Rhiryd and his older brother Madoc had made their plans to set sail away from their home. The plan was to take one hundred of their kind—wolf/human shifters—with them. Their mother had been a shifter and the acknowledged mistress of King Owen Gwynedd. She had borne the king two strong and healthy sons. Owen had openly acknowledged that they were not human, that he was their sire and had legitimized them. He had used his relationship with their mother to bring his kingdom together so that human and shifter lived side by side in harmony. As long as Owen ruled, the peace between the two held.
But now, King Owen was dead. His sons by his wives were none too pleased about the prospect of fighting with his two favored shifter sons. They were stronger and better fighters. They were also concerned that the prejudice against their kind might well be visited upon them. The brothers had recognized that the death of their father had caused a serious and violent rift in the once close family. At stake for the legitimate sons was the throne itself.
Rhiryd’s original plan had been to sail with the woman to whom he was betrothed, Cristen, at his side. She was willful and headstrong and had not wanted to leave her home. She had begged her father to negate the betrothal when it became apparent that Rhiryd would not be persuaded to stay. Cristen’s father had always indulged his only daughter and after numerous tantrums on her part had informed Rhiryd that unless he was prepared to stay in Wales that the betrothal would be vacated and he would lose Cristen.
The two brothers sat drinking in the cabin on the ship that Rhiryd would captain. They were set to depart with the morning tide.
“I had expected you to be more distressed at the thought of leaving Cristen behind. Has one amongst our own kind finally caught your eye?” asked Madoc.
“Nay, brother. I am not upset as I will not be leaving Cristen.”
“So, you’re going to stay?” Madoc found it hard to believe what he was hearing.
Rhiryd grinned. “I didn’t say that. Cristen is spoiled and overly indulged by her father. She has been pledged to me since we were children. I will not give her up.”
“But her father has decreed that unless you are willing to stay he will dissolve the betrothal.”
“I care not what her father says. I have always known I would not have an easy time teaching my bride that I am not her father and will not be subject to her tantrums and whims. I plan to go fetch my reluctant mate after her father’s household has all gone to bed. Their family priest has agreed to marry us—only because I told him I would take her with or without their church’s blessing.” Rhiryd’s eyes glistened with amusement at the memory of the priest’s face when he had calmly informed him of his choice.
He continued, “Once we are wed, I will bring Cristen here to my cabin. I’ll have my Cristen wedded and bedded before we set sail. And by the time her father rises and realizes his household is short one daughter, we will be well away with naught he can do about it.”
Madoc laughed and clapped his younger brother on the shoulder. “I should have known you had a plan, Rhiryd. You always have a plan. Will you not mark her and make her one with us?”
“Not until we reach our destination. I fear the change would be too hard on her at sea. That doesn’t mean, however, that I will not introduce my Cristen to the delights of the marriage bed and in particular to our form of mating.”
He felt his cock begin to swell at the thought of Cristen’s passionate nature and the pleasures they would share.
Later that evening, after a peaceful silence had overtaken her father’s household, Cristen paced her room. Why couldn’t Rhiryd just have done what she wanted? Why did he have to want to leave Wales and follow his older brother across the great sea to who knows where? She shook out her red, wavy hair that had been unbound for the night. She told herself she was better off without him. He could be difficult and had warned her that she would learn to mind him or find herself put over his hard thighs with her bottom bared for spankings when she disobeyed him.
Sometimes he seemed to forget that not only was he not a legitimate son of the king, but he wasn’t entirely human. Some said that their kind was part demon. Cristen didn’t fear the demon in Rhiryd. His kisses and caresses made her feel things the nuns and her tutors told her she shouldn’t feel. She didn’t care if ladies were not supposed to enjoy the physical side of their marriage. Rhiryd had taken the time to slowly introduce her to the pleasure that could be had from his fondling and had promised even greater delights once they were wed.
Cristen’s nurse had often accused her of being wanton as she had come to enjoy Rhiryd’s kisses and strong hands on her body. On more than one occasion she had fussed at both of them when Rhiryd would pull Cristen onto his lap and kiss her until she was breathless. Cristen didn’t even want to consider what her nurse would say had she known all the places those strong hands had roamed. Thinking of the tingly feeling his caresses had caused in her most feminine place made Cristen blush even though she was alone.
Cristen was startled and then overjoyed when she heard movement from the window wall and turned to find Rhiryd had climbed up the wall of her father’s home to enter her bedchamber. She flew into his arms and eagerly welcomed his kiss. Long ago he had abandoned the tentative kisses her friends described. Instead Rhiryd kissed her in such a way that her whole body came alive at his touch. His tongue plundered her mouth and encouraged hers to do the same.
“You came back. I knew you wouldn’t leave me. Have you told your brother you are staying? My father?”
“Neither, my love. I am not staying. I’ve come to ask you to reconsider. Do you really wish me to sail away and spend your life apart from me? Were you not being truthful when you said you loved me and pledged your life to mine?”
“Of course I was. I have been distraught at the thought of never seeing you again. But if you’re not staying, I don’t understand why you’re here. Do you wish to torture me?”
“Nay, my love. I’ve come to save you from your own foolishness. That is what a man does for his mate when she is being willful and stubborn.”
Cristen tried to pull away from him, but found those strong hands and even stronger arms held her fast.
“What do you mean?”
Rhiryd kissed her gently. “I will give you a choice. You can choose to honor your pledge to me and follow your heart. Choose to be a good girl and submit to my will and trust that I will do what is best for us. You can choose to obey. We will leave your father’s home, go to the rectory where the priest is waiting to marry us and then on to the ship where we will sail with the morning tide.”
“I am not leaving Wales!” she said as she stomped her foot for emphasis. “What is my other choice? I choose it.”
Rhiryd shook his head. “I don’t think you will when you hear it.”
“I am sure I will. I will not leave my home.”
“You were always going to leave your home and be with me. That my home is no longer in Wales means neither is yours. Your choice my love is not whether we sail as man and wife on the morning tide, but whether I bed you after I have had to give you the spanking you deserve for being such a naughty girl these past few weeks.”
“You wouldn’t!” Cristen was outraged. No one had ever raised a hand to her, must less struck her. Surely Rhiryd would never do such a thing.
He chuckled. “I will and probably fairly often at first. You, my love, are disobedient in the extreme and do not follow orders worth a damn. Your tantrum throwing, while charming and fun to watch, will not produce the same result with me that it did with your father. You will learn from tonight moving forward that my word is law and that you will obey me or face the consequences. Those consequences will most often include a spanking on your bare bottom before I mount you and plow your sweet cunny from behind to reinforce the lesson that it is I who am dominant.”
Cristen was literally dumbstruck by his outrageous words.
“Still wish to continue to defy me?” he said as he bent down and kissed the tip of her nose. “Believe me when I tell you, I am fine with either and leave it up to you.”
Again, Rhiryd chuckled. “That is well established and a matter of law. Now will you have your first taste of the carnal pleasures that await your first night naked in our marriage bed with or without a sore, red bottom?”
Cristen caught him by surprise by balling her fist, punching him in the nose, and darting for the door of her bedchamber. The floor felt cold under her bare feet, but there was no time to find shoes or even slippers. Cristen ran toward the door. Surely, she could make it. It wasn’t that far. All she need do is open the door and call for help.
Unfortunately for Cristen, Rhiryd’s reflexes were battle-honed. He grinned before going after her. He caught her before she had even made it halfway across the room. His plan would be complicated if she was actually able to call for help.
Rhiryd had anticipated that she would not choose to go willingly so had brought several soft pieces of cloth with him. The first he used to gag her so that the only sounds she could make were muffled and would not alert anyone in the house. The other he used to bind her hands behind her back.
Once she was bound and gagged, Rhiryd leaned down and hoisted her over his shoulder before unbarring the door and quietly striding out of her father’s house with his bride-to-be in tow. He moved quietly around the front of the house to the side where he had left two horses. He would have to lead one now as Cristen would be riding in front of him. Lifting her onto his great black stallion, he turned toward the rectory and galloped off into the night.
Halfway between Cristen’s father’s home and the rectory, Rhiryd reined in his horse, left the road, and stopped by a large tree that had been felled earlier in the day. He helped Cristen down from his saddle and removed the gag. She took a deep breath prepared to scream, but was cut off when Rhiryd once again kissed her passionately, holding her close and fondling her backside with one large hand while the other held her in place. He continued to press his advantage until her body responded to his and she began returning his kiss with equal ardor.
Tearing his mouth away from hers, he said, “I would prefer not to have you bound and gagged at our wedding. I will give you a second chance to make a better choice. Will you agree to behave yourself like a lady and marry me as you promised or do you continue to show your willful streak and get spanked until you convince me you will behave in front of the priest?”
“I am not going to marry you and leave my home.”
“Your home is with me,” said Rhiryd in a firm tone. “I am not your father, Cristen. I will not put up with your disobedience. Will you submit and be a good girl? Or is the first time I have my hands on your beautiful bare bottom going to be to spank you until you acknowledge who is master in our marriage?”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she cried.
Rhiryd laughed. “Oh, my beloved, there is little I wouldn’t dare to make you my bride. I have long known I would need to teach you to obey me. I had just hoped it wouldn’t be before I was able to introduce you to the more pleasurable aspects of being mine.”
“I hate you. I don’t know why I ever thought you were good enough to marry me,” she said spitefully.
Rhiryd gave a resigned sigh and sat down on the log, drawing his naughty bride-to-be across his leg. He held her in place with one hand, trapped her legs between his own, and began to lift the hem of her night dress.
Cristen gasped as the cool night air reached her bare skin.
“You cannot do this to me,” she cried.
Rhiryd rested his hand on her now naked backside. “Truly your bottom is even more lovely than I had imagined. Are you sure you will not yield?”
Rhiryd chuckled. “I fear, my sweet, that never is not the way to respond to me to avoid a spanking.”
Before she could make another retort, Rhiryd’s hand made a resounding impact with her exposed derriere. Cristen screeched. Rhiryd knew that the sound was more in outrage than in pain, but also knew that would change within short order.
He paddled her bottom steadily. At first Cristen ranted and raved at the indignity of having her bottom bared and spanked. But soon embarrassment gave way to a stinging sensation across her whole hind end, which in turn gave way to pain as Rhiryd continued to spank her.
“Rhiryd, stop, you’re hurting me. I thought you loved me.”
“I do, my sweet, thus the reason I am beginning to teach you the consequences of misbehaving. Are you ready to be my sweet mate and say your vows like a good girl in front of the priest?”
“I’m not a child, Rhiryd. You cannot make me do this.”
He chuckled but stopped spanking her long enough to run his hand between her legs. She had so hoped he would never know that along with the pain that had radiated from her punished backside, that tingly feeling that always accompanied his kisses and fondling had begun in earnest. In her most private moments, Cristen had reached between her legs and found that rubbing that area increased the sensations and made her feel like there was more to be discovered. When she had asked Rhiryd, he had assured her all would be revealed when they were married.
Rhiryd made a noise that was half laugh and half seductive growl. Cristen felt the sound go through her and shuddered, not from pain but from something far more primitive.
“Nay, love, not a child. But a young woman on the verge of discovering with her husband all she can be. Do you like it when I stroke you this way?” he said, rubbing her engorged clit and feeling as well as scenting her arousal.
“No. You mustn’t touch me that way.”
He removed his hand from between her legs and delivered five more sharp slaps to her now painful bottom.
“You will not lie to me, Cristen. When I ask you a question especially about what brings you pleasure you will tell me the truth. Would you prefer that I go back to touching you in your secret place or continue your spanking?”
He gave her time to consider her options. He had no desire to break her spirit, but especially now she would need to obey him in all things and not hide from the truth of her own nature. He longed for the day they could both shift into wolf form and run through the open fields or along the coastline of the land across the sea.
He sighed resignedly. “Very well, sweetheart, t’would seem you are even more stubborn than I thought.”
“No, Rhiryd. Please stop.”
“Pain or pleasure, Cristen. ‘Tis that simple.”
“Rhiryd, please let me up. I’ll behave and do as you tell me, but I cannot take any more spanking and what I feel when you stroke me between my legs frightens me.”
Guardedly, he allowed her up but pulled her into his lap and wrapped his arms around her.
“I should never frighten you, my love. Those things you feel when my hands bring you pleasure should be enjoyed. In time, you will learn not only to respond fully to me, but will seek to pleasure me as well. Human males seek to control women by denying them the pleasure their bodies were made for. Those like me want only for their women to be at their best and to enjoy life to the fullest, including the pleasure to be found with their mate.”
She searched his face and found only the love and desire she had come to know. She heard him make his low, quiet growl and felt herself respond as she always did. She nuzzled his neck and placed his hand on the inside of her thigh.
He chuckled. “Ah, so now you admit that you liked my stroking.”
“Yes,” she said quietly. “I often feel unsettled or unfinished when we part… like there is more.”
He rumbled a noise deep in his chest. “There is my beloved, so much more. Will you trust me to always do what is best for you?”
“There’s my good girl,” he crooned as he nuzzled her and reached up to cup her mons in his strong hand. He chuckled as her legs parted to allow him to more freely touch her. “I promise, my beloved, we will have a wonderful life and you will know far more pleasure from my touch than pain… unless of course you revert to being the spoiled brat your father allowed you to be. Then, my beautiful mate, I promise to make the spanking you received just now nothing more than a fond memory of the first time I had my hands on your bare bottom.”
“But you love me?”
“With every fiber of my being. No woman will ever know a love such as ours. So, will you behave with the priest and promise to sail away with me?”
She nodded. “I will. I’m sorry I behaved so badly. You will still treat me gently this night when I become yours in all ways?”
He rubbed her clit in a slow circular motion, making her inhale sharply and sigh his name. “Yes, come the dawn you will have left both your home and your childhood behind. You will be my wife, my mate, my woman, and my beloved until we are parted by death.”
All was as Rhiryd had promised Cristen. They made their way to a new world. Part of the company that sailed with them stayed behind with Rhiryd and Cristen on what would centuries later be called the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The other part, including Madoc, sailed south. It would be more than three hundred years before Christopher Columbus would find his way to the new world and try to claim it for Spain.
Rhiryd marked his mate soon after they made landfall and she became a shifter as well. She bore him seven children, some of whom married among the indigenous people and others explored to the west where they found rich lands for farming. Rhiryd and Cristen stayed on the island and often shifted and ran in wolf form, enjoying the freedom it gave them.
Rhiryd and Cristen lived a long and happy life together until Rhiryd was killed in battle. Cristen was inconsolable without her mate. Men—shifters and human alike—who had lost their own mates, many to childbirth, made offers for her hand. She had never lost her willful nature and her grown sons feared that their mother needed the steadying hand of a mate to keep her safe and happy. They had thought that like their father they would bend her to their will. They were wrong.
One night, Cristen shifted to her wolf form—a smaller more delicate version of her mate and their offspring. Her coloring too was unique. Instead of a coat of white or gray mixed with black, she had a tawny undercoat with coppery red fur and black points. As Cristen shifted for the last time, she escaped through the window of the home she had shared with her beloved Rhiryd and ran off into the night. As she crested the top of the dune to the north of their home, she stopped, looked to the full moon and howled to acknowledge her loss.
They say she never reverted back to her human form. Although they tried to capture her, the only time anyone ever saw her was at each full moon. The sound of a lone she-wolf singing her mournful song could be heard. And if one scanned the horizon, you could see her shadow as she called for her dead mate. Legend says that several years later, her family found a red wolf prostrate on the grave of Rhiryd. Cristen had returned to die at the side of the only man she ever loved. Secretly they opened his grave on the night of a full moon and laid her to rest beside him for all eternity… or until they would find each other again in a new lifetime.
Welsh Coast—Home of the Calon Onest pack
Ioan Smith-Davies poured himself a shot and tipped his glass toward the west and the Americas. He’d just gotten off the phone with Dylan Grainger, the alpha of Calon Gwyllt—one of the more powerful packs in the United States. Dylan was among a handful of progressive pack leaders in the United States. Ioan had known of Grainger’s reputation before receiving a phone call from him. It was a call that Ioan felt held far more significance than the alpha of Calon Gwyllt even knew.
Walking across to his safe, Ioan removed the mysterious letter left to him by his brother-in-law, Micah Owen, the former alpha of his own pack, Calon Onest. Some believed that Micah had foreseen his own death. He had been mated to Skylar, a strong and beautiful woman and an alpha in her own right. Micah had believed that should he pass before growing old with her that Skylar would most likely find another life mate. He had left behind the letter to be hand-delivered to that new mate.
Many a time had Ioan contemplated what might be contained therein. He was certain that Micah had tried to find a way to help whomever that new fated mate might be. Micah had always called Skylar a ‘terrible bit of beauty.’ She hadn’t come quietly when Micah had called for her as his mate. Ioan was quite certain that she would come even less willingly a second time.
Ioan had always admired Skylar. When hunters had murdered Micah, she had gone after them with a vengeance. In the end all of those who had a hand in his death had died at her hands. Ioan had been too late to try to stop her and had failed to convince her to come home. All that was left to be done was to clean up the grisly scene she left behind before going straight to the airport at Cardiff and flying across the Atlantic to build a new life for herself. When the rumors of an all-female pack had begun to surface, Ioan was quite certain that Skylar was the redheaded beauty said to be its alpha.
Ioan’s Calon Onest pack had thrived in its home on the Welsh coastline for hundreds of years—partly because the alphas had always understood the importance of a smooth transition between one alpha and the next. Micah had prepared a succession plan in the event of his death—no doubt one he could have revised as the years went by. He had been the oldest of his parents’ offspring. Next had been his sister, Elizabeth, and almost a decade later, Griffin.
When Micah was killed, Griffin was too young to take on the mantle of alpha, so Micah had asked that Ioan, who was married to Elizabeth or Bethan as she was called, to do so. At first Ioan had eschewed the idea and then had agreed only to be a placeholder until Griffin came of age. But when Griffin returned from his time in the Special Forces, he wanted no part of having to shoulder the responsibility of alpha of the pack. He and Ioan had agreed that Ioan would continue on as alpha.
Griffin had assured his sister that he needed time and space to heal from the things he had seen and done. Bethan had hoped that Griffin would stay on at Calon Onest or at the very least some place close, but Griffin had needed the solace of the open road and the path less traveled.
Ioan felt Bethan close by in advance of her knock on the door of his study. Ioan turned his chair around as she entered and caught his breath. She still did that to him… twenty years later. Bethan was beautiful. She had dark mahogany hair, dark brown eyes, and a figure that still called to him after having borne him two children, a boy and a girl.
“What keeps you, my love?” she asked softly. “It’s late and I worried that perhaps you were not feeling well.”
Ioan chuckled. “Don’t you lie to me, my darling girl. What worried you was that there was something going on with Dylan Grainger of Calon Gwyllt and Skylar.”
Bethan grinned. “I wouldn’t say I lied to you…”
“Of course, you wouldn’t as that would get your mouth washed out with soap and earn you a trip over my knee.” He reached out his hand to her. “Come sit with me and tell me what’s really troubling you.”
She took it and allowed him to draw her onto his lap. “It’s true then? Grainger called here about Skylar?”
“Yes. The all-female pack is to be disbanded. Dylan’s been tasked with getting the deed done. And while doing a bit of reconnaissance, he realized Skylar was his fated mate.”
Bethan laughed. She had been close to her older brother and to his mate and knew the formidable force that Skylar could be. “I take it Skylar is not enamored of the idea of being mated again.”
“No more so than she was the first time.”
“So, what did you tell Grainger?”
“That Micah had always had his hands full with her, but had always said she was worth it. I also let him know that if I heard she was mistreated I would bring the full force of our pack against those who harmed her.”
“Don’t you think you should reach out to her?”
“No. I believe she, and her women, are safest integrated into a traditional pack. I didn’t tell you, but the phone conference with the British Ruling Council last week dealt with this very issue and the fact that Skylar’s pack was attacked by a rogue band of wolves from Serbia. They fought them off, but I doubt if they are allowed to continue to live as they are, that it won’t be the last.”
“You’re thinking this is part of something bigger, aren’t you?” she asked quietly.
“There are disturbing rumors coming out of some of the eastern and southern countries on the continent. Born females shifters are becoming so rare that humans are being turned against their will. Some packs are taking the few females they can find and forcing them to become breeders for an entire pack or small groups within a pack.”
“That’s why you asked Griffin to check on our holdings in that area, isn’t it?”
“Why didn’t you tell me the truth?” Bethan accused.
“Because you would have been overly concerned.”
“Overly? He’s my little brother, Ioan…”
Ioan smiled. “And a highly decorated Special Forces operative.” He pulled her head down for a kiss. “Before you get yourself worked up, you should know, your baby brother will be here at the end of the week, Monday at the latest. I want to hear what he has to say and then will decide what’s to be done next.”
Griffin stealthily made his way behind the old manor house. He used the darkness and natural ground cover to conceal his presence. Ioan had asked that he check on Calon Onest’s business dealings in Europe in what had once been east of the iron curtain. That was part of it, but what Ioan really wanted to know was the veracity of some of the stories filtering out to Western Europe and across the Channel to Britain and further west to the Americas. What he’d found was disturbing,
Human women were being turned without their consent and kept against their will. Female wolves—both born and turned—were being mated to two or more males. In the best of scenarios, the bonds seemed to be strong and the women well cared for. More often than not, the women were being held as prisoners either to assuage the lust of the men involved, as a breeder to produce offspring or both. Griffin had managed to spirit away a few of the women he’d found in the most dire straits and get them to packs he knew would not abuse them.
One of the women he had helped to get away had given him a lead on the whereabouts of the Serbian pack that had attacked Skylar’s pack. Griffin smiled. When the rumors of an all-female pack had first emerged, Griffin would have bet his last dime that it was his sister-in-law who was their leader. Skylar had never been overly fond of the male-dominated hierarchy of their wolfen society. And while she had submitted to her mate, she had made it abundantly clear that he was the only one to whom she would submit.
Griffin peered into what appeared to be the main gathering place for the men of this pack. They were a rough lot. Many appeared to be nursing serious long-term injuries and Griffin felt sure they were the ones from the raiding pack that had survived. The rumors were that some of those who had gone to America had not returned. Knowing Skylar, Griffin had not been surprised.
Although he knew that had he inquired, Skylar would have told him he need not involve himself, Griffin couldn’t help but feel that this pack needed to be taught a lesson… one that the Ruling Council in Europe seemed unwilling or unable to teach. Griffin couldn’t suppress his grim smile. He meant to reserve that pleasure for himself.
Griffin made his way toward the back of the house. He was surprised that the fools did not have guards posted. Latching on to the corner pieces of the old, rundown mansion, Griffin climbed up the side of the house until he could step across to a balcony. He’d chosen this balcony as earlier he had seen a light. He peered in the window and found what he had been seeking—three women shackled to three beds.
Quietly he jimmied the lock on the French doors and let himself in. He approached the woman closest to him and placed his hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming.
“I’m here to help. Are there any more women in the house?”
She shook her head. Griffin picked the lock and set her free. She quickly woke the other girls and then used the key hanging just inside the door to set them free as well.
Griffin had secured a rope around his midsection before beginning his climb. Now, he unwound it from his body. Quickly but quietly, he lowered each of the women to the ground, instructing them to be as quiet as possible and run to an outcropping of trees not too far from the house. After the last one had made it to the safety of the trees, Griffin lowered himself off the balcony.
Before joining the women at the group of trees, he set several incendiary devices along the base of the house and then moved to join them. Once he had ensured they couldn’t be seen, Griffin enabled the remote detonator and watched the small explosions start a fire that quickly began to consume the house.
He allowed himself a moment to enjoy watching relief and a spark of hope ignite in the eyes of the women he had rescued. He shepherded them to his car and sped off into the night.
“Well, ladies. That went better than I had hoped. Are any of you injured and in need of a physician’s help?”
“What do you plan to do with us?” asked one, her voice filled with fear.
“Are you Stephanie?”
“How do you know my name?”
“It’s your sister, Ashley who sent me. I got her away from her captors a week or so ago. The only way I got her to promise to stay safe was to swear I would find you.” He handed his cell phone back to her. “Push M for Ashley. Call her.”
Stephanie did so. A man with a heavy Italian accent answered. She asked for Ashley and was overwhelmed when she heard her sister’s voice.
“Yes,” Stephanie said, “we’re safe. Griffin came for us. He got us all out and set fire to those monsters’ home. I’m not sure…” She looked at Griffin. “Ashley wants to know if you’re taking us to her?”
“Tell her that’s the plan. I left her and another girl with a large pack at the foot of the Alps. They have room for all of you. You won’t be held against your will. They just want to see you safe and healthy and then you can decide what you want to do.”
Stephanie relayed the plan to Ashley, exchanged a few more words and then hung up, handing the phone back to Griffin.
The woman sitting in the passenger seat asked, “Do you know what they did?”
“I have a good idea,” he said grimly. “I know they sent some of their men to attack a pack in America…”
“We heard about that. Not all of them came back. Is it true there’s an all-female pack there?”
“There was. It’s in the process of being disbanded. I don’t have to take all of you to join Stephanie’s sister. I can get you to other packs, but I would caution you to at least accept the hospitality of a pack until you can figure out what you want. It’s not very safe right now being an unprotected female shifter.”
“So, do you just go about saving people?”
“Hardly,” said Griffin. “My family’s pack is led by a good, honorable man who is mated to my sister. There are rumors about what’s going on and the tale of that bunch of mutts attacking Skylar’s pack is making the rounds.”
“Do you know her?” asked Stephanie.
Griffin smiled. “Yes, she was mated to my older brother. Ioan, my sister’s mate, wanted to know the truth about what was going on and so asked me to do a little fact-finding for him. He won’t be happy with what I have to report.”
“If we don’t want to go with Stephanie, can we go with you?”
“Only as far as Calon Onest—my sister’s pack. I have other things I’m going to need to be doing and will travel best alone. We’re headed for the people with whom Ashley is staying. But if you have other packs or places you’d rather be, I’ll see you to the safety of a pack in that area. But let me stress, you would be a guest, not a captive.”
His last assurances seem to settle the matter for all three women. Griffin found out more about the two women with whom Stephanie had been held captive. One had been born a shifter and had been traded to the Serbian pack for a different woman. The other, like Stephanie, had been a tourist and turned without her knowledge or consent. The women had been happy to talk about what they had overheard while being held as prisoners. He let them rest and then questioned them sparingly when they were awake.
Griffin drove through the night and most of the next morning, arriving at the large estate to be greeted by a beaming Ashley and the pack that had taken her in. Griffin was pleased to see Stephanie and Ashley drawing in the two women who had been held captive with Stephanie and ushering them inside.
Marco DeMedici, the alpha of the DeMedici pack, shook Griffin’s hand. “Well done. Bad as we’ve heard?”
“I’m afraid so. Those Serbs no longer have a home but it’s not good. Everything I’ve seen since I left Ashley with you and your pack has confirmed our worst fears. They’re going to need time, Marco.”
Marco chuckled. “We’re vintners, Griff. We know all about time and nurturing something until it has become all it, or as in this case, she, can be. They’ll be safe here for as long as they want. And no one will ever harm them again. Unless you are prepared to do so, I will let the Ruling Council know that they are under my protection and anyone trying to make a claim will deal with me.”
Griffin chuckled as well. He’d known Marco for years. They had first met when working on a joint covert operation. Recognizing the other as one of their own kind, they had quickly become friends.
“I have no desire at this point to be anyone’s alpha and I know you will keep them safe.”
“But some day, Griffin Owen of Calon Onest,” said Catherine, the beautiful blonde American to whom Marco was mated, as she joined them and wrapped her arm around Marco’s waist, “the right she-wolf will come along and you’ll take her to mate. And then you’ll rut with her until you blow up her belly with your baby and be ever so proud of yourself.”
Marco smiled and hugged his mate. “She says that now, but as I recall she was an eager participant in the activity that resulted in her current, glorious condition.” Marco smiled, rubbing his hand over his mate’s very pregnant belly and nuzzling her neck. “But then, she’s always an eager participant… even now.”
“Jesus, Marco,” Catherine said, slapping his hand away. Turning to Griffin, she said, “Promise me you won’t embarrass your mate when you find her.”
Griffin smiled. He didn’t share that he feared he might never find his own fated mate. But that didn’t stop him from enjoying being around happily mated couples. And Marco and Catherine were as happy as his sister and Ioan. Knowing that others had found what his brother had shared with Skylar and his sister with Ioan, kept a small ember of hope burning that he too might someday be so gifted.
“I try not to make promises I don’t think I can keep. I fear that should I ever find my fated mate, I will be so besotted that I won’t be responsible for letting the world know how I feel about her.”
All three pair of eyes shined at the memory. Marco had brought Catherine home to marry her at the vineyard. It had been one of the most beautiful and memorable weddings Griffin could ever remember attending. Marco had surprised Catherine with an elaborate fireworks display over the lake on their estate. It had become the stuff of legends. Years later those who had witnessed it could still describe it in vivid detail.
“Then lord help her. I was just a penniless art student in a red cape when the big bad wolf here swept me off my feet while he was on a business trip to Florence. Who knew I’d end up marked and mated to him.”
Marco looked at his mate, over to Griffin and back to Catherine. Marco shrugged. “I did. From the moment I caught your scent on the evening breeze, I knew you were meant to be with me.”
Catherine rolled her eyes. “He says that now…”
“I fear ‘tis true,” said Griffin. “I was with him that night. Once he’d caught your scent, he was obsessed. I’m telling you… you never had a chance.”
She laughed and then leaned in close to the handsome Welsh wolf. “I’ll tell you confidentially… neither did he.”