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Chapter One


Slinging his bag over his shoulder, Asher stepped outside and closed the door. The snowbanks were a lot higher than in the last few years. The storm had been insane, it was the first time he’d been happy not to be driving. He’d been stuck here for two days because of the weather and was more than ready to get back on the road.


Going over, he opened the van and tossed his bag inside. He should probably spend some time cleaning it out, but there was always time for that when waiting at safe houses and when the teams were gathering to take down more of Tomas’ places. Jesse told him that things were on the upswing now, and they were going to be able to tear down what Aiden Tomas’ family had built, finally. He looked forward to that.


Closing the door, he glanced across the road at the house. He started toward it and then stopped three steps later. He still couldn’t bring himself to go inside. That house was filled with happy moments as long as he stayed out of it. As soon as he stepped inside, the empty space would remind him of reality. It wasn’t as if he could forget, still eighteen years later, he could see his parents and brother lying in their own blood.


It had been a family outing as they’d always done together. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t recall the reason. Was it berry picking, or were they just going for a hike, he wasn’t sure. A few families were there, so it must have been for berries. He had been chasing his little brother and annoying his mother by doing it when the first screech had paralyzed their movement. His mother rushed over, scooped up Cyrus, and told Asher to run and hide. Even a child knew when the tone in a parent’s voice told them it was of the utmost importance to listen. He’d listened without question. He couldn’t hear her voice anymore, and he missed it.


How far he’d run, he didn’t know. He’d hidden in the base of an old hallowed out tree and had stayed there until he heard the sounds of creatures around him. Had they really stopped during that time? Were no birds or critters making a sound, or had the adrenaline blocked out everything? When his patience ran out, he emerged and wondered why his father hadn’t come and gotten him. He checked in shrubbery and overgrowth for his mother and brother as he retraced his steps back to where they had been.


They hadn’t gotten away or hidden. They had barely made it fifty feet from where he’d been when she told him to run. He was behind a tree, watching the men check the bodies on the ground. He didn’t know if they were looking for one in particular or what they were doing. For a fleeting moment, he had thought they were there to help until the wolf with the blood all over its face strolled over to one of the men and growled. The men spoke to it, and then they left.


Asher had almost died that day too. He’d started to rush to look for his mother when someone grabbed him from behind and covered his mouth. He hadn’t known until they spoke to him that it was his clan’s Alpha. Others had come running, and the only glimpse he’d gotten of his family was looking over Alvin Cain’s shoulder as he carried him back to their village. Four had vanished that day, the rest were slaughtered.


“I guess you’re leaving now that the roads are open.”


He spun around to see his grandmother standing on the steps, a big blanket wrapped around her shoulders. He loved her dearly and was glad his Aunt and Uncle were still here, so she wasn’t alone. “Yeah, I’m just waiting on word of which way I’m going.” He hoped that Zain or Illias would get back to him soon. He just couldn’t be here. “Listen,” he went over and looked down at her weathered face; she was his sunshine in the otherwise dark world he lived in, “about the house.” He watched her look over at it and could see it still got to her. “I think, with all those we’ve been finding, we should clean it up and let some move into it.”


“I always thought you’d want it someday.” She looked at him and nodded, “Okay, I’ll tell Alvin.”


“Tell Alvin what?”


They turned to see their Alpha coming toward them.


“If it has anything to do with a shovel or a snowblower, I don’t want to hear it.” He smirked.


Asher couldn’t help but grin, he’d had his fair share of shoveling in the last few days, along with most of the clan.


“Asher wants us to open the house to those in need.” She looked up at him, and he thought it was pride in her eyes but couldn’t think why, “give some family a little more space than bunking in with others.”


Alvin stopped and studied him, “you sure, son?”


Asher nodded, “I’m on the road, I don’t need a big house.”


His Alpha was the only reason he was alive today, and sometimes Asher wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. “All right, I’ll get someone in there to clean it up.” He nodded, “we’ll store anything that’s personal.”


Asher shrugged. He didn’t need it and doubted he’d ever want it.


Alvin inhaled slowly and then blew it out, “I’m looking for Journee, have you seen her?”


“Journee?” His grandmother frowned, “I haven’t heard that name in—” Her eyes widened, “she’s here?”


Asher knew the name was familiar, but he wasn’t sure who she was. His grandmother told him of all the comings and goings, her words, but he couldn’t keep it straight.

“You remember her, don’t you?”


He looked at Alvin.


“She was with the group the day…” Alvin cleared his throat, “she showed up in the middle of the night, I was over helping Len get his generator going. When I got back, she was sleeping on the couch, and Maeve told me to leave her be until morning.” He rubbed the back of his neck, “she said she had something important to tell me.”


“Did she say how she got back? Where’s she been?”


Asher realized this girl had gone missing the day his family was killed. He looked around, there were too many traitors to trust she wandered into the village after eighteen years.


“I have no details yet, Inez. That’s why I’m looking for her.”


“Alpha Cain.” One of the men came running over. “There’s a hurt cat at the bottom of the river hill.” He held up a worn backpack, “I’m guessing she’s one of ours by this.”


Alvin took the pack. “It’s Journee’s. I tripped over it by the door last night.” He started walking toward the hill.


Asher looked down at his grandmother, “go inside and stay warm, I’m going to see if I can help.” She nodded.


He caught up to his Alpha, “so she just showed up? Has anyone heard from her all these years?”


Alvin glanced at him, “I know what you’re thinking, but Maeve says she looked soul weary tired, her clothes were tattered, and her eyes were haunted by demons.”


Asher sucked in a breath. “We shouldn’t share too much with her, just in case.”


The Alpha nodded, then stopped and walked slowly along the path across the top of the hill.


“Just down there.” The man caught up to them and pointed.


Down at the bottom lay a cheetah. Her coat was paler than most, but that wasn’t unheard of. She wasn’t moving at all. Asher moved by the men to find the trail she’d taken down. He stopped and watched a small wolf pup circling her. “There’s a wolf down there; if the parents are nearby, we need to hurry.”


“That’s her pup.”


Asher jerked his chin and looked back at him.


Alvin smirked, “Maeve said the pup lay on the porch while Journee was in the house.”


Asher looked down the incline again. A cheetah shifter with a wolf pup, that was new. He wouldn’t have any problem getting down there in cat form, but then he wouldn’t be much help in that way. “I’m going to zigzag down to see how bad she’s hurt.”


“Be careful. I’m going to call Jag and see if he’s got that old sled he used to pull the kids around on.”


Asher nodded and started down. His boots were great in the snow, but this was going to suck as far as frozen feet went. He slid a few times and had to drop to stop himself from landing down there with her. Now he had snow in his jeans, jacket, and sleeves. Yeah, driving sounded good right now; a heated vehicle and miles of no people, and no chatting was what he longed for.


As he reached the bottom, the pup started going crazy and barking at him. Asher guessed he was around four months old, judging by the teeth he was seeing. They were not milk teeth, that was for sure. “Hey, bud, I’m here to help her.” He kept his hands at his side and did not move them around as he walked slowly in that direction. The pup crouched and snarled at him. “It’s okay.” He kept his tone soft and even.


When he got closer, the animal ran back to her, whining and licking her face. “I’m Asher, Alpha Cain is at the top of the hill.” She lifted her head and looked at him. He could see the pain in her amber eyes. “Let me take a look. Don’t try to get up yet.” He crouched down a few feet from her and waited for the pup to decide if he was allowed near her. Journee turned her head and looked at the wolf and the pup laid down by her head.


Creeping closer, he saw her back leg sitting at an odd angle. “Can you get up?” When she moved her front paw, he held his hand out, “whatever you do, don’t try to shift.” He wasn’t trained, but he’d been around others that had gotten hurt in their animal form and knew that shifting back if something was broken could permanently disfigure them.


She lifted her weight until she had both paws under her chest and started to rise slowly. He could see the shaking.


“You know what, don’t try to get up.” He knelt and reached over to run his hand along her back leg. He stopped when he felt the sharp point of bone. “Stay down.” He leaned back and rested his weight on his heels, “I think it’s broken.” He glanced to see her watching him, “I have no idea how to set it so you can shift, so we’re going to have to get you up out of here and let someone more qualified do that.”


She huffed out a breath and dropped her head back down. The pup inched closer and rested his chin on her shoulder.


Asher couldn’t imagine being hurt and stuck in one form. He pulled out his phone, “I might know someone with answers.” He had no idea how he was going to get a hold of Calum’s mate, but Jesse could. He brought up the number and saw that he had no signal. “I can’t call until we’re back up top.”


The pup jumped up and started growling. Asher turned to see the Alpha and the other man coming toward them with a long plastic toboggan. It was ideal for transporting her, but it would work.


He stood up and turned to go get it when she groaned. Asher’s cat was immediately there and tense. The pup started barking and growling. His cat probably wanted to eat the vicious little furball. Walking around her, he squatted, “come here.” He held out his hand to it. “Come on, we can’t help her if we’re tripping over you.” He paused to wonder if the pup had tripped her up on her way down. He glanced around and couldn’t see the tracks. How long had she been lying here? The pup came closer and inched further, dragging his belly in the snow.


“How bad?”


He kept his eyes on the pup, “I think there’s a break in her back leg, but I’m no expert.”


“Okay, we’ll get her to the top, and then I’ll have to call around and see if any of the clan doctors are nearby. Ours is off helping the Alliance.”


“I can call someone once we back up top and have a signal.” The pup was only a few inches from his hand now. Asher wondered if it would be okay with his scent. Then again, he was running with another shifter, so he should accept him. When he was close enough to grab, the wolf darted in the other direction and stood ten feet back, watching their every move.


“Let’s get her on this.” Alvin looked back up the hill, “it’s going to take all three of us to pull her up.”

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