Content Warning: Gore
I stand at the large window on the second floor as Ash’s form disappears further into the thick overgrown forest. Vines dance with the slight breeze outside, tapping on the glass like small nails. My mind wanders to a time long before New Orleans and long before her death.
Tap. Tap. Tap
I and several others jolt from our seats at the long mahogany table as the double doors swing open. Two guards carrying more ammunition than needed hold them open as he enters.
Eduardo St. Augustine. My grandfather walks in, his signature gold plated cane tapping against the floor. His scowl is deep and threatening as he sweeps the room. Gray lines the edges of his slicked-back hair and he limps on his right leg. He uses the cane for support but also things far deadlier. A gash runs down the side of his face, scarring a single eye. The opaque globe glances along with his other one as if he can see from it too. Even with all that, his towering figure remains a stoic and menacing presence. He stops at the edge of the table as my father looks at him from the other end. He is relaxed, not even budging. One hand rests under his chin as he eyes my grandfather.
“Is this how I raised you to greet your father?”
My father does not budge. “It is when he is late.”
I swallow, the air in the room thick as others look between them. The room feels charged with the current and former alphas in a death stare. My grandfather ruled long before I was born, and the stories I heard made even our bravest quiver in fear. The scars upon his face and body are from our rival pack. Even with the amount of bloodshed on both sides, we still warred.
“Why did you call me?”
“I need you to take Roman.”
My head turns to my father while the others continue staring forward.
His eyes don’t cut to mine, remaining on my grandfather.
“Why?” my grandfather asks, his tone unreadable.
“I am sure you have heard of his transgressions. I need a firmer hand. You raised me, made me the alpha I am today. I do not have time to correct him, monitor him, or beat the ignorance out of him.”
My stomach sinks as I turn and stare forward.
“So you made a child that cannot follow your orders, and I am left to clean up the mess?”
“You will do what I ask. I am far too close to diplomacy for mistakes.”
Mistakes? That’s what I am to him. My father stands in one fluid motion, not even bothering to look my way as he strides toward the door. Others stand and follow him out. As soon as the door closes behind him, I release a shuddering breath. He wishes to send me with my grandfather? To the colder parts of Siberia? I will be so far away, away from my home, my friends, my family. My heart races, and bile creeps up my throat. I have heard stories about his home there, about what happens, and I refuse to go. My eyes turn up toward him as I lay my hands on the table in front of me.
“I won’t go.”
He scoffs, “What was the last straw for him? Whose wife did you fuck? What pack have you royally screwed over that he despises you so?”
I don’t answer. I can’t.
“It doesn’t matter. Not even your mother can fight his rule. You and I both know that.”
My mother. I need to say goodbye, but she isn’t even home. She is still out on another job for the family, a job he sent her on. He knew that she would be away when my grandfather showed up to take me away.
The cane slaps on the floor as the doors open behind him, that white eye scanning me. “Pack your bags. We leave shortly.”
He leaves, and my head turns towards the open window. Sunlight dips behind a ridge as the trees blow in the wind. My pulse quickens, knowing I won’t see this place again for a while. Not until he is finished. Not until I am good enough for what my father considers worth it.
“….the best we could.” Mia’s voice forces me back to reality as my reflection stares at me through the window. No longer the scrawny pubescent teen who feared his father’s raised voice. No, now I resemble him more than I want to. I have the same broad shoulders, muscle, and dark features, dark like the soul he never had. The only thing different is my eyes. They are her eyes.
“Did you hear me?” She looks up at my profile as I stare at where Ash had disappeared into the trees.
“He’s too young.”
She sighs once more. “Not this again.”
Dominic’s chuckle makes her turn for a second before she looks at me again. “Roman, he is not younger than when you or I started.”
“That’s exactly my point. He just gave his life for this, for us, and has no idea how deep this runs. There are better things to die for.”
“Maybe not for him.”
I shrug, turning away from the window and toward the door. “Doesn’t matter now.”
“Correct. Now back to what I was saying. Domain found a beta of Beaumonts, close to one of our new recruits. He is downstairs and subdued but refuses to talk.”
We turn down the hallway and head to the lower level. The lights are dim, but I can still see the framed art lining the walls. Mia had imported them. She does the decorating, and everything here is a reflection of her, not me. I have nothing. I am not a fan of heirlooms, photos, or anything that keeps me tied to anyone. I want nothing. I have nothing to my name but blood.
Dominic lifts the large latch on the basement door, and metal scrapes against metal as he pushes it open. No lights illuminate this area, but we don’t need them. Our eyes gleam as we step inside, and I stop.
“I don’t need any of you for this part. Come back in the morning.”
They exchange glances but say nothing. I hear the scrape of metal once more as the door is pulled shut and locked from the outside, always the outside.
My steps echo on the stone floor, and smooth rocks line the walls. This is a space I dug out the minute we arrived. The lowest level lies under this, but this floor was created for interrogation.
A breath hitches as I emerge from the shadows, coming into the main chamber. He is tied up, legs and arms bound in a chair. His features are bloody but healing. Everything heals faster here. Everything feels different here. At the thought, the necklace buzzes against my throat.
“How are you?” I ask as I come further into the room. I don’t give him a chance to answer. “I’m great. The trip here was a bit rough but worth it. Although, I must admit that I was kind of nervous at first.”
I pop the buttons on the cuffs of my shirt before rolling the sleeves up. His eyes dart between me and the exit, measuring the distance.
“Everything is strange here. Different. It feels like my entire being is constantly on vibrate, and I know why. Something lives here in this city. I just haven’t figured out what it is, nor am I too concerned with it, if I’m honest. I’m here for one thing and one thing only,” I say, looking him over.
He spits toward my feet as I stride forward. I pause as he says, “You can’t hide behind your men forever, Roman.”
“Ah, so you know who I am?”
“The stench you wear alone gives you away. Anyone could pick a St. Augustine out of any fucking crowd. You wear death like a cloak. Blood is like water to you and your cursed family.”
My scent gave me away. I glance down at the chain around my neck. Fuck. It can’t wear off, not yet. I’ll need to fix that soon.
“Once our alpha finds—”
He looks visibly taken aback as if the thought is unbelievable. “You can’t hide me here. My scent will give me away eventually. Even if you kill me, they will find a body. Nothing stays buried in New Orleans.”
My lips turn to the side as I think of his words. I’m not worried about him being found. I know he won’t. I’m worried that my charm is dying quicker than I thought.
I blow a long breath out. “If I’m honest, I’m tired of this. The same bullshit, it’s a kill or be killed world for us, you know this.” I start to unbutton the white shirt I am wearing.
His eyes darken, and a look of unease crosses his features. “What are you doing?”
“Mia gets pissed when I ruin the clothes she buys me. It’s quite annoying, her snapping all the time, but she is family after all. She and Dominic are the family I choose. You know I met them in Siberia years ago. I found them at one of the lowest points in my life, and they stuck around. It’s nice to have a family.”
I move to unbutton my pants next, and he turns away. “Not that you will ever know that. I do feel sorry for you and for them. You are bound to a leader who doesn’t even care about you. I’ve been there, and I refuse to go back. Refuse to be what I was before, no matter what. Even when this place begs me to.”
I grip the silver chain, the cold of it seeping into my fingers, the spell sending a small shiver through my wrist.
“But sometimes I let go. I have to. Especially here. Here it’s worse. It’s why I have the ferals with me. I couldn’t control myself then, and I can’t now.”
His head snaps to me, fear clear and present. “Ferals?”
I pull the chain up over my head and feel the spell leave my body. A shiver runs up my spine, causing me to stretch and arch my back. Muscles and tendons snap and bend, screaming to release the beast inside me. I have kept him tamed for far too long. I had to, and now I’ll pay for it. Hair erupts from my skin. I feel the shift start in my legs and travel up my body as ligaments bend and stretch. Claws spring from my fingertips as my neck snaps to the side. I feel the change coming faster than ever before.
Weeks. Roman. Too long.
“I know my fate.” My voice comes out deeper than my own, straining as sharp canines fill my mouth and my body jerks, the change racing through every part of me. “I always have, so don’t feel bad. You’ll see me again in Hell.”
Screams are the only thing I hear as I rip and tear into flesh. He tries to change mid-attack, nails raking down my sides, shearing away the thick hair that lines my body. My wolf is bigger than my father’s, bigger than any other in my pack. It takes me no time to devour every part of him, and the beast relishes in it. My one curse, my one regret, the only thing it craves, and I just fed it. Something is wrong, though. Usually, afterward, I can change back and force him to rest, but things are different in New Orleans. A song like a hum dances in my ears, begging me to stay like this. I would be lying if I said I didn’t want it, need it. I lift my head, licking blood from my chops as I stare toward that large metal door at the end of the hall. I step over the gory remains with a single bloody paw and then another. My jaws gape open in what could be considered a smile for my beast. I know it won’t take much to break the door, and then I’m free. I want to be free because I’m still hungry.