The Return: Chapter Twenty
My wolf’s feet thudded on the forest floor, crushing dried leaves beneath them. I ran full out, trying to burn off all this excess energy that was building inside me. This was worse than when Dad took me away the last time. I knew the reason was because Corey and I had finally bonded. His blood was now part of me, just as my cum was part of him. Everything we had been was now everything we were. There was no more Jonas or Corey. It was now and forever ‘we’.
I ran harder, unable to blot out the pain. Was Corey hurting? Could he feel me, even from hundreds of miles away? The only thing I was certain of was there was a Corey sized hole in my heart, and it was consuming me. I’d been stupid when I said he could go without me. We should never be separated, especially not like this. My mind worked overtime, thinking of so many problems that could occur when I wasn’t there to protect him. Yeah, Dad was there, but he wasn’t me.
He hadn’t even been gone a day, and already I was a wreck. I skipped eating, because I couldn’t stomach the thought of food. I dug into the pack information again, but had no clue what I was looking for. This was all so maddening. The only thing I had was the scent I picked up the night Kinsey was shot. Why was it so goddamn familiar to me?
The words were spat with venom. I turned and came face to face with the last person I ever expected to see again.
The barrel of the gun glinted in the dappled lighting filtering through the trees. “Shift. I want you to die as a man, not as a mongrel.”
My mind raced. I could try to outrun them, seeing as how I was faster in wolf form, but doubted I’d be able to dodge a bullet if they were a decent shot. I opted to follow along, at least for now. I shifted, then rose to my feet.
“What the hell are you doing here?” I demanded. “You’re not allowed on pack grounds, and you know it.”
“I’ve been here for weeks,” came the reply. “Watching your boy, waiting. I knew you’d come back for him eventually.”
I looked for an opportunity. Something—anything—that would give me an edge. The thing was, the gun didn’t even waver. There wasn’t any nerves there at all.
“And now he’s gone, and it’s just you and me.”
That look was pure insanity. Delight danced on the delicate features that had once been so familiar to me. I took a step forward, and froze when the ground in front of me blew up in a puff of dirt.
“I will kill you,” came the warning.
“Why? Why were you trying to hurt Corey?”
A laugh. “Corey? He’s insignificant. Useless. I wanted him out of way, and you all were too happy to oblige. You sent away the bodyguard, sent away Corey. You left yourself exposed, because you and I were always destined to have this meeting.”
The gunshot echoed off the sheer rock walls at the edge of the forest. The bullet ripped through my shoulder, knocking me down. I lay on the ground, trying to catch my breath. I know in action movies, the hero always gets up and acts like he’s fine, but that shit hurt like a motherfucker.
“Have you claimed your mate yet? Do you think he’ll feel it when I put the bullet in your brain? Will it kill him too? I’d be okay with that. I mean, I don’t bear him any ill will, but if he dies, I won’t mourn him.”
“Why are you doing this?” I demanded.
“Why? You have the nerve to ask why? You took everything from me! I loved this pack. I gave it everything I had, and you stripped it away like it was nothing. You didn’t even give a damn.”
No, I hadn’t. Not once. “You know why, so don’t pretend to—“
I screamed when the second bullet tore into my leg. I tried to reach my wolf, but nothing happened. Heat ripped through my body, and I clawed at the ground. A shadow fell over me, and I looked up into the craziest eyes I’d every seen.
“Wolfsbane. It’s a thing, you know. The poison cuts off your bond with your wolf temporarily.” A hand stroked over my head. “Don’t worry, though. I’m not going to kill you here. I’m taking you somewhere special, so you can see all the damage you’ve done.”
With that, the final shot ripped through my chest, and I blacked out.
“No!” I screamed, lurching up in the seat.
Delray swerved to the side of the road and slammed on the brakes. “What the hell, Corey?”
“It’s Jonas. We have to go back”
“We can’t. We have to be sure you’re safe.”
“It’s not me they’re after!” I insisted. “It was Jonas the whole time.”
Dad was on alert. “What do you mean?”
I turned and clutched his shirt. “They weren’t after me. They wanted Jonas. And I think… I think they shot him.”
“It was just a dream, Corey,” Delray soothed.
But it wasn’t. I knew better. “I can feel his fear. The pain. They shot him, and he can’t call on his wolf.” I snarled at Delray. “Turn the fucking car around. Now.”
“You heard him,” Dad growled. “Turn around.”
I could feel power rippling off Dad. If he was this strong, how much stronger was Jonas that Dad had been afraid of him?
“Corey, do you know who it is?”
I nodded, my head throbbing. I hadn’t met the person, but I recognized them anyway. “It’s Adam’s mother.”
“What? That’s not possible. She’s barred from the pack grounds.”
“It’s her. Jonas knows it. He could smell her the night Kinsey was shot.”
Counselor Delray turned in her seat. “How do you know this?”
How did I know this? “I can feel Jonas. I know what he’s thinking, what he’s feeling. He’s not afraid. He’s pissed off. He’s hurt, though. She…I think she shot him and…something about wolfsbane.”
“Fuck!” Counselor Delray slammed a hand on the seat. “This was all to get us out of the way.”
She did a quick U-turn, then floored it as we headed back the way we’d come. She called the other counselors and told them what was going on, and ordered them to mobilize help for Jonas.
“Corey, do you know where they are?”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I couldn’t afford to panic right now. I needed to be there for Jonas and—I opened my eyes. I wasn’t in the car anymore. We were in a cemetery, and I was laying on a grave. No, wait. Jonas was laying on a grave, his hands tied in front of him.
“…because of you!”
“Bullshit!” Jonas shouted. “I never did a damn thing to him that he didn’t initiate.”
I needed to see, to find out where we were. There, carved into a tombstone was the name Adam Taylor. Adam was dead? Was it wrong that I didn’t feel as bad as I thought I should?
“He couldn’t handle not being part of a pack anymore. The buzz of everyone in his head was ripped out when your father banished him. No one else would take us, so it was just me and Adam. He….” She sobbed. “He couldn’t stand the quiet. It was so lonely for him, and every day it got worse. One afternoon he went out to the garage and…and..He killed himself.”
Her story hurt my heart. No one should ever have to bury a child.
“And what about what he did to my mate? He beat him. He threatened to fucking rape him!”
“So what?” she shrieked. “He’s not even a wolf. He’s a lousy human! You let your father toss aside a good wolf all because of a human.”
And my hurt went right out the window. Human or not, I was—am—a member of this pack. He should have shown me some decency. I now understood better what kind of things Jonas and his father had to deal with. How could you adjudicate something like this?
“No. I let my father toss aside a piece of shit.”
She snarled at Jonas. “I brought you here, because you should know where he is. I wanted to see you beg for forgiveness.”
“From him? Please. I would have killed him myself if my father hadn’t stopped me.”
Why was Jonas baiting her? Do what she asks and stall until the counselors can get here. Wait. Where is here? If Adam was kicked out of the pack, he’s not buried in town.
“So you came out here to bury him?” He sighed. “Look, you were a good mother, and you did the best you could, but Adam…he wasn’t a good person. He was a bully, and he’d been talked to about it several times. He had so many chances to turn his life around and—“
She slapped Jonas across the face. “Don’t you dare speak about Adam. You don’t know about his life. What he went through after—after—…”
“After your mate abandoned you? Left you and Adam alone? I do know, Kimber. I read it all, and I felt bad for you and Adam. The problem here is bad feelings don’t—well, can’t— get in the way of pack cohesion. Adam did horrible, awful things. He beat a pack member, who ended up in the hospital because he didn’t have any accelerated healing. He could have killed him, do you understand that? And I’m not speaking as Corey’s mate here.”
“Then what are you talking about?”
Jonas stood, his chest puffed out. “I’m speaking as the Alpha.”
Her eyes widened. “But the ceremony hasn’t taken place yet.”
“No, it hasn’t.” He flexed his wrists. A simple gesture, something that would have been like me lifting a coffee cup. For Jonas, the ropes shredded like string and fell to the ground. “That should tell you what kind of Alpha I am going to be. Corey is my true mate. My strength. He’s with me now, listening to every word you say.”
He knew? How the hell could he know?
Yes, Core. I know. I can feel you in my head and heart. Even from this distance, you’re here with me.
He had to be speaking metaphorically. No way could he—
No, I’m not speaking metaphorically. I can hear you in my head. Having you here is…comforting. I like it.
“Then I can kill you both!” she shouted, leveling the gun at Jonas’s head.
I knew about werewolves. I knew they were stronger than humans. I knew their senses were stronger. I knew all of this. What I didn’t realize until this moment was how fast Jonas was. He was on her before she could pull the trigger, his shift to his third form faster than I would have thought possible. He batted the gun from her hand, and locked his fingers around her throat, his hand engulfing the fragile, birdlike woman.
She was defiant. Her eyes gleamed with hatred and…pain. Not the kind that was borne of anger, but that came from loss and grief. She was lost, adrift in a world with no anchor. Even without the pack, Adam had her. She lost the pack, and then Adam, leaving her well and truly alone.
She struggled in Jonas’s grip, digging her nails into his wrist, but Jonas stood resolute. He could easily snap her neck and end this whole thing. She’d inflicted so much damage. Burned my shop, shot and nearly killed a pack member, but did she deserve to die for her transgressions? I thought of DD and Sawyer. Of Lance, who wanted to be with the fire chief, and what he could have lost if Sawyer had died. I thought of all those things, and could only come up with one answer.
No, she didn’t. She deserved pity. She needed help.
And now you understand your role in my life. You temper my anger. You make me think beyond the rage. I want to snap her neck like a twig and toss her body on Adam’s grave. I won’t. Not because I don’t want to, but because you don’t want me to.
You’re more than my mate, Core. You’re my true mate. No matter what Dad said, there’s a world of difference between the two. I understand her pain, though. I felt it every day when I was away from you. The only difference between us? I had the pack bond. On the worst days, I was never alone. I can’t kill her for something she couldn’t control. We’ll get her help, I promise.
My body jolted when Dad shook me hard. “Corey! Do you know where he is?”
His tone bordered on hysteria. Dad loved Jonas, and I could feel it inside my head now. In fact, I could feel everyone in there. A buzz in the back of my skull that brought me…comfort. I could feel Sawyer’s frustration as Lance spoon-fed him soup. DD as she took a few tentative steps to test out her healing body. Of Kinsey and Matt as they clung to one another in the afterglow of sex.
Everything. All of it. I could feel it, and without knowing for certain, I could understand why Adam would break down if he lost it. Now that I’d experienced it, I think I could probably go mad if it was taken from me.
“He’s waiting for the council in Pine Bluff, about sixty miles west of Harken’s Corners.”
“Is she dead?” Counselor Delray asked, anger steeped in her voice.
Pride bloomed in my chest. “No. Jonas refused to kill her. He wants to help.”
“That’s my boy,” Dad said quietly.
“I can feel the pack in my head,” I told him.
“That means you’ve finally fully accepted your role as Alpha Mate. You’re one of us.”
And all the hurt I’d felt when he’d taken Jonas away evaporated like water on a hot sidewalk. Jonas walked a razor thin line at the best of times, and I didn’t envy the decisions he’d have to make in the future.
One thing I was certain of? I would be beside him every step of the way.