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.”