The beast would have his mate.
She was happy to oblige.
Chapter Twenty Five
The silver circle was a testimate to Luis’s ingenuity. Silver forks, spoons and knives had been hastily arranged around Miles. It was not a perfect circle but it was unbroken and strong enough to hold a brand new beast.
“Don’t come any closer,” Miles warned. Caught in a partial shift, cloth hung off him in tatters. Fur covered his arms and chest. Claws flashed. His face retained a human shape, if he had more teeth than usual.
He paced the circled, the claws on his feet tapping the ground.
“You promised, You promised!” Miles threw himself at the circle and bounced off an invisible barricade. He hissed, rubbing his shoulder. “Do it! What are you waiting for?” He slumped to the ground. “Please. You promised.”
Alek clutched the blade. Silver hummed in his hand, insulated with the leather handle. He had stood here before, with a newly shifted beast pleading at his feet. Usually they begged for life or vowed revenge. None had ever begged for release.
The knife clattered to the floor.
“I can’t. That was something I shouldn’t have promised,” Alek said, not sure if he spoke with mercy or cruelty.
Miles’s face crumpled.
“Don’t you give up,” Luis said. He stood just outside the circle, the toes of his shoes pressed against the unseen barrier. “Don’t you dare.” He glared over his shoulder at Alek. “And don’t you indulge his melodrama.”
“This is no life–” Miles started.
“Idiot.” Luis stepped over the barrier, into the circle, and pulled Miles forward into a kiss. It looked awkward and unpracticed and Alek briefly wondered if he looked like he was trying to eat Solenne’s face when he kissed her. “This is a life. Your life now. Ours.”
“I killed one werewolf tonight. Don’t ask me to end another.”
“I’ll hurt you,” Miles said, more snarl than words.
“I’m your anchor. I know I am.” Luis tapped his chest. “I’m not letting you go so you might as well let me help you. Stay with me.”
Miles slumped to the ground. Luis knelt beside him, wrapping his arms around the blacksmith. “How can you tie yourself to someone like me? Pick someone better. Someone who’s not cursed,” Miles said.
“It doesn’t work like that. I should know,” Alek said. Both men lifted their heads in his direction. “I tried for years to forget Solenne, but I couldn’t. She anchored me. She always had.” Perhaps the connection would have frayed with time–another decade or so–but he doubted it.
Miles’s lips pulled back in a snark. “Don’t speak to him! Don’t look at mine!”
“Territorial. Possessive. The bond is already there, whether you like it or not,” Alek said. He tossed the fallen dagger to Luis’s feet. “Just in case he gets out of line.”
“We’re not going anywhere.” He tucked the dagger into his boot. “How is Papa?”
Doctor Webb and Sheldon worked on Godwin’s unconscious form. The wound looked nasty and likely to fester. Unconscious was the ebay thing he could be.
Solenne arrived, blood splatter on her face and her hem soaked in her father’s blood. Or Chambers. Or Charlottes. Probably a combination of all three. How preposterous to think she looked radiant, covered in gore and completely unflappable.
The beast was so damn pleased with himself. Alek agreed.
He fished out a handkerchief from a pocket, pleased to discover it mostly clean.
“Chambers dosed the wine with wormwood,” she said, accepting the cloth and proceeding to clean her face. “Harmless to everyone except you and Miles. Lowers your inhibitions, I gather, and makes the wolf more dominant.”
“Yes, that sounds right.”
“It’ll wear off. And you?”
“I want nothing more than to be alone with you, wife, but–” He looked about the room, at the overturned furniture, the destruction and the injured people. “What I want is irrelevant. Put me to work.”
She should not have been surprised by Charlotte’s efficiency. After all, she had been helpless in the face of Charlotte’s organizing this disaster of a double wedding. As lady of the house, Charlotte took control and coordinated the care of the injured and the clean up.
She had a horrible feeling that people would refer to the day’s events as the Double Werewolf Wedding. Technically, it was a triple event but it hardly seemed the time to split hairs.
“What do we need to help him?” Charlotte asked, in reference to Miles.
“Wolfsbane. It will calm him down.” The herb acted as a sedative for a werewolf. So many people erroneously thought it was a repellent when really it acted as a sedative.
Charlotte looked as if she was going to question Solenne, but then shook her head. “I don’t suppose you brought your box of tricks to the wedding. No. I believe Lionel has some medicinal powders in his bedroom. Let me check. Perhaps he can do something useful.”
Chambers did, indeed, had a small medicine chest in his room, stocked with various herbs and pills. She found a packet of dried wolfsbane, labeled in her own handwriting.
Well, that solved the mystery of her diminishing supply cupboard.
“Give this to Miles. The entire thing,” she said, handing the packet to Alek.
She watched her new husband and oldest friend dump the packet into a glass of water before pouring it down Miles’s throat. Alek seemed distant. She didn’t know how to explain other than he felt with her during the ceremony, as if they were one spirit. The connection between them was vibrant and alive. Now, it seemed muted, like he was pulling away. It worried her.
Did he think she held recent events against him? How could she? He saved Miles from making a terrible mistake. Alek was a champion in her eyes and the eyes of everyone in attendance.
Perhaps the number of witnesses was the issue. What was the saying? One person can keep a secret. Two can keep a secret if one is dead.
All those people saw his partial shift. He had to worry about repercussions.
Solenne cleaned the small injury on Charlotte’s head. It bleed freely, giving her a gastly appearance as a bloody bride in her wedding gown, but it was small and easily covered with a bandage.
When that was done, she switched her attention to Godwin. Doctor Webb carefully stitched together his lacerated abdomen. She assisted by fetching supplies, fresh cloth and clean water. When Godwin moaned, she held his hand.
Chambers’s body remained on the floor, covered with a wine stained tablecloth. No one seemed to pay him any mind. Ignored and forgotten. It seemed a fitting fate. Soon his body would have to be burned but that could wait a day. The living were more important and no one seemed particularly aggrieved, other than Mrs. Parkell. She appeared with a basin of water and a cloth.
“It’s my duty as his sister to clean his body. Even if he was a monster,” she insisted. She dipped the cloth in the clean water and hesitated before she brought it to his impassive face.
“He’s not contagious. Not anymore.”
“I’m not worried about that,” she said. “I failed Lionel. I hardly knew him. I thought I did. He never spoke about his time in the military. He never spoke about anything, really. When did this happen? How could he hide himself from me?”
Solenne left the woman to do her work. If she found any peace or forgiveness in her heart of Chambers was her own business.
Eventually Alek took her by the hand. “You’re exhausted.”
“There’s too much to do.”
“You can’t help anyone when you’re ready to fall over. You need a bath and sleep,” he said, his take-charge tone soothing her in a way she did not know she needed.
Bath and sleep sounded so good.
“I’m afraid I don’t have an available room for you,” Charlotte said, joining them. SHe looked equally exhausted yet her eyes shone. This was her element. “I’m afraid we can’t move your father. He has to stay for the time being. Go home, get some rest and come back tomorrow.”
“I’ll burn the villain tomorrow,” Alek said.
Solenne thought Charlotte might protest, that Chambers might be a villain but he was still her husband and deserved a funeral service, but she only nodded.
“Tomorrow or the day after, I’ll write to Snowmelt and tell them of the delay,” Alek said. Everyone had to make compromises at the moment, such as they would not journey to Snowmelt in a few days. Solenne couldn’t leave with her father injured. She felt gladdened that Alek instinctively understood this.
The return to Marechal House took no time at all. They stripped off their ruined finery and took turns scrubbing each other in the bath. Alek seemed… restless.
“You know, the original colonists had an endless supply of hot water on demand.”
“Impossible,” he replied, voice flat like he paid the conversation the minimal amount of attention.
“True. They bathed in stalls called showers where the water came in over their heads, but through an aerated sprinkler, not a bucket being dumped over their heads.”
He huffed. “Sounds convenient.”
“I agree.” Waiting for the water to heat, filling the tub and then splashing around took a considerable amount of time, especially when she just wanted to be clean enough to get to bed with her husband.
Her hands strayed a bit far below his waist. Alek raised a brow. To say she eagerly anticipated the night was an understatement. Perhaps a more refined lady would be exhausted or too distraught to think of skin and kiss and every pleasure a man shared with a woman, but it was all she wanted. The events of the Double Werewolf Wedding–no, she would not call it that!–left her feeling tightly wound and in need of a release.
Alek, too, from the feel of him.
He leaned his head back and groaned at her touch. Before she could continue on, he placed a hand over hers, halting her. “Upstairs. You need sleep.”
“That’s not what I need, Aleksandar.”
“Solenne, do not tempt me.”
She pulled back, stung at his rejection. In the last few weeks, he had been insatiable, demanding touches and her attention. Now he acted cold and disinterested.
The thread between them? Silent.
Hastily, she reached for a robe. By this time, she had been nude before Alek several times and he never made her feel anything less than desirable. Now she felt vulnerable and exposed. Naked in an entirely unwelcome manner.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, tying the belt.
“Do not concern yourself.”
“Blast it, Aleksandar.” Frustrated, she threw a towel at him. He caught it with ease. “I know something is wrong, so tell me.”
His eyes were cold. “It will upset you. Too many things happened today. Things you should not have seen. After today–”
“You’re leaving without me,” she said, ready to fall over at the words. All day she swung from nervousness, anticipation, then fear, then determination. Every moment fueled by adrenaline. There had to be a breaking point where her body couldn’t keep up, no matter how her spirit drove her forward.
Her knees threatened to give out and her stomach wanted to empty itself. She stumbled back against the wall. “You self sacrificing bastard. You do not get to leave in some ridiculous notion to protect me! If you try, I’ll stab you in the eye with a butterknife.”
He surged out of the water, pressing his wet and very hard form against hers. “Solenne, be quiet a moment.”
“So help me, I’ll find the dullest and rustiest butterknife.”
He kissed her, fierce and all consuming. The connection flared back to life and she could feel his pulse thrumming. It whispered that he was here, here, here. She belonged to him and she couldn’t make him leave with the rustiest butterknife in the world.
“Oh,” she said.
His fingers dug into her wet hair, pulling to force her gaze to his. His eyes glowed with an intense violet light.
“I want nothing more in this life than to keep you safe,” he said. “And you damn Marechals are so determined to throw yourself in front of every ravening beast you find. I thought I would lose you and it frightened me more than anything.”
“Oh,” she said. Anything else seemed unnecessary.
“So yes, I closed myself to the bond. I didn’t want my fear to frighten you. He had you, Solenne, in his paws, and I was too far away to do anything.” He closed his eyes, as if reliving that moment. “I failed to protect you.”
“You saved Miles and Papa. That’s hardly a failure.”
He opened his eyes and searched her face, for what she did not know. Whatever he found, he nodded as if satisfied. “I will never leave you. Never. I will be your shadow because I can’t trust you to not run head first into the maw of a beast.”
“I hardly did that,” she protested. Well, she did do that. Technically.
“And on Boxon hill? And the night of the full moon? Every time I arrived too late to prevent you from some foolhardy act of heroism. Since I can’t trust you to have enough common sense to save yourself, I’ll do it for you.” Another crushing kiss, this one erasing her protests.
He growled, low in his throat and her core clenched in response. “Now, wife, get in bed.”
“I’m not sleepy.”
“We’re not going to sleep.”
The beast would have his mate.
She was happy to oblige.
Copyright 2020 Nancey Cummings
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!