I had no idea how long we drove. It felt like several hours, but it could have been more since my brain was hyperaware of every minute that passed by. Thirty minutes ago, we had gotten off of the paved roads and Alpha had driven over bumpy back roads. We had to be far into the dense forest by now…significantly away from help.
…and away from anyone who could hear my screams.
Finally, Alpha stopped, put the car in park and turned off the ignition. We hadn’t spoken a word the entire way. I was okay with that. Somehow I knew every word that came out of his mouth was going to be painful for me. I wanted to know more, but I was afraid of what the truth would do to me. After he got out of his side of the vehicle and walked around to open my door, I mumbled, “Can I take off the blindfold now?”
“In a minute,” he replied briskly, jerking on my elbow so hard that I stumbled out of the vehicle and tumbled forward. My hands shot out instinctively to catch myself, and I landed hard on the rocks below. I bit my lip to keep from crying out as pain shot through my knees and hands at impact.
Without warning, Alpha snatched the back of my neck again, curling his fingers, using my hair like a handhold and yanked me to my feet. This time, I couldn’t hold back my cry as pain radiated through my scalp, “Ow!”
“Shut up and walk!” he barked, pushing me forward.
Within a few feet, I heard the jangle of keys and the release of a lock. He shoved me inside and pulled the blindfold away from my head all in one smooth movement. I blinked as my eyes became accustomed to the dimmer light. I looked around, quickly take in my surroundings, assessing the exits and any potential escape routes. We were inside a small cabin. Not surprising. I asked quietly, “What is this place?” My real question was, ’Does Coal know it exists,’ but I didn’t say that out loud.
Alpha’s answer was disheartening, to say the least.
He strode across the room and opened a liquor cabinet, pulling out a bottle of whiskey. He didn’t bother with a glass. Instead, he just turned a bottle up to his lips, before turning back to face me. “It’s a place of isolation. Coal will never find us here. This safehouse is known only to my Beta and I. Well…there was one other Wolf that knew it existed…” He took another swig. “…your mother.”
My mother? My stomach lurched. I asked hesitantly, “How would she know about this place?”
He carried the bottle with him and settled into one of the large leather chairs. He pointed for me to sit on the couch across from him. I did so, my legs moving woodenly until I dropped into place.
Without even blinking, he answered, “She was my mate. Why shouldn’t she?”
I sucked in a sharp breath, “No…you’re lying!”
He tilted his head and mocked, “Really? Does this look like the face of a liar?”
I didn’t answer that. Instead, I whispered, “But how? Why? If she was your mate, how could you shun her?”
“It wasn’t what I wanted. Soleil forced my hand. It was her fault what happened to her, not mine.” He tilted the bottle back again. Shit, if he kept going, he was going to be ten times worse than he already was. I needed to find a way to keep him talking instead of drinking.
“Who is my father?” I asked quietly.
Alpha sneered, “You act like you want to know him. You think I’m evil?” He snorted at some inside joke I was not privy of and continued derisively, “He makes me look like the Easter Bunny. I warned Soleil. I warned your mother to stay away from him. But did she listen to me? No, she rejected her own mate and instead, spent the night in his bed, allowing that abomination into her body freely! It was disgusting what she did. And you are the disgusting spawn she created.”
I thought I was going to have to prod him for more information, but he just kept going, “Had she not begged for your life, had she not dropped to her knees and finally shown me the submission I was due as her mate, I’d have snuffed out your life the moment you were born.”
My heart raced in my chest. I twisted my fingers together as Alpha continued, “So we made an agreement…your life in exchange for her freedom. She would never run, never disobey me and willingly comply, however, and wherever I wanted her body.”
Tears sprang to my eyes. I’d never known the sacrifice she’d made. She never said anything. There were times when she would disappear for several hours, but I never questioned where she went or what she was doing. I was too little. I just trusted her, never suspecting anything was wrong.
…how foolish and naïve and stupid I’d been!
And all of it…was because of me!
My mother paid a terrible, terrible price just to keep me safe and alive. My throat constricted. I struggled to get air into my lungs and rasped angrily, “How could you? How could you use her like that? Rape her like that?” My voice raised an octave. I knew what that type of violation felt like, but I had no idea what trauma and agony she endured from having her own mate torture her in such a forbidden and unspeakable way—for years!
His expression turned feral. “Soleil was my mate! I took what belonged to me! She acted like she wasn’t a willing participant, the tears, the pleading, the screams for me to stop, but I knew better.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. He actually believed the ludicrousness, the insanity, in his own mind. He actually thought his actions were well within his rights. I snapped, “But she wasn’t yours…you never marked her.”
“Why would I? She was a disgraced Wolf…I would never degrade myself in such a manner. I had everything I wanted. She lost the opportunity to be my mate when she ran from me and opened her legs for that beast. That’s all she was good for after that.”
His eyes glazed over. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking to me or just uttering his memories out loud. “Deep down, I knew she truly wanted it…because it killed her to watch me fuck other shewolves…which I frequently did in front of her, because she just never learned. On the outside, she was the perfect example of submission, but on the inside, I saw her obstinate refusal to face the truth right in front of her! So I forced her to face it, I wouldn’t let her turn away. I made her watch me fuck wolf after wolf, just to remind her what she could have had, but she choose to throw away! Her tears told me the truth. Her mouth was full of lies, but the tears streaming down her cheeks as she watched me pleasure other wolves and heard them scream my name…no, she couldn’t deny her true feelings!”
I thought I’d heard every ugly and the vile story possible about him. I was wrong. So ridiculously wrong. He was far worse than even my worst nightmare. I swallowed thickly to keep the bile from coming up my throat and spewing out onto the fur rug. By this point, I was beyond speech…words were lost to me.
It didn’t seem he needed me to respond because he just continued ranting, “Over the years, when she would get out of hand, become stubborn or willful, she was easily brought back under control, made docile again by the simple threat of turning you rogue.” His eyes focused on me as if remembering I was in the room. A cruel smile curled his lips. “The first time was when you were four. I thought it would have been fun to cut your ties with the pack and drop you across the border, and then I could sit back and enjoy watching her tear you apart limb from limb. She would have, you know. She would’ve killed you herself.”
I struggled to keep from panting as adrenaline raced through my body. Who could sit back and enjoy watching a four-year-old innocent pup getting torn apart either own mother? What sort of black-hearted individual was capable of such a thing?
Alpha’s mouth turned down into a frown. “Of course, the bitch threatened if I did that, she would kill herself next. And she was just stupid enough to do so. I couldn’t have that. I wasn’t done with her yet.”
’He wasn’t done with her yet,’ those words niggled in the back of my mind, churning unrest in my very soul minute I couldn’t ignore...because somehow…now I knew the awful truth. The truth that would ruin me. I was deathly afraid to ask. Still, I forced myself to say the words. I bit my lip to keep it from trembling as I whispered, “How did she die?”
It was the first time in our conversation when genuine pain crossed his expression. His words were low, almost a whisper like mine had been. “It was an accident…I, I didn’t mean to…”
All of the air was sucked out of my lungs. I felt numb…a numbness so gut-wrenching and so devastating, I might very well never feel anything else again. I could barely speak, my voice wavered and broke, “You killed her…didn’t you?”
Alpha’s expression twisted. “I wasn’t trying to. I just wanted her to come. She refused to come…she was a selfish bitch who refused to give me anything I wanted. So I choked her…cut off for airway to enhance the physical pleasure as I rammed in and out of her body. And for just an instant, her eyes opened wide with pleasure. Her pussy contracted around me. Finally, her body was responding to me. I came harder than I ever had before and released her neck, collapsing down on top of her, thinking that we’d finally had to break through. That maybe we could start all over…maybe after all that time and even her unforgivable mistake in having you, that maybe we could put it all behind us and start again…finally be the mates we were meant to be.”
I listened in horror, desperately wishing I’ve never asked because now, for as short as the rest of my life might be, I would never be able to get that mental picture out of my mind. I would never be able to un-hear his lunatic ravings of a madman. And he just continued on like he wasn’t casually explaining to a girl how he raped and killed her mother.
His tone dropped low and thick, his voice rough with emotion as though the weight of those moments was too heavy to bear. “But when I lifted my head to kiss her, I found her eyes were still wide open. Unseeing. Unmoving. Unblinking. I realized then that she wasn’t breathing. I tried to bring her back. I did everything I could to bring her back. But she was gone. She left me…just like she always said she would.”
Tears streamed down my cheeks, and hatred welled up in my heart. I spat, “You’re a monster!”
His head snapped up. He snarled, “Why?! Because I wanted my mate? Because I was willing to do anything it took to keep her? Why did that make me so evil? You don’t think Coal would be willing to do whatever it took to keep you?”
I hissed through my tears, “Coal’s nothing like you! He doesn’t have your black heart. He’s a good Wolf.”
I could see my words escalating the anger in his expression. And then his lips curled into a cruel smile of anticipation that made my blood run cold. Alpha eyed me up and down. I squirmed uncomfortably beneath his intense scrutiny.
He purred, “Okay. If you think he’s so noble, let’s see how good of a Wolf he is…when I take his mate.”
I heard his words. My Wolf was screaming, howling her fear. But I didn’t quite understand. I shook my head. “What do you mean ’when you take his mate’…you’ve already done that…you’ve already kidnapped me.”
His gleeful dark laughter caused tingles of fear to run up and down my spine. His words were like silk, “Did you know your bond is still breakable? It’s weak…just like you are...and just like he is. It won’t stand up against a stronger Wolf like me.”
My heart thundered in my chest, sounding like helicopter blades beating inside my mind. I knew the bond Coal and I shared was incomplete. It wasn’t entirely sealed yet. We hadn’t finished all of the couplings and markings. There were several more to go before our bond became unbreakable.
But surely, Alpha couldn’t…
“Your scents haven’t combined yet. If I had to guess, I’d say you only had one coupling, not the several required to cement the bond permanently. I’ve never bonded with a Wolf, which means it will be even easier for me to destroy yours and put mine in its place. What better way to play the game with that bastard son of mine than to ruin his prize?”
“No, no, no…” I chanted in utter revulsion.
He nodded his head and licked his lips as if liking the idea more and more a further he contemplated it. “Yes. I couldn’t have your mother as my mate, but I can sure as fuck bind you to me irrevocably. We have plenty of time to complete every coupling…”
A low growl escaped from his chest, and his eyes changed, his Wolf coming front and center as he purred, “My Wolf likes the idea. It’s been a long time since he’s taken a skin female. A few actually haven’t lived through the experience, but I’m sure you’ll be different.”
I couldn’t tell if he was making some sick joke or not, and I sure as hell wasn’t sticking around to find out. My Wolf was going crazy. He wasn’t her mate. I growled, “There is no fucking way I would ever let you do that.”
He chuckled, “Oh, there is every fucking way…because we are going to be doing a hell of a lot of fucking in the next few hours. Two hours…that should be sufficient time to seal the deal. And then it will be unbreakable. I may not even have to kill him. He might just kill himself when he realizes what he’s lost. He never should have fucked with me.” His expression turned to dark. He stood from the couch.
No, I wouldn’t let that happen!
Before he could take a step closer, I sprang to my feet, jumped onto the coffee table in between us and hurtled my fist into his face, catching him off-guard.
“Fuck!” he growled as his head snapped back.
I quickly drew back, putting distance between us by running around the couch. I bounced lightly on my toes, posturing my body defensively. When Alpha faced me again, he rubbed the back of his hand over his split lip, surprise flickering in his eyes. I was surprised too…because my punch had been much stronger than I anticipated.
His lips curled. “I can see my son has taught you a thing or two about fighting. But a lucky shot isn’t going to help you now. Okay, shewolf, you wanna play like that? Let’s do it. My Wolf loves a challenge.”
This time, he struck first, moving lightning fast, hurdling over the couch between us. But I was ready. I was shocked to find my reflexes were even faster than his, my response time quicker. I blocked his strike with my hand on his wrist, turning him off course and opening up his sensitive ribs to my attack. I didn’t waste the opportunity. I spun, my foot finding purchase in his side, knocking him off balance and crashing to the floor.
“You bitch!” he snarled, all humor gone, as he returned to his feet and faced me once again. His body lowered.
My entire body trembled with adrenaline. Yes, I’d learned quite a bit from training with Coal and Langdon, but I knew now that this was different. My fighting skills had improved significantly, apparently overnight. And then the truth was clear—my mating with Coal!
Coal’s body had changed once we mated. He grew larger and even taller. There had been no distinct change in my size, but clearly I benefited from whatever union we had created.
For the first time, hope surged in my chest.
I was done cowering to that bastard! He’d made my life a living hell. He’d killed my mother, and now, he not only wanted to take Coal away from me, but he intended to bind me to him permanently—fuck no to all of those things!
Alpha surged forward once again. And once again I blocked his attack, sidestepping. But this time, he was ready for me. In a display of brutal force, I was a second too late. His fist rammed into my stomach, throwing me back several feet. I landed on my back with the wind knocked out of me, gasping for air.
Fuck he was strong. Stronger than I ever imagined. Frankly, I was surprised that strike didn’t kill me. I stood to my feet, but my legs felt wobbly. Still, I fought with everything I had in me.
I landed strikes, but so did he.
I evaded him…until I didn’t…
…and suddenly found myself on my back on the fur rug.
Alpha forced my legs apart with his knee and slammed his hips into mine. I screamed at the feeling of his erection rubbing harshly against my sex. I bucked and writhed and clawed at his face.
He captured my hands over my head, is eyes wild with excitement. “That’s it, little bitch…move your body just like that.”
I was appalled at his words. This was turning him on! I fought harder and yelled, “Get off of me, you sick bastard!”
He grinned wickedly, contained both of my hands in one of his massive paws over my head and used his free hand to jerk my head to the side, opening up my neck to him.
“No!” I screamed.
But it was too late.
His canines tore into my flesh right over top of Coals mark!
Pain ripped through me—not just my neck, which was throbbing, but somewhere deep inside my chest, a vital piece of me was fracturing, splintering apart, fighting to stay alive.
I couldn’t let it break!
Panting through the agony, I clutched tightly to that little spark of life. I recognized it for what it was. It was the connection that Coal and I shared—it was our bond! And it was under brutal attack from a Wolf I couldn’t describe as anything other than a monster.
I couldn’t let him destroy it!
And so I fought…
Beating my fists against his chest and shoulders, bucking and writhing with every last bit of strength I could glean from my muscles. My heart beat frantically in my chest. I could hear Alpha’s equally fast, a sustained growl coming from his throat as he held on.
“Get off of me!” I screamed.
My Wolf was screaming too, pleading, calling for her mate to help her. She didn’t understand why he wasn’t there in our time of need. He was supposed to protect us. She was howling and crying, desperate.
Alpha made no response. He just continued his assault on my neck for what felt like an eternity.
Coal hadn’t kept his canines in my neck for this amount of time...why was Alpha? What was he doing differently?
Panic welled up in my throat. I swallowed it back down, gagging on the bitter taste of my own fear. I didn’t have time to be afraid, not right now, not when my entire life was riding on this moment.
Alpha had taken everything from me as a child. I’d suffered unspeakably, an outcast with no friends, picked on and bullied. He’d stolen my childhood—and then he’d ripped my mother away from me in the worst way possible.
He wouldn’t take Coal away from me too!
Inside my chest, the battle raged—a contest of wills, a challenge of strength.
It felt like I was being torn apart. Would there be anything left when the battle was over? If Alpha won, I knew the answer—he would destroy me in every way he could, in every way he hadn’t already…
We drove in silence for four hours. One hour more and we’d be there. Abruptly, Ryder called out from the back seat, “Pullover!”
My head snapped up to look at him, but I did as he requested, pulling the vehicle to the side of the road.
Ryder was intently studying the map. He looked up and to the right, pointing into the forest. “It’s just over two ridges in that direction. If we run, we’ll get there in thirty minutes.”
“Okay,” I grunted and got out of the SUV.
We took off into the forest at a sprint.
But I didn’t get more than a hundred feet when without warning, my chest felt like a building had slammed into it!
What the fuck?
I stumbled and fell, clutching at my chest. The pain was like nothing I’d ever felt before like I was being ripped apart from the inside. Ryder fell to the ground next to me yelling, “Coal...what is it?! What’s wrong?!”
I could barely get the words out, gasping, “That bastard...is...is trying to break...my bond!”
My Wolf was roaring.
Another Wolf was trying to take what belonged to him. The motherfucker was trying to steal her right out from under him—his mate...our mate.
Words were not sufficient to accurately describe the pain. It was unlike anything I’d ever felt. It wasn’t physical. Instead, it was inside me...like a fissure tear in my very soul...cracking apart. Severing the marrow from my bones...threatening to leave me empty and broken.
I couldn’t lose her.
I wouldn’t lose her...not like this.
And not to the bastard Alpha who’d always hated her.
Black fury consumed me. Brinley belonged to me...she was ours!
I wouldn’t allow him to take her!
I was the stronger Wolf! I knew I was.
I fought against his illegitimate claim. I waged war against the lie he wanted to make the truth.
With everything inside of me, I fought...
Abruptly, I heard Brinley’s Wolf howling in my head! It was a cry unlike any I’d ever heard before—a heart-wrenching wail. She didn’t understand why this other Wolf was trying to hurt her. And she didn’t understand why we’d abandoned her in her time of need, why we weren’t there to protect our claim. She remembered my words—I’d told her I would always keep her safe.
Her fear wracked through my body, causing actual physical jolts of pain. I convulsed with the severity of it.
I couldn’t make my brain function enough—not while I was trying to fight off his attack—to mindlink back to Brinley, but my Wolf could.
In a language all their own, my Wolf communicated with hers. Words I would never understand, uttered passionately from his bleeding heart, across time and space.
Her Wolf’s response was tangible. There was a distinct level of calm that came over her. She’d heard him!
By no means was she no longer afraid of what was happening to them, but she trusted him. The jolts of pain, I felt as a result of her panic, eased.
I panted, my chest heaving with effort.
And then another more horrible thought occurred to me—how far had Alpha taken his liberty with her? Had he just bitten her or had he already defiled her body?
That thought caused another earth-shattering roar to erupt from the beast inside me, my Wolf so angry, his thoughts were incoherent, just a dark cloud swirling in his head with only one goal—Kill the Alpha!
Langdon and Ryder were on their knees, hovering over me while I lay prone on the ground, unable to get up. Neither spoke while I writhed and fought. My eyes were squeezed shut to help me focus on what was happening inside of my body. Sweat poured off of me.
And then, abruptly, the war ended!
My eyes shot open.
I gulped in air, my breathing ragged as relief seeped through every pore in my body.
Alpha hadn’t been able to do it.
Not only had he not been able to break our bond, but now that I was more coherent, I could sense he hadn’t been able to take her physically!
Brinley wasn’t out of danger by any means, but I was close, and our bond was still intact! Fierce pride for my mate flowed through me.
Another thought surged to the forefront of my brain. I’d won this battle which confirmed it—I was the stronger Wolf!
Fuck yes, we are! My Wolf snarled his agreement.
Rolling onto my hands and knees, I pushed myself into a standing position.
Langdon’s eyes glinted as he breathed, “He couldn’t do it, could he?”
My lips curled into a smug smirk. “Fuck no.”
“Hell to the fucking-A!” Jax interjected, “This means you’re going to hand his ass to him.”Oh, I was going to do so much more.