APPROXIMATELY FIVE STINKING HOURS AFTER THE PORTAL SPAT US OUT INTO MERENWYN
I’ve made a few quiet and unsettling personal discoveries.
Sad fact: I’ve always thought I was a nature lover. Partially because I like flowers and butterflies and the scent of woods— spruce, maple, pine, earth, bark— invariably gives me the warm fuzzies.
Guess what? I’m not Hedi, the tree hugger.
After a while, no matter its girth or its magnificence, a tree is a tree. And a gorge fades from an awe-inspiring visual to a thing placed there with the sole intent of frustrating the shit out of you.
Other things this city dweller has placed high on the hate list during her first day in Merenwyn: almost invisible flying ,bugs that make a peculiar humming noise as they zoom in for a snack of my Fae-sweet blood; heat rashes in sensitive places; prickers that try to pierce my baby- soft soles.
Believe it or not, I’m starting to miss Creemore.
And cars. Those I really miss.
You see? This is the problem with epic quests. No matter what’s on the list, the damn things seem to come with gritty realities that just drain all the epic out of them. For instance, the necessity of wrapping my shoe- deprived ,feet with the sleeves torn from my mate’s sweatshirt because Trowbridge and I traversed the Safe Passage into the Fae world without any travel preparations my shoes, a box of matches, an industrial- sized bottle of DEET, a case of PowerBars, a roll of toilet paper—or, for that matter, any discussion.
There’d been no time for it.
I’d vaulted through the Fae portal first, all hell- bent on rescuing my twin, Lexi, and the world. Since then, I’ve had a few hours to think about that leap. And I’ve asked myself— was that a piece of heroism or what?
Unfortunately, the answer is “hell no.”
My hop, skip, and jump into Merenwyn was 80 percent guilt fueled
I left my brother bearing the burden of my own mistake: being the Old Mage’s nalera was no walk in the park. Plus there was the whole save- the- world issue. Foul magic dripping through the portals and polluting everything that is good and fi ne and untouched in my home world.
People will get hurt. Like Cordelia, my mom- that- isn’t, and Anu, my niece.
I can’t have that either.
But here’s the element of doubt. Would I have been struck by the pressing need to protect the innocent if the goons with the guns hadn’t been giving me the buh- byes?
After all, St. Silas had made it impossible for me to not take that step.
Turns out, I’m not heroic at all. Sad, no?
On the other hand, Robson Trowbridge came to Merenwyn because he’s heroic and he loves me. Any doubt I had on the subject of my mate’s devotion was wiped out the instant I’d recognized the cacophony coming from the portal for what it was— the metallic shriek of a chain- link fence scoring the passage walls as it was dragged willy- nilly into the land of the Fae.
St. Silas, one of the big woofs of the werewolves’ Great Council back in our world, had handcuffed my mate to such a fence. The asshole should have cuffed the Alpha of Creemore to a Chevy. My Trowbridge simply brought a six- foot panel of chain link with him, as well as a fence post, a set of handcuffs, his scent, and— not to overwork the phrase— his love.
Trowbridge loves me.
I turned my head slightly to regard my beloved. After enveloping me in a breath- defying hug that had quickly evolved into a truly memorable and searing kiss, my lover had divested himself of the handcuffs. Then, he’d taken care of what was left of the fence by rolling it into an untidycylinder, which he’d stashed behind a handy outcrop of rock. After that, he’d performed a quick scent test of the air and a squint- eyed examination of the forest below. Finally, he’d turned to look at me. For four long seconds he’d stared at me, his expression inscrutable, but in the end he’d swallowed down whatever sermon he’d entertained delivering and all he’d said was, “Ready?”
I’d smiled back and said, “Born ready.” Though his mouth had tightened, he’d never thrown that back at me, not once, during the last few hours.
Now my Trowbridge lay supine on his fl at stomach beside me, propped up on his elbows, his eyes narrowed on the scene below. As visual feasts go, what he was frowning at was the ultimate photo op— literally a landscape of improbable beauty. Two thick wedges of old forest framed the green valley. Diamonds of light glinted from the winding blue river, and the tops of the grasses on its banks swayed. Add to this perfection the requisite background of wooded hills rolling to oblivion and beyond— Goddess, Merenwyn would have given Ansel Adams a chubby. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Not a tree hugger, remember?
Let’s go back to talking about Trowbridge.
Normally, I’m all about the splendor of his face: eyes that were as blue as the Mediterranean, cheekbones that could cut glass, a lower lip that could be hard or tender. But at the moment, he was scowling again, so I allowed my eyes to rove over and my nose to enjoy the other totally Trowbridge delights. Like his body and the totally appealing scent of his sweat.
If I blurred my eyes a bit, he was naked Trowbridge. Which, by any personal measure, is a better thing than a paper bag filled to bursting with Cherry Blossoms, Kit Kats, Skittles, and chocolate fudge.
My mate had come through the gates wearing the clothing he’d been given before his trial in front of the council: a pair of jeans that were too large and a sweatshirt that was too small. That’s it, except for the fence. Nobody had coughed up a T- shirt for the doomed Alpha of Creemore. Also— and this was crucial— nobody had thoughtfully tossed him a pair of tighty whities either, because he was wearing his jeans commando.
I knew this because I’d been watching his back all morning, enjoying the “now you see it, now you don’t” scenery as those jeans tried to shuck themselves off his narrow hips, then biting my lips every time he’d jerk them back up again with a hiss of annoyance that I found inexpressibly endearing.
One man’s pain, another woman’s gain.
When he’d gone down on his belly to case out the valley, those faded jeans had already been sailing at very low mast. Now they rode so low, I could see the dimples at the base of his spine and the upper swell of his tight ass cheeks.
And the small of his back.
I’d become fixated on that patch of skin. I wanted to tramp- stamp it with the words “Hedi’s property.” I wanted to lick it and stroke it, and press my cheek to it so I could
absorb his heat, and breathe in his scent— woods, salt, sex, and yum. I’d do all those things right now except my bone liquefying exhaustion had placed all lustful thoughts into a holding pattern.
That’s when I’d satisfy my need to claim that patch of skin. If one didn’t dwell overlong on the sub- goal list, I had lots of “laters” in my future, during which I could explore every slope, plane, swell, and groove of his body. He’s mine. I exhaled, glorifying in the awesomeness of him and me, and my breath bounced back, slightly sour and definitely metallic.
Right now, we were trekking to the rendezvous point— a place named Daniel’s Rock— where Trowbridge and I were supposed to meet Lexi. Though time differences between
this realm and the other are vast, we had lots of time.
We were early.