Sunday, 18 May 2014

Tears of the Fallen Ch. 17

Chapter Seventeen

“Kothi, are you sure you’ll be fine here on your own? Wouldn’t you rather stay with someone for some company?”

Kothari searched his mother’s face, seeing the tell-tail signs of concern that was never far when she looked at him. She tried to hide it from him, but he was adept at seeing through most subterfuge. That expression infuriated the monster that lived within him, but it also broke the heart of the little boy who craved his mother’s love.

This morning it was the boy who held dominance, and the much softer side of his personality came forth, a side that only his parents ever witnessed. Giving his mother a tight hug, he pushed down his inner demon so he could savour the blissful moment. It wouldn’t last, it never did, but he would take each precious moment when he could. “I’ll be fine, Mother. You don’t need to worry about me. Don’t go to Europe looking back and worrying. You need all your attention on your task there.”

In truth, he was livid that Rafe was sending his parents away. He knew if he asked them not to go, they would stay. However, he also knew he couldn’t ask that of them. Somebody had to go to Europe, it was the only way to protect the pack. Logically he understood that but emotionally he wasn’t ready for his parents to be thrust into the heart of the enemy. If anything happened to them...he was afraid of what his monster would do.

“We’ll be fine, son,” Gard said, entering the living room and setting down the packed cases he was carrying. “We haven’t reached this age without knowing how to take care of ourselves. The most important thing is you listen to Rafe at all times and do what he says. If my memory serves me correctly, weren’t you supposed to be up at the Praetorian Compound as an extra guard?”

Kothari tried not to bristle at the subtle rebuke in his father’s voice. He was supposed to be up at the other compound. He hadn’t wanted to leave until he’d had a chance to say goodbye to his parents though. Surely his father understood that? “I’m heading up there shortly. I just wanted to say goodbye.” His tone was rebellious and only served to have his mother tightening her hold on him.

“We understand that,” Gard answered, a resigned sigh in his words. His son always bristled against any kind of authority, even that of his parents. It was concerning and something they hadn’t managed to correct no matter what parenting techniques they’d used over the years. “It would be best if you got yourself up there now. We’ll be on our way soon.” He took the sting from his words by giving his son a warm hug.

After a long pause, Kothari nodded his head and turned to leave the room. “Be safe.”

“I’m worried about leaving him,” Rayne said, stepping into Gard’s embrace as their son disappeared. It would be the first time Kothari would be alone without his support system and it was hard for her as a mother to leave him.

“He’s a grown man, Sarayne. There has to come a day when he needs to discover who he is and fend for himself. He isn’t completely alone anyway. He has the pack.” Gard’s words made sense but she could hear his own concern. Only time would tell just how well Kothari fared left to his own devices.

Shaking off the sensation of doom that threatened to overwhelm her, Rayne smiled up at her mate, leaning in for a long slow kiss to settle her foreboding. “Did Rafe get you?” she asked when Gard let her up for breath. When Rafe had visited earlier to ask about any abnormalities in the Vârcolac mating instincts, her mate had been visiting Rhianna and Caleb to get any last minute instructions they might have had.

“He did though I probably couldn’t tell him anymore than you could.”

Rayne had been quite flummoxed by the question of whether the animal part of a Vârcolac could be indecisive over the mating pull. She had known that Gard was her mate quite soon into their relationship though it had frightened and confused her a bit at the start. However, that had been the woman’s dilemma...not her panther. She could give no clear reason of why Cassia was experiencing indecision from her wolf, though from the girl’s reaction to Pietro’s rejection, it appeared the wolf had made up its mind.

“It is an interesting development,” Gard continued, releasing her from his arms, though looping one around her shoulders. “But not one that we can influence in any way. Caleb had arranged for his friend Joshua to meet us in Scotland. He thought it would be best if we start where Pietro was found and see if we can track backwards to the source of the poison. He has also set another friend travelling to Romania to see if they can turn up any folklore about plants with unusual properties. He didn’t say much about that friend but did say they would know how to contact us should they unearth something.”

Rayne cuddled closer to his warmth for another moment before she straightened and moved to pick up her case. “I guess we should get this show on the road then.”

Gard followed her, retrieving his case and casting one final glance around their home. He was worried for Kothi and equally worried about what they might find when they reached Europe. One thing he was certain of though, nothing would happen to Rayne while he was alive. He’d let her down once before, many centuries ago, and he would never allow that to happen again. Looping his arm around his mate once more, they set off for their car and the trip to the airport.


“Cassia?” The sound of her father’s voice seeped through her sleepy mind, pulling her from the endless nightmare of Pietro’s harsh words. She didn’t want to wake up, and yet, staying asleep wasn’t doing her any good either so she forced her swollen eyes to open. Her father was sitting on the edge of her bed, his brown eyes so full of concern that for a moment she thought she’d start weeping again.

She could remember bits and pieces of the preceding day after Pietro had gone, enough to know that she hadn’t been alone all through the night. If Dara hadn’t been lying beside her, then her mother had, and laterally her father. They had held her as she wept, surrounding her with so much love both physically and mentally that she’d finally fallen into a sleep full of nightmares.

Cassia was exhausted but she hadn’t gone rogue. Perhaps the Alexander family had a deep layer of strength that protected them when they lost their mates? Her Uncle Dayton had survived the loss of his first mate. Perhaps Cassia would be able to endure her loss too, because Pietro had been certain in his convictions. He wouldn’t forgive what he saw as her betrayal.

More tears came unbidden and she felt her father’s arms wrap around her as he rocked her gently. “Let it out, sweetheart. I know it hurts but let it out so it doesn’t fester inside you. We are here and always will be. We will love and protect you, my beautiful daughter.”

The deep love in his words, the hidden tenderness that lived within her father’s hard exterior, was so overwhelming her sobs became louder as she clung on for dear life. She was floundering, drowning; she didn’t know how to stop of the tears. Her heart ached so badly she was sure it was going to burst and there was nothing she could do to prevent it.

“Daddy...”Cassia couldn’t get any more words out, just that one word so full of anguish she could feel his tears against her neck as he continued to rock her.

“I know, sweetheart. I know.”

Cassia cried herself into another restless slumber, waking once more to find her father still beside her bed only this time he was sitting in a chair, his head resting on the cover as he slept. He looked so exhausted that for the first time since Pietro had left she felt an emotion other than misery. She felt ashamed.

Her entire family were suffering because of her weakness. They were probably terrified that they would lose her and she was doing nothing to dissuade them of that. Self-loathing rose up deep inside her and her shame escalated as she imagined what they must be feeling. How could she subject them to that fear? How could she be so weak?

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, reaching out to touch her father’s golden hair with a shaky hand. His eyes opened instantly, and he blinked sleepily for a moment before his vision cleared and he took her hand in his.

“Never be sorry for needing us, Cass. We are family and we will always be here,” he whispered back, gently squeezing her hand to reassure her of that.

She didn’t deserve them, not after what she must have put them through in the last twenty four hours. She would show them how strong she was. She would take that awful expression of fear from her father’s eyes. “I guess I needed a timeout there,” she managed with a shaky half-smile.

“I guess you did,” he smiled back stroking a hand tenderly against her tangled curls. His expression turned grave and a dark scowl crossed his face. “Do I need to be having a chat with Pietro?”

Instant fear suffused her at his words. She could imagine just what kind of chat her father was talking about and that was something she didn’t want to see happen. Pietro had his reasons for how he was feeling. He had suffered enough without being punished for being justifiably angry about things. “No, please don’t, Dad. This is between us. We need to work things out ourselves.”

Cassia expected him to argue more but instead his expression cleared and he shot her a rueful smile. “Your mother’s been telling me the same thing for hours. Only she hasn’t been as polite about it.” The open amusement in his eyes was a good indicator of just how vocal her mother had been on the topic. Her father always got that expression of love and admiration when his mate put her foot down about things.

“She’s right, Dad. Pietro has no idea that my wolf is claiming him. I didn’t tell him because at first my wolf was undecided and also I wanted to give him some time to heal. It’s not his fault my stupid animal has decided to overreact to his leaving.” Cassia was beginning to feel stronger the more she rationalised things in her mind. Saying the words out aloud appeared to settle her wolf down a lot, its anxiety levels decreasing sharply.

Alexei pondered her words for a moment and then acquiesced. He had to concede that his daughter was the best person to know what was happening and how best to resolve things. It didn’t stop him wishing he could take some of her burden as his own, but he knew he had to leave it up to Cassia.
“So, you’re wolf is certain that he’s your mate now? Dara told us that it was undecided before.”

Forcing herself into a sitting position, Cassia nodded. “I think this little episode has hammered the point home,” she sighed, scrubbing a hand tiredly over her face. She could do with some restful sleep but that didn’t appear an option at the moment.

“What are you going to do? You did hear your mother when she explained last night that Pietro has left the pack?”

Cassia nodded again, muffling the half sob that threatened to escape. “Yes, he’s gone to The Dive for now,” she sighed, working to build her defences as she thought through the issue. “For now, I’m going to get up and have a shower and some breakfast. I’ll decide what I’m going to do after that. Maybe all he needs is a little time to feel the effects of the mating pull. I’m not really sure, Dad. I just know that I need to get out of this bed and stop feeling sorry for myself.”

Alexei couldn’t have felt any prouder of his beautiful child. He was proud of all his girls; they were each amazing in their own ways. He loved Cedar so deeply only death would ever separate their link. His daughters...he cherished them as an extension of his and Cedar’s souls. Balancing his own feral nature when one of them was hurting wasn’t easy but he tried his damnedest to be the kind of man they could love and respect.

It was frightening to realise his girls had grown up so quickly. Oh, he was aware they followed their mother and the demands of their animal halves. He wasn’t that naive that he wasn’t aware of their dalliances within the pack. Still, mating was something so very different...and mating to one of his oldest friends? It took him a moment to process that thought before he burst out laughing, startling Cassia.

“What?” Her quizzical expression made him laugh louder.

“I was just remembering the hard time I gave your Uncle Andrei over his reaction to Lily mating with one of our oldest friends. I’m only now realising the boot is on the other foot. He’s going to have a field day getting payback.”

The subtle way her father gave his approval of her choice of mate wasn’t lost on Cassia. Her eyes sparkled as she giggled at his words and she couldn’t resist the urge to throw herself into his arms in a tight embrace. “Thank you, Dad.” She didn’t need to tell him what she was thanking him for.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. Just be happy. That’s all I’ve ever wanted for my girls.”

Alexei stayed a little longer with Cassia before he headed back to his own room. It was still early and Cedar was sleeping, having only gone to bed a few hours before. Now that he was sure his daughter would be okay, he gave into the need for a few hours’ rest himself, quickly throwing off his clothes and climbing into bed with his mate. Cedar muttered under her breath, rolling over to instinctively wrap her limbs around his tall frame. He hardened in an instant, as he always did when he lay beside his woman.

“Is it Dara’s turn?” Cedar murmured, stroking her hand down his back as she sleepily brushed her lips against his chest.

Her touch had his breath catching and he couldn’t have stopped himself from tangling his fingers in her curls if he tried. Tilting her head back, he silenced her with a passionate kiss, moaning quietly as her lips parted to his touch and her tongue battled lazily against his.


“Cass is fine, sweetness.” His words were muffled as he trailed his mouth down the graceful arch of her neck, laving his tongue greedily against her soft skin. His teeth nipped hard and she moaned and brushed her body against his.


There was still very much the mother in her tone and he sank his teeth a little harder. “Yes, she is. She’s showering and making breakfast so that gives us a little time to...”

Cedar arched as his fangs elongated and sank into her neck, pressing her aching breasts against his torso, muffling a cry as one large hand engulfed her flesh and squeezed hard. “Alexei!”

He drank deeply, savouring the hot blood flowing down his throat, his talented fingers moving lower to his other favourite spot on her body. Sinking his fingers deep within her body, he raised his head again to capture Cedar’s lips to muffle the sound of her climax. His heart thundered in his chest as her body shuddered in his arms. She was so beautiful when she came apart for him. It was a view he would never tire of watching.

Barely giving her a moment to catch her breath, Alexei rolled on top of his mate, moaning against her mouth as he joined them together. “Hmmm yes, we have enough time to enjoy this and have a little nap afterwards,” he laughed, stroking languidly into her hotness, savouring the feel of her body sheathing his in the most intimate of caresses.

Cedar’s arms wrapped around his neck, her teeth nipping at the spot when it joined his shoulder. “Then let’s dance, lover,” she all but purred, rocking her hips up to meets his as she bit down hard.


Cassia heard Dara before she felt her sister cuddle into her from behind. She held still to allow her that moment, knowing she had scared Dara badly. Putting the teapot down carefully, she turned around to hug her sister tightly.

“I was so scared, Cass.” Dara whispered the words, and Cassia felt dampness against her neck where her face was burrowed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you like that,” she answered running a soothing hand down her sister’s back. “My wolf just got a little overwhelmed by things and needed some time to come to terms with what had happened. I’m fine now, Dara. I promise.”

Her sister clung to her a moment longer and then she pulled back and wiped at her wet cheeks. “Are you sure?”

Cassia shot her a rueful smile, a trace of melancholy in her eyes. “I’m still hurting, that hasn’t changed, but I’m not wallowing in it any more. I’ve been racking my brain trying to think of how best to confront Pietro but haven’t come up with anything concrete yet.” She motioned to Dara to sit and then plated up a cooked breakfast for both of them. Sitting beside her, she ate some of her cheese omelette and sipped at her tea.

“What are you options?” Dara asked between forkfuls of egg and bacon.

Her sister shrugged, staring pensively ahead as she considered her answer. “I suppose I can give him some time and see if the mating pull kicks in. Or, I could pack a bag and move in with him whether he likes it or not.”

Dara’s eyes widened with shock. “Would you really do that?”

Cassia shrugged. It was something she was considering given the circumstances with Thereasa. “I can’t discount it, Dara. I know I would have to discuss it with Mom and Dad, as well as get approval from Rafe, but with the hostility between Pietro and Reasa I may have no choice but to leave the pack.”

Her sister’s dismay increased. “But...what about researching the antidote and your healer’s training? What about the pack? Cass, you’re so pack orientated I don’t think you could ever be happy being apart from us.” Dara was aware that she sounded selfish but nobody knew her sister better than she did. She had no doubt that Cassia wouldn’t be happy on her own, even if she was with Pietro.

“What’s the other option, Dara? Should Liam and Reasa leave the pack so Pietro and I can stay? What makes my needs more important than theirs? Liam has always needed the pack more than I ever have. Now that Reasa is human she is too fragile to be out there alone even with Liam. We have to consider everything before a decision is reached. You know that in your heart, honey.”

Dara did but that didn’t make hearing the words any easier. Yesterday she had been afraid she would lose Cassia to turning rogue. Today her relief at finding that wasn’t the case wasn’t eased any. She didn’t know how she would handle her sister not being a part of the pack. They had always been together, always looked out for each other. However, Cassia’s happiness had to come first. If things couldn’t be resolved between Pietro and Reasa then one of the Vârcolac would have to leave. There was no escaping that fact.

“Maybe once Pietro accepts you as his mate it may help him find some forgiveness in his heart.”

Cassia sipped at her tea before giving her sister what she hoped was an encouraging smile. She wasn’t so sure of that but it was a hopeful possibility. “Let’s wait and see what happens, Dar. For now, let’s finish breakfast and then I’m going to head over to the lab for a little while and do some work while I think things through.”

They sat together in silence, each locked in their own private thoughts. Cassia knew that whatever happened Dara would be fine. Yes, it would be a change for her but her sister was just as strong as she was. Hell, she managed to keep Kothi in line when most others failed. It took a very strong woman to do that so she knew with certainty that Dara could cope with anything life threw at her. Dara just needed to believe that in her own heart.


Reasa woke slowly, feeling the warmth of Liam’s body heat beside her long before she opened her eyes. It was hard to miss as she found herself wrapped protectively in his arms with one hard thigh flung over her hip, and her head resting on his wide chest. She should have been outraged at him taking liberties, but it felt so good that she just lay there savouring the sensations his touch inspired.

She felt safe for the first time since her circumstances had changed. It was hard admitting it but she couldn’t deny it. Everything that Liam did revolved around keeping her safe. Every decision he made was done so with careful consideration on how it would affect her. The Vârcolac was claiming her as his mate and he made no bones about it. As far as he was concerned, it was inevitable and she would just have to get used to that fact. 

Liam frightened her as nothing or no one had for a long time. He frightened her because his strong determination was winning. Whereas before she had been strong in her convictions that she would never mate with him, since their kiss that conviction was wavering. It felt good sleeping with him like this. It felt right and that was terrifying. There was trouble coming their way in the shape of Louis and Pietro. All directed at her and something Liam would do his utmost to counter. The fallout from that was unimaginable.

How could she allow this to happen? She had set her feet on a path that ultimately led to destruction and now it wasn’t just her life that was at stake but possible hundreds of others, including Liam. Her decision at the time had made sense to her. Now, in the face of knowing a few of the Vârcolac and the pack, it suddenly felt so wrong. Why had she chosen to do this? It was only when Liam spoke that she realised she’d uttered the last words aloud.

“Tell me.”

Reasa swallowed hard, denial rocking through her. She had never told anyone of her past, never allowed anyone to have that hold over her. Yet, Liam had allowed her into his memories, into the most shameful parts of his past. He had given her his total trust and she didn’t deserve that.

“Tell me, Reasa,” he whispered against her temple, his hand stroking down her back slowly. “Who hurt you so badly. Who shaped your views to such extremes?”

Swallowing again, she felt hot tears begin to flow at the gentleness of Liam’s tone. There was no condemnation there, only a need to understand. He had never condemned her, this beautiful, strong man, even when she had deserved it.

“My father,” she finally answered, the words catching on a breathless sob. As soon as she said them, an image of the man whose seed helped create her entered her mind and she shuddered at the thought, trying hard to push it away. Her body stiffened in Liam’s embrace though he kept running a soothing hand down her back.

“Show me, Reasa. Let me in.”

She couldn’t have kept him out if she’d wanted to. Saying the words breached her strongest barriers, crumbled the wall that she’d placed to bury those memories she never wanted to revisit. She could feel Liam’s gentle strength at her side; feel his arms keeping her safe. Surrendering to the inevitable, she allowed the walls to crumble completely...


She was young, carefree, a pretty girl living in a secluded wooden cabin in the woods. It was a difficult time with wars and disease prevalent, but her family had found a refuge from it all and she could laugh and dance beneath the canopied trees with no fear.

Their family was wrong in the eyes of society. Her father was from the African continent, her mother a pale white farmer’s daughter. They had fallen in love, a love so deep they couldn’t be apart. They were soul mates so they ran away together, to share their love and make their beloved daughter Thereasa. They lived off the land and life was good, until the day he came.

Thereasa couldn’t remember his face, the man who had found her washing by the lake. She remembered he was very beautiful and had a magical voice. She remembered his bite and her terror. She remembered waking to find herself many miles away from her home. For the first year of her new life she remembered the blood and the screams, the human lives ended so she could thrive.

She missed mama and papa so much that she had to return. She found them where she left them, their sadness obvious in their eyes. Thereasa couldn’t bear to be apart from her parents so she did the only thing she could think of...she made them in her own image...she turned them to the life of the vampire.

It should have been perfect. They were together again as a family. However, it wasn’t to be as Thereasa’s knowledge of the supernatural was lacking. She didn’t know that just because people were human soul mates that didn’t mean they would be the same in their new life. She didn’t know...she didn’t know...

“Thereasa, where is your mother?” Her father’s angry tone frightened her.

“She said she was going for a walk, Papa.” Her father was always angry now. He had been that way ever since he had become a vampire.

“Find her!”

Thereasa was too afraid to say no. Her father was much stronger than she was despite the fact she had lived this life longer. He wasn’t afraid to use that strength either, lashing out at herself or her mother when his ire rose too sharply. Gone was the quiet, protective man he had once been. In its place was now an abusive tyrant who frightened them.

Thereasa ran through the trees at supernatural speed, anxious to find her mother to appease his anger. She hadn’t run far when she scented a wolf, her feet skidding to a halt as she scented the air. Creeping quietly to the clearing, she clamped a hand over her mouth to prevent a wordless cry escaping. Her mother was wrapped naked in the arms of a man but he was no ordinary man...he was a wolf shifter. couldn’t be true! Her mother couldn’t be having an affair with a wolf. They were a family! She belonged with her father!

“No!” The word shrieked out, her mother and the wolf springing to their feet in shock.

“Thereasa! Wait! Let me explain!”

“You belong with Papa,” she screamed, tears running down her face. She didn’t want to hear explanations. She just wanted everything to go back to the way they had been before the man had found her by the lake.

“We’re soul mates,” her mama wept, a hand reaching out to her daughter. “We can’t fight the mating pull, Thereasa. We belong together.”

She shook her head in denial, hurt, anger, betrayal infusing her soul. “He’s not one of us! He’s a Were! You can’t be soul mates. You’re Papa’s soul mate! This is wrong!”

“It’s no more wrong than when your Papa and I had you, Thereasa,” her mother argued, tears running down her face as she tried to reach her child. “Society told us that was wrong too but it wasn’t. Victor is my true mate, my daughter. We must be together. We can’t escape it.”


Thereasa screamed as her father appeared at her side. He must have heard her yelling and come to investigate. He looked ten feet tall in his fury and she shrank away from him.

“Francis...I can explain. We couldn’t help it. We are soul mates.”

“He’s a dog!” her father roared, his eyes black, his talons extended. “It’s wrong! What you are doing is an abomination!”

“No, Francis...please listen...”

Her mother’s pleas cut off as her father sped forward knocking her out of the way as the other man shifted into wolf form and sprang snarling at the enraged vampire. Her father’s talons pierced the wolf’s sides, his fangs sinking deep into its neck.

Her mother was screaming, loud anguished sobs as the wolf gave one mournful howl before going limp in her father’s arms. He tossed the dead carcass aside, its bones snapping as it hit a large tree trunk.

“Whore! You betrayed me and now you must be punished!” her father bellowed again, advancing on her distraught mother. “Go home, Thereasa.”

“No, Papa! Please! Don’t hurt Mama!”

“Go home!”

But Thereasa couldn’t move, couldn’t hide her eyes from the horrifying scene unfolding around her. Her father picked her mother’s unresisting body from the forest floor by the neck and he ripped his talons down her exposed torso. The pain made her shriek but she did nothing to protect herself. Staring into her mother’s eyes, Thereasa could see the light die within, and knew that her soul was lost in the moment the wolf had died.

“Papa, please!” she cried, finally finding her body able to move as she threw herself onto his back, trying to remove his grip from her mother’s neck. “Don’t, Papa! Don’t!”

It was as if she wasn’t even there.

“Whore!” he hissed once more before he twisted his hand and his talons sliced her mother’s head from her shoulders.

“NO!” Thereasa screamed, agony rocking through her as her mother’s body collapsed to the ground, her head still firmly clasped in her father’s hand. “NO! Mama! Mama!”

Rage like nothing she had ever experience before rose up deep within. Heart shattering into a million pieces, Thereasa’s fangs elongated and her talons punched through her father’s back. She shredded his heart in an instant, watching as he dropped her mother’s head and sank to the forest floor on his knees.

“I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” Thereasa shrieked the words repeatedly, blood splattering wildly as she hacked furiously. When reason finally returned she stared down at the mangled remains of her father’s body, his head lying beside her mother’s.

“Mama? Papa?” Sinking to her knees beside them, Thereasa began rocking as she stared at the carnage. “Please wake up. Please. I don’t want to be alone. I’m frightened.”

They didn’t wake up. She stayed there for three days alternating between pleading to crying to angry words, but her parents never woke up no matter what she did. Finally, she had to accept that they were never coming back. Finally, she had to accept that her father had killed her mother and she, in turn, had killed him.

It was all the wolf’s fault. That filthy, disgusting animal had seduced her mother and broken her family. Rising from her cramped position, Thereasa ran at the broken carcass, shrieking as she kicked and hacked at it. “It’s all your fault! You’re to blame! You murdered my mother the very first time you laid hands on her! It was wrong! You are wrong! I hate you!”

Thereasa fell to the ground sobbing, replaying everything that had happened over in her mind. She screamed as her mother died again, screamed as she took her father’s life again, hated as she destroyed the wolf’s carcass again.

When she finally rose to dispose of the remains as her Sire had taught her, it was with ice in her soul and a deep hatred in her heart. Never again would she allow anyone to matter to her. Never again would she be weak. While she hated all wolves, she wouldn’t go out of her way to hunt them down as that would only get it her way of becoming the strongest, most dangerous vampire on the continent. However, should the day ever come when wolves crossed her path as had just happened, she would hunt them down and destroy the abominations, each and every last one of them.


Liam’s heart broke for her as she sobbed uncontrollably in his arms. He had known that there had to be some severe catalyst to inspire Reasa’s level of hatred in the Vârcolac, but he had no idea it could be anything as tragic as what he’d just witnessed.  She felt responsible for her mother’s death. She had taken her father’s life to avenge her mother’s murder. The worst thing was she knew deep within her soul that if she had never turned them to the life of a vampire that they would most likely have lived out their lives together in happiness.

No wonder she hated the mixed matings and the Vârcolac. They were evidence that what her mother had shared even briefly with her wolf was real and couldn’t have been fought. They lent truth to her mother’s words and that would only increase Reasa’s feelings of guilt that her reaction had brought her father down on the lovers. Thereasa hated and blamed the wolves, because it was the only way she could live with her overwhelming guilt without going insane.

“You were only young girl, Reasa,” he whispered against her temple, holding her as tightly as he could without hurting her. “You didn’t ask to become a vampire and it is understandable that you would feel alone and afraid, and want your parents with you.”

He kissed her temple as she sobbed without speaking. “What happened is tragic and I can’t tell you to forget it as it will always be a part of you, but you have to forgive yourself, Thereasa. You didn’t intend for any of that to happen. You had no control over the events that unfolded. You were just a young girl who was happy with her parents and didn’t want to lose that love and security.”

“I killed my papa,” she wept clinging onto Liam tightly. “He was a good man before...before I made him a vampire. If I hadn’t done that...”

“Forgive yourself. Remember who your father was before he changed. What would he wish for you, Thereasa? What would your mother wish for you?”

A loud hiccup escaped her as she took a shuddering breath. “They only ever wanted me to be happy and safe,” she answered, her voice sounding like that of the young carefree girl she had once been.

“Then be happy, my heart. Be safe here with me. You cannot change the past but you can change your future. You just need to start by letting go of what was and concentrate on what can be. The Vârcolac are not abominations, Reasa.  The mixed matings are not abominations. You have nothing to hate us for.”

Reasa suddenly felt claustrophobic. She was being overwhelmed by emotions she’d kept buried so long and her flight instincts were kicking in. Struggling in Liam’s embrace, she wriggled until he let her go. Leaping from the bed, she headed towards the door, stopping before she reached it. Where could she go? There was nowhere to run to, no way of escaping the memories crashing over her.

“Thereasa, it’s okay, you’re safe here.”

Ignoring him, she grabbed her bag from where it rested against the wall, one of the vampires must have placed it there yesterday when they were working within Brandon’s mind. “I need to shower,” she mumbled, refusing to look at him. She didn’t want to see the same pity she heard in his voice reflected in his eyes. She didn’t deserve it and she didn’t want it.

Liam sighed deeply as she closed the bathroom door with what could only be termed as finality. His mate was shutting him out after having let him into her darkest secrets. He understood that she was overwhelmed but that didn’t stop him wishing she would see that she had nothing to fear from him. He wanted to help, he needed to help. Why couldn’t she see that?

Sighing again, he got up and grabbed his pack, heading out of the room in search of another available bathroom. He knew when he returned he would find Reasa’s barriers back up but that was okay. He would just break them down again and keep breaking them down until she realised that no matter what her past was, he wasn’t going anywhere.


Brandon yawned, uttering a groan as every muscle in his body protested the long stretch he was giving it. What the hell was wrong with him? He felt as if he’d been in bed for a week. He’d also been having some pretty weird dreams too. Lily had been talking at him for what felt like hours. He couldn’t make out what she was saying but he could hear her voice as if from a far off distance.

Liam had been in them, too, and the assassin who had infiltrated the Praetorian Compound. They had kept calling him, playing what felt like a game of hide and seek with him. Every time he’d thought he’d tracked them down they vanished and he had to start again. It truly had been the weirdest of dreams and one he was glad to be waking up from.

“Brandon? Open your eyes, Bran....please!”

“Lily?” He struggled to open his eyes, groaning again as they felt as if they had been stuck together with glue.

“I’m here! I’m right here, Brandon.”

Why did Lily sound like she was crying? His determination to find out was the deciding factor in forcing his eyes open. Squinting against the morning sunlight coming from the nearby window, he looked up to see his friend hovering over him, tears flowing freely down her face.

“Oh Brandon, you’re back! I knew they could do it! I just knew it!”

“Back?” he croaked out, realising his mouth was dry and he was famished. His hunger was so strong it made his stomach cramp. “I haven’t been anywhere.” His confusion continued as his stomach churned again. “I’m starving. Does anyone have a cute human nearby?”

Lily started to laugh as a Were tried to make her move aside.

“Lily, let us check him out. Maybe you could find him something to eat so he doesn’t try to bite us?” the female Were said, and his friend gasped and disappeared from view.

Brandon wouldn’t have minded biting the woman now looming over him. She was very attractive and the need for blood wasn’t the only hunger that was surfacing. Not that he would. He was aware his bite would kill the Were if he did.

“How are you feeling?” she was asking him as she shone an annoying light in his eyes before running professional feeling hands over his body.

“Hungry, horny and confused,” he answered truthfully, delighting in the slight rounding of the Were’s eyes at his bluntness. The doctor, because that’s what she appeared to be, didn’t respond to his words, she merely continued her examination.

“How do your limbs feel...sluggish, hard?”

“I can tell you what is hard...”

“Brandon, stop playing with the doctor,” Lily admonished, appearing back at the bed with a bottle in one hand and the heavenly aroma of chilled blood wafting from the filled glass in her other hand.

His attention was immediately diverted, a sharp pain gnawing at his gut. Grabbing the glass, he slugged the contents quickly, reaching for the bottle to replenish it. He drained the bottle before the nagging pains decreased enough for him to focus once more on his surroundings.

“What’s going on, Lily? Why am I in what appears to be a hospital room?” His gaze shifted to the other beds, his brow drawing down as he saw his fellow Praetorians lying there. “What’s wrong with them?”

Lily sat down on the chair beside the bed, moving a book from there to the bedside table. Brandon glanced at it briefly, reading the title. “Moby Dick?” Lily hated that book though it was one of his favourites. They’d had countless debates over whether Captain Ahab was brave or a self-absorbed monomaniac. Lily voted for the latter every time.

“I was reading it to you,” she answered, a mock-grimace on her face. “Thankfully you woke up so I won’t have to torture myself any further.”

“Woke up?”

Lily turned to the doctor who gave her a reassuring smile. “He appears to be none the worse for his ordeal. I’ll leave you two to catch up.”

As she walked away, his friend turned back to him. “What’s the last thing you remember, Bran?”

He frowned at the question but cast his mind back to before the strange dreams. Everything felt a bit blurry though his cognitive skills were sharpening as the blood he’d consumed surged through his body. “Everyone was in the living room. The assassin was being brought to justice and there was some kind of strange magic going on. Things were pretty fraught and I wasn’t sure what side of the line we were on. I can remember Liam shouting, screaming at Annie for some reason. Then there was this blinding pain in my head and it felt as if Liam was physically inside me, screaming in anguish. I don’t remember what happened after that.”

Lily nodded giving his hand a reassuring squeeze. “That was days ago, Brandon. Liam was inside your head, and the heads of the others in this room. He didn’t know what he was doing but in his distress over what was happening to Thereasa he projected his emotions outwards and some of the Praetorians were injured in the backlash. You were one of them. You’ve been trapped within your mind ever since.”

He gaped at her, trying to understand what she was saying. “You mean he damaged our minds somehow?”

Lily nodded. “It wasn’t intentional, Brandon, and he is so overcome with guilt by what happened. He’s learned to shield his empathy better and he and Reasa are the reason you’re awake right now. They spent all day yesterday in your mind, searching for your shattered psyche so they could help bring you back.”

Brandon’s thoughts were in turmoil at the news. His mind had been shattered and days had passed? He was staggered by what he was hearing but the more he thought about it, the easier it was to put two and two together. The dream of Lily talking at him was clearly when she was reading to him. The hide and seek game with Liam and Reasa was them luring him back to reality. That had to make Liam one of the most dangerous people he had ever come across, and now he appeared to be working in conjunction with the would-be assassin.

“Please don’t hate him, Brandon. Liam worked himself to the point of exhaustion last night trying to fix his mistake.”

Blinking slowly, he regarded his friend, only half listening to what she was saying as he processed what had happened. It took a moment for her words to seep through but when they did, he shook his head in denial. “Of course I don’t hate Liam. He is Vârcolac, as are you, Lily.”

He squeezed her hand, wanting to relieve the distress he saw on her face. “I signed up to lay down my life for the Vârcolac no matter what the circumstances. I could never hate any of you and most certainly not Liam. It’s my job to protect him.”

“And we are so lucky to have you,” Lily smiled, leaning over to give her friend a warm hug. She had been afraid that the Praetorians would fear Liam after what had happened. It was a relief to know that Brandon, at least, didn’t harbour any ill will because of what happened.

“Okay, that’s enough of the hugging,” Mac growled with a glint of humour in his eyes as he entered the room. “Just because you’ve been in a coma for days doesn’t mean you can take liberties with my mate, Brandon.”

It was obvious he was only teasing so Brandon did a little of his own, ensuring his grip tightened around his friend so she couldn’t pull away. “Lily gives great hugs,” he winked, drawing a bark of laughter from Karn who appeared at Mac’s side.

“Do you want to go back into another coma, boy? Keep that up and you may well just do that.”

“How are you feeling, Brandon?” Mac asked, extracting his mate from the other male’s arms and sitting down in her chair. He pulled her onto his lap, grinning widely at her exuberant expression. He shared her relief, not just because he liked the younger male, but also because it made his Lily happy to have her friend back.

“A little sluggish and disorientated,” Brandon answered, turning serious as he reported to his leader. “I have a strong thirst for food still even though I’ve had a full bottle already. Might be wise to have a large stock for when the others wake up as they’re going to be famished.”

The Praetorian leader nodded trying not to be overly hopeful. Just because Liam and Reasa were able to bring Brandon back, it didn’t mean they would automatically be able to save the others. It was possible that Brandon’s connection with Lily and Liam was a deciding factor in the younger male wanting to return.

The sound of the door opening once more had everyone turning to the newcomers. Reasa appeared first, followed closely by Liam. The Vârcolac’s eyes widened as he saw Brandon sitting up in bed. “It worked,” he whispered, relief glowing in his eyes.

“Intriguing,” the human woman said, curiosity on her face. “I did not think we would be able to do it. It would appear I am wrong once again.” She hung back as Liam crossed over to his friend.

“I am so sorry, Brandon. I never meant to cause you or anyone else any harm.” Liam’s relief had changed to guilt, his expression sombre as he regarded his friend. He couldn’t put into words how happy he was to see Brandon sitting up and talking to everyone. He hoped that his successive actions had gone some way to mitigating the damage he’d caused.

“You’re forgiven,” the vampire grinned, running a hand through his long dark hair. “I needed the rest anyway. You do know what a slave driver Karn is.” He deliberately kept his tone light and teasing to ease some of Liam’s guilt. Shit happened and sometimes people got hurt along the way. It wasn’t in Brandon’s nature to hold a grudge...not unless someone tried to hurt someone he cared about.

“It was an accident, Liam. Nothing for you to beat yourself up about. I’m fine, and I’m sure the others will be too once you’ve had a chance to annoy the hell out of them by playing hide and go seek in their minds.”

Liam’s smiled, a slow smile full of gratitude to his friend. His curiosity was piqued too by his words. “You were aware of us in your mind?”

“Sort of,” Brandon answered with an answering smile. “It was like a hazy dream. You and Reasa were calling to me but every time I thought I’d found one of you, I would have to start all over again going in a different direction. I can remember feeling exhausted by the time you stopped calling me. I was glad you both went away so I could sit down a rest.”

The doctor arrived back at the bed. “Okay, now you’ve all satisfied yourselves that he’s fine, Brandon needs some more food and then some rest.”

“I’ll get you something more to eat,” Lily said wriggling out of Mac’s tight embrace.

Her mate rose too. “I’ll ensure we have an adequate stock of chilled blood.” He gathered his mate close and shepherded her out of the room.

“Are you up to trying with the next patient or do you need more rest?” Karn asked.

Liam glanced at Reasa who nodded her head. “I’m fine to try again.”

“Good. I’ll round up Elina while you get yourselves comfortable. Just move the chairs beside Brandon’s bed to the next one.” Karn left the room leaving Liam and Reasa to get themselves set up for the next dream walking.

“Reasa...?” Liam wanted to see beneath the cool mask that was back in place. He wanted to know that his mate was okay after her emotional outpouring earlier. He knew this wasn’t really the time and place, but he needed some kind of reassurance.

“Let’s just concentrate on what we came here to do, Liam. That’s our highest priority and we need all our energy for that.”

Conceding defeat for now, Liam sat down beside the next bed, relaxing his body and trying to clear his mind of all external stimuli. It was hard with his mate so close, but it was necessary to bring back the remaining Praetorians.

To be continued...

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Tears of the Fallen Ch. 16

Chapter Sixteen

Liam hovered impatiently outside his cousin’s house, waiting for Elina and Reasa to pack some clothes. He’d deliberately chosen not to go in. He didn’t want to give Reasa an opportunity to call him to task for kissing her. The memory of their first kiss blew his mind. It had been so much more than he had ever dreamed imaginable. It was the single most perfect moment of his life and he didn’t want anything to take that away, especially not his mate glowering furiously at him. No, Liam was happy to put of the inevitable for as long as possible so he could savour that magical moment. If that was a tad cowardly, he could live with it.

The sound of booted feet on the hard packed earth had him turning his head towards the pack’s large meeting circle. The wolves defending the outer boundaries were changing shift, the morning detail already out among the trees. Tired men trundled into the compound, some of them waving in his direction as they scurried home to get some much-needed sleep after a long night.

Liam waved back, feeling excitement as well as some trepidation about what they were about to attempt. They were going into uncharted territory with the wounded vampires at the Praetorian Compound. They had no idea if dream walking in their minds would be a help or a hindrance, but they had to at least try. If nothing was done there really was only one outcome for the vampires, and Liam just couldn’t bear to think about that consequence.

“We’re ready,” Elina said behind him, and he turned back around to smile at his cousin and set eyes on his mate for the first time since they’d kissed.

How did she manage to look more beautiful with each passing day? The sun caressed Reasa’s bronzed skin, making him feel jealous that it wasn’t his fingers tracing each perfect feature, that it wasn’t his lips tasting the satin smoothness of her cheeks. She’d tied her raven hair back in a short ponytail, the hairstyle not only making her cheekbones more pronounced, but also highlighting the gentle curve of her jawline.

She was glorious, and she belonged to him. He ached for the day that her shuttered green eyes finally looked at him, and she realised that he belonged to her as much as she did to him. It would happen. It had to happen. He just needed to be patient until she was ready to accept him. For now, her expression was neutral as she regarded him, her only acknowledgement a slight inclination of her head. At least she wasn’t spitting at him as he’d expected.

“Is everything set?” Rafe joined them, his sons Ben and AJ at his side.

Both men had their father’s tall frame, though Aaron junior’s build was more athletic and his colouring favoured his mother. His wavy, platinum blond hair was shorter than most of the male pack members, but it retained the unkempt look that was common among wolf shifters. He also sported a few days growth that further emphasised his wildness. His smile though was dazzling and took some of the edge off his appearance.

Ben was his father’s double in just about all ways. He was as big and wide as the Alpha, and had the exact same colouring of dark brown unruly hair and deep brown eyes. The only thing he appeared to have taken from his mother’s side was his nose. It was unusually long and elegant for so brawny a male. He, too, had a killer smile, and like his brother, was quick to display it. Both men smiled at them but didn’t speak.

“We’re all packed and ready to go,” Liam answered, turning as Dayton followed the girls outside.

“Don’t you need this?” The Beta held the book on dream walking in his hands, a half smile gracing his face when Reasa tutted under her breath.

“My apologies, I forgot to pick it up.” She held out her arms for the book.

“I’ll ride up with them,” Dayton said to Rafe, his Alpha nodding his agreement.

“Ben and AJ are going too,” Rafe informed the group, his tone firm. Not that any of them would have disagreed with their Alpha.

“Lily and Kal are already up at the other compound and the boys will be staying for the duration too. I think three extra Vârcolac and a couple of strong wolves should be enough for security. The Praetorian Compound is being patrolled by the pack as standard anyway, so there will always be additional wolves to call on if needed. Let’s just all make sure it isn’t needed.” His final words were directed at Reasa, who met his gaze without flinching. 

“I have no intention of causing any further distress to your pack,” the former vampire answered.

“Glad to hear it,” Rafe replied, treating her to a warm smile. “If you and Liam can do what Annie thinks you can, well let’s just say that will go some way to making amends for past actions. It’s not going to absolve you completely, Reasa, but it will be a start.”

She nodded her head, accepting what he said. The Alpha’s honesty was something she could understand and therefore respect. She hadn’t detected one lie from him and that was something she found surprising given the relationship between wolves and vampires in Europe. She had always believed they were liars and couldn’t be trusted. It would appear she was learning many new things with her time spent in the Armand-Hanlon compound.

“Okay, everyone load up and get yourselves up to the Praetorian Compound.”

They turned and headed towards the two waiting Jeeps at Rafe’s command. Reasa had barely taken two steps when the air suddenly became tense and her head whipped around to see Pietro standing in the doorway of one of the other dwellings close by. For an instant she was frozen on the spot, her gaze locked with eyes blazing with hatred, and then she was pulled behind Liam’s large frame, hidden from the vampire’s view.

“Pietro…” Rafe growled…an unmistakable warning in his tone.

A loud hiss filled the air…a sharp clacking noise following quickly. Reasa didn’t need to be able to see to know that the vampire had gone feral. Was today going to be the day that she died? She fervently hoped not. She wanted to try to heal the wounded vampires’ minds. If she died after that…well at least she would have done something to try to repair the damage she’d caused.


She was there right in front of him. So close he could taste the warmth of her blood in his mouth, could feel her soft flesh parting in jagged tears as his talons shredded her body. So close, and yet, denied to him by the assembled group of wolves who protected her. Pietro hissed out in fury, his eyes darting quickly from one face to the next, cataloguing each position, as he worked out what sequence he would take to circumnavigate everyone to get to his target. 

Liam he would leave until last. He would take down Rafe first, he was Alpha and the others would go to his aid without thinking about it. Elina would hang back to protect her cousin, so she would be next, leaving Liam in a moment’s confusion over who to protect first. If he went to Elina’s aid then good, Thereasa would be his for the taking. If not…he would have to deal with the huge Vârcolac before he could satisfy his bloodlust.

The thoughts took barely a moment to careen through his mind before he was moving, ignoring the warning voices, his eyes black pools of rage as he flowed towards the Alpha. Sounds clamoured on the air, growls and voices, his name being yelled repeatedly, but he was blind and deaf to all. Instinct drove him, fury and vengeance blazing through his feral mind. She had to die and she had to die now!

Pietro swiped out a hand, batting away the two males who dived in front of their father. They crashed to the ground, instantly forgotten as he focused on the now dark brown wolf as the Alpha shifted to animal form.

“No! Pietro, no!”

The voice screamed at him, fought to be heard through the feral snarls growling from his lips. He knew that voice, had heard it whisper husky words of need and passion, but he ruthlessly pushed it aside. He would not be denied his kill.

The Alpha charged and Pietro lashed out, catching the huge beast in his arms and tossing it backwards. It was on its feet in a fraction of a second, coiling to spring again as he readied his talons to cut into flesh. The venom dripped from his fangs and he had the briefest moment of lucidity. He mustn’t bite…he mustn’t bite…

The wolf jumped, surrounded by a cacophony of sound, and Pietro struck out with his talons.

Pale blonde hair filled his vision, exquisite blue eyes filled with such fear. The wolf was behind her, shoved out of the way as she flowed into his vision, her stance defensive. His talons passed by her cheekbone by the barest of fractions, one nicking ever so lightly, causing the smallest of marks that instantly healed.

Cassia threw herself into his arms, holding him in a crushing embrace, so strong that he couldn’t push her away. She wasn’t fighting him, she was merely holding onto him, her words whispering in his ears. “Don’t do this, Pietro. Please, please don’t do this.”

The urge to rid himself of the thing preventing his kill ran so deep it took everything in him not to plunge his talons into the soft, warm body embracing him. He wanted to…he needed to…but she was Cassia, and he could never do anything to physically hurt her.

“Pietro, be calm. Please be calm. Think about what you’re trying to do.”

As suddenly as the rage had overwhelmed him it died in the face of her words. Reason began to surface, and with that reason, he felt something else inside him die. He had been promised sanctuary with the pack. He had been promised so much, but when it came down to what he truly needed, he was very much on his own.

The one person he had come to rely on to understand him, was the very person who had stood in his way, using his attachment to her to thwart him. Cassia had to have known he could never hurt her. She had to have known that of everyone in the pack she was the only one he would have listened to in his feral state. She had known and she had used that knowledge against him!

“Release me, Cassia. I am once again in control of my actions.” The words sounded dull to his ears and from the way she stiffened against him, he knew they did to her too. She held on a moment longer, long enough to whisper for his ears only.

“I’m so sorry…”

It didn’t matter. No words she said could ever remove the feeling of betrayal he felt inside at knowing she had deliberately used his feelings for her against him. It was a hot knife in his gut, a pain so intense it eclipsed even the worst pain he could remember from Europe. Cassia had sided with the pack against him. She had betrayed him.

Pietro stepped back when she released him, avoiding looking at her beautiful face. He didn’t want to look at her. He didn’t want to see the remorse he knew would be there because that was who she was, someone who cared so much she would bleed inside at ever hurting someone she cared about. He didn’t have anything left in him at that moment to forgive her. All he had was the knowledge that he was alone, as he had always been alone.

His gaze swept over the surrounding pack. The centre of the compound was now full of wolves, all looking at him, waiting for him to go feral again. Rafe was checking over his sons, reassuring himself they weren’t harmed. Pietro hadn’t meant to hurt them, just remove them from the fight. He knew they would recover quickly from any bumps and scrapes they may have taken.

There was no sign of Thereasa. From the ring surrounding one of the jeeps, he could take a guess that she was safely ensconced inside the vehicle. Nors was there as was Alexei, arms folded with disapproving frowns on their faces. They left him in no doubt that he would have to go through both of them to get to woman, and he had no illusions that they would hurt him badly if he tried.

Even Andrei was glaring at him from his left side, fury dancing in his friend’s eyes. They were all condemning him, his friends of hundreds of years turning against him as Cassia had. With a long, loud hiss, Pietro spun on his heel, walking back into the home he had shared with his friends. He knew what he had to do.

“Pietro, wait…”

“Go away, Cassia. I have nothing to say to you.”

“You have to understand…we couldn’t allow you to hurt Reasa. We just couldn’t. I know she hurt you, Pietro. I understand your need for vengeance but it would kill Liam for anything to happen to her, and she’s changing. She truly is changing, Pietro.”

He wanted to shut out her voice. He wanted to ignore the plea that rang from every word she spoke. He wanted her to just be gone but this was her pack so that wasn’t likely to happen. Spinning around, he impaled her with a look that contained all of his rage, all of his feelings of betrayal.

“I understand, Cassia. The pack will always come first with you, as it is what defines you. I am not pack though. I will never be pack or understand that group mentality. Thereasa ruined my life. She turned me into this thing I am now. I will never be happy until she is dead. Today you chose, Cassia. You chose pack over me and while I can understand that on a rational level, I can’t on an emotional one. You betrayed me.”

Pietro wanted to reach for her even as he said the words that he knew would cut her to the quick. Seeing the tears in her eyes filled him with so much misery that for a moment it almost overcame his feelings of betrayal. But those feelings were too ingrained in his heart and mind. He had trusted in her, he had let down his defences and let her close, and in that moment when he needed her to understand; she had turned against him.

“Tell Rafe I will be off pack lands within the hour. I don’t want to spend another second longer here than I have to.” Pietro turned away, hardening his heart to the pained whimper that came from the beautiful blonde wolf that had begun to mean so much to him.

“Please don’t do this. Please, Pietro. Give yourself time to calm down. We can talk again once you’ve had a little time…”

“I don’t want to see you ever again, Cassia. What we had is over.” Misery overwhelmed him at his words and at the tortured sound that escaped her lips, but Pietro forced himself to keep walking up the stairs away from her. Though it hurt him to say it, he knew he wouldn’t change his mind. What they had was truly over, whether he wept at the thought or not.


Pietro was leaving her!

Her mate was refusing her, denying her the only chance she had at happiness. Cassia tried to speak, tried to make him listen, but her tears were flowing too fast, the ball of pain inside so intense it felt as if it was choking her.

He had to understand…he couldn’t mean what he was saying. She’d had to stop him from hurting her Alpha, from hurting Thereasa and in doing so, her pack. Why couldn’t he understand? Why couldn’t he just stay and listen to her?

“Pietro…” the word strangled out on a sob, her voice pleading for him to listen but he continued to walk away, never once looking back.

“Cassia, come on, honey. Come home.” Dara was at her side, her sister feeling her pain and reaching out to enclose her in an embrace, to soothe her with her wolf’s touch.

“Dara….Dara…oh God Dara…”

Cassia’s wolf howled its grief inside her mind and she gave herself over to the animal, unable to bear talking any further. She shifted to wolf form, spinning around and racing through the open door out into the forest.

The wolf howled; the woman screamed internally. They raced through the trees, mindless of where they were going, heedless of any who followed. She crashed into trees, tumbling head over heels and then picking herself up to race off in another direction. All the while she howled her anguish, cried out against the torture that was her mate’s rejection.

Cassia ran and ran and ran until she fell to the forest floor exhausted, panting and heaving as she whimpered out her distress. Soft hands stroked over her fur, a loving touch holding her shaking wolf form, whispering words tripping over themselves as they rushed out.

“It will be okay, Cass. I know it will. Pietro just needs some time. It will all work out, you’ll see. Please don’t weep so, honey. Please. You are strong and I am with you. I will always be with you.”

Dara was crying with her, holding her wolf and rocking her back and forth. She could feel her sister’s pain echoing down their familial bond, knew she ached for her grief as much as she did. Dara, who had always been there for her, always been that second part of her from the moment she had been born and they’d first touched minds.

“It hurts so badly, Dara. It hurts so badly.”

“I know, sweetheart, but you’re strong enough to cope. Lean on me, honey. I’ve got you and I’ll never let go.”

Cassia surrendered to the grief of losing her mate, throwing her head back and letting out one long, anguish-filled mournful howl as her sister kept her word, holding her and never letting her go.


Pietro’s head shot up and his gaze turned to the forest through his window, the awful howl ringing on the air for all to hear. He knew it was Cassia who was hurting so badly and he wanted to go to her but his feet wouldn’t move. Instead, he turned back to his packing, throwing the last of his clothes haphazardly into his case.

“Are you proud of yourself?” Andrei growled from the doorway.

Pietro turned to look at his friend, seeing the signs in his body language that Andrei was barely in control of himself. “I take no pleasure from hurting Cassia.” He snapped the suitcase closed.

“What the fuck were you thinking, Pietro?” His friend stepped into the room, fist clenched in an effort to hold back his feral side. “The pack took you in, gave you a sanctuary and this is how you repay them?”

“Some sanctuary,” Pietro snarled back, his aggression levels escalating to match Andrei’s. “You let the instrument of my torture live and breathe, Andrei. I can remember a day when you of all people would have ripped someone to pieces for much less but now you roll over and do whatever the wolves ask of you. And you ask me what the fuck I was thinking? What the fuck where you and Alexei thinking?”

The other male paused, taking a deep breath before relaxing his clenched fists. “It’s not that cut and dried and you know it, Pietro.” Andrei sighed deeply and ran a hand through his hair. “The pack is our family now and we have to consider the bigger picture. Believe me, I understand your need for vengeance. We all do, my friend. You have to meet us half way though; you have to understand that we’re doing the best we can here.”

“I can’t!” Pietro hissed, turning away to grab his case. When he turned back, he’d wiped all expression from his face. “All I see is the people who always had my back are now protecting someone who is the cause of my disfigurement. All I see is those I call friend have aligned themselves against me.”

“That’s fucking bullshit and you know it! Where the fuck are you, Pietro? The man I know wouldn’t wallow in self-pity and pitch a hissy-fit because things aren’t going his way. And what the fuck did you do to my niece? Why are you breaking her heart? I should be kicking the shit out of you for that reason alone.”

His reference to Cassia was too much, and Pietro dropped the case, hissing at his friend. “Then why the fuck aren’t you? Go ahead…kick the shit out of me! Do it!”

Andrei’s expression turned cold, the warmth dying from his eyes. “If I touched you right now, I would most likely take your head, Pietro. It’s for that reason alone I’m ensuring that I retain a modicum of control. You’re too weak to fend me off. It would be like slaughtering a Youngling.”

Pietro glared at him a moment longer, before he reached for the case once more and stepped past his friend. “Thanks for the reminder of why we’re all in this fucked up position in the first place. I never meant to hurt Cassia, Andrei, I truly didn’t. She hurt me first though, but I guess that will always be a moot point with you and Alexei when it comes to one of your own. That I can understand.”


He halted on his way out of the room, not turning to look back as Andrei called his name.

“I expect you back behind the bar at The Dive tonight. I suggest you use the apartment over the bar for a while until you’re feeling more like yourself.”

It was Andrei’s way of telling him that no matter what had happened this day, he still counted him as his friend and would have his back to the best of his ability. Pietro was aware it was more than he probably deserved but he accepted it as gracefully as he could.

“I’ll see you later then.”


“Dara, let me, honey.” Alexei’s calm words belied the expression on his face as he ushered one daughter aside to reach the other.

She looked up through tear-filled eyes to see her parents beside them, her mother clearly having shifted into her wolf form at some point, as she now stood naked before them. “She won’t stop weeping. I can’t do anything to help her.”

Her mother held out her arms, enfolding her in a tight embrace. “That’s our job, sweetheart, not yours, though you are a credit to all of us that you have tried so hard.” Gentle hands soothed down her back, trying to take the ache from her heart at her sister’s distress. “Can you rustle me up something to wear, honey? There’s a bit of a nip in the air.”

Smothering down another sob, Dara fought for some composure and the concentration she would need to accede to her mother’s request. She knew it was a deliberate attempt to redirect her, and she was grateful to her mother for it. She was no help to Cassia being an emotional wreck. She needed to be Cassia’s strength right now.

Taking a deep breath and doing her best to tune everything out around her, Dara tapped into the well of power she had inside, conjuring up a sarong in deep forest green. It was easier to create single bolts of cloth as opposed to specific clothing, and it appeared her mother was content with her offering as Cedar wrapped the sarong around her body.

Turning back to Cassia, Dara watched her father kneel beside her, his hands gentle as they stroked through the wolf’s tangle fur.

“Cass, honey, you can’t hide within your wolf. I know it’s hard right now but you need to come back to us. You need to let us take care of you.” Alexei kept his words soft and low, all the while his hands continued to stroke the wolf as he talked.

“Come, daughter. Show me that wonderful strength I know that lives within your heart. Return to your family. Come home to us.”

For a long moment it appeared as if she would refuse him, and then the wolf shifted into the woman, curled up on the forest floor. The second she shifted, Alexei scooped her up into his arms and she burrowed her face into the side of his neck, loud sobs wracking her body.

“He doesn’t want me, Daddy. My mate doesn’t want me.”

Alexei’s footsteps faltered as he started walking towards his mate and youngest daughter, a flash of fury in his eyes. His gaze fell on Dara after Cedar gave a quick shake of her head.

“Explain.” The word ground out in a low voice almost over-shadowed by Cassia’s crying.

Dara swallowed hard, trying not to shrink back against her mother, who continued to run a hand down her back.

“Alexei, please moderate your tone,” Cedar remarked, a hint of censure in her tone. “Whatever is going on is not of Dara’s making, and she deserves better than that from her father.”

The rebuke in her tone was enough to get through her mate’s initial fury, and he conceded her point, giving Dara an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry, Dara. I’m just concerned for your sister. Please tell us what you know.”

Relieved to see a more normal expression on her father’s face, Dara straightened up, giving him a tentative smile back. “I don’t know much, Dad. Cassia told me that Pietro was her mate but that her wolf was acting a bit strange about if it couldn’t quite make up its mind one way or the other.”

“That’s impossible,” Cedar interjected, a frown marring her face as she reached out to Cassia and stroked a hand through her weeping daughter’s hair. “Our wolves always know - instantly.”

“Cassia says otherwise,” her daughter answered, shrugging her shoulders. “I wouldn’t know personally as I haven’t met my mate yet.”

“One at a time...” Alexei muttered under his breath, his tone rueful as he cradled Cassia tenderly in his arms as they headed back towards the compound. She had finally stopped weeping, though it was apparent she was lost somewhere within herself. “Is Pietro aware of this?”

There was no mistaking the hard edge to his voice and Dara was glad the vampire would be gone by the time they got back. There was no telling what her father might do giving his current mood. “As far as I know, Cassia was taking things slowly with him, giving him time to heal from Europe before making her claim. I don’t think he’s aware of it despite the fact they’ve been spending a lot of time together.”

“Lucky for him.” Again the words were muttered, a dangerous edge to each one.

“Alexei,” Cedar sighed, placing a hand on his arm to try to sooth the rage she could feel flowing through their mate bond.

“Look at her, Cedar. Look at our girl. Don’t expect me to be rational about this when Cassia is hurting this badly. I just can’t do it.”

“Don’t you think I’m every bit as concerned as you are, Alexei?” she answered quietly, unable to hide her disappointment. “Don’t you think my heart is breaking seeing our daughter so distressed? One of us has to keep a level head about this, and of course, that person is going to have to be me, as it always it. I don’t get the luxury of exploding into a temper and protecting my daughter because I’m too busy ensuring you don’t do something stupid that will make things worse.”

It was so unusual to hear the trace of bitterness in her voice that for a moment Alexei stopped walking, surprise crossing his face. Dara was equally surprised and uncomfortable witnessing one her parents’ rare fights. She wasn’t sure whether she should keep walking or stay with them.

Her father remained silent for a long moment, and then his expression softened and he leaned down to kiss his mate, brushing his cheek against the top of her head. “I’m sorry, I know you’re just as concerned, honey. I’ll promise to behave.”

As quickly as Cedar had become irritated, her expression mellowed and she rolled her eyes in disbelief. “You don’t even know the meaning of the word, Alexei Romanov, but I’m holding you to that promise.”

With the disagreement over with as soon as it had begun; they broke through the trees and entered the pack compound. It was clear of most of the people from earlier, however Rafe was sitting on the steps to his house, his eyes pinned to them as they walked out of the forest. He rose and met them half way, his trouble gaze on Cassia.

“Is she okay? Do you need to use the safe room?”

Alexei looked to Cedar for the answer, relieved when she shook her head. “I don’t think so, Rafe. Let us spend some time with her as a family. If we need you, we’ll let you know.”

The Alpha placed a hand on Cassia’s head, leaning down to brush his lips against her cheek. “If you need us we are here for you.” He said the words aloud and sent them down the Alpha link he shared with each pack member. There was no response from Cassia but he was certain she’d heard him. Straightening up, his concerned gaze met Alexei’s and Cedar’s. “Lacey will want to check in on her later.”

“Lacey is welcome to visit anytime, as are you, Rafe. However, can we keep it to a minimum just now?” Cedar asked. “We don’t want to overload Cassia with too many people around; not until she’s had a chance to recover from today’s events.”

“Agreed. I’ll have Aaron spread the word not to disturb you.” Rafe nodded his head to Alexei, silently communicating that he wanted to speak with Cedar out of Cassia’s earshot. The vampire continued on his way with his daughters, leaving his mate to discuss whatever their Alpha wanted to impart.

“Pietro left the pack a quarter of an hour ago,” Rafe announced as soon as they disappeared into their family home. “I don’t know if that’s going to be a good thing or not for Cassia, but I thought it would be best if either you or Alexei broke the news to her.”

Cedar’s already concerned expression darkened further, her worried eyes turning towards her home. “Do you know where he went? If we can at least tell her that it may take some of the sting from knowing he’s left.”

“Andrei said Pietro will be staying at the Dive and taking over his responsibilities there from tonight, so he’ll still be afforded some level of protection from the vampires that Andrei trusts while he recovers. Hopefully some time apart will show Pietro how much he misses Cassia. He is her mate, I take it?”

Cedar sighed and rubbed her hands across her face wearily. “It’s certainly looking that way, though she did tell Dara that her wolf appeared to be undecided on the matter. I’m still reeling over that one, Rafe. I didn’t think it was possible for a wolf to be confused.”

“Neither did I,” the Alpha frowned raking a hand through his hair, before giving his beta a reassuring hug. “I’ll talk to Rayne before she leaves and have a word with Annie and Caleb too. Maybe there’s something in their books that can explain it. We have to remember that the Vârcolac are not like purebred Weres or Vampires. What applies to the rest of us may not necessarily apply to them.”

With another quick squeeze, Rafe released Cedar so she could go to her daughter. As she disappeared from view, he pulled out his cell and dialled Rayne’s number. He needed to have a last word with Gard and Rayne before they headed to Europe anyway. They had to decide whether it was wise to leave Kothari on his own with just Dara checking in with him. Given the turn of events with Cassia, Dara may be otherwise distracted.


The Jeep made its way up the mountain, Elina behind the wheel with Liam and Reasa in the back. The second Jeep shadowed them closely, Dayton, Ben and AJ bringing up the rear. Rafe’s sons were unaffected by their tussle with the vampire. Pietro hadn’t hurt them much and they’d insisted they were fine to continue with the task their father had set them. It had been a proud Alpha who had clapped each son on his shoulder and sent him on his way.

Liam’s emotions were mixed, his heart going out to Cassia as he felt her pain as they all did. He was strangely detached when he thought of Pietro and his actions. He felt some level of anger towards the vampire for trying to harm his mate and hurting his friends, but he could also understand what had driven Pietro to act as he had, and that took some of the edge from his anger.

They could all understand and that was probably why, despite what had happened, there wasn’t an overabundance of hostility towards the vampire. Liam had heard some mutterings from the younger pack members as they were heading off, but wiser, calmer heads in the pack would work to subdue any antipathy towards Pietro and the vampires in general. Aaron would probably assign some intensive border patrols so the more hot-headed youngsters could blunt their anger. By the time they returned to the pack, the incident would have become just another story to tell on a balmy night sitting around a fire.

That left Liam with only one real emotion to ponder; his fear that his mate would have been hurt, and what he would have been prepared to do to prevent that ever happening. He was ashamed of the thoughts that had flooded his mind as Pietro struck out. All the gentleness that made him who he was evaporated on the spot, and the feral vampiric side of himself had taken dominance.

He had considered killing Pietro to protect Thereasa. The thought had actually crossed his mind, his vampire urging him to reach out and take the other male’s head. How could he even think such a thing? He was aware that Cassia was attached to the vampire, knew now that Pietro was her mate given her reaction to his rejection. His friend had placed his needs and the pack’s before her own, and he had considered doing the worst thing a wolf could ever do to another pack member.

What kind of monster did that make him? How could his family, his friends, every single pack member protect him, protect Reasa for him, when he wasn’t worth their efforts? This couldn’t continue…things couldn’t go on as they were. Cassia deserved her happiness with her mate and that would never happen as long as he and Reasa remained at the pack. There really wasn’t any other option. They would have to leave the pack once they’d done all they could at the Praetorian Compound. There would never be a place for them there. Recent events proved that.

“We won’t allow it.” Elina’s cool words broke the oppressive silence in the car.

“You won’t have a choice.” Liam wasn’t surprised that his cousin could guess at what he was thinking. She always seemed to know what was going on inside his head; she’d lived in it for long enough.

“What?” Reasa didn’t look at him, her gaze remaining fixed ahead.

“Liam is coming to the conclusion that you will both be leaving the pack. I am just disabusing him of it.”

Reasa’s gaze turned to the man at her side and for a second she almost smiled at the stubborn expression she saw on his face. Once more she was struck by the strong familial bond between the cousins, and even if she hadn’t been aware of their history from walking through Liam’s memory, she would still have sensed their strong attachment.

“You need your pack,” she said, turning away to look out the window. “You are not a solitary creature and would not thrive well without them.”

“Pietro is Cassia’s mate, Reasa. Today has proven that to all of us. She will never be happy without him, and he will never come to accept you. His inability to forgive you will continue his rejection of my friend. I cannot cause her pain so I can be happy.” Liam’s quiet words hung heavy on the air, a faint quiver in his voice.

Reasa didn’t answer him. It was hard to refute his words. Pietro’s need for vengeance was too ingrained. He was the kind of male others in her coven had aspired to be and could never attain that level of strength. She understood males like Pietro; she not only understood them, she respected them. Louis was one who held the same strength, the same determination as the wounded vampire back at the compound. He would mete out the same type of justice Pietro yearned for, and she would deserve it for her actions.

The situation was currently at a stalemate though. For one couple to be happy the other couple must suffer. From that point of view, Liam’s logic made sense and while she couldn’t argue with it, she was as determined as Elina not to allow it to pass. She would have to find some way to resolve the situation once they had helped the patients at the Praetorian Compound. She was aware of what she had to do, and she knew that Liam would do his utmost to prevent it. However, it wasn’t his decision to make. When the time came, she would stand before Pietro alone and accept his judgement.

Elina also knew the truth of it, though she continued to deny it because she didn’t want to lose her cousin. While she argued with Liam about his proposed course of action, her eyes met Reasa’s in the rear-view mirror, and the former vampire could see that the other woman had an inkling of what she was thinking.

“The pack is strong, Liam. We have that strength because we stick together no matter what. Don’t lose faith in us. We will find a way to resolve this.” Even though spoken in a cold tone, there was  passion in Elina’s voice as she appealed to her cousin. Reasa heard the underlying words being spoken to her too, and her admiration for the other woman rose. If they had met under any other circumstances, Reasa was sure she would have called the other woman a friend.

Liam’s expression remained stubborn, though he leaned back and rested his head, closing his eyes as he did. He was completely clueless about the unspoken communication between his mate and his cousin. “Let’s just concentrate on what needs to be done for now. The rest is a while away. This is more important.”

Reasa mirrored his position, closing her eyes and once more seeing Pietro standing in the compound, naked hatred oozing from every pore in his body, all projected towards her. She felt the same thrill of terror as she had then, followed by a feeling of disappointment as Liam had shielded her. Had she wanted to die in that moment? That thought had followed her around ever since she’d had her vampiric nature stripped from her.  There had been times when she’d truly believed it was what she wanted and others when she’d wanted to cling to life.

The only thing she really knew was that it wasn’t her decision or Liam’s about what would happen in the future. There was only one person who had the right to decide her fate, and she only hoped she would be courageous enough to stand tall before him when he made it.

The Jeep pulling into the Praetorian Compound shook her from her musings, and she opened her eyes to view the large house that was home to the Praetorians. Elina pulled up close to the steps and pulled on the handbrake. It was strange being back. Exciting and yet terrifying. The last time Reasa had been here, she’d lost everything that had made her who she was. She wasn’t able to contain the shiver that ran through her body.

“No one will hurt you here,” Liam rumbled, his voice low, for her ears only.

“There is nothing further that anyone could do to hurt me than what has already been done,” she answered, stiffening her back as the door opened and a large vampire with flowing black hair came out to greet them.

Mac greeted the arrivals with a touch of caution laced with optimism. He was relieved they were here and willing to try to help his injured people, but he was wary too, given his mate’s involvement. Lily was happy and bright, so certain that Liam and Reasa were going to save the day with this new skill they’d discovered, but he was concerned about what would happen if they failed.

His mate’s eyes held a hint of sadness every time he looked into them. Though she smiled and went about her life with the wonderful strength and resilience he’d fallen in love with, he could always detect that small hint of melancholy that lived within her because of Brandon. She missed her friend keenly, cared for him devotedly, and if this didn’t work…if they lost him…he knew his beautiful mate would die a little inside.

“How sure are you about this?” He asked the question of Liam and Reasa, as they were the ones who would be performing the dream walking.

“There is no certainty, Mac, just the hope that we can affect a positive change.” It was Liam who answered, his tone grave. “We know what’s at stake. If it can be done…we will do it. That’s the best we can give you.”

“Fair enough.” Mac wasn’t feeling as comforted as he’d hoped he would. He nodded to the Weres who had escorted Reasa to the compound and motioned for them to precede him into the large house that was the heart of the Praetorians.

“We’ll stay outside,” Dayton announced. “There’s nothing we can do inside and we’re muscle rather than brains up here. We’ll check in with the other wolves and do a sweep around the compound.” He headed off into the trees, followed by Ben and AJ.

“I will attend inside,” Elina said, walking up the steps into the house, patently ignoring the brawny blond vampire who was standing in the hallway as she entered.

“Good to see you too, Missy,” Karn chuckled, blue eyes flashing with mischief as she sailed passed him and started upstairs.

“Idiot.” Wafted back down the stairs and only made him chuckle harder.

“Behave,” Mac growled, giving his friend a glare.

Karn’s made a half-hearted attempt at looking sheepish but his attention was already diverted from the frosty woman intent on ignoring him, a speculative gleam in his eyes as he looked at Liam and Reasa. “I think I can do a little of what you can. Would I be in the way if I tagged along and tried to pick up some tips?”

Mac’s head whipped around in surprise as Liam gave his friend a nod. “You’re empathic? You never told me that.”

“You never asked,” Karn countered with a grin. “And why would I? We all keep our skills to ourselves. Perhaps that’s why they’re so diluted now. We’re all so busy trying to be the biggest badass around that sharing unique talents has never been in our best interests. How the hell do you think I’ve managed to keep this motley crew in line for so long, Mac?”

It was a rhetorical question but the leader of the Praetorian’s answered anyway. “You’ve had an inkling of what they were thinking or feeling.”

“Feeling,” his friend confirmed. “When you can sense emotions it’s easier to divert the ones you don’t want to be predominant in any given situation.” Mac looked stunned and a bit put out at only now learning what his second in command could do, but Karn was unrepentant. If this new knowledge of shadow walking hadn’t materialised, he would have kept his mouth shut about his abilities.

“I have no objections to you observing, Karn,” Liam said, his lips curling in a small smile. “The more people who can hone their skills the better.” He glanced at the woman at his side before turning back to the waiting vampires. “Should we make a start?”

With a concerned expression Mac nodded and motioned for them to head upstairs to the infirmary.

“You doubt we will be successful,” Reasa commented as she passed him, feeling oddly comfortable in his presence. He reminded her of Louis a little, with perhaps a tad less of a cruel streak in his eyes. She didn’t doubt for a moment that the Praetorian leader wasn’t capable of cruelty, just that he was less inclined to veer in that direction.

“Brandon is close to Lily’s heart. If you try this and fail, her heart will break. In saying that, this is the lesser of two evils so I am willing to give it a try.”

She could understand his position, and hoped they could affect a positive change on the vampires. There was a lot at stake, not only the hopes of all those who cared for the injured, but also the mental well-being of the Vârcolac at her side. There was no accounting for what Liam would do if they failed. It didn’t bear thinking about.

Reasa tried to convince herself that it was the emotional backlash of Liam’s powers that concerned her, but she knew she was lying to herself. Though it was a strong factor to be considered, the kiss she had shared with Liam was still very firmly emblazoned in her memory. She should have been furious about the liberty he’d taken, and a part of her was, but mostly she longed for another taste of his lips, to see if his kiss had truly been as amazing as her memory told her it was. Shaking the memory from her mind as best she could, Reasa entered the door to the large infirmary, her gaze quickly sweeping the area.

Beside the very first bed that came into view stood Elina gazing down at the dark-haired male lying there. For all intents and purposes he gave off the appearance of being dead. Her expression was neutral, no sign of her inner thoughts as she watched the male for a moment longer and then walked gracefully over to the nearby window to rest against the window seat facing into the room.

Sitting in a comfy armchair beside the bed was Lily, a book in hand that she was reading out loud to the sleeping male. At their entrance, the Vârcolac finished the paragraph she was reading and then turned grave eyes to them. “I hate this book but it’s one of Brandon’s favourites. Please wake him up so he can finish the damned thing himself.”

Lily rose from the chair, smiling a sad smile as she dropped a kiss on Brandon’s forehead. “See you soon, Bran.”

She walked across to them, slipping effortlessly into Liam’s waiting arms. For a moment they just hugged quietly and then Lily straightened and stepped back, acceptance in her expression.  “I know you will do your very best, Liam. Don’t do anything that endangers you though, not for Brandon, and not for the others. They were your protectors and they wouldn’t want you to do anything that caused you harm. Keep that firmly in mind.” She was silently granting forgiveness in advance…should they fail at their task.

Liam nodded solemnly, guilt threatening to overwhelm him again. He was the reason six souls lay trapped or destroyed within their host bodies, and his beautiful friend was granting him absolution if he couldn’t rectify his grievous error. He didn’t deserve it and he wouldn’t fail. He would stay there for however long it took to bring each and every one of the injured vampires back.

“I think you should go be somewhere else, Lily,” he answered, his gaze dropping to her abdomen. “I have no idea how much, if any, emotional leakage will seep into the room as we try this. It would probably be best if you weren’t present as a precaution.”

“I don’t want to leave Brandon…” Lily started to say, her gaze sweeping back to her friend as she spoke. Her mate was already moving though to gather her up against his chest and pull her towards the doorway.

“You heard Liam, this has never been done before and we don’t know what may happen. I will not countenance any harm coming to you or our daughter, Liliana.”

She knew she couldn’t argue with Mac. She didn’t have any intention of it. It was right that she shouldn’t be around so much empathy right now and she would never do anything to risk their child. As if she would even consider causing her mate to, once more, lose the most precious thing in his world. “You never let me finish,” she smiled up at Mac, sending soothing love down their mate bond. “I had been about to say I didn’t want to leave Brandon but it would be best if I wasn’t around such charged emotions. I’m not completely stupid, my love.”

His frown lightened and then his expression turned sheepish. “Overreacting again, uh?”

Though his words were conciliatory, his tone was implacable and brought a loving smile to her face as she gave him a reassuring hug. “It’s understandable. Let me know if there is any improvement.”

Mac kissed his mate, long and slow, giving her as much love and reassurance as he could. He was aware that her heart was breaking and she was afraid to hope for a good outcome. He wanted to tell her it would all be okay but he truly didn’t know if it would. He finally raised his head and cupped her cheek tenderly. “You’ll be the first to know, my Lily Rose.”

Satisfied, the pregnant Vârcolac headed from the room, leaving everyone staring quietly at Brandon for a long moment.

“I think it’s best if we try this on Brandon first,” Liam finally broke the silence. It appeared the expectation was there from the Praetorians that his friend was to be the first attempt anyway, so he was merely formalising the thought. “We need another comfortable chair. I don’t know how long this may take.”

Karn left the room and Elina came forward to look up at her cousin. “I can shield the room as you work. It won’t be the best of shields as I’ll need to cast it across everyone present, but it should help if there is some emotional leakage.”

Liam considered it for a moment and then shook his head. “That kind of shield would be mostly ineffective and not a good use of your talents.” He glanced at Reasa and then back to his cousin. “Reasa’s control is exceptional. I’m not concerned about any issues there. I think it would be best if you buffered my defences instead. You’re used to my mind so it will be second nature to you.”

“And you will feel more confident in yourself knowing I am doing so,” Elina said telepathically for his ears only.

“Yes I would, Elle. I am so much stronger with the new shielding techniques I’ve learned but this…this will just make me feel a bit better.”

Karn’s return into the room with a second plush armchair halted their conversation and Elina once more returned to her spot at the window. As Karn set it down beside its matching companion, she let her gaze run over the vampire that had managed to break through the cold defences she’d honed to perfection. She was still perturbed that she’d lashed out at him with such violence. Her loss of control had been unforgivable, no matter what the circumstances had been. It was unfortunate he would be present during this exercise, when she needed all of her control, but she would find a way to ignore him.

As if realising he was under scrutiny, Karn turned his head to look at her, his lips curling in another insufferable smile as his pale blue eyes twinkled and seem to convey that he knew just what she was thinking. Looking away, Elina turned inward, feeling the link that connected her to her cousin and concentrating solely on that as she slipped into Liam’s mind and wove a delicate net of spidery tendrils around his impressive defences. Her web looked flimsy but it was as strong as she could make it. If Liam’s control broke, well there would be at least a small fraction of time for the others to run before total catastrophe occurred.

Turning back to her cousin, she watched him and Reasa sit down beside Brandon’s bed, the ancient tome open in Liam’s lap as he quickly ran his gaze over a couple of pages. She stiffened when Karn moved to her side, resting his back against the wall beside her.

“Can I shadow you?”

Every single part of her being screamed NO but she ignored her instincts to push him away and relaxed as best she could. “I am only an additional shield for Liam. You will not learn anything from that.”

“Guess, I will be the judge of that?” he countered swiftly, and she knew he would cause a scene if she continued to thwart him and that was counter-productive to why they were all here.

“Fine.” Elina allowed entry into her mind, trying not to lash out instinctively when she felt the pure male dominance of the vampire by her side slip easily inside and nestle close to her own defences. She ignored him as best she could, relaxing further when he didn’t push at her inner defences but instead examined her link with Liam and followed that path to her cousin’s mind.

“Impressive.” There was such respect and awe in Karn’s tone that the last of Elina’s misgivings eased and she concentrated on what was happening before them as opposed to fixating on the male at her side. She was relying on Karn not to violate the trust she was giving him. She only hoped that she wasn’t wrong to do so.

Liam glanced at the woman at his side, meeting her apprehensive gaze. “Do you need more time?”

Reasa shook her head, rolling her shoulders to relax some of the tension suffusing her body. “No, we should begin.”

At her acceptance, the large Vârcolac closed the book and set it down on the floor. “Mac, it might be best to clear the house of anyone who doesn’t need to be here.”

“That’s already been done, Liam. Everyone who is here needs to be here,” the Praetorian leader answered calmly, signalling the Weres and vampires who were tending to the others. “We can’t afford to leave the others uncared for while this is happening. Everyone present has volunteered to be here.”

Again, it was as if he was being absolved of any responsibility in advance, and Liam felt another moment’s doubt that he could, not only, bring the vampires back, but deserved any forgiveness.

“We should begin, Liam.”

Reasa’s practical tone helped to balance him and he nodded his head slowly, turning to look at Brandon lying so peacefully in the bed. “Time to come back to us, Brandon,” he muttered under his breath, feeling Reasa slipped effortlessly into his mind beside Elina.

Dear God it was hopeless!

That was the first thought that came to Liam’s mind as he slipped into Brandon’s and viewed the carnage that was there. Unlike everything he’d previously experienced, there was no long passageway with doors leading from it, straight or curving haphazardly as Reasa had described. He stood at the beginning of what appeared to be a maze, a ten-foot barrier of steel mesh in front of him.

“Reasa?” He couldn’t keep the hopelessness from his voice and knew she picked up on it instantly.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” she whispered, her tone horrified as she stood beside him. “Liam, this mind is gone. There is nothing we can do.”

They were speaking aloud as they had done before, and he knew the others would be listening to every word they said. Despite concentrating solely on Brandon’s mind, he could detect Mac’s sharp, indrawn breath at Reasa’s announcement. Liam refused to be defeated, refused to give up hope when they hadn’t even tried yet.

“I don’t accept that, Reasa. I can’t accept that. We have to be able to do something.”

“What? I have no experience of this. I don’t know where to begin and that book didn’t give us any answers for something as damaged as this. What can we do?”

Squaring his shoulders, Liam reached down and took her hand, to lend her strength and also to find some himself. “We can try, Reasa. We can try.” Taking a step forward he pulled her through the opening in the steel mesh and deeper into the fractured mind before them.

The conversation between Liam and Reasa made Mac’s heart sink. He had no idea what they were seeing inside Brandon’s mind but it sounded hopeless. He looked away from the bed, towards the window where Elina and Karn stood.

“Are you seeing what they’re seeing?”

Elina shook her head, for once her serene expression clouded by a deep frown. “I can only feel their emotions, Mac. Whatever they’re experiencing has stunned them. Reasa is convinced there is nothing they can do. Despite the fact she has more experience than Liam, he isn’t willing to concede that point yet. Liam is determined they can prevail, but I’m not sure how much of that is wishful thinking on his part.”

The Vârcolac turned her gaze from the couple at the bed to the Praetorian leader. “Are you sure you can’t clear out more people from the house? I’m unsure if I’ll be able to contain Liam if this goes badly, Mac. Perhaps you should join Lily? We can’t afford to lose you as Praetorian leader, let alone as Lily’s mate.”

A low growl from the male at her side had her head inclining in his direction.

“You should have more faith in your cousin...and yourself. Liam’s shields are strong and the buffer you have in place buys us all a little time should something go wrong. Doubting Liam while you’re in his mind isn’t going to be of help,” Karn remarked.

Mac considered their words when Elina didn’t respond to his second in command, taking his time to digest the ramifications if things went wrong. Karn was right, they had an advanced warning system in place, and they could use the precious few seconds that Elina could grant them. For now, his place was here with his fallen, until such times it became too dangerous to remain. In addition, if Elina was right about Liam being unrealistic about their chances of success, someone had to be there to ensure neither he nor Reasa came to any harm. That was his job.

“I’m staying,” he finally answered, his tone brooking no argument.

The Vârcolac opened her mouth as if to say more but a hand on her arm diverted her attention and her frosty glare turned on Karn. “Do not touch me.”

“Don’t get excited, Missy. It wasn’t that kind of touch.”

Karn removed his hand, delighting in the irritated snort that escaped Elina’s lips. He couldn’t help baiting her at every possible turn, regardless of how dire the current situation was. There was something about the woman that brought out the devilment in him. It had been a long time since any woman had interested him to the level that Elina did. Mac’s disapproving glare settled him down somewhat, and he settled back to let events unfold.


More steel mesh greeted Liam and Reasa as they moved forward into Brandon’s mind. It bent and twisted, seeming to branch off into different paths. It was indeed a maze, one so twisted that they hit a dead end almost immediately and had to backtrack. Liam chose to go right, weaving through spaces so narrow he could feel steel barbs snagging at his arms. He ignored it, keeping his forward momentum until he hit another dead end.

“Back,” he sighed, returning to the beginning and choosing the forward path this time. Liam refused to give up. The fact they were in a maze indicated some kind of order within Brandon’s mind even if it was complicated. If the vampire’s mind was truly destroyed then shouldn’t there just be blackness or an absence of everything?

They continued forward, eyes flicking over every conceivable surface they could see. Liam had no idea what they were looking for and he doubted Reasa did too. He only hoped that they would recognise it when they did see it. The maze hit a dead end going forward halting them in their tracks again. They had the option of turning left or right, and Liam pondered which route to take first. Settling on the left, he turned to start off in that direction but Reasa resisted his movement.

“Wait! Stop!” she cried out, pulling him back, her gaze fixed on something on the ground at her feet.

Liam frowned, puzzled by why she had stopped him. He couldn’t see anything other than grey stone and more steel mesh, but she was bending down low, peering at something just out of his line of sight. His gut instinct was to keep moving forward, however he had to concede that Reasa had been doing this a lot longer than he had. It was pointless bringing her with him if he was going to disregard her expertise.

Shifting his position to get a better vantage point, he saw what appeared to be a small dull glass bead. He had no idea what it was or why his mate considered it significant. It was clear she did as her brow was furrowed in a deep frown as she stared at it.

“Liam…” When she looked up at him there was a flicker of something in her eyes he couldn’t quite make out.

“What is it?” He held his breath as he waited for her answer, hoping against hope it would be something positive. It just had to be something positive to ease the growing hopeless he was feeling.

“I think this is part of Brandon’s psyche. Reach out with your emotions, as you did at the pack. You have to concentrate hard but you should be able to sense it stronger than I can. There’s barely a flicker nudging at my senses.”

It was difficult to bend down in the tight space beside her but Liam dropped to his knees uncaring that a steel barb scored down his back drawing blood. He reached out with his stronger senses, concentrating on the glass bead that looked so innocuous. At first he could detect nothing, and then, for the briefest of moments he sensed something, felt some kind of connection.

“I think you may be right,” he whispered, the first tendrils of hope beginning to form within him. He called out to Brandon but there was no response, and yet, Reasa’s hopeful expression helped to sooth his initial disappointment. If this was part of Brandon’s psyche…if they could find more small pieces scattered throughout the maze…

“Can we fashion a receptacle? If there are more pieces splintered throughout the maze, we can gather them all together and maybe that will be enough for Brandon’s mind to do the rest?”

As soon as he’d asked the question, a clear glass urn appeared before them, and Reasa reverently placed the glass bead into it. It looked so lost and alone within the huge jar, and yet, a little of the dullness appeared to have receded. Liam wasn’t sure if it truly had, or if it was just wishful thinking on his part.

“We could be here for days looking for other parts of his psyche,” Reasa said quietly, as they took a moment to pause and consider their options. “Perhaps we should split up? We can place a marker on each passage we’ve tried so the other doesn’t waste time repeating steps already taken. If we find more of these beads we can add them to the urn by a simple thought command. The book said we could do that as long as we can hold onto the image we’re transporting an object to.”

Hope flared brighter within the Vârcolac, his beautiful mate’s idea brilliant in its simplicity.  He had to dampen it down, had to try to put things in perspective. They were only surmising that they had found a piece of Brandon’s psyche. It could be just what it appeared to be, a lone glass bead. However, Liam was sure they were on the right track despite his caution to himself. There had been that briefest flicker of consciousness. He was certain of that.

“I’ll take the left and you take the right,” he announced, standing up. He imagined a red ribbon tied into a bow against the steel mesh. “If you see this sign, I’ve been there already.”

Reasa quickly imitated him, using a blue bow to mark her passage. They left the glass urn where they’d found the first bead so they would have a clear point of reference to project to if they found others. “Good luck,” she said, turning and moving off into Brandon’s mind.


“What the fuck?” Karn hissed out the words, drawing Mac’s eyes to him.


“There’s blood on Liam’s T-shirt!”

Elina flowed gracefully from her spot before the others could move, reaching to pull up the back of her cousin’s t-shirt as gently as she could. Her alert gaze travelled the unbroken skin, a smear of blood being the only indicator that there had been an injury there. As they watched, Liam’s skin tore open for a brief moment, and then instantly healed.

Karn’s gaze was on Reasa, another hiss escaping as a long jagged cut appear down her left arm. Unlike Liam, she didn’t heal instantly. She no longer had vampiric healing abilities.

“Get them out!” Mac ordered, his voice terse as another cut appeared on Reasa’s face, scoring down her right cheek.

“No!” Elina blocked him as he moved to shake Reasa, her steely gaze daring him to try to go through her. “Whatever is happening in there isn’t life threatening. These cuts are shallow. Liam can heal himself. I will take care of Reasa. If there is any hope of them bringing Brandon back then they must be allowed to continue.”

“How?” Mac demanded, fury dancing in his eyes as another shallow cut appeared on the former vampire’s forehead.

Elina was unsure if she would be able to help Reasa but she was going to try. They had no idea what Anakatrine has done to her on a D.N.A. level when she stripped Reasa of her immortality. The pack had used traditional healing methods when Reasa had been injured earlier. Elina wanted to try something else.

Leaning forward, she pressed her lips against Reasa’s forehead, feeling the other woman stiffen at her touch before she relaxed once more, an absent-minded acknowledgement brushing Elina’s inner thoughts. Reasa was focused on what she was doing within Brandon’s mind, but she was conscious of what Elina was attempting. Allowing her lips to part, the Vârcolac ran her tongue over the scratch, sealing it in one pass.

“Fuck!” The word ground out of Karn, as if he couldn’t contain it.

Elina ignored him, moving to the wound on Reasa’s cheek and pressing her lips against it as she had before. She tried to ignore how good the blood tasted...tried to ensure that she was in full control as she healed the other woman’s injuries.

Mac moved around them, leaning down to Reasa’s left side. He reached for her arm but Elina moved so fast, he was knocked flat on his ass before he could touch her. “Fool!” The Vârcolac hissed, cold eyes flashing with an emotion so feral, Karn took a step back.

“How do you think Liam will react to your scent on his unclaimed mate? How do you think he will react knowing you have tasted her blood?”

Neither of the two males had even remotely considered what a major fuck up that would be. They were both dominant, territorial males, who wouldn’t think twice about overreacting should another male touch what belonged to them.  Mac had reacted as the protector he was, so intent on helping Reasa he hadn’t considered the fallout of his actions.

 “Do not touch Thereasa while he is unaware,” Elina continued in a more even tone, her feral expression easing as she moved to tend to the arm wound. She ignored Mac as he relocated back to his previous spot, intent on her task. When the wound was healed, she licked her lips with closed eyes, willing her inner demon to retreat to cage she kept it in.

Seeing no further wounds on Reasa, she returned to her position at the window, aware that both Mac and Karn were staring at her as if she’d just grown horns. An exasperated sigh escaped her lips as she shook her head in cool exasperation. “Liam trusts me and therefore my scent on Reasa will not aggravate him, and neither will my taking of her blood. He knows there is nothing sexual in the act, that it is merely a healing gesture.”

She shook her head once more, fighting the urge to roll her eyes at the disbelief on their faces. Stupid males! “Why is everything about sex with vampires? I mean, really, do you ever think above your waists?”

“Perhaps because the taking of blood is always performed during some kind of sexual activity,” Karn snorted, mockery lacing his tone.

“Idiot.” Was the only answer he received, before Elina turned her attention back to the couple by the bed. When it became apparent things had settled down with them, the vampires returned to their watching brief, allowing the Vârcolac to call the shots...for now.


Liam turned to his route, scouring everywhere as he walked at a snail’s pace. He didn’t want to miss anything and the beads were small and easily masked by the steel mesh. Despite his vigilance, he almost missed the next bead; some inner sense halting his footsteps as he walked past the area it was hidden. Turning back, his searched the area to his right more closely until the glass bead appeared within the mesh. It was as dull and lifeless as the first one, but he didn’t allow that to dampen his hope.

“Go join the other part of yourself, Brandon.” Liam called up his memory of the urn, emitting a small sound of surprise when he saw it already contained an additional two beads. It appeared Reasa had had more success than he’d had so far. With a proud smile, his bead joined the other three in the urn, and Liam turned once more to continue on his journey.

He had no idea that the work would have been so painstaking, so exhausting. Liam felt as if he’d been walking for hours on end when he finally started treading ground Reasa had already been over. Her pretty blue bows showed up sporadically for a while and then it appeared every passage he walked into contained her mark.

“Liam? I think we’ve completed the maze,” he heard in his mind. His hand being squeezed in the real world accompanied the words. “I’m tracking routes you’ve already travelled.” Reasa’s mental voice sounded weary and he wondered if his did too as he answered.

“Same here. Let’s head back to the urn.”

It felt like it took forever to reach the beginning of the maze and the glass urn that was two thirds full of beads that were now glowing brightly. Reasa was already there, staring at the light her expression rapt. “Can you feel him, Liam?” The words whispered out, awe suffusing her voice.

It was only when she spoke that he felt the third presence with them, a distinctly male persona emanating from the urn. There was no conscious thought, nothing that indicated intelligence but there was something there, and it was getting stronger with each passing second.

Dropping to his knees beside his mate, Liam gripped her hand as they stared at the light, watching it pulse to a slow rhythm they weren’t party to. It was as if the light was undulating to a beat they couldn’t hear...a beat that was slowly picking up pace.


The light flared for a fraction of a second, and then it returned to its slow pulsing once more, a feeling of serenity washing over Liam. He could see that same serenity flowing over Reasa, the illumination from the urn bathing her exquisite features in an ethereal glow.

“We found him, Liam! We found him!”

Reasa threw herself into his arms, laughing and crying at the same time, completely overcome with the emotion of the moment. Liam held her close, tears mingling with his own laughter, the emotions mixing with a sense of disbelief that they had been successful at their task. True, Brandon wasn’t fully with them just yet, but there was enough of his psyche gathered that, perhaps, with a bit more time, he’d be able to find his own way back.

Exhausted beyond belief, Liam felt his mate’s own mental fatigue, and the way her body sagged against his. With a tired groan, he rose back to his feet, pulling Reasa up beside him. “We’ve done all we can for today. We can come back tomorrow if required. We need to rest, Reasa.”

It was a testament to how exhausted she was that she didn’t object to him ordering her about. When Liam slipped from Brandon’s mind and turned to look at her, Reasa’s head was resting on Brandon’s bed, her body slumped over with tiredness.

He was instantly concerned for his mate, so much so that it took him a moment to realise that the room was practically empty, Elina and Karn being the only two remaining that weren’t monitoring the patients. The room was darker, a handful of lamps casting a pale light around it.

“You’re back.” Elina’s cool words didn’t mask her concern. “You’ve been gone for hours, Liam. We didn’t know if we should try to force you to leave or let you be.”

“What time is it?”

“Almost midnight,” Karn answered, a frown marring his face. “I was all set to make you leave but your cousin here wouldn’t let me. Just like she wouldn’t let us remove you when you both started bleeding all over the place.”

His scowl was for Elina who merely shrugged and turned her gaze to Reasa. She could see Liam was exhausted but he had the strength of being Vârcolac keeping him going; his mate didn’t. “Reasa looks wiped out, Liam.”

“Wait, what do you mean bleeding all over the place?” Her cousin’s concerned gaze turned to Reasa, gently raising her from her prone position and searching her face intently. Her eyes fluttered open briefly, and then closed again as if she was too tired to keep them open. “There isn’t a mark on her,” Liam breathed, suspicious eyes alighting on Karn.

“Don’t look at me,” the vampire growled, giving Elina a pointed look. “She ran the whole show today. You want to know why the girl’s healed, ask your cousin.”

For a moment, Elina really wanted to smack the smug look from Karn’s face but she fought down the errant thought, keeping her gaze firmly on Liam in case he reacted unfavourably. She was relieved to see that his initial suspicion was waning, and it was more curiosity than anything else on his face. “We can talk more about it tomorrow,” she answered neutrally, giving him the briefest of smiles.

Liam shot her another quizzical glance before his need to take care of his mate overcome his curiosity and he rose, sweeping Reasa into his arms and cradling her against his wide chest. “Where can we rest?”

Karn headed for the door. “You can use the room at the top of the stairs on the second floor. You can have the one to the right of it, Elina.” He paused as they passed him, his Praetorian instincts coming to the fore. “Brandon?”

“We did what we could, Karn. The rest is up to him.” Liam headed up the second flight of stairs and opened the door to the room they’d been assigned. The last of his strength was waning and all he wanted to do was crawl into bed.

Kicking the door shut, he clutched Reasa tightly and managed to pull down the cover on the bed. He sank down onto the mattress with her, laying his mate gently against the pillows. Fast asleep she was so vulnerable, and his protective instincts surged up within him. He found enough strength to pull off her boots and his own before he wrapped Reasa in his arms and pulled the cover over them.

He didn’t care how pissed off she would be when she woke. She was his to protect, and nothing would make him leave her side until she was rested enough to take care of herself. Liam’s eyes drifted closed, his heart slowing to beat in tandem with the woman’s in his arms. 

To be continued...