“Do not get caught.”

“Easier said than done Alston,” Disir grumbled.

“If, in all these centuries, Perizada has kept her nosy, trouble-seeking self from being captured, then I assure you it can be done.”

“Mother of pearl and father of wine, it is good to be home,” Jacque groaned as she fell back on the couch in her mother’s house. She couldn’t help but take comfort in the familiar cushions, the way they sunk down from years of use, and the smells that unlocked memories of a childhood filled with love. For just a few minutes as she absorbed the familiarity and normalcy of the moment, she pushed away her worries. She pushed away her worries about Fane, her fear for Jen’s unborn child, the anxiousness caused by the strife between Jen and Decebel, and the pain that her mother was feeling. She was choosing to live in the now, because all too soon, the past and future would come crashing down on her.

“Bloody hell,” Jen yelped. “I just realized something; I’m going to have to see my parents. And though they might not always be the sharpest tools in the shed, there is no way they could miss this,” she said as she rubbed her growing stomach.

And just like that, Jacque was pulled from her brief vacation back into the chaos that had become her life.

“That means I’m going to have to see my parents as well,” Sally nearly whispered as her eyes widened, “They don’t know I’m married, or mated or…,”

“Relax Sally, it’s not like you have ex-virgin tattooed on your forehead. You don’t have to tell them you’re married; there’s no harm in it. You still look as innocent as you did the second before you and your man did the…,”

“Do not finish that sentence,” Jacque growled.

“Fine, but you get my drift.”

After the luggage had been drug into the foyer, each of the women went to the living room and collapsed on whatever surface was available. A haze of exhaustion permeated the air and even Alina seemed caught in its web. But it wasn’t long until the necessity of food roused them.

“I’ll order pizza,” Lilly told them as she pulled her cell phone out of her pocket. “There is no food in the house and if there is I would advise against eating it. Unless it’s a nonperishable,” she added.

By the time the pizza arrived, bathroom times had been established, sleeping arrangements had been made, and threats of bodily harm declared by the not-so morning people. Through all of this, they had somehow managed to keep from talking about anything that had happened. It was almost as if they thought that by not talking about it, then it couldn’t possibly be real. But they couldn’t ignore it forever, and if they had been planning on trying, Cynthia squashed that idea.

“Jacque, Sally, have either of you heard from you mates?” Cynthia asked just as she held a piece of pizza up to her mouth. It was covered in layers of cheese but a little sparse on the pepperoni she noticed with a small frown.

Both girls shook their heads but said nothing.

“Has anyone heard anything from any of your mates?” Cynthia had abandoned her pizza as she waited to hear their answers. Just when she was about to get worried, Crina spoke up.

“Adam says everyone’s alive.”

“Sorin concurs with Adam,” Elle offered.

They all looked at Jen expectantly and waited to hear what her mate had said.

Jen reached out to Dec but found that not only was their bond shut tight, it was also weaker than it had ever been. He had a wall up blocking her from even the smallest hint of his emotions. Her wolf felt panicky at the loss of the connection but Jen refused to allow hysteria to rule.

“I got nothing,” Jen finally said.

Her words seemed to bounce off the walls and reverberate in the small living room. Nobody moved and most of them were doing their best not to even breathe. The silence was broken by the chirp of a cell phone. Without a word they all fished for their phones, trying to identify the culprit. Suddenly a burst of laughter rang out through the room, but there was no humor or joy in it.

“Sit on a brick!” Jen snarled as her laughter died down. “He sent me a text! My freaking mate sent me a text!” Ok, so maybe she was going to let hysteria reign. Hell, it could have a freaking field day for all she cared. Jen read the text for the tenth time.

Dec: U made it

A part of her wanted to smile at the memory of the first and only time they had ever texted before. It was at the Gathering, but the other part of her wanted to reach through the phone and beat the living crap out of him. She knew she should wait until she calmed down before responding, but global warming will have finally melted the ice caps and everyone would be flailing around in life boats trying to survive by the time that happened, so she decided against waiting.

Jen: R u telling me or asking me?

She hated the feeling of anticipation that stirred in her stomach as she waited for his response. Hated that he had so much power over her, and at one time she thought that they were on equal ground, that she too had the power to drive him crazy. Now she wasn’t so sure. The chirp of her phone drew her attention back.

Dec: Just want confirmation.

Jen growled. Way to make me feel like a piece of luggage that you are making sure made it to your next connection B, she thought to herself.

“What does the text say?” Sally asked.

Jen looked up and found herself staring at eight sets of eyes. Her attention had been so focused on her phone that she had forgotten there were other people in the room.

“You made it,” Jen said dryly.

“Is he asking or telling?” Crina asked.

“Exactly what I said.”

“So what did you tell him?”

“I told him if he was referring to the poopy I did on the plane, then yes, I indeed made it.” Jen couldn’t hold back the grin as she watched her friends choke on their pizza and drinks because of her outlandish statement. It was a much needed comic relief. But it didn’t take away the hurt of having her own mate text her when they had a bond that gave him direct access to her mind. Her phone chirped again as the laughter began to subside.

Dec: U r there

Jen realized that she had never responded to his earlier text and as she read his latest text she let out a cackle of laughter worthy of a witch.

“Shut the front door!” Jen guffawed.

“What?” Jacque’s smile dropped as she watched her friend. The others gathered closer around her.

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