Chapter 20 - Aubree
[Aubree. In my study. Now.]
The force of Stone’s mental order snapped her awake and had her tumbling out of bed.
She hit the floor with a thud. Wincing, she pressed a hand to her face. [What’s going on?]
[Sorry, Love, but I need you here urgently.]
She pulled herself up to her feet, her body screaming in protest. How in the world was she supposed to train with Gunner later like this?
[Okay, okay, I’m coming. Let me put some clothes on.]
Stumbling in the dark, she found Stone’s dresser and pulled out one of his T-shirts and tugged it on before hurrying to the door.
“Do you think he’ll be a threat to others?” Stone was asking Dom as Aubree slipped into the office.
The bright fluorescent light blinded her and she shielded her eyes from it. “What’s going on?”
“My younger brother, Tiberius, went rogue,” Dom said, leaning back in the chair across from Stone’s desk, his head in his hand.
With her eyes slowly adjusting to the light, she dropped her hand and walked the few steps across the room and sat next to Stone. “He’s the one that was cursed, right?”
Dom nodded, pulling his hand away from his face. “Since we share connections with you because of Lance and Gwen’s bond, my father wanted me to inform you, but he doesn’t want this to spread to other packs. At least, not yet. We don’t think he’ll cause problems, but we can only assume that he’s either gone off to find the witch that did this to him, or he’s gone off to find a way to cure himself. Either way, my father wants us to go and search for him. By that, I mean, Mari, Alec, Dane, and myself.”
Stone was nodding his head while listening as Dom continued.
“My father already has a pair of trackers following him to California, but we can’t afford to send more pack members out to look for him. Since the four of us want to journey around the country to find our mates, we agreed we will go and meet the trackers and continue the search.”
“I don’t mean to impose, but perhaps he needs this time to himself?” Stone suggested.
Aubree nodded in agreement, but Dom shook his head.
“You’re a father. You know what it’s like to worry about your pups, even if they are capable of looking after themselves,” Dom said. “While we are concerned about his well-being, it’s not just that. He hasn’t been himself for some time. My father managed to squeeze a few answers out of him yesterday. Apparently, he’d been cursed for some time. At first, he didn’t believe it because it didn’t have any immediate effects. Then, shifting back into his human form started becoming harder and more painful each time until he couldn’t handle the pain anymore and refused to shift back into his human form. When he tried to a year later, he discovered he was completely incapable of doing so.”
He looked up and swallowed as his eyes met Stone’s before darting away. His voice deflated to a whisper. “You know what we’re like when we stay in our wolf forms for too long. Animal instinct starts to take over. He’s losing sight of himself. We have to find him to make sure he doesn’t hurt himself... or others.”
“He won’t want to be found,” Stone said.
Dom nodded but didn’t say anything at first. He chewed on his thoughts for a moment before sighing. “I want my brother back. He was never a bad guy, but now, we can’t be certain. He would never willingly hurt someone, but what if he did? You of all lycans know the consequences.”
Stone stiffened and avoided Aubree’s widening gaze.
What kind of consequences were they talking about?
She wanted to ask Stone, but his mental barriers were up, blocking her out.
“Indeed. Your parents are strong leaders, but even I know that the consequences would break them.”
Dom nodded again, his gaze cast down and his hands gripping the armrests of the chair. “They would step down, whether or not I found my mate or Lance was ready.”
Sighing, Stone massaged his face. “So, you need to leave soon is what you’re saying?”
“Yes, as soon as possible,” Dom stated, “with Lance and Gwen.”
A moment of dead silence stifled the room as Aubree braced herself, her heart skipping a beat as she shifted her attention to Stone.
Stone lowered his hand from his face. His facial features hardened as he regarded the younger man before him. She could feel the storm building within him and found she couldn’t move.
“Guinevere isn’t well enough to travel.”
Tension settled in thick and heavy as Dom lifted his gaze to meet Stone’s in a silent stand-off.
“I know that, but it is not my orders that must be obeyed,” he said after a long, drawn-out pause.
Rage simmered within Stone and his nails elongated as his grip tightened on his chair.
Snapping out of her frozen state, Aubree did the only thing she could think of.
She got up and plunked herself down on Stone’s lap, straddling him in the over-sized executive leather chair and pulling his head into the crook of her neck.
He was shaking with rage that bubbled over her, but she gritted her teeth and pushed calming, relaxing emotions onto him. She even hummed a lullaby to try and cool him.
It took a minute—sixty long, agonizing seconds—before he finally calmed down enough for Aubree to pull away and look over her shoulder at Dom hanging his head.
“You’re excused. We’ll talk about this later.”
He looked ready to protest, but the rumble in Stone’s chest vibrated through Aubree.
“You’re excused, Dom,” she declared again.
A hint of Stone’s aggressiveness leaked through her voice in a sharpness that she wasn’t accustomed to hearing.
Nevertheless, Dom rose to his feet and exited the room, closing the door behind him, and leaving them alone.
Turning back to Stone, she pressed her forehead to his as his hands slipped around her waist. “Talk to me, Stone,” she whispered.
The anger dissipated, and in its place was pain, sorrow, and worry. “She’s not well enough,” he murmured.
“She’s can’t go yet.”
“You can’t stop her if she wants to.”
He whimpered softly. The sound ripping through her as her heart constricted.
She rested her head on his shoulder, sharing a moment of pain.
This was too sudden. True, they knew Gwen would be leaving eventually, but to have it thrust upon them before she was even well enough to travel was hard for him to take. He wanted to protect her, but he couldn’t do that if she was gone.
[You can’t protect her forever. You have to let her go and trust her to not only take care of herself but to be taken care of by Lance too. You know how it is. You’ve seen him with her. She’ll be fine.]
He nodded and took a few minutes to gather himself.
To get his mind off Gwen, Aubree thought she should ask some clarification questions. She could figure out everything for the most part, but the rules of his world were still unknown to her. “So, Tiberius went rogue? What does that mean, exactly?”
“No one goes rogue willingly. Rogues typically denounce their loyalty to their pack and leave for whatever reason. Since packs are comprised mostly of family members, it’s very rare. For the most part, rogues have an issue with accepting commands from higher-ranking lycans—usually the Alpha or Luna.”
His voice was almost robotic, as if he was distancing himself from the subject presented to him in an effort to get his mind off his current dilemma.
“So, it’s not because they’re bad? They just can’t follow orders?”
“For the most part, yes. If they are ever caught hurting others—humans, werewolves, or other lycans—they are brought to trial before the pack. Sometimes, the Council gets involved depending on the situation. If they kill an innocent, they are given the death sentence. Compromises are rare.”
“Damn. So, if Tiberius accidentally hurts someone, or kills someone, he could be killed, and that was what Dom meant by his parents not being able to handle it?”
Stone nodded, his stubble scratching her shoulder. “They lost their firstborn daughter centuries ago in a vampire attack, but that’s an honorable death. It’s hard enough to lose a pup, but it’s even harder to lose a pup who has committed a crime. That is a greater shame and burden to carry.”
“What if it’s an accident?” she asked, thinking about Dom’s words.
Stone swallowed. “It depends on the crime.”
“What would happen if Tiberius accidentally killed someone?”
“Circumstances would be taken into consideration to determine the punishment when he is caught. Typically, though, without a pack to vouch for them, rogues who have killed, accident or not, are killed. They’re considered a danger to all and must be eliminated.”
“Oh.” Aubree shifted her weight on his lap and pulled back. She fixated her gaze on his chest. “You guys live in a very strict world.”
“Yes, because we are one of the strongest beings in existence. We must enforce strict rules to not only keep our existence a secret but to maintain peace with other beings and packs. Besides, life is hard as a rogue. No one trusts you. You have to toe the borders because other lycans will either fight you or chase you away if you get too close. As I said, no one willingly becomes a rogue if they can help it. It’s the exiles...” he hesitated before sighing.
She looked up to see him looking out the window. The sky was getting lighter, but it would still be a few minutes before the sun rose.
“Rogues denounce their loyalty and leave on their own accord. Exiles are forced out of their packs and branded.”
Aubree’s brows pulled together. “Branded?”
“To warn others of their misdeeds. Exiles are shunned the most, even more than rogues. They bring shame to themselves and their former packs. They fare even worse than rogues. Other packs won’t hesitate to attack a lone exile and try to kill him. They are threats who had gotten away with crimes that should have warranted their deaths. No one will welcome an exile into their pack.”
Stone’s words a couple of mornings ago flitted through her head.
‘I never asked for this. You know I didn’t want to become an alpha, but we had no choice. No one would take us in.’
He closed his eyes as pain twisted his facial features.
He heard her thoughts as they spiraled in her mind over and over again.
[Yes, Love. I was an exile.]