Chapter Nine

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She didn't scream.

Maybe it was foolish pride, but sometimes, pride was all a girl had. Zee could still taste the blood in her mouth where she'd bitten her lip to hold back the screams as Niko cut the thorns out of her flesh. But even that small pain was gone.

Once he'd removed the foreign bodies from her flesh, her natural healing had taken over and the gashes from the bramble bush had healed properly—and far swifter than normal.

She didn't let herself consider why.

Standing under the hot spray of the shower, she washed away blood, dirty and sweat and tried to pretend everything in her life wouldn't change when she opened that door.

She had no idea why Niko was here—no, that wasn't entirely accurate. It was because of her father, she had no doubt.

Likely, she was allowed free passage to attend the wake. Hell, maybe Niko had decided to rescind the order he'd given banishing her out of pity after he'd heard the news about Samuel.

"Fuck that," she whispered as a tiny, hard kernel of anger deep inside burst to life. The anger had always been there, but she shied away from it, shied away from any and all strong emotions because they came with consequences she couldn't handle. But the self-protective core that had always demanded such distance had sheared away during the night.

Whether it was the headlong, desperate flight to get away from Niko, the panic she'd felt when she'd caught the familiar scent on the wind—she'd known that Greylock wolf—or the pain when she'd continued to run long after she should have stop to rest and deal with the injury, she didn't know.

What she did know was that she was trembling with anger, shaking with it.

She'd healed from the wound far faster and she didn't want to think about why—being closer to Niko shouldn't have done it. She wasn't part of the pack anymore and there were no other bonds that connected them, so his strength couldn't have flowed to her.

She'd been a stronger wolf...once. Once, such a wound wouldn't have slowed her so and it certainly wouldn't have still been healing hours later, the thorns still embedded inside.

But wolves were pack animals. Therian wolves drew strength from their pack. Even when she'd been part of Greylock, there had been strength there. She'd been the strongest of the dominant females among the younger wolves. Even when she moved to Durham-Starfell, supposedly to attend school, she'd been one of the more powerful Therian females, even stronger than some of the males her age.

She'd never realized how much a pack affected the ebb and flow of her wolf's strength until she'd been cast out.

Still outcast, there was no reason just being near Niko should have bolstered her own wolf's strength.

A knock at the door had her going quiet, the spray from the shower pounding down on her. Instinctively, she dragged in a breath and scented Meridia. "Come in."

Since her personal meltdown time was clearly at an end, she turned the water off.

Meridia was holding a towel when she pushed back the curtain. After wrapping her hair, Zee accepted the next towel and wrapped it around herself, securing it at her breasts. Acutely aware of Meridia's watchful gaze, she squared her shoulders and met the other woman's eyes. "I'm not going to break."

"I never had any question of that, little wolf." Meridia held out her arms.

Zee stepped into them, tucking her head under the taller woman's chin.

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