West of Destiny (Book 5 of The Claimed Series)

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Chapter 8

Zach


I watched her fall and did nothing to stop it. I couldn’t do anything to stop it. I was frozen in that one point of time right between holy shit and impact. Like watching those videos on YouTube of a train being derailed or a car accident coming to a bloody and final conclusion. The train cars would tip over onto their sides, the car would do about a hundred flips in the air before landing on its roof, and you still couldn’t do anything but watch it unfold.

Thank you? What did that fucking mean? I could see the pain in her eyes, the helpless, hopeless feeling being reflected back at me, but I couldn’t move a limb.

Lucy. My Lucy. She would rather have died than live without me. I made a mistake. This was a mistake. I should have died before I let her go over those falls. And fucking thanking me. Like I had let her go off to be happy with someone else instead of signing her death warrant with my rejection.

I couldn’t feel her anymore. The bond—broken. The connection, as faltering as it was, obliterated in a couple of sentences. Sadness and anger meshed together and my body fairly pulsed with it.

I felt the cotton on my chest stretch and then rip loudly, a snarl letting loose with it. Fur started to sprout along my spine as I felt my shift take over, the cry of anguish mutating into a full howl as my face stretched into a long snout. I could smell Lucy better, the scent of her fading away over the cliff as I rushed to it, a few rocks coming loose and tumbling over the side after her.

I couldn’t see anything below even with my keen senses, but the river had always flowed to the west, toward the ocean. My head snapped in that direction, trying to find a way over the side of the cliff that wouldn’t render me too incapacitated to help her—

If she was still alive that is. With the bond broken, I wouldn’t be able to tell.

For miles to the west, the cliffs only rose higher until they faded away, farther than my eyesight could manage to suss out. There had to be a way down, a way to get to her, to find her.

Please be alive, baby. Be alive, Lucy.

I snarled and snapped, wishing there was something for me to tear apart nearby, but there was only air. Air and the water that wouldn’t be hurt if I drank it, snapped at it, or tried to bite a hunk out of it.

With another tormented howl I did an about-face, charging off into the forest to find help. Help so that I could find Lucy, the person I was supposed to be with. My only thought was to get to her, but the need to rip my father apart limb from limb was a damn close second.

I heard howls answer back as I leaped over roots, pushing my wolf farther and farther toward home so I could rally up the troops and wake Lu’s parents. Her father was a medical man, so he would be able to help if she was injured. They were my next stop as soon as I saw my father.

I burst through the last of the foliage into my backyard, shifting back to human mid-stride before I grabbed a pair of boxers I left on the back porch in the event I had to shift on the fly. Ripping open the door, I saw my mother start, her eyes flying wide and taking in the angry pulse of my carotid artery, the deep rise and fall of my chest as I stood before her in boxers and a grim sneer making her cry out.

“Zach—what’s wrong?”

I was angry, so angry I could barely force the words out without snapping at her.

“Where’s Artemis?”

After threatening my father to take his pack from him by force if he so much as mentioned Lucy’s name in front of me, I rounded up a group of enforcers and gave them directions to the waterfall and advised they try to find a way down before I put on clothing. I didn’t want to go to Lucy’s parents to tell them their daughter was missing—most likely dead—while I was dressed in only boxers.

I jogged over to their modest home and was forced to knock on the door for thirty seconds before her father—clad in sleep pants and wifebeater—opened the door with a dark expression.

“Zach? What’s going on? It’s after midnight.”

“Carver,” I pushed out. “It’s Lucy.”

“She’s asleep in bed,” he protested. “What are you talking about, son?”

“No, she’s not in bed,” I told him. “She was with me. I was…forced to reject her tonight. Sh-she—”

My voice was cut off with a thick swallow. Nausea rolled through my stomach and I welcomed it. I’d puke up my entire intestinal tract if it brought Lucy home. “Once I rejected her, she…she fell off the cliff over the waterfall.”

“What?”

“Carver?”

I heard Lucy’s mother scurrying closer in the background before she came into full view. She was dressed in a long dressing gown over her even longer nightdress.

“What’s going on?” She looked from me to her mate and I took another deep breath.

“Lucy fell over the cliff, Marta,” I told her, my voice coming out thick and wavering. “I had to do it. I had to reject her and she…she…”

I cradled my head in my hands with force before pushing them through my hair.

“She said, thank you, and fucking jumped off.”

I didn’t need ears to hear the anguish around me. I was drowning in it. It was all I heard, felt—I could even smell it, pungent like mold, and just about as welcome.

“What are you doing about finding my daughter?” Carver was angry. If it was at me, I couldn’t say I blamed the man. I was livid with myself, so he had every right to be as cross with me as he wanted to be. I may have had a premature bond with Luce, but she was his blood.

“I have enforcers out, searching,” I told him, every attempt at swallowing the lump in my throat futile. “We’re trying to find a way to get down to the river bed on the other side. It’s sheer cliff for miles to the west.”

“Then go east, boy.” Every bit of my alpha was wanting to snap back at him, but I didn’t dare let myself do that to him. He was hurting—I was hurting—and I would have done the same if it were my child.

A child I should have had with Lucy, my true mate.

And mate no longer.

“The river runs west, sir, and—”

“And it would be suicide if you were to try to scale down the cliff, so you go east to find more level ground,” he interjected. “Go east and find some way to get down to the river. We can follow it to the west and hopefully find Lucy. It’s better than going for miles west and not being able to get down all the way to the ocean. Besides, what if she is able to get to the shore earlier and we have to double-back for her? Precious time wasted.”

He was right and I caved, just before realizing what he was saying.

“We?” I asked, surprised.

“Of course,” he said as he walked into the house and headed for the hallway to his bedroom. “I’m coming with you. I’ll bring my medical bag and—just hold on until I get dressed.”

Marta Wallace was still weeping softly. Her initial reaction had been a pained, a shrill cry as she realized just how bad the odds were that her daughter was still alive—or at least not broken and bleeding out.

“I can’t feel her anymore,” I admitted softly. “I can’t…there’s nothing there. Can—can you try reaching out to her through the family link?”

“I tried to already.” Her watery voice made me ache. I had done this—I had broken this woman. “Nothing. She’s either dead or unconscious. Either…either way, it doesn’t look good.”

Fuck. Lucky had to be alive. If she wasn’t…this was the least I owed the Wallaces—to search until all hope was lost. If I found her body, I would bring her back to be buried or cremated. She would get full Luna-rites as my intended—that much was certain.

And I didn’t care what the fuck my father thought.

A day later and nothing. No sign, not even a trace of her scent. Last night’s rains made it hard to differentiate the different smells, and Carver hadn’t slept the whole fucking time we’d been out here.

We’d had to go twenty miles to the east in order to be able to get to the river level, but it would have been twice that had we gone west. We scoured the shoreline and lower altitudes like we were looking for a needle in a haystack, and still nothing had perked our noses. I knew Lucy’s scent almost as well as Carver did, so the two of us had led the charge trying to find her.

“Nothing!” Jaxon, one of the head enforcers, called out as he looked behind the waterfall on the off-chance she had been able to pull herself into the cave behind the slimy rocks and rushing waters.

“Then we move forward,” I said sternly. He nodded his head and yelled out some commands before we walked further down the river. Carver was at my right hand, the way a Beta would have been. “You need to sleep, Carver.”

“I’ll sleep when she’s found.” It wasn’t a challenge, and I understood that he couldn’t sleep, even if he wanted to. His pup was gone, possibly—probably—dead, and there was no rest for him until she was found, for good or for bad.

“You’ll be exhausted when…if we find her. What use will you be to her then when she needs you the most?”

He was silent, but I saw his head go down before coming back up. He nodded, and though I could tell he wanted to fight me on it, he abstained. If I had been in his shoes, I would have broken by now, probably tossed myself off the cliff myself in order to find her. The only thing that kept me from making such irrational decisions was my alpha blood and the need to see her, safe and sound. Even if she was no longer mine to hold.

The lump that was always right at the edge of coming forth bubbled up in my throat. It pushed a sob up and I hunkered down to the ground before placing my hand on the soft soil.

“Keep going. We’ll catch up,” I heard Carver say. I waited until I could no longer hear their footsteps and let all the pent-up emotion—the feelings I couldn’t let my pack see—out.

“I’m sorry,” I blubbered. I could count the number of times I’d wept like this on one hand, and I wouldn’t have had to use half the fingers. “This is my fault. I should have fought harder for your daughter. I…I didn’t—”

“I don’t blame you, son,” Carver said as he sat down across from me on a flat rock. “If she fell, it was an accident. If she jumped—” I heard him swallow thickly, his own lump presumably forming. “—then she made a stupid decision. I haven’t been able to link with her since last night, but she could just still be unconscious. Maybe recuperating. I hope to Christ she is. We’ll find her.”

“Still—I rejected her bec—”

“Because you were forced to—again, not your fault. Your father—” The man looked steel-eyed, his grey-blue irises, the ones his daughter had inherited, were cold. “—it’s your father I blame. I honestly don’t know how I’m going to look at the man again with even a hint of respect.”

I nodded, concurring.

“That man’s dead to me, sir, so I completely agree with you on that,” I told him, sniffling. “Haven’t spoken to him since before I rejected Luce. He can fucking keep his damn title or hand it down to Nolan. I don’t fucking want it.”

“You should have it though. Your father…he’s an obstinate man and will push Nolan into running the pack in the way he does. I don’t agree with a lot of what he decrees, but knowing you’d take over for him in a few years has been the only thing making me think we weren’t doomed from the start. I’ve watched you over the years, even before you and Lucy felt the initial pull of the bond. I had to. You were best friends, practically inseparable since you were pups. I had to make sure my daughter hung around the right people. If I thought you’d make a shitty alpha, I wouldn’t have allowed her to hang around with you half as much as you did when you were younger.”

“Thanks, Carver. I…I appreciate that—I do. Doesn’t make the fucking pain go away, but I guess that’ll just take time.”

“Time’s all we got kid.” He leaned over and slapped me tiredly on the shoulder. “Now let’s get going and find my damn daughter.”

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