A War of the Heart

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Chapter 23

Chapter Twenty-Three

Michael grabbed Braiden and dragged him away from the group. He then tossed him away. "What is your problem?" Braiden asked.

"You are my problem," Michael answered. He pushed his brother back. They were far enough away that no one would overhear. "How could you do this to mom?"

"What are you talking about?" Braiden asked. "I talked to her about it. She basically said if that's what I wanted to do, then she would accept it."

"Think about someone else besides yourself for a moment. Trent has just betrayed the pack. Riven can't ignore that. He has to be punished. Jaiden died. Mom thought of him like one of her own. His death was devastating to her. She may not show it, but if you would be paying attention you could see her with puffy eyes that show she's been crying. Sometimes I can hear her late at night sitting up crying. Dad's death took half her heart. Jaiden's death took a little more. Now none of us are sure of Trent's punishment. And now, you want to leave her." Michael wasn't holding back. He was tired of trying to help their mom on his own. Braiden needed to know what was going on.

"You've been so laid back, acting like nothing is going on. We're getting ready to go fight a bunch of trained killers. We could end up getting hurt, or worse, dying. What would that do to mom? She would probably die. We need to start watching each other's back. We need to stick together. Nothing can happen to us," Michael growled adamantly

"Dude, I didn't know," Braiden whispered, shame on his face. He turned away from Michael and looked back at the pack. Barbara was talking to Lucy and even had her hand on Lucy's belly. She looked happier than she'd been in a long time. Braiden sighed.

"You can't leave us," Michael pushed.

"I've been wanting to do this for some time. I was going to leave before Trent went to find Lucy. I only stayed because I wanted to see if I could find a mate with her. When that fell through I realized how lonely I was." Braiden turned back to Michael. "Brother, I want a mate. I want to be a dad. I want the happiness that Lucy and Raice have together. I don't plan on leaving forever. If I can go and bring back a mate, think how happy mom would be then. I know she won't live forever. I have thought about what my leaving would do to her, trust me."

"I want a mate too," Michael said softly, his face one of sorrow.

"What did you mean the other day? You acted like you had met someone, or had a secret to hide. Talk to me bro, have you found your mate?" Braiden put his arm around Michael's shoulders.

"Do you remember that week I went away to do some business for Riven? I was getting us that new set of wheels?" Michael started. When he felt, more than saw, Braiden nod, he continued. "I met someone. As soon as I saw her I knew she was mine. My protective instincts kicked in and my heart quickened. She was working behind the counter at the local sandwich shop. I had stopped in for a bite to eat before going to the dealership down the road."

Braiden watched as Michael's face darkened and then he pushed Braiden away. "I don't want to talk about it." Michael started walking away.

"Not so fast mister. We are going to talk. I'm your twin, your brother. Talk to me," Braiden coaxed.

Michael clenched his fists and opened his mouth to say something, but changed his mind and closed it. He started pacing back and forth and Braiden was getting a little freaked out.

"I shifted in front of her," Michael admitted.

"You what?!" Braiden yelled. He glanced over at the pack and noticed that Riven and Logan were shooting looks their way. He lowered his voice. "Why? Is she a shifter too?"

"She's human," Michael replied, wincing when his brother growled.

"Why did you shift in front of a human?" Braiden hissed.

"The whole week I was gone I was wooing her. I had it all planned out though, I made sure she thought she was dreaming, just to see what her response would be," Michael explained.

Braiden opened his mouth to ask his brother what the hell he was talking about when he heard someone approaching. He turned around and Michael followed his line of sight.

"Is everything okay over here?" Logan asked, looking at his brothers. Michael looked at Braiden and they nodded at the same time. "Good, we're on patrol first. Shift and let's get a move on."

"I'm so happy for you," Barbara said, her hand resting on Lucy's stomach. It was completely flat right now, but in a few months she would start to show. It was a bit nerve wracking, but with the pack's help, Lucy was sure she'd make it.

"Thank you," Lucy said. She looked up at Raice and he smiled lovingly down at her. She didn't know what she would do without Raice. Yes they had come together in a strange way, but that didn't make their love feel any different. She had long ago forgiven him for marking her without permission. She couldn't imagine her life without him. He was her heart.

"You two are perfect for each other. Your baby will be adorable." Barbara caught Lucy's eye. "I just wish one of my boys would settle down and find a mate. I think Michael is the next choice. He may have seemed laid back and kind of a big kid, but in reality I think he's the only son of mine that has his shit together. Pardon my language."

Lucy laughed and Barbara smiled. "I hope they find a mate of their own too. They deserve it. There are not many females around here, though. That's the sad part."

"Yes, that's why I think Braiden is leaving. The kid is lonely. He needs a mate to warm his bed," Barbara said seriously. It took everything Lucy had not to laugh again. This lady was a character.

"I'm sure that he will find the person meant for him. Fate has a way of knocking you on your ass at times, but it can also bring about good." Lucy felt Raice's hand on her back and giggled when he cupped her ass.

"Let's get you in the house and get some food in you. You're eating for two now," Barbara said, pushing Lucy and Raice toward the house. The love birds just rolled their eyes and let the older lady get her way. Hey, if she was cooking, why would they complain?

Drew waited for most of the group to dissipate before he made his way over to Riven. "What time do you think they will get here?" he asked. Riven sighed.

"Honestly, I have no idea."

"When do you think he'll attack? I mean what is he waiting for?" Drew asked, scanning the woods. He felt like they were being watched, but after scenting the air and getting nothing but his pack, he brushed it off as his imagination.

"He wants you to get stressed and make mistakes. That is what he is waiting for. He wants to hit you when it's going to hurt the most. Anthony is like that," Aren said, stepping out of the woods.

"Aren, so nice to see you. Oh wait," Drew said dryly.

"Watch your mouth boy," Aren growled. Drew averted his eyes.

"What are you going on about?" Riven asked.

"I'm saying that if I were Anthony, I'd attack tonight. You have gotten too laid back. He's given you enough time to get paranoid, but to feel like he's not really going to attack. You've become lazy and will pay for that. Logan and the twins went to patrol. That leaves only you Drew and Raice as actual fighters at the pack house. It would be the perfect time to attack. Do you get my point?" Aren asked, crossing his arms. He looked perfectly calm.

"I didn't think about that." Riven looked worried. "Do you think he will? Should I get them back here? Gosh, I feel like I'm being a terrible alpha. I've never been in this situation."

"First, you need to calm down. Second, you need to get Logan and the twins back here pronto. Third, you need to let me train them," Aren listed. He watched Riven's face. "They aren't ready for this fight. I will spend the day training them as best I can."

"Drew, go get them," Riven commanded. Drew started walking off.

"No, don't leave. That's another man gone. Just shift and communicate with them." Aren watched Riven nod at Drew and then the beta shifted and trotted off.

"Thanks," Riven said, rubbing his eyes and looking older then he really was. "I don't know why I didn't think of that."

"Like I said, you're getting lazy. You should be training your men every day, keeping on top of things. You should be trying to be the best alpha you can be." Aren moved closer to Riven.

"Are you saying that I'm a bad alpha?" Riven growled.

"I'm saying that you need to step it up, or someone will come along and take your position away from you," Aren said calmly. Riven got in his face.

"Is that person you? Do you want to be alpha of this pack?" Riven was growling, his wolf right on the surface, and his eyes shifting black.

"No." It took a moment for the word to register in Riven's mind.

"Pardon?" Riven said, shaking his head and taking a step back.

"I don't want your pack. If I did, you'd be dead and I'd be leader by now." Aren said it so calmly that Riven believed him. It was scary how easily this man discussed death.

"They are on their way back," Drew said, interrupting the conversation. He looked between the two alphas, noting the tension. "Is there a problem?"

"No, just have them meet me in front of the house," Aren said, walking off without another word. Both Drew and Riven watched him go, a frown on their faces.

"Do you want me to train too?" Drew asked.

"Yes, I want everyone to train. Go get Raice and tell him he's required to. Lucy can keep Barbara company." Drew nodded and went to do as his alpha asked.

Raice cursed as he once again hit his back. "Again," Aren commanded. Raice jumped to his feet and watched the alpha standing calmly in the middle of the circle. Braiden was laughing and Michael's lips were twitching.

"You think this is easy? Just wait for your turn," Raice growled at them. Aren took the distraction as the perfect time to attack. He darted forward and had Raice pinned to the ground before the boy could blink.

"Keep your attention focused. Don't let them distract you. You have to keep focused in a fight. These men will come at you in human form and shifter form. You have to be ready for both."

After a few more bruises and hitting the ground, Raice finally got a hit in on Aren. He beamed with pride and Aren looked impressed. "Good job." Raice nodded his head in acknowledgment and then joined the outer circle. Logan was up next.

Raice watched as Logan cracked his neck and loosened up his arms. Aren watched with amusement. "Whenever you're ready," Logan said. Aren smiled and then attacked.

Raice watched as Aren faked a punch to the gut and instead swept Logan's legs out from under him and then pinned him to the ground. Logan looked up at him in surprise. He got his feet in position and launched Aren in the air. He jumped and met Aren's falling body in the air. He punched at Aren's face, but Aren grabbed his fist and squeezed. Raice could hear the bones break from his position and knew that had to heart like hell. Logan kept quiet.

When they hit the ground, they landed a few feet apart. It was surreal at the speed they could move. Being a shifter had its perks. After Braiden and Michael went it was obvious that the twins hadn't done much fighting. They were used to wrestling amongst themselves.

The last to go was Drew. Chris was only allowed to watch. Riven wouldn't allow him to leave the house the night of the fight. He was to help guard Lucy and Barbara. It pissed him off, but he knew it was for the best. He hadn't argued and for that Drew was grateful. He wanted his little brother safe.

As the sun started setting, Aren wanted to go at each other in animal form. Everyone was excited. To them, fighting in animal form came naturally. Raice's panther purred in delight. It wanted to flex its claws after Raice had gotten his ass handed to him in human form. It was actually embarrassed at Raice. Raice had laughed at that.

"Are you going to sit there day dreaming, or shift?" Aren asked. Raice flushed when he realized Aren was talking to him. He nodded and shifted. Almost immediately voices flooded his head. He shut himself off from the others mentally and shook his head. His panther needed to focus.

Raice raised his head and looked for Aren. The man had disappeared. He growled at the wolves and they shot him a look. He motioned toward where Aren had been standing and they went on alert. Without communicating, acting on instinct, they formed a small circle. Raice sniffed the air and dug his paws into the dirt. He waited and then caught sight of movement.

He darted forward into the bushes, the wolves staying put. Raice stopped when he realized that the forest was quiet. He opened his senses and tried to locate Aren. There. His panther leapt forward and he heard Aren growl as he dug his claws in. He felt the wolf crumble in surprise and Raice bit softly down on his neck. He had Aren completely at his mercy.

You're dead. Raice told him.

That was impressive kid. I see you're a much better fighter in panther form. You're sense are well tuned. Raice couldn't help but feel pride at the alpha's praise. Let's return to the pack. I have some more to show you clowns.

"It's getting dark. Shouldn't they have been here by now?" Lucy asked, looking out the window. She flicked the porch light on and tried to catch sight of Raice.

"I'm sure they are almost here," Barbara said reassuringly. She was honestly a bit worried too. They needed those extra men. She knew in her heart that her boys weren't the best fighters and that anything could happen. She couldn't bear to lose one.

Lucy turned and noticed the sad look that passed over Barbara's face. She walked back over to the couch and sat down next to the older lady. She put her arm around her shoulders.

"Your sons will be fine .They are fine fighters and Aren has been working with them all evening." Lucy made sure her voice sounded reassuring. Barbara smiled sadly at her.

"Thank you honey, but I know that my boys aren't the most skilled fighters. I should have made Riven train them sooner. Now look," she said in disgust. "I could lose one of my boys because of my lack of judgment."

"Barbara, it is my fault," Riven's voice startled both the women. They looked up at him standing in the doorway. He held two glasses of coffee. He walked forward and handed them off. Then he took the seat opposite them.

"How?" Barbara asked.

"I should have done more for this pack. I have been lazy lately. I spent most of my time worrying about finding my niece and getting her here that I failed to look at the rest of my pack's needs. It was selfish on my part and now one of them could pay the price with their life. That kills me inside, knowing that my stupidity could cause one of my men to die." Riven stopped talking to compose himself.

"I promise that if we get through this, I'm going to make this pack better. I think we need more houses and more people. We are too small and easily overpowered. We need more women and mated couples." Barbara and Lucy were stunned.

"When did you decide this?" Lucy asked.

"This evening. I've been in my office thinking and I've decided a lot of things. I need to be able to protect my pack and I can do that with more members. I need to step up my game." He got to his feet. "I have some phone calls to make. If you need me, I'll be in my office."

The women watched Riven leave with surprised looks on their face. They turned to look at each other and then burst out laughing. "Wow, I never saw that coming," Barbara said softly. "He's been adamant about not getting more members of this pack for a long time. I've been hounding him for years."

"I think it's a good thing," Lucy said honestly. "It could give Braiden, Michael, and Logan a chance to find their mates. Maybe even Trent." Barbara got a pained look on her face.

"I failed my son," she mumbled and then the tears started falling. Lucy leaned forward and held the older woman, her heart breaking.

Anthony wanted to laugh. Aren was working the men hard and they were going to be exhausted. This was perfect. He was going to attack and it would be like taking candy from a baby. The pack below would be worn out and his men were well rested.

He turned to face his pride. "Are we ready?" he asked.

"On your word," his beta replied.

"We will attack as soon as they've all gone to bed. Wait for my signal," Anthony commanded. He watched his men nod and then separate to get closer to where they were going later on. A smile graced his lips and he rubbed his hands together in excitement.

"I'm coming son, can you feel it?" This time he did laugh.

Raice walked in the front door several hours later feeling totally exhausted. He knew the rest of the men were too. Michael and Braiden went to their house, both dead on their feet. They all had injuries, but that had been expected.

Logan and Drew had stopped to talk, and Raice was curious to know what that was about. They both looked like they were having a heated discussion when Raice had opened the front door.

He found Lucy sitting in the chair, a book in her lap. Barbara was asleep on the couch, a blanket over her. He smiled at Lucy and she climbed to her feet, putting her finger to her lips to let him know to be quiet. He nodded and motioned her forward.

When she was close enough, Raice pulled her into his embrace and kissed her neck, up her chin and then to her lips. He resisted the urge to moan. He was dead tired, but wanted his mate.

"You need to rest," Lucy whispered, grabbing his arm and pulling him toward the hallway. She led him down until she reached his door. She twisted the knob and led him in. Helping him out of his shirt, Lucy kept her thoughts decent. Raice needed rest. He looked worn out. They couldn't have sex tonight. When Raice started taking her shirt off, she shook her head.

"None of that," she said. He looked at her with puppy dog eyes and a pouty look. "You have to rest."

"Fine," he replied, rolling his eyes. He grabbed her around the waist and tossed her onto the bed. He climbed on the bed and lay down beside her. He pulled her close and closed his eyes. It wasn't long before Lucy heard his even breathing. She smiled and then drifted off on her own.

Riven was getting worried .Where was Smith? Had he backed out? What could be keeping them? He paced back and forth in his office before grabbing the number Smith had given him out of his drawer and dialing it. It rang three times and then a sleepy voice answered.

"Hello?"

"Yes, is Smith there?" Riven asked, noting the voice was female.

"No, he's not. May I take a message?" the voice sounded suspicious.

"This is Riven. I'm the alpha of the pack he was supposed to be helping. Has he left yet?" Riven held his breath.

"He left around noon. He should be there soon. He took a lot of men with him." He could tell that he'd worried the speaker. He heard her whisper something to someone and then someone else came on the phone.

"Can you tell our dad to call us as soon as he's there?"

"I can do that. Thank you. Goodbye," Riven said before hanging up. This was strange indeed. He hoped that Smith hadn't gotten into any trouble.

An hour later the house was silent and Riven was drowsy. He propped his feet up on his desk and leaned back in his chair. He closed his eyes and sighed. Before long he was out.

"Sir?"

"Yes. It's time," Anthony responded. The man signaled the men closest to him and they passed it along. Anthony watched as ten men started creeping across the grass to the front door. He had sent ten more to take care of the other house. The others were stationed all around the house, and five were with Anthony.

His eyes were black and his fingers were claws. Anthony's panther wanted out, but he held back. Not yet my sweet. He crooned to it. His panther growled, but stopped trying to bust out. After they opened the back door, Anthony waited and listened. Before long the first scream ripped through the night.

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