A howl I couldn’t contain erupted from my chest, but no sound came out. My wolf, who was nearly dormant inside me, came alive with a heartbreaking sound that chilled by bones. I never wanted to hear it again—ever.
“Luce,” I begged. “Please…please forgive me. Come home. We can work something out. We—”
I was desperate, but not suicidal. The man Lucy called West—the Beta if what Alpha Paul had said was true—snarled his contempt for me as his eyes flashed a burning gold, like flames. His muscles bulged beneath his tight black t-shirt, and I could almost see the bones in his face shifting and elongating to that of his wolf’s. Here was a man—a man who would fight for Lucy, even if I could not. He would kill to keep her close, keep her safe.
He was what Lucy needed—not me. Not someone who would knuckle under to his tyrant of a father, but someone who would do whatever it took to hold onto her, even at the risk of his own life.
I understood now that, whatever happened in the future, I wasn’t going to have Lucy at my side to see it through with me.
My head hung low, unable to look at her, even for the briefest of moments then.
Well, maybe one time more. One more before I lost my wolf and wasted away into nothing without it.
The man’s strong arms encircled her, keeping her steady in the boot thing she was wearing on her left leg. Aside from that, she still looked good, still like my Lucy.
She was right, though. The bond we had wasn’t there any longer. It didn’t mean I loved her any less, but the need to hold her in my arms was more distant, less physical. Less present.
I was breaking. It felt like my ribs had cracked open, exposing the vulnerable muscle underneath it. My heart. Lungs. Every rasping breath I took was a stabbing pain, every beat of the bleeding muscle an ache I couldn’t see past.
It was as clear as the skies above that I had to move on from Lucy.
But damn it if I actually wanted to! If there was even the slightest chance we could have what we should have had, I wanted it.
“I’m so damn sorry, Lulu.”
I’m not fit to be your mate.
“Please forgive me.”
Though I don’t deserve it. Don’t deserve to even lick the bottom of your boots, sweet girl.
“I love you.”
I do. More than you will ever know. It blots out all other light, every other emotion. It’s desperate. I’m desperate.
“You’ll always be one of my best friends, Zach.”
Hollow. I was hollow. Torn.
I looked at Lucy and her…her West, and watched as understanding turned to acceptance. She nodded her head and whispered to him.
“Do it,” she said. “I think it’s the only way.”
Like a train wreck, I couldn’t tear my eyes away as he marked her. Bit into her flesh right in front of me and broke up all the hopes I had of being one with her again.
I watched as blood gushed from the wound before the tall man closed his mouth around it, licking and healing the pierced flesh before my very eyes. Stunned. I was utterly stunned.
The howl didn’t stay mute this time. It expelled from my chest and shook the trees around us, causing birds to take flight and small woodland creatures to run from its deadly, daunting grief. I didn’t even hear my clothing tear apart as I instantly shifted and raced off into the woods, seeking oblivion.
Or whatever else that could give me solace at a time such as this, even if it was nothing at all.
Lucy was wrong. This pain—the one that seemed to rock my bones and make me weak—was all too physical. It might not have been as total, as all-encompassing as she felt on that cliff weeks ago, but it was very, very real.
I was sore. My heart was just the beginning, but it was my main focus. My hind quarters trembled and shook as I tried to push myself forward. I didn’t know how much time had passed since I left Destiny Pack, but I couldn’t have cared less. Time could have stood still and I wouldn’t have given a shit.
The enforcers that had followed me to the east and then westward were flanking me. I could tell they wanted to get me moving faster, but I was simply unable to. And they were smart enough to know that requesting I shift back and collapse onto one of their backs so they could hurry me home was toeing past the line. You never even suggested your Alpha was weak, much less speak it. I was just going to have to keep going until my legs gave out.
We’re about five miles out, Alpha.
I nodded my snout and blinked, but I couldn’t screw up enough energy to link back to him that I understood. A bob of my muzzle would have to do.
I moved another couple of miles before my flanks stuttered and shook, making me collapse onto the ground as I heard the shifting of wolves around me. Then…voices.
“Call ahead! I’ll get his body and heft him back to the clinic.”
“Alpha, can you shift? It’ll be easier to carry you that way.”
I gathered up all my strength. My shift was so slow I’m sure it was like watching the reverse of time-lapse photography. The fur sank back in so slowly I could hear it, my mouth becoming relatively flat again. I still couldn’t move my limbs, but I knew I was back to my human form. I felt even weaker in it.
And I couldn’t hear my wolf. Not even a fucking whimper. With that realization, I let the darkness take me.
When I woke up, there was a cacophony noise. The beeping of machines, the frazzled sounds of people talking, barking orders. I could hear the doctor, Carver Wallace, talking in hurried tones. My mouth felt stiff, like it was swollen. My tongue was clumsy, but I had to tell him something.
“Carber,” I mumbled, my tongue lolling out lazily and trying to form the word.
“Son? Zach? Let me through! That’s my son!”
“What’s that, my boy?” I could hear Carver talking near me, my father pushing his authority somewhere in the background.
“Luthy,” I mumbled. I was unable to articulate her name due to my lazy, fumbling tongue. “Dethtiny. Wetht.”
My eyes slit open just enough to take in my surroundings. I was definitely at the pack hospital, a concerned-looking Carver hanging over me as he tried to untangle the words I was attempting to make plain.
“Zach, what is it? What’s Wetht?”
“Wesht.” I tried again, trying to correct him. “Looooshy.”
A bit better, and it took all of his concentration to unwrap the meaning behind my clumsy attempts at communication.
“Lucy? Did you see her? Is that what you’re trying to say?”
I nodded my head. At least I’m pretty sure I did.
“Where is she, son?” Carver asked. “Is she alive? Is she safe?”
“Deshtiny…pack,” I murmured, my eyes closing once again. “Mate. New mate.”
“I think he’s delirious, doctor.”
“No!” My eyes blinked open again, this time wider. I could see the nurse in question and cut her with a lancing glare. “Lushy’sh at…Deshtiny. Wesht. Alive.”
“Give him water! He has to be parched.”
“Son! Damn it, you oaf. I want to see my son for fuck’s sake!”
“No! No shun of yoursh! Hate…hate you. Forever.”
I caught the look in Artemis’ eyes and didn’t care. I may have not been strong enough to fight for Lucy, but he was the one who forced my hand. If only I had seen sooner what that prick West had been talking about.
“You. You lied…to me.”
Asshole. I wanted to add that, but knew it would only come out at ash-hole.
“Bashtard!” I grunted out.
“Fuck you!” I grimaced as I shouted. “Your fault. Should hab known… Should hab fought…harder.”
I looked at Carver, his light grey-blue eyes so much like Lucy’s, sparkling with unshed tears.
“Shafe… Looooshy’sh shafe.” The words tumbled out, a little faster now, but still garbled mush. I could tell he understood. “Wif…Desthiny Pack. Mate…new mate.”
“Lucy’s safe?” Carver asked. “At…at Destiny pack?”
I nodded, thankful I had gotten through. She would have wanted her parents to know she was alive, well. I owed her that much. I didn’t mention the new mate again, but they would probably find out soon enough. Carver would make sure to get in touch with them and get ahold of his daughter.
“Artemish…” I was beginning to lose it again, and I just wanted to sleep, to feel numb.
“What’s that? Son?”
Suddenly my father’s eyes were looking down on me, hopeful and wide. I didn’t blink even though all I wanted to do was close my eyes and not feel anything.
Even the rage that was bubbling up.
I almost felt bad for what I was about to say.
“Hate. You.” I swallowed a thick, dry lump in my throat. It bobbed back up before I could fight it down. “Never…never want to…shee you again. Eber.”
My eyes closed and there was more chatter, more mayhem. The beeping bled into one steady note, frantic and more panicked than the voices that accompanied it in the background.
Tired. I was tired of trying. Hoping. Lucy was gone, marked by another, and I floated off into something that resembled a dream, even if it felt more like a nightmare.
I could see Lucy as if through a fog. All angles were blurred, shapes distorted. It was like trying to see through some vague opacity—maybe a blockage over my retinas. I tried wiping it away, but when I opened them back up, it was still that faded, dreamy fuzz.
“What, baby?” Lucy called from the back porch of a house I had never seen before. She was sitting on the top step of the porch, a small child—a girl—running to her with a bunch of Queen Anne’s lace clutched in her tiny fists.
The child had Lucy’s chestnut locks in bouncy sausage curls that caught the light and glimmered gold in the sun. Her hand was thrust out to Lucy, offering the white spray of flowers like she was proud of plucking them and handing them to her mother.
“Again?” Lucy asked after the small girl whispered something into her ear. She laughed when the tiny child nodded her head happily, and then the little one turned around before her mother split her hair in two sections down the middle.
Lucy started to braid one side of her head, weaving in bits of the flower like small little stars in the dark glossy hair. She hummed tunelessly as she worked, taking her time to make sure the flowers wouldn’t fall out before fastening each end with a black rubber band. The little girl turned around and jumped into Lucy’s arms just as another person—much larger than the two females—glided out of the house.
He had a small child, a boy, in his arms. His face was messy and he babbled senselessly, making grabby hands at Lucy until the man—West—sat down next my Lucy and handed the baby off to her.
They were the picture of the perfect, happy family, one I thought I’d have with Lucy someday. With West’s arm around my mate...
No—not my mate. At least, not anymore.
His arm curled around her lovingly before he placed a kiss to her temple. The little girl pulled something from her pocket to show West, and he cooed and made approving sounds as the sight of them blurred once more.
This time, with tears.
I blinked and they were gone. Everything was gone.
“Alpha,” I heard Carver say from a distance. “I don’t know what else I can tell you.”
“Do something!” the man who had once been my father exclaimed. “He has Alpha blood! He can’t die like this. My son is stronger than that.”
“Alpha, might I speak frankly?”
I assumed my father nodded his head as Carver continued a few seconds later.
“You forced your son to reject his true mate. I assume that since he found Lucy—alive, thank God—that she accepted that rejection and that your son is hurting because of it. But, I don’t know what to tell you. His heart—it’s failing, sir, and there’s nothing I can do about that. Heartache caused my rejection can kill. It’s why it’s done so infrequently.”
“But…he has alpha bloodlines. We are stronger, more robust than any other wolf.”
“And I’m afraid your son’s wolf might be dying, if not dead already. I’ve tried everything, sir. It’s up to Zach now whether or not he wants to live without the mate you forced him to reject.”
I didn’t listen anymore but drifted off. To lands of white. Dark. To places where I floated in clouds or fell into an abyss so dark that not even the sun’s light could penetrate its depths. I was asleep and dreaming in between short, isolated nightmares of seeing Lucy, dead or dying.
Or even in someone else’s arms.
And for the first time in my life, I hoped I never woke up from this sleep.