What intention, though?
He’d been with Vi. He’d had sex with her. My stomach flipped and felt all icky at the thought. I inhaled but could only smell his pine scent, which made me feel better. No jasmine tones.
“No?” I arched a brow.
He smiled. “I’ll make you a plate.”
I had no idea how I kept the shock off my face, but damn, someone hand me an Oscar.
Grayson tore open another packet of bacon and set to work. “From now on, we all chip in,” he said. “From now on, we protect our omegas.”
Cora leaned in and whispered, “How are you doing this? I mean, his ass is too far away for you to have your hand up it.”
I dug my elbow into her ribs.
The Loup exchanged glances, but it didn’t look like they’d heard her, all too busy focusing on their alpha.
“From now on, no one plays grunt,” Grayson finished.
“Sounds good to me,” Dean said, walking into the dining area. “You want a hand?”
“Crack some eggs,” Grayson said.
But Dean’s attention was on the spot to my left. On Cora.
I looked across at my friend to see her transfixed on the beta. Dean’s nostrils flared, and his eyes grew bright in a move I recognized from the way Grayson ogled me. He was inhaling her, and Cora’s chest was rising and falling too fast.
“Hi, I’m Dean,” he said to her.
“Cora. Fee’s friend.”
He held out his hand, and she slipped her small palm into his huge one in what I could only describe as a handhold not a handshake, because damn it went on way too long.
“Dean. Eggs,” Grayson snapped.
Dean released Cora and joined Grayson, but he kept looking over his shoulder at my friend.
Cora nudged me under the table with her thigh and mouthed fuck.
“Why haven’t they called yet?” I stared at Cora as if she would have the answers.
I was being unreasonable because although they’d told her where they were headed, they hadn’t given her a location, and she was just as in the dark as me now.
“They will, babe,” Cora assured.
But it was late afternoon, and there’d been no word from the guys. We’d spent the day hanging with the Loup in the lounge and then spent some time with the females on the second floor—yes, they had a whole section of the house to themselves, but throughout it all, Lucas and the guys niggled at the back of my mind. The truth of why I was here stabbed me in the chest.
This was no vacation. “Can you send a message?”
“I have,” Cora said. “No reply.”
God, I couldn’t take this. I needed to know they were okay. I needed to see them. The room seemed too small, and the air too thin. This was my fault. I’d killed Lucas, and they were putting themselves in danger to save my ass.
“I don’t deserve this.”
“What?” Cora gave me a perplexed look.
“This. Any of it. Sanctuary… The guys trying to save my ass.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” Cora reminded me.
“I still did it, though. It was me.” I sat on the sofa and buried my head in my hands. “I ate my friend.”
“It sucks,” Cora said. “I mean, what a waste of money.”
I raised my head to look at her. “Huh?”
“You paid Lucas to get him off your back about the house, and then you ate him.”
“God, you have a sick sense of humor.” But my lips were smiling, and then guilt smashed me in the chest. “It’s not funny.”
“No, but it’s unfortunate. You’re like the gun, Fee. An object that these hooded wankers used to fire a shot. It’s not the gun’s fault, it’s the wielder’s fault.”
I knew this. Of course I did, but it didn’t take away the guilt and the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, or maybe that was just undigested bits of Lucas.
Oh, God, I was going to be sick.
It was a cycle of guilt and remorse. Hours went by when I didn’t think about Lucas at all, and then what happened would hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer, knocking the breath out of me and leaving me shaking.
“Oh, shit, what about Lucas’s fiancée, Melody?”
“Lucas is a missing person,” Cora said softly.
And Melody would never know what happened to him.
Cora sat down beside me and slung an arm around my shoulder. “Fee, you have to forgive yourself. If you don’t, then this will eat away at you and destroy you.”
“I know. It’s just…If I could just speak to him. Say how sorry I am.”
There was a knock on the door.
“Come in,” Cora called out.
Vi stepped into the room.
“Wow,” Cora said. “I almost didn’t recognize you with clothes on.”
Vi winced. “I’m sorry about last night. I was rude. I’m not usually like that.”
She looked genuinely contrite, and my annoyance at her melted. “You thought I was banging your man. I’d have been pissed, too.”
Her smile was tight. “Grayson isn’t my man. Although we are seeing each other right now, he’s never claimed to be exclusive, so I assumed…Anyway, he explained the situation and asked me to talk to you about the Meet.”
“Yeah, he mentioned something about a Meet. What has that got to do with me?”
“You’re a new Loup to the pack, and it’s standard protocol to present a new Loup at the Meet.”
Had Grayson explained everything? That I planned to leave once my name was cleared. That I planned to fight for my freedom? I decided not to mention this, just in case.
Instead, I indicated the single-seater sofa opposite me. “Tell me more. What is this Meet?”
Vi made herself comfortable and crossed her skinny jean-clad legs. God, she was slender and willowy, the exact opposite of my curvy frame. So, this was the kind of woman Grayson was attracted to.
But he’d sniffed me. Touched me and stuff.
That was his Loup side, obviously. Just like I had mine.
Okay, stop thinking, and focus on the pretty witch’s moving mouth. Tune in, dammit.
“We gather annually to reinforce our pacts with our coven and show the other covens and packs that we’re solid. It’s basically a show of power, and this year it takes place in Necro City.”
“Witches and Loup in the same room?” Cora asked.
Vi nodded. “There will be representatives from the Rising, Regency, and Crimson Packs as well as representatives from the Tri-Pack Collective.”
“The Loup of the Tri-Pack Collective are…different. They’re an ancient bloodline, and rumor has it that every shifter is somehow linked to one of the three ancient packs. I don’t know if it’s true, though. What I do know is that they’re powerful, dangerous, and affiliated with Grimswood Coven, which is the head coven for all thirteen covens in the world.”
“They have three packs under their belt?” Cora asked.
“To be honest, I’m not sure how their arrangement works. Rumor has it that the alphas of the ancient packs don’t need miasma. I’m not sure what the deal is. No one outside of the Tri-Pack collective knows why they formed it. They keep that information close to their chests. The three packs affiliated to Grimswood are…they’re different. Dangerous.”
“Like the Rising Pack.”
She made an urgh face. “Worse. Loup come in many shapes and sizes. The Regency are wolves, the Rising are a mish-mash of creatures brought together by the fact they don’t belong anywhere else, and the Crimson Pack are coyotes. But the Tri-Pack collective are ancient breeds, breeds that are thought to have died out thousands of years ago. A whole different breed with different rules.”
“Then why do they come to the Meet?”
“Power,” Vi said. “To remind us they exist and that the North holds the power.”
“That’s where the Grimswood Coven holds court. They’re witch royalty, and they don’t let anyone forget it.” Her lip curled. “It won’t last, though.” She leaned forward, her eyes bright with glee. “There are rumors that the Grimswood anchor is sick. Dying. She left no heir, and no other in that coven is strong enough to anchor the three packs. Which will mean that, hopefully, the ancient Loup will soon come looking for other covens to ally with.”
She nodded. “Yes, rumor has it that the alpha of each pack is mated to the anchor.”
And if she died, that bond would be broken.
“They would be forced to form alliances with other covens to get…whatever it is they need.”
“Supposing the other covens can provide it,” Cora pointed out.
God, the world of Loup and witches was crazy.
“And don’t get me started on the warlock conflagrations.” Vi waved a hand. “They want in on the action, of course; only problem is they don’t have access to miasma like the covens.”
“So, what do they use?”
“They use chaos. It’s a darker power, one that can be destructive. We witches steer clear of it.”
“Why are you telling us all of this?” Cora asked.
Vi sighed. “Grayson asked me to fill you in. He said you weren’t staying, but you needed to know how everything worked.” She pursed her lips. “I know he wants you to stay, though. You’d be good for his pack, but this world you’ve stepped into is filled with rules and runs on a hierarchy. If you’re going to fit in, if you’re going to survive, then you need to know how things work.”
Wait a second, I’d overheard her with Grayson. She wanted me gone, she wanted him to continue to rely on her coven.
I studied her carefully. “If I stay, Grayson will no longer need your coven.”
She lifted her chin. “I know.”
Wait a second…This wasn’t about me or the coven. It was about her. She wanted to know if Grayson would still want her if the coven was taken out of the equation. She was in love with him, and she suspected he was using her. Would Grayson do that?