Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 3 for Rowan and Luca. At least one more part after this but maybe more. We shall see. Check the tags to catch up if you need to. Enjoy!**

Nothing beat running in fur. There was a lot of things I loved to do in my human shape, but sprinting through the woods, wind ruffling my fur, four feet pounding against the ground as the scents and sounds really came alive was the best feeling ever. In my shifted form, my animal instincts ruled, though my very human brain still added input. It had taken years to find the balance and be comfortable with it.

Luca led the way and I dutifully followed. Not only because he was the more dominant wolf, but because I simply wanted to. We raced through trees and underbrush, sides heaving as we ran. Hitting the far edge of our territory, we looped back around, slowing some, until we reached the creek. Human me would never drink from the water, but wolf me thought it was crisp and cool, soothing my parched throat. When I was finished, I lay down on the edge of the bank. Luca pushed closer, his muzzle bumping mine. Then he lifted his head sharply, paused, then took off.

I got to my feet, listening, trying to figure out why he’d run. But before I could parse it out, he returned, a dead hare hanging limply in his jaws. Human me would be repulsed, but wolf me eyed the kill with hunger. But I sat and waited. Luca was more dominant than me, he got to eat first. And if he chose to eat it all—there wasn’t much to a hare—then I’d have to hunt my own food.

Luca approached slowly but deliberately, and laid the hare at my feet. He backed up two paces, then sat quietly and watched me. I tilted my head and whined. This was his kill, not mine. I couldn’t eat it. Luca huffed, and then let out a soft yowl. When I still didn’t move, he came closer and nudged the hare. Then he licked my muzzle and stepped back again.

It took a few more seconds for my human mind to figure it out. He was feeding me. He wanted me to eat his offering. There was a significance there, I knew, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Luca laid down, gaze fixed on me, crossing his front paws. Waiting.

I ate. Bite after bite, with him watching me all the while, until half the hare was gone. Then I brought it to him, making sure he had food too. Instead of going after the food, he cleaned my muzzle. Only when he was satisfied, did he eat the rest of the hair until there wasn’t much left to the carcass. When he was finished, I returned the favor and cleaned him. His tail thumped the ground and he let out a happy little whine.

I was inordinately pleased he was happy.

He stood, then rubbed his body along mine. Both sides and under my neck. Until I smelled like him as much as myself. Luca stuck his nose in my fur, snuffled for a moment, then let out a small bark. I didn’t dare move. But he gave me a gentle nip that got me on my feet and when he took off back the way we came, I ran after him.

Luca took a more direct route back to the pack house, so we were there in no time. He stopped by his pile of clothes but I continued on, back through the still open door and onto the porch. I shifted back to human, something that always felt like a loss. Some people preferred one shape over the other, and while I didn’t really, being in fur was more of a comfort than being in skin. Once the shift was complete, I dressed quickly and was just tugging my shirt into place when he came back in.

He gave me a soft smile. “Feel better?”

I nodded. “Luca—”

“Let me get you some more water and food.” He strode toward the house door. “You need it after your shift.”

“Luca.” My voice held a note of desperation. Confusion too, if I was honest. But it did the trick, because he stopped. He didn’t turn, but he paused at least. I took a breath. “You fed me.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s kind of a big deal.” I padded closer, my feet still bare, and even though he tensed, he still didn’t move. Didn’t walk away, but didn’t turn around either. “It’s important.”

“You needed it.” His voice was so soft.

I reached out, moving at a snail’s pace, and touched his shoulder. He jerked, a tiny movement, but didn’t pull away or shrug me off. I stepped closer so I could see his profile and put my other hand on his arm. Luca’s eyes slid closed, and he looked as though he was doing everything in his power not to move.

“Talk to me?” It was a request, because I wasn’t in any position to demand. Not only because of our places in the pack, but because I was still confused. Because of the pack I’d been born into, because of how I—along with so many others—had been treated and raised, there were nuances I didn’t understand. But back in skin, with the animal part of me receded to the background, I was able to think clearer. And I knew this meant something monumental. He was taking care of me. He fed me.

Luca looked at me then. Actually turned his head and met my gaze. And I didn’t understand everything I saw there, but I got the longing. The affection. I sucked in a breath, and Luca shuttered his expression, but when he tried to pull away, I held on tighter. He froze, then gusted out a sigh.

“You needed to heal first, before I could say anything.” His voice was still that soft, barely audible tone, but I had no trouble hearing him.

“Oh.” It was all I could get out.

Luca cut his gaze away. “If you don’t want…if you aren’t ready….” He snapped his gaze back to mine, eyes blazing. “I would never force you.”

I smiled then, because that, at least, I was sure of. “I know that. But as for the rest?” I shrugged one shoulder, trying for winsome but not sure if I succeeded. “I don’t know what I want. I don’t know you well enough yet.”

For a long, tense moment, Luca didn’t say anything. Didn’t move. I wasn’t even sure he was breathing. But then he inhaled sharply and reached out. Slowly and telegraphing his every movement, so I could pull away if I wanted. I didn’t. and when his finger made contact with my cheek, I leaned into the touch.

Luca’s voice was a deep rumble when he spoke. “Let’s change that, hm?”

“Let’s.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s the second episode for Rowan and Luca. Better late than never. And there’s more to come. Hope you enjoy!**

Luca held me tight as he led me to the back porch. It was enclosed, but as soon as he sat me on the rattan couch, he opened the windows, muttered something about fresh air, and turned around and walked out. I stared after him for a long moment, confused. He’d been so intent on taking care of me and then just left? Well, it was fine. Being by myself would work too.

But before I could even really complete the thought, he was back. He had a bottle of water in one hand and a clearly wet cloth in the other. Gingerly, he sat beside me, handed over the water, then lifted the cloth and ever so gently wiped the sweat from my face. I was too stunned to speak, let alone react, so I just allowed him to, staring at him with wide eyes.

He gave me a gentle smile and my breath caught, because I’d never seen that expression on his face. The smile became a tiny smirk, and he gestured to the bottle.

“You should drink.”

My motions were automatic, no thought involved, as I cracked open the top and took a few swallows. The cool water soothed my throat, and I realized how thirsty I was. I tipped the bottle more, ready to down the whole thing, when Luca closed his big hand over mine.

“Take it easy. You don’t want to get sick.” Luca’s voice was low, and the timber sent a shiver through me. I managed to check it.

I cleared my throat. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

Luca quirked an eyebrow. “You want me to be mean?”

I almost laughed, because I liked his playful tone and the banter was helping me to feel more settled. Usually I liked to be by myself after a panic attack, but having Luca here was helping.

“No, of course not. But just…” I blew out a breath and fiddled with the label on the water bottle, not able to look Luca right in the eye. “I’ve been here for three years, right? And we’ve never had a real conversation.”

Luca tipped his head, studying me. “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, we’ve talked.”

“In passing, sure.” I twisted the cap off, then back on. Did it again. After the third time, Luca covered both my hands with one of his. Then he ducked his head to catch my eye. “I’m okay.”

A nod. “You will be. It didn’t last as long as the last one.”

I startled at that, pulled away and Luca let me. I scooted back into the corner of the couch, staring, and Luca’s expression went blank. For a long few minutes, we both just breathed. Then I found my voice.

“I wasn’t aware that, uh, you paid, um, that close attention to me.”

With a small, quiet sigh, Luca closed his eyes. A moment later, he opened them then slid off the couch and onto one knee. He did his best to appear small, but it was absolutely impossible. He was just a big guy, broad and tall, and even crouched down, it didn’t dimmish that. But I appreciated the effort. 

“Does that make you uncomfortable?”

I let the question hang there for a moment while I contemplated that. My first reaction was to immediately deny it, to soothe and placate. But that was my old conditioning, and I’d learned better now.

“Uh, maybe a little. I mean, we’re a pack. We all look out for each other.”

The sound that escaped Luca’s throat sounded a little pained. I didn’t now what caused it, how my statement hurt him, and I was trying to decide how to ask, or even if I should, when Luca spoke instead, his voice so soft I might not have heard it if I hadn’t had enhanced hearing. 

“That’s not why.”

“What?”

Luca shook his head. “Do you want to talk to me about what happened? What triggered you?”

My stomach knotted. I really didn’t. It was stupid, to begin with. There was no reason for it. It had just been a motion, caught out of the corner of my eye, and it sent me into a spiral. I knew I was safe and protected in Tom’s pack. I should be fine. But as my therapist reminded me, trauma response was not logical.

Luca took my silence as an answer, and he didn’t force me to talk. Instead he laid a hand on my knee and squeezed gently.  “Will shifting help? I know it always helps me feel more settled.”

The change of subject was abrupt, and for just a split second, I almost asked him to explain. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, so I went with it instead.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, it would be good to but in fur for a while.”

Luca stood so quickly it startled a gasp out of me, but Luca ignored that. He shot me a grin and it transformed his whole face. He always had an intimidating air about him, but with that huge smile, I could see something else. Something softer he didn’t usually let us see. 

“You shift. I’ll leave the door open. I’ll meet you out there in fur and we’ll go for a run.”

“Luca—” but he was gone, out the door and jumping the three steps to the back lawn. I lifted up enough to watch him as he began to strip—it was always easier to shift while naked—and his back was an expanse of smooth skin and rippling muscle. I dropped back down quickly, needing to take a second to collect myself.

Luca had turned my perception of him on it’s head. And I wasn’t sure if it was because I was still shaken or for some other reason, and I didn’t have the mental capacity to figure it out right now. And I hadn’t been lying when I said shifting helped. Being able to run in fur, to let the animal side of me have control and let the human thoughts recede went a long way to helping me feel whole.

So I stripped off my clothes, dropped to all fours, and let the shift overtake me. a few seconds of pain, then my pain receptors turned off, and it was nothing more than the tug and pull of muscle and bone, tendons and sinew, as I changed shape.

Once it was done, I shook my fur to settle it into place, lifted my nose to catch Luca’s scent, and bounded out the door after him. Everything else could wait.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

 

**Welcome to another Flash Fic Friday! Today we start a new story, and it’s going to have a least a few parts. So follow along as Rowan finds his HEA. Enjoy!**

The thing about a well-functioning wolf shifter pack was that the alpha was in charge, but didn’t abuse that power. The alpha takes care of the wolves in their protection, supports them, and lifts them up. They don’t lord their power and control over their packmembers. 

I knew first hand how being in a pack with a controlling, power-hungry alpha could be.

But that was my past, and now I’d found a good pack. One where the alpha and alpha-mate did everything they could to take care of us. Made sure we were safe and healthy and had what we needed. And took care of us when we were in trouble.

“Rowan, you need to breathe.” Tom’s voice was deep and held that note of alpha power I couldn’t ignore even if I wanted to. And since he didn’t, because I trusted him, I took a breath.

It hurt. But when I sucked in air, I realized how fuzzy my head was getting from the lack of oxygen. Tom’s touch on my neck centered me, and when I breathed again, his scent soothed me even further. Fur and forest and citrus and cotton. The breath after that was a lot easier, and the more I focused on moving air through my lungs and my alpha in front of me, the better it got.

Panic eventually receded enough that I could focus on things outside of myself. Half the pack was crowded close, but still giving me room. Tom’s mate, Josiah, was crouched closer still, and I realized his hand was on my shoulder.

“That was a bad one, huh?” Tom’s voice rumbled, gentle and soothing. I nodded, and fought the blush that wanted to crawl up my neck. I was too old to turn red with embarrassment, and I knew, logically, that a panic attack was nothing to be embarrassed about. But I was. 

It had been years since I left my old pack. Years since I’d been at the mercy of an abusive alpha and his cronies. Years of time and work and therapy. Years of being safe and cared for in Tom’s pack. I should be over these attacks, over the trauma response when a small thing triggered me. 

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, still not really having a voice. 

“None of that now.” Tom smiled and then ran his hand and wrist over the side of my neck, marking me with his scent. Reminding me I was his. I needed it right now, and I let out a grateful sigh. Tom’s smile grew. “You’re okay.”

It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “Yes, alpha.”

Tom clucked his tongue, but it was playful, and we all knew he didn’t stand on ceremony. Titles were unnecessary with him. With all of us. We were a pack, and though Tom took care of us all, he didn’t see himself as better than the rest of us. 

I’d done good finding him when I finally escaped my past. 

The pack broke up, now that they knew I was okay, and the murmur of voices built as they rejoined their conversations. The insidious part of my brain tried to tell me they were all talking about me, judging me. I did my best to silence that voice. 

Tom stood, then held out his hands and pulled me up. I was shaky, but steady enough, so he stepped back. He didn’t take his eyes off me, even as Josiah stepped forward and marked me as well. When Josiah offered a hug, I leaned into the alpha-mate’s hold easily. He let me hold on until I was ready to let go. 

When I stood on my own, I felt more centered. Though I was covered in a clammy sweat and I desperately wanted some time on my own to clean up and just…decompress. Tom lifted his head, gaze searching, and then he motioned to Tenley. She nodded and turned in our direction, but before she could get far, Luca intercepted her and beelined right for us.

I sucked in a breath. Luca was big, broad shouldered and tall. He exuded confidence, and if he wanted to be, he could have run his own pack. He was decisive, blunt, and a little abrasive. The commanding air that surrounding him was a little intimidating. I didn’t know him well, but I trusted him because Tom did, even though he made me nervous.

“I’ve got him, Tom,” Luca said, his voice that deep rasp it always was. His gaze was fixed on me and he stepped right into my personal space. I fidgeted, and glanced at Tom. The alpha looked at us both, studying us for a long moment, and then he stepped back with a nod. 

Luca put his arm around my waist, tucking me into his side. Without conscious thought, I leaned into him. My blood hummed and something settled in my chest. I’d never felt anything like this, and I couldn’t even begin to explain it. I barely knew this man. We’d never really had a true conversation in the years I’d been here. The pack was large, and we ran in different smaller circles. But in his arms, tucked against his heat, I felt safe.

Luca leaned down, and his lips brushed my ear. “I’ve got you, Rowan. You’re just fine.”

I shivered. I had the inexplicable urge to curl into him even more. I knew that I could have just cuddled into him and he wouldn’t have hesitated to pick me up and carry me. For a split second, I had the almost irresistible urge to test it.

I didn’t though. 

I leaned my head on his shoulder and let him guide me out of the room, trusting him to take care of me. I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense. But I couldn’t spare the brain power to figure it out right now. Later. I would think about it later.

I stumbled, but Luca kept me steady. His big hand soothed up and down my back, then he pulled me in closer. I let out a breath. It was going to be okay.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Okay, y’all. This is it. The real final episode for Gareth and Owen. Thanks for hanging in there with me. Who do you think we should see next? Aeron’s story, or Lane’s? In the meantime, here’s the conclusion. Enjoy!**

Aeron was in the hospital for two weeks. The first three days of that, he was still unconscious. His magic and life had been drained nearly completely, and it took a lot of medical and magical support to get him back to stable. Remy came around faster, but he was in rough shape too. Fortunately, the hospital had a wing geared toward magic users, so there was a veterinarian on staff as well.

I couldn’t bring myself to leave Aeron’s side. Owen, the ever faithful mate and familiar, stayed right there with me. Because of our familial connection, I was granted permission to not only remain at Aeron’s side, but to boost him with magic as well. I was glad to be doing somethingsince he looked one breath away from death.

But he came around, and even though he slept more than not for the next two days, he was on the mend. After that, it took another week before he was able to be released. Aeron wasn’t talking much, and we spent a lot of time sitting in silence. Every once in a while, he’d reach out and hold onto my hand without saying a word. I let him hang on as long as he needed.

I knew he was feeling better when he started arguing with me.

“I just want to go home, G. To my own bed, with my own stuff.”

I tried not to let my frustration show, but I knew it leaked into my voice. “You still need care and if you stay with Owen and me, we can make sure you’re getting everything you need.”

Aeron smirked. “You just wanna keep me safe.”

“Can you blame me?” I huffed.

“Nope.” He smiled, then reached out. I latched onto his hand. “It was scary AF. But she’s behind bars, she can’t get out, and I’m not worried about retaliation. Agent Willis said she’s under magical lock down.”

I sighed, because he wasn’t wrong. Lane had let us know as much as he could, and he’d been there to take Aeron’s statement once my brother had been up to talking. But we hadn’t seen much of the Special Agent since, which to be honest, worried me a little. Lane had intimated he was in trouble for his actions, and that thought didn’t sit well with me.

“We’ll reset the wards when you take me home. Make them even stronger. And if the pack is still willing to give me bodyguards, I’m not going to say no.”

Owen was quick to chime in. “Of course. I’ve already got packmembers asking about when you’ll be well enough to go home, and ready to set up a rotation.”

Aeron cleared his throat and I didn’t imagine the blush. “Uh, how’s Marco?”

Owen smiled softly. “He’s fine. Pissed off she got the drop on him but recovered well. It was just a sleeping spell.”

“Good.” He blew out a breath. “I should have asked earlier. I’m sorry.”

I didn’t tell him he had already asked that. It had been one of the first coherent questions out of his mouth. But that was for another time. When he was fully healed and I could find out what that blush had been all about. “Don’t worry about it. Are you sure we can’t convince you to stay with us?”

Aeron nodded and squeezed my hand. “Really. I’ll do better in my own space. I promise to check in often, okay?” He tapped his temple to let me know what he meant. “And I won’t be alone.”

I sighed again, making it gusty so Aeron would smile. I was rewarded for my efforts. He let go of me when the nurse appeared with the wheelchair to take him out. I followed along behind and kept the rest of my protests to myself.

***

I flopped onto the couch once we got home. Owen joined me a second later and I immediately snuggled into his arms. I let out a breath and pushed even closer. Owen didn’t say a word, just held me tightly. The deep compression went along way to relaxing me, easing the tension. 

“He’s gonna be okay, love.”

I nodded. I knew Aeron would recover. We’d laid down a new threshold ward, and his magic had been fairly strong. Not where it usually was, but getting there. I’d pulled hard on my bond with Owen, and he handled it like a champ. But I’d wanted the strongest possible magic keeping my brother safe. 

“He even promised he’d see the counselor to help,” Owen added. He adjusted our positions so I was half in his lap and I gave me him my weight. Owen hummed happily and kissed my head. He loved it when we were tangled up like this, being the tactile wolf shifter that he was. Before Owen, I would have said that I could take or leave cuddling. But now I knew just how amazing it was.

I saw a lot of things clearer now that I had Owen.

Tears threatened, but I choked them back and kissed under his jaw. “Thank you.”

Owen hummed again, rubbing my back. “You’re welcome. For what?”

“Everything. All of it. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.” I swallowed hard. “I’m so lucky you came to me when I called.”

“I love you too.” Owen kissed me, long and slow and deep, and I felt every ounce of his love and affection in that kiss. When he finally pulled back, it was just far enough so he could speak. “You could have handled it on your own, but I’m glad you didn’t have to. I’m grateful I was here to help and protect. And now you’re out of that situation, you know? You don’t have to worry about the people who brought you into this world. Or a judgmental Council. And you can just love me.”

The last was said with a eyebrow waggle, and I chuckled and kissed him, fast and hard. “I do love you.”

“I know.” He settled me back against him, then pulled the afghan from the back of the couch and tucked it around me.

The quiet descended around us, until it was nothing but our heartbeats and our soft breaths. I never imagined my life would turn out this way, but I didn’t regret it for a second. I was so glad I had Owen, as a mate and familiar, and glad that the worst was behind us now. I was content to just snuggle with Owen for the rest of my life.

I was pretty sure he felt the same.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

*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.”

Yes I would.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.

“Can’t sleep?”

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.

“Aeron—”

“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.

“No. But I will be. Eventually.”

Yeah, he would. I would too. I’d make sure of it.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.

“I’m fine.”

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.

“Always.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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. 

“Gareth?”

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.

“Yes, sir?”

“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.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**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.

“No.”

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.”