Excerpt for An Unexpected Bonding: Book One of The Unexpected Trilogy by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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Copyright 2014 Rachel Lillyman

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This book contains adult themes, including but not limited to sexual contact, violence and some swearing.


ISBN: 9781925152579 (eBook)


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An Unexpected Mating takes readers on a tumultuous journey with Numito Romero, Alpha of the Romulus pack.

Follow Numito through some of the most important, and toughest times of his life as he loves and loses not one, but two mates.

Will the love of his children be enough to give meaning to his life?





Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Five

Chapter Ten

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Epilogue

Sample Chapters

About The Author

Books By Lilly Rayman

Connect With Lilly Rayman


The diaphanous fabric that clung to her waiflike form did little to negate the coldness of the cavernous chamber. The darkness enveloped her like a frozen blanket of oppression. With a suppressed shudder, she continued blindly on towards her destination.

There was a consistent dripping of water as it fell from unseen stalactites to break the surface of the hidden pool of water within the light-starved cavern. The single sound reminded her this was not the frozen nothingness of death.

A voice reached out to her, like water trickling over a pebbly creek bed. "Sister, I am so glad you could join me."

Stopping at the sound, she peered into the darkness, trying to find the source of the voice. "I take it you have seen the same as I?” Her own voice was almost a hiss of breathless air as she spoke to the unseen presence of her sister.

"Indeed, I have. We have much to discuss if we are to set in motion the events of the future."

With a final shout of pain, she collapsed against the bed. There was but a moment's silence before the newborn's first cries were heard. Her child was offered to her, but before she took the crying, mucus-covered babe, she froze. "It's human!" she sneered, holding her hands up as if to ward off the child.

Her mother rested a hand upon her exhausted shoulder. "It would appear so, my dear. Is that a problem?” Her voice was filled with a thoughtful calculation as she observed the screaming babe.

"Get it away from me! I will have nothing to do with such an abomination!" Despite the exhaustion of childbirth, she spat the words with vehemence, like poison from a snake, turning her back on the infant.

"But, daughter, it is your child! Are you sure you do not wish to raise your own child?” Her voice was calm, with little protest, as if the behaviour of her daughter was expected.

"I do not care what you do with that thing. Just take it away from me!"

"Very well, my daughter, I will dispose of the babe for you.” With great care the older woman took the crying child from the nervous birthing attendant. Unseen by her exhausted but furious daughter, she gazed down at her grandchild, seeing the destiny of the infant in its aura before smiling sadly. She would prefer to see the child raised with them, but the destiny mapped out within her vision bespoke of a harder childhood than she could provide.

She stepped away, removing the human baby from the birthing chamber.

It was heart wrenching to watch for the second time in a millennium. As he watched his beloved wife take her last shaking breath, he was filled with the memories of the life they had shared together. Bittersweet memories passed between them as she fell into her final resting sleep.

With an almost trembling hand he gently brushed a brittle white lock of hair from her wrinkled face. There was small comfort to be had that it was an easy, pain-free death. A tear threatened as he gazed at the soft yet heavily creased skin of his wife. Time may have taken its toll on the external beauty of his mortal lover's body, but he still remembered clearly in his mind her beauty when they first met sixty-eight years ago.

He stood up from her deathbed, casting her one last look as he quietly left the private hospice room, searching for someone to inform them of the inevitable yet sad demise of his cherished 'grandmother'.

It was the first full moon of winter. The air was crisp with the coming chill indicating the arrival of winter. The pale bark of the tall trees glowed in the moonlight, disappearing high in the dying autumnal leaves. Around her were the newly shifted forms of her peers, the young pack members who had turned fifteen since the last first full winter moon.

Looks of pity were sent her way as she sat upon the mulched leaf litter of the forest floor, a shivering naked human form bathed in moonlight. Shame stung at her cheeks as she sat shaking with the early winter chill, awaiting the emergence of her inner wolf. Yet despite the burning shame that there was no wolf to welcome into the pack, she was not surprised. After all, her mother was only human, nothing any more special than a warm heart and a kind smile. There had always been a secret hope and a whispered thought throughout the pack, that the strength of her father's wolf would be enough to share with her a wolf spirit, yet it seemed she was destined to be like her dearly departed mother.

Human.


The peace and tranquillity of the sunlit forest dell was disturbed when a fierce wind whipped through it. The fresh-fallen leaves of autumn lifted from the mulch-blanketed floor in a swirl of golds, reds and burnished coppers. A burst of iridescent colour erupted from the deep red and white toadstools as fiercely chattering pixies, woken from their slumber, took wing. The appearance of their queen silenced their admonishing tones.

The dell once more fell silent as the faerie queen glided about in deep contemplation. The leaves swirled about the gossamer folds of her gown as it slipped about her slender ankles, until her motion halted and the queen took on the stilled presence of the ancient trees that guarded her magical realm. Her gown trembled upon the wind, as did the leaves adorning the ancient trees.

The passage of time was marked by the changes of light, and the forest took on an amber hue as the sun journeyed to its night-time home. Amber flashed to purple as the sun disappeared, yet still the faerie queen moved not. The tiny little night faeries took wing, lighting the night with their bright auras as they flitted about the forest, their passage marked by the pinprick light of their magic.

They danced around the darkening dell, daring to dive and twirl around their queen. Their antics disturbed the vision-filled trance she found herself held in. Her stony face broke with a smile as she laughed at the silent display of light about her. Lifting a hand before her, she watched as one of the darting lights came towards her, settling upon her finger.

"It's good to find you so calm, my love. It is a rare sight indeed these days.” The deep voice broke the silence of the dell, sending the dancing lights into a frenzy as they darted about until they settled upon the lower limbs of the towering trees. Their magic allowed a gentle illumination to settle upon the tall masculine faerie king as he stepped out from the darkness. His queen spun with a whipping of wind to face him, stilling the moment her eyes alighted upon him.

Even after the eternity they had spent together, he still elicited a strength of emotions within her that time had not faded. If anything, they grew stronger with every passing millennium. Her grey eyes darted over his warrior's frame. The woven silk of his attire clung against his lean form; the earthen tones represented his very nature to the world.

He stepped lightly towards her, the blanket of forest mulch undisturbed by his passing. His hand lifted to brush across her cheek, pushing aside the flowing locks of her hair as his fingers curled around her nape. His hazel eyes spoke volumes of his love as they locked with her own. He dipped his head towards her, his strong mouth settling over her own soft one as he pressed his love upon her with his kiss. She exhaled a shaky breath. The breeze swirled around them, lifting the full and flowing locks of his black hair, tickling it against her silken skin.

She pushed against his chest, dropping her face, resting her forehead against his strong chin. "It is time. The pieces are coming together upon the board. The final moves are waiting to be played.” Her hushed voice whispered on the wind.

"Are you ready to go to the mortal realm, then, my queen?"

"Damn those blasted wolves!" snarled Imothep. Dragging his hand through his normally perfectly styled hair in pure frustration, he stormed into the quiet office. Hathor carefully put down her pen and closed the file she had been studying.

"What have they done now?” A small amount of resignation behind her words, she was over the whole bloody mess. For centuries wolves and vampires had been clashing with each other. The bloodiest and deadliest battles had since died down as their presence in the mortal realm faded, but still the hatred existed and skirmishes occurred.

"They have been seen by humans running around as big-ass hairy motherf–” She stopped him from completing his curse with the sharp raising of a perfectly sculpted eyebrow. He cleared his throat. "They have been running through the forest as wolves, deliberately being seen by locals. They have scared most people away.” He collapsed into the chair placed parallel with precision before the desk. Hathor observed him carefully, noting the paleness to his almost hollow cheeks. He hadn't fed for a while.

"So now you have found your hunting ground decidedly empty? Would you care to help yourself from the bar fridge over there?” She gestured with her hand.

He stood, moving across the Egyptian spun carpet towards the fridge.

"I may find it more pleasant talking to you when you are not so tetchy from a lack of blood. I really do not understand why you still persist in getting blood the old-fashioned way.” Hathor's exasperated words were thinly veiled with a nonchalance she did not feel.

The microwave pinged. With the opening of the door, the delicious aroma of blood tickled her nostrils.

"You know I don't hurt anyone, Hathor. It's just after centuries of having women fall into my arms, it seems so impersonal to–” At a loss for words, he waved the mug in his hand around before putting it to his mouth to taste. "Plus, I never get it to the right temperature, always too hot or too cold. I guess I'm set in my ancient ways.” His nose screwed up in distaste, reminding Hathor of a child told to eat their greens.

With a soft chuckle, Hathor shook her head, the beads on the ends of her braids rolling back and forth across her neck. Even after all these centuries the action still brought her a sense of calm. "Well, my old friend, I have been working through a proposal that may work to bring an end to the war. I am preparing to approach the council this evening."

Imothep drained the contents of the mug with distaste before he stood. "Well, my old friend, I know you well enough to acknowledge the dismissal in your words. I look forward to hearing all about your success afterwards!" With an exaggerated bow, he swept out of the office as swiftly as he'd entered. Shaking her head, she reopened the file before picking up her pen once more.

The bartender placed the frosty bottle on the oak bar before her. With the tool of his trade he flipped the lid off. She watched the escaping mist curl from the neck of the bottle as a small dish of lime wedges was offered to her. Picking a wedge, she ran it over the edge of the bottle rim before pushing it into the neck. Beer frothed up around the lime wedge as the bottle was raised to her lips, allowing the icy beverage to slip down her throat. "Cheers, Murph!" She saluted the bartender with the bottle before resting it back on the bar. A short rough-nailed finger traced patterns in the droplets of moisture forming on the cold glass of the bottle.

Absently she turned back to the TV above the bar, taking little notice of the cowboy being tossed from a bucking bull. Her attention was instead towards the new presence at her side.

"Cold one, off tap, thanks, Murph, and Livvie's next drink on my tab too, please."

She twisted on the bar stool to face the man at her side. "Thanks for the drink, Walt. To what do I owe the pleasure?” She smiled at him, knowing he could see that it failed to reach her deep brown eyes.

With a calloused finger, he pushed the brim of his stained cream Stetson up, bringing his warm eyes out of the shadow of his hat. "A simple gesture of friendship, Liv," he drawled in his heavy Texan accent. "I was wondering how those latest bulls of yours were coming along?"

Always straight to business, she thought as she took another pull of her beer. Murph placed the frosty glass next to Walt. "They're coming along nicely, Walt. Nate would be proud of me if he could see them now. They'll be ready in plenty of time for your ride next month. Give even your best riders a run for their money."

Walt drained half his beer. A sad smile pulled at the corner of his generous mouth. "Nate always did breed the fiercest bulls for the circuit. Not many could be beaten in eight seconds! I'm glad you took an interest in his business, Livvie. Would have been a shame to lose the bloodline! I'll come out on the weekend and see how my investment is going!"

Livvie nodded as he finished his beer, standing up from where he rested his hip against the bar. He nodded towards her as he pulled his hat back down, calling out to Murph as he left the bar. Livvie watched his Levi-clad form as he disappeared into the bright daylight outside the dim bar, before draining the last of her own drink.

Bittersweet memories overwhelmed her. It's where she had first met Nate, not long after leaving the pack's sprawling estate in New Hampshire. She had needed to get away from the oppression that seemed to follow her there. There hadn't been any other members of the pack without a wolf. She was the only one who had never shifted. The pack respected her well enough; after all, she was the youngest child of their beloved Alpha.

He was a proud and strong pack leader, but he also had a deep-rooted caring nature. Her mother had been human, a second wife for him. His first wife had been his true bonded mate, but she had been killed during a skirmish with vampire’s years ago.

The pack had accepted her mother well enough and, in turn, Livvie. After all, it was her mother's warm smile and caring nature that had lifted her father out of his depression that almost destroyed the pack.

But after Livvie's mother had died of cancer, it had been hard to be the only wolf-less member of the pack. Her father seemed to understand and was happy enough to allow her a break away to road-trip around America, on the understanding she stayed clear of all known vampire locations. Eventually Livvie arrived at this bar deep in the heart of Texas. Nate was the first person to catch her eye in the crowded bar.

The small sting of a forming tear was quickly brushed away.

Before she could return to her silent memories, a sharp smell caught her nose, making her breath hitch.

Vampire.

Ra breathed out in relief as he entered the darkened bar. He might be immune to the sun, but he still held an aversion to it. But needs must, and Hathor had told him his target was careful about being out after dark.

Allowing his eyesight to adjust from the brightness outside to the interior semidarkness, he studied the room. He knew she was here; there was a tang of wolf in the air. It was faint, but it was there. With his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he caught sight of a young woman sat at the bar. She had her black hair braided. To his unnatural eyesight, he could see the purpling tone through the black and the white tips on each strand of her hair.

She matched Hathor's description. She was not a slender woman. Encased in dusty denim she appeared shapely without being labelled fat. With a wry grin, he spotted a tear in her plaid shirt, no doubt originating from a barbwire snag. The faded worn shirt bespoke a favourite. No conceited woman sat here.

As he observed her one last time, she turned to him, and their eyes locked. Well, no going back now. He stepped towards her, conscious that in his linen slacks and shirt he was out of place in this establishment proud to be called 'red-neck'.

As he reached her, she swivelled back to the barman and ordered another drink. He bristled at her pointed ignorance of him. "Hey, Murph, since Walt is paying for this one, why not give me a hit of Jack. I have a feeling I'm gonna need a stiff one!" She turned back towards Ra. His eyes flicked towards her feet as he heard a jangle of metal from the dirt encrusted spurs strapped on dusty creased leather boots. One foot was placed on the ground, making ready for a quick escape.

Her character and aura inspired his admiration. "Hello, Livia Romero.” Ra's words were softly spoken but clearly heard.

She stiffened.

"No one has called me by that name in a long time, and certainly not–" She paused, searching for the appropriate word given their public location. "Someone of your persuasion.” She finished with a slight inclination of her head.

He laughed, a genuine laugh of admiration at her gracious word choice. She smiled at him despite her better judgement. "So why are you here at this time of the day, and how is it you know of me?"

Her voice was soft with a hint of huskiness that was pleasant to his ears. "I am looking for my old friend. I am of the understanding you and she are – how shall I put this? Inseparably close?” She narrowed her eyes warily, and he continued. "I am here for Lupa."

Her eyes widened in shock before settling to confusion. "I think old age has addled your mind. I have heard myths of Lupa, nursemaid to Romulus and Remus. Never as a friend of an Egyptian! Besides, I am not truly one of her ilk.” She turned away from him quickly, but not before he caught sight of the sorrow in her eyes.

"I beg to differ, my dear. You knew the moment I walked in here. You know what I am. You most certainly are a true member of Lupa's line. She is merely dormant, and I, Ra, call to her. I bid her to wake and come forth!"

Unbeknownst to the other occupants of the bar, the air grew thick and heavy around the two of them. Ra saw trepidation in her eyes as she glanced at him before she turned from him once more, took her drink and knocked it back, slamming the empty glass on the bar. Ra was reminded of bar scenes from Wild West movies, as the hero quickly drinks their firewater before slamming down the glass and striding out of the saloon. In much the same way, she stood and, without another word to him, walked out the back door. Ra followed her out at a much slower rate and stopped in surprise at the threshold.

The whiskey burned as it slipped down her throat. She was at a loss for words. Who did this vamp think he was? Well, obviously, he thought he was a god; he called himself Ra, for moon's sake. Livvie felt the atmosphere change around them deep in the pit of her stomach, the hackles on her neck lifted.

She needed to get out of here and fast. Livvie stood up, glad the consumption of beer and whiskey didn't make her wobble with the speed of her movement. She did her best to ignore the vamp as she strode out of the bar to her ride.

With the steady reassurance, she normally felt returning to her as she breathed deeply the smell of horseflesh and leather, she exited the bar. Livvie felt her stomach settle a bit and the hairs on her neck lay down.

Livvie approached the paint gelding. He snuffed at her open hand, blowing his warm breath over her in a comforting way. She lifted the flap of the saddle to access the girth strap to cinch it up securely, unclipped the reins from the ring underneath the bridle and re-clipped them to the bit. Throwing the offside rein over Jasper's neck, she reached round to set the offside stirrup iron. Taking notice but not acknowledging the vampire's presence in the doorway, she hitched up the denim at her thigh before lifting a foot to the stirrup.

With a good hold on the reins in her left hand and the saddle in her right, she hauled her ass into the saddle, glad she no longer mounted like a pregnant cow. Her right foot slipped into the set iron. With a swift nudge from her, Jasper stepped away from the bar. Livvie rattled her spurs gently. Without needing contact, Jasper broke into a gentle canter away from the bar, following the dusty trail that would take them home to Thunder Hollow.

And hopefully away from any vampires.


Hathor settled into the high-backed chair; styled in the old way, it fit beautifully with the ancient chamber. It would not be out of place in an archaeological dig in Egypt. For a moment, she lost herself to the memories this room always inspired in her of their youth when the vampire nation was revered as gods, before the humans became more irreverent with each generation until the vampires faded into the shadows of the world, their memory into myths.

Seth's snarled words brought her back to present day. "I, for one, will not recognise a young whelp as a symbol of union!"

"Are you volunteering for the position, Seth?" drawled Osiris.

Hathor rolled her eyes, speaking before the brothers could start another brawl. "We cannot just throw two people together who are not suited to each other and expect peace to follow! A vampire with an understanding of the current mortal world will make for a more approachable mate."

Her twin sister, Sehkmet, had surprised her with her support for the proposal, and surprised her further with her agreement. "Hathor is right. The wolves live in the modern world much more readily than we do. I think maybe Darius or Isia would be perfect. They seem to assimilate into the human world easily enough, and surely they are old enough to satisfy even your objections, Seth!" She looked at him with her beautiful kohled eyes raised slightly as if she dared him to find fault with her reasoning.

He glared at her before speaking. "I would be surprised if you could find them agreeable to the proposal, but if you by some small chance of fate find them wherever they are hiding and talk them into agreement as well as the wolves, then I will abide by the union and peace."

Hathor smiled at this last small triumph and was rewarded with the booming voice of Ra, always a silent presence in the council. "Very well. It is decided. The wolves will be approached, and a treaty of peace brokered."

Julio watched with growing apprehension as his father continued to pace his office. He was normally a calm and strong presence and led the large Romulus pack with pride and dignity. This pacing was out of character. "Papa, if you pull your hand through your hair once more, you will start shedding, and it won't be the grey hair you lose first.” He watched his father stop pacing, his hand frozen midway to his head as Julio's words penetrated his mind.

Numito sent him a heated glare as he dropped to his leather chair. "You don't have to remind me I'm getting old, boy!" he growled, glaring at Julio, his amber eyes betraying his wolf was close to the surface. "Amulius is up to something. I have reports he's moving members of his pack into territory close to Livia. I'm worried about her. I think he might try to get to me through her.” He inhaled deeply through flared nostrils as he dropped his head into his hands.

Julio missed his little sister; the day she'd met and fell in love with Nate was bittersweet. He was happy she had found happiness, but sad she would not be coming home again.

"Isn't there some event coming up for her?"

"Yeah, it's her maiden bull ride for the first of her own bred Thunder Hollow bulls."

"Perfect! Me and some of the boys will take a road trip to Texas and visit, check out this bull ride, and see how Livia is doing. We can keep an eye out for trouble along the way.” Excitement gnawed at his stomach as his wolf relished the thought of a long journey. Numito's face seemed to relax visibly at the idea. With a curt nod of agreement, Julio was dismissed.

Sweat trickled along the curve of her spine and dripped off her nose as Livvie hauled yet another bale of hay off the back of the pickup and aimed to throw it into the feeder trough in the dusty paddock. Seeing cattle heading her way, she jumped off the back of the truck, pulling out a pocket knife from the belt pouch as she approached the feeder. Flipping open the blade, she cut the twine on all three bales, pulling away six strands of twine as the first of the cattle reached the hay.

This was the last feeder of six; all finished until tomorrow. With a tired huff, Liv stuffed the twine behind the driver's seat and climbed in and turned the key. It was hot, sweaty and dusty work. It seemed to be more tiring now that Livvie was doing the job on her own than when she used to do it with Nate. She had exhausted hope for a response to her 'help wanted' newspaper ad.

The old pickup bumped and jolted along the rough trail as the vehicle was pushed to its limit to get home; anticipation of a cold shower made her foot heavier on the gas. She almost missed the glare of the dying sun on a reflective surface as the pickup approached the homestead. Another vehicle. Her brow furrowed. Must be Walt here early, or at least that was the hope, and not an unwanted visitor.

Livvie released a breath she hadn't realised she was holding when Walt's vehicle was recognised. Stopping at the barn and switching the ignition off, Livvie grabbed her empty water bottle off the passenger seat as she opened the door. Jumping out, she walked to where Walt leaned against the bull bar of his pickup, as oblivious to the dust as she was.

"Hey, Livvie, just finished the feed run?" he drawled.

Livvie winced as she rolled a stiff shoulder. "Yeah, I didn't expect you till the weekend. I haven't missed a couple of days of the week, have I?"

He laughed gently and took his hat off as he stood up. "I brought you a gift.” He held his hands up in surrender as Livvie suspiciously narrowed her eyes. "I brought you someone to help. I picked him up at Murph's Place, looking for work, and I thought since you were needing help...” His words trailed off as Livvie glanced towards the passenger window of the car. She couldn't see past the tinted glass.

"Well, why don't you both come inside, and we'll talk about it in the kitchen.” Livvie walked towards the house, stomping up the wooden steps to knock the dust off her boots. The kitchen door creaked as it opened, and she heard the sound of the car door. Livvie's lips twitched as she caught the scent of the stranger; it seemed to curl around her core.

Her battered Stetson was pulled off her head and dropped on the stand next to Nate's. The smile disappeared before it took hold. Dropping into the old rocking chair next to the modern-day replica of a pot-belly stove, she pulled her boots off as Walt entered the kitchen with the stranger. "Help yourself to the fridge, Walt.” The second boot was pulled off before she sat up and watched the stranger, who now sat at the old battered wooden kitchen table. Her eyes locked on to his, and it felt like all time stopped. She felt mesmerised; they were a perfect blend of grey-blue with a ring of gold surrounding the iris.

Walt broke the trance. "Darius, this is Livvie. Livvie, this is Darius. Livvie has found herself running the place since a nasty accident killed her partner. She could do with help to haul feed, fix fences and suchlike. Livvie, Darius appears to be a strong young fellow. I'm sure he can manage to do some of the manual labour for you."

Her heart shut down tight again as Walt mentioned the accident. Darius' eyes didn't seem so mesmerising in that moment.

"I can pay minimum wage, give you a room in the bunkhouse, and your food is provided. If you want a trial period, I'll give you a month; see if you suit the job and the job suits you."

Darius inclined his head. "Thank you, ma'am. Sounds good to me. When would you like me to start?” His voice held a strength that tried to invade her barriers.

A swift look towards Nate's hat at the door strengthened her again. "Tomorrow if you like. Walt can show you around. I have an appointment with a shower I'm already late for.” Livvie stood and regarded Walt, who chuckled softly and nodded. He moved his hand towards the door and spoke to Darius as she left the room. "This way, son."

Her scent left his senses in a scramble. It was sweet yet musky at the same time; it was surprising. It reminded him of wolf, but it was so faint it was almost not there. As she left the room, he felt almost torn apart. Part of him wanted to follow her, never letting her out of his sight.

But his heart was still sore from the loss of Marianne three years ago. He was glad she had left his presence so he could cling once more to the heartache of Marianne's death. Walt spoke, bringing his attention back to him. "This way, son."

Son? Ha! If only he knew. Standing up, he followed him out of the kitchen into the fresh outdoor air.


Feeling like she had run a marathon overnight, Livvie groaned as she rolled over to switch off the alarm. Instead she hit the floor with a soft thud, and the alarm kept ringing. Except it wasn't an alarm clock, it was the phone. Standing up off the lounge room floor where she had landed after rolling off the sofa, Livvie reached for the offending phone mounted on the wall outside the lounge doorway.

"Hello?" she growled at the phone and was greeted by a familiar laugh.

"Hey, sis! Still not a morning person?"

"Hey, Julio! I didn't sleep well! What's up?"

"I just thought you would like to know, me and the boys will be there by the end of the week! We fancy checking out a rodeo and what better one than my sister's maiden ride?” He laughed at some unknown joke.

Livvie frowned. "It'll be great to see you again, but you know it's not my first rodeo?"

"Yeah, I know, but it's the first for your own bred and trained cattle. I wanted to give you some support and celebrate with you when your bulls throw all those cowboys out of the ring!"

Livvie couldn’t help but grin. "Well, it will be great to see you. How many guys are coming with you? When did you say you'd be here again?"

"I’m bringing five of the boys with me. We'll be there by Friday, thought we would give you a helping hand about the place."

"You do know the ride is a week on Saturday, and I hired a guy two weeks ago. There isn’t much work for you to worry about.” A shout on the other end of the phone called Julio's attention, so he missed most of what Livvie said. He distractedly called goodbye and hung up. Shaking her head, she hung up the phone before heading to the kitchen. Darius would be in for breakfast soon.

With a small shiver of anticipation Darius climbed the steps to Livvie's home. He scolded himself for being eager to see her, but he couldn’t help himself. He felt comfortable in her presence. "Hey, boss, while I was feeding out the hay this morning, I noticed the windmill in the far paddock was clanging like it was trying to break its fittings.” He spoke as he entered the kitchen, as Livvie poured coffee into a mug.

She swore so softly even he nearly missed it. "Right, I'll get up there this morning!" She handed him his coffee, and he watched her suppress a shiver as their fingers briefly touched. She was as affected by him as he was by her. He watched her eyes flick over his shoulder to rest on the dead man's hat. She stiffened her resolve to ignore the chemistry between them. It had been a tough couple of weeks.

He sat down with the coffee and watched her. She was tired; he could see the bruised shadows under her eyes, indicating a lack of sleep. Her grief weighed heavy on her soul. She would pace around the house at night before collapsing of pure exhaustion on the sofa in the early hours of the morning. Each day she would work non-stop with the bulls she was training for the rodeo.

He finished his coffee, which he didn’t really want, before rising from the table. He nodded his head at her before turning to leave. The sound of her husky voice stopped him. "Wait.” He looked over his shoulder at her.

Every morning was the same; they drank coffee in silence together before he went back out to work, only to see her again at the dinner table after dark. "My brother called this morning. He will be here by Friday with some of his pa–friends. Could you please make sure the bunkhouse is in order?"

He nodded in acknowledgement before continuing out the door, shaking his head at the ridiculous notion that she was about to call her brother's friends his 'pack mates'. Too much sun and human food was addling his mind.

Ra waited so still and silent you would be forgiven for thinking he was a statute. The coolness of the dark cave he waited in caressed his sun-warmed skin. It was his ability to walk in the sun where his brethren could not that gave him the title of Sun God. He wasn’t the only sun-walking vampire; his children could walk in the sun too. It gave them a closer link to humanity, an understanding of humanity the rest of his brothers and sisters did not have.

His meditative musings came to an end when the scent of the air changed. He opened his eyes to see the eddy of air at the cave entrance shifting, swirling and changing, unseen by the mortal eye. The air pulled together, taking on form and colour. The air began to take shape; first wisps of a soft delicate fabric twisted on the breeze. The blend of colours in the fabric could not be identified as anything other than airy. The wisps solidified, folding around the delicate form of a woman.

Ra beamed at the vision of the ageless woman before him, bowing his head in respect to her. "Queen Mab."

Her soft laugh tickled his ear as it reached him on the breeze. "My old friend Ra. How lovely it is to see you again.” Her voice was a raspy hiss seeming to come from the air itself, but it was her element.

"Hathor gave me the girl's description, Mab. I found her. I spoke with her, but my call did not reach within her.” His brow pulled together; the whisper of a frown marred his perfect features. "Are you sure she is the one?"

The air in the cave whipped around him as Mab felt anger stir within her. "Of course, she is! I watched her mother's birth. I took her to the Sisters of Mercy. I watched over her from afar. I watched the wolf that mourned his mate, and I guided them together. I know the girl is the right one. I watched her birth, and on the first full moon of the babe's life, I saw the strength of her wolf within nearly kill her. So, I approached her and I bound her wolf; I made the wolf slumber deep within. I KNOW the girl, and I KNOW the wolf within her. Do not presume to question me again, Ra.” The air settled as she stopped speaking.

Ra bowed his head. "Forgive me, Queen Mab. Your power is so strong my call could not break your bond."

Her voice, more gentle this time, tickled his ear. "Well, let us go together, then."

As the sun reached higher in the sky, the heat intensified. There was no shade up in the tiny excuse of a platform called a crow's nest. Livvie rocked her arse from side to side, trying to escape the uncomfortable heat of the sun-baked metal. She screamed in frustration as the wrench slipped and dropped from her grease-streaked hand. She took a deep breath and counted to ten.

The wrench was not going to grow arms and legs to climb back up the rickety old rusted excuse of a ladder by itself. She needed to climb back down there and get it. Swearing in frustration, she gingerly found the ladder with her feet. As the ladder took her full weight, it groaned in protest. Praying to whoever would listen to keep her safe. Livvie started to climb down.

She was not even halfway when the unthinkable happened. The ladder collapsed under her feet, and she was falling. Her breath exited her body in a terrified scream as she waited to hit the rocky ground below.

Suddenly she found herself engulfed in a pair of strong muscular arms and rested against a hard chest.

Her scream stopped with a gasp as she found herself drowning in a pair of gold and blue eyes.

He held her there, not daring to move. She was safe.

He had been walking towards the windmill, cursing his bad luck of running out of fuel, when his heightened sense of hearing heard the old metal groan and his eagle-sharp eyesight saw her climbing down the ladder. A sixth sense within him told him she was in danger.

He ran. He covered two of the three miles in merely moments when he saw her fall. He pushed himself faster to reach her; he couldn’t bear the thought of her dead. Her beautiful body broken on the ground.

Suddenly he was there. And so was she. Safe in his arms. Never had anyone felt so right. Fit so perfectly in his arms, as if it was the only place for her.

Her eyes locked onto his, and he knew she was as mesmerised as he was. He smiled at her, and her eyes lit up as she smiled back. In that moment, he heard something he never thought he would: 'forever'.

He smiled at her, and she felt her heart lift as she smiled back. She was so happy she barely registered the thought she heard in her heart and mind: 'mate'.

He held her for what felt like forever before he shifted her weight. Carefully he placed her on her own two feet, his arm still wrapped around her. He lifted a hand to her face and brushed the pad of his thumb across her forehead. "You have a smudge of grease."

His words snapped her back to her senses, and she stiffened, feeling a blush fire across her already heat-flushed face. "How did you come to be here to catch me?"

"I ran out of–” He stopped when there was a sudden shift in the hot, still air and they found themselves caressed by a refreshing breeze. He saw her nostrils flare as she caught a scent that hit him seconds later.

He was shocked to hear her mumble, "Vampire," as the familiar scent worked through his head. She moved within his arms to peer towards the source of the wind. Before them stood the familiar vampire and a woman; her hair seemed to dance around her face, as if on the wind. He was surprised to see her hair colour almost matched Livvie's, a vibrant shine of purple through the deep black hair.

The white tips, it seemed, were purely Livvie's.

Livvie watched in surprise as the two people appeared before them. She pulled herself out of Darius' arms and stalked towards the vampire. "You!" she hissed as she raised a finger at him. "Why are you here? I thought I made it clear the other week. I want nothing to do with you and your crazy claims!"

Ra took a step back in surprise at the vehemence behind her words. Beside him, Mab laughed. "Oh, my darling girl, you are even better than I imagined. You really are perfect!"

Livvie stopped in her tracks and stared at the woman. She had a feeling of familiarity about her, making her feel safe despite the confusion of this weird situation. She didn’t think it could get any stranger until Darius stepped towards the vampire; his voice froze her blood. "Father?"


Ra looked from the surprised expression on his son's face to the stunned expression on Livia's. "Hello, Darius, my boy. I have to admit I never expected to see you here. I thought you were living in Canada with Maria."

He watched Darius' expression change from hurt to angry. "Her name was Marianne, and she lost her life three years ago.” His voice was low and still held a trace of grief.

Ra gave him a sad look. "I'm sorry, my boy. Human life is so fleeting, but then the years all blend together. It has been nearly sixty years since I saw you last, I suppose. Now I suggest you and I find somewhere not so bright to talk. I believe the ladies here have much to discuss."

Instead Darius moved towards Livia. His hand reached out to her, but before he touched her arm, she pulled away from him. "Stay away from me. Don’t you even touch me."

Ra saw the hurt in his eyes at her withdrawal from him and her sharp tone. "Come, Darius."

But he didn’t heed him, he continued to observe Livia. "Can we talk about this when you get back to the homestead?” Ra saw the conflict in her emotions as she refused to look at him.

Mab approached her. "My dear, let us talk together; then talk to the boy when you get home."

Livia stared at Mab before nodding her consent. Ra once more motioned to Darius, who finally acknowledged him and walked towards the Thunder Hollow homestead. As soon as his father joined his side, he increased his speed and was swiftly out of sight.

Mab watched the exchange between Darius and Livia with interest. She moved closer to Livia, smiling at her gently. "My dear Livia, how beautiful you are. Do you know who I am?” She reached out her delicate fingers to brush aside a stray lock of hair across Livia's eyes, twisting the lock, marvelling at the unusual colouring.

Livia stared at the woman holding her hair. "I have to admit I feel like I know you, but I do not."

Mab nodded, tucking the lock of Livia's hair behind her ear. "My dear, I am Mab, queen of the faerie. You feel like you know me because I am your great-grandmother."

Her words hung in the air between them. She could see Livia trying to process her words. "How?" Livia whispered, confusion written upon her face.

Mab threaded her arm through Livia's and pulled her round to approach Livia's waiting horse. "Why don’t we talk as we ride back? I don’t know about you, but this desert heat is most uncomfortable."

Livia nodded, pulling her arm out of Mab's and placing her hand on the warm, damp shoulder of her horse. Mechanically, after years of daily repetition, she moved her hand across the solid muscle of his shoulder, moving to the saddle, tightening the girth, before moving down to the dinner hobble strap securely fastened around the front legs of the horse above the knee joint.

She'd hobbled the horse so he could move around a little to graze but couldn’t take off on her before she had finished her work.

Buckling the strap around her waist like a belt, allowing it to settle on her curving hips, she set her reins and mounted swiftly. She reached towards Mab, who took her outstretched hand and with airy grace mounted and settled behind Livia on the horse.

As they moved off towards the homestead, following Darius and Ra, Mab answered Livia's earlier question. "I was with my daughter when your mother was born. I had foreseen she would be human. My daughter is a proud faerie, but prejudiced in her pride. But this I knew, and I knew she would not take your mother. The Sisters of Mercy looked after Helena well; I had seen this before I took her to them. When the time was right, I made sure your parents met.” Mab let her words flow around Livia, who remained silent as she absorbed them.

Thirty-two years ago, New Hampshire


Little Julio raced away from the incoming tide, giggling with delight as he beat the water before it moved back out to sea. Numito felt a tug on the corner of his mouth as he watched his son run back into the water. His heart was too sore to allow the smile to develop. It was because his Julio needed him he got his sorry arse out of bed every day since the death of his beloved mate.

A sudden wind blew across the beach, whipping up the waves and knocking the young wolf pup off his feet. In an instant Numito was on his feet and racing across the sand. Before he reached the crying child, a woman with long black curls scooped the sodden boy out of the freezing waters.

Numito arrived at the water's edge, ignoring the cold water as it swirled around his feet and soaked the denim around his ankles. "Julio, it's okay, little man. Papa's here!" He allowed the young lad's grasping hands to fist into his shirt as he pulled him into his arms. As he looked up from his son, he startled a little as he found himself mesmerised by the warm brown eyes and friendly smile of the pale-skinned woman. "Thank you so much for helping. I didn't expect such a strong wind on such a nice day."

A dimple deepened in her wind-blushed cheek as she smiled wider. "Oh, it was no hassle. I was already walking along the edge of the water."

Numito shifted the sniffling Julio in his arms and offered his hand to her. "I'm Numito. Numito Romero."

Her small hand slipped into his, and he marvelled at the tingle chasing up his arm as he enfolded his large fingers around hers. "Helena."

A sense of rightness filled him. Before he put his brain in gear, the words tumbled from his mouth. "Would you like to come and have a coffee with me?"

Her smile dazzled more than he thought possible. "I'd love to."

Numito felt his heart lighten a little.

It had to be a dream. Maybe it was a coma? She must have actually landed on the ground and somehow survived smashing her head open and now she was dreaming. Nothing seemed right. One minute she was staring into the magnetic eyes of her hired hand, feeling like she could spend eternity with him. The next they were joined by a vampire who walked in the sun and claimed to be the father of the man in whose arms she wanted to lose herself in. To top it off, the woman with the vampire claimed to be her great-grandmother and the queen of the faerie to boot.

Her musings were brought back to reality as she felt the horse beneath her shiver as he shook every muscle in his body. Livia grinned as she felt every twitch and shiver move up through her own torso. The dainty hands bunched in the folds of her shirt on either side tightened in response. The raspy voice of Queen Mab reached her ear. "It's not a dream, my dear. It is all very real. As real as the wolf Lupa, who slumbers deep within you."

Livia stiffened at those words. "I have no wolf. I never shifted.” A breezy laugh wrapped around her, prickling at her skin as it penetrated her body. She couldn’t suppress a shudder as the hairs on the back of her neck lifted.

"Whatever you say, my dear. But know this, I have watched over you and protected you since you were born. It was to protect you that I bound Lupa; her power was too strong for you at such a young age. But now you are ready.” With a shiver at the words Mab hissed around her head, Livia felt a stirring deep within her body.

The hands holding her shirt released their grip; the sun began to warm her back. Livia twisted in the saddle and peered around to see she was alone. She scanned the area around her. There was nothing to be seen except the cattle in the distance.

She rode on in silence, listening to the creaking of the leather saddle and stirrup fenders as her body moved in rhythm with her horse. It was a peaceful silence, allowing her thoughts to roam.

What the hell was going on? How the hell could Darius be a vampire? He ate food with her, drank coffee in the mornings with her. There was also the big fact he walked in the sunlight and didn't smell like a vampire. Hell, he smelt heavenly!

But the sunlight issue – Ra walked in the sun, and he most definitely smelt like a vampire, so maybe?

There was also the fact vampires were dangerous deadly creatures. Vampires had murdered Rhea Silvia, her father's mate before her mother.

Darius was anything but dangerous. He had saved her from almost certain death not ten minutes before. But what had Ra said about a woman he thought Darius would be with? Her heart squeezed as she remembered hearing the pain in his voice when he mentioned she was dead.

Human life is fleeting.

A choked sob escaped her as she thought of the bitter truth to those words.

Nate.

Ten years ago, Texas


"Hi, beautiful, would you be offended if I offered to buy you a drink?” He looked at her shyly, a crooked grin on his sensual lips, a battered, wide-brimmed hat, twisting between his hands in his obvious nervousness. Livvie looked him over and could sense a sweet gentleness about him, despite the towering size of him.

She smiled at him widely, offering him her hand. "Hi, I'm Livvie. I don’t think you could offend me even if you tried."

His answering smile turned her insides to jelly. His warm hand wrapped around hers was strong and calloused, but made her skin tingle.


Nine years ago, Texas


Livvie couldn't help but smile as a roar of approval emanated from the den. Lifting her eyes up from where she was peeling potatoes in the kitchen, they locked onto the laughter-filled grey eyes of Nate's mother. "Sounds like the Cowboys have scored again.” Her smile was genuine, and it set Livvie's nerves at ease at meeting Nate's family for the first time. "I do hope all those boys of mine don't scare you off, my dear. They can get loud and boisterous, but they're harmless I assure you."

Livvie laughed, her memory was thrown back to her childhood growing up in the large pack. She was certain the boisterous play of Nate and his four brothers was mere child's play to what she had witnessed. "Oh, don't worry about me, Mrs Sloan. I grew up in a large family, most of them boys. Some days you'd swear they were a pack of wild dogs the way they behaved."

"Who are wild dogs?"

Livvie spun around at the deep sound of Nate's voice as he entered the kitchen. Livvie felt her cheeks dimple with the grin she couldn't keep from her face as she gazed at him.

Mrs Sloan brushed past her to reach up at Nate. She pinched at his cheek as if he were a young boy again. The image made Livvie laugh, to see a five-foot-nothing woman stand on the tips of her toes to pinch the cheek of her six-foot son. "Never you mind who we were discussing. When women talk in the kitchen, it ain't nothing to do with the men-folk!"

"Okay, Mamma. Whatever you say. You're just happy not to be the only lady at the dinner table.” Nate leant down to drop a kiss on the silvering curls of his mother. She opened her mouth to speak to him when another roar drifted in from the den. Nate's face dropped, and he twisted on his heel. "Darn it! I missed it!" He headed back out of the kitchen, stopping briefly to call back. "Excuse me, ladies."

Livvie laughed as Nate's mother rolled her eyes. "I bet he came in here for more beer. Would you mind taking them in for them, my dear?"

"Sure thing, Mrs Sloan."

"Emily. Call me Emily.” The voice came from behind the bar fridge door as she fished out six bottles of beer.

Livvie nodded. "Okay Mr–Emily.” She placed the paring knife next to the couple of potatoes that were left and wiped her hands on a dishcloth she had tucked in her pocket as she moved towards Emily. She took the bottles handed to her and moved off through the kitchen door, following the sounds of happy men watching their favourite team win the Thanksgiving game.

"Oh, you are an angel! Nate, my boy! You keep a hold of this girl."

Livvie flushed at the frankness of Wyatt, Nate's father, as she handed him a bottle of beer.

Nate's hand slipped around her hip as he pulled her towards him where he sat on the end of a sofa. "Oh, I intend to," he responded as he flashed his winning smile up at her.

Livvie rolled her eyes, but inwardly she felt her heart flip. She felt a sense of rightness. Even the jeering of his brothers as they made fun of them felt so like home to her.

Pulling out of Nate's embrace, she stepped over his long legs stretched out in front of him. She let out a little squeal as she fell onto his lap as he pulled her to him. Like a deer in the headlights she was caught in his gaze, to the point she didn't notice the beers being pulled out of her grasp. It was only the cheers of another welcomed score that broke them both from their moment.


Eight years ago, Texas


The stars twinkled above them, as if sharing the happiness of the young couple entwined together on the bedroll laid out on the back of the pickup. Nate traced lazy patterns on her arm, almost like he was playing dot to dot with the smattering of freckles on her creamy skin. The heady scent of their lovemaking hung heavy in the air around them. Neither of them had been this happy since early childhood. Livvie shivered with delicious delight as Nate's trailing fingers left a wake of goosebumps on her skin.

He sighed in contentment, pressing his lips against her forehead. "I love you, Liv. I love you more than anything in the world."

She lifted her head from his shoulder, the thick waves of her hair tumbling about her shoulders in sexual disarray. She peered at him through her thick lashes. "Just as I love you, Nate.” She leaned in to kiss him, but he moved his head back, out of her reach. A slight frown creased her forehead as he raised his hand to cup her head, the pad of his thumb pushing out the creases, smoothing out her frown.

"I'm trying to ask you to marry me, Livvie, and if you start kissing me, I'm only going to end up getting distracted yet again.” He flashed her the same crooked smile that first warmed her heart.

This time he didn’t pull away when she moved to kiss him. She lifted out of his embrace to straddle him, slipping her toes under the hard muscles of his upper thighs, pulling his hips up tight to her, grinding her slickness against his hardness. She kissed him passionately, stroking his tongue with her own, still tasting herself on his lips from her earlier pleasure.


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