Last Chance (A SkinWalker Novel #3)(2)

By: T.G. Ayer

With a start, I recognized Byron Teague, the local wolf alpha, and Justin Lake, alpha of the cougars, behind my brother and father. Again, I was reminded that attendance at the funeral would be more a show of support of those grieving her death rather than an actual payment of respect to Greer herself. The lynx and jaguar alphas brought up the rear of the pallbearers. I turned and faced the stone bier at the front; a simple table constructed from white marble, and surrounded with vases of white roses.

From somewhere around me a lone violin sang sweet sad notes. A song I didn't recognize but which brought tears to my eyes anyway. I swallowed the lump in my throat and blinked away the moisture. I'd just regained my composure when a tap on my shoulder pulled my attention from the pallbearers who were setting the casket onto the bier. Behind me sat Lily, Logan, Saleem and Tara. Logan's hand felt warm and comforting on my shoulder and I held tightly onto it. I drew strength just from the touch of the man.

Tara leaned forward, her dark hair glinting in the sun. "Mother couldn't make it but she does send her apologies and her condolences," she whispered in my ear before giving me a small encouraging smile.

I nodded. "Thanks," was all I could think to say. I was overwhelmed by their support. Even more so when I caught a glimpse of Storm and Chief Murdoch sitting in the back row. Proof that I managed to gather my own little band of friends over the last few years. The one person I didn't see was Clancy. Clancy McBride, my best friend, my supervisor at the rehab center, taken from me by the same Walker who, in the end, had killed my sister too.

The chair beside me squawked and I twisted around as Grams sat down. I took her hands and she squeezed them back. We were both dressed in white, me in a skirt suit, and Grams in a pants and matching jacket. Walkers shunned the nothingness of black. We saw death as another step in our journey, not a marking of the end, the beginning of nothing.

Grams and I had long supported each other in our grief, and then guilt clawed at me, ripping open old wounds. When my uncle Niko had died we'd had no body to bury. They'd had a small memorial service but with everything that had happened, and everything Niko had done I couldn't bring myself to attend. Grams and everyone else had understood. I'd been weak from the Wraith-sword poison, grieving for Clancy, terrified for Mom and Anjelo and Greer, all innocents sucked into Niko's crazy schemes.

I tried to banish those thoughts, bring my attention back onto the ceremony. With the casket in place, the pallbearers dispersed and my father and brother came to sit beside us.

The light glinted off the carved face of the coffin as a woman glided slowly toward a lectern. The white podium stood beside the bier, covered in white fabric and decorated with a swag of white roses and baby's breath. Etina was our equivalent to a pastor or a priest. The priestesses of Ailuros presided over deaths and births and marriages within the walker communities. Etina, her red hair held away from her face by a band of matching braids, came to a graceful stop behind the flowers and turned to smile at the gathering.

I listened with half an ear as she spoke a little about Greer, an extolling of virtues that steered clear from her leaving home without so much as a goodbye, from her involvement with Pariah walkers Niko and Brand, and from any references to how she finally met her end. I swallowed a sob. Everywhere I looked I saw the image of my mother's face, superimposed on everyone, saw the look of disappointment in her eyes everywhere I turned. A look I would need to face soon. My heart thudded as Etina motioned for my father to come forward to speak.

I didn't hear his words, my mind still on my mother and the promises I'd broken. Fingers slipped in against mine and I looked at Iain as he held my hand, squeezing it in silent comfort. I'd refused to speak, not wanting to be a hypocrite. As sisters, we'd never been close. No point in pretending now.

Soon, my father returned to his seat, and Etina resumed her duties. Movement around me brought me back to the present as the small gathering began to rise. The service was over and the coffin would be transfered to a special cart, whose dark gleaming wheels were almost as tall as I was. The cart would draw the coffin and the mourners along the edge of the town and deep into the mountains.

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