Authors: Gabrielle Evans
“Where’s Torren? Where did he go?” He tried to sit up, but the man put a hand to his chest, keeping him from moving.
“You need to relax. Everything is going to be okay now. We won’t let him hurt you anymore.” He turned to look at Raven and Demos over his shoulder. “Thank you for calling me.”
“I was afraid something like this would happen.” Demos sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s not that I don’t like Torren, but I don’t think he’s a good mate for Aslan. The kid needs someone who understands him, someone gentle. Torren is neither of those things.”
Aslan was getting more pissed off with every word out of their stupid mouths. They did realize that he was sitting right there, right?
He didn’t appreciate being talked about like he wasn’t there or was too stupid to understand. “Where is Torren?”
“Shh,” the stranger said, obviously trying to soothe him. “He can’t hurt you.”
Why did he keep saying that? Torren would never hurt him.
“Where. Is. My. Mate?” He bit off each word, allowing an unfamiliar growl to slip into his voice. “I want Torren.”
“Raith?” Raven asked uncertainly. “Why is he asking for Torren?”
“I’m sitting right fucking here!” Aslan screamed, shoving the man’s hand off of him and launching out of bed before anyone could stop him. “Tell me where he is!”
“Aslan, do you remember what happened?” Raith asked him, keeping his voice soft and even as though coaxing a frightened child.
“You’re covered in blood. You were screaming when we got here like you were in pain. Don’t you remember?” For big bad warriors, they were really freaking dense. “I hit my head on the nightstand. Torren healed me. He would never, ever hurt me.” He felt it with conviction right down to his soul. “He says he doesn’t love me, but that doesn’t mean he would hurt me.”
The three men shared confused looks. “How can he love you?” Raven asked. “He doesn’t even know you.” Aslan shrugged. It was the same thing Torren had said to him, but he knew his mate was just scared. There was something that sparked between them every time they were together. The feeling was more intense and combustible than anything Aslan had ever felt in his life.
He’d overreacted and panicked. That was stupid. He’d know better next time.
Whatever was between him and Torren wasn’t some silly love-at-first-sight crap like they told in fairy tales. It was much deeper than that. He didn’t understand it, didn’t know where this certain knowledge came from that they were destined for one another. And though it was true that he’d spent only hours in Torren’s presence, it was as though he’d known the man for a lifetime.
“He loves me. He just won’t admit it.” The men exchanged those annoying looks again. “Why were you screaming?” Demos asked cautiously.
Aslan paused, unsure how much he should share. They’d probably just think him insane like everyone else did. However, if it got them to stop talking about Torren like he was the bad guy, then he’d deal with their skepticism. “The voices in my head were hurting me.”
Everyone just nodded as though that sort of thing happened every day. “Torren told us about the…voices.” Raven shook his head and frowned. “You were hurting yourself, Aslan. You were beating your damn head, and he was just sitting there.” He didn’t remember much about what had happened before he’d passed out, but he distinctly remembered Torren standing from the bed. “He was about to help me when you ran in here. I saw him standing up to come to me. You stopped him.” He spat the last part in accusation. Aslan appreciated that they all cared about him and wanted to protect him, but he didn’t need saving from Torren. “Where is he?”
Raith was looking at him all funny, and Aslan didn’t like it. It made him feel weird, like a specimen under a microscope. “Aslan, I want you to do something for me.”
Aslan eyed him suspiciously. “What do you want me to do?”
“Just trust me.” When Aslan only arched an eyebrow at him, Raith sighed and bobbed his head. “Do this, and then I’ll bring Torren to you.”
“Okay.” Why hadn’t the guy just said so in the first place? “What do I do?”
“I want you to close your eyes and think about Torren.” Well, that was easy. He always thought about Torren.
“I want to ask you a couple of questions. First, how do you feel when Torren isn’t with you? Do you feel tired or weak? Do you feel depressed? Maybe your stomach feels kind of jittery.” Aslan nodded, his eyes still closed. “Yes. I feel all of that.” He didn’t know where this was going, but he hoped that Raith got on with it. He really wanted to find his mate. Torren was sad. He wouldn’t tell anyone, but Aslan could feel it.
“Torren hasn’t claimed you, right?”
“No, he said we needed to talk first, and that he can’t love me.” Which was a lie. Torren already loved him. He was just a stubborn asshole and wouldn’t admit it. Aslan could feel that, too.
“Tell me what Torren is feeling right now.” Aslan heard the vampires gasp, but he ignored them, focusing his full attention on Torren. “He’s sad because he doesn’t know what he did wrong and why you won’t let him see me. He’s confused because he doesn’t understand why he feels so drawn to me.” He tilted his head to the side and concentrated harder. “And he’s nervous because Kieran and his brothers have him pinned in one of the rooms downstairs.”
“Ah, crap,” Raven spat. Footsteps thundered across the floor, and when Aslan opened his eyes, he found only Raith and Demos.
“Where did he go?”
Raith just shrugged. “I imagine to find Torren.” He stood from the bed and linked his fingers behind his back. “When Torren comes here, and he…he looks different…” Raith trailed off, and he seemed to be having trouble finding the right words.
“You mean when he’s all glowy?”
“Yes, when he’s all glowy. Can you touch him?” Aslan wrinkled his nose as he thought about it. “Not really. I mean, I can feel something, but it’s not really solid.”
“More like a cold pressure?” his interrogator prodded.
“Yeah, I guess it’s like that. Why are you asking me all of these questions?”
“One more.” Raith held up a finger and started pacing. “This is going to sound really weird, but have you ever died before?” Demos snorted. “Well, obviously not.” He waved a hand up and down from Aslan’s head to his toes. “He looks pretty healthy to me.” Aslan winced. “Yeah,” he mumbled, “when I was with this other vampire coven a few years ago. They drained me.” He tilted his head to the side so they could see the scars on his neck from three different sets of ruthless fangs. “I’m pretty sure I died because I was in this place that was really dark and cold for three days.” He shrugged, but a chill worked its way up his spine from the memory.
“What happened after that?” Demos asked, a trace of horror entwined with his words.
“I woke up still chained to the wall. I guess they were just going to leave my carcass to rot.”
Raith stepped forward, his eyes shining with pity. “Can I see your hand, little one?”
“Sure.” He held his hand out, and it was immediately surrounded by Raith’s much bigger one. The man closed his eyes and mumbled something under his breath for a minute before releasing him and stepping away. “What was that about?” Dropping his head and groaning, Raith didn’t answer him immediately. When he did look up, his eyes went straight to Demos.
“He’s not just a witch. He’s Torren’s
* * * *
“Don’t you have jobs to do?” Torren sat on the loveseat inside the suite that Kieran had brought him to and crossed his arms over his chest. Wasn’t there any damn security around this place? He didn’t like his mate staying here if these werewolves were going to be so lax in their duties.
“It’s night,” Kieran answered calmly. “The vamps take turns on the night patrol.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
“We’re tired of our sister being such a basket case because she thinks you’re going to take her pups away from her.” One of Kieran’s brothers, Torren wasn’t sure which, leaned against the wall with a hard look on his face.
“Easy, Parker.” Kieran raised his hand and waved his brother off before turning back to Torren. “We all love those pups. They’re our family now. Since you’ve known about them for weeks and haven’t expressed any interest in seeing them, I’m assuming you don’t give a shit.”
Why did everyone always jump to conclusions about his actions and immediately think of him as a coldhearted bastard? “Did it ever occur to you that I’ve kept my distance
I care? The twins were already kidnapped once because of me.”
“That’s nice,” another of the Delany brothers sneered. “You’ve said you don’t want them back, which I’m grateful for, but what kind of man are you that you won’t take responsibility for your own children?”
“Eli!” Kieran barked. “Knock it off, asshole.”
“Enough!” a feminine voice declared as a petite, raven-haired beauty stepped through one of the doors that likely connected to a bedroom. “You attacking him isn’t getting us anywhere.” She straightened her spine and plastered a smile on her face as she approached Torren, but he could see through her brave façade. “Hello, Mr. Braddock. I’m Raina Delaney.”
Torren rose from his seat and took her hand in both of his own, bending down to brush his lips across the delicate knuckles. “Please, call me Torren. It’s very nice to finally meet you.” Her smile wobbled a bit, but she nodded and motioned for him to sit again. “I’m sorry that I can’t say the same for you, and I’m sure you understand why.” She eased down to the edge of the cushion and clasped her hands together in her lap. “I love my children very much, Torren. I hope we can come to some sort of agreement because I won’t lose them.”
The trembling in her voice crushed him. “I am not such a bastard as your brothers would have you believe. I will provide anything you need for the twins. I would like to be a part of their lives, perhaps as an extended uncle. I have no illusions that I am in any way fit to raise a child, let alone two of them, though.” The she-wolf didn’t look totally convinced, but the tense set of her shoulders relaxed marginally. It seemed to take her a minute to gather the courage to ask her next question. Torren waited patiently.
“Do you have questions?”
Well, that wasn’t what he’d expected. “Your mate is another she-wolf named Teegan, correct?” She nodded slowly, a hint of defensiveness in her eyes. Torren bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. She was a fierce one, and he liked that. “And your brothers play a large role in their lives?”
“We would die to protect them,” Parker said levelly. “Want to try it?”
A caustic reply was on the tip of his tongue, but Torren choked it back. They were only protecting their family. He could respect that.
Nodding at the wolf, he started to turn back to Raina, but Raven chose that moment to come bursting through the door.
“Don’t kill him!”
Everyone’s eyes went wide, and Raina actually giggled. “You big gorilla, no one is going to kill him.” Raven stumbled to a stop and pushed his blond locks back from his face. “Uh, right. Sorry about that. Aslan said that you were…umm…well, it doesn’t matter I guess. I’ll just…” He looked around the room, and back toward the door. “Yeah, I’ll just go.” And that’s exactly what he did, leaving everyone chuckling in his wake.
Torren idly wondered what Aslan had to do with the Enforcer’s appearance in the room, but he could only deal with one quandary at a time. Right now, he needed to focus on Raina and the issue of the twins. There could possibly be one very simple way to put all of her fears to rest. “Could I see the pups?” There was a collective growl that went around the room, and Raina tensed again. Then, very slowly, she relaxed and offered him a tentative smile. “Just sit tight.” She popped up from the loveseat and hurried back through the same door she’d come through minutes before.
No one spoke while they waited, the Delaney brothers choosing to stare daggers at him in exchange for civilized conversation. When the silence became oppressive, Torren cleared his throat and sat up a little straighter. “How old did you say the twins are?”
“The doctor isn’t exactly sure, but he estimates between six and eight months.” Kieran lifted his shoulders jerkily in what was probably supposed to be a shrug. “It’s a little harder to tell with hybrid babies, I guess.”
Torren mentally calculated the time frame. If the doctor was correct, and a wolf-shifter gestational period was approximately three months, then that was only nine to eleven months. Why had he thought the pups were older? He hadn’t been in Utah in more than a year.
While he was still trying to puzzle it out, the bedroom door opened once more, and Raina stepped out with a bouncing baby boy squirming against her chest. Another woman—Torren assumed it was Teegan—followed behind her, carrying an identical bundle in a similar manner.
“This is Randall,” Raina said with a soft smile on her lips as she sat beside Torren once more and turned the baby to face him. She looked up at her mate and nodded, indicating that it was okay for Teegan to sit on the other side of him.
“And this is Thomas,” Teegan added quietly.
Raina and Randall, Teegan and Thomas—cute.
A mass of curly, blond hair adorned the tops of their heads, and they each had eyes as blue as a summer sky. They giggled and gurgled, the sweetest little dimples appearing in their cheeks when they smiled.
“They’re beautiful,” Torren said quietly. So nervous he could spit, he reached out hesitantly and took Thomas’s tiny hand, stroking the top of it with his thumb. Those pudgy little fingers curled around his hand as the pup squealed in delight.
After a moment, Torren released his hand and turned to take Randall’s, going through the same motions, though there really wasn’t any need. If he was being honest, he’d known from the moment their mothers carried them into the room. Though adorable and precious, the twins looked nothing like him or their biological mother.
Part of him was relieved, but a big part, a part he wasn’t expecting, felt like he was drowning as his chest constricted so tightly he could barely pull air into his lungs. The thought of having children had scared him to death, but somewhere deep inside, it had also warmed him. He’d been a father.