She felt pain. It was a hot, rushing agony running through her but it wasn’t physical. Physical pain she could cope with, understand it would heal eventually but this mental anguish was something she didn’t know how to combat. She knew she had to open her eyes, to face it, but she didn’t want to.
The feminine voice startled her so much she did open her eyes, staring in surprise into the cold green depths of the stunning woman who was lying on some fancy sofa beside the bed. Rayne knew who she was instantly, having seen Freya Eriksson at a distance. What the vampire was doing in her room she had no idea, then she realised she wasn’t in her room but was in Dayton’s.
She couldn’t remember much that had happened after her memories had come back. Gard’s betrayal had been all that had registered before her mind had gone blank. She reached out with her senses and knew she was alone with the vampire. Not a good thing judging from what her friend had said the night before.
“Dayton had to talk to the Alpha,” Freya said when she didn’t speak. “He asked me to watch over you. You are safe, cat. I take my responsibilities seriously.”
Rayne swallowed; her mouth so dry it almost hurt. The vampire moved then, rising with a fluid grace that was mesmerising to watch. She really was stunning even with her clothes rumpled and her hair slightly tangled. She used an economy of movements as she vanished from her line of sight and returned with a small tray with some toast and condiments and a glass of fruit juice.
“When Dayton was injured he recovered quickly with food,” the vampire remarked, a smile tugging at her lips as if she was reliving a memory that pleased her. “The wolf that came to make breakfast was not pleased to find me in her kitchen.”
Rayne blinked slowly, staring at the other woman in confusion as she placed the tray on the bed beside her and then retreated back to her own ‘bed’. “You made me breakfast? Why?”
“You’re in his bed. You need to recover quickly so you can leave it before it becomes intolerable to me.”
The words were cold and brutally honest. The vampire didn’t want her sharing Dayton’s bed and wasn’t afraid to come right out and say so. Instead of making her afraid of Freya, the vampire’s honesty actually impressed her. Dayton was right. Freya was close to accepting the mating bond. Her possessiveness was that of a vampire but it was also that of a mate.
“I know he’s told you there is nothing between us other than friendship, Freya,” she answered after taking a sip of the juice to wet her throat and ease the dry ache. “You can trust what he says.”
There was a long pause and then the other woman nodded slowly. “I know he speaks honestly. That is why you’re still alive.”
Another blunt truth; which caused a deep well of pain to rise up inside Rayne. Being alive didn’t feel so great at the moment, not with the agony fighting to claim her soul and destroy her completely. Tears filled her eyes and she looked away.
Her reaction had Freya hissing in annoyance. “When I am given a task I perform it, cat. You remain safe because he asks me to watch over you. I do not go back on my word.”
“Maybe I wish you would,” she whispered back not looking at her. She knew she didn’t mean the words but they tumbled out anyway and was greeted with silence. She sipped at the juice again and then forced a bite of toast down her throat.
Freya watched her eat, fighting down the need to remove her bodily from Dayton’s bed. She knew her reaction was irrational. All she had to do was think ‘one kiss’ and she remembered just how Dayton had proven to her that she was all he was interested in. But it was so hard to let go of the old ways, particularly when she saw Rayne as a threat.
She had to remember that this woman was someone he cared about, that hurting her would be hurting him. She tried to focus on something else. “You are over three millennia old?” She remembered Caleb’s tale so long ago about the first hybrid child who was supposed to have died. If Rayne really was that child then she was older than she was.
The response was dull and lifeless and caused her to frown. Rayne’s wound was not physical. Freya knew how very much mental wounds could fester. She also knew what loneliness felt like. She heard it in that one word and felt a strange kinship click into place.
“It is difficult to walk alone,” she finally said, her tone a little softer and drawing the other woman’s gaze once more. “I have always been alone despite having Nors trying to keep me alive. Until Dayton.”
That brought a slight smile to Rayne’s face and a bit of warmth. “He has that effect on people,” she conceded. “I too was alone until I found him.”
Silence fell again and then Freya sat up watching her intently. “May I scent you?” she asked curiously. “I’ve never met a being as old as you before. I’m intrigued.”
Rayne nodded after a brief pause and Freya moved forward, inhaling softly against the side of her neck. The wildcat was tense but allowed her to indulge her curiosity. She was impressed. Baring one’s throat to another was a mark of extreme trust.
“I know he belongs to you, Freya.” The words were a whisper so soft they were almost undetectable.
She relaxed slowly and pulled back enough to look down at Rayne. She smiled and there was a hint of warmth in it. “He belongs to you too,” she conceded. “He loves you. For that reason alone I will protect you. I will not have his heart broken again for any reason.”
“Have you told him you’re in love with him?”
The question made her freeze in shock, confusion crossing her face for a moment before she suddenly softened a bit more and sank down onto the bed beside her. “Does he require me to? I don’t know how to react with your rituals. In my world everything is so clear cut. You see what you want and if both parties are agreeable you take it. Weres are more complicated. Your social structure is confusing.”
Rayne held her breath, staring in awe at a vampire with eyes so old they shone with the knowledge of millennia. Freya Eriksson may be Ancient but she was completely out of her depth when it came to something as simple as falling in love.
She pushed away her own misery and reached out to the other woman. She couldn’t help herself from doing so, she’d been reacting to other people’s hurt her entire life. “It’s not so complicated, Freya. You just need to let him in completely. Take a leap of faith. If you find it difficult to believe in yourself then believe in him. He will catch you if you fall.”
The vampire regarded her intently for a long moment and then the tension slowly drained from her body. “Eat your toast,” she ordered. “I still want you out of his bed as soon as possible. But I will not drag you out bodily.” She rose and returned to her sofa.
Freya mulled over Rayne’s words, silently conceding that she could see why Dayton found the cat so intriguing. Up close to her she could scent the pain the other woman was trying to force down. She could understand the misery she lived in at the moment because she had been there herself. Despite that, Rayne still tried to reassure a vampire who could just as easily rip her throat out if she wanted to.
The wildcat was strong. She would adjust to whatever was hurting her. She had Dayton at her side and she now had an Ancient vampire watching over her too. Freya’s lips twitched in a derisive smile. She was growing soft. She would never admit to the other woman that her thoughts had changed, but she admitted to herself that she would now protect Rayne, not just because Dayton had asked her to, but because she wanted to.
Dayton flew up the stairs hurrying back to his room. He’d left Freya alone with Rayne while he sought out answers from his Alpha. Rafe had been reluctant to talk but he’d held his ground until he’d gotten the truth. He’d had to appeal to his Alpha to get the information, arguing that it was in Rayne’s best interest if he had all the facts. That had finally swayed Rafe and he’d told him the whole story.
It was a heartbreaking tale all around, not just for Rayne. He could understand Gard’s reaction the night before even if he still wanted to rip the other man apart with his bare hands for hurting his friend. He was intelligent enough to know that it had been an impossible situation, two core loyalties battling against each other. He didn’t know if Rayne would be able to understand it though.
His concern for Rayne was twofold. He didn’t know if she could heal from the discovery her mate had abandoned her as a child. And he wasn’t wholly confident of leaving her alone with Freya. He felt guilty for doubting his mate but she was still so new to her emotions. He wasn’t sure just how far she’d come.
He entered the room and his eyes went first to Freya who was watching the door expectantly. She would have heard him approaching so he wasn’t really surprised. The slight smile tugging her lips warmed his heart and he relaxed instantly. His gaze turned to the bed and he saw Rayne was awake and eating breakfast. She looked shattered but she was functioning. It was a start.
He strode across the room, bending down to rub his lips gently against Freya’s. He kissed her at every possible opportunity. He knew it grounded her, soothed her, and he loved the taste of her mouth. He was honest enough not to pretend he was being altruistic.
“This nursemaid act is becoming a habit,” he teased lightly against her lips. “You’re going to ruin your reputation.”
“Not if I toss you out the window I won’t,” she remarked drolly, but pleasure danced across her face at the approval in his tone.
“Now you know Rafe asked you to play nice, Freya,” he laughed softly, kissing her again just because he wanted to, smiling as her lips curled against his.
“This is me playing nice,” she retorted. “If I was being mean you’d already be laying out there rueing the day you ever met me.”
He bit her bottom lip hard, his tongue laving the nip he’d given her. “You are going to be so much trouble,” he chuckled breaking away from her. His eyes shone with excitement as he ran a thumb over her bottom lip and then turned to Rayne who was watching them intently.
His gaze turned pensive as he took in her wounded expression. “How are you feeling?”
The silver in her eyes pulsed dully as she met his gaze. “I’ve been a whole lot better,” she admitted.
He sat down on the bed, moving the tray when it became apparent she wasn’t going to eat any more.
Freya took it from him. “I will leave you to talk.” She didn’t wait for anyone to object, simply strode from the room leaving them alone. It was hard to do, especially when she had seen the softness on Dayton’s face when he looked at the cat. But she knew Rayne would talk better without her being present and she wanted to prove to Dayton that she could be rational about things, that she could accept his friendship with the other woman even if it did make her gut clench painfully.
Dayton relaxed as the door closed behind her turning his full attention to the woman in his bed. Although he wanted Freya close to him, he knew Rayne needed his undivided attention. The pull of two opposing needs helped him understand Gard’s dilemma a bit more and his anger ratcheted down another notch.
To be continued...