Chapter 1. The time has come
Heathcliff immediately becomes tense and his begins to growl. "Keep them there. I will be there shortly." He barks low and threatening. "Keep them at the docks." Heathcliff seethes, and he closes their nexus as he shifts from his human form into his large honeycomb wolf and bounds for the docks.
Running over the land, Heathcliff and his wolf become more and more agitated, thumping the earth harder with each tread beneath their paws, grunting angrily with every pound, knowing there is only one reason for their visit. Heathcliff approaches the docks, eyeing the 3 men who have come uninvited and unannounced into his territory. He growls threateningly at them and they bow low and respectfully, only one has the nerve to look the Alpha in his eye. Heathcliff snarls as he shifts into his human form, wearing the same clothes he was in before. A slender, pale faced man stands with an evil smirk and walks towards him. "I thought at the very least we would be invited to the pack house, given who I represent." The man scowls at a Heathcliff, still holding his glare.
WHAM! With a sudden and mighty front kick, Heathcliff embeds his foot into the snide mut's jaw, sending him flying into his company, all of them stumbling backwards, pathetically trying to absorb the surprise attack. Heathcliff is quick to lunge at the bumbling 3 and seizes the man by his jaw. His eyes have changed and his breath is ragged. He effortlessly picks him up, pulling him to his eye level. Heathcliff growls at the simpering cowards still on the ground, before turning his enraged glare at the man in his grasp, "The only reason you're not dead is because I allow you to breathe my air. Disrespect me again and I will remove my air from your lungs." The man whimpers as Heathcliff bears down over him. "Give me one good reason why you are here Brennan, before I give you a new orifice to breathe out of!"
Brennan struggles to speak, managing stutters and splutters. "Sh-She is being summoned home. She is betrothed. It is very beneficial match for my Alpha."
Heathcliff's wolf growls in anger beneath the surface, and he tosses Brennan from his grasp onto his men again. "Who is she to marry?" He bellows over them, making them cower under his growing fury.
All false pride and snugness plunges from Brennan's countenance as he grovels at Heathcliff's feet. "Alpha Luther Latimore. He and the Alpha have a promising agreement." The men with Brennan join him, lying low and to his side as Heathcliff's anger reaches a point beyond his control. His men have backed away, sensing how close Heathcliff and his wolf are from tearing the men to shreds. Heathcliff knows Luther to be an evil and tyrannical Alpha. He has no respect for the wolf. As he growls over Brennan's words, Brennan barks up at him defiantly. "We leave with her now. She comes back with us today."
Heathcliff whirls around and grabs Brennan by the jaw. "Remember who you address mutt! You may be the Beta, but here you are a mutt who insists on challenging the Alpha!" Heathcliff roars, tossing Brennan into his men's arrest, and shifting into his wolf in an instant. He turns wildly at the Silver Lakes men in front of him, and charges, swiping his razor sharp claws through their necks, decapitating them in an instant. He latches his massive jaws into their bodies and viciously removes their entrails. Brennan quivers as he is detained in his spot, before all confidence fades from his entire being and his wolf recedes to the shadows of his being, as Heathcliff snarls, bloodily dragging masticated organs in his mouth towards him. Brennan cannot deny the magnitude of the Alpha in front of him. Heathcliff tosses the organs over him before shifting into his human form again. He stands over Brennan, a blood stained face and breath so close to him, Brennan can feel their heat. "She will be returned within the month. She will not leave today." Heathcliff grits barely holding his wolf at bay. Heathcliff turns to his patrol unit. "Put him back on the boat. Make sure he takes his company with him." His men snarl angrily and heave a shouting Brennan on the boat he came in on, throwing the shredded carcasses of his men on board with him.
Heathcliff shifts and angrily bounds back to the pack house. His pulse booms every beat in his ear as his anger surges through his veins. His mind racing; his heart breaking. He always knew this day would come and that he would never be prepared for it.
As he slows to a trot in front of the pack house, his son's Ryker and Bronson are waiting for him on the front steps of the patio. "Where have you been? What happened?" Ryker barks angrily rushing to his blood stained father.
"I think he's handled it Ryker. Never the less, you are late for our meeting, Alpha." Bronson chides in jest at his father.
"Never mind our meeting. It has been postponed." Heathcliff glares rolling his eyes at his son's taunt. "We have a more urgent matter to discuss in my office." Heathcliff stomps past his sons and they follow him nervously in his wake. Upon entering into his office, Heathcliff pauses, turning worriedly to Bronson. "Where is she?" His stern tone unable to hide his pain and concern.
Bronson frowns, sensing his father's distress. "I left her in the training ring. Do I need to get her?"
"No, not yet my son." Heathcliff drops his head, unable to watch the concern flood Bronson's eyes. "Let me speak with you both first." Heathcliff almost begs, ushering Bronson inside and gently closes the door behind them.
Swirls of pinks, blues, yellows and reds, drift lazily across the sky as the sunsets. Heathcliff watches with a heavy heart as the sun drops over the mountains. Even the shadows of night cannot hide his pain and heartache about this evening's dinner. He's with has arranged for the four of them to eat here tonight away from the prying eyes of the rest of the house. With three loud knocks, Ryker and Bronson enter into the room. They both heavily and angrily walk towards their father, scowling with every step. Heathcliff has no allies in this moment. He is the enemy. Bronson takes a seat at the table, heavily slumping into his chair. Ryker is still too worked up and paces the length of the table glaring at his father. None of them have anything to say that will improve the silence. Heathcliff glances between his sons, both vexed and highly agitated. Heathcliff goes to say something, when there is three soft knocks at the door. Immediately the tension in the room is gone and Ryker and Bronson stare pained at the door. Heathcliff stands in his chair and watches as Bronson slowly makes his way to the door, reaching out to touch the handle as though it will burn him. He pulls the door open and ushers the young lady in warmly. "Bella." Bronson says with a shaky smile. "You know you need not knock." He smiles over her as she shyly steps into the room.
"Hey Bron. I was only being polite." Isabella grins back up at him shy and worried by his tone. Bronson escorts her to the table and pulls the chair out next to his. Isabella can feel the tension in the room as she takes her seat next to Bronson, and perceptively becomes anxious.
"Thank you for joining us." Heathcliff says struggling to make eye contact with Isabella. "I wanted to have a family dinner, just the four of us." He smiles at Isabella. She returned Heathcliff smile but was acutely aware of the tension and anger simmering not too far beneath the surface in both Ryker and Bronson. Dinner is served and they eat in silence. The air is rife with tension it's suffocating. Isabella's wolf is baying to her cousins but none of them reply. They have all shut their nexus. Isabella knows something is wrong and they're not telling her. "Please, Alpha. Have I done something wrong?" She blurts out earning puzzled looks from them all.
Heathcliff looks at her surprised by her question. "Why would you think that?"
"Bronson has been growling and rougher at training all day. Ryker hasn't looked at me. And you are being closed off to me also. What did I do wrong?" She looks around at each of them, pleading for an answer. The 3 men exchange glances but say nothing. Isabella begins to unravel fearing she has disappointed the man she has grown up looking up at as a father and cousins she has looked up to as brothers."Please. I'm sorry. I'll fix it. What did I do?" Her voice is panicked and concerned, "Please, let me know what I did!" She growls hurt and forces Ryker out of his chair and to her side, pulling her close to him.
"Isa, you have done nothing wrong." Ryker pulls her tightly to him, shaking with fury at his Father.
Heathcliff clears his voice and all eyes fall to him. Even his wolf is reluctant to stand by what he must do. "Isabella, my child. There is no easy way to say this. You have been summoned, by your Father. You are to return home to him and be married to Alpha Luther Latimore. You leave within the week."
All at once, Ryker can feel her body almost go limp in his arms from the shock. Isabella grips is arms and drops her head into Ryker's broad chest. "My Father? Charles? He... He what?" Isabella stammers as Ryker sits her down next to Bronson who lays an arm around her shoulder. "I haven't heard from him in so long –"
"20 years." Bronson scowls, his resentment for her Father very clear.
Isabella leans into Bronson who tightens his hold. "He... he's betrothed me?... to Luther? But he's a monster!" She fearfully shouts and clutching Bronson's shirt.
"We know Isa." Ryker soothes, gently rubbing her shoulder trying to comfort her.
Her wolf begins howling in anger and contest, and Isabella's heart shatters. "Wait, I have to go?! I have to leave?!" Her eyes dart fearfully from Bronson to Heathcliff. Their stun silence all the confirmation she needs. Petrified of leaving, she bursts from her chair and runs to Heathcliff's side throwing herself at his feet. "Please Alpha, don't let them take me! I'm sorry for everything. I'll do it all better. I won't make a mistake. Please, don't send me away. I'm begging you please!" Isabella clutches his clothes, with tears pouring from her eyes.
Heathcliff reaches for her and pulls her close. "I'm so sorry my child. I have no choice."
Isabella balls in tears and begins to cry uncontrollably. Bronson and Ryker rush to her and pull her in close between them. "Please, you are the only family I have. I'll be good. I'll be whatever you want. Just keep me. Keep me here." She cries out to the three men around her, pleading with every fibre of her being to stay.
Ryker growls behind her at Heathcliff. "You protect everyone. You're the Alpha! You should be keeping her here, not sending her into fresh hell!"
Heathcliff tries to move towards Isabella, but Bronson and Ryker stand around her, and both fend him off with an outstretched arm. Heathcliff's heart is breaking watching her crumble in front of his eyes. "Please, Isabella, I can't keep you. This is why your training and education has been so aggressive. I knew one day you would have to go back. I wanted you to be trained to the highest degree. So, when you did leave, you would be able to defend yourself. I am so proud of the wolf you are. I am honoured to have been the one to train you!"
Isabella cannot comprehend what her Uncle is allowing to happen. She hears Ryker's growl emanating deep within his chest; his wolf not far from being unleashed. "You're the one handing her over!" He shouts over her at his a Father. "She will never flourish there! They will beat her down! We know the wolves they are!" Ryker roars at Heathcliff.
Bronson stands silent, securing Isabella within his arms. Ryker and Heathcliff continue to shout and argue over her, making Isabella more and more upset. "Enough!" Roars Bronson, his voice making Isabella shudder from the attention it commands. "He can't start a war over her, Ryker. You know this." Isabella sobs again into his chest, knowing Bronson is right. Ryker relents with tears of defeat in his eyes, and wraps his arms around her. " she will return as our father has said that she will not be going alone." Everyone's eyes dart to Bronson. Bronson only cares to look at Isabella as he cups her cheek in his palm. "Yes, You won't be going alone. I am coming with you. I have been there to train you. I will be there to protect you, not as your cousin protecting his blood, but as your guard protecting his Alpha."
Isabella's tears spill freely, staining her cheeks. "You're... you're coming with me? No. No. you can't leave here. This is your home. Where I'm going, you will not be welcome and you'll be in danger. I can't ask –"
Bronson growls lowly, as does Ryker, silencing her pleas. "I am not asking Bella. I'm telling you I'm coming." Isabella smiles small as she dives deeper into Bronson's hold.
"Father has already been given Bronson's notice. He leaves when you leave." Ryker says gently, placing a loving peck on her forehead whilst glaring at his father. Heathcliff sighs relenting. He has lost his sons and a woman who has been like a daughter to him in one day. His wolf is banging to the others, without any reply.
Isabella turns gratefully and sobs into Ryker's chest. "You guys are the best brothers I could have asked for. How did I get so lucky? I don't deserve either of you."
"Yes, you do Isa. I only hope you find people back there that see it too." Ryker squeezes her tightly.
"Isabella," Heathcliff's anguished voice falls softly around the three of them. She slowly looks up from Bronson and Ryker, to her Uncle with saddened eyes. "I am very sorry for this. I wish I could do more for you." Heathcliff admits, dropping his head in immense shame.
Isabella walks to him, kneels at his feet and bows her head respectfully. Ryker is floored by her actions, as is Heathcliff. Bronson is the only one looking knowingly at her – she is behaving how she has been trained; that is to respect the Alpha. He knows Isabella is very upset and betrayed that her uncle won't fight for her, but at the same time, knows that he must send her home for the safety of the pack. In a solemn tone Isabella addresses him graciously. "You have given me more love, kindness and knowledge than I hoped for. You have given me a home and family for the last 20 years. I am very grateful for everything you have done for me Alpha. I will waste no time leaving for the Silver Lakes Pack. I would not want to inconvenience you or the pack."
Silently she stands and places a small kiss on her uncles cheek. Heathcliff is stunned into silence, his wolf howling in regret and shame. Bronson and Ryker growl at their father as she turns and leaves the room. From them, this night is far from over.
Isabella can hear her cousins shouting in her defence as she runs to her bedroom. Isabella opens her nexus to her reaches her wolf. "We're are in big trouble Cartia."
"I know. Everything we have learned about 'home' and the surrounding packs doesn't instil much hope for our future. What are we going to do? We are betrothed to a wolf who will try and dominate us. We won't have a chance."
Isabella sighs with a heavy heart. "I know we won't. But, like Heathcliff, this is duty – not personal."
"Your Uncle is making the hard choice. His wolf doesn't want us to go. None of them do. You HAVE to feel that?" Cartia pleads, trying to soothe Isabella's soul.
Isabella frowns confused. "I'm not sure what to feel. I'm betrayed and hurt he won't keep me, much the same my Father didn't keep me, but I also understand why I must return. It's all a big mess right now." Isabella snaps over the nexus as she hurls the door to her room open and throws herself onto her bed, balling over her pillows.
Cartia can feel the turmoil swirling around in Isabella. Their souls are bound to one another. Cartia lays a comforting paw on her heart. "Bronson is coming with us. I am so relieved he is. I trust Bronson more than any other person we know."
Isabella chuckles lightly, remembering Bronson over the years she has been here. "Yes, Bronson has always been there for us. He is the closest thing to a brother I have. Now, that he is coming with me, I am not so scared. I know he will protect us."
BANG!! Isabella erupts from her bed in fright as she turns to a furious Bronson storming into her room. "Bron? What's the-" She stammers to silence as the massive frame of Bronson moves to stand over her. He is much larger than she is, much stronger too. She has not met a finer, more disciplined warrior than Bronson.
"You should have served him, and you know it! Not submitted and accepted his decision!" He glares down at her. "I know why you humbled yourself before the Alpha, and I am very proud of you for the way you handled yourself. But, you are family! You are not a merger pack member – YOU ARE FAMILY!" Bronson roars shaking with anger.
"Bron, he is my Uncle, but he is also the Alpha. I have to respect him and the decision he has made." Isabella folds into his waiting arms and he pulls her close. "I do feel betrayed, but I know I have to leave. It doesn't matter how I feel about returning home. I have to go."
Bronson's growl erupts low in his chest. "I am coming with you. I will be there every step of the way to take care of you. We are both born Alpha's and I will ensure we are both treated as such. No wolf will harm you while I am with you."
Isabella begins to tear silently as his words melt the fear gripping her heart. "Cartia loves you so much Bronson. As do I. You are a safety blanket for us. We trust you more than anyone else."
Bronson sighs heavily. "When will you be ready to leave?"
Isabella rolls out of his embrace and walks around her room. "Never." She jokes half-heartedly. Bronson does not smile, waiting for her to answer him seriously. "I'll be ready to leave in the morning. I'll have everything I need packed tonight."
Bronson nods heavily, "I will be back here to collect you and your bags at 5am. We will leave, together, on the first ship." Bronson closes the space between them. "I need you to understand that once we leave here, we are on our own. I will have no support from my Father. You need to be close, with arms reach 95% of the time. We trust no one. We stick together. You do not train without me. You do not eat without me. You do not leave without me. Where you go, I follow – always." He cups her face in his hands and raises her eyes to his. "Always Bella."
"Yes Bronson. I understand. I will do as you say." She gently holds his forearms in her hands. "I can't do this alone."
Bronson drops his hands from her face and wraps his arms around her, holding her close. "You will never be without me. I will always be here for you." Bronson releases her and leaves the room, leaving Isabella to pack her bags. Isabella sighs in sorrow, unsure of the future and scared of the unknown.
It is midnight, the moonlight illuminates her room for the last time as Isabella finishes packing. The last zip is closed and she is done. With a heavy sigh, she slumps against her closet, peering woefully over her single mid-sized suitcase. "All my life in that one bag." She mocks to herself. A gentle knocking breaks her thoughts and she slowly opens the door to Ryker and Bronson standing on the other side. Isabella studies them panicked, "Is everything ok?"
Ryker barges through, picking her up in his arms. "No. Everything is not ok." Isabella smiles and willingly folds into Ryker's arms.Bronson walks in behind them and closes the door, as Ryker sits with Isabella resting their backs on the headboard. Bronson slides onto the other side of Isabella and they cuddle her from both sides. "We knew you would not be asleep yet." Ryker mumbles into her hair.
"I wasn't going to sleep. I have too many thoughts and fears rolling round in my head for sleep." Isabella snuggles into Ryker's shoulder and pulls Bronson's arm around her. Bronson sits in silence, knowing it is harder for Ryker losing both Isabella and himself.
"I'm staying with you till you have to board the ship." Ryker stammers as he starts to cry. "It's like my baby sister is being ripped from me and given to a tyrant and I can't do a thing about it. I feel helpless and powerless!"
Isabella gently rubs his cheek and kisses his forehead. "I know. Me too. I will miss you so much Ryker. You are going to be an amazing Alpha. I hope I get to see it one day." They sit in each other's embrace for the rest of the early morning, savouring the fleeting moment they have left.
The sun is yet to rise as Isabella, Ryker and Bronson stand beside the ship to take her back home. "I don't like this at all." Ryker fumes beneath his calm exterior. He turns resolute to Bronson, fervent and strong in his demeanour. "I know what Father said, that you couldn't come back if you left. I don't care. If you need to get her out, you come straight back!" He commands in his Alpha tone, making Isabella smile admiringly.
Bronson shakes his Ryker's hand proudly. "Thank you Ryker. I hope it doesn't come to that. Thank you for accepting me leaving with her."
Ryker tosses his hand aside and pulls Bronson into a massive hug. "I would have it no other way. If roles were reversed and you were the elder, I would be going." He pulls away from him, eyeing Isabella seriously. "Both of you will always be welcome back here."
Bronson looks to the mountain ridges as the sun begins to break over them, before turning to Isabella. "It is time Bella." Isabella nods and moves towards the boat ramp with heavy laden footsteps.
"Ryker?" She turns back with pleading eyes, "Can you tell Uncle, I said goodbye. I thought he would be here." The hurt in her eyes is unmistakable, fuelling their rage against their father for not even being present when she left. "Can you tell him I'm grateful and I love him and I understand... and that I don't hate him?" She pleads tenderly with Ryker.
"Sure. I'll tell him. Go now. Don't make this harder than it already is." Ryker says using every iota of his strength to not break down with sadness in front of her. He sets her back on the plank and Bronson links his arm around her waist and gently pulls her up and on deck.
As the ship pulls away, Isabella cries into Bronson. "I'm scared. I'm really scared. I don't want to go. Cartia doesn't want to go. We want to stay Bronson."
Bronson envelopes her into his arms and gently rocks her. "I know Bella. I know. I will be here. I will not leave you. Together we will endure."