This is set AFTER Shades of Hate and BEFORE Royal Pawn.
It took an hour for us to get to Hasan’s estate, the beautiful mansion on the mountain side, surrounded by the lush tree of a tropical paradise. The moment I had the chance, I grabbed my back and made my escape to the residential wing. There were two wings of the home. The larger wing was his more official home, if he had business visitors, staff, or locals coming to see him. It was where his office was.
But the residential wing was the home of the family and I found my room with ease, stopping with when I had my free hand on the doorknob. I was suddenly frozen, wondering what I would find beyond the door. The last time I had been on the island, I hadn’t shown Heath and Gwen this room, because I hadn’t wanted to breech the trust of the family by letting them into this wing. This was the first time I would see it since I had packed my bags and walked out on the family, unable to live with the feeling of betrayal. I had run and never come back to this sacred place that belonged to me.
I smelled him as he entered the hall, coming to me.
“You know how to show up at the right time,” I said as my father reached over and put his hand over mine on the doorknob.
“No one has gone in your room since you left, except me. I find it soothing to keep my children’s rooms tended until they come home,” he explained.
“Yeah, I know.” I had seen him do it before.
“And I have remodeled it,” he continued. “I was hoping to catch you so I could see your reaction.”
“Oh.” So it wasn’t the same room I had left. I looked up at him, frowning. “Why?”
“Because you’re not the same woman who left,” he said softly. “And now I know more of your design preferences.”
Then he turned the doorknob, still with my hand there in way, forcing me to do it with him, and we pushed the door open together.
He had remodeled it in the style of my home. Blacks, greys, and whites, all cool tone. Color was in the accents, soft blues and bright oranges, a wonderful contrast.
“Thank you,” I whispered, walking in. I had a king size bed in my suite and from the entry, I could see the spacious bathroom with a soaking tub. The shower was out of sight, but I knew he wouldn’t have missed a single detail. Everything here could have easily been in my own home. I turned back to him as I dropped my suitcase. “Really. Thanks. It’s a piece of home in home.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. “It’s not easy being a werecat out of one’s territory, so I always try to make sure my children feel as comfortable as they can be here. This will help you sleep.”
“That’s why Mischa does it too, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he confirmed. “Zuri also maintains space for the entire family if it’s necessary.” He didn’t move to enter the room after me, hanging back in the doorway. “Before I go, some reminders. You have free access to the garden through the double doors. You will have a full stocked closet. Make sure you take time to try all of it on as that will anchor the clothing to you so no one else can wear them.”
“Fae magic?” I asked. While I never used it, practically everyone I knew did, including Heath and Landon, on their suits. It didn’t leave a stench on their clothes, but no one ever went to a tailor. Their clothes always fit perfectly like magic.
Because it was magic.
“Yes. And dinner tonight is formal.”
“What?” That was new.
“That’s right,” he said with a smile. “My entire family is finally under one roof. You will all dress appropriately.”
“No,” I countered, shaking my head. “I’m not wearing a pants suit or a dress to dinner with family.”
“Then you’ll miss dinner.” He shrugged with one shoulder and closed me in. After a moment, he opened the door again. “And I will personally guard the kitchen all night to make sure you don’t sneak in midnight snacks when you inevitably get hungry.”
Then he was gone, and I listened to his footsteps go down the hall.
I glared at the door.
Formal. I hadn’t worn formal stuff in literally years. I certainly didn’t pack any, which I knew he would have guessed.
Which meant I was going to find it in my closet.
I ignored the sound of heels in the hall as I found the closet and groaned at how much clothing he had stocked it with. I didn’t ignore the sound of my door opening and the heels walking in on the marble floor.
“Jacky!” Mischa called.
“In here,” I grumbled in return. She breezed into the closet, completely in her element as she saw the walls of designer clothing ready for someone to try on.
“Ohhh.” She didn’t touch anything as she came to stand beside me, but I could see how much she wanted to. “He’s so good at this. I always love coming home. He’s sends out the best shoppers he can, and we all get to home with three more suitcases than we arrived with.”
“You’re a rogue… how do you keep so many clothes?”
“I own multiple properties. I just don’t lay down a territory. I don’t want to,” she answered, peering at a blue jacket. “Father said you’re not one for formal wear and it’s my personal favorite, so I’m here to help.”
“You just want me to play dress up,” I muttered, looking around the closet.
Her hand curled around the back of my neck and her smile was evil.
“I’ve been waiting to play dress up with you since I learned your name,” she said with a smile that promised me an afternoon of hell. “We’re going to have so much fun.”
“Are you saying you showed over a decade’s worth of restraint? I don’t believe it.” I smiled, trying to keep it light, but Mischa’s expression shifted.
“You were so fragile for so long,” she said, turning into that softer version of herself.
“I…” I didn’t like that word.
“Admit it. Hasan hurt you and it’s understandable. We were all dealing with your Change in our own ways. None of us were really mad at you, but the circumstances were messy. And you… You lost someone important to you and you didn’t know the full truth of it. You were fragile, Jacky. You’re not anymore. The last couple of years have shown us that you are anything but fragile. When you were in Russia with me, seeing my human family for the first time and fighting for your own, I could see why Father decided to Change you. And now… we’re going to play dress up.”
“Not without me, you’re not,” Zuri said as she walked in. “Kushim will stay with our son, before either of you ask.” She pointed at me then waved at the clothing around us. “You, touch everything in here. All of it. We can’t touch it without claiming it which means we can’t get a move on with it.”
I did as she asked, letting my fingers graze over the fabrics presented to me. There had to be a dozen dresses alone on one wall. Fifteen or twenty pairs of shoes. It was an entire wardrobe. None of it I would have bought on my own.
And then I reached the back wall, wondering if Hasan had lost his mind, and found a row of seemingly simple t shirts. I pulled one out and laughed as I saw what it was.
“He didn’t,” Mischa growled softly, grabbing the shirt from me. “Zuri, look at what he bought her.”
“Father knows what he’s doing,” she said with a one shoulder shrug, taking the shirt and hanging it back up around me. “Jacky likes her old, vintage band shirts. I bet you those were harder to find than anything else in this closet.”
I couldn’t stop laughing as Mischa glared at the entire row of them. But I was genuinely touched by his gesture.
“Open the drawers and keep going,” Zuri demanded, pointing at everything I had missed. I went back to it, find jeans in different varieties folded up like they had been on the store display. Some had fabricated holes, some didn’t. There were several different cuts.
“He didn’t get me… underwear again, did he?” I flushed as I reached into another drawer, realizing eventually, I would probably find some.
“Oh, gods no. I hope not, at least.” Zuri shook her head. “Wait, what do you mean by again?”
“When I first Changed…”
“Oh.” She shrugged. “You didn’t have anything to your name. And he didn’t buy those for you. I did. He called and I handled that. He wouldn’t never give a woman undergarments unless he wanted to sleep with her and there’s only one woman he sleeps with.”
“Oh, good.” Having a sister do that was much more acceptable than a father.
“Put these one,” Mischa said, quickly coming over with a stack of clothes. “I want to see you in all of them. And while you change…” Mischa turned to Zuri. “You are going to tell me all about Kushim.”
Zuri’s eyes twinkled with delight. “Oh yes. I will. Better it’s the three of us here than at the table with the men. He’s wonderful.”
I listened as I started to undress. Neither of them left the closet as I threw my travel outfit to the side.
“Wodnerful? Like a good man or a bad one?” Mischa did that eyebrow wiggle that had me cackling.
“Hm. Good question. Good man but has the ability to be very bad. And in only the best of ways. He’s a bit of a jokester, though. Watch out. He’s flirtatious, but he doesn’t mean anything by it most of the time. You’ll know when he means it.”
“He won’t mean anything with you, Mischa. Zuri has him wrapped around her little finger,” I added. “She’s his queen.”
“And he’s my bandit,” Zuri finished with a smile. “Oh, Mischa, the stories he can weave.”
“I see,” Mischa said with a knowing smile. “Oh, he’s gotten you wrapped up tight.”
“He’s my mate,” Zuri said simply. “He sees past what I’ve always shown the world and saw me. He sees the queen I used to be, but he also wants to be with the woman. No one had ever been that with me before. And he’s excited by the idea of having a family. It wasn’t in either of our plans, but once I told him that I was pregnant, I knew he would fight for it, fight to be a father and to be with me for eternity.”
“Sounds lovely,” Mischa said softly.
“And he’s not political. I’ve told him all about the station of our family, but he’s an Immortal. He’s politically neutral unless he decides otherwise, and he’s never picked sides for anything. He’s not complicated, and I can shelter in that.”
I had heard all this before, but it still choked me up to see my sister so in love. It also hurt because I could never share my own life with them. I could never sit down with my sisters and talk openly about the man I cared deeply for. I could never tell them about all the good things he brought to my own life. When I was finished changing into Mischa’s chosen outfit, I turned to them and caught Zuri’s eye.
She knew about Heath and I and she promised to keep it a secret. She also promised to help us when the time came that we were outed. Or to give me a shoulder to cry on if we ever split up.
“Love it. I knew I would pick right,” Mischa declared. I was wearing a blue pant suits, not a dress, something I was grateful for. She put me in six-inch heels, though, which were terrible. The white blouse underneath was too revealing for me, as well. It was definitely a Mischa outfit, not a Jacky outfit. I probably looked stunning in it, but it didn’t feel right.
“No,” Zuri said softly, coming over to me and deflating Mischa immediately, who frowned deeply. “Take off the jacket,” Zuri ordered. I did as she asked. “And let’s get rid of the blouse and those shoes as well. Keep the jacket. We can use it.”
I kicked off all the parts she asked for and she came back with a black blouse, simple and clean. It showed off less cleavage than Mischa’s pick.
“This is you. Not put the jacket back on…” She grabbed a lower pair of black boots. “And these instead.” She put them at my feet, then helped me step into them. “Better. Now accessories.”
“It’s so dark,” Mischa complained.
“We’re not all ice queens,” Zuri replied, not even looking at her. Zuri had a point. Mischa was a platinum blonde with ice blue eyes and clear, porcelain skin. She was, for all purposes, an ice queen. “You like harsh whites and crystal colors. I love earth and jewel tones. Jacky… She can get away with black and bright color. The contrast, the pop of it. Yes, it works for her.” She nodded, satisfied with my new look and I felt pretty okay with it too.
“I thought he would expect us in dresses,” I said, looking in the full-length mirror at myself.
“He will…” Zuri agreed. “But I don’t care. They don’t need us in dresses and I want you comfortable. You aren’t comfortable in dresses and if Mischa and I don’t wear them, we’re a united front against the overbearing men in this family.”
“When did they become overbearing to you?” I asked carefully.
“You weren’t around when I was pregnant,” Mischa said, sighing. “Zuri made the best decision, even though I’m cranky she didn’t tell me about it.”
“You would have told Hisao. He would have come to find me, to kill anyone who posed a danger to me. Jabari would have noticed Hisao enter Africa, no matter how good Hisao is. Then, he would have told our father. Our father would have stormed onto my continent faster than even our mother could have stopped him. Niko and Davor would have followed, like the dutiful sons they are, to come protect me.” She turned slowly on Mischa. “While I know Jacky is fine with keeping a secret.”
And I still was keeping one for her. One thing I had noticed when I landed was that Zuri showed them all her baby and her new mate. What she had not brought up what that she was a witch, something she had told me she had always been just like her… our mother. Something, that in thousands of years, she had never shared with Hasan, her biological father.
Mischa while maniacal and sometimes immature, was also cunning and dangerous. Her eyes narrowed on Zuri then shifted to me.
“Something is going on,” she said softly.
“Something is always going on in this family,” Zuri retorted, not letting Mischa’s words phase her. “Now, let’s do Jacky’s makeup and then get changes ourselves so that we can hurry down to dinner. We’re running short on time.”
I didn’t bother to say that dinner wouldn’t be for a few more hours. I had a feeling these two were still going to make me fashionably late.