Her eyes pranced from one lycan to the other, waiting for a strike. She urged her wolf to the forefront. The beast didn’t comprehend why her mate was being eyed untrustingly. For wolves, mates were meant for protection and procreation. That is nature’s way.
Even if she found whatever was making Artemis fret with the bond very trifling, she came forward as requested. The sooner the overthinking humans put this trivial disagreement behind them, the sooner they would get to make pups.
Artemis felt an undercurrent of adrenaline. She now was fully prepared for flight, but the two lycans didn’t look interested in constraining her. They stood where she left them, only one of them showing a change in demeanor. Wrath’s inscrutable face was as poker-faced as ever but Sol no longer looked smug.
“I’ll be... back... I just...” the whips of her sentence barely held together.
Wrath’s jaw locked in place and his eyes burned like torches when the irises caught fire and became a significant lighter brown. Sol’s attention jumped to him when an alarming smell saturated the air. Wrath’s pores fanned out his internal struggle, warning Sol that he was fighting a shift.
Lycan forms weren’t something to be proud of. They were unnaturally brawny and tall; so ugly that if their story didn’t terrify you then their appearance would. Every year, they were forced to shift for thirty consecutive days. For the other 11 months, they were free to shift upon will.
They weren’t only enslaved to the goddess’ curse, but their own emotions as well. When lycans became excessively stressed by either passion or rage, they would be at the mercy of the shift.
Sol took three slow and withdrawing steps away from Wrath. He then fell to one knee, offering the ceremonial sign of disengage. Artemis looked at Sol strangely. Unlike him, she had no idea that Wrath’s beast was panicking over her hesitancy to accept the bond and fighting Wrath to stamp her neck with their mark.
Sol did not consider Wrath his superior. Lycans were as prideful as alphas and rarely took a knee. But Sol knew that Wrath’s beast did not understand why his mate wanted to leave. If Sol didn’t back off, they would assume that his female didn’t want them because she was interested the other unmated wolf in the territory— Sol. To avoid getting mauled by fists, he let the jealous lycan know that he had no interest in his territory or mate.
Wrath gave no acknowledgment to Sol’s yield. Sol slowly stood back up and resumed observing Artemis.
“I need a moment,” she rasped out. Her eyes remained on both of them as she took a few wary steps back. When she turned, she sprinted away.
A guttural sound resonated from within Wrath. Sol was quick to latch onto his shoulder and anchor him to the ground. “Give her space, brother. She-” Wrath expressed gratitude for the advice through a riot of anger. His fist ingrained into Sol’s ribcage, plowing him straight through the air.
Sol somehow landed in one piece but the same couldn’t be said about the bark of the tree he crushed.
“I told you to get her out of here!” Wrath grit out.
Sol stood up woozily. “Well, I guessed I deserved that,” he grimaced.
“Why is everything a fucking joke to you? I ask for one thing and you turn my dilemma into a laughing stock!” Wrath’s arms flapped animatedly as he ranted. “When will you understand the gravity of our situation, Pride? We’re alone in the world! When we finally die, no one will miss us. How can you go on with that fucking smirk knowing that depressing shit? And why do you insist on recklessly messing with those who are actually trying to contain their mess of a life? The world isn’t your personal circus. You cynical, good-for-nothing fool!” he bellowed ruthlessly.
An unaffected Sol blinked, looking like he was battling a yawn. “Are you done bitching? I came here for laughs, not bantering. Listen, we have different ways of dealing with depression. So you do your sulking and I’ll do my Sol-ing,” he leisurely dusted his pants and stretched his sore limbs.
Wrath should’ve known that he was better off trying to talk sense into a brick. “Damn you, Sol! Damn you!” he raved.
Sol chuckled. “The goddess said the same thing four hundred years ago. Been there, done that.”
Wrath’s hands found his hair and pulled angrily. “Wait for a few hours. If she doesn’t come back, look for her, find her, and take her home. After that, I better not see you for another forty years.”
“Fine, fine. Geez. You’ll thank me one day for being all over your business, you’ll see. Might even name your firstborn after me,” Sol continues to taunt.
Wrath stormed to his cabin so ominously that Sol could swear a few plants decayed as he passed them. He followed the murderous aura, wondering what hole Wrath caved himself into for the past few years.
It wasn’t until three minutes later that the two of them shared an equally perplexed look before shooting into the trees like bullets. They had picked up a male scent that Sol found familiar.
“Take the east. I’ll go west,” Wrath managed to instruct through his loose grip on his humanity. His beast wanted release, not liking how an unfamiliar male was in the same territory as Artemis.
Sol nodded and split from Wrath’s side. He easily located a werewolf alpha standing in a clearing. He almost tripped when he recognized the man. Lukas seemed surprised to see him too.
“Raiden, stop!” The clap of his voice reached Wrath just in time. He snarled at the command but halted his attack.
“What are you doing in my territory?” Wrath interrogated, getting close enough to Lukas to deliver a death blow if needed.
Lukas did not like what he was seeing. Two lycans: one he knew and the other which had wild eyes you’d find on a rogue. But Wrath was far from rogue. He had a control over his body and beast that took hundreds of years to master. Rogues were driven by instinct, lacking patience. Lukas put these points together when Wrath gripped the reigns of his beast and stopped himself mid-attack.
Their eyes challenging glared at each other. Lukas’ were cool while Wrath’s sparked with color that hinted his beast’s presence. He showed no fear or interest in backing down. Lukas recognized that he wasn’t an alpha but not submissive either.
“Where is my daughter?” his voice was eerily cool and directed at Sol.
Sol raised two defensive hands. “Hey, now! I may kidnap snacks from people’s kitchens but not women. Although that smoking daughter of yours falls into the category of snack, I had nothing to do with her disappearance.”
Both the alpha and lycan flared their nostrils and gave him a growl promising pain, not liking how he sexualized their daughter/mate.
“How do you two know each other. Is he a threat?” Wrath chose to ignore his lewd comment, knowing that as soon as the unidentified male was out of here, he would have plenty of time to beat the daylight out of Sol. Pun intended.
Lukas’ head crooked to face him and his eyes knowingly narrowed at the question. He knew that if Sol answered with “yes,” then Wrath would probably find resolution by trying to claw out Lukas’ throat.
“He’s about to become someone I knew if I don’t see my daughter within the next goddess-loving minute!” Lukas answered, arms coiling with muscles as he tensed from unspent energy.
“I see you’re as cunning as usual,” Sol grinned before turning to Wrath. “I crossed his territory 20 years ago in lycan form. Bastard wanted to torture me but Zena, Artemis’ mother let me go.”
“And that was clearly a mistake!” Lukas added, taking a step forward. “Where is she?! I have a whole militia at my disposal and won’t blink before raining hell down on you if I find a single wrinkle on her!” he threatened the captors.
Sol stared for a second before rolling his eyes. “What are you, Raiden 2.0? Lukas, the girl is not a prisoner and she is fine. Completely wrinkle-free.”
Lukas stopped listening before he finished the sentence. He took quick strides away from Sol and toward a wary Artemis who was watching the commotion. The relief he felt weakened his limbs. He held back from pausing to drop to his knees and thanking the goddess for returning her only because it would mean spending another second away from her.
Artemis evaded the launch of the stranger by dashing to the left. Lukas recovered but looked confused. “Honey? Are you hurt?”
Her face contorted with shock. The werewolf male clearly recognized her but she couldn’t put a name to his face. “Hello,” she bid, making sure to keep a safe distance in case he decided he wanted to touch her again.
“Baby?” Lukas cooed. This is not what he was expecting their reunion to entail. Tears, sure. Hugs, check. Brown, untrusting eyes staring at him as if he lost a neuron or two? No.
Why did her piercing eyes silently accuse him of being a middle-aged creep trying to fondle a young woman? He was her father!
“Why are you... I’m your father, Artemis,” he explained, not hiding his hurt. He noticed that the lycans were approaching and planned an escape route in a split second in the event that they wanted trouble.
Artemis had never felt so conflicted. If the man was truly her father, that was good news. But she didn’t feel anything for him. Nothing about him reminded her of home.
“Okay.” She finally answered. “If I’m able to confirm your identity, I’ll depart with you. But please give me a few days to settle some things here,” she told him politely.
Lukas was ready to blow a gasket. This wasn’t his little girl. She sounded more like a business partner. So professional and curt. So cold, distant, and wrong!
“What did you do to her?” he turned to the lycans aggressively, ready to bring them a world of hurt.
Sol shook his head. “Nothing. She got into an accident and lost her memories. Raiden has been looking after her.”
Understanding dawned on him. He sighed but didn’t feel his happiness waver. She may be hurt but she was safe. And that was enough for him.
“Come on, sweetheart. Let’s go home,” he offered her a hand.
Artemis took a step back. “I’m sorry but I can’t do that just yet. I have some things to do,” she stood her ground.
The commend flipped Lukas’ fatherhood switch. “That can wait! We need to get that head injury checked out!” he reprimanded.
While the daughter-father duo began a debate, Wrath went to Sol and pried his suit jacket off his shoulders. “The hell are you doing?” Sol asked, outraged.
Wrath ignored him, threw the jacket off the floor, and ripped a thick strip of cloth from his white button-up shirt. “Dude, at least buy me a drink first!” Sol jokingly scolded.
“Get off me! I told you I’ll leave as soon as I’m ready!” Artemis made a u-turn around a fiery-red Lukas who was hellbent on getting her medical assistance.
When she got close enough to him, Wrath snatched one of her wrists and sent her flying. Artemis thudded against the bare, burly chest and nearly lost her balance. She didn’t need her eyes to know whose body this was. She pulled her cheek from his pec and searched for his eyes, trailing slowly over the behemoth of a man. His collarbones were prominent against the broad shoulders that crowned his abdominal muscles. The juncture of his shoulders and strong neck looked like a perfect resting place for her face. His Adam’s apple proudly protruded out of his neck, making her think about another part of his anatomy that protruded.
By the time she reached his eyes, she was blushing.
Lukas did not like this sight at all. When he told Artemis that he wanted her to find a mature boyfriend, he didn’t mean a lycan that was hundreds of years old!
“Artemis, don’t make this harder than it has to be,” he tried to tell her.
She ignored Lukas and focused on Wrath’s eyes. The lycan’s eyes. The destructive force that had done so much damage the goddess found it fitting to curse him. Lycans were infamous and the epitome of evil. The thought of them should cause a shiver to ring out through her body. But as she stared into the windows of her mate’s soul, the only thing shiver-worthy she could find was the thrill that came from being in his embrace. Looking over the past few days they spent together, most of which were spent in silence, she found no source of fear. He confused her to no end but never made an effort to hurt her.
Because he was not wicked. Lonely, maybe. Misunderstood, probably. Troubled, definitely.
Her eyes jumped down to her arms when she felt them get coupled and constricted. Wrath spent no time in binding her wrists together and sweeping her off her feet. She was stunned for a moment before beginning to writhe.
Lukas nearly cried out his disapproval when the unknown lycan pulled Artemis into his arms. Instead, he held his breath and stood still to avoid retaliation.
Artemis wasn’t happy to be dangling either. “Put me down!” she grit out brazenly as she rebelled against the muscles that blanketed her.
Wrath didn’t counter her adamant request. He tossed her soft, unwilling body in the air, knowing that Lukas would catch her. As expected, Artemis went from one pair of arms to another.
“Take her. Sol, show your way out.” The stiff sentence sounded like music to Lukas’ ears. Satisfied, he bid the two lycans goodbye with a nod and then started walking back to the search party with an angry daughter in his arms.