We’re back in Asphodel by the time I wake. My lashes part to the sight of fierce silver eyes, affection sparkling in their depths while familiar hands stroke my hair. I mumble sleepily, stretching as Bastien coaxes me from sleep. “There she is.” He purrs, turning to look down at something by my hip. “See, I told you.”
I follow his line of sight, the happiness burgeoning in my chest expanding to joy when I see Lila grinning up at me, “You slept for a long time, mommy.” She informs me, crawling into my lap for a cuddle. “Bashun said he put a spell on you.”
“I did!” He says, ‘with feigned offense, “You saw, I just lifted it.”
I squeeze the beloved bundle in my arms, rocking slightly back and forth. “And why would he do that?” I ask, resting my cheek on the top of her head.
“Cuz you didn’t want to take a nap.” She explains simply, snuggling closer.
“And you needed one.” Bastien adds seriously, watching us with a tender expression.
“Well the next time Bastien wants to put a spell on me, you bite him.” i instruct Lila, “spells are bad.”
She shakes her head, rejecting the notion without pause. “Not all spells.”
“Oh, which spells are good?” I question, trying very hard to look at her and not the big wolf kneeling at the edge of the passenger seat.
“Ones that heal.” Lila claims, looking up at me with my own eyes. “or give you nice dreams” she ponders another moment, “love ones.”
“Your mommy knows all about love spells” Bastien declares, the corner of his mouth twitching upward.
My eyes narrow to slits, and I slip out of the car, carrying Lila with me. “Don’t you listen to him, Lila.” I instruct tritely, heading for the canal and its waiting ferry boats, flanked by my mate and his guards. “That big bad wolf is full of nonsense.”
I know Bastien is making faces behind my back, because Lila giggles the entire way to the pier. She’s like a tiny spring in my arms, bobbing up and down; first peeking her head up over my shoulder then ducking down again to hide.
Thead straight for the prow when we board the boat, reflexively taking up Lila’s favorite spot for spying fish and giant otters. on the journey. Bastien moves close behind me, his chest grazing my shoulder blades as his arms cage me on either side. His hands settle on the railing, and I don’t need to look in order to guess his expression. Lila’s face says it all: her precious features are uncertain at first, but quickly transform into a beaming grin.
It’s the look of any wolf that comes under the intimidating Alpha’s scrutiny, only most never get past the cowed deference. Not my pup, she stares into the face of danger with pure joy, thoroughly undermining my lies about her paternity. I catch Donavon appraising her smile, no doubt noting its resemblance to Bastien’s.
It’s surprisingly quiet as the boat takes off, and I look around for the other passengers, only to realize they aren’t there. We‘re the only ones aboard the ferry, and all the other travelers who had been waiting on the docks remain there still.
“You didn’t have to do that.” I admonish Bastien, nodding towards the disgruntled clump of people.
A jolt of electricity runs through me as his lips graze the back of my neck, “I disagree.”
“Mommy look!” Lila chirps happily as a fish flies out of the water before us, disappearing just as quickly, its shimmering scales still visible beneath the crystalline surface.
“I see!” I exclaim, pretending I’m not completely on edge with the huge shifter looming over me.
“Why does it jump like that?” She asks curiously.
“Maybe it was trying to come and say hello to you.” I suggest.
*And now it’s going to go home and tell its whole fish family about the strange creatures it saw on the lagoon today.” Bastien adds, his rumbling voice making my insides turn to jelly.
I turn to flare up at him, mouthing, “stop it!”
He arches his brow, as if to say “stop what?”
Thankfully Lila is oblivious to our silent battle. “Where do fishes live when they aren’t swimming?”
“Fish,” I correct gently, “can live in all sorts of places: reefs, caves, even under the sand.”
As with any child her age, one question quickly becomes one hundred, and I can see her gearing up for the onslaught. However, before she can find the words to express her curious thoughts, Bastien heads her off. “Oh!” He says with animation, “You know who loves fish?”
“Who?” Lila peeps immediately.
“Aiden!” From the look on Aiden’s face, this is the first he’s heard of this supposed interest, but he comes forward to take Lila anyway. She’s already rattling off questions as they stride away, and I turn on my mate.
“Would you stop giving my pup away to random wolves?” I snap.
“Aiden is hardly random.” He remarks dryly, “and we need to talk.”
“You’ve got to stop this.” I object, pushing at his chest. “Whether or not we know him, it’s my decision who watches my child, not yours!”
He leans forward, invading my space even more than he already was, and my back hits the railing. “You’re really going to keep pretending she isn’t mine?”
My lip curls up, and I force the words out through clenched teeth. “She isn’t.”
“We’ll see.” Bastien replies ominously.
Every muscle in my body goes taught. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“It means we’ll see.” He repeats not giving an inch, “In the meantime we need to figure out what’s going on here.”
“That’s not your concern either.” I insist, “As far as I’m concerned that alarm at the safehouse was a blessing.” One that hadn’ t come a moment too soon. “You used my wolf against me, I lost control. That’s not going to happen again.”
A dark laugh rolls through Bastien’s chest, “My sweet little wolf.” He buries his face in my hair, inhaling my scent like an addict satisfying their fix. “You might be feistier now, but you’re every bit as adorable.” Despite his words, his expression is so menacing when he pulls his head up I’m afraid he might mark me right here and now.
Let him, Luna purrs.
Don’t you start. I bite back.
“Just you wait.” He goads huskily, “when that first heat hits, you’re going to be begging for my mark.”
“Not if you’re back in Elysium where you belong.” I hiss.
“I’m not leaving Asphodel without you.” Bastien declares fiercely, “and that won’t happen until we know who turned you in.”
I choose to ignore his first comment, “You’re overreacting, it was probably just some petty she-wolf who’s jealous of my relationship with Drake. I’m not exactly popular with the women here.”
“And what if you’re wrong?” Bastien presses. “Do you really want to take that chance? With your life, with Lila’s?”
Indecision paralyzes me, what if you are wrong? Luna asks.
Who else could it be? I think back.
It could easily have been for the money. She answers.
I brush off her qualms, knowing my stubbornness is more to do with Bastien than true logic. Then they aren’t truly a threat to me, are they?
But it’s Lila, comes Luna’s vehement reply.
I know – and she’s safer out of the spotlight. I reason. We’ll leave if we have to – just not with him.
I offer Bastien my best glower. “Drake will take care of me.”
His wolf is close to the surface now, drawn out by the repeated mention of the other man. “He will never take care of you the way I will and you know it.”
Our bodies are practically plastered together now, and I’m pushing down the instinct to rub myself all over him; marking him with my scent and satisfying my own needs for affection from my mate. Goddess, how I wish I could turn these feelings off – despite my tough words, I know I can’t keep this up much longer. It hurts too much to be so near him while keeping our wolves apart.
Even so, I have to stay strong – I know the way this story goes. “He’ll also never hurt me the way you did.” I challenge fervently.
Something acutely akin to pain flashes in his silver eyes, “That isn’t fair.” He replies gravely, his jaw granite. “I didn’t know what was going on with Arabella.”
“That’s some endorsement.” I scoff, “How can you tell me we’d be safer with you, when you couldn’t see what was happening underneath your own nose?”
“How could you expect me to help with your troubles when you hid them from me?” Bastien contradicts, “I’m not omniscient, Selene. I had an entire pack to run, I was mourning my father and losing my wife, I did the best I could.”
“Well your best wasn’t enough.” I’m baiting him now, but nothing else is working. “Drake’s was.” I tilt my chin up, looking him dead in the eye as I proclaim, “This is my home now, tip line or no, I’m staying here.”
Bastien huffs humorlessly, “Well I’ve got news for you, sweetheart.” He growls, closing his arms a bit tighter around me. “Whatever happens between us, I’m not leaving before I know who was responsible for this, so you’d better get used to living with me again, because I’m not going anywhere.”