This is set AFTER Shades of Hate and BEFORE Royal Pawn.
I was tense as I saw him.
Davor. The fucking asshole.
I was still a bit bitter over his treatment of me. I had no idea how things would change or if they even would now that we knew who was really responsible behind Liza’s death. I had given him the cold shoulder online since I had killed that werewolf.
His presence was the only reason I debated on answering Zuri’s summons to come to Hasan’s home and see the entire family. My other siblings? We had our differences, but I knew they supported me, each in their own powerful way. They would kill or die for me. They had all proven that before, even Davor. But he treated me so terribly. He even forced others to go along with his bullshit.
I wasn’t excited to see him.
“Hey everyone,” Niko said, walking faster than Davor. He dropped his bags and started giving out hugs, even one for me. In all the times I had seen him, he had never hugged me, and it left me stunned as he picked his bags back up and headed deeper into the hangar bay to hand them off.
Davor shuffled up and nodded, letting Hasan hug him. He exchanged some small talk with Jabari and Mischa, smiles all around, then wandered off to put his bags away as well.
I watched him leave as if I couldn’t turn my back on him.
“Calm,” Hisao whispered in my ear. “Deep breath, sister. There’s no need to act like a wounded animal.”
“He’s an ass,” I muttered. “I’m worried if I let him out of my sight, I’m going to get fucked with again.”
“No,” Hisao said gently. “We’re beyond that. Peace. This is a family get together. We leave all of that in the ocean.”
I glanced at him and was unnerved by his unwavering stare.
“Okay.” I was still fully intending on never speaking to Davor again. There was nothing that was going to convince me to indulge him as if he never treated me like shit.
Hisao nodded, but I knew he was too smart to think I would let bygones be bygones.
Well, I have two weeks here. Plenty of time to address it. Don’t have to do it right now.
We found our way back to the table. I sat next to Hasan, keeping close to the one I knew the best while Niko settled for the chair on my free side. Beyond him, Hisao sat down, while Jabari and Mischa sat on the other side of Hasan. It left Davor on the opposite side of the round table from me and there were still seats open. He was closest to Mischa, but I could see the distance he put between himself and the others.
“So, why are we here?” Niko asked.
“You know, I haven’t heard either,” Mischa declared. “Zuri called this, didn’t she?”
“She did,” Hasan confirmed. “Though she left me to spread the word to everyone… except Jacky.” He turned to me, throwing down the gauntlet to find out why we were here today.
“Nope.” I looked away from him and waved down a human. “I need another drink,” I said, trying not to feel uncomfortable with the humans just waiting around to hear what we needed. Not because we were paying customers, but because of who we were. We were the family of the ancient who claimed this island. His royal children. It was that distinction that made it strange. I hadn’t been able to when I had first joined the family and over a decade in, I still wasn’t over that strangeness, and I wasn’t sure I would be.
“That was an impressive deflection,” Niko said with a chuckle as the human rushed back over with a fresh glass of water for me.
“I try my best,” I said with a smirk. “I’ve gotten a lot of practice over the years and the new humans creeping around my territory has been a master class in how not to answer a question.”
He laughed, nodding. “I can imagine it would be.”
“I can’t believe my twin would tell you something that no one else here knows,” Jabari said with more than a little of his typical grouchiness. “She’s my twin.”
“It came up back in March,” I admitted. “So I’ve known for awhile.”
“I don’t like the sound of that,” Mischa declared. “Hisao? Have you tried tracking her down?”
“I don’t spy on our family,” he said with a very small, but indulgent smile.
“I do,” Davor mumbled. Everyone at the table chuckled except me. Apparently this was a completely acceptable thing, but it left me with a sense of foreboding. I would need to make sure Davor couldn’t access my security. I didn’t need him seeing footage of me and Heath. “But I haven’t been able to dig anything up. She’s off the grid. When she was getting ahold of Jacky, she was using her personal accounts and her satellite equipment. Or Mother’s, if Mother has bothered to keep up with those. I don’t have access to those like I do her home systems.”
“Father, what time does she land?” Niko asked, leaning across me.
“In another hour,” he answered. “Ah, to know all the secrets of this family…” He turned on me once again. “I used to…”
Oh, you have no idea, Hasan.
“I promised my sister that I wouldn’t betray her confidence,” I said, lifting my hands. “I thought you encouraged loyalty among the family.”
“Oh, she’s got you there,” Niko pointed out, laughing. “Everyone needs their own secrets sometimes. Let Zuri and Jacky keep this one for another hour.”
“Yes, yes.” Hasan waved a dismissive hand at both of us.
There had been a time when I thought Niko was scary and standoffish. Now, I was seeing there was so much more to than that. He was kind and good natured, just a little withdrawn. I turned to smile at him, elbowing him lightly as a thanks for his support. There was a firm possibility that he had been hiding himself from me, because he didn’t know me yet.
But, whatever the reason, I was grateful for the change in our dynamic.
“You know, I’m glad for this trip,” he said, grabbing my elbow and moving it to sit it on the table. “I was hoping to ask about Dirk. You didn’t bring him.”
“No, I didn’t,” I confirmed. “Want to walk and talk? I want to stretch my legs.”
“Oh, we can talk more in depth about it later,” he said, shaking his head. “I just want to know why you didn’t bring him.”
“He’s living his own life,” I answered, shrugging. “He didn’t want to come. He’s got a good friend and a job he seems to like, even when I’m micro-managing him. I mentioned he could, but he decided he wanted to have a couple of weeks without… This.” I waved at hand at the group around the table. “I wasn’t going to drag him here when he wouldn’t enjoy it.”
“Of course,” Niko said softly, sighing as he looked away from me. “We’ll talk more about it later.”
“You want him to miss you,” I called out, seeing it written all over Niko’s face. “You wanted to send him away and make him miss you and what you’ve given him.”
Eyebrows went up around the table from everyone except Hasan. He only made a sound of understanding.
“That’s mean,” Niko said, taking my water and having a sip of it. “But… yes, that’s the petty reasoning behind my behavior. I’ve never raised anyone before. Dirk is my first time at this. It’s been hard watching him spread his wings somewhere else.”
“Letting go is the hardest thing a parent will ever do,” Hasan agreed. “It never gets easier. You only get better at controlling the impulse to chain your children up in the basement to keep them safe from the world.”
I chuckled along with everyone else.
“He’s fine. I promise.” I would never lie to Niko. If I thought Dirk needed to go home, I would drive him to the airport and put him on the plane myself.
“Okay, serious topics for later,” Mischa said, clapping her hands together. “Niko. Hisao, Jabari, and Jacky have all failed me when it comes to their recent exploits. I know Davor will disappoint me, so I’m not going to ask. You have sent the boy away and now you are free to have company whenever you wish.”
“Oh Lord,” Niko mumbled, leaning back in his seat. “We’re not talking about my lovers, Mischa.”
“Lovers?” I coughed on that sip of water. “Plural?”
“Niko has werewolf brain. He’ll fuck anything for any reason, and he keeps multiple long terms lovers without any sort of commitment. So long as it doesn’t interfere with his responsibilities,” Mischa explained. “Last time, there was a vampire. He came to visit me and still smelled like her.”
“And I will never make that mistake again,” Niko promised. “And if I have werewolf brain, that must mean you have the brain of a nymphomaniac. Also, don’t give Jacky the wrong impression of werewolves. My habits are my own and I like it this way.” He leaned towards me. “Most werewolves believe in finding one partner. They’ll play around a lot until that happens, but they pick one mate and that’s it.”
I shrugged. I didn’t need a lesson in werewolf sex lives. I was getting a much better hands-on education in my territory.
“So no interesting stories this time?” Mischa actually pouted. Seeing her playful side was fun. It was much better than dealing with the temper and cold edge I knew she kept ready for any moment. I had brushed that side of her before and it hadn’t been pleasant.
“This time? I have never told you stories about my lovers.” Niko shook his head. “And I never will.”
“Damn you.” Mischa threw her hands up in defeat. “Where’s Zuri when I need her? She’ll always talk men with me.”
This is a great trip already. I can’t wait to see their faces.
“Can we stop talking about sex?” Jabari asked, in a pleading way. “How about that? There’s so much other stuff we could be talking about. Like making sure everyone here is up to the necessary training level to defend themselves.”
He looked at me.
“Excuse me?” I huffed. “I’ve done pretty damn well for myself.”
“You need to brush up on certain things,” he countered. “Your knowledge for weaponry is slim to none. You rely on guns and your werecat form. It’s amateur and could fail you.”
“What? You want me to get a sword or something?” I frowned, my brows coming together in annoyance.
“Yes.” He nodded simply. “This was stuff you would have—”
“Learned if I didn’t move out so young. Yes. I know.” I rolled my eyes. “I don’t need any more reminders about how much I don’t know because I decided to leave.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t have thrown a—”
Hasan reached out and grabbed the back of his eldest son’s neck.
“Don’t continue that sentence,” he warned softly. “We all have different journeys in our lives. You will not drag up the unfortunate time when we had lost her due to my secret keeping.”
“Yes, Father,” Jabari agreed, lowering his head.
“I don’t need you to protect me,” I hissed at the ancient patriarch.
“I can’t help it. I’m also tired of hearing my children bring up the same five reasons to get mad at each other. I need all of you to get more creative. At least do something new to make me angry.”
“Well, Jacky, you have that in the bag,” Mischa teased. “It’s always something new with you.”
“Do we really need this discussion right now?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes. While everyone else thought that was funny, including our father, I did not.
“No, no. We have two entire weeks to have this discussion,” she said with a maniacal smile that had me wondering if she was sane today.
Then we saw a plane land and Hasan stood up, suddenly alert once again. Not that he hadn’t been, but Hasan was very good at pretending not to be.
“That will be Zuri,” he said as we all stood up and watched the plane roll across the airport. It parked in front of the hangar bay but no one got out immediately. When the door opened, I was surprised to see the first face. It wasn’t Zuri.
The scarred face was recognizable from across the hundred yard separating us. He reached behind him and grabbed two massive bags then started walking them down the stairs that had been rolled up to the side of the luxury private plane.
“Does she have a new helping hand?” Mischa asked, glancing at Jabari.
“No one was added to payroll,” he said softly, and I could hear the rising tension in his voice.
I stepped around my surprised family. I smiled once I knew they were behind me and Kushim saw me and grinned.
“Jacky! It’s nice to finally meet you,” he said loudly, opening his arms and obviously aiming for a hug. From every time I had ever spoken to him, I had gotten the impression he was the friendly type.
“Kushim!” I laughed and accepted the hard hug. “She didn’t say she was going to bring you.”
“I wasn’t letting her take this trip alone and I’m not the only one,” he hinted, winking.
“Are you going to go back up there and help them?” I asked, crossing my arms and tapping my foot. I caught his hint, and it made this trip much more special.
“No. They told me to get the fuck out of their way. I grabbed Zuri’s bags and did just that,” he said with a mischievous smile. “I might have gotten into a bit of trouble during the flight.”
“I can’t imagine how,” I said, knowing he was trouble through and through. That was why my sister, an ancient queen in every way, fell in love with him, her scarred but beautiful bandit. There was no denying he was beautiful. He was covered in scars, but the underlying perfection of his face shone through.
Seeing him made me wish I could have brought my own lover. Zuri was taking a risk and I respected it. Not as much of a risk as I would have too. Kushim couldn’t die like Heath could.
Zuri was the next to come through the door, with every bit of the posture of a queen arriving at a ball in her own honor.