There was no school the next day for records, so I planned on sleeping in. I was sick and tired of everything going on outside of my bedroom, and I seriously needed a morning off.
Once again, Kai had other plans.
I woke up to him tapping on my window. I groaned and rolled over, peeling my eyes open to see if he was at the window by my bed. When I didn’t see him there, I groaned again and flopped back down. “Just come in,” I grumbled, knowing he could hear me.
“It’s locked,” he said.
I growled. “Then go away,” I said. “I’m sleeping.”
He laughed. “You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” he said. “Come on, let me in.”
I groaned and buried my face in the pillow. He waited a moment, then tapped on my window again. I ignored him. Hopefully he’ll get the idea and just leave, I thought. That wasn’t the case. He’d tap on the window several times, before falling silent for a moment, then he started tapping again.
When he started tapping out rhythms from the musical Hamilton, I finally gave up. I grumbled and cursed as I climbed out of bed, tripping when the blankets tangled in my legs. Kai laughed, and I decided that I was going to kill him later.
When I finally reached my window, my pajama pants were twisted around my legs, and my hair was flying in every direction. I unlocked the window and threw it open, stepping aside so Kai could easily climb into my room.
“You know,” I started, crossing my arms over my chest. “There’s this thing called a front door.”
He shrugged. “Never heard of it.”
I scoffed. “Obviously,” I said. “What are you doing here?”
“I was going to check out the crime scene,” he said. “I assume you heard about yesterday?”
I nodded. “I was going to go check it out later,” I said.
“Why don’t you come with me?” He asked. “That way, neither of us go in there without backup.”
I sighed. “What about the other Guardians?” I asked.
He waved a hand. “They’re out chasing the rogue pack members,” he said. “I told them I’d handle this one. So, you coming?”
I sighed. “Might as well,” I said. “I’m awake now. Just give me a minute to get dressed.”
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. “But hurry. There might be other hikers in the woods who don’t know about the wolves.”
I waved a hand in his direction while I grabbed clothes and headed to the bathroom. Before I shut the door, he said, “Make sure to bring a change of clothes!”
Ten minutes later, we were driving up to the trailhead of the trail that the couple was found on. As we drove, Kai handed me a file and said, “We’ve managed to identify some of the wolves in the pack.”
“How’d you manage that?” I asked as I flipped it open. Inside were several papers, reports of animal attacks in cities and towns back east. As I flipped closer to the back of the file, I found more attacks in places that were edging closer west, leading right to Wolf Valley. There were also sheets of paper and photographs paperclipped together.
“Finn and Kayla are trackers,” he said. “They’re also gods on a computer. They’ve managed to make a few connections, and using police and ME reports, they managed to identify a few wolves.”
He pointed to the first picture and said, “That’s Jeremiah Evans, the new leader of the rogue pack. He used to be a thirty-five-year-old surgeon with a wife and two children. Dominic broke into his home, killed his family, and bit him.”
Jeremiah looked like a typical surgeon. He had clean-cut blonde hair and brown eyes. Kai pointed at another picture, this one of a young woman with brown hair and blue eyes, and said, “That’s Ariana Lawrence. She’s only nineteen, but she’s already proven herself to be fierce. She’s Jeremiah’s beta, and possibly his mate.”
I shuddered. “Well, that’s disgusting,” I said. I closed the file and tossed it into the back seat. I sighed and, after several moments of silence, I said, “Kai?”
“Are we going to have to kill every member of this pack?” I asked.
He shook his head. “No,” he said. “No, Jeremiah and Ariana are our targets. If we’re faced with one of the others and they don’t give us a choice, then yes, we may have to kill them. Finn, Kayla, and Bas are going to try and relocate the others to a different pack, or help them to get back on their feet. Part of our job is helping newer werewolves learn how to balance their existence as a werewolf with that of being the regular Joe next door.”
“How many messes do the Guardians clean up?” I asked.
Kai laughed. “You don’t want to know,” he said. “We’re here.”
He parked the car and we got out. It was dark and overcast, and I could smell the clean scent of rain in the air. Kai locked the car, then after slipping the keys into his pocket, we headed off into the woods.
“So, what are we looking for, exactly?” I asked.
“The pack,” he said. I knew him well enough by now to know there was a silent “duh” added to the end of his statement.
I rolled my eyes. “Obviously,” I said.
He sighed. “We’re looking for scents, mainly. Whichever one is clearest, we’ll follow that one.”
“In human form?” I asked.
He grinned. “Well, if something should happen and we have to shift, and destroy our clothes in the process, then we have spare clothes back at the car.”
I sighed. Exhaustion weighed heavily on me, but it was more than physical. I felt like we were going in circles. This was exactly what happened with Dominic. We had spent weeks chasing after him, and now, it was happening again. Same song, different verse.
“Hey,” Kai murmured. “Are you okay?”
I looked over at him. He was watching me as we hiked along the trail, his brows creased with worry. I started to nod and I was about to say that I was fine, but before I knew it, I was shaking my head. “No,” I said. “No, I’m not fine.”
Kai spun around on the trail, facing me. He placed his hands on my shoulders to stop me, and when I looked up at him, he had a hard, yet tender, look in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
I reached up to cover his hands with my own, but I didn’t try to remove them. Instead, I held onto him, as if he was the only thing keeping me from falling.
“All of this, it’s just… it’s the same thing as before. Dominic killed innocent people, he’s destroyed lives. He terrorized this town and now, because I killed him, his followers are here doing the exact same thing as him.” I took a deep breath and bowed my head. “I’m tired, Kai. Is this ever going to end?”
“Yes,” he said fiercely. “It will. We just have to keep pushing. Besides,” he added with a chuckle. “We’ve got the Silver Wolf on our side.”
I laughed, but I still didn’t feel better. Kai moved his right hand, cupping my face with his warm palm. He tilted my head up to make me look at him as he said, “Riley, you’re not going through this alone. You have your pack, and you have me.”
“But is it enough?” I whispered.
His eyes searched his face as he said, “It has to be.”
I didn’t realize until then just how close we were. There was barely any space between us, and his chest was heaving. So was mine. My heart was racing and energy crackled along my nerves. I trembled, but I didn’t know if it was from the change about to take over, or if it was something else.
Kai rested his forehead against mine and said, “It has to be enough.”
I lifted my face up more, my eyes on his. He started to close the distance, his lips millimeters from mine.
Several things happened then. Just as he was about to kiss me—and I’m sure he was—the wind changed direction, and I caught the scent of a werewolf. A snarl tore through the air, and then a heavy force was slamming into us.
I slid along the ground, stopping inches from a tree as I heard bones snap and break. Kai’s snarls and roars of fury matched that of the rogue wolf, and when I looked up, I saw both of them were going after each other.
It was hard to tell who was who at first. The rogue werewolf was black, but he had dustings of white and gray around his underbelly, tail, and ears. He lunged for Kai’s throat, his cloudy gray-gold eyes glowing and bright with rage. My body shuddered, and for the first time since Eddie and Drew taught me how to shift, I couldn’t do it. I was too shocked.
The rogue wolf shoved his body against Kai, throwing him onto his back. Kai tore at the rogue’s belly with his claws, fighting to keep him off, but it didn’t seem to do anything. The rogue shredded at Kai, struggling to lock his jaws onto Kai’s throat.
He didn’t get the Guardian’s throat, but he did clamp down on Kai’s neck. Kai howled in pain, and something in me snapped. “Kai!” I shrieked, just as my mind finally caught up with my body. I screamed as I shifted, my clothes tearing when I grew too big for them. Fully wolf now, I snarled and leaped forward, shoving the wolf off of Kai.
The rogue stumbled when I barreled into him. I dug my fangs into his ruff, nearly gagging at the stench that invaded my senses. I dragged him away from Kai, struggling as the wolf fought against me. I heaved him away one final time, before I lunged on top of him, burying my fangs into his neck.
The wolf yelped and howled, wriggling out from underneath me. Once he had broken free from my grip, he spun around and took off, tail tucked between his legs.
Every fiber in me wanted to chase after him, but Kai was hurt. I hurried to his side, checking his injuries. When I saw the deep gashes in his sides and on his neck, I whined. Kai whimpered and snarled, his bones snapping as he forced himself to change back.
I changed as well, gasping for breath. Kai was groaning, holding his hands to his side. The wounds looked horrible on him when he was a wolf, but in human form… they were terrible. Dark blood, nearly black, poured out of the wounds, but that wasn’t the worst thing.
They weren’t healing.