Iona’s eyes had a few more escaped tears before she wiped them away and laughed heartily into her hands. She reached out for me with them and I clasped them with my own. They were deeply wrinkled and frail looking, but her grasp was strong as if she had found new life to cling to. Pulling me close I sat on the couch, her mouth still agape and eyes wet, I mimicked her happiness with my own and we both laughed for a minute. The older man seemed to have left us to our reunion, or meeting, and after a few moments, our laughter died and a new worry came onto Iona’s face.
“Are you here alone or…” I squeezed her hand in understanding, emotion threatening to constrict my throat.
“No, ...Ewan and my mother died in a house fire about fourteen years ago now.”
She looked down at our joined hands and took a few moments with her eyes squeezed shut, trying to not break down. I looked to her, feeling slightly awkward. This was new territory, the only elderly person I had ever spent much time around was Gran, and she did not let any emotion past on a daily basis that did not show her to be a towering and strong pillar of our Coven.
I quickly decided that seeing an elderly person cry was the most gut wrenching thing I could ever experience and I would try to never allow myself to be the cause. Letting Iona have her moment of mourning for her dead son, she returned her gaze to my face and gave a small smile.
“I’m sorry, Iona.”
“I once got a letter from him. It just appeared under my door one day, like it was hand delivered. It said that he wanted to come home, he had a little family and would be bringing them back. I had such hope...then nothing ever came of it.” I nodded, remembering the letter Jolene sent. The wistful look in her eyes left and they focused on our hands again.
“Well, you’re here now. Tell me all about yourself. How did you find us here?”
The older man, at this point, returned carrying a tray with three glasses of champagne.
“What a lovely idea, Omar! Thank you.”
Together, we both took a glass and chinked for a sip.
“Only one for you today though. But it seems like a celebratory occasion,” he said with mirth and took himself and his flute into the kitchen off to the back of the room.
“Is he… your…?” I asked, having no idea how to finish the question.
Iona looked to Omar’s retreating back.
“He is my friend first off, and he also takes care of me when I can’t. Devon, your grandfather saved his life many years ago, and he insisted he stay. So, it’s just us here.”
I raised my eyebrows at the news that I was named after my grandfather, understanding why Mike's memory was peaked, and that the original Devon was in the business of saving lives. Iona continued,
“So, you were telling me about yourself...”
I took a deep breath, I was prepared for this, the cover story. I didn’t want to lie to my new grandmother, but keeping most of the truth from her would keep both of us safe, or at least safer. I let out a long breath, calming my nerves.
“Yes, a few months ago, I kind of had a little mini-breakdown...of sorts.” Iona eyed me curiously, and I finished, “...I got dumped.” Her face reacted knowingly. “And...something crazy happened inside my brain, it was...indescribable...Then, the next full moon, I got sick, felt like I was sweating out of my skin, then the next month, the same thing happened except wilder…” At this, the other woman sat back into her seat and let out a long exhale.
“Ahhh, I see.”
“I had a relative who knew what Ewan was, since she was with my parents when they met. And I did some digging of my own, and…” I gave a shrug, seeming nonchalant about it, “I think I know everything, but there is still a lot missing. I mean, I didn’t even know he still had any family left.”
Iona’s hands left mine, and I downed the rest of my drink.
“Well, what would you like to know?”
I thought it over, here was the one person for all my questions. But I suddenly remembered a day spent with Will’s father, where the answers’ painful memories provided were not worth the anguish they caused. Who knew how long I had with Iona, how many times I would meet with her before I couldn’t?
“What was my dad like when he was a kid?”
A smile grew over her face, and she started to recall all the mischief Ewan Jones got up to when he was a child, then into his teens. Apparently the woods I had spied before was actually the perfect place to hide from parents. Ewan had been popular, not just because of his status as the future Alpha, but also cause of his personality.
He was a giver. A giver of friendship, food, jobs, and much more. He had liked rugby, dirt bikes from an early age, and swimming in the cold Welsh ocean. When he was eighteen, he helped run the fishing business with his father, turning it profitable and a good source of income for the town.
Talk turned to myself and my own childhood, and teens in Washington. Iona grasped my hands when we came to the house fire, but smiled when I told her that I actually became a Doctor of Earth Sciences a few months ago. I described my hopes for the future and a career that was probably no longer possible, but she seemed too happy in the idea that I still plotted them out as if they were going to happen. Omar brought out another glass of champagne for me, which turned to another until I eventually looked at my watch to see it was past lunchtime.
Iona seemed strong for her age, but once or twice I noticed her eyelids taking a moment longer to blink than normal, or she sat back into the couch and rested for a pause too long. Omar had returned to the room and sat in a far corner next to the window, seeming to read a book, but I had seen him chuckle once or twice at one of my memorable childhood memories.
After describing the scene where my Aunt Francis had to send a search party for me when I took too long in the woods one night, Iona had a brief laugh and then fell back into the seat like she was stunned. She was overwhelmed, I had certainly talked the lady’s ear off enough for one day. Omar was by her side in a second, and held the mask over her nose. I looked at him sheepishly.
“Sorry, I think that is enough for one day, huh?”
He gave me a smirk, “It was a good overdone. Better to be too happy then lonely.”
After a few breaths, Iona seemed to recover, enough to push Omar’s hand away. I stood up and away from the couch.
“Well, I think that is a good place to stop for the day. I would like to come back tomorrow if that is okay?”
Iona suddenly pushed the mask off her face and sat up, all signs of weariness now gone.
“What do you mean? You didn’t come straight here?” She looked to Omar, who was now staring hard at me like I was in the wrong. “She didn’t bring any bags?” I dutifully acted confused.
“No, I stayed in the town last night, at the pub. I didn’t actually know where your house was.”
The two older people stared at me with open mouths for a second, like they didn’t have the words and were filling the gaps with silence. Of course they didn’t want to start this conversation of the promise my father had made over thirty years ago. We had just met each other, I would think she was mad if she brought it up now. Iona broke her haze first,
“Did you speak to anyone since you arrived?”
I gave a thoughtful expression over her question, guessing I couldn’t lie about this.
“Well, the hotel, slash, barkeeper, for the hotel and directions here. But no, no others.” Omar gave her an eye roll.
“Oh, and there was the farmer up the road, I took a right at the fork and he was there with perfect timing to gloat.”
Both of their eyebrows shot up, and the Iona slumped back into her seat, replacing the oxygen mask, muttering “Lord Mary” into it.
Pretending to play it stupid was best here, if I showed more than that, there would be the inevitable questions.
“Well, I’m sorry again, Iona, for taking up so much of your time today, maybe tomorrow, just Kelly’s years 21 to 25, huh?”
She took the mask off and worryingly, still seemed out of breath, “Kelly, please, you are welcome to stay here, we have plenty of room.” From her side, Omar put his hand on top of hers,
“Iona, it’s too late,” and she looked at him, a little aghast. I pretended to ignore it while doing up my jacket. When she looked back to me, I gave her a warm smile.
“Thank you, that is a very nice offer. Do you have a car I can take back into town?”
She pursed her lips and looked to Omar, as if frustrated. He answered for her.
“No, I am afraid we do not.”
I nodded, it would happen at the pub then. That was probably better for everyone not to bring it into this house.
“Well, how about this then. I’ll walk back into town and come back with all my things tomorrow. I really hate that all the hotels and hostels keep your passports, so I have to make sure I get it back from the barkeep.”
“Kelly, please stay here the night. I just… don’t want to let you out of my sight.” Bless this woman. She understood my situation but didn’t want to lay too much too soon at my feet. I threw my head back slightly to laugh, “Iona, I promise I’ll be back, don’t fret.”
Iona frowned in thought, so many wheels turning in that head. She looked me up and down again, stopping at my feet in my hiking boots. Scooting to the edge of the seat, she grabbed both my hands with hers.
“Omar is going to show you the back way to town, through the fields. Don’t talk to anyone except Mike, and that is when you are leaving, understand?” Omar stood from his kneeling spot on the ground and moved back to the kitchen, leaving Iona and I together. I nodded knowingly and ignored her plea, trying to make it seem like a normal, overprotective grandmother trait.
The old lady smiled at me again, all genuine, all comforting.
“We don’t know each other yet, but I can already tell I’m going to love you.”
I gave a small laugh and shook my head in amazement.
“You’re so much different from my other Gran.”
“She’s sooooo, hard to understand. If she was a book, she would be ancient glyphs describing nuclear physics. You are...like a nice romantic paperback: easy to read.”
Her eyes watered again and I went in for a gentle hug, unsure of how hard to squeeze a person of her age. Behind us, Omar came back into the room, and I stood to leave.
She silently nodded, unsure, and I turned to follow her friend out.
We moved through a nicely and expensively furnished kitchen to the back mudroom. He handed me a black scarf as we wandered out into the unfenced back yard that spanned out into a field beyond the house. We stopped together on the top of the hill, looking down onto the vista.
“What’s this for?”
He took it from my hands and began to arrange it around my neck and over my head, tucking it in tight so it made a hat, covering my hair and holding it down. When he was finished he looked over his work and grunted, and turned us both, pointing and leaning down to my eye level.
“There is the trail, it is only a foot wide, but well used and keeps to the bottom of the small valleys. It's an easy walk and about twenty minutes to the south of town, it finishes at a child’s park. From there, it leads right back to the road of the Winchester. Don’t stop to talk to anyone.”
He paused to make sure I was taking it all in.
“I would go with you and just collect your things, but I attract a lot of attention and... I can’t leave her.”
I gave him a reassuring smile, and clapped him on the shoulder.
“No worries, I’ll be back tomorrow, around the same time.”
Omar gave me a grim look and I turned my back on him to begin the trail. After a few minutes of walking, the old stone house was lost from sight, replaced with lush grassy hills. As he said, it was an easy walk, a stroll more than a hike. Once I passed a few hills, I heard a seagull from a distance, and realized I must have been closer to the ocean than I thought. Looking around, I spotted a hill that didn’t look too difficult to climb and not far out of the way and began to trudge up it, hoping that the top would provide a view.
It certainly did not disappoint.
Holy shit. Wales, huh? Wet emerald hills right next to a turbulent iron grey ocean that only an artist could capture. It was breathtaking, violent and calming at the same moment. The land of my father. The wind whipped up the hill from the ocean and the salt was so thick in it, I could taste it on my lips. I closed my eyes and let it wash over me like rain in a storm. It soon made short work of Omar’s scarf, and I felt my hair become unbound and flew away behind.
After a few moments, a noise in my peripheral hearing made me turn. More green hills and patches of forest for deer and critters to hide in, but nothing that wanted to come out of the brush. Starting to feel the cold of the wind, I trudged back down the hill to rejoin the path. The kid’s park was empty, and at this time of the day, so were the streets. People seemed to either be at work, or a late lunch. The Winchester’s front desk was empty when I arrived, and a few quiet voices could be heard from the main bar but I ran up the stairs and into my room.
I laid down on the bed and reflected. Iona Jones was certainly different from Margaret Wardwell. Both were matriarchs, though Margaret held a greater number, both seemed to come from long, noble lineage. I closed my eyes and tried to remember the smile of my maternal grandmother, hoping to god she stayed away from me for the next 24 hours.
Again, my eyes darted open at the sound of glass breaking and laughter from the pub downstairs. Glancing at the window, I had done the same thing as yesterday and unintentionally taken a few hours long nap. I sat up and made use of the ensuite, taking a long, hot shower. By the time I had groomed and thrown on some clean jeans and a long sleeve tee, it was nearly 7 and my stomach groaned at me to feed it. I sighed, thinking over Iona’s request. It was too late now for whatever she had hoped, and what I actually was aiming to happen, so I locked my room and headed down.
I stepped out from the stairwell and looked around the main bar. It was loud with locals who were comfortable in their surroundings and I was slightly jealous to see so many people carefree and laughing with friends. At 7 on a Thursday night, it seemed like everyone in Fishguard was here for a pint after work with friends.
Grabbing the young barman’s attention, I ordered the fish and chips and a cider and grabbed the last seat at the bar. The two large burly men, clearly fishermen from the smell, on either side were turned the opposite way in conversation and I was gratefully overlooked in the crowd.
After a minute, the cider was placed in front of me and I took a large swig and shook my head. I couldn’t believe I was finally here. Alone with no help or back up. No Gran or Jolene to step in and stop whatever was happening. It was time to put up or shut up.
Swinging myself on the stool, I looked around the crowded room, trying to decipher the thick Welsh accent whenever I heard a snippet of conversation. I didn’t even try when someone actually used Welsh. Over in the corner, near the large fireplace, a group of young men around a table became visible as the crowd parted.
Wolves. Every one of them. In the firelight, their eyes glinted with the peculiar iridescent gleam, as if they were barely keeping the beasts inside contained. Four men were all animatedly talking to one another, not angry, but it was a heated conversation.
Although I tried to direct my hearing their way, I couldn’t discern their conversation over the rambunctious locals. One of the men on the outside of the table suddenly looked up, straight into my eyes in a penetrating stare that made me still.
Oh shit. The farmer I had met earlier in the day. The flirtatious asshole who had watched me get lost in his country lane. He was out of his working clothes now, the hat gone, the dirt off his face and ... fuck me stupid.
His azure blue eyes pierced mine and I could have cut myself on those high cheek bones. The deep scar that ran from his ear to chin was more noticeable without his hat and made him the most enticing thing I had seen in months. I subtly gasped from the pleasure of seeing such a handsome face and his eyes dropped down to my lips. Fuckkkk.
The heat that was coming off of that stare made me more uncomfortable than the innuendos we spared with this morning. There was intent in that gaze and the farmer’s eyes were too much in the crowded space where there seemed to be only the two of us. He didn’t seem surprised to find me here and I was starting to get wet from the eye fuck he was giving me when a waitress paused while passing in between us, the spell broken. Thankfully and quickly, I looked away and around the pub again, hoping that there was something else as interesting and not as attractive to grab my attention.
Nothing took, a mix of men and women were having either quiet drinks at tables, or standing up and filling the spaces in between. There were few Weres in here somewhere besides the table, but all I could do was smell them faintly. After a few minutes of listening and smiling to private conversations I had no part in, I made a move to go over to the dining room when a blond man in his early twenties stood in front of my seat, beer in hand, and an easy smile on his face.
My face perked in surprise at his sudden appearance and I turned my body to meet his in a friendly manner.
I gave him a smile and took another swig from my bottle.
His eyes watched the bottle on my lips and he gave a grin.
“No, not really with that red hair. But it’s a small town, yah know, and word travels fast when someone stays longer than to catch the ferry out.”
I nodded my head in understanding, the commune I grew up on certainly couldn’t keep a secret for longer than it took to walk to your neighbor’s house.
“Well, I might be staying a while, so I guess it’s best to get the gossip out, huh? Kelly Jones,” and I stuck out my hand for him to take. Smiling, he took it in a strong grasp,
“...leaving.” A strong, baritone voice from behind him sounded.
He frowned and turned, the farmer with blue eyes was now standing at his back. His tall height was more pronounced when he was standing next to someone smaller.
The blond asked him questioningly,
“Bugger off, Lewis. The American is mine...”
His eyes now studied me, looking up and down my length and giving me a devious smile that made his scar more pronounced.
Of the Maddock Weres, the family that drove my father to his ruin and therefore death. The same Rhys who I was unknowingly in an arranged marriage with since birth. The same Rhys I was going to kill, hopefully with my bare hands.