A Long Walk Home Ch. 01byJazCullen©
Once more into my world of Vamps and Weres. I would say this is my last one but I know you'll all just argue with me about it so I will say....this is the last story in this world for a while :-) I do want to try my hand at other things too, maybe a little more romance, possibly dive into fantasy.
I'm posting this up unedited so I can get the first chapter up so please forgive any little mistakes that slip through. Fingers crossed my lovely editor will be back soon to help me polish the chapters.
Hope you enjoy this new tale.
Dayton Alexander released his hair from the leather thong holding it back and ran long tapered fingers through it. A flash of silver caught his eye and he let out a slow breath as the constant reminder of his pain fell forward into his face when he took his hand away.
A inch wide strip of hair at the front was prematurely bleached silver. It had been for over half a century now. It was as if he had gone to some fancy hairstylist and asked them to streak the first inch of his hair silver but leave all remaining tresses their normal dark brown colour. If only that was the reason for what he termed his 'Mark of Sorrow' when he was particularly drunk.
The silver made him look older in human terms, into his late thirties but it belied his real age. Dayton was a Were of the wolf variety and was in fact just over two hundred years old. He was born in the same 'litter' as his brother Connor though he was the second to be born and wasn't classed as the oldest of the Alexander clan.
A few years after, Cedar and Brody arrived and then after a longish gap for Weres of fifteen years, along came Willow and Aaron. He hadn't seen his siblings in a long time, not since he'd left the pack. Aaron checked in every so often and left a voicemail. Dayton never answered the calls but he did listen to whatever news his brother imparted.
There were also the weekly emails sent blindly to an old address. His youngest sibling assumed the account was active despite the lack of response his messages garnered, just as he dialled the same cell number to verbally reach out to him.
It was the mark of just what kind of man Aaron had matured into. He was a Beta in the Pack; a guardian and a protector. It was built into him to protect his pack mates and more so his brother.
Before his life had turned to shit Dayton had shared a deep affection for Aaron, mirroring Cedar's fondness for the youngest of the Alexander family. Truth be told there was something about Aaron that all the family just adored and couldn't help feeling a little something extra special for him.
Dayton had had a bit more interactive contact with the Pack when his best friend and adopted brother, David, had still been alive. It had been easier to send back brief messages to his family through his friend. The Bryant family had welcomed him into their tight knit group when it had become obvious that he and David were inseparable. He had effectively had two families as well as the Pack to draw strength from.
Despite all those who loved him and tried to ease his grief, nothing could have kept Dayton with the pack once it had happened. Jared and Aaron had somehow managed to keep him from going Rogue, had held onto him so tightly with all their love and determination. It had worked to some degree.
The sheer force of their personalities had battled the ferocious anguish which has threatened to rip all his humanity away until there was nothing left but an insane wolf who would have needed to be put down to protect the innocents he would kill and maim. Sanity had prevailed in the end, but the man Dayton Alexander had once been was destroyed along with his beautiful Faith.
Faith. Beautiful, headstrong, vibrant Faith. She had been his world, his reason for existence, his precious mate. And she had left him as only a mate could. She had died, killing him in the process.
Cold, emotionless emptiness filled his soul when he once more came back to himself, when the threat of going Rogue had receded. He could look at his family objectively and know that they loved him but he could no longer return that emotion because he had lost all power to feel.
The only way to remain sane was to root out every link within himself which tied him by love to another person, and to ruthlessly sever it by crushing the emotion completely dead. His link had lasted longer with David but even that had faded until it was obvious that he couldn't remain with the pack anymore.
He'd spoken with Jared, his tone lifeless as he told his Alpha he was leaving. It had been a tense meeting because Aaron had been there too, hurt and anger washing over his brother as he listened. His Alpha had watched him, piercing blue eyes intent for a long time before finally nodding his agreement.
Aaron's pain had filled the room, harsh accusing words being hurled until Jared had stepped in and Commanded his Beta to be quiet. The words had stopped but the accusation in his little brother's eyes couldn't be contained.
Deep down a part of him had felt a flicker of remorse for the pain he was causing his family. But it wasn't anywhere close to being strong enough to change his mind. It was merely the last remnants of the man Dayton had once been slowly dying inside as his heart turned to ice.
Dayton had been visiting Japan, a Gallery showing promoting his work when the first Vampire/Were conflict had happened. He often wondered if he would have returned to the pack to join in its defence if he'd known what was happening. Would he have helped his family? His best friend and his surrogate family too?
He couldn't honestly answer that question. Part of him liked to believe that there was some decency still within him somewhere, that he would have been able to put aside his own selfishness and protect those who loved him, but he was honest enough with himself to know that he most probably wouldn't have.
Dayton Alexander told himself he was dead inside. That he had been dead for over fifty years. From the very second he'd opened his mouth and teased his beautiful Faith into that ill fated race. Not a day didn't pass that he didn't think 'If only.'
If only he hadn't challenged his feisty mate. If only they had stayed in bed that morning instead of deciding to go for a run. He knew there was no point to thinking that way. Nothing could ever change what had happened. It was in the past. But still he wished fervently that things had been different that day.
He had challenged Faith and she had taken off in wolf form, her sleek black fur rippling in the light morning breeze as she bounded gracefully through the trees. He was a fraction of a second behind her, ready to pounce to trap his mate and ravish her when she had darted to the side unexpectedly. It had caught him off guard and also Faith. She had lost her footing, gone down awkwardly.
Dayton shuddered and tore himself away from the memory even as his mind replayed the resounding crack that had ensued when Faith fell forward. Agony flared through him, calling him a liar, laughing at him. One memory remained that could shatter his heart over and over again and did so on a daily basis. That one memory proved that he wasn't as dead inside as he believed.
Fifty years on and Dayton Alexander still felt his mate's death as keenly as he had the day it happened. It was the only thing that slipped through his iron self control, that breached his carefully raised barriers to touch him on an emotional level. Faith. She would forever be the only thing who could reach inside his dead heart and make him feel, even if it was just a never-ending agony he perceived.
The voicemail message he'd received from Aaron telling him the Bryant family had been wiped out almost got through to him. They had been good people. He had adored them all. He knew the youngest daughter had survived, knew she would be going through a world of agony at losing David and the rest of her family. For a fraction of a second he had considered going to her even though he had never met the girl before.
But not even that tragedy had been strong enough to break through his defences. He had coldly and analytically weighed up the impact of what Ashleigh Bryant's grief would do to him personally and had taken the coward's way out and stayed away.
He had hardened his heart further, closed himself off that much more and gone up to his studio instead and pulled out a large canvas. All night long he had painted, slashing dark reds and blues, purples and blacks streaking across the canvas as he worked out the icy coldness he felt deep inside at losing his best friend and all the other pack members who had died that day.
The abstract hung in his small gallery through the door from the office he was currently sitting in. It wasn't for sale but it took pride of place so that everyone could see it instantly when they walked in the door.
The painting screamed of pain and loss, rage and despair. It summed up what Dayton thought of the world, that it was a cruel, heartless place to live in. Loving people made you weak and vulnerable. It invariably brought you to your knees in mind numbing agony.
Logically he knew he loved his family. No matter how hard he tried to deny it, he knew those feelings still lived somewhere within him. But he buried them so deep they didn't have the power to hurt him anymore. No one had that power. Not now Faith was gone and David too.
The sound of the Gallery door opening distracted him and he stiffened a second later. Scents washed over him, confusing him deeply. The first scent was that of a wolf and felt vaguely familiar though he couldn't place the Were it belonged to. The other was a vampire, a sweet scent of cherry blossom with a hint of musk assaulting his nostrils. His hackles rose instantly. Why was a wolf and a vampire in his Gallery?
Ashleigh took a deep breath as Freya parked the car outside the small Gallery. The sign above the doorway was simple and to the point D A Art. For the hundredth time she wondered if coming here was a good idea. She had agonised over it for so long Nors has finally taken the decision out of her hands and all but ordered her to go and do it.
A faint smile curved her lips as she thought of her mate's stubborn expression. He had become so tired of her procrastinating that he'd told her to get it over and done with so they could get some form of normality back into their lives. Then he had ordered Freya to accompany her because he didn't want Liam being without both parents.
His fierce protectiveness of their son always brought a rush of deep love to her soul. Nors had taken to fatherhood as if he were born to it despite the fact that he was over two thousand years old and a Vampire to boot.
Vampires had never been able to have children up until they had mated with Weres so had no reference points to work from when they had suddenly started to become fathers. But that didn't seem to get in the way of the strong, dominant men who were now part of the Armand-Hanlon pack.
Each vampire was totally besotted with their offspring and so fiercely protective of them that it bordered on paranoia. It brought many rolled eyes from their mates as their over protectiveness kicked in and the poor little ones struggled to get any kind of freedom to just be themselves. It also made them love their mates more because they knew no harm would ever come to their children.
The only vampire who had an issue with all the changes that had happened lately was the woman sitting at Ashleigh's side, Freya Eriksson. The vampire was scowling darkly and trying hard not to show it. Her sister-in-law was struggling painfully hard with everything but she was trying her best to accept it because it made Nors so happy.
Ashleigh's relationship with the other woman had built slowly over the last few years but it was strong now, respect and affection growing between them. Freya was even accepting of little Liam and beginning to display the same protective instincts as Nors.
She never said anything but Ashleigh knew Liam was adored by his aunt and she would watch over him for eternity. It made her love Freya even more though she was careful not to verbalise her feelings because the vampire wouldn't like it if she did.
"Are we just going to sit here?" Freya sighed wearily, fighting down her irritation. She didn't want to be here but she had promised Nors she would take care of his mate when he couldn't.
Not that she really minded spending time with Ashleigh that much. The other woman was the closest thing she had to a friend. She accepted her boundaries, didn't try to turn her into something she wasn't. She was the mother of the most adorable little being to have graced her life and she was Nors' mate.
All those things made Ashleigh special to Freya though she would never admit that out loud. Admitting it could place Ashleigh in danger. Freya had many enemies in the world. As long as no one knew she cared about the little blonde and her child then they would always be safe from those enemies.
Not that she or Nors would allow anything to harm them but Freya hadn't had anyone who was special to her before, not like Nors who could take care of himself. It was all new to her and she reacted as the mated vampires did, she became overprotective. So she kept her feelings for them closely hidden but she knew the woman beside her was aware that she would protect her and her son with her life if need be.
She turned to regard Ashleigh her green eyes flashing with a little bit of humour as she took in her pensive expression. "He's hardly going to eat you," she said with a hint of mockery in her tone. "If he tries, I will protect you."
Ashleigh burst out laughing at the total conviction in Freya's tone. There was no artifice involved, no grandiose boasting, it was a simple fact. If Dayton Alexander did anything to upset her then Freya would upset him right back, and probably in a more violent manner.
"Try not to overreact," she smiled, unclipping her seatbelt and stepping out of the car.
She tucked her blonde hair behind her ears in a nervous gesture as she waited for Freya to join her. "Try to remember that he's been through a lot. He most likely will not be pleased to see me and will react accordingly. Let me handle it."
Freya rolled her eyes and headed towards the door to the Gallery. "I will be on my best behaviour," she drawled turning her head to look back and make sure the younger woman was following her. "Unless he upsets you," she added with an unrepentant grin on her exquisite face.
Ashleigh hurried into the Gallery after her, slightly afraid of just what Freya would do and then realising that the other woman had deliberately goaded her into the Gallery with her words. A faint smile curved her lips. Freya was so like her brother sometimes it was scary.
Both woman stopped as the door closed silently behind them, staring at the large abstract painting on the far wall.
Ashleigh felt chills run through her as she stared at the raw fury and aching loss within the painting. Tortured was the first thought that came to her mind. The work of art screamed of a tortured soul crying out to the world.
Her keen eye caught the signature, D Alex. It was how Dayton signed all his work. The date just beneath the signature registered and she knew immediately that he had been affected by David's death after all, even if he hadn't come to the memorial. Maybe he wouldn't be so adverse to seeing her as she thought he would be.
Freya eyed the canvas with an appraising eye. She was actually quite stunned by what she was witnessing but managed to contain her expression behind a tight neutral guard. D Alex? This Dayton Alexander character was 'The' D Alex!
She had always had a liking for fine art and had heard about a new artist showing in Japan while she was there. She hadn't attended the opening night of the show but she had managed along at some point. The raw emotion in the abstract work on the walls of the Gallery had fascinated her. She had even bought a couple of pieces which now hung in her new home not far from Nors' house.
She frowned slightly as she thought of the other place she had, her special place where she retreated to when she needed perfect solitude. She didn't want to think how many other pieces she had up there, what that would say to anyone if they could see it.
Finding out she had wolf art displayed in her home was mildly irritating but she wouldn't take them down. She loved the pain and suffering within the work. Some would view her as cruel to take such pleasure from it but part of her related to it. Sometimes she became so tired of her very existence that she could understand the blatant desire to cease to exist which read within the work of D Alex.
The door directly beneath the painting swung open and their eyes dropped down to the man who was suddenly framed in the doorway.
Ashleigh's heart thudded hard in her chest as she looked at Dayton Alexander in the flesh for the first time. She had seen him so many times in the numerous family photos she possessed and had always wondered how she would feel when they finally met.
She was unprepared for the feeling of kinship which wrapped around her as she stared into a pair of deep blue eyes that contained no emotion at all. The large man before her was tense and alert and not the least welcoming but it didn't stop her wanting to reach out and wrap her arms around him to give him comfort.
She contained herself, knowing he would reject any attempt at affection from another Were. She was a stranger to him even though she knew just about everything there was to know about him. And if he was overly aggressive it would just set Freya off and a pissed off Freya was a nightmare to contain.
He was huge as most male Were's were, standing at six foot three and blocking out the entire doorway with his wide shoulders. Muscles rippled under his black T-shirt as he gripped the doorframe tightly. He was handsome in the photographs she had but the camera failed to capture just how stunningly gorgeous he was with his hard, chiselled jaw and high sweeping cheekbones.
His expression was closed and guarded but it didn't take anything away from his incredible male beauty or the sheer power that exuded from him. It didn't matter how long he had been gone from the pack, his former Beta status was still evident in the way he held himself at the ready, waiting for an attack to come.
Ashleigh ran her eyes over his long hair which was loose and lying in luxurious waves around his shoulders. It looked silky soft and invited a woman to touch it, just so she could gnash her teeth in frustration that it was so much more beautiful than hers.
The streak of grey was a shock against the rich, warm brown shade. She had heard of that occurring before, usually in humans. Sometimes something so awful happened that the colour literally bleached out of a person's hair overnight. No one had told her it had happened to her brother's best friend.
Dayton didn't speak, merely let his eyes linger on the vampire briefly, categorising her as lethally dangerous but not appearing to be hostile at the moment. The three seconds his eyes remained on her told him everything he needed to know about her.
She was flawlessly beautiful, her hair a deep brown streaked with alternating strands of gold and red, her eyes a vibrant, piercing shade of green. She was cold, ruthless and no doubt a pitiless killer. She was a typical vampire. And not a threat.
The real threat came from the exquisite blonde who stood at her side. She was smaller, her eyes a deep brown, her blonde her framing her face in silky strands. He was instantly on alert, his gaze connecting with the Were and automatically shying away from the compassion he saw in hers. He now understood why her scent seemed familiar. There was only one person who's scent he would recognise even though he had never met her.