It was dark in the summer house. Michael and I must have been more wiped out than I thought to have slept the entire day away. Or maybe we really did share exhaustion through the bond. I needed to talk to Mom again, hammer out more of what to expect. However long I’d slept, it wasn’t enough. I was still bone weary, crushed beneath the weight of…
I shot up in bed. That wasn’t exhaustion I felt. It was her.
She sat in the rickety chair in the corner of the summer house, flipping through Vogue magazine. Her legs were crossed, her lifted foot idly kicking the air. She was clad in the height of fashion: spiky black heels, sequined shorts, a diaphanous top. The bright pink of her manicured nails flashed when she turned the page. Her skin was a rich, deep caramel that looked like it had been recently kissed by the sun. She wore her hair loose, and it cascaded in a gorgeous spill all the way to her waist, so black that at certain angles it flashed the jeweled blue of a raven’s wings. Her dark eyes were heavy lidded, the brows that arched above them perfectly plucked. She’d glossed her full lips in the same shade of pink as her nails.
She was stunningly, breathtakingly beautiful.
And the most terrifying thing I had ever seen.
“Oh, good, you’re up,” she said, her voice lilting and musical. Those dark brows pulled down and she made a small sound of disgust. “Can you believe they’re trying to bring day glow back into style?” She lifted her gaze from the magazine. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of me. “Oh, no. Don’t be afraid. I’m not here to hurt you. If I wanted you dead…” She shrugged.
If she wanted me dead, I would be dead, and there wouldn’t be a damn thing I could do about it.
“Layla?” Michael asked, pushing himself up. “What’s happen-”
“No, no. None of that,” the vampire said, waving her hand in his direction. The power that rolled off of her fingers was staggering.
His eyes glossed over and he turned to stare into the distance with a dull, stupid expression. A wall went up between us. The bond didn’t snap, but I wasn’t sure that this was any better. I could sense him, but I couldn’t feel him.
I grabbed his shoulders. “Michael!”
He didn’t react. It was like he’d gone somewhere else, far, far outside my reach. I dropped my shield and tried to snap him out of it with my power, but instead of finding him, I crashed up against a wall of…nothing. If not for my small, lingering awareness of him through the bond, it would be like he wasn’t even there.
Just like that vampire in the alley.
I let him go and faced the monster that sat in the room with me, a sinking suspicion opening up inside of me.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “He’s fine. Just thralled. I’ll release him when I leave.”
Vampires weren’t supposed to be able to do this to us. Werewolves were immune to the threat of being captured within a vampire’s gaze and turned into a mindless, empty shell of themselves. But here Michael sat, evidence to the contrary. And there she sat, absolutely stunning, proving that her glamour worked on us too. How? Was she so old that the rules didn’t apply to her? Had her power grown to such proportions that our own was useless in the face of it?
“Did you thrall that vampire in the alley?” I asked.
She waved a hand in the air, bracelets clacking. “I did. But we’ll get to that in a minute. We have more important things to discuss first.”
A tear splashed down my cheek. I couldn’t help it. This thing had murdered my birth parents. Probably my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins too. Did I have siblings? Did she kill them? The stink of fear filled my nose. There was no need for her to hold me in thrall, not when my terror kept me pinned here.
She sighed. “I meant what I said. I’m not here to harm you.”
I just stared at her.
She frowned. “How much do you remember?”
Please don’t make me remember.
Unbidden, screams filled my ears. The metallic tang of blood singed my nose. Carnage. Chaos. My vision swam. I saw broken bodies strewn across the ground. There, in the middle of it, a creature of pure evil ripping the legs off of a wolf twice her size.
She grimaced. “Pure evil? That’s a bit much, don’t you think?”
Oh, Goddess. She could read my mind.
“Only when you project like that.” She sighed again. “Look. I spent decades trying to reason with your birth pack. Decades, Layla. I cleaned up their messes. I even protected the Sahtú from them when the alliance broke and they turned on their former allies.”
“Why?” I croaked. Like Gia said, the vampire virus fucks people up. Turns them into monsters bent only on bloodshed.
She frowned at me. “If that were true, we’d slaughter everything we came across. Don’t be speciest. You’re better than that. Sure, the virus messes with us, but eventually you get killed or you get over it. The point is, when logic and bargaining failed and it was clear the MacKenzie wolves were going to expose us, I did what I had to.”
“What you had to? You killed an entire pack!”
She held up a perfectly manicured finger. “Um…pack is a loose term here. There weren’t many of you left at that point. You’d nearly done my job for me. Trust me, those still alive were not decent wolves. They were violent and vicious and traitorous; some of the most ruthless creatures I’ve ever come across.” She leaned forward in her seat. “And at my age, I’ve seen some shit. I spared those few adults able to see reason. I left every child under the age of sixteen alive. Then I found homes for you with loving, caring people like the Fitzpatricks. You are so much better off for being raised by them.”
“You think I should be happy you killed my parents?”
She sat back and frowned. “I didn’t kill your parents. They died in the infighting not long after you were born.”
It felt like the world had tilted on its axis. My name was Layla Fitzpatrick. My favorite color was purple. I hated asparagus. I was a MacKenzie Valley wolf. This vampire had killed my parents. Those were the facts. They were part of who I was. Truths I held to be absolute. And here she was, telling me I was wrong. What next? I’d find out I actually preferred the color red? That asparagus was a delectable, underrated vegetable that didn’t tinge my piss with a scent that made me sneeze?
“Who told you I killed them?” she asked me.
It took me a minute to process her question. Shock and fear had turned my mind into a slow, sluggish thing. Had anyone told me that she’d killed them? Or had I just assumed she had? Was there a memory somewhere, hidden in my subconscious of it? One that was so terrible my mind withheld it from me, even while the knowledge of what she’d done remained? I…I didn’t know.
She must have plucked the truth from my thoughts, because she crossed her arms beneath her breasts and grinned. “You know what they say about what happens when you assume. You make an ass out of –”
“I know the saying,” I snarled. “Sorry,” I added, clamping down on my anger. Provoking her would be beyond stupid.
“It’s fine,” she said. “I understand. That night isn’t something I like to think of either. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t like killing people.”
I stared at her in disbelief.
“What? I’ve been alive for a very, very long time. No one understands the value of life more than me.” Her expression turned contemplative. “Well, maybe the elves do. Unlike the fae, they seem to abhor murder.” She fixed her gaze back on me. “I did what I had to do that night. Before someone else could. I doubt another of my kind would have spared so many. And a fae certainly wouldn’t have.”
Did she want me to thank her?
She shook her head. “No.”
“What are you doing here now?” I managed.
“I heard about the mating ritual going sideways and that in the process one of my wolves was bonded.”
One of her wolves? There was a strange possessiveness to the way she’d said it that freaked me out.
She shifted in her seat, looking slightly…embarrassed. “Sorry. It’s true I’ve become quite protective over you all. I didn’t go through all that trouble of keeping you alive and finding good homes for you just to have to kill you if you turned out no better than your parents. Over the years, I’ve kept tabs on you.”
Images of her watching over me sprung into my mind. Of her standing on top of a cliff while I hunted down a deer below. Of her dressed in casual clothes, wearing dark sunglasses, sitting in a coffee shop in Amherst, watching me walk past. If Michael was able to null himself out of preternatural existence, there was no reason to believe that a creature as old and powerful as her couldn’t do it too. I’d been foolish to take him at his word.
Something she said struck me then. “Have you had to kill more of us?”
She grimaced. “Yes. Most of the time I’ve been able to step in before the situation became irreversible. But a few of the older children had spent too long amongst savages and remained feral even in the face of intense psychotherapy and heavy medication.”
“Any others besides them?”
“One or two.”
My mind wanted to fill in the blanks. Did they snap? Turn lunatic because their power overwhelmed them? Get bonded, like me, only for their mate to expose some contraband secret about our abilities?
She shook her head. “Nothing like that. Some people are just born bad.” She smiled then. “Don’t worry, you’re not one of them.”
This was the strangest conversation I’d ever had.
She chuckled like she caught that thought. It was a beautiful sound. Glamour hid her true form from me. Did it change her voice as well? I began to wonder if any of this was real. She seemed so…normal. Personable even. Was all this just to lull me into a false sense of security, so that when she eventually turned on me, it would only be to drink down my terror like she would my blood?
Her laughter cut off. “I’ll have you know I was the best singer in my village when I was a human. That’s why my voice is so enticingly melodic.” She preened a little and sent me a look. “Want me to sing something?”
“This conversation is already beyond bizarre. If you start singing at me right now, my head might explode.”
She laughed. “You’ve always been one of my favorites. So easy going. So quick with a laugh or some teasing comment. And up here in the wilderness, I never thought I’d have to worry about you.” Her gaze slid sideways, to Michael. “And then – plot twist! – you get bonded to a Kolbeck.”
I skirted around the fact that she knew I was easy going and liked to tease people. Because if I fixated on it, I might start shaking. “Will you let him go?” I asked. Him being here but not being here was seriously chafing at the bond. At first, I was too afraid for us to fixate on it, but now that the threat of imminent death had seemed to pass, his dull, gray presence in the back of my mind was starting to really freak me out.
“In a minute. I promise,” she said. “There are things we need to discuss.”
“Like how dangerous the city is for you. I thralled that vampire to keep tabs on you through it, but then I saw the witch waiting for you to pass in the alleyway.”
“Why did you try to kill her? Why kill those two wolves? I thought you valued life.”
Her expression darkened. “The witch seemed like she was up to no good. And if it’s between letting a witch live or risk her harming you in some way, I’ll kill the witch every time. I might not like it, but I’ll do it. As for the wolves, the vampire took them on his own before I took him. I merely used the fact to antagonize Michael.”
“I wanted to provoke him and see if the bond had weakened his control.”
“Why attack him afterward?”
“To see if the bond had already changed him. Made him faster, stronger. But you should know, he was never in any real danger from me.”
“Why did you let us kill that vampire?”
“I didn’t let you do anything. My power doesn’t transfer to the beings I thrall, which is why you saw through the glamour and Michael was able to best me.” The corners of her lips turned down in distaste. “And good riddance, honestly. That vampire was a disgusting creature. If you hadn’t killed him, I would have driven him into the sun when I was done with him.”
“Why are you being so forthcoming?”
She leveled her gaze at me. “Because I want you to trust me. Work with me. A werewolf goddess corrupted a bonding ceremony and dragged one of the surviving MacKenzie wolves into her schemes and I need to know why.”
I sucked in a sharp breath. Here it was, near confirmation of Her existence. And a chance to find out the truth once and for all. Someone as old as this vampire must know things. “How did shifters come into being?”
She only grinned. “Some advice, my sweet wolf? Don’t go searching for answers to questions you’re not yet ready to hear. And trust me, you’re not ready for these.”
“But you know?” I demanded.
She hesitated a moment, then nodded.
I let out a heavy exhale. She believed the Goddess was real. That it was Her and not witches who had corrupted the ceremony, in order to drag me and who knew how many other wolves into Her divine scheme. I was meant to be with Michael. I was on this path for a reason.
“Oh, it was your goddess, all right,” she said. “There were traces of divinity in that field afterward.”
I rocked back against the headboard. She could sense divinity?
“Kid, you live as long as me and you can sense all sorts of shit you really wish you couldn’t.”
What I really wished right now was that she’d stop plucking thoughts from my mind.
“I can’t help it,” she said. “You think loud.”
What the hell did that mean? I checked the bars on my power. They were at their default level. I wasn’t leaking metaphysical mojo all over the place or anything.
“It has nothing to do with your power,” she said. “Some people are just louder, mentally, than others.” She looked at Michael. “Take him for example. Before I put him under, I got almost nothing.”
Because he muted himself so much?
“Maybe,” the vampire said.
“What should I call you, by the way?” I asked her.
She started. “No one even bothered to tell you my name?”
I shook my head.
She made a harrumphing sound and glanced heavenward like she was looking for guidance. “You spend all your life cultivating a certain image, live long enough to become a legend, haunt people’s nightmares, are fairly worshipped by your own kind, and still people don’t know who you are.” She brought her gaze back to earth and looked at me. “Call me Anna.”
I blinked. She didn’t look like an Anna.
“My full name is Enheduanna, but five syllables seems to be too much for people. Even a two-syllable name like Michael gets shortened into Mike these days.”
I looked at my mate. “I somehow doubt anyone has ever called him Mike.”
She chuckled. “If you run out of ways to antagonize him, you should try.”
I grinned before I could stop myself, then realized who I was grinning at and wiped the expression from my face.
Her amusement fled a heartbeat later. “You need to be careful down in the city. My own God is restless. Something is coming.”
Well, that didn’t sound ominous. Not at all. “Do you know what?”
She hesitated. “There’s a fifth century Norse prophecy that has me a little worried.”
I stared at her.
For some reason, she laughed. “Don’t worry. Neither you nor Michael is some sort of “chosen one” meant to save the world.”
“Care to elaborate then?”
She waved a hand. “Not worth it. It’s your run of the mill apocalyptic doomsday sort. Most of it sounds like utter trash, but there are a few parts that align with current events and its best to err on the side of caution with these things.”
These things. Meaning apocalyptic prophesies. Okay then.
“Especially since, in this case, there is no chosen one,” she said. “No savior. No chance out. Apocalypse hits, most of the humans die, and the rest of us turn on each other.”
My fingers started to shake. I clasped them in my lap and tried to think past what she just said. “Where is the witch goddess in all of this?”
“No idea. All the other preternatural pantheons are stirring, making moves, but not theirs, and that’s what concerns me. Watch out for them when you’re down there.”
“I’ll tell Michael they need to refocus their efforts on them.”
“Tell Michael nothing of what I’ve said.”
I frowned. “I’m sorry. I can’t do that.”
“You need to. For his sake. A man like him, with all the resources he has, would be like a wolf with a bone. His focus would draw attention I don’t want and you really don’t need right now. Plus, it’s not like he isn’t keeping things from you.”
I stilled. “What do you mean?”
“Those runes on his back? They’re a blocking spell. To keep magic in. Michael is a mystic.”
I craned my head around to look at him. And he didn’t bother telling me this, because…?
“Don’t judge him too harshly,” she said. “A man like Michael has done nothing but keep secrets his entire life and this is all very new to him. But you should know, he’s powerful. That ward around the Kolbeck mansion? He drew it himself.”
I looked back at her, incredulous. “Alone?”
She nodded. “And since MacKenzie wolves power share with their mates over the bond, you’re going to have to deal with that. Soon.”
I might be about to gain magical abilities. At any time. While down in the city surrounded by enemies. And who knew how they would manifest. Did Anna?
I looked at her in question.
She shook her head. “Sorry, kid. I got nothing. There’s no precedent for a MacKenzie wolf mating with a mystic of his abilities.”
“Will the runes work on me? Keep it locked down?”
“They should. I’d have whoever tattoos them onto you put a little bit more oompf into the spell, if you know what I mean.”
I did. And I would.
“Oh, and one more thing?” she said. “When he wakes up, tell him I know what the Kolbecks’ military contracting branch is cooking up in their labs. They need to put a stop to it. Before I do.”
“What are they cooking up?”
She grimaced. “It’s probably better that you don’t know. For your own good.”
“Um…okay.” I’d just have to ask Michael. Maybe he’d tell me. “So what now?”
“Now you return to the city. You keep your noses to the ground, watch your backs, and hide your budding powers.”
My earlier anger threatened to return. “The last would be easier to do if we knew what to expect.”
“I know. My bad.” She sighed. “I should have sent an older wolf to help you out, but you didn’t seem in any hurry to be mated and I thought I had time.”
“So there is some sort of sharing network between us?”
“What else should me and Michael expect?”
“You figured most of it out last night. You share powers and abilities between each other, can communicate through thought, and are more hyperaware of each other than regular wolves.”
I flushed. She knew about what happened between us last night.
A smile split her impossibly beautiful face, making it look like the noonday sun had broken through the darkness. “Don’t be embarrassed. I don’t know what you did physically. I just felt your power melding.” Her gaze turned to Michael. “You’re lucky he picked up on how to control it so quickly. Must be because of his magical affinity. It’s taken other bonded pairs years to master it. They’re forced to live in the woods like hermits until they do.”
“Why all this secrecy still?”
She jerked her chin in his direction. “Blame wolves like the Kolbecks. If they knew what you were truly capable off, nothing would stop them from trying to get a piece of the pie. They’ve already attempted to use their vast wealth to buy into the MacKenzie line.”
“Oh, yeah. Mary tried to bribe a wolf a few years older than you into marrying her daughter Amy.”
I rubbed my temples. “And now she has me.” Her grandstanding at dinner the other night was more of a show than even Michael could have guessed.
“Layla, I can’t stress this enough, you need to be very careful around that woman. She is one of the most dangerous wolves alive today. She will do anything for power. That is why everything I’ve said has to stay between us. Someone like her could start a war between our species. I really, really like being alive. Even after all of this time. If it comes to war, we won’t be able to keep it from the humans.” She sat back in her seat, elbows on the armrests. “They have nukes. I’m not sure if I can survive a nuke.”
I laughed. The sound came out hysterical.
She frowned. “You’re not handling this well.”
“Gee, you think?” I was screaming, but I couldn’t seem to bring my tone under control. “Do you know how much shit I’ve been through the past few days? And now this?”
War. The threat of witches. My impending magical awakening. The fact that the most terrifying creature I’d ever met wanted me to watch out for my mother in law. It was all too much. Especially after everything I’d already been through. I missed my old life. Longed for the simplicity of last week. My biggest worry back then had been whether or not my best friend would find a mate. Now I had to worry about restless gods and doomsday prophesies.
Across from me, Anna frowned. “I’ve seen so much that I forget how mortal minds sometimes struggle to cope with such sudden momentous upheaval.” She worried her lower lip between what appeared to be perfectly normal human teeth. “Maybe its enough to know that we spoke, you don’t need to fear me, but you do need to be careful in the city. Oh, yes. And my warnings for Michael.”
Wait, was she talking about erasing my memories?
“Please don’t,” I said.
Her expression softened. “I’m sorry. I’ll give them back when you’re ready. I swear.”
Copyright © 2019 by Navessa Allen
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.