“You don’t believe it, though,” Riley said. “Not really. It wasn’t the first time Cynthia tried coming between me and my friends, and it wouldn’t have been the last.”
“She swears she didn’t give Wade the gun and tell him to do it . . . I think she was actually telling the truth.”
“But you hurt her anyway, didn’t you?” Which explained why Cynthia was missing.
“I wasn’t going to take the chance that she was lying. One of you did it.”
“Wade did it, Shirley.”
“Depressed. Troubled. Full of anger he couldn’t get out because his nature was just too sweet. It built up inside him until he burst like a volcano. I think he wanted to die. I do. I think he just also wanted to take with him the people who’d made him feel that way.” It was a sad truth, but it was the truth all the same.
“No.” Shirley’s voice shook. “No.” Her grip must have tightened on Savannah’s hair, because the little girl whined and tried pulling her ponytail free. The sound made Riley’s heart squeeze. Her raven flapped her wings and released a guttural rattle.
“Let her go.” It was hard to keep the plea out of her voice. “She’s not who you’ve come all the way here for.”
Shirley tapped her talons against Savannah’s fragile neck. “I don’t know . . . I think hurting her will hurt you, so maybe I should just do that.”
It took everything Riley had not to lunge at the bitch. Her muscles literally ached from the strain of keeping still, but she feared making any move that could set Shirley off. “That wouldn’t be enough for you. It’s me you want. Why wait all this time to hurt me? Why not do this years ago?”
“It’s your fault,” Shirley spat. “Seeing your face, having you around . . . it brought it all back. Everything went straight back to the way it was—Sawyer wanting you, Cynthia arguing with you, your uncles adoring you. But no Wade. No. While you’re all moving on with your lives, he’s dead.”
“But you didn’t kill us.” Riley paused, hearing tires screech and wolves growl just outside. Her stomach knotted at the sound of bullets firing, but she took comfort in the fact that none had hit her mate—she’d feel it if they had. “I don’t think you really want anyone to die, Shirley. You wanted people to remember Wade, to remember what he went through, and feel your pain.”
“Don’t kid yourself. I wanted you all dead. Especially you. You were supposed to be his best friend, but you did nothing to help him, just like you did nothing to help Daniel.” Shirley sneered and gave a quick snort of disgust. “Your mother never deserved him.”
The jealousy in the latter words made Riley frown. “Why?”
“He wasn’t hers anyway. I knew as soon as I saw Daniel that he was mine.” Shirley’s face actually lit up a little. “I didn’t need to feel the tug of the mating bond—I just knew. My raven knew.” The light on her face died an abrupt death. “But he didn’t. He felt something, I could tell, but he only had eyes for Anabel.” Her mouth curled in contempt. “Everyone had eyes for Anabel.”
Shocked, Riley was struggling to keep up. “You think my father was your true mate?”
“I know he was.” Shirley’s voice was like a whip. “He was mine, and she stole him from me. I had to watch them together. I told him he was my mate. He wouldn’t believe me and neither would she. She said I was just trying to break them up out of spite. I did try breaking them up after that, I really did, but—as he was so fond of saying—she was his world. They imprinted, and then they had you and you were both his world. Me? He avoided me like the plague.”
Now that she was mated, it was impossible for Riley not to appreciate just how agonizing that must have been. Shirley’s eyes were so wet and dull that Riley might have felt sorry for her if it weren’t for the talons aimed at Savannah and the fact that she’d hurt Dexter.
Shirley pressed her trembling lips together. “When Anabel died, I thought, ‘He can be mine now.’ Her death was fate at work, Riley. Fate punishing her for taking what wasn’t hers to take.” A flush crept up her neck and face. “I could have saved him. If they’d let me see him, let me speak to him, I could have brought him out of that state. He would have lived for me. I was his mate. But it was you the flock pinned their hopes on. They wouldn’t listen to me. Wouldn’t let me in to see him. ‘Riley will bring him back,’ they said. But you didn’t. So he died. Maybe fate was punishing him too for turning his back on what it offered him.”
“Are you forgetting that you were mated when he came to the flock?”
A dismissive sound. “I would have gotten rid of Dean for him. Dean never loved me anyway. He liked his girls young. Once I was too old for him, he lost interest.”
Riley got it then. Not only had Shirley been rejected by her true mate, but the male she’d taken as her mate had withdrawn from her. Wade had been Shirley’s anchor, her reason to live. And then she’d lost him. It would seem her grip on her sanity had slipped a little. Just maybe that grip had increasingly loosened as time went on, because the woman in front of Riley—a woman hurting children in a way that went against a raven’s nature—was definitely not stable . . . which was why it was absolutely imperative that Riley get the bitch away from the kids fast.
Shirley narrowed eyes that glittered with loathing. “I hated seeing you near Wade. I didn’t want anything of your mother touching my son, but he wouldn’t listen. He’d always find a way to sneak off and be with you and Lucy. He never defied me over anything else.”
Riley caught sight of Dexter stirring slightly in her peripheral vision, and her heart slammed against her ribs. She was relieved that he was conscious, but she was also frightened that he might draw Shirley’s attention.
“I don’t blame Wade for what he did that night,” Shirley went on. “None of them cared about him. They deserved to die and you should have died with them. Now you can.”
“You loved Daniel. I’m part of him.”
Her eyes flashed with scorn. “You had no right to be born. You should never have been born. They had no right to be mated.”
Riley threw her phone at Shirley. Instinct had the woman reaching to catch it. Savannah dropped to the ground and Riley charged at Shirley, sending them both toppling over the balcony. Riley shifted midair and shook off her clothes. Shirley did the same, and the ravens clashed in a fury of talons.
The black wolf bolted through the trees, teeth bared. His pack mates ran alongside him, keeping pace with the cars that raced toward the mountain. His muscles burned. His lungs felt raw. His heart beat too fast. But the wolf did not slow. He pushed on, veins buzzing with adrenaline.
Two humans leaned out of the car windows, guns in hand. The wolves did not retreat. They kept moving, using the trees for cover. Bullets slammed into the ground. Others hit tree trunks; pieces of bark flew. A burning heat grazed the wolf’s shoulder, but he ignored the pain. He had to. Echoes of his mate’s fear and anger sliced at him. He needed to reach her.
More bullets were fired. A yelp came from behind him. It made the wolf’s heart stutter, but he could not pause to help his pack mate. He had to reach those who were unprotected, he had to help his mate.
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