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Authors: Christina Dodd

Tags: #paranormal romance

Into the Shadow (25 page)

BOOK: Into the Shadow
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‘‘I’ll call her.’’ Zorana started toward the phone.

Konstantine held up one finger. ‘‘Wait. She just turned onto the road.’’ The old gray wolf’s hearing was keen.

‘‘Mama?’’ Aleksandr stood up, a big, sparkling grin on his face.

Konstantine looked at his grandson. ‘‘He will be a wolf, too. I can tell.’’

‘‘Not if we break the pact,’’ Ann reminded him.

Adrik stood up, too, paced across to the window, paced across the carpet.

Karen leaned against the couch, content to watch him forever.

She had brought him back from the brink of disaster.

He had brought her back from death.

He believed they were fated for each other.

She believed they were lucky to have met.

It didn’t matter which of them was right. They were together for the battle against evil. They were together for eternity.

He was her husband. Her panther. Her love.

Now the car was close enough for her to hear it. It stopped. Parked. The door slammed.

‘‘Mama?’’ Aleksandr danced across the room, his world right now that his mother had returned. ‘‘Mama. Mama. Mama!’’

Warlord knelt before him. ‘‘Can I pick you up and we’ll wait for her together?’’

Aleksandr opened his arms. ‘‘Adrik. Up!’’

Karen’s eyes filled as Warlord lifted the sturdy boy. Maybe someday, when she was healed, when the icons were united and the danger had eased, they could have a boy like Aleksandr. At least . . . they could try.

Warlord’s gaze met hers, and she knew he was thinking the same thing.

Firebird’s boots sounded on the steps, on the porch.

Adrik opened the door.

‘‘Mama!’’ Aleksandr squealed, and launched himself into her arms.

She caught him, hugged him tightly, her eyes closed, her shoulders hunched.

Karen didn’t know Firebird, had never met her, but it didn’t take familiarity to see Firebird was distressed.

Zorana started toward her.

‘‘Hey.’’ Warlord touched his sister’s face. ‘‘What’s wrong?’’

She opened her eyes. Looked at him. Stepped back and looked again.

‘‘Do you know me?’’ he asked.

A slow smile dawned. ‘‘Adrik. My God, Adrik. You’re alive.’’ She walked into his arms and let him hug her and her child. She leaned back and stared as if she couldn’t see enough of him. ‘‘I didn’t think we’d ever see you again.’’

‘‘I couldn’t stay away from my little sister’’— Warlord flicked Aleksandr’s cheek—‘‘and my nephew forever.’’

Firebird stiffened and yanked herself free. ‘‘Don’t. Just . . . don’t.’’

‘‘What did I say?’’ Warlord looked around, bewildered.

‘‘I don’t know,’’ Jasha said.

Rurik had been an Air Force pilot, and Karen heard the command in his voice when he said, ‘‘Firebird, tell us what’s wrong.’’

Konstantine leaned forward, and his deep voice trembled as he said, ‘‘My dumpling, what did the doctors tell you? Is it my illness? Do you have it? Did I pass it to you?’’

She stepped away from Warlord, leaned against the wall by the door. Her face was gray and drawn. As she looked at each one of them, she shook her head. ‘‘No, Papa, I don’t have your illness. In fact, that’s impossible.’’

‘‘What do you mean?’’ Tasya asked. ‘‘They don’t know anything about this illness. Anything is possible.’’

‘‘Not this.’’ As if her knees could no longer hold her, Firebird sank toward the floor. Landed with a bump. And asked, ‘‘Why didn’t you tell me I’m adopted? That I’m not related to you? To any of you?’’ She looked right at Zorana. ‘‘Why didn’t you tell me I’m not your child?’’

In this ‘‘devilishly clever, scintillatingly sexy new paranormal series’’ (
Chicago Tribune
New York Times
bestselling author Christina Dodd introduces the Wilder brothers—and the evil that’s haunted their family for centuries. Finally, here is the missing link that could redeem them. . . .
Brutally handsome cop Doug Black is determined to find the birth family who left him with nothing but a terrifying inheritance: the ability to change into a savage golden cougar. His search leads him to a woman as fearless and exotic as her name. Firebird Wilder is bitterly familiar with supernatural gifts and flees on discovering his secret, leaving Doug alone once more. But no one can escape a wild cougar on the hunt. When he finds her, the secrets that bind them together can also tear them apart . . .

Turn the page for a sneak peek of the fourth book in the
Darkness Chosen
series. . . .

irebird smiled and pretended nothing had changed, when in fact her whole world had twisted on its axis. "Enough excitement and angst for one evening. It’s past Aleksandr’s bedtime.’’

‘‘No!’’ Aleksandr protested.

No matter how tired he was, he always protested. He wanted to be with his family, part of the action, playing, singing, building blocks. Some people probably thought he was spoiled; the Wilder family called him well loved.

Firebird scooped him up and carried him around so he could kiss everyone. Every aunt, every uncle took extra care with him, showing their affection to the child and thus to her. Konstantine raised his arms for Aleksandr and held him close, rubbing his stubbled cheek against Aleksandr’s hair, and breathed in his essence. ‘‘I would have sworn he was going to be a wolf,’’ he murmured.

The sentiment stabbed Firebird through the heart.

Zorana kissed Aleksandr and hugged him as if she couldn’t bear to let him go. Firebird knew it was more than just sentiment; Zorana was thinking of the son who’d been stolen from her.

Firebird carried Aleksandr upstairs to the bedroom she shared with her son.

The house was small and old, with acoustics that let everything echo through the corridors.

So Firebird paused in the doorway, waited, and listened—and heard Zorana’s low, broken voice say, ‘‘Where is my baby? What did they do with my baby?’’

Zorana’s plaintive question haunted Firebird, but as she prepared her son for bed, she understood.

How could she not? When Aleksandr was born, Firebird had looked him over. She had thought he was skinny, with long toes and broad shoulders that had given her trouble during the birth, but he was hers, her son, and she would have killed to protect him.

Now Zorana had discovered her baby, the one she’d given birth to twenty-three years ago, had been stolen, and she needed to know where he was.

As Firebird looked at her son, sleeping with his hand under his cheek, Firebird knew she would feel exactly the same way.

The trouble was, knowing didn’t make the rejection sting any less.

She should wonder about her birth parents, she supposed, but right now she didn’t care about people she’d never met. She cared only about the family she knew, the battle they faced against evil, and whether she could help them . . . or whether she was nothing, superfluous, a burden.

She couldn’t go back downstairs. She was tired and feeling sorry for herself, and embarrassed about feeling sorry for herself, because she wasn’t the only one hurting here. She ought to go to bed, but worry buzzed in her mind like a swarm of bees. She would never sleep, so she changed into a tough, warm outfit—jeans, sweatshirt, jacket, boots. Going to the window, she raised it, leaned out, and grabbed the branch of the huge tree that grew so conveniently close.

In her life, she’d been up and down it dozens of times—to run through the forest, or go to the movies, or kiss a boyfriend. But not recently. Single motherhood had had the effect of keeping her close at home. Her family thought it was because she took her responsibilities to her son seriously, almost too seriously.

And that was true.

But she also feared that if she wandered very far, Aleksandr’s father would find her. Find them. And the consequences of that were too dreadful to contemplate.

Yet now . . . she was contemplating those consequences.

The tree was hard, frozen in the grip of a Washington mountain winter. The bark was icy beneath her bare hands. The broad branches supported her as she slid toward the ground, and above her, the black night sky glinted with glittering star chips. She landed on her feet and took a long, deep breath of air, the first since the doctor had broken the news.

Someone had traded their child for her. For a changeling, an infant who had come from God-knew-where.

And now her mother—or, rather, the woman she’d always called her mother—cried for her real baby.

Firebird walked around the house, crunching the frozen grass beneath her boots. Quietly, she opened the front gate and strolled down the path toward the vines. Wrapping her arms around herself, she stood looking across the shadowed valley deep in the Cascades.

It stretched long and narrow between two mountains, a fertile plain her father and mother had found and bought for almost nothing, because a series of owners had tried to grow apples or tulips or vegetables—and failed. The soil was rich and fertile, but the weather was constantly overcast and wet, with too little sunshine for anything but stunted plants and mildewed fruit. The place had had a reputation as being cursed.

The people in the nearby soggy hamlet of Blythe had sniggered about the foolish Russian immigrants.

They didn’t snigger now.

Konstantine had planted wine grapes. Zorana had planted a vegetable garden and a small orchard. And as if they’d brought the sunshine, the weather patterns changed. The valley—and Blythe—seemed protected by a clear bubble that let in the sunshine and just the right amount of rain.

By the time Firebird was born, the Wilders had established themselves in the community. Their artist neighbors gave them credit for improving the climate . . . and sometimes, when Firebird watched Zorana as she sat outside, her face turned toward the sun, a slight smile on her face, Firebird wondered whether it was true.

All her life, this valley had been her home, and when she got pregnant, it had become her refuge.

Now the clear air, the cold temperatures, the relentless familiarity made her face the fact she had avoided all day long.

She had to leave.

As the realization struck her, as she imagined the repercussions, her whole body clenched. She stopped—stopped thinking, stopping breathing, stopped moving, in fear and sorrow.

And in the silence that followed, she realized something was . . . not right.

From the time she was an infant, Konstantine had walked with her through the forest, teaching her how to listen, what to watch for, when to take flight and when to stand and fight. He taught her that the world was full of dangers, and only a fool was unprepared. He taught her exactly as he had his sons.

No, not exactly—more sternly, for she was a girl, and vulnerable.

Now here she was, leaving the safety of the house, wandering in the night, brooding and paying no attention to her surroundings, all because she imagined her home was safe.

But the forest was too silent.

The hairs rose on the back of her neck.

Something was watching her.

Something hostile.

Something dangerous.

Her papa would shout at her for carelessness, but first he would say,
Get back to safety, Firebird. Get back now.

How to get to the house without alerting that thing out there that she was on to it?

She made a big deal of shivering and adjusting the band around her ears. Turning back toward the front porch, she walked briskly.

Don’t run, little Firebird,
she heard Konstantine’s voice rumble in her head.
Running brings out a predator’s urge to chase, and you can’t outrun a wolf or a panther. You can’t outfly a hawk. But you can outsmart them, and you can outfight them.

She slipped her hands into her coat pockets; in one, she carried a small switchblade, and she palmed it, then held it to her chest. The other hand she brought out and swung as she walked, ready to use it as a weapon or a defense.

If she screamed, her family would come spilling out of the house, but it would be better if they could catch this thing unaware and question it. For she assumed it was human. Human . . . and something else.

Worse, if she screamed, they would know she’d come out alone and attracted this thing, and been unable to handle it herself.

when her brothers had to take of things for her. They never let her forget it.

She sensed movement behind her—something coming out of the woods, daring the open ground to move toward her. The footfalls were almost imperceptible, and still cautious, yet the hairs rose again on the back of Firebird’s neck. Whoever or whatever it was, it was a predator, and it was angry.

She moved more quickly, her gaze fixed on the house, where the lighted front-room windows beckoned.

Behind her, the pursuit intensified.

Her heart jumped in her chest. Her brothers and their teasing be damned.

She opened her mouth to scream.

BOOK: Into the Shadow
5.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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