Eggs, sausage, and… baked beans. An English breakfast was somewhere close.
A hand gently touched my cheek but was gone after a moment and I tried to clear the fog from my brain.
Oh man, I was hungry. I opened my eyes to a plate of food, heat still wafting up from it, and a cup of coffee next to it on a bedside table I didn’t recognize.
I sat up in the bed and propped myself up against the headrest, when my brain and body protested against the sudden movement. Holy shit, my head was pounding and it felt like I didn’t have a muscle that wasn’t aching. I was certainly not in my bed at Iona’s. This was a king sized bed, and looking over the room, it howled bachelor. Dark sheets, leather armchair, dresser with little clutter. I looked down my body and noticed I was even wearing an oversized men’s shirt with a local rugby team logo and nothing else.
On the other side of the mattress, the sheets had been ruffled but were now empty. Someone had slept with me in here and by the smell, it was Rhys.
The open doorway across the room showed the hallway of his house I was familiar with, and some distant sounds of breakfast being cleared echoed down it. I sipped the coffee and tried to clear my head. I felt like there was too much in there. Like I had just crammed for a test and my brain was holding onto too much. Another few sips of the coffee and the pain haze in my head eased and I stretched and took stock.
Different but the same. For all the achiness I felt, I still felt strong. I had always been a runner, but this new strength was more...everywhere. Deeper, innate. Iona was right, I had been missing something and I didn’t even know it. It was returned last night.
The front door closed quietly and I heard Rhys’ voice speaking low, surprised that I could now hear every word clearly. He had gone outside to take a call and I listened in from my spot on the bed.
“Ya, just start loading them in, though make sure they have plenty of water and other shit, those holds get cold and we might be running late…. I don’t care how Deian fuckin did it. I’ll be riding second boat with them to make sure there’s no fuckin with them, alright?” A few more tense moments of pause and I realized what he was speaking of and what was happening today. The clock on the wall said it was 3:30 pm, the boats for their drug shipment would be leaving soon.
“Do the other products in three loads and put them in the back boats. The rest of the fleet will go out with us and will do some trawling, just in case the Heddlu sniff around in their boats.” Another few grunts from Rhys and it sounded like he ended the call and returned inside.
My ire rose as I remembered the abhorrentness of the man, and an anger I hadn’t felt yet seeped into my bones and I clenched the bedsheets. This fucking piece of shit.
Acting saccharine and kind, telling me he wasn’t ‘okay’ with peddling humans, implying it would stop soon. But when more money gets thrown at him, he picks it up like a cigarette butt of the ground. I swallowed the lump in my throat and squeezed my eyes shut against the rush of rage in my chest, the lamp next to the bed flared to light. I had never felt so consumed with it in my life, even on the night of the commune massacre. This was new, was this coming from the wolf or me?
My thoughts were interrupted by Rhys coming to the doorway and I glanced at the lamp to see it now off.
A growl suddenly sounded in my head at the sight of him and I pressed my hand to my temple in pain,
“Arghhhh!” I exclaimed.
He was suddenly on the bed next to me, his face concerned.
“What’s going on?”
Still gripping my head, I focused to try and answer that question myself, a distant voice sounding,
I stilled at the errant thought that wasn’t mine. Holy shit. My wolf was now chiming in vocally. Distant but still clear. And she did not like Rhys. Flashes of memory from last night started to dawn on me. Rhys being the first face she saw, Vince, trees and brush racing past her strong lope, a deer struggling for life, then the dark brown wolf with two scars trying it on.
He was still sitting on the bed, still looking at me and I answered cautiously.
“I got a new roommate.”
Rhys’ mouth opened in understanding, “Ahhhh, yes. Angry one she is.”
Unconsciously, my hand grabbed my neck, concerned with what I would find after last night. But there was nothing there, and I just as quickly removed it. Rhys smiled at the action, knowing what was running through my head.
"I guess he didn't think it was fair to best an unconscious wolf."
I kept still for a moment, taming the little fury I still had at his advances and the new headache she brought to the table before giving him a fake grin.
“I don’t think she likes you much.”
He shrugged nonchalantly,
“I’m not worried. It was her first night out, and like I said before, worth the wait.” Rhys turned his face to me, and a new pink scar, eerily similar to the first one was now on his other cheek. I gestured to it,
He leaned back on his hands and gave a full smile at his memories,
“Holy Christ, understatement of the year. Deaths, challenges, blood frenzy, and a low lightning storm. A fucking riot. A night our pack will remember for a long time.”
Rhys frowned and rubbed his head over his scalp, thinking on how to word whatever bombshell he wanted to drop.
“I...you don’t have to worry about Deian Maddock any more.”
The coffee cup stilled on my lips.
Continuing to scratch his head, he gave a sly smirk,
“Well, you kind of stirred up everyone after tearing up that meat bag, and I might’ve challenged my Da after he looked at you the wrong way…” He sheepishly looked across to me, acting as if he was a toddler who just admitted to drawing on the walls. Adrenaline started up inside and I sat up straighter,
“You...killed your dad?”
He laughed up to the ceiling,
“Oh god, I feel…” he looked back down to me in earnest, “..I feel like I lopped off thirty years of dead weight.”
My heart started to pound with excitement. Did Rhys really just do half of my job for me? Old Alpha Deian had a look of craziness about him and was always surrounded by Weres who could have subbed in for a biker gang. But Rhys doing it? I was totally cool with not trying to kill the father that took the life away from mine. Rhys heard my heart startup, and misunderstanding its reason, he reached out to hold my hands around my coffee cup.
“Hey, I would never hurt you. Even when your wolf is making life hard in the middle of a lightning storm.”
I gave him a smirk that didn’t reach my eyes and studied him for a moment longer before he looked around the bed and patted his pockets, making sure he had everything before standing up.
“Listen, I have to do some work right now, but I’ll be back later tonight. You’ll probably still be wrecked, so I’ll pick up some pizza on the way home.”
For a second, the casual domesticity of the sentence threw me for a loop. How normal and lovely that sounded. My ‘guy’ telling me to take it easy while he goes to work and will grab some takeout for us. Regardless of the warm fuzzies it gave me, the new Were version of me felt like calling him out on this line of bullshit.
“Work...like drug running?”
Rhys paused by the bed, his face a little shell shocked.
“Drug running, human trafficking, providing guns, that sort of work?” I added with a little sarcasm to his expression that was slowly morphing to something else. Staring up at him and daring him to rebuke it, Rhys’ face turned to stone and was eerily like his father’s.
“Yes, that sort of work,” he simply stated, a little angry at my challenge.
I shook my head, but at myself. This was not the time to fight with this man. In fact, I should be grateful, this Welsh version of American Psycho just did me a favor by taking out his old man. Plus, I now needed him out and on that second boat.
“I’m sorry, Rhys. It’s just... you know it seems kind of dangerous? I know you said it brings in a ton of money, but is it worth your life?”
Did that sound worried enough? Did I play the concerned girlfriend to satisfaction? To my relief, the stone face was replaced with a warm smile. It seemed like I cared about him, was worried about him, he understood that much and leaned down to brush some hair behind my ear and cup my face with his rough hand.
“Don’t worry, cariad. I’m always careful on the boats and know my way around the water.”
He stood up again and shucked on a bright orange slicker from the floor, typical of the blue version fishermen wore down at the wharf. Giving a sigh down to me, “Well, lay in bed for the rest of the day, and don’t worry about me, yeah? I’ve got no TV, but lots of novels in the living room if you’re bored. I’ll be back later tonight and we can...talk, or whatever you’re up for.” He gave his now trademark grin, and the new scar on his cheek gave his face symmetry that only added to his allure. This would be the last time I would see that face. For all the bad things Rhys had done and planned on continuing to do, I could admit, I was definitely going to miss that seductive grin.
From my spot on the bed, I gently grabbed his hand and pulled it down to me, leaning my head up for a kiss. He smiled and was suddenly shy but still brought his lips to mine. I grabbed his chin and poured all the sexual frustration I had ever felt for the man into this kiss. My tongue lathered his, my teeth bit his lower lip, I moaned into the hollow of his mouth, my hands lightly tugged at his hair and scraped nails across his scalp. The new wolf inside rumbled her disapproval but gave no more protest. Rhys accepted everything and met it with equal passion, kneeling onto the bed to bring us closer. When I finally broke us apart, his eyes were closed and his face dreamy as he breathed heavy.
“You do this now? Red, do you know how long I’ve been waiting for that?”
I gave a small, pitying smile,
“Just a goodbye kiss.”
He stood up and gave a reproving glare and shook his head in mirth.
“Can’t wait to see what the welcome home is like.”
I stayed silent but kept the coy smile and looked him over one last time. He shuffled back to the door, keeping his eyes on mine and a smile on his face.
“Be home soon.”
And with that, I heard the front door open, followed by his truck pulling out of the yard. No, Rhys, you won’t.
Looking to the food he had left, I quickly ate, then looked around the room. 4 pm. I didn’t have to catch them going out from the channel, as long as I caught them coming back. That gave me...what... an hour, maybe a little more?
After using the bathroom, I thought about the next predicament. I couldn’t leave the house in his shirt, there had to be something else to wear and I began to scour and found the solution immediately.
In the tall dresser, on the right hand side was the green silk dress Rhys had bought, hanging alone. I studied it for a moment, still clean, and still beautiful. It was perfect, a perfect dress for a fitting ending and I threw it on, then raced through the house to the mudroom and found the pair of boots that now had my name on them.
The shed was still bare. No lambs, no hay stacks, and only a splatter of blood on the floor. It served as a stark reminder for why I was rushing across fields in a fragile dress with no underwear on. These were not good people.
For everything that had been cleared out, the two dirt bikes were still in the corner and I pulled one out into the overcast afternoon. A wolf appeared around the corner of the house at the sound of the engine starting up and I swore to myself. Rhys did it again.
Tried to talk me into thoughts of normalcy and romance, pizza, even! Yet he left guards outside the house. Not even in the area, right outside the house. I ignored the beast and guided the bike out onto the lane and drove down to Iona’s, quickly glancing back to see now two wolves following me at a trot, keeping their distance.
Coming to a halt at Iona’s front gate, I leaned the bike against her fence, and stared at the wolves for another quick moment where they had stopped across the road. Not now, I decided. They weren’t going anywhere.
Leaving the pair outside, Omar opened the door before I even made it onto the steps. The Arab had a look of relief and I mirrored it. He clamped a hand on my shoulder and closed the door.
“I heard she was beautiful and did the Jones name proud.”
I gave a little shrug paired with a playful grin.
“I don’t remember much at the moment, but I do remember eating that man’s eye.”
He gave me a curious stare, almost as if he never would have expected me to take a delight in such a perverse detail, but I quickly dismissed it.
“Where is she?”
Nodding up to the second floor,
“In her bedroom, having a rest, but I believe she is awake.”
Clasping him around the shoulders, I pulled him in for a hug. At first a little stiff, he finally relaxed into the gesture and his hands came around my waist in exchange. I pulled away,
“I’m glad she has you. Please take good care of her.”
A frown came over his features and before he asked anything more, I hitched up my dress and raced up the stairs two at a time. Passing my borrowed room, I stopped for a moment. Was there anything I didn’t want to leave behind? Clothes, shoes, toiletries. Nothing I couldn’t live without. The passport and wallet I once fretted about were easily replaced with some constructive magic I now realized. Looking around the room once more, I pulled on a new pair of underwear for comfort and generously spritzed myself with Franny’s lavender perfume, which was now nearly overwhelming to my new delicate nose.
Iona was in her bedroom, resting in a love seat by a bay window that held a large vase full of roses from her garden. A book in hand, she looked up at me and placed a heart over her hand with a dramatic sigh and a delighted smile.
“Well! Walks of shame have never looked so Vogue. Silk with gum boots!”
I smiled at her reference to the dress and boots, but sat down next to her, and solemnly clasped her hands. My loose hair hung over half of my face, and I suddenly felt like I wanted to hide behind all of it. Tears unexpectedly welled in my eyes as I realized that this might be the last time my new family looked at me with love. Once I told Iona what I was, I might be shunned, discarded, and denounced.
Now a little concerned at my silence, she clasped my hands tighter,
“Kelly, I was only joking, of course. Rhys drove down this morning to tell me where you were and what happened. I was so proud last night, she looked exactly like Devon’s, poetry. How do you feel?”
I blinked through the tears, thankful for a little delay
“Good, a little...different. Definitely can hear and smell better. Maybe even, I don’t know, braver? Does that make sense? I mean, I never really had a filter on my thoughts before, but now, I seem to just want to say whatever I feel, and I feel a lot...more.”
Iona nodded sagely, “Yes, any wolf not emerging for so long must have a lot of pent up...emotions I guess. They’ll seem to blend with yours most times, just don’t let her run all over you, understand?”
Oh yes, she was already having a substantial impact on me, but that wasn’t why I was here. I squared up to Iona, brushing my hair aside.
“I know. Iona, I need to tell you something… about me and my family in America. “
She put her book on the window bench and faced me with her full attention.
My mouth dried up and I gaped at her for a few seconds.
“You see, my mother’s family, they were…”
“Witches?” Iona calmly interjected.
I paused and my jaw dropped, I spluttered trying to find an answer when from beside her loveseat, Iona pulled out the e-reader I had a habit of leaving around since it was clear my grandmother preferred books.
“I must admit ‘Necrosis magic’ sounds like something that would belong in the garden, but I don’t think I’m reading it correctly.”
She handed the e-reader back over to me with a gentle grin and I took it, still holding the dumbfounded expression on my face.
“I...I wanted to tell you. But...I know how witches are…” Iona cut me off mid sentence.
I closed my stuttering mouth and looked up to her confident gaze,
“You are my granddaughter. A Jones. That’s all I care about.”
I bowed my head, and let a few tears escape. Relieved, I finally looked up to her and smiled. On the wall next to us, the clock chimed 4:30 and I was suddenly reminded I was on the clock. I had shit to do, but Iona still deserved warning.
“Iona, do you know what they do with the Jones’ business, the boats?”
My grandmother straightened up with the sudden change of subject, turned away from me, and picked up her tea cup, taking a sip.
“Yes. Whispers have reached even my ears about the drugs.”
“Do you know they also accept kidnapped girls, hold them and beat them in the castle until they are transported to god knows where?”
The tea cup paused on her lips, before she took another sip. Her usually wise face seeming a little lost.
“No, I did not know that part.”
I grabbed her cup and put it down, taking her hands in mine to try and express how serious I was.
“He isn’t a good man, Iona. I’ve seen him, the real him.”
Her eyes grew sad and face worried, she knew who I was speaking of and almost pleaded for him,
“He could be, Kelly. He was getting there.”
I shook my head and my mind flashed to the half man half wolf that buried his hand into another’s chest to make a point, the murderous expression when he thought I was with someone else, his threat to kill innocent girls if a deal went bad.
“No, Nain. I don’t think so. He hides it well but the other Rhys that comes out… it’s dark.”
Realizing that maybe I was right, her eyes welled and she reluctantly nodded her head.
“That bastard did a number on him. It isn’t his fault.”
I squeezed her hands once more,
“Everything has got to go, Iona. I’m not sure what the fallout will be against you. How many there will be left for it even, but I can’t let it go on when I can do something to stop it.”
Her eyes widened at my conviction.
“Can you...do that much?”
I gave her a smile and picked a rose out of the vase next to her and placed my hand on her chest. Focusing on the rose and the energy that was buzzing inside it, I mimicked the skill my mother had shown me all those weeks ago, that I had practiced every chance I had when I wasn’t watched. I still needed to close my eyes for focus, but heard Iona gasp as I transferred the energy out of the flower, and straight to Iona’s soft beating heart.
Opening my eyes, Iona’s hand was now over mine. She felt it, the little bit of energy new to her body and cardiovascular system. Better than steroids. I smiled at her, knowingly.
“You found my textbook, and I’ve been cramming.”
She huffed out a few breaths, out of breath after the sudden energy and adrenaline, and gave a smile I hadn’t yet seen. Showing a little youth from a time long ago.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back. But I promise I will one day when things are...quieter.”
Iona understood the goodbye I was saying and leaned in to grasp me tightly, her Welsh shining through.
“I love you, gal.”
I squeezed her arms and returned the sentiment, “and I love you.”
After a moment embraced, she leaned back.
“Now, what else do you need?”
I stood up from the couch, and swept my hair back behind my shoulder.
“Just directions to Cwymp Gwrach Cliff.”