WILL NORTHLAND sat curled on a window seat in the library at the Sterling estate, his long, dark hair falling forward around his face as he gazed down unseeing at the book in his lap. His twin brother, Tristan, was officially mated to Benjamin Sterling, so that made Will family, but he still felt like he was intruding on Benjamin’s hospitality. It had been six months since Tristan had asked him to cross the ocean from their London home to help him cast the spell that had reunited Benjamin with his wolf and saved his life.
The spell had been a success, and Benjamin had been welcomed into the local werepack: a definite change for the better when it came to his social standing. Tristan and Benjamin had been invited over for dinner tonight with the pack Rajan, Alex Hanover, and Alex’s consort, Raul. Over breakfast, they had begged, pleaded, and cajoled Will into accompanying them, but he just wasn’t in the mood for being the fifth wheel—something he’d been feeling a lot lately.
All the signs pointed to something major happening in his life soon, but he took that with a grain of salt. Everything happens in its time, Gran used to say. He just needed to let go and not go messing about with things best left to the Goddess.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket. Glancing at the screen, he flipped it open. “Davie, you wanker, you haven’t burned the place down, have you?” Davie Campbell and Scott Glover were his right and left hands at the small occult bookstore in London that he and Tristan had inherited from their grandmother.
“No, not that you’d care, ya wanker. Off gallivanting all over the globe,” Davie retorted.
Davie was young, but reliable and efficient, and Will fully realized what a treasure he had. When Tristan had needed him, it was nothing to hand over the bookstore to Davie and Scott. The two men treated it as if it were their own, and would bend over backwards to make it successful. Will could see Davie now, hip propped on the edge of the giant, scarred desk. He’d be wearing jeans. The only time Will had ever seen Davie in anything but jeans had been at his gran’s funeral. Both Davie and Scott had shown up in proper charcoal gray suits, causing Will to do a double take. The two stoners actually cleaned up pretty well. He suspected that the suits were bought for the occasion, possibly even rented, but he was touched by the effort.
“So if the store isn’t on fire, why are you pestering me?” Will teased, folding his long legs and hugging his knees, the phone propped between his shoulder and ear, anxious to hear about life in the country that he’d left behind.
“Just checking in. I figured, you’re the boss, and you just might like to know what is going on. Sales are up almost fifteen percent.”
“You put the damn manga display in anyway, didn’t you?” Will asked.
“Well, you said to run it like it was our own,” Scott chimed in from the background. The terrible twosome obviously had him on speakerphone.
“And they’re flying out of here, just like I told you they would,” Davie added.
“Fuckers.” Will shook his head, glad that they couldn’t see the smile on his face.
Tristan, however, could. His twin walked into the room, spotted the phone at Will’s ear, and curled into a wingback leather chair. “Davie and Scott?” he mouthed with a grin that mirrored Will’s.
Will nodded, listening to the chatter on the other end of the line as the two men filled him in on sales, customers, and the gossip that ran rampant in a small metaphysical community. He’d long ago gotten used to Davie starting a sentence and Scott finishing it. Before long the two were talking more to each other than him. “Guys. Guys!” he finally broke in. “Tristan needs me for something. I’ll talk to you in a few days, okay?”
They exchanged quick good-byes, and Tristan moved to curl up on the opposite side of the window seat from Will, their legs resting against each other in the middle. Tristan had always worn his thick, almost black hair shorter than Will’s, but the window reflected two identical faces, framed by cascades of hair well beyond their shoulders. “Gran would say you need a haircut,” Will stated, brushing Tristan’s hair back from his face.
Tristan mimicked the action. “She’d be very disappointed in both of us.”
“No, she wouldn’t. She’d just chastise us for looking scruffy.” Will chuckled. “She’d turn over in her grave if she knew that neither of us has had a haircut since she died.”
Eyes gazing unfocused out the window, Tristan said, “She once told me that she harped on our hair because otherwise we were perfect and it was a grandmother’s duty to complain about something.”
“Ha! Now there’s an expectation that’s impossible to live up to.”
Tristan looked back at his twin. “Not in her eyes. We could have ended up ax murderers, and she would have found a way to be proud of us. Some days I miss her so much my heart hurts.”
Will scooted over to put an arm around his brother. “I didn’t think there was room in your heart for anything but love these days. With Benjamin in your life, you practically walk on air.” Tristan laid his head on Will’s shoulder and Will rested his cheek on his twin’s soft curls.
“I’ve never been happier. I can’t describe how it feels to be with Benjamin—”
“Damn!” Will snapped his fingers in mock frustration. “I was so looking forward to some juicy details. My sex life’s been a bit lacking lately.”
Tristan elbowed his brother in the side, grinning when he buckled over with a sharply exhaled, “Oof.”
“Don’t bring up feelings if you don’t want to talk about them,” he scolded. “You sure you won’t come to dinner with us? You know you are welcome.”
“Yeah, but you guys are just too damn touchy-feely for me, and Alex and Raul are no better. I swear… you’d think werewolves would be more… I don’t know… feral.”
Tristan’s eyes sparkled. “Oh, they’re plenty wild….” He drew out the last word and left it hanging, leaving no doubt as to what he was referring to.
“Fuckin’ wanker,” Will cursed, cuffing Tristan’s shoulder. “Not fair gloating over your sex life when I have none and you won’t share.”
THE smell of grilled meat drifted in through the open windows of the farmhouse, mingling with the crisp, sweet tang of lilac. Tristan could hear the quiet rumble of his mate’s laughter as Benjamin joked with Alex and Raul on the patio. The hair on the back of his neck rose and a tiny shiver traveled down his spine. He reached for the half-empty bottle of wine sitting on the kitchen counter, adding a splash to the salad dressing he was mixing and the remainder to his glass.
Something wasn’t right. Tristan had been uneasy all day and had been experiencing unexpected chills since he and his mate had entered packlands. There was no safer place to be than the home of the Rajan, or King, of the local werepack, but that didn’t keep the witch from sensing a pall of dread and fear. A new voice entered the mix, and Tristan headed for the open French doors, certain that the cause of his unease was about to be revealed.
Eric, the head of the Guardians—the werewolves who protected and patrolled the borders of the packlands—stood before Alex, explaining something to the Rajan. Raul, the Rajan’s consort, stood beside his mate, a frown creasing his brow.
“Do you wish me to send him away?” Alex asked his mate, strong fingers reaching out to brush through his consort’s thick, blond hair.
Raul shook his head, leaning into the touch, seeking comfort and reassurance. “No, it was inevitable that I’d have to face my family at some point. Grant him safe passage and we’ll hear what he has to say. My father wouldn’t have sent Nicolai unless it was extremely important.”
Alex turned to the tall dark warrior, dressed in the silver torque of his position. “Allow him to enter, but escort him directly here. Double the normal guard on the borders and the house.”
“It will be done,” the Guardian replied, bowing formally before turning to leave.
“Maybe we should go,” Benjamin suggested, rising from the deck chair.
Raul placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder, squeezing slightly as he pressed him back into his seat. “No. You know my past. There is no reason for you and Tristan not to be present for this discussion. In fact, I’d like you here. I should like Tristan’s opinion.”
The slender witch walked over to the small group, perching on the arm of his mate’s chair. “On what?”
“The man who is coming is one of my father’s most trusted advisors, and fairly elderly. It would not be easy for him to travel. If he is here, he brings no good news. I have no idea what has transpired in my absence, but based on what was happening before I left and the circumstances surrounding my arrival here—”
“You mean the attempt to murder you?” Benjamin tossed in sarcastically. “Or rather, trick Alex into killing you legally.”
Raul nodded, a slight grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. “Yeah, that….”
“You know, I still have never heard the complete version of that story—only pieces as they appear in conversation, like now,” Tristan reminded the group.
“Later, I promise,” Raul said, pulling a long curling lock of the witch’s dark hair straight with a sharp tug.
Tristan swatted the blond man’s hand away from his hair as if he were shooing away flies. “Fine, fine. What do you want my opinion on?”
“I guess the veracity of what Nicolai is coming to say. I can judge the words; I want you to judge the feeling, the intent… read between the lines for me,” Raul answered.
“I can do that,” Tristan agreed, taking a sip of his wine before offering the glass to his mate.
Benjamin’s blue eyes glowed up at him, his hand reaching up to curve around Tristan’s neck and pull him down for a kiss. His low voice rumbled against his mate’s lips. “Tastes much better from you… and far more intoxicating.”
Alex cleared his throat to warm them of Eric’s return. All four men stood, watching as the small party made its way across the yard from the tree line.
Coming to a halt directly in front of Alex and Raul, the elderly man in the center of the approaching group struggled to kneel. Alex reached out instinctively, catching his arm. “Your neck is enough, Adel, ancient one.”
Nicolai’s eyes darted up gratefully as he bared his neck, lowering his eyes as he offered his life to the Rajan in the ritualistic show of submission. Alex lowered his mouth to the vulnerable juncture, breathing in deeply as his teeth touched the skin. He could feel the steady beat of Nicolai’s heart and smell the worry wafting off the elder. Worry. Not fear.
“Be welcome, Nicolai Thunderstruck, chief advisor to Randolf Carlisle, King of the Cayuga Pack. Join us in sustenance and unburden yourself by sharing your missive,” Alex replied formally, straightening to his full six-foot-three-inch height.
“May blessings and peace reign in your pack,” Nicolai answered, bowing to the Rajan. Turning to Raul, he offered his neck again.
Raul grasped the slender shoulders of the man he’d known since birth, lowering his face to the offered neck, but pulling the smaller man into a fierce embrace at the same time. “Nicolai.”
Nicolai’s hands came up to rest on Raul’s back. “Fearsome times, lowell. I’m happy you are well and safe, young one.”
“Tell me,” Raul replied, pulling back and leading the advisor to a chair.
Nicolai settled into the wicker chair, the other men taking seats around him in a circle. The Guardians stepped back to the perimeter of the deck, but stayed intensely alert.
“Your father is not well. He has not left his bed this past month.”
Raul frowned, feeling a stab to his heart at the thought of losing his father. “I thank you for coming to tell me, but—”
“That is not why I’m here,” Nicolai continued. “Your brother, Richard, has disappeared. In his absence, the witch, Sienna, is ruling from the throne.”