“Your mother says to remember to ward yourself every day,” her father’s deep voice filled the cab of Ashlynn’s car. “Don’t forget, it is very important. We miss you, your mother and I, and the pack. When will you come home?”
Home, Ashlynn thought ruefully. It had ceased to feel like it three years before when she had performed the full moon ceremony with the other cubs, and they had transformed into their wolves around her, whilst she had remained as she was.
No matter how she tried, no matter how she had envisioned her transformation as she had been taught by her mother and grandmother, she had remained human.
Like her mother, Ashlynn was a hybrid - the result of a mutation blending over generations with Others of almost every kind. She had the potential, the abilities of the Others dormant within her, but unless that potential was activated, she could not be turned.
They had tried that, too, she had the bite marks to prove it.
Her mother’s potential had been triggered by a fall that would have ended her life, causing her instincts to react. Raiden had sternly forbidden Ashlynn, his tone heavy with alpha command, from trying that.
He had not forbidden Ashlynn’s lover at the time, and the subsequent attempt had placed Ashlynn in hospital, and had almost seen Raiden tear Archer’s throat out.
Her mother could transform into a wolf, and that was the hope that Ashlynn clung to. After the fall had enabled Lia to access her abilities, Raiden’s bite under the full moon had turned her.
After Ashlynn failed to turn, the pack had never excluded her, but she had not belonged anymore, caught between child and adult, without the coming of age ceremony of turning.
When Archer had met his mate, she had taken her broken heart and left.
She had left the pack, without actually leaving the pack, unable to take that final action of severing - at first living in the city near the packs’ lands, in a shitty one room apartment (despite Raiden’s objections) where she had shared the bathroom with four others on her floor, whilst she worked her way through the trial period with a construction company.
It had been too close to the pack, and she gradually began to realise it. It was inevitable that she would encounter someone almost every day as she made her way around the city - she walked past them on the street, bumped into them in the queue at the local coffee shop, or was served by someone when she picked up takeaway. And there were the family barbecues every Sunday, and the twice weekly dinners that her parents insisted on. Each encounter was salt in the wound, that she did not really belong anymore.
Over the next two years she had worked her way up the company, moving from the shitty apartment into a nicer one on the other side of the city to pack lands, which decreased the number of encounters and gave her the excuse to avoid the twice weekly dinners, and more and more of the family barbecues.
Four months ago, she had managed to land a better position in management, but it required her relocation to the other side of the world, something she had leapt on, the ultimate excuse, the ultimate escape. As soon as her passport had cleared, she had taken a flight and settled into her new life, in a place where she knew anyone, and the local pack knew of her, but with whom she did not have more than a casual acquaintance.
She missed her family, her pack. But daily the gap grew larger between the belonging she remembered as a child, and the not belonging that she felt now, as her life outside the pack became more vivid than her life within it.
The message ended, and her music resumed, filling the cabin with sound. Her father’s voice lingered, however, in her heart, the sadness of a distance that was far more than physical, along with a side serving of guilt that she had enforced that distance when her parents had never wanted it.
She had been the only child born to them, something unusual amongst the werewolves. Not through lack of trying, Ashlynn knew. There had been a series of miscarriages, and one cub lost at birth, which had been devastating to both parents. For her to leave, and separate herself so totally, was like losing another, she knew, and hated herself for doing it to them.
Ashlynn turned the volume of her music up as she whipped her Audi round the narrow streets that had been built before cars existed and put her foot down as she pulled out onto the open road, where the speed limit was a suggestion only. A suggestion, she smirked, well beneath her speedometer.
She raced herself, mentally. There was a straight of road, where no others turned onto it, that she particularly enjoyed. And it was along this stretch that something struck her.
Her scream cut over the music, as she fought to control the car. She could see through the windscreen, that the front corner of the Audi had crumpled under the impact, though she had seen nothing that could have caused it.
The car spun, and her hair blocked her vision, and she saw smoke as the tyres burnt under the friction of the spin. Her hands fought against the steering wheel, but steering was unresponsive, jerking the wheel painfully out of her hands. The car might as well have been aquaplaning.
Her screams were broken by the jolting of the car as it slid off the tarmac and into the embankment, kicking up soil and greenery. She heard something explode, and the impact of the airbag, spilling out powder like flour. The smell of burnt rubber, petrol, and the powder bit the back of her throat and she coughed, her lungs protesting.
There was a buzzing in her head where shock and pain combined in an inaudible scream, its inhalation foreboding. When that inhalation was exhaled, she knew she would be in f-king deep shit.
She watched a drip of moisture run down the driver’s side window, her head cushioned on the airbag an inventory of injuries running through her mind, all minor but painful, starting from the bite across her chest from the seatbelt, through to the bruise of her cheek where it had struck the airbag.
When had it begun to rain? She wondered vaguely.
And then sound returned, a roar of it on the edge of painful, and she dragged herself up off the airbag, aware of flame in the corner of her vision, and knowing that its presence did not bode well.
She felt for the door handle, but the door would not open, the handle springing uselessly. “Shit,” she exclaimed, tugging against her seatbelt as she mentally thanked her father for drilling into her its use. For a moment it would not give, locked into place as a result of the collision. She felt for the release catch and managed to get enough slack to unclick it.
She coughed dryly on the fumes as she fought against the door. It was not going to open. She managed to get her legs under her on the seat and slithered through the gap between the front seats into the back, bracing against the car seat so that she could drive her heel against the rear window, feeling the bite of the impact sting up her heel into her calf. She tried again and felt the heel of her shoe snap.
“F-k it!” She cursed.
The roof of the Audi peeled back like the lid of a tin, and she looked up.
A man’s face appeared above her, impossibly beautiful, his golden hair sucked forward in the vacuum created by the flames. The stubble of his beard pierced like gold metal spikes through his cheeks, and his eyes were otherworldly in their blueness. He had wings, white and feathered, held semi-open behind him, balancing his pose.
His expression as he looked down at her was caught between revulsion and horror, and yet he held out his hand. “Stupid human,” he said quite clearly. “You are going to die if you just lie there. Take my hand.”
She reached out her hand in wonderment and felt the warmth of his palm against hers.
He pulled her up, catching her against him so that poised for a moment on the frame of the car, and she felt the powerful muscles of his thighs tighten a moment before he leapt, the sudden motion snapping her head on her neck painfully. His wings caught the air, the strike of the feathers loud and forceful. They lifted from the car, as the flames leapt in ferocity.
For a moment, they hovered, and she felt the rise and fall of his chest, the beat of his heart against her cheek, and then they sank to the ground, and he laid her out on cool wet grass, crouching over her.
His face lifted and the golden light played across the planes of his cheeks, the white feathers of his wings, as the car exploded. He opened his wings over them both, shielding them from the small metal bits and embers that rained over them, and as he looked back down at her, the golden flames in his blue eyes, she reached up to touch his cheek, feeling the bite of the stubble against her palm.
“Mine,” she told him. “My mate. My… angel.”
His laugh was without joy or humor. “I am no angel. And I am not your mate.”
“Yes,” she felt the darkness edging in, her hand too heavy to continue to hold against his cheek. “Yes, you are. Mine.”
“Shit,” she heard him sigh, and for a moment he rested his forehead against her chest, and she smiled at the surrender in the gesture. And then, he eased his arm out from under her and she felt the strike of wings and the whip of her hair over her face, as he took to the air.
She fought to open her eyes, and saw him above her, his white wings and blonde hair stark against the night sky.
When she woke next, she was in a hospital bed, attached to various devices. Her body ached as if she had a hard session in the gym and her lungs felt tight and raw, but otherwise uninjured upon inspection. She had a full bladder that demanded her attention and she pushed herself to sitting, pulling the sticky bits off her chest. Her movements alerted the nurses on duty, and they came to calm her.
“I need to pee,” she told them. “What the f-k happened?”
It was only after they had assisted her to the bathroom and back to the bed and the doctor had been to tell her how lucky she was to escape a car accident that violent without more than a few bumps and bruises, that she remembered the beautiful man who had peeled back the roof of her car like a can of tuna.
“My mate,” she said to herself, with a smile. Her angel had plucked her out of her burning car and taken her to safety. A guardian angel, her angel. Her mate. She had to find him again, she knew, remembering his denial, and tie him to her bed if necessary until he realized that he was hers.
It was a very wolf-ish thing, she thought with a flicker of hope, to identify a mate in such a way, so definitely. Perhaps her wolf lurked somewhere deep down inside of her, after all.
She was released from hospital after twenty-four hours of observation, and after an awkward police interview. They did not hold her responsible for the accident. The forensics showed that there had been another car.
Hit and run, was their summation of the accident. Her survival, however, was in inexplicable.
She could not tell them about her angel without coming off insane, she knew. Even after Armageddon, and the humans coming to understand that they shared the world with vampires, they weren’t ready for angels. Or werewolves. So she didn’t mention his role in her rescue - she didn’t want to spend any more time in the hospital when her parents were probably doing frantic due to not hearing from her, and when she had a mate to find and catch.
She had lost her purse in the accident and couldn’t pay for a taxi, so one of the nurses gave her a lift back to her apartment and she spent fifteen minutes listening to a lecture from the super on the ground floor when she knocked for the spare keys, before being let into an apartment dark and empty, but otherwise unchanged for her absence.
She stuck a frozen meal into the microwave and showered whilst it circled the heated box. The apartment was too quiet, so she turned on the TV, and dried her hair as she watched the handsome vampire, Elior, schmoozing with politicians, assuring humanity that of course they were safe now from the rogue vampires that had terrorized them, and that the vampires under his leadership were entirely civilized.
The popular story held that he had saved humanity twenty-four years ago, when a rogue vampire had tried to take over the world. But the Others knew better. She knew better. The werewolves and vampires had fought a fierce battle, and her mother had taken Lucien’s Other from him, before her father had taken his life.
But Elior was the public face of the new world. A prince amongst the vampires.
Pretty, she thought as she watched him smile, his teeth carefully hidden by his lips so as not to frighten the humans with his Other nature. It was no wonder he had become the face behind which the Other world hid. He was a very pretty man.
A different type of pretty to her angel and she wondered what the vampire’s tidy suit hid beneath it with a lascivious smirk. “I bet it is pretty tasty,” she pressed the tongs of her fork against her bottom lip as she speculated, observing the way his shoulders filled his suit jacket and his arms strained the sleeves. “Yeah, very tasty.” She wouldn’t kick him out of bed, she decided.
Her angel had been fine, too, she turned her thoughts back to the problem of her mate. A bit scruffy, barefooted and his clothing disheveled, but the body beneath it had been spectacular, she remembered, from being held against it. How did a girl go about netting an angel? She pondered and sighed. A problem for the morning. She needed to eat, and sleep.
Her mobile had been in the car, and her landline voicemail was overflowing with increasingly urgent messages from her parents. She groaned and rested her head against the wall. She was on the verge of trying to call someone back when a scraping noise against her door attracted her attention. As she looked, the handle turned.
The microwave beeped in the kitchen, and the handle released.
Instinct had her running across her apartment, for the window onto the fire-escape, and she heard the bang of the door as it was kicked in as her feet hit the metal of the framework.
She saw through the billowing curtains, two men and a woman burst into her apartment, and their eyes zero in on her through the open window. “F-k me,” she swore. They did not look friendly.
She didn’t bother with the stairs, flipping over the balustrade, and dropping down, catching the poles as she dropped, her hands stinging, her grip just holding on. “Shit.”
She couldn’t risk another straight drop with how sweaty her palms were as she would fumble the catch. Instead, she swung and landed onto the stairwell platform below her, her feet feeling the bite of the metal weave against the soles, the framework shuddering beneath the impact, and with the footfalls of the people above her giving chase through the more traditional route.
She slid down the last steps, landing in a clumsy run onto the street below. She felt the heat of a spell just miss her, and threw up a shield, deflecting the next, as she began to run down the alleyway, the bitumen cold and rough beneath her bare feet, puddles like ice spraying up against her pyjama pants.
She ran out onto the city street, busy even in the night, hearing their footfalls behind her, and darted across the traffic, causing horns to blare.
A car just managed to stop, and she slid across the bonnet on her hip, her adrenaline spiking as she landed on the other side. She was looking over her shoulder, when she turned back a moment too late, the headlights of a truck bearing down on her.
“F-k it,” the angel cursed in a very un-angel-like manner as he grabbed her under the armpits, lifting her out of the path of certain death. There was a scream of rubber against tarmac as the truck slammed on its brakes.
The collision and resulting explosion were loud behind them. She gripped her mate’s shoulders, and watched the flames rise over his back, the view interrupted by the strokes of his wings.
“Oh my god,” she cried out. “I think I killed people.”
“Very probable,” he replied, looking briefly over his shoulder at the flames that spat debris like sparks, and adjusting his grip on her, as he aimed for a nearby roof top. He released her a moment before her feet touched the ground, causing her to stumble before she recovered her footing.
His wings extended fully, each white feather perfect, as he landed. He was, she thought, her breath stolen by his beauty, perfect. His face was movie-star handsome, square jawed and straight nosed, and the hollows beneath his high cheekbones carved with artistry. Several days’ worth of stubble spiked golden through flawless skin, and his eyes were impossibly and inhumanly blue. His hair was overlong, golden and fell over his face in a way that a thousand models only aspired to achieve.
He was built like a dancer, his shoulders broad and strong, his arms corded with muscle, his waist tapering into a v, and his thighs designed for leaping into the air – quite literally, she realized. He was designed for flight, his upper body and core strength built as a result of it, and his legs developed from taking off.
His clothing, on the other hand, was torn and stained, and his feet were bare. Angel or otherwise, he was down on his luck. But then, she looked down at herself, barefooted, in pyjamas, with her half-wet hair loose around her shoulders, he wasn’t the only one.
“Someone is trying to kill me,” she told him. “Wingless, I think, though how they traced me when I have been warded, I don’t know.”
“And I care, why, exactly?” He snapped in response, turning to watch the flames that flickered from the street behind them.
She ran to the edge of the building and looked over as sirens sounded, and blue and red lights cut through the night’s shadows and the golden flickering flame of the collision. There was no sign on the road below of the people that had broken into her apartment and pursued her onto the road.
“I don’t know,” she answered him. “But we are tied, somehow, you and I. Whatever you are, you are mine. My mate.” She turned to look at him.
She might as well have struck him with a dead fish, she thought, his expression held utter revulsion, and he visibly recoiled from her.
“No,” his lip curled as he said it. “No, that is not true. That cannot possibly be true.”
“And yet, here we are,” she pointed out sensibly. “Twice now, you have saved me. What other reason would you have for that?”
“No,” he snarled it at her. “No. I have no mate.”
Before she could argue further, he stepped off the edge of the building, his wings opening to catch the air, and winged away.
“Shit.” She couldn’t return to her apartment, she had lost her purse and mobile phone in the car accident, she was half the world away from her parents and pack, and she was being pursued.
There wasn’t a werewolf embassy, but there was a vampire one. It was worth a try. There weren’t, after all, many other choices left to her.