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It was the not knowing that was the worst. Not knowing what, exactly, he might be thinking of me right now. Not knowing where he was, if he was even still alive.

My only relief came when I slept, but even that was after a hard struggle.

Is this what it’s like to love someone? To be so consumed with thoughts of them that you’re rendered dysfunctional?

That my state of mind could be so affected by Bastien’s circumstances unnerved me. Especially since they were circumstances I had no power to do anything about. It didn’t help that Grace wasn’t here. Although she was two years younger than me, my cousin was one of my closest friends on the island. I wished I could talk to her, even if there was nothing that she could say to make me feel better. I just felt the need to talk to somebody.

Maybe I should go talk to a werewolf. Who else would be better? Something drew me to the idea of going to seek out Saira. She was elderly and wise, and had seen much of the world.

I abandoned all attempts at completing my math homework and headed out of the penthouse.

Saira lived in one of the mountain cabins perched among The Black Heights. I unchained the bicycle I kept at the base of our tree and leapt on it to travel swiftly through the woods to the foothills of the mountains. Here, I had no choice but to abandon my bike in the clearing and begin climbing up the jagged stone steps toward the cabin houses. It was really about time that we installed an elevator among these mountains. Although the cabins were inhabited primarily by witches—with the occasional werewolf—humans still visited here sometimes.

I was panting and wheezing by the time I reached Saira’s cabin, which was about halfway up the mountain, a quaint one-bedroom building with pots of red and yellow tulips lining the wooden veranda. I climbed up the steps and knocked on the door. I hoped I would not be disturbing her.

The door clicked open and Saira appeared in the doorway. She wore a dark pink dressing gown and her bushy brown and gray-speckled hair was swept up in a high bun.

“Victoria,” she said, a smile warming her face. “How are you?”

I let out a sigh. “I’ve been better, to be honest. I’m sorry to disturb you. Are you in the middle of something?”

“Only a hot cup of honeyed milk,” she said. “Come in.”

“Thank you,” I said as I stepped inside. The entrance gave way directly to a small living room. It seemed that Saira was the simple type. She didn’t like clutter. The cabin had only the most basic furnishings, yet it was not lacking coziness. A fluffy brown rug stretched out before the hearth, and jumbo cushions the size of armchairs lined one end of the room.

“Take a seat,” she said. “I’ll be with you in a second.”

I lowered myself on one of the pillows and sank into it, even as I admonished myself. I was an insular person. I usually preferred to listen to people rather than talk myself. This wasn’t like me. But with my parents away, along with the rest of my family, I was aching for some kind of refuge.

Saira returned carrying a tray containing a heaping pile of cookies and two steaming mugs of hot, caramel-colored milk. She handed one of the mugs to me and set the tray down on the coffee table in front of me. She took a seat in the rocking chair opposite me.

“So tell me,” she said. “How can I help?”

Setting my mug down, I ran a hand over my forehead, tracing my temples. Where do I start?

“Do you know anything about the Blackhalls?” I asked.

Saira furrowed her thick brows. “Blackhalls,” she murmured. “Not much. Why do you ask? Did you meet them during your trip to The Woodlands?”

And thus I began to recount my journey through The Woodlands. Meeting Bastien—even Saira had never heard of a wolf who could shift at will—discovering that he had been betrayed by his own cousin, then reuniting with the Northstones, before the tragedy that had taken place at Rock Hall.

I still wasn’t even sure what the purpose was of telling all of this to Saira other than to relive it all again. Relive and regret it all over.

Saira, however, did not seem to find my visit curious at all. She listened and responded with compassion and without judgment. I did not know much about Saira’s past before she’d arrived in The Shade. Perhaps she’d once had a child, or children, of her own. But whatever her background, by the time I’d finished pouring my heart out to her about everything—call it maternal or she-wolf intuition—she told me exactly what I needed to hear.

“Wolves have good instincts, dear,” she said. “I can’t say that your wolf friend has survived, of course. But if he has, you’re causing yourself a whole lot of unnecessary heartache by worrying about what he might think of you.” She leaned in closer, her kind eyes fixed on mine. “Shall I tell you a little something about male wolves?”

“What?” I asked.

“They sense a good woman when they find one,” she replied, crossing her arms over her chest. “They may not realize it on a conscious level, but their subconscious knows it. Their affection is raw and often uncontrollable. They’re drawn to protect them, touch them, smell them, keep them close… to a point where they become dependent on the female, and it can intensely hurt them to be apart. Sometimes even psychologically damage them. Male werewolves, in many ways, are more fragile than their female counterparts. They fall harder and deeper. Even in light of so-called evidence of your betrayal, if there was truly a spark between you two, as it seems there was, and if he’s alive… I believe with all my heart that somehow or other, he will find a way back to you.”

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