Leo’s move into the Grove was settled for Monday night. Everyone involved in the uniting was set free for the evening. Dagen wanted to be home by late afternoon to spend time with his family. I didn’t want to spend any more time with mine.
The mini flood at my apartment left me homeless. Assuming I would return to the ranch, my parents assembled a list of rules for me to follow. I politely declined their housing offer explaining how my internship would require me to move and how I wouldn’t be returning to campus, but my degree would be completed soon.
My father was shocked. I explained the services the company offered me while my mother listened in quiet acceptance.
“I enter the White twice a year for Henry. I offered Leo a place in the MacTernan Clan. There is no reason for him to stay here without me.”
“What do you mean?” My mother hissed.
“Dagen is holding the leadership of the MacTernan Clan until I turn fifty. Rafferty wants a bloodline Clan leader.”
My mother looked upset. “That will shift guardianship of the White entrance to the MacTernans.”
“The entrance was dying with you. Now it’s moving with me. Leo and I were going to leave the Clans completely. Dagen found us another option.”
“Dagen is quite useful to you, isn’t he?” She snarled. “Have you considered your clansmen? What will become of them once we no longer hold blood rights to the entrance?”
“You planned to lose control by ending our full-blood female line. I’ll take our people when the time comes. They won’t even notice the change.”
I grabbed my one overnight bag, hugged my stunned father, and walked out to the car. Dagen waited outside, but I was sure he heard every word.
“Don’t worry, you are making the right choice. Not just because you’re coming with me, but because this isn’t your home anymore. We’ll head to the MacTernan estate when it’s time to move Leo.”
As we drove to the little airport outside Albany, several texts popped on my phone. Emma wanted a full update. Kate let me know she got all her stuff from the apartment. Several pictures showed up from First Acquisitions, including a check advance for my expected insurance payout along with a few shots of the flooded apartment.
I showed Dagen, “This will help set up my new place. They work so fast it’s scary.”
“You shared your blood with her. Chris is hoping to impress you for more.” Dagen’s mood soured.
“What’s wrong? You sound angry with me?”
“I wish you would let me help you. I can rent a place close to your new job. We can live between two bedrooms.”
“You’ve done so much for me already. I don’t deserve...”
“No,” he interrupted. “You deserve everything I can give you and more.”
“There was something I swore I would ask if I got out of the White alive. It’s stupid, never mind. You’ll think I’m ridiculous.”
“No way, try me.”
“I want you to teach me how to be a real wolf. I don’t want you to hold back when we’re together. You scare the hell out of me, and I don’t want to be afraid anymore.” Dagen gripped the steering wheel tightly and veered off the next exit onto a dirt shoulder.
Throwing the car into park, he pulled me to him, squeezing me under his unyielding grip. “I swear to teach you everything I know, but you’re wrong. I don’t hold back. I just can’t get close enough to you.”
“Thank you.” I kissed him and felt the total sincerity in his promise. “How long before we’re back at your place?”
“We’ll be home before lunch starts. We can relax and let the full house distract us for a few hours. Life outside this realm can wait until tomorrow.”
Lunch turned into an early dinner, a tower of pizza boxes, and soccer on the back lawn. Several of Dagen’s grown sons showed up straight from work and jumped into the pool. I was introduced as they arrived.
At least two men wore shirts with an HVAC logo. Several others donned uniforms from a drilling company and electrician’s service.
Dagen jogged over from the lawn to get a drink. He poured half a water bottle over his head.
“It looks like those boys are out for blood.” He nodded his head in agreement as he gulped down water.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. We play hard.”
“Several of your sons are tradesmen?” I pointed at the growing pile of work gear piling up at the edge of the patio.
“A few of them run my businesses. Several are still working their way up the ladder.” Dagen caressed my thigh. “You doing okay? You need another drink?”
“I can fend for myself. Go play—you look happy out there.” Dagen kissed me on the cheek, dripping sweat on my shirt and arm.
“Ugg, you’re dripping.” He raised his eyebrows and ran back to the ball.
There were a few wedding rings scattered among the group. As the only woman in sight, I assumed they didn’t bring their wives to the weekly event. I remembered Dagen saying none of his sons were of his blood.
If there was one thing my young body could provide, it’s a healthy child. The fact Dagen didn’t have any of his own after hundreds of years of trying meant the disparity was his. The vision my father shared with me ran through my mind taking away my appetite.
Dagen jumped in the pool. A few of the men headed home with a polite wave taking empty pizza boxes to the trash. His four sons, still living with him, eyed me with quiet curiosity.
Dagen marched out of the pool straight toward me. I put my phone down on the table and prepared to be mauled. He tossed me over his shoulder and jumped back in the pool. The water was surprisingly cold, and his skin was remarkably hot.
“Lesson one, prepare to be tossed in the pool.” Dagen laughed, and the boys joined in before clutching their towels and heading into the warm house.
“Oh, I see how it is. You trained the boys to run once you drop your date in the pool.”
“No. Women I date, don’t come home with me,” He confessed quietly as if we were discussing something ultra-taboo.
“Just the homeless ones then?”
“Just the ones I want to keep.” I swam to the edge of the pool and sloppily braided my wet hair. “You’re not mad, are you? I just wanted to see you wet.”
“No, I was already wet watching you out here. Besides, this is much nicer than my last lesson.”
“Oh, really, what lesson was that?”
“Buried alive 101. Demons like to distract with obvious clichés—burning, drowning, buried alive, death of your friends.” I floated over to Dagen, brushed the wet hair off his face and kissed him.
“Mmm, our wolves are hungry. Can you feel the pull?” he asked.
I nodded. “We should feed them soon.”
Dagen pushed me toward the steps kissing my neck. “I can’t stand the thought of you caught in a demon scape. I don’t want you inside the Yolk again.”
“It’s what my kind does. Mind fuck really nasty things and kill them. My contract shows me in the White twice a year for twenty years, but it says nothing about the Yolk. I’m safe.”
Looking for a dry change of clothes, I went into the guest room to inspect my delivery. Boxes sat neatly stacked at the end of the small guest bedroom. A tall cloth-covered piece of furniture protruded from the center.
Opening the first box, I found items from my top dresser drawer neatly tucked inside. The box marked 2 contained items from my second dresser drawer. The methodical arrangement was easy to follow. I had to smile. Chris took expert care of my meager belongings. I assumed any task she undertook would be handled similarly.
I extracted my phone from my damp front pocket and texted her a thank you message. Pulling the blue sheet off the tall item, I saw it was an ornate and antique-looking floor mirror.
The beautiful old piece didn’t match the newer, minimalist guest room décor. By its placement among my boxes, it appeared to belong with my things. I took a quick picture and sent it to Chris, letting her know the mirror wasn’t mine.
She quickly replied. “It was upstairs by the bathroom door.”
“Never seen it before. Not sure where it came from?”
“Don’t touch it!”
Dagen’s phone vibrated halfway down the hall. His quick barefoot steps on the solid floors turned my head.
“She’s here in the house. Yeah, I see it.” He shrugged his shoulders, resting his free hand on his hip.
I ran my fingertip over the mirror’s ornate gold and dark blue frame. The mirror’s surface was cold and wet feeling under my skin. A sense of deep depression and sadness filled my chest so completely, my body shuttered with grief.
The reflection of Dagen’s bare chest and confused facial expression morphed into a dimly lit dirt-covered space. Dark gray roots coiled down from overhead and supported the sides of the room. The shape of a tall man lying on the floor became clear.
“Leo?” He was dressed in leather pants and a cotton cloth shirt like Gar wears. His hair was longer than I remembered, and he appeared to be upset. “Oh my God, that is Leo.”
I pounded on the glass, but Leo didn’t react. He seemed to be warming his hands on a fire I couldn’t see. He produced a short knife from the ground beside him and looked at his wrist, sobbing. Leo slowly slid the knife across his skin and watched as his blood trickled to the ground.
My hands slammed on the glass. I couldn’t hear Dagen over my screams, but I felt his breath on my neck and the full strength of his body pulling me away. A power I didn’t know existed in my blood allowed me to break free of his grip and punch the center of the mirror.
My knuckles were bleeding as I continued to hit the glass. The thick reddish-black liquid melted deep into the mirror’s cracks.
Everything in my world became quiet and slow.
Dagen’s words sounded delayed. “Stop, grab my hand, take a deep breath, I’ll be right behind you. Get away from the trees!” His frantic image pulled from me like the last bit of cotton candy caught in a child’s sticky grip.
“Dagen?” My lungs produced his name moments before I was slammed into the mirror with the force of a car hitting a tree at full speed.
Dropping to the hard dirt floor dislocated my shoulder. The joint slipped into where it was not supposed to be with a sickening thud.
Leo looked unimpressed.
“You were just here. I like your other outfit better.”
“What’s our word? Is it really you? My Leo is asleep in the White.”
“You left me here to rot for months, and now you want a confirmation word?”
“Whoever you saw wasn’t me. It hasn’t even been two days.”
“Two days? Bitch, it’s been two fucking months.”
“Bitch? Leo would never call me—”
“Say the word!” he demanded.
“Asshole. You say the word first.”
“None of the other Alerie’s cared what I called them.”
“Fine on the count of three, we both say it—one, two, three. Black,” I blurted out.
“Black,” Leo yelled. “Holy crap, how did you get here?”
“I got sucked into an old fucking mirror. My arm is dislocated. Pop it back into place.”
“Hell no, what if I do it wrong.”
“This is my real body. You’re an essence, like in the Yolk. This fucking hurts, Leo.”
“Okay. Tell me what to do.”