Chapter 8 - Stone (Part 1)
Stone returned shortly after the sun rose. Hoping to slip inside unnoticed, he was surprised to find Aubree watching TV in the living room. An empty bowl of cereal sat before her on the coffee table.
She turned in her seat and looked over the couch. Her eyes grew large before dashing away with inflamed cheeks.
He smirked to himself. When was she going to get used to seeing him naked?
“So, um,” she stammered, “where did you go? I heard you get up and I got cold.”
He came up behind her and kissed the top of her head. Heat from her embarrassment continued to rise up and warm her face and neck. She was wearing another one of his T-shirts and he hoped nothing else.
Taking a deep breath in and out, he tried to clear his mind as he inhaled her scent. His still mingled on her skin from their love-making earlier and it was hard to think of anything else.
“I’m sorry if I worried you. I needed some fresh air. You didn’t have to wait for me.”
She shook her head as she ripped the fuzzy blanket from her legs and held it up for him as she avoided looking at him. “I couldn’t fall back asleep. I kept getting a pain in my chest. It went away about fifteen minutes ago.”
A small grin slowly spread across his face as he took the throw from her and wrapped it around his waist. While it covered him from the waist down to his feet, it did nothing to conceal the activity taking place in his nether region in the last few seconds of being near her and seeing her flushed.
Yet, she intrigued him, making his stomach flip-flop in titillation. “Really? In your chest?”
“Yeah.” She pressed her lips together before looking up at him, her brows knitting. “I was getting worried about it. Like, was I having a heart attack or something? But then it went away.”
Stone moved around the couch and sat down next to her. He pulled her face forward with both hands and clasped her lips with his, relishing in the feel of her and the emotions that flourished within them as the kiss deepened. Before it could take on a life of its own, he let go as he ran his tongue over his bottom lip and pressed his forehead to hers. His chest burned with the desire for more.
“That was me, Love,” he whispered. “You were feeling me and my emotions.”
Her breathing was a little heavier now, making her voice waver. “How? I wasn’t touching you. You were outside.”
He smiled to himself before kissing her softly. “I know. This was the first time you felt me from a distance. I’ve felt you... since the moment I met you or touched you, I don’t know which. I felt your extreme pain and sadness from a distance. I knew when you were about to break up with Dan. I could feel it. It tore through my heart like a knife. I never wanted you to have to feel that again.”
But then you found out about the danger of having pups. Of being denied the family you always wanted...
He swallowed as his brows pulled together, remembering all the times he’d hurt her.
“It’s the nature of the matebond. Even though we haven’t sealed it, you feel me now. My extreme emotions.” He brushed a lock of her hair behind her ear and trailed his fingers along her jaw as he pulled away to gaze into her eyes. “It’s getting stronger.”
Those beautiful hazels searched his with a slight frown. “Why is it like that?”
“I don’t know, Love.”
Reaching up, she trailed her fingers down his temple to his jaw. “What’s wrong? Why were you in so much pain?”
Lowering his gaze, he pressed her hand against his cheek before brushing his lips across her knuckles, one by one. “I had to let go of some things.”
Bittersweet pain seeped through his caresses as she leaned in and touched her forehead to his. Her brows furrowed against his. Her hands in his between them.
“It’s okay to think about her. To remember her. You loved her. I get that.”
“I know,” he said, “and I will always cherish the time I had with her, but it’s time for me to let go of the past. You are my present and my future now.”
He pulled away to gaze into her misty hazels again. “I will always love her, as I will always love you. My path is with you now. My soul with you. My ruhi.”
"Ruhi means heart and soul. Together as one. For there is no greater love than that of our united hearts and souls.”
He pulled her head down to rest on his shoulder as he wrapped an arm around her slender body. She relaxed against the gentle thumping of his heart and soon she grew drowsy.
Lifting her up, he carried her upstairs to their room and snuggled into bed with her for a few more hours of sleep.
She was going to need it to stay awake for their visit to the Spirit Walker that evening. He didn’t know what procedure or ritual would be performed, but she needed to be well-rested.
It was almost noon by the time they woke up. Or rather, when a knock at the front door woke him up.
Stone rolled out of bed and pulled some pants on while Aubree groaned and rolled over.
“What time is it? Do we have to get up already? Can’t we just stay in bed?”
He smirked at her groggy voice. “I’m afraid not, Love. Go ahead and shower, I’ll see to the door.”
A quick kiss to her forehead and he was hurrying down the stairs and across the room to the door.
Eramis stood across the threshold as he opened the door.
“I don’t mean to rush you, Alpha, but we are expecting a neighboring pack to come over tonight for the full moon,” he said. “I don’t think they will take too kindly to Luna Aubree and your relationship—soulmate or not.”
Stone gave him a curt nod. “Yes, you mentioned that on the phone earlier this week. We were not expecting to sleep in so late. What time are you expecting them?”
“Not until five o’clock or so in the evening, but it might be beneficial for you both to leave early so we can cleanse our property of her scent.”
“Yes, of course. When do you suspect they will leave? At sunrise?”
Eramis nodded. “Nine o’clock at the latest. Dom will take you to the Gateway, where an escort will take you to the Spirit Walker’s residence. The Navajo Reservation is strictly guarded to protect their people. Dom will meet you at the Gateway on your way back. Wait for him if he’s not there. He will come when all of our guests have left.”
Stone thanked him before excusing himself to get ready.
They packed a change of warm clothes, a blanket, snacks, and water into a large backpack that Stone slung over his shoulders effortlessly.
Aubree eyed it for a second, concern etched across her face but said nothing.
After a quick lunch, they were ready to go.
Dom climbed behind the wheel of the car and drove them to the Gateway on their eastern border.
The car ride was silent until they approached a gas station ironically called “The Gateway.” Only then did Dom speak, and bid them good luck.
“Praying for you both,” he said as he pulled up to the side of the building.
There was not another car in sight.
As soon as they stepped out of the vehicle and the wind hit Stone, he could smell it. There was something different about this place. Something in the air struck him as unusual and magical. It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
Dom caught his eye with a knowing smirk. “Right? It’s like they don’t want us here.”
Aubree’s puzzled gaze shifted between the two of them. “What?”
“This land is sacred,” said a weathered man standing in the doorway of the building.
Glancing at the man from the corner of his eye, Stone pulled Aubree to his chest and wrapped his arms around her.
“The Gatekeeper,” Dom whispered before waving casually to the middle-aged man, who was actually far older than he looked. “Good afternoon, Big Red.”
Broad-shouldered and standing about half a foot shorter than Stone, Big Red had long black hair with a few streaks of gray falling down his shoulders, stopping halfway down his back. His thick-set eyebrows knotted slightly as he regarded them with dark eyes over high cheekbones. His lips pulled back in a tight frown, emphasizing the shape of his rectangular face.
Big Red approached them and stopped a few yards away, crossing his arms over his chest. “Your kind is not welcome on these lands.”
“We have been summoned by the Spirit Walker,” Stone said.
“What for?” Big Red’s eyes lowered to Aubree before looking back up and catching Stone’s. “Release the girl.”
Aubree stiffened as his grip tightened around her.
“She is my soulmate. That is why we have been summoned by him.”
“Impossible,” Big Red said. “Humans are forbidden to your kind.”
“Tell that to the Goddess.”
Big Red’s jaw clenched as he regarded him and Aubree with sharp eyes. “I don’t believe in your deity.”
The wind suddenly snapped up and blew against Big Red’s back. While he closed his eyes, seeming to listen to something behind him, Stone picked up his faint scent, but couldn’t place it.
“You’re not human,” he growled out.
“I told you,” Dom whispered as Big Red opened his eyes. They flashed white before returning to their normal dark color. “He’s the Gatekeeper.”
“And what exactly is a Gatekeeper?” Stone demanded, having never known of such a being in existence. He’d never seen one before, but then, he had never ventured into Navajo territory before either.
“Yes,” Big Red interrupted with a faraway look in his eyes. “Clear Waters is expecting you. Your escort will be here shortly.”
Stone kept his arms around Aubree. Straining his senses, his hearing seemed muffled, and while he didn’t detect any threats, he still didn’t like it.
What was this place he was taking his soulmate to? Who was he entrusting her life with? He knew the Spirit Walker was harmless, but what of their escort?
No one would touch her or get near her if he had any say about it.
His senses were on high alert—no one could be trusted.
“You may enter in your human form, but your beast is not welcome in our lands,” Big Red said. “Will you accept these conditions?”
“As long as no one threatens her life or attempts to take her from me, then I will accept.”
“Humans are always welcome to come and go freely. It is other-worldly beings who cannot pass without invitation,” Big Red said.
“What kind of beings?” Aubree asked, speaking up for the first time since Big Red showed up.
His dark eyes flicked to Aubree, though they did not lose their intensity. “Any being not of Light. Here comes your escort.”
Looking around, Stone heard the approaching vehicle before he saw the cloud of dust heading toward them.
“May the path you walk be beautiful,” Big Red said before turning and entering the building.
“That would mean you two are free to pass,” Dom clarified.
Stone turned his attention back to the approaching car as he loosened his arms around Aubree.
“What did he mean by beings of Light?” Aubree asked.
Stone rubbed her arms to reassure her, though it seemed he was the one who needed the reassurance more. “There are two types of supernaturals. Light and Dark.”
“And you are?”
“Lycans belong to the Moon. We are Dark, as are werewolves, vampires, demons, darklings—”
“Darklings?” Deep groves marred Aubree’s forehead as she looked up into his eyes.
A sigh slipped through his lips. He cupped her face in his hands.
This information was more than Aubree needed to deal with right now. She had time to learn about their world, but right now, he wanted to keep her focused on their mission—to see the Spirit Walker, receive their message, and get out of there.
“Like demons, but weaker,” he said. “Demons are capable of taking form and shape, capable of possession if they are strong enough. Darklings can’t. They incite fear and feed off it, making them stronger. They have no form, no mass. Only energy. Dark energy. You needn’t fear them because you are good, strong, and just.”
The car pulled up to them then and Stone held back a scowl.
Why was he not surprised?