Dark Instincts

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Chapter 24: Red Kills

It was a hectic day at the school for Hailey and she was exhausted by the end of it. Barely dragging her feet back to her home, sleep was floating in front of her eyes. She finally reached her cabin and opened the door to find it empty. Hunter must still be at work because usually he would’ve been back the same time as her. Without much heed, Hailey entered the house, when suddenly, someone appeared behind her towering over her small form.

She gasped and stepped back, which was a bad idea because she tripped on the single step and toppled over landing straight on her butt. “You scared the living daylights out of me!”

Hunter chuckled behind her. “Sorry,” he helped her off the floor.

“How does a big guy like you get around without making a sound?” she rebuked. “You’re as quiet as a mouse even though you’re a wolf, Hunter Centauri.”

Hunter swooped her off her tired feet and took her to the couch. “I said I was sorry,” he tried to calm her down. “What’s got you in so many knots?”

Hailey, in defeat, sank into his arms and laid her heavy head on his sturdy shoulder. “I’m just really tired.” She didn’t realize how much she needed this right now. She was sitting on Hunter’s lap, completely at ease and safe. His cologne wrapped around her like a cocoon relaxing every tense muscle in her body. He naturally held her close to him and began taking off her heels. Her eyes closed as she let him take off her shoes, then untie the chignon on her head and unzip her tight dress.

“I had to ask you something,” Hunter broke the comfortable silence first.

“Hmm,” she was barely managing to stay awake to hear what he had to say.

“We got invited to a party,” said Hunter.

“Whose party is it?” she asked.

“It’s the gathering of all the wolf clans,” he said. “Most of the packs will be going. Gabriel and all of us have been invited. So, I wanted to know if you’d join me?”

Hailey lifted her head. “Are you sure?” she asked him. “It seems kind of like an important event.”

Hunter groaned. “It’s a bore and goes on for hours,” he complained. “I would very much like it, if you came and kept me sane through it all.”

Hailey laughed. She rested her head back on his shoulder. “When is this party?” she asked him.

“The day after tomorrow,” he told her.

Hailey abruptly lifted her head and almost tumbled off Hunter’s lap, but he caught her before she did. “That soon! I don’t have dress ready for such an occasion,” she panicked.

“Relax, I can tell Viola to take you to shopping tomorrow,” said Hunter.

Hailey took a deep breath trying to calm down. “You would do that?”

“Viola’s a shopaholic,” he alleged. “She’d be more than happy to take you.”

Hailey nodded. “Okay,” she was appeased. “That’s sounds good.”

Hunter got them on their feet and kissed her pouting lips. “How about I make some dinner, and then we can head to bed-” Hailey nodded, when suddenly, Hunter’s grin turned a little wicked- “or we can take a shower together and then think about food later.”

Hailey shook her head and made her way up the stairs with Hunter following her closely. “I don’t know where you get all this energy from?” she astounded.

Hunter charmingly laughed behind her. “It’s all you, baby,” he said. “I was pretty worn out from training today.”

“What changed the mood for you?” she asked.

“I saw you in that tight dress and those killer heels,” he remarked wickedly.

Hailey laughed even though she was exhausted. “I don’t know if I can even lift my hand right now, Hunter.”

Hunter grabbed her from the waist turned her to face him. He backed her up into the bathroom. “I can do all the lifting,” he whispered hotly. “You just need to relax and enjoy.”

Hailey shyly smiled. “That, I can do.” And she did.

“I thought we were going shopping?” asked Hailey as she stood baffled and quite frankly a little uneasy.

“We are,” said Viola as she took off her sunglasses, which showcased her determined gaze that was absorbed on the task at hand.

They stood in the middle of a busy street where many famous boutiques were open to help them find a gown for the party. But Hailey stood confused as she stared at the security detail Hunter sent with them. Azura, River and Ryder stood out like a sore thumb with their dark suits, sunglasses and ear-pieces. If Hailey didn’t know them, she would have guessed these three were on some mercenary mission to save the world or something.

“Just ignore them, Hailey,” suggested Viola. “They’re not going to stop.”

“It’s pretty hard,” mumbled Hailey.

Viola put her arm around Hailey and escorted her from the car to a massive store. “My friend has the most beautiful gowns,” she said. “She’ll make sure we’re ready for the party.”

They walked inside a huge store that had clean white walls, glittering white floors, which were so shiny that Hailey could see her own reflection in them.

“Viola,” a tall woman approached them with her arms open. She had straight black hair contrasting against her pale skin and blood red lips. She effortlessly walked over to them despite her fierce six-inch heels, that matched her short black dress.

“Hey, Sakura,” said Viola as she hugged her friend. “You know everyone already, expect…” both of the woman’s eyes landed on Hailey, “this is Hunter’s mate, Hailey.”

Sakura’s hazel eyes widened. “That man is the first to find a mate out of all of you,” she astonished to Viola. “It’s nice to meet you, Hailey.”

Hailey smiled. “Likewise,” she greeted Sakura.

Ryder was stationed outside the shop and Azura was partnered with River to be with Hailey and Viola inside the shop. Sakura took them to a more private sector of the shop with curtains and a stylish sitting area. Azura enjoyed the champagne, but not River, because he never drank on the job.

“I already picked out a few dresses for you Viola, so you can try them on,” said Sakura. “I have to check your size first, Hailey. If you don’t mind?”

“No, not at all.” Hailey followed Sakura behind a curtain, which had a circular podium and a massive mirror. Sakura acted with swiftness and skill. She grabbed a measuring tape and quickly spoke the numbers to another worker who was jotting it down on a tablet.

“Perfect,” said Sakura after she finished. “You’re a bit curvier than Viola. So, I’m going to choose some satin, form-fitting dresses to showcase your curves. Do you have any preferences, or something you don’t wear?”

Hailey contemplated for a moment. “No, I don’t think so,” she told Sakura.

Sakura nodded. “Alright then, drink some champagne and relax while I get the perfect dress for you.”

Hailey stepped off the podium and returned to Azura’s side. “Azura, don’t you want to pick a dress as well?” asked Hailey.

“No,” she said. “I can’t hide weapons under a dress too well.”

Viola laughed from behind the curtain as she tried a dress on. “You can’t take weapons into the banquet, Zuzu.”

Azura raised a brow in defiance. “I don’t care,” she said. “I always take my daggers and guns wherever I go.”

Hailey viewed Azura at that moment. “Do you- I mean… right now as well?”

Azura nodded. “Just as precaution.” Hailey’s mouth dropped and River chuckled from seeing her reaction. “What?” asked Azura. “It’s not weird-” she turned to River and glared- “Why are you laughing?” she scolded him. “I’m pretty sure under that coat of yours is the same as mine.”

River coughed and looked away. “I know I have more than you,” he mumbled under his breath.

“I heard that,” remarked Azura.

Hailey laughed at them.

Viola emerged from behind the curtain with an icy blue gown flattering her figure tremendously. The straight neckline was strong, and the bodice was bedazzled in glittering crystals, which continued all the way down to the sheer skirt. Viola’s long, toned legs were faintly visible but it was extremely sexy on her. A few diamond strings dropped around her arms; it was a delicate detail, but it made all the difference to making this dress look exquisite and rich.

“That’s looks amazing,” said Hailey.

Azura agreed. “Like an ice queen that you are, Viola,” she jested.

Viola chuckled as she examined the mirror. “I kind of like this cold, ruthless look this dress gives me,” she said. “Perfect for a Centauri. Don’t you think, River?”

River examined the dress for himself. “Good enough to kill, V,” he said.

Viola grinned. “Thank you,” she sent him a platonic wink for being such a sport.

Sakura returned to the room. “I had a feeling you’d pick that one,” she said. “Looks stunning on you.”

“Looks like this is the one for me,” said Viola.

“I would tie your hair in a sleek bun and put a diamond or pearl choker on you,” suggested Sakura.

“I like the choker idea,” said Viola.

Sakura turned and called over a worker. “Get me the chokers from the vault,” she instructed and the worker scurried off. “Alright, let’s get Hailey in a dress too.” Sakura ushered Hailey behind the curtain.

Hailey stood on the podium as Sakura secured a gown for her too. In matter of moments, Hailey was zipped up inside a red, satin gown that was a bit too glamorous for her. Sakura slipped on a pair of long red gloves on her hands and arms. She opened Hailey’s hair and it cascaded in curls around her.

“Lift your foot,” instructed Sakura and Hailey followed. She put strappy black heels on Hailey’s feet and secured the buckle. “You don’t need a single jewel on you,” she remarked as she assessed her work on Hailey. “You’re shining like a ruby right now. Absolutely perfect.”

Hailey looked in the mirror and was left breathless, not because of the tight bodice but because she looked so attractive and different. The red satin gown had an off-shoulder neckline that showed off her cleavage and it was backless. But it didn’t stop there, the gown dropped to the floor after molding to her wide hips, and it had a slit along her leg.

“Isn’t this a bit much?” Hailey confided to Sakura.

“We can change it, if you want?” asked Sakura. “But I think it’s perfect.”

“Show us,” said Viola from the other side. “I want to see, Hailey. Don’t change.”

Hailey peeked from behind the curtain and looked at Viola. “It’s kind of embarrassing,” she pouted. “I don’t know-” she was interrupted when she was suddenly thrusted out from behind the curtains.

Viola’s mouth dropped open. “Hailey,” she gaped at her. “You look hot.”

Hailey covered her blushing face. “Are you sure it’s not too much?”

“You’re on fire, girl,” said Azura from the couch. “Don’t you think, River?”

River nodded. “Looks good,” he said.

Sakura assessed the two girls. “I think you’re done,” she said. “That went better than I thought.”

“Thanks for helping on such short notice,” said Viola. “I know you’re always busy with fashion shows.”

Sakura shook her head. “Anytime for you, dear,” she smiled. “And I’ll come to your house tomorrow to help get ready.”

“Great,” said Viola as she returned to the dressing room to change.

“I would have loved to dress you too, Azura,” announced Sakura.

“Never going to happen,” she told Sakura.

Sakura sighed in defeat. “A dream gone unfulfilled.”

Azura made it off the couch and joined River outside the private room. Hailey and Viola changed and Sakura arranged that the dresses would arrive with her tomorrow. They stood outside the shop as they gathered around the van.

“We should get lunch,” said Viola. “All this shopping has me famished.”

Ryder raised a brow. “You’re tired?” he asked rhetorically and rolled his eyes.

“Stop glowering just because we dragged you to come shopping,” rebuked Viola. “Let’s go eat at Bobby’s place.”

River looked at his watch. “Sure,” he said. “I’m quite hungry myself.”

They ditched the cars and walked just around the block to Bobby’s restaurant. It was bustling with people as usual. The moment they had entered Bobby had spotted them and escorted them to a table that was always reserved.

“Odd for all of you to show up,” said Bobby with a broad smile. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen you four.” He looked to Viola, Azura and the twins. “How are you doing?” he asked. “Still by Gabriel’s side?”

“You know us, Bobby,” said River. “We won’t leave that man for anything.”

Bobby let out a hearty laugh. “I know, kid,” he said. “You and Gabriel never separated even for a second when you were kids.”

Hailey laughed too, she found it cute that River beside Gabriel all the time. “We were hoping to eat your amazing food today, Bobby,” said Hailey.

Bobby’s Egyptian blue brightened. “Well, for you five, I will go back there and cook you the best meal.”

“Sorry for the trouble, Bobby,” said Viola. “We know our visit’s a bit sudden.”

“No trouble, dear,” he waved his hand. “Wait right here and I’ll be right back with your food.”

Drinks arrived and food didn’t even take more than twenty minutes. Their table was covered with a buffet of hot, steamy food that made all of their mouth’s water. None of them wasted even a second before digging in.

“I can never forget this taste,” said Viola as she bit into a pizza slice. “I used to eat it all the time during high school.”

Ryder licked the sauce of his finger after he enjoyed his own cheesy slice. “This makes me happy,” he indicated towards the food. “Nothing beats good food.”

Hailey raised her hand to Ryder since her mouth was full with pasta; he high-fived her hand and then shared her broad smile. During their whole lunch, Hailey couldn’t help but notice that Azura had grown quiet, something in her eyes hardened and her shoulders were tense. Something worried this wolf as she ate her burrito.

“Is everything okay there, Azura?” Hailey asked her.

Azura wiped her mouth. “Yeah,” she answered. “Excuse me, guys. I need the restroom.” She got out of her seat and headed towards the back to use the restroom. It had been a while until she returned and they started to worry, especially River.

“Where is that girl?” asked River and clearly, he was irritated.

They had finished all the food. Hailey went to the checkout and paid for the lunch since Viola bought her the dress. It was an easy and quick way to treat everyone, since they helped her a lot today.

They waited near their table, when Azura came back to them. Her hair was a bit dishevelled and beads of sweat covered the temple of her head.

“Is that blood on your shirt?” asked Viola.

Hailey noticed the red stains on the color of her shirt and Azura’s bloody knuckles. “What happened to you?” she astonished.

“We were being watched,” she whispered sternly.

River’s jaw set in a hard lock. He pulled out his handkerchief and gave it to Azura. “Cover that hand before you scare everyone here,” he whispered but his voice was every bit intimidating. “Back door, everyone. Now.” They all did as River instructed. “Is that why you were so tense earlier?” he asked Azura as they stepped out the back door after thanking Bobby for lunch.

“I saw them through the window,” she told River. “I knew they wanted trouble. So, I got rid of them first.” They circled into the alley behind Bobby’ restaurant and right there on the concrete floor sat two men beaten up to a pulp and tied down.

“Ouch,” remarked Ryder. “You really did a number on them, Azura.”

“Are they breathing?” asked Hailey.

Viola put her sunglasses on to hide the sight. “I don’t think they are, honey.”

“They told me the same information as the other guys we caught around here,” said Azura. “The bounty was what they were after.”

River growled a cruel curse. “These assholes keep coming,” he said. “We need to get this shit under control or we’re fucking screwed every time we step off our territory.”

Azura’s hand was tied with the handkerchief, so she wiped her head with it. “We should return to home before more come.”

Ryder sighed like he was irked. “Sucks its broad daylight,” he said. “I would’ve loved a good fight with these bastards.”

“That didn’t stop Azura,” remarked Viola.

“She’s built of steel,” he rebuked. Azura glared at him. “See what I mean?”

Hailey smiled, even though they barely escaped such a dire situation. Azura’s quick instincts helped them today. But what will happen when they aren’t so cautious. Hailey hadn’t even realized that they were being watched, let alone being followed. The party hadn’t even started and it was already getting dangerous. Hailey could only imagine what tomorrow night was going to bring their way.

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