The youngest brother of the wolf shifter clan, Aimé des Quatre-Frères can see the future, but his powers fail him when he needs them most. As Aimé turns to dangerous methods to rekindle his visions, Natalie enters his life. Natalie’s having visions for the first time and seeks Aimé’s guidance to control her new “gift.”
The attraction to the elfin beauty is immediate, but as her mentor, Aimé knows he must focus on her education. Despite his best efforts, desire overwhelms them. Aimé takes her to his bed for a different kind of education--her first foray into love.
Aimé des Quatre-Frères watched his brother, Matéo, walk the floor of the guesthouse they occupied. A picture window behind the alpha showed the setting sun over the Rappahanock River and the brick buildings of the human town across the river called Fredericksburg.
“Mon frère, if you don't stop pacing you're going to wear a hole in your soon-to-be mother-in-law’s Persian rug.” Aimé put a hand on his brother's forearm.
In lieu of pacing, Matéo chewed at his fingernails. Aimé brushed the hand away from Matéo's mouth.
“It's normal to have doubts before you get married. At least, that's what I'm told,” said Aimé.
“I don't have doubts. I know how I feel about Reese. I know she's the one I'm meant to spend my life with. I just—I wonder. Am I being fair to her?”
Aimé sensed Matéo's concerns. They stabbed at the youngest of the des Quatre-Frères brothers, perhaps more deeply than they did at Matéo himself. “She knows what she's getting into. I wouldn't worry. You've just got ‘cold feet.’”
Matéo furrowed his brow. “My feet feel perfectly warm.”
“No.” Aimé chuckled. “It’s a figure of speech. A human expression. It means you're nervous about your wedding day tomorrow. Everything will be fine. The day will be beautiful. You and your bride will live happily ever after.”
“Or we'll bring about the downfall of the entire des Quatre-Frères clan.”
“Really? You're leaning that way with this?”
“It's hard not to.”
“It is when one understands the actual prophecy, which I've explained to you I don't know how many times.”
The ancient warning penned by the ancestors ran through Aimé’s mind:
Four brothers born of pure blood
One brother lost to the flood
Beware the stranger in our midst
Promises of love he must resist
Downpour follows in her wake
Four brothers in unified fight
One brother on a path devoid of light
Beset by the past
His rule shall not last
The bride is not his to take
And so on and so forth for several more verses. Generation after generation, des Quatre-Frères shamans had interpreted this verse to be a warning against mixing loup garou blood with that of les étrangers—the humans. Even his mentor—his uncle Auguste—had presented the prophecy in this light, but Aimé felt in his soul that the words meant something else, that they alluded to something beyond their control.
“Yes, but I've got Sébastien in one ear telling me I'm making a mistake that will resound into eternity and you in the other saying downfall will come, regardless of what I do. I'm the pack alpha; I can't ignore the risk,” said Matéo.
“Downfall is not the word I used. I said judging from the line 'beset by the past,' the downpour will come, regardless of what you do. That's not the same thing.”
“Sounds the same to me.”
It sounded the same to Sébastien, too; he'd cited Matéo's irrational aversion to water as proof the prophecy applied to them.
Aimé searched his brother's face. Matéo wore a mask of tranquility, but beneath it roiled self-doubt and pain, the desire to do the right thing and be true to his dearest Reese. Matéo's love for her coursed through his veins. But then so did his love for his people and their way of life—a culture that spanned millennia, endured an exodus from Europe and migration across the North American continent.
“It's not like you to second-guess yourself, Téo.” Aimé passed his hand over his brother's heart and stilled the anguish there.
“I wish I had your certainty. Or Sébastien's for that matter.” A grimace tugged at Matéo's lips at the mention of their eldest brother.
“He's made his displeasure quite clear. I'm sorry he chose not to come to this ceremony. Divisiveness is the last thing we need now.”
Matéo shrugged, but the darkness in his expression betrayed the hurt beneath his casual gesture. “He said he won't come because it's not the real wedding. He makes a good point—we're just putting on a show for Reese's family here. He'll be at Sommet Bleu next month. He promised.”
“Quiet your mind and embrace the joyous occasion. The gods have blessed this union, this much I know for sure,” said Aimé. He poured Matéo a glass of wine and one for himself from the decanter on the bookshelf.
Offering a toast, Aimé held up his goblet. “To you and your beautiful bride: Bonheur, santé, et amour.”
“To happiness, health, and love.” Matéo clinked his glass against his brother's and then took a sip.
“Wish me luck keeping Rémy in check at the reception tomorrow night.” Aimé rubbed his chin and chewed at the inside of his cheek.
Matéo let out a throaty laugh. “The gods be with you.”
* * * * *
Heavy clouds passed in front of a thumbnail moon. Aimé knew it would be just a passing early spring thunderstorm, but the electricity in the air spurred on his meditations. Behind his closed eyes, he focused on the event for tomorrow. As far as he could see, all would go smoothly. As far as he could see…
When he was younger, he'd struggled to harness his gifts. His visions used to come in flashes and incomplete images, but after decades of work with the clan shaman, Aimé could now see into the future as easily as glancing out the window. At least, this had been true until some mysterious force began terrorizing the pack. La bête-au-feu the pack citizens had named the beast who fought with fire. La bête had murdered several guards, set random fires in villages throughout the des Quatre-Frères empire, and had even abducted their adopted sister, Quinna, a few months ago. Since the recent attacks, Aimé's visions had become increasingly clouded, as if something—or perhaps someone—were blocking his mindsight.
Unease formed a knot in Aimé's stomach. Matéo professed to have the same trouble sensing the intruder. La bête would have to be a wolf shifter of uncommon power to cloak himself so completely, especially from Matéo.
Even without his mindsight at full capacity, Aimé knew a century’s worth of tensions were coming to a head. And soon. Ever since their father’s will had named Matéo as his successor instead of the eldest son, Sébastien, the two brothers had been engaged in a silent war, Bastien struggling to accept the usurpation and Matéo working every day to prove he’d been the right choice. That Matéo had fallen in love with a human and asked her to be his life-mate had only stirred the pot. Aimé prayed to the ancestors for guidance. At this point, what else could he do?