I wake with a start. Surrounded by darkness, I sit up slowly and wait for my eyes to adjust. I flick on the bedside lamp and blink owlishly. Digging through my purse balanced on top of the footlocker, I pull out my nearly-dead cell phone and check the time. It is nearing ten p.m. "Holy crap," I mutter under my breath. I have been passed out for over five hours. I quickly punch in my mother and father's phone number before I lose the measly half-bar of signal.
The phone barely rings once before my mother answers. "Hello?" she says breathlessly.
"Mom, it's me," I manage, wiping tears off my face with the back of my hand.
"Oh, thank the Goddess! How are you? You're safe? Has that lug of a werewolf hurt you?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine. And that 'lug' isn't so bad. I guess. How is everyone? Any news on who vandalized Abigail's store?"
"No news, sweetheart. We're all frustrated at the lack of progress by the police, but honestly, we aren't surprised. Anyway, Charlotte is hosting a coven meeting tonight. We'll send up a million prayers for you." She hesitates before changing the subject. "How is the Starling pack? Are they treating you well?"
I decide not to tell her about Mathéo, or the conniving vibes I got from the alpha and his step-mother. "Actually, yes. I have a nice room and the pack members are okay so far. They know what I'm against, and what I'm willing to do for them."
"Will you be home soon?"
"I have no idea. I hope so… Listen, Mom, my phone battery is about to give out so I gotta go. Send everyone my love. I'll update you as soon as I can."
"I love you, Emrys. Goddess be with you."
I plug in my phone before kneeling to open my footlocker. I pull out my tools, shoving my athame beneath my pillow, then I knead the altar cloth between my fingers, savoring its familiarity. Taking a lighter from my purse, I light a bundle of sage, hold it over a small bowl, and let it burn for a few seconds before closing my eyes and waving the smoke around myself. Moving slowly around the room, I murmur, "All negativity that invades my sacred place, I banish you away with the light of my grace. Be gone forever, for this I will say: this is my sacred place and I will be obeyed."
Opening the window, I let the cool night breeze filter in while I extinguish the burning sage under the tap in the bathroom. After a quick shower I feel reinvigorated. I pull on a fresh pair of jeans and a green long-sleeve shirt. My stomach rumbles, reminding me that I haven't eaten in far too long.
I tread down the stairs quietly, listening for any signs of life on the main floor. It is unbelievably warm down here thanks to the huge roaring fire that's been lit in the fireplace. I make my way to the kitchen and only hesitate briefly before digging into the fridge and cupboards. I fix myself a cucumber sandwich and pile my plate high with baby carrots and hummus. I can't even entertain the idea of eating any meat right now. I sit at the marble island and chow down, suddenly feeling very alone. I miss my simple life: going to work, hanging out with the coven, experimenting with spells…
"Whatcha got there?"
I almost choke on the carrot I've been chewing as Ian walks into the kitchen. When he grins, I notice blood dried around the edges of his mouth. "Vegetables. Ever had any?" I joke.
"Once or twice," he replies, grabbing a bottle of water from the fridge. He cracks the cap and takes a long sip. "You shouldn't make hiding in your room a habit while you're here."
"I fell asleep, but thanks for your concern," I shoot back. "I'm sure I wasn't missed much."
"Hey, hey, calm down. Just a friendly warning. Willem can be… difficult to deal with, sometimes."
"So I've heard."
He studies me for a moment. "I like you. That's why I recommend you be more tolerant of Willem. Do so, and he'll be an ally for life. He's not the kind of guy you want to mess with."
"Why? He's what, seventeen years old? He's the youngest alpha I've ever heard of."
"Sure, he's young," Ian concedes, "but he's been through a lot. He watched his dad – our former alpha – waste away from howling sickness. Bernard had to be locked up until the sickness passed, but he never got better. Saddest thing I've ever seen. Willem was never the same."
"Lawton looks older than Willem. Why isn't he the alpha?"
"There was a fight for dominance, and Willem won. Take a close look at Lawton's left hand the next time you see him. Willem bit three of his brother's fingers clean off."
"That's brutal," I reply, disgusted.
"That's what it takes to be alpha."
Ian finishes his bottle of water before saying, "He's okay, by the way. As okay as he can be."
He winks as if we're sharing a secret. "Tanner. His room's at the other end of the house; opposite staircase. In case you were wondering," he tells me before wandering out of the kitchen.
I get up and place my plate in the dishwasher, mulling over what Ian told me about Willem. I have to be extra cautious around him, that's for sure. If the guy is willing to maim his own brother for power, he's capable of much worse.
With my full stomach in knots, I go to see Tanner. I climb the stairs and step lightly down the corridor, until I reach the very last door. I raise my hand to knock, but as my knuckles touch the door, it opens on its own.
"Tanner?" I say tentatively. "Can I come in?"
"Oh, great. It's you," I hear him growl.
"Is that a yes?"
I push the door open and cringe when I see him. From his fingers to his shoulder a dark, angry red color spreads, and charred skin seems to drip from his hand. The pentagram there is still plain as day. All Mathéo has succeeded in doing is wounding the werewolf, for no good reason. Anger bubbles within me, replacing the guilt I feel for not offering to remove the mark myself.
"You need to get to a hospital," I urge Tanner. "It's going to get infected…"
Tanner shifts the bag of ice he's holding against his arm slightly and winces, still not meeting my gaze. "The hospital's an hour away. Besides, I'm on lockdown. Can't leave."
"So what, you're just supposed to stay here and let your arm rot off? That's not right!"
"Why do you care, anyway? You should be jumping for joy that this stupid thing is still on my hand." He leans over and retrieves a tumbler half-filled with amber liquid from his bedside table. "Cheers to you," he says bitterly, swigging back the drink in one swallow.
"Hold on," I tell him. "I know how to help you."
Before he can respond, I rush back to my room and grab a candle, a small piece of jade, and one of my small earthenware bowls from the footlocker. I am determined to heal Tanner, even if we barely tolerate each other. He's in trouble because of me, after all.
Back in his room, I am not surprised to see him pouring another drink. "What's all that?" he asks, suspicious.
"I'm going to undo the damage that quack of a priest did to you," I firmly reply before asking, "Does the water from the tap come from the river out there?"
"It's pumped from a well. Why?"
"It'll do," I mutter, filling the bowl I've brought halfway with water from the tap in his bathroom. Re-emerging, I ask him for a lighter. He digs a pack of matches from his pocket and narrows his dark eyes. "I've had enough magick done to me today. Can you really fix my arm?"
I set the candle on the floor and light it. "Whatever he did, it wasn't magick. Not the kind I practice, anyway."
"This is jade." I hold up the small oval stone. "It promotes healing. Now, I'm going to put the jade in the water and do the spell. Sound good?"
"Why should I trust you?"
It's difficult to admit, but I feel kind of hurt. "I haven't done any harm to you, have I?"
"You've been a pain in the ass."
"Other than that."
Tanner sighs heavily and gives in. "Fine. Go ahead. Do I have to do anything?"
"Just be still."
I drop the jade into the water and concentrate on the candle's flame for a few seconds to center myself before closing my eyes. "Healing flows into this water, flowing from the Goddess' sacred well. I call upon light, in the dark of night, to heal the blight with all Her might. Tanner you are healed. Tanner you are strong…" I repeat the last two lines, over and over, as I delve into a trance-like state and feel my magick build and stir within my body.
The water in the bowl now glows with my magick. I instruct Tanner to drink from it. "Just don't swallow the stone," I warn him. He rolls his eyes but does as I say. "Now put the jade in your palm, over the pentagram."
A warm light radiates from the stone, tracing its way gently along his fingers and up his arm. Ever so gradually, his skin goes back to the way it should be. In a matter of minutes, his burns are erased, and all that remains is the jade and the finely etched Mark.
Tanner stares at his arm, utterly shocked. He flexes his fingers around the jade, moves his wrist, tests his elbow and finally lifts his arm over his head. "I can't… You really… Wow," is all he can manage.
His stark awe makes me blush. I haven't done a healing spell in a long time, and I feel a mix of shyness and pride, happy that it worked.
I blow out the candle and stand up. "Sleep with the jade under your pillow. Your hand might feel a little weird and tingly for a while, but -"
I have no time to react as he closes the distance between us and crushes his lips against mine. When his hands grip my waist roughly, my eyes snap open and I push him away, backing up into the door.
"I, um – uh, I'll s-see you later." I make a hasty exit and practically run back to my own room.
What the hell just happened?
A/N: Hello again, Dear Reader! We're getting into the meat of the story, so do hold on and enjoy the ride. Tell me what you think! (Oh, and be sure to check out the character pictures posted in my profile!)