Authors: Viola Rivard
A Claimed Novella
Copyright © 2014 by Viola Rivard
All rights reserved.
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
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“Can we stop?” Mila pleaded. “Just for a minute?”
Lotus did Mila the courtesy of sparing her a glance. “You went an hour ago. We’re almost there. Hold it.”
“Easy for you to say,” Mila grumbled under her breath. Lotus didn’t have pups kickboxing with her bladder.
Heaving a sigh, Mila leaned forward, reaching past her daughter. With one finger, she poked Caim between his shoulder blades. When the black wolf didn’t respond, she pinched him.
Cursing under her breath, she looked around for Asch, the one person who she knew that she could guilt into letting her pee. She was, after all, pregnant with not one, but two of his unholy demon children.
After carrying Asch’s twins for nearly nine months, Mila was now realizing just how easy her first pregnancy had been. While she’d been sick during her first few months with Dawn, her first trimester with the twins had been two months of nonstop vomiting that made
look tame by comparison. When she hadn’t been vomiting, she’d been yelling at anyone within yelling-distance, and when she hadn’t been yelling, she’d been crying. Once, she’d even managed to yell, cry, and vomit all at the same time—a feat that left Rosie scarred to this day.
Fortunately, her nausea and the bulk of her moodiness had subsided by the second trimester, only to give way to an entirely new set of pregnancy blues, most of which stemmed from her huge belly and extremely active pups.
Dawn had done her fair share of kicking, but usually during the night, when Mila was already awake with her nocturnal pack mates. While she’d occasionally jabbed an organ, it had been, at most, a minor annoyance.
The twins, on the other hand, slept on completely opposite schedules. Sleeping in shifts, they took turns kicking and punching her night and day without end. The absolute worst part of the day was right around dusk, when both twins were awake. She wasn’t sure exactly what was going on inside her uterus, but she pictured MMA-style brawls and was sure that at least one of her babies would be born with a black eye.
It took Mila a few moments to find Asch. He’d been walking alongside Caim all evening, but must have splintered off at some point. Far ahead of them, the tawny wolf stood at the top of a snow bank, gazing down at what Mila knew was Cairn Valley.
It had been two years since Mila had seen the valley and despite her reluctance to return, she felt a flutter of anticipation in her belly.
Her excitement was quickly dampened as she took in Asch’s posture. His legs were spread apart and the fur on the back of his neck was frilled up. As they drew closer, she could make out a low growl emanating from his chest.
“What’s going on?” Mila asked.
“Cats,” said Lotus. “I can smell them from here.”
Her muscles tensing, Mila wrapped an arm around Dawn, pulling her closer. What the wolves called ‘cats’ were actually huge mountain lion shifters, one of which Mila had had the pleasure of meeting shortly after the first mating thrall. It wasn’t an experience she was eager to relive, but with two alphas and the entire Lazarus pack flanking her, she knew that there was little to be afraid of.
When they reached the top of the snow bank, Caim crouched down, allowing Mila to awkwardly climb off his back. Snow crunched beneath her booted feet as she stretched her legs for the first time in an hour.
She was surprised to find that Dawn was awake and alert, as she hadn’t heard a peep out of her daughter all day. Mila moved to pick her up, but Brae intercepted her, scooping the little girl up into her arms.
“Don’t worry. I have her.”
As soon as Dawn was off, Caim shifted. As he came into his human form, he took the dark pelt that had been draped over his back and secured it around his thick neck. He spared her a perfunctory glance, amber eyes quickly assessing her, before turning to trudge over to Asch.
Within the last minute, Asch had been joined by River. The beta male’s shoulders were slumped and he was stroking his beard in a rare gesture of discomfort. Mila could see why. Asch was pissed.
“You said it was safe.”
River held his hands up in front of his chest. “It was safe, but that was two weeks ago. They had to have come with the first frost.”
After over two years of eavesdropping on the wolves, Mila was an expert at piecing fragments of information together into something coherent. From their conversation, she gathered that the cats must have settled into valley as early as two days ago.
The pack had left the lakeside den three nights ago. They had planned on leaving well before the end of autumn, but Mila had stalled them as long as possible in the hopes that she’d go into labor early, as she had with Dawn. No such luck.
Lakeside den had become home to her. While Cairn Valley would always hold a special place in her heart, the second den was where she’d spent the last two years—where she had given birth and where she had raised Dawn from a mewling infant. There were little grooves in the wall where Mila had counted down the days of her pregnancy and parallel to those, the marks charting Dawn’s weed-like growth.
Just like when they left Cairn Valley, Caim was against the move. It had been Asch who had insisted on leaving. He felt that Lakeside was too small to house the entire pack, and now, two new pups. Despite Caim and Mila’s objections, it was next to impossible to oppose him these days.
At the beginning of spring, Mila had become fertile and this time, she’d only been with Asch. From the day her scent had begun to change, so had Asch’s demeanor. Her usually diplomatic mate became more dominant and possessive than usual. A few weeks later, when they found out that she was having twins, he became downright despotic. The slightest provocation could send him flying off the handle and when he made a decision, it was final. He was basically Caim on steroids.
Despite Mila’s best efforts, they had set out for Cairn Valley. They had all taken the warm autumn for granted, because the night after they left, winter blew in with a vengeance. They’d taken shelter in a cave while the snow raged, and no doubt, the cats had done the same at The Cairn.
Hands on his hips, Asch said, “We’ll have to scout it out. Even with a few cats, they could easily hold the den if we try barging in without a plan.”
“Maybe try talking to them?” Mila suggested. “I’m sure that they didn’t mean to intrude. They were probably desperate.”
Asch said, “If they’re desperate enough to barge into a wolf den, there’s no telling what they’ll do if they catch wind of us.” He looked to Caim. “I’ll lead the pack down into the valley. You take Mila and Dawn to the smaller den. Don’t let them out of your sight.”
Caim gave him a withering look, but said nothing in protest. Seeing her large, strong alpha passively accept orders made Mila’s heart sink. He had always been such a combative male, but in the past few months he had turned into a brooding shadow of his former self.
Wordlessly, he shifted back into his wolf form. After a quick embrace with Asch, she climbed onto Caim and accepted Dawn from Brae. Mila kept one hand on her mate’s fur and the other wrapped around her daughter as they set out into the forest.
The smaller den that Asch had referred to was a place Mila had only been once, but would never forget. It was where she, along with Asch and Caim, had experienced their first mating thrall together—five nights of carnal bliss, followed by weeks of doubt and insecurity.
She had only known Asch and Caim for a handful of days, but had surrendered her body over to them in the most intimate way possible. From those five nights, she’d gotten Dawn—the love of her life.
The little girl sat sideways on her father’s back, her head resting on Mila’s belly. Listening to the twins was her second favorite hobby, even though she vacillated between excitement and dread over their inevitable arrival. In the past year, she’d grown extremely attached to Mila, and although she had countless assurances that her father would still give her buckets of love and attention, it distressed Dawn to know that her mother wouldn’t have as much time for her with two pups to look after.
As Caim came to a stop, Dawn tilted her head to gaze up at Mila through tired eyes. Smiling, Mila pinched her nose.
“Are we home now?”
“Almost,” Mila reassured. “We’re just gonna stop to take a little nap first.”
Caim crouched to let them off. Dawn slid down gracefully, while Mila did so with considerably more effort.
As soon as he shifted, Caim immediately lifted Dawn into his arms. The little girl eagerly wrapped her arms around his neck.
Despite how attached she was to Mila, ‘papa’ was her first and favorite word. In fact, ‘mama’ had been her eighth word, behind ‘no’, ‘meat’, and ‘squirrel’. Yes, her daughter had learned ‘squirrel’ before ‘mama’.
Mila smiled at them. “Don’t mind me, lovebirds. I’m gonna go use that bush over there.”
After relieving herself, Mila came back to find that Caim had yet to go into the den. Leaning against the stone that made up the cavern’s façade, he held a quiet conversation with Dawn.
“Are there squirrels at the new den?” she heard Dawn ask.
Caim adjusted her so that she rested on his hip. “Yes.”
He plucked stray twigs from her hair. “Yes.”
“Can we have rabbit soup?”
As Mila waddled over to them, they both tilted their heads to regard her. Their resemblance was uncanny. Although Dawn had Mila’s colorings, she looked like a tiny, cute version of her father. Dawn and Caim had the same wavy hair and the same tan skin. Their facial structure was also strikingly similar, though where Caim was sharp angles, Dawn was soft corners.
Mila opened her arms, prepared to embrace the two of them, but Caim turned and moved to duck into the den.
“Hey, wait,” she called out.
He stopped and glanced back. “What?”
Too proud to admit he’d hurt her feelings, Mila quickly thought up an excuse.
“It’s been years since anyone’s been in there. You should really check it and make sure there aren’t any snakes or spiders before taking her down there.”
Caim looked annoyed, but like he did so often these days, he complied without protest. After passing Dawn off to Mila, he disappeared into the den.
Mila felt very heavy, not only with the weight of three children, but also with Caim’s distance. He’d been fine when she’d gotten pregnant the second time. In fact, he’d been in a good mood for weeks, mainly because Dawn finally began talking. But as soon as they found out she was having twins, a small part of him had withdrawn. Mila suspected it had to do with Asch’s gloating.
She could hardly blame Asch for being proud. He’d spent nearly a year listening to Caim brag about his daughter and had taken it all in stride. He deserved to take a little pride in siring not one, but
pups. But as if having twins wasn’t enough to boast about, Asch would often needle Caim by saying that both of his pups would be boys. That was the only time he could really get a rise out of the otherwise detached Caim.
Mila gave a slight jump as Caim emerged from the darkness. He plucked Dawn from her arms and headed in. She followed behind them, feeling no less heavy.
The den wasn’t as dark as she remembered it being. Over the years, she had grown accustomed to low lighting and could see that someone must have been in after the mating thrall. The center of the cavern had been tidied up. The furs that had made up their pallet appeared to have been laundered and neatly folded in a stack against the wall. Beside it were several clay pots and bowls of various shapes and sizes.
Caim grabbed two of the furs, wrapping one around Dawn and handing the other to Mila. Once she covered herself up, he passed Dawn off to her. Murmuring something about firewood, he trudged out of the den.
Dawn rested her head against her mother’s stomach while Mila absently stroked her hair. She wished there was something she could distract herself with. Anything to not think of the growing rift between herself and Caim.
One of the twins kicked, clocking Dawn on the size of the head. The little girl growled in response, before snuggling closer to Mila’s belly.
“You tell him, sweetheart.”
Dawn fell asleep quickly. Mila drifted for a while, before falling into a light slumber herself. It could have been minutes or hours later, but the smell of wood smoke and roasting meat woke her.
Caim had started a fire, as well as hunted. Mila wasn’t surprised to see that Dawn was awake and already eating. One of her favorite things about her daughter was that the kid respected sleep and could be as quiet as a mouse when her parents were resting.
Her mate sat on the opposite side of the fire, legs crossed and back against the wall. The room was warm and he had cast aside his heavy furs for a simple buckskin cloth that was tied at his hips. Orange firelight accentuated the rows of hardened muscles that made up his chest. His eyes were closed, but Mila knew better.
Mila kissed Dawn on the head before reaching over her to grab a few pieces of warm rabbit meat. By the time she’d finished eating, Dawn had nodded off again.
“Psst,” Mila whispered. “Caim. Hey, Caim.”
“I’m gonna go pee, okay?”
One amber eye cracked open. He looked annoyed. “You have not drank anything since the last time you went.”
Oh, so you can speak to me in complete sentences.
“Yeah, well, my bladder doesn’t respect your superior logic,” she said, a bit too loudly. “I’ll be right back.”
She carefully nudged Dawn off her—not that subtlety was needed. The other great thing about her daughter was that the kid slept like a rock. Unless there was food to eat or squirrels to chase, there was no waking her when she wasn’t ready to get up.
As Mila tried to climb to her feet, Caim surprised her by taking ahold of her arm and helping her up.
“You’re coming, too?” she asked.
“Asch would gut me if I let you out there alone.”
As much as she wanted to resent Caim for his behavior, she knew that he was hurting inside. Her big, strong mate had been emasculated, and it was up to Mila to remind him that he was an alpha—her alpha.