"You need nothing of his," her mother said to her utter shock as she defended Wren. "Get out of my house."
Zack didn’t listen. He moved to open another drawer.
Her mother used her powers to slam it shut. "I said for you to leave."
The tiger turned to confront her. "Don’t screw with me, bear. You have as much to lose by this as I do."
"What do you mean?"
But Aimee already knew. Her powers painted a perfect image of what was going on here. "You’re the one who spoke out against Wren at the Omegrion . . . you lied."
Her mother jerked her head to look at her. "Do not be foolish, cub. I would have smelled a lie."
Aimee shook her head. "Not if the animal makes a habit of lying. He could easily mask his scent."
Zack took a step toward her only to find his path blocked by her mother.
"Is Aimee telling the truth?"
Zack answered with a question of his own. "Were you?" He arched a brow at her mother. "Do you really think Wren’s gone mad? Honestly? You just wanted him out of here and you seized on any excuse to expel him. Admit it, Lo. You don’t want anyone here but your family and it galls you to have to play nice with the rest of us."
Her mother growled low in her throat.
It wasn’t the truth. Her mother would protect most of them with her life, but there were those like Wren her mother didn’t trust at all. And those, he was right, Nicolette hated having here under her roof. Thanks to Josef.
Her family was too scarred by the past. By the one they’d trusted who had killed her brothers. And for that, she couldn’t blame her mother at all.
Zack narrowed his gaze. "If Savitar ever learns the truth, he’ll come for you and all your cubs. There won’t be a brick left of your precious Sanctuary."
Her mother seized him and threw him against the wall. He landed with his back against it, but it didn’t appear to faze him at all.
Zack actually laughed at her. "What happened to the rules of Sanctuary, Nicolette?"
Aimee caught her mother before she could attack the tiger again.
"Get out, tiger," Aimee snarled. "If I let go of my mother, there won’t be enough left of you to worry about Savitar or anything else."
Zack pushed himself away from the wall. He glared at them both. "You have even more to lose than I do. Give me what I need to cover both our asses."
Now it was her mother who laughed. "Are you completely stupid? Wren has never left his scent on anything. Look around you, idiot. There is no personal item here. As soon as an article of clothing comes off his body, he has always washed it or destroyed it. He even keeps a monkey here so that its scent camouflages his own. You will never be able to track him. Face it, Zack, the cub has more intelligence than you and your father combined."
Aimee was suddenly impressed by her mother. Her mother had known that and still she’d allowed Wren to keep Marvin. How unlike her. And it caused a new wave of respect to fill her heart.
Zack’s nostrils flared in anger. "This isn’t over."
"Oui, but it is. You come here again and code or no code, I will see you dead."
Growling, Zack vanished.
The tension in the air eased considerably.
Maman let out a slow breath as she turned toward her. "Aimee, call your wolf and warn him what has happened. I am sure he knows where Wren is and he can warn them that the tiger is cornered and desperate. In his position, Zack is capable of anything."
She frowned at her mother’s sudden reversal. "I don’t understand. Why are you being unbelievably understanding? No offense, Maman, it scares me."
Her mother gave her a harsh stare. "I have no love of Wren, this you know. But I respect the predator within him and I do not appreciate being manipulated by another. Nor do I relish being made a fool." Her mother shook her head. "I should have questioned why Zack and his father continually called to check on Wren after he was sent here. I allowed them to plant seeds of doubt in my mind and I saw in him what they wanted me to see. I can’t believe I was so foolish."
Her gaze softened as she touched Aimee’s cheek. "I give you credit, cub. You weren’t blinded. Now we must repair this before the weight of Savitar’s wrath comes crashing down on all of us." She urged Aimee toward the door. "Go warn them. You, they will listen to."
"What are you going to do?"
"I am going to speak with your father and brothers. I fear we are on the edge of a very dangerous situation and I want them all prepared."
Aimee took a step toward the door, then paused. "I love you, Maman."
"Je t’aime aussi, ma petite. Now go and let us make this as right as we can."
Fang clutched the locket in his fist that Aimee had given him right before she left while he stared at the rain that was pouring down outside. Alone in his room at Vane’s house, sitting on his bed with his back against the wall and one knee bent, he could hear Bride and Vane downstairs, laughing.
That sound made him want to put his fist through the wall.
Even though his body kept wanting to shift into a wolf due to the injuries Papa Bear had given him, he refused. As a wolf, he couldn’t hold on to this one piece of her. And right now, he needed to touch it.
He pressed the locket to his lips so that he could inhale the scent of her and remember the last sight before she left. They’d been on Jean-Luc’s ship. Tears had been streaming down her beautiful face as she’d kissed his lips, then left him alone. Her hands had lingered on him as she pulled away from him and vanished.
The pain of it was more than he could stand.
No wonder he hadn’t been able to leave Sanctuary.
His phone rang. He started to ignore it until he realized it was Aimee. Reaching for it, he lost his balance on the bed and went slamming onto the floor. Afraid he’d miss her, he flipped it open and ignored the pain in his injured shoulder and arm. "I’m here."
"Are you all right?"
He ground his teeth to keep from groaning as he made his way back onto the bed again. "Absolutely."
"You don’t sound all right. You sound like you’re in a lot of pain."
Of all the times for her to be astute. . . .
He looked at the new blood seeping through his shirt and grimaced. "Nah, I’m fine." But, grateful this wasn’t on video, he mouthed the words, "Son of a bitch," at the throbbing wound. "Are you okay?"
"Believe it or not, yes. Maman didn’t attack. In fact she told me to call you and warn you that Zack is after Wren. As we suspected, he lied to get Wren’s money."
"I’ll let Vane know."
"Okay . . . I miss you, baby."
"Ditto." Fang held the phone tight in his hand, wanting to keep her on the line, but not knowing what to say. He’d never really been one for chitchat. Snide comebacks were another matter, but actual conversation was beyond him.
"I’ll try and slip out in a little bit to see you."
He smiled at the thought. "I’ll be here, waiting."
"Okay. I love you."
She gave a short laugh. "’I love you, Aimee.’ You know it wouldn’t kill you to say that, right?"
"All right then. On that note, I better go. See you later."
Fang winced at the sound of her hanging up the phone. He closed his clamshell and wanted to cry from the pain inside him. But he wasn’t that kind of wolf. Tougher than steel, he refused to let anyone know just how much Aimee meant to him.
His heart heavy, he went downstairs to relay her message to Vane, who wasn’t thrilled by it. He left immediately to warn Wren while Fang stayed to watch over Bride.
"Is that blood?"
He glanced down at his shoulder. "A little. I’ll go clean it."
The sharp command of her tone made him raise a single eyebrow.
Bride smiled. "Sorry. I’m bossy, I know. My father’s a vet who works with Carson and I grew up in my dad’s clinic. Sit down and let me see what I can do."
He did as ordered while she went to the bathroom to pull out a small medicine kit. He started to pull the shirt off, but the pain was such that he simply dissolved it.
Bride sucked her breath in as soon as she saw the nasty wound. "Did you get bitten?"
"Yeah. By one pissed-off bear."
Bride pulled out a piece of gauze and soaked it in peroxide. "You’re probably lucky he didn’t aim lower."
Fang didn’t speak as his gaze fell down to the mark on her hand. He looked at his own that was empty. "Is it hard for you living with animals?"
She pulled back. "I don’t consider any of you an animal, Fang."
"We’re certainly not human."
She took his chin in her hand and forced him to look up at her. "I was raised to respect all life-forms. Hairless, furred, finned, and feathered."
"Yeah, but it has to be hard to live here without your kind around."
"Hardly. You’re all my family. My kind fills this house."
Fang pulled away as he considered her words. Most of all, he wondered if Aimee would ever really feel that way about him. Love was one thing, but she’d already chosen her family. Apparently his love wasn’t good enough.
And that made him sick. Besides, even if she did, he was still in service to Thorn and he had no soul. He had no real freedom.
What could he ever really offer her?
Aimee knocked lightly on her mother’s office door. At her welcome, she pushed the door open to see her mother at her computer.
Nicolette leaned back slightly in her chair. An impeccable pose that was sophisticated and authoritative. "Is there something you need?"
But she bit her tongue as fear rushed through her. Her mother had been understanding earlier. Would that continue?
"I wanted to talk to you about Fang."
A shield fell down over her mother’s face. "There is nothing to discuss."
"You had me warn him."
"As a favor and to right a wrong. You know, daughter, exactly why you and he can never speak again."
Aimee tightened her grip on the doorknob behind her. "And if I can’t live without him?"
"You will do as we all do. Your duty. Feelings have nothing to do with our mating and this you know. Look at your brother Alain. Does he pine for his love? Non, he has his mate and he has taught himself to be happy."
"I want to be happy, Maman."
Nicolette pinned her with a cold stare. "Your duty will make you happy. Trust me, ma cherie. In time you will do as you should and Fang shall be forgotten."
Aimee didn’t believe that for a minute, but she knew better than to argue. Her mother wasn’t about to budge on this.
"Very well, Maman." She opened the door and left.
What am I going to do?
She wanted to thumb her nose at her family and be with him. But would it be worth it?
Flashing herself upstairs, she materialized in the nursery where Alain’s youngest cubs were napping in bear form. It was a sparse room that had a fake tree for them to climb on and the walls were painted with a cozy forest theme. The two of them curled together like giant balls of fluff on the thick green carpet, instead of on the bed in the corner. One cub was brown and one black. Beautiful and sweet, she adored her nephews.
Aimee lay down beside them so that she could lift Bryce’s paw and play with his claws while he slept. She remembered lying on her brothers in much the same fashion when she’d been a cub.
Pain ached in her breast as she remembered Bastien’s face. She missed her brothers more than anything. Time had done nothing to ease the pain or the sadness.
Which made her wonder if she’d ever be able to get over Fang. Or would he haunt her the same way?
Yet as she looked at Alain’s cubs, she had to think it was worth it. Had he not done his duty, he wouldn’t have such beautiful children.
If she went with Fang, she’d be sterile. A wolf and a bear would never be able to have children.
You could adopt.
That was certainly true. She loved Wren like family and Fang even more so. But an adopted child would never inherit her seat.
Maman would never forgive her for that.
"Why do I have to choose?" she breathed, choking on unspent tears. Why couldn’t she have found one single bear to mate with?
I’m so broken.
Sighing, she left her nephews and headed for her own room. But with every step she took, she felt sicker inside.
Eli Blakemore paused beside Cosette as she communed with her spirits. On her knees in the middle of the room, resting in the center of a black cloth with a pentagram and strange writing painted on it in blood, she held her hands up and spoke in gibberish while her eyes were rolled back in her head.
Honestly he hated this bullshit and the stench of her incense offended every olfactory sense he possessed. Most of all, he wanted to swipe his hand across the voodoo altar she had in front of her and send it all flying across the room.
But that would offend her. So he waited as she danced and sang and carried on.
It seemed like forever had passed before she finally settled down and opened her eyes.
"Well?" he asked.
"There is disharmony in their home. The daughter is promised to a wolf."