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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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The Light at the End of the Tunnel - 19. Chapter 19

The answer to the question you've all been waiting for....
What happened to Caleb?????

Caleb froze.

Asa was gone. What the hell? He solidified back to his human form a safe distance from the bunker hidden in the Russian forest.

No, no, no, no, no, no! His heart raced. This couldn’t be happening. This was not supposed to happen. They were supposed to zip through, gather as many images as possible, and then disappear without anyone in Huntington’s camp knowing they were there.

What the hell happened? One second, he and Asa were whipping through the main building. The next, his mate disappeared. It was as if an invisible hand snatched him from thin air. It had Huntington written all over it. They underestimated him. He should have known better.

Caleb knew he couldn’t rescue Asa by himself. It seemed the only advantage he had right now was the fact that Huntington’s men weren’t aware of his presence. He needed to get out while he could and return with reinforcements.

Fuck. He hated to think his stupidity was going to be the catalyst that escalated the timing of the confrontation with Huntington.

Caleb sat silently, weighing his options. Ultimately, the only thing that made sense was going back to the castle, telling Pieter and Corbin what happened, and calling Sebastian. Corbin could take the boys to Texas as planned, and he would do whatever Sebastian decided for him.

Looking around, he made the most of his situation by memorizing as many details of the complex as possible. He noted the number of buildings, sizes, and locations and speculated what they might be used for. He wondered which one his mate was in.

When the light began to fade, and Caleb knew he couldn’t risk staying any longer, he shifted into light form again and followed the path of the sun’s western rays to the castle.

Pieter was in the library with Corbin and the boys.

“Caleb!” Duncan cried, jumping up to give him a hug. “Where’ve you been? Where’s Asa?” The boy looked behind him as if expecting to see his mate striding up.

Pieter and Corbin recognized the distress on his face. Something was wrong.

“Boys, why don’t you go and get washed up for dinner, yes?” Pieter suggested.

The teenagers gave each other those side looks that said they knew they were being herded away from the adult conversation. As soon as they were out of earshot, Caleb told Corbin and Pieter what happened.

Corbin paled. “Shit. What are we going to do?”

At that moment, Caleb had no doubt the man was a true pack-mate. “First, Pieter, you need to lock down the castle and alert everyone in the territory to increase security. I need to face the music and call Sebastian. I hope he’ll let me go to Montana and help however I can. I need you to take the boys to Texas for me. No matter what happens, you’ll be safer there.”

When they first arrived, he and Asa were impressed with the security measures Pieter showed them. Outside, cameras covered every square inch of the castle’s grounds and exterior walls. A mouse couldn’t approach without someone seeing. Inside, every hallway, common space, and hidden passageway was monitored. Only bedrooms and bathrooms were free from surveillance. Even with all that in place, Caleb wouldn’t worry as much if Corbin and the boys were in Texas.

“Of course,” Pieter replied, coming over to give Caleb’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “Is there anything else I can do?”

Shaking his head, Caleb pressed his lips in a thin line before answering. “No, you’ve been a gracious host, and I thank you for your hospitality. I don’t want to risk you or any of your staff further. Everyone should stay inside for their safety. I need to make my phone call now if you’ll excuse me.”

Caleb returned to the privacy of his and Asa’s room to call Sebastian. The scent of his mate hit him like fresh-baked cookies when you opened the oven door. The agony of despair doubled him over as he staggered against their bed. A sob tore its way from his throat. He shook with fear at the thought of never seeing his mate again. Burying his face in Asa’s pillow, Caleb poured out his anguish and frustration, bawling into the soft material that held Asa’s unique smell of ozone and wintergreen.

He cried for a while before he could pull it together. Standing up, he carefully replaced the now tear-soaked pillow on Asa’s side of the bed and went to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face. His eyes were red and puffy, but that would be gone by the time he changed his shirt and placed the call to Sebastian.

Caleb stared at his phone, dreading this call. Taking a deep breath, he held it for a count of three, then blew it out in a great whoosh. He swiped his finger up the screen, lighting it up. After unlocking it, he looked at Sebastian’s name in his contacts and let his finger hover for a few seconds before tapping.

“Caleb?” Sebastian’s voice was deep and warm. He hoped it would stay that way.

“Hi, Sebastian.”

“What’s wrong?”

Damn, that man was intuitive. “We screwed up.” Caleb quickly gave him an abbreviated version of the events, apologizing profusely for his harebrained idea in the first place.

There was a sigh from the other end. Not exactly a good sign. Caleb bit his lip and waited.

“Yep. You guys screwed up,” Sebastian agreed. “Let’s put that aside and deal with the most pressing issue—Asa. I’ll advise the charter company of the change in plans. They can stop here and then fly Corbin and the boys to Texas.”

“Wait!” Caleb interrupted. “You don’t need to do that. I can travel by light, remember? Say the word, and I’ll be there in a blink. I’d rather you get Corbin and the boys back to Texas for their safety.”

Sebastian hummed in agreement. “Of course. Giles will take good care of them. Finish settling your business, and I assume you’ll be here later today?”

“Give me a couple of hours.”

“Okay. And Caleb? We’re getting him back.”

The call ended, and Caleb felt a glimmer of hope.

There was a lot to do and little time to do it. Caleb and Corbin sat down with the boys and explained the situation. They were rightfully scared, and he didn’t blame them. He tried his best to reassure them that Sebastian and his pack were the best option for rescuing Asa. He called Giles, and the Alpha assured him he would lock down the ranch and keep everyone safe.

As much as he wanted to promise Corbin and the boys he would return to Texas with Asa and Vann, he didn’t know what the future held. He refused to make a promise he didn’t know if he could keep. Pieter finalized the arrangements to take them to the airport so they could depart as soon as the replacement crew was ready.

Caleb hugged each of the boys, making them swear they would listen to Corbin and be respectful to Giles and his pack. Not that he had any doubts, but they were teenage boys, after all, and not known for their sound judgment-making skills. Like his were any better.

Twilight was approaching, and he couldn’t wait any longer. Caleb hugged each boy, nodded at Corbin, and became one with the light, chasing the sun across the globe. He overshot his destination and had to backtrack. He wasn’t used to traveling in this form and was over Oregon before he realized his mistake. Fuck.

He missed the mark once more when he materialized on the western border of his former pack territory. Double fuck.

Caleb stripped down and let his wolf take over. He didn’t dare try to travel such a short distance by light without Asa to help guide him. No, his beast was more than happy to stretch his legs and run free. He hadn’t liked being restricted to the limited territory surrounding the castle.

The main house came into view, and Caleb sprinted the last few hundred yards across the meadow. A few people were on the back deck, watching the big white wolf approach. He stopped at the bottom of the steps leading up to the deck, sat on his haunches, and waited. A familiar scent drifted toward him, and his tail swished back and forth involuntarily.

“Caleb!” Reilly exclaimed. “Come on up and join us. Extra clothes are in the cubby.”

Taking the stairs in one leap, he trotted over to the row of cubbies and stopped at the end, where he shifted and pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt.

It was a relief to be in his human form again. He had more control over himself and the situation. In his mind, he knew it was silly, but emotionally, it was the only thing he could cling to at the moment.

Sensing Caleb’s distress, Reilly wrapped his arms around his waist and squeezed. It was just what he needed. When Reilly pulled back, Hunter, Kellan, and Jack Porter were on the deck, ready to welcome him back.

“Let’s get you inside,” Reilly said. “My mate is anxious to hear all the details about what happened.” Then he looked Caleb in the eye. “We’re going to get him back.”

Caleb inhaled a shaky breath. He would give everything to make that statement a reality.

Sebastian was in the living room with Donovan. Caleb stopped at the threshold and waited to be invited further. The big Alpha strode over until he stood in front of him. Caleb bared his neck out of respect, and Sebastian drew him into a bear hug.

“Thank you for not turning me away,” Caleb whispered, unable to meet Sebastian’s eyes.

“Oh, Caleb.” The Alpha sighed. “I told you you would always be welcome here. This is still your home, and we will always have your back. I know you and Asa were only trying to help. I probably would have done the same thing if I were in your shoes. I’m not upset or mad at you. I’m worried. We all are. Come, sit down and tell me everything that happened.”

Caleb should have known Sebastian wouldn’t blame him for their predicament. Still, he couldn’t shake the guilt, not knowing if his mate was okay.

The small group settled themselves. Sebastian and Reilly shared a double-wide recliner. Hunter and Kellan took one of the loveseats, and Donovan sat in an armchair. Caleb settled his large frame on one of the couches. The furniture felt too big without Asa snuggled beside him.

Without berating himself too much, Caleb recounted his and Asa’s sightseeing jaunt around Europe and how it sparked the idea of doing some reconnaissance in Russia.

“I know we should have cleared it with you first, but we figured this was one of those times when it was easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”

“I understand your reasoning, and as I told you earlier, I would have done the same thing,” Sebastian assured him. “What happened when you got there?”

With five sets of eyes on him, Caleb continued. “Everything was going exactly as we envisioned. I can’t explain how it works, but as light energy, I don’t perceive things like I do when I’m human or wolf. Instead, whatever sensory abilities my light form has, it gathers information and stores it for later. When I’m human again, it’s almost like replaying a movie or looking at pictures.”

“Elijah said something similar about his shadow-shifter, Kage,” Donovan interjected. “I guess that makes sense. You don’t have eyes or ears, so there has to be an alternate way of processing information. It’s fascinating if you stop to think about it.”

Hunter shook his head and chuckled. “The supernatural world has some crazy-ass shit in its back pocket.”

Sebastian pinned his Beta with a stern look. “Let’s let Caleb get through telling us what happened. I’m sure he doesn’t want to dwell on it.”

Caleb shot the Alpha a grateful look. Clearing his throat, he continued. “Everything was going as we thought. Asa led the way, and I followed him close, but not right up against him. We were almost done when, suddenly, the air crackled, and Asa was gone. It was as if something had grabbed him. I can’t explain it any other way. In one microsecond, he was there. The next, he disappeared.

Sebastian’s brows creased. The rest of the room remained silent. It was hard to imagine that someone could vanish without a trace.

“We obviously underestimated Huntington,” Caleb remarked. “He had to have been prepared for this, which means he’s also ready for an attack on his hideout.”

“Does that mean he wants us to attack first?” Reilly’s brow furrowed.

“In all likelihood, that’s exactly what he wants,” Sebastian replied. “Huntington isn’t stupid. He knows he needs the home-court advantage. What better way than to capture one of your enemies and wait for your opponent to come to you to rescue them?”

Caleb dropped his head into his hands and groaned. “We walked right into his trap.”

He felt the cushion beside him sink and a comforting arm slung over his shoulder. “Hey,” Reilly soothed, “It will be alright. Huntington may be cunning, but we’re smarter. Have faith in your mate, too. I have no doubt he’s doing everything possible to get himself out of there.”

“We need inside information on how Huntington operates,” Hunter said.

Sebastian took out his phone and shot off a quick text. “I know how to get it.”

Less than a minute later, his phone chirped. He looked at his screen and smiled. “Donovan, will you go pick up Enya at the lodge? If anyone can shine some light on what goes on in that madman’s mind, it’s her.”

“Why her?” Caleb asked.

“Huntington once had her as an ally. Cassiel held her captive, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine containing a fire shifter is easy.”

Donovan hurried off and returned with the quiet girl less than thirty minutes later. Caleb didn’t know much about her other than that she was a fire shifter. Besides one brief encounter, he and Asa hadn’t seen her often on their last trip. He took a moment to assess her.

Enya looked like she was in her early twenties, but Caleb knew she was nearly thirty. She was tall-ish, about five-eight, and thin but not skinny. Her build was that of a runner with long legs and arms. She was pretty, with hazel eyes and a light complexion, but her crowning glory was her hair. Hanging down her back and reaching her waist, the long locks were fiery red with gold highlights. It was fitting, he supposed.

Enya wasn’t surprised to see Caleb, and he surmised Donovan had filled her in.

“Hello, Enya,” Sebastian greeted. “Thank you for coming. I’m sure Donovan told you what’s happened?”

The girl nodded.

“I’d like to pick your brain if you don’t mind.”

Enya plopped down on the other end of Caleb's couch. “Fire away.”

Hunter and Kellan snorted. Sebastian glared, and Reilly snickered. Enya smiled.

Sebastian ignored them. “If you were Huntington and needed to contain a light shifter, how would you do it?”

Enya shifted and pulled one leg up under her. “Easy. I’d take away his light source. The only way to contain any elemental is to deprive them of what they need. Cassiel stripped me of all but the bare minimum amount of oxygen I needed to live. It wasn’t enough to fuel my inner fire.

“Air shifters would be the same. You would have to create some sort of vacuum to hold them. Water shifters are probably the easiest to control. Dehumidify a room, and you’ve got an instant jail for them. It doesn’t matter what type of shifter you need to control. The space just needs to be completely contained. There can’t be any holes or cracks. No seams, no spaces whatsoever that would allow access.”

Caleb was horrified. “You mean Huntington is keeping Asa in complete darkness?”

“He has to be,” Enya confirmed. “Allowing even the tiniest amount of light to enter would be the equivalent of a neon sign pointing out an escape route to your boyfriend.”

“Mate. He’s my mate.”

Enya shrugged.

Caleb looked at Sebastian. “What do we do?”

Before he could answer, Enya did. “Nothing. Huntington wants you to fuck up and go charging in to save your mate. I guarantee he’s laid traps. No. Instead, you wait for his side to fuck up. Believe me, they will. Huntington may be smart, but the shifters he has working for him are grunts. They’re the ones who will be watching your mate. They’ll be the ones to make a mistake. If your guy is smart, he’ll take advantage of the first opportunity.”

“You’re saying we should sit back and let Asa rescue himself?” Sebastian confirmed.

“Yes.”

“How long?” Caleb demanded. “How long do we let him be tortured in a pitch-black room? It isn’t right!”

“Caleb, settle,” Sebastian ordered. “I don’t like it either, but Enya may have a point. I think she’s right, and Huntington is trying to draw us to him. We can’t do that. Our chances are drastically reduced if we confront him in his territory.”

Caleb felt sick. The thought of Asa being held captive in a dark room deprived of light made his stomach roll. He dashed to the nearest bathroom and retched violently.

He felt hands rub his back, trying to comfort him– Reilly. Several dry heaves later, he slumped against the wall in defeat. He leaned his head back, squeezing his eyes shut against the tears that threatened to spill over. Reilly took his hand, and he held onto it like a lifeline.

“I don’t know what you’re going through, but I can relate to what Asa is going through,” Reilly said softly.

Caleb opened one eye and squinted at him. “How so?”

“When my father and brothers kidnapped me, I felt helpless. I know my situation was much different. I was a kid and had no chance against them. But even at the very worst, I still believed I would survive. I had no reason to think I would live past the end of the day, but I wouldn’t give up that one shred of hope. It’s what kept me going. I think it will keep Asa going, too. He’s got something to fight for.”

“I wish it were me. I wish I’d been caught instead of Asa.”

Reilly scoffed. “And if you had—Asa would be telling me he wished it was him. You can’t change what happened. Sebastian won’t give up on him, but he has an entire supernatural community to consider. I think Enya made a good point. We will be much better off if we lure Huntington here.”

“I don’t want my mate to suffer.”

“Let me ask you this—if you were the one being held by Huntington, would you want Sebastian to risk everyone’s safety to rescue you?”

Caleb sighed. He knew Reilly had him. “No,” he acquiesced. “I’d probably try to throttle him if he did.”

“Why do you think it’s different for Asa?”

Caleb smiled wistfully as a tear slid down his cheek. “Because I love him.”

“Come here,” Reilly demanded, kneeling and opening his arms. Caleb allowed himself to be held as the Alpha’s mate rubbed his back and let him cry it out. He wasn’t used to having a shoulder to cry on, but it was cathartic to allow himself to be comforted.

The floorboards creaked in the hall. Caleb sat up and wiped his face on his t-shirt. Reilly sighed, stood up, and handed him a towel to use instead. He rose and splashed water on his face as Sebastian stuck his head in the door.

“Are you okay, Caleb?”

He patted his face dry and uttered a muffled “Yeah.”

“Come back and join us when you’re ready.”

Reilly gave him a nod and followed Sebastian back to the living room. Caleb looked in the mirror and told his reflection, “No more pity party, you asshole. Asa will be okay.”

He hung up the damp towel and returned to the living room. No one acted any different, and Caleb appreciated it.

“Caleb,” Sebastian said. “While you were gone, we discussed a few possible strategies. Enya thinks Huntington has recruited shifters from Central and South America, possibly Indonesia. If so, we will probably be dealing with unfamiliar species. I’ve called Nat Chusi. She’ll be here tomorrow to bring us up to speed on known shifter species in South America. She’s also getting in touch with Andrew Faulkner. He’s somewhat familiar with South Asian shifters and might have some useful information.”

“Why those areas?” Caleb asked.

“Because we don’t have as much influence there,” Sebastian replied. “Wolf shifter packs are well-established all over Europe and North America. He would have difficulty getting enough shifters for a decent army if he could only pull from those areas. Granted, finding shifters outside these territories is more challenging, but not impossible.”

Huntington was proving to be a lot craftier than Caleb ever gave him credit for.

“What’s our next move?”

“Right now,” Sebastian replied, “We sit tight and wait. We can strategize after we talk to Nat and Andrew and better understand what we might be up against. I think we need to hang in there until tomorrow before deciding our next course of action.”

As much as Caleb wanted to do precisely the opposite, he knew Sebastian was right. Even though it was late afternoon, he was exhausted from the time change and all the traveling he’d done. Not to mention grubby and hungry.

The group ended their discussion, and Reilly told Caleb he could have whatever guest room he wanted. He took the same one he and Asa shared on their last visit. After a shower and a fresh change of clothes that Reilly provided, he went to the kitchen, where Sandi and Wayne were making dinner.

Sandi threw her arms around him. “Oh, Caleb! Don’t you worry. We’re going to get him back!”

Caleb appreciated how everyone rallied to support him and Asa. It was a true sign of their forgiveness.

In an effort to get his mind off Asa, he pitched in and helped get dinner on the table. It felt like a lifetime had passed since he’d last been here when, in reality, it was less than two months. So much had happened, and he wanted to share it with his friends.

Between bites of roast chicken and all the fixings, he told everyone about the destruction of Corbin’s ranch and the plans to rebuild. He described the awe he felt upon seeing the castle for the first time. There was no way to hold back the pride in his voice as he told them about Dante, Duncan, and Marcel. His voice cracked when he revealed his intention to talk to Vann.

Sebastian and Reilly smiled at him.

“You’re doing the right thing,” said Sebastian. “Vann is an incredible kid, and if you decided never to say a word, we’d be happy to keep him with us. But he deserves a chance to get to know you. He needs to know you’re his father. You need to get to know your son.”

“Do you think he’ll be okay with Dante and Duncan? I don’t want him to feel like I’m trying to replace him or something.”

“Vann, not okay with it?” Reilly questioned. “He is one of the most empathetic kids I’ve ever met. He is the type of person who would have suggested it on the first day if he’d gone to Europe with you. You’re going to have to be careful when he goes to Texas. Otherwise, you’ll end up with every stray puppy, kitten, rabbit, or other woodland creature before you know it.”

Sebastian chuckled. “Yeah, he’s already roped us into adopting two horses, a dog, and four cats.”

“Where the hell are you keeping them?” Caleb asked, ignoring Reilly’s mention of Vann and Texas.

Hunter snickered. “They tried pawning the cats off on us. Our wolves shut that down pretty quickly. Nah, all the animals are in the barn. Vann and his buddies are there nearly every day. The barn manager has trained the dog and horses to help herd the cattle. The cats keep the rodent population in check.”

Caleb sighed and slouched in his seat. “I’ve missed out on a lot.”

Sandi patted his hand and slid another piece of cornbread on his plate. “There’s still plenty more that’s ahead of you.”

“I hope so.”

“I know so,” Reilly stated.

After dinner, Caleb retreated to the back deck. It was still light, the summer sunset only now beginning to turn the sky into muted colors. He sat on the top step and looked out over the vast meadow, watching the colors paint the sky in beautiful shades of pink, orange, purple, red, and blue.

As the blue morphed from indigo to navy, then into black, stars appeared, thousands of pinpricks dotting the night sky. He couldn’t help wishing Asa were here to share this with him. The sliding door opened, and footsteps thunked across the wooden deck. Sebastian sat down heavily next to him. The Alpha’s shoulders sagged, and he sighed.

“Are you alright?” Caleb asked.

“I will be once all this shit is behind us,” he replied. “I’m worried. That’s all.”

Caleb let out a sympathetic huff. “I don’t envy you. I can’t imagine trying to deal with Asa being kidnapped and being responsible for the well-being of thousands of shifters. You’re a good man, Sebastian.”

“Thanks. I have Reilly. I couldn’t do any of this without him. Not to mention Hunter and Kellan. Hell, even Elijah, Tyler, and their mates have become an important part of my team. It’s a group effort. One that you’re a vital part of.”

“I’m glad. I have a feeling this group is going to face its biggest challenge soon. Huntington isn’t going to hold back, and neither should we.”

“I agree.”

“But are we ready?”

Yep.... are they ready??
Copyright © 2023 kbois; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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