"I want the tigard."
"And I want you to leave. Guess who’s going to win this argument? And in case you’re even denser than you appear, it’s not you."
Varyk seized him by the shirt. "Are you calling me out?"
"I’m calling you slow. Not out." Dev knocked his hands away from him. "Now I suggest you leave. Quickly before I decide that I don’t really need to live here anymore."
Varyk lowered his head as if about to attack Dev. Stone held his breath. Varyk was unstable at best. One never knew what he’d do and if he attacked here . . .
They were screwed.
Varyk looked past Dev to the upstairs area. "There will come a time and a place when you won’t be as lucky as you are tonight."
Dev laughed evilly. "Come get some anytime you miss your mama and need your ass spanked."
Varyk growled the sound of a wolf on the verge of ripping out a throat. Instead of beating Dev, he turned on Stone and grabbed him by the arm to haul him out of Peltier House.
"Do you mind?" Stone snapped as soon as they were on the street. "I’m not your girlfriend."
Varyk grabbed him by the throat in a crushing grip. "Exactly. I have no reason to not slap you down or kill you." He squeezed hard before he let go.
Coughing to clear his throat, Stone glared at him. "What is your problem?"
"My problem is that I had to suffer the stench of those animals to save your spoiled-rotten ass. I’m not your father and there’s no genetic coding between us to make me want to save you ever again. Tread carefully, boy. Next time I’ll leave you there."
"What about my father?"
Varyk didn’t respond as he walked down the street and disappeared into the night.
Stone straightened his jacket with a sharp tug. "Yeah, you keep walking, punk. You ever touch me like that again and I’ll beat you down." Of course he didn’t say that loud enough for the werewolf to hear him. He wasn’t completely stupid.
Looking back over his shoulder, he glared at Sanctuary. "Your days are numbered, bears."
And so were the ones for the Katagaria wolves. His father had no idea they were in town. But Stone was going to make sure he was enlightened immediately.
Then they would rain hell wrath down on the whole lot of them.
Fang lay in his wolf’s form, sleeping on a soft grassy bed. But even while he dozed, he was alert to everything around him. He’d been that way since he was a pup. More to the point, he’d had to be that way since he was a pup. Even though he and Vane were the sons of their patria’s Regis, they were subjected to the worst from not only their father, but from those under his direct command, such as Stefan.
Their father blamed them for the fact that their Arcadian mother had refused to complete the mating ritual with him. Her rejection had rendered Markus impotent and hostile.
And her refusal to keep her Katagaria children had made them a target.
So when Anya came near, he jumped awake, ready to fight.
Anya lowered herself to the ground. "It’s just me, Fang."
He turned human and held his hand out toward her nose. "Sorry, baby. I didn’t know."
She came forward to lick his fingers before she lay down beside him and rested her head on his thigh.
He stroked the fur around her ears. "Is something wrong?"
"I couldn’t sleep. Orian is out on patrol and I didn’t want to be alone."
"I’m not sure. He’s not in his den or camp. I haven’t seen him in a while. Have you?"
"He was off helping that Dark-Hunter who lives in the swamp. Talon. I assumed he’d be back by now." Dark-Hunters were immortal warriors who fought for the goddess Artemis. They hunted down the Were-Hunters’ cousins, the Apollites, and killed them whenever they turned Daimon and started preying on human souls to live.
It was rare for Dark-Hunters and Were-Hunters to mix, but not impossible, and over the centuries, Fang and Vane had made friends with a number of them.
Anya sighed heavily. "That’s the Dark-Hunter you two fought for the other night, isn’t it?"
"Yeah, Talon and Acheron." Acheron was the leader of the Dark-Hunters and a longtime friend of Vane’s.
"I wish the two of you would leave them alone. Every time a Were-Hunter mixes with one of them something bad happens."
"Ah, don’t worry. It was actually fun. Besides there’s a lot of Daimon crap going down and the Dark-Hunters have agreed to help us protect you guys should something happen."
"So say you, but I don’t trust them."
"Neither do I, but I do trust Vane and you should too. He would never do anything to cause harm to us or to the pack."
She looked away shamefaced.
Fang felt guilty about making her feel that way. However, she shouldn’t be questioning their elder. Vane would die if anything happened to them.
To think he’d caused it . . .
Vane would never get over that. And yet as Fang sat stroking his sister’s ear, he had a bad feeling. He couldn’t define it. It hovered in the back of his mind like a specter that wanted his blood.
It’s just the concern for Anya.
Was it? Or could it be a premonition? He’d never been particularly precognitive.
But . . .
He wouldn’t think about it. Anya was safe. He was here to protect her and Vane would be back as soon as he could. Nothing would change. She’d have her puppies here where their old enemies wouldn’t be looking for them. Then once their young were old enough to travel, they’d move again.
That was the way of things. And nothing was going to change. He was going to make sure of it.
Fang snapped awake at a sharp cry of alarm. In his wolf’s form, he was lying beside his sister who’d also come awake at the sound.
"Stay here," he projected to her. "I’ll go check it out." He pushed himself up on his paws and trotted over to the main camp where a group of wolves were gathered.
Two were bleeding profusely.
Keegan’s older brother, Liam, held his bloody paw up to keep from putting weight on it. His light brown fur was coated in blood. "It was an ambush. We’re lucky any of us made it out."
Markus, also in wolf form, glared at him. "Who?"
"Arcadian wolves. They had a trap set for us."
Markus cursed. "Where’s the rest of your tessera?"
"I don’t know. Orian told us to come back and warn all of you."
Markus cast his gaze around the pack. "Gather our forces! I want every able-bodied male."
Fang turned human to confront his father. "You can’t. What if this is a trap meant to call us away from our women and leave them unprotected?" He looked around at the wolves. "Remember what happened before? How many women and pups did we lose to Arcadian slaughter?"
Markus snapped at him.
But Fang saw the indecision in the other’s eyes.
William moved forward. "I think Fang might be right. Some of us should stay behind. Just in case."
Markus’s eyes glowed in the darkness. He hated to be questioned. "Fine. Fang and the rest of you women can stay behind. I hunt."
The pack divided in half.
Liam limped over to Fang. "I don’t know about you, but I damn sure don’t feel like a woman."
Fang laughed. "Ignore the impotent wonder. So what exactly happened?"
"We were horsing around, hunting after small fowl for practice. One minute we were chasing through the marsh and the next Orian was hit with a Taser, then someone opened fire on us with guns. We lost Agarian immediately with a bullet to his head." Liam looked down at his own injury. "I got caught on the paw, but it only nicked me."
Which was why he couldn’t use his magick. When they were wounded, their magick was unpredictable and unstable. When used, it could do any number of unwanted things.
Suddenly, Anya cried out.
Turning back into a wolf, Fang ran for her. He reached her in record time. She lay on the ground, writhing.
Terrified, he nosed at her neck. "Anya?"
She was sobbing uncontrollably.
Was she in labor already? Fang exchanged a baffled look with Liam who came up behind them. "What is it?"
"Orian . . ."
"What about him?"
Anya pawed at the ground as if in utter agony. "He’s dead."
Fang tried to soothe her. "No, he was hit with a Taser."
She shook her head in denial. "No, he’s dead. I know it. I can feel it."
"You’re just pregnant and upset."
She gave him a look so hostile and agonized that it shook him to his soul. "We’re bonded mates, Fang. He’s dead. I can feel it."
Fang couldn’t breathe as those words tore through him. Bonded . . .
When two Were-Hunters bonded together, they melded their life forces into one. It was an act of ultimate love and loyalty that meant when one of them died, they both died.
The only exception being if the woman was pregnant. Then her life was elongated, but only until the babies were born. Once the last one was safely delivered, the mother would join her mate in eternity.
Anya was going to die.
Fang struggled to breathe as those words slammed into him with talons that dug so deep into his soul that it was all he could do to remain standing. "Why would you do such a thing?"
She lunged at him, biting him hard. "I loved him, you stupid idiot. Why else?" She howled, a baleful, haunting sound. The cry of a wolf in utter agony.
Leaning his head back, he joined her and let loose his own pain.
His sister was going to die. . . . And there was nothing he could do.
Anya broke off to continue crying. "How can he be dead? How?"
But Fang didn’t hear her words. All he could do was see her dead and limp. See her pups as they looked to him for stories of a mother they’d never know.
How could this be?
They would be just like him. They would have that hole deep inside them that nothing ever filled. The question of what it would have been like to be loved. To have a mother who cared for them and nursed them.
Turning human, he pulled her into his arms and held her as his own tears brimmed. "I won’t leave them alone, Anya. Ever. They will want for nothing."
Except you and their father.
Those words choked him and succeeded in breaching his control. Against his will, his tears flowed. Embarrassed, he hid his face against her neck and held her for everything he was worth. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. His brother and sister were the only constants in his life.
They were his only solace.
And now to lose one . . . it was more than he could stand.
He held her close, rocking her for hours, unaware of anything else. It was only when Vane returned at dawn that he realized how much time had elapsed.
Vane approached them slowly. "What’s wrong?"
Fang grappled with a way to tell him gently. Anya was asleep now, but there was no such solace where he was concerned. He tightened his fist in her white fur and decided there was no way to sugar-coat the truth that would shatter Vane the same way it’d shattered him. "Did you know Anya had bonded with Orian?"
Vane curled his lip as if he found the idea as repugnant as Fang had. "Why would she have done that?"
"She said she loved him."
Vane went stiff all over. "You spoke in the past tense."
Fang took a deep breath and braced himself for Vane’s reaction. Gods, how he wished he wasn’t the one who had to tell him. "He died tonight."
Vane let fly a curse so foul, Fang was dumbfounded by it. Normally his brother was much more circumspect. But he understood completely. He mirrored the same emotions.
Vane sank down on his knees beside them and put one hand on Anya. When he met Fang’s gaze, Fang saw all the agonized pain inside his brother’s eyes that he held in his own heart.
"What are we going to do?"
Fang shook his head. "We’re going to have to watch her die."
Vane looked away. It was as if he couldn’t face it any more than Fang could. "What happened?"
"A group of Arcadians attacked them and Orian was killed during the fight. What else? Stupid f**king wolf. He should have been here with Anya and not out carousing with his friends."
Vane glanced around the den as if looking for the shadows to come to life and chase them down. "Did they track the rest back here?"
"I don’t know. I didn’t ask that question. Markus and a group of others went after them."
"They haven’t returned."
Those words had barely left his lips before the others loped slowly into camp. Some were bloody and limping. But none seemed to be missing.
"Stay with Anya." Vane went to check with them.
Fang didn’t move until his brother returned with a steely look on his face. "What?"
"It’s the group of Arcadians Acheron warned us about. Somehow they found out we’re here and their Sentinels are out for our blood."
That was the story of their lives. No matter where they went, the Arcadians found them and attacked them. Why couldn’t their human brethren just leave them alone?
Because the Fates are three psycho bitches bent on completely annihilating your species.
Now his sister would pay the ultimate price for a curse none of them had wanted or deserved. Life was so unfair. But as Acheron said so many times, deserving had nothing to do with anything. Life just was.