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Fall of the Harvest Moon (New World Shifters Book 4)

Fall of the Harvest Moon (New World Shifters Book 4)

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Thorne’s dead.

And Ryne will be soon.

We have no idea what the future holds.

I will not be shunted to the side anymore. It’s time for me to take my place as leader in the resistance. We’re taking the wolves down.

But sometimes the good guys become the bad guys and the bad guys good, and I don’t even know where my allegiance lies anymore.

And my heart…that’s still up for grabs.

Synopsis

Thorne’s dead.

And Ryne will be soon.

We have no idea what the future holds.I will not be shunted to the side anymore. It’s time for me to take my place as leader in the resistance.

We’re taking the wolves down.But sometimes the good guys become the bad guys and the bad guys good, and I don’t even know where my allegiance lies anymore.

And my heart…that’s still up for grabs.

First Chapter

It’s been three days since Ryne was bitten, and I haven’t left his side. I know there is so much going on outside, so much I should be worrying about with the Resistance and the lycans and wolf-pack hierarchy, but I can’t leave my mate. I have to wait with him. I’ve banished both Justin and Nico from the tent. They keep telling me it would be more merciful to kill Ryne, but I can’t let them do it. He’s still alive, and they thought he’d be dead by now.

Callum keeps giving him herbs for the pain, but I don’t think it’s doing much. His body writhes most of the time. Occasionally, he comes to, looking me in the eye and telling me that he loves me. And then I lose him again.

It’s the middle of the night, and I’m lying next to him, my head on his sweaty shoulder.

“Poppy.” Ryne’s voice cuts through the darkness even though it’s soft. I jerk up and look him in the eyes, to search them for a sign that he’s getting better. They’re brighter than they were last night, but he’s very pale.

“It’s okay. You can go back to sleep.”

He shakes his head. “I don’t think I’ll be alive much longer. I can feel myself slipping away. Poppy, I love you. Promise me you’ll take care of yourself.”

I lean over him. “Don’t talk like that.”

His hand grips my waist. “I mean it. You need to fight for your freedom.” He’s more coherent than I’ve seen him since I bit him. That has to be the sign I need, right?

I shake my head. “You’re not dying.”

“Yes, I am. No one survives the bite. Even me. You need to let me go.”

Tears fall onto his chest. “Not yet.” I know I’m going to lose him, but I’m not ready. Not by a long shot.

He pulls me closer. I’m surprised he has the strength. He places a hand on the back of my head and presses his lips against mine. For a moment, I forget that he’s dying. Forget that he’s writhing in pain. Forget that I may never kiss him again. Our lips and tongues move furiously against one another. The desperate last kiss of a dying man.

And then he falls limp in my arms.

A sob bursts from my lungs. This is it. This is the end. His breathing stops, and his body goes impossibly still, as if it’s not a body anymore, as if he’s not Ryne anymore.

“No, no, no,” I cry out, shaking him. “Don’t go. Don’t leave me.”

But it’s useless . . . Ryne is dead.

I don’t want to believe it. I can’t possibly accept it. But deep down, I know it’s true, and no amount of crying or pleading is going to bring him back. After all the death and trauma I’ve had to endure, this one will break me. I will never be the same. I cling to his body, knowing it will soon grow cold, but this is a luxury I never had with my sister. I can hold him for as long as I want.

I should go get Callum and the others. We’re going to need to prepare the body for burial. Or will they want to burn it? The thought of his beautiful body being engulfed in flames makes my stomach pinch, and I lie down again, returning my head to his shoulder, and whisper confessions of love and regret into his ear. I never want to leave him––this beautiful man who I killed.

And so I don’t.

Sometime later, when the birds begin to greet the dawn, I get up the nerve to face reality. I’m unable to look at Ryne’s face as I hurry from the tent. I have to find Ryne’s packmates to let them know what’s happened. They were right about him dying, so they won’t be surprised, but I need to get this over with before they find him in there.

“Poppy, are you okay?” Justin asks, standing up near the long-dead campfire. I briefly wonder when it went out. Did it die around the same time Ryne did?

A labored inhalation later and Nico is at my side, catching me as my knees buckle. Hoarse sobs rip from my body as the grief hits me all at once. “He’s dead,” I gasp. “Ryne’s dead.”

Nico steadies me and then looks me right in the eye, his voice careful. “Are you sure?”

I don’t know why, but that asinine question sends rage through my core. “Am I sure?” I bite out, pushing him off me. “Am I sure? I don’t know, Nico. Ryne took his last breath in my arms last night, but maybe I was mistaken.” My voice doesn’t sound like me. This is some other Poppy, the Poppy who has been ruined by death. First, I lost Willow, and I only survived it because I found Joanna and Ryne. And now she’s left me for our enemies, and Ryne is gone forever. This angry Poppy, this rageful Poppy, she’s the new me, and this is my life now.

“Poppy.” Justin inches forward, his eyes flashing to the tent and then back to me. “We’d have felt his death through the pack bond. But we felt nothing.”

I stare at them, wondering how they could be so cruel.

“According to our bond, he’s not dead yet,” Nico insists.

Time seems to still, hanging like a question mark in midair. I know what happened.

Together, they sprint past me and into the tent. I follow them in, barely registering that Callum and Faye are awake and in the tent now too. It seems everyone has to see for themselves that Ryne is really dead; they can’t take my word for it.

“I don’t know what’s going on with the pack bond, but I know what happened last night.” Tears pour down my face, sadness lapping over the anger. Ryne left me. He stopped breathing. He stopped moving. His body grew cold. He’s gone.

I can’t even bear to look at him anymore, knowing that his soul is no longer there. But I have to. I have to prove to the others that I’m not crazy.

“Here, let me.” Callum kneels next to Ryne and presses his fingers to Ryne’s neck. It’s the first time I’ve let myself look at Ryne’s face in death. He looks the same but different. Right but wrong. Here but not.

Another sob wracks me.

“I’m so sorry, Poppy,” Faye whispers, standing at my side in the entrance to the tent. It’s perhaps the first kind thing she’s ever said to me, but it does nothing to make me feel better. Nothing ever could or ever will. Not without Ryne. She grips my hand, but I shake her off.

“He’s got a pulse,” Callum says, disbelieving.

“But he’s obviously not breathing,” I state woodenly, pointing to his chest. “How can there be a pulse?”

“I don’t know. None of this makes sense.” Callum looks up at me and shakes his head. “But since when did wolf shifters or lycanthropes make sense?”

Could he really be alive? I drop to my knees on Ryne’s other side, pushing Justin out of my way, and briefly press my lips to Ryne’s. They’re cold. Too cold. Cruelly cold. “What’s happening here? Are you dead or not?” I whisper to him, wondering if perhaps he can hear me. He doesn’t look like himself. He has to be dead. Pulse or no pulse.

“Our bond indicates he’s not dead,” Justin insists. “Trust me, we’d know if our alpha was gone.”

Hope burns through my every cell, and I pray it’s not false hope because I don’t think I could handle this being some cruel twist of fate. “But he’s so cold . . .”

“I don’t understand,” Faye interrupts, hands on her hips and glowering down at all of us. “He was burning up, but now he’s cold? He was dead, but just kidding, he’s alive? Which is it?”

There she is. I glare daggers at her, and she holds her hands up. “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just stating the obvious here.” She’s right. I know she is, but I don’t have to like it.

“Let’s look at the facts.” Callum goes into doctor-scientist mode, pacing the tent. “Ryne was bitten by a lycan, and no wolf shifter has ever survived a lycan bite before.”

“Fact,” Justin and Nico say in unison.

“But, the difference here is that Poppy was the one to bite him, and she’s kissed him several times since, even though it’s close to the full moon, and she shouldn’t have.”

Blood drains from my face. I can’t believe I didn’t remember not to do that. We’d been so careful not to kiss near the full moon since my lycan saliva sedates him, but I was so distracted and desperate over these last three days that I forgot. “What are you saying?”

“You’re not just anyone to Ryne.” A ring of excitement lightens Callum’s voice, and he bounces on the balls of his feet. “You’re his fated mate.”

“Which means?” I’m not following his line of thinking.

“Which means, if my theory is correct, that your bite and your saliva, however painful and dangerous they may be, won’t actually kill him.”

“And why on earth not?” Faye asks incredulously, and I squeeze Ryne’s hand, hoping that Callum could somehow be right. His heart is still beating, so he’s still here when he shouldn’t be.

“We can’t intentionally kill our fated mates. It’s one of the things we’re taught as pups,” Nico says bluntly to Faye and then looks at me. “I thought you could accidentally kill him, but perhaps fate won’t allow that either.”

Callum agrees. “And maybe because it was you and not someone else who bit him . . .”

I finish his thought. “Ryne might be the first wolf shifter to survive the lycan virus.”

And in that moment, that glorious death-defying moment, Ryne’s eyes fly open.

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