As the cold snow under the sole of her feet bit her skin, Selena persevered through the pain as she tried her best to deflect the incoming barrage of fists coming her way. In front of her, Joseph crossed his arms as he observed her. Her contender was the same level as her, both of them new to combat but Selena was on the losing side. The woman that she was against had a bigger body, a much faster one. And all that she could do was dodge.
Her enemy swiftly dove and caught Selena’s waist, tackling her to the ground. Her back hit the dirt and snow while she desperately willed herself to push her opponent away and stand on her feet.
But her efforts were fruitless when all of sudden, Joseph pulled the woman away from her, ending the match right away.
Selena glanced at him, upset with his interruption. A few seconds more, she would have been able to knock her opponent on the ground.
“Good job, Cindy.” Joseph patted the wolf’s back, turning his attention to Selena afterward. “Wow, that was very sad to watch.”
Joseph reached his hand out for her to which she accepted with a rueful glare as he pulled her from the ground.
“Leave me alone, I’m trying my best.” She answered.
“Well, your best is not good enough. Do better if you want to climb the rank.”
Joseph wasn’t lying around. The training was hard, mentally and physically taxing. While everyone around here had improved somewhat significantly over two weeks, Selena had a long way to go.
“I just need more training, that’s all. Your pestering won’t help me improve.” Selena grimaced.
“It’s motivation, little Luna. I don’t expect you to become stronger if I’m lenient. If you think I’m strict, just be glad my wife is at the moment very, heavily pregnant. If she were here like your brother wanted, everyone would be in the ground crying.”
Joseph shook his head. Sadly, he wasn’t wrong. The great Luna Amber of pack Albrich was famous even before her husband became an Alpha. She was well known for being an undefeated brawler, even challengers from other packs had a hard time going against her. Though she wasn’t big or had had a muscly physique, Luna Amber fought with her agile movements.
She shuddered to think what would happen if the Luna was the one training them. If she was having a hard time now then Luna Amber would have already made her quit.
“For now, rest Selena. You need to gather your strength back before I can let you join another session.” Joseph ordered.
“But I can keep going…” She dragged her words, fully aware that her body had started to shut itself down.
Her shoulder slumped, her sides feeling enormously felt tender, and her spine felt like it was about to be toppled after being slammed into the ground.
“I’d rather you be resting, least I would incur the wrath of your brother which I certainly don’t want.” Joseph shook his head.
“My brother? Talon is harmless. He doesn’t even know how to properly throw a punch.” Selena knitted her brows.
Joseph’s face morphed into a surprised expression until he slowly smiled and laughed.
“You think your brother is some kind of puppy without a talent? Why is that?” He raised a brow.
“Because I haven’t seen him stab a wolf before. Yes, maybe he knows a bit of combat but I know my brother. He would try to talk his way out of anything.” She explained.
Talon had the same disposition as their father. Always no to violence and let actions be spoken through treaties and connections. That was the Highcliff’s way of working in the world and to imagine her brother fight like other wolves was just too far-fetched.
“Selena, if Alpha Highcliff decided to fight with everyone in here including me, he would most likely become the victor.”
She draws herself back, arching her brows. “Nonsense.”
“Don’t mistake his aloof nature towards fighting as a sign of weakness. He’s an Alpha and he wouldn’t have accepted his position if he knew he couldn’t fight.”
Selena pondered for a moment. Talon would choose his actions carefully and he wasn’t one to accept tasks that were out of his capability. Still, thinking that he was somehow a fighting expert made her want to scratch her head in confusion.
But everything that Joseph had said made complete sense.
She grimaced. She had already made the mistake of undermining Talon and it would be an utter mistake if she was doing to do the same thing again.
She looked at Joseph and silently nodded.
Joseph’s phone rang. He pulls it out from his pocket and reads the text displayed on its screen. Immediately after, he jumped excitedly.
“Oh, crap. It’s happening.” He nervously combed his hair with his hand. “My mate is in labor. I’ll cut my own sacks if I miss their birth.”
Selena laughed at his panicked state. Admittedly, there was something admirable about a man falling into a spiral of worrying hues when it came to their loved ones. Because in those moments, where their heart poured through their eyes, their love escaped from every seam in their bodies. It mirrored Nathaniel’s sorrowful look when she left him.
Agony and hopelessness compiled into one picturesque scene of despair.
She gulped, blinking away his name in her mind. She couldn’t afford to think about him. Not when every night, he still hawked over her in her dreams. All she needed to remember was he loved Katie and that was a fact.
Her heart prickled momentarily out of jealousy.
“Congratulations. You’re going to be a good father.” Selena tried to smile, burying her previous thoughts.
He breathed in deeply. “I don’t think so. I mean, technically I’m still a child in my mind that’s about to have children, triplets. And I will not consider myself a father if I won’t see them personally pop out of their mother.”
“So, are you going home?” She asked.
“Of course, I’m sure Alpha Highcliff will understand if I take my leave now.” He sighed and turn to his side. He gestures for a man to come to them.
This man was big. Almost as big as Nathaniel but a lot hairier. He was naked from the waist up, displaying his muscled chest full of silky dark strands of curly hair. His captivating blue eyes made Selena nervous as he walked up to them. His physique stood over her. Like a tall wall of muscle and flesh, the wolf looked foreign but very pleasing to the eyes.
His nearness was choking Selena with fright. Even Nathaniel wasn’t this intimidating, but she couldn’t point that as to why. Maybe because the man didn’t have a welcoming pair of eyes, instead, he looked at her and it made her freeze on the spot.
But the most curious thing about him was his scent. She couldn’t smell it. Though that was probably because of the necklace he wore, which was the same thing that Luna Eliza gave her.
“Dorran,” Joseph spoke to the man.
“Yes, sir.” He answered.
“I need you to fill in for me. Just follow the routine as Alpha Talon requested and make sure the Luna doesn’t exert too much force in training today. Bench her until tomorrow and use force if necessary. I just need you to babysit her. Got that, big guy?” The Alpha arched a brow.
The man only glanced at Selena and nodded.
“Your will be done, Alpha.”
“Perfect! Now, if you would allow me I need to be there before my wife gives birth.”
Joseph disappeared in a flash, leaving Selena in the presence of the wolf with an absorbing energy. She was unwilling to speak with him mostly because of the grim aura surrounding him.
Sadly, she didn’t have a choice when the man himself took the first step and spoke.
“Luna Highcliff,” he says, his deep voice prickled Selena’s back with untrimmed nervousness.
She braced herself and looked him in the eyes.
“Selena is fine.” She says.
“Are you sure it isn’t a trespass?” He asked, lowering his face to hers.
There was something wrong about him though she couldn’t say exactly where. Those bright blue eyes reminded her of her cousin, so dark and untrustworthy.
She gulped. “I was never used to the title. It sounds silly to me.”
“A title is never silly, dear wolf. Though if I was to be honest, it is a burden.” He spoke. Dorran took the back of her hand and kissed it. “Dorran Doyle, temporary Beta for Alpha Joseph. Nice to meet you, Luna.”
“Temporary?” She arched a brow.
He chuckled. A dimple on his lower right chin appeared, catching her off guard.
“You see? I’m only a temporary Beta but I don’t shy away from it. I can introduce myself with a smile.” He says. “You’re a Luna, don’t say your title sounds silly.”
Surprisingly, he was fairly nice. The way he talked was smooth and cool, relaxed even and she regretted judging him too early. Though only a true maniac would be walking around topless in a snowy January day.
She softened, masking her uneasiness with a composed laugh.
The tall stranger only looked at her with a fixed gaze, as if he was examining her. With him paying her too much attention, she felt her stomach churn.
“But why temporary?” She asked again.
“Well, if the Beta Tobias would have come here then no one would be helping Luna Amber back in the pack. So Alpha Joseph picked me as his right hand because he thought I was capable, I guess.”
“Perhaps you know how to fight?” She says, grimacing. “I mean, he did leave you here. He trusts you to train them, unlike Beta Julius…”
Her eyes veered to her left and stared at their Beta, in the morning, under bright daylight, pushing a man up against a tree while their lips were locked together. Two minutes more then maybe they would be naked and Selena would have witnessed another one of Julius’s very public displays of affection.
“Beta Julius is reliable too, I guess.” She smiled and turned her attention to him. “But, anyways. You can fight, can you?”
His blue gaze hardened and she immediately recoiled, stunned by how it pierced her. She wondered if she had asked him the wrong question.
“Fight? Well, I’m certainly better than the people around here.” He answered surely.
Selena caught wind of his tone, somehow she spotted an inkling that he was reserved and the smug tone he just used did not function too much of a veneer towards the words hidden under his mind.
She felt his wolf. From the distance between them, his threatening energy started to overlap her senses. Maybe that was why she couldn’t trust him. His powerful wolf, almost like an Alpha’s had silently tracked her. She also couldn’t relax because of his necklace. Why would he need to hide his scent in the first place?
“But don’t fret, Luna. If you’re worried about getting stronger, I’ll show you how to fight, we’ll go off routine and you’ll understand why I’m better.” Dorran spoke, eyeing her intently.
And in there, she saw it. The glint of trouble that which glowed bright unlike any other perturbed her. There were layers to him and oddly enough, she was lured in by the peculiarity of his grin.
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“You’ll have to come to me to find out.” He muttered. “In the meantime, I think someone wants to talk to you.”
Dorran gestured behind her. Selena looks over her shoulder and turned, seeing her brother staring at her. Talon bore that murderous stance as he marched towards her. Nervously, she averted her attention back to Dorran but he was already gone. Before she could say anything, Talon’s grasp took her arm and pulled her to face him. In an instant, she saw the wrath in him and she froze.
“Selena…” Her brother murmured gently. “What’s the name of that wolf?’
She looked at him, confused with how suddenly he changed his disposition from anger to concern.
“He is Beta Doyle. Joseph left to tend to his wife.” She says, narrowing her gaze at him. “Talon, uh…are you okay?”
When she thought she was going to see her brother again, she wasn’t expecting his disheveled state. His hair was untamed, the spike of dark strands stood on the side of his head while his beard had thickened over two weeks. Even the gray shirt on his back was riddled with creases and stains, unfit for someone with his stature. His sleepless expression made it harder to look at him and even more when she realized he drained himself all because of his mate.
“Don’t talk to that man again. The air around him is sickening.” He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I came here to check those who are in training after Joseph phoned me.”
Though Selena didn’t want to speak to her brother now, she simply couldn’t just turn her back on him. Still, she questioned herself to what lengths does Talon have to go through to see his mate recover. Does his health matter too little?
“You still haven’t answered my question.” Selena ruefully whispered.
After the words she spat in front of Talon’s face, it felt uncomfortable just having to be near him so casually.
“What question?” He drawled, clearing his throat while he blinked away the sleep from his eye.
She pursed her lip and held his arm.
“Talon…” She says. “Have you had your breakfast?”
He shook his head.
“No, but I was about to. Joseph called me before he left.”
Selena grimaced. “Come on, let's go and grab something to eat.”
Talon felt grimly light as she pulled him to the tent that served rations for the wolves in training. Even when he stood on his feet, he looked as if he was about to cave in. More specifically, he was hours away from being emaciated.
She guided him to a chair and let him lean against a metal pole. It was obvious with his reclined manner that he was exhausted and if that wasn’t a reason enough, then his light snores would be a direct dead giveaway. Selena was quick to gather scrambled eggs and three portions of smoked pork into one plate, wasting no time to walk back to her brother. She sat next to him, nudging his shoulder to lift him from his sleep. Talon lazily raises his head and stared at her.
He nodded meekly.
“Oh…but I don’t have the appetite.”
“Doesn’t matter-” She paused, restraining herself. It wouldn’t do good for her to let her anger bloom. “Talon, you can’t do this to yourself. You haven’t rested in I don’t know how long and you smell like an unwashed dog. Do you remember the last time you bathed yourself?”
Talon shook his head no, slumping his shoulders.
“She could wake up anytime…I wanna be on her side when she does.” The guilt in his eye burnt her.
She hoped that when Katie woke up, she would be direct and immediately say the words that could either make or break Talon. Selena couldn’t bear the idea of Talon ending up being another one of Katie’s failsafe.
“I’m sorry, I know that’s not what you want to hear.” He smiled lopsidedly while reaching for the plate in her hands. She watched him take a bite of the food. His face morphed into anger. “What the? Why are these so small? I instructed the kitchen aids to prepare appropriate meals for our men and women and this is what they serve…Unforgivable. I better go and talk to them now.”
She held his shoulder and gave him a stern look.
“You’re not as strong as you were when you had your wolf. Now, you’re a human among wolves and if you proceed to your duties as a wolf, your body will not able to handle the workload. You’ll collapse or work yourself to death.”
His stubbornness showed through his groan. It wasn’t new to her when he acted like this. He took his job seriously and he didn’t like being told what to do when he decides something he can do solely alone, he turned silent and proceed to enact his decision anyway.
“It’s their job, Selena.” He argued. “These wolves need to perform their duties.”
“And so should you, brother. If you really are committed to taking Kayla Marie as your Luna then take care of yourself too.”
He draws himself back after hearing Katie’s name escape from her mouth. Both of them were not ready to talk about the most sensitive topic that separated them in the first place but Katie was too big of an Elephant to not talk about and Selena started to quake knowing the longer they let this boil, the harder it would be to mend the broken bond between them.
Talon’s cheeks aflame with a pinkish tint while he slowly composed himself.
“You’re right…I should recline a bit.” He murmured. “You must still hate me after everything that I’ve said to you.”
Hate was too strong a word to describe the confusion in her. Though she didn’t hate him, she felt unease and very cross when she looked at it now. In her heart, she knew that Katie was a wolf that couldn’t be trusted but it seems as though her brother couldn’t see that and gave the wolf more than the benefit of the doubt.
He gave her his everything and her brother wouldn’t receive anything back until she wakes up. And even then, Katie’s reaction to everything was still just a surprise.
She shook her head.
“I’m just not sure how to feel about it. I know you’ve done so much for this pack and me. You’ve sacrificed a lot of things too but to be honest, I can’t bring myself to look at her beside you.”
Talon looks at the palm of his hand and released a cumbersome sigh. He wanted to say a lot of things. Things that stemmed from his heart, his true feelings about Katie. Because if he too was being honest, having Katie around felt like watching a hurricane obliterating everything in its path.
Having Katie meant he was risking his relationship with his sister but the thing is, he was afraid of losing both, and quickly making decisions never served him well. That was why he took longer to finally reap one good decision.
“I’m sorry,” Talon spoke.
“I’m sorry too. I got a little too spicy with the words I chose.”
Though wishing Katie would die might not be spicy at all, it was worse.
“I said a lot of things that I didn’t mean because I desperately wanted you to understand me without trying to understand you first.”
Selena shook her head. “You don’t need to say it. It was a burst of the moment and neither one of us was prepared.”
“Still, that’s not a reason for me to blow off on you.” He gulped. “Sister, I need you to trust me that I’m going to make the right decisions. I don’t wish for us to be this way. I don’t wish for you to sleep in a dusty basement on an old bed. I know the consequences of my actions and Kayla will never give me assurance until she says so herself. I am prepared and that is my decision, my will.”
Her heart thumped as she became increasingly worried for Talon.
“You’re willing to do all of that for her?” She shivered. “But if she decides to leave you then you will be removed from the pack. What about me? Are you just going to abandon everyone who looks up to you? Francis, Sebastian, mom, and dad?”
“Then you take my place, as official Luna. That’s the only ending if it ever comes to that.” He spoke so seriously.
Numerous thoughts come flooding into her mind but the scariest thing was her brother’s willingness to set his fate on his will.
“Being a Luna requires a steady mind, Talon. And you of all people know I don’t have that.”
“That’s why I need you to trust me. I won’t let it come to that, I swear by our family’s name.”
His conviction was admirably stubborn and stupid and Selena didn’t like it. Though that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore. While Talon cast his eyes somewhere far away, Selena was left again with no other choice. Trusting her brother in this situation was purely a double-edged sword and yet, she already guessed how everything was going to end.