Chapter 45 - Aubree (Part 1)
The pack spent the remainder of the night disposing of the vampire bodies littering the valley and forest and hunting down the remains of the Rosmi Maana warriors that had been scattered about. They gathered the charred bones, knowing that the mates of the males were already suffering back in Arizona from the loss.
When the sun rose and all the remaining vampires had disappeared into their hiding places for the day, a fresh breeze swept through the forest, cleansing it of the lingering odors of burnt vampire flesh, blood, and blackened tree stumps. A large portion of the forest had been damaged, but nature had a way of recovering from such disasters. It simply required time.
After spending several hours in her lycan form now, Aubree had gotten a little accustomed to the minute sounds and smells she never noticed before as a human. The slightest rustle of leaves startled her at first. The slimy trail that snails left behind had a peculiar scent to her curious nose.
But the best part was the feeling she got when she ran with her pack around her.
Even though everyone was exhausted, the pack could not contain their enthusiasm for their first run together.
The exhilarating sense of freedom was unlike anything she had experienced as a human before. She finally understood why Stone loved it so much. The wind through her fur and the pounding of her paws against the earth released the pent up emotions that wound her muscles into knots. If it weren’t for the fact that she was still a pup by their standards of stamina, she would have been content to run for hours.
After pausing by a stream for a drink and to catch her breath, she stared at her rippling reflection in a calm curve of the running water. Fully lycan like the others with a wolf’s head that was white under her chin before blending into a tan color on her muzzle and hazel eyes before a mixture of gold and copper twined between her brows and up over her head. On all fours, she couldn’t make out her humanoid body very well as she was half-submerged in water, but she wasn’t sure if she wanted to see it yet. It was still hard for her to believe that the creature looking back at her was her, just in another form.
Stone nipped playfully at her long pointed ears, surprising her and making her yelp before poking him in the eye with her nose.
He barked a laugh—at least, it sounded like a laugh to her—before he licked her maw. [You’re beautiful.]
Her tail swished a little before leaning into him and licking him back.
He was larger than her and she liked the way her body curved into his. He was strong and protective, a feeling that gave her comfort and pride.
Eventually, the time came for her to shift back into her human form—which took twice as long as the first time. She had to focus on the act herself, morphing each muscle, bone, and ligament on her own without the aid of the moon.
She was so exhausted by the end of it all that she slept for thirteen hours straight.
The Council left the next day, apologizing for everything and expressing that they would like to meet again in a decade to check up, see how things were doing, and welcome their new pup—for surely they would have one by then. The next lunar eclipse was another year and a half away and the Midwest was projected to get the best view that night.
Amora stayed behind, not ready to return to Europe yet.
“I think I’ll spend some time with packs on this continent,” she had said. “I am overdue for a visit.”
Aubree’s parents returned from Europe—their last three days spent in Venice—and Aubree spent an hour talking on the phone with them and hearing all about their fun and the random problems they encountered along the way. How it rained during their entire trip in London and how heavy downpour flooded the streets of Venice and a gondolier had to give them a “romantic lift” back to their hotel.
They had the time of their lives, knowing that they would never have another trip as amazing as that one. They also sounded happier than they had been in years and Aubree was reminded of how young and giggly they both sounded when they were drunk before their trip. They didn’t say it, but Aubree knew they needed that trip to reconnect after their only child left the nest they built and cared for for twenty-four years and all the years it took before to build it.
The vampires returned to wherever they came from and the Twin Cities and surrounding areas were quiet at last.
On the morning of the next full moon in August, Stone announced a “family day” trip to Lake Harriet, earning him a wide grin from Aubree.
Amora waved all six of them off in two vehicles before shifting into her wolf and patrolling the borders for them.
Stone had been rather fidgety and quiet, making Aubree and Gwen tease him in the car.
Gwen told Aubree about the time Stone agreed to take them to Mall of America, how nervous and cute he was for someone who ”didn’t care about that human female." Aubree couldn’t help but laugh because of the pouty and annoyed faces Gwen made while telling the story.
Reaching over the console box between them, Aubree pinched his cheek. “Aw, someone had a widdle crush.”
He swatted her hand, his eyes not leaving the road, but the pink in his cheeks gave him away.
When they reached the lake, Gwen squealed and jumped out of the car, running to it with both arms spread wide. Her eyes took in the fairytale-like buildings of the band-shell and the snack bar along the lake in the distance. “It’s so pretty here! I want to rent a boat!”
“Wait until you see the elf house,” Aubree said as she joined Gwen’s side. “It’s the cutest thing ever.”
The others arrived and Alistair raced toward them, threw Gwen over his shoulder, and pretending to throw her into the water as she shrieked and pounded his back with both fists.
They rented paddle boats for an hour on the lake, Stone with Aubree, Gwen with Alistair, and Gavin with Gunner.
Gwen and Alistair grew bored within ten minutes and began attacking Stone and Aubree’s boat, trying to knock them into the water before Stone and Aubree splashed water at them until they turned away to harass Gavin and Gunner.
They ended up returning the boats after half an hour and grabbing ice cream at the Bread and Pickle.
“Hey, Alistair!” Aubree elbowed him as she pointed up to the dog biscuits on the menu sign. “Want some homemade cookies? Buck-fifty. My treat.”
He grabbed her in a headlock and gave her the roughest noogie she’d ever gotten, squealing as she tried to pry herself free.
After pushing him off to catch her breath, he winked. “Only if you split them with me.”
“No thanks, I’ll pass.” She grinned.
As they gathered around one of the tables and ate their ice cream, Stone nudged Aubree’s arm with his elbow.
He nodded his head to a table several yards away with the friendly old lady she met when they first visited the lake.
Aubree smiled as she watched the old woman interacting with people who must have been her family—one of her grown children with their spouse and two high-school-aged grandkids.
The woman caught her watching, smiled and nodded in greeting, but didn’t come over to visit.
Something seemed different about that woman, but Aubree couldn’t place it.
“Interesting,” Gunner said in a low voice.
They all turned to him with furrowed brows.
“Can you not sense it?” he asked.
“There is something peculiar about her,” Alistair agreed, looking back at the woman as he licked some strawberry ice cream dripping over the edge of his cone.
Gunner’s lips quirked up before he shook his head lightly. “There’s your elf, Luna, only somehow, she traded it in for a human life.”
Aubree’s eyes widened before looking back at the old woman as she got up from her seat and began to walk away with her family.
“You don’t say?” she asked incredulously as she remembered the woman telling her about the love of her life passing away a few years ago, but still felt his presence with her regardless.
A smile spread across her face as she poked Stone in the arm. “And you said there was no elf.”
“I guess I couldn’t sense it when you were taking up all of my faculties,” he mumbled before lapping up a mouthful of ice cream from his cone.
“Is the matebond really that strong?” Gavin asked.
“Yes,” Aubree, Stone, Gwen, and Gunner replied in unison.
He hung his head and grew quiet as they continued to eat their ice cream.
After the last bite was consumed, they walked around the lake to the elf house, where Gwen “awed” about how sweet it was and they all confirmed that the old woman’s scent was all around it.
“I can’t believe she’s behind it all,” Aubree said.
“A touch of magic,” Gwen agreed with a dreamy sigh.
Aubree hummed. “Maybe she’s reminiscing the days she was an elf now that her soulmate has passed?”
“Perhaps,” Stone agreed.
“It is possible.” Gunner nodded.
After circling the lake, they stopped by the car to grab the cooler and picnic supplies before heading out to the green space around the fountain and behind the rose garden.
Shielding her eyes from the sun, Aubree smiled as she looked up to the clear blue sky above.
“This spot good, Luna?” Alistair called twenty yards ahead of her. He pointed to the open green space with a little more space between other picnickers.
Her new heightened senses told her that the space recently opened up and that the family had a dog with them.
She grinned. “Sure.”
Gunner plopped the cooler down and Gwen and Gavin spread a large blanket out on the ground for all six of them to sit comfortably on.
They settled down and handed out the roast beef sandwiches Stone had prepared while Aubree trained with Gunner that morning.
It seemed as though he had been planning this for a few days, but never voiced it. Amora must have known as she had been eager to see them go.
Aubree smiled, remembering the last few weeks as she ate her sandwich.
She saw a different side of Stone in Amora’s presence. He was a touch shy at first until the silver-blonde-haired woman leaned against his back as he prepared coffee and rested her head on his shoulder. It was the gesture he needed to know that her feelings for him hadn’t changed.
Aubree had been delighted to hear stories of Stone as a puppy, getting himself into mischief and returning to the den covered head-to-toe in mud.
“He was always a good male, though,” she had said, giving him a little scratch behind the ear. “Always eager to please.”
Gunner snorted. “Perhaps for you, but he gave my mother a run for her patience.”
Stone’s palm met his face. “Don’t remind me of those embarrassing years.”
“Teenage rebellion,” Gunner stated, a crooked grin appearing.
“Do share,” Gwen prompted, grinning with her tongue peeking out between her teeth.
“He used to gut rabbits and leave their entrails spread across the den. The den was only used for sleeping, so Mamaw wasn’t pleased.”
Aubree scowled at him, but couldn’t help the smile that found itself on her face.
[What are you thinking about, Love?]
Looking beside her, Stone had finished his sandwich and was helping himself to a second in the cooler. She’d been staring off into space, chewing on the same bite for the last few minutes.
Shaking the memories from her head, she said, [Nothing. Just thinking about the last few weeks.]
[Anything in particular?]
[You and Amora. It’s nice... Seeing another side of you interacting with a parental figure.]
[It has been a long time since I last saw her,] he said.
[I hope she’ll stick around for a bit.]
[Perhaps for a bit. She likes to be on the go. The soul is restless after the loss of a mate.]
[Did you ever meet her mate?]
[No,] he said, [but rumor has it that I remind her of him, and that’s why she’s always taken to me, but also finds it painful to stay for long periods of time.]
Aubree hummed, her thoughts churning this information around.
[Come,] he said after she finished her sandwich and he finished his third. [Let’s take a gander at the late summer blossoms in the garden.]
She refrained from snorting at his choice of words as he rose to his feet and dusted his hands on his jeans. A tinge of anxiety—nervousness coupled with excitement—rippled between them when he reached down to help pull her up. He looked away from her questioning glances and led the way to the garden, hand-in-hand.