We walked down the road together, hand in hand, with Tinley trailing behind us. I looked up into the sky where two extremely large ravens circled. The two birds were friends of mine. Malphas and Echo. They were servants of the Winter Queen and my companions to help establish our presence in Steelshore. They were a rare form of fairy which were bonded. Echo was mute, but he could sign. He occasionally used his voice, but it was an audible telepathic thing. They had followed me from Steelshore, but I’d asked them to keep their distance. I’d talk to them. They must have had information for them to be hovering so close.
“They speak a lot of Creole. So, if you miss something, I’ll fill you in later,” Lyra explained. She waved with her other hand to a woman who stood outside her house, staring at us. “Hey Mrs. Rachel, how’s your boys?”
“They fine,” she replied.
“Dat’s good,” Lyra responded. Her speech pattern slipped from the formal I was used to hearing to a more native slur.
The southern parts of Alabama were much like Louisiana in that the French, Spanish, African and Native American cultures mixed. Steelshore claimed to have had the first Mardi gras parade, not New Orleans. You’ll find plenty of gumbo, etouffee, and jambalaya in the bayous of the area. The Cajun and Creole culture still thrived in some places. I’d heard the speech patterns before in Louisiana, and I knew a lot of their words. I would surprise Lyra with my understanding. It would be nice to one-up her about something.
“What do your aunts want to know about me?”
“Everything. They will be forward. They have no tact, and I’m preparing myself to be embarrassed.”
“I look forward to that,” I smirked. Tinley giggled behind us. “Tinley agrees.”
“Don’t make friends with her,” Lyra warned.
“It’s too late. She already likes me.” Lyra cut her eyes from me back to Tinley. Her forehead wrinkled and her eyes narrowed at her sister. I was right. Tinley was fully on Team Nick.
“She will get over it when you leave.”
I stopped walking, and Lyra pulled my hand to get me to move forward, but I refused. Tinley stopped close to us.
“This may take longer than you think. I will see it through.”
“Stop being a fucking knight.”
“Technically, I am one.”
“This isn’t Winter.”
“And you need help. Look at my shining armor,” I said with a wink. I brushed invisible dust from my shoulder.
“Could you be serious for just a little while?”
“I can be serious, but you told me we couldn’t do that anymore.” Tinley put her hand over her mouth and looked down.
Lyra’s upper lip twitched, and I saw her fangs. “Nick,” she said through her teeth.
“Lyra,” I mocked.
“Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”
“I’m sure you don’t want me to talk about hardness with your sister here.”
Lyra threw her hands in the air in frustration. I held my hand out to Tinley. She grinned and took it. “I’d rather hold your hand anyway,” I said to her.
“I’d like that,” Tinley responded, taking my hand. Lyra stopped ranting when her sister placed her small hand in mine.
“Lead the way, Madam Alpha,” I said.
Lyra rekindled her anger, spinning around to walk down the road. She looked over her shoulder to us. Tinley seemed content to hold my hand as we walked. My magic felt the magic in her. She wasn’t Faeborn. She wasn’t pure wolf either, but I had a pretty good idea what she was.
We walked up to a small yellow clapboard house. It featured a smallish porch with one rocking chair. An older woman with graying hair sat in the chair, rocking lazily. On the steps, another woman around the same age sat with a large steel washbasin between her legs. Her fingertips were purple from the peas she was shelling into the basin. Neither of them looked up when we approached.
A wreath hung on the front door that surprised me. A crescent moon made of dried vines with rosemary and sage stuck into it with chrysanthemum, dandelions, and clover filling the form. Three crystals hung from the bottom: amethyst, smoky quartz, and obsidian. The aunts had a Wiccan friend that had protected their home.
“I smell him, Sister,” the woman in the rocking chair said.
“As do I. He smells delectable,” the other answered. They lifted their pale blue eyes to me. “Lyra, child, you did not tell us that he was so handsome.”
“Handsome isn’t what we need,” Lyra commented.
“I’ve found that handsome gets me a lot of things,” I said.
“A quick wit,” the one in the chair said.
“Very quick,” the other answered.
“Dominick Meyer, these are my aunts. Eulalie Rochon in the chair, and this is Agatha Rochon,” Lyra said, placing her hand on Agatha’s shoulder. The woman patted it with affection.
“What other talents do you have, Mr. Meyer?” Eulalie asked. “And you may call me Eula and my sister, Aggie.”
“Well, Eula, please call me Nick. And I can’t tell you everything or you will bore of me too quickly,” I said.
“He’s too funny to be an Alpha,” Aggie commented.
“Ah, humor is underrated,” Eula responded.
“Your smell is on our Lyra,” Aggie said.
I swallowed, and Lyra turned deep red. Tinley squeezed my hand. “I suppose it is,” I replied.
“She needs a good smell on her,” Eula said.
“Aunt Eula! Please,” Lyra groaned.
“It’s true. If I were younger, I’d let him coat me in that smell,” Aggie said. Tinley turned her face to my arm, and I chuckled. I liked the aunts, especially because they made Lyra cringe with every word out of their mouths.
“Younger? You can’t be older than forty. I like a little age on my women,” I said.
“If I could still shift, I’d take you up on that,” Aggie replied. “And I see our Tinley has taken to you. She senses your strength and gravitates to it. I suspect that is why Lyra found you attractive too.”
“It’s been a long time since I was considered the heir of an Alpha. I was never a true Alpha in my own right. I’m a Beta now by choice,” I said.
“Choice. That’s the strength in you. You choose your destiny. You do not allow it to choose you,” Eula said.
“Too bad your destiny will force you to choose something you thought you lost or never deserved. I smell your fairy blood,” Aggie said.
“Yes, it is strong,” Eula added.
“My mother was a Winter fairy,” I confirmed.
“Being Faeborn doesn’t make you any less a wolf,” Aggie said.
“No, it doesn’t,” I agreed.
“It makes you a damn strong wolf,” Eula said.
“And your hand,” Aggie asked, pointing to my glamoured hand.
“Most can’t tell the difference, but it’s fully functional.” I lifted my hand and flexed it to show them that it was as real as the one I had lost.
“Come inside and sit with us a while. We have things to discuss,” Agatha said, as she tried to stand. Lyra helped her up, and I grabbed the basin of peas. Tinley took them from me with a smile and disappeared into the house. I followed the women inside and felt the ward as I crossed it. A very strong ward of protection.
The aunts sat down on a Victorian couch. I took a seat in an ornate chair. Just as Lyra started to sit in the one next to me, Eula clicked her tongue.
“What?” Lyra asked.
“We want to speak to him alone,” Eula said.
“No,” Lyra responded.
“Please do not make us undermine your authority in front of our guest,” Aggie said.
Lyra snarled, then stomped out of the room like a child. It drove me wild. All of the things that went through my head would have shamed a lady of the night.
“She is still listening, but we did not want her in the room. She cannot reenter until we invite her,” Eula explained.
“There is powerful magic in this house,” I commented.
“Good. I’m glad you can feel it. Another benefit of being Faeborn,” Aggie said, as she picked up two needles and yard. Her weathered hands danced in rhythm, producing links to something that would be warm and made with love.
“The threat to our pack isn’t a surprise to us. As you suspect, we have a friend that warned us of the dark days ahead. She also told us that a man would arrive to help. She explained that he would be the outcast child of an Alpha and a fairy. She also said he would know our people in a unique way. How is that possible?” Eula asked.
“I grew up in Louisiana. This place reminds me of home,” I said.
“You found a new home,” Eula said.
“I found a new family. I can’t say that I found a place I belong,” I replied. She was dragging truths out of me that I wasn’t prepared to admit.
“Perhaps that place is here,” she suggested.
I looked to the door that Lyra had gone through and refused to allow myself to think of her as home. Aggie stopped knitting, and both women waited for me to respond.
“I’m here to help make your home safe. To keep Tinley safe. To help Lyra establish her rule,” I said.
“You won’t allow yourself to think about the future because your past has made you. Now is the time to define yourself by what is to come and who you want to be.”
“What if I don’t know what I want to be?”
“What if you are just too afraid to admit it?” Eula asked.
Family. A real one. I didn’t want to admit it. My responsibilities to Grace and Levi. To the Shady Grove pack. To my brother and sister. All of these things would come before what I wanted. I’d chosen to be Grace’s knight. I’d chosen to accept my siblings. I’d chosen to get to the bottom of the fairy trafficking.
“You can do it all, Son,” Aggie said.
“I like to take things one at a time.”
“You’ll never get anything done that way,” Eula said.
We turned our attention to someone screaming outside. I stood up, and my claws extended.
“Oh,” Aggie gasped.
Lyra ran into the room with Tinley. “You stay here,” she said, pushing Tinley back.
“Come here, baby,” Aggie said, and Tinley curled up next to her.
A hulking man ran inside. His eyes flashed with his wolf when he saw me and growled.
“Cort! Stand down!” Lyra ordered.
He took a step back but didn’t retract his claws or fangs. “They are back. They are beating Landon Crosse down in front of Sally’s restaurant,” he said.
“Tinley stay here. Showtime, Alpha,” Lyra said.