“Are you sure this is the right way?”
Kaiden gave her a look, that asked Do you think I’m an idiot? He didn’t need to use the mind link to convey his response to her question. His wolf hopped over a large boulder and kept going.
“Well, no,” Chesca remarked, giving a puzzled frown at the strange trees and bushes that surrounded them and the group of Kaiden’s warriors. “It just... it doesn’t look like the way I came,” she reasoned through the mind link. The terrain looked terribly unfamiliar, and although she trusted Kaiden, an uneasy feeling settled in her stomach. It really felt like they were going in the wrong direction in order to reach her territory.
“This is a short cut,” he stated with enough conviction to allay her fears. She’d follow him anywhere, even to the gates of Hell. Which is practically where they were going anyway. Who knows what lay ahead at her pack that she had stupidly handed over to Elbert. All because she was in heat and desperate for her mate, she’d given up her entire pack, her family. But maybe it wasn’t just the effects of her heat caused by the full moon. Because even now as the sun sat directly overhead, her feelings of love and devotion for her mate were still strong and steady.
“You mean I took a long cut in getting to your pack? That’d be right,” she huffed. “But I was just tracking the way you’d been brought,” her nose riffled through the dirt and leaves under her paws, sensing nothing familiar.
“Then my Dad’s warriors are idiots,” Kaiden concluded with a smirk.
“Yeah, I’ll go with that,” Chesca wagged her tail happily and scooted past Kaiden, throwing a grin over her shoulder for him.
He caught up and playfully nudged her hindquarters, before nuzzling her neck. The sweet actions of her mate displaced some of the unsettling thoughts that still lingered in her mind, and helped to ease some of the aches in her muscles. Would they survive the fight ahead to actually act like a normal couple? Would she and Kaiden get the opportunity to spend time together, maybe even mate, and live happily together? Or had they already wasted all their chances, and the upcoming battle between their packs was symbolic of all the fighting they’d both constantly been doing since meeting? They ruined the time they’d had together, and now it was time to pay up.
In another two hours, they arrived at the packs’ borders, the northeastern side that was covered in forest and provided good coverage for anyone wishing to sneak up on Steelheart territory. Chesca hated the fact she was sneaking up into her own pack. This place had been her sacred home since forever, her safe place where dreams and memories, nightmares and troubles, yet family and home had always resided. Now it was taken from her, snatched by frightening claws that threatened to squeeze her throat and destroy all life in her. It was only the presence of Kaiden, her mate, as she crossed the border that kept her steady and in control.
She could face anything as long as he was by her side.
They all shifted, and stood quietly catching their breaths and looking through the trees at Chesca’s castle that sat on the hill up ahead.
“Alright, Benny and Micah, you wait here for Alpha Jackson and his warriors. Kira and Celeste, you do a scout and report back the positions of Elbert and his pack of traitors. Chesca and I will sneak into the dungeons and release anyone on our side. Am I clear?” Kaiden surveyed his warriors with a commanding gaze.
“Yes, Alpha.” They all chimed.
“Roughly how long until Alpha Jackson arrives?” Micah asked while leaning against a tree.
Chesca rubbed her sore shoulder. “He said he’d take his troop carrier, a C-17 globemaster or some such contraption. That will take about 2 short hours from his pack. Then they’ll have to run here from the landing strip. So I’d say... they should be here any minute,” Chesca ran a shaky hand through her hair. She wasn’t exactly looking forward to seeing Jackson again, considering what happened between them last time. Kaiden’s hand wound its way firmly around her waist, as if he too was remembering the little incident by the pool. He had less reason to be possessive now though, as Chesca was all his and kept letting him know through the strengthening bond they shared. As well as with a quick kiss on the lips.
“Where’s my Beta?” Kaiden looked around. “I need to remind him…”
After a few tense moments, he appeared. “Uhh, sorry Alpha,” he stepped from behind a tree, his hair ruffled and Kira gripping his arm. She straightened her shirt and gave him one more kiss before moving off with Celeste. “What did you want to tell me?”
“If we get through this, I’ll give you that block of land I promised a while back,” Kaiden gripped his Beta’s arm.
Benny’s face broke into a grin. “You mean, when we get through this. No ifs, Alpha.”
“Sure,” he nodded. “Thanks for always sticking by me, man,” Kaiden clasped him on the shoulder before running to catch up with Chesca, who was on her way to her pack castle and the dungeons below.
She took his hand firmly in hers, interlacing their fingers, and led him through a back entrance of the dark castle, careful to peer around every corner and creep quietly. It would do no good running into one of Elbert’s minions now, and have the alarm raised.
The halls she knew backwards, and it didn’t take long to slip down to the basement floor and the steps leading to the underground dungeons. They were nearly there when Kaiden yanked her to a stop. Suddenly, she found herself pushed against the wall, with Kaiden’s lips pressed against her mark. As much as she enjoyed and even craved the sparks he sent dancing across her skin, she had to push him back. “Kaiden, now is not the time,” she whispered breathily.
“No, now’s the perfect time,” he murmured, his eyes dark and swirling as he stared at her intently. It lit a fire in her body that she had to put out now before anything else burned in its path. But Kaiden didn’t seem to be on the same path of reasoning. “If anything happens, I need you to know how much I love you. How much I admire you, Chesca, and respect the incredible woman you are.”
“Kaiden…” she tried shushing him even though her heart wanted desperately to hear his words.
“This is important, Chesca,” he growled fiercely, making her words die on her lips. “I need you to believe me. I would never hurt you, and I will always protect you and stand by you. Fight for you. Trust you, and always tell you the truth,” his arms encircled her body as he pressed even closer against her. “I don’t ever want to fight with you again, or undermine your authority. Can we move beyond the past and begin again, Chesca? My dear mate?”
She swallowed hard and caressed his short hair, running her fingers all over his head before pulling him closer. “Yes. Yes, I want that, Kaiden. I’m sorry for pushing you away so much. I didn’t want to trust you and let you in, but I realise now you’re everything I’ve ever needed. I trust you with my life, and my pack does too. We all need you,” she reached into her pocket and pulled out something, pressing it into his palm before kissing his lips deeply.
“It’s about time you came back for us,” Roman’s voice was a welcome relief despite the bite it held. “There’s a circus going on upstairs and we’re missing all the fun.” He looked good for someone who’d been injured and was all wrapped up in bandages in the clinic last time Kaiden had seen him. Charles and Lexi must have transferred him down here as soon as he was well enough to walk.
“I wouldn’t call a hostile takeover fun, but if you want to be near the action, be my guest,” Kaiden chuckled and unlocked the cell doors. A few of the other guards who had taken sides with him now stood eyeing the two Alphas warily, unclear what their fate would be. Kaiden didn’t blame them. The stern glare on Chesca’s face was enough to make any grown man shake in his boots. He’d been there before, staring her down and trying to keep his masculine authority intact, but his mate had a way of stripping you down to your very belief in what it means to show respect.
“We will discuss your disobedience later,” Chesca spoke with a deadly calm in her voice, so opposite to the breathless declarations of love she’d whispered in his ear moments earlier. He glanced down at the steel arrow pendant that now hung around his neck. A symbol of the pact they’d renewed between each other. He wanted to make one especially for her too, but that would have to wait until after this.
“But for now,” Chesca continued, “I’m letting you out because we need your help.”
“If you need a killer, here I am,” someone commented flatly.
Kaiden spun at the voice, and rushed the man, pinning him to the wall with his arm against his throat. “You killed my brother,” he growled menacingly, suddenly consumed with anger.
“And you just stated the obvious,” Mace gasped. He didn’t defend himself, because he didn’t need to. Vengeance was a natural part of life, and of Wolf law. He wasn’t about to apologise for avenging his sister’s honour.
Chesca immediately laid a hand on Kaiden’s back. “Kaiden, calm down,” she said gently but with enough force to reach inside him where his wolf was taking control. “He’s served his time. Now we need all the help we can get.”
Kaiden eased his grip, but still didn’t let Mace go; just eyed him closely before shoving off the wall. Kaiden raked a hand over his head, winced at the absence of the hair he was used to, before turning a weak smile to Chesca.
“We? Are you two working together now? Are you even speaking to each other?” Roman looked suspiciously back and forth between them with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes,” Chesca smiled easily.
Roman clapped his hands and grinned a silly grin. “It’s about time!” but then grimaced and put a hand to his injured side.
“Wait a minute. Hold up! What if I only want to take orders from an Alpha male?” Xavier, her somewhat rude warrior, grimaced and glowered at them.
“Very well,” Kaiden stepped up to him and glared right back, resisting the urge to use his fist to wipe the smug look off his face. “I order you to obey Alpha Chesca!”
Alpha, we’re in place, Xavier mindlinked. Alpha Jackson and his crew are here, too.
Alright, good. Chesca motioned to Kaiden and his men behind her, and responded to her own warriors, We’re at the town square. Lexi informed me of a meeting or something…
When she rounded the corner of the pack residence, she was instantly hit with a wall of heat that originated from a couple hundred wolves packed into the town square. Keeping to the shadows, she surveyed the expectant crowds, her eyes scanning and landing on the attraction that had everyone rigidly gathered here. Elbert stood on the main steps of her beloved castle, confidence exuding from his posture and well groomed appearance. He addressed the crowd with a smugness that irritated her immensely.
“What a beautiful day,” his powerful yet silky smooth voice reached her over the distance, and she heard Kaiden curse from just over her shoulder.
“Just what is my father up to?”
“I guess we’ll soon find out,” she whispered back, grabbing his hand as she continued watching. Amongst her own pack members in the square, were wolves from Kaiden’s pack interspersed throughout, their loyalty to Elbert clear as they watched him with shining eyes and a touch of amusement. However, she saw her own pack’s families, moms and dads with pups, and her heart skipped a frantic beat at the sight. Even Austin, one of her best warriors, was standing grimly near the front with his mate and little girl Ariella clutched tightly in his arms. The worry on all their faces couldn’t be disguised.
On the steps next to Elbert stood a few of his strongest and ugliest looking guards, and between them, Lexi.
Lexi! Chesca mind linked. What’s going on?
Lexi’s eyes swiveled to Chesca, narrowing to see against the glare of the noon day sun. Chesca! They have Charles!
What do you mean?
They took him as soon as they arrived. I don’t know where he is, but I know they’re hurting him…
The impassive expression on Lexi’s face was in total contrast to the anguish in her mind’s voice, and Chesca held her breath as she saw the guards eye Lexi suspiciously. Lexi stared straight ahead stoically, but Chesca noticed the way her hand was laying subtly but protectively over her belly. Chesca realised her Head Guard was as much a prisoner as her Beta was. One wrong move, and they could both be dead. She tried reaching Charles through the mindlink, but all was distant and silent. Perhaps they’d drugged him unconscious.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering what is happening,” Elbert continued with a smile. “And I’m also sure you’ve heard, your dear Alpha Chesca has decided to throw away her responsibility of you, and be with her mate. She doesn’t care for you anymore, and it breaks my heart to inform you that she and my feckless son Kaiden will no longer be in charge of this pack.”
His proclamation was met with gasps of disbelief and shock. It tore at Chesca’s heart and made her blood race with loathing. Just who did he think he was...
“Henceforth, you will be under my jurisdiction,” his sorrowful gaze turned steely. “All those who defy me will immediately face the consequences my reign has been known for. Blood for blood. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth—“
“I don’t believe you,” The defying statement rang out and caused instant silence.
“Excuse me?” Elbert searched out the source and honed his most serious gaze on the she wolf who’d spoken.
She stepped forward through the crowd, one of Chesca’s sweet pack members, and repeated hotly, “I don’t believe Alpha Chesca would give up on us. And I will not give up on her and bow to you. I will follow no Alpha other than her—“
Elbert tilted his head sideways impatiently, and immediately one of his warriors bounded forwards and snatched the woman, cracking her neck before dumping her body in a heap at the crowd’s feet.
Chesca choked on a gasp. A deathly silence of horror reigned over everyone, before all hell broke loose.
First, Lexi jumped forward and tackled the killer with all the strength she had, and Chesca’s wolves in the crowd seemed to feed off the brave actions and stand up to Elbert’s warriors around them. Fists and kicks were sent flying as the packs shattered the borderline amiability between them. Animosity was fueling their anger now.
“Stop!” Chesca found herself running out into the fray, followed closely by Kaiden. The reaction from their presence was immediate, and every eye turned to them, including Elbert’s.
“Well, well. Took you two long enough,” he chuckled a dry and humorless laugh, sending chills down Chesca’s spine. The fighting seemed to all pause as everyone waited, collectively holding their breath to see if it really was war, or if their leaders would settle this with words.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Chesca shouldered her way to the front to stand even with the disgustingly calm and sophisticated man who was making her life miserable.
“Why, I wanted you here to see me destroy your pack once and for all.”
“Then... why did you lock me up?” His words made no sense, so she of course asked the obvious question, even though all she felt like doing was wringing his neck, like he’d done to the innocent she wolf whose body she still couldn’t bring herself to look at. Elbert was a monster, and there was no denying it any longer.
“Ah,” he tutted his tongue. “You don’t realise the power of mates, obviously.” He circled her and Kaiden like they were his next prey. “They are your greatest weakness.” He stopped in front of her and trained his gaze firmly on hers with deadly seriousness. “I knew it wouldn’t take long for you to realise and break out. Now my satisfaction will be complete, once you watch your beloved pack drown in their own blood.”
“I forbid it. You will never touch my pack,” she managed to say despite the guilt eating at her heart like a hungry, ravenous monster from her worst nightmares.
“Oh, but I already have. Can’t you see, Dear? They are mine. Your pathetic devotion to your mate has allowed everything to slip from your fingers. Such weakness,” he sneered before chuckling again.
She realised she had been irrational in letting him have her pack in exchange for Kaiden, but it had been the only decision that made sense at the time. Kaiden meant everything to her, and she knew that together they could sort out the problems after making sure he was alive and safe. Problems, indeed. Maybe she had made the wrong decision...
“Mates make you stronger,” Kaiden stepped up beside her, wrapping his hand around hers. Instantly, a wave of assurance enveloped her, calming her and renewing the courage that had faltered. “Together, we can fight so much better, be so much more than we are individually.”
His words sent a perfect mix of ecstacy and adrenaline coursing through her veins. “We will fight you, and we will win.”
“Is that so?” Elbert mused casually and stroked his silver beard. “You don’t realise this, but I already have won. The stage is set, and you’ve walked in to perform your role right on cue.”
A sickening smell suddenly hit Chesca’s nose, and she turned, looking beyond the frightened crowd, beyond Jackson and his warriors, to a whole new set of faces that stepped out of the trees. Their scruffy appearance and blood-thirsty gazes concreted what she already knew they were.
“You see,” Elbert continued. “The fight that began all those years ago is nearly over.”
“The rogues…” she murmured flatly. As their horrifically familiar scent tugged on old memories, pieces finally settled into place within her mind, like a dangerous bolt of lightning that brings clarity to a dark night for a momentary instant. “It was they who attacked my father and our pack five years ago. But…. but you sent them, didn’t you?”
At this, Elbert grinned wickedly. “Every rogue has their price, and I easily paid theirs to gain their allegiance. Now, my score against your father is nearly settled.”