West of Destiny (Book 5 of The Claimed Series)

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Chapter 34

Lucy

“I’m not sure I like this color yellow,” I said as I inspected the walls I was painting the baby’s room with. It was still quite early, but I was at home most of the day alone, this time Faith keeping me company with her nervous chatter. The girl had gone from barely speaking, to finding a mate, to babbling on like a running brook. It was such a short amount of time, that anyone who believed in miracles wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised.

“I like it,” she chirped happily. “It’s quite cheery.”

It was good to see the she-wolf happy in her own body for the first time in what could have been years of abuse and neglect. And seeing her happy made me happy, so I was content enough to argue lightly with her—even if it was about something as mundane as the color of paint we were using.

“I was thinking we could do a light green stripe across the top of the wainscoting,” I said, actually hoping she’d talk me out of it. I wasn’t good at drawing, even if it was straight lines and I used a ruler. Everything ended up looking tilted to me, but maybe I was imagining things and it was the earth that was actually crooked.

“Good idea,” she said, and happily talked on about the right shade of green we could use. “Something minty maybe. Are you going to put animals and things on the wall? Your baby’s theme should match with all the furniture we get later. You have a theme, right?”

A theme? A theme to my early demise from the stomach ulcer that was threatening to dissolve my usually sturdy stomach, maybe. I didn’t even know what a theme was, much less have one in mind.

“Th-theme?” I blurted out. She patted my shoulder and I blew out a long breath.

“It’s okay if you don’t have one in mind yet,” she assured. “We can just go to Bye Bye Baby and see what you like. There’s popular things like Winnie the Pooh or just animal themes like jungle animals or African beasts. I even heard of one person did a whole waterfall theme once. She swore she paired it with a sound machine that played water trickling or the sounds of rain. Kept her baby nice and calm, she said.”

I wondered where she got her knowledge from, and like the nosy person I was, had to ask.

“How do you know so much about babies?”

She shrugged her shoulders. “A year ago I tried to get a job in town so I could afford to get my own car. I went into town and listened to some of the women there talking about it. I spoke with them—they were humans—for a little bit and helped out with a selection for the one lady’s baby theme. She decided to go with Precious Moments, even though I thought that was pretty lame. She seemed happy, though, and the manager caught me and offered me a job.”

“Did you take it?”

She shook her head. “I wanted to, but my father wouldn’t allow it. He said he needed the car, though he rarely used it unless he was heading somewhere he had to be seen by humans. That was pretty rare. If my brother didn’t use it to take females out on dates, that car would have sat there until it rotted from the inside out.”

I thinned my lips into a line. I would have given quite a bit to be able to deal with Mr. Richards face to face. I had quite a few choice words that were on my mind I would have said had he been standing right there in front of me, starting with how he could have neglected and demeaned his daughter, blaming her and letting her take the blame for his mate’s death.

“It sounds like he didn’t want you to be happy,” I told her grudgingly. It stopped her steady strokes as we painted the wall together, but she kept going after a moment, intent on getting the last of the far wall of the nursery done.

“For the longest time I tried to tell myself it was because he cared about me, that he wanted me to stay home, find a mate—that he didn’t want me being so far away, but I always knew it wasn’t about that. It was about taking something that would make me happy away, like I took—”

I stopped painting and dropped the brush into the paint can, not caring if it went into it brush-end up. Looking her dead in the eyes, I spoke. “You didn’t do anything. Shit happens—bad shit. And unless you planted that wild cat there or ripped out her throat yourself, you had no fault in your mother’s death, do you hear me?”

Her lip wobbled, but she nodded her head before a sad, trembling smile crested her lips. She nodded and a tear slipped down before I lifted my hand to wipe it away. Patting her on the like back like a coach to his star quarterback, I coaxed her to get back to work so we could finish up and head into town. Not that West would need the car any time soon, but I wanted to go in and get out before it got dark.

The middling-sized town of Foerster was just east of the hills, the main drag nestled between two craggy peaks that seemed to stretch on for miles into the sky. Every once in a while, a boulder would cascade down the hill, though fortunately it had never harmed a passerby in all the time the town stood. It boasted a Target, a few restaurants—fast food and otherwise—as well as a shopping center that held the largest building that housed Bye Bye Baby. It was where many of the town folk worked at one point or another in their careers.

Once Faith and I were washed up and only smelling slightly of acrylics, we took West’s truck into town, along with his credit card, something he didn’t use unless he was strapped for cash. Which, he granted, was seldom. Even a Beta had to have a line of credit, and baby things were expensive. I wanted to have at least a few staples in place before giving birth months away.

The moment I went first looking for baby items was something I’d always imagined doing with my mother, but she was far away and hadn’t been able to get away for the day. I doubted it would be my last baby-related stint into town, so I let the disappointment fade and was determined to enjoy myself with my new friend. Honestly, she was almost more excited than I when we walked into the place and looked around.

There was so much to see and so much that could be bought, but I had a short list of things I wanted out of the way. That very short list included a crib and changing table. Diaper genies and clothing could wait, though my fingers itched to touch the tiny apparel that was located in the back corner of the large store.

Looking over the cribs, I realized I didn’t like the white ones. Too easily made messy by grubby little fingers, I decided on a dark wooden set that matched an accompanying changing station the next aisle over.

As Faith and I heaved a heavy box in the shopping cart, we found that both of them wouldn’t fit.

“I’ll go grab another cart from the front,” Faith told me, turning her back. “Be right back in a jiffy.”

I took that moment to look at those little mobiles that you could hang over the crib and perused other little essentials that made life with a baby easier. Cute little bibs were pressed up against sippy cups and bowls they swore couldn’t be spilt, and I saw the most darling baby shower towel that made the infant on the front look like a little sheep.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing, I snickered to myself as I picked one up off the rack and added it to my purchases. The irony was just too delicious.

Once Faith was back, we hustled the changing table into her cart and started perusing the aisles next to it, steering clear of the adorable outfits that I wanted so badly to look at. However, if I had gone over to the check out the items, I would have been lost for the rest of the day, and I would be late making dinner for West and I. And Faith and her mate if they wanted to come.

It wasn’t very busy in the store for being a Wednesday, and I could hear faint mumbling a few aisles over. It became clear that they were wolves from another pack as their scent was foreign to me. As we were on neutral ground, the thought of foreign shifters didn’t bother me. What did give me pause, however, was what they were saying.

“…Arrowhead, yes. Alpha—”

“Lower your voice, Annette! You don’t know who can hear us!”

The woman had hissed her command, and it was clear that she wasn’t comfortable talking about what the other woman wanted so badly to discuss.

“Lee, we could lose our mates if the Alpha decides to attack. It’s ridiculous! Why would he need more land, if that’s what this is? And Arrowhead is so far away. Why attack them? It would be wiser to go east into the foothills and go for them. At least we wouldn’t have literal mountains to move to get there!”

“I wish he’d let the warriors with mates and children stay home, but no—he says all must go. Nathan comes home more tired every day. The old battle-ax of a Delta has them running sprints all morning and lifting weights until they collapse in the afternoon.”

I shared a look with Faith, who shook her head at me. I understood completely, and nodded my head as I listened.

“That vicious woman that he’s fucking…Carla something, I think? I think that she-bitch is behind this. You know they say she was even sleeping with the Alpha before his dear wife died? That’s why he didn’t even weep at her funeral. I’ll bet that woman had her killed!”

Carla? West’s—no not West’s—but Carla…what was her last name again?

Moore. I think it was Moore. Yes…that sounded about right. Was it the same person?

Their voices moved away, and I halted Faith from going after them. “Carla?” I whispered, for the moment forgetting that now that she was mated we could share a mindlink. “Shit.”

Arrowhead, Faith! That’s my old pack! They’re planning to attack it!

I know, she shot back at me quickly. Is this what West was telling you about the other day? That rogue Alpha?

I nodded, gulping loudly. West had explained what Paul and he had talked about with Zach more in depth, me asking questions every few minutes as if that would help narrow down the culprit. It didn’t help, but I had gained enough information to understand completely just how dire the situation was. No one liked a wildcard, and this one was throwing a wrench into the whole system by being only just a little more than a rumor.

We had a little more information to go on, but I wanted to find out even more. I was scared to follow, but Faith jerked her head, and I followed her into the next aisle, leaving the shopping carts behind.

“…do you really think they’re going to attack that soon, though? It’s so close…”

I didn’t blame the two women, though I wanted to move around to in front of them and demand to know everything they were told. Knowing their malicious Alpha, they would have probably been forbidden to speak to anyone about it outside their pack. No amount of torture or coercion would have allowed them to disobey an Alpha’s Command.

“Better now than when winter sets in,” the other female spoke. “When the snows start coming, it’ll be near impossible to get into the mountains, and some could die along the way.”

The two of them prattled on quietly for another few minutes before they walked away to the baby clothing. Faith and I looked at each other for a few silent moments before I shook my head and breathed out. I’d been holding it in and taking in shallow gulps of air.

“Let’s buy this shit and get the hell out of here,” I told her softly before moving back to our purchases, all the luster of babies and happy, thriving families gone.

On the way to the counter, I linked with West, telling him we had heard something about Carla and the rogue Alpha. I was certain he wasn’t a rogue in the literal sense of the word, but was an untamed man who didn’t care who he threatened with death and was only after his own personal gains.

Power? Land? Supremacy? Or were his goals even loftier and more sinister? There was no king of Alphas, but that didn’t mean at some point there hadn’t been rumblings of men who wanted to take over.

And what about this man’s mate? Was it true that he was fucking Carla even before his female died?

Or maybe had been screwing the malicious bitch and his mate’s death had made him unhinged…made him the way he was now. There was no telling as we didn’t know who he was really, and no one knew how to find out.

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