The Alpha and the Warrior

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XXI. THE ASSIGNMENT

Isla had taken up Eli on his offer, and on her final night before departing for Deimos, there had been a party in her honor.

It was a small gathering, including her family, Adrien, the Imperial Luna—and Alpha—some of her instructors, fellow trainees of Io, and their mates. For it, they’d all gone out to a nice restaurant on the Golden Avenue, a strip of the finest shops and eateries in the Imperial City. In all of Io, really. It was a nice cool down for Isla, a moment to catch her breath and be with those she loved, after the whirlwind that had been the past few weeks.

Unlike the lull leading up to her lumerosi ceremony, once Isla had actually received her Warrior mark and was initiated into the ranks as an active member, she barely had time to even tie her shoes.

She’d attended more meetings than she ever had in her life—from those pertaining to actual battle strategy to those speaking of how she was supposed to behave as a “Pack outsider” and “guest” while in the homeland of her mate. She’d been fitted for her uniform, her armor, other sets of day clothes—shirts and jackets and pants—all bearing the same embroidered crest. She’d selected her weapon of choice and watched her sword forged—even helping hammer down some of the molten metal—before being whisked off to her next to-do.

It was overwhelming at times—but exciting, so incredibly exciting—and it also proved to be a great distraction from the frustrations of her dead-end research, the still persistent nightmares, and the sheer aggravation over everything that had happened at the Gallery. Over Ameera’s words. Over her knowledge of things.

After the female General had made her final taunt, Eli—or General Social Climber—had managed to distract Isla just long enough for Ameera to become the wind which blew through the open glass doors at the back of the room. No matter where Isla had turned, no matter where she stalked, she couldn’t find that crown of black hair anywhere.

Since then, Isla had gone through the feelings of being naked and exposed. She’d gone through all of the anger of one of her greatest secrets being known by a woman she’d known for all of five sentences. And she’d gone through all the questions as to how she’d found out.

There were only two viable options, given that she hadn’t been at the Feast or in Callisto. Option one, Ameera’s own father—but Ezekiel seemed adamant to keep Isla’s existence under wraps. Which left Kai—but he had never mentioned his Beta’s daughter once to Isla. And that made her wonder if it had been intentional.

The two of them—Ameera and Kai—were around the same age, with Kai maybe a year older. If they’d grown up as close as she and Adrien had, if unlike she and Adrien, things had become more than platonic, then maybe Ameera was his. . .

No.

No, Isla wouldn’t bring up the theory again.

“I remember when she beat the shit out of Vlad from Year Five because he’d taken that Cobaker kid’s lunch. He went home with a broken nose.”

Isla snapped her eyes up from her half-eaten plate of chicken to Sebastian cackling across the table from her. He had one of his arms slung around the back of the chair of his “plus-one” for the night—a woman named Wren who worked at one of the City’s boutiques. She almost seemed too sweet for him.

Sebastian had been telling a story about her, and Isla smiled, fond of the memory. “All you asshats did was watch, and Cobaker needed help. Vlad was eating him alive. His left-hook was horrendous.” Then again, they were eleven.

“And right hook and jab,” Adrien offered from beside her, and Isla felt herself glow inside just to hear his voice. They hadn’t technically talked about Kai—or Cora—at all since the ravine. And maybe avoidance wasn’t the best practice, but she was just happy to have her friend. “And his fighting stance was pretty shit too.”

“He couldn’t shift either,” Sebastian added.

Isla sipped her water. “I rest my case.”

“Warrior Princess since the beginning,” her brother said.

“I’d say Warrior Queen now. I mean, look at you,” Wren quipped, gesturing to the people gathered for her achievement. But the only reaction she elicited was a choke between Adrien and Isla and a mischievous grin from her date for the night.

Sebastian stroked his chin. “You know, that does have a better ring to it.”

Isla kicked him hard under the table, and Sebastian howled, but before any other blows could be dealt, there was the sound of the clinking of silverware against a glass. All heads directed towards the head of the table, and Isla’s eyes widened in fear as none other but her father began rising to his feet.

Since he’d finally returned home earlier last week, he hadn’t been very forthcoming with his location. Isla was very aware of the cuts and bruises on his hands, but knew better than to question him about anything. Not about Lukas. Not about being distrustful of Deimos. And not about if he’d known about the Imperial Alpha’s plan to allow Isla to believe herself a killer.

Isla had refused to look at the man—who was supposed to be someone she trusted as her leader, as her family’s greatest ally—in the eye the entire night. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to keep off her scowl, if she could restrain herself from saying something. She wondered if Alpha Cassius knew that she was aware of the truth. If he’d expected to tell Adrien that Lukas wasn’t dead and have his son carry on with the fabrication.

“I’ll keep this short,” her father said, his already gravelly voice just that much more rasped with emotion. He looked to Isla. “And I won’t embarrass you, my daughter, I promise.”

Isla sank lower in her seat as she became the center of attention. “Oh, Goddess. . .”

The reaction garnered a collective laugh from those at the long banquet table.

“When Cassius told me he’d gotten a call from the High General about approving you for duty,” her father began. “I’d asked him to confirm he denied it. And when he told me he didn’t, that he’d given you the okay, I was ready to wring his neck.”

Another chorus of chuckles, though a bit more uncertain with the pass at the Alpha only the Beta would get away with.

“I see more and more of your mother in you every day. She was a fighter and never what anyone expected her to be—she was better. And you have gone down the same path of showing me, showing everyone, that you’re meant for more, that you are more, than we could ever imagine. A Warrior today, a Warrior General tomorrow, and who knows where you’ll go beyond that.”

As tears stung at the corner of her eyes and a tight feeling lingered in her chest, Isla felt Sebastian’s gaze fall upon her at their father’s last words. She’d kick him again if others weren’t watching her too.

Her father cleared his throat. “I know she is just as proud of you as I am. As we all are. And it makes me feel better sending you off knowing that she’s watching over you.”

Isla bit hard on the inside of her cheek and hurriedly brushed away a tear. Seeing his daughter breaking seemed to be taking a toll on the Beta, who failed at masking a sniffle. Sensing the impending waterworks and probably sparing the table a show, Alpha Cassius stood up and placed a hand on his longtime friend’s shoulder. He lifted his glass.

“To Warrior Isla of Io,” he proclaimed, glancing over everyone before focusing on Isla.

That look alone seemed to dry up her tears. Dulled the pride she’d felt over hearing her new title. Made something inside her harden.

She couldn’t help but catch the emphasis he’d left on the name of their Pack. Almost like a reminder. A challenge to her precision during their meeting over a month ago now.

She was a Warrior—she was working to help others in the Realm—but Io was her home. Where her greatest allegiance lied.

Swallowing hard, she steeled herself and not breaking his gaze, lifted her glass to him and took her sip. Not in acceptance, but acknowledgment.

| ☽ |

“We’ll be reaching the borders of Ifera soon.”

Isla directed her gaze from out of the window to Eli as he stood in the aisle of their transport vehicle addressing the members of the squadron. She felt her heart thrum at the words.

Ifera. . . Deimos. They were almost there.

“It should be a few more hours until we reach Mavec after that. Likely well after dusk.”

Her heart jumped again.

“We’ll be lodging there until we arrange our assignments on the southeastern borders by Abalys. I’ll have a meeting with the Commander of the Guard and Beta tomorrow morning while all of you get to know the rest of the Order that hasn’t been dispatched yet. There’s a lot going on in this Pack, but remember our objective is the Rogues. While some here may be grateful for our help—and they should be—others may think we’re overstepping and want us out before we even enter. Don’t give them any reason to call for our removal.”

Isla nodded before trailing her eyes over the rest of the members of the team. One member in particular was her focus.

So she’d learned, Eli was an idiot. A brilliant strategist and a great leader—but a stupid, stupid man.

Because not only was he bringing Isla to the home of her Fated mate—a powerful Alpha who she was undoubtedly attracted to and likely would have slept with if it hadn’t meant being bound to him for eternity. . . but he had also recruited for this team of his Isla’s ex-boyfriend.

Yes, her ex.

The one she’d nearly Chosen.

Even as Isla stared at the back of Callan’s head from her seat, she still couldn’t believe the egomaniac of a bastard had managed to convince Eli of his worth at the Feast. No doubt it was through wondrous stories of triumph that she was sure were laden with exaggeration, but ever still, here he was. She would never tell him she was just the smallest bit grateful for his presence. At least to have something familiar.

Amidst Eli’s selected group made up entirely of males—two of which were twice her age—Isla was a pariah. The air of them didn’t necessarily have the ‘chew you up and spit you out’ quality to it that Ameera had mentioned—summarizing experiences Isla had already been privy to since the beginning of her training years—but they certainly weren’t falling over themselves to include her or to simply be friendly.

Suddenly, the van lurched to a halt, nearly sending Eli down the aisle and rattling the tower of trunks full of their belongings tied down to the roof.

The General whipped around and barked out a “Warrior” to their driver, a member of their squadron—Lavan, a Warrior of Mimas.

Lavan had lifted his hand off the vehicle’s gearshift and pointed outside. “I can’t move, General.”

Isla, like the other members of their team—Callan, Emil, and Fitch—slowly rose in her seat to train her eyes out the window. She held back her gasp. They were surrounded. By wolves. But not just any wolves.

They were wolves of Deimos’s Guard.

Holy shit.

They’d crossed the border.

She was in Deimos.

The words of her realization surely hit her much more powerfully than the scenery did. She wasn’t sure what she’d be expecting, but it was certainly. . . more than this.

Isla had drawn such a picture in her head of Deimos. This foreign land she’d never fit into. But its border was just. . . a border. If anything, the greatest difference from any other she’d crossed was the armada of wolves they’d come upon. Even more seemed to lurk in the shadows as Isla caught the faintest glow of eyes amongst the trees. Had things always been this way here? Or was the Guard presence heightened due to the recent tragedies? Whatever the decision had been, it was Kai’s.

After taking its time to circle the vehicle, one of the wolves lifted their head to howl, and Isla watched and listened in awe as a chorus of them followed. Their calls seemed to reverberate the woods, the world, shake the creatures dwelling in the trees from their hiding. It went on for miles. How many were out here?

“Some welcome party,” Fitch commented, settling back down into his seat, continuing to gnaw on the plethora of snacks he’d brought for the excursion. Isla had contemplated asking him for some at one point, but the man was unusually territorial over his food.

As the howls came to an end in a soft hum that seemed to linger in the back of Isla’s skull, the pack surrounding them dispersed. Three figures emerged from the brush. Isla squinted to get a good look through the shadows of the trees and was able to discern from their uniforms—for at least two of them—that they were Guards. A man and woman clad in a simple, thin black tunic, the open fabric tied at their waists with cloth belts. There was a glint catching off of them from the silver stitching of Deimos’s insignia. They had to be able to shift. There was no way they’d be out on patrol weaponless and in such flimsy protection.

Leading the two was a man clad in attire much more modest, but it wasn’t another variation of the Guard apparel. He tugged at the lapels of his jacket as he came to a stop a few feet from their vehicle’s door. There were no words spoken. They simply waited.

Eli’s face was drawn in confusion. “What is this?”

Adjusting his own attire—running his own fingers over the deep charcoal of their day sets—he moved down the aisle to greet the soldiers.

Isla could barely hear what they were saying from her spot, even after she pressed her ear to the window.

Not too long after, Eli’s hand shot up as he waved them over. “Off! Bring your papers!”

Her papers?

Furrowing her brows, Isla glanced down to the bag at her side, before quickly surveying the others. Her papers were in this bag, yes, but so were the book, marker, and dagger. There was no chance she’d leave them home through the duration of her tenure in Deimos, and there was no way she’d risk losing them if her trunk of belongings had fallen off the roof. It was once the others had gotten their papers that she quickly rifled around for her own. Thankfully, she’d stored the envelope containing all the documents she’d needed somewhere easy to find.

It had been a mess of things required for her to enter Deimos in a capacity beyond a typical “visitor”. From her birth documents and current identification to certificates of her Warrior status and a confirmation signed by both the Imperial Alpha and Kai that stated the conditions of her time here. She was permitted to stay within Deimos’s borders for the span of the Warrior’s tenure, but at the end, she was required by the Realm law to return to Io.

As the five members of the Warrior unit, other than Eli, lined up as instructed, the apparent leader of the trio stalked along them. “I’m Delta Sol,” he introduced, not a lick of anything hospitable in his tone.

A Delta on border patrol? Typically Delta’s were—

“I serve on Alpha Kai’s Council,” Sol continued, placing his hands behind his back as he came to a halt at Emil at the end of the line opposite Isla. “and I’ve been tasked with confirming your crossing through our borders.”

As a round of questioning looks was shared amongst the Warrior men of the group, Isla pursed her lips and took Sol in. The first member of Kai’s—apparently untrustworthy—Council that she’d been confronted with. There seemed to be a real lack of joy in the upper echelons of Deimos. From their Betas, Beta’s children, down to their Delta Council members.

Screening those who crossed over Pack borders like this wasn’t common practice. Especially not in the meticulous way Sol had been doing so. As he made his way down the line of Warriors, examining and questioning the details of each of their files and confirming against a ledger held by the female Guard, Isla had initially wanted to listen in to know each thing he would ask, but she couldn’t now. Not when she’d become so distracted by the male Guard who was trying his damned hardest not to stare at her. Or to stare at her. Every flick of his eyes in her direction ended with him looking away. She was ready for him every time.

“Name?”

Isla snapped to attention finding the question wasn’t directed at her, but at Callan who stood beside her—notably a good foot away. She’d be next.

As her ex ran through all of his answers, Isla forced her gaze to the ground and responded mentally with her own. Name, home Pack, her parents, date of birth. . . mate.

“Welcome to the trenches,” Sol commented at Callan’s conclusion, handing him back his papers. The Delta had spent just a little bit longer sizing him up, before stepping over to Isla. She underwent the same scrutiny, though unlike Callan’s, which had been drawn from where Sol learned he’d hailed from, the Delta didn’t know who she was yet. “You’re a pretty little thing.”

At the Delta’s words, the male Guard behind him appeared to cringe.

Isla glared at the older man and handed him her documents.

Sol’s eyes had been set on the sheets for all of a few seconds before he jerked his head to Eli. “Two Imperial Pack members, and the Imperial Beta’s child.” His voice had been full of exasperated disbelief. “Are you here to aid us or investigate us?”

Investigate?

“Your Alpha had the opportunity to object to anyone I’d proposed for my unit,” Eli countered. “If anything, the Beta’s daughter was endorsed. She and your Alpha had gone into the Hunt together. She was his second. He knows what an asset she is.”

And there it was again.

“Isla of Io,” Isla said, drawing all attention back to her. She’d made sure to put emphasis on her name, and for her next pieces of information, she’d reeled her tone back. “Daughter of Imperial Beta Malakai and Apolla of Io. Born twelve days after the Autumn Equinox in the Imperial City of Io. . . and I don’t have a mate.” She casted her eyes to the male Guard who’d been fixated on her again. When she’d returned to Sol, he was staring her down, but silent, allowing her to go on. “I completed the Hunt two months ago, I killed two Bak, I’m a new Warrior recruit, and I’m here to help. We’re here to help. That’s it.”

The quiet that followed her words had persisted for far too long. Isla felt like she’d been under the inspection of even the trees. She waited for some type of remark, filled with something snarky or a hidden insult, but it never came. From anyone.

Sol handed back her papers before turning to Eli. “You’re to be escorted into the city the rest of the way.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” the General said.

“Alpha’s orders,” Sol said. “Rhydian and Thyra will guide you.”

Eli had paused as if prepared to protest, but then straightened. He turned to the Warriors and ordered them all back onto the vehicle. As Isla moved in the back of the line, she overheard Sol speaking to the two Guards.

“Trail them to Mavec then be back here by midnight roll call.”

“Is that even possible?” Thyra asked.

“That’s insane,” Rhydian commented.

“So is the Alpha making me drag my ass out here to flag Warriors,” Sol snapped. “Midnight. Run.”

Isla just managed to turn and catch a glimpse of the end of their shifts as they came down on all fours. Two massive wolves in their places, their thin uniforms left forgotten on the ground.

“Isn’t an escort a good thing?” Callan asked, falling back into his seat.

The rest of them made their way back to their spots, as Lavan geared the vehicle up again.

A pensive look had remained stagnant on Eli’s face. “Not when it’s out of distrust.”

And he said nothing else.

Something about the action of having been checked up on had really gotten to him, or maybe something had been said when she couldn’t quite hear through the closed window. Whatever it was, it had Eli keeping to himself. Throughout the rest of the trek through Ifera—which seemed to be endless throes of thick, lush forests and rolling green hills—he hadn’t turned to Isla once, not even bringing up his earlier proposal to get drinks when they arrived. Rather, he flipped through his endless maps and books on Deimos and the Rogue lands beyond it.

Out her window, Isla continued catching sight of Rhydian. The Guard had been tasked with flanking the car—or at least it seemed that way from how Thyra had speared the excursion. But he just kept ending up at her side. She was just about ready to shift in this cabin just to ask him what his deal was.

“Damn,” she heard someone in the vehicle say, and she faced forward to find what they were gaping at.

Mountains—much higher than those of Io—made of rock so dark they’d be lost if not for the snowy caps and patches along their surface. From the angle the vehicle was driving in, they seemed to go on endlessly, acting as their own wall or barrier. Isla marveled at them for a few moments—that may have been too long—before her face fell in horror.

They weren’t stopping.

The mountains were looming larger and larger—their shadow cast blocking them from even the moon—and they were barreling forward. Heading straight towards the unforgiving surface of one.

Panic gripped Isla’s heart as she noticed Thyra and Rhydian had peeled away. Nowhere in sight. Had they escorted them to a head-on crash? Had Lavan passed out at the wheel?

Before a scream could rip from her throat, it felt like her stomach bottomed out, and they were quickly entrenched in darkness. It was as if the world had been swallowed up, save small flecks of luminescent crystal in the tunnel walls and faint, faint domes of light that Isla couldn’t tell the source. They were in a tunnel within the mountain, or rather, with how steep the decline was that they were driving along, a little beneath it. She hadn’t been able to see the passageway from where she’d been sitting, especially in the dark.

A stillness overtook the caravan as they took in what was around them. No one spoke it, but Isla knew what they all were thinking. This was not the entrance they’d prepared for in their briefings. But Eli didn’t appear bothered as the midnight road seemed to go on forever. Down forever. She was convinced they’d accidentally found the straits down to hell. But then, finally, there was a lift. And they chugged higher. And higher. And higher. And then light spilled through. And—

Isla swore she must’ve died in the tunnel, because what she beheld felt like a dream.

Each of the Warriors let out some sort of astonished noise—a whistle here, a mutter of profanity there.

Isla wasn’t sure where to look.

If the Goddess had taken part in forging a city—with the way the mountains cradled the landscape, with how moonlight seemed to kiss every inch of the streets—it had to be Mavec. Isla was convinced. None of the photos she’d seen in books and papers—all blacks and whites and grays—did the city justice.

Because they didn’t capture the faintest glow of crystals—also apparent here as in the tunnel—splattered amongst the roadways and cobblestone sidewalks like fallen stars. They didn’t catch the warm and inviting lights emitting from the endless storefronts and shops and restaurants. Didn’t capture the rich smells of food and spices and pastries. They didn’t capture people—all of the people, so many people—dressed to the nines and flocking somewhere Isla suddenly wanted to be if it meant being as happy as they seemed. Maybe Ezekiel, Ameera, and Sol were anomalies.

Isla trailed her eyes upward, finding Mavec was built over hills, similar to those of Ifera, the gentle rises not covered in endless grass but more stone and sprawling homes and city houses. All of it eventually led to what was the crown city’s biggest jewel—the Pack Hall. There wasn’t a point from the streets where one couldn’t see the building, which almost looked to absorb the lunar glow, especially through the massive stain glass window in the center of its largest tower. It could’ve easily been the moon itself with how, from below, it was if the Hall dwelled amongst the night sky. She could only imagine the view from up there.

Kai’s view.

This was his home. His Pack. The place that had made him who he was.

Beautiful and suffocating, he’d described it as.

Isla only saw the first.

| ☽ |

The hotel that the Warriors would be staying at for the next week sat a little further up and away from the ruckus of the lower part of the city. Fortunately, the building had been set in a way that Isla could still see the soft crystal glow, like a sea of stars beside an actual body of water she hadn’t noticed flowing in.

“The river will take you to Abalys,” the woman at the front desk—Davina, as she’d previously introduced—was explaining as she got together all Isla needed to get into her room. “We call it the town on the water.”

Abalys.

Kai had mentioned Abalys. Particularly where not to get involved in Abalys.

At the thought of her mate, Isla glanced to the open window far off at the edge of the hotel lobby. Through it, she could see the western end of the Pack Hall. It seemed like some sort of light was on. For the first time in a long while, she brought one hand to the other and ran her thumb over her palm. She felt nothing being here. At least, nothing to do with the bond. If anything, the city seemed to be beckoning her down into it.

“And here you go.” Davina placed a stack onto the counter, calling back Isla’s attention. “Your room number, key, some maps and brochures, my own personal recommendations, and some light reading.”

Light reading.

Isla snickered at the newspaper Davina had placed on the table, which bore her mate’s face on the cover. Alpha of a New Age—the title of the editorial read. How Alpha Kai Plans to Honor Father’s Legacy and Build One of His Own.

Isla had absentmindedly raised her hand to run over the paper’s surface when Davina’s words brought her to her senses.

“He’s a handsome one, isn’t he?” the woman cooed, flipping her long, straight hair—the color of brass that matched the dots splashed over her cheeks—over her shoulder. “I swear every unmated girl in this Pack is tripping over themselves to get in his eye-line and catch his attention. Maybe get that magic spark.”

Isla snorted and ignored the inkling of possessiveness—or what she refused to call jealousy—that had began rearing its head. Magic spark. . .

“I wouldn’t call it a spark. It’s more like an inferno,” she offered off-handedly, again acting without much thought.

Davina cocked her head. “You’re mated?”

Isla sucked in a quick breath. Oops. “Oh, uh, no. I—I’d just heard that’s what it’s like.”

Davina laughed. It was bright and melodic. It seemed to suit her well. “Well, that seems about right.” She pulled down the neckline of her dress to show a mating ring—a beautiful stone of emerald—dangling off a metal chain. “Spark just sounds nicer than ‘I was ready to bone you in the middle of a bar and not care who was watching’.”

Isla couldn’t keep in her own laughter, understanding her perfectly. She glanced over at Kai’s picture again. Felt the phantom rush of their first meeting on the terrace. Would that even happen again if they came face-to-face?

“Can I help you with anything else, Isla?” Davina’s eyes held a sparkle as she said her name, and Isla started feeling a nagging that something was off. Not bad—but that she wasn’t getting the whole picture.

Much like Rhydian, Davina’s look wasn’t filled with any sort of ill or questionable intent. She realized now, for the both of them, it also hadn’t only been intrigue. There was also recognition.

| ☽ |

Isla looked up at the sign hanging from the structure before her, displaying a simple, hard to misunderstand name, The Bookshoppe. It was exactly as Davina had said. Very literal and to the point.

Before she’d collected her things and rushed out of the lobby, Isla had asked the woman behind the desk—cautiously—where she could find a library around Mavec. With the lull in time that she finally had, and given that she was sure sleep would still be hard to come by, she figured now was as good a time as any to continue her research. Deimos was the closest one could get to Phobos without actually re-entering the Wilds. They had to have something here.

Apparently the most robust library that Deimos had to offer was in Ifera near its university, however, according to Davina, whoever Jonah was that worked here in this shop was better than any of the knowledge she could glean in that place. The store hadn’t been a long walk from the hotel. Part of Isla had wished it had been a bit deeper into the city, but maybe it was a blessing as she’d since changed into her night clothes—a plain shirt and pants—which didn’t give off her identity as a Warrior, but certainly didn’t help her blend in to Mavec’s lavish night crowd.

As Isla pushed open the wooden door of the shop, a ringing of a bell sounded above her.

She muttered a wow under her breath as she stepped inside. It was a bookshop—books were expected—but the sheer amount of them was breathtaking. They were stacked high on the ground level and even lofted up onto a second that she could see beyond a balcony. She stopped in her tracks when a man appeared at the railing, shadows casting on his dark skin as the lights fell behind him.

“Hi,” Isla greeted warily after a tense quiet, lifting a hand and taking another step inside. “Are you Jonah?”

“Depends who’s asking,” the man said gently from his spot.

“Davina sent me here, from the hotel. She said you could help me find some books.”

The man made his way down a spiral staircase that had nearly blended into the bookshelves and crossed the room to Isla. “For her?” For some reason, he appeared both amused and concerned.

“For me, actually.” Isla reached out a hand, flashing him a smile. “I’m Isla.”

Something in his eyes flickered, the brown flecked with amber, warm and smooth as honey. . . and so damn familiar. Not only because he was giving her that look again. The same as Rhydian, the same as Davina.

“Isla,” he said her name, as if testing it on his tongue, before grabbing her hand. A normal handshake, no Warrior greeting. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d exchanged one.

“And you are Jonah?” she asked as they pulled away.

Jonah nodded with a chuckle before waving her to follow him through the stacks—but not before giving the entrance a leery glance, scouring quickly as if awaiting someone to come through it. “What can I help you with?”

Isla gave the doorway her own quick glimpse before following him. Turning a corner into the shelves, she found herself lost in an ocean of pages. More knowledge than she ever would’ve needed. There were sections dedicated to the other Packs of the Realm. “Anything related to languages or linguistics or—if you have anything about Phobos, besides literature on the Wilds.”

One of Jonah’s eyebrows rose at the latter half of her request. “I can help with the languages, but most of what we had of Phobos here was destroyed centuries ago.” He spoke as if she should’ve already known.

Isla’s face screwed in confusion. “Destroyed?”

But she didn’t have a chance to question him further on it or really give it much thought at all as something deep and repressed began to stir in her. All of her senses honed to one spot, and she turned in the direction of the door beyond the stacks before the bell of the entrance had even called out an incoming patron.

“Just give me a second,” Jonah said, but Isla put out a hand to stop him from walking away.

Instead she moved forward, back through the way they’d entered, until she found herself in open space again. Found herself face-to-face with a tall, cloaked figure standing by the front door. She knew who it was before the customer even lowered the hood of his jacket, and Isla’s heart stopped at the sight of dark hair and storm-colored eyes that she’d come to know fairly well.

“Kai.”

The voice hadn’t even sounded like her own, but at it, Kai’s lips parted in a relieved grin—a grin that had both melted and infuriated her more times than she’d like to admit. She could’ve sworn her whole body, down to her foundations, down to her wolf, sighed—just as he had—as if to say finally.

“Isla.”

Hearing him speak had ignited something in her, though not quite the overwhelming urge for him to strip her down and take her against the bookshelves—though that feeling did linger. Even now, from one simple look, she could feel the bond stoking back to life, resurfacing and ready to punish her for trying to neglect it.

Isla suddenly felt Jonah’s presence behind her and heard him let out a resigned, defeated breath. “You two better not fuck on my floor.”

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