A Long Walk Home Ch. 05byJazCullen©
Many thanks to Peter once again for spending his valuable free time editing this chapter for me. I appreciate it so much :-)
To the Guild & my Tweeters too for their endless support. To everyone who commented on the last chapter, real life was hectic and I never got the time to reply as I wanted to. But your comments made a stressful week so much more enjoyable and I really can't thank you enough for all your support.
Dayton and Rayne made their way out of the library, leaving the Alpha alone to contact whoever he needed to speak to. Rafe had given them free passage within the compound and had offered them the use of the guest rooms on the first floor of the main house.
Dayton didn't particularly want to stay, but until the issue with Freya was sorted out he knew she would keep coming back to the gallery. Rayne, surprisingly, had seemed overjoyed at Rafe's offer. This set him musing quietly to himself: his friend appeared to be anxious to spend time in the compound and he doubted it had anything to do with Freya. Trivial matters such as death threats just didn't faze her.
Before he could ask her what was going on, the sound of children's laughter caught his attention and he turned to look up the main stairwell. Three little ones came haring down from the second floor, squealing with laughter as they ran.
In the lead was a small boy of around five, his hair a shock of deep chocolate brown, his light blue eyes glowing with glee as he ran. Behind him another boy and a girl chased after him. They were both blond, around the same age; the girl's eyes were a deep green and her sibling's a light blue like his brother's. It was obvious that they were from the same litter.
"DJ! Thorne! Rowan! Get back here right now!" an exasperated feminine voice called from upstairs. The woman's tone sounded stern but there was a trace of laughter lurking in it as the three little rascals made their bid for freedom.
Dayton couldn't help the smile that crossed his lips and the cold fury within him began to melt in the face of the children's antics. His Beta instincts kicked in automatically and he collected the first child into his arms as he reached the bottom of the stairs.
His sudden appearance surprised the children so much that they all froze in place, the cub in his arms staring wide eyed at him. "You really should listen to your mother, little one," said Dayton in a firm tone, but with a hint of gentleness to it as he didn't want to frighten the boy.
The child's reaction stunned him: his face suddenly split into a huge grin and he threw his arms around Dayton's neck and held on tightly. Dayton couldn't help stiffening slightly at the open display of affection before he willed his body to relax and accept the child's embrace.
More of his fury melted away as he gently held the child against his chest, inhaling in the manner of his wolf to ingrain the boy's scent deep within himself.
"You three are in so much trouble..." As she appeared at the head of the last set of stairs, Jennifer Swift stopped in shock, staring wide eyed at the scene before her.
She instantly recognised the man standing in the main hallway: Dayton Alexander. There were photographs of all the Alexanders in her home; including the lost brother Aaron missed so much.
Behind him stood a Werecat whom she quickly judged to be no threat; otherwise she wouldn't have been allowed to enter the house. Jen's gaze was drawn instead to Dayton, and to the way he was holding her son so carefully.
Did Aaron know his brother was here? It was a silly thought and she knew it; of course he would know, though where he was she had no idea. How should she react to Dayton's presence? She knew his story, understood why he had closed himself off from the pack. And yet here he was, holding DJ with such care, and there was more than a hint of warmth in his eyes as he looked at her son.
"Let the children bring him home to us, honey," she heard Aaron's soft words in her head. He must have sensed her confusion and realised why.
"I need to stay with Cedar at the moment. Alexei is close to losing it and she needs my help to get through to him. Don't push Day: he'll react better to the children than to us. Let them charm him as they do everyone else and take it from there. You can do this, Jen."
His words held such confidence, such faith in her that she felt her worries melt away. So she blew him a mental kiss, sent him a shaft of love through their mate bond, and waited to see what would happen next.
Dayton watched the beautiful woman carefully, trying to judge if she was about to freak out at him for touching one of her children. Although pack mothers were notoriously protective of their young she didn't appear to be about to go for his throat, so he relaxed and allowed himself a moment to study her.
She had long black hair, a shade lighter than Rayne's, and lovely green eyes. She was beautiful, if somewhat on the small side for his taste, standing only about five foot four. Regardless, she was a very attractive woman and her mate was clearly a very lucky man.
Dayton was rather startled to find that he'd just appraised her as a woman. He had spent so long never really seeing women that it was disconcerting to suddenly start viewing a member of the opposite sex in that manner.
"Have you come home now, Uncle Dayton?" the cub in his arms suddenly asked, raising his head to look into his eyes and Dayton struggled to keep the shock from his expression as he stared back at him.
The instant the boy spoke he knew whose children they were. Another cursory glance at the other two and he saw Aaron stamped all over their features. He was looking at his niece and nephews; something twisted deep within him--a fierce, overwhelming need to protect these little angels.
"I'm certainly here for a visit, at least," he finally answered, not wanting to promise anything he couldn't deliver. He could only assume that the children recognised him from photographs in the family album. His answer didn't appear to upset the boy in his arms, who just grinned even wider than before.
"I'm DJ," he laughed. "That means Dayton Junior but everyone just calls me DJ because it's shorter." He wiggled to be put down and then ran up the few steps to his siblings. "This is Thorne and this is Rowan," he announced solemnly, showing his uncle that he was the oldest of the triplets, and therefore the leader, as he tapped first his brother and then his sister on the shoulder.
It was all Dayton could do not to laugh at his performance. It was so cute, so pompously arrogant, for one so young. He knew at once that DJ would grow up to be a strong Beta. He was already exhibiting the signs of leadership.
Dayton Junior. He felt his heart twist again, guilt rushing through him in a strong wave. Aaron had named his oldest son after him. His brother had mentioned he had three children but had never given any real information about them, just that he had two boys and a girl.
He'd known why Aaron had held back. His brother had hoped curiosity would be the key to making Dayton respond to one of his emails. It hadn't, so now he felt that he was discovering them for the very first time.
"Pleased to meet you," he said quietly, swallowing against a lump in his throat as three angelic faces smiled up at him.
He could see Aaron in every face as well as the stunning woman standing watching the proceedings. He turned his gaze from the children and looked back at her. "You must be Jennifer."
She smiled warmly at him, walking down the stairs. "Jen," she corrected, her tone echoing the warmth of her smile. "I'm so happy to finally meet you, Dayton. Sorry these little rascals waylaid you. I was in the middle of making their breakfast when they decided that playing outside was more important than eating." She shot a reproving look at her children but they just grinned impishly at her.
"It's fine," he answered a small smile curving his lips. "This is Rayne," he added, nodding at his friend.
Jen greeted her with an equally warm smile. "Would you like to join us for breakfast? Maybe these three will behave if we have company." Her tone suggested she was doubtful of that happening.
Dayton hesitated slightly, unsure if he could cope with any more sensory overload.
Rayne took the decision out of his hands. "We'd be delighted to, Jen."
Dayton shot her an irritated glare but she just smiled at him and turned to the children, who were watching her suspiciously.
"You're not a wolf," Thorne said solemnly, a frown marring his expression.
"You're not a cat," she responded lightly, giving him a wink. His eyes widened for a moment before curiosity got the better of him and he was suddenly smiling.
"Can you shift? Can we see the cat?" Just like that the three children were accepting her into their pack, imploring her to shift so they could see her cat form.
"Maybe later, if Rayne can be bothered indulging you lot," Jen interrupted, shooing them upstairs. "Breakfast! Now!" Laughing, she followed her children back upstairs, Dayton and Rayne a few steps behind her.
Aaron arrived just as they were finishing eating. He bent down to give Jen a long, lingering kiss which turned a little heated until she pushed at his chest and laughed softly. "You're worse than the kids."
"Guilty as charged," he grinned unrepentantly as he dropped three quick kisses on the tops of three expectant heads. His blue gaze turned to his visitors and he nodded at Rayne. "I'm Aaron."
"Rayne," she smiled back. "You have a lovely family, Aaron."
He beamed proudly, his gorgeous face radiant. "Don't I know it." He turned his gaze to his brother and his smile faded slightly as their eyes met. He searched Dayton's face intently for a long moment, and then relaxed.
"Good to see you, Day. I'd maybe leave it a while before you try and catch up with Cedar. We mostly got Alexei settled down but he's still a bit irate. Vampires!" He rolled his eyes in mock sufferance.
Dayton blinked at his youngest brother slowly, amazed at the way Aaron just accepted him sitting at his dinner table with his family, no hint of reproach on his face at all. He had just vanished from his family's life for over five decades. Were none of them going to call him on it?
He knew his family understood, Aaron more than most because he had been instrumental in preventing him from turning Rogue when Faith had died. Even so, he had expected some anger, some hurled accusations, and their absence was setting him on edge.
Aaron could see the confusion in Dayton's eyes and grabbed himself a cup of coffee. "Day and I are going to have a chat," he told Jen. "You okay entertaining Rayne for a bit?"
"I think Rayne's old enough to entertain herself, Aaron, though I wouldn't mind the company," his mate snorted with a laugh.
Dayton spared a quick glance at his friend, who was talking with the children. She looked up and, with a smile, shooed him away. Grabbing his own cup of coffee he followed his brother out of the kitchen/dining room and down the hall to a second, smaller library.
"You have the whole second floor?" he asked curiously as he sat down on the brown leather sofa closest to the window. His brother sat down beside him and gazed outside briefly before settling his gaze back on him.
"Jen and Lacey were best friends, practically sisters, before they became wolves," he explained. "They'd been through tough times together and with Jen expecting triplets, Lacey wanted her close when the Alpha's home was built."
"Explains why it's three storeys," Dayton remarked.
Aaron laughed softly. "Yeah, now that Lacey is due to give birth, the extra space is needed. I'm trying to talk Jen into having some more but she just utters three names and that kind of puts a dampener on the idea." His tone was full of amusement, his deep love for his family shining through.
"You did good, Aaron." It was hard to compliment his brother on his choice of mate, and his beautiful children, not to mention his high rank within the pack. If Faith had lived then he would have had a family like this, known the joy of being a father. Instead he'd only known heartache.
"Only had one black spot in my life, but that looks like it might be fading now," his brother replied quietly, keeping his gaze firmly fixed on the man before him.
Dayton shifted uncomfortably, looking away at the undisguised question in Aaron's eyes. "I don't know how long I'll be here, Aaron. It's...difficult."
Aaron sighed deeply, looking down at the coffee cup in his hands. "It doesn't have to be, Day. You know deep down that Faith would never have wanted this life for you. She would have been heartbroken that you gave up on life."
"Don't!" It was a tortured sound. Dayton rose and moved away from his brother as if putting some distance between them could make his words less powerful.
This was why he had stayed away; this was why he had distanced himself from his family in every way possible. He'd known that they would want him to see sense, to convince him of what Faith would have wanted. They didn't understand because they couldn't. They hadn't lost their mates.
Aaron couldn't work out whether to push or to let it be for the moment. Dayton's arrival was in itself a big step; push him too hard, too soon, and he would disappear again.
"So, what's the story with the wildcat?"
At Aaron's change of tactic his brother turned to stare at him intently for a moment before returning to the sofa. "Your guess is as good as mine," he admitted, though his lips did curl in a slight smile as he spoke of Rayne. "She turned up one day not long after I left the pack. Nothing I said or did would make her go away. Eventually I stopped trying. She comes and goes as she sees fit. Sometimes it's a few years between visits but she always turns up."
Aaron could hear honest affection in Dayton's voice and it piqued his curiosity further. "Stunning looking woman," he remarked casually.
Dayton's head whipped up and his gaze clashed with his. "It's nothing sexual!" His tone was defensive, a trace of anger in it. He locked gazes with his brother for another long moment; then he relaxed again and a genuine smile crossed his face. "Better not let Jen hear you admiring Rayne. I get the impression your mate would not be very pleased about that."
A loud laugh escaped Aaron at the thought of just how much verbal abuse he'd take from Jen if she caught him admiring another woman. But his laughter was prompted by more than just that thought. For a brief moment he had seen the real Dayton: the brother he had been before Faith's death.
"I dare say she wouldn't be," he agreed, smiling widely. "I talked to Rafe before coming up. He tells me Freya Eriksson has set her sights on you. I was obviously doing it all wrong before I met Jen: I should have played hard to get. That appears to be the way to get beautiful women throwing themselves at your feet."
Cold, hard fury swept through Dayton at the mention of the vampire's name. His jaw clenched hard and he had to fight to control the sudden, unexpected, eruption of anger. "It's not a laughing matter, Aaron."
His brother was instantly on the alert, his protective instincts kicking in. Something about Freya's behaviour had caused an intense reaction, and not a very healthy one either. His hackles rose immediately. "What did she do to you?"
Dayton met his brother's gaze. Gone was the amiable, likable Aaron and in his place was the strong, feral Beta who would destroy anything or anyone who tried to harm his family or his pack. He knew in that instant that his brother would stand at his side if he had to go up against the Ancient, even knowing that Freya would most likely kill them both.
Aaron's angry reaction calmed him down a little. It forced him to pause and wonder just why he was experiencing such an extreme reaction to Freya's game. Her behaviour had been outrageous; there was no getting away from that. But had she actually hurt him? The cut on his neck had been nothing. He'd suffered much worse growing up and in protecting the pack in his role as Beta. He hadn't even registered any pain from the cut because his anger had been so intense.
No; the pain she had inflicted hadn't been physical, it had been emotional. She had drunk his blood without his consent. She had put her hands on him for the second time without permission. She had kissed him--stolen his last memory of Faith's lips touching his.
His fury was boundless because he was struggling to hide the truth from himself, the awful truth that was his ultimate betrayal of Faith. Before he had begged the vampire to stop, for a split second that had felt as if it lasted for eternity, he'd taken pleasure from the feel of Freya's soft lips against his. He'd wanted to kiss her back, had needed to let go of the sudden roaring hunger which had erupted deep inside him. That was what fuelled his rage and hatred of the vampire: she had made him want her, even if the need had lasted only a brief moment.
"She kissed me, Aaron," he finally admitted, disgust in his voice. "I didn't want her to but she did it anyway. The worst part of it was I liked it." Aaron had always been the one who could get him to talk, to admit the thoughts and feelings he wanted to conceal. It was as though the last fifty years hadn't happened as he sat with Aaron and told him things he probably wouldn't have admitted to anyone else. But it hurt to admit his betrayal; it wounded him so deeply it was like a festering sore inside.
Aaron knew what a blow this was to Dayton. He cursed Freya for pushing him, for forcing him to face something he just wasn't ready for. Indeed his brother might never be ready for another woman to enter his life. It wasn't even as though Freya gave a damn about Dayton. She was being sadistic, amusing herself because she was bored. He was going to have serious words with Nors about this. If Nors didn't get his sister in line there was going to be trouble.
"Leave Freya to us," he told his brother, his expression determined. "She'll be told in no uncertain terms to find her amusement elsewhere. Just don't do anything stupid like letting your anger cloud your judgement. Make no mistake, she's wilder than most vampires. She has a completely different way of looking at things and doesn't care about consequences. You've come to the pack for help. Let us help you."
Dayton stared at him, confusion on his face as he admired the man his brother had grown into.
"Why don't you hate me, Aaron? Why isn't anyone in the family angry at me?"
Compassion crossed Aaron's face--together with a muted expression of grief. "Because we loved her too, Day," he said quietly. "We miss Faith each and every day the same way you do, only we know our sense of loss pales into insignificance in comparison with the depths of your feelings."
His quiet statement broke Dayton further, tears welling up in his eyes as he looked down to hide them. He felt Aaron move, felt his arms come around him in a fierce hug and for the first time in over five decades Dayton Alexander let go, and began to weep. He tried to hold back the tears, tried to stifle the sobs that began to wrack his body painfully but he couldn't hold back the agony that welled up from deep within.
"Jen, take the kids and Rayne outside somewhere," Aaron conveyed through their mental bond, holding his brother tightly as he wept. He didn't want Dayton to be ashamed of his tears or worry that others had heard him cry.
He rocked Dayton tightly in his embrace. "Let it out, Day," he whispered. "Let it all out. You're safe here. Lean on me. I won't let you go."
Jen's sudden desire to go visit the community centre appeared strange to Rayne. As the other woman began shepherding her children down the stairs, Rayne opened up her senses completely, utilising another skill that she kept closely hidden. She reached out towards the room into which Aaron and Dayton had disappeared a while ago and let their emotions come to her.