The black farm truck pulled out of Wolf's Castle’s gravel lot and onto the main tar road. I pursed my lips at Rhys in the driver’s seat. “Are you sure I’m able to leave? Your dad seemed pretty insistent that first night.”
He gave me a quick grin aside,
“We both agreed that even after one day, you cause a little bit too much action around the castle.”
I smiled at the idea, giving a mischievous glance to myself.
“I did feel a little bit like a bull in a China shop. Just wanting to muss things up to see how they spin, you know?”
Rhys kept his grin and I saw a glimpse of the man I met that first morning, kind and flirty. Wondering where that Rhys had been for the last two days, I looked back to the road and sidled up closer to my pack.
“Uh, hey, do you have my phone and wallet, not to mention my passport?”
He frowned but kept his eyes on the road.
“Do you need them?”
“No, I guess not, but...”
“They are at my house.”
My mouth hesitated. I guess no, to the Maddocks, I didn’t need any of that. But if I was following my plan, then I would need them eventually. I decided that any more questions would be suspicious and let it go for now.
We sat in comfortable silence while he drove and I looked over the glistening green hills. After a twenty minute drive, Rhys turned off onto Iona’s road and drove past his house. I perked up in my seat.
“We’re going to stay at Iona’s?”
He nodded at my excitement and gave a slight smirk.
“She doesn’t have a car, no phone and I’m pretty sure she doesn’t own a TV. Much less action and definitely no China. You’ll be clawing the walls to get out.”
I confidently looked over to him.
“Never. Have you seen that garden? Like something out of my dreams. And that back yard leading to the hills and ocean? I could have set up camp on one of those little hills just to drink in the salt spray.”
Watching Lleuad Manor come into sight, I felt Rhys’ eyes on me at my admission, but he stayed quiet.
Pulling up the truck to the front gate behind a blue sedan, he shouldered my pack and we both exited. The front door opened and Omar stepped out, a grim look on his face as he scanned me with Rhys at my shoulder.
Placing a hand on my shoulder, he gave me a funicular smile, while a not so kind one to Rhys who shuffled on his feet awkwardly.
“Is she up?” I asked of the older man.
“And with visitors.” His face turned concerned. “She hasn’t been well, she is worried about you, obviously.” His eyes cast another dirty glance at Rhys.
Together we all moved inside, Rhys, heading up the grand staircase to the second floor with my pack. We watched him ascend and I turned to my grandmother’s companion.
“I’m okay. The situation is...strange. But I certainly don’t want Iona to feel worried, with her health and all.”
Omar said nothing but ushered us back into Iona’s sitting room. Another man was sitting with her and I immediately recognized him by the soft face and hazel eyes. Ewan's Beta and Aaron’s father, Samuel.
Facing me, his eyes immediately went to my face, and as with Iona the other day, he recognized me as the progeny of his best friend, long gone and buried.
He slowly walked over to me, around the couch where Iona was now watching. As if he was in a dream, his hands slowly came to cup my face, and I understood the emotion he was feeling. It was like his friend had returned and was to be revered in case he suddenly disappeared. Letting him give me the intimate gesture, I smiled and he broke down, pulling me into a hug to hide his tears.
After a moment, we moved to the couches and recounted the last few days, Iona instructing Omar to get some kind of salve for my still slightly swollen cheek. Rhys eventually walked into the room and looked to everyone, uncomfortable. The elders of the room gave him a cold glare, clearly, there was no love lost in this situation.
“Iona, I put Kelly’s stuff in the second bedroom and mine at the end of the hall. Right now though, I have to do some farm chores down the road for a few hours, walk me out, Red?” I patted Iona’s hand and walked to follow Rhys to the front door. He spun in its entrance, looking back to the sitting room with the others.
“I guess they kind of hate me at the moment.”
I paused and raised my eyebrows in surprise. Was he actually worried what the two elders thought? It seemed a bit late for that train.
“Well, you walked in with their granddaughter, the sole hope for the Jones’ future, with a swollen cheek, and have ‘claimed’ her for your own without even asking her. No, they definitely hate you.”
I was playing into this role, but yeah, in truth, how did he expect this to pan out? We are all friends and I accept my role as an unwilling wife and mother? He grimaced at my honesty and probably at his own new position as captor, but continued on,
“There are going to be two friends of mine staying around the outer yards when I’m not here.”
“Guards? You’re actually putting guards around here to make sure I don’t run away?” Phrasing the question as if he was actually serious. “I wouldn’t worry, the threat you made against Iona the other night was very clear.” Venom penetrated my voice, threatening Iona was not a way to my heart. Looked like asshole Rhys was making his return.
For his part, Rhys looked to his feet and rubbed the back of his neck.
“I regret saying that, I think very much of her and we were actually kind of close at one time. But if I didn’t say it at the time, my father would have. Having these guys out there is best for everyone.” He saw my unimpressed expression and got frustrated, planting his hands on his hips and furrowing his brow in defense.
“Look, you’re new to our culture okay? Being a daughter to a long lost Alpha and the red wolf is kind of a big thing around here. And just showing up out of the blue is also a super big thing, so yeah, you won’t see them, but my guys are going to be around for everyone’s safety, okay?”
Keeping my stoic expression, Rhys looked down to his feet again before shaking his head muttering, “Fine. Look, I have some ewe’s probably giving birth today sometime, so I may or may not be back after dinner tonight.”
He took a step forward and I abruptly found myself breathing in his musk and having a mind blank. He was doing it again, confounding my brain by overwhelming my bodily senses. Giving me a knowing devilish grin, he grabbed the door handle next to my hip and closed it behind him.
Taking a deep exhale and thinking of all the ways I had to avoid being alone with that man again, I walked back into the sitting room where Iona and Samuel were in quiet discussion. With Omar in the kitchen making lunch for the group, I sat next to my grandmother, who grasped my hands together earnestly.
“Kelly, we are getting you out of here.”
I stilled at the confession, my eyes darting over to Samuel, who looked just as serious.
Her eyes leaped to Samuel to fill in,
“I think I know how, but it won’t be easy since your arrival has been made known to every member of the Maddock pack, and the surrounding packs are now hearing it from what I’m told. I think we can travel by…”
I held my hands up between them to slow them down,
“Whoa, hold the phone. Why would surrounding packs even care that Ewan Jones’ daughter returned? I mean it was a promise between him and the Maddocks, right?”
Samuel leaned back on the sofa,
“Iona…” he chided the woman and she squeezed her eyes shut.
“I know, it just wasn’t the right time that first day.”
Iona placed her hands over mine and opened her mouth, before quickly shutting it. She frowned in thought before trying again.
“The Jones Weres, Kelly, are the oldest in Wales, did you know that?” I shook my head, though vaguely remembered Arawn telling me that somewhere.
“Well, they are, you can trace our lineage for nearly a hundred generations and the first Were was rumored to be a Welsh Jones. There are Celtic legends of 'Sons of', which translates to 'Jones'.”
I looked between her and Samuel, “Okay, so the Jones’ have a reputation of being the first, and I guess everyone would want that reputation in their pack, right?”
Iona smiled, “Exactly, but there is a reason for why the Jones’ have prospered so well and it’s to do with the wolf, actually, it’s to do with the mutation of your red hair.”
My eyebrows peaked. The red hair mutation? Every bio student knew that red hair wasn’t actually natural, rather it was a mutation in a specific gene from long ago that was very potent at keeping alive in descendants. But in a Were? Iona continued,
“The Jones Weres were known as the ‘red wolf’; the unusual color, big, graceful, lithe, but most of all known for the ability to keep the two sides separate. Always, even in old age.”
She paused, expecting a look of revelation in my face, when none came, she looked to Samuel for help.
“Kelly, did you know that up to twenty percent of Weres get Alzheimer’s or dementia in some form? In fact, the more often they shift, the more likely it is.” Remembering Will’s father I didn’t know it was common, but I nodded my head anyway.
“Well anyone with the red wolf won’t. Ever. Something with the mutation keeps the mental facilities of the two intact, not blended when they shift too much. A Were could shift as much as they wanted to and never fear losing themselves.”
I shook my head.
“No, that can’t be right? There were a few times my dad went a little loopy around the full moon, and I have started to feel it, ancy for the three days.”
Samuel shook his head. “Iona told me, your father was ignoring his natural state of being. Just like you are. That was just his wolf trying to talk some sense into him every now and then.”
I leaned back, now understanding why the daughter of a Jones would be such a boon, why the Maddocks would leap at the chance. Not only could you say you were with an original, but you could ensure your bloodline wouldn’t suffer the effects of changing too much. Your children and descendants would be healthy and strong for presumably their whole lives. And from what I could tell, wolves were all about securing strong bloodlines. No amount of money could buy good genes.
I took a long sigh, looking down at my body, now apparently holding a gold plated womb. Who knew? Well, apparently every Were in Wales, except for clueless Kelly Jones, no longer just acting the part of naive daughter. From their expressions, Iona and Samuel knew that I now understood.
“Don’t worry, darling. Samuel knows people across the strait who can mask your trail,” she turned to him, “do you think you can trust Aaron to get her across? He is set to be Rhys’ Beta soon.”
My mind, still working through the red wolf epiphany, now came back to what my grandmother was saying. Shit. These two good samaritans wanted to help me escape and unknowingly destroy my own hidden plans.
Omar rattled some plates in the kitchen and I stood from the couch, making excuses for some water to join him.
“Omar, Iona would like some tea, but would you join us in there? I feel like you more family than I and should probably be involved in this planning.”
He gave a warm smile and nodded over to the teapot and the canisters of tea leaves.
“That’s kind of you, Kelly. Truth be told, your mother and I have lived together for so long, I couldn’t imagine what life would be like anywhere else.”
I flipped the electric kettle on and watched while he finished the petite sandwiches.
“I’m glad she has had you for so long, through all of this.”
He put the plates on a tray and moved to the door, nodding to the tea.
“Chamomile is her favorite.”
He left for the sitting area and I spooned out the leaves into a sieve before pouring hot water into the pot.
Rummaging around in a drawer for a minute, I found a barbecue skewer and quickly pricked my pinkie finger, squeezing a few drops into the pot and watching it quickly dissolve before muttering the few words for the suggestion incantation under my breath.
Finding some cups and a tray, I placed everything down in front of the group, still discussing crossing the strait to Ireland and logistics. Without asking, I poured a cup for all of them and passed it to each, while they took it absentmindedly.
After a few minutes, seeing that everyone had taken a few sips, and had now moved onto discussing moving up through Ireland to the North, I spoke,
“Guys, I don’t want you to worry about making any more plans.”
Iona tilted her head to me, “What do you mean, darling?”
I almost teared up at the endearment, given while I was manipulating the sweet woman,
“I mean, I want to stay here.” The three of them were now staring in confusion, but paused and were willing to hear me out. I threw a decisive tone, making it clear this was the way we were going to go.
“I don’t want you to worry or get yourself worked up about this anymore, understand? Everything is going to be fine. We aren’t going to do any more planning for me to escape, okay?”
I held my breath for a few moments, mostly watching Iona for her reaction. She let out a huff, as if that was the darndest thing she ever heard, and sat back into the deep plush couch, resigned. I looked to the others, hoping to see the same.
Samuel spread his hands in front of him,
“If you’re sure, Kelly?”
Now a little more relaxed I clapped my hands over Samuel’s.
“Absolutely, it’s all going to work out, Now, what I really would like to hear is Ewan and Samuel’s biggest hijinks, if you don’t mind?”
Samuel laughed and leaned in to tell me all of it.
I rolled in bed, waking up from another dream. Another sex dream that left me hot but then terrified when it replaced my mate with another fiery incubus. Whatever the wolf inside was aiming for, it was clear she was pissed at me. A noise from the door halted me, and I propped up on an elbow. There was Rhys, standing in the hallway in a long robe, holding a glass of water. He considered me in bed for a long moment, before walking in and closing the door behind him.
He hadn’t returned for dinner and I had spent an enjoyable time with my family and extended family considering the circumstances. I had even nearly forgotten the man who could unnerve me just by standing close. Now he was in my bedroom, and we were once again alone. He stared me down from the door, leaning against it.
“Two times in two nights. I’m starting to get a little jealous of this Will.”
I sat up and pulled my hands through my hair, exasperated, and tired.
“I don’t know what you want me to say. I can’t stop my brain from having dreams, and actually they are more like nightmares at this point.”
Coming to my bedside, he studied me from above and placed his water on my nightstand before slowly removing his robe and letting it drop. He watched me for a reaction and I was suddenly thankful for the darkness.
“I could make you forget him, cariad.”
I remained still but allowed my eyes to lazily wander down his bare chest, to the low slung fleece bottoms. The V of his lower abs drew my gaze down to whatever was waiting below and I was suddenly nervous about the state of my thin pajama camisole. He noticed my gaze and slowly lifted his hand to my bare shoulder, trailing his fingers down my naked arm, caressing it.
My breath stopped and I unconsciously leaned my head back with closed eyes, reveling in the sensation of another’s touch that I hadn’t felt in an age.
Encouraged, Rhys leaned on the bed, closer to my body, while his hand came back up to wander over my breast in my singlet top. Through closed eyes, I felt his other hand come up behind my ear and gently clasp the back of my head. Soft lips pressed against my unbruised cheek and he whispered against it,
“I had given up on you ever coming back, Red,” and the slow kisses began to move towards my mouth.
Something in my psyche reared up and growled at the intimacy of his words and their actions, and I stilled. What the hell was that? Another touch of his lips above my brow and I flinched against it. He pulled away with a long exhale, confusion in his face. Pressing my hands up against his bare chest, feeling his strong heart, I slowly said,
“That’s a very nice offer, but I’m not...there yet.”
He sighed and the warm breath blew on my cheek. Leaning back up, he picked his robe back off from the floor and pulled it back on.
“When you’re ready then,” he muttered with resignation and turned to leave the room, closing the door with finality.