“I STILL CAN’T believe that all this time, Tristan’s little sister was the Master.”
“You’re not the only one.”
Roland shook his head. “That’s messed up… and really creepy when you think about it.”
A shiver ran through me. “You’re telling me.” I’d spent the last two weeks trying to put those nightmarish days behind me. I still woke every night in a cold sweat with Nikolas holding me and whispering that we were safe and together. He had fully recovered from his physical injuries, but our spiritual wounds would take a lot longer to heal. Every day it got a little easier, and one day we’d be able to put our ordeal behind us.
You okay? Nikolas’s hand covered mine on my lap. It still amazed me how good he was at reading my emotions and knowing exactly what I needed. Like this trip to New Hastings.
Yes. I looked at the people sitting around the living room of the apartment. Roland and Peter were there, of course. I couldn’t have a homecoming without them. Jordan had come with us to “see where it all started” as she put it. Chris was here for old times’ sake.
“So how is Tristan handling all of it?” Peter asked.
“Good, considering,” Chris said quietly. “He arranged for her burial, and he had to tell my mother and their parents about her. They’re taking it hard, as expected.”
My chest tightened when I thought about Tristan. He’d been devastated about Elena, and racked with guilt over what she had done to Nikolas and me. I’d told him he was no more responsible for what she had done than he was for what had happened to her. One day he would see I was right, but for now he was grieving his sister all over again. After the burial, he’d immersed himself in work. He spoke very little except to Desmund, who was a good friend and a confidante, just as Tristan had been for him for so many years.
It was through Desmund that I’d learned Madeline had finally contacted Tristan two days ago. The Master’s death had freed Madeline from her compulsion and she no longer had to live in fear. According to Desmund, Tristan and Madeline had talked for a long time, and Tristan had looked happy for the first time in weeks. Maybe rebuilding his relationship with his daughter would help him through his grief.
I had no plans to build anything with Madeline, but even I couldn’t stay mad at someone forever. Maybe, someday. For now, I was glad she had reached out to her father.
Roland exhaled loudly. “Tristan’s a good guy. Hate to hear he’s having such a rough time.”
“Me too,” Peter said.
Jordan looked at me and her expression said she’d had enough of the sad talk. “This is a nice place, Sara, but it’s small and so quiet. How did you stand it?”
Nikolas and Chris laughed. “It wasn’t this quiet the last time we were here,” Nikolas told her.
Chris made a face. “I seem to recall taking a vacation after my time in Maine.” He looked at Nikolas. “How many vampire nests did we clean out on that trip to Vegas?”
Roland shot me a sly grin. “When the pack heard you were coming for a few days, a couple of them went to visit family out of town.”
I rolled my eyes at them. “Funny, guys. And to answer your question, Jordan, I loved it here. We used to find plenty of things to keep us occupied when we were kids. I don’t think I was ever bored.”
Roland grinned. “If our parents knew half the stuff we used to get into…” He leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “Is Nate moving back now that it’s safe?”
“I think there are too many bad memories here for him to ever come back.” The last time Nate had been in this apartment, he was a vampire. He was still trying to forget that part of his life.
“What’s he going to do with the place if he doesn’t come back?” Peter asked.
“He was talking about selling it, so Nikolas bought it for me.” I turned my head to smile at Nikolas, and he leaned in for a quick kiss.
Jordan snorted. “Yeah, they’re like that all the time now since they mated.”
She and I shared a secret smile. Jordan had been positively giddy when I told her that Nikolas and I had finally completed the bond. She’d tried to pry the details out of me, but some things are just too intimate to share, even with your best female friend. I’d given her the “when” and “where” but that was pretty much it. She’d replied that the dreamy look on my face told her all she needed to know. Plus, we were talking about Nikolas.
“So I guess that means we’ll be seeing more of you guys,” Roland said hopefully.
“Until we leave for our trip,” Nikolas told him.
“In June we’re going to spend the summer in Russia.” I couldn’t keep the excitement out of my voice. Nikolas had told me so much about his homeland that I couldn’t wait to explore it with him. I was nervous about meeting his parents, but eager to learn more about his early life. I’d already spoken to his mother on the phone, and she was as excited as I was for our visit.
Chris’s lips twitched. “Perhaps we should tell Miroslav Fortress to be on alert this summer.”
I picked up a small pillow and threw it at him. “You’re going to miss me. Admit it.”
He caught the pillow and flashed his dimples. “I don’t know how I’ll get by without you, Cousin.”
Roland’s mouth turned down. “Well, we’ll miss you. This place is not the same with you gone. School sucks even more now.”
“That reminds me; how is all the extra schoolwork coming along?”
Roland and Peter groaned together. Once they’d returned to school, the teachers had piled a bunch of assignments on them to make up for the month they’d missed. They had to complete it all if they didn’t want to repeat their senior year.
“I’ll graduate this year if it kills me,” Roland declared. “Or if Uncle Max doesn’t do it first.”
“Is he still mad about you two taking off?”
Peter grimaced. “He’s over that. I think. Now he’s all about us learning our pack responsibilities. Hunting, patrolling, stuff like that.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Chris said.
“That part’s okay. It’s the other stuff I dread.” Roland clenched his hands. “We have to start attending pack gatherings.”
His eyes met mine, and I understood the real reason for his anxiety. Pack gatherings meant a lot of female werewolves looking for a mate, and the last thing my best friend wanted was to settle down. Roland wanted freedom to come and go as he pleased, and to enjoy the classic Mustang GT he and his cousin were rebuilding for him.
I looked from Roland to Peter. “I thought Maxwell didn’t make you go to those.”
Peter seemed resigned, but Roland looked ready to bolt. “Not the whole thing, but we’re expected to go to some of the meetings once we turn eighteen. There’s no getting out of it.” Roland smiled grimly. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance of a vampire invasion to get us out of it, is there?”
“Maybe not here, but there are always lots of baddies out there to kill, especially for us warriors.” Jordan smiled smugly. Last week, she had officially become a warrior. It shouldn’t have happened for another six months, but her field experience put her far ahead of other trainees. She had more kills under her belt than any new warrior, and people were already calling her the next Nikolas.
Not that anyone could ever be as good as my warrior.
“Wish I could help you guys out, but I’ll be in LA. That’s where I’m going when I leave here.” Jordan’s face flushed with excitement. “They still have a lot of vampires there, and I can’t wait to do a little hunting.” That and she’d heard the foreign warriors were still in California. She planned on getting better acquainted with one surly Egyptian male in particular.
Chris winked at me. “If anyone can attract a horde of vampires, it’s Sara. Maybe she can help you out.”
I made a face at him. “Sorry, guys, but my schedule is kind of full right now. Eldeorin wants to start training me again, and we decided it was a good idea.”
Nikolas made a low sound that was suspiciously like a snort. He was grateful for everything Eldeorin had done for me, but he couldn’t bring himself to like the faerie. Eldeorin didn’t help, taking any opportunity to annoy Nikolas.
“Eldeorin was pretty excited when he found out I transported like he does. It was only that one time, but he thinks we’ve barely tapped into my powers. I might even be able to do glamours by this time next year.”
“Cool!” Roland and Peter said together.
“And I’m working with David on a new project.”
“David, your hacker friend?” Peter asked.
“Yep. After he found Elena’s place, Tristan offered him a job working for us. We got word that some gulaks are running an international slavery ring. David and Kelvan are going to track them down, and then I’m going to kick some demon ass.”
“We are going to kick some demon ass,” Nikolas corrected me.
Roland laughed. “So I guess that means you’re done with combat training.”
I made a face. “I wish.”
Jordan picked up her bottle of water from the coffee table. “Oh, that’s right! Have you seen that new trainer who just arrived from Greece?” She fanned herself. “Makes me almost wish I was a trainee again.”
I nodded. “I hear he’s wicked good with a crossbow, too.”
Nikolas made a sound in his throat just loud enough for me to hear.
Down boy, I teased, earning a playful scowl. Completing our bond had eased his possessive male instincts, but it hadn’t eliminated them. I was a lot more understanding of them now because I had my moments, too. And being fully joined with my Mori meant getting used to a lot of emotions and urges I hadn’t had to deal with before. One thing I’d learned was that demons were very temperamental and possessive of their mates.
Jordan snickered and took a mouthful of water – and promptly began to choke on it. Peter slapped her on the back as she gaped at something past the living room archway.
I leaned over to see what she was staring at, and my breath caught in my throat.
Letting go of Nikolas’s hand, I launched myself at the thin pale gray creature standing in the hallway. He let out a gravelly laugh and hugged me back as I cried into his shaggy gray-brown hair. Behind me I heard Jordan wheezing and Chris say, “Still think it’s boring here, Jordan?”
I pulled back and met Remy’s wide violet eyes. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
He grinned, showing off his short sharp teeth. “I ward house to keep it safe for you. It tell me when you come home.”
“But won’t the elders be angry?” I held his hands, afraid he’d disappear again.
“Elders say it okay to be friends again. I miss my friend.”
I wiped my eyes with my sleeve. “I missed you, too.”
Remy looked behind me, and I glanced over my shoulder at Nikolas standing in the doorway. “You remember Nikolas and my friends.”
He gave a slight nod. “Warrior.”
I turned toward the living room, still holding one of his hands. “I guess you’ve met everyone here except Jordan. Jordan, this is my friend Remy, who I told you about.”
“Hello,” she croaked.
Grinning, I faced him again. “Let’s go to into the kitchen so we can sit.” I had so many things to tell him that I didn’t know where to start. My life had changed drastically since the last time we’d seen each other, and I was sure he had things to share with me, too.
Roland came out of the living room. “We’re going to show Jordan around and give you guys some time to talk.” He leaned toward me. “I think she could use some air.”
Jordan smacked the back of his head as she walked by. “I heard that, Wolf Boy. Come on. But no peeing on fire hydrants.”
Roland and Peter scowled and the others laughed as they filed out, leaving Remy and me alone in the hallway.
We sat at the kitchen table, and for a long moment we just stared at each other as if neither of us could believe we were here together.
“I thought the elders would never allow you to see me again. What changed their minds?”
“Eldeorin come to visit. He make elders change minds.”
I gawked at him. “Eldeorin? He never told me he knew you.”
“Trolls and faeries cousins. You know that.”
A long ago memory surfaced of when we first became friends, and he’d told me about his people and how they were related to the Fae. How could I have forgotten that? “Wait. Does this mean I’m your cousin, too?”
He nodded, and I almost jumped out of my chair. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“I not know you Fae then. You go through liannan and now I see.”
After all I’d been through I’d thought nothing else could shock me, but Remy had managed to blow my mind. Cousins. It was going to take a while for that one to sink in.
It also explained why the elders had decided to allow us to be friends again. I owed Eldeorin a huge hug when I saw him – just not when Nikolas was around.
Remy’s eyes grew serious. “Eldeorin say you kill many vampires and vampire Master. He say you very strong now.”
“That’s true.” I let out a deep breath. “I have so much to tell you.”
For a long time we talked about what had happened in our lives since the last time we’d seen each other. He asked questions about some of the things I’d seen, and it felt odd to be educating him when he had always been my teacher. It just showed me again how much I had changed.
“Warrior is good mate for you,” he said with approval, and my heart expanded as it did every time someone called Nikolas my mate. “It good to see you happy.”
“I was happy before.”
“You laugh, but you always have pain here.” He placed a hand over his heart. “No more sadness in your eyes.”
It didn’t surprise me that Remy had seen the pain I’d carried inside me for so many years. My troll friend had always been wise beyond his age.
And he was right. I had never stopped grieving for my dad. My grief, my bitterness toward Madeline, and my hatred and fear of those who’d taken my dad from me, had festered inside me for so many years. I no longer carried around those dark emotions. I would always miss my dad, but I’d finally laid my grief to rest.
Meeting Madeline had closed that chapter in my life, and instead of bitterness, I felt pity for the woman who would always regret giving up the man she loved.
I would always hate the evil things in the world, but I no longer feared them. Maybe it was because of my new strength, or because nothing seemed as frightening as my ordeal with the Master. Or maybe it was because of the warrior who’d been beside me through it all, offering his strength when I needed it and giving his love selflessly.
“No more sadness,” I agreed. “And now I have you back, too.”
He smiled. “Will you come often?”
“Yes. I’ll get Eldeorin to bring me here every chance I get.” Something occurred to me. “You can transport like he does, can’t you?”
“Then you can come visit me, too.”
He grinned, as if the thought had never occurred to him. “I like that.”
Eventually, Remy said he had to go. I was sad when he hugged me goodbye, but at least this time I knew we’d see each other again soon.
After he left, I wandered around the apartment, thinking how blessed I was. Most people would not say that with all I’d been through. But I knew those experiences and the suffering had made me who I was, and I had gained so much from them. I had found a home among the Mohiri and the Fae, something no one had believed possible. I had friends and family who loved me unconditionally. And I had Nikolas and the kind of love most people only dreamed of.
I stood in the middle of my old room, wondering what I’d do with the building. Judith had offered to continue taking care of it for me, but it seemed a shame to let it sit empty most of the year.
Looking around the brightly lit loft, it struck me that this would make the perfect studio for someone who loved to paint. Someone like Emma. She and I had become good friends over the last two weeks. I loved having her at Westhorne, but she felt out of place there. She was still recovering from her ordeal, but I knew she would leave when she was strong enough. I’d told her I would help her with whatever she decided to do. She kept saying she wanted a simple, quiet life. What better place to start over than New Hastings?
I was making a mental list of art supplies and furniture when I felt Nikolas returning. The door opened as I ran down the stairs, and their laughter filled the apartment.
“I’m starving,” Roland complained, bringing a smile to my lips because he and Peter were always hungry. “I say we pick up some beer and order Gino’s.”
“Gino’s?” Chris asked, and both boys stared at him.
“Dude, you were here for what, a month?” Roland asked incredulously. “How could you not have had Gino’s pizza?”
“It’s only the best pizza ever,” I said as I reached the main floor.
Nikolas’s eyes found mine. I like seeing you this happy.
I like seeing you. I gave him a little smile that made his eyes change to that smoky gray color I loved.
“Okay, Gino’s it is,” Roland declared. “Does everyone like lots of meat on their pizza?”
“Duh,” Jordan and I said together.
Nikolas came over to me as the others discussed pizza toppings and beer. “Want to take a walk with me before dinner? I hear the wharves are empty this time of day.”
We both smiled at his reference to our first walk together. I grabbed my coat, scarf, and gloves because March weather in Maine is no joke. Telling the others we’d be back in time for dinner, we set out.
It was close to sunset and the air was frosty on the quiet waterfront. I hooked my arm through Nikolas’s as we walked toward the wharves. Memories of my old life surrounded me. I had a new home now, but this place would always hold a special place in my heart.
An icy wind buffeted us when we reached the wharf, and Nikolas wrapped an arm around me. “Are you cold? We can go back.”
We didn’t talk much as we walked the length of the wharf, just like when he joined me at Westhorne for my daily walks with Hugo and Woolf. Sometimes, just being together was enough and no words were needed between us.
At the end of the wharf, we stopped and he drew me back against him so he was blocking the wind. He wrapped his arms around me, and we watched the sun set the bay on fire as it sank below the horizon.
I leaned into his warmth. “Remember the last time we stood in this spot?”
He pressed his lips against my hair. “I’ll never forget that day. You looked so lost after our talk, and I didn’t know how to make it easier for you. I wondered if I should have sent someone else to talk to you. I had no experience with orphans before you.”
“So I’ve heard. If it makes you feel better, no one could have broken that news to me in any way that I would have accepted it easier.” I hugged his arms. “I’m glad it was you.”
“You say that now.”
I laughed softly. “Would you really have sent another warrior to talk to me?”
“No. I couldn’t let anyone else come to you, not when I knew what you were to me. In Portland, you didn’t show any sign that you felt anything between us. I needed to see you again to be sure of the bond.” He pulled me closer. “When I pushed against the bond, I felt your Mori respond, and I could see it in your eyes.”
I turned in his arms and gazed up at him. “My poor warrior. I didn’t make it easy for you, did I?”
He kissed my forehead. “I laid some heavy things on you all at once, so I knew it was going to take some time for you to accept it. I could have handled it better, too.”
“Tell the truth. I was a total brat.”
“Well, if you really want me to be honest…”
I smacked his chest and he smiled. “You have no idea how hard it was to ride away from you that day when you refused to leave. My Mori wasn’t happy either. It wanted me to throw you over my shoulder and make you come with us.”
I raised an eyebrow at the image that conjured. “And what did you want?”
His eyes sparkled with laughter. “I wanted to find the nearest bar and drink until I forgot a certain orphan with bewitching green eyes. I kept telling myself it was my Mori who wanted you, but the truth was, I noticed you before my demon did, and I wanted to see you again.”
Warmth pooled in my stomach. “Would you do it differently now?”
“What would you do?”
“I’d do this.”
I squealed as he swung me up over his shoulder and started striding back toward the waterfront. “Nikolas, put me down, you big lug!” I yelled through my laughter.
He patted my backside. “This time my Mori and I are in complete agreement.”
“You do know I can zap your warrior ass, right?” I squirmed and he held me tighter.
His deep laugh warmed me to my toes. “But you won’t.”
“How do you know?”
“Because you like me… a lot.”
I stopped wriggling and started grinning like a fool. What could I say? He was right.