Authors: Veronica Del Rosa
The empty hospital
room mocked him. He’d spent the last twenty-four hours helping sort out the victims from the guards and scientists. Exhausted, he just wanted to spend some time with Sylvia, reassure himself that she was fine. Instead, he found her gone.
Victor debated his next course of action. Should he call Markus, see if he knew where Sylvia had gone, or, heaven forbid, contact Derek? He could already imagine the choice words Derek would share.
As he pondered the matter, he realized there was one logical option: Derek’s place. A grim smile stretched his lips. He’d prefer to avoid a showdown with his old enemy, but in the end, he didn’t care. Backing down wasn’t in his nature.
He had to see Sylvia.
Clearing his mind, he gathered the required energy for
and visualized his destination. Having been to the Alpha’s house several times over the years, the location was familiar to him. A gentle wind tugged at his clothes and hair as his body moved from one location to the other.
Night had crept over day. The streetlights cast a soft glow over the up-scale street. A large, wrought-iron fence circled the front of the property, and a huge ornamental gate blocked the main entrance. Running a critical eye over the gate, he could see the hammer marks where a smith had shaped the iron into its desired form. He took a moment to appreciate the beauty of the metal-smithing. As cold iron was a deterrent to the Fae, such work was in high demand and yet rare to find. Which meant something this size had cost a pretty penny.
Victor walked through the smaller open gate to the right, which was used by visitors and for any deliveries. The house dominated the space, a huge monstrosity. Touting three floors with balconies and more rooms than he could count, it was a perfect mini-mansion for the pack. The high, arched windows had their curtains drawn, making it easy for surveillance. Several chairs were scattered about the massive porch, inviting guests to sit and enjoy.
Casual and calm, he sauntered to the front door, not wanting to give away his nervousness to anyone who might be watching. He didn’t care about his reception from Derek. He did, however, care about Sylvia’s. Gravel crunched underfoot as he followed the path to the house from the driveway. His heart in his throat, he rang the doorbell and waited.
Derek’s large and angry form blocked the entranceway after he opened the door. Aggression and hatred radiated from the Alpha.
“What do you want?” he growled, his fist tight on the doorknob. “She’s not up for visitors, so leave.”
“She’s my friend, too. I won’t leave until I see her and talk to her.” Victor stood his ground.
Derek wouldn’t dare attack him while Sylvia was so close by. Also, he didn’t give a shit if the Alpha did attack. Victor was more than capable of defending himself. Demons were nasty little bastards and had trained him how to fight dirty. One had to, or else it was death by demons.
“Fine,” Derek snarled. “You can see her and then you can leave. Alone. She’s staying here.”
He moved aside, and Victor entered the spacious foyer, ignoring the opulent room. He didn’t care about the mahogany floors, the giant crystal chandelier or the priceless artwork on the walls. His solitary driving thought was Sylvia.
Following Derek to the sitting room, he took a seat on the couch and tapped his foot impatiently. The Alpha left to inform Sylvia he was here. Jumping up, he paced the room. Too much pent-up energy coursed through his body. He browsed through the books resting on the multiple shelves in the room, not paying attention to the titles.
He ran his fingers through his short hair, and the strands stood on end, creating a messy havoc. A fleeting thought occurred to him. Perhaps he should’ve dressed in more than cargo pants, a t-shirt and his customary long coat. Shrugging, he dismissed the idea. He wasn’t here to woo Sylvia.
His mage’s ability to sense other races alerted him to the presence of a werewolf behind him. Spinning on his heel, he faced the entrance, and the lovely woman in question stared at him, seeming to hesitate over his welcome of her. He smiled, and she relaxed, crossing the room to wrap her arms around his neck. He buried his face in her gorgeous red hair and held on tight, savouring the feel of her, knowing she was whole and in one piece. The tension eased from his body.
A low rumbling had him glancing up, eyes locking onto Derek. Pure rage and hatred burned in the Alpha’s eyes, his hands clenched in tight fists and his lips curled back from elongated teeth. He turned sharply and walked away, quiet footfalls marking his passage, a werewolf’s version of stomping off in anger.
Victor sighed. Soon he’d speak to Derek and set the record straight. Right now, though, he wanted to spend time with Sylvia. He wouldn’t stay long as he didn’t want her affected by his abilities. In the past, he always made sure to spend no more than an hour or two with her, enjoying her friendship. Their busy lives gave him readymade excuses to leave without rousing her suspicions.
He knew Derek thought they were lovers and hated Victor for that reason alone. Before, he had never cared one way or the other how Derek felt about him since Sylvia didn’t seem to return Derek’s feelings. However, after watching the mental collapse of the Alpha due to her abduction, he realized the situation was more serious than he’d assumed. Derek had acted like a male werewolf who’d lost his lifemate.
He pulled himself out of Sylvia’s arms and led her to the couch. They both sat and faced each other, a respectable distance between them. He concentrated hard to suppress his pheromones, wanting her clearheaded.
He studied her, trying to get a hint as to her mental state. She was as beautiful as always, not a single scratch marring her. Her thick red hair fell around her shoulders, framing her pale face. High cheekbones highlighted her plump lips and clear blue eyes. Sylvia was breathtaking, and yet, he felt no desire towards her, never had. He loved her as he loved his sister.
“How are you? I’m sure physically you’re fine, but how are you mentally?” he asked, not sure if she’d answer truthfully.
“I’m… I’m not sure.” She hung her head, hiding her face with her hair.
He could see her chewing on her lower lip, and his heart broke for her. He’d spent years taking care of his sister, Lilith, and in her moments of lucidity, she’d displayed this same kind of shame and humiliation. The knowledge that she couldn’t stop it and the added stress of someone else witnessing her helplessness.
“Darling, I would never judge you. You can tell me anything.” He hoped she would trust him, but to share this kind of pain was hard. He wanted to pat her hand, stroke her hair, comfort her in some way, yet he restrained himself, worried that it would cause his abilities to flare. Could he teach her how to block her desire for him?
Maybe Julia would show her, as she was one of the few women who could push it aside. In fact, she had given him a dressing down for using his abilities on her when he hadn’t meant to. The thought made him smile inwardly. She was a feisty one, and Jackson was lucky to have her.
“I don’t think I can talk about it right now. It’s too raw, and I keep thinking this is a dream and I’ll wake up in that damn cell again.” She shuddered. Silent tears trailed down her cheeks and dripped onto her clasped hands.
His chest tight with pain, he wished his magic could heal her.
“Please, speak to a therapist. You can’t keep all of this inside you. It was a horrific ordeal, and no one will think any less of you. All of the abductees are scheduled to speak to a shrink.”
She nodded, still refusing to meet his eyes. Deciding it was time to change the subject and give her space to mull it over, he caught her up on the latest gossip.
“Jackson is no longer public enemy number one. He’s moaning about the lack of attention he’s receiving, the big baby. You’d think he would be happy with a nice, quiet life – at least as quiet as an Enforcer’s life ever is – but no, he’s upset he’s not the hot topic anymore. Julia’s been pampering him like crazy, telling him he’s a special little boy and important to her.” Sylvia’s snort of laughter did his heart good. “Julia’s been good for him. He’s back to his usual, carefree self. It’s almost nauseating to see them together, all mushy. I think you’d like Julia.”
“I met her briefly at the party before I was taken…” She drifted a little, getting lost in memories before she forced herself to continue. “She was very sweet. And quite the looker, too.”
Victor wondered if they were speaking of the same woman. Julia was pretty with a smokin’ body, but he wouldn’t describe her as a looker. Then again, he hadn’t spent much time checking her out, since she was involved with his best friend. It would’ve been too awkward.
“Um, yes. Anyway, Jackson and Julia cleared Jackson’s name and also uncovered human sport-hunting.”
“No way!” Sylvia exclaimed. Seemed no one had filled her in on the Werewolf Coterie’s extracurricular activities.
“Yep.” He nodded. “Logan and his two Elites kidnapped, tortured and then hunted humans for sport. They gave the victims vampire blood to make it more ‘sporting’ before they tore them to shreds.” At Sylvia’s wince, he realized this might not be the best time to tell her all the gory details. Normally, she wouldn’t flinch from the harshness of their world. “Sorry, I should have thought this through. I’m being an insensitive ass.”
She shook her head. “No please, continue. I can’t get queasy and hide from everything that reminds me of that place. I need to face it head on, or I might as well quit being an Enforcer. And no way in hell will that ever happen.” She stiffened her shoulders and sat up straighter, her gaze direct.
He smiled faintly at her, pleased at her determination. It would see her through her recovery, which gave him hope for his sister. Lilith and Sylvia were so alike.
“Well, Jackson gave himself up, turned himself over to Markus to be taken before the Coterie.” At Sylvia’s startled gasp, he chuckled. Yeah, that turn of events had surprised him, too. After a year of running, he had given himself up. “He’d found out about Logan and decided it was more important to stop the werewolf than maintain his own freedom. Well, it turns out the video that showed Jackson summoning the demon was doctored. Markus stripped away all the fake footage and – get this – it showed two unidentified mages summoning the demon with Logan and his Elites there. After the demon entered our plane, it ate the mages and created a blood bond with Logan. That demon then supplied them with vampire blood to use on their victims. The really odd thing is that the mages shouldn’t have been able to summon the demon. They didn’t draw the circle correctly, and the chant was wrong. But Mara and Roan told me to leave it alone. They don’t want me anywhere near it, and I can’t go against their orders,” he said, blowing out a frustrated breath.
For over a century, he’d studied demons. He understood them better than most and was intimate with every ritual involving them. He was a great believer in “know thy self, know thy enemy. A thousand battles, a thousand victories.”
Sylvia touched his clenched fists. The hesitant, feather-light touch helped ground him and he shook off his anger. This wasn’t about him. He needed to check his frustration at the door.
“Anyway, Jackson’s now cleared and is living with Julia. They figured that, after living together for several weeks after he “accidently” kidnapped her, there was no sense in going back to their own places alone. Lucky bugger.” He grinned, genuinely happy for his friend. “I’m sure that soon he’ll descend upon you. You gave him quite a scare, and he was beside himself with worry. As was I.”
“I’d like to see him again,” Sylvia said, soft and hesitant. “Maybe in a little while...”
She trailed off, and her hands became of utmost fascination again, judging by the intent stare she gave them. He cleared his throat, breaking the tense silence he’d caused.
“It’s time I go. I need to speak to Derek before I do, though, so if you don’t see me again, he’s buried me in the backyard.” He winked at her, showing how unconcerned he was by the prospect of facing the scary, homicidal Alpha.
That son of
a bitch was in
woman. How dare he come here, calm as can be, like he had every right? Derek paced his backyard, struggling to control his inner beast. The chilly autumn air did little to cool the burning fire inside him. He didn’t want to scare Sylvia by tearing Victor apart, no matter how good it would feel.
“We’re not lovers.” Startled, the words had Derek whirling around.
He hadn’t heard anyone approach. Sloppy on his part. He bared his teeth, too angry to process Victor’s words. Without thought, he rushed Victor and slammed him into a tree. Pushing his arm into the mage’s throat, he held him in place, so near the edge of insanity. A prickle of magic raced along his skin, and his claws ripped through his fingertips. He pressed the deadly tips to Victor’s jugular.
“No, no fucking magic, or I’ll shred your damn throat,” he thundered.
The magic dissipated. So the mage had some brains after all.
“I said, we’re not lovers. We never have been,” Victor ground out, his voice low and rough from lack of oxygen.
This time Derek heard and understood what Victor was telling him. And he couldn’t believe it. Not lovers? Ever? How was that even possible? He forced himself to calm down and tore his arm away from Victor’s neck. Several steps backwards, creating space between them, he stared. Unclenching his fists, he just breathed…in and out, in and out.
“What do you mean? Why are you telling me this?” His eyes bore into the mage, seeking any sign of deceit.
“I care about Sylvia, but as a friend, nothing more. We’ve never slept together, and we never will. She’s like a sister to me, one I was able to save.” The last bit was muttered, the meaning lost on Derek. Selfishly, he realized he didn’t care.
They weren’t lovers.
Sylvia was free to be pursued. The euphoria that burst through his veins made him lightheaded and almost giddy.
Sylvia could be his! To finally claim his lifemate…
“And I’m telling you this because you’ve been through enough these last few months. I figured you deserved some good news. I knew you hated me due to my friendship with Sylvia, and honestly, I didn’t give a shit. For the longest time, I thought you didn’t want a mage hanging around with your pack. Now, I see how much you love her. I have no idea why you’ve been such an idiot, though I certainly hope you smarten up. If you didn’t have the balls to claim your lifemate, that’s your issue, not mine.” Victor adjusted his coat, straightened his shirt and projected a calm air.
“You sanctimonious son of a bitch, it’s your fault I couldn’t claim her! How could I claim my lifemate when she wanted you? Every time you’re around, I smell her desire for you. It drives me fucking crazy.” His anger was back in full force, and he wanted to rip off Victor’s head. What man could stand knowing his woman desired someone else? She couldn’t even hide it.
“That doesn’t mean anything.” Victor tried to dismiss his concerns, which only served to jack up his rage, now white-hot and almost uncontrollable.
“Are you fucking kidding me?! I can’t even kiss her knowing it’s not me she wants, but you. I can’t have sex with her because she’d be picturing you in her arms and not me. Why the hell would I torture myself like that? I can’t even open the lifemate link because I can’t handle hearing her thoughts about you.” The true gift between lifemates was the telepathic link, able to send each other thoughts and the ability to sense emotions.
He’d been fighting the link for the past thirty years, keeping a block on it so he wouldn’t experience the added torture. It was bad enough seeing her light up when Victor was around and scenting her excitement, but to hear her thoughts as well would have driven him over the edge.
“What she feels for me isn’t real. I have certain... abilities I can’t fully control. It causes women to feel amorous towards me. I’ve dampened it as much as possible with Sylvia and made sure she didn’t have too much exposure to me, but there was no way to stop her initial reactions. She doesn’t care for me like that. In fact, she’s had a crush on you for years. Whenever we’re together, she always gushes about you. And now, that’s all the information I’m giving you. Do with it what you will. If you fuck this up, it’s all on you.”
Before Derek could respond, Victor teleported out, leaving him alone. Stunned, he concentrated on breathing, his chest tight with emotions. His mind whirled with possibilities, the first and foremost claiming his lifemate. Shit, he couldn’t just go in there, tell her they’re lifemates. She’d tell him off and rightfully so.
Romance her, yeah. He could do that… couldn’t he?
Aw damn, he had no idea how to do this. He hadn’t been with another woman since he met Sylvia, refusing to sully the sanctity of their bond. She was the only one he’d wanted. Others didn’t compare to the bright, shining flame that was Sylvia.
What did women like? Flowers, chocolates and jewelry. Now, what did Sylvia like? She wasn’t a fan of flowers. She always claimed they just died and adding in her black thumb, it was cruel – to the flowers. Jewelry was pointless as it got in the way of her Enforcer duties. Plus, she didn’t have any piercings, unlike him. Many thought the silver earrings they wore burned them and caused a considerable amount of pain.
Werewolves liked to maintain the charade, but the truth was they were specialty earrings made solely for them. The earrings had a very light coating of silver where they entered the flesh, enough to keep the holes open but not enough to cause a bad burn. It was more of a mild discomfort that was effortless to push to the back of the mind. Also, it didn’t make sense to burn one’s lover if they, too, happened to be a werewolf.
That left chocolate. She loved it but in small amounts. The theobromine found in chocolate caused health problems in werewolves for the same reason it was deadly to dogs. The alkaloid didn’t metabolize properly and acted as a stimulant for them. He knew some who ate chocolate the same way humans drank coffee, but he didn’t like the out-of-control feeling.
On second thought, chocolates didn’t seem like such a great idea. He paced, wondering what to get her. It shouldn’t be this difficult to figure out what she liked.
He’d spent decades with her. What did she do during her time off? Watch movies with the pack, play video games, read. Wait, that’s it. Books. She liked to pilfer from his thriller and suspense collection.
With a plan in place, he strode to the house, opened the back door and stopped dead. Sylvia waited for him in the kitchen. He’d expected her to either stay in the sitting room or perhaps to lie down for a bit in her room. A room that he’d put right next to his, naturally.
“Oh, hello. I’m going out for a little bit. Maybe you’d like to rest for a while or watch TV. There’s one with satellite in the entertainment room.” He shut up when he realized he was rambling.
She knew where the TV was. She’d been coming to his house for the past several decades. It wasn’t a secret. Damn, he felt like an awkward teenager around his first crush. Hard to believe he was over two centuries old the way he was acting.
She smiled at him, and he drank up the sight of her. When he’d chosen the t-shirt and jeans, he’d done so knowing she’d be spectacular in them. The bright purple showed off the creamy white of her skin, and the jeans molded to her long, luscious legs. Have mercy, her legs were incredible. He wanted to lick every inch of them, nibble on her thighs and then spend a few hours between them.
The hard throbbing between his own legs reminded him he was to gently pursue her, not act like a cat in heat. She deserved respect.
The doorbell ringing broke the awkward silence, and he nearly sighed in relief. He wasn’t sure how to react around Sylvia. He didn’t want to treat her like glass, and he certainly didn’t want to continue with their previous friendly relationship.
Rubbing his hand over the back of his neck, he strode to the front door and tried to relax.
Without looking through the peephole, he opened the door, and a huge basket of flowers greeted him.
“Flower delivery. Please sign here,” the delivery guy recited in a monotone.
Derek signed, assuming a pack member had sent them for Sylvia. They certainly wouldn’t send
flowers. After he took the basket, he glanced at the other man but couldn’t get a good look at him. Cap pulled low over his eyes, he hurried back to his truck, not even waiting for a tip. The smaller gate stayed unlocked during the day, allowing deliveries and guests to stop by. At night, they locked it tight.
Derek inhaled deeply, wondering if anyone had tampered with the flowers, but they smelled like flowers. There was no underlying taint or suspicious scent.
Turning, he almost bumped into Sylvia. He was so far off into his own world, worrying, he wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings. Hell, he’d actually blocked out Sylvia’s movements, something he never thought was possible.
“These are for you.” He handed the bouquet to her and spied a card hiding amongst the flowers. “Ah, a card.”
“Can you read it, please?” she said, her hands full with the flowers, and nodded towards the white square. Derek plucked it out and Sylvia turned away. “Just finding a spot for these.”
His eyes followed her as she sashayed into the sitting room then bent over to place the basket on the table. He nearly forgot what he was doing as he enjoyed the view.
Oh right, card.
“It says ‘Feel better. Can’t wait to see you again.’ And there’s no name attached to it,” he said as he flipped it over, checking for anything more than the short message.
Finding nothing else, he handed it to her and felt a small jolt of electricity when their fingers brushed. He ignored it, used to the surge of desire he felt whenever he touched her.
“That’s odd. Why wouldn’t they sign it?” She moved away from the flowers and opened one of the windows. Keeping her eyes averted, she said, “Sorry, the smell is a little strong.”
“No problem. Whatever makes you comfortable.” He didn’t want her to feel any distress while in his home.
He hoped one day it would be their home. He’d bought it with her in mind, even had her help decorate it, and wanted to fill it with their children. Those dreams had slowly died over the years as she showed no interest in being his mate. A deep ache throbbed in his chest and he rubbed at it. Could he win her, or was he resigned to a life without the woman he loved?
“Derek.” Sylvia whispered his name, pain swimming in her eyes and reached out to him. Before she touched him, she dropped her hand and stepped away. She shook her head and forced a smile. “I’ll be upstairs.”
He swallowed the hard lump in his throat as he nodded.
Stop whining about what you don’t have. You’re an Alpha, not a child,
he thought, disgusted with his weakness. Winning Sylvia meant showing her the benefits of being his mate. He’d protect her as she protected him. She’d have more power within the pack as an Alpha’s mate, more importantly,
mate. Derek had moved out of the sexist era decades ago. Women had held dominant positions within his pack long before other packs adopted the practice. Having a Top Alpha for a mother had showed him the resilience and strength women possessed.
With those thoughts, he exited his house and pulled out his cell. As he stalked towards the gate, he scrolled through his contact list and found his mother’s number. He hit talk. One, two, three rings before she picked up.
“Mama, we’ve found her.” Derek forgot the niceties she liked him to observe. He was too excited to have Sylvia home, especially since he could now work towards claiming her.
The shout of joy on the other end voiced exactly how he felt. “My son, I’m so happy to hear that! Is she alright? Have they hurt her?”
“She’s fine physically. She’s healed. But I don’t know what they did. It’s too soon for her to talk about it.” He hesitated, wondering if he should discuss the next part with her. He should’ve realized his mother knew him too well.
“What else, Derek? You’re holding something back. What?” Power curled around her words, reminding him why she’d held Alpha status for so long.
“She’s my lifemate, Mama,” he forced out.
“I know that, son. Does that mean you’re finally going to do something about it?” He wasn’t overly shocked she knew. She had a way of sniffing out secrets.
“Yes, Mama. I am. I’m going to convince her to be mine.” He smiled, feeling a heavy weight lift from his chest.
“I don’t think you’ll have to work too hard at convincing her. After all, you’re my son. Any woman would be proud to have you as a mate.” His mother’s love soothed him. “Now go, take care of my future daughter-in-law.”