Friday, 25 March 2011

A Long Walk Home Ch 12 - Teaser

Chapter 12

Rayne rolled away to lie on her back, staring up at the cave ceiling. It looked so cold and grey, a direct contrast to the warmth surrounding her wrapped up in the thick blankets in Gard’s bed with the heat from his body at her side. He’d asked her a question and something was holding her back from answering it. She didn’t know what it was, but it had to be instinctual because her cat wasn’t even trying to force her to reveal he was her mate.

This was strange, considering it had been almost desperate for her to do so earlier. Now her cat suddenly wasn’t so eager?

Gard was lying so still at her side and she could feel his eyes on her even though he was silent. He was expecting a response, waiting patiently. She finally turned to meet his gaze, her expression carefully neutral.

“Can you do the bath thing again? I need to get back to the compound and it would help if I didn’t have your scent all over me, might give it away that you’re out here.”

Her response surprised him, taking away the warm glow he’d been experiencing from their lovemaking. They’d just had the most amazing sex of his very long life and she was suddenly retreating from him, hiding behind a calm mask that let none of her inner emotions show? All he had done was ask a question.

“Or maybe you just want to wash me from your body?” There was a hint of steel in his voice, something he hadn’t displayed since the first time they had met. Her throwaway response cut him deeply and he reacted instinctively with his own.

Rayne turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow inquiringly at his terseness. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “If I’d wanted to do that I would have said so,” she answered quietly. “I assumed you wouldn’t want the pack being aware of your presence in the forest.”

“I don’t,” he agreed in a calmer tone, “but you don’t have to be in a particular hurry to leave either. Or avoid my question.” He felt hurt that she was ready to climb out of his bed as if what they’d just shared meant nothing to her. She had claimed him while they made love, just as he had claimed her.

Everything about her fascinated him, called to him and told him she belonged to him completely. Her declaration had led him to believe that she felt the same way. When a Were claimed someone with the word ‘mine’ it meant they were claiming their mate. He knew she was his, had probably known from the very first day when she’d fallen from the tree and his heart had almost stopped. He just hadn’t been willing to admit it to himself.

Rayne rolled away from him, turning her back as her cat mewled quietly inside her. She could feel Gard’s tension rise, knew he was unhappy with her reaction to him but something inside her urged caution. She knew he was her mate. She wanted to claim him and from the looks of things he appeared more interested in pursuing some kind of relationship with her other than a quick fumble between the sheets. But she just couldn’t say the words, no matter how much she wanted to. So she closed herself down completely.

“People say all manner of things in the heat of sex, Gard. Most of the time, they mean nothing. As for leaving, I’ve got things to do. I have a friend I need to track down. We had a disagreement earlier and he left feeling very unhappy with me. I need to fix it.”

She was suddenly flipped onto her back, Gard looming over her with a hard expression on his face. “He? Who is he, Rayne and why is he suddenly more important than spending time with me?” His voice was laced with jealousy, his fingers digging hard into her shoulders.

She felt her temper spark and pushed at his chest. “He is none of your damned business,” she growled out. She knew he was thrown by her behaviour but being high handed wasn’t something she was willing to tolerate. Her friendship with Dayton was important to her. She didn’t have time to put up with petty jealousy. She opened her mouth and said the first thing that came out in a fit of temper.

“Just because we fucked doesn’t give you proprietary rights over me, vampire. Yes, it was great, I enjoyed it immensely but it was sex and nothing more!”

If she could have taken the words back she would have. The flash of uncensored pain that crossed his face was like a knife to her heart. She hadn’t meant it, her cat was roaring furiously at her. But she had said it and the effect it had on Gard was instantaneous. The pain vanished and dark fury crossed his face. His expression turned rock hard, his fingers biting deeper into her skin.

Gard stared down at her and felt a pain he’d never experienced before. Her words rocked him to his very core, breaking something inside him. Anger reared its ugly head and also a deep sense of unease. Rayne hid so much of herself from him. He was conscious of the fact he didn’t really know anything about her except she could do things no Were should be able to. And she made him ache in a way no other woman could.

She had all but flown out of the Alpha’s house the moment Caleb and Annie had shown up, panicked to run as far away as she could. He should have noticed the timing of it but he’d been more concerned about her. Now that he thought back on it he suddenly found he had more questions he wanted answered. Important ones.

It wasn’t like him to be led around by his cock. It wasn’t like the pack to just let anyone into their safe haven, let alone so close to the children. The first time he had seen her she had been trying to get into Lily’s room. Did she have other abilities he didn’t know about? Could she sway other people’s thoughts?

The longer he considered everything, the deeper his unease grew. His anger was starting to escalate as his protective instincts towards the pack kicked in. He had considered keeping her, taking her as his mate and binding her so tightly to him she would never be able to leave. Where had that thought come from? Was it his or was it Rayne’s?

“Just who and what are you, Rayne, because you sure as hell are not an ordinary Were. What were you running from earlier?” His voice was hard; completely brittle as he fought against the pain he was feeling.

Rayne lay still beneath him, sifting through his emotions unashamedly as his expression hardened even more and her playful lover transformed into the cold, deadly vampire he truly was. The pain that was suddenly flooding her body had nothing to do with his hold on her.

She could sense his distrust and it hurt like nothing had ever been able to do before. Even the pain of being alone for countless millennia paled into insignificance compared to what Gard was able to inflict on her with just one hint of uncertainty. She knew it was her own fault, she had created this gulf between them but it still hurt that he could doubt her so easily.

Her cat let out a pained mewl and curled up in a ball. She couldn’t read minds but she knew the man above her. He was thinking things through at the moment but he would act soon. If he really viewed her as a threat…killed by her own mate? That would be a tragedy to end all because the guilt would kill him too. Could she talk him down?

“Don’t do this.” It was a whispered plea from the depths of her soul. She saw hesitation cross his face and for a brief moment she had hope that she had reached him. Then his expression once more turned irresolute and she knew she would have to act fast before he did something he may never be able to forgive himself for.

She shifted in a heartbeat, shadowing herself as she flew from the bed. She knew he could track her in human form but could he still ‘see’ her if she was in panther form? It was the silent urging of her cat to shift, almost as if her panther knew something she didn’t.

Gard’s roar of rage answered her question as he flew from the bed to crouch on the floor his eyes spanning the room and passing over her numerous times. He couldn’t see her but he would be able to hear her when she moved though. She spun, trying to keep her flight path unpredictable as she sailed out of the cave and into the forest.

“Rayne!” Gard had shifted into full vampire mode. He streaked out of the cave, his jeans hastily pulled on but undone. It had taken him less than five seconds to get outside and start hunting her. He couldn’t believe she’d eluded him, run from him. What infuriated him more was the expression he’d seen on her face before she’d shifted.

She had honestly believed that he would hurt her. He might be mad at her, concerned about just who she was and if she was a danger to the pack, but despite that, despite everything, he would never ever hurt her. He couldn’t. It would be like ripping his own heart out.


It was those precious few seconds Gard had taken to pull on his jeans that had enabled her to pick out a large oak tree to scamper up and hunker down in. She perched in her hidden spot and held her breath while he scouted the area in a blur, cursing under his breath as he did so. He even came close a few times but never managed to stumble upon her hideaway.

Eventually he disappeared back into the cave, fury wafting off him in waves, distrust coming a close second to the turbulent emotions deep within him. Rayne held her position, fighting down the waves of pain crashing through her. She didn’t move until Gard once more came back out, fully dressed, furious and heading towards the compound with a determined expression on his hard face.

Her cat roared in a combination of fury and distress. She was furious at their mate for distrusting them even as she was pained too. Rayne wasn’t even aware that she was crying until a tear landed on her paw. Staring down at it she considered her options.

She couldn’t go into town in panther form and she couldn’t go back to the compound because Gard was headed there. She didn’t trust him not to have left some kind of magic ward in place to alert him that she had returned to the cave for her clothes. She was thankful he had slipped up and let her in on his magic secret though he would probably be pissed at himself now for doing so.

With no other options left to her she decided to try something she’d never done before. She could shift fully clothed and still have them when she shifted back, but could she create clothes when naked?

She shifted, closing her eyes and trying to imagine what she’d been wearing earlier. Nothing happened except sweat began to bead her brow at the intense concentration she was exerting. She wiped her wet cheeks and took a deep breath. Then she tried again. She gasped in shock when she found herself fully clothed.

Another ability she had no idea she could do, just like all the others. Gard’s question came back to mind and she felt her eyes moisten again as she carefully climbed out of the tree and shadowed herself. She couldn’t answer his damned question because she didn’t know the truth of the answer.

There were hints that she could be a Vampire/Were hybrid but no real facts to support it. The pack was dubious about it even though they didn’t have any other suggestions to offer. The stupid vampire was angry with her, distrusting her because she couldn’t tell him what he wanted to know. If only he knew that she’d spent three thousand years trying to find the very answers he wanted.

Her pain started to turn to anger. So far today the two men she cared most about had questioned her loyalty to them, looked at her with anger in their eyes. She’d opened her heart to both of them and they were breaking it in their own separate ways. This was what she had been searching for all her life? Somewhere to belong, to place down roots and care about others? At the moment it felt like shit, a colossally stupid thing to do.

Wrapped in angry misery, Rayne headed out of the forest, away from the place that both fascinated her and made her want to sink to her knees in anguish. She needed time to regroup, work out her next move. Maybe it was time to move on again? Maybe this wasn’t the place for her after all?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Long Walk Home Ch 09 - Teaser

Chapter Nine

Rayne sensed new scents the instant she re-entered the Alpha’s house. They were coming from the third floor so she assumed the Hanlon Alphas had arrived to welcome the new babies. She was aware of the power players in this part of the world. She always made sure she knew just who everyone was if she was going to stick around any one place for a while.

The Hanlon and Armand-Hanlon packs was very closely interwoven. Her research had told her that Rafe was an adopted brother to Jared Hanlon and he had also practically raised Jared’s mate Millie when they were still human, classing her as his sister. He did have a biological sister who he had raised from and young age and viewed more as his daughter than his sibling. Rhianna Armand was now a vampire and mated to the most power Ancient to walk the planet, Caleb Cullen. She was surprised the vampires hadn’t appeared yet to greet the new additions to their family.

Practically skipping into her room, Rayne headed for the shower and stripped quickly. She tried to push Gard out of her mind as she washed quickly, erasing his scent from her body as thoroughly as she could. That was one of the downsides to unmasking their scent. Others would be able to pick it up on their skin.

It struck her that she should probably mention to Rafe that Gard was always lurking around in the forest, watching the Pack. Now she was part of the wolves she felt a pressure on her to do so. But she held back, knowing that he wasn’t a danger to anyone. He had, after all, almost killed her because he had considered her to be a threat to the pack, which clearly marked his intentions as non hostile to the wolves. Still, it was strange that he hid himself from them. She wondered why that was.

“So that’s what you smell like,” Dayton mused from his position on her bed when she walked back into the bedroom draped in a towel.

She smiled and continued drying her hair, her eyes intent on his face which was withdrawn, hiding all his emotions. “You like?” she laughed lightly.

He frowned and sat up running a hand through his unbound hair. “You feel at home here, Rayne.” It wasn’t a question more of a statement. “You wouldn’t unmask your scent otherwise.” He appeared unhappy about it.

Chewing her inner lip, she sat down on the bed beside him. “And you don’t?”

Dayton took a long time to answer, thinking through her question carefully. “It’s not that,” he finally sighed. “Part of me feels a connection but it’s incomplete somehow. Like I have something else I need to do before I can be truly at home here. I’m leaving, Rayne.”

Sadness welled up inside her, partly hers and partly his emotions which were raging wildly deep inside him. He ached to belong to the pack and yet a cold thread of hatred ran through him growing stronger with each passing moment.

“Let it go, Day,” she whispered. “You’ve let your emotions out and that’s a good thing. But don’t fixate on the negative ones. They’ll destroy you just as much as withholding them was destroying you.”

“I can’t remember what Faith’s lips felt like pressed against mine anymore.” It was a tortured admission, pain in every word. “She took that from me, Rayne. She laughed and she took it for no other reason than she could.” His eyes were flashing with pain laced with a dark hatred when he turned to look at her.

Rayne sucked in a deep breath, touching his face gently. “She hurts too. The first time I saw her in your gallery I thought my knees would buckle at the pain she carried deep inside. I was amazed at how serene her expression was considering all I could feel coming from her. She must be a very strong woman to have walked the planet for over two thousand years with all that anguish deep inside.”

“You want me to feel sorry for her?” he hissed furiously, pulling away from her touch, disbelief in his eyes.

“I want you to look at her objectively, Day. Look at what she’s become. Because that is what you will become if you allow your negative emotions to take over.” Rayne knew her words were harsh but he needed to hear them. “If you can’t find it in your heart to pity Freya then at least try and find some understanding. Maybe understanding Freya Eriksson is what you need to finally come home.”

Dayton was off the bed in an instant, fury racing through his blood as he glared down at her. He couldn’t believe she was sticking up for the vampire, asking the impossible from him. “If you love her so much then you go and pity and understand her,” he ground out through clenched teeth. “Just don’t ask me to do so. I thought you were supposed to be my friend, Rayne.”

His rejection of her caused a deep pain to settle in her heart but she held her ground. “Friends tell each other the truth even when it hurts,” she answered sadly. She didn’t want to hurt him and she knew she was but she had to try and stop the growing hate which was ready to consume him and turn him colder and harder than he’d ever been before.

A cold, hard mask settled over Dayton’s face, reminiscent to the one he was used to showing to the world but never to her. “Friends are loyal and stand by each other no matter what,” he said quietly, turning and walking out the room without a backward glance.

Rayne stared after him trying to decide whether she should follow him or give him some time to calm down. The sound of voices made her decision as the visitors began descending the stairs from the third floor. She didn’t want to meet them just yet. She knew Rafe would have told the other Alphas about her and she didn’t want to see their speculative glances.

Sighing she lay back on the bed and hoped that Dayton could work through his hurt and anger quickly so she could try again to break through the new barriers he was starting to wall around his heart. If he allowed the hate to fester then there was no telling what would become of him or the woman he was so focused on hating.


Dayton was furious with Rayne, so angry that he flew out of the compound and deep into the forest. He ran until a light sheen of sweat covered his body and then he slowed down, finally coming to a standstill in a small glade. He couldn’t believe she was defending the vampire, taking her side over his.

Rayne’s betrayal was like a knife to his heart. She was the one person he had come to rely on to always be there for him, to stand with him through everything. And now she sided with the woman who had taken his last precious memories from him with her cold callous act. The anger and pain he felt was threatening to overwhelm him completely.

He couldn’t stand it, shifting in a blink of an eye, letting go and allowing his wolf to come out. It wasn’t even a conscious decision, it just happened. He could hide within the wolf, crouch down so low, cut himself off so completely that the animal became almost whole, just shy of being completely Rogue.

The large brown wolf howled into the forest and took off at full speed, running faster and faster away from the Pack, away from Rayne. In a matter of moments it was miles away. Sensing the end of the forest approaching it veered left, towards the more mountainous region it didn’t normally traverse.

The need to run was a compulsion. The wolf couldn’t have stopped even if it tried. And then a scent hit it and it was like having its heart ripped out. Cherry blossom, so sweet, so tantalising, so deadly.

The wolf howled loudly and the man crashed forward to take control. His wolf howled again, struggling to stay the dominant mind but he wouldn’t allow it, snarling as the scent overwhelmed him and he changed direction heading straight for the woman who owned that scent. Blue eyes flashed with death, the need to rip and claw and destroy the only thing on his mind.

The fury within made him careless, less observant. The old pit trap was upon him before he could halt his forward movement. The wolf’s howl turned to one of utter agony as Dayton tripped the trap and began falling downward into the twenty foot deep pit with large, razor sharp spikes embedded firmly in the ground.


Freya heard a wolf howl and looked up from the papers littered across the table top in front of her. The sound was feral, full of rage. It told of a death about to come. The sheer viciousness of it made her smile before she dropped her eyes back to the documents before her.

The next howl was of such agony that she was moving before she realised what she was doing so, standing on the porch of the well concealed wooden retreat high up in the mountains surrounded by trees. Nors had built the place almost a thousand years ago. They had lived there together for a few centuries before he had become bored with it and moved back down into the city.

She had always treasured that time, how close she had been to her brother, just the two of them content with each other’s company. This was probably why she had maintained the retreat long after Nors had forgotten it even existed.

She knew there was something pathetic about how she kept the place almost the same as it had been then. The only real additions she had made to it was to put in a modern bathroom and upgrade the kitchen too. She didn’t eat but it was always in the back of her mind that one day she may sell the place and if a Were or Human bought it they would want a proper kitchen.

The retreat had been everything to her once so very long ago. A place of happiness, a place of safety. It had been instinctive to come here, to retreat to the last place she could ever remember feeling true happiness. And now there was an animal out there intruding on her privacy, a wounded animal by the sounds of things.

Should she look for it or should she let it die? In the wild survival depended on being strong and fit. If the wolf had been stupid enough to get itself into trouble then it was no business of hers. And yet the echo of that anguished howl still hung on the afternoon air and she found herself remembering a pair of dark blue eyes, agony shining in their depths.

Freya stepped off the porch and inhaled deeply. Her body stiffened and her head swung around to the left. The scent that greeted her was like a punch in the gut. She could smell the forest, the rich earthy masculine scent that belonged to only one male she knew. She took off into the trees in an instant, following that scent and the sweet, sweet smell of warm hot blood.

The pit was twenty foot deep, her keen gaze easily taking in the long, naked limbs of the man lying impaled on the wicked looking spikes. Her heart twisted hard as she walked the pit carefully working out the best place to drop down into it. She ignored the twisting of her heart, pushing it deep down out of the way.

Dayton had obviously gone into the pit in his wolf form but had reverted back to human after being impaled. It would make it awkward getting him out because the pit had been dug for a large wolf not a six foot three man. She could scent his blood, could tell that something major had been severed by its thickness. It was evident she didn’t have time to be pissing about.

Freya dropped into the pit, a spike piercing one thigh deeply, another shredding her hand that reached out to avoid falling on top of him. She ignored the pain, was used to suffering all manner of injuries over the long centuries. She snapped off the spike below her thigh and pulled it through, tossing it out of the pit. She then did the same with the one through her hand.

She was healing instantly, her agile mind working out how best to free Dayton from his spikes. Luckily for him he was unconscious. The agony he would be in, had he been aware, would have driven him insane. There was nothing for it; she was going to have to lift him up. His weight had pushed the spikes in deeply and she needed to sever them beneath him.

Dayton Alexander was not a light man, his big body full of thick heavy muscles, but she was an Ancient vampire and her strength surpassed his to the nth degree. Freya wrapped one arm securely under his back and raised his body slowly, ignoring the sucking noise of his torn flesh rasping against the thick wood.

She worked quickly, methodically, severing each spike beneath his body. Most of them had missed vital organs which was a minor miracle, with the exception of the one through his left thigh. That had hit his femoral artery. It was that one which was pumping his blood out so fast that he was probably moments away from death. She could hear how weakly his heart was beating and she strove to work faster.

Freya sprang up agilely, easily clearing the pit with the man secured in her arms. She lay him down on the ground and moved to the worst injury. She stared at the spike, knowing that the instant she pulled it out there would be precious seconds remaining to stop him from bleeding out.

She had been in this situation once before, the night she had tried to keep Ashleigh alive long enough for Nors to come heal her. She’d been unable to do the healing because they wouldn’t have been able to mate if she had. Dayton required the same kind of healing. His only chance of survival was if she mixed her vampire blood directly with his.

He would never be able to mate with another vampire if she did so but then he was still pining for his dead mate anyway. She figured it was a moot point for him.

Making her decision she gripped the protruding stake with one hand and ripped open her fingers on the other. With the speed born of an Ancient, she pulled out the stake and plunged her blood soaked hand deep into the wound. Searching quickly for the rupture in his artery, she mixed her blood with his until it sealed completely; then she closed the wound.

She treated the non lethal injuries in the same manner, removing the stakes and sealing the wounds quickly. Then she opened his mouth and fed him a few drops of her blood, holding it closed until he swallowed reflexively.

His heartbeat was stronger, the imminent threat of death receding. But he would hurt like hell when he woke up. She hadn’t been able to give him enough of her Ancient blood to speed up his healing too quickly and she doubted that he would accept any more once he woke up, not the way he felt about her.

Standing up slowly Freya stared down at Dayton wiping her hands against her already bloody jeans. She studiously ignored the pull of his blood; that sinfully wicked flavour that had set her on fire when she’d first tasted it.

What was she to do with him now? He was alive but unable to fend for himself. She didn’t want to return to the compound or her family, didn’t want Nors to remember their secret place and come looking for her. If she left Dayton here he would most likely die and her efforts to save him would have been pointless.
She wasn’t even sure why she’d bothered to save him. Maybe it was her way of apologising for what she’d done to him? Something had touched her cold heart long enough to make her unbend enough to save a dying wolf. Allowing him to perish now wasn’t an option. Sighing deeply, Freya reached down and picked him up almost tenderly. She streaked through the trees, taking him back to her sanctuary.

To be continued...

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Long Walk Home Ch 08 - Teaser

Chapter Eight

Rayne felt all eyes on her and there was nothing friendly in any of them. She knew if she moved even a fraction of an inch the adults would descend on her instantly. She could have shadowed herself but the room wasn’t big enough to hide in. They would know her start position and with so many of them they would quickly be able to triangulate her position even if they couldn’t see her.

Liam started to cry loudly and the other children did too. He wriggled against Nors, his crying becoming louder as his father held him easily to prevent him getting away.

“No!” he sobbed. “Don’t hurt, Rayne.”

Lily ran to her father and threw herself into his arms. His fangs were out and he was in that very angry place where he sometimes forgot who he was. She hugged his neck tightly. “Please, Daddy. Don’t let them hurt her,” she begged.

Andrei stared at his daughter his arms automatically coming around her as she pleaded with him with tear filled eyes. His instinctive need to protect soothed a little, giving him time to notice the rest of the children’s distress. They were all crying hard, he knew it was because they could sense the rage running through all the adults in the room. A rage that was directed towards the interloper in their midst.

Ashleigh suddenly cried out as Liam vanished in Nors’ grasp. Her mate hadn’t released the child but he was suddenly completely invisible to everyone.

“Enough,” Rafe said quietly, his Command tone settling on everyone in the room with the exception of Rayne as she wasn’t a pack member. The sound of the children crying still filled the room but the adults had begun to settle down, lessening the tension a bit.

Nors was holding his son gently but firmly. It was disconcerting to be able to feel him but not see him. Ashleigh was staring wide eyed at the spot she knew her son was, concern on her face.

Rafe was unsure of what to do. He sensed no aggression from the woman at his side and yet she had sat there admitting to abilities that no Were should have. That, on top of the staggering revelations of the children, had his thoughts in turmoil.

The children obviously sensed something in Rayne that they could relate to otherwise they wouldn’t be so upset. And Liam was suddenly invisible. That sent a shudder right through him after Lily admitting she could do it too. If all of them could, then how the hell did they protect them when they couldn’t see them?

“Liam, please make yourself visible again,” he said firmly. The boy was so young he wasn’t sure how much his Command tone would work on him. Children needed to mature a little before the full weight of their Alpha’s Command took root within them. The boy remained invisible and that kept the tension level up in the room.

He didn’t know what to do to force the child to obey him. He didn’t want to do anything that would have a negative impact on Liam’s confidence but the longer he stayed invisible to the naked eye the more fraught the situation became. He turned his head to look at Rayne and saw she was watching Nors intently.

“Can you convince him?” he asked reluctantly.

Rayne took a deep breath and turned to look at the Alpha. She could hear the reluctance in his tone but his need to protect his pack was more important than his pride at the moment. He was a good Alpha, even if maybe he didn’t feel like it at the moment.

She turned back to Liam, smiling gently as her eyes met his. Unlike the others she could see him perfectly well because she was so much more powerful than he was at shadowing.

“Liam, you’re too young to be shadowing, little one,” she said in a soft voice. “How would you feel if you couldn’t see your mummy and daddy?”

His big brown eyes locked with hers and he stopped struggling against his father. "Scared,” he whispered inside her head.

She continued to smile gently at him, keeping her voice soft. “How do you think your parents are feeling right now?” She could feel him reaching out with his senses; his little face puckering as he felt the fear rippling through not only his parents but also the other adults in the room.

He was suddenly visible again, his little arms reaching out for Ashleigh as she gave a startled cry and pulled her son into her arms.

“I’m sorry, mummy,” he cried burying his face in the side of her neck and clinging on for dear life.

“Shhhh it’s okay, baby,” Ashleigh soothed stroking his head gently, her eyes fixed on Nors as he stared at their son with a look of terror in his gaze.

The silence in the room was deafening, broken by Rayne. “We didn’t finish the game,” she said quietly, ignoring the adults completely. Rafe shifted slightly beside her but he kept quiet, waiting to see what would happen.

“Don’t want to play any more,” Lilly hiccupped, still holding her father tightly.

Kallum stood up and walked over to his sister, stroking her head gently. “It’s important, Lily,” he said solemnly. It was so unusual for him to take the more dominant role that Loretta could only gape at him in surprise. Usually he followed Lily around.

“What special thing is it okay to do?” Rayne asked softly.

“Talk to each other,” Cassia sniffed, smiling at her sister as she did so. They talked to each other all the time in their thoughts.

“Shift into wolves only if we’re safe at home,” Dara smiled back, her pleasure evident that this was something only she and her sister could do so far.

Kallum looked at Rayne. “But we shouldn’t mask our scents until we’re grown up,” he said quietly. He looked at his sister and then at Liam. “And we shouldn’t make ourselves invisible because then we’ll get lost and nobody will be able to find us.” He added in the new ability to the game.

“That’s right,” Rayne smiled. “You wouldn’t want to get lost now, would you?”

Five heads shook in the negative and Rayne fell silent again, waiting to see how the parents would react.

Rafe’s anxiety ratcheted down a notch but he was still tense. Nothing the wildcat had done or said appeared harmful to the children but she was still an unknown. The fact the kids appeared to listen to her was something in her favour. They were all calming down in her presence and they obviously felt a connection with her.

“I need your solemn word that no one will make themselves invisible,” he said firmly but gently to the children. His eyes connected to Kallum’s. “Like a Beta would give his promise to his Alpha.”

The little boy puffed up with pride a wide grin on his face. “We promise,” he said instantly, meeting the other children’s eyes with an intense stare. “Don’t we?”

One by one, the other children promised and there was a discernable lessening of the tension in the room.

Rafe had to accept their word. There was nothing else he could do about it. He actually felt a bit helpless with the whole situation and he didn’t like it one bit. “We’re going to talk in the other room,” he told them. “I hope I can trust you to play quietly in here while we do.”

“Don’t be angry with Rayne,” Liam begged. “She’s our friend.”

Rafe’s lips tightened slightly but he nodded his head, acknowledging the boy’s words as the adults rose and made their way out of the room.

Rayne wondered what would happen once they were alone. The emotional makeup of the assembled parents was less than friendly. She could understand it because they were frightened for their young. Understanding was one thing but having her throat ripped out was another. Her keen gaze was taking in any possible escape routes as Loretta closed the door on the children.

“What are you?” Rafe asked in a low, hostile voice as soon as the door closed.

She stared at him for a long moment and then she made a decision she didn’t think she ever would. She decided to trust in the furious man before her.

“I don’t know,” she admitted quietly. “All I know is someone named me Rayne and I am a wildcat of either the leopard or jaguar variety. I’m not even sure which as both can breed a black panther and that’s what my cat is when I shift. I’ve been alive for over three thousand years and in all that time I’ve never met another being like me. Until I came here.”

They stared at her in surprise some of the animosity slipping away in the stunned silence but only for a moment.

“That’s impossible,” Cedar finally said. “No Were can live that long.”

Rayne smiled. “No Were can mask its scent, turn invisible and outrun a vampire and yet I can. I also heal from wounds that would kill any other Were. Until I scented the children I thought I was unique. Now I see that I’m not. I believe that I may be just like them, a Vampire/Were hybrid.”

“Impossible!” Andrei growled his eyes cold as ice. “The first hybrid child was killed over three thousand years ago by The Council. There are no records of any others being born until now.”

The wildcat’s eyes widened in shock, staring at the vampire who wouldn’t think twice at ripping her throat out. She had been guessing at her parentage but his words appeared to indicate that there could be some truth in it. “A child was born?” she whispered, hope in her voice.

“And died,” Alexei bit out, his own eyes as hard as his brother’s. “You shouldn’t fall for this, Rafe. This could just be a clever ploy by The Council or some disaffected Were group to breach pack security. It’s highly coincidental that a mature version of our children just suddenly appears at the right time when they start displaying their abilities.”

Rafe nodded his head slowly, acknowledging the wisdom of Alexei’s words. It was highly coincidental Rayne suddenly showing up out of the blue, he couldn’t deny it.

“We should talk to Dayton,” Aaron said quietly. “He was the one who brought her into the pack.” His tone was angry, his body stiff with tension. He had let this woman care for his children. He had trusted her with the most precious people in his life. His wolf snorted inside him, reminding him that his mate and children were perfectly fine, not a hair harmed on their heads. It didn’t dent his anger. He didn’t like being played.

“Day, I need you,” Rayne said mentally, surprising his friend. She’d never spoken to him mentally before and she felt the question in his link with her even before he answered.

“What the fuck? Rayne? How the…?” A weary sigh. “Never mind! Where are you?”

“At Aaron’s.” She cut off her communication as Rafe was agreeing with Aaron and about to send someone to go look for his brother.

“He’s on his way,” she said quietly and almost sighed out loud as she became the subject of more hostile looks. “What, you don’t talk mentally to your mates or friends?” Her tone was disparaging, her patience starting to wear a bit thin. While she could understand their position it was starting to get on her nerves. She had just discovered information about herself that she’d never dreamed of ever learning. She needed time to digest it, discover what it meant for her.

Dayton ran up the stairs to the second floor wondering what trouble Rayne had gotten herself into this time. Her sudden ability to communicate with him mentally had thrown him for a loop. He was smart enough to realise that she’d most probably had the ability the whole time he’d known her. She was a cat and liked to hide things until it became necessary to reveal them.

One look at the faces of his pack and he knew things were dire as he stepped into the room. Rayne, being her usual self, was facing off with them with a serene expression on her face but he could see irritation dancing in her eyes and he fought down a groan.

“What have you done now?” he asked in a weary voice coming to stand beside her, making it more than clear that no matter what his friend had done he would stand at her side. Even if it meant going against his brother who he could see was furious.

“How long have we known each other, Day?” She countered, not taking her eyes off Alexei as she spoke.

“Too bloody long,” he answered wearily though he looked at his Alpha’s tense body language and knew the situation was fraught with danger. “I’ve known Rayne for over fifty years.”

Alexei shifted slightly and Rayne smiled a slow smile. “That kind of dents your theory a little, doesn’t it?” she all but smirked.

“What the fuck is going on?” Dayton demanded turning to look at his friend. He could see her cat starting to surface and knew she was getting ready to play. It most definitely was not the time or the place judging from the temperature in the room.

“They think I’m here to hurt their children,” she answered with disgust dripping from her tone. “They think I’m some kind of spy sent to gain their trust to hurt the pack.”

Astonishment crossed his features and his head swung back to meet Rafe’s hard gaze. “Rayne is a lot of things but a spy or someone who would hurt a child is most definitely not one of them,” he said quietly. “I would never have brought her to the compound if I had any doubts about that.” He was asking his Alpha to trust his judgement, even though he barely knew them.

It was Aaron who relaxed first. He trusted Dayton implicitly, knew his brother would do nothing that could even remotely cause any harm to his children or the pack. “She’s claiming to be a Vampire/Were hybrid,” he told his brother, disbelief about that still in his voice.

Dayton’s eyebrows rose in surprise and he turned back to Rayne to meet her steady gaze. “So that’s what you are,” he breathed softly.

She gave him a slightly tremulous smile, a spark in her eyes as she looked at him. “I think so,” she admitted quietly. “I’m not sure until I learn the history of the first Vamp/Were mating but the timing is right, Day.” She couldn’t keep the hope out of her voice or the uncertainty out of her eyes.

“It explains a lot,” he smiled at her, reaching out to touch her cheek gently, feeling the need to soothe her deep within him. “All your non Were abilities, the advanced speed and healing properties you have. That’s why you didn’t mind staying at the compound. It was because of the children.”

It was all slotting into place. Rayne hated her location being known to anyone. Hell, half the time he didn’t know where she stayed when she was in town. But she had agreed immediately to remain in the compound. He’d been surprised at her instant capitulation at the time.

“The day you met Loretta in the forest, the scent of the children drew me,” she whispered. “It was like finally finding what I didn’t even know I’d been searching for all these centuries. I had to see them, talk to them and find out if they were like me. I don’t mean them any harm. They are way too precious for anyone to ever hurt them.”

Tears welled up in her eyes, hope shining in their depths. “They call to my very soul, Day. It feels like I’m coming home, that I don’t have to walk the world endlessly alone anymore.”

Her voice choked off, large tears rolling down her face and Dayton was automatically pulling her into his arms, his heart wrenching at the vulnerability she very seldom let him see. The fact she allowed herself to be so vulnerable in front of others was a testament to how strong her emotions were at the moment.

“I told you last night you’ll never be alone,” he whispered gruffly kissing her head gently. “Not as long as I live. I’ll help you find out the truth even if the pack won’t.” He voice hardened as he said the last, meeting Rafe’s gaze with a hard look. He was letting his Alpha know in no uncertain terms where his allegiance lay in the matter.

Rafe met his gaze levelly and then slowly relaxed. His instincts told him that the wildcat was genuine, his fear for the children starting to slowly calm. Whether or not Rayne truly was the first hybrid child born over three thousand years ago was a moot point. She wasn’t a danger and it was clear that despite her confident exterior she was just as hurt and vulnerable inside as most of his pack members had been when joining him.

The instant he thought that he felt a shifting deep within him and couldn’t contain the startled gasp that escaped his lips. His eyes widened as Rayne’s head shot up and her tear filled green eyes met his startled ones.

“What was that?” she whispered hoarsely, confusion crossing her face at the strange feeling coursing through her and reaching out towards the huge man before her.

He suddenly began to smile, a slightly sheepish smile that made him look very endearing and not half as scary as he had before. “That, little wildcat, is called an Alpha bond,” he answered, his smile widening as his wolf accepted her completely.

“Welcome to the pack, Rayne.”