Sorrow clung to Denny’s words like a leech, but my brain wasn’t grasping the meaning behind what he had said. I had just talked to Dad two days ago. “What?” My mouth was painfully dry, and I felt like I was trying to swallow a golf ball. “Just come home. I love you, Harls.” A soft click of the call disconnecting left me suffocating from the weight of his words. Walk. Now. Walk it off. My feet moved on their own. I didn’t know where I was going, but I couldn’t stop myself. I messaged Andrew telling him I was leaving. I don’t even know what I said to the man. I can’t even remember my fingers moving across the screen of my phone that I just shoved into my back pocket. When my brain caught up with my feet, I was back in my room, packing two weeks of clothes into my backpack. Andrew and Byron came into my room, trying to figure out what was happening and what I was doing, but I couldn’t articulate words. I just kept packing. Byron took me by my shoulders, shaking me. “Harley! What the f**k is going on?” his voice was calm, but I could see the concern in his soft brown eyes. “I have to go back.” The tears welled in my eyes at the only words I could spit out for them. Control. Get control. I sucked air through my nose, holding it until my chest ached before letting it out slowly. Over and over, I tried to rid my body of the pins and needles and the ten-ton weight on my chest and abdomen. Turn it off. One more breath, then turn it off. I inhaled one more time. One. Two. Three. Four. At five, I let every sensation crawling on my skin go, turning off my emotions and tucking them away for later. My face relaxed into a blank expression, my body numb to the circumstances.
Then, finally, my eyes met Andrew, who was having his own minor breakdown about how ‘over his dead body I would step foot onto those bastards’ territory.’ “My parents were murdered in an attack last night. Denny needs me.” Their faces fell flat at my hushed words. At this moment, I chose to let the numbness spread throughout me like wildfire. Control. “I head out tonight. I shouldn’t be gone for more than a week or two, but I may need you all to ship me more stuff if I can’t get away from Denny.” My hands were steady, and my actions more calculated, but the storms were raging inside. “What… What about them?” Andrew’s voice was quiet, but his green eyes glistened with unshed worry for me. “If the three of us cross paths, then I will do the thing the sixteen-year-old me couldn’t do. Something I should have had the backbone to do long before now.” I mumbled, folding some training clothes into my bag. Something tells me I will be exhausting myself to maintain control of my emotions. I couldn’t hear the words they were saying. I was still focused on my shoes. I could only choose one pair of shoes for my bag, and since I was riding my bike, I decided on my boots to wear, then shoved my Converse into the backpack. I can always buy another pair… or borrow a pair of mom’s if needed. My heart clenched, thinking about all the times she had begged me to address the alphas so I could come home to her. She was the only one I ever spoke to about my rejection other than Byron, his father, and Andrew. She wanted to leave over and over and come here to be with me, but I was fearful it would jeopardize Denny’s beta position. I changed into skinny jeans that were hanging on by a thread, a black cropped tee, and my riding jacket and combat boots. Byron grabbed my bag and wrapped an arm around me as we walked out to my Ducati. Sleek, matte black metal sat cool between my thighs, purring.
I had gotten my hugs and goodbyes, and I had my phone tucked into my bag and my hair tucked into my helmet. I was ready, but reluctance tugged at me. I am safe here, and I am happy. But I know Denny needs me. So I shot a smile to my best friends… my brothers by choice. Then, I closed my visor and peeled out with dread filling my bones. It’s only a two-hour ride back into Clearwater territory. The whole way, the trees danced in darkness like something from nightmares, plunging me further into my memories of the morning I was forced to leave my home. The anger and repulsion were thick on their tongues. “We, future alpha of the Clearwater Pack, hereby reject you, Harley Grace Ashwood, as our mate and Luna.” Their words ripped through me like barbed wire laced with fire and salt, shattering me into millions of pieces. I let myself be pulled into the rabbit hole of my past until the smell of rot and decay snapped me back to reality, almost giving me whiplash. I am fifteen miles from the entry point of Clearwater, and I am surrounded by rogues. Stop the bike. There is no one to call. They will not let me go… fight. Excitement flooded me at the possibility of working off the energy humming under my skin. I focus on my senses as my bike comes to a stop. Six. There are six of them, at least. I climbed off my bike, letting my helmet and backpack rest on the seat.
The slight hum started feeling more like being wrapped in an electric fence when I saw their shadows emerging from the forest line. Three gruff wolves stepped forward. Three are still hiding. Stay close to the bike. A wicked smile spread across my lips when their snouts wrinkled into menacing growls, and their teeth snapped at the air in a warning. I removed my jacket to move more fluidly, never taking my eyes from theirs. I had my nose trained behind me, keeping myself prepared for an ambush by the others. An internal relief flooded me when I realized Byron had attached my katana to my bike before I left. Only twenty feet. Stay sharp. I drew my katana as laughter bubbled when I heard their paws scraping the highway in pursuit of me. The largest of the three charged first, leaping for me. I slid under him, dragging my blade the entire length of his chest and abdomen, bathing myself in his blood and guts. A cackle tore through me as I charged the one behind him, dodging his first swipe, narrowly escaping the large paw that had intentions of ripping out my throat. He snapped at me as his friend circled from the back.
I drove my blade through his skull, shivering at the feeling of his skull giving way to the impact. The others are in the tree line. They are circling in. Get moving. I kicked the one charging from behind, relieved when my boot connected with his snout. Him being distracted by his blurred vision made slitting his throat easy enough for me. The other three had watched the whole thing as spectators but had not come forward. Then, as I rounded my bike, they fled. I put my blade away, strapped my bag down so it wouldn’t get destroyed by the blood still sticky on my skin, tucked my hair back into my helmet, and left, hoping the other three kept their distance. I stopped a few miles away, calling Denny and asking him to meet me at the gate and give me clearance without explaining my reasoning. I had no intention of stopping like this. The blood had started drying, cracking away under my movement. Still, I am rolling into foreign territory, looking like something out of Carrie, and that may not work in my favor. I don’t need the guards calling the alpha down. I wanted to avoid them for as long as possible.
The stretch into Clearwater was before me, and I picked up speed. “I can’t stop Den. I met some rogues a few miles out.” I used my pack link for the first time in a long time, and it almost felt right. My skin shivered at the thought of anything here feeling right. “What? Where? I’m sorry, Harls, but you have to stop. It is protocol.” Denny linked back, and anger slammed into me. I refuse to be a puppet in this f*****g pack. “Harls, slow down.” He linked again as I rolled up to the gates, then he stepped into my path, forcing me to slow down and stop. s**t. Breathe. No one knows you. Don’t be an ass. Don’t be an ass.