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Secrets In Our Blood

By Saz Mayne

Copyright 2017 Saz Mayne

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favourite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

Contents

Dedication

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Epilogue

About the Author

Dedication

When I sat down to write this book, I thought it would be a labour of love, a little fun thing that would give me a chance to follow my lifelong dream and allow me to cross it off my bucket list.

What it turned into was something so much more.

In writing this, I made new friends, cemented my relationship with old friends and learned that true love often comes carrying Pringles and cans of Relentless. It also showed me that being a role model to my children is not about my weight, my fashion sense or even my language (which is a good thing because I swear a lot!) It’s about showing the determination to finish something you have worked so hard for, believed so hard in, that you’ve lost sleep, skipped meals, sacrificed weekends to make it come true. And, if my girls follow in my footsteps, I will always know that it was this book that inspired them to do it.

So, this book, this wonderful world that my brain came up with and presented to me like a proud parent, is dedicated to those people.

Firstly, to my beautiful panther, Miriam Kay, for cheering me on with true Italian passion and picking up my awful mistakes. Thank you sweet, this wouldn’t have happened without you. Love you.

Next, to my dearest Gitte Berg Nielsen, who read this repeatedly to prove that she could and still love it. Your belief in this world and these characters helped me keep going. Love you.

Next, Charlene Harris, my fellow author, my fellow crazy lady, my kindred spirit in many ways. Having you to share this ride with has made it more bearable and much more fun. Thank you, endlessly. Love you.

My family deserve a mention too as they had to put up with me constantly bailing on them so I could focus on the book. Thank you for your patience, your encouragement and your lack of judgement.

Second to last are my work colleagues, the poor, long-suffering fools that had to listen to me moan and cry and rant and gush about this book for a long time. Donna, Ellie, Clare, Matt, Steve, Therese, Mark, Tom, Hayley, thank you for putting up with me. You all deserve medals… Or cake.

And last, but by no means least, my beloved husband. Simon, you have put up with a lot from me during this book. You have taken care of the kids, you have cooked, cleaned, worked around me, been ignored, been cooped up in the house and been ranted at. But you have done it all with a smile and constant affirmations of love, backed by Pringles, chocolate, energy drinks and hugs. I cannot thank you enough or tell you I love you enough but I promise to try.

Now that is out of the way, I hope you enjoy my book and come to love the characters as much as I do. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

The moment Caleb stepped into the Doyle house he felt like screaming.

The house itself was a huge, Victorian manor made of grey stone and covered in creeping tendrils of ivy. What he had seen of the grounds as he walked up the long gravel drive had been very impressive. The gardens were vast, acres of neatly manicured lawns and carefully landscaped shrubbery. From the outside, the house seemed lovely, the odd stone gargoyle peeking through the thick, green vines. The inside, however, was a completely different story.

The housekeeper let him in, a tall, slender woman of advancing years, who introduced herself as Mrs Hudson. She had smiled sweetly, asking him to wait in the hall while she informed the Master.

From the second his foot was over the threshold, Caleb started to shake, the wolf inside snapping and snarling. The atmosphere of the house was hideously oppressive, a funeral shroud of misery hung over the beautiful building, a stench of such rotten despair that it was all Caleb could do not to run, howling, from it.

His eyes travelled around the dark panelled walls, pausing on portraits of Doyle’s past. They all had haughty expressions on their finely chiselled faces, giving them the appearance of looking down on their descendants and judging them. There were large, heavy looking doors leading off from the hall at regular intervals but the main focal point was the sweeping staircase. Its wooden steps and handrails were polished to a high shine, glowing warmly in the late afternoon sun.

“Ah, young Mister Dawson,” a deep, sonorous voice greeted him. “Welcome to Doyle Manor.”

The owner of that voice had appeared at the top of the stairs without Caleb even noticing. He silently admonished himself, no Guardian worthy of the name should be caught out like that. The man was very tall and lean, with short, snow white hair and deep, dark eyes that seemed to see right into Caleb’s mind.

“I am Tobias Doyle, Master of this house,” he continued, eyes sweeping over the young man in front of him; he seemed to be about nineteen with short, thick red hair and bright blue eyes. His face was pleasant, florid, an open, friendly countenance that was pleasing to the eye. He wasn’t very tall but was solidly built and carried himself with easy grace and competence. Yes, he would do nicely.

“Master,” Caleb greeted him, dropping his bags and bowing deeply, head lowered submissively as he’d been taught.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Tobias asked, one hand moving to rest lightly on the bannister. “You may stand.”

“I was told I am to be Guardian to Master Doyle. If I may speak freely, Master, I am truly honoured to be in your service.”

Desperately trying to remember his manners, thinking how his Mother would have yelled at him for not behaving properly, the young man straightened, eyes still on the floor.

“A slight miscommunication there. You are to be Guardian to my younger son,” Tobias explained, waving his free hand languidly. “He’s at the right age now, to enjoy the world… Under your watchful gaze of course.”

Those deep eyes pinned Caleb again, an almost feral smile on the Master’s face.

“You were chosen because, out of all the graduates from the Academy this year, you showed exceptional talents. My son will have need of those.”

“Yes, Master,” Caleb replied, wondering just exactly what he was in for.

The sound of footsteps interrupted them, causing both the Guardian and the Doyle patriarch to turn. Two men came into the hall from behind one of the heavy doors, talking quietly. The one in front was tall, a little plumpness around the middle which spoke of an easy life with few reasons to exercise. He had short, dark hair, quick blue eyes that swept across Caleb briefly before dismissing him, and a rather imperious face. The other man was a little shorter with an almost impish face, deep brown eyes and steel grey hair that was cut longer at the front, allowing it to fall in his eyes. He wasn’t old, Caleb noticed, probably only a few years older than himself. Their eyes locked and they nodded minutely to each other.

“Reuben,” the elder Doyle greeted the dark-haired man. “This is Mister Dawson. He’s to be your brother’s Guardian. Dawson, this is my oldest son, Reuben, and his Guardian, Ward.”

Caleb bowed again, eyes lingering on Ward for a moment as he did.

“Reuben,” Tobias was saying. “Ward doesn’t need to follow you around all day. You’re in the house. Let him go and attend his other duties.”

Tobias’ eyes were flat, almost unfriendly, as he looked at the grey-haired Guardian. Caleb wondered what that was about.

“Actually, Father, I was thinking about going out this evening. This saves me having to go looking for Quinn later,” Reuben replied quickly. His voice wasn’t as deep as his Father’s though it had the same cadences.

“You have been told, call him Ward. I will not have you being so familiar,” Tobias snapped, his face filled with sudden rage. As if abruptly remembering that they were not alone, he smoothed a hand through his hair, face instantly back to calm aloofness.

“Until you are going out, you don’t need him. Ward, show Dawson to the Were quarters and help him settle in.”

Those dark eyes, which turned back to him, were not so pleasant now Caleb had seen what was really behind the mask.

“You will be meeting your charge later, Dawson. Make sure you’re presentable.”

“Yes Sir, thank you,” Caleb intoned, bowing again before grabbing his things and following Ward from the main hall.

The grey-haired man led Caleb deeper into the house, passed more expensive looking furniture and antiques.

They went through a rather plain, boring door, entering what was clearly the kitchen. Suddenly Ward spun, brown eyes boring into Caleb.

“I’m the boss around here, got it? Top dog, Alpha, Grand Master, do I make myself clear?” he demanded, voice a low growl.

Caleb studied him coolly for a moment then put his bags down again, rolled his shirt sleeves up and shook his hands out, loosening his muscles.

“No house cat is ever going to be my Alpha,” he replied coldly. “The only reason I’m here is that my Clan needs the money old man Doyle threw my way. Now, if you want us to have a go around, we should step outside.”

Ward looked long and hard at the redhead then a smile split his face, sharp-pointed, white teeth flashing.

“Not bad, wolf boy, not bad at all. You can call me Quinn when we’re away from the family.” He looked speculatively at Caleb for a moment. “You might want to keep a tight grip on that coolness when you meet Rayden. He’s bloody hard work. Like, ‘bang your head off the wall’ hard work. I don’t envy you in the slightest.”

“That’s comforting, thanks,” Caleb replied dryly, his heart sinking. It seemed this wasn’t going to be the cakewalk he’d assumed.

They continued through the kitchen, up a narrow flight of stairs to a long, even more narrow, corridor. Ward lead Caleb to the last door, opening it into a tiny room.

“Welcome to the kennels,” Quinn huffed bitterly. “This is yours. Apart from training and when you’re out with your charge, you’ll be here. We get one day off a month, I’ll get you the schedule in a minute. First, I have a few questions.”

Caleb glanced at his room, depressed by its drabness. This was even worse than he was expecting, almost as bad as being back at the Academy. Throwing his things on the bed, the redhead turned to his guide, running a hand through his hair.

“First off, what made them pick you?” Quinn asked, leaning against the door, arms folded over his chest, deep eyes weighing the other up carefully.

“Top of my graduating class,” Caleb shrugged. “I passed every class with flying colours. When Master Doyle petitioned for a Guardian, he requested the best. That’s me,” he said simply, shrugging.

“Which leads me to my next question: If you’re that good, why didn’t the Guard snap you up?”

Quinn’s eyes were really curious now and he watched Caleb’s face intently. He saw the look of pain that flashed through bright blue eyes, saw it quickly masked again.

“They offered but the Doyles offered more. My Clan needs the money,” Caleb huffed, looking around his room. “I should get settled. What time am I meeting my new charge?”

“At dinner, six P.M sharp, so you have an hour or so to kill. Rayden won’t eat anything, he never eats with the family. I’m not sure if he does it to piss his parents off or because he’s genuinely not hungry. Anyway, I’m just two doors down if you need anything.”

Quinn turned away then spun back, eyes flashing cat green, voice dropping to a snarling growl.

“By the way, I’m a jaguar, not a house cat. Don’t think I’m tame just because I like a bed instead of a branch.”

Instantly, he was smiling again and, with a nonchalant wave, the other Guardian left Caleb to settle in.

Chapter 2

As there was a wait before dinner, Caleb packed his things in the tiny chest of drawers, wondering if he should have packed a suit or something. Clearly, the Doyle family were a formal sort. He’d have to see how things went with his new charge then decide. He could always send for one from home if need be.

Once everything was away, he sat on his rock-hard bed, grimacing. Well, so far, it had been exactly like the Academy, no warmth, no comfort and no joy. Looking around the drab cell, the redhead spotted a tiny barred window up by the ceiling. He stood on the bed, jumped and caught the bars, pulling himself fluidly up to look outside. The grounds stretched away as far as he could see, all severe lines and enforced order. As someone that had grown up surrounded by rolling hills and wild, open spaces, it made Caleb a little sad.

“Oh no! You mustn’t! Please, get down!” a small female voice squeaked behind him. Dropping easily, he twisted to see a small, mousy looking girl stood in the doorway. She didn’t smell like a Guardian but she also wasn’t related to the Doyle family.

“Sorry,” the redhead said with a smile. “Just wanted to look around. Sorry, hello, I’m Caleb Dawson.”

He inclined his head, slightly to one side, a greeting and a question all at once.

“I’m Milly, Milly Harper,” the girl introduced herself, instantly dropping her eyes, blushing brightly. “I’m Mrs Doyle’s companion.”

“You don’t smell like a Guardian,” Caleb exclaimed, a little surprised. He looked closer at the timid girl, noting her large, pale blue eyes, long dark hair, and tiny form.

“I’m not,” she said softly. “Mrs Doyle is an invalid, she never leaves the house so does not require a normal Guardian. I am her companion. I help her and keep her company.”

“A noble purpose,” Caleb nodded, stepping a little closer. “Is that piece of paper for me?” he asked, indicating the sheet in her hand.

“Oh! Yes, Quinn asked me to give it to you as he had to go with Reuben. It’s the schedule. You’re lucky, you’ve been given the first day of each month off. Rayden is usually having one of his…”

She stopped suddenly, biting her lip with small, sharp teeth. Caleb read through the paper, frowning. One free day a month? How generous. He looked up as Milly fell silent, tiny face agonized.

“Milly,” he said softly, perching on the edge of his bed, smiling gently at her, aware that his scent had become comforting, welcoming her into his space. “I would like to be your friend if you’d let me. I imagine I’ll be seeing a lot of you and the others and I’d like to be on good terms with you all. I also want to know a little bit about what I’m getting into here.”

The mousy girl looked up through her lashes, smiling shyly back. Her small hands twisted together for a moment, teeth gnawing at her lip then it all rushed out.

“No one ever wants to be friends once they get here. It’s like the whole place is poison.” She glanced from side to side then stepped into the room, closer to Caleb. “You know the Doyles are a very powerful Daywalker family, right?” she said hurriedly. Caleb nodded, wondering where she was going with this. Everyone knew who the most powerful families were, it was one of the first things taught in any school.

“They have their share of secrets,” Milly warned quietly. “And one of them is that Rayden is out of control. He’s brilliant, I mean, genius brilliant. But he’s erratic, cruel, always flitting from place to place, getting into all kinds of trouble. That’s why they wanted the best Guardian for him. He’s also got an addiction but I don’t know what it is, only the Master and Master Reuben know. Not Mistress or even Quinn! And Reuben tells him everything. The first day of the month, Rayden is usually on his withdrawal and he’s even more insufferable.”

Caleb’s heart sank with every word. It seemed this Rayden was going to be the bane of his life. And if he thought Caleb was going to help feed his addiction, he was in for a rude awakening. Briefly thinking of his sister, her own addiction popping to mind, the redhead decided how he was going to deal with his charge.

“Thank you, Milly, that was very helpful. I should get ready for dinner.”

Milly squeaked again, her control flickering for a moment, whiskers appearing on her face before fading away just as quickly. Mousy indeed, Caleb thought with an inward smile.

“I must dash! Mistress will need dinner! Goodbye Caleb. See you again!” And she was gone.

The Guardian briefly wondered if Quinn had to fight the impulse to chase her then shook the thought away with a wry smile. Picking out the best of his clothes, Caleb changed quickly, using his nose to locate the tiny, dingy bathroom, wash his face and comb his hair into some semblance of order.

“Good enough,” he told his reflection. It took just a moment to pull the calm, placid iciness about him that he’d been noted for at the Academy, drawing on the deep well of stillness inside him. It was a skill he had honed and cultivated all his life.

The way back to the kitchen was easy enough to follow, Quinn’s languid, jungle scent and Milly’s nervous, field green smell easily leading him back through the narrow corridors. He found Mrs Hudson bustling by the counter, busily setting platters on one tray and tall, heavy-looking cups on another. She looked up at his small cough, a soft smile on her face.

“Hello again, Mister Dawson,” she greeted quietly, inclining her head. There was a dry, desert smell about her that instantly identified her other form. Meerkats were always Caleb’s favourite to work with, alert and fierce but also knowing when to get the hell out of the way.

“Mrs Hudson,” he replied, returning the gesture. “Please, call me Caleb. Do you need a hand carrying the dinner things through?”

She smiled again, bigger, almost fondly.

“No, thank you, young man. I should give you a few pointers about the dinner rules before we go through, however, just so you know.”

Caleb nodded, not liking the way her face became so solemn.

“The family is always seated first, they are served first and they eat first. Once they are done, or as near as they are likely to get, then the Master will tell you that you may eat. However, you must always be finished before the Master leaves the table. Once you and Rayden have been together a while he might decide to change that but, for the immediate future, those are the rules.”

“I foresee the need to stock up on some antacids,” Caleb grimaced. Mrs Hudson smiled again, a quick flash of curved lips then turned and lead the way to the dining room.

Caleb saw several other Weres stood around the edge of the room in a line so he followed Mrs Hudson to take his place at the end. A few moments later the Master swept in and coming behind at a more sedate pace was Milly, pushing a woman in a wheelchair. For the briefest moment, he caught the scent of rotten flesh and darkness, the hospital smell of sickness turning his stomach. Caleb fought not to recoil or let any sign of disgust cross his face. Another door, opposite the one the Master had used, creaked open to reveal Reuben and Quinn hurrying to the room next, the Guardian distracted as Quinn slipped passed to take his place beside Caleb. There was a strange smell about the jaguar, one Caleb thought he knew but couldn’t place. It was warm and slightly syrupy, something he had often smelled in the dorms at the Academy. What was it?

“Thank you, Harper. I’ll take Mummy from here,” Reuben instructed. “How are you today, Mummy dearest?” he asked, sliding the chair close to the table, taking the woman’s limp hand. Caleb desperately wanted to look but was afraid to be caught staring. There was a wet, rasping noise that made him flinch slightly then Reuben spoke again.

“Well, I’m glad. You do look lovely as always…”

He was interrupted by the loud clatter of shoes on the polished floors. Strange chemical smells, heavily mixed with tantalisingly organic ones, floated through the door just moments ahead of their originator.

He was tall, at least half a foot taller than Caleb’s 5-foot 10inchs, wild black curls crowning his head like a dark halo, skin as pale and smooth as marble. His lips were full, pale pink and perfectly shaped like a Cupid’s bow. But it was his eyes that struck Caleb. They were pale, a riot of blues, greens, gold. They flashed around the room, a sneer distorting his otherwise handsome face until they landed on Caleb. Then the look fell away, eyes going huge and round before a tiny line appeared between them.

“Ah yes. Step forward, Dawson. Rayden, this is your Guardian, Caleb Dawson,” Tobias announced. “Dawson, this is my son. Do try and keep him out of trouble, would you? Fail and you’ll suffer.”

Chapter 3

Caleb couldn’t take his eyes away from Rayden for a long moment then his training kicked in and he lowered his eyes, bowing to his new charge.

“An honour to meet you, Master Rayden,” he greeted the taller youth. He judged him to be about eighteen, in serious need of a decent meal and possibly, judging by the sneer on his face, an attitude adjustment. The sharp, inorganic smell rolling off him stung Caleb’s nostrils at first but he quickly adjusted to them and could scent the person beneath. Rayden smelled like nervous energy but there was a dark taint there too that had nothing to do with chemicals. Caleb had once come across an old moon circle, a place where ancient Weres would greet the full moon and shift in safety. It was a clearing surrounded by tall, ancient trees with a deep, dark still pond in the middle that still thrummed with enough energy to make Caleb fight for control over his shifting. Rayden reminded him of that, dark and thrumming, barely contained energy that fought to break in all directions.

“Oh, Father, honestly,” the brunet huffed. “I told you I didn’t want a Guardian. It’s a ridiculous, out of date custom and I have no need to be followed around by someone that will simply hinder me in my work. Besides, I am perfectly capable of looking after myself.”

“I think we all know that not to be true,” Tobias scoffed. “Or do I need to remind you about the last time we called the Guard to fetch you from that damn viper’s lair? Greet your Mother and sit down.”

Caleb stepped back into line, glancing at Quinn as the other Weres settled at a small, battered table, crammed together so tightly that their shoulders brushed as he squeezed in beside Milly and the other Guardian. They sat in silence as the family was served. Caleb listened intently as Rayden and his brother sniped at each other, only stopping when there was that wet, rasping noise again.

“Sorry, Mummy,” Rayden answered instantly, not sounding sorry at all. That noise, growing raspier but less squelchy continued for several minutes, interrupted occasionally by Tobias agreeing with whatever was being said.

Leaning closer to Milly, Caleb whispered in her ear.

“Is that Mrs Doyle making that noise?”

The shy girl nodded minutely, eyes flashing up then away again. Caleb strained his ears but even his Were hearing couldn’t pick up any meaning behind that grating sound.

“How do they understand her?” he murmured again, keeping his eyes fixed on the scratched surface of the table. Milly touched a finger to her lips, shaking her head. She smelled afraid so Caleb clamped his lips together, deciding he could always find out another time.

“After dinner, I think we should have a demonstration of Dawson’s prowess,” Tobias announced, glancing over at the red-haired Guardian with a smirk. “Perhaps that will change your mind, Rayden.”

“I seriously doubt that,” the dark-haired young man snorted. “But, if you’re going to in to be tiresome about this, very well. Let’s see what the animal can do.”

Caleb bridled at the words, eyes flashing angrily towards the arrogant young man but he dropped them when Quinn elbowed him sharply, making a warning noise under his breath.

“In celebration of my youngest son giving in without a full-blown argument, a momentous occasion indeed, you may eat now,” Tobias pronounced to the table.

Mrs Hudson rose, lifting a huge covered platter off the sideboard and placing it in the middle of the Were table. It contained large steaks, vegetables both cooked and raw, various sauces and other condiments. Caleb stayed still while the other dug in, quickly filling their plates and eating as fast as they could.

Leaning forward the redhead selected a small pork chop and several boiled potatoes, eating them with swift, efficient bites. Then he sat back, closing his eyes to better draw on his calm. He let the sounds of chewing fade, let the sounds of conversation from the family drift away. He sank, slowly and with practised ease, into the calmness inside, listening to his wolf. He let the animal inside pace to the surface, scent the air, assess each Were at the table for strengths and weaknesses then retreat to wait patiently, ancient eyes watching, ears sharp and nose keen.

The hair on the back of his neck prickled, wolf snarling and his eyes snapped open, head turning to find Rayden staring at him intently. There was no clue in the brunet’s eyes, body language or scent to tell Caleb what he was thinking or what he was looking for. Returning the look with a blank one of his own, the Guardian was secretly pleased to see a small, annoyed frown flit across the pale, sculpted face. There was a loud screech as Tobias pushed back his chair causing the Weres to leap to their feet, those still eating swallowing painfully.

“As we have all finished,” the elder Doyle announced, deliberately ignorant to the fact that this was not the case. “I think we should adjourn to the training

room for Dawson’s demonstration. Harper, come and take Mrs Doyle back…”

The blocked drain noise came again and Tobias nodded to his wife, sighing.

“As you like, dear,” he agreed reluctantly. “Reuben, Rayden, assist your Mother to the training room. Ward, show Dawson the way and prepare yourselves. We shall test him against you as Reuben has often boasted of your skills.”

They bowed as the family left the room then Caleb as quickly following the tall, grey-haired man out of the dining room and through the house to a large echoing hall that reminded Caleb of the PE gym in his primary school.

“How does this work?” he asked, unbuttoning his shirt and setting it aside, stretching. “In the Academy, we would spar but try not to hurt each other. Are the rules the same here or do we just go at it like I’m trying to kill you?”

Ward had also stripped down, stretching as well, shoulders rolling with feline fluidity.

“No shifting for the first round and don’t kill each other. That’s the extent of the rules,” he replied, watching as the family filed in, taking positions along one wall. Milly hurried across with chairs for them, setting them out for the family to sit.

“Fantastic” the redhead huffed, toeing his shoes off, glad to be rid of them, gaze flickering to Rayden then away, lip curling in a silent snarl. He’d show that little monster what an ‘animal’ could do.

“Very well,” Tobias intoned. “Begin.”

Chapter 4

The instant Tobias began to speak, Caleb threw himself into a forward roll. For whatever reason, every cat Were couldn’t help but pounce first and it made them very easy to predict. He jumped up, spun, kicking the taller Were in the lower back, square in the kidneys. Quinn grunted, twisting to snarl at Caleb, eyes flashing gold for an instant before his face split in a smile.

“Not bad,” he growled, rubbing his aching back. Seeing the way the jaguar’s shoulders dropped, arms hanging loosely at his sides, gait turning slow and predatory, the redhead flashed his teeth in a fake smile. The blow that came next was fast and caught Caleb on the collarbone, making his arm go numb for a second. So, the pussycat wanted to play? Alright then. The wolf rose below his skin, scenting the air, watching every move Quinn made, every tiny flicker in his eyes. Caleb and his wolf were one, ready to pounce, dodge, attack, retreat, as the situation demanded.

When Quinn launched his next attack, Caleb was ready. He stepped back, sideways and forward with all his Were speed, bringing his elbow down between Quinn’s shoulders causing him to stagger. From a standing start, Caleb threw himself into a dead run, springing into the air to wrap arms and legs around the other Guardian, locking one forearm around his throat. The wolf wanted to sink its teeth in, to tear flesh, to bring the prey down but Caleb reined it in, telling it to be patient. Instead, he threw his weight back, dropping his feet to the ground, unbalancing the jaguar even more. He kicked the back of one knee, forcing his foe down, knee digging into the small of his back, still pulling back on his throat. Quinn was bent backwards, body arched painfully. Caleb knew he could easily break his spine in this position and no one had called stop so…

“That’s enough,” Reuben’s voice rang out. “Honestly, Father, would you have Quinn incapacitated just to test your newest addition? I need him for the conference next week and it takes several weeks to recover from a broken spine, even for a Were.”

“I have told you before, you are to call him Ward,” Tobias snapped, eyes flashing. “But I suppose you have a point. Release him, Dawson.”

Caleb let go instantly, stepping back and inclining his head to the panting Were in front of him.

“You fight well,” he murmured. “But you’re far too predictable. You should change that before someone with worse intentions takes advantage of it.”

“Maybe we can spar sometime?” the steel-haired man murmured back. “And I can try to be less predictable.”

Caleb nodded, smiling at the jaguar.

“Anytime,” he agreed. Turning the redhead bowed to the family, lifting his eyes briefly to see Rayden staring at him with that frown again, deeper this time. The look fell away after a moment, leaving the smooth, aloof face of a statue. Caleb could smell him, however. Something he had seen had peaked the brunet’s interest in his new Guardian.

“An excellent demonstration,” Tobias said loftily. “I see the Academy was not exaggerating your skills, Dawson. Boys, help your Mother back into the house.”

Caleb cut his eyes quickly to the wheelchair, catching just a glimpse of dark, wavy hair and alabaster skin. His curiosity about the matriarch of the Doyle family was increasing all the time. What illness could possibly have reduced someone like her to… Whatever was in that chair?

He quickly slipped on his shirt and picked his shoes up, reaching out to help Quinn. The Were looked at him for a moment then took the offered hand, standing slowly. They shared another grin before following their charges back to the main house.

As soon as they arrived in the main hall again, Milly quickly took Mrs Doyle away to rest. Caleb stood next to Quinn, watching as Father and sons had a short, obviously heated, conversation.

“Dawson!” Tobias snapped suddenly. “Escort my son to his room and make sure he stays there.”

“Yes Master,” he answered instantly, moving towards Rayden, following him as he flounced up the stairs, muttering acidly about stupid parents and idiotic traditions.

The atmosphere upstairs was no better than downstairs, even worse if that was possible. The wolf wanted to lash out or to run away from this awful place, hackles bristling at the scent of secrets and rot, but Caleb refused to listen. He was here for a job, a duty of care, not to let the secrets of a powerful family distract him. Suddenly Rayden spun, eyes flashing with contempt, full lips curled in a sneer.

“So, another pet to do as my Father says,” he spat, eyes skimming the red-haired young man from head to toe. “How did the son of a Clan leader fall so low as to need to enter the Guardian program? Was it your sister’s wolf’s bane addiction or your Mother’s lunar madness?”

Caleb was moving before he had a chance to restrain himself. Charging forward, he grabbed the brunet, slamming him back against the wall, the wolf tearing at his control, desperate to protect his family, to hurt this attacker. He took a deep breath, pulling the scent of Rayden deep inside himself, analysing what he found carefully. He needed something to give him an insight into this supercilious young man he was supposed to protect.

Rayden was scared but also fascinated by the way Caleb had reacted, almost as if he’d never expected a Were to lay hands on him. Slowly, Caleb released his hold, stepping back to glare at Rayden with gold/green wolf eyes.

“Impressive,” Caleb stated icily, fighting the wolf down. “How did you know? Been looking me up?”

“No, I observed. Your bearing, the state of your clothes, the slight trace of thyme on the sole of your shoe, which everyone knows, is the only thing to give a wolf’s bane addict to make them regurgitate what they ingested. As for your Mother’s lunar madness, that was a well-educated guess. The way your wolf is so close to call all the time is a clear indication that the lunar madness is hereditary but not from your Father’s side because a moon berserker would never rise to Clan leader.”

Caleb blinked, staring at the tall, dark-haired young man in front of him in astonishment. Rayden suddenly smelled nervous even though his face remained blank, haughty and uncaring, kaleidoscope eyes carefully shielded.

“Brilliant!” Caleb exclaimed, a smile breaking out on his face. He didn’t care about Rayden knowing those things about him, it was hardly a secret, he was just amazed that he knew them at all.

“Really?” Rayden asked, surprised, mask slipping enough to reveal an uncertain young man underneath. “People don’t usually say that.”

“What do they normally say?”

“Fuck off.”

Chapter 5

Caleb had been at the Manor for almost a week when he finally met Mrs Doyle face to face. On the morning of his first Saturday in Creepy Manor, as he’d privately dubbed it, Rayden informed him that he would be visiting with his Mother before making a trip into town and Caleb was to accompany him, right now. The redheaded Guardian was surprised. Rayden usually failed to inform him of anything, leaving Caleb hurrying to catch him in any way possible.

Rayden was turning out to be just as much of a nightmare as Quinn had warned. He flew from one mood to another in the blink of an eye, one moment cool and composed, ready smiles and confident manner, the next wild and screaming, harsh, unreasonable and cruel. He constantly tested Caleb’s patience when one of his myriad of experiments went wrong, causing the volatile young man to throw things around the room in a fit of temper. After the last failure, Caleb had been picking glass shards out of his face for an hour.

For example, just the previous day, Quinn had calmly told him that Rayden was speeding down the drive in his Father’s Lexus. Caleb had been forced to shift into full wolf form to chase him down. He’d let the wolf have full control, letting it use the speed and stamina his Clan were known for until they caught the car. It was just at the crossroads before the road joined the motorway and Caleb, leaping over a fence, had landed on the roof of the car with a bone-jarring thud, claws skidding and screeching over the paintwork. Rayden had braked hard, throwing the wolf over the bonnet in a tumbling mass of russet fur. Caleb rose a moment later, forehead bleeding profusely, the skin on his feet and hands torn and bleeding, limping slightly and completely naked. He had yanked the passenger door open and slid in with a tight smile. He’d stared at Rayden for a moment then turned his eyes forward, ignoring him, wiping the blood from his eye.

The brunet’s scent had changed from the ticklish scent of adventure to the wild, gamey scent of adrenaline to the hot, sharp smell of embarrassment mixed with peaked interest. Caleb had reached under his seat, pulled out a pair of tightly rolled running shorts that, Quinn had informed him, were kept in all the vehicles in case of emergencies and slipped them on, not looking at the brunet once. Rayden had thrown a tantrum, demanding Caleb leave, even trying to shove him out of the car but failing. He’d finally had to accept the redheaded Were’s presence, even though he moaned about it all day.

This morning, however, the tall youth was oddly subdued. He didn’t try any tricks, didn’t try to shake Caleb or drive him away with chemicals as he had the first few days. He simply paced his room for a while after the Guardian arrived, promptly at 8 am as ordered, chewing his lower lip until it was red and raw looking.

“You’ll make it bleed,” Caleb pointed out from his usual spot by the door. From here he could stop Rayden escaping any point of the room even though the curly-haired youth seemed to like to challenge him on that front at any opportunity.

“Unimportant,” Rayden replied distractedly. “Flesh, boring.”

Watching him for a minute longer, Caleb decided he had to ask.

“I haven’t seen your Mother for a while,” he said casually. “I only saw her, briefly, at my first dinner. Is she ill?”

Rayden froze, back to Caleb, whole body stiff for a moment, scent changing from the prickle of nerves to the prey chase scent of panic. He turned slowly, eyes locking on Caleb’s almost fiercely.

“Yes,” he said shortly. “She is ill. She has necrosis zombia which is…”

“When a Daywalker is attacked by a Nightwalker and infected by the flesh rotting bacteria they carry,” Caleb said softly. “However, because Daywalkers are so different from all other kinds of cryptos, it rots while keeping the suffer alive and aware. I’m sorry, Rayden, I didn’t realize. I have only ever seen one other sufferer of NecZ and they… they were completely insane and stank to high Hell. I didn’t detect anything like that about your Mother or I would never have said…”

Rayden simply waved it away. He dropped onto his bed on his back, head hanging over the edge, staring at Caleb upside down.

“Milly is very attentive to her… personal hygiene. She was attacked as she left a charity event for NecZ sufferers. Cruel irony, wouldn’t you say?”

Caleb simply nodded. He could feel the sadness radiating from his charge and a sudden insight flashed into his mind. Part of Rayden’s behaviour was a simple reaction to his Mother’s illness, a hurt child lashing out at the world to make sense of the senseless. Caleb’s heart twisted in sympathy for him. Seemed like they had more in common than he thought.

They left Rayden’s room, winding through the huge house until they reached a part that Caleb had never been to before. There was a faint smell in the air, the stomach clenching scent of rancid meat heavily tinged with hopelessness, more noticeable now he knew what to look for. The Guardian felt Rayden tensing more and more as they walked the long corridor though his face remained blank. If he had been another Were Caleb would have just rubbed their shoulders together, the touch enough to ease the strain, to show support and Pack companionship. But Rayden was a Daywalker, one of those proud aloof creatures that seemed to reject any kind of comfort. Pausing by one of the huge bay windows that lined the corridor, looking out over the rigidly landscaped garden, Caleb opened it, stuck his head out and took several deep breaths before following Rayden further along the hallway. There was a huge, dark oak door partway along the corridor, thick and heavy, but not enough to be able to contain the faint aromas that escaped Milly’s careful cleaning routine. Rayden stilled for a moment, shoulders tense, then lifted his hand and knocked.

The door opened at the brunet’s soft knock to reveal Milly stood there in jeans and a flower print shirt, hair pulled back in a tight ponytail.

“Mistress is excited to see you, Master Rayden,” she greeted, bowing low. “She is by the window. Mistress wanted to see the trees.”

Rayden nodded, moving quietly across the room to sit next to the wheelchair. He greeted his Mother with a bright smile, long fingers brushing her hand as he spoke. Feeling his heart twist at the way Rayden hid his pain with carefree smiles, Caleb moved to one side, sharing a sad, knowing glance with Milly as his charge began a happy, upbeat conversation with his Mother. Now that he had the chance, Caleb studied Mrs Doyle closely, his heart swelling with pity. She must have been a true beauty before she was attacked, the remains of those glorious features still visible.

She had the same high cheekbones as Rayden, the dark, curly hair and pale skin, the same long, lean frame. But the evidence of her disease obscured her previous radiance with its cruel ravages.

One hand was completely rotten, white bone flashing through greying flesh as she tried to move it. Her face seemed perfect until she turned to look at her son and Caleb saw the left side looked as if it was wax, melting away under intense heat, teeth, tendons, and gums visible through the holes in her alabaster flesh. He also saw the source of the wet, rasping sound, swallowing heavily as he did. The pillar of her throat was intact but, where there should have been pale, unblemished skin, was a huge, gaping wound, various muscles pulsing wetly as she attempted to form words. Caleb swallowed again, pity, sadness and anger swirling in his gut. He lowered his eyes, suddenly deeply affected by this sight, to see such a woman reduced to this…

They stayed for two hours, Caleb eventually having to retreat to Milly’s tiny kitchenette to clear the scent of putrefaction from his nose. It lay heavy and thick on his tongue, in his nose, along his nerves. His wolf snorted and growled, wanting to run away from the scent of sickness but Caleb pushed it down, told it to hush. When Rayden announced it was time to go, Caleb returned, bowing low to Mrs Doyle, pained by the awareness in those eyes, one milky white, the other blue and green. He felt a soft brush in his mind, tensed for a magical attack as he had been trained, but instead saw the imagine of Rayden looking sad, face drawn in tense lines that hurt to look at and realized that this was how the lady of the house could communicate; not by speaking but by planting images in the minds of others. He had heard that some few Daywalkers had this ability though he had never met one before.

“Always a pleasure, Mistress,” he said softly, still bowing. “I will do my best to keep up with Master Rayden and make sure he stays out of trouble. I hope to see you again soon.”

Moving to the door, sharing one last look with Milly that spoke of their shared sorrow at seeing such a great lady injured so, he waited for Rayden said goodbye to his Mother, the pair of them slipping from the room quietly.

They walked silently all the way through the house, Rayden not acknowledging anything as he disappeared into his own mind. Caleb led him out the front doors and around the house passed the garage, hoping a walk in the gardens would help clear the young Daywalker’s mind. Caleb said nothing, knowing the power of companionable silence when another was hurting. He’d dealt with it often enough with his Father since his Mother had become…worse. So, they walked and simply kept quiet to let Rayden recover from the visit. As they passed the huge garage, rows and rows of expensive, sleek cars just waiting to be driven ridiculously fast, the brunet stopped suddenly, spun and slammed his fists against the wall. Again, and again, he beat the bricks, thin skin bruising, splitting, blood smearing the rough surface splashing on the ground. Caleb moved to stop him, worried that the young Daywalker would hurt himself badly, then stilled. Maybe this would help, get some of that pent-up rage and pointless guilt Rayden felt out. He wouldn’t let him hurt himself too badly but…

Eventually, Rayden stopped, slumping forward, breathing raggedly, tears tracing wet paths on his pale cheeks. Caleb was sure that any kind of comforting gesture on his part would be met with contempt at the very least and some dangerous and painful stunt at worst. An idea popped into his head and he prayed to the Moon that Master Doyle was not home today.

“I’ll give you a two-minute head start,” he said casually, leaning against the garage wall. “If I don’t catch you by the time you get to the crossroad, you get to have some alone time, say…an hour.”

Rayden’s head snapped around, staring at Caleb for a moment, disbelieving and unsure. But he must have seen something in Caleb’s easy blue gaze because he smiled, eyes turning bright and calculating, and hurried to the nearest car. Caleb grinned at him, shaking his arms out, pulling the shift closer, letting the wolf pace to the surface of his skin, ready to give chase. Let’s see if Rayden could outwit him this time.

Chapter 6

It was the screaming pain that woke Caleb, shooting through his left calf, dragging him from dreams of happier times when they used to run under the Moon, the whole family, carefree, joyful. His hands flew down to massage his calf, fingers digging into the muscles, trying to ease the pain. Bloody cramp! He really should stretch out before bed but he was so tired after chasing Rayden down to London then around the city, having to drag him out of a dicey situation involving some Bogarts and a rather touchy brownie, then force him to return to the Manor. All he’d wanted to do was sleep when he’d gotten back, not even dinner stopping him from falling into bed in his clothes. And now he was awake, pain easing off, alert for any unusual noises amongst the normal late-night ones.

After almost three weeks at the Manor, he’d become accustomed to various noises from the others as they slept. He knew Paul’s raspy grunts as the Were-boar gardener rolled in his sleep, Anderson’s wheezy gasping as the Were-ferret dreamed of shuffling his papers, Quinn’s deep, rumbling snore, almost a purr… Wait, he couldn’t hear Quinn. That was very strange. Running through various schedules in his head, Caleb knew Reuben was home tonight so Quinn had no reason to be anywhere but in his cell. Concerned, worried something might be wrong, the red-haired Guardian hobbled out of bed, paced the corridor, using his nose to search for the now familiar scent of the jaguar.

He’d been here a short time ago, the scent hanging like a yellow/green cloud in the air, bright, fresh. It probably had nothing to do with Caleb, he should just go back to bed and rest before whatever trials Rayden threw his way today. But there was something going on here that was gnawing at him, something deep and dark. There was an edge to Quinn’s scent; he was nervous, excited and… Horny? Was he sneaking off to see one of the women? That was so against the rule that, if he got caught, he’d wish for death before the end. Chewing his lip indecisively for a moment, Caleb snorted, shaking his head. He had to know what was going on in this place. All these secrets were driving him insane, not that he needed any help in that department with Rayden as a charge. As the cramp finally disappeared, Caleb made his decision. He was going to follow Quinn and put one secret to rest at least. The scent trail led away from the kennels, not to the women’s dorm rooms as he’d assumed, out the back door of the house which was a huge no-no for the Weres after dark, towards the pavilion out beyond the security lights. They would flash on the moment he moved but after almost a month of chasing Rayden, as the lanky genius tested his Guardian’ abilities, had taught Caleb how to dodge all sorts of security measures. With a move more suited to a snake shifter, the Guardian began dodging the lights, counting under his breath so he would know how long he had before they flashed on, betraying his presence. His teeth flashed in the dark as he just skipped passed the last sensor, with less than a second to spare, and he was loping silently towards the dark shape of the pavilion.

As he drew closer, slowing his pace and dropping to a stalking crouch, Caleb’s sharp ears picked up a faint noise, a breathy whimper that was quickly silenced. He frowned. It didn’t sound pained though it was a desperate whine that he felt should be familiar. What the Hell was going on? He could smell Quinn, the yellow/green jungle scent trail now heavily tinged with swirling red, lust hanging heavy in the air around the wooden structure. But there was another smell, a scent he recognized but couldn’t bring himself to believe. Creeping closer, he popped his head over the edge, eyes widening as he dropped back down.

“Quinn…” a soft, breathy voice gasped, freezing Caleb in his tracks. There were a few more moans, barely audible unless you were as close as Caleb was right now, several creaking thumps and a short, sharp cry.

“Reuben…” Quinn’s familiar voice purred, rough and sex heavy. Caleb fled, not wanting to hear any more. He bolted, silently thank you very much he is a hunter after all, across the lawn, up the first ivy vine he came to, threw open the window as quietly as possible and dropped in through a window.

“Really, Caleb, you don’t need to start checking on me in the middle of the night,” Rayden’s amused baritone drifted from the dark. Caleb dropped his eyes, embarrassed and suddenly realizing he should be in his room, not roaming the grounds.

“I’m sorry,” he answered, instantly dropping to one knee, knowing he should be punished for breaking the rules, that Rayden was within his rights to beat Caleb if he deemed fit.

“Do get up, Caleb,” Rayden snapped, nose wrinkling in disgust. “I don’t care about rules, you should know that by now. If you want to wander about at night, sneaking in through windows, that is your affair.”

“I…” Caleb bit his lip, wondering if he should share his newly acquired information. Rayden might be cavalier about the rules but that didn’t mean he’d be alright with what his Guardian had just discovered.

“You found out about my brother and Ward,” the brunet stated, eyes sparkling in the dark room, full mouth ticking up in an amused smile. There was no moon tonight, only stars twinkling in the velvety night sky, their faint light highlighting Rayden’s sharp features to Caleb’s excellent night vision. He stood silent then nodded slowly, curious as to how his unpredictable charge would react. Rayden’s teeth flashed in the dark as he grinned.

“I wondered who would be the next one to find out about them. I always thought it would be my Father though I hoped not, for their sakes.”

Caleb blinked, surprise causing his eyebrows to lift nearly to his hairline. From what he had seen of them, Rayden and Reuben fought almost constantly, tearing verbal strips off each other at every opportunity, never missing the chance to take a dig at the other. To hear that Rayden didn’t want his brother to suffer for something his Father would most certainly view as a disgusting, base act with an animal, made Caleb shifting his thinking a little. Clearly, there was more to this young man than it first appeared.

“They’ve been lovers for quite some time now,” Rayden was saying, reclining on his bed easily, not seeming to care that he was only partially clothed in the presence of his rule-breaking Guardian. Caleb tried not to think about what would happen if he was caught, instead, he lowered himself to the thick carpet, legs crossed.

“Oh?” was his only reply, soft and encouraging.

“I saw in your face, a number of times, that you guessed Ward had a lover. His scent, no doubt. Also, I can’t imagine, even for a jungle cat, he was particularly stealthy” the dark-haired youth was rambling.

“He’s managed to hide it from your Father well enough,” Caleb retorted mildly, biting back the sharpness he wanted to put into his tone. They stared at each other silently, eyes locked in a battle of wills. Finally, Rayden huffed, looking away from the endless calm he saw in Caleb’s blue eyes. The Guardian hid a grin, letting his head rest against the wall behind him.

“I never guessed Reuben because Quinn smells like him all the time anyway, being together as much as they are. I… I won’t say anything,” Caleb said softly, both a promise to keep this huge secret and a threat that he would never let it be used by Rayden to hurt his family. He saw understanding flash through Rayden’s eyes for a moment then watched as they settled on the grey/blue mixture they turned when he was unsure of something. Caleb was slightly concerned that he could identify Rayden’s mood by his eye colour but quickly shrugged it off.

“Well, as we’re both up, let’s see if you can help me with my latest experiment. I’ll need your nose.”

Caleb rolled his eyes, sighing. It was going to be a long night.

“Dawson, a word,” a low, stern voice came from the door of the training room. Caleb had retreated here about midday, sneezing madly, eyes streaming, puffy and itchy, desperate to get away from the various chemicals Rayden kept shoving under his nose. Apparently, the lanky man’s new experiment was Caleb and his tolerance to different substances. He seemed intent on finding something that the Were couldn’t adapt to or that his heightened systems couldn’t tolerate. Almost eight hours of experiments was enough however and Caleb had begged for a break, showering the chemicals away before heading to the training room in the hope of catching Quinn to talk and maybe to spar.

But it was Reuben calling him now, beckoning him over from where he’d been practising his roundhouse kicks against one of the dummies. Approaching the sombre man, the Guardian bowed slightly, wondering what this could be about and fearing he knew. Reuben may not have his brother’s erratic behaviour but they were both geniuses. It wouldn’t have been hard for Quinn to smell that he had been at the pavilion last night.

“I know you saw us last night,” the elder Doyle said very quietly, blue eyes fixed on Caleb with a burning intensity. Caleb’s eyes flashed up, wide and nervous, catching something akin to barely contained panic in the older Daywalker’s eyes.

“I… Yes,” was all he could say, unsure how much he should divulge about his night time wanderings.

“Dawson… Caleb…” Reuben lifted his shoulders helplessly, hands fluttering uselessly, clearly at a loss for the words. He’d never had to ask for something

before, had always just ordered them done and expected to be obeyed. But, the older Doyle knew, that was not going to work this time. There was something about this Were, something in his eyes, his stance, his general demeanour, that told Reuben, an expert in people watching, that he could not be ordered to silence or intimidated into it.


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