Wolf's Lullaby

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Not A Home

PHILIP

It was like being left to stew in an interrogation room.

Not only was the air heavy with uncomfortable tension, but the high collar of the traditional clothes I wore felt too tight as I sat in Lola’s living room waiting for Tara to get ready.

I wanted to wait outside, but Lola insisted. She had been drilling holes in my face since I knocked on the door.

“Here you go.” She said, placing a glass of water on the coffee table in front of me.

“Thank you.” I grabbed the glass, suddenly parched, downing it. Her unrelenting gaze bore into me as she took a seat in the armchair across, and I almost choked on my water. Why is it hot in here? I’m sweating my ass off. This gods-damn outfit!

“So… you and Tara, dating, huh?” Lola reclined in her chair, crossing her legs.

I kept pulling on my collar, clearing my throat. “Y-yes ma’am.” I croaked. What the fuck was that?!

Lola tried to contain an amused smirk but failed, though it promptly fell. She nodded, pensive. “How do you feel? Were there any new symptoms?” Healer mode on, her thoughts rang loud. They were there in the set of her shoulders. In the slight downturn of her lips, which she tried to cover with a polite smile. The dimmed gleam in her eye. Concern.

She wasn’t keen on the idea of us dating, and I knew it had nothing to do with my charming personality. Well, maybe a little. Neither was her daughter, who was less than subtle about it. Which made for one very awkward lunch break a couple of days ago with barely any words spoken, except for Tara’s nervous ramblings. But we were all civil.

I shrugged. “All the same. I mean, no headaches, so that’s new. Overall, I’m good.” I didn’t think to mention that minor incident of my ears ringing and a bloody nose. It happened one time, and I was good. Better than good. I dared say great. The only new symptoms I developed over last four days were spikes in my pulse, and a severe case of muscle pain in my face from all the idiotic, blissful grinning I’ve been doing. She didn’t need to know that.

“Okay. Good. If you notice anything, please tell me.” There was a pause of a few beats, and I thought I shrunk a few centimeters under her scrutinizing gaze. Sweat beaded my brow, before she added in a firm voice, “Take good care of her, and take care of yourself. Follow everything I told you to a tee. No messing around. Are we clear?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I swallowed hard and took a sip from the empty glass, coaxing a snort from Lola, which she covered with a cough.

A door closed upstairs, and footsteps descended the wooden staircase, turning a corner into the living room. Mina entered, her dark curls bouncing, and she screeched to a halt as her emerald eyes landed on me.

“Oh… err… hi, Constantinov.” She muttered, surprised to find me inside, her eyes darting to Lola who only gave her a smile. I grunted, but quickly amended with a fumbled salute to Ishaba and a “hi”.

I could sense her aura pulsing with nervous energy as she nodded, tucking her hands in the back pockets of her jeans, biting her lip. Her displeasure over me dating her best friend clear in her silence, in the shifting of her feet and that look in her eyes that mirrored her mothers, and I pulled at my collar harder.

“She’ll be down in a few minutes.” Mina said, looking me up and down. Her eyes lingering on every detail of my traditional garb. From the high collar of the long black tunic, closely fitted, that fell to mid-thigh, the hem of it richly embroidered in gold and blue, the colors of the All Father, the intricacy of which displayed the status of my family, secured with a deep blue silken sash at the waist. All the way to the black trousers tucked into black leather boots. The material was light and breathable, and quite durable, as it also accommodated the half-shift without bursting at the seams.

“Hmm… Black suits you.” Nodding approvingly, she raised a brow.

“Err… thanks?” I guess. Mina shrugged, sitting on the couch, finding her nails interesting, totally ignoring me.

I prayed to gods for Tara to hurry it up because I ran a risk of suffocating here in the aura of these two protective witches. Seconds seemed to stretch for hours and I stood up, ready to excuse myself and go wait outside like I initially planned, when Tara entered the room and words died in my mouth.

Gods help me.

I forgot how to breathe.

All three functioning brain cells I had froze, gawking at her. Mina muttering something like ‘wipe the drool Constantinov’, Lola chiding her, though she herself laughed and Mina adding ‘who cares, his brain is fried at the moment’ sounded muffled, far away. I ignored the jab, my sole focus on the sight in front of me.

Beautiful. So beautiful.

Bashfully, under my gaze, she tucked a tendril of loose hair styled into a low bun with a few flower ornaments behind her ear. Her round hazel eyes lined, framed by long lashes, blinked up at me.

“Oh, is this okay?” she asked and my eyes flew to her crimson tinted lips.

“Huh?”

“I had nothing else fancy. This is the best I got.” She smoothed her hands down the skirt of her red lace dress that flowed just above her knees at the front before swooping low to her ankles at the back, biting her lip. Tell her she looks beautiful!

“Oh, uhm...no it’s fine...beautiful...the dress...it’s beautiful.” I heard Mina snort. Smooth Philip...so smooth… You dumb fuck! How hard is it you pea brained moron?! It’s a compliment, not rocket science!

“Thanks.” Tara smiled shyly, rubbing her hand over the smooth, bare skin of her arms and my eyes trailed over them. Over the slight frame of her exposed shoulders, the delicate shape of her collarbones which always seemed to snag my attention, to the dip at the base of her throat where a raindrop pendant nestled, and up the graceful column of her neck, finding my way back to her lips…

I gulped, licking my suddenly dry ones.

“Grandma bought it a couple of months ago… It was supposed to be my prom dress.… It’s like she knew…” her voice caught as she trailed off, but she quickly cleared her throat, pushing a smile on her face. The hurt I glimpsed in it cut through my daze and wrenched my heart. Her smile should never be like that. Forced, dimmed. Never.

“Aw, T…” Mina hugged her.

“I’m okay. I’m fine. Promise.” Tara laughed, pulling away.

“You look beautiful T. Doesn’t she Constantinov?” Mina turned to me with a smirk, putting me in the spotlight. I could have sworn she just wanted to see me squirm. Cheeks flushed, Tara’s eyes landed on me.

“Yeah… beautiful, mabuful.” Aw, shit. I said that! Mentally I facepalmed. But seeing that wide dimpled smile on Tara’s face, and hearing her giggle, any embarrassment I felt melted away with it.

“Thanks… But oh, my god! You should have given me a warning, Crabby Pants!” Palming her red cheeks, she took me in, bouncing closer.

Crap.

I totally forgot I looked like I was freaking cosplaying. I told her I would wear traditional clothing because my family is oh so big on tradition. She went around me in a circle before stepping in front of me, her hands roaming the front of my tunic, tracing the gold and blue embroidery. The warmth of her fingertips seeped through the material, almost as if she traced the lines on my bare skin, eliciting small sparks of electricity as she did, and my hands itched to bring her closer.

“It’s beautiful. You clean up nicely, Crabby Pants.” She smiled up at me and I had to stop myself from leaning in to kiss her since we weren’t alone. And like she’d been reading my thoughts, Mina cleared her throat.

“You two love-birds are going to be late if you don’t go now.”

“Ah, yeah, we should go.” I took Tara’s hand, gently ushering her to the front door.

“You kids have fun.” Lola said, waving at us, “But not too much fun. And no alcohol. You take care of her!” She shot me a pointed stare.

I nodded, face flaming at the insinuation, and seeing Tara blushing only made it worse. The desire to flee intensified, the danger of me burning to ash real, and I opened the door, nudging Tara out and down the porch steps.

“And don’t forget the curfew!” Lola shouted as we approached my car.

“I’ll get her home on time.” I answered, opening the passenger door for Tara and helping her in.

Lola nodded, waving, and the two of us were off. The moment I peeled away from the house, the collar loosened around my neck and I could breathe again as Tara smiled at me.

**********

“Okay. I’m having a serious case of déjà vu.” Tara said as we approached a gate to the estate, which for the first time didn’t fill me with usual dread and unease, since through the entire ride she’d been chatting my nerves away.

“What do you mean?”

“Ivan’s home also had this huge metal gate. The Belinski’s house is enormous.” Why did that make me annoyed? They were friends. Of course, she’d been to his place.

I entwined my fingers with hers, holding tight, and she glanced at me, smiling as I drove through the gate and up the winding forest road lit with lamppost lights to the manor.

“Oh, wow. That’s… um… wow.” Eyes wide in wonder, she took in the sight that was my childhood home standing proudly, imposing atop of a small hill in the forest clearing.

I didn’t know where her eyes landed first. The intricacy of the carved stone, the turrets that gave the manor a castle like appearance or the ivy creeping and weaving its web over the beams of the pointed arched porch and front wall.

“It looks… wow. It’s magnificent. So pretty.”

“Yeah…” Though for all its dazzling fantasy-like beauty, for many of its tall stained glass windows, soaking up the sun, no warmth permeated or lingered in that place. It was colder than the stone it was made of.

It was never a home to me.

“Philip, you ok?” Tara squeezed my hand, bringing my attention to her. Head tilted, hazel eyes roving my face, brows creasing.

One look.

Just one.

And all the swarming shadows in my mind dissipated.

“Yeah… I am now.” I squeezed her hand back as I parked the car at the foot of the front entrance. A valet came over to my side, nodding in greeting. He took my keys, and I opened the door for Tara.

“You sure you aren’t really a lord, Crabby Pants?” She said, dazed as I took her hand, and I snorted at the question.

“Oh… beautiful…” she muttered as her eyes caught the flickering of fairy lights nestled between the ivy leaves as we ascended the stairs to the open giant wooden double doors, in front of which stood two guardsmen. Light spilled through them, and a few of the newly gathered guests, lingering in the foyer, turned when we approached. They scrunched up their noses, exchanging worried looks, whispering as they stole glances at Tara and me.

Ah, he’s here.”

I hope everything goes without an incident tonight.”

Why did Alpha allow him to bring a human?”

Pfft, he lets him do whatever he wants and as long as he doesn’t bring Urgoroth’s wrath on us, I don’t give a shit what that little prick does…”

My jaw clenched.

Ahhh... they were one of those, huh?

The ones that believed the Fallen God caused my condition. What a bunch of hooey. But the comment brought my attention to Tara’s dress.

Red.

It didn’t occur to me that some traditionalists might find it offensive to wear such color to a pack event, as it was a representation of bloodlust and associated with Urgoroth. Though the exact taboo combination would have been red and black.

But if his touch, his blight tainted me and she wore his color, then we fit perfectly together, right? The thought pulled at the corner of my lips.

That’s what you get for mixing with a thin-blood. A defect.”

My nascent smile fell at that sentence… I heard it a million times, but each time it opened the scabbed over wound.

I choked down a growl, and if it wasn’t for the feel of a hand in mine, the soothing warmth radiating from Tara’s body, I would have already punched the bastard that called my mother that.

Thin-blood.

A derogatory term for those who didn’t care about keeping the bloodlines “pure”. Mixing with humans, witches, and shifters alike. As drifters, nomad packs mixed with others, so some could only enhance their senses but couldn’t perform a shift.

Though my mother was a pure-blooded werewolf, she was still from a nomad clan.

Inferior. Dirty.

A poor nineteen-year-old girl that caught herself an Alpha’s son with a baby…. Gods, I hated these people.

“Good evening v…” A deep, gravelly voice of one bald-headed guardsman brought me out of my musings as his eyes slid to Tara and he cleared his throat, proceeding, “Young master. Your father is expecting you both in his study.” I nodded, internally cringing at the address, stepping into the brightly lit foyer, and I could sense Tara tensing next to me, her hold on my hand tightening.

Nervous energy rolled off her, washing over me. Her heartbeat sped up, beating off key with our steps clicking over the marble floor as her eyes drank in the interior’s opulence.

The domed skylight, the white walls accented in gold and blue, the crystal chandeliers and many tapestries and paintings adorning the hallway we were trudging down, away from the murmur and prying eyes of people sneaking glances at us, still whispering.

I pulled her into an alcove, and a tiny squeak left her as her back touched the wall and she blinked up at me in surprise, eyes rounded.

“Hey... You okay?” I asked, my hands circling her wrists, thumbs rubbing the soft skin, soothing.

“Oh, yeah, no... um, just a bit overwhelmed, that’s all. I’ve never visited a place like this. Not counting Ivan’s place, that is a cabin compared to this. I’ve never been at a fancy-schmancy event. Or been in the presence of fancy-schmancy people, so like what if I embarrass you…” She looked genuinely worried.

I laughed at the ridiculous notion, bringing her wrist to my lips, placing a kiss on the inside of it. “I don’t give a crap about the opinions of these pretentious pricks, and neither should you. Just be yourself. We are here for the little guy and that’s that. Don’t worry about anything else, and if you feel in any way uncomfortable, if they make you feel uncomfortable, we’ll leave early, okay?” It was me who insisted she come. It was selfish, but I… I just wanted her here with me.

“Okay… But therein lies the problem. Me being my rambling self is embarrassing, you know?”

“No, it’s not.” I flicked her forehead, chuckling, “It’s cute when you ramble.” I tugged her out of the alcove.

“Aw, Crabby Pants, you must really like me then.” She beamed, flushed, teasingly bumping me with her hip as we continued down the hallway.

I stopped suddenly, whirling her around, bringing her flush against me, and leaned in close. The tips of our noses brushed, and I could discern all the tiny freckles speckled over her cheeks, the bridge of her nose and all the golden flecks in her eyes. “I guess so.” I smiled before capturing her lips with mine.

“I see…” she breathed, dazed as I broke the kiss and the palest shade of pink bloomed on her cheeks. Smirking, I placed my hand on the small of her back and guided her the rest of the way to the big, dark wooden doors of my father’s study.

The room belonged to my grandfather before David challenged him and won, inheriting it, just six months after my mother passed.

I wasn’t allowed inside then, but I had done plenty of waiting in front of these doors while the previous Alpha and his bonded held audience with my mother.

He is too uncouth! What have you been teaching him?! He can’t be pulling pranks on the guards!” Grandfather bellowed.

He’s just a child, Igor. He’s five years old, he was playing around as a child should!” Mother defended, frustration lacing her tone.

Don’t use that insolent tone with me! You address me accordingly, are we clear?!” Pressure filled the air, dense, choking as he used his aura on her, and I clenched my teeth and balled my fists.

You are not, and you’ll never be David’s bonded if I get any say in it. So don’t you dare use my given name. Remember your place, Eva. You are only here because my son had a lapse in judgment sleeping with a thin-blood. And we couldn’t turn a blind eye to the child you two brought to this world. Weather we like it or not, he’s a future varis of the Constantinov’s house.”

There was a pause, followed by a shaky exhale as she gritted. “Yes… Alpha.”

What is this rumor about you thinking of leaving the manor?” Grandmother spoke, her tone glacial, biting.

WHAT?!” Igor snapped. The entire room seemed to shake with the sound of him banging his fist over his desk, followed by a crack. I flinched in my seat in the hallway. “You can go wherever you want, but Philip stays here!”

Honey, calm down. That vein popped on your temple again.” Grandmother said, evenly. She was always the calm, collected one. Though I liked her less than grandfather, because something always brimmed under that frigid and controlled exterior, that sent all my senses to alert. Like a snake slithered under sand, waiting in ambush.

Yes. It’s true. I already discussed it with David. He… he will not go with us until his training is complete, but I suppose he’ll join us later.” Though she wanted to sound firm, her voice still trembled.

What do you think you’re pulling? I know you never wanted him to assume the Alpha position. So, what? You want him to be distracted thinking you’ll take his son away from him…”

That’s not true! I wholeheartedly support him, always did! I would never take his son away from him. Are you insane?! We’ll be here in Blackwood, not far from…”

Enough.” Grandmother interjected, putting more force into her words. “How dare you interrupt me? I see your poor upbringing still shows. Even in these past six years, you couldn’t get rid of it.”

With all due respect, Mara, I’m done here. I’m leaving because I want MY child to have a normal childhood. I don’t give a damn about bloodlines, prestige or any of that... Philip is your grandson, you may see him, but I don’t want to subject him to your bullshit any longer.” Mom shouted, voice cracking with anger and unshed tears as she stomped out of the study, gasps of shock and shouts of outrage following in her wake.

She took a deep breath, swallowing her tears as she gathered herself and turned to me with a smile I knew all too well. The one she plastered every time she left this room. Every time I caught her sobbing in the middle of the night, while father was away.

Hey, sweetie. Let’s go prepare dinner. Daddy is going to be home tonight, and we are having a dinner party. Just the three of us.” She lowered herself to my eye level, cupping my cheeks and kissing my forehead.

Mom… I’m sorry I got you into trouble…” I twisted my shirt, lowering my eyes to stare at my sneakers.

She pulled my chin up, making me meet her bright blue eyes. “Oh, sweetie, you did nothing wrong. I’m not in trouble, I promise. Your grandparents are just being… dicks.”

I giggled, leaning in to whisper, trying to imitate the tone of my etiquette tutor. “Mom, don’t cuss. That’s bad manners.”

She snorted, “Why aren’t you just prim and proper, little man? Mrs. Rada would get hives if she knew of your extracurricular cuss training. I heard. You. Practicing. With. Anna.” She punctuated every word with a tickle to my side, making me giggle more.

Okay! Okay!” I squirmed, laughing.

She stopped her onslaught of tickles, kissing my cheek and ruffling my hair before she stood up, and took my hand. “Let’s go.”

Father didn’t come home that night for dinner. He was late. Again.

Oddly, that was the first time I heard my parents argue. Mom locked herself in the bathroom crying and David sat in front of the door the whole night.

I think.

I wasn’t sure because sleep took me at some point. The next day I woke up in my bed, not sure how I got there. We left the manor the day after. And we lived fairly happily… for three years, before she passed.

I took a deep breath, steadying my pulse before I knocked on the door and a familiar gruff voice said, “Enter.”

Tara scooted closer to me, hooking her arm through mine, and when I looked at her, she smiled. That pretty dimpled smile, soothing, comforting, even though I could clearly sense her nervousness. All the unease ebbed away, and I opened the door to a room I had no fond memories of feeling lighter.

David raised his head from his desk as we stepped in, his eyes briefly holding mine before sliding to Tara, who squeezed my arm, stiffening. She muttered “Well, shit-balls”

“Um… hello again, sir.” I frowned at that. Again? When did she meet him?

David did something I haven’t seen in a long while. His lips stretched into a genuine smile as he regarded Tara with open amusement. He got up, approaching us. Tara stared at the man, gaping, and rather than just surprised, she looked… mortified.

“Well, hello Miss Celaeno.” David shook her hand as she gave him a shy smile. “How have you been? We haven’t met again, since our last time at Lola’s.” Ah, he personally checked on the newcomer.

“Oh… Um… Good, sir. Great really. I didn’t know you had a son my age... and it’s Philip. Who would have thought! Though now I can totally see it. It’s the eyes... and the voice… the resting bitch fac...” She clamped her hand over her mouth, eyes wide. Turning to me, she gave me an apologetic look, biting her lip. “I’m sorry! I’m afraid ‘I’ll embarrass you’ ship has sailed.”

I wanted to be offended she compared me to David, but her expression only made me want to laugh at her bumbling. She burrowed closer to me, practically melding with my back hanging her head. “I apologize…” I could sense her mortification as if it was my own.

David laughed. “Don’t worry Miss. Celaeno. It runs in the family. The resting bitch face, that is.”

He chuckled as Tara winced, peering from behind me, her face red. “I’m sorry again… um...like what I meant was… um…” Though I found her ramblings highly amusing, I knew this was too much for her as her unease and embarrassment seemed to thrum through me. I took her hand, entwining our fingers, and she relaxed, almost sighing in relief.

“What did you want to see us for?” I turned to David and at my rude tone, his easy-going smile slipped a bit. His eyes jumped from our joined hands to my eyes, and he cocked a brow.

“What? I can’t ask to see my son’s face and meet his lovely companion?” He got back to his desk, leaning on it, crossing his arms over his chest.

I snorted. Yeah right. If he wanted so badly to see my face, he could have just popped by my house. Nah, the companion part was what he wanted to check on.

“Well, here. You saw us. Got your fill in?” I retorted, and a muscle in his jaw jumped, his aura pulsing, but he held it down. Tara shifted uncomfortably next to me, her fingers digging harder into the skin on the back of my palm as she tightened her grip.

“Philip…” David started, but got interrupted by the sudden creak of the door opening and a tiny figure popping his sandy brown head in.

“Pip!” Theo burst through the door, running straight at me, while Olivia apologetically bowed her head at David, staying near the open door.

“Hey there, bud.” I squatted down to hug him and he almost knocked me over as he jumped in my open arms, hugging me tightly. I chuckled, “Missed you too, bud. Happy birthday.”

He pulled away, a huge, toothy grin on his face. “Ooh, I loved the gift you got me! I wanted that robot toy for so long! Thank you!” I left his gift with Olivia yesterday, so we didn’t have to bring that huge ass thing with us today. Tara got mad I didn’t let her give me money for it, though the sneaky little shrimp pushed the bills in my jacket pocket while distracting me with a kiss. I only found them when I got home.

I ruffled his hair. “Say thank you to Tara, too. It’s from both of us.” He turned to her, beaming, but soon his green eyes widened and he gaped at her, “Oh… you’re even more pretty today…” Tara smiled, lowering herself to his eye level. “Thank you. You are dashing yourself.”

Theo blushed, but got closer and gave her a peck on the cheek. “Thank you for the gift.” He said bashfully.

“You’re welcome.”

“I see you have both of my sons charmed, Miss Celeano.” David said, a smile playing on his lips as he watched Theo grabbing Tara’s hand, still looking enthralled.

“Oh... um..” Tara’s cheeks turned red.

“She’s very pretty, right, dad? I already asked her to be my girlfriend.” Theo puffed his small chest out, all smug. I wanted to correct him, that petty jealousy almost pulling the best of me, but it was his birthday so I clamped my mouth shut, indulging him for today.

“Oh, really?” David asked him, raising a brow, barely keeping a straight face.

“Yeah, since Pip is dumb and didn’t ask her first, I called dibs.” Why, you cheeky little shit. The old man laughed, shaking his head at the brazenness of his youngest as Tara covered up her chuckle, glancing at me.

“Theodore...” A dry female voice called as a shadow filled the door frame and a willowy figure stepped into the study.

“Ah, mama.” Theo turned to Lydia.

Long dark blue silk dress billowed around her ankles as she moved with utter gracefulness. Possessing elven-like features, she was beautiful, though her lack of facial expression made her seem cold and distant as starlight.

Her piercing gray eyes slid from one face to another before landing on me and she inclined her head slightly, blond waves falling freely over her slim shoulders.

“Philip, I see you’ve made it.” There was no animosity in her dull tone, but I knew of the weariness she had over me. Of her well-hidden malcontent. Jealousy of a living, breathing reminder of the woman my father claimed to love before her.

“Yeah. I wouldn’t miss it.” Lydia smiled. If that almost imperceptible turn up of her lips could be called that.

She looked back at Tara, eyes assessing her from head to toe. “Tara I presume? Theo talked a lot about you.”

“Ah, yes…. Um... Nice to meet you, ma’am.” Tara extended her hand to Lydia, who watched it for a few seconds too long before she took hold of it for a brief, slack handshake. Lydia nodded at her, giving her that imperceptible smile.

She turned her gaze to David. “I’m taking Theodore with me. Most of the guests have already arrived.”

He nodded. “Alright. I’m.. gonna be awhile.” At that something flickered over her usually inexpressive face, so fast I didn’t catch what it was, but she only nodded back, extending her palm towards Theo.

David turned to Tara, an apologetic smile on his face, “Miss Celeano, would you mind going with my son and wife and join the rest of the guests? I want to have a word with Philip. He’ll join you shortly.” I was ready to protest, but Tara looked at me, squeezing my forearm gently, reassuring me she’ll be fine on her own for a while.

“Of course.” She told him, glancing once more at me with a small smile.

Theo pulled her hand already heading towards the door, beaming excitedly, while grabbing his mother’s waiting hand on the way. “I’ll show you around, Tara. There’s gonna be lots of delicious food!”

Olivia bowed and closed the door behind them, silencing Theo’s and Tara’s animated chatter. I turned to David, who rounded his desk, sitting back in his chair, jutting his chin for me to sit down as well. Begrudgingly, I sat into a red leather armchair facing his desk, biting the inside of my cheek as I let my eyes lazily wonder around the room. It had changed little since my grandfather owned it if the glimpses of it I caught as a child held true. I traced the floor to ceiling bookshelves on either side of a giant window, draped with sheer white curtains behind the carved mahogany desk. The dark blue walls accented in gold, an empty stone hearth in the corner, and a red leather couch, a part of the set with the armchair I was sitting on right next to it. A plush blanket folded neatly on it. He must still have a habit of sleeping in here… Just like when I had to move back here after mom died… He barely showed his face to me. Coward.

“How are you?” David’s question brought my attention back to him.

“Huh?”

“Are you feeling alright? Anything out of the ordinary?” He pressed, face pinched with worry. I clenched my jaw.

“I’m fine. No sign of me going ape shit at the moment.” I snarked, and the worried expression on his face melted into one of annoyance. Now, that one I was more comfortable dealing with.

Huffing a breath, he reclined in his chair. “Why can’t you just talk to me normally?”

“We established I’m not normal. Can you cut to the chase now?”

The leather creaked as he gripped his armrest, knuckles paling as he took a deep breath, gritting his teeth. He said nothing for a few moments, just staring at me, and the frown he sported slowly faded and he sighed. “This was some last-minute shit you pulled. It’s.. I hate calling that lovely girl an inconvenience…”

“Then don’t. She’s Theo’s guest. After all, it’s his birthday. Have you forgotten?” I interrupt, irritation brimming in my words.

He cocked his head to the side, quirking a brow. His aura started leaking, infusing the air with its building pressure, but he held it back. Fingers tapped over the armrest as he heaved a sigh. “She’s your responsibility. No incidents, am I clear?” My jaw ticked with annoyance, but I nodded.

“Take good care of her Philip… And I don’t mean just tonight.” Is he for real?

I let out a hollow laugh, biting out. “I’m not taking relationship advice from you.” He opened his mouth to say something, but an urgent knock sounded at the door and Dragos opened it without waiting for the approval.

“Alpha, we have an issue…” He paused as his eyes fell on me, heavy brow making them even darker as they knit together.

“What is this urgent?”

Dragos hesitated, gaze bouncing between me and David, who waved for him to spill it.

“The south border… There was an incident. We need to go now, sir.”

David ran a hand through his hair, sighing, seeming to have aged suddenly right before my eyes. “I’ll be there in fifteen.”

I frowned, scoffing. “You are leaving? What about… Nevermind.” The spike of anger simmered down to resignation as I shook my head, muttering to myself. Why the fuck am I even surprised?

I got up, bounding for the door, and as I passed Dragos, David called out, “Philip…” I turned reluctantly. He opened and closed his mouth before finally pushing out, “Have fun. And remember what I told you.”

I rolled my eyes, and before I left, I did a little mock curtsy. “Alpha.” The doors closed, muffling Dragos’s growl at my rude behavior.

I needed to take a breather, to calm before I go find Tara. She wasn’t alone, right? She should be fine. I bounded down the hallway to the bathroom. As cold water splashed my face, it did nothing to stave off the rising anger, that coiled and roiled in my stomach to an excessive amount. Thinking about my brother’s disappointed face twisted my insides, the feeling all too familiar. Or was I just projecting my own memories onto him?

An overwhelming uneasiness scuttled through my system, nestling in the pit of my stomach, and the urge to go seek Tara sprouted out of nowhere.

Weird.

I turned off the faucet, wiped my hands and as I reached for the doorknob, my ears rung, and vision blurred for a second before the ringing turned into white noise. Steps faltering, I braced myself with both hands on the door. The noise stopped promptly, and my vision cleared.

Shit. Not again!

But this time, there was no bleeding. I was completely fine except that uneasiness ratcheted up more, propelling me to get out of the bathroom quickly, as if being pulled.

Something is wrong. I can’t explain it, but something is off.

My gut feeling proved right as I weaved my way through the throng of guests, scanning, searching for the petite form in a red dress, and my eyes finally landed on her

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