I looked around the garden until my eyes fell onto a crying Svea. One of her pigtails was messy, falling into her face, as big tears streamed down her puffy cheeks.
“What’s wrong? What happened?” I asked as I rushed towards her, my heart racing. Svea pushed away from her sister and ran into my arms, her tiny hands clinging to my shirt. Her entire body was shaking from her sobs. My heart clenched, holding her close to me.
Tyra rushed out the door, running towards us as if her life depended on it, her eyes darting around the garden frantically. “Is anyone hurt?”
“No, but there was a man,” Freya said, her eyes dark.
Gunnar tensed next to me. “What man? What did he do?”
“He stood at the fence and called Svea over to him. When she was close enough, he grabbed her hair and tried to pull her over the fence. Freyr and I saw it fast enough and threw rocks at him until he fled. I think he didn’t see us because we were out of sight. He thought she was alone.”
My blood ran cold in my veins. “What did he look like?”
Freya shrugged. “He was rather thin and relatively small, with long dark long hair. I’m certain he is an ancient wolf. He smelled like it. But I don’t know which pack he came from.”
I nodded, as I felt the color leaving my face. They wouldn’t know someone from a pack that wasn’t even close to here. They are young and haven’t met many packs yet. Besides, the Vindictoria pack used to smell differently. Even if they had met, they probably wouldn’t recognize them.
A long silence stretched over the garden. Not even a single bird made a sound. It was as if the world had come to a stop while everyone digested the information.
I started to feel dizzy and took a shaky breath. Svea had calmed down by now. Only sniffling was left of the fear she must have felt. It must have been the omega from yesterday who attacked Svea, and it was all my fault.
“Who dares to attack my daughter here?” Tyra asked, her voice so low and stern, a shiver ran down my spine.
I pressed my lips into a thin line, trying to find the right words to explain this, but I doubt whatever I said could justify what had happened.
Gunnar turned to me. “Do you know who it was?”
“I suspect someone,” I muttered.
I didn’t expect they would attack anyone from a neutral and large pack, especially not Gunnar’s. I felt this fake sense of security, thinking that they would be fine because they weren’t involved in it, but they weren’t safe. Not only that, but I was blind to the fact that there might not be a pack or my family they could take from me, but there were people who were close enough to that.
“Tyra, take the children and drive home,” Gunnar said, his voice cold.
“What? No!” She protested, but he whipped his head in her direction and after a few seconds of silence, she nodded and carefully removed Svea out of my arms. It physically hurt to let her go, but I knew it was for the better if they left for now.
Tyra patted my shoulder, a soft smile on her lips. “We will talk about this later.”
I didn’t know what to say and simply nodded. It was as if the weight of the world laid on my shoulders, and the tightness in my chest made it hard to breathe.
Gunnar sighed. “Let’s go inside.”
We went inside with unspoken words in the air. I knew Gunnar was beyond angry. It was radiating from him, and I could understand. I would be furious, too, if my family would have gotten attacked by strangers. I could have avoided it as well if I had kept them away.
Gunnar sat down on his usual spot on the sofa, and I picked a spot on the opposite armchair, my hands shaking.
He leaned forward, his arms resting on his legs, hands clenched together. “Who attacked my niece in your territory, Amalia? Why didn’t you avoid this as the alpha of this place?”
I winced, his words hitting the mark. I shouldn’t have let them walk into danger. All I did was think of myself while claiming I could protect this territory and the people inside it. I should have dealt with that wolf before anything further could have escalated, but I applied my human moral compass to the situation, forgetting that the wolf community was different.
“I suspect it’s an omega from the Vindictoria pack.”
“The smell that lingered in the air was like the one you had on you when you moved here.”
I nodded. His nose really was better than the average wolf. “I believe it’s the same.”
“I couldn’t pinpoint it that day. It reminded me of a pack, but I didn’t know which one. Now that I smelled it again, I recognized the Vindictoria pack, even if it’s not exactly the same from the time I met them.”
“It’s them,” I said sheepishly.
It was as if the wolf inside him roared alive. I glanced at him, seeing his body vibrate and his jaw ticking. He tried to hold his wolf back, which tried to burst through the surface. “You met with someone from the Vindictoria pack, the very people who killed your pack, and you don’t think about telling us about it?”
I gulped. My wolf retreated in the back of my mind, not wanting to be part of this. She believed this was all my fault, and if I had let her, this wouldn’t have happened. She wasn’t wrong, but it didn’t help me, anyway.
“I wouldn’t call it a meeting. When I was running back from the pool that one night, I spotted a foreign wolf in the forest. I followed the track and eventually found him. He asked me if I was from the Ruinas pack, and attacked me after. We were fighting until I pinned him to the ground, demanding that he admitted defeat. I let him leave and told him to never come back here again. I didn’t recognize his pack signature at the time. The smell I had remembered from the Vindictoria pack was so different, and I didn’t expect that they had found me already.”
Gunnar stiffened, a low growl echoing through the living room. “You got attacked, and the next day you act as if nothing happened.”
“I didn’t want to worry you, and at the time I wasn't certain that it was the Vindictoria pack!”
I knew this was a meager excuse, but it was all I could think of to say.
“When did you know it was them?”
I leaned back in the chair, wiping my clammy hands on my jeans. “My suspicion grew when those letters arrived.”
“Like the one you handed me. They sent me a couple more of them over the last few weeks, threatening me to leave this place. But that was all that ever happened. Of course, I suspected the Vindictoria pack, but wasn’t it odd that they invested so much time into threatening me if it was so easy to kill me when I was alone? Not to mention that the letters didn’t have a suspicious smell on them, either. Then, yesterday, two men stood in front of my door, and they confirmed my suspicion. They told me to leave and to hand over the territory. I told them to leave me alone. They then said they would give me a few days to reconsider.”
Gunnar leaned back now, too, crossing his arms. His face looked calm, but there was a storm in his eyes that was hard to ignore. “When did you plan to tell us about all of that?”
I sagged into myself. “I don’t know. To be honest, I didn’t think they would attack anyone outside my pack, let alone a big one like yours. I thought I had everything under control, and there was no need for you to worry about me.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose. “Amalia, you have to stop this. You want to do everything alone, but wolves don’t do things alone. I understood when you wanted to remain a lone wolf, afraid to get close to others because you didn’t want to lose someone again. And I also understood when you wanted to take things into your own hands, showing that you are more capable of being on your own. I know you want to be strong, but there is a limit to that. At this point, it feels like you don’t trust us.”
I jumped up, feeling attacked, but then I looked at him properly for the first time. He wasn’t angry, or maybe he was, but the pain in his eyes was much more dominant, making my heart clench. “I trust you with my life, Gunnar. I didn’t want to drag your pack into this business. It has nothing to do with you, and you already went through so much, lost so many loved ones. I didn’t want it to happen because of me.”
He leaned forward again, his gaze so strong I couldn’t look away. “If you trust me with your life, then you would tell me about the things that threaten your life. Have you ever thought about what I feel now? The woman I care about receives threats regularly, gets attacked in her home, and dubious wolves approach her personally to make her leave. Now they even attacked my niece. Frankly, I’m ready to kill someone.”
My breath hitched in my throat, feeling conflicted by his words. I felt a sense of protection and warmth, but nagging guilt for getting Svea attacked and keeping them in the dark was stronger.
Gunnar sighed. “You have to trust me, and you have to accept to be protected by me. Pride is one thing, but being blinded by it is another. You let me into your life, letting me close, and I won’t stand by seeing you catapulting yourself into danger or closing yourself off. I’m disappointed your first instinct wasn’t to tell me or Tyra. We are lucky nothing too bad happened, but imagine Svea would have gotten seriously hurt? I know you love her, and that would have been as awful for you as it would have been for us.”
I nodded. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes softened as he reached out his hand to me. “Tell me next time someone threatens you, and we will solve this together.”
I took his hand and let myself be pulled towards him. He pressed his head into my stomach, wrapping his arms around me. I thread my fingers through his hair, feeling his body slightly trembling.
“I’m beyond angry right now. How dare they attack my future alpha,” he muttered.
My heart skipped a beat, and out of habit, I almost wanted to protest about his statement, but seeing how affected he was, I didn’t.
“It will be fine,” I said.
He looked up at me, a smile on his face. “It will be fine, yes. But that poor sucker should be prepared, because the next time I see him, his face will get real accustomed to the ground.”
I laughed softly, but I couldn’t shake off the unsettling feeling that was building inside me. How are we going to deal with the Vindictoria Pack? Did they even know who they dragged into this? And if so, are they actually crazy?