Danny interrupted, his voice quiet yet firm. “Your actions were only the result of Anara’s treachery. But if my forgiveness will help assuage some of your guilt, then, yes, I accept your apology.”
“Thank you,” Aric said hoarsely. “Thank you all for helping us.”
“No problem, dude!” I smiled. Only Shayna could act like taking out one of the most powerful witches on earth was no big deal.
Emme spoke lightly and with a great deal of heart. “Celia loves you, Aric. That makes you our family, too.”
Taran swore from somewhere behind her. “If you want to thank us, why don’t you start by making an honest woman out of our sister?”
Aric laughed. “I’m trying. This morning I asked Celia to marry me.”
That was all it took for my sisters and the wolves to lose their ever-loving minds. “You’re actually getting married! It’s about damn time. I for one have been dying to get off the Aric and Celia drama train.”
My mouth sprang open. “Hey!”
Aric wrapped his arm around me. “I’m still waiting for an answer, Taran, especially now that she’s told me she’s pregnant.”
A deafening silence greeted us before my sisters started screaming and crying all at once. Aric just stared at me. “They didn’t know?”
I shook my head. “Danny was the only one I told.” The cheer left my mood and voice, silencing the barrage of questions my sisters slammed me with. “I told him after we realized he could somehow block Anara’s power. Danny’s kept me safe from him this whole time.”
The wolves exchanged glances, realizing everything Danny had risked for me. Aric could barely find his words. “You’re a hero, Dan. You protected my mate and my unborn child. I’ll never be able to repay what you’ve done.”
“It was my honor,” Danny said, his voice splintering with emotion.
Aric swiped at his face. “When we return, expect a formal ceremony reinstating you into the Pack. That is, if you’re still willing to be one of us after the way we treated you.”
“Aric, in your shoes I probably would have acted the same way.”
Aric’s voice was barely audible. “Somehow I doubt that,” he said.
Koda disconnected shortly after that, promising to call as soon as they formed a plan. We walked in silence and sat around the extinguished fire. I knew what was coming next, but it didn’t make Gemini’s question any easier to take. “Tell us what happened, Celia.”
Aric stroked my back. He sensed my apprehension and spoke for me when I wouldn’t answer. “Anara used you as pawns to attack Celia.”
The ignominy in Gemini’s dark almond eyes almost made me weep. He rose slowly, falling speechless. “It’s okay,” I said. “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”
Koda matched Gemini’s repulsion with fury. “It’s not okay, Celia. Shit, that day we thought you hurt Emme—it was us, wasn’t it? We assaulted both of you.” He swore. “And that day we were driving? Jesus, you must have been fighting for your life!”
Aric released me and stood, demanding answers in his glare. Gemini lowered his head. “I don’t remember what happened, Aric. But if we turned on her, she didn’t stand a chance against us. We forced her to leap out of a moving vehicle.” He released a shaky breath. “And we pulled out her hair…chunks littered the floor and her scalp was bleeding.”
“You tore out her hair?”
Gemini nodded. Liam’s eyes darted between me and the wolves, expecting one of us to deny what had happened. Koda kicked a huge rock. It landed with a thud across the other bank. “That day at the hotel, was it Anara who tried to break Shayna’s neck?”
My jaw clenched. “Yes. He appeared behind Aric when we were holding each other. He told me he’d kill Aric if I didn’t get away from him. When I didn’t move, he attacked Shayna.” My voice cracked. “I never wanted anyone to get hurt.”
The pallor in Gemini’s skin receded, forced away by his increasing menace. “We’ve betrayed you in countless ways, and all this time you were protecting your love and ours. We were fools to think you could ever harm them.”
Gemini and Koda, while infuriated, covered their faces in deep remorse. Liam couldn’t take the guilt. He stared blankly at the ground. “We bludgeoned you…and broke your bones. We could have killed you and the baby.”
Aric stormed to the forest’s edge and punched a hole into a large dead fir, toppling it over. Dirt and mud rained down as the roots sprang from the ground. “I should have been there for you,” he growled. “I could have stopped them!”
I staggered toward him. Aric was strong, but the force he demonstrated then was more than I believed him capable of. The wolves followed, appearing to encourage his actions.
My hatred for Anara spilled over into my voice. “Why are you blaming yourselves? None of you would’ve hurt me if Anara hadn’t forced me to break my bond with Aric.”
Koda faced me, snarling. “Celia, you were compelled to destroy something sacred to keep Aric from harm. It shouldn’t have come to that—his safety and yours is our job. We failed him and we failed you!”
The Warriors rushed me at once—anxious to keep me safe despite the current lack of threat. Aric’s warning growl forced them to freeze. Their pent-up restless energy shimmered beneath their skin—like real wolves right before a hunt. My independent side wanted to tell them to back off, and insist I could take care of myself. The side of me that had been terrified for weeks was just grateful they would no longer attack me.
Aric gathered me into his arms, more possessive than loving. He failed to look at me. Instead he fixed on the wolves, daring them to approach.
Gemini stepped back slightly; the others followed suit. He rubbed his goatee, irritably. “The desperate measures you took to distance Aric alerted us that something was wrong, but we never imagined the situation involved one of our own. We thought that the vampires had somehow driven you insane.”
“The only solace I’ve had has been with the vampires. Their combined magic overpowered Anara’s.” I purposely didn’t mention Misha’s name, but Aric’s pained expression told me he recognized Misha as the driving force. I had to be honest. While Misha and his vampires made me crazy, they didn’t deserve to be the proverbial scapegoats.