The moon watched her.
For a moment, Evie stared back. Then she stirred as the memory of the fall flashed through her mind, causing her to jerk.
She adjusted her position on the leaf bed, careful not to move too quickly due to her wounds. The tatters of her dress draped around her fanny and breasts in a very modest fashion–she didn’t do that.
“Evie.” The sound of his voice both comforted and terrified her.
Andrea wasn’t really here; it was just a very vivid hallucination. He was in the lair with the other blessed furs.
Rolling onto her side, her gaze met Andrea’s on the log on the other side of the fire that flared between them. The crackling sparks of the fire shimmered off his smooth, bare ivory skin like a well-oiled painting.
As he rose, her eyes followed him. The low-hanging black pants showed off his Adonis belt, and an ecstatic shiver rippled through her as she gawked, almost drooling. Evie’s fingers dug into her palm. Then, she looked away from him, took a deep breath, then struggled to catch another.
When she sat up, the complete absence of pain shocked her. Did she imagine that fall? Her eyes followed his descent as he lowered himself in front of her.
“You’re not real,” she slurred, staring at him wide-eyed.
His laughter was contagious. “I spent the past hour trying to convince myself you weren’t either.” He helped her up and led her to the fire.
“Evie, how are you here?”
Evie plopped onto the narrow log, rubbing her palms together over the fire while her mind raced, trying to piece things together. She was in a lair that only let one person leave, instead of stowing away aboard the Eye of Ulrich right now. How did she end up trapped in the blasted goddess’ lair with blessed furs that had a better chance?
“I fell… off the hill.” She looked herself over.
“I figured. Your wounds weren’t healing, so I took you into my dark lair.” He pushed her hair back from her face, and Evie turned to look at him. “Evie, could you please explain what happened? What made you enter after the four of us?”
As he mentioned the four, Evie scanned the area where he had set up camp beside the creek. Panic spiked her pulse, crackling alongside the fire as she turned back to gaze at it. The chances of her surviving a trial without her abilities were slim, she would probably die before it started.
“I’m just here, I don’t know how.”
Telling him a silver-haired woman from her dreams brought her here would make Andrea think she was crazy. It wasn’t clear how or why she was here, and it terrified her. After a heavy sigh, she stepped back from the log.
“How are we going to get out of here?” She strained with each breath to keep the overwhelming terror of being in the lair at bay. Evie shook her head, remembering her father’s tales of the immortals and malevolent spirits that dwelt here.
Andrea rose, and her eyes shot to him. “There is only one way out. You must pass your trial and ascend, out of the lair. The timing is also crucial; the first one to complete their trial gets released.”
It was a well-known fact. “And if we don’t?”
He shrugged his massive shoulders in response. After scratching his brow, he walked over to her and took her hands in his.
“I’m afraid you’re here because of me.”
With every breath, her heart beat faster, and terror popped her skin. Even in the worst of circumstances, she had never felt this terrified. Could this be the lair’s attempt to weaken the wolves’ will? Still, with Andrea by her side, she had nothing to worry about; they stood a chance together. She threw a quick glance at him, and, as she suspected, he was staring at her.
“You cannot possibly think I am in here because we’re mates.”
It made sense why he thought that. The lair only tested blessed furs with no fated mates, and although they had only just met, they were mates. Could that be why she was here, to go through a trial with him? Her decision to flee Lethuoca may never have been her own; it may have been the goddess’ scheme to bring her here with Andrea.
“I’m unsure.” He leaned closer, eyes roving over her. “How are you feeling?”
She laughed, not at him, but at her quandary, and how exposed she felt in front of him, wearing rags that barely covered her breasts and nates. Her throat parched at the thought of Andrea’s hands on her, cleaning her up, and removing the rags of her dress to wrap around her.
Despite the fire’s best efforts, the cold managed to seep into her bones. Andrea, meanwhile, gazed down at her with an unfamiliar look.
“By Orin, I’ll get us out of here,” he said quietly.
With a smile, she nodded at him. Evie felt his promise and desire for her in the pleasant warmth of his stare. His gentle, large hands stroked her face, and as her eyes closed in the comfort of his touch, she caught sight of a scowl flicker across his face.
“You were planning to leave right after the Christening.”
By ir’gol! She had forgotten about his black fur ability. Andrea followed her as she backed away, catching her shoulders and pulling her closer.
“I need you to let go of me, Andrea.”
“Evie, I’ll get the answers myself unless you talk to me.”
“Do not threaten me,” she yelled, breaking away from his hold and pacing with her arms akimbo. In any case, it was her decision whether to tell or not to tell.
The lair and Andrea were a surprise she did not want; this was not what she had planned. It was becoming increasingly irritating to her that even the gods were not interested in giving her the peace she desired.
“That was not my intent.” Andrea rounded back to face her. “But you must understand that I will not let you leave. You are my mate; I have a duty to protect you.”
She made a snide gesture at him. “I’m sorry, let me?” Her brow furrowed as she looked at him. “Regardless of what the gods’ fate, I am not yours to protect or let.”
“You can fight it all you want, Evie.” He leaned forward, smiling into her eyes. “You are mine, Evie Crowe. Damn the gods if I let Lord Crowe send you back to that prison.”
“You know nothing of what you speak.”
When he brought up Liam and the prison, her heart skipped a beat. How did he know that?
“I wouldn’t bring up such a serious matter unless I was certain. I am completely aware of your identity as well as Lord Crowe’s actions.”
“Andrea stop talking!”
“I saw you at the goddess’ lake during Lord Crowe’s ascension, and I knew right away.” Evie struggled to blink as she gawked at him. “I knew right away that whoever you were, you belonged with me.” He moved closer, and she stepped back from him. “Imagine my surprise when I found you, high Lady of Lethuoca, locked away in the west wing of the Crowe estate.”
Her gut clenched as she recalled Liam’s ascension. A few months after their father’s embérst, her Tranquil Banes guards had left her unattended to watch Liam’s aglikai. To watch the battle, she snuck into the arena and blended into the crowds in the stands.
“You… you.” Her words drifted off, and she took a brief pause. “That was two years ago.” How could he just leave her locked up like that?
He gave a nod. “Lord Crowe refused to acknowledge your existence, so I turned to Ethan, who told me enough.”
“Now I understand why Ethan was so lax with you.”
Ethan knew of their connection as mates, now she was eager to talk to him about a lot.
“I suppose what I am trying to say here is that you can trust me. You are not going back to Uweka. You don’t need to leave.”
“You knew I was confined in Uweka, yet you did nothing! Andrea, you left me there for two years! Now you expect me to trust you?”
“Evie, if I could, I would have whisked you away the moment I saw you. But without the rank of alpha, I couldn’t free you from him. Lord Crowe is the high Lord of Lethuoca. For me to be able to stand up to him, I needed Ethan’s help as well as the alpha status.” He tried to hold her face, but she pushed him away. “A thousand apologies, but I did my best.”
Her eyes narrowed as she stared at him. “Your best?”
“It’s the reason you are in Broxbridge for this ceremony. Ethan and I made certain that your plan to flee the city through Broxbridge went off without Lord Crowe gaining wind of it.”
By the gods! She knew there was no way she could have gotten away that easily.
With a heavy sigh, Evie turned her gaze back to the creek. Andrea had no power to stop Liam from taking her back to Uweka unless he made it out as alpha of Broxbridge. Then again, she wouldn’t ever put them in such a position. While she hated Liam for being too protective to the point where he imprisoned her, he was only following their father’s orders; a dying declaration Liam could not shake was not his fault.
“I shouldn’t have come to Broxbridge.”
“As my fated mate, you belong with me in Broxbridge.” Andrea took her hands in his. “He will not stand in our way. You have my word on that, Evie.”
“Andrea, Liam is the least of our concerns. We’re trapped in the goddess’s lair. We need to figure out what to do.”
“If my presence here pulled you in because we’re mates, then we’re one in that sense.” He shrugged. “Did you ascend?”
Maybe Ethan didn’t tell him everything if he had to ask her that. She never shifted on her sixteenth birthday, unlike every other wolf; her wolf was as quiet as a doormat.
“I’ve never shifted.”
A confession that let her and her family down because it was unheard of—a Crowe who couldn’t shift. She shook her head and turned back towards the creek.
“I know that, Evie. What I meant to ask was did anything else happen when you entered the lair besides almost plummeting to your death?”
She chuckled softly. “Ethan also told you that?”
“He told me enough.” Then he pulled her into a warm, searing embrace.
At first, she froze in his arms, but soon relaxed once he calmed her with his ability. Rather than fight it, the certainty of his protection made her let it settle in.
“I’m not sure why Qhaphine would bring you here, especially without ascending you.” His voice rumbled through her. “You need your wolf and your powers to endure the trials here.”
The name cut through Evie. “Qhaphine?” That name haunted her dreams—It was Qhaphine who pulled her into this damn lair.
“Yes, Qhaphine, the goddess of the Broxbridge tribe.” Andrea stared into her eyes. “Do you not know about the sister goddesses; Qhaphine and Aenta?”
Her mouth went dry, but Evie didn’t dare swallow.
“We need to keep moving, Andrea,” Evie murmured. Her eyes shifted around as she took a shaky breath. “We need to find Qhaphine.”