45 Dogs of War
45 Dogs of War
For the first time in a week, I sleep deeply and restfully. I fully expected nightmares but none found their way past Chris’s protective embrace.
By morning, the strange mental fog that seemed to cloak me finally lifts, and I’m feeling far more like myself. Chris is still sleeping soundly beneath me and, judging by the dark circles under his eyes, I don’t think he got much sleep while I was gone either.
Eventually I can’t stay still anymore. My body aches to move and my stomach starts grumbling, demanding breakfast.
“Morning beautiful,” he whispers, kissing my forehead.
“Hey,” I reply, snuggling into his chest. I feel like a freaking cat, I just can’t get enough of his touch. The irony that physical contact used to send me such panic but now is a source of such peace is not lost on me.
“Hungry?” He asks.
My stomach growls as if to put in its own two cents, causing us both to laugh.
“I’ll have someone bring us up-”
“Can we go down?” I cut him off, locking eyes with him. He studies my face and frowns. “My back’s sore from laying around for so long, I need to move around some.” I’m not above begging. He looks far away for a moment before nodding.
“Did you seriously just ask Doc if I could walk downstairs for breakfast?” I asked, raising a brow. The guilt written across his face says all I need for an answer.
I brush my fingers across his cheek and lean in, drawing his full attention. “Chris, I’m good, I promise,” I say, locking my eyes on his and willing him to believe me. “I won’t start climbing trees or do anything crazy, but you can’t coddle me forever.” He raises a brow to that last part as a challenging smirk slips on his lips.
“Got to take the kid gloves off eventually,” I say matter-of-factly. As much as I appreciate everything he’s done for me, I can’t change my independent nature. Much to his dismay, I slip out of bed and head for the closet to put something fresh on.
Chris seriously planned to carry me down the steps, but settles for wrapping an arm around me and guiding me the whole way. His warm embrace is a welcome relief as we walk through the packed house.
The kitchen is busier than I would like. Noticing my discomfort, he walks us to the private dining room and goes off to grab us some food.
Jace is already in there, talking animatedly with Sara. I offer a quick hello and grab a seat in the middle of the table. Derek and his friends walk in and to my surprise they sit down right next to me. Chris shows up a moment later with two plates piled high with scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, and bacon.
“Finally let her out, eh brother?” Derek teases earning a growl from Chris.
“I’m feeling more like myself today,” I offer, which Derek only raises his brow to. “It’s funny, I don’t get hungover from drinking but swear I felt like I was hungover ever since the fighting stopped,” I explain further.
Derek claps my shoulder and laughs, “Welcome to the push hangover, the first one’s a bitch.”
“Guardians have a unique link, luv, our energies are dynamic and shifting. To an extent, we can send some to another to give ’em a jumpstart,” the fiery bearded man says. His Irish accent is music to my ears.
“You must have gotten some spill over when Kenzie gave me a push,” Derek reasons.
The weird exchange replays in my mind once more. That he would stop to shake his friend’s hand in the middle of a fight did strike me as odd but I didn’t have any time to think about it then.
“It felt like grabbing an electric fence, but I felt it snap my entire body, not just my hand...” I trailed off, it was the strangest sensation.
“Comes in handy, helps to heal the body and recharges exhaustion for a time,” Derek explains. He looks pretty much back to normal, fast even for a wolf.
“Is that how my arm stitched so fast?” I question, holding up my left forearm with it’s fresh pink scar.
Kenzie slowly grabs my wrist, bringing my arm closer and carefully running her index finger along the scar. “Interesting,” she murmurs.
“So you guys are Guardians also?” I ask, changing the subject.
“Well, technically Derek’s still listed as AWOL,” the Irish man teases.
“We’re not here officially either,” Kenzie cuts off. “We are officially off visiting your sick dad,” she chides.
“Luv my parents are still in Ireland, and it was your dear ol’ mum. Do keep our cover story straight, aye?” He challenges, with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
“Sorry where are my manners? Jess, meet Guardians Mackenzie Wright and Declan Thomas,” Derek says with a grin that says clearly they are more than just colleagues, maybe close friends.
“Dex is good Luv, if you can put up with him we’re going to get along just grand-”
Derek cuts him off with a hit to his shoulder as Mackenzie laughs.
“Nice to finally meet you,” she says with a smile. “Only my parents call me Mackenzie, please I prefer Mack.”
“Oh.” I laugh as her name recognition dawns on me, then practically gush, “That bow is incredible. “I can’t thank you enough-”
The door swings open, revealing an extra stoic Xavier. “They’re here,” he announces. Moments later everyone stands and follows him out.
“What’s going on?” I ask Chris.
“War. We have to take down the rogue pack before it does any more damage,” Chris says with a frown. “In order to do that, we have to come up with a coordinated plan of attack. That’s what this meeting is for.”
He hesitates for a moment, almost like he’s fighting with himself. “What is it?” I ask.
“We were betrayed on the way to get you, but we don’t know by who. You need to be very careful, at least until we know who to trust.” The uncertainty of the situation has him on edge.
“Eat. I don’t want you to worry but I also don’t want you unaware of the danger.”
All I can do is nod.
At least he’s not keeping me in the dark.
“If you’re up for it, maybe you can come in to answer any questions that may come up?” He asks skeptically.
“I don’t know how much help I can be but I’ll come as soon as I’m done,” I agree. He kisses my head, offering me one last warm smile before heading out the same way as everyone else left.
I pick at the rest of my breakfast, forcing the last of it in before talking the empty dish to the kitchen sink. Thankfully, the kitchen is no longer crowded, only Claire and another woman are left cleaning up. Chris’ words about betrayal gnaw at me but I can’t put my finger on anything concrete. Claire shows me where the boardroom is, giving me a last reassuring smile she cracks the door to let me in.
The room is bigger than I expect, with a long dark table running its length and no windows. Overall dark and dimly lit with people seated on both sides and maps spread out as the men talk animatedly.
Sara is the only woman here. She’s on Chris’s left, talking tactics with a stocky man in his mid-forties. Jace is on his right and immediately gets up, giving me his chair when he spots me slipping through the door. Chris slides his chair closer, lacing his fingers with mine and giving my hand a reassuring squeeze.
Thankfully everyone’s wrapped up in their own conversations, allowing me time to get my bearings before they notice me. The energy in the room is a bit overwhelming with so many people in a tight space.
Almost instantly, I feel a glimmer of a familiar dark cloud. Rob is looking down at me from the left side of the table just past Sara and the guy she’s talking to. His two henchmen from the carnival beside him also stare at me, leaving me incredibly uncomfortable.
Across from him stands a younger guy, mid-twenties, with brown hair and eyes who is arguing with a silver-haired version of himself. Apparently their topic of debate is if their place is to be involved or not.
“Are you sure she belongs in here?” Rob asks skeptically and locks his dark eyes on me. There is no mistaking any type of concern in his tone, just disdain.
“Excuse me?” Jace cuts in. By the look on his face, even he’s stunned by Rob’s stupidity.
“I just mean this is more the matter for wolves, not-” he drawls.
“The Luna has every right to be here!” The younger clone cuts him off. “You should show some respect.” The outrage at Rob’s blatant audacity is clear.
“You talk about respect when you address an Alpha twice your strength,” Rob sneers, turning his dark glare on the challenger who remains unaffected.
I can’t help but scoff. I don’t know what Rob measures strength on but the quiet power radiating from the other man begs to differ.
Chris’s growl stops Rob dead in his tracks before he can retort to me. His demeanor shifts as he settles back into his chair, realising he has pressed his luck as far as it can for now.
“Luna, I’m so sorry you went through this, but rest assured that you can count on Crimson Dawns support,” the young Alpha says with a sincere smile.
“Thank you Eric,” Chris replies in his business tone.
“What better way to show our intentions then a joint venture to get rid of a common enemy?” Eric replies much to his elder clone’s dismay.
“Have you thought of the repercussions!? Their warrior base is bigger than our entire pack. They can afford to lose some warriors, but-”
“But nothing,” Eric cuts him off. “We approached them for treaty talks. This is a common enemy, I will not run and hide when they are at our doorstep! I’m Crimson Dawn’s Alpha now, you have to trust I will make the best decision for our pack,” he says with finality.
With this, the elder clone relents and sinks back into his chair.
“With all due respect Chris, why are we bringing this pup into it now?” Rob’s contempt for Eric is not hidden one bit. To his credit, Eric doesn’t even sniff the bait, his attention is focused solely on Chris as though Rob is beneath his notice.
“They are here because I invited them, as I did you,” Chris growls out as a warning. With that, the room settles down some and the meeting resumes.
Alpha Eric of the Crimson Dawn pack may be younger than Rob but he already exudes more competence and control then him. His energy is considerably stronger and more stable.
As the meeting progresses, I learn that they have narrowed down a general area where they think the rogue strong hold is. Occasionally they ask me a few questions but really there is very little I can add that Derek hasn’t already. I’m lost in my own thoughts, oblivious of the conversations around me when a thought hits me.
Jonah felt different, not just because he was a sadistic demon but because he wasn’t a rogue!
“The flayer,” I blurt out. I can’t talk about how he felt without opening a door I don’t want to go through but my outburst draws the room’s attention.
“Yeah, the Guardian already told us about the flayer,” Rob cuts in annoyed.
“No,” I snap. “He wasn’t one of them.” That got their attention.
“Are you sure?” Chris asks and I nod.
“He made a few comments, but he always differentiated himself from them. I remember when Craig attacked me the first night that he said working with rogues was a necessity. Jonah was calling the shots, running the show there, but was not a rogue.”
I know Chris will ask me about it later and I can explain his feel as well, but for now that’s enough. As they discuss this new development, I get lost in my own thoughts.
I need to get out of the room to hear myself think.
I let Chris know I was heading to talk with Derek and make my way out. The moment I leave that room, a weight is lifted. Three Alphas, presumably a retired Alpha, and several high rank wolves in one room is a lot of energy to deal with.
I find Derek out back with the other Guardians mid conversation, but he waves me over the moment he sees me. I quickly filled him in on what was going on in the meeting, including my revelation about Jonah.
“What did he feel like?” He cuts in, shocking me. I automatically look at the other two Guardians. “Relax they won’t say a thing, I trust my life to either, in a heartbeat.” He gives me a reassuring look and waits for me to continue.
“Off. And dark, but not in the same way that rogues do. They almost feel oily, he felt like tar, like it caused me to recoil immediately. But, there was that polish of a pack wolf...” I trail off, my own nerves have worked themselves up as I dwell on my time with him.
Derek considers my words, absentmindedly passing me his dagger. He has done this a few times since that night with Chris unconscious in the hospital. He basically has me using the dagger to focus myself and quell my nerves.
I follow the routine he taught me. Find the balance of the blade, test it’s weight, switch between defense and throwing grips, and lastly flip it. That part was added during the last training, apparently he didn’t think me catching the pointy end was likely any more.
“Here,” Mack says, producing a smaller dagger from her wrist. This one’s a better fit, I go through the steps and have started flipping it when Jace walks up.
“Jeeze Jess, you look a little scary doing that,” Jace trails off, eyes never leaving the twirling blade as he nervously walks up.
“She’s a natural,” Dex cuts in, grinning. “Watch,” he says, producing his own dagger, larger than Derek’s. I go through the same steps quickly and am flipping it much like the others.
“Once you know the center and weight they all act the same,” I reason with a shrug.
“Well they’re taking a break for lunch. Chris sent me to see if you’d like to join?” Jace asks and I nod.
The conversations are considerably more relaxed when we get to the private dining room. I take a seat beside Chris and Jace with Eric across from him. Eventually things switch back to our abduction.
“I’d still like to know how you felt her pain without her being marked and from such a distance,” Rob drawls, narrowing his gaze at us. His comment comes across dangerously close to an accusation.
“Don’t be jealous that they are blessed closer than most, friend,” Dex cut in, a dangerous look in his eye. He keeps his expression mostly neutral but I can feel his hostility.
He’s clearly not fond of Rob either.
“You felt it!?” I ask Chris, my eyes wide in disbelief.
He just nods. “The second last day we were going over reports and planning the next search area, when out of nowhere I felt a searing pain across my back. It came in waves for about twenty minutes then nothing...” He trails off, his anger barely hidden as he ticks his jaw.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, my cheeks burning as I drop my gaze to the table.
“Baby, what are you sorry for?” He asks dumbfounded. “I would have taken that all for you if I could have.” His sincerity is so overwhelming but I can’t help the shame I feel for causing him any pain.
“It’s more common for marked mates to be able to feel experiences like that,” Eric explains, seeing my confusion.
“Speaking of that... What’s the hold up Chris, or are you unsure-” Rob starts.
Chris cuts him off with a growl and is on his feet in an instant. “She is still off limits to you Rob,” he snarls. “What I do with my mate is between us! She is still learning about our world, I will mark her when the time is right.”
The silence in the room following is deafening. I may not fully understand everything but I can see that even his own men are uncomfortable with the line Rob crossed.
“Actually...” Mack slowly cuts the silence, drawing all eyes. “You can’t.”