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Page 58

“Mine is the original sword made by Niall O’Connell and his Fae mate. The others are later copies. Much more symbolic if Callum stole this one. Besides, his Shiftertown’s Guardian is a bear, and I’m not thinking even Callum would risk pissing off the Ursines. But Liam is new at being leader, and Shifters like to test new leaders. Callum’s clan’s protecting him now, but they know as well as Callum does that if he tries anything else, we’ll take him down, and that will be the end of him.”

Andrea drew her feet to the bed and wrapped her arms around her knees. Sean spoke with firm finality, no regrets about the violent justice he’d mete out. But Shifters walked a tightrope now that they lived in Shiftertowns—if they turned against each other, it would be a disaster.

“I think Callum just got bored,” she said. “In Colorado, we were still pretty close to basic survival, no thoughts of conspiracies and that kind of thing. Survival, mating, and raising cubs—that was it.”

Sean looked at her sitting next to him, all folded in on herself, her eyes gray like a misty evening. What male wouldn’t want Andrea under him in the night, those beautiful eyes darkening with desire?

“I think Callum’s not wrong that we’ve gotten a little comfortable,” Sean said. “We have food and shelter, time to pray and love and play. Families are staying together and growing larger. So of course we have to start fighting each other for power.”

Andrea gave him a wry look. “When you force different species to coexist on the same patch, there’s bound to be friction. Look at your Dad and Glory.”

“I’m not wanting to at the moment, thank you very much. A better example is you and me.”

“Cross-species mating?” Andrea said with a little smile. “Can it possibly work? We could go on an afternoon talk show.”

“I want it to work.” Sean turned the full force of his gaze on her. “Because when I first saw you, love, I started to believe in forever.”

Andrea gazed back at him with gray eyes so filled with loneliness that Sean’s heart squeezed hard. He wanted to make all her hurts go away, and damn it, he would.

“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, what 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 ass**le 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 need 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 I 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. “My 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?”

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