"Can I trust you, Fury?"
"No," he answered honestly. "I’m a wolf and I’m always going to do what’s best for me. Why?"
Vane hesitated, but in the end, he had no choice except to make a pact with the wolf. "Because I need help for the next couple of weeks. I can’t be in two places at once."
"Wow," Fury breathed in disbelief. "I never thought I’d live to see the day Vane Kattalakis ever asked another living soul for help."
He ignored the sarcasm. "If you help me until Bride is either free or fully mated to me, I’ll make sure you never have to hunt for another pack again."
Fury didn’t say anything.
"I know what it’s like to be alone, Fury," Vane said, his voice betraying his own pain at being left to his own defenses. "You help me and I’ll swear brotherhood to you."
That wasn’t something ever taken lightly. To take a blood oath of loyalty was almost as major a commitment as mating. It was an unbreakable oath. Fury had no one else on this earth. His family were all dead and he had come to them as a scared, callow youth.
Fury glanced away before he nodded. "All right, Vane. I’ll do it."
Vane let out a slow breath as he held his hand out to Fury. For some reason, he felt as if he had just made a bargain with Lucifer.
Fury hesitated, then shook his hand. "So what do you need me to do?"
Vane saw that Bride was headed back toward them. "For now, I need you to pretend to be me as a wolf. I’ve been posing as Bride’s pet to guard her, and now that I’m in human form, I could really use a wolf around so as not to raise her suspicions." Especially since he didn’t dare tell her the truth about himself until he found some way to throw the hunters off his trail.
Fury laughed at that. "Damn good thing we’re both white timbers, huh?"
"Yeah. Now could you take your wolf form?"
Fury stepped out of Bride’s line of view and flashed into the wolf. Two seconds later, he lifted his leg near Vane’s foot.
"Do it, Fury, and I’ll neuter your rank ass."
He could hear Fury laughing in his head. "Oh," Fury said in his head. "By the way, I forgot to tell you that the others know Fang is at Sanctuary."
Vane went cold all over again. "What?"
"Yeah. Your father told them to not attack him so long as the bears were present. But the minute he’s alone"
Vane flashed instantly to Sanctuary.
Fury sat on the street, completely confused by what he should do.
He didn’t answer.
Aw shit. As a wolf he had no way to tell Bride where Vane had gone, and the last thing he wanted to deal with was a distraught human female who couldn’t find her mate.
This wasn’t right.
Flashing to human form, Fury quickly picked his clothes up off the street and dressed. Unlike Vane, his strength was physical, not magical. He could wield magic, but nowhere near as precisely as Vane. If he tried to put his clothes on with his powers, he’d have about a fifty-fifty shot at them ending up on him in the right order and in the right place. So rather than have his sock end up as a shirt, he pulled them on while praying no one happened by to catch him bare-assed on the street corner.
By the time Bride came around the corner, he had everything on except his shoes.She drew up short as she caught sight of him pulling on his boot.
"Pebble in my shoe," he explained lamely. Lying wasn’t his forte, either.
"Both shoes?" she asked.
She gave him a strange look before she scanned the yard behind him.
"If you’re looking for Vane, he’s not here."
"You know him?"
She gave him a penetrating stare. "And you are?"
"Yeah, I know. My mom was on crack when she named me."
By the look on her face he could tell he probably should keep his mouth shut.
"Uh-huh," Bride said, taking a step away from him.
Fury took a step forward. She was panicking now, he could smell it. "Really, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Vane told me to keep an eye on you till he gets back."
"Where did he go?"
Fury panicked at the question. Damn humans for their inquisitive natures. Various lies went through his head, but all of them would probably get Vane into trouble so he settled on the one least likely to offend her. "He went to piss."
Yeah, that was stupid, he realized as soon as her face turned red.
"Where did you come from?"
Like he could answer that. If he told her he had teleported himself from Nebraska down to New Orleans an hour ago she’d run for the cops.
He pointed down the street. "That way."
She was even more nervous than before.
Fury offered her a grin he hoped wasn’t too ominous. He wasn’t used to trying to make people unafraid of him. Normally he reveled in making humans wet themselves in terror.
This was a weird change of pace for him.
"Really," he said, "I swear I’m safe."
"And I should believe you, why?"
He paused before he gave her an answer he hoped would soothe her. "I’m Vane’s brother and he would kick my ass if I hurt you."
Bride stared at the strange, oddly handsome man in front of her. In spite of his words, there was an air of ominous danger about him. He looked like the kind of person who could cut someone’s throat and then laugh about it. "You don’t look like Vane."
"I know," he said. "I take after our mother and he takes after our dad."
He sighed and set his boots down on the ground. "Look, I basically suck at social skills, okay? Just pretend I’m not here until Vane gets back. I’ll watch you, you ignore me, and we’ll get along fine. Sound good to you?"
She wasn’t sure. Something about him made her want to run inside and lock the door. Could she trust him?
"Hey, Bride? Can I get some help?"
She looked toward the entrance of her store where one of her regular customers stood with a dress in her hands. "Sure, Teresa. I’ll be right there," she said, moving away from the odd man in front of her. He pulled his boots on, then followed in her wake.
"What are you doing?" she asked as he trailed her into her store.
"Keeping an eye on you. Just ignore me."
It was hard to ignore someone who was so much taller and scarier than she was. "How long has Vane been gone?" she asked him as she walked across her boutique.
"I don’t know, he must have had to go real bad. Might be a bladder thing. I’m not sure."
She gaped at him.
He looked extremely uncomfortable. "I’m just going to shut up now and stand here looking tough. That’s what I’m best at."
He did and she had to agree. When silent, Fury was quite intimidating. She had to give the man credit, he definitely knew his forte.
Vane materialized in Peltier House, just outside of Fang’s door. He stood perfectly still, listening.
There was no disturbance. No scent of anyone else. No sensation of feelings probing the psychic plane for him or Fang.
Everything appeared completely normal.
Relaxing, he pushed open the door to find Fang just as Vane had left him.
Alone in his bed.
Vane walked slowly into the room, just to make sure Fang was okay.
He went to the far side of the bed. Fang didn’t move or twitch. His throat went tight. Fang didn’t appear to be breathing.
"Oh God, no," he said, choking in panic.
Vane grabbed his brother, who instantly yelped and growled.
He tightened his hold on Fang’s fur. "Damn you, you bastard!" he snarled angrily. "You die on me and I swear I’ll tear your throat out."
Fang nipped at him until Vane released him. His brother settled back down in the bed into his comatose state.
"Fang, listen. Dad knows we’re here and he’s sending a squad after us.
C’mon, wolf, talk to me."
He didn’t. Fang just lay there staring into space.
"C’mon, Fang, this isn’t fair to me. I don’t know what to do to help you. I miss Anya too"he tried to make Fang look at him"and I miss you."
Still, his brother didn’t respond to him.
Vane wanted to choke him for his obstinacy.
It was then he felt a strange ripple in the air around him. He glanced over his shoulder to find Stefan standing there with a smug sneer on his face.
Without a second thought, Vane attacked.
Vane caught Stefan about the waist and the two of them went bursting through the hard oak door, into the hallway.
Aimee Peltier jumped away from them and started screaming for help while Vane pulled Stefan up from the floor and slugged him hard and furiously.
Instead of attacking, Stefan changed to wolf form and ran for the stairs.
Vane started after him. But before Stefan could head down them, Wren, who was bounding up them in human form, caught the wolf by the neck and hauled him back into the hallway.
Stefan snarled, trying to bite Wren. The leopard held him with an ease of strength that gave Vane pause. He’d had no idea the young, quiet Katagari was so strong.
Vane stood back, breathing raggedly, as Nicolette came out of her room at the end of the hallway.
Aimee ran to her mother while Wren maintained his grip on the snarling wolf.
"What is going on here?" Nicolette asked.
Vane gestured toward the wolf. "He was in Fang’s room."
Stefan switched to human form, flashed into his clothes, then pushed Wren away from him.
Wren barely moved a step away and the look on his face promised Armageddon if Stefan touched him again.
That harsh look succeeded in calming Stefan a degree as he took a step away from the leopard. "I wasn’t doing anything. I was only checking on them to see if they were really here." Stefan curled his lip at Vane. "Vane attacked me."
Stefan turned back toward Nicolette with an expression that was almost respectful. "I thought it was against the rules of Sanctuary for anyone to attack without provocation."
Vane narrowed his eyes as understanding dawned. He realized only too late that this had been a set-up.
Stefan was smarter than Vane had given him credit for.
"Vane?" Nicolette looked at him. "Is what he says true? Did you attack him?"
"He was coming to kill Fang. You know he was."
"But did he attack him?"
Vane stiffened as he glared at Stefan. "He would have had I not stopped him."
"Did he attack first, or did you?" Nicolette insisted.
Vane’s anger snapped out of control. "What are you? A f**king lawyer?"
"Watch your tone, Vane," Nicolette warned harshly. "I am the supreme law here and you know it."
Vane apologized even though it stuck tight in his craw to do so.
Wren gave him a sympathetic look that said he too would like to rip into Stefan.
His whole body was coiled for it, but he stayed put.
Nicolette lifted her chin in acceptance of Vane’s apology. "Now tell me the truth. Who attacked first?"
Vane wanted to lie, but Nicolette would sense it and that would only make matters worse. "I did."
She closed her eyes as if that pained her. When she opened them, her expression told him how much she regretted what she was about to say. "Then I have no choice except to banish you, Vane. I’m sorry."
Stefan’s eyes gleamed.
At that moment, Vane hated all of them equally. So this was what it came down to. He was punished for protecting his brother.
So be it. It wasn’t the first time this had happened. At least Nicolette didn’t take a whip to him as punishment.
"Fine," he said between clenched teeth.
Vane headed into Fang’s room to collect his brother, only to discover Aimee Peltier rushing to cut him off. She slammed the door closed, then ran to block him from the bed.
He tried to step around her, but she wouldn’t let him.
"Vane, listen to me. Maman is only angry. Give her time"
"No, Aimee," Vane said in a low, deadly tone as he fought not to take his anger out on her. "I knew the rules and I broke them. Your mother will never forgive that and you know it."
Aimee held her arms out as he tried to step past her. "Leave Fang here," she insisted. "You and I and even maman know what Stefan is doing. I will make sure that Fang is never left alone. I will stay with him myself every moment of the day and night. No one will hurt him so long as he resides in Sanctuary."
Her offer confused him. He didn’t understand why the bear female would care what happened to them. "Why?"
Her pale eyes were soft and kind as she looked up at him and dropped her arms back to her sides. "Because no one should be hurt like the two of you were.
What they did was cruel and unnecessary. It was a human punishment, not an animal one. I have lost brothers and I know firsthand the pain you feel in your heart for your Anya. I will not let Fang die, I swear it."
She glanced down to his hand where his mark was hidden, then she looked to the door behind him as if she were afraid someone might overhear her. She lowered her voice. "You have another to protect now. The last thing you need is Fang with you in this state. Go and guard her. You can call me anytime, day or night, to check on your brother."