The Rise

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Chapter Sixty

Valerio, dressed in a suit, opened the car door for me. He held out his hand for me to take. I stepped out of the car holding my dress lightly to make sure it didn’t get caught on the seat belt. I wrapped my arm around his as we walked to the entrance to the restaurant.

I paused when we approached the door, remembering my first interaction with Damon here. My fingers grazed against my mark and I saw exactly what Damon saw that day, exactly in this position.

He was staring at me, a girl who didn’t know any better, and felt so much love and joy at the sight of her. It was like he had never loved or knew he would never be loved by anyone as much as her. He wanted to take me back home right then and there. He had waited outside for moments for me to come out. He wanted to wrap his arms around me and love me from the moment we met, but he stopped himself. It was holding him back - that memory of his brother. It flashed in his mind and remained there, haunting him. His brother’s mate’s screams as she was killed during the shift, the bottle of wolfsbane Damon found next to his brother’s dead body, his father not having a single care in the world. It all held him back from loving me the way he wanted.

I gripped Valerio’s arm a bit tighter, actually wanting to cherish Damon’s pain for a moment. It was a part of him, even if it was terrible.

Valerio paused, letting me have my moment. When I had sworn I wouldn’t cry, I took a deep breath and reached for the door. He held it open for me and we walked in together. A waitress, who was also one of our Protectors, sat us in the center of the room, in a place we could see every which way, the windows, doors, everything.

Other Protectors scattered around the restaurant. Some were chatting with each other at tables, others were working behind the counter. So far, it looked like everything was normal. Nothing seemed out of place, and I hoped it stayed that way. But we heard information that tonight was the night they’d all show up.

Security in the school’s neighborhood was amped up. Protectors watched the perimeters and made sure nobody got in or out without proper identification. The school started tomorrow and I needed to make sure nothing or nobody would be able to hurt the pups and children. She hadn’t committed a draining in a long time. She was bound to hit at any time.

Valerio ordered a bottle of wine, the wine bottle that Luca had brought over. Him and I, both eyed it carefully, making sure that it was the exact same bottle from here. Here they made wine in the back - their own vineyards of sorts - and had their own bottle to accompany it.

I nodded to him and poured myself a glass, making sure to sip on it lightly throughout the night so I wasn’t impaired when they made their move.

Just as we finished the chocolate cake that we ordered for dessert, two Challengers walked in from the front entrance. Another two pushed through the back door and kitchen. Protectors were cutting their eyes to them, keeping watch, running through my mind with predictions and comments that I kept listening to.

I kept my head low, so they wouldn’t see me. I wanted to see just what they were going to do. Were they waiting for her to come in to kill everyone? Were they going to take whoever they could and just kill them? Were they going to try to make our species look so bad in front of everyone?

They sat at a table close to the window and kept checking their phones. I asked one of the Protectors to go wait on them, to see if they could tell me what they were looking at on their phones. She poured wine into their glasses and smiled sweetly at them. They showed no emotion toward her, only stared at her for the longest time, trying to analyze her.

“Would you like to order?” she asked.

One looked down at his phone, making it light up his features in this dimly lit restaurant. The other eyed our Protector. When one dismissed her, she walked back to the back.

“They’re just checking the time,” she linked.

I tuned into their conversation to see if I could hear anything. They both gazed over in the direction of the waitress. “She looks familiar.”

I gulped, hoping they would just get along with it. I didn’t want to be here all night, but if that’s what I had to do, then I would. Valerio sipped his water, waiting for one of them to make a mistake. The bottle of wine was uncorked and still over half-full on our table.

We waited twenty more minutes, trying to keep conversation up so we weren’t spotted out by the two Challengers. I watched them check their phone for the last time and put it in their pockets.

Finally they stood and the chaos started. Three more Challengers entered from the back and others entered from the front. And before any of us could stop them two humans had been grabbed and forced against the tables, one had claws digging into his neck.

We all sprung into action. When the Challengers noticed I was there, they continued to wreak havoc. They moved so effortlessly as a team, it seemed as if they had planned to get caught.

My heart raced. What if they did? What if this was the plan all along?

Very quickly, I linked the Protectors at the school and who have been posted around the town to see if anything out of the ordinary was happening. Fortunately, I was met with nothing, but something still seemed off.

Some Protectors gathered the humans into the other room while the Challengers and the Protectors faced each other, threatening the two men’s lives. I didn’t want to waste any time. The more time I wasted, the longer I would have this feeling build up in the pit of my stomach and the shorter amount of time the more injured man would have to stay alive.

Before I knew it, wine bottles were being thrown all over the place, the tables were flipped, I was drenched in grape juice and the Challengers were dead on the ground, soaking in a puddle of their own blood.

The man on the table was clutching his throat, trying to stop the blood from gushing out of his neck. His eyes were wide as he slid from the table to the floor. I quickly knelt down, releasing White from my palm.

She ran over to him, tongue out. The man shook his head like he didn’t want that kind of creature near him. But he nor I had the time to stop her. With her snout, she pushed the man’s hand out of the way and stuck her tongue on his neck.

After a few licks, her snout was stained red. The man’s wound slowly closed. I breathed a breath of relief. He was alive and well. Thank goodness nothing had happened. I honestly didn’t know how much the people would hate us if he died.

When he was finally able to sit up on his own, his lips were quivering. White still stood by his side, trying to see if he was really okay. His trembling fingers lifted to her nose and he brushed his fingers against her. “Thank you,” he breathed.

She nuzzled her head into his hand and then returned to me. I held out my palm and let her jump back into it. The man was breathing heavily but he gazed up at me. “Thank you. Thank you. What is your name?”

“Mae…”

“The Moon Goddess?” He looked taken aback. “I had only heard stories of you before. You are nothing like what I heard.”

I smiled at him and nodded. He had probably heard stories of Mom. Hopefully nothing bad of me. I’m sure I had my fair share of drama going around the human community. I just didn’t want any sort of bad reputation among them.

“I’m sorry about those men. They are rogues of some sorts. They don’t have respect for the werewolf tradition,” I said.

He pulled himself up onto a chair. “Do not worry about it, my dear. Anyone human could’ve come in here and destroyed the place, killed everyone. Werewolves and humans are almost one of the same in that sense.”

I smiled sweetly at him and nodded my head. I ordered a Protector to take him to a hospital to check him out. When he was gone, I gazed at the mess we made. I was still drenched in wine and honestly reeked of it.

Valerio grabbed our bottle of wine that was the only bottle that hadn’t been destroyed on the tables. He put the cork in it. “When this is over, I will take you out for a real dinner.”

I gazed at him, a small smile appearing on my face. “I would like that.” I had smiled, but it didn’t meet my eyes.

Something was happening somewhere. I couldn’t shake the feeling of weakness consuming every piece of me.

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