This is set AFTER Shades of Hate and BEFORE Royal Pawn.
Late July 2021
Hasan’s Territory: A Purposefully Unidentified Tropical Island
I got off the plane with a single bag in my hand with enough clothing for only a few days. I flew commercial to the closest tourist trap island then hopped on a small private jet as the sole passenger. There were a lot of reasons why I had to take a quite roundabout way to get to Hasan’s island. First, I didn’t feel like hitching a ride with Hisao and Mischa. Second were safety reasons, of course. I had humans watching me now, knowing what I was and not so secretly trying to find out more. It had been annoying enough to lose them for this trip, and Hasan was keeping his humans on high alert for anyone suspicious. The pilot and his partner were both local and they knew better than to question who I was and knew to tell no one about the trip. I was one of his.
So I got off the small plane alone and the moment my feet touched the earth, I felt the warm welcome of my ancient werecat father, greeting me into his territory.
I was greeted like practical royalty by the people in the hangar, one of whom took my bag and tucked it away in the black SUV.
“Welcome home, daughter,” he said from the shadows.
I turned to see him and grinned as Hasan revealed himself with a smile.
“Am I the first one to get here?” I asked, looking around for anyone else.
“No. Jabari is also here already. He arrived early, before Zuri officially called for the meeting so he could send their jet back to her. Apparently, she refused to fly with him. She’s been talking to you. Do you have any idea what she might want the entire family for?”
I only smiled in return. I did know.
“Jacqueline,” he said, a father chastising his daughter for keeping secrets and demanding the answer at the same time. I heard the tone often enough from him and I knew it was a universal father thing. Heath often used the same tone of Landon and Carey.
“I’m sworn to secrecy,” I said, my smile growing wider. “Really. You’re going to find out, so why should I betray my sister and tell you before she does?”
He sighed, shaking his head.
“I don’t like when my children work against me.”
“It’s not so terrible,” I promised. “Are we heading to your home now?”
“No,” he answered, crossing his arms and leaning on the hangar wall. “Come over here so you’re out of the way. Mischa and Hisao shall land in an hour, then we’re expecting Davor and Niko shortly after them. When they got your landing time, they were able to schedule their own arrivals. That way, I only need to make one or two trips to the airport to come collect all of you.”
“You live…” I pointed towards the mountains of the island. “We can just walk if we had to. We’re not going to tear up the town on the way to see you. You don’t need to come collect us.”
“Yes, I do,” he replied, chuckling. “Because Mischa will, as you say, tear up the town, Hisao can’t control her.”
“I don’t know about that,” I muttered as I leaned on the wall next to him.
“Hisao won’t stop Mischa from getting drunk because she will always drag him along. It’s the most human interaction he gets.” Hasan chuckled. “I think he enjoys watching her interact with the world. She does it in such a unique way that he can’t.”
“Ah…” I nodded, but only have minimal understanding. Mischa was easy to understand, but one thing I had realized was that most of her attitude was a mask in a sense. She was wild and crazy and that kept people from seeing her emotional center, where she hid an entire village that was descended from her only son, a man who had decided to grow old as a human and left her behind in immortality.
Hisao was… harder to understand.
“Now, if only I knew why I was standing here, trying to get all my children in one go…” He passed me another glance. It was fun to see Hasan not know what was going on.
I, the youngest of the family, sometimes had a pass to act completely childish. And with Hasan, sometimes I embraced that. So I pantomimed taking a key out of my pocket, locking my mouth closed, and then threw the invisible key away. With a shrug, I kept my mouth closed, fighting a smile.
He continued to chuckle at my actions. Eventually, that gave way to silence, and we just enjoyed the peaceful company of each other. It had been years since he and I had just stood with each other and listened to the world around us without speaking a word. We had passed entire days like this when I had been a young werecat, still trying to understand all the changes I had gone through. Those were days when I had fully embraced this new chance at life. Before secrets had broken the idyllic image into the same thousands of pieces that my heart had been crushed into with the loss of Shane.
It had several near-death experiences and some time, but I was glad to feel like we were back there. I was different than I had been, but it was just age and experience. I had a different appreciation for who Hasan and my siblings were, as well. Now, I wasn’t blinded by the newness. The appreciation was more real and that made me all the more grateful for the silence we now enjoyed together.
After several more minutes, I went to find a chair. He saw me dragging one from the back of the hangar and gave me an annoyed look that passed in a second.
“I could have asked someone to bring you a seat,” he said kindly as I put it in the same spot I had been standing and fell into it.
“It’s fine. I like being normal.”
“Yes. Yes, you do,” he said, turning away again. “You must think the rest of us are very strange.”
“Yes, I do.” That wasn’t a new bit of information. They were strange. They would always be strange, and I knew they looked at me and each other the same way. Strong personalities, every single one of us. We were an odd bunch, this family.
“I am not strange,” Jabari growled as he appeared around the hangar bay wall and came through the giant doors left open. “Father, do not encourage her. We have a hard enough time getting her to listen to us.”
“Encouraging her is what I am adept at,” Hasan countered, shrugging casually. “It’s what a father does for his children.”
I snorted. “I listen to you all just fine. Sometimes, I disagree. Vehemently.”
“She’s trouble,” Jabari reminded him. “She finds trouble in everything. Don’t encourage her to go find any more.”
“So were you at her age,” Hasan replied with a smile. “You and your sister took over most of Africa.”
There was something very endearing about the exchange. On calls, everything was professional, but here, I could see Hasan relax, loose the patriarch qualities he was famous for.
“We were exactly what you raised us to be,” Jabari said, returning fire and placing the blame firmly on the shoulders of our father.
“I won’t deny it,” Hasan said, bowing his head gracefully. “But you were still trouble.”
Jabari grunted and waved down an attendant, asking for more chairs to be brought. Then he added that a table and some refreshments would also be nice.
“Wow. Can’t just use all those hulking muscles of yours to go get it yourself?” I asked, laughing at how he glared at me.
“Unlike you, I know how this family deserves to be treated.”
“You must have suffered so much in my territory.” I rolled my eyes. No one had waited on him during his stay with me. Instead, he’d played babysitter and hung out my bar.
“No,” he said, suddenly softer. “You had Carey. She’s a treasure. She made the trip enjoyable. So much fire in that one, just like Mischa had been at her age.”
Hasan started to laugh as he sat down in a quickly brought chair.
“Mischa had been a terror,” he said, shaking his head. “Carey doesn’t give me that impression.”
“She’s not,” I agreed, taking a glass of water that was offered to me. “She’s just starting those terrible teenage years, though. We’re getting through it together.”
“She’s lucky to have someone like you with her,” Hasan said gently, reaching out to pat my hand on the table. “I hope she understands that.”
“I don’t…” My face heated. “I would die for her. In a heartbeat. I’m lucky to have her.” And everything she’s brought into my life.
“See, I can suffer with a lack of amenities for that sort of person,” Jabari said, shrugging. “She’ll be a force to be reckoned with when she’s immortal.”
I winced. “That’s a topic we try not to bring up.”
“We? Is she scared of it?”
“No. In fact, she would probably give anything to be a werewolf like the rest of her family. It’s her father,” I answered for Hasan. It wasn’t a secret. Most supernaturals had a genuine fear about Changing someone. The risk of death or the Last Change or any number of other problems. And the world was dangerous. For werewolves, they were lucky to live over fifty. Heath and Landon were considered old. “And me. I don’t know if I would want her to take up this sort of life.”
“Ah. A real fear,” Hasan agreed, nodding slowly. “It’s hard, but at the end, it’s her decision. Not yours or her father’s.”
“She shouldn’t be a werewolf, anyway,” Jabari said.
“Stop,” I said quickly, my voice firm enough to cut my brother off from continuing that line of thought. “I would never forgive any of you for doing it. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, sister,” he said softly, deflating a little. “Of course.”
“Daughter, control,” Hasan whispered, leaning in. “Your eyes.”
“Fuck.” I rubbed them. “I always lose control of them. I’ve done it at the bar a few times too, in front of humans. That’s why half my patrons always believed I was a werewolf.”
“You’re a passionate person. You will always find them hard to hide. I warned you of this when you were younger.”
I waved him away, knowing he had but still getting onto myself nonetheless.
We felt into that easy silence again, now with Jabari as Mischa and Hisao landed. Hasan’s warm greeting reached out to them just as it had for me. They found their seats, Mischa laughing as she teased Hasan about coming to get her.
“You have great bars,” she said, sitting down when he firmly told her no to going out for a drink while everyone waited. “You’re going to make me sit here and be served? You know I would rather have a bar stool and a cute bartender.” She winked at me and I only shook my head.
“What would you pick out this time? A man or a woman?” Hisao asked, leaning over like he was doing a study on her, weirdly curious.
“I don’t know. Men are good in bed but… women are just better.” Mischa shrugged. “You should try a guy out, though. New experiences and all that.”
Hisao’s face screwed up into an expression of strong distaste and looked away from her.
“Agreed,” Jabari muttered, reaching out to squeeze Hisao’s shoulder in sympathy.
“You’re both boring,” Mischa declared. “Father, why do you have so many boring sons?”
“Maybe it’s because all of my daughters have such massive personalities,” he said, lines forming around his eyes as he fought a smile, but his eyes gave him away.
“There’s nothing wrong with two men being together,” she said, huffing at our brothers.
“There’s not. There’s only something wrong with me being with another man,” Hisao said.
I tried not to laugh at how surreal it was, but it was so hard. Then Mischa’s eyes landed on me.
“And what about you? I know the sex lives of these two, but you…” She scooted her chair, trying to get closer to me, but the table separated us. “You like men. Have you found one to pass the time with yet? Immortality gets lonely.”
“That’s not your business,” I answered with a smile.
“Wow, you’re even more boring than they are. They’ll at least tell me if someone’s caught their eye.” Mischa huffed and turned away from me.
“Have you reconsidered the training I could give you?” Hisao asked the moment Mischa’s attention was off me.
“No. The answer remains the same,” I said stiffly.
“A pity,” he said softly, shaking his head. “You seem like you would need it more than anyone in our family.”
“Let’s not talk about torture at the table please,” Hasan said quietly, a dispassionate father who knew his children too well. “Davor and Nikolaus will be landing any moment.”
“Oh, we’re breaking out his full name?” Mischa raised her eyebrows, perfect and blonde. “What did he do?”
“Nothing. I try to use all your full names. You know this.” He pointed at me. “Only a few of you have nicknames. And Zuri changed her birth name into her nickname to get back at me for never using her chosen nickname.”
“Wait. Zuri isn’t her birth name?” That was new to me. Kind of.
“When we decide to change our name, the entire family respects it and the old name, while written, is never spoken again,” Mischa explained. “It’s a respect thing. We get older and our names get… attached to circumstances we might not to think about anymore.”
“So I could decide to go by Sarah tomorrow and…”
“And no one would call you Jacky anymore. But you’re not a Sarah. Don’t do that.”
I was laughing at her expression when Davor and Niko landed.