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Overlord: A Dark Shifter Romance by Delta James – Sample

Prologue

The world came apart not from an invasion or war, but from a silent plague that had decimated those who had once ruled. What was left behind were small bands of humans, mutants, and shifters. The wolf shifters had been the first to assert their dominance on the global food chain.

Technology had mostly been lost, overrun, or destroyed. Wolf packs had returned to a more medieval system as alphas exerted their dominance and ruled as they had more than a thousand years before.

Gareth, Alpha of Ravenscar, crawled onto his bed growling seductively at his mate. He worked his way up from her feet so that his body was parallel over hers, and she opened her eyes, locking gazes with him. Ever so slowly, he lowered himself on top of her, parting her thighs with his own as he lined up his cock with her sheath. He reached underneath her to hold her buttocks in his hands, tilting her hips into perfect alignment with his now throbbing shaft, and sank gently into her wet heat.

Her body arched up into his, clinging to him as he began plunging into her, thrusting in and out and savoring her response. He had missed this while she was in confinement and then recovering from the birth of their firstborn, a glorious daughter with hair the color of her mother’s—born of a knot and destined for greatness. His mate nibbled his collarbone as he relentlessly plundered her. Feeling her contract all up and down his staff, he drove into her with long, hard strokes. Gareth recognized her need, as he too basked in the fire of their reunion. It was almost as if the flames from each of their souls rose above them and danced together in perfect harmony and rhythm.

Gareth understood, as she orgasmed again, her nails digging into his back as her legs intertwined with his, that everything that had come before was nothing. His whole existence had led him to this moment with her. In the beginning, his need to mark and claim his mate had been overwhelming. He had not asked for, or received, her consent and she didn’t hate him for it. She gloried in their singularity. Their souls were no longer separate entities; they existed only to complete each other.

Harder and faster he pummeled her pussy as she began to experience one climax after another until they morphed into a single long, drawn-out orgasm that had her writhing beneath him. He held her close, not allowing her to move, as he fucked her relentlessly. Before her, he had always hated the dark, cold winter nights at Ravenscar that seemed to last forever. Now he looked forward to them as he was most often locked in an intimate embrace—knotted to his fated mate.

“Gareth,” she screamed as she climaxed again.

He let his control slip as he began to strive for his own gratification. He felt his cock swell as it filled with cum before he began spilling himself in her as she purred in sexual satisfaction. He nuzzled her and captured her mouth, bruising her lips with his as his cock throbbed and twitched, spurting out the last drops of his essence. Her ability to enflame him and then quench his desire for her seemed to know no bounds.

Gareth rested on her body. He had no interest in withdrawing from her. His need to be buried deep within her was as profound as his need to keep his spirit bound with hers. She snaked her arms around his neck, joining her body more closely to his as she rubbed her nipples against his chest. Gareth could feel them becoming stiff. He reached under her, grasping her haunches as he rolled to his back, exchanging their positions so that she rested on top of his body.

She nipped his earlobe and whispered, “You are mine, Alpha of Ravenscar… mine.”

He rumbled his pleasure at her response; his fulfillment was complete as she lay in his arms.

“Aye, Mistress of Ravenscar, that I am.”

Chapter One

Two years previous

For centuries, those at Ravenscar had run as a pack in wolf form. Gareth stood on the outcropping of rock in the North Sea, the crashing ocean at his back and the majority of his pack frolicking in the surf or stretched out under the warm sun. With the uncertainty of the current age, the need for armed guards to ensure their safety had been increased. Gareth had been forced to limit the number of warriors who ran with the pack at any one time. Half would participate, while the others stayed at their posts or were on patrol. But still, it did all of them good to shift and race through the fields and along the shoreline.

“Gareth!” Tyler, his omega, called.

Alerted by the fact that Tyler was in human form, Gareth caught the eye of Ruari, his beta; both shifted to human form and headed toward Tyler. As he slogged through the surf, Gareth stopped to reassure his pack members with a kind word, a benign smile, or a benevolent touch that they should continue to enjoy themselves.

“Trouble?” he asked as he reached Ruari and Tyler.

“I’m afraid so. We’ve had word from Alaric…” started Tyler.

“Did the bitch run him through?” Ruari asked with a laugh.

Gareth couldn’t help but smile. Rumor had reached them that his brother, Alaric, had chosen to mate Rowan, the renegade she-wolf at Calon Onest, who had proclaimed herself alpha there, instead of the younger, more biddable sister. He didn’t discount the tale as Alaric had never been one to take the easy path.

“No,” said Tyler, shaking his head, “but Edwyn of Chepstow marches toward them with an army at his back.”

Edwyn’s brother had been beheaded by Rowan, his brother’s mate, before Alaric had laid claim to her and the stronghold on the coast of Wales.

“Not all that surprising considering the girl killed his brother,” said Ruari.

“I’m not convinced the Council or Edwyn ever wanted Alaric to be all that successful. Rowan led her pack and her men into battle successfully for several years…” mused Gareth.

“A woman in battle, bah!” spat Ruari. “She needed to be claimed and mated before her father’s corpse had a chance to grow cold.”

“I’m not sure that would have been as easily done as some might believe,” said Tyler. “Be that as it may, Alaric has asked for our assistance.”

“Which he will have,” replied Gareth decisively. Turning to Ruari, he continued, “Let’s get the pack back to the house and begin to formulate a strategy. We will gather our men and arms and plan to leave at dawn tomorrow. Tyler, send a messenger back to Alaric on a fresh horse to let him know we ride to his assistance. It’s time the Council realized that both Ravenscar and Calon Onest are forces to be recognized and respected. If they cannot learn to do so, then they will learn to fear us.”

Sloan was still feeling the residual effects of the spanking she had received from Tristan, the pack’s beta, as Edwyn marched on Calon Onest. Sloan had aided their mistress in leaving the castle to ride for help, even though she was forbidden to do so. She exited the kitchen, running into Tristan.

“Sloan, are you finished with your tasks in the kitchen?”

Feeling a bit awkward, Sloan replied, “Yes, Beta…”

“It’s okay, Sloan,” said Tristan reassuringly, “Once you accepted responsibility for your actions and have been punished for them, everything was reset. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or upset.”

“Yes, Beta,” she said, feeling more sure of herself. “What else can I do to be of help?”

“Just go to bed and get some rest. We’ll need you tomorrow.”

Sloan watched Tristan’s broad, muscular back as he walked away and thought how attractive she found Alaric’s beta when he wasn’t angry with her or beating her ass. Shaking her head, she started back to her room. She spied Rowan coming down the main stairs.

“Ro? What are you doing running around here in the middle of the night dressed only in Alaric’s shirt?”

“I need to get to the stables and get out of here. Alaric thinks he’s going to send us off to safety. You will need to go with Arielle, but I will not abandon my home, my people, or my mate.”

“Wait, Ro! There are horses in the back barn. They haven’t been used in the past week. Get one of them. I’ll find some breeches and boots for you, as well as a sword.”

Rowan grinned at Sloan. “You’ll end up over Tristan’s knee for this.”

“I didn’t die the last time. And it was always bound to happen again,” she said, returning the grin.

The two women, one human and one she-wolf, had been friends for years, long before Alaric had claimed Rowan as his mate. Rowan had successfully led their pack for a number of years after her father’s death. Sloan had served her then and hoped to be allowed to continue to do so.

Rowan sprinted toward the back barn as Sloan rushed toward the laundry to find her something more suitable to wear. Whatever Rowan was planning, Sloan knew she would need her help. She was in luck; a pair of Rowan’s own breeches and a pair of her boots along with a corset had just been cleaned. She grabbed them and quietly made her way to the council chamber just off the main keep.

There, at the back of the room, was Rowan’s father’s sword. She took it from its place of honor and made her way to the back barn. Sloan had never known Rowan’s sire, but she believed he would have looked down kindly on her having retrieved it to give to his daughter.

Sloan was glad to discover, as she entered the barn, that Rowan had her horse ready and would only need a few moments to get dressed. She helped her into her corset, tightening the stays so that they could do their job while still allowing her breathing room. Sloan stood holding the stallion while Rowan put on her boots and placed the sword in the scabbard attached to her saddle.

They heard shouting and clamoring coming from the main keep.

“They’ve discovered you’re gone,” said Sloan. “I don’t know that they’ll think of the sally port at the southwest corner. Finish getting dressed and then head there. I’ll wait and get it swung open so you can gallop through. Be quick. Be safe.”

“Safe only until Alaric gets his hands on me. Stay with Arielle and take care of each other.”

Sloan nodded and headed for the exit Rowan would use. Tristan sounded the alarm when he found Rowan. She watched as Rowan rode straight at him before knocking him out of her way at the last moment. Rowan galloped toward Sloan, veering off momentarily to grab a bow and quiver of arrows. Sloan threw open the gate to the sally port and felt the brush of power that was the charging horse as they burst through the opening. Once they were clear, she closed it behind them.

She turned to face an angry Tristan, who had managed to regain his feet, as he grabbed her by the arm and started toward Rowan’s very angry mate. Alaric called for Rowan and Sloan felt the peripheral edge of the alpha wave meant for his mate.

“I’m sorry, Alpha. She knocked me down and got past me,” Tristan said.

“You!” Alaric thundered at Sloan, who would have been knocked flat by the angry alpha wave now directed at her had Tristan not been holding her up. “Bryan!” he called to his omega.

“Yes, Alpha.”

“You will take this miscreant, Rowan’s sister, and a small company of men and head for the ships. Make them ready to sail for Ravenscar. Gareth’s people know you and will take you in. Have Lucien get the rest of the women and children loaded. Send enough men that they can man the boats, be ready to weigh anchor and get them to safety if need be. Tristan, send two men to see if they can’t find my mate. If they can, get her to the boats; I don’t care if they have to hogtie her to do it.”

Knowing that his orders would be followed, Alaric stormed off. Once they were out of earshot of their alpha, Tristan stopped and turned to Bryan.

“Get Arielle and the other women and head down to the boat. Before this one gets on board, she and I are going to come to a meeting of the minds about appropriate behavior for female pack members.”

Sloan hated the way Bryan grinned at him.

“Yes, Beta. We will be at the boat when you have finished seeing to her punishment,” Bryan responded before heading back to the keep.

Turning to Sloan, Tristan said angrily, “Explain yourself, human.”

“Rowan seemed very intent on leaving. As I have always done so in the past, I helped her in whatever way she needed.”

He growled and pulled her to him. “You’d best pray to whatever gods you believe in that your actions do not cause any harm to befall our mistress.”

Tristan turned on his heel and began to drag a very reluctant Sloan back toward the stables.

Although she had made light of it to Rowan, she was not looking forward to finding herself face down over Tristan’s knee again. She tried to resist being urged forward, but the pack’s beta was far too strong and far too determined. He seemed to grow tired of her trying to dig her feet in to make a stand and turned back to her, tossing her over his shoulder before she could do anything at all to stop him.

While it was very infuriating being flung over his shoulder and carried upside down, Sloan’s main concern was for what he planned to do once he put her down. Her only consolation was that Tristan’s strap was, she presumed, still up in the main keep.

Sitting down on a bale of hay, Tristan pulled her across his hard thigh, rucked her skirt up to her waist, pushed her knickers to her knees and bared her bottom. He trapped her legs between his and positioned her so that her ass was the highest point of her body.

“I don’t know what the hell you were thinking, Sloan, but when I’m done with you, you will think twice before helping Rowan in any more of her wild schemes,” scolded Tristan as he raised his hand and brought it down on her backside with a resounding whack.

“Bastard,” she yelped.

“Not hardly, but also not relevant. I understand you haven’t been pack for very long and that in this pack, females have not been disciplined appropriately, but that ended the day our alpha took Rowan to mate.”

Tristan began to spank her and reignite the burn he had given her when she and Rowan had tried to escape several days before. Alaric had claimed Rowan and Calon Onest despite Rowan’s unwillingness to acknowledge his claim. Tristan had taken his strap to her that time and had left raised marks that had continued to be uncomfortable. Now he swatted them, giving the new spanking the added benefit of the previously inflicted one. Sloan kicked her legs as best she could and tried to squirm away, but the beta of the Calon Onest pack continued to steadily rain blows down on her behind.

Sloan bit her lip and tried not to give him the satisfaction of either crying or at least begging him to stop, but the increasing strength of the strikes he was delivering began to erode her resolve rather quickly.

Tristan was right. Finding herself face down over a man’s knee was new to her. The fire that spread across her backside was intense and not something she’d ever had to endure. Her time with Rowan’s pack had not been under male domination and Rowan had forbade the women of her pack being subjected to any kind of physical punishment. Sloan knew her face was getting red but knew her backside was becoming an even deeper hue of that color as Tristan’s hand descended relentlessly all across her bottom before including her upper thighs and sit spots. As he engaged the latter two, she yowled in pain.

“Tristan, shit! That hurts, damn it! Stop!”

“That, little girl, is not the way to ask your beta to think about curtailing the punishment you have earned yourself. I suggest you learn to behave before Alaric decides you’d be better off with a mate to see to your unruliness.”

“Rowan would never let him force me into a pairing…”

“She would have little to say about it. It is not Rowan who is alpha here; it is Alaric and he alone will decide what will serve you and the pack best. Rowan is having enough trouble staying on her mate’s good side and off of his knee. I ought to take my sword belt to you and stripe the backs of your thighs and sit spots. But as you go from here to the boat, I’ll let this be the end of it, provided you apologize right now.”

The idea of apologizing for something she wasn’t sorry for rankled, but she had learned the last time that it was best to take advantage of any opportunity given to get Tristan to curtail a spanking.

“I’m sorry, Beta.”

Tristan surprised her by chuckling. “But for what, I don’t think I’ll ask as I highly doubt it is helping Rowan. This had best be the last time I have to put you over my knee for it, understood?”

“Yes, Beta,” she said, trying to sound contrite.

The first trip over Tristan’s knee had taught her to refer to him as sir or beta when being scolded or punished and to not try to get up until he told her she could do so. He let her lay a minute longer before helping her to her feet and tucking her skirt into the sash around her waist. Tristan knelt down and helped her out of her knickers, tossing them over his shoulder before pointing her toward a corner of the barn.

“Go stand in the corner.”

She reached up for the dress and was rewarded with two more hard swats—one to each cheek.

“No, little girl, you leave your skirt tucked up in your belt. If you behave, I may put it back down before taking you to the boat. Otherwise, like your mistress, you can have your very red bottom put on display as we go. Although that might not be a bad idea as it could lead some to consider you as a mate… a pretty backside can do that to a man.”

“It doesn’t seem to have done anything for you,” she snarled as she went to stand in the corner. The humiliation of having her skirt raised up around her waist and her bottom on display was perhaps even more galling than the pain of the spanking.

“No, it doesn’t. Although that tone makes me think perhaps Alaric had the right idea when he carried Rowan over his shoulder so that all could see she had been well disciplined.”

Concerned that he might make good on his threat, Sloan pleaded, “Please, Beta, don’t.”

She hated the sound of whining in her voice. Since joining Rowan’s pack, before Alaric had assumed the role of alpha, Sloan had enjoyed her freedom. She had done as she chose, whenever she chose, without so much as a by your leave from anyone. But the ability to do whatever she pleased with no consequences had evaporated the moment Rowan was forced to become Alaric’s mate. Sloan had begun to question whether she could live with the new reality… or whether she even wanted to.

Nevertheless, at this time she had no choice but to do as Tristan directed and stand in the corner. Being forced to face the wall like a naughty child was humiliating. Tristan made Sloan stand there as several men came and went getting horses and equipment.

Although nothing was said by the men, Sloan could feel their stares and hear their muffled chuckles. She squared her shoulders and gave a small, defiant shake of her head.

As she started to turn around, Tristan growled quietly, “Unless you’d like another taste of my strap, you keep that nose in the corner.”

“They’re laughing at me.”

“No, they are enjoying both the view and seeing you being put in your place.”

“And what place is that?’ she asked angrily.

“Right now, standing in the corner as I told you to do.”

Sloan knew Tristan was not one to make idle threats. Stomping her foot and exhaling loudly, she forced herself to do as she was told, despite all her inclinations to do otherwise. Being made to do something contrary to her nature, or be punished, was at the very heart of her questioning whether or not she wanted to remain at Calon Onest.

Lost in her own thoughts, Sloan jumped when Tristan spoke standing right behind her.

“You have a great deal to recommend you as a mate, Sloan. You are beautiful, strong, intelligent, and loyal. A man could do a lot worse. But you are right, I doubt Alaric would see you paired against your will with anything less than a fated mate. Alas, I do not feel called to you.”

“Is that how you justify his treatment of Rowan? That somehow she was always fated to be his?”

“Aye. And if Rowan is being honest with you, she’d tell you she knows it to be true as well.”

Realizing that she could make no headway with this argument, she asked softly, “Tristan? Can a wolf mate with a human?”

“Yes. But it is better to plan for her to be turned than to have her bitten in the midst of passion, although it can be managed either way. Would you object to being turned?”

“I don’t know. I’ve thought about it. In some ways it would be easier, but I often wonder if I really want to leave my humanity behind… or even be part of a pack.”

“The decision to be pack is no longer yours. That decision was made when Rowan took you in. And if you have no wish to be turned, you’d best make sure not to catch the eye of an alpha. Alphas always mark their mates and that would result in you being transitioned. Think you can behave, or do I need to humble you as our alpha did our mistress?”

“No, Beta. I can behave.”

“All right then,” he said, untucking her skirt. “Let’s go down to the boats. Arielle should already be aboard.”

“So, he means to send us away?”

“Alaric means to put all of the women and children on board so if this thing goes badly, our men can get you to safety. Come on,” he said, stretching out his hand to her.

Together they walked down to the boat. Sloan had to admit that once Tristan had seen to punishing her, he was very kind and solicitous.

Arielle ran to her as they boarded. “Sloan? Are you all right? Where is Rowan?”

“Rowan felt there was something she had to do. She’s going to stay behind.”

She snuck a glance at Tristan, who smiled and nodded. Bryan bowed slightly in deference to Arielle’s position as Rowan’s sister and motioned toward the stairwell that would lead them to their cabin. Sloan linked her arm through Arielle’s and followed him below.

Chapter Two

It had been a hard push across Britannia from Ravenscar to get to the point where they were closing in on Calon Onest on the coast of Wales. Gareth only hoped they’d be there in time. If not, he would make Edwyn of Chepstow pay and would consolidate his brother’s pack with his own.

He heard the outriders approaching even before Ruari joined him. He turned in the saddle to see two of his men accompanying a mahogany-haired beauty atop a white stallion. She came to a halt as she drew alongside him.

“And who might you be, pretty thing? Some kind of urchin on a well-bred charger with a sword and bow? You ought to be at your mate’s side minding the home fires,” said Gareth, looking her over appreciatively.

The she-wolf growled, and Gareth felt her push an alpha wave at him. Taken aback, he snarled, “Best you settle down, little wolf, lest you find yourself across the front of my saddle getting your fanny paddled for such behavior. I am Gareth, Alpha of Ravenscar.”

She raised her chin defiantly. “Good, then you are who I seek. You should know that your brother finds knotting me far more effective in quelling my unseemly conduct. I am Rowan of Calon Onest… your brother’s fated mate.”

Gareth started to laugh. “So, the rumors are true? My brother mated the wildcat of the Welsh coast! I thought he meant to marry your sweet sister. No wonder there’s to be a war. You must have put him in a foul mood. He’ll welt you good when I return you to him.”

“Unless you get your ass in gear, Gareth, there may be nothing to return me to. He means to meet Edwyn on the battlefield and we’re outnumbered.”

“Bloody, noble fool. Always the warlord, rarely the alpha.” Gareth’s bantering tone was gone.

Rowan growled again. Apparently, his brother had yet to teach his mate proper behavior.

“Mind your manners, sister dear, or my brother will need to find soft pillows for your backside when he climbs back between your legs. I take it Alaric did not give you permission to come on this bold, but dangerous errand.”

“He didn’t say no… but then I didn’t ask,” she rejoined in a teasing manner.

Gareth laughed again. “Now I have to save him. I can’t wait to see how he deals with you. I’ll have a small company of men take you back to Ravenscar. He can fetch you home when we have defeated Edwyn. Perhaps his temper will have had time to cool off.”

“Are you not paying attention? He’s outnumbered. He needs all of your men. Besides, I’m the only one who knows this country and knows how to get between Edwyn and Alaric on two sides and then flank Edwyn after he passes through. But we’ll need to ride hard,” she said.

Gareth watched as Rowan turned her horse and spurred him into a gallop, calling back over her shoulder, “If you think you can keep up, brother, you’d best come along.”

Ruari grinned at him. “I want pick of the litter from that cross.”

“Sweet Jesus, why couldn’t he have picked the easy one…” sighed Gareth.

“Perhaps he left her for you, Alpha.”

Gareth shook his head. This was a conversation he was tired of debating. He understood Ruari’s point of view as beta—Gareth needed to mate and sire heirs and daughters, but the topic was both painful and frustrating. Frustrating as he knew Ruari was right. And painful as he carried guilt for the death of both his mate, Eloise, and the child she had tried to give birth to.

“Don’t start on me, Ruari. I tried taking a mate. Eloise was everything a mate should be and yet we lived very separate lives. The only thing I ever did for her was give her a child, the birthing of which killed them both.”

“It was never meant to be, Gareth. But you must mate again… especially now that Alaric has taken a mate and is alpha to his own pack.”

Gareth looked up; Rowan had not slowed down. “Christ, we’d best go catch up with her. If she gets hurt, my brother will end up with two estates… right after he kills me.”

They signaled the men they would be moving swiftly. Gareth and his men charged after her.

“About damn time,” she challenged them as they crested the top of the hill. “That path there will take you around these foothills and bring you in alongside a river. Edwyn’s men will be riding along that river. Gareth, take half your men and head that way. I’ll take the other half and go around to get to the other side. It’s not as straightforward so I’ll need to lead them.”

Gareth reached out and snatched her horse’s rein.

“You, my sister, will ride with me and will show me the way. My beta will take the rest of the men. And when we close your trap on Edwyn, assuming it actually works, you will be with my standard bearers and stay out of the fray.”

“Don’t be an ass, Gareth. I’ve led men into battle before… on this very ground. And I won.”

Gareth tamped down his temper. His brother’s mate was in need of a good welting.

“Ass and alpha I may be,” he said, “but I am first and foremost Alaric’s brother and will keep his fated mate safe regardless of what she thinks.”

“We don’t have time to argue. Do what you want.”

She brought the bow down on his hand, forcing him to loose the rein. The she-wolf was even more misbehaved than the rumors led him to believe.

“I’m going to try and get behind Edwyn so he is trapped between us,” she said.

Rowan turned her horse and galloped off; Gareth called to his men to do as she said before he charged after her.

As he rode up alongside her, he said, “I am going to ask that he allow me to see him punish you.”

“He’ll probably let you. Maybe that’ll give you reason enough to quit fucking around and help,” she said as she wheeled her horse away.

The girl was incorrigible. He truly wondered if any amount of welting or knotting could make her into a proper mate. He hadn’t loved Eloise, but at least she had known her place. Apparently, the hellion Alaric had taken to mate was far worse than her reputation had hinted.

Keeping up with Rowan was not as easy as he had expected. She signaled them to slow and then to stop. When she dismounted and crept toward the hillside, Gareth did the same. There was an outcropping of rock from which they could spy Edwyn of Chepstow and a large army moving toward Calon Onest.

Gareth looked up to see the rest of his men already in position on the other side of the river. He motioned Rowan back to his men, and she swung up onto her horse. He took hold of the rein once more.

“You will stay with my standard bearers.”

She snatched the rein away before charging. Gareth shook his head. He really meant to see his brother welt her; she was in desperate need of it. Gareth mounted his horse and beckoned his men forward. He would have to trust that Rowan had the skill on the battlefield she was reputed to have.

Gareth watched and waited, hidden from Edwyn’s army. The army of men filed through the narrow chasm between the two huge burial mounds that were extensions of the naturally occurring foothills. Once they were through and just getting to the top of the hill, Gareth had his men join ranks to cut off their escape and make ready to charge their flank.

He heard Edwyn’s trumpeter and the cheer of his men as they looked down the hill toward Alaric’s men. They would use their position on higher ground to try and rout the men of Calon Onest. Gareth knew his brother. If Alaric was exposing his army on lower ground in an open field, he too had plans and Gareth was willing to bet that Alaric’s men were far more experienced than Edwyn’s.

Without sounding a trumpet, Gareth’s men formed ranks and charged. He’d lost sight of Rowan. Christ, if she was Alaric’s fated mate, younger brother or no, Alaric would kill him if she was seriously hurt. He chuckled; seriously hurt by anyone other than Alaric himself. But Gareth did know Rowan by reputation; she was said to be deadly in battle.

The company of charging horses created a thundering sound. The sound alerted Edwyn’s troops at the back of the formation that they’d been flanked moments before they were run through. Gareth had a brief glimpse of Rowan cutting a man in two as she galloped into the maelstrom. He had to admit his brother’s mate was magnificent. He shook his head and marveled at his brother’s tenacity to take a warrior like her to his bed. Although he rather imagined having her capitulate and surrender might be well worth the risk.

The sound of the dying and defeated, as well as the smell of blood and taste of dust filled Gareth’s senses for the next hour. The battle was short but decisive. Many of Edwyn’s troops showed their cowardice as they fled the field, some in their wolf form, once their defeat was certain.

Surveying the devastation of the invading army before him, Gareth was certain that Alaric would have prevailed with or without him. There were few injuries received by the defending army—some severe, but none mortal.

Spotting Alaric, Gareth spurred his horse forward. The two men greeted each other briefly. Gareth watched Alaric scan the bloodied ground all around them. He was quite certain he saw him breathe a sigh of relief when he spotted Rowan standing alone on a hillside.

“I have no words,” started Alaric.

“None are needed. See to your mate, brother. She is in desperate need of your attention, some of which ought to be disciplining her to the point she cannot ride astride.”

Alaric grinned at him. “Your words of advice are well taken.”

Gareth watched as Alaric rode to her side. Without a word, Alaric leaned across, cupped her head in his bloodied hand and drew her to him. He captured her mouth with an intensity fueled by anger, need, and the lust that always accompanied a triumphant conquest. Gareth smiled, as he saw Rowan return his brother’s depth of feeling. Perhaps his brother had made a wiser choice than he had initially believed.

Ruari rode up beside him. “As I said, pick of the litter.”

“You’ll be far too old and had best look to finding a mate before then,” joked Gareth.

“Perhaps, but as Alaric has chosen the warrior, that leaves the younger sister available for you to consider taking to mate.”

Gareth glared at him. “It’s too soon.”

“It has been almost a year, and everyone knows it was a political match and not a fated or even loved one. I do not say this to be harsh or critical, Alpha. But you need to mate and provide for the continuance of your line.”

They were interrupted as Alaric’s beta, Tristan, joined them.

“Alaric has asked that I see you back to the castle.”

“So, he will leave his mate to take Edwyn’s sword and allow Edwyn to retire from the field?” asked Ruari.

Tristan grinned. “I fear our alpha does not have the courtly manner of yours. He’s having one of our captains escort Edwyn to the dungeons at Calon Onest.”

“And what will my brother be doing?”

“Seeing to his mate. While happy to see that she still breathes, he is not as keen on the idea of her sitting.”

All three men laughed and turned toward Calon Onest.

Word of Alaric’s victory reached the ships quickly, but Alaric’s men would not allow the women to leave until they were assured it was safe. Sloan remained aboard helping the women and children into the longboats to get to shore. Finally, Bryan helped her into the last of the boats.

“They’re all safe?” asked Sloan.

“All of our men as well as Gareth’s will live. Some will need time to recover, but none will succumb to their wounds.”

“That’s good. So, Rowan got to them in time?”

“Aye. But you should know, our winning was never in doubt. Gareth arriving merely meant it was done more quickly and with less loss of blood on our part.”

“What happens now? To me…”

“You were punished before coming aboard. Not only has your behavior been exemplary since doing so, but I have watched you help calm people’s fears and help with anything you could turn a hand to. Depending on Alaric’s mood he might further scold you, but I believe your backside is out of danger and you will be allowed to join the celebrations.”

“If it’s all the same to you,” she said, “I’d prefer trying to get a bath ready for Rowan. She always wanted to be able to soak after a battle.”

Bryan hugged her to him. “That would be very thoughtful. I will have the tub sent up while you start heating the water.”

Once they had reached the castle, Sloan began seeing to it that a tub was prepared for Rowan and that clean sheets were made ready for her bed. Sloan grinned as she worked. More than one of the household staff had made note that the sheets of the alpha’s bed were changed more often than ever before. Even when the bed just needed making, it clearly showed that more than sleeping had occurred the previous night.

Sloan was somewhat startled when Alaric entered their chambers with Rowan in his arms. She had heard nothing as they entered the keep. The tub was almost full.

Alaric thanked her and then asked, “Can you look after her once I get her in the tub?”

“I’d be happy to, Alaric. I take it she isn’t hurt?”

He grinned at her sheepishly. “She wasn’t injured in battle if that’s what you’re asking.”

Sloan snorted and rolled her eyes. “I’ll bet. Is she allowed downstairs if she wants to join you?”

Alaric thought about it and bantered briefly with a sleepy but seemingly very happy and contented Rowan. It occurred to Sloan that she had never seen her friend at such peace.

Alaric eyed her. “After you’ve seen to Rowan, you are free to join us downstairs.”

He left them and she helped Rowan bathe and wash her hair.

“You’re all right?” they asked in unison and began to laugh.

“I’m fine. My mate was more than pissed off, but once he feels as though he’s punished me and I have had a chance to atone for my misbehavior, he is really quite willing to let go of his annoyance. And you?”

“Pretty much the same, although I don’t think my atonement is nearly as satisfying as yours,” Sloan teased.

“Probably not. I quite enjoy being mated to an alpha,” Rowan sighed as she laid back to soak.

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