Authors: Patricia D. Eddy
“Bella? What is it?” Katerina ran over to Bella and helped her up. She weighed next to nothing and was shaking from head to toe.
“I’ve never used my element this much in a short period of time before. I will be fine. Can we go back outside? It’s easier there.”
“Of course. Can you track the elemental?” Katerina asked.
“I think so.”
Tired of the rain, Bella kept a curtain of air above their heads as the three of them made their way back down the street towards the apartment complex they’d destroyed when they’d captured Cade back in May. Katerina clenched her hands into fists. She had to be patient. Bella hated the Pacific Northwest as much as Katerina did. She was only here because Katerina asked for her help and Bella owed Katerina her life. The air elemental had washed up on the beach in Mexico eleven years ago. Katerina had been there chasing one of Caldwell’s pack. Bella had no memory; she’d barely been able to speak. Something about the woman had called to Katerina. She’d seen Bella as a replacement for her little sister, Mara. Despite her need for revenge, she’d let Caldwell’s wolf go and tended to Bella. The air elemental hadn’t even known her own name. Bella had been Katerina’s invention. .
Bella paused next to the empty lot that had once housed the werewolf’s apartment complex. She sniffed the air. “She was here, but she didn’t stay.” Bella followed her nose across the street and scented a row of narrow houses with a clear view of the lot. “This one.” Bella went up to a door decorated with a Christmas wreath. Multicolored lights were draped across the front window.
Katerina banged on the front door. A light flickered on inside the house and shuffling footsteps headed towards the door.
“Who is it?”
Bella cleared her throat. “Ma’am, my name is Christine. I used to live across the street with my brother. He disappeared seven months ago and I’m trying to track him down.”
Locks clicked. The door opened a crack and a white-haired, well-lined face peered out over the chain. “You’re with those wolves?”
Katerina gestured to Jeremy. He shoved the door open, snapping the chain, and pushed the old woman back against the wall.
“What in the hell?” she screeched.
“Where’s the elemental?” Katerina asked, following Jeremy into the house. Bella brought up the rear and locked the door behind her.
“What elemental?” The little old woman backed away slowly towards her living room, but Jeremy lurched forward and grabbed her by the arms. She clawed at him, but he dragged her into her living room and shoved her down on the sofa. “You need a serious lesson in manners, young man,” she spat.
“The elemental. She was here with the wolf. I don’t know who she is, but she has control of water. Bella can smell her,” Katerina said.
Bella walked through the living room, sniffing. “She sat there,” she said, pointing. “Next to the wolf.
next to the wolf.”
Recognition widened the old woman’s eyes but she clamped her lips shut and glared at the three elementals looming over her. Jeremy slapped her across the cheek and she fell against the arm of the sofa. “Don’t make me hurt you, lady.”
“Well, it’s a little late for that,” the old woman grumbled, rubbing her cheek and struggling upright again. “Listen to me. All of you. I’m eighty-three-years-old. I buried my husband a decade ago. I’ve survived cancer, a heart attack, and a stroke. I lived through the Second World War, lost my son to Vietnam, and my home to the Nisqually earthquake. There is
that frightens me. You want to slap around an old lady? Burn me alive? That’s right, I know who you are,” she said to Katerina. “You burned down that building across the street. You killed all those wolves. I remember you. These eyes may need reading glasses, but they don’t forget a face. I’m not telling you anything.” She crossed her arms over her chest.
Katerina smiled. The old woman was no more than a hundred pounds, dressed in a fuzzy pink housecoat and slippers. Her white hair was a mess around her head and her lined face bore the distinct imprint of Jeremy’s hand. Her pale blue eyes were defiant, but that wouldn’t last long. “Bella, do your thing.”
An hour later, the old woman—Maggie—huddled in the corner of the sofa, chest heaving. Nothing Bella did had worked to get her talking. The air elemental had suffocated Maggie a dozen times, bringing her to the brink of death, and she’d stubbornly refused to say a single word.
“Get the hell out of my house,” Maggie gasped. “Bitch.”
Katerina’s hands itched. The notes of her fire started deep within her as a low baritone. She grabbed Maggie’s wrists. The old woman scream screamed as her flesh sizzled. Bella dampened the sound.
“Tell me where they went,” Katerina said, eyes blazing.
Maggie slumped in Katerina’s grip, unconscious. “Dammit!”
Jeremy looped in from the kitchen, a triumphant smile on his thin face. “Babe. Take a look at this.” He handed her a slip of paper. “This was tacked up on the fridge.”
Mara Taylor - 206-555-1212
“Mara. Taylor. Goddess. That’s my sister.” Katerina said.
Bella reached over and lifted the note to her nose. “This was written by the water elemental.”
is with the wolf.”
Cade’s body trembled. He couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe. His blood boiled. Pain wracked his body from his snout to his tail. Fur fell off in patches, blisters formed, broke, reformed. He howled at the new moon, cursing it for weakening him, letting him fall victim to Katerina’s charms once more.
Mara. Where was Mara? He couldn’t see her. Flames and smoke obscured her sweet scent. He had to get to Mara.
“You’re going to die, dog.”
The wolf whipped his head around, searching for the elemental who taunted him. Darkness blanketed him, trapped him in a coffin. No stars lit the night. All he could smell was smoke. His lupine howl turned into a throaty human scream. “No!”
Gentle hands stroked his bare chest. An intoxicating scent he wanted all around him slid into his nose. His scarred fingers ached with the start of his shift, but he screamed with everything he was—a heart-wrenching, guttural sound—and willed it to stop. He couldn’t shift. If he did, he wouldn’t come back. He curled away from the reassuring cool touch and rocked back and forth in this unfamiliar bed surrounded by the scent of something wonderful and familiar he couldn’t identify.
Don’t shift. Can’t shift.
“Cade. Breathe for me.”
He couldn’t. He choked and sputtered and tried to pull away from the hand that smoothed down his bare forearm. “Help,” he croaked.
A cool body pressed to his side. A blinding light seared his eyes and he whimpered softly.
“I’m here, I’m right here.”
Mara. Mara was with him. His Mara. Cade grabbed her and yanked her against him. He held her as if his life depended on it. She feathered kisses down his neck to his shoulder and back up again. “Say my name, Cade. Tell me where you are.”
“Well, okay.” Mara wrapped her body around his. Silk whispered over his skin. Her fingers slid over the light dusting of hair on his chest. “You’re safe.” When his breathing steadied, he could focus on her. Her eyes glistened like brilliant green stars and her legs wrapped around his waist.
“Water.” His throat was parched. The memory of the flames against his pelt was so close to the surface. He didn’t want her to leave the bed, but he could barely swallow, let alone speak.
“I’ll be right back, shaggy man. Don’t move.” Mara’s hand trailed down his arm, lingering on his fingers for a single breath, and then she hurried out to the kitchen. Water ran, a cabinet door banged, and her quick footsteps returned to him.
When she sat next to him on the bed, he stared down at his hands before taking the glass she offered. He had to make sure the shift had halted. But all he saw were his scarred fingers. Steadier now, Cade grabbed the glass and drained it in four swallows.
“Shaggy man?” He arched his brow. His voice wasn’t steady, but he felt calmer now that he could see her face and knew he wasn’t going to shift.
Mara ran her fingers through his hair. “Yeah. I like it. Don’t cut it. It suits you.” Her shoulders hunched and her eyes were half-lidded with exhaustion. Cade dragged his knuckle across her cheek.
“I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Well, I would hope not,” she replied dryly. “Few people mean to have nightmares. Especially not ones that leave them screaming and begging to die.”
Cade rested his head against hers. “God, honey. I’m sorry.”
A frantic scraping against the front door had Mara scrambling off the bed. Cade didn’t understand. He didn’t want her to go and reached out for her.
“Livie,” Mara said.
Livie had heard him screaming. She’d break down the door if they didn’t let her in soon. Cade threw back the blankets, ignoring his distinct lack of clothing. Clad in only his boxers, he pushed past Mara and ran down the hall to the front door.
The female wolf bounded in and growled as soon as the door opened. She looked from Cade to Mara and back to Cade again. Mara shut the door and Livie stalked over to her, sniffed, and glared. Mara took a step back, eyes wide with fear.
“It’s okay, Livie.” Cade knelt next to her and smoothed a hand over her pale blond and silver fur. He rubbed her muzzle, under her chin. “I’m all right.”
A wet nose nuzzled his neck, accompanied by a thin whine. Cade wrapped his arms around Livie’s torso and he whispered in her ear. “I’m sorry I scared you. The fire. I thought I was back in the building.” It wasn’t the truth—not exactly—but it was close enough and Livie would understand. Cade stroked the side of her lupine jaw that was scarred and disfigured. “Mara helped me.”
Livie nodded with a soft vocalization Cade knew was an acceptance of his words. She pawed at the wood floor and looked towards the kitchen, whining her plea.
Cade stood, oblivious to his near-nakedness. Livie needed to eat. To his surprise, Mara was already rummaging in the fridge. She came up with a package of the bison and a container of leftover lasagna.
“Which?” she asked Livie. “Lasagna? Or the raw meat?”
Livie barked at the second option. Mara got a bowl and tore into the bison package, dumping the dark red chunks of meat and adding a few handfuls of blueberries and some baby carrots. She set the bowl down on the floor and Livie padded over and started to lap up the meal.
“Are you hungry?” she asked Cade. Her gaze traveled down his chest, lower, and back up again. Her cheeks flamed with heat.
Cade rubbed his still-hollow stomach. Amazingly, he wasn’t hungry. The nightmare hadn’t helped. Even with Mara’s calming touch, he was still on edge. “No.”
Livie ate quickly and loudly, slurping, crunching, and lapping up every bit of bison in the bowl. She looked up at Mara, yipped in thanks, and sat at the front door until Cade let her out.
“How did you know she was hungry?” he asked, after he’d locked the front door. Mara leaned against the kitchen counter. Exhaustion seemed to weigh on her shoulders and pulled at the corners of her lips and her eyelids. Her dark blue tank top silhouetted her small breasts and her tapered waist. Silky pajama pants in a paler blue with silver stars encased her long legs.
“You were here with me for two weeks. I speak wolf now. A little anyway,” she said. She ticked words off on her fingers. “
thirsty, outside, please, thank you
Cade wrapped his arms around his naked torso. Mara was everything he’d ever wanted. Smart, compassionate, and practical. She didn’t panic. She held her own. Livie hadn’t intimidated her. Learning about her element had frightened her, but she’d accepted it—and she’d accepted the truth of his lack of humanity easily.
“You’re amazing.” He hadn’t meant to say that. They both looked away. “I should . . . I’m going to . . .” He turned and fled back to Mara’s guest room.
Behind the closed door, he kicked himself. This was not the behavior of an alpha. He shouldn’t be hiding away from the woman who meant more to him than anyone. Twice he rested his hand on the knob and twice he let it fall. He pulled back the blankets. Shit, he didn’t want to get back in that bed. The memories of Katerina and her fire charms were too close for comfort.