Lorelei wanted desperately to remember every image and element from her dreams, and she willed herself not to forget a single detail as she was falling asleep, but her mind was distracted by everything that was going on. She kept hearing Yovenna’s answer when she asked the seer why she wouldn’t just come to herself in a dream if the message she had to share was so important. She didn’t remember any significant dreams from her past, any possible encounters she might have had with herself, but that didn’t mean they hadn’t occurred.
Either way, she wasn’t about to let herself forget another dream. Not if she could help it. So she willed herself to hang onto any threads that might weave themselves into the colorful canvas of her mind.
But Instead of dreaming some prophetic wonder that would make sense of every moment of her life, she found herself trapped in a dark room with a great black wolf crouched in the corner. Its eyes glowed like two crystals, iridescent lights in the dark, and though she knew even in her dream she should fear that beast, the rhythmic beat of its heart thumped in time with her own and its gentle spirit called to her.
It snorted, a puff of damp, warm breath flaring from its nostrils as she tentatively reached a hand out. Its cold nose nuzzled into her palm, the tickle of its breath against her skin sent a tingle of intrigue through her body. Its gentle tongue swept out to taste her skin in an affectionate manner, a jolt of strange excitement tightening the muscles of her belly. She lifted her hand to its face, her fingers slipping into the beast’s soft fur and trailing toward his ear. It turned its head, its soft tongue sweeping along the length of her arm and making something inside her shiver in the most delightful way. Her stomach clenched as a wave of chills rippled through her entire body, waking something deep inside her until she could feel it rising through her to overtake her completely.
The beast took a step toward her, rising above her from the shadows, but she was not afraid. She wanted to be like him, for her wolf spirit to awaken so the two of them could run together through the woods in a playful game of catch me if you can. And when he caught her, they would tumble through the leaves and dirty until he pinned her on her back and loomed above her with a wicked gleam in his eye.
When the dream shifted, she was racing through a dew slick glen, the moon rising over the treetops edging the open glade. The pads of her feet slipped in the grass as she reared her head around to peer over her shoulder at the beast chasing her. She caught a glimpse of him, but it was not the same beast in the corner of the room. This beast was leaner, his lavender eyes flashing in the brief glint of moonlight before her front paw caught on a stone jutting up from the ground.
She tumbled clumsily through the wet grass and the tawny wolf skidded to a halt above her. He staring down at her, his broad chest rising and falling with every breath. He opened his mouth, a playful leer stretching the long edges of his dark lips to reveal a full mouth of sharp and jagged teeth.
Dew soaked into her thick fur, and when she rolled onto her side the silver moonlight streaming through the trees reflected off the droplets clinging to her coat until they shone like fire gems.
The sudden realization that she was beast tickled her. Her spirit really was like Finn’s.
You are more like me. We were made for each other, two halves of the same whole. We could be soul mates, Lorelei.
She could hear his voice inside herself, and when she answered it was with her thoughts.
No. My soul is Finn’s. I am his mate.
That realization was both terrifying and freeing. She would never have to search for love. It would always be right there in front of her, waiting for her to open her heart and let it in.
Your soul is only his if you choose to give it to him. Every part of you is yours to do with what you will.
It disturbed her that he had heard thoughts she hadn’t spoken to him, and for a moment she wondered if that was how it was with all wolves. Could everyone in the pack hear each other’s thoughts? How did anyone ever keep anything private? Her thoughts were her own and she didn’t want everyone around her reading them.
The tawny wolf snuffled, an intriguing mimicry of laughter, and then he stretched his paws out in front of his body. His tale tucked almost submissively between his legs before he eased into a relaxed position on the ground beside her and tilted his head to study her. His eyes were so large, like two almond-shaped amethysts glistening in the moonlight.
My soul has longed for yours since you reached into the darkness and took my hand, my Light of Madra.
Lorelei shot awake like an arrow leaving the taut, sinewy string of a cocked bow. A gasp stuck in her chest and her heart raced almost guiltily when she heard Finn snort through a choked snore before shifting uncomfortably in the chair and burying his chin deeper into his shoulder. He muttered something unintelligible in his sleep and then resumed snoring.
She dropped back into the hay-stuffed mattress with a disgruntled huff, the wispy strands of her hair tickling her forehead when they fell back into place.
Her soul was only Finn’s if she chose to give it to him.
After everything she and Finn had been through together, after the way she’d felt his heart beat inside her own body, why would she dream about someone else that way? Not that there was anything wrong with Brendolowyn. He seemed a nice enough man, and he was beautiful to look at with those sharp, but delicate elven features, intense lavender eyes and mage’s grace. And since she’d met him he’d seemed so intuitive, always knowing exactly when she needed someone to step in and make her smile. Just like Finn, Bren had saved her life when she was running from death.
On the other hand she barely knew him, and while her heart certainly did flutter a little when he flirted with her the way he did, she didn’t get the same intense connection in his company that she got when she was with Finn.
Rolling onto her side, she tucked her folded hands beneath her cheek and stared at him while he slept.
He had all but grown a full beard over the last week, the thick black hair on his cheeks and chin hiding the chiseled structure of his face that she couldn’t deny finding attractive. His eyes were always smiling, even when he was serious, and there was a playfulness about him that never ceased to make her feel lighter no matter how heavy things got. To make matters even more intriguing he had the softest, fullest lips she’d ever seen, and every time she looked at him she couldn’t help wondering what it might feel like to kiss them. The bristling hairs of his stiff facial hair tickling her skin as his mouth opened against hers, his soft tongue darting out to taste her kiss before wandering lips trailed across her cheek, a soft whisper hushing across the sensitive skin of her ear.
A strange, but delightful series of chills, not unlike the sensation she felt in her dream, rippled through her at that thought, the muscles in her stomach clenching gently at the prospect of giving in to him that way. She knew what came after kisses. Her mother and Pahjah both had told her what to expect on her wedding night, and though it sounded dreadful and terrifying, something about giving herself to Finn that way made her shiver with intrigue.
She only needed to close her eyes to call to mind the chiseled muscle of his chest and stomach, the old scars that decorated his pale skin and the soft patch of hair across his breast that trailed enticingly down his stomach to disappear beneath the waistline of his breeches. Trystay had been manly enough, with his deep voice and lean, muscular build, and before he’d tried to kill her he’d seemed very romantic, but Finn… Finn was the very definition of manhood in her eyes. He was so tall she felt like a child standing next to him sometimes, and when he’d thrown her over his shoulder to carry her away from danger the night they were exiled from Drekne, she couldn’t help feeling so safe in his arms, so comfortable with the proximity of their bodies.
Looking over at him again, he was dirty from the road and still wearing mismatched clothes someone in Logren’s party had offered after he’d torn his to battle the troll. His unwashed black hung in thick locks across his face and fluttered with every exhale of breath. Even in that state, he was still a vision to behold. Not pretty-boy handsome like Trystay, but rugged and solid and very capable of holding his own against whatever adversary he might have to face.
A man like Finn wouldn’t just protect her, he would teach her how to protect herself. He had already shown her more in the last few days than she’d ever learned spying on Aelfric’s battle yard from her bedroom window, and Finn would insist that she stand beside him against whatever awaited them, not behind him.
That was the way it should be. Two wolves, side by side, against all odds, against the world.
Only she was not a wolf, at least she didn’t think she was. There had never been any indication in her life that she was anything other than human and that realization disheartened her. She was just a girl, barely of age, unsure about the world beyond the confines of that tiny room and terrified of the things that world seemed to want from her. If there was a wolf somewhere beneath her skin, it had yet to show its presence, and a part of her was already beginning to doubt it ever would.
Finn may have been hers for the taking if she wanted him, but how could they be soul mates if her soul was nothing like his? Did it even matter in the end if she was not a wolf? Would that somehow damper the way he felt about her in the long run? If she was truly what the seers had both claimed she was, she and Brendolowyn were more alike. Two half-souled beings that might experience a wholeness if they were to somehow combine their essence.
A guilty twinge rippled through her at that thought. Finn may have kept the truth about their bond from her, but in retrospect she understood his reasons for it. And she didn’t even know if Brendolowyn had the least bit of interest in her beyond friendship. Flirting was one thing, but Finn had put his life on the line for her, sacrificed his future among his own people to venture into exile with her, and yet her twisted mind had dreamed of someone else.
How could she, after everything she and Finn had been through in the last week, and why Brendolowyn? He seemed so much older than she was, and besides, hadn’t Yovenna said she was to embark on her journey with her mate and the Alvari mage?
Wasn’t that enough to finalize what she already knew in her heart to be true?
Finn was her mate.
That should have settled it, but it didn’t. She closed her eyes again, a fading flash of two wolves running in the moonlight, one tawny, one red like fire. Fortunately a pair of tiny feet hammered through the house beyond the closed door, drawing her away from the conflict of her own mind.
A hushed whisper scolded, “Roggi, please. You will wake everyone in the house.”
“Good!” His declaration of stubborn joy was followed by a loud stomp that shook the walls. “I want to wake them. I want my auntie to eat breakfast with me. I want to show Finn my muscles.”
“You can show Finn your muscles later, and your aunt needs her rest. You know she came all the way from Leithe.”
“How far is Leithe, Mummy?”
“Very far, little one. It took her many, many days to get to this place and she is very tired.”
“Will she wake up soon?”
“Perhaps she will, but until she does we should be quiet so she can rest.”
“If we make her breakfast she will wake,” the little boy declared. “Just like Da always does.”
She heard Viina’s gentle laugh. “Then I suppose we should head out to the market before we check the hen house for new eggs. We have a houseful of people to feed. Come along, let’s put your boots on.”
After a few more minutes of quiet voices the house grew quiet again—well, quiet as it could get with Finn snarling like a wild animal every time he exhaled. Lorelei rolled onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She was surrounded by people, an entire hidden city of people to be precise who were all like her. She was among family, in the same room with the man who claimed he was her mate, and yet she’d never felt more isolated in her life.
She longed for Pahjah. Her nursemaid always knew what to do, and surely if she could only see her for a moment she would not only comfort her, but tell her exactly what path she should choose. But Pahjah was so far away, and there was no telling if she would ever see her again. Lorelei blinked, her lids growing heavy as unshed tears burned behind them.
As a girl she’d always thought her life was so complicated. She wished daily for the freedom to make her own choices and walk her own path. Now that she had no choice but to claim her freedom, she felt even more constrained. An entire race of people were counting on her, and she didn’t even know what she was supposed to do to save them.
“Llorveth,” she whispered, “please guide me in the right direction.”
Funny that after nearly ten minutes of Roggi running through the house it was the sound of her prayer that woke Finn. His head jerked from his shoulder, neck cracking with the sudden movement. There was a startled ferocity in his eyes, wildly scanning the room as if he didn’t remember where he was or how he’d gotten there. He smacked his tongue across his lips and stretched forward in the chair before turning his confused gaze in her direction. The disconnection faded, recognition lighting in his eyes as the corners of his mouth twitched upward.
“Good morning,” he lifted a hand through the tangled hair hanging in his face and arched his back. She swore she heard several joints pop and crack when he leaned back again with a heavy groan. “You should know that my back is killing me.”
“I told you to sleep in the bed,” she said softly, a hint of scolding in her tone.
“And where would I have slept in that tiny little bed, Princess? Underneath you?” There was a teasing flash in his eyes, but she chose to ignore both the wag of his eyebrow and the tingling sensation it stirred in her gut. Rolling forward until she was sitting in the bed, she drew her knees up under her chin.
“I don’t know, we slept in that tent together. I’m sure we could have worked something out.” She shrugged and then rested her head over her knees. “Do you think this incredibly advanced, magical city has a bath house?”
“One can only hope,” he turned his head down to sniff himself, his nose wrinkling as he drew back again.
She hadn’t even taken her boots off the night before, and her stockings felt damp and icky inside them. She couldn’t even begin to imagine how bad they would smell when she took them off, or how scruffy she must look. It had been more than a week since she’d last taken a proper comb to her hair, and her last bath had been a meager attempt to wash the blood from her skin in the stream outside of Breken while Viln was covering their tracks.
“I must look a mess.” She sighed and slid her arms further down the length of her legs.
Finn was quiet while he studied her, his intense blue eyes glimmering with unspoken appreciation. “You couldn’t look a mess if you tried.”
She felt her skin grow as warm as if the blood beneath it had started to simmer, and the guilt she felt after waking from that dream intensified. Every morning she could wake to his kindness, the comfort of his arms around her and the solidity of his presence. All she had to do was say the words.
“You are too kind,” she snorted a little laugh to hide her nervousness from him, but his connection to her allowed him to see right through her. It was evident in his eyes, and when the corner of his mouth tugged into a playful grin it took every ounce of strength she had inside her not to hold her hand out and invite him into her arms.
Where would such a gesture land her? What would it feel like to curl up to him in such a confined space and sleep without restraining herself? What would it be like if she draped her small arm across that thick, chiseled waist of his and rested her head upon his strong shoulder? Even more intriguing was the thought of his wide palm trailing up the length of her spine, his fingers slipping into her hair as he tilted her face into his waiting kiss. What did he taste like? Her face burned for it, but she wanted to know.
If she thought her blood was warm before, it was surely boiling by that point. Finn’s smile only seemed to widen, and she remembered her dream, that she could hear and share her thoughts with Brendolowyn when they were wolves. Could Finn hear her thoughts all the time, just as he could feel the physical and emotional shifts in her body? The possibility was startling, and she gulped down hard on the lump that had risen into her throat.
“What are you thinking about, Princess?” He squinted a little, as if he were trying to guess.
She couldn’t tell if he was playing dumb, or if he really had no idea the wicked thoughts that had been running through her mind. Not that there was really anything wicked about them, though. A kiss was just a kiss… until it led to… well, whatever else came after. It was too soon to think about what came after. She hadn’t even kissed him yet, didn’t know if she ever even would.
“I was just thinking that I am getting very hungry, and I should go see if I can find something to eat.”
With that she jumped up from the bed and hurried across the room toward the door. She only happened to look back over her shoulder to see him watching her as she rushed through it and into her brother’s quiet house. She heard him get up from the chair with a heavy groan, his bootsteps following her through the dim hallway and into the spacious main room.
(next part coming up tomorrow this chapter is endlessly long.)