He was late. A sense of urgency dogging his every step and he was running late. Every night for the last two years he stalked on the outer edge of the Denton Estate, keeping watch and catching brief glimpses of his mate. Lana. If he was lucky the wind would blow a breeze sending her sent to ruffle his fur. Oh how he longed for his mate, the only person man or woman on two or four legs that could and did bring him to his knees. The woman designed especially for him, the one that hated him above all others. He knew hoping for forgiveness was futile, dying for her love was hopeless and wishing for another chance was not in the cards. She would never forgive him, even after he explained things to her, she refused to see the truth and only focused on the deed he had done. As his mind raced with thoughts of the past he pushed his animal form as fast as he dared to reach her. He may never taste her kiss again, may never again know the slide of satin that was her skin against his but he would always consider her his. And he protected what was his.
Lana felt it too. Something bad was happening and it was closing in on her. She knew for months something wasn’t right. Well longer than that if she was honest with herself and lately she had no choice but to stop lying to herself. Daniel, once her beloved brother, the only family she had left in the world had betrayed her. How many times did she read the secret emails, how many times did she catch his leering gaze before he caught her notice and smiled the familiar and now she realized fake loving smile he always wore. The question of why was too simple and she feared she didn’t want to know the answer. Romel. Her heart squeezed with pain. The separation, the things she said, things she could never take back, things if he knew, he would never forgive. The baby, their son. God she felt sick inside. How had everything gone crazy? One day she was meeting someone new and falling in love almost instantly aware that this was her destined mate, her man, the one above all others that would love her truly and never betray her trust. And when things she didn’t want to know and didn’t understand took place what did she do? The thing that she coveted the most. Trust, loyalty. She betrayed the one she loved and left him, taking unbeknown to him his most prized possession. His child.
He thought she had miscarried and although it was a concern of the doctors she never allowed him to know that it never happened. She now understands that Daniel was counting on her being so upset over Romel’s accused lies that she would leave him out of her life completely and she fell right into his plans. There was no way Romel could know about their son and not be involved in his life. She knew even now that even with the ties not completely broken but severely severed he would and did still protect her from a distance. She started to feel when he was near and in the beginning feared he would approach her but she knew Romel. Strong and confident in his ability to protect, lacked the confidence in self worth and because she so callously discarded him he would not seek a second chance.
Her only question now was where was He? He never failed to show up even when she pointedly for months ignored his presence in her mind and blocked any attempts at communication. Now when she felt like she was about to crawl out of her skin with fear of the unknown he wasn’t here. Was it any wonder that she needed him this badly after how she treated him? The soft sound behind her had her turning. Latham her eleven month old son toddled over with a solemn look on his face. He knows. Her inner cat whispered to her. Even now it was still a wonder that her cat spoke to her at all after she deserted their mate.
He will come for us.
How many times had her cat told her that and she staunchly denied it, secretly hoping he would. She shook off the thought as quickly as it came; she had no time to think of what was. It was about here and now and it was time to go. She shrugged the pack on her back that contained the things she needed and bent to pick up her son. She was leaving or escaping would be a better word for it before her brother slipped further into his madness and forced her to do something she didn’t want to do. Kill him.
This isn’t home. It never was. Home approaches.
The dark of night helped to camouflage Romel from being seen. Something was wrong. He smelled the stink of Daniel and several other shifters that all had the taint of evil. He growled in the back of his throat at the threat to his mate. There was no way she didn’t know the truth by now, the lies and deceit her brother played and the games he continued to play. His quick mind scanned the area checking like the security expert he was for signs of weakness and entry points. Assessing the situation he knew there was no way he was going to leave tonight without his mate if he had to drag her out. He inched forward to gain a closer look when a scent teased his senses. His animal immediately on alert for any signs of danger.
She comes to us.
Romel wanted to roll his eyes, like duh! His question was why? In the two years since she left him or more accurately chose her brother over him she made no moves in his direction. The first few months after it all happened he tried to communicate with her on their mating link but she blocked him and afterwards he never tried again.
There is another with her. Young, his cat has not come yet, but he’s close.
There was no time for an internal debate with his cat; he could make out the outline of her body as she quickly yet quietly approached. He backed away and hid in the shadows to await her approach and to see what she did next.
As she walked into the clearing just outside of the fence she paused looking in his direction as if she could see right through him.
She squeezed the bundled in her arms tighter, although he was able to see the slight tremor in her body he refused to acknowledge it.
“Romel I know you’re here, I …I need your help”
The panther walked closer to her but no form of contact was made. She willed her body to relax and wait him out. She knew many things and one of those things was that Romel no matter how much hurt or pain she caused him He in any form would never hurt her.
He wanted to touch her, to reassure himself that she was unhurt but he lost that right and he would not push himself on her no matter the pain he felt in his body just to be near her. He walked behind her forcing her without touch to move away from the house. He felt her try to open the link to communicate with him but he couldn’t afford to do that, not yet.
She let me steer her onto the road where she walked for at least a mile until she came to a black SUV. She turned the bundle still in her arms and looked as if she wanted to say something but he wasn’t ready to hear it. He turned and loped into the underbrush to retrieve a bag that held his clothes and a set of keys to his truck. After shifting he changed clothes silently giving himself the talk. No jumping Lana, no kissing, no touching. NO nothing. His job was to protect her not molest her. She made that abundantly clear that she wanted no part of him, he refused to think of what she needed from him now. He would not think past her safety, his heart couldn’t afford for him to.
He shut her out. She had been trying to communicate with him for the past half mile and it felt as if she was up against a brick wall. She had no reason to be hurt by it, no reason to feel the tears resting behind her eyes but yet she did. She stood still waiting on his return. So much time had passed between them with nothing but bitter words mainly from her and now she had so many things bottled inside she felt explosive. When he finally walked out of the underbrush looking completely composed she knew what the feeling of loss truly felt like. In another time and place she would have ran to him wrapping her arms and legs around him kissing him for all he was worth but she couldn’t and she didn’t. It hurt.
“Let’s go” he said smoothly unlocking the door and opening it for her. When she shrugged off the pack his large hands deftly caught it and tossed it in the back seat and walked around to the driver side after closing her and her bundle inside. He took a deep breath before he got in the car closing the door wrapping them in silence and unasked questions.
He put the key in the ignition and as he was turning it, she spoke.
“You’re not going to ask?
He remained silent for a second trying to gather his thoughts and control his cat that had leaped to the front of his mind roaming too close to the surface for him to appear calm. The scents, and sounds were all in his mind sending him data some he discarded as background noise and some he had no name for but wanted answers to them all the same.
Still turned towards the front, he sighed …”Would you tell me the truth if I asked?”
“I’ve never lied to you”
He turned then, the cat clear in his topaz eyes. “Clearly we both know that’s a lie” he said as he looked at the bundle in her arms. He still had yet to see the face but his scent marker was all over it. His child. Between him and his brother Christian he was the one who always had the most trouble controlling his cat in high levels of stress and agitation and this time would be no different but he could not afford to lose his cool now. He closed his eyes breathing deeply trying to push away any unwanted emotions, anger, hurt, love all warring to dominate the other. When he felt he had it under control enough he opened his eyes only to be greeted by the eyes of his son. Cat eyes.
I told you his cat was close.
He clenched his fist and turned back towards the front effectively closing Lana out of mind as he crunk up his truck and pulled off.
As he pulled into his garage, he forced calm into his system, it wouldn’t do to get upset. Hurt could not begin to describe how he felt. His child, his son and she didn’t tell him. He thought she had a miscarriage and she let him believe it. He knew why she did it, because she knew he would not leave her no matter how much she cried if he knew about it but that didn’t excuse it. All he missed, the pregnancy, the birth. How had he missed it? It must have been during the time Christian and Sanala were going through their spell and he was afraid to leave his brothers side after he realized what he planned to do all in the name of love. Man oh man did the Black brothers know how to love; when they did it was with everything they had.
“Come on, I’ll get you settled in.
“Is that it? Is that all you’re going to say?
“We’ll talk later, I can’t talk right now.”
She let him lead her around the house to his wing knowing he wanted to avoid Christian, not really sure how she felt about that, but she let it ride for now.
When he opened the door leading to his bedroom she paused for a brief moment before following him in. She watched as he dropped her pack on the floor by the bed and turned to leave. She waited, not sure for what, but he didn’t disappoint.
“I’m assuming you are well aware of your brother’s activities, otherwise we both know you wouldn’t have come to me.
I’m going to also assume that there is a good reason why you didn’t tell me about my son though we both know there isn’t.” He continued speaking right over her.
He once again continued talking over her completely dismissing anything she would have said. And still he did not look at her or the child.
“I will always protect you and the same now holds true for my son. I hope you trust me that much.”
Romel please… her voice broke.
I’ll be downstairs” and with that he left the room closing the door softly behind him.
He wouldn’t be swayed by her tears. God he loved that woman and the hurts she had dealt to him was unconceivable to him coming from his once timid, shyly honest mate. His woman, and now his son.
His hands clenched and unclenched as he closed his office door with more force than he intended as he forced the moisture from his face for the pain in his soul for all that was within his fingertips but still too far out of reach for him to obtain.
The door opened behind him but he didn’t turn around just yet.
“Is everything alright Rom” his brother’s deep voice asked from behind him.
“No” he grated
“I know Lana is here”
“She’s not alone. My son is with her.”
He turned then and the simmering rage and pain evident in his eyes, but out of respect for him Chris wouldn’t dare comment on it.
What are you going to do?
“What I do best, protect those I love.”
“And worry about yourself later.” Chris finished for him.
“I’m going to need your help; Daniel has gone too far this time. I’ve been keeping tabs on him and he is getting ready to make a move.
“Maybe I should be the one to take him out, you just got her back.”
“No! She’s not staying and I won’t ask her too. She can’t hate me this time anymore than she did the last time I almost killed him.”
“She doesn’t hate you she was young and she was confused. You know more than anyone how he had her brainwashed.”
“It doesn’t matter, he’s trying to destroy her and I won’t let him. I will kill him and end this once and for all.”
Lana looked around the room that use to be hers and wondered again how she could have given him up. Her strong, sensitive man and she pushed him away. The calm on his face could almost have her fooled but she knew better, he was in just as much pain or more than she was. Latham started squirming and she finally released the straps and let him down. She sat down on the edge of the bed sliding all the way to the floor as her son looked around the room. There wasn’t much change to it, or at least not as much as she remembered. The room itself was large with a sitting room and a spacious closet and bathroom, yet it looked just the same way it did the day she left. All the paintings and feminine touches she had added were still where she put them. She overlooked the hope that sprung in her heart that she hadn’t completely screwed up any chance that he would still want her. He even kept the hand crafted sculpture of a stalking black panther she made for him. Tears stinging her eyes she watched as Latham walked towards it and pointed, “Da Da”
There was no hope for the river of tears to stop falling after that. What could she say? How could she fix this? Obviously sensing her distress he toddled back over to her and sat in her lap trying to offer comfort as only a child can. Unclear of how much time passed she vaguely remembered crawling into bed with her son and falling into an exhausted sleep.
Late after trying to run his body to exhaustion and still in cat form he couldn’t stop the compulsion to go to his room and check on her and the kid, his kid. Even inside his other form his heart shuddered at the blow of not having her then finding out that he also lost his kid too. He could not wrap his mind around the fact that she would keep that from him, she knew how much he wanted kids, but he wouldn’t ask. He nudged the door open and made his way across the room silently, the lights were off except for the soft glow of the bathroom light and he could clearly see the silhouette of her and the boy in the bed huddle together all alone in their world. He wanted to hate her, to resent her but the love in his soul was too strong and pure for it to take root, but God he tried. Her breathing even her arm lightly holding her son. She looked tired, but he stilled himself against the worry, he could not afford to go there, yes he loved her and he would always and she would come before anyone else in his life but for all accounts and purposes she was no longer his anymore, for whatever reason she chose her brother over him and he could not, would not see past that. Finally weary in body but not yet ready to discuss anything with her he chose to stay in cat form and sleep on the floor by the fireplace.
He was dosing off and on with his back to the fire when he heard the covers rustle. He remained still to avoid any idea of conversation no matter how one- sided it would be when he saw a small form walking towards him. He forced his body to remain still unsure of what to do. When his son plopped down as only a baby could do and leaned his slight weight against the cat and murmured “Da Da”. His heart wept. He remained still for some time unaware of the soft purring sound coming out of the cat’s throat but no sooner than he thought to change and put the baby back on the bed, he realized his son
was asleep. Agonizing moments later he allowed his body to relax and he too fell back to sleep.
Hours later when Lana opened her eyes Latham was sitting up playing with some type of toy truck sitting on the floor by the bathroom door. She swallowed her anxiety and sat up in the bed and waited, she knew it would not take long. Seconds later the bathroom door opened and a freshly showered and shaved Romel walked into the room. He stopped cold when he saw her sitting up in bed and the standstill lasted for an eternity or a few seconds before he walked towards the closet to find his clothes.
Knowing Romel for who he was she knew that he would not iniate a conversation with her, and the task would be left up to her. She slid off the bed and made her way to the closet. He was dragging on a pair of jeans when she walked up on him.
“Not now Lana”
Two years ago she would have walked away silently, giving him his space and allowing him to choose his own time when he wanted to resolve an issue between them. That time had been long gone and she refused to go back to that.
“Yes now, we have to talk about this situation.”
He turned slowly towards her his cat ever present in his eyes and voice as he spoke.
“There’s nothing to discuss, you came to me for help, and I’ve got that. Your brother has obviously gone farther than even you can stomach and I’ll take care of it.”
“I’m not talking about that and you damn well know it.
“Look after your brother is dead you should inherit everything that was yours from the beginning and you and the boy will be safe.
“The boy?” she whispered, fury increasing with each word out of his mouth.”
“Jesus Lana, I don’t know him what did you think, I would take him from you?
“Yes I know its tradition, when a young male begins the change if the mother and father are separate the mother must return him to his father for upbringing. Blah Blah bullshit! What kind of man do you think I am to take a child from his mother the only parent he has ever known?
“No dammit you wanted to have this talk so let’s do it. I don’t know what really happened two years ago, I have my speculation but considering to talk about them will only piss me off more than I already am I think it is best left unsaid and secondly wherever he is doesn’t change I’m his father and will be in his life but don’t stand in front of me with fear in your eyes like I am going to take your son from you over some bullshit that has nothing to do with me or you.
She didn’t know what to say in the face of his fury; yes she thought he would take his son. No she didn’t think he would do it out of spite but she knew he loved kids and always talked about wanting quite a few of them. Standing in front of him she knew with clarity how much she hurt him walking away without explaining or giving him a chance too and then when she thought to explain it was too late, her brother had already tightened the noose around her neck and Romel had shut her out. She shook her head sadly but resolutely, she would get her man back. And he was hers, there was no question about it.