The past would not leave the lovers alone, drawing them into the death waiting in the Beast’s dark night.
A peaceful future was lost when the mother of Brand’s son returned, claimed she’d hidden a second son and wanted money to tell where he was. With the lies she’s already told, Brand demanded she take him to the child, before she gets any money. When he and Daniel reach New Orleans, truth or lie, the only thing they’re certain of is she drew them back into hatred left behind by a dead enemy, mutated and festering in the mind of one insane.
The hatred spread to more than just Brand and any wolf shifter. Any the new enemy, the trépied du mal, deemed abnormal were to die. With the promise of death, the trépied cast spells over all who answered the call for help, either tearing apart lovers, mates, friends, and allies, or have them love each other to death. They had to find a defense in more than Brand and the few others who could hide their thoughts, or the mind bender would destroy them.
Can Brand and Daniel fight off the spell before their love is destroyed? Can they win a seemingly hopeless battle against what seems an immortal foe who turned passion into a weapon?
Adam growled, and William tried to imitate him, making a funny little noise. Daniel covered his mouth to hide his grin. William, the youngest at one, stretched up on his toes to see out the window. With Adam at two years, the boys kept him, Brand, and Nanny Wanda busy just keeping up with them. The two were currently the quietest they’d been all day, and it was minutes before their bedtime.
Hand still in front of his mouth, Daniel, cuddled up against Brand on the couch with their fingers interlaced. With their hands that close to Brand’s crotch and knowing the boys weren’t watching them, Daniel stretched a finger out. While stroking up the length of Brand’s fly until he reached the growing end of the bulk beneath, he asked, “Did you do that when you were that age?”
“I don’t know.”
The tone of his voice had Daniel’s head snapping around. The tenseness he heard had nothing to do with the teasing he was doing or the erection Brand was getting. He didn’t like the expression on Brand’s face or the way he looked at the window, either.
“Something wrong?” he asked, pushing to sit up straight.
“That depends on what Adam saw out there.”
Daniel shuddered, the hair on his arms stood up in a rush of chills, and his erection shrank. “Fuck.”
“I thought we’d decided not to talk like that in front of the kids.”
“You think something is wrong,” Daniel stated, not allowing Brand to sidetrack him.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You don’t have to.” He started to his feet only to have Brand hold him down with the hand he still held.
“If there is something out there, they’ll see you go to the window.”
“Something or someone?”
Chills swept through Daniel again. “Shit.”
Brand cocked an eyebrow over one sky blue eye. “Potty mouth.”
“I wasn’t before I met you.”
“Did you hear me use any of that language before I came here with you?”
“I remember a few words passing your lips.” Brand lifted their hands to his mouth and kissed the back of Daniel’s. “Mostly, you just thought them.”
“You couldn’t read my mind then,” Daniel retorted.
“You going to tell me—” He broke off as Wanda wandered in, wiping her hands on a dishtowel. “Time for them to go down?”
“Past time,” she answered and told the boys, “You two kiss your das goodnight and head upstairs right now.”
“No,” Adam stated, pointing outside.
William mimicked him, pointing outside as well, although he didn’t make any sound.
“I know. I saw her. Your das will take care of it. Off to bed.”
“Her?” Daniel asked quickly before he kissed William.
“She’s staying downwind?” Brand asked after kissing Adam.
“While slinking around like a thief,” Wanda answered while the boys switched for the kiss from their other da. “I wouldn’t have seen her if I hadn’t looked out the window at just the right time.”
“Her?” Daniel asked again with a tightening in his gut, overthinking who it might be. He punched Brand and shifted to thought to keep what he had to say from Adam. “Her? Meaning Adam’s mother? You knew Charra’s out there?”
“No, I just felt like something was.”
“She said she had no interest in him, so what can she want?” he asked, tipping his head toward Adam to keep the conversation silent.
“I won’t know until I find out.”
“What are you mad at me for?”
“Because you didn’t say anything.”
“Daniel, I didn’t know.”
“You knew something was off!” After his outburst, Daniel wished to hell he’d kept his mouth shut. Not only was Brand staring at him in puzzlement, so was Wanda and both the boys.
“I’ll just put the boys to bed,” Wanda said to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Da?” Adam asked.
The way his eyes flickered from one to the other of his fathers, it was difficult to tell if he was asking one or both what the problem was. William stood silently beside his brother, the same questioning expression.
“It’s almost spooky the way William always lets Adam say everything for him,” Daniel commented in thought.
“Is that what’s been bothering you?”
“Nothing has been—” Daniel started in denial, even though the way William seldom made any vocal sounds and didn’t talk at all did bother him. The way Wanda tipped her head to listen and the boys moved closed a few steps, in unison, shut him up, and he shifted subjects. “Don’t you think we ought to go out and see what she wants?”
“Later to discuss this?”
Later for Brand was as long as it took them to step out on the porch alone. “Are you worried there’s something wrong with William?”
“Why doesn’t he talk? Adam was chattering up a storm long before he was that age.”
“William doesn’t need to. Between the four of us, all he needs to do for whatever he wants is point and grunt.”
“It isn’t funny.”
Brand stopped him with a hold of his arm, turning them face to face. “I wasn’t joking. He doesn’t need to talk to get what he wants when he wants it. It’s not because he can’t for some reason. He isn’t autistic like Jeremy. He’ll talk when he’s ready to.”
Jeremy, one from the first group of children Brand rescued over ten years ago, continued to live at the ranch. He chose not to return to the sanctuary Brand had established for the boys he saved from the perverts he’d hunted down. He stopped that dangerous occupation after he mated with Daniel, not too far ahead of the authorities after him for his vigilante pursuits. Jeremy had never spoken a word after Brand took him from a pedophile pimp. Not until the last year after Jeremy took it upon himself to leave the sanctuary and find Brand had anyone realized he was non-verbal autistic and probably had been before his kidnapping. The doctors and therapists at the sanctuary misdiagnosed his silence as a result of the trauma from his mistreatment. Even with the new knowledge of his uniqueness, dealing with him was difficult, both emotionally and in communication, making Daniel feel guilty in the comparisons and fear that William was going to be like him.
Brand turned Daniel, his arm over his shoulders. “He sure as hell isn’t slow-minded, either. He didn’t have any trouble taking up that pair of wire cutters and cutting my bowstring or taking my phone apart.”
“That’s dexterity,” Daniel retorted. He refused to let Brand distract him with the memory of how both of them had been shocked, not only at William’s quickness is cutting the string on Brand’s compound bow, but how he’d even understood the wire cutters would do that. The way it ruined the bow, snapping the arms when the tension released suddenly, wasn’t a consideration. Bows could be replaced. The damage the whipping string could have done to tender baby flesh may not have been that easy.
Brand shut him up by shaking him. “There isn’t anything wrong with him.”
A soft, female voice spoke from the side of the house. “With Star as his mother and Daniel as his father, he’s a cat almost full blood and going to be a shifter for certain.”
Both men turned to face her, and Daniel stared in awe. As dark as it was, with his shifter vision, they could have been looking at Charra, naked and beautiful, in broad daylight.
“I already told you, you can’t have him,” Brand stated.
Charra chuckled. “You meant your lover as much as your child the night you first said that. I want neither.”
“What do you want?” Daniel asked.
“Now that Star is dead, and I no longer have to fear what she may do to me for defying her, I wish to clear my conscience.”
“About what?” Brand demanded without showing any of the traumatic reaction Daniel sensed in him at the reminder of what that woman had caused them. Hell, it was easy for him to sense something he felt himself. She’d nearly succeeded in having them both killed and had put them through hell.
Instead of answering, she said, “What I could see of him, he is a handsome child. Yours as well, Daniel.” She spoke again, back to Brand. “After losing so many of those I conceived, I was curious as to how he’s done.”
“Exceptional, even for a wolf,” Brand told her.
“Despite his cat mother?” she asked with a tip of her head. “Or perhaps because of her?”
She chuckled, walking to them. Both men turned as she talked while walking in a circle, not letting her at their backs. Their dealings with her in the past have never given them reasons to trust her.
“Cats develop physically faster. We’re more agile and coordinated sooner.” She stopped, her finger tracing a line down Brand’s chest. “We’re quieter, less verbose. We don’t feel the need to constantly fill the air with words the way wolves do.”
“Clear your conscience about what?” Brand asked, not allowing the taunting comments or sexual allure distract him.
Charra stayed on her own subject. “I stopped counting how many kits I lost after seven takes, but Star insisted I try with a cat again after success with Adam. Odd that I would have a healthy delivery with a wolf when so many cats had failed to produce a viable conception.” She wandered off a few feet, stopped, and turned back to face them. “Or perhaps Star was right, and we need something only a wolf can give us.” She shrugged with a flip of her hand. “So many litters, so many miscarriages, and those that lived to birth died soon after. Adam was such a surprise, so strong and healthy.”
“You should have stuck to human matings for healthy babies, or did you and Star think I missed that? How many of those have you had?”
Daniel had missed that she hadn’t mentioned any results of breeding with humans. If Brand had been aware of any significant difference before, he’d never mentioned it, but then the way things happened with Brand, he may not have come to him until that moment.
She shrugged slightly and didn’t answer, saying, “We had mated too often with humans. That was what caused infertility and poor, weak genes in our males. We diminished our lines. Odd, was it not when with human matings there were live births, healthy children, but no cats, only weak humans.”
Neither commented on how the story changed from what she’d originally told them or that she still hadn’t answered the question. They’d already learned the story changed every time they talked to her. For her, not answering was just another way of lying.
Her attention shifted to Daniel. “You were the first to prove to us that what our males missed could be found in a fucking with a wolf.”
“How many male cats have you told that to?” Brand asked. “Without telling them, they had to mate, not just fuck, for what Star was after, or how they ran the risk of poisoning themselves just from fucking?”
“None,” she answered.
What Daniel could have said, nearly choked him just thinking of it. He had no way of knowing if he’d been sterile before he mated with Brand. He hadn’t discovered until a few months ago why he’d never had any real interest in sex and only minimal physical reactions to stimulus before the physical changes the wolf bite, blood, and cum made in his boyish body.
The experiments and surgeries Star had done on Daniel as an infant had the side-effect of preventing him from going through complete puberty. He wouldn’t tell Charra-and knew Brand never would-that mating with a wolf had cured him of a form of Kalmenn syndrome, caused by the butchery performed on him to remove his undeveloped cat scent glands. The same surgery had removed Charra’s cat scent glands, leaving only their human smell, though she seemed to have not suffered the same results. She obviously had no problems performing sex or bearing children.
“None you didn’t warn or none you’ve told?” Brand asked.
“None to either.”
“How many did the others not tell and let them die from letting a wolf fuck them?”
“I’ve no idea.”
In a rapid shift of subject, Brand asked, “Did you know Adrien attempted to kill us?”
“Adrien was a fool, and no, I knew of no threat to you from him. This is the first I have come from the mountains since I went up to have my last litter. I stayed away, weary of Star’s agenda. Only after I crossed paths with another cat who told me of her death do I return.”
“They all died?” Daniel asked of the litter she claimed to be going to the mountains to deliver the last time they saw her.
“None made it to a live birth.”
“I’m not.” She tossed her hands in the air. “Now, I’m horrible in your eyes, yes?” Spinning, she paced off a few feet and twisted back around. “Not all females are mother material. I would not have even tried were it not for Star’s insistence. I do not want to be tied down by the responsibilities of motherhood and much prefer the benefits of human birth control pills.” With a laugh, she added, “An advantage I find ironic in how well they perform for me when I am not human at all.”
Daniel, bent on getting some answers of his own, changed the subject. “You were around when I was born,” he said, still amazed at how young she looked or that she could still bear children at what had to be at least in the fifty years age range. She looked no older than her late twenties. “Despite you not having a cat scent, I could smell you on the things left at the church where I was abandoned.”
“Those survived?” she asked with a smile. “I would have thought they’d been tossed away.”
“How much of what you told me before is the truth?”
“What do you need to clear your conscience over?” Brand asked again before she could answer.
She still avoided his question and answered Daniel. “I don’t even remember what I told you. I was following Star’s script.”
“Yes, you do. Even if you don’t, it wouldn’t matter. Tell me the truth now. Did my mother die, running away from my father’s parents?”
“Your mother was living on the streets when Star found her and even weaker than most humans. She didn’t survive your birth. Your father was of a first or second-generation human mating. He wasn’t sure of which, but even with the weakening of his bloodline, he could shift, the only reason Star used him. Once he’d accomplished impregnated one of those assigned to him, he was gone and died a few years later. There were no grandparents we knew of for either parent. You were abandoned as part of an experiment to see if you could mature within a human environment and be stimulated to shift as an adult. You were attacked and connected with Brand before we could make contact.”
“No,” Brand stated. “I don’t know how, but Star set him up for the attack in that alley. She arranged for us to meet.”
“You give her too much credit. She was a seer, remember? She saw your meeting, years before it was to happen. What she arranged was for her to meet you and for you to settle her at Black Mesa before meeting him.”
“Who was the woman Shaw talked about?”
“I have no idea even who Shaw is.”
“The cop Daniel knew in Boston, the one who tried to kill us.”
“I don’t know the name or if she had anything to do with him. Believe it or not, I was not privy to all of her schemes.”
“It would have been pretty hard for her to have been two places at once,” Daniel commented.
They did discover Star had disappeared from the Mesa for a few days around that time, but no longer than it had been and without funds, Daniel couldn’t see how she had been the woman Shaw had talked about after trying to run them down with his car. Uncertain that he’d ever agree with the idea that Star had arranged the attack, Daniel couldn’t totally discard it, not while remembering some of the things that bitch had accomplished. He would have been killed that night if Brand hadn’t stopped the man who stabbed him and then gave him his blood to keep him alive. Still, despite every effort not to, he would at odd times find himself wondering if Brand would have claimed him if he hadn’t known Daniel would die without a full mating. He shook the thought off and got his head back into the conversation.
“I said she arranged it. I didn’t say it was her. You can bet this isn’t the only one Star used to get what she wanted,” Brand told Daniel before he asked Charra, “How well do you know her kids?”
“Those misfits?” she asked with a scoff. “The brightest one of them needed help changing a light bulb.”
“One of them was smart enough to make a deal with vampire hunters to take Brand and then me prisoners,” Daniel retorted.
“They said his name was Adrien,” Brand supplied.
“Adrien wasn’t her son. He was her brother.”
“Our source said son.”
She scoffed again. “Again, I do not know of whom you speak, but he was confused. Adrien was Star’s littermate.”
“How many other litter mates?”
“How many children did she have?”
“Ten, I think,” she snapped. “I am really growing weary of this inquisition.” She moved away from them, turning in slow circles as she walked. “I didn’t come to fill you in on years of that woman’s insane antics. I want to return to the human world, but a girl has needs, clothes for one.”
Brand scoffed. “You want money to clear your conscience?”
“I need money. I’ll come back tomorrow night.”
“Just how much do you think you need to clear your conscience?”
“Twenty-five-thousand should do.”
“I don’t think so.”
“You will change your mind. I will return to tell you where to find your other son.” In a last spin, she shifted. In one leap, she was a cougar in a full out run, taking her swiftly away from two stunned men.
Brand recovered first to say something to stun Daniel even more. “She’s got to be one of Star’s kids. Our sons are probably related by blood as well as us.”
Hand up, pointing where she had gone, Daniel’s jaw worked, but he couldn’t get any words out. Shaking his head hard, he stuck to what Brand said, not Charra. “Star was dark and olive-skinned. Charra’s blonde and fair. How can she be her kid?”
“Her coloring probably came from her father.” With a disgusted scoff, he added, “Probably none of them in one litter had the same father.”
He started off a hair short of jogging. Daniel paced beside him, asking, “She was probably lying, right?”
“At least about Adrien. She used past tense.”
“Shit.” In two more feet, Daniel asked, “So how would she know that if she hadn’t had contact? Where are you going?”
Of course. Jeremy. As well as being autistic, he had the unique ability to see other places and the future. He should have seen something before Charra ever got there. Daniel should have remembered that. Then again, he was so shocked by what she’d said, he wasn’t thinking clearly at all. How the hell could Brand when there might be another son out there?