Oh, my.

“As for me… I’m not sure what they were going to do with me.” Finally, he twisted around to face me and now I could see why he’d turned in the first place. His eyes were shining with tears. He appeared to be far more out of breath now than when he had been swinging with me through those trees for God knew how many miles.

He brushed his eyes roughly with the back of his hand before clearing his throat. He shook his head, an attempt to regain composure.

My heart couldn’t help but go out to him on witnessing his pain. I guessed that it could not have happened that long ago. I wondered if I might’ve even been the first person he’d spoken to about it.

I couldn’t imagine losing my parents like that. Just thinking about it knocked the breath out of me.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, remembering that I didn’t even know my rescuer’s name. “What is your name?” I asked.

“Bastien,” he replied, his voice hoarse. “Bastien Blackhall.”

“My name is Victoria. Victoria Vaughn.”

Apparently both of our parents had a fondness for alliteration.

A span of silence followed. My mind continued to spin. Could this be the hunters’ way of fighting back? Invading other realms and punishing even those supernaturals who were entirely innocent, many of whom had probably never even set foot on Earth? Tit for tat? I wondered if there were any other bases here, and how many other innocent werewolves’ lives they might’ve affected.

“So you’re, uh, just as new to all of this as I am, then?” I asked.

He nodded. “I do not know when they first entered The Woodlands, or how they marked our territory so quickly. They arrived at our lair in the dead of night. We had no warning. All of us, completely unprepared.” His voice dropped to a growl. Hot anger burned in his eyes. “Cowards.”

“Where is your lair?” I asked.

He cast his head over his shoulder and murmured, “Northward.”

Like that meant anything to me.

“I see,” I said, my mind whizzing as I tried to figure out what the heck I was supposed to do now. My stomach felt tight with worry about what they were going to do to Heath and Grace.

“I need to go back and help my cousin and friend,” I blurted, even as I felt another sharp twinge in my ankle.

Doubt shrouded Bastien’s face before he spoke the truth I was trying to ignore. “You will not stand a chance, Lady Vaughn. We have alerted them now, and they will have that entire yard filled with their beasts on guard.”

“But—” I stammered. “But what else am I supposed to do?” My voice was on the point of breaking and it was everything I could do to stop myself from crying.

“I would suggest that you come with me,” he said. “At least, for now.”

I ran my tongue nervously over my lower lip. “Where to?”

“A secret hideout that my pack established for emergencies such as these. All those who survived the raid”—he swallowed hard again—“and I hope that some survived, will have retreated there, and will likely still be there.” His eyes fell on my ankle, which I realized had swollen up and gone bright red. “It is up to you,” he said, meeting my gaze again. “I could leave you in these woods… but I would prefer not to do that.”

Yeah… I would prefer if you didn’t do that, too.

“All right,” I said, taking a deep breath and trying to block out thoughts of what might be happening to my cousin and friend back in that base. They would recognize Grace and Heath as members of TSL from their uniforms, but if anything that would only make them more likely to mete out revenge on them for trespassing, even though we were a government-recognized organization just as they were. They hated our guts. Every single one of us. “I’ll come with you.”

Grace

By some mercy, I was still conscious by the time we reached the other end. Aching, but conscious. Heath made a concerted effort to land first, and his body balled around mine, protecting my limp one as we made contact with the jungle ground. He gathered me in his arms and stood with me, both of us looking around the jungle. The smoke had all but gone now, but I feared that we were about to meet with more hunters and mutants on this side. After all, they had been the reason we had leapt through the portal to begin with.

I caught sight of Corrine and Arwen, standing behind a cluster of trees.

“Hey!” Heath called.

They whirled around and gaped. “You’re back!” Corrine gushed, racing to us with Arwen. “Arwen and I just finished securing the area with Brock, Mona and Ibrahim. We managed to drive out the mutants—thankfully there were only a few—and put up a temporary barrier extending from this portal to Nightshade… What happened to you? Wh-Where is Vicky?”

I exchanged a pained glance with Heath. Before either of us could answer, the rest of the League came rushing into the clearing. My mother reached me, her turquoise eyes wide and petrified. My father took me from Heath’s arms.

“Grace!” my mother breathed, her eyes roaming the length of me. She gasped as she spotted the wound in my shoulder. I hadn’t even seen it myself yet. “Corrine,” she called.

My mother showed the witch my injury. “What happened to you?” Corrine asked again.

My heart tore as Xavier and Vivienne approached. “Where is Victoria?” they and several others asked at once. “Tell us what happened!”

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