Breathe! Dastien screamed, but his voice sounded a million miles away.
Something hit my chest over and over again. I wanted the pain to stop. I needed to breathe. But I couldn’t.
There was cursing in French. It sounded louder than his words before.
It felt like bricks were slamming into my chest. I tried to yell for it to stop, but then I was coughing.
The world tilted and spun. Water gushed out of me.
“That’s it. That’s it. Get it out.” Dastien’s voice shook as he rubbed a hand up and down my back.
My whole body heaved until it felt like I’d vomited up my insides and nothing else could possibly be left in me.
When I was done, I collapsed into the sand exhausted as if I’d run back to back marathons. Every muscle ached and throbbed. My throat was on fire.
I couldn’t believe what I was going to ask for.
“Hang on,” Dastien said before I could even form the word. He disappeared for a fraction of a second and then helped me sit up. “Just a sip,” he said as he tipped a water bottle to my lips.
One sip was enough. My heart was pounding, and I couldn’t believe what had just happened. “Did I nearly drown?”
“You did drown, but you’re a werewolf. You’re hard to kill.”
Thank God for that.
I grabbed the water bottle. My hands were shaking so much that more water splashed on me than got in my mouth. The pain had left my limbs, but terror lingered.
I wasn’t sure if I should be crying right now, but I felt disconnected. Like I was floating above my body.
“You’re in shock.”
I licked my lips. “I don’t understand…” My hands shook as I drank from the water bottle again, this time taking little sips. The fact that I’d almost died was so crazy and felt surreal. “What happened?” I asked Dastien, who was kneeling beside me. And then I realized something scarier.
I grabbed his wrist. “Why can’t I hear you in my head? Why can’t I feel—” And then for a heartbeat, I could feel all of his emotion. His paralyzing fear. His confusion as to why I almost drowned. And anger. And guilt. And—
He tightened the bond, and all of those emotions dulled just enough to take the edge off. “You had enough to worry about, but I didn’t mean to scare you.” He took a breath. “I don’t know what happened. All I could tell was that you were in pain and disoriented. If you never go swimming again—”
“It wasn’t the swimming—”
“Being a wolf and sw—”
“It’s different.” I waved him off. “We’ve been here for two nearly weeks. Have I had any problems in the water?” He was quiet because we both knew the answer.
I laid back on the sand, throwing an arm over my eyes to block the sun. “I was trying to get to the island. I was fine. But then there was so much pain… My arms felt like they were being sliced apart and they locked. I couldn’t make them move. Then the same thing happened with my legs. And my buoyancy is all shit now, so I started to sink. When I could move again, I was so deep, I couldn’t make my way up. It was too late.” I needed to know where the pain had come from. I had to focus on anything but the fact that I’d died. For a second there, I was gone.
Goose bumps ran up my body and I met Dastien’s glowing amber gaze. “What happened? Where did the pain come from?”
“I don’t know.” His wolf was close to the surface, itching to get free. “I took too long to get to you. I’m so sorry. I was distracted. Around the time you started freaking out, one of the Seven died and—”
“Wait. What? Who died?” I grabbed Dastien’s arm. My heart raced, and I prayed that Donovan and Mr. Dawson were okay.
“Other than knowing that it’s not Michael? I don’t know.”
I quietly thanked God for that. Michael—Mr. Dawson—was more than the headmaster of St. Ailbe’s Academy, the once-secret, but now-defunct boarding school for werewolves. When Dastien’s parents died, Mr. Dawson had taken Dastien in. Raised him like his own son. Losing Mr. Dawson would destroy my mate.
“I know. For a second, I thought it was Michael and I…” He rubbed his forehead as grief and fear warred inside him. “I should’ve been faster. I’m—”
“Stop. I’m fine.” I blew out a breath. “If it wasn’t Michael, who died?”
“My guess is Muraco. He was fading, but I know what you’re thinking and I don’t know why you felt what you did. He would’ve died peacefully. So, it must’ve been a poorly timed coincidence. But we both feel the same about those…”
I pushed wet hair out of my face. “Is it ever painful when one of the Seven dies?”
“I’ve only been alive for one other death in the Seven, so I can’t say for certain, but both times were painless for me. Every member of the Seven is linked to all werewolves. We feel it when one passes, when one leaves, and when someone fills the spot. Or we’re supposed to. I’ve never felt someone fill the spot before.” He paused. “Don’t you remember when Ferdinand died?”
God. That night felt like a million years ago. It was the same night Daniel had died. “Honestly, no. I don’t.”
“You might’ve been too out of it to notice. You were pretty upset…” He sat back on his heels as he thought for a second. “Both times I only felt a ripple along the pack bonds. And when Donovan left, it was barely noticeable.”
“I didn’t notice it.” I knew he’d left, but I didn’t feel the exact moment when he broke the bond.
“I know. The only reason I did was because I’d been waiting for it to happen. But I have no idea why you were in pain today, but I don’t think it means anything good.”
I licked my lips. “You didn’t feel any pain? Not at all?”
“Nothing that wasn’t through our bond.”
This made no sense. “So, what the hell happened? Why did I almost die?”
“I don’t know. We have to call Michael.” His jaw ticked as he stared off into the distance.
Anger burned through our bond. It was eating him up, but I couldn’t figure out why he was so angry without digging into his head more, and he was still holding back. “Why are you so angry?”
The glow in his amber colored eyes faded a bit as he cupped my cheek. “I’m mad at myself. And Michael. Why didn’t he call? Why didn’t I check in? Disconnecting was my idea, and it nearly got you killed.”
Wait. What was he talking about? “This isn’t your fault. I wanted time alone together as much as you did. Now we have to figure out what’s going on and why Mr. Dawson didn’t call. And I really want to know which member of the Seven just died.”
“I agree.” Dastien’s sorrow made tears well in my own eyes.
I stood to start brushing sand off my legs before giving up. Sand caked the whole back of my body. Only a shower was going to fix it. “Come on. Let’s go back to the house.”
I couldn’t believe I’d almost died. I couldn’t believe one of the Seven was dead. And if I was right and I’d been feeling their death, then whoever it was had been murdered.
There were big implications for that. The Seven were down two members. What did that mean for the werewolves?
Three, Dastien chimed in, correcting me. They’re down three members.
“Three? Donovan and whoever just died. Who am I missing?”
“When Ferdinand was killed because of his attempted coup, Michael was supposed to take his place. But there’s a bit of ceremony involved to become a full member of the Seven. Michael never did that. He’s just a stand-in.”
“Wow. I had no idea.” I thought for a second. “And then Donovan broke his bonds with the Seven the day after his and Meredith’s full moon ceremony.” My heart started beating too fast. Oh shit. I wasn’t sure how Donovan leaving the Seven was connected to the demon attacks at St. Ailbe’s, but they had to be related somehow.
And now a third member had been murdered. Which meant that the Seven was in shambles.
Add to all that my visions being off?
I was wrong. Something wasn’t coming. It was already here.
A shower helped make me feel a little better, but I still felt like I could sleep for a million years. I’d thrown on a pair of pajama pants and a tank top and managed to clip my hair up before calling it done. The fact that I was alive was a good feeling. Better was the knowledge that Dastien was arranging our travel home to Texas. We’d had a nice break, but now it was time to get back to reality.
Dastien smiled at me as he paced around the house, talking to the water taxi people. I left a snack for you on the coffee table. Please try to eat.
Thanks. The polished concrete floors were cool against my feet as I dragged myself through the living room to settle down on the faded, navy couch. It was covered in a million fluffy pillows. Every time I laid on the couch it was like getting swallowed by a cloud. I grabbed a cozy, plaid blanket and cuddled into it. A massive flat screen took up most of the wall in front of me and a pack of Bimbo pound cakes—literally the best thing ever—sat on the coffee table with a glass of milk and my phone. I caught my breath as I stared at the cakes. Just the idea of reaching over to grab them seemed like a lot of work.
Dastien was right. I was still a bit low on energy after the near-death experience. My body felt like it was filled with Jell-O, and emotionally, I was still a little raw. The shower had helped with the out-of-body feeling, but I couldn’t deny that drowning had shaken me. My hands were still trembling as I finally reached for the cakes. Food wouldn’t solve all my problems, but it would give me back some of my strength.
I usually loved the little pound cakes, but today they might as well have been filled with sawdust. I forced myself to chew and swallow as fast as I could. I needed to call Claudia.
My phone started vibrating. I jumped, knocking a sea of pillows to the ground. Claudia’s picture and name popped up on the screen.
I froze, watching the answer button blink. Had I somehow called her by accident? I dropped the cake on the floor as I fumbled for the phone, swiping my thumb across the screen. “Claudia? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, but I’m worried about you.”
I spun to Dastien. When did you call her?
“One sec.” I stepped outside, closing the glass door behind me. Somehow Dastien could pay attention multiple conversations at once and still converse coherently. I couldn’t. Listening to Dastien make travel plans while trying to give Claudia my attention wasn’t going to go well.
The patio held a table and chairs, a few loungers, and an infinity pool. I walked past them to the railing overlooking the water. Through our bond, Dastien’s voice was now just a faint hum. Good enough. “Hey. You still there?”
“Are you really okay?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I’ve been off lately…” She sighed. “It’s not important. Not after what happened to Muraco.”
I froze. “What happened to Muraco?”
“I’m sure you felt him pass. I hear all wolves should’ve, but… It was bad.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “He didn’t just fade?” I knew the answer, but I wanted to hear it from her.
“No. He didn’t just fade. Someone murdered him.”
I licked my lips. I was pretty sure I already knew the answer to this, but I had to ask. “Earlier today I was out swimming, and I got this searing pain in my hands. It felt like someone was slicing through my knuckles, very quickly one by one. It was weird. And then the pain was in my wrists. And my elbows and then—”
“Your shoulders. Toes. Ankles. Knees. Hips.”
I swallowed. “Yes.”
“You felt his murder.”
“I think so.”
“No. I wasn’t asking. That’s how he died. No one knows but a few of the wolves from Lucas’ pack. It was a ritual killing. He was placed in a circle of his own blood. There were candles. And each joint was severed—from his knuckles to his knees and toes—in one clean cut.”
I sat down on the balcony, threading my legs through the rungs of the railing, and stared at the waves crashing on the shore. “Did Lucas feel his death?” If anyone else, the Alpha of Muraco’s pack had to have felt it. Please, don’t let it just be me.
Shit. “Then why the hell did I?” And what did it mean?
“I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure the spell and the cuts were to drain him of his power.” Her words were a whisper, like she didn’t want to say it too loud or else it’d be true.
It felt as if all the air had been sucked out of me. I couldn’t breathe. “Does it look like—”
“No. It wasn’t the same magic that Luciana used to take your power, but it’s similar. Too similar.”
Chris’ email came to mind. I couldn’t fathom it, but I still had to ask. “Do you think Luciana’s back?”
“No! How could you even think that?”
“I got an email from Chris about the demon activity around St. Ailbe’s. He asked me if I thought it was possible, and—”
“Wait a second. What did you say?”
“Yeah. I felt the same way when I heard.” At least I wasn’t the only one in the dark. “We’re heading back in the morning. Apparently, after Meredith’s ceremony, demon attacks started amping up at St. Ailbe’s and no one told us.”
“I know that every Alpha handles their own pack, but if there was demonic activity in the area, someone should’ve told me. It can’t be a coincidence that demons are showing back up where Luciana did her magic.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
Claudia was quiet for a second. “When I went back to the compound after it was burned down, the land felt evil. I did some clearing magic, but it wasn’t working. I tried everything I knew, but eventually I gave up. I assumed the land would be tainted forever and thought it wasn’t worth the trouble to keep trying. Tia Rosa owns that land now, and she’s not going to let anyone build there again. So, I didn’t think it mattered. But what if I missed something? What if she left some magic brewing somewhere that didn’t burn? I didn’t…” A hiss came through the line as she sighed. “I couldn’t force myself to step into the rubble of her house to make sure.”
“But Luciana herself can’t come back, right? I mean—the idea of zombie-slash-demon Luciana doing some evil magic is the stuff nightmares are made of.”
Claudia laughed for the first time. “No. But I love your imagination, prima.”
“Well, I wanted to be sure.”
“You can let that particular worry go. Luciana’s dead. She was dead before we saw her in Santa Fe, but the demon that was possessing her body could still be around. Possibly.”
“So, you’re saying you’re sure it’s not Luciana.” I barely killed her the first time, and if I had to do it over, I wasn’t sure what I’d do differently. Dead was dead, as far as I knew.
“Sí. Por seguro. Where she went, there’s no coming back from.”
“That’s excellent news.” But it left a huge question. If Luciana didn’t do it, then who had? Or maybe the better question was what? “Do you think it’s the demon that was possessing Luciana then?”
“Possibly. Or she could’ve let other demons out. Or maybe even another witch.”
“Well that’s fan-fucking-tastic.” I chewed on my lip as I thought about whether or not to bring up, but I had to tell her. Everything had to be connected. I wasn’t sure how yet, but Claudia might be able to help figure it out. “There’s one more thing.”
“My visions have been off. Until today, I hadn’t been able to see anything at all for a couple weeks. And then earlier today, all I saw was black. Like there was nothing. And I felt fear and despair and generally every terrible emotion ever.” I liked my lips. “What do you think that means?” It couldn’t be the future, could it? Was I seeing the end of everything? My stomach rolled and the bimbo cakes I’d eaten were threatening to make a reappearance at the idea that I could be anywhere close to right.
“I don’t know what it means, but it can’t be good.”
Understatement of the year. The balcony rails pressed into my forehead as I leaned against them. I was staying quiet so she could process everything. It was a lot and I felt like I’d just piled it all on top of her in one go.
“I should never have left the land like that,” she said finally.
By that logic, I should never have left either. Which was total BS. Both of us had earned our honeymoon. “You said yourself that you tried everything you could think of. You couldn’t know that this would happen.” Dastien had slipped out of the house. Now he sat behind me, threading his legs through the rungs next to mine. He rested his chin on my head, and I relaxed back into him, taking comfort in his closeness.
“If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll go by the compound and try clearing it. I can find anything left in the ruins of Luciana’s house just as well as you could.” I couldn’t believe I was offering this up, but if she was that worried, then I had to check it out.
“I don’t know. I think anyone digging in there is a bad idea, even if it’s you.” She sighed. “This is a mess. And I still can’t believe that someone got to Muraco…”
“Yeah, but Muraco was old,” I said. “He couldn’t have been that hard to kill. Don’t you think—”
Dastien stiffened at my words at the same time Claudia cut me off. “Muraco wasn’t an easy target.”
“He wasn’t?” He’d always looked frail to me.
No! Dastien said.
“No,” Lucas’ voice came through the line. “He was old, yes. But when he wanted to fight, he could fight. He was choosing to fade, but he could’ve stopped that at any time. Whatever killed him was powerful.”
A powerful alpha getting killed by something mysterious. This wasn’t the first time I’d heard something similar. “Are you sure it wasn’t that fey beast?” I asked. Just in case we were tying things together that really weren’t related. “The one that was attacking the Irish pack? Because I heard that guy ripped his victims apart and—”
“No,” Lucas said, and my hope for an easy solution dwindled. “From what I heard, there weren’t enough remains of John to even know who he was. Muraco was in a circle formed of blood. He was laid on the ground, arms and legs stretched wide. Precisely one centimeter spacing between each joint.” The more he talked the rougher his voice got. Lucas was one pissed off Were.
“It was a ritual killing. So, it has to be another witch gone bad,” I said.
“Or a demon that she released,” Claudia said.
I winced. “That sounds a lot worse.” I couldn’t believe I was at a point where I was crossing my fingers that the bad guy was an evil, possibly demon-possessed witch.
“That’s because a demon strong enough to do this would have to be extremely powerful. And now—who or whatever killed Muraco—now has a nice power boost.”
“Mother fucker,” I muttered.
“Exactly.” She was quiet for a second. “We have to go prepare Muraco for burial, but I’ll give you a call tomorrow. Buena suerte, prima,” Claudia said.
“You, too.” I ended the call. “I wish we had some answers.” I also wished my visions were working. But wishing wasn’t going to make anything happen. “What time do we leave in the morning?”
“Took agreeing to double their regular fair, but the water taxi will pick us up at four a.m. We’ll meet a car on the mainland that will take us to the airport. But it’s a seven-hour drive. As long as we catch the eleven a.m. ferry, we’ll make our flight tomorrow evening.”
I groaned. Four in the morning? That was going to be brutal. “It’s been really nice. France. Europe. Meredith’s wedding—”
“Whatever.” I elbowed him. “But I think my favorite has been this beach.”
“I thought maybe you liked the club in Paris the best.”
Even with all the gloom and doom hanging over our heads, I couldn’t help but grin at the memory. “That was fun, but this has been better. I definitely want to come back.”
“Whenever you want. Michael doesn’t use it much and he won’t mind if we visit again.”
I slid out from between the balcony rungs so that I could fully face Dastien. If I couldn’t feel the worry in him, I wouldn’t have known it was there. His small smile wasn’t deep enough to reveal his dimples and I needed to change that. “We can’t do anything until we get home, so let’s enjoy tonight.”
He pressed his forehead against mine. “I’d really like that.”
“I don’t want what happened today to taint our honeymoon.”
He pulled back. “That will never happen. This has been everything. Nothing could ever taint it.” He brushed a feather-light kiss against my lips. “Nothing.” One more kiss. “Not ever.”
When he brushed a third kiss against my lips, I couldn’t stand it. I wrapped my arms around his neck and sank deep into him.
Tomorrow would come. Then I’d have to face the demon or evil witch or whatever was coming for us.
For now, I had Dastien and the quiet, and I was going to savor every second I had left.