Authors: Viola Rivard
Running With Alphas
Copyright © 2014 by Viola Rivard
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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While Holly dragged Lark to the upper chambers, Taylor followed Fenix back to the main room. Her echoing footsteps felt like a death march and were all she could concentrate on. She had already been hungry and tired, and now she was just plain overwhelmed.
Just moments before, Lark had revealed that Snow wasn’t quite the wolf her father thought she was. Female shifters were, while physically superior to their human counterparts, incapable of bearing children. From what little she had learned, their infertility was the result of centuries of their skinwalker ancestors breeding with humans.
For whatever reason, Alder’s daughter was different. Unable to shift and possessing limited preternatural abilities, Snow was also capable of having a female cycle. It stood to reason that one day, she might also be able to have children. It was very remarkable, but it also made her situation at Whiteriver all the more perilous.
Taylor had seen firsthand what had happened to her own mates while she was fertile. Freed from all sexual inhibitions, they had spent a week living for nothing but desire to claim her, over and over again. While her own experience had been far from unpleasant, Taylor was an adult and moderately prepared for what was to come. She had also had Alder, who had been through the thrall before and could curb his less experienced twin’s aggression.
Snow was very far from an adult. She was too young for any sexual experience, let alone as primitive and violent as the mating thrall. And Taylor didn’t even want to imagine the consequences of such a thing.
Fortunately, at this very moment, Silas was considering their offer. Hours ago, Taylor had posed an arrangement to the Whiteriver alpha. If he returned Snow, the Halcyon pack would allow Whiteriver wolves to hunt in its territory. Whiteriver had nothing to lose and everything to gain from the arrangement—provided they believed the offer was genuine.
Unfortunately, at this moment, Cain—Alder and Hale’s older brother, the alpha of Snow’s pack, and the man who had raised her—had finally showed up. Not only did this threaten the impending peace, but if he told Alder about how much jeopardy Snow was truly in—well, things would get hairy to say the least.
The passageway opened up into the main room: a long, expansive cavern that started at the mouth of the den and led deep into the mountainside. Taylor didn’t have to look around for long to find her mates. The main room had been cleared out, devoid of any lingering packmates. On the raised platform where Hale took his nightly meals stood her mates, three unfamiliar wolves, a woman she also didn’t recognize, and Cain.
Cain was almost exactly what Taylor had imagined he would look like. Slightly taller than Alder and Hale, his muscles were more sinewy than bulky. With sable brown hair and olive skin, his features were much darker than his brothers’. They were also severely drawn, making him more intimidating than classically handsome.
No one looked their way as Taylor and Fenix approached. Alder and Cain were engaged in what sounded like a heated debate. Stepping up onto the platform, Taylor caught the tail end of the conversation.
“I don’t give a damn, we’re going there tonight,” Cain said gruffly. “He can either give Snow back or face a slow death.”
Gasping, Taylor blurted out, “You can’t do that.”
Their heads turned her way. Alder gave her a reproachful look, while Hale appeared to be suppressing a grin.
Taylor gave the newcomers an awkward wave. “I just mean, we have a plan and we’re waiting to hear back from Whiteriver. If you threaten Silas, it’ll ruin everything.”
Cain’s face hardened. “I don’t know who you are and why you think you can advise me on what’s best for my daughter. Mind your own business.”
Taylor’s face heated. A dozen rebuttals shot through her mind, but in the end she remained silent as Cain turned back to speak with Alder and Hale.
Not since she’d first arrived at the pack had anyone been so dismissive towards her.
Alder came to her defense. “She’s right. This is our pack and we’re not going to war without giving Silas the chance to end this peacefully.”
“They’ve had months to end this,” Cain shot back.
Alder kept his cool. “And we’re giving them one more day. If Snow isn’t returned to us my sunrise tomorrow, you’ll have the full support of Halcyon to get her back.”
It appeared as though Cain was still going to press the issue, but Hale interrupted them. Inserting himself between Cain and his female companion, he placed an arm around her shoulders.
“Come on, little sister. You look tired.” As he led her from the other males, he hooked an arm around Taylor as well. “You, too. Let’s go.”
Normally, Taylor would be annoyed at being escorted away like a child. Today, she was too exhausted and dejected to complain.
Hale guided them down the passageway that led to several of the lower chambers. While there was still a moderate amount of light, Taylor peeked over at the woman, whom she presumed must be Cain’s mate, Sarah. She looked to be in her thirties, with soft brown hair and deep blue eyes. At first glance, Taylor had taken her for a larger woman, but now she realized that Sarah was actually quite pregnant.
As soon as they were away from the others, Hale broke the silence. “What the hell are you doing here?”
Sarah shook her head. “You see how he is. I had to come, otherwise there’d be no one to keep him sane.” She paused and placed a hand on Hale’s chest to stop him. “Tell me, and you know you can be honest with me. Is Snow in danger here?”
Concern welled in Sarah’s eyes and Taylor felt the need to ease her fears.
“Silas cares about her,” she told Sarah. “He won’t hurt her.”
Abruptly, Sarah’s warm hands enfolded Taylor’s. She expelled a long sigh of relief. “Thank you. Do you believe he’ll give her back?”
Not wanting to lie, Taylor replied, “I sure hope so.”
They exchanged brief introductions. Hale introduced Taylor as his mate and she was grateful that he didn’t go into further detail. While their polyamorous relationship seemed to be readily accepted by the shifters, Taylor didn’t want the first human she’d met in months to know how much of a sexual deviant she was.
After dropping Sarah off with Cammie, Hale led Taylor down to their bedroom. On the way, she told him what Lark had confided in her about Snow.
“It makes sense why Cain’s so pissed. He must be worried sick about her,” Hale said.
“I’m afraid what will happen if Alder finds out,” Taylor said.
“At this point, it doesn’t really matter. They’ve already decided that they’re going to war if she isn’t returned.”
“And you think that’s the best thing to do?”
“I think it’s all that’s left to do now, Taylor.” He patted her on the head. “You’ve done everything you can here. You’re going to have to leave the rest up to us.”
He left her in the bedroom. After forcing down some leftover jerky, she lay down in the cold bed and held herself. If her plan didn’t work, if Silas didn’t trust her, then tomorrow Halcyon would be at war.
Taylor tossed and turned for what felt like hours. Her inability to sleep had nothing to do with the impending war, which suddenly seemed trivial. She was in pain.
A deep and unrelenting ache spread through her chest, leaving her paralyzed with fear. Laying flat on her back, hand over her heart, she contemplated her stupidity. If she had just told Alder she needed her medicine, then he would have found a way to get it for her. But she hadn’t, and now she would probably die.
Her fingers traced the long scar between her breasts. It used to be that she thought of her heart transplant on a daily basis. She couldn’t
think about it, after all. While her anti-rejection medications had been significantly reduced over the years, she still had to take them and worry about the whole host of side effects that came with them.
For the first time, Taylor realized that she hadn’t only been running from the law—in many ways, she had been running from her old life. If she had turned herself in, everything may have worked out. Such a high profile case would have probably netted her a top-notch lawyer. And if the senator had been bold enough to kidnap and rape her, she probably hadn’t been the first woman. Other women would have been inspired to come forward, or in the worst possible scenario, they would have found the bodies of previous victims.
Taylor had considered all of this during the time she was on the road. Even when she and Alder were trekking through the forest on their way to Halcyon, she had still been considering turning herself in. It hadn’t been until she had found out what Alder was that she had truly changed her mind.
Not only was Alder able to keep her safe from the outside world, but he was able to give her a fresh start, a new life. She could leave behind her old identity and all of the troubles that came with it.
“Stupid, stupid, stupid,” she muttered.
She might have continued to berate herself if she hadn’t been distracted by another strange feeling. Her hand drifted down to her navel, her forehead scrunching as she concentrated on the faint sensation. It felt as though she was being tickled with a feather from the inside.
After a moment, it stopped. She laid still, holding her breath in anticipation for the next movement, but it didn’t come. When she finally exhaled, the breath was accompanied by a soft whimper. There was no way she could dismiss it as her imagination. She had just felt her babies for the first time.
Taylor sat up, goose bumps breaking out across her flesh as she searched for her discarded clothing. She dressed quickly, ignoring the stinging cold of the floor as she left the room on bare feet.
There was no light this deep within the den, but the darkness didn’t intimidate her. During the past months, she had learned how to navigate the passageways alone. She kept a hand on the wall as she walked, following the upward draft.
The light was still on inside Cammie’s room. Taylor stopped short of barging in, not expecting to find that Sarah was still there. She and Cammie were sitting beside a small fire, chatting over what smelled like tea.
They both looked up, offering her smiles as she stood in the doorway. Taylor opened her mouth, but had no idea what to say. She realized how stupid it had been for her to even come to Cammie in the first place. While Cammie was skilled in the medical arts, what would a werewolf know about heart transplants?
While Taylor remained flustered in the doorway, Sarah awkwardly pushed herself up into a standing position and cleared the distance between them. She placed her hands on Taylor’s shoulders.
“What’s the matter, honey?”
Taylor tried to respond, but her chin quavered ominously. She tried to rein in her runaway emotions, but Sarah wouldn’t allow it. The older woman pulled Taylor into a warm embrace.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said, stroking Taylor’s back.
There was something in the way Sarah spoke, something in the way she smelled and the way she felt that completely disarmed Taylor. She didn’t care that Sarah was practically a stranger. She let herself lean into her embrace and let herself cry.
When her momentary lapse in propriety was over, she peeled herself off Sarah’s now-soaked shoulder.
“I’m so sorry,” Taylor said, swiping at her eyes. “It’s just hormones.”
“I know,” Sarah said, leading her over to the fire. “Here, sit down.”
Taylor complied, while Cammie draped a blanket over her shoulders. The wolf shifter offered her a cup of tea.
Taylor graciously accepted. She took a small sip and held onto the cup, siphoning its warmth into her numb fingers.
“I’m sorry to barge in like this,” she said. “I’m having chest pain and I’m worried it might be serious. When I was a kid, I had a heart transplant. I’m supposed to be on medication for it, but I haven’t taken any since August.”
“Have you been having any other symptoms? Fevers, chills?” Sarah asked.
Taylor’s brows rose. “Um, no. I mean, I’ve been cold, but this den is freezing.”
Sarah smiled. “Ugh, isn’t it? Even for a pack Halcyon’s size, it’s way too big.” Her eyes drifted down to Taylor’s abdomen. “How far along are you?”
Confused by the sudden shift of topics, Taylor scratched the back of her head. “I’m not really sure…” More than a little embarrassed, she offered a guess. “Maybe just about four months?”
Had it really been that long?
“I don’t want to seem like I’m discounting your fears, but it sounds like you’re just having heartburn. Totally normal at this point in your pregnancy.”
Taylor felt like crying all over again. “You really think so?”
Sarah nodded. “Let me guess, your nausea just started getting better and you’re starting to get your energy back?”
“Welcome to your second trimester,” she said, grinning. “Enjoy it while it lasts. Before you know it, you’ll be getting kicked all day and waking up to pee every two hours. Heartburn will be the least of your problems.”
“And I can make you a drink that will help with the heartburn,” Cammie added. “It doesn’t taste half bad, either.”
Taylor could hardly express how grateful she was to them. But at the same time, she didn’t want to get too comfortable. How long would it be before she was experiencing the real side effects of transplant rejection? What if she didn’t live to see her children grow up? What if she didn’t even live long enough to give birth?
Once again showcasing her remarkable intuition, Sarah said, “There’s no use in beating yourself up over this.”
“What else can I possibly do at this point?”
“For one, I can see about getting those medications for you, if you can tell me what you need.”
“They aren’t exactly things you can buy at the drug store.”
Sarah’s lips curved. “I wouldn’t imagine so, but I’ve had my fair share of sick pups, Snow in particular. I have resources on the outside, people who can get things for us. If you need a medication, all you have to do is ask.”
“Thank you…” Taylor said, unable to adequately express how much she loved this woman. “I still have the bottles. I can get them for you before you leave.”
“There is one other thing,” Sarah said, tapping her chin with her index finger. “It’s not something that I fully understand, but you should know it anyway.”
“What is it?”
“Well, I used to have terrible vision. Like, just hovering above legally blind. I wore glasses my entire life. But, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, I noticed that my vision was getting blurrier. I thought my prescription needed to be updated.
“After months of arguing with Cain, he finally agreed to take me to an eye doctor. It turns out that my vision had actually improved. It didn’t make any sense, but around my third pregnancy, I stopped wearing my glasses altogether. My vision has been perfect ever since.”
“That’s pretty interesting,” Taylor said, giving her a weak smile.
“It’s not just me,” Sarah said. “I’ve met several human mates over the past few years. One of them was a young woman not much older than you. She had a very rare neurodegenerative disease that was incurable. With no solid treatments available, she was expected to steadily lose motor function and eventually develop dementia.
“I don’t know what led her to do it, but she wound up running off with a young alpha. She ended up pregnant and thought for sure she wouldn’t live to see her daughter grow up. It’s been four years now and she’s perfectly healthy. In fact, many of the mild symptoms she had been experiencing have vanished.”
“What are you saying?”
Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “I have no idea how it works. The few things I do know are that shifters possess amazing healing abilities and once they reach a certain age, five or six, shifters don’t get sick. Also, aside from Snow, I’ve never met one with a chronic illness or disease. It’s my belief that during pregnancy, there’s some sort of exchange that takes place between mother and baby. I don’t know if it can help your condition and I certainly wouldn’t advocate for you to stop taking your medications, but I think you should take some comfort in it, nonetheless.”
I was running,
Taylor realized, placing a hand on her belly.
But maybe I ended up exactly where I needed to be.