A loud knock on the door came as I exited the shower after a few hours of sleep. Rhys has told me not to open it, and after that skinhead in the Great Hall, I was absolutely willing to do as he said on this point.
Wrapping one of the large fluffy towels around, I asked loudly,
“Who is it?”
I gave a smirk at the obvious point.
“Should I know who you are?” From behind the door, there was some shuffling of feet.
“Ahhh, right, we met at the pub, asked you if you wanted another cider, you said Merlot, then again last night. I was the one who texted Rhys to get his arse here.”
The shorter man with a soft face and hazel eyes. Opening the door a smidge, I saw him awkwardly standing with my trekking bag hung over his shoulder. He gave a small wave and weak smile before looking up and down the hallway as if he was nervous to loiter.
Opening the door wide to welcome, he stepped in gratefully. Eyeing me in the towel, he unhooked the bag and handed it over.
“I believe this is yours, please get dressed...now...before anyone ever finds out you were near naked and I was present.” He looked away uncomfortably and I smiled at his nervousness, giving him a chuckle. The towel came down to my knees, but by now I was used to the ever present threat of Alpha jealousy. Using the bathroom to change, I came out a few minutes later to find Aaron by the window, texting on his phone. He turned, leaning on the window frame and gave a friendly smile.
“So, quite a night, huh?”
I hooted out a laugh at the easiness of that statement and sat on the bed to face him.
“That’s one way to say it, I guess.”
“What’s the other way?”
“Ohhh, maybe a gigantic clusterfuck of craziness?” I smiled and laughed at my own joke while the man just stared at me with a grin. “I mean, honestly, it’s like a rabbit hole. Please tell me this isn’t how all men in Wales get brides?”
“Oh, no, the rest of us usually grovel. The Maddocks are definitely... unusual.” I smiled with a knowing nod. “You really look like your da, huh?” He commented after a few moments. I frowned and tilted my head at him.
“There’s no way you met my dad, you’re nearly my age.”
Aaron shifted on his feet and looked down at them, almost embarrassed by his observation.
“No, you’re right, I never met him that I can remember, but I have to see him every day in my house in the wall photos.”
I gave him a quizzical look,
“Our dad’s were best friends, Alpha and Beta... before the accident that is. Your Da is actually my godfather.” He gave a morose smile before rubbing his hand through his close cropped hair, “I don’t know how I’m going to tell him about Ewan… I think he was always content thinking that he got away, was living his life somewhere else. And he is going to be doubly pissed when he finds out it was all for nothing when his clueless daughter comes waltzing right back in.”
I gave him a conciliatory shrug, knowing the truth of the situation, but regretful for the stress it would cause others.
“I’m sorry. Ewan was very happy, from what I could tell, before the fire. And as for me, well, trust me, I really wanted to meet my dad’s family, but…” My hand flew to my forehead,
“Shit! Iona. She is expecting me to come around, like an hour ago now.”
Aaron waved his hand, trying to ease my concern.
“Nope, don’t worry, Rhys said he would let her know everything.”
My guilt at putting Iona, the elderly housebound woman with respiratory issues, through that stress nearly doubled hearing that it was Rhys who was going to ‘let her know’.
“Wonderful,” I muttered, right before my stomach gave a small rumble and Aaron’s eyes moved down to it, hidden by my white Henley.
My eyebrows perked.
“Really? I mean, I know this room is kind of like the Ritz, surprisingly, but aren’t I like a prisoner? The whole kidnapping, dragging me into a locked room, telling me I’m to be someone’s wife... kinda screams restriction of movement.”
He gave his own chuckle,
“If you were a prisoner, they would have shown you to the dungeon.”
“They have a fucking dungeon!?” I asked incredulously, while Aaron seemed to realize it might have been a secret.
“Uh, yes, but let’s not worry about that. Come on, they lay out a spread until 10 am in the dining room, but when it’s gone, it’s gone.”
Following him out of the room, we turned down to go further down the empty hallway, our footsteps sounding hollow on the old stone. Around another corner, the hallway ended in big double doors and a room somewhat smaller than the hall from last night. On the side was buffet-style dining, and in the center, a long table with a few other people sitting down already eating. Following Aaron’s lead and picking up a plate, I glanced around at the table. There were four younger girls, maybe in their early twenties sitting down with a man, each looking like one of the thugs from last night, in between them.
Having picked up some bacon and eggs, we sat at the end of the table. One of the girls, a dirty blonde with hair covering half her face, glanced up at me quickly, then put her head back down to her toast. She looked rough, like she needed a hot shower and some fresh clothes. She had dark bags under the eye I could see and from her drawn features, it seemed like a good night’s sleep would be helpful. Were these wives and girlfriends of people that worked for the Maddock pack?
I looked to Aaron with a peaked eyebrow and nodded my head over to the girls, an unspoken question passing between us. He shook his head and looked back down at his eggs.
Confused, I looked around at the other three girls. They all had on more or less dirty clothes and seemed intimidated, or at least looking down at their plates intently and not speaking to each other.
I pushed the mystery of the girls from my mind and turned my body to Aaron, I had to figure out my limits here. I was here to do a job. The Maddock pack had to implode on itself. From what I saw of the father and son, it might not be hard. But that didn’t mean it was going to happen without someone to light the fuse.
“Where is Rhys today?” I asked Aaron and he shrugged with an eye roll.
“And I quote ‘Taking care of some things’. So, I have no clue beyond Iona. I am your caretaker today for all intents until he comes along.”
“My own bodyguard?”
Aaron’s eyes glanced up at the men at the table and he gave a small grin to show that he might actually be serious. Well damn, I knew the Maddock Weres were rough, but that I needed protection even when I was inside seemed more extreme than I had signed up for.
Looking down the table, I asked the blonde closest to me, a few seats down,
“Could you pass the salt, please?”
Her head whipped up and her mouth gaped like she didn’t know how to respond. Glancing over at the man across from her, he then silently reached across to the shaker next to her glass and walked it down to me. I took it, looking up to his cold face in question. He then walked back and continued to watch the girl finish her plate.
Oh, now I was officially intrigued. I looked at the whole group and Aaron laid a hand on my arm, seeing the wheels spinning in my head.
I sighed and looked back down to the last bite of eggs.
“Well, can you at least show me around? I don’t think I have ever actually been in a castle, coming from the land of the free with zero monarchies.”
He ate the last of his own toast and grinned, “That, I can certainly do, but I’ve been told only the inner walls.” I pursed my lips, making it known I was not excited about my prisoner status.
“Now don’t worry, there is a wonderful maze in the garden and all the flowers are in bloom this month.”
He made move to stand, gesturing for me to leave my plate and we began to walk to the door when I suddenly paused behind the dirty blonde, still covering her face with her hair. Something tugged at my memory. The man across looked above her head and we locked eyes for a moment. Gathering my courage, I stepped around to her side, holding his gaze and very slowly drew the curtain of her hair back, glancing down.
On her hidden cheek was a large blue bruise, yellow around the edges. She flinched when she noticed my hand and I let her hair drop. I glanced around to all the other girls, now noticing the slight discoloration on different parts of their body. They all had something. The man sitting across from me now rose and our eyes met again but he spoke to my companion.
“Move along, Aaron.”
Aaron’s hand slithered from behind and grabbed my upper arm, pulling me back towards the door without a word. I let him, catching the eyes of the other girls, watching my retreat.
The door thumped behind us and Aaron guided us down the hall and around the corner. Pulling out of his grasp,
“What the fuck, Aaron. Who the hell were they?”
“Those girls are none of my business, or yours. I forgot they have breakfast late to miss the crowd. You won’t see them again, hopefully.”
I looked at him like he was crazy, speaking like it was the girl’s fault for their condition or my reaction. I stepped back from him, now wary,
“Are… are they like me? Promised to someone? Is that how I’m going to be treated here, beaten and kept out of sight?” Fuck that. Fuck Jolene’s plan for revenge if it came with taking anything close to that. Angry enough at seeing others treated that way, I likely would lose my proverbial shit if it happened to me. I would do things my own way and ensure revenge was served steaming and fried.
Aaron closed the distance and laid a reassuring hand on my shoulder,
“No, of course not. You’re set to be future Luna, and we haven’t had one in a long time. No one would dare touch you unless they had a death wish.”
He cut me off by grabbing my arm and leading me down the hallway,
“Maybe later Rhys can tell you all about it. Let’s go to The Rose garden, yeah? And you can tell me all about yourself, after all, we are nearly family,” adding with a grin.
I smiled at the thought and let the matter of the girls go, allowing my father’s godson to lead me through the large stone hallways. After weaving through the halls, we came to a set of open doors leading out into a well manicured garden, full of English roses. For all the crass and white trash Deian and his thugs had displayed, they certainly had modernized Wolf's Castle and kept it to an aristocratic vision.
Walking along the path in the sunshine, I reiterated much of what I spoke of with Iona. Aaron turned out to be single, a dutiful son of Samuel, and a fisherman. Though he ran his own boat and could, therefore, choose his own hours, occasionally he took tourists out on big game tours out into the open waters to the South. He recounted much of the antics my father and his got up to as teens and boys, and I unexpectedly felt a great loss for the man I had yet to meet. Losing a leader of your pack was one thing, but losing a best friend and helplessly watch his ruin must have been heartbreaking.
The rose path eventually ended and placed us in front of two entrances to what looked like a small, but intricate maze. He grinned at me,
“You game?” And I frowned at him in return.
“Like you don’t know this like the back of your hand. You’re setting me up.”
Shaking his head earnestly, “Nope, sorry, I’ve only gone through twice. It’s Rhys that grew up here. He could do this blindfolded, but me, we are even.”
“What’s in the middle?”
“Just another little garden with a fountain and some seats. Come on, Kelly, it should take you ten minutes, give or take. First one in buys the first round when we hit the Winchester next.”
I smirked at him and nodded, heading into the right entrance of the maze.
The walls of the maze were over 7 feet tall and 3 wide, not tall enough to feel boxed in, but too tall to try and cheat. A few turns in and I came to a dead end. Retracing my last turn, I let my hands run over the leaf walls and closed my eyes to the sensation. Somewhere in the maze there were voices, faintly speaking. Trying to logic this out in my head was useless I realized, there was no formula for getting through a maze. It was pure trial and error. Retracing your steps until you got the combination right.
A few more turns and the voices I had heard before were now a little louder, two men were speaking about...boats. Something about boats. A few more turns and I came to another dead end, but now the voices were on the other side and could be clearly heard. They must have been in the Center, and I had to be close.
Pausing, I listened in to the voices. Two men with higher pitched ones than I would expect on males, one of them had an accent I guessed to be Irish?
“...that’s not a good day for us, it’s the day after…”
“Deal with it,” Irish clipped out. “The Guardia to the South has already been paid, there will be no one out in the water after 5 til midnight.” A few moments paused between the two while I tried to figure out who the first speaker was.
“Alright, but it will be all three cargos. If we are going to do it at a bad time, it has to be worth it for us. I want everything out of our stores.”
“That will be all of our ships...”
“Ours too, we always have two or three extra boats for each one carrying.”
My heart started to beat faster, these dumb assholes were talking about the drug running the Maddocks ran on the side of their fishing business. In a fucking maze. Where anyone could hear them. I might not need to actually do anything to help these pack implode, it seemed they were stupid enough to let it happen by itself. The two men on the other side had gone quiet and I struggled to hear anything over the loud beating of my own heart in my ears. I pressed my ear closer to the hedge, had they moved away? Looking to the leaves again, I tried to peer through, but the hedge was too thick.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed my scalp, wrapping my hair around its fist and yanked me back with force. I fell to the ground and before I could recognize the owner of the hand, it came back down and smacked me on the side of the face. The impact threw my head back down and my skull cracked against the hard packed dirt.
I winced at the pain, but was too disorientated to scream. A face framed the blue sky above me, and Deian’s skinhead lackey came into view.
“Like to eavesdrop, little girl? Nasty habit around here.” He sneered and I got a closeup of those missing teeth and vile breath.
His two hands flashed and quickly grabbed the front of my shirt, pulling my chest up off the ground. I glanced down at his arms, surprised they were so strong for such a wiry man, and spotted something alarming on his forearms. Track marks. Suddenly it all made sense, he was a friggin meth head.
My weight was too heavy for the shirt to support and I felt it rip around my shoulders. I curled my hands around his and tried to focus on his face. The smack to my cheek burned and the knock set off a ringing in my ears as well as left me woozy.
He leaned down a little farther to my face, crouching over my body and pressed his nose into the cheek he smacked, sliding up to my forehead. The man reeked of liquor and cigarettes, the missing teeth were obviously from neglect as I smelt that breath.
“Is that why you came back, girl, you want a piece of the pie?” He hoarsely whispered.
My brain became clearer with each second and I pressed my hands up to that face and pushed it away.
“Get off of me, you white trash!” He clung to my shirt tighter with one hand and released the other to knock my hands away and smack me again on the same cheek at my insult. Again, my head hit the dirt, but instead of becoming senseless, I screamed “AARON!” into the hedges.
As if answering my call, the skinhead was suddenly lifted up into the air, and transported behind me. There were sounds of a scuffle and someone being punched and groaning. I rolled over to look back up the maze row.
The tall back of Rhys was now walking away, and in his hand was the neck of my assailant, struggling to get free from his grip like a master grabbing the scruff of a bad dog. They turned around the corner and were lost from my sight when Aaron came speeding around the other side to kneel to me on the ground. Helping me sit on my knees, he lifted my hair away from my face to look at my cheek.
“Alright?” He asked, concern filling his face.
My hand went to my cheek, gingerly assessing it while my eyes went to the place where Rhys and meth head had just left.
“You were saying something about being a future Luna?”
“Uh, yeah, I did, and Vince has always had a death wish, especially when it comes to anything Rhys.” I furrowed my brows at him in question,
“Vince is Deian’s Beta, and a little too eager to take over the throne. From what I gather, Rhys kind of kicked him to the curb last night without even trying.”
Ahhh, yes, that would piss anyone off. From what I witnessed late last night, Rhys was akin to the prodigal son coming home to reclaim his birthright. Although I corrected the thought. No, it was actually my birthright and the son now wanted it, after years of shunning it for some reason unknown.
Aaron dragged me back from my thoughts.
“Come on, let’s stand you up.”
I let him gently hook me under the arms and helped me stand, my head throbbing with pain from the fall and my cheek was on fire. I don’t think I had ever been slapped before and tried to recall anything similar. Nope, this was definitely a first. I liked to think that ‘Vince’ had gotten lucky, that I was disorientated and too out of it to fight back with natural instinct. Or maybe I was the one who was lucky not to expose myself, Rhys seemed to have been awfully close to us in the maze. What was he even doing here?
Aaron started to lead me out, taking my walk slow. As the exit appeared in front, I pushed his helping hands away and combed my hair with my fingers, bits of dirt and leaves from the ground still hanging in the back.
“I’m okay, can we just go back to my room and let me wash up? I’ve been doing this thing with afternoon naps, and it sounds like a solid plan at the moment.”
Softly smiling in agreement, we began back up the rose path in silence. What an entrance to Wolf's Castle. Kidnapped in the middle of the night, assaulted in the middle of the day. Jolene and I had spoken in generality that it was going to be rough on the inside, but I had no idea of the physical toll. Looked like playing with the big boys wasn’t just a saying. I was going to have to toughen up and expect a lot more if I was going to see this through to the end without leaning on any magic.
Coming to the open doors, Aaron turned us left and down the large hallway, our footsteps echoing in the silence. Rounding a corner, loud voices could be heard and eventually we passed the ‘throne’ room as I now thought of it. One of the doors was open and together, Aaron and I peeked in.
On the dais was Deian with several other men around the table, looking like they were playing poker. On the floor where I was deposited last night, was a kneeling Vince, with Rhys once again standing defiant.
Rhys stiffened as I leaned forward a little more, and he turned around to the door,
“Come here, Red,” he commanded. Knowing when to not argue, I hopped inside the door and strode down the length of the hall to the three men facing each other, coming to the free side of Rhys.
Rhys gently grabbed my chin and lifted my hair to display my swelling face, ironically mimicking what I had done to the girl in the breakfast room a few hours earlier. Except where she flinched, I held the Alpha’s gaze. Deian’s eyes roamed my face, looking at the bruise probably rising and then down to my body, where the neckline of my shirt was ripped and exposed a bra strap. The other signs of a struggle showing on my clothes.
He took a silent moment and looked between me and his Beta on the floor.
“You want justice, Kelly?” He calmly asked of me.
Rhys’ voice rang loudly beside me, “I want it! The insult is mine. Make no mistake, Deian, he did this to me.”
My eyebrows perked in surprise at Rhys’ gall and was pretty confident that I was actually the one assaulted twenty minutes ago.
Deian’s eyes wandered up and down his son, taking all six foot four of the angry man he sired. But he looked to me again,
“Kelly, do you want it?”
I turned my head to the man on the floor, looking down at the ground below him. How strange that two different parental figures were asking me about taking justice in the span of a few months. Slowly, I nodded, remembering my resolution just a few minutes before to toughen up. This was how people did it, take down the meanest kid in the schoolyard and the others fall in line.
Well, shit. I couldn’t deliver my own brand as I did to the first man who ever assaulted me. And if I was truthful, I didn’t want to touch this scum of the earth again. Not knowing how to respond, I shrugged,
“Whatever is normal for the pack.”
Vince’s head snapped up to look at me, his face almost holding a smile, as if he had gotten away with it. On his platform, Deian laughed.
“Wonderful! It’s going to be a wonderful initiation ceremony then.”
I looked to Rhys, whose face was now giving nothing away. What would happen at the ceremony, my ceremony?
Deian turned back to a man at the table, “Put him away downstairs, would you?”
A man Rhys’ height, but older and stockier stood and moved to Vince, hauling him up from under his arms. Together they moved to the back of the room without speaking, though Vince did give me one last smirk before being dragged out the main doors.
Rhys gritted out to his father once the door shut, “It won’t be enough.”
His father looked me up and down, “Come now, have some faith in your girl here.” His eyes roamed my body, “I have a feeling there is a lot more there than one might guess.”
The way his eyes scoured every inch of me was unnerving. Like he almost knew there was something different about me. But without another word, Rhys grabbed my hand and pulled me from the room, passing Aaron on our way out.
Same as last night, Rhys pulled me back along the hallway, and down to my room, but this time with a gentler hand. I almost imagined once or twice he squeezed and pressed it closer into mine. Shutting my door behind us, he looked me over, glancing at my revealed black bra straps.
“Do you have other clothes?”
I nodded and moved over to my pack next to the window.
“Yes, but I need to do laundry soon. I don’t suppose this place has a service?” I asked, smiling and pulling out a similar black Henley shirt from deep in my backpack.
He didn’t return the smile, instead moving to the bathroom and I could hear him rummaging around the drawers, searching. I removed my torn top and held it up against the light of the window, wondering if I could repair it. I packed too light, with only a few tops and the same in jeans. I called out to the bathroom behind me, “I don’t suppose you have the equivalent of a ‘Target’ around here, do you?”
His voice sounded, right next to my ear,
“No. But I’ll make sure you have something.”
I spun around from the shock of his close presence and put my hand over my heart. I exhaled a long woosh in a smile and our eyes locked. My smile quickly faded however as soon as I saw his eyes wander down, taking in my shirtless body.
He looked down to my hand, now covering my breasts, partially hidden by my black bra and my breath stopped as his eyes lingered over them and his lips parted. A hand came up slowly, as if not to scare me off, and his fingers moved over the edge of the bra, trailing it over the cup and lightly dancing across my skin. I was mesmerized by his face, so engrossed in the simple act of barely touching me.
My hand itched to rub itself through his beard, tracing the line of his scar, to feel the smoothness of it in contrast with the rough hair. To understand the contrast of Rhys, who could go from domineering stone to sexy as fuck and considerate in a hot minute. My heart began to beat faster with the sensation of fingers on my breast paired with lewd thoughts and those same fingers paused, undoubtedly feeling the quickening under my skin. His eyes glanced up to mine quickly before studying my lips.
Coming to my senses, that I was alone and half naked with the man I had planned on soon being dead, I muttered “Sorry,” and pulled my new tee over my head. He watched it fall over my stomach before lifting his other hand that held a wet cloth from the bathroom. I took it with a nod and pressed it against my cheek.
He finally seemed to come out of his trance and brought his hand to the back of my head, digging his fingers through my hair and into my scalp, probing. After a few moments, he rasped out,
“Are you okay?”
About to answer, I instead winced against his fingers as they touched the spot where my head met the ground.
I nodded, and he stepped closer to gain more access. He swiveled me around, and I faced out the window, a large pine tree of some sort filling the view. Lifting my hair, he parted it to look at the wound on my scalp. I felt a brief probe of his fingers before he mumbled, “The skin didn’t break. Just no naps today, okay?”
I stilled at his words,
“What?” I asked, turning my head so he could see my profile and I could hear him clearly.
“Just don’t go to sleep until later tonight, okay? You might have a concussion.”
I solemnly nodded, thinking that I misheard. Staring out at the window, the large pine tree had started to sway in the afternoon wind and my mind wandered back to the throne room and the choice I had made.
“What does the ‘normal’ means of retribution in this pack mean?”
His fingers let go of my hair and he stepped in closer. I could almost feel his broad chest against my back.
“It means in ten days, on the full moon when you are initiated into the Maddock Pack, you and Vince will be placed in the member’s circle together and only one leaves.”
My heart started to beat fast. That fucking meth head was going to kill me if I wasn’t going to use magic. Rhys must have been able to hear my pulse quicken at the thought. Leaning in to speak low to my ear, his breath tickled my ear lobe.
“Don’t worry, Red, you will have a significant advantage.”
“What? He won’t be hopped out on drugs that day?”
“Not at all, even if he was, I expect you to come out on top. It will be your wolf fighting him as a man, and after 28 years of sleeping, I expect your wolf is not looking to play.”