It was surreal. The moment the medical examiner unlatched the metal door and slid the covered body out in front of me, I felt faint. My hand instinctively clutched my gold chain around my neck for comfort. It was the last gift he had given me, and now, I wondered if it was meant to be a final farewell.
He had promised to return home to me—to us—to start the family we had always wanted. And yet, here I was. I felt a tear stain my stoic composure as I inhaled a trembling breath. Could this truly be it? The end of us?
I felt the presence of my brother-in-law beside me as he placed a firm, comforting hand upon my shoulder. My eyes remained fixed upon the white cloth covering my husband’s corpse, presumably cold and stiff. Without him, I didn’t know where I belonged. His arms were my home.
“Are you ready?” the examiner asked softly.
Luca whispered in my ear, “You don’t have to be here—”
“No.” The word sounded harsh as it left me. Luca squeezed my shoulder gently as I placed a hand over his. “This is a great loss to our pack. I need to be here. I need to…witness the destruction for myself.”
As I took a small step forward, Luca’s hand disappeared from my skin and, along with it, any alleviation I had felt. With my head held high, I gave a curt nod to the examiner as he pulled back the sheet. My heart sank as I choked back a sob over the sight of the bravest man I had ever known. To be struck down by a rogue band of Wild Ones was not the honorable death anyone had envisioned for Evander.
My eyes burned as heat rose to my face, anger blooming in my gut as I gazed upon every cut that marred my beloved’s skin. For a brief moment, my hatred overtook me as the wolf inside growled low within my being, mourning the loss of our Alpha. A soothing hand clasped mine at my side.
“It’s my fault.”
“No, Luca. The only creatures at fault here are those wild beasts that insist on infringing upon our lands and those of our allies. They saw an opportunity and seized it.” I lightly traced a fingertip down Evander’s jawline. “Rest well, my sleeping king. May the moon guide you on the rest of your journey.”
Bending over him, my ebony hair feathered around us until my lips met his for one last kiss. It was not the touch I longed for but an expression of an unbreakable vow forged in the fire within my soul. Straightening, I covered Evander’s angelic face, resting my hand succinctly over his heart.
I turned to Luca, a fury he could clearly see alighted within my eyes. “He may not have been my mate, but I loved him fiercely. I need the proper amount of time to mourn.”
“Of course,” Luca replied, offering his arm for accompaniment back to our awaiting car.
Before taking it, I faced the medical examiner as he closed the door behind Evander’s corpse. “Please ensure his body is prepared appropriately in accordance with our laws.”
“As is desired, my Luna—”
“Don’t call me that.”
Luca and the medical examiner exchanged a glance over my sudden outburst. I brushed my hands over my pencil skirt before clasping them in front of me. “My Luna title is void without an Alpha. As is customary.”
Luca flicked his eyes over my face, searching for any emotion that may have slipped through my demeanor. He remained silent as I walked toward the double doors leading into the hallway of the morgue. Only when I left, leaving behind the last good memory of my life, did I prop myself against the brick wall with my hand.
Grasping my gold chain, I ripped it off, feeling the clasp break. Balling it in my fist, I held it to my heart as sobs racked my petite frame. If this was how it felt losing the person I chose to love, I vowed to never find out how it would feel to lose a true mate. I vowed to never fall prey to the false entanglement of love again.