Rogue, dangerous, irresponsible, foolish. Rafferty used the words often and at great volume.
“They asked me to help. I was pulled into the angel’s only area and tossed into the Yolk. There weren’t many options. I’m good at killing demons.”
“Holy hellfire, he pulled your body and soul inside?” It was like being stoned in the principal’s office. I couldn’t shut up.
“No, of course not. Hmm, but I didn’t pull my body from the White. I woke up ready to go and walked out.”
“You transformed into a dragon?” Rafferty’s face lost its color. His body slumped into the Adirondack chair he perched on. “Stand up, pull your wolf right now.”
I set my drink down and wriggled out of my jeans. Leo stood at the edge of the courtyard with his chin resting in his hand. I stared at him as I stripped my clothes. Dropping easily into my wolf.
My father’s voice sounded like traffic noise. I shook my head and felt my ears slap my snout. I walked up close and put my head on his knee. The feel of his hand stroking my fur calmed my mind. I sat back and surveyed my fur. It was much less purple today.
“Change again. Change into your dragon. Change again.” His voice melted into the deep recesses of my quiet mind.
The dark image of my dragon-scaled human form came into vision like a schematic. The change scraped and burned under my skin, pulling me to a standing position and taking my breath away. I thought of Dagen’s crest and added the blood-red wolf over my heart.
“My God, you’re shadow. Full shadow. I’ve heard of this but never seen it.”
I couldn’t move without sinking my teeth into someone. Their beating hearts pounding inside their chest cavities called out to me. I recited the organs and the bones in my mind to distract my mind. I was getting to the arteries when Leo moved.
I reached him in one breath. His smell, warm vanilla, and spiced rum—made me salivate. I moved to taste his neck when my wolf turned her head toward the gate. Its weathered red paint flaked off as it opened. I caught the chip before it hit the ground.
The lay of the land solidified in my mind. Each heartbeat became pinned on a layer of my focus. I could easily reach them all before they escaped.
Fresh meat entered the courtyard. I sniffed the air—mint.
My dragon saw the rhythm of the fast-beating heart. Thick acrid smelling wings peeled away from my back. I seized the human enveloping the thick body in darkness. My wolf pulled at my teeth, keeping me from biting at the gushing fountain of glutamate pouring over the creature’s kidneys.
Towering over the human, I heard it speak a pleasing noise. Repeating and repeating. I retracted my talons. The creature moaned, and I felt its sticky fluid on my skin. I thumped it on the shoulder, and it repeated the noise again.
“Alerie, le do thoil leanbh is breá liom tú.”
“Leprechaun,” I growled. My wings recoiled, and I rushed back to my father. I sniffed the air around him and my arm. “Blood.” My clawed hand extended. The pressure on my scales as he took my hand intrigued my mind.
Vanilla and spiced-rum filled my nose. I reached out and seized the creature. It was heavy, but it was not afraid. I scratched at its soft covering with my claws. Tasting it, the word black came to mind.
“This is real, Alerie. Black! Black! Black!”
“Mine,” I growled, sniffing the creature. I poked at its chest and pressed my hand to its heart. A flood of images raced inside my mind: sunshine and laughter—skin and water—skin and warmth. My wolf dancing at my feet, white and pure, ripped my dark scales away.
I woke on the grass with the taste of blood in my mouth, a sheet over my body, and a pounding headache.
My father approached me first. “Alerie, can you hear me?”
“Mountain lions live across the river. I can smell them.”
My father nodded his head. “Can I get you anything?”
“Yes, a mountain lion. All I wanted was your hearts. There are over twenty people near here. Did I hurt anyone?”
“Not really,” he whispered.
I wrapped the sheet around my body and moved toward the house. My skin was perspiring and prickly hot in the cold night air.
Leo sat on a kitchen bench with a white bandage wrapped around his chest. I grabbed a knife from the counter and slid it through my grip. Straddling his legs, I raised my hand over his face and dripped my blood into his mouth.
“I can’t believe I hurt you. I’m so sorry.” He cupped his hands around mine, cautiously accepting my blood. Within a few seconds, his wounds and mine both healed. He patted at his newly repaired flesh, astonished.
“There isn’t even a scar?” he questioned. “Dagen’s over there.” I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. Leo helped me stand and handed me back the knife.
Dagen sat shirtless on a set of cement porch steps. A bottle of liquor in his hand and a thick bandage around each shoulder.
I knelt in front of him and carefully peeled away one bandage, revealing gruesome puncture wounds. I pressed my hand to my mouth and set the knife on his leg. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
His warm hand slipped under my palm. I let my arm go limp and felt the feather-light slip of the blade across the top of my hand. The vein opened long enough for his wounds to heal. I opened my eyes and carefully removed his bandages.
I ran my fingertips over his chest. To my surprise, he didn’t pull away.
“I almost killed you. I’m so sorry.” I stood slowly. He didn’t let my hand go.
“What made you stop?” I smiled and wiped my eyes on my sheet.
“You should stay far away from me.”
“What stopped you?” he repeated.
“Your sexy leprechaun accent saved you. I was milliseconds from eating you.” Dagen smirked, dropping his head. “You’ve said those words before. What do they mean?”
He stood up and scanned my eyes. “Please, Baby. I love you.”
“You shouldn’t love me.” I looked back at Leo. “Nobody should.” I pulled my hand from Dagen’s and walked outside to find my clothes.
Susanna slowly followed with a drink in hand.” Wow, you’re a great hostess.” She pushed the cold glass into my hand.
“Rafferty’s never seen a shadow wolf, but I have. You did marvelously for your first turn.”
“I died outside the White a week ago. My demon friend resurrected me. Is that why I’m a monster?” I asked, putting on my underwear.
“No, this happens in legacy bloodlines. Generations are carefully bred to create a shadow line. You can’t keep this to yourself. You need offspring, lots of them.”
“Like fourteen?” I asked, remembering Malou’s prophecy.
“Would be a good start. I noticed you don’t have a witch’s mark.” She handed me my pants.
“No, I haven’t found a witch besides Malou and Kate, and I haven’t talked to Kate in days. It’s been one thing after another.” Susanna and I laid on the grass, looking up at the bright night sky. I told her about the White, all the angels, and Henry.
“So, you have an angel, a greater demon, and two very good-looking wolves at your disposal.”
“I don’t know about disposal. If they were smart, they would stay away from me. The demon won’t have any problem with my new talents. He’s resilient.”
“Why was Leo screaming black?”
“He was? That’s our safe word. In a demon trap, I’m shown awful shit or things I really want. We picked a word so I could tell him from a fake.”
Rafferty came out and joined us with a drink refill.
“Thank you, is this honey beer?”
“Not really, I friend down the road makes this swill.” He shrugged his shoulders and looked up at the sky. “Leo’s waiting for you inside.”
Walking back toward the house, I found Leo in the kitchen doorway. He motioned for me to follow him to the side courtyard.
He slipped his arms around me and squeezed. “A little harder around my throat and problem solved.”
“We figured out your problem, Darlin. You’re a freak.” Leo kissed me lightly. And pulled me toward a group of chairs. “I’m going to stay here for a Grove year and live as a wolf.”
“Why the fuck would you do that? You should enroll for the next semester.”
“I’m taking time off. Living in wolf form will kill my human side, making my blood pure.”
“You saw what I turned into. I’m moving toward needing ritualistic human sacrifices.”
“I’m a Kane. I’m from a strong bloodline. I just need to clean out my DNA.” Leo dropped his head. “I talked to Dagen.”
“About what?” I cringed at the idea of the two of them together.
“He lived as a wolf for three years straight.”
“Dagen wants you out of the way so he can stick me in a fucking cage. He doesn’t give a shit what you do as long as it keeps you away from me.”
“Maybe he’s manipulating me a little. After a year, my blood will be as pure as it’s going to get. I’ll know I’ve done everything I can.”
“How will I see you?” I could hear the resolve in his voice. I accepted Leo’s tenacity years ago. If he set his sights on a goal, he goes for it one hundred percent.
“Walk inside and drop into wolf form. I’ll find you.”
“If I can’t find you. I’m flying around roasting the villagers.”
“Maybe you come to the house and ask about me first.” I wrapped my arms around Leo’s neck and pulled myself onto his lap.
“What if we just go back, rent a place near campus. We can pretend none of this happened. I know a vampire, Issac. He’ll help me out—”
“God no, they’re dead. What about your internship and Henry?” I buried my face in Leo’s chest and let myself fall apart. He patted my back and slouched down, cradling me in his long arms and letting me cry.
“He can’t walk out for long. He’s Barachiel all the time now. The only way I’ll see him is in the Yolk.”
“I’m sorry, Al, I know you love the guy.”
“Love? No, it’s pain. An ancient wound opens every time I’m with him. It’s not the warmth and excitement I feel when I’m with you. It’s a very cruel cosmic joke.”
Leo ran his thumb across my bottom lip. His cold tongue against mine tasted like burnt sugar and honey.
“Your mouth burns even more. It makes my whole-body hum.” My evolution only pulled me even further away from Leo.
“Hum in a good way?”
“Yeah, it’s intense.” Leo sat up and blinked rapidly.
“Kissing a demon tastes like bulleting a ginger beer mixed with Sailor Jerry.”
“Jesus, I don’t want to know that shit,” Leo snickered, relaxing into his chair. I snuggled against him and tried to accept his new plan. “If you want to fall asleep, there’s a bed in my room.”
“Yeah, that won’t go over well,” I whined. “I love you, please be careful,” I kissed the words onto Leo’s neck and smashed my body into his.
“Everything will be fine, Al.”