Chapter Nine

The wolves in the arena bolt.

They move faster than I am able to count them. It’s like a stampede of wolves, rushing past Adonis to the border where the wolf was said to have been injured and dying. Bea and Ben follow the small pack and Jackson starts to go after them, but hesitates.

“Go on,” I tell him. I glance at Adonis, who’s still standing there, quiet. “I’ll catch up with Adonis.”

Jackson nods. There’s a grim set to his jaw and his eyes have darkened again, like an eclipse has passed through them. He jerks his head to Adonis and mind links him quickly before he’s a streak across the arena, chasing after the warriors.

Adonis is in front of me suddenly and he’s gripping my wrist, pulling me quickly down the grass.

“Come on.” Adonis’s grip is rough and chafes my skin like the strap of a seatbelt. He starts with a walk, then slowly, he begins to jog, then run, then he’s speeding down the grassy patches towards the border.

I stumble a few times to keep up with him. Adonis is just as fast as his brother. He doesn’t look as panicked as everyone else, but there’s an element of fear that burns in his eyes.

So much for a perfect first day, I think. I turn my hand in Adonis’s palm to get a better grip on his hands, and he doesn’t even falter as his fingers wrap around mine, holding me steady as we approach the field surrounding the border. Some other wolves come to watch. They’ve created a semi-circle around what I’m guessing is the spectacle, but they clear the path immediately when they see Adonis and I approach.

Even then, the warriors are barring our view from the injured wolf, so Adonis and I make a beeline for Jackson. He’s standing with Bea and they’re talking quietly, but Bea stops when she notices me.

“That was quick,” she says as Jackson turns around. They both notice Adonis holding my wrist and Jackson’s eyes narrow at his younger brother, but Adonis didn’t seem bothered.

“Quite,” he snaps at Bea. “How’s she doing?”

“She?” I ask in surprise.

Jackson nods. “Yes. Helene. She’s stable for now. Some of the wolves are sniffing out the attacker. Others are trying to get her onto the stretcher.” He points to a little gap between the bodies of people surrounding the wolf, and I can see glimpses of a bloodied, scratched up body with matted long hair and torn clothes. She doesn’t make a sound as the army medics help her and bandage some of her wounds. The crowd parts as they haul her onto their backs and take her to the hospital. Han-Seok and a group of wolves close to his age scout the area, and some of the other wolves I saw at the arena follow the larger wolves into the forest. The crowd disperses at Adonis’s command and the few stragglers introduce themselves as generals, commanders, and soldiers in the army.

“Help the younger one’s track,” Ben’s voice comes from behind Jackson, and he comes forward to stand beside Bea. “Don’t do it for them, but guide them to the wolf that hurt Helene.”

“Yes, Beta,” the wolves chorus, and with a bow they’re gone, shifting and racing into the forest. Han-Seok and the other teen wolves follow them, and then, the area is empty except for me, Jackson, Bea, and Ben.

“It’s odd that this happened so suddenly,” Ben says. “I mean, when was the last time we had a rogue attack?”

“A while,” Bea agrees, and I feel her eyes on me.

I flinch. I can’t read minds anymore, but it’s pretty easy to guess what she’s thinking. The attack didn’t happen until I showed up. I was the perpetrator, as usual. It was my fault, she thought, that Helene was beaten.

Jackson seems to understand what she’s thinking. He says something in a different language and she breaks away from me immediately. She snaps back to him, but Ben intervenes and stops both of them from escalating the situation. His gaze drops sympathetically to me and I step away.

“It’s not your fault, Anvi,” Jackson says in English. He grabs my wrist, and unlike Adonis, his grip is warm and soft, which surprises me because I was so sure I had seen calluses on his hands.

“I know,” I say, but it’s a blatant lie. Everyone can see that.

Bea bites her lip. “I’m sorry for insinuating that it was your fault, Anvi,” she says. “That was rude of me.”

I shrug. “It’s not your fault for making assumptions. I don’t blame you.”

“I know, but I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. I forgive you.”

Luna Hailey used to say that I forgive too easily, and maybe I do, but I’ve always accepted apologies. What’s the point of holding a grudge? It won’t help anybody. I learned that from Alpha Banastre. I can hate him all I want – it won’t do anything. If he apologized, I would have accepted his apology, granted he never hurt me again. But like that would ever happen.

“Anvi,” Ben is calling my name.

“Hm?” I regard him absently, lost in the thought of Luna Hailey. It isn’t until I feel Jackson tug my wrist that I fully turn my attention to Ben. “What? Sorry, I phased out for a minute.”

“No worries,” Ben assures. “Are you coming with us?”

“Where?”

“To the hospital.” Jackson sounds vaguely amused. He wraps his arm around my shoulders and the side of his body is warm and a bit damp. “Helene is awake. Apparently, she didn’t hit her head very hard. We need to find out who exactly did this to her, and see if we can track them down as quickly as possible before they hurt anyone else.”

“Okay,” I agree. “I’ll come with you.”

Jackson nods, and he squeezes my hand before he leaves my side to walk and talk with Ben. Bea and I are left behind them, trailing in their footsteps as the four of us walk to the hospital.

“I’m sorry,” Bea says again and when I look at her, she has red cheeks and her eyes are focused on the ground, like she’s too embarrassed to meet my eyes. “It was unfair of me to accuse you that way. I don’t want to be your enemy.”

“I already told you that it’s fine,” I say. “Please, don’t worry about it. I…” I hesitate. “I understand your point of view. Even I thought for a minute that it was my fault that…um…Helene was attacked.”

Bea gives me a small smile. “Thank you,” she says. “And it’s not your fault. Somebody’s been going insane for a while; I should’ve remembered that.” She sticks her hand out. “Can we be friends?”

I grin. “Of course!” I say, and my heart is doing backflips in my chest. “I would love to be your friend.”

“That’s great!” Bea beams. “I’ll teach you all about the pack and the people here!” She lowers her voice conspiratorially. “Even Jackson.”

“Oh.” I blush. “I don’t think he’s a very secretive person. It seems like he doesn’t even try.”

“You’re right,” Bea agrees. “He really doesn’t. Jackson’s like an open book.”

“I can hear you, you know,” Jackson says from in front of us, but he sounds amused, not annoyed. Ben is also smiling.

“We know,” Bea laughs. “Get used to it, Jackson. Within days I’ll have Anvi knowing all of your secrets.”

“All of them?” Jackson turns back to look at her and something flashes in his eyes.

“Well, most of them,” Bea corrects herself. “I can’t give away all the spoilers, can I?”

Jackson’s lip quirks. “Right,” he nods and winks at me and turns back just as we’re climbing the hospital steps.

🐺🐺🐺

“I can’t tell you anything,” is Helene’s reply to our first question of who hurt her when we reach her room. The beautiful young girl is scratched and covered in bloody bandages from head to toe, but she’s able to keep herself awake and hold her body up as she speaks. She’s a fighter, I’ll give that to her effortlessly.

“You don’t know who attacked you or what they used?” Bea asks, patting Helene’s hand as if she’s coaxing her to speak. Helene thinks about Bea’s question for a minute, then shakes her head and subsequently winces.

“I don’t know,” she says again. “I didn’t see anything. It all happened so quickly.” She shivers, and the man beside her strokes her hair comfortingly.

“Her mate,” Jackson whispers in my ear and I have to try not to shiver myself when his lips accidentally brush the shell of my ear.

“Can you tell us anything at all?” Ben asks. “If you felt anything? We’ll be out of your hair then, I promise, and you can rest properly.”

“No, it’s fine,” Helene replies. “I don’t want that bastard hurting anyone else.” She takes a deep break and relaxes into her mate’s side, thinking. “I know it was a guy, I felt that much. He was strong too, but also kinda lithe? He didn’t seem to have to put much effort into hurting me, but when he did, it was like having been punched several times in the gut with stones on the other person’s knuckles.”

The way she describes her feelings makes my fingers and toes go numb. It makes me remember about my time with Alpha Banastre and the way I felt when he would hit me. Like stones pummeling into my gut consistently and all I could do was cower helplessly, like I was a kitten or puppy or something.

Jackson may be able to sense my discomfort, because he has his arm around my shoulders in a split second. His touch grounds and comforts me at the same time and warmth floods my body, distracting me from the pain that pokes the bottom of my stomach.

“Thank you for your help, Helene,” he says and Helene nods. “Rest for now. We’ll find him, don’t worry.”

“I won’t,” she says with a smile. “I have no doubt you will, Alpha King.”

And doing the best that she can she bows, giving Jackson a parting gesture even with needles digging into her skin and wounds so deep that if they were unwrapped, I would probably get a better look at her bone.

When we’re leaving, Bea and Ben tell us that they have some plans for later and exit the hospital, but before Jackson and I can do the same, a nurse comes up to us and asks if now would be a good time for me to give some of my blood for testing to make sure that I’m healthy. Blood tests for me don’t take too long, so I agree and soon I’m out of the hospital with Jackson with two puppy band aids on my arm.

Delia meets us outside, her dark eyes glowing a warm bright gold in the sun. She hands me some pastries that she had made to share with Jackson if we were going out, but leaves before we can thank her or offer for her to keep some.

“She’s nice,” I say as her figure departs in the crowd. “I was scared of her at first, but now she’s really nice, I’ve realized.”

Jackson smiles. “She is,” he says, but then his eyes turn concerned and are back on me. “Are you okay? I saw you tense up when we were with Helene inside?”

I nod, a bit surprised at how perceptive he is. “I’m okay now.” I swallow. “It just…brought back some memories I don’t want to relive again.”

“Oh,” is all he says. A part of me wishes he’d ask more, maybe show a little concern, but another part is thankful that he doesn’t push anymore. I’ve set up this boundary and I’m glad that he’s staying behind the line.

“Hey, Anvi!” Adonis comes sauntering up towards us. His eyes narrow when they meet his brother’s, but just as quickly, he beams and gives Jackson a hug that obviously irks him but makes him happy all the same.

“Hey, Adonis,” I say once he’s let go of Jackson. “Is everything okay?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, grinning his canine smile. “I just thought that since Jackson has some work to do…I could keep you company!”

“You?” Jackson blurts incredulously. “Did you hit your head on something, Adonis, or are you finally being a responsible adult?”

“Fuck off,” Adonis snaps. “I’ve always been a responsible adult, bro. I just…” he stares directly at me. “I thought I should spend some time with my brother’s mate, you know? And besides, after what happened with Helene, you wouldn’t want to leave her alone, would you?”

“Well…I suppose not,” Jackson agrees. He turns to me. “Do you want to join me in the papers I have to do? Or do you want to hang with Adonis?”

“Um…” I look between the both of them. “I…I’m fine with anything…”

“Great!” Adonis leaps over and interlocks his arm with mine. “Bro, I’m gonna borrow your girl then. She’ll be back safe and sound without a scratch, I promise, shortly.”

Jackson rolls his eyes, and I can sense that there’s some disappointment that shimmers in his gaze, but just as quickly is goes away and he’s smiling his million-dollar smile, waving to me as Adonis leads me away form him and towards a cluster of benches.

“He’ll be fine,” he says when I keep looking back. “Besides, it’s not like I’m keeping you forever. You’ll be back in his arms by tonight, I promise.”

I don’t doubt you, is what I wanted to say, but instead I only dumbly nodded my head, enamored by the scenery around me. I lived in the forest for my entire life, and yet after spending two years trapped in a big building, it felt astonishing to see how quickly the world had changed.

“Nice, isn’t it?” Adonis catches my gaze. “I convinced Jackson to change the place up a little. With the nearby witch’s coven help, it worked.” He gestured to the blossom trees around us. “I did this, all of it.” He’s obviously very proud of his work.

I smile. “It’s very beautiful,” I agree. His grin widens and his chest puffs up like an egotistical peacock. “Jackson didn’t want to do this?”

Adonis shrugs. “It was in his plans. I just moved it up a few spots.” He touches one of the petals. “Yeah, I did all of this. He didn’t…but he was getting there.”

“Hm. You work well with Jackson, don’t you?’

“Oh, yeah, I guess we do.” Adonis seems a bit taken aback. “I mean, he’s the Alpha King. At the end of the day, it’s his word that matters.” He laughs and sighs. “Yeah, that’s my brother. The head honcho. Dad’s favorite. Probably mom’s favorite too.”

“Does that bother you?” I ask.

Adonis shrugs. “No, not really. I knew that he was the golden child ever since I was little. It never bothered me that much. I’m content being in the shadows.” He grinned a crooked grin, displaying his fangs. “It lets me do whatever I want, anyway.”

I giggle. “I’d bet,” I say. “When I was in my old pack, I had a friend – Oscar. He was next in line after his dad, and his sisters definitely got more free time than he did.” I stare down at my knotted fingers. “It actually changed them, I guess. They were way brattier than he was.”

Adonis wrinkles his nose. “Teenage girls are bratty when they’re spoiled. Guys too.” He shakes his head. “Jackson and I weren’t spoiled though. I mean – actually, we were, but we learned manners. Unlike your friend’s sisters, I guess.”

“Jackson doesn’t seem very spoiled.”

“Oh, he was, trust me,” Adonis laughs. “He was very spoiled. Parent’s favorite, I told you.”

“Right,” I nod, and through the crowd I notice Jackson running towards us. He stops only to whisper something to Bea and Ben, who are standing with a group of children by a fruit stand, and I can’t see very well, but I do see Bea’s eyes widen and her hands fly up to her mouth. My stomach clenches.

“Anvi?” Adonis follows my gaze, and his jaw sets into a firm line. “Oh, shit.”

“Anvi.” Jackson is breathless as he reaches us. His eyes are dark but sad and he looks as though someone has stabbed him in the heart – someone very close to him.

“What happened?” Both Adonis and I stand up, and wordlessly, Jackson pulls me towards him. His hold is tight – too tight, like I’m a balloon and he’s afraid that once he lets go I’ll float too high for him to reach.

“Bro, what’s wrong?” Adonis scowls. “What the fuck happened?”

“Helene,” Jackson’s voice chokes, and my heart stills. Even before he says it, just by looking at his face, I know what’s happened. “Helene’s dead.”

~***~

Hey guys!

What did you think of this chapter? Helene is dead, which means that this wolf is deadlier than they expected. Adonis and Anvi have a small heart-to-heart about their feelings for Jackson and Bea and Anvi, although getting on rough at first, make amends. What do you think will happen next?

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