Vee heard a steady beep beating a rhythm from a long way off. She tried to ignore it, wanting to go back to the darkness…it was safer there…
“Vee?” was someone calling for her? Maybe it was her mother, waiting on the other side for her lost daughter…
I’m coming Mom…
The rhythmic beeping was back again…it sounded closer…was she getting closer to her Mom and Dad?
Valaria looked back through her darkness. She smiled as she saw her wolf and cat stand up behind her. She missed them so much…
“Vee, please hang on…”
Valaria listened to the pleading off in the distance, but she didn’t want to go back there. There was so much more if she just kept her path into the darkness.
Then her wolf grabbed her hand and pulled. Vee turned and smiled at Lysana, wanting her to know how wonderful it was going to be for them if they just kept sliding deeper. Sia grabbed her other hand and Vee felt the pain of her teeth as she began to pull harder on her skin.
No…no…no…no more pain…
Her wolf grabbed her other hand again and they both began to pull none too gently on her arms. Valaria felt the burn as their teeth punctured her skin and she pulled back, but the pain was beginning to radiate up her arms.
No…no…no….she couldn’t do this again…she….
Valaria slowly opened her eyes to a gentle light spilling from somewhere behind her. She saw a familiar face break out into a smile…Cassidy…
Her sister rose beside her, grasping for her hand hidden in the covers laying across her prone form, “Vee…oh my God…,” she looked up at the ceiling and mouthed a heartfelt thank you.
Valaria searched the room for anyone else before returning her eyes to see her sister start to cry. Vee wanted to reach up and wipe away the pain sliding down her face but her arms felt like lead. She had no strength…
She closed her eyes as she began to remember why…
“Vee?! Vee?! Don’t you leave me!” she heard the panic in her sister’s voice and she immediately opened her eyes again, wanting her to know she wasn’t going anywhere.
Cassidy sat down in the chair next to her bed, still holding her hand as she spoke, “You’re going to be okay, Vee, everything’s going to be okay. And Slayde and I are going to be here every step of the way. Do you hear me?”
Valaria started to search the room again for anyone that could be hiding in the shadows…
“No one else is here, and no one is going to come near you until you’re ready, okay?” her sister gave her hand a little squeeze.
Valaria needed answers. How did they find her? How in the hell did she survive? She should have been dead…her animals… Vee closed her eyes and searched for her wolf and cat and felt peace when she found them inside, next to each other, waiting for her.
“Vee, are you thirsty? They said I could give you a sip through a straw when you woke up…I can’t believe you woke up!” Her sister’s voice was an excited whisper.
Valaria opened her eyes and nodded for the drink of cool water. Her throat was scratchy and she didn’t think she would be able to speak one word unless she wet it first. She watched her sister place the cup near her and put the straw between her lips as she talked.
“When they found you and brought you back, they wouldn’t let me see you,” Cassidy explained as she pulled the straw away and placed the cup back on the table, “I finally told Slayde that either I got in or none of them were going to like me very much.”
Valaria smiled, her sister was such a fighter…
“But I couldn’t believe you were still alive after…” her sister’s voice trailed off and tears started again.
Vee tried her voice, “How…long…”
Cassidy replied, “It’s been three weeks Vee since they brought you here. Thank God we are a perfect blood match because I don’t know what I would have done…”
Valaria shook her head slightly, “Alright…tired…”
Cassie crooned to her as her hand swept her hair back from her face, “It’s okay, Sis, get some sleep, I’ll be right here when you wake up.”
Vee closed her eyes and went in search of her cat and wolf and snuggled up to them as she was swallowed up into the dusk…
Vee opened her eyes, quickly searching the room until she saw her sister half out of the door speaking to someone, “Listen, I’m just staying for a little while longer, okay? I need to know she’s going to be fine.”
Cassidy closed the door and turned to see her awake. She immediately dashed to her side, “Hey, how are you feeling now? Do you need some water?”
Valaria felt her stomach rumble and they both smiled. Cassidy grabbed the cup, “Well I guess that answers that question, I’ll get them to bring you some broth and we can talk while I feed you.”
Vee sat silent as the food, well, what one could barely call food, arrived and she was helped to sit up so she could be fed. Valaria felt like an invalid, but the joy on her sister’s face made it all worth it.
As she was spooning the beef broth, Cassidy talked more, “The guys were so worried over what they would find when they followed the GPS, which I must say was a smart thing on my part to do,” She spooned another mouthful, “They found out that bitch disabled the factory one, but I had the good sense to have a second one installed in all of the vehicles we use and for our guests.”
Valaria reached out to stop her sister’s hand, “Sonya?”
Cassidy smiled as she put the broth aside, “That bitch got what was coming. The unfortunate thing is it was too fast. Kaden snapped her neck within seconds of going into that cabin she had you holed up in.”
Kaden killed her…fuck, yeah!
“Then he just threw her out for the vultures while they got you in their truck and brought you back home. They weren’t sure you were going to make it.” Cassidy supplied then hesitated, “Umm, Vee, can I ask you something?”
Valaria nodded, not sure she wanted to answer.
“Did Sonya take you or did you knock Riordan out so you could leave us?” her voice got quieter as it got to the end of her question.
Valaria couldn’t lie, “I…wanted…to leave. Sonya…picked me…up.”
She could see Cassidy struggling with her revelation and sat forward, “Not now…I don’t…want to…”
Cassie smiled then, “Good, cause you’re not going anywhere and I am the Luna here and what I say goes.”
Vee laughed her first real laugh since it all happened. With that laugh came the need to go to the bathroom and she was determined to start doing that personal shit on her own. Bedpans were very inconvenient.
She tossed her bedcovers aside and pushed her legs over the edge, “Bathroom.” She carefully lowered herself to the floor as Cassidy ran around to give her support as she walked to the private closet.
When Valaria was inside she quickly used the flush, feeling very accomplished for such a small deed and as she began to wash her hands, she stared into the mirror above the sink. A thin scar ran along the left side of her face to the corner of her mouth and she was thankful that it was the only one. And although she knew the rest of her body was covered with the same mutilations, she was determined to face it all head-on.
Carefully she began to lift her long white nightgown up, watching as angry red lines began to appear…there were so many of them! Then like a bandaid, she stripped the cloth from her body and looked into the mirror above the sink. A thousand cuts…making her body look like a map of the state, roads going everywhere…
Valaria turned around and looked over her shoulder…same map… She sighed and grabbed her gown off the floor and covered herself. Well, that would fix the problem of her mating, no one would want to look at her in the light. She took another look at her face and reached up to trace the delicate scar that ended at her lips…it didn’t matter…she had survived…
A gentle knock resounded on the door, “Vee, are you okay? Do you need help?”
Valaria turned and opened the door, “All good.”
She shuffled by her sister to return to her bed, pulling the covers up over the scarred body she hid beneath.
Cassidy sat down beside her, “Just thought I’d let you know, the guys have left to track down the people who Sonya had been working with. They found her phone and traced several numbers, so they want to make sure that they get everyone this time.”
Valaria reached over to grab the cup of water and was glad her sister let her do it on her own. She took a drink and spoke, “The list…did they…find it?”
“Yeah, there were some names and descriptions wrote down on a sheet of paper, do you know what it was? Was it more people involved with Sonya?” her sister questioned.
Vee shook her head, “Double shifters.”
Cassidy hesitated, sure she hadn’t heard right, “Did you say double shifters? There were over thirty names on that list. Are you sure that’s what it was?”
Vee nodded, “Hit list…for Sonya…”
Cassidy sat stunned, “Wow, there are more of us, we’re not alone.” She stood up, “I have to call Slayde and let him know. Wow…”
Valaria watched her sister leave the room and closed her eyes, she was still so weak, but getting better each day. She began to create a list of things she needed to do when she was able…apologize to Riordan for leaving him on the bathroom floor…apologize to Slayde for leaving his Beta on the floor of her bathroom…Kaden…she owed him so much…how could words make up for causing him so much trouble? He killed his own clanswoman because of her…
And she was so tired…
Over the next week Valaria grew stronger every day until she was allowed to go outside in a wheelchair with her sister to enjoy the sunshine, a blanket wrapped around her legs. Cassidy sat on a bench beside her under a large Oak tree as Vee breathed deeply of the clean fresh wind. She finally had the strength today to contact Veronica and let her know that she was okay. Her friend had gushed about Josh through most of the call before calling him Mr. Right. Valaria was glad that she had finally found someone who was worthy of her and then Vee told her sister from another mister to keep all the money she had stashed away for them. She wouldn’t need it because she was going to stay with her sister.
Cassidy, who had been sitting in the room listening to the call, had smiled crazily at her sister’s words.
And now they were sitting quietly, enjoying the noise of small-town living…
Cassie spoke, “The guys are coming home tomorrow. They think they found the cluster of shifters that were responsible for what happened to you.”
Valaria stared into the distance, “How could people like us do that to their own kind?”
Cassidy shook her head, “I don’t know, I never could understand that.”
“Sonya accused me of wanting to mix our blood with theirs,” Vee offered, “They convinced her that if we were left alive, we might wipe out the cat shifters entirely.”
Cassidy nodded, “I know, the same idea was running around in Rebecca and her father’s head. They were afraid we would breed out the wolf shifters until it was only cats and double shifters left.”
Vee turned to her, “Do you suppose there will come a day that people won’t care anymore and just let us live in peace?”
Cassidy’s mouth rose a little, “I hope so. This is getting old really fast.”
They both chuckled and looked back across the street at a child that was playing with a puppy in the yard.
Cassidy spoke, “Do you care for either one of them, Vee?”
Vee looked down at her lap, she knew hard conversations were coming. She wasn’t sure she wanted to face them and she sure didn’t want to start her glowing and trap any man into a relationship with a woman as scarred physically and emotionally as she was.
But she wouldn’t lie to her sister, “Yes, how could I not?”
The silence stretched between them until Cassidy spoke again, “Just don’t keep them both on your string, Vee, I don’t think either one of them could handle it. I mean Kaden…”
Valaria broke in, “Kaden needs to get back to his people…I know…and I truly hope he finds someone to love,” her voice shattered on her last words.
Cassidy reached for her hand, “Vee, I know Kaden cared so much for you. You don’t have to be afraid to let him in. He’s a good man.”
Valaria squeezed her sister’s hand, “Cassie, I don’t have to tell you the way this works. I don’t decide, my animals do and right now their trust level towards another shifter is zip to nil. And I have to agree with them.”
Cassidy returned her sister’s touch, “I know what you’re feeling and what your animals feel. And I know it’s hard to want something so bad but know you don’t have any control over it. But eventually, they will trust again and when you are all ready, they will find you your mate.”
Valaria’s eyes watered at her sister’s words of encouragement. How could she make her understand? “No one is going to want to be tied to me, Cass. I’m too broken…too scarred.”
Cassie pulled her around until she stared straight into her eyes, a look of fierceness crossed her face and filled her voice, “If any man would not want you because of what they see, then they aren’t worthy of becoming your mate. You are the strongest woman I know. Hell, most men would not have survived what you went through. You are worth your weight in diamonds, Vee, do you hear me?”
Vee laughed at her sister’s ferocious side. Tye was so lucky to have her as his mom.
She needed to calm her sister down, “So when are you bringing the munchkin to see me? I think I’m strong enough to hold him now.”
Cassidy searched her sister’s face and then smiled, “I’ll bring him in tomorrow, he’s growing so much every day. He’ll be bigger than me before I know it.”
Cassidy was awake in her room, enjoying a large cup of coffee when Cassidy came in with her bundle of joy sitting on her hip. Vee put down her cup and lifted her arms to accept the bigger boy.
As she settled him on her lap, Cassidy spoke, “The guys are back and they’re eager to talk with you.”
Valaria felt her heart pound knowing she was going to have to face them today…maybe she could put them off, just for another day or two.
Her sister read her thoughts, “You don’t have to see any of them, Vee.”
After what she went through? She couldn’t start being a coward now. But she could decide who she would speak to first, “I can’t put it off forever, Cass. So, is Slayde out there?”
Cassidy jumped up, “They all are. I’ll get Slayde first and we’ll go from there, okay?”
Vee nodded and watched as her sister opened the door and motioned with her hand. Then her sister’s husband slipped in. He took in her countenance and smiled, “It’s nice to see you looking happy and healthy.”
Vee smiled tentatively, “All thanks to you.”
Slayde pulled up another chair and both he and Cassidy sat at her bedside while she made her legs jump to bounce baby Tye on her lap. The baby chewed on his fist and giggled.
“Well I had help and I am so blessed to have such an intelligent Luna that thought it was a great idea to put an extra GPS on our cars,” he reached over and pulled Cassidy in for a quick kiss. Vee felt her chest begin to ache.
Cassidy turned to her sister, “And my Alpha has learned to pay more attention to what I’m saying.”
They all chuckled.
Valaria then looked at Slayde, “Listen, I’ve had a lot of time to think about everything and I want to say how sorry I am for leaving your Beta on the bathroom floor and just disappearing. If I hadn’t got it into my head to leave, then Sonya would have just gone home and…”
Slayde held up his hand, “And we would have no idea what was going on and the killings of your people would still be going on. And as for Riordan, no harm done except to his pride. He said next time he has to stand guard over a female, he wouldn’t fall for such a pretty face…” Slayde stopped, realizing what he just said.
Valaria’s hand rose to graze over the slightly raised skin on her left cheek.
“I’m sorry, I speak before I think sometimes,” Slayde rushed on.
Vee’s hand dropped, she had to get used to that, “You have nothing to apologize for, it wasn’t your fault. I can only thank you for my life,” She began to slide her hand over baby Tye’s back, “I had thought I had nothing to live for, but I was wrong, and now that I have a second chance, I’m finally going to start living.” She smiled at the baby and cooed to avoid looking at Slayde, her feelings still too new to share openly.
Slayde answered, “We will help you any way we can, Valaria, you are a part of our family and our pack. And if you do find someone special in your future, you are more than welcome to make your home with us.”
Vee still felt uncomfortable with her emotions, “Well, now I suppose I’ll have to make amends with Riordan, so you might as well send him in.”
Slayde and Cassidy stood and took the baby from her lap, wishing her well again and going to the door to let her next visitor in. She could see Kaden waiting behind the Beta when her sister told them that she wanted to see Riordan next…was that disappointment that crossed his face?
Then Riordan came in and went around her bed, leaned in, and kissed her mouth, “Hey Valaria, you look a hell of a lot better than when we brought you in.”
Vee looked towards the closing door, wondering if anyone saw what he did. Then she was being enveloped in a giant bear hug, “Not that it negates what you did to me.”
Valaria spoke in a rush, “I’m so sorry, Riordan for doing that. If there was any other way to get rid of you long enough for me to get out of here, I would have.”
Riordan stood back, still holding her hand, “It’s all good, if I was in your shoes, I would have done it too. But that doesn’t matter, what matters is your hale and hearty and ready to join the land of the living again.”
Vee smiled at him as she squeezed her hand, “Attributed to your help so I’m told.”
She laughed when she saw his face redden as he spoke, “Well, it was a group effort so I can’t take all the credit.”
She wouldn’t let him shake it off so easily, “Still, if you guys just let me go, I wouldn’t be here. And how did you know that I was with Sonya?”
“Well, Slayde had asked Kaden if he sent Sonya back home and he said he did and then he asked if Sonya would have helped you leave. Well, none of us thought that at first until Kaden called his pilot and found out Sonya had canceled her flight. Then we found out she disabled her GPS and everything else was a dead end. And Kaden said we should bring Cassidy in and ask her if she knew anything and thank goodness we did…or…” he stalled, not knowing what to say.
Vee filled it in, “Yes, thank goodness you guys asked my sister! But I want you to know,” she reached for his hand, “You guys will always have a place in my heart.” Valaria thought the words would be hard to say, but they were amazingly easy…easy because she meant them. As she smiled at the Beta, her mind had already drifted to the man outside, waiting for his chance to see her…waiting for…
Vee looked up at her bedside visitor and saw him looking down at hands. Valaria wasn’t sure what she was seeing…
“You’re glowing!” Riordan gasped loudly just before he yelled, “Cassidy, help!”