-12 Hours Ago-
Still concerned for her best friend, Lorie wasn't aware of how close Ranger had been to her. She yelped when he yanked her up by her waist and shoved her to Avery. Screaming and thrashing, she fought him as he dragged her across the water. Where was Sawyer? She screamed for him. She found him; tangled in a fight between two other wolves. She couldn't tell any of them apart when they looked like that. Sawyer was the only coat of fur she recognized.
She called for him again. This time he was able to glance her way. A deep growl came from his throat and his anger fueled his strength. Whomever he had been fighting was no threat anymore. He snapped their neck like it was nothing and moved over toward Avery and Lorie. Avery took Lorie's gun and pressed the barrel deep into her jaw.
"Stay back," he warned, inching slowly away.
Sawyer roared with anger, as if he were saying that no one controlled his woman.
"We're leaving," Avery said, "and if you want her to live you'll turn right around find a third 'mate'."
He started to charge, but Lorie looked at him with strong, confident eyes and shook her head. "I'll be fine. Kill the bastard responsible for all of this."
Sawyer glanced over at Mason who was standing on the sidelines of a fight near Vince and Vae. He knew Ranger would be a challenge, but he needed to die if there was any chance of the girls making it out alive. He had always been suspicious of Ranger. The rouge wolf that showed up at their camp so many years ago was a lot more dangerous than he'd anticipated. Obviously Ranger had his motives for all of this chaos. Sawyer knew now that it was to take over the pack.
"I'll be okay. Just go," Lorie shouted to him.
Sawyer went against his wolf and started toward Mason. He hoped he would be able to tell his friend what he had feared before it was too late. Just before he could make it to Mason, though, his fears were realized. Another wolf pounced on top of him. He knew that coat. It was Ranger. He was large and vicious. Then it occurred to Sawyer that now that Markus was dead, and just what that meant. He was the alpha now, and Ranger was after his throat. In attempt to save the pack, himself, and the others, he tackled Ranger away from the crowd and pushed him further into the trees.
Far away from the fighting, Avery and Lorie were reaching Sawyer's old house. He threw her to the floor of the living room and went in search of something in the back of the house. She took her chances and started looking for a weapon of some sort. She couldn't find anything but the standing lamp in the corner of the living room. She ripped the shade off and broke the bulb on the edge of the coffee table.
Avery's chuckling startled her and she turned to face him in the doorway. "You really think that will stop me?"
She jabbed him once and the still plugged in lamp electricuted him.
He roared with anger and before she could hit him again, he had her on her stomach on the floor. Rough rope scratched the skin of her wrists and he dragged her across the floor to the bedroom by her wrists where he tied her to the foot of the bed. "Be back in a flash," he said just before he shaped in to his wolf form and jumped through the open bedroom window.
Across the room on top of the dresser she could see her pistol that his wolf form couldn't carry. A flicker of hope fluttered in her stomach. She just needed to get out of these bonds. Her fingers were just barely long enough to reach the knot, but she couldn't quite get it loosened.
Back at the water, Sawyer and Ranger were snapping and growling. Pacing in a circle, neither one dared to back down. Mason was soon at Sawyer's side, unaware that Lorie needed his help more than he. Sawyer pounced first, leaving Mason to watch for a moment. Ranger was a tough fight and without Mason's help, he may not have made it. A large paw knocked his head aside leaving him disoriented. That was when Mason swept Ranger aside with his own enormous paws. Slashing away every sign of skin Ranger had on his chest. It was no contest. Ranger fell back on the wet ground and shifted back in to his human form. His last moments of life he begged and pleaded for mercy.
Then from the thickest parts of the woods, Avery's wolf form climbed on the back of Mason. They rolled into the water. Barking and growling was everywhere in the trees. In the moment, Sawyer looked around for Lorie. Where was she? He saw Vince carrying Vae away from the fighting. Her body was trembling and jolting. He knew what was happening there. He hadn't seen it in a long time, but he remembered what it looked like when a human was changed. Hopefully they would make it somewhere safe so her transformation would be uninterrupted.
He shifted back in to his human form and started for Ranger. The man was in a ball on the ground, hands on his chest as if he could hold the blood in his body. Rage took over and Sawyer resorted to an old fashioned beating. He wanted to ask a few questions before he killed him. Fist after fist into Ranger's face. Sawyer couldn't even recognize the man when he paused and stepped back to ask his first question.
"Who are you?"
Ranger was choking on his own blood, but still managed to smile. This made Sawyer even more furious. He kicked him in the jaw, sending his head to the side with a loud, sickening crack. It wasn't his intention to kill him, but it was too late for that. His body laid lifeless next to the water. The smirk was still on his face. With the heal of his foot, Sawyer stomped on that smirk. Blood splattered all up his bare calf and parts of his thigh. Spitting on the body, he stepped over to Mason and Avery who were rolling around in the water still.
This needed to end before more lives were lost and more people hurt. He threw his head back and roared so load that everyone froze. Not even a distant woodland creature would breathe for the next few moments. No one dared to move. "Every member of my pack has three seconds to get on our side of the river or you will die by my hand!"
Each pack separated and retreated to their home turf. They moved slowly at first, watching every move each other made. Avery was the last to limp over to his pack's side.
"I'll deal with you later," Sawyer warned. "Someone hold him." Without hesitation, Mason stopped on the back over Avery's neck and held him there with ease. Sawyer looked across the water and held up both hands as a sign of peace. "Matthias, may I speak with you?"
Matthias was hesitant at first. Afraid that Sawyer might be up to something, he agreed but made him agree to stay in sight of the two packs. They spoke low so no one would hear and for a long time, didn't offer a glance or an expression to their families. After several long minutes together, they shook hands and parted ways. Both seemed very pleased with their conversation. He took his pack back across the water. As they approached home, Sawyer and Mason stayed back with Avery. He hit Avery only once and the boy broke down.
"She's at the cabin. Don't kill me, please!"
"Lock him up somewhere," he told Mason. "I'll be back shortly."
He shifted back into his wolf form and dashed through the trees like lightening. The sooner he got there, the better.
Lorie had noticed the smoke from the hallway shortly after Avery had left. The lamp she had used as a weapon rolled away after Avery tied her up. She didn't know where it had landed, but it was apparently no where good. It grew harder and harder to fight with every bit of smoke she inhaled. She yelled for help, but everyone was so far away that there was no way they could hear her. Soon fighting became just too much. She brought her knees up to her face and buried her head in her lap as to try to keep some of the smoke away.
It wasn't long after that she heard banging and slamming in other parts of the house. Her head shot up and the thick smoke choked her once again. "Sawyer? Sawyer! I'm in here!"
"Lorie," he shouted from a few rooms over.
He was by her side in seconds. Her eyes were stinging. She couldn't see him, but she felt him untie the ropes and lift her from the floor. They were out of the window in moments. Coughing and crying, she clung to Sawyer like a child. Even when he offered to lay her down so he could retrieve water, she refused. A long time passed before she calmed down and dared to look at him. Tears stained her cheeks through the grey smudges.
He only smiled and hugged her tighter. "You're safe now."
She nodded and looked at the house that had once been his home. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "There were a lot of memories in there."
He looked away from the flames. There was a pained look on his face and he didn't speak for a long time.
"Thank you," Lorie finally said.
He still didn't say anything, but he gave her a look that asked her what she meant.
"For saving me," she said. "Several times," she added with a small laugh, hoping to lighten the mood.
He smiled and shook his head. "No, thank you." They embraced tightly, neither one wanting to let go. It seemed like everything was going to be okay. "I didn't know I could love again," he said when they finally broke away.
Lorie blushed, but looked away with a frown. She knew what he wanted. He couldn't expect her to just give up her life and move in to the middle of no where to have half-wolf babies running around. There was so much she needed to do before she was ready for that. Her life was just beginning. "Sawyer, I..."
"I know," he interrupted. "We'll talk about it later." He scooped her up and started away from the burning house with her on his back like a child. "Your friend will be wanting to see you."
Lorie smiled finally and hugged him tightly as they went through the trees toward the other pack's land. Matthias greeted them at the steps and shook Sawyer's hand. The two men stayed on the porch. Night fell and Lorie found herself sleeping on the floor next to Vae's bed. Vince was in the bed with her, but too worried to sleep.
When morning came, Lorie woke stiff and not well rested. Her hair was wild and her face... well, wasn't much better. She looked over at Vince who stifled a laugh, and she glowered at him. "You don't look so good yourself," she grumbled and stood. "Where's the bathroom in this joint?"
Vince gestured to the door and looked at Vae.
"How is she?"
He looked back at Lorie. "She hasn't moved in a while. She seems okay, though."
Lorie nodded. "Thank you," she said, "for saving my best friend's life."
He nodded. "I always will."
Lorie looked at the too and couldn't help but feel sad. She knew one of two things would happen when she would leave. Either she would lose her best friend, or her best friend would lose her happiness. She dreaded either scenario.
About the time Vince was making fun of Lorie's appearance, Sawyer and a few other males from his pack were approaching Matthias' homestead. There was more peace to be made and a better connection between the packs that he had hoped to achieve.
"Good morning," Matthias greeted his new friends, eyeing each of them as he was still unsure of Sawyer's intentions.
"Good morning," Sawyer replied for everyone. "I trust everyone is better now."
"Yes, things have calmed down and everyone is feeling slightly more at ease, though I'm not sure if all of them are convinced that there is finally peace between us."
"Well, there won't be for a long time, but all we can do is try." Matthias nodded and walked with Sawyer through his land. Sawyer looked up at the large house and admired its work. They had strong men. "How is the girl," he finally asked.
"She's taken the transition well, but as far as I know she's still not woken."
"And Lorie," Sawyer asked more urgently.
Matthias laughed a little. "She is fine as well. They slept long and peacefully."
They walked more as Matthias showed Sawyer more of their land. They could see the other men from Sawyer's pack standing away from the houses and both groups eyeing each other suspiciously. The tension was strong.
"This feud had been going on far too long," Matthias started as they stood away earshot of the others.
Sawyer nodded. "I agree."
"What are you future plans for your pack?"
Sawyer looked toward his home and thought for a moment. It hadn't occurred to him until then that he had a lot of decisions to make, and not just about Lorie. He wanted more than anything to stay alpha and lead his pack in to a new era of happiness and peace. His heart sank at the thought of letting Lorie leave. He couldn't just say goodbye. They had just met and he needed more time with her, but he didn't know how to make her stay. "I'm not sure yet."
Matthias nodded and placed a friendly hand on his neighbor's back. "Well, I am done with all of this hatred. We would be happy to help in any way."
"Thank you. We will show the same grace and kindness," he said loudly so that both packs could hear.
With a smile and a firm handshake, Matthias left to attend his family.
From Vae's new room in the house, Lorie looked in the mirror at her bruised and battered body. Vae had woken up sometime during Lorie's shower and brought her some clothes from their things in the camper. She even brought Lorie's make-up bag and hair styling materials. Lorie was still wrapped in her towel, nearly dry when Vae knocked on the doorframe.
"Wasn't sure what you wanted to wear," Vae said from the open doorway, "so I just brought a few options."
Lorie smiled weakly but didn't look at her friend. "I'm sorry for everything you've been through." She paused to take a deep breath. Her heart was stuck in her throat and she could still feel that coward's breath on her neck. The gun still felt like it was crammed in her jaw. "I didn't understand..." She began to cry.
Vae rushed over to comfort Lorie. She hugged her tightly, and Lorie finally moved to hug her back. "It's okay."
Lorie nodded and hugged tighter.
It took a minute for them to separate, but Vae finally broke free. "I'm going to let you have some time. We'll talk when you're ready." She left, closing the door behind her. "Just yell if you need anything," she said on her way out.
Lorie just nodded and sat on the edge of the bathtub. She reached for her pink and glittery hairbrush on the sink and slowly began to detangle her hair. It seemed like it had been months since she'd been able to properly spoil herself. She went through her complete morning ritual from high school to get ready for class everyday, and took extra time on each task. She was stalling because she wasn't ready to face Sawyer, or any of them for that matter.
Nearly an hour later, Vae knocked on the door twice and opened it. She found the same best friend she'd known for so long. It was like nothing had changed. Lorie had covered her battle scars with makeup, perfected her hair in a cheer pony, found her favorite pair of jeans, and even painted her fingers and toes with a shade of pink to match the lipgloss she was applying.
"You going on a date tonight," Vae asked with a laugh.
Lorie smiled and shrugged. "You know me. I love being a girl." She dabbed her lips with a tissue and backed away to look at herself. "I feel better," she admitted. "But I definitely need a pedicure."
Both girls laughed. As they gathered Lorie's things and started down to the camper, they talked about only happy things. Vae explained to Lorie how Vince made her feel and how she knew she wanted to be with him, and marry him. Lorie avoided talking about herself as much as possible, and neither of them wanted to talk about what was next. So mostly they focused on fond memories and Vince's abs. They had cleaned the entire camper and folded most of their clothes when there was a knock at it's door. Vae opened it to reveal Vince. She greeted him with a long kiss.
"We've got some food ready if you ladies would like to join us," he said after breaking their connection.
"No, thanks," Lorie said before Vae could say anything. "You all go without me."
"I'll be fine, Vae," she insisted. "I need a little more peace and quiet."
With a reluctant nod, Vae slid her fingers in between Vince's and left with the promise to return with food for her friend. Lorie held her smile until she closed the door behind her and slid to the floor. She felt so foreign in her own body. She could smile, but her heart ached with sadness. She had covered up her bruises, but still felt a blush on her cheeks from humiliation. On the outside she looked the same, but on the inside her mind was shattered.
Just as she felt her breathing quicken and heart elevate, a knock on the door interrupted her panic.
Slowly and cautiously, she opened the door and peered around to see who it was, though she already knew. She straightened her posture and held herself for comfort. His eyes made her nervous. He stood there silently for a moment just looking at her. He was so handsome. She wanted to reach out to him, but her hands felt like stone.
"Are you feeling better," he asked gently.
Lorie started to feel light-headed, and then realized it was because she had forgotten to breathe. She nodded and sat on the steps in the doorway. "Just ready to get home," she said almost in a whisper. She was afraid what he would say. Would he force her to stay like the others? Would she never see her home again?
"How long of a drive do you have?" He leaned against the cool metal and folded his large arms across his chest.
This question surprised her, but she was relieved to know she was leaving. As she looked up at the sky she shrugged. "Depends on which direction I go. If I go to my dad's it will be a little less than half a day. If I continue on to school maybe eight hours. Six if I book it probably."
"When you decide let me know."
"Why?" She looked at his serious face. He'd been looking at her this whole time. It made a blush creep through her makeup.
"I need to know where to send my letters," he replied coolly.
She smiled. "Oh," she said, and turned to hide her face. She gathered her composure quickly and turned back to him. His face was much softer. A small, smug grin was now there and he gently brushed her fingers with his. "You're not going to make me stay? I mean... know your secret."
"There are a million reasons why I would like for you to stay, but that is the at the very bottom of the list." He grabbed her hand and kissed it before standing. "At least stay one more night. Relax and heal before you start your journey."
Lorie nodded and squeezed his hand. Before she could say more, her stomach growled loudly. "I guess I could use a bite to eat." She laughed a little to cover up her embarrassment and stood to follow him in to the house. "Thank you, Sawyer," she said as they approached the door.