Emery, are you illiterate, or just too stupid to understand when someone wants nothing at all to do with you?
Hands shoved in his pockets, Emery stared down at the neon orange words painted in the brilliant white snow, his heart hammering erratically while other wolves gave a wide berth as they passed. A few snickered, but one called out to him: “Give it up, man. It’s beyond sad now.”
The wolf was right, and Emery knew it. He’d managed two weeks without leaving another note for his mate to find. But late last night, after the snow stopped and the rest of the town was silent, he’d crept back to the square. With the way the weather had been changing lately, it was probably the final snow of the season, his last chance to leave a message in what he was coming to think of as “their spot.” A glutton for punishment, that’s what he was. The whole time he was painting his question in the snow, he’d told himself he was being an absolute fool by hoping his mate had reconsidered wanting to meet him.
That message had been drawn through with several angry black lines and stomped with heavy bootprints—clearly conveying his mate’s state of mind. The wolf wasn’t just annoyed now, but angry that Emery kept trying to get to know them, which was made perfectly clear by the second line of his response.
If you were the only other wolf left in the universe, I’d choose to die alone rather than ever spend a single second in your company. Now leave me the fuck alone before I tell the people you’re running from where you are and how to find you.
Shaking, Emery felt the first stirrings of a panic attack kicking in. He knew. His mate knew who he really was. Kicking at the snow, he scattered it, destroying the message, and leaving little more than splatters of orange randomly dotting the trampled mess. Glancing around, he saw several wolves watching from the sidewalks, others with their heads together, whispering. At least they stopped short of pointing at him.
Some faces he recognized; others he didn’t, and one…
He couldn’t breathe. Clawing at the zipper of his coat, he tried to undo it, but his field of vision was narrowing, and his hands fumbled like he forgot what to do. Finally, he just yanked it off over his head, nearly choking himself in his haste. The T-shirt he wore beneath offered no real protection from the elements, not that he cared, as he let the coat slip from his fingers.
Blinking, he struggled to focus, telling himself there was no way in hell the wolf watching from the sidewalk was Sydney. Sy was dead. There was no coming back from getting one’s head taken off by a tow chain.
Logic wasn’t enough to slow his heartbeat or still the twitching in his fingers and the panicked urge to run and hide somewhere no one would think to look for him. Even when the guy moved and sunlight struck his hair, showing the shades of reds and golds shimmering in brown strands that weren’t dull like Emery’s, but alive with colors, it was difficult to separate what he was seeing from his memories.
“Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
The voice in his ear, and the soft touch on his arm? Now that grounded him. Only one person in his life had ever sounded like that, and he was grateful as hell for Zane’s appearance now. The small wolf picked up his coat and handed it back to him. Emery hugged it to his chest when he did. He’d have stood there like his feet were glued to the spot if Zane hadn’t taken charge and steered him away from the square and the remnants of those words.
Zane said nothing as they walked. He just steered Emery down the street and around the corner, directing him the whole four blocks back to the apartment he and Dalton shared, which was a good thing because Emery couldn’t manage to get his brain to kick in gear and take over. Even inside, it was Zane who propelled him to sit at the kitchen table, Zane who put the kettle on for tea, and Zane who hung up both their jackets before getting the mugs ready. His one pause was to pull out his cell phone and type out a simple text, probably to his mates.
“They threatened to tell the Outlaws how to find me,” Emery said softly. “In their message in the snow, they said to leave them alone, or they’d tell the people I was running from how to find me.”