We spent the drive out to the ranch in painful silence. There really wasn’t anything to talk about. We had no idea what was the problem.
It started six years ago, when I was finishing my undergrad degree. Deciding where to go for my Masters. Dreaming grandiose and ridiculous dreams of my future. With my husband, Parker.
We had floored everyone we knew by eloping on Spring Break the year before. Not because anyone doubted we’d get hitched. Just because we’d always wanted the rockin’ reception with family and friends around us. But Las Vegas gets to you, and we were ok with the idea of celebrating once we graduated. Two reasons to party, only once expense. It worked for us.
We found a sweet little shithole of an apartment, were insanely busy, but blissfully, blindly happy. We were busting our butts for finals. The fridge was empty, so Parker went to get some basics: beer, ramen noodles, pop tarts and milk. I only remember that because they found the list on him. He always brought a list, even though he never actually followed it.
He got hit by a car. Not sure the culprit ever even knew they hit someone. They certainly didn’t stick around.
At the wake some asshat, claiming he knew Parker, made a pass at me. Something about the best way to grieve was to get laid, and he was the man for the job. Never meek or mild, I humiliated him before he was dragged out and dealt with by our friends. I walked into the apartment a few days later to find I had an unwanted, angry guest in the mood for revenge.
Five days in a coma, four emergency surgeries, three months of relearning to walk led to two words that sum up my one goal in life. Never. Again. I will never again be unprepared to defend myself.
I don’t remember any of the attack. I cannot recall a single moment of the funeral, nor being told Parker was dead. The last thing I can remember clearly is being kissed breathless by the man I love. Whispers of encouragement for my exam and how we’ll celebrate that night at home.
Then it’s just pain. And shame and anger.
My first clear memory is a newspaper article taped to the wall, with the words ‘Parker is dead’ scrawled across the top. Toby told me I insisted that be done when I kept forgetting. I hated losing it in front of everyone, and realizing it happened over and over pissed me off. I suppose that’s better than the numbness I feel now.
Dammit. Cazzo. Porca puttana.*
I keep checking in the rearview mirror to make sure Rory is still there. I know it’s stupid, but, fuck, it’s been four years since the last time someone came after her. And the Pack still hasn’t figured out why she’s a damned target to begin with or who is after her.
She’s pale. Silent. Huddled in the middle of the back seat between Toby and Cam, eyes unfocused. Suppressing a sigh, I turn back to the road.
Six years ago, Cam called in the Pack to help with a neighbor who’d been attacked. No. Mauled. Beaten. Bitten. Some Born bastard came for her. It happens, they get bored and want a new plaything. But he didn’t have a pack mark. Neither did any of the others that came after. It didn’t make sense.
Even knowing how strong she had to be to survive, I can’t get past how fragile she seems. I bet against her living all those years ago, not that I’d ever tell her that. Helluva a fighter, our Rory. She’ll be an Alpha some day.
I look one more time in the mirror. It’s not like she going to vanish from the car. She’s intact, not a scratch on her. There’s plenty of us to keep her safe on the ride home. Hell, we even grabbed James. If the four of us can’t keep her safe…not gonna’ finish that sentence.
A low growl from the back grabs my attention. Toby murmured an apology. I’m not the only one frustrated by the lack of answers. He and Cam have given up more than anyone else in the Pack to solve this. Being away from everyone for months…it’s self-imposed exile.
Rory looks up at me, her eyes meeting mine in the mirror. Normally a laughing greenish-gray, now they hold fear, and trust. She trusts us to get her through this. Like Cam and Toby, I know that the sacrifices are worth it. We won’t betray her trust.
Everyone’s tense, even imperturbable Toby is losing his cool. I hate how much everyone has given up to help me. I wish I could tell them why, think of some clue from my past to assist in my own defense. I cower here, amongst my dearest friends, my chosen family, helpless. I see Alex watching me. Meeting his worried gaze, I know despite it all I am safe.
*Italian for 'Fuck. Son of a bitch.' Thanks to the Great and Wonderful Maz for help with swearing like a sailor in Italian. :)