Red Wolf–A Dardanos Short Story

I’ve been working hard lately–on the next Finley Creek and the next paranormals. Bailey is currently with my new editor and I have been rereading all the books in preparation for the next few titles. This story is one I intended to write a while back, but things kind of cropped up and cut into my time. But it’s finally finished. Enjoy!

–Calle

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Marshall Taniss was once a celebrated CFO of a mega-billion dollar company.

Until the world shifted and he became more than human.

And learned monsters existed.

Now he’s nothing more than a messenger between worlds he will never understand. And a war was coming.  Until one day in the woods of Levia everything shifted again.

With one scent of her he knew he’d  found his purpose again.

Marshall had found his mate. Now he had to claim her…

RED WOLF is an 8,000 word short story, set in the Dardanos universe.

RED WOLF

A Dardanos Short Story

CALLE J.

                 BROOKES

1.

Renee Nellano’s daughter was a witch. A reincarnated witch—who was once the daughter of a goddess. It was a hard pill for her to swallow. She’d always known her late husband was different in ways she didn’t understand. He’d been reserved and withdrawn and brooding for most of their marriage. Except when he’d touched her.

At seventeen, she’d barely known how to handle him. She’d thought he’d been about twenty-five when they’d met. The age difference had scandalized her parents, as had the speed of the relationship.

She’d been happy with him in the eight years they’d had together.

But she’d learned the truth about him recently.

He’d been hundreds of years older than her. And nowhere near human. He’d just pretended, never opening up to tell her the truth. That lack of trust had hurt her far more than she wanted to admit. Even now, years after his death. It still hurt; made her feel twice as alone in this world filled with men just like him.

When their only child had been just a girl, he had disappeared. She knew in her heart he was dead. She could almost pinpoint to the minute when it had happened. When her world had shattered and she’d been all alone, except for her daughter.

For once, she just wanted not to feel so alone. But Renee would never tell anyone that. She’d just keep going.

Like she had after her husband had disappeared.

He’d been a Druid, a male member of whatever species her daughter now was. And she was almost convinced the only reason he had been with her had been to father her child. Some type of destiny.

It was hard not to feel used sometimes.

It would have been easy to resent Loren for that. But Renee had always adored her. From the moment she’d first held her baby when she’d been just turned eighteen and so alone, except for a taciturn man whose eyes had burned fire when he’d looked at her, Loren had been her focus.

Her parents had wanted nothing to do with her after she had married. After her husband had been gone, it had just been her.

And her little girl.

Her baby was twenty-two now and Renee was inching close to forty, with the knowledge that her daughter had been reborn over eighty times—and that Loren was an immortal being so darned strong that even gods and goddesses Renee had never known existed feared Loren now.

And now Loren was mated to a warrior who was literally thousands of years old. And Loren was perfectly happy about it.

What scared Renee the most was the fact that war was coming. Had already come to a few places.

And her daughter was one of the prime targets of whatever devil these creatures feared.

As a lowly human in this world, there was nothing Renee could do to protect her. And with her daughter completely in another world right now, Renee had to face everything alone. Once again, alone.

She was so tired of being alone.

2.

Marshall Taniss slowed as he arrived at the edge of the city. The warriors who accompanied him reminded him of the security he’d once hired to protect his family. Back when the world had made more sense than it did now.

He was no longer human. His nephew-in-law Barlaam, one of the greatest healers of all times apparently, had determined he was closest to a Druid now. Or, at least, he had druidic blood running in his veins. That, and werewolf blood. But he hadn’t said how much—or even when it had gotten there.

But Marshall suspected he knew.

What that meant for Marshall, he didn’t quite know yet. But what he didn’t know about this new world far outnumbered what he did.

He was fifty-nine years old, yet Barlaam had told him he had the body of a man in his early forties. One in far better shape than most men that age.

And that body would be what he had for the rest of eternity now. Thanks to his father’s macabre experiments on his own offspring. Everything was now changed.

And Marshall would never grow old and die.

But neither would his children. His daughters were mated to warriors just like the ones that surrounded him. Two of his sons-in-law were vampires, Dardaptoans of some reputation. The other was a cross between a werewolf and a vampire. And absolutely terrifying.

His only son was a full-blooded werewolf and had been since he’d been bitten at the age of eight.

Marshall hadn’t known.

Now Rand was second-in-command to a god. Marshall, who’d once helped run the biggest pharmaceutical company in the human world, was now reduced to running messages between different worlds.

All of the wealth he had worked to amass in his life for his children was worthless in the demon world and in Levia, where his youngest daughter and his son both lived.

It was them he visited today.

Once he made it through the outskirts of the nearest refugee city, he began to pick up his pace.

Levia had been greatly damaged in a recent attack that had leveled most of the ancient buildings. All but a few were just piles of stone and purple wood. And smoke. Ash. Destruction.

His daughter’s home was just past it. It was there he headed, trying to forget how close the invaders had raged to where his twenty-two-year-old baby girl and his two grandchildren lived. He had six grandchildren now, Becca had a set of twins—one boy, one girl—just as her brother did. Mickey, his middle daughter, had a beautiful redheaded girl just as sweet as her mother. And Mallory, his oldest daughter, had a strong, healthy baby boy. Six beautiful grandchildren to remind him of how blessed he had always been.

His children were his world.

Mallory’s son had been born two days before.

Amidst yet another battle that the vampires almost hadn’t won.

Her husband had been in the center of that battle.

If a Dardaptoan vampire died, their mate followed within days. If one of his sons-in-law were lost, one of his daughters would be doomed. His grandchildren would be orphaned.

And there was nothing Marshall could do to protect them.

He felt completely useless as their father now. He was the weak link in a world full of warriors.

Marshall looked at the first-in-command at his left. The demon was the head of the guards for the demon king. “My daughter’s home is on that side of the courtyard. Where she can help her sister-in-law with the school.”

“The school was one of the buildings destroyed.”

Just another reminder of what could have been lost.

“Then to the wolf god. I have a message for them that they need to hear.”

3.

Her daughter had returned to another world; the one she stayed in most with the son-in-law Renee was not ready for. She’d wanted to go with her daughter, but Loren had wanted to return first. To make certain it was safe for a human. Apparently, there were more human eaters in the demon world than in the world of gods and goddesses where she now was.

They had argued, but Loren had gotten Renee’s stubbornness times ten. Her daughter had won. This time.

Renee was giving Loren three days to do what she wanted in the demon world, then Renee was going to go after what she wanted.

And that was to keep Loren safe as best she could. Period.

Renee was a guest in the home of one of Loren’s college friends now. Becca, a girl who had once been as human as Renee but thanks to a werewolf bite a year or so ago was now a werewolf.

With two beautiful werewolf children. Renee had spent the last few days enjoying those babies. Renee cuddled Becca’s little boy, Ryan, as Becca carried Mazie. Such beautiful babies. It had been a while since she’d cuddled babies on a regular basis. She would have loved more children, but her husband had refused. Said Loren was enough. Reminded her that after Loren, the doctors had said there was a high likelihood she would never have more children because of the complications.

Now she realized she’d let that man make far too many decisions for the both of them. Maybe if she had had more backbone back then, he would not have gone out that night, and would not have been killed. If she had put her foot down, gone after what she wanted, he wouldn’t have stormed out.

Renee had made herself a vow that she’d go after what felt right ever since that night. Even when it hadn’t been easy.

They were moving Becca’s family from the ruins of the home where the werewolf god and vampire goddess lived to the home of the sun god. And they were doing it on foot.

It was a seven-mile journey.

She was in great physical shape but a seven-mile hike over ragged and war-ravaged roads, carrying a hefty baby boy in her arms, wasn’t exactly her idea of a picnic.

The world of the gods didn’t exactly have automobiles.

Renee kept walking, Ryan strapped to her chest, his little head snuggled on her shoulders. She just breathed him in, instead of the sulfuric smell that she’d learned accompanied magic in this world. He smelled like baby powder fresh and baby shampoo. Hope.

Perhaps one day soon, after this war ended, she would have a grandbaby of her own. She was only thirty-nine, but still…unlike her daughter, she was not going to live forever.

Renee would mention that when she next saw her daughter. Just because that’s what mothers were supposed to do to their children.

And her daughter would get a kick out of it.

4.

They were too late. By the time they reached his daughter’s home after taking his message to the wolf god, Becca and her family had already relocated. His son-in-law Matthuin had taken Becca and twenty other people, including the babies, to the other side of the seven islands that made up this world. After seeing the destruction Becca’s home had taken, Marshall understood.

Still, it changed his plans. He wanted to see Becca and the babies. Her birthday was next week; it was always a hard time for her. She had lost her mother the day she was born, and she had always longed for what she didn’t have. To compound things, his sister-in-law who had helped him with the kids after he’d lost his wife, had died herself a few years later right around Becca’s birthday. In a plane crash he suspected his father had had a hand in.

He just wanted to see his daughter. Something was telling him that it was with Becca he was supposed to be right now. He’d catch up to her, help her get the babies settled into their new place, possibly spend the night, then return to Mallory’s home in the demon world.

Hold his newest grandson again.

 

5.

The midway point of the journey was supposed to be the most treacherous. Becca had told her that before they’d left. They had eight guards surrounding them. Those guards terrified her more than she wanted to admit.

They wouldn’t have guards if there wasn’t a need for guards.

But whenever something terrified her, Renee just kept going.

She tightened her hold on Ryan when he fussed. “Shhh, baby. It’s ok. I’ve got you.”

He snuggled back into her and made a sucking sound with his little mouth, then settled back into sleep.

“He’s a great sleeper. Mazie, not so much,” Becca said, at her side. She shifted closer to Renee.

And growled. Hair rippled across Becca’s pale arm, where she crossed it over her daughter. Renee bit back a squeak.

“Becca?” She knew her daughter’s best friend was a werewolf, but this was the first time that had ever really sunken in. “What is it?”

“Something’s coming.”

Renee felt it, too.

Matt, Becca’s husband stopped next to her. He looked at Renee. “Becca is extremely sensitive to threats. Stay close. We have about a mile to go through this part of the woods.”

A mile wasn’t too long. She felt like a refugee from centuries ago as they continued trekking over what had to be a small mountain. Whoever had created this world—and she’d learned that varied depending on which layer of the realms they were in—had made this part of the islands as inaccessible as possible.

She could see the sun god’s castle in the distance.

“It’s three miles away?”

“A bit more. But we’ll be fine,” Matt said. He patted her on the shoulder lightly. “We’ll keep you safe, Renee. I promise.”

“I’m going to hold you to that.”

“Of course I will. I want more peanut butter cookies.” He winked after he said it. “Becca’s right. They are the best ever.”

She smiled, but it was a weak smile. She just wanted to get to someplace safe. Her, Becca, the babies, and everyone else out there.

Because she felt the eyes watching her, too. With hunger.

One thing she’d learned from her daughter was not to keep that feeling a secret. If she felt someone watching, someone was probably watching. Especially in a world where monsters existed. “Someone’s watching me, Matt. I can feel it.”

She tightened her arms around the baby.

He called over one of the guards. “Rune, you are to stay next to Renee. Do you understand? No one is to get near her.”

Renee looked at the guard. He looked like he was just a kid. Younger even than Loren and Becca. But the sword he had pulled looked very, very real.

6.

Marshall could see the group as they walked. They weren’t making the best of time, but unlike the group of men he was with, there were mostly women and children. And guards. He could see his son-in-law Matt at the front. He was head-and-shoulders taller than Becca. Becca was distinctive with the red hair she’d inherited from Marsh’s mother. All of his children had hair redder than his. His was mostly dark brown with red shot through. No gray. He hadn’t gotten a single gray hair.

Something that he hadn’t even noticed but was just one more sign of the Druid and werewolf blood he had possessed for decades.

Something howled.

And it wasn’t one of his guards. They were all Dardaptoan. Vampires.

He looked at the head of those guards. “Joru? These woods…the packs of wolves in them?”

The warrior shook his head. “Rumor has it, rogue bands of Lupoiux are forming back in Gaia. And making their way through the barriers between worlds. Because no Lupoiux under Rand would pose a threat. They are to guard this world. Not attack it. Those are Lupoiux females down there. If one of them is in heat they will be irresistible to any rogue Lupoiux animal around.”

“So my daughter and grandchildren down there now?” The werewolf in Marshall’s blood reared its dormant head. He bit back a growl.

Joru shook his head. “I do not know. There are other breeds of shifters in these woods now, too. Leshy, the tree shifters. Wendigo, perhaps. But the sun god and the wolf god, and the god of Druids are said to keep them contained. But with the barriers down…”

The different worlds were layered like an onion. Barriers existed between them. Barrier that had been set into place to protect the various worlds, had been pulled down by the Laquazzeana—mythical creatures more powerful than the gods and goddesses of this purplish world—when someone had frozen those barriers weeks ago.

Those frozen barriers had threatened to trap people on both sides. People who needed to travel between them.

Marshall had been trapped in the demon world, separated from half his children. The fear that that could happen again was very real.

And one of the reasons for the message he had delivered.

Sometimes dangerous creatures from other worlds decided to conquer new territory.

Making it doubly dangerous for everyone.

“Come on. We need to get down there.” At least two miles separated their group from the one in the distance now. And the terrain between them was rough and ragged.

And the wolf inside him was about to take hold. In a way it hadn’t ever before.

He growled, shocking himself—and the guard. That shock was written on the warrior’s face.

Fur sprang up on Marshall’s arms.

“I see. You are more than just a Druid, are you not?”

Marshall nodded.

The wolf—what he had only released once before, on the night his wife had died, and what he had been convinced he had imagined—was about to spring free.

“Let’s go.”

7.

She didn’t see them at first. But Renee felt them. She’d always had premonitions and this…this was real. “They’re coming!”

Becca slipped her daughter out of the pouch she carried her in and handed the baby over to a teenage girl next to her. “Chloe, take Mazie and stay with her. Stay close to Mrs. Nellano, ok? We’ll guard you best we can.”

The girl wasn’t any more than fifteen and was the only teenage girl in the group. The rest of the children were far younger and stayed close to their mothers. But Chloe was an orphan taken in by the werewolves months ago. This girl was practically alone in this world. And the eyes were on her, too.

Renee shifted. She wasn’t about to let anything happen to these children. Not if she could stop it.

Howls split the air. Women and children screamed as the guards with swords surrounded them.

Wolves came from everywhere. At least three dozen. With a fierce growl Becca shifted into a red wolf right next to her. Matt, turned into a big black beast so terrifying Renee wanted to run.

But she didn’t. She stood her ground and tried to protect and shelter the three children nearest her.

Gray, nasty beasts broke through the guard Rune, even though he tried and tried to fight. One ripped his arm, sending blood in every direction. But he kept fighting.

Renee screamed when two of the wolves left Rune on the ground and came for her. She shoved Chloe toward some of the guards. “Get behind them. Hurry!”

She tried to follow the teenager, but the wolves cut her off. Renee backed up, but there were more behind her.

They snipped and snarled and got closer. Herding her away from the group. Her and the screaming baby in her arms.

His mother turned to her, ready to defend. To get to her son. But there was no way Becca or her husband were going to get to them in time.

Renee wrapped her arms around the baby as she fell to the ground. Teeth clamped onto her left arm and yanked.

She struck out with her right.

She got lucky. Her nails sank into the werewolf’s eye. She tightened her grip.

He howled and backed away.

But only a moment.

She wrapped her arms around Ryan and rolled him under her. As best as she possibly could. She knew the truth; it was hopeless.

But she wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

Not with Becca’s baby in her arms.

8.

Marshall’s howl was the loudest, floating over the heads of the fighting Dardaptoans and Lupoiux werewolves below.

Several wolves stopped to look at him and the band of Dardaptoans with him.

He had fifteen strong fighters. The message he’d delivered to the wolf god had been that important. Now those fighters headed toward the battle.

Marshall’s bones shifted, fur rippled across his arms. And then, just like had been almost twenty-three years before, the wolf emerged. Marshall lifted his muzzle to the sky and howled.

He could not see himself, but the fur on his body was a dark reddish brown. Just like the hair on his head.

He’d seen his son shift before, and his brother Jason. Rand was a red wolf. Jason a black. Apparently, Marshall was as red as his son.

His daughter was a red wolf, too. And he could see her, scent her, down there.

It was toward his baby girl and his grandchildren that he ran.

The warriors were behind him.

His daughter fought near the center, his son-in-law near her. So many surrounded Matt that Marshall almost turned to help him instead.

But Becca defended her babies.

Another woman screamed. Marshall almost stumbled. She screamed again.

The sound shot straight through him and Marshall knew.

Her.

What Jason had once told him just a few months ago was real. Every Lupoiux had a mate out there. Whether he was an alpha or not.

Jason knew Marshall’s secret. And he’d postulated that Marshall just wasn’t an alpha. That that was why he hadn’t shifted; that there was more Druid in him than wolf. That was why he had been so able to get along with his brother and son, who were strong alphas.

But that wasn’t true.

Marshall hadn’t had a reason to shift then. Not until now.

His mate was in trouble, and it was up to him to protect her.

His howl echoed through the woods.

He charged.

9.

Her arms burned. The wolves had bitten and clawed at her, trying to get her to release Ryan to them. Never. She was never letting go of him. They would only get to him when she was dead.

A wolf from somewhere howled. The sound chilled her to the bones. It sounded so angry.

And so close.

The wolves snarling at her shifted, looked away from her.

And to the one howling.

Renee used the distraction to pull herself away from the wolves and toward Rune, who was getting to his feet.

The wolf howled again and she just had to look toward him.

He was red. And huge. Far bigger than the wolves surrounding her.

She knew this wolf came for her.

Maybe it was false hope, but she thought…every instinct she had told her he came for her.

And he had a bunch of men with him. Dressed like the vampires and carrying swords.

The wolves ran. Then Becca was there, shifted back into a human and reaching for her son.

Renee finally let the baby go.

The bites on her arms burned so badly she could not think, could not do anything but the feel the pain. She screamed then whimpered, and just couldn’t stop.

Until strong male arms were there and he was lifting her.

Her wolf.

Renee looked into his green eyes. Eyes that burned when they looked at her.

That’s when she recognized him.

Becca’s father. She was safe. He’d brought the warriors. And he had come for her. But that didn’t make any sense. He was there for his daughter and family. Not for her. She was just in this world because she had nowhere else to go. Because of her daughter. It was all for her daughter.

So why did she somehow believe he had come for her?

She couldn’t think. Not anymore. Her entire body burned.

Darkness consumed her and she went limp against him.

10.

He’d met her a few times before. But it was different now. Why was it different now? The people around them field dressed the bites on her arms. All were grim.

Becca stayed close, her arms around her son now. Matt held their daughter. The little girl had been well protected by Matt’s warriors, but the woman Marshall refused to let go of had been separated from the group for some reason.

Matt looked at him. “You are more Lupoiux than we thought. You can shift.”

“Yes.”

“Has it happened before?”

“Once,” he answered. “When I lost Becca’s mother. I thought my grief had made me imagine it. Until recently.”

“Dad?” Becca finally looked at him. He checked her for injuries quickly, her and the baby she held. Both were bedraggled and a mess. And Becca was paler than usual. But they would be fine. “You knew you were Lupoiux and didn’t tell us?”

He shifted the woman he held, so one in a blue scarf could see her. Renee, he thought her name was Renee. She was the mother of one of Becca’s close college friends. That girl had ended up in one of these worlds somewhere, too. Renee was still unconscious but the healers had stopped the blood for the moment. “I did not know until this past year. And I believed I imagined it. But I knew I was different. Your grandfather. I had an operation on my heart ten months before you were born, Becca. After that, I felt different.”

“You were experimented on. Just like some of the rest of us,” Becca said bitterly. And she was right. His own father had used his children and grandchildren as guinea pigs.

“It explains why Becca was already half-Lupoiux when I found her,” Matt said, as they hiked toward the sun god’s home. “She was conceived before you were fully changed.”

Marshall nodded. He had wondered when his brother Jason had said something about his own youngest Jade, who had been born around the same time. Becca had been different from her sisters as a child.

But until today he had not had the proof. All of Barlaam’s tests could only show that there was some Druid and some Lupoiux. But not how much.

“I changed today, for the second time.”

“Because of the threat to your family,” Matt said. His eyes sharpened on the woman Marshall carried. Marshall saw the sudden speculation on his son-in-law’s face. “You can let Joru or Hath carry her, Marshall. Your arm is bleeding.”

Marshall growled at the mere thought of any other man touching her. “No. I carry her.”

Matt stared at him and then nodded. “That’s the way of it, then. She’s the one.”

“Yes.” He knew what his son-in-law meant. No other man would ever touch or protect her in his stead. Unless they were of his or her family. And even then, only when necessary.

Her blond hair was like silk against his skin. It had been a long time since he’d felt like this for a female. He’d had affairs since his wife’s death, but he’d always known they weren’t the lasting relationship he needed.

But the thought of letting her out of his sight both terrified and infuriated him.

“I must have missed something,” Becca said. “What do you mean? What about Renee?”

“Simple, sweetheart.” Matt pulled Becca close. “Renee must be your father’s mate now.”

“Seriously? Then why wasn’t she before? They’ve met at least four times that I know of. Including at my college graduation.”

“Because she hadn’t been bitten yet,” Matt said quietly. “But I do think she is in heat. I could tell one of our females were, but it was a faint scent. It can work that way when the mate is human. Only a few males can tell when it’s not his mate. It’s a way for the pack to protect unmated females if the time comes.”

Seriously?” Becca just looked at him. “Loren is so not going to believe this.”

Marshall barely believed it himself. But as Renee whimpered, even while unconscious, he knew it was the truth.

This woman was his, for eternity. He’d spent enough hours reading all he could on the various magical beings that existed to understand how the Lupoiux mating worked. Every Lupoiux had one; he’d wondered if he had. If his late wife had been his, but now he knew the truth. He had been human with her.

Now he wasn’t. And Renee was meant for him.

He tightened his hold on her. “Let’s get her someplace safe, ok? Then we’ll figure out any details, later.”

11.

When Renee woke, there was a man next to her bed. And she was definitely in a bed. The room was decorated entirely in green. Green that matched the man’s eyes. She sat up.

The pain was almost gone, her arms looked almost healed. There were red bite marks, but no puncture wounds.

That was impossible. Unless she had been out for longer than she thought. “What day is it?”

He moved from the chair in which he’d been reading and sat down next to her on the bed.

She could smell him and her lower stomach tightened. Her hand trembled when she reached up to move the hair out of her eyes. “Mr. Taniss?”

“Marshall. How do you feel?”

“Like I was bitten by a wild pack of wolves.” A thought occurred to her. “Ryan? Is he ok? Becca and Mazie?”

He held up a hand. No doubt as a Taniss, one of the richest men in the human world, he was used to having his way. “Everyone is fine. It was you and the babies they were after. The babies are fine. Thank you for protecting my grandson.”

She slumped against the pillows. That’s when she realized she had been dressed in a thin piece of purple silk nothingness. And her blanket had fallen.

His eyes burned when they looked at her.

She felt an answering heat low in her stomach. She was an experienced enough woman to know what it was.

“What are you doing in here?” When had he grabbed her free hand? He was running his fingers over the back of her hand. The heat of his touch had her shivering.

She’d met him before, and while he’d been a very attractive man, she hadn’t felt quite like this. He’d been kind and helpful and they’d had their daughters in common. But it had been perfunctory. She’d been focused on Loren’s safety. And he had been too old, too rich, and too worried about his own problems for her to even consider anything else.

She hadn’t been truly attracted to a man since Loren’s father had died when her daughter had been seven years old.

But now…

He smelled like cinnamon and fire. Renee wanted to breathe him in.

“What happened to me? I don’t quite feel right,” she whispered. Had he leaned closer. Or had she? “Marshall?”

He pulled back slightly. “Sweetheart, how much do you know about what my daughter is?”

“I know she’s a werewolf.”

He nodded. “She was bitten almost two years ago.”

“She told me. One day when Matthuin was in another world. I stayed with her to help with the babies. She told me then.” She had always been close to Loren’s friend Becca. She’d visited the girls at least once a month when Loren had been in college. Never had her daughter acted embarrassed by her being there. And the girls—Jade, Becca and their little friend Mara—had always welcomed her. She’d cooked for the girls and just fussed over them when she could. That hadn’t changed much in this other world, at least. She still fussed over them when she could.

“You were bitten twelve hours ago.” He looked straight at her. His tone was blunt when he said the words she knew were coming. “You’re Lupoiux now, too. As am I.”

No. That wasn’t possible. But as he stared at her Renee knew he hadn’t lied. She just felt different. And the instinctive knowing she’d always felt told her the truth.

She was a werewolf. And he was supposed to be important to her now.

Renee didn’t know what to do about it.

12.

Marshall watched her face almost crumble. He hated having to be the one to tell her how her world had changed in just a few hours’ time. He moved closer, then pulled her onto his lap. The silk blanket was trapped between them. “It will be ok. You, we, will have centuries, millennia, together to figure this out. You are not alone.”

“What?” she pulled away and looked up at him. Her eyes were blue. A very pretty soft blue. She had to be close to forty, possibly older, but she didn’t look it. Her skin was pale and smooth. Her eyes tip-tilted and wide. Her lips were soft pink and trembling. “You said we.

“You are Lupoiux now. And every Lupoiux has a mate out there somewhere. You are mine.” He would not lie to her; no dishonesty between them, period. “You need to know from the very beginning. We were meant to be together.”

“And you are completely delusional. No man will ever just decide things for me ever again.”

“It was decided for us a long, long time ago. No one knows how a Lupoiux mated pair is formed, but it is a very strong bond. If I were to leave the room now, you would want to follow. Just as I would follow you anywhere.”

“Insane. You are completely and utterly beyond insane, Mr. Taniss. And I suggest you take a hike. Out there into the purple world might be a good place to start.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, causing the feminine flesh beneath the silk to rise in a way that heated his blood.

Renee Nellano was a very, very beautiful woman.

“I will leave. If you kiss me. If you kiss me and tell me you feel nothing, then I will not bother you again. But if you hunger as much as I do, then…well…we’ll see what happens.”

13.

Renee had never been afraid of a challenge. It was how she’d gotten this far now anyway. Of course, argument could be made that she hadn’t gotten all that far.

Not considering the fact that he thought she was his wolfy mate or something. Rich jerk syndrome? Thinking because he was a Taniss he was entitled to whatever he wanted? He thought that included her.

Her late husband had been the exact same way.

Saying they were meant to be together. Just like had happened to her before. And she’d fallen for it then. They’d conceived Loren within a week of first meeting.

That was so not going to happen now.

She wasn’t meant to be with a man that arrogant ever again. Even this one.

Besides Marshall was too darned old to be acting like this. Even though he looked barely older than her, he had to have almost twenty years on her. He could go find some other poor just-turned-werewolf woman to play with. Although…she didn’t like that idea, either.

“Renee? Kiss me back, sweetheart. Just kiss me back.”

And then he was there, his lips on hers.

Renee would say if anyone ever asked her that she’d at least tried. But it would be a lie.

The instant he touched her, something took ahold of her and he was there.

Everywhere. Consuming her.

And she was kissing him right back.

The silk between them didn’t matter at all. She wasn’t exactly wearing anything beneath it.

But it was he who pulled back first.

When had his shirt ripped? Had she done it?

Renee vaguely recalled doing just that.

“You were saying?” He grinned, a rogue wolf expression if she’d ever seen one. Damn him. He’d known. Known that the instant they’d touched there would be those flames. Flames she hadn’t felt in a long, long while. “Kiss me again, Renee.”

She could do that. “This doesn’t mean we’re mates or anything.”

But her hands were pulling the remnants of his shirt from his shoulders. For a guy his age he was in fine shape, with well-defined muscles and beautifully strong shoulders.

He used those muscles to pull her closer.

She didn’t feel so alone now.

“No? Are you sure about that?” One finger pushed the thin strap of her camisole over her shoulder. Exposing her to his gaze.

Not exactly? She wasn’t exactly certain of what she was doing right now. Other than that instinct that had driven her since she was a teenager was telling her to just gobble him up. The way she was meant to.

The heat consuming her was more than she wanted to even think about fighting. “Kiss me again. It has been so long…”

Suddenly she wanted to cry. She couldn’t even remember what Loren’s father looked like right then.

All she could think about was the man in front of her. And how he made her feel for the first time in almost a decade and a half.

He obliged.

Within minutes they were both naked and he was leaning over her.

A logical part of her wanted to stop him. The bigger part of her had felt so alone since the moment she’d learned these other worlds even existed. And she wanted him to touch her all over. To erase that feeling forever.

She didn’t want to feel alone today. Not today. Not with what had happened.

Renee wrapped her arms around his shoulders. And pulled him closer. She just needed to feel like she mattered to someone besides her daughter again. And in this monster-infused world they were now in, he at least felt like a connection to normal for her.

He paused above her. “You need to know something. If we do this, it will change everything. And we are Lupoiux. There could be children from this.”

“I’ve been on birth control for four years to prevent some issues I was experiencing from worsening. And the doctors…said I most likely can’t get pregnant again.” She knew the odds. She wasn’t impulsive, but she needed him. If just for a little while.

He leaned closer and kissed her again. And then the fire consumed them both.

14.

 

Marshall woke early in the morning hours when someone knocked on the door of the suite he and Renee had been given when they’d arrived at the sun god’s castle. No one had protested putting Renee in with him. Everyone had just assumed that was the way it was to be the instant Matt had told the sun god that Marshall’s mate had been harmed.

Not even Becca had stopped him, though she’d wanted him to wait until after Renee had wakened to get her consent.

Matt had pulled Becca back, told her that what had happened between Renee and Marshall was in their hands and no one else’s. That if after Renee woke she wanted separate quarters then so be it. But for now, Renee was to be in Marshall’s suite.

He’d privately pulled Marshall aside to make sure he’d understood the hunger they would both face. And that for the first thirty-something hours they probably wouldn’t want to emerge.

Marshall had understood, in theory. But now that they had actually consummated their bond, it was so much more than that.

Renee was dressed in her purple nightgown, her hair tangled over her pillow as she slept. Pride in what they had done burned in him.

He had a purpose in the worlds again. He was no longer just a weak half-Druid messenger. He was Lupoiux. He had a mate and most likely had created more children. Another family.

That family would require protected.

His son-in-law met him at the door. “Renee’s daughter comes. And word is she’s not too thrilled with her mother being Lupoiux.”

“No doubt she’s not.” He winced. And Loren could fry him if she wanted. Not the best way to start things off. “Where’s Becca?”

“Waiting for Loren down on ground level. I hate this castle. It’s like being a damned bird.”

“No kidding.” He looked at his son-in-law. Matt was part Dardaptoan, part Druid, and mostly Lupoiux. “I’m not certain what I’m supposed to do next.”

“You’ve mated. You have a bit over four months to decide. Does she know everything?”

“She said the doctors don’t think she’ll ever get pregnant again.” And he was conflicted about that, of course. They were in a world at war—and he was almost sixty years old. The idea of having more children in these troubled times terrified him.

But he knew enough about Lupoiux to know that if they didn’t have children now, they probably never would. And he suspected Renee would want those children. Greatly.

Matt shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. She’s Lupoiux. It’s done. You’re facing twins or even triplets. You’d best get things prepared.”

“I can handle twins again. I don’t even know where she will want to live.” With her daughter or his. That was the choice she would have to make. He had two children in both worlds; he would adapt. He just wanted to be with her.

“I suggest you be completely honest with her. I learned that lesson the hard way with your daughter.”

Marshall sent him a hard look. “How so?”

Matt winced. “That’s something for another story, some other day. I’ll tell you someday, I swear.”

He heard the sounds of Renee shifting in the bed behind him. She would want to be up and ready to greet her daughter when Loren arrived. He knew that about the sassy little blond that was now his mate, already.

Renee had a strong, stubborn, take-no-prisoners personality that had apparently been hidden behind that sweet little blond exterior. Marshall was looking forward to exploring that personality throughout eternity. His body tightened with that thought.

“Go. I’ll delay Loren as long as I can. But not too long. She actually scares me sometimes.”

15.

He was still there. It hadn’t been some weird kind of erotic dream. But then, every time she’d reached for him in the night he had been there. She had not been alone.

Renee watched him close the door and turn toward her. He smiled.

“You’re awake. Good. Loren’s on her way here to check on you.”

“She’s a bit of a worry-wort. And far too overprotective. She always has been.” Her voice was husky from sleep. Renee watched his green eyes darken when he looked at her.

With lust. With hunger.

Now that some of the fire that had been controlling her earlier had lessened, heat of a different kind hit her cheeks.

She’d begged him to do things to her that she’d never even dreamed about before.

He’d obliged. With a hunger and tenderness that she had missed over the last fifteen years. He sank onto the mattress beside her. One hand coasted up her arm. She shivered.

His eyes burned again. Marshall leaned closer as he said her name.

Renee met him halfway in a kiss that seared her to her very toes.

When he pulled back, she followed. His arms were there as if he instinctively knew exactly what she needed. Renee rested her head against his shoulder and just let him hold her.

Until the door flew open and her daughter was there.

“Loren! You could have at least knocked! What if they’re naked?” Becca called out from behind her.

Renee’s eyes met Marshall’s. His widened. Reckoning had come a bit sooner than he’d apparently thought. She snickered.

“Just let me deal with this,” Renee whispered, struck by the humor in the situation. And feeling like she’d done something completely wicked for once in her life. “I’ll handle her.”

  “Well, Mama. I hope you at least used birth control. You know what happens to Lupoiux when they don’t, right?”

“I do! I do!” Becca said, stepping further into the suite. “We get Ryans and Mazies everywhere!”

The two stopped near the foot of the bed and just stared at them. Renee stared back. Her lips twitched. Loren’s eyes met hers. An echoing expression was on her completely snark-astic daughter’s face.

Loren was enjoying Marshall’s embarrassment; that was for sure.

“Girls, don’t you think this is a bit inappropriate?” Marshall asked, clear irritation in his tone.

Becca and Loren just snickered at him.

It was like looking at two young girls again. Like they’d used to be when she’d first met Becca. Young, mischievous, carefree and innocent.

Not like magical, mythical beings who now knew too much about war. Her heart broke for the children they had been not all that long ago.

“Girls…can we help you?” She tugged the blanket up a little closer. Marshall had snapped the strap on the right side during their latest embrace. If she moved wrong, everything was going to be exposed. “We’re not exactly dressed for company.”

“Just checking on you, Mom. Did he explain the Lupoiux…wedding ceremony? Becca and I are here to explain the birds and bees to you, if needed.” Loren shot her a wicked look that told Renee everything she needed to know. “A boy wolf meets and girl wolf…and gets randy. Then things can happen and…”

Loren was going to enjoy teasing her about this, no doubt. “Whatever is going on between us, we’ll be the ones to work it out. Now, go away. Marshall and I need to talk. Without our bratty children getting in our way.”

Becca pulled on Loren’s arm. “Told you we’d make Mommy and Daddy mad if we interrupted their special Mommy and Daddy time, sis. But you never listen to me.”

“It’s because you’re such a know-it-all. It comes from being the youngest.”

Becca snorted. “Youngest for now, you mean. It’s just a matter of time.”

Renee waited until their children were gone before turning to the man next to her. “Are they right? What they’re saying?”

He hesitated. “I don’t know. I don’t. But…it’s a possibility.”

She thought about it for a long moment. Fear was pushing at the edges of her conscience. “Loren’s always believed in the Fates. I’ve never been so sure.”

“We’re in a world at war. This isn’t a safe place for children. For any of us.”

“But if it happens? If it’s true?” She’d asked about the Lupoiux and Becca had told her some of the mythology. But she’d never thought it would happen to her. Now she wished she’d listened better. “Then what?”

“Then we face it. Together.”

It was the only option they had.

He wrapped her in his arms. “We’ll face everything together from now on.”

Together. She rather liked the sound of that.

No matter what came in the future—she wasn’t going to face it alone.

 

 

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