West of Destiny (Book 5 of The Claimed Series)

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Chapter 27

Zach

Days went by before my wolf started to be a little more communicative. In the hopes of stirring some feeling towards Enid, I made a point to spend a little time each day with her—that was, when I could.

Unfortunately or not, I was pretty busy with things around the territory, and I couldn’t give her the time I think we would need to forge a solid connection. Duty called, and I was taking on more of the responsibilities my father once held, even after Seneca went back to his territory leaving his daughter behind to “forge a bond” as he called it.

Leaning over the desk in my father’s study, I was interrupted by a knock on the door, and I called out for the person or persons to enter.

“Come in!”

The door swung open almost in slow motion, one of the pack enforcers standing there alone and with a quizzical expression on his face.

“Jake? What is it?”

I stood, some of the tension in my body filling the room as I tried to stem the stress leaking through my words. It was pointless as it was leaking through my pores as well and could be smelt.

“Whispers, Alpha,” he said before stepping into the room and closing the door with a hard, heavy finality.

“Amongst the pack?”

There was a hard edge to my voice. Were there traitors among us—my very own brethren?

The swift shake of his head indicated no, and I took a deep, cleansing breath as I gestured for him to take the seat in front of me.

Jake stepped up and sat tall, almost regal in his perfect posture in front of his soon-to-be Alpha. I sat back down as well, curbing the sudden desire to shift, to run—find out where these whispers came from and throttle the person to within an inch of his life if he wasn’t forthwith.

Well, at least it was good to have my wolf back, though he was still at times lazy and struggling to let go of who we had thought would be our female for almost four blessed years.

“Patrol has been scouring towns and listening to other shifters from neighboring packs,” Jake told me, leaning a bit forward. “They all say the same things—or at least variations of the same things.”

“And what are those things you have heard? Let’s see if we can sort between the lies and truths.”

The warrior took a deep breath and continued. “Most speak of an Alpha—a power-hungry man—who wishes to expand his land and pack with as many of his neighboring communities as he can. They say he has a mistress—a woman we don’t know—that is helping him gain information from other packs and is feeding it to him through secret channels. I…I don’t know where either person hails from, and I have no idea if the man has his Luna or if the mistress is his to claim. If she is his, he may be waiting to mark her so she can go back and forth between the two packs unbeknownst by her own Alpha and pack.”

“Yes—it would be hard to come back to her old community if she was claimed by another, though not unheard of if she has family there. Does she have family? Do we at least have a name for the female?”

He shook his head. “None, sir. Like I said, these are rumors—whisperings of deceit amongst our kind. We still don’t know where the treachery comes from.”

I made a quick list in my head of all the packs we still had treaties with and thanked fucking God that Artemis had pounded my lessons into me before handing some of his duties over. We had allied with several nearby shifter communities, most of them to our south. Lassen, Willow, Destiny—along with Emerald, of course.

“So, this greedy man would probably be someone outside of any of our allies,” I mused. “It would make sense if they don’t like the power we wield altogether. He might feel threatened by it and think we were trying to stake claim on his pack of miserable mutts.”

I muttered the words almost to myself, but Jake heard, of course, and agreed wholeheartedly.

“Then we look outside the packs we have allied with for rumors of expansion—maybe to the east.”

I stilled. “Do you think the hunters Seneca spoke of had something to do with this?”

“It’s possible, Alpha, as some shifters of dubious morals would use the humans for their own misdeeds so they couldn’t be traced back to us.”

“I’ll have to thank Seneca for his early knowledge of the hunters then.” I nodded. “With his help, he gave us the opportunity to get an early detection system going and the patrols are regular and nearly impenetrable.”

At least I hoped they were.

The thought was flicked out of my mind when I shook my head, determined on trying to get more information, squeezing it from thin air like juice from a ripe, rich orange.

If only…

“I want some of the new enforcers going into the town on a regular basis,” I told him as I stood. “Never the same ones too many days in a row, and always on the outskirts. I don’t want them to be seen. Some of the older enforcers are known in town and people will be less liable to talk when they see them. Shit, I’m surprised they heard anything at all.”

Jake grinned, albeit a little sheepishly. “That’s my fault, I’m afraid. Got the names mixed up and ended up sending Tate and Gabe into town instead of some of the more seasoned veterans.”

I wasn’t angry at the thought of him flubbing his assignment—not when it turned out to help our cause. “I’d say be more careful next time, but a few more fuck-ups like that could stop a war before it’s even started.”

***

After decompressing in the woods, I charged on into the study and broke the news of what Jake had told me to Artemis. He, thankfully, agreed that my idea of sending newer enforcers and warriors into town was the best. If people didn’t know who you were, they were more likely to talk around you.

After that debriefing, I went upstairs, pausing outside Enid’s room before knocking softly. I could hear popular music playing on low, and I didn’t know if I’d wake her if I was any louder.

The door snicked open softly and Enid’s gentle eyes blinked once before she stepped back, an offering for me to come inside.

It was the same every day, though this time I had a lot more on my mind than just getting to know my potential partner in life more. I had issues nagging at the back of my mind, and the worry on my face must have showed.

When I sat down on the desk chair in the corner, she sat across from me on the edge of her bed, her hands folded in her lap.

“What happened? You look conflicted.” Already she could read my expressions. I didn’t know if she was simply very observant or if it was something deeper—more primal. It was said that our inner beasts could forge a connection with another based on understanding, attempting to heal the other with its proximity.

That was what could have been happening—her wolf could have been communicating with mine, trying to soothe some of the pain it was feeling at the loss of Lucy with its own empathetic presence. It was, in fact, rare to see such things, but this was me—someone who shouldn’t have felt the bond to his true mate until he was of-age, and still being tethered to her four years too soon.

“I…” I didn’t want to talk about it because I needed to clear my mind, but I did want to run with nature again. It was calling to me and I looked into her deep eyes, the concern shaking something loose inside me until I took a shuddering breath in and spoke. “Let’s run again. In our wolf forms.”

Since it was after dinner, there was not much to do except while away the hours before it was time for bed. Jake’s information made me very restless, and a lot of the anxiety from days ago had melted away into ambivalence about my future and a pinch of curiosity about Enid. She was level-headed and nonjudgmental, two of the things I needed most in a female of mine. Lucy had been both as well, and it was almost apropos that I would find someone so like her under my very own roof. Artemis—I had to hand it to him—couldn’t have picked a better second choice, even if it was on account of a stupid fuck-up years ago.

Almost cringing at the phrase “second choice”, I gazed at her hoping she would join me in a twilight romp. Enid was too good, too sweet to be thought of as anyone’s plan B, and I wasn’t going to allow the thought to take root deep in my brain.

“Sure,” she said, and she stood from her place on the bed. “Let me just grab something to change into on the way back.”

She moved into her closet and grabbed a light-colored shift dress, something she might have used to putter around the house, cleaning or doing some other menial, boring task. She put on flip flops and started towards the door, again with me trailing behind at her back.

Once we shifted into our fur near the edge of the trees, she was dashing off, her fluffy almost-haughty tail puffed out and wagging merrily from side to side.

I grinned and shifted myself, not allowing that hint of regret to stab at the back of my skull like it wanted to. Just as I was letting go of Lucy for her, I was doing it for myself as well.

***

There was a small creek near the western border of Arrowhead Pack lands, and we lazed around for a bit as we caught our breath. We hadn’t hunted, for I wasn’t that comfortable with Enid as of yet, but we had chased a squirrel or two and a rabbit here and there. We nipped playfully at their heels, always backing away when we got too close or the thumping beat of their little heart’s terror made Enid sorry to have scared them. I could tell when that happened. Her face fell and I could hear a sad, almost-inaudible whine.

So, I darted to the west and we filled our bellies with fresh water from the stream before panting as we laid on our sides. The air was cool enough, and the breeze made it seem about ten degrees below its norm, so we sat close, sharing heat. It was almost a shame we couldn’t mindlink, though I knew what that would have had to entail.

A mark. Mine on her skin.

Hers on mine.

The idea didn’t disgust me as it first had when I still had the tempting allure of Lucy within my grasp, and when we shifted back to our skin on our way back, I decided to let her know about what Jake had said, just in case she had heard anything worth telling.

“Sorry, I can’t be more help, but I’ve heard nothing. My father kept me pretty cloistered before coming here to Arrowhead.” She looked sorry that she had to break the bad news, but I only shook my head.

“It’s no matter, I have wolves going into town on the regular, though that’s just between pack.” My voice bordered slightly on stern, and she nodded her head understandingly.

“I get it—it’s on the downlow for now.”

“R-right.” I fought back following that up with a sweetheart for some reason, and even bit back a soft caress of her light, golden hair.

I hadn’t even thought of touching another woman since knowing Lucy was mine.

What was this female doing to me?

I didn’t have the foggiest, and when I sat down on the floor near her bed and kept talking, I was pulled more and more toward her as my wolf flashed in my eyes every few minutes.

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