The Alpha King's Fate
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Bloodlines Book 2 It's supposed to be their 'happy ever after'. Instead, Layla struggles with her new role in a dangerous world, her nosy human sister, and the strain of her rocky relationship with Jax. Their bond was supposed to be unbreakable, but Layla can't shake the feeling that she isn't enough for the Alpha King. What good is she to him if she can't do anything? Jackson's duty is to protect his people, especially his fragile mate. Uncertain of their bond and unable to read her emotions, Jax fears that Fate has been cruel to him once again. Were two such different beasts meant to be together? As old enemies resurface and shatter all their lives, Jax and Layla must confront their demons before everything around them turns to ashes. Have they condemned their people to die? In a world of werewolf politics and dark desires, Layla and Jax must fight for their love and their lives.
Jackson looked at the sea of faces that filled his territory’s largest open space, the ground behind the Town Hall. Everyone was dressed in black, pain etched on their faces.
From the moment all the packs arrived and started filling up the chairs they set out, he focused on not projecting his emotions or feeling theirs, something he hadn’t done since the days he felt the pack’s hatred of Layla in the shaky beginning of their relationship. It had been necessary then so he could know where all the threats lay, just as it was necessary to hide everything now. The amount of pain in the air was crippling.
His pain tore him up the most.
He looked over at Jasmine, Micah’s wife, and their daughter Cassandra who came over from her new pack for this occasion. The two ladies were inconsolable. One year had passed, but their tears hadn’t dried.
And it was his fault.
Layla, Dylan and Deidre said otherwise. Killing that witch's pack was something they all agreed had to be done, including Micah. They had gone together to ask his father to take action. King Richard’s refusal to do that was not the sole reason he’d died, but it contributed.
But still, he was the one who ordered the attack on the Shadow Moon pack. He was the one who did all the things Hailey accused him of.
And he was still standing while so many lost their lives because of him.
It wasn’t just from his packs; all the rogues the witch had chosen and hexed were also victims.
He felt Layla’s hand slipping through his and then gently squeezing. He couldn’t hide anything from her anymore. It was the best and the worst part of their bond.
‘We’ll all be okay,’ she whispered in his head.
As always, her touch and her words soothed him. She had been a pillar of strength for him the whole time.
Alpha Ryker and about ten pack members arrived on his birthday days before, but more of the Night Walker Pack had been at his gates that morning. After the witch cast the spell that hexed his whole pack to start killing themselves, Ryker’s and Chase’s warriors stopped fighting and watched Hailey’s sick game, unable to intervene. They lost fewer people.
The Night Walkers made their way to a section at the back of the field, and the other packs gave them a wide berth. He didn’t see anyone getting along with them the way Layla hoped. They were as dark as their Alpha and just as untrustworthy.
Ryker came toward them and then only gave him a slight bow before he turned his attention to Layla.
“My Queen,” Ryker said, his head lowered.
Cain growled in his head. That fucker. Though Ryker didn’t say anything other people hadn’t said before, his hackles rose. Layla was not ‘his queen’. Not the way it sounded when it came out of the foul Alpha’s lips.
But Layla smiled graciously, showing why she was perfect for the role, took Ryker’s hand and allowed the fucker to kiss it. The smile on Ryker’s scared face as he walked to his seat was disgusting.
‘Be nice,’ Layla warned in his head. ‘Stop looking at him like that.’
He didn’t realise he’d been glaring. He sighed and looked back at the gathered people before his Beta, Dylan, walked up the makeshift stage in front of the Town Hall back doors.
“Thank you all for coming today. It wasn’t an easy decision for some of you,” Dylan started.
Like most people, Dylan was in all black: a black suit, shirt, and tie.
“We’ve come together today to remember our fallen, the men and women who will always bind us together,” Dylan continued. “We all became brothers and sisters on those dark days. We all share the same pain.”
Jasmine sniffed, bringing his attention back to her. She was gaunt, and a black veil covered her face, but it didn't hide anything from him. Her pain was a knife through his heart. Cassie wrapped her arms around her mother, tears falling down her pale cheeks unchecked. He felt his chest tighten.
If he had just insisted on fighting alone. If he’d ordered them all back to the packhouse, Micah would still be there.
He looked away from the grieving widow and down at his hand entwined with Layla’s on his lap. The warmth from their bond washed over him, soothing him, taking some of his pain. It was seriously fucked up. He had no right to be happy.
“Our pack witches will join and lead us in remembrance of our brothers and sisters. We’ll invite anyone who wishes to say a few words. We will run together to honour them tonight under the full moon. The hall is open to anyone, and food and refreshments are set out. Help yourselves.”
Dylan walked off the stage and came back to take his seat at his side. Micah should have been seated at Layla’s side. His mate squeezed his hand again.
It was still early afternoon. How the fuck was he going to get through the rest of the day?
Diedre walked onto the stage dressed in her colourful ceremonial robes. As the pack witch, she was also their shaman. And as the strongest witch in all the territories in which he was King, she was the one who led all the other witches. Diedre wasn't part of any coven, but if she had been, she would have been their High Priestess.
Diedre started to speak. Her voice was strong and washed over all of them. She didn’t raise her voice because every ear could pick up even her softest words. She invited all of them to say the names of the people they lost. Younger drummers, also in ceremonial garb, started to beat their drums softly.
Four witches were in a line behind Diedre from all the other packs, and they all started to chant softly in rhythm with the beats. He felt their pure magic begin to wash over him like a balm meant to ease his pain.
If only it could cleanse him, too.
Diedre joined her sisters behind her, and they held hands. The magic became more potent with her voice. The packs started to whisper the names of their loved ones, one by one, and their words were carried away in the witches’ chants.
He knew all their names. He knew all the bonds that Hailey so brutally ripped from him.
He started with the name that hurt him the most.
“Micah,” he whispered.
His eyes closed. Saying his name out loud felt like losing him all over again.
But he said it again. And then he said all the other names, one by one. The men and women. The children. He lost forty-two people from the first attack to the last.
Cain howled as the pain slashed through both of them all over again. Layla squeezed his hand again, but he let go of her and clasped his hands together. He had to feel all of it. He had no right to the comfort she offered, not today.
When he said all the names, he started again.
It would never get easier.
There was weeping in the packs. He let out a breath and dropped the mask that was protecting him. The pain from the packs felt like a million paper cuts all over his body, but it was his burden to bear.
He didn’t get up when others took a break. He didn’t get up when others went to the stage and recalled their stories, the witches still chanting in the background. He heard all the words, and each added to the heavy load on his shoulders and the pain in his chest.
When Jasmine spoke, the urge to escape filled him. He had not been able to offer Micah’s mate any comfort. He was failing his brother by letting his loved ones grieve by themselves. But when Jasmine started to weep, Layla was at her side as she always was. It was Layla who helped her back to her seat with words of comfort.
The sun finally set, and the witches’ chants died down with the call of the moon. He was the first to stand and remove his clothes. He was the first to shift and howl his pain at the moon. It was a cathartic release, but he knew his pain would return. It would stay with him for the rest of his life. And when he started to run through the woods, he looked back at Layla, still fully dressed and with tears flowing down her cheeks.
He had never run with so many people before. All the Alphas ran behind him, and their people mingled and followed. The feel of the wind in his fur and the moon's call was soothing. He allowed them to provide the comfort he declined from his mate.
Because even though she heard what the witch, Hailey, said, even though she knew he was lost in his dark soul, she loved him anyway.
He could not accept that love on a day like this. He didn’t deserve it.
Perhaps he never would.
Layla sat on the top step at the front of the packhouse, enjoying the silence. The last of the packs were just leaving; her head was already blissfully quiet.
She hadn’t anticipated how hard it would be to get through the memorial. She sighed and looked up at the top floor of the packhouse. Jax saw Chase off and then claimed he had something to do in their bedroom. He’d been alone there for at least an hour. She could sense why. He was still raw. He’d been wide open since the memorial and the run last night.
She couldn’t comfort him; she’d never felt so useless in her life.
“That was a hard one,” Dylan said behind her.
That was putting it mildly. She hadn’t known how much it hurt to lose a pack member until Jackson marked her. She felt like she lost parts of herself with each of them, even though she hadn’t known them well. No wonder they all wanted her dead after the first attack.
“Are you heading out?” she asked.
“Yes. I need to keep busy,” Dyla
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