I tore through the house calling her name, knowing it was futile but doing it anyway.
I made it all the way out to the back door from the kitchen. She was gone, her smell was already faint. How the hell was she able to leave? I told her to stay, there were no loopholes I could possibly think of, but it didn’t matter now. Pulling out my phone, I called the on-duty phone, and one of the Weres I assigned to the truck picked up.
“Keep an eye out for Kelly, yeah? I don’t know where she is, but she is on her bike, so listen out for it.” There was silence on the other end for a moment.
“Chief, your girl went speeding out of the commune front gate about an hour ago, not too long after you took Smith in.”
“Damn sure, looked like someone had lit a fire underneath that bike of hers. She turned towards Spokane.”
I hung up on him and cursed myself out for leaving her alone after all the talk of sticking together. Pacing up and down the Wardwell front porch, I tried to think this out. Where would she go? It had to be something to do with Diana being taken, that was obvious. But did she go by herself on a wild goose chase, or did she know something I didn’t? I tried ringing her phone, but it was off.
The note she left felt ominous like it was intended to be the last thing she would ever say to me. Goddammit, Kelly. I only felt anxiety through our connection, but that could have easily been me and any one of the issues I was currently dealing with.
What I needed was a Witch, and it seemed that there was really only one I knew that had a horse in this race. Driving back down to the center of the Ring, I asked a passing elder where she could be found, and a finger pointed me to the Healing House.
Walking through and peering into open and closed doors, I came into Smith’s room and found the elder I was looking for standing over him, her hand on his chest. This scene was much reminiscent of finding Margaret Wardwell with her granddaughter, some two months earlier. My friend’s breathing seemed normal, calm even, and I stood in the doorway, looking at Kelly’s grandmother. Her eyes were closed, deep in concentration. Smith seemed asleep, and definitely better than when I had left him, had she just healed him somehow?
Margaret let out a long exhale like she had been holding in her breath and at the same time, Smith took a long relaxed breath as if pressure in his body had been released and he was better for it. The elder was definitely doing something to him and if it was beneficial then I wasn’t going to stop her. Finally, after another minute, she released her hand from his chest and brought it up to rub her forehead.
I cleared my throat and her head turned to me, expectantly.
At first, Margaret didn’t seem to understand, then her eyes narrowed down to the floor and she swore at her shoes. Quickly pulling out a necklace from underneath her top blouse buttons, she grabbed the pendant from it and held it between her clasped hands, her eyes closed.
After a few moments, she dropped it and uttered more choice words.
“She’s taken off her bracelet. I can’t find her.”
I frowned at the older woman.
“Can’t you find her with something personal? What about her hair, like that guy?”
Margaret shook her head, annoyed.
“Hair has to be fairly new, otherwise it might lead you on a goose chase, you really have to see it being pulled off to be sure. And we could try something personal from her room, but she hasn’t been living here for so long, it might have lost its value and result in the same thing.”
I rubbed my scalp over in thought. This was a clusterfuck. Two Wardwells missing and no way to find them, but we had to assume they were together.
“What about Diana? She has personal stuff at her house, can’t you find her?” Margaret stepped away from Smith and started to pace in front of the window.
“We tried that as soon as you came back, but her ring just kept spinning, we think she is behind a ward.”
“Like, one of your wards?”
Margaret stopped short to look at me,
“We don’t know. It doesn’t matter whose it is. We can’t risk bringing yours or ours down in case that is what they are waiting for.”
I resumed the pacing for both of us.
I growled in frustration, angry at Kelly for putting more worry on us.
“I told her to stay! How the hell was she able to leave?”
From the window, Margaret laughed at me.
“For someone who proclaims to be her mate, you don’t seem to pay much attention to her. You haven’t noticed this new mulish character trait? Or the fact that she is only half wolf and hasn’t even transitioned yet? Plus, she is a Wardwell Witch,” she paused and turned back to me, “and we could never stand being told what to do.”
I ignored Margaret’s jibes and kept my train of thought to find Kelly.
“This doesn’t make sense. Why are they so interested in her? It can’t be for the Wardwell power, otherwise they would be all over you too. It can’t be for the wolf part of her, they haven’t approached any of our people. What makes her different?” I stopped pacing in front of Smith’s bed, watching his now calm breathing and feeling relief that something came out surviving the day.
I looked over at her.
“What about him?”
“He wasn’t from around here. He was unknown. He told Jolene that he came here to America to start a new life with another wolf pack. He is from the U.K. Didn’t you say that Hunter had an accent?”
“Yeah, he did, Scottish I would guess. What else do you know about Ewan?”
Margaret shook her head.
“I never heard anything else. He never spoke of that side of his life. In fact, as far as I know, my daughter and I were the only ones who knew what he was since he refused to change and she had the incantation that kept him more or less in control.”
Pressing my fingertips to my temples to stem the growing headache,
“That doesn’t make sense, the Blue Moon Pack is the only one in the Pacific Northwest. He never came to us to try and join. We certainly haven’t turned away the few stragglers and orphans in the last few years I’ve been seeing them.”
Margaret’s back was to me, staring out the window. It suddenly stiffened.
“The last few years you have been seeing them?” She now faced me.
“As in, your father, the man with Alzheimers, would have met with any newcomers around thirty years ago?”
“You think my dad met Ewan Jones? And turned him away?” I thought back to the times my father and Kelly were together, and the brief glimpses into his mind, where he thought he might have known her father or at least thought she was familiar.
Kelly and Ewan Jones did look alike, they had the same smile, the same eyes, heck, if Kelly hadn’t bleached her dark red hair, they could have been brother and sister at the same age. Yes, my father had most likely met Ewan Jones thirty years ago. And if he was turned away, discarded, it was probably for a very good reason on the part of my father. But most likely meant that Ewan Jones had been in very big trouble.
I looked to Smith, thinking this over, how could this help us find my girl? Holding the post at the end of the bed, my chest suddenly seized up and I gasped, gripping the frame harder. Terror began racing through my lungs and veins, and I had to double over and rest my head at Smith’s feet. Trying to take deep breaths to combat hyperventilating, Margaret came over and gently placed her hand on my shoulder.
“Will? What’s happening?”
Between gasps I blew out her name.
“Kelly, she’s terrified.” It was then that my chest started to burn, and deep breaths from my sturdy lungs were useless. Try as I wanted, I couldn’t get a breath and my knees buckled, and I sank to the floor. Kelly, holy fuck, what were they doing to my Kelly?
Gulping for air and panicking, I scrambled across the floor to the corner, I needed to brace myself in something. My lungs, her lungs were on fire and her face was now painfully being compressed. She couldn’t breathe and even though air was still flowing in mine, I still felt like I was choking in it.
My boots pushed me into the wall and my hands clawed my throat for her relief. Kelly was dying. In front of me, Margaret was staring down with terror in her eyes, unsure of how to help, and frightened in the knowledge that it wasn’t really me in this pain. I wanted to tell the Witch to help. Find some way to help her granddaughter who was about to suffocate, but the force of Kelly’s fear and asphyxiation stemmed any chance of pushing out words. I sat there for a lifetime, an age, an eon, girding myself in that corner clawing the walls to give me something, loudly gasping for air that was everywhere but wouldn’t come.
When suddenly... relief.
I sucked in air and put my head between my knees, feeling a modicum of peace while Kelly had air.
“They’re torturing her.” I blew out in between gasps.
From above I heard Margaret start to pace in frustration at her helplessness.
“Why would they do that? She doesn’t know anything!”
I closed my eyes and ears and focused on my girl. She was still terrified, but now a new emotion was coming in, sadness. She was feeling sad and helpless. Jesus, what was next?
Leaning into my hands and rubbing my eyes, I tried to feel further than what Kelly was giving me. I exhaled a deep breath to focus my thoughts when a small inferno landed on my neck. I clutched the spot and howled. My body reeled and flung itself back into the corner with force. Pain. Fire. I screamed up into the ceiling and tried to stop my neck from combustion. Just as suddenly as it began, the torment stopped, as if someone had doused ice water on Kelly’s mark and taken the fear from my chest.
Taking more deep breaths after the fucking roller coaster of the last few minutes, I looked up. Smith was now awake and sitting up in bed, a few more Witches had huddled inside the door watching the scene unfold, they all carried the same worried expression. Margaret was now sitting in a chair on the other side of the room, her face held worry but also had a knowing look.
I leaned my head back against the wall, almost afraid to take my hand off my neck. Kelly’s mark, the searing pain that came from the bite she had given me was now completely gone. Cold air tinged my cheek and I wiped them, surprised to find a stream of tears.
Slowly, as if it mattered, I drew my hand away from my neck to see a generous smear of blood on my palm. Raising it to show to Margaret,
“What does it mean?”
The elder had assumed an uncharacteristic poise of leaning onto her knees, some of the fight had left her. Staring to the floor, she answered me without emotion.
“Can you feel her anymore?”
My eyes flicked around the room, Smith was now fully awake and engaged in our conversation. Could I feel Kelly? Shutting out the room, I closed my eyes again and tried to sense her, searching for any one of the feelings she had been having over the last ten minutes. Anything. Something.
Fuck. There was nothing there. Had they killed Kelly? Is this what the death of your mate felt like, just nothing? A void filled with nothing but your own sorrow. Silent tears ran down my cheeks, and I shook my head to Margaret.
“She’s gone. There is just...nothing. She’s...dead,” and I held my head in my hands and sucked in air like I was now the one choking.
Across the room, Margaret t’sked me and strongly pronounced.
“Don’t be ridiculous. She’s not dead. You don’t go to all this trouble just to kill someone. They just want her...unattached.”
From my hands I looked across the room to her, puzzled.
“They broke your connection.”
I continued my stare, dumbfounded.
“Your mate bond. It’s gone.”
A few more seconds passed and the news Margaret was giving me struck home. I leaped to my feet, the pain of the last few minutes now forgotten, replaced with growing fury, understanding what had just happened. They tortured Kelly to force her to give me up. They choked her, trying to get her to do… whatever. I moved and stared out the window, my grip on its wooden frame straining under my hands. I was going to bleed everyone of them dry, until my wolf bathed in it. I vowed it.
Closing my eyes again, I breathed deep and let the anger seep into the wood beneath my hands. When it became normal, I turned back to Margaret and let out another deep sigh, not believing what I was about to ask the woman. The woman who not 24 hours ago had tried to do the same thing to Kelly and I that I just endured.
“Get whatever you need for that spell you offered for my father the other day.”
Her bowed head rose to meet my gaze.
“We need to jump start my father’s brain and learn the secret to Ewan Jones.”
An hour later, we turned down the main dirt road to the Res, Margaret holding a satchel of ingredients in her lap. I took the corner sharply and the elder slid up against the door, hitting it with her shoulder. I had calmed down some, but not enough to forget that she and I essentially wanted different things. I wanted Kelly, she wanted me far away.
Giving her a glance, we had spent the drive in silence. It was deafening and all I could think over was the last time I heard her speaking to Kelly. I wanted someone to blame for our current situation, and she was right here.
“So, you must be happy.”
Margaret grimaced but kept her eyes on the road.
“Despite what you may think, no. I am not happy someone tortured my granddaughter to a breaking point. And I am especially not happy when someone makes a Wardwell do something that she doesn’t want to.”
I looked over to the older woman, hearing the anger in her voice for the first time. A Wardwell. She was still trying to keep the precious Wardwell name and all Kelly's potential clean.
Good, in my experience, anger meant results, and I needed this Witch angry. She looked almost offended that someone would try this on her granddaughter.
We pulled up in front of my father’s house and wasted no time getting out and rushing through the front door.
“Dad!” I called out. No answer,
His voice responded from the kitchen.
We walked through to find my dad and Joe at the kitchen table, coffees in hand. Margaret and I filled up the remaining seats at the table. We were rushed and probably looked half crazed but my dad took it in stride and looked to me expectantly. I did not have the time for pleasantries.
“Dad, Joe, do you remember an Ewan Jones, a Were, would have had a Scottish, or some other U.K. accent? Maybe about thirty years ago?
Margaret piped up, “Welsh, it was a light Welsh accent.”
Joe leaned back in his seat and whistled.
“Thirty years? I was still a youngish Were, roaming. I didn’t have anything to do with drifters coming in and out.”
I looked over to my dad, deep in thought.
“Red hair, right?” My eyebrows perked.
“Yes! Looked like the male version of Kelly.”
He frowned and focused on his cup.
“Nope, sorry son, I can’t seem to recall him.” I frowned, my dad could remember that he had red hair, but had never met him. This was Alzheimers. I looked to Margaret, who knew what was going on.
“Dad, Kelly’s missing, we think the Hunters have taken her and...Ewan Jones, her dad, might be the reason.” Both men’s faces turned worried and my father gripped his mug tighter.
“...Margaret has a way to give you back your memory, for a while. It might be helpful...to find her.”
My dad looked between all of us, it was a lot at once, I knew this, but I wouldn’t ask unless it was life and death, my own life and death. Without a word, he nodded his head in acquiescence. I looked over to Margaret and she put her satchel up on the table and started to unpack. A mortar and pestle came out and several ingredients went in, only to be mashed together by her unsurprisingly strong arm. She left the table and grabbed a glass from the cupboard, filling it with water. The mashed ingredients went into the glass and she stirred it up, pushing it to my father.
He picked it up and drank it without hesitation, all three pairs of eyes following the line of his throat. Placing the empty glass on the table, Margaret then calmly but firmly took his hand and pricked his finger with something sharp to draw blood. Smearing the blood in between her fingers, she threaded them through my father’s hair and held his head gently, her thumb over his temple. She gripped his other hand and they locked eyes, she whispered something underneath her breath and his eyes shut tight.
Slowly, she released him and sat back in her chair, seemingly satisfied with what she had just done. I looked at him, sitting there, eyes still closed tightly. His hands clenched open and shut for some long, tense moments. He didn’t look in pain but rather like he was working through a brain teaser. Joe reached out to touch his friend’s hand and asked,
My father opened his eyes, and looked around the kitchen, looking like he was seeing it for the first time in years. He held Joe’s hand and shook it.
“I’m okay, really. It’s just… a lot at once.”
He turned towards Margaret and I, and cleared his throat, wiping cobwebs from his memories and fortifying himself for the story he was going to tell.
“A drifter came into the Res late one evening on a motorcycle. He knew what and whom to ask for at the old entrance gate, who was the pack leader and where was his house, who was the Beta, and all that. I met him at the front door, and before he even stood on the steps, I could smell he was an Alpha. He carried himself like he had been born into it like he was from a long line of Alphas. He was strapping and broad, and unlike any Were I had ever met before with his red hair and height. He introduced himself, not as an Alpha, just as Ewan.” My father closed his eyes for another moment and tipped his head to me.
“You were just a new baby, and crying inside with your mother. I didn’t invite him, but we sat on the porch to talk and have a beer. He was polite and courteous, said he was looking for a new home and a pack to join, not in any leadership position, but just to... be. Just to live here with others and be at peace. He seemed sincere about that part and I asked him about his last pack and he didn’t lie, like he could have I guess. He chose the truth, he said he was involved in an accident and had paid his dues for it, but said that they had wanted more. Said that people might come looking for him one day. He didn’t say that he was on the run, but that was the feeling I got from him.”
Lowering his eyes to the table, I could see they were slightly wet and his tone was remorseful.
“You were just born and I was a new Chief after your granpa’s sudden heart attack. I was scared at what letting him in with all his past could mean. Having people look for him, coming battle-ready for him. I didn’t say no to him, but I wanted to and I think he knew it. Instead, I told him I wanted the input of the pack, and our monthly meeting was still a week away. Told him he could stay in the old tribal caves to the West border, they had been outfitted with some basics in the last few months thanks to a group of boys doing their coming of age ritual. He stared at me like he knew what was going on and I had given him a refusal right then and there. But he nodded and together we went there, gave him some provisions and told him I would be back in a week to collect him.”
My dad sighed and his body slumped down into his hands as if he had just let go of a decade’s long guilt. He wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and grabbed the coffee cup on the table to do something with his hands.
“A week came and I went to pick him up but the cave was empty, his bike gone and most of the food I left him with was uneaten. I never knew what happened to him until I saw him a few years later at the treaty resigning. I saw him with a Witch and I pieced together the rest. He looked happy, so I didn’t approach him, but…” my father met my eyes.
“...he looked happy. So, it eased my guilt a little.”
Margaret now spoke with a comforting tone, reaching for his hand.
“He had a very happy life, Don. If you hadn’t done what you did, he wouldn’t have met the love of his life. And she loved him well. You did right by everyone,” and she patted his hand, him responding by clutching it in in gratitude.
A few moments passed and my father shook his head again, trying to shake off the emotions. Standing up, he looked down at us all again.
“Well, I’m going to lie down for a while I think. I hoped that helped, son.”
I gave my father a large smile and a silent nod, watching his retreating back. Did that help? Not at all. Ewan Jones was on the lamb, but for what? From whom? It didn’t seem likely that Hunters would let him go, only to try and track him down again. It was an interesting story, and a revelation that Ewan was an Alpha, Kelly also carrying that lineage in her blood, but didn’t give any clue as to where she could be or how to find her.
I rested my head on the kitchen table, never feeling so helpless in my life. This couldn’t be solved by force, not yet. Something was missing from my soul, severed by coercion and violence. I sat back up in my chair, my thoughts wandering to the scotch bottle in the office when I noticed Margaret, clutching her necklace and Kelly’s charm locator in thought. She didn’t look half despondent as I felt. Glancing over to Joe, she asked,
“Joe, where exactly are these 'old tribal caves'?”