Tracked: A Valkyrie Saga Book 2

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Chapter 16 - A Plan for Retribution

A young and powerful Valkyrie female had been found in the Americas. She doesn’t yet have a backing of an influential royal family. This is the chance we have been waiting for. She could change everything for us. We must act soon. If we take her now, before she integrates into a clan it will be easier to assimilate her into our way of life.

--Alexei Vassiliev, King of the Kingdom of Russia


The sun had set before Derik and I made our way back to the house. The moment Derik and I got up from our spot on the forest floor, I sought out the twins and didn’t hesitate to walk over to them. My nerves were shot and I felt better with them by my side. They didn’t complain and I hoped they wouldn’t mind if I was a little needy the next couple of days.

Once I was by their side, I didn’t know what to do next and I could feel the palpable tension in the air. I knew that they were all waiting for me to have another freakout but honestly, I was too drained. My mind was fuzzy and I was fully embracing the numb sensations I was experiencing. I knew it wasn’t going to last, but right now I just needed some time to recuperate. I think the guys understood because they were completely fine hunkering down in the house with me.

We ended up on the couch with me sitting between the twins and Max leaning against my legs while watching some sort of mindless cooking show. I honestly wasn’t paying attention and instead found myself drifting into an uneasy sleep even though I had taken a nap just a little while ago. Feeling that much pain, having that much adrenaline surging through my system, and getting healed to such an extent had really taken it out of me. I should know, this wasn’t the first time I had the shit beat out of me. It had been years, and it had always been in the ring but the physical pain had felt the same. At least this time Max was able to heal me better than the healing potions that my father used to feed me.

The third time that I jolted awake with my body awash in panic, I noticed that Mathis was kneeling in front of the couch and his face was contorted in anguish. I focused on his emotion-filled eyes to push away the memories and recenter myself. I was surprised to see that it was him and not one of the guys trying to calm me down this time. I didn’t fully know how to describe the budding relationship that I had with my grandfather, but I did feel like it was changing on a daily basis.

The first couple of days that I interacted with Mathis, he constantly reminded me of my father and he had been quick to anger and frustration. But a couple of days ago, it felt like most of his anger towards me had morphed into something closer to understanding and compassion. He was still strict with me when I pushed back about certain Valkyrie customs, but I could no longer see my father staring back at me when I looked into Mathis’ eyes. Instead, I saw someone who genuinely cared for me but didn’t necessarily know how to express it.

Right now I could only see bone-deep worry in his color contact covered eyes.

Once I had my breathing under control and was no longer trapped in a flashback, Mathis reached out and gently cupped my cheek with his palm. The cool sensations of the familial bond radiated out from his palm and a deep sense of peace seeped into my skin. I had never felt anything like the quiet assurance of unconditional love and protection that a family member could offer and couldn’t help when my body pressed more firmly into his touch.

My father had seen me in this much or even more pain on countless occasions as I was growing up, and never once offered me this type of reassurance. This was the moment when I started to understand that Derik had been right. Just because Mathis had raised my father, didn’t mean that they were the same. Mathis was different from Samuel because of the simple fact that he was capable of love and kindness. More importantly, he was offering me those things without asking for anything in return.

I reached up and covered Mathis’ hand with my own, strengthening the bond between us. If he could put forth the effort to forge a connection with me, then I was willing to do the same. Not a single word was said, but at that moment I knew that my relationship with my grandfather had irrevocably changed. In a good way.

----

Sometime later there was a knock at the door and I jolted awake. Shields popped into existence around everyone in the room, including Mathis, and I jumped to my feet with matching kukri blades in my hands. Elijah looked at me with clear concern while Mathis gently touched the Shield around him. The twins stood, forming a wall of muscle between me and the door and Derik came running down the stairs. Max slowly rose to his feet and walked to the door to look out the peephole.

“It’s Jonas,” he declared and I felt a different type of apprehension settle on my shoulders. I had been so happy the night before, but things were different now. I was not in a mental state where I would be okay becoming that physical with him after everything that happened this morning.

It was too soon and I was too raw.

Just the idea of trying to explain what had almost happened today made my blood run cold. But it wasn’t fair to him to hide away without giving him some sort of explanation. He deserved something from me.

Jonas started knocking heavily on the door again and I nodded to Max that it was okay while forcing myself to drop the Shields. What I didn’t do, was step from the protection the twins were offering. I knew I should, but my legs didn’t want to move and I was too tired to pretend to be strong right now. Max opened the door and Jonas barged in and barked out, “What the fuck happened?”

His demand was met with silence as we all processed what his knowing something had happened could mean. The only people outside of this room who knew about the attack were Sean and the person who ordered it. My stomach sank and I tasted bile as the food Max had me eat earlier tried to make a reappearance. I reached forward with a slightly shaking hand and rested my palm against Connor’s back to reassure myself that no one was going to hurt me again while he was here.

“Why do you ask that?” Elijah asked in a neutral tone and I knew that he had also picked up on the possible implications.

“This whole place is saturated with pain, shame, regret, and a whole lot of anger,” Jonas said as he swayed sideways. He reached out a hand to brace himself on a wall. “Where is Ray? Is she okay?”

I quickly Cloaked everyone’s mind except for Jonas’ so that Elijah could continue to read his thoughts and Jonas straightened. He searched the room until his eyes finally found me standing behind the twins and he stepped towards me. “Ray? What’s going on? I tried texting you all day but never got a response. I tried your house first and Jack said he hadn’t heard from you either. He’s worried too.”

His obvious concern melted some of my trepidation, but now that the seeds of doubt were planted I couldn’t help but ensure that he had nothing to do with what had happened today. “I was attacked today,” I told him bluntly without going into detail. “Do you know anything about that?”

Jonas paled at my words and he tried to step around the twins but Blake sidestepped blocking his way. “What? Are you okay? What happened?” Jonas asked and I couldn’t help but notice that he didn’t answer my question.

“Answer the question,” Connor growled and Jonas looked from me to him.

“No, I don’t know about any attack,” Jonas said and he was telling the truth. I let out a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders, and allowed my hand to fall from Connor’s back. “Ray?”

“I’m okay,” I told him in a bone-tired voice. “Just really tired. I’m sorry I didn’t text you back. I don’t even know where my phone is.”

“I don’t care about that, what happened?” Jonas pushed and it felt a little forced. Something here wasn’t completely right.

Because I was already in interrogation mode, I decided to ask a question that has been niggling at me since Jonas started hanging around. “Jonas, are you reporting back to Edison and the Blade Clan about me?”

He stared at me for a moment, taken aback by the change in topic before answering, “It’s not like that. Blade is just concerned about you and wants to make sure you are okay.”

Jonas was lying. It was exactly like that. I felt my face grow hard and he started to backpedal, “Ray, I care about you.”

That was the truth, but at this moment I didn’t know if it was enough. I stared at his beautifully strong face and mulled over what I should do next. The fog on my brain was lifting, leaving a lingering rage in its place. First and foremost, people needed to know that they couldn’t just mess with me or my clan like this and get away with it. The person who Compelled Derik to attack me had to pay for his actions. We were going to need a game plan.

“Jonas, can you do me a favor?” I asked and couldn’t help the hard edge that entered my voice.

“Yes, what do you need?” he was quick to answer.

“Can you not tell Blade or anyone else about the attack until tomorrow morning? It’s late and I don’t want to deal with a million questions tonight.” Jonas studied me for a moment and I could tell that he regretted lying to me earlier. What was done was done. Nothing to do about it now. We would have to see about mending the bridge between us some other time. I had bigger fish to fry at that moment.

“Yeah, I can do that. You sure you’re okay? Hiding behind the twins isn’t really your style,” Jonas finally replied and I felt that spark of anger start to burn brighter inside of me. He didn’t really know me well enough to be making that sort of judgment.

“As I said, it’s been a really long day. I’m tired. You should go,” I said in a flat tone and he looked slightly regretful but still defiant.

Jonas’ eyes scanned the tense room once more before he said, “Okay. Call me if you need anything. Anytime. For any reason.”

That did a lot to calm my ire and I chalked my turbulent feelings up to everything that had happened today. Jonas slowly walked to the door, still looking at everyone’s faces searching for answers. Max was sure to flip the deadbolt after he left. My mind was reeling and despite what I had just told Jonas, the traces of fatigue that still lingered in my system were quickly fading away. I had a new mission. Make sure nothing like this ever happened again.

I turned to Mathis and told him, “Call Sean. We need to talk.”

Then I turned to Elijah and stated in the same authoritative voice, “We need a plan. Everyone needs to understand that even though we are a small clan we are not to be taken lightly. We are not weak and we will not take this kind of attack lying down. We also need to figure out who the hell Compelled Derik to hurt me and why. Then we need to make examples out of them so people will think twice before coming at us again. And I don’t know about you, but I am itching for some good old fashion revenge. I have some recently acquired anger that I would love to take out on the low life cowards who arranged today.”

The room was quiet for a moment and I felt six pairs of eyes on me. It was possible that I had just overstepped, but I was dead serious and hoped that they would stand with me. “Yeah, Elijah,” Blake called. “We need a plan.”

And just like that, we jumped into action. We ended up huddled around the dining room table with mugs of tea and hot cocoa while we discussed our options. Sean showed up and once again Shields formed around everyone in the room and I found it hard to look anyone in the eye. So I was a little jumpy, could they really blame me?

I also was a little worried about the fact that just days before I had only been able to create and hold four separate Shields, but right now there were twice that many in the room. Somehow, the stress of this situation had boosted my power level and I didn’t like it. I was already more powerful than any other living Valkyrie. But now wasn’t the time to focus on my Gifts. Now was the time to figure out why our clan was under attack and make sure that something like this never happened again.

Sean looked rough and I considered trying to apologize to him, but I hated that one of his first interactions with me he had resorted to Compelling me. And then today, once again, his first instinct was to Compel the twins out of his way. Blake and Connor were there protecting me, and he just completely disregarded that because it was in conflict with his momentary desires. It was too similar to something my father would have done.

It was a little tense at first, but once we started really talking it didn’t take much to come up with a plan. We all agreed that the most likely motivation for this attack was to drive a wedge between me and the Oakland Clan. Someone wanted me away from the protection of my new friends and they wanted me extremely vulnerable.

Another important facet of this attack was the black crystal inlaid cuff that Derik had locked onto my wrist. It had somehow taken away my ability to access and use my Gifts. Mathis asked to see the cuff and I pushed back into the void to retrieve it from the kitchen where I had left it earlier, but I couldn’t even make myself touch the damn thing long enough to bring it back. I trusted the guys, I really did, but this was a weapon. A dangerous weapon that I couldn’t risk falling into the wrong hands. For now, this cuff wasn’t going anywhere near the physical plane of existence.

I returned from the void without the cuff, but I did pass my brand new iPhone to Mathis so he could see a photo that I had taken of the damn thing. It was about two inches thick and made out of what looked like sterling silver. Rimmed around the edge were small black crystals with a large matching crystal in the center.

Elijah left the room for a moment and when he came back he had a raw black crystal that was hanging around a black leather cord. I recognized it as the crystal that had been tied around Logan’s neck in his wolf form to keep him from shifting. Elijah brought the raw crystal next to the photo of the cuff and everyone gathered around to look at the similarities between the two large crystals.

Elijah told us that the investigation into the moondust cook lab revealed that it had been run by witches, but they were just the grunt men. All of the witches that we had captured at the factory had been questioned and didn’t know who they had been taking orders from.

So either the witches had found some way to force Derik into attacking me for some unknown reason, or the person who had Compelled Derik was working with witches. That someone being the same someone who was calling the shots within the Moondust drug ring, was another possibility and made my stomach sink. Why would someone that powerful be interested in hurting me? I barely even knew anyone outside of this room.

While I was lost in thoughts of who could possibly want to hurt me this much, the rest of the guys came up with a plan. Elijah and Mathis were both well versed in politics and seemed confident that our plan would work. The whole thing hinged on me making a powerful impression tomorrow and completely throwing my fly under the radar attitude out the window. I was going to not only attend Regina’s Matching Ball, but I was going to ensure I stood out. I was going to specifically draw attention to myself and how much more powerful I was than the average royal.

It ran counter to almost every action I had ever taken in my life, but I understood why they wanted me to do it.

First, I was showing the world that I had not been weakened by today’s attack. To anyone that didn’t know the details, it might just look like I was flaunting that I chose to align myself with a small no-name clan. But to whoever had ordered the attack I would be declaring that my foundation of trust and respect with the Oakland Clan was stronger than ever. Everyone would keep their eyes and ears peeled and note anyone asking too many questions or taking too big of an interest in my relationship with Derik.

Then, during the rest of the Matching events, I would push the guys into the void and they would do some serious spying. Mathis assured us that a lot of closed-door meetings occurred during these types of Valkyrie summits and information was power. We were mostly investigating who had ordered the attack, but I was sure we would come home with lots of juicy tidbits of information that we can use to ensure our safety in the future.

In short, we were going on the offensive. No more waiting. No more hoping that people would treat me with respect and let me make my own decisions. No more just reacting to things once they were already happening to me. I was picking up the reigns of my own life and I was going to steer to where I wanted things to go.

That night no one even mentioned the possibility of me going home and I knew down in my bones that I wasn’t ready to be alone. Elijah passed me back my phone when he felt it vibrate and I saw that I had quite a few text messages from both Jonas and Jack. I texted Jack letting him know that something came up and I would be staying with the guys tonight. He didn’t like it and tried calling, but I wasn’t in the mood to talk to Jack right now. I had no idea what I would say to him. I could hardly tell him that I got beat up and almost raped by one of my closest friends. He wouldn’t understand and possibly wouldn’t even believe me now that I didn’t look the part. If he did believe me, he would try to make sure I never laid eyes on the guys again. And I couldn’t let that happen. I needed the Oakland Clan.

I ended up falling asleep on the couch between the twins. When one of them tried to pick me up to bring me to the guest bedroom, I freaked out and ended up punching Connor in the gut and tackling him to the ground. By the time I managed to stop myself I had one knee pinning his shoulder to the ground with my other leg extended pushing his other wrist into the floor and a hunting knife was braced on my forearm just inches from his neck. Connor held very still underneath me and the moment I realized what I had done I dematerialized the weapon and sank back onto my butt next to his prone form. I looked at him with wide eyes that were suddenly stinging with tears.

“I... I.. I’m...” I started to say but I had no idea how to end that statement. I’m sorry I almost slit your throat because you tried to carry me to bed just didn’t seem substantial enough. I hated that I could really hurt one of them. Maybe I should go home. Maybe our plan to make me look badass and intimidating was a mistake. What if I flipped out during the ball.

Connor sat up and gently cupped my cheek before leaning in and pressing his lips to my forehead. He then leaned back and looked into my eyes before saying, “Sorry I spooked you. I wasn’t thinking. I’ll be more careful next time.”

His kind words were the tipping point and actual tears started blurring my vision and I felt a few slip down my cheeks. “I could have hurt you,” I said in a choked whisper.

“Jesus Ray-Ray,” Blake said as he knelt beside us. “After the day you had, it is a wonder that you aren’t still sealed away in your void refusing to let us get near you. Give yourself a break. Plus that move was freaking awesome!”

I took a couple of shaky breaths, wiped the tears from my cheeks, and leaned sideways into Blake just because it felt reassuring to do so. He was right. I needed to give myself a break.

After I had fully gotten myself back under control, I used the bathroom and found a brand new toothbrush and tube of toothpaste on the counter. Must have been Elijah or Max. I brushed my teeth and walked into the guest bedroom. I was relieved when both Connor and Blake were still there. I knew that there would be no way I would be able to get any sleep if they left me in here alone. I may be weak, but right now I needed them in a way that I never allowed myself to need anyone before.

“Will you stay?” I found myself asking while looking down at the floor. If they thought I was ridiculous or inappropriate for asking, I didn’t want to see it in their eyes.

“Thank God you asked. I was drawing a blank on coming up with a good excuse so that you would let me sleep on the floor,” Blake said sarcastically and my head snapped up so that I could meet his eyes. Even though he sounded playful, he was dead serious. So was Connor. They needed this just as much as I did. I gave them a soft smile and then walked over and grabbed Blake’s hand. There was no need for them to sleep on the floor. I had been hanging all over them practically all day. I might feel different about it later, but right now I need to feel them by my side.

I walked over to the bed, pulling Blake behind me, and then crawled into the center of the queen bed. Blake followed my lead and got in on my left and Connor walked around to the right side of the bed. He searched my face and I gave him a slight nod of my head. I needed him too. He sat down on the bed, rubbed his face, and then lowered himself so that he was lying on his back to my right. I carefully placed my head on Connor’s chest and fisted some of the fabric of his shirt. Blake tucked his massive frame behind me, spooning my back, and within moments I was fast asleep.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay asleep for long. I was haunted by nightmares that featured Derik coming at me while I was helpless to stop him. His words ran like a repeating soundtrack emphasizing why he did what he did.

You are a weak, pathetic, slut and you are no longer welcome here...You do realize that they only pretend to care because they pity you... No one will miss a piece of garbage like you. I would be doing the world a favor by wiping you out of existence...

Each time that I woke up screaming or sobbing the twins were there. They didn’t judge me. They didn’t pity me. They just held me and reassured me that I was safe.

Eventually, we made it through the night and I got up early to shower. I spent a good thirty minutes under the spray scrubbing at my skin, trying to wash away the feeling of Derik’s hands on my skin. When I got out I noticed a small bag was sitting on the floor near the door. Inside were several sets of my own clothes and I knew that someone had gone to my house to grab some clothes for me so that I would feel more comfortable. If I had to guess, I would say it was Max.

When I finally emerged from the bathroom the guys were all in the big open living and kitchen area. They all looked just as tired and haunted as I felt. Derik was the worst with large bruises under his eyes and I noticed that he still had scores of scratches down his arms. He still hadn’t let Max heal him.

I understood why. He needed some sort of physical proof that everything had actually happened. It was his own way of ensuring that he didn’t forget what he had done. He was punishing himself. I had done the same with my torn up knuckles after a particularly gruesome fight.

I went to the kitchen, doctored a large mug of coffee for myself, and then purposefully went to sit on a stool next to Derik. He watched me with wary eyes and I knew that he could see that I also didn’t get much sleep. I wasn’t trying to rub it in, but he needed to be reminded that this had happened to both of us and not just me. I took a big swig of coffee and then leaned over until my head was resting on his shoulder. His entire body was a tense block of muscle that trembled slightly. I didn’t comment or move. I just sat there with my head on his shoulder until he finally found the strength to release the breath he was holding and relax a fraction of an inch. Maybe, I needed this too. I refused to let some unknown villain take my relationship with Derik away. This was my own way of taking back control.

“Do you have to work today?” I asked him in a neutral conversational tone.

Derik swallowed hard before replying in a shaky voice, “Yes. I will be back in time to get ready for tonight. What are you doing this morning?”

“I was thinking of going to go have breakfast at the Broad Street Diner. Show my face and try to make friends with the local Shifters. One of the girls that waitresses there helped me out at school earlier this week, and she seems nice. Can’t hurt to have some allies in this town,” I said and the others gathered around to join our conversation.

“That actually sounds like an excellent idea,” Elijah stated and I smiled up at him. “It will also get you out of the house when people start stopping by with questions about yesterday. I will stay here and handle them and you and the boys go enjoy breakfast. Just be back here by noon so that you can start to get ready for tonight.”

I raised my eyebrow at him and asked, “I thought that the ball didn’t start until seven. It only took us about forty minutes to drive there last time. Why in the world would I need six hours to get ready?”

“I have no idea. Herald Oswald said he would be showing up then to help you get ready,” Elijah responded and I blew out my cheeks as I released a breath. None of the guys added anything else so I finished my cup of coffee and went to find my shoes. Max, the twins, and I all piled into Blake’s ridiculous black truck and drove the short distance to the diner.

The parking lot was mostly empty and when we walked in I noticed that only three tables were occupied with customers. That was all I noticed before there was a squeal and a flurry of movements to our left. I tensed and just barely stopped myself from calling a blade when I noticed that it was Luna who was running at me like a crazy person.

Luna dodged past Max who had taken a protective step in front of me and then leaped full out into my arms. She wasn’t exactly a small girl and her momentum pushed me back several steps before I caught my balance. I glanced up to see that both Blake and Connor had called weapons and Connor was reaching out to pull the teenage wolf off of me. I spun to place my back towards Connor effectively shielding Luna from my brooding friend and pulled back to look into her face.

“OhmyGod, Ray! You’re here and you’re okay! We were all so worried when you didn’t come back to school. None of the royals came back either and after what you said to them while defending the wolves we thought they had done something horrible to you,” Luna rushed to say and I untangled myself from her. I had no idea that they would have cared enough to worry.

“No, nothing like that,” I admitted feeling myself start to blush a little. “My family just thought that it would be better if I homeschooled for the rest of the year.”

“Hmm, well Madison thinks that she won and scared you away. We have been trying to do a little damage control, but without knowing what you wanted to tell people we didn’t push it too hard,” Luna said with a defeated note to her voice. Was she upset because she thought that she hadn’t done enough to protect my reputation? Why would she feel that way?

“Hey,” I said gently and Luna looked up into my eyes. “It’s cool. I don’t think I’ll be going back to Skyline and am not too concerned about what a bunch of humans are saying about me. I have bigger things on my plate right now. Please don’t worry about it.”

Luna looked at me with big disbelieving eyes and then looked around at the guys before asking, “Then what are you doing here?”

I caught movement in the corner of my eye and noticed that we were the center of attention to the few customers in the diner. “I came back for another stack of those amazing pancakes and to say hi,” I said in an unsure voice. Was it not okay that I came back here?

“You came just to say hi?” Luna asked, sounding confused.

My eyes darted around the room and I itched to push back into the void. Why had I forgotten that I didn’t actually know how to interact with people. This morning I had just really felt the need to get out of that kitchen and do something, but maybe coming here was a mistake. “Umm, if it’s not okay that we are here, we can go,” I muttered in a small voice.

“No!” Luna basically yelled, startling me enough to jump. “Don’t go. Come on sit at the counter and we can catch up. I’ll grab you guys some coffee.”

I looked over at the guys to see that they were all amused about something. Their relaxed looks were enough to calm my frayed nerves and we settled into the padded stools at the counter. Luna returned and started updating me about everything that had happened the last three days at school. Soon other people started to venture over and I was introduced to them. I assumed that they were other pack members and did my best to be social even though it wasn’t my strong suit. I was grateful that all of the talking was keeping my mind off of what had happened yesterday.

Just as our food was placed in front of us, the diner door opened and Lawerance and his father, Arlo, stepped in and surveyed the situation. Arlo’s eyebrows rose as he took in the loose gathering of people around me and the guys, but he didn’t say anything right away. Lawerance walked behind the counter and stared at us with hard eyes while Arlo started talking with one of the men that we had been conversing with.

I took advantage of the food in front of me and used eating as an excuse to stop talking. Fortunately, Luna and some of the others around us didn’t let the newcomers ruin the easy-going and friendly vibe that we had going. Blake and Max easily conversed with the wolves around them and I was grateful for their happy natures.

By the time I was finished my breakfast both Lawerance and Arlo were casually leaning on the counter before us. They joined in with the small talk but I could tell that they had something they wanted to get off their chest. I set down my silverware, pushed away my plate, and looked expectantly at Arlo. If he had a question to ask, I was happy to answer it.

Arlo was a smart man and understood what I was silently asking. “Law told me about the confrontation with Regina at the school on Monday. What kind of fallout did you get from that?”

I assumed that he wanted to know if there was going to be any blowback on them and was quick to reassure them. “I’m sure Logan told you how Kaiden tried to stab me last Saturday. That was how I hurt my arm and ended up bleeding in your diner. Apparently, that was a worse faux pas than mouthing off to Regina, so the Collinses were forced to basically ignore it. Plus, they are busy with Regina’s Matching, so I am pretty sure you guys are in the clear.”

Lawerance grunted and asked in a rough voice, “And what are you looking for in return?”

I straightened in my chair and looked back at the intimidating teen without trying to hide my confusion. “What do you mean?”

“You stepped in and stopped us from shifting at the school. You saved Logan from the moondust factory and freely provided us with information about the missing Shifters. Then you dressed down the crown princess in front of witnesses to defend my wolves. I highly doubt that after all of that, you are here to simply have breakfast. You want something. Stop playing games and lay it out for us. I don’t like being in a Valkyrie’s debt,” Lawrence growled.

At first, I was taken aback but then remembered that the guys had told me that most powerful Valkyries demand restitution whenever they did something that benefited another supernatural group. It was a barbaric practice and only worked to enforce the class system that the Valkyries propagated. I should have known that it was going to take more time and effort to break down the walls and expectations that a lifetime of interactions with Valkyries had left the wolves with.

I stared into Lawerance’s eyes and tried to convey that I didn’t think that I was better than him before reaching in my back pocket and pulling out enough cash to cover our breakfast and a generous tip.

“You’re not in my debt and we didn’t mean to intrude,” I said in a kind voice to let him know that I wasn’t offended or upset with his upfront attitude. “Arlo, it was good to see you again, and it was good to meet the rest of you. Luna, you have my number. Let me know if you want to hang out sometime.” Then I got up and started walking to the door with the guys following close behind. I felt the heavy stares of many sets of eyes on me and I had to fight not to put up a Shield because of my still frayed nerves.

“Wait,” Luna called out and I turned to see that she had stepped halfway out from behind the counter. “You don’t have to go. Law is just being an uptight ass. Ignore him.”

I shifted my eyes to look at Lawerance and saw him shoot Luna a frustrated look, but he didn’t look angry anymore. “It’s okay Luna, I have some stuff I want to get done before some sort of professional stylist is showing up to pretty me up for Regina’s Ball. Why he needs six hours to make me presentable is a mystery to me and when you think about it, a little insulting. Am I really that bad that it is going to take six hours to fix me up?” I said in a teasing tone to try to lessen the tension that was heavy in the room.

Luna’s shoulders relaxed and she asked some questions about my dress and I had to admit that I hadn’t really been paying attention when the guy had described it to me. When we started moving towards the door again, Arlo called out that we were welcome here anytime and my heart warmed. He hadn’t been lying. It was a small step, but at least we were moving in the right direction.

We left the diner and I had the guys stop by the house so that I could grab some stuff and leave Jack a note letting him know that I wasn’t going to be home again tonight. I felt bad that I wasn’t spending much time here with Jack and Amy, but my sanity had to come first. Plus, Jack really wouldn’t understand if I woke him up screaming in the middle of the night. No, it would be better if I returned to the clan house and spent at least one more night there with the twins to watch over me at night.

When we got back to the house we decided to watch some more T.V. and I was able to take a little nap before Herald Oswald showed up. He took one look at my sleep-deprived features and started muttering under his breath.

Guess I really did look that bad.

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