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When the weekend rolled around again, Lazarus took me to Leah’s house again. This time, Dexter and Marianne were there as well. Marco was sat in the car across the street, surveying everything. He didn’t want to interfere with every social gathering I had.
As soon as Dexter’s eyes landed on me, he leaped to his feet and zoomed over to me. His hug was tight and comforting. We might not have known each other for very long but the bond we all shared was something that could last a lifetime.
“Celeste! You weren’t at school yesterday, I was starting to think Lazarus had eaten you up or something,” He exclaimed, dramatically.
Lazarus shot him a dirty look to which Dexter ignored him.
“Nope, I’m still here,” I replied, smirking at Lazarus. He was always teasing me. Now I wanted to tease him.
“We’re going to the forest today with Layton if you want to join us,” Dexter directed this at me.
“Layton’s back?” Lazarus asked, frowning.
“Yeah, he got back from the meeting last night. He didn’t want to disturb you so he went straight to bed. I think he’s still sleeping,” Dexter answered, nonchalantly.
The last time I saw Layton was in the music room. Since then, I hadn’t seen him around town at all. It was like he had vanished.
I glanced at Lazarus, wondering if he was okay with me going with them. Lazarus smiled reassuringly, notmindingwhatIchose.I knew deep down he wanted me to join them—he wanted me to spend more time with his friends.
“I’ll go and wake up sleeping beauty whilst you guys get ready,” Lazarus said, moving towards the stairs.
“What are we doing in the woods?” I asked, pulling a strand of brown hair away from my face.
Marianne was the one who answered. “Leah said there’s a beautiful lake not too far from here. She sometimes goes there to shift. We were thinking of chilling there for the afternoon.”
That sounded nice. It was supposed to be a lovely day as well. The sun was already shining brightly in the sky.
“I don’t suppose there’s any chance you have a swimming costume with you, is there?” Marianne questioned.
I shook my head, “No. Do you want me to go back and get mine?”
“You’re basically the same size as me, right?” She asked, her eyes roaming around my body. I pinched my lips together—sure we were both slim but she was a few inches taller than me. “I think you can borrow one of mine.”
I opened my mouth to protest but she held a hand up, stopping me.
“No buts, it will be fine. Plus, I bet Lazarus would love to see you in a bikini,” She winked at me, smirking slyly. My cheeks turned crimson whilst Lazarus smiled joyously.
Lazarus and Layton came bounding down the stairs. Layton looked less tired this time—the purple bags under his eyes were barely visible. His brown hair was messy but sexy. No matter what situation they were in, the Ward siblings always managed to look gorgeous. If I had to put it down to something, it would be the werewolf gene.
“Mornin’ everyone,” Layton greeted, stifling a yawn. His dark green eyes floated along all of us and stopped at me. “It’s good to see you again, Celeste.”
“You too,” I replied, shyly. I still wasn’t used to the powerful aura around him.
“Let me grab some breakfast and then we can go,” Layton said, heading into the kitchen. Marianne and Dexter excused themselves, saying they needed to get some towels and food for lunch.
I cozied up next to Lazarus on the couch whilst we waited. His arm was wrapped around my shoulder and his fingers were drawing patterns. I relished in the sensations I felt.
“Where’s Leah?” I questioned, suddenly realizing his beautiful sister wasn’t here.
“She wanted some time to herself,” He told me, sighing. “I think she wanted some peace from those knuckleheads.”
I laughed. He was referring to Dexter and Marianne. I recalled one of their arguments, over something so silly.
“Is this a temporary thing for her?” He didn’t understand my question so I clarified. “I mean, staying here, in this small town? Is she only staying here for a while or does she want to spend the rest of her life away from you and her pack?”
Lazarus pursed his lips. He seemed unsure of the answer as well.
“I don’t know,” He eventually answered. “If she wasn’t a royal wolf, things would be different. But because she is, it means there’s a target on her back. If our enemies got wind of her life here, they would come here and either kidnap or kill her. Still, she insists on staying here.”
I blew out a long breath, “But...she does know the risk, right?”
He nodded his head, “Yeah, she’s well aware of it. She claims she’ll be able to take care of herself but we still worry. I want her to come back to the kingdom but I understand her need for an escape. She needs to find herself again.”
I would have thought she was lonely. For years, she has been living here, away from her family without any real friends. Yet, perhaps that’s what she wants.
I couldn’t fathom the pain she must feel. If I lost Lazarus, I wouldn’t know how to survive. I don’t think I could.
“She seems content here,” I commented. Lazarus hummed, tiredly.
The sound of heavy footsteps bounding do the stairs caught my attention. Dexter poked his head in and smiled at us. “We’re all ready to go.”
We both stood up.
“Did you already pack something?” I directed this to Lazarus. He must have got everything ready when he was upstairs with Layton.
We walked into the hallway and put our shoes on. Marianne came stomping down the stairs, her hair disheveled. She carried a large backpack.
“Dexter! One day, I’m going to do something you’ll hate,” Marianne seethed, glaring at him. I wondered what on earth Dexter did to her.
Dexter crossed his arms over his chest and snorted, “What are you going to do, Marianne? Put hair dye in my shampoo? You’ve already done that.”
Marianne pondered over her reply. Suddenly, her eyes lit up. If this was a cartoon, she would have a bulb over her head, glowing.
“Mess with my books again and I’ll cut your Ralph Lauren top into pieces,” She threatened, earning a gasp from Dexter. He placed a hand over his heart and stared at her with wide eyes.
“You wouldn’t dare.”
She shrugged her shoulders, “You know what I’m capable of.”
“B—But that was a present from the Duke. It’s the only thing I have to remember him.” He stuttered, shaking his head in disbelief.
“And that’s why you shouldn’t mess with me,” Marianne retorted.
I leaned closer to Lazarus and whispered, “They bicker like siblings.”
Lazarus chuckled, “I know. They’ve always been like that. They love each other—I won’t deny it and neither will they—but their personalities clash a lot.”
“Alright kids, let’s hit the road!” Layton appeared, clapping his hand loudly. I jolted and twirled around to face him. I hadn’t heard him creep up behind me.
Dexter and Marianne exited the house first, still fighting. I trailed behind Lazarus; Layton locked the door to Leah’s house.
I climbed into the SUV that they owned. The last time I saw this car was at the gas station, the first night I saw Lazarus. I could remember the first emotion I felt when I saw him. Devotion.
He stood there with his head held high, a poker face plastered on. He looked so handsome and brilliant; I was spellbound from the moment I laid eyes on him. There was no going back.
I would never feel like this for anyone else.
I was snapped out of my train of thoughts when the car door slammed. Layton had slid into the front seat to save Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum from arguing. Layton revved the engine and drove us out of Leah’s drive.
We passed Matt, Jamie’s, and Ellie’s house on the way to the entrance to the forest. According to Lazarus, we could drive along a path for a mile and a half. We would then be only ten minutes away from the lake.
Marianne tuned her Bluetooth and started playing older, rock music.
I recognized Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin. They all tapped their feet to the beat—Dexter even headbanged. I couldn’t help but laugh at their enthusiasm. I found myself joining in on some other songs.
“Do you remember when we went to see Led Zeppelin?” Layton asked all of them.
“Ah, yes. Spring 1971 in England.” Lazarus murmured fondly, a wistful glint in his eyes. “It was a great concert.”
“It sure was.”
We arrived shortly after. I hopped out of the car after Lazarus and drunk in my surroundings. Trees littered the area, towering over us.
Lazarus grabbed hold of my hand. Instinctively, I leaned in closer to him, seeking his warmth.
Layton was the last to get out. He slung his backpack over his shoulder and locked the car. I noticed Dexter was carrying a cool box along with his backpack; Marianne was holding a pack of beer.
I didn’t even see them put it in the car. I must have been so focused on Lazarus. He really did affect everything I do. I could watch him all day.
As we walked through the forest, a feeling of tranquillity passed over me. With Lazarus by my side and a good group of friends, things felt okay. It was at that moment I promised myself I wouldn’t let any thoughts of the scarred man stop me from spending time with them. I wouldn’t let him ruin my day.
The lake was so beautiful, it blew my breath away. In all my years living here, I had never seen this place. I couldn’t believe I had never seen it.
My mouth was agoge, my eyes enlarged.
“Come on guys! Let’s jump in!” Dexter yelled, sprinting over to the lake. As he was running, he removed his top and shorts, leaving him a pair of swimming trunks. He threw himself into the water, creating a large splash. He popped his head back up and rubbed his eyes. “It’s not as cold as you’d think it would be.”
Marianne arched an eyebrow, “Are you just saying that so we’ll get in?”
“Are you going to get in?” Lazarus asked me, drawing my attention to him.
I bit my lip and darted my eyes from him to the lake and towards Marianne. If I went in, I’d have to change into her bikini.
“Come on, lovebirds! Get in!” Hollered Dexter.
Lazarus shifted his gaze back to me as if he was seeking permission. I nodded my head, allowing him to go. Marianne followed him. They quickly removed their clothes and cannonballed into the lake.
I laughed when Marianne resurfaced and was met with a large splash from Dexter.
I made myself comfortable on the grass, letting my bare legs catch the sun. Layton did the same and cracked open a beer. He seemed to be in his own world. I wished I had brought a book to read.
“You guys are being so boring,” Dexter said to us, beckoning us to come in.
“Later,” I told him.
After a while, Marianne came out of the water and wrapped a towel around her. Dexter and Lazarus started to swim lengths of the lake.
Marianne opened the cool box and took out some food. She offered me a cheese sandwich. I took it gratefully, not realizing until now how hungry I was. I munched on the sandwich and watched Lazarus swim effortlessly. He looked so elegant swimming. I felt a twinge of jealousy. He could do so many remarkable things. I was so plain compared to him.
“Do you want to change into the bikini now?” This came from Marianne. Her pretty blue eyes were staring at me intensely. I felt obliged to say yes. So, I did.
I changed behind a tree, far from them. When I emerged from behind the tree, Lazarus was already out of the water, drying himself off. Sensing me, he slowly looked up and locked eyes with me. Droplets of water fell from his eyelashes and down his smooth chest. I wanted to run my hands along his abs, desperately.
His forest green eyes seemed to darken at the sight of me. He clenched his hands and his jaw. He wanted me too.
I approached him cautiously. When I was a few inches away from him, he took his time raking his eyes over me. They absorbed every part of me. I loved having his sole attention on me. The others seemed to blank us. They expected us to act like this.
“You are absolutely gorgeous,” He breathed. Love burned his orbs. “The most beautiful thing ever.”
I blushed and knocked his arm playfully. “You’re not too bad yourself.”
“Are you going to come now, Celeste?” Dexter shouted. He seemed to love being in the water.
“I don’t know...” I trailed off.
Dexter and Lazarus exchanged a look. Before I could comprehend what was happening, I was hanging upside down, on Lazarus’s shoulder and then being chucked into the water.
The first thing I could register was how cold it was. Freezing.
My feet kicked the water violently. I broke the surface of the water and coughed loudly. I immediately glared at Lazarus and Dexter.
“That was not very nice!” I pouted, shivering from how cold it was. “God, it’s freezing.”
Dexter laughed whilst Lazarus seemed genuinely concerned. He jumped back into the lake and swam over to me. He circled his arms around me and pulled me to his chest. His body kept me warm.
We spent a good twenty minutes in the lake. Once I warmed up, I went for a little swim around the lake. It felt nice.
A few hours later, after playing numerous games and having fun, we decided to go for a small walk around the woods.
Everything was fine until Layton came to an abrupt halt and sniffed the air. The fun, carefree atmosphere melted away and was replaced with something darker.
“What is it, brother?” Lazarus queried.
Layton stared at us with a grim expression on his face. “I smell blood.”
“From where?” Lazarus demanded, sounding on edge. In fact, we all were.
“I think somewhere east,” He said, stiffly.
We all changed our path, walking towards the blood. I knew what we would find wouldn’t be good. My stomach was churning.
Eventually, we found where the blood was coming from. I stopped and started retching. The others seemed just as stunned.
Stapled to a tree was a girl—or what was left of a girl. Her organs spilled out of her, onto the stained grass. Her brown hair hid her face from us. I could tell she was young, possibly my age.
Even I could smell her blood from where I was. It was so potent. She must have been there for at least a day, rotting away in broad daylight.
“Oh my god,” Marianne whispered, cautiously taking a step closer to her. The boys were all on high alert. They all got into defensive positions.
“Who would do such a thing?” Dexter asked nobody in particular. We all felt a tremendous amount of sympathy for this young girl.
“A monster,” I answered him, disgust laced in my voice.
Lazarus stood next to me now and had an arm around my waist for protection. His body was tense and alarmed.
Marianne began tiptoeing towards her, keeping her eyes peeled for the murderer. What I didn’t notice at first glance was the bloody note on her chest. Marianne examined the girl to determine she really was dead and then ripped the sheet off her.
She quickly walked back to us and read the note aloud.
I’m not playing games this time. You won’t escape this time.
Everyone seemed confused but me. It made sense now. This was for me. The scarred man did this.
The others fired questions at once.
“Who did this?”
“Who is this for?”
“Was this meant for us?”
They had no idea it was for me.
“Layton, do we have a new enemy we don’t know about?” Lazarus asked his brother, assuming it was an enemy of the kingdom.
“No, not somebody who would do this. I can assure you.”
I had to tell them the truth. I couldn’t run from it anymore.
“It was meant for me.”
They all stopped talking and snapped their eyes to me. Millions of questions filtered into their eyes.
“What?” Lazarus mumbled, astonished.
“I think it’s time I told you the truth.”
Please don’t hate me! I have to keep you guys hooked! The next chapter will either be posted Monday or Tuesday. Have a great weekend!