Chapter 16 - Aubree (Part 1)
The look on Stone’s face drew Aubree to his side and wrapping her arms around his waist. As she leaned into his chest, resting her head against his heart, he held her in his arms as she turned her gaze to Gwen and Lance.
He was hurting, but it was a different kind of hurt. It was the kind only fathers experienced. It was joy wrapped up in loss. He held his children so close for so long, it was hard to let them go. To let them find their own joy.
[She’ll always be your daughter,] Aubree reminded him. [That will never change.]
He nuzzled her head with his nose. [I know.]
Lance pulled away to hold Gwen’s face in the palms of his hands as his eyes took her in. He stood merely an inch taller than her, and his youth reflected on his face as his forehead creased.
“Are you okay?” he asked in a whisper. “Do you need to lie back down? Are you hungry?”
Stone cleared his throat, catching the pair by surprise, as if they had briefly entered their own little world and remembered where they were and that they weren’t alone.
Both of their eyes widened before blushes crept to their cheeks and they pulled away from each other.
“P-Papa, Aubree...” Gwen stumbled. “I’m so happy to see you both, I...”
Aubree was about to speak up when Stone beat her to it. “It’s fine. I’m glad to see you’re well enough to shift back in your human form and welcome us home in song. Although, I must say that song is better suited to you and Lance now.”
Looking up, Aubree caught the corner of Stone’s quirked up lips.
Blood rushed to Gwen’s face as she brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “I wasn’t expecting...”
“We weren’t either when we arrived at Rosmi Maana,” Aubree said. “Lance here has been worried sick about you the entire time.”
Her eyes grew large again. She looked from Lance to Aubree and back at Stone.
“Yes, we knew,” Stone said, as if answering an unuttered question.
“I asked them not to tell you,” Lance said, taking Gwen’s hands in his. “I didn’t want you to worry. I thought... I just wanted you to feel better without knowing that I was thousands of miles away worrying about you and not being able to take care of you.”
He pressed his lips together, his forehead furrowing again as Gwen’s gaze returned to his.
She still seemed to be in shock and unable to form a coherent thought.
Releasing one of her hands, Lance reached up and brushed his thumb across her cheek. Closing her eyes, Gwen couldn’t help the shiver that coursed through her at his touch.
The pull of the matebond was working its magic and Aubree couldn’t help the massive grin spreading across her face as her heart danced.
She’d waited days for this. Now that it was finally here, she was so happy and excited for Gwen that she forgot all about the fact that Gwen would have to leave them and follow Lance to Arizona.
After a few deep breaths, Gwen nodded her head. “Yeah, I understand. I probably would have done the same if the roles were reversed.”
Heaving a sigh of relief, Lance pulled her back in his arms and murmured his appreciation into her hair.
She seemed just as content to clutch him and bury her nose into the crook of his neck again.
Stone had to clear his throat a second time to get them to pull away from each other.
“Why don’t you take a shower so I can have a moment with my daughter?” Stone suggested to Lance.
A low growl rumbled up Lance’s throat and he immediately pulled back and covered his mouth with both hands, his eyes wide. “I’m sorry! I-I don’t know where that came from!”
Stone’s lips pressed together before a knowing smile tugged the corners up. “It’s fine. I take no offense.”
Lance hung his head like a puppy caught chewing on a shoe. “I guess, I’ll go take a shower...”
“Second floor. There are two bathrooms across from each other. Take your pick,” Stone said.
Lance mumbled another “thanks” before trudging to the staircase. He looked back and cast a longing glance at Gwen before turning back and climbing up.
As soon as he was gone, Stone held Gwen for a few minutes before pulling apart and giving Aubree a chance to give her a gentle squeeze. Aubree let the giggles tumble out then and expressed her joy for Gwen finding her mate.
Seeming more like herself, Gwen grinned at them both as she pulled away from them. “Okay, spill. Tell me what happened. Aubree smells different, so you must have been able to seal the bond.”
“Long story,” Aubree replied, “but first, tell us how you’re doing. You managed to shift.”
She groaned in exasperation. “Yes, finally. I was getting so bored lying around, depending on others for everything. I hated it. Gunner thinks the wound will completely heal in a few more days, and everything will be back to normal in a week.”
“Does it hurt to shift?” Stone asked.
Gwen raked her teeth over her lip as she lowered her gaze. “Yeah, a little.”
Stone nodded. “I don’t want you shifting until you’re completely healed. Understood?”
Gwen smirked, like she knew that was coming. “Of course, Papa. Now, tell me everything that happened with you guys!”
When they finally settled into bed, Stone couldn’t sleep and his whirling mind woke Aubree up.
“Relax,” she mumbled, her head resting on his bare, chiseled chest. She snuggled closer to his naked body. “You’re over-thinking everything.”
She knew he couldn’t help it, but he needed to settle down and get his rest as well.
“In the words of Alistair, my babygirl has grown up.”
Aubree smirked, her eyes still glued shut. “They all will at some point.”
“I don’t know what to think about it.”
“Don’t think. Just be happy for her.”
“I am happy for her.”
“Then, relax and go to sleep.”
Silence fell, but she could still sense that he wasn’t settling down.
She tried to think of something to say to help ease the stress on his mind, but her head was foggy with sleep. Maybe she should push some warm and peaceful feelings onto him and that might help?
A thought flicked through her head, but before she could stop it, Stone was chuckling.
“What?” she asked innocently as a grin slowly tugged on her lips.
“Are you serious?”
She pulled herself up so she could look him in the eye. Even though it was dark and she could only make out the shape of his head, she could feel his gaze on her. She reached up and pressed her palm to his cheek, the growing stubble scratching against it.
“Well, you are a bad boy for waking me up. Maybe you do deserve a spanking?” She wiggled her eyebrows in an effort to hold in her own laughter.
He reached up and tangled his fingers into the hair behind her head and pulled her toward him. “I’m afraid I will enjoy that far too much, Love.” His whispered voice grew huskier with each word.
Desire curled within her as he pulled her to his mouth.