Reluctant Guardian

Word count: | Reading time:
Romance
Fantasy
Mature
He’s a Guardian, sworn to protect all the creatures of Lore, walking on the brink of turning rogue.She’s half human who doesn’t remember her past.Can she tame the wolf and stop him becoming the rogue he fears, whilst unlocking the secrets to her hidden past, and her heart?WEAK. BROKEN. ROGUE.That’s how Thane Marrok, wolf shifter and soldier of an elite organisation known as Guardians, sees himself - forced to live a lonely and tortured existence after witnessing the death of his family by humans.When his alliance leader asks him to return home to the town where his nightmares began, aiding in the battle with the hunters. Imagine his surprise when instead he comes face to face with an unfamiliar human female, who triggers the wolf’s deepest, darkest desires.Intrigued, Thane follows from a distance, never suspecting that she could be the key in his search for his best friend and mentor, taken twenty years ago.Anya Shaw leads a quiet and uneventful life, except for the terrors of a repressed past that plague her dreams.But as the visions of a black wolf visit her, she cannot help feeling a spiritual connection.When the wolf appears to her a second time, she knows she's not dreaming.Fascinated and comfortable around this creature she never knew existed, she's determined to discover who he is.As Thane fights to keep control of the wolf inside and his overwhelming desires, he must help keep Anya safe from the hunters, who are closing in, fast.Thane must put the past behind him, or lose the woman meant to be his for eternity.

1

This was the last place Thane wanted to find himself. He didn't want to come, but Edwin had been insistent.

So, instead of searching for his friend and mentor who was taken by hunters twenty years ago, believed dead by everyone except him, Thane found himself surrounded by hundreds of people he didn’t know and didn’t care to. 

This place was a nightmare.
His entire journey from the entrance to the main hall, people were treading on his feet, shoving into his sides and generally getting in his way.
Thane growled deep in his throat, rubbing his fingers over his throbbing temples that pulsed with the beat of the music.
Why Edwin had decided to meet him at a masquerade party, full of teens and college students was beyond him.
Roaming deeper into the massive house, Thane’s eyes watered from the overpowering odour of cheap perfumes and sweat mixed in the air. He forced himself not to breath too deeply, afraid he’d choke as the air around him grew heavy.
He couldn’t wait to get out of here and continue on his hunt, but that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon, not if Edwin had his way. The old man was always trying to get him to stay. Why would this time be any different?
Thane huffed, coming to a stop in front of a large table filled with sweets and alcoholic beverages.
Deciding to indulge himself, he poured a drink of unnaturally dyed red liquor and lifted the flimsy plastic cup to his nose, inhaling deeply. Cherries and vanilla. Such a sickeningly sweet smell. But hey, what was the worst that could happen? He shrugged and gulped it down, gagging as it hit the back of his throat.

“Disgusting,” he grumbled, wrinkling his nose as he poured a second cup. Anything to numb himself from this experience.

“Where is he?” Thane muttered to himself, crossing his arms over his chest and tapping his foot on the floor as he took another sweeping glance of the busy room.
The sound of feminine giggles and whispers traveled to his over sensitive ears, drawing his attention to the other side of the room. If he closed his eyes and concentrated hard enough, he could hear their words and the excited flutter of their hearts.

Let them look.
None of these women would approach him; they never did. He could smell the scent of their attraction, could feel their eyes lingering over his body, causing every hair to stand on end; but his dark appeal wasn’t enough for them to overcome their fear of him. A fear he could see in their watchful eyes, keeping them at a distance as they danced and gossiped.
Thane turned to face a particularly loud group of women he could hear above the others. Each of them gasped, shying away and hiding their scarlet faces beneath elaborate masks. Thane rolled his eyes and looked away. None of it mattered to him. He would rather they didn’t speak with him. Some of these women may be attractive, but they were human, possibly even hunters. He didn’t want them anywhere near him.
The only reason he was here was to find out why Edwin needed him to rush back to this place he used to call home.
Growing tired of the whispers and the stares, Thane returned to the refreshment table and filled his cup with something a little less sickly than before.
He froze. His hand stopping mid air, causing the dark liquid to spill over the rim of his cup.
There. Above the harsh perfumes and other odours he’d been so desperately trying to avoid. A scent deliciously sweet and fruity drifted to his nose on the chilly breeze coming from the open patio doors.
Thane closed his eyes and turned toward the mouthwatering aroma, inhaling deeply, letting the alluring fragrance fill his lungs… Honeysuckle.

It was like an ambrosia crafted by the gods, making his mouth water and his body hum as it coaxed him forward.
“Thane. There you are,” a familiar voice called from behind, breaking him free of the trance the scent had put him under.
Thane turned to face the very man he’d been waiting for and smiled as he approached.
“It’s good to see you, my boy. I’m grateful you came.”
Thane was shocked to see how much the man had aged. His normally golden blond hair had become silver, making him look distinguished. His amber eyes faded to a pale yellow, yet they still held that spark of mischief they always had.
“How could I refuse when you practically begged me,” Thane teased, resting his hand on Edwin’s shoulder, squeezing it tight. “It’s good to see you too, old man.”
“Less of the old, thank you,” Edwin smiled, passing him yet another drink.
“What do you need me for so urgently?”
The sooner he helped Edwin, the sooner he could leave this place and all the bad memories it brought back.
“I can’t explain here, Thane. It’s not safe,” Edwin paused, looking around the room as though searching for something or someone. “I’d like you to take a look around and familiarize yourself with the place. I need to find a friend first, to introduce you to.”
Thane grumbled, the sound coming out more like a growl.
Edwin always did this. Stalling for time, forcing Thane to stay longer than was necessary. Only this time, Thane might crack. He clenched his fists, grinding his teeth to reign in the beast within.
Edwin paid no attention to him. Instead, he passed Thane a mask and smiled, pulling his own regal cat mask down over his face.
Thane raised a brow as he accepted the gift, rubbing his fingers over the soft leather, admiring the subtle shades of blue that blended flawlessly with the black. A wolf.
“Why bother now? Almost everyone here has already seen my face?”
“The hunters live here, Thane. This party is a sham. An excuse to scout for new members,” Edwin whispered, leaning in close as he adjusted his suit. “We need them to believe we’re the same as everyone else here. Besides. It suits you.”

Thane exited the room, leaving Edwin to his agenda while he began to roam the halls, familiarizing himself with the building like he'd been asked. He would rather leave the party now to find out why he was here, but the old man had insisted on finding his friend first.
Who could this person be? Why would Edwin be close to someone at a hunter's party?
Thane stomped through the halls, his muscles tense and his jaw clenched shut. How long did he have to be here?
He wanted to get away from all these people. From this town that held nothing but painful memories.

He should be searching for traces of Lucas, not here; not at a hunter’s party. He longed to be in the open, running in the woods. The cool dirt beneath his paws. The scent of pines drifting to his nose as he roamed free and wild.
Thane closed his eyes and took a deep breath, soon wishing he hadn’t when the noxious perfumes cloying in the air nearly choked him; all hints of that honeysuckle scent vanished.
Continuing to push his way through the crowds, grumbling with each step, Thane spotted another member of the Guard in the distance. The alliance created to protect the Lore from hunters and humans, both Edwin and himself were a part of.
There was no mistaking Tynan with his wavy, surfer blond hair that brushed the collar of his shirt and that wide grin which made women melt. He was a charmer. A real ladies man. Not at all fussy when it came to claiming someone for the night.
Thane took a step toward him, ready to ask him why they were both here, when he noticed the young girl; his view of her partially blocked by Tynan. She was a pretty little thing. Long, raven black hair and big blue eyes, but she was human. Thane scoffed, wrinkling his nose when he saw Tynan stroking the girl’s face, touching his fingers on her lips and whispering in her ear. The girl stood no chance against his charms.
Thane shook his head, muttering as he turned and walked away.
Several guests turned to glare at him as he barged his way through, but none of them dared to stop him or say a word.
He paused. That same honeysuckle scent from before drifted to his nose. Faint, but definitely there.
Instinct took over, forcing his feet to move without any conscious thought.
With each step, the fragrance grew stronger, spurring him forward as his pace quickened. The sensation of something pulling at him surged through his body, the animal within now wide awake, guiding his feet.
The pull became more powerful. A feeling unlike anything he’d ever felt before.
His heart raced. His long strides making it appear as though he were running through the halls, shoving other guests out of his way. He needed to find the source of this overwhelming feeling coursing through him.
His body ached, his throat burning as he struggled to catch his breath.
He wanted to stop, fearful what would be waiting for him around the next bend, but the animal was in control now, urging him forward, becoming impatient and needy.
Thane collided with a soft body and heard a loud thud as it hit the floor. He looked down to see a young woman in a heap before him.
“Sorry,” he apologised, rolling his eyes as he reached down to help her up. “I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“It’s alright. I wasn’t paying attention either,” the woman replied, looking up at him through thick black lashes; her voice like music to his soul.
She reached out, her emerald eyes locking with his as she took a hold of his hand. The contact took his breath away as a jolt of electricity surged through his body, straight to his groin. He pulled her to her feet, continuing to stare at her in disbelief.
That nagging sensation luring him through the halls vanished. The beast within him now still. Silent and content for the first time since he’d arrived back in town. Was it searching for her? Impossible. She was human. Possibly even a hunter.
It may not be unheard of for a shifter to take a human mate. Hell, his best friend had. But Thane would never trust a human again. Not when they had destroyed his home and took everything from him. But when he looked at the woman in front of him, his heart clenched. How could this beautiful creature be his enemy?
His eyes drifted lower to her black dress that was tight around her middle, pushing her breasts forward until they looked like they might spill over. He would be only to happy to catch them if that should happen. Her creamy skin screamed for him to taste; to touch.
He shook his head vigorously. What was he thinking? He couldn’t lose himself to his desires. Not with her.
Thane forced his attention back to her face, and away from a body that was beginning to reawaken the beast, but it did little to douse the fire building in the pit of his stomach.
Her hair was down, just the way he liked it. Shimmering like fine silk. The long, rich, burgundy waves framed her face and he longed to run his fingers through it.
Faint freckles dotted over her button nose and high cheekbones, drawing his attention as she gave him a nervous smile.
He almost broke.
Those full red lips were so tempting and inviting. He leaned forward to taste them, catching himself before he made contact.
Never in his long existence had he been so captivated by a woman.

There were a lot of beautiful women here, but none of them held his interest, not like her. No, there was more to her than a pretty face. Something stronger that called him and made the beast wild.

Who was this woman?

He looked down at her, noticing she too had been affected by their contact. Her heart racing, making her chest rise and fall quickly, drawing his attention once again to her generous bust.

Thane went to leave, needing to put some distance between them when he noticed her rubbing her arm.

“Did I hurt you?” he asked, clearing his tight throat as he continued to watch her. Why it bothered him if he'd hurt her, he didn't know. He'd been pushing people out of his way all evening, but with her, things were different. He felt guilty.

“No, no. I'm fine. Really,” she insisted, pulling a mask over her face.

Like his, her’s was shaped into a wolf. The delicate lace lay in stark relief against her pale skin.
He leaned toward her to examine the mask more closely, stopping mere inches from her face.

Her dazzling emerald eyes looked so familiar as they doubled in size with fear and something else. Desire perhaps.

The rich scent of honeysuckle filled his nostrils, making him close his eyes and take an indulgent breath.

"Interesting mask," Thane commented, reopening his eyes to lock with hers.

"Thank you. A friend gave it to me."

Her face burned red beneath the mask as he traced the edges with his index finger.

She leaned in close and pressed up on her tip toes, brushing her moist lips against his in a fleeting kiss.

“S-sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never-” he cut her sentence short, pressing his lips back against hers, deepening the kiss.
She moaned into his mouth, spurring him on and sending another jolt to his groin.
He needed to stop, needed to control himself. But she felt so right. Like he’d been waiting for her for years.
He curled his hands into tight fists, his sharp nails digging into his palms, forcing himself to step back and break free of the kiss and the passion that consumed him.
The look in her eyes told him she was disappointed, confusing and infuriating him. 

Chapter 2 

What was that? Anya asked herself, raising a shaky hand to her still tingling lips.

She'd never kissed a man first, especially not like the one she now watched speeding through the halls away from her; but an overwhelming urge to kiss and touch him forced her to act.

What a fool.

She thought he'd desired her too, mistaking that look in his eyes for a hunger matching her own; when in fact it was something else.

As he disappeared around the bend in the distance, she couldn't help but think she'd offended him.

But why had he returned her kiss?

She leaned back against the wall, tracing her kiss swollen lips with her fingers. Even now she could feel his lips pressing firmly against her own. Could feel the faint stubble that dusted his chin tickling and scratching her face as he deepened the kiss further.

He wasn't interested in her, that much was clear. But then why couldn't she stop thinking about him?
She looked down at the hand she’d touched his with and frowned. The feeling of electricity buzzed beneath her skin, spreading up to her wrist. She touched it with her other hand and gasped. Tiny pinpricks erupted up and down her arm making her vision blur and her ears ring loudly. She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, trying to gain control of her racing heart.
“Anya,” someone called from down the hall, breaking her concentration on her breathing.
“Anya,” the call grew louder.
She reopened her eyes and stared down the corridor, searching for a face she recognised in the cramped halls.
“There you are,” her friend shouted, her voice loud and shrill to Anya’s still ringing ears. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. I was beginning to think you’d abandoned me.”
“Sorry, Keri,” Anya replied with a forced smile.
Something wasn’t right. A simple kiss shouldn't have affected her so drastically. Who was that man?
Anya took one last glance down the corridor in the direction her mystery man had fled and sighed.

Would she ever see him again?

Trying to keep up with Keri as they made their way to the main hall was impossible.

Keri barged her way through, elbowing and shouting at those who got in her way. Anya was the opposite. Quiet, slipping into gaps as they appeared, ducking and weaving in between, excusing herself when she did bump into anybody. Not that they seemed to notice. It was packed. They probably didn’t even realise she'd touched them with how close they stood together.

In the distance Anya spotted Keri's head bobbing up and down as the gap between them increased. She tried to pick up her pace, squeezing her way past, but it was no use. Keri's blonde head disappeared.

Anya reached the end of the corridor and paused, looking left and then right. Which way could she have gone? There was no sign of her anywhere.

She bit down on her lip and clung to her necklace, hugging herself close.

Not again. She'd already gotten lost once tonight; she didn't want to be alone again.

What she wouldn't give to be home now, curled up on the sofa with a good book rather than surrounded by people she didn't recognize.

She hoped she would see a few familiar faces, but the only one she knew, she'd just lost in the crowds.

What was she going to do now?

Anya squeezed tighter on her chain and took a deep breath. It was no use. She'd have to make a decision.

She took a right, hoping to catch a glimpse of Keri up ahead, or at least find a room less cramped and loud like the halls.

"Anya?" Keri called from behind her, forcing her to spin around and bump into a boy next to her. He caught her, correcting her on her feet and smiled down at her. Only he wasn't smiling at her face. No, he was looking down at her chest, his wide eyed grin a dead give away as he leaned in closer, an overpowering aroma of vodka seeping from his mouth.

Anya hugged herself tighter and hurried toward Keri, glad she'd turned up when she had.

"You're white as a sheep. What's up?"

"I thought I'd lost you again," Anya admitted, tugging on her dress in a vain attempt to cover herself as she looked back at the boy who still watched her, nudging and whispering with his friends.

"Stop it," Keri insisted, swatting her hand away. "You'll stretch the dress."

"You're smaller than me. This dress is too tight and people keep staring at me. I knew this was a bad idea."

"They're just jealous, so stop squirming."

Anya forced a smile but continued to fuss with the dress despite Keri's protest.

She wasn't used to wearing something so revealing, but Keri hadn't stopped pestering her until she caved. According to her, none of Anya's clothes were suitable for a masquerade ball.

If it was a few years back, it wouldn't have mattered. Their sizes were similar. Now, Anya was curvier, filling the dress to the maximum. It was a surprise she could even breathe. Keri was taller, standing almost a foot higher than her. Normally it bothered Anya how short she was against her friend, but right now, she was grateful. The dress was already short, stopping half way up her thigh. If she'd been as tall, it would barely cover her.

"Stop fussing," Keri scowled over her shoulder. "You're not going to make a good impression if you don't stop fidgeting."

"I'm sorry, but I'm really uncomfortable."

Keri just shook her head and grabbed a hold of her hand, pulling her through a large archway.

Anya's mouth fell open in awe.

The hall they'd been searching for was massive, taking her breath away.

A swarm of people filled the room, their masked faces glowing ice blue in the moonlight shining in through the high glass ceilings. The night sky bright with glistening stars.
The familiar scent of mulled wine filled the air around her as candles burned on each table scattered around the room. A beautiful Celtic song played in the background, loud but not deafening like most of the other rooms around the house. It was almost peaceful here.
“Keri,” a male voice called from behind them.
Anya turned around quickly causing her head to spin. She steadied herself on a nearby table and closed her eyes as a wave of dizziness washed over her.

Reopening her eyes, she came face to face with a stranger.
“Who’s this?” he asked Keri, continuing to stare at her beneath her mask.

Anya could feel her cheeks burning as he leaned even closer, not caring a bit about her personal space. His nose almost brushed hers, his warm breath tickling her face.
She thought he was going to kiss her like the man upstairs, only she didn’t have the urge to kiss him.
He was quite handsome with his short, light brown hair spiked up on his head in an almost military fashion. She wondered whether it would be prickly beneath her fingers. His dark eyes looked like chocolate, twinkling when he flashed her a dashing smile which lit his whole face; she couldn’t help but smile back. Yes this stranger was handsome, but he didn’t make her heart soar or her stomach flutter.
“That’s Anya. She’s the friend I mentioned to you the other day, the one who’s just moved back,” Keri replied, wrapping her arms lovingly around the neck of another man Anya could only assume was Chase, her boyfriend.
“Oh? My name is Hugh. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
He took her hand and placed a kiss on her knuckles with an old-fashioned charm.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest when she snatched her hand away and cradled it against her, rubbing as pain spread up her arm.
“S-sorry. I think I hurt myself earlier when I fell.”
“Wait. What? You didn’t tell me you fell over.”
“You didn’t exactly give me much of a chance,” Anya muttered, still clinging to her arm.
To her surprise, Hugh burst out laughing and moved even closer, draping his arm across her shoulders like he’d known her years.
“She can get a bit carried away can’t she?”
“Hey. I’m right here,” Keri scowled, punching Chase’s chest playfully. “Aren’t you going to defend me?”
“You’re tough enough to look after yourself. You punched that guy earlier because he pinched your arse.”
“He had it coming. But that’s not the point.”
Hugh shook his head as Keri and Chase continued to bicker between one another and turned to face Anya with a smile on his face.
“Would you like some ice?”
“Pardon?”
“For your hand.”
“No, no. I’ll be fine. Thank you.”
“Alright. Let me take a look,” he insisted, not waiting for her to agree.
He took her hand, causing her to bite down hard on her lip to keep from screaming. The metallic taste of blood filled her mouth and the edges of her vision began to fade. She shook her head and fought against the feeling she was falling, snatching her hand back and rubbing at her sensitive skin.

“Hurts that much, huh?” he asked, brushing his thumb over her lip, causing her to shudder and wince.
Anya brought a hand to her now stinging lips and gasped, noticing the blood that stained her fingers. Had she really been biting so hard?
Her pulse beat loudly in her ears, her heart racing. Hugh spoke again but she couldn’t make out the words. Everything around her sounded muffled as though she heard it through a wall of water.
Hugh reached out his hand and placed it on her shoulder trying to gain her attention and support her as she swayed on unsteady feet, but the contact felt like a branding iron against her skin.

She clenched her fists tight, creating moon shaped dents in her palm as the feeling of flames spread their way across her arms and torso. Her whole body burning as though encased in fire.
Anya moved away from him, aiming for the open patio doors.
With each step, her throat constricted tighter, her breaths coming out choppy and laboured.
What was this feeling?
Sweat shimmered on her skin as she pushed her way through the crowds, her hands trembling as she neared the doors.
Suddenly strong arms wrapped around her waist from behind in an unbreakable cage, holding steady as her head lolled to the side and the world around her faded black.

Anya awoke to a different kind of heat wrapped around her as she was held against a large, firm chest.
The wind swept over her fevered skin, blowing her long hair across her face, tickling her nose and sticking to her glossed lips. She craved to brush it aside, but her limbs felt heavy and lethargic, the steady beat of this stranger's heartbeat lulling her back to sleep.
She fought against it, shaking her head and cracking open her eyes to look up at the man carrying her.
Who was he?
Not a single street light was lit, his features shrouded in darkness. Except for his eyes, shining bright like sapphire orbs.
This must be a dream. His eyes couldn’t possibly be glowing.
Another gust of wind blew across her face; the scent of musk and pine filling her nostrils, making her inhale deeply.

She tried to sit in his arms, only to be pushed back again with a sigh.

Her eyes watered and blurred, the darkness creeping in once again. She tried to fight against the pull, but it wasn't enough. Her vision faded to black.

Anya’s eyes flickered open for a second time. The familiar sights and scents of home greeting her.
She sunk deeper into the worn out sofa and sighed.

She'd never fainted like that before. What was wrong with her?

Covering her eyes from the burning light above her, she moaned and rubbed her aching head. Only she wasn't alone like she'd first thought.

Goosebumps erupted over her flesh everywhere his eyes lingered, sending an uncontrollable shiver down her spine. Not a pleasant feeling like she'd imagined it would be to have someone stare at her so intently.

She turned to face the room, searching for him, forcing herself into a seated position, her eyes still blurry with dizziness.
“I wouldn’t do that just yet if I were you,” he groaned, pushing to his feet and taking a step toward her. “You still look pale. I don’t want you to faint on me again.”
Her cheeks burned red. What a fool she must have looked. Everyone probably thought she was drunk.
She forced herself to focus on his face as he drew closer.

His eyes caught her attention first, seeming to glow in the dull light like they had outside. She froze to the spot unable to break eye contact, feeling like prey to a hungry animal. Then she noticed that strong square jaw, dusted in stubble and marked by a dark scar that cut across his sensual mouth.
The mystery man from upstairs.
He'd been the one to catch her, bring her home and wait for her to awaken.

Her face reddened as she thought of how pathetic she must look. How much of an idiot she'd made of herself for a second time.
He opened his mouth to speak, only to close it again and look away.
“H-how did you know where I lived? Where's Keri?” she asked when he walked past her, pausing to lean against the wooden frame of the door as she spoke.
“Edwin,” he replied, choosing not to answer her second question.
“You know Edwin?”
“Yes.”
She made a sound of frustration under her breath when she realised he wasn't going to elaborate further.

Why was he making it so difficult?
This man was infuriating, yet she couldn’t stop herself craving him. Just the sight of him filling her door frame, propped against the wood made her mouth water and her fingers tingle with the need to touch.
He was huge, easily over six foot and at least two hundred pounds of solid muscle. His legs like tree trunks, straining against the tight confines of his black trousers. She could easily see the ropes of muscle across his chest and stomach defined beneath his thin white shirt.
Finally she forced her attention away from his body and up to his face. She blushed and licked her lips as she remembered the kiss they shared. He watched her every move, his nostrils flaring and his deep blue eyes glowing brighter than humanly possible.

Unease crept over her skin, but she continued to watch him. That same feeling of goosebumps erupting over her as a shiver made its way down her spine.
“You need rest," he said, his voice rumbling in his chest, his eyes on her skin, burning.
This was a man she should be cautious of. But when he looked at her with those amazing, yet terrifying eyes, it was hard to remember why.

Chapter 3

It wasn’t wise to leave her alone after she’d fainted, but Thane knew he couldn’t stay around her any longer, not with her scent of lust flowing to his nostrils begging him to finish that kiss.

Thane stepped out into the cool air and rested his head against the wooden door behind him.
How is it possible for this girl to be affecting him like this, making him lose control?
He growled and stepped down from the porch.

There was something different about her, something that called to him like nothing else. The wolf clawed at his insides, fighting to be free. With each step it fought him to turn back. To confront her. To take her.

He growled louder, furious with fate for sending her to him now.

"A human," he scoffed, glancing back over his shoulder.

He couldn't allow himself to be driven mad with lust over a female, let alone a human one who could very well be a hunter.

No. She couldn't be. Edwin wouldn't know a hunter like he seemed to know her. But then, why was she there? Why were any of them there?

Thane clenched his fists, turning his knuckles white and punched a nearby wall. The plaster cracked, exposing the brick beneath as the cloud of dust settled to the floor. But it wasn't enough.
No matter how much he told himself it was a bad idea. No matter how much he insisted she couldn't be his, the wolf fought to return to her, hungry.
The sweet scent of her lingered on the breeze forcing him to turn, expecting to see her behind him. She wasn’t. He sniffed the air once more and frowned. It was coming from him.
Thane turned and began to run toward Edwin’s in search of answers.
Taking a quiet route on the outskirts of town, he sprinted through thick woods knowing the path would lead to the old man’s backyard.
Still he fought every instinct not to run in the opposite direction, his muscles aching as he pushed them harder, fighting against the wolf inside, sweat gleaming on his skin under the moonlight.
He dodged and weaved through trees, easily maneuvering past branches and trunks. Leaping over a fallen log, his body erupted in black fur that shimmered dark blue in the light shining through the broken canopy of trees. His bones and muscles rearranged themselves under his skin as he landed on four paws on the other side. His canines grew into fangs, dripping with saliva, his blue eyes glowing wildly as he searched his surroundings before taking off once again.

The tree’s became more sparse. The strong aroma of flowers and bushes tickling his nose. He didn't remember the journey from town being quite so quick.

Looking up at the house before him, Thane couldn't help but compare it to hunters bleached home.

Edwin's house was beautiful, blending in with its wooded surroundings. Everything about it natural, from the stone walls and wood panelling, to the handcrafted furniture. Even the water and electrics were sourced from nature.

A complete opposite to the large, unnatural and modern house the hunters called their own.

As Thane stepped through the backdoor, into the kitchen, he transformed back into his human self. The transition from man to beast, and back again, had never bothered him. From a young age, he’d learnt to control the change with ease and as he grew older, the process became faster and less painful. Now he could change in a matter of seconds, the feeling almost a pleasure.

He continued through the kitchen, helping himself to some of the food laid on the table.

A pair of jeans lay draped over the back of one of the chairs. Clearly, Edwin was expecting him.
Thane entered Edwin’s study, brought there by the scent of apple and cinnamon; a scent everyone who knew the old man associated with him due to his obsession with the unusual concoction.
Still pulling on his jeans, fastening the buttons, Thane spotted Edwin seated at his desk, leaning over a pile of papers.
“I take it Miss Shaw arrived home safely?” he asked, never bothering to look up from his work.
“No, Edwin. I left her in a ditch somewhere once I had my way with her,” Thane paused, waiting to gauge Edwin's reaction. He didn't even flinch. “Of course I took her home. I even waited for her to wake before I left.”
“She was alright?”
“Fine. A little wobbly. Not that I understand why you care. She’s human,” he scoffed, crossing his arms over his bare chest as he leaned against the bookcase behind him.
“Not all humans are the same. You of all people should know that. Just look how close you and Amelia were.”

“She was different,” Thane growled, irritated that Edwin would bring her name up now. “She earned my trust over the years.”

Finally looking up from his papers, Edwin mirrored Thane’s stance as he leant back in his chair.
Much like himself, Edwin was a large man, but when he looked at Thane like that, there was no mistaking this man was head of the Guard.
“What’s the problem, Thane? Don’t you like the girl?”
“This has nothing to do whether I like her or not. I just don’t get why you felt I should deal with it. Why would you think she’s safe with me?”
“You may have a fiery temper, Thane. But you’d never hurt an innocent girl, whether you were in a rage or not.”
Thane grunted. He knew how bad he got when the animal took control and his human mind was lost. Things ended bloody. Many of the Guards feared him, and so they should. He scared himself sometimes. Even Edwin struggled to hide his fear when Thane lost his temper.
“Besides. When you ran across the room to catch her as she began to fall, I saw the fear in your eyes.”
“I only caught her because I felt responsible. I told you I knocked into her upstairs. It’s probably why she fainted,” Thane replied through clenched teeth, stepping toward Edwin, pounding his fist down onto the table in front of him.
Thane knew he was lying to himself, but he couldn’t admit he was unable to take his eyes off her. All the signs she was about to faint as panic consumed her forced him to step into action. He couldn’t just let her fall in the middle of the room. He wasn’t a monster. Not yet.

“Why am I here, Edwin?” he asked, pinching the bridge of his nose between his thumb and fingers. He didn’t need reminding that he couldn’t stop thinking about her. Even now she was at the forefront of his mind when all he should be worrying about was why he was here.

“The hunters are recruiting again, Thane. Their numbers are flying out of control but I don’t know how they’re getting the people,” Edwin replied, rummaging through the stacks in front of him. “In the last month, they've recruited over twenty new members in a ten mile radius.”
“How is that possible?” Thane asked, slumping down into the chair next to him, taking the piece of paper Edwin offered.

“That’s what I can’t work out. They must be using scare tactics or showing humans proof of our existence. That's why I need you."

"Why not tell me this sooner? If I'd have known at the party, I could have asked around."

"It wasn't safe to talk there."

"Then why ask me to meet you there in the first place?" Thane growled, scrunching the paper in his fist.

He knew there had to be a reason why Edwin planned to meet him there. Nothing Edwin did happened by chance. Everything down to the last detail was arranged. But why a hunter's party of all places? He didn’t understand.

"I knew that Anya would be attending and I wanted to keep an eye on her, make sure she wasn’t sucked into a trap."

How could this girl be of importance to him? What reason could there be to care whether one human girl joined the hunters when they were recruiting dozens more?

"I swore to protect her and I will. That is all you need to know right now."

Thane pushed out of his chair, causing it to crash against the floor.

"Remember, Edwin. You were the one who asked for my help," he snarled heading for the exit. "Keeping information from me when I'm supposed to be your heir isn't the way to win my loyalty."

Thane stormed from the house in more of a foul mood than when he entered.

He'd hoped that talking with Edwin would take his mind away from the girl and that he'd have the answers he was looking for, but all he felt now was a combination of rage and curiosity.

There had to be more to this girl; a reason Edwin was determined to protect her.

One way or another, Thane swore he'd find out.

……….

Anya couldn’t sit still. Her body ached for a release she didn’t understand.

Everything around her seemed new and different, as though seeing it for the first time.
She was used to meeting large and intimidating men from her time around Edwin, meeting his friends and colleagues, but every instinct inside warned her that the stranger she'd bumped into was different.

She found herself texting Edwin, asking him to pop round before she'd been aware her phone was in her hand.
“No, taking it back now,” she grumbled, flinging her phone onto the sofa, heading to the kitchen to pour herself some hot chocolate. She needed something to help calm her nerves.
A loud knock hammered on her front door, making her jump out of her skin, spilling chocolate powder all over the floor. She sighed loudly, placing the jar on the worktop and headed for the door.
“That was fast,” she called, pulling open the door, expecting to come face to face with Edwin.
The man in front of her was nothing like him.
Edwin was a kind and gentle man, who had always treated her like family. He always smiled and helped those in need. She loved him like the father he'd been to her.
This man certainly didn’t look friendly.

Her heart raced as she watched him, clenching tightly on the chain around her neck when he moved forward, stepping into the light that poured from her open door.

His long, thin and angular face curved into a cruel and menacing smile, drawing her attention to a deep, pale scar that cut across his features.

His left eye appeared white, as though sightless, yet it followed her as she took a step back, her hands trembling.
“Good evening, Miss Shaw. My name is Richard Grosvenor, Hugh’s father,” he smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. His tone sounding dead like the eye he watched her with. “When he told me what happened, I had to come and check you were alright.”
“I-I’m fine,” she stammered as her muscles tensed and her body shook uncontrollably. “Thank you for asking. But you didn't need-”
“I make it my business when somebody faints at one of my parties,” he interrupted, taking another step toward her, the smile on his face disappearing when she clutched at the door handle. “Who was it that brought you home?”
“I don’t know.”
“Come now, dear, I’d like to thank the man properly,” he replied, tapping his foot on the floor. She thought she saw his hands clench briefly, but the movement was so quick, she wasn’t sure whether she'd imaged it.
“H-he never told me his name.”
“Oh,” he paused, looking behind him as though he heard a noise.
When he turned back to her, his good eye had faded to a lighter shade of brown, almost resembling the other.
"Hugh seemed quite taken with you. Be sure to let him know when you're feeling better."

She nodded, hoping that if she agreed, he would leave. He didn't need to know that she had no intention of seeing Hugh again, especially not if it meant seeing him again.

"Such a pretty girl," he whispered raising his hand to her face and stroking a long, slender finger down her cheek. He cupped her chin and tilted her face to the light. "Shame about those eyes."

She could hear the pounding of her heart in her ears as she cringed and tried to pull away from his bony fingers.

Finally he released her, his lips curving into that same hollow and menacing smile as before.

"I'll see you again, my dear," he called over his shoulder as he walked away, the click of his boots tapping on the floor echoing inside her head.
Anya loosened her grip around her necklace and released a long, slow breath to ease the tension in her shoulders.
Never had she met someone who terrified her like that. She just prayed she would never have to see him again; knowing instinctively that she wouldn't be so lucky. 

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