Authors: Gabrielle Evans
Layke took another vote, and again, everyone was in favor of handing the reigns over to Jory. “Camdin Maywater couldn’t be here, but he has agreed to accept The Council seat for the fae. Those in favor?” People seemed less inclined to throw their support behind an elder that couldn’t even be bothered to attend his first gathering, but in the end, the majority won out.
“Finally, that leaves a representative for the shifters. Are there any nominations?”
One of the newcomers from the pack of Moonlighters bounced up from the bench—a shrimp of a man with spikey, blond hair and a cocky grin. “Make Xander an elder.”
“Keeton, sit down,” Xander growled out of the side of his mouth.
“Why do you think he should be elder?” Torren asked.
“Well, why the hell not?” The guy—Keeton—tilted his head to the side, a spark of defiance flashing in his eyes. He reminded Torren of Aslan, which went a long way in convincing him that he liked the guy already. “He’s smart, kind, loyal, protective of the people he cares about.”
Braxton scrambled his feet as well, knocking Xander’s hand away when the alpha tried to hold him back. “He’s brave, honorable, and fair. You couldn’t ask for a better leader.”
I am going to redden your ass when we get home.” Xander’s comment earned him a cheeky grin from his mate and several chuckles from the rest of the room.
“Agreed,” Boston and Flynn said at the same time.
“Absolutely,” Stavion added.
“I don’t particularly like the fucker, but he’d make a good elder.” Raven shrugged when Keeton and Braxton glared daggers at him.
“What? I was agreeing with you.”
Several others offered their support and after putting it to a vote, The Council had itself a new shifter elder with little hassle. Thank fuck for small miracles.
“Next on the agenda.” Cortez shuffled some papers around in front of him. “Who wants to get rid of this fucking registry?” Torren about choked at the lack for formality but hid it quickly.
Hell, they were all friends here. What was to say that they had to act like gods on high to get the job done? And if that was the case, why did he have to sit up there without his mate?
His expression serious, he crooked a finger at Aslan, beckoning him up on the dais. Aslan looked startled as he hurried up on the stage and grabbed Torren’s hand. “What’s wrong?” he whispered. “Did something happen? Are you okay?”
Damn, he loved this man. How had he ever thought he could walk away? “Just this.” He pecked Aslan on the lips as he slid the man into his lap and curled his arms around him. As he’d expected, no one had a problem with Aslan perched in his lap. Most weren’t even paying attention to them, and those that were just assumed knowing grins. It was a good thing, because Torren didn’t really care if they liked it or not.
Apparently, Aslan didn’t care, either, because he positioned himself more comfortably and refocused on the meeting. Everyone seemed to be arguing about the registry still. While most opposed the idea, there were a few in favor of it.
The most prominent of those was Alpha Blaise Taylor from the Cloud Peak Pack. “The registry has been invaluable in helping us locate not only prisoners but fugitives as well.” Unfortunately, Torren couldn’t argue with him on that one. He also understood why most members of the gathering felt the registry was too intrusive, though. Maybe they could come to a compromise.
“Quiet,” he called, settling everyone down and gaining their attention. “What if we do away with the official registry maintained by The Council?” Cheers went up around the room, but Torren called them back with an upheld hand. “
I propose that the packs, covens, circles, et cetera maintain their own registries that will be available to The Council only if the need arises to find a missing person or persons.”
There was a murmur of discussion, a few questions, some more finagling, but they finally came to an agreement. “You’re really good at this.” Aslan kissed the underside of his jaw. “I love you, Torren.” Torren squeezed his lover tighter and kissed the side of his neck.
“You make me want to be a better person.”
“What about carrying guns?” Alpha Thatcher called. “This cloak-and-dagger shit is all well and good, but it’s the twenty-first century. The bad guys don’t fight fair, and our Enforcers are dropping like flies.”
This time it was Elder Cortez who headed the discussion. “I agree we need better weapons, but the goal is to debilitate and capture, not kill.”
“With all due respect, Elder, they’re not too picky about killing
Cortez chuckled and bobbed his head. “Point taken, Ridley. You always were a pain in my ass. What do you propose then?” Ridley jerked a thumb over his shoulder toward his beta. “Blair is a fucking weapons genius. We’ve got some ideas that might just fit what you’re looking for if you’d be willing to consider them.”
“Any objections?” Cortez asked the other elders. Torren shook his head. He was well onboard with arming the Enforcers with better weapons. “Fine, we’ll talk more tomorrow evening.”
“Elder Braddock.” Leader Nicholas McCarthy stood and bowed his head respectfully. “We found the wolf, Moonstar, dead a few days ago. The binding spell between her and my brother is broken.” Torren grinned. That was very good news. “And Mikko?”
“We’ve interrogated the entire staff and are currently working our way through the sentries. So far, I don’t have any information about what Phillip may have done with your brother, but I assure you that I’ll keep digging.”
It was all Torren could ask. “Thank you, Nicholas.”
“What about Natalie Halstead?” Layke asked from the other end of the long table.
As if the moment had been designed by destiny, the back door of the meeting hall banged open as Lynk stormed down the aisle looking mad enough to spit fire. “I’m going to kill that stupid son of a bitch!” Torren saw Kieran flinch and suppressed a grin. “Who would that be?”
“He’s completely overreacting as usual,” Raith answered as he strolled in through the door behind Lynk. “It’s not a big deal.” Lynk didn’t even acknowledge him. “He drained that bitch of her magic. The result is disgusting. She’s all shriveled up like a dead leaf.”
“Yes,” Raith drawled with an arched eyebrow at Lynk, “but the good news is that Hollis Becker is free of his curse. I was able to reverse it once I drained the sleazy little harpy. Oh, and ding dong, the witch is dead.”
“Is that a good thing?” Aslan asked, his eyebrows drawn together in confusion.
In some ways it did make things much easier, but at what cost to Raith? “Why?”
“You are not the only Braddock with a bit of magic, brother.” Raith became serious as he marched closer to the podium. “You have a mate who needs you, Torren. I couldn’t let you do it.” The dark, ominous magic he’d felt slithering through Natalie now resided inside his brother. It would slowly poison his soul, and there was no way to take back what he’d done. It wouldn’t kill him, but it could very well change all the things about Raith that Torren admired.
Only time would tell.
Still, he understood why the man had done it, and a small, selfish part of him was grateful. “Thank you, Raith. We’ll figure out something.”
Raith waved his hand in dismissal. “I feel fine, but either way, this is my curse to bear and I chose it willingly.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed eagerly. “Now, who’s ready to party?” There was a little too much bravado in Raith’s tone for Torren’s comfort, but the deed had been done. Maybe there was something in the old archives that could help him. The reckless fool was his brother, and though he insisted he was fine, Torren knew better. He just didn’t know how to help him.
“Don’t worry,” Aslan whispered. “We’ll find a way to help him.” Resting his chin on the top of his lover’s head, Torren sighed heavily. Yes, they would, but it wouldn’t be easy. Then again, nothing important ever was.
Aslan couldn’t believe how hard his dick was. Watching Torren take charge of the meeting was sexy as hell. What had really done it for him, though, was when Torren had called him up on stage and settled him right in his lap, silently declaring that Aslan belonged to him and he didn’t care who knew it.
Roaming around the open field, he tried to readjust his aching erection but finally gave up when every touch just made his cock swell more. It seemed that everyone in Haven was scattered about the field, talking in small groups, or just hanging out around the campfire.
Some of the young ones were wearing costumes, a few roasting marshmallows with the help of their parents.
Wren was running amok of the new shifter pack in Haven. His squeals of laughter rang out through the night when Xander lifted him up and tossed him into the air before catching him and spinning around in a circle. It was nice to see him having fun and just being a kid.
Wandering over to the group, Aslan stopped beside two of the smaller members and held his hand out. “I’m Aslan.”
“Braxton, and this is Keeton.” Braxton nodded toward Wren with a tender smile on his face. “Is he yours?”
“Not officially, but I’m hoping.” He hadn’t talked to Torren about it, and he knew that they would have to settle things with Wren’s biological family first, but he wanted to be the boy’s father so much it hurt.
“He’s a cutie,” Keeton said around his laughter when Wren launched himself out of Xander’s arms and practically tackled a huge blond guy standing nearby. “That guy who looks like he just got clobbered over the head is Logan.” Keeton wiggled his fingers, showing off a wedding band on his left hand. “He’s mine.” Braxton pointed toward two men sitting on the ground a few feet from them. “The one shoveling food into his mouth is Jackson, and the grumpy asshole beside him is his mate, Talon. And I guess you already know Boston.”
“Kitty!” Wren yelled, grabbing Logan’s face and squishing his cheeks together. “I wanna see!”
Logan held the kid awkwardly in his arms with a look of someone who had no idea what he was doing, and it scared the hell out of him.
“Yes, show him the kitty!” Keeton called with a snicker. He sauntered over and tickled Wren’s side. “Guess what, little man. We’ve got a whole zoo!”
Wren’s eyes went wide and lit up with excitement. “Can I see? I wanna see.” He wiggled around in Logan’s arms, squirming to get to Keeton. Once he’d landed where he wanted to be, he wrapped his arms around Keeton’s neck and bounced a little. “Please? Pretty please?”
“Sure thing.” Keeton looked up at his mate and arched an eyebrow. “Well, get to it. The kid wants to see a kitty.” Logan crossed his arms over his chest. “Not going to happen, angel.”
“Go on.” Keeton waved a hand toward the trees behind them. “No one wants to see your naked a—rump, but we do want to pet a pretty kitty cat.”
“You, too,” Braxton demanded of Xander. “Get your butt in those trees and let’s see some tail.” He winked roguishly, and Aslan had to slap a hand over his mouth to muffle his laughter. Oh, he was really going to like having these guys around.
After another few seconds of arguing, the big shifters finally relented, but they weren’t going down alone. “Talon, Jackson, get over here.”
Soon they were joined by not only those two, but Boston, Flynn, and Malakai as well. “What’s up?” Boston asked as he wrapped his arm around Malakai’s waist.
“The little man wants to see some animals.” Keeton batted his long lashes and made kissy faces. “You wouldn’t want to break his little heart, would you?”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Boston spoke as he looked out over the field. “Things are good here, but people are still skittish. I think seeing five Moonlighters would cause a panic.” Aslan wanted to smack himself in the head. He hadn’t even thought of that. Maybe it was because he knew the rumors and superstitions were untrue. Still, not everyone shared in his way of thinking.
“I’m sorry,” he offered. “I didn’t realize. I didn’t think.” Fuck, was he ever going to get it right? He could have put so many people in danger, including Wren. “Crap, I didn’t…I…I…” Mewling sounds welled through his lips but he couldn’t stop them as he rocked back and forth.
“Hey, man, it’s cool.” Keeton touch his shoulder, squeezing it in comfort. “It was my fault, really. I’m so used to it just being us that I didn’t think about it, either. No sweat.”
“Aslan?” Wren’s sweet voice penetrated his panic, and Aslan looked up, holding his arms out automatically when Wren leapt at him. “Can I see the animals now? I want to pet a giraffe.” The whole group burst into laughter. “Well, I don’t think we have a giraffe, but we’ll find some animals for you to pet tomorrow.” Aslan rubbed their noses together and kissed Wren’s forehead. “I think it’s someone’s bedtime.”
“Who?” Wren asked innocently. Then his face brightened with understanding before he turned and looked up at the huge alpha. “You have a bedtime, too?”
“Yes, he does,” Braxton answered without missing a beat. He smacked Xander on the ass and pointed in the direction of the campfire. “Go on, mister. And don’t forget to brush your teeth.” Xander huffed and rolled his eyes before lifting Braxton over his shoulder, swatting his upturned bottom, and marching away. A few of the others left as well, leaving Aslan alone with Keeton until Jory, Kendall, and Galen wandered over to make their own introductions.
Seeing Kendall reminded him of something, though.
“When will Wren get his wings?”
Kendall smiled as he caressed the little pixie’s back. Wren had his head rested on Aslan’s shoulder and was already about half asleep, his breaths becoming slow and even. “I think I got mine around twelve or thirteen, so you have a few years. Besides, you won’t be able to see them except for in the moonlight.”
A warm, solid weight pressed up against Aslan’s back, and soft lips ghosted up the side of his neck. “He down for the count?”
“Yeah, he’s worn out.” Poor little Wren was snoring softly against the side of Aslan’s neck. How children could go from hyper to passed-out in seconds flat amazed him.
“I’m going to go check on Danica,” Kendall said quietly. “Would you like me to take him up to the house? You can pick him up before you leave.”