The Rise

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Chapter Thirty-Six

I grabbed Valerio’s hand and teleported us back to the packhouse with the skull. I wasn’t taking any more chances on this damn thing.

We walked to my office, and I deposited it in my desk drawer for now. I’d move it later to a safer place - if there even was a safer place here. I was beginning to doubt anyone and everyone.

So much betrayal. So much damn betrayal.

From my own mates, from my own Protectors, from my own friends. I wondered who’d betray me next. Maybe I’d betray myself. I wasn’t sure. I hoped that Valerio could keep me steady during these times.

Each time something else happened, I could feel my mother’s power surging within me. That inescapable thirst for power, for control, for vengeance.

Valerio sat across from me at my desk, one ankle resting on his knee. He gazed out the window at the darkness. I pushed a hand through my hair and sighed. “I need a break,” I whispered. “It never ends.”

He looked at me, a lightness in his eyes and his smile. “Take a break then.” When I raised a brow at him, he chuckled softly. “Just for the night.” He stood up and walked toward the window behind my desk, gazing out it at the moon and dark forest. “Just a few hours, enjoy this…” He smiled, his fingers brushing against the glass. “The moon - your moon. The forest, the sound of the wolves in the night.”

The moon bounced off of his face in all the right places. For a moment, he looked like the Valerio I met at the restaurant. Young and carefree. His lips were set in a soft smile, his eyes reflected the wholeness of the moon.

I stood next to him and gazed over his shoulder. “One night,” I said. “Just one.” He gazed over at me. “Let’s go somewhere where we can appreciate this.”

Taking his hand, I walked with him out of my office and locked it behind me. We walked down the stairs, out of the packhouse, into the forest, and to my cabin I had constructed after Damon’s death for times like this - when I was feeling lonely and overwhelmed.

It was an escape from reality for a few hours. I had never brought anyone else there before. Hell, I hadn’t been there for a while. But it felt right. It was right. And, more than that, this was needed.

When we reached the cabin doors, Valerio stopped me. “This is yours. Why’re you bringing me here? Why don’t we go to my-”

I squeezed his hand. “Valerio,” I said softly. “Shut up.” I smiled up at him and unlocked the door, revealing a small contemporary living room with a fireplace. I had done my best to model the room after Damon’s cabin, wanting him to enjoy this space as much as I did, even though he wasn’t physically here.

Valerio walked in cautiously, examining the room. I stood at the doorway to the kitchen, brow cocked. “What are you doing, Valerio? I know you do safety checks of this cabin all the time. You know what it looks like.”

Valerio’s cheeks turned a light pink, but he continued to look around. “I’ve never been inside.”

I rolled my eyes playfully at him and brushed my fingers against the doorway. “Why don’t you start the fire? I’ll get us something to drink.” I disappeared into the kitchen, my heart beating rapidly for some reason.

Valerio and I were here in my cabin.

Alone.

I boiled some water on the stove and took out the packages of hot chocolate from the cupboard. After pouring two cups, I took a deep breath.

We were here alone, and I didn’t know what was going to happen between us. But that made everything so much more exciting.

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