The pack is silent when I return. With this many people, the voices should be overwhelming, they should be talking over each other and offering support or at least some phase of anger. There is nothing.
Most of them have left the village and have gone their own ways to deal with the events of last night. Lucias is still sitting at Daria’s grave, I don’t think he’s moved from that spot in hours.
A broken leader is the last thing a pack needs when there’s a threat of this scale coming back to finish us off. This pack has two.
They look at me for some kind of direction but the only direction that I’m interested in is the background. I sit down on a small log and I watch the child that I saved get picked up and held against his mother’s chest.
There might never be a right time to tell them that Cole and his army will be returning but it still feels too raw. Without the herbs from Shadow then it’ll be pointless anyway. I don’t have the energy for it.
I can’t stop thinking about Devon. The fact that I can still obsess over her safety means that the bond is still active and that she’s still alive but it could also mean that my feelings are real.
I think they are real. I never imagined that they could be but this time feels different than it did with Maria. Devon could be dead. That pain I felt could have been the bond breaking. There are a whole range of explanations and none of them are good.
“Hey, I made you something.” Balan leans over me with a steaming cylinder-shaped mug in her hand. “My speciality herbal drink.”
I take it from her. “Thanks.”
“Lucias was wrong to blame you,” she says. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“He had every right to blame me. Cole attacked because of a choice that I made.”
“The girl?” she whispers.
I stare at her for a moment before casting my eyes over the village. No one’s in close enough range to hear. “What about her?”
“I treated her, Thorn. I smelt her DNA. She’s the descendant. I saw the way you were with her. Mating with the curse breaker must have broken you.”
“If you’re going to give me the same lecture that Kira did about not killing her then save your breath.”
She smiles. “No. I’m not. She’s an innocent in all of this. But if you’ve mated with her then she already has a place among us.”
“You say that like I’m still a part of this pack,” I say. “They’d never accept her and I couldn’t allow her to live around that kind of resentment. She deserves better.”
“Is that why she isn’t here? You don’t trust us to protect her?”
“I sent her away.” I drop my eyes as an unsettling lump forms in my throat. “If I don’t give Cole her location then he’s coming back in three days to kill everyone.”
She leans back, swallowing fearfully. “So we fight. He’s just another power-hungry alpha, we’ve faced worse than him.”
“Look at them,” I mutter, scowling at the two women that are sobbing together within the trees. “Does it look like they’re ready to fight?”
“They’d fight for you. Lucias might be our leader but last night proved that they’ll always see you as their alpha. We’ve just lost our way a little. Don’t give up on us.”
I wish it could be that simple. I wish I didn’t have this ticking bomb in my head telling me that I need to run far from this place and everyone in it. It’s not that I don’t care about them, I grew up with most of them on my father’s estate. I’ve known Balan and Pal since we were kids, playing football on the windy, English cliffsides. I didn’t know then what it meant to be an alpha or even a leader. I just knew that I was always around family that I trusted.
Lucias was my father’s beta, his second in command. I inherited him by default. After my mother died, my father fell apart and sacrificed his position temporarily over to Lucias. The power went to his head. The series of choices that followed inadvertently led to my father’s death and that was the moment that I knew I had to take charge for the pack’s sake.
I was young but I was wiser than most alphas around the world. It shocked them. We were a pack, a community, a family. But being a werewolf always felt like a curse. All of us wished for a way to end our transitioning. I didn’t force them here. I gave them a choice and I warned them that locating the cure wasn’t going to be easy. We entered these woods hopeful.
We never imagined that one hundred and twenty-six years later we’d still be inside of them. The guilt ate away at me until there was nothing left.
Every part of me is telling me to leave them but I can’t be that selfish anymore. I can’t let my guilt control me anymore. Meeting Devon has changed many things. It has forced me to face the unthinkable—that maybe I don’t deserve to be alone. None of us do.
Kira glances at me as she leaves her wooden hut and walks through the clearing. I drop my drink to the floor and I excuse myself. She’s fast. She tries to elude me but I cut her off halfway across a field.
“I’m not in the mood, Thorn.”
“Where are you going? To meet with him?”
She sighs and turns. “It’s none of your business.”
“I had a little chat with him earlier,” I say. “I think I terrified the poor kid.”
Her eyes burst with fury. “I swear if you’ve hurt him-”
“Relax, he’s fine. He can’t be hurt, can he?”
She folds her arms. “You know about the herb.”
I nod. “I convinced him to bring enough for the pack.”
“Why would you do that? He’ll be executed if he’s caught.”
“This isn’t going to end well,” I say. “Cole will order him to kill you.”
“Cole won’t find out,” she says. “Shadow said that he’s hardly even there in the day. He meets with other packs to discuss deals and then he returns before sundown.” I bite on my lip. “What?” she demands. “Spit it out.”
I tell her about Cole’s threat and what Shadow is expecting her to do. She doesn’t seem shocked by it, she probably predicted that it wasn’t over. She focuses on something else.
“I would never join Cole’s pack,” she says, angry that I’d even mention it. “He can’t seriously think that.”
“The bond is making him think a lot of things. He is looking for a way for you to be together which is natural but realistically it will never happen.”
“Okay. So he’ll join ours. You still have that authority. They can’t argue against it.”
I sigh. “You’re putting him in the same position. He’ll have to fight his own pack.”
She groans. “This is impossible! Why did it have to be him?”
I twist the corner of my lips into a smile. “I asked myself that same question for a long time. Eventually. . . you just stop.”
“How can I be mated to someone that would slaughter the people I love in a few days?” She covers her face with her hands. “That attacked us last night and killed Daria. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“It never does. You can reject it.”
“I know.” She glances over her shoulder. “I need to speak with him first.”
“He’ll just talk you out of it, Kira.”
She snaps her eyes back to mine. “I’m a big girl, Thorn. Let me sort it out. Worry about your own love life.”
I already am. I can’t stop. I let her go, there’s nothing more I can say. I spot Pal on the way back and I join him on the hill that overlooks the village. He passes me a bottle that he’s drinking that reeks of whiskey. I take a large sip.
“It’s all kicking off down there, mate,” Pal says. “Lucias is going fucking crazy. He wants us to launch an attack on the mountain. Tonight.”
I can just about hear Lucias’ yelling. He’s screaming at them that it’s time for them to band together and take revenge. They don’t seem motivated.
“He’s losing them.” Pal looks at me with a large grin. “Your return has changed everything. They’ll only listen to you.”
I pass him the bottle back and wipe my mouth. “Thanks, mate.”
I rise up and I start the trek down the hill. Pal follows me excitedly, positioning himself at my flank. I didn’t want this to happen but now I have no choice.
“What is wrong with all of you!” Lucias yells, his face is blood red. “They killed your sister! We leave tonight and we attack them in their territory!”
I slow down as the silent pack members stare at me and rise to their feet. Dozens of them start to crowd around us, their heads high and alert.
“Tell them,” he says. “Tell them to attack.”
“There will be an attack and we will be fighting,” I say. “But it won’t be tonight.”
Lucias puffs. “Coward.”
“They have the world’s strongest painkiller in their systems,” I shout at him. “It’ll be like fighting machines. We will have that same painkiller soon and we’ll be able to defend against them. They’ll be back in three days and we’ll be ready for them.”
“What about the children?” Lucias demands.
I look to the group of kids that are playing a game outside a hut. “I know a place where they’ll be safe. A group will stay with them.”
“So that’s your plan?” he says. “Wait?”
“Yeah,” I say, scouring my eyes over the now-motivated pack. “We wait.”
+ + +
I crouch down in the dirt of a secluded part of the woods where I won’t be disturbed. I clench on my teeth as the transition begins.
“Please,” I beg quietly. “Please come to me.”
My fingernails claw against the fallen leaves as my bones break apart in my hands. The last time I saw through her eyes, she was in some kind of diner near the main road. She could be anywhere now. She could be too far out of reach. I glance up to the darkening sky, watching the clouds shift and drift apart.
I shake my head. She’s not dead. She can’t be.
“Come on, Devon,” I whisper. “Just let me know you’re okay. Please.”
Once again, that strange connection calls to me like it does every time that I transition. The one that I’ve been afraid of. I almost open it but I have no idea what could happen. I distance myself from it, only focusing on reaching her.
You’re not dead! my mind screams. Please. No!
The voice is so gentle, the same one that I’ve heard in my dreams. My vision merges with hers and I see the bright flames of a fire followed by a confused look from Sky. My fingers curl out in relief. My heart finally relaxes as my bones continue to break.
Can you hear me? I think back.
Yeah. I can hear you. I’m so glad that you’re okay, she says. How is this happening?
I’m not sure. This has never happened to anyone under the mating bond before.
In all my time alive, I have never heard of a mind connection during mates in their human forms. The transition creates a powerful link but it always links sight, never thoughts. I wonder if it’s something to do with that mysterious connection that calls to me but I never opened it.
We might not have a lot of time, I say. Where are you? Are you safe?
I’m safe. We’re in a red forest, I’m trying to find a witch that might know where Malese is.
She’s alive, Thorn. If I can find her then I might be able to convince her to break the curse.
That doesn’t completely shock me. Witches have a frustrating tendency to defy the natural order.
No, I say. There isn’t another way to break the curse. Devon, listen to me, do not go looking for her. She’ll kill you.
I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. I think it’s a dead end anyway, we’ve been here for hours and we haven’t found anything. There is a short silence and then her voice comes back softer. I miss you.
I miss you too.
Be careful, she says. We ran into a pack earlier that were trading weapons with Cole in return for herbs. I think we managed to warn him off the deal but he could still go through with it. I saw some of these weapons, they could blow half of the woods apart.
Christ, I mutter. Okay, thanks for the heads up. Don’t trust anyone, okay? Especially packs that are after that herb. Werewolves will do anything to get that cure and I’m assuming that Sky and Dominic have taken it because they’re not in transition.
She flicks her eyes to the siblings and then lowers them. Yes, she has it with her. She says that it has no scent but we’ll be careful. I know that you think that I’m wasting my time but I’m not giving up. Not on you and not on us. You’ll just have to deal with that.
I smile which turns into a pained groan as my spine snaps. I can’t wait to kiss you again.
Well, I have to keep things family friendly. There’s kids present.
I hear the laughter inside of her mind. She turns away from the siblings. We’ll be together soon. I wish-
She cuts off and I let out a small, contained squeal as my body rips from my bones and I land on all fours. I double check that she’s not coming back before I lift my head to the sky and howl.