I hadn’t so much as skimmed my fingers over the cover page when Asher came through the front door. A jolt of surprise swallowed my voice and made my heart rate jump, forcing me to snap the book shut and slip it back into my bag.
Asher rounded the corner and appeared in the kitchen before I could question my sneaky behavior and why the feeling churning in my gut told me to keep the book a secret-even from him.
The next few hours I spent with Asher were anything but relaxing. Even after taking out the rest of my frustration in the cushy master suite he had designed for us, there was still plenty weighing on my mind. I’d always envied Chelsea for her lack of conscience, especially lately.
Both Maya and I knew that keeping Cordelia’s book was wrong and that thievery, no matter how it happened, had consequences. The urge to return it with a heartfelt apology was strong, but there was something even more powerful brewing in the back of my mind.
It had found it’s way into my bag for a reason, I assumed. One could only wonder if the reason was to look inside, to use its magic to protect my mate, pack, and kingdom.
Even though the feeling lasted but a few seconds, it was the excitement that gripped my heart in its hand that ultimately influenced my decision.
“Are you alright?” Asher’s voice was soft, which was warning enough that I’d been quiet for far too long.
Unable to forget what had transpired not that long ago between him and a certain Judge, I lifted an eyebrow in his direction.
With a drink in each hand, he abandoned the bar cart in the lowered alcove that served as our lounge and made his way to the canopied bed I was currently sprawled across.
I took the glass from his hand and took a drink, feeling the strong-scented liquor sting my lips before racing across my tongue. Forcing away a grimace from the taste was easy enough. “Shouldn’t I be the one asking you that?”
“You should.” He grunted, and from the deep scowl that hardened his jawline and made those soft lips of his fall, I knew his next words would be worth my while.
Only after a long drink of his own did he finally speak. “I won’t apologize for what I did to Clint Armstrong, but I’ll admit I did act rashly.” For a split second, his eyes unfocussed and confusion filled their depths until all traces of gold faded from his iris’s. “I…I haven’t been feeling like myself lately.
There was some part of me that wondered if magic was involved, but both the witches have checked me over and neither one felt anything.”
“Could it be stress? At training today, Cassidy mentioned we don’t know everything there is to know about Alpha’s.
There’s a chance this could be what happens when an Alpha’s pack is threatened from all sides…” I stumbled for a reason, startled by the feeling of helplessness that encased my lungs.
Asher didn’t struggle, he conquered. When he lost his footing he’d come back stronger, fight harder until his opponent snapped in two. Seeing him like this, with genuine confusion in his eyes, it was jarring.
“I know what stress feels like, believe me. I’ve had a lifetime of it, even before you stumbled into training late that first day.” He said, his voice quickly morphing from dry to light and amused.
My own lips perked up at the sound of his laugh, and of the memory that pitted the two of us against each other. He sat down on the edge of the bed and took another drink.
“When you turned yourself into your father’s men, that was the most stressed I’d ever felt. All of this…this is nothing compared to that.”
“Asher, you can’t mean that. We’ve got witches, vampires, and now werewolves coming for our throats-“
“And none of that means s**t to me.” He rasped, running a hand down the stubble that coated his jaw. His head sunk a few inches, and only when I placed my hand beneath his chin did he dare look up at me.
“I would’ve handed over your entire pack if it meant getting you back, Lola. You mean that much to me-so much that my own people can’t even compare.
I’ll protect them with my last breath, but only if I know you’re safe.’ There was an urgency in his voice that made my throat tighten. I tried hard to cling to my disbelief but failed when I saw the heat in his eyes.
“So believe me when I say, I know what stress feels like. Maybe you and Cassidy are right, maybe this is some Alpha thing we haven’t discovered…but if that’s the case, we need to get figuring it out because I’m slipping, and this pack can’t afford a slip.”
The more we talked, and the more Asher opened up, the more I was able to see his hesitance and indecision. Part of me wondered if I’d still feel the same all-consuming love when Asher’s guard was let down and his indestructible Alpha persona was removed.
It wasn’t surprising that my affection for him reached an even deeper level, and that the bond between us sparkled like freshly spun threads of gold. He was still an Alpha in my eyes, but even Alpha’s had moments of weakness.
“We’ll figure this out.” I promised him, though I had no clue how we’d achieve such a thing. If the witches couldn’t figure out what was happening with Asher, who could? An idea popped into my head, and I found myself smiling with just a shred of renewed hope.
“Breyona’s parents might be able to help. I’ll mind-link her tonight and see if she can get in contact with them.”
“Alright, just keep me posted. I’ll be bringing Mason and Clara with us tonight. Having a witch on our side will be helpful, and Mason can keep her in check since she seems to enjoy tormenting him.”
Asher grunted, combing his fingers through his hair, oblivious to the way my eyes tracked the movement.
Seconds away from suggesting a round two, I registered his last-minute decision. The one where he thought bringing Mason and Clara anywhere was a good idea. An odd sensation warmed my stomach and a fleeting thought whispered in my ear, ‘Isn’t this what you wanted?
“You’re bringing them both?” I pondered, ignoring the gut-feeling I was having that told me I somehow caused this spontaneous decision.
“Not only that, but I’m also bringing Brandon too.” He replied, his tone just a tad disgruntled. Taking one last swig of his liquor, he rolled his shoulders and twisted his head to either side until it popped softly. Seeing the expression on my face, he snorted.
“Believe me, it wasn’t my decision. He was lurking on mine and Zeke’s conversation and overheard we were leaving on a mission.
I can’t have him spilling the news to everyone in the pack and risk it falling into the hands of whoever our leaks are. Zeke’s babysitting him at the moment, but sooner or later he’ll try to escape him.”
“How is Zeke’s pack doing?” I wondered out loud, standing from the bed and stretching my sore limbs until they groaned in pleasurable pain.
With a smirk painted across my lips, I tossed one of Asher’s shirts over my n***d torso and flopped down on my stomach. “He’s rarely been there since all of this stuff started happening with the witches.”
“His Beta is a good, honorable man. He’s stepped up a lot and has helped him run the pack. I’m sure it helps that the witches aren’t particularly interested in the other nearby packs. Strategically, it makes sense that they’d want to dismantle the strongest pack first.
Even Alpha’s look up to the strongest wolf. With our pack gone, the rest in the country will weaken. I suppose I should thank the witch Cordelia…”
Asher rumbled, making a sound in the back of his throat that I couldn’t quite place. Whether it be gratefulness or dismay, the gesture surprised me.
“She’s been helping Zeke fortify his borders with some of those sigils of hers. From what he’s told me, they’re nothing serious, more like alarm systems incase any witches or vampires slip through.”
“Oh, I hadn’t known. Wouldn’t the same thing help us? At the very least it could give us a heads up on the next m****r.”
“She’s already placed a few around the pack borders. She would’ve done it sooner, but the magic required apparently takes time to build up.” He half shrugged, still seemingly unconvinced. “I’m trying to trust them, but only because you asked it of me.”
As Asher slid into the driver’s seat of his Audi and revved the engine, a sliver of worry crept into my throat. It twisted around my neck, scratching at my skin like the scales of a serpent before sliding down my esophagus and into the pits of my stomach.
It was this feeling that told me what Asher, Zeke, and the rest of the group they assembled were going to do was a bad idea.
I was going to tell him, even though I knew it wouldn’t change his mind, but another voice more powerful than that of my otherworldly feeling slid into my head. It wasn’t her words, but the tone of fear within them that made me pause.
‘St…Lola, you there? Ugh, stupid a*****e men. Kendrick bailed on me for some curvy redheaded sl-whatever, the details don’t matter.
I’m here with Lars at his camper thing and he’s acting all sketchy and tweakish. I know you said to stay away from him, but I’m freaked out and I need some help…and you’re the only person I know who won’t hold this over my head.