“So, what’s it going to be?”
Evie Crowe stared into the dark horizon of the ocean Reef pier of Broxbridge, past its frozen bridge that welcomed visitors to this vast nowhere of Lethuoca, and an overwhelming sense of serenity washed over her. In the crisp September air, the pure scent of freedom lingered, and the promise of adventure echoed against the slithering hiss of the writhing chill.
Except for a few small boats and ships docked overnight, the main pier was empty.
How she hated questions that always forced a choice; this or that. Why couldn’t it ever be both or neither?
“Sam, would I be here if I wasn’t sure?” Evie inquired of Samara, who had planned her escape from the Crowe estate with Kaitlyn.
To get out of Uweka unseen, she crossed over by sea instead of road, and it was the most uncomfortable journey. Even now, after sitting on hard and splintered wood for over four hours, her nates and legs still throbbed.
“I still think we should reconsider, Lady Crowe. Commander Crowe should already be at Hayes’ manor; if you like, I can escort you there.”
Evie let out a frustrated groan. As expected, Samara was getting cold feet. It was understandable too, no wolf, witch, or even human would oppose the Crowes on purpose. But, her plan to leave the country depended on Samara’s help. Evie advanced, flipping the long black cloak that concealed her along as she circled around Samara.
With a twinkle in her silver eyes, she said, “Enough with the Lady Crowe, Sam. Address me as Evie, I insist.”
The icy Atlantic wind flapped and roared through the sails of the boats on their right, stirring a foreboding omen about their midnight summit. With it came a surge of fear she could almost taste; hers and Samara’s.
Taking a deep breath, Samara replied, “We should get out of here before someone sees us.”
From the wooden pier, Evie followed her to an SUV parked off-road. A chill crept up her legs, and she adjusted the black cloak she was sure Kaitlyn had fashioned with a dash of witchcraft brilliance. It was a heavy Melton fabric, softer than a feather with the warmth of a thousand unfelted wools.
She hopped into the car after Samara, anxious to get out of the cold, and cast an inquisitive glance at the Broxbridge witch. How was she not freezing to death in that little red dress?
“It makes no sense that you want to leave the country, but you insist on attending the Christening ceremony.” Samara pushed the ignition button, and the car hummed to life. “Do you need to be reminded that all the alphas of Lethuoca will attend?” She pulled out onto the road, keeping the headlights off.
“You are eager to get me out of your hair, which I totally understand.”
Samara laughed and shot her a sideways glance. “I am worried is all. It’ll be safer if you just stow away right now.”
“This is the first Christening ceremony in a thousand years. It may be another thousand or more before we witness another. Damn the gods if I miss it just because.”
Sure, she understood Samara’s point, and would truly prefer to be out of Lethuoca with a reasonable head start, but she couldn’t explain the nagging desire to be at the Christening. At this point, she’d resolved that the gods wanted her there, and she couldn’t fight it.
“Even though Commander Crowe is in Broxbridge to oversee the same ceremony? The chances of you getting found are high. What if–?”
“It will be best not to dwell on what-ifs and live as is?” Evie interrupted Samara before she could continue, and Samara looked sideways at her before nodding.
Evie slipped the hood back from her head, and her raven-black locks, glossy with lustre, streamed over her shoulders in the moonlight. As they drove past the trees on the slope, she took a long breath to quiet the pounding in her chest. How, in Orin’s name, did she slip past the Tranquil Banes? In the unlikely event this was not a lucid dream, Kaitlyn was a more powerful witch than she gave her credit for.
But she was not out of the woods until she left Lethuoca. Her brothers and her clan would spread out throughout the country to find her once they realised she was missing, and it wouldn’t take them long to find her.
With Ethan here, lingering wasn’t the best idea. If he learned she was gone, he would use his shadow to find her in a matter of minutes. His shadow ability, as a Crowe black fur, was terrifying. Evie blew out a shaky breath and noticed the clearing tipping off the cliff across the highway.
“Pull over up there.” She motioned to Samara; she needed a second to calm down.
“Uh-huh, I think we should get out of the highland as soon as possible. We are still in wolf territory; we cannot stop now,” Samara said.
“Sam, pull over for a minute,” Evie ordered in a scalding tone.
“This is a horrible idea, Evie!”
“I’ll only be a minute.”
“Ugh!” Samara veered off the road, groaning as she gripped the steering wheel in mild irritation.
Before Samara could peddle down the brakes, Evie jumped out of the car. She stepped towards the cliff overlooking the water, and took a deep breath, combing her fingers through her hair as she struggled to calm her frazzled nerves.
“Are you trying to get caught?” Samara said. With a frown on her face, she trotted over to Evie. “You see those woods over there? The blessed black wolf territory is right there! What’s worse is that it isn’t far from the Hayes estate,” Samara added, pointing to the woodland behind them, and Evie peeked a glance over her shoulder.
“I think you worry too much.”
“I worry because that is the sensible thing to do. What I don’t want is for anyone–especially one of the Crowe Lords–to decapitate me for helping you,” Samara said. “You forget, Evie, that I am not a wolf or a high-born. I am not untouchable like you.”
“Samara, you don’t have to worry about my brothers knowing you were involved in this,” Evie assured her, but Samara’s hazel eyes betrayed her fear and Evie understood her concern.
While Samara shook her head and shuffled away with a shrug, Evie returned her gaze to the abyss in the sky, lit only by a half-moon crescent. Her mind was at ease now, so she listened past the trees behind them in their twirling face off against the wind. The night came back quiet; no sounds, no scents, and no one around.
“Are you done admiring the view?” Samara wrapped her arms around herself, and Evie noticed the goosebumps on her fine alabaster skin.
At last, evidence that Samara too felt the cold.
“I didn’t stop to admire the scenery, Sam,” Evie said into her eyes. “You’re not the only one who is anxious.”
“I don’t see it. You don’t even act like it.”
“I am a Crowe wolf; fear is not in my nature.”
Samara gazed at her as she pulled the hood back over her head. For a little while, Evie stared at the sky while her mind thrashed like the waves below the cliff as she tired to understand why the Christening haunted her. She waved Samara along and turned to the car. It was better to get out of the open.
Then she heard it. A faint laboured whimper echoing from the woods. She brushed her hair out of the way so that it did not fall over her face, and listened, peering deeper in its direction across the road. When she heard it again, she raced towards it.
“Come along, Sam.”
Off the path, she tracked the sound against Samara’s frustrated bellow behind her. She picked up the scent of blood and followed it through the thick foliage until she came to a wide-open clearing.
There, in a puddle of blood, was a large black wolf. He stirred and managed a groan, indicating that he was aware of her presence, and Evie took a cautious glance around. Her instincts, if she were the least bit sane, would be to take off. Wolves and their clans were unpredictable, and it would be stupid for her to run in with any clans while she was hiding out here. But he needed help, and she was the furthest thing from normal—lucky for him.
By Orin! He was a blessed black wolf, Evie ground her teeth as she considered taking off, but it was useless now–he had definitely caught her scent. She could only hope he wasn’t one of the blessed furs. Just her luck.
Samara screeched to a stop beside her and sucked in a gasp.
“That’s a blessed wolf; let’s get out of here right now,” she whispered. Then she let out a weary groan and flung her hands in the air. “It’s pointless to whisper; he can hear me. You!” She shot at Evie.
Evie shot Samara a glare that turned her away with a grunt, then she turned back to the wolf.
“If we leave, he could bleed out.”
“If we don’t, he’ll track us down. Evie, you’re the wolf here. This is something I shouldn’t have to tell you.” Samara pinched the bridge of her nose. “Plus, he’s a blessed wolf; he’ll heal quickly.”
Studying him, Evie tilted her head to the side. Was there a reason he had not shifted or wasn’t healing? He tried to stand again, and dropped back down with a growl.
“Something’s wrong,” Evie said to Samara.
Evie approached him with catlike steps, and noticed the moon, which was almost invisible before, was now out–full and bright, and goading her toward the wolf.
“Easy black fur,” she whispered, lowering to him, and reached out to stroke his fur. He shuddered as her fingers touched him, reminding her of the chill in the air.
Taking great care, she probed around the wound on his sternum. “He’s been shot; the bullet is still lodged inside.”
“Someone shot a blessed wolf. They’ve got balls.” Samara took a step toward them.
Still, it didn’t explain why he hadn’t healed, he was a blessed wolf. While she thought, she caressed his black fur with her fingertips. What if he was a black fur? He looked large enough to be one. On a whim, she cast a quick glance at him and froze–strong, unwavering silver eyes were staring back.
The wind slowed, and the silver of her eyes twirled as her senses honed on him. For a moment, she couldn’t look away, only gazing into his twirling gaze. Then her eyes snapped shut, and she gulped against the whirling sensation of his aura that hit her like a buffeted wind.
“We must leave before his clan arrives,” Samara whispered, lowering herself to the ground beside Evie.
“We’re not leaving him here like this.” Evie snapped. “Come on, you know it will take less time if you help.”
Samara glanced between her and the wolf, who continued to stare at her with a stoic gentleness that made her heart race.
“Yes, yes, of course. Why don’t you step aside, so I can conjure a shield to keep his wound from becoming infected?” Samara shot up to her feet. “Or here’s another idea, maybe I could protect him from the bullet before it hits him. Oh my, it’s too flipping late!”
She looked at Samara with an exasperated sigh. “Take a deep breath! And get rid of the attitude; it’s not helpful. If you’re going to be a sourpuss, you should move over, so I can tend to his wound. I only need a few minutes.”
In the silence that followed Samara’s tormented grunt, Evie wondered about who would actually hunt a blessed black wolf and why the hunters would just leave their mark, laying here in a pool of his own blood. Of all four blessed clans, the black wolves were the most dangerous. An attack on them had to be swift and final, maybe he tore them to shreds before they could finish him off.
“I need to pull the bullet out, black fur.”
He motioned with his head, prodding Evie to go ahead, and she paused for a moment. While she held his gaze against the zing and flutter in her stomach, her palms grew sweaty.
“Black fur?” Samara asked, as her hands sat on her hips. “Are you trying to tell me we stumbled upon a blessed black fur?”
The horror on Samara’s face drained Evie’s strength.
“He has black fur, so I’m only referring to him as that because of it.”
Her eyes widened as she took another look at the enormous wolf. He was almost as large as her brothers when they shifted, and no regular blessed was that enormous. As surely as night followed day, he was a black fur. But Samara would go crazy if she knew that.
“If he were one, I doubt we’d need to help him.”
“True.” Samara agreed with a nod.
With a slight shake of her head, Evie focused on his wound. She dug her fingers in, trying to find the slug. When he groaned from her probing inside him, Evie stroked his head to comfort him. As her fingers snagged on the bullet, they burned, and she clenched against its brutal, life-sapping heat. After pulling it out, she flung it aside, and then at full tilt undid her cloak and pressed it against the wound.
“You’re all right,” she whispered, her gaze shifting from her burned fingers to the steaming bullet next to her.
Samara picked up the slug. “That’s why he wasn’t healing or shifting. This bullet’s enchanted.” On closer inspection, Samara frowned. “This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, Evie.”
“Sam, we need to clean his wound and–”
“Without this, he’ll heal and be back on his feet in no time.” Samara, holding up the slug, cut in.
After another look at him, Evie couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him here alone even though she knew he would be fine, and she knew why.
“Sam, what if we–?”
The howls echoed through the woods behind them, and she couldn’t help but look over at Samara, who let out an exhausted sigh–his clan was here.
“Now, can we get out of here before they get here?” Samara tugged on Evie’s arm and pulled her up.
“That’s my cue,” she whispered to him as he watched her.
Scurrying away after Samara, she glanced back at him as she fled. He stood there now, watching them and making no move to pursue. A thought dawned on Evie as they sprinted to the car; he was standing.
“Ex hac nostra odorem subvertet.”
Through the woods, a reverberating wind accompanied Samara’s chant, obscuring their scent.
“Sam?” Evie hopped into the SUV after Samara and buckled her seatbelt.
Her mind raced as she gawked at his blood on her hands, against the sting of the burns from the charmed bullet. Evie glanced at Samara, knowing that she would have to tell her he was a blessed fur soon.
By the gods! He would find them by the morning.
“I know, drive like crazy.” Samara stepped on the gas and sped off into the night as the howls grew louder.