Ushna's Lupe, the third form of half-man and half-wolf that all Lycan warriors used for battle, pushed forward as his need to protect took over. Short, fine, black hair burst through his skin under my hands as his chest and arms thickened, his face elongated, and his mouth filled with jagged teeth. Even with fingers tipped with razor-sharp claws, he was careful as he delicately held me in his protective arms. He growled loud and long in warning.
The light switched on, flooding the room with blinding white light. I heard Gregori in the background yelling in anger, followed by a hollow thumping noise, and wounded yells. I scented who'd invaded our bedroom before I gazed over Ushna's shoulder.
Several weeks ago, Elder Koller had made a call to pull childhood friends of ours, Stanley Kendall and Jory Swaine, from California. The suggestion had been made after the Magi Triad had tried to kidnap both Gregori and Ushna, and the elder knew these two were men I trusted. We had been expecting them at any time, and I would've laughed at their antics if I wasn't worried Ushna would eviscerate our friends.
Gregori, his red hair wild, clad only in blue sleep pants, had a fistful of Stan's dark hair and a foot planted in the middle of his back, bowing Stan over backward. Gregori wielded a shoe like it was a Sumerian sword and beat Jory with it. Jory tried to defend himself against the onslaught of the shoe and fight off the two guards who were attempting to subdue him.
"You stupid idiots!" Gregori yelled at the top of his lungs. "You could've hurt him, you oversized oafs! What's wrong with knocking?!"
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
"Ushna is going to eat you and I should let him! It would remind you to respect your alpha!"
Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
"Senseless overgrown children!"
Half a dozen guards filed into the room, taking charge of Stan and Jory, relieving a bedraggled Gregori. Scowling furiously at our friends, Gregori gradually crawled onto the bed, talking soothingly to Ushna, who hadn't stopped growling. I ran my hands down his fur-covered back to soothe him.
"Everything is okay, Ushna," Gregori cooed.
I cupped my hands around his face, gazing into his ruby red eyes. "I'm okay," I whispered to him. "Come back to me."
He released the Lupe, and Ushna the man emerged, the harsh and horrific features melting away. His body shuddered, muscles clenched and convulsed as his control returned.
It'd been years since I'd seen our two friends. Where Stan was dark, Jory was light. Stanley Kendall had wavy dark brown hair that roughly covered his brow, but didn't quite touch his collar. His eyes were so brown they were virtually black. He sported a couple days of growth on his chin and cheeks. The stubble looked good against his bronzed skin.
Jory Swaine, on the other hand, had short blond hair, was clean shaven with bright turquoise eyes and golden skin. Stan was broader through the chest with his athletic build while Jory was leaner. Both wore leathers; Jory's pants where loose, hanging low on his hips and revealing the waistband of his boxers, while Stan looked like he was poured into his.
Ushna turned a furious gaze on Stan and Jory, who were standing in the farthest corner, appearing chastised and contrite. "What in the hell were you thinking!" He roared at them. Gregori and I made shushing noises, but Ushna continued to rumble.
"Ah… surprise?" Stan offered weakly, slightly confused.
"Ushna, it's okay; they didn't know," I said.
Ushna snapped his human teeth at our friends. I swear if we'd been alone, I would've jumped and taken him right there.
"Xenres, are you injured?" Corey Bahar was the first to swear a blood oath to me. He'd been Captain until this unexpected growth of the tribe and now he was the newly appointed Arms Master of the Royal Guard. In private, he was most adamant in the use of my title, Xenres, which meant prince in our language. Corey didn't take his sable gaze off Stan and Jory as he approached me. The man looked like he'd been up for hours with his braided blond hair gleaming, clothes pressed and tucked. Did he ever sleep?
Jory chortled at Corey's words, which caused Gregori to throw a shoe and bean Jory in the head.
A string of curse words exploded from Jory. "Dammit, Gregori! What the hell was that for?" He rubbed the sore spot.
Gregori didn't answer. Corey's question was all it took to make Ushna start snarling again as he ran his hands over me, checking for obvious injury. Gregori rubbed small circles on Ushna's back. I grabbed his hands and craned my head around to get him to look me in the eye, to see me.
"Hey, hey! I'm okay. I'm not hurt." I kissed his hands.
"I want Nathan to look at you." Ushna's worried gaze continued to study me. Nathan Janick, my brother and the resident doctor, had meticulously cared for me during my pregnancy so far.
"All right." I knew nothing less would appease him.
Stan watched our exchange. The longer he listened, the more confused he appeared. "What's the big deal?" He crossed his arms, scowling hard. He and Jory had acted as they normally would around us, with carefree roughhousing.
I grabbed Ushna's attention before he could bark back a reply. We'd purposely kept my pregnancy within my inner circle. I hadn't left the Clearwater area, which was my territory. When I needed to go to town, I wore a ring Gregori had made for me, a ring of illusion that had hid my swollen stomach. I didn't meet with outsiders without it.
We hadn't told Stan and Jory. All communication had gone through Elder Janus Koller, who'd recruited them to work for the Elder Council in the Enforcement Division. Neither Ushna nor I had spoken to these two before now. Needless to say, we hadn't anticipated their surprise.
"Master Corey," I calmly said, "we're all right. I'm sorry we woke you." I needed privacy for the talk we were going to have with our old friends.
Corey gave a slight bow. The expression on his face let me know we would be revisiting the issue of posting guards outside the bedroom. I had been successful at convincing Corey that the small group of warriors staying in the house was enough security. We didn't need someone standing on sentry duty in the hallway. To appease Corey, I had even agreed to allow an armed detail to shadow me around the ranch when I left the house. This stunt of Stan's and Jory's would make Cory feel vindicated in his original assessment. I would have to talk quick at the next security meeting to keep the arrangements the way they were now.
"It was no bother, Xenres." Corey shot Jory a hard look when my friend snorted a laugh. He appeared to be gauging whether Jory was being disrespectful to me or making fun of him. "I won't be far if you need me," he said before closing the door behind him.
Jory tried to hide his smirk by rubbing a hand over his face. I knew what was coming before he opened his mouth. "Damn, Tristan. You've got people bowing and scraping to you. What've you been doing?"
Meet Lexi Ander
Lexi has always been an avid reader, and at a young age started reading (secretly) her mother’s romances (the ones she was told not to touch). She was the only teenager she knew of who would be grounded from reading. Later, with a pencil and a note book, she wrote her own stories and shared them with friends because she loved to see their reactions. A Texas transplant, Lexi now kicks her boots up in the Midwest with her Yankee husband and her eighty-pound puppies named after vacuum cleaners.
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