Alpha Asher mind-linked his Beta, and the two of us waited by Jessie’s body until he showed. With Jessie’s lifeless face lingering in my mind, Asher turned to face me. His honey eyes were hard as they regarded me, stress and exhaustion hidden beneath the surface.
“The Vampire King used her as payment, didn’t he?” Asher asked, recognizing the pattern of death.
“It seems he did.” I frowned, my eyes lingering on the spot Jessie had once sat.
‘This isn’t your fault, Lola.’ Maya murmured, ‘You aren’t responsible for everyone.’
I wasn’t sure she knew about her heritage, and I never had the chance to explain. I had long stopped trying to understand the shadows and why they demand such payments, but I couldn’t see the point in killing another half-blood.
Jessie was just a child, born into a world where species are at war, and collateral damage is high.
“Why?” Asher grimaced, anger flaring in his dark eyes.
“She was like me.” I stated simply, turning my face away as his intense eyes searched for my own. “Not the same blood-line, but she was a half-blood.”
“How long have you known this?” Asher asked, his voice dark.
“Not long.” I shook my head, “I met her when the attacks were happening. We could both smell the Vampire’s–though neither of us knew where the scent was coming from.”
“And this is an indication of her species?” Asher asked, his voice taking on an impatient tone.
I brushed the anger in his voice off, knowing we both endured a very long night. I wondered if either of us would manage to achieve any sleep. With my birthday two days away and a war between species looming over my head, I needed all the sleep I could manage.
“You can’t tell Breyona any of this.” I sighed, knowing her Mom would kill the two of us if she found out we read her private collection of books. “Breyona’s Mom has a secret stash of books.
We broke into her safe and read them. According to the books, Vampire’s scents are nearly undetectable. The scent is undetectable, unless you’re a Vampire.”
“Undetectable?” Asher questioned; his eyes were captivated as I continued speaking.
“They smell sweet–like, really sweet.” I grimaced as the smell ebbed to the front of my memory. “Jessie could smell them too.”
“Then, I suppose the shadows asked for the life of a half-blood.” Asher frowned, “Though he hadn’t killed her himself.”
“Maybe the shadows have a preference.” I shrugged, though a nagging feeling remained in my gut. “I’m no closer to figuring them out than I was a month ago.”
“I’m not sure I want you to figure them out.” Asher murmured to himself, each of us sharing a look of uncertain concern.
“We need to talk to Brittany, don’t we?” I sighed, knowing this night wasn’t through yet.
“We do.” Asher nodded, “Though I would prefer to speak with her sooner rather than later.”
“I know.” I frowned, “I think I should speak with Tyler.
“Even locked in a cell, I cannot stand the thought of him under the same roof as you.” Asher growled lowly, exhaling sharply as we entered the house.
Alpha Bran had made it back to the packhouse before us, and was slumped on the living room couch. A thin trail of blood ran the length of his face, along with a bloody wound on his arm. The pristine couch in the living room was flecked with blood, but neither Alpha seemed to care.
“One of the fking vermin bit me.” Alpha Bran snapped, holding his arm up to showcase the bloody wound. “Bit me like I’m a fking sausage.”
“Did you make him regret it?” I found myself asking, a dry smile on my face as I looked at the Alpha I had once beat.
“I did, my dear.” Alpha Bran returned my grim smile with one of his own. “His remains are scattered throughout the forest.”
“And what of Alpha Zeke?” Asher questioned, his eyes flashing at Bran with annoyance.
“Tending to his men.” Alpha Bran grunted.
The putrid smell was far from mind as we walked down into the dungeons. While my nose wrinkled at the scent, my stomach no longer turned itself into knots.
I had seen enough death and blood to last a lifetime, a putrid stench was nothing compared to that. Reluctantly, Asher took the left tunnel where Brittany resided and I took the right.
Unable to leave Brittany and Tyler unguarded, Asher had left two men each to guard their cells. Isaac and one of Asher’s men guarded Tyler’s cell.
It was almost humorous to see Tyler’s once best-friend guarding his prison cell, though Isaac’s eyes held no fondness for his old friend.
“Lola.” Isaac nodded; his eyes hard as he glanced at Tyler’s slumped figure. “I wanted to apologize about–before.”
“No need.” I shook my head, dismissing his apology with a wave. I had long ago moved on from Tyler. The more I thought about my relationship with Tyler, the more I realized how much I had truly changed. The girl who dated Tyler was the shallow daughter of a Beta.
She didn’t care for pack politics or a war between species. Even though it had only been a year ago, it felt like another lifetime.
“Trying to get in her pants already, Isaac?” Tyler snorted; his voice rough from lack of water. “Get in line, though I’m not sure you can compete with an Alpha or Vampire.”
Isaac didn’t react to Tyler’s bait, clearly used to it at this point. I rolled my eyes at Tyler and watched as he pulled himself from the earthen wall. He was looking much more haggard than yesterday, his hair a couple shades darker from a thick coating of dirt.
“I assume there’s a reason behind your visit?” Tyler smirked, having the gall to act smug while he rotted in a silver cage. “Are things not going so well with your new Alpha?”
The bitterness in Tyler’s words fell on my ears, and part of me wanted to laugh. While a war between our species must have been brewing for quite some time, it was Tyler that lit the match and watched everything go up in flames. Had Tyler truly expected everything to work out in his favor?
‘Yes, because his pride clouds his mind.’ Maya murmured.
“Let’s play a game, shall we?” Tyler chuckled, though his laughter was a shell of what it used to be. “A question for a question.”
“Very well.” I nodded, remaining cautious incase Tyler had something up his sleeve.
“Are you worried, Lola?” Tyler spoke lowly, his eyes ablaze with hidden emotion. “I assume your birthday is coming up any day now. Whoever could your mate be?”
“That’s two questions.” I rolled my eyes. “And of course, I’m worried. Did you know about the attack tonight?”
“Tonight?” Tyler’s eyes were bright, almost hopeful. “I knew they were planning an attack, but I hadn’t a clue when or where it would happen. How far did they get?”
I couldn’t see the harm in answering his question, so I obliged.
“Not far.” I shrugged, “They headed to my Dad’s house. It seems they were looking for me.”
I watched in silence as some of the light in Tyler’s eyes diminished. I realized; Tyler was hoping the Vampire’s would rescue him.
He had nothing for them, nothing to benefit their cause of the complete destruction of all werewolves. They wouldn’t come for Tyler, and now he was beginning to believe it.
“Is Brittany in on this?” I asked, watching Tyler’s expression carefully.
Irritation flooded my veins as an ear-splitting grin formed on Tyler’s face. A deep, raspy chuckle emerged from his chest while his eyes were bright with amusement.
“You’re desperate for this answer, I can see it in your eyes.” Tyler snickered, “Perhaps she is–but maybe she isn’t.”
“Enough, cut the bull-sh*t.” I snapped, pinching the bridge of my nose as I exhaled slowly. As I opened my eyes, Tyler’s grin had only widened.
“How interesting.” Tyler chuckled, “If I told you she was in fact working with the Vampire’s, your Alpha would kill her, but I could be lying.
Could you handle that, Lola? Could you live with yourself knowing your precious Alpha tortured and murdered an innocent girl?”
I knew this conversation was pointless when Tyler erupted into unhinged laughter. His time in Asher’s dungeons had muddled his mind, or perhaps he had always been this way.
There was one other option, one I had refused to think about until we were left empty handed. I could use the one-sided bond between Tristan and I to find out the truth. If Brittany was working with the Vampire’s, Tristan would know. For once, Maya begrudgingly accepted my alternative plan.
Asher and I were silent as we retreated up to our bedroom. Once the door closed softly, he turned to face me.
I could see the exhaustion etched onto his gorgeous face; the corners of his full lips were turned down. His eyes were clouded, filled with emotion that knotted my stomach.
If anyone were to look closely, they would see the truth behind Alpha Asher. Rumored to be ruthless and cruel, Asher had a limitless love for his pack and people. There was nothing he wouldn’t do for his pack, nothing he wouldn’t sacrifice.
“Did she say anything?” I found myself asking, holding myself back from running into his arms.
“She cried, a lot.” Asher sighed, running a hand through his already messy hair. “I had to resort to some–unsavory methods to ensure she wasn’t lying.”
“And was she?” I leaned in, my heart hammering for some unknown reason.
“She claims to have no idea the Vampire’s changed their plans.” Asher murmured thoughtfully, yet a shred of suspicion lingered within him.
“You’re not going to like this–but it’s something I need to do.” I grimaced at how weak my own voice sounded. “I’m going to use the bond between Tristan and I to visit him. I’ll do everything I can to uncover the traitors in this pack.”
Asher’s honey eyes turned dark in seconds, flashing in anger as he stalked over to me. Before his lips parted, I knew what he was going to say.
There wasn’t a chance in hell he would willingly allow me to do this, but I didn’t care. I continued speaking before he had the chance to utter a single word.
“This is my pack too, Asher. Sean could have died tonight. My Dad, my Grandma both could have died tonight.” I frowned, remembering the fear I felt when my Dad ran from the house. “If she is innocent, I won’t let Brittany suffer.”
“I have one condition.” Asher murmured darkly; lingering anger continued to swim in his obsidian eyes. “If he touches you, moves towards you, or breaths too closely, you will come right back.”
“I will, I promise.” I nodded, and I truly meant it. The part of me that longed for Tristan was much easier to control now, and I knew I wouldn’t be caught off guard by him again.
Surprise jolted me as Asher wrapped his arms around my waist, holding me to his chest tightly. The quickened pace of his heart matched my own and calmed some of the raging storm within me.
His dark eyes were consuming, heating my skin as they roamed my face slowly. His hot breath fanned across my lips, and my body leaned in on its own accord. Every nerve ending erupted in little explosions at the short distance between us.
The heat that radiated from his core warmed me, and chased away the chill that settled in my bones when I called on the shadows.
As his lips hovered above my own, a surge of fear washed over me, strong enough to bring me to my knees.
All this time with Asher, and I hadn’t asked the obvious question in fear of the answer. Unknowingly, I had given this man my entire heart and was unsure if I owned his in return. The fear that crippled me spurred my decision.
Confusion fluttered in the depths of his dark eyes as I turned my head away from his own.
“Asher–what do you feel for me?” I found myself asking, looking into the depths of his eyes as though they held the answer.
I had held back asking these questions, knowing I would be destroyed if the answer wasn’t what I expected. I had shoved those burning questions away, content to live in bliss with Asher.
“What do I feel for you?” He murmured, those intoxicating eyes burning into my own. “Why have you waited so long to ask me this?”
“I–I was afraid.” I grimaced, clearing my throat in a poor attempt to strengthen my voice. A fool could hear how fragile my words were, how everything hinged on Asher’s response. “I’m still afraid.”
“I find you intriguing, intoxicating, and utterly irresistible.” Asher purred, his hand tracing lazy circles across my lower back. “I think about you so often, I moved you into my house and bedroom. And how do you feel about me, Lola?”
“I–” Those three words hovered on my tongue, sweet like honey as it awoken my tastebuds. I couldn’t bring myself to utter those words, not without knowing for sure. “Am I your mate?”
Those four words hovered in the air between us, and as the seconds ticked by, my heart cracked painfully.
Asher’s eyes gave nothing away, not a single emotion as he weighed my words on his tongue. Even as my heart threatened to split in two, I couldn’t bring myself to regret asking the question. My patience had finally run thin, and I couldn’t stand waiting the two days until my birthday.
Asher’s words were slow and measured, as though he spent a considerable amount of time thinking over his response. He had gone over this conversation in his head hundreds of times, waiting until I was brave enough to ask the question.
“I know how I feel about you.” Asher murmured; his hand rough as it trailed along my cheek. “The moment I met you, I was drawn in. My parents told me many times what the mate-bond feels like, and yet–this is different.”
“Different.” The word stung my skin, like a blade against soft flesh.
“I understood more once I learned you were half-vampire.” Asher murmured, capturing my attention with a gentle stroke of his hand. “Vampires are able to pick their own mates, yet werewolves cannot. You are a mix of both. While I feel drawn to you, how are we to know you cannot just pick a mate as you please?”
Something inside of me ached as I understood the reason behind Asher’s restraint. He hadn’t given that part of himself over to me in fear I wouldn’t choose him, as if anyone else stood a chance.
“You think I might be able to choose my own mate?” I asked.
The thought had never occurred to me before, but sent a jolt of panic down my spine. This was a good thing, right? Yet, I felt no relief.
If I were able to choose my own mate, that meant Asher had a mate in the world, and she wasn’t me. I had knowingly gotten involved with another Alpha, one whose mate was possibly someone other than myself. I had promised I would never go through this again, and yet I couldn’t seem to resist Asher.
“What if you’re wrong?” I questioned, holding his gaze as I silently pleaded with the Moon-Goddess. “What if–what if you’re my mate?”
“If you’re my mate, I’d consider myself the luckiest Alpha in the world and will not hesitate to remove that Vampire’s mark from your skin.”
Asher purred, drawing me into his arms once more. His thick fingers trailed over my back, and I couldn’t hold in the jagged sigh that left my lips.
Despite the renewed anticipation I felt for my birthday, the knot encompassing my heart had finally began to unravel.