Here is the Teaser to Ch 02 :)
The air was subdued as they arrived back at the Armand-Hanlon Pack. Rafe drove into the main compound first, his mate, Lacey, at his side, with Liam and Reasa in the back seat. As the trees parted to open up into a wide, circular enclosure, the Alpha had a split second to decide where he was going to stop.
His large three-storey house was set a bit higher and off to the right of the compound, but he continued forward until he stopped at the two-storey dwelling that belonged to Nors and Ashleigh. It was Liam’s home and from the way the redheaded Vârcolac was holding onto the woman in his arms, it was clear that he wasn’t going to be willing to part from her. The man in Rafe could understand that because he would never allow anyone to come between him and his mate. For the Alpha – he didn’t need the additional headache.
Rafe was concerned on so many different levels. He was bringing a woman into his pack who had come here with the intent to murder the Vârcolac. His wolf wanted her gone and the pack protected at all costs. Convincing him that she was no longer a physical threat was easy, it was convincing his wolf that she wasn’t an emotional threat that was the problem, because she was on so many levels.
Thereasa was responsible for the damaged vampire currently secluded in Andrei and Loretta’s home, just two doors down. She was responsible for his torture, his scars, both physical and emotional, and his life almost being lost. Rafe had granted sanctuary to Pietro de la Rios so he could hopefully one day heal from his nightmares. Now he was bringing the instrument of that ordeal into his compound and that weighed heavy on the Alpha’s mind.
The other issue was what she represented to the vampire/were alliance. The harmony they had spent so many years working to foster and improve was now significantly damaged with the events that had occurred up at the Praetorian compound. The pack had sided against the vampires and he was sure that wouldn’t be something they would forget in a hurry. Keeping Reasa safe from any possible vampire justice placed the pack in danger of a possible attack. Rafe didn’t think it would come to that but he had to consider all options.
Then there were the personal issues that affected the Alpha. He had given his word to his sister and he was determined not to let her down. The urgency in her eyes as she asked for his promise told him that keeping the human woman safe was critical, though he knew not why. Annie had protected his pack for decades, taking each member into her heart and loving them the only way she knew how, wholeheartedly. He couldn’t refuse her request. He had to protect her and hiding away the evidence of what she had now become was one way of doing that.
Turning his head, he met Lacey’s pale green eyes and saw the unspoken concern in them. His beautiful mate was being so brave, putting the needs of the pack before her own fear and he couldn’t love her any more than he did right then. The final personal issue that sent fear running through his soul was wrapped up with his mate and the lives they had created together.
No one knew that Lacey was pregnant. They had intended to announce to the pack soon but events had overshadowed that. Now his children were inadvertently placed at risk by Liam’s emotional outburst at the Praetorian Compound and they had no idea if their fragile minds had been damaged. Liam had affected strong, vampiric minds when he lost control. God only knew what impact that burst of emotional backlash would have on tiny unborn minds. The Alphas would have to speak to Mallen about it, but for the moment, they held their peace.
Liam’s empathy had always held him hostage. When things calmed down a bit, the guilt over what had happened would be hard for him to come to terms with. There was no telling how he would react if he discovered he had harmed his Alphas’ babies. For the moment, the Vârcolac’s mental shields were holding strong. Rafe didn’t want the pack put at risk if Liam should lose control again so soon after the last time.
He leaned over and placed a comforting hand on Lacey’s thigh, giving her a gentle squeeze. Her hand covered his and it broke his heart to feel the tremor running through her. “It will be okay, honey. Everything will be okay, I promise.”
Tears welled up in her eyes and she quickly swallowed and blinked them away. Her mental voice was strong as she answered his private communication. “Let’s get Liam and the rest of the pack settled. We can consult with Mallen once we’ve done that.”
Rafe’s pride in his mate knew no bounds and he couldn’t have stopped himself from kissing her in that moment. He caught her lips with his, showering her with his love, both physically and mentally. He reluctantly pulled back as the door to the house in front of them flew open and Ashleigh Bryant flew out.
Rafe and Lacey climbed out of the Jeep as the small blonde hurried towards them, concern on her face as she watched her son open the back door and step out quickly, turning to scoop Reasa back into his arms and help her from the vehicle.
The other Jeep had parked across from them and Kallum climbed out with Elina, Dara and Cassia at his side. Kothari and the other Weres who’d been protecting the Praetorian compound had opted to make their way back on foot, and wolves were beginning to pour into the compound. Kothari was already there, leaning against the large tree outside the Romanov house where Pietro was safely ensconced inside. There was no mistaking the blatant protective stance the lone Vârcolac held.
All eyes were fixated on Ashleigh though, as she skidded to an abrupt halt close to her son, her expression turning hard and hate filled. “No!” Her cry startled everyone, as did her expression. Usually there was no one more compassionate that Ashleigh but her voice dripped venom as she pointed at Reasa. “She is not welcome in my home!”
“Mom.” Liam’s quiet voice held a plea in it, his gaze turning troubled as he looked down at her.
“No!” Ashleigh cried again, her voice rising shrilly. “That woman tried to kill you, Liam. She tried to murder my son! She should have been executed on the spot!”
“Ashleigh!” The tall redheaded vampire appearing behind her managed to put such disapproval into her name that most others would have quelled at being subject to Nors Eriksson’s displeasure. His mate rounded on him, fury in her deep brown eyes, as well as disbelief.
“She enters my house and I will leave, Nors. I will not stay under the same roof as that woman.”
Nors moved forward, understanding her need to protect their son. He felt the same need but could take a step back to analyse all the variables in play. Yes, the woman in his son’s arms had tried to kill him. However, that threat was now nullified and Liam had claimed her as his mate. To take her from him would do more damage than being shot by a poisoned bullet. His mate was reacting emotionally and wasn’t able to see that right now.
He pulled Ashleigh’s protesting body against his, wrapping her in a bear hug. “Hmmm guess that means I’d have to go on the hunt again,” he murmured against her temple, dropping a soft kiss there as he sent soothing love down their mate bond. “We haven’t done that for a while…could be fun.”
“Let me go!” Ashleigh’s tried to free herself, tears running down her face as she wriggled against him. She couldn’t believe he was making jokes when their son’s would-be murderer was right there in front of them. She couldn’t believe he was siding against her, was going to allow that woman into their home.
“Take the woman inside, son,” Nors said, stroking his mate’s back as she struggled harder and kicked out at him. “Go on. I’ll talk to your mother.”
Liam stared at his father for a long moment before his feet moved forward and he hurried inside with his precious bundle. His mother’s rejection of his mate hurt so much but his need to protect Reasa overrode every other instinct within him. He had to take care of her. His mother had to understand that, didn’t she?
Without another word, Nors nodded his head to Rafe and scooped Ashleigh up into his arms, turning to run into the surrounding trees away from the compound.
“I’ll stay with Liam until they come back,” Elina announced, heading up the steps into the house. She closed the door as Aaron arrived at the waiting group.
“What do I need to know?” the blond Were asked as he surveyed the tense faces.
Rafe turned to him, “We need two perimeters in place. Make sure Pietro has sufficient protection at all times. Be especially alert for large build-ups of vampires in the vicinity. If anyone sees anything out of the ordinary I am to know straight away.”
A frown marred Aaron’s face as he regarded his friend intently. “We’re expecting trouble from the vampires?”
“I don’t think so but there’s no harm in being cautious,” the Alpha answered, looping an arm around his mate’s waist and turning to head towards his house. “Kallum can bring you up to speed on things. There’s something I need to take care of right now.” He spotted Mallen in the growing crowd and indicated with a slight nod of his head that he wanted to see him.
Aaron watched them leaving, his gut telling him something major was going on with the Alphas but it was his job to take care of the pack when Rafe was busy, so he quirked an enquiring eyebrow at Kallum.
“Probably best to get the perimeters set up first and then we can sit down and have a long talk about what’s happened,” the Vârcolac said in a quiet tone. He wasn’t sure how much Rafe wanted to be known within the pack and there were a number of people now gathered. It was prudent to update Aaron privately and then he and Rafe could decide who else needed to know.
“Okay, let’s get moving then.” Aaron began calling out names and issuing instructions and the pack began to mobilise, the soldiers heading off out into the forest as the crowd dissipated.
“How could you?” Ashleigh glared at her mate, tears of fury in her eyes as he stood there regarding her with a solemn expression on his face. In all their years together, he had never once gone against her wishes…well there had been once when she’d run from him but that didn’t count. She’d been young and foolish then, coming to terms with a grief that had almost sent her rogue. She couldn’t really hold that against him but this – this was completely different.
Their son had almost died and the woman responsible for that was now in their home! How Nors could allow that was beyond her. Her eyes were full of accusation and hurt as she squared up to him. If anything else happened to Liam because of his actions, she would never forgive him for it.
“Ash, you need to calm down and think about this logically,” Nors sighed, running a hand through his auburn hair. “I know what happened to Liam was frightening. It scared the living daylights out of me too but he’s fine and the situation has been dealt with. He is no longer in any danger.”
“She is in our house!” Ashleigh yelled, her angry tears overflowing. “That woman shot our son with poison, Nors! The fact he’s immune to it is a moot point. She didn’t know that. She wanted to murder him. How can you just accept her being in the pack, let alone our own home?”
“Because this is much bigger than just Liam.” Nors moved away, striding over to one of the largest oak trees and sitting down against its base. “This involves the entire pack, our relationship with the vampires, my standing on the Ancient Council, my centuries of friendship with Caleb. This could mean civil war is coming and everyone being ripped apart and placed in unconscionable positions. And yes, this is about our son too, Ashleigh. That woman, as you call her, is his mate. Do you want to throw her out, have her executed? You really want to hurt Liam so badly that he may turn rogue?”
His words echoed in the small clearing, crashing over Ashleigh and giving her pause. Her fear at knowing their son was hurt had almost driven her insane. Rafe’s edict that they had to stay with the pack until he investigated what had happened had been more than she could bear. Feeling so helpless, being unable to protect her child…she had to do something, anything to try to keep him safe now.
That woman couldn’t be her son’s mate. It had to be a mistake. If she truly was then she didn’t know how she was going to be able to reconcile her past actions. If she couldn’t accept her, if the would-be assassin in their midst could start a civil war… Words failed her as she tried to ignore what her mate was saying, tried to find some way out of the mess so their lives could go back to normal. There had to be a way…there just had to!
Nors watched the play of emotions crossing his mate’s face and it was all he could do to sit there and let her work it out in her own mind. Every instinct within him wanted to gather Ashleigh into his arms and sooth her but he knew she wasn’t ready for that yet. When Liam had been hurt, he’d thought his heart would stop beating. His fear for his son had been boundless but his fear for his mate had been even more so. She had been through so much pain in her life, so much grief that had almost been too much for her to stand. Losing Liam would have killed her.
He understood her reaction to Reasa. He wasn’t feeling particularly kind-spirited towards the woman either but he was older and had long ago learned that not everything was black and white. It would harm their son more to try to remove Reasa from his life. They had to protect the woman to protect their son. Maybe, over time, he would find some forgiveness in his heart for what she’d done. For now, all he could do was be as civil as possible and try to help Ashleigh come to terms with things so she could too.
“Come here.” Nors held out his hand, holding his breath as he saw first rejection on Ashleigh’s face and then defeat. He hated to see her in so much pain, pain that he couldn’t really alleviate because it was something she had to deal with in her own way.
He let out a breath as she moved towards him, sinking down to the ground and throwing her arms around him, burying her head in his chest. “This is wrong, Nors. This is just wrong. I don’t know how to handle this. I don’t think I can ever accept her into our family and if I can’t then I’m going to lose Liam.”
Ashleigh’s quiet weeping tore at his heart and he cradled her closely, soothing her as best he could. “I know it’s hard, love. It’s not easy for me either, but she is his. There is a long road ahead for all of us but one day she will bring our son the happiness he’s lacked for so long in his life. He deserves that chance, Ash. We have to give it to him, support his choice, and stand with him. He’s our boy.”
“How could she want to hurt him if she’s his mate? Mates don’t do that, they protect each other.”
“Vampires are always slower to acknowledge being a mate to a Were, you know that, love. It took me a long time to admit it and look at what Cedar and Loretta went through trying to get the twins to accept them. Just think how Reasa will feel when she does finally acknowledge the mating. Can you even begin to imagine the depth of her pain when she realises she almost killed her mate?”
“I hope it rips her apart!” Ashleigh’s voice dripped venom, her tears still falling, hatred in her heart for the other woman.
“No you don’t.” Nors rocked her gently, stroking her back as he kissed the top of her head. “You’re upset right now and that’s understandable, but you would never wish for anything that would hurt Liam in any way and Reasa’s pain would surely do that. It’s okay to be angry and afraid, Ash. It’s not okay to hold onto the hate for too long though. You’ve seen what pain and damage that can do. You don’t want that for Liam or for us.”
Sobbing, Ashleigh held her mate tighter, hate warring with her natural compassionate nature. She could understand the logic in Nors’ words but she couldn’t rein in her emotions enough to really heed them at the moment. Maybe one day she’d be able to but today wasn’t that day. The hatred ruled her as if it was tangible. She wanted to rip Reasa to pieces, luxuriating in her screams. Her wolf demanded it even as her human side fought the instinct. “Help me, Nors,” she pleaded, raising wet eyes to her mate. “Help me.”
“Always, I will always be here for you. We’ll get through this together as a family and we will help Liam and Reasa too. You are strong and compassionate, loving and tender. These more negative emotions will ease and you will find forgiveness in your heart because that is who you are, Ashleigh Bryant. That is why I love you so much. I have faith in you, my mate. Now have some faith in yourself.”
Nors kissed her slowly, sending all his love and support down their mate bond as she wept and clung onto him. He knew she had it in her to accept Reasa into their family. It was just going to take a little time but she would prevail, because she was so much stronger than she believed herself to be. She’d come through too much not to be a strong wolf and amazing woman. He would have faith in her until she had recovered hers.