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       Slumber, p.29

         Part #1 of The Fade series by Samantha Young
 
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  Finaly Dimitri took a turn down a track that was closed in on either side by woodland. At last, the trees made a huge circled clearing, and in the centre sat a large home with an old-fashioned wraparound porch. She drew in a deep breath.

  “The whole pack is here?”

  Dimitri nodded, his kind eyes brimming with understanding. “It’s the only way to realy welcome you, kid.” Irini on the other hand was bubbling with excitement. Before Dimitri had even parked, she was out of the car and running for the house. He merely laughed and finaly shut the engine off.

  “Ready?”

  “No.” She shook her head nervously. “But then I’l never be ready for this moment so we might as wel shove my ass out of the car, right?” He chuckled getting out of the driver’s side. “That’s the spirit.”

  Caia had no idea how she managed it, but she got out of the car, and slowly folowed Dimitri up the front stairs to the porch. Her lykan ears could hear the sound of Irini crying happily and people murmuring warm words of welcome to her. She could hear her growl Lucien’s name, but then start crying and mumbling, ‘I missed you brother’ over and over. I guess all is forgiven, Caia thought wryly.

  As her light foot came off the last step she was seized once more with absolute anxiety, undiluted and pure. She steadied herself, taking a deep breath. She couldn’t let them see how nervous she was. Dimitri had swung open the porch door, and was now throwing open the main door with as much grace.

  “Wel hel!” He shouted in amusement. “Look at you al … you didn’t eat everything already, did you?”

  “I managed to save you some food.” A female voice sing-songed back at him. “I hid it from these vultures for you.” She could hear Dimitri smack a kiss on someone and the pack chuckled lightly. The sounds of familiarity between them al sent another wave through Caia’s stomach, but before she could melt into an anxious puddle on the floor, Dimitri’s head popped back in sight around the door frame. “Come on kid.” A sudden hush could be heard faling over the room. Slowly, she pushed her way through the porch door and stepped into a beautiful open halway with a wide antique staircase winding up from the centre of the room to the next floor. Bracing herself against her own insecurities, she turned to the opening to the left of the halway and took in the sight of the large pack that was to be her new family. There looked to be about thirty of them - large feral, handsome males, young and older; beautiful, athletic females; smal children with enquiring eyes.

  This was Pack Errante.

  The whispering immediately began as al eyes drank her in from head to foot.

  Lucien was stunned. Whatever he had expected it was not this. Caia stood at the front door gazing at them, her cat-like green eyes stil and calm as she took in the sight of the pack staring back at her from his large living room. He could tel by her tentative step towards them that she was more nervous than her placid expression let on. He watched in satisfaction as people came forward to shake her hand politely.

  They had taken his warnings to welcome her to heart.

  As distracted as she was by his pack, she had yet to notice him, and so he took pleasure in the moment to realy look at her. Her heritage gave her away, he decided

  - as did her smel. She wouldn’t realise it, how could she? She didn’t know that there was anything to look for. She was as graceful as the lykan she was, but looked more fey than wolf. Moreover, she held herself far more cooly than the rest of them. She was like water to their fire.

  He was stunned by his reaction to her. He had not expected attraction.

  He watched her sleek, light eyes widen every now and then depending on what kind of welcome she was given. Her skin was pale compared to the golden glow of his and his pack’s skin, her figure slight compared to the curvaceous shapes of the other women. He frowned, wondering how much of a problem this was going to be -

  she didn’t look like one of them at al. She stopped suddenly, in the middle of shaking one of the mated female’s hands. Her bright gaze flew across to the other side of the room and widened.

  “Uncle Magnus?” Lucien heard her whisper. In an instant Magnus had crossed the room and had the little lykan wrapped in his big arms. Lucien smiled at her surprise and then her tentative happiness. This is a good sign, he decided. It was a show of family, and it seemed to ease the tension radiating from his anxious pack.

  Magnus of course, Lucien realised wryly, seemed unaware of any tension.

  “My Artemis!” Magnus exclaimed heartily, holding her slight weight away from him so he could inspect her. “Look at the size of you, Cy. I wouldn’t have recognised you on a clear, ful moon!”

  She teased her lip shyly between her teeth. She shed no tears, Lucien realised. Not like Ela and the others who had wept at his sister’s return.

  He watched as Magnus lavished praise over her. She blushed prettily and kept holding onto him.

  Suddenly Magnus looked up at him and turned the young lykan towards him. “Caia,” Magnus’ voice rumbled in the room, “I’d like to introduce you to Lucien: Pack Leader.”

  ***

  Before this moment she had been bemused, but happy, in the arms of Magnus, his laughing eyes and coarse voice drowning out the buzz of wariness and apprehension she felt oozing from the rest of the pack. Although some seemed genuinely glad to have her returned, excited by her presence for reasons that were not yet clear to her, others - in particular females - viewed her as a threat. She could feel it on them; see it in their eyes...

  The bubble of happiness Magnus had momentarily created popped as he spun her around to introduce her to the Pack Leader.

  She had vague memories of a tal, dark haired young man who was moody and forever in some kind of argument with his parents. He barely spoke to her, never looked at her, and at times she had even felt like he despised her. There had been things said, arguments started, and she had been sure they had something to do with her, but as a child she’d had no comprehension of what they meant.

  That dark haired young man had turned into a powerful lykan. He towered above most of the others in the room, excluding Dimitri, Magnus, and one young male who was gazing at her with an almost cruel twist to his lips. However, it was safe to say that standing at least at 6 ft. 6”, with broad shoulders and an intimidating musculature, there was no question as to why this man was Alpha here. His face was al sharp lines and hard angles, his eyes like liquid mercury. She couldn’t believe any human would believe this man was not supernatural. His gaze bore into her, intent, watchful, waiting. His scent flooded her - an overwhelming combination of earth and rain. In fact, she decided, he smeled exactly the way the air did on the verge of a lightning storm. She held her hand out formaly to him, and determined not to be intimidated by the brute, held his silver gaze with her own soft green one. He seemed to search her eyes for something and when finding nothing, clasped her smal hand in his own large one. A rush of heat exploded like a milion darts of fire shooting up her arm. Damn, she knew her eyes had widened in surprise. She was only appeased when his eyes mirrored her reaction. In reflex, she tried to pul her hand out of his, but he held firm, pressing his calused skin into her softness.

  “Welcome home,” his low timbre spread a second rush of heat through her body. The feeling frightened her enough to give her the strength to pul away from him.

  “Thank you,” she whispered. She wanted to tear her gaze away, was embarrassed even by the long look they shared, annoyed by the outrageous arrogance she felt pouring from this lykan, but she couldn’t. If it hadn’t been for Ela suddenly puling her into a hug, she may have stood looking at her Pack Leader like a fool for the entire night.

  “Ela.” She managed a smal smile, inhaling her adoptive mother’s scent of earth and lavender. She remembered that smel more than the tal woman holding her. It told her of the affection this woman had once given her, and for this she hugged her more tightly.

  “Now that you’ve met everyone.” Ela gave a sweeping gesture with her arm to indicate the pack crowded ar
ound her living room. “I suggest we let you unpack and get some sleep.”

  The room was huge. A large four-poster bed dominated the centre of the space. The grand oak of the posts was matched in the twin bed-side tables, the large wardrobe to the back of the bedroom, the cabinet facing the bed, and the chunky desk to the right of the door; not to mention the beautiful flooring that would feel cool on a warm summer’s night. The wals were painted in the softest green; bedspread and curtains matching. Caia was surprised by the colour choice; it was so tranquil, so her. How did they know? She turned questioningly to Ela, who was standing patiently at the door. “This is al for me?” Ela chuckled and stepped inside, taking her backpack from her and dumping it pointedly on the floor next to Caia’s suitcase that had been placed at the foot of the bed. She straightened, her grey eyes smiling at her. She was a slightly older version of Irini, Caia thought. An Elder also, many years older than what she looked, she was as beautiful as al the other lykans, with her svelte physique and long sable hair. “Yes. We wanted you to feel as at home as quickly as possible.”

  “Thank you.” Caia realy didn’t know what else to say, her eyes widening at the laptop that was sitting on the desk for her. “I like green.”

  “Good.”

  They were quiet for a moment, just gazing at each other awkwardly. The sound of raucous laughter from downstairs seemed to shake Ela. “This wil al pul together, Caia.”

  She merely nodded, not quite so sure. She felt so much like an outsider.

  “We wanted you to have the utmost privacy. And if you can’t sleep there is a television and DVD player in that cabinet.” She pointed to the monstrosity facing the bed. “There should be plenty of films to choose from in there too. Laptop’s yours. Internet is up and running so …” Caia couldn’t take it al in. “Thank you. You know you didn’t have to do al this … I never …” Ela shook her off uncomfortably. “Shush. It’s done.”

  She received another hug and a motherly kiss on the cheek before the older woman gracefuly slipped from the room.

  Caia sighed. Oh boy.

  She thought about unpacking for two seconds before deciding against the idea. It would just make everything that little bit more permanent. Instead she stroled to the window facing the back of the house and gazed over the smal backyard with its footpath leading into the thick, dark woods surrounding the house. To anyone else, those woods encroaching so close to the home would have perhaps been off-putting. To a lykan it was a dream to have the cover of the trees at your fingertips. She thought of her and Irini having to drive to the woods in order to run. Irini was so happy to be home. She’d barely looked at Caia once since their return, and she was beginning to wonder if the woman perhaps resented her far more than she had let on. They hadn’t a close relationship, but they were kind and considerate of one another. Irini had worked as a secretary during the day, a cover to fit in with the humans. The apartment was already bought for them so they had never needed to worry about rent, and the pack had set up an account for Irini to pay food and bils, and whatever else they needed.

  Caia had lived her young life listening out for any smal scrap of information Irini gave. She knew returning to the pack was al Irini thought about. It was how she got through her meaningless job each day. Caia was different. Irini had told her little of her parent’s death despite Caia’s pleas. She knew only that a member of the Midnight Coven had targeted her and her parents, and that the pack had been thrown into a miniature war with a man they caled The Hunter. The reason why she and her parents had been targeted had not been explained to Caia. When she was younger she had thought her heart might break with the pain of not having known her parents, and of not knowing why she’d had them ripped from her, but as she got older she learned to stop asking, and the need had dissipated to a gentle thrum tucked somewhere under her skin. It had though left her with a desire to be free of everything; the tiny apartment they shared, the obligation she felt towards the pack for having protected her. Caia wanted to travel the world - to have tasted the ful scope of moonlight.

  The war, however, made leaving the pack impossible.

  The pack doesn’t think like that anyway.

  They mated, had baby lykans, and lived their lives al together. Safety in numbers. Lucien’s face suddenly appeared before her eyes and even though there was no one there to witness her wayward thoughts, she felt her face warm. Well that can just stop right now, she snapped at herself. The Alpha. Pfft! Turning, she caught her blushing reflection in a long mirror attached to the wal. Caia frowned. She was quite smal, she realised, studying her body and features. Her kinswomen seemed taler, fuler-figured, their features darkly exotic with their tanned complexions and rich-coloured hair and eyes. They were al so beautiful compared to her pale scrawniness. Why didn’t she look like them?

  The sound of laughter from downstairs puled her from those thoughts. She was exhausted from the upheaval of her once - yes dismal - but quiet existence, to this

  ‘my goddess they’re everywhere’ existence, but not weary enough to sleep. She tip-toed out of the room, not wanting to alert the rest of the pack downstairs - thirty pairs of hyper sensitive ears made that a difficult task. But she managed to make no sound as she crept down the halway, gazing at the simple black and white photos of what she could only determine was the surrounding country. She encountered a large bathroom and then a gymnasium. Why, she thought, Lucien needed a home gym when he naturaly looked like one big muscle she had no idea. She was about to leave the gym and creep further on when she heard Ela and Irini in the next room, whispering to one another.

  “You were lonely,” Ela was stating grimly.

  She received no answer, but the rustling of clothing suggested Ela and Irini were hugging.

  “It was just so strange being without the pack. Not to mention frightening, being out there … alone. I felt cold al the time.”

  “You had Caia for company.”

  “I know.”

  There was a moment of silence and Caia’s body tightened in anticipation. Maybe Irini realy did hate her.

  “What is she like? I mean realy like, Irini?”

  Why does Ella sound so worried?

  “She’s good, mom.”

  “Good?”

  “Yes. Good. Kind, I mean. Gentle.”

  “Gentle?”

  Again, another stretched silence.

  “Gentle, Irini? Lykans aren’t gentle.”

  “I mean in nature. She’s soft. Calm … I dunno.”

  “I noticed. She’s so stil. So not …”

  “Like us,” Irini finished. “I know. I noticed it more and more as she grew. There was no fire, no tempestuous outbursts … you can, you know … tel-”

  “Ssh,” Ela abruptly cut her off, and Caia realised she must have been heard. Quickly, and as quietly as she could, she returned to her new room and shut the door softly behind her. She heaved a sigh leaning against it, trying to catch her breath. She laughed, but not in merriment.

  “How did I get here?” She asked no one.

  She couldn’t let their conversation upset her, and she couldn’t let herself dwel over what Irini was about to say or it would drive her crazy. She’d had enough crazy for one day.

  When the sounds of the pack leaving, one by one, filtered up to her room, and the final kicks of the gravel driveway as their cars drove off could be heard, Caia cracked open her window and carefuly descended to the ground with the ease and agility of her species. Dropping to the grass with a soft thud, Caia breathed a sigh of relief. She let the smel of the damp earth and wet wood overwhelm her. It was wonderful. Glancing up at the moon, shining like a briliant orb of comfort in the dark sky, Caia thanked Artemis that it had made an appearance from behind the clouds tonight; she could peel the anxiety of re-joining the pack from her human skin, and run.

  Quickly, she removed al of her clothes, the night air cooling her anxious flesh.

  And then, she let the change happen.

  She felt the pain of he
r skin transforming; she could feel every piece of fur pushing through, and ironicaly, the pain was like that of someone puling a strand of hair from your scalp - that unexpected wince … but thousands of winces al over your body. She relished the burning pain of her muscles stretching and straining as they reshaped. The almost satisfying cracking of her bones as they said goodbye to the girl and helo to the wolf. The way the rushing blood in her ears drowned out her surroundings as her heart grew larger in order to pump the extra that her other self needed. She watched her nose grow in front of her eyes into a long snout, felt the sharp watery pain of her eyes elongating, her vision defined and clear-perfect. Caia came down onto al four legs, enjoying how soft the ground felt against her hard, leather paws. Then she laughed, a hoarse animal sound, at the tickling sensation that was left over when the change was complete.

  It was exhilarating to be a wolf.

  The trees were suddenly a blur as she took off through them, racing around the obstacles and leaping over bracken. She felt the warm glow of the moon on her soft pelt and knew that it didn’t matter about the pack being home. She already had a home, and she was running with it, the night whispering comforting words in her ears as she soared.

  Lucien stayed as far back from her as possible. She seemed lost in the feel of the run, which he was glad for, otherwise she would have felt his presence before now.

  Caia was extremely fast, faster than the other females of the pack, and this pleased him. She was a beautiful lykan but more than this he could feel her joy from a distance. Caia was part of the night, of the woods. He knew the others were worried about her, he himself was worried. But watching her, keeping her safe, he realised that perhaps she was more lykan than they could ever have hoped for.

 
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