’d apologised so sweetly the other night, but the argument also kept replaying in her mind. Although she tried telling herself his sudden kindness now was most likely a facade, she could feel herself falling for it.
An idea suddenly entered her thoughts. As she turned to walk back to training, she threw the contents of her water over her shoulder--straight at Kaiden’s back. A split second later, she was off running in the opposite direction, away from the howling Alpha.
“Why, you cheeky little she-wolf!!”
A laugh erupted from Chesca as she dashed madly across the field, but all too soon she heard heavy footsteps behind her.
“Ayyeee!!” she shrieked as cold water splashed all over her, chilling her from head to toe, and causing goosebumps to erupt across her skin. But when her mate’s hands wrapped around her waist and spun her around, her body instantly went from cold to hot. His touch was all too addictive.
“Let me go!” she squealed and clawed away from him.
“Alpha, we’re coming to the rescue,” Lexi and Roman both ran up to them and tackled Kaiden to the ground before chucking a whole bucket of water at him. He expertly leapt up and outmanoeuvred the spray though, and got away dry.
“Oh, no you don’t!” Chesca chased after him with a fresh bottle and tried spraying him, but her mate kept ducking just out of reach. His brown eyes sparkled in the afternoon sun, full of amusement as if he enjoyed this little game of tag. Soon, a few more of the pack members gave up training and joined the watertight. Together, they managed to take Kaiden down, pinning him by the arms and legs. They handed Chesca a full bucket, and with a triumphant flourish, she dumped it all over him, grinning stupidly with the satisfaction it brought.
He arose a very angry Alpha, his arm and chest muscles clenching through his tight shirt in the promise of revenge, and this time when he went after Chesca, no one dared come to her aid.
“Nooo!” She yelped and dodged his grasp but his fingers snagged her shirt and caught her around her waist.
Pulling her back against his chest, he whispered lowly in her ear, “No one gets away from me. Especially when you’re mine. Mate.” His warm breath sent tingles brushing over her ear, and she automatically spun in his arms and gripped his biceps. Both their bodies were sweaty and wet, but she didn’t mind. It didn’t stop the sparks jumping between them. When she caught his gaze, he didn’t let go. The swirling coffee brown hues of his irises glittered with flecks of gold and drops of sunshine, making her nervous and calm at the same time.
It was only a moment before her nose bumped his as she stood on her toes to kiss his lips. The softness of them never ceased to surprise her. He was a rough Alpha in every respect, but his kisses had always been as gentle and tender as she could imagine. The warmth of his arms wrapping around her and pulling her closer was dangerously mesmerising, but a sudden wolf whistle brought a rush of heat to her cheeks. Pulling away, she saw Kaiden already glaring at Roman, and the rest of the warriors watching on with grins and nudging elbows.
“Alright, back to training,” she barked before placing one chaste kiss on her mate’s cheek, and stepping out of his arms with a wink.
The rest of the afternoon passed without incident. It seemed life had been so crazy recently, that Chesca had almost forgotten what normal was. But maybe this was it.
After enjoying a quiet dinner with just Kaiden, she completed a few things in her office before heading up to bed. Dragging her weary legs through the halls and up the stairs of the ancient castle, Chesca paused when she reached an open window near her room. It was raining outside, the gentle shower heralding the onset of spring. Soon they would grow heavier and mingle with storms, the land would blossom with greenery, and life would sprout with new beginning.
But as she stared out at the dark forest, the drops of rain failing to be illuminated below the clouded sky, a similar shadow passed over her mind. It had been about this time of year when her parents had been killed, and it always triggered memories. Horrible memories accompanied sometimes by night terrors.
She shut the window quickly as the rain increased and a small mist started battering the ledge, the drops finding their way inside. If only she could shut a window on her thoughts just as easily, she mused while hurrying the remaining steps to her room.
Kaiden acknowledged her from where he sat redlined on his couch, tapping away on the keys of his laptop. “You got a terrible network here, you know?”
“Works for me. If you want to watch Netflix though, you’ll need to climb the big redwood out back. It picks up the signal from the tower on Asa’s territory.”
“You’re kidding, right?” A raised eyebrow accompanied his statement that was more of a question.
“About the Netflix, yeah. I don’t watch enough tv to know. Tree climbing, however…” she replied flatly then grinned as he shook his head in amusement.
They chatted a bit more, Chesca deciding she was actually enjoying these quiet moments with her mate before bed, and feeling more comfortable in his presence as each day passed. This was a different comfortable to the waves of ease she felt whenever he touched her. This was an overall, companionable, friendship kind of relaxed. Drifting off to sleep with Kaiden’s scent permeating the room and the sound of his steady breathing was something she never thought she’d come to accept.
But now, she almost couldn’t live without it.
She sat up with a jolt.
It was sometime after midnight when Chesca was awoken by an anguished groan. It set her heart pounding, so deep was the throaty growl being torn from someone’s throat.
Throwing off the covers and swinging her legs off the bed in one smooth motion, Chesca flicked on the lights. As Alpha, she’d gotten used to sleeping with one eye open and her hand around a knife, as the saying went.
She just hoped this situation didn’t require an actual knife. In her case, her claws had started protruding from her fingers, in preparation for anything. Her eyes immediately landed on her mate, who was slumping over the side of the couch, clutching his chest and his face twisted with agony.
“Kaiden, what’s wrong?” She flew over the two yards of space and grasped his hands, his face, his shoulders, making sure he wasn’t hurt. Had someone stabbed him? Was he bleeding out somewhere? Was he having a heart attack? That was the next thought once she’d assured he wasn’t outwardly injured in any way.
“Elah—“ he gasped and caught her eyes in a wild dazed look.
“Elah?” She rocked back on her heels in surprise. What did he have to do with anything?
“He’s hurt...I can feel him,” Kaiden leapt and stumbled from the couch, staggering out the door. The angst in his voice was unmistakable, tearing at Chesca’s own heart. She could almost physically feel Kaiden’s own pain. Something terrible must really be going on, and she followed him quickly as he made his way out of the pack house.
“Kaiden! Where are you going?” She could see he didn’t have much clue, because he was just turning in circles in the courtyard of the residence, literally tearing his hair out.
“My brother! I can’t...auugh!!” He dropped to his knees and groaned, panting heavily as obvious waves of pain washed over him. She’d seen this type of agony before, and even felt it personally—when her parents had died.
“Listen to me, Kaiden,” kneeling in front of him, she took his face between her hands. “You have to concentrate. Focus the feelings, the bond, and pinpoint his location.” She bore into his gaze steadily, “Now tell me where he is.” Even though she hated the guy, if Kaiden’s brother was in trouble on her territory, it was her responsibility to go make sure he was okay. Especially if it was causing her mate so much pain. She was doing this for Kaiden only, she promised herself.
“He’s...he’s,” Kaiden scrunched his eyes shut and released a heavy breath. “This way,” he opened them again and set his jaw grimly, a dull look overtaking his eyes. They had become glazed as if his thoughts were far away, and something had taken the spark as a departing assault.
With mighty strides, he took off down the cobbled street and headed into the heart of the town.
“We’re too late,” he whispered, pausing hesitantly outside the tavern. Rowdy music still poured from the open windows and hazy light spilt onto the empty street even at this time of night.
Chesca’s heart swelled with dread at the dull sound of her mate’s voice. Slipping her hand into his, she knew Kaiden would need the strength much more than she did. His grip on her hand tightened, and he held his breath when pushing into the drinking establishment. His detached expression only made her heart ache more for him. Whatever they were about to face was going to be bad.
She hadn’t been expecting so much blood.
The looks of horror on the other patrons’ faces guided them to the back, beyond the bar and to the shadiest section of the tavern. The walls, the floor, the nearby table were all glistening in the dim light with dark red stains, and the smoke-filled atmosphere was extra heavy with the coppery stench. In the corner was a dark form, huddled and twisted beyond recognition. Kaiden stopped as soon as his eyes landed on the body and refused to go closer, already knowing the awful truth.
Quiet sobs rose above the hushed whispers, and Chesca’s eyes sought out the source--a girl, crying quietly at a table, a few people patting her shoulder and trying to console her.
“Tell me what happened,” Chesca commanded the situation, her Alpha instincts shining through despite the sick bile that rose from her stomach. The heavy smell of blood brought memories rushing in, crowding her mind, nearly smothering her. But she tightened her fists and remained strong, as was her duty.
“There was a fight, it was over too fast,” a fat man with round eyes and even rounder cheeks nodded his head abruptly. “Over too fast.”
“He started it,” another man jabbed a thumb at the crumpled heap. “But I have no clue what it was about.”
“A girl, I say,” a woman with eyes as dark as charcoal raked her gaze over the grisly scene. “It always is.”
“Will someone tell me what actually happened?” Kaiden suddenly tore his hand from Chesca’s and roared, making the crowd flinch and step back a few steps. Rightly so, as this Alpha’s dead brother lay mere feet from them and no one was explaining how it came to be.
“Don’t blame me. That jerk ditched me for some blonde a couple hours ago,” a figure slinked forward and crossed her arms in front of Chesca. “Serves him right, is all I can say,” Miranda flicked a hand airly and sneered in the direction of Elah’s body.
“What were you doing here? Don’t you care he’s dead?” Chesca snarled, disliking the woman more with each passing day.
She gave a casual shrug. “Should I? I was just here for a good time. It’s none of my business what he got himself into.” An insolent gleam entered her eyes as another male wound a hand around her waist and she leaned back into him.
The woman’s distinct indifference towards the tragedy was frightening, and Chesca wondered just how much she knew and was keeping from her. Just what was Miranda still doing in her pack, anyway?
“I warned him,” another voice, this time from an angry male, pierced the quiet and tense atmosphere. He rose from a crouched position near Elah. She hadn’t noticed him at first glance, as he now strode toward the two Alphas with rage in his eyes and red stains all over his hands. “He touched my sister. He raped her, and thought he could get away with it,” he jabbed a finger in Kaiden’s face, a very bloody finger. “Well there was no way I was going to sit back, and do anything but tear his throat out!”
“You what?!” Kaiden grabbed the man around the throat and slammed him against the nearest wall.
“No! Stop!” a blonde streak came rushing towards them and tried pulling at Kaiden’s arm. “He was only protecting me!” The slender figure was the woman who had been crying. Chesca recognised her. Her name was Alice, and she and her brother were some of the more gentle members of her pack. Which was why it came as a surprise that these two were involved in this mess.
But it dawned on Chesca... Wasn’t it Alice who had been the object of Elah’s attention a few weeks ago?
“Is it true? Did Elah hurt you?” Chesca tugged Alice away before Kaiden could turn his fury onto her. Wrapping an arm around the trembling girl, she brushed the hair back from her face. Alice’s dress was crumpled and torn, her face red and puffy from crying. And when Chesca looked even closer, there were purple bruises on her neck, in the shape of hand prints.
“I thought--I thought he cared about me,” she hiccuped. “He said he loved me.”
“Love,” Miranda make a puking motion and rolled her eyes.
Chesca glared at her before motioning for Alice to continue.
“He dragged me back...back there and….and forced himself on me. My brother...he- he felt I was in trouble and pulled Elah off me…”
Chesca didn’t need to hear anymore. Alice couldn’t go on anyway. The rest of the sordid story fell into place, and Kaiden slowly released his grip on the man. His wary eyes darted between Alice and her brother, then to Chesca, then around the room. But never on his dead brother who still lay lifeless on the floor.
She could only imagine the pain he was going through, the torment in his mind. The instinctive need and urge to avenge the death of family, but grappling with the the highly likely truth that it was Elah’s fault that had caused his ultimate demise. Chesca had known someone would get hurt, and had warned Kaiden. But she had never dreamed it would be Elah himself.
The poor woman still trembled in her arms, and Chesca placed a comforting kiss on top of her mussed blond hair—right next to a golden hair pin.