“Alright, so maybe he can use me to get a rise out of Asher.” I sighed under my breath, wincing when Brandon’s fist slammed into Asher’s jaw.
My mate absorbed the hit with a straight face, his golden eyes bright with anger as he grabbed his brother by the throat and shoved him back.
Brandon, as cocky as ever despite the massive hangover he was sporting, quickly regained his balance. His dark hair was messy on his head and lacked the charm of naturally tousled hair.
He narrowed his bloodshot eyes and snarled at his older brother, charging forward with enough force to knock a grown man off his feet.
It was clear Brandon was a glutton for punishment. He knew Asher would find him after what he pulled last night- especially after laying a hand on me.
He stumbled out of some sorority house I had no name for, directly across the street from the afterparty most of the University attended. Half-dressed and grinning ear to ear, he spread his arms wide and said, ‘hello brother.’
Even as Asher charged up the front lawn, past the crumpled beer cans, empty bottles of liquor, and torn streamers from last night’s party, his grin never faltered.
“This is your fault, y’know.”‘ I frowned at Zeke, snatching the canned margarita out of his hands to toss into the trash. I gave him a dry look, “Don’t pout at me, Zeke.
You know d**n well if you hadn’t had pointed Brandon out, they wouldn’t be fist fighting in the front yard of some frat house.”
Zeke was perched on the bed of a pick-up truck that someone had driven into the front yard. Not only was he missing a shirt, but there were various words painted all over his chest and back in what looked like pink paint markers.
At this current moment, he was scratching the words ‘eat me’ which were located just an inch above his pant line.
I sighed, avoiding the curious eyes of the hungover college students. The ones awake, anyway. “I can only imagine what .everyone else thinks, watching their Alpha and his brother fight.
Then they can look to their left, and see another Alpha, shirtless and covered in pink paint.”
“There were thirteen separate fights last night, Lola. Only seven of them were outside, and two were at the lake.”
Zeke laughed boldly, his muscular shoulders shaking before he winced and grunted from the harsh sound. He ran a hand through his messy hair, which smelled strongly of beer, and shrugged.
“Most of us have grown up watching Brandon and Asher fight. Even if it wasn’t their Alpha and his brother, this would be nothing new.
Now when claws and fangs come out, then we’ll worry. Right now, they’re just f*g with one another.”
The more I paid attention, the more I realized Zeke was right. Both Brandon and Asher landed some nasty blows, punches, and kicks that I knew would leave welts, but neither backed down.
Even though he was a cocky, insufferable jerk, it was obvious that Asher wasn’t the only son of an Alpha. Brandon was just as much Killian’s son as his brother, fighting back with a ferocity that a normal werewolf would lack, especially when it came to sparring with an Alpha.
“What happened to Carson and her gymnast friend you were becoming so fond of? It must’ve taken you a long time to realize she wasn’t your mate, not that she minded.” I teased, forever scolding Zeke’s playboy ways.
“She left her phone in her car last night, had to uber back to the lake to grab it.” He shrugged, his lips twisting into a wicked grin. “As for her gymnast friend, she’s still asleep. You wouldn’t believe how flexible- “.
I can live without knowing the details.”
“Come on guys, already?”‘ I heard a familiar soprano call out, her voice alone hushing the small crowd that watched. ” Asher hasn’t even been back a week and you’re already fighting.”
Cassidy looked good for someone who had stayed up drinking and dancing, especially compared to some of the rougher looking students.
She had all of her clothes on, and wasn’t rummaging through the shorts, shirts, and random pieces of lingerie scattered along the yard.
Her sun-kissed locks were pulled into a high pony, the style showed off all the shades of gold in her hair, while mine seemed almost blue-black in comparison.
“What are they fighting about now?” Cassidy approached Zeke and me. Her candy pink lips twitched into a grin as she looked over Zeke’s chest, and the paint that covered him.
She tapped a manicured nail against the back of his shoulder, where the word ‘thicc’ was written. “Well, at least someone had fun last night. I’m glad to see my compliment wasn’t wiped off.”
“They’re fighting because Brandon here won’t get off Lola’s back. The Alpha’s brother has a crush.” Zeke joked dryly, shrugging when I gave him a look.
“Oh, goddess. Well, I can’t blame you for not getting in between them. Twenty years growing up with them and I haven’t had any luck diffusing that b**b.” She sighed, pulling herselfup onto the tailgate beside Zeke.
Again, I had that urge to ask Cassidy about what might’ve happened between the brothers but couldn’t bring myself to ask while we were surrounded by so many people.
“I hope they work it out themselves, especially with how much they seem to hate one another.” I shook my head, thinking of my own brother.
Annoying at the worst of times, and a protector at the best. Thinking back to a comment Cassidy previously made, I inclined my head.
“You said at least someone had fun last night? I thought you were hanging out with that one guy–Lars, I think.”
“Lars.” Cassidy spat the word like it was a curse. With her surfer-girl looks, I hadn’t thought she could look threatening, but I had been more than wrong.
Her seafoam eyes flared with irritation, “B*d had a girlfriend, probably more than one. I’m a lot of things, but I’m not getting into it with another she-wolf over a guy, especially one like Lars. So not worth it.”
“He had a girlfriend? What a piece of s**t.” I scoffed, surprised at how easy it was to get sucked into girl talk with Cassidy.
She talked a lot with her hands, and was passionate about life, but they were qualities I slowly began to find amusing. “If you find yourself needing a little payback, you’ve got a Luna on your side.”
“Oh, don’t promise me that. The power will go right to my head.” She dramatically swept her ponytail over her shoulder and sighed, “Besides, he was kind of an a*e. He asked me all kinds of questions about you, and the other Vampire’s on your side.”
“He asked about me and the Vampires?” That was worrisome, though we did expect retaliation of some sort. It was natural for everyone to be curious, but then why did Cassidy’s words put a sour taste in my mouth?
“Just whether or not I thought you were dangerous or if I knew of any plans you were keeping from the pack. Oh, and if you were moving a hoard of vampires into town-his words, not mine.”
Cassidy rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest. “He did say something about ‘hot vampire b*s,’ so I don’t think he was completely against the idea.”
“You think men like that would be able to shift into pigs, and not werewolves.” I shook my head, cracking a smile when Cassidy let out a hysterical laugh.
Asher and Brandon’s fight ended without a victor. Just two b**y, battered brothers still hl-bent on hating one another. Brandon snarled his threats and stalked off, while Asher internalized his, letting them shine through his rage clouded eyes.
“I’m going to go find Brandon, make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.” Cassidy sighed, hopping off the back of the truck to dust her blue jeans off. “I’ll see you around Lola!”
‘Lola, Asher. You need to get to the lake. Now.’ Mason’s voice flooded my head, the tone of urgency caused my eyes to snap over to Asher, whose anger had halted in its tracks.
His busted lip and eyebrow were already healing, and while I hated the thought of him being in pain, his injuries were one hundred percent self-inflicted.
“What? Why do you both look like that?” Zeke frowned, no longer protesting as we dragged him to the car and sped off.
It was clear something had happened when we arrived at the lake. The dirt lot everyone had parked in was roped off with thick, yellow caution tape.
The various trails that led to the lake and docks were also blocked off, guarded by warriors with stone-like faces.
College students lingered around the borders, talking in hushed tones with phones pulled out and camera’s rolling. There eyes and attention fell on Asher and I. Rumors were whispered, suspicions and praises, all mixed into a chorus of voices that felt impossible to dissect and focus on.
“Mason, what’s going on?” I kept my voice low, knowing there was a crowd of college students listening to our every word.
Since his mate was md in a sour deal between myself and the shadows, one I still blamed myself for relentlessly, Mason hadn’t been fairing well. He had been grieving these months, and even though he deserved all the time in the world, Breyona and I worried for our cheerful best-friend.
We missed his dimpled grin; one we hadn’t seen for a long while now. Mason had found friendship and understanding in my brother, who had also lost his mate months prior.
“Not here, just follow me.” He shook his head, looking a tad pale as we veered past the various trails and straight into the forest.
I had no clue where we were going, but still paid attention to the various scents I picked up. Both Asher and my own were strongest, but there were at least forty others who had passed through this cluster of woods.
The blood-chilling, teeth-chattering feeling of unease filled my stomach as we stepped into a little clearing, a small patch of grass carved out of the forest.
Tall tree’s provided endless shade, drooping downward until their branches reached a few feet above our heads. There was something familiar about this spot, though I couldn’t put my finger on it.
I noticed her first, so much like Katie that my breath caught in my throat and my legs stopped working. I came to a stop, feeling every gust of wind, which grew colder as a cluster of clouds passed over the sun.
There was a tremor in my hands as I approached, from both fear and unbridled rage.
“Not again.” I whispered, unable to pull myself away from Carson’s glassy eyes.
It made no sense. Tyler was d**d; my father was d**d. This shouldn’t be happening again, not here-not in the capital of Asher’s pack. As my eyes took everything in, processing every extraneous detail, I realized that this- this was so much worse.
A large puddle of blood had soaked into the earth, proving Carson had been moved and positioned against the base of a great oak tree. Like Katie, and those who had been m*d after her, Carson’s slender throat was torn open, her torso littered with gashes that had long stopped bleeding.
Eyes that had once held light and laughter, lips that had once smiled and revealed joy, they were empty now—so empty. The cereal in my stomach curdled as I looked down, towards the photograph in her open hand.
The polaroid was covered in dried blood, but I could still make out the picture. An inexperienced Luna and a cheerful sorority girl, leaning against one another like best-friends, posed for a camera just out of sight.
I realized where we were the same moment, I noticed the note nailed to the tree, just above Carson’s head.
“We were here last night, Asher.” I said without looking at him, without looking at anyone other than Carson-the girl who had been m*d, all because of her association with me. “In this clearing.”
Those feelings Holly and I keep having– the nightmares that would wake her up screaming, it made sense now. Whatever was happening, it began with the witch breaking into our home. This senseless m****r, it was just the beginning.
“What does it say?” Asher asked, placing a steadying hand on my shoulder, one I needed more than I’d admit.
Knowing Carson’s face would sear itself into my mind, along with everyone else we had lost, I faced my mate and spoke with a strong voice, “A Queen without control of her Kingdom is not a Queen, but a pawn.”