Authors: Elizabeth Kelly
“Are you alright?”
She glanced at Kaden. He was staring at her, and she had the oddest feeling that he knew she was lying. She cleared her throat and nodded. “I’m fine.”
She walked a few feet away and leaned against a tree. She inhaled deeply, searching for any scent of Draken and his pack, and relaxed slightly when she smelled nothing. She wanted to tell him more. She wanted to tell him how afraid she had been all the time. How she had often pretended that her mother was not actually her mother, and that her real one would arrive to rescue her. She snorted softly. She had shared too much with Kaden already. It made no sense to share anything personal with the human. It wasn’t what he was interested in.
“Bree and I are only half-siblings.” His low voice was directly behind her and she turned to face him, her eyes wide with surprise.
“She doesn’t know.” He stared into the trees and crossed his thick arms over his chest.
“Why not?” She asked quietly.
He shrugged. “I didn’t think there was any reason to tell her. My father died when I was five. My mother remarried and when I was ten, Bree was born. Two years later they were both dead, and it was just Bree and I.”
“Gods,” she muttered, “how on earth did you take care of a two year old? You were only a child yourself.”
He shrugged. “I was big for my age and strong. I did a lot of manual labour in exchange for food and shelter for us both.”
“Bree said your parents were robbed and murdered. Did they ever find the men who murdered them?”
He was giving her a strange look and she could see shame deep within his eyes.
“I – I told Bree that story but it isn’t true.” He said quietly.
“What really happened?”
He looked at his hands. “Bree’s father fancied himself an adventurer. He was always coming up with wild schemes to make money. If he did actually manage to make some money, he would immediately disappear for months on his grand adventures. He would leave my mother with barely enough money for food. Even after she became pregnant with Bree, he still left. He cared about no one but himself. I started working when I was seven, odd jobs that people in the village would give me out of pity, just so we had enough money to buy food.”
He snorted in disgust. “It didn’t matter how many times he left, or how many times we nearly starved while he was gone, my mother always welcomed him home with open arms. She was so weak.”
“How did they die?” She prompted gently.
“When I was twelve, Arden got it into his head that he needed to see one of the old cities.”
She gave him a look of horror. “That’s suicide.”
“Aye. He had met a man in our village - a stranger who was just travelling through. He convinced Arden that he had gone to the city and survived. He told Arden that he had a – a magic pill that protected him from the sickness. The fool didn’t even ask for proof, just blindly believed him, and eagerly bought the pills.”
He rubbed his hand angrily through his hair. “He started planning for the trip and I was happy. I knew that this time his foolishness would cost him his life, and I wanted him to die. Only, he decided this time that my mother should go with him. Eager to please him, she agreed.”
“Oh, Kaden.” She whispered softly.
“They left for the city within the week. Two months later they were back. They had made it to the old city, had gone deep within it, and both of them had the sickness.”
He stared blankly into the woods. His mother had been so weak she couldn’t stand, and both of them had lost all of their teeth and their hair.
“Kaden?” Sophia moved in front of him and touched his arm gently.
Absentmindedly, he took her hand and linked their fingers together. Holding her hand tightly, he took a deep breath. “It was late at night when they arrived home. Bree was sleeping, thank the gods. My – my mother was bleeding from every orifice in her body, and Arden wasn’t much better. They had lost their teeth and their hair. Shortly after they arrived home, my mother lapsed into a slumber that I couldn’t wake her from, and Arden was babbling incoherently about the old city. He had a small bag filled with jewels and other items they had picked up. I sold those jewels and made enough money from them to keep our home, and food in our bellies, for the first year after they died.”
She stroked his hand with her thumb and made a soft sound of comfort. He tightened his grip on her hand and closed his eyes. “They had to travel through the village to get home and the people there had seen them. They showed up at our home the very next morning to drive my mother and Arden to the outskirts. They were too late though. Both of them had died in the night. Once the money ran out from the jewels, we lost our home and we were forced to leave the village so that I could find work.”
“Was there no one in the village who was willing to take you in?” She was horrified that so many people had turned their backs on two children.
He shook his head. “The people in the village and surrounding area were barely surviving themselves. The whole village was dying out, people were just giving up and moving on, and I couldn’t even find enough odd jobs to keep Bree and I fed.”
“Why didn’t you tell Bree the truth?” She squeezed his hand gently.
“Bree does not remember our mother but she adored her father. She was only a toddler when he died, but she says she remembers him very well. I’m not surprised. He was a selfish man but he could be very charming and loving when he wanted to be. He treated Bree more like a pet than a daughter, but she doesn’t remember that.”
He paused. “Thank the gods. Anyway, I didn’t want Bree to know that her father had essentially murdered her mother so I made up the story about them being killed by thieves.”
He gave her a pleading look. “I know I shouldn’t have lied, but I couldn’t stand the idea of her being more upset by their deaths than she already was. Was that so wrong of me?”
She shook her head immediately. “No.”
He looked down at the ground and she reached up and cupped his face gently, stroking her thumb across his cheek. “You did what you thought was best, Kaden. You took care of your sister, you protected her and – “
He gave her a look of helpless anger. “I got her captured by Lycans and watched her starve.”
“You took her beatings. You kept her from being abused by the Lycans.” She pointed out.
“And then they decided to use her in their hunt and I was helpless to stop them.” He shuddered as he remembered the fear and panic that had flared in him when they had brought Bree out the morning of the hunt. He had gone crazy when they wouldn’t agree to let him take her place. He had attacked the nearest Lycan and ripped its throat out with his bare hands before they could stop him.
Shame burned through him at the memory of Bree on her knees, begging Draken to spare his life. They had chained him to the wall in the slave’s quarters and left him there for three days. On the morning of the fourth day, they had finally released him. Certain that Bree had died at the hands of the Lycans, he had been shocked into silence when the pole they placed the head of the hunted on, had been empty. His relief that Bree had survived had been so great, he hadn’t even felt the daily beatings Draken had bestowed upon him in retaliation for his sister’s escape.
Kaden realized that Sophia was still stroking his face and he gave her a haunted look. “I failed her.” He whispered. “If it had not been for your brother, Bree would be dead.”
She shook her head. “You can’t think that way, Kaden. You did everything you could to protect her, and to keep her alive. She would have died as a child if it had not been for you. It’s amazing that both of you survived. You were only a child yourself, remember.”
He didn’t reply and she made him look at her. “It’s not your fault, Kaden.” She said firmly.
He shocked her by hugging her. He buried his face in her throat and wrapped his arms around her waist as a shudder went through his large body. She hugged him back, running her hands over his back and crooning soft, meaningless words of comfort in his ear.
She threaded her hand in his hair and tugged gently until he was looking at her. She rubbed her hand across his face, feeling the rough stubble under her palm. He turned his face and kissed the middle of her palm. A spasm of pleasure gripped her belly, and she bit at her bottom lip before suddenly reaching up and placing a soft kiss on his mouth.
“It’s not your fault.” She repeated before kissing him again. He groaned and kissed her back. She opened her mouth and their tongues touched delicately, before he stroked his tongue against hers in a rough movement that made a shiver run down her back.
She moaned, her hands gripping his neck, as he explored her mouth hungrily. His large hand wrapped in her braid and he tugged her head back so he could nip at her throat. He licked the hollow of her throat, his tongue stroking and exploring the soft skin, as his hand cupped her breast through her jacket. He made a muttered curse and pulled impatiently at the buttons of her coat.
Sophia stared up at the sky. Glimpses of it could just be seen through the thick canopy of trees, and she made another soft moan of need when his hand slipped inside her jacket to knead at her breast through her shirt.
She took a deep breath, smelling the sweet scent of pine trees and Kaden’s desire for her. Her eyes widened and she pushed at his broad body until he released her. She stumbled away, leaning against a tree and breathing heavily. Gods, they were supposed to be out here standing watch. She took a deep breath, searching for any scent that didn’t belong, and breathed a sigh of relief when there was nothing. She had put her entire family in danger because she had an itch that needed scratched.
“Sophia?” Kaden was moving up behind her and she staggered away before he could touch her.
“Don’t.” She gasped out. “I’m sorry. We – we shouldn’t be doing this.”
The smell of his need dropped away immediately and she turned to look at him. He was staring at her with hurt and confusion and she sighed. “Don’t look at me like that, Kaden. I only meant that we’re supposed to be – “
He held his hand up. “It’s fine, Lycan. You’re right – this is wrong. I don’t mate with animals.”
Anger and hurt rushed through her and she lashed out at him. “Probably a smart idea, human. You wouldn’t be able to handle me.”
She turned away and stormed deeper into the woods before he could spit out a retort. She stared angrily into the trees. She was an idiot for believing that Kaden would ever think of her as anything more than an animal.
“Hello, Bree.” Sophia smiled at her before continuing to rub the oil into her boots.
Bree sat down next to Sophia on her bed. “Are you okay?”
“Just fine. Why?” Sophia gave her a puzzled look.
“You’ve been even quieter than usual lately.”
Sophia shrugged. “There’s nothing wrong.”
“Did something happen between you and my brother?”
Sophia gave her a careful look. “Why would you ask that?”
“James said that yesterday when he and Jeffrey took over on watch, both you and Kaden seemed upset.”
“Nothing happened.” Sophia poured more oil on the side of her boot and studiously rubbed it into the soft leather.
“I know my brother likes you.”
“He doesn’t.” Sophia said shortly.
“He does.” Bree insisted. “And I know you like him too.”
“Bree, please. I don’t want to talk about this.”
“It helps to talk about it. You made me talk to you when I was upset about James.”
“It’s not the same.” Sophia muttered.
Bree laughed. “It’s exactly the same, Sophia. What you and Kaden are going through is what James and I went through. I fought my feelings for James because I was afraid of the Lycans, and afraid of what Kaden would think of me. Kaden is fighting his feelings for you because – “
“Because he hates the Lycans.” Sophia interrupted. “You only feared us. Kaden hates us, don’t try and deny it.”
“I think he’s starting to realize that not all Lycans are like Draken.”
“He won’t stay, Bree.” Sophia said abruptly. “I know you want him to, but he won’t. He thinks we’re animals and after what Draken did to him, I don’t blame him. Honestly, I’m not sure he should stay with us. Sooner or later, we’ll do or say something that will prove to him he’s right. He should leave before that happens. If he doesn’t, your relationship with him will suffer. Do you really want that?”
Bree didn’t reply and Sophia sighed harshly. She had spoken too honestly, and she obviously had hurt the young woman’s feelings.
“Bree, I’m – “
She was surprised when Bree hugged her hard. “You’re wrong about my brother, Sophia. He’ll learn to love you the way I learned to love James.”
Sophia blinked at her. “Bree, your brother and I aren’t –“
“We’re leaving tomorrow for town and I want you to come with us. We’ll be doing some dress shopping for the wedding.” Bree interrupted.
“I don’t know. I’m not – “
“You have to go, Sophia. You’re my maid of honour.” Bree smiled and squeezed her arm.
“Are you sure you want me to stand up for you, Bree? I know you and Dani have grown close, and I’m sure she would love to be your maid of honour.”
Bree shook her head. “Nope. I want it to be you. Dani is happy to be a bridesmaid.” She hesitated. “Unless you don’t want to?”
“Of course I do.” Sophia said immediately. “I just - I was surprised when you asked me.”
Bree stared at her solemnly. “You saved my life, Sophia. You went willingly to Draken, knowing what could happen, just to save me. I will never forget that.”
Sophia gave her an impulsive hug. “I would do anything for James and for you. I’m glad you asked me to stand up with you, but I’m not wearing pink.”
Bree laughed. “How do you feel about blue?”
“I like blue.” Sophia grinned at her.
“Good. Make sure you pack an overnight bag. We’re going to stay the night at the town. We’re taking the wagon and it’s such a long ride, James thought it would be best if we stayed the night. Better safe than sorry right?”