Dragonbane(Dark Hunter,book 24)(19) by Sherrilyn Kenyon
“Should I try to call Matera?”
He wheezed and shook his head. “It could alert the others where we are.” He wrapped his tail around her and sent a wave of warmth through it for her.
Pressing her cheek against his scales, she smiled. “Thank you.”
He tucked his wings in around her to make a leathery blanket. “Are you warm now?”
“Yes. How did you know I was cold?”
“You’re always cold. There’s not enough fat on you to keep you warm.”
She laughed. “I’m big enough to whip you.”
He snorted a rude sound of denial. “Only because I let you win.”
Suddenly, there was a loud, fierce sound over their heads. Something that rumbled like vicious thunder. Bright lights danced across the landscape.
“What is that?”
Hadyn immediately returned to being human, even though it was extremely difficult for him to do so. “I don’t know. But I doubt it’s good.”
She took his hand in hers as they stepped back into the shadows and watched the strange things that flew in the sky over their heads. Worse? They could hear voices as others searched for them.
What’s a military installation? she projected silently to her brother.
I don’t know. But I don’t think we’re supposed to be here, and I’m pretty sure that if they catch us, they’re going to put us in another cage.
And that she couldn’t argue against either.
Keeping to the shadows, they ran along a wall of some sort, away from the sounds and machines they didn’t understand. Looking at the vegetation, she guessed that they were in a desert. But she had no idea where.
Or what time period.
As they reached the end of the wall, she pulled up sharply. She stopped so suddenly that Hadyn slammed into her before he saw what had caused her new panic.
There in the darkness was another group of demons waiting to recapture them.
“Here. You look like you could use this. It’s hot cider with rum. It helps with pre-battle nerves.”
Seraphina stepped away from the group that was assembling to save her children to thank Aimee. She took the peculiar cup that smelled quite delicious. And as her gaze fell to Aimee’s distended stomach, she realized a fact that had escaped her earlier attention.
The bearswan was Arcadian. She had to be. Aimee wouldn’t be able to shapeshift while pregnant. That was one of the worst drawbacks of being a female Were-Hunter – you were locked into your base form for the duration of any pregnancy. Should anything force them to shapeshift while they carried another life, both mother and child or children would die.
Gods, as bad as her own fears had been while she carried her children, she couldn’t imagine the uncertain horror Aimee must deal with. At least she and Maxis were the same species. How could an Arcadian bear stand being with a Katagari wolf?
How had they even courted? Or conceived? Common thought was such couples were sterile. But then, their very existence defied all natural order. Given what Lycaon and the gods had done to them, there was no telling, really, what a Were-Hunter could or couldn’t do.
“You’re mated to a Katagari?” The question was out before she could stop it.
Aimee’s features turned to stone and all friendliness evaporated from her eyes. “Careful where you go with your next words. My mother was Katagari. My father Arcadian. And they died as bonded mates.”
That stunned her. Bonded was the highest declaration of love for their species. It meant the mated couple had made the mutual and conscious decision that rather than let death separate them, they chose to combine their life forces into a single cord. Whenever one mate died, the other would follow them into eternity.
Very rarely did Arcadians make such an unbreakable pact. It just wasn’t practical. And even though Maxis had asked it of her and she’d refused him out of fear, she’d always assumed it would be even more rare for the Katagaria to make so strong a commitment. Most Arcadians believed them incapable of comprehending it. To her eternal shame, she’d refused to bond with Maxis, hoping that one day death might free one of them to find a mate of their breed.
But that was before she’d had his children. They and his absence had taught her an appreciation for her mate that she wished she’d had before he left.
“Did their differences ever bother you?”
Aimee’s features softened as she placed her hand over her stomach and lovingly caressed the unborn children she carried. “What bothered me was having to hide and lie about my true form because of the prejudices others hold. Having to hide and run with my parents and brothers before we were granted the license for a limani. The fact that my parents had to live in secrecy from even their own families, or risk harm to themselves or us.”
Seraphina could only imagine. The gods knew her tribe had never been kind to Maxis. The only thing that had saved her children was the fact that they were Arcadian born and her skills with a sword had forced the ridicule to stop. No one wanted to go against her battle skills or face her maternal devotion.
Even so, Hadyn had borne the brunt of it. It’d forced him to grow up much faster and harder than he should have. And there was a deep-seated bitterness in his eyes that tore at her heart every time she caught his unguarded expressions. He’d never been fairly treated among her people and she knew it.
Just like his father.
For that alone, Seraphina could almost hate her tribe.
Yet Aimee’s words gave her comfort that maybe Hadyn would one day find a woman who could love him as he deserved to be cherished. “Thank you, Aimee.”
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