Authors: A.D. Ryan
hey say that some people have this uncanny ability to predict when change will happen. That there are some clear signs that tell them when their path is about to veer off in another direction or when the ground is about to shift beneath them. I’m not one of those people; the ground doesn’t just shift beneath my feet. It is often ripped right out from under them.
Like right now.
I stumbled back from the bars, disoriented. Was I still asleep? This had to be a dream. Cordelia had been missing for the better part of a decade. There was no way these parasites would have kept her alive all this time…but if they had, and I wasn’t dreaming, what could be their purpose?
Her hazel eyes were wide as she stared at me across the narrow corridor. She kept a safe distance from the bars, and having just burned my hands on them, I understood why. She watched me as I tried to separate fantasy from reality. I still couldn’t be sure what was real.
One minute, I was with Nick in our bedroom. We’d…we’d made love. It had been spontaneous and loving. We connected on a much deeper level than I’d ever dreamed possible after everything we’d been through.
Seven years of being apart should have driven a wedge between us, and it had, but it wasn’t permanent…just complicated. I’d moved on. After several years of grieving the loss of my brother, who’d been murdered on our twenty-first birthday, and trying to get over the fact that my fiancé left me without an explanation that made sense, I’d met David.
We worked together on the Scottsdale Police Department. He was a detective when I was an officer, and we’d worked a few cases together before my promotion. That’s where our relationship started; innocent and professional.
We’d hung out a few times before falling into bed together. It was a silly fling at first, because I felt that was all I was capable of, given my history of emotional instability, but eventually it evolved into more.
When Nick showed up again, on the night of my twenty-eighth birthday, he brought with him the memory of what we’d shared. I felt confident that these old feelings couldn’t usurp my current ones for David, but it was definitely a confusing time, and I fought the rekindled attraction tooth and nail…
Until the night I’d been attacked while investigating a strange murder and was turned into a werewolf.
Everything sort of snowballed after that night. I became the main target for a vampire coven, for reasons I wouldn’t learn about right away. I was sought out because Nick had killed the coven leader’s progeny…a man who I had thought had been killed seven years earlier.
Bobby. My brother.
I found out that Bobby hadn’t died that night in the alley. Well, he had, but he was then reborn several days later when he clawed his way out of his grave.
He and Gianna had wreaked havoc wherever they went, and Nick, who’d been bitten and taken into the Pack while investigating Bobby’s death, had hunted and destroyed a large part of their army. Bobby had been one of them, and Gianna had promised her revenge, threatening to take my life the way Nick had taken her mate’s.
Nick found me and helped me through the transition. He warned me about what I’d become and how it was dangerous to those around me, but I refused to listen. I wanted to make it work, because I truly loved my life and the people in it. Grudgingly, he accepted my wishes, but it was too late. I returned home to apologize to David after a particularly ugly disagreement and found a vampire in my home—Samantha Turner, the woman whose death David and I had been investigating the night I’d been bitten. She attacked me and was hell-bent on killing me when David showed up, and she killed him instead. She picked him up like he was nothing more than a dirty sock and tossed him aside.
He told me to go after her, so I did, but by the time I’d returned, he was already dead.
I blamed myself. I wondered if things could have ended differently had we not fought, had I not left to go see Nick, had I stayed instead of going after the monster that hurt him…
It was hard for me to accept, but Nick had really stepped up and taken care of me in my time of need. He was there for me, helping to ease me through this major transition in my life.
After disposing of Gianna, I decided to move with Nick to Canada so I could stay with the Pack. He assured me that I would be safe…
That was when the attacks started happening. First, a dead wolf on our doorstep, a dead woman who bore a striking resemblance to me hanging from a tree in the woods, death threats, and a full-on siege on the cabin we were staying in over the holidays. We met each altercation head-on and succeeded, every conflict bringing Nick and me closer. We’d entered the manor pretending to be together, but with every day that passed, our relationship changed, evolving naturally.
I accepted the events that had brought us to this point in our lives. I knew that David would want me to remember him and how happy we were, but he wouldn’t want me to dwell on how we ended, and I was ready to move on with Nick.
Not only had our hearts reconnected, but our baser instincts were satiated, as well. The wolves had claimed one another just as prominently as we had.
That was why his betrayal had stung the most; after everything we’d overcome, he’d been lying to me from the beginning.
My stomach flipped and turned with nausea again when I recalled the reason I flew out of the house: Nick had been the one to bite me. Worse, he kept it from me for months and let me believe it was Jackson.
I’d been through so much as it was, so learning that he was to blame for what happened to me cut deeper than the day he left me over seven years ago. I didn’t think I could hurt worse. I was wrong.
Still, I’d give anything to have stayed and talked things out. While I felt I needed space and time to digest the revelation, being lured into a trap by some lower-level rejects of Gianna’s was not amongst my top ten moments.
“Are you okay?” I asked without realizing I wanted to. I felt the sting of the silver spikes against my neck and winced.
Cordelia wrapped her arms around herself, appearing somewhat timid. “I’m fine, Ma’am.”
“Brooke,” I urged softly. “My name is Brooke. I-I know your parents. They miss you very much.”
A hint of a smile played at the corners of her lips before she forced it away, likely out of habit. “They think I’m dead. They didn’t even look for me.”
I rushed forward, anxious to tell her that wasn’t true, but hissed when I grabbed the bars again. “Of course they did,” I assured her. “They searched for years. The entire Pack did.” I looked around at our cold, dank stone prison and shivered. “This place is beyond their reach. Nick and I—”
Cordelia’s eyes brightened. “Nick? You know Nick?”
“I do.” I paused, deciding not to tell her our relationship status considering even I didn’t know where it was at.
Smiling, she dropped her gaze to her toes. “I remember him,” she whispered. “He was nice.”
I reached for the bars again, wanting to be close to her as the wounds of her abduction were reopening, but I pulled back at the last second. “He is. He told me about you…” I bit my lip, uncertain if I should carry on. I figured that by forcing her to relive it, I might gain an ally in here. She might know of a way out or at least the parasites’ routines. “About the day you were taken…by Bobby.”
Her gaze snapped up to mine, the inner circles of her eyes glowing bright. Steam rose off her body, and her breathing deepened.
“Hey, hey,” I said gently, trying to soothe her. I hadn’t meant to bring on any stress that might cause a shift, and with two cell doors between us, I wasn’t sure how to fix this. “Cordelia, take some deep breaths. Please, you need to calm down.” I was starting to panic, the tension filling my body until my skin felt too tight. “Remember what you told me about the collars?”
This got her attention. She held her hands out and looked down at them as she took several deep breaths. When my gaze followed hers, I noticed her hands were already changing, her wolf claws having broken through the tips of her misshapen fingers.
I called her name again, hoping to be able to calm her further, and when she looked at me, I was startled. I’d seen someone shift before, but this was…something else. Perhaps it was from being held here and forced to wear that collar, but Cordelia’s face was somewhere between human and wolf.
Coarse hair started to grow along the sides of her jaws, and her canines had begun to elongate as her eyes glowed a brilliant shade of amber. The dark circles around them made them appear even brighter, and the shape of her face was changing.
Had being forced to repress her wolf side caused this drastic change in her transformation? Or was it that she was still so young and didn’t have a handle on it yet? I seemed to recall hearing that Corbin had this figured out before he was fifteen, and at seventeen, Colby was still getting the hang of it all. How old did a full-blood have to be when they experienced their first change? Toddlerhood? Puberty? Maybe being held captive by a group of sadistic vampires had forced her transformations sooner than usual, and this was the result.
I continued to coach her as best I could from my cell, and eventually, the transformation reverted. Her forehead—as well as mine—was covered with a light sheen of sweat, and my nerves were rattled. Cordelia fell to her knees, sobbing into her hands.
“I’m sorry,” she whimpered. “I didn’t mean to do that. The change…it started a couple years ago, but I don’t get to shift often. I’m forced to miss the night of the full moon, and it throws my cycles completely out of whack.” Her breaths were heavy, and she swallowed thickly. “It’s unpredictable.”
I nodded. “I can relate.” The minute the words left my mouth, I wanted to take them back.
Of course I couldn’t relate. Did I know what it felt like to lose control of my emotions at the drop of a hat and shift? Yes. But Cordelia’s situation was completely unlike mine. She was a girl—barely a teenager—being held against her will and forced to miss something that should come naturally to her at this age, having been born into this life.
No, I had absolutely no right to claim to know what she might be feeling…but she looked up at me, her eyes hopeful, like maybe she’d found someone she could share some part of what she was going through with. I decided to be that person. I was still so new to this that I couldn’t possibly expect to get through this alone, and after seven years of being held hostage, I assumed she needed someone she could rely on to make her feel safe.
Until I could get us both out of here, and that was Objective One.
Before I could formulate a plan, I needed to know exactly what I was up against and where we were. Some heavy reconnaissance was in order.
Getting as close to the bars as I could, the heat of the silver enough to keep me from pressing against them, I tried to look down the hall. My eyesight since being turned had improved tenfold. Now that my senses had recovered from whatever drugs were running through my blood, I could make things out a little more clearly. As I had suspected upon waking, we were definitely underground, or somewhere deep in a cave—
the mountains, perhaps? I could smell the mildew from the water that continually seeped through the jagged stone walls, and the scent of old blood was most dominant…wolf
“Cordelia?” I queried, glancing down past her cell to find another one like it—empty.
I looked the other way. On the other side of her cell was a dark corridor. I couldn’t see where it led or how long it was given my disadvantage of being caged, but I could see a shimmer of light coming from farther down. “What exactly goes on here?” I paused. “I mean, you’ve been here a while, right?” She confirmed this with a series of hums. “So, aside from keeping you in the cage, what else do they do?” I feared her response for more reasons than I cared to admit.
She grew quiet as I tried to see what was next to my cell. I couldn’t get a clear look, but I was pretty sure it was another cage. Looking back over at her, I found her fiddling with the hem of her oversized shirt. “Cordelia?” Her eyes rose, grabbing mine. “You can trust me,” I promised.
“I’m not always in this cage,” she whispered, her little voice cracking with emotion. “S-sometimes they let me out.”
She inhaled deeply, releasing the breath shakily. “Other rooms…rooms with big mirrors on the walls.”
Two-way mirrors like the ones we had at the Scottsdale PD precinct for interrogations, most likely. But what need would these creatures possibly have for two-way mirrors?