She woke with a gasp from yet another nightmare, torrents of sweat dripping down her face as she struggled to catch her breath. After yanking off the thick purple blanket, Evie climbed out of bed.
Working her fingers through her hair, she flopped down on the black bench at the foot of her bed. The nightmare was getting worse, and she still wasn’t sure what it meant. With his abilities, Ethan had always lulled her to sleep, but she couldn’t bother him here.
The gold charm around her wrist sparkled and settled, and her eyes grew wide.
“That’s a first.”
The charm on her right wrist was another mystery that she could not solve. As with everything else, her father could never explain it away. She had no memory of anything before waking up to see her father staring at her with the most fearful silver eyes she’d ever seen.
He was her earliest memory, and she couldn’t stop thinking about how much she missed him. If only her wolf would wake and grant her the black fur ability, she so desired, she would summon him in her dark lair.
It was just a few hours till the Christening ceremony, and she was both excited and scared; excited to see the first Christening in her lifetime and terrified of whether she would be able to escape on the Eye of Ulrich as soon as it was over.
She was also scared for Andrea. Entering the goddess’ lair was the last resort in the alpha quest for a reason. In fact, it was so extreme that the goddess granted the blessed furs a decade of sway before allowing them into her lair.
What if she lost her mate in the lair? By Orin’s will, why was the Christening still happening? He had found his fated mate, and that was all Andrea needed to be alpha. Something was completely off with this quest, and with the Broxbridge tribe.
As the cool night breeze drifted through the room, she perceived the familiar scent of lilies and turned to the window. Prior to going to sleep, she had left it ajar, but now it was flung wide open, and the full moon was peering into the privacy of her bedroom.
Evie moved to it, disregarding the cold draft coming in from the ocean behind the manor. It was then she noticed the figure strolling along the beach in the darkness. Inhaling deeply, she savored his scent, then giggled as his surreal presence adorned her skin with goosebumps.
It could be the cold.
Not at all, it wasn’t; it was him.
In all her twenty-five years, she had never experienced a wolf who so deeply brought into focus the essence of her femininity, romance, and yearning as this one. Despite her wolf’s silence, she was certain that the Broxbridge tribe’s black fur would make an excellent lover. With a coy smile, she bit her bottom lip.
Evie huffed as she turned her attention to the knock at her door. After closing her windows, she went to answer it.
As Samara stepped in, Evie said, “We’ve discussed this, Sam. Call me Evie.” And then shut the door behind her.
“Yes.” Smiling, Samara went to the bench at the foot of the bed. “Until Lord Crowe or Lord Hayes hear me address the high Lady Crowe by name and toss me in some dark, forgotten place.”
In response, Evie shook her head in laughter. “Not on my watch.”
“It’s freezing in here, throw a robe on.”
Evie grabbed a purple satin robe from behind the door and draped it over her black lace trimmed, studded nightdress, which sparkled like diamonds in the moonlight.
“Why are you up so late?” she asked Samara.
Her mind flashed back to the late-night stroll at the academy, where she met Samara and asked her the same question. It was unlikely they would have been friends during the awakening, a time of violent rivalry between witches and wolves.
“I knew you had a nightmare, Evie, just as you did at my annexe,” Samara remarked as she waved her over. As soon as Evie sat down, she took both of her hands in her own. “Now, I’m going to do all I can to put you to sleep.”
“Remember, Sam, only black fur magic can put me to sleep?”
Samara shut her eyes with an exhale. “I’ll seek out a Sage for help in crafting a spell to fix this.”
“I’m hoping to figure out what it all means.”
“We will.” Samara squeezed her hands and looked around the room. “Goddess Evie! When the Tranquil Banes showed up to my annexe, my heart nearly gave out. I thought I was done for.” Samara burst out laughing.
“But they brought me here on Lord Hayes’ order. Did you meet Lord Hayes? He’s heading into the lair soon.”
“I’ve had the pleasure of his company.”
“Then tell me, is he painstakingly beauteous, or is Lord Saxe still unarguably the best-looking Lord?”
Evie laughed. “Why are you obsessed with Oscar? There are three Lords you are yet to meet.”
“I promise, you will see what I mean when you meet him.”
“I met the breathtaking Lord Saxe,” Evie said with a smile, and Samara’s description was spot on.
She swallowed against the throbbing in her chest as her mate’s dark and searing finery flooded her mind. His scent drew closer, and Evie puffed.
“When?” Samara gasped in surprise.
The knock came on cue, and Evie stared at it, unsure if she wanted to be alone with him.
“Come in.” Samara invited without warning.
In the dimly lit room, Andrea pushed open the heavy oak door, looking between them with a polite smile.
Samara rose and bowed to him. With an uncomfortable smile, she turned her attention to Evie.
“I’d better leave.”
“Why?” Evie sprang to her feet and latched onto Samara’s arm. “Sam, meet the black fur of the Broxbridge black clan.” Evie introduced Samara, watching Samara’s eyes bulge as she assessed Andrea. “This is Lord Hayes.”
“Lord Hayes.” Samara bowed. “I should get some sleep,” she whispered to Evie.
“Remember how you said you would help me sleep?” she said quietly.
“But that requires black fur magic, which just arrived. I’ll see you in the morning.” Samara pulled her arm away from Evie’s grasp and closed the door behind her.
Andrea’s dark, intense gaze locked on her as he removed his hands from the pockets of his black slacks.
“You don’t have to worry about my presence. If it is a bother, I can leave. I just wanted to make sure you’re all right.”
Unbuttoned, the white cotton shirt stretched taut over his large frame, revealing a well-toned chest. The sleeves of his shirt neatly rolled to his elbows, and veins twined over his upper arms.
Flustered, she looked away from him with a groan. “I saw you on the beach.”
She went back to the window and pushed it open. “Do you have trouble sleeping?”
“Not usually. Today’s a big day,” he said with a heavy voice as he walked to her side. “Will you be at the Christening tonight?”
She nodded but avoided making eye contact. “I wouldn’t miss it for anything,” she replied. When she remembered their encounter in the woods, she turned around to meet his gaze. As her sleep-deprived eyes held his with a trembling flutter, her heart pounded faster than ever.
“Who shot you, black fur?” Her voice cracked and she coughed to clear it. “The bullet was intended to immobilize blessed furs.”
As his eyes slipped away from hers, he exhaled an inaudible sigh, staring out into the darkness outside her window.
“I’ll deal with that after the Christening.”
“About the Christening.” Her voice became more urgent. “You are about to embark on a dangerous quest, black fur.”
“I am well aware, Lady Crowe,” he replied, and stroked her cheek with his thumb.
Evie’s insides twisted, and she bit her lower lip in a grin. It was the first time she had ever enjoyed being referred to as Lady Crowe so much. She leaned into his caress, almost close enough to brush against him. His silver eyes pierced straight into hers, and for a moment she forgot about the possibility of Andrea never making it out of the lair.
“Shouldn’t the quest have been cancelled already?”
A twinkle appeared in his eyes. “Why should it?”
Evie flinched a little at his question. Andrea knew exactly what she meant; he only wanted to hear her say it. After a small hiss, she looked away from him and laughed, to which he responded with a chuckle.
“We had one final chance to yield, but no one did, so we must continue,” Andrea whispered to her.
“Only one of you will escape from the lair alive. Doesn’t that bother you?”
“It’s time to get you to bed.”
He walked over to her bed and pulled the blanket open.
“How and why are you not concerned?” she asked as his eyes swept across her from head to foot.
Why was she troubling herself with it if he wasn’t listening? By the time anybody escaped the lair, she’d be halfway to Eknä. But it would crush her if her mate did not survive. His silvery eyes were framed by a bright cluster of vivid crimson, filling her with awe.
“There’s no need to worry, Lady Crowe, I will ascend as alpha.” Gently, he lifted the blanket to help her back into bed. “I’ve got you, mate,” he said, pulling the blanket over her.
Her lips twitched with a smile as she felt the word ‘mate’ tingle her heart, soothing her like a divine prophecy.
Then, channelling the power of the blessed black furs, he lowered to sit on the edge of the bed and took her hand in his own.