Jack Cranston stood before Sloane and me. He was a painful ghost of Sloane’s past, and he, along with four wolves, trapped us between our new home in Pack Lingwir and what I would consider one hell of a fight. My mates Brevan and Mathias, along with Emmer and Cash, two other members of the pack, just came through the trees. All four of the men were in wolf form, and they were doing their best to be utterly menacing as they growled at the intruders. They’d seen Sloane’s distress fireballs, while I was confident Brevan and Mathias felt my panic through our unbreakable bond.
Slowly I turned to Jack and informed him of his new situation. “Jack, you are so screwed.”
Jack let out an ear-piercing cry of frustration. Once again, I’d completely messed up his plans. I also wondered if whomever he answered to would be as patient and understanding as Newton was. Poor Newton Peabody met his end in a very unseemly way. Newton was unceremoniously decapitated. His head was thrown defiantly into the celebration at the packhouse as we celebrated our mating ceremony.
As Jack let out his cry, Brevan and Mathias moved to stand in front of me. Emmer and Cash took a position in front of Sloane, and we were all in a virtual stalemate. Jack quickly realized he was going to lose this fight. In true coward fashion, Jack turned and ran in the opposite direction. To my surprise, Sloane leapt over Cash and Emmer in pursuit of Jack. It appeared Sloane was out to put an end to the psychopath’s reign of terror. There was no way I could allow Sloane to go after him alone. Sloane was my brother, and I would always have his back no matter what.
The wolves circled each other, and when the wolf in front of Emmer lunged, the fight began. My concern was, how was I going to get through the large mass of flying fur and to my brother, who already held an enormous lead on me as he pursued Jack. Suddenly, an idea struck me! If I could summon enough energy to conceal myself, I would be able to maneuver around the fighting wolves and follow my brother. Quickly I cast, “dolth gwathren” and melted into the shadows. As I skirted around the wolves, my spell dropped, but not before I was clear of the melee. Adrenaline filled my body as I took off after Sloane. As I ran, from somewhere behind me, I heard the cry of a wolf and prayed no one from our pack was harmed.
We were on pack lands, and I knew them fairly well at this point. I managed to track the pair of men with their footprints in the soft earth and quickly caught up to them. As I loosened my swords from their sheaths, I approached their fight with a great deal of caution. Sloane fought well against Jack, but Jack was slightly more skilled, which was another surprise. When did Jack learn to use a sword? I needed to cause a distraction to help Sloane and give him the upper hand. There was only one surefire way to grab Jack’s attention, my radiant wit. I tucked my swords under my arm and spoke.
“Jack, well done for an old man,” I laughed out as I applauded. “What did you do, study swordplay for dummies?” As I hoped, Jack snarled, Sloane took advantage of the opportunity and knocked the sword clear from Jack’s hands.
When I thought we held the advantage, a new figure emerged. She was a tall blond woman with all too familiar features and a harsh glare. Even though I registered who she was on some level, my dread kept me in denial. There was just no way she was who I thought. Brevan told me she passed away, which was why her daughter ran Pack Lumen. A pack that was initially run by the very ghost of the woman who was standing behind Jack.
“Jakkel, it is time for us to leave. We will not be successful this evening.” The woman called Jack, ‘Jakkel.’
“Lycandra, we can’t leave these two whelps here. They’ve now seen you and know too much.” Jack came back with, and in doing so, confirmed my worst fears.
Lycandra, the original leader of Pack Lumen and mother to both Brevan and Aerin, stood there live and in Technicolor. The deceiver and master manipulator of everyone around her. She looked every bit the part that Brevan described to me. What I didn’t understand was why she faked her death. What was the point? She had everything, power, money, and, most importantly, her pack. What else was it she wanted? How did she get the Queen of the Alfar to aid her in her quest? Lastly, what did Sloane and I have to do with it all?
As these questions flew through my mind, Brevan came running up behind me in his wolf form. At the sight of his mother, he pulled up short, and I could see even his wolf, was stunned at her appearance—no one expected to see the mother of my mate alive and well. I gathered my senses, grabbed the back of Sloane, and pulled him back toward the direction of the packhouse. Not one of us was prepared to confront the likes of Lycandra. If I learned anything about the woman in question, she would already have plans A, B, and C in place to cover her ass.
“Sloane, we aren’t ready for this fight. Jack’s one thing, but this witch is Brevan and Aerin’s mother,” I warned my brother. As I spoke the words, the warning registered and the witch cackled.
“You see, Jakkel, she can be taught respect,” Lycandra cooed to Jack in a sick sort of way.
“Lycandra, don’t mistake caution for respect. Respect is earned, and that isn’t something you have done. After all, you wouldn’t approach a poisonous snake on a whim. You, in this scenario, are the poisonous snake just in case you didn’t get the hint.” I felt the analogy fitting since it was a poison that she used to kill Lady Lylaine and ruin poor Marta’s life.
As Sloane and I backed away, Brevan took point in front of the two of us. While his eyes were still full of the realization his mother was indeed alive, he was also aware of his commitment to protect Sloane and me. Brevan’s gaze didn’t waver from the spot his mother stood on.
He was determined Sloane and I would make it out of this in one piece.
We still lacked critical information in this game of move and counter move. Lycandra was the one who’d been pulling the puppets’ strings all along, and I retained several questions to which needed answers. The distance between our two parties grew larger. That was when the other members of our pack caught up to us. Mathias was the only one who didn’t stop when he reached Sloane and me. He in wolf form chased after Lycandra and Jack.
“Mathias, NO!” I yelled, but it was too late.
Mathias was so fast that in one breath, he tackled Jack and forced him to the ground. Lycandra screamed, and the fury she unleashed was like nothing I’d ever seen before. In swifter movements, then even what I witnessed from Brevan, she pulled out a dagger and ran it through Mathias’ shoulder. Sloane managed to cast one last fireball and threw it at Lycandra, which caused her to run off, leaving Jack behind. Brevan ran to Mathias’ side and crouched down as he snarled at Jack. Jack wasn’t going anywhere. We acquired a prisoner from the opposition. Perhaps we could finally get some information.
My real concern was the dagger in Mathias’ shoulder. If Aerin learned her poison trick from her mother, he was in a great deal of danger, and we didn’t have a vampyr on hand who could suck the poison out. It wouldn’t take long for the poison to seep into his system, and by my calculations, the clock was running out extremely fast.
A gut-wrenching dread flooded me at the thought of Mathias dying from the dagger which was lodged in his shoulder. I couldn’t lose my heart. He was the ocean upon my shore, and I couldn’t picture him coming to an end at the hands of yet another deranged and diabolical woman. Aerin was a ball of non-compos mentis, but her mother was the original queen of evil. Like angels from heaven, General Pax and four of his men descended upon our location. They weren’t a full squadron, but enough of them came to our aid to manage what needed to be done. I moved swiftly over to the General.
“General Pax, I’m so glad to see you! We have a situation we greatly need your help with.” I began in the way of an explanation.
“Mathias and I need to be taken to Lord Oren or Lady Nova right away. He was stabbed with a blade belonging to Lycandra, and I fear it might’ve been laced with poison. We also have a prisoner that Brevan is guarding. Lycandra called him Jakkel, but I know him as Jack Cranston. He needs to be locked up until we can question him.” I finished my explanation as quickly as it began. There was no time to waste hanging around.
“Did I hear you correctly? Did you say Lycandra!” The General was dumbfounded.
“Yes, General. Lycandra stabbed Mathias and we need to move like now! The longer we wait, the more danger Mathias will be in…” desperation filled my voice.
General Pax rushed over to Mathias and scooped him into his arms. Pax also ordered two of his men to stay behind and help Brevan. I went to the remaining guard and wrapped my arms around him as tightly as I could. I hadn’t flown by Gargoyle since the night on the beach after we washed up on the shore of the island, but it was a feeling I’d never forget. The take-off was rough, but when a Gargoyle glided on the breeze, it was unlike any other sensation that I experienced. While we soared high above the land as the trees and ground passed, there was a feeling of freedom. At least this time, I wasn’t headed to the prison at the council hall. My only wish was to get my mate the help I knew he desperately needed.