Both Asher and I slept in that morning, holding each other as we tried to prolong the inevitable. I would be leaving soon, and neither of us knew when I would return. I’d either return before my heat began, or suffer the consequences.
My stomach was a mess of guilt and nerves, but Asher’s touch pushed the heavy emotions from my mind. As we laid in each other’s arms, hands wandering over soft skin, the int!macy blossoming through me was stronger than I’ve ever felt. This morning wasn’t about s*x or burning physical need, it was about comfort, true companionship and love.
“No one knows I’m leaving, right?” I asked, pulling my head from Asher’s chest to look into his eyes. “I don’t want my family knowing until after I’m gone.”
It was selfish of me to think that way, but it would make things easier. I wasn’t doing this for myself, but for this pack–for Breyona and Giovanni.
I now understood how Giovanni could turn his back on his species for Breyona, how the mate-bond filled every aching hole in your soul.
“Only my Beta and Zeke will know.” Asher nodded, absentmindedly running his fingers through my tangled hair. “I’m afraid most of the pack already knows you’re my mate, and their Luna.”
Well, that grabbed my attention. I pulled myself from Asher’s warm embrace, propping myself up on one of my elbows. Asher didn’t seem to mind that the pack knew, though I wondered how they came about that information.
“How?” I asked, an eyebrow raised as I took in his amused expression.
“It seems your Dad got excited when he heard his daughter was our future Luna.” Asher smirked; his hair deliciously messy from sleep. “He told a couple of his friends.”
“Who in turn told the entire pack.” I confirmed, snorting at the smile that had taken place on Asher’s face.
“I can’t blame him.” Asher murmured, planting feather light k!sses along my jaw and cheek. “This pack is lucky to have you, a Luna willing to risk it all. Beautiful, fearless–there is no one more fit for the job.”
“Plus, I know how to handle you.” I smirked, though a blush had crept onto my cheeks at the sincerity of his words.
After another hour in bed, I had no choice but to shower and get dressed for the long day ahead. Come tomorrow, I would no longer be in this pack–and my future would be more uncertain than ever.
I was on a mission, to safeguard this pack and hopefully ensure a long and happy life with Asher by my side.
I threw on something simple, a t-shirt and a pair of dark leggings. I wanted to get far away from the pack’s territory line before calling on my Father and his men. I wanted the wolves running patrol to remain safe, and keep another fight from brewing.
Shortly after I had gotten dressed, Grandma called and asked me to join her for coffee. I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to say goodbye to my family, but it was a risk I was willing to take.
I was betting on my survival, on returning with crucial information about the upcoming war. Dad, Sean and Grandma would be furious–but they would live, and that was what mattered.
I accepted her invitation, as it was the last chance, I’d have to see her. Asher personally dropped me off at the coffee shop, giving me a lasting kiss that made me question if leaving was the right choice.
‘It’s for Breyona and Giovanni.’ My wolf reminded me, ‘Neither of us want to leave, but it’s what a Luna would do. Two members of our pack are just as important as the rest.’
She was right, we both knew it. Neither of us wanted to leave Asher, it simply felt–wrong, but the safety of this pack mattered more than our personal happiness.
Grandma arrived shortly after Asher had left, a sour expression on her face. Her face was creased with lines, her eyes clouded with sleep. Grandma had definitely seen better days.
I had expected her to return home weeks ago, I was sure she missed her little cottage in the woods and her herb garden. Not only did she stay for Dad, she stayed for Sean and I.
With our Mom gone, our family had a gaping hole that no one could fill. Grandma never tried to fill that hole, but she filled the house with life and laughter. She refused to let Dad and Sean sit around moping. Mom wouldn’t want that, and Grandma knew it.
“You look like you need a couple days’ worth of sleep.” I chuckled lightly, giving her a quick hug before heading into the coffee shop.
“I think this entire pack needs a couple days’ worth of sleep.” Grandma replied. Despite the exhaustion in her eyes, she smiled, looking years younger. “War takes its toll on everyone, warriors and civilians alike.”
“It does, doesn’t it.” I sighed, “I heard you’ve been volunteering at the Community Center.”
“Someone has to feed all the soldiers.” Grandma shrugged, “They deserve some quality food, not that gruel Kate was serving.”
Kate was just another member of the pack, a few years younger than Grandma, with four children of her own. Volunteers had stepped up left and right, offering their homes, food, and time to help out the pack.
“I’m sure their very appreciative.” I smiled softly.
I ordered myself an Iced Mocha Latte and one of their huge chocolate chip muffins. The last time I had been here I was with Breyona, how things have changed. Grandma and I sat at one of the small circular tables in the coffee shop, and I watched as something shifted in her eyes.
“How’s life as the Luna treating you?” She asked, “When this mess is over, are you going to go through with the ceremony?”
The ceremony–an event I had completely forgotten about. It wasn’t that I questioned the decision to step up as Asher’s Luna, but there were more pressing things on my mind.
The ceremony was a day of joy for the entire pack, where their Luna would step up and claim her position. It was a simple matter, the Alpha and Luna would draw a shallow cut along their palm and join hands. All of those voices–everyone in the pack would then be linked to me.
The ceremony was binding, allowing me to mind-link everyone in the pack simultaneously, as Asher had done many times.
Mates could naturally mind-link with each other, just as any individual in the pack could mind-link Asher. The ceremony often happened months after the Alpha met his mate, giving the she-wolf time to decide if she truly wanted to become Luna. I had no such qualms; I was more than ready to step into the position.
“Of course, I will.” I nodded, “As much as I’d like to get it done with now, the last thing we need is an invasion during the celebration.”
“I agree.” Grandma nodded, giving me a long look. “My Granddaughter, a Luna. Not that I’m surprised, I always knew you were destined for great things. You’re already willing to give everything for this pack, you’ve been its Luna for quite some time already.”
Something was bothering her; I could easily tell. I knew she hadn’t a clue about Breyona and Giovanni’s disappearance, but Grandma easily picked up on the moods and expressions of others. She could tell I was stressed, and that there was something I wasn’t telling her.
The only people who knew about Breyona and Giovanni’s disappearance was his Beta, Zeke, and Breyona’s parents.
They hadn’t taken the news lightly, but they trusted Asher to bring their daughter back. If only they knew that their trust wasn’t in Asher, but in me.
The thought made my stomach turn. The last thing I wanted was to destroy their trust, to fail in returning their daughter.
Even if we managed to get the upper hand and win this war, there were still other pressing concerns. How would the pack react to Giovanni’s presence?
He couldn’t remain in the dark forever. Alpha Bran would undoubtedly refuse, which could lead to another problem entirely. Alpha Bran could easily decide to retaliate, which would lead to yet another war.
The ‘what ifs’ and potential problems made my head swim, but the caffeine and sugar did what it could to quiet my frazzled mind.
Grandma and I stayed at the coffee shop for another half hour before she had to go back to the community center. It was nearing dinner time, Grandma and the other volunteers had to make food for all of the warriors who had come to this pack.
As we stepped outside of the coffee shop, we nearly ran into Chelsea. I hadn’t seen her since her birthday, not that I actively sought her out to begin with.
She had Ethan at her side, an odd pairing considering neither really ever liked one another. Ethan had seen better days, dark rings lined his eyes, and they shined with a dull haunted light.
Isaac had been a close friend of his, and had lost his life when Brittany managed to escape Asher’s dungeon. Chelsea had never cared for Isaac, making it even stranger that she stood by Ethan’s side.
Chelsea’s face turned up in a sneer as we locked eyes, while Ethan remained indifferent. Ethan was an ass on all accounts, but he had never pretended to like me.
When I dated Tyler, Chelsea was my closest friend. She was also the first to turn on me once I discovered Tyler wasn’t my mate.
“Looks like everything finally worked out for you, Lola.” Chelsea sneered, and through the jealousy burning in her eyes, I could see her insecurities shining clear. “You’ve got your claws in yet another Alpha, maybe this one will actually stick around.”
For once, Chelsea’s words had no effect on me. I had a long list of things to worry about, and petty jealousy wasn’t one of them.
Chelsea had always known how to provoke a reaction from me, but this time, her words fell short. I had every intention on turning away when Grandma opened her mouth and spoke.
“Child, you need to learn some manners and learn how to speak to your future Luna.” Grandma snapped.
A smart person would hear the contained anger in her words and back off, Chelsea was not one of those people. Grandma had always known how to strike fear into Sean and I.
Even Dad kept his distance when Grandma was truly angry. She emitted a calm and wise aura that surrounded her, and could easily make anyone sound childish and inexperienced. She looked down on Chelsea like a toddler throwing a fit, blatant disappointment burned in her eyes.
“She’s not my Luna.” Chelsea sneered, though it wasn’t fueled with as much anger this time around. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared at my Grandma, who seemed completely disinterested.
Ethan stood to the side, his eyes flitting around the outside of the coffee shop. I wasn’t even sure he heard what Chelsea had said.
I was never close with Isaac, nor had I ever pretended to be, but I felt sorry for Ethan. Even though he was a total asshole, he had lost someone important.
“So long as you live in this pack, Lola is your Luna.” Grandma’s voice held an eerie calmness, one that told me Chelsea better back off if she had any sense of self-preservation. “How shameful, Alpha Asher will hear of this. He will not take kindly to you disrespecting his mate.”
Chelsea paled, most likely recalling the horrible rumors that surrounded Asher. Rumors where he killed brutally and without mercy, rumors where he’d take prisoners for the slightest infractions and never let them see the light of day. Little did Chelsea know, most of the rumors were true, but they only told half of the story.
Asher was brutal, dominate, and fought with a ferocity that made most men pale in comparison. He was also selfless, brave, and would do anything and everything for his people. Every act of brutality, every cruel action had been for the benefit and safety of his pack.
When he had taken this pack from Tyler and merged it with his own, it had taken a full month before the people of this pack saw him for what he was, everything that an Alpha should be.
“Ethan” I called out before Chelsea could storm away with a huff. Ethan’s wandering eyes met my own, strained with grief. “I’m sorry about Isaac. The people who hurt him will pay; you have my word.”
“Thanks, Luna.” Ethan nodded; his voice rougher than usual.
Ethan headed into the coffee shop, leaving Chelsea staggering to catch up. Grandma flashed me a humorous smile, though her eyes shined with both anger and sadness.
“That girl will learn some manners sooner or later. She’s going to say the wrong thing to the wrong person someday.” Grandma huffed, “You handled that well, Lola. I wish I could’ve said the same about myself.”
“She needed to hear what you said.” I shrugged, “You’re right, someday she will say the wrong thing to someone.”
It nearly killed me to turn away from my Grandma, to let her get into the car and watch as she drove away. There would be no long goodbyes.
My family would only try to stop me. They wouldn’t understand that I had no choice, that it was so much more than my life for Breyona’s. I swallowed the guilt and tinge of fear that swirled in my stomach, mustering the courage to move forward.
I headed towards the forest line just at the end of the road. I needed to be far from the pack’s territory. From there, I would call the shadows and have them send the Vampire King my location. It was all downhill from there.
‘Have you left yet?’ Asher’s voice flooded through my mind, rough and somewhat raspy. ‘I’m about five minutes away from calling this entire thing off and dragging you back home.’
‘You wouldn’t do that.’ I chuckled softly, savoring the sound of his voice. ‘I’m heading into the woods now. I’ll be off our territory within an hour.’
‘I wish there was another way.’ Asher replied, and I could almost see the grimace that tugged at his face.
‘I know, but Breyona would do the same for me.’ I smiled, his voice filling me with a small sliver of peace. ‘When I get back, we’re going to have a lot of time to make up.’
‘You don’t have to remind me; I know what I’ll be missing.’ Asher chuckled, though it was dry and somewhat forced. ‘Remember, you need to be back here before your heat begins.’
‘I know.’ I nodded, stepping over rocks and pushing back branches as I continued walking through the forest. ‘Two weeks max.’
‘Let’s make it one.’ Asher countered, ‘I’ll be waiting for your voice the entire time. One last thing, if that Vampire tries to put his hands on you, kill him. As much as I want to do it myself, I’d rather have him dead sooner than later. Only my mark should be on your body.’
‘Oh, I plan on it.’ I chuckled, ‘He won’t get his hands on me, I promise.’
Asher sent an alert to the patrol team on this side of the forest, telling them to steer clear so that I might pass. He hadn’t given them a reason, nor had they asked for one. I walked through the territory line without a wolf in sight.
I could have shifted, it would’ve made the hike a lot faster, but I wanted to prolong this. I wanted to prolong my freedom.
Within the next hour or two, I would officially be a prisoner. I was nearly positive that my Father would keep me around until I changed my mind, or use a full-blooded Vampire to try and mess with my mind.
I remembered what Grandma had taught me, and developed my own methods on shielding my mind. The Vampire King could try, but I would never condone the deaths of my people.
I walked for two hours before stopping. I had been far enough away thirty minutes ago, but wanted to make sure the Vampire’s wouldn’t be anywhere near this pack. Birds chittered in the trees; leaves rustled as squirrels darted away from my presence.
The forest was teeming with life, and despite the situation, it was beautiful. The sunlight shone through the trees, making the emerald leaves look delicate and transparent. As much as I hated to interrupt the peace in this forest, I had things that needed to be done.
I closed my eyes and called out with my mind, calling to the shadows that lurked in every corner and crevice. A tugging sensation formed in my gut, and I winced as the forest around me grew quiet.
The birds were no longer chirping, the leaves were no longer crunching under the small feet of squirrels. The air around me grew uncomfortably cold, a chill settled in my bones and crept up my spine.
I opened my eyes to see the forest had darkened, the sunlight no longer streamed through the treetops. Shadows slithered from every dark corner, some large tufts of darkness, others small and leech-like. They glided to a stop at my feet, circling my body and waiting like patient pets.
Larger shadows lingered at the edge of the forest line, and I could feel them watching me with burning intensity. I could feel their barely contained anticipation.
They liked me–as much as shadows could like a person. They liked that I made deals with them, that I fed them my blood. I had only tasted blood twice in my life, but each time had been quite the experience. The initial thought of drinking blood made me want to retch, but the taste–the strength it brought on was unlike anything I had experienced.
Don’t get me wrong, I had no plans on going around biting humans, but I couldn’t deny a part of me relished in the taste and strength.
‘What is it you need, Princess?’ They hissed in unison, their slippery voices circling my head and running down my skin in cold waves.
I pulled out a small pocket knife from the pouch in my leggings. Asher had given this to me when I told him of my plan, and assured me there was no silver within the blade. It was small and unassuming, and would do little damage if I actually stabbed someone with it.
I flicked it open and watched what little sunlight was left catch the bright metal of the blade. The point was deviously sharp, begging to break through skin.
I placed the pocket knife against my palm, gritting my teeth as I dragged it across my flesh. A hiss of pain escaped my clenched teeth, reminding me of how the shadows often sounded.
Blood pooled in my hand, hot against my icy skin. The shadows slithered around my feet, their anticipation building with each drop of blood that splattered onto the earth.
“I need you to send my location to the Vampire King, along with a message.”
‘Tell us.’ They hissed, slithering around my feet excitedly, ‘What is the message?’
I gathered the blood in my hands, throwing it into the air and watching as it rained down on the shadows at my feet. They swarmed on the blood, and I watched in silence as they cleaned it from the earth.
“I’m here. Come and get me.”