THERON

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SEVEN.

Theron’s paws thumped across the undergrowth at the same rhythm as his heart as he flew through the forest. For that, he was thankful; his heart was still beating.

It was still there.

With miles and miles to go, he had plenty of time to reflect on his emotions, though he was still contemplating if that was a good idea. For centuries he had been one thing and one thing only: heartless. He had mourned his new life—his mortality, his ever-transforming body, his unrequited love.

He never forgot the first time he had laid eyes on Cera. Working the marketplace, a plain commoner to most, but to him, she was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. With hair as black as a moonless night and deep, sapphire eyes, she had his heart as soon as she opened her mouth to speak.

He fell fast.

He fell hard.

Life with Cera was the happiest he had ever been. Weeks of laughing, kissing, and lovemaking had cemented his resolution to marry her. To make her his and only his. The one regret he had was accepting the order to leave for battle before sealing their vows. He hadn’t imagined how things between them would change so drastically upon his return.

His memory never erased the feel of what would soon become their last kiss.

However, once that kiss broke, Cera looked at him, confused and befuddled as she knew something about him was different. Something didn’t feel the same. How she knew, he never had been able to determine.

He told her about the druids and the goddess and the gift he had been given, even though the expression upon that goddess’s face was anything but friendly and inviting. Theron felt powerful and alive and he knew he could use such a gift to protect his loved ones and conquer his enemies in battle.

He was now a god among men.

But Cera had not agreed.

When he shifted to his lycan form, she made it quite obvious that it was not a gift, as he had once thought.

He stared at her, his lycan body hovering over her, his chest rising and falling with his heavy breathing. Her eyes were wide as she scampered back into the corner of the house.

Her face fell, her cheeks pale. Scrunching her nose up in disgust, she squeezed her eyes tightly closed. Her hands grabbed the black hair that hung loosely on her head... and she screamed.

It was loud, it was terrifying and it was painfully agonizing. “No, no, NO!” She shouted, her voice trembling.

Knowing this was going south quickly, Theron shifted again and again, finally back to his human form. “Cera! It’s okay! It’s still me, my love!” As he reached forward to console her, she batted his hands away, frantically. He couldn’t understand her reaction. Yes, his beast was scary, but he would never hurt her. He loved her.

She had to see that.

Hysterically, she sobbed, “Monster.”

That one word brought desperation to Theron he never knew existed... and it would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life.

Grabbing onto her forearms, he forced her to look at him. When their eyes did meet, it pained him. She looked at him as if he was exactly what she claimed him to be. Her eyes were cold and empty, “Get away from me.” Theron opened his mouth to argue but it did no good as Cera started to scream again, “DON’T TOUCH ME! DON’T TOUCH ME! DON’T TOUCH ME!”

Theron fell on his ass, knocked back by her vehement demand. How could she say that?

Her eyes held an accusation that Theron couldn’t understand but he soon would. “You’re a monster!”

“Cera, no, I—”

“Get away from me! LEAVE!” She roared, tears streaming down her flushed cheeks. “MONSTER!” Cera shrieked over and over again, grabbing at her hair and shaking her head.

And now, here he was, once again, dreading the same fate.

Theron had forced himself to watch the little blonde beastie’s face crumple in agony and heartbreak at his announced departure. She clutched his fur, tightly—painfully, but Theron didn’t snap, growl or yelp. The physical pain was real yet her love was undeserving.

“NO!” She exclaimed. “He won’t leave! I. WON’T. LET. HIM!”

“Catalina, listen to me and listen to me really well,” Lucan’s soft voice filled the air, quieting the panicked pup. “Theron will leave. To protect you. When he is done, he’ll come back.”

Lina sniffled. “But I’m safer when he’s here,” she whined. The pleading undertone was not lost on Theron and he couldn’t help the whimper that resounded within his chest in return. He didn’t want to leave, he really didn’t.

After gallons of tears and ear-piercing screams from Lina and a fed-up Lucan who called her by her full name too many times to count, she finally fell asleep, exhausted from her emotional turmoil. Though Theron knew it wouldn’t be kind to leave while her eyes were closed, he thought it best to avoid another meltdown.

But he wouldn’t leave without a parting gift.

Scraping his canines gently across her skin so as not to wake her, his teeth left an irritated red spot behind her right ear. He licked the wound clean, slowly, and carefully, letting his saliva do all the work for him. In its place, formed a tattoo—three inches by three inches in size, white claw marks that mirrored the exact symbol on his wolfen form’s forehead. He explained to Lucan that it would act as a sort of protection, warding all werewolves and lycans away as the mark would tell them exactly who guarded this child. To a human, it would only appear as a faded scar to not stir any unwanted questions.

It was an enormous gesture on Theron’s part as no Ancient had ever done such a thing. Although, Theron did not feel like it was even close to enough.

He couldn’t help but consider the possibility that had Lina known the monster he was, had she understood, she would not have been so upset at the thought of his egress. Like Cera, Lina would have dismissed him, wanting nothing further to do with such an abomination.

That thought was what had him reminiscing his whole life because the last time he felt such pain within his heart was after his beloved’s rejection. Of course, the relationship he had between Cera and Lina was different. Cera had been the love of his life. He saw a future with her—love, children, and happiness. He thought their love was unconditional because for him, it was. But with Lina, they shared a friendship, even though she did not know him. She was a child, so her love was deep and true. Her life had not yet been tainted by the outside world and she accepted him without question or hesitation. Her love, by definition, was currently unconditional... something Theron had yet to experience in his life. Something he thought Cera felt... something he did not realize at the time was only one-sided.

So his heart broke a bit when he had to leave. When—if, he returned, would their friendship be the same? When she grew up, when she discovered his true nature, would she still want to be his friend?

He cursed his position—his responsibility to the werewolves of the world, his existence, in general. A duty that he never wanted but one he could never escape. If he hadn’t met Lina, would he even care about the possible extinction of his species?

Probably not.

Honestly, he would more than likely welcome it. DeLoren, Marius, and Kai had spread their seed for millennia, their curse shared among hundreds of thousands... a population of beings that relished in what they were, not ever realizing they were never supposed to be.

Theron had been free from such guilt. He had lived his life separate from his brothers and their kin... secluded, and that was the only way he desired to stay: unloving, uncaring, waiting for the end to finally find him.

And then he met her.

As hard as it might have been to witness Lina’s reluctance to let him go, he knew it was the right thing. Even if she hated him now, one day she might understand. One day, they might revisit their friendship. For she was the only reason he was fighting for the survival of this damned species.

***

Theron stomped into the briefing room and grimaced at his surroundings. He had never seen this room. He hadn’t ever had a reason to be in it. When Marius insisted all of their safe houses have such a space, Theron literally laughed in his face. What the hell did they need it for anyway? They hardly saw each other... only occasionally spoke and that was on the phone and more importantly—no, most importantly, Theron would not have given one fuck enough to enter such a room.

And by the I-Told-You-So look on Marius’s face, he was the one laughing now.

“Oh, fuck you, Mar,” Theron grumbled at the smug smile adorning his brother’s face. Of course, it did nothing to wipe that look away. “Glad you could join us, oh Lone One,” Marius replied in an over-exaggerated, fake bow. Theron shot him a miffed glare and took his seat beside DeLoren at the obnoxiously long table. Technically, the stupid thing could seat fourteen people—six on each long side and one at each head. Why such extravagance for only four Ancient weres? Whelp, Theron was still trying to figure that out as well...

Marius sat across from DeLoren and Kai across from Theron. Of course, Kai had his nose deep into his laptop.

Theron rolled his eyes.

The kid really needed to spend more time outside.

He had never really thought about how different they were from each other. Of course, Theron had not spent one day thinking about much more than his pathetic existence. This was new territory he was stepping into; pondering deeply about everything around him, thanks to a little, bratty she-wolf. He desperately wanted to be angry for this undesirable transformation inside of him. He was a man. A beast. A werewolf and a lycan... an abomination. He didn’t need to be processing the world around him with enthusiasm, no matter how slight.

Yet, here he was, doing just that.

He studied Marius with his dark skin, dark eyes, and short, black hair. His animated eyebrows and perfectly sculpted beard that lined his round face made him appear all the more menacing than he really was. Marius stood taller than all of them at a whopping six feet, five inches with a massive, muscular frame so he could hold his own. Once, in battle, Theron had witnessed Marius take on six men at once, coming out victorious, obviously. But the man was really, at heart, a big teddy bear. Centuries and centuries of this curse had made him wise, overshadowing his demonic beasts.

DeLoren, on the other hand, was similar in height and build to Theron—broad shoulders and muscular arms. He was quite a bit hairier with a short thick beard lining his rectangular face and a thick patch on his chest. Tattooed arms and hazel eyes reeled in many females. However, his snarky, sarcastic mouth never led to more than a drunken one night stand.

And then there was Kai.

Everloving, easy and outgoing, infuriatingly bright and sunny Kai, with his wild mop of dark blonde hair and blue eyes. He wasn’t as tall or muscular as the others but he still packed a punch. He was fit and lean, without an ounce of fat on his body. He was a handsome, cocky, teenage heartthrob poster boy, and as much as Theron wanted to hate the kid, he really didn’t. No one could.

And finally, there was him. Theron. Plain, unexciting, boring Theron with his bad attitude and trigger temper. He always knew he was the least liked of the four of them but it was at this very moment that he finally realized why. He had no desirable qualities, truth be told. No one wanted to associate with such a being and the reason the three Ancients in front of him didn’t fear him like the rest of the population was only because they knew him before the curse had been cast. They had a bond, aside from what the moon goddess had forced upon them—relying solely on one another for survival and loyalty in battle all those years ago. It was a brotherhood among warriors. If they had only met him just now, they would have shunned him too, he was certain of it.

He was, unequivocally and undeniably, alone.

Theron rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck to halt his dark reflections and refocus on what was in front of him. His brown eyes met Kai’s blue ones which had finally acknowledged his presence, “What did you find out?”

Kai grinned, “Miss me, T?” Theron sighed and fell back into his chair. He motioned with his hand for Kai to get on with it, crossing his arms in front of his chest. He had most definitely not missed the little gnat and no one would convince him to truthfully admit otherwise.

Kai’s smile dropped. Clearing his throat he proceeded, “Right. Uh, so... Triple moon goddess symbol: associated with Superlunar Industries.” Sticking his nose back into his computer, he read from his notations, “Founded three years ago as a research laboratory funded by none other than billionaire mogul, Nathanial Goe and lead scientist, Arthur Grimes.” Kai spun his computer around showing the other Ancients exactly whose faces they should be looking for.

Why they didn’t use the hideously large projector screen on the wall only justified to Theron that this meeting room was, ultimately, unnecessary.

Theron glanced languorously at the two men, the difference in fashion easily distinguished who was who. Billionaire playboy Nate, dressed to the nines in his blue Armani suit, sported dark hair, blue eyes, and a signature smile. He had his arm slung around the shoulder of an older gentleman with salt and pepper hair and a meticulously styled beard wearing none other than a lab coat. “How typically cliché of them,” Theron huffed, sarcastically. How dare they appear happy and innocent as if their business wasn’t, in fact, a hellish torture chamber from which there was no return?

DeLoren sat up in his chair, pulling the laptop towards him for a better view. His brows furrowed as he studied the picture. “T?” DeLoren’s eyes stared at the screen, “Do you think this scientist is the one that Lucan claimed murdered Elena?” He turned the computer to Theron now. Theron hadn’t really studied the men that closely as he assumed it would be tougher than that to track such a despicable human down and yet, there he was, on display, for the world to see and delivered upon a silver platter. Theron gave Kai a quick nod, “Print that out, let’s get confirmation from Lucan.” Although, he suspected that DeLoren was correct in his guesstimation.

“Sure,” Kai affirmed and turned his attention back to his laptop. Robotically, he continued, “Superlunar Industries work primarily with experimental medicine—vaccines mainly. Other than a few run-ins with PETA, they have a clean record.”

“So they are experimenting on animals?” Marius asked with a raised eyebrow. Theron internally chuckled, those fucking, dramatic eyebrows. Kai shrugged, “Not substantiated. When an investigation was brought forth, the only species found were bugs... ticks, mosquitoes, flies—all insects that can carry and transmit diseases.”

“Where is the lab located?” DeLoren inquired, elbows on the table and fingers laced.

“That, my dear brother, is where it gets interesting. Their only listed facility is in Colorado but, and you’re welcome by the way, they have two other locations, not on the books. One in Texas and the other in—”

“Tennessee?” Theron finished with a rumbling growl.

“Exactomondo, my man,” Kai flipped the screen down and pushed the computer to the side, his attention now fully on his brothers. “Sneaky bastards. Their Colorado location claims to employ over 500 people... Scientists, security, manufacturing, and transportation, and janitorial staff. But, the other two have nothing. Not just no employees, but no power, water, gas... utilities are non-existent. They are so far under the radar I couldn’t locate any tax records for them. They technically, don’t exist.”

Marius leaned forward, his expressive brows scrunched in obvious irritation, “So when PETA brought an investigation forth—”

“It was only the Colorado location that was looked at since the other two, again,” Kai used two fingers on each hand in an imaginary air quote, “don’t exist.”

“That’s where they’re hiding the wolves,” Theron confirmed. Kai replied with a slight grimace, “It’s entirely probable. Why else fall so far off the grid?”

“Oh, they didn’t fall,” Marius concluded, nonchalantly. He had been around long enough to understand the greed and corruption of humans, it was almost too obvious as to what protected this company.

DeLoren ran a large hand through his hair and down his neck. He sighed in annoyance as the pieces started falling into place, “They just offered the right amount to the right people.

All four Ancients sat in silence, staring at the tabletop and absorbing what had just been discovered. What amount of money could buy the American government? Smaller, more corrupt countries were easier to purchase anonymity from and yet Superlunar chose the United States as its hub? It didn’t make sense.

They were overlooking something.

They had to be!

Theron was the first to question more, “What do we know about the billionaire and the scientist?”

Kai tapped his long fingers on the table as his eyes gazed upwards, remembering what he had read, “Nathaniel A. Goe, thiry-one years old, from New York but currently resides in Los Angeles. He’s mostly stocks and bonds, Wall Street type. A few good investments here and there made him what he is today. No wife, no kids, no extended family, grew up orphaned and homeless, scamming and conning people to survive...” Kai’s eyes scanned his friends, his lips in a straight line, “Made his first mil at age twenty-three, though no one seems to know the details of how.”

“Well, that’s not suspicious at all,” DeLoren snickered.

“And Grimes?” Theron was more interested in the old man as a shady billionaire would never get his hands dirty. Goe was just the money tree here and nothing more. “Ah,” Kai wagged his finger in the air and smirked, “Arthur J. Grimes, 54. Attended Harvard at the impressive age of sixteen, majoring in pathology. Obtained a doctorate in experimental pathology three years after... so—” He raised his arms in a sort of exasperated awe, “I’ll just say it since no one else wants to: the man is a genius!” The other three Ancients glared at him grimly. He sighed and shook his head in disappointment, “And by the looks I’m receiving I’m gonna take that as none of you care.” No one objected. Kai released a puff of air in defeated vexation, “Anywho... married with no children. He has only one surviving relative, his younger brother, Daniel Grimes, a divorcee with one child, a son. Neither A. Grimes nor D. Grimes have an address listed or otherwise.”

“Also not suspicious at all,” Marius chimed in. DeLoren scoffed.

“Marius,” Theron turned his attention to the biggest man in the room, “any word from the Alphas?” He felt they had enough information for now so he needed to refocus on the immediate threat. “Nothing yet.” Theron threw his head back in irritation, “Figures. D, what of the recon?”

“I was afraid you’d never ask! Dude, check it. I was able to tail this guy,” DeLoren shoved his phone in front of Theron’s face, showcasing a photo snapped from his very lens itself, “Look familiar?”

“Yes,” Theron snarled. He knew instantly who the man in the picture was as his face was burnt into Theron’s memory. The tall, lanky bastard with the ugly mug had hit him enough times with his thousand-volt nightstick to never be forgotten. The insults he spat, the pain he caused, the wicked grin that always confirmed his pleasure in subjecting Theron to such things was so frequent and intense that he was actually the first person Theron had searched out to kill when he made his escape. Unfortunately, he was a sneaky son of a bitch and the first to flee in all the melee. Fucking pussy.

DeLoren nodded, “Referred to as Boss... but look at this,” he zoomed in on the guy’s uniform until Theron could clearly make out the name sewn into the material.

"Grimes,” he growled.

“I’m guessing this is the younger Grimes,” DeLoren concluded, shoving his phone back in his pocket.

Theron gritted, “Well done, D.” His bloodlust was rising to the surface. Cracking his neck and balling his fist, he critically attempted to control the urge to rip something apart. He did wish to murder in brothers in some sort of blind rage.

DeLoren ignored Theron’s restlessness and grinned slyly at him, “Oh, it gets better.” Instantly curious, Theron raised his brows in wariness. ′Better’ to DeLoren was a fifty-fifty kind of word which either resulted in something pleasant or something totally opposite. His type of sarcasm left a lot of uncertainty when it came to his words. And right now, Theron could not be trusted to leave the safe house without someone’s blood upon his snout. “I followed him. I know where he lives, T.”

Like the Grinch at the thought of stealing Christmas from those small little Who’s in Whoville, Theron’s attitude abruptly did a one-eighty. His scowl slowly turned upside down. He would get blood today. He would get revenge. “Wanna drop by?” He smirked.

“Abso-fuckin-lutely!” DeLoren exclaimed, fists hitting the table in unabashed mischief. Theron smiled wider. He knew he could always count on DeLoren.

All four men rose from the table, Theron giving last-second assignments, “Marius, stay on the Alphas. Let me know when we hear something.”

“On it,” he called from over his shoulder as he strode through the door, DeLoren hot on his heels. Theron’s arm shot out in front of Kai, halting him from following the other two. Kai appeared startled, his brows raising to his hairline though he said nothing.

“Kai, I need you to do something for me, but you’re not going to like it.”

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