Chapter Sixteen

The Final Decision

Aly

How could he have betrayed me? I had been so sure he wasn't going to do this. Tears welled in my eyes as I realized what a fool I had been to trust in him. He had looked at me with such love and pain in his eyes as he left. He claimed to love me, yet he had killed my family! He would pay for this. I couldn't let him get away with it. Even as the words sped through my confused mind I knew in my heart that I could never go through with it. I could never kill him. I loved him too much. I didn't have it in me to destroy the only reason for my life. If he would destroy my life, how much could he truly care?

Tears of pain and rage streamed down my face as I looked into the pain filled faces of my dead family. Their murders were bad enough, but to know that I had been betrayed by the one I thought I could trust, the only person I had ever really trusted with my life outside of my family was just too much. His scent was everywhere, all over them and everything around them. I hated him now. How could I have ever loved him? How could I have believed his lies?

I turned and started to run to the place I knew he'd be. Nothing he'd ever said meant anything now. I should have known that only pain could ever have come from loving the one whose family had taken over what should be mine. My family should be the ruling family of the Wolflords, the werewolf pack of Jasper, Texas, the most powerful pack in existence, but his family had taken it from mine. I had changed my mind about wanting to be alpha twice now. I had wanted to, then I didn't want to, I didn't want to lead the pack the way my grandfather had. I hated the idea. I didn't want to lead them. I'd been told that I'd be a good leader, but that isn't what I wanted. Not what I used to want, anyway. But now I wanted to be a leader, to take that from him the way his family had taken it from mine.

I continued to run toward his home. I felt the icy pain racing through my veins. The pain that I knew would bring on the shift into my wolf form. My wolf form almost felt more natural to me than my human form did. I couldn't decide whether it would be more beneficial to me to shift or to remain as I was. Remaining in this form would hinder me, especially if it came to a fight. I needed the shift. Now.

I let the ice spread through my veins, let it take over and change me into the reddish-blonde wolf that was half myself. I loved this form and Mark had always told me he did as well. He had told me time and time again that I was the most beautiful wolf he'd ever seen, with the reddish-golden fur and pale, topaz blue eyes. I wanted to forget everything he'd ever told me. I wanted to forget him after I had destroyed his life as thoroughly as he had destroyed mine. I wanted to hurt him as much as I had been hurt. He had to pay. One way or another he would. I wanted to burn him from my mind.

I was waiting in human form at his front door for him to appear. I wanted him to hurry and show up, I wanted to demand answers from him. To know why he had done this to me.

The door started to slowly open and I saw a young girls face peering around the door.

"Yes?" she asked.

"I'm looking for Mark," I replied. Who was the girl? What was she doing here? Was she his new girl?

The girl turned and glanced toward the stairs. "Mark!" she called. "There's someone here to see you!"

I heard Mark coming down the stairs and couldn't prevent the small smirk on my face. The time for my vengeance was near.

"Yeah?" he asked, coming around the corner. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw me. "Aly?" he seemed honestly surprised to see me, like he wouldn't have thought I'd show up.

"Mark," I replied, my voice was calm and cool, the way that I wanted it. I didn't want him to know how much emotional pain I was in.

He looked at the girl. "Chey, go upstairs, please,"

She pouted. "Do I have to?"

"Yes, you do. This is private," he answered.

She was angry that he didn't want her around. Was she oblivious to what he had done? Did she know what a monster he truly was?

"Fine," the girl, Chey, turned and flounced upstairs.

As soon as she was gone Mark turned to me. "What are you doing here?" he demanded. "I thought we'd agreed not to let anyone see us together?"

"Of course," I replied icily. "It would have ruined your plan, wouldn't it? I assume though that they knew all along that we were together, that you'd told them and that you plotted and planned with them to destroy my life?"

"What are you talking about?" he hissed. He stepped outside and pulled the door shut behind him.

"My family, of course. Did you think I wouldn't know it was you? That I wouldn't recognize your scent?" I demanded, fighting against the tears that wanted so badly to fall.

He glared at me, rage flashing in his brilliant emerald eyes and I knew it was over, he would kill me the way he had killed my family.

His body started to shake, his form to blur.

I stared at him, wishing I had never spoken. I would have to fight him now. I really had only wanted answers. I only wanted to know why he'd killed them. My mother being dead wasn't surprising. She had tried to kill him time and time again, but my father? My baby sister, Loriane? Why? What was the point of killing them? The tears poured down my face as the accusations poured from my lips.

"You killed my mother, that I understand, but why my father? He never hurt you, he tried to help you! And Loriane, she was only two! Why? Why would you do that to me? To them?"

His emerald eyes were so full of pain as he looked at me. "Aly," he whispered. "I didn't hurt them. I would never do that to you."

I glared at him, refusing to believe any more of his lies. I'd fallen for them one too many times in the past. I had believed everything he said, once, look where it had taken me. I was here, confronting him about the murders of my family.

"I've heard too many lies."

"Aly, please," he pleaded. "I'm not lying to you. I would never do that to you."

"Not to me," I agreed. "My family, yes, me, never."

His eyes were so beautiful, even as they filled with tears. "No. Not to your family either."

I turned to walk away and felt his hand on my arm. "Please," he murmured. "Listen to me."

"Never." I jerked my arm from his grasp and walked away, fighting the pain in my heart. I never wanted to see him again.

I spent hours wandering the trails at Zilker park, the trails Mark and I had wandered so many times in the past, warring with myself. Part of me believed what he said, but part of me was certain he was lying to me. It was only when I had chosen to leave, to flee Jasper, that I remembered the murder of his father. My scent had been everywhere, yet I had never touched him. Could the same thing have been done here? I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

I turned and ran back to his house, determined to get in, no matter what. Fortunately, Chey let me in and directed me to his room.

"Mark," I said softly from the doorway.

He turned to look at me. "What's wrong?" he asked anxiously.

Silent tears were streaming down my cheeks and I didn't even bother trying to stop them. What was the point?

I didn't answer and he came quickly toward me and pulled me into his arms. "Are you alright?" he demanded, the panic as clear in his voice as it was in his face.

I nodded. "My mother," I whispered, the tears choking me.

"I know, I'm sorry," he said gently. He didn't understand! It wasn't that she was dead, it was she had told me only an hour before her death.

I shook my head vehemently.

He looked at me, confused. "What, then?"

"She was the one. She hired the others to kill me."

"Why?"

"She was that desperate for me to stay out of this life. She was willing to do anything so that I wouldn't get involved in it, even kill me. She also wanted you dead, so you couldn't influence me anymore. She seemed certain that you were the only reason I wanted this life and the only reason I was capable of being alpha." I was sobbing now. My body shaking.

Mark gently tightened his arms around me. He said nothing but his embrace was enough. I could feel, in his arms, how much he loved me and knew I had been stupid to think he could possibly have killed them.

I suddenly realized I had never apologized for the cruel things I'd said to him. Why was he willing to hold me this way in spite of that? Did he know I hadn't meant any of it, that I'd just been reacting to what was going on around me?

"I'm so sorry," I said, my voice muffled by his shirt.

I felt his lips on my hair. "It's fine, darling, you didn't mean it. Any of it."

I nodded, more tears flooding my eyes. He was willing to forgive and forget it all so quickly, like it had never happened? The love in my heart for him was more than any human would ever have been able to bear, I was sure. I never wanted to move from where I was now.

The door opened behind me and I knew the others were here now. Cassie, Michael, Kat, and Chris would want to know what had happened while they were in hiding.

I turned in Mark's arms, wanting to see my friends, and he released me. I ran into the embrace of my friends. Everyone at once.

"Aly!" Kat exclaimed. "You're ok. What happened? Tell us everything!"

I smiled at her. She had no idea. I didn't know if I could tell her. At least it hadn't been her mother betraying us.

"Well," I started slowly. "Michael came back." I glanced at him, he'd come in behind them and I wondered if he'd come with them or after them. "My family was killed. We discovered the identity of the traitor…"

"Who?" Chris interrupted curiously.

I looked at the floor as I answered. They would hate me for this. The source of all their problems had been me. My mother really. "My mother," I whispered.

"What?!" Cassie was the first to voice her shock. "Why?"

"She didn't want me to be a part of the supernatural world, she was willing to do anything to keep me out of it, even kill me. She told Seyton everything, became his lover as well as informant." I looked at Michael. "Even you weren't much of an informant compared to my mother. She knew every secret the pack ever had, she had people working for her inside the pack. They're all dead. They were killed in the ambush…" I trailed off. I had almost said 'the ambush Michael led'. I didn't think that would go over well.

"My biggest disgrace," Michael said, nodding in understanding.

Nobody answered that. We all knew he wasn't proud of it and he'd come back to us, that was the important part.

"Even Juan was involved. He was the one who kidnapped your parents and killed them, Mark."

I saw the pain in his eyes. Juan had been his best friend and advisor since they were like four. He'd had no idea Juan could ever want to hurt him that way.

"He wanted to be alpha," I continued. "He was willing to do anything to get it."

"I would have given it to him," Mark said sadly. "If I could have."

"Why couldn't you?" I asked.

"It can only be done once in a millennium. Your father did that eighteen years ago. It cannot be done again for at least nine hundred eighty-two years. The only way it would work is if my family returned it to yours."

"Really?" I asked curiously. I had never heard that before.

"Yes. I could give it back to you right now and it wouldn't trigger the curse."

"Curse?"

He sighed. "I'd forgotten just how little you really know about this life."

"Just tell me."

He smiled, shaking his head. "Alright. In order to ensure one family keeps the position as long as possible a curse was put on the position so that, if it is taken within one thousand years of the last switch the family who took it would die slow and painful deaths. No matter the species, and even with permission. It changes however if the next in line for alpha gives it up in protection of their family and later that family wants it back. The curse is not activated then."

They had confusing rules for this.

Mark chuckled. "Confusing, I know. But it's pretty handy, most of the time. You know..." He broke off and I wondered what he was going to say and what had stopped him.

"What?" I asked, again with that irrational fear of what I might hear.

"For a while, I was wishing the curse was true, even between families like ours," he answered softly.

"Why?" I asked, the pain clear in my voice. Why would he have ever felt that way?

"Aly, darling, you know how much I used to want this. To be alpha, I mean. I had stupid ideas, stupid reasons. I should never have wished for the curse to work that way. I regret it now. Please, forgive me."

I frowned. Could I forgive the fact that he'd wished for a curse to befall me? I sighed. I couldn't help it, there was no way I couldn't. I love him too much.

"Alright," I sighed. "I suppose I understand, I would have felt the same way."

He smiled. "I doubt that, you're too good a person."

"No, I'm not," I disagreed. "I wanted more than anything to take it from you."

"Um, guys?" Chris asked from across the room.

"Yeah?" we asked together, turning to face him.

"That curse may be true for ya'll anyways..." he said, staring at the computer screen in front of him.

I stared at him in shock. "Seriously?" I asked. "How can that be? I thought it was only in place to prevent..."

"To prevent too much switching back and forth between rulers," Chris interrupted.

Mark frowned. "Can Aly and I still rule together?" he asked, sounding a bit anxious. I wondered if he was worried about what could happen to the both of us if the curse affected us.

Chris continued to read. "It says nothing about joint rulers..."

I was worried now, what if the curse did affect us? What if Mark died because of our idea of ruling together? "How do we find out?" I demanded.

"There's something about some queen in Africa knowing something.... you could go looking for her..."

I sighed. Africa. Fascinating, but not so sure I wanted to go there.