The baby woke up and started crying for his mother.
Bride left her to pick him up. "It's okay, Trace. Mommy's here."
He laid his head on her shoulder and rubbed his eyes. "Where's Daddy?"
"He's with Uncle Fury and Uncle Z."
The boy perked up instantly. "Bob play with Trace?"
She smiled indulgently. "No, honey. Bob didn't come with Uncle Z this time. Sorry."
He pouted until he saw Angelia. Then he turned bashful and buried his head against Bride's shoulder.
Bride kissed his cheek. "This is Angelia, Trace. Can you say hi?"
He waved at her without looking up.
In spite of it, Angelia was strangely charmed by the small boy. She'd always loved children and had hoped to one day have a litter of her own. "Hi, Trace."
He peeped at her over the safety of his mother's shoulder. Then he whispered in Bride's ear while his mother rubbed his back affectionately.
In that moment, a repressed memory came flooding back to her. It was something she hadn't thought about in centuries. Fury and several boys had been injured while climbing a tree. The boys who'd skinned their hands and knees had run to their mothers for comfort. Fury had broken his arm. Crying, he'd gone to his mother, too. Only when he reached Bryani, she'd angrily shoved him away.
Angelia's uncle had started to comfort Fury.
Bryani had stopped him with a sharp growl. "Don't you dare comfort that boy."
"Life is pain and there is no comfort for it. The sooner Fury accepts that, the better off he'll be. Let him know early on that the only one he can depend on is himself. He broke his arm by being stupid. He must tend to it."
Her uncle had been aghast. "He's just a child."
"No. He's my vengeance and one day I'm going to unleash him on his own father."
Angelia flinched at that memory. How could she have forgotten it? Then again, Bryani had never been an overly doting parent, so why should it stand out in her memory any more than all the other times Bryani had failed to comfort her sons? It was why Dare was so cold to everyone around him. He'd spent his entire life trying to earn his mother's acceptance.
And it was the last thing she'd ever give her children.
"Does it feel good to be hugged?"
She could still hear Fury's baffled tone as he'd asked her that. It'd been her fourteenth birthday and her uncle had hugged her before he allowed her to go outside and play with Fury. "You've been hugged, Fury."
He'd shaken his head. "No, I haven't. At least not that I remember."
She'd tried to think of a time when someone had held him, but true to his words, she couldn't recall a single time. Heartbroken, she'd put her arms around him and given him his very first hug.
Instead of hugging her back, he'd stood there with his arms at his side. Stiff. Unmoving. Not even breathing. It'd been as if he was afraid to move for fear of her hurting or abandoning him.
"Well?" she'd asked after she released him.
"You smell nice."
She'd smiled. "But did you like the hug?"
He'd walked into her then, rubbing his head against her shoulder in a very wolflike manner until she'd wrapped her arms around him again. Only then did he stop moving. "I like your hugs, Lia." Then he'd run away and hidden from her for three days.
He'd never allowed her to hug or touch him again.
Even with all the secrets they'd shared. Even when she cried. He'd never touched her. He would merely hand her a cloth to wipe her eyes with and listen until she felt better. But never had he come close to touching her again.
Until today, when he'd gone to protect her from the other wolves.
Why would he have done that?
It made no sense. He was an animal. Disgusting. Brutal. Violent. There was nothing redeeming about them. And yet she couldn't shake the images of her past. The times when Fury, an animal, had been closer to her than anyone else.
"I'm a Sentinel, Fury!" She'd awakened to find her marks and had snuck out of their cottage at dawn to find Fury by the stream where he'd gone to sleep. It'd been a strange custom that she hadn't understood at the time. Only later would she learn that he slept there because he was a wolf and he'd been afraid of his family learning that secret.
He'd smiled an honest smile. Unlike the other males of their patria who'd been jealous when they learned she'd been chosen, Fury had been genuinely happy for her. "Have you told your uncle?"
"Not yet. I wanted you to be the first to know." She'd tilted her head to show him the faint markings that had yet to be fully formed. "Do you think I'll be pretty once the lines fill in?"
"You're the most beautiful wolfswan here. How could your marks ever make you anything else?"
She'd gone to hug him, but he'd run off before she could.
Even though she'd told herself he was nothing but an animal, the truth was, she'd loved him. And she'd missed him horribly.
Now he was back.
And nothing had changed. He was still an animal, and she was here to kill or maim him so that he would never be able to hurt another human being again.
Fury came awake slowly, his body aching. For a moment, he thought he was still trapped in human form. But as he blinked his eyes open, he breathed a sigh of relief. He was a wolf and he was home.
He rubbed his snout against the lilac-scented sheets. Bride always sprayed them with her spring water stuff whenever she made the bed. Normally he hated the smell. But today it was heaven. "How you feeling?"
He lifted his head to find Vane propped against the wall, watching him. Flashing into human form, he was grateful Vane had put him under the covers. "I'm okay."
"You look like shit."
"Yeah, well, I wouldn't date you either, asshole."
Vane gave a short laugh. "You must be feeling better. You're back to you usual surliness. And speaking of surly, Zarek was here. He wants to talk to you when you're up and about."
Why would an ex-Dark-Hunter-turned-god want to talk to him? "What does he want?"
"He filled me in on what's been happening at Sanctuary. They cancelled their celebration and have the whole place locked down until they get to the bottom of this new attack. No one can come or go."
"Good. Where's Angelia?"
"She's in the nursery and refuses to come out. I think she's hoping her patria can track her here and release her from us animals."
Fury snorted at the idea. "Nah, she's probably plotting my dismemberment." Sitting up, he took a breath before he stood and went to pull his clothes out of the chest of drawers.
"You know I can dress you."
Fury scoffed at his brother's offer. "I don't need your help."
"Then on that note, I'm going downstairs to eat dinner." Fury's ears perked up at that. "What did Bride make?" "Leftover turkey and ham." "Mashed potatoes?"
"Of course. She knows how much you love them." That made his stomach rumble greedily. Fury debated on whether he should eat or see Angelia. He was really hungry . .. But. . .
"Save me some."
Vane inclined his head to him. "Wouldn't think otherwise. Oh, and Fang has been dying to know if Aimee got his note."
He pulled on his pants. "I gave it to Sasha to hand to her. So I assume she has it by now unless Dare happened to eat Sasha before he could complete his mission."
"Doubtful. Z would have been a lot surlier had that happened. I'll let him know." Vane exited the room.
Fury finished dressing, then left to see Angelia. He knocked on the door before he pushed it open to find her sitting in the rocker with her back against the wall. She jerked up as if she'd been napping.
Damn, she was the sexiest thing he'd ever seen. Especially the way her lips were swollen from sleep.
She almost smiled until her face froze as if she remembered that she wasn't supposed to be nice to him. "What do you want?"
"I wanted to make sure you were all right."
She tightened her grip on the chair's arms. "No, I'm not all right. I'm stuck here with animals whom we both know I hate. How can I be all right with that?"
He gave her a droll stare. "Yeah, well, no one's beating on you. From where I stand that looks pretty damn good."
Angelia looked away from that gimlet stare of his and tried not to focus on how handsome he was. On how beautiful those turquoise eyes could be . . .
But the longer he stood there, the harder it was to remember he was nothing but an animal just like the ones who'd threatened her downstairs.
He stepped into the room.
She shot to her feet to keep distance between them. "Stay away."
"I'm not going to hurt. . ." His voice trailed off as his eyes dilated dangerously.
Angelia swallowed as she recognized her worst fear had manifested.
He'd caught her scent. Terrified, she backed into the wall and prepared to fight him until one of them was dead.
Fury couldn't move as raw lust burned through him. His body instantly hard, it was all he could do not to attack her. No wonder she'd blockaded herself in this room. "You're in heat."
She picked up Trace's brass piggy bank as if she was about to throw it at him. "Stay away from me."
That was a lot easier said than done since every male particle of him was attuned to her in a way that was virtually irresistible. The wolf in him salivated at the scent of her and it wanted nothing more than to throw her down and mount her.
Lucky for her, he wasn't the animal she thought him to be.
He approached her slowly. "I'm not going to touch you." She threw the bank at his head.
He caught it in one hand before he returned it to its spot on the dresser.
"I'm not kidding, Fury," she growled at him.
"And neither am I. I told you I wouldn't hurt you and I have no intention of going back on my word."
Her gaze dropped down to the bulge in his pants. "I won't mate with you willingly. Ever."
Those words cut him more than they should have. "Trust me, baby, you wouldn't be worth the scratches. Unlike the Arcadian bastards you're used to, I don't have to force a woman into my bed. Sit up here and rot for all I care." He walked out and slammed the door behind him.
Angelia didn't move for several fearful heartbeats as she waited for his return.
He was gone and she was safe again . . . she hoped.
Over and over, she heard the stories in her head about how the Katagaria treated their females when they were in heat. If unmated, the woman was handed off to the unmated males of the pack, who passed her around until they'd had their fill of her. The female had no say whatsoever.
"You're all animals," she snarled, cursing the fact that it was her fertile time of the month and she was trapped here with them. "Where are you. Dare?"
As if in answer, a flash startled her.
She tensed as she realized it wasn't Dare coming to her rescue.
It was Fury. His eyes brittle with anger, he stalked toward her. A true predator bent on the gods only knew what.
"Don't touch me!" She struck out at him.
He caught her hand in his and held it. "You know what? I'm going to teach you a valuable lesson."
Before she could ask him what it was, he teleported them out of the nursery and into a dining room.
Angelia panicked as she realized the room was filled with eight male wolves in human form. By their scents, she knew they were as unmated as Fury was.
Her heart hammering, she tried to run, but Fury wouldn't let her. Blocking her escape, he quickly pulled his clothes on.
"You will sit and you will eat," he growled low in his throat. "Like a civil human," he spat the word as if it were the lowest thing imaginable.
How she wished she had her powers to blast him and make him pay for this. No doubt she'd be the first course and he'd probably hold her down while the others raped her.
Fury walked her toward the table, to the right hand of Bride where a young, handsome wolfswain sat. His eyes darkened as he caught a whiff of her scent.
Angelia braced herself for his attack.
His eyes black and dilated, he stood up slowly. This was it. . . .
He was going to throw her down for all of them.
Just as she was sure he would, he inclined his head respectfully to Fury, picked up his plate and glass and moved away to sit at the other end of the table.
Fury sat her in the vacated chair.
Bride, who'd been watching curiously, let out a sigh. "I take it the two of you will be joining us."
Fury nodded. "We will."
A younger wolfswain who was sitting across the table from her stood up immediately, making Angelia flinch. "I'll get plates for them."
Bride smiled kindly. "Thank you, Keegan."
Thin and blond, he practically ran into the other room only to return with china and silverware. He handed one setting to Fury, then turned to Angelia. "Would you like me to serve you?"
"Sit, Keegan," Fury barked.
He immediately put the place setting in front of her and returned to his seat.
There was so much tension in the room that Angelia could almost taste it. Ignoring it, Fury put food on their plates and then set one in front of her.
She looked up to see Trace entering the room with Fang. He ran from Fang to Fury, who scooped him up into a tight hug.
"Hey, whelp." He squeezed him even harder while the boy laughed in happiness.
"Trace hit his target!"
Fury laughed, his face softening to the expression she'd known so well in their younger years. . . before they were enemies. "Glad I wasn't here for the potty training. Good job, Fang."
Trace squirmed out of Fury's arms to run to his mom. "Trace hit three ducks, Mommy."
"That's wonderful, baby. Good job." She pulled him up to sit in her lap.
Fang's eyes widened as he neared them and he, too, caught her scent. He sucked his breath in sharply, before he sat down on the other side of Fury. "Sorry you missed Thanksgiving this afternoon."
Fury put more mashed potatoes on his plate. "Yeah, me, too."
Angelia didn't understand why that would make him sad. "Thanksgiving?"
Fury looked at her as he cut a piece of turkey on his plate. "It's an American holiday. Every year they come together with their families to give thanks for their lives and company."
"It's why all the wolves are here," Bride said. "The mated ones went home with their wives earlier. Traditionally, the unmated males stay here for dinner and marathon gaming tournaments."
Again, she had no idea what they were talking about. "Gaming tournaments?"
"Video games," Keegan said.
Fury scoffed at the young wolf's eagerness. "She's from medieval England, whelp. She has no idea what you're talking about."
"I can show you."
Fang rolled his eyes. "Down, boy. Arcadian females equate being with us to bestiality."
His face stricken, Keegan returned to his food and didn't bother to look at her anymore.
One of the older males at the table pushed his plate back. "I've lost my appetite. Thank you, Bride, for the food." He looked at Vane. "You need me to stay and help protect your house?"
"I'd appreciate it if you would. We still don't know how many are able to wield whatever took down the lion."
He inclined his head before he headed toward the living room.
Two of the others joined him.
Fang handed a bowl of bread to Fury. "So, Keeg, you been practicing Soul Calibur?"
Keegan grinned. "I'm going to pwn you so bad, buddy. No ring-outs this time."
Vane laughed. "Careful, Keegan, he's setting you up. Fang knows all the special moves for half the characters."