Grace straightened up, excited to get out of this cell. She eased herself up into a standing position, refraining from putting too much pressure on her injured leg. She limped over to Sage who opened the large, heavy looking door, and then followed her out into the hall.
There were doors like hers on either side of her, continuing down on both sides and across from her. Five feet in front of her was a rail that continued around the length of the area, kind of cutting a big rectangle out of the middle of the hall, and at the end of each side were metal stairs leading down into another part of the building. Sage motioned for her to follow her to the stairs to the right because they were closer. When they reached the bottom - fifteen steps later - Grace stopped to observe the large, cold room.
Several of the long gray tables were occupied. Heads swiveled her way and she found herself inching toward Sage like some sort of safeguard. The kitchen was to their right, resembling one in a school lunchroom, and the strong smell of meat wafted toward her, making her stomach turnover. She didn't realize how hungry she was until she'd left her room - or prison cell - and it hit her that she probably hadn't eaten since that morning she left with Logan which, if Sage was telling the truth, was twenty-four hours ago.
Sage glanced at her, attempting a small smile. "Dinner should be done by the time we're finished with the tour. Mom's an excellent cook."
She didn't find herself being too eager to meet Sage's mother, but she supposed it was better she get to know her captives so she could figure out a proper way to escape. Yes, escape. She knew she had to do something other than just lay on a cot in a prison cell, drinking coffee and chatting with Sage. She wouldn't allow herself to get comfortable here. She had to get moving.
But first, observe.
She followed Sage through the cafeteria, avoiding the eyes of her "pack" or whatever they were. They reached a pair of double doors and Sage pushed one open, holding it so that Grace could get through before she dropped it, letting it bang shut behind them. They were left in front of an office-like area with glass windows looking in and two wide hallways on either side. They led to nowhere good, Grace assumed.
"This is my dad's office," Sage said, turing into a tour guide. "It would usually be where a warden works to, you know, ward and stuff. But it hasn't been that way for about fifteen years." They continued down the right wing, Sage naming the closed doors they passed. "That's the infirmary where my cousin Imogen holds up. She's the family doctor; dropped out of med school two years in but hey, she can wrap and tend to a wound quicker than anyone I've ever met." They passed the infirmary, slowing as they neared two doors right across from each other. "These rooms are used for storage, mostly. I don't go in them much because I don't have any reason to, but if you ever need to clean up a spill or…something, then this is your place."
Grace frowned at the way she said "something" and wondered what she was insinuating.
They moved on. "This side of the hall is really boring so I thought I'd just get it over with. But the big doors we're coming up to lead to the common room, which loops around to the other hall. Here, I'll show you."
She followed the redhead through the double doors similar to the ones in the cafeteria, and she was blown away by the proportion of the room. It was almost as big as the cafeteria, with a box TV sitting on one side with a couch and a few foldout chairs in front of it. There was a bookcase on the far wall that was filled to the brim with books that looked like encyclopedias and informational texts, along with several children's books. A pool table sat in the middle of the room, balls strewn over its surface and sticks resting against the wall. A foosball table was beside it, and on the opposite side of the room was exercise equipment - two treadmills, an elliptical, and a few weights.
Grace had never personally used any of these things other than the TV, and excitement flooded through her when she remembered Kenneth saying she was allowed anywhere inside the prison, but then she snapped out of it, reminding herself that it wasn't safe. That none of this was safe.
"This is where my cousins and I usually hangout," Sage said. "Seth and Nathaniel too, but they usually just stick to the exercise stuff. I can usually convince Nate to take me on in a game of pool, but I think recently he's gotten tired of kicking my butt."
Sage grinned. Grace tried to return her smile, but thinking of Nathaniel made her uneasy. She had no idea why; she'd yet to speak a word to him. But it was just the way he'd looked at her and touched her hand without permission. Like he was trying to woo her.
She rolled her eyes inwardly. Woo? Do people even say that?
And she was wrong. It wasn't like he was trying to woo her. Just…get to her. Get under his skin and into her head. And so far, he'd been successful.
Now all she had to do was figure out why.
They crossed the room to another pair of double doors that led back out into the other hallway. The concrete floor was colder on this side, chilling her through her socks. She hoped her shoes were somewhere in her room; they'd be easier and less embarrassing to walk around in.
"The majority of this hall belongs to a small chapel, but we've kind of converted it into a meeting area." They stopped to peer in through a window on their left that looked into a large room. There were several rows of pews that led up to a small stage with a large cross positioned on the back wall. It was made of wood and looked dilapidated and uncared for, making Grace frown. Kenneth, Magdalena, and a few unfamiliar others stood near the stage, discussing something in what looked like hushed tones. Sage reached up her hand and knocked on the window. Everyone looked over and she waved, her smile easy and contagious. She may have been fearful of her father, but she sure knew how to keep up appearances well.
They continued down the hall until they reached the last room on the right. The door was steel, like the one on her cell, and it seemed to be locked. Sage tried to open it and sighed when it didn't budge, confirming Grace's suspicions.
"Mail room," she explained. "Although since Magdalena arrived, she kind of converted it into her own little office space. She and my parents are in here a lot, and usually Seth or Nate are with them."
"Why not you?"
Sage shrugged. "I'm the youngest. Kept in the dark, mostly, but it's not all bad. Less political stuff to worry about, you know?"
No, she didn't know. She didn't know what politics had to do with them at all. But before she could say that aloud a growl emitted from her stomach, causing Sage to giggle.
"Come on," she said, motioning back toward the cafeteria. "Dinner should be ready. You can meet Mom."
The cafeteria was full when they returned, more so than last time, but it wasn't like an insane amount of people. Maybe thirty at the most, and only a few of them turned to look at her when she walked in. But as she followed Sage through the tables, she could feel their eyes on her. And she could hear their whispers.
"Smells like one of them."
"I heard she doesn't know what she is."
"Her eyes kinda freak me out."
Grace flushed and slid into the seat next to Sage at an empty table in the center of the room. The redhead seemed completely oblivious to the stares as she waved at someone by the kitchen, who was walking over to them.
The woman was a spitting image of Sage. Her hair, the same vibrant red, was piled on top of her head in a messy bun, and freckles dusted across her nose and cheeks. Her eyes were green like her daughters and she wore the same warm smile on her lips. Grace found herself wanting to trust this woman, but as she neared the table, she remembered who these people were. She couldn't trust anybody.
The woman slid into the seat across from Sage, eyes flitting between Grace and her daughter. She seemed to be appraising them, and when she was satisfied, she stuck her arm out across the table to Grace. "Hi. I'm Estelle, Sage's mother."
Grace hesitated before grasping her hand, which was dainty, but her nails were almost as long as Grace's, and just as pointed. She released Estelle's hand, crossing her arms. Estelle's smile didn't waver.
"I'll go get us some dinner," she said, and then got up, heading back toward the kitchen.
Sage gave Grace a reassuring smile. "You'll warm up to her."
Grace didn't reply, wondering why Sage thought it was so easy to be comfortable around them when they were the ones to kidnap her; the ones to take her from her family and hold her here like some kind of criminal. It wasn't right, and if Sage knew that - which, if she had any common sense, she would realize it - then she was a very good actress.
She didn't know if she should be unnerved or impressed.
When Estelle returned, she was holding a tray of three plates filled with meat and steamed vegetables. The meat was unidentifiable, yet cooked to perfection and still attached to the bone, but her mouth watered too much for her to really question it. She waited for Sage to take her plate and have the first bite - she dug right into the meat with enough hunger for the both of them - and Grace figured it was safe enough to try. Hoping to tame her growing appetite, she gingerly picked up the least threatening piece of meat - it looked like a rib to her - and dug in.
She finished her meal before Sage and Estelle did, fingers covered in what tasted like barbecue marinate and oil from the vegetables. She had to refrain from licking her fingers, not feeling particularly inclined to embarrass herself further with bad table manners, and waited patiently for the Lemaires - that was their name, wasn't it? - to finish up.
She jumped as two others dropped their plates onto the table in front of her, and she looked up to meet identical pairs of brown eyes and confident grins. Seth and Nathaniel. The latter sat directly across from her, his plate piled higher than hers had been, and he didn't look at her as he began to eat his food. She refused to look at him, too.
Kenneth sat down next, on the other side of Estelle, his plate piled as high as his sons'. Grace sat up straighter, suddenly very self-aware, and stared at her plate.
But just because she wasn't looking at him didn't mean he didn't notice her.
Again with that stupid name. Gritting her teeth, she looked up, meeting Kenneth's eye evenly, but on the inside she was panicking. Her heart rate sped up, hands curling into fists as she waited for him to continue speaking.
"Sage gave you the grand tour, am I correct?" he asked casually, though she knew he already had the answer to that. He'd seen them outside the "meeting room," or chapel. She wondered vaguely whether he and his…colleagues had been discussing her.
She blinked, realizing she hadn't answered him yet. She nodded.
He grunted, seemingly satisfied, tearing into his meat again. She waited, glancing sideways at Sage, who also seemed more withdrawn. She blamed it on Kenneth.
He spoke again. "I know you're uncomfortable now, Grace, but I'm sure you'll find solace with my children; they're easygoing enough."
She didn't respond. She didn't think she needed to tell him that Sage was the only one of his children that she'd ever even think of finding comfort in. The way she was scooting toward the redhead every other minute should've given that away already.
"I agree," Seth said, speaking for the first time since he'd sat down. "Sage already had a turn with her."
She recoiled instantly, not bothering with hiding the disgust on her face. His face as he took her from Logan's car flashed through her mind, sending her heart racing again, and she had to force herself to calm down.
Nathaniel chuckled, brown eyes on her. "I don't think Gracie here is looking forward to that nearly as much as you are, brother."
Seth's eyes narrowed and he shoved Nathaniel's shoulder, but the latter hardly budged. He was still looking at her. Her cheeks burned with the heat of both his gaze and her discomfort. She fought the urge to let her hair fall in her face, refusing to look away.
"I can speak for myself, thank you," she snapped, surprising not only herself but everybody else at the table. She felt Sage stiffen beside her. Estelle raised her eyebrows at the outburst, and Kenneth laughed.
"She's got the hostility of a Claw, I'll give her that," he said, sucking the grease from the meat off his thumb.
Nathaniel leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest in an easy manner as he appraised her. "That she does. But the question, Father, is whether or not that's a bad thing."
Grace glared at him. The man may be attractive, but he was just as vile and demeaning as Seth and his father.
"You look tired, Grace," Sage said, turning to her with a soft smile, but her eyes held an underlying warning. She was trying to get her out of the situation. Grace began to nod, but then stopped.
She wasn't ready to run from the conversation. Not yet.
"I think I'm good for a little while longer," she decided, trying to give Sage a reassuring look, but she didn't look convinced.
Kenneth rolled his eyes. "I'd hope so. You slept for a day; at least allow us to get to know each other for a bit."
"All right," Grace said, feigning a smile even though one of his son's was the reason she'd been knocked out for so long in the first place. "Let's start with why I'm here."
Kenneth sighed, sharing a look with his wife. She shrugged, giving him a small nod, and he averted his attention back to Grace.
"It's kind of a long story," he started, clasping his hands together on the table, businesslike.
"Rather, it's not an interesting one to tell," Estelle cut in.
"Yeah, yeah." He waved at her in dismissal, causing her to frown. "It all comes down to politics, Miss Claw. Boring stuff. Nothing a young girl like yourself needs to worry about."
"Politics?" She furrowed her brow, remembering Sage mentioning politics at some point during the tour. "I have nothing to do with politics." She wasn't exactly lying. She was failing her government class in school, and she wondered if she'd ever make it back to fix that. Not knowing scared her.
"Maybe not," he said, eyes lingering on her before they moved on to the rest of the room, observing. "But you play a tiny role. It's your fate, you see. Who you mate with. That's what troubles us."
"Who I mate with?" Okay, gross. "That - That is none of your business," she sputtered, feeling her face grow red again.
"I wouldn't normally care," Kenneth replied. "But when it affects me, Miss Claw, and my pack, then I'm forced to get involved."
"I don't see how my - you know - affects you or your family at all!"
"We can't let you join with another pack, Miss Claw," he said, looking pretty much done with the conversation. "The Claws are large in numbers as it is; merging with the strongest pack in the North doesn't do us any favors."
"Why do you people keep talking about packs and - and the North and the South?" Grace demanded, patience wearing thin. "What the hell does that even mean?"
"Ignorance is such an exhausting trait, Grace," Kenneth said dryly, expression bored all of a sudden. "Why don't you go get some rest now? You have a long week ahead of you, and tomorrow's just the beginning."
She was too offended to even try to think of a response. Sage shot up, grabbing Grace's arm, and started dragging her back to her cell, but all she could think about was what Kenneth and the others would possibly want to do to her.
Koda watched his fiancé from the other side of the yard, champagne flute held in one hand and the other shoved in the pocket of his dress pants. She was beautiful, he'd give her that. She had long brown hair that ended at her waist and a clear, oval face. Her skin was pale, but not in an unattractive way. She looked…clean. Her dress was floor length, like every other girls' in the room, and a weird mix between grey and purple. Mauve, he thought. That's what it was. It hugged her torso appreciatively, the neckline dipping low.
His father had been the one to point her out. They had yet to be introduced and she hadn't noticed him watching her, but several other girls did. Jealously practically radiated off this one girl in waves. Her name was Gem, if he remembered correctly. He'd paid the little blonde a fair amount of attention last summer during the June reunion, and she had apparently not forgotten it yet.
Gem didn't hold herself like Emmalie Prevot did - confident, intelligent, like she knew it. Gem was all insecurities and green with envy. He felt bad for a moment, but then his best friend appeared beside him, and he tried to forget about it.
"Heartless bastard," Anthony remarked, taking a sip from a soda can he'd probably snagged from the fridge before coming outside. "Nearly every girl not in the Draveden pack has her eyes glued to you. Share, why don't you?"
Koda chuckled, sparing a glance at Gem, who'd turned away in a huff. His eyes found Emmalie again just as she tossed her head back and laughed at something her friend had said. It was funny; he never would've really paid her any attention if he wasn't set to marry her.
He hoped she was rude and unpleasant to be around. Might make it easier to hate her.
"Is that the one?" Anthony asked, nodding his head toward Emmalie. His tie, light pink for whatever reason, nearly matched her dress.
"That's the one," Koda replied, taking another drink of his champagne. He needed something stronger, but that would be no help to the situation he'd be in later. He needed to remain sober enough to control his thoughts.
But Emmalie was making it so damn hard.
"She's hot," Anthony remarked.
"Have you talked to her yet?"
"Still angry, huh?" Anthony turned to him, dropping a hand on his shoulder. "Dude, you gotta accept it. Just look at it this way: you're helping the North and you get a smoking hot wife while you do it. Soon enough you'll be popping out beautiful babies and you won't even think about how your father forced you to marry someone you'd never met."
Koda's icy gaze shut him up. Anthony dropped his hand.
Koda sighed. "What happened to that whole love thing you kept going on about? This doesn't exactly seem like your definition of it."
"It's not," Anthony replied, shrugging his shoulders. "But you don't believe in that kinda thing, do you?"
"I don't believe in blood mates, Claw. I know love exists."
"Then give her a chance, man," Anthony said, elbowing his friend in the side. "She can't be that bad. Hey, I'll catch you later; take care of yourself, all right? Don't want your little friend running rampant on this magnificent party now do we?"
Koda smirked and watched Anthony leave. His belief that Claws were not at all likable still stood.
Koda turned back to the party. He recognized a fourth of the guests as his pack members, mingling occasionally with others but mostly staying to themselves. Typical Dravedens. Chatter and laughter blended together under white lights strung around the trees and the back porch. Flowers bloomed from every corner of the yard and up and down walkways despite the fall season, transforming a simple backyard into a botanical garden.
Okay, maybe not a botanical garden, but pretty damn close. Luna Claw loved her yard work.
He spotted the said woman a few feet away from him, blonde curls pinned up on top of her head. She wore a simple purple gown that matched the bright violet of her eyes. He'd always found them kind of unnerving; especially when she was staring him down during his several petty disputes with her son. To say he didn't get along with any of the Claws but Anthony was an understatement. But Luna, for whatever reason, seemed to tolerate him.
His eyes moved to the next pair of eyes he met - striking grey. If he wasn't so good at composing himself he would've choked on his drink. Emmalie Prevot was staring right at him, and judging by the look on her face, she knew exactly who he was. He watched as a coy smile appeared on her lips as she held his gaze, but then she broke it, turning her back on him to continue some meaningless conversation with her friend.
So she knew how to flirt. Good for her.
That didn't mean she knew who she was dealing with.
Feeling a knot in his stomach, he figured now was as good a time as ever to ditch the party. He'd get the details from Anthony or his father later. He wolf would not wait for him to leave any later than seven, and that hour was quickly approaching.
Downing the rest of his drink, he disappeared through a back gate that would lead him back to his house. He'd feel a bit more comfortable turning near his home knowing he'd wake up at least somewhere around it; better than in the middle of the Claws' backyard. He imagined Luna walking out to find him lying stark naked in her gordonia bushes. Oh, he'd surely get hell for that.
His house was deserted. The lights were off and all he heard was that stupid wind chime his mother insisted on keeping on the back porch. She described it as soothing. He just thought it was damn annoying.
He ventured a quarter of a mile into the woods behind his house, careful not to veer too far right. Wouldn't want to run into someone from another pack during his little rendezvous. He snorted at his choice of word. Rendezvous. The only thing he was meeting up with was a nice little break from reality while his wolf went crazy and did whatever the hell it wanted. It sucked, not being in control, and being the only lycan on earth who didn't know how to spiritually merge with his wolf during a full moon. He couldn't help it if his wolf was a prick. The bond went both ways; his wolf just didn't understand that.
Once he reached a secluded spot, Koda started undressing, glad he'd decided against a tie for that night. He didn't need to go all out; he was only at those reunions for about an hour, tops. Especially during the latter half of the year, when the moon decided to show up a little earlier.
He really hated the moon. Demanding son of a bitch.
He hoped he'd end up somewhere noisy in the morning. He was supposed to leave for the border around seven AM, and if he wasn't ready by then then he'd have to take his own truck, and he seriously doubted he'd have the energy to drive the two hours it took to get there. He'd rather catch a ride with one of his cousins. At least then he'd have some entertainment, and maybe an opportunity to get some more sleep.
Folding his clothes in a neat pile, he stashed them behind a bush, shivering as the cool night air chilled his naked body. Shaking out his hair, he closed his eyes, finally letting his wolf have a little more control.
Try not to kill anyone, all right buddy? he thought to himself dryly. He'd never killed his own kind before. Southern wolves, however - that's a totally different story.
Koda grunted as the familiar sensation of turning washed over him, making his toes curl and nose wrinkle as he dropped to the round, digging his fingernails into the dirt. It shouldn't have been painful, but the force of his wolf was too much for him sometimes, causing his heart to nearly beat out of his chest before he even started running. He just hoped his wolf would wait until he was fully turned before he started off. He didn't think he'd be able to keep up otherwise.
Seconds later, after his bones readjusted themselves, he found himself looking through familiar eyes, flicking his pointed ears as he listened, sliding his tongue over his sharp canines. He had minimal control over his body now - his black, fur covered body. He was just along for the ride. A dizzying ride that always began with running in random directions, jumping over anything and everything, sniffing the ground and trees in search of whatever animal that happened to be in the wrong place at the right time - AKA, in his wolf's range. That's when it all became a blur; almost like a blackout, where he'd come to every now and again, catching bits and pieces of his surroundings and actions, but nothing ever stuck. But that's because he stopped trying to stay conscious inside his wolf a long time ago. It got frustrating, watching yourself do things without your control. He preferred to avoid being psychologically present during his wolf's little adventures, thank you.
So he let go, giving his mind a rest, and didn't come back until the next morning.
It was a swift kick to the side that woke him up. Not exactly gut-wrenching, but it was enough to stir him, and he blinked wearily up at his father's face, which was stern and quite frankly, annoyed.
"Mornin'," Koda replied, giving his father a flippant smile as he sat up, wiping the dirt from his cheek, which had been pressed roughly against the ground in his unconsciousness, leaving faint indentations. Looking around, he realized he was still in the woods, right back where he started last night, thank God. His clothes weren't far.
"Get dressed," Santino said, looking back in the direction of the house. "You leave in an hour." And then he turned fully and left, leaving Koda naked and cold on the ground, the morning chill leaving goosebumps up and down his arms and legs. Sighing, he picked himself up off the ground and started working his way toward his clothes. One hour to shower and pack a small bag - easy enough.
Time to head south.