Okay...I officially DETEST Blogger and think it sucks eggs!!!!
But I equally LOVE you guys so I have just hammered frantically at my keyboard to format this bleeding teaser so you could read it. My hubby commented on the loud pounding going on at my keyboard and promptly received a long cursing rant about how people shouldn't "FIX" things when they ain't broke in the first place! LMAO!!!
Need to warn you...this is half of chapter 13 so if you do spoil yourself then there is less to read when it posts to Lit later on :-)
Dayton wandered through the retreat his strength almost fully restored. Freya was gone when he woke up and for a moment he had panicked, thinking she had left for good but then he’d spied her cell phone on the table, her papers still scattered over it. The feeling of relief that had swept over him had been so intense he’d almost sunk to his knees.
His emotions frightened him with their intensity. He’s gone from hating Freya to knowing she was becoming vitally important to him, a part of his soul just as surely as Faith had been. If anything happened to her, if she left him as Faith had, he didn’t think he would be able to stand that agony again. And it frightened him.
His wolf growled in irritation and he shook himself slightly, wandering towards the door to Freya’s room. Taking a deep breath he opened it and stepped fully into her personal, private showing of his artwork. She had opened up to him but he felt he still needed to learn about her, to understand what drove her. He could only capture her heart if he knew how to reach it. He knew instinctively it was something very hard to do. His mate had hidden inside herself for so long; it wouldn’t be an easy task to tempt her back out again.
He examined the art on the wall with an objective eye. He could remember painting every piece, the darkness inside him each time, driving him incessantly until he was exhausted and had nothing left to put into them. He’d used to paint the forest, draw charcoal portraits of his family and the Bryants. He’d stopped painting properly when all the joy had gone out of his life. It had all become about abstracts, fury and violent brush strokes, something that appealed to Freya.
He was sitting on the bed, staring at the paintings when Freya returned, walking silently down the hallway towards him. He’d left the door open so she would know he was in her room. He had no intention of sneaking around behind her back. He turned to watch her as she reached the doorway.
Her eyes were shuttered, her emotions hiding behind the serene mask she donned so easily. His breath caught as he looked at her exquisite face. She took his breath away with each glance in her direction. He knew he was totally lost to her. He didn’t fight it, didn’t want to. So many years of being alone was coming to an end. While he feared it on some levels, he welcomed it on others. He wanted to live again, to be free to laugh once more.
“You were in Japan,” he smiled softly, turning back to the paintings in front of him. “It was my best showing. I was surprised I sold so many paintings that week. I can see why now.”
She stepped into the room and moved silently to sit beside him. “I didn’t see you there. I had no idea I was buying wolf art.” The latter was said in a derisive tone.
“Would it have stopped you buying them if you’d known?” He was curious to know how deep her prejudice ran for his kind. He knew she was prejudiced; she’d done little to hide that fact from him when they’d first met.
She was silent for a long moment and then she turned to look at him. “No,” she whispered, her mask slipping ever so slightly. “Each one called to me. I looked at them and I thought the artist was painting my soul. It was as if you’d reached inside me and pulled away all my barriers.” Her voice faltered and she turned away again.
“My favourite one was Blood. That one represented me as none of the others did.”
Dayton watched a tear trail down her cheek and he couldn’t stop himself from reaching up and catching the teardrop on his finger. “Was your favourite?” He remembered painting it as if it were only yesterday. He had done so on the first anniversary of Faith’s death. It had taken him decades to finally bring himself to show it. A part of him had been relieved when it had sold.
“I destroyed it.” Another tear fell as she whispered her admission. “It hung above my fireplace at home for years. After that night in the gallery...I knew I’d crossed the line. Nors came to the house. He was furious with me. He had every right to be, just as you did. I destroyed the house. And then I destroyed me.”
His heart broke at the raw pain in her voice. He didn’t care about the painting, she could destroy every single painting in this room and he wouldn’t care. His arms went around her and he pulled her close to him, leaning her head on his shoulder. “It doesn’t matter. None of it matters any more, Freya. No one can change the past, we can only move on and create something better. I’m finally ready to do that. Are you?”
Freya leaned against Dayton, savouring the warmth of his arms around her, the gentleness in his voice. It felt like he was asking her something important, that it truly mattered to him that she was willing to take a chance at life. She had caused him so much pain, destroyed his work and he didn’t condemn her for it. It was wrong to let him ease her guilt but she couldn’t pull away from him.
“I’m scared,” she whispered, her voice breaking. “What if I fail, Dayton? I tried so hard for Nors and Ashleigh and I still failed them. What if I’m just incapable of being the kind of person you’re asking me to be?”
“What if you can be?” he countered; his voice hoarse as her pain almost drove him to his knees. “What if you can be better than you’ve ever dared to hope? You’re a fighter, Freya. You have to be or you’d never have survived as long as you have. You don’t have to try alone. I’ll be with you every step of the way if you let me.”
She stilled in his arms, a sharp intake of breath catching her off guard, almost making her choke with its suddenness. She raised her head to look at him, confusion on her face. “Why would you want to?”
His answer was to kiss her. He couldn’t stand seeing her pain, hearing it in her voice. He needed to make it go away so he parted her lips gently with his and tasted of her sweetness. His heart soared as she surrendered immediately, accepting his mouth against hers as if he had a right to touch her like this. He knew he did but he didn’t think she knew it yet.
Dayton finally pulled back, staring into her eyes. His hand touched the side of her neck lightly, gently brushing over the unblemished skin that had bled the day before. His gaze never wavered from hers. “Maybe it’s my way of asking your forgiveness?”
She knew what he was referring to and she was surprised at the regret she read in his eyes. He held himself accountable for that? “No forgiveness is required,” she answered quietly. “You did not hurt me and it healed instantly.”
“I wanted to kill you, Freya.” It was a tortured admission, full of self-loathing.
She shouldn’t laugh but she did; a soft tinkling sound that filled the depressing room with light. “Well, you make a terrible assassin then, Dayton. A good one doesn’t change his throw at the last moment; he goes right for the target. And he doesn’t forget that Ancients are not ordinary vampires. Even if you had gone for my throat that little knife wouldn’t have slowed me down any. I was perfectly capable of protecting myself the entire time had I so wished to.”
He was astounded that she laughed off his attempt to kill her. A very male part of him was even a little put out that she laughed at his attempt. Not that he wanted her harmed in any way but a wolf’s pride could still be dented at knowing his future mate was so much stronger than he was. Dayton wasn’t used to many people being stronger than him.
“Why do you keep kissing me?” she suddenly asked curiously, completely throwing him with the sudden change of topic.
He barked out a short laugh. “Your mouth tastes good,” he answered honestly. “And it’s been a very long time since I’ve tasted a woman’s lips. I’d forgotten how addictive they could be.” He wanted to tell her how much he loved kissing his mate, how it consumed him entirely but he didn’t think she was ready for that yet.
“How long?” It was a demand plain and simple, intent eyes searching his face for the answer. It made him want to laugh again at the sheer possessive in her tone. She probably had no idea just what she was giving away in those two terse words.
“No one since Faith,” he admitted, watching her just as carefully as she was watching him. He caught the flicker of surprise that crossed her face, waited for her to mask her emotions as she usually did. He was surprised when her expression stayed open.
“The cat?” This time her words held a trace of jealousy in them. His wolf preened even as the man groaned loudly and stood up.
“Fuck!” he cursed, remembering his last words with his friend. “I need to call Rayne. She’ll be wondering where I am, worrying about me.”
Freya froze inside at the tone of his voice. It was obvious he cared greatly about this other woman, the one he allowed to touch him when no one else was granted that privilege. She felt anger rear up inside her, followed closely by jealousy.
Dayton Alexander confused the hell out of her. One moment he hated her, the next he acted as if he cared in some way. He had broken through her barriers, reached inside and pulled her kicking and screaming back to life. He’d let her feed from him, held her and kissed her until she forgot everything but the feel of his mouth against hers. For a second she had believed that maybe he was her salvation, that when his healing was complete he would be able to heal her too.
One mention of the cat and she was forgotten completely. She hated the other woman with a vengeance. The urge to seek her out and rip her to pieces roared wildly inside her. It was instinctive, what the old Freya would do with anyone who threatened her in any way. Hurting the cat would hurt him though and he’d been through so much pain already.
“Freya? I asked if I could borrow your cell.” Dayton’s words broke her out of the cycle of misery and violence she was experiencing.
She rose gracefully, her expression closing off as she stepped around him. She caught a frown on his face but ignored it, heading back into the main room, silently castigating herself. She had been foolish to read something that wasn’t there into his behaviour. If his choice was the other woman then she would find a way to accept it.
The pain of thinking of him with anyone else was excruciating. It was worse than anything she could remember feeling before. It reinforced her thoughts about what love really was. She knew the emotion could be wonderful when two souls met that were meant to be together. She also knew that it was just a pipedream for herself. She wasn’t meant to have that kind of love in her life.
She was aware of Dayton following her silently, could feel he was tense and alert. Did he believe she was going to self-destruct again? She wasn’t sure if she would or not herself. The wolf had asked her to fight. She had given him her word. She just prayed she had the strength not to let him down. Because despite everything, despite him preferring the cat over herself, she knew he cared enough about her that it would pain him if she didn’t try. And she never wanted to cause him another moment’s pain if she could avoid it.
Freya waved at her cell, silently giving him permission as she headed into the kitchen to give him some privacy. They both knew it was being polite more than real privacy; she would be able to hear everything he said. He didn’t appear to mind though but she still created as much noise as she could while she made them both a coffee, as she listened intently to his every word.
Dayton picked up the phone and watched Freya retreat from him like a frightened cat. He knew he was going to have to try and get her to unbend where Rayne was concerned. His friend was important in his life and he wanted Freya to like her. At the moment he could sense that she viewed her as a threat. He had to ensure that the two women didn’t come to blows.
He dialled Rayne’s number and waited for her to pick up as he mentally considered his options. He needed a plan of action with his future mate and he wasn’t sure how to go about it. He was distracted when he heard Rayne’s tentative greeting.
“Rayne, it’s me. I misplaced my cell. I’m using a friend’s.” He knew she would be confused at the strange number on her display
“Dayton.” It was a sigh of relief more than a spoken word. “Where are you? Are you okay?”
His lips twitched in a smile and he felt relief wash over him. He’d been angry with her when they’d last spoken. He wasn’t sure if she would be glad to hear from him again. But she was the same old Rayne, his best friend who selflessly thought of others before herself. “I had a bit of an accident but I’m mending now. Sorry it’s taken me so long to get in touch.”
He heard a sharp intake of breath and then it was slowly released. She didn’t ask unnecessary questions, taking his word that he was okay. “You sound different, Day.”
It was his turn to take a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I’ve let her go,” he answered quietly.
He thought he heard a muffled sob on the other end of the phone but he must have misheard because Rayne didn’t cry, ever. “Oh, Day, I’m so pleased to hear that. It’s been a long time coming and I’m glad I was still here when it finally happened. Welcome home, honey.”
Dayton sat up straight, every nerve in his body suddenly wired. Something was wrong in her voice. The words seemed fine but there was a hint of finality about her last statement that seeped into his brain and had him on alert status in the blink of an eye.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded, his heart kicking up a beat as worry started to flood him. “I’ve only been gone a few days. What kind of trouble could you get yourself into in that short a period?” It was a stupid question. It was Rayne he was talking to. She was unpredictable at the best of times.
“It’s time for me to move on,” she answered after a brief pause. “I don’t know when I’ll be back this way or even if I will be. I’m just glad I got to witness you moving on with your life, Day. I can’t tell you how much joy that brings me, knowing you will be fine without me hovering over you every five minutes.”
He uttered a choked cry, unable to help himself. She couldn’t be leaving for good. Not Rayne. She had always been there for him even if he hadn’t wanted her to be. Something really bad must have happened.
“You can’t!” He blurted the words out even as he knew there was nothing he could do to stop her. She came and went as she pleased, always had and always would.
He swallowed hard and tried to dampen down the pain he was feeling. “Rayne, listen to me. Please don’t leave until we’ve had the chance to have a proper talk. I don’t know what’s happened but I’m sure whatever it is we can work through it together. Let me help.”
"You can’t fix this, Day.” Rayne’s voice was so sad it almost brought a tear to his eye. “I appreciate you want to but it can’t be done.”
Anger replaced his pain, a fierce rush of fury so hot he thought he’d explode with it. “Coward!” He literally hissed the word at her. “Fifty fucking years you refused to let me drown and at the first hint of trouble you’re running away? What about the Alpha bond, Rayne? How far do you think you can run from that? You’re pack now. We need you. The children need you. Are you going to leave them to their fate? You know none of us can help them the way you can. I thought that was what you did, help people who need it?”
The connection went dead and he cursed loudly, struggling not to damage the phone. With exaggerated carefulness, he placed it on the table in front of him, his thoughts whirling madly. Rayne couldn’t run away. It was just wrong. She didn’t take the coward’s way out, she was stronger than that. He had no idea if his words had gotten through to her or not. No idea if he would ever see her again. That thought hurt him more than he thought possible.
“Do you love her?” Freya’s calm words broke through his whirling thoughts and he turned his head to see her standing looking down at him. He could hear a trace of fear in her voice even though her expression was blank. His wolf growled loudly and he ran a weary hand through his hair.
“Sit down, Freya.” There was a hint of command in his tone. He hadn’t meant it to be there but he was feeling so frazzled at the moment he couldn’t help it. He was surprised when she did as he asked, taking the chair next to him.
“Yes, I love her,” he admitted out loud for the first time ever. “But I’m not in love with her,” he clarified at the sudden intake of breath that told him this mattered greatly to his vampire. “Rayne is…hard to explain. I suppose she’s my best friend. I’ve known her for what feels like forever. She’s kept me sane when all I wanted to do was crawl in a hole and never come out again. She’s important to me, Freya, but as a friend not as a woman. I’ve never kissed her or ever wanted to. I don’t think of her that way. You’re the only woman I’ve kissed since I lost Faith.”
Freya swallowed hard, her tumultuous emotions having her so off balance she didn’t know how to react to them. Hearing the anguish in Dayton’s voice as he spoke to the cat had ripped her apart inside. It was obvious he cared for her greatly. She’d had to ask the question because she needed to know the answer.
Now he was telling her that the cat was just a friend, someone he was close to and didn’t want to lose. He was a very caring man when he let himself feel. She also felt he was an honest man too. He’d certainly never hid any of his erratic emotions from her. She was the only woman he had kissed? Was he trying to tell her something she wasn’t fully hearing? Or was it just wishful thinking on her part?
“You need to go back,” she finally said. It was obvious he was concerned for this Rayne, that his need to protect his friend was very strong. She couldn’t stand in the way of that need. It was who he was as a person, the old Dayton coming to the fore as he shed the last of his grief.
“Come with me.” He didn’t deny that he needed to leave because he did. He had to find Rayne and help her through whatever was troubling her. But he couldn’t leave Freya either. He didn’t want to be without her and she wasn’t ready to be alone yet. She needed him whether she knew it or not.
Her long thick lashes covered her eyes for a brief moment, hiding whatever was lurking inside them before fluttering back up to meet his gaze. She nodded once, rising from her chair. “It will be quicker if we run. I can carry your clothes for you if you want.”
He rose too and reached for her, brushing her lips gently with his in a soothing kiss. He knew this was hard for her and he was proud of her strength. He was surprised she had agreed so easily but overjoyed that she had. He’d set himself a monumental task, trying to save the two women who meant the world to him. He only hoped he was up to the task after being so closed off for so long.
His hands went to his shirt and he started unbuttoning it as she turned away and quickly gathered her papers into a canvas pack she produced from the kitchen. The way she deliberately avoided looking at him as he stripped naked made his lips curl in a small smile.
“Promise you won’t try to ravish me,” he teased lightly, causing her to look at him with a startled expression on her face before the most adorable blush fanned across her cheeks as she took in his nudity.
“I think I can contain myself,” she remarked dryly, averting her gaze to take his clothes and put them in her pack.
“Bummer,” he muttered under his breath knowing full well she could hear him. Her reaction to his light teasing was delightful. It completely threw her and he realised this was the direction he needed to take with her. Freya didn’t know how to play. He was going to teach her just how much fun it was. Once he’d found Rayne and worked out just what the hell was going on.
He shifted to wolf form and waited for his mate to lock up the retreat. Then they took off into the trees, vampire and wolf flying through the forest at breakneck speed.
“I’ll point out the traps for you,” Freya remarked in a droll voice, just the smallest hint of teasing creeping into her tone. The wolf growled loudly in response, his distain clear to hear.
A wide smile crossed her lips as she ran beside him. This felt right, the feeling of peace within her almost perfect in its sweetness. She wanted to run with this wolf for eternity. She wanted the peace that only he could give her. As she ran she dared to dream that maybe one day she could have what she craved so badly.