Shades of Moonlight

Shades of Moonlight

Stephanie Julian

 

Book six in the Lucani Lovers series.

 

Wolf shifter Race Aragon knows Mara Marrucini is meant to be his, in bed and out. And he’s not about to let anyone or anything get in his way of protecting her and her baby. She’d been the prisoner of a madman and has the emotional scars to prove it. Now that she’s free, he’s going to make damn sure she gets to live her life—with him at her side.

Mara adores Race. He’s the first man to make her feel like a woman. To make her feel protected. His touch ignites her desire but she fears for his safety. Her presence in his life puts him in the crosshairs.

But with her son’s life on the line, Mara trusts no one but Race to keep them both safe. And to care for her heart—always.

 

A Romantica®
paranormal erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave

Shades of Moonlight
Stephanie Julian

 

Dedication

 

To the readers who’ve followed along on this journey, thank you. XOXO

 

 

Glossary

 

Arus
: magical power inherent in the
Fata
and
Enu
, races of Etruscan descent

Boschetta
: Etruscan coven, traditionally comprised of thirteen
streghe

Candela
: Etruscan sprite, tiny magical beings with wings and a certain glow about them

Decurio
: legion rank of commander

Eteri
(pl.
eteri
): Etruscan for foreigner, used to describe regular humans without magic

Enu
: humans of magical Etruscan descent

Fata
: elemental beings of magical Etruscan descent

Fauni
: Etruscan elemental spirit of the earth

Folletta
(pl.
folletti
): Etruscan female fairy

Linchetto
(pl.
linchetti
): Etruscan night elf

Malandante
: descended from the Etruscans but born with a bent toward evil, with a taste for power and wealth

Praenuntio
: Goddess Gift of foresight

Praepositus
: an officer rank in the
lucani
army

Praetorian
: elite guard of the
lucani
king

Pugio
: a Roman dagger

Quercioli
: the offspring of a
folletta
and a
linchetto
, always female

Salbinelli
: Etruscan satyr

Sicari
(pl:
sicarii
): assassin

Silvani
: one of the three original Etruscan
Fata
; always female, protectors of fields and forests

Speculator
: spy

Strega
(pl.
streghe
): Etruscan witch

Versipellis
(pl.
versipelli
): literally “skin shifter”—shapeshifters including Etruscan
Lucani
(wolves), Norse
Berkserkir
(bears) and French
loup garou
(wolves)

Chapter One

 

There he was again, the huge gray wolf prowling around the shadows outside Mara Maruccini’s tiny home.

Well, it wasn’t actually
her
home.

Cole Luporeale, the
lucani
king, graciously allowed her to stay here, close to the very little family she had left. The five-room building sat on the outskirts of this small community of
versipelli
. Skin shifters. In this case, Etruscan wolves, members of the magical race of Etruscans who continued to survive in the modern world.

And she knew that wolf better than any of the others.

Race.

Just the fact that he was out there made her feel safer than at any other time in her life. Which wasn’t really hard to do, considering…

A tap on her shoulder drew her attention from the window to the woman standing behind her.

Her aunt, Grace. Well, her aunt only if you considered that Mara’s father’s brother—she refused to call that bastard Uncle Ettore—was the father of Grace’s son and daughter.

A tenuous connection, at best, but Grace considered Mara family and what Grace believed came true.

Grace smiled now, though Mara saw the strain in it and, reluctantly, turned her back on the window to focus on what Grace wanted to tell her.

Mara hadn’t been able to understand all of it by reading Grace’s lips, a necessity because Mara was still under a nasty spell that had taken away her hearing and speech.

That bastard Ettore. So glad he was dead.

She shook her head and held up her hands, letting Grace know she hadn’t been able to understand her.

So Grace lifted her hands and signed slowly. “The
streghe
want to be certain you understand. They may not be able to break the spell and you could be permanently deaf and mute.”

Her aunt’s sign language skills had improved greatly in the last six months since Mara had given birth to Arin, her beautiful baby boy. She’d do anything for him, even attempt this risky spell-breaking. She needed to protect him and she couldn’t if she were deaf and mute. Not completely.

Mara nodded and signed back, “Yes. I’m positive.”

Grace sighed and forced another smile, though she wasn’t able to make it the least bit encouraging. Grace had become the closest thing to a mother Mara had ever had, even considering that Mara had two living parents—who’d given her up to Ettore when she was fifteen to be a breeder for the
Malandante
.

No, trust didn’t come easy for her. She trusted only one person implicitly. Her cousin Amalia. Only sixteen but already wise beyond her years, Lia, as everyone had begun to call her here, had never lied to her.

She looked to Lia now, sitting in a corner of the room, away from everyone. Lia’s gaze locked on to hers and she nodded, just once.

Lia believed this would work. They’d discussed it last night as Mara rocked Arin to sleep and Lia avoided her mother. They both still felt like outcasts in this little community, even though none of the
lucani
had outright shunned them. In fact, most had accepted them and that stunned her. Grace and her mate Kaisie’s unconditional love made her want to weep.

And then there was Race…

Pushing thoughts of the man out of her head, she looked back at Grace, who couldn’t hide her fear. For her. Mara still had a tough time figuring out how to react. She’d never had anyone fuss and fawn over her like Grace had in the past few months. As if she were trying to make up for the previous twenty years of neglect by Mara’s parents.

Mara soaked up Grace’s kindness like a sponge. On the other hand, Lia was having a hard time trusting anyone.

Mara had to trust that this would work. She
had
to. “I’m ready,” she signed. “Let’s get this over with.”

When Grace nodded and turned to speak to the Etruscan witches who were going to attempt to break the spell, Mara looked out the window again.

Was he still—

Yes, there he was, sitting beneath a low-hanging willow. Staring at the house.

If I ask, will he come in and hold my hand?

She wanted that so badly her chest ached.

Race was the one person, in addition to her small family, she’d become used to seeing, who she expected to see every day.

And the one person she knew she shouldn’t come to rely on.

Ettore had been right. She was weak.

Another tap on her shoulder and she turned but this time it wasn’t Grace.

Catene Rossini Ferrante was only a year younger than Mara but that was where the similarities ended. Cat had long, copper hair and bright-blue eyes, the polar opposite of Mara’s short dark hair and dark-brown eyes.

“Would you like me to ask him to come in?” Cat asked.

Mara’s eyes widened in shock as she had no trouble reading Cat’s lips. How had—

“I’m sorry.” Cat’s smile held a hint of regret. “I didn’t mean to pry. It’s just that since I… Well, I know he wants to be in here with you and I thought maybe the feeling was mutual.”

Mara knew the rest of Cat’s unfinished sentence was “since I took the power of the former Etruscan Goddess of the Moon”. That act had knocked the
lucani
off their feet. Some of them were still trying to find their bearings.

Cat appeared to be adjusting to her new life. At least on the outside. But Mara knew how you could be a seething mass of fury on the inside and present a calm front.

Obviously she hadn’t been hiding her emotions well enough.

Mara glanced over Cat’s shoulder to the five women, including Grace and Cat’s mom Margie huddled around the dining table. They all appeared to be talking at the same time.

Lia continued to sit in the corner, her mouth set in a perpetual scowl.

Making sure no one could see her hands, Mara signed, “Do you think he’ll come?”

Cat’s smile naturalized, became softer. “Yes. I think he will.”

Wouldn’t that be nice to believe? A man who would do something for her just because she asked.

Then she sighed. Silently of course. “I wish…” Her hands stilled. “Why would he?”

Cat’s smile disappeared. “Why don’t you let me ask him? Every now and then we all need someone big and strong to lean on and Race definitely fills that requirement.”

Yes, he certainly did. He stood inches over six feet and had to weigh at least two-twenty. He was built like the men Ettore had employed to kill whoever crossed him. And Race looked even more dangerous.

When he wasn’t in his pelt, roaming the forests and fields surrounding this community as a huge gray wolf, he dressed in faded jeans, black boots, black t-shirts or black hooded sweatshirts. He shaved his dark-brown hair down until only the slightest fuzz remained. She’d often wanted to rub her hand over it, see if it felt prickly against her skin. Or soft.

He never smiled but she never felt afraid of him. She only felt safe.

She needed that now. Needed that big, strong man who had been by her side almost constantly since Kaisie had brought her here.

Mara looked at Cat and nodded.

Cat smiled. “I’ll be right back.”

* * * * *

 

Race Aragon had been prowling the grounds outside Mara’s house for hours, watching the
streghe
arrive, knowing what they were going to attempt.

He wanted to be in there with her.

Ridiculous but true. And so not happening.

With a huff, he sat on his haunches and stared at the little house Mara shared with her son and, more often than not, with her cousin Lia. He was glad the two girls had each other. The deep well of hurt in Mara tempered the bitter anger burning in Lia.

He understood the anger. The hurt made him want to kill Ettore Marrucini all over again. Slowly and much more painfully.

Then maybe Mara wouldn’t be as sad. Maybe then she could move on and… What?

Well, he knew where he wanted her to move to. And it wasn’t away from here.

Since he’d been a kid and realized pretty early on he wasn’t built for the life his parents had expected of him, Race had sworn never to lie to himself or anyone else.

He was a soldier. His body was built for it, his brain wired for it, and he made no excuses for it.

His parents and brother were happy living in their cozy little world of numbers and money outside of Philadelphia, where getting your hands dirty meant something a lot different than Race’s definition.

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