“This is the product of the rare plant I found before you left. It’s known as the Styx plant, because it bridges this world and the next.”

“When you say the next…” I almost couldn’t dare to imagine what he meant.

“Trish, it’s important that you start to believe in a world beyond your own. When spirits die they go to another realm. This plant allows your mind to float up and talk with spirits that have departed this world. Don’t ask me how it works; I only know that it does. I have spoken with my own mother thanks to this plant. With this you can speak to your mother and your father, if they are willing. It might help you understand us a little more, and come to terms with your place in this world.”

He held out the glass. The liquid was thick and looked like oil. Even if I believed that this was possible I wasn’t sure I wanted to speak to my mother again…but how could I pass up the opportunity? There was conflict in my mind and when I didn’t take it Matt left it on the table. The liquid sat there, but it had a hold on me. Whispers coiled around the back of my mind and tempted me, told me to take the chance because it was the only one I might get at understanding all of this.

Then the door opened and Matt was called out by Buck. The large wolf stood there, filling up the doorway. Matt glared.

“Leave us alone Buck,” Matt said.

“Jack wants to speak to you. I’ll watch the girl,” he said.

I scowled. “My name is Trish,” I said.

“Take the drink Trish, it’ll be okay, I promise,” Matt said before he left. There was an earnest look in his eyes and I was inclined to trust him. He didn’t seem to hold my earlier actions against me and he was still the only one who had been open and honest with me from the beginning, the only one who had actually expressed concern for me. I offered him a smile and then he tore himself away.

Buck grinned, but it was without humor and his eyes were narrowed. He was the one I’d had the least interaction with, and I wasn’t too upset about that. While Jack seemed strange and elusive, rough and intriguing, and Matt was kind and compassionate, Buck was just strong and powerful. There was no measure of mercy he wanted to give anyone and he hadn’t expressed anything other than disdain for me. He shut the door behind him and stared at me.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“Nothing much. Just making sure that you’re not going to try anything stupid again,” he growled. His voice was low, rumbling like thunder.

“It almost worked. It would have worked, if I had known you were wolves and you could track me easily,” I pouted.

Buck grinned. “I don’t think so. You had no idea where you were going. If the Hunters hadn’t found you, then another animal would have. There are dangerous creatures out there. It’s not a place meant for someone like you.”

“Like me? What do you mean by that? A woman?”

“A human,” he said pointedly. I hushed after that and brushed the hair away from my face with a flick of the wrist. I folded my arms across my chest and regarded him coolly.

“And what would you suggest I do? Do you think I should just meekly accept what is happening? That doesn’t seem likely if I have the blood of the wolf inside me, does it? Frankly I don’t know what you want from me. If my bloodline is as strong as you say then surely you’d expect me to exhibit some strong characteristics, but you seem to just want me to hide away and accept everything that you tell me.”

“Jack does,” Buck shrugged. “He wants to protect you, and I’m pretty sure you can see why, where the Hunters are concerned. We got lucky that we took them by surprise today. But now they know for sure you’re here they’re likely to try again. We have to be prepared for them to try and take you. That’s why I’m here, to make sure that nobody gets to you. And yes, if I were you I’d believe what we’re telling you because we know more about this than you. You’re clueless.”

His words stung, mostly because they were accurate.

“Well that’s not what Jack thinks,” I said haughtily.

“No, well, Jack has his own ideas about things. I’m just doing what I can to hold the pack together. Time will tell if he’s right about you.” Something about the way he said it made my skin crawl.

“And what if he’s not? Will I be allowed to go back to my old life?”

“That’s for Jack to decide,” Buck said. I can’t say I was encouraged by his response. I pursed my lips as my gaze fell onto the cup Matt had left behind.

“Have you ever tried that?” I asked. Buck arched an eyebrow.

“It’s a waste of time. I’ve said everything I want to say to people, and they’ve done the same for me. There’s no sense in looking back, only looking forward. That’s where Jack has gone wrong,” he snarled. I got the impression that by leading him down this path I could get him to say more than he intended. I kept my voice low and calm so that I wouldn’t alert him to the fact I was trying to tease information out of him. Buck was a strong man and wore his emotions on his sleeve, but he clearly didn’t have the best idea of what he should and should not tell me.

“What do you mean?”

“Jack got this whole idea by speaking with his father. He wants to make the pack what it once was, strong and powerful with a lot of members. He wants to bring some glory days back and make this place a community again. But sometimes you can’t fight the tide of the world. This was always going to happen. I’m just amazed that it took this long. The Wolves have always been an endangered species, ever since the beginning. We can’t change the way nature works, we can only try to do the best with what we’ve got. Jack is fighting a losing battle, not that he listens to me. You can try it, if you want. It might make you see sense. I wouldn’t know either way.”

“I see. Well, it’s nice to know you’re so loyal to him.”

“I’m not loyal to him. I’m loyal to the pack. It’s the only thing that matters. Jack is the leader. That is his place. Unless he endangers the safety of the pack I shall obey his wishes. It could turn out that he’s right.” Buck walked to the table and peered at the liquid. “Maybe if you take this you might get a better idea of what’s happening too. After all, I am just the muscle.”

I wasn’t sure about that. Buck seemed much more than that, but I wasn’t going to try and get inside his mind. Instead, there was something else I wondered, although I didn’t know if Buck was the right person to ask.

Tags: Lilly Wilder Paranormal
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