CHAPTER 1 – PLANS
The light of dawn is blinding as it filters down through the trees as they blur by. I feel the chill of the earth beneath my paws as I run. My muscles burn with exertion as I push myself faster than I have ever moved before.
I want to run from the memory of yesterday. It seems to be on constant repeat in my mind, everything from Tiff arriving until after her sister appeared, to the death, the casualties, all of it. The emotions of shock, surprise, pain, and loss flow through me like a river. I feel raw and exhausted.
Trying to sleep after the battle and Tiff’s disappearance was pointless. I tossed and turned for hours before dozing off, only to be awakened by the nightmare of it all over again. I thought I had no more tears to cry, but I was wrong. Now they have stopped, but the remnants of them remain frozen to the fur below my eyes.
I come to a stop beneath a giant pine tree with a huff. The soft thuds of my mates’ feet filter through the trees to my ears. Of course, they wouldn’t let me run alone, not with my great aunt Lilliandra hovering around. I’m thankful for the short distance they did give me, though. I feel slightly more grounded than I did before. I’m not to the point where I can sleep, but it will help me have a clear head when I sit down with everyone shortly. We still need to make a plan to deal with Harry and get the gate open.
I sit on my bum and watch as both of my mates move into my line of sight. Cam’s gorgeous tawny fur blends with the colors of the season as he moves in my direction, his glowing golden eyes fixated on me. Callum stealthily moves along beside him with his black and orange tiger stripes. Both males are vicious predators, loyal, and loving. Their only focus at the moment, protecting me.
Callum’s green eyes twitch as both of them come to a momentary stop in front of me. They begin circling me as they assess our surroundings and move in to nudge me affectionately. I know they are just as tired as I, but it’s too late to head back for sleep. We are far enough out that we will need to run to make it back in time to meet with everyone. I hope someone has a crap ton of coffee brewed when we get there. Hell, it might be a no creamer or maybe add a shot of tequila in with the coffee kind of morning.
Are you okay, love? Callum’s voice floats through my mind.
Yes, the run seemed to help.
It will get easier in time, beautiful. We will be here with you to ease the ache. I think it’s best if we head back, though, Cam says, rubbing his head against my shoulder. I purr, enjoying his attention.
Callum comes up to my other shoulder and begins to rub as well. My purrs grow louder as I let my mates shower me with attention. It makes me feel safe and content. It helps me find the confidence I need to go back and lead this meeting. Okay, let’s go.
I shake myself as they continue their attention, but it forces them to stop. We do need to get moving, so I dart forward once again, pushing my muscles to perform at their best.
It’s incredible how much my life has changed since I decided to move into the cabin. The family secret that came with living in it was massive, and my world has been dumped on its head so many times I’m beginning to lose count. I know I’m not the same person I once was.
The memories and experiences I’ve had since I found out I’m not human filter through my mind. From the near-death experiences by my sister’s hands to the unbinding of my Fae powers, it’s shaped me into something new. Nothing has affected me as bad as the battle yesterday, though.
I shake my head, trying to ward off the images from it and focus on moving around the trees. I step off the beaten path that’s been created by the many warriors who have tread its path to increase the number of obstacles in my way. If I focus my attention on dodging them, maybe it will distract me from the terrible thoughts that keep filtering through my mind.
I focus ahead and jump over fallen logs and move around holes as I run in the direction of the cabin. I hear both of my mates moving in behind me. They both could outrun me easily but choose not to. I appreciate the space at the moment and try to push even harder.
Shortly, with my mates hot on my heels, I break through the tree line behind the cabin, startling a few of our people milling about. They stare at me as I slide to a stop like one of those fancy show horses and sit on my butt. I look around and smile as I feel Cam and Callum saunter up behind me. They flank me on either side, and I glance briefly at both of them before shifting.
Bright light fills the area around us as they join me, and seconds later, we stand looking at each other. I quickly glamour clothes on Cam and I since we still haven’t figured out how to keep our clothes from being shredded when we shift like Callum. Callum chuckles as I finish giving Cam a bright pink shirt.
“No, I’m not wearing this. Change it, Liz, or I will make us late by going in and changing it,” Cam demands with a scowl.
“You look good in pink, though. It’s a happy color, plus tough guys wear pink, right?” I laugh aloud, and his scowl deepens.
“Personally, I don’t think the color of your shirt will matter when you’re talking with everyone. We have other things to worry about,” Callum interjects.
“You’re right, but none of the guys will ever let me live it down if I wear it,” he says, looking between Callum and me.
“Is it really going to be that big of an issue?” I frown, hoping he will wear it. “It gives me something to look at to remind me that no matter what, things will be okay.”
His frown disappears, and he moves to pull me into a hug. He holds me tightly for a few seconds, and I feel Callum wrap his arms around us both in a group hug.
“No matter what, it will be okay. We both love you, and we will fix everything. We will find Tiff and bring her back on top of saving our people,” he whispers into my hair, and I fight the sob that tries to escape from me.
The memory of Tiff, Ethan, Kara, and Cain, disappearing into that whirling portal, replays in my mind. It happened so suddenly and without warning. One moment they were there experiencing some kind of magical connection, and then, poof, gone.
I pull out of their arms and look both of them in the eye before speaking. “Okay, I trust both of you.”
“Good, we won’t let you down,” Cam says.
“Now, let’s go in there and talk with everyone. We need to get a game plan going and then check on your father,” Callum says, pulling me toward the barracks.
The barracks is a massive building built from tree roots created by Callum’s spell when he first arrived. It has all the necessary amenities needed for people to live in. It now holds many warriors and members of our clan to keep them safe. We moved as many people here as possible after the first attack from the rouges. We even created several treehouse-like structures in the surrounding trees for families as well. It’s been beneficial having it here, and even better, everything is hidden from the human eye thanks to glamour.
Callum pushes through the doors, with me following, and I let him lead me into the massive dining room. Several people are already seated with a steaming mug in front of them. Sniffing the air, I smell a mix of coffee and tea. I look around and spot a few large containers in the middle of the table with cups next to them. I hope one of those is coffee.
I nod and murmur good morning to everyone as I make my way toward the containers, trying to keep my mood light. I search along the table for creamer and spot a small bowl containing individual packets further from the containers. Yes, creamer. I think I will have it in my coffee this morning after all. I don’t see any alcohol anyway. Is it possible to drown my sorrows in caffeine, though? I’m going to try because it will probably be the only thing getting me through the next few days.
I stop in front of the containers, and Nate, who is seated next to them, hands me a cup. “This one is the coffee. The other one is English breakfast tea. That’s not your jam.” He smiles reassuringly, as if he understands what I’m feeling. In our line of work, we occasionally deal with patients dying, but the battling and fighting, it’s a whole other animal. I don’t like death as it is, but I would rather deal with the loss of life from an older human—someone who has enjoyed their life and has memories—rather than letting our warriors lose theirs. A majority of them were still young. It’s heartbreaking.
“Thanks, I need the caffeine this morning.” I nod at him and reach to fill my cup.
“I think we all could use it or another pick me up. Yesterday was a difficult day for us all.” He offers me a sad smile and turns back to stare at his cup of coffee. I can tell that he, too, is hurting more than he lets on.
I quickly fill my cup and move down the table to grab a few creamers. I swirl the contents in my cup with a wooden stir stick and find a place at the head of the table. My mates join me shortly, and we sip on our coffee as everyone else files in. They all look exhausted, and I know now that I’m not the only one who struggled to sleep last night.
I offer everyone a quiet good morning as they take their seats and look around for Tali. She’s supposed to be here to help me with this meeting. I frown and prepare to seek her out when I spot Agatha’s form entering the room. Tali follows behind her with blood-red eyes. It doesn’t look like she got any sleep. A sharp pang hits me hard in the chest. I didn’t even seek her out to check on her last night after everyone settled in. Did she need me? What type of sibling does that make me?
The two grab cups of coffee and sit next to Callum. Tali looks at me and nods silently. I guess I’m taking the lead on this one. At least she’s not mad at me for staying with my mates. Then again, she has Agatha now.
After a minute more of silence, I look around and gather my courage. It’s time to address the room and get this plan figured out. I stand, pushing my chair back, and gaze around the room. With a sigh, I say, “I know we are all tired this morning. I think we can all agree that sleep wasn’t easily attained last night. Today is a new day, though, and it will be one of action. The first thing we need to do is fortify the wards.”
“I already have them being replaced,” Jax speaks from the other end of the table. “I’m having several of my Fae place talismans, traps, and alarms so we will be more prepared next time. They will be checked daily so we aren’t attacked like that again.”
“Thank you, Jax. We all appreciate that.” I offer him a supportive smile, but I know it lacks my usual spark of happiness. “With that done, we need to form a plan to find Harry, get the key, and open the gate. Do we know where the gate is by chance, Jax?”
Everyone turns to look at him as he appears to contemplate the question for a moment or two. I hope he knows where it’s at. He’s the only one that might.
He meets my eyes with a frown. “I can’t recall where it is for some reason. That’s an unusual issue because that means my memories have been tampered with. There is only one person who was ever powerful enough to do that, and it was Kayla. I don’t know why she would take them from me, though.”
“That’s great. How are we going to find the gate after we get the key? We kind of need to know where it is,” I declare with frustration.
“I will run some tests on myself to see if I can trigger them. In the meantime, we can focus on getting the key,” he responds.
“You’re right. We do need to focus on the key. So, we need a group of volunteers to go with me to retrieve it. Tali, are you going to join us on this excursion?” I look over to her.
“No, I’m going to stay here. I want to see if there is more I can do for Dad.” She speaks with sadness coloring her voice.
“That’s not a bad idea, Sister.” I turn to address everyone at the table again. “So, volunteers?”
My usual group of protectors all raise their hands. Well, what’s left of my group anyway. Gabe and Mason were both killed yesterday in the battle. Ethan disappeared, so that leaves me with Nate, Sam, and a few newer individuals—Barry, Felix, Eddie, and Mark. Kade’s son, Garret, also has his hand raised. His green eyes are focused and are filled with determination.
I arch a brow at him. “Garret, are you sure you should go? What about your people?”
“They are our people, and they are all to remain here to train and be protected for the time being. I want to play my part in protecting them just as my father would,” he says seriously.
I look at him and feel the pain he has been through. We all have that pain within us right now. “Okay, thank you all for volunteering.”
I turn to Cam and Callum and nod before sitting down. It’s their turn to talk. They stand, their tall frames towering over the table.
“We will be leaving within the hour to head to Paris to try and locate Harry. We need to figure out which vehicles we will take. We need to be prepared for anything,” Cam says authoritatively. “I will be giving you all an amulet to wear that will mask your scent so that we will remain incognito. We don’t want to be located by a foe before we complete our task.” Callum nods to everyone.
“Those who remain will continue to work on training to prepare for another battle. We will have a war on our hands soon. I will send messengers out to bring in more Fae to aid in our task,” Jax adds from his seat at the end of the table.
Plans are discussed next regarding security measures, weapons, and lineups for when we attack. None of the lineups are set in stone since we may need to find more to add to our ranks. There is no telling how big of a threat we will face.
We all nod in understanding as they finish discussing their plans and my mates return to their seats. I look around at the tired faces and see a range of emotions in everyone’s eyes. There is fear, anger, determination, and more. I look at Tali, who seems to be contemplating something before meeting my gaze.
“I’m going to make a few calls to our cousins and other clans to see if they can join us in our fight. I fear that the battle we have ahead will be worse than yesterday tenfold. I haven’t seen anything in my visions about it yet, but they will come soon enough. I want to be prepared,” she says with a determined frown.
“Thank you, Sister. We will need all the help we can get. Okay, so everyone, let’s get started. The quicker we get the gate opened, the closer we are to ridding ourselves of those who want to destroy us,” I say to the room from my chair.
A mixed murmur of agreement meets me in return, and I finish off my coffee. Placing the cup down, I look at my mates. “I want to check on Dan before we go.”
“Okay, we will get things ready for you to go to Paris and find Harry. Take your time,” Cam says, and we stand.
I’m pulled into a gentle hug by both my mates before joining the group that will go with us to bring back the key. I look around at the room as it empties and watch Jax as he approaches.
“I trust those men to keep you safe, Granddaughter. I will have their heads if they fail. I will keep everyone here safe and do what I can to help your dad.” He pulls me into a hug.
“Thanks, Jax. I’m going to see him now before I leave. I want to talk with Aunt Candi too.”
“Okay, well, I will be around if you need me. I want to try and assess why my memories are missing.” He smiles and turns to leave.
I follow him out the door and turn to the stairs. Dan’s room is on the third floor. I hope he looks better than he did yesterday.
Available with Kindle Unlimited Free, https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08LQNTKCD?notRedirectToSDP=1&ref_=dbs_mng_calw_2&storeType=ebooks