“Okay, I gotta know. What is with these girls?” I asked Aaron, who was just about to take a forkful of roast lamb.
He frowned and followed my gaze across the dining room and to the entrance, where the same four dejected girls walked in with the same three brutish men from this morning trailing them. I stared at the one whose cheek I had revealed but she stared down at their feet while they collectively moved. They paid no notice to me let alone the few other people in the hall for dinner late at night.
Once Rhys had made sure I was okay earlier in the day and left, Aaron had stayed with me in my room and taught me the card game Whist to bide time until dinner. Guessing that he was tasked with making sure I didn’t fall asleep, he made for a good companion, but when it came to anything remotely Maddock, he kept his mouth shut.
Aaron turned back to me, shaking his head.
“Leave it alone, Kelly. Trust me.”
Grimacing at the lack of answers my new friend and bodyguard was providing, I turned back to the last of my dinner and chewed tenderly. My own cheek had finished swelling and would make a nice bruise, but would probably be gone before too long.
“Well, can you at least clue me in as to why I am really here?” Aaron looked confused.
“The accident my father supposedly caused? The one that led him to give away everything? Including me.”
Aaron sat back in his seat, understanding that I was an outsider. This was probably old news to everyone, ancient history. But to me, this was a key event in my life. In fact, while it was the reason for my current predicament, it was also the reason for my existence. My father never would have met my mother if not for this ‘accident’.
Aaron looked around the room, the long dining table had two other men sitting at the end, and another smaller table had been erected on the other side of the room for dinner, where the girls and men were now sitting alone.
He leaned in and whispered, “We aren't really supposed to talk about it, Deian doesn't like hearing it rehashed so often as to how the Maddock’s came into their money. You know, how it was given to them, rather than earned.”
Signaling that my lips would be sealed by zipping them together, he sighed and scooted his chair closer.
“The Maddocks had always lived a little inland and had a much smaller pack than your father and grandfather. The two were...friendly, but never friends. You’ve seen Deian, a little bit crazy, on edge?” I nodded in understanding, “well, imagine a younger, hungrier and greedier version of that. Always looking for the next way to make some easy money, and jealous of your dad and the business he had helped grow.” I leaned back with the image, what a nightmare my father had for a neighbor.
“Anyway, so friendly, but not friends, neighboring Alphas who would occasionally cross paths. One night, on a full moon, the Maddock wife and kids, Celene, Awen, and Rhys were in Fishguard for an outing at a friend’s house, while Deian was with his pack for the monthly gathering in their little town about an hour away. Your dad and mine were doing the same with his own pack around his lands.”
I nodded and gave my own summation,
“Okay, so the Maddock family, minus Deian, is driving back and forth from Fishguard. Deian and my father were with their packs on their own lands, running around. Got it.”
Aaron gave me a grin at my simplification and leaned his head in, beginning to whisper.
“Right, but then, Celene decides to take a back road home since there was some road work going on the main thoroughfare. Your father, as a wolf on his own lands, runs across the road at the wrong time and Celene swerves to avoid them and the car drives into a local river.”
My mouth gaped. Oh fudge, I guess there wasn’t much ambiguity here. If that was true, it was an accident but Ewan Jones was very much the reason for the mother and daughter’s death.
“Celene and the little girl drowned, Rhys, as a baby, should have drowned as well. But his window was broken in the crash, giving him the scar and providing the rescuers a way to get to him.”
I leaned back in my chair, aghast.
“Yep,” Aaron concurred. I followed the logical train of thought,
“So, Ewan Jones, all-round, good, noble man feels extremely guilty and offers everything he can to the Maddocks. Essentially leaving him packless and broke.”
“But, why, after he obviously had nothing else, did they ask for his firstborn daughter? I just... I mean, they were now rich and had everything, why bother waiting around for a possible kid?”
Aaron started to open his mouth, but from across the room, there was a sound of a whelp and both of our heads turned towards the table with the girls.
One of the men had a strong grip around one of the girl's wrist, speaking low and feverishly to her while they were both sitting at the table. She was struggling in his hold, and her pain was visible. I watched their conversation and struggle, speaking to Aaron as the scene across the room unfolded.
“Tell me, Aaron, if this crazy rabbit hole leads somewhere and I marry Rhys, do people here have to do as I say?”
“Yeah, but Kelly, stay ou..”
The man across at the table suddenly used his free hand to smack the girl in the face. The violence of the action out of place in the quiet room. Not a bitch slap to send her reeling, but somewhere in the middle. Not to fuck her up, but to force her spirit down. Before Aaron could finish his sentence, I bolted up from my chair, the sound of the chair legs loudly scraping across the floor drawing everyone’s attention, while mine was on the offending man.
Keeping my eyes on him, as he looked up to me, a moment of silence in the large room passed and I slowly walked across to the buffet and its drink section. Selecting a few ice cubes from the bucket and putting them in a cloth napkin, I walked over to the girls’ table, my eyes never leaving the assaulter.
Arriving at the table, I slowly handed the girl the iced bundle, not daring to look at her, but studying the man. Shit, he looked mean. Big and mean. Short cropped dark hair, a square jaw, a cro-mag brow. Mean and ugly. A flash of Carlyle, the first man to ever torture me, flashed in my mind. Cut from the same goddamn cloth no doubt. The same as Vince. Hovering above him, I asked,
“Do you know me?”
A grim look settled on his face, probably realizing where this was leading.
Leaning down to him, confident that word had gotten around about Vince and the repercussions of his assault, I placed my hands on the table in front and the back of his chair, caging him in while speaking low and furious.
“I will fucking cut your hand off with a butter knife if I ever see that again.”
Anger rippled through my voice, it quivered with it. I didn’t know what the situation was with these ladies, but to see them at the mercy of angry, mean men twisted my insides.
I took a step back to look him in the eyes, still hovering above. His mouth set, like he wanted to retort. Instead of saying anything, he looked back down at the table, squeezing his hands open and shut.
“Kelly, please come with me.” A voice sounded from the doorway. The man and I looked over and saw Deian, flanked by a few other men coming in for dinner. His eyes were intent on the two of us, and while he wasn’t brimming with anger, he wasn’t happy to see me leaning over one of his men flexing some pent up anger.
I erected my posture, giving the table one more look and walked over to the doorway, to the older man. He moved slightly to let me exit and the door clanged behind us. My courage from a minute ago and dealing with a ‘henchman’ suddenly fled as the Alpha directed his sole attention to me.
Gently, he held my forearm and I slightly winced at the contact. The crazy look was gone from his face tonight, but the man still exuded a deranged quality I couldn’t place. He began to guide me down the hallway, in the direction of my room.
“Quite a day?”
I nodded, not trusting myself to not give sass. We walked for a few more moments in silence, behind I vaguely heard light footsteps trailing us.
We turned the corner near my bedroom and I began to get nervous as Deian angled his body to walk closer.
“Kelly, I can appreciate the … American spunk you’re going to bring to the place and I think it is quite evident that we haven’t had a lady here for a while, but...,” The slight grip that was guiding me turned sharp, his nails biting my skin and his voice gritted out from behind bared teeth.
“Don’t ever interfere with my merchandise again.”
“Merchandise?” I asked. I hadn’t even seen any drugs around here, let alone touch them. “I’ve never touched anything, Deian.”
His face grew confused before gaining a look of understanding, then he brazenly laughed in my face.
“I guess beauty and brains were a bit too much to ask for, huh?”
The Alpha turned me by the elbow, forcing my back up against my bedroom door, and I inched closer to it to avoid his touch. We were the same height, but I had no doubt that this man could kill me with his grip if he wanted to.
“The girls, Kelly. It would be best if you didn’t even look at them. They’ll be gone soon, just pretend they aren’t there, okay?”
The girls. It finally clicked what the vile man was alluding to when suddenly he placed his forearm on the door next to my head, crowding me, our faces close enough I could see the aged pores on his nose.
“You know, Kelly, we could still have some fun while you’re in the castle. I’m not sure how easy it will be to arrange... after.” My face must have flickered disgust at the thought because Deian’s hand suddenly grabbed my waist and pushed into me, bringing his body flush against mine.
“Your father took everything from me. It is only fitting that you give something back, girl.”
Steps around the corner drew both our attention, as Aaron rounded it. Ignoring him, Deian’s face turned back to me, his gaze on my lips,
“On your way, boy,” he muttered.
Aaron leaned up against the wall, unperturbed at the sight of his Alpha cornering a woman.
“Yes, Alpha, I just thought Rhys was here, since he sent me a text a minute ago.”
Deiann sighed and slumped into his lean, pursing his lips and turning his body to Aaron in resignation that our time together and alone was up.
Giving my face another study, he erected his posture and without another word strode down the hall back to the dining room. Aaron ambled up to me, making sure Deian continued down the hall.
“You realize that’s the second time you have had to ask me that today?” I shook my hands out, trying to get rid of some of the fear and adrenaline the Were imposed on me. Fucking hell, he was terrifying up close.
He sighed, “Yeah…you’re like fresh meat, you know? It will quieten down soon.”
I shook my head at the analogy. Fresh meat was bound to be ground down.
“You know what? Fuck this castle. I’m going to bed.”
He nodded in understanding and watched me enter my bedroom, locking the door behind and leaning my head against it.
Drug running was one thing. But human trafficking of young girls? They looked like they should be in college, enjoying a few beers and heavy petting with a nice econ major. Not...this. Trying to push the feel of Deian’s hands on my waist and the play just tried to make on me, disgust melded with anger for the whole lot of them. It was then I realized my mother's was right to send me here and I was absolutely going to kill these mother fuckers.
Some hours later, I propped myself up in bed in the darkness, feeling sweat coat my brow. Dreams of Will were becoming downright unnerving, lust mixed with fear. Whatever it was, it was intense and got my blood racing. I reached over to the bedside table for a drink of water when the cherry end of a cigarette flared up next to the now open window a few feet away.
I froze and let my eyes adjust to the darkness, eventually, a silhouetted figure came into view, sitting patiently in a chair.
He exhaled his cigarette, smoke pluming, and aimed towards the window.
Shit. I must have muttered his name in my sleep.
I rubbed my eyes, feigning confusion.
“Rhys? What are you doing here? What’s the time?”
“I have the key to your room, remember? Aaron can’t be with you all the time. I heard about my father cornering you... Who’s Will, Red?”
So he heard about the dining room incident.
“Did you know your father is into human trafficking, that he has four girls here right now?”
Another cherry flared followed by smoke lazily rising from his lips.
“Yes.” Flat, emotionless.
“What else does he run?”
Rhys silhouetted head tilted, studying me.
“Meth and occasionally guns.”
I scoffed, now totally awake.
“Well, as long as it only occasionally guns, what’s the harm? Is this the ‘other business’ you agreed to take over the other night? How can you be okay with this?” I knew the answers to all of these, but I had to know if the son was as complicit as the father.
His shoulders shrugged.
“It’s a business. Businesses need products. Last time I’ll ask, Red. Who’s Will?”
I scoffed at the question, implying that he was no one and it was absurd to ask.
“He’s an old boyfriend that I guess my brain occasionally dredges up. But the girls? You’re okay with that part of the business?”
He looked out the window and in the faint light, I saw his profile, his brows furrowed. He had some issues then, thank goodness.
“No, that part I’m not alright with, my da and I haven’t seen eye to eye on some things for some time now. But people choose to take drugs. I’m okay with transporting them for their choice.” He paused as I considered him. A farmer who worked hard but was now going to give it up to run a fishing fleet that ran drugs on the side. I couldn’t work this guy out. His actions and demeanor were too contrasting. Playful and flirty one night, dark and sinister the next.
“I don’t share.” He suddenly exhaled and I leaned back on my hands, exasperated.
“Are you serious right now? Jealous over an ex in a dream? That’s rich, coming from the man who I literally saw break up with a girl three days ago.”
He stayed silent and I realized I couldn't see his face, suddenly aware I was only wearing a singlet and underwear in bed. Pulling up the sheet to my chest, another exhale rose from the man and he might have chuckled in the dark.
“Don’t fret, I said I would wait for your big night.”
He rose up in his seat and moved over to the door, opening in and letting light stream in.
“Get some more sleep, Red. It was a mistake to stay here, we’re packing up in the morning.”
He shut and locked the door behind him, and I fell back onto my pillow, more confused about that man every time we met. I was extremely attracted to him but at the same time I wanted to watch him choke on his own tongue.