The Alpha and the Warrior

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XXVI. THE AFTERMATH

Kai’s face was cold—his cheeks ravaged by the wind and chill of Mavec’s summer night. But his mouth, his lips—warm and soft. And Isla became that feeling. Her body heating, her muscles going weak. Kai was her opposite, evidence laying in the tenseness of every place they connected. But he took each caress of her mouth—gentle, shockingly timid, grateful—and Isla could’ve sworn his lips rose in a smile. Could’ve sworn he started kissing back.

That was enough to knock some sense into her.

Goddess, what was she doing? What had come over her? This wasn’t right. Touching was bad enough for their objectives, but this?

Isla took in a breath. Dropped her hands. Pulled back.

She’d only made it halfway to the flats of her feet.

Kai wasted no time in moving forward to pull her back into a deep, punishing kiss. He held her tight, wrapping one strong arm around her waist, causing her towel to loosen, to go askew. His other hand cupped her face, fingers at the back of her neck, tilting her head, wedging into her still-damp hair, as he slanted his mouth to take more of her.

The taste of him was dizzying. The kiss, greedy and claiming—but it wasn’t frantic. It was methodical, unhurried, purposeful. Heavy. And yet still, it felt. . . restrained. Kai was holding back, but Isla was fine with whatever this was. A need, a desperation, twined with something charged. A culmination of all the close encounters, all the teasing.

Release, relief—and payback.

Kai ran his tongue over the seam of her lips, and Isla opened for him, circling her arms around his middle, gripping the fabric of his shirt, feeling the hard muscles of his back beneath her fingertips. She tugged him closer. Her towel slipped again, her bare chest one move away from being clearly pressed to his.

As his hand drifted lower—from her waist, to her hip, threatening to go further—a groan caught in her throat. She refused to let it out.

There was a fine line here. One that would be obliterated in a second. A moan, a mewl, a coo, and he’d lose whatever discipline he was exhibiting, and experiencing whatever that was would dissolve hers too.

But she was better than this—they were. These urges. Their instincts. They’d proven so since the day they’d met.

That stubborn part they shared was still in there, trying to thrive. Coherence was in reach. Somewhere in these seconds that felt like a blissful eternity.

They wouldn’t be bested today. Not like this. Now wasn’t the time.

So they broke apart. Slow. Breathless. Skin flushed, lips swollen.

Isla retreated a step, adjusting her towel, and tried to settle her heart as she took in her mate’s form—as glorious as she’d imagined it would be. The taut muscles she’d felt—of his chest, his abdomen, his arms—on display in the uniform he seemed to have obtained from the Guard after unshifting. The thin, black open tunic, donning the silver insignia, tied at the waist with a cloth belt. She could clearly see where his amber skin was drawn over with black ink, those tattoos stretching from his elbow all the way up to his shoulder, crossing over his chest and mixing with the lumerosi markings she recognized. She didn’t ponder what they were this time, she was too focused on who they were on. How badly she wanted him against her again.

Her mouth was dry as she met Kai’s stare, as dark as she imagined hers was, before he shot his gaze behind her.

“Oh, please don’t stop on our behalf.”

Isla turned, the female voice—not Davina’s—having come from behind her. Amidst her and Kai’s embrace, Ameera and Rhydian had entered the room. They’d also, thankfully, closed the door behind them. She didn’t need to give any of her squadmates a show.

They stood on either side of Davina, both of them towering her height, and Rhydian with an arm around his mate’s shoulders. Davina had lifted her hand to interlock their fingers. All three of them were wearing some form of astonishment and amusement, and Isla noticed Rhydian and Ameera not only wore similar uniforms to Kai, but they also bore the same form of tattoos.

Heat flooded Isla’s cheeks.

She wasn’t a fan of her family knowing her romantic business, and Kai’s was no exception.

She twisted back to her mate, whose lips were pursed. And that smugness—that damn smugness in his eyes. The silence too. It was going to kill her.

“I’m going to put on some clothes,” Isla announced, and then refused to make eye contact with anyone as she shuffled past them to grab the garments off the bureau and headed to the bathroom.

Even behind the closed door, she could feel the bond humming between them, a pre-chorus for that symphony it had so desperately wanted to edge them towards.

Isla dropped everything by the sink and ran her hands over her face.

“Okay, what happened to the ‘no touching’ nonsense?” She heard Ameera, just on the edge of trying to be quiet—but not quite.

“They touched at the banquet,” Davina said, a bit more successful in keeping her tone low. There was a pause. “Isla told me.”

“You didn’t think to mention that?” Ameera again, sounding offended. “Are you mated?

“No,” was all Kai answered.

His voice had become hard again, and Isla could sense what was brewing beneath his skin. She’d felt the same as she realized there was specks of dried blood on the tips of her fingers. Not Kai’s from what she could scent.

Nothing could be about them now. There were Rogues. People had died.

As Isla moved back to the sink to wash her hands, splash some cold water over her face, she heard their conversation continue. But it had gotten softer, nearly indiscernible over the running water.

“Where’s Jonah?” Davina asked, citing the missing final member of their little family.

“Do you actually think he’d leave the shop unattended while Rogues are out?” Rhydian quipped of his twin.

“When I left, he was posted at his front door with a sword,” Ameera drawled. “Maybe now he’ll finally put those years in Guard training to use.”

The laugh that followed was stilted.

“How bad is it?”

In response to Davina’s question, the other three wolves rehashed everything Isla had already known. About the Rogues traveling up the banks, their vehicle, the road to the Hall, their taking to the city squares.

Isla began dressing.

“They shouldn’t have even been able to get through Abalys,” Ameera said. “I’m telling you, Kai. Something’s off.”

“I know,” Kai breathed. Isla nearly didn’t hear it. “The Hall was a distraction.”

Her eyebrows shot up.

“A distraction?” Davina invoked Isla’s thoughts.

Rhydian spoke up before his mate could formally ask for elaboration. “The ones in the city weren’t going around killing and wreaking havoc for the hell of it.”

“They were looking for something,” Ameera concluded.

“Like what?”

“Yet another thing for me to figure out,” Kai grumbled. Behind her door, even if he couldn’t see, Isla shook her head. What else could go wrong? “The ones we took into custody are being interrogated now.”

“We wanted to check on you guys,” Rhydian said, and Isla could hear as he placed a kiss on her cheek.

“What about the ones from the Hall?” Davina inquired.

“Dead from what I’ve heard,” Kai said, and Isla stiffened. “I went after the ones that tried to get away, and then into the lower part of the city. I trusted Isla and Ezekiel to handle them however they saw fit.”

What?

Kai had trusted her to take over—and she’d gone on and slaughtered everyone she found.

“Which is completely against Warrior protocol, by the way,” Ameera said. “Given they haven’t been sanctioned for action yet in Abalys, forget about Mavec in the Pack Hall. You know you’ve set yourself up for a massive headache—here and with the almighty asshole for using his weapons.”

The “almighty asshole”. His “weapons”.

She knew exactly who Ameera was talking about.

From her spot, Isla’s eyes averted to the grate by the sink. She traced them over the metal. If one looked close enough, they’d realize the screws were loose. If they reached inside the vent, they’d find the book and marker, stained with Lukas’s blood.

She was reminded of her and Kai’s conversation from before the Rogues attacked. How he thought Io was responsible for the deaths of his brother and father. Thought someone of her Pack, maybe someone she’d known, had wanted her dead.

Why—he’d never gotten to tell her.

But these things. . .

She knew the marker, the book, and the message from the killer tied together somehow.

And whether they connected to Io, whether they proved or disproved Kai’s theories, they meant something. She needed to know why.

“Did you forget you’re a Warrior too?” Rhydian said.

“You know why I am,” Ameera countered, voice the softest it had been. “But regardless, that also doesn’t mean I can’t think for myself and see what’s really going on. . . as much as I hate to agree with my father. I wouldn’t be surprised if all of this was—”

“Not here.” Kai cut her off harshly, and it was followed by more quiet and whispers so delicate, Isla couldn’t glean them for the life of her.

Pathetically, she pressed her ear to the door, curious what else they’d tried to discuss when she wasn’t in their immediate presence.

“We should go,” Kai said, a little louder. “I need to be at the Hall.”

Silence.

“Are we pretending your mate doesn’t exist again?” Ameera said.

“Nothing’s changed.”

“The other day you two couldn’t even touch, and you were just all over each other.”

“When we figure out what we want to do with our bond, we’ll let you know.”

Sentiments Kai had held onto since they’d met.

As Isla heard the shuffling of footsteps, like they were actually preparing to go, she grabbed the doorknob. All eyes went to her as she pulled it open.

As she had when she first met them at the bookshop, even if she’d gotten to know them each a little bit more, she felt like a fish out of water.

But even with that, Isla met Kai’s eyes and said, “Let me come with you. I want to help more. It’s why I’m here.”

Her proposal drew looks from the others. She may have even called them impressed.

Kai’s jaw tightened. “This isn’t worth you getting discharged from the Warriors.”

“I think I can decide that for myself,” Isla countered.

Ameera let out a cough and looked away as she smiled.

Kai shook his head and loosed a breath. “You’d be sent back to Io.” He let the words sit, so Isla could understand. “And I need you here. I need you safe.”

Isla ground her teeth, getting the picture fully. Kai was lucky that he was right. That she likely would be discharged for going out without order. That she would be sent back to Io. And right now, that was the last place she wanted to be. At least, until she’d gotten the full gist of his theories.

Isla folded her arms and leaned against the doorframe. “Were you going to leave without saying goodbye?”

In response, Kai smirked, and every step he took in Isla’s direction matched with a firm beat of her heart.

He angled himself to her in a way that had her blocked from the view of others, as he always seemed to do. Shielding her however he could from the world. His world.

When he took her face in his hands, Isla was ready, already rising onto her toes. The kiss this time was sweet and simple. They knew what anything further would bring about.

And as those strings between them spun, as they weaved and wound and sang, as she relished in the comfort, Isla’s mind drifted to the man, coated in the blood of his wife, who’d return to an empty home tonight. Who’d had every wondrous thread snapped. Had his soul cleaved in two.

Because of this thing.

That had her body sighing. That had her mind dizzy. That had her feeling something she’d never experienced for a man she barely knew. The one she was meant to spend eternity with. That she would need to give up life as she knew it for.

But those thoughts disappeared as quick as they’d come.

When they broke apart, Isla looked up into those eyes and traced his nose down to the lazy smile on his lips, just enough that she could see that dimple in his cheek.

Her heart gave an unsteady beat, and she cleared her throat, placing her hands on his arms as she said, “Don’t give me a reason to go after you. If I feel anything wrong—”

Kai chuckled, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs. “I know.” He leaned down to press his forehead to hers. “Thank you.”

Not just for staying put, but for all she’d done—for his home.

“It’s why I’m here,” she repeated, making a point of it.

Kai’s grin grew, and she was about to kiss him again—something she was realizing she didn’t want to ever stop doing—when two hands suddenly clapped down on his shoulders.

Kai and Isla stepped apart, though he kept a hand on her back. Rhydian was behind them, and Ameera already stood by the door.

“If you want to just deal with this now,” he jeered. “we can give you two a few minutes.”

Kai snorted. He and Rhydian were eye-to-eye, but the Guard held just a bit more bulk.

As Rhydian had done, Kai brought his hand down on his brother’s shoulder.

“I’m not you, Rhyd,” Kai said, and Isla caught the innuendo, felt Kai’s fingers tighten against her back. A reassurance. A promise.

He’d surely want and take more than a few minutes with her when the moment arrived.

If it ever arrived.

“Let’s go, boys,” Ameera sang, hand on the doorknob. “I’m not dealing with this dominant bullshit today.”

Kai and Rhydian shared narrowed stares, before the latter went to bid Davina farewell. Once they were as alone as they could get, Kai leaned down, lips brushing Isla’s cheek as he went to her ear. “Tomorrow night, after your training and whatever mess I have, I’ll meet you here—and we’ll talk.”

Talk.

About the bond. About what they’d do.

As he stepped back, Isla blinked up at him, and then simply nodded.

“Goodnight,” he said.

She was disappointed that he hadn’t moved in to kiss her again. “Goodnight.”

Once the three of them left—but not before Ameera could offer a shocking ’good work, new blood’—Isla went and locked the door behind them. When she turned, she found Davina’s cheeks tinting as red as her hair and looking like she was about to explode.

Isla waved a hand at her. “Go ahead.”

Davina screamed, and Isla winced. “What was that?” she blurted in excitement.

Fighting to keep a smile at bay, Isla folded her arms again. She spoke honestly when she answered, “I wish I could tell you.”

| ☽ |

With the lockdown still in place, Davina couldn’t leave the hotel and return to her and Rhydian’s home in Ifera. Isla offered for her to stay the night, which Davina all-too-exuberantly agreed to. She’d scrapped together a makeshift pajama set from pieces of staff uniforms she “borrowed”, the clothes Isla offered the improper size.

The two of them stood on either side of the bed, the room solely illuminated by moonlight.

Isla brought her cup of water up to her mouth, saying before her drink, “When are you going to stop looking at me like that?”

Davina, who had been staring, didn’t avert her eyes. “Once I get over the fact that you’re actually here.” She pulled back the covers on the side of the bed closest to the window, the side Isla always left occupied so she had clear vantage and access to the door.

Isla lowered the glass with a raised eyebrow. “What does that mean?”

Davina took her place on the mattress. She hesitated, and then spoke gingerly. “I know you all have your gripes with the Goddess and Fate—you, Kai, even Rhydian and Jonah—but I do believe that they do good and everything happens for a reason. That it all happens how it’s meant to, in the end. Like Kai becoming Alpha—which he probably doesn’t want to hear, given how it happened—and him. . . finding you, when he definitely needs you most. And I don’t mean because he needs you to rule. I have never seen him look at anyone like that, never seen him look like that—even when he was happy.”

Isla started at the word, at what it implied. It wasn’t completely out of scope, given everything Kai had gone through, but. . .

She remembered seeing him before the message. Remembered seeing that facade fall. The mask crack. All of the pain he kept buried.

Davina swallowed, swinging her legs around to get them under the blankets. Her fingers twitched as she thought, as she debated on whether she wanted to divulge what she was about to.

“The day he left for that Hunt—we weren’t sure if he was coming back,” she began weakly, and Isla felt like there was something deeper in the words. “The whole Pack knew when he went behind the Wall. We kept up with it through the radio, the papers, and every day he didn’t emerge. . . I don’t think I’ve been that afraid in a long, long time.” She cleared her throat, as if fighting back tears. “When we learned he made it out okay, I think even Ameera teared up. He came back a couple days later, and surprised us at Jonah’s—which was the first flag something was up. We barely saw him after everything happened.” The side of her mouth twitched up. “He still seemed a little—off—but Rhydian made some dumb joke, and Kai laughed. I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’d heard him do it or even seen him smile. That’s how we knew something had to have happened, and he didn’t care about the glory part of things. About winning whatever. It was something else—then we figured out he met you.”

Isla bit the inside of her cheek so hard it nearly bled, feeling a pang in her chest. She drew her gaze out the window, to the lights of the Hall she could see. She didn’t know what to say.

“I didn’t want to say that to scare you—or make you feel—” Davina scrunched her nose, not quite knowing where she was going. “I just thought you should know how grateful we are to you. You guys may decide not to do anything with your bond, but just the fact that he knows you’re out there. . .” She shrugged. “It brought him back a bit.”

Isla tried to swallow and took in a haggard breath. Wordlessly, she placed her drink down and got into the bed. Her back was against the headboard as she pulled up the covers. “What else can you tell me about him?”

“Why don’t you learn for yourself?” Davina asked, and Isla looked at her, then looked away.

Once again quiet, she laid her head down on her pillows, keeping her eyes trained on the ceiling.

As she melted into her memories of him, the feeling of him, of the bond when it was settled between them, the smallest touch of fear caressed her bones. Because she knew one of the biggest reasons she didn’t want to learn anything about Kai—why she didn’t want him to truly know her. She knew that if she left herself vulnerable, and he accepted her in all that she was, falling in love with him would be too easy.

And that would just make all of this so much harder. It would just be something else—someone—for her to lose.

| ☽ |

Isla narrowed her eyes up at the swaying sign of The Bookshoppe, her bag feeling heavy on her shoulder.

Everything felt heavy, really. Everything felt strained. Her wolf was livid. It wanted Kai. Isla wanted Kai—and could’ve easily looked like a crazy person muttering to herself on her journey here, telling it to calm down.

She’d barely slept, and it had nothing to do with Davina’s snoring. In her and Kai’s distance, the bond had been driving her mad again. So much that she’d had to get out of bed and move around, just to occupy her mind. Davina, being a heavy sleeper, hadn’t even flinched. And so Isla spent the entire night perched by the window, much like she would’ve done in her old apartment, much like she’d done in the corridor. But instead of looking out into the Imperial City or trying to catch glimpses of Mavec, she focused on what she could make of the Hall, the ghost of Kai’s lips lingering over her own, and a haunting of Davina’s words swirling around her head.

As soon as the sun had broken the horizon, Isla—who’d finally dozed off for a couple hours on her chair—went into motion.

It was dawn. The lockdown over.

Davina, once again, had barely stirred as Isla moved to the bathroom to gather her things before heading out the door.

There were only a few hours until the Warriors would be going to the Guard base for the day’s training, which meant Isla only had a few hours to figure out all she could about the book and marker before she and Kai spoke later that night. When she presented the two to him, she wanted to be able to say something other than, I have no idea what these are, but I think they’re connected to the person who murdered your family.

And so she was here. Ready to bring in reinforcements that were apparently better than any library.

The doorknob of the shop was cold in her grip as she twisted it. Locked. She paused, waiting to see if Jonah, on high alert with the Rogues, was nearby to detect the sound. Nothing.

Isla lifted her fist to pound on the wood. The opaque glass of its window shuddered.

No response.

She did it again—a little harder.

Nothing.

Maybe he wasn’t here. . . but then again, apparently, he never really left.

“Jonah!” Isla called, throwing her closed hand at it again. “Jonah! I know you’re—”

Isla jerked back as a shadow appeared on the other side of the window, darkness rippling over the glass. Next came several clicks—locks at varying heights—before the door opened to reveal disgruntled features. Isla noted Jonah’s half-lidded eyes, the shadow of stubble, and his unbuttoned shirt, swaying in whatever breeze had been brought in. She rose a brow at the show of black ink over his well-muscled chest—those tattoos again. Similar to Kai, Rhydian, and Ameera.

“Why are you at my door at six-in-the-morning?”

His grumbling had her eyes meeting his, the dazzling amber narrowing against the sunlight. Guilt gnawed at her. He was probably just as sleep-deprived as she was.

Good morning.” Isla forced a smile, one that seemed too chipper for him to handle at this hour. She dropped it, realizing any faux sweetness wasn’t going to get her anywhere with him. “I need your help.”

“We open at ten.”

“And I’ll be in training.”

“We close at eight.”

Isla sighed. “Make an exception for me.”

Jonah adjusted himself against the door. “My brother’s mate, or my Luna?”

Isla felt a grimace etching onto her face. Something about the words ringing in the way Imperial Beta’s daughter did. “Just a person asking for your help.”

Jonah eyed her before glancing at the barren streets. In the aftermath of the Rogue attacks, there was an eerie stillness to them, but also something skittish. Like a raw nerve, like they hadn’t fully recovered. As Jonah shot a quick glance at the Pack Hall looming above, Isla followed suit, eyes drawn particularly to what she could see of that stain glass window. She wondered if Kai was up there, gazing down upon his kingdom. Sunrises and sunsets from that perch must’ve been a beautiful thing to behold.

Upon realizing Jonah had long since ceased his roaming eye to focus on her, she started. His features unmoving, he stepped out of the way, allowing her through.

Isla clutched tightly on her bag strap, taking to the now-open space and smiling again. “Thank you.”

Jonah muttered some sort of response, rubbing a heavy hand over his face.

The shop was quiet, save what seemed to be the soft hum of music from the back of the stacks, and the air smelled faintly of burning incense—jasmine and sandalwood. Isla turned to Jonah who was working at each lock on the door. Five, to be exact.

She wanted to ask him why he found them all so necessary, but instead found herself drawn to the dark patterns on his back, visible beneath the light, almost-sheer fabric of his shirt. “What are the tattoos?”

Jonah finished the final lock and spun. He brought his eyes to his chest, clenching and releasing his fist. He scoffed. “A symbol of co-dependence.”

The dry answer was all he would give.

While the shop-owner disappeared to the back, telling Isla to give him a minute, she found herself meandering around the shelves. There was more here about Deimos than she’d ever been able to track down in Io—more on the other Packs too. Books on its history, on its culture, fiction weaved by local authors. A lot of the books Jonah had were used, but still in decent condition. Some had writing in them, notes in the margins, comments made by those beyond. Isla found those to be her favorites.

She heard a door open and close, the hum of music cut to silence. Jonah emerged from behind the shelves with two mugs in his hands, steam billowing from the tops of each. Isla could catch a rich, nutty scent wafting from them. Her mouth watered.

“I don’t know if you’re one of those tea people in the morning, but that’s not enough for me.” Jonah handed her one of the cups. “Especially when I’m wrenched from sleep at ungoddessly hours.”

Isla wrapped her fingers around the glass, letting the heat leech into her skin. “The sun’s up. Don’t be a baby.” She took in a greedy whiff. “This is perfect. Thank you.”

Jonah snickered at the jab and gulped down a hefty amount of the searing beverage. “I’m assuming you didn’t come here to ask about our tattoos.”

Isla sipped on her drink and nearly moaned at the taste, going in for another quickly. But everything turned sour as she remembered why she was here.

She lowered her mug, moving towards the check-out counter. “No.”

Her bag made a light clunking sound after it was hoisted onto it. With her glass left a few inches away, she rifled through, Jonah appearing behind her just as she pulled out the marker, then the book. Her heart felt stuck in her throat, beating in her ears, as she placed them down to the table.

She waited for the Imperial Guard to storm the shop, for the world to tilt on its axis, for her and Jonah to burst into flames.

But when she turned to the shop-owner, he was indifferent.

He scratched at the stubble sprouting along his chin. “What are these?”

Isla took in a deep breath. “That’s what I need you to tell me.”

Jonah looked between her and the items again, suspicion fluttering over his face. “And where did you get them?”

“Does it matter?”

The question caused the corner of his mouth to tick upwards. “Ominous.”

She nodded her brows. “Just keeping you on your toes.”

The statement riled the other side of his lips, and Jonah put his brew down, going for the book first. The second he opened it, his features fell.

Isla was quiet as as he flipped, and flipped, and flipped, opting to fan through to the end. She cleared her throat. “Do you know what it is?”

Jonah snapped the book closed. “Not a clue.” He ran a finger over the spine covered with dried blood, but he had no question about it. “I’m curious though, which is a good start—but I’m also concerned.” Jonah picked up the marker, examining its surface, realizing what Isla had, and went through the book again to catch the similarities in the writing. “This is why you asked me about languages.”

Isla nodded, uneasy at his comment. “It’s none of the native tongues, and it’s obviously not the Common. . . what are you worried about?”

“The fact you also asked me about Phobos.” He cast an eye in her direction. “I can’t think of the last time I’ve heard anyone refer to that Pack, or try to look into it, as anything other than the Wilds. And from personal experience, it’s never good when Imperial Pack members ask questions.”

Personal experience?

Before Isla had a chance to ask what that meant, there was a pounding at the door. Reflexively she spun, arms splaying slightly as if to shield the book, marker, and Jonah from whatever it was. A pool of red haloed the glass and was cast down upon the floor by the sunlight. They both knew who it was.

“Is everyone in the mood to visit this morning?” Jonah mumbled, placing the book and marker gently onto the counter. Isla shifted her bag to hide them from view, at least until Davina left.

The hotel secretary didn’t cease her banging on the door, even as Jonah went through each of the locks again, calling for her to relax. When he pulled the entrance open, Davina—still clad in her pajamas, hair still mused from bedhead—was panting, face flushed, as if she’d run here a few minutes after waking.

But as her gaze fell upon Isla, all of the color drained away. “Oh, Goddess, you’re here.”

The words weren’t spoken out of relief.

They were out of fear.

Isla’s stomach bottomed out, a horrible feeling settling in her gut. “What’s wrong?”

Davina looked at her with pity, a sorrow in her eyes as they became glassy.

Fearing the worst, Isla reached for the bond. It was there. Weaker, strange, but there.

“What happened?” Jonah asked, before Isla could repeat herself.

Davina looked between them, opening and closing her mouth, shaking her head like she didn’t understand. “Kai—he—he’s being challenged for Alpha.”

“What?”

Jonah’s voice was nothing but an empty echo in Isla’s mind. Her body had gone rigid as she looped through the words again.

A challenge. A challenge.

“When did you hear this?” Jonah again.

For that, Isla was grateful. Speaking suddenly felt impossible.

“It just broke over the radio. I guess it was lofted to the Imperial Council—to the Imperial Alpha—last night while everyone was busy at the party and with the Rogues. Now we’re just waiting to hear if they approve it.”

If they approve it. If.

“Why do they get a say?” Davina’s voice was shaky, out of fear, out of uncertainty about the protocol. “It’s our Pack.”

Isla’s chest tightened.

If. . .

“To maintain order.” Jonah’s face was a picture of stern calm, as if he knew he had to be the steady force between the three of them. “Who’s calling for it?”

“They wouldn’t say—or they didn’t know yet. It’s all just happening now, but. . . they think it could have something to do with Alpha Kyran’s death. That someone’s claiming they killed him,” Davina said, loosing a strained sob. “A challenge. . . that’s a fight to the death, right? Kai either wins and stays Alpha or he—”

“I need a phone.”

Jonah and Davina went still. They averted their gazes to Isla, something in them recoiling—bowing.

“I have one in the back,” Jonah said.

“Can it do long distance?” Isla asked, and he shook his head. “Where can I find one?”

Jonah explained a call center in the lower part of the city, and wasted no time in moving to write out directions for her. He didn’t question anything until he handed the paper over. “Where are you calling?”

Isla was already halfway out the door, abandoning her bag, the book, and the marker on the counter.

“Home.”

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