Authors: Jennifer Ashley
Tags: #Romance, #Paranormal, #Fiction
“You thought that across a crowded bus station?” she asked in a light voice.
Sean leaned closer, breathing her heat. “You said you didn’t want a mating without the bond. Well, that bond is here, in me. I’m feeling it—I’m not feeling anything else these days but that. It’s yours for the taking, love.”
Andrea drew her legs even closer to her chest, curling into a ball like a frightened cub. “Sean, I don’t know who I am. How can I decide whether to accept a mate-claim when I don’t even understand what I’m supposed to be?”
“You’re supposed to be my mate.”
She shook her head. “No, I mean,
am I? I’ve got a Shifter mother, Fae father. I know what I am as a Shifter. Nothing—too far down in my pack to be anything but a cub producer.”
His eyes flashed. “Goddess, what asshole told you that?”
“Who do you think? The brilliant leader of my Shiftertown and his son. Not to mention everyone in my stepfather’s pack. I grew up being told that that was all I’d ever be good for, over and over again—that is if anyone wanted my tainted Fae blood in their cubs.”
“I’m hoping you didn’t believe all that, Andy-love.”
“When I grew older, it started to piss me off. But there, in that Shiftertown, they weren’t going to let me be anything else.”
She looked so sad that she broke his heart. “Oh, love.” Sean scooped Andrea onto his lap and closed his arms around her. Earlier tonight when Andrea had given him her scathing glare, so angry at his protectiveness, Sean had told himself that he understood. It wasn’t that Andrea minded being protected—she didn’t want to
to be protected. Sean snarling at every male within range only reminded her of her situation, over which she had little control. Didn’t mean Sean would stop snarling at them; it just meant he understood.
“But you’re here with me now, and you can do whatever you want—well, whatever humans will let us do, but we’ll not be under their thumbs forever. What
want is you, the woman for me. My whole life has become wrapped around you. And I’m liking it that way.”
Andrea liked it too, but the revelations she’d had were complicating things. “
whole life has become ... I don’t know. Insane. Everything I knew and thought I understood is gone.”
“From what you just told me, that’s a good thing, love.”
Sean’s gaze held anger, difficult to meet even if the anger wasn’t directed at her.
You are the child of a warrior,
Fionn had told her.
A highborn lady in your own right.
Perhaps that part was true.
“That’s not the point,” she said. Sean’s sandpaper chin was at kissing level, and Andrea barely resisted licking it. “When you’re a child and a certain way of life is all you know, it’s truth to you. It’s your world; there is nothing else. Even when I wasn’t happy, I knew what to expect every day. Now, I have no clue what to expect. Humans shoot at us, the Feline next door makes me care about him, a Fae pops out of my dreams and claims to be my father, and my aunt likes to wear black-leather bodysuits.”
“Aye, Glory has some interesting tastes.”
Andrea looked past Sean’s strong face into his beautiful blue eyes—the eyes of a wildcat who’d taken in a stray and made her feel safe. “You never have told me why you stepped up to mate-claim me. To keep the peace, you said, but you and Liam could have strong-armed someone else into doing it. Ellison, for instance. Why would you risk mating with a Lupine half Fae you’d never even met?”
The look he gave her was dark, intense, and vastly lonely. “Because I was selfish enough to grab the opportunity. Females have their pick of males, and I knew damn well no female would willingly choose a Guardian. But if she didn’t have a choice ...”
“Sean Morrissey, don’t tell me females in this Shiftertown don’t drool over you. I see them—like Caitlin your neighbor, and Rebecca. I see how the unmated honeys eye you in the bar, and it makes me crazy jealous. If you tell me you’ve been celibate all your life, I’ll know you’re lying.”
Sean’s answering blush confirmed it. “A tumble for fun is one thing,” he said. “But females have made clear that they have no intention of being mated to a Guardian. Guardians rarely mate or have cubs—their lives are about the sword and about death. What female wants that?”
“It’s not about death; it’s about caring.”
Something flickered in his eyes. “Goddess, aren’t you a sweetheart? But I’ve become more a symbol than a man. I can’t save lives, only take them. You tell me, Andy-love, what the hell is that good for?”
Andrea heard his bitterness, and her heart wrenched. She imagined the night he was chosen, a young Sean blinking blue eyes in shock when he was handed the heavy sword. His entire life changed, any plans and ambitions taken away. A Guardian was a Guardian for life.
“Guardians like you remind us we won’t always be enslaved,” she said in a low voice. “In death, your sword frees us.”
“You believe that, lass?”
“A Guardian released my mother’s soul when I was three. I remember being grateful to him for what he did. Even if my mother couldn’t be with me and my stepdad, we knew she was safe in the Summerland.”
“You were three years old, love. Barely able to shift yet.”
“I was still grateful.” She touched his cheek, a man so strong and yet so vulnerable. “You relieve grief, Sean; you don’t cause it.”
“But the Shifters have made the sword more important than their lives. That’s why Callum wanted to steal it. They’ve made it more important than fighting to stay alive.”
“I’m not sure that’s true ...”
“Love, it’s why my brother died.” His voice grew choked, eyes wet. “Kenny was fighting to keep some feral Shifters from stealing the sword that night. He chose to die rather than risk the Sword of the Guardian, and me. How does a man live with that?”
“Goddess,” Andrea whispered. “Sean.” She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him down to her.
Sean closed his eyes and sank into her warmth. He’d never voiced these thoughts to anyone, not even Liam, the man he was closest to. And now this Lupine woman with her beautiful gray eyes comforted him in a way no one else had been able to. He’d seen the compassion in her eyes and the understanding.
“He loved you,” she said in her whispery voice. “If Kenny was anything like Liam or your dad or Connor, he loved you. He was fighting to save
, not just your sword.”
“And now he’s gone. He’s gone, and we’ll never have him back.”
His heart gave up to grief. Sean thought he’d been done with this, emptied of tears, but the pain welled up as fresh as it had been that night. He buried his face in his mate’s neck and wept.
Andrea held him close, tears in her own eyes. She stroked the hot silk of his hair, kissed it. Her own heart twisted with his grief, which made this strong, strong man break down. Andrea hated those ferals, whoever they’d been, for hurting this family and driving such pain into them.
“Sean, I’m so sorry.”
Sean lifted his head, kissing her cheek. He wiped tears from his face and pressed his forehead against hers. “Thank you, love.”
He held on to her still, for a little longer. Andrea kissed his lips, light kisses of compassion and caring, with only a taste of wildness. Andrea’s anger at him for trying to keep her home dissolved into understanding. Sean had watched his brother be slaughtered. He lived in terror that he’d have to see that happen to anyone else.
“Sean, I need to tell you something.”
Sean looked up at her in mild surprise, but only mild, as though his emotions had been all used up. “What’s that, love? You bought me more underwear?”
“You’re funny. No.” Andrea slid from his lap to her feet and walked to the dresser, where Sean had laid the sword. She drew a breath. “The Fae warrior asked me to steal the Sword of the Guardian.”
here was dead silence behind her.
Andrea resisted touching the sword on the dresser, feeling Sean’s gaze burning her back. She’d known she couldn’t
tell him, but she worried about what Sean would do with the information. She wanted to question Fionn some more about his claim to be her father and about her mother, but telling Sean he wanted the sword would probably kill that chance.
It shouldn’t matter. Fionn was probably lying about who he was to get what he wanted. Or, even if he truly was her father, his goal must be to get the sword and nothing more.
Let it go,
Andrea whispered to herself.
The Fae told you what you wanted to hear so that you would do what he wished.
But part of her cried out, yearning to know the truth.
“Bloody hell,” Sean said. “What did you tell him?”
“That I wasn’t stupid enough to snatch the Sword of the Guardian and take it to him because he gave me a line about being my father.” Andrea turned around. Sean remained on the bed, face quiet. “But if
don’t take Fionn the sword, what if he convinces someone else to? That’s why I wondered what would happen if a Fae wielded the sword. What would it do?”
“In theory, nothing.”
“Then why would he want it?”
“The same reason Callum wanted it, most like. To wake Shifters’ fear of soul death. To make them wonder what a Fae would do with the sword. Just knowing that a Fae had it and we might never get it back would make Shifters crazy.”
Andrea made a noise of frustration. “I don’t know what to do.”
“That’s easy, love. Don’t give it to him.”
“But ... Oh, hell, Sean, what if he really is my father?”
“Would that make you give him the sword?”
“No, of course not. Even if Fionn is telling the truth about being my father, why would I trust him? I mean, he left my mother and never went back for her. Or me. He told me it was too dangerous, that he was hiding us from his enemies, who wouldn’t hesitate to kill us. But damn it, that could all be total bullshit. How would I know?”
“Do you want to cross into Faerie and find out?”
Andrea shuddered instinctively. She’d been raised to hate the Fae, the cruel people who’d bred Shifters to be their hunters and fighters. Faerie was a terrible place, so Shifters said. Cold and harsh, full of glittering Fae who would kill you in an instant, or worse—trap you and display you as a prize, maybe letting other Fae torture you for their pleasure.
“I’d go with you.”
Andrea blinked. “What? You’ve got to be kidding me. Why?”
“You want to find out who you are, don’t you?”
Sean regarded her quietly while he made what was probably the most generous offer in Shifter history. A Feline volunteering to enter Faerie so his half-Lupine, half-Fae girlfriend could resolve her identity issues?
“Are you crazy?” she asked. “That’s way too dangerous. Then the Fae would have the sword
“I’d leave the sword with Liam for safekeeping.”
“And if they killed you? No, Sean, I couldn’t risk that.”
“I see you hurting, love,” he said calmly. “I don’t like that.”
“Now you’re acting like you can make everything all better.” She gave him the tiniest smile. “I’m not wrong about you being full of yourself, hairball.”
He came off the bed and to her, warming her with his strength and power. “I
make it better, little Lupine. I want to make everything better for you. I want to hold on to you and keep you from harm. I want to for the rest of my life.”
She shivered in excitement at the fierceness in his voice. “You can’t by taking me to Faerie. That’s crazy, Sean.”
“I’d rather take you than have you run off there by yourself.” He growled low in his throat, that mate protectiveness rearing again.
Andrea put her hands on her hips. “You’re going to start arguing with me again about me wanting to work at the bar, aren’t you?”
“’Tis dangerous. I’m not wrong about that.”
“We’ve been through this. I know it’s dangerous, but you can’t lock me away. You told me that I had the freedom to do what I wanted here, that I had freedom I didn’t have in my old Shiftertown. You can’t have it both ways.”
More growling, but his eyes stayed human blue, which meant he wasn’t as enraged as he’d been. Something had warmed between them, something that wouldn’t be undone. “Fine,” he said. “Work. Enjoy yourself.” His powerful hands went to her shoulders. “But no more dirty dancing with anyone but me.”
She smiled. “Jealous, were you?”
“You make my blood hot, sweetheart. I wanted to rip you away from him and break his neck.” He cupped her head in his hands, strong fingers on the back of her neck. “I want you so bad it’s fucking me up inside.” He smiled, a tall and virile Shifter male.
His kiss bit deep, stirring the fires that would never die inside her. Dancing tonight had been for Sean, not just for the joy of moving to the music. Yes, to tease him, but also because she wanted him to want her. She’d wanted
, not Ellison, to get up and come to her, to slide behind her and gyrate against her backside. This is what the mating frenzy did—threw caution to the wind.
Andrea’s hands went to his T-shirt, skimming under it to find his heart beating as fast as hers under his hot skin. “So don’t go.”
He shook his head, face pressed against hers. “I won’t leave you alone, unprotected. It’s my job to keep you safe. I can at least do my job.”
“While we’re going mad with mating frenzy?”
“I asked Ronan to guard the house. He’s happy to. He should be down on the porch now.”
“Good.” Andrea tugged Sean’s shirt off over his head while his hands went under her shirt, undoing her bra, pushing everything from her skin.
The sword began to sing as they went down on the bed, Sean’s mouth all over her. He kept amazing her, this man who’d claimed her. Wanting to keep her safe yet offering to help her find out who she truly was; fearing to lose her, yet wanting her to understand that she was free. His guilt and sorrow for Kenny tugged at her, making her want to hold him until his hurting went away.
She kissed him as Sean divested her of her pants and clawed out of his own, and then they were body to body, skin to skin, the frenzy winding them hotter and higher. Andrea cried out as he entered her; she was already open for him. Sensation after sensation swamped her, his thrusts spreading her until she twined her legs around his hips.