Even putting a jacket on couldn’t help me stop shivering. Ryan and I sat on the couch, not speaking, but we leaned against each other. He moved the safety pin on Dom’s necklace back and forth on the chain. His eyes were so distant, I didn’t think he even realized he was doing it. Liam stood by the door, staring out the window. Waiting. It was all about waiting.
Ryan’s cell phone sat on the coffee table, completely back and shining my horrible reflection back at me. I dropped my face into my hands and took deep, needy breaths. I counted them. One. Two. Three… Twenty breathes went by when a howl ripped through the sky. My eyes sprang open as I jumped to my feet, scaring the crap out of Ryan. A thousand goosebumps littered my skin. I recognized that howl. I’d recognize it anywhere.
“That was a warning,” I looked at Liam, feeling all the blood rush out of my face. “Someone is coming. Ryan,” I reached for him, helping him onto his feet and his crutches. “We’ve got to hide you.”
“But-” Ryan looked between us like this was a sick joke.
“Don’t argue,” Liam insisted. He scooped Ryan off the ground, letting his crutches clatter on the linoleum. “We’ll take you to the shack in the backyard. Cameron used to live there.”
I ran ahead, pushing open the door to see a brown wolf aimed at us. My blood went ice cold. “Fuck!” I cried and slammed the door shut. We scattered back as the door explode and its pieces went flying and my back hit the table, knocking it across the floor.
Liam plopped Ryan in a chair, quick enough to nearly knock him over. Liam’s form brightened and changed shape to reveal a snarling golden wolf that snapped at the brown wolf. Alex. I knew the moment his scent slapped me across the face. My legs fell out from underneath me and I hit the floor.
Liam tackled Alex, forcing him outside the house. Snowflakes whirled into the kitchen and the cold nipped at my cheeks. “Stay there,” I told Ryan, who couldn’t do anything more than nod. Grabbing the table, I forced myself back up and stumbled to the broken door frame.
Puddles of blood stained the perfect white snow and my stomach acids curdled. Liam shook Alex back forth by his shoulder, tossing him to the side. Alex rolled right into a tree, knocking the snow and ice from the limbs.
“Liam?” I asked, my voice coming out tortured and unrecognizable. “Are you okay?”
Liam nodded, breathing heavy as he trudged back up the porch sets. Blood trickled down his fur. Someone reached into my chest and crushed my heart. I took one step onto the porch, when Liam’s back arched and he howled in anguish. The sound of his cry nearly split apart my heart.
“Liam!” I gasped, dropping to my knees as Liam fell sideways into the snow. An axe sat snug inside Liam’s back. Tears burst from my eyes, losing the feeling in my arms. This was a nightmare. This was officially a nightmare.
“No,” I ran to him, but just before I could touch him or help him, a hand enclosed around my throat. In a blur, my feet lifted off the ground and my back slammed into the wall. Alex laughed in my face, blood trickling down his face and into his mouth, staining his teeth.
“Hello, Drew,” he smiled wider. I grabbed his wrist, desperately prying him off as his hand tightened around my throat. My windpipe-squeezed to needle thin and all my blood rushed to my face, threatening to pop.
Alex leaned in closer. “Being on the run looks good on you. Jacob will be pleased.”
My eyes flickered only a moment at Ryan. Ryan stumbled forward on his cast as he held a chair over his head and slammed it into Alex’s back. Alex let go and we both hit the ground, alongside the bits and pieces of the chair. I gasped, trying to breathe again without choking.
“You filthy little human,” Alex spat, climbing back up. I reached for his ankle, but my hands only grazed his jeans. Alex grabbed Ryan, tossing him over the table into the wall of shelves. He hit the middle, dropping flat on the ground as the shelves came crashing down with all the plates and mugs. Shards of the porcelain flew off in every direction.
Alex took one step towards Ryan again and I screamed, “Leave him alone!”
I think everyone had the habit of forgetting the fact that I was a werewolf too. My mortal form fell away in tattered pieces. Fury clouded my vision as I became a victim of my own instincts, relying on Alex’s smell. My mouth water, eager to give him a taste of his own medicine and rip a chunk out of him too.
I headbutted Alex through the wall, right into the next room. He smashed into a couch and I leaped, pinning him down and biting at his neck. Snarling, Alex shoved me backwards and I hit the wall. Pain shot up my back, but I jumped up clawing at his face as he tried to attack again. He crashed into me, slamming me against the wall and again and again until I saw stars. Alex bit one of my front legs and I screamed as if I heard a loud popping sound. A horrible ragged pain scattered across my arm as if a hundred burning needles were stabbing me.
“Transform back,” Alex’s voice rang through my head. “Do it.”
I writhed, growling and trying to seize his throat with my teeth. He jerked my leg harder and I screamed again, thinking he was going to tear it right off. I shut my eyes and let the light encompass me.
Human again, I gasped, gulping for air and Alex actually released my arm. I brought it to my chest, scowling at Alex as he stood and transformed back too. My blood pooled against my chest, soaking my shirt through. It was so painful, I thought I was going to vomit.
“He knows I wanted to see that pretty face…”
A bucket of ice water spilled into my veins. Alex stepped away and standing at the front door, Jacob stood. Totally pristine. No one had even touched him. Tears burned the corner of my eyes as the worst thought hit me first.
No, I told myself. I couldn’t give up.
My glare sharpened as I struggled to pull myself up. Dizziness hit me like a baseball bat to the head, but I leaned against the wall to stay steady. “Why did you come?” I asked, venom lacing my words. “Haven’t you done enough?”
Just Jacob’s eyes staring into me hurt more than any bite, any slash. His mark burned, causing my skin to boil and itch.
Alex chuckled and went back to the kitchen. The shattered china crunched underneath his boots. I could hear Alex move the shelf up. I shut my eyes, hit with the fact that he went back for Ryan. Everything was falling apart, right through my fingers and I just couldn’t get a grip.
Jacob stepped towards me and I pressed myself against the wall, wishing I could disappear inside it. “Come here,” he said, but I didn’t move. His voice darkened. “Come here or I’ll have Alex start breaking your human’s limbs.”
I flinched, my heart crawling up my throat and swelling like a balloon. Everything inside of me told to stay far away from Jacob. It took everything I had to even look at him.
Alex dragged Ryan into the room. Ryan was barely conscious, shivering in Alex’s clutches. Tears trickled out of his eyes as they met mine and I let out a shuddering breath. I picked myself off the wall, keeping my head up as I walked up to Jacob. His cold eyes didn’t lift from my face. He touched my chin and his touch made all my organs whither. He tilted my face and I clutched my arm tighter.
Jacob’s face twisted into a scowl at the sight of Jess’ mark. “That little fucker.”
Jacob struck me across the face, sending me to the floor. Pain exploded in my cheek, making my face pound as the taste of blood coated my mouth. Ryan called my name as Jacob snatched me back off the ground.
“Stop! Don’t-!” Ryan begged, but Alex shushed him.
Alex whispered, “It’s alright. It’s alright. Hm…” He moved Ryan’s bangs out of the way and Ryan thrashed, struggling to loosen Alex’s grip. It didn’t work. It only made Alex sneer, looking upon Ryan in sick fascination. “You’re not too bad yourself. I think I’ll keep you.”
This was what they did.
They borke into people’s houses ad expected to take whatever they wanted. They acted like it was their right to pick and choose someone’s role. Not anymore. I knew who I was. I was Jess Castellano’s mate. I was Drew Burton, an omega that wanted to be free.
I hawked a bloody loogy right in Jacob’s eye. Stiffened, Jacob growled a curse and swiped the blood off his face, flicking it to the floor. “Good, there’s still some fight in you.” He smirked, almost admiring his fresh welt on my face like a work of art. “It’ll be more fun breaking you...” With one hand, he lifted me up the wall by my throat while his other hand squeezed Alex’s bite, my blood pouring through his fingers and mine. I gasped as he nuzzled his nose against my cheek.
He put his hands around the back of my neck and yanked me into a stumbling walk. I couldn’t walk straight, not when all the adrenaline made my legs tremble. We led the charge, walking towards the back door as Jacob muttered, “Let’s see how feisty you are after I burn this pathetic town to the ground and throw Jess’ body into the fire with the rest of those idiots.”
Goosebumps trickled down my legs and something wonderful hit my nose.
“I dare you to say that to his face,” I muttered, the weightlifting from my chest. A few tears slipped over my cheeks as I somehow managed to smile.
I looked over my shoulder, passed Jacob and found Jess.
Jess and his glowing red eyes. The snow, dirt and blood had matted his black fur. On the outside, he might have looked like a villain, like a rogue, but to me, he was my hero. Behind him, Cameron’s white wolf walked up to his side, followed by Grace with their eyes pinned to Jacob.
Jacob laughed and shook his head. He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling and said, “You know, I have to hand it to you, Jess. You’ve lasted longer than I thought you would.”
“What makes you think we’d ever give up?” I grunted.
Running through the woods, a handful of Jacob’s wolves raced to the Inn. Grace huffed and turned back around for them. She dove off the porch and, in that moment, I closed my eyes and let all my bones break and reshape and I went for Jacob’s throat. Jacob jumped back, landing on all fours, wearing his mess of fur. He clawed at my face, but Cameron ran around the side and shoved Jacob right into Jess.
Gasping, Ryan dropped to the floor as soon as Alex released him. Alex threw himself at Cameron. Roaring, Cameron twisted and snapped back, tearing into Alex’s shoulder. I looked outside and Grace had one wolf pinned to the ground, while snarling at another and daring it to get closer. My body vibrated with the need to help everyone at the same time, when a flood of wolves came from the woods. Our wolves.
Dominic lead the charge.
Behind me, Ryan crawled deeper into the kitchen and grabbed the old cordless phone. He dialed a number and only waited a second. Despite his trembling voice, Ryan spoke up, “H-hi! Dr. Singh! Um- uh, Liam is hurt. Just tell me what to do. He’s-” Ryan closed his eyes. “He’s been hit with an ax. It’s still in there and-! Okay. Okay…”
Ryan took the phone, grabbed the whole drawer of dish towels and crawled outside to Liam. A blur rushed past me and I choked on my own gasp as Grace appeared by her husband’s side. Her whole face went ashen and wide in shock. Her fingers trembled as she didn’t know where to begin, when her face twisted into a scowl.
She stood and said, “Liam Sinclair, I did not give you permission to die. Ryan,” she snapped. “Take care of him. I’m going to take the trash out of my Inn.”
Ryan just nodded, watching in amazement as she ran back into the throes of battle. I followed her, arriving outside just as Jacob pinned Jess on the ground, snapping at his face, but Jess dodged and scratched at Jacob’s eyes. Jacob revved his claws back and swiped at Jess’ mouth. Blood scattered across the snow. Burning with fury, I leapt onto Jacob’s back, sinking my teeth into the scruff of his neck. Jacob shook me off, taking me for a ride around snows and through the trees, until he knocked me off.
I landed in the slush, getting the wind knocked out of me. Jacob shoved one of his own wolves over and out of the way. He dashed past them all.
“He’s trying to run!” I shouted, locking eyes with my mate. “Jess!”
“Let’s go!” Cameron yelled back, jumping on his paws, hyping himself up to run.
“We’re going to end this,” Jess told me, his voice low and deep as the earth. I followed, past the fallen wolves that would have loved to see Jess dead all those months ago, past the family we’ve found that continued to defend home and into the woods because this time, Jacob was the one on the run. Not us.
The power of my wolf throbbed in my muscles. I never heard of a wolf getting drunk on their own power, but it was like fireworks were going off inside of my body, over and over, booming and slamming into my body’s walls, while glittering sparks kept me warm. Being near Drew, fighting alongside him made me feel ten times stronger than before.
Even with the icy wind rushing through my fur and into my eyes, nothing got in the way of following Jacob. He pulled back his pheromones now. Beside me, Cameron hunkered down, dipping his head and speeding up past Drew and I, shifting around the corners of the trees and over a hill. This was his home. He knew something.
The sky opened and snowflakes rained down in sheets, joining the blankets of snow already on the ground. I skittered to the top of a hill, looking over the edge as Cameron cut Jacob off. Cameron snarled, snapping at Jacob. We were deep in the woods, surrounded by gray jagged trees, like a cage. We finally trapped Jacob.
“Stand down Coldwell,” Cameron bellowed, and I shivered at the might. “This can end another way. Face trial by Council and your life doesn’t have to end here.”
Jacob chuckled, his laugh a broken and warped sound. “I have a third option in mind…” He looked up, catching my eyes. “Jess let’s end this. Just between you and me. That’s what you want, right? It’s always been between us. You want to avenge Ezra? You want to defend Drew? Now’s your chance.”
I raised my head and saw Jacob differently. I saw him for what he was, a tiny useless man. “You’re wrong, Jacob,” I shouted. “It’s not just about me. I’m not alone in this fight, not anymore, but it looks like you are.”
I nodded at Cameron, before leaping from my perch. I felt free enough to soar and for a second, I thought I wouldn’t even touch the ground, when I landed hard on Jacob, thrusting him into the ground. He lashed out, but Cameron snapped at him from behind. Drew took another bite at him, jerking him the other way. Jacob fought back, but it was useless. Even when Jacob went limp, even when he no longer growled or snapped back at us and even when Cameron backed away, I just couldn’t believe it. All the alarms in my head still spun and rang out. My adrenaline continued to course through my veins as if I stuck a fork into an electric socket.
A flash of light blinded me and then, I could feel Drew’s small hand on my back. For a small moment, I was back in our hometown. I sat on my motorcycle, feeling the hum of the engine between my legs and inside of my hands. That was when a smell hit, a smell like nothing I had ever experienced before. Until that moment, I thought I knew I was alive. Not anymore. I had realized I was missing something.
The next thing I saw was an angel looking back at me.
The cold crept back across my skin and I was back in the present, hearing Drew’s sweet voice. “Jess,” Drew whispered. “Jess, it’s okay now.”
I released Jacob and let go of this wolfen form, turning to see my mate. He was covered in bruises and cuts and he reeked of his own blood, but he smiled. Tears poured down his face, finding the dimples in his cheeks. “Jess,” he reached up with his one good hand and dragged his thumbs over my fallen tears. I hadn’t even realized I was crying.
“It’s over,” Drew told me, and only then did it click inside my brain.
All the weight sitting on top of my shoulders and the weight in my chest melted away. It all disappeared, all at once and I dropped to my knees, hiding my face in my hands. My body trembled as I released every tear, every sob that has sat in the back of my throat for almost a year. Drew fell to my side, putting his arm around me and I nuzzled into the crook of his neck. My head became lighter and lighter and the threads holding me up, loosened. All my strength evaporated, and I slipped out of conscious, falling into a cold bed of snow.