When Azrael woke up, he felt very sluggish. He was on something soft and luxurious compared to what he was accustomed to. A rug and he had a comforter over him. The light was too bright for his eyes yet. He sunk down into the materials a little further and let his other senses tell him if he were safe or if he were about to be attacked. Blue eyes glowed under the covers, but he was still blind. The smells were making him hungry. Cooking of meat and fat. It made his stomach growl. Where was he?

Ashley yanked her hand from the handle of the skillet with a wince.

“Damn..”   She turned the steaks over and held the phone to her ear while trying NOT to burn her fingers again. “I don’t care about the cost, just get the stuff here like… yesterday.” Pulling one of the steaks out she put it on a  plate and paid attention to the other while pulling her long blonde hair into a loose tail at the back of her neck. Just as she hung up the phone it rang again. “Yes.. this is Ashley Matthews and who am I speaking to? Oooh… okay well send over the files and I’ll have a look at them. I know the next meeting is in seven days. You don’t need to remind me, thank you. I will be present or there via satellite like several of the others.” She quit the call and put the phone down.

Pulling the next steak out she turned to the table and placed the plates on it before returning for the silverware, napkins and drinks. There were fresh green beans, baked potatoes and a house salad to go with the steaks, too. Looking towards the make-shift bed Ashley watched the slight  movements of the one beneath the covers. She swallowed and steeled herself by holding the back of her chair. It was time to take a chance.

“Azrael?   Are you hungry? I.. I cooked steak. Not sure how you prefer it cooked or if you even care for steak, but you have a plate ready if you want to eat with me.” Trying not to make a big deal out of it Ashley pulled her chair out and sat down. Placing her napkin across her denim clad  thighs she lifted the knife to cut into the meat and took the first bite. He’d been cautious when coming into the arena, perhaps his caution would have him coming slowly out here too.

“Ummmm….”  there was a growl that followed the sound and he huffed and curled himself into a tighter ball, if such could be said for his 6’1″ frame.   He smelled the steak, but he also smelled her. He couldn’t tell what kind of cage he was in. But regardless of not being able to see, if his stomach kept feeling this bad, he would definitely go and find out. What was she doing? Trying to torture him? The words were coming to his mind and he was trying to piece them together. It had been months since he had needed to speak. Until… until his last fight. Until her. 

“Who..are you?” he asked, before facing the opposite direction. The light was bothering him so much he didn’t even want to look that direction.

Pausing while taking a bite, Ashley looked towards where he was bundled up.

“Ashley  Matthews.. I brought you from the arena.” He’d turned away and so she thought that maybe he didn’t wish to talk or eat, after all. With a light sigh she lifted her fork again to take the next bite. Nathan and Inea had cautioned her and she’d listened. The bed was in a well made cage. However,  the door was open so that Azrael could step out of it – if he so chose. But, hey! There was a cage so neither of the elder dragons could bitch, right?

“You…said…” He sniffed again and he was sure this time. “You took me away.”  

He reached up with a shaky human hand and fumbled at the wall close to where he was curled up. Bars. Yes, he was in a cage. “How do I eat if I’m … in… a cage?” he asked. “Cold… bright… it’s both…” he pointed out. He wasn’t sure how much better this was.

Realizing what he was talking about Ashley rose from her chair and moved to toss more wood on the fire. He followed her movements. Yes, she was alone.

“I’m sorry about the light, but I can’t see in the dark and so to avoid burning myself any further I figured a light may help. As to the cage? It’s open.  You can come out when you wish to. I have no intention of closing the door on it. It’s a formality demanded by another, but not one that I like.” As she flipped the light off the only glow that was left was the  glow from the fireplace.

The lycan slowly brought the covers down and let his eyes adjust. They had a slight glow of blue, which was his natural eye color along with a reddish interior iris color. Even when he could see clearly, his colors were not proper. It was something he had had since birth. Keeping the blanket around him, Azrael scooted to the side of the mattress and got up slowly. The cage was such that the grown man could stand in it, slightly hunched. But, he hated cages. He was wearing something for pants, but no shirt, which was fine in his opinion. Was … had he been cleaned? Moving out of the cage very cautiously, his gaze went to Ashley as if he questioned her on that move without saying a word.

“My name… it’s not Oz-Ri-El. It’s Az- Ray-el. The traders who took me didn’t pronounce it correctly. But you should know it. It’s not my given name, but it’s the one I accept.” He licked his lips, for this had been the most he had spoken in quite some time. He lifted his face a bit to sniff the air. The food smelled good. He made his way to the table and picked up the steak in his hands and proceeded to eat it as if it were the last steak on earth.

While startled a little by the quick movements Ashley walked back to the table and tried to act normally. She picked up another piece with her fork and chewed while watching him.

“Azrael, thank you for telling me. I wouldn’t have known and then would have called you by the wrong name for a long time.” Pushing her half eaten steak towards  him she smiled. He was acting as if he were starving. “There’s more if you are still hungry after that one.”

He greedily took the steak offered.  He had been fed decently, but he felt so hungry. And even eating these two things didn’t work. “More…” he growled.

When he spoke of more Ashley rose from her seat with the intent of cooking him another. Lycan? They had big appetites. Ashley knew that well enough. She’d been raised around them. Standing at the stove with her back to Azreal, she smiled in relief. Inside, she really realized he’d be okay. She had no idea how close to danger she really was as she unwrapped the steak and placed it in the sizzling pan.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t come back to the pens as I promised,  but I only had a few hours to make arrangements to bring you here. I also promised you the bet and I’ll have the money ready for you when you’re ready to leave. I just wanted you to know that I really do keep my promises.”

When Ashley moved, he could hear her heartbeat and he watched, licking his lips. His fangs were popped and ready. All he had to do was pounce. He had gotten up from the table and slowly made his way closer to her.

When she heard the movement at the table Ash turned to see Azrael clutching his stomach. He let out a whine. Turning the fire off below the steak she moved towards him.

“Oh.. are you alright? Let me help you back to bed maybe the food didn’t sit well with you..” But she noticed his fangs and the way he eyed her like the next good meal. She backed up and pressed against the stove her hand hitting the hot metal in the process. Pulling it back with a wince and a hiss she clutched the wounded hand to her chest while staring at Azrael with a mixture of fear for herself and concern for him. “Don’t do this, Azrael. If you do they will hunt you down and kill you. I won’t be able to protect you.”

He growled low and instead of moving around the table, he jumped up on it and then over it to land on all fours in front of the woman. He could smell the seared flesh and that shook him a bit from his goal. He did not shift now, instead he stood up and looked her over. Swallowing, he took a deep breath and remembered her scent from the arena. She had come back for him. In a flash of speed and a crash of broken glass he was out the side french doors to the forest. He would kill her if he took from her. He wasn’t so far gone as to not realize that. He had to get away. He had to find prey.

“Oh, no…wai…!” She shook her head. Ashley was out the door and on the porch as soon as he was out the window.  She was still clutching her hand to her chest as she stared out at the woods and the snow.  “Wait,” she whispered it to herself, because there was no point in yelling after him. “I can already hear the told-ya-so’s…” All she could do was hope that he’d come back knowing it was safe for him here. Turning to go back in, Ashley cleaned her hand at the sink and wrapped it before taking a seat at the table again. She hadn’t even bothered to pull the shutters on the broken window and so it was cooling down. An hour later Ashley laid her head down on the table and closed her eyes. What had she done?

************

Uscias opened the portal to the deck. Rose stepped through and he followed.  As he looked around the deck, Uscias already felt his heart drop. Glass shards….a  broken window? “Dammit!”

“Oh my God Ashley..” Rose started for the door but stopped before entering knowing Uscias would want to enter first. But the instant he stepped in Rose followed. It was cold, the fireplace had gone out and her daughter was at the table with her head down. The door to the cage was  wide open. “Uscias get the shutters..” Rose went into the cage to grab one of the heavy blankets from the bed and brought it out to wrap around Ashley. She was freezing! “We need the fire built back up..”

“She’s damn lucky she’s not dead. I TOLD her to wait and keep him caged and sedated until I got here or she had someone here that knew how to handle a feral!” Uscias was upset and he wasn’t holding that back. He tossed more wood onto the fire and set to mixing up the embers to get it going again. His eyes glowed and he beckoned the flames further, quicker, higher. Once he was done, he stepped over to Ashley and very gently picked her up to move her into the room with the fireplace to help warm her up. “What were you thinking, girl? We could’ve lost you.”

As Uscias settled Ashley on the couch, Rose went in search of the medical kit and returned with it and some warm wet wash clothes. Sitting on the edge of the couch she unwrapped Ashley’s hand to reveal the nasty burn to her palm. “I have no idea what has gotten into her over this man. She never acts so irrationally!” her tone was hard but her voice was whispered.  She brushed the bangs back on Ashley’s forehead and went back to cleaning and bandaging the wound. This was not their wild child, this was the one that always had to be rational and made the proper decisions.

Ashley woke with a groan as pain snaked up her arm and the stinging sensation spread over her palm. Her blue eyes were confused a moment as she looked from her mother to Nathan. “When did you get here?” And she sat up a bit too quickly to look over the back of the couch towards the  kitchen area. “Is he back? Did Azrael come back?”

“Not yet. We’re taking care of you until he does. What happened? Tell me so I know.” Uscias was squatted in front of the beautiful daughter of his mate with a very worried expression. Rose pressed Ashley back down to hold her daughter’s head in her lap on a pillow, slowly moving her fingers through her hair.

“It was nothing. I just… I hated seeing him in a cage is all. I promised to take him out of that. I felt like a liar to him. But he didn’t do this to me, I did this. I was just… it was clumsy is all.”

“I just feel like we’re missing something, kit. You have to tell us what you feel, what happened back at that arena. Right now, you are coming off as completely unsettled and disturbed. But I think it’s because we just don’t understand or we’re missing something. Because, this ain’t like you. Is this because of the pull you told me about?” Uscias did not avert his eyes, he looked into Ashley’s with respect and honest concern.

“What pull?” Rose looked at Ashley.

“Your mama don’t know much. I kept her out of it like you asked as long as I could. She’s not here to scold, Ashley. She’s worried, too. I think she deserves an explanation, here, don’t you?”

Carefully sitting up Ashley rubbed her forehead with her unbandaged hand and spoke.

“Well, you know Mira and Inea had to go to the other side. For helping Dante and to get Derek back. So, I made them take me. I felt like if I waited for you, we might never go. It felt right. Like – I felt like it had to be now, for some reason. It sounds crazy… I know. But we ended up at the arena with dragons from Dad’s clan. We went down there and Saysha wanted to brag on her new fighter.” Her blue eyes went up to the dragon and her mother and they were so clear and honest as she went on, “I saw him in there and he was… It’s crazy, I know, but I just felt such a pull to him. Like he needed me. I  placed the bet, or actually I told Azrael if he won for me I’d give him my bet and that I would come back to see him again. And I wanted him to win. I wanted to take him out of there. Something didn’t fit with him being in there, subject to gladiatorial rule as a slave.”

Ashley licked her lips and chewed the bottom one as her arms wrapped around her middle. 

“And he did it. He won. He almost killed that fighter because I asked him to win. They were going to get rid of him and who knows what would have happened to him. I promised him. I gave my word and I still felt that pull. it’s like, I just couldn’t leave not knowing what they’d do. So I decided to bring him home with me. I’ve never felt such a strange pull to anyone mom…dad. It was like he needed me and I wasn’t going to let him down.”

Rubbing her injured palm Ashley stared down at it.

“What happened here?” Nathan asked.

“I told you I’d have the cage and that he’d be in it, and he was. He’s been in there and sedated and checked on by the doctor and fed just a bit here and there and I couldn’t stand that anymore. If you treat someone like an animal, they’ll act like one. So, I just didn’t close the door after the last visit.  I cooked steak for us. He came out and ate almost two but wanted more. I got up to fix him another and heard him move. I turned around and he was clutching his stomach. He isn’t just lycan, and I almost forgot about that.”

“Oh?” Rose looked over to Nathan.

“He’s vampire, too. He could have killed me. He came towards me but I had burnt my hand because he surprised me. He whined, it was a sound I don’t want him to have to make again. And then he just… he took off out the window.”  Ashley glanced at the shuttered window and sighed, “Will he be okay out there?”

“I’m sure he’ll be fine sweetheart.” Rose looked up at her dragon and then glanced towards the door when it sounded like someone was on the porch outside. Had the feral male truly come back?

Azrael tugged the stubborn piece of meat up the stairs and onto the deck. He finally gave up and shifted to his full wolf form and easily lifted the thing in his strong jaws. He had hunted and killed a mountain goat and after sucking it dry of blood – at least til his body was content, he had eaten a bit more and realized – all of it would go to waste.  Unless… unless his woman wanted it! She had freed him. She had brought him out of the hole. The least he could do was provide for her. And so he had lugged the thing in hybrid form for half a mile before getting tired and having to deal with it in this fashion.

Ashley rose to her feet and would have gone to the door except her mother hugged her tight stopping her from moving.

“It’s him. Azrael came back. Let him in it’s cold out there!” Ashley tugged to get free of her mother. “Mom please. He won’t hurt me. He could’ve but he didn’t. Nathan please don’t hurt him.”

“I don’t hunt lycan, especially one who brings us food.” Nathan chuckled when he saw the big dire wolf tugging the half-frozen carcass up onto the porch through a kitchn window.  The big thing stopped and turned to look at the shutters, ears perked and moving to listen to what was happening inside. “Hush it up, Ashley.”  

Uscias then added to Rose, ~ Help calm her down because if he sees her as something special like she does him, if they have a bond of some sort like we do – you know what’ll happen if he thinks she’s in trouble.~

“Nathan’s not going to hurt him, Ashley. Now settle down and we’ll go have a look at what is going on. But you need to stay calm. You know that, that, right? If he has the same pull you have, he might sense you’re upset and react badly, dear.”  Rose eased her hold on her daughter as Ashley took her mom’s advice to calm herself.

Azrael stopped, his snout shoving one of the shutters aside so he could step through the broken side door to come partially inside. His hackles went up and he growled low at Uscias. The dragon, let his eyes shift and he growled low right back, but in a surprising move, he spoke lycan to the male. Azrael paused and listened. He had been raised with both English and Lycan as his languages. He also knew some of the old vampyric language – that which would get him by. This dragon was telling him that he was the protector, father, and drakkar of the lady who had wanted him.

The growling language that came from the big wolf in reply told their dragon protector what he needed to know. This was no feral.

“Okay then.” It was all Nathan had to say. “I believe we have an understanding.”

Ashley and her mother moved to the entrance to the kitchen area to watch the two men. The scent of blood was thick in the air and Ashley’s gaze went right past Nathan to Azrael.

“Are you okay Azrael?” She asked as she stepped a little away from her mother.

“He’s okay, but he’s having trouble shifting again.  His instincts kicked in and he’s tired. He brought you half a goat to dress and use, though. He apologizes for his scaring you.”  Uscias was impressed. The kid was not as feral and out of control as he had thought. Maybe it had been a show or a survival mechanism. taking a deep breath, he asked, “Did you turn the power on for the Jacuzzi out here? I need a way to get him cleaned while furry and not freeze him to death.”

Ashley’s eyes went from her father to the wolf and back again. She was kind of stunned by all of this.

“Ahh goat? Ooohh well thank him and … yes I turned on the power for the outside and the Jacuzzi. It should be ready to use, just lift the lid.” Ashley looked at her mother and mouthed, “Goat?”

Rose shrugged her shoulders and mouthed back, “In his eyes, it’s a gift.. be pleased.”

The   dragon motioned with his head for Azrael to follow him. The damned wolf’s head came to his chest. He was as big as Devon and Derek in this form, that was for sure. He couldn’t wait to tell Dev about this story. This had to take the cake! He was about to give a lycan a bath. “You gals get some towels and blankets and soap so we can get this boy cleaned up.  He’s not going to hurt anybody. He’s eaten and apparently drank so he’s not a danger. And I can talk to him in lycan.”

“We’ll be out shortly with everything and get him cleaned up proper so he can come inside.” Rose nudged Ashley into action and soon the two women were gathering the needed items to take out.

Uscias went over to the hot tub and started it up. The temperature was kept constant, which made sense, but the water hadn’t been moved in a while.  He yanked the cover off of it and motioned to the lycan to hop in.

The big wolf sat down and looked at the dragon and growled the lycan equivalent to “no” before he huffed and boofed at the dragon. he shook his head and pawed the wood.

“Oh?”  Uscias said back to him but used English. “Well, I can tell you, you can get in here and let Ashley wash you up, or expect to sleep outside tonight. Because you won’t get in that door smelling like you do and covered in blood. She may have taken to you, but she don’t take to that.  I’m just tryin’ ta tell you, son.” he wanted to be sure English was also understood well. 

There was a low growl and the big creature leapt into the water splashing the dragon.

“Dammit boy!” Nathan backed up and looked in the door for the girls. “Bring me a towel too!” He glared at the wolf, who was bark-laughing at him.

“You ain’t feral at all, you shit,” Nathan chuckled. “You’re just tired and been through hell, huh?”

The wolf just looked at the old one. There were no sounds from him. Then, he stuck his nose in the heated water and blew bubbles. 

“Yeah… chuckle it up.” 

Rose was shaking her head as she wrapped a towel around her dragon and dried him off while Ashley stepped past them with the rest of the stuff.  Setting everything down she rolled back the sleeves of her sweater and grabbed the soap and sponge. Moving to the edge of the big tub she looked down at the over-sized wolf in the water before leaning to dip the sponge in and soap it up.  Ashley wasn’t to sure how this was going to work so she tugged her bottom lip a moment before holding the soapy sponge out.

“You’ll have to come closer to this  edge.. I can’t reach you without getting soaked myself at this point.”  Seeing all the dried blood she wrinkled her nose at him, “And you definitely need this scrub before stepping a paw inside.”

There was a huff and a growling speech. He lowered his head a bit, his ears forward, focused on her.

~ You sure he won’t hurt her at this point? It’s just he’s such a big wolf; he could snap her in half with one bite. ~ Rose rubbed Uscias’ shoulders while her gaze stayed on the pair at the hot tub a few yards away.

Uscias chuckled. ~ Oh she’s not safe – she’s about to get drown… He just told her she can get closer to him. But she doesn’t speak lycan. ~

Rose giggled.

Azar sat down in the bottom of the Jacuzzi and let his head be about an inch out of reach. She was so pretty. And he wanted to have some fun now.

Rising to her tiptoes Ashley leaned over the edge and held on with her bandaged hand as she touched Azrael’s nose with the soapy sponge. “Hah!  Bubbles on your nose now!” Ashley actually gave just the slightest little airy laugh and dimples appeared for a moment before vanishing again.

He shook his head and snorted, the bubbles flying up into the air.

The warm water was dousing her sweater and yet she didn’t seem to even notice as she leaned and stretched to brush the sponge over the side of Azrael’s jaw and then actually caught one ear in the next attempt.

“You know you could actually move closer and make this an easy job on me wolfman…” She mumbled as she brushed her bangs out of her eyes before trying to reach him again.

When she mentioned it, he moved just a little closer, getting his balance. Gave her just a little of what she wanted and hoped she would take the offer.

Rose was quiet as she watched her daughter actually laugh and smile. It had  been a very long time since she’d seen Ashley smile in such a carefree manner. Who would have dreamt a feral half-breed would be the one to do the trick? Life never seemed to stop amazing her these days. Their family had such a strong connection to the supernatural ones. Was it a coincidence? 

As soon as Ashley committed to the next reach, Azrael moved his head around her slender back and nipped his teeth into her bra and tugged her on into the water with him.

There was a huge gasp from Ashley as she came up from the water with droplets falling off of everywhere.

“That wasn’t nice at all!” Ashley screeched as she wiped water from her eyes and smeared mascara down her cheeks.

Uscias laughed out loud.

“Oh, I think we can go in now and get more towels. And maybe make ourselves comfy for a bit and find out what else is needed.  Hopefully, he’ll figure out how to calm down and get his human form back. I’ll keep my spells up out there to be sure they keep safe.”

Rose had been shocked by the move and was still shocked even as she peeled her eyes from Ashley – who simply picked up the sponge again and move close to really start washing Azrael up. It was so surprising to think that the girl playing in the water was her very own all-business-and-nothing-but-business daughter. It was unbelievable.

To be honest Ashley never even noticed when her mother and Nathan stepped back in. She was too focused on getting Azrael all scrubbed up.

“This would be so much easier if you had a couple of hands to help me instead of four paws at the moment.” Scrubbing the sponge over Azrael’s shoulders and then down his spine she laughed a little.

“Ummmrrrrrrr….ooowooo…”  the big wolf responded. He’d like to be able to shift too. Here he had a beautiful woman in a big giant bath with him and he was stuck. He tried to get his body to work with him, but it was not moving.

“Now how did I get roped into scrubbing you down again? Oh yes.. because you doused Nathan and mother wouldn’t come close for fear of the same treatment. So that means you are stuck with my horrid scrub technique.  Poor you!” She giggled. “I’ll try to leave some fur intact.” There was another soft laugh from her as she dipped the sponge and scrubbed more.

Azrael just let his head hang over her shoulder while she scrubbed his. When she touched him, he would reposition himself where she needed. He watched her as she willingly scrubbed through his fur. He hoped she didn’t get it too soapy. It took a lot to get the soap out of  his thick winter fur. She smelled delightful, even past the soap. When he got a chance, he licked her cheek and nuzzled her.

“So you think they connected then, as much as I do?” Uscias asked Rose. He looked through the fridge and pulled out the meat and began tossing it in a bowl and then tossed in spices and Worcestershire. 

“Yes, I do. I know Ashley mentioned it, but I’m not sure she understands how deep this could be.” Rose thought back to Isabel and Derek and the heartache on Derek’s face when their daughter told him that she had never meant to be part of his life. She truly hoped this would not be a repeat. “Right now she just sees it as helping someone in need but we both see so much more there.” Rose pulled the pan from a cabinet and turned to Nathan,  “Are they almost finished so we can dry them off and feed them?”

“Probably.  Look, if you can get a salad together and maybe pile together some of  the side items she had made, I’ll go out and get the grill started, because this ain’t the house with the inside grill. I’ll toss these on for however long they need to be cooked. I’ll use magic to put the goat on ice and clean the porch. Maybe by the time all that’s done and the steak is cooked, they’ll be ready and you will be, too?” He stepped to her and kissed her cheek while hugging her from behind. Then he was off with the meat to do as he had said. “You can always watch out the little window next to the stove…hint…”

“You hush,” Rose whispered, a grin on her face. She tossed together a salad and then put the sides together as requested. Now, all they needed were the steaks. Moving to the window she took Nathan’s advice and watched through it. She admitted freely that she was very curious about how this was going to work out, after all, Ashley wasn’t the most patient of people. She could see the smoke coming off of the grill further back from the house and Nathan adjusting everything. Then, she settled on watching the new couple. 

Azrael moved under the water to help getting the soap out of his fur. He got back up and lept out of the swirling waters to shake himself out from head to toe to tail. He looked over at Ashley, a creamy coffee furball with bright blue eyes. And then he barked at her, as if telling her to get out with him.

Her exit was much slower than Azrael’s as she tried not to slip on the way out. Then when she was out she was dripping wet and would soon be freezing to death. Luckily the tub temp was set at 102 degrees F. So steam just poured off of their bodies in the colder air. 

While  sitting down and itching his shoulder, Azrael took note of Uscias using telekinetic magic to move his kill off the porch after all that work. He was about to argue with the dragon, when his voice shocked him.

“Old claw, I brought that up for my woman, don’t waste it!” The lycan shivered, because he no longer had a fur coat…or anything for that matter. He looked down at himself, a 6’1” slender of frame man of what looked to be late 20’s had he been human. He was muscular but not as broad as most of the other lycan. His hair was dreaded in some places and just natural in others and at least clean, now. He was shivering quickly and went down to squat, arms moving over his knees.  

“Rose! Get out here with some towels and robes or blankets! Our wolf just turned into our man. And he’s in his birthday suit!” Uscias warned his love. He cast a gaze over to Azrael and let him know, “I’m packing the goat in ice. I’ll dress it and cut the meat later.”

Rose was rushing out with warm towels to wrap around the young man and Ashley too. “Get him inside while I get her out of these wet clothes. There’s a robe right by the door for him too.” Rose was rubbing Ashley down with a big warm towel while Ashley was yanking things off beneath.

Azrael had needed to go in because he had shifted so fast he was in a lot of pain. He wasn’t good with it. Never had been. It’s why he let it get to him. But he needed to concentrate on not letting it get to him. He didn’t want to hurt Ashley. She had helped him. He was breathing hard by the time Nathan sat him in front of the fire.

“Easy. You need to stay calm and it’ll pass.” Nathan watched the boy for a moment and then got up as Rose came in with Ashley. He still had to bury that goat in the snow and turn their meat. So as soon as he could slip back out, he did.  

Walking in to the warm interior Ashley sighed just a little as her mother led her towards the rug before the roaring fire where Azrael already sat huddled thawing out. She smiled at him while taking a seat beside him in front of the fire.

“Stay here and get warm. I’ll get you both fresh clothes and warm meals.” Rose warned them both as she pressed a kiss to Ashley’s damp head. 

“I’m too cold to go anywhere right now.” Ashley smiled at her mom while huddling deeper into the big robe she had on.

“Move closer. And put more on.” Azrael moved to the side and grabbed the throw blankets from the couch and placed them around Ashley’s shoulders and then sat very close to her so that their body heat could help. They sat there, silent for a few minutes before he spoke again. “Why did you choose me? Why did you buy me?” he asked quietly.

Tucked beside him Ashley stared into the flickering flames and thought of the answer to his question. “Well, I don’t really understand it all except to say that I felt you needed me. Then, you won and they were going to sell you off. I just couldn’t let that happen..” She turned her head to look up at him, “After all you won, it just wasn’t fair. I couldn’t let you go to another master that would treat you even worse. I wanted to free you.”

“Oh,” Azrael seemed a bit disappointed. He was looking for something other than guilt or fairness to be mentioned. He had thought he felt something stronger. But he wouldn’t say anything to her if she didn’t feel it. No need in harming.

Ashley leaned her head against Azrael’s shoulder, “I couldn’t just walk away and leave you… I have never felt anything like it. I know it sounds crazy because I don’t really know you and you hardly know me, but my gut instinct told me if I walked away without helping you, I’d regret it for the rest of my life. So here you are – free and away from the arena.”

That was it. That was what he was waiting to hear. He let his own head lean over to hers. “I felt it too. I’ve never felt that before. But my kin have. They’ve told me about it. I just never felt it before.” Azar reached over and took Ashley’s left hand in his right and just played with it, explored it. “You write a lot.”

There was a look of curiosity on her face as she thought over what he’d just said. Azrael was playing with her hand and she was just looking at his long strong fingers as they moved over her calloused fingertips. His hands were actually not calloused at all. They were very smooth and soft. 

“Yes.. I do write a lot. It comes with the perks of my job. So you say that your kin have felt this? What do they say it means?” Ashley truly was curious as to it all. But honestly had no idea who to go to for answers.

“Oh, well, I’m scared I’ll freak you out if I tell you what it means to my kin; bad enough you have to be careful about being around me when I need blood.” Azrael sighed and let his weariness begin to win out over everything else. He felt relaxed here with her. She could tell by his speech that he was definitely from this world.

Now that really piqued her curiosity. But she could hear the exhaustion in his voice as he spoke and the fact that he spoke so well made her wonder just exactly where had her fanged wolf truly come from. Instead of pushing, Ashley shifted their position just enough so that she could lean back against the edge of the couch and he could rest his head in her lap. at first he looked at her as if seeking to be sure the move was what she wanted. Her smile told him to lie down and accept her offer. After that, he was in heaven. Her fingers moved over his hair as she finally responded to what he’d said.

“I can’t imagine you being scared of any such thing, but it is very flattering to think you’d like to have my company more than I assumed you would.”

“Mmmm…” Azrael still wasn’t sure of telling her about mates and chosen and all of what their connection might be. If she wanted his company as he wanted hers, there would be better time to speak on such subjects. “Better to speak of with less audience.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. His markings, though very faint were upon his arm and shoulder, down his back. They were from the vampire genes he had within his body. His mother had been lycan, but his father had been a mixture of vampire and lycan – a step beyond. He had been trained as the ultimate protector among his coven. “I would like your company at all times. This beats any life I’ve ever had so far. And I’ve already had two.” he chuckled and just let his eyes close as she moved her fingers through his thick hair.

There was a soft little laugh from Ashley as she looked up at the ceiling and then back down at Azrael, “I guess this means we have a lot to learn about one another. After all, everyone had me convinced that you are little more than a wild feral lycan from the other world that would need to be kept caged up. I didn’t believe that. I knew and know better. So what else should I know about you Azrael?” She brushed her fingers over the shell of his ear and smiled at him.

“I…look…forward to…” he didn’t finish the sentence. Azrael slipped into sleep in her lap. She had saved him and he was eternally grateful. But she also made him feel relaxed and at peace. It was the first time he had rested in months. He knew there was more. He knew he’d remember it. Right now? All he could think about was being close to his woman.

 

~  Rachel Diane Adams and Dawn McClellan © ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2018

(Photo is a modified piece by Derek Griggs photography: https://derekgriggs.smugmug.com/)