When the car finally stopped at the bend in the road, I found myself immediately moving for the door. I stepped forward, my body shifting as I leaped off the rails and I broke into a sprint into the forest. I droned out Lucien’s voice and their screams as I ran. My paws dug into the soil beneath me, the forest winds blew through my fur, and I ran, weaving through bushes and trees as quickly as I could. I could feel the wind grow cold against the tears that slowly seeped into my fur. I sprinted up the hill, farther from the packhouse, and towards the peak. I could hear someone behind me and knew from their scent that it was Lucien. He barked and I slowed my pace until he and I were running side by side.
He barked again and I glanced at him as he moved his head as if to guide me. Together, we raced up until we were met with a clearing that viewed the entire forest. I padded towards the edge, staring out at the lake close to the packhouse and Lucien came and sat with me. He nuzzled my neck with his snout and I nuzzled against him too.
I stared at the setting sun before I got up and released my first howl. The ache in my chest pushed me to howl towards the setting sun. I heard a howl behind me and I picked up. Soon other pack members began to follow and I felt the fur on my cheeks grow heavy with tears.
When we’d finished, Lucien gently pushed his snout behind my ear and I did the same. He gave me comfort in his small touches and I welcomed him.
There was a rustling coming from behind us and I looked to find Ignus walk out with a pack of four dogs on his side.
“Welcome back,” he greeted. There was no sarcasm in his voice and none of his usual jokes as he bowed his head and the dogs behind him followed and knelt for me.
Celia tapped a bloodvac into my arm as I sat on the bed.
“Have you spoken to him yet?” I asked and she shook her head. I sighed. “Nothing will happen if neither of you talk to each other.”
“But he just shuts me out all the time,” Celia said as she tucked away her things.
“Approach him. In person.”
“I… I don’t blame him for avoiding me. I really don’t. I just wish it didn’t hurt. Sometimes this whole mate business is such a pain,” she said, “Anyways, I just gave you the regular evening dose plus half of another full one. This should temper your hound a bit in case things get… steamy.” I grinned.
“Thanks, Celia.” She nodded and turned to leave. I could smell Lucien as soon as he came through the door. He walked over to me, placed a hand on my cheek, and gently caressed me.
“You okay?” he asked. I nodded as I took his hands in mine and pulled him to the bed.
He planted his arms on either side of me and pressed a brief kiss on my lips before lying beside me.
“Is he buried here?” I asked.
“His body was transported to Carmine. If you want to–”
I shook my head.
“He’s home,” I said, “That’s all that matters.”
We let silence pass over us. I pulled myself into him and allowed myself to sink into his embrace.
“Can you still not link any of us?”
“I haven’t tried,” I said, “But I’ve got plans.”
“Then we’ll wait for you,” he said, wrapping his arms over me.
“I love you,” I said.
Lucien squeezed me tighter. I heard him breathe in deep, could feel his heart thump against my cheek, as he gently angled my face towards him. He pressed a kiss on my lips, I parted my lips and pushed against him. I savored his taste on my tongue, nibbled on his lips, and moaned into his mouth.
“I’ve wanted to hear you say it for so long,” he said, his voice laced with a soft growl as I smiled between the kisses he peppered on my lips and my face. “I will always be on your side.”
“I know,” I said, “And I will always be on yours.”
I’ll protect us. I thought to myself. All of us.
I wrapped my arms around his body and felt his muscles tense up beneath my touch. I laughed as I pressed closer to him, hoping to melt into his skin.
“How has Lana been?” I asked.
“She’s been doing well. Despite everything. Xander has started to bring her into training sessions with the rest of the pack,” he said as I nodded into his chest. “Your wolf is beautiful.”
I looked up at him.
“It’s ruthless,” I whispered.
“You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to,” Lucien said, “I’ll never forgive him.”
I knew he was talking about Ezra. I knew that there was trouble brewing.
I treasured this moment of peace.
There would be less of it now that I’d returned.