**Here we go! Another episode with Gareth and Owen. I have no idea when this will end. Enjoy!**
I paced, unable to sit. To settle. Owen’s gaze tracked me from the couch but he wisely kept his mouth shut. He, at least, got to go outside. Shifted into his fur and went for runs. I, on the other hand, hadn’t been allowed out of the house in days. Weeks? I wasn’t sure how long it was at this point.
Intellectually, I got it. Bianca was free and Owen, the pack, my brother, even Lane….they all believe it was possible she would come after me. I was worried about that myself, but not overly. I was more worried about Aeron, and I was glad he had pack members staying with him as well.
“Come cuddle with me.” Owen’s voice was low, cajoling, and even though I adored my mate and what he was trying to do. But I was too cranky. And a little paranoid.
“I need to check the wards,” I muttered, crossing back to the window and placing my hand against the jam. This house had really good anchor points, and I reached deep for the magic, pushing more into the wards I’d built with Aeron’s help. We’d done the same at his place. The magic flared up, bright for a second, then settled back down.
Before I could move to the next point, Owen was behind me, wrapping his arm around my waist and tugging me back against his chest. He kissed the back of my neck. When he spoke, he kept his lips against my skin. “You’ve check and rechecked. They’re the strongest than can be.”
“Have we heard from Lane?” I asked, not relaxing.
Owen, for his part, didn’t even sound frustrated when he answered, despite the fact that I’d asked that at least ten time just today. “Not since yesterday.”
“But they’re sure of where she is?”
“Yes, love. Lane said he’d let us know.”
“But he’s not supposed to.” I sighed and tried to let the tension go. “He’s going out on a limb and skirting the rules by keeping us in the loop.”
Owen made an affirmative noise and squeezed me tighter. After a long moment, I blew out a breath and let him take my weight. He held me up easily, and didn’t try to make me move or say anything else. We stood there for a long time, and I couldn’t resist drawing on our magic just to give the wards another boost. Owen sucked in a breath, and then let out a small chuckle when I was done.
“I like Lane.” Owen said, conversationally. I was a little surprised he didn’t comment on my obsessive need to check the wards.
As a reward for his incredibly patient behavior, I pulled away enough to grab his hand and tug him to the couch. Then I pushed him down, let him get comfortable, then flopped down on his lap. I didn’t quite fit but neither of us cared. He liked me close, and I liked it too. It had been awkward at first but we’d found a way to make it work.
I fiddled with his shirt, rubbing the fabric between my fingers. “I like Lane too. He’s good people. We should invite him over.”
Owen kissed my head. “When everything dies down we’ll see where it stands, yeah?”
“Yeah.” I sighed, closed my eyes, and thunked my head down on his shoulder. “Do you regret it?”
Owen went completely still. Then asked, very carefully, “Regret what?”
“Us. Being my familiar. Me calling you.” I exhaled hard. “It’s been crazy since the second we met, and you certainly didn’t sign up for a judgmental High Mage and a murderous, black magic wielding family.”
“Not for a second.” The conviction in his tone made me relax. It’d be a would lie if I said I hadn’t been nervous about his answer. And when he took hold of my chin and made me look at him, I saw it there in his face. “I love you. And I believe fate put us together for a reason.”
I kissed him, hard and thoroughly, because what else can I do. When we broke for air, I smiled. “I love you, too.”
“Yeah, I know.” He waggled his eyebrows, then kissed my cheek. “We’ll get through this, love.”
I nodded, tucking in close again. “Do you really think she’ll come after me?”
“I don’t know.” His voice was soft, contemplative. “I think Lane thinks it’s a possibility and he’s closer—”
Owen went still, then bodily lifted me and dropped me on the couch. “Stay there.”
I didn’t even have a chance to respond before Owen was at the door, and he pulled it open without hesitation. My heart leapt into my throat, taking in the taunt line of his shoulders, and the claws that tipped his fingers.
I was shocked when Owen ushered Lane in through the door, and opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but Lane’s wide eyes and ghost white face stopped me in my tracks. I stood fast, and Lane’s eyes shot to me.
Lane swallowed hard before he croaked, “She’s got Aeron.”
*And we’re back. The Gareth and Owen saga continues. Enjoy!*
I’d been increasingly clingy, but Owen didn’t seem to care. In fact, I was pretty sure he was enjoying the heck out of the fact that I wanted to be in his space one hundred percent of the time. He was always kissing my head or cheek or neck, and always wrapped me up in his arms when I pushed in close. We spent a good portion of time cuddled on the couch. Soon I’d have to find a job, and Owen would have to go back to work for his family’s construction business but for now, the pack was taking care of us.
If my parents hadn’t been arrested for black magic, and the past few weeks hadn’t been taken up by continual interviews with the MBI, we’d probably be expected to contribute sooner. But we had things going on, and though I felt guilty, I was glad I didn’t have to think about anything else at the moment. Owen insisted I didn’t have to feel guilt.
“This is what pack does, babe,” he said more than once and always with a fond smile.
I was working on it.
In the meantime, I was happy to curl up with Owen, under a warm afghan, and just soak in time with him. I was practically in his lap, half reading a book, with him watching TV, when a knock at the door had us both looking up. Owen wrinkled his nose, but didn’t say anything as he eased me to the side and stood.
“Who is it?” I asked quietly.
Owen pulled a face. “Willis.”
I groaned, not wanting to do this again. It had been so many conversations, day in and day out, and I was just so freaking tired of it. I sat up and put my book aside, but didn’t move off the couch. I wasn’t going to be hospitable. I just didn’t have the spoons.
“Agent Willis!” Owen said as he threw open the door, false cheer in his voice. “To what do we owe the pleasure? You just can’t get enough of us, huh? You miss us?”
Willis grimaced. “May I come in?”
Owen crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, I don’t know—”
“Let him in, sweetheart,” I said with a sigh. Owen could do this all day, and I just didn’t have the strength. Let the agent in so we could get this over with.
The way the couch was angled, I couldn’t see Owen’s face well, but his body language was that of a predator, and he pointed at Willis. “Behave. And if you upset my mate, I’m kicking you out.”
I let out a half-hearted laugh. “Owen.”
“It’s fine. Thank you.” Willis stepped in and to the side, so Owen could shut the door behind him. Oscar wound around Willis’s feet, and Willis scooped the cat up and perched him on his shoulder. He waited for Owen to lead the way, then followed Owen into the living room.
“No partner today?” I asked, curious. I wasn’t a huge fan of Mathers, since she always acted like we were inconveniencing her, but they always showed up together.
Willis shook his head. “No. I, uh, shouldn’t be here actually.”
Owen’s face went stony. “What does that mean?”
Willis sighed heavily and sat in the recliner when I gestured to it. Oscar immediately settled into his lap. Willis immediately put his hands on the cat, rubbing Oscar’s ears gently. Oscar squinted and started up a purr I could hear from across the room.
“Agent Willis?” My voice was tentative.
“I’m not here in my official capacity. Lane is good.” I nodded and Lane smiled. “Look, I’m not supposed to be here, and you’re going to hear this in an official capacity soon. You’ll be asked to come down to headquarters, I’m sure. But I thought you should hear it from me.”
Owen didn’t hesitate to put his arm around me. I was sure he felt the anxiety coming off me in waves. Just the resigned tone of his voice, the careful way he chose his words, had me on edge. I opened my mouth to ask, again, what was going on, but Lane spoke before I could.
“Your mother has struck a plea deal and won’t be going to trial. In exchange for testifying against your father, she’s getting a reduced sentence.”
My gut clenched. “How reduced?”
Lane’s face contorted. “Time served and three years’ probation.”
“What?” Owen and I said at the same time, but Owen’s was a shout and mine was a whisper. Fear clenched in my gut.
“How is that possible?” I managed to ask.
“She had compelling evidence and the Tribunal Prosecutor felt her testimony was more important than prosecuting her.”
Owen growled, low and deep in his chest, causing Oscar to hiss and jump up onto Lane’s shoulder. Owen didn’t care. “What in the fucking hell could be good enough for that?”
“I can’t say.” Lane’s voice was calm, and he held up a hand when Owen made an indignant noise. “I really can’t. I shouldn’t even been telling you at all, but I didn’t want you to be blindsided. I want you to be able to put protections in place.”
I stared at Lane. He’d been kind from the first moment he’d shown up, and he’d done his best to make it as painless as possible. Even though it had, in fact, been pretty painful. He’s reined in his partner when she had gotten too aggressive, and gave me as much time as I needed to answer questions. He’d come here, against protocol or whatever, to break the news that Bianca would be release into the world despite her crimes.
“Hey, Lane? You hungry?”
Owen’s jerked his gaze to me at the same time Lane’s head sprung up. They both stared and all I could do was smile. Pushing to my feet, I held out a hand to Owen who took it immediately.
“Gareth.” Owen pulled me close, then tilted my chin up to look me in the eye. “There is a distinct possibility she’d come after you. Or Aeron.”
I glanced at Lane. “Is she out yet?”
Lane shook his head. “But it shouldn’t be too long. A day or two at most.”
“Okay then, let’s eat. We appreciate you coming to tell us, and we’ll be able to prepare.” I patted Owen’s chest. “I’m gonna call Aeron, okay? We’ll figure it out. After we eat.”
I pulled out of Owen’s embrace and headed out to the kitchen. Nerves roiled in my gut and just the thought of Bianca being free, and wanting retribution on either me or Aeron, was scary. But I had to try not to worry about it. There were things we could do to protect ourselves and we would. Plus, we had the pack now.
“Is he okay?” Lane’s voice drifted in from the other room.
Owen responded a second later. “No, but he will be.”
**Okay! Next episode. Gareth and Owen back for another week. Enjoy!*
Even though Owen took care of me—and very well, I might add—after I dozed for a couple of hours, I woke restless. I tried really hard to settle, to go back to sleep. Owen was breathing softly, deep and even, beside me. Okay, really he was half on me. Seriously, sometimes I really did wonder if he was an octopus shifter.
But I couldn’t find peace, even in my mate’s arms, so I slowly crept my way out of bed, then, as quietly as possible, padded into the living room. The throw blanket I loved was tossed over the back of the couch, and I didn’t hesitate to wrap up in it, settling into the corner of the couch.
I wanted to see my brother. Aeron had finished with his agents later than I had, and we’d spoken briefly on the phone. But it had been late, and I’d been half asleep already so we’d promised to get together tomorrow. Except I was worried about him. Aeron hadn’t had a great relationship with the parents, but it had been better than mine. If I was having a hard time wrapping my head around things, I couldn’t imagine how hard this was for him.
Owen appeared on silent feet, but I was used to him now so I didn’t startle the way I had in the beginning. Had it really only been a couple of months? It felt like so much longer. But in a good way. I tried for a smile, though it felt tremulous, and Owen’s eyes softened. He crossed the room and sat beside me, opening his arms, and giving me the choice on whether or not I wanted to cuddle. The whole time, he didn’t say a word, but I didn’t need him to. With a soft sigh, I changed positions so I was leaning into his embrace. Owen kissed the top of my head.
After a long while, he finally spoke, his lips near my ear and his voice soft. “Why don’t you call him?”
He tapped my temple with gentle fingers so he would know exactly what he meant. I had to laugh then, though it was a weak, short sound. The fact that he knew what was weighing on me at that moment was comforting in a way I couldn’t describe. And that he didn’t think it was weird that I could sort of, kind of communicate with Aeron telepathically was reassuring.
“I’m trying not to,” I whispered, and then shrugged one shoulder knowing full well what his next question would be. “He’s had a long day too. Probably even mor emotionally draining. He needs his rest. And he has Remy.”
Owen hummed, pressing his lips to my skin, but didn’t comment. I appreciated his restraint. If I were to guess, he was more concerned about my well being than that of my brother. Which wasn’t to say he didn’t care about Aeron, just that I was his top priority. Which was really nice.
It was probably only about thirty minutes longer before he lifted his head, gaze zeroing in on the door. My entire body went tense, readying for action. Who was it now? I couldn’t handle anything else. Not tonight. But when Owen didn’t move, and his body remained tension free, I started to relax. He wasn’t worried, so I didn’t need to be either.
I opened my mouth to ask what was going on, but then there was a small burst of magic and the lock clicked open. I sat up fast, because there was only one person who could get through the wards without setting them off. I was off the couch and running before the door fully swung open, and hugging my brother a second later.
“You okay?” I murmured, squeezing him as tightly as I could. Remy moved in so he could nuzzle against where mine and Aeron’s heads met. I gave the cockatoo a quick scritch.
Aeron’s exhale was long and gusty, but he pulled back and gave me a smile that was almost real. “Hell of a day, huh?”
I nodded, pulling him inside before locking the door and resetting the wards. Aeron just kind of stood there, and the haggard appearance told me all I needed to know.
He shrugged, and Remy bounced with the motion. “You can’t either.”
We sat down, with me resuming my place on the couch with Owen. Aeron stretched out in the big chair and a half situated on the side. Remy moved down to perch on his chest and put his head under Aeron’s chin. The silence stretched between us.
“Fuck,” Aeron said, low but full of feeling.
“Yeah. I don’t know how we didn’t see it.” I sighed and pushed in closer to Owen. “To be honest, I’m surprised they didn’t try to recruit you. They would have loved someone with your kind of power.”
When Aeron didn’t speak immediately, I sat up, staring at him. He wouldn’t look at me. I glanced at Owen, whose gaze was fixed on Aeron, and then back at my brother.
“I didn’t know what they were doing, but…” He sounded hurt and regretful. “I did, inadverntly, help them. Years ago.”
“What happened?” My heart was in my throat.
Aeron sighed. “I powered them up a couple of times. I didn’t know why they needed it. And I was stupid enough to trust them.”
“You aren’t stupid,” I ground out. “Of course you trusted them. Why wouldn’t you?”
“I should have known something was up. Because they were drained and they needed more and I—” He let out a frustrated growl.
Silence again for a few seconds before Owen tentatively asked, “What does that mean?”
“Magic is a finite but renewable source, right?” I jumped in to explain so my brother wouldn’t have to. Owen nodded and I continued. “So if a witch expends their power, instead of using the slower, more natural ways to power back up, they can get a boost from another witch channeling power into them.”
“Every time, I was in the next room. I had no idea what was going on, and I believed them when they said it was something I’d understand when I was older.” Aeron sounded bitter. “I just channeled power in their direction. Who the hell knows what they were doing in there!?”
“That’s not your fault,” I repeated calmly. I’d say it as many times as he needed to hear it. “You couldn’t have known.”
Aeron waved that away. “By the time I was ‘old enough’ I was already supporting you. Backing you up. Our relationship was strained. Me and them I mean. They had to know I wasn’t going to be down for whatever the fuck—” Another growl, though a very human one. Remy hopped up closer so he could press his beak against Aeron’s cheek.
“I have to meet with Agents again tomorrow.”
So we were changing the subject. All right then. I’d roll with it. “Me too.” I shot Owen a loving looking. “My mate was fiercely protective.”
Owen gave a playful growl, going with it. “Damn skippy. And right now, your mate thinks we all need some hot chocolate. Maybe with some Bailey’s?” Owen waggled his eyebrows which got a laugh out of me, and a genuine smile from Aeron.
“Sure. Thank you.”
Owen nodded, kissed my cheek and stood up. He held out an arm. “Hey Remy, wanna come with? We can have some familiar bonding time.”
Remy squawked, head butted Aeron, then flew the few feet to perch on Owen’s arm. Owen started talking to the bird as he carried him into the kitchen. I smiled after them, until they rounded the corner and turned my attention to my brother.
“You okay?” I asked again, this time with a little force behind it.
**More Gareth and Owen. At this point, it’s its own novella but I can’t stop. At this point, I’ll just keep going until it’s good and done. Check the past posts to catch up if you need to. Enjoy!**
I heard all the words that the MBI agents were saying, but I was having trouble processing them. Because it didn’t make sense. Witches and mages in general were just…not that evil. To learn that my parents had been actively practicing such insidious magic was unfathomable. Purposefully stripping people of life force and magic to use it for their own gain, raising the dead for goddess knew what, storing and amassing power
“Gareth, babe, look at me.”
Owen’s voice broke through the haze, and I blinked slowly before turning my gaze to him. It wasn’t until that second that I realized I’d disassociated, staring without seeing, totally checking out. His touch to my cheek was nice, but I didn’t like the concern in his eyes.
He snorted out a mirthless sound but the corners of his lips quirked up. “Liar.” His voice was soft and affectionate.
I touched my forehead to his for just a moment, took a deep breath, then turned my attention back to the agents. Willis gave me a small smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
“Are you okay to continue?”
I nodded, even though I wasn’t really. But I needed to be. Owen must have been reading my scent or my body language, because h moved even closer so he could wrap his arm around me and tuck me against his side. I went willingly. So fast, this connection to him. But I didn’t care. I was grateful for it all the time, but especially now.
“As I was saying, the Lacuna location was found to harbor quite a few artifacts and sacrificial altars. When was the last time you were there?”
I thought back, trying to remember. In my youth, the vacation house on the lake had been a frequent journey. I’d loved it there. But the older I got, the less we went. Then after I failed to call a familiar after my first attempt, the invites had stopped completely.
“Five or so years ago now.” I pursed my lips, still trying to think. “Yes, it had to be that summer. The summer before…” I stopped, unable to continue. “Yes, five years ago.”
Mathers made a note in the pad she had set before her. The next question was hers. “Why so long?”
“My parents no longer wanted me there.” My tone was bitter, and I tried to let that go. I’d made peace with their separation from me long ago. Or at least I thought I had. Mostly. But sometimes it still snuck up on me. Parents were supposed to love you no matter what, and mine certainly hadn’t. realization dawned, and I let out a small gasp. “Oh.”
“You thought of something.” Willis’s deep voice didn’t hold a question.
“So much makes sense now,” I murmured, still working it out.
“What?” Mathers urged, her voice sharp.
“Give him a minute,” Owen snapped back.
I soothed my familiar with a hand on his thigh. “It’s just…I’m putting the pieces together now. I thought they didn’t want to have anything to do with me because of my magic but…” I had to think another minute. But then the picture became clear and I sat straighter. Not losing contact with Owen, but no longer leaning on him.
“Take your time,” Willis said, tone easy as he shot his partner a look.
“They,” I began, unwilling to use the word parents anymore. I cleared my throat. “They started cutting me out when my magic took longer to mature than was normal. I thought that was the reason. I speculate now it was because I wouldn’t be any help to them.”
Mathers nodded. “That’s probably accurate.”
“But then why was your mother an awful bitch to you after I came into the picture?” Owen’s brows were drawn together. “Just having me in your life increases your power. Stabilizes it. We’re still working things out, but you’ll be at least as powerful as Aeron. And he has a butt load of power.”
I had to smile at Owen’s choice of terms. “True. Probably even more so. But it’s just like the council. Bianca was scared of what me having that power would do to her, them…” I waved a hand. “What they were doing.”
Owen frowned. “I don’t understand.”
“I think what Mr. Evans is saying,” Willis cut in. “Is that once he reached his full potential, amplified by having a shifter familiar, he’d see the taint in their souls from the magic they perform.”
I pointed at Willis. “That.”
Owen squinted. “You can do that?”
I shrugged. “I’ll be able to. Aeron can, but he has to do it purposefully. Most witches with his power level can. Once our bond is completely stable, and my power increases, I’ll have to purposefully turn it off.”
“That tracks with our investigation,” Willis confirmed. “We have a few more questions.”
I bit back the groan that wanted to escape. We’d been at this for hours, and I’d lost count how often one of them had said that exact phrase. I knew it was important. I knew talking to them and telling them everything I knew would help build their case, and while I was still conflicted about everything, I very much wanted to see justice done. And done correctly. Bianca and Lawson Evans were not the people I thought they were, maybe hadn’t ever been. I wanted to do my part.
But I was so done.
“You can come back tomorrow.” Owen’s voice was firm and did not invite argument.
Mathers’s eyebrows shot to her hair line, then her mouth set and I knew were in for an argument anyway. Before she could speak, Owen shot her a glare and talked over whatever she would say.
“We aren’t going anywhere. We’ll be here, in this house, when you show up in the morning. After nine, please, as it would be rude to come earlier. Gareth will answer your questions then.”
Mathers’s scowl was epic, but Willis nodded. “Sounds fair. We’ll be back in the morning.”
“Can I see my brother? Is that allowed?” I blurted out.
Willis glanced at Mathers, and she sighed heavily, standing and removing her phone from her pocket. “Let me make a call.” She left the room.
Willis transferred Oscar to his shoulders, then leaned forward. “We appreciate your cooperation, Mr. Evans. I know this isn’t easy.”
That was the understatement of the century. But I just nodded. What else could I do? I couldn’t believe anyone would be so malevolent as to perform the kind of magic Bianca and Lawson did. I mean, I knew it happened, of course. But I couldn’t wrap my head around the reason for it. It was heinous and evil. And to think the people who brought me and my brother into this world were capable of it was still hard to accept.
They’d never been great people, but that they would go this far? It did not compute. Still. Even after hearing the facts and evidence I’d been provided. Which I knew wasn’t even all of it.
Mathers returned and nodded at Willis. He stood, and the smile he offered was a little more genuine. “We’ll leave you now. You’re, of course, allowed to speak with your brother once he’s done with his interview. We’ll see you in the morning.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t even move. Owen jumped to his feet and showed the agents out, and even in my state of shock, I was aware of the lock clicking shut and the flair of magic as Owen reset the threshold wards. I’d given him that ability the moment we moved in, carving the sigil into the doorframe that would respond to his touch and intent.
He was back a second later and didn’t hesitate to take me into his arms. I clung, needing his warmth and strength more than ever. He held me tightly, murmuring in my ear. It took me a moment to recognize the words.
“What can I do? What do you need?”
“Take me to bed.” My tone was a little frantic, and Owen pulled back far enough to look at me. “Hold me and fuck me and love on me. That’s what I need.”
Owen scooped me up, and I wrapped my legs around his waist. In this moment, shifter strength was definitely to my advantage. I wasn’t sure I could get my legs to work.
“I need you to ground me,” I said into the skin of his neck.
**Okay, so it turns out I accidentally lied about Gareth and Owen’s story being over. Sorry about that. Hope you can forgive me. Check out the blog for the other chapters. Enjoy!**
Owen’s family were open, warm, and supportive the moment we set foot in their territory. It was honestly pretty overwhelming. I knew that there were families like that out in the world, but having never experienced it myself, it was jarring. And since Aeron had stayed behind to deal with my house—since I had to be gone within a time frame and he didn’t—I had to deal with it on my own.
I had Owen of course, but he didn’t know anything different than a physically affectionate and caring family. But we settled in fine, and by the time Aeron joined us a few weeks later, I was coming to accept it. It was cramped in Owen’s parents house though, with all of us and Remy, and both Aeron and I were ready for space.
The little house Owen found was smaller than my previous one, but infinitely more charming. It had a whole cabin in the woods vibe without any creep or horror factor. Wood burning fireplaces in every room except the bathroom, a small workroom I could use to work on my witchcraft, and butted up to a national forest so Owen could shift and run whenever he wanted. Best of all, it wasn’t far from pack territory, and Owen was still able to visit with them at the drop of a hat.
Aeron’s apartment was even smaller, but he and Remy were happy. I was too. I set about making the cottage a new home, and as I found places for all our things—Aeron had come in a U-Haul with both his and my things, and Owen had more pack members with pickup trucks than I could count. We’d been moved in within the span of a day. All in all, I didn’t regret a single thing.
But Owen was still on edge, never leaving me for longer than a few minutes unless someone he trusted was visiting. He was convinced that the whole ordeal with my family and my former coven wasn’t over, no matter how much I tried to assure him it was. I figured it would take time before he was settled.
Not that I minded the constant attention. It usually resulted in hugs, cuddles, and much more. Owen couldn’t keep his hands off me, which suited me fine, because I was the same.
We were having a quiet night in for a change, no visits or pack gatherings, and Aeron was off doing his own thing. The fire was crackling behind the grate, I had a cup of hibiscus tea—which Owen jokingly said looked like blood—and we were snuggled together under a handknitted throw Owen’s grandmother had made for us. I couldn’t stop running my fingers over the rich texture and soft yarn. It was gorgeous.
Owen gave me a kiss on the head and got up to go to the bathroom. I stretched out to soak up the warmth he left behind, and hoped he’d get ideas when he got back. But before I could really settle, I heard a car pull up the gravel drive. I stood and stretched, ready to receive whoever decided to show up now. I was halfway to the door in response to the knock when Owen came barreling into the room.
“Back up. I’ll get it.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure it’s not—”
“Please.” His voice was soft and I nodded. “I don’t recognize the scent.”
A moment later, he pulled open the door, keeping it and himself between me and whoever was on the other side.
“Gareth Evans?” The deep voice was unfamiliar.
Owen narrowed his eyes. “Who’s asking?”
“Agent Delaney Willis. This is my partner Agent Fiona Mathers. We’re with the MBI.”
My breath caught. Magical Bureau of Investigation? That was serious. They only got involved in the most egregious of cases. They were almost a legend within the preternatural community. The boogeyman. Heard of, stories told, but never seen.
Except they were here. Asking for me. And I couldn’t imagine why? Panic tripped through my veins, and Owen growled, ready to defend me and keep me safe. But it wasn’t like we could turn MBI agents away. If they had tracked me down here, they could track me anywhere.
“Let them in, honey,” I whispered. I’d tried for a stronger tone, but it hadn’t worked. I was nervous. Okay, I was more than nervous. But I had to keep it together or my familiar and mate would start a riot.
Owen did as I asked, but he wasn’t happy about it. Agent Willis was tall, broad, and clearly a magic user. His aura was so strong anyone would have recognized it. That was if the orange tabby at his feet hadn’t given it away. Agent Mathers was just as tall, but willowy, and almost certainly a shifter.
“Is it all right if my familiar, Oscar, enters as well?”
I appreciated that he asked, but he had to know I wouldn’t disagree. I nodded, putting a hand on Owen’s shoulder and gently guiding him back so the Agents could enter. Owen stepped back, almost knocking me over, but he was determined to keep his body between me and them. I almost wanted to protest, but I didn’t want to raise Owen’s hackles more than they were. And to be quite honest, I wanted to stay safe.
“Thank you.” The agents entered, and turned toward the dining area where we had a small table with a few chairs. Once we were all seated, Agent Willis offered me a smile. It changed his whole face, and made him seem far more approachable.
“May I introduce Oscar to your familiar?”
I couldn’t contain the smirk as I pointed to Owen. It took the agents a couple of seconds to catch on, but when they did, Mathers’s eyes went to her hairline and Willis coughed. Owen preened and I couldn’t help the affectionate smile that graced my lips.
“That’s…unexpected.” Willis did his best to hide his surprise, but wasn’t entirely successful.
“What can we do for you?” Owen’s tone bordered on rude, and I slid my hand onto his thigh to try and soothe him. I was worried too, but there was no point in antagonizing them.
This time, Mathers spoke up. “Mr. Evans, we’re here to speak with you about Bianca and Lawson Evans.”
This time, it was my eyebrows that shot up. I knew the surprise was evident on my face. “My parents? What about them?”
Willis and Mathers exchanged a look. Mathers said, “What can you tell us about them?”
“Uh.” An uncomfortable feeling swirled in my gut, though whether it was because I couldn’t tell them anything or because I didn’t know what was going on, I wasn’t sure. “Not much. I’ll be frank, Agents, my parents haven’t had much to do with me for the past several years. You’d be better off speaking with my brother.”
“Agents are currently speaking with Aeron Evans as well,” Willis confirmed.
And that was the point that Owen’s patience broke. “I don’t mean to be rude, except I really want to know what the hellfire is going on?”
The agents ignored his outburst, but did answer his question. “Mr. Evans, your parents are currently being detained by the MBI for investigation pertaining to their use of black magic.”
I heard the words. But they didn’t make sense. My parents were assholes, but had always prided themselves on being upstanding magical citizens. “I’m sorry, what?”
Mathers narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying you had no idea your parents were involved in blood magic and necromancy?”
I just stared, my mouth open, not being able to process the words.
Beside me, Owen snorted. “Shit, babe, your parents are even worse than I thought.”
I shook my head. “I…I don’t understand.”
Willis sat back in his chair, and his cat jumped up into his lap. “Mr. Evans, we have a lot to discuss.”
**This picks up exactly where the last episode left off. And we finally have a conclusion. If you’ve missed any of the other episodes, make sure you check them out first. Enjoy!**
Chaos erupted. Where a moment before Owen stood beside me, there was now a wolf in a t-shirt and kicking out of jeans. A translucent shield, faintly blue, erupted between us and the rest of the council, and I knew it was Aeron’s doing. I was peripherally aware of shouting, subconsciously registered my mother’s voice, but the words didn’t register. Mage globes flared around the room.
But I was strangely calm.
Before walking into this room, I’d been nervous and worried. But now that the High Mage had made her proclamation and the tension was so high it was about to snap, I felt nothing but peace. When I thought back on this later, I would probably realize I was going into shock. If I survived, that was.
“Carla, sit down.”
The whip-crack of a voice cut through everything and an uneasy silence settled in. The High Mage whipped her head sideways, staring at a wizened old man with cotton candy wisps of hair gracing his very wrinkled scalp. Out of everyone on the council, he was the only one sitting calmly like the room hadn’t exploded around him. His gnarled fingers, knobbly with arthritis, were folded before him, and his sharp gray eyes were focused on the High Mage.
“Elder Elwyn,” she began, her voice barely restrained rage. But he held up one of those hands, and her mouth snapped shut. I wasn’t entirely sure it was of her own volition.
“As you recall, the vote must be unanimous. This is by our own tightly held rules.” Elwyn’s voice was soft and slightly shaky, but he seemed wholly unconcerned. “And while there were twelve votes in favor of your ludicrous declaration, I have yet to vote.”
He tilted his head in my direction, and it might have been the reflection off Aeron’s shield, but I could swear he winked at me. some of the feeling came back into my limbs, and it was only then that I realized I’d gone numb. With increasing increments, I came back to myself. Owen’s snarls reached my ears, though it was low, and I glanced down to see the his protective stance. I curled my fingers in his scruff, and he pushed closer to me, but still kept himself between me and everyone else.
“Gareth Evans, state your case,” Elwyn said in that same tone.
A thousand thoughts ran through my head and I couldn’t sort through them. But in the end, it didn’t matter. I knew I was either walking out of here with my mate, or I wasn’t, and there was nothing I could say to defend myself. Because I didn’t need a defense.
“I’m not sure what you want me to say.” My voice didn’t shake and I was strangely proud of that. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t deserve the charges the High Mage—” And if there was venom in the words I couldn’t be blamed, “—has leveled against me. I have tried to call a familiar for years, and it finally happened. Because the magic needed to wait until my familiar and mate was of age to join me. I’m not sure what the problem is.”
“The problem,” Elder Elwyn said, as though we were having a normal conversation. “Is that it takes agency from another being.”
I cocked my head. “But doesn’t the familiar bond do that no matter what? All familiars are sentient creatures, even if they aren’t humans. At least in my case, I can have a conversation with mine in the same language and we can discuss everything. If anything, my bond is more equal than any of yours.”
A murmured went up through the crowd, and I vaguely heard some grumbling agreement. The High Mage, however, would have killed me with nothing but her gaze if she could. I would have been incinerated judging by the fire in her eyes.
“The inherent power in your bond—”
“Oh.” Sudden clarity had me interrupting the High Mage, something I would have never done. Her fingers twitched, her mage glob flaring, and her ferret twittered angrily at me for the intrusion. But I didn’t care. “Oh, I get it now.”
Owen shifted. It only took two blinks, and he was suddenly a man. His shirt barely covered his ass, and though he kept his back to me, I was sure his parts were hanging out for the world to see. I grumbled at that—no one should see him but me—but Owen didn’t seem to care.
I put my hand on his lower back. “They’re scared I’ll try to take their power or some such nonsense.”
His head tilted and he shot me a quick, confused glance over his shoulder. “But you don’t care about that shit.”
I didn’t bother to remind him to watch his language in this hall. At this point, I didn’t care either. “No, I don’t. I don’t care about their politics at all.” I hummed as I thought. “You have several family members who are bonded to witches. Let’s move there. We don’t need this.”
Owen nodded. “I’m down with that. If you’re sure. We’ll discuss it.”
“What about me?” Aeron asked from my right.
“You can come too,” both Owen and I said at the same time.
Aeron’s grin was blinding. “Well, all right then.”
“Mr. Evans.” Elwyn’s voice cut through our conversation, and the three of us turned to give the old man our attention.
“Am I to understand you’re willing to leave the area?”
I nodded. “Sure. I don’t need…this.” I waved my hand to encompass all that was happening.
He studied me for a long moment. “Well, then this is moot isn’t it?”
The High Mage’s nostrils flared and I was pretty sure she was about to combust. Instead, she breathed deeply and drew down her magic. I could still see it sparking at her fingertips, but she was no longer on the verge of annihilating me.
“The exile stand. You have 48 hours to remove yourself from the district. Should you remain, or return, your magic will be stripped and your bond broken. You will be imprisioned.”
I opened my mouth to argue, or point out the idiocy and hypocrisy of it, but then realized I didn’t want to. Nothing was keeping me here. I loved my house, sure, but I could love another one. My family didn’t care about me, except for my brother, and I had no close friends. All I needed was my mate and my brother to be happy. I could make a new life somewhere else if I had them. My mate, of course, I knew wouldn’t leave my side. So I glanced at Aeron.
“You’re coming, right?”
“Of course.” He nodded, just once, and his expression was determined.
“Great.” I turned my back on the council, knowing that Aeron and Owen would keep us safe as we left. It took no time to get outside and only when we were back at the SUV did I start to shake. Owen pulled me close and then got us both into the backseat where he could hold me.
I blew out a stuttering breath and tried for a laugh. “Well. That was anticlimactic.”
Owen growled as he nuzzled my neck. “Only in that I expected a fight. You were amazing. So calm and collected.”
“Shock,” I muttered, burrowing closer. I needed his warmth. Owen had no problem obliging me, practically pulling me into his lap. If we weren’t in a moving car, I would have climbed him like a tree. But as it was, I was happy to just be wrapped up in his arms. This fast, and he was already my rock. I’d be scared about that except for our bond.
Aeron turned on the engine and put the car in drive. It wasn’t until we were at least a few miles away before he let out a chuckle.
“What?” I finally lifted my head but pressed into Owen when he placed a kiss on my head. I loved that he couldn’t stop touching me.
“Guess we’re starting a new adventure, huh?” He took the opportunity of a red light to turn around and give me an eyebrow waggle. Remy, who’d been silent up till now, let out a happy squawk and bobbed his head.
I couldn’t help the grin that bloomed my lips. I turned to see an answering smile gracing Owen’s. I kissed him, slow and sweet, but filled with the promise of what was to come.
“Yeah,” I said, a foreign but welcome contentment suffusing me. “Yeah. We are.”
**Here is part five! We are clearly not done yet. Tell me what you think of Gareth and Owen’s continuing saga. Check out the blog for the previous parts. Enjoy!**
The summons came in the middle of the night by way of witch globe. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, I was startled because I was warm and cozy, sound asleep and wrapped around my mate. Or rather, he was wrapped around me. Since solidifying our bond, Owen hadn’t moved more than two feet away for me. And the way he clung in bed made me think he was an octopus shifter instead of a red wolf.
Not that I minded in the slightest.
But the appearance of the witch globe in my—our—bedroom was shocking but not surprising. The witching hour was called that for a reason, as many who were magically inclined were at the height of their power. It woke me from a dead sleep, the pulse of magic thrumming through me and pulling on mine. I gasped as my eyes popped open, but Owen’s arms just tightened and he pushed his face against the back of my neck.
“Ignore it,” he mumbled into my skin.
“We can’t,” I whispered.
Owen growled, then grumbled, then kissed my nape in a way that made me shiver. “We could.”
“It’ll just get worse, until it’s physically painful and I have no choice but to comply. Get up, please. We need to go.”
The growl Owen let out was deep from his chest, and I didn’t need to look to know his fangs were out and his eyes had changed. I couldn’t dwell on that though, because if I did, I’d be tempted to drag him back down and…
Yeah. There was just something about him, all cranky and possessive, that just did it for me. It didn’t feel smothering or dangerous in any way. Instead it was clear he was being protective without wanting to own me. I was his but he didn’t control me. Not that I would mind a little control.
No. Couldn’t go there right now.
Owen inhaled deeply, shoving his nose right against where my shoulder joined my neck. “Gareth, you can’t expect me go anywhere with you smelling like that.”
I flipped over and Owen allowed, pulling me in the moment we were chest to chest. I kissed him quickly, even if it was full of heat, and pulled away when Owen wanted to take it further. We really didn’t have time for that.
“Get up and get dressed.” I nudged his nose with mine.
Owen complied, at least with the getting out of bed part. “Call your brother.”
“Already on it.” Aeron and I had a link through our magic, something that had found us when we were young. Right before he really hit his power growth spurt, we’d been working a rudimentary tracking spell and something happened. We’d never really told anyone about it, because we’d never heard of anything like it. Aeron still researched it on and off, trying to find the reason why. I didn’t really care about the why right now, because it allowed me to send thoughts to him, even though he lived on the other side of town. I felt him wake, felt the acknowledgement, and his urgency. Aeron masked it after a second, trying to be reassuring, but I knew he was just as worried about this as I was.
Owen was dressed, shoes on, by the time I came back to myself. He was waiting patiently close by, and I knew by his stance he was on alert. Warmth suffused my stomach, just knowing he was watching out for me. it had been a long time since I’d had anyone to put me first. My brother had my back, and that was great, but I wasn’t his sole priority. I couldn’t be and I didn’t want to be.
Maybe it was our growing bond. Maybe it was his protectiveness. Maybe it was just who he was. But whatever it was, I felt as though I could take on the world and survive. Or the Witches Council, as the case may be.
I dressed in record time, and though I was nervous, I was scared. Not like I’d been a few days ago. I trusted Owen and Aeron. I trusted myself. If the worst came to worst, we’d be able to get out of there. Even if it meant leaving this place I’d called my own and hiding from the council for the rest of our lives.
“Hey.” Owen nuzzles his face against my jaw. “Stop it. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I don’t like the defeatist scent coming off you. We can handle this.”
I was so sure about that, but I tried for a smile anyway. Another kiss, quick and easy in a way that was becoming familiar very quickly, and then we were out the door. Aeron was just pulling up to the curb, having rushed over, and we climbed into his SUV.
The closer we got to council headquarters, the more nervous I got. To the point that Owen reached out and laid a hand on the back of my neck. I tried to settle. I really did. But I couldn’t stop worrying. We were walking in to a situation where we would be faced with thirteen very powerful people who were used to being obeyed and getting their way. I had power, more now that Owen and I had bonded. Aeron’s power even exceeded my own. But those people inside that building? Half of them were ruthless, set in their ways, and older than dirt. The other half liked the control they had, even if there were, perhaps, more persuadable.
The witch globe had followed us, and stopped beside the car when Aeron parked. I got out, and Owen was instantly at my side. Which was a good thing because the surge of magic from the globe nearly made my knees buckle. Owen was right there to hold me up, though, and he growled uselessly at the magical globe.
“Ready?” Aeron’s voice was soft, tense, but firm.
Aeron gave me half a grin that didn’t last. Owen nosed my temple in an affectionate gesture. I gripped his hand so tightly that if he hadn’t been a shifter, I might have broken bones. He didn’t seem to mind. As one, we entered the council hall and were met by the whole council, seated and glowering in full regalia. My parents and other members of my extended family were sitting in the observation area at the far end of the room. I ignored them completely.
“Gareth Evans, you have presented yourself to be judged for your misuse and abuse of magic.” The High Mage intoned, her voice a clarion bell. “Prepare for your magic to be stripped, your bond broken, and your exile.”
**I know it’s a lot later than normal, but I can’t be blamed. Ninetendo updated Animal Crossing New Horizons and dropped a DLC and I can’t help it if that’s where all my attention has been. But better late than never. Here’s part 4 of Gareth and Owen’s story! Check out the blog for the past parts if you need to catch up. And we’re not done yet. Enjoy!**
“That’s a very bad idea.”
Aeron scoffed at my statement, waving the hand that wasn’t petting Remy. “Don’t be a baby. Pull up your grown up pants.”
Beside me, Owen growled, the sound not quite animal in his human chest. If I hadn’t know he was a werewolf, that sound would have clinched it. And just that quick, I slid my hand around the back of his neck and squeezed to soothe him. He leaned into me, though he never took his gaze off Aeron. When he spoke, his words were slightly distorted, as though his fangs were starting to shift.
“Watch. Your. Words.”
Aeron dismissed that as well, not intimidated in the least by my werewolf almost-mate. It had been two days, and we were getting to know each other. I’d quickly learned how much touch meant to him, and how it calmed him. To be fair, it worked wonders for me as well. As long as it was Owen doing the touching.
Not that there had been that kind of touching yet. But I knew when we got there, that would be just as effective. Probably more so.
A nudge to my side had me startling back to the present. Owen’s smirk was weirdly sweet. “Focus, dear.”
I fought not to blush. “I’m focused. On the fact that I don’t want to die. And confronting the Witches Council will produce that result.”
The growl again, this time deep from Owen’s chest, and the way his eyes flashed, I knew the wolf was at the surface. He hauled me close, and I let him. Not only did I have no desire to fight him, but I knew that if I did, it wouldn’t go well for me. He was ten times stronger than I was, even with my magic.
“You will not die. I won’t allow it.” Owen’s voice was deep and broken.
“You won’t.” Aeron’s tone was earnest “It’s the best bet. We go in there as a united front. At least part of the council will respect you just for showing up. By their own laws, they have to let you plead your case. And with both of us bonded now, our powers combined would be enough to at least get us out of there if things go south.”
I shook my head, panic climbing in my chest. “They could put down a witch trap, or strength their wards, or station enforcers at the doors or—”
Owen pressed his forehead to my temple, cupping the opposite cheek with his hand. Instantly I relaxed. Not completely, but just having him right there helped me to calm. We breathed together, and I took in the scent of him. Usually, smell wasn’t as big a thing for me, and maybe it was part of the bonding process, but scent mattered right now to me more than it ever had. He smelled like my body wash, and my detergent, but underneath that, something earthy. Like the forest.
I pressed a kiss to his wrist, because it was right there, and he sucked in a deep breath. It caught in his chest, stuttering it out on the exhale. I breathed it in, suddenly needing him to give me the air. It was as though a switch flipped, and my entire being was tuned entirely into him.
“Oh.” It was a gasp and a word, and Owen pressed against me.
Distantly, I heard Aeron clear his throat. We ignored him. He muttered something about leaving, but we ignored that too. It didn’t matter. Nothing did. Not my impending doom, or my brother, or even the outside world. Suddenly theonly thing that was important was Owen.
“Give me consent now, or tell me to stop, because things are—”
“Yes,” I murmured. Then stronger. “Yes, please.”
Owen kissed me, hard and fast, owning my mouth. Lips, teeth, tongue. Devouring heat and sensuality. He owned me in that kiss, and I let him have control, giving everything he asked for and moaning with it. I was only partially aware of pushing closer, of him pulling me into his lap, of his tight grip on my hips that was sure to leave bruises I would relish later.
I whimpered when he pulled his mouth away, and when he tucked my face against his neck, I panted wetly, just trying to breathe. Owen’s arms were a vice around me, squeezing almost painfully tight, but I needed it.
“I won’t let anything happen to you. Or our bond.”
“Me too.” I laughed, a little hysterically, even as I tried to rock closer. “I mean, I won’t let anything happen to either of us.”
A few beats of silence, then Owen said, “Is he right?”
I lifted my face to look deep into his eyes. “My brother? About confronting the council?” Owen nodded and I shrugged, continuing, “Probably. He’s had more dealings with them. And our parents.”
Owen cupped my face. “You trust him?”
His gaze searched mine and then he nodded once. “Then I will too. But tomorrow.”
I quirked an eyebrow. “Why tomorrow?”
“Because tonight,” he said, voice low and full of heat. “I have a mate to bond with.” Then he hesitated, a hitch in his breath, and said, “If he’ll have me.”
The human part of my brain urged caution. Said it was way too fast. Said we needed to slow down and talk things out and take our time.
But the rest of me just wanted him. Wanted everything he was offering. Wanted him as a person and as a familiar. As a mate. My life had turned upside down in the past few days, but it didn’t matter. Because fate had given me Owen to walk through it with me. We’d have to deal with the council. And we’d have to figure out how to use our power and how to be mates. But that was a future worry. At least tomorrow. Tonight, it didn’t matter.
**I swear I just set out to write a one shot. But y’all aren’t mad it’s a whole-ass thing now, are you? Here’s part three of Gareth and Owen. Part four will be up next week. I don’t have any idea how long it will go. Enjoy!**
Owen padded barefoot into the room, freshly showered with damp hair, and wearing my clothes. He was bigger than me—taller and broader—so they didn’t quite fit. The sweatpants were definitely too short, riding up his ankles. But I certainly didn’t mind the tight fit of the T-shirt across his chest and straining at his biceps. It made for a great picture. And I had a weird flutter of pleasure at seeing him dressed in my clothes.
Which was strange, because that hadn’t ever been something that particularly appealed to me before. But right now, looking at him, it absolutely appealed in every way possible.
Owen smirked, as if he knew where my thoughts had gone. And then it occurred to me that he probably did, considering he’d be able to discern a lot from my scent. Hormones and pheromones were absolutely a thing, even if human noses weren’t sensitive enough to detect them. Other shifters I’d known had said horniness and attraction was one of the easiest scents to pick up and recognize. Was Owen picking up on that from me now?
I cleared my throat, not letting my mind wander down that path. Yes, he was a beautiful man, but he was so much younger than I was. And my familiar. That gave me a certain amount of control over him, and the power imbalance inherent in that made anything sexual between us unconscionable.
Though he had used the term mate.
But maybe it didn’t mean what I thought it did. Even if I had never heard a shifter use it for anything except their partner. I had only known a few shifters in my life, and none of them were werewolves. Witches were a rather insular community—which was a shame and something I was trying to change—so I hadn’t had a lot of opportunity to mingle with other supernatural beings. Maybe it was different for wolves? Maybe Owen and his family used the term to describe their relationship with their bonded witch?
It was something we needed to talk about.
“Where’d your mind just go?” Owen’s voice was soft, inquisitive and gentle. But I shook my head. We’d get to that in a minute.
“I, uh, made food. Not sure what you liked or what you wanted, but I figured protein and carbs.” I lifted my shoulder in an awkward half-shrug. “Couldn’t go wrong with that.”
Owen glanced at the table, but then focused back on me, a smiling playing on his lips. “It looks and smells great. I love meatball subs.”
“I mean, it was frozen and I just heated it up, but it should be all right and replenish calories. I can do better tomorrow for sure. Breakfast can be a whole affair. I’m good at breakfast. Anything you want. But I didn’t want you to go to sleep hungry, and I just figured—”
“Gareth, breathe.” Owen smiled softly and stepped closer. The moment he put his hand on my neck, I let out an explosive breath that made him chuckle quietly. “That’s better. There’s no need to be nervous. We’ll find our footing.”
I laughed but it sounded strained. “How are you so damn calm about this whole thing?”
Owen squeezed my neck and stepped around me to take a seat at the table. He pulled the plate closer to him. “I’ve known this was a possibility my whole life, and had an inkling of it a year ago. I’ve had time to adjust to the idea. I know it’s new for you. But don’t worry. We’ll get there.”
And that gave me the opening I needed. “About what you said in the car…”
He glance up, a mischievous twinkle in his eye. And when I didn’t continue, he asked playfully, “Which part?”
I rolled my eyes, because we both knew which part. But he was going to make me say it. “The mates part. Because I’ve only heard it used in one way with shifters but you can’t possibly mean—”
“I mean exactly that.”
I gaped like a fish, which made him chuckle. But instead of elaborating, he waggled his eyebrows and took a big bite of food. I had to laugh as well, some of the tension leaving me. He wasn’t worried or concerned, clearly, and I needed relax some as well.
He cocked his head as he chewed, and when he swallowed his bite, and asked, “Is that a problem?”
“No!” The hint of insecurity in his voice had me answering fast and too loud. I took a breath. “I mean, no. Of course not. I’m just…surprised. It’s unexpected.”
“Don’t worry, Gareth. I’m not going to jump your bones and mate with you tonight. We’ll get there. But it’s always been an equal exchange of—” His head snapped up, and he dropped his sandwich to his plate with a splat, some of the sauce leaking out the side. “Someone’s here.”
I waved a hand in dismissal. “It’s probably just Aeron.”
“It’s not. Though…” He inhaled deeply, stood and walked toward the door, then breathed in again. “Definitely someone familial, and there’s a bird. Not the cockatoo.”
My entire body went tense. “Can you tell if it’s an African Grey or a duck?”
Another quick intake of breath. “It’s not waterfowl.”
Owen was at my side in a second, his speed on display. He touched me again, and I felt our bond surge. Aeron had described the bond to me too many times to count, so I knew that as it solidified over the coming weeks, we’d both feel things more strongly until it settled.
“It’s my mother,” I said with a tired sigh. I patted his hand where it rested on my shoulder, then stood and crossed to the door. I barely acknowledged her as I opened it to admit her and her parrot, Jolene, perched on her shoulder.
“Mother, please let me introduce you to my familiar, Owen.” I made a sweeping gesture toward him, where he stood in a ready stance, his muscles coiled tightly. “Owen, this is my mother, Bianca.”
Mother ignored Owen entirely, which wasn’t a surprise but got my hackles up. She stared at me, her blue gaze piercing, and her nose turned up.
“Gareth, what is the meaning of this?” Her voice was ice cold. I wasn’t surprised by her anger or her outrage. She’d thought I was an abomination since the first time I’d failed to call a familiar. I opened my mouth to respond, but she didn’t give me the chance. “This is unacceptable. Your behavior is reprehensible. You will come with me now to the council headquarters and I will strip you of this bond—”
She gasped as Owen grabbed my arm and pulled me behind him. He took up a fighting stance, his fingernails lengthening into claws. Jolene gave a squawk as Mother brought up a shield. And just that fast, there was a stand off in my entryway.
Owen growled, long and low. I touched his back. He ignored me.
“You will not take him from me.” The distortion in Owen’s words was from more than just the rumble of his voice. It sounded like he had a mouth full of fangs.
Mother’s magic sparked, her eyes flaring with power. I had to de escalate this quickly. I wrapped an arm around Owen’s middle, and he backed up, forcing me farther away from my mother. I was more than happy to go.
“Owen.” I kept my voice soft, speaking in his hair. “My mother holds a seat on the council. She represents our coven and has considerable power—”
“I don’t give a bloody fuck if she’s the supreme ruler of the universe.” Owen was talking to me, but his gaze never left my mother. “She can get the fuck out of this house.”
The threshold ward flared and pulsed, and my mother gasped as it pushed her right out the front door. In seconds, she was on the porch, staring in, rage shining through her eyes. And I knew I should be worried about that, and I knew I would be when I could process it, but right that moment, I was stuck on the fact that the threshold ward had responded to Owen’s command. If I’d had any doubt about our growing bond—which I hadn’t—that right there would have sealed it.
“The council will come for you,” she spat out, and Jolene hurled her own bigoted insult my way. Mother rubbed Jolene’s chest feathers. “I will see to it you are stripped of your bond, of your power, and cast out.”
With that, Bianca turned on her heel and marched away. She threw a spell behind her, but it hit the wards and dissipated. I wasn’t worried about whatever she’d tried. Areon had helped me set the wards and they were the strongest anyone had seen. Our powers combined could protect a military forward operating base.
Owen breathed heavily, not letting go of his defensive pose, until the car pulled away with a squeal. Then he made an effort to shift the parts that had…shifted. Gods, I needed to learn the correct phrasing and terms. Otherwise, I’d sound like an idiot. The thought caused a slightly hysterical sounding laugh to escape my throat.
Owen whipped around and hauled me into his arms. He held me tightly and pushed his face against my neck. I hugged him back, needing the grounding. For a couple of moments, we just breathed. Then he pulled back just far enough to see my face.
Owen blew out a breath and didn’t let me go. “How worried do we need to be right now?”
“On a scale of one to ten? About seventeen.” That near-hysterical laugh burst out of me again.
Lost in thought, Owen pulled me in again. He hummed, kissed the side of my head, then let me go. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.” He glanced at me to make sure I was paying attention, then continued. “You’re gonna call your brother, because he’s on your side right?”
“Right,” I agreed, calming just a little.
“Good.” Then he waggled his brows. “And I’m gonna eat my sandwich.”
Another laugh escaped me, but this time, it sounded far more normal. Owen’s shoulders relaxed, and his endearing grin bloomed on his lips. He draped an arm around my waist and led me back into the kitchen.
“Hey, I have my priorities.”
I nodded, still chuckling a little. My adrenaline was crashing and I started to shake. Owen sat me in a chair, then took the one next to me, sliding as close as possible before he reached once again for his sandwich. He did need to eat, and not just because he was hungry. He had to replace calories if he was to be at full strength.
I sighed and slumped against him, liking the pleased sound he made. “Tonight has not turned out at all like I thought it would.”
Owen went still. “Do you regret it?”
I heard the hesitancy and insecurity in his tone. I turned my head to give him a grin. “Not even a little bit.”
***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.