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Alpha Erased - Sneak Peek!


Chapter One

TESSA


It wasn’t the sirens that woke me up. Or Dastien jumping out of bed. Or the sound of the fight just outside our cabin door.


I was awake before any of that happened because of the smell.


Blood.


The scent had me frozen in bed. Unable to move. Unable to fight. Unable to even reach out and wake up my mate—the one person on this Earth I knew would fight with and for me. I wanted to ignore it, at least for a minute. And so I did.


I turned my head just a little to see him calm and peaceful in his deep, dreamless sleep. He’d cut his hair short, but I could still see a hint of the dark, loose curls that would come if he let it grow again. He slept on his back with his right arm raised over his head. He’d kicked off the covers enough for me to see his muscles, and I knew I was being stupid. If I was scared, all I had to do was reach out. But I couldn’t.


It wasn’t that I was afraid of what the scent of blood might mean, but I was tired. No. Tired wasn’t an accurate word. Not anymore. I was fucking exhausted. I thought I knew what that word meant, but now, I felt it in every ache of my bones and ounce of my soul.


I’d faced down demons and lived. Worse than that, I’d faced down Satan’s second in command and came out breathing, but I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep fighting and winning. I wasn’t meant for a life like this—a sea of endless battles and fights and bloodshed. If this kept happening, at some point I’d fight and I’d lose and I’d die.


After we sealed the realm and sent Astaroth and his demons back to Hell, I thought everything would be quiet. That we’d have some time to relax and recover. For about three or four days, it was exactly that—quiet, peaceful, relaxing.


And then a demon stumbled onto campus, ripping into the Cazadores on evening patrol. Three died that night before I got there.


The next night, we were ready and waiting when more showed up.


And then some asshole fey started tearing into innocent human homes in the area. That took us a week to find and kill. The fey had been upset about us killing their precious, baby-eating monster. Which opened a whole political can of worms that we were still trying to agree on. Would the fey attack us? Would there be war? I wasn’t totally sure, but it seemed like it might be a yes to both questions.


But the whole time we were fighting the fey’s baby-eater, more demons were showing up, too.


And they hadn’t stopped coming.


It’d been over seven months since the thirteen of us did the spell to seal our realm.


Seven long, excruciating months of unending fighting. And I was one fight away from breaking.


I’d been hiding my burnout from Dastien because I wasn’t sure that him knowing would do anything but cause him stress and guilt, and he already carried enough of that without adding this. With how much he was in my head, it was probably pointless to even try hiding my exhaustion, but either I’d buried my feelings deep enough, or he was giving me the benefit of not talking about it, which was good. Because talking about it wouldn’t solve anything.


There was nothing we could do but keep going. Keep fighting. Keep hoping that tomorrow would be different.


And then the sirens wailed through the walls of our one-room cabin, and the brief moment I had before the next fight was gone.


Dastien woke instantly. A second later, he was opening the door, yelling at me to hurry, shifting, and disappearing into the fight.


The wail stopped and started again. But this wasn’t the new alarm they made for demons—three short wails and one long. Nope. This was the other one. The one I’d heard in my first weeks of being at St. Ailbe’s.


I had a second to thank God for it not being demons tonight before I realized it wasn’t just blood I was smelling. It was old blood.


Old, rank blood and rotted flesh.


Goddamnit. There was no hiding from this.


One more. I could fight one more time.


I threw myself from the bed and hit the ground running.


Rotted flesh and old blood meant one thing. Vampires.


I ran to my closet, hoping I still had it. The search cost me precious seconds, but as soon as I had my backpack in hand, I ran after Dastien. I was exhausted, but he wasn’t facing a fight without me.


Dastien’s cabin was in the woods behind St. Ailbe’s Academy—a not-so-secret-anymore, currently defunct boarding school for werewolves. Trees surrounded his cabin with only a small trail leading to the main campus, but vampires were gliding through the trees as if they were floating above the ground. They didn’t make a sound as they moved.


Goddamnit. I paused in the doorway for a second counting. I gave up at twenty. The moon was new, but the hint of wolf gave me enough sight to see through the trees. More were coming.


I wanted to be glad that it wasn’t demons or fey, but I couldn’t exactly be happy that we were now adding vampires into our nightly fun.


I grabbed vials from the backpack as I stepped outside and jumped down the three steps to the ground. Dastien was fighting in wolf form. So was Mr. Dawson, and four other wolves—Cazadores that stayed on campus to help us.


One of the Cazadores yelped as a vampire grabbed his muzzle and bit him.


Damn it. I was moving too slow.


I threw a vial at the vampire holding the were. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I purify you!” The vial exploded, turning the vampire to dust, and the whimpering werewolf hit the ground hard.


He was alive. We’d help him later.


I tossed another vial toward the largest group of vampires and repeated the words to activate the spell.


Three vampires turned to embers and then dust, and then the rest of them broke apart.


Double-damn. I hadn’t used this backpack in a seriously long time. I didn’t have a ton of vials in it. There was too much room for them to do their fast glide into the woods. Too much space. If it was one vial per vampire, I was going to run out.


I threw another vial and winced when I hit only one.


Shit. I reached for another vial, but suddenly wolf-Mr. Dawson was there.


He shifted for an instant, punched through another vampire’s chest, and ripped out its black heart. He threw it on the ground, then shifted to wolf again and leaped at another vampire’s throat—thick black blood spewed as the vampire fell to the ground.


I gripped the vial in my hand, searching for a cluster of vampires to throw it at, but—


Twigs snapped behind me.


I spun with a vial ready to throw but stopped myself just in time. Lucas—in human form—was running toward us with Claudia on his back. It’d taken a few weeks for the magic that linked us all together to settle down. Now, I didn’t hear their heartbeats anymore, but when we were together—our magic was stronger. We were stronger.


Even if I’d wasted my exploding spell, it wouldn’t have hurt Lucas. If fire exploded around him, I was sure the Peruvian’s Alpha could heal something like that in seconds, especially now. But my cousin Claudia was a witch. She’d heal nearly human-slow. The magic had made her stronger, but not like other supernaturals.


Lucas set her down carefully, and then pulled off his clothes and shifted to his wolf form, racing into the fight.


“Claudia!” I tossed her a vial, which completely went through her hands and hit the ground.


If we weren’t surrounded by vampires, I would’ve laughed. She dropped down to get it and then waved me away. “Go! I’ll take this one, but you keep the rest. I’ve got other magic!”


Good enough.


I ran around the edge of the fight to get closer to Dastien. He was fighting a vampire, and another one was coming at his back.


Not today, asshole.


The vampire’s arms were reaching for his throat. Its long, white nails glinted in the moonlight. I threw the vial at it. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I purify you!”


Fire burst across the vampire’s back, igniting it just before it reached Dastien.


I heard Claudia’s words echo mine a second later, and then another explosion.


A few vampires were on the ground from the wolves’ attack, but not dead—or at least not all the way dead. Only fire did that.


The fight was moving toward campus, and I wanted it to end now.


“You burn the ones on the ground,” I yelled across the fight to Claudia. “I’m wading in.”


I’d been bitten once, and it was enough to give me a healthy fear of vampires. But not enough to keep me from fighting. I’d faced down a cave of hundreds. Twenty-something may as well have been nothing. At least that’s what I was telling myself.


I used that to push me. I ripped into their chests, just like Mr. Dawson had. Black blood coated my arms, and I kept moving. Throwing vials when I could, ignoring their red-gaze, and using my hands when I needed.


When the vials were gone, I dropped the backpack, but two more vampires later and I was left searching the woods for more.


It was done. Over. No more vampires to kill.


I let out a long sigh.


Dastien and I trained so much these days that this fight didn’t even count as a workout, but the adrenaline still had my heart pumping. My hands shook as I wiped black blood off them on my leggings.


I wasn’t sure how long we’d been out here. It seemed like forever and yet only a few seconds. One more win. One more night done.


Damn it. I just jinxed myself. Stupid, Tessa. Amateur move.


Two Cazadores wolves broke off to search the woods. Wolf-Mr. Dawson looked at me for a second before howling and following them. One shifted and grabbed the fallen wolf, running toward campus.


“Do you need help?” I didn’t see how many bites the wolf had gotten, but he hadn’t been moving.


“Nah!” He yelled without pausing. “I got him. It’s not bad.”


Okay. If he said so, I had to believe him.


I searched around the woods, looking for anything else needing killing.


Claudia stood with Lucas in wolf form. She said a few words and a flash lit the night. The fire burned bright and hot, ensuring that the vampire wouldn’t rise again.


“How many more?” I asked her.


“Just one over there.” She pointed off to the right. “I tried to keep up with the kills.”


“You’re awesome.”


She gave me a small smile, and I knew if there were a little more light in the woods, I would’ve seen her cheeks pink a bit. Claudia was garbage at accepting compliments. “No big deal.”


“Sure. Burning vampires with a spell isn’t a big deal.” I rolled my eyes even though her human eyes couldn’t see it. “You gotta show me that trick. Would be better than ripping out the hearts.” I looked at my arms. “Gross.”


“I’d be happy to.”


I looked down. Dastien was still in wolf form, panting at my feet as he recovered from the fight. I didn’t feel any pain coming through our bond, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t hiding it from me.


I squatted down beside him. “Any bites?” I started to reach for him to check, but he darted away from me. “Right. Gross hands.” And now that the fight was done, I could do something about that.


I dashed into the cabin to rinse off my arms, and then decided I needed to do a better job of it. I turned the knob on the shower and shed my clothes. I did a quick-thirty-second rinse-off and jumped out. Dastien was in the bathroom and traded spots with me. I searched him, still worried that he might’ve been bitten. Maybe—


I’m fine. I’m not the one that hides vampire bites, but keep looking if you want. His voice came through the bond. Michael is going to come back once the coast is clear, but Claudia said she had something to talk about.


Now?


Unfortunately. She said she needed you for something, and since we were awake…


Right. It was going to take at least an hour for the adrenaline rush to fade enough so that I could sleep. I guessed Claudia was right. I might as well make good use of the time, except I’d been really looking forward to watching some crappy TV and eating equally crappy food.


I could still do that. Just later.


I left Dastien to finish his shower and grabbed a fresh pair of leggings and a T-shirt. I was pulling on my shoes when he came out of the shower to get dressed.


Did Claudia say what she wanted? I asked Dastien.


No, and I know you’re exhausted, but it’s better to deal with whatever it is that she wants. She wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t urgent.


I laughed. I was just thinking that I was doing a good job of hiding how tired I am.


He turned to me with his shirt in his hand and raised one eyebrow. It was a look that said really? Did you really think that? He didn’t say the words or even use the bond to think them at me. But I could hear them anyway.


“Yeah. I really thought that,” I said aloud.


I plopped onto our unmade bed while I waited for him to finish dressing. A year ago, I didn’t even know that werewolves existed. I thought I was just a weirdo who had visions. When I touched something, I could see everywhere that thing had been. When I touched a person, I could feel whatever they were feeling, see whatever was bothering them, and sometimes things got interesting.


I’d always assumed I was a freak. It wasn’t until I moved to Texas eleven months ago, and Dastien accidentally bit me that I knew that there were more supernaturals out there than I could’ve ever imagined. I was apparently born a witch, and was now also a werewolf. And now, I’d dismantled the whole political structure of the supernatural world.


My family’s coven in Texas had turned evil, and aside from a few exceptions—everyone from the coven was dead. Some charred remains were all that was left of the abandoned compound.


Although some of the fey had fled to live with Chris and Cosette in their neutral supernatural compound in north Texas, the vast majority were still in hiding in their respective Courts and poised to attack us at the slightest hint of provocation.


And the werewolves—well, they were still getting over the fact that I’d dismantled their Council of Seven with one pesky little spell. Most of the weres thought I was too young to rule over them, even though I had enough power to do the job.


They didn’t care that I’d done the spell to stop the apocalypse. The old Alphas were pissed off that now thirteen supernaturals held power. Four fey, four werewolves, four witches, and me—a witch-werewolf combo. It took an archon to seal our magic together, but he wasn’t around to be a part of our lives. Maybe if he was, everyone would quit their bitching, but that wasn’t happening. No one could predict—let alone control—Eli.


The old Alphas needed to get over it. I didn’t see them running themselves ragged, killing demons for the last seven months. Nope. They didn’t help fight Luciana when she went full-evil or Astaroth when he ripped open the portal between our realm and Hell. That was just me, my mate, and our friends.


Okay. I wiped my hands down my face, hoping to erase some of the exhaustion. One more thing tonight, and then sleep. I could get up and do this one more thing.

I walked out onto the porch while Dastien finished getting dressed. Claudia was sitting on the bottom stair. “What’s going on?”


“It’s nothing bad. I just need your help with something, but I only want to explain it once. So—”


“You want to wait for the guys.” I finished for her.


She made a little hmmm noise, and I guessed I’d have to wait.


“Lucas said all is clear on the campus, but the Cazadores and Michael are still going to keep patrolling tonight,” she said, changing the subject.


Alright. We could talk about other things if she needed time to work up the courage to ask me for a favor. “Any word about the one that got bit?” I sat next to her.


“He’ll be fine.” She turned to look at me. “Are you okay? You seem…tired. More tired than you were yesterday.”


“That feels accurate.” For the first few months after we sealed the realm, we kept playing one long game of whack-a-mole with different evil forces. Eventually, we figured out that Astaroth left little gateways open all over the world for his little friends. It took four more months for us to close all of them. Still, some stragglers found their way to me and the site of the now-closed main-portal.


We’d figured out that the closed portal might always be a magnet for crazy evil stuff. We’d tried spells and cleansing and a million other things to fix the problem, but it seemed like it might take time for it to stop pulling evil into the area.


And then, as I sat on the porch, I realized that the vampires hadn’t been heading for the portal site. They’d been heading for us. For Dastien and me. For our cabin.


The cabin was set a ways back in the woods behind campus. Nothing ever came close to us. At least not unless it was on the way to the closed portal.


Something had changed. Something was different about tonight.


“Any ideas about why the vampires were coming at the cabin?”


Claudia straightened. “You don’t think they were heading to the portal? Did you see something?”


“No.” I didn’t have a vision. “I just…they didn’t seem like they were moving toward campus.” Did they? Was I wrong? “I guess not until the end of the fight, and that could’ve been just a random retreat.” I yanked my rubber band from my hair, letting my damp hair down. I hadn’t washed it in the shower, but it’d still gotten a little wet.


“I don’t know. I didn’t think about it.” Claudia let out a breath. “I was just surprised it was vampires. I should’ve left you with more vials, but I didn’t—”


“Don’t worry about that. We haven’t seen any in forever. I was starting to think we killed them all off.” I blew out a breath. “Forget about them coming for the cabin thing. I’m tired and reading too much into it.” One hefty benefit of being a werewolf was that my visions were much rarer now. I had to expend effort to have one. And the ones that came on by themselves, those only came when things were really getting bad. I hadn’t had any visions about this attack, which probably meant it was just a one-off thing.


And yet, I had this worry buzzing around my head. I didn’t like to ignore my gut feelings, and it felt like the vampires were coming for us. I just didn’t have any proof of that except a slight hunch.


I turned so I could look at Claudia.


Her long dark hair was braided down her back. She wore a pair of loose pants and a tank top, and I knew that was probably what she’d been sleeping in. I wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was late. Or early, depending on how you looked at it.


The air was still warm from the late summer sun, and in the moonlight, I could see a little glistening of sweat on Claudia’s skin. She smelled of salt and sage and Palo Santo smoke, which meant she’d been doing some sort of cleansing spell earlier tonight.


“Did you know this was coming?” I asked her.


She shook her head slowly, giving me a look that told me she thought I was being crazy. “I’m not the one with visions.”


There wasn’t a question in there, but I knew she was asking by the way she tilted her head slightly to the side and waited.


“No. I honestly didn’t have a vision about this. I’m not covering anything up. I had been stupidly hoping to sleep tonight. With the drama from the packs and trying to prep for whatever might happen next with the fey during the day, and then slaying evil beasties at night, I’m wiped.” I rubbed a hand down my face. “But you were doing a cleansing? Just a normal thing or were you—”


“I’ve been doing them every night since we got here.” She shook her head at me. “I thought it would help, but the sirens went off, and I knew I’d failed again.” She put her arm around me, closing the distance between us. “You look tired, and I…feel guilty about it. I left and…”


I turned a little more so that I could search her face. If I relaxed a little, I could see whatever she was thinking, but I didn’t want to intrude in her mind. I found I actually liked letting people speak. It was so much more pleasant than getting a first-person look into their heads.


She felt guilty? No. None of this was her fault. “You’re being too nice if you’re taking on some of the responsibility for this.”


She started picking at some invisible piece of fuzz on her tank. “I’m not. Or not totally. I just…” She looked at me, and I saw regret in her eyes. “I’ve been avoiding coming back here. Seven months ago, I wasn’t ready for another fight. I hadn’t been ready for Astaroth, and I wanted time, but I came back to help. So after we were done, I left. It was easier to assume you were handling everything, and now I look at you, and I’m worried.”


“Are you saying I look like shit?” I teased her.


“No!” She sounded so horrified by my suggestion that I almost laughed. “I would never—”


I nudged her gently. “You’re being nice about it, but you’re saying I look like shit.” She was too sweet to say anything that rude, but I was pretty sure that’s what she meant.


She was quiet with her big brown eyes wide in shock, and then her shoulders hunched again. And I could see the surrender in her before she could even speak.


“You don’t look your best.”


“I don’t feel my best.” I leaned against her again. “We’re going on months of interrupted sleep. Werewolves recover quickly, but it’s not enough to combat the constant strain of fighting at night and politics during the day. Dastien seems to do better than me, but I can’t even anymore. I need a break.” I wiped a hand down my face. “I’m not even sure I can think straight, and the idea of waking up in a few hours to talk about what to do with the rising fey aggression again is…” I squeezed my eyes shut. I wished I was stronger. “I want to call the fey a bunch of whiny brats and tell them to go fu—”


Claudia let out a hiss. “Yeah. That’s not…don’t do that. Seriously. Don’t.”


“I’m trying…”


But I was exhausted.


But I wanted to run far away from all this endless sea of evil.


But I was finding it harder and harder to care.


“I’m just tired,” I said. “I’m sure I’ll feel better in the morning.” I was saying the words, but I couldn’t make my words sound even the least bit believable.


“No.” Claudia gripped my hand in hers. “Don’t do that. Don’t lie. I’ve only been here for three days, and I need a break. I honestly don’t know how you’ve done it for so long. Those sirens…”


“Yeah.” The sounds haunted me. I heard them all the time, even when they weren’t blaring.

When I closed my eyes at night, they’d cut through my dreams—pulling me from sleep—when they weren’t even sounding.


“The vampires are new, though,” I said.


“What do you think drew them here? The portal or something else?”


If only I could figure it out, then maybe we could go a night without the sirens. “I don’t know. If I could get up, I’d go after Mr. Dawson. He gave me a look right before he ran off…but I can’t.” Dastien was quiet in the cabin. He’d stopped moving around, but I knew he was still there. Listening. Feeling what I was feeling through our bond. But giving me the illusion of space at the same time.


But the truth was that I didn’t need the space.


With all the time he spent hovering in my thoughts, I would think he’d understand that by now.

I do, he said through the bond. But you haven’t had a chance to spend time with her and…I know you’re tired. We both are. I just thought maybe you needed space to confide in her.

And you think I’d tell her something I wouldn’t tell you?


No. He said the word, but it sounded like a question because we hadn’t been talking about how close to burnout I was.


I turned to look over my shoulder at him. He was in his usual pre-fight plain T-shirt, a pair of dark gray sweatpants, and no shoes. He was leaning against the door frame and watching me. His eyes had a hint of glowing amber, which told me that his wolf was still close, ready to take over if needed. He didn’t believe the fight was over yet.


“What time is it?” I hoped it was almost sunrise. If all we had to worry about were vampires, then once the sun was up, we could go to bed. His wolf was just overreacting. But if not…


“Nearly three-thirty.” He gave me a half-smile, showing me one of his dimples—as if that would take some of the sting out of it—and it kind of did.


But three-thirty meant we couldn’t go back to bed. At least not for three more hours or whenever it was that the sun rose today. “You think there will be more.” It wasn’t a question. He wasn’t wearing shoes. His eyes were amber. I didn’t need to poke around in his head to know that he thought we’d be back out there again tonight.


“I don’t know anything for certain, but there’s still a lot of night left. That wasn’t just a few vampires that got separated from their clan. There might be more.” He gave me one of his small shrugs. “But maybe we’ll get lucky, and that’s all the excitement for tonight.”


“Well, now that you’ve said it like that, there will definitely be more.”


Chérie.” He drew the word out as if I was being silly, but he knew how my luck worked. It was shit.


“We make our own luck, prima.” Claudia gave my shoulder a quick squeeze before standing. “Lucas is coming back.” She walked down to meet him in the woods.


Dastien took her spot, sitting beside me. “You can go back to sleep if you want. I’m sure whatever Claudia wants can wait. No vampires can get inside our cabin unless we invite them in.”


“Right. But they could set it on fire or bomb it or shoot us through—”


He leaned over and kissed me, cutting off whatever ridiculous thing I was going to say next. And for a second, I leaned into his warmth. I forgot about the vampires or the scent of their burned bodies or the fact that I hadn’t slept without interruption in months.


For that moment, it was just him and me. The bond opened and I felt his happiness and love and I moved before I thought about it. I was in his lap with my hands in his short hair, and all I could think was how fucking lucky I was to have him. And how all I wanted was more time with him.


Maybe I did have some luck in this life. Maybe Dastien was my luck.


Chapter Two

TESSA


Dastien stood, and I stayed attached to him. Kissing him. Feeling thankful and warm and like I needed more.


A soft buzzing cut through my happy place. Buzz. Buzz. Buz-buz-buz. Buzzzzz. I’d tapped out that rhythm specifically for my brother’s contact. It made me pause for a second, but I shoved the worry away.


Axel was probably out at a club, having fun and drunk and wanting me to join him. He did that all the time these days. I was glad he’d made friends at college, but I was happily busy right now.


I had everything I needed right here.


More. Dastien’s voice came through our bond, and he moved to go back inside our cabin, but someone cleared their throat, and Dastien stopped.


Before I could tell him to ignore whoever that was, Dastien pulled away from me a little.

“What?” His voice was more gravely than usual, and I knew his wolf was even closer to the surface than it had been a minute ago.


“We need to talk.” Lucas was old. I wasn’t sure how old, but “very” didn’t even come close. If he said we needed to talk, then we probably needed to talk.


“Can it wait? Tessa’s exhausted.”


I rested my forehead against his chest. Thank you. I would’ve just agreed, but not Dastien.


“That’s why it shouldn’t wait.” Claudia’s words were soft but firm. “If we can make it so that nothing else comes tonight—or any other night—we have to try.”


Damn it. My cousin had said the magic words.


It was painful to drop my feet to the ground when I’d been so comfortable and happily wrapped up in my mate, but I did it. The lure of ending this madness was too great to ignore.


“What’s going on? Why did you really come back?” I’d asked Claudia a few times, but she hadn’t said anything.


Buzz. Buzz. Buz-buz-buz. Buzzzzz. I looked at Dastien. He’s calling again?


Want me to get it? Could be important.


“I need your help with something,” Claudia said so softly, I almost didn’t hear her.


I considered it for a second—I had a choice to make. Cousin or brother.


Maybe Axel was in trouble, but he was in Austin. He was a grown-up. He could take care of himself. No. I said through our bond. I’m sure he’s just drunk. Claudia doesn’t ask for much, so I think this is more urgent. But if he calls a third time, get it.


I turned my focus to Claudia. “What’s wrong?” She didn’t ask for help. Ever. Even when Luciana was at her evilest, Claudia tried to handle it herself.


“There has been some trouble with the other covens over the land.”


Great. Just what I wanted to hear right now. I had demons coming after me out the yin-yang. Fey that were itching to start a war. Now vampires were showing up. And she was bringing witches into the mix? Seriously? Why did anyone say the fucking “l” word? Luck should be stricken from the language. It should be—


Tessa. Your cousin is waiting for you to stop your internal tirade.


Right. I cleared my throat. “You’re talking about the compound?”


“Yes. I’m sorry to bring it up, but—”


She needed to stop apologizing for things that weren’t her fault. “Another coven wants it?” As long as they weren’t evil, then I didn’t have an issue with it. At least not right off the bat.


“Yes and no.”


Okay. I was way too tired for this. “What’s the problem? And how does that relate to stopping all the middle of the night fights?”


“It’s all connected. I promise. I just…I thought the land belonged to me, but I was wrong.” She was looking everywhere but at me. Which meant she had bad news.


She better not be talking about those assholes in New York. “Who?”


“You.”


I took a step back from her. “Me? Then that’s easy. I don’t want it. You can have it.” I could go my whole life not stepping on that land again and be happier for it.


Claudia held her hand up. “No. No!” The face of horror at that thought was almost funny. “That’s not what this is about. I don’t want it. I…I’ve come to realize that I don’t want to be in Texas anymore. I like being in Peru.” She looked at Lucas, and he reached his arm around her, pulling her to his side. “It feels a little bit like a failure to just give the land up, but there’s too much baggage. I just don’t think I can ever get past what happened there, especially if I had to live there. I need to move on from my past. Both emotionally and physically.”


I was confused. Why was this important at three-thirty in the morning? And how was it supposed to make sure the campus wasn’t attacked again?


“The thing is, neither of us has been living there. That’s why the cleansing hasn’t stuck. That land is meant to be owned by a witch,” she said. “That particular plot of land was chosen because it’s a nexus of power. It needs to be cleansed again, and then someone has to safeguard it to keep it from drawing in the dark. The person that owns it needs to live there.”


No. No way. I wasn’t moving there. “Then I’ll find someone to give it to and have them move there. But why are we talking about this now? Can’t we figure this out in the morning? I mean the normal morning when it’s light out. At a more reasonable hour.”


She shook her head. “I think that part of the problem you’re having here is tied with that land. I think Luciana’s magic that tainted the nexus of power bled here. To the spot where she did magic here. We need to cleanse both. Luciana’s magic infested both places. So, we do it together. You and Dastien here. Me and Lucas on the coven’s land. We time it out. The moon is full. We can be there with plenty of night left before sunrise. I think if we did it at the same time—me there, you here—then we can seal it for one lunar cycle. I was planning on doing the cleansing tomorrow at three AM, but we’re awake now, and I think if we do this, then tomorrow might be easier. And judging how tired I am already and how tired you seem…

Also, tonight is the new moon, which is the start of a new cycle and good for cleansing. Doing it now should buy us some time to find someone to guard the compound, and then you can get some solid sleep.”


Solid night’s sleep? For a full lunar cycle? She was saying everything I wanted to hear right now. “Do you think it’ll work?” I had to ask. I didn’t want to get my hopes up for nothing, but they were kind of already sky-high.


Claudia was quiet for just long enough for me to doubt everything she’d just said. “What? Tell me.”


“If it doesn’t work, then my next step is to have a synchronized cleansing on the next new moon in three places—here, the compound, and the chapel in Santa Fe. But hopefully, two out of three will be enough. I have nightmares about that chapel. I don’t…”


She didn’t have to finish the sentence. I didn’t really want to go back to that chapel either. Or the compound. Or anything that had to do with that bitch of a witch.


“In the morning, we have to find a witch that’s strong enough and that we trust to take over. To make sure that the land stays cleansed and good. I’ll go over there every day to do a cleansing spell until we can find someone to agree to watch over it.”


“Done.” As long as it wasn’t me, I was okay with that. “And I’m assuming you have a list of who?” I’d ask Shane or Beth, but they might feel the same about that land. Maybe River would be open to it? But that wasn’t a long list. Claudia knew a lot more witches than I did.


“Of course, I have a list. Beth and Shane don’t want it. I already asked them, but we can go over all of that in the morning.”


She already had me convinced. “Great. Do we have everything we need for this?”


Lucas held up the bag. “We’ve got the supplies.”


I looked at Dastien. You ready for this? I was so tired that it pained me to move even a foot farther away from my bed, and I knew he had to be as tired, even if he wasn’t showing it.


We’re awake now. As tired as we are, if we can rally through this, then tomorrow we can sleep. A cleansing shouldn’t take that long. I’ll even tell Michael to leave us alone—


You will? That would be a first. Mr. Dawson—Michael to Dastien—was a father figure and an Alpha to my mate. Dastien usually went along with whatever Mr. Dawson said.


I usually go along with it because his plans make sense, and he’s an old wolf. One of the oldest. His plans make sense, but if this works, then I’ll tell him to leave us out of the daily politics for at least a few days. We need sleep.


That’s all I needed to know. I turned to Claudia. “Alright. Let’s do it.”


Buzz. Buzz. Buz-buz-buz. Buzzzzz.


Shit. Axel called three times and texted once. I couldn’t ignore him again.


That wasn’t a drunk dial or him being excited about something. Three calls meant an emergency.


Dastien moved before I could say anything, disappearing back into the cabin. I raced after him.


“Hello?” Dastien said. “Axel?”


“I don’t want to die alone.” His voice was soft and thready with pain and terror, and I knew everything was about to change.


I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. And every inch of me was cold.


Die alone? He was hurt? More than hurt. He was dying?


Axel wasn’t just my brother. He’d been my best friend—my only friend—growing up. A moment ago, I wasn’t sure I could take one more thing—one more fight, one more discussion about the fey, one more cleansing against evil—but then I heard something in his voice I’d never heard before.


Despair and defeat and death.


They said that God didn’t give you more than you could handle, but in that brief, less-than-a-second moment, I wondered if I could handle losing my brother.


And the answer was no. I couldn’t. It would break something vital in me, and I wasn’t sure how I’d get over the loss.


But it wasn’t too late. Not yet.


I had to move. I had to do something. I had to fight. One more time tonight. I had to find it in me.


And then the power came. Rising up. Filling me. First, from Dastien, and then Lucas and Claudia. In the next breath, the power of twelve people answered a call I didn’t realize I’d sent out. I was filled with three types of supernatural’s magic, and I knew that I could do this.


“We’re coming.” Dastien’s words broke over me, spurring me into action. “Where are you?”


He was already moving. He grabbed keys, shoved them in his pocket as he crossed the small one-room cabin to me. His eyes were still amber, still ready for a fight, but I wasn’t prepared for this. I wasn’t prepared to lose my brother. Not tonight. And if I looked in the mirror, I knew my own eyes would be a very non-human shade of glowing, molten chocolate.


Dastien grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the door. It took me a second for my feet to catch up, and then we were sprinting to the car. “Where are you?” Dastien asked again. His voice was calm, but I could feel his fear and panic through the bond.


“I don’t know.” His voice was weak. Too weak. “A warehouse. I can’t…I don’t…They took me here and I…” His voice broke. “I’m so sorry.” His voice grew softer with every word. “Tell her I’m so sorry.” He took a raspy breath. “Don’t bring her here. I called to warn—” The call cut off and panic like I’d never felt before crashed into me, making me double over.


It felt like he was gone. Like it was over. Like he was dead.


But he wasn’t. Something or someone had disconnected the call.


There had to be time.


Please. Let there be time.


“Don’t slow down!” Dastien threw me over his shoulder as he ran, and my vision blurred until we were in front of Dastien’s car. He put me down and slid behind the wheel while I jumped in the passenger side. It wasn’t until another car door slammed that I realized Claudia and Lucas were with us, too.


“Where do we go?” I hadn’t heard anything about a location. We were rushing to nowhere.

Dastien turned to me. “You tell me. Where’s your brother? What do you see?”


Me. Me? He wanted me to tell him where to go? “It doesn’t work that way. I get the vision that I get. I have to touch something of his. I have to—”


“Your brother is a part of you. You share blood. You don’t need anything of his to find him.” He grabbed my face with his hands. “Tell me where he is.”


“I don’t know.” I tried to jerk away. If I knew, I’d tell him. What did he want from me? I didn’t have my brother on low-jack. I didn’t track his phone. The pressure to answer was making me panic, but there was nothing for me to say.


And if there was nothing for me to say, then how the hell were we supposed to find my brother?


And if I couldn’t find him, then he would—


Oh God. I couldn’t breathe.


“Answer me!”


“Don’t you think I’d tell you if I knew!” My throat hurt from how loud I screamed it, but the panic was growing by the second.


How could I save my brother if I didn’t know where he was?


Someone grabbed my hand, and Dastien dropped his hands so that I could look.


Claudia was squished between the front seats. “You can do this. He’s your brother. It’s the same with me and mine. Axel might not be your twin, but he’s your best friend. Your family. And you’re not without magic. Close your eyes and think of him. Find him.”


I did, but all I could think of was panic. And how I couldn’t breathe. And how he could be dying and was alone and that I didn’t know where he was and that I couldn’t help him and—

And I wasn’t sure I could do it. But if I didn’t, my brother would die.


Axel would die.


“How? Tell me how. I don’t know—I can’t—” I felt something hot running down my cheeks, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t care.


“Think of the last time you saw him.”


God. When? I couldn’t think. The panic. It was too much. Too much. Too—


“Your parents’ house.” Dastien’s words cut through my panic. “Two weeks ago. We went to your parents’ house for Sunday dinner. Axel said he’d been working on gaining magic of his own. You got in a fight with him, but then you made up. And—”


“Good enough.” Lucas cut off Dastien. “Picture your parents’ house, Tessa. Now.”


My parents’ house.


I saw the yellow house in my head. The big tree in the center of the circular drive.


Axel honking the horn from his car, yelling at me to stop being such a nerd before he sped away. His hand sticking out of the window as he turned the corner.


That was the last time I saw him.


But I’d see him again.


I just had to find him.


But how? How the fuck was I supposed to do that?


“Where is he?” Claudia’s voice was a soothing balm over my panicked thoughts.


I closed my eyes, searching for him, but all I saw was black. Inky black.


I shook my head, squeezing my eyes as closed as closed could get. “I can’t see anything. I don’t see anything!” The panic was getting worse, and it felt like someone was stabbing me in the chest, twisting the knife, until I couldn’t—


“Breathe.” Claudia’s voice was soft and soothing, but I couldn’t find any peace.

All I had was panic.


Breathe. Dastien’s calm voice invaded my mind. Push the panic away. It’s not helping you.

Ignore it.


“What do you smell?” Lucas asked in his deep rumble. The old, Alpha power behind his voice made a clear space in my panicked mind.


I breathed in. “Dust. And—” I gasped as fear and heartbreak ripped my soul apart. “And blood. His blood. He’s bleeding!”


I opened my eyes, reaching for Dastien, grabbing his arm. “He’s going to die.”


“Close your eyes again,” Lucas said. His dark eyes were glowing, and he nodded at me.

“Close them.”


I nodded, following his lead.


“Remember the dark. The dusty place. Go back there.” He waited. “Do you see it?


I nodded. I wasn’t sure if I was making it up in desperation, but I could smell dust and blood and—


“Good. Leave the dark place. Go outside. What do you see?”


I moved before thinking to myself that I couldn’t. He was guiding me but I’d never had a vision like this. I’d never tried to go somewhere in my mind. I had to be touching something.


But Claudia was right. Axel was in my blood. In my soul. Axel was my family.


I had to assume this was real. It was my only hope, a hope I had to cling to.


I tried to move out of the vision. Wherever Axel was, it was dark. “Nothing. Nothing.” But then there was moonlight and a building and…


I could see. I could see something. It was working.


“Middle of nowhere. Some kind of warehouse. It’s abandoned.” God. That wasn’t fucking helpful!


“What kind of warehouse?” Dastien asked.


“How the hell am I supposed to know? It’s fucking abandoned! There’s nothing here. No—”


“Is there a sign? The walls of the warehouse. Anything painted on them? Look around.” Lucas stayed calm, despite my panic. “Look. See it. Tell me what you see.”


I wasn’t sure how it was working, but it was. I couldn’t second guess myself, not when Axel’s life was on the line.


“I…” I looked around, trying to see something that could give me a location.


And then I saw it. The sign was faded and hidden behind a tree, but I moved and…


I couldn’t make out some of the letters, but I could fill in the blanks easily enough. “Abe & Cole Brewery.” I opened my eyes, gripping Dastien’s arm tighter. “Tell me that’s an actual place and that I didn’t just make this shit up.” Because my mind could’ve invented any damned thing from desperation, and I was beyond desperate.


Lucas was on his phone. “It’s a place.” He handed his phone to Dastien.


Dastien looked at the map. “I know where that is.” He didn’t wait for anyone to buckle or even for Claudia to get back in her seat.


He started the car and moved it into reverse so quickly, I had to slam my hand into the window to keep my head from hitting it.


“Dastien.”


“You said blood. We’ll be there in ten minutes. Depending on how badly he’s bleeding, that might be too late.”


Shit. He wasn’t going fast enough. “Go faster! Move it!”


The tires squealed and I prayed that we’d get there in time.


Because if we didn’t, I wasn’t sure how I would live with myself.


I should’ve answered the first time he called.


Why hadn’t I answered the phone?


Chapter Three

DASTIEN

I felt her fear and worry as if it were my own. Each beat of my heart felt leaden and slow and painful, and there was this overwhelming urge to fix this. To somehow make this right. To save Axel. But the only thing I could do was drive. Drive fast. Drive fast enough to save her brother.

I pressed the gas, but the car was already going as fast as it could. The warehouse wasn’t that far away, but when seconds could mean the difference between life and death, I wasn’t sure we’d make it in time. I couldn’t tell Tessa that. I could barely let myself think it.


If we didn’t get there in time, I wasn’t sure what that would do to my mate. He’d called us, and we hadn’t answered. Twice.


We hadn’t answered.


I should’ve answered.


It wasn’t my phone, and I took her lead, but I was her mate. I was supposed to protect her. But I wasn’t sure I could protect her this time.


With every passing second, I grew more and more sure that the worst was going to happen and that when it did, Tessa would break. She was already at her breaking point, and even as bad as losing Axel would be, losing Tessa terrified me more.


I glanced in the rearview mirror, meeting Lucas’ gaze. He checked his watch and then shook his head slowly.


He didn’t think we’d make it in time either.


Claudia’s head was bowed down, and her lips were soundlessly moving. Praying?


I focused ahead of me. I couldn’t look at Tessa. I couldn’t let her see what I was feeling. I didn’t want her to know that my hope for finding her brother alive was next to nothing now.


The woods blurred past, and I followed the navigation. My gaze kept darting to the estimated time of arrival.


Only five more minutes.


If by some miracle, Axel was still alive, we had some hope. Worst case, we could turn him. In life or death situations—when the person would die—we could bite him. He’d asked me about becoming a werewolf a few times, but I always told him no. That we didn’t change people as a rule. But those conversations—which I’d told Michael about—would suffice as consent.

Probably. I hoped it would be enough.


Whatever happened after, we’d deal with that then.


Right at the next road, and we should be there.


Tessa gasped.


It wasn’t a normal gasp. It was so soft that it was barely audible. It was a special kind of noise that, when paired with this quiet hmm in the bond, meant that Tessa just had a vision.


She hadn’t been touching anything. Which meant it was one of her prophetic visions. The kind that warned her of something really bad happening.


With her brother in danger of dying, for a second, I thought that meant that the worst had happened. That he’d passed. That she’d seen his death.


But if that were true, then her heart would have shattered. She would be screaming and crying and breaking.


But she wasn’t. And that scared me even more.


I pushed the fear away. If I knew whatever her vision was, then I could protect her. I would find a way to stop whatever was going to happen. That’s why she had them.


But she didn’t say anything.


She always told me what happened.


I wished I could see what she saw, but our bond didn’t work that way. Whatever had been shown to her was always for her alone unless she shared it with me. “What did you see?”


Tessa gasped again. A second vision. That was okay. More help was never a bad thing.


And then she gasped again.


And again.


And again.


Her breath was coming in short, quick bursts, and her eyes were wide and glassy with fear. I wanted to grab her and shake her—to free her from whatever vision cycle she was stuck in—but I was driving dangerously fast. I couldn’t look away from the road for longer than a second, and I definitely couldn’t reach for her.


She gasped again, and I knew I had to do something.


What did you see? I asked through our bond, hoping that would be enough.


Her face was pale, and her hands shook as she brushed her hair away from her forehead, tucking it behind her ear.


She looked at me, and the bond opened again. The hmm of the vision was gone, and what replaced it had my heart skipping a beat.


Guilt that weighed heavier than the moon.


Sorrow, but not at a loss, but resigned sorrow. One that was tinged with regret so dark and lonely that I wondered if I’d ever see the sun again.


And her fear—no. Not just her fear. It was terror. A brand of terror I was all too familiar with. It was the same all-consuming terror that I’d felt when I heard her heart stutter to a stop. Not once, but twice.


The terror and the guilt and the regretful sorrow were a combination that had my own fear rising up to meet it.


Whatever my mate had seen, it was bad, and she was about to try something that scared her. Something dangerous. Something that could cost us everything.


“What is it? What are you going to do? What are we walking into?” The questions spilled out of my mouth, one on top of the other. She usually wasn’t given a ton of time with her visions.

Whatever they warned her of was going to happen very soon.


She was quiet, and I couldn’t have that. I need to know so that I could help. “Tell me. Please. Trust me to help—”


“You can’t help me. No one can.” Her voice was hollow and empty, but she was wrong. She was so fucking wrong.


“Please. I can help—” I stopped talking when I realized that she wasn’t even looking at me.


Tessa was staring out the windshield, and her eyes still had that post-vision glassy look to them. She was trying to search for an answer, and I had faith that she’d find something—some answer to whatever we were about to face. But it’d be better, easier, we’d be stronger if she’d just use her words.


Or show me through the bond.


Or do something other than just sit there when everything was about to go to shit.


“Tell me how to help you. Please.” I was desperate. “If we’re about to go into a fight—”


“Tessa?” Claudia’s voice was hesitant. “Talk to us. What are we walking into? Are there others in the warehouse with Axel? Or are—”


“I can’t.” She gripped my hand, and her fingers felt like ice. “I can’t. If I tell you—any of you—the worst happens. I saw it five times on the way here. Five times. Five visions. Five deaths.”

She swallowed. “There’s only one thing I haven’t tried, and that’s what I have to do. I’m so sorry. Just…I’ll be okay. I think.”


What was she talking about? “You think?” The fear I’d been feeling started to strangle me.


The warehouse pulled into view, and I slammed my foot on the brake, throwing the car into park.