Heartglow

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CHAPTER 12

As Kaden drove the next day, he tried to think of a plan to bring this little she-cat out of her angry shell and win her over. He admitted to himself that he had his work cut out for him. Today, from the time she got up, she answered his questions with the least amount of words she could manage.

He thought that maybe with a good night’s rest, she would at least return to being civil.

Nope.

She deliberately took an extra long shower while he went down to put their clothes in the hotel dryer. He wondered if she was trying to use up all the hot water before he got in. He tried to engage her as much as possible, but she was making it impossible with her attitude.

He looked over at her again as he drove, was she worth it?

She glanced at him as if sensing his gaze…yes, she was definitely worth it. He was determined to keep trying to crack her tough exterior, but she wasn’t making it easy. He knew she had a soft, caring side. Her dream of helping street children was a testament to that side. He just had to figure out how to get her to let him in.

“It’s almost supper time, do you want to stop and get something before we arrive in Terravane Valley?” He had noticed she hardly ate anything at breakfast and lunch.

She didn’t look at him, “No.”

He tried again, “Are you sure? You didn’t have much today.”

“Yes.”

“Yes you want to stop or yes, you’re sure,” he tried to pull her into a conversation, any conversation…

Vee turned to him and spoke two words, “I’m sure,” before turning away to look out the window again.

Kaden tried again, “Do you hate me?” Although he dreaded her answer, he hoped it would at least break through her wall of indignation.

There was a long silence before she spoke softly, “No.”

His heart jumped, elated. Well, that was a start…

“I’m sorry,” he swallowed any pride he had to reach the woman inside.

She turned to him then, “For what? For telling me I’m a bigger bully than you or for not allowing me to sleep in my own bed.” Her eyes still spit fire…but at least she didn’t hate him…

Kaden conceded, “I shouldn’t have said what I did with regards to you and Veronica’s relationship. It’s between you two. I was wrong to comment.”

Vee waited for a few more long seconds before she asked, “And?”

Kaden smiled at her then, “I won’t apologize for keeping you in my bed. The truth is I’m beginning to enjoy having someone,” he paused, “no let me correct that, YOU in my bed.”

He watched as her face flushed with his statement, but she turned away without another word. He half expected her to deny she felt the same way. Maybe he was giving her something to think about after all. He wasn’t sure how things were going to go once they arrived at her sister’s place, but he would be damned if he would allow their total separation. He planned on sticking around for awhile…and he planned on more nights in her bed, or his…

“Kaden?” her voice sounded small.

He glanced over, “What?”

Valaria turned to look at him, “I don’t know if I can do this,” her voice was quiet and unsure…vulnerable…

Kaden’s heart twisted inside. He knew what it cost her to admit that she wasn’t as tough as she let on. He reached his hand over and found her own being placed within it. He squeezed gently as he reassured her, “You have got to be the strongest woman I have ever met. You can do this, Valaria.”

As she stared at him, her eyes spoke volumes, her mouth asked, “You won’t leave me alone, will you? I mean, I’m not used to…” her voice trailed off.

He glanced at her again, wanting to calm her fears, “I won’t leave you, Valaria, I promise.”

“Thank you,” she pulled her hand from his grasp and turned slightly towards her door, peering out at the waning light.

~*~

Valaria drifted off to sleep and didn’t come to until she heard complete silence. She sat up straight and turned to the empty driver seat…well, so much for not leaving her…

She glanced around to see a neat white house with a long cement walk up to an open doorway flanked by two outside lights. She recognized the tall, wide shoulders that were turned away from her in the opening. She couldn’t see much beyond him.

Did they finally arrive? Who was he talking to? Her sister?

Her heart beat heavily in her chest and she felt her animals leisurely pacing inside…excited…well, two out of three ain’t bad as the old saying goes…

She watched as Kaden glanced back at her and saw she was awake and staring out the window. He smiled and stepped aside.

Then Valaria saw her…the girl who claimed to be her sister…she was beautiful…long strawberry blond hair hung down over the front of her shirt and a smile that would light up Hollywood Boulevard. This couldn’t be her…they were like total opposites…

Vee felt her heart sink as she realized there had been a mistake. Anyone looking at both of them would know they weren’t related in any way.

She is like us…

Vee heard the two voices as one and replied, “She might be like us…but we’re definitely not sisters.” She hadn’t realized how high her hopes had been until they tumbled.

Then Vee shut her eyes as images played through her mind. Two little girls…a Mommy…and a Daddy…

She is us…

Vee felt her heart lift as her animals reassured her with forgotten memories…then she thought of the life she lived now and she heard her old arguments come back with a rush…this woman with the beautiful smile didn’t need someone like Valaria in her life…

Then she watched mesmerized as a tall man behind the stranger stepped out onto the small step and placed his hands on her shoulders.

Vee swallowed hard and whispered, “I can’t do this. I don’t know these people. They don’t know me…why would they want to when they have a beautiful house and a perfect family.”

Vee watched as the woman came slowly down the walkway by herself, her smile never faltering.

The girl stopped outside the vehicle, “Hi Valaria, my name is Cassidy and I am your sister.”

Vee was frozen as she heard the muffled words through the window. Two weeks, that’s all she promised Kaden…how was she going to survive two weeks when she couldn’t even dredge up the courage to roll down her window?

“Would you like me to call you Val?” the girl’s smile faltered as she waited to be welcomed in some way.

Vee hit the button to roll down the window. She saw her sister’s smile widen again at her effort, but before she could speak, Vee finally found the courage to answer, “You can call me Vee.”

Cassidy’s smile got wider, if that was possible, as she answered, “Vee, I like that. You can call me Cassidy or Cassie, whichever you prefer,” she turned away and gestured towards her home, “That is my husband, Slayde and the guy that just came out is his beta, Riordan.”

Valaria looked to where she was pointing and noticed the light-haired man standing behind her sister’s husband, “His beta?” She fumbled for something to say.

Cassie turned her head back, “Yeah, you probably don’t know much about the shifters yet. Basically, he is Slayde’s right hand man. He looks after things if Slayde has to go out of town.”

Vee broke in, “Why is he here?”

Cassidy noticed the look of distrust cross her sister’s face and sought to soothe her, “He is just here to welcome you. He won’t hurt you.”

Valaria glanced up at her sister, “I’m not afraid of him, I can protect myself.”

Cassidy sighed to herself before she spoke, “I’m sure you can, but everyone here is like family. We all watch out for each other and I can tell you that they can’t wait to meet you.”

Vee broke into her happy welcome, “Where am I staying?”

Cassie hesitated before answering, “The house next door,” she pointed to a small brown structure, “I’ve been getting it ready for you since I found out Kaden found you.”

Vee nodded, still feeling so awkward.

Cassidy filled in the silence, “Why don’t you get out and come meet them, and then I’ll take you over to your new place.”

Vee’s eyes strayed to Kaden’s. His look was shuttered but he gave a slight nod to encourage her. Vee pulled in a long breath and then opened the door, “Okay, let’s get this out of the way.”

She followed the woman who was her sister up the cement walkway until they stopped at the steps. She watched all three men come down to her level and marveled at the size of each male. She found herself breathing deep of the scents surrounding them. Her animals were obviously trying to detect if they were friend or foe. They discarded Slayde as he was already mated, but her wolf was definitely interested in the one called Riordan.

Kaden spoke then as he watched her eyes travel the length of each male, “Valaria, this is the Alpha of Terravane Valley, your sister’s husband, Slayde,” then he barely nodded at the other man, “and that is his beta, Riordan.”

Vee watched as Riordan stepped forward and put out his hand, “Riordan McCraven, it’s very nice to finally meet Cassidy’s sister,” he shot her a smile that would probably knock most women off their feet.

Luckily, she wasn’t most women…

But she also didn’t want to seem rude in any way and since she would be gone in two weeks, she might as well make the best of it. After she left here, she wouldn’t be seeing any of them again.

She plastered on a smile as she reached out and grasped the proffered hand, “Very nice to meet you, Riordan, please call me Vee.” Valaria thought she heard a low growl as her skin touched the stranger.

She saw Riordan’s gaze flit quickly towards Kaden before returning to her as his hand squeezed again, “Vee, you can call me Rory if you would like.”

Valaria rolled the name around in her head, “Thank you,” then she turned to her sister’s husband and offered her own in greeting, “And it’s nice to meet you…um…do I call you Alpha or…”

Slayde grasped her hand and smiled warmly, “Just call me Slayde, and I am very pleased you came to meet us.”

Then Cassidy grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her towards the house next door, “Okay, introductions are done,” she was pushed along, “Now, why don’t we get you settled? You are probably very tired after that long drive…” she rattled on but Valaria was only half listening. She turned her head to focus on Kaden, but he was already following the Alpha into the perfect little white house.

Guess he did leave her after all…

~*~

Kaden settled down in one of the comfortable chairs in Slayde’s office and a glass of whiskey was pushed into his hand. He watched Riordan slide into his own chair and accept a cold beer as Slayde sat down behind his mahogany desk that was littered with paper. Kaden couldn’t help but stare at the beta as if he were now the enemy.

Riordan stared back, “Is there something wrong, Kaden?” He let his lips upturn slightly with his question.

Kaden felt his cat pace inside, clearly agitated at the perceived competition…which was no competition at all, he reassured Leo.

Slayde looked from one to the other and decided to clear the air, “Thank you again, Kaden, for bringing her home to us and for bringing her through her shifts.”

Kaden lazily took a swallow of his liquid fire and felt it burn all the way down before he spoke, “Believe me,” he turned to Riordan, “it was my pleasure.”

He felt quite pleased with himself as he saw the small smirk being wiped off the beta’s face.

There was a clearing of a throat as Slayde spoke again, “Now I am going to make this very clear to both of you. Valaria is under my protection. She may choose whomever she wishes to spend time with. But as you both are already aware, her animals will choose her mate when they are ready, and,” he looked them both in the eyes, “it may not be either of you.”

Kaden took another swallow of the Irish spirits, feeling control being taken from him with regards to his little hellcat. He didn’t like to be reminded about the uniqueness of her species. He had already lost once to the wolf clan and he certainly wasn’t intending to lose again…but Vee’s animals might see things a little differently.

“I will have both of your agreements before we go any further,” Slayde was adamant in his request.

Kaden smiled at his friend, “Of course, Valaria has a mind of her own. She can choose who she desires to spend time with.”

Slayde looked at his beta, “Riordan?”

Rory nodded, “That goes without saying. I trust in her animals, after all, she is Cassidy’s sister.”

Kaden took the slight with remarkable ease. He did not want to be reminded of the choice that Cassidy’s animals had made.

Slayde nodded, “Good, then while Cassidy and Valaria are getting to know each other, we have some business to deal with ourselves…namely, word has gotten out that the double shifter line has not been purged and I am now receiving calls with regards to information about any available females from that line.”

Both Kaden and Riordan sat forward at this news.

Kaden spoke, “How the hell did that happen?”

Slayde shook his head, “I don’t know, but I expected it was going to happen sooner or later, but I was hoping for later. But since it has happened, I will deal with it the best way I can. I have had the Omega offer to protect both Cassidy and her sister in his fortress, but I don’t want to let them out of my sight. I can only protect them if they are here.”

Both Kaden and Riordan nodded their agreement. Kaden asked, “So what inquiries have come in?”

Slayde shuffled some papers as he spoke, “I have had five offers from the wolf clans and one from the cat clan north of here. One of the wolf clans referred to maybe being on the trail of their own double shifter in the city where Valaria lived.”

Kaden bristled as he thought about the shifter that had been pursuing Valaria, “Do you think the one I saw was from one of those clans?”

Slayde admitted, “I don’t know. But you said his scent was masked?”

Kaden nodded, “Yeah, and he didn’t stick around long enough to answer any questions.”

Riordan spoke up, “We can’t make any assumptions that Valaria is the double shifter in question. Maybe she wasn’t the only one, I mean, so far we found two. Who’s to say there aren’t more?”

Slayde nodded and spoke softer, “I sent out another shifter after I learned that wolf clan might have found another double. He contacted me this early this morning to tell me that he found a young female in an alley with her throat cut,” he hesitated before continuing, “He said she smelled like she was on the verge of her first shift. He couldn’t confirm what kind of shifter she was, but he cleaned up the area and shipped her body here by plane. I already sent someone to pick her up and deliver her to the hospital here..”

They were all silent as they processed those words.

Riordan broke the silence, “Well, until we know what kind of shifter she was, we can’t assume anything.”

Slayde nodded, “Agreed. The autopsy is scheduled for tomorrow morning and I’d like you both to be there, ten a.m. sharp.” He rose, “So, you guys head home to get some sleep, we might be having a few sleepless nights to come.”

Both Kaden and Riordan rose. Riordan polished off the rest of his beer and placed the empty on Slayde’s desk, “Okay, I will see you in the morning. If you need me, just call.”

As Kaden went to follow him out, Slayde grabbed his arm, “Just a minute.”

Kaden stopped and watched Slayde close the door behind his beta. He turned to speak, “I know you brought her through her shifts, but you and I know that her animals control who she will mate with.”

Kaden grit his teeth at the reminder, “I know. Don’t worry, I’m not about to beat your beta to a pulp…unless he asks for it,” he added.

Slayde looked at him seriously, “I know how much you wanted Cassidy. I can see the same look in your eyes as you watch Valaria.”

Kaden looked away, “I’m not going to deny that I want her for a mate. My cat wants her also,” he stared back at Slayde, “But I know the deal, I saw it in action.”

Slayde nodded, “Good, as long as we are on the same page…and if Valaria’s wolf and cat choose you, then great, but if they choose another, I won’t let you interfere.”

Kaden’s eyes flashed anger and frustration, but what could he say?

“Agreed,” he spoke the same words he said long ago when they were both vying for the first double shifter. He hoped the results would be different this time, “Listen, I need to go home and take a shower and find something to eat. I’ll meet you at the hospital at ten tomorrow. Okay?”

Slayde nodded his head as he opened the door, “Okay, see you tomorrow.”

~*~

Vee looked around the small cottage-like house. All one floor, kitchen, livingroom, bedroom with king-size bed and a very nice bathroom complete with hot tub. She looked longingly at the empty tub before she heard her sister call out, “I got some chicken and rice earlier. I’ll heat it up for you and we’ll have a chat while you eat.”

Vee returned to the small kitchen to see her sister start to fill a plate for her. She poured a glass of milk and motioned for her to sit at the small table.

As they waited for the microwave, Cassidy couldn’t take her eyes off the woman who was her sister. Her short black hair was the total opposite of her own light mane. But her eyes revealed her double shifter status, carrying one light green and one blue orb.

Cassie pushed the milk over as she sat down, “There, now it’s just us girls.”

Vee picked up the cup and took a healthy drink, “Thanks, I’m sorry I didn’t like hug you or anything,” she apologized, “I’m just not…”

Cassie moved her hand in a shooing motion, “It’s okay, I wouldn’t be gushing over a complete stranger either. I just hope you give me a chance to get to know you. I really want my son to know his aunt.”

Valaria let those words sink in…she was an aunt…she had more family…

“His name is Tiberius,” Cassie went on.

Vee couldn’t help but interject, “Tiberius?”

Cassie flushed, “Yeah, we named him after Slayde’s older brother. He was lost as a child,” she ended quietly.

The microwave dinged and Cassidy got up to get the food.

Vee spoke, “I’m sorry, it’s always hard to lose a child. How did he die?”

Cassidy handed over the plate of food with a fork and knife, “Well, when I say he was lost, he was literally lost, they never found him.”

What could Valaria contribute to that?

Cassie kept talking, “They looked and looked but there was nothing. It’s hard to have closure when you never really know what happened. I thought naming our son after his brother would help him heal.”

Vee hadn’t realized she was so hungry as she dug into the delicious fare.

“So, do you remember anything from when we were children?” Cassie quizzed.

Valaria shook her head, “No, not really. My animals showed me some memories from long ago, but I didn’t know who the people were.”

Cassie smiled then, “So, what are your animals? What are their names and what color are they?”

Vee smiled then too, “Well, I thought my wolf was just a voice in my head that warned me of any danger coming my way. Boy, was I surprised! Her name is Lysana and I’m not sure what color she is, I think just black. And my cat is Sia and she’s black too.”

“Oh, she’s a panther like Kaden?” Cassie’s eyes shone with happiness at their mutual sharing.

Vee answered around a mouthful, “Yeah, I guess so. So, what about your animals?”

Cassidy sat back in her chair, “Well, since I was raised by humans too, I always thought the voice in my head was a guardian angel, well, until my father died. Then I just thought of her as an imaginary friend.”

“Your adopted father, right?” Vee questioned, starting to enjoy their girl time. It kind of reminded her of Veronica and her sharing laughs and secrets on any given night when life stayed away from them.

Cassidy nodded, “Yeah, I was adopted by a really nice couple who loved me like one of their own. When Dad died, there was just Mom and me. We did everything together,” she gazed off into an imaginary distance, “Life was still pretty great, at least until she got sick a couple of years ago. I didn’t even know I was adopted until she told me just before she passed away. I tried to find out anything about my past, but I always hit a dead end. In fact, I was on my way to Georgia to live with a friend of mine when my car broke down here in Terravane Valley. Good thing, too, I was very close to my first turn. I don’t know what I would have done if I had been out on the road somewhere when it happened.”

Vee pushed her plate away and drank down the last of her milk, “Do you have anything stronger in the house? I mean, when my friend, Veronica, and I had an evening chat, we sometimes belted down a cooler or two.”

Cassidy jumped up and opened the fridge, producing a bottle of water and a strawberry daiquiri cooler. She popped the tops and motioned with her head, “Let’s sit in the livingroom,” and handed the cooler to Vee, who grabbed it with familiarity and quirked her eyebrow at the water.

“Breastfeeding,” she explained with a smile.

They sat on the small couch and Cassie asked, “So was Veronica your roommate?”

Valaria explained, “Well, I would crash from time to time on her couch. I’ve known Ronnie since I was like fourteen. We met at a ranch in Wyoming, basically a place where they sent all the kids that were trouble. And we just clicked. It’s like we understood each other, almost like we were sisters by another mister.” Vee caught the look of hurt on the other girl’s face and she quickly added, “Listen, I’m sorry…”

Cassie’s eyes welled up as she waved her hand, “It’s okay, I just wish I had been there for you. I should have been there.”

Now it was Vee’s turn to wave off her words, “Listen, it’s all good. We might have lost a lot of years, but we can’t change it, we just have to go forward,” she took a long swig of her cooler.

Cassie nodded her head, “You’re right, we have our whole lives to get to know each other again.”

Should this be the place where she tells her that she’s only staying for two weeks and probably won’t see her again??? Vee questioned herself.

No, she couldn’t do it right now, she just got here, no sense in breaking her heart yet…and she could tell, it would indeed break this innocent girl’s heart.

Vee had to stop thinking, “So what are your animal’s names, and what do they look like?”

Cassie smiled, “My wolf’s name is CeeCee and she is white with reddish tips on her ears and tail and my cat is a snow leopard named Katya. They can hardly wait to run with you!”

Valaria never thought about what it now meant for her animals. They would have someone that wasn’t Kaden to take with them. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing…

“But of course, your cat might want to run with Kaden, I would understand that,” her sister continued.

Vee swallowed the last of her drink, now feeling uncomfortable with the conversation turning towards the cat-man.

“No, I think she would really like to run with her sister some time,” she answered vaguely and rose up, “And I don’t want to seem rude, but I’m kind of tired and would like to get a good night’s sleep under my belt.”

Cassie rose too, realizing their conversation had come to an abrupt end since she mentioned, “Kaden treated you well, didn’t he? I mean, I didn’t think he would hurt a woman in any way…”

Vee held up her hand, “Kaden treated me very well considering how many times I tried to get away before he convinced me to meet you.”

Cassie’s voice softened, “He brought you through your shifting okay? I mean, he wasn’t a total brute, right?”

Valaria laughed, “Brute is an understatement. He has a bully side of him that likes his own way, but I can handle him.”

Cassie laughed too, “Yeah, he likes his own way all right, but that’s just his royal kingness coming out.”

Vee’s laughter died just a little, “His what?”

Cassie paused too, “Wait, didn’t Kaden tell you?”

Vee didn’t know if she was going to like the next words, “Tell me what?”

“He’s the king of his clan back in Ireland.”

She didn’t…

~*~

After her sister left, Vee grabbed another strawberry daiquiri from the fridge and went into the bathroom to pour water into the hot tub. She returned to the bedroom and opened the closet to find a good selection of clothes, including some seriously sexy nightware, hanging exactly as Cassidy had told her.

Unfortunately, there were no plain jane pj’s so she picked out a long, dark blue silk nightie that had slits up to her hips and went back to the bathroom where the tub was now full enough to start. She popped the top on her drink as she sank into the hot water, moaning as her muscles relaxed for the first time in days…

As she sipped, her sister’s words repeated themselves over again…Kaden was a king! And she had thrown her knife at him! If she had hurt him, what would be the punishment? Beheading? Did they still do that for the killing of a king?

Then her thoughts drifted elsewhere…her first lover was a king…not many women could say that…and why didn’t he tell her? Did he think it would make a difference? Would it have? She was surprised he didn’t insist on her curtseying to his royal highness…HAH, like she would have…

Vee closed her eyes as she pictured him from the night before, spread like a buffet on the bed and she took a piece of everything that was offered…her mouth watered just thinking about his naked body…tied up for her pleasure…

Vee groaned as she opened her eyes and drank the rest of her bottle. She had to stop thinking about him. He did his job and brought her here, now there was nothing to hold him here…except his promise…but did he really care if he kept it? Maybe he just figured she was someone else’s problem now…and since she was now a notch on his bedpost, well, been there, done that, got the t-shirt, as the old saying goes…

Valaria bit her lip, she had nothing else to offer a king, not that she wanted anything beyond what they shared for the last couple of days…

We want him… Sia, her cat, caressed her inside.

“Yeah, I bet you do,” Vee smiled to herself as she reached to shut off the tub and pushed down on the stopper to release the still warm water.

She got out and grabbed a nearby towel to dry herself off. Her eyes drifted to the mirror and she wondered what she looked like when her animals were loose. She walked naked into her bedroom, leaving the light off until she closed the window shade. Then she sat on her bed and looked at the mirror over the dresser. She saw a small thin stranger looking back at her with two different colored eyes.

She peered closer. When was the last time she really looked at herself? She wore no makeup, never wanting to draw attention to herself. Her skin was a little pale and she realized she was literally turning into a ghost…what she always wanted…right?

See us… the voices inside piped up.

Vee smiled, yeah, she could finally see what she looked like when she changed. She closed her eyes and reached inside for her wolf. She felt the ecstasy of her animal bounding forward, eager to be let loose.

When her eyes opened again, she saw a black wolf with silver tips on her ears and tail standing on the bed, staring into the mirror. Vee sent her thoughts to turn and watched in fascination as her animal went around a couple of times before coming to a stop and lifting a paw. Then her head turned towards the open doorway.

Vee panicked when she made it known she wanted out to run under the night sky. Again, Vee closed her eyes and willed herself to come forward. She opened them to see her own body standing atop the covers. She felt her cat growling her irritation at being left behind and she chuckled softly, “Okay, Sia, just for a moment so I can see what you look like.”

She closed her eyes and felt her cat jump forward, not waiting for permission. Then Valaria saw her reflection and realized what Kaden’s own cat must have thought…she was the same except for her blue eyes compared to his green. She wanted to turn around as her wolf had done but her cat had other ideas. She took advantage of the open doorway.

She glanced around at the shadows in the adjoining rooms but quickly made her way to the door to outside. Vee was trying hard to bring her back under control but couldn’t seem to stop as the black beast rose and pulled her claws deep down the offending piece of wood barring her way to freedom.

Vee chastised her cat for the damage and gruffly pulled her back inside. Then she was standing nude in the livingroom looking at the deep gouges in what looked like a newly painted door.

“Crap, oh well, they probably get a lot of that around here,” she whispered as she turned in the dark to make her way back to the bedroom.

Vee dressed in the silk nightie, turned off the light, and crawled into her new bed. She lay there listening to the silence of rural living. A few odd crickets sang their night songs as the silence of the house struck her.

She tossed onto her side and saw the neon light of her bedside clock advertising midnight. She closed her eyes, determined to get some much-needed sleep. She could feel the restlessness of her animals at their brief escape.

“Quiet down you two, I’ll let you out later,” she whispered into the darkness.

When?...both their voices whispered back.

Vee laid on her back again and answered, “I don’t know, but soon. I don’t like this any more than you. I’m surrounded by strangers, living in a strange house wearing someone else’s idea of clothing.”

We need to find Kaden…

Valaria grit her teeth, “No, we don’t and I don’t think Kaden really gives a damn now that we are out of his hair.”

She felt the growl deep inside…

Vee sat up, “Now listen to me, both of you. You might think that we all shared something special between us and cat-man, but he was only fulfilling a promise to my sister. Did you even see when he was standing on that step that he never gave us a second look when Cassidy shooed us away?” Valaria felt a pang of hurt crush her chest as she uttered the words.

You are wrong…her cat spoke up again.

Vee got up from the bed and went to the window, opening the curtains and pointed, “Do you see him out there asking to come in?”

Go to him… her wolf chimed in.

Valaria felt frustration at dealing with two animals who obviously didn’t know anything about the human side of their threesome. All they saw was another shifter that helped them both into being, which she was very thankful for, but it ended when they landed here. They were on their own again. And she had to get through the next two weeks to fulfill her promise. Unless of course, Kaden left before the two weeks, then it was all bets off, she was out of there.

Stay…this is our family…

Vee dropped her head before staring out into the darkness. How would her animals react when she decided to take them away? Whether they liked it or not, she ran the show…and right now she needed some sleep in order to deal with the next morning.

Valaria opened the window a small crack to allow some clean air in to alleviate the stuffiness and headed back to bed. As she lay there, she felt her spirit plummet as she realized she had truly hoped he might have been outside just watching and waiting for her to ask him to come in.

She was such an idiot…

~*~

Vee didn’t know what woke her or when she had finally drifted off, but her eyes opened to see that it was three o’clock and by the darkness outside, it still must be early morning. She closed her eyes again, but sleep eluded her again. She waited and watched the clock tick away the minutes before she was resigned to just getting up. She groggily walked out to the kitchen and searched the cupboards until she found a box of different kinds of hot chocolate and poured herself some milk to heat in the microwave.

While she waited, she went to the bathroom in the dark. Thank goodness her eyesight was really good now, she really didn’t want to turn on any lights in case it attracted attention from someone outside. She made her mug of hot chocolate and returned to her bedroom. She pulled up a chair to the open window and gazed out while she drank. In the back of her house was a couple of trees and she could see a street that ran behind. A couple of cars were parked nearby but nothing stirred.

It really looked like a nice place to live…

At least in the dark…

With the morning, the streets were probably churning with people, er, shifters…were they all wolves? Or were there more cats? Maybe there were even more kinds like bears…or birds…who knew? She certainly didn’t…

She finished her hot chocolate and continued to stare out the window while her nose automatically pulled in the air and tried to find out who might be out and about. She would love to explore this town in the dark. There wouldn’t be anyone that would stop her and ask questions…she really wasn’t a people person…

Vee then made a decision…why couldn’t she explore? No one said she couldn’t. She wasn’t locked in…or tied up…DAMN, she had to stop thinking about Kaden! He was not in the picture which was her life now…maybe she just needed some time out with her animals, let them have a little run and she would stop feeling so caged…

Valaria went through the dresser to find some underclothes and topped by some pants and a warm sweater from the closet. She pulled on a pair of running shoes and then made her way to her door. She unlocked it and then pulled it open, half expecting someone to be there telling her to go back inside.

There was no one…at least no one she could see…

She paused and listened for any noises on the breeze and finding only normal sounds of night insects, she closed the door behind her, only realizing then that she had no key. Well, it wasn’t her stuff anyway…

Vee looked over at her sister’s house but everything was still black…good…

She started walking. As she walked, she glanced up at street signs and buildings to help her find her way back. She passed a silent diner and made a mental note to stop by there sometime…but she didn’t have any money of her own, she realized.

Oh well, probably not a good idea to get to know the local yokels anyway, since she wouldn’t be staying…

Then she began to wonder which house Kaden was staying in…would it be something grandiose, made for visiting kings? Or would it be something small and nondescript like hers…

Vee began to smell the air, trying to find the smallest scent that was him. If she could find where he was staying, would she knock on his door? Would he let her in?

Vee mentally kicked herself for feeling excited about finding him. Obviously, he wasn’t interested in giving her his address…so I guess that was his answer…

She felt her animals move inside, their own excitement at being outside and near acres and acres of forest keeping her feet moving. She chuckled as she allowed them to guide her towards the gentle sound of a good-sized river. She could hear roaring off in the distance and knew it got a lot rougher further down, but the water here was smooth and deep.

Such a different life, the kind of life her friend Veronica would be drawn to. But she couldn’t bring her here…she didn’t belong with them…

The thought made Vee melancholy. She thought she was on her own before…now, she felt like she was one step in her old world and one in the new…and fully belonged in neither…

Valaria gazed up the river…maybe she should follow it until she disappeared where no one could find her…if she found a way to cross it, even Kaden couldn’t track her and bring her back…not that he would care to walk that road again…

Vee sighed, she was surrounded by her own kind, by a sister she never knew she had and she had never felt so alone in all her life….

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