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The walls of the massive stone structure stood better than twenty feet tall, filling Charity with a sense of awe as Arak drove up to the gatehouse. Even through the SUV, the large silver gates that had swung open for them left her slightly nauseated, but it quickly passed once they reached an open field. Outcroppings of buildings surrounded the field, the biggest of which appeared to be the main residence.
Arak backed her SUV under an enclosed carport across from the residence and left the keys dangling in the ignition. When she leaned forward to reach for them, Zeke stilled her hand, explaining they all left their keys inside their vehicles in case any had to be moved quickly.
“Don’t you worry someone might take the Charger for a spin?”
Zeke paused from opening the car door and glanced back at her with a dangerous smile. “My brethren know better. They might not die by my sword, but I can sure as hell inflict some pain.”
Charity sat in stunned silence for a minute as Zeke climbed out of the truck then swung open her door. She tried to ignore the hand shoved in her face, but the fingers waving only an inch from her nose were extremely annoying. She grabbed and twisted them in her fist, and Zeke, using the distraction, pulled her from the vehicle.
Looking around, she noticed the carport held a variety of vehicles stacked two deep. Some she recognized, like Zeke’s Charger, Bale’s Viper, and Faith’s VW Bug. Others, like the large-ass black pickup truck against one wall and the array of motorcycles against the other, she did not. Boys and their toys.
The first rays of the morning sun were just lighting up the sky. Arak had moved off ahead of them, and Charity clung to Zeke’s arm as he led her across the field. Dragging her feet did no good. Zeke only chuckled, picking up his pace and forcing her to remain alongside of him.
She was just stepping across the threshold of the main residence when a scent hit her. Inhaling deeply, she drew the fragrance into her lungs and felt receptors flare to life throughout her body, wiggling around in happy delight. Again she sniffed, ignoring Zeke’s questioning look. She had to be wrong.
The grand double staircase and large tapestries adorning the stone walls barely registered as she moved farther into the foyer. Her mind was centered only on the delicious aroma she was drawing into her lungs in large gulps. She had to follow it. She had to know the truth.
“Charity,” Faith greeted, coming down one of the two sets of stairs. She knocked Zeke out of her way, curled an arm around Charity’s, and led her toward a large archway on the other side of the room. “Hope is in the dining hall with some of the brothers. Come on and meet them. I promise, only a couple of them bite.”
Charity blindly allowed Faith to pull her deeper into the fortress because that was the direction the trail led. She heard a voice she recognized as Kash’s from within the residence. “So I finally get to meet the infamous Charity.”
Then Arak’s laughing reply: “Zeke’s been trying to keep her to himself. I swear they are like Thing 1 and Thing 2.”
Charity didn’t even react to being referred to as a Dr. Seuss character. She was too damn confused to allow Arak’s teasing to distract her. Her wolf was pacing under her skin, urging her eagerly forward.
Scanning the large area that made up the dining hall, she allowed her nose to guide her, bypassing all the inhabitants until her gaze settled on Hope and the male who had an arm wrapped around her shoulders. All this time she had believed her mate was a vampire. So many of them had died the night Hope had been kidnapped, and with the scent of blood so strong, she hadn’t noticed any difference, but somehow, even though Charity wasn’t aware of any species that could have survived such blood loss, her mate had.
Her mate. Kash.
No, Hope’s mate.
Her wolf made a lunge for control, one Charity was almost unable to counter. Her mate lived, and he held another female tightly against him. As Hope smiled in greeting, Charity staggered back, fearful of what she might do. To her roommate -- her friend. Her teeth ached as they began their descent, her fingers twitched, claws protruding from the tips, and her skin began to ripple as she fought the need to shift.
Stumbling blindly, Charity turned, ignoring those who called her name. Zeke grabbed at her as she pushed her way through the doorway, but she swiped at him with her claws. She was already losing the tentative grasp she held, her wolf forcing herself to the surface. And she was a mess of jumbled emotions -- the need to draw blood from the female who dared try to take her mate from her warring with the desire to crawl in a corner and lick her wounds. She’d mourned him once. She didn’t think she could do so again and survive.
Her wolf burst free just as she cleared the front door, her clothing shredding around her. Driven purely by instinct, the strawberry blonde wolf streaked across the field, not understanding why her mate had betrayed her. She ran for the ten-feet-high gate, but the silver embedded in the steel prevented her from getting close enough to find a way between the bars. In a state of confused panic, she entered the nearest building. The scent of her mate permeated the room and filled her with a sense of total dismay at all she’d lost. One lone howl of agony prevailed through the darkness before she curled into a ball and prayed for death to take her.
* * * * *
Uncertain what had just happened, Kash watched Zeke stalk across the room, anger lining his face. Once he came to a halt, he dropped his gaze to Hope and peered at her dangerously. “What the hell did you say to her? After your little tantrum earlier, I would have hoped you’d be able to act the adult.”
At Hope’s crestfallen look, Kash stepped between them. “Hope never spoke a word to your little werewolf, Zeke, so watch your mouth.”
Zeke seemed to not even see him. He was backing away, shaking his head. “I shouldn’t have brought her here. I have to find her.”
Kash watched in confusion as Zeke turned and stormed off. “What was that about?”
“We have to help him.”
Kash glanced down at Hope, who was staring at Zeke’s retreating back. “Are you crazy? She is clearly not stable. She almost attacked us.”
Hope grabbed his arm and looked up at him. “Charity is not normally like this. She’s had a rough time of it lately. That has to be the reason.”
“What could warrant her behavior?” he demanded, but Hope only shook her head.
“Please,” she said softly, and Kash couldn’t help giving in to her appeal.
Kash gave her chin an affectionate tap. “All right, doll, we will. But later you can explain to me just what is going on.”
Absently Hope nodded, following Zeke toward the front door. As Kash glanced around at his brothers, looking for volunteers, he found them all watching with morbid fascination. Most of them had already been freaked out by the little shifter, and her most recent display did nothing to endear her to them. Even Arak appeared leery at the prospect of helping to search the fortress.
At the front door, he paused to watch Hope collect the remains of Charity’s clothing, the articles nothing more than rags now. When she met his gaze, the worry darkening her normally bright blue eyes spurred him into action. Over the centuries, Kash had gone out of his way to help any female in distress. He couldn’t stand to see a woman upset, but he’d either befriend them because he wanted to end up in their beds or because they were the lovers of his brethren. Hope was different -- she was his friend for no other reason than he enjoyed her company.
“We’ll find her,” he assured Hope before they split up in the bailey, each going in a different direction. Kash headed north to search some of the outlying buildings, the storage shed where Penny kept her gardening supplies, what they teasingly referred to as the “lab” because it was where Jet brewed the crap he liked to call ale, and the chapel. He even glanced down the dried-up well, but no Charity and no wolf.
Kash finally trudged across the bailey toward Tremelay Tower, which housed the forge, and above it, his private rooms. He glanced at the large gate as he passed, briefly wondering if somehow Charity had managed to get past it. Since they’d learned that vampires and shifters alike were repelled by silver, the gates had been replaced and were now infused with both silver and iron, guaranteeing neither demon nor “other” could cross the abbey’s threshold. It seemed unlikely Charity would be the exception, but could any of them really be sure?
After entering his workshop, Kash slid the wooden door closed before flipping on the light. He almost headed straight for the stairs, would have if a movement in the corner hadn’t caught his attention, and about jumped out of his skin when he spotted the red wolf curled up in a tight ball.
She watched him warily, her cobalt blue eyes filled with an intelligence that seemed out of sorts with the animal, and as he racked his brain trying to determine what exactly he should do, Kash realized with a start that he didn’t fear the wolf would attack. He’d once asked Bale how he’d known Faith was his mate, and he’d been more than slightly annoyed at his brother’s response. “My soul reached for hers, and I just knew.” But now, Kash understood.
There were some things the Grigori had retained from their lives as angels. Their individual powers, like his ability to create fire, had not ebbed. They could teleport to any place if they knew the physical location. They could communicate over short distances using a form of telepathy. And though the sight had dimmed, they could still see the souls in the humans around them. When he met Charity’s gaze, his soul soared toward hers, and Kash knew.
He’d found his mate.
She shuddered uncontrollably, whimpering softly as he approached, hand outstretched. Kash stopped several feet short of her and sat on the floor. He decided the best course of action would be to allow her to come to him.
“It’s all right, my little wolf. I will not hurt you.”
Charity lifted her head, cocking it to one side while listening to his quietly spoken words.
“It’s okay. Come here, cherie. You’re safe with me.”
She gave another whine before closing the distance between them, crawling slowly on her belly. He recognized her fear, and an irrational sense of shame washed over him. The notion that he hadn’t protected her warred with practical common sense. The fact was, he hadn’t known he’d needed to.
He spread his legs wide as he pulled the wolf onto his lap, then wrapped his arms around her quivering torso. She remained rigid against him, as if she hadn’t expected his touch. Then, with a shudder that racked her frame, she collapsed against his chest, exhaling soft puffs of breath, moistening his neck where her chin rested on his shoulder.
Moments passed as Kash held her tightly, allowing his hands to heat, and the golden glow emanating from his fingers pushed warmth into her body, stilling the tremors that had consumed her. Once she calmed, completely relaxed, he felt tiny ripples surface beneath his fingers.
“Shhh, cherie.” Uncertain of the cause for her sudden distress, Kash murmured soothing sounds, but the ripples continued, actually picking up speed. He then realized her body was trying to shift back to human, and he eagerly anticipated the process’s completion, when he could get a good look at the human half of his mate.
Kash found himself face-to-face with the most enchanting vision he had ever laid eyes on. A disarray of reddish blonde hair framed the lean, freckled face of a goddess. High cheekbones, a button nose, and lush, bow-shaped pink lips fell under the most arresting blue gaze ever to capture Kash’s attention. As he raised his hand to her cheek, she then leaned into his caress, and before he could stop himself, he had her hair wrapped around his fist, holding her still for his kiss.