Heartglow

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CHAPTER 18

Valeria sat at her kitchen table with a plate of eggs and bacon with toast on the side. Her coffee was steaming beside her. Earlier in the afternoon, Riordan had delivered a cell phone to her and left. He had looked tired.

She had glanced up and down the street when she walked him out but there was no one else about but her shadow on the bench.

She didn’t know whether she was relieved or disappointed that Kaden hadn’t even come by to try to explain his new woman.

She would understand…

Maybe…

NOT…

Now her fingers caressed the screen of the phone trying to decide how to talk to her friend that had stood by her all these years. She seemed to belong to another life from long ago.

Vee felt like she had aged ten years in the last week.

She took another bite of brunch to settle a stomach that seemed tied in knots. A long drink of coffee and she dialed Ronnie before she could think of something else to delay the inevitable.

On the third ring, it was picked up, “Hello?” a sleepy familiar voice sounded on the other end.

Vee smiled, “Hey stranger, what’s up?”

“Vee?” the voice was starting to pick up, “Wow, I was beginning to worry about you. I didn’t even know where to begin to look for you.”

Valaria chuckled, “You know me, I can look after myself. Did I wake you? And what are you doing in bed?”

She could hear Ronnie running water for the kettle, “I was out late last night with Josh.”

Josh??

“Josh?” Vee echoed her thoughts.

“Oh yeah, I met him through a friend yesterday and we went out last night. He’s really nice and he treats me like a lady like pulling out my chair, opening doors for me…” her friend rambled on.

Vee broke in, “Be careful, Ron. They all can put on a show to make themselves look good.”

“Yeah, I know, Vee. So how is your mystery man?” she turned the conversation around.

Valaria hesitated before admitting, “Yeah, that’s what I was talking about. The cherry popsicle has baggage that showed up to be claimed.”

“Oh, Vee, I’m sorry. I thought he might be the one for you. He seemed so nice,” her friend was very genuine in her commiseration.

Vee couldn’t stand to be pitied, “No biggie, but the reason I am calling is I need a favor.”

“Sure, Vee, what do you need?”

“I need you to go to my place and get something. Then I will give you an address to ship it to,” Valaria explained.

“Do you owe someone else, Vee? Cause that guy, Cardboard, was kinda strange,” Veronica answered.

Vee laughed slightly, “Oh, he’s alright, Ron. He might look weird, but he’s a good guy. Anyway, no, the address I’m giving you is where I’m staying. So, get a pen and I’ll give you my address and only go there during the day…”

“I know, Vee, you already told me that before,” Ronnie broke in, “Okay, got a pen and paper. Shoot.”

Vee gave her the address to her old place and then instructed, “There’s a small hole in the wall about two feet from my door, the key is in there.”

Ronnie scribbled, “And what am I getting?”

Vee let her breath out, “Go to the garbage can in the bathroom. There should be an old facecloth in it that has my blood on it.”

“Your blood? What the hell happened, Vee?” Ronnie broke in.

Valaria shook her head, “Nothing, it was just a cut from a couple of weeks ago. Anyway, just pack it a baggie or something and Fedex it to me. I need it ASAP.” Then she gave her friend the address to her sister’s place next door.

Ronnie wanted to ask why, but she was very familiar with her friend insisting that the less she knew about what she was up to, the better.

“So, how long are you staying with your sister?” Ronnie prodded after she wrote down all the instructions.

Vee paused, “I don’t think too much longer, I don’t want to overstay my welcome.”

Ronnie heard what she didn’t want to say, “The cherry popsicle is still there then with his baggage?”

Vee’s voice broke, “Yeah.”

“Then come home, Vee, and we’ll get really drunk and poke fun at him and his baggage,” Ronnie suggested.

Valaria smiled to herself as tears formed in her eyes, her friend always knew how to cheer her up when things weren’t going her way, “I’ve got a couple of things I have to do here first, Ronnie, and then yeah, I think I’m coming home. But you’ll have to give me your address so I can find you.”

Veronica laughed and rattled off her new address before saying, “Nothing is more important than you, Vee, just come home.”

Valaria reassured her, “I am, I just have a couple of things to do, and thanks for doing that for me.”

Her friend knew better than to push, “No problem, I’ll get dressed and do it right now. You should get it tomorrow or the day after.”

Vee felt herself choke, “Great, thanks, Ron. And we will have that drunk as soon as I get back. But not in any bar…we’ll stay at your place.”

“I’ll hold that to you sister,” Ronnie replied, “So, I’ve got to get ready while it’s still light.”

Vee nodded, “Yeah, and thanks again.”

“What are sisters for?” Ronnie answered.

Valaria thought about her own sister next door and knew she had to see this latest threat through before she left. And to hell with the men and their secrets…

“I love you, Vee,” Ronnie added.

Valaria whispered back, “Love you too, Ron, talk later.”

She hung up, her emotions feeling like they were just put through a shredder. She tossed the phone on the table and cleaned off her table, throwing the nearly full plate of food in the garbage, her appetite gone.

Then she sat on her couch to think about what she could do to help her sister so she could leave. Should she just tell her everything and maybe they could both put their heads together? Or maybe they could confront her husband together…

Vee sighed, wishing she could just walk away and pretend that this whole mess didn’t happen. She could get Ronnie to move somewhere else where they wouldn’t be found…except Kaden knew Ronnie…no, she would have to go by herself…that shouldn’t be a problem…she had been by herself more than once in her life…

All she was sure of was that staying here was not an option…

Valaria closed her eyes and reached inside, “Ok, girls, what’s next?”

Her cat still seemed to be the boss…we need to find him…

She didn’t have to ask who…

“And what about you, Lysana? I suppose you want to find Riordan,” she consulted her wolf.

We are you…

Was she saying they were going to listen to what she wanted? Well, first time for everything. And it was the first time she actually began to think about what it would mean if she didn’t allow them to bond with anyone. How would they feel to live the rest of their lives with no mate? No one to run with…She knew wolves survived in packs and the same for some cats…

Wow, was she condemning her animals to a lonely existence? Although she was fine with burying her emotions, what about them?

Vee felt her skin begin to tighten as she suddenly needed some fresh air and to get back to just her and the land around her. When she was in the city, she often couldn’t sleep and roamed the streets, blocking out everything until it felt like she was the only one left in the world. It was the only way to settle her mind and feed her soul.

Valaria got up and made her way to the back door through the kitchen. She peeked out the window to see if she had another shadow posted in the back. When she spotted nothing, she opened the door quietly and peered around the small backyard. She then glanced next door to see if there was movement at her sister’s place.

Nope, nada…

She closed her door again and decided to take the chance to sneak away on her own. And maybe if she was in her wolf form she wouldn’t garnish that much attention. She had to risk it. The worse that could happen was finding her shadow glued to her ass, but that might be easily remedied too…

Vee undressed in her kitchen and opened her door a sliver. Then her wolf was scratching at the opening until she could break them out to freedom. Valaria cautioned Lysana to carefully creep out, keep both her eyes and ears wide open.

The first few minutes were hell as she kept a rein on her animal. Being more vigilant now would pay off big later. With each slow step, she scanned the area for any noises that might let her know the jig was up.

Then her wolf was loping across the street between the next row of houses, staying in the shadows of the waning sun. Another street…then two more…then a cluster of trees on the edge of the forest. Faster now…

Then deep darkness, the smell of rotting logs and evergreen. Vee let her go, grateful that she remained under Vee’s control for that long. Lysana whined low her appreciation at the freedom that was now hers. And Valaria was content to give control over to her. It allowed her to just breathe in the scents of the forest, reveling in the sweetness of being one with the Earth.

Her paws skittered through dense brush, feeling small twigs reaching for her dark coat. She would stop occasionally when a strange smell would envelop her. Most of the odors were of past wolves also spending time in the brush. Although the smells were interesting, she was never led away from her own trek.

Vee rested as her eyes took in the waning light, trapped between the tall trees overhead. She was mesmerized by everything around her. She would definitely choose to live in the wild rather than the diesel smells of the city…and once she had the money, she would find a place just like this to spend her days. Then maybe her animals wouldn’t mind so much that they would be alone…

Lysana’s ears twitched as a noise above floated down through the branches. A low growl…a deep chuffing…

Vee looked up and barely made out the black shape above. She quivered inside as she realized Kaden was sitting in the tree above her. What were the odds? She wondered briefly if her wolf had deliberately tracked him.

Didn’t matter now, she was getting out of here…

Another branch cracked and she found herself locked with the dark green gaze of her ex-lover. She saw his nose sniffing the air before growling as he began to descend the tree to the ground. Vee panicked and urged her wolf to run, hoping for a miracle that she would be able to escape, but her wolf refused to budge.

“Lysana, go, now!” she yelled at her animal, but she was being ignored and then it didn’t matter. Kaden had dropped to the ground and took his human form.

Then he was looking around for something and Valaria realized he was looking for her shadow. Vee figured since her wolf refused to run, she might as well take her human form, at least she would have some sort of chance to get away.

Valaria didn’t even try to cover herself as she regained her own skin. They both stood silently until Kaden spoke, “Where is your guard?”

Vee kept her face stoic, “Probably still back sitting on the bench in front of my house.”

She watched his lips tighten, “I will speak with Slayde. You cannot be left on your own.”

“I can look after myself,” Vee retaliated, still trying to remain impassive.

She was surprised when he smiled, “So you keep telling me, mo bhanrion.

Vee shook her head, “Don’t call me that. I’m not your queen. It seems that job is going to someone else.”

Kaden lowered his head and then raised it slightly to look at her out of the corner of his eye, “No, there is no one else.”

God, he was so sexy…

By now she could smell the essence that was his alone and she felt her body begin to ache for his touch. Vee deliberately brought the picture of Kaden and Sonya together, needing to splash some cold water on her thoughts.

“And you? Was I so easy to forget?” he purred his words as his gaze slid easily up her naked frame.

Vee looked away, not wanting him to read the truth in her eyes.

She had to remember Sonya’s words. She had said she didn’t care about sharing him since their animals had formed no bond yet. But Vee could never share this man with Sonya or anyone else. And since she didn’t want her own animals to attach themselves to him, there was only one solution…

Vee hadn’t noticed how close he had come until he was almost brushing against her, “She means nothing to me, little one.”

Valaria looked up into his hot gaze. His fire was going to burn her alive…

She asked, “Did you sleep with her?”

She didn’t know what to expect from him. Maybe he would look away to hide what he really felt, but he didn’t. He stared at her as he spoke, “Yes. We had explored each other to see if we would suit, but Leopold did not want to keep her. So, I told her we were done.”

Vee was confused, “But you are living with her.”

Kaden reached out and began to run his fingers up and down her arm, gently caressing, “She asked for protection and I was bound by clan rules to offer it.”

Valaria fought with herself as she wanted to lean into his caress, knowing she needed to stay away, “What did she offer you in return?”

Kaden’s hand stopped as he hesitated, “I do not want lies between us, Valaria. Sonya offered me her body, but I refused.”

How could any man resist that blond amazon? Vee knew how determined Sonya was in becoming queen. She didn’t care if Valaria and Kaden had a fling, she was in it for the long game. And Valaria knew she couldn’t keep Kaden on the end of a yoyo, she had to make him see that she wasn’t waiting for him, even if it sent him back into Sonya’s arms.

Pain shot through Valaria’s chest at the thought of the two cat shifters rolling around on the floor as Kaden thrust himself into her over and over.

Acid rose in her throat.

Then she was being wrapped in his embrace, her body crushed tight to his as his mouth hungrily covered hers. He was a man lost in the desert, finding his first drink of water…

~*~

Kaden had been fighting the instinct to push Valaria up against the nearest tree and bury himself deep within her heat. When he had looked down and found her wolf gazing up at him, his first thought was possession because that was the only way he was going to be able to keep her safe. His next thought was to let his cat prove to hers that he would be the best mate for her and he climbed down the tree with that thought in mind. His cat was all for it.

When he reached the bottom, he changed, hoping she would take her human form too. It would be much easier for her cat to take control. But Sonya had come between them and he could see the hurt in her eyes as he spoke of his past. He had reached out to just graze his fingers over her soft skin, proving that she was real and then he couldn’t wait. He pulled her against him and drank from her open mouth. He knew they were fire and gasoline when they were together, but he craved the burn.

His heart thundered as she began to pull him tighter against her, her tongue sliding against his own. He could smell the arousal dripping between her legs and he was powerless to stop himself from picking her up and pushing her against the tree behind him as he slid inside her heat.

Both of them growled in shared pleasure, clinging to each other as they both moved against each other. Kaden pounded harder and deeper, turning two into one. Strong legs wrapped around his waist, pulling him tight with each thrust to lose himself in her body. Her hunger met his own as she opened greedily for him.

Then she began to whimper as her nails dug into his strong arms and her teeth nipped at his lips before dropping to his neck to suck ravenously on his salty skin, marking him. Then she was screaming as her body shook, the spasms deep inside pulling him in until he couldn’t hold back any longer. His roar joined hers as he poured himself into her, filling her until it coated their joining in thick wads of white.

He laid his forehead against hers as he struggled to breathe. He was so tired of worrying about losing her. All he wanted was to spend his nights buried inside her and every morning waking up to her gentle touch. He wanted her to be the mother of his cubs and be his rock when things were tough. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost her…

His cat nudged him and he remembered his plan. Could Leo actually tame her panther? Could he prove his worth and trigger her glowing? Then there wouldn’t be any more doubt. She wouldn’t be able to fight what her animals wanted.

Kaden whispered, “Sia, Sia, Sia…please come out to play.”

~*~

Valaria had been lost since he touched her. One minute she was trying to drive a wedge between them and the next she was wrapping her legs around him, relishing the fullness of his cock deep inside her. Waves rocked her body as it wound itself tight and her mouth sucked on him hard. She didn’t care that it would be visible for days. Her only thought was to hold him until she died and when she came, it truly felt like she left her body, flying on the winds of pleasure until her waning breath brought her back. She couldn’t even feel regret. Nothing that felt that good could ever be regretted.

She kept her eyes closed as his forehead rested against hers. She just wanted to hold this moment for a little longer. Then she heard his whisper…

“Sia, Sia, Sia, come out to play.”

Vee vaguely registered what he was saying when she felt her cat begin to claw at her, reaching up through her body, demanding to be let loose.

Valaria instinctively let go of Kaden and he let her slide slowly to the ground. Then she felt the familiar stirrings of change. She didn’t even have the energy to stop it.

When she opened her eyes, she found herself gazing into a reflection of her own. The big black cat standing there was more muscled and stood taller at the shoulder, but it was like her. Her cat walked slowly forward and sniffed the wide snout in front of her before pushing forward to rub her mouth through the whiskers of the other.

Vee felt all that her cat was feeling. Sia was curious about the large male standing quietly, letting her explore him. Her nose slid over his shoulders as her own body slid by his face as if encouraging him to explore her as well. Valaria marveled at the gentleness coming from both Sia and Kaden’s cat, Leo. Sounds emitted from both throats as they continued to rub their ebony fur from one to the other.

Valaria met the other cat’s gaze and she knew Kaden was there watching her. Was he wondering if she was going to stop them? Vee had felt great passion and ecstasy with Kaden…shouldn’t she also allow her cat to feel the same? At least once before they left?

Sia shook her head at Valaria’s thoughts and then rubbed harder against the male before walking deeper into the darkness. Vee could feel the male behind her, sniffing her tail, content to follow. Sia was in no hurry and neither was the big male.

Valaria wondered what it would be like should her feline want to mate with Kaden’s big boy. It was a very strange thought to be a bystander to their coupling. Was it taboo within their culture? She didn’t even know enough about her own kind to say yes or no. She would have to make more of an effort to find out everything she could about both her own kind and the shifter life in general. She couldn’t imagine how it would have been if Kaden hadn’t found her and helped her through everything.

She probably would have lost her mind…

Sia stopped and began a low almost barking noise from her throat. Then Leo was beside her, rubbing and licking her face as he purred. Sia then pushed him with her head. Valaria didn’t interfere as she had no idea of their private communication.

Vee was surprised when suddenly the big male cat mounted her own. She wanted to urge Sia to run, but she doubted she would listen to her anyway. Valaria tried to pull away enough so she didn’t participate, but how did one do that when they shared the same body.

“Relax, little one, Leo will be gentle,” Vee heard Kaden’s voice and she began to look around. Then she felt the claws and teeth on her cat’s shoulder as she was forced to stay still.

Vee panicked, “Kaden, how are you here?”

She heard a growl just before Sia was impaled by the big black panther. Vee felt desire and pleasure rush through her as the male began to move.

“When our animals join, we also join. Do not be afraid, they need this,” Kaden reassured her and Vee trusted in him.

As Valaria relaxed, the movements of the big cat became Kaden’s as he held her while his hips drove forward, filling her, causing shudders from deep within. Vee felt him everywhere, his lips caressing hers, his hands sliding everywhere. She felt like she was no longer one person, having been swallowed by Kaden’s very soul until they both danced under the same skin.

And as his fingers teased her swollen clit, the building pressure inside exploded. Her cry became her cat’s roar as she took her pleasure from Leo. Vee’s hands reached for Kaden, grabbing his thick cock and pulling hard. He exploded in her hand. Vee felt the hot splash while also feeling her cat milking the large male.

Then Sia pulled away and turned to swat her lover and Vee felt the connection with Kaden lost. It left her empty. Then her cat laid down and began to lick her paws as if nothing had just happened, her purring the sigh of satisfaction. Leo laid down beside her, just watching with his deep green eyes, his own purr the sound of lawnmowers.

Vee didn’t know if she should interrupt their time together and decided to wait until Kaden made the first move. Although she understood that she just participated in a surreal experience, she had experienced it with Kaden…Sia and Leo were just the means to an end.

Then as they lay there panting, Kaden suddenly took form and Valaria took her cue and also became her human form again.

She stared at Kaden, not quite knowing what to say. She started, “How did you do that?”

Kaden shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know. It’s always been that way between shifters. How do you feel about what just happened?”

Valaria was asking herself the same question…how did she feel?

“I didn’t know what to expect. I was kind of embarrassed about being a part of their…experience, but then when you spoke and began to almost become a part of me…” Vee blushed as she spoke, “It was pretty incredible.”

With those words, Kaden enfolded her into his arms and kissed the top of her head, “I don’t think I have ever felt that way before with anyone.”

Vee stiffened but found herself hugged tighter.

“Valaria, you must know that there is a growing bond between us. Our animals are feeling it too, well at least Leo is,” he whispered above her.

Her cat was still purring inside but she did not confirm Kaden’s words and Vee didn’t want to ask, afraid of the answer.

She heard him sigh, “Listen, I understand you are finding this whole thing really difficult to deal with, but I want to let you know that I don’t care if you slept with Riordan. Our kind doesn’t look at sex the same way that humans do. I still want you.”

What???

Vee pushed against him and he let her go. She stared hard at him, not believing what he just said. He didn’t care if she had slept with Riordan? So, did that mean she shouldn’t care if he slept with the blond bimbo either? And maybe he didn’t turn down her offer. Maybe casual sex didn’t mean anything, so it really wasn’t worth mentioning.

“Vee, I told you, I don’t care about you and Riordan. And it shouldn’t bother you either. Your animals haven’t bonded with him, so it’s okay for us to be together and pleasure each other. And I think Sia is really growing fond of Leo,” at least Kaden hoped so, although Vee’s glowing still hadn’t been triggered…which meant he would just have to try harder.

He stepped forward, reaching for her, wanting to take her in his arms again and make slow love to her all over again.

Valaria stepped back, “Stop!”

Kaden hesitated, his previous conviction now teetering, “Valaria, what’s wrong?” He had wanted her to know that he wouldn’t hold any other physical relationships she had against her.

Vee hesitated, how could he just open his mouth and make her feel like a bucket of ice water was just dumped over her head?

She shook her head as she looked away, “Kaden, you are a real asshole.” Then she turned away and began to walk back towards town.

He called out, “Valaria, where are you going?”

She ignored him.

“You’re going the wrong way!”

Vee stopped.

“It’s left, through those trees,” he offered.

Valaria changed direction and heard his voice call out again, clearly closer to her than he was before, “Wait! Won’t you at least talk to me?!”

Vee halted again and turned to find him close, but still keeping his distance, “Go to hell, Kaden O’Connor, and I hope I never set eyes on you again!”

She didn’t even look back as she let her wolf loose and headed back home, not giving a crap if he was even still following.

~*~

Vee turned and came into her back door, locking it behind her as she stewed over what he had accused her of. How gracious of him to forgive her for sleeping with Riordan. Maybe she should sleep with him just to give truth to Kaden’s words.

Did he really think she would sleep around with other men? He obviously didn’t really know her at all. And him thinking that it was okay if she did…maybe she didn’t know him either.

Vee wanted to scream. She wanted to rail. She wanted to throw something…

She wanted to cry…

Vee walked over to her table and grabbed her phone, punching in Ronnie’s number. She hoped the distraction would keep the tears from falling.

“Hey Vee! I got your stuff sent out, but I was really surprised, you looked like you were robbed,” her friend picked up right away.

The distraction worked, “What? What do you mean?”

“Your place looked like a hurricane hit it, not that you had much, but even the sheets were ripped off your bed,” her friend provided.

Vee felt violated, her secret hideaway wasn’t so secret anymore. The only thing she was thankful for was she had nothing of great value there.

“Vee, did you hear me? Is there someone after you? Do you owe anybody else money? I could…” Ronnie offered.

Valaria cut in, “So you got the rag that was in the garbage can?”

“Yeah, yeah, although the can had been kicked around and the rag fell under your bed. And I sent it out with the fastest delivery so you should get it tomorrow. They said probably late afternoon,” Veronica confirmed, “You know, if you’re in trouble Vee, I can help you.”

Valaria shook her head, “No, not that I know of, maybe it was just a random thing, someone looking for money for drugs or something.” Then she added, “Don’t go back there, Ron. They can have whatever they find, I don’t need it.”

“Are you sure Vee? I can go tomorrow during the day…”

“No!” Vee shouted but then had to calm her tone, not wanting to frighten her friend but wanting to make sure she left the apartment alone, “There is nothing there worth risking your life for Ronnie. And you don’t know what desperate things people will do for money.”

“Yeah, I do,” her friend was quiet, “But I promise I won’t go there again.”

“Good, I don’t want to worry about you, Veronica. You mean too much to me to see you hurt by some local scum,” Valaria answered, “And if someone hurt you then I’d have to go all postal on their sorry ass.”

She could hear Ronnie laugh and she knew everything would be okay.

“Hey, I’ve got to go, Vee, I’m seeing Josh tonight, but if you need anything else, just call me,” her friend added, “And I can hardly wait until you get back so you can meet him and let me know if he could be the one.”

Vee smiled, “Me neither. I’m almost done here so I should be back sometime next week.”

“Cool, got to go get ready, love you Vee,” her friend hung up, leaving Valaria with dead air.

“Love you too,” she whispered.

Vee placed the phone on the table and went into the bathroom to have a long hot shower. She thought about what her friend said and it was probably more than likely that her place had been hit by some tweakers looking for easy cash…

But she couldn’t ignore the possibility that it might tie in with the death of the female shifter. Had someone else been following her? Kaden had said that someone had approached her that night on the street, but he scared them away…

Vee washed her hair and then cranked the hot water to scald the smell of Kaden from her skin. She still couldn’t believe he said what he did…like he was doing her a favor by accepting what she did.

Asshole…

Were they all the same? She felt sorry for her sister if her husband thought the same way. Which he probably did since he was refusing to share the possible danger that Cassie might be in. Yeah, he wasn’t going to get away with that any longer.

She was going to make sure when she got her package that he was going to promise her to tell Cassidy all that was going on or she would burn her blood until it was ashes and she wouldn’t give a fuck what happened to the whole bunch of them.

Then she would leave using any means necessary and disappear. And she would put them all out of her mind.

But she truly would miss her sister and her nephew. Maybe someday she would be able to find some way to contact her just to make sure everything was okay…

She would never contact the cat king…

Her chest clenched as her heart beat heavily within her breast. Why did the thought of never seeing him again hurt so much?

Vee turned up the heat again and winced as her skin really began to burn. She really needed something to calm her down and make her forget tonight.

When the water started to cool down, Vee jumped out and dried herself off. Then she went into the bedroom and rummaged through the clothes until she found a voluminous white cotton nightgown that fell to her feet, covering her dark red skin. She wiggled her toes and smiled, yeah, this was so sexy…

Vee laughed to herself as she found and opened another bottle of wine and realized that she probably drank more in the last week than she had in the last three years. Well, desperate times called for desperate measures…

She popped the cork and instead of pouring it into a glass, she decided drinking right from the bottle was a much more satisfying idea. It also made it easier to sling back a good healthy gulp. Within minutes she felt the telltale flush as the alcohol swam through her system.

Gawd, it felt good…maybe if she drank enough she could just pass out on the floor and forget she even existed…

She was more than halfway through the bottle when she wandered over to the window and peaked out to see who her jailer was tonight.

Riordan! She couldn’t miss that blond halo on his head…

She should go talk to him…

Vee didn’t even grab a coat as she opened the door and walked out to the bench, her bottle of wine still clutched in her hand.

She watched the man straighten as she came closer and settled down beside him. She sidled closer as she realized it was kind of cold outside. She thought the liquor would keep her warm. Oh well, if she got too cold, Riordan could keep her snug as a bug in a rug.

“Valaria, what are you doing out here in just a thin nightgown?” his voice was low and hoarse.

Vee leaned closer and offered her bottle, “Do you want a drink?”

Riordan chuckled, “No, thanks, I don’t drink on the job.”

Vee took another swallow, “Suit yourself, you people always do.”

“How much have you had to drink tonight?” he asked as he saw the amount in the bottle dwindling, “Did you drink that whole bottle?”

Valaria held it up and shook it, “Not yet, but I’m working on it.”

She heard him sigh, “You’re going to pay for that in the morning.”

Vee snickered, “Yeah, like you care. I’m just a paycheck.”

Riordan turned to stare at her, “Come on, Vee, you’re not the kind of girl that likes to throw pity parties.”

Valaria took another drink before answering, “Yeah, you’re right. All my life I never pitied myself, I just went with the flow and did what I had to do to survive. It’s alright. But now…” she trailed off as she looked around the sleepy town, “Now I don’t know my place in this world.”

Riordan sighed again as he watched the woman next to him look around, “You could have a place right here, it doesn’t have to be with me.”

Vee turned and reached out to grasp some of his blond locks as they blew in the soft breeze, “Now who’s throwing the pity party?”

Rory turned away, pulling his hair from her grasp, “Go back inside Valaria, it’s too cold out here.”

Valaria ignored him, lifting her feet up on the bench while she tucked her nightgown around her toes and offered, “My friend found the rag that had my blood sample on it. She mailed it out. I should get it today.”

Riordan swung around, “Wow, that’s great news, Vee. I’ll tell Slayde when my shift ends.” Then he saw her scrunching up her feet, “But really, you should go in, you’re feet are obviously freezing.”

Vee ignored him again as she drained her bottle and set it beside her, “You can tell my sister’s husband whatever you want, but I didn’t say I’m giving it to him.”

Riordan’s eyes met hers, “What? Why not? This could help us a lot. Don’t you want to help your sister?”

“You know what would really help my sister? Being told that she and her son could be in danger. That’s what would really help,” Vee charged as she wrapped her arms around herself…fuck, it really was getting colder…

She saw Rory’s mouth thin before he spoke, “That decision lies with the Alpha and it’s his alone. I wouldn’t advise giving him an ultimatum, it won’t end in your favor.”

“What’s he going do? Chain me up and gag me?” Vee challenged as her teeth began to chatter.

Rory swore and took off his jacket, pulling it over her shoulders until he had her completely enveloped within.

“I don’t need your coat, Riordan, I’m just fine,” although her teeth had stopped chattering.

Rory gave her a look of frustration before he spoke again, “Just accept it, Valaria, it’s just a coat. I’m not going to expect anything in return.”

Fine…fuck him…

She snuggled under the warmth that had been created with his body heat, smelling his unique essence. Her wolf was very happy.

“Listen, what would happen if your sister found out? What do you think she would do? Yell at her husband? Threaten to leave?” Riordan asked, “Do you really want to cause problems between her and the Alpha?”

Vee hadn’t really thought that far…

“You can leave when this is all over, Valaria, but this is Cassidy’s home. She has to live here and now that she is mated, unless there are extenuating circumstances, it is forever,” Riordan informed her.

Forever?

“You mean you guys don’t divorce?” she queried, finding the idea very strange.

Rory shook his head, “No, unless there is violence in the marriage, everything else is just something to work out.”

So, what did she want to accomplish by making Slayde tell her sister? She knew she would want to be told, but maybe her sister didn’t see things the same way…maybe she trusted her husband completely…and Riordan was right, she would eventually be leaving, but this was her sister’s home…

Which meant that if she gave up her blood sample, it was the best way to protect her sister and nephew after she left.

And she was leaving…

“So, do you have any more questions before I walk you back to your place?” Riordan broke in.

Vee looked at him, feeling like the power she had before she came out here was just plucked from her fingers, “Do you have family here, Riordan?” She wanted to change the conversation, not wanting to go back into the empty house just yet.

Riordan shook his head, “Not here, but I do have two older brothers and two younger brothers. The older ones are betas elsewhere and my younger brothers are still in the home pack.”

“No sisters?” Vee inquired.

“No, just five boys,” Rory reiterated. He stood up and held out his hand, “Come on, let’s get you inside before your toes turn blue.”

Valaria rose and looked down, “Wow, five boys, your mother deserves a medal.”

They both began to walk slowly back to her house, Vee still not wanting to go back inside, “So are your older brothers married?”

“Yes, they are both mated and they each have two sons of their own,” Riordan offered just before picking Valaria up and swinging her into his arms to be held tightly against his chest.

Vee shrieked and laughed as she found herself hugged tightly against Rory’s muscular frame, “Wow, are there any girls in your family at all?”

They were walking to her door as he answered, “Not yet, but I’m sure we will all have fun trying.”

Valaria laughed and slapped him on the shoulder, “You are quite a rascal, Riordan McCraven.”

He smiled as he reached out and opened her door and walked in. He placed her on her feet, “There, now get to bed so I don’t have to chase you around.”

Vee looked up at the handsome male and reached up to grasp his hair again, “Don’t you like the chase?”

Riordan growled deeply at her provocative words, “Only if I have a chance to catch what I’m chasing.”

Vee hesitated knowing how dangerous it was to lead him on. He might make an exciting bed partner but she really didn’t want to take any chances with her wolf getting cozy with his.

She dropped her hand and took off his jacket, “Here, take this, and thanks for lending it to me.”

Riordan bowed his head slightly, “You’re welcome anytime,” and he knew he was dismissed.

Vee saw him to the door and as he left, his nose breathed into his coat, still smelling the essence that was her.

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