Beauty in the Beast

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Chapter 39

I started looking for Derek in the simplest possible way: calling his cell phone. It went straight to voicemail and I knew that was a bad sign. I sent him multiple text messages asking him to contact me, but I doubted he would respond to any of them.

“I want to go to his apartment.” I told Chloe. She reluctantly agreed to go with me, and we began our walk to his place. Once there, I couldn’t help but pause outside the building. There was still damage to the outside walls from the explosion that put us both in the hospital. Nick was never able to figure out who was behind the explosion, but it all seemed connected to the mysteries that surrounded my life.

“How are we going to get in?” Chloe asked.
“I guess we could just ask.” I pressed the buttons on the door and waited for someone to respond.
“Can I help you?” One of Derek’s neighbors buzzed back to us.

“Hi, my name is Emma, I’m looking for Derek, but I haven’t been able to reach him. He lives in this building. I was wondering if you could buzz us in so we can check on him?” It was a long shot, but aside from scaling the building and breaking in, I didn’t have another plan.

“Emma?” The man repeated back to me. “Luna, Emma?”

“Yeah.” I confirmed reluctantly. How was this going to look on Nick that his Luna was trying to see Derek again? Was this mystery man going to tell me to go to hell and call Nick himself?

“Why didn’t you just say so?” To my surprise the gates to the door buzzed open and I rushed in before they closed on us. Chloe stayed close behind me as I jogged up the stairs and went right to his apartment door. Surprisingly, I’ve only been on the inside of this door one time, and I didn’t stay long. I lifted my hand and knocked on the door, but something in my head told me I wouldn’t get an answer.

“Okay, so now what?” Chloe asked me. “I don’t think that man has a key to help us out.” I kicked the mat by the door, but no spare key was under it. “Maybe we could call the landlord and make him open it? You know, a wellness check or something?” As much as I appreciated the thoughtfulness, we didn’t have time to wait for a landlord. Who knows how long Derek has been missing? Hell, I wasn’t even sure he was officially missing, but time was of the essence. I took a step back and lifted my foot, shoving it as hard as I could into the wooden frame. The door cracked under the strength of my foot and I turned to Chloe.
“Or we could leave the landlord an apology note?” She rolled her eyes at me and I slipped through the door. “Derek?” I called out to him, but his scent wasn’t strong enough for him to be occupying the space around us. In fact, his scent was so weak it was apparent he hasn’t been here in weeks.

“Emma.” Chloe called me to attention and held up a cell phone. I instantly recognized it as Derek’s. “It’s dead.” She noted as she tried to turn it on. “Why would he just up and leave without his cell phone?” She asked. I looked around the small apartment and noticed that he either left in a hurry or he was taken.

“All his belongings are still here.” I said. “His toothbrush, his clothes, his phone. I don’t get it. If he was going to the East pack, why wouldn’t he take his things with him?”

“You don’t think?” Chloe took a deep breath. “You don’t think something happened to him?” She asked. I shook my head, at this point I had no idea where my friend was and if he was in danger or not. I took a deep breath and tried to pick up on any scent I could, but there was nothing.

“Maybe his neighbors know something.” I said. “Plug his phone in the charger and we can check who he was talking to before it went dead.” As the phone charged, Chloe and I left his apartment and went to the door across from his now broken one. I knocked hard and waited for an answer. An old wolf opened the door and peaked behind the chain.

“Can I help you?” It was the same voice from the man who let us in.
“Hi, I’m Emma.” I smiled at him, hoping if I was friendly enough, he would answer my questions.
“Luna.” He said before eyeing Chloe up like a threat.

“This is my friend Chloe; we’re looking for Derek. He’s your neighbor, have you seen him?” The door instantly shut in my face and I jumped back. Thankfully, I heard the shuffle of the chain being removed from the door before it swung open again. I smiled at him again, praying to the Moon Goddess that he had answers.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him.” The man narrowed his eyes at the broken door. “I saw a lot of him.” He turned back to me. “A lot of women with him.” I chuckled, I knew Derek took females home, but I hoped the man didn’t think I was one of them.

“When was the last time you saw him?” I asked.

“Few weeks ago. Maybe longer. Hard to tell.” The man was fidgety, and the smell of cigarettes and alcohol was leaking from his body.

“Has anyone come to the apartment looking for him?” I asked.
“Just the Beta.” The man sniffed and rubbed under his nose. Nick sent Daniel looking for Derek, but to my knowledge, nothing was found. “Oh yeah, and that older gentleman.”

“Older gentleman?”

“Maybe his dad? I don’t know. They got into a fight little over a month ago. I went hollering at him for all the racket. Told ’em to calm down or I’d call someone to calm them down.”

“Did you hear what they were arguing about?” I prayed that the old man did.

“Derek was accusing the old man of hurting someone. Kept telling him he went back on the plan or something.”

“Do you remember what the man looked like?” I asked.

“Older, but not as old as me.” He laughed and began coughing, the smell of smoke had me turning my head towards Chloe to hide my nose. “He was tall.” The man continued after his coughing fit. “Good looking, I guess. He was dressed real fancy. Didn’t fit in around these parts.”

“Thank you so much.” I smiled at him again. “Is there anything else? Anything at all that seemed off about him?”

“He had a tattoo on his hand. I don’t know what it was, but it was odd. Fancy guy like that didn’t seem like the tattooed type, you know?” He coughed again. “But that’s it. That’s all I remember.” I thanked the old man again before he closed the door on us. Chloe followed me back into Derek’s apartment and I went straight to his cell phone. It was charged enough that it powered on. I instantly checked his call log; the last few missed calls were from me and Kyle. His history mostly consisted of me and an odd number that wasn’t named in his contacts. I went to his text messages and found my recent texts to him. Kyle sent a few about meeting up for drinks but the majority of his text messages were from the unnamed phone number. ’Call me’ was the only thing the messager would ever text.

“I don’t get it.” I said, looking at Chloe. “This isn’t like him.”

“Maybe we should call the number?” She suggested. I pulled the number up on the phone and my finger hovered over the green button, but I couldn’t do it.

“What if whoever this is has him?” I suggested. “What if they kidnapped him and if I call this number with his phone, they’ll know it isn’t him.”

“What should we do?” She asked. I wish I had an answer for her. I went back to his home screen and pulled up his photos. The most recent phone was something I knew all too well. I almost dropped the phone, but instead my knees gave out and my body dropped into the dining room chair. “What is it, Emma?” Chloe took the phone from me, but she didn’t recognize the picture. She would have no way of knowing. The photo was mostly woods, with just a small opening in the trees to see directly onto a flat area of land off the side of the mountains. “Emma, what is this?’ She asked again.

“It’s a direct view of the place I was shot.” What did this mean? Why would Derek have that on his phone?

“I don’t understand.” Chloe looked at the photo again. “Look at the date.” She held the phone up to me. “This was taken weeks before that even happened.”

“I know.” I didn’t have to look at the photo to know this. My mind had already reached the conclusion I wished wasn’t true. “He was scoping out places where there was an opening to the pack.”

“This doesn’t make sense, Emma. Derek wasn’t into archery. Even if he was able to aim like that, he would never shoot you.”

“What if I wasn’t the target, Chloe?” I stood up. “He said I wasn’t supposed to get hurt.”

“What do you mean? When did he say that?”

“Never mind.” I couldn’t exactly explain my hallucinations while I was dying, but they felt so real.

“Emma, we have to go. We have to give this to Nick, and he can help us. He can deal with this.” I snatched the phone from Chloe and held it to my chest.

“No, we can’t.”

“Emma—”

“He’ll kill him without asking questions.”

“Emma, we can’t keep that.”

“We just have to find Derek.” I pleaded with her. Derek could answer these questions, he could explain this. “He’s being framed, he has to be. He saved my life, Chloe, why would he save my life if he was the one who shot me? Please, Chloe, we can’t tell Nick.” Chloe put her hand over her mouth and shook her head. She was always a good girl, got good grades in school, never broke the rules. She did everything by the book, so asking her to do this for me was a huge risk. “I can find him, Chloe, please just give me time.”

“I saw you dying in a hospital bed. You did die, Emma, I can’t do this again. I can’t go through that again. This is dangerous. You’re going to get yourself killed and then what will Nick do? He barely made it out of that hospital alive. If you would have died, he would have died with you. What would the pack do? Emma, please, think about this.”

“I’m sorry.” I let out a deep breath. What was I thinking? Of course, she was right. This was dangerous. “I’m sorry I brought you into this. Go home to Kyle.” I turned away from her and started out the door. “Tell Nick if you want to, but I’m going to find Derek on my own.”

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