Authors: Quinn Loftis
“Yes, she is.” He heard Jen’s voice again. “She’s cruel and she will chop you up and serve you for dinner if you hurt one hair on any of my wolves.”
Choosing once again to ignore his mate, Decebel said into the phone, “I’ll be in touch soon. You and your mate get ready for a change of scenery.”
The call ended and Drake tossed the phone back through the bars where it landed on a pile of sweatpants.
“We’re leaving?” Bethany asked him sounding hopeful. Drake felt like crap that she’d had to endure being confined in a room on the concrete floor because he couldn’t stand to be away from her.
“Yes,” he said as he rubbed the back of his neck. “Decebel is going to give us a suite on the west side of the mansion. It’s a little more secluded than the rest.”
“West side?” Her eyebrows rose. “How big is this place?”
His lips twitched. “Big enough for a pack of werewolves.”
She snorted out a laugh.
Drake’s smiled slipped away as he watched her. “Beth, are you alright?”
She looked up at him through the bars that kept him from holding her. “I don’t know, Drake. But I think I will be.”
“Okay,” he nodded. “That will have to be good enough for now.”
en sat at one of the intricately carved tables in the archive room as Wadim tapped away on a keyboard while staring at his fifty computer screens. Okay so maybe there weren’t fifty, but crap, how many computer screens does one werewolf historian really need?
“Finding anything of use, history boy?” Jen asked absently as she flipped through one of the large old books he’d stacked on the table for her.
“Honestly, Alpha chick, I don’t even know where to start.”
Jen tapped her lips with her forefinger as she considered his answer. “Okay, how about enemies? Who are the enemies of the werewolves, or yet” —she held up a hand— “even more specific, who are the enemies of our packs, the Serbia and Romania packs?”
“Vampires,” Wadim said dryly.
“Do we really think the vampires could have taken her right out from under all of our noses without anyone noticing?”
“Wasn’t there a battle going on?” Wadim asked.
“Yes, but a vampire would have had to weave his way through all that fighting and Sally wouldn’t have gone quietly. She would have fought like a hellcat. Someone would have noticed. We do tend to watch each other’s backs during battles.”
“Well.” Wadim let out a heavy sigh. “I know this sounds crazy, but there is only one supernatural race that I know of that can make people disappear without a sound, and that’s the fae.” Wadim stared at her with his eyebrows raised. “I mean pixies can move undetected when they want, that’s for sure, and they have some dead useful magic, but kidnapping a powerful healer without anyone else being the wiser, I don’t see it. Which leads me to believe that it has to have been a fae. I mean…maybe Volcan has gotten involved.”
“Hmm, no, I think he’s got his hands full with the healers he’s already nabbed and the werewolves hunting him. He doesn’t need Sally,” Jen answered.
“She’s a gypsy healer,” Wadim said more to himself.
“Way to state the obvious, Sherlock,” Jen muttered.
“I’m not done making my point, Barbie,” he said curtly.
Jen chuckled. “Oooo, look at history fur ball being all snarky and stuff. It’s hot.”
“Why do you always end up calling some male hot when I’m not around,” Decebel growled as he stepped out of the dark stairwell.
Jen glanced up at him. “Why were you lurking in the stairwell like a creeper? Where’ve you been anyway? One minute you were next to me as we tromped through Vasile’s castle, and the next you’d disappeared.”
“I wasn’t lurking, female. I was texting my girlfriend so she’d know not to call me right now. Did you miss me?” Decebel’s eyes danced with mischief as he stared her down.
Jen noticed Wadim trying to look especially busy.
“Tell her I said hi,” Jen said in a much too perky voice. “And that I will rip her face off and eat it in front of her if I ever figure out who she is. And” —she paused licking her finger to turn the page of the book she wasn’t even reading— “no, I didn’t miss you. The librarian is plenty hairy and stinky enough to remind me of you.”
“Damn,” Wadim gasped under his breath.
Decebel rumbled with laughter. “You didn’t realize how bloodthirsty my Alpha female is, did you?”
“Only when I have to remind you that you are mine, and bitches better back off.” Jen flipped through the book, humming happily as if she hadn’t just threatened to eat a woman’s face—not that she believed for even a second that her mate had a girlfriend. Decebel had discovered how to get under her skin and was using it ruthlessly anytime she irritated him. Boy didn’t realize that he was poking an already pissed off wolf.
“Oh, I realize, mate. I just happen to find you irresistible when you get jealous even over my fake girlfriends.”
His warm voice filled her mind and melted over her like warm butter.
Jen decided it wasn’t time to deal with their sexual build up, considering she had a friend missing and one not exactly alive. “Back to what history hottie was saying.” She shot Decebel a challenging glare. He simply shrugged and blew her a kiss.
Wadim cleared his throat. “Okay…um…right. So, Sally is a healer, of course. Healers have always been targeted in the past for their magic. Decebel, you know this. Healers are sought after by many, not just Volcan, because their magic is…” He paused seeming to consider his words. “It’s different. Pure in a way that other supernatural magic isn’t.
“You think someone wanted her specifically because she’s a gypsy healer?” Decebel asked as he walked further into the room.
“I’m certain of it,” the historian answered. “The question is, who?”
Jen slammed the book closed and dropped it on the desk, growling. “We aren’t any closer to finding her than we were three hours ago. What am I supposed to tell Costin?”
“We tell him we are doing everything we can to find her. That’s all we can do, Jennifer,” Decebel said calmly. “They will make a mistake, whoever did this, and when they do, we will find them.”
“Maybe, but how long will Sally suffer before they do?”
“How do we know she’s suffering?” he challenged. “Whoever has her might be treating her like a queen.”
“Right,” Jen scoffed. “Because kidnappers are always so kind to their victims. It’s more likely they’ve ripped her toenails off or locked her in a dungeon with rats. Bastards.”
ally couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so hard. Her stomach muscles screamed from the abuse that had been inflicted upon them as Jericho entertained the nightly patrons. He was amazing at his job. He talked easily, flirted without shame, and treated people as though each of them was his top priority. It was truly a thing of beauty.
“How’d you like your first day of work?” Cross asked as she finished wiping down the end of the bar.
“It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be,” she admitted. “Jericho is—”
“Something to behold when he’s on,” Cross finished for her.
She nodded. “He definitely knows what he’s doing.”
“I’ll admit. You’re probably learning from the best bartender in the city. Take notes and one day you’ll be as good as he is. He makes a good living slinging liquor and winking at girls” —he paused— “and guys occasionally too.”
Sally laughed. “He’s shameless.”
“Here.” He held out a wad of cash. “These are your tips for tonight. You did good, kid. Now get on out of here and get some rest. We’ll see you tomorrow.” Cross looked behind her and spoke a little louder to be heard over the music that was still coming out of the jukebox. “Mikey, walk Sally home.”
“I don’t—” Sally began but Cross stopped her, holding up his hand.
“You work for me. I take care of what is mine. End of story.” With that he turned back and headed to his office.
I take care of what is mine.
Those words latched onto her like a wolf on a deer. They felt familiar somehow.
What is mine,
danced in her head over and over. A hand touched her elbow causing Sally to jump.
“Sorry, Miss Sally,” Mikey’s deep voice rumbled from beside her. “I didn’t mean to scare you. Just wanted to see if you were ready to go?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry.” She took off her apron and folded it, placing it beneath the counter and then followed Mikey out the door. She called a quick goodbye to Jericho who was busy tallying his cash drawer.
Once they’d stepped outside, the fresh air filled her lungs and helped clear her head. They walked in companionable silence and, once they arrived at the door to her apartment building, she smiled up at her escort. “Thanks, Mikey, I appreciate it.”
“Any time, doll, sleep tight. See you tomorrow.” He waved and then headed back in the direction of the bar.
By the time Sally had taken a quick shower and brushed her teeth, she was ready to crash. Her eyes drooped heavily as she climbed into bed and, though her body was unbelievably tired, her mind was still spinning like a top. The words Cross had spoken to her—
I take care of what is mine—
rotated over and over in her mind
Sally fell asleep with them gnawing at her gut. She’d heard them before, somewhere, she knew it. But where, and from whom, she couldn’t remember.
“I want to live. I know that I need to live, not for myself, but for someone else—someone I haven’t met. But I’m lost. I feel so very lost.” ~Jacque
acque felt nothing but peace. There was no pain, no anger, and no fear—just peace. But even as she experienced this wonderful feeling of peace, a doubt lingered. Something nagged at her. She knew that she couldn’t stay where she was. She wanted to live. She wanted life in all its messy glory. And she couldn’t live if she stayed in this blissful peace. Jacque wanted to feel pain, because then she’d also feel the joy of healing. She wanted to feel anger, because after she felt the anger, then she would feel forgiveness and mercy. She wanted to feel fear, so that she could appreciate the wonderful feeling of safety. She wasn’t ready to die. Jacque wasn’t afraid of dying, but she was afraid of missing out on all the life she had yet to live.
Jacque could hear chanting—a soft beautiful voice, someone powerful. Jacque could feel herself being pulled along by the magic in the words. She wanted desperately to cling to those words, to let them drag her out of this darkness. She wanted to scream, H
ere I am. I’m still here and I want to live!
But her mouth wouldn’t work. Nothing worked. The only thing she knew to do was to focus all of her consciousness on her life— to remember all that she’d had and all that she was going to have. She wouldn’t give up, not as long as there was still hope that she could return from wherever it was that she was now stranded.
ane didn’t understand what was happening. He wasn’t dead, but he sure as hell wasn’t alive either. He was angry and scared. His last memories were of his mate covered in blood. Her heart had stopped and his had stopped right along with it. They were one and his wolf couldn’t live without its mate. He remembered there was a baby,
baby, but he hadn’t seen it. And he was sure that Jacque hadn’t seen it either. They’d been ripped away far too soon and he was so very angry.
Fane could still feel his wolf and he decided that this must be a good sign. Perhaps, their lives weren’t over after all. But he didn’t know where he was or how he could escape. Other than the wolf he felt pacing inside of him, he couldn’t see or feel anything else. He reached for the bond in his mind but there was nothing there; he was alone. His wolf wanted to howl, a desperate cry for their mate, but nothing worked. He was just there, wherever
was. Fane thought his fate was worse than death, floating in nothingness with no way to feel his mate or hold his child. He didn’t want to give up hope, but he also didn’t want to stay in some weird stasis state either. Fane would either figure out a way to let go of what little life was tying him to the world or get himself back to the land of the living. Somehow, something was going to change.
eri felt something change. Jacque’s spark of life, what miniscule amount there was left, had grown a little bit stronger. It felt as though the girl was beginning to fight to get her life back. “That ‘a girl, Red. Don’t go quietly into the night. Not yet,” Peri said quietly as she stared down at the redhead who had become one of her dearest friends. The young girl was thin and her skin was so pale it was nearly white. The usually strong and determined female wolf had been reduced to a living corpse. Surely the Fates didn’t mean to rip the young parents away from their brand-new child. Surely they weren’t that cruel. Peri snorted to herself. “Yes, yes they are that cruel,” she growled.
In her long life, she’d dealt with the Fates countless times, and she knew that their decisions were not based on emotion, but on the need to maintain a cosmic balance. How much good was still needed in the world to counteract the darkness? How much evil was too much? And who needed to be culled? The Fates were strategists that kept the realms, all of them, in order. That didn’t mean Peri had to accept or agree with their decisions. And as she’d proven before, she wasn’t above breaking the rules and telling the Fates to jump off a cliff—not that the Fates could jump off a cliff. And even if they could, it’s not like it would hurt them.
“Great, now my mind has been reduced to endless, pointless chatter,” she huffed.
Peri felt him standing behind her before she heard his voice. Her mate, being the hardheaded werewolf that he is, had come to her even though she’d told him not to.
“You are using your very life force to keep two people alive and you expect me stay away?” Lucian asked her, his voice gruff with the emotions she could feel swelling inside of him. He was worried about her.
“I expect you to be taking care of those dominant males at my house.”
Lucian chuckled. “I know that you are used to having everyone obey your commands without question, my love, but I’m no ordinary wolf. Your health is my primary…no my
concern. Someone else can babysit the wolves. I have my mate to think about.”
“But then who’s going to keep them from killing each other or, worse, getting blood all over my furniture? Or even worse, peeing all over my furniture?” Peri was standing in two inches of warm water with one hand on Jacque’s chest and the other on Fane’s. She’d been standing there for three days, attempting to, somehow, keep the pair from slipping into oblivion. But a fear that her efforts were futile was growing in the back of her mind. She felt as if she were trying to hold seawater cupped in her hand. The harder she tried to hold on, the more Peri felt them slipping away. She couldn’t let them die. They’d just had a baby, for crying out loud. They could not die.
“Is that really your decision to make?” the voice of reason that was her mate asked. “You aren’t the Fates to determine the outcome of a person’s life, beloved,” Lucian continued. “As much as it hurts, sometimes you just have to let go.”
Peri could have kept it together if he’d stopped at the question. But no, he just had to keep pushing. Her power was swelling as her anger rose and she knew light would be pulsating around her. Lucian had stepped around her and her patients so that he stood directly in front of her—bad move on his part.
Peri knew that her power would have driven most men to their knees, but her mate was a dominant male. He was powerful in his own right. So instead of falling to his knees, he gritted his teeth and continued to meet her stare.
“Mate,” he breathed. “Perhaps, you should let—”
“I WILL NOT LET THEM GO,” she bellowed and the force of her power behind her voice shook the windows and sent a shudder through the foliage surrounding them in the garden room. “Ask me to give up my immortality, ask me to give up the chance to bear children, ask me to give up my own life. Ask me anything else, but do not ask me to give up on them!”
“Who are you to decide such a fate?” Lucian repeated, growling at her now. “Who are you to decide life and death, yours or anyone else’s?” He took a step closer.
, Peri thought to herself.
“Who are you to tell the Fates that they got it wrong and that you know better?” Another step closer.
He must have a death wish. Peri’s eyes narrowed and she could feel the heat of her power growing with his every word.
“Who are you—”
That was it. She couldn’t control the amount of power that rushed out of her. It poured out of her hands, her eyes, and her soul, causing the entire room to flare with so much light that Lucian had to put a hand over his eyes.
“I AM PERIZADA, HIGH FAE AND AMBASSADOR,” she roared and light shot from her mouth as well. The windows shattered and the wind from outside whipped through the room blowing the plants around so that their branches looked like arms hailing the woman before them. “I have lived thousands of lifetimes! I have served thousands, saved thousands, fought thousands, and still I stand! I will not turn away from those under my care! I will not stop fighting for them!”
A resounding silence fell upon the room. The wind was suddenly gone, the bright light from her body slowly fading. She stared directly at Lucian. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, she whispered, “Until death’s kiss steals the breath from my lungs and its withered hand stops my ancient heart, I will not give up on them.” Lucian felt the power of these words, more mighty even then when she’d yelled, as a thunderous blow, finally staggering him. The light was gone and all that was left was a quiet rustling of the leaves from the windows that no longer had glass in them. Peri’s chest rose and fell as she attempted to regain control. It was in between those huffing breaths that she heard a soft groan.
She glanced down from her mate to Jacque and Fane. Her clenched jaw fell open and she felt what little breath was inside her rush out. They were moving—eyelids were beginning to open, chests were rising and falling, pulling air into their lungs. Their hearts were beating. They were alive.
Peri looked back up to Lucian who had a small crooked smile on his radiant face.
“You baited me,” she accused though her words were gentle.
He shrugged. “I never doubted your power, love. It simply needed a little push. Just so happens, I am a wolf who thoroughly enjoys pushing you.” He closed the distance between them and raised her chin with his hand, holding her there. “I am proud of you. I love you.” Lucian pressed a soft kiss to her lips and then stepped back.
Peri had never realized how much she’d needed to hear those words:
I am proud of you
. Her mate found her as a woman of worth and that touched her to her very soul.
“Alston will take me back to our house. I expect to see you soon.” His eyes narrowed and began to glow. “Very soon, Perizada. My wolf misses his mate. And I am in agreement with him.” He turned and walked from the room before her tongue could form words. She waited until he was no longer visible before finally stepping back and looking at the mated pair. They were both nearly sitting up. They seemed weak and were slowly pushing their bodies upright with their arms. Peri wanted to help, but she also wanted them to do it on their own, to prove to her that they were really alive.
Jacque’s head gradually rose and her eyes met Fane’s. It took two heartbeats before he had lurched forward. Probably meant to lunge, but, hello, he’d been almost dead so lurching was good. His arms reached for his mate and, just as he reached her, his legs gave out and he fell face first into her chest.
“Umph,” Jacque breathed out. She looked down at him; he wasn’t moving but he was still breathing. Then Jacque looked up at Peri. “Well, this just got awkward.”
Peri laughed and it felt so, so good. “I don’t care if he strips you and ravishes you this instant.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Fane’s voice came out muffled as he interrupted.
Peri just continued. “As long as you both keep breathing, by all means have at it.”
acque breathed in Fane’s unique scent. It washed over her and calmed her anxious wolf. They were alive. She didn’t know how, but all that mattered was that they were alive and would be there for their baby.
Her head snapped up. “Baby,” Jacque sputtered out and pushed Fane aside, not concerned that he fell face first into the shallow water. She jumped to her feet, her adrenaline pulsing through her body. “Where’s my baby?”
“Our baby,” Fane’s voice quickly followed as he stood, only much slower.