A Long Walk Home Ch. 03byJazCullen©
The furious male vampire watched the cat fall, lavender eyes intent as the woman screamed loudly as she crashed towards the ground. He knew she couldn't rotate her body to use her feline reflexes to try and cushion her fall. He'd heard her ribs snapping as he'd fought to get her to release him. Every painful snap resounded in his head and he hissed loudly in fury.
He had hurt her! It had been instinctual, his need to protect himself from her unexpected attack sparking instantly and he'd reacted without considering just how fragile the panther in his arms was. He had lost his reason for a brief moment and he was furious with himself for it. He was better than that, had more self control. He should have handled the situation differently.
Now he watched the woman fall and he had to force himself to wait. It went against every male instinct within him. He was a protector, he was The Guardian but he knew if he went to her too soon and she struggled again, then he may cause her more damage and he didn't want to do that. He tracked her intently until he saw her eyes roll back in her head, then he swooped down and caught her a scant foot from the forest floor.
Cradling her unconscious body in his arms he took his first proper look at her and found himself sucking in a deep breath. She was exquisite. It was the only way to describe the vision he held in his arms. Long inky black hair flowed across his arm and pooled towards the forest floor. It had been bound when he first noticed her though he hadn't been paying her appearance too much attention at the time, too concerned that she creeping towards Lily's room. Now he stared at the luxurious, thick locks and he didn't think he'd ever seen a more glorious sight.
His gaze slid from her hair to her beautiful face and he traced each feature slowly. Her eyes were closed but he knew they were remarkable. His keen vampiric sight had picked up the deep green colour, a thin layer of silver ringing her iris. They were the most unusual eyes he had seen before, they hinted of mystery and of a million untold stories.
High, delicates bones graced her flawless cheeks and her luscious, full lips were parted slightly making him suddenly want to lean forward to find out what they tasted of. The unexpected impulse made him blink in surprise and then he mentally cursed himself for allowing his lust to rise even slightly.
He lowered the woman very gently to the moss covered ground, checking her heartbeat as he laid her down. It was strong. She wasn't in any life threatening danger. He heaved a sigh of relief that he hadn't hurt her too badly. He could heal the damage he'd done easily enough before she woke.
The bite mark and gouges on his arms were already healed, the pain inflicted a distant memory as he stared down at her trying not to register her womanly shape though it was a hard task as her chest moved up and down in a skin tight red tank top that didn't cover her midriff.
The sun glinted off the jewel in her navel, and the sun kissed skin of her bare stomach which was as flawless as her face. He felt his body start to stir again and his cursed loudly and looked away. It was intolerable for him to react this way.
As he stared into the quiet forest a sudden thought occurred to him and his gaze swung back to her, this time devoid of any desire but as intent as before. She should be naked. She had shifted to animal form and then back to human but she was fully dressed. He had walked the planet for over six thousand years and never once had he come across a Were who could retain their clothing during a shift.
He was immediately alert, stiffening as he leaned down and inhaled deeply of the woman's scent. Every time he thought he had caught it, the scent shifted to something else. His spine stiffened further. The skill she was displaying even while unconscious was a very old skill indeed, one that only three other people living could do and that was because they were the oldest vampires to walk the planet.
His disquiet grew as he tried to fathom out just what this woman was. She exhibited a skill of vampire origin and yet she was clearly a Were. He had seen her shift into cat form, there was no disputing that fact. So how could she mask her scent? His frown deepening, he knelt down beside her and lightly traced her left side, feeling along the rib cage for the damage he'd caused. He found none.
Gard hissed loudly at the discovery. It was impossible that her Were healing abilities would have worked so quickly on her injuries. He had been prepared to feed her some of his Ancient blood to heal her before she woke but it was obviously not going to be required.
Something nagged in the back of his mind but whatever it was he couldn't quite grasp it. The woman before him was a complete enigma. He couldn't pin down just what she was and that frustrated him no end. The unknown was always a threat, and sometimes threats had to be neutralised. Permanently.
He eyed her objectively trying to work out her threat level. At the moment she appeared harmless but he'd felt just how dangerous she could be when riled. He sensed she wasn't about to come around any time soon so he sat back against a tree beside her and contemplated the forest before him as he mulled over what had happened.
Anakatrine...Annie, he amended, had asked him to give her time before he revealed himself to her family and friends. That had been five years ago, barely a fraction of time for him though it had chafed to wait when he wanted nothing more than to be by her side. He had been alone for three thousand years and he didn't want to remain so. Finding his sister again had been everything, what he had been searching for endlessly.
He had tried to stay away completely but found he couldn't do so, coming back frequently to watch over her even though he knew she had Caleb now to do that. Still, he tracked his sister, followed her as she visited the Were compound, watched her interact with her Were brother.
The love that shone so iridescently between her and the Armand-Hanlon Alpha ripped at his gut. He knew it was irrational, that he should be thanking the huge brown haired man who had taken care of his Anakatrine during this incarnation but he still felt the clawing talons of jealousy deep within him. The other man had had precious years with his sister that he'd never had. It hurt.
None of the Weres had ever been aware of his presence. He always used his shadowing abilities when he walked in the compound but she knew he was there and that was all that mattered to him. She could look right through the deception and see him.
So could Caleb when he was present. Golden brown eyes always turned hard with anger when he followed the other vampire couple. It often brought a smile to his face that he could rattle the other man so easily. Caleb took it as a sign that Gard didn't trust him to protect his mate.
It was nothing of the sort but he didn't disabuse the other man. To do so would be to admit to him that he was vulnerable in his need to be with Anakatrine. He had already shown that vulnerability once five years ago and he was still angry with himself for doing so. The male posturing between himself and Callain had always been a bone of contention.
Gard smiled as he remembered the past, some of the fights they'd had when vying for the right to protect Anakatrine. It was the one thing designed to bring her wrath down on both of them and yet they had continued to do so despite that. He always had to yield though because Callain was his King and the mate of his Queen. Maybe that was why this time around he very seldom thought of Caleb as Callain.
He struggled to separate his sister from her new incarnation. He still thought of her as Anakatrine despite her admonishment to address her as Annie. But with Caleb it was easier to disassociate himself from the past, probably because he had Sired Caleb all those millennia ago. He'd had no idea at the time he was Siring Callain. Anakatrine had not been reincarnated for another two thousand years so Callain had remained hidden, dormant until the time was right for him to emerge to protect his mate and their people.
This time around everything was different and Gard felt that change like a blow to his heart. His sister didn't need him as she had in the past. He had to admit that to himself so he could work through the conflicted emotions that brought him.
Despite knowing that she didn't need him he found himself unable to give up his role of Guardian. It was ingrained deep within him but it was twisting in a new direction as he slowly let go of the past.
He found himself returning to the Pack even when his sister was absent, watching them as they built their compound. He felt a particular attachment to the young hybrid children being born. They were enchanting, something new, something that had been destined for so long but cruelly snuffed out in its infancy.
His thoughts went to wander in a direction he didn't want them to and he quickly stifled them down and glanced back down at the woman at his side. She was still out, still flawlessly perfect as she lay on the dark green moss.
Seeing her scale the tree towards Lily's room had brought a deep protective rage to the surface. He'd had no idea of what her intent was and he hadn't stopped to ask. Liliana Rose was his favourite of all the little ones. She reminded him so much of Anakatrine when she was little, headstrong, curious to a fault, a natural born leader. She would be glorious when she grew up. He pitied the poor man who would be called on to mate with her for she would lead him a merry dance.
His lips twitched at the thought, his gaze still on the face of the woman at his side. This one appeared to be just as much of a handful from what he'd witnessed so far. The burning question was would she live long enough to find her mate? Nothing and no one could be allowed to harm the children. He had failed once before in that respect and he had vowed then that he would never again fail to protect a helpless child.
He reached out and touched a strand of hair, letting it fall through his fingers slowly. Would he be able to neutralise the threat of this woman if that's what she turned out to be? He could take her life in so many ways it was quite shocking. Would he be able to do it though?
It wasn't a question he usually asked himself when he was called on to do what was required but he found himself asking it now as he stared into her exquisite face. He was perturbed to realise he didn't have a ready answer.
Rayne came back to consciousness and tensed immediately. She expected to feel the agonising pain of having connected with the hard forest floor but instead there was nothing, which surprised the hell out of her. Her healing abilities were far advanced of any other Were but even still, she should have been in considerable pain.
Slowly opening her eyes she looked up to find a pair of lavender ones staring intently into hers. They belonged to a large male vampire, the sheer size of the man looming over her overpowering. It took a lot to intimidate her but this male was certainly managing to achieve that and he hadn't even opened his mouth yet.
She stared up at the excruciatingly beautiful male face and bit back a little sigh as her cat purred quietly within her. Why did vampires always have to take a woman's breath away? They were the coldest, most arrogant, unfeeling beings to walk the planet and yet they were the most stunning individuals, truly glorious in their appearance.
She didn't think she'd ever seen an ugly vampire before and the enormous man above her wasn't a disappointment. His face was shaped in hard angles and planes with a sculpted brow and perfect cheekbones. His lips were drawn tight and he had a dark scowl on his face but he was still the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.
His thick auburn hair was secured in a long single plait which had fallen over his shoulder and rested against his chest. That chest was so wide and powerfully built that she had the urge to reach up and touch it just to see if it was real. She didn't make any sudden moves though. He would most likely kill her instantly if she did.
She had no doubt this was the vampire she had fought with. The one who had broken her ribs so easily and then thrown her from the top of a tall oak tree. He wouldn't hesitate to finish the job and end her life if the mood took him. She was oddly surprised to find that she didn't feel any fear towards him. She should. It was highly likely she was looking at the face of her executioner.
A long moment passed when neither of them spoke and then the dark expression on the vampire's face smoothed out. "Leopard or jaguar?" His voice was a low deep rumble, a touch of curiosity in the question.
Rayne bit the inside of her lip and considered her answer as her cat purred louder at the sound of his voice. Her animal was clearly intrigued by the vampire which was surprising as her cat didn't usually pay much attention to men around her. But something about the vampire had its attention.
Maybe it was his question? He was obviously knowledgeable about wildcats. He knew the black panther was not in fact a panther but a member of either the leopard or jaguar family. That would stroke her cat's ego, that this male was asking an intelligent question about its origins. She considered her options and then went for the truth as she knew it.
"Leopard," she answered quietly. The truth was she didn't really know which cat family she belonged to. Her research pointed more towards the leopard family so that was the one she assumed she belonged to. But she could be wrong, she could be a jaguar. Never having been in a pride let alone raised by one, it was all guesswork on her part.
His lavender eyes narrowed slightly, almost as if he detected the slight uncertainty in her voice. She waited for his next question but he continued watching her silently as if trying to come to some decision.
"You dropped me." She said it just to break the silence and see what his reaction would be. She injected a little bit of accusation in her tone though she wasn't angry about it. They'd been fighting and he had used a successful tactic against her.
She thought she saw a slight narrowing of his unusual eyes but then his luscious lips curled into a slow, easy smile and she had to fight to breathe normally as she watched his face transform into something so divine it was almost angelic in appearance.
"You bit me and clawed my arms to ribbons," he countered, his eyes boring into her as if he was trying to read her mind. If that was one of his skills then he'd be in for some major disappointment. Her mind was impenetrable.
"You broke my ribs!" She pushed herself up onto her elbows, the movement bringing her face a handful of inches from his as he didn't back away. "And you're still stroking my hair," she added with a faint smile curving her lips.
Gard's fingers stilled in the silky tresses in his hand. He had been so intent on her eyes from the moment she'd opened them that he hadn't even noticed that he'd been stroking her hair continuously. He blinked slowly and then forced himself to move away from her.
It was an effort to do so. For some strange reason he liked being close to her, liked the way she matched wits with him and didn't appear the least afraid of him. It was foolish of her not to be but he admired the steel within her.
She was beautiful with a lush, womanly softness about her, but she was also a very deadly predator. The combination of softness and hardness appealed to him on a very base level and he was reacting to her as a man would to a woman. It was an interesting turn of events.
He watched as she sat up and put a little more distance between them though she didn't attempt to run for which he was glad. He was disinclined to hurt her any further which would most probably happen if she took off without him satisfying himself she wasn't a threat.
He sifted through his emotions, trying to make up his mind what to do with the cat. He was astounded to find that he actually liked her despite her rather suspicious actions back in the compound.
"Why were you climbing towards the child's window?" He had hoped to catch her off guard, glean some information from her expression if she chose not to answer him. Instead her expression remained calm, the faint smile still tugging at lips that kept drawing his gaze like a magnet.
"How old are you?" She countered softly, moving a little closer to him, her movements very feline with a hint of sensuality. "You have to be very old to see through my abilities. No one else has ever been able to breach them before." Her head tilted to the side as she waited expectantly.
Gard almost laughed in delight, a little shiver running down his spine as he watched the amazingly exotic creature before him. She was very good at deflecting his question but he had no intention of letting her leave until he knew the answer to it. Her survival depended on it, surely she was intelligent enough to know that?
"Much older than you, cat," he answered very quietly a second before he moved so fast she didn't even see him coming.
She was flat on her back with his large body straddling hers before she could blink. He had her hands secured above her head in one of his, his gaze narrowed on her face. "And way too old to fall for the old seductress routine," he added as his expression hardened. "Answer my question."
Rayne fought to drag air through her lungs as the heat of the vampire practically overwhelmed her. Lord, did he move fast! His tone was cold and hard, mirroring the expression on his face. It was obvious that playtime was over. The problem was she couldn't answer his question because she had no idea why the scent of the children had called to her but she had the distinct feeling that he wouldn't believe her if she told him that.
He leaned down slowly and inhaled against the skin of her neck and it was hard not to shiver a little as his breath whispered over her skin. "Answer the question, Kitty. You have five seconds to do so. If you refuse I'm going to indulge in your very intoxicating blood until my venom races through your system and stops your heart."
He meant it. Rayne had no doubt that the vampire would bite her if she didn't say something, anything. And then he would know what she didn't want anyone finding out. Heart thumping wildly she tried to twist from his grasp but he was too strong for her.
"I don't know why," she ground out, meeting his cold gaze unflinchingly. "Something about their scent appealed to my cat. It was curious. They're different from normal Weres." It was the truth but she didn't know if it was enough for him.
"And what was your cat going to do?" he demanded, his tone still cold and very deadly.
"Nothing!" she bit back, anger in her eyes as she realised the stupid male actually thought she had intended to do harm. "Children are to be protected. Weres don't harm cubs or kittens, ever! I know that's a concept vampires can't understand but it's ingrained in all Weres."
Gard believed her. Her fury was honest and quite simply breathtaking. If her hands were free he had no doubt that he would be having to fight her off as she went for his throat. She was squirming beneath him and he found himself enjoying the sensation of her softness pressing against his hardness. His body was starting to react to her womanly curves.
He found he couldn't help playing with her a little longer. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you?"
Her eyes narrowed slightly, the fury dying out of them as she searched his face carefully. "Well, I do have a dinner date tonight," she finally said. "He might be a little upset if I stand him up."