Kaylie led me through the mall, not stopping or saying a word until we reached an empty bench at the other end of the building. She sat in it, and I took a seat next to her.
“Tyler told me that it's hard for a wolf to disobey its alpha," I said to start off the conversation. “But Tyler's huge, and D.K.'s like a stick. Aren't werewolves supposed to be able to challenge their alphas if things get too bad?"
“Yeah," she answered, “but there's more to it than that. D.K.'s only alpha because he took down our last alpha."
“Say what?" I exclaimed, leaning forward. “You mean that little squirt actually—"
“Don't say things like that!" Kaylie snapped, her expression suddenly angry. “Just don't!"
I held my hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay, sorry!"
Kaylie took a minute to cool down. “And yeah, D.K. killed our pack's last alpha." She hesitated. “Me and Tyler's dad."
I swear, if I was in a cartoon, that statement would have made my jaw hit the floor.
“Back then we were called the Farthest Hedge Pack, named after the town we lived in," she went on before I could interrupt. “D.K. wasn't even born into our pack, he was an orphan, and he just wandered into our territory one day. Normally, the alpha would kill a trespasser, but our dad saw he was just a kid and invited him into the pack."
If only he'd killed him, I thought.
“We just called him Dalton back then. He was the sweetest kid you'd ever met." She stopped when I snorted into my hand.
“Sorry," I said. “Just a little hard to believe. Keep going."
Kaylie frowned, but went back to the story. “Things didn't get bad until he was about fifteen. We were all in high school, and he got involved in the wrong crowd. A bunch of other boys trying to start their own gang. Dalton thought it was the coolest thing he'd ever heard, and completely changed himself to fit in with them. He became mean, and started wearing stupid clothes. My dad told him to knock it off, but he ignored him."
That doesn't make sense, I thought. If D.K. wasn't the alpha, then he should have obeyed when Kaylie's dad told him to quit.
“We found out too late that he was developing an alpha's mindset with his new friends," Kaylie went on, answering my unspoken question. “He was faster and stronger than all of them, so it didn't take long before they started doing what he said. Then, one day, he came to my dad and said he wanted to bite them all and add them to our pack."
“I bet that didn't go over well," I said.
Kaylie shook her head. “It didn't. When he said no, D.K. freaked out and challenged my dad for his place as alpha. My dad couldn't turn a challenge like that down. It would have made him look weak. So he accepted. Then D.K. pulled out a gun and shot him with a silver bullet."
I froze. Let me tell you, Kaylie was helping my chin become very well acquainted with the floor tonight.
“He shot him?" I asked in disbelief. “D.K. became alpha because he shot your dad? How can that… that has to be against the rules, right?"
“There are no rules for fighting alphas," Kaylie said, looking down at her lap. I could tell she was reliving that day all over again in her head. “Once the alpha accepts the challenge, anything goes."
“But there has to be some kind of honor system, or something," I argued. “What D.K. did was just… wrong!"
Kaylie raised her head and gave me a sharp look. “Do you think he cares about that? After he shot my dad, he told Tyler and me that he'd do the same to us if we tried to challenge him. He had three bullets, and two of them were for us if he needed them."
I took a minute to let all that sink in. “So, what about his friends?" I asked at last. “Didn't he go out and bite them like he said he would?"
“He didn't have time. The police showed up asking about the gunshots, so D.K. told us to run. We got away, and we've been living here ever since."
“Wow," was all I could say. “I'm sorry."
“Don't be," she said. “It doesn't matter to you."
For a long time, the two of us just sat there, watching the people walk by. Kaylie was sitting upright now, with that proud look back on her face. I was beginning to understand how that look was a mask to hide how she was really feeling. Everything she'd done these past few years, every slutty outfit she'd worn, every time she'd stuck her tongue down D.K.'s throat, every time she'd crawled into bed with him, had been to keep her and her brother alive. And only now did I see how much she hated him. Having to do that for someone like him for so long would be enough to break anyone. And yet she still had the strength to hide it all and face the world with her head held high.
“You're wrong," I said softly. “It does matter to me."
She turned and looked at me, but didn't say anything so I kept talking.
“You deserve better than him. You and Tyler both."
She was quiet for a long time after I said that, but then she asked, “What were you doing in the living room when I came in?"
I sucked in a breath, and my face paled.
“Nothing," I lied.
Kaylie narrowed her eyes, and I could tell she didn't believe me. How much had she figured out, though?
“Tyler is all I have left," she said. “If you do anything to get him hurt, I'll kill you."
Goosebumps rose up on my skin when she said that. Looking into her eyes, I could tell that she meant it, too. I nodded to her, too scared to say anything, and she stood up and started walking toward the store across from us.
“Last stop," she said, and I looked to see where we were going.
“Victoria's Secret?" I asked. I'd never been in that store, and I can't really say I ever wanted to.
She gave me a flat stare. “I told D.K. I would bring back something sexy to wear for him."
My stomach turned, and I grimaced. “Oh, right."
Kaylie went to a display with matching sets of black lace bras and panties, and started going through them.
“Did you think he'd let us do this if he didn't get anything out of it?" she asked. “He's gonna want something when we get home."
Her face was impassive, but I could feel her dread rolling off of her like a stench. I hugged my arms around my stomach.
“I'm sorry," I said.
Kaylie stopped going through the underwear and turned to me. “D.K. has claim over any female in the pack he wants. Now that you're here, I don't know why I should have to be the only one to distract him."
My blood went cold when I realized what she was implying.
“I'm surprised he hasn't tried already," she said, picking up a matching pink set and holding them out in front of me. “It's not like you're ugly or something."
I stepped to the side so that she'd stop imagining me in my underwear. Me, sleep with D.K.? I would rather die. No, I mean it, I would rather be dropped off a freaking building than have to do that with him! I tried to find the words to tell her that, but nothing came to mind. How could I argue with her? She'd been doing this for years. As sick as it made me, she was right— it wasn't fair to make her be D.K.'s toy all the time. And she'd lost way more to him than I had, so… But I couldn't do it. I just couldn't!
Kaylie looked at me for a minute, reading the expression on my face. Her lips pressed together into a white line. If she told me to do it, I couldn't tell her no. It wasn't a matter of alphas or superiority, this poor woman had just suffered enough. If she needed me to take her place, I thought, feeling like I was going to throw up, I would do it.
“How old are you?" she asked.
“Seventeen," I answered, speaking softly to keep myself from throwing up.
And with that, she put the bra and panties back on the shelf. I immediately felt like a boulder had been lifted off my shoulders.
“Thank you," I said. I stayed where I was instead of coming to help her look.
“Just remember what I said," she told me with her back turned. “If you hurt my brother…"
“You'll kill me," I finished for her. “I understand."
A few minutes later, Kaylie paid for her new “clothes," and we left. She was silent the whole drive back to the pack house, but the look on her face told me all I needed to know. She was a strong woman. Stronger than I could ever be. She had to be, to keep going after everything she'd been through, especially when there was no light visible at the end of her tunnel.
Yes, she was strong… But she was also as broken as broken could be.
NEXT TIME: Hold up a second, now. You mean to tell me that Kaylie is actually a GOOD GUY? It certainly has been an interesting few days for Amber. I can only think of one thing that could make things weirder. Who's up for a surprise visit from our ol' pal Majestic?!