Authors: Gabrielle Evans
He loved Torren Braddock with all of his heart, and the stubborn witch loved him back, even if neither of them had said it aloud. How could they not with the history they shared? The emotions that assailed him in his dream world were as real as any he felt when he was awake, and his love for his mate was always the most intense.
“We’ve been through a lot,” Torren said after a long moment of silence. “I’m still remembering things every day.” His arms tightened around Aslan. “I’m so sorry that I let you down. I swear it won’t happen this time.”
“Do you think it’s strange that our first names have never changed?”
Torren chuckled softly. “I hadn’t really thought about it, but I suppose it is. I love that you just blurt out whatever you’re thinking.” Well, then the guy better hold on to his ass for this one. “I love you, Torren. I guess I’ve loved you for about seven hundred years, so don’t tell me that it’s too soon. I don’t pretend that I understand how all of this works. My brain might be a little slow, but there’s nothing wrong with my heart.”
Torren growled but didn’t comment on Aslan’s negative statement about himself. Instead, he eased them back to the mattress and cuddled him to his chest so that Aslan could hear their hearts beating in tandem. “Loving you has never been the problem.” He sounded thoughtful, as though his mind was divided and not fully there in the moment. “I’ve always loved you,
” He sighed heavily, resting his chin on the top of Aslan’s head. “Sometimes love isn’t enough, though.”
He was getting absolutely nowhere.
While he could feel something blocking him from fully investigating Enforcer Hollis Becker’s magic, Torren couldn’t tell if it was from the man himself or from an outside force. “You do understand that The Council intends to execute you if you don’t come clean with me, right?”
Becker glared at him, his upper lip curling over his teeth. “Those are my pups, and I want them back.”
He’d been spewing the same garbage for the better part of an hour. Torren might have believed him if he hadn’t met the twins for himself. While they were certainly wolf-shifters, they were hybrids.
He hadn’t delved any deeper to determine what that other part was, but with their mother being a wolf-shifter, there was no way the Enforcer could have fathered them.
“They are not pureblood shifters. How many times do I have to say this?”
“Teegan loves me. She came with me willingly. You have no right to keep me here.”
“Can ya not do a spell on him or somethin’?” a voice asked from the other end of the corridor.
Torren turned to see Bannon Murphy striding toward him, his mate, Galen, marching right beside him. “What are you doing here?”
“I want to try again,” Galen answered, elbowing Bannon in the ribs when he started to speak. “We’ve bonded now, and my powers are stronger. I’d like to give it another shot.”
It was obvious from the scowl on the shifter’s face that Bannon did not like this. It was also obvious that they had argued about Galen’s presence there and Bannon had lost. Torren, however, was grateful for any help he could get. “Be my guest.”
“I’d like to touch him. I think I could get a better read.”
“Absolutely not,” Bannon growled, winding his arm around Galen’s waist and pulling him back from the bars of the cell. “You’ll not be goin’ near him.”
Galen rolled his eyes and huffed. “Torren, could you maybe sedate him so that Mr. Overprotective here will calm the hell down?” Chuckling under his breath, Torren uttered a simple sleep spell and watched unflinchingly as Becker fell to the concrete floor right where he stood. Luckily, that was near the door of the cell, so at least Galen wouldn’t need to go inside.
“See, love? Perfectly safe.” He patted Bannon’s arm where it still clutched at his chest and whispered a few soothing words to his mate before pecking him on the lips. “You know I can help or you wouldn’t have brought me. I love you, but I need you to trust me.”
“It’s not you I’m havin’ a problem trustin’,
“Then you’ll just have to come with me so you can protect me from the big, bad wolf.” He grinned mischievously and tugged Bannon forward. Slowly and carefully, he knelt on the floor, giving Bannon a reassuring smile when the man growled deeply. Then he reached through the bars and curled his slender fingers around Becker’s wrist.
His eyelids closed, his long lashes fluttering against the tops of his cheeks, and he shook his head fractionally. Turning his attention to Bannon, Torren noticed the man watching his lover intently, his eyes crinkling at the corners as his head tilted to the side. With a bit of awe, he realized the pair was using their mating bond to communicate telepathically.
“Wolf-shifter and human,” Bannon mumbled. “There’s somethin’ else, but Galen says that doesn’t feel like a part of him. It’s more like a shroud coverin’ him.” He frowned and his eyebrows drew together as he finally looked up at Torren. “What does that mean?” Torren felt both relieved and frustrated. “It means he’s been cursed. I could feel the shroud Galen’s talking about, but I couldn’t tell if it was his own or from someone else. Thank you.”
“Why don’t you look happy about the information?” Galen asked as he pushed to his feet and stepped away from the cell.
“Because if he’s been bewitched, I can almost guarantee that it was Natalie Halstead who did it. If she’s executed before I can convince her to undo the spell, then Enforcer Becker will be permanently damaged.”
“The spell doesn’t die with the witch.” Galen bobbed his head. “I remember you saying that before.” His head tilted to the side, his soft, brown curls falling over one eye. “You’re more powerful than she is. Why can’t you reverse the spell?”
“It doesn’t work that way.” Torren pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed as he tried to think of how to explain. “The only way I can reverse the spell is if I take her magic. Otherwise witches can’t tamper with each other’s spells.”
“Then take her magic,” Bannon said as though the answer was very obvious and Torren was dense for not seeing it.
“I don’t want it.” Torren shook his head and linked his hands behind his back. “Magic is like an extension of a witch. Natalie’s soul is dark, and therefore so is her magic. Dark magic can taint a witch, poison them. I have too much to lose to risk that.”
“You really love him, don’t you?” Galen’s eyes softened, and a goofy smile spread over his lips. “I’m glad Aslan has you.”
“Yes, I love him. Our memories are returning and we have a lot of time to make up for, but fate cannot be ignored.” He didn’t want to talk about Aslan, though. His mate was never far from his thoughts, and already he was fighting the urge to rush up the stairs, find his lover, and ravish him to within an inch of both their lives.
“Then I’m thinkin’ ya need to be polishin’ your negation skills.” Bannon looked sympathetic, but not overly so. He was still a little peeved at Torren for deceiving them when he’d been sent on his last assignment.
Not that Torren could blame him, but at the time, it couldn’t be helped. He’d done what he had to do to protect everyone in the only way he knew how. He couldn’t take it back, and he wouldn’t apologize for it.
“Is Aslan busy?”
Torren smiled. It had been almost six days since Aslan had seen his friends. With Halloween only two days away, he knew his baby was nervous about what might happen. Galen would be a nice surprise to lift his spirits. “I think he’s trying to teach Lynk and Raith how to play the Xbox. I’m sure he could use a break. My brothers are not exactly gracious students.”
Even as he spoke the words, Raith’s voice drifted down into the basement, loud and angry. “You cheating little shit! How am I supposed to blow you up if you won’t sit still?” They all burst into laughter at Raith’s indignation. Then Galen pushed up on his toes, kissed Bannon’s cheek, and waved before jogging out of the room. Bannon watched him go before turning back to Torren. “So, what’s the plan?”
He didn’t want to do it, but he was running out of time and options. “When do Nicholas and Jonas arrive?”
“Tomorrow evenin’,” Bannon answered immediately.
Torren nodded. “Then Phillip McCarthy can wait. I’m hoping Nicholas can either reason with him or give me something more to go on.” He looked the Enforcer in the eye, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “I need you to take me into your dreamscape, along with Natalie.”
* * * *
“You cheating little shit! How am I supposed to blow you up if you won’t sit still?” Raith’s tongue was stuck between his teeth, and he jerked his entire body as he tried unsuccessfully to blow up Aslan’s car in front of him. “This blows!”
“This blows!” Wren sang, clapping his little hands together as he bounced up and down on the cushion beside Raith.
“Raith!” Aslan admonished as he paused the game and knelt down in front of the little pixie. They still had no idea where the boy’s parents were or how to contact them. Thank the gods that Galen had spotted him while searching for Torren’s brothers.
Bannon’s brothers had located the child and rescued him from a pack of werewolves in Missouri, and then brought the orphan to The Council. He was exceptionally bright for only five and cute as a button. Aslan adored him but sometimes his heart would ache when he looked at Wren. With his ebony curls and smoky eyes, he looked so much like what he imagined Addison would have at that age—the child Aslan had lost all those years ago.
“Wren, what did I tell you about repeating what your Uncle Raith says?”
Wren wrinkled his nose and tilted his head to the side. “That I shouldn’t say them, because Uncle Raith and Uncle Lynk say bad stuff.”
A quiet chuckle reached his ears, and Aslan looked up to see Galen standing near the end of the sofa, beaming from ear to ear. He grinned back, pleasantly surprised to see his friend. Galen wasn’t paying much attention to him, though. “Hello, Wren. Do you remember me?”
“Galen!” Wren jumped up from his seat and darted across the room, throwing his arms out for Galen to pick him up. “You didn’t come back to play,” he pouted once he was in Galen’s arms.
“Did, too,” Galen replied and stuck his tongue out, earning him a giggle from Wren. “I’m here now, aren’t I?”
“Yep.” He bounced a little and gave Galen a smacking kiss on the cheek before looking over his shoulder at Aslan. “Can we play, please?”
“Yeah,” Galen teased. “Please, Aslan? Can we play?”
“Sure,” Raith answered, passing over his controller. “I can’t get this fu—ow!” He glared at Aslan as he rubbed the back of his head, sending Lynk into peals of laughter. “I mean, I suck at—ow! Damn it, Aslan! Ow! Stop hitting me!”
“Then stop swearing,” Aslan said calmly, crossing his arms over his chest and mirroring Raith’s glare.
“Fine. I quit.” He pushed up from the sofa and stomped out of the room like a petulant child. Lynk was laughing so hard his face was bright red, and he seemed to be having trouble breathing as he stumbled out of the room as well.
“Is Uncle Raith mad?” Wren whispered to Galen, his little face a mask of worry.
Aslan crossed the room and held his arms out, delighted when Wren reached for him immediately and curled into his chest. “Uncle Raith is not mad at you. Sometimes you get mad when you lose a game, right?” Wren nodded slowly. “That’s all it is. He’s just a sore loser.”
“I don’t like when he yells.”
“Oh, honey, I know.” Aslan stroked his soft curls and swayed him side to side. “No one here will ever hurt you.”
“My daddy hurt me,” Wren whispered and buried his face in Aslan’s throat as he hiccupped. “I don’t want to go back. I want to stay here with you.” His arms wound Aslan’s neck and clung to him tightly. “Please. I’ll be good.”
Looking over at Galen, he saw the heartbreak he felt staring back at him in his friend’s expression. Tears filled Galen’s eyes, but he wiped them away roughly. With his arms full of a scared little boy, Aslan didn’t have that option, so he just let his tears spill down his cheeks.
“Aslan?” Torren appeared in the room, Bannon right beside him, and both looking very concerned. “Baby, what happened?” Not wanting to alert Wren to his tears, Aslan just shook his head and glanced down at the top of the pixie’s head. Understanding lit in Torren’s eyes, and he hurried across the room to lift Wren out of Aslan’s arms and cradle him gently to his own chest.
“Hey, little man. What’s with the long face?” Watching Torren with Wren was beautiful, and it did little to stem the flow of his tears. How the man could have ever thought he wouldn’t be a good father was beyond Aslan. Torren was so wonderful with Wren.
When Aslan had first arrived, the staff had been the ones caring for Wren. Once he’d met the little boy, he had been enchanted, and they’d been pretty much inseparable since. It might have taken a little longer for Torren and his brothers to warm up to Wren, but once they let their guards down it took precisely ten minutes for them to be wrapped around the little guy’s tiny fingers.
“I want to stay here,” Wren answered, his fists clenched in Torren’s shirt. “Can I please stay here? I’ll be good. I promise.”
“Don’t you want to see your mommy and daddy?” Torren spoke lightly, but he’d already confessed to Aslan how attached he was to Wren already.
Wren shook his head, making his dark hair flop around his face.
“Daddy yells a lot since Mommy went to Heaven. He’s not nice like Uncle Raith, though.” Torren looked at Aslan in confusion, but he just shook his head, wanting Wren to continue. “I promise I won’t get hungry all the time or leave my toys on the floor,” he vowed. “I won’t even cry when I have bad dreams.”
Small for his age, Wren looked even tinier in Torren’s massive arms. But he wasn’t afraid. He clung to the witch, looking very content to stay right where he was for as long as Torren would let him. Aslan wasn’t sure his heart could contain so much love and not split wide open, but he was willing to risk it.
“Buddy, do you know your daddy’s name?” Torren asked quietly as he patted Wren’s back. “Is there something that grown-ups call him?”
“The cook called him Bastard.”
Aslan suppressed a snort and looked away quickly so that Wren wouldn’t see his smile. Bannon wasn’t quiet as successful at hiding his humor, however, as he chuckled quietly. He looked absolutely smitten with the child—just like everyone else who’d met him.