I could not encourage Kaia to leave for the next forty-eight hours. It was impossible and stupid of me to even bring up such a thing. So instead, with her other sisters occasionally coming in, we lived in Kallan’s living room. We ate in her kitchen. Actually, I ate while trying to get Kaia to swallow food she refused to eat. Then I tried to help distract Kaia by playing silly games and having conversations. When that didn’t work, I hovered above her on the couch and kissed her soft skin until she moaned and her mind became fuzzy.
It was now at the end of those forty-eight hours and Kaia was sitting on the floor while I played with her hair ñ perfecting the braid. Yes, I was very, very bored too.
Kenna and Calder had come in ten minutes earlier and by the constant release of breath I could tell they were bored as well.
“Hi everyone!” Camira’s voice pierced the silence as she walked in with Dagon. Camira’s smile slowly vanished as she saw our own slackened faces.
Kenna huffed, finally having enough. I’m surprised it wasn’t Kaia first.
“Okay, this is ridiculous. Shouldn’t her mate be trying to wake her up?”
Kenna moved to stand, like she was going to go eavesdrop on the fatigued couple, but Calder grabbed her.
“Babe, sit down. None of us are going to interrupt. We would just be crossing a line.”
“But Calder, its like nothing is happening. It’s been two days for god’s sakes.”
Kenna went to get up, and this time Calder didn’t stop her. She started to pace with a hand on her lower back, and her mate watched her closely.
Hopefully her body language was normal, because she looked slightly distressed. I guess if something were wrong, Calder would have felt it immediately. I studied them and saw that even though Calder’s eyes were attentive, his body was relaxed. None of us had a reason to worry about the pregnant woman.
Then because Kaia was within reach, her hand snapped out and shackled Kenna’s ankle in her fingers.
“Kenna, you’re wearing the floor in, and you’re about to trip over me.” Her grasp loosened when Kenna stopped to look down. “I’ve been here two days straight, and nothing has alarmed me to anything wrong. We just need to give them time. He’s the only one who can wake her. We all know that.” She motioned to the room full of the rest of the family.
I spoke up then. “It’s going to be fine. He seems very protective of her. There isn’t anything to worry about as of yet.”
Kenna stood there looking at the two of us, and then she sighed and moved back into Calder’s embrace.
“Maybe we should play a game.” This was Dagon’s suggestion, and Kaia huffed.
“Already tried that. We’ve played every damn game there is to play in this house.”
And that’s when a man walked around the corner with purposeful strides. He slowed to a stop when all of our eyes met his, and then measured him from top to bottom. He was broad shouldered and the clothes I had supplied fit him snuggly. He had a smooth jawline and his eyes were accompanied with the dark half moons beneath them. He stood there; no longer sure about what he had intended to do.
Before I could untangle my fingers from Kaia’s brunette locks, she shoved away from the floor and stood up swiftly. I hissed, ready for her reaction of pain when my fingers accidentally pulled hair with the sudden separation.
My blossom either didn’t feel the pain or didn’t acknowledge it. Instead she yelled at the man.
“Who the hell are you? Why did you barge in like that, almost attacking the whole house? And what gives you the right to protect Kallan from her family?”
Even though he emitted a strong amount of well-earned confidence, he seemed to want to retreat a step or two. I wasn’t sure if I should reprimand my mate for the sharp tone or smirk at his reaction that she had caused.
We all watched as he cleared his throat and then took in a breath before he spoke. He was definitely uncomfortable. I smirked.
I think I owe an apology to all of you. For being a total monster, bursting in like that. It was complete instinct to get to his mate, and he had pushed me so far back into our subconscious that I couldn’t be the reasoning in his mind.” He was talking about his other half – the wolf. “So, I’m truly sorry for snapping at all of you...more than some I think.”
At that he connected eyes with Kaia and I pulled her closer, remembering the way he had threatened her while she protected Kallan. She plopped down on my lap in surprise of the sudden shift of her body weight I had caused.
I still held a strong grudge against his wolf’s threat against my blossom two nights ago, and as I looked around the room I felt joined by the same thoughts from both Dagon and Calder. Dagon held a strong dislike most likely because of the standoff between Camira and the wolf. Calder held his own resentment because of the threat to his future family. In contrast with the men, many of the women seemed to relax slightly after the apology.
The man continued to introduce himself, “Uh, my name is Branton. The obvious thing is that I’m a werewolf and Kallan’s mate.”
His fingers spiked through his already disheveled hair.
“Like I said, I barged in like that because I had no control, and we were kind of in a panic, knowing we only had so much time. Thankfully,” he looked to Camira and Dagon, seeming ready for anything, “you were able to calm him down enough to see, but then I went to her room, and we know how that went.”
Branton really did seem genuine about how he felt. Maybe because he had never had anything take him over like that so strongly. I started to relax, and pulled Kaia closer, encouraging her with my body language to do the same.
Placing his hands against the back of the remaining couch, Branton’s shoulders hunched over and he finished.
“I’m Kallan’s mate. That gives me all rights to being her protector. Hell, all of you should know what being a mate means. I’m really not sure I need to explain it, but being a mate in my...in my pack means loving their whole self, protecting him or her from everything...even themselves, and when someone or something gets in the way of that relationship, we fight through it.”
Branton stared at all of us with droopy, red eyes. He literally just poured everything out for all of us to judge. He never really meant for any of two nights ago to happen. I was starting to forgive him, and the rest of the room seemed to do the same.
Camira sat forward, against Dagon’s pulling hands, and responded in kind. “Okay, Branton. We believe you.”
His shoulders sagged for two seconds, but then it was Kenna’s turn, and it seemed like not all of us were ready to accept him yet. I am wrong sometimes.
Kenna snapped, “What! Just like that? He almost ripped my damn arm off, Camira!”
Her eyes were like daggers; like those that were always strapped to her outer thighs.
Branton noticed the two daggers as well and swallowed, understanding the threat. His eyes flickered behind him, but not so far as to take us out of his line of sight. His body language seemed to also lean towards Kallan’s room. It was obvious where his mind was while he also tried to placate a room full of her family.
Calder seemed to sense something within his mate, so he decided to speak up. “I think we should all introduce ourselves and then go from there.”
Camira immediately agreed, obviously understanding what Calder was trying to do.
“That’s perfect!” She sat up slightly taller, but never removed her arm from around Dagon’s neck. “My name is Camira, you might have caught that, and I’m the Nymph of the wind. We all have our stories of how we met, but if we accept you as family...”
She couldn’t help but giggle, while he sat there looking alarmed and wondering.
Camira continued, “You’ll get to know us well. We all live pretty close. Oh, by the way where do you live?”
Branton replied immediately. “Oh, it took me three days to get here.”
Camira was smiling, but then became very very serious. To say the least, it shocked me to hear that tone come from her.
“You’re not taking Kallan.”
Branton was smart to nod, making Camira revert to her bubbly self. She leaned back into Dagon again and told him it was his turn. As per usual, he only spoke what needed to be said.
“My name’s Dagon.”
But even as he spoke, I saw the calculated way his eyes moved as he took everything about Branton in.
Then, like we were in line introducing ourselves, Branton looked to us next. I let Blossom speak for the both of us.
“I’m Kaia, the Nymph of the earth, and this is...this is my mate,” She paused and I could tell she was feeling the newness of the term ‘mate’ on her tongue. “Ciro.”
When Branton finally took a look at me, instead of my mate (I had been feeling tingles of possessiveness as he did so), I saw the immediate shock. I realized he might have never seen a tree spirit before. To be honest, we did look almost otherworldly with our dark skin and glowing green veins.
I answered his reaction with calm ease, the complete opposite of Kaia’s greeting.
“Hey man, nice to have you in the family.”
His lips cracked into a half smile and he nodded. Branton was going to be a nice addition to the family. It was going to be great once all the sisters were settled down with their mates once and for all. It was definitely a future to look forward to. I felt Kaia’s smile even before it painted her lips, and I knew she agreed with the emotions she was feeling from me.
And then Kenna jumped in. Everyone knew she would be exactly who she always was. Loud, confident, and a woman who never took ‘no’ for an answer.
“My name’s Kenna, and obviously I am the Nymph of fire.”
She smiled, mischief in her eyes and a hand over Calder’s, which was over her bulging stomach.
“This is Calder, my mate,” she turned her head and pecked him on the cheek in a show of ownership, “and we’ve been together for two and a half years. We were the first to mate.” Kenna was proud of that; it was obvious by the fire in her eyes.
“Well, it’s really nice to meet you all.”
We knew he wanted to say more, but because he was still so new he seemed to think better of it. I was curious about what he had intended on saying.
“Okay, I have a question,” Calder’s voice cut through.
Branton nodded, ready for whatever we had to throw at him.
“Why do you sometimes talk about the wolf as if it were both of you connected and sometimes separate?” And as an afterthought, “Oh, and we know you two are mated, she has the bite mark. Do you have the tattoos?”
“Oh, yes, we’ve mated. I didn’t realize the vision would transfer into real life.”
“Well, it did.”
This was from Blossom who spoke with a sharp tone in which I quickly rubbed away by massaging her shoulders. At first she seemed to resist the action but soon relaxed. I kept my warm thumbs pressed to the back of her neck, and it helped significantly.
Branton looked at Kaia and then looked away.
“Yes, we have the tattoos.” he cleared his throat.
“Anyway, to answer your question about my wolf. The simplest answer is: the wolf is me, and I am the wolf.”
All of the sudden I snapped, feeling the death of my tree in that moment almost overwhelm me. I felt immature, but it was unfair that he had a bond with nature and I no longer did.
“Well, isn’t that special,” I sneered.
“What did you say?” Branton growled, about to stand, his wolf flashing in his golden eyes.
I couldn’t stop myself. “I said -”
“Ciro. Shut up!” There was instant silence in the room after Kaia’s jab, but it seemed to help me right my spiraling emotions. For the first time, Kaia was able to ground me and be my anchor. We met eyes and it was like our souls were pushing and pulling at each other. I could feel Kaia was horrified because she had snapped at me, but I reassured her with a mental caress that it had helped ñ even if it was a bit too harsh.
Dagon interrupted the awkwardness of the situation.
“All I know is that’s some messed up shit, and I think my brain is going to implode just thinking about it.”
Branton’s eyes flashed to the once silent, but ever present Dagon. I almost felt like he was about to lunge across the room in order to defend himself.
But once again Calder calmed the tension with one line. “I think the whole thing is awesome, man.”
Branton looked at Calder closer, at his smaller structure than the rest of us, but no less muscular. He seemed to realize something.
Calder looked him straight in the eyes, already knowing how to glare at a much stronger supernatural being, while holding back a fired up Kenna. Everyone knew why.
“Yeah, and you’re a werewolf. You got a problem with that?” He raised an eyebrow and Kenna smiled with a sort of pride and challenge.
Then Branton sat up straighter, obviously in tune with his comatose mate, and his eyebrows pulled together. His chest let out a deep rubble and he left us with no word as to why.
Seconds later the house shook, and it wasn’t because of Kaia. Rain hit the windows like bullets, and the sharp thunder was like the backfire of a gun.