(In case you were wondering, I’ve always seen Azrael as Jesse Williams when I write him. Can’t help it…I really need to find an artist to give me some renderings based on what face claims my mind comes up with.

“What do you think?” Rose spoke softly since both Ashley and Azrael were now sleeping before the fire. “Has the doctor seen him yet?” While she admitted that the young man didn’t seem all that wild and much less dangerous than she first thought he’d be, he was still an unknown. She set plates on the table and arranged the food in the center. It seemed he was in control right now, but how long would that last? Rose knew better than to think it was going to be this easy.

“The doctor was the one who sedated him for the trip. He listened to her. He watched her. He knew what she was doing. He wasn’t completely feral even while he was half-shifted. She drew blood and she said she’d check in with Ashley ahd Azrael daily. I think his shifting and his reactions have more to do with defense and lack of experience and training than being feral. I know what a feral lycan looks like. I’ve had years of experience helpin’ with one. Got the scars to prove it.”  Nathan’s voice was quiet and calm as he spoke and helped Rose set their table. They would most likely be saving the rest of the food for the couple to eat once they actually woke up.

“At least we know that much about him. I still don’t like not really knowing who he is or what kind of family he’s part of. I’m sure Ashley is happy that he’s healthy at least.” Rose paused in pouring water into her glass of ice and looked at Nathan over the table, “Please tell me we are going to stay here a few days. Especially after what we arrived to today.” It didn’t surprise her that her dragon had dealt with a feral before, he had a long life prior to her and had told her of many of his adventures. No doubt before this mess with Ashley was over, he would share the tale of the feral, too.

“Oh, there’s no doubt that we’re staying. She’s already broken one of my stipulations. Ain’t gonna get privacy, now. Nope.” Nathan was a straightforward kind of person. He’d give you the chain you needed. But if you choked yourself on it, he had no issue reeling that shit in. Ashley had been given the rules that went along with getting his help. And she had broken one as soon as she could. That given trust was now gone.  

Nathan studied the man from where he was. He was thinking very deeply. He’d been friends with Devon and Eva Weylyn for years and years. Since finding work with the Kennedys… and then moving to the Matthews Ranch when William had taken over at the other estate.  This kid was too similar to Eva. He couldn’t just ignore that fact.

“Need ta talk to that doctor.” It was a statement drawn from his thoughts out of the blue.

“About what?” Rose asked as she took a seat and then waited for him to take his. The fact the doctor was being brought up again had her wondering what was on her love’s mind.

“Didn’t Eva lose kids before she met Dev?” he asked in a whisper while sitting down next to Rose.  “Did you notice how his nose and his cheeks resemble her? Not to mention his coloring.”

That had Rose lifting a brow, “I think so, I’m not absolute. You’d have to ask Gabriel for certain. He does look like her and their oldest… um.. Clint I think his name is. Except I think Clint takes a little more after the father so maybe the other one.”

“His eyes are definitely like like Russell’s eyes. Save the red. And he’s lean and wiry, but he’s tall and Russ ain’t tall. Clint is. Clint’s just also growin’ inta his daddy’s girth. This one might have a different daddy, but those facial structures and those eyes… yeah, I want to know.” He looked to Rose. “What if our Ash accidentally found a Weylyn for a mate?”  

There was a very long deep sigh from Rose as she rubbed her forehead.

“Mate.. aren’t our girls too young for that? I don’t think I am ready for them to be that grown.” She picked at her salad and wiped at her mouth with the napkin. She felt the trickle at her nose and covered it. Rising to her feet Rose walked to the sliding glass door that led out to the back patio. She stepped out into the cold evening air and took a breath.

Nathan followed closely behind her. He’d seen this happen before on several occasions and though Rose tried to hide it, she couldn’t. Not from him.

“Stop scanning people. You don’t need to do that, Rosie. Ya got me here.”

Nose bleeds were pretty common for her when around strong energy or strong magic. It seemed that maybe the feral was more than he seemed. “He’s strong, really strong Uscias. Do you think he knows just how strong his aura is?”

“I don’t think he knows much of anything about himself. Not what’s important and what’s not, anyways.” He gently moved her to the seat nearby and helped her to sit. He tilted her head back slightly and massaged her neck and shoulders.  “Maybe we can put it all together like a puzzle for not just us and Ash, but for him as well.”

Rose smiled as her eyes closed under his soothing touch, “Mmm that sounds like a plan my love. I’m sure he will appreciate that.”

“It’s been gettin’ worse. What’d the doctor say last week? I know you went without me. I hate when ya do that.”   

“Said what we’ve been expecting.” Rose looked into his worried eyes, “It’s inoperable and they want to set up treatments. The choice is up to me as to whether its chemo or radiation. Either way I’ll be sick and lose my hair.” Her hand lifted to smooth over her soft locks. She really didn’t want to lose it, but magic wasn’t an option either. They had tried at the beginning and she had nearly died from it. “There’s no guarantee either treatment will work either.”

“Your beauty is much deeper than anything this world shows us, my love,” his voice was full of adoration. His accent went missing. His pain was present, but not so much as he truly felt, for most of it was walled off well enough that it would not overwhelm his kindred…the one he saw as his soulmate.   

“I need to tell them don’t I? I’m running out of time.” Rose whispered softly as if it were needed as she covered her loves hand with one of her own.

“Yes. Or at least, that’s my advice and you know it’s always up to you to take it or leave it, Rosie.” He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. “If I could stop it, I would. My only request is that you let Dr. Keene know about it, too. She studies things beyond what most of this world’s doctors do, and she isn’t just using magic, like what we’ve tried thusfar.”  Uscias hated that they were down to this.

There was a slow nod of her head, “After this, we will have a family dinner and I’ll let them know. I don’t mind if Dr.Keene knows about me. We’ve tried everything else might as well give her a chance before going with my other options.” She always kept herself in good spirits because doing anything else only made the ones she loved most in this world hurt.

“I thought Senias was going to keep questioning. I’d think… or I have a feeling that he may come to you.” Uscias whispered. “I saw and felt the concern. He may have fallen absent from the family over the years, but he still cares. You must’ve really been close back in the day.”  

“He would have become unstoppable if I’d given him just a morsel to run with.”  Rose’s eyes actually seemed to sparkle with her memories of time with Senias. “We were, you know.. Close, as you say. He was very close with my mother and then something happened to push a wedge between them. I was a toddler then, but when I became a teenager, I found him. My brother was very jealous and mean to me so I hid from William a lot. That’s how I found Sen.” She gave a soft laugh and rubbed her upper arms to ward off the chill. She was enjoying the fresh air though and didn’t want to go back in just yet.

“William never was part of Senias’ life?”

“Senias always had a dislike for my brother. I think he saw the darkness in him. But me.. well he thought I was a nuisance at first. After a time I think I grew on him and actually reminded him somewhat of mother.” The sparkle faded a little then, “He left after mother died and only kept contact with my father. He never came back to the house that I can recall. Not until now with Gabriel.”

He helped by removing his flannel shirt and putting it over Rose’s shoulders then making sure his hands moved to warm her upper arms with the friction from his palms.  

“Something must’ve happened for him to leave a primary lair. Did you ever get to ask him?”  

She shook her head and leaned into his warmth. “No I was busy getting Gabriel into military school after the funeral. Between my father and William, nothing was getting done for my nephew. I didn’t know their dragon was gone until after I returned from checking Gabriel in and getting him adjusted. I’ve no doubt he’ll seek me out, but Senias I can handle.”

“Who can you not handle, my dear? You know I’ll be by your side through it all.” He kissed her cheek from behind.   

That made the matron actually giggle as his warmth moved around her to chase the chill away.

“I like to think I’m immortal and can take on anyone. Your very own Wonder Woman.” Her eyes closed as she smiled and snuggled to him, “I’m so lucky you chose me to spend the last twenty years with. I do love you so very much Uscias.” She could hear stirring inside. It had only been an hour or two – or had it been longer?

“I love you, too, my dear.” He looked to the side where his eyes caught movement. “Looks like someone’s up. Time to go back inside, don’t you think?”

Ashley was up at the table when her parents walked back in the sliding glass door. She was pouring herself iced tea and smiled at them.

“I woke and thought you’d left.” she tucked the robe closer and sipped from her glass.

“Oh, we don’t plan on leavin’ anytime soon. You obviously need some help and we kind of need some space from the horse ranch, so,” He looked to Rose to finish that sentence.  

“In other words Ashley Matthews, you can’t be trusted and that means we’re here for a while so get used to us.” Rose took her seat at the table and lifted her glass to drink as if nothing had happened.

“Can’t be trusted?” Ashley looked at Nathan, “Have I not followed everything you specified? Azrael was sedated for transport and restrained and physically examined by the doctor. He remained sedated and in that cage as you demanded.” the blondes voice never raised towards them. “The cage door was closed, it just wasn’t secured because you never specified that. If you recall I even tranquilized him again once he was in there. I never broke my word dad.”

“Oh, you think to get by on that technicality? This ain’t a legal matter, Ashley K. Matthews. That don’t fly with me or ya mama. So suck it up.” Nathan shook his head. “You know better. But – it looks to me like you need a bit of help anyways. I’d hope that you trust us enough to let us help you – and that was part of the specifications – accepting help.”  

Staring at her tea, Ashley was pouting without realizing she was even doing it.

“I don’t deny that. I told you I needed help. At least now you know that he isn’t completely feral. I also don’t believe he’ll hurt me.”

Exchanging looks with her dragon, Rose took a seat beside their daughter. Taking Ashley’s hand in hers, she tried to explain something she didn’t think her child quite grasped yet.

“I don’t think he would intentionally hurt you either. Lycan tend to protect their mates and those that are abusive really don’t last long in the Pack.”

“Mate? Isn’t that like..” Ashley looked from her mother to the sleeping male in front of the fire.

The look on her parents’ faces told her the answer. “He just met me though.. doesn’t that take time?” Had that been what Azrael meant earlier?

“Lycan know. Don’t ask me, cause I’m a dragon and sometimes we’re fiercely hard-headed about such things as love. But a lycan, they know who their mate is. They feel it – is what I’ve been told. And they create an immediate bond to the person they see as their mate. Remember Isabel and Derek?” Nathan explained what he could and waited for Ashley to catch up.

Ashley rested her chin in her palm as her elbow sat on the table. She was staring at the resting man and still felt that deep seated pull towards him. It was that same sensation from the very first moment she’d seen him in the cell. The blonde was smiling as she looked back at her father. “I do remember and I would never want to hurt him like that.”

“Where do we go from here? Does he need things? Is there someone else to help with him? Maybe one of the Weylyn’s can come speak with him. He’s from this side, so maybe he has family here that we can contact for him.” Ashley turned her head so that she could look at Azrael again.  “Do you think he’d like that?” She just wanted everything to be right. It seemed odd since none of her relationships had ever worked out well.

“I think, after what he’s been through and what you told us, maybe he’d love to have family again.” Nathan wanted Devon and Eva to meet this kid. He had a feeling about it.   

Their girl was nervous and Rose’s heart went out to her. It was never easy to trust one’s heart and in cases like this it was sometimes harder given the one Ashley was falling for.

There were whimpers and Azrael grabbed the blanket he was on, his breathing kicked up a notch.  

When Nathan saw it, he immediately, mentally pushed Rose to stop Ashley from moving too fast. He wasn’t sure what the lycan might do coming out of a nightmare. It was things like this – things you overlooked – that might be dangerous.  

Quickly rising from her seat Ashley would have gone to him, but her mother’s hand on her upper arm stopped her.

“I won’t get too close I just want to assure him that I’m still here.”

“Carefully, my dear, and just to the couch. Stay to the back of it.” Rose watched with her breath held as their eldest moved to the back of the couch as instructed.

With her hands gripping the tops of the cushions, Ashley called out softly to him trying not to spook him.

“Azrael… it’s just a dream. You’re here safe with me, just as promised..” The blonde wanted to run her fingers through his hair so badly. Something deep inside told her it would settle him.

His eyes opened in a flutter of movement, but he growled and moved his face back to the warmth of the blanket.  “Ash?” he asked, letting her know he remembered, he was still in the now.

Nathan let his eyes move from the man over to Rosie and he nodded slowly, his mouth turned downward. He was impressed. The young man had more control than any of them gave credit for. Not that it would be this easy, all the time, but it was at least easier than they had all worried about.  

“Yes, that’s right Azer, it’s me.” Very slowly Ashley moved around the couch. She smiled and nodded to her mother as she did so, letting the woman know she was following their advice. She took a seat on it close to him without actually touching him. Just as cautiously the blonde reached out to smooth her hand over his wild yet soft hair.

“Perhaps he’s hungry Ash, see if he’s up to joining us or if he’s in need of more rest.”  Rose suggested, knowing one way or the other the young couple needed to dress themselves before getting too cozy again.

Azrael slowly turned his head to look at Ashley. He sniffed the air and then rolled to his side to face her completely and for the first time, he smiled. The way he looked at her was with a sort of adoration… it was much like Nathan looked at Rose.

And just like that Azrael had her. Ashley was so taken with him and didn’t even realize it yet. Just that smile melted her and made her go warm inside. He was breathtaking to look at when his eyes warmed up with his smile.

“Oh boy..” Rose knew exactly where those looks led to and there’d be none of that anytime soon. “Alright Ashley, let’s go get you dressed while your father sees that Azrael does the same in our absence.” Rose was all smiles as she moved to help their girl from the couch. “I think we brought some clothing for him and you’ll find it in that first bag we brought with us, my love.”

“Yeah, I know. I raided some of the guys’ for different sizes and stuff, so I got ‘em,” Nathan waved Rose and Ashley off before looking over at Azrael.  “Time to get really dressed, boy. I know what you’re body’s about ta start tellin’ ya and it ain’t ta happen right now, son.” Nathan waited til the man was up to toss some clothes at him. “Since you’re civilized, you know what ta do with them.”

Azrael looked down at the clothes and nodded, getting himself up to his feet.  

“You okay?” Nathan asked, concerned.

“Still sore from… the last match…” he took a deep breath and shook his head. He didn’t want to go into it. But he took things slow in pulling on all of the clothes. They were a bit baggy in some places and a bit tight in others.   

“Arena fighting is no joke. You may have pains for a good few weeks.”

“Yes, sir. I’ve not been allowed to rest. So, my body hasn’t healed properly. It will, though. And, I just want you to know that, I’ll not do anything improper toward your daughter. I may want more, but I also want…more.”   

When the girls returned Ashley was dressed in light blue sweatsuit with her hair pulled back. She smiled as she moved to stand beside Azer.

“Are you hurt? I was told by the doctor that you were alright, but you seem in pain.” her hand lifted to cup his cheek.

“The bruising is deep and this is the first time I’ve relaxed my forms. So…”

“I have some salves and creams that mama made me bring. We can see if they help.” Ashley smoothed her hand up his arm and smiled sweetly for him. “It isn’t much but it’s something.”

“Only if your mother and father would allow. Or if it needs to be them or however it needs to be so that there is no disrespect,” Azrael whispered.

“I’m sure food wouldn’t hurt your health. Soon as that’s on your muscles, get your tail up here and eat.” Nathan moved to place his hand on the small of Rose’s back to guide her back to the kitchen area. After all, they could watch everything from the dinette.

“Only upper body Ashley, any other place he can rub ointment himself.” Rose was giving the young a very serious motherly look as she said it before walking away with her husband.

“I feel like I’m a teenager again. Thanks, mom.” With a sigh and a shake of her head Ashley went to the end table of the couch and pulled the ointment from the drawer. She was actually blushing given what her mom had just said and how it had sounded. She chewed her bottom lip and removed the cap from the tube. “Hope you aren’t uncomfortable but my parents just want to make sure I stay safe.”

“If I had children, I would be just as protective. I had siblings… so I know how it feels to want to protect someone you love unconditionally. At least I tried.” He lifted his shirt and turned his back toward her, because that was where he hurt most and he couldn’t reach it. The bruises were all over and in all stages of healing.

Her breath caught when Azreal lifted his shirt to show her where to put the cream. Now let’s stay focused Ashley. Keep your head on straight! Your parents are watching and your dad has a really good sense of what’s going on. If he gets one whiff of your thoughts, Azrael will be locked in that cage before you can blink! The blonde had to mentally pep talk and chastise herself all at the same time. Her hand shook as she spread the cool gel over his back. She wanted to hold him, wanted to ease all of these pains and she wanted to make them all go away. “I have siblings too. Tell me about yours?”

“I have… had a sister younger than me. And I have a brother, somewhere that’s older than me. He took care of me from a distance. Paid for my schooling and helped me here and there but, he stays to himself for the most part. Becca is a very odd one. She’s heard voices since she was a kid. She can go from hot to cold on people pretty quick, but she’s also sweet and adorable or was, I guess. I don’t know, I’ll always think of her as the sweet adorable one and me, not sure how to describe me. And Evan was always the lone wolf.”  

As soon as the names were mentioned, Nathan set his cup of coffee down and looked to Rose. Yes. Those were the names. In lycan culture, naming was very important. And even if you thought you had lost pups, you named them so they could go back to the golden fields.  By the gods, they’d accidentally found Weylyn pups. Or, were they? He supposed by Devon’s laws, yes, anything that was his mate’s was his. Eva had said when she was a slave her owners took her children from her and she thought they were dead. One of them was standing right here in front of them.

“Think you might want ta call Eva and Devon now,  sweetheart.”

Rose nodded to her dragon and took out her phone to begin texting.

Ashley dabbed here and massaged there. She rubbed the cream in and listened to him talk as she worked him over. It was nice to know that at least in this way she could help him. It wasn’t much but it was something.

“Thank you, Ash,” he turned to her and took her hand in his. He looked into her eyes. It had been such a long time since he’d felt a compassionate touch – any touch other than a whip, chains, or another fighter’s hits. She meant everything to him, that she had come for him. “I was so lost.” He noted the audience once again, a blush warmed his creamy cheeks and Azrael swallowed, then cleared his throat. “Can we eat?”

She was in a daze for a moment and was lost in his bright blue gaze as he held her hand. It all just seemed so right and when felt like more was to come she was disappointed when he seemed to pull back. His question had her blinking several times and she noticed the blush as she cleared her throat as well.

“Oh, yes of course.. Food. I forgot how much lycan eat.” Ashley didn’t let go of his hand as she led him to the table.

Rose sent a text message to Eva Weylyn that read, “Please join me, my husband and Ashley at her Colorado cabin. We have someone we’d like to introduce you to and we think you and Devon are just the lycan to help him right now. Nathan grilled food if that’s more incentive.”

“You said school, what did you study?” Rose didn’t push about his siblings because she’d leave that bit to Eva. Ashley had no idea just how happy she was about to make the Weylyns and if she wanted to make a good impression there really was no better way than saving their son.

“I finished medical school. I lost track of time. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember when.” He finally had to let go of Ashley’s hand to sit down properly.

There was a return text – “Now? Rose, we’ve brought back children and have our own. It may take a bit.” It was am Eva response to be sure.

“We need you both here now. No dawdling. How often do I make such a request?” Rose typed in return. She put her phone in her pocket and smiled to them all.

“It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, what matters is that you remember how to use your knowledge. And you can always go back and get some refreshers. It’s never too late to use what you’ve learned to help others.” Rose smiled at the young man before turning to look at Nathan, who was fixing her plate with her favorites.  

 

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