“Try not to move, Reasa. I know it hurts but Mallen will be here soon. Once he puts your shoulder back in place the pain will subside. I won’t lie to you; that’s going to be more painful than the original injury, and then you’ll have to face Rafe over your actions. You’ve just made life a whole lot harder for yourself.”
Reasa opened her eyes long enough to look at Dayton, trying to ignore the agony shooting through her body. Every nerve felt like it was on fire and she wasn’t used to suffering like this. Injuries had always healed instantly when she was still a vampire. Now her vision was blurred and it was hard to concentrate. “And for your mate.”
He gave her a rueful smile, stroking a hand through her hair because he didn’t like seeing anyone in pain. “That’s par for the course with Freya. Believe me; she’ll give herself a harder time for this than Rafe will. He’s Alpha, so he’ll factor in that the safety of the pack was in jeopardy, and that will be the priority with him. As for Freya, she’ll see it as a personal failure regardless of the circumstances and react accordingly. It will make my life a little bit more difficult, but we’ll work through it.”
He paused, sitting back on his heels and tilting his head towards the door. He could hear Mallen approaching and let out a slow breath before turning back to the human. “The main danger is Liam finding out. We have to avoid that happening at all costs. We don’t want a repeat of what happened up at the Praetorian Compound.”
Personally, she didn’t care at the moment. All that was registering was the agony flowing through her body and the fact that it wouldn’t stop. It wouldn’t be her problem, anyway, even if he did find out and lose control. She was human now and wouldn’t be aware of anything. Her fragile mind would implode instantly.
“Let me get near her, Day.” Mallen knelt down beside Reasa, his gaze intent as he quickly catalogued her outward injuries with a practiced eye. Since she was human, he realized he would have to be more careful with her than his usual patients, but he was confident in his ability to do so. His hands gently ran over her body and he was relieved to determine her shoulder dislocation was the worst wound. She would have some bruising, aches and pains; once he set the shoulder, she should be fine.
“How bad is it?” Rafe growled out the question, entering the room with Freya in tow.
“Not too bad,” Mallen answered, glancing quickly at his Alpha. “She has a dislocated shoulder and some bumps and bruises, but apart from that she’s fine.”
The Alpha nodded, turning his gaze on Freya and Dayton. He wasn’t surprised to see his beta had automatically come to stand beside his mate when she’d entered the room. He would have done the same had it been Lacey who’d made a mistake. “Do we know who she got the call out to?”
It was Freya who met his gaze and answered him, her tone emotionless, and her expression neutral in the face of his displeasure. “I destroyed the phone, but if I were to hazard a guess, I believe it was to her former coven.”
Her answer brought a frown to Rafe’s face. “Why would she do that? She’s human now. They wouldn’t be the least interested in her.”
“You’re right; unless she didn’t tell them she was human,” Dayton mused, running a hand down Freya’s stiff back. He could read her body language so well and knew she was working hard on maintaining her control. “If they think she has gathered intelligence of events which directly endanger the Covens...there’s a strong possibility they’d show a great deal of interest.” He was relieved the Alpha was concentrating first on the pack security issue. If he was assigning more importance to that, then maybe he’d cut Freya some slack.
“I overreacted and forgot both my strength and Reasa’s vulnerability. I failed in my duty, causing harm to her instead of keeping her safe. You must remove the human from my care, Rafe. I am clearly incapable of performing this task or keeping my word to Liam.” Freya moved away from them to stare out the window, her posture rigid.
Rafe shared a glance with Dayton, raising an eyebrow. His Beta was always the best barometer when it came to dealing with the volatile vampire. The fact that his expression displayed concern wasn’t a good sign. Once more, he found himself in the position of having to deal with an issue that wasn’t as simple as it appeared. Yes, Freya should have thought before she reacted. Realistically though, with Reasa being so much weaker as a human, the same thing might have happened regardless of whose care she was in.
“There’s nowhere else to place her, Freya, not that will appease Liam anyway. The only reason he’s content to have her here is because she’s with you. There’s no denying this situation shouldn’t have happened. Reasa shouldn’t have had the opportunity to get access to a cell phone and allowances should have been given to her frailty before corrective action was taken. However, it’s happened and we have to learn from today so it doesn’t happen again.”
She spun around to look at him, fury in her eyes. “The best way to ensure it does not happen again is to remove her. I am incapable of ensuring no harm comes to her. I allowed her access to my phone and I broke my word to Liam.”
“Then I am just as culpable here too,” Dayton interjected, his tone pragmatic. He raised a hand to halt Freya’s automatic denial. “No, if you’re intent on applying blame, Freya, then let’s look at the big picture. How did Reasa get access to the phone? What diverted your attention enough that she could take it in the first instance?”
Her angry gaze bore into his, her expression turning hard. “Don’t try to manipulate me, Dayton. The error occurred because I didn’t stop to consider that she would even try to get access to a phone. It has nothing to do with you arriving home and distracting me. You didn’t leave your phone out and you didn’t overreact to the situation.”
“When you guys have finished beating yourselves up over who is responsible, do you think one of you could give me a hand here?” Mallen asked dryly, interrupting the volatile situation. “I need someone to brace Reasa so I can pop her shoulder back in.” Three heads turned to survey him, but it was the vampire who moved first.
“I am the strongest.” Freya swept past her mate and Alpha, moving into position as Mallen relayed his needs. She supported the other woman against her body, listening intently to the doctor’s instructions.
As they worked together, Rafe turned to Dayton. “Do we know where Liam is?”
His Beta let out a sigh, his gaze never leaving his mate’s rigid face. “He went for a walk with Elina earlier. I think they took off into the forest. With any luck, he’ll be out of hearing distance and none the wiser.” A loud popping sound filled the room as he finished speaking, followed a split second later by a harsh scream. Reasa’s body went rigid with pain, her eyes rolling back in her head, the colour draining from her face.
Liam increased his pace to enable him to catch up with his cousin. His wolf was unsettled, urging him to return to the compound quickly. There was no real reason for it, so he was perplexed by his animal’s behaviour. It appeared he would be struggling with his wolf the entire time it would take him to claim his mate. He wasn’t used to that, having always been in harmony with his wolf from a very early age.
“What?” Elina’s voice broke the silence as they entered the compound, her eyes alert as they ran over his face.
“Something doesn’t feel right.”
A loud scream rent the air and Liam stiffened in shock for a moment, every muscle in his body going rigid. Then a loud snarl erupted from his chest and he took off at supernatural speed towards his aunt’s house.
“Liam!” Elina flew after him, catching the front door as it tried to whip shut in her face. “Kallum, help!”
Liam was barely aware of his cousin at his back, though he heard her call to Kallum. His wolf was howling in fury, his mate’s screams echoing in his mind as he raced down the hallway and into the room where Reasa was. Images assaulted him in a microsecond, Reasa lying on the ground with Mallen and Freya beside her. Rafe was in the room as was Dayton, but all he could see was his mate, her body twisted in agony.
“Liam, calm down.” Rafe’s tone was full of Command, pressing at his wolf to obey him as Alpha.
It worked for a moment, the beast calming a bit, but then his vampiric side rose up to counter it. If he hadn’t been so focused on getting to his mate, the savageness of his feral side would have brought him to his knees. As it was, all he could think about was getting to Reasa, to keep her safe from those hurting her.
Liam knocked aside Mallen with one hard swipe of his arm. Glowing amber eyes turned to his aunt, molten lava running through his veins. “What did you do?” The rage within was at crisis point, his mind chaotic as his emotions peaked. A wave of solid air exploded from him, radiating out like a shockwave, knocking everyone from their feet.
Freya rose slowly, her gaze never leaving her nephew, her body poised for attack. She could see no sign of the boy she loved, but she recognised the monster that lurked in his eyes. She had seen it many times before when looking at her own reflection. It was something she’d never dreamed she would have witnessed from the gentle soul of her nephew.
Raising her hand, she motioned for everyone else to stay back. They couldn’t have reached them anyway. Whatever Liam had done had placed a barrier between the three of them, and the rest of the room. While her eyes were riveted to Liam’s face, the logical side of her mind catalogued the effect and recognized its similarity to what Annie had done at the Praetorian Compound.
“She stole my phone and made a call to someone outside the compound. I had to stop her, Liam.”
“You hurt her.” The hard edge in Liam’s voice was chilling.
“It was an accident, nephew. I didn’t consider her fragility when I intercepted her call. I erred and I am sorry for her injury, but it is not life threatening. She will heal.” Freya kept her tone cool and rational, knowing it was the vampire who was listening as opposed to the wolf. To calm her nephew down she had to appeal to his logical side.
“You hurt her.” Another blast of rage knocked her back down to her knees as the same cold tone resonated from his lips.”
Mallen cried out, his hands coming to his head as he curled up in agony. “Liam, stop!”
The room erupted in a sea of sound with all of the Vârcolac crying out in one mental voice, trying to break through Liam’s barriers as they ran towards the house. Elina was already in the room, casting out her mental shields in Mallen’s direction, attempting to connect with his mind in a way she’d never tried with a non-hybrid before. She managed to slide a block in place, countering the worst excess of Liam’s emotional backlash, but she knew it wouldn’t hold for long. He was too strong, too out of control.
Elina sank to her knees outside the barrier. As she watched her cousin turn his full attention on her mother, she realized there was only one person who could derail his need for destruction “Thereasa, stop him! You’re the only one who can reach him right now. Talk to him!”
Her words brought no reaction from the other woman who remained curled up in a ball, her eyes staring vacantly ahead. “REASA! Hear me now! If he does this, he will implode and destroy everything. If we can’t contain him, everyone will die, men, woman…our children! You have to stop him, Reasa. You have to let him know you’re okay.”
Reasa heard a voice calling to her but it seemed so far away. All around her there was nothing but agony, a pain so intense she wanted to pass out to make it would go away. The voice persisted though, calling her name, imploring her to pay attention when she didn’t want to.
“No.” The word whispered out so quietly she wasn’t sure the voice would hear her, but it did.
“No!” she cried out the word, rolling over to stare up at the ceiling. Her vision was blurry and she realised it was from the tears streaming from her eyes. There were many new people in the room but they appeared to be far away, as if they were down a distant tunnel.
“You have to! Move! Now!”
It was the female hybrid, the one she’d fought with. She was commanding her to do something but she didn’t know what. The air felt thick around her and her head hurt from a pressure so intense it made her eyes water more. Struggling to her hands and knees, Reasa heard a shrill scream and focused on the sound.
Freya was on her knees before her, a large hulking shape looming over the Ancient. To the side, the doctor was immobile, curled up in the foetal position. Down the tunnel, she could hear voices shouting in terror, two louder than the others.
He was there in the room, the abomination. He was the looming figure, his voice a shard of ice as he towered over the vampire. “You hurt her.”
Reasa moaned, breathing through the pain, her thoughts beginning to clear as the situation registered. Dear God, he’d lost control again and everyone was helpless in his wake. She had no idea why her mind hadn’t exploded, but she understood the threat level surrounding them. If he crossed the line and killed his aunt…there would be nothing anyone could do so stop the destruction that would follow.
“Liam, hear me.” Reasa forced out the words both verbally and mentally. “I’m safe.” There was no response from the huge male and a muffled sob escaped her as the pressure in the room escalated higher mirroring his rage. “Liam! I need you! Listen to me, please!”
Crawling forward, Reasa pushed her way in between Freya and Liam, collapsing against the other woman as her strength gave out. The other woman automatically supported her, whispering in her ear, “Move aside.”
“No! He won’t listen to you, Freya, but he will listen to me. Stay quiet.” Her lips barely moved as she whispered the words out but she knew the vampire heard her. Gazing up into blazing amber eyes, her breath caught at the sheer beauty of the male above her, so vicious, so uncontained, so volatile.
“Did you forget everything I showed you before, hybrid? You’re leaking emotions everywhere and damaging your pack. Attend to me now!” Appealing to his wolf hadn’t achieved any results. Maybe appealing to the vampire would.
“Take up that loose strand, Liam, and weave it into the one beside it. Do it before you destroy everything you love. Do it for me, hybrid. If you truly believe I am your mate and you go insane and have to be put down…what will happen to me?”
The fury was everything, a living breathing thing flowing like lava through his veins. It was heady and exciting, a power so strong he felt invincible. Everything else was inconsequential; the people around him nothing but vermin to be eradicated. He knew he was saying the same thing repeatedly to the female vampire, but he had no concept of why because the words were meaningless.
All he wanted to do was to kill; he wanted to reach out and rip the head from the vampire’s body, to feel her hot blood flowing over his hands and know that she had been fittingly punished for her failure. Everyone present in the room would see that punishment and none would ever defy him again.
A soft whisper tickled in his mind and he paused to listen as it echoed along his synapses. It was a glorious sound, so hard and unyielding, insistent that it be heard. As soon as he acknowledged it, the floral scent of wildflowers and a chocolate caramel fragrance washed over him, an intriguing contrast to the hard words.
“You’re not doing it correctly. Why are males so stubborn? You’ve lost your shields, Liam. Fix them now as I showed you before. Feel the strands, see how nimble you can be. Thread them together one at a time, ensuring they are flexible enough to withstand the pressure. That’s it…keep going. If you want to call them clouds then do so, just keep weaving.”
The beautiful voice was so bossy, so fascinating. Liam wanted her to keep talking, wanted her to stay in his mind, so he did as she ordered, pulling at the soft strands within his mind and proudly displaying his prowess as he weaved the shields she wanted. His mate shadowed him closely, inspecting his movements, instructing him when he messed up so he could repair his error.
She was so perfect, her presence in his thoughts a soothing balm as the monster retreated and his wolf moved forward, helping to balance him. Soft hands were running down his arms, stroking his skin and sending shivers through his body. “Reasa…”
Liam focused on her face, his eyes tracing every feature with adoration shining from them. “I did it.” He smiled at her, wondering at her frightened expression. It seeped into his happiness, causing him to frown as he muttered, “What’s wrong?”
Memories were starting to return and his gaze shot to the woman behind his mate, his aunt’s cautious expression suddenly registering in his conscience. His eyes widened as dread slammed into him so hard he let out a pained gasp. There was blood on his aunt’s clothes, though she had no visible wounds. However, memories of his fingers digging into her skin and ripping at her flesh flooded through his mind...
Freya carefully extracted Reasa from her nephew as she moved to stand before him. She placed her hands on his cheeks as he stared at her in horror. “Stay here with us, Liam. Do not sink back into the place you have just visited. Look at me, and hear my words. I have been in that same dark place, more times than you will ever know. You cannot change what has happened, you can only learn from it and strive to ensure it doesn’t reoccur. I am well and suffer no lasting harm. Reasa is well and suffers no lasting harm.”
His gaze slid to Reasa’s and then Mallen. Elina was at his side, helping the doctor sit up as he shook his head to clear it. “What did I do?” The words were a tortured whisper as he swung back to look at his aunt. “Freya?”
“Anyone who doesn’t need to be here, please leave.” Rafe’s voice echoed over the room as he took control, jerking his head to the doorway. “Kallum, take Mallen over to the medical centre so he can be checked out.” He was striding over to help the doctor up as he spoke, concern in his eyes as he inspected his pack member.
“I’m okay, Rafe. Whatever Elina did, kept me protected from the worst of it.” He shook his head again as he tried to pull off a weak smile, despite his disorientation. “Guess that proved I had the weakest mind in the room today.”
“Rafe, maybe we should stay…” Kallum motioned to the other Vârcolac hovering in the doorway with concerned expressions.
The Alpha shook his head. “Your presence here didn’t help earlier. Only Reasa was able to get through to Liam, so let’s clear out as many people as we can. Cassia, are you able to administer pain relief to the woman in Mallen’s absence, or do we need to request someone to come over from the medical centre?”
The eldest Romanov sister appeared startled at the request, but her expression cleared and she nodded her assent. Everyone else filed out leaving Liam, Cassia and Rafe in the Alexander home with the family.
“Freya, are you okay?” It was taking all of Dayton’s strength not to cross the room to his mate and shake the living daylights out of her. To be trapped behind Liam’s barrier had been an agony he couldn’t express in words. To watch his mate stand there and do practically nothing to defend herself against her nephew’s attack…that was something they were going to discuss later. Liam needed her right now so he held himself rigid, letting his eyes reassure him she was safe, but he wasn’t happy with the situation and his mate would know all about it.
“I’m fine, Day. He really didn’t hurt me very much. Some part of him remained intact; otherwise, he would have had my head from my body before I knew what was happening. I know you’re angry with me, but please trust that I knew what I was doing. I would have defended myself had I felt the need strongly enough. This isn’t something you would understand; it is something intrinsic, purely vampiric. To react with aggression would only have escalated the situation further.”
“We’ll discuss it later, Freya, believe me, we will more than discuss it!” Her resigned expression almost made him smile, but the image of her blood was still too fresh in his mind. His mate had to learn that sacrificing herself because she felt responsible was not the right course of action to take, even if the threat was to come from someone she loved, like Liam.
Dayton headed over to them slowly, not wanting to make any sudden moves that may concern Liam. “I need to help Reasa onto the bed so Cassia can attend to her.” He spoke the words in general but they were for Liam’s benefit.
The Vârcolac’s head turned in their direction and pained eyes ran over the human woman. “Is that okay with you, Reasa?”
She nodded in response, her gaze wary as she surveyed him back. He appeared to be once more in control, the danger point having passed. The more pressing concern for him now was the aftermath of what had just happened. The overwhelming guilt in his eyes was something he couldn’t hide and she couldn’t help with. He needed to have that conversation with his pack but his rebuilt mental defences should be strong enough to cope without any intervention from her.
She allowed the wolf to pick her up gently and place her on the bed. She tried to ignore the fact it was another of the abominations who sat beside her. The blonde woman ran careful hands over her body before turning to search inside the doctor’s bag for the components she needed to prepare a solution in a syringe. Reasa closed her eyes and shut out the rest of the room, trying to ignore the fact that her circumstances remained the same and she was still trapped in the pack.
Cassia prepared the pain medication carefully; afraid she would accidentally overdose the woman lying on the bed. Obeying her Alpha was instinctive, but she’d expected her wolf to put up some kind of fight because they were being asked to help the woman who had damaged their mate. The animal was quiet though, curious as its eyes ran over the other woman.
Why wasn’t it protesting? Surely it should have been questioning her actions? Its quietness confused her, making her wonder if Pietro truly was her mate.
“This will only hurt for a moment,” she said, keeping her voice quiet and soothing as she injected the liquid medication into Reasa’s caramel skin. She swabbed the area with a sterile wipe, keeping a sharp eye on the former vampire’s respiration to ensure she didn’t exhibit any signs of distress. As she watched her, her thoughts drifted back Pietro.
He must be aware by now that something had happened to his abductor. What was he thinking? Was he tempted to come and see what was going on for himself, or would he stay hidden in her aunt and uncle’s home? The need to check on him was strong and Cassia knew she would end up heading in that direction once everything calmed down. She had so many unanswered questions and Pietro was the only one who could help her with them.
Breathing a sigh of relief when the strain ebbed out of Reasa’s expression, Cassia turned to look at Liam, all the while her thoughts dominated by a certain vampire with long dark hair and a scar running down the side of his beautiful face.