“Daniel.” Drew stepped past us and walked toward the man and the four wolves milling around his bare legs. “What the hell are you doing here?”
More importantly, where the hell did you learn to do that? My fingers dug so hard into Thom’s arm that he winced.
“Steady, Mar,” he breathed.
“What the hell was that?” I murmured.
“Don’t know,” Thom said, voice low so only Phelan and I could hear him. “But I’ll trust Drew enough to find out.”
“Standing here naked, apparently,” Daniel said, his hands moving to protect his modesty. “For the love of God, Andrew, I need some pants. Or maybe a towel?”
Someone behind me choked on nervous laughter. It might have been Carolyn. I couldn’t be sure.
Drew sighed, glancing back at me. I jerked my head slightly to the side. He scanned the nearest edge of the circle, then said, “Care, there’s some sweats hanging to dry back by the laundry tubs. Grab them, huh?”
“Pull the lines in,” Thom added. “But not too far. Tell the sentries to stay put.”
Carolyn looked momentarily confused by the term sentries but seemed to catch Thom’s meaning a moment later. She nodded. “I’ll tell them to stay up top.” Her gaze flicked to me. I tlted my head slightly in silent question.
She nodded and moved away. I exhaled a breathing I hadn’t quite realized I was holding and sagged slightly.
One crisis averted—for now.
I refocused on the current problem at hand.
The man Drew called Daniel was taller than even Thom, lean and muscled. A black tattoo that might have been of thorns or claws circled his left bicep. His skin was parchment-pale, though, as if he didn’t spend much time outdoors—or simply turned red as a lobster when he did. His eyes were big, bright blue.
Gods and monsters, I realized with a jolt. He has Drew’s eyes. Or Drew has his. They were shaped the same and were just as deep, fathomless.
“All right,” Drew rumbled. “Someone’s getting you pants. Now what the hell are you doing here? How did you find me?”
“You never made a secret of where you were going to university,” Daniel said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d guess you weren’t happy to see me.”
Drew took a few deep, even breaths. “It’s not that at all,” he said slowly, gently. “I just wonder why here and why now—and how you learned to take the shape of a gods-be-damned wolf, little brother!”
It was as if someone had doused me with ice-cold water. Little brother?
“Oh,” Daniel said, glancing down at his lupine companions. “That trick.”
“Yes,” Drew said, voice straining. “That trick.”
“Complicated,” Daniel said. Slightly more or less than why I’m here.” His gaze drifted toward Phelan, lurking behind Thom and I. “Wanderer?”
Phelan flinched. “Who gave you that name?” He tensed behind us. I touched his hand lightly, but that did nothing for the tension knotting his frame. Thom glanced at him, brow furrowing slightly. Phelan didn’t move, just stood there, hands knotted around his staff, barely breathing as he let Thom and I stand sentinel in front of him, living shields.
If he hadn’t been so frightened, he probably would have been angry at us.
“A woman named Cara O’Shea. She still keeps a photograph of you on her desk in Cardiff. Did, anyway, when I left.”
Drew stared blankly at Daniel. I watched Phelan’s face crumple like a tissue in a fist. Oh shit.
“I called her Kit,” Phelan said, almost too soft to hear. “It was a long time ago.”
Daniel kept staring at Phelan. “She told me stories about you when I was a boy. When the pack heard what we heard on the coast, we started running. Hunting for you.” His gaze flicked toward Drew. “I’m surprised he’s here, Andrew. Then again, perhaps I’m not. You’ve got Grandmother’s gift as surely as I got mum’s.”
I clamped my mouth shut, mind reeling. What the hell is going on here?
You don’t want to know, Marin. You really don’t.
But I needed to, whether I liked it or not.
“What did you hear on the coast?” Thom asked, voice heavy with dread. His hand tightened briefly on my arm.
Daniel met Thom’s gaze head-on. “Who are you?”
“The man who decided whether or not we were going to shoot you or give you pants,” Thom said. His voice was even now, impossibly calm. “We give you pants, you answer our questions.”
One of the wolves growled, showing teeth. Daniel gave it an open-handed slap. The wolf whined, then slunk back, tail curling under.
Fuck, Thom. You’re playing chicken with the pack’s alpha. We don’t know what the hell we’re dealing with here. What’s wrong with you?
Phelan finally squeezed my hand back, his shock seeming to fade. The look in his eye told me I needed to trust my husband. Thom knew what he was doing.
I hoped Phelan’s faith wasn’t misplaced.
Daniel kept staring at Thom, breaking eyelock at last when Carolyn edged forward to hand him a pair of sweatpants and a jacket. The big man sighed and shook his head as he started to yank the pants on over long legs. “The Nordics have set hounds upon the Wanderer’s scent. I don’t know what you’ve all done to piss them off, but they want you dead or theirs, one or the other. I don’t think they much care which it is at the end of the day.”
“That’s exactly what I feared,” Phelan murmured. I squeezed his hand with every ounce of my strength.
“How much time do we have?” Thom asked. I could already see the numbers running in his head, the logistics coming together. He would find a way to keep us safe—no matter what it took, no matter what it cost him physically.
Not for the first time, I thanked whatever powers that were out there that he was still with us and prayed the cost wouldn’t be too high.
“That’s the good news,” Daniel said. “The lads and I knew what to look for. We’re smarter than the louts they’re sending after you. They don’t know where to start looking. Could be months. Years, even.” His eyes narrowed. “They’re working from the old scent, the ancient scent, not the new one. They’ll chase false leads.”
“False leads,” Thom repeated, a question latent in his tone.
“Aye. They’ll chase anything close for a while and move on when they realize it’s not him—or any of you. They don’t have scents for you yet, but I imagine they eventually will if you can’t take them all out when they finally make it here.”
“But we have time,” Thom said.
“Oh, aye. No idea how much, but there’s time. We came to warn you.”
“Will you be staying long?” Kellin broke in, crossing her arms as she stood a few feet away from us, having listened quietly to the whole exchange, thinking, watching—waiting.
“Not too long,” Daniel said. “Two weeks, perhaps. Then west or east, or south. Depends on what Lord Tiv and Lady Cel require.”
Kellin looked at Thom and I, then looked back at Daniel. “Then you and your pack are welcome by our fire. I think we’ll enjoy your stories tonight.”
Daniel inclined his head. Kellin turned and walked away. Thom released me and stepped forward.
“The rest are going to need clothes,” he said. It wasn’t a question.
Daniel nodded. “Whatever you can spare.”
“We’ll have a look,” my husband told him.
Phelan’s hand spasmed around mine and I looked at him.
“My sister,” he breathed. “Teague, Kira. Neve. They’ll be in danger because I killed Vammatar.”
“The alternative was worse, Phelan.”
“Was it?” he whispered. “Was it really?”
“Yes,” I said, then slid my arm around his shoulders. “Never let anyone tell you different, Phelan. Ever. Never doubt it.”
He leaned against me and I led him back toward the fire.
“Leannán,” he said after a few steps.
I looked at him sidelong, saw tears in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he said softly. “Everything.” He kissed my temple and murmured something in his native tongue that I didn’t understand, but my heart knew because it swelled up into my throat. “Cinniúint roghnaigh go maith nuair a roghnaigh sé agat, a stór amháin. Go maith, go deimhin.”
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