This gripping tale explores love, loyalty, and betrayal as the line between survival and extinction blurs. Can Alpha Jax find his daughter and protect his family against the human threat? Or will The Midnight Rose Pack lose everything they cherish?
"What does he mean she's gone!" I say to Jax, my voice just above a whisper.
Jax releases his hold on me but says nothing.
Axton's anxiety radiates from the core of his being; I can smell it.
I can see that Jax is trying to keep his composure; he's our alpha. I couldn't imagine him acting any other way.
It's his nature.
"Where is the last place Lily was, Axton?" he asks, his voice firm. I watch as Axton stumbles over each word, "The last I saw, Lily was playing tag with some of the pups."
Axton casts his eyes down, and I can't bear to hear another word. I run with a speed I didn't know I possessed.
I can hear myself screaming for my pack's females, yet I wonder, is this me? ~Is this the way I sound? ~
Fear is vibrating throughout my body like a symphony of regret. Isabella is the first to reach me as I enter the food hall.
"What is it?" she asks, seeing the panic. I cannot bring myself to speak. I mind-link her.
"Have you seen Lily? Where is Lily?!"
"She's been playing with…"
Isabella's voice trails off as her eyes scan the vast lawns for any sign of Lily. Part of me hoped that Isabella's eyes would make it right, that she would somehow be the one to spot my daughter.
Suddenly, I feel Jax hot on my heels, his feet pounding the earth.
"Hayley!" he booms, making me jump. I know he's just as triggered as I am; he's trying to bring me back to reality.
"Look at me!" Jax commands, but I can't. I remain fixed on every inch of the pack grounds behind him until I feel the strength of his hands gripping my shoulders.
"I need you to calm down," he says gently. I can see the sincerity and love in his eyes, but my intuition tells me his wolf, Aaron, is ready to pounce. He will not be contained much longer.
I love him deeply, but this urge to find Lily, to protect her, is so strong I'm forgetting myself.
"Calm down, Jax! Our daughter is gone!" I feel my voice cracking. I'm suddenly aware of the eyes of the pack; they're following me. They're following us.
"The longer we stand here, the worse it will be, Jax!" I'm wailing now; tears are flowing uncontrollably.
"This display of defiance isn't helping anyone, least of all our daughter!"
The mind-link is abrupt. I feel bad for challenging him. I choose to remain quiet, but my body begins to shake.
"I will organize a search, and we will find her, okay?" Jax continues, his wolf now beginning to take over. His hands release me, and he turns to face the pack gathering around us.
"Warriors, our Lily is missing," he bellows, his eyes falling on to Axton with what I swear is contempt or anger. I can't tell.
"I want the males searching the grounds. I want the north, east, south, and west searched!"
Usually, Jax would call on me to add to the calm, give comfort, and reinforce his directions. This time, he didn't even look at me.
"I want the females to gather the pups in the hall and search every room of this compound. No pup should be alone, understood?"
A resounding "Yes, Alpha" travels the air as the pack shifts and runs in its designated direction.
I see Samantha's eyes trailing me before she shifts into her wolf.
"Samantha!" Jax calls out with a previously unknown ferocity, "You're with me!"
Jax shifts into his massive black wolf, and I watch Smanatha and Axton follow him toward the northern border.
That's where the rogues are.
The sun is at its highest, and my heart is thumping as sweat begins to bead on my forehead.
"Hayley? Are you okay? Hayley, look at me!"
The dizziness is powerful, I gulp down air as I refocus on my friend's eyes and the soothing melody of her voice, "Yeah, yeah, I'm okay," I breathe out, "We need to get every one of us looking, now!"
Tiffany, Ruth, and Julie run up alongside Isabella, "What's happening?" asks Julie, her blonde ponytail still whipping back and forth, her eyes watching Jax bound toward the woods.
"Lily is missing!" I find myself screaming now, "Everyone needs to fan out! I want you looking high and low, underneath tables, behind doors!"
I feel Isabella's hand softly touch my shoulder, "Hayley, we're going to find her, okay?" she says, reassuringly smiling.
"Ruth, Tiffany, you head to the pack house. We're going to start here," I instruct, unable to contain the frantic notes in my voice as I battle Aurora.
Before shifting, Ruth gives me a look, “Remember Hayley."
"I know, I can't shift," I reply, even more heartbroken than I can ever remember being in my life.
As she runs off to join Tiffany, I feel Isabella's hand touch mine once more, "Come on, let's find your kiddo!" she says.
I know she's trying to comfort me, but I know she's got to be wondering why I'm not shifting.
As we scramble through the kitchens, I rip open every pantry cupboard and every fridge, calling for Lily.
"I'll look in the storeroom; you keep looking here, okay?" Isabella sounds off as she bounds step by step, her wolf not skipping a beat.
The longer I search, the heavier my heart is getting. How could this happen?
I grab the cool steel of the countertop. As I close my eyes, I feel the dizziness begin to set in, and I'm quickly reminded of the life growing inside me.
I never thought in a million years that I would be the luna to a pack, let alone a mother. Now that this is happening, all I can see is failure.
I'm failing them all. I'm failing Jax.
"Hayley?" I hear Isabella's call from upstairs, "You still with me?"
I try to shake myself out of these intrusive thoughts, even momentarily, "Yeah!" I call up, "Do you see anything?"
Taking a deep breath, I try to mind-link with Jax.
Please tell me you found her, Jax!
I wait for his voice's familiar hum, but nothing comes. He's blocked me.
As I move my search toward the main hall, all I can see is how Jax looked past me.
I know I challenged him, I know it was wrong, but surely he understands my desperation, my heartbreak.
"Nothing upstairs," I hear behind me. Isabella now shifts back to her human form.
"Yeah," I huff, as I place my hand on my head, "same."
"It's going to be okay. Jax won't rest until Lily is found."
Her voice is as friendly as it always is, but she doesn't understand that there's so much at stake. So much more than she could fathom.
I look up. Ruth is bounding toward us, still in her wolf form. Aurora gets excited, and my hope is stuck between my stomach and throat.
"Is she in the pack house?" I press as Ruth shifts. She says nothing, but how her eyes fall to her feet says everything I need to know.
Isabella says, "I'll head towards the pack house, see if I can pick up anything, and then make my way to meet the warriors."
I nod, wishing I could do more but appreciating her efforts. As she shifts and her wolf bounds toward the grounds, I focus on the cupboards, "Lily!" I yell, "Lily!"
The hot tears streaming down my face make it impossible to see, but I keep digging, flashes of Samantha's confident smirk flowing through my mind.
Then and there, the judgment in her eyes flares with excitement. As if she, too, knows I'm a poor excuse for a mother as I am a luna.
Finally, the frustration of being shut out by my mate overflows, and I feel the vibration of Aurora's growl deep inside me.
As if she's sensing the turmoil in my heart, I hear Ruth's voice, "Let's get some air."
I follow her to the edge of the door.
I stop dead in my tracks.
"What is it?" Ruth asks.
"Can you smell that?" I ask feverishly.
Scrambling out of the door, I trace the intricate smell of my daughter's dress. Just for a moment, I'm ecstatic. Perhaps this was all a mistake after all.
The further I move to the back of the hall, the stronger the scent.
Could it be?
Fighting every natural urge to shift, I watch Ruth's snout around the corner. She stops and looks up at me.
I'm paralyzed in anticipation; it's like a spell that can't be broken.
There's something in her hand.
It's a piece of Lily's dress.