The moment Lloyd had waltzed into her shop, and before he even spoke, it instantly clicked in Karin's head that he was the one she overhead on her run last night. His presence unnerved her because he would have never stepped foot in her shop unless he had a purpose.
It became apparent within the first few minutes of Lloyd talking that the time he spent away from the island did absolutely nothing to make him into a better person. It seemed unfair that for someone who was ugly on the inside, they didn't have their ugliness reflected on the outside. To simply put it, Lloyd reminded her of every novel she read where the antagonist was tall, dark and handsome. But unlike the villains in her novels who always wore black, Lloyd was dressed in a tacky floral printed polo shirt that showed off his toned muscles, beige khaki shorts and sandals. His dark hair was tousled, but it appeared to be a common trait among the young males in Radley's pack to make mussed hair seem stylish. She wouldn't be surprised if none of them have ever used a comb. Their family was also blessed with height, and Karin considered herself tall for a girl at 5'7", but Lloyd towered over Radley and her by several inches.
Lloyd was grinning at Radley now, and Karin could practically see the waves of annoyance rolling off her neighbour. She couldn't fathom how a grin could be used for playful intentions yet for malicious intents too. Karin hadn't really listened to the conversation between the cousins thus far. She had been too distracted in trying to keep her composure and steadying her heartbeat since Lloyd's arrival.
"As if you care about my birthday or the ceremony. You abandoned your pack duties the day you left the island for college," Radley scoffed. "And you're probably back 'cause you couldn't find a human job in the city this summer,"
Lloyd's grin fell replaced by a disapproving frown. "Just because I'm no longer the poster child of the alliance doesn't mean I shirked my duties while being away. Rose and I have been friends long before you two were even betrothed. It seems like everyone around here forgets that your duties to the pack right now were once mine to bear."
Radley looked ready to fire a retort when the bell pealed, and the door opened to reveal Tala stepping inside. She halted when her eyes landed on the three of them.
"Lloyd, what a surprise to see you," Tala addressed him.
Lloyd didn't seem fazed by the cold reception received so far from his relatives upon his return. He responded to her in the opposite manner and a practiced grin slid back into place. "Hello Aunt Tala, you're looking well,"
"Imogen didn't mention that you'd be back," Tala continued courteously.
"I thought I'd surprise the family," Lloyd answered before draping an arm across Radley's shoulders. The sight startled Karin seeing how the two were riling each other up seconds ago. "I was telling Radley just before that I wouldn't dare miss his upcoming birthday and the ceremony with Rose. Can you believe how fast he has grown up? I still remember when he used to follow me around like a lost pup when we were kids."
Radley scowled and shrugged his cousin's arm off him. The faintest hue of red tinged his cheeks as he walked toward his mom to hand over Winona's shawl.
"Yes, that seems like a lifetime ago…you've both grown and changed since then," Tala commented cordially while accepting the shawl. "Well, I'm sure Imogen will be glad to see you've returned. Anyway, Radley, we can't keep Amaris and Nona waiting any longer. We should go,"
Radley gestured to Lloyd with his thumb. "Lloyd should come with us. Grandma Claudine would be happy to see him."
Tala looked apologetic. "Oh, sorry, Lloyd, but I don't think there's enough room in the backseat for someone of your size. Amaris's adaptive car seat is quite bulky, and Nona likes the window seat,"
"Not a problem," Lloyd gave a carefree smile. "I plan to drop by the house later tonight for dinner. I've some errands to do in town so you and Rad—"
"Actually, Mason reminded me to buy something for him, so I'll stay in town a while longer, but I'll be home in time for dinner too," Radley interjected.
Tala hesitated for a second as she swept her gaze over the three of them before meeting Karin's eyes last. Karin felt her increasing worry fizzle at seeing the reassurance in Tala's eyes. She and Damien would always be grateful to Matsuko and her, and if Lloyd dared harm her, there would be consequences. She nodded at Tala in understanding. She didn't want Amaris and Winona to be kept waiting any longer either.
"All right, see you boys at supper then," Tala called over her shoulder with a wave. The door shut, and the bell rang on Tala's departure.
Radley immediately strode back toward them, but this time he stopped within arms reach of her, narrowing the gap that had been between them before he moved to give his grandmother's shawl to Tala. Karin knew that Radley stayed back to make sure that she wasn't alone with Lloyd and she was grateful for it.
She had been surprised at Lloyd's mention of him and Radley when they were young. While she hadn't known their family during their early childhood, she recalled that before Amaris was born, Radley had talked about his older cousin to her with some semblance of awe and respect. She personally didn't remember anything good about Lloyd from those times. All she had was bitter memories of Lloyd bullying her after Imogen had discovered that they were witches. And from that moment on, the familial bond between these cousins had unraveled like a threaded spool falling to the floor.
Lloyd was back for a reason. A reason she understood only a snippet of, but certainly not to celebrate Radley's birthday. It involved sabotaging the ritual with Rose and essentially the alliance between the two packs and Lloyd knew that she knew. What she couldn't wrap her head around was why he had let her escape last night if he had known that she was present.
What is Lloyd up to? Karin thought with a prickle of unease.
The contents of the mystery bag could provide proof of Lloyd's traitorous plans. Her only hint was that the food would possibly be tampered with during its preparation. She had a feeling that Radley would believe her if she told him what she overheard last night. He seemed to despise Lloyd as much as her. She understood why since Lloyd posed a threat to Radley's relationship with Rose. And yet, even if Radley or Mason believed her solely based on her word, the rest of their pack would never.
She also didn't dismiss the possibility that if Lloyd was aware of her eavesdropping last night, he could've fed her false information instead. Until Karin was certain of what she overheard was even true, she'd have to find the she-wolf again before Radley's birthday. In the meantime, she'd try to restrain herself from wanting to spill everything to Radley each time he questioned her. And if Lloyd had visited her shop today to threaten her to keep quiet or verify to see if she had squealed to Radley, then his visit had been for nothing. Karin planned to only tell Radley once she was confident that Lloyd could be thwarted.
"Ever the faithful watchdog, Cuz. You should take care who you openly display your loyalty to. Pack loyalty is a virtue we live by," Lloyd commented.
One you don't live by because you don't have any virtues, Karin thought sourly.
Radley barked in derisive laughter, giving voice to Karin's thoughts. "What virtues? You don't have any,"
If Radley was planning to steer Lloyd out of the shop, now would be the time. She didn't want the guys arguing any longer in case some unfortunate customer walked in on them.
She swallowed and mustered her courage to speak up. "If you're going to continue fighting, take it outside. I can fine you for property damage."
Lloyd trained his golden eyes on her with the same insufferable grin he had first given Radley. "What if my cousin is the one at fault? Are you gonna fine him for breaking a window?" And then to Radley, he lowered his voice to a whisper, speaking in a conspiratorial tone. "And since you asked, courage for one and instilling it in others. Who do you think convinced Rose to tell you that she was gay instead of you finding out the day of the ritual? I did you a favour and spared you the heartache,"
Radley went very still.
Rose is gay? Karin thought in mild disbelief. She had only spoken to Rose perhaps once or twice on occasion whenever she accompanied Dahlia to the shop. Rose was down-to-earth and friendly, but Karin would've never suspected that she was attracted to girls.
"You're lying," Radley whispered. His voice sliced the air like a dagger.
Karin felt foolish for even contemplating Lloyd's lie. Of course Rose wasn't g—
"Nobody else knows except for me and Dahlia." Radley finished with a steely expression and Karin quickly masked her surprise. Lloyd had spoken the truth?
"You, me, Dahlia," Lloyd counted off his fingers with a sidelong glance at Karin. "And oh, now the witch, but I'm sure a witch is good at keeping secrets,"
Heat bloomed at the nape of her neck. Karin refused to react to Lloyd's insinuation that she kept his meeting with the Epsilon last night a secret from Radley.
The smallest of thorns pricked her heart. Why did Karin feel the tiniest amount of relief about Lloyd's disgraceful reveal about Rose? Radley seemed to already know this fact about his betrothed. Was it the idea that Rose and Radley couldn't romantically love each other so their alliance was strictly business?
"So, you're gonna out her to everyone and ruin everything?" Radley snarled, startling Karin at the ferocity of his voice. Flecks of gold flickered across his pale blue irises.
His anger felt palpable in the air, and it seemed to have fester every passing moment that Lloyd was speaking to them. Karin didn't like how Radley's ire harshened everything about him and made him look like an entirely different person.
"Of course not." Lloyd had the audacity to appear offended. "I'd never do that to Rose,"
"But you'd bring ruin to your own family?" Radley retorted.
Lloyd's eyes flashed. "Funny, I didn't think you considered me family,"
"I don't," Radley answered brusquely.
Lloyd's eyes became slits. "Have you finally gotten your inner wolf under control yet? What would the Evergreen Pack think if they discovered that their future Alpha was a Feral?"
Karin didn't know what a Feral was, but it must've been a derogatory term because in a blink of an eye, Radley gripped the collar of Lloyd's shirt, wringing it in his fist.
"Uh oh, I've hit a sore spot." Lloyd held up his hands in a mock mollifying manner. "Maybe I don't have to do anything, and you'll mess up everything yourself,"
"Shut up!" Radley shouted hoarsely and released his hold on Lloyd. Karin heard traces of hurt and self-doubt laced within his voice underneath all the anger. She watched in a stupor as her neighbour's left iris changed colour.
Lloyd smoothed the front of his wrinkled shirt. "Only one eye at a time? You sure like to stall when bringing your wolf to the surface,"
Radley's right eye changed to molten gold to match his left. His pupils dilated and his eyes no longer looked human.
"Lloyd," Karin gasped in horror. "Shut up!"
"Try not to break anything, Radley, or the witch will fine you," he provoked with a manic grin.
Lloyd removed his sunglasses from his head and tucked them on his still-wrinkled shirt collar. He lolled his head from left to right and cracked his knuckles. He was enjoying this. He was itching for a fight and now Radley was going to give it to him.
Radley gnashed his teeth as if to suppress the pained gasp that escaped him. Sharp canine teeth like Lloyd's protruded out from his lips, and he kneaded his forehead with his knuckles as if he had a migraine.
"Fang," Radley spoke hurriedly in between uneven breaths. "Get outta here,"
Karin's whole body became paralyzed at the sight of him. Some part of her had stupidly ignored the fact that her neighbour was a werewolf only because he rarely flaunted his wolfish features in front of her. The last time he exhibited his wolf side to her was back in his early days when he was still adjusting to the transformations.
"Aw, don't be a killjoy," Lloyd jeered. "Don't you wanna show off your skills for the witch?"
"Karin. Now. Please." Radley implored, still rubbing his forehead, but now with his fingertips.
Karin bit back a shriek when Lloyd suddenly lunged at Radley while he was predisposed. Radley dodged in the nick of time and the pair moved with such agility that Karin had trouble discerning which limbs belonged to whom.
There was no way she was leaving Radley alone to fight Lloyd. She surveyed her surroundings. They were in her shop. She had to use the environment to her advantage. The plants in the store were too fragile to restrain Lloyd. If they were in the forest, she would've been able to manipulate the trees and help Radley out. She doubted that she could lure Lloyd to the greenhouse where the shop's more specialized plants and herbs were maintained, so she'd have to retrieve what she needed and hoped that Radley could keep Lloyd busy.
She dashed to the back door that led to the greenhouse. Her hands shook as she fumbled for her keys to unlock the door. A menacing snarl sounded behind her and Karin's heart leapt into her throat. She finally inserted the key into the keyhole and turned. She pushed down on the handle and stumbled through the door.
Once inside the greenhouse, she pulled on a pair of gardening gloves and grabbed small shears lying on the wooden table underneath the glass cabinet. She navigated to the patch of wolfsbane that she grew in partial shade and kept hidden behind other plants. There seemed to be less than what she remembered, but her mom must've uprooted some recently for her potions since it was flowering season for the poisonous plant. She carefully snipped off one of the stems, and the flower fell into a clear bag that she held underneath. Wolfsbane was only lethal to werewolves when ingested. The scent could be nauseating to them and direct skin contact with the petals left severe burns and rashes.
Karin tucked the clear bag inside the left waist pocket of her work apron uniform, taking care to not crush the flower in the process. She only intended to use the plant as a last resort to leave superficial wounds against Lloyd if needed. She ran out of the greenhouse and back toward the flower shop. The thin rod of her dog whistle pendant bumped against her chest during the sprint. A reminder that the whistle would be her first line of defense. She desperately hoped the guys hadn't transformed into wolves in the heat of battle while she was gone.
When she returned through the back door, she exhaled. The shop was miraculously intact. No broken windows, but soil had spilled onto the floor and flowerpots had been knocked over as if leaving a trail of breadcrumbs where the two had last been sparring.
Lloyd shoved Radley backwards into a wooden shelf and ceramic pots toppled over him as he collapsed to the floor. Karin hastily pulled her whistle out from underneath her scarf and held the metallic object to her lips and blew. Radley was in the process of sitting up when both guys keeled over and clutched their hands to their ears.
Karin's stomach twisted at seeing Radley wincing in pain, suffering alongside Lloyd when there was no way for her whistle to target Lloyd's ears only.
"W-itch," Lloyd hissed at her through clenched teeth.
She dropped her whistle and tried to keep her voice steady. The effects of the spell should keep them feeling incapacitated for a few moments. "That's enough. You—"
The remainder of her words were cut off when a blur moved toward her. She whimpered at the fleeting sting of the chain that bit into the nape of her neck as Lloyd ripped the whistle pendant, along with her scarf, away from her and tossed them aside.
Lloyd tsked in vexation as he rubbed his elongated pointy ears and squinted at the faded claw marks on Karin's throat. Before she could lift her hand to touch the back of her neck, the warm flesh of Lloyd's right forearm pressed to her throat like a knife. He pinned her left wrist behind her back and her shoulder blades dug into his torso.
Her heart stuttered in her chest at being robbed of breath. How had Lloyd recovered from the effects of the whistle so fast? Radley was still disoriented as he staggered to his feet and lumbered toward them while rubbing his spine and ears gingerly.
"You shouldn't meddle in wolf affairs," Lloyd's breath tickled her ear.
"T-then you shouldn't be brawling in my shop!" Karin gasped.
Couldn't Lloyd smell the wolfsbane in her pocket? How the hell could he close in on her without even feeling nauseous on top of feeling dizzy from the whistle?
"So, is the witch's noise enchantment still affecting you, Cuz? Are you still bewitched by her seeing how she carries poison that can kill us?" Lloyd called out to Radley. And then to her, he muttered, "I know you're hiding it in your pocket."
"If I have poison on me that's deadly to you, then let me go!" Karin struggled futilely to get Lloyd to release his chokehold with her free hand, but the gardening gloves hindered her scratching and she hadn't thought to take them off. If anything, her squirming made Lloyd coil his arm around her even more like a python wrapping itself around a mouse. She stopped fighting instantly.
Radley didn't reply and blinked sluggishly several times as if to take in his surroundings after stopping in front of them. His eyes refocused and landed on her and Lloyd. His passive expression bordered on indifference as he stared straight at her like he didn't even care that Lloyd could squeeze all the air out of her lungs in a matter of minutes.
What was wrong with Radley? It was like she was staring into the eyes of a stranger. No, not of a stranger but of a beast. Lloyd's irises had simply changed colour, but upon closer inspection of Radley's, they actually resembled the eyes of a wolf.
"My human is still bewitched," Radley grimaced and stretched his joints as if they were stiff from disuse. "Radley's been in love with Fang since they were kids. He'd do anything for her, but I'd never be willing to,"
Karin's mind reeled. Did Radley just say he was in love... with her?
"Wait…the fuck, Radley? Did you just say 'my human'?" Lloyd exclaimed.
Radley's abrupt change in behaviour was alarming that even Lloyd was stunned. His arm slackened as he shuddered and released Karin. Like the idea of threatening Radley with her life didn't garner the reaction that he had expected, and he saw no point in holding her hostage and risking his life anymore when she carried wolfsbane on her. Karin shuddered visibly as well where the heat of Lloyd's touch lingered on her throat and wrist.
"Tch, that's not my name," Radley gritted his teeth in irritation as he rubbed his forehead with the heel of his palm, messing up his bangs. It dawned on Karin then that the spell was more effective against him compared to Lloyd.
How could she have been so naïve? In a panic at seeing Radley get hurt, she carelessly used her whistle against both of them. Lloyd had adapted to hearing loud noises on a daily basis while Radley hadn't. Radley was flexing his fingers and thumb now. His claws were sharp enough to draw blood and sure enough, Karin saw speckles of blood on them. Her stomach grew queasy.
"I didn't think it was true. I only said it to piss him off." Lloyd gaped at his cousin in disbelief. "So, Radley's actually a Feral?"
The blood drained from her face. "W-what's a F-Feral?"
Feral-Radley grinned wolfishly at them. "I'd have you both to thank actually. Aside from the Full Moon, rage is the only internal trigger that works reliably. Even I couldn't aggravate him this morning before the alliance meeting. But then with your return and endangering Fang, because she wasn't smart enough to leave when Radley had warned her was all I needed to convince him to just give in."
"Shit." Lloyd's dark eyes widened. "Nobody knows, do they?"
At some point, Lloyd's eyes had reverted to his human ones, and they clashed with Feral-Radley's wolf eyes.
Anxiety built up within her. "Stop this! You're both scaring me!"
Lloyd let out a short laugh. "You're only admitting that you feel afraid now, witch? You got guts so I'll give you that,"
If Lloyd wasn't going to give her answers, she'd ask the Radley imposter... who was now standing by the shop entrance reaching for the door.
"Y-you're leaving?" Karin asked incredulously.
Feral-Radley paused and looked over his shoulder at her. "Yeah…? What reason do I have to stay? Radley gave in 'cause Lloyd was hurting you and now he's not. Radley didn't catch his bluff."
"Lloyd wasn't bluffing! I almost couldn't breathe." Karin shouted indignantly at him.
He turned slightly to face them with one hand grasping the doorknob. "Lloyd could've easily snapped your neck, but he didn't,"
Lloyd crossed his arms over his chest. "Well, I won't deny that. My uncle created a pack law to protect you witches and that still stands believe it or not. All pack members must honour the laws. To break a pack law can be punishable by exile or even death."
"And what if someone in your pack got an outsider to break a law for them?" Karin turned to glare at Lloyd.
"The Epsilons patrol the borders and monitor for intruders. If somebody unfamiliar was on our territory, they'd be detained and questioned intensively." Lloyd answered with a glint in his eyes.
He was challenging her to go ahead and expose him to Radley, but she couldn't because something was off about her neighbour and telling him now wouldn't change anything.
She dropped her gaze from Lloyd and focused her attention back on the Radley imposter. "Who or what are you? W-why are you possessing Radley?"
Feral-Radley laughed. It was a cold laugh and not one she was accustomed with, and it made her shiver like she got splashed with icy water. "He willingly relinquished his control to me. I'm his other half. We're two sides of the same coin."
Karin didn't follow a single word.
"We've met before, you know. Five years ago, I think. My memory's hazy. Do you remember the brown rabbit?"
Karin's eyes widened and she sucked in a breath at the childhood memory he was referring to when she was twelve. Radley had claimed that he had no recollection of it and now he was bringing it up several years later?
"I don't know what you're talking about," Karin whispered feebly and dared not meet his eyes. If he pretended to play dumb back then, so could she. The event of that day was the catalyst that had created a rift between them, until only recently when Amaris began taking a liking to her.
"I doubt you'd ever forget a day like that," Feral-Radley scoffed before he winced and held his head.
Karin was unsure if the symptoms of his migraine was due to the lingering effects of the whistle even though it was no longer in use. It reminded her of when Radley started rubbing his forehead at the beginning during the time his eyes changed colour. She watched Feral-Radley grit his teeth and massage his temples like he was trying to relieve an incessant throbbing in his head.
"Oof, looks like you're still recovering from the witch's spell if your head feels like it's gonna crack open. I'm surprised she hasn't used that noise spell on you before." Lloyd remarked.
"It's not from the spell," Feral-Radley grumbled. Using the door as support, he rested his back and head against it.
"I've never heard of any cases where the wolf takes over the human body before," Lloyd marveled. "You're quite talkative too. My wolf only ever grumbles when he's hungry or tired. Most of us communicate with our wolves through thoughts, but I know some wolves prefer using imagery rather than words. Then again, Radley was a late shifter so that could be a factor. Hm, maybe our kind is evolving,"
"What are you saying? This isn't Radley…right?" Karin demanded. She pointed at Feral-Radley while looking up at Lloyd. "I mean you're even surprised!"
"Well, yes, but no," Lloyd pondered with a frown. "Do you even know how we shift?"
Karin always assumed it was a special kind of werewolf magic that was different from hers. To avoid humiliating herself by saying her assumption, she did the safe thing and shook her head. Lloyd took her aback by taking the time to actually give her an explanation. This was coming from the same guy that almost squeezed the life out of her earlier.
He explained that every werewolf had their soul divided in half—their human half and their wolf half. Their inner wolf supposedly acted like a second conscience and Karin couldn't help but think that Lloyd's inner wolf did the lousiest of jobs if Lloyd had a second conscience and yet chose to be mean-spirited.
Lloyd also added that those who survived receiving the bite underwent excruciating pain during the first transformation as their soul splintered in two. The ability to shift was founded by a connection and the stronger the connection was between a human and their wolf, the better control a human had over their shifting.
"If you don't learn how to establish a solid and trusting link with your wolf counterpart over time, they learn to control you instead. So, let's say the wolf learns how to overrule their human entirely, then the next time they transform on the Full Moon, they'll remain in the form of a wolf after that and not change back. Your human mind is dwindled to that of its base instincts to only hunt and kill for survival. A werewolf that loses or gives up control to their wolf is what we call a Feral. I think humans consider them as rabid wolves, particularly to those that kill for pleasure." Lloyd finished with his explanation.
"I'm nothing like those dirty mongrels." Feral-Radley's features contorted in disgust. His discomfort at being trapped in the human form was blatant by his endless twitching. His hair was the most disheveled she had ever seen with his bangs now sticking up like porcupine quills, revealing his forehead. Similar to how glasses could change a person's appearance, styling one's bangs differently produced the same effect.
Karin grew overwhelmed, trying to process all the information. Her throat closed up. "So, how do you revert a Feral into a human if they're stuck as a wolf?" How do we bring Radley back?
Lloyd glanced at her in pity—an emotion she didn't think he could express. "You don't, it's permanent. Soon Radley won't be able to switch freely between forms anymore. By the looks of it, after the next Full Moon, he'll remain as a wolf forever."
A/N: Heya readers,
Shoutout to icaruswalks for being an awesome betareader as always and commenting on Lloyd being 'Lloyd Nye the Werewolf Guy' LOL. I kept his explanation in on how werewolves shift just cuz of that comment and wanted readers to see this side of Lloyd too even if it's like out of character for him...whoops? And thanks to Emoddess for inspiring me to make Lloyd dress up like some college frat boy who spends his summers on yachts. 😂
If this chapter is hard to follow, particularly after it becomes known to Karin that Radley has been taken over by his wolf and she refers to him as Feral-Radley, that's totally understandable lol. I hope it wasn't too confusing. 😅 Did Lloyd's explanation of the term Feral help a bit to clarify?
Anyway, thanks for reading! ^_^