“What is this place?” Serafina’s voice was small as she looked around the cramped underground space. Her once-fancy white dress was torn and dirty and her hair was tangled and wild from the wind.
“Jeremy’s fallout shelter.” Ian dropped the yellow backpack to the floor. “One of Conrad’s friends is a survivalist.”
“A what?” Serafina turned and slapped her hand over her eyes. “Ahh! I forgot you were naked.”
Ian chuckled tiredly as he began to search the shelves built into one side of the concrete wall. She’d freaked out more seeing him naked when he transitioned back from a wolf than she had about him turning into a wolf in the first place.
“A survivalist. Like, a super-prepared paranoid person who hates the government. I’m sure he has some clothes stashed away.”
“Well find them please!” Serafina kept her hand glued to her face as Ian opened and closed a few cabinets until he found a neatly folded pile of clothes.
Ian barely winced as he pulled on a pair of loose sweatpants. His wounds from the fight were already starting to heal. “You can look now,” he said, grinning when she peeked between her fingers before dropping her hand. “Relax. I know that wasn’t your first time seeing a dick.”
Serafina glared at him. At the the Day of White Goddess service when she turned six, a Church member chosen to be healed of his terrible migraines whipped his dong out onstage and begged her to heal his erectile dysfunction.
And she did.
Before anyone could move fast enough to stop her, Serafina had her hand wrapped around the guy’s trouser snake. It was probably her most embarrassing memory. And Ian never let her forget it.
“It was my first time seeing yours,” she grumbled. “And hopefully the last.”
Given that he’d probably be shifting on the regular here on in, Ian doubted that, but he knew when to shut up. He wanted to distract Serafina, not piss her off. It was a fine line, to be honest.
They’d have plenty to talk about tomorrow but tonight what she needed was food, rest, and time to process. Hell, he needed time to process. Serafina wasn’t the only one whose world had been turned upside down today. The Elders’ betrayal, King’s secret plans and identity, learning that Serafina had shifter blood in her...Ian had killed someone today. Not that he had any regrets but Conrad had been right. His first kill had changed him.
And all that was nothing to what Serafina did tonight. It would blow Ian’s mind if he let himself think about it. The way she’d screamed the world into silence. How the shifters surrounding them had pivoted on her unintentional command and marched into the woods like zombies. Other than Boone, not even King had been able to snap them out of it. Had they all really jumped off the cliff?
Ian didn’t think Serafina even realized what she’d done. What she was capable of. In fact, he knew she didn’t. And it scared the shit out of him.
Tomorrow, Ian told himself. He pulled one of Jeremy’s t-shirts over his head and chose another for Serafina. “Turn around,” he urged gently. “I’ll help you get that dress off.”
Serafina’s golden eyes were glassy as she nodded and presented her back. “Yes please,” she said fiercely. “Get it off me.”
Ian’s heart ached for her. Just a few short hours ago she’d been excited about King’s gifts. She’d felt pampered and special, laughing about how King was so over the top. They’d had no idea just how over the top he was.
As much as the Elders had hurt her Serafina, it was nothing compared to King’s betrayal. She’d trusted him. Loved him—probably still did.
Well, fuck him. Ian clenched his teeth against a fresh wave of anger. Fuck King for doing this to her. Fuck the Elders, and Serafina’s mother too. Fuck every adult that ever let Serafina down. Exploited her. Made her feel used and unloved.
Serafina’s shoulders visibly tensed under his gaze. She was too attuned to his moods. He had to settle down. Ian took a deep relaxing breath and pushed the tangled mass of curls off her back, still flecked with bits of the leaves and flowers Elder Roselina had woven into her hair what felt like days ago.
Ian frowned but didn’t stop to pick them out. Jeremy had a TV down here and a bunch of VHS tapes. They could watch a movie later while Ian combed the last remains of tonight out of her hair. It would be a good way to wind down.
The seam down the back of her dress was almost invisible. “We can burn it later, if you want,” Ian said lightly as his fingers moved down the row of tiny hooks. “Or cut it up for animal dresses,” he teased.
Serafina went through a sewing phase when she was little and not having any dolls, cut up her dresses to outfit the rabbits and squirrels in the garden.
Some of the tension left Serafina’s shoulders. “Maybe I’ll sew something for a wolf this time.”
Ian’s chuckle held relief. “Sure.” She was joking about it. That was a good sign. “And then we’ll burn it.”
“Funny,” Serafina grumbled, but Ian could hear the smile in her voice. “Are you done yet?” she asked with a glance over her shoulder.
“Working on it.” Ian paused to picked off a few stray pieces of greenery that had found their way down the back of her dress.
Serafina glanced back at him again. “What are you doing?”
“You just had some bits of leaves and crap sticking to you.” Her hair was falling off her shoulder and Ian pushed it back again and went to work on the rest of the hooks. “Hold on, there’s one more.” It looked like the edge of a white flower petal, smooth and limned in gold.
A very big flower petal. Ian’s fingers slowed. A very big white flower petal that had made its way down the tight dress somehow to lay flat against her back.
“Ow!” Serafina yelped at the same moment Ian realized why he couldn’t pick it off.
His brows slammed together. What the hell...?
“Sorry,” Ian murmured, putting a hand on Serafina’s shoulder to stop her from turning around. He ran his other thumb over the gold and white crescent. The skin was smooth and soft. “Does it hurt here?”
“Not until you clawed me.”
“Sorry,” he repeated automatically. Ian undid the next few hooks slowly, his heart thudding as the white circle revealed itself. What the hell was this? What was happening to her now? Could this night of fucking weird things please just come to an end?
“Just rip it.” Serafina huffed impatiently.
Ian swallowed hard, but didn’t hesitate. Beads and tiny hooks went flying as he tore the sides of her dress apart.
Holy mother of... Ian stared at her bare back in shock. A delicate, stylized golden tree had grown up the base of her spine, silhouetted against a full white moon limed in gold.
Whatever happened back there on the Church front lawn, it had left its mark on her. Literally. Half wary, half awed, Ian smoothed his fingers reverently over the intricate lines of Serafina’s tattoo. A tattoo she hadn’t had when she woke up this morning.
It was dark when Serafina woke up with Ian curled around her in wolf form, snoring softly. She ran her hands through his fur softly, marvelling at this new facet not only of her best friend, but of reality.
Apparently her dreams of people turning into wolves weren’t just products of a hyperactive imagination. It made Serafina wonder what else in her dreams was real.
The sofa bed creaked loudly as Serafina slipped off but Ian didn’t stir. He was generally a light sleeper but he’d gotten into a big fight and run forty miles tonight, carrying her the entire way. And that was only since seven o’clock. The gala party and the Day of the White Goddess festival seemed like a long time ago now. King had said her entire life was about to change and he’d been right. Just not in the way he’d expected.
Serafina picked up her sketchbook and turned on the small lamp over the table. Thinking about King hurt. He knew what Ian was to her. What he meant to her. How could he try to separate them? How could he let his friends hurt him?
Over their dinner of dried fruit and granola bars, Ian had told her what happened after he was sent off with King’s friends. He told her about the fight and how Conrad had helped him, making her laugh with his description of his trainer in a dress shirt, socks and boxer shorts. He told her that Conrad, King, and Boone were all wolf shifters—that’s what Ian called them—just like he was and that there were many, many more. He told her about packs and alphas and lunas and rogues. And he told her about the Rogue King.
Serafina’s pencil flew across the paper. Before tonight it would have been impossible to equate the King she knew with the half gang leader, half supervillian that Ian described. But King’s expression right before Ian took off running with her had been a rictus of anger and unmistakeable violence. She truly believed he would have killed Ian to stop him from taking her away.
And yet—as shocked and angry as she was at King, Serafina’s heart ached at the thought of never seeing him again. Never again hearing his deep, gravelly voice or feeling his huge hand wrap around hers. Never seeing the spark of humour light his hard black eyes or the affectionate smile he reserved just for her. The only person other than Ian who had given Serafina love and affection in her life.
King was sad, too. Serafina knew it. She could see him now, not smiling, looking out the window of a hotel. Serafina didn’t recognize the view. King’s harsh, serious features were set in stone and his eyes—his eyes were tortured. Serafina wanted to scream at him. You did this! It’s your fault! Why did you have to ruin everything?
Almost as if he could hear her, King raised his head suddenly, his brows lowering into a deep ‘V’ as he looked around the room. Serafina could almost hear his voice as she captured his gaze in her drawing, his dark eyes meeting hers in the reflection of the darkened window.
You’re mine, Serafina. I’ll never stop looking for you.
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