“I have spoken with Jack about this, but I wanted to gather you all here before you go and fight the Hunters just so that we know what can happen when you return. My father was important to this pack and the tragedy of his death has rippled through the years. Only now I feel the pack is beginning to recover. You took me away from my life because you thought that I could be the mother to a new generation of wolves, one that will be strong and compassionate,” I looked at each of the men in turn as I said this. “At first I didn’t understand what I could even offer all of you, but the more time I’ve spent with you the more I’ve realized that this is the place where I belong. I want to be the mother to a new generation, but I’m not going to be the property of one man and I’m not going to be beholden to the entire pack either. I’ve made a connection with each of you and I cannot ignore the feelings in my heart. In

some cases I know, and in some cases I hope, that you feel the same way I do. I want us all to be a little pack of our own. I want to have your children and to raise them into being strong wolves. I know it’s not conventional, but I cannot deny my feelings for you and I do not want to deny them. Go and win this fight against the Hunters and when you return we shall celebrate properly,” there was a gleaming promise in my eyes as I looked at each of them in turn.

Jack turned to Matt and apologized for the way he had reacted earlier. Matt accepted it without any hesitation.

“I think I could get used to this,” Buck said with a hungry look in his eyes, a look that seemed to strip away all my clothes and left me exposed and vulnerable, “but you’re asking a lot for us all to come back without being harmed.”

“It’s not asking too much in your case, is it? Surely you won’t be fighting?” I asked in reply. Buck frowned and pushed himself up even more, looking towards Jack.

“You’re going to need your best fighter. You can’t seriously be thinking about keeping me back here?”

“You’ve had a heavy day…” Jack said, “maybe it is for the best that you rest.”

Buck scoffed. “I’ve never missed a fight and I’m not planning to miss the most important one this pack has ever fought. You’re going to plant the traps tonight and then fight in the morning, right? Well, Matt can just come up with some concoction that’ll help me heal through the night and I’ll come in like a wrecking ball in the morning. I have to repay them for what they did to me today,” he growled. The sheer determination in his voice wasn’t something any of us wanted to argue with and although I worried about him going into battle in his condition I knew that it was a part of his nature to fight. I could no more ask him to stay behind than I could ask myself not to breathe.

“What about me?” I asked in a small voice. The men glanced at each other.

“You should stay here,” Jack said.

“I’m afraid I don’t have anything that can make you more resilient. The potions I have will only work on wolves,” Matt added.

“We won’t be long. We’ll come back and then we can sort all of this out,” Jack said, trying to be reassuring but I think he could see that the idea of staying here while they all went out to fight was troubling. “You won’t be in danger here. They won’t know we’re coming. The only traps that are being set this time are the ones we’re setting. All you’ll have to do is wait.”

“You make it sound so easy,” I said wryly, when in fact it was probably one of the most difficult things he could have asked me to do. How could I sit there and wait while the wolves risked their lives, not knowing which one of them survived and which were in danger of dying? I could drive myself crazy with fear, and yet at the same time I knew there was nothing else I could do. I wasn’t strong enough to fight alongside them and I’d only be a hindrance. Sacrifices were needed, and in this case I had to sacrifice my own sanity. I took a deep breath and ran my hand through my hair, pushing my hair back, revealing my face. “I’ll be waiting when you return,” I said.

*

At least I had been able to speak with them. I felt relieved because of this and I was looking forward to the future when we could all be together properly. I had to believe that we would all be together. I couldn’t cope with the idea that any of them would die before I got a chance to explore my feelings for them properly.

Although the mood around the clubhouse was one of anticipation, it was laced with tension as well. People knew that if anything went wrong the likelihood was that it was going to cost them their lives, but if this was going to be their last night on earth they were going to make sure it was a damned good one. As twilight began to set in and the day turned to dusk there was a great feast laid out, laden with meat that would give them the strength to last the night and fight through the morning. They sang songs and shared tales regarding battles of old to give them inspiration. They talked about other wolves that had died in heroic circumstances and each of them was ready to etch their name in history. There was a great cheer when Buck staggered out of his room to make an appearance at the feast and they all congratulated him for his efforts in fending off the vicious Hunters. I looked at my wolves with great affection and although I was not in communion with him, I prayed to my father to watch over them and guide them however he could.

Eventually it came time for the wolves to leave. The moon was high in the sky, the stars twinkled brightly, and the night was cool and clear. One by one they drank the potion that would mask their scent, and then they moved outside, all except for Buck, who drank a different potion and returned to his room to rest, after wishing them good luck. I walked to the door as the pack mustered outside by their motorcycles. Jack came to me and promised me that he would return. Matt offered me a warm smile, promising the same thing, and I made sure to look at them closely in case this was the last time I would ever see them. I etched their faces into my memory and suppressed the sorrow that threatened to rise within me. I could not stop the tide of fear flowing through my mind. The pack turned and faced the open road. One by one they shifted into wolves and it was one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. There were a dozen or so of them. They lifted their heads and howled, and my heart was moved by this primal sound. They moved as one as they streaked away into the night, disappearing into the darkness. There was nothing for me to do but wait and wonder how many of them would return.

Chapter Seventeen

I returned inside to the empty clubhouse. Buck had returned to bed. I tried to keep myself busy by cleaning up the bar, but it didn’t do much to take my mind off of things. I shot a few balls around the pool table and tried watching some TV, but all I could think about were the wolves putting their lives in danger against the Hunters, and I couldn’t help but feel that they were doing so for me. The Hunters had made it their mission to prevent me from helping breed a new generation of Howlers. If I hadn’t been here perhaps their attacks wouldn’t have been so fierce. I suppose there was no point in blaming myself when attacks would have come anyway, but I knew that I was a part of the tapestry and I was more annoyed at not being able to help than anything else. It was so frustrating to be the daughter of the wolf and not have any of the other qualities that made them so special.

Since I couldn’t concentrate, I returned to my room and tried to sleep, but my mind was alive with worry and I couldn’t relax. Whenever I closed my eyes I was taken back to that earlier moment when the wolf had leapt towards me and snarled at me. I was paralyzed by the look of threat in his eyes and they seemed to stare at me beyond the veil of the physical world. Even though the wolf was dead, its form still haunted me, and I knew that if Jack and Matt failed the rest would come for me eventually, although by that point I would have nothing left to live for.

I tried to surrender to sleep but the walls felt cavernous and the moon outside was so far away. I felt alone, and my inner anguish echoed in the stillness of the night. I couldn’t bear being alone, so I dragged myself to Buck’s room and opened the door carefully. Silver light slanted in through a window and illuminated his body. The blanket was draped over his middle, revealing his scarred body. He stirred and murmured something as I moved to the bed and peeled the blanket away, slipping in beside him.

“I don’t want to be alone Buck. Not tonight,” I said in a fragile whisper, “please just let me stay here,” I asked.

He shifted over to make room and wrapped his arms around me. I sobbed a little as I embraced him, but quickly felt better as his strength soothed me. My hair fell against his shoulder and I reached over his body to hold him. The powerful thrum of his heartbeat lulled me to sleep. As my hand slid over his body my fingers felt the crisscrossing pattern of scars and I thought to myself that if he had survived so much already then he could survive this as well, just as much as the others could. I managed to sleep as I held him tightly, managed to push aside the terrors of my mind because I wasn’t alone. I was with him.

*

Morning rose and I awoke with Buck. The sunlight poured into the room and I rubbed my eyes, immediately wondering about the others.

“I wonder how they’re getting on,” I said.

“I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,” Buck pulled himself out of bed and pulled on a shirt. He was still moving a little more stiffly than usual.

“Are you sure you’re going to be okay for this?” I asked.

“I’ll be fine. I’ve been through worse,” he replied, in such a way as to make me think that his pride was doing a lot of work to cover his genuine feelings, but I didn’t have the energy to try and peel away the layers of his soul to get to the truth underneath. It wouldn’t have helped anything anyway. Buck was a strong man, a warrior, and there was nothing that would keep him away from this final battle. It was part of the reason why I loved him, even if it was maddening.

“Thank you for last night. I couldn’t cope with being alone,” I said, a little embarrassed because it was the first time we had been affectionate with each other. I’d enjoyed it though and liked the fact that he hadn’t taken me coming to his bed as an invitation for sex.


Tags: Lilly Wilder Paranormal
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