I was denied that pass—stereotyped instead as a strong and fierce protector who couldn’t show weakness. So when I broke down, it made others uneasy. It was as if I wasn’t allowed to hurt. But I did, especially then.
I smoothed my sister’s hair and tried to smile. “Emme, I want you and Danny to take over Bren’s care while I’m gone.”
She wrinkled her brow. “Celia, I’m going with you.”
“No, sweetie, you’re not.” I sighed and tried to force the words out. “I need you to watch over Bren in case I don’t come back.”
Emme’s tears started all over again. “Don’t say that, Celia. I don’t want to lose you, too.”
The lump building in my throat made it hard to speak. “Emme, someday you’ll understand why you can’t come with me, but now is not the time to explain.” I didn’t want to cry, I had told myself I wouldn’t. But how could I help it? I was saying goodbye to my sweet baby sister, the one I’d protected most.
Danny placed his hand on her shoulder. “Just do what she asks, Emme.”
Emme glanced back and forth between us, realizing Danny knew what was happening and that, despite her reservations, she needed to trust me. “Okay, Celia. I promise to take care of Bren.”
And just like that, “Reveille” played in Bren’s pants.
Maria knocked on the door. “Celia, I have de items you requested.”
She crossed the room and handed me a briefcase and a large envelope. I brought Danny into the unicorn room and opened the case. “Holy crap,” he whispered when he saw it stuffed with cash. I dumped the contents of the envelope on the bed. There were two sets of passports, birth certificates, and driver’s licenses, for him and Bren.
“The briefcase has been magicked. Anyone who opens it besides you will see only folders and paperwork. Once you take the money out the spell will be broken. So try not to use it unless you have to.”
“Celia, this is a ton of money. Where did it come from?”
He was probably worried I’d stolen it from the vampires. “Most of it I’ve saved throughout the years. Some of it is from the work I’ve done for Misha. The war has been profitable for him and the other masters.”
Danny’s eyes darted over the wads of bills. “What were you saving it for?” he asked quietly.
I stared at the contents on the bed, but said nothing.
It was humiliating, but I told him anyway. “I always knew that I’d end up alone, and that my sisters would marry and move on without me. This money was going to help me start a new life on my own.”
Danny shook his head. “My God, Celia. You really believed that?”
I closed my lids tight and tried to swallow the ache building in my throat. “If I’d never met Aric I would have been fine—I wouldn’t have liked it, but I was prepared, you know?”
He squeezed my arm. “Celia, it doesn’t have to be like this.”
“You’re right, it doesn’t. If I can get Misha back, I know he’ll help me disappear.” I hugged my belly and managed a weak smile. “My baby and I will be safe, and I’ll never be alone.”
Tim rapped on the door. “We’re ready to go, Celia.”
“I’ll be right down.” I waited until I heard him leave, then grabbed my backpack and threw it over my shoulder.
Danny handed me a tissue from the unicorn tissue dispenser and then took one for himself. The unicorn whinnied and the horn lit up. “Keep Tye with you at all times,” he whispered. “Anara can’t control him, he’s not Pack. And if the vampires turn against you, he’ll help keep you safe.”
I took his hand in mine. “If I don’t come back, take Bren and run. You won’t be able to keep him safe without the vampires. You have all the papers, including forged medical records, that will allow you to travel with him.”
Danny nodded and stared hard at the floor. “Celia, about Aric—”
“Aric will be fine. He has his mate and he’ll have his own family soon enough.” I wasn’t Emme. I didn’t have it in me to be happy for him.
Danny held my face in his hands and blinked back more tears. “You’re wrong, Celia…about everything. Come back safely and I’ll prove it.”
We hugged, but neither of us could say goodbye. Danny was the first friend I’d ever made.
Now he was my family.
As Emme and I embraced, her tears poured out like rain. I fought to keep it together, finally breaking away from her before I lost my nerve. I kissed Bren’s forehead and raced out of the house with Tye, only to be stopped by one of the vampires staying behind. He handed me a large cream-colored envelope. “This just arrived for you by courier, Mistress.”
I opened it and couldn’t believe my eyes. My stare was so intense I thought my anger would set the expensive paper on fire.
Tye leaned over me. “What is it?”
“An invitation to a luncheon at the Den, in honor of Anara’s appointment to the North American Were Council,” I bit out. My hands crumpled the paper into a ball. Had Anara delivered it himself I would have rammed it down his goddamn throat.
My phone buzzed as we barreled onto the landing strip. I checked the screen…and time stood still. The text was brief, but hit me like an eighteen-wheeler sliding over ice.
Don’t go. Aric
I deleted the message at once, and tried not to think about why he’d sent it. It was better to think he considered Misha unworthy of being saved, and not—definitely not—because he still cared for me.
“He likes playing games, doesn’t he?”
Tye lounged beside me in the limo. I wasn’t surprised he saw the message nor was I shocked by the annoyed bark to his tone. I shoved the phone deep into my pack. “It doesn’t matter.”
I practically kicked the door open and dashed toward the luxurious jet. The vampires chasing me hissed, their growing anxiety and anticipation making them restless. My anxiety and anticipation churned my stomach. I raced to the rear of the plane and hurled in the bathroom. Stunned silence greeted me when I finally rejoined the vamps in the cabin. Once again, my leadership and stability were in question.
Maria shoved a bottle of water in my hand. “For mercy’s sake, take a sip.”