Heartglow

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CHAPTER 13

“If you jump in, I’ll have to jump in to save you,” a deep voice sounded behind her, “And I’m really not that great of a swimmer.”

Vee turned, so lost in her thoughts she didn’t realize she was not alone anymore. Her eyes landed on the man that had stood on the step next to her sister’s husband.

She smiled, “Riordan, isn’t it?”

He smiled in return, “I’m surprised you remembered, you looked pretty tired after your long trip. Which begs me to ask what you’re doing out here instead of home in your bed?”

Vee looked down and kicked an errant stone, “I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep. You know how it is when you’re sleeping in a strange bed in a strange town.”

He nodded, “Uh huh, surrounded by strangers.”

Valaria looked up, “Yeah, and I’m not used to the sound of…” she hesitated before finishing, “nothing.”

Riordan chuckled, “Yeah, it can be pretty quiet out here most nights, but we can make noise on occasion.”

His smile and easy manner reminded Vee of the man that ran the ranch back in Wyoming. Tee had a knack for calming any situation and he needed that gift with several of the young people under his supervision.

Valaria felt herself relax, “Like howling at the full moon?”

Riordan’s eyes sparkled with laughter, “On occasion.”

Vee turned back to the river, “It’s very beautiful here. I could lay out here all night and just listen to the water flowing.”

“Yeah, your sister was the same way,” Rory replied, “That’s where Slayde and I found her the first night she was here.”

Vee turned back towards him, “She was camping out on the riverbank?”

Riordan nodded his head towards a path along the river’s edge and started walking as he talked. Valaria stepped up beside him and followed as he spoke, “Well, she wasn’t exactly camping. She had spent the evening at a local bar and ended up passed out in the grass here,” he indicated a part of the slope down to the water, “and when she woke up, she thought Slayde was someone’s dog.”

Vee chuckled to herself, “He must have set her straight.”

Rory laughed out loud, “Yeah, real straight. Slayde howled and Cassidy fainted.”

Valaria pictured the scene and laughed out loud along with the man beside her, “I probably would have done the same. I mean, if Kaden had morphed into a cat when I first met him, he probably would have been picking me out of a gutter.”

Rory hesitated before asking, “So, how do you feel about what you are?”

Vee shrugged her shoulders, “Well, I can roll with the punches and I mean, it’s not like I have a choice in the matter. I am who I am.”

Riordan nodded, “Good, I’m glad you have accepted it. It takes a very strong person to deal with the world as you know it crashing down around you.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last,” she agreed as she looked over at him. She felt her wolf do a turn inside her, very interested in the person next to her.

Riordan looked over at her and his green eyes held her gaze, “My wolf wants to run with you.”

Vee hesitated and looked away, did his wolf know hers was also interested? But what about Kaden? Oh, you mean, the man who wouldn’t even give you his address…

“I understand if you are unsure,” his voice wrapped softly around her, “But one thing you have to understand about shifters, if we are interested, we will say so.”

Which meant Kaden wasn’t…

Vee turned and looked up at the handsome man with the warm friendly smile, “I’m not having sex with you.”

Rory’s smile grew larger, “Well, I see you are very direct also. But I wasn’t asking you to sleep with me. I just thought your wolf might want someone to run with.”

Valaria felt her face flush at her assumption. She had to stop being suspicious of these people…

As if feeling her embarrassment, Rory leaned closer and whispered, “But if your wolf was interested in mine, I would love to explore that some night…all night,” he added.

Vee felt her face ache as it continued to warm beneath his gaze. She felt the familiar pull of desire as it clenched her thighs. How could she be attracted to another man so soon after she spent an extraordinary night with another?

His mouth then brushed against her ear, “We are very sexual creatures,” then he pulled back to stare into her eyes, gauging her reaction.

Vee couldn’t choke out a response if her life depended on it. Her wolf was circling wildly inside her, howling her interest and she wondered if the male in front of her was feeling the same thing…

Was this how it was going to be every time she met an unattached male? Gawd, she might find herself on her back, or her knees, every night she stayed here. And if they were all like Kaden in the sack…she had to get out of here as soon as she could.

Rory chuckled as he pulled back, “And we can take no for an answer.”

For some reason, Vee spoke up, “No, it’s okay, I think Lysana would like to run with one of our own…or close to it,” she amended. She didn’t know why she was reaching out to this complete stranger, but if she was going to be here for a couple of weeks…well, when in Rome…

The large man smiled again, “Cool, that would be great. I usually run alone, but sometimes it’s nice to have company. And there is so much to show you out there,” his hand motioned towards the forest and distant mountains.

Valaria nodded, “Yeah, it looks like I could run for miles.” Then she glanced at him and as if feeling her eyes on him, he turned, that beautiful white smile seeming permanently plastered on his face.

His smile was infectious and Vee found herself cracking a grin just as broad.

They walked again for a while as the rumble of the river got louder with each step. Then Vee found her hand grasped as her companion said, “Here, follow me, there is a great lookout spot where you can see the falls.”

Vee didn’t pull her hand back but let him haul her behind him as they clamored up a steep incline until they reached a flat of rocks worn smooth with age. Rory pulled her up beside him and they both turned towards the loud roar of rushing water.

Vee’s breath caught as she saw the spectacular vista of deadly rushing water crashing over jutting rocks and dead trees. Being in a city she never got to see things like this. It was beautiful and frightening all at once. She barely noticed that Riordan still held her hand, she was so overwhelmed at the ferocity of nature.

“Yeah, it does take your breath away, doesn’t it?” he had to shout to make himself heard.

Vee turned and smiled, “It’s amazing! It’s like nature’s time clock! Each second will never be repeated again!”

Rory cocked his head, “I never thought of it like that! I like it!” He squeezed her hand as she turned back to the falls.

Vee would definitely come back here. Even though it was loud, it offered peace without the rest of the noises of her life intruding.

“Are you getting tired yet!?” Rory asked loudly.

“Yeah, we should head back,” she agreed. She had to try to get a little bit of shuteye before getting up for the day. She didn’t know when her sister would be appearing at her door.

Riordan nodded and lead her back down, careful to hold on to her in case she slipped. When they reached the bottom, they strolled contentedly by the riverside until they were almost back to where they started.

Vee pulled her hand from his as she smiled, “Well, thanks, Riordan, that was a nice surprise.”

“Yeah, maybe we can do it again some time,” his voice contained a question.

She smiled, “Yeah, maybe.” She didn’t want to promise anything, she didn’t like making promises. And she didn’t want to give anybody any ideas that her presence here was long term.

Rory smiled back, “Great, I’ll walk you home.” He held out his hand but Vee hesitated to take it. She didn’t want to give him any more ideas.

Instead, she turned away and started walking back where she came from, calling over her shoulder, “Are you going to walk me back or not?”

Rory let his hand fall and ran to catch up with her, not at all disappointed in her refusal…after all, it was only their second meeting, but he did have hope for something more…and who knew, maybe their clan would be lucky to have it’s second double shifter find a mate here…

As they walked and chatted, they weren’t aware of a set of interested eyes watching from the forest…

~*~

Vee woke up and checked the clock on the table next to her bed. Twelve. Noon. Holy Crap! She rolled over and looked at the sunshine pouring in through her window. Wow, after she got home this morning she thought she would have trouble getting back to sleep, but nope, she barely remembered her head hitting the pillow.

She stretched languidly as she remembered the man from last night…Riordan…what was his last name again…oh, yeah…McCraven…Well, her wolf was certainly mccraven him last night…Thank goodness she had control over her…maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to run with him after all, she certainly did not want her wolf getting any ideas about getting shagged in the woods with…McCraven…

Vee chuckled loudly at her thoughts as she could feel her wolf dance excitedly over where her mind had gone.

“Don’t get any ideas Lysana, he’s not for you…or us…” which was really too bad, he was a very nice piece of male flesh.

That’s what you said about Kaden… her cat threw in.

Kaden…funny, before she made love…had sex, she corrected herself, with him, she really did not have any wish to sleep with anyone from the male side of the species…but now, it was like her body had awakened and she was looking at each of these males in a whole different light…

Vee sat up, she had to get her mind out of the gutter…but what a wonderful gutter it was…

She strolled into the bathroom and had her morning shower, wondering why her sister hadn’t come knocking before now…unless Riordan had told her about their late night rendezvous and she wanted her to sleep in…

Or maybe these people weren’t what they seemed…maybe they were out to make her feel welcome and then when her guard was down, she would be forced into some sort of breeding program for them…

They are like us…

“Yeah, maybe they are, but they are still strangers,” she answered her wolf. After she toweled down her body and hair, Vee looked at the makeup that was sitting on her dresser. Although she never bothered with it before, maybe it would be fun to try. She had always been curious as she watched Ronnie take this brush or that brush to apply a mask of layers to her already beautiful face. Ronnie had wanted to do the same for her, but no way was she having any of that unnecessary vanity. Vee never looked at herself to judge if she was pretty, there was never a reason…

She knew Kaden had called her beautiful when she had been soaking in the hot tub in the house she broke into, but she never gave it any merit. Now, Vee looked at herself and tried to see what he saw. Her black hair was short and always looked tousled. Her skin was clear, but a little pale…her eyes…yes, her eyes were spectacular with their two shades…her lips…well, she guessed they were kissable enough…

Vee grabbed a tube of lipstick and tentatively spread it over her thick bottom lip before smacking her mouth like she saw Ronnie do until her lips were completely covered in a light pink gloss. Pink…how girly-girl…

She heard a knock on her front door…

DAMN! Who could that be? Kaden?

Vee shouted into the livingroom, “Just a minute!” as she ran to the bedroom to find some clothes to throw on. She was still pulling down her shirt as she threw open the door and her sister was standing there holding a small child in her arms.

“Hey sis, good morning! I thought to let you get a little extra sleep before we,” she nodded towards the baby, “came to visit.”

Vee’s smile faltered a little in disappointment until the baby, who was chewing on his fingers reached for her. She couldn’t help but laugh as she spoke to him, “Well good morning little man, would you like to come to Aunt Vee?”

She held her arms out and the baby was eager to come into her embrace. She held him carefully as she spoke, “Come on in, Cassie, I just got out of the shower.” She turned to allow her sister in and then moved to the couch to sit with her nephew.

She heard the door close then, “Wow, someone wanted out last night.”

Vee glanced back, “Yeah, Sia was determined. I let her come out so I could actually see what she looked like and she took advantage.”

Cassidy joined her, “Yeah, you have to make sure you let them out once in a while or they get a little cranky. You know what an animal stuck in a cage is like.”

Vee smiled, “I never thought about them considering me a cage.”

“Yeah, you are, but I find giving them a run once or twice a week helps calm them down,” she reached out to touch her baby’s hand, making goo-goo noises.

“Riordan offered to run with my wolf,” Vee jumped in. She was sure it would get out somewhere that she saw him last night.

Cassie raised an eyebrow, “He did, did he? When was that?”

Vee bounced the baby gently, focusing on him as she spoke, “Last night.”

“Last night? When? Did he come over after I left?” her sister seemed very interested.

Valaria laughed as she met her inquiries, “I couldn’t sleep last night, so I went outside to do some exploring. I was down by the river when he found me.”

She watched as Cassie sighed, “Great, they are doing the same to you what they did to me when I first came here.”

Vee cocked her head, “What do you mean? What did they do to you?”

“Had me under twenty-four-hour surveillance. There was someone parked outside my window every hour of every day. It was so annoying!” Cassie replied, “But we don’t have anything to worry about that anymore so I’m not sure what Slayde is up to, but I’m going to find out!”

Vee didn’t like the idea of someone keeping tabs on her. She had liked talking to Riordan last night, but if she had known he had been assigned to be her personal bodyguard…no, that would never do…

The baby started to fuss as Vee had stopped her bouncing while she contemplated what Cassie had said.

Cassie reached for her baby, “Give me Tye, he’s probably hungry.” As she made her son comfortable and started to feed him, she was still upset, “I told Slayde that I wanted you to feel welcome and to trust you. I mean, I didn’t worry that you would run off or something.”

Wow, her sister had no idea what she had been thinking last night…

“And Kaden had said you had planned to stay at least a couple of weeks,” she ran on.

Vee’s eared pricked up, “Oh? Is Kaden with your husband this morning?”

Cassie smiled, “Yeah, I think Slayde said they had a meeting about something this morning…ooooh, so you have a thing for the cat king.” Her grin couldn’t get any bigger, “Oh yeah, I remember that feeling.”

Valaria looked away, “I was just curious, I do not have a thing for Kaden or anyone else,” she looked back and tried to get off the topic even though she technically was the one who brought it up, “So, why were you under twenty-four-hour guard? Were they afraid you were going to run too?”

“I tried, but Slayde and Riordan made sure I wasn’t going anywhere. I mean, looking back, I can’t blame them really. This was the safest place for me to be, or at least they thought at the time.” Cassie explained then hesitated, “I should probably explain about us…our kind. You see, up until I arrived, it was believed that all of the double shifters had been eradicated.”

Valaria was confused, “Eradicated? You mean, like exterminated?”

Cassidy nodded her head, “I didn’t even know about who or what I was. All I had was a small bracelet with pink beads that spelled out my name, Cassidy Rose MacTire,” she pronounced it McTeer…

Vee thought about the couple of pink beads she had carried for years…a small v and a letter a…

“I remember someone giving me a couple of pink beads with the letters v and a on them and told me they were mine. I assumed they were part of my name so I made up a name with those letters.”

“You mean, no one told you what you’re name was?” Cassie was surprised.

Vee shook her head, “No, they just called me Vee.”

“Do you still have the beads?” Cassidy asked with excitement, “I mean if they are like mine…”

“No, I threw them out long ago,” Vee felt memories surfacing and wasn’t sure she wanted to delve further into them, “So, you were saying about our people…”

Cassie continued, “Yeah, so when I first came here, I had no idea that shifters of any kind even existed. I was just passing through on my way to Georgia. Anyways, Slayde and Riordan had to do some research really quick since they could tell I was close to my first shift and they didn’t know anything about double shifters.”

Cassidy laid her sleeping bundle on the couch between them as she continued, “So, the first shift wasn’t much of an issue but finding out we have to mate to release our second animal was a real game-changer.”

Vee nodded her head, “Yeah, I didn’t know what the hell was happening and I didn’t believe Kaden when he said that. I thought it was something he made up so he could sleep with me. But then it happened…” she looked away, “the whole thing was terrifying…”

She felt her sister’s touch, “I know what you went through. I was even a virgin to boot when it happened to me.”

Vee’s eyes returned to her sister, “Me too.”

Cassie couldn’t hide her surprise, “Really? I mean, I had boyfriends and did some make-out sessions but I wasn’t interested in the whole sex thing.”

Vee remembered why she had no interest, but she wasn’t ready to share that right now. She sought to get out of her head, “So, you and Slayde…he seems like a really nice man, I mean I don’t really know him yet…”

Cassidy touched her arm, “You will and his beta, Riordan, is a great person too…in case you’re interested,” her eyebrows rose suggestively.

Valaria smiled, “I’m not staying here, Cass, so forget your matchmaking. I have no interest in what you have,” she didn’t realize how hurtful her words were until she saw it reflected in her sister’s eyes.

She reached out to grab her sister’s hand, “No, I’m sorry Cass, that’s not how I meant it. You have a great life here. You have a husband who loves you and now you’ve started a family…I envy what you have, but it doesn’t fit me.”

Cassie grasped her fingers, “I didn’t think so either, Vee, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

They stared at each other in silence before Valaria looked away, “So, you were talking about our people being exterminated?” She pulled her hand away as she spoke.

Cassie hesitated for another moment before replying, “Yeah, so as I was saying, our people had all been killed in accidents or made to look like accidents. Everyone thought we were all gone until I showed up with my name on my bracelet. And after I went through my shifts, I wanted to research our families to try to find out where we came from and that’s when I accidentally contacted Kaden and the next thing I knew, he showed up in Slayde’s office…”

A knock sounded on the door. Both girls jumped and looked towards the sound. Then Cassidy got up, went to the door, and opened it.

She smiled, “Hey, what can we do for you?”

~*~

Kaden smiled in return even though after the news that morning, he wasn’t feeling all that joyful. That morning, he and Riordan met with Slayde at the morgue in the basement of the hospital where they brought the dead shifter. She had been a pretty dark brunette who had her whole life ahead of her and now she was lying on a metal table with a large gash in her throat. They inspected her clothes and her purse that had accompanied her body. According to her license, she was only twenty-two. She shouldn’t be near her first shift…unless she was like Cassidy and Valaria…lost in a system with no evidence of age…

They found a phone, some gum, nail clippers, and fifty dollars and change. Slayde took the phone and spoke, “I’ll see if my guy can start this up and get into it to see if he can find anything about her and where she might have gone the night she was killed.”

Kaden had been going through the girl’s pockets and pulled out more change and a lottery ticket. He also noticed a partially worn off stamp to her hand, “Well she had a lottery ticket, so she was hoping for money and this stamp,” he showed the other two men, “came from a club of some sort.”

Riordan grabbed a camera off a shelf and took pictures of all the items before grabbing a syringe and inserting it inside the girl’s body to extract a small amount of blood.

Kaden asked, “Can you tell what kind of shifter she is from her blood? I mean if she is a pre-shift?”

Riordan answered, “I’m not sure. I’m going to take this up to the lab and see what they can come up with.” Then he left.

Kaden turned to Slayde, “Shouldn’t we have someone in here to do a complete autopsy?”

Slayde shook his head, “No, the fewer people that know about this the better. I don’t want to create panic if she is one of us.”

Kaden nodded, “Do you think it is connected in any way to Valaria? I mean, she has short dark hair and about the same height…”

Slayde held up his hand, “We can’t jump to conclusions with this…”

“But you have to acknowledge the possibility, Slayde. It’s quite the coincidence that someone that physically resembles Valaria and lives in the same city suddenly ends up in an alley with her throat cut,” Kaden could feel panic rising with the possibility.

Slayde nodded, “I know. When I heard the description of the body, that went through my mind too. But she is here now and I can protect her…”

“WE can protect her,” Kaden interrupted.

Slayde paused before agreeing, “We can protect her, and that will mean twenty-four-hour surveillance. I will set it up so she is never left alone. I have…”

“I will move in with her,” Kaden stated matter-of-factly, “That way she will never be alone at night.”

Slayde smiled, “Nice try, but I don’t think Valaria is the type to just let you walk in and demand to stay there…”

“I’m not asking,” Kaden affirmed, “If her life is in danger, then I will protect her.”

Slayde looked at the cat king and shook his head, “Man, you’ve got it bad.” He chuckled.

Kaden growled low in his throat, “I seem to remember a certain wolf-shifter that didn’t hesitate to fight for his woman.”

Slayde nodded, “Yeah, and we know how stubborn she was. Valaria is even less trustful and I don’t think she will appreciate your heavy-handedness, but hey, if she’s willing, that would make things a lot easier for us right now. At least until…”

The door opened as Riordan came in, “They tested it and she is a wolf-shifter. She is one of us, but who knows whose clan she belonged to.”

Slayde nodded, “I’ll make some inquiries. Her license has a good picture so I’ll send it around to the clans. Someone will want their family back.”

“Wait,” Kaden spoke up, “Are we sure that she is a wolf-shifter?”

Riordan answered, a little affronted, “Yeah, we’re sure cat-man. Even though she was pre-shift, we know the markers.” He smiled with satisfaction.

Kaden narrowed his gaze on the other large man, his competition, “But aren’t all the double shifters wolves first?”

The smile dropped like a hot potato…

~*~

“Hey, what can we do for you?” Cassie smiled her usual beam of sunlight.

Kaden answered with a grin of his own, “I came to see how Valaria is settling in.”

Cassie stepped back and waved him in, “She’s on the couch watching Tye.”

Kaden entered and watched as Cassidy side-stepped him to get to the sofa first, “I think I will just go home to get some things together for supper. I would like it if both of you could come.” She picked up the sleeping baby and walked back to the door to let herself out. She waited until both people nodded their acceptance, “Great, it will be nice to have some family around the table.” She left.

Kaden noticed long scratches on the back of the door, “I take it your cat wanted out?”

“Yeah, I let her out for a quick look at her and she wanted out for a run,” Valaria replied.

Kaden turned back to her, “Would you mind if I sit down?”

Vee motioned towards the couch, “By all means, I have to throw something together for lunch anyway,” and she got up as he sat down.

Was she nervous to sit with him? It wasn’t like they were strangers.

He watched her move to the stove and go through the cupboards until she located a frying pan. Then she dived into the fridge.

“So, did you let her out for a run?” he was curious if she was out on her own.

She wouldn’t look at him as she began to cook, “No, I didn’t think it would be a good idea with all the wolf-shifters running around. And Cassie offered to take my cat out for a run so she can wait until then.”

Kaden nodded to himself, “Well, I can take you out too,” he offered.

Vee stilled then before replying, “Would you like something to eat? I’m just frying up some bacon and eggs.”

Kaden jumped on the excuse to stay, “Yeah, that would be great, I didn’t have much more than a cup of coffee this morning.” He stood up, “Is there something I can help you with?”

Vee gestured to the coffeemaker on the counter, “If you can figure out how that works, that would be awesome, thanks.”

Kaden was glad for something to do as she seemed kind of jumpy around him. He looked for and found a bag of coffee and made quick work of starting a pot. Then he grabbed a loaf of bread and popped a couple of slices into the toaster. He didn’t make any issue of her avoidance of his offer, he would tackle that when they sat down to eat.

He found some plates, mugs, and cutlery and laid everything out on the small table. When the first toast popped, he buttered it and popped in a couple more. Kaden found the domesticity of their actions easy and comforting.

Soon they were sitting down to a simple fare of eggs over easy, bacon and toast washed down with fresh coffee.

As they both started to eat, Kaden spoke, “I hope you don’t mind me stopping in,”

Vee shook her head, “No, that’s okay, I’m just surprised you are still here.”

Kaden stopped with his fork halfway to his mouth, “Why? We agreed that you would give it at least two weeks and then if you wanted to go, I would take you back.” He ate his food.

Valaria poked around her plate, “Well, I’m sure you must have some kingly things to do.”

Kaden smiled when she wouldn’t look at him, “So, Cassidy told you?”

Vee met his eyes then, “Yeah, so how come you didn’t mention it?” Her voice clearly said, what else didn’t you tell me?

He paused, “Would it have mattered?”

Vee looked down again, considering his question. She ate another mouthful and then replied, “Why would a king be on the street trying to track someone down? Don’t you have people to do that for you?”

Kaden’s lips thinned, “You must be confusing me with human kings. You have a lot to learn about our kind.”

Vee’s eyes started to spark, “I don’t need to learn about your kind. I said I would give this two weeks and then I’m out of here and don’t feel you have to hang around to take me either.”

How did the calmness turn so quickly into animosity? He had to stop treating her like one of their own who would listen and follow their leader. She had been raised among humans and didn’t exactly have interactions that would inspire loyalty.

Kaden relented, “I’m sorry, sometimes my mouth speaks before I think through the reactions. I need to keep in mind you were not raised as one of us, so you are going to need a steep learning curve.”

Vee dropped her fork and reached for her mug. She had to fill her hand so she wouldn’t hurl something at his face. It was still his way or the hard way…which was still his way.

“So, would you like to go out tonight and let your cat run?” he watched her put her cup down with intense precision and he added, “or your wolf, my cat won’t mind.”

Valaria met his gaze, trying to figure out what his end game was. Was he trying to continue what they shared before they got here?

Her cat began to purr and she wished she could physically push her away from any ideas she might have. Well, at least the good thing was he wasn’t aware of what her cat was doing inside…did his cat do the same thing…?

“Does your cat talk to you a lot?” she asked as much to get off the current subject as she was genuinely curious.

Kaden chuckled, “Somedays more than others. He is usually content as long as I let him out to run regularly,” he glanced over at the deep gouges in the door.

Vee flushed as she knew what he was looking at, “Yeah, I’m so going to owe my sister for that.”

Kaden took another bite, “I wouldn’t worry about it, it comes with the territory. And I’m sure it’s nothing compared with having you here.”

Vee continued to eat her meal, wanting to get him off the idea of them running together, “Yeah, I suppose,” she agreed non-committedly.

For the next few minutes, the only sound was of metal scraping across ceramic as they each worked to clean their plates until Valaria was the first to push her remains away, “Well, that hit the spot,” as she grabbed her empty cup and got up to refill her coffee.

“Yeah, it did, you’re a good cook,” Kaden said behind her before joining her for a refill.

They both stood with their backs against the counter, the atmosphere so thick you could cut it with a knife. Vee sipped her coffee as she glanced to the side to watch Kaden as he stared into his own coffee cup. He looked like he was contemplating the future of the world…

Vee decided the best defense is a better offense, “You might as well spill it, I can’t read minds.”

“I’m moving in with you.”

The words came so fast that Vee wasn’t sure she heard it right, “What?” This time she turned to face him to make sure she understood when he repeated his words.

Kaden’s eyes sought hers as he spoke, “I’m moving in with you.”

She did hear him right…

Had he lost his mind?

“I don’t think you should be here alone,” he offered his reason.

Which was no reason at all, Vee thought. What was he playing at? Did he think she was going to be his own personal bed warmer while they were here? Her cat purred louder at the thought. She quickly growled to herself, there would be no more warming his or anyone’s bed…

“You aren’t saying anything,” his voice was soft in the stillness.

She opened her mouth, “What did you think I would say?”

He grinned, “Yes?”

Vee pursed her lips, “No, the answer is no. I’m not your bit on the side, Kaden, while I’m here. If you need a warm bed you’ll have to look elsewhere.”

His grin faded as he looked away. She watched as he seemed to be at war with himself before he looked back, “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean? Are you supposed to keep an eye on me in case I decide to leave before the two weeks are up? Well, you don’t have to, I said I would stay and I meant it,” Vee pushed away from the counter, grabbed the dishes off the table, and began to clean them off before loading them into the dishwasher, “I don’t need a babysitter, Kaden, so if my sister has put you up to it…”

“Your sister didn’t put me up to anything,” he acknowledged as he put the coffee cups in the open tray, “I just thought that you might feel…safer.”

Vee started looking through the cupboards for dishwasher pods, “Safer? How much safer can I be? I live next door to the alpha here.” She found them and opened the package, “I’m not your responsibility, Kaden, I can look after myself.” She closed the metal door and then stared at the buttons.

Kaden reached forward and pushed one, hearing it start, “I know you can look after yourself…”

Vee straightened up, “Then that’s settled, I am good on my own,” she stared into his eyes as if she was seeing the panther dwelling deep inside, “We don’t need anyone.”

Kaden swore and pushed his hand through his ebony mane, “We all need someone, Valaria, whether we are a loner from the streets or…”

“A King?” she interrupted, “Is that what you were going to say?”

Kaden stared hard at her, “Yes…a King…”

Vee swallowed hard as she saw fire begin to burn deep in his eyes…what did he want from her…? Surely he wasn’t asking for something more permanent between them…and a king had to marry a princess…didn’t they…?

Marriage…? Where the hell did that idea come from? She shook her head, dislodging the crazy thought. There was no way this could be permanent between them, he couldn’t possibly mean he was interested in something more. They had nothing in common…they only slept together because it was a necessity…

“Valaria, I know things work different for your kind, but I need you to know I can protect you,” his voice was steady with an undercurrent of possession.

Vee felt that possession and it wasn’t altogether unwelcome to her animals inside. If she didn’t stop this now, would she be clipping her own wings?

Vee questioned again, “Protect me from who? I don’t need protecting, Kaden, how many times do I have to tell you that? So, no, you are not moving in here and I’m pretty sure if I speak to Cassidy’s husband…”

Kaden knew when the battle was lost as he held up his hand, “You’re right, I’m sorry, but,” he stopped and that look of war came over his face again.

Vee walked by him and headed to the door, “No more, Kaden, I’m still kind of tired from the last couple of days,” she twisted and pulled the handle until it swung open, “Thanks for your concern, but there is nothing to worry about here, I’m surrounded by people just like me, right?”

Kaden took the hint and moved to the open door. What could he say to her without raising all kinds of alarm? Slayde had wanted to keep the dead shifter a secret until they could uncover what was going on…and it might not be related to the double shifters at all…

And since she was not going to allow him to stay inside with her, he still had to try to keep her as close as she would allow. He paused with his hand on the door as he turned to ask, “Are you still coming to dinner tonight?”

Vee nodded, “Yeah. If I don’t, my sister will just come over and haul me back to her house.” She grinned at her own words

Kaden grinned in reply, trying to ease the emotions between them, “Yeah, she has a habit of getting her own way.” He turned away and then swung back, leaning forward to swipe his lips along her cheek, “I’ll see you later,” and he was gone.

Valaria closed the door quickly as her hand rose to caress the skin where his lips had passed. Just the smallest of caresses but it still caused her heart to flip within her chest. She locked the door and leaned against it. Her eyes wandered over the livingroom as she thought again about his suggestion. Why would he want to move in except to have her under his…claw…? She closed her eyes and wished she could turn back time before her life as she knew it changed. But it wouldn’t have mattered if she already knew the future, nothing would have stopped her animals from getting loose…she just would have slept with someone else to release her cat…and Kaden was definitely better than some random bum on the street…

She shivered as she thought about what could have happened. No, she wouldn’t turn back time, she wouldn’t have changed a thing. She opened her eyes again, everything she did now had no plan, she was flying by the seat of her pants…and she didn’t think she liked that at all…

Vee wandered over to the sofa and sat down. She grabbed a remote that was sitting on the small coffee table and pointed it at the television. Immediately, some news station popped up and a stranger in blue was discussing the donation that had been made to the local college to pay for new science equipment for its labs. She watched as it morphed into the next story and then into the next…perfectly normal in a normal world…which was not her world anymore…

Valaria turned her gaze away as the deep voice rambled on, announcing the time of two o’clock in the afternoon. So, what should she do with herself when she was alone? She couldn’t imagine day after day being spent watching television. She could go out and explore again, but she figured she would get more than her share of attention for being the new person in town and she didn’t want that.

Her thoughts turned to Kaden again, maybe she shouldn’t have kicked him out so soon, at least he would have been a distraction…she licked her lips absently as she pictured him naked on her bed, waiting for her to join him…

Vee closed her eyes as she started to imagine the feel of his touch on her rapidly warming body. His lips covering her nipples and suckling as his tongue stroked the sensitive tips. She moaned as she dropped the remote on the floor and stretched herself out on the soft cushions. Her hand slid under her shirt to caress her aching breasts, tweaking the distended nipples, while she thought of her lover’s mouth. Her other hand slid beneath the waist of her pants to slide into her panties until she felt the hot wetness buried there. Her fingers began to stroke deep into her cleft as she remembered Kaden’s tongue as it slid through her wet folds.

Valaria bit her lip as her fingers worked the magic little button at the apex of her sex. Her thoughts were filled with Kaden’s hot mouth pulling and sucking on her, driving his tongue deep into her until she screamed with release. Vee felt her own body tighten as her fingers pushed and circled…maybe she shouldn’t have sent Kaden away…then he could be with her now, on her bed, her legs spread and his dark head between her thighs, eating her alive…

Vee screamed as her orgasm shook her whole body…

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