Storm watched the red digitized numbers blink an hour away while he sat next to Kerr, stroking his fingers through the blond shoulder length tresses. The enchanted candle was still burning, the flame bowing and swaying to music unheard. Kerr had long since fallen asleep. He was no longer writhing in agony. His skin was no longer mottled and slick; it was now cool and dry. The sweat had evaporated and the trembling had stopped.
Kerr had come out of the worst of his change quickly. The spicy lavender scent and power of the spell work weaving through the room had helped. The werewolf anyway…
Storm's heart was living up to his namesake. There was a great emotional turmoil brewing inside. He felt uneasy about many things and he was overwhelmed with the sense of foreboding that came with it. He couldn't shake that something bad was going to happen, something that would change all of their lives. The feeling grew in intensity with every passing day.
Spent himself, Storm was about to get up and make his own way to bed when Kerr reached out and curled a hand around his forearm, surprising him.
"Please," he rasped. "Please…stay."
"Is something wrong? Do you need me to get Tegan?" Storm was all concern as he examined Kerr from head to toe.
He released Storm's arm when he had his attention. "No. I…I just need someone. I just need to be close to someone right now." Which, in a way, made complete sense. Werewolves were social and familial creatures. When one of them was injured or sick they always sought out comfort while their fellow pack members were compelled to supply that comfort.
But Storm wasn't a part of that pack. His witch was. Still, he could not abandon Kerr if he needed him. Right now, Kerr was seen as little more than a leper. There were few pack mates that wanted to be near him right now since word got out about his curse. Though they didn't know what ailed him exactly, they knew it was something that they should stay away from.
"I'm not going anywhere," Storm said resolutely. "I'll be here as long as you need me."
With a sigh, he relaxed once he knew that Storm wasn't going to leave him. "Thank you," Kerr mumbled.
"How are you feeling?"
"Better. Still disoriented and my muscles feel shot to hell. I don't even know if I can stand. But at least I don't feel like I'm being shredded from the inside out."
"Is there anything I can get you? Water, or maybe something to eat?" Storm suggested.
"Water might be good."
Storm went to the kitchen to fetch a cool glass of water for the wolf and returned hastily. Kerr accepted it gratefully and drank it down in large gulps. When he was done, Storm set the empty cup on the nightstand beside the bed.
"Where have my brother and his witch gone?" Kerr asked, his voice less gravelly than before.
"Tegan is not his witch."
A ghost of a smile played on Kerr's lips. "Forgive me. Where have my brother and your witch gone?"
"Apparently your father needed them. Tegan said that she would contact me soon and tell me why they were summoned. We can only wait until then."
"How is the research on the curse going?"
"Slow. It would probably be in our best interest if Soren wasn't such a constant distraction to Tegan."
Kerr's green orbs locked onto the familiar. "Are you jealous of him?"
Storm made a choking noise. "Why would I ever be jealous of the pompous oaf?"
"You are clearly in opposition to anything happening between them," Kerr noted. The amusement threaded into his tone had Storm gritting his teeth.
"He doesn't deserve her," he spat.
"And, my dear Storm, you should know that life seldom ends up the way we fantasize it. I didn't think this would ever happen to me. I certainly didn't think I deserved this. But here I am, cursed and rejected with no cure in sight."
"All I want is for her to hold the same feelings I hold in my heart for her."
"You love her. And I'm sure she loves you. But are you positive that you are in love with her?"
"I am." There was nothing else to explain this emotion roiling inside of him.
"Could it be the way you feel about her is just your bond with her? You share a connection soul deep. Shit, you are a part of her. She has freed you from your chains to this island, she had comforted you. Could it be deep gratitude instead of love? Could it be your shared magick?" Kerr suggested.
"I love her." But within the words was an uncertainty, a question that he pushed away instantly. He loved Tegan with all of himself. There just couldn't be any doubt.
Kerr folded is hands over his stomach then sighed resignedly. "If it is meant to be then she will be yours. But if not, you have to be prepared to let her go."
"Why are we even having this discussion?" Storm bit out.
"I have seen the two of them together. There is more than just distraction, as you so put it, between them. If you don't see that, it's just because you don't want to," Kerr said.
Storm sat and stewed in quiet. If he opened his mouth, he knew something very unpleasant would spill forth.
Kerr must have caught his fiery mood because he begun talking to him again in a soothing voice. "I'm not saying this to be mean. I am saying this because I don't want to see you hurt."
"What concern of it is yours?"
He lifted a shoulder just a fraction. "I always liked you, Storm. I saw how the pack treated you for years. Their condemnation was unfair. It angered me that they would treat you so poorly. I stood up for you whenever I could. You never did anything to them. And we both know it wasn't because of what had happened with Magda." Kerr peered at him from the corner of one eye. "Their cruelty extended well before that."
Some of the anger Storm felt deflated and he looked away from the piecing green gaze. "I do not belong among the wolves."
"No you don't. You belong here with Tegan. I have no place in the pack either. And with Soren now infected, he might be pushed away as well." Kerr chuckled. "She's running a halfway house for those that are neglected, abused, and lost. I'm just grateful that she gave me a place to stay. I have no where to go. And really…there is no place I want to be more than here. Whether I'm ostracized or not, this is where I feel the safest. The island has always been my home."
"Strange… This island has been the only home I ever knew. But it has never felt that way – not in the way you define it – until Tegan came."
It was quiet for a beat, the two of them soaking in a swelling silence.
"What happened when you were in Zelko's custody, Kerr?" Storm finally asked quietly, not wanting to offend the other male by prying. "What did he do to you?"
Kerr shook his head slowly then exhaled softly. "You were in Magda's care. She and her brother are two sides of the same sadistic coin. Use your imagination."
Storm winced remembering his time with the psychotic witch. He shivered in revulsion. Kerr's confinement might very well have been worse than his. He had endured Magda's torture for months; Kerr's imprisonment had lasted years. "I know well the things that you faced. I am sorry you had to go through that."
"As am I. No one deserves that sort of punishment. And I'll die before I ever fall into his hands again. I cannot, and will not, live through that a second time," the werewolf declared vehemently.
"Do you think he might try to capture you again?"
"I wouldn't put it past him." And neither would Storm. "He will be enraged that the compulsion rune was removed. He has no control over me and will be out for blood and my return. He will not stop until he feels avenged."
Storm reached over and lightly touched him on the shoulder. "I would do anything within my power to stop him if it comes to that. No one should be subjected to that kind of treatment."
"Zelko would kill all of you to get to me. He wants to hurt my father most of all because he killed his sister. We have to be prepared when he comes back, because he will return. There is no question about that. We have to think of a way to get rid of him. The faster we do it the better for us all."
Storm had to agree. Right now, this biggest threat against them was the warlock. He had to be eliminated before he could cause any further damage.
The night wound down to a rolling vapidity. Lyn had left to help the other wolves settle into their temporary homes until more suitable accommodations became available. Ulrick was discussing more business with Darus. There were only a couple wolves roaming the Den, most of which were Darkwood wolves that forfeited their homes to the Thunder Creek wolves. It was a safety measure to ensure that the outsiders were kept away from the alpha and his family as well as the safe haven for other pack mates.
"Sweet, god. I'm glad that's over. Now I can finally watch some TV." Soren plopped down on the couch and used the remote to turn the television on.
Tegan rolled her eyes at his theatrics. You'd think he hadn't watched it in months. He had ignored all the newcomers – most of which had been placed in other houses scattered across the island – and found the sitting room that she was sharing with another young werewolf female.
Tegan had decided to make it her duty to find out as much as she could about the other pack. Maybe it was her wolfish instincts kicking in, but she didn't feel that she could trust Darus or his crew.
The one she was conversing with was named Cara. The shewolf was around the same age as Tegan maybe a little younger. The interesting thing about her was that she happened to be Darus's daughter making her Zeke's niece as well.
Cara was a few inches taller than Tegan with honey colored hair and silvery blue eyes. She had an innocent, very girl-next-door sort of face. She definitely didn't look like the type to carry out an insidious plot. That made her all the more dangerous in Tegan's opinion.
She had figured the girl was her best bet at getting close to those of the other clan. Since they were in the same age group of werewolves they had to have some common ground to start on, right?
So far it turned out she and the female wolf didn't share any of the same interests. Unlike the younger wolf generation of the Darkwood pack, the ones of Thunder Creek seemed to be kept away from the humans and the modern world. Even their style of dress was a bit outdated.
Just when Tegan was running out of topics to talk about, Cara nodded at Soren. "What is he like?" she asked, her attention focused on the Darkwood's beta like a laser, homing in on him with more than mild curiosity.
Perhaps they did have more in common than mere age and lycanthropy, Tegan thought acerbically. That unexpected reaction jolted her. There was no reason for her to think that way. It wasn't as if she had any claim on Soren or anything. Taking a deep breath, she calmed the illogical need to feel defensive.
"The shape-shifting couch potato?" Tegan glanced from Cara to Soren. He seemed engrossed in whatever he was watching. "He can be a jerk at times, but he does have his good moments."
Cara's eyes widened with shock. "You dare to insult your beta? Won't they punish you for insubordination?"
Tegan shrugged her shoulders, but filed the new information away. Thunder Creek clearly operated differently than Darkwood to punish for something so stupid. She also wondered what kind of punishment was dished out for such an offense. It wasn't something she could come out and ask so she decided to talk to Soren or Ulrick about it later. "I've said worst about him, believe me. But he knows I'm not really serious…most of the time."
"Are you familiar with him then to not be punished?" the girl pried.
"What do you mean by that?"
"You know, have you ever joined with him?"
"No!" she denied a bit too loudly, shaking her hands in denial at Cara. Several pairs of eyes were drawn to her. Even Soren was frowning at her. "No," she said a bit more calmly, trying not to become too flustered. "He's–" she paused to scratch the back of her head "– I'm not sure what he is. If you asked him he will no doubt yak about me being his mate. But don't listen to him."
Cara gasped. "You are his intended then?"
Tegan's face heated under her interrogation. "No."
"But he pursues you, yes?"
"Uh, I guess."
"And you deny him?" she asked incredulously like she had never heard of such a thing.
"Of course! What is with all you wolves and this obsession with having a mate?"
"Because a true mate it the most wonderful blessing in the world," Cara breathed dreamily.
"I have no intentions of being his wife."
Cara frowned. "I take it you have not been around wolves long. You still have a human mentality. How long have you been with the pack?"
Tegan narrowed her eyes at the haughtiness she heard in the other female's voice. "A little over a week."
"Hasn't anyone told you about the ways of the wolf?"
"I've been kind of learning as I go. I haven't really had the time to be taught. One problem after another has seem to befall me since I stepped foot in this place."
"Well, being mated is nothing like a human marriage. Humans can easily dissolve whatever flimsy bonds they make with their mates, or so I hear. That isn't so with werewolves. Once mated, you can never take it back. It is forever that your souls are bound." She got a wistful look as if she were imagining herself blissfully mated. "And to be bound to one of the pack leaders…"
Tegan took a drink of tea while Cara prattled on only half-listening to her.
"I hear they make for virile and skilled lovers. I bet Soren is fearsome in the mated bed."
Tegan choked the on the mouthful of tea and sputtered as she tried to regain her breath. With her face burning, she looked guiltily over at Soren remembering what they had done the earlier that night. His eyes were upon hers and he was grinning devilishly at her as if he too were thinking of the exact same thing. And he had no doubt overheard what Cara had said.
She placed her hand over her face hoping that he didn't see how mortified she was. "Don't go stroking his already rather large ego." Soren laughed loudly, and Tegan glared at him through her fingers, knowing how he translated what she just said into something extremely inappropriate.
"No more talk about wolf-boy," she mumbled though gritted teeth, turning her back to him.
"Wolf-boy? He really allows you to call him such disrespectful things?" Cara questioned.
She opened her mouth to answer when an arm slung itself over her shoulders causing her to jump a mile high. Soren leaned in and nuzzled the juncture at her neck before giving it a quick lick.
"I love it when she calls me wolf-boy." He nipped at her shoulder playfully, growling low in his throat when she tried to put some distance between them.
Cara was clearly confounded. "You do not find it insolent?"
"I find it rather amusing."
"But there is nothing boyish about you."
Tegan gritted her teeth, her eyes narrowing into murderous little slits.
Talk about laying it on thick!
Was this girl's mission to make her look bad or something? It clearly wasn't working, but still... And she was trying to flirt with him. She had to have known he would be able to hear her praise about him. In fact, everyone near any of the adjoining room would have been privy to everything that she was spouting.
"That's why I allow her such liberties. She may call me a boy, but then I get to prove to her how very little I have in common with a mere boy," Soren said.
Tried to push Soren away from her while he chuckled happily because he knew how uncomfortable she was. He was absolutely no help. He was making things worse if anything.
"It seems as if she does not share the same affection that you have for her. She certainly isn't acting like an intended mate. Perhaps you should find another," she suggested hopefully, her eyes sparkling with yearning and something else that was more primal.
That did it. Something predatory and possessive tore through her, wanting to tear the girl's throat out. She couldn't name this thing, but she let it take over. Whatever this uprising was it wanted the girl standing in front of her to know that she had no claim whatsoever on the male next to her. It wanted Tegan to insert herself, to let the bitch know that Soren was off limits.
Carried by this force inside of her, Tegan yanked herself from Soren's hold and placed herself between the two.
"She is standing in front of you so please do not talk about me as if I'm not even here. And I do have plenty affection for my wolf-boy. So don't even think about trying to dig your grasping, devious claws into him! I'll tear you to shreds if you even try." she shouted at a startled Cara. She looked at her with wide, frightened eyes.
Shit! Where the hell had all that come from?
A wave of uncertainty slammed into her. If it wasn't for Soren standing right behind her she would have taken a step back.
He had turned rim rod stiff at her comment. There were even several new pairs of curious eyes peaking into the room at them…or more specifically her.
Biting her lip nervously, Tegan turned her head slightly to look at Soren with perplexity. "I just said something very, very wrong, didn't I?" she all but whispered.
"No, witch," Soren growled in her ear. He voice was deep and warm, rich with approval and desire.
It made her shiver.
"You just said something very, very right." He dropped his face down to hers and kissed her then and there for everyone to see. After lingering for a few seconds he pulled his mouth away and smiled roguishly at her.
"What am I missing here? Why is everyone staring at me?" she asked a bit breathlessly.
"You just claimed me as yours."
She shook her head in denial. "I did no such thing."
Soren nodded. "Oh, but you did."
"And you're mine. We'll talk about this later."
"I didn't realize you two were so close. Does this mean that you two are courting?" Lyn asked with a frown as she stepped into the room. She must have just returned from settling in the new wolves.
"Yes," Soren replied at the same time Tegan shook her head negatively.
The alpha female grinned at her son, completely ignoring Tegan's denial. "This is good."
Ulrick cleared his throat, momentarily catching everyone's attention. "I would have never thought… I mean the way the two of you act toward one another it didn't seem you were headed in this direction at all."
"But it isn't like that," Tegan protested, waving her hands trying to dispel the speculations. "We just had one little kiss."
Soren made a sound of disagreement. "I beg to differ."
"We are still trying to figure out what this is," she offered with a heated glare thrown over her shoulder. "Should we really be having this discussion right now?"
"She's right. We will talk about this tomorrow. It is late. Zeke will show you to your new living quarters, Darus." With that said, Ulrick escorted the remaining Thunder Creek wolves off the premises, including Cara and her father.
Lyn patted Tegan on the arm. "And I too would like to hear all about the two of you."
Both Tegan and Soren groaned. His mother laughed. "You both didn't think you were going to get out of this discussion. I want to know if I'm going to have grandpups running around soon," she teased.
Lyn ruffled Soren's hair before leaving the two of them alone.
"This is your fault," Tegan whispered harshly at him.
"How is it my fault?"
She poked him in his chest. "You can't keep your big fat mouth shut."
"You're the one with the big mouth claiming me."
"Well, consider yourself unclaimed." She stifled a yawn with her hand, losing any kind of forcefulness with her statement. "Do you think we can go home now? I can barely keep my eyes open."
"If you're that tired we can stay here for the night," Soren said.
"But I have to get back," Tegan insisted.
"I've decided that we're staying."
"What about Storm and Kerr? They might need us."
Soren pulled out his cell phone and handed it to her. "They are men, Tegan. I'm sure they can handle themselves just fine without you there to baby them. Call them and check to see if they are okay if it will ease your conscience."
She blew a raspberry at him and dialed her house. Storm answered and she gave him a quick rundown about everything that happened. She even spoke to Kerr for a few minutes. Tegan told them that she and Soren planned on staying the night at the Den, that if they needed anything that they could call for them.
After a brief good-bye, she handed the cell phone back to Soren.
"Why don't we go to bed? You look beat."
"I feel worse." And that was the truth.
"I'm sure dad has everything under control. He won't really need me for anything." Soren took her hand in his and tugged her up the stairs. "I have my own private shower in my room."
"How nice for you, wolf-boy." When she went to pull away to go down a separate section of the house, Soren tightened his hold on her.
"You're staying with me tonight," he told her.
"Oh, no, I don't think so."
She squealed when he tossed her over his shoulder. "Oh, yes, I do think so."
"Put me down!" She beat at his back, but he didn't heed any threats or curses she flung his way. When he finally did put her down, it was once his door was firmly locked so she couldn't get out.
Silently gloating in his little victory, Soren stretched out on his bed with a pillow tucked under his head. Once she was done ranting and raving about what a bossy jerk he was, Tegan busied herself with poking at everything in his room. The first thing she noticed was the decorated wall, the most precious relic he had of his little sister. She smiled while tracing the petals of a flower with her finger.
Next to that was an entertainment system: a huge flat screen television with surround sound hooked up, a gaming consol plugged into it, and a DVD player. Beside it was his large collection of movies and music.
Tegan started reading off the titles of the movies.
"American Werewolf in London, Underworld, Silver Bullet, Ginger Snaps, Skinwalkers… I'm sensing a pattern here."
"They're not all werewolf movies. Underworld is more of a vampire movie."
"A good chunk of them are. I thought you detested the human idea of what werewolves are."
"I didn't say I hated it. I said it was bullshit. The misconstruing of our nature is what helps us hide from humans. The least they know about us, the better. I actually get a kick out of watching movies and reading novels that have werewolves involved. I like the different takes on them in each movie or book even though a lot of it is wrong."
After a few more minutes of getting more familiar with his territory, Tegan turned to face him.
"It seems very cozy," she commented. She curled her toes over and over into the lush beige carpeting.
"The bed is even cozier."
"Why can't I stay in the room I had before?"
"Someone from the pack has already claimed it. They are going to have to stay there until the newcomers get places of their own."
"Which one of us is taking the floor then?"
"Neither. You'll be in bed with me."
"No, I won't."
"I'm good enough to snog but not sleep next to, is that it?"
"I'm sure that you will have your head – both of them – on something other than sleeping. I like you, Soren…a lot more than I should, anyway. Looking back on what we did earlier, I think we need to slow down a bit. I was completely ready to jump you and that isn't like me."
She sat on the corner of the bed and folded her hands in her lap.
She wasn't the only one thinking those thoughts. Lately, Soren found himself unexpected drawn to her. He suspected it was more of an animal magnetism that explained the strongest feelings growing within. The man inside liked Tegan quite a bit, but the wolf felt those same feelings tenfold.
Even so, the man and beast were unified on one thing: Tegan belong to them.
As he looked over at her he could see how exhausted she was. Her eyes were bloodshot. Dark circles were forming underneath. Her shoulders were drooped in exhaustion.
With his protective instincts firing up Soren leaned over, taking a hold of the witch.
"Hey! What are you doing?" she squeaked as she slapped at his hands.
"You're tired. You need to rest and I'm making sure that you do it. You've been overdoing it lately. I don't want you to cause any damage to yourself."
Still she tried to pull from him. "What will people think with me sleeping in your room?"
"I live with you. You have two other males living with you. If they are going to think you're getting around, then they already are. Besides, you claimed me. So being in my room isn't going to surprise anyone."
"I did not claim you," she insisted.
"You can keep telling yourself that. But there is a room full of wolves that will attest to the fact that you did. And I am going to tell you here and now, you don't have to worry about any other female coming between us. You're mine Tegan Daniels. And I only want you."
She snorted while rolling her eyes. "I never had any worries of females coming between us."
"So then you yelling at cute little Cara had nothing to do with me?" he teased.
Tegan tried to push away from him. Fury blazed in her eyes as she glared at him. "If you think she is so cute, why don't you go find her and share her bed."
Soren sniggered when she struggled against him. "Because you are the only one I want to share a bed with." He wrapped his arms around her, pinning her back to his chest.
"I really don't find what she did cute or funny at all, Soren. I think she was deliberately bating me."
"I don't think she was. I think she was looking for a way to movie up in the ranks faster. I'm unattached as far as she knew. But when you said I was yours that kind of shattered her plans."
"Let's say if I did claim you –"
He cut her off. Her continued rejection was starting to grate on his nerves. "You did claim me, witch. Not if. And I claimed you. So this argument is irrelevant."
"I don't know what any of this really means. Why is this claiming thing so important to you?"
"It means that all I see is you. I have no interest in anyone else, romantic or otherwise. Even if some other female promised to worship me with her body, it would have no affect on me. It's just you, witch. It's just you." He nuzzled her nape.
"What's wrong with me, Soren? I've never been the violent or jealous type. But I wanted to tear that girl's throat out for just looking at you."
"It's just your wolf. It will get better once you learn how to control it. You're just feeling edgy, your wild nature is bleeding through. That possessiveness you feel, believe me, I feel it, too. Every time you're around Storm or my brother, every time another male gets near you, touches you, I'd like nothing more than to tear him apart. You don't have to speak the words to be claimed. Sometimes our wolves will know what we want before our being is even conscious of it."
"Do you think you would still like me if it wasn't for the wolf?"
"Why would you even ask me that?"
"Answer the question, Soren."
"Of course, I would. I like you a lot. I don't know how or when it happened, but it's there. I can't change the way I feel nor do I want to."
"It could just be lust. There is enough of it between us. This could all be a false infatuation, some sort of hormonal urging."
Soren unwound his arms form her and turned her around. He grasped her chin so she could meet his gaze. He wanted to be sure she saw the sincerity – the truth – in his eyes. "Tegan, I may carry human emotion. But at the end of the day, I am not a man. Nor am I completely animal either. I feel everything differently, more quickly and intensely. I know you enough – as does my wolf – to know that there is something I like within you. Everything in me is drawn to you, connected through nature and magick. This isn't just an infatuation with you. My feelings are genuine and true even if they seem sudden. Don't try to cheapen it by saying it's all because I just want to work my way in your pants."
"It's not my intention to disregard your feelings. I…I just don't want to be hurt. I don't want you to one day wake up and I'm not the one you want to be with, that what you felt at the time was all a mistake. When we first met, we didn't get along at all and then a few days later suddenly this."
He brushed his knuckles across her jaw. "I know I was a jerk. I'm sorry about that. We'll take this slowly if you want. We'll even do the human thing and date if it will help you get used to the idea of being with me. I've never been on a date before so it should prove to be interesting. What do you do on a normal date?"
"I like the traditional dinner-and-a-movie thing, but you could always surprise me. How do werewolves get to know each other if they don't date?"
"It starts with the hunt." He was quick to explain at her look of askance. "Every full moon the pack gets together to hunt. Unmated females and males will watch one another during the chase and killing of the prey. We watch to find the strongest, most graceful among us. Then we will start courting the one that catches our eye."
"And how does a wolf court another wolf?"
"Through gifts and affection, displaying our strength, or maybe showing our ability to provide food and shelter. Usually it is the male that seeks the female but there are times when the roles are reversed."
"Are you going to do those things for me?"
Soren took her hand in his and raised it to his mouth, brushing his lips against her smooth skin. "I think being affectionate is probably the only thing you would appreciate. The gifts usually include prey we have hunted and killed ourselves. I'd have to knock Storm and my brother around to prove my strength. And you already have the home part covered unless you want to live in a cave or a hut made out of sticks and straw."
Tegan grimaced. "You're right. I don't want you dragging any dead animals home to prove your prowess. Just the thought of it is enough to make my stomach roll. And I'd have to knock you around if you hurt Storm. And I'd hate to think of what would happen if you picked a fight with Kerr."
"I would if he ever became interested in you."
"I don't think your brother has any design on me."
"For his own good he better not." He leaned down to give her a chaste kiss then rolled over to get off of the bed. "I'll have to find you something to sleep in so you'll be more comfortable." He pointed to a door across the room. "The bathroom is through there. You can change and there's a spare toothbrush in the medicine cabinet." He went over to a door on the opposite side of the room. It turned out to be a small walk-in closet. He returned with a shirt and a pair of sweats. "They're going to be a little big, but they should fit.
She followed him off the bed and took the clothes gratefully. "Thank you."
When Tegan disappeared, Soren changed into a pair of loose fitting shorts and a tank. It wasn't what he would normally choose to wear in his own bed – he preferred to be nude – but he would suffer through the night like he had been every night at her house.
He was just settling back on the bed when he heard the toilet flush and the sink run. A minute later Tegan was slipping out of the bathroom. He had to crack a grin when he saw her. She was swamped in cotton fabric. But instead of looking unkempt she looked quite cute.
"I'm still not so sure about this," she murmured apprehensively, eyeing the bed and then him.
Soren sighed. He didn't want to push her too far if she really didn't want to be near him. It stung, but he would accommodate her. "Do you really want me to sleep on the floor? I will if it will put you at ease. But I am not going to leave you by yourself. Not with the multiple threats that could be lurking in the shadows."
A small grin formed on her lips. "Are you my faithful protector now?"
"You got that right. I'll always come running whenever you need me."
Tegan ambled over to the bed and wagged her finger at him. "Promise no hanky-panky. And you better stay on your side of the bed."
With the façade of complete innocence, he held his hand up to his heart. "I'll keep my hands to myself. I swear."
There was doubt clouding her eyes. "I mean it, wolf-boy."
Tegan pulled the covers down and crawled in beneath them. She tucked the blankets up to her chinas she squirmed around for a comfortable position.
Soren reached over her to turn off the bedside lamp plunging them into hazy darkness. Moonbeams trickled through the window, bathing the room in its tranquil illumination.
Even though it was in the very wee hours of the morning, he wasn't really tired. He usually spent this time running in the woods among all the other nocturnal creatures.
Rolling on his side he stared at Tegan's prone form. She was already asleep, her breathing deep and even, her heartbeat steadily thump- thump-thumping.
Without thinking of his promise to her, he reached up and brushed back a lock of hair that fell across her forehead. He grinned when she turned into his touch and nuzzled his palm. Unconsciously, she knew she belonged to him. It was just a matter of time before the woman accepted it.
Soren would gladly take the challenge of Tegan. She would be his mate in every way very soon. There was no way he would ever let her escape him.
Tegan woke a few hours later before the sun had a chance to break the horizon. Soren was still sleeping next to her, his arm thrown lazily over his eyes. He was still on top of the covers, still on his side of the bed. True to his word, he left her to sleep peacefully the whole night.
She took care not to wake him as she got out of bed and went to the bathroom. After using the toilet, she brushed her teeth and turned on the shower. She stripped down and washed quickly. Not having anything else to wear besides what she slept in and the dress, she changed back into the shirt and sweatpants Soren had lent her. The air had an autumnal crispness to it anyway and the clothes were warm and comfy even if they were pretty baggy.
She found a comb and brushed away at the tangled mop on the top of her head. It seemed to be growing faster and getting harder to tame. It had even started to curl at the ends, making it more unruly still. The best Tegan could do was make it stick up less.
She left the bathroom after making herself presentable. Soren was still fast asleep. As silently as she could, Tegan tiptoed out of the room and journeyed through the abandoned halls until she reached Ulrick's study. She rapped on the thick wooden door and was relieved when he called out for her to enter. She half expected him to still be sleeping so early in the morning.
"Morning, Tegan," he greeted. "I didn't expect to see you up and about so early. Did you sleep well?"
"Not as well as I would have liked to. Did you get everything settled last night?"
Ulrick nodded slowly as they both sat down. "For the most part."
"You know you can't trust them right?" There was no point in beating around the bush. They might as well discuss the most important issue first.
"I know I can't trust Darus as far as I can throw him. But I will not punish the innocent young because of their alpha's foolishness. He knew those pups would be his ticket into the pack. Our young are most precious to us. I wouldn't leave them to the unforgiving nature and well he knows that. Darus has always been overly aggressive and headstrong, never thinking anything thoroughly through. I know there is an ulterior motive to his coming here. What that might be, I can only guess." Ulrick drummed his fingers against the desk for a moment before pressing on. "He was never one to seek out help just to save face. I would have thought that he would let his entire pack die before he came groveling to me, of all werewolves, for help. Our last interaction was not a pleasant one. You know the old adage keep you friends close and your enemies closer. That's the best strategy to used against Darus. You have put yourself in his mind…learn to think the way he does. I have alerted all members of the pack to be excessively guarded near the newcomers."
"What about Zeke? This has to put him in a tough spot. It is his brother after all. And there is his niece Cara. She might not be little Miss Innocent either." His loyalties had to be divided between blood family and pack family.
Amusement briefly flittered across his face before he answered her. No doubt he was remembering her little tête-à-tête with the little skank. "Zeke will choose the pack over his brother and niece if it comes down to it. He already has in the past when Darus broke off from the Darkwoods. Years ago he wanted Zeke to go with him, to be his beta but Zeke refused. He wanted to stay with familiar surroundings, with the pack that he already loved and lived with. Darus was furious by his decision. I forced him to leave the island. At that time, Darus did not have any offspring, so he had to leave the only living family he had all those years ago. I don't even know if Zeke knew he had a niece until yesterday."
"Do you think he may have something to do with his popping up out of the blue?" Darus might attempt to test his brother's loyalties. She wanted to say that Zeke would choose his pack over his brother, but Tegan didn't know him all that well. The gamma tended to keep a healthy distance between himself and the rest of the pack if his presence wasn't requested. He seemed nice enough, but he never interacted with others more than he had to.
"Knowing that son of a bitch like I do, it's most likely a motivating factor. He would have never gotten over the issue of his brother choosing the pack instead of him," he said. "He would have considered it a personal offense."
"Why did he leave in the first place?" she asked.
"He never really gave me a clear reason why. The only probability I can think of was that lack of magick and sickness drowning away the pack numbers. Other wolves had left for the same reason. But now the same thing is happening to the pack he created. The only ones that would open their doors to him would be my pack because it is where he came from. With any other pack, the males of his tribe would be under the constant threat of death by other stronger males. Outsider males have trouble thriving in a foreign clan. Original pack males would see them only as competition for power and mates," Ulrick explained.
"My god! You all live a more brutal life than I can ever imagine. What about the other members of his pack? If he turns on us what's to stop the others from following him?" Tegan said.
Ulrick leaned back, the chair groaning in protest at the movement. "I meant what I said. I will destroy the Thunder Creek wolves by any means necessary if they make one move against me and mine. I will not allow any more harm to come to those looking to me for guidance and protection. I would like for you to keep a closer eye on things as well. One of the many theoretical reasons they are here could be for you."
"You think that they could try to abduct me?" The thought frightened her, quickening her pulse. That was just another sword hanging over her head.
"Yes. They need your power to survive because of the Thunder Creek's diminutive size. They would not hesitate to use you for their gain whether you were willing or not."
"So what? Am I supposed to stay home and twiddle my thumbs until we know if we can trust them?" Tegan nibbled at her bottom lip in frustration.
"No. We go about our lives as we normally would. You will just have to make sure someone is always with you. And I will have my own safety guards in place," he assured.
"Do you really think they are after me?" Tegan hugged herself, running her cold hands up and down the tingling skin of her arms. The case of the chills wasn't coming from the tepid air. It was the sense of foreboding, of something going terribly wrong that coaxed the tiny bumps from her skin.
"I'm not willing to take the risk. I will go to great lengths to keep you well protected. I want to give you something." He lifted a polished wooden box up from behind his desk. It wasn't very big.
It certainly piqued her curiosity, beating back the apprehension a degree. "What's in the box?"
"I didn't give what I should have at the ceremony. I thought it would be better to do it in private, though things are not traditionally done this way." Ulrick opened the box and pulled out something wrapped in a black cloth. He pushed it across the desk to her. "I had it made for your hand."
Slowly, Tegan pulled the cloth free of the item inside. Nestled in the soft folds of fabric was a bone handle dagger. The dark metal blade gleamed wickedly in the light.
"It's beautiful and all…but what am I supposed to do with it exactly?" she asked as she carefully picked it up to inspect it closer. It was a little heavier than she expected.
"It's for protection as well as a tool for your craft."
"You want me to use this knife to protect myself? I wouldn't even know the first thing to do with it." She placed the weapon back on its velvet bed and covered it up with the cloth then she tucked it safely back in its box.
"Ask Soren to teach you. Or even Kerr. Both were well trained in combat. Here is something else I want to give you." Ulrick picked up an envelope on the desk and handed it to her. She peeked inside then gasped at what she saw. There was money…lots of it.
Her jaw slack, she looked back up at the alpha. He was staring at her intently. "What is this?"
"I said I didn't want money for –"
He cut her off. "It's for taking in my sons."
"I thought you were against it," she murmured.
Ulrick cleared his throated. "At the time I was angry. I felt betrayed by my own flesh and blood. Kerr had kept something crucial from me, something that is very detrimental to a pack. I know I have been hard on him, but I do have others to think about. I can't let them get hurt, even by my son. I have to put the clan before me and my own. I would fail as alpha if I let him harm or kill a single one of them due to my negligence. But I'm glad you took him in, gave him shelter and a place to feel relatively safe."
Tegan smiled gently. "I know, Ulrick, and I'm trying my best to find some sort of way to nullify the spell cast over him. I think our best bet so far lies with Zelko. I need to find out how he cursed him."
"This brings me to the last thing I wanted to give you. Has Soren told you about the texts I am having translated?" he asked.
"A couple texts have been partially finished and sent to me." Ulrick opened the top drawer on his desk and took out a thick yellow envelope. "I haven't had a chance to go over it with everything that has been happening."
"I hope it's not more of the same. Storm's and I went over everything we had a couple times. They didn't really say much other than the new moon is the safest time and the full moon is the most devastating. If we can't find some sort of cure, we are going to contain Kerr. There is no telling how destructive he will be on the full moon. It's not something I want to find out either. The rest of the info we were able to glean was kind of useless," she said, shrugging her shoulders.
Ulrick sighed. "Maybe there will be something of use to you in there." He handed over the sheaf of papers. "Before we wrap this up, I want to discuss this thing going on between you and my son."
Tegan was afraid of this coming up. She didn't want to discuss her relationship with Soren with his parents especially by herself. At least until she figured out if there really was a relationship possible between them. A few kisses and a little attraction didn't constitute a healthy romantic connection. "Soren and I –"
"I want you to approach this thing very carefully," Ulrick said soberly, surprising her. "He has had your blood. In wolves, blood exchanges will bind the two of you together if you are not careful. Since he has just taken your blood it will wear away with time. If you were to ingest some of his blood as well, you would link part of your spirits together. But there are certain side effects. The blood can sometimes heighten emotions in the one that consumed it. Those feelings are usually focused on the donor."
Tegan's heart dropped at his words, sadness swamping her. "Are you saying that Soren only likes me because my blood manipulated his emotions somehow? That whatever he feels toward me is false?
"I'm only saying his feelings are more acute. And with the full moon mere days away it's going to intensify whatever the blood does all the more," he explained. "Whatever Soren is feeling for you, it's only amplified by your essence. When a werewolf takes in the blood of another, for a little while they are more connected with that being. If that being – let's say you – were to take in some of Soren's blood after he has taken in yours, it would form a simple bond. You will be able to feel each other's emotions, know when the other is near…things like that. But you only have a small window of opportunity to complete it…two weeks at the most. If you both were to exchange blood while copulating – and only at that time – you would form a much more powerful bond known as a mated bond. Do you understand?"
Her cheeks stung at that. The things she held in her lap were looking a lot more interesting than the alpha sitting across from her. "I guess so. How long will it take for it to dissolve?"
A soft creaking told Tegan that Ulrick shifted in his seat. She couldn't meet his eye because of her embarrassment. "Neither bond formed between wolves are breakable. But the mated bond…that is not something to tarry in. It has to be something a werewolf is seriously committed to. Because once this bond is formed, it is forever. You are attached to your mate through mind, body, and soul. Should one in this bonded pair die, the other will follow their life mate into death as well."
"That's some pretty intense devotion." She finally dared to look back up at Ulrick. A grim frown creased his face into harsh lines and angles.
"That's why few werewolves ever take a mating bond. I haven't even completed a mate bonding with Lyn. My job is perilous and I care about her too much to have her die because I am an alpha surrounded by enemies. I wish for her to live a full life and not have to fear dying because someone's plot to assassinate me falls through. And I couldn't leave my boys without a mother when they are still so young," he admitted.
"Do you think you will ever follow through on a mated bond?"
"If there ever comes a day when I step down as alpha, I plan to fulfill it. I love her more than anything. She wants to bond with me. Dying doesn't scare me, but the thought of Lyn losing her life because someone has it out for me…that absolutely terrifies me."
Tegan leaned over and patted him on the hand. "You really love her that much."
"I've never loved anyone more. I would give anything up for her, even completing our bonding to keep her free from harm. It is never something to take lightly. That is why I am worried about you and Soren. He has never been the most mindful of wolves and the trace of blood he took in could cause him to want something more. You have a level head on your shoulders, something he does not possess at times. He can be impulsive even on his most reserved days," he said.
"That was like a week ago though. Just that little bit of blood will..." She let her voice trail off. Soren didn't have her blood just once. A souple nights ago when she had split her lip, he had a couple drops then as well. "Well, he had a little bit more a few nights ago. It wasn't much. Not like the first time when I scraped my hands."
"It will fade away within the next few weeks. Until that time, don't take in any of his blood. I wouldn't worry too much about it. I didn't think to warn you before because the two of you wouldn't even share air let alone each other's life-forces. The chance of a bond forming was nil. I just thought you should know in case Soren starts to get a little aggressive with his advances now that the nature of your relationship has changed," he said.
Tegan snorted. "He's always been aggressive. It is his nature. And the thought of his bleeding into my mouth is repulsive. No offense, but yuck! Not to mention he was scratched by his brother. I wouldn't want to take any risk." Nor would Soren, or so she thought. But then again, she was certain that he knew how werewolf bonds were formed and never once did he explain it to her. Had she known, she wouldn't have let him anywhere near her blood. The next time she got him alone, she planned on having a nice little conversation about it.
"Has he…has he been exhibiting any signs of the curse?" he asked haltingly, probably afraid of the answer.
"He has," she answered in a low voice. She shivered as she remembered how his eyes had flashed the spooky coppery red color.
Ulrick scrubbed his hand over his face. He was looking worn, older than what he had looked when Tegan had first met him. He wasn't the hulking, powerful alpha in this moment.
He was a worried father.
"It's not as bad as Kerr though," Tegan said trying to comfort him in some way. "He hasn't gone into a full rage or anything. But there are small things like his eyes changing to a more reddish hue. But personality wise he was still the same bossy, snarky wolf-boy he has always been."
"How is Kerr doing?"
"Perhaps you should see him for yourself. You haven't spoken to him since that night."
"And what am I going to say to him?"
"He needs to know that you still love him."
"Of course I love him! He is still my son no matter what has happened to him."
"Right now, he needs that reassurance," she said. "He isn't sure how his parents feel about him. The only thing that he knows is that he has betrayed you, that he has let you down in some unjustifiable way. He is scared. He's terrified that he has no one is in his corner…that he's going to hurt someone…that he is going to be locked up with Zelko again. At least Soren is coming around in his own rough way. They are starting to mend together their broken relationship little by little. Soren has stopped acting like he doesn't exist and actually says more than a handful of civil words to him. But Kerr is going to need his whole family to back him, maybe even the whole pack. Come by and see, Ulrick. I think it will do all of you some good."
"Maybe," Ulrick murmured, vaguely.
"He had another attack last night before we came over," Tegan said.
"Is….is he okay?"
"He's doing better. I left him in Storm's care. I called last night when Soren insisted. Storm said was feeling better," she told him.
"Was it bad?" he questioned softly.
Tegan nodded. "It wasn't any worse from what I could tell. But he was in so much pain and there was nothing I could really do for him. Storm and I are going to try something to lessen the control the curse has on them. It's a mixture of wolfbane and silver."
Ulrick recoiled and snarled, "That is a death cocktail. You are going to kill them!"
"No. They won't have to touch it. I'm going to create each of them a charm that each of the boys can carry on their person without it harming them. It will only lessen their power when they change, weakening them so they don't destroy everything in their path," Tegan said. "I would never do anything that could kill them, Ulrick. You have my word. This is all I have to work with at the moment. It could even slow or stop the change in Soren for the time being."
"How are you going to be able to handle it? It could be lethal to you as well," he said.
"With Storm and a lot of hope." Because there was really nothing else for her to go on.
"Tegan, I can't let you do this," he said miserably. He was torn with two very difficult decisions: doing nothing only to have his sons' curse become worse or letting her create the charm that could be deadly if handled improperly.
"Do you really want to lose both of your children to this curse? Do you want Zelko and his horrible sister to win?" she demanded.
"No," he moaned. "I don't."
"Then let me try and give them some sort of reprieve. I know I can help them if you let me," Tegan said.
"Swear to me that you will take every precaution," he demanded. "As much as it pains me to see my sons go through this travesty, I can't let anything happen to you."
"I swear, Ulrick," she promised.
Ulrick gave a stiff nod. "I better gather the flock and let you do your thing. It's safer to do it in the Den where the most of our pack mates are."
"Honestly, I feel a little guilty accusing them of having an ulterior motive," she confessed. "But I can't shake the bad vibes I get from them. We should at least try to make them feel somewhat welcome though."
"Are you willing to extend that same invitation to the young Cara?" he asked, mirthfulness lighting his face changing him back into the not-so-worn-down version of himself.
Tegan had the good sense to look embarrassed. She had a feeling that she was never going to live that down. "I overreacted a little last night. It won't happen again." Or at least she hoped not.
Ulrick chuckled heartily. "It's nothing to be ashamed about. You were staking your claim to what you felt was yours. Soren certainly made no objections to it. You'll be good for him. As long as you are carefully going about this union, I approve."
She grinned sheepishly, his acceptance oddly warming her in some way. "We'll see, because with Soren…you never know how things are going to sway."
He shook his head as if to agree. "But when he finds something he wants, his tenacity knows no bounds." Then he abruptly changed the subject. "I'm sure the new wolves are waiting for us. I told Darus to gather his flock and bring them here at sunrise."
They rose from their seats. Ulrick opened the entrance to his office and escorted her down to the front entrance of the house. Sure enough, it was abuzz with werewolf activity. What seemed like so few hours ago seemed like a lot when she started checking them over for sickness and other problems using magic.
Today was going to be another long, exhausting day it seemed.
Author's Note: The story should hit it's climax in the next few coming chapters - two or three maybe. I just have to work on that theoretical climax because here are just so many ways it could go.
As always: Thanks to all those that have read and especially those that have reviewed.