Introduction of this installment:
Things are looking bleak for the Manchester family and their allies. Death surrounds them as the rogues move in for the kill. In the midst of all the chaos the Mating Games continue. Rayne is on a time table and so are the rest of the siblings. In the Battle Beings and the Games Continue Rayne finally chooses her mate. She also uncovers a conspiracy perpetrated by some of the contestants for her hand in marriage. Despite everything, happily ever after is within her grasp if she can just survive the rogue attack.
SYLVIE’S DEATH WAS LIKE THE CALM moments before the storm. When her heart stopped beating, the thunder roared and lightning struck the ground. A child of Mother Nature was dead and nature would mourn as would all of us. The battle lines were drawn and there was no turning back. The Colorado Pack would support its allies, and the rogue faction and the witches on their side were going to be casualties in the aftermath of the tornado that was my brother. I'd never seen him so angry. It charged all of us, making us feel indestructible, which was not a good place to be when entering into battle. And that was what we were preparing for, battle.
Despite the haze of sadness that covered us like a blanket of snow, I was happy to see that River was going to fight for his alpha seat. He’d been somewhat hesitant the last few times we spoke, always the compassionate one, caring about how his actions would affect others, how his ascension would impact our lives, never really seeking the power. But that was River, he was never a power hungry fool. He cared more for those in his life than status. It was father who pushed him into the alpha position and expected him to take the proverbial throne. Now that another had died fighting his war, he took it as a personal debt he needed to repay. He’d make sure Sylvie’s death was not in vain.
River and I were in the room when she stopped breathing. We were exchanging shifts. I was coming on and he was going to bed. She’d survived a week, but was still in critical condition. Dr. Jacobson and his colleague, Dr. Jericho, had done everything medically possible, but the magical infection that was attacking her system was powerful, and being a supernatural wound, we couldn’t take her to the emergency room. Ericka had called in the best healers available from multiple states, but with the witches divided the political red tape between those that could help and those that wouldn’t was thick.
Despite the odds, we truly believed she’d survive. Isaac was so convinced she’d pull through that he had relented and allowed us to watch over her in shifts so he could get some sleep. It was the third day of our shifts when I walked into Sylvie’s room. The memory of the moment still shook me to the core.
River was holding Sylvie’s hand. He was pleading with her to fight, tears streaming down his face. “Where the hell is the doctor?” He growled.
Sylvie’s body convulsed as River held her, his touch offering any possible comfort his presence would allow. He looked right past me. It all happened so fast that I barely processed what was happening before Dr. Jacobson ran into the room, pushing me aside as he went to work trying to save her. When he started chest compressions, realization hit me. She was dying.
I’d seen death before. I planned to be a doctor. My father forced me to hunt. I was a she-wolf. It didn’t numb me. I respected the loss of life. But no amount of familiarity would change the reaction I had when I witnessed the actual act of a human dying, it was terrifying. A cold, hard reality that we all face some day. It only made matters worse that she was so young. Cut down in the prime of life for what? Power?
“Did you hear me, Rayne?” River asked as he pumped the air bag over Sylvie’s body. His voice pulled me out of my thoughts. “Call Isaac! He needs to be here.”
I nodded, pulled the phone out of my pocket and dialed Isaac’s number, never taking my eyes off the frantic scene in front of me. When I knew he was on his way I took River’s spot at Sylvie’s side. It became a rhythmic dance between me and Dr. Jacobson. He’d compress her chest, pump pump, and I’d force air through the air bag over Sylvie’s mouth, squeeze. Pump, pump, squeeze. Pump, pump, squeeze.
We kept that dance going until Isaac arrived. By then, it’d been at least five minutes. He arrived to a corpse. The heartbreak on his face made my chest heavy. I struggled to swallow as he collapsed to his knees. “No!” It was the most heart rendering sound I’d ever heard. We both stopped the pump, pump, squeeze tango. Dr. Jacobson shook his head sadly. River turned and punched a hole in the wall as he let out a deafening howl.
There was nothing any of us could do. She was gone. Death claimed its first victim in this war. People started filing into the room. Everyone was there to pay respects. Ericka and Matthew were the next to let out wails of grief. I just stood there, unsure what to do. I’d only spoken to Sylvie a few times over the last couple of weeks, but in that time I realized I liked her. I wanted her to survive. I liked Isaac with her. They were a good pairing.
“Vengeance will be ours, my friends,” I heard River say. From that moment on, we prepared for war.
The next few days a rain cloud followed all of us. The Mating Games were put on hold while we mourned the loss. The men were told they could return home for a week while we made preparations for the memorial service, but they all stayed which surprised me. I guess they wanted to show their support. Some even stepped up to help River with planning the retaliation while Rhyme, Chloe, and I secretly planned the alpha ascension ritual. Rhyme was Isaac’s strength through the whole ordeal so it left the majority of the planning for Chloe and I to complete. It was nice spending quality time with my best friend, especially in a time of sorrow. We’d both lost our mothers when we were young, it was what bonded us together, and now we were able to handle the heartbreak that surrounded us because of those same coping techniques we learned in childhood.
Not that we ever forgot the pain of losing our parents, but life has a funny way of helping you get lost in the moment and pushing the pain aside. In the werewolf world, we knew danger lurked around every corner, more so lately than usual, but it was there, waiting to sneak up and bite you if you’re not careful. Losing Sylvie, watching Isaac and the other witches go through the sorrow only served as a bitter reminder that life was short and there were no guarantees. I could have lost Chloe a couple times since returning home from college. The night of my father’s wake when she mixed prescription pills with alcohol, and the kidnapping where Brick’s sisters, Britain and Jewel, stole her away from us. It only made me hold on to her tighter. What happened to Sylvie could happen to any of us, and with the battle on the horizon, there would undoubtedly be more casualties. I wasn’t going to waste any more time. As soon as River got his official ascension ceremony out of the way I was going to choose my mate and start my life.
River had been derailed too many times at this point not to make it happen this month. I figured if we waited until it was the right time, the ‘right time’ would never come. Kind of like that old adage about a watched pot.
The cloud of gloom that followed many of us around like a lost puppy lifted the day after the memorial service. The witches had practically moved into the compound which made us assign the wolves attending the hunt to the bunk houses. We were running out of room when Lincoln suggested we use the barn as an alternative for beds.
“They’ll understand. We’re at war now.” Lincoln ran a hand through his blond curls. I’d come to know him pretty well. It was one of his tells indicating he was frustrated that he needed to argue the point.
I didn’t care. These were our pack mates and placing them in the horse barn seemed tacky, no pun intended.
“Lincoln’s right,” Storm offered his two cents as he pulled his long, dark, waves into a pony tail at the nape of his neck after closing the fridge. Just hearing his voice made my heart skip a beat. Why did someone so infuriating get to make my pulse race?
“It just seems wrong.” I argued. Being ganged up on by the two men that were in the running for my heart was uncomfortable, but seeing how they both responded to pressure in extreme circumstances was actually beneficial.
“We housed the infirmary in the barn when Chloe was kidnapped as a precaution in case we had injured wolves on the hunt. Why would this be any different?” Lincoln asked as he tapped his thumb on his lower lip while his index finger ran over the stubble on his chin to indicate he was speaking his thoughts.
He’d actually become a solid confidant over the last few months. I’d had enough interactions with him at this point to know he wasn’t my mate, but he was becoming a good friend and my back up just in case I didn’t find a mate from the contenders. He’d become important enough to me that I worried about losing him if I had to eliminate him from the running.
“Why not put them up at the Myriad Springs Lodge?” Chloe suggested as she drank her tea. She looked brilliant as she stood in the doorway, sun shining off her blonde curls giving an illusion of a halo.
“Because they are our pack and that makes them family.” Storm grumbled as he went to refill his coffee.
I looked out the window at the setting sun. How did we get here? How did I become a decision maker in the pack? When father was alive he had his own council of trusted wolves all outside of the family, aside from my brother. River chose to keep his inner circle close to the belt which meant, Storm, Rhyme, myself, even Chloe were the people who advised him and made decisions for the pack. It was so odd, also an honor, and really made me grow up fast. I smiled. “You’re right, Lincoln. Let’s get started on adding beds to the barn just in case.”
“If you’d like, I can get the other Mating Game contenders to help.” Lincoln offered.
“That would be wonderful.” I hadn’t used the contenders as much as I should in regards to pack matters, Lincoln wormed his way into my inner circle because he had become a pack ally and close friend. He and his pack were ready to help if needed which was a great card to have in the back pocket.
He kissed me on the cheek and left the kitchen. Storm growled low in his chest. They all knew the rules. Eva was a stickler for them. No unnecessary contact with me unless sanctioned by the games. A kiss on the cheek, no matter how chaste it was, was completely unauthorized.
I sighed as I watched Lincoln leave. The man had a body that was made for looking at and his backside was probably the best part. The problem was my feelings for him had developed into friendship, not sexual. He was too controlling. My wolf didn’t like being restrained. “Behave, Storm.” I turned my attention back to him.
“What would Eva say if she knew how much time you were spending with him?”
My eyebrow rose. “Probably the same thing she’d say about the time I spend with you.” I told him pointedly.
“I don’t sneak kisses.” He took a drink from his mug.
“You probably should.” Chloe grinned, then bolted out the door laughing.
We both watched her leave. Her exit left us alone which was rare lately. When I turned back to look at him he was staring straight at me. The tension was thick like an early morning fog, and the silence stretched between us for what seemed like hours, but was only moments. He was waiting for something, but I didn’t know what it could be. “What?”
After another momentary pause he shook his head, “I don’t know why I’m doing this.”
I smashed my hand against my forehead. “Where is this coming from, Storm? Because Lincoln, who is my friend, kissed me on the cheek outside of sanctioned game activities? Because--”
“He broke the rules and you allowed him.” A tick appeared on his left cheek telling me he was holding in his anger by biting the inside of his mouth. That was a ‘Storm’ tell. He was always good at holding his emotions in.
“…because plenty of other men in this house have kissed me far more scandalously than that.” I shouldn’t have said it, knew I let my irritation get the best of me, wanted to take it back the moment the words spilled out of my lips, but he had a way of lighting my fuse.
He rushed up on me, his face inches from mine. I could feel his breath on my skin and I found myself wishing he’d kiss me. Despite his furious look, his warmth wrapped me up like a blanket on a cold evening. I hated how my body betrayed me around him. I wouldn’t back down and I knew better than to back away or he’d give chase. His nostrils flared. He scented my interest in him. Heat colored my cheeks, but I could also see how that calmed his wolf. “None of them will kiss you the way I do.” He grabbed my shoulders and held me there, staring at me. Both of us knew what we wanted, but neither willing to make the first move. It was agonizing moments of silence, both daring the other to tempt them, neither willing to give in.
“How am I to know that? You haven’t won any challenges so I can experience your kiss firsthand.” Why, oh why did I let my emotions speak?
‘Because we want to taste his kiss again,’ my wolf responded in my mind eagerly. ‘Kiss him.’ She urged.
A growl rumbled in his chest, and my hand went up to feel the vibration. My instinct took over. Being this close to this man held a level of intensity I’ve never felt with anyone else in my life. Every nerve in my body was on fire, every fiber urged me to claim him as my own. The past simply melted away in his arms and the future looked bright. I knew why he was the front runner in this competition. I understood the sheer, bittersweet attraction. The feel of his granite chest beneath my fingers, heating my hand through his shirt, had me biting my lower lip as I imagined how the muscles would ripple under his smooth skin. My breathing quickened and I silently cursed my attraction to the man.
“I haven’t won any challenges because I care about you.”
That got my attention. I shook my head, golden-brown hair bouncing around my shoulders. “That makes no sense.”
“If you’re meant to be with another one of these men you need to find out. I’m not stupid, Rayne. I can tell you want me as much as I want you, but I need to know you know it is right.”
His words surprised me. “So you threw the competition?”
He nodded. “The first one I did. The second we lost because of your ‘friend’.”
“How did you know I wouldn’t eliminate you?”
“Because what?” I was losing patience. It didn’t help that he was still violating my personal space. His hands had slipped from my shoulders to my upper arms. The air around us sizzled. I swear the lightbulb above us sparked and burned out from the electrical field our energies were creating. “Seriously, Storm, I--”
He claimed my lips and all sense was lost. It flew out the window. Fireworks exploded in my body starting with my gut and reaching every inch of my being. He poured every ounce of emotion into that kiss and I received it. His tongue slid across my lips and I opened to receive him. Something primal moved inside me. I felt myself melting into his strong, capable arms as desire pooled in my core.
His hand cupped my ass and my insides turned to jelly. He pressed me against him and I felt his need for me as much as I wanted him. Gods help me, but I was, in that moment, lost. Something clicked between us. It was like a key had found the lock and opened my heart.
“What the hell is going on in here?” Eva’s shrill voice cut through the passionate fog that wrapped around us like a comforting blanket. We fell apart, guilt on both of our faces.
“I was… he was just…” I closed my eyes and sighed heavily. “I’m--”
“It was my fault.” Storm interjected before I could apologize.
“That’s not really--”
“I take full responsibility for my actions.” He interrupted again.
“Damnit! It takes two to kiss, Storm! Quit trying to save me. I kissed you back.” I snapped. Gah! He was the only man that could make me go from passion to furious in two seconds flat.
Eva’s eyes bounced from me to Storm and back again like a ping pong ball in volley. “Who initiated the kiss?”
“I did.” We spoke in unison.
I glared at him and I swear I saw the beginnings of a smirk on his face which only fueled the furious train. This is why we were not good together. “Look--”
Eva held up her hand to silence me. Why was everyone shushing me?
“Storm will not be allowed to compete in the first set of games.”
“That’s totally un-”
“Unfair? Life is unfair, child. Get used to it.” She signaled for me to leave the room.
I shook my head and left. Forcing my temper down as I headed to my room. I needed to get it under control before I said something stupid and caused more drama. I was so done with being called a child and treated like a princess. I am an adult, and it was high time everyone started to see that, and part of making that image happen was acting like one.
You can get the rest of the story on Amazon here.
If you haven't started this serial now is a great time to bite into this highly rated series. By signing up for Jami Brumfield's newsletter you can get Part One free here.
Check out the five available parts of this serial on Amazon at the links below.
Part One: Master Chef
Part Two: The Veterinarian
Part Three: The Politician and the Witches
Part Four: The Mating Games
Part Five: The Battle Begins and the Games Continue
Part Six: The Alpha's Call is already in the final editing stage
Part Six completes this Rayne's story. Rhyme's Thunder will be the next romantic serial from the Dating a Werewolf Series and will be available in early 2016.
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