Cousin? I couldn’t stop the smile that spread across my face. Family, I had family.
Alec smiled and shook his head.
“A part of me knew deep down that you would find your way back here one day” he said to me, “I never thought it would be until after your twentieth birthday though...but here you are”
Alec’s smile soon disappeared from his face and he clasped his hands in front of him.
“You aren’t safe here. You can stay until morning, but then you must go back to Fern Creek” he said to Jayce, concern in his voice. “If Clayton tracks you here we can’t protect Quinn the way your pack can”
My smile was gone as quickly as it had come. I had almost forgotten about Clayton. For the first time in a long time I felt like I belonged somewhere. I had discovered family that I never knew I had and I discovered my true mate. I knew that if Clayton could take all of that away from me then he would, anyone that was around me was in danger too.
Jayce squeezed my hand under the table. That simple gesture had Rogue stirring inside me, our mate...our protector. I could feel my skin heating, my blood pulsing in my ears. I suddenly became aware of how close his body was to mine, how every time he moved his knee grazed my own. I cleared my throat and fidgeted in my chair. Jayce squeezed my hand tighter. I turned my head slightly to look at his face and my heart skipped a beat as he locked eyes with mine.
There was fire in his eyes, it was obvious to see that I wasn’t the only one affected.
“We will be leaving in the morning. Quinn needed answers, so here we are” Dominic said, momentarily snapping me out of the little bubble I found myself in with Jayce.
“Ok. Fair enough” he started, “The night of the fire I’d been visiting my father. Your uncle, Reed” Alec added, looking at me.
“My father had been involved in a fight with Clayton over what was to be done with you and your twin brother. Dad and I, I felt, were the only members of the pack that didn’t care that the twins were different. You were family and that was that. Clayton, on the other hand, wanted you both dead and he was very vocal about that. He tried to get my father to convince Mason to kill his own children. Can you imagine? Dad and his brother were close, Clayton knew this and tried to take advantage”
I sat listening, taking it all in. It was comforting to know that at least Alec and my uncle had been on my parent’s side. The more I learnt about Clayton, the more I despised him.
“Anyway” Alec continued, “The argument between my father and Clayton turned physical and luckily for dad Mason had overheard the fight and stepped in before Clayton did some real damage. Clayton was one of the best fighters that Eastern Ridge had. Some pack members believed that if Clayton had ever taken Mason on for the role of Alpha that he probably would have won.
Physically, Clayton was stronger and faster but he lacked a lot of traits that it took to make a good Alpha. Mason and Claudia were fair, just leaders...Clayton was anything but. While I was with my father, tending to his wounds, we heard a bit of commotion coming from the pack house. I went out the front and saw Clayton storming off and Claudia screaming something at him. It was only about five minutes later when we could smell smoke and the fire alarms started going off”
I could see the emotion on Alec’s face as he relived the event. It was so bizarre to be hearing the story. I was hanging on Alec’s every word but to think that I had actually been part of it was almost incomprehensible.
“You ok?” Jayce asked, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
My skin tingled and I leant into his touch.
“I am now” I whispered.
“Dad and I ran over to the pack house. We were the first ones there, the back of the house was already engulfed in flames. I ran in the front door and located Mason, he was desperately trying to get into the nursery but the flames were too much. I grabbed him and dragged him outside, he was suffering significantly from smoke inhalation and burns but was still putting up a bit of a fight. At that stage I didn’t know where my father was. A few more pack members had come running and everyone was trying desperately to put the flames out.
Then we felt it...we felt the pack bonds break. In that moment everyone knew that Claudia and the babies were gone...”
Alec’s voice broke and he looked down at his hands, shaking his head.
“The sound that came out of Mason was unlike anything I had heard. It was gut wrenching, it was one of the most raw displays of grief I had ever seen. My father appeared from the rear of the house, covered in soot and his clothes burnt. He tried to comfort Mason but it was of no use. Mason shifted into his wolf and howled in pain...before disappearing into the forest”
I wiped the tears from my eyes as I listened to Alec’s account. I couldn’t imagine the grief that Mason, my father, would have felt in that moment.
Moira had explained to me about pack bonds and about the pain that is inflicted once the bonds break. If your true mate is killed the pain is not only emotional, but also physical. It’s like a part of you is torn out. The rest of the pack are also able to feel when a bond is broken. They don’t feel the physical pain but emotionally it takes a toll on the whole pack.
“So how am I alive?” I whispered, looking to Alec for the answers I so desperately needed.
“Well you can thank my father for that”
“Reed saved her?” Dominic asked.
I looked to Alec to continue his account.
“Dad had told me to go back to his place with him, said he needed help with cleaning some of the burns on his back. When we got inside I couldn’t believe what I saw. Claudia’s maid, Agnes, sat on the couch...holding a very alive baby”
20 years ago....
“Dad...?” I whispered as I saw Agnes sitting on the sofa. Her clothes were black with soot and dust and she cradled a tiny baby in a pink blanket.
I watched as my father walked over to Agnes and gently took the baby from her.
“We could only save Aria” he whispered as he kissed my sleeping cousin on the head.
I couldn’t believe it, one of the twins had survived the fire. I couldn’t understand why my father was keeping it a secret though.
“Dad. Mason thinks she is dead, we have to let him know!” I cried.
“No Alec. That fire was deliberately lit. My bet is that it was Clayton. If he finds out Aria is still alive then he will surely finish the job. Especially now that her parents aren’t here to protect her. Half of this pack will be secretly relieved to know that the babies are gone” Reed answered firmly.
He was right. Aria wasn’t safe and the less people that knew she was still alive, the better.
“Agnes has a plan” Reed continued.
I turned to look at Claudia’s maid. She was actually more than just Claudia’s maid, she had been her best friend and closest confidant.
“I know a place she can go...a loving couple, Marcus and Stacey. They just recently lost a baby of their own. Marcus drives trucks up this way and Stacey is an author and healer, we use a lot of her texts and theories in the clinic. They are good people, people we can trust. They owe Claudia”
It didn’t seem right to pass Aria off to some family I had never met before but I knew if Agnes trusted them then so could we.
“Marcus is coming through this way tomorrow night, he will take Aria back with him” Added Reed.
I looked at my beautiful cousin, sleeping soundly in my father’s arms. She was sweet and innocent and didn’t deserve any of what had happened. It was up to us now to make sure she remained safe and the further away she was from us, from this life...the better.
Quinn owed Alec, Agnes and Reed her life. If Clayton had had his way then she would have died that night, along with her brother and mother.
I owed them too...if it weren’t for their actions I would never have been able to meet my mate. Quinn was destined to be mine from birth, if she had died I never would have known. Unfortunately Reed had passed away a few years ago to cancer, it was sad that Quinn would never be able to thank him.
Alec continued on his story to explain how Marcus had met them in a neighbouring town and had taken Quinn. Marcus and Stacey swore to raise Quinn as their own and protect her from not only Clayton, but from herself. They gave her a new identity and from there on out she was their child.
I could tell by watching Quinn that she was torn. She loved the people that raised her but hated the fact that they had raised her with lies. The frustration that radiated through her body was amplified due to it being so close to her twentieth birthday. Any feelings she had, she would feel much more intensely than normal as her body prepared for its first shift and became more in tune with her animal.
The whole time we had been sitting here I’d felt each one of Quinn’s emotions as they passed through her body. I felt her grief, I felt her fear, I felt her anger and I felt her lust. Her scent was intoxicating to my wolf and he stirred deep inside. He was being patient, I could tell, because he could sense her animal was in pain; but every time Quinn moved, every time she fidgeted in her seat or squeezed my hand...he knew what was playing on her mind and it was the same thing that was playing on mine.
“So that’s it?” Quinn asked as Alec finished his story.
“I guess so...” Alec answered, rubbing his jaw.
“So, why were my brother and I different? So far no one has been able to answer me this”
Alec leant back in his chair, his shoulders dropping and an unmistakable sadness passing over his handsome features.
“I knew this question would be coming and it pains me to say that I don’t actually know. Mason and Claudia wouldn’t let anyone close enough to you to allow us to investigate it for ourselves, and then…you were gone. There is one person who spent a lot of time with you, she is still at Eastern Ridge to this day. I know she would want to see you and possibly she will have answers that I don’t” he smiled, “Agnes”
Quinn grinned and looked at me with pleading eyes. She was looking to her mate, her Alpha, for permission. I could feel my wolf satisfied with her display of submission to us. I reached out and stroked her cheek, her eyes changing from pleading to hunger.
“Of course we can see her” I purred, not breaking eye contact with Quinn.
“Good, well she’ll be happy. She refuses to utter your name but having you here in the flesh, finally, might change her mind. No one else is to know that you are here though, as far as the rest of my pack are concerned you are just Jayce’s mate. It won’t be long until they sniff your true identity out...that is why you must leave in the morning after meeting with Agnes”
I tore my gaze away from Quinn and looked to Alec.
“Thank you old friend. I know reliving the past is not always easy. We will let you get some rest and we will do the same”
Alec shook our hands and showed us to our rooms. His pack house was slightly larger than mine. He had two spare bedrooms that his kids once had, before they grew up and moved into their own homes.
His son, Cassius, would move back into the pack house after his initiation as Alpha and Alec would move into Reed’s old place with his wife, Alessandra.
“Jayce and Quinn you can have this room” Alec said, opening a door to one of the spare rooms, “and Dom, you can have the one at the end of the hall. Sleep well, see you in the morning”
My father gave me a knowing look and cleared his throat before walking off to his room. I knew he wasn’t impressed with the idea of Quinn and I sharing a room but there was no way she would be left on her own, not when there were still members of this pack out there that had once wished her dead.