A Long Walk Home Ch. 12byJazCullen©
Once more my thanks to mikothebaby for her editing skills. I've tinkered a little since it came back so any errors are my own :-)
Rayne rolled away to lie on her back, staring up at the cave ceiling. It looked so cold and grey, a direct contrast to the warmth surrounding her wrapped up in the thick blankets in Gard's bed with the heat from his body at her side. He'd asked her a question and something was holding her back from answering it. She didn't know what it was, but it had to be instinctual because her cat wasn't even trying to force her to reveal he was her mate.
This was strange, considering it had been almost desperate for her to do so earlier. Now her cat suddenly wasn't so eager?
Gard was lying so still at her side and she could feel his eyes on her even though he was silent. He was expecting a response, waiting patiently. She finally turned to meet his gaze, her expression carefully neutral.
"Can you do the bath thing again? I need to get back to the compound and it would help if I didn't have your scent all over me, might give it away that you're out here."
Her response surprised him, taking away the warm glow he'd been experiencing from their lovemaking. They'd just had the most amazing sex of his very long life and she was suddenly retreating from him, hiding behind a calm mask that let none of her inner emotions show? All he had done was ask a question.
"Or maybe you just want to wash me from your body?" There was a hint of steel in his voice, something he hadn't displayed since the first time they had met. Her throwaway response cut him deeply and he reacted instinctively with his own.
Rayne turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow inquiringly at his terseness. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "If I'd wanted to do that I would have said so," she answered quietly. "I assumed you wouldn't want the pack being aware of your presence in the forest."
"I don't," he agreed in a calmer tone, "but you don't have to be in a particular hurry to leave either. Or avoid my question." He felt hurt that she was ready to climb out of his bed as if what they'd just shared meant nothing to her. She had claimed him while they made love, just as he had claimed her.
Everything about her fascinated him, called to him and told him she belonged to him completely. Her declaration had led him to believe that she felt the same way. When a Were claimed someone with the word 'mine' it meant they were claiming their mate. He knew she was his, had probably known from the very first day when she'd fallen from the tree and his heart had almost stopped. He just hadn't been willing to admit it to himself.
Rayne rolled away from him, turning her back as her cat mewled quietly inside her. She could feel Gard's tension rise, knew he was unhappy with her reaction to him but something inside her urged caution. She knew he was her mate. She wanted to claim him and from the looks of things he appeared more interested in pursuing some kind of relationship with her other than a quick fumble between the sheets. But she just couldn't say the words, no matter how much she wanted to. So she closed herself down completely.
"People say all manner of things in the heat of sex, Gard. Most of the time, they mean nothing. As for leaving, I've got things to do. I have a friend I need to track down. We had a disagreement earlier and he left feeling very unhappy with me. I need to fix it."
She was suddenly flipped onto her back, Gard looming over her with a hard expression on his face. "He? Who is he, Rayne and why is he suddenly more important than spending time with me?" His voice was laced with jealousy, his fingers digging hard into her shoulders.
She felt her temper spark and pushed at his chest. "He is none of your damned business," she growled out. She knew he was thrown by her behaviour but being high handed wasn't something she was willing to tolerate. Her friendship with Dayton was important to her. She didn't have time to put up with petty jealousy. She opened her mouth and said the first thing that came out in a fit of temper.
"Just because we fucked doesn't give you proprietary rights over me, vampire. Yes, it was great, I enjoyed it immensely but it was sex and nothing more!"
If she could have taken the words back she would have. The flash of uncensored pain that crossed his face was like a knife to her heart. She hadn't meant it, her cat was roaring furiously at her. But she had said it and the effect it had on Gard was instantaneous. The pain vanished and dark fury crossed his face. His expression turned rock hard, his fingers biting deeper into her skin.
Gard stared down at her and felt a pain he'd never experienced before. Her words rocked him to his very core, breaking something inside him. Anger reared its ugly head and also a deep sense of unease. Rayne hid so much of herself from him. He was conscious of the fact he didn't really know anything about her except she could do things no Were should be able to. And she made him ache in a way no other woman could.
She had all but flown out of the Alpha's house the moment Caleb and Annie had shown up, panicked to run as far away as she could. He should have noticed the timing of it but he'd been more concerned about her. Now that he thought back on it he suddenly found he had more questions he wanted answered. Important ones.
It wasn't like him to be led around by his cock. It wasn't like the pack to just let anyone into their safe haven, let alone so close to the children. The first time he had seen her she had been trying to get into Lily's room. Did she have other abilities he didn't know about? Could she sway other people's thoughts?
The longer he considered everything, the deeper his unease grew. His anger was starting to escalate as his protective instincts towards the pack kicked in. He had considered keeping her, taking her as his mate and binding her so tightly to him she would never be able to leave. Where had that thought come from? Was it his or was it Rayne's?
"Just who and what are you, Rayne, because you sure as hell are not an ordinary Were. What were you running from earlier?" His voice was hard; completely brittle as he fought against the pain he was feeling.
Rayne lay still beneath him, sifting through his emotions unashamedly as his expression hardened even more and her playful lover transformed into the cold, deadly vampire he truly was. The pain that was suddenly flooding her body had nothing to do with his hold on her.
She could sense his distrust and it hurt like nothing had ever been able to do before. Even the pain of being alone for countless millennia paled into insignificance compared to what Gard was able to inflict on her with just one hint of uncertainty. She knew it was her own fault, she had created this gulf between them but it still hurt that he could doubt her so easily.
Her cat let out a pained mewl and curled up in a ball. She couldn't read minds but she knew the man above her. He was thinking things through at the moment but he would act soon. If he really viewed her as a threat...killed by her own mate? That would be a tragedy to end all because the guilt would kill him too. Could she talk him down?
"Don't do this." It was a whispered plea from the depths of her soul. She saw hesitation cross his face and for a brief moment she had hope that she had reached him. Then his expression once more turned irresolute and she knew she would have to act fast before he did something he may never be able to forgive himself for.
She shifted in a heartbeat, shadowing herself as she flew from the bed. She knew he could track her in human form but could he still 'see' her if she was in panther form? It was the silent urging of her cat to shift, almost as if her panther knew something she didn't.
Gard's roar of rage answered her question as he flew from the bed to crouch on the floor his eyes spanning the room and passing over her numerous times. He couldn't see her but he would be able to hear her when she moved though. She spun, trying to keep her flight path unpredictable as she sailed out of the cave and into the forest.
"Rayne!" Gard had shifted into full vampire mode. He streaked out of the cave, his jeans hastily pulled on but undone. It had taken him less than five seconds to get outside and start hunting her. He couldn't believe she'd eluded him, run from him. What infuriated him more was the expression he'd seen on her face before she'd shifted.
She had honestly believed that he would hurt her. He might be mad at her, concerned about just who she was and if she was a danger to the pack, but despite that, despite everything, he would never ever hurt her. He couldn't. It would be like ripping his own heart out.
It was those precious few seconds Gard had taken to pull on his jeans that had enabled her to pick out a large oak tree to scamper up and hunker down in. She perched in her hidden spot and held her breath while he scouted the area in a blur, cursing under his breath as he did so. He even came close a few times but never managed to stumble upon her hideaway.
Eventually he disappeared back into the cave, fury wafting off him in waves, distrust coming a close second to the turbulent emotions deep within him. Rayne held her position, fighting down the waves of pain crashing through her. She didn't move until Gard once more came back out, fully dressed, furious and heading towards the compound with a determined expression on his hard face.
Her cat roared in a combination of fury and distress. She was furious at their mate for distrusting them even as she was pained too. Rayne wasn't even aware that she was crying until a tear landed on her paw. Staring down at it she considered her options.
She couldn't go into town in panther form and she couldn't go back to the compound because Gard was headed there. She didn't trust him not to have left some kind of magic ward in place to alert him that she had returned to the cave for her clothes. She was thankful he had slipped up and let her in on his magic secret though he would probably be pissed at himself now for doing so.
With no other options left to her she decided to try something she'd never done before. She could shift fully clothed and still have them when she shifted back, but could she create clothes when naked?
She shifted, closing her eyes and trying to imagine what she'd been wearing earlier. Nothing happened except sweat began to bead her brow at the intense concentration she was exerting. She wiped her wet cheeks and took a deep breath. Then she tried again. She gasped in shock when she found herself fully clothed.
Another ability she had no idea she could do, just like all the others. Gard's question came back to mind and she felt her eyes moisten again as she carefully climbed out of the tree and shadowed herself. She couldn't answer his damned question because she didn't know the truth of the answer.
There were hints that she could be a Vampire/Were hybrid but no real facts to support it. The pack was dubious about it even though they didn't have any other suggestions to offer. The stupid vampire was angry with her, distrusting her because she couldn't tell him what he wanted to know. If only he knew that she'd spent three thousand years trying to find the very answers he wanted.
Her pain started to turn to anger. So far today the two men she cared most about had questioned her loyalty to them, looked at her with anger in their eyes. She'd opened her heart to both of them and they were breaking it in their own separate ways. This was what she had been searching for all her life? Somewhere to belong, to place down roots and care about others? At the moment it felt like shit, a colossally stupid thing to do.
Wrapped in angry misery, Rayne headed out of the forest, away from the place that both fascinated her and made her want to sink to her knees in anguish. She needed time to regroup, work out her next move. Maybe it was time to move on again? Maybe this wasn't the place for her after all?
Caleb stood in the kitchen of the Alpha's house, expertly throwing together a meal for Lacey. Cooking was a skill he'd acquired years ago when he'd first met his Annie, when she was still human and required food to ease her hunger. She no longer needed food but his passion for cooking had remained and he used his visits to the compound to indulge in his not so guilty pleasure.
Lacey was hungry so he wanted to feed her. He also wanted private time with Rafe and had urged the other man to join him. He wanted to know who the woman was on the first floor earlier and he sensed there were other things he needed to know about too.
Rafe was watching him silently from his seat at the dining table, sipping at a cup of coffee.
"Who's the wildcat?" Caleb finally asked, letting the full weight of his gaze fall on Rafe as he spoke. He wanted to see his initial reaction to the question.
Apart from a slight tightening of his lips, Rafe managed to keep his expression neutral. "The newest member of my pack." His reply was slightly guarded, as if he was deciding how much information to impart.
Caleb could understand that. If Rafe had formed an Alpha bond with the woman then he would instinctively want to protect her at all costs. It was a surprising announcement. Wolves and cats didn't usually form bonds outside their own animal group, though he supposed Rafe's pack was anything but normal.
"Why was she hiding on the first floor landing when we arrived?"
Rafe's eyes widened then a frown started to furrow his brow. "I didn't see her," he admitted after a long pause. "She must have been using her abilities. I'm surprised you saw her if she was."
That sparked Caleb's interest and he turned the gas down on the stove and sat down beside his brother-in-law. "Spill it, Rafe. What's been going on here?" It was a demand not a question and one that only served to make the other man frown more.
"Damn for a moment there it sounded like you thought you had a right to control my pack, Caleb. I obviously misunderstood you because I know you wouldn't try that shit on me."
Caleb stifled down a deep sigh and met Rafe's gaze intently. He'd forgotten how prickly Alphas were not having been around for a while. It was bad enough when he'd just had Jared to contend with but now Rafe had become an Alpha it was doubly as irritating having to watch what he said.
"Annie's heart would break if any harm were to befall this pack," he said wearily. "I'm not stepping on your toes, Rafe. I'm trying to make sure her family is protected. You know that so can we please dispense with the pissing contest and you just tell me what's going on? This affects us too."
Rafe sighed deeply and lowered his aggressive stance. He couldn't really argue with his brother-in-law, not where his sister was concerned. "Rayne has abilities that no Were has exhibited before. The children are exhibiting the same abilities." He didn't need to elaborate which children he was referring to.
Caleb tensed immediately, his expression hardening. "How did she come to the pack?" The words were bit out tersely. An unknown Were with unheard of abilities was not something to be taken lightly.
"Dayton Alexander brought her and before you go off on one, he's known her over fifty years. She's no threat to the children and no spy sent from some new, unknown enemy. Her arrival is purely coincidental."
Caleb didn't believe in coincidences but if what Rafe said was true then there was no way someone could have known decades ago that vampires and Weres would mate one day and produce offspring. He relaxed slightly, his thoughts turning in another direction.
"Dayton Alexander? He's returned to the pack?" It was another interesting turn of events.
Rafe nodded. "The Alpha bond shifted from Jared to myself. Ashleigh and Freya went to see him a while back and something must have kicked in because he came home. Not that he's here at the moment but he's met with Cedar and Aaron. He's slowly reconnecting with his family. There's hope it might be a permanent homecoming."
Two virtual strangers within the pack and Freya somewhere in the mix? Not something that Caleb liked the sound of at all. There had been something in Rafe's tone when he mentioned Freya and that filled him concern.
His antipathy towards Nors' sister hadn't really changed much over the years. He knew she was a crisis waiting to happen and when it did his friend was going to end up hurt because of her. "What's Freya got to do with this?"
A low growl erupted from Rafe and his eyes turned hard. "Freya's pack. Our business. Don't get involved, Caleb."
It was the last thing he'd expected to hear so he couldn't help show his surprise. "When the fuck did Freya become pack?" he demanded. "Has she mated with a wolf?"
"She's pack by association with Nors and Ashleigh," Rafe insisted, his expression irresolute. "That's all you need to know."
Caleb could see that they were going to come to blows pretty quickly so he stepped away from the table and returned to the stove, stirring the soup which was simmering gently. Rafe's aggressive stance was concerning on many levels. He didn't want to lose his temper with his brother-in-law. Annie would give him hell if he did and he was particularly fond of the other man too.
Freya had obviously done something that Rafe was worried about. Which meant it was something against the Weres. Caleb was smart enough to know that Rafe would only claim the volatile woman as pack in a bid to stop her coming under threat from her own people.
He suddenly cursed loudly and swung his gaze back to the table. "Did she harm a Were?" It hurt to ask the question. Not because of any love for Freya but because of what would be required if the answer was affirmative. He had made his thoughts on the subject perfectly clear five years ago. There could be no exceptions.
If Freya Eriksson had attacked a Were in anyway he would take her head no matter what the fallout of doing so would be. He would break Nors' heart if it was necessary to ensure the safety of every Were that walked the planet. And he would weep for doing so.
"What's wrong?" Rhianna's urgent mental query sounded deep inside his mind and he swallowed hard to try and dampen down his emotions. Their mate bond could be very inconvenient at times.
"Alpha stuff," he answered gruffly. "I'll tell you about it later."
I said later, Rhianna!"
Their connection broke off instantly and he cursed loudly again feeling her retreat in both surprise and hurt. He'd been curt with her because of his own conflicted emotions about what he may be called on to do. He hated hurting her. It was a wound to his own soul every time he saw a look of pain on her face or felt the mental tremor through their bond.
Rafe was watching him carefully, his tough stance softening as if he could tell what his brother-in-law was struggling with. "Caleb, you've helped both the Hanlon Pack and this one selflessly over the years. Most of us are alive only because of your help. I know you've had to make tough decisions to ensure that happened. Let me return the favour this once. Let me take on the burden of Freya so you don't have to be put in an untenable position."
Caleb considered his words carefully and then turned off the stove. He nodded once and then let out a long deep breath. "If she's crossed the line there is no saving her, Rafe. Not for Nors' sake or anyone else's. You need to be prepared for that." He knew the other man hated the more violent aspects of pack life even if it was necessary from time to time.
Rafe rose and collected two bowls from a cupboard and laid them on the counter beside the stove so Caleb could dish up the food. "She's not irredeemable," he answered in a quiet voice. "Nors and Ashleigh couldn't love her as they do if she was. And Liam is exhibiting signs of being able to read emotions in other people. He told his parents that she's hurting inside all the time. She's not evil, Caleb, she's one of us. Someone who has been suffering a world of hurt for God knows how long and needs a safe place to belong to. That makes her pack in my eyes."