My breath fogged up the glass. Cameron and Mark stood in the street, followed by a handful of wolves from the pack. One wolf I recognized from working at Athena’s shop. They were close enough that I could hear them, but I had to focus. Maybe if I opened the window…
Grace smacked the top of my hand like a whip.
“Don’t even think about it,” she glared as she stood over me. I sat on the checkered floor in front of Jen’s Diner window, peeking through the thick white blinds. All the lights were off, and the chairs were turned upside down on every table. Only natural light crept inside through the cracks of the door and the blinds.
“You’re not going to leave this spot, isn’t that right?” Grace demanded more than she asked with her hands placed firmly on her hips. His face was hard, except for her eyes. Her eyes gave her away, their softness, and that little shimmer of fear.
“I won’t move,” I raised my hands. “As long as Cameron doesn’t need me.”
“You’re not gonna go after Jacob.”
“No matter how much you want to kill him.”
“I can’t enjoy his comeuppance if I’m dead.”
“That’s right,” she nodded, satisfied for the moment. “Now, give me a hug.” She bent down and wrapped her arms around me. I held on tight, savoring her warmth and her spell. Her petite body was still as muscular as the rest of us, but her fire burned brighter, and I almost pitied the wolf that would be forced to face against her today.
“Be careful,” I told her and let go.
“I will,” she caressed my face, looking at me one last time before dashing out the back way through the diner. She needed to get into position too. We were all in place.
I couldn’t sit down.
I paced back and forth through the lobby. Rubbing my hands over and over, feeling the blood in my veins thin and the anxiety bubbling up my throat. It felt like standing in the middle of the road, bracing for oncoming traffic. I could see the wreck about to implode my life, but it just wouldn’t come. It was like staring at the Grim Reaper and watching him walk to my door. Slowly.
All the clocks in the Inn chimed.
The bells created waves in the air hard enough to nearly knock me over.
My mouth went dry.
It was noon.
All the hair on my body stood. Heat trickled into my face as my jaw went rigid. I gripped my leg, stabbing myself with my growing talons. The wolf inside of me wanted to escape. My body rose on its own, an uncontrollable part of my instincts, telling me to crash through this window and attack.
All the color faded.
The only sound left was my heartbeat, pounding and pounding like the slow beat of symbols, the reverb shook my bones. When I was a kid, I never believed in the boogeyman. I still didn’t, but to me, there wasn’t nothing more monstrous than this man.
Down to my core, my body went cold and numb.
Jacob Coldwell stalked down the road as a wolf, twice the size of a normal wolf with ragged auburn and brown hair with black ends. His green eyes might not have been red like mine, but the violence still changed him, his eyes like two dead orbs, void of life and warmth.
It was just him. No other wolves.
In a flash of light, Jacob appeared with that irritating smirk. The way he breathed, the way he stood there made my head want to explode. My body cringed painfully as if a dozen scrambling ants tried to find a way out from underneath my skin. He looked normal. He looked the same. Actually, he seemed to be doing great, and that nearly made me vomit.
Jacob still had a good build, broad shoulders, and large hands from a lifetime of working. His scraggly brown hair had turned greyer after all this time. Now, he sported a few extra scars and a smile that could rot an apple from one look.
“So, you’re Jacob Coldwell?” Cameron peered at the man, so casually. He slipped his hands into his pockets, but the wolves behind him stayed aimed at Jacob like the sights of a gun.
“And I don’t know you,” Jacob said. His voice made my skin crawl, and I cringed again. My heart started beating even faster, forcing me to close my eyes and breathe. I couldn’t get the pictures of that night out of my head.
I could still feel Jacob’s whispers tickle the back of my neck. He had said, “Let me teach you when it’s time to die.”
The pain resurfaced as the past wrapped around my neck, choking me and reminding me of the feeling of fists flying and striking me over and over. Even my mouth became coated in that metallic taste of my own blood. The muscles of this mortal body pounded. From the inside, my wolf stirred and scratched the walls. My mouth water and ached, stretching to try to fit my canines… but I could hear Grace’s voice, begging me to stay.
I had to wait, wait for this plan to work.
“This is going to be harder than I thought,” I mumbled, hearing my own voice to keep myself in the present.
Jacob’s dead eyes looked between Cameron and Mark, barely passing a glance at the other wolves. “It’s rare to meet a new Alpha,” Jacob said with his familiar grit. Even through the window, I could see his Alpha pheromones clouding up the air. He was really trying too hard. Jacob went on, “Cameron, right? And who’s this creature?”
“Mark,” Cameron said with a plastered smile. “My mate. Welcome to Dearest.”
“Hmm…” He looked around, and I ducked before his eyes swept over the diner. I pressed my back against the wall and closed my eyes, trying to force my heart back down my throat. Jacob said, “So, you got me all the way down here to your hole in the wall kind of place. I’m waiting to find out the point. You have something that’s mine, and I expect you to give it back.”
My stomach twisted.
“That something is my mate, you asshole,” I whispered, clenching my fists. I stretched my neck, peeking through the blinds again.
“Exactly,” Cameron nodded along. Nothing ruffled Cameron, or at least he didn’t show it. His boy-next-door smile stayed fixed to his face. Mark stood rigid, crossing his arms and just scowling at Jacob. He looked even less than unimpressed; a look coined by Mark Kimura.
“You came all this way,” Mark tilted his head. “So, I think these rogues are worth a little more than you say.”
“And the big one is kind of an asshole,” Cameron added. “He’s been hard to maintain.”
Jacob chuckled. “It’s so interesting seeing a new Alpha at work, like a kid that just lost his training wheels.”
“Well, from what I hear…” Cameron stood his ground with an equally greasy smile. “You haven’t been doing this much longer than me. Let me just say, I’m sorry to hear about Ezra.”
Above me, the ceiling whined, but I ignored it, pressing myself deeper into the wall, desperate to hear every single word.
Jacob didn’t even flinch. “Yes, it was a great tragedy for our pack, but as soon as you take me to those Rogue wolves, I can bring some justice and peace back to my pack. We just want to be done with this whole mess.”
I looked up.
Jacob said, “I’m sure you have your hands full with protecting your own pack and your mate. It would be such a shame if something happened to them…”
I moved away from the window, slowly with light footing. I maneuvered through the diner, trying not to conjure any noise as my chest constricted tighter and tighter. Something… now that I was looking for it, something suddenly stuck out to me. Maybe a smell. Something I recognized, but it was difficult to find past Jacob’s pheromones.
I tested the door with the employee only sign once and then just broke the lock, catching the metal pieces before they hit the floor. Setting them down, I crept into a dim hallway. Another creak ripped through the ceiling, and I walked past two bathrooms before finding a set of stairs. That smell still confounded me. I took a deep breath, closing my eyes, and searching past the putrid scent of Jacob. It was the smell of dirt and rain and the smell of the swill they sold at Pop’s bar. It was the smell of home. My heart nearly popped, and I held my breath. Snapping my head up, I rushed up the stairs and followed the scent. I threw myself through the metal door at the top, breaking into the crisp air.
Breathing hard, I locked eyes with Lloyd. Lloyd, who once strolled up to my porch covered in blood.
The wind chill nearly pushed me over. Lloyd chuckled and shook his head. At the bottom, where Jacob stood on the street, he spoke nice and loud and crisp for Lloyd… and the other four wolves to hear. They stalked out from the corners, their eyes were hungry, and their mouths were wet with drool. Jacob said, “And I didn’t come here to ask for the boys…”
I rolled my shoulders back, feeding the fire in my veins.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” Lloyd chuckled. “Jess Castellano.”
Below, Jacob stated, “I’m telling you they’re mine and I like this town, I think I’ll take this too-”
“Cameron, it’s a trap!” I yelled, barreling for the edge. I jumped off my two feet and flew through the air. I shed my human skin in a brilliant ball of light and heat, dropping to the road on four legs. Mark shoved Cameron back as Jacob’s wolves jumped behind me. Lloyd aimed for Cameron, well where he used to be, but slammed into Mark. Mark put his arms up in time as Lloyd’s teeth sunk into his flesh and his blood splattered.
I put my teeth around Lloyd’s leg and ripped him off Mark and through the diner window. The crash broke the silence like thunder. No time to relax, another wolf slammed into my side with their head. This silver wolf tried to pin me down, but I lashed out, snapping my jaws and ready to take a chunk out of him any possible way I could do it. My mouth wrapped around his neck, squeezing until he whined and clawed at my chest, skittering and twisting out of my hold, but my teeth still dragged across his throat and my mouth filled with his blood.
In another flash, two white wolves appeared, almost the same as a matching set with snowy white fur and golden eyes, but the wolf that was slightly leaner, slightly smaller, his leg was covered blood. Mark. He crumbled to the ground, but he wasn’t down. He tried pulling himself up and flinching on his bloody leg. He stayed standing.
Cameron lunged for Lloyd, tackling him and both wolves tumbled. Cameron’s eyes were wild, desperate to rip the smirk right off Lloyd’s face.
I straightened, snapping my head at Jacob. Still human. Still smiling. I growled, hunching my shoulders as my scowl sharpened to a dangerous point. My blood boiled. I could feel the steam lifting from my shoulders. My whole body trembled in anger. It was scary just how angry I felt and how much it twisted my insides into something broken and rotting.
“Apparently, you didn’t learn your lesson the first time,” he looked onto me with a look of pity as if I was on the ground as if I had already lost.
Jacob waved and just as the question formed around my face, a body hit me hard and fast. I lost my footing, slipping on the ice, and I hit my head on the cobblestone. The cold raked down my back as I felt all the warmth leave my body. The corners of my vision burned away. Pain shot through my shoulder and my howl ripped up my throat. Another bite, from a different wolf, came from the other side and these monsters pulled and yanked, ripping me into two frayed bloody pieces.
“Jess! No!” I heard Grace cry before it sounded far away as if I were submerged underwater, and my fingertips couldn’t reach the surface.
What would I leave behind? A husk of a Beta’s body on the sidewalk? Would my blood even leave a stain? How would this world remember me? Would anyone realize how hard I fought?
He took away my life once.
He wasn’t going to do it again.
I made a promise to Drew that I would come back to him and I would do it. I promised Cameron that I would protect him, and I would. I promised Mia I was never going to try to leave without saying goodbye, and I wouldn’t. Never again. There was still some fight left in me.
I forced my eyes open, putting all this life and power back into my limbs and I took one snap at the closest wolf, tearing right through his ear. The wolf cried. The second wolf dug deeper into my shoulder and I propelled myself forward, throwing the beast off and right into his little friend. My heart pounded, blood still coursing through my veins like bursting fireworks.
I lunged for the grey wolf, wrapping my mouth around his throat, bearing down and thrusting him forward, into the belly of his friend, this red wolf.
A beautiful charcoal wolf with a silver belly flew at the red wolf, pinning it to the snow-covered ground. Grace.
The grey wolf went limp, and I spat him out. Looking over, Mark was back up, slamming his head in the back of Lloyd, propelling it at Cameron, who got that asshole in his neck and in one quick snap, the body crumbled like a bag of bones. Mark stumbled back in a flash of light, back to his human form and fell back. Blood soaked the leg of his jeans and he was scratched to hell.
Cameron hurried to his side. “Are you okay?” He grabbed his mate’s face, examining every cut. Cameron’s face looked hollow. “Mark? Oh, God-”
“I-I’m fine,” Mark nodded, breathless and hissing from the pain. Grace ran over, tearing off her scarf. Cameron snatched it and tied it around his mate’s leg. He kissed Mark’s knee, earning a small exhausted smile.
“Where’s Jacob?” Grace looked around.
My stomach dropped.
“Go,” Mark snapped. “I’ll slow you down. I’ll call Dominic-”
Cameron and I only met each other’s eyes for a split second before we took off. My heart pounded my ears. Every second felt wasted. The entire fight was a trick and we all fell for it so easily. Jacob told us what he wanted right from the beginning and we still couldn’t see it.
It’s always been about Drew.
Pointing my nose to the sky, I released an echoing howl in hopes that it would reach my mate in time.