I pulled my hands through my long hair in anxiousness, they were shaking ever since I had seen Rhys transform in the barn. But that was in fear of the macabre scene of death. Now the adrenaline of being chased down like a fox on a hunt started to spike.
Breathe in and out, Kel.
I still had a few minutes, they were probably going to follow my trail. They were wolves, they would always be able to follow my trail. I had to get back to the house, maybe pass it off that they were smelling something old? It was true, I went for a walk in the nice weather. From across the hills somewhere, the sound of an engine of some type started up as well as a few more howls echoing over the vales.
I started to sprint back in the direction of the woods I suspected hid Iona’s house and the lane’s ending. Not daring to go through a dense wood in the dark, I skirted the tree line until I was halfway around and breathed relief when I saw the three story stone house of my grandmother over another little hillock. Glancing around, over the hills, the nearly full moon still hadn’t risen, and I was nearly blind to anything that didn’t have a light shining.
Much more slowly, I lightly jogged the remaining distance and felt the anxiousness leave my chest when I finally parted the end hedge and stepped onto the laneway, now mere meters from Iona’s front gate. My steps faltered.
Rhys’ dirt bike was leaning up against the fence.
Warily, I walked up to it to see the Were sitting in the dark on the front porch steps, his elbows on his knees and head in his hands. He was waiting for me.
I opened up the latch for the gate and stepped inside, closing it.
Without looking up from his feet he addressed me.
“What are you doing, Red?”
I took a few steps forward, foolishly feeling like a student that had been caught skipping a class period. There was no anger in Rhys’ voice, more like weariness. Like he was tired and had too many problems to deal with. I had just been discovered sneaking in, and he would catch my smell all around his shed later. Maybe the truth was better here, turning a blind eye and lying had never worked for me before. I cautiously answered, watching his reaction,
“I went for a walk since the sun came out, thought I could help with the lambs.”
He rubbed his face in his hands and I took a few steps closer to see it better, still wary of the Were who had just hung a man up and presumably tortured him for hours. Was he still changed into his wolf? His hands left his face, and our eyes met, his now stern and rebuking but 100% Rhys.
“How much did you see?”
I took a big exhale, confessing in a whisper and locking our eyes together,
He now stood and closed the distance between us, his dominating height forcing me to look up to him. His expression now concerned, his brow furrowed at the thought of me as a witness to his primal violence.
“It’s not what you think...”
My face registered surprise, how many ways were there to construe this?
“No? You literally didn’t dig your hand into a pleading man’s chest and claw his heart out?”
Rhys’ hands flashed out and violently grabbed my arms, dragging us closer together, almost shaking me. He gritted on an exhale.
“Do you know why I did that? For you, Red. Do you know what it means to be what you are in this place? You’ve got a target on your back.”
“You...that man was…”
Rhys quickly leaned down and kissed me to cut off my question. His breath was frantic and his hands circled my waist to lift me to his height. I at first braced my hands against his chest, shocked at the quickness of his actions, but then slowly the fight left me and the wolf was mysteriously silent.
His tongue invaded my mouth, his beard brushed against my face, and I smelled him everywhere. He took what he wanted in the kiss and I let him, surprised that such a vicious man could have soft lips and that our mouths would meld together so completely.
The adrenaline of being caught merged with the excitement of being held and taken by the man I just saw rip into another, for me. Strong arms tightened around my waist while my hands gripped his shoulders to anchor my body to his.
Mercy, Rhys Maddock knew how to kiss a woman. With heat and breadth.
Rhys felt my body respond and a hand came up to my face to grip it. Something smeared against my cheek from his palm and the smell of clotted blood filled my nose. He was unintentionally smearing my face in the blood of the man he just killed. My lips and tongue paused against his. I had lost my goddamn mind, letting myself be seduced by this wolf in an Adonis body.
I stilled myself, not participating in the kiss until Rhys noticed, and pulled himself away, setting me down. He continued to hold my face in his palm and he brought his forehead down to mine, trying to control his breathing.
“I knew you would be worth the wait.” He rasped and our breaths mingled while the metallic tang of blood still cloyed my nose like a desperate perfume. I stepped back from his embrace and he let me, his eyes narrowed at feeling me pull away.
“I’m sorry you saw it, but I’m not going to apologize for that Beta. If he had found you, he would have dragged you back to their pack and raped you until they had what they wanted. I would kill him again and will do it every time.”
A breeze blew through the yard and I wrapped my arms around myself for the small warmth and wiped my sleeve against my cheek, a dark stain coming off on the white sleeve. I blanched at the sight and wrapped my arms tighter, staring at my shoes, what the hell do I say to that? Thank you for murdering a naked hoisted man in the most horrific manner I had ever dreamed of? The silence lengthened and became awkward as we both stood there.
“Say something, Red.”
I finally met his eyes but my voice was unsteady.
“Honestly, I’m in some shock. I’ve never seen...that before. And then I heard the wolves, and I kind of went into flight mode.” His mouth pressed into a hard line as he pictured me observing his interrogation scene and then running across the hills in near dark. His voice now came out in a murmur, dredging up memories.
“I understand. I thought I left that part of me in the castle. Left it there with my father in the dregs and disease that fester in that place.” Rhys grabbed my hands and drew them up to his chest, sliding the edges of his shirt aside so they laid on his bare skin.
“But you’re important to me. I don’t want to explain it here and now, but you are. And if I have to pull that part out from the depths to keep you, I’ll gladly welcome it every now and then.”
His heart beat strong and unwavering underneath my hands, Rhys was confident that what he did was the right thing. He would do it again. Instead of catching a trespasser and sending them on their way, he would brutally and with conviction ravage anyone. He was a berserker waiting to happen and doing under the guise of my safety.
It was seductive and alarming at the same time. If Rhys could do that to another Were, finding out I was a witch would certainly earn me a place in that shed. I wasn’t under any illusions this man loved me, that his words were actually meant for Kelly Jones. He wanted the wolf and all it promised. Immortality through healthy descendants.
I gave a small smile acknowledging the lengths he would go to for me, and returned my arms around my own body, not encouraging a repeat of his kiss.
“I’ve done it again, haven’t I?”
I looked up, perking an eyebrow.
“Made a mess of things?”
I bit my lip in thought and smiled,
“Well, you’re never boring. There’s that.”
“You like boring, Red?”
I tilted my head.
“No, I guess no one would say they like boring, would they?”
“I’ve got tomorrow all set, we leave at ten. It won’t be boring, but it will be more normal. More the real me.” The man gave me a smile like I was in for a real treat. Once again, he closed the space between us, crowding me and I slightly stiffened at the motion. Rhys didn’t seem to notice and held my shoulders gently.
“It will be a fun first date. Promise.”
I gave a big exhale and forced myself to smile at the murderer who justified mutilating bodies and had no remorse about it. He leaned down and kissed my brow, and whispered good night in my ear before walking around me and back down the gate. I watched his tail light swiftly travel back down the lane to his home and walked up the steps.
From what I had seen tonight, Rhys Maddock was eerily like his father when the occasion called for it. Or maybe that was just him, and the appealing charismatic man was the facade. I was all for separating the two and not punishing the son for the sins of the father, but it didn’t look like Rhys was so innocent anymore. He was taking over the drug running, now using the same ultra-violence the Maddocks had become famous for. His saving grace was he was against human trafficking, and would hopefully kill the Maddocks income from it.
I touched my lips, still tingling with the pressure from Rhys’. I loved Will Achran, he was my mate, he had a good soul. He took care of his people with kindness and fairness. His ailing father was central to his life, and I would never think that he would act with anything close to the maliciousness I had just seen.
But hot damn, this Welsh Alpha knew his way around a woman’s body and was using it against me.
I sighed again and eyed the rising moon, a few days from full. I was in the calm before the storm, and I had no idea if I was headed into a hurricane or light summer rain. Turning back to the house, I wondered if I was going to have to kill Rhys Maddock, the man who set my body on fire, but my conscious afloat.
The harbor parking lot, a few hundred feet down from the Winchester, was surprisingly nearly empty when Rhys pulled into it. Right alongside the archway entrance was Aaron, smiling at our arrival and walking over to meet us.
“Hey! What are you doing here?”
Aaron smirked, looking over to Rhys, now coming around the truck.
“You didn’t tell her?”
Rhys gave a smirk,
“Of course not. It’s the first ‘normal’ date, it’s a surprise.”
I frowned at him, “You said we were going to a cutsie cafe? You know how long I have been without a coffee at Iona’s? Not one person born in the last thirty years has gone without coffee as long as I have and lived on just ‘tea’.
Aaron came up and gestured for me to follow him down the harbor’s pier. I followed him and Rhys trailed.
“Don’t worry, Yank. I’ve got an espresso machine on board, bought especially for the uncultured swine across the Atlantic.”
I stopped following,
“We are going on your boat?”
Rhys came up beside me and hung his arm around my shoulder. He didn’t seem to notice I tensed slightly at the contact, the memory that the hand now hovering near my arm had been in someone’s chest not 18 hours ago,
“For the next few hours at least. You’ve been in a coastal town built on fishing and you have yet to set foot on a boat. Very unnatural.” Rhys gave a mock frown.
I returned the grin, and let his shoulder stay draped over me, leading us down the plank, all the way to the end, where we stopped to watch Aaron walk across a gangplank on board. My eyes nearly bulged out of my head and I laughed,
“What. Is. This?!”
Aaron, looked up from the railing, where he was unhooking a rope.
“What, you’ve never seen a Catamaran?”
“Uh, yes. But no way you told me you have a ‘fancy’ boat. I mean, I was expecting something nicer than a fishing boat, but this!”
Rhys gently pushed me forward onto the plank and pointed at me where to sit on the main fuselage while he helped undock. The whole boat length was maybe 60 feet long and looked like something out of a Forbes magazine. How the hell could sweet Aaron afford something like this?
We sat on the top of the little cabin, and I suddenly regretted choosing the one corduroy skirt and white singlet top I had brought when I thought we were going cafe hopping on a bright sunny day. As if reading my mind, Rhys unshouldered his backpack and pulled out a zip up hoodie and handed it over.
“Women are so impractical.” He tsked with a grin. I shucked it on while together we sat back and watched Aaron navigate the boat out of the harbor and head south in the direction of the Celtic Sea.
After some time of lying back and enjoying the wind and sun washing over me, a cliff on the coast with an unusual peak came into view and I nudged Rhys for his attention.
“Haven’t I seen that before? In that book I was flipping through the other day?”
Rhys, also laying down on the top of the cabin, propped himself up to look before laying back down, closing his eyes.
“Cwymp Gwrach cliff,” he murmured.
I blinked a few times and looked to him,
“I swear, you tried to answer but just came out with incoherent sounds.”
Rhys smiled up to the sky and casually drawled out,
“Witch Fall Cliff. Back in old times, it’s where they used to bring witches and throw them off for execution.”
My eyes fell to the bottom of the tall drop. Large basalt stones were calmly sitting at the base, occasionally sprayed with the tide coming in and out. My throat clogged.
“Witches?” I asked, hoping that he didn’t notice the higher octave of my voice while I kept my eyes glued to the unforgiving stones that apparently served as an executioner for many of my kind.
Behind me, Rhys gave a chuckle.
“Don’t worry, Red. There haven’t been any covens in Wales for a hundred years or so. They gave up trying to settle here after they realized packs would never stop hunting them. Good riddance.”
My mouth unconsciously dropped open and I stuttered a reply,
“But...aren’t… I mean how would you even be able to get them over? Aren’t witches supposed to be, I don’t know… powerful?”
Rhys brazenly laughed in my face, before he sat up again to face me.
“Oh, you couldn’t throw one off while they were conscious. Or at least sober. But our granddas and ancestors were pretty crafty when it came to capturing them.”
My mouth clamped shut and must have had a look of shock on my face to which Rhys laughed again and rubbed my back, like he was trying to comfort me from bad thoughts.
“Again, Red, don’t worry over it, no one's seen a coven in Wales for a long time. They only exist in our books now.” And with that he laid back down.
I remained quiet and hugged my knees to my chest, never more aware that this man probably wouldn’t hesitate to kill me if he ever found out, Jolene’s warning of using magic suddenly ringing true. My eyes never left those stones, aware that there still must have been some serious power in them after all this time.
Aaron suddenly appeared with a tumbler of coffee, handing it over with a fake bow.
“For the Yank.”
“You sweet man,” I muttered before drinking it, Aaron sitting on the piloting bench in front of us. “So, where are we going today? Ireland, France, somewhere else I’ve never been?”
Rhys piped up, “Not so far, just a little island off the coast with its own grotto.”
Rhys nodded and gave that smile. The scar underneath contorted with his cheeks and his set of perfect teeth showed to the gum. He was beautiful, except now when I saw that smile, I couldn’t forget the image of it laced with canines.
I turned away from him and took in the passing coastline. We passed a few boats, but none recreational, and all were heading back up the channel. After an hour of Aaron explaining points of interest in the scenery, the island appeared and Aaron maneuvered it over the far side until it sat in a little cove that looked like it belonged on a tropical island. I leaned over the rail on the side, taking the scene in.
Rhys came up beside me,
“Right? Come on, off with your kit.”
I turned to him as he began to take off his shirt, his smooth chest now bared to me and my mind blanked for a moment.
“Say what now?”
Rhys looked up at me as he began to unbuckle his pants. Seeing my unbelieving face, he gave a dramatic and exasperated sigh and gestured around the boat,
“Red, this is literally the best secret place for swimming in the whole of the U.K. You are most certainly going in.”
I scoffed at him,
“Uh, certainly not. Disregarding the lack of swimsuit issue, it has to be bloody freezing.”
Rhys let his slacks drop to the floor, a pair of white briefs appearing, and smirked while I quickly looked away.
“Never took you for chicken.” He said behind me while I heard a splash from the water off to the side. Turning to lean over the railing, eventually his head popped up, to watch me still on the boat fully clothed.
“You can’t think that calling me chicken is going to work? What are you, eight?”
Rhys trod water and called up to me,
“Come on, Red, how else am I going to see you almost naked ... again?”
My mouth dropped open and he laughed heartily at my reaction. Aaron sided up on the rail next to me, a few towels in his hands,
“Go on, chicken. There is a cave over that way that will start glowing in about twenty minutes when the sun comes overhead. Trust me, it’s worth the slightly chilly water.”
Nodding over to the side of the grotto, there was a cave like opening in the rock that started on the small beach. I looked down to the water with Rhys now starting to slowly swim to the shallows.
“Okay, but have that towel on hand.” He gave a smile and a nod and I began to strip to my plain white bra and panties, hoping to hell that Aaron or Rhys failed to notice the frayed edges of the bra strap.
Diving into the water, my breath left me with the sudden coldness and I surfaced to see Rhys watching me, standing hip deep on the shore. His body had rivulets of water running down it and from my point, he looked sinfully naked.
I shook my head and had to remind myself that this man was dangerous, a killer, good intentions or not. Though I had also committed murder, we were not the same, I had killed those three men for self defense and to stop them hurting anyone else again.
Rhys did it because he could and wanted to send a message.
I would not let my hormones take over.
I began to breaststroke towards the shore, looking everywhere but the man. He waited for me until I finally began to walk up and held his hand out. I looked at it, okay, I could pretend for this. It was the first date after all in Rhys’ mind. I grabbed the offered hand and gave him a shy smile. I could still play into this.
Together, we walked the length of the short beach and to the little cave entrance, Rhys having to duck significantly to enter. After a few meters, the entrance opened up into a little grotto with a pool inside and a large hole up the top of it. A small underwater entrance could be seen, the water pushing in and out with the tide.
“Again, woah.” I muttered. Rhys let go of my hand and walked into the cave, swimming into the water while I moved over to a large outcropped rock and put my legs in the pool. Looking around and studying the formations of the cave, the smooth walls molded by years of tides and waves crashing in, it was evident, this place was old.
“I wonder if my dad ever came here,” I mumbled, more to myself than Rhys.
Rhys swam up to my rock and hoisted himself up, so his chest was above the water.
“Probably. Fishguard isn’t the closest pack, but this is kind of neutral territory. And it’s popular with tourists. Once we get into July, this place is packed.”
I nodded and continued to look, wondering what Ewan would have done here as a teen. Probably come on dates, lay on the sand with friends, do stupid stunts to impress one another. Universal teenager stuff, it was nice to think about him having some nice memories of this place before it all turned to shit.
“I never said I’m sorry, did I?”
I looked over to Rhys, “What did you do now?”
He grinned, and looked away from me,
“I’m sorry for what Deian did to your Da, how he felt he had to leave his home, his maim, his people.” Rhys paused in thought, and for a moment, he did look genuinely regretful. “I’m sorry he felt that he had to run away to have you.”
I shrugged, “Well, it’s way in the past now.”
He shook his head,
“I’m sorry he did it, but I’m also grateful to him. How can I be anything else when it resulted in you?”
We looked to each other now, the reflection of the water highlighting his face, his blue eyes looking unnatural.
“I know you feel...trapped. But all I’m asking for is a chance. I know I haven’t acted like one lately, but I’m a good man, and I’ll love you. You, Kelly Jones, not just the red wolf. If you still feel trapped after a time, I’ll...forget Ewan’s promise.” He saw my eyebrows perk up in surprise at the offer, ”Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to be playing as hard as I can to not let that happen. But if it’s what you really want, then yeah.”
I held my breath, he had inched too close with his near naked body, and in the chill of the cave, I shivered. He saw it and looked down my body and leaned in until his face was level with mine, and he breathed deeply as if he was out of breath.
”You know it’s going to be good between us, Red. You feel it right? Every time I’m near you I feel the air between us breathe and pulse, like your heart has left its body. Every time we’re close, your body goes haywire and I know it, cause mine does the same.”
Like he predicted, I had been holding my breath, staring adrift in those bright blue eyes. Behind him in the water, the sun slowly moved overhead and hit a part of the water, resulting in the entire cave lighting up with the reflection of the sunlight, almost glowing. The pool glowed a bright blue, and while I looked over the scene, Rhys stayed where he was, examining my face. I kept my eyes on the water, looking over the scene that was out of another time and place.
“The water…” I mumbled turning my attention back to him slowly, like I was in a dream, “its the same color as your eyes.”
He gave a warm smile and looked away, almost blushing at the compliment. After a moment, he glanced back up to find me still looking at him, when he started to lean in to touch our lips, but stopped suddenly, tipping his head to the side.
I held my breath and heard it too, Aaron was calling out from the boat. Although it was faint in my hearing, apparently Rhys could hear it well, because he suddenly swore and looked back at me.
“To be continued, huh?”
He pushed himself off the rock and into the water, swimming on his back towards the underwater entrance, a big smile on his face as if he had just won a prize at the fair. “Meet you back at the boat.” Rhys said before diving under the water and through the tunnel into the open water outside.
I took a long sigh of relief and raked my fingers through my long wet hair. Without thinking, I leaned forward and fell into the cold water, immediately losing any of the heat Rhys had generated in my body. I swam to the spot where sunshine was streaming down and floated, staring up into the sun.
Well then, apparently Rhys Maddock might actually be a good guy and had good intentions, at least where I was concerned.
I might actually be in trouble.
He said he cared about me, and not the heritage I could provide the Maddocks.
But protective to the point of violence was a sticky point that seemed to become less important by the hour. Soft Kelly actually found it down right endearing.
God fucking dammit.