“Hopefully, Breyona makes it out before this all blows up.” Cassidy huffed, tightening her grip on the steering wheel as we raced down the winding backroads, closer to the center of town.
She seemed at ease behind the wheel, taking the sharp turns with a look of focus on her face. I jumped and clutched the seatbelt against my chest when the car lurched forwards, the exhaust snarling from the rush of power.
Cassidy cursed, which was decidedly more surprising than the sudden acceleration, and leaned down to grab something off the floor.
“…can’t drive with these things on.”‘ Her snarl was forced through gritted teeth.
We neared the trunk of a thick oak tree and just when I thought we were going to plow into it, she sat up with a fuzzy pink slipper clutched in hand.
With the flick of a wrist we coasted around yet another sharp curve, back to driving smoothly even though the speedometer didn’t dip below sixty-five.
“You didn’t notice anything strange when she mentioned Asher and Judge Armstrong, did you?” I asked, forcing myself straighter in the seat.
Cassidy drove some sort of vintage sports car, and the expensive looking seats were all too easy to sink into. Maya had gone into full alert mode, scanning our surroundings even though there were nothing to see but trees.
I had to force myself not to follow the bond between Asher and me. We could talk later about why he decided to block me out and exact punishment by himself.
“Strange how?” She turned her head and flashed a worried glance in my direction. “I didn’t notice anything, did you?”
“I…”‘ I began, but quickly realized the panic I’d spread if I were to say anything. “…I think I’m just stressed, and probably need a good nap.”
“No kidding, you were tossing and turning all night.” A puff of air escaped her lips in what would’ve sounded like quiet laughter if her face wasn’t scrunched with stress.
The harsh blues in her eyes softened when she said, “I can only imagine. I’m drowning midterms and piles of homework, but you’re fighting against what could become a full-blown war.”
I paused, feeling my heart skip a beat as I was thrown through space and time, reeling back to the day the earth ran red with blood.
Only a split second it took to dredge up the screams, snarls and sounds of d***g breath from my memory. Stars danced behind my eyes a s I got whiplash from returning to the present so soon.
“A war, who said anything about a war?”
Cassidy shrugged one of her shoulders but worry remained painted across her face as she said, “First with the Vampires, and now the witches…Everyone in towns saying it. That’s what this is, isn’t it?”
A cold sweat broke across the back of my neck, and this time I let myself sink into the expensive leather seats.
Not even the sudden flush of Asher’s rage reverberating down our bond, could distract me from the sinking feeling in my gut that told me everyone was right.
“No amount of damage control can fix this.” Cassidy said under her breath, sending the car screeching to a stop in the middle of the busy street.
A couple blocks away from the University was Town Hall. Only a sprawling garden and a few skillfully placed fountains blocked the pedestrians on the sidewalk from the main entrance.
It mirrored a famous human building located in the capital of the country and stood tall with its four large pillars and abundance of square windows. Rather than a white-turned-eggshell sandstone on the exterior, there was slate grey paneling.
Traffic had already slowed due to the crowd outside and the number of people swerving to the shoulder to catch a better glimpse at what was going on.
My heart hammered at the thought of Asher causing this spectacle, and I leapt out of the car ready to plow through a hundred people. When the crowd parted and my brother’s face appeared on the other side, I stopped in my tracks.
“What took you so long?” He huffed, keeping his voice low until I was at his side.
There were dozens of eyes piercing my skin, and not all were friendly. Sean met their glares with one of his own, while I kept my eyes trained in the direction we walked.
Without realizing it, I’d been holding my breath waiting for their stares to turn into something more.
Not a single person uttered a word, but I could tell by the number of newspapers held in clenched fists that more than one wanted to.
“Do you not see the insane amount of traffic?” I muttered and was preparing to say more when I caught sight of dad up ahead.
We passed under the arbors of blooming roses and sprawling vines, to the small wrap around porch that surrounded the place.
A sign on one of the pillars showed that following it to the back of the building would lead to the parking lot, and it was in that direction that I heard the snarling.
Dad was leaning against the railing, his expression pained as he spoke to Flora. That was the first thing that struck me as odd. The second was the way he placed all of his weight on his good leg.
On the worst days, his knee would swell, and he’d be completely unable to stand. That was the joy of injuring yourself fighting in a war for a s****y Alpha.
There was no compensation or awards, no ceremony honoring the sacrifices of the wounded.
Just a single letter saying ‘thanks for contributing’ was all dad received. Two if you counted the one his job mailed out two weeks later letting him know he’d been replaced by someone more capable.
The sight of him leaning against the railing for support reminded me of those days, where after Sean and I left for school his stubbornness would win out and he’d try to stand anyway.
The day he made it halfway up the stairs was the day Mom forbade any other attempts.
He stumbled on the next step and woke up three hours later in a pool of blood, his arm broken and the bone protruding from his skin.
It was this I thought about when I turned to Sean and asked, “Why is dad here and what happened to his leg?”
I knew he’d been eavesdropping by the way he turned his ear in our direction and lowered his voice, obscuring the words he said to Flora. My question had him looking over here, only it wasn’t me or Cassidy he focused on, but Sean.
‘Don’t you dare,’ dad’s eyes seemed to say.
Sean’s narrowed, identical right down to the splotch of green-ish yellow above his pupil.
“Asher went feral when the judge guy showed up with today’s paper. Dad was talking to Rowena when he heard them. Tried to pull them apart and Asher turned on him.”
Maya’s ears fell flat, slicked against her skull as she let out a low whine that made my ears ring. I felt the instinct to defend Asher rise in my throat, along with the cruel words I knew would make Sean regret speaking up.
It took all my allotted restraint for the day to clench my teeth and keep my mouth shut, but the action had an unintended effect. Rage poured into me, tinting my vision red and coating my tongue in with a sharp metallic taste.
“Lola, he didn’t mean-” Dad began to defend him, his face pale as though he actually thought I’d harm Asher.
Jumbled words and broken bits of thought rushed through my head, but the response that left my lips came in the form of a snarl. I didn’t wait for Sean to escort me or for Cassidy to follow, even though I could hear her cautious footsteps trailing a few feet behind. Dad cursed under his breath but didn’t dare try to follow.
If I’d been less enraged and more focused on my surroundings, I would’ve been able to hear the reassuring words Flora said to my dad, her hand resting on the shoulder of his flannel.
As I rounded the corner of the porch, I came face to face with what the clamoring crowd were desperate to catch a glimpse of. The people lingering in the parking lot, watching protectively by their cars were employees. Zeke and Beta Drake couldn’t do much about them considering Asher and Clint Armstrong were currently in the way.
“Why are they doing this outside?” I hissed at Zeke, who remained stoic on the porch, his eyes glued to the two wolves battling it out in the parking lot.
A slender woman with glassy mocha eyes and a green-tinted face inched towards me, doing everything she could to keep her eyes away from the fight.
“We just had the carpets and hardwood redone…” She murmured, toying with her dainty french tip manicure. The tendons in her slender throat stood out as she swallowed and said, “…he didn’t want to get blood on them, so he dragged him outside.”
I tore my eyes off Asher long enough to frown at the trembling woman and say, “You and any other employee that needs it, take a paid week off. It’s the least Asher can do to apologize for his disruption.”
Her lips lifted for half a second, but Asher’s abrupt snarl made them drop.
“Thank you, Luna. I’ll spread the word…” She said quietly, brushing one of her loose curls behind an ear before making a beeline for the door.
Calling it a battle was kind considering Clint Armstrong had nothing on Asher. What skill he might’ve possessed dried up when he chose to sit behind a desk for the last two decades, and his skills as a Judge were doing nothing to protect him against Asher’s merciless blows.
Blood covered most of his face and was overwhelmingly bitter as I scented it in the air. I could see where some had dried along his cheeks and lips, from where the wounds Asher left healed only to be reopened seconds later.
Before I could storm over there and tear into him, Asher grabbed Clint by the neck of his shirt and lifted him like he was a child.
The middle-aged wolf was taller than Asher by a few inches, so his feet d**g along the ground as he pulled him into the grass and continued unloading punch after punch to his face.
“You saw it too, right?” Zeke asked without looking away from the fight.
I didn’t bother answering. Of course, I saw it too.
This was the Asher that turned on my dad, on his closest friend —the same one wailing on Clint so hard the impression of his body would be visible within the dirt for the rest of the week.
His eyes were pitch-black, which happened only when he was severely pissed off, but it wasn’t the color Zeke was referring to.
There was a complete lack of awareness within them, like his head had been emptied of everything–every memory and thought replaced by endless rage.
I didn’t hesitate as I stormed up to the two of them, but before I could place a hand on Asher’s shoulder, he turned on me. It took everything within me not to flinch as he spun around and raised his hand. His elongated claws caught the sunlight but stopped before they reached my throat.
Cassidy’s gasp rang in my ears, and I could practically feel the tension oozing from her and everyone else in thick waves.
“Really, you’re going to a****k me?” I snapped at him, which might’ve made me look insane to everyone else, but Asher always responded differently to my anger.
He tilted his head, staring at me with eyes plucked from the darkest abyss. His hair was disheveled, and his face flecked with blood.
The button-down shirt he wore shimmered with it but was too dark in color to show how much. When I crossed my arms over my chest, his eyes broke from my face to follow the movement.
I wasn’t sure what made him lower his clawed hand, but whatever it was made his eyebrows crease and the anger in his eyes flicker.
Clint Armstrong chose that moment to stir and began shuffling further away from us. I gritted my teeth to keep from snapping at the man, not that it would’ve mattered because Asher’s snarl was loud enough to d***n out even the shrillest of voices.
“Mr. Armstrong, I’m going to recommend you don’t move…” I told him, keeping my voice a low and even tone. Clint muttered something unintelligibly, but I did manage to snag the word ‘feral,’ which made a second snarl tear from Asher’s throat. There was a flash of annoyance in my voice when I added, “…or speak.”
“You aren’t my Alpha-” Even distorted by pain and the blood in his mouth, I could make out Clint’s slurred words. “…she seduced you just like that other-“
I could tell Asher was going to turn around and lunge when every muscle in his body tensed. Acting on the idiotic desire to spare Clint Armstrong’s life, I stormed my mate and didn’t stop until I felt his wet shirt beneath my hands.
“Snap out of it and listen to me.”
The demand both vibrated in the air between us and shot through my body like a bolt of lightning, rushing into Asher from where my hands met his heated skin.
Awareness seeped into his eyes and replaced the feral light that once danced in their depths, but it did nothing to erase the anger on his face or ease his desire for retribution.