After another shower, Coal and I slept until nighttime, just a few hours, but enough to refresh us until we got past tonight’s meeting. In addition to a pack-wide meeting, my father, sister, and Aatos would be there shortly.
How strange those words sounded in my head. Father. Sister...
And to top it all off, the word vampire went hand-in-hand with all three of us now.
Never in a million years had I expected this outcome. If someone had told me yesterday that today I would be a vampire and the daughter of King, I would have called them crazy.
But here I was, immediate-healing, new appetite, crimson irises and all.
“Are you ready?” Coal interrupted my musing.
I looked up. Bright blue eyes peered down at me. He extended his hand.
I inhaled and released the breath slowly before reaching to join my fingers with his.
We made our way through the familiar hallways and down a flight of stairs. A hum of voices could be heard behind the door to the large meeting room. But rather than enter, Coal continued on.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Marku, Aatos, and Savannah are already here. I thought it would be better to meet with them privately before formally introducing you to the pack.”
Coal stopped just outside of Alpha’s office, hand reaching for the handle.
Tension rolled through my shoulders, remembering the last time I was there. Frankly, I was a little bit surprised Coal wanted to talk there, given it was his father’s office.
But when he opened the door, I inhaled sharply.
The office was stripped of all personal possessions. And virtually everything else. The bookshelves were bare. Not a speck of paper could be seen. Hell, even the pictures on the walls had been eliminated. The only thing that remained was the furniture.
My curiosity must have flowed through the bond because Coal mindlinked, ”Chase thought I would appreciate a clean slate, so he and a few other wolves spent the afternoon cleaning.”
My eyes drifted over to where Chase stood stiff, back to the wall, spine rigid, eying the vampires warily. Ryder stood next to him, a silent sentinel, waiting, protecting. Coal hadn’t mentioned Ryder as part of the cleaning crew. I wondered how he’d spent the afternoon.
Completely ignoring our seated vampire guests, Coal approached Chase. I walked along with him, staying by his side. Neither of us wanted to let go of the physical connection our intertwined fingers made.
Chase’s attention snapped to Coal’s eyes when Coal stopped directly in front of him. Coal wrapped his free hand around the back of his sibling’s neck and pressed his forehead to Chase’s. Holding it there, he murmured through the mindlink, “Thank you, brother.”
Coal’s words were more than a greeting or even a thank you. They were meant to comfort. I could only imagine all of the questions Chase had. Vampires in their inner sanctuary. His father, dead. Did he even know why? Probably not.
After a moment, Coal pulled back. Moisture glistened in Chase’s eyes. He swallowed and just nodded, but his affection for his older brother and relief that Coal was finally present radiated out of him.
Chase’s glance cut to me. He murmured softly, “Luna,” and then dropped his head, eyes on the floor, in a show of submission and respect.
“Chase,” I acknowledged quietly.
Coal turned toward our guests for the first time.
All three vampires sat comfortably in chairs, just watching our exchange.
Rather than sit behind the desk, Coal walked to the couch directly across from Marku and pulled me down next to him. He wrapped his arm protectively around my shoulders, keeping me close to his chest.
Without a word, Ryder and Chase joined us on the long couch, flanking both sides, Ryder on my left and Chase on Coal’s right. They sat straight, their positioning, alert, ready.
Coal addressed Marku first, “Welcome to our home.”
In leather pants and a fur that covered his shoulders and arms but revealed his chiseled chest, Marku appeared relaxed, reclined comfortably in the chair. But his eyes told a different story. Piercing and sharp. It was apparent he had questions.
Well, so did I.
I got right to the point. “Why did you leave us?” My tone held accusation, but I didn’t care.
Marku’s expression hardened. His eyes blazed. “No, little Wolf. If I’d known you existed, this pack and that bastard of an alpha would have been the very last place I hid you.”
“If you’d known I existed..." I repeated softly, my words trailing off as the realization settled over me. My father hadn’t left me. He hadn’t turned his back on my mother and me.
“How? What happened?”
I couldn’t even picture my docile mother hanging out with a vampire king, let alone, sleeping with him. Although, I did understand now why she hadn’t told me my father was a vampire. Maybe she would have when I grew up, but she died when I was just ten years old. As a little girl, I wouldn’t have had a clue how to process or what to do with that information.
“I met your mother during an Alliance Meeting at my kingdom. I was shocked when she just walked into a room filled with hundreds of vampires, head held high like she owned the place.” Marku’s stern expression relaxed. A small grin even curled his lips as he related an obviously fond memory, “Balls of steel. Courageous. Was what she was.”
“Courageous,” I whispered. “The inscription on the ring you gave her...”
Marku’s expression shifted into approval at my understanding. “Yes. That’s exactly right.”
“Speaking of the ring,” Marku stood and pulled off the emerald and gold ring wrapped around his pinky finger, just above his knuckle. It only took him two broad steps to reach me.
Tension ran through Coal at Marku’s close proximity.
Coal’s Wolf let out a low warning growl.
Marku’s intense gaze cut to Coal’s and held. “She’s in no danger from me, Wolf,” he spoke slowly. Purposefully, as if to avoid spooking Coal’s Wolf, Marku knelt down and rested on one knee. Maintaining his eye contact with Coal, Marku waited for Coal’s response before he continued.
The room was silent, waiting for Coal’s Wolf’s response. I wasn’t surprised to see Coal’s eyes had shifted to obsidian black. I squeezed his fingers, trying to calm my furry mate down. While it was obscenely clear Marku was a predator of extreme caliber, I didn’t suspect he intended to harm me.
As we waited, I also found it interesting that Marku’s hesitation meant he took Coal’s threat seriously. He wanted to avoid a fight if possible.
After a long moment, Coal’s significant reluctance never went away, but he finally gave a short nod to Marku.
Marku turned to me, his expression softening. He held out the ring. “This belongs to you.”
“You don’t want it back now that she’s gone?” I asked.
One of his eyebrows went up. He studied me.
What? Was that a weird question?
Damn, I hated my lack of social skills.
“No. I would very much like it if you would keep the ring. For two reasons. One, because it’s from me. And two, it will provide you protection when you travel to my territory.”
“Protection?” Now it was time for my confusion. I took the ring and held it between my fingertips, examining the impressive emerald with his initial, M, etched beneath it. I tilted my head to the side. “How can a ring protect me?”
Marku gently took my hand.
Coal stiffened but didn’t growl.
Turning my palm down, Marku eased the ring onto my finger. It fit perfectly. Marku nodded his satisfaction as he admired the ring on my hand. His pale-ice gaze returned to my face. “The ring is bound to me. This means while you are in my territory, no one will be able to harm you, even if they want to.”
My eyes widened.
“If someone tries to hurt you, they’ll find themselves suddenly going in a different direction and not knowing why or what they’re doing.”
“Wow,” I breathed. “Okay. Thank you.”
I glanced up at Coal.
It was clear he liked this particular gift. His satisfied expression rivaled Marku’s. I gave him a small smile.
Marku brought my attention back to him. “I’d like to meet your Wolf,” his request was spoken with an intensity that was tangible.
Instantly, my Wolf was in my eyes, staring at this man who was our father.
Pleased with her quick response, Marku smiled. But his tone dropped back to serious when he asked quietly, “Tell me, daughter Wolf, are you okay?”
I was surprised at the question. My Wolf was too and didn’t know how to answer.
Marku seemed to understand our confusion. “It is extremely rare for a vampire to successfully procreate with a Wolf. It doesn’t always go...,” he hesitated as if searching for the right word and finally ended with, “...well.”
My eyes widened at the implication. What did he mean ‘it didn’t always go well’? Was there something wrong with us that we didn’t know about? Anxiety rolled through my Wolf.
Again, Marku seemed to follow our emotions. He soothed, “Shh, daughters. I didn’t mean to alarm you. You both made it through, physically. I just wanted to know how she felt about the transition and how she is doing now.”
Maybe it shouldn’t have, but his choice of wording caught me off guard. He’d referred to us in the plural. All too often, non-wolves didn’t ‘see’ my Wolf when she wasn’t present. They didn’t understand the dynamic of symbiotic consciousnesses. But Marku’s words and concern conveyed that he not only understood, but he also considered my Wolf just as much his daughter as he did me.
My Wolf hadn’t missed his choice of words either. She glowed with his evident care and attention. Relaying her thoughts to me, I spoke them out loud, “It feels weird.”
Marku chuckled. “I imagine it would. As I mentioned, you are extremely rare. Some wolves don’t...survive...the transition.”
His words washed over me like cold water. He’d said it didn’t always end well, but I didn’t realize there was potential I might have lost my Wolf.
Unaware of my borderline panic, Marku continued, his voice dropping fervently, “But those that do...they are special. Strong. Fierce.”
My Wolf’s ears perked up. The seriousness of Marku’s expression conveyed significance to his words. I noticed a remarkable difference in my fighting skills after mating. We hadn’t been tested since we’d been turned, but I suspected my Wolf might have much more fight then she did before. My Wolf liked that idea, it settled deep and warmed her belly.
I just nodded my head in understanding. My Wolf hadn’t contributed any commentary for me to relay, and I wasn’t quite sure what to say.
“I’d like to see all of you,” Marku murmured. “Would you shift for me?”
There was no hesitation in my Wolf’s response. She wanted to meet him in her form just as much as he wanted to meet her. “Yes,” I breathed. “She would like that very much.”
And then the logistics kicked in. I was willing to shift but had no intention of stripping naked in front of the group. Not that Coal would have permitted it, even if I didn’t care about the public nudity.
“There is a bathroom,” Coal said and motioned with his head to a side door.
“Okay.” I stood to my feet and went through the door to the small washroom. It took no time at all to disrobe. After I shifted, it occurred to me I hadn’t left the door open. My Wolf was talented with her paws, but it wasn’t particularly easy to grasp and turned a doorknob.
“Coal...” I reached out through our mind link.
Instantly, the door opened. Coal must have been standing right outside. That didn’t surprise me.
My Wolf walked through the door, her keen senses taking in the sights and smells of those in the room.
Their reaction was a little unexpected.
Savannah’s mouth dropped open as she breathed, “Wow.” Aatos eyes widened. And Marku couldn’t have radiated his approval any louder if he’d shouted. He positively glowed as he watched my Wolf walk into the center of the room to meet him.
Returning to one knee, he reached for her head and slid both hands into her thick fur. He pressed his lips to her forehead and held them there, whispering, “Truly, you are stunning.”
My Wolf preened, tail high, swishing happily through the air.
After a long moment, Marku pulled back and stared intently into her eyes.
“I know I’m not a Wolf...” he began but trailed off, frustration evident in his eyes as if disappointed he couldn’t give her everything she needed and deserved.
His moment of vulnerability surprised me.
My Wolf remained locked in his gaze and shook her head, communicating she disagreed with his disappointment. He was just fine with her, a powerful male who would fight to take care of her.She nudged the side of his cheek with her snout.
His expression relaxed.
But she wanted more. Her instincts demanded she transfer their scents. She liked his barely restrained savagery and dominance. She wanted his scent on her so every Wolf would know he’d created her, first as a wolf and then as a vampire, but shyness stopped her from taking it farther.
But even without words, Marku seemed to understand. “Yes, daughter Wolf...”
“She wants—” Coal tried to help.
“I know,” Marku interrupted him.
Inclining his head down was all the permission she needed.
My Wolf eagerly rubbed the side of her face against his cheek, once, twice, a third time. Her tongue flickered out, brushing the flesh of his neck, her mind forming the familial association and committing the taste to memory.
When she finished with one side, she repeated the process on the other.
Marku held perfectly still, letting her do whatever she wanted.
Once her head was sufficiently covered with his scent to her satisfaction, I was shocked when she nudged her nose, hard, against the thin strap of leather that crossed his bare chest, holding his fur attire on.
I understood she wanted his scent on her sides, not just her face. For that, she needed direct skin-to-fur contact, and the garment was in the way. But her boldness came as a surprise, the forceful nudge to his chest was nothing less than an outright demand.
Marku raised his head and looked at her. She just stared at him...expectantly. When he didn’t move, she pushed at the tie again, communicating what she wanted.
Understanding lit his expression. He nodded as his fingers deftly undid the ties holding the fur adorning his shoulders and arms. When it was released, he dropped the garment behind him, leaving his chest bare. He stayed in a crouched position so that she could reach his skin.
The last time we’d seen him, he’d been covered in the blood of many wolves. Now, up close and personal, I was surprised at how cut he was. Every muscle looked like it had been chiseled in stone.
My Wolf noticed as well. He may not have been a Wolf, but she felt like we’d won the lottery with his remarkable physique and power. Finally, after all of this time, years of torment and not belonging to anyone, unwanted and unloved, we had a lineage all our own.
One we could be proud of...
Marku was an impressive male.
She hadn’t forgotten the way he fought Alpha and the other wolves who wanted to harm her.
Taking her time, my Wolf walked along his chest. Marku lifted his arm and let his fingers thread through her fur as she repeated the process, again and again, then moving to his back, coating every bit of her fur in his scent and making sure he was covered in hers.
Damn. She was taking this seriously. We were literally drenched in the vampire’s scent. I hoped she didn’t decide to pee on him next. Not sure if he would be so easy going then.
Another thought distracted me and anxiety wound through me when I remembered how much Coal’s Wolf did not appreciate any other male’s scent on us. I reached out through the mind link, “Is your Wolf okay?” It was kind of late in the process to ask, and I wasn’t completely panicking because I figured Coal’s Wolf would have made his discontent known much sooner if he’d had a problem with the interaction.
Coal confirmed my suspicion. ”He’s okay. He understands she is imprinting the father figure she never had. Since Marku will not be around, she has limited time so it makes sense she is taking more than she normally would. He gets it.”
My heart practically burst with love at his words. My ridiculously dominant mate understood exactly what she needed. And while he probably wasn’t thrilled, given how intense Marku’s scent was now on our body, not to mention the fact Marku was a vampire, our mate wanted her to have everything she needed. Everything she’d missed as a pup.
And no matter how much another male’s scent coated our outer flesh, Coal’s smell was ingrained into the very marrow of our bones, impossible to cover up or hide.
I snickered to myself as another thought crossed my mind. Shortly, I was going to be introduced as Luna to the entire pack! Not only would Coal be standing by my side, but my Wolf and I were now drenched in the scent of a vampire king who had dominance for days...and said vampire king would also be in attendance.
Maybe my Wolf was stronger. Maybe not. It was yet to be seen what she was capable of. But either way, it didn’t matter because I felt a haze of power thrum through my bones. These wolves didn’t know me. They had no idea what I’d become, and I planned to do a little cleaning of my own...