Sunday, 26 February 2012

The Farewell


From time to time I have the urge to write something that just comes to me. It can be a bit frustrating when I want to write ongoing stories and nothing comes out. Instead of fighting the urge I've now decided to surrender to it and just let the words come.

With that in mind here is a short story called The Farewell. It's completely different to my usual writing and something that I started last year when I was feeling a bit low. I didn't think I would go back and finish it but found it tonight and just had to write an end for it.

I'm going to use this section of my blog to post up any random stories which come to me.

Hope you enjoy it.

*

The Farewell
 
It was the mailman that woke Drew Lambert. He’d switched off his phone to avoid any annoying calls disturbing him because he’d worked the late shift the night before, but it appeared he wasn’t going to get the sleep he needed on his first day off in over a week. 

The sound of the doorbell pealing was enough to elicit a grumpy curse as he rolled over and reached for his dressing gown lying on the floor beside his bed.

Muttering tiredly under his breath, Drew headed for the door running a hand across his jaw and stifling a yawn. He hadn’t shaved in a few days and now had that rugged look a lot of guys his age seemed to be sporting these days. His growth wasn’t intentional, but more down to the fact he’d been working 16 hour shifts and just hadn’t had time to shave.

“Package,” the mailman said brightly as Drew opened the door to him. He was thrusting the box into his hand and walking away before Drew could even register what he’d said.

Blinking against the morning sunlight, he closed the door and looked down at the box in his hand. The flowing handwriting was most definitely feminine and not one he recognised. It was enough to pique his curiosity.

Heading into the kitchen, Drew put the kettle on to make tea and opened the package. There was no card inside, nothing to say who it was from just a recordable DVD with his name on it and a blue, oval paperweight nestled in the bottom of the box.

His curiosity piqued higher as he took out the paperweight and balanced it in the palm of his hand. It wasn’t big and fit neatly in his large hand almost as if it had been design especially. Shiny and full of many faceted shades of blue, Drew couldn’t help running the pad of his thumb over it. Some objects were just very tactile and the paperweight certainly fit that category.

Yawning loudly and trying to stifle his curiosity long enough to wake up, Drew made himself a cup of tea and headed into his living room to boot up his laptop. The fog of sleep was starting to leave his tired mind and a smile began to curve his lips.

There was only one person he could think of who would send him something blue. Deborah.

He’d met her online about a year ago. One of those nights he’d stumbled into a chat room and struck up a random conversation with the first person who’d looked like they might be fun to chat with.

He wasn’t one to believe in fate usually but it had almost seemed fated that they would meet. He couldn’t believe how easily they’d clicked, how they’d shared the same weird sense of humour and liked pretty much the same things.

It had been a good night of chilling and shooting the breeze with a faceless stranger, so good he had gone back the next night in the hope that Deborah would be there again. And she was.

They’d quickly gone from catching up a few times a week to talking every day and for hours at a time. Their time zones shouldn’t have been compatible but due to Drew’s late night working he almost always managed to wish Deborah a good morning before heading to bed and she would be waiting for him when he woke to start his day.

Their friendship had blossomed into something so deep Drew considered Deborah his best friend even though they’d never met in person. She lived in England and he lived in the US. Neither of them had any spare funds so the likelihood of them ever meeting had always seemed pretty remote.

They’d made do with emails and private messages on Twitter. They’d progressed to sending voice files via email and eventually they had voice Skyped. They’d swapped pictures and laughed at each others old pictures on Facebook. The only thing they’d never done was video conference.

For some unknown reason Debs had always shied away from visual chat. A more suspicious person would have thought that strange but Drew had seen her family interacting with her on Facebook so hadn’t been concerned about her refusal.

He was aware she suffered from low self-esteem even if he couldn’t understand why. In his eyes she was beautiful, funny, intelligent, the most awesome person he’d ever met. How she could doubt herself was beyond him.

Sometimes her moods could be so black he’d worry himself sick. But the very next day she would be back to her usual self and his concern would abate. When she needed space he gave it to her but always let her know he was there for her. And no matter what her mood, if he had need of a friend, Deborah was always instantly there for him.

Drew smiled again as he slotted the DVD into its drawer and loaded up the software to play it. Finances were tough but he’d been doing extra shifts for ages now so he could save up a bit at a time. He hadn’t said anything to Debs because he didn’t want to disappoint her if he couldn’t get the money together, but with this last pay check he had enough saved for a ticket to England and enough to live on while he was there.

He intended to tell her today sometime, so they could plan mutually convenient dates. He hoped she’d be as excited as he was. She’d asked for some space a week ago and said she’d be out of touch for a while so he’d worked every shift he could get while he’d had the opportunity.

It was strange not hearing from Debs for so long. She was always there whenever he wanted to talk. Being tired from work had taken a bit of the loneliness away but Drew had still missed her terribly. He hoped she’d come online today when he emailed his news. He hoped she wanted to meet him in real life the way he so badly wanted to meet her.

The video began to play and Drew settled back to watch it. The opening image formed and his heart plummeted into the pit of his stomach as he stared at the screen.

It was a hospital room or maybe a convalescence room. Whatever it was it was clearly a medical establishment of some kind. And sitting propped up in the bed was Deborah only it wasn’t the Debs he knew from all the pictures he’d seen before.

This Deborah was so pale, so thin and frail it was heartbreaking to look at her.  On her head was a dark blue scarf and her green eyes looked dull and huge in her too thin face. The expression on her face was uncertain and then her chin tilted up and she smiled at the camera.

“Hey, Drew. It’s me, Debs. If you’re watching this then I guess I ran out of time.”

A frown marred her forehead and she swallowed hard. “I’m so sorry honey, I tried to stay as long as I could, I really did but my body let me down. I know this is a huge shock for you and I should have told you but I could never find the right words or the right time and the longer we talked the harder it got. I know that’s a cop out, Drew. I should have been braver but I didn’t want to hurt you.”

Drew leaned forward and hit the pause button on the video. Deborah’s words were echoing on the air, her soft voice full of a plea for understanding. A harsh sound ripped from his throat as the impact of her words crashed over him and understanding dawned.

Deborah was sick! She was not only sick but whatever was wrong with her had won the battle. His Debs was already gone. She was dead!

Another harsh sound ripped from him as he bent over trying to alleviate the sharp ache in his chest where his heart was. This had to be wrong. It couldn’t be right because if it was…then he’d never speak to her again. She’d never be at the end of an email or private message. He’d never hear her voice again.

“No!”

Tears gathered in Drew’s eyes, welling up fast and overflowing as he stared at the paused image of his Debs. The image told the tale. She looked so sick, so fragile.

Drew began to sob, long wracking sobs as he wrapped his arms around himself and tried to take away the pain, tried to stop his heart from splintering deep within him. This wasn’t fair! He’d just saved up the money to go visit her. He’d had it all planned in his head, what they would do, how they’d sit up all night talking and laughing as they did online.

But he was too late. He’d done his best, worked as hard as he could but it hadn’t been good enough. Deborah was gone.

He didn’t know how long he cried for. His throat ached and the pain remained a hard ache in the wall of his chest, but eventually he sat up again and looked at the screen. With a shaky hand he reached out and pressed the play button.

As the video started up again he felt ashamed because he was angry at Debs. He was angry she hadn’t told him, angry she’d left him. He could have borrowed money from his family so he could’ve gone to her sooner, while she was still alive. If he’d known he would have but she’d kept quiet about her illness. It seemed wrong to be angry with her and yet he felt that anger as well as mind-numbing grief that she was gone.

“It’s okay to be angry with me, Drew.” Deborah’s soft words filled the room. “It’s natural to feel that way, part of the grieving process. Don’t hate yourself for feeling that anger. It will pass as will the grief and I don’t hold it against you.”

The image on the screen blurred as more tears gathered in his eyes, as Deborah forgave him in advance for his feelings. That was so like her. She had a very forgiving nature.

“So, now you know why I never video conferenced with you, Drew. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. I just didn’t want you to see me like this. When we first met I‘d been recently diagnosed with cancer. I had hope then that it could be treated and I gave it a good shot but the strain I had was pretty virulent.

But that was only part of the reason I never told you, honey. Part of me was living in denial, pretending that I wasn’t sick and my time wasn’t short. With you, I could just be me, full of hope and laughter. With you I could be alive.”

“Debs.” Drew reached out and touched the screen, the anger slowly seeping away.

“I know that was selfish of me, sweet Drew. I needed so much to be normal with you that I kept quiet about my illness. I wish I could turn back the clock and do things differently. Then you would have had the choice of walking away.”

Drew felt angry again and reached to pull the laptop onto his knees, hitting the pause button again as his brow drew down in a scowl.

“Never! I would never have walked away, Deborah,” he ground out into the empty apartment. “Didn’t you know me at all? How could you ever think I would have left you alone when you needed me the most? Dammit, woman are you trying to make me angry spouting this rubbish?”

He expected to hear her reply in the stillness of the room. But that reply would never come. He cursed into the air and tried to stop fresh tears from falling. When he was in control of his emotions once more he pressed the play button again and listened to her voice fill the room.

“You have no idea what you gave to me, honey. In my blackest days you were a shining light always there for me. Some days I was so tired and wanted to give up but I didn’t want to leave you so I fought that bit harder.

I wanted to hear the sound of your laughter, Drew, because it was the sweetest sound in my world. I wanted to talk music with you, to listen to your compositions as you wrote them. I wanted to talk about mundane things of no great importance. I just wanted to spend time with you.

Most of all I wanted to make you happy, honey. I hope I did that and you won’t hate me for leaving you. I know you’ll be sad that I’m gone but I hope you don’t regret knowing me and the time we’ve spent together this last year.

Because I could never regret a moment with you, Drew. You’ve been with me in the best of times and also the worst of times. You’ve been my constant source of strength and I can never thank you adequately for that.”

Deborah paused on the screen as if trying to gather her thoughts. Drew could only stare at her wordlessly, wishing he’d known, wishing for just a few weeks longer so he could have been with her at the end.

“I didn’t know how to say goodbye, Drew,” Deborah finally spoke, her big green eyes filling with tears. “I wanted to take the coward’s way out and you’d just never have heard from me again. But I couldn’t do that to you, not to my wonderful Drew. You were the best thing that ever happened to me and no amount of words will ever be able to express how much you mean to me, how much I love you.”

“And I do love you, Drew Lambert. We may never have met in person but my feelings for you are true. Be happy, my darling. Life is too short as I’ve so rudely discovered. Don’t waste a second of it. Live as if each moment may be your last and find someone to love and who will love you as much as I do.”

Drew watched the tears fall down her pale face and felt his own cheeks become wet again too.

“I did, Debs,” he whispered touching the screen reverently. “I found someone to love only I lost her before I got the chance to tell her.”

“I know, honey.” Deb’s words were like an answer to his and sent a shiver down his spine.

“I know you love me, Drew. I know this is hard for you and right now your world is crumbling around you and you think you’ll never be happy again but you will. One day soon you’ll wake up and be able to look at each new day with hope. Until then I will always be with you, my darling. When you need me, when things feel too hard to bear, hold my paperweight close and I will be there with you to help you through it.”

Drew reached for the paperweight, clutching it in his closed hand as he watched a nurse enter the room and appear in the shot. She murmured something quietly to Deborah who nodded and gave her a faint smile before turning back to the camera.

“It’s time for me to go now, honey. I’m so sorry I have to leave you. If I could stay I would. I love you so much Drew Lambert, more than I have ever loved another soul. I wish we’d had more time.”

Deborah paused and swallowed hard and the nurse spoke gently to her again, moving further into the shot to place a supporting arm around her frail body. It was only then that Drew realised that she must have been in so much pain when making the video and he felt his heart break a little more.

Deborah took another deep breath and then smiled. “Don’t give up on your dreams, honey. Keep composing your music and one day when you’ve made it big you can maybe write a song about a friend you once knew who is no longer with you. Live life to the fullest and seize every moment and make it special, my darling.

It’s funny but now that it comes to it, I can’t find it in my heart to say goodbye to you, Drew, so I will say farewell instead. Who knows what lies beyond this life, maybe one day we will meet again.

Farewell my beautiful Drew. I was blessed to have you in my life. Thank you for everything.”

Drew stared at the dark screen as the video ended. The blackness echoed how his soul felt and seemed to scream the finality of Deborah being gone. He was beyond tears now; lost in a well of shock and grief so deep he didn’t know how he was going to get through it.

In his hand the solid weight pressed down and he loosened his fingers and stared at the warm blue paperweight nestled in his palm. He stroked it reverently and a little of the bleakness eased from his heart. He would get through this because he had his Debs with him, in spirit if not in body.

Drew watched the video many times that day, alternating between crying and smiling. Sometimes he felt so angry, at Deborah, at the situation and then he would feel so lost, missing her terribly and watching the video again just so he could hear her voice and feel close to her.

When he finally slept he found he couldn’t let go of the brightly coloured paperweight, he couldn’t let go of his Debs.

******

One Year Later

Drew finished up writing the lyrics to the song he’d written for Deborah. He sat in the café sipping his now cold tea feeling a burst of excitement running though him. He’d completed the music a month ago. The lyrics had been harder but now they’d come together in his mind and he knew it was the best thing he’d written yet.

Even better one of the local bands in the area had listened to the musical score and loved it, had asked him to write lyrics for it. Dynastic had a huge online following and despite not having a record contract, they made money out of selling their music online. If they liked the lyrics then this was the first step on the ladder to Drew achieving his dream of being a songwriter. And, as always, he had Debs to thank for it.

It was hard to think that she’d been gone for a year now. He’d always felt her presence close to him even as he worked through the early stages of his grief at losing her. As the months had past and the pain had lessened, he found he hadn’t needed to sleep holding her paperweight close every night or read old messages from her and watch her video.

Her words were true, the pain did ease and in time he’d been able to greet the morning with some hope in his heart. He did still miss their daily conversations online but he’d never been tempted to find another chat partner to take her place. He lost all interest in online life and concentrated on composing in his spare time.

Now it appeared that a new chapter was about to start in his life and he knew that he would never have been where he was today if it hadn’t been for knowing and loving Deborah. She had always encouraged him to follow his dreams and now they were starting to come true because of the song he’d written for her.

“Wow, that’s amazing!”

Drew’s head shot up and he stared at the young woman sitting at the table next to him with a surprised look on his face. She appeared to be a couple of years older than him and the first thing he noticed was her sparkling blue eyes. Wispy black hair framed her heart-shaped face and she had a cute button nose that made him strangely want to lean over and press it.

“Sorry?” His odd impulse appeared to have shorted out his brain and he blinked at the woman wondering what on earth had gotten into him.

Her face transformed into something quite breathtaking when she laughed softly. “The song you were singing quietly to yourself just now. Who’s the artist? I don’t think I’ve heard it before but I really liked it and would love to buy it.”

Song? He’d been singing? Drew realised he must have been singing Deborah’s song as he was finishing it off. And someone wanted to buy it just from his awful rendition of it?

Gathering his wits he managed a brief smile and hoped he didn’t appear to be an idiot. “Sorry about that. Didn’t realise I was singing as I was writing it.”

“May I?” She stood up and brought her coffee over to his table and sat down without waiting for a response. “Wow, that’s even more amazing. You wrote that song? You’re very talented. It’s great. Oh, I’m Belle, by the way. I’ve seen you here quite a bit the last few months.”

Drew wasn’t used to finding himself on the back foot and could only blink in surprise as he watched Belle sip from her coffee mug. He’d never even noticed her in the café before but then he only came in to write his music preferring the static noise around him to help with his creativity.

He’d never once looked at any of the patrons of the place or been curious about them. But Belle obviously had noticed him enough to talk to him. It was a new experience for him to be approached by a total stranger, especially one as pretty as the woman across from him. At a loss for what to do, he fell back on his music.

“It’s for my friend, Debs,” he explained. “She asked me to write something for her and it took me a bit of time. I just finished it today.”

“She’s a lucky lady,” Belle smiled. “I’m sure she’ll be delighted when she hears it.”

Drew frowned and looked down at his cold tea.

“I’m sorry, did I say something wrong?”

He looked back up and met Belle’s earnest gaze forcing himself to shake off the moment of pain as he suddenly remembered that Deborah would never hear what he’d written for her. He smiled.

“No, you didn’t. I was just a little unclear with what I said. Debs passed away a year ago. She set me this goal of writing a song for her to give me something to work towards. It took me a year but I did it. It’s a relief to know that at least one person thinks it’s good enough.”

Belle leaned forward and placed one small hand on top of his. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bring up painful memories for you. I’ve just seen you around a lot and always wondered what it was you were working so hard on. Today I worked up the courage to talk to you. If I’d known it was something so personal then I wouldn’t have barged in on you like this.”

Drew could see regret in her eyes as well as sympathy. There was something really warm and genuine about Belle and he didn’t want her to feel bad.

“It’s okay. I’m through the worst of it now and am making plans for the future. There’s no need to apologise. In fact, you liking the song has sort of made my day because if you like it then Dynastic should too and they’re interested in buying it from me.”

Belle’s eyes widened as did her smile. “Seriously? Dynastic are interested in the song? That’s mega!!! I love the band and buy all their music. I can just see them releasing your song. They’d be fabulous at it and it would definitely be a hit. Maybe it’d be the song that finally got them a decent contract offer. I’ve read they’ve had a couple recently but the terms were bad for the band so they didn’t accept them.”

Drew signalled the café owner for another tea for himself and a coffee for Belle as he listened to her talk about the band and their music. Her expression was animated and he found himself fascinated as they discussed music over their drinks.

They sat and talked for almost an hour and he found himself reluctant to call a halt to their chat but he was due to meet with the band in an hour and had to head home to get changed.

“Maybe we could have coffee another time when you’re here?” Belle asked with a shy smile as he stood to leave.

“I’d like that,” Drew answered instantly, surprised to find that he really would like to meet with her again. For the first time in a long time he’d enjoyed a woman’s company. Belle was not only pretty but she was funny too with a lively mind. He’d enjoyed their conversation.

She smiled again, her face lighting up. “Maybe you’ll even tell me your name the next time,” she teased making him flush.

“Sorry, I forgot.” His grin was sheepish. “Hi, Belle, I’m Drew.” He held out his hand and she took it in hers.

With twinkling eyes she made a production out of shaking it, impish laughter bubbling out. “Pleased to meet you, Drew, and thank you for my coffee and the chance to hear a little of your song. I hope everything goes well for you.”

With a wave goodbye, Drew left the café with a spring in his step and a pair of deep blue eyes on his mind. As he hurried home to get ready for his meeting he slipped his hand into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a multi-faceted blue paperweight and held it close to his chest.

Things were changing. Hope was on the horizon and new beginnings were out there and his for the taking. Deborah had been the best of friends and there would always be a special place in his heart for her. But she was right, life was for living and opportunities should be taken when they presented themselves.

Tomorrow he would start a new song…which would involve having to go to the café of course.

Rubbing the paperweight gently Drew slid it back into his pocket and ran up the steps onto his front porch, ready to present his song The Farewell to the world. The sun was shining and he had options ahead of him and the dull ache in his heart didn’t feel as bad as it once had.

With a smile he slipped inside turning to glance up at the late afternoon sky, still a hazy shade of blue with white fluffy clouds floating idly by. For the briefest of seconds he thought he heard a soft tinkling laugh but knew he was imagining it because that laughter was now gone from the world. But he took it as a sign and his smile broadened as he turned back inside.

“Thanks Debs.”

The End








Sunday, 12 February 2012

Hearts of Warriors Ch 12 teaser


 After much waiting here is the teaser for Ch 12. My apologies for the wait and I hope you enjoy! xxx

Chapter Twelve

Mac knew he should be concerned about driving to the Armand-Hanlon compound but he couldn’t take his mind off the soft skin of Lily’s thighs as she sat demurely beside him in the Jeep. She’d made a show of pulling the hem of her dress down as far as possible but it had still ridden up to expose her flesh.

He was so hard it was painful to drive and the slight smile on Lily’s lips let him know she was well aware of her effect on him. He wanted to growl in annoyance but his feral side approved of the way she was keeping him on his toes.

Their earlier disagreement was playing on his mind, her apparent easy forgiveness of his blunder appearing a little too easy. He was sure it wasn’t natural for a woman to just let something that important go so easily. But then, he was also aware that there was a hell of a lot he didn’t know about his mate as well.

He knew the important things, that she was strong and feisty and had a wicked sense of humour. He knew she tasted divine and was spontaneous in her affections and gave herself freely to him. She was sexy and addictive and she appeared to crave him as much as he did her. It was just her thought processes he wasn’t completely certain of. She didn’t come across as a typical woman at times which baffled him.

“You’re frowning,” the object of his thoughts said with a hint of amusement in her voice. “Are you worried about meeting the parents?” She sounded relaxed enough but Mac knew she had to be concealing her own concern about the up and coming meeting.

His eyes travelled quickly from her bared thighs up to her face. “I was actually trying to work out the way you think,” he admitted seeing the turning for the wolf compound coming up and concentrating back on the road.

Lily laughed though inside her stomach felt as if it was going to revolt as they turned onto the dirt road leading home. A few more moments and they’d be there and she’d have to face her father’s disapproval not to mention Rafe’s. She was pretty sure her mother would just be relieved to see her and not too angry but the pack males tended to overreact very easily.

“And here was me thinking you were too engrossed in staring at my legs to be thinking with any part of your anatomy above the waistline.” She teased him to keep her trepidation at bay. They were bonded now and he’d be able to sense her emotions. She had no doubt that if she was too tense he would be too and then Lord only knew what would happen when they came into contact with her father.

“You made sure exactly where my thoughts would be,” Mac grumbled, unable to stop his hand reaching out to touch the flesh which was teasing him mercilessly. It was a mistake and he knew it straight away. The second Lily gasped at his touch and his fingers connected with her skin he was slamming on the brakes and turning off the engine.

“Mac…” Lily’s breathless cry was cut off as he pushed open the door and headed around to her side. He was pulling her out of the Jeep before she could utter his name a second time, his intentions plain. She couldn’t expect to get away with wearing a dress that practically begged him to take it off without him reacting to it. He couldn’t remember ever having signing up to sainthood.

Her expression was adorable as he picked her up and dumped her unceremoniously onto the hood of the Jeep; part surprised but mostly sensual as she reacted to his need. Those lips which tempted him shamelessly parted and he swooped down, diving into the moist cavern of her mouth to sip at the honey that was undeniably his Lily.

There was nothing tentative about his kiss. It told her how badly he wanted her, how insane her red dress and sassy mouth had driven him. He had to have her or he’d go mad with want.

The heat from the car was burning Lily’s backside as her dress had ridden up exposing her tender skin to the heated metal. It stung a bit but Mac’s kiss was even hotter, melting all her objections in an instant as she scooted forward trying to get closer to her man.

The determination on Mac’s face when he’d yanked her from the car, the way that strange hint of silver had flashed in the blackness of his eyes, it had made her heart flutter and her lust rise so she couldn’t resist his kiss when he began his assault.

Not that she wanted to but if they were utilising their brains at the moment one of them would realise that turning up to meet her father smelling of sex was practically suicidal. One of them should have the sense to stop this before it got out of hand but Lily was already addicted to her mate’s touch and they hadn’t properly kissed and made up after their disagreement.

She was tugging at his braid, freeing his hair so she could wrap her fingers deep within it as he continued to devour her mouth like a starving man, his erection branding her between her thighs as she twined herself around him.

Her fingers moved to pluck at the buttons of his shirt as Mac’s lips scorched a path of fire down her neck towards the swell of her breasts peaking temptingly from her dress. It was then she scented their observer and her body went rigid in Mac’s embrace.

Her mate was instantly alert his body twisting around to face the forest ensuring she was completely blocked from view. Lily was tempted to laugh knowing she was not in any danger and also knowing Mac wouldn’t have a hope in hell of spotting their company. He was shadowed and masking his scent, only she could see him.

“Kothi, stop being an ass and show yourself,” she said in her best stern voice, trying not to smile. She adored Kothari but then she always did find herself reacting intensely to the more marginal elements of their group, Liam, Elina and Kothi.

Mac relaxed slightly when Lily spoke, his expression curious as the young male appeared out of thin air a few feet away from them. He was big but then his father was Gard though he was dark-haired like his mother and had dark glasses shading his eyes. So this was the issue from a Vârcolac and an Ancient? Kothari was not what he’d expected having met three of the hybrids already.

The man before him appeared cold and suspicious, so remote he gave off the appearance of being completely emotionless, and yet Lily’s voice held such a warm tone he knew there had to be more to him than met the eye.

He eyed the fourth of his charges with cool detachment only mildly irritated that he’d interrupted them. The faint smile when it came surprised Mac because he didn’t think Kothari was capable of it from his initial impression.

“I thought it best that someone act like a grown-up, Liliana. You’re in enough shit with Andrei without showing up ten seconds after you’ve just had sex,” Kothari said his expression unrepentant.

Having him echo her earlier thoughts made Lily blush as Mac helped her from the hood of the Jeep. She took the handful of steps needed to give Kothari a hug which he returned with almost as much enthusiasm, surprising Mac even further as he saw the other man’s expression soften into open affection.

He held still as Kothari kissed Lily’s cheek and curled a lock of her hair around one finger tugging lightly.

“The compound’s been quiet without our resident spitfire,” Kothari remarked in a low voice. “It perked up a little last night when Elle decided to smack that vampire around but nobody outclasses our Liliana when she’s on a roll.”

“I’m not that bad,” she groaned tilting her head back to look at her mate. She didn’t want him to think she was too high maintenance. “Don’t listen to him, Mac. He’s just as much trouble as I’ve ever been.”

That brought a laugh from the other Vârcolac. “I’ve never claimed otherwise,” he countered a glint of humour on his face before he turned his concealed gaze to the vampire watching them. His expression smoothed out as he released Lily.

“So, you’re Mackenzie? I hope you’re good, vampire, because Andrei’s been pretty pissed these last few weeks. If you’re better than Karn you might hold your own.”  There was a hint of challenge in his voice as if he were testing Mac.

Lily glared at him smacking at his arm. “Don’t, Kothi. Mac is my mate and remember I can still kick your ass. He’s off limits to your brand of humour.”

Rather than being offended by the younger male, Mac was struggling not to smile at his blatant attempt to intimidate him. Lily’s automatic defence also amused him and he reached out to curl an arm around her waist to pull her close. “How did I survive so long without you to protect me,” he teased and kissed the tip of her nose.

His black gaze met Kothari’s dark glasses and he allowed his amusement to show. “I’ve known Andrei for close on a thousand years now, Kothari. I’m sure we’ll be just fine when we have our little chat.”  His tone was pitched just right to subtly smack down the younger male but not incite Kothari’s need to step up his aggression level.

If he’d been anything other than a Vârcolac and someone Lily obviously cared greatly for, Mac’s response would have been completely different to his challenge. Instead he moderated himself while still letting Kothari know that he wouldn’t be easy fodder if the younger male wanted to test his luck.

He felt Lily stiffen at his reference to her father and looked down. “What? You didn’t know I knew your father or is it the length of time we’ve been friends which surprises you?”

Lily hadn’t considered that Mac might know her father; know of him yes, but to have met him? His past was so well hidden considering he’d moved around Europe so much over his lifetime. It had taken her forever to discover that he was friends with Demetri, finding out he knew her family too rattled her a bit. She frowned as she looked back at him. “You didn’t tell me you were friends with Dad.”

He shrugged. “You never asked. I just assumed you knew seeing as you managed to find out just about everything else there was to know about me when you did your research.”

He had a valid argument and it didn’t really affect anything anyway. He was her mate and there was no disputing that. Lily relaxed and leaned into his heat wishing Kothari would disappear so she could spend a few more moments alone with Mac before they had to face the music.

“I don’t suppose you’re going to go away anytime soon?” she asked privately, quirking an eyebrow at her friend. She received another of his enigmatic smiles which could hardly be called a real smile because his mouth barely moved. Most people would even miss it if they weren’t one of the Vârcolac.

And miss all the fun, Lily? You have to be joking. I like your mate, by the way. He seems more together than Karn though he’s no slouch either. That vampire hides a lot behind his gruff exterior.”

She smiled with pleasure her eyes dancing. “Elle, really punched him last night? Liam told me but I found it hard to believe. Karn didn’t deny it though so I figured it had to have happened.”

“She smacked him clear across the room. I don’t know who was more surprised, Elle or Karn or maybe it was the rest of us standing there with our mouths hanging open. I thought Dayton was going to burst a blood vessel when they were arguing and then Elle punched the vampire and Freya was as smug as you please saying ‘That’s my daughter.’ You missed a treat with that one, Lily. Elle’s real strength is phenomenal when you see it in action.”

Mac figured the two of them were having some form of conversation he wasn’t privy to. He found he didn’t much care for being excluded so he gave in to his more base urges and kissed his mate, hard and fast. He took some satisfaction at her instant response. No one continued a telepathic conversation while having their mouth claimed as thoroughly as he was claiming Lily’s.

“I am still here,” he muttered dryly when he let her up to breathe. “And we still have to go get this meeting over and done with.” He kissed her again and then nodded to Kothari. “I’m sure we’ll see you around before we leave.”

Lily rolled her eyes and smiled as Mac tugged her back to the Jeep and made sure she was settled inside.

“Isn’t he wonderful, Kothi? So possessive. Wait until you find your mate. You won’t know what’s hit you.”

Kothari didn’t answer, merely frowned slightly before raising his hand and turning and vanishing into the trees. Lily watched him go with a slight narrowing of her eyes.

“What is Kothari’s problem?” Mac asked starting the Jeep and continuing on towards the compound. “It’s like he has a split personality or does he just dislike me.”

She glanced at him in surprise. “He likes you just fine. Kothari is just Kothari. Today he’s been more approachable than normal. I guess he missed me being away and with Liam and Kal up at our compound and Elina acting out of character last night, he may be feeling a bit unsettled hence his need to connect with me.”

“So he’s usually worse than he was with me?”

She laughed at Mac’s dry tone. “Oh, he’s usually much more reserved that he was just now. Sometimes a whole week can pass without Kothi uttering a single word to anyone in public. He’ll be there but keep totally silent. I’m sure he talks to his parents and he sometimes talks to one of us telepathically. He’s…well he’s just not easy to explain. He’s Kothi and we love him.”

Mac filed the information away for future consideration. Kothari plainly had extreme anti-social tendencies which could spell an issue waiting to happen. He’d get Karn’s initial thoughts on the man when they got home later. He was curious as to why his second-in-command hadn’t selected him to come back to the compound the night before.

For the moment they were pulling up into the centre of the suspiciously empty compound and Lily was tense at his side, her eyes flickering around the empty square nervously

“Crap! Rafe must have warned everyone to stay away,” she muttered under her breath tapping a finger nail against the dashboard as she leaned forward. The lack of people milling around was not a good sign. She’d been hoping for lots of pack mates being their usual nosey selves to run interference. “Park here, Mac.”

He brought the Jeep to a halt outside a two storey house with a large tree to one side of it.

“This is where I grew up,” Lily sighed, a faint smile gracing her lips as she thought of all the fun times she’d had sneaking out and climbing down that very tree beside her bedroom window. She turned to see Mac’s reaction and her smile grew softer as she watched him quickly tie his hair back at the nape of his neck.

His dark gaze connected with hers as he turned sideways to look at her. His expression was serious as he picked up her hand and kissed the back gently. “No matter what happens, Liliana, I promise I will do my best not to hurt your father. But this you must know and accept before we do this. You will be coming home with me. No one had better try and stop that happening because I will not tolerate it under any circumstances.”

She shivered at the promise in his eyes, knew he was telling her he would fight to the death to keep her, be it her father’s or his. It sent fear flooding through her which she couldn’t hide.

“Let me deal with him, Mac,” she whispered. “Don’t do anything which can’t be fixed. I will be coming home with you, no one will prevent that. Just trust that I know the best way to deal with this.”

Mac had to fight down his instinctive need to be the strong one, the one to protect what was his. If it came down to a fight between him and Andrei, despite Liam’s reassuring words, it would be messy and bloody and would most likely end in someone’s death. He knew it would kill Lily to lose either of them so he battled his natural instincts and nodded his head in acquiescence.

“I’ll do the best I can, sugar,” he sighed leaning forward to brush her lips gently. “Let’s hope Liam’s right and Andrei feels the same way as I do, that your happiness is the most important thing here.” With that he pulled back and opened the door.

Lily followed him anxiously smoothing down her dress and wishing she’d picked something old, something Victorian and reserved that wouldn’t incite her father’s anger. She pushed the thought away as being unjustified. Her father understood. They’d talked about things and he’d been hurt that she’d thought he would do anything to her mate. She had to keep that firmly in mind.

The front door to the house suddenly opened and Mac’s gaze swivelled from Lily to the gorgeous brunette who appeared from the house. He’d never seen Loretta Simpson before but he could see where Lily got a lot of her looks from. While not as classically beautiful as some women, Loretta’s allure was just as impressive.

Her thick brown hair was perched haphazardly on top of her head with strands framing her face. Her brown eyes were shining with moisture as she regarded her errant daughter standing sheepishly in front of her.

“Hi Mom,” Lily said biting at her bottom lip as she tried to work out how much trouble she was in. She felt as if time had rolled back and she was once more about to get a telling off as she had that day she’d persuaded Kallum to try shifting into wolf form and they’d met Dayton in the forest.

“Oh, come here and stop trying to look so repentant when we all know you’re not,” Loretta laughed, rolling her eyes as she gathered her child into a tight embrace, swallowing back the tears of relief which were threatening to fall. She held her in a death grip, relief and love surging down their bond now she could see Lily was well and unhurt.

“You scared the living daylights out of us, Lily,” she whispered. “Don’t you ever suppress our bond again. I thought your father was going to explode when he couldn’t contact you. He was all for calling out the Praetorians thinking someone had kidnapped you and drugged you so you couldn’t call for help.”

The chastisement brought tears to Lily’s eyes even as she hugged her mother back just as fiercely. Despite her words, Loretta was pouring so much love and forgiveness to her it was making her feel even guiltier for her actions. She hadn’t wanted to hurt her family; it had just turned out to be unavoidable. “I’m sorry, Mom. I should have stayed in contact, I know that now. I just wasn’t thinking clearly at the time.”

Loretta framed her face gently and gave her daughter a reassuring smile as she wiped at her wet cheeks. “Yes, you always did have a habit of acting first and thinking later,” she remarked her smile turning rueful. “You’re so much like you father. How I’ve managed to stay sane with two of you to contend with I don’t know. Thank God Kallum was less of a handful.”

She hugged Lily tightly again and then stepped back to regard the vampire standing silently beside them. Her gaze was critical as she measured his suitability to call himself her child’s mate. She’d have to be dead not to notice how attractive he was and she could see he was strong and a good age for one of his kind. Mackenzie exuded power much like Andrei.

She turned back to Lily and gave an exaggerated wink. It had the desired effect, causing her daughter to burst out laughing. “Yes, I think he’ll do nicely, Lily, though you can fill me in on all the details later.”

She directed her gaze back to Mac and held out her hand. “I’m Loretta, Mackenzie. Welcome to the family.”

He took her offered hand and raised it to his lips rather than shaking it as she’d expected. “I can see where Lily’s gets her looks from, Loretta,” he answered smoothly immediately liking his mate’s mother for the way she instantly soothed his Lily. She didn’t feel as stressed as she had a moment before.

“Oh God, we’ve got another charmer in the family,” Loretta laughed. “I’m going to try for another baby. We need more girls to counteract all this male charisma.” She gestured for them to enter the house.

“Your father’s in his study,” she said to Lily as she ushered them inside. “Have you had breakfast? Having a vampire for a mate can be a complete pain in the ass. They forget we need to eat just because they don’t.”

Mac flushed red and frowned at his mate. He had no idea if she’d eaten and was chagrined to admit he hadn’t considered that she would need to. He would need to rectify his way of thinking now he was responsible for taking care of Lily. Loretta’s unladylike snort of amusement made him blush harder.

“See, this is what I’ve had to put up with for years, Lily. Hopefully you can train Mackenzie better than I was ever able to train Andrei. Go ahead and see your father. I’ll give your mate a crash course in cookery while you’re talking.”

The low growl that rumbled from Mac’s chest didn’t even faze Loretta as she raised an eyebrow at him. “Trust me; Lily knows how to handle Andrei. Give them time to scream at each other and they’ll join us when they’re ready.”

Mac’s expression was comical as Lily watched her mother override his objections. He was obviously trying hard not to offend her but he was clearly unhappy at the thought of not being with her when she saw her father. It was his expression that had her resolve hardening and her lips twitching with a smile.

“Mom’s right, Mac,” she said moving to wrap her arms around his waist. He was gathering her close, securing her protectively in his embrace in an instant. “It’s better if Dad lets off steam when you’re not around. He’ll only shout for a little while. Just stay with Mom until he calms down.”

“I said we’d do this together, Lily, and I meant it,” he argued, anger lacing his tone. “You’re my mate and I’m not leaving you to face Andrei alone.” His arms tightened around her to emphasise his point.

Loretta gave them some privacy heading into the kitchen but remaining close enough in case Andrei became tired of waiting for his daughter to come to him and reacted negatively to seeing her wrapped around Mac so intimately. Not that she thought he would do anything too stupid but it was always wise to err on the side of caution after he’d been through such a volatile few weeks.

“You agreed to trust my judgement on this,” Lily whispered tilting her head back to look at Mac. She searched his face intently. “Don’t repeat your mistake from last night, please.  You have to learn the difference between protecting me and taking over my life. My father would never hurt me.”

Mac struggled with the conflicting emotions raging through him. He rebelled at the thought of Lily facing Andrei alone and yet if he didn’t let her do this then he’d hurt her as he had this morning. He was damned either way whatever he decided. He’d go quietly insane not knowing what was happening in the study if he let her go alone, and she’d hate him if he refused to let her deal with this herself.

“You call me immediately if you need me,” he finally said. There really had been no choice for him. He couldn’t do anything that would hurt her so he would just have to suffer through wondering what was happening.

Her big brown eyes sparkled with such joy he knew he’d done the right thing by her. It was the completely wrong thing for him but when she pulled his head down and kissed him so thoroughly he forgot all about where they were, he conceded that he could live with the choice if this was her reaction.

“I love you, Mac.” Lily knew how hard it was for him to agree to this. Though he kept his expression as neutral as possible she could feel his emotions through their bond. He was fighting hard to tamp down his protectiveness so he could do the right thing.“ 

 “I love you too, sugar,” he rumbled quietly, kissing her again before reluctantly letting her go. He stepped back and watched as she squared her shoulders and headed over to a closed door towards the back of the house. He turned and followed Loretta into the kitchen, trusting his mate knew what she was doing.

To be continued...

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