#Chapter 36 Leave
Axel hasn’t made a sound in days. Though he was all but feral from the moment I answered Danver’s phone call to the second Dr Kane uncovered Selene’s body in the morgue, he hasn’t moved a muscle since. I’ve found myself reaching out to him on the hour,
extending my internal feelers toward his shape just to make sure he’s still there.
More than anything else, his absence tells me that this nightmare l’ve been living is unfortunately very real. Selene – my sweet, perfect little wolf – is dead.
She ran from my home believing I thought her guilty of a terrible crime. She fled my protection because I made her think it was persecution, and died alone and afraid.
My father’s death nearly destroyed me, but my mate’s has annihilated me completely. Everything that used to matter to me, has ceased to be important. Suddenly I don’t care if I’m the Alpha; I don’t care if the pack falls to ruin; I don’t care if Arabella is found; 1 don’t even care if I live.
I do not recognize myself, and I don’t feel the need to find the man I once was, nor create a path forward for the wretch I’ve become.
At first I took to the forest, but when I discovered that I could not shift, I returned to the pack house, and locked myself in my rooms. My mother, Aiden and Donovan have all tried to persuade me to return to the land of the living, but I have no interest in being there without Selene,
Even now, when Aiden is outside my door with news that might have sent me running last week, I want nothing more than to disappear.
“The enforcers think they’ve found Arabella.” He calls through the heavy wood panel.
“Fine.” I respond blankly, refusing to pull my attention from the picture frame clutched in my hand. “Go get her.”
“Not without you.” Aiden huffs out a frustrated breath. “We need you to lead us.”
“You don’t.” I counter, tracing Selene’s shape in our wedding photo. “Just bring her home.”
Donavon’s voice sounds alongside my friend’s, deep and familiar; evoking memories of my father. “Alpha, this is your duty. You made a vow to Flynn and your father to care for Arabella, to safeguard the pack. Do not disappoint them this way. Do not break your word.”
“I also made a vow to protect my mate.” I lash out, flinging all my anguish and fury in their direction. “I broke the most sacred vow I ever took. How can you possibly think I care about lesser promises now?”
“A promise is a promise.” Aiden chastises. “You‘d never forgive yourself if something went wrong with the rescue and you weren’ t there to help us.”
“Then that’s a risk i’ll have to take.” I snap, wishing I could pull my mate out of the photo and into my arms.
A brace of muffled grumbling meets my ears, too low to decipher without strain – and I don’t care enough to try. If you won’t do it for honor, do it for intel.” Donavon finally proffers. “If we can recover Arabella there’s a good chance she can lead us to the kidnapper. This is your chance to find your father’s killer, and Selene’s.”
His words rouse a prickle of interest in the far reaches of my mind, even as I brush them aside. “If she could identify them, they would never let her live.”
“None of their other targets have survived.” He reminds, “I doubt they planned on letting her live. We just beat them to the punch this time.”
Drained and disheartened, I drag one hand through my hair. “What makes you so sure we can even get her back?”
“Because,” Donavon announces assuredly. “We’ve already got eyes on her.”
Enforcers huddle around Arabella, wrapping her in emergency blankets and patting her back while she cries. Her nose and cheeks
are swollen and splotchy, her flushed skin wet with tears and her willowy frame shaking with fear and relief.
“It was so awful!” She wails, clinging to Danvers’ burly shoulders. “He said he said he was going to kill me. He promised to make it hurt.”
Danvers makes a soft shushing sound, helping her sit on a nearby park bench. “Can you tell us anything about the man responsible? What he looked like? Anything he told you about himself or shared about his motives?”
I watch from a few feet away as Arabella swoons into another fit of s**s. I should feel guilty for not being more concerned, indeed, under any other circumstances I would be absolutely horrified by my apparent apathy when someone I care about is so clearly suffering. Yet I can’t bring myself to conjure any feelings other than relief that Arabella is safe.
I don’t have room in my heart for anything but mourning Selene, and as fond as I am of Arabella, I’ve known for a long time that those feelings come down to my love for Flynn, rather than any true affinity for his sister.
More horrible still, part of me blames Arabella for my mate’s death. It isn’t fair in any way shape or form. She didn’t ask to be kidnapped, but if I hadn’t been off looking for her, I would have been there when Selene needed me. She and Mom never would have gone to the cabin, she would never have been implicated in a crime or doubted my belief in her. She would still be alive.
All the time I spent worrying about Blaise Denizen, trying to protect her from bounty hunters and power mad dictators – and it was all for nothing. The real danger was right under my nose the whole time. I never saw it coming, and my mate paid the price.
“I never saw his face.” Arabella’s voice drags me back to the present. “He wore a mask. But he said Bastien has only himself to blame.” Her big brown eyes lock onto me, her lower lip caught in a trembling pout. “He said you don’t deserve to be Alpha. He said you have blood on your hands and he’s going to come at you until you know how it feels to lose everything he said this is only the beginning.”
My lashes flutter, dappled light dancing through my eyelids as the afternoon sun bathes my skin in golden warmth. My senses gradually return, filling in the world around me with crisp air, damp earth, and the familiar smells of moss and evergreens.
Verdant mountains appear when I finally open my eyes, the cold ground beneath my cheek littered with fallen leaves and sprawling tangles of knobby roots. A fluttering breeze carries birdsong to my ears, along with the babbling of a distant brook, enveloping me in the sounds of the wild woodland.
I know this place. I think with languid bliss, carefully pushing myself up to examine this new plane of existence. It looks so like the forests around Elysium; the forests I grew up exploring with Luna; the forest where Bastien found me in my darkest hour.
It’s right, I decide, that the otherworld should take the shape of those beloved stomping grounds; that my afterlife should be spent in the peace of the virgin forest. The only things missing are the people. Where is my mother? Where is Gabriel and Luna?
I roll my neck and stretch my aching limbs iņ confusion, a new thought plaguing my bewildered psyche. If this is the otherworld, why do I still feel pain?
My first attempt to take a breath of fresh air ends in a fit of coughing, my weary body evacuating cinders and sediment from my chest in a vile deluge. Surely the fire could not have followed me into the afterlife. The Goddess would not allow such a thing.
The obvious answer dawns on me slowly, ebbing in like an unyielding tide of reason. I’m alive. I realize in wonder. But how?
The last thing I remember, I was tilting over the edge of extinction, falling from the precipice with no hope of escape. I was curled in the closet, out of time and oxygen.
How could anyone reach me through the flames? How could I have gotten out without a scratch?
I flatten my hand to my belly, trying to sense the tiny pulse of my child and whimpering with frustration when I can’t. If only I was far enough along to feel it moving, then I could know it was alright without the help of a doctor.
However I don’t see any blood or stains on my clothes to indicate a miscarriage, only soot and ash. Surely if the baby had been harmed, there would be some signs. I shake the cobwebs from my head. I need to figure out where I am, I need to get to safety, then I can worry about doctors and everything else.
I find my feet, following the sound of the stream, my parched and burning throat begging for cool clear water. I stumble through the undergrowth, making it only a handful of steps before I hear voices in the distance.
I freeze, cocking my ears toward the sound.
“Did you hear?” A woman’s voice questions with excitement. “The Nova Alpha just lost his mate. She died in a fire.”
“You’re kidding.” A second woman answers, “That’s horrible.”
“I know. I swear, everything I hear out of their territory lately sounds like chaos.” She sighs, “Murders, brawls, kidnappings, now this? If you ask me, the Novas are on their way out.”
I must not be in Nova territory anymore. In some ways that’s good – in others it’s a disaster. Neutral territory is just about the most dangerous place for a lone female wolf, and I’m not even that.
Before I can second guess myself, I bolt towards the womens’ voices. I need help, I need to find allies, and I don’t want to wait around for the next passersby, who are more likely to be rogues than innocent travelers.
I topple out of the trees and onto the path in front of the gossiping wanderers, taking in their surprised expressions and expensive hiking gear. One of them, a pretty redhead, approaches me with clear concern, “Are you alright?”
“I need to get to Eros territory.” I blurt out, whipping my gaze between them frantically. “Can you help me?”