The rains that washed away much of the dam fifty miles to the west of the falls made me believe she was gone for good.
Lucy. My Lucy.
The empty ache in my heart was still there, knowing I did this to her because I was not strong enough to fight my father for the pack. If I had fought and beaten him, I would have been able to negate his Alpha Command with a decree of my own. If only I’d thought of it sooner.
Now, I was back at home and ready to rally more pack members to help find her, the one who should have been by my side instead of the stranger who was staying in one of the packhouse’s guest rooms.
I hadn’t spoken to Enid outside of the meeting the other day, and she was quiet and unobtrusive. Demure. I wondered if her father’s authoritarian demeanor made her that way, or if she was simply always a reserved creature. I felt bad for her as well, though I knew that her own mate had died a few years ago. I can’t imagine a pain like that going away anytime soon. Not in two months or two years.
As I rooted through my bedroom for anything with Lucy’s scent on it to give the next batch of wolves to head out on patrol, a soft knock reached my ears and I stopped my search.
“Come in,” I called out and went back to tossing things aside. I was looking for anything—a blanket, a t-shirt, anything with the memory or her smell, and something to tide me over as well.
The door opened and a soft voice called to me from the door.
“Your father asked me to come get you.”
I turned to see Enid, standing there in white shorts and a light blue blouse. It was loose on her small frame and made her seem even more modest. Her hair fanned out loosely around her head, making her look younger than her 19 years of age.
“I’ll be down in a minute,” I told her before resuming my foraging. I upended a pile of clothing in the laundry basket and rooted through it to the bottom. Nothing. When I realized I hadn’t heard the door close, I looked back up to find Enid staring at me curiously, waiting.
“Is there something else?” I asked, unable to help the brusque tone of my voice.
“He asked me to wait for you until you came.”
“Of course he did,” I mumbled. My father hasn’t trusted me from the moment I went out looking for Lucy with her father and the warriors. He’s kept his beady fucking eyes on me like I was some wayward child who was unable to make rational decisions. I knew that he thought she was dead and that I was wasting my time looking for her, but he didn’t see what I saw—the despair and hopelessness on her face right before she fell over the side of the cliff. Artemis Greenwood had his mate and yet he couldn’t let me have mine.
“I’m sorry that this happened,” Enid mumbled softly. I immediately stiffened and stood upright, my shoulders hung in a dejected slump.
“It’s not your fault,” I told her. “No reason to feel bad. It’s my father.”
“And mine,” she piped up softly before pausing. “He didn’t do it, you know.”
“Who?” I looked to her. Her face was cast down on the ground in front of her. “Who didn’t do what? Your father?”
She shook her head.
“My mate. What they said he did…he didn’t do it. I knew him. He…he wasn’t like that.”
“What exactly did they say he did?” The circumstances of his crimes were still foggy.
“They…they said he molested another female who was mated and touched underage girls. He didn’t, though. I spoke to one of the ‘victims’ in private before we came here. She said that my father didn’t like my mate and thought I could do better. He sold out his future Delta because he wanted a better match for me—someone with more power. At least…at least I think that’s why.”
“You don’t know?” I moved closer to her, inspecting her like she could solve this whole mystery of why shit went down the way it did and why I was the one to have suffered because of it.
And Lucy—if she was still alive.
She shook her head, her eyes still lost in the carpeting of my bedroom.
“The girl who told me what my father did…she lied before, so why couldn’t she do it again?”
With that, she looked up at me, a lost look in her light blue eyes as they watered with unshed tears.
She had a point.
I felt even worse. She was a victim in this whole thing too.
“What did my father do that was so bad that he needed to make things right? Do you know?”
She shook her head, her lips trembling as a tear dripped down her face before slipping off her skin onto the floor.
“I would tell you if I knew,” she told me. I nodded in response.
“I believe you. Out of all the people in this whole fucked-up mess, you are the only one I think I can trust to tell me the truth. You are just as much a victim—if not more—as Lucy and I.”
She looked away again and I went back to my hunt for Lucy’s smell.
“Tell my father I’ll be down in a minute. Tell him I kicked you out of the room and am getting ready to go on another run. Please.”
I didn’t have it in my heart to command her to do as I said, and was glad to see her nod from my periphery before walking out the door and closing it behind her. To be certain I would be uninterrupted until I was ready, I went over and locked it, just in case my father decided to come up and pull me out of my room by the short hairs.
Twenty minutes later I had come up with an old stuffed animal and a t-shirt that still had Lucy’s smell on them. It was faint, and I had taken a few good whiffs of them before realizing why the smell on them wasn’t as strong. The bond had broken. Even if I found Lucy alive again, the pull to be with her wouldn’t be present anymore. When you severed the bond with your true mate, there was nothing you could do to get it back. At least, I didn’t think there was.
But that was a problem for another day. First, we had to find Lucy.
“What do you want?” I asked my father as soon as I stalked into his study. He was sitting behind his desk and looking over some paperwork. His eyes shot up to me and saw me clutching at the stuffed bear and the t-shirt I had stuffed in my pocket.
“The patrols to find your ex-mate have been called off,” he said sternly. My heart leaped up into my throat.
“Says who?” I hissed through my teeth.
“Says me.” It was a command, one I could not bite back at. It was on the cusp of his true power, a pinch away from being the command.
“Face it, Zachary. Lucy is dead and gone and you are wasting valuable resources and time that could be taken to get to know your new mate. I’ve already checked in with The Counsel and they have given the go-ahead for your mating. You have—”
“She’s not dead!” Anger bubbled up from gut, hot and heavy. “She’s out there somewhere and I intend to find her and bring her home!”
The man had the nerve to scoff.
“Home? What kind of home do you think she would be coming back to? A home where she would constantly see her ex-mate and future Alpha making a family with his chosen Luna? What kind of home do you think that would be for her? You and I both know that once the bond is broken there is nothing you can do about putting it back together, so why put her through the torture of seeing you happy with another wo—”
“Happy?” I barked out a bitter laugh. “You think I can be happy without my Lucy? You are more demented than I first thought, old man. You fucked up somewhere along the way and I’m the one to right your actions. You are nothing but a sly, sick, twisted bastard who cares nothing of me or my happiness. If you did, you would have found another way—”
“There was no other way!” He roared, cutting me off. “Don’t you think that if there was I would have taken it? I don’t enjoy this anymore than you do, son.”
“You have your mate,” I replied coolly, my eyes narrowing. “And I am no son of yours, you depraved old fool. You fucked up and the price you pay is my hatred towards you. I don’t know what you did and why you did it, but I will find out and take that information to bring you down from within. You are a lousy leader and a worse fucking father. As far as I’m concerned, you can take your Alpha title and shove it up your pompous, power-hungry ass. Give it to Nolan for all I care and leave me the fuck alone. I have a mate to find.”
I started striding toward the door just as his last words were being boomed back at me.
“You have no mate now, Zach! Only Enid. You will learn to love her in time. Even a mating bond doesn’t guarantee love, as we all know.”
“Fuck you.” I spat the words back at him over my shoulder and went to find the enforcers before I turned around and ripped my father’s head from his shoulders.
My father had given the orders to shut down the search for Lucy. I was sitting in the only house that ever felt like home to me, right next to Carver Wallace in his living room. He was looking tired and despondent and I could hear the sound of sobbing coming from another room. Marta, Lucy’s mother, had heard of Artemis’ command that the search for Lucinda Wallace was, for all intents and purposes, over.
“I’m still going to search,” Carver murmured as he ran his hands over the thick stubble on his face. He was usually so well-kept that seeing even a hint of 5 o’clock shadow was rare. The man looked like I felt—beaten down and uneasy.
“I’m coming with you then,” I told him.
“Don’t,” he pleaded. “Your father won’t miss me if I go during off-hours, but your absence will be missed, especially since you have guests at your house now.”
He spoke the word “guests” with disgust, knowing that the female visitor would take his daughter’s place as my mate.
No one could take Lucy’s place in my heart. Not ever.
“He won’t even be aware I’m gone. We’re not exactly on speaking terms right now, and I told him to shove his Alpha title up his ass for all I cared.”
Carver scoffed and shook his head.
“You shouldn’t have done that. What if he does give Nolan the pack? He’ll raise him to lead as he does. Your brother is a good kid, but he is too influenced by your father. He’ll raze this whole pack to the ground in the end if he listens to Artemis.”
I shook my head. “Nolan…he’ll be fine. Maybe be a better Alpha than my father if I can get him to think for himself. Artemis is too focused on the power behind his title and not enough on the people in the pack. If I can get Nole to understand that—”
“Still,” Carver interjected. “You are the best fit for this pack. It’s in your blood to be a leader, Zach, not your brother’s.”
Shrugging my shoulder, I leaned back into the couch and slumped into the plush cushioning. I tilted my head back and looked at the speckled ceiling above my head.
“I don’t know what to do anymore.” The admission weighed heavy on my heart. I wanted to be the best I could be, for both Lucy and my pack, but my heart wasn’t in it anymore. Not, at least, until I found my mate alive and well.
We sat in silence for awhile until Carver sighed, lifted from his heap on the sofa and stood up.
“I could use a stiff drink,” he said. “You in?”
I couldn’t help but give him a crooked half-smile.
“You offering an underage wolf booze?”
“I think we both could use it, Zach. You in or not?”