The moment the caution tape fluttered to the ground, Sean and Mason were at my back. Breyona was there too, and I had to resist the urge to raise my eyebrows when I spotted the knife she had hidden in her hand.
I noticed the resemblance between him and Devin the moment he came up close. They had the same arched eyebrows and thin lips that made them look perpetually angry all of the time. When I first found out Devin was the son of a judge, I had hoped the p**s poor attitude wasn’t genetic.
“I know who you are.” Judge Clint Armstrong snapped, his voice sharp like razor blades. I held back my irritation since it was his son that was md, but the venom in his voice sounded far beyond that of a grieving father. “I asked you a question, girl.”
I had seen d***h’s many faces, suffered through so much loss, and stepped into a role I wasn’t sure I could handle, all to be called a girl.
It was Maya that couldn’t bite her tongue and s**w the insult, because for her there was nothing more abhorrent than disregarding a werewolf’s title. It grated on her nerves, and my willpower alone could only do so much to hold her back.
“Only because I can’t imagine the pain of losing a child will I ignore the ridiculous amount of disrespect you’ve shown me, but I trust that in the future you’ll show some restraint and never do that again.” I kept my voice low, because the last thing I wanted was an audience looking in on this man’s pain.
His eyes grew bright with murderous rage, and within an instant the emotion was smothered by a mask of civility. I couldn’t help but wonder if he had been a lawyer before claiming the role of a Judge.
“Of course, Luna.” He corrected himself, his tone flat but civil. It wouldn’t have raised anyone else’s alarms, but mine were playing a steady tune that reminded me of a f**l dirge.
Both Mason and Sean nodded as I met their eyes, picking up on my silent command. “I’ll have my friends here take you where you need to be, and either Asher or myself will be in contact with you today.”
The three of them walked off, but the sting of Clint Armstrong’s anger still lingered in my bones.
“Hey, Lola!” I heard Cassidy shout from the street, but another man had also chosen that moment to speak up, and he was much closer to where I stood than she was.
“What did you do to his son? I saw that dd boy over there. That how you vampire’s feed? No one started d*g here till you came around.” A middle-aged man whose scowl was framed by rectangular glasses and a patchy beard shoved to the very front of the crowd.
I couldn’t help but notice that even though the caution tape was shredded in half, he didn’t dare step past where it lay on the ground.
Others in the crowd shifted uneasily, but all stood silent and watched. This wasn’t unusual, having to defend yourself in front of the pack. There would always be other wolves picking fights for dominance, just like there would always be a victor.
“Don’t be-” Breyona came to my defense, but the man wasn’t having it.
“Why the f**k should we listen to you? You’re one of their whores. After you’re done giving them your blood, do you give them your p-“
I made no effort to stop Breyona as she cocked her fist back and punched him in the face.
Blood erupted from the man’s nose, coating his shirt and the grass at his feet. A string of curses and insults spewed from his mouth, and his eyes glittered with unrepressed hatred. Instead of making him back off, he made a wild grab for Breyona.
A hand clamped down on the man’s shoulder making him wince. Attached to that hand, with a bored and irritable look on his face, was Brandon. He dug his fingers into the man’s shoulder and spun him around.
“Let’s go fd, before my brother comes back and you join today’s list of dearly departed.” He grunted; his lack of sensitivity somehow unsurprising.
“Nice punch, girl.” Cassidy grinned at Breyona, but the expression slipped when her eyes focused on the crime scene in the background. Her cheeks lost their rosy flush. “Oh goddess, what happened? Was it …another one?”
“Unfortunately.” I nodded, “Devin Armstrong.”
There was no harm in telling her, not when the entire pack would know in a matter of hours.
“Oh, I can’t say I was fond of him…but that’s still unfortunate. Are you two still coming to training today? It’s the start of the new season so were getting assigned our partners for the summer-” She wrinkled her nose. “I mean…if you can with everything going on. Goddess…I sound self-centered, don’t I?”
“Not at all.” Breyona shook her head, her expression too serious to be anything other than teasing. She looked at me and excitement exploded in her eyes, “…maybe we can be partners!”
There was a lot going on and adding training to my already hectic schedule looked to be a terrible idea, but it was the one thing other than lying in bed all day with Asher, which relieved any sort of stress.
“I’ll make sure I’m there. I just have a few things to do today.” I promised not only the two of them, but myself.
The place where Devin lost his life was deep within the forest. An obvious trail of blood, guts, and disheveled dirt led us to where Asher and Zeke were standing.
Sean had tagged along to join the warriors setting up a perimeter around the patch of forest, to keep any curious wolves from venturing too far. Mason told him he’d catch up and followed Breyona and I deeper into the forest.
Breyona made a sound of interest when she spotted Rowena and Cordelia, who were both hovering around the giant patch of blood on the ground, most likely searching for the barest trace of magic. As she and Zeke get to talking about magic, I focused my attention on Asher.
“Fifteen minutes and you get yourself into trouble.” He shook his head, only half teasing.
“Uh, try again. Breyona’s the one who punched him in the face.” I snorted and jabbed my finger into left pectoral. Breyona’s conversation with Zeke came to a halt, and she stared at me with surprise in her eyes. I winked at her and added, “…with my express permission, of course.”
“What about Clint Armstrong?” Asher asked, his eyebrow lifted.
“Clint Armstrong is grieving the m****r of his son and has been thoroughly put in his place.” I promised him, but the flicker of animalistic fury in his eyes made me pause.
The strange emotion made his pupils grow and the golden tones shrink. I narrowed my eyes, “I mean it. He’s been punished enough.”
Just when I thought that flicker might turn into a full born forest fire, it vanished.
Asher smirked softly, “…yes, Luna.”
My heart skipped a beat, and some of my earlier irritation faded.
I gave him a look I knew he could decipher and asked, “…how’s everything going?”
“They’re still searching for any traces of magic.” Asher grunted, crossing his arms over his broad chest as he watched the witches at work. His eyes veered down to my level and softened. “I planned on running this by you later, but it looks like we’re both going to be busy today.
Zeke and I were talking about getting a small group of warriors together and heading up to where I lost track of the witch. There has to be a meet-up close by.”
I smirked as his thoughts curled around mine, soft and sensual.
‘Are you asking me for permission, Alpha?’
‘If I were, what would you say?’ He asked, tilting his head.
‘I’d say yes…under one condition. If you find their hide-out, you don’t go in alone. You come back and get me, maybe even Giovanni and Tristan.’
He nodded. ‘Observation only.’
I lost myself in my thoughts, torn between wanting to go with Asher and needing to remain here. There was so much that needed to be done, especially now that I had my magic.
Cordelia and Rowena both warned me it would start manifesting itself now that the bind was gone, and the longer I took to master it, the more damage it could do.
“After we’re finished here, I’m dropping by the police station to watch the traffic tapes. Care to tag along?” Asher asked minutes after we both had gone silent watching the witches work.
“I can’t.” I sighed, trying not to think about my full schedule today. “After this I’m meeting with a couple therapists for Holly, and I have training today-witch training and warrior training.”
“We have people who can find a suitable therapist for Holly.” He frowned and his eyebrows inched closer together.
“I know, I just want to do this myself. I feel like I owe her that much.” I admitted and watched as he visibly smothered the reluctance hidden in his golden eyes. “Really, it’s right outside of town. Well within the packs borders, and it’ll be the middle of the day.”
“I don’t think-“
“Actually, I was planning to head up that way too.” Mason chimed in, a dimpled smile on his face. I narrowed my eyes at him, but everything Mason did seemed genuine. “You mind giving me a lift?”
I raised my eyebrow at Asher, waiting to see if he had any complaints. When he said nothing, I nodded at Mason.
“I wouldn’t mind at all.”
Rowena’s soft sigh hit my ears, and I turned in time to see her disappointed frown. She brushed the dirt off her hands and flexed her fingers before walking over.
“I’m afraid I can’t feel anything…” It was the troubled look on her face that gave me reason to pause. There was a twisting in my stomach that told me there was something much more important weighing on her mind.
“That worries you a lot.” I stated, feeling a twinge of guilt at how blunt I sounded even though I knew Rowena could handle it. Still, there were now two werewolves d**d. The time for niceties was over. “I’d like to know why.”
“I’m pleased to see your magic is working. Have you felt it stir yet? It should be more… potent than the random thoughts and feelings you pick up.” Her lips lifted into a smile, and somehow I knew she wouldn’t answer my question until I answered hers.
“I’ve felt it stir, but I don’t think I’ve actually used it yet.” I replied.
She nodded, but the pleased look on her face was fleeting.
“Natural magic has to do with the body and it’s life force. That’s why I’m skilled at healing and uncovering things hidden or repressed. Humans, vampires, and werewolves aren’t the only beings with a life force. Other animals have them, even plants.
The earth is just one big life force, which means I should feel something…but both times I’ve come up empty handed.”
I looked over at the b****y patch of grass, noting how dark it looked compared to what was untouched. It was like a part of the earth had died.
“You felt no life force…even in the ground?” I asked, hoping I was simply misunderstanding. The moment the thought popped into existence; a feeling of dread filled my insides.
Cordelia’s gasp was a whip that cracked through the silence, splitting it in two and replacing it with a tension that made me feel oddly claustrophobic surrounded by all these trees.
The forest was my second home, and not once had I felt the desire to run from it-as far and fast as I could.
Breyona clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle the yelp she almost let out, and even Zeke had a hand placed against his heart.
Cordelia’s eyes were wide and her face unbelievably pale. The hand she cradled to her chest was coated in dark, glossy blood. Her voice trembled when she said, “…I need something to wipe this off…quickly, please…”
Perhaps it was the urgency in her voice, but I was seconds away from pulling my own shirt off when Asher beat me to it. She nodded a hasty thank you and vigorously rubbed the old blood from her hand.
“Whoever did this, they were in a hurry. It’s messier than the first time, and more magic was left behind. I couldn’t a read on it’s pattern, but there was something else I picked up…” Cordelia closed her eyes and took a calming breath.
When they opened, acceptance burned in their depths. I had no clue what it could’ve meant, and quickly forgot seeing it when she swallowed and said, “…these aren’t just murders, they’re sacrifices.”