Echoes of the Pack
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In the moonlit forest, the Alpha and Alora engaged in a secret, passionate dance away from prying eyes and their pack's demands. A deep voice filled with desire rumbled like thunder in the night. "To me, you are the passion that flows through my veins, the intense desire that drives me. I long to have you, Alora, with an insatiable desire." She silently invited him with parted lips, her sultry gaze fixed on him. "You're the storm that ignites my senses. Your touches and kisses fuel my fantasies," she said in a seductive voice. In a world of forbidden love and thrilling action, Alora finds herself in a heart-pounding love triangle while seeking justice for her sister's tragic death. She's torn between mysterious Alpha Cassian and Lucien, her soulmate from a rival pack, and her choices either unite or divide the werewolf packs. As their enemy Orion seeks revenge, her journey reveals a world of mysteries. Ultimately, the conflict demonstrates that even the most chilling secrets can't withstand the destructive power of love, as affection, loyalty, and her unwavering spirit take center stage.
The atmosphere feels thick with an unsettling presence, like a tightening noose constricting her skin.
Her body is there, my sister's body. I stand in silence, waiting for her to blink, hoping she'll step down from the railing and dismiss this as a mere joke or prank.
But she doesn't.
Our eyes lock in a continuous state of panic.
My hand moves from my chest to my mouth, then extends toward her. She swings back and forth, each swing diminishing, mirroring the growing intensity of my breaths.
I shut my eyes and collapse onto the ground, releasing a scream that drains all the air from my lungs.
Four hours earlier...
"Can you and Alora give Ahren a ride home, Azura?" Ahren's mom disconnects her phone from the car's audio system, creating a loud pop sound. She smiles as she observes them standing together.
My sister and Ahren make a striking couple. He looks like a high school football star, while she is tall and blonde, as if she's been taken from the pages of Vogue and placed in our peaceful Palawan town.
Zaven tugs at my cardigan. "My nail came off."
"Ugh," I exclaim, reaching into my bag and handing him a roll of bandages. I accidentally tore off my little toe's nail while practicing at home last night, which is either a hazard of the trade or a sign that I need to reevaluate my ballet technique.
"Don't tease me! If I can't share these things with my dance partner, then who can I share them with?" His nail looks awful. As he removes his sock completely, we both wince. "Alora!"
"Quit complaining," Azura says with a chuckle. She kneels down and begins to apply a bandage to his toe. "You'd think that after all these years, you two would have grown accustomed to-"
"Azura, you can't just get used to stubbed toes."
She hands Zaven his sock and tells Ahren's mom, "Miss Mac, we'll drop him off after dinner."
"Sounds good! Enjoy yourselves, kids!"
Once Ahren's mom leaves the studio, he wraps his arms around Azura's waist. His cheeks turn deep red, and his bright blue eyes remain fixed on my sister. However, she seems lost in thought or captivated by something outside in the forest.
Zaven stands up as Azura awkwardly pushes Ahren away and says, "I'll leave you to deal with...whatever that is."
"Thanks," I reply, giving him a quick hug and reminding him, "Text me when you get home, Goose."
"Will do, Mav."
The car ride home feels oddly tense now that Ahren is seated in the back. I sit upfront with Azura, who hasn't uttered a word since we left my rehearsal. Her fingers are pale as they grip the wheel. I glance down to ensure her seatbelt is still fastened.
"Hmm?" She looks at me and asks, "Alora, did you say something?"
I fumble over my words. I hadn't actually spoken aloud. "Are you okay? You seem a bit distracted."
"I'm fine," she insists, although her forced smile suggests otherwise.
Ahren and I exchange glances. He gives me a frustrated shrug and sinks back into his seat. This dinner is turning out to be quite interesting.
But this isn't new. It's been this way for a while now, this sudden change. One moment she's her cheerful self, and the next... it's like talking to her underwater.
My sister has changed. It's evident. It has been progressively worsening since we returned from summer break and started our senior year.
I know that Azura has always been drawn to unconventional interests. She and her theater friends dabble in their version of white magic, something I used to consider a rebellious hobby or a bit of Mother Earth mysticism from hippies. But it was never an issue before. Azura is a good person, as are her friends. I know this.
I don't understand why she changed. This uncertainty gave me the courage to sneak into her room and sift through her belongings. I don't know why she transformed from my fearless, outgoing sister into someone shyer and quieter than even me. I don't know why she no longer wants to be with Ahren, her childhood sweetheart.
I can't grasp how we've gone from being inseparable best friends to sisters who hardly exchange a word. I can't pinpoint when Azura stopped talking to me, but it's undeniable that she has distanced herself.
In a typical family, siblings can keep secrets from each other without causing concern, but our family doesn't follow that pattern. Our parents consist of a hardworking father dedicated to his business and a mother who wholeheartedly adores him. Azura and I are the product of their commitment to each other, and while they do care about us, their devotion to each other has always come first.
After reading our father's text, I softly mentioned, "Mom is preparing arroz con habichuelas."
"Thank goodness," Azura responded as she drove down our long gravel driveway.
"Thanks, Mom," she added. "Primera-Mama," I teased her with a chuckle. "Segundo-Dios."
"Be careful now," I playfully warned her with a wrist slap. "You might get into trouble speaking like that."
Ahren, joining in from the backseat, said, "Ladies, let's keep an open mind."
"Ahren, I apologize. We were just discussing what holds the most importance in our family."
"Oh, so work," he joked, but I noticed Azura's jaw tensing.
Our upbringing was unlike anyone else's. By the time Azura and I entered elementary school, our father's sailing business had already begun its growth. We never lacked for anything, for which I've always been grateful. However, our parents were resolute in their priorities, emphasizing that the business always came first.
We were raised in a home where our parents spent more time abroad than sharing a room with us. Half of our family resided in Puerto Rico, and the other half in South Carolina. Azura and I were always together, and remarkably, we didn't stray down the wrong path. Our parents didn't dictate our every move, allowing us a degree of freedom.
I chose the path of dance, while my sister embraced the piano. Her sanctuary lay within the high school theater group, a choice that suited her outgoing nature. Azura and I may seem like mirror images, but we possess our differences.
As soon as Azura turned off the Jeep, Ahren hopped out, exclaiming, "I'm famished!" He sprinted up the front stairs, while my sister and I remained in silence.
Once again, she gazed into the woods. What could possibly have captured her attention?
Azura had always been sociable and driven, boasting numerous school friends. I, on the other hand, was the quiet one in the family, while she relished the limelight, especially on stage in ballet shoes. I found contentment in having just a select few friends, including my sister, Ahren, and my dance partner.
"Hmm?" Her gaze remained fixed on the path leading from our property into the woods. "Aloralie, I'm sorry. Let's head inside."
"Is everything all right?" It began with small things, like her absent-mindedness during our conversations. Subsequently, she started offering excuses to avoid hanging out, no longer bothering to provide explanations. "You're causing me to worry, Azura. Did...did something happen to you?"
"I..." She pursed her lips and shook her head. "Aloralie, it's nothing. I've just been contemplating life after school. You have a promising future in a dance company, while my best shot lies with a local theater group."
"I thought that after all these years, you'd know better than to keep things from me."
"Azura, I always sense when you're not being truthful! So, please, stop it and tell me what's really going on!"
We share more similarities than differences. Azura was born just ten months before me, so we've always been in the same grade. We have an uncanny ability to discern things about each other, much like twins.
She now looks back at the forest, clearly unsettled or fearful of something within. I strain to see what has captured her attention, but it eludes me. All I can make out are the faint silhouettes of pine trees and shrubs as darkness settles in.
"I just...sometimes I wonder if life has more to offer..." Leaning against the steering wheel, she gazes up at our house. Her bedroom window overlooks the driveway, and she must have forgotten to close it again, considering the likelihood of rain soaking her curtains. "There's something more..."
I reach out for her hand and assure her, "There's undoubtedly more to life, Azura. We'll break free from here. We can plan a trip or head off to college after graduation. If I end up joining a dance company, you're always welcome to come along. I'll never leave you behind."
She looks at me with sadness in her eyes, even though she's smiling. Her sad smile makes me emotional, almost bringing tears, but she stops them. She gently wipes away my tears with her hands.
"Aloralie, I get what you mean, but there's a big world out there for you. When I think about the future, I can't see anything."
Once again, she's not being entirely truthful. She has a scary secret but won't share it with me. For months now, I've felt like something bad is coming. But tonight, after Azura and I got out of the car, that feeling got stronger.
"What's this? It looks like Azura's handwriting, doesn't it?" Ahren hands me tea. I'm sitting at the kitchen counter, reading the strange journal I found under her bed.
"Yes, it's her notes from English class... I skipped some parts." The sense of something bad happening isn't just a feeling; I'm convinced something dreadful is coming.
"My mother's voice interrupts my thoughts. I blink, and she repeats, "Go get your sister," this time with a sigh.
I have to leave the kitchen and the smell of empanadillas my mother made.
I quickly go up the stairs, holding the journal. I want to talk to Azura about the strange entries. From talking about moon phases to mentioning crystals, deities, and protective herbs like mugwort, it seems like my sister might be starting a new spiritual journey. I want to understand if this is why she's been keeping to herself.
Just as I'm about to step onto the top landing, I trip and stumble forward. I manage to catch myself with my hands, but not before my head hits the doorframe of Azura's bedroom.
"Ouch," I say, holding my head and feeling tears coming. That was a clumsy mistake.
"Alora! Are you okay?" My dad calls from the living room, sounding like he hasn't moved.
"Yeah, just a little fall," I reply. My mom's head appears around the corner, and I start to get up. "It's really nothing! I'm not even bleeding."
"We'll get you some ice," she laughs and adds, "From downstairs, you sounded like an elephant tiptoeing on gravel."
Both of us are still thinking about that comment. Just as I turn the doorknob to enter Azura's room, my mom looks concerned. She's not one to ignore someone who's hurt, even if she spoke in a hushed voice. She should have been the first to check on me.
I turn the doorknob and look inside.
"Azura? Azura, are you—"
Chapter 1: SISTERS’ DEATH
I'm waiting outside the police station for my parents to come out. I have a small packet of tissues in my pocket, the kind you carry when you're not feeling well. There's also a big tissue box in Dad's car on Azura's seat.
Our family SUV is the only vehicle in the small parking lot. You'd expect a busy police station, but in our peaceful hometown of Palawan, crime is rare. Then my sister passed away.
The police are looking into her death, even though it seems like she took her own life. They're following the rules, so they called my parents to get more details before releasing her body.
When the glass door opens, my mother rushes out of the station. I go to get the tissue box. She takes my hands and dabs her eyes. My father is talking to the detective in charge of Azura's case.
"Mom," I start to say, but she hugs me and stops me from talking. Her tears wet my t-shirt. I try not to cry.
She lets go, cups
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