“I feel her distress, her shock and guilt, yet I do not know what has caused it. She is beyond my reach, beyond my ability to help and protect her. For centuries I have waited for her, and now that I’ve found her, I may very well lose her before I even meet her face to face.” ~Gustavo
Gustavo stood abruptly as he felt the pain shoot through him. It was her. It was his Anna. What was happening to her that she was feeling such pain? He attempted to reach her through their mental bond, but he kept hitting a wall. A minute later, sadness, guilt, fear, and an array of more complicated emotions flooded his mind.
“Are you alright, G?” Adam asked. The fae had taken to calling him the annoying nickname, if it could be called a nickname, considering it was just a letter.
Heather, the blind healer, snorted. “Are you just now figuring that out? We’re stuck in a realm full of little winged beings, while an evil fae attempts to hunt us and turn us into wicked witches, and you are just now deciding something is wrong?”
“Heather,” Crina whispered. “Probably not a good idea to provoke the already-wound-tight Alpha werewolf.”
Gustavo glanced over his shoulder and saw Heather raising her hands up in front of her. “You’re right. I apparently have a death wish or, at the very least, a maiming wish.”
He would normally have found that amusing, considering no wolf in his right mind would ever hurt a female, let alone a healer. But there was no humor inside of him now. All he could think about was the fact that something was seriously wrong with his mate, and there was nothing he could do to help her.
He began to pace as he ran his fingers through his hair. His wolf was itching to run, to tear into something, but the only things around him were beings he was not permitted to kill.
“Anna.” He tried again, and this time he used as much as his Alpha power as he could, drawing on the power of his whole pack.
“You have to leave me alone.”
Gustavo gasped as her voice, soft and anguished, filled his mind. Leave her alone? Had she lost her mind?
“Criña, that is something I cannot do. The Great Luna has given you to me, just as she has given me to you. I can help you if you will let me. Mí amõr, por favor, what is wrong?”
He could feel her need to hide from him. Whatever she was doing, or wherever she was, Anna did not want him to know.
“There’s nothing you can do to help. There’s nothing anyone can do.”
Shock filled him as he felt a familiar bleakness come through their bond. It was dark, sinister, and very similar to the darkness that lived in him and the other males of his kind. How could a healer possibly have darkness like that inside of her? Healers were light and goodness. That is why they so perfectly complemented their dark mates. And why were there so many damn unanswered questions?
“He looks like he’s about to have an aneurysm.” Stella’s voice grated on his nerves because it wasn’t the voice he wanted to hear.
“Are you alright? Can you tell me that much?” Gustavo asked her. He was still having to use a large amount of his power to get past whatever block she’d managed to put up between them. He wanted to crush it. He didn’t want any boundaries between their minds, especially since he couldn’t physically see and touch her.
“I don’t know how to answer that,” she said, sounding very hesitant.
“Are you physically un-harmed?”
“Are you mentally unharmed?”
“Pretty sure the answer to that one is a no.”
No? What the hell did that mean? Cago, she was going to be the death of him. “Can you explain what you mean?”
“No. You probably wouldn’t believe me if I did explain it, and you sure as heck wouldn’t want me anymore.”
“Anastasia,” he practically purred her name. Gustavo loved her name. He loved how elegant and old worldly it sounded. “Nothing would make me not want you. Nothing. That’s the first thing you will have to learn, mi Gitana.”
“What’s the second thing?”
What he wanted to say was that she could never run far enough that he wouldn’t find her, eventually. But that might scare her. Instead, he said something a little less intense. “The second thing you will have to learn is that you’re stuck with me.”
“I suppose there are worse things to be stuck with. AHH!”
The pained cry he heard in his mind almost brought him to his knees. He reached for her but was shoved out of her mind, and their link was abruptly cut off. He could still feel her; he knew she was alive. But that was all.
Gustavo let out a string of curse words, none of them in English.
“Is it weird that even though he’s cursing up a storm, I’m turned on just because it’s in Spanish?” Heather asked.
“Crina, I think you need to find a pixie that will use its magic to shut our girl up,” Stella said.
Gustavo knelt down on one knee. He bowed his head and pressed one hand to his forehead, the other braced on the ground, holding him up.
“Gustavo,” Adam said calmly.
The Alpha heard the fae’s approach and forced his own wolf to back down. Adam was not the enemy. It would do no good to start attacking Vasile’s pack members.
“Were you able to reach her?” Adam asked.
“Is she okay?” Kara asked.
“I do not know,” he answered truthfully. His throat was tight, as if letting the words out would make them truer. “She won’t tell me where she is or what she’s doing.”
“She’s not with Peri?” Elle asked.
He shrugged. “She won’t tell me anything. I just feel her fear, her pain, her shame.”
“Shame?” Heather’s voice held a note of concern. “What could gypsy Anna have to be ashamed about?”
What indeed? He clenched his jaw together, willing himself to remain in his human skin.
“Are we going to be trapped in here forever?” he asked Adam as he stood and faced the group. A few of their eyes widened, and he imagined his own eyes must have been glowing. His wolf was too worked up for them not to be.
“Peri will get us out of here,” Adam assured him. “If for no other reason than for her to prove that she’s more powerful than whomever cast the spell to keep us trapped—probably Volcan. But she will get us out.”
Gustavo found a tree to lean against and pressed his back to it. He let the bark cut into him, the pain helping him deal with the strong emotions that were threatening to overwhelm him. As such an ancient wolf, he’d experienced so many things. But what he’d never experienced was desperation. And in that moment, he was utterly desperate to get to his true mate.
Heather couldn’t see the Spanish Alpha, but she could feel the worry rolling off him in waves. He’d been pacing so long, she’d imagined he’d worked a huge chasm into the ground under his feet. Nothing anyone said would make him sit down. Maybe that was the Alpha in him, maybe he needed to keep moving because sitting still made him feel like he was doing nothing.
She’d been sitting for a while herself. But what could she do? There was an overwhelming need inside of her that was causing her chest to hurt, and from what she understood, it was the bond between her and some man who was supposedly her true mate. Sometimes she felt if she stood up, she would simply be sent crashing back to the ground by the feelings that were pressing down on her. Some of the emotions were her own, but then there were some things she was feeling she knew did not come from her own mind. Was she feeling him? Was he truly that scared and worried for her?
It was a novel idea to have someone so worried about her. Heather had taken care of herself for so long, she honestly didn’t know what it was like to have someone else so invested in her wellbeing. What would he think when he found out she couldn’t see? Would he pity her? Only if he wants to get kicked in the family jewels.
“What are you thinking so hard about over here?” Stella asked. Heather felt her friend sit down beside her.
“I’m just wondering how much stress an Alpha wolf can handle before he flips his lid,” Heather said softly, though she was pretty sure Gustavo would still be able to hear her. “And wondering if this freaky ache in my chest is ever going to go away.”
“The freaky ache is getting old,” Stella agreed. “As for our Spanish wolf, he’s holding it together. He seems to be all tightly bound control. You know what I mean? One of those people who likes to have everything in its place, the type that only has to stare at dust to have it disintegrate off of his furniture.”
“Ahh.” Heather nodded. “One of those. So sexy accent and the kind of control a woman wants to see if she can break down. Anna gets to be the little vixen that makes his control crumble.”
Stella laughed. “You should see the look said wolf is giving us right now. Maybe we should be shaking like scared rabbits.”
Heather waved her off. “Nah, the only one in danger of being pounced on and eaten by that one is Anna.”
A fit of laughter broke out amongst all the girls, which caused the tightness in Heather’s chest to loosen its hold a tiny bit. Somehow, things would be okay. They would get out, they would meet these wolves that are meant for them, and they would defeat Volcan. That’s just the way it was supposed to happen. Heather was not about to be a part of some tragedy. If she was going to play a part in fighting to save the world, then she was going to be on the winning team.
“You’re thinking again.” Stella huffed.
“I was just thinking that you guys better be ready to go to war when we get out of here. There’s a crazy high fae dude out there who needs his ass kicked, and I do not like to lose.”
“Does anyone ever really like to lose?” Kara asked.
“Kara,” Heather pointed in the direction of Kara’s voice. “Do not start.”
“What?” Kara asked innocently. “I’m just making an observation. It seems redundant for a person to declare that they don’t like to lose. I’m pretty sure no one in the history of ever has stood up and declared, ‘I love losing!’”
Heather knew what the younger girl was doing. It was what she’d been doing continually since they had realized they were stuck—Kara was trying to distract them. For whatever reason, she had taken it upon herself to keep everyone else at ease over the situation. It spoke volumes to Heather that Kara, the youngest in the group, was the one who was trying to console all of them. It meant that in Kara’s short life, she’d continually been called upon to be the protector for someone weaker. Who had she had to protect? And from what or who?
“You do have a point,” Stella joined in. “But for arguments’ sake, let’s say there is some strange person out there who does like to lose. Would it be necessary for them to say, ‘Hey, people, we are going to war, and you had better throw in the white flag and turn belly up because I do not like to win!’”
Heather smacked herself in the head with her palm. “Okay, now I know we must have started using up all the oxygen they have in this realm because we’re talking nonsense.”
“Or, do we make so much sense that it’s blowing your mind?” Crina jumped in, unable to hide her laughter as she spoke.
As the girls’ laughter died down, Heather realized there had been no sounds of male laughter. “Are all the guys dead? I don’t smell any decay so I’m guessing no. But I didn’t hear them laughing.”
There was a loud sigh and then footsteps started in her direction. The movement stopped, and Heather could tell that someone now sat across from her, probably on their own stump. Considering the quiet, confident way he moved, it must have been Gustavo. She sat and waited to see what he would do next.
“All of this is to distract, no?” Gustavo said, his thick Spanish accent and deep voice made her want to sigh.
Heather heard the others move and guessed they were all gathering around the Alpha.
“If it is a distraction you require, and I, myself, need one as well, then I will tell you a story.”
Everyone grew quiet, even their breathing was nearly silent. It was interesting to see the kind of attention an Alpha male commanded. He held her attention completely, even though she couldn’t see him.
“Long ago, there was a goddess whose heart broke for the humans who fought amongst themselves,” he began.
Kara sat down on the ground and leaned back against one of the large logs upon which Crina and Adam were sitting. All eyes were on Gustavo as he commenced his tale.
“She was the creator of the wolves, and as she saw the way her wolves interacted with one another, she saw their own weaknesses as well. It was then she decided to create a new race. A race with the intelligence of man and the loyalty of the wolf. She created the Canis lupus—part man, part wolf. Like wolves, the Canis lupus thrive in a pack, a family. They are fiercely loyal to those in their pack. They are strong and protective. And like men, they have intelligence and emotions. They are driven to protect the weak and help those who can’t help themselves. She also gave them soul mates, or what she calls true mates. The males of the Canis lupus, because of the beast inside mixing with the emotions of the man, have a tendency to give into the darkness that lives inside them. Because of this tendency, the Great Luna decided to give the males a female counterpart—a light to his darkness. The female keeps the darkness at bay. She pulls him back from the edge of madness. Together, as a mated pair, they are powerful. They share a bond, put in place by the goddess, that then grows into something more because of their ability to love one another. That is how my kind came to exist,” Gustavo said, his voice filled with emotion. “The males of my species are lost without their true mates. If we do not find our mates, eventually the darkness will overtake us and we will become feral—an animal acting on his basest instincts, without thought, kill or be killed.”
“So, you literally cannot choose to reject your true mate?” Kara asked.
Gustavo looked over at her. The tenderness that filled his dark eyes was breathtaking. “No, Chiquita, we cannot. And though you, as a female, will not be given over to madness if you do not find your true mate, you will suffer still.”
“What?” Kara, Stella, and Heather all said at the same time.
“You are the other half of the true mate bond. If you do not find your true mate, there will always be something missing inside of you. You will always feel as though you are incomplete. You might take someone else as a … husband, but he would never be able to satisfy you. His touch would never truly reach your heart. His kiss would be lacking. His very countenance would feel small. Because he would not be meant for you. There is one who has the other half of your soul, and only when your souls are rejoined will you ever feel complete.”
Kara’s mouth was ajar, just hanging open as if she’d just witnessed a horrific automobile accident. What a terrible fate. To feel empty, to feel like half a person.
“What would have happened to us if Peri had never found us?” she asked, suddenly a tad angry.
Gustavo chuckled. “Your mates would have found you regardless. Their wolves would have begun to sense you as you came of age. The Great Luna would not leave you to suffer. You would one day meet your true mate and be given the choice to join with him or not.”
“We can choose?” Stella asked.
The Spanish Alpha nodded. “Of course, you can. No one will force you to complete the bond. I cannot guarantee he won’t follow you around like a lost puppy for the rest of your life, albeit a puppy that turns into a rabid beast anytime any other male gets near you, but he would never force anything on you.”
They all laughed. Adam seemed to get a big kick out of that, probably because he completely understood what Gustavo was saying. Kara saw the way Adam looked at Crina. Nothing was going to keep them from their true mates. Would her mate want her with the same intensity? She hoped so, but the thought also terrified her.
“How long have you been waiting to find your mate?” Heather asked him.
His sensual lips turned up in a slight smile. “More centuries than I care to remember.”
“Okay, you look like a hot twenty-something. It’s really weird when you say stuff like that,” Stella told him.
“Look at it this way, Gitana, your mate will have much experience and wisdom. He will have more to offer you than hormones and an empty bank account.”
“Oh wow.” Heather breathed out. “He’s good.”
Crina nodded. “I have to agree. Anna’s got no chance at resisting.”
“I’m right here.” Adam practically growled, which was impressive considering he wasn’t a wolf.
Kara grinned as Crina rose up on her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his chin. “And I didn’t have a chance at resisting you. So, you have nothing to complain about.”
“Is the darkness in you beginning to … take over?” Kara asked.
Gustavo seemed hesitant to answer. “Talking about the darkness is difficult, even with other wolves. The struggle is very personal.”
Kara nodded. “Sorry about that.”
“No harm done,” Gustavo reassured her. “Imagine having to face the thought of losing your mind, your sense of identity, knowing that you will be transformed into a mindless killing machine and there is nothing you can do to stop it. Your only hope is that some other more powerful wolf will execute you before you do too much damage to the innocent people around you. Now you have some idea of what it is like to struggle with the darkness.”
All of the girls’ eyes went wide, and they said no more. The group was quiet for a long time, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Kara’s mind was wrapped up in the idea of true mates, of the one who was specifically made for her. Was it Nick, handsome, motorcycle-riding Nick? Was he the wolf that held the other half of her soul?
It seemed strange to think she only possessed half of her soul, and yet something inside of her said it made sense. She’d always felt like something was missing. She’d just assumed it was because she was an orphan and had been stuck in foster homes where love was scarce. What would it be like to be loved? It was a question she hoped she’d have an answer to sooner rather than later.
Stella was frustrated and hopeful at the same time. Gustavo’s tale about the Great Luna and how the Canis lupus had come into existence had fascinated her. But it also showed her that if she didn’t accept the wolf that was to be her mate, she would be leaving him to a horrible future. She had incredible fear when it came to having a relationship with the opposite sex. Regardless, she would have to find a way to overcome it. She couldn’t knowingly hurt someone who had done nothing to her, who loved her, and who had been created to be with her.
She rubbed her hand against her chest, focusing on the dull ache that never seemed to abate. How much longer would they be stuck in the pixie realm? How much longer until they would meet the males that could take the ache away? Would she be glad once she met him, or would she rather have the ache back? Those weren’t the only questions she had.
What about Jewel? And Anna? Gustavo was obviously very worried about Anna, which meant something was seriously wrong. Were they with Peri? Did that mean something had happened to Peri? Stella couldn’t imagine anything happening to Perizada. The idea that someone could kick her ass was right up there with time travel being possible. It just couldn’t happen.
She felt a nudge and glanced over at Heather. “You good?”
“I’m as good as a sister can be when she’s trapped in a non-human realm surrounded by supernatural beings, a blind chick with a bizarre sense of humor, an orphan who’s more mature than she should be, and a damn ache in her chest that won’t go away until she meets here future werewolf lover.”
Heather patted Stella’s arm. “That’s so good to hear. You seem to be coping so well, almost as well as one of my three-legged dogs.”
Stella snorted. “There is something wrong with you.”
“What is with you people and stating the obvious?” Heather asked. “I’m blind. Of course, there’s something wrong with me.”
“We just like to annoy you,” Kara said.
Stella smiled at her. “Good one, K.”
“Mission accomplished,” Heather quipped. Then she tilted her head in much the same way a dog might, or even a wolf. “Got any more stories, Antonio?”
Gustavo frowned. “My name is not Antonio.”
Heather waved him off. “For the sake of fantasizing, let’s just say it is.”
Every person in the group groaned as Heather sat there grinning.
“You do realize we won’t cut you any slack just because you’re blind, right?” Crina asked her.
“I’d kick you in the balls if you did,” Heather said.
“Um, Heather, I know you’re blind, but … you do know about boy parts and girl parts, right? I don’t think Crina has balls,” said Adam.
Heather’s eyebrows rose. “Oh?” Heather’s voice rose in question. “So could you explain what kind of parts she has exactly?”
Adam rolled his eyes at the same time that Stella nearly fell off the stump at the choked laughter she tried to swallow down.
Crina patted his chest, grinning. “You walked into that one.”
Stella wiped tears of laughter from her eyes. Yes, they were in a tough spot. Yes, they had no clue what was going to happen. But she was pretty sure that, with the friends she’d recently made, they could get through just about anything. Or at least go down laughing.