Ingrid was struck silent with fear as she stared into Tessa’s dark eyes. Tessa could feel her struggling to breathe from the grip she had on her neck, and with every silent second that passed, Tessa tightened her hold ever so slightly. “Let her go,” Sonia pleaded behind her. It seems she was able to loosen the cloth from her mouth, or a certain mate of hers grew soft and helped her. “Answer my question, or your mother dies,” Tessa growled, keeping her eyes locked with Ingrid’s, whose face was red as a cherry. “He wasn’t held prisoner with me. I had no idea he even existed, and I’m sure my mother would have mentioned him already if she knew they had someone from your pack,” Sonia tried to plead her mother’s case but, the knowing look Tessa saw in Ingrid’s eyes told her the witch was completely aware.
“Wrong answer,” Tessa sneered in Ingrid’s face, watching the witch’s eyes grow wider with fear before she fainted. “Damn it,” Tessa growled, releasing Ingrid from her grasp and letting she and the chair fall to the floor. Tessa turned around and stalked toward the cell door. If she couldn’t get answers from them, then maybe she could get them from Milo. “Alpha,” a voice called from behind her. Tessa glared over her shoulder, meeting the worry-filled eyes of Elijah as he hesitated to continue. “What is it,” she snapped quietly, already knowing this involved his mate and her mother. “Well, we can’t just leave her like this,” he said warily, looking to Ingrid, who laid bound in the chair in an unconscious heap. “I’m fine with it,” her wolf snarled, but as Tessa’s gaze met Dainin’s calm eyes, she saw they were filled with compassion. She knew she had to set her personal anger aside and be the bigger person. “You weaken me, mate,” she linked Dainin, glaring at him as he shrugged his shoulders.
Tessa released a frustrated growl and looked to Elijah. “Take her and the daughter to the infirmary with warriors standing guard at all times. No one goes in or out, and that includes you,” she growled to Elijah. “Thank you, Alpha,” Elijah said with his eyes to the ground, and with a sigh of relief, he untied Sonia from her chair. Tessa fought the urge to snap their necks as she watched Sonia rush to her mother’s side, brushing the greying hair from her face as tears fell from her eyes. “I know you don’t trust us right now, but I promise you will someday,” she said in a sorrowful tone. Something in the back of Tessa’s mind believed that would be true, but she wasn’t here to make friends.
Tessa ignored the witch’s words and pushed the cell door open, without sparing the witches another glance. In the corridor, she was instantly met with a pair of bright blue eyes, filled with surprise, and another pair of curious green. “Do you really think it’s him,” Cadence asked quietly, glancing at the cell beside her. Zander stood brooding by the door as he peered inside at the creature, who had seen better days. “I’m not entirely certain that wolf is Milo, but if it is, I’m praying it’s not too late to save him,” Tessa admitted sadly.
The last time she saw her brother, he was a small happy twelve-year-old boy without his wolf. Now, Tessa wondered how much he had changed in the last seven years and whose charred body they buried in his place. It seemed her naivety hadn’t just put her pack in danger, but it also caused her to overlook the possibility her brother may have still been alive. “You can’t think that way. Three bodies were found that day, and they were charred to the point they were unrecognizable. How could you have known at only sixteen,” her wolf said, reliving the memories to prove there was nothing Tessa could have done differently. “I know it’s him, so take this second chance to make things right,” her wolf encouraged, hoping to help Tessa overcome her feeling of guilt.
As her mind swirled with questions, a warmth spread over Tessa’s arms as Dainin stood behind her with his palms running along her skin. Tessa reveled in the warmth and the comfort his touch provided her during this time of uncertainty. “Do you want me to go in with you,” he asked quietly in her ear as he kissed her neck. All the anger she was feeling dissipated with a single gesture. “No. I need to do this alone. I don’t want to frighten him further,” Tessa stated, pressing her back against Dainin’s strong chest for a moment as she gathered her strength, listening to him hum in agreement. He always knew when to give her space and when to push her to let him in, always letting it be known he was there if she needed him. “I love you,” she said as she turned to press a soft kiss against his lips. “I love you too,” he replied with a smile as he turned her to face the cell, gently pushing her forward.
Tessa approached the door with confidence while Cadence and Zander positioned themselves on either side of the door. If it was her brother or not, they were ready to act should something go wrong. Tessa looked through the bars to find the emaciated wolf cowering in a corner, the whites of his eyes on display predominately over the soft brown she could barely notice. The smell of disease was strong in the air as his body shook with nerves, and Tessa had to fight nausea threatening to make her sick.
When the cell door creaked from her touch, the wolf tried to cower further away, as if he yearned to become one with the wall while desperately seeking an escape route. “Easy, I’m not here to hurt you,” Tessa said in a low gentle voice, with her hands raised. “I simply want to help you,” she said, taking slow steps toward him. The wolf’s eyes followed her every move as his body tensed, anticipating horror Tessa could only imagine. “You stumbled into Blue Ridge territory. I’m the Alpha here, and my name is Tessa Hayes,” she told him, hoping her name and the pack would spark something, but there was no recognition in his eyes, only fear, and sadness.
Tessa took a deep breath and met the wolf’s dull eyes with her own bright hazel as she tried to rekindle his connection to the pack. If he were truly her brother, there had to be a barrier she could break down since she was the Alpha, but after a few moments, there was nothing. She hid her disappointment and stepped to the middle of the room, lowering herself to her knees as she brought her hands to her sides, intentionally making herself vulnerable.
She could feel Dainin’s apprehension through their bond, but a warmth seemed to be encouraging her that she was doing the right thing. “Please, let me help you,” she begged calmly. She could feel the fear and confusion rolling off him in waves as he contemplated whether he could trust her or not. But, thinking back to Ingrid’s reaction when she saw him and her connection to the beast, Tessa knew exactly who was responsible for this young wolf’s condition.
“I know you must be afraid that we’ll treat you like the creature with the red eyes,” she started, seeing the wolf’s ears flatten in recognition of the beast as his lips curled back in a growl. Tessa had to suppress her own because this confirmed no one was safe from this monster’s claws. She took a deep breath to calm herself, not wanting her anger to scare the wolf. “But you don’t have to worry anymore. The woman who brought you here today killed that monstrosity just days ago. That beast, those witches you saw earlier, and the Rogues that did this to you will never harm you again. I swear to you, Milo,” Tessa said, crossing her arm over her chest, her eye contact never wavering from his, not even to blink. The longer she gazed into the wolf’s eyes, the more her instincts were telling her she was right. Tessa could barely make out the warm honey brown beneath the years of abuse and fear, but the determination to make things right burned throughout her body.
Milo seemed lost in thought as he mulled over her words. Tessa watched as relief, confusion, and then frustration plagued his features until finally, he struggled to stand on his shaky legs. Once he gained his balance, he cautiously approached her. Warmth encircled the pair with each step he took, and Tessa held her breath, forcing herself not to move a muscle. “Be careful,” Dainin pleaded in her mind, but Tessa blocked him out. She could tell the gears were turning in the wolf’s eyes as he searched her features.
When he was a foot away, Tessa closed her eyes and steadied her breathing, but what surprised her was a sudden heavyweight in her lap. She opened her eyes to find the wolf had laid his head in her lap and was fast asleep with a small smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. A minute ticked by, and then five had passed as Tessa sat stunned at the acceptance this poor wolf had entrusted in her. She knew by the look in his eyes that he had no memory of who she or the pack, but that didn’t matter to her. The fact that he felt he could let his guard down so easily gave Tessa hope that the rest will follow.
Tessa slowly picked her hand up and laid it over the dry, rough skin along the wolf’s cheek. As she gently glided it over his skin, the wolf purred, unconsciously pressing its head further into her lap as she continued. Tears fell from Tessa’s eyes as her hand brushed through the little fur he had left, and clumps fell from his skin, resting between her fingertips. “Bring the gurney in,” Tessa ordered the doctor through the link as she leaned closer to Milo’s ear. “Trust me, brother. I will protect you this time,” she whispered with tears streaming down her face.