“This is it,” Hawke said, looking at the thick copse of trees. The temperature dropped the further they traveled deeper into the Romanian forest near the Ukrainian border. Long dark shadows prevented them from seeing any signs of a town or castle or bailey. No one knew what they would find beyond this row of trees.
The air sat heavy on their shoulders, as if it carried a load. A light odor, not foul, but one he noticed and cataloged as out of the ordinary. The hair on the back of his neck rose and his skin prickled.
His wolf didn’t like this place.
If it were up to him, they would leave and continue to seek concrete information about the decimated pack elsewhere. But each day they didn’t find information on Amynta, Asia’s mother, his mate grew more distant, despondent. She remained in her chameleon-generated male disguise twenty-four hours a day, much to his dismay, in preparation to follow new information on a moment’s notice. Nothing he said made any difference, so he stopped offering suggestions and accompanied her anywhere, no matter how unlikely the results.
“The directions say this is Albuslupos, land of the White Wolf Clan, your mam’s pack.” He looked at the overgrown tree stumps and grass, and then at her. “Asia?” he called out to gain her attention.
She dragged her gaze from the thick foliage to meet his. “No bugs. No noise. Nothing.”
Hawke looked at the brownish tint on the leaves of the trees in front of them, not quite dead, but a discernible difference to the green leaves hanging on trees behind him. Damian stood on the other side of her, nodding.
“I’m not sensing anything,” Angus, littermate of Silas Knight, La Patron, said. “There’s no life along this perimeter. Nothing’s lived here in a long time. Even Byte’s not moving toward those trees.” He reached down and rubbed the blue speckled head of his new pet. Byte barked a few times and then made a purring sound while rolling on his back. “Is it possible Jacques sent us the wrong directions?” he asked Hawke.
“Anything’s possible, but –”
“No.” Asia said, holding her hand up. “This is it. But there’s…” She moved forward. Hawke stepped up beside her. They had discussed strategy at the hotel in town. This journey would be taken together, she promised not to go roaming off on her own and he planned to hold her to it.
When she remained silent, he looked over his shoulder at Angus. The older man shrugged and stuffed his hands in his pockets while looking around. Damian had moved back, and looked up at the tall trees that blocked the sun. Shadows lengthened as if a hidden hand drew a curtain at the end of a performance.
They all looked up as the area darkened. “The only thing missing is the dreary music,” Hawke said, trying to lighten the mood.
Damian and Angus chuckled.
Asia continued staring forward as if she saw something none of them did. He tapped into their link and realized she was scanning the area. Angus’ declaration had been correct, but there was something… something he hadn’t noticed until he piggy-backed on her scan.
Old buildings which proved the pack had lived here before. Someone went to a lot of trouble to keep that information hidden. “So this is it,” he said, taking her hand.
She tightened her hold on him and stepped forward.
“Are we going in there?” Damian asked, sounding younger than his twenty years.
“Yes,” Hawke said as they moved further into the dark, gloomy woods. “We saw some buildings.” The air pressed against his skin, creating resistance as if he swam upstream. Each step forward became a struggle. Asia appeared immune. His grip tightened on her hand, deepening their connection.
“This place is warded,” Angus said as a tingly sensation flew across Hawke’s skin. He stumbled but remained standing.
“Where’d you go?” Angus asked him through their link.
Hawke turned and looked behind him. “In the village, where are you?” He and Asia retraced their steps and stopped at the edge of the forest.
“We can’t come through. Can you come back?” Angus asked.
“Let’s try,” Asia said when he gave her Angus’ request. They returned the way they’d entered. Byte’s growls grew louder as they moved through the woods.
Relieved they could leave at will, Hawke told Angus and Damian the little he’d seen. “We’ll go back and search. There’s a reason this is hidden, maybe we can find some answers.” He tried to remain positive even though the entire place smelled like death.
“Here you’ll need these.” Damian handed him the satchel with the camera and video equipment. Hawke and Asia took the bags. “We’ll wait for you here.”
Surprised, Hawke met Damian’s gaze. The past two weeks they’d had made an effort to know one another better and he thought things were going well. “Thanks. Keep your links open. I didn’t sense any life in there, but you never know.”
Damian nodded and watched as Hawke and Asia turned back toward the village. When she went ahead of him, he couldn’t enter alone.
“I think we have to be connected for me to go inside,” he said through their link.
“Oh, maybe I can bring the others in, too.” She returned, grabbed his hand, and pulled him inside. “Let me try with Damian first. Tell them what happened and that I’m returning for them. It’s better if we don’t split up,” she said, walking off.
Hawke agreed and explained the matter to the men.
“It’s not working,” Asia said. “I can’t bring him across.”
Hawke heard Damian’s moan of pain through their link, and headed in the direction Asia had taken.
“I’m so sorry, Damian,” Asia said, releasing his hand. “We thought since it worked for Hawke, it’d also work with you guys.
Byte barked at the trees and ran in circles while Angus looked at Damian’s arm. “It’s warded for those in the pack I suppose. Since this was your mom’s pack, it recognizes you. And you and Hawke are one.” He helped Damian sit on the ground. “Go ahead, we’ll be fine. If something comes up we’ll contact Hawke. Don’t stay too late, I’d prefer not to be in these woods at night. We don’t know who owns this land, and Silas wants us to be mindful of other packs. We can return at first light every day until you’re satisfied,” he said with a stern look.
The guilt in her chest eased and she nodded, anxious to explore her mother’s homeland. She turned and met Hawke on the other side.
“Damian okay?” he asked, concerned.
“Yes. Angus is sitting with him as his skin heals. Have you looked around?” She waved toward the pathways and buildings beyond.
“No. Waited for you. Doing this together works both ways.” He took her hand. They stepped onto a worn path and walked toward the first building. When they reached it, she noticed several others scattered about.
“Why isn’t it dark in here?” she asked, looking around for the light source.
“Why isn’t it overgrown with grass and vines? These buildings should’ve fallen down by now, but they look like they haven’t aged. Are we in some kind of protective bubble?” Hawke searched for clues but didn’t find any logical reason for the well-preserved condition of the village. Time seemed to have stopped, leaving everything the same as the day it was sealed.
“Look at this,” Asia said, standing in the middle of what might have been a courtyard.
As he approached a large circle, possibly the center of the town, he saw two skeletal remains. One adult, the other a child.
“I wonder who they were,” she said. Bending down, she looked at a chain on the child’s remains. “Think this will give us a clue?” Before Hawke answered she lifted the chain and stared at the symbol of a white wolf on the locket. Asia stared at the majestic beast for a few moments and then shoved the chain into one of her pant pockets. Standing quickly, she brushed off her pants. “Let’s look around. Angus wants to leave before dark. We can get an idea how big the place is and come back in the morning to keep looking.”
She appreciated his support. Lately she hadn’t been the most wifely mate, but she wanted answers and the delays wore on her nerves. Rather than lash out, she reined in her tattered emotions and kept quiet, keeping her thoughts to herself.
“Which one do you want to start in?” He waved at the single level crude stone dwellings. She looked at all the buildings, some had wood doors, a few had openings in the exterior walls that may have served as windows, giving them a homey feel.
There were several outdoor cooking areas, a water well, and drainage system. She reasoned the alpha would have lived in the largest house and continued her search. Starting in the place where her mother had lived appealed to her.
One stood further back and overlooked the other buildings. It had two windows and an image of a wolf carved into the large wooden door. She pointed. “That one.” They headed toward the large stone building. Asia counted ten other structures before they reached their destination. The large door opened easily. She tapped down her excitement at hopefully learning more of her past, well, her family’s roots. Not some made up story from the Liege, but real facts about her mam. How and where she’d lived. Asia breathed deeply and then coughed. The musty interior was darker than the outside. Hawke pulled a halogen lamp from his bag and set it in the middle of the room.
“This was the Alpha’s house,” she said softly, thinking of the man who’d beat his daughter and then gave her to Lord Barticus, Asia’s sire. The stone walls were cold and uninviting. The large fireplace doubled as a stove, heavy cast iron pots hung in the hearth.
“Ahh, now this is nice.” Hawke stood beneath a large tapestry of a group of white wolves. Ruby red blood dripped from the teeth of the largest wolf, giving insight about the pack. “Would you like to take that?”
She continued staring, wondering what kind of man Alpha Bertoff had been. Although Hawke had explained the mindset of men in that era, plus the responsibility of the entire pack, and she could understand times had been hard. But not hard enough to give away your kid to some sex-starved pervert. She wouldn’t ever grasp that.
“No.” She turned and walked through each room, taking a journey through time. What a difference a century and a half made. In every room, she wondered if her mam had spent time in there or maybe in the one across the hall. None of the rooms looked inviting for a young girl. There were no female clothes or toiletries, nothing that suggested Amynta had roamed these halls.
Frowning, Asia stood in the great room and looked around. For some inexplicable reason she knew her mother had not spent much time in this house, it lacked warmth. But where then? They explored three more buildings before finding an old book half-buried in the ground with her mother’s name written on it. The building was small. Three mats lay next to each other on the ground. There were old, ragged dresses hanging on pegs in the wall near the mats.
“This looks like the servants’ quarters,” Asia said, touching the material reverently. Hawke flipped through pages of the book and then handed it to her.
“She doesn’t say much in this book. Someone may have given it to her and she never got a chance to write anything.”
Asia’s fingertip traced the leather cover and then the gold inlaid letters of her mother’s name. Her throat tightened with the sure knowledge she had found her roots. Good or bad, she now knew where she came from, which made a world of difference. Now she could begin coloring inside the lines of her history.
“White Wolf Clan.”
“What?” Hawke said from the other side of the room. The construction of the buildings and how well they’d been preserved fascinated him. Someone had warded the area to keep out intruders, but they didn’t understand why.
“That’s the name of my mother’s clan.” Her voice held a ring of pride.
“Yes, it is.” He moved toward her and stopped. “Shit, we’ve got to move.”
Asia stared at him and didn’t like the sharp furrowing of his brow. “What?”
Jaw clenched, he looked at her. “Angus and Damian were arrested for trespassing and are headed to Lyrill.”