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Chapter 40: Court

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With seconds to rid myself of the anger sprung on me by the notion of replacing Theo, I plaster on a pleasant face, something surprised yet joyfully so.

"John? Really?" I question, breathless.

John—brown-skinned with buzzed hair and a few visible tattoos—smiles toothily. "Finally, I can put a face to the name. Maude talks about you a lot, Luna."

"Oh, please, it's Celeste. I can't imagine Maude's mate calling me anything else—she's the best, I don't know what I would do without her; she's brilliant."

"Is she? Even after the wolfsbane incident?" John gives a nervous laugh. "I was pretty horrified when she told me what happened, and I think she scared herself straight—no more brewing strange potions from old books."

"Well, we'll see," I tease. "I'm always willing to entertain her."

"I'm just happy the two of you get along so well. She says you're like a younger sister to her."

"Speaking of sisters," I reach back and present my own, "this is my younger sister, Lily."

Lily smiles, her head tucking into her shoulders. "Hello, nice to meet you."

"Lily's recently joined us from Rowan, Celeste's home pack," Theo tells John.

The corners of John's eyes crinkle. "Of course, we're happy to have you."

His overall demeanor seems much more friendly upon meeting him than Maude's was when I met her, but I know Maude is really a caring and loyal companion with a hard outer shell. I'm sure John sees the sweetest side of her, although it's bizarre to picture Maude being remotely romantic.

"Lily's coming with us to Silva for two days," Theo says.

"Right, I have your guards ready; they're shifting now."

I turn to Lily. "Come on, I'll show you where you can shift."

We separate from Theo and John, taking tall steps over the tangle of brambles, ferns, and ivy covering the forest floor. I bring her to a clearer spot, far enough away from the men to give her privacy.

I lean against a lichen-coated tree trunk and gaze away from Lily as she starts to undress. Once she's shifted, I step off the tree and collect her clothes, adding them to her rucksack.

"It's been so long since I've seen your wolf," I say while swinging her bag over my shoulder.

Lily's caramel-colored wolf watches me, a similar size to my own.

"Once I'm healed, we should run together like we used to, maybe splash around in the river."

Lily walks alongside me and brushes her coat against my arm, so I run my hand along her backbone, petting her plush fur and taking that as a yes.

When we return to John and Theo, Theo is shifted and accompanied by two more wolves strapped to carry our bags. I hand Lily's rucksack over to John who secures it for travel. Theo lowers to the ground, and I know it's time to mount him and get on our way.

The only other time I rode Theo's monstrous wolf was when he rescued me from Ben's house; it was such a rush of adrenaline that I forgot what the ride was like, so I hike myself up now and nearly slide head-first down Theo's other side. Luckily, John is there to help. He holds onto me as I face the right way and shows me how to hold on so I don't rip out Theo's hair or hurt my wrist even more.

My thighs squeeze around Theo as he lifts up, but I feel stable.

"Looks like you're all set," John calls out. "Should take about three hours—I'll mark it in the books."

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