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Authors: Anny Cook

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Wrenna choked on her tea, setting off a violent coughing
fit. Her eyes watered and tears streamed down her face. When she could finally
breathe again without coughing, Arturo handed her a cool, damp napkin to wipe
her face.

Bishop gave her a bewildered look. “What did I say?”

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it,” she replied with a laugh.

“Wrenna has a
dinti
,” Arturo explained. “
Dintis
choose their human, usually a woman, to mentor. They are one of the four sacred
sentient beings listed on the Talking Wall. Twice a year
dintis
present
themselves to the shearer and then their hair is spun into yarn used
exclusively for the bonding blankets. The other sentient beings are
packits
like the ones you observed napping on the front porch,
firkas
and
drangs
.
Packits
choose males to mentor. The
packits
you mentioned are
Tyger’s and Llyon’s.
Firkas
look a little like mice and mostly live in
gardens and keep them weed and bug-free. Those are the beings you will probably
encounter. The last one, a
drang
, no one has seen in living memory. It’s
a small dragon.”

“Why do you suppose no one has seen a
drang
?” Samara
wondered.

Arturo shrugged. “Tradition says that a
drang
will
mentor the high clan chief. We haven’t had a high clan chief in two hundred
years. No one knows whether we don’t have one because there is no
drang
,
or if there is no
drang
because we don’t have a high clan chief.”

Bish nodded understanding. “Kind of the
peekie
and
egg thing. Which came first?”

“I like that analogy.” Samara sighed and pushed back her
chair. “I need to be going. Thank you for the tea, Arturo.”

Bish jumped to his feet and followed her down the hall.
“Samara, is it? I’m Bishop Llewellyn.”

“Nice to meet you, Bishop.”

“Can I walk you home?” he offered diffidently.

She studied the man looming over her in the dim hallway and
slowly shook her head. “Not today. I have too many commitments today and this
little break in the schedule has set me behind. Perhaps after the Midsummer
Gathering, we can tour the village, if you wish.”

“I would like that.” He ushered her out to the porch and
looked her in the eye. “We will never keep it a secret, you know. There are too
many people in this small village for that to work.”

“I know.” Samara dropped her gaze to her feet. “I thought I
didn’t care and then when you and Wrenna came into the kitchen, suddenly I
couldn’t let them know that we had already met. There would have been too many
questions. Of course, now we have met publicly and you have revealed your
interest.”

“And I won’t hide again, Samara. I won’t sneak around like a
teenage boy.”

“I know.” Abruptly, a small grin flashed across her face.
“Perhaps this was for the best. You know where my home is, Bishop. And you are
welcome there.” She walked down the steps to the path.

Bish stood watching her walk across the central green until
she disappeared behind a line of singing red-needled pines. Stifling his
impatience with the valley customs, he sighed quietly and returned to the
kitchen.

Wrenna was gone. Arturo murmured something about her
spending time with Traveller, so Bishop decided that he would pick Arturo’s
brain. Arturo of all of his new nephews seemed to be both quiet and strong. “Do
you have time for more questions?” he inquired.

“Of course. Please, sit down. Do you mind if I prepare
dinner while we talk?”

Chapter Nine

The truth is revealed

 

In the boys’ bedroom, Panther flung his body facedown on the
bed, stunned at the total ruin of his plans. Hot silent tears soaked into his pillow
while he wept for the loss of his opportunity to compete. Every morning he had
met Falcon on the practice field and worked harder than he had ever worked in
his short life to meet Falcon’s challenges. Now it was all for nothing.

Llynx scowled at Panther. “What are you crying for? Who
wants to go to the stupid Midsummer Gathering, anyway?”

Panther lunged from the bed and grabbed Llynx by his
shoulders, shaking him in a wild rage. “I do!” he shouted. “I was going to
compete in the warriors’ games and you
ruined
it! You and your stupid
photograph
!”
Abruptly, he flung Llynx away from him, sending him stumbling across the room
to end in a heap under the window. “Stupid! Why do you have to always get us
into trouble?” He stomped back to the bed and curled up on it, facing the wall.

Under the window, Llynx didn’t stir until he was sure that
Panther had moved away. Very slowly, he sat up, biting back a scream when he
put pressure on his arm. Lightning zipped up the arm to his shoulder and just
for a few moments, things went dark around him. Stunned at Panther’s incredible
rage, Llynx cradled his arm against his chest while he thought about what
Panther had said. He had never seen Panther angry before.
Never.
Llynx
cringed at the thought that he had driven his gentle older brother to such
anger. Shame warred with indignation. He should have told Arturo at once that
Panther wasn’t with him when he stole the photo. Pain pulsed and burned up his
arm.
But Panther shouldn’t have thrown him across the room, either!
he thought
indignantly.

He tried to work up a good mad at Panther. His arm hurt too
badly for him to care about how it happened. He needed Llyon and he wasn’t sure
he could find him without passing out. One thing he didn’t want to do, though.
He wasn’t going to ask Panther for help. With typical bullheadedness, Llynx was
determined to set things right all by himself.

It took a few minutes but he was upright at last and headed
for the door when Panther came off the bed in a rush. “No! You’re not leaving
this room! For once, you’re going to do what you’re supposed to do!” When he
grabbed Llynx’s arm, Llynx crumpled to the floor in a merciful faint, leaving
Panther to stare at him in horror. Without a thought, Panther sent out a silent
scream for his older brother.
Llyon! Help!

Llyon rushed down the hall from Trav’s room where he had
just completed his healing for the day. Arturo was hard on his heels, followed
more slowly by Bishop. They burst into the boys’ room.

Immediately, Llyon went to Llynx, his sharp eyes noting the
arm, already swelling with a hint of the bruising to come. A swift examination
of the arm confirmed his initial guess. His eyes met Arturo’s. “Broken,” he
said curtly. “We need to get him to bed.”

“I’ll do it. You’re already weary from healing Trav.” Arturo
lifted Llynx, waiting while Llyon tucked the broken arm close to his little
brother’s chest, then carried him over to the bed. When Llynx was settled on
the bed, Arturo turned back to Panther, still crouched on the floor, rocking
and moaning. “Stop, Panther!”

But Panther was wrapped tightly in his own misery and guilt.
He was in a place where nothing reached him, nothing but the knowledge that he
had
hurt
his brother. Hurt him to the point that he had fainted from the
pain. How could he do such a thing? His belly clenched. Heartsick at the result
of his loss of control, he curled in a rigid little ball and wept.

Without any hesitation at all, Arturo brushed his forehead,
sending him into a deep sleep. Whatever had happened in this room had clearly
wounded more than Llynx. Bishop helped him move Panther, now a heavy, limp heap
to the bed.

“What happened?” Bishop asked in bewilderment.

“That is what I am going to find out.” Arturo’s grim tone
boded ill for the perpetrator. Without compunction he rested his hand on
Panther’s forehead and dived into
rapport
with his brother. The deep
mind sharing was normally reserved for mated pairs but in cases such as this
where speed was of the essence,
morkerts
exercised the ability to
determine where the danger lurked. Arturo didn’t use the ability lightly, for
in
rapport
there were no secrets. Nothing was hidden. Nothing.

By the time he broke his link with Panther, Llyon had
completed his preliminary healing of Llynx’s arm. Wolfe and Arano had arrived,
followed by Tyger and all were patiently waiting for Arturo’s directions. With
an irritable shake of his head, Arturo said, “Sit down. Llyon, is he asleep?”

With a mental nudge, Llyon urged Llynx into a deeper sleep.
“He is now.”

Gathering his thoughts, Arturo explained the train of events
leading to the confrontation in the bedroom. When he finished, there was quiet
in the room as each of them assessed what Arturo shared with them.

Finally Wolfe asked in an odd tone, “He thinks we’re ashamed
of him because he’s not a good warrior?”

“No.” Arturo shot them a sad look. “He believes that he
shames
us
because of his inabilities. That he has nothing to offer the
Llewellyn name. Stefan Cowal agreed to take him on as an apprentice next year.
And he hoped to redeem himself by competing in the warriors’ games. Then when
he was denied the games…”

“Why take it out on Llynx?” Bishop frowned as he tried to
work out the puzzle.

“Because technically, he was not guilty of taking the
photograph. I asked the wrong question.
Were you in Bishop’s room?
Yes,
he was. But he left before anything was taken. He was out at bonding circle
three when Llynx took the photo.” Arturo sighed impatiently. “Apparently, he
did what he has on more than one occasion. He took the blame for something
Llynx instigated. And in this case, it had more serious consequences than he
was prepared for.”

“Now what?” Bishop stifled the urge to find the photo and
burn it. After all, it wasn’t even his property but it had certainly caused a
lot of trouble.

“I will wait for them to wake up. When they do, we will have
a discussion. Llynx’s punishment will stand. In addition, I must think of
something to impress on him the seriousness of letting others take his
punishments. Panther’s punishment will also stand but I will make it clear that
now his punishments are for losing his temper and taking the blame for Llynx’s
actions.” Arturo fetched a chair from the corner and sat next to Panther’s bed.
“I suggest that the rest of you return to your responsibilities. There is
nothing more to be done here for the moment.”

As the men prepared to leave, Arturo said, “Uncle, I would
talk to you for a few moments, please.”

Leaning against the wall next to the door, Bishop waited for
the others to leave. Idly he wondered what Arturo had to say that was so
important that it couldn’t wait for another time.

When the door was closed and they were alone with the
sleeping boys, Arturo turned to him and observed abruptly, “It is a dangerous
game that you play with Samara.”

“What?”

“If you and Samara wish to play bed games, then you should
do so indoors. Panther saw you.”

“Fuck.”

“Yes, I believe that is what he saw,” Arturo agreed.
“Unfortunately, he is not old enough for the bonding classes that are required
for all youngsters in the valley. At the moment he is puzzled and feeling a bit
squeamish.”

“Fuck.”

“You repeat yourself. In the meantime, I will simply point
out that you are treading dangerous trails. Though Samara is a woman, she is
relatively innocent. If you hurt her, whether emotionally or physically, her
father is quite capable of removing that
kzusha
you’re so attached to.
And there are many others in Lost Market who would willingly hold you down for
the process.”

“Okay, now
I’m
feeling squeamish.” Bishop stalked
over to the window. “She is a delightful woman. I think… I believe that she is
taking pleasure in exploring her sexuality. From things she’s mentioned, she
was feeling smothered and stifled by everyone around her. She said no one
wanted her.” He turned to look at Arturo. “I think that wounded her deeply—that
no one wanted her because she won’t be allowed to have children.”

“And because they still feel that she’s tainted from the
rape.”

Arturo’s bittersweet mocking smile reminded Bishop of the
rumors he’d heard about Arturo’s attack. “You would have some personal
experience with that, I guess.”

“Oh, yes. Your guess would be correct. That is the only
reason I will stand by and say nothing for the moment. I will not take this
opportunity from Samara. But I will be watching, Uncle.”

Bishop turned and faced him unflinchingly. “Fair enough.
Now, if you don’t mind, I believe I will go see the lady in question and warn
her. What should I do about Panther? I don’t want him to have to deal with
this.”

“I will talk to Panther. He is already approaching his shift
to manhood. It is time for him to have a mentor. If he will accept me as such,
I will take that responsibility. He needs someone who will see him for who he
is, rather than who he appears to be. And after our
rapport
today, he
has no current secrets from me.”

“It must be very difficult for you,” Bishop commented. “At
first, I underestimated you but I think you’re probably far stronger than I
thought.”

“Let us hope so. There are changes coming to the valley. All
of us will have to be stronger than we know.”

Silently, Bishop left him there contemplating the events of
the afternoon.

* * * * *

On his way to see Samara, Bishop tried to imagine actually
living in the valley
forever
. It just didn’t compute. There wasn’t
anything familiar—from the food to the clothing to the technology. His friends,
Trav and Dancer, were involved in their own lives. Dancer was engaged in some
weird sexual activity with his bond mate. The few moments of lucidity that Trav
had were taken up with Wrenna. Merlyn, the long-lost brother he should have
been spending time with, joyfully catching up on the past, was nowhere to be
seen. Bishop was uncomfortably aware that in the midst of a boisterous family,
he was alone.

The only person in the valley who actually seemed to be aware
of him was Samara and he wasn’t sure whether that was because she genuinely
liked spending time with him or whether he was a convenient stud. Instead of
his normal iron control over his place in the world, he was living at the whim
of fate. The off-kilter, displaced feeling irritated him, leaving him on the
edge of control. He had no place of his own, no purpose in his life and no
future.

He almost chose to just keep walking until he ran out of
valley. But he was unarmed. Though aggravated, he wasn’t suicidal or stupid.
That was an option for another day. In the meantime, the one thing he could
control was whether or not he finally fucked Samara. They would talk first. And
then he would decide what to do.

When he reached Samara’s dome, he started to walk in
unannounced but at the last moment he stopped and knocked. She came to the
door, blushing a delicate shade of lavender when she saw him but readily
invited him in. “Samara—”

“Samara? Who is it?” a feminine voice inquired from the
kitchen.

“My mother. They just returned from Andrew’s house at
Rebaccah’s Promise,” she whispered fiercely under her breath.

“We’ll handle it.” Bishop nudged her in the direction of the
sunny kitchen. He had known it would only be a matter of time before he met
Samara’s parents. For the moment he had the advantage of surprise and he
planned to use that advantage ruthlessly. “Hello, Rebaccah.”

As a matter of purely clinical interest, he had wondered
what the blue skin tones of the valley inhabitants looked like when a person
flushed or looked faint. Here in mere seconds he had his answers on both ends
of the spectrum. While Samara continued to flush from embarrassment, Rebaccah’s
face turned a pale, pale blue while she stared at him in shock. “B-Bishop?”

“As ever,” he confirmed cheerfully while he pushed Samara
back into her chair and went to help himself to tea. “Been here a little over
three days with Dancer’s brother, Traveller.”

“T-Traveller?”

“Uh-hmm. Apparently, he’s Wrenna’s bond mate.” He deposited
his steaming mug on the table and casually walked over to the cupboard where he
found a plate and fork for himself. Returning to the table, he set them down
and watched Samara cut him a generous wedge of sweet pie while he pulled out a
chair and sat down. “Thank you, darling. Yummy. So! How have you and Hamilton
been doing?”

Samara had never seen her mother so flummoxed in her entire
life.

“G-good.”

“That’s wonderful! You look like valley life really agrees
with you. Samara told me you have several kids and even some grandkids.” He
shook his head. “Hard to believe you’re a grandma, Bac.”

“Oh my God! You’re really here! Is your father with you?”
Rebaccah demanded as she finally gathered her wits.

“Hell no! Why would he be with me? I haven’t even talked to
him in years.”

“What?”

“My father,” Bish waggled his fork in her direction, “is
under the impression that everyone around him is an idiot. Since I didn’t want
anything to do with him, I made sure to impress upon him how hopelessly stupid
and useless I was.” He shrugged. “So he left me alone.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked suspiciously.

“I came with Traveller. He was hurt and I was looking for
help. This is where we ended up.” Bishop polished off the pie and stood up. As
though he did it every day, he gathered up the dirty plates and deposited them
in the sink before dipping out a bit of soap from the soap jug on the counter
and running the hot water. Briskly, he washed the dishes, setting them on a
towel to drain.

BOOK: Love Never-Ending
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