The Grey Wolves Series, Book 7
“When I look in the mirror I see my face, my blue eyes, black hair, and strong jaw. But I don’t recognize the figures staring back at me. Something inside me has changed, grown darker, colder. My wolf rages inside, constantly fighting me for control. I know I mustn’t give in. For if I do, chaos will come crashing down around us, along with lifeless bodies.”
Fane felt sweat dripping from his brow as he ran. His lungs burned with effort as he tried to suck in more air. He could see her, just up ahead. She was crying and screaming for him to help her.
“I’m coming!” He yelled.
His footfalls pounded against the earth, seeming to fall in time with the beating of his heart. Every time he got close to catching up, she would be ripped from his grasp. He was losing her. He felt his wolf clawing to get out, raging, howling inside of him. Yet no matter how he tried, he couldn’t phase. He felt helpless, and that feeling only fueled the burning anger deep inside of him. She was his. His to protect and over and over he failed her.
Fane sat up suddenly, gasping for breath. He blinked several times and looked around in the darkness of the room he shared with his mate. Another dream, he thought. Sleep continued to elude him. Along with it, the peace he so desperately wanted. He glanced over to where Jacquelyn lay, or should be laying, he thought with a frown. He closed his eyes and reached out to her through their bond. He found her sitting with Jen and Sally by the large stone fireplace in one of the sitting rooms in the Romanian mansion, a place at which she seemed to take refuge more and more lately. No fire burned. The hearth, like his heart, was cold.
Fane bit back the anger he felt at her for leaving him alone in their bed—again. But he knew he couldn’t blame her. He knew he had been distant from her, knew that she ached for him to talk to her, to touch her, and yet still he held himself back.
Utter fury boiled inside of him; he needed to destroy an enemy that was not flesh and blood. But he feared that she would see this and he didn’t know how he could explain that to her. How did he fight a memory? How did he defeat something that was no longer happening, but wouldn’t let go of him? He was at a loss and so he kept her at arm’s length, to protect her from what he had become.
It had been two weeks since they had defeated Desdemona and yet it felt as though it was only yesterday. Vasile and the other Alphas were doing their best to work together in a peaceful manner, attempting to formulate a course of action. A new enemy had a risen just as the old one had fallen and the supernatural world now waited with bated breath to see what this new evil would bring.
Fane knew he should be helping his father and the others. He knew that it was his duty to lead and to set an example for others, but knowing and doing are two very different things. The truth was, his control was gone. Something in his wolf had snapped after seeing their mate trapped in her own mind. She had been experiencing the worst kinds of violation and abuse and he had only been able to stand by and watch. Now it took every ounce of strength he had just to let her out of this sight. For the first few days after the battle he hadn’t left her side. It was only after she threatened to have Peri put a binding curse on him that he relented to her demand to have time with her two best friends. But he was always in her mind, always attune to her whereabouts and safety. It angered her more that, though he demanded she stay near him, he would not let her in. The bond was open, but not where she could see into his heart. He remembered her exact words when he had finally relented to her pleas.
“I’m tired of being in this room, Fane,” she had told him. She had been standing by the window, gazing out longingly. She kept her back to him as she spoke. “I love you, you know this, but I need more than just this.”
“I just want you safe,” Fane had told her through gritted teeth.
She had laughed bitterly, “Safe and caged are two very different things. You have got to get over whatever obsession it is you have with protecting me. We are in your father’s freaking house, I couldn’t be safer.”
“Too many wolves.”
She laughed again and turned to face him. “I’m done. I’ve tried to be patient and understanding. I’ve tried to talk to you, to get you to help me understand what’s going on with you, but you won’t let me in. I’m your damn mate, your wife, and you won’t talk to me. You can either get your crap together and respect me the way I deserve to be respected…, or I will drag Peri into this mess and bind you. You won’t be able to touch me, not like you normally do anyway,” she spat out and Fane had felt as if she had slapped him.
“Jacquelyn,” his chest ached as he spoke her name and he took a step towards her.
“Don’t,” she snarled as she held up her hand, “You are going to fix this, Fane Lupei, and it better be sooner than later because I’m this close,” she’d held up her hand pinching her fingers together, with no space in-between, “to packing my crap and finding a different room.”
Fane would like to say that he didn’t lose his cool. He’d like to say he didn’t shred the sheets on the bed or throw the TV across the room, but he’d be lying. Her declaration brought out his wolf. The idea of her leaving him, of not being in their room where she belonged, was more than his wolf, or he could take. Jacquelyn’s eyes had widened, but there was more anger than fear in them when she had stormed from the room. That had been two days ago.
He hadn’t known if she would come back that night or not. She had briefly spoken to him through their bond to let him know where she was but then she had shut him out cold. She barely spoke to him when she chose to be around him and what little she did was short and to the point.
Coming back to the present, Fane climbed out of bed and staggered a bit. His limbs felt stiff and tight from the intensity of the dream and it took a few steps before he felt them loosen. He went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face, but avoided looking in the mirror. He didn’t want to see what stared back at him.
When he came back into the bedroom, he stopped abruptly in mid–step when he saw Sally sitting in one of the chairs that was in the small sitting area.
“Does your mate know you are in another man’s room?” He asked dryly as he altered his course to the closet and grabbed a shirt. He slipped it over his head and then rejoined Sally, though he did not take a seat.
“He does, though he is not happy that I did not allow him to come with me.” Sally stared at him as if he were a new species of bug that needed examining. He stared right back. He felt his wolf stir and had to push him down. Sally stood and walked over to him. He tensed, but didn’t move. She slowly lifted her hand and placed it on his chest and he watched as she closed her eyes. He wanted to push her away. To growl at her for thinking she had a right to touch him, but then, she was a healer and it was, therefore, her right.
He tried to keep the walls in his mind up but Sally was strong and she pushed through with little effort. He waited for her to see what he had become and then run screaming from the room. He felt her presence, but it wasn’t the same as the mate bond, there was no intimacy involved, and yet at the same time he felt very vulnerable.
She stepped back as her hand dropped and her eyes opened. She met his gaze and her face became stern.
“She could help,” she told him firmly, but her words were gentle.
“At what cost to herself?” he asked.
“It is her right to sacrifice for you, just as much as it is your right,” she continued before he could speak. “It’s spreading inside of you like a disease and eventually your wolf will take over. The wolf taking over, all instinct, without any of the reasoning of the man would be a very, very bad thing. You know this and still you hold back. She is aching and empty because of your refusal to allow her to be what you need.”
“You saw what happened?” He asked, knowing she would understand that he was asking her about his memories.
“You saw who touched her, who she willingly allowed and yet that doesn’t anger you?” His voice dropped to a growl.
“It wasn’t real, Fane. It was a curse that fed our deepest fears. She has suffered enough and you are causing her more pain than the curse did. You have to find a way to let it go. You need her and she needs you. If you can’t talk to her right now then talk to someone because you are on a war path to self-destruction, and if you lose this battle, it won’t only be Jacque who suffers.”
He watched as Sally walked from his room, closing the door gently behind her. He knew what she said was true. He had to fix this mess he had created. He needed his mate, needed her like a drowning man needed air. Sally spoke of Jacquelyn aching and his gut plunged to the ground. He knew that ache—it was his constant companion as well. His arms longed to hold her, his wolf needed to possess her and he needed to love her, to show her how desperately he loved her.
He didn’t know if he had pushed her too far, if she would forgive him. He didn’t know how to tell her about the madness inside of him. He didn’t know how to bear his weaknesses and shame to her, but he knew that if he didn’t he would destroy them both.
“Love, we need to talk,” he sent through their bond and pushed so that it penetrated the wall she was keeping between them. He felt her shock, and then the utter despair that filled her, rush through to him. “Please, Jacquelyn, come back so we can talk.”
He held his breath, waiting for her answer, praying it wasn’t too late.
“It’s about damn time,” she growled at him.
He nearly fell to his knees and wept as she reminded him of who she was. She was his and she wasn’t giving up on him.
“No I’m not giving up on you, but I just might kill you.” She was coming to him; he could feel her getting closer.
“If dying by your hand means I can feel your touch, then you can kill me a thousand times.” He knew his words sounded as fraught as he felt.
“Don’t tempt me.”
“I hate reality television. That’s not something I can change. I do, however, wish that in reality, we had life lines, you know, phone a friend, street shout out, hit man hotline. Any of those would work for me.” ~ Jacque
“How did it go with Fane?” Vasile asked Sally as she entered his office with Costin’s hand at the small of her back. Though Sally was technically the Serbian pack’s healer, she knew Fane better than Rachel. Vasile felt it would be better for a friendly face to confront his son.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Sally answered. She leaned back against Costin when he let out a low growl. “Relax bartender, he was no threat to me,” she told him gently.
“That isn’t the point,” Costin responded curtly. Sally glanced over her shoulder at her mate and gave him a pointed look. Costin did not appear intimidated.
Vasile stood from his desk and let out a slow, deep breath.
“You mated males are aging me before my time.” Vasile met Costin’s eyes briefly and then returned to Sally. “What is wrong with him?”
“You know the darkness that rules inside of the males before they are mated. It almost enslaves them. We mates bring that darkness to heel, freeing the wolf to be what he needs to be for his mate and pack. But Fane is making the choice to keep his mate’s light from him. He is allowing the darkness free reign inside of him because of the rage that is building,” Sally explained.
Vasile began to pace slowly around the office, his eyes on the floor as he considered her words.
“Am I going to have to step in?” He asked.
Sally shook her head. “I don’t think so. I saw Jacque running to their room only minutes after I had left. I think he realizes what he has been doing to both of them.”
“Healer,” Vasile stopped directly in front of Sally and held her gaze. He heard something in her voice, something she wasn’t telling him. “Be straight with me. Will I need to step in?” He asked her again more slowly this time.
Sally bit the inside of her lip as she considered the Alpha’s question. She knew what she had seen inside of Fane, knew the extent of the darkness, but she didn’t want to give up on him just yet, even if it did mean that her mate might have to take on the Prince of the Romanian Greys.
“Not right now,” she finally answered, as honestly as she could. “But I think at some point he is going to need to talk to Costin.”
Vasile frowned at her while Costin continued to let out low rumbles from his chest unable to completely leash his wolf.
“Why Costin?” Vasile asked.
Sally felt her face begin to heat with the flood of embarrassment at having to discuss such intimate details with Vasile, whether false or not, especially with her mate right at her back.
“When Jacque was under Desdemona’s spell, one of the things she experienced was being intimate with another male,” Sally explained hesitantly, hoping that Vasile would not ask for details.
“What do you mean?”
She groaned inwardly. Of course he would ask, why on earth would he make this easy for me?
“Answer him, Sally mine.” She heard Costin’s voice in her mind and the irritation and anger behind it. She didn’t think he was angry with her, not exactly anyways.
“Okay,” she began, “as a male, one of your biggest fears is not being able to save your mate from something horrible like torture or rape, right?”
Vasile nodded as he watched the healer closely.
“Other than having her taken unwillingly, in various ways, how else would you fear her being taken?” Sally’s jaw tensed as she waited for realization to hit Vasile. She saw the moment he understood as his eyes widened. “Every man, be he wolf or human, fears his woman turning to another man willingly.” Vasile’s eyes jumped back to Costin.
“Under the curse, Jacque allowed you to have her,” he said as he watched Costin’s eyes begin to glow. Costin was holding onto his temper by a thread. He didn’t like the idea of Sally thinking he had been with Fane’s mate, even though he hadn’t. He didn’t like the idea of Fane thinking that Costin would even consider looking at Jacque, even though Fane knew it wasn’t real. It hadn’t really happened. But Fane was young, and with youth came insecurities.
“The hardest part of what Fane is dealing with was seeing what happened through Jacque’s mind, seeing her enjoy being with another male. Of course Jacque was sick with disgust and despair once the curse was lifted. She wants to be touched by another male like she wants to be boiled alive in acid.” Sally was trying to be as frank as possible because she could feel her mate growing more and more furious. “For now Costin and Fane need to steer clear of one another, at least until Fane can come to terms with his emotions. If you interfere right now, he will feel like you are protecting Jacque from him. That would make him feel like you were going to take her, and we all know how well Fane handles his mate being taken from him.”
Vasile waited several heartbeats before he finally nodded.
“Alright,” he whispered softly, “you protect your wolves.”
“As is my right, Alpha,” Sally reminded him.
“Yes, yes it is. But it is my right to discipline them when needed. Do not tell me until it’s too late, Sally. Do not wait until your mate is in a fight for something that never happened.”
The warning in Vasile’s voice made the hairs on the back of Costin’s neck rise and he bit back the growl that rose in his chest. He wrapped a protective arm around his mate and pulled her close to him.
“Relax, Costin. I am not threatening your mate. I am warning her, but I’m threatening my son.” Vasile shook his head wearily and retreated back to his desk. “You both are dismissed. Sally, thank you,” he paused, “for speaking with him.”
Sally gave a slight bow of her head before following Costin from the room.
Vasile sat in the chair behind his desk. The aged leather wrinkled and groaned beneath his weight. His heart was heavy with the burdens their pack had so recently endured, but he knew that there were more to come. A new threat had risen, just as an old one had fallen. Now in the midst of that threat, Vasile also had to worry about his only son. He had known that Fane wasn’t coping well in the aftermath of Mona’s spell, but there had been too much going on for him to address it. Now that he considered it, he wondered if he had fallen short as an Alpha and father for not making the time.
“As usual, you take on blame that is not yours to bear.” He heard Alina’s words in his mind. He smiled to himself as he reached out to her.
“Isn’t it? I am his Alpha, his father. Is it not my place to make sure that he is well?” He asked her.
“He is a grown man and he is mated. It is her place to care for him first. Should she not be able to handle it, then it is her job to come to you. Do not add to your already heavy load my love. For even you, as strong as you may be, can be crushed.”
He chuckled out loud at her chastisement and took pleasure in knowing that she was the only one who could ever get away with it.
“How did I ever deserve to have you as my mate, Mina?” He asked her gently.
He felt her hand brush the back of his neck and her lips against his own.
“When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.” She teased.
Vasile growled at her cheekiness. “I swear I’m going to have to limit her time with those girls and that damn fae as well.”
“Were you ever going to tell me what you saw?” Costin asked Sally as they headed to the pack healer’s room. She had been working with Rachel on different herbal remedies, going through the archives of their people and relearning all that the gypsy healers once used to tend the wolves.
“I think there is some sort of healer/wolf confidentiality that Fane is entitled to,” Sally told him with thinned lips.
“Did you really have to go see him alone? I don’t like you being with a male by yourself, especially an unpredictable one.”
Sally huffed. “Fane would never hurt me, Costin, and he’s mated. You are going to have to curb your possessive instincts in order for me to do my job.”
“No, you are going to have to learn to let me in. We are a team. It’s my job to protect the healer and I can’t protect you if you don’t let me near you.” Costin’s voice was becoming more and more gravely with each word.
“Why are you so cranky?” Sally asked as she pushed open the door to the healer’s study. Shelves filled with plants, herbs, and odd looking stones lined the walls. Books were scattered across the two tables that ran the length of the room.
“How do you feel about it?” Costin asked quietly.
Sally knew what he was asking. He wanted to know if she was angry about what Jacque experienced. How could she be angry when she had experienced something very similar?
“How are you not losing it like Fane over what I experienced?” She countered. “Why aren’t any of the other males killing each other over what their mates felt while under the curse? You have to know that all of you males fear us going to other men, so we all went through that same thing.” She walked over to him and looked up into his hazel eyes—eyes that shown with such love that when they gazed upon her, it took her breath away.
“I know you want no other than me. I know that you would never touch another male and because I know that, deep in my soul, I have let go of what happened under the curse. You showed me the night we were bonded that there is nothing that could ever take your love from me. So what do I have to be upset about?”
Costin reached up and tucked her hair behind her ear and Sally leaned into his touch. He leaned down until their foreheads touched and inhaled her scent through slow deep breaths.
“Thank you,” he whispered softly. He wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her close to him. It was his favorite place to be, wrapped around his mate, protecting her, loving her, reminding her that she was his.
“I love you,” she told him gently.
He grinned at her flashing his dimple. “What’s not to love?”
Sally rolled her eyes as she pulled back from him and he reluctantly let her slip away.
“I swear you and Jen were separated at birth,” she grumbled as she turned to open up one of the healing books.
“So what are we doing today?” He asked as he rubbed his hands together like an eager child.
“A tonic,” she told him as she flipped the pages.
“A tonic for what?”
“Overbearing, jealous, obnoxious, yet hot, werewolves.”
Costin let out a laugh that filled the room and flooded Sally’s heart with joy.
“Will it affect my good looks?” He asked her playfully.
“Oh, yes perfect,” she muttered to herself ignoring his question.
“What’s perfect?” He asked as he leaned over her shoulder to see what she was doing.
“You just reminded me that I forgot to add something to shrink your ego.”
He put his hands on her hips and leaned down to her ear.
“As long as we aren’t shrinking body parts love, then it’s all good.”
Sally leaned her head back against him and closed her eyes with a huff. “I can’t win.”
Costin chuckled low and she felt his warm breath against her neck.
She finally leaned forward and pushed him away. “Alright Romeo back up, I’ve got work to do.”
“Work away, gypsy lady. I’ll just sit over hear and supervise.”
Sally blushed but refused to comment, knowing she would only encourage his teasing, which would only lead to her becoming a pile of goo at his feet begging for his attention. Yeah Sal, that would be so dignifying, she thought to herself.