I finally released the breath I was holding when I saw the Dearest Inn. It was the first time I walked the streets alone, without Jess and the quiet walk home gave me way too much time to imagine the worst. The way Dominic acted, it looked painful. If it was that bad for him, I couldn’t fathom the torture Ryan must have been going through.
The image of Jess’ paled face as he lied on the floor, in his own blood, when Jacob sunk his teeth into my neck always sat in the back of my head. That faded look in his eyes would be burned into my memory. He was a mirror of my own despair. We were dying together that night, so when Dominic couldn’t breathe, I knew what was happening.
“Drew!” Grace called from the front door. “Is it just you?” She asked quizzically, folding her long cable knit robe around herself. It was a charcoal cardigan that reached her ankles. Her words formed clouds around her lips. “Where’s Jess?”
“It’s-” I caught myself whispering and cleared my throat of the phlegm and the fear. I spoke up, forcing a weary smile. “It’s just me.”
I reached the front door and Mia barreled into my legs. Pretending to groan, I scooped her off the floor and rested her on top of my hip. She clutched my shirt, looking over my shoulder. “Where’s Jess? I- I uh brought him a piece of my grandma’s pie.”
“You spoil him,” I grinned and pulled her into a hug, squeezing her tight. We walked into the Inn’s main lobby. One guest sat, lounged across one of the couches on her phone. The dining room doors were open and I saw a couple of business types with coffee and laptops out.
I told Grace as I rubbed her back, “He’s just helping Dominic and Cameron with something. He’ll be back soon.”
“Is everything alright?” Grace quirked a brow. She never missed anything.
“Did you say Cameron?” Mark asked, poking his head out from the couch facing away from me. He put his book down. “What are they doing?”
“Uh...” I eyed Mia and then, Grace.
She read my mind. With a sugary sweet smile, Grace slipped her arms around Mia and sat her on the ground. She said, “Find Daddy, will you? Tell him I need him, okay? He’s putting your sister to sleep.” She put one of her long fingers over her own lips and whispered, “So, you’ll have to be quiet.”
“Okay!” Mia used a stage-whisper and covered her lips with a single finger too. She dashed for the stairs, using the railings to pull herself up.
“Why am I getting nervous?” Mark asked, taking to his feet. His hair tonight was a little less styled. Everything about him was a bit more casual as he wore sweatpants, slippers and a hoodie, something I had seen Cameron wear before.
“Something is wrong. Dominic could feel that Ryan was in danger,” I said, and Grace gasped, covering her mouth.
“Our mates went with him,” I told Mark.
“At least they’re together,” Mark used a brave face to smile at me. He put his arm around me, rubbing my arm. “We’ll wait up together.”
“I’m going to tell Liam...” Grace rubbed her face. Her eyes were distant, going through her options. There was no one better at high pressure situations. “I know a few people at the closest hospital. Maybe I can find out something, but Jess still doesn’t have a phone...” She started muttering as she walked up the stairs, “... but Cameron does. Maybe I should just go myself and bring the car. Maybe they’ll want to rest...”
Mark brought me to a different lounge area. It was the smallest at the Inn and the walls were all windows with ornate floral tiles and emerald green sofas. There were planters all over, empty at the moment. Because of the season, it was a little cool inside, but Mark fixed the fireplace and handed me one of the quilts that waited in a large basket by the couch. He left and soon came back with two cups of tea. By then, the fire had grown hot enough to make me sweat inside the blanket. Handing down my mug, he joined my side.
“It’s chamomile and lavender,” he explained, snatching a quilt from the pile.
“Thank you,” I whispered into my tea before taking a sip. Through the windows, snowflakes road the wind and swirled in the night air. It was like that. Just some peace and quiet as we enjoyed the weather and the pop and crackle of the fire. The tea spilled into every frozen corner of my person, making my eyes go heavy and weak.
After some time, Mark spoke up. “Cameron came back, but not everyone was ready to throw him a welcome home party. A lot of wolves were sort of hoping he’d never come home, so they could take to power. I protested, however. I campaigned for him that it was his rightful place for a long time....” He took a drink. “Finally, when he did come back, those wolves who had been waiting, challenged Cameron to be the Alpha. It lasted a whole week, night after night of wolves trying to tear Cameron apart.”
“Were you afraid?” I asked.
Mark showed just the faintest smile. “No.”
“No?” I sat up.
“I believed in Cameron. You just have to have faith, sometimes.”
I took a sip of tea for some courage. Then, I asked, “Um, were you and Cameron talking then?”
The smile faded. “No....” He watched the snow fall. “When he was gone, I used to lie awake at night and try to remember the sound of his voice. I wouldn’t talk to myself, I would talk to Cameron as if he was there. Sometimes, it felt like he was really talking back. It was the longest six months of my life.”
I sunk against the cushion with my body turned towards him. Mark continued, “Then, he came back and found me. After all that time, he said hello and I didn’t have anything to say. I had stewed and tortured myself all six months for what I was going to say, but when the moment came, all words escaped me. He didn’t approach me again until he rightfully claimed his Alpha status. I guess he wanted to show me the result of his absence.”
He smirked. “Then I let him have it.”
I laughed. “I’m sure that was a great show.”
“Are you hungry?” He changed the topic and I wasn’t going to fight it.
He grinned and we jumped up. I led the charge to the kitchen, breezing through the hallway. Mark started telling me about his day at the school and making an entire classroom of children cry over Bridge to Terabithia. Grace dashed into the hallway, her hands up. Her face was paled and wide. It was like she saw a ghost and in this story, I was the specter.
“What-?” I started to ask, when she hushed me. She grabbed my arms, pushing me back towards the small lounge. Confused, I asked again. “What is it?”
“Don’t go out there,” she bellowed, her grip on my arms cutting off my blood circulation. “Just stay back here-” She couldn’t stop shaking her head.
My chest twisted. I snapped my head up at the end of the hallway, where I could see a sliver of light from the lobby. Something familiar tickled my nose and the taste of copper coated my mouth. My mind went totally blank. All my blood rushed to my toes. I was an empty vessel, moved by an outside forced. I escaped Grace’s holds and walked down the hall. She reached for me, grazing the end of my sweater but missed.
Just on the cusp of the door, Mark wrapped his arms around my waist, keeping me from the light. I started to struggle, when I heard a gruff voice. He said, “You won’t be able to miss them. Two rogue wolves. One’s a Beta and the other is an Omega...”
The dread swelled up from my chest, filling my throat with concrete. A chill trickled across my arms and made my bones turn to ice. I knew that voice. It was Alex. Alex from my hometown, Briarwood. Alex, who owned the local tractor supply store. Alex, who picked me up from the ground, tearing me from Jess’ side and threw me into Jacob’s car. Alex.
“Is that so?” Liam said, his voice the example of calm. My heart pounded at my ears like heavy fists, slowly breaking down a door with the same hefty and fast beat, over and over.
Alex brought someone with him. It was Lloyd. “Yeah, you see they’re wanted in our pack. The Beta, the tall one with tan skin and the dark hair, he kidnapped our pack’s Luna, the Omega. Well, our Alpha has been worried sick about his mate, so we really would appreciate the help. We have a reward of ten thousand dollars to the wolf that will bring our Luna home...”
My body convulsed. Mark’s hand appeared, covering my mouth before I could make a sound. It would have been the sound of a dying, wounded creature. My neck ached, the bite threatening to sever my head from the bone.
Alex said, an unfamiliar grit to his voice said, “Their names are Drew and Jess.”
“Drew and Jess,” Liam repeated. “I’ll be on the lookout.”
“Be careful though,” he warned. “The Beta, he’s a dangerous wolf, so if it comes down to it, you better kill him before he kills you. He tore nearly half our pack apart. Can you imagine? Killing your alpha in his bed while he slept? It was cowardly, but brutal business. He killed our Alpha’s whole family, his wife and his kids. Do you have kids of your own?”
“I do,” Liam said.
“Well, you definitely don’t want him anywhere near them. The guy is a monster. It was a good thing Jacob Coldwell stopped him when he did... at a cost, of course.”
The second man added, “We need the Omega, Drew alive. Our town can’t take another tragic loss of a Luna. Can’t miss him. He has a mark on his neck, this side. He’s a pretty little thing with light green eyes and dark hair.”
“Right,” Liam nodded along with a twinge of discomfort like the word pinched him.
“You can reach us at this number.”
“You got it. You don’t plan to stay here?”
“No, we’re going to do more searching.”
Mark pulled me back as I struggled to stay on my feet. Forcing myself to turn, my trembling hands clutched at Mark’s hoodie. I shook my head, unable to catch my breath. “M-mark,” I managed, the word strangled and bruised. My throat was closing. The sky was falling. Death had finally knocked on our door. “I-it’s not true-”
“Hold on,” Mark muttered and dragged me back to the couch, wrapping me back in the quilts. He ripped off his hoodie and gave that to me too. I tried to stand back up, but my legs gave out. Grace caught me from hitting the ground, her face still tight and on alert. She held my arms and this time, I didn’t think I could pry them off. I didn’t think I had the strength to brush a feather off my shoulder.
“Mark,” I tried again, pleading with him. Tears pricked the corner of my eyes. My throat tightened to the width of a straw and I looked down, shutting my eyes to keep from cracking to pieces. Snapping my head up, I shook my head. “Jess is going to come back. He- He can’t run into them. He can’t-”
The realization slapped Mark across the face. He jumped to attention and ran to the kitchen. I could hear the kitchen door open and I let out a shaky breath. “Gr-grace,” I sputtered. “I- I can’t- I can’t br-breathe-”
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Grace whispered, rubbing circles into my back. I focused on her touch. She whispered, the way I heard her try to soothe Mia and Emily. She whispered, slightly smiling, “We’ll breathe together.”
“It’s- It’s-” I was hyperventilating. Every time I tried to breathe, the air couldn’t get past the giant fist blocking my throat. I closed my eyes, squeezing fat hot tears down my cheeks. Still, she had to know. She had to know. I was so desperate. It was like sitting in a coffin and hearing the sound of dirt hitting the lid. “It’s not- not- true.”
“Don’t worry about that, right now,” Grace told me. “I know. Breathe with me.”
She took a deep breath and I struggled to match her, my mind whirling. Out of every thought, one was louder. One was sharpened to a point, stuck in the middle of my chest and twisting, twisting and twisting.
Jacob found you.
Jacob found you.
Jacob is going to take you back.