***By request, here’s part two. Check out last week for the first part. Enjoy!**
Sitting next to a naked man on the tailgate of my SUV was not how I planned to spend the evening. Okay, so Owen was no longer naked, since he’d wrapped the plaid blanket I always kept back there around himself.
Owen. A werewolf. A red wolf sometimes, and sometimes a man. And my familiar.
I already felt the bond growing between us, since that first glimpse of it when I’d called for my familiar and he finally appeared. It had thrown everyone into a tizzy. Aeron, with Remy, of course, were still here, though he stood some feet away and kept shooting us looks. The High Mage was having a conniption and communing with the rest of the Witches Council high coven. The other witches and their new familiars had been dismissed. I was trying not to freak out, and failing. Having this kind of bond with a human was unthinkable. Okay, technically he wasn’t human, he was a were, but still. Human sometimes.
The only one not freaking out in any way was Owen. He was swinging his feet and looking for all the world like no big thing was happening.
“Hey Gareth,” Owen finally said, his voice soft and a little tentative. We’d exchanged names before being banished to my SUV while the High Mage did her thing. “You wouldn’t happen to have any water, would you? Or a snack?”
Before I could answer, Aeron spoke up. “I have some stuff. I’ll be right back.”
I didn’t have food, but I did have several bottles of water, because I always had them in the car. Sometimes working magic made me thirsty. I retrieved one and handed it over. No doubt Aeron would bring back some as well, but I didn’t want Owen to have to wait when I could provide him with at least that. I nodded at his soft thanks.
“I’m sorry I’m not better prepared. I know you need to replenish calories after a shift but, well, I really didn’t expect this.”
Owen gave me that lopsided grin again. That quickly, and I already found that little quirk endearing as all get out.
“I gathered.” He drank some water, wiped off his chin, then turned to look at me fully. “But it’s the kind of thing that happens to some wolves in my family.”
I couldn’t help the gasp or the wide eyes. “Really?”
Owen cocked his head, looking like a puppy. “Really. I have several extended family members bonded to witches. Is it…not common here?”
I shook my head, and would have commented on that, but seriously, he looked like a confused puppy and I just had to know. Carefully, as tactfully as I could, I asked, “Owen, exactly how old are you?”
He laughed, the sound free, and his eyes twinkled with merriment. “Twenty-one. Almost twenty-two. I know I look younger.” He chortled again, and shook his head. Then his expression turned more serious. “I thought I felt something last year, and I definitely had the drive to shift and head this way. But I wasn’t of age yet, so…” He shrugged.
So young, but as he said, definitely of age. But then his words sunk in and my heart started to pound. I couldn’t quite catch my breath.
Owen’s gentle touch to my arm soothed me more quickly than anything ever had before. I breathed deeply and Owen started petting. I had the fleeting thought that I should tell him to stop. But I didn’t want to.
“You okay?” His voice was such a sweet sound, light and airy, but still with some depth of tone. “What just happened?”
“I’ve been, uh…” I cleared my throat. “I’ve been trying to call a familiar for several years now, but no animal came. This was my last chance. If it didn’t work this time, the Witches Council was going to strip me of my magic. Everyone thought I was broken.”
Aeron cleared his throat, shot me a meaningful look, and handed Owen a little packet of nuts, cheese and pretzels.
“Everyone but my brother,” I amended. And then, because of the squawk, added, “And Remy, of course.”
“Better.” Aeron shot Owen a smile. “Sorry it’s not much, but that should tide you over until you can get out of here and Gareth can feed you.”
“Thanks.” Owen offered up a grin, and then turned to me. “And obviously you weren’t broken. You couldn’t get your familiar until I was old enough to join you.”
“Which is highly unusual and circumspect.” The High Mage was a stately woman with formidable power, and we hadn’t heard her walk over. At least Aeron and I hadn’t, judging by the way we both jolted. Owen must have though, because he started eating his snack and gave her his full attention. Though his eyes had lost the warmth of a moment ago. The High Mage couldn’t care less.
“I’m not sure what you’re implying by that—”
“I’m not implying anything,” she interrupted. “I’m stating fully. Bonding to a human is forbidden, even someone who is only partially human, as it impinges on their agency. If this bond even, in fact, does exist.”
The outrage I felt wasn’t all mine. “Excuse me?”
“You will both present yourselves before the Witches Council for a thorough mental and magical evaluation. Until such time, Gareth and Owen, you will have no contact with each other and—”
Owen’s voice was firm, though polite, even though his eyes blazed with anger.
The high mage narrowed her eyes. “You don’t have a choice.”
“That’s the beautiful thing about agency, your high mageness.” The derision that dripped off Owen’s tone was impressive. “I can do whatever I want. And I will not have you, or anyone else, judge my bond with my witch. We’ve only just met, and it will take time for it to fully solidify. I will not let anyone muck around with that.”
The High Mage opened her mouth, but she never got the chance to speak. Owen beat her to it. “Gareth, get up, please. Let’s go. I need to eat, and probably find some clothes. And get your address so my family knows where to send my things.”
I hastened to do what he said, ignoring the High Mage and her ferret familiar who’d deigned to poke his head out of her robes and stare scornfully at us. He chittered to her, but she didn’t react. I had half a worry that she would cast a spell to keep us there, even though magic used in such a way would go against the Acadia Accords.
Besides, Aeron had my back. Like always.
I slammed the lift gate closed, and by the time I made it to the drivers seat, Owen was already settled in the passenger side. As soon as I shut the door, Owen breathed a sigh of relief and put his hands on me. It was just a soft touch to the neck, and then he leaned in to scent me there, before relaxing back against the seat.
“I’m sorry about that.” He shook his head. “Kinda. But you should know, wolves are possessive. I’m possessive. And you’re mine. They can’t take you from me.”
I nodded. “I don’t want that either. But they are powerful, and you’ve just opened a can of worms.”
Owen waved that off and gave me that lopsided grin I was coming to adore. “And we’ll face it when it comes. Until then, I need food and clothes, and time with my mate.”
I nodded again and put the SUV in gear. A moment later, I saw headlights behind me, which I recognized as Aeron’s car.
It was only three miles later, and five miles from home, when I finally realized what Owen had said.