Wild Love by C.R. Jane

 

PROLOGUE

 

RUNE

Disgust. It coated my skin, enveloping all of my senses as I walked towards town. How had my life managed to fall apart like this in such a short amount of time? I thought I was past the darkness and finally heading towards my happily ever after.

I never imagined something like this.

The image of Rae lying there on the table assaulted my brain, so swift and sudden that I had to stop and puke at the side of the path. I could hear shuffling from nearby, and I turned my head, my senses on alert, only to see that it was a worried looking Daxon, apparently following me.

I didn’t bother telling him to go away. Daxon would do what he wanted. He and Wilder both would. Obviously.

Wilder. Even with what had just happened, just his name shredded my insides. That kiss. It echoed in my mind even as a nasty voice inside of me asked me what I’d expected. Hadn’t I wanted Wilder and Daxon? Why couldn’t he have done the same?

I shuddered, and bile rose up in my throat again.

Get yourself together,I snapped at myself, before straightening and heading back to town, steadfastly ignoring Daxon who continued to follow me.

How did I get myself in this situation over and over again? How did I continue to let myself destroy me over and over?

It was no one’s fault but my own. Instead of running right into the arms of a man…instead of trusting my heart with a man… I should have worked on myself. I was the only one that I could trust not to shatter me into a million pieces.

At least that was what I was trying to tell myself. I had a feeling that no matter what I tried to say, it wouldn’t be able to erase the unending ache that I’d had since I’d seen Wilder locked together with her.

It all went back to my thoughts on that long drive to this town in the first place. Maybe I was destined to live a miserable life forever and ever.

And it would be all my fault.

I got to the main street of the town, stuck in my self-pity cycle, and almost immediately heard the familiar sound of Miyu laughing. I looked down the sidewalk and saw her standing next to a dapper-looking Mr. Jones. She threw her head back and laughed again, and I hadn’t thought it was possible, since I couldn’t exactly remember the last time that I ate, but I bent over and threw up again.

“Rune!” Miyu called out worriedly, and I heard the sound of her footsteps running towards me until I got the courage to stand up and face her. “Are you sick? Do you need me to take you to the doctor?” she asked. Her face was drawn and tired, nights of worrying about Rae catching up to her.

They were about to get a whole lot worse.

A throat cleared nearby, and I looked behind me to see that Daxon was almost to us.

I realized that I had no idea what to say. Did I tell her that Daxon had killed her mate? Did I tell her that the person she had bound her life to was the one who had been slaughtering members of this pack? For a second, Eve’s lifeless gaze filled my memory, and I wondered if I was forever doomed to be haunted by the dead.

I was not prepared for this. I opened my mouth and then closed it again.

“What is it?” Miyu asked in a rattled voice, tears filling her eyes as if she was already prepared for the worst.

“I’m sorry, Miyu. Rae’s dead,” Daxon said, his voice a perfect mixture of horror and sadness. It hit me then how effortlessly he had managed to flit around this pack this whole time, convincing them he was someone he definitely wasn’t.

Miyu froze, her skin paling as she absorbed what Daxon had just said. She shook her head as if in a daze.

“I’m sorry, what did you just say?” she asked, the words coming out in a whisper.

“Miyu, I’m so sorry,” I said to her in a tear-stricken voice. Her body was trembling, and I watched in horror as the words finally sank in. I saw the light in Miyu’s eyes completely disappear like a flame extinguishing in the night. She wrapped her arms around herself, tears beginning to streak down her face.

“I don’t understand. I—I just saw him this morning. We had breakfast, and he kissed me goodbye…and now you’re saying he’s just gone?” A hitched sob tore out of her. “Can someone fucking tell me what is going on,” she screamed, her words echoing down the sidewalk and beginning to draw a crowd.

I stepped towards her, wanting to throw my arms around her even if I was the last person who should be offering her any comfort.

She stumbled backward like I’d come at her with a knife. “Don’t touch me!” she shrieked. There was a wildness to her gaze as she looked around, as though Rae was about to appear from behind a building at any moment.

In a lifetime of heartbreak, watching Miyu fall apart was one of the worst things that I’d ever seen.

I pulled at my shirt helplessly, not knowing what to do, or what to say.

“Can we talk somewhere privately?” Daxon asked, looking around at the anxious crowd that was gathering around us.

Miyu pulled at the bottom of her long hair before frantically brushing it out of her face. “Okay,” she whimpered, and she allowed me to take her arm and lead her down the street. There was an office building a block away that Wilder and Daxon both used occasionally for town business. Daxon led the way towards that.

Miyu looked at me as I practically hauled her down the street. She was putting almost all of her weight on me as we walked, sobs wracking through her body. “Tell me this is just a dream,” she whimpered, gazing at me desperately.

I was crying too—silent, guilty tears that I felt ashamed to allow. “I wish I could, sweetheart,” I murmured, and her cries grew louder.

The walk to the office building might as well have been ten miles for how long it felt to get there. People stared curiously at us as we walked by, their interest turning to fear as they saw Miyu crying. Miyu was emotional. There was rarely a time that she wasn’t bursting with emotion, whether it was happiness or anger, or excitement. But I doubt many of them had ever seen her cry.

Daxon unlocked the front glass door and walked inside, the two of us following him closely. He locked the door after us and drew down the blinds so that nosy bystanders couldn’t see in.

I led Miyu over to a chair and gently sat her down before settling in next to her. Daxon pulled over a chair and sat down across from us. It was dim and gloomy, the cloudiness of the day seeping in and blanketing everything.

“Miyu, this is going to be difficult to hear,” Daxon began as I took Miyu’s hand.

My stomach twisted in knots in anticipation of what he was about to say. Vibrant red blood cut across my vision. Rae’s screams echoed in my ears as flashbacks splashed through my mind.

Get yourself fucking together,I told myself sternly. This isn’t about you.

“Rae was responsible for all the recent town killings,” he said calmly.

There was silence for a long moment. Miyu was holding onto my hand for dear life, and I was afraid she was going to break the bones in my hand with how tight her grip was.

Suddenly, she pulled her hand away and sprang from her seat. “Is this some kind of sick joke?” she screeched. “What the hell is wrong with you people?” Her eyes sliced down at me, betrayal thick in her gaze.

“Miyu, he’s telling you the truth,” I told her brokenly.

She scoffed. “Rae takes bugs outside instead of killing them! He once kept a rabid squirrel with a broken leg in our house for a month because he “wanted to help it.” That damn squirrel literally ate holes in half of my shoes while I was gone one day. Rae is not the killer.”

A red flush mottled her usually perfect skin, and her breath was coming out in gasps. Her lips were trembling as she tried to convince us…or herself, that we were wrong.

“Has Rae been disappearing lately? Has he had mood swings? Have you felt like he was hiding something from you?” Daxon pressed calmly.

His face was the picture of concern, but I wondered, staring at him, if he actually felt any sorrow for the news he was delivering…that he was the one who was responsible for it. It was hard to comprehend how he could claim he loved me, that he was obsessed with me, but have no emotion for anything else.

Miyu’s hitched gasp pulled my attention away as her face somehow blanched, becoming even more pale, and she sank back down in her seat. Her hands were balled into fists, and she brought them up in front of her quivering mouth as if she could somehow block everything out around her.

“People get stressed,” she whispered. “That’s all it was. It was just stress.”

Daxon bent over and grabbed a large black bag from the floor that I had somehow missed him carrying around.

He reached into the bag and pulled out several chunks of hair in various colors. There was blood streaked across most of them. I shivered when I realized what it was.

“I found this in Rae’s car, Miyu,” he said sympathetically. “He was keeping trophies of his victims. I even found a bag of blood-stained clothes in his trunk that he hadn’t had a chance to get rid of. He was the killer.”

Right there in that chair, in that small office that had seen better days, I watched Miyu’s soul die. The sound that came out of her mouth was something that I knew would haunt my dreams. Her pain was tangible in the air; you could taste it, feel it beating against your skin.

She was broken.

"Get her back to her house, Rune,” Daxon directed as he stood up, placing the hair back in the bag. For a second, I wondered if he took trinkets from his victims too, and the urge to throw up hit me again. I couldn’t look at him.

“Come on,” I said softly as I put my arm around her. I led her out of the office, then onto the sidewalk where, luckily, the crowd had dispersed.

“Rune,” Daxon growled to our backs. I sighed and shot him a quick glance even as I kept walking, unable to hide the multitude of confusion, disgust, sadness…and fear I was experiencing. “I’ll give you tonight, but I won’t give you forever. There isn’t a story that doesn’t end with us, even if you don’t believe it right now.”

The words wrapped around my tattered heart like a golden thread that warmed my insides…even when they shouldn’t.

I was a broken girl, holding my broken friend, and I wondered at that moment if I deserved every single bad thing that’s ever happened to me.

I didn’t answer him. I just continued to stagger away, holding up most of Miyu’s weight as she continued to fall apart. I doubted she even heard him through the depths of her tears and sorrow.

But I couldn’t breathe until we turned the corner and I was away from his gaze.

We stumbled our way to Miyu’s house, the one that she and Rae had just bought right before their mating ceremony.

We paused on the front steps, and she stared unblinkingly at the door.

“Where’s your key?” I asked her gently, and she dug around in her pocket for a moment before handing it to me without a word.

I braced myself as I turned the key in the lock and got the door open, because Rae was everywhere…

As he should be in this place. But I had two versions of Rae in my head, and neither fit with what I saw as I led her down the hallway littered with pictures of them together, to the living room that had his flannel draped on one of the chairs.

His boots were in the corner, and their beers from last night were still sitting on the coffee table. Above the fireplace was a huge canvas from their ceremony…before I disappeared, obviously. They were kissing, so much joy written on their faces that it made me physically ache.

I half expected him to come around the corner to scoop Miyu up and kiss her tears away. I didn’t know that a house could become haunted in just a few hours.

But this one already was.

I set Miyu down on the couch and ran into the kitchen where I grabbed a glass and filled it with water. I rushed back to the living room and handed it to her, but the glass slipped out of her hand and fell to the ground, the water seeping out onto the thick cream carpet that I knew Rae had just installed. They’d bought a fixer-upper and were in the process of remodeling it. The carpet had just gone in last week.

Miyu looked up at me, desperation seeping out of her. “What am I supposed to do? Where’s his body? How did he die? And the funeral, do I still hold it?” The words rushed out of her, and I didn’t know what to say. I couldn’t tell her how Rae died.

“He was trying to run away when he was caught, and there was an accident,” I finally told her haltingly, not understanding why I felt this need to protect Daxon and keep the truth of what he’d done a secret.

For all I knew, Daxon was just as dangerous as Rae had been.

But he’s ours, my wolf growled.

Shut up, I responded crossly back to her.

An aching moan came out of Miyu, breaking me out of my inner arguments with my wolf.

“His body will be taken care of, and we can worry about everything else tomorrow, I think,” I rushed out, tentatively stroking her back in an attempt to comfort her even though I felt like the villain in her story right now. “Should I call your aunt to be with you tonight?”

She nodded numbly and handed me her cell phone. I quickly found her aunt’s contact information and called her. After explaining the situation as quickly as I could, her aunt frantically assured me she’d be right over, and we hung up.

The silence of the room felt deafening. Miyu wasn’t crying anymore. Hell, she was barely breathing. She just sat there staring at the wall in front of her.

Miyu stood abruptly, making me jump, and she practically ran down the hallway to where I knew their bedroom was. I followed her tentatively and saw her sitting on her bed holding a pillow to her chest as tears once again streamed down her face.

“His smell is going to fade,” she sobbed as she pulled the pillow up to her face. “Then what am I going to do?” Her sobs started to become hysterical. “This is just a dream,” she started to chant over and over again.

I stayed in the doorway, not knowing what to do. She looked how I felt at the moment. Even though my loves were both alive, it felt like I’d lost them in a permanent way that seemed soul-destroying.

“Oh, honey,” I heard a voice say, and I moved aside as a plump older woman with dark brown hair liberally streaked with gray pushed past me and went to Miyu’s side.

It must be her aunt.

Miyu’s sobs increased as she threw herself into the woman’s arms, and I slowly backed out of the room, feeling like an intruder. Not just because of her aunt, but because Rae’s scent was everywhere, stronger in their room than anywhere else.

It was devastating.

I stayed in the living room for thirty minutes, listening as Miyu’s sobs echoed throughout the house. They finally died, and a few minutes later, the woman came out to where I was sitting.

“She’s finally asleep, poor dear,” she said quietly, wringing her hands in distress. “You’d better go on home too. I’ll stay with her until she decides she wants me gone.”

“Okay,” I answered tiredly, standing up. “I’m Rune, by the way.”

“I don’t think there is anyone in this town that doesn’t know you, dear,” she said with a sad smile. “It’s nice to meet you, even in such unfortunate circumstances. My niece has talked very fondly about you. I’m Alicia.”

She sighed, and a tear fell down her cheek. “Get some sleep. We’re all going to need it.”

I nodded and walked towards the door, taking one look back only to see Alicia weeping as she sat down in a chair.

After I exited the house, I stood on the front porch for a long moment, realizing that I wasn’t sure where to go. I’d been staying with Wilder and Daxon. I’d thought that I’d found my home.

And now I knew I was wrong.

I set off down the path that led back into the main thoroughfare, a shiver still passing over my skin as I looked at the thick woods to the left of me. I came to a screeching halt when I saw a large, shadowed figure watching me from just within the treeline.

What the hell was that? I began to sprint towards town, and I swear whoever it was, was taunting me, keeping pace with me but staying in the treeline so I couldn’t see it clearly.

But Rae was dead though, I’d seen it for myself. Was this just some asshole playing a trick? Had Daxon been wrong? Was the killer somewhere out there?

I kept on sprinting, my breath coming out in gasps. I looked over to the woods again and screamed when I saw the same creature that I’d seen on the day Eve had died step out and grin at me.

“Rune,” Daxon yelled, and suddenly I was in his arms. “What’s wrong?”

“The—the creature was there. The killer isn’t dead. He's still out there. You killed the wrong person,” I sobbed as I began to beat on his chest.

Daxon gently grabbed my fists and held them still against his chest, peering into the woods over my shoulder. I shot a panicked look behind me, my breath stilling for a moment when I realized that whatever I’d seen had disappeared.

For a second, I doubted myself.

Had I just imagined it? Had the stress of the last few days…scratch that, my entire life, finally pushed me over the edge and broke my hold on reality?

But it seemed so real.

“I swear to you, Rae was the killer. Whatever you saw was something else,” Daxon said soothingly, obviously having the same suspicion that I was currently experiencing, that I’d just imagined it.

His tone made me irrationally angry.

“I’m not imagining it,” I scoffed, not exactly sure which of us I was angry at. I pushed away from him and stalked back towards town. But not too fast…I didn’t want to get eaten, after all.

“Rune, wait,” he sighed exasperatedly as he quickly caught up with me. “Where exactly are you going? Where’s Miyu?”

I stopped and twirled around. “That’s the whole problem, isn’t it? I have no idea where I’m going, and Miyu is currently asleep, probably cuddling her dead mate’s pillow after she hysterically cried for hours.”

Daxon’s face flickered with pain. I didn’t know whether he was actually feeling pain or just faking it. I didn’t know anything.

How was it possible that my world had changed so dramatically, so fast?

I suddenly felt exhausted, and my shoulders drooped. “I’m just going to go to the inn tonight, Daxon. We can talk about everything tomorrow.”

Daxon pushed a hand through his hair, clearly exasperated with me, but didn’t object as I pushed farther away from him and strode back onto Main Street.

News of Rae’s death clearly hadn’t spread because the town was alive with people. I realized it was Friday night.

I passed one of the cafes and came to a screeching halt when I saw him. Wilder. He was sitting at a table.

With Daria.

It felt like death by a thousand cuts at that moment. As if the day couldn’t get any worse. I could swear that someone was stabbing me with a hot poker as I watched her trail her crimson red-painted fingernail down the side of his face. And then he smiled at her, like she was everything. Like how he used to smile at me.

My hands wrapped around my waist. Was I bleeding? It felt like all of my insides had to be seeping out of me.

When he leaned towards her, and I knew their lips were about to touch, I sprinted away, wishing that I were dead.

I had only taken a few steps when I smacked right into a firm chest, almost crumpling to the ground upon impact before I was caught by a strong pair of arms.

My head snapped up, only to be snared by a captivating pair of blue eyes the color of a cloudless night sky at midnight.

“Whoa there, pretty girl. You alright?”

He looked blurry through my tear-streaked eyes, but even though I was a mess, I couldn’t help but notice…he was gorgeous. His hair was dark and streaked with a blue color that almost matched his eyes, with slight curls here and there. His face belonged to a fallen angel, each feature perfectly symmetrical. Straight dark eyebrows over those strikingly dark eyes. A mouth that was begging to be…

Okay, that was a weird thought.

The most important trait about the man currently holding me in his arms like I was precious, staring down at me as if I was the most fascinating thing he’d ever seen, was that he was a stranger. I haven’t seen him before.

And strangers didn’t come to Amarok.

“Excuse me,” I murmured, my tears coming to an abrupt halt as my wolf perked up inside of me, sensing danger.

Was this some kind of hunter?

I tried to surreptitiously sniff the air, wondering if I could figure out if he was a wolf, but I wasn’t getting anything.

“You’re welcome to run into me anytime,” he said with a pretty grin that made something flutter inside of me.

I laughed awkwardly before inelegantly moving out of his grasp. I pushed a piece of hair out of my face, wishing I had a rock to hide under so that I didn’t have to see anyone.

“I’m Ares,” he said, holding out his hand to shake even though I’d literally been in his arms just a second ago. I tentatively shook it, half expecting Daxon to pop out of the alley at any moment and cut off the guy’s head.

But I didn’t see him amid the crowd.

Just then, I heard Wilder’s laugh coming from somewhere behind me, and blind panic flashed through me.

“Welcome to town,” I said quickly, pushing past him in desperation to disappear before Wilder saw me.

“I’ll see you around?” Ares called after me, and I waved my hand behind my back, single-mindedly focused on getting to the inn as fast as I could.

I burst through the door of the inn, running right into the crowded bar area. Jim was cleaning glasses behind the bar and saw me right away. He put the glass down and popped his head into the back room where the kitchen was. A moment later, Carrie came hustling out, coming right towards me.

“Hi, darling. What are you doing here?” she asked, putting her arm around me and leading me towards the stairs that led to the rooms.

“Just taking a break,” I murmured.

“Okay,” she said understandingly. “Old Mr. Hubbard is staying in your old room tonight. His wife kicked him out again for getting drunk at the bar last night. But the room at the end of the hall that has that nice view of the river is open.” Carrie handed me a key with a soft smile.

“Thank you,” I said, squeezing her arm before trudging up the familiar steps, walking down the hall, and sticking the key into the lock. It opened with a soft click into a room that looked pretty much identical to the room I’d first stayed in. I closed the door and locked it behind me, leaning against the door, not knowing if I wanted to cry or scream or fall to the ground in exhaustion.

It felt different though. There had been an air of possibility when I’d been in the other room. I’d had quite a few lows, but there was still the feeling that something was going to happen, that things were on the verge of being great. When I stayed in that room, I’d had Wilder and Daxon.

And now I had neither.

A knock sounded on the door just then, and I flinched. “Who is it?” I called softly, not having the energy to deal with anything else tonight.

“Let me in, Rune,” Daxon murmured through the door. My wolf settled inside of me at the sound of his voice, even if the rest of me wanted to throw something.

“I need some space, Daxon. I thought I made that clear.”

“Rune, if you would just talk to me, tell me what’s going on in your head, tell me how I can fix this.”

What if it can’t be fixed?

The thought flashed through my head and I pushed it away. That couldn’t be the reality. But even as I thought that, Wilder’s face glued to that fae wench pushed through, and then Miyu’s tear-stained face followed that.

“Please,” I said through the door, not even sure what I was asking for at this point.

“I’m not leaving, Rune,” Daxon growled, and I heard a thump and then some movement before realizing that he had slid to the ground and was leaning against the door.

I slid to the ground too, absurdly finding comfort that he was just on the other side of the door. The moon shone in from the window across from me, and I stared at it like the lovesick moron I was, wondering if Wilder was looking at the same one and maybe thinking of me.

And with that thought, I fell into a troubled, restless sleep.