Will’s grip on my wrist tightened as the man said my name. It wasn’t a surprise that the Hunters knew me by sight, but this man spoke my name with familiarity. Like he had studied me on a screen, had imaginary conversations with me, planned for us to meet. It made a shiver run down my body clear to my toes.
He had no sooner spoken, then the door behind Will and I opened and the forgotten Councilman Reid popped his head out, seemingly wanting to speak to his receptionist. Seeing the four of us there, squaring off, he righted his body and addressed the newcomers. There was a note of embarrassment, but determination in his voice.
“Ah, Mr. Arawn, I’m afraid we have gone with another company for all current and upcoming surveys. We won’t be needing JJ International at this time.”
Reid gave a disapproving look to the man, signaled something to his secretary, and closed the door behind him. Arawn turned his head back to Will and I, and tutted the two of us.
“Well, that’s three months of prepping down the drain. I won’t be sorry to see the last of that primate, Reid, but really? I worked so hard on him.” He shook his head again as if he was a parent, not mad, but disappointed in us. Ignoring the man, I stared back at Chuck, or Charles as he was now going by, with sadness and remorse. This guy was part of my core four, for a long time and I addressed him.
“The whole time?” He knew what I was speaking of, and shook his head vehemently.
“No. Recently. But Kel, it’s not what you think. They don’t want to hurt you, they want your help, they want to help you,” Chuck proclaimed, believing every word he was spouting. I scoffed,
“Yes, the machete to my throat was a clear cry for help.”
Arawn spoke up in his brogue,
“Now, Kelly dear, that was a mistake. Our man simply wasn’t expecting you there and we hadn’t told him our plans for you. He paid for it dearly as I recall.” Of course, they had seen it all, hiding behind their screens and monitors. The ease with which he spoke of the incident drew my ire and I wanted to spit fire at him.
“Yes, that’s right, I fried the fucker, right after he called for back up that couldn’t help him or themselves. Then there was the man in the alleyway. You all seemed to need my help so very much, very determined to have it in fact.” A thought hit me and I choked back a tear and looked at Chuck.
“That was you? You were texting in the bar, right before we left. You hate texting.” Chuck had the courtesy to look slightly ashamed.
“Kel, they never wanted to hurt you, they were trying to take you to a safe location.”
Fuck, my former friend actually believed whatever shit they were feeding him. I felt myself getting angry at the betrayal, and Will obviously sensed it. He pulled me back a little ways and spoke low,
“Kelly, this isn’t the place. We need to get out of here.”
Arawn spoke with confidence, almost crooning at me,
“Yes, let’s all take this somewhere quieter, shall we?” And he stepped forward, seeming to shepherd us. My eyes looked over to the receptionist who was studying us now. Fuck, Will couldn’t shift, and I couldn’t think of anything I could do without killing either of them. But they didn’t know that.
“We will be leaving separately, but maybe next time we can get drinks?” Will said to them, using a growl to punctuate his invitation. Arawn smiled in response, and Chuck, uncharacteristically, stepped into a defensive position. God, what had they done to my friend? And why had he gone along with it? Why hurt and betray me in this way? It couldn’t be because of the two or so failed advances he had made since Chad left me. Still, as sad as I was to lose a friend, I was very pissed at him for this betrayal.
Arawn suddenly took another step forward and on instinct, I raised my finger cocked into a gun at him. He stopped his momentum forward and put his hands up, almost mocking me. As I assumed, they had seen what happened to their man in the alleyway. The secretary was now looking at us in confusion at my pretend gun. For a second I felt ridiculous, a child playing pretend, but then I saw the man eyeing my finger and realized that it wasn't a joke to anyone else.
Fuck it, this man seemed like he was in charge, and if so, he was ultimately responsible for all those deaths, for Franny’s death. But Arawn looked like he wanted to chide me, and took another step closer. Who the hell was this man? Will gave another low growl to my side and mimicked his step forward.
“Do you really want to kill me, Kelly? I’m sure your Gran has told you by now what happens if you do? You took us by surprise in the alley, we just didn’t think you had it in you. How wrong we were, huh?”
I blanched, this asshole seemed to know a lot more than I first thought. He didn’t let me ponder on it though.
“Tell you what, come with us now, and I’ll allow the Coven babies and young children to live. Your cousin’s daughters will be spared.”
My mouth gaped open. Killing babies. Killing our children had been on the table for him, but now it was just every other Coven member. Still, what good was a baby if there was no parent to take care of them?
I turned my head towards Will, the motion making the shoulder of my shirt pull. Arawn’s eyes must have traveled down my neck and he muttered a noise of disgust, and he glared at Will.
“You fucking mongrel,”
I looked down to my gaping shirt, understanding he was talking about Will’s mark on me. He was shaking his head now.
“Really wish you hadn’t done that, Kelly.”
Will snarled and for once, I had to hold his wrists to remind him to keep his cool.
“What do you care, we were all going to die, remember? Even the babies.”
He sighed and checked his wristwatch. Will next to me, had stiffened and seemed ready to tackle the man, damn where we were.
“No, Kelly, we have plans for you. But him, yes, he is going to die, and now you will feel every single twist of the blade, darlin.”
This man spoke with conviction and too much intimacy for my liking, and Will’s hackles rose at the term of endearment. I almost took his bait and asked him if we knew each other, but the longer we stayed here tossing insults, the more danger we were probably in. We needed out. Still holding my pretend gun, I stood closer to Arawn and poked him in the chest with it.
Looking down and my finger, then back up to meet my eyes, he smirked and I wanted to punch it right off his face. I shook my wrists and Will reluctantly let go.
“Stop talking, asshole. You’re right, Gran did tell me, unfortunately for you, not all of it, so I couldn’t give a flying fuck to consequences at the moment. And as for the rest. It would be pretty unfortunate for a man to have a heart attack in the middle of an argument, but saying hurtful words has never been a crime, right?”
Arawn lost the smirk at my threat.
“So clueless, we could teach you…”
“We’re leaving,” I interrupted and I took a step closer to the Hunter and whispered in his ear.
“And I would get out of the state if I were you, because if I see you again and remember your threats to murder babies, you’ll be wishing I only gave you a heart attack or something simple like a ruptured brain.” Leaning back, but keeping my position close to his body, with my cocked gun still at his chest, I looked up into his eyes. The mirth was gone and again, I got the feeling of a mentor disappointed in his mentee. Ignoring the feeling, my spare hand flashed over to Chuck’s head on my right and grabbed his scalp, dragging him down to me.
He ‘umphed’, but didn’t give any other indication that he was hurt, nor did he try to pull away, he suffered my wrath willingly. Staring into Arawn’s eyes while I dragged Chuck’s head close, I spoke low.
“And you, Charles, lose my number and consider us over.” Gripping his hair, I wrenched it down, making sure to take some of his blond curls out with my fist. He stifled a yelp and stood upright, his face showing hurt.
I took a few steps back to Will and shoved my spare hand with the curls in my pocket. Will was still quiet but seething, and I sensed he was unsure whether he should take the initiative here, or if he should hang back.
“You have 48 hours to get the hell out of dodge, Mr. Arawn. Or I’ll let the wolves take their own special form of revenge, and I’ve heard it goes...very...slow.”
Shaking his head at me, he laughed, almost slapped his knee with mirth.
“That was...impressive, Kelly. But honestly, we have been here for a while. Idle threats aren’t really going to force us out. But, really, that dramatic pause, perfect.”
I reached over and into Will’s front pocket, pulling the JJ International card.
“Oh, I don’t know. If we visited…” I read the card. “...1200 Vine Street, Spokane, mmhm, that’s about thirty minutes from the commune, yes? I’m sure we would find something interesting and worth our time, right?” To my intense satisfaction, Arawn had lost his smile and now looked something like mad that I had connected the dots.
“Next time you want to be a secret organization, don’t advertise, maybe?” Waving the card a little, I then nudged Will’s shoulder.
“Now, we are going,” addressing Chuck, my former best friend and confidant, “...and I hope we never see each other again.” He met my eyes and opened his mouth to say something, but Will had grabbed my wrist again and dragged us to the elevator that had just opened for someone exiting. The other side of the floor had apparently not noticed our confrontation and was still a bustle.
Will and I quickly entered and he pressed the button for the first floor. Once the doors were closed, he immediately grabbed my body and clutched it close, bringing his lips down to mine for a vigorous kiss, our tongues mashing. After a few moments, he pulled away, both of us breathless.
“Is it horrible to say that I am extremely turned on right now?” Grabbing his shoulders, I thrust him away.
“Be aroused later, right now, we have to get out of here, who knows how many of those...things are lurking around here? Get us back to the commune, stat.”
The elevator doors opened, and clasping hands, we hastily walked out the front doors and into Will’s truck. No one tried to stop us, and there seemed to be no eyes watching.
The truck purred to life in the cold air and Will pulled out and headed through the town. Pushing his hair back behind his ears, and constantly checking his rearview mirror. I imagined I could almost hear his heartbeat still racing. Did wolves have that good of hearing? He looked over to me.
“That was amazing, but I don’t think it was a great idea to let them know we know where their HQ was. I mean, we needed that surprise, right?” He looked unsure, and suddenly I remembered what I was carrying. Acting fast, I reached into my purse to grab a bag of fruit snacks, quickly tipping them onto my lap. Then carefully reaching into my blazer pocket, I slowly took out the small lock of hair I pulled off of Chuck. He had always had soft, thin hair and was always shedding. It was beautiful really, and I placed the wad of strands into the plastic baggy.
Holding it up as evidence to Will I told him.
“Who needs a physical address when you have your own personal asshole GPS system?”
An hour later we were about to cross onto the commune. The trees around my home had left the winter lull and were bouncing back into their spring step. Pulling up to the commune gate, Will rolled down his window next to the mailbox and the imperceptible chiming of the Coven’s security ward could be heard. Leaning over him and out the window, I punctured the tip of my thumb with a safety pin from my purse and squeezed until there was enough blood to smear. Pressing my thumb briefly onto the door of the mailbox, I pulled it away and watched the bloody thumbprint slowly vanish, as if it was evaporating in the sun. A moment later, the big green farm gate started to swing open by itself and the chimes paused. Resuming my seat, Will drove through and a second later, the chimes returned, signaling the ward was back up.
Will drove slowly down the road and into the Ring, and I directed him to a small cabin in the center next to the healing house. Not much seemed to have changed in the five or six weeks since my departure, but there was definitely something different I couldn’t pinpoint. Maybe it was that I was now different and that the premise that I had built my home on, my memories, was now a lie. Would it be any different if Gran hadn’t revealed the decades long secret of Ewan Jones?
Parking in front of the cabin designated for the Council, I grabbed Will’s hand and knocked on the door. The elder ‘on duty’, Elder Abbott, answered and greeted me with a smile.
“Kelly! Welcome back, Margaret said that you would be delayed another week?”
“Yes, Elder, I was, but I have returned now with some very important news. Would you please convene the elders?”
“Yes, please, I feel it is urgent.”
She glanced across at Will, who was still dressed in his traditional manner and seemed to hold an air of clout. She nodded her head and then looked to the bracelet on her wrist, where she selected a particular charm. Holding it between her fingers, she twisted it three times, then gestured for us to come inside.
The main room inside the cabin could almost be considered a conference room, a large table in the center with seats on all sides, and angled to the front of the room, where a large map of Washington was tacked on. Will and I sat on the side of the room, while Elder Abbot moved into the side resting room for the ‘elder-on-duty’, I guessed to prepare herself for the meeting. Will gripped my hand and I felt a slight swell of anxiousness come from him. I shook his hand to get his attention.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay. They seem pretty old and feeble, but I promise, our ancestors didn’t escape Salem just to be taken down by Hunters like...Charles. I mean comeon, I’m the most inexperienced of us, and look at what I’ve done to them.”
Will gave me a weak grin and squeezed my hand, he wasn’t convinced. Bringing my hand up to his lips, he pressed them against my palm in a tender gesture and muttered into it,
“From now on, where you go, I go. Agreed?”
I studied him, he was really worried. I nodded and he continued looking down at his feet. Beside us, the front door opened and several people streamed in, glancing at us first before taking a seat of the main table. None were Gran. Finally, after a few minutes she strode in and took a place at the table, only noticing Will and I after she had sat. Elder Abbot, at the head of the table stood.
“Now that we are convened, we are here at the behest of Kelly Jones. Doctor Jones, you may now address the elders.” She gave me a smile at using my new title and I released Will’s hand to take her place at the head.
“Thank you, Elder Abbot. It is good to see you all. All of you.” I directed my gaze towards my Gran. Quickly recounting the confrontation with Arawn and Chuck, I left out the threat about the Coven’s children, deciding it would do no one good to elaborate on the Hunter’s blackmail against me. Finishing the story with leaving via elevator, I pulled out Chuck’s hair and dropped it on the desk in front of me. I looked around to all the faces, most of them in thought, one, in particular, looking notably ornery. I cut Gran to it before she chastised me in front of everyone.
“Yes, I know, Gran. But something about that man just made me...irritated. I am very sorry I goaded him with the address quip.”
Gran leaned back in her chair and steepled her fingers. Elder Abbott addressed Will on the side.
“Alpha Achran, do you have anything to add?”
Will tilted his head to the sides in thought,
“I do not think a physical confrontation would be wise. This Arawn… he looked formidable, like he had studied us for so long he mimics our movements. I think these Hunters are more experienced than we thought.” An elder at the end of the table spoke up.
“Will you send over guards to patrol our lands, Alpha? I feel that this confrontation might have opened up the floodgates and whatever these Hunters were waiting for might not be as important now.”
“Yes, elder,” Will confidently replied, “I’ll send word for 15 to come over via the river dock if you will arrange them to be met within the hour.” Elder Abbott nodded in reply to Will’s request, then spoke.
“Thank you Alpha. You and Kelly may leave while the council deliberates on our next step.”
My eyes fluttered in confusion while beside me, Will stood and grabbed my hand to leave. I gently resisted his pull and planted my feet to the ground.
“Elder, we would be happy to stay and assist with any ideas.”
Elder Abbott smiled at me, “Thank you, Kelly, but no, this will take some while. Go and get some rest.”
Will pulled me again towards the door and I left reluctantly. They were just kicking me out? After being singled out by these creeps? I, the target of these psychos, was getting the shaft? Once we were through the door, I let out a frustrated sigh.
“Well that was anticlimactic, and very disappointing.”
Will leaned in to kiss me, with a small condescending smile,
“What were you expecting?”
I huffed my fringe out of my face. “I don’t know, raising of the banners, releasing of the hounds, a great war cry involving a horn. Just...something.” This was discouraging, just to be told to go rest on my laurels and wait for the elders to ‘talk’ about it. Will put his arm around my shoulders and started to lead me away to the truck.
“Good leaders think over big decisions. They don’t jump guns. People die when they do.”
I had to roll my eyes at the clear Sun-Tzu wisdom he was trying to sell me. “Yeah yeah, Alpha-in-Chief. Take me home please, I could use a shower.”
We were nearly at the truck when the sound of the door opening behind stopped our feet. Gran came out and I put up my hands in defense.
“I know. Gran, trust me, I know. But that man, I literally wanted to punch him, he was talking to me like I was some kind of misbehaving step-daughter!” She swatted away my excuse.
“Oh, I don’t care about that. I’m just glad to see you, and at home” She muttered, glancing at Will. “I feel it’s probably past time for some self-defense lessons and incantations, don’t you?”
“Absolutely” Will answered for me, a new look of determination on his face.
Gran paused to stare at him, perhaps a little wary of suddenly agreeing with the man on something. I grinned, it was a start. She studied his face and then looked down to our joined hands.
“Will, the cabin next to the house is still free, I assume you would like to stay while Kelly is here?”
“Thank you, Margaret,” he replied with ease. She turned her attention back to me,
“Kelly, go to the library and on the shelf next to the window is my selection for your studies. Start with the one titled ‘Flight or Fight’ and the first three chapters. That should be enough to get started. I don’t know how long we will be, but I’ll come and check on you before bed.”
I internally grimaced. Oh, Gran. Sticking Will in the cabin, checking on me before bedtime. Seventeen year old Kelly was resurfacing and apparently I still needed to be chaperoned and have my chastity belt checked nightly. Without waiting for a rebuttal, she turned and headed back into the cabin.
I looked to the man now holding me around the shoulders who was smirking down at his feet.
“Oh, you think it’s funny, do you?” I poked him in the ribs and we made our way into the truck. Turning the engine over, he started the short drive up to the house.
“I think it's funny that she thinks she can keep me away.” After a minute of driving, he pulled up the truck next to the Wardwell house and put it in park. Lifting his hand up on the head of the seat behind me, he leaned over and in.
“But we both know nothing ever will,” He kissed me, entwining our tongues and pushing his body down onto mine. We laid down on the full benched seat before he reached for the button of my jeans and began to fulfill his promise he made on the first night we met and I tried to kiss him in this truck.
“Not ever again.”