It was too early and still dark outside when my alarm clock shrieked an annoying ring. The bedside table rattled against the vibration. Tiny hooves of a glittery llama moved across its surface, plastic scraping wood. I hated the damn thing.
A llama, I scoffed, my fingers reaching into the darkness. Drowsy and somewhat confused, my eyes searched for the bright pink display screen. Lily had gotten it for me on our sixteenth birthday. She’d known I’d hate it and made me promise to never get rid of it merely because it was ‘sentimental’.
Sentimental my ass. I gripped the little llama’s neck tighter than necessary, trying to focus on the display screen. The fuchsia-coloured screen blinded me, blurring my vision. Through a squint I finally managed to make out the time; 4:15 AM.
I fell back onto the bed, groaning. I fucking knew it. Lily. She kept messing with the little bastard whenever I wasn’t around. It would go off at the most ridiculous times, sometimes an hour after I’d gone to bed. I knew the kind of joy it brought her -tormenting me like that - simply because I did the same as much as I could. This war of ours was far from over. I might have gotten the last word in yesterday, but she’d beaten my ass with her little llama-stunt before the sun had even peered over the horizon.
“Oh no, not this time,” I muttered to myself, throwing off the covers. My feet hit the cold floor, a shiver running up my spine and I leapt for the rug. It had obviously been moved. I could only guess the culprit. Strike two. Shuffling the rug closer to my dresser, I reached for my socks and pulled them on before stomping out of the room.
“Payback time,” I mumbled, marching up the hall towards Lily’s room. Although I had no plan yet, I couldn’t let her win. Not this easily. The t-shirt I wore and boxer briefs did nothing to fight off the bite of chill morning air. When I reached her door, I didn’t even bother knocking and threw it open with a loud bang.
“Wakey wakey! Time to pay the debt collector,” I growled in an extra-deep voice as I ran towards her bed. Her room was dark and quiet. Too quiet. Something was off. I stopped at the edge of her bed, just before throwing myself on top of her. My eyes shifted to my wolf’s, searching the dark. She wasn’t there. Her blankets were unruffled, her bed still neat. This wasn’t like her. Lifting my nose, I sniffed. Her scent was weak. Old.
The gears in my head turned, my mind racing back to the night before. We snuck out. Lucy and I making out in the forest. Lily, reaching for me through our link while Lucy had her mouth on my…
Fuck. My heart stumbled, a sudden pain shooting through my chest. Fear gripped me from the inside as I connected the dots.
“Lily?” I linked. No reply came.
“Cassius!” I linked immediately after, yelling into his mind to rip him from sleep. “Cas! Lily never made it back last night!”
I sprinted through the castle, sliding into walls and taking the stairs three at a time. I had to find her. She was under my...
“What?” I heard Cassius bark back. “Where the hell is she?”
Fury laced his words, pulsing through the link with so much intensity it almost knocked me off my feet. As the future Alpha of Hollow Stone, Cassius wasn’t to be taken lightly, especially not in a fit of rage.
“I don’t know, brother. I’m heading out right now,” I yelled back, flying through the front door, jumping the last few steps and shifting into my white wolf mid-air.
If she’d snuck out after we came back to be with Ray, I was going to lose my shit. She could have told me. She did, I remembered. She tried to reach me. I pushed the thought out of my mind, digging my paws deeper into the dirt, moving faster.
“I’m going to kill them,” I heard Cassius growl, “and you!”
I cringed, closing my eyes as I picked up her scent. Cassius had reason to be angry with me. Hell, I was furious with myself. Slowing my pace, I followed her scent. It was faint, almost completely faded.
“North-western border, ” I mind-linked Cassius.
“On my way.”
Her scent stopped. No, no, no, no. My heart raced. She was nowhere to be found. I began praying to any and all gods to protect her. Rumours of recent rogue attacks bombarded my mind as I linked Cas again. “Under the old Oak. Be prepared.”
No reply came after that, but I couldn’t care. I had failed her. I’d failed Lily when she needed me most. I covered my face with shaking hands, the air constricted in my throat. She hadn’t sounded strange last night, but she’d tried to reach me more than once, and I’d blocked her out.
I deliberately blocked her when Lucy... My heart cracked, my stomach turning into a tight knot. Bile pushed up the back of my throat. No, no, no. It couldn’t be. I couldn’t have known. I shook my head. No, no, no. I couldn’t be responsible. I couldn’t. Not for this.
Cassius appeared through an opening in the trees, sporting his magnificent grey and white wolf.
I couldn’t meet his eyes. Shame had already begun to eat away at me. I didn’t want to see the look on his face. Shifting back into my human form, I crouched, examining our surroundings for the millionth time. Cassius shifted too, staring down at me.
“Her scent stops here,” I said, letting soil fall through my fingers. “It’s like she just vanished.”
Waves of potent anger radiated from Cassius. I didn’t dare look at him. Both of us knew how desperate the situation was. How utterly late we were.
“I’ve tried to mind-link her a few times already, but nothing gets through.”
He didn’t reply and I knew why. He’d done the same and already knew. Cassius moved, circling the area slowly.
“I’ve asked Chase to contact Shadow Creek. Raiden should be here soon.” He spoke without turning to look at me. Disrespect. I deserved it.
Cas continued investigating the area, looking for anything I might have missed. Nothing. No clues, no foreign scents. Not a single indication as to where Lily might have gone. Even if she’d been taken, kidnapped or coerced into leaving, we should’ve been able to pick up a scent. But this? This was impossible.
“Ninety-three! Ninety-four! Ninety-five!” My Delta’s voice boomed across the room as I curled my body into another sit-up.
A moment later, the doors to the training area flew open and Gunnar barged in. He sprinted straight towards us as he yelled, “Hollow Stone just called; Lily never made it back last night.”
Although I was on my back, it felt like I was falling. Bile shot up into my throat and I struggled to swallow around it. I arrived no more than ten minutes later at the Old Oak, as instructed by Hollow Stone. My heart beat roughly in my chest and blood roared in my ears. Every sense was on high alert, adrenaline coursing through my veins. Gunnar, along with a few other warriors, arrived shortly after me. I’d outrun them somewhere along the way.
I shifted as soon as I saw Axel. Cassius and Chase stood a few feet away, also in human form, their backs turned toward him. Although everyone’s concern sent a surge of energy through the air, it was Axel’s body language that unhinged me. His shoulders sagged, his eyes clouded as though he focused on nothing. My chest ached; this was real. This was happening.
Before I could get a word out, Cassius’s hands were wrapped around my throat, squeezing. His black eyes seemed to stare into the depths of my soul, his fangs elongated while he was caught in a half state of shift - somewhere between beast and man.
“What’ve you done, you arrogant fuck?” He spoke through gritted teeth, his voice shaking.
I’ve never heard him curse before. Droplets of spit sprayed from his lips as he yelled, his face mere inches from mine. Gunnar and the rest of the warriors rushed forward, ripping him away from me. Cassius only staggered back for a split second before he advanced on me again.
I lifted a hand, signalling my men to stand down. Cas needed someone to blame and by the looks of things, Axel had already had his turn. I would take the blame, of course, because it was my fault. I’d been naive; stupid. I never should have left her alone. I should have stayed with her, walked her home even if it took me all night to get back. Regret flooded me from the inside.
Cassius’s hands lifted to my throat again, but this time he stopped himself, his shaky hands hovering close, ready to strike and cut off my air supply. I waited for it, welcoming it. The hate he felt for me couldn’t possibly match what I felt about myself. Heat radiated from him as his ragged breath fanned my face. Wishing he’d end me didn’t help because he simply stared. Hateful eyes branded me a monster; the worst boyfriend in history.
Axel’s hand landed on Cassius’s shoulder. “Brother,” he said in a low voice.
For a second, Cassius looked at his shoulder, at his brother’s hand resting there. “I hope you regret this for the rest of your life,” he said, turning and vanishing into the trees. I wasn’t sure if his words were meant for me or Axel, but it ran deep - the truth behind it. For the rest of my life. He didn’t have any hopes for Lily ever returning.
“I’ve traced her scent up to here, but then it disappears,” Axel said, gesturing to where he’d been sitting.
I swallowed the pain and moved, walking closer and crouching to inspect it myself. My heart rate spiked when her scent tickled my nose. I inhaled, trying to pull as much of it - of her- into me as possible.
Closing my eyes, I focused myself on her entirely. Lily’s voice, her smile, her touch. My throat burned, but I found something and flicked my eyes open. Crawling a few feet forward and taking another deep breath, I stilled. There it was. Covered by fallen leaves and debris, Lily’s fingerprints, edged into soft soil.
I glanced behind me, at Axel peering over my shoulder. His mouth hung slightly open, his eyes wide. He swallowed hard, telling me he saw it too. Desperate scratching. I ran my finger over it, gently, almost as if I could scare it away. Guilt and loss and ache drowned me. We’d known about the attacks, had been warned to stay within pack borders and foolishly ignored it. Kids. Pups. All of us. Stupid and naive.
Dread washed over me in strong, violent waves, spilling out of me. A strangled sound escaped my throat; animalistic, horrific. She was gone and it was all my fault.
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