Chapter 1 ~ Strength in Grief
Chapter 1: Strength Inin Grief
Roarke’s fingers were running through my hair when I woke, his scent filling my senses as I took a deep breath. Our legs were tangled together amongst the sheets, my head resting on his chest, allowing me to hear the gentle thud of his heart. A small smile curved my lips as I found a small moment to relish in this feeling. I was completely content lying with my mate, the scratching of pencil on paper the only sound in the room as Roarke drew with his free hand. Part of me wanted to lift my head to see what he was creating but I worried that moving would ruin this moment of peace.
I wasn’t sure what to do now I’d been caught sleeping in his arms, I’d no longer be able to deny that I had any feelings or him, or argue that we must keep our distance from each other now. Yet, I didn’t seem to mind, not really. For a few sweet moments, something close to contentment flowed over me before the sound of a crow cawing brought the events of yesterday running through my head, tearing happiness from my grasp.
My next breath was choked.
Panic gripped me as my chest constricted and my fingers curled into claws in the sheets, tears burning my eyes that I squeezed shut as the image of the wrecked caravan forced its way into my mind’s eye.
My mate put whatever he’d been working on awaya way to pull me more firmly into his chest that vibrated gently with the comforting rumble of his wolf. He didn’t say anything, and I was glad, his actions meant more than anything he could say right now. His arms locked around me were like a shield against the horrors of the world outside our den, and at least I knew I’d be safe as long as he was near. My sobs quieted to soft sniffs but tears still fell to soak my cheeks, no matter how often I wiped them away.
We stayed like that for a while, me cocooned in his arms, him stroking my hair, occasionally placing a soft kiss there. I worried for my old pack, for my mother who had lost the love of her life, and my unborn brother who would never know his father. His loss was felt like a hole in my chest that I didn’t think would ever be filled. All I wanted was to be wrapped in my father’s arms because his hugs had always brought me comfort, but never again would that happen. He’d never again tilt my chin up and say something cheeky before ruffling my hair like he used to when I was a pup. Feeling panic rise again, I took a deep breath that shuddered right to my core, pressing myself closer to Roarke. Inhale, exhale, slowly, steadily, filling my lungs with the scent of woods that was my mate.
When the sun got higher in the sky and the curtains could no longer block out its rays, I knew we had to get up. There would be Alphas to inform, debriefings given, a plan needed to be made to hunt down the killer.
My wolf growled inside, the sound passing from my lips. I wanted to find Eagan first, he’d either run out of fear, in which case he’d abandoned his pack, or he had something to do with the accident that took my father’s life, and I would kill him for it. My skin shimmered as my wolf pushed forward, demanding control so she could reap her justice, the feeling becoming an ache deep in my bones.
“Settle, my femaleFemale,” Roarke murmured soothingly, stroking up and down my arm until I stilled and slumped back against him.
My wolf was quick to obey, reeling in her basic emotions and allowing me back in control. Still my thoughts were a torrent hard to keep up with, reeling and twisting until I wasn’t sure how I felt any longer. If this was how I felt, I couldn’t and didn’t dare to imagine how my mother was faring. A part of her soul had been ripped away to leave nothing but loss behind. Her pregnancy had been difficult enough as it was without the added turmoil she would now be in. Though I was sure if something had gone wrong, Roarke would have woken me immediately to tell me and I trusted that the doctor he had watching her was to be trusted. Oria would be suffering too, my father had been the only male that who didn’t terrify her, the only male she trusted. How selfish I had been to want to stay hidden away with my mate when others needed my support. I was Alpha Female, I had to put my own feelings behind me to help my pack.
“I should go check on my mother,” I said, making no move to get up just yet.
Roarke nodded. “After you eat, you need to look after yourself first. I won’t be able to get on with what I have to do unless I know you’re taking care of yourself, and you won’t be help to anyone either if you let yourself go hungry. We can have breakfast together, we have pack members who are going to be in need of assurance. Your mother may already be down there, and if she’s not, you can take her up some food.”
“I’ll eat with you,” I promised, knowing he was right.
Roarke shifted and I suddenly became very aware of his leg between my thighs. I stilled, worried about what parts of my body would be against his if I moved but that thought sent a bolt of heat to my core. He had promised he would take me in one of the most primal ways of our people on the full moon, a time when our wolves were stronger and instincts harder to resist, and I wondered if he still intended on doing that in light of everything. That was, if I could resist my own urges. My eyes flicked to his face to see pale green eyes watching me intently. Could he feel the way my body began to heat up?
I sat up quickly, disgusted at where my thoughts were going when I had just lost my father. Forcing my gaze away from him, my body curled in on itself in guilt. Roarke sat up too, tipping my head to look at him, a frown creasing his forehead.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, checking me over as if there would be an injury, something physical that he could fix.
I shook my head and pulled away from him because even the soft touch of his fingers on my skin burned in the most delicious of ways as I blinked back tears, “I just can’t believe he’s gone.”
It wasn’t a complete lie, but I wasn’t ready to reveal the whole truth yet. His frown disappeared, his features softening. He pulled me back into his arms and I allowed the tears to fall again. Rocking me gently, telling me everything was going to be okay, that we’d find the killer, my grief turned once more back to rage. It bubbled up like flames that licked at my control, scorching my calm. These moodswingsmood swings were beginning to wear me out already and the day had barely begun. Knowing I was in no state to deal with others yet, I relaxed back into my mate, my fingers itching to tangle in his hair as if I needed him to keep me anchored.
Eventually, he let me go and helped me to my feet, wiping tears away from my face. I gave him a weak smile, struggling to find the words to thank him, but the smile he gave back told me he knew.
I didn’t care about looks or impressions today as I pulled on a pair of joggers and a shirt, shoving my feet into a pair of comfy flats. Roarke seemed to be thinking along the same lines as he’d forgone his usual button up shirt for a loose fitting t-shirt. I glared at my reflection, annoyed by the matted copper hair that refused to be tamed. My eyes were red and swollen so badly that no amount of makeup would have been able to fix it which only soured my mood more. I didn’t want to be seen like this by wolves that who would sniff out my weakness with glee…namely Brenna. Roarke’s hand slid do to the small of my back, guiding me away from the mirror.
The house was eerily quiet, eerily so. We didn’t pass any others on our way to the dining room. There was no sound of laughter, children running around outside, or bustle in the kitchen. Even from the few days I had spent here, I knew this wasn’t what it was usually like and I didn’t care for it at all. It was like the whole world around us was grieving too as the patter of rain slowly started up.
Roarke opened the door for me, and like he had guessed, my mother was sitting at the table. My heart stuttered and missed a beat at the sight of her and I quickly rushed to sit next to her, not caring about the rules of our people, not that there was many here to see, nor would they care in a time like this. Her face was pale and her eyes were glazed over, staring at the bowl in front of her but not really seeing.
“Mum?” I whispered, taking her hand in mine, tears welling.
Her hands were like ice and held mine limply. That only made me worry for her wellbeing even more. When my I let out a soft whine, she seemed to jerk back into reality a little. A mother wolf would always answer to the cry of her pup.
She looked up at me and the black bags around her eyes had me drawing in another sharp breath. My thumb drew circles on the back of her hand and she went back to staring blankly at the table after she checked I was physically okay. She hadn’t eaten anything and her glass was still full while everyone else was almost finished. She wasn’t eating and didn’t look like she planned to.
Heads were low as I looked around, nobody daring to look up, and whether that was out of respect or because of the unsettling situation, I didn’t know. I was looking blindly for help and nobody would do anything. Roarke sat on my mother’s other side and turned her so she was looking at him.
“You need to eat, Kerra, for your little one. You need to look after him. He could grow up to be Alpha like his father was but you need to be strong for him,” he urged gently, his gaze soft, even as his words were flooded with the strength of his wolf, giving her own wolf a push.
My mother nodded slowly, picking up her spoon, and I managed to relax a little. I watched her like a hawk and didn’t start to eat until she had finished everything, another thing that went against protocol but I couldn’t care less. My first priority right now was to make sure my mother and my brother were healthy, then I could worry about the laws of the Wulver and hierarchy.
The talk around the table sounded muffled as all my concentration was split between making sure my mother was still conscious and trying to eat myself when my stomach was still twisting sindeinside. The food tasted bland in my mouth but I forced myself to eat and drink until I was full.
“I’m going back to bed,” my mother mumbled, pushing herself up from her seat onto unsteady feet. Before she could fall, Roarke was standing and helping her while Saba joined on her other side.
“I’ll help you,” she offered, squeezing my mother’s hand before leaning down to whisper to me, “I’ll have the doctor check on her again. If she gets any worse, I’ll come and get you, okay? Be strong, Cat. You’re doing well and… I’m so very sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” I murmured, not really sure what else to say.
I gave her a grateful smile that might have been more of a grimace and watched them both leave. Worry and concern for my mother and my brother’s well beingwellbeing took over…maybe I should have gone with them. Where was my place, here with the pack or with my mother? I wasn’t entirely sure.
Roarke’s fingers stroked through my hair again as he stood behind my chair, allowing me to relax. My shoulders were aching from being so tense, and as if he’d heard my thoughts, Roarke’s hands dropped to gently massage them, thumbs pressing in to ease the knots that had formed.
“You can go check on your mother or you can come with me while I inform the other packs what’s happened. I need to check on your old pack too, to make sure Kal has everything under control. It’s up to you, I won’t mind if you feel you and your mother need some time to grieve together,” he said softly, taking my hand as I stood, “Nobody will question it.”
Though I felt guilty to admit it, I couldn’t bear to be with my mother right now. The sight of her pain broke me and I needed to be strong until this was over, for her sake and my unborn brother’s. I knew she was cared for and that there would always be someone by her side.
“I’ll come with you.”
I paced the room while Roarke made phone call after phone call to Alphas, warning them to be on the lookout. They all agreed that the ‘accident’ wasn’t a coincidence, and to look out for Eagan. If they found him, they were to hold him as a prisoner until we decided what to do with him.
I hoped we’d find him soon, as he might be our only lead to find out the truth. Without him, we were grasping at straws. Without him, we might never get the proof we needed against Alpha Robert, if he were indeed the perpetrator. The more I thought it all over, the more agitated I got.
My wolf was pacing too, my eyes glowing as I struggled to hold her back from the hunt she wanted to go on, fighting that need to sink fangs into flesh and tear the world apart until I had my vengeance. My hands flexed again as pins and needles stung my skin, my jaw clenching to hold back from shifting.
Quillan had been watching me since he came in and he growled suddenly, making me jump.
“Sit,” he ordered, patting the spot next to him on the couch. “You’re putting me on edge.”
I growled back, unhappy at being ordered around by someone below me. Roarke’s head lifted, looking concerned as I took a threatening step towards his third.
Quillan rolled his eyes but lifted his hands and bowed his head, appeasing my wolf, before going back to quietly watching me come undone. I could feel both of their eyes on me and it only made me feel more irritated. Standing still would only make me feel worse though. How could either of them ask me to sit and do nothing? Another wave of energy and magic prickled the air, my bones shifting beneath my skin.
“She’s going to shift and it’ll be difficult to get her back in control when she’s in this amount of turmoil, believe me, I know,” Quillan muttered.
Roarke sighed, “If she were going to shift, she would have already. If walking makes her feel more in control then I’m not going to stop her. If it is annoying you, you can leave.”
Quillan huffed, slumping back into his seat. “If she hurts someone, she’ll regret it when she comes back. You know as well as I do that she is not in control right now and—”
“And you can stop talking about me like I’m not in the room and like I’m going to snap. I’m fine. Stop worrying about me and find the one who killed my father so I can make him feel how I feel, so I can slowly torture him until he’s begging for death and the final thing he sees will be my teeth snapping for his throat!” I yelled, breathing heavily, “Why are we in this room making calls when we should be out there? This is as bad as cowering. The wolf that who did this must think us laughably weak.”
Roarke stood and I took a step back, my head dropping under the power he let loose. My wolf backed down to her mate and Alpha, receding into her place and I felt like a weight was taken off my chest. My skin felt like mine again. Quillan was right, she’d been pushing me, trying to take over, yet she was still there, waiting and watching for her chance to try again.
Roarke took another step towards me and I bared my neck, my eyes meeting the glowing orbs of Quillan’s as I did. My mate gave an appreciative growl before placing a feather kiss against my neck, mere inches from where his mark rested.
“Back in control?” he asked, looking me over.
I nodded, opening my mouth to speak but my words turned into a gasp as teeth nipped the mark on my shoulder. My hands lifted automatically to grip the fabric of his shirt, my wolf rearing up in curiosity at the change of mood.
Quillan’s jaw was tense, his eyes boring back into mine before he growled.
“I understand, Alpha, she’s yours. You’ve made your point,” he gritted out, fingers digging into the already damaged leather of the couch.
Roarke released me to look at his third. “Then keep your eyes to yourself.”
I was glad that the phone rang and sucked all the awkward tension from the room. Roarke sat back in his seat and I took the one across from him, not wanting to be so near Quillan when my hormones were still in the air. My skin was flushed and I focused on trying to calm my breathing while my eyes raked over my mate’s fromform, unable to help where my thoughts still lingered.
“It’s good to hear from you, Kal, how is everything?” Roarke asked, his face tense.
I sat silently. Kal was my father’s third and I was glad he’d finally managed to call back. He’d been the first we’d called but, understandably, he was busy trying to fix the pack, to calm grieving wolves and those that who saw this as an opportunity to make a grab for power.
I strained to hear what was being said on the other end, only able to catch every other word but not enough to tell me how things really were.
Frustrated with not being able to hear, I stood back up and began my pacing again, getting lost in thought. I hoped not many had tried to take my father’s position while everything was in disarray, those thatwho did try would have no respect from the pack though and wouldn’t last long even if they had managed. Eagan would have been able to do it, he’d have been able to take my father’s place and hold it without question, so why wasn’t he doing so when I knew it was something he wouldn’t be able to deny his wolf.? It wasn’t until the phone clicked as Roarke hung up that I came back to reality.
I did as told, my leg bouncing as I waited to hear what he had to say.
“Your father’s pack is fine, all are safe. The rest made it back with no incident and their patrols haven’t picked up anything out of the ordinary since you arrived here. Kal has taken over, nobody has challenged him, and he’s offered your mother a place in the circle of elders, where she’d be respected and cared for,” he recounted, his eyes watching me carefully.
I nodded, swallowing at the idea of my mother leaving but maybe it would be for the best, she might be safer there and it was after all her pack, her home.
“I’m glad they’re all okay,” I said honestly, finding some small relief in that, “but what about my brother, his birthright? Will he be safe there if Kal’s line takes over as Alpha? What if someone else takes over and sees him as a threat? My mother may be safer there but my brother wouldn’t be.”
“You know your pack were loyal to your father without fault, they still are. Kal has offered to help bring your brother up so that he may follow in your father’s footsteps. He will be treated with the respect due to an alpha’s heir. Of course there may be challenges, there’s always that risk, but it’s better than them staying here and your brother having to fight to find his place when our pups would be Alpha,” he argued, reaching out for my hand. “Ultimately, it is your mother’s choice but I know what your father would have wanted and I think you do too.”
I nodded. He was right. I hated it, but there wouldn’t be a place for either of them here. “I’ll talk to my mother but not today. It’s too soon. I doubt she’d be able to think logically and I don’t think it’s safe for her to travel until after my brother is born, unless it’s really what she wants.”
He nodded and Quillan stood, gaining my attention.
“We still need to track down Eagan. Finding him could be the key to everything,” Quillan pointed out.
“We have every pack in the country looking for him, he won’t be able to hide forever,” Roarke said, sitting back in his chair.
“Unless a pack is hiding him. If he made it to Wick—” I started but was interrupted by Roarke.
“We don’t know for certain it was him. If we accuse Alpha Robert without substantial proof, our reputation would be ruined. As much as it goes against our instincts, we have to do this right. Finding Eagan may be our best bet right now.”
He was right. Again.
We needed proof and we needed it now, before anyone else got hurt.
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