“Is that the old world? Earth?”
As we move in to the last action scene, there’s a lot of people to keep track of. And questions to be answered. I’m doing my best to keep track of the threads. If something doesn’t make sense like someone pops up out of no where, or they vanish, please point it out.
Chapter Twenty Three
Solenne couldn’t stop smiling or holding Alek’s hand. Not that she wanted to. She wanted to remain in this moment, blissful with the demands of the world at bay.
Well, not at this exact moment. She would very much like to skip ahead to the evening portion when she’d be alone with her husband.
Her husband. The thought made her heart sing and the golden thread connecting her to Alek sang back.
“How long must we perform for the masses?” he asked, gripping her hand. Despite his grumble, she felt his genuine emotion of elation through their bond. It was a heady thing, being an anchor.
“It’s a reception. At least until we finish the meal. I’m sure everyone will expect us to leave early,” she said. “We’ll muddle through, Mr. Hardwick.”
“Don’t leave my side, Mrs. Hardwick,” he replied, looking entirely pleased with himself.
True to Charlotte’s word, Colonel Chambers’s home—her home, now—had been decorated with restraint. Late summer blooms and greenery crowded nearly every surface, which seemed to be her one indulgence. Solenne had feared, well, she wasn’t sure beyond an embarrassing amount of money spent on temporary decorations like ice sculptures or edible gold flakes in the sparkling wine. She read that once in a book and it seemed like the biggest waste of money imaginable, so it remained her gold standard—forgive the pun—for frivolousness.
Doors open to the terrace, allowing in the fresh air. The crowd milled about outside, and Solenne swore it was every person from the village and then some. She didn’t know how the house could hold so many people.
“Is it too much? It’s too much,” Charlotte said, taking Solenne by the air and steering them upstairs. Alek closely followed, despite Charlotte’s withering gaze. “The gardener asked me what flowers I wanted and I couldn’t decide, so I said all of them.”
“No, it’s lovely.”
“Good. I know you’re leaving soon, so thank you for indulging me. I wanted this last memory of us together before we’re parted.” She glanced back at Alek.
Subtly did not work on werewolves.
“I’ll be a few days away. It’s hardly the other side of the world,” Solenne said.
“But for how long?”
“I’m sure we’ll be back in the spring.”
Charlotte made a noise of disbelief. “You say that, but the roads will be poor or you’ll be sickly or some other reason.”
“The post does run to Snowmelt,” Alek said drily.
Another noise, this one more incredulous. “Even the name is horrible.”
“Where are we going?” Solenne asked. Charlotte had led them into a part of the house she had never been before.
Voices sounded from down the hall. She paled, then pulled Solenne in through the nearest door. She closed the door carefully, as if to avoid any sound.
Voices approached, both male and sounding irritated as they debated some matter. Alek tensed, and she felt his alertness through the bond. The thickness of the door and the carpeting prevented her from making out the words beyond, “You will do as I say.”
Charlotte held up a finger to silence her.
The voices grew faint as the men walked past.
Charlotte sagged with relief. Somehow her friend did not appear as happy as she claimed to be.
Alek must have sensed her alarm, because he pressed Charlotte for an explanation. “You smell unhappy and it is making my mate unhappy. Fix it.”
Werewolves did not do subtlety, either.
“No, he is correct. I have doubts,” Charlotte said.
“Doubts? Doubts! Then why did you go through with the wedding?” Solenne demanded.
“Because my imagination runs away with me and keep your voice down. Lional does not like anyone in his study.”
“Then why are we in here?”
“I need you to open this drawer,” Charlotte said.
“I’m sorry, what?” The rapid change in topic could make a person dizzy.
Charlotte chewed on her lower lip, then leaned in. Her voice was hushed, nearly a whisper. “I have not been forthright with you. I fear Lionel is keeping something important from me.”
“You just want to be a nosy busybody and I won’t be part of it.”
Light leaked into the room through the drapes. A large, heavy desk dominated the room. A bookcase lined one wall while a display cabinet ran the length of the other.
If Chambers had filled his home with weapons and souvenirs of military campaigns, this was an altar to the original colonists. Solenne recognized the heavy battery cubes, similar to the ones in her mother’s workshop. There was a handheld device whose purpose she had no idea, the screen gray and blank. A helmet, pristine and without a scratch, sat next to a blue and green sphere.
Solenne peered closely at the sphere. It was unlike anything she had ever seen. A topographical map covered the surface, but it was not the familiar landmass she knew. These continents were unknown to her.
“Is that the old world? Earth?” Her fingers twitched, wanting to touch the globe but fearful of damaging the relic. Everything on display was priceless and belonged in a museum.
“Yes. This is Lionel’s study and his private collection. I know there’s something serious he’s keeping from me and I know it’s horrible to involve you, but please? Can you open the drawer? You’re ever so clever with these things.”
Solenne looked at the solid wood drawer and the rather sturdy lock. “I don’t know how to pick locks.”
“But you’re so clever with tools—”
“Tools? What do you think I do?”
“Something with herbs.” Charlotte waved her hand in a manner that suggested any number of things, like whipping up potions or being a master thief with an extensive set of lock picks.
“I believe this is my area of expertise,” Alek said. He grabbed a rather wicked look letter opener from the desk and shimmied it between the drawer and the desk. After a few moments of wiggling the blade, the lock clicked, and the drawer opened.
Alek gave her a triumphant grin, twirling the letter opener between his fingers.
“When did you become so dodgy?” she asked, a little breathless at the sight. Honestly, such a display was crass, but she found herself appreciative of her husband’s less savory skills.
Solenne purred at the notion.
Alek quirked a brow, and that connection between them buzzed. Her toes curled, and she wanted nothing more than to skip the reception waiting downstairs and go directly to the wedding night.
“Oh, how odd,” Charlotte murmured, disrupting Solenne’s less-than-modest thoughts. Her friend unrolled a detailed architect’s drawing of Marechal House.
“Why does Colonel Chambers have the blueprints for my house?” Several Xs and notations cluttered the map, written in a hurried hand.
The doorknob rattled, giving just enough warning for Charlotte to shove the papers back into the drawer.
“What’s going on in here?” Chambers asked. He loomed in the door, somehow taking the light from the room. Solenne wanted to dip her neck and beg forgiveness.
“Oh, darling, I wanted to show Solenne your globe of the Earth. You know how she loves colonial history. I fully expect her and Alek to be too occupied to visit before they leave,” Charlotte said, her voice bubbly and without a hint of mistruth. Even knowing the truth about the locked desk drawer, Solenne wanted to believe her.
When did Charlotte learn to lie so effectively? Could she teach Solenne?
“Hmm, it is interesting,” Chambers intoned. His gaze swept over the room, as if searching for mischief.
“I can’t believe how much of the old world was covered in water,” Solenne said.
“And why are you huddled around my desk?”
Alek snatched a pencil and a blank sheet of paper off the desk. “I’m writing down the address for our new home in Snowmelt. Despite popular opinion, the post does run.”
“Well, hurry. Our guests are waiting,” Chambers said.
This house. Something about it made his skin crawl. Heavy drapes cut off the light and fresh air, giving the house a suffocating feel. Weapons of destruction had been strewn about like toys. Servants moved quietly, each footstep make with such care like they were afraid to make a noise that they might as well have been ghosts.
All because of Chambers.
He disliked the man, and not just over the rivalry for Solenne’s affections. That had never been a contest. Her heart had always belonged to him, even when they both tried to deny it.
No, his dislike stemmed from something more nebulous and difficult to pinpoint. Something about how he moved, too graceful for a man who claimed an injury ended his military career. Or perhaps how he watched Solenne and Charlotte as they descended the staircase to great the wedding guests. His eyes were too hungry. Alek recognized the look because it stared back at him from a mirror often enough.
Too many people crowded downstairs. There was too much noise and heat.
“Is that Vervain? The Vervain? Colonel Chambers, how did you find that?” Luis stood in front of a rather tired looking long sword with a dull blade, rusted at the hilt.
“Drink. Enjoy. You’re a lucky man,” Chambers said, handing Alek a glass of wine before answering Luis. “One of my first pieces. The old man I bought it from claimed it to be so. I thought it was a fine example of early craftsmanship, if a bit worse for wear. I’m afraid I’m a bit sentimental for the old thing.”
Luis made appreciative noises and pointed out features to Miles. The blacksmith held his own glass of wine and nodded, seemingly as interested in the antique longsword as Luis.
The women in question were standing at the foot of the stairs. Apparently everyone in the village came and had to share words with the brides. Charlotte was pretty with her curls and a laugh that drifted above the noise of the crowd, but she paled to Solenne. Everyone did.
“From the way you look at Solenne, I see the affection is mutual.”
“It’s more than affection,” Alek said, speaking before he could guess himself. “She’s always been my anchor. When I knew no one, she was my friend. When my family had been killed, she told me I was not alone. She’s the bedrock of my existence. My purpose. My heart. Without her, I am nothing.” Alek frowned at the glass in his hands. Wine rarely loosen his tongue.
“I must confess. I am jealous of the devotion between you. I had hoped–”
“Do not tell me you regret your marriage,” Alek said in a sudden swell of protectiveness for the woman. He hardly knew Charlotte Wodehouse—Chambers— and could not account for it. “Charlotte may not shine as brightly as the sun, but she’s a good person. A bit too kind-hearted, if you ask me, but that’s not a flaw. Do not treat her poorly. I would not take kindly to that.” He frowned, both at repeating the word kind and at his threat.
“What I do with my wife is no concern of yours,” Chambers said. “You’ll barely be able to keep your from freezing or starving this winter. I tried to convince her otherwise, but Solenne has this stubborn attachment to you.” His tone made it sound like an infection.
“It’s a bond between souls.”
Damn this wine. He set down the glass on the nearest surface.
“I know very well it’s a bond and I’m not fool enough to break it.” Chamber’s voice was nearly a growl. He paused, smoothing the front of his waistcoat. A placid smile replaced his disgruntled expression. “Did you find anything interesting when you were rummaging through my study?”
He watched Alek keenly for a response.
“Couldn’t get the drawer open,” Alek said with a shrug. The lie can easily.
“Charlotte’s idea, I imagine. She’s too curious for her own good. Well, I guess I’ll introduce my bride to her first taste of discipline a little sooner than planned.”
Alek disliked everything about the man, from his superior tone, the waistcoat with embroidered bluebirds, and the way he licked his lips when he spoke of punishing his wife.
“Do not hurt Charlotte,” Alek said. The thought this vile man desire Solenne, wanted to put his hands on her and would take pleasure from inflicting pain–
The beast wanted out. Now. This man was a threat.
Alek clenched his hands, claws digging into his palms. He hung onto his control. Barely. The bond between him and Solenne shivered with concern.
“Or what? Don’t be greedy. One anchor is enough for man or beast, eh?” Chambers jabbed a finger at Alek, prompting a growl. A triumphant grin spread across Chamber’s face. “How curious, Hardwick. Are you quite yourself?”
Alek brushed away the man’s hand. He knew. Alek betrayed himself, and Chambers was the sort of man to press his advantage.
“You know, I never enjoyed hunting down your kind. It seemed cruel, chasing down beasts who were so simple-minded. There was no challenge to it, but you’ve been a challenge.”
Alek wanted to deny it, to proclaim his status as an unadulterate human, but something in the man’s gaze made that impossible. Alek was old in beast years. People with his affliction seldom lived more than a handful of months. The level of control, or power, radiating off Chambers was unimaginable. Alek felt the urge to bend his neck to the superior wolf.
The mask had come off. Alek knew before whom he stood. “Like calls to like,” he said.
Chambers blinked, breaking the hold. “So it seems.”
Alek stepped back. “I should make a polite excuse, but why bother. I’m finding my wife and leaving.” She would be displeased with him, but she would be safe.
He found her in the dinning room, sitting between Charlotte and Godwin. She laughed and picked at a plate lawn with those little bites of food that never really satisfied a hungry person.
“There are too many people,” he grumbled, unaware of the looks he drew.
“Alek? Are you well? You look… odd,” Luis said.
He ignored Luis and rushed to Solenne, grabbing her arm. She lost her grip on her plate, sending it tumbling to the table. Those little bits of food scattered, ruining the clean linen. She gasped.
“We’re leaving,” he said.
Laughter from a nearby table, a guest made a crude jape.
“What? Why?” Solenne’s smile fell.
“I have no time for this.” He scrubbed at his face. He was doing this wrong and that frustrated him. His senses felt muddled. Alcohol did not have that effect on him. Chambers had dosed the wine with something, but he did not understand what. “Can you do as I say and not argue?”
Well, that was the wrong thing to say.
Solenne pulled back. “Excuse me?”
“Aleksandar, I think you need to take a moment to control yourself.” Godwin laid a hand on his shoulder.
Alek jerked away, snarling. His hip bumped into the table, sending plates, glasses, cutlery, food and all the assorted detritus of dinning to the floor.
“Do not presume to order me about,” he growled. He turned to Solenne, forming his words carefully despite the sense that his mouth was too crowded. “Solenne, I would not ask you if it was not important.” He glanced down at the overturned plate. “Perhaps Charlotte should come with us.”
Godwin made more barking noises, blustering and without meaning. Luis appeared, pressing a glass of water into his hand. For some reason Miles was there, retrieving the cutlery and plates from the floor. Alek rubbed his temples. Everything was too loud and too hot. He wanted to find a secluded corner and sit in the dark.
Solenne looked at him with concern. “Do you require something? For a headache?”
He nodded, his brain jiggling uncomfortably with the motion.
Miles gasped, dropping the fork. A vivid red burn branded his palm.
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
Aaaaah! What are you doing to us?
Coming December 26th!
Hunted by Moonlight has a new name and a new cover!
The final version will be available in all the major stores on December 26, 2020.
Additional scenes (yes, the sex scenes) will be included, especially what happened on page 72!