“This is bullshit.”
I sighed heavily, giving Nadia a pleading glance. “N, please. I know you don’t like it, but I don’t have a choice.”
She laughed humorlessly, throwing her hands up into the air before letting them drop back into her lap. We were sitting in the living room of her dad’s cabin, surrounded by the Guardians, my pack, Koda, Simon, Ethan, Jack, and Sierra. Nadia sat on the couch across from me, with Sierra perched on the arm right next to her. Kai sat next to me, and though he didn’t say anything, I accepted the warmth and comfort his presence provided.
Nadia glared at the members of my pack, then at me. “You remember what happened last time, right?” she asked. “The last time you left me behind?”
Kayla cleared her throat. “What happened?” she asked.
Nadia turned a seething look on her and said, “The last time I was left behind for my ‘protection’ while Riley and the others went after a psychotic werewolf, Dominic took me and bit me.”
Bas frowned. “And you didn’t turn or die?” He asked.
She shook her head. “No,” she replied. “And don’t ask me how, because I don’t know.”
I sighed. “Nadia, this is different. This is an entire pack.”
“Exactly!” She exclaimed. “You need all the help you can get.” She turned her head to stare at Jack, who was standing behind her. “You’ve been training me,” she said. She looked up at Sierra, then me as she said, “And I have magic now. I’m not as good as Gramma, but I’m better! I can torch some of these suckers.”
I laughed. “I know,” I said. “But I still can’t risk it. We got lucky once, N. I don’t want to take any chances.”
She growled in frustration and leaned back against the couch, crossing her arms over her chest. “This is still bullshit,” she muttered.
I nodded. “I know,” I said. “But this is different. If we were up against one or two wolves, I wouldn’t have any problem bringing you along. But we’re up against a pack, at least twenty or thirty strong. They’re insane, and they won’t hesitate to rip you apart if given the chance.”
Nadia gestured to Jack and said, “But he gets to go along?”
I laughed. “Hell no,” I said. “No, he’s going to stay with you.”
She gave me a wide-eyed expression. “So you’re giving me a babysitter,” she muttered.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “You two won’t be coming to fight with us, but you will be out in the woods.” She looked between both of us and said, “If anyone tries to escape, especially Jeremiah or Ariana, then I need you guys there to stop them. We can’t risk anyone going into town and hurting the locals.”
After a moment, Nadia nodded, satisfied with her role. I sighed in relief and turned to the others. “Simon, Sierra, and Ethan, I need you guys to cover the eastern flank, closer to your territory. If anyone tries to flee through your land, then you need to be able to call for the rest of your pack and chase them down.”
I looked to my pack and said, “Drew, Eddie, you guys will watch our backs. Keep an eye out for anyone who might try to sneak up behind us.” I turned to the Guardians and said, “Bas and Finn, I need you to cover the west. You’re a couple of our strongest wolves, and you’re both fast.”
“What about me?” Kayla asked.
I grinned at her. “You’re the maverick,” I said. “You’re going to run back and forth and try to catch any scent you can.” I looked to Kai and said, “You, me, and Koda will take point. He’ll lead us to the pack, and we’ll put an end to this.”
Koda straightened and said, “And we’ll save my friend, right?”
I nodded. “Of course,” I said. “We’ll save as many of them as we can.” I looked around at everyone and said, “Any questions?” they shook their heads, so I nodded and stood. “Let’s get going, then.”
As we all started heading to the back door, some of the werewolves stripping off clothing as they went, Kai took a hold of my arm and said, “Rye, can I talk to you for a second?”
I nodded and waved the others on. Nadia smiled at me, then disappeared out the front door with Jack. I turned to Kai, frowning when I saw the worried look on his face. “What is it?” I asked.
He sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “I just… Some of those werewolves may be rabid.”
I frowned. “Okay?” I said, prompting him to continue.
He sighed again. “I just want you to be aware of all of the possibilities that may happen. What you did with Koda, bringing him back… that was a miracle. One that probably won’t happen again.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “What are you saying?” I growled.
“I’m saying that we might not be able to save everyone. Riley, if anyone is rabid and they try to hurt anyone, the other Guardians and I… we have no choice but to put them down.”
I was about to start raging about how stupid and unfair it was, but then I saw the pained look on his face. I frowned and said, “Is that what you guys have always done?”
He nodded. “Among other things,” he said. “A sane, rogue wolf can still be saved, but until Koda, a rabid wolf can’t. They’re a plague to the rest of our world, and to the humans.”
“Have you ever had to put a rabid wolf down?” I asked, my voice barely above a whisper.
He nodded. “Several,” he murmured.
I felt bad. Not for him, necessarily. That was something we had in common, in the fact that we hated when someone felt sorry for us. I did feel bad, though, that he’s had to do some horrible things in his short life.
I reached out and rested a hand against his cheek. He sighed and closed his eyes, leaning into my touch. He placed his hand on top of mine, holding it there.
“Kai,” I whispered, urging him to open his eyes. When he did and looked down at me, my heart broke at the pain I saw there. “We’re going to save as many as we can,” I said. “I know we can’t save them all, but even if we can save only one, that has to count for something. Right?”
He grinned and nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “It does.” His demeanor changed, and then he was gripping onto my waist with both hands, pulling me closer to crush his lips against mine. I smiled against his lips, shutting my eyes as I kissed him back. I dug my fingers into his hair, holding onto him tightly as he buried his fingers into my hair, too.
We pulled away, gasping for breath. I smiled and kissed him one more time before saying, “Come on, let’s get going. We’ve got some wolves to kill.”
We ran with our noses to the ground, searching for any scent we could find. It was dark, the only light coming from the stars overhead. A light fog covered the woods, causing my fur to stand on end. I swung my head around, scanning the woods around me. Something seemed very wrong…
I faced forward again, dodging out of the way of a tree just in time. I glanced over at Kai, who was giving me a worried look. I shook my head and pushed on, keeping my attention focused on the forest ahead of me.
We broke through the woods, entering a clearing. I glanced over at Koda, watching him as his ears pricked forward and his eyes widened in surprise. He ran around the clearing, his nose low to the ground as he searched frantically. For a moment, I thought he was searching for the other pack members, then I realized that he was looking for his friend.
I took a step forward, then I howled in pain as a sharp, harsh ringing sounded in my ears. The clearing was lit up with bright light, and then I was falling into darkness.