“For the love of all that’s holy would you two stop growling at each other?” Caleb’s words rang through the sitting room, startling Rhianna and earning an irritated snort from Gard.
His mate turned wintry eyes on him, her lips tightening in a firm line. It was enough to drag a weary sigh from him. The atmosphere in the house had been unbearable. Rhianna was still angry at her brother for forcing her hand to reveal herself. Gard was pissed about something he wasn’t willing to talk about and failing to back down in the face of his sister’s displeasure.
“Annie, what’s done is done. Rafe is adapting well to everything he’s learned as is Lacey, Jared and Millie. It’s unfortunate they had to find out the way they did but growling at Gard every five minutes isn’t going to turn the clock back.”
His tone was firm, his usual patience almost at an end. He could feel her conflicted emotions through their bond, had heard her pacing back and forth at night when she thought he was sleeping. It was driving him crazy because he couldn’t help her work through her issues. He hated feeling so helpless.
“You think I’m mad because of that?” Rhianna gaped in surprise, her tone incredulous. “I’m mad because he is hurting and refusing to talk about what’s bothering him.” She pointed a finger at her brother though her gaze never left her mate’s. “Stupid idiotic males! Think you’re all so tough and can deal with everything on your own!”
Her eyes suddenly turned to her brother. “Well you can’t and as soon as you start realising that, I’ll start calming down. Talk, Gard.”
“I have nothing I wish to discuss.” It was the same curt statement he’d delivered time and time again to his sister. Lavender eyes clashed and then Rhianna let out a frustrated shriek and left the room in a wave of fury.
Caleb let out a long weary sigh and regarded his brother-in-law with a hard look. “This has got to end. I don’t give a fuck whether you want to talk or not. You are going to tell her something, anything, and make her believe what you’re saying is what’s really bothering you.”
“Or what?” Gard growled dangerously. He coiled his big body tensely, on his feet in an instant as his eyes began to glow with his own anger.
“Or I’m going to trash this room using you to do so,” Caleb answered, his voice chilling. “And then she’s going to be pissed at me so I’m going to have to trash something else with your help once again. I will continue on doing so until my mate is happy once more. I hope I’m making myself perfectly clear.”
He saw the dangerous flash in Gard’s eyes but he didn’t care. He’d always thought his Annie in tears was the worst thing he could be forced to endure. That was before she’d vanished completely and was replaced by the bundle of fury she currently was. This wasn’t his Annie and he wanted his mate back. If kicking the living daylights out of Gard was the only way he was going to achieve it then he would.
He waited for Gard to attack, was certain he was going to do so and was prepared to carry out his threat. When the other man backed down he blinked in surprise.
“Crystal,” Gard barked out before he too swept out of the room leaving him alone.
Caleb knew something important had just occurred. His complicated relationship with Gard had hovered between them for years. His brother-in-law acquiescing to him had finally formalised their boundaries.
Gard was acknowledging Caleb’s right as his former king and mate to Annie. There would be no more confusion on the matter.
He wanted to go search for his mate but he knew he needed to give brother and sister some time together. Instead he grabbed his car keys and left the house. Maybe if he wasn’t around they would be able to scream at each other or whatever it was they needed to do to resolve their problem. His protective instincts always kicked in and he couldn’t stay out of it when they started on each other. He was effectively doing more harm than good.
With a glance back at the house he climbed into his car and headed over to Demetri’s. He hadn’t been at work for days and figured he could use the time to catch up with anything that may need his attention.
Rhianna hated feeling the way she was. It was frustrating and unnecessary and she knew it was driving Caleb insane. She was amazed it had taken him so long to blow. He must have been gritting his teeth for days trying not to react to her temper. She would need to make it up to him but first she would need to try and find a way to get rid of the negative emotions she was feeling.
Gard’s pain was killing her. She could feel it every moment of every day and it was like a knife in her gut. He was hurting so badly though to look at him it was hard to tell. But she could feel it deep inside and he wouldn’t talk to her about it.
She had thought Rafe’s pain was unbearable to endure. Her brother had amazed her with his acceptance once he’d gotten over his shock. She had thought everything was going to be fine now that hurdle was over but she hadn’t counted on Gard becoming an issue.
He was clearly resentful of Rafe and that concerned her. Her fear was escalating daily because she didn’t know if his withdrawal was in direct relation to her Were brother. If the two of them went head to head, if they put her in a position of having to choose between them, she didn’t know if she could survive that. She loved them both so much.
“Annie! My name is bloody Annie! How many times do I need to tell you that, Gard? When will you start listening to me?”
A loud snort greeted her angry words and she pushed away from the kitchen counter and walked across the room to sit at the dining table taking a deep breath to try and regain some control.
“Annie’s full of love and laughter, a happy little thing who doesn’t fail to draw everyone under her spell. Don’t see much sign of her at the moment so I figure Anakatrine is most definitely in residence.” Gard’s tone was mocking as he sat down across from her, forcing her to look at him.
She was silent for a very long time and then her shoulders slumped and she let out a deep sigh. “You’re driving me insane,” she whispered wearily. “Did you forget the bond, Gard? I feel everything you’re feeling. It’s killing me.”
Shock rocked through him and his own hard expression suddenly melted away to be replaced with one of horror. “I’ve been blocking,” he said hoarsely. He’d known the bond had reformed. That was how he’d tracked her down all those years ago. In the past they had always been able to block each other when required. He’d been doing so religiously for days.
“Well, it’s not working for some reason,” she answered, tartness still in her tone.
“I don’t feel you or Caleb when you block. You shouldn’t be able to feel me, Annie. Not unless you’re much stronger this time around.” He was aghast at the prospect. She had always been powerful but if she was even more so, then there was no telling just what she could do now.
“I don’t want to be stronger. I just want to be your sister and to help you with whatever is hurting you so much. Please, Gard.” Her eyes filled with moisture and he let out a groan and reached for her hand, enclosing it tightly in his.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you could feel me. No wonder Caleb’s just threatened to demolish the house using me as the wrecking ball.”
That brought a startled gasp from his sister and he squeezed her hand gently and gave her a smile. “It’s okay. I know when to back down.”
“Poor Caleb. He doesn’t deserve me.”
Gard agreed with her but not in the way she’d meant it. As far as he was concerned no one was good enough for his sister, not Callain or Caleb, but he was the best that walked the planet and he was her choice. He would concede to Caleb because that was what would make her happy.
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Her name is Rayne,” he said quietly looking down at their joined hands. “You haven’t met her yet but I know you’ll like her. She’s feisty, independent, incredibly beautiful and as sexy as sin. When I’m with her, she is all that exists in my world. You told me to find love and I did. But she ran from me, discovered a way to hide so I can’t track her. Being apart from her is tearing me up inside.”
“The wildcat?” Rhianna gasped softly. She’d heard all about her, knew that there was some suspicion that she could be a hybrid child. She had kept her own counsel on that point, waiting to meet Rayne before she spoke her thoughts on it. Hearing that Gard had found his mate in her both filled her with elation and also dread.
If Rayne was who she suspected she was, then Gard’s pain would only increase rather than lessen when it was revealed. “Are you sure?”
Her brother met her gaze. “Completely. She’s mine, Annie. It doesn’t matter if she tries to deny it. We belong together. She’s aware of it too. When we made love she claimed me with a word. A Were can’t take back that word.”
She swallowed, dread washing over her at the total conviction in his voice. “Gard...I don’t know how to say this.” Rhianna couldn’t continue, swallowing again as she tried to make herself speak.
Her tension transmitted to him and unease flitted across his face. “Say it,” he demanded his fingers tightening around hers.
“You know who she is, don’t you? If she’s as old as she claims to be there can be no other explanation.” She watched the haunted expression in his eyes, saw denial clashing with the truth. “You can’t deny it, Gard. You must have known the moment her uniqueness became evident.”
Gard shook his head, releasing her hand and looking away as he fought her words. He couldn’t admit it to himself, couldn’t allow the truth to surface because if it did, if he let himself believe then he didn’t think he could live with the knowledge.
“You can’t hide from this, brother,” Rhianna whispered sadly.
“I know,” he groaned hoarsely, his expression so haunted it ripped at her heart. “I think I’ve always known but it was only after Rafe found out about me, when he was telling you about the children that everything finally clicked into place. If Rayne truly is a hybrid child then there is really only one child she could be.”
“Oh, Gard!” Rhianna moved around the table, wrapping her arms around him, understanding the extreme pain she’d been feeling for days now.
He had left Rayne in the forest to try and save his sister. He had abandoned an infant, believed he had been responsible for her death all these centuries. To find out the child had lived and he hadn’t protected her would be bad enough. To discover that child was his destined mate and he had betrayed her would be an agony beyond imagining for a man whose very core was to be a guardian.
“I left her,” Gard choked out staring down at the table. “All those centuries she’s been alone not knowing who or what she was. Three thousand years, Annie. She’s walked alone her entire life because I left her.” That knowledge would torture his soul for eternity.
She held him tightly, tears rolling down her face as he let go and clung to her. She was the only person he would allow himself to be vulnerable around. That was until he found Rayne. But his mate wasn’t there right now so he wept silently in his sister’s arms, releasing the overwhelming guilt he felt for his past actions.
“She will forgive you,” Rhianna whispered gently, tightening her hold on him. “She’s your mate. She has to forgive you because if she doesn’t it will rip her apart inside. We’ll find her somehow. We’ll make her understand.”
Gard wished he had her faith. He wanted to believe his sister but he couldn’t. How could Rayne ever forgive him when he couldn’t even begin to forgive himself?