Pulling onto the driveway of my parent’s ranch triggered a sense of dread. So many unresolved issues crammed into one house.
Dagen drove while Henry slept spread out across the backseat. I kept up with cryptic text strings on three phones. This trip inside felt completely different. It was almost commercialized. The political lines were hard to follow, but they were there.
Rafferty coordinated Malou’s coven with Kates to assemble my clothing. Malou’s coven imparted the cloth with extra healing abilities. The gain was described as minor, but I felt hopeful after learning about the upgrade. Kates coven provided our talismans, keeping them high on the marque of support staff.
“Once we’re settled, I need to find Leo. I sent him a text hours ago. He hasn’t responded.”
Dagen pulled my hand to his lips. “Whatever you need. The seventy-five that are following inside are staging at the Kane ranch. He could be busy.”
My father met us at the car as we pulled up to the house. Always a gracious host, he helped unload our bags and led Henry into the house for a drink. Leaving me alone with Dagen for the first time in hours.
“So.” I leaned in toward the driver’s seat. “how do you want to play this?”
“We go in, kill everything that moves,” he paused, tilting his head for effect. “Then we come back out.”
“Simple plan. I like it, but I meant you and me. I assume you want to keep our involvement a secret.”
“Why would you think that? I don’t care who knows we’re friends.”
“Good friends,” I flirted, looking into Dagen’s eyes for added emphasis.
“Is friend the wrong word to use?”
“Friend is like a safe word. It means stop there, don’t go any further.”
“Hmm, that’s the wrong word. What word means I will be anything you need?”
“Don’t know. Recently my favorite word is my name in your sexy leprechaun voice.” Dagen smiled and put his hand over my heart.
“Can you feel that?” The buzzing between his hand and my chest melted away everything around me. “It’s a rare find.” I pulled myself close enough to rest my head on his shoulder.
“To be fair, I have several rare situations right now.”
“I know what I’m walking into.” Dagen kissed my forehead. We both grabbed the few remaining bags from the car and went inside.
I said hello to everyone. Lila still looked pissed. I ignored her in favor of leaving quickly to find Leo. Several cars pulled in after us blocking my parent’s garage.
“Dad, I need to meet with the wolves following me tonight. Can I take one of your horses over to the Kane ranch?” Henry looked up from his conversation with one of the male witches. I walked over to him and rubbed his shoulders.
“I’ll be back. Not much time left before nightfall.”
Henry reached up to pat my hand. “Tell Leo I said hey.” I kissed Henry quickly and took off toward the horse barn.
One of my father’s ranch hands saddled a horse for me while I put on a pair of my sister’s gloves and boots. I made the ride many times over the years. It was faster to cross the fields between our properties on horseback than drive the county roads by car.
Coming over the ridge, I saw the Kane barn surrounded by a sea of motorcycles and trucks. The smell of meat cooking greeted me as I approached the house.
I smiled at the men standing around eating as I tied my horse in the shade next to a water trough and went to look for Leo. Reg saw me first.
“Alerie,” he called out. Several sets of eyes were on me now. “Leo’s not here?”
I let my mind scan the heartbeats. “Leo’s heart is beating down by the garage.” Reg looked defeated. “He probably snuck back when you weren’t looking.” He smiled and extended a hand across the field.
As I got closer to the long outbuilding. The sound of wrenches and three heartbeats welcomed me. Two human women sat in lawn chairs, watching Leo work on his car and drinking beers.
“Leo,” I called out. He rolled out from under his car with a surprised look on his face.
“Al?” I waved hello and smiled at the peanut gallery.
“I texted to let you know I made it to town.” He patted his pockets, looking for his phone, then looked up at the girls.
“Have either of you seen my phone?” One of them pulled the square out of her back pocket.
“I think it’s off,” she giggled. Leo grabbed the phone from her with anger in his eyes.
“You both should leave. Not sure why my mother invited you, but I’m busy.” Both young women looked shocked. “Go on, scoot.” Leo used his forceful voice, and both women left in a hurry.
“How’re things?” I asked, looking into the little disassembled engine compartment.
“Pretty sure I’m selling this car for parts now. It’s a lost cause.”
“Sorry. You can have my car. I won’t need it after tonight.” Leo looked at me, blankly. “It’s not worth much, but it runs.”
“Al, it’s gonna be fine.” Leo walked closer to me, looking for a towel. I found a roll of blue shop towels and handed him one. “I’m going to be with you.”
“Really, cause it doesn’t look like it from here.”
Leo peered into my eyes. “I’m trying.”
“I made a blood pact with Dagen. He’s leading everyone into the Grove. You should be safe.”
“Why does this not sound, right? Where are you while everyone’s charging toward the Grove?”
“Probably stuck firmly in a demon scape. I wanted to see you before we go in. You’re still my wolf, right?”
“You go, I go.” Leo stood arm’s length from me.
“The demons trap my mind, usually in situations with you. I need a secret word. So, I can tell if it’s real or not. Write it down but don’t say it out loud.”
“Do you remember our song from way back when we first made love?” I grabbed a golf pencil from the workbench and scratched the word, black, on a stray receipt. Leo nodded and grinned. “Yep, that’s the one.”
“I haven’t thought about those days in a long time. Life was easy back then. If things go badly, I’ll meet Rafferty in the Grove. His witch will help me. The MacTernan clan will let us both join. We can have a life together once this is over.”
Leo smiled and pulled me to his chest, kissing me quickly before squeezing the life out of me. “You think there’s a place for me in the Grove with you?” Leo rested his arms around my shoulders, and I able to breathe again.
“Sure, Rafferty likes running around as a wolf. I bet you can too.”
We walked out to the crowd. Leo introduced me to a few of the fighters and snatched me a slice of his mother’s cake.
The afternoon sun changed to fire red. It was time to leave and get the horse across the field before dark. I checked my saddle and mounted up. Leo stood below me with his warm hand, patting my leg.
“It’s going to happen fast, and it’s going to be crowded. I’m begging you. Please put everything out of your mind and focus on living.”
Leo closed his eyes and looked down at the ground for a moment before looking back up at me. “I can do that.”
I reached down to kiss him, and he reached up to meet me. Nothing was resolved, but I felt relieved. “I’ll see you at the portal.” I trotted off toward our horse barn.
My father was talking to the ranch hand when I arrived.
“Henry is up in your room. Your clothes are on the back of your door. The witches need you dressed and ready to go in the flower barn. They mentioned a portal. You won’t need to drive down. The rest of us are leaving soon.”
“Okay, sounds good. Where’s Dagen?”
“I’m surprised you didn’t see him. He took one of the quads to the Kane ranch to rally his men.”
“No, I didn’t see him, but I bet he saw me.” My father offered his hand to help me off the horse.
“One of the crew can get this good boy situated. You need to get moving.”
Henry lay resting on the bed in his towel. There was no talk of love or titles. He grabbed onto my shirt and pulled it off me along with all my other clothes. I coaxed him down to the floor to escape the shriek of my noisy mattress.
He was needy and affectionate, blanketing my skin with his hands and my neck with kisses. It was the first time with him that I didn’t climax. I tossed in some theater, pulled his hair, and clutched at his back. It was nothing he did. My monster was already making plans to kill everything.
We reached my mother’s metal flower barn and met with our band of witches. All were eager to meet Henry. Malou looked at me with a knowing stare of grief. I looked over at Henry. She turned and walked away.
It felt like all the wind rushed out of my body and followed after her. I needed to know what she saw.
A well-orchestrated plan was set in place. Two different talismans were placed around our necks. Henry was fitted with a thick pair of pants and a linen shirt. My clothing was flimsy by comparison. I wondered why his clothes needed to be so dense.
Henry pulled at the pant legs. “I’m not sure I should be going commando in the woods. What about bugs.”
“Leo won’t be wearing underwear. If anyone is getting bitten on the dick, it’s him. The elastic in your underwear has rubber in it. I didn’t think to pack your silk boxers.”
“I shoved them to the back of my drawer. They give me a perpetual hard-on.” One of the witches overheard our conversation. Her face turned bright red before she snuck away.
“That’s not always a bad thing?”
“It is when you can’t see who’s looking at you.”
“I’m looking at you. I’m always looking at you. You would find it really creepy if you caught me looking at you.” Henry took off his dark glasses and turned until the last of the falling sun was in front of him.
“Come stand right here so I can look at you.” The room was silent even though six witches watched. My eyes filled with tears, but I did as he asked.
“Beautiful. I couldn’t see light before I met you, Alerie. I’ve wanted to thank you, but there hasn’t been time.” I took off my top and dropped my pants. “Someone’s going to see you.” He chuckled.
“It’s just us. Everyone else is busy.” I looked at the room and silently pleaded for their continued silence. I pulled my hair up in a ribbon from a nearby workbench and turned slowly so he could see my shape in the light.
“My God, we need a spotlight at home.” Henry took a step toward me. I tossed myself against him. “Thank you, that was perfect.”
“Help me put this back on.” I handed him my clothes. “I might scare one of those witches away if they find me naked. Come on this way.” I led Henry to the portal.
The witches were good sports and waited a few seconds before joining us.