Okay, here is the teaser to chapter 13. It's unedited as it's off to my editor today and I wanted to tease for the weekend and give people a treat. Fingers crossed I'll have it back and submitted to Lit by Sunday for a mid-week posting.
Andrei knew that neither his mate nor daughter were aware of Mac’s tension. They had no idea of his past and he was masking his emotions quite well. Hell, if Andrei hadn’t been aware of Mac’s past he would have been fooled too.
But he was aware and he knew the other male was about to break his daughter’s heart. He couldn’t allow that to happen.
“Mackenzie, if you’ve got a moment would you join me in my study?”
“Dad…” Lily frowned at her father, immediately concerned that he was going to so something rash despite his promise.
Andrei gave her a brief smile. “I just want to catch up on how Pietro’s getting on. I promise to be on my best behaviour.” Her relieved smile was worth the small lie he told. He did intend to ask about his friend but that wasn’t the reason he was inviting Mac for a private talk and the other vampire knew it.
He left the kitchen and headed to his study, letting Mac know in no uncertain terms that refusal wasn’t an option.
Mac knew there was no avoiding the conversation with Andrei. Part of him even understood because he would do the same thing if someone was about to hurt someone he loved. But he didn’t want to talk about it. He was under no illusions that he would have to discuss it with Lily at some point but he wanted to choose the time for that discussion.
He reluctantly followed Andrei into his study staring at his friend’s rigid back as he closed the door. “I know what you’re going to say. Just leave it, Andrei. I don’t want to discuss it.”
Cold brown eyes turned to meet molten black ones. “You’re about to break my daughter’s heart and you don’t want to discuss it?” The words hissed out Andrei’s mouth, his expression hardening into a terrifying mask.
Anyone else would have quailed at his expression, Mac held his ground. “This is between me and Lily. It doesn’t concern you.”
A low growl erupted from Andrei and his eyes began to bleed to black. When he spoke his voice was cold and low. “Only a walking dead man would have the nerve to tell me that my child doesn’t concern me. Are you seriously that stupid, Mackenzie? Do you seriously think I’m just going to stand back and watch you destroy my daughter?”
“That’s a tad melodramatic even for you,” Mac answered just as coldly, his eyes a bottomless pit of darkness as he refused to be intimidated by the other man. Losing his temper with the volatile vampire wasn’t the way to go. Andrei was waiting for an aggressive reaction so he could feel justified in committing the violence he so obviously wanted to.
“What goes on between mates is no one else’s business but their own. Or should I start interfering in your relationship with Loretta now that I’m classed as part of the family?”
The unexpected question appeared to divert Andrei for a moment and his next growl was more feral at the prospect of anyone interfering between him and Loretta. He wouldn’t tolerate such a thing and neither would she. Unless the pack was endangered somehow, mates’ relationships were sacrosanct. Everyone knew that.
He hissed again and glared at Mac who calmly met his gaze with a raised eyebrow.
With an irritated snort Andrei turned away and stalked over to the window staring out into the trees surrounding the house. Deep down he knew his friend was correct, that he had no right to become involved in Lily’s relationship now she was mated. But how could he just stand back and do nothing when she was going to be hurt? She was his little girl and always would be, no matter how grownup she was.
“Lily would be a wonderful mother,” he finally said, loosening the grip of his feral side. “She’s part Were, it’s in her blood. You can’t take that away from her, Mackenzie. She’ll stay with you because you’re her mate and she loves you but she will never be truly happy being childless. Her happiness should be all the matters to you.”
“Do you think I don’t know that?” Mac ground out releasing the tight control he had on his emotions now he sensed the danger had passed. He kept his mate bond muted but his voice betrayed his inner turmoil.
He ran a hand through his hair and walked over to the chair in front of Andrei’s desk. He sat down and lowered his head into his hands, rubbing them wearily over his face. “I can’t do it again, Andrei.”
The words came out on a choked sound causing Andrei to turn to look at his friend. The expression on Mac’s face helped release some more of his aggression.
When he’d first met Mac he’d still been in the grip of relentless grief even though centuries had past since the death of his family. His ferociousness had been one of the things which had formed a bond between them at the time. Andrei could relate to the wildness living in the bleak darkness of Mac’s eyes.
Over time the grief had waned and his friend had found some inner balance but he found himself looking at that same expression he had seen a thousand years ago when they’d first met. He was stunned to realise that the pain of losing his wife and child had never really left Mackenzie; he’d just managed to hide it better.
“I can’t have another child,” Mac continued shaking his head in denial at the just the thought of it. “Try and imagine it, Andrei. God forbid but try and imagine losing Lily or Kallum, how it would make you would feel. There is no pain in the world worse than losing your child. You can endure anything else after it because nothing can compare.”
He broke off and looked away, swallowing hard. The memories had never faded, never once left him since the day he’d found his family dead. They were worse now because his vampiric memory was so much more accurate that his human one.
Each moment played out in his mind in glorious technocolour. He could see everything so clearly. He could smell the scent of the blood, the acrid smell of death in the room. Hell his imagination could even replay the agonised screams of Maria as she watched her daughter being murdered before her very eyes.
“Imagine it, Andrei and then you tell me if you would be willing to father another child into the world, to spend every waking moment terrified that you’d lose that child as you lost Lily or Kallum.”
Mac’s voice broke and he blinked back unshed tears as he tried to keep some level of control. “I can still see Sophia as if it happened yesterday. There are nights I lie awake in tears because the only memory I have left of my little girl is of her lying dead. I can’t remember her smile or the sound of her laughter. I can’t remember her scent or what it felt like to hold her in my arms. All that remains is her throat torn out, the blood and the awful stench of death.”
Andrei slowly crossed the room fighting with the urge to rip something to shreds at just the thought of anything happening to his children. The raw pain in Mac’s voice helped to keep him calm, helped to diffuse the need to turn feral and attack his friend. Logic told him that Mac wasn’t threatening his children with his words but it was his nature to overreact when his family or pack appeared to be threatened. But he held his emotions in check and concentrated on what Mac was saying and the pain he was in.
Andrei couldn’t understand how Mac had borne the level of pain and grief he’d had for fifteen hundred years and still remained sane. Only a strong male could have endured it. He had to reluctantly concede that Mac’s pain was so deeply embedded the likelihood of him changing his mind on the topic was remote.
Lily was in for a world of hurt but she would stick with Mac to the end because she would put his happiness before her own. If having children would hurt her mate then she wouldn’t have any. It would be that simple for her.
When he reached Mac’s side he laid a hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. “I will never know your pain because no one will ever take a child of mine from me,” he said quietly. “Try not to hurt her too much, Mac. Make sure she understands everything. Once she does she will be content with her life but if she thinks you are rejecting her in some way she’ll react negatively. Remember she is my child in every way.”
It was the best he could do because his heart would always side with Lily. She was his blood and therefore his priority. He couldn’t hurt Mac because that would hurt Lily and when all was said and done this was between the two of them to work through.
He had to take a step back and allow his daughter to make her own decisions. She had chosen Mac as Loretta had chosen him. Both of them came with baggage that even a saint would struggle to cope with. But Lily was as strong as her mother. If Loretta could weather the storm with him then Lily could cope with anything that Mac threw her way. He had to trust in her.
Mac shut down the memories fighting to overwhelm him. It was hard because the shock of realising he could now bring a child into the world again had caught him out unexpectedly. Usually he could control his emotions better because nothing ever blindsided him, but this…this was just so unthinkable, completely intolerable.
He dreaded having the same conversation with Lily. Andrei was right and he’d have to be careful how he discussed it with her so not to incite her wolf and cause another outburst like the one with Karn. She would be hurt and he would be the cause of her pain. The very thought of that caused his heart to ache and self-loathing to invade his soul.
But he couldn’t have another child, he just couldn’t do it. Lily had to understand that. She had to accept it because he would never change his mind. And he had to find a way to explain it to her and still retain his composure. Losing control as he’d just done with Andrei was unacceptable. He couldn’t allow Lily to seem him like this.
When he turned to his friend his expression was once more controlled, his inner pain carefully masked. “I’ll talk to Lily when the time is right, Andrei. You won’t say anything to her about my past.” It wasn’t a question.
He watched his friend’s eyes narrow sharply and then the reluctant nod he gave. Mac was amazed at how calmly Andrei was taking it. Obviously the years with Loretta had tempered his friend’s wildness a lot because the old Andrei would have tried to tear him to pieces by now. Or maybe it was because he carried the wolf gene inside him now.
Mac too carried that same gene but he didn’t feel all that differently than he always had. He did sense something deep inside but it was so muted it was hard to pick up most of the time. It was easy to imagine it wasn’t there at all. Was it because Lily was only half-Were?
It was another thing he hadn’t considered when he took her as his. All his instincts had been on claiming her, marking her so everyone knew she belonged to him. He’d tried to be logical about the situation but it had backfired and now he had to live with the consequences of his actions. Mac wasn’t entirely sure what his genetic makeup now consisted of but he decided he’d worry about it later. There were more important matters that needed to be addressed, more painful ones for both him and Lily.
Lily’s eyes kept drifting to the open doorway wondering what her father was talking to Mac about. She couldn’t sense any strong emotions down either bond but that didn’t mean they weren’t deliberately keeping her clueless. Overprotective males were like that and hers were two of the very worse for it.
They wouldn’t physically hurt each other, she was certain of that. They’d both know it would cause her pain so they would avoid it at all costs but that didn’t mean they wouldn’t fight verbally. She frowned slightly and her mother laughed.
“Try and trust them to behave honey. They can act like adults every now and then.”
Lily sighed and shook her head. “I’ll take your word for it, Mom.”
A knock on the front door had them both turning in that direction as it swung open and Rafe Hanlon strode into the house. Lily wilted immediately. In her worry about how the meeting would go between Mac and her father she’d completely forgotten she’d have to deal with her Alpha too.
The stern expression on his face as he walked into the kitchen wasn’t a good sign. Rafe was usually laid back and approachable but the look he shot her way was enough to tell her he was less than impressed with her at the moment.
“Lily; Loretta.” His tone was laced with disapproval. “Where’s Andrei and Mackenzie?”
Loretta was immediately on her feet unconsciously placing herself between her daughter and her Alpha as she went to greet him. “They’re in the study, Rafe. Do you need to speak to them?” She could sense there was something on his mind which wasn’t just related to Lily’s reappearance in the pack.
Rafe nodded and his expression relaxed slightly and he managed a brief smile. “I do but I need a moment alone with Lily first. Can you give us five minutes, Loretta?”
He reached out and tousled her hair. “I’m not going to harm your chickie,” he said with another brief smile. “Stop being such a mother hen. You know me better than that. But I do need to talk to her and then I need to speak to all of you.”
Loretta relaxed shooting him a sheepish smile. She’d known him for so long now that she should have known better. He would never do anything to harm Lily but he was Alpha and he played no favourites with any of the pack. If they did wrong then they felt the weight of the Alpha’s disapproval.
Still slightly reluctant to leave them alone, she headed out of the kitchen and went in search of her mate and new son-in-law.
Rafe waited until Loretta was out of earshot before he turned his full attention to Lily. His thoughts were in turmoil about the recent news he’d received, serious news that meant his pack was threatened again. He needed to address that threat but it was more pressing to deal with his errant pack member first and all the issues her actions had brought.
His eyes roamed over her face as he quickly checked that she was unharmed from her little disappearing act. He was surprised at her posture and even impressed. She stood to attention with her arms clasped behind her back and her eyes forward. There was a maturity to her expression he hadn’t seen before. Lily looked every inch like a soldier, hell she looked like one of his Betas the way she stood there waiting for him to speak. It was hard not to feel a spurt of pride in her even if he did need to exert his authority as Alpha.
“I’m going to keep this brief because I have other more urgent issues to deal with, Lily,” he finally said. “The next time you disappear and mask my Alpha bond I’ll take that as your declaration that you no longer wish to be part of this pack. I’ll work with you to find another pack to join before we terminate the bond but I will terminate it. Are we clear on this?”
The colour leached from Lily’s face as his words struck home. He couldn’t be serious, could he? Leave the pack…her family and friends? Just the thought of it brought panic rushing to the surface and her wolf howled instantly adopting a submissive position. She knew she deserved Rafe’s censure but she hadn’t dreamed he would consider her actions so serious he would propose something this drastic.
It was an effort to keep her emotions in check and she couldn’t raise her eyes to meet his. “I understand, Alpha. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
She could feel his eyes burning into her as she kept her gaze fixed on his wide chest, a chest she had cuddled into many times when growing up. Rafe had always had time for her, always treated her as one of his own when she played with his children. Earning his disapproval was hard to swallow.
It was an effort to maintain his tough stance. Rafe frowned as he stared down at Lily’s bent head, his pride in her swelling as she didn’t try to justify her actions but instead took ownership of her wrongdoing. Her time away from the pack, whilst worrying, had obviously been good for her. This Mackenzie person was obviously good for her.
“Glad to hear it,” he finally said with a hint of dryness in his tone. “Oh, come here!”
The warmth suddenly blazing down the Alpha bond was unmistakable, as well and the affection in Rafe’s words. Lily raised her head to meet his eyes and then surged forward with a cry of relief as her Alpha held his arms open to her and quickly gathered her into a bone-crushing hug.
“You worried us all, Liliana. You should have come to me, told me you needed help. That’s what I’m here for.” Rafe rested his cheek on the top of her head soothing his errant pack member. He couldn’t bear seeing Lily unhappy. It was almost as bad as seeing Rhianna unhappy.
He knew he should be sterner with her especially considering all he had recently learned but he couldn’t do it. So he hugged her tightly and let her know how much he loved her as she clung on tightly.
“I’m sorry I let you down, Rafe. I promise I won’t do it again.” Lily‘s voice caught and she took a deep breath and bathed in his forgiveness, thankful that he was the man he was and not one of the harsher Alphas she’d heard about from other packs.
“I’m sorry we let you down, Lily,” Rafe answered quietly. “I did, the triumvirate did…the whole pack have let the Vârcolac down by not seeing that we were stifling you. We’ve been educated now and we’re working to improve things. Just come to me if there’s a next time. I can’t help if you hide from me.”
She hugged him tighter, nodding against his chest as she worked to get her emotions under control. She could feel Mac’s concern through their connection and knew he was coming because she hadn’t thought to suppress her inner turmoil.
“Mac’s on his way,” she mumbled taking a deep breath.
Rafe released his hold and smiled down at her. “The joy of being mated,” he chuckled. “Having a moment’s privacy becomes a luxury until you learn to work the mate bond. I trust I’ll be allowed to retain my limbs for upsetting you?”
Her scandalised expression had him laughing and it felt good to laugh even if only for a moment. The news he had to impart was not something he relished but he wanted to give Lily a moment with her family and her new mate, to feel a little joy before the situation impacted on them all.
Mac entered the kitchen followed closely by Loretta and Andrei. His gaze immediately went to his mate and he relaxed as he saw her smiling sheepishly up at the huge male who was the Alpha of the Armand-Hanlon pack. They hadn’t officially met but he’d seen the other man many times.
The mate part of him wanted to intercede whilst the leader part of him understood the need for the chain of command and to ensure that all under his command obeyed his orders. Rafe Hanlon had the right to discipline his pack members as Alpha.
His quick gaze told him that Lily was unharmed by their encounter so he dialled back the need to cause some bodily harm to the man beside her. He met the Alpha’s gaze as he turned to inspect him with a thoughtful expression on his face.
Rafe frowned slightly and turned back to Lily. “You two have mated?”
She flushed slightly and nodded her head wondering if she was going to get into trouble for that too. Rafe had a strange expression on his face as he regarded her intently before turning back to Mac.
“There is no Alpha bond.”
Everyone stiffened in the room with the exception of Mac. He looked around the room and saw shock on their faces and Lily had even turned pale. It was too much for him and he strode to her side and pulled her into his arms. “What’s wrong?”
“When Loretta and I mated it created an Alpha bond with Rafe. Same for all the mixed matings. You should have the same bond,” Andrei explained with a touch of concern in his voice as he looked at Rafe for an explanation.
“I don’t feel any different,” Mac commented. “Perhaps the wolf gene is muted because of Lily’s unique heritage?” He, too, looked to the Alpha for an explanation.
Rafe shook his head his frown deepening as he thought back to the first matings and how none of them had realised the vampires were his until the night Loretta and Ashleigh had been taken by Daniel.
“No, it’s something other than that,” he answered. He met Mac’s eyes and held them for a long moment before he had to concede the unthinkable.
“I’m not your Alpha.”
To be continued...