I felt physically unwell. Weak. I didn’t know why, but as I prodded at my beast in the back of my mind, I got almost nothing. Maybe a whimper, a little shift that felt too lazy and vague to be anything significant.
He was mute. As much as I liked to think of myself as strongest in my animal form, I knew I had to step up as human in order to force my wolf to comply.
He had to comply. What was an Alpha—even if he was only an Alpha-to-be—without his wolf. Nothing—that’s what.
I had looked everywhere for my Lucy, both Carver and I, but she was nowhere, and I had to think that she had been washed out into the Pacific Ocean, hundreds of miles to the west.
A small stirring in my mind made me want to whimper. Unless my thoughts were of my female, my wolf wasn’t having any of it. He grumbled, or so it sounded like, and I could only imagine it hurt him as much as it did me to come to the realization that she was probably gone forever.
Heartsick—that’s what I felt. As a brief knock came to my door, I could barely lift my head to answer.
“Come in,” I called feebly. Staring at the alarm clock on my nightstand, I dried to wipe the crud from my eyes. When I looked back over to the open door, my mother stood there, concern etched over her features.
“You father wants to speak with you when you get up, Zachary,” she said.
“Don’t have a father,” I mumbled, listening to her ensuing sigh.
“Zach.” Her tone was chiding but still gentle.
I have no fucking family.
“I don’t,” I insisted. “He’s dead to me. He made me lose my Lucy. What if he had been forced to reject you? What would you have done?”
I studied her, hoping for an honest answer, but she closed her eyes slowly, refusing to even think of such blasphemy as him rejecting her.
“Does it involve Lucy?” I asked.
“Then it’s not important enough,” I interjected.
“There’s been trouble. Hunters, if I heard correctly.”
“Send out the warriors,” I told her. “They’ll eradicate them, annihilate them. Artemis doesn’t need me to tell him what measures to take. He’s just trying to bridge the gap between us and it won’t work. Fuck. Him.”
“It’s different this time,” she told me helplessly. “They’re too many of them and they’re armed to the teeth. We need to form an alliance. Your father—”
“Tell Artemis to kick rocks. If he wants someone to do some outreach, he can do it himself. Or get his Beta. I could care less right now.”
All I wanted to do was sleep. Sleep, and never wake up. That is unless I could wake up and find that this was all a horrible nightmare and that my dreams were actually the truth. My dreams about Lucy. Her bearing my mark. Her with our children. Her sleeping in my bed. Her—
“What if Lucy was found and taken in by a neighboring pack?” My mother interrupted my wistful thoughts. “What if you went to them and found her, alive and well and waiting for you to take her home?”
I thought about it. It was better than moping around here and feeling sorry for myself. Perhaps some fresh air would bring my wolf to the fore as well, though he was still sluggishly lazing about in the back of mind and refusing to respond to my constant nudging.
“Fine,” I ground out. “I’ll be down as soon as I take a shower.”
Nodding, my mother left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. I tried to get up from my heap on the bed, but my legs refused to budge. I forced myself up by my arms until I was seated on the side of the bed, my feet on the ground.
Unsteady would have been a kind word to describe how I felt. It was then I realized that some of my problems were due to my poor diet and lack of sleep. One of those alone was as issue, but put together, they made me collapse in on myself and become weaker than I’d been since I was a baby.
I hobbled my sorry ass over to the shower and slowly washed myself, promising my grumbling stomach a decent breakfast for once. I knew my mother, and she was probably slaving away downstairs cooking for me, even if breakfast had passed hours ago. It was nearly noon, and I couldn’t remember the last time I had tasted anything except a few drops of water on my tongue.
When I finally got down to the kitchen, my mother was placing the last slices of crispy bacon onto a plate that was layered with paper towels to soak up much of the grease that dripped from the slices.
Before she had even placed the plate on the table, I was crunching into two brittle slices, barely chewing them before swallowing them down in hard, heavenly chunks.
A bowl of fruit, some eggs, a few links of sausage were all put in front of me, and I continued to shovel the food into my mouth, hoping to eradicate the gnawing ache in my chest, along with the one in my stomach.
At least my belly was full, I thought as I drank down the rest of my orange juice. I topped off my mug of black coffee and sauntered over to my father’s study in search of him.
No—not father. Artemis.
A habit of a lifetime obviously wasn’t going to go away after just a few days of hammering it into my head.
When I got to the door of the study, I didn’t bother knocking. He woke me up via my mother, so he would have to deal with my irritable ass walking in on whatever the fuck he was doing.
Seneca was inside with my father, talking. They seemed to be deep in discussion, and I sat down next to the neighboring Alpha before clearing my throat.
“You wanted to speak to me?” I probed, completely interrupting their little pow-wow, or bromance, or whatever they had going on behind closed doors. “Something about hunters, Mom said.”
“Right.” Artemis cleared his throat. “We have been given good intel about hunters being seen to the east of us, possibly coming from the Nevada State border.”
“And who gave you this information?”
Seneca spoke up.
“The enforcers patrolling my eastern borders came upon a couple of them cleaning out their guns,” he informed me. “They smelled silver and wolfsbane, among other things.”
“Other things?” I prompted, raising a brow at the man.
“Yes, magic,” he answered.
“What, like potions to disguise their scent and shit?”
He nodded, looking concerned.
“I trust my men implicitly.” He sounded a little too defensive for my tastes. I wasn’t a fan of go big or go home, these days. “If they said that they were hunters—and that there are more of them—then I believe them wholeheartedly.”
I looked over at my father, who was watching us banter back and forth.
“And you want me to go and root out an alliance? Get all the local packs to take up arms together?”
I hadn’t heard of such a thing happening in over a decade when part of my pack had helped with a war over a Luna. I had been too small to realize what was going on at the time, but I remembered my father had been cautious enough to hear the visiting Alpha out before coming to the decision to side with him. Roman…Ralph? I couldn’t remember the man’s name, in all honesty, though I heard later that he perished in order to save his daughter. Or mate. My memory was sketchy was pretty on the details.
“Yes,” Artemis confirmed with a jerk of his chin. “I will make out a list of all the packs that I think would be interested. Make sure you let them know that if they get past us here in the mountains, they will be coming for them in the lowlands soon enough.”
“Right. If they can forge a stream barefoot, they can find a way across a vast ocean.”
Seneca smiled at the old saying, one I used infrequently enough that it sounded foreign on my tongue.
“Make me the list and give me a few men to follow along,” I said. “I want them armed as well, so choose wisely. I can leave first thing in the morning. I’m dead on my feet right now. I’ll go east first, try to get to the one’s that are to be threatened first. I will link you their answer and let you know if anyone needs security clearance onto pack lands. If they’re smart, they will step up their patrols and send a liaison or two here as well.”
Looking over at Seneca, I raised a dubious brow.
“I assume we can already count on your support in the matter of the hunters?” I queried. If he wasn’t, I was going to shove my booted foot up the smug man’s ass.
“Of course,” he told me. “My pack’s even further east that yours, and I can send some of my men with you as back-up if you prefer.”
I shook my head vehemently.
“I only trust my people, as I don’t know any of yours,” I spoke bluntly at him. “I am sure they are good people, but I need to be surrounded by the one’s I trust most with my life.”
Nodding back at my father, I sat up straighter, already feeling the need to have the fresh air on my flanks as I ran through the trees.
That was, if I still could shift. If I couldn’t, it would be difficult to move quickly before any of the other packs happened upon the interlopers.
“Anything else?” I asked him, readying myself to leave his office.
“Have you taken any time to get to know your future Luna?”
His words stopped me. I had completely forgotten about Enid, and I wondered where she was.
“Not yet, but give me…give me time. I need a grieving period for fuck’s sake.” A snarl invaded my tone, and I could feel my eyes flash to amber quickly before the rage receded.
“You will start once you are back from your trip.”
My father’s tone brooked no argument. Instead of fighting it, I nodded curtly at him and stood from my spot stiffly. Even after all the good food, I still felt weak. I expected I would for a while, at least until my wolf was back at peak performance. If that ever happened. He was suffering, as was I.
The rejection of a mate was always a fragile thing. The higher your rank, the more painful it was, but also the more resilient you were to it. It was fucking crazy like that, which is one of the reasons I was so concerned about Lucy. If the fall over the cliff hadn’t killed her, would the rejection have done it in time? She was born to Omega parents, but with her bond with a future Alpha, it was anyone’s guess as to how she could take the rejection. It certainly had pushed her over the edge—quite literally—and that couldn’t be a good sign.
I wandered back up to my room, unsure of what to do with myself for the rest of the day except wait for my father to compile a list and send it up to me. I certainly wasn’t going to bust my ass to go back down to him, so I looked around my room and decided to visit my younger brother.
Knocking at his bedroom door, I heard the sounds of rapid gunfire in the background as he slayed another hundred zombies or worked his way up the ranks in some covert Black Ops mission. The kid was stuck to his PS4 like his thumbs were superglued, but then again, I had been that way at his age too. Lulu and I used to play on it like mad before we felt that initial mating pull.
Back when shit was simple and I didn’t know what I’d be missing years from now.
My brother called out for me to enter, so I opened the door and decided to challenge him to a game or three to while away the time.
That kid kicked my ass the whole damn day, but it was good to bond with him, especially since he was the only male in my family not ordering me about or telling me who I could and couldn’t love.
He was too young to fuck up his life, and I didn’t want my father to do to him what he ended up doing to me.
Dear old Dad needed to make better decisions, and I was going to see to it that it started with me from here on out.
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