For Your Courage
My world fractured around me, little tiny pieces of my heart and soul drifted down like snowflakes.
That Wolf who violated me.
He was here. And he lied. In front of several packs of wolves, he’d basically called me a whore and said I’d had sex with him willingly! The thought caused my belly to roil. I swallowed back my bile.
And Alpha believed him. I could see it in his angry glare. Alpha also made it very clear how he saw me--a piece of ass. That was it. I was worth no more than that. Humiliation washed over me, leaving my cheeks red, as every wolf in the room stared.
I tried to control my shaking as Alpha turned his glare from Coal to me and back again. I didn’t like the look in his eyes. It made me feel as though the next words from his mouth were going to destroy me. However before he could speak, Amber rushed through the crowd and crouched next to Coal’s bleeding body, gushing about how thankful she was that he was okay.
…what was she doing?!
“Who the fuck are you?” Alpha wanted to know the same thing.
Amber’s answer couldn’t have shocked me more when she spun her head and cried, “I’m his mate!”
Murmuring and whispers went through the wolves. I was simply speechless. Langdon was behind me. He said nothing as well, although even without seeing him, I felt palpable tension roll through his frame.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Alpha’s voice barked, echoing off of the enclosed space.
Amber held his gaze for just an instant before lowering her head submissively. “We…we didn’t want to say anything yet. After what happened with Calla and...”
She hesitated. I flinched. It was clear she meant me.
Amber continued, “Well...we were taking things slow...until we knew for sure. He asked me right before he left. But then he was hurt and...and I couldn’t stop myself...my Wolf is frantic.”
Alpha actually rolled his eyes. “What pack are you from?”
“Onyx Moon,” she mumbled and went back to giving Coal light kisses on his forehead and cheeks. Coal groaned, his face twisting in pain.
“Oh...I’m sorry, baby!” She flipped her head back to Alpha and pleaded, “Please...he needs a doctor.”
“He needs his head examined for this foolishness,” a growl of irritation came from Alpha’s throat. I noticed he sidestepped, the pain catching up with him as well. Coal may have lost, but his Wolf did damage. Alpha would need a doctor as well.
“Please...” Amber whispered again from the floor.
With the wave of his hand, he finally relented, “Take him to the infirmary.”
Jax abruptly darted to their side.
Alpha raised an eyebrow and asked, “And who the hell are you?”
Jax looked up and then immediately back down under Alpha’s intense stare. He scratched the back of his neck and mumbled, “I um, am her..brother. Where she goes, I go. Mum prefers her to have a...um, chaperone.”
Okay. Clearly, Jax was stumbling to make up a legitimate story. Thankfully, he just appeared young and nervous.
Amber had shocked me with her claim on Coal, but I immediately understood what she was doing. She’d taken the attention off of me—more specifically, she’d taken the focus away from Coal and me.
By this point, Ryder was also crouched by Coal’s side. Coal’s eyes screwed shut tight, his jaw clenched. My eyes roamed over his naked body. Covered in blood, there was barely any clean flesh left visible. And his leg—I sucked in an unsteady breath, his leg—was mutilated. It would take days for him to heal from such devastating injuries. My Wolf was howling her pain in my head. She wanted to be near her mate, to help him heal.
Ryder removed his shirt and wrapped it around Coal’s damaged leg. He and Jax reached under Coal’s body, but it would difficult to carry him, even for the two of them. When they tried to lift, Coal hissed in pain, “Stop!”
They froze, relaxing his body back to the floor. Coal’s eyes glowed obsidian once more, his Wolf present. He spoke through clenched teeth. “I’m not going anywhere until I know that bastard can’t get anywhere near her!”
Anxiety crashed over me again. Coal was right. I didn’t trust the lying Beta.
Alpha narrowed his eyes and then focused on Beta Dean. “You may return to your pack for tonight. However, we will have a more thorough investigation into this matter.” He then turned to me. I tried not to flinch. “As for you, you may return to whichever rock you call home, but make no mistake, we are going to have another conversation as well...and I will get the truth from you.”
I shivered with my head down and whispered, “Yes, Alpha.”
“No, that isn’t good enough!” Coal spat from the floor. “He could still sneak back and try something.”
Alpha made a grunt of frustration.
Langdon stepped to my side and said, “If I may, Alpha, I would be willing to stay with her.”
Alpha narrowed his eyes suspiciously. “You...?” He clearly remembered Langdon from The Winter Solstice. Langdon nodded his head pointedly toward Jax and explained, “I’m his commander. I’ll need to stay close anyway until he and his...sister…leave. I might as well be useful.”
Alpha studied him. “Are you still unmated?”
Unmated?! Why had he asked that question?
Confusion could be heard in Langdon’s reply, “Um...yes.”
Another moment of silent meditation and Alpha agreed, “Fine...but I want a full report tomorrow.”
I stared at him in shock.
He was just going to let Langdon stay with me?
That alone was hard to believe, but it sounded like his agreement had been dependent on Langdon’s single status. What the hell? First, he tried to pawn me off onto Beta Dean—a sickening shudder ran down my spine at the memory—and now Langdon?
I couldn’t dwell on it further because Coal let out a low groan. Chase stepped to his side with a stretcher in hand, and Ryder and Jax grunted as they transferred him. When Coal was settled, Daniel joined in and the four of them, along with Amber, walked out the door.
Alpha looked at me. “Dismissed!”
I couldn’t be happier to comply.
Langdon and I exited the room, but I veered away from the exit, realizing I still wore the foolishly short dress. I needed to change. Making my way to the closest bathroom, I tried to keep my hands from trembling as I redressed.
When I finished, Langdon and I headed out into the forest. Neither of us spoke as Langdon just followed me in the dark.
When we made it to the waterfall cave, Langdon looked around in surprise, taking in the small stash of food, propane heater, and fur blankets. And Darcie had insisted I take a pillow—my little teddy bear was perched on top of it.
My cheeks warmed in embarrassment.
Langdon murmured reassuringly, “I love the bear.”
I gave him a ghost of a smile, but even that was hard. My body didn’t want to smile knowing Coal was in so much pain.
Langdon turned on the propane heater, filling the space with warmth within minutes. I didn’t need the heater as a wolf, but to stay in communication, Langdon and I would stay in our skins, so the heat would be welcome.
We sat down. I pulled my knees to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. Langdon stretched out his long legs and propped his back against the nearest rock wall. He stared at the heater.
I mused softly, “That was quite a backup plan. I’m grateful, but you could have let me in on it.”
Langdon glanced up and gave me a wry smile. “I’d have let you in on it if I had known myself. That was all Amber’s doing. I think it might have saved your life.” There was a note of pride in his voice.
I nodded. “Please tell Amber thank you for me.”
“I already have.” Langdon gave another wry grin.
“What’s happening with him right now?” I asked, even gladder to have Langdon by my side because he could mindlink with Amber and keep me updated. I’d have gone crazy if I had to spend the night alone, wondering if Coal was okay.
Langdon’s face darkened. My heart beat faster.
He didn’t try to sugarcoat it. “It’s bad.”
“His leg?” I whispered.
“The doctor is there now and setting it into position. He is also attending to his other wounds, but they are less significant. It’s going to be difficult...” Langdon trailed off.
His words washed over me like ice water. I choked, “I need to be there with him.”
“I know,” Langdon answered grimly.
I was surprised by his response. I expected him to fight me on it, to tell me to stay in the cave where it was safe. Coal’s injuries must be significant for him to need his mate to heal. The pit in my stomach clenched tighter. “What are we going to do?”
Langdon’s eyes glazed over.
I wasn’t sure if he’d heard my question. It was clear he was communicating via mindlink. I waited patiently for him to finish.
With a blink, he refocused. “We’re going to sneak you in.”
“How?” I breathed.
“We’ll have to wait until everyone goes to bed. It’s going to take the doctor a few hours with him anyway. Amber or Jax will let me know when it’s safe for us to go.”
I just nodded, holding my knees tighter, and rocked my body. Landon’s expression softened. “I’m sorry that happened to you. I didn’t know.”
Tears ran down my cheeks. I didn’t want to remember that day.
Langdon shifted restlessly on the ground. “I’d give you a hug, but I don’t want my scent on you before you visit Coal.”
Again, I just nodded. I didn’t really want to talk about the terrible things Beta Dean did.
Langdon seemed to understand and moved on as he contemplated, “I was surprised to hear Alpha tell that asshole that he was going to have an investigation.”
“Me too,” I mumbled. “Although, I’m not looking forward to Alpha questioning me.”
“You have the truth on your side,” Langdon tried to reassure me. His words didn’t make me feel better. I knew Alpha far too well.
Laying down, I tried to relax my muscles and release as much tension from my body as I could, but there would be no sleeping.
Langdon stood to his feet. Without a word, he collected my pillow and returned to me. I lifted my head. He tucked it underneath and then handed me the bear.
I was past the point of embarrassment and just clutched the little furry animal to my chest, breathing in Coal’s scent. I said quietly, “Thank you.”
Langdon smiled and sat back down, resting his back against the wall. He spread out his legs and crossed them at the ankles. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes. I watched his chest rise and fall with each breath.
"Something is going on with Alpha.”
Langdon lifted his head. “More than him wanting to kill you?”
I grimaced and nodded. “Why would Alpha allow you to stay with me? He’s never done anything nice, so there must be an alternative motive that suits him. And why ask if you are unmated?”
Langdon lifted his knee and shifted his weight to get more comfortable. “It sounds like he’s matchmaking.”
I played with fur on the bear, picking at invisible strings. “I could see Alpha trying to pawn me off on that vile Beta. He knew my life would be hell with that type of Wolf. But you? You, I don’t understand. Not to mention, he’s always sworn he’ll never let me go. Why try to set me up with a mate from another pack?”
Langdon’s brows furrowed. “I don’t know.”
We fell back into silence.
Several hours ticked by.
I continued to pick at the bear’s back absentmindedly and didn’t realize one of the imaginary strings I was pulling, wasn’t so imaginary. Looking down, I found with one little tug, I’d pulled three inches of the seam out. “No!”
Langdon startled at the change in my voice, his eyes snapping open. He leaned toward me with his arms out, trying to find the source of my distress. “What’s wrong?”
I swallowed and turned the stuffed animal around so he could see his back. My heart was breaking. The little bear was the only thing I had left from my mother, and I had just clumsily pulled it apart.
Langdon reached out. “Here, let me see.”
I handed him the bear. He placed it face down on his lap and studied the edges of the seam, feeling where the stitching began and ended. “It’s okay. My mom can fix it. She’ll make it good as...” He stopped talking and lifted the bear closer, studying it intently.
I sat up and rubbed one of my eyes. “What are you looking at?”
He poked his fingers into the bear’s back and mumbled, “There something in here.”
“What?!” I inhaled sharply.
"There’s a tiny bag...it’s green...and buried in the fluff, but I saw the edge,” he said.
Gently pushing the white fluff aside, Langdon fished two fingers a little deeper into the bear. Shockingly, he pulled out a small velvet bag. Beautiful with a gold drawstring.
I stared at it with wide eyes and whispered, “What is it?”
“No idea.” Langdon reached to hand it to me.
My hands trembled as I took the bag and gently pried open the gold drawstring. Turning the bag upside down, a little object fell into my palm. I couldn’t help my loud gasp of surprise—it was a ring!
Heart racing in my chest, I examined it closer. It appeared to be a man’s ring. A thick band of gold with a beautifully cut large emerald. The light from the propane heater reflected and danced off of it.
I didn’t know anything about fine jewelry and hadn’t been around much of it, but I was sure the ring was expensive. Peering closer, I realized there was an insignia in its depths. It must have been somehow cut into the bottom of the stone, but visible through the top. An elegant letter—′M’.
My hands shook as I slipped the ring onto my middle finger. Almost a perfect fit. My eyebrows raised in surprise. Maybe I’d gotten it wrong. Maybe it was a woman’s ring after all.
Twisting my hand to look at it from different angles, I shook my head. The ring wasn’t in the least bit feminine. It was bold and large with nothing dainty about it. Instead, it looked like a man’s ring had been resized to fit a woman.
“Shit,” Langdon breathed, his eyes as wide as mine.
My voice shook, “There’s an M in the middle of the stone.”
Langdon came closer, pulling my hand toward him so he could see it better. He was silent for a moment as he studied it, and then his glance cut to mine. “It must have been your father’s.”
“M?” I looked at Langdon. “You think my father’s name begins with an M?”
He didn’t answer. Instead, he murmured, “May I see it?”
I slipped it off of my finger and dropped it into his outstretched palm. He lifted it to catch the light, looking at both the front and the back.
“What do you see?”
“The same things you did,” he answered softly. “It’s truly stunning.” He turned the ring, examining it from different aspects and murmured, “It’s engraved...”
“Really?” I hadn’t noticed that. “What does it say?”
Langdon adjusted the angle of the ring in the air and read, “For your courage, Little Wolf.” He handed it back to me. “It most definitely had to belong to your mother, but why would she hide it inside your bear?”
There was only one reason I could think of. “So Alpha wouldn’t find it. She told me to protect the bear, love, and care for it, never let it go. Of course, I would do all of those things without even thinking about it, so I thought nothing of her words. But they meant something, didn’t they?” I slipped the ring back on my finger.
“Indeed,” Langdon murmured. Abruptly, his eyes glazed over. My heart stuttered in my chest, worried about what his pack might be telling him. His eyes cleared, his gaze focused and intense. “It’s time.”