The shadows slithered from sight, maneuvering through the tall grass unseen. Alpha Asher’s wide eyes met my own as he too could see them slithering. I was thankful he couldn’t hear their seductive whispers, begging me to call on them again.
‘Mason…’ Maya gasped, cringing against the icy torrent invading my body.
The shadows slithered across the small space that separated us from the Vampire’s. I watched as they gathered, most of the Vampires were completely oblivious.
The one standing beside Adrienne was not. His seafoam eyes widened at the sight, his eyes snapping up to meet my own.
‘He can see them…’ Maya murmured; her tone fearful. ‘Why can’t everyone else see them?’
I couldn’t form the words to answer Maya, rooted in place as the shadows glided forward.
Adrienne was oblivious, her golden eyes narrowed at Mason, her arm tucked tightly around her Vampire mate.
They pooled around her feet, lapping against her stiletto boots like murky water. The shadows gathered at her feet, rising as more added to their numbers.
I held my breath until my lungs burned, silently pleading for a way out of this bargain.
‘Unbreakable…you must pay the price, Princess’
The shadows cooed, their silky voices falling on my ears in hushed waves. Neither side had made a move yet, as Alpha Asher and the Vampire watched the gathering shadows in horror.
The other Vampire’s twitched anxiously, waiting for their leader to call them forward. My friends shot Alpha Asher and I uneasy looks, also wondering why we hadn’t taken action.
The shadows rose high, much higher than my short stature. Just when they reached Adrienne’s height, the whisps of shadow seemed to solidify and take form.
The dark form of a man stood in front of Adrienne, just inches away, and still she was oblivious.
I su*ked in a ragged breath as the shadow’s arm raised, slicing across the air in one smooth motion.
Silence echoed across the dark forest, as if the bugs and animals were all holding their breaths. There was no mistaking the feeling of unease that had settled across us all. Even if they couldn’t see the shadows, they could feel that something felt…wrong.
A thin, jagged line of scarlet beaded against Adrienne’s neck, bright in contrast to her espresso skin. She hadn’t even realized what happened yet.
Her golden eyes widened, her hands lip at her sides. At first the blood trickled down, slow and thick as it made its descent down her slender neck.
Her hands snapped up to her neck, her hands grasping wildly at the gaping wound in her throat. Her blood began to spurt in long waves, watering the grass and staining the earth.
The shadows broke apart, falling to the ground once more. They slithered over the fallen blood, devouring each drop that fell to the earth.
Mason lurched forward; his hands extended as if he were going to help his dying mate.
‘There’s nothing you can do’, I wanted to tell him. ‘I killed her, Mason. I killed your mate.’
Mason stopped dead in his tracks as a chorus of hisses erupted from the Vampires, warning him to back off.
As if things couldn’t get any worse, her Vampire mate unleashed a snarl of pure fury.
Adrienne fell to the ground, beautiful and still as she lay in the grass. Her golden eyes were focused on me, as though she were taunting me.
‘I know what you did, stupid wolf.’
I could hear her exotic voice in my head, her words like a whip against my bare skin.
I made the mistake of looking into Mason’s eyes, drowning in the sorrow and confusion that filled his gaze. His eyes never once left Adrienne,
The Vampires rushed forward, their leader barreling into Alpha Asher. Carter and Wade met the Vampire’s with equal gusto. Mason and Breyona leapt into action, but the four of them couldn’t seem to wipe the horror and confusion from their eyes.
I had been so absorbed with the horror of what I had done that I didn’t notice the two Vampire’s charging my way. With a snarl of absolute malice, Sean knocked the two Vampire’s to the ground.
Breyona and Mason both fought in wolf form, tearing the throats out of the Vampire’s with furious snarls. Alpha Asher fought in his human form, shifting his hand into claws as he tore the heart from one of the Vampire’s. Carter, Wade and Sean all did the same.
Alpha Asher was fighting more than one Vampire at a time, giving most of his attention to their leader.
With my heart bursting at the seams, and Mason’s horrorstruck face in mind, I called Maya forward and shifted.
While she wanted to stretch her legs and take her time basking in the moonlight, there were more important matters. I took the backseat while Maya charged at one of the Vampire’s fighting Alpha Asher.
The guy couldn’t have been any older than eighteen, a child forced to fight against wolves. His blonde hair was a couple shades darker than Tristan’s, sun k!ssed even though he couldn’t go out in the sun. My teeth sunk into his throat like butter, as he hadn’t seen me coming. Shock filled his cerulean eyes as they widened at my bite.
I had never killed someone before, even in self-defense and I would never forget the emotions that crossed his eyes. Innocent surprise filled his gaze, followed by sheer denial. He couldn’t fathom that this was the end of his life, that all of those years of learning and growing culminated to this moment.
Maya threw his corpse to the ground without hesitation and moved onto the next Vampire.
As their numbers dwindled, Alpha Asher seemed to gain strength and speed. With little more than a cruel sneer, he tore the heart from the Vampire leader’s chest. His body hit the ground with a wet thud, his out stretched hand only inches away from Adrienne.
‘What do we do?’ Breyona spoke through the mind-link, her voice thick with emotion.
‘Drag them into the woods, and burn the bodies.’ Alpha Asher’s voice was strong and acted as a beacon to get me through this horrible night.
Breyona, Mason and I shifted into our human forms. We slipped on some clothes we had kept in the trunk, just in case of emergencies.
We worked in silence for the next ten minutes, each of us dragging a Vampire corpse into the woods. I could hear my heart shatter as Mason picked up his deceased mate, her long curly hair waving in the light breeze. She was limp in his arms, her vacant eyes still staring at me.
The smell of burnt flesh was nauseating, mixing with the sickly-sweet smell that radiated from the Vampire’s. Mason stared on at the fire, watching as it licked and crackled against his mate’s curly hair.
“What happened?” Mason’s voice was just below a whisper, each word left his lips slowly as though the sound brought him pain.
I didn’t know what to say. What could I say? There was nothing that could undo what I had done. I had blindly made a deal with the shadows, not bothering to have them elaborate on the price.
‘Not that this excuses what happened…but it wasn’t your fault.’ Maya murmured, the crackling fire drowning out her sorrowful voice. ‘She chose the Vampire’s over Mason. She would’ve killed him if she had the chance.’
Maya was right, it didn’t excuse what I did.
“I don’t–” My mouth opened, my voice a painful croak in my throat.
“Don’t lie to me.” Mason spat the words, his eyes hardening. I had never seen him look so furious before, as though he were seconds away from lunging at my throat. “I felt something there with us, something cold and ancient and just–bad. It was the shadows wasn’t it?”
“I–it was, but Mason-“
“Did you ask them to kill her?” Mason snarled, taking a step towards me as his eyes flashed murderously. All traces of his lopsided smile and bright eyes had vanished, this Mason was someone else entirely.
“Enough.” Alpha Asher’s voice was hard and commanding as he stepped in between Mason and I. His back was turned to me, but I could feel the protectiveness radiating from his body.
I wanted to scream. Couldn’t he see? I didn’t deserve his protection. Mason had every right to be angry with me–to hate me.
“I didn’t, Mason. I swear!” My voice shattered, a sob trembling through my body. Mason began to turn his back on me, his eyes vacant and cold. I couldn’t let things end this way. I couldn’t let him walk away thinking I wanted to kill his mate. “I made a deal. Asher–Asher was going to die. They said a life for a life. I thought they meant me, Mason!”
Something flickered in the depths of Mason’s eyes, something that gave me the smallest shred of hope.
“Give him a minute.” Alpha Asher murmured, turning to face me. His eyes were dark and his voice thick with repressed emotion. I hadn’t told Alpha Asher the deal I made; I hadn’t told him the price I was willing to pay for his life.
Wetness cascaded down my face, and I realized I had been crying Alpha Asher raised his hand as though he were going to wipe my tears away. I flinched away from his touch, and turned towards a stoic Breyona.
I couldn’t accept his comfort, couldn’t let him chase the horror and ice from my veins. I deserved to feel everything for what I had done. I didn’t deserve an easy way out.
Breyona’s face was an impenetrable mask, her hazel eyes locked on my face. I wanted to say something, but what could I say?
“Anyone know how to hotwire a car?” Carter broke the thick silence, a frown etched onto his carefree face. “Cause I don’t feel like running three hours home.”
“I’ll find us a car.” Breyona grunted, her eyes flickering to the patch of forest Mason had wandered off into.
“Lola, go with her.” Alpha Asher murmured, his intense gaze heating my cold skin.
Breyona turned on her heel and headed back to the main road, leaving me to follow closely behind. Once I had finally caught up to her, we walked down the dark road in silence. I could feel the whirlwind of emotions that swarmed within her, and cringed against their intensity.
“Are–Are you mad at me?” I wanted to throw something, to smack myself across the face for saying something so careless.
“No.” Breyona used her voice like a whip, lashing against my chilled skin without mercy. “I understand why you did what you did, but that doesn’t change how Mason feels.”
“I know.” I choked out, my voice little more than a painful rasp. “I didn’t know–I didn’t know it would be her.”
“You want to know what pisses me off?” Breyona stopped dead in her tracks, her hands resting on her hips. Breyona’s emotionless mask had shifted into one of irritation and anger.
Her hazel eyes narrowed at me, sending a shard of regret burrowing into my stomach. “You were willing to give your damn life without thinking it through.”
“I did think it through.” I shook my head furiously, tears pricking the backs of my eyelids. “I couldn’t–“
“I know, Lola. You couldn’t let him die.” Breyona snapped, running a hand through her short hair. “But don’t you get it? You can’t be a damn martyr and throw your life away without thinking of the rest of us. How would your Grandma feel? And what about Sean and your Dad?”
Millions of words flitted through my mind, and yet I couldn’t figure out what to say. Tears formed in Breyona’s narrowed eyes, her slim figure shaking with anger.
“You’re–you’re mad I didn’t think it through?” I chuckled, ignoring the tears that escaped my weary eyes. “I killed someone–I killed Mason’s mate.”
“If Adrienne hadn’t been killed by the shadows, what would have happened to her?” Breyona grimaced, as if the words burned her throat during their exit.
“During the fight, what would have happened to her? Would we have spared her? Taken her as prisoner until she was forced to switch sides?”
I knew what she was asking, and I knew the answer. Adrienne would have died, or escaped to run back to the Vampire’s. While it nearly made my heart seize in my chest, there wasn’t a happy ending for Adrienne and Mason.
“She would have died, or somehow gotten away.” Breyona murmured, “And I know how much Mason is hurting, but she wasn’t going to change sides. Does that make me a bad person?”
“I don’t know.” I murmured; my voice rough with exhaustion.
Just a mile up the road we found a small parking lot littered with different cars. A small sign sticking from the ground said this was where you park if you were going to take a bus. The bus stop sat at the corner, a few feet away from the parking lot.
The streetlights flickered dimly, and my eyes flickered to every shadow in sight. There was no movement, no slithery voice that cooed in my ear. Everything was still, even the crickets had fell silent.
Breyona picked a deep brown mini-van, set with at least thirty bumper stickers. The back window had one of those stick figure families. A stick figure Mom and Dad stood next to a child and a little dog. Above the stick figure family was another sticker that said ‘my child made honor roll in 2019’.
“Not my first choice, but we have seven people to transport and we need something inconspicuous.” Breyona grunted, catching my gaze as I looked over the tacky bumper stickers.
I leaned against the cold metal of the mini-van in silence, watching as Breyona messed with an assortment of wires.
“How did you learn to hotwire a car?” I found myself asking, thankful for a distraction from my own inner turmoil.
“Made some human friends a year ago.” Breyona shrugged. The engine roared to life and Breyona shot me a half-hearted grin, “They taught me a thing or two.”
We drove back to the abandoned house, maneuvering around the back end of the wrecked SUV. Smoke was no longer billowing from the hood and thankfully the car hadn’t erupted in flames.
Alpha Asher, Carter, Wade, Sean and Mason stood around the side of the house, keeping out of view from the road. Breyona pulled into the gravel driveway and hopped out of the van.
“A mini-van?” Carter scoffed, giving Breyona a side-eyed glance. “Thats the best you could do?”
“I’m sorry we can’t fit seven people in a damn sports car.” Breyona snapped, “It’s bad enough were stealing one car, let’s not add another to the list.”
“Alright, alright.” Carter grimaced; his hands raised in surrender.
Alpha Asher climbed into the driver’s seat, while everyone else filed into the back. I leaned my cheek against the passenger window, unable to feel the cold of the glass.
Alpha Asher, Carter, Wade and Sean were all splattered in blood. The sickly-sweet scent was all over their clothes, staining their skin.
We all fell into a heavy silence, each of us baring the weight of what happened tonight. Every other minute Alpha Asher’s toffee-colored eyes would find their way to my face and linger there for a few moments. When we were half an hour away from home, Sean spoke up.
“Alpha–could I stay in the packhouse tonight?” Sean’s voice sounded fragile, as though it were a paper-thin sheet of glass. “Just for the night–I just need some time alone before I see Dad and Grandma again.”
“Of course.” Alpha Asher nodded, his eyes never once leaving the road. “I’ll have Beta Devin bring you to one of the suites when we get back.”
“I’ll have to at least call Grandma.” I frowned at Sean, looking over his haggard and exhausted face. “She kind of figured out where we were going tonight.”
“Of course, she did.” Sean chuckled, but it sounded weak and forced.
Alpha Asher dropped Mason and Breyona off at their houses, followed by Carter and Wade. Mason hadn’t said a word or spared me a glance as he hopped out of the van, trudging up the steps to his house.
‘Give him time.’ Maya murmured, ‘His mate rejected him for a Vampire, and she died. He has a lot to sort through.’
We arrived at the packhouse early in the morning, but the living room light was still on. Yellow light peeking from the sheer white curtains in Alpha Asher’s living room.
The three of us walked inside, Alpha Asher and Sean coated in a thick layer of Vampire blood. Beta Devin and Alpha Zeke were both sitting on the couch, the dull sounds of a football game played on the TV.
Two sets of eyes snapped up from the TV, roaming over Alpha Asher and Sean’s blood coated body.
“You actually did it.” Alpha Zeke chuckled, his eyes brightening as he looked at the three of us. “Kill a lot of Vamps?”
“They knew we were coming.” Alpha Asher grunted, and I could hear the exhaustion in his words. “We’ll talk more in the morning.”
Beta Ned showed Sean to a spare bedroom. Before retreating into the room, Sean pulled me into his arms. My brother and I had never been affectionate towards each other, but for a moment I allowed myself to forget what I had done and enjoy my brother’s company.
Alpha Asher stood off to the side, waiting patiently for me to follow him to his–our room.
“Don’t torture yourself, Lola.” Sean murmured into my hear, pulling his arms from around me.
“If only it were that easy.” The words came out in a hushed whimper, but Sean had already closed the bedroom door.
My body was on autopilot as I followed Alpha Asher into our bedroom. I sat motionless on the bed, my fingers grazing against the silky material of his blankets. Alpha Asher stripped the bloody clothes from his chiseled body, tossing them into the bathroom trash can.
I watched in silence as Alpha Asher pulled me from the bed, guiding me into the bathroom where a steaming shower awaited our presence. Much like he had before, he stripped the clothes from my body and let them fall to the floor with a quiet thud.
I savored every moment of his hands against my flesh, smearing soap into my skin until it lathered. Alpha Asher’s touch had always awakened something s*xual within me, flipping a switch that made me crave him entirely. This time his touch was different.
He washed my hair for me, his rough fingers tangled through my hair as he rubbed my scalp. Just when I was about to fall asleep in his arms, he rinsed the soap from my hair. After quickly washing himself, he pulled me from the shower. As if I were a fragile piece of glass, he carried me into the bedroom and placed me lightly on my feet.
While I wanted to collapse onto the bed, his thick arm around my waist kept me upright. His toffee eyes grew dark as they took in my tired and sorrow-stricken face. My l!ps felt dry and chapped, my eyes swollen from the tears I had shed and yet Alpha Asher looked at me like a man seeing the sun for the first time.
“You were willing to die for me.” Alpha Asher murmured, his voice thick and rough as he recounted the decision I had made.
“Of course.” My voice cracked as I spoke the words, tears burning the back of my eyes as I looked at the heavy emotion clouding Alpha Asher’s face.
“Don’t ever give your life for mine.” His dark eyes grew hard, fear and anger flashing in their depths, “Do you hear me, Lola?”
“I hear you.” I responded, but he could see the truth bleeding through my eyes. “But I’m still here. And Mason’s mate isn’t.”
Alpha Asher’s eyes were still dark, still dripping with emotion he couldn’t put into words. His arm tightened around my waist as he lifted me against his chest. He slipped under the covers; my body still tucked in his arms.
Turning on his side, he pulled me against his chest. His skin radiated a warmth that soothed my chilled bones, and chased away the icy splinters that refused to leave. His hand traced light patterns across my bare back his lips pressed against my clean hair as he inhaled deeply.
Even as the sobs wracked my body, his hand never quit its soothing pace against my skin. His touch and affection did something to my wounded heart. It began to slowly patch up the jagged and cracked pieces.
Just as I was ready to succ*mb to the darkness, a fleeting thought crossed my mind. It was something the shadows had said when I made the deal with them.
‘To save the one you love, a life must be taken’
The shadows had been right. Somewhere along the way, I had fallen in love with Alpha Asher.