This is set during Oath Sworn.
Heath and Shamus were heading to the back room to check on their guest. He was tired and worried about everything going on around him, but Heath didn’t let that stop him from trying to be a good host to the werecat in his warehouse. Shamus jumped in front of him to get the door and stood in the way for a moment too long for Heath to be comfortable.
“Oh shit,” Shamus said in a hushed whisper.
Heath stepped around his advisor and frowned, wondering what Shamus’ problem was. “You showed me a few of those in the Explorer, but I didn’t…” He was still frowning as he stepped closer. He reached out to touch one, not thinking as she turned around on him. It gave him a view of the rest of the damage.
He ignored what she was wearing, distracted by the state of her body and the injuries it had taken. His fingers grazed over one of the gunshots in her shoulder.
I need to see all of this. This is because of me.
Heath gently pushed her to show him her back again. He saw injuries he recognized on wolves from pack fights.
“There’s some faint pinkness back here. Claws?”
“I had a wolf or two jump on my back during the first attack,” she explained. “They should be pretty healed by now. I received an unexpected gift from a bystander. It is what it is.”
“All of this to protect my daughter,” he whispered. He didn’t care about the gift. There were a lot of strange things in their world and if someone decided to help out a werecat on Duty, he figured that was the least of anyone’s worries. Instead, he was more mystified by the damage she had taken all in the name of his daughter, a little girl she didn’t know from a family she probably didn’t have any reason to trust. He’d known the Laws about Duty and making sure Carey knew of the werecat close to them was a last ditch line of defense. He had never been sure if it would actually be needed, much less work. “I don’t think I can truly say it enough. Thank you.”
He didn’t believe her but he saw no reason to be an ass and call her out. He had been married twice, had several lovers over the ages, and a daughter. He figured he knew enough about tough women to know that Jacky was lying through her teeth without needing to smell it on her.
“Any news?” she asked.
“Were you cleaning these?” he asked. News could wait. His eyes never left the injuries, realizing he had walked in on something important. They needed to be tended. “Let me help.”
“I’ve got it. Tell me if there’s been any change.” She stepped away from him and he had to resist the urge to step back into her space. His Alpha tendencies didn’t like when someone moved away from him when he wanted them to trust him. Closeness was a sign of trust and he felt the undeniable urge to care for her like he would any wolf in his pack that was injured and shot at in defense of his family and his position.
“Feline, it’s in your best interest to let an Alpha help. You’ve done a great service to the pack, and as a father…” Shamus looked over to Stacy. “Just let him.”
Heath saw her gold eyes narrow. They were gorgeous eyes but dangerous ones. They betrayed the beast that he knew was in her skin, one that was probably uncomfortable with the physicality and pushiness of wolves. He was secretly glad when she decided to take a seat on her cot. Heath grabbed her kit as Shamus and Stacy left the room. Like the smart wolf his advisor was, Heath could hear Shamus calling for hot water and bandages without needing to be asked.
“I don’t need to be wrapped up,” she said. “I can’t Change if I’m covered like a mummy.”
Interesting. You’ve got this worked out, don’t you feline?
“Your thigh should be wrapped. That will fall away naturally when you Change. I would never wrap your abdomen,” he said softly. “One of these is already scarred.” His fingers grazed her shoulder blade on a small circular scar, an old bullet wound.
“Like I said, I received an unexpected gift from a bystander. Someone who understands the importance of werecats succeeding.”
And here I thought the gift wasn’t too big of a deal. She doesn’t like it. Even more interesting. Gives me a reasonable guess as to what the helpful party was.
“You didn’t appreciate the gift. I’m going to make a guess and say some fae shoved his or her nose where it didn’t belong.” Fae were like that. They tended to see a situation and think about things that others would claim were leaps of logic. They planned for so far into the future that most thought they were mad. The only person who could have helped Jacky and upset her by it was a fae, he figured. Or a werewolf, but werewolves couldn’t heal like this.
“He has a human wife. He felt it was his personal duty to make sure the reputation that werecats can protect humans is protected.” She rolled her eyes and he looked up to see her attempting pitifully to smile. He didn’t stop staring at her, taking in her face and the body in front of him. He tried to think if he had ever seen her truly smile since he picked her up or they had all been so forced.
“Yeah, that’s fae,” he said, his voice betraying a humor that he didn’t feel. He just wanted to help her lighten the mood. “So, he healed you.”
“Yeah. It’s a tale, but Carey never knew what he was and none of us told her, so I didn’t think to mention it to you. That one I got in my bar, not even twenty-four hours after she showed up. I was in werecat form and she…ended up having to pull the bullet out of me.”
He froze, his eyes going wide as he comprehended the words that left Jacky’s mouth. She couldn’t have been serious. This had to be some kind of a joke. “My daughter…had to treat your wounds?”
“It was silver. I couldn’t Change back and there was no one I could call,” she explained.
“God damn it.” That made him lean over, groaning. He hated this. He hated all of it. His daughter had to treat bullet wounds. His sweet, precious daughter that he tried so hard to keep innocent from the more violent parts of his life. “How did she do?”
“Well enough for an eleven-year-old digging around in my shoulder with tongs.” He looked up to see a more genuine but weak smile on her face. “You remind me of each other.”
“She got my eyes,” he said, going back to cleaning the stitched gun shot on her gut. He didn’t like when people said Carey was like him. He didn’t want her to be like him. He couldn’t deny the eyes, though. She inherited his eyes and it was unescapable that she was his daughter, a human trapped in a world of wolves.
“More than that. You both have steel in you that the world can see, but then you have these…flashes of vulnerability. Well, maybe that’s not the right word for it. You cope and hide things until something reminds you of it, and then it shows up for just a second, whatever you’re feeling underneath those defenses.” She sighed. “There were moments where I could get her to smile and laugh, playing video games and keeping her busy, unable to dwell on everything going on. Then something…we would get talking and the tears would come. They would end soon enough, but I had to always remember that a fragile, scared girl was hiding underneath a veneer of strength. Her daddy taught her to be strong, and she knew how wolf packs worked. It didn’t make it hurt less.”
Heath felt guilty as he looked up, as he knew exactly what Jacky was talking about. Carey knew how to put on a brave face for anything and threw herself into the world, pretending like she wasn’t scared, but she was. His daughter had to much courage to let the fear stop her from doing what she had to do. “I couldn’t let her grow up ignorant to the world her brothers and I are a part of.”
“Of course not,” she agreed and something in him eased a little. He’d never needed validation when it came to his decisions concerning Richard and Landon, but Carey was a different story. “Tell me about your sons while we’re here, if you refuse to give me an update on what’s going on. I want to hear about the brothers who always cheated to beat her in video games.”
Heath laughed roughly, nodding. Of course Carey would talk about that. “They’re both old wolves as well, so modern technology…we don’t always get along. She’s got great hand-eye coordination on top of it. She beats all of us. The boys tickle her to cheat.”
“Oh, I heard. I finally gave up trying to beat her and did the same thing.”
He continued to laugh. “Ah…Richard. He’s my oldest, I think I’ve told you. My son from when I was still human. He’s been a constant companion and family since the day he was born. Except for when I was fighting for America’s freedom.”
“A real patriot, aren’t you?” She chuckled. He enjoyed the sound more than he wanted to admit. Since the conversation was lightening up, he had a chance to enjoy her company while working on her injuries. He was skilled enough to do it without needing to think too much about it.
“I like to think I was one of the first,” he said, the smile sticking now. “Landon was born during the Civil War. Here’s a picture of us all together, actually.” He pulled out his cellphone and flicked his finger and tapped until he turned it for her to see. He pointed to the man who looked damn near exactly like him. Richard took after him all the way, except for a couple small things he had picked up from his mother. “That’s Richard.” He pointed to a mixed young man who looked very little like the rest of the family. Landon was the one no one ever believed was his son. “That’s Landon. Landon’s mother was an escaped werewolf slave. Oh yeah, supernaturals had a problem with slavery too, especially being enslaved to humans, and she was a person of color so she got it from all sides. She and I met while I was fighting with the Union, knowing if we could end it, then wolves and humans like her would be able to walk free.” He trailed off for a moment and sighed. “She died helping others escape about three years after Landon was born. Richard didn’t fight, opting to take care of his new baby brother for me.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” He saw something sparkle in her eyes after a heartbeat and in the gold of her eyes, it looked like magic. “Three children with three different mothers,” she noted, raising an eyebrow. “Woah there, stud.”
“You think I’m a stud?” Heath stared at her, wondering why she had said that. He didn’t have to wonder why he was pleased to hear it. Jacky was an attractive woman, no doubt, and Heath loved women. He loved being around them, looking at them, letting them take him to bed. It was how he became a father of three.
But he wondered at how a tough, modern woman like her thought he was a stud with three kids, two of them adults, and one from a short lived affair.
“You’re…an attractive man,” she finally said as a blush claimed her cheeks. Something satisfied curled in him. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the compliment or the person who gave it. “I was trying to make fun of you.”
“Of course you were, but you called me a stud, and there’s nothing insulting about that. Honestly, thank God someone finds me a catch. Three children and all of this? Ha. I can’t get a date to save my life.” He tried for humor to ease her embarrassment and cover up the predatory nature he was reining in. He’d been hit on a lot in his life time and normally, he would play the game. He would flirt and seduce. He would be flirted with and get seduced. Either way worked for him, because he loved the game and he loved making sure both parties won in the end.
“I can’t help you with that,” I said blandly, trying to play off my own embarrassment. “And I never said you were a catch. A stud, for most animals, is just very good at getting others pregnant.”
“Hm, but certain things are required to get women pregnant, and isn’t a stud considered the cream of the crop, therefore everyone wants its children? And isn’t he normally very good at those things?” The sly smirk that appeared on his face as he considered how terribly he was doing trying to cover up his nature. Of all the women to flirt with and at all the times, he was picking the wrong options on both accounts.
But he wanted to flirt with her.
“I’m sure. We should put you on the market. Is there a Tinder for werewolves, or do you all just howl at the moon then roll in the dirt until both of you are ready to go home? And when we finally get you a date, just remember not to hump her leg. You didn’t grow up in the modern era, but women don’t really appreciate it.”
“Are you sure? Have you seen how modern humans dance?” He kept smirking. “I’m sure I’ll fit right in.”
They both started laughing. Heath couldn’t resist after she had broken down into a fit. “Ok, you have a point,” she said, unable to stop laughing. She turned away from him but nothing could hide how flushed her cheeks were. “Is that how you picked up Carey’s mom?”
He stopped and groaned. Carey’s mother, his least favorite topic. “Carey’s mother was a mistake. I was tired, lonely, and she was pretty. She knew what I was, who I was. Nine months later, she brought me a gift and left, saying she couldn’t be the wife of a werewolf, no matter how…fun I was in private. She wouldn’t be seen in public with me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. That’s rough.”
“It’s life as one of my kind. She gave me Carey thinking our little girl would end up a werewolf, but she’s human. I’m always looking over my shoulder in case her mother comes back for her, but so far we’ve been in the clear.”
“This isn’t going to help if her mother finds out,” she said gently. “You know that, right?”
“I do,” he agreed. “She didn’t give up her parental rights either, and I’ve been…too kind to have the lawyers take them away from her. I want Carey to have a chance at a relationship with her mother.” He dropped what he was holding, the last little end of a bandage he’d just knotted off. “I’m done here. You can get a shirt on.” And he mentally patted himself on the back for not checking her out the entire time he worked on her.
Heath knew he would never be able to shake the stare of those gold eyes when they sparkled with humor. They’d been less dangerous and more beautiful.
I’m going to be thinking about those for a long while