“Sounds like a positive dream,” Rhea said quickly to cover my reaction. Then she shot me a keep-it-together look.
“It was,” Maisie said. “That stag always scared me.”
Rhea put her hand over Maisie’s. “From the sound of things, it won’t be returning.”
Maisie bit her lip. “I hope not.” She polished off her toast. “I think I’m going to grab a shower and head to my studio.”
“Oh?” Excitement and hope rose in my chest. “Does that mean you had a prophecy?”
“Maybe.” Maisie sighed. “It’s been so long, it’s hard to tell. I’m hoping some time alone with my paints and canvas will help.”
“I think spending an afternoon painting will do you some good,” Rhea said. “Even if you didn’t have a vision last night, maybe the door is open for them now.”
Maisie made a noncommittal sound and rose. “Will you be around today, Sabina?”
I looked up, surprised at the interest. “Actually, I’m beat. I might crash in one of the bedrooms until the sun goes down.”
Maisie frowned. “I thought you said you slept hard last night.”
Shit. “I um.” My brain scrambled for a way to cover my slipup. “I did but Rhea had me up at the butt crack of dawn for training. She wore me out again.” What was one more lie?
“Oh, okay. Well, come find me when you wake up. Maybe we can hang out, if that’s okay with you.”
I stifled a yawn and tried to smile. “I’d like that.”
When Maisie left, Rhea blew out a breath. “That was close.”
“Sorry. I’m so tired my brain feels like oatmeal.”
“She bought it, I think.” Rhea rose and took her mug to the sink. “Listen, before we both crash, we need to talk. What are we going to do if she didn’t have a prophecy?”
I stretched my arms up, trying to stay awake. “You said yourself that the ritual may have opened the door, right? We still have a couple of nights.”
“That’s the problem. We can’t be sure she’ll actually sleep. After all, she managed to hide her sleep strike from us before.”
I lowered my arms and crossed them. “So what do you suggest?”
Rhea turned and leaned back against the counter. “I think we need to keep drugging her.” I opened my mouth to argue but she raised a hand. “It’s the only way to ensure she keeps sleeping.”
“No offense, Rhea, but I’m already in debt to Asclepius. I can’t afford to keep racking up points with him.”
“I’m not suggesting we keep doing the incubations. Just adding a little valerian to her food each night should do the trick.”
“Oh,” I said. “Will taking it that often harm her?”
Rhea shook her head. “No, it’s perfectly safe. She’ll just be so sleepy she won’t be able to keep her eyes open. I wouldn’t suggest it if I thought it would damage her.”
My limbs felt so heavy that I felt like I’d taken valerian myself. “Whatever you think is best. Just promise me that if it looks like she might be having the nightmares again, you’ll stop.”
Rhea itched her nose. “Of course.”
“All right. I’m going to go grab some sleep before I pass out. I’ll check in with you this evening before I head back to the city.”
“I’ll probably be busy. It’s the full moon tonight so I have some rituals to perform.”
I paused. I’d totally forgotten that the full moon was that night. That meant that Mac would be officially mated to the Jersey wolf once the sun went down. Honestly, I was torn about going after my confrontation with Michael. On the other hand, I felt Mac deserved to have at least one ally in attendance. Besides, I knew Adam had been invited. And it was way past time my man and I had a little talk.
The Full Hunger Moon was a pale face in the eastern sky. In front of the stage, two young werewolves knelt in the snow at the feet of their Alphas. The ritual prepared the two males for the process of accepting their promised mates.
From what I could tell, the one on the right was Logan Remus, the New Jersey werewolf Mac had been promised to. He had long black hair with a single white streak that fell to the right of his face. Judging from the coy smiles and longing glances sent his way from the young females in the audience, he was considered quite a catch. But I doubted Mac agreed.
The crowd held its collective breath as the Alphas smeared goat blood on the foreheads of the young males. The goat that had involuntarily donated the blood roasted over a spit in the large bonfire along with a dozen others.
I stamped my boots into the hardpacked snow and wished I’d chosen a spot closer to the bonfire. I made a mental note to listen to Giguhl next time he suggested I not wear stiletto boots to an outdoor werewolf wedding in the middle of winter. But in my defense, I’d worn them because I wanted to look my best in case I ran into Adam.
When I’d left the mage compound earlier, I’d totally forgotten to check in with Maisie. But I’d seen Rhea on her way to perform the full moon rites. She’d reported that Maisie stayed in her studio all day. As promised, Rhea had slipped some valerian in the meal Maisie had requested be brought to her. The last time Rhea had seen my sister, she was smiling and on her way to bed.
Before I left, Rhea promised to tell Maisie where I’d gone and let her know I’d check in with her as soon as I could. She also confirmed that Adam planned on attending the mating ritual. I hadn’t seen him in the clearing yet, but I could feel his presence like a pulse among the crowd.
Not for the first time, I wished I could have convinced Giguhl to come with me. But after giving me the unsolicited fashion advice, he’d left for a last-minute practice planned with the Marauders. He’d been annoyed when I told him I wouldn’t be able to make it, but once I explained why, he’d relented on his shit talk.
“Be careful, Red,” he said. “It’s one thing to confront a werewolf in a bar full of friends during the waxing moon. It’s something totally different to walk into a werewolf ritual on the full moon.”
I’d tamped down the nerves crawling in my belly. “Don’t worry, G. I’m not looking for a fight. I know I can’t stop the mating from happening. I just… I don’t know. I need to be there for Mac.”
The demon tilted his head down and looked up at me. “Still, if you run into trouble, summon me, okay?”
At the front of the crowd, the Alphas cleansed the blood off the foreheads of the young champions with bits of wool soaked in milk. “What a waste of perfectly good blood,” I said to myself.
A female werewolf standing in front of me in the crowd turned to scowl. I bowed my head in apology. Then I checked my cell phone to see the time. In another fifteen minutes, the entire clearing was going to be filled with hundreds of mooned-out wolves. Not a good time to call attention to myself.
Just then, the two males onstage stood. Given the snow and the frigid February breeze, I wondered what kind of sadist insisted they wear nothing but loincloths made from goat hide. But instead of shivering from the cold, they threw their heads back and laughed at the moon.
A chill ran down my spine at the sound. “What the—”
“It’s a show of strength to prove they’re capable of protecting their future mates,” a deep voice said just behind me. I whipped around to see Adam staring down at me. The breath escaped my lungs in a plume of steam. I hadn’t heard him approach and the surprise caught me off guard. All this time I’d been looking for a chance to talk to him, but now that he stood right next to me, my mind went blank.
It felt like I hadn’t seen him in years, instead of just days. He looked so good it hurt to gaze directly at him. The only sign he was hurting, too, was the guarded shadows in his eyes. I knew I’d put them there and it made my chest contract.
“Hey,” I whispered, brilliant as usual. “Where have you been?”
He shrugged. “Around. Orpheus has been keeping me busy with security issues.”
The prim werebitch turned again to shush us. I left out a frustrated breath. We both turned our eyes back to the stage, but tension zinged between our bodies like lightning. The need to touch him was a physical ache.
The wolf warriors stood proudly, their muscles straining and their nipples as sharp as glass shards. If things had been different, I would have leaned into Adam’s side and teased him about getting him one of those loincloths. Instead, I clenched my fists tight and struggled not to grab him and drag him away to a secluded place where I could show him how damned sorry I was. How much I’d missed him.
“Have you seen Mac?” he leaned down to whisper. His hot breath on my ear made me close my eyes. Unable to speak, I shook my head.
Needing a distraction, I opened my eyes and stood on my tiptoes. I couldn’t spot her among the crowd, but I knew it was only a matter of time before Michael paraded her out for the big event.
“You came alone?” Again with the hot whisper.
I shrugged. “Giguhl had practice.”
“I heard PW left,” he said.
I jerked my head up to look at him. “Who told you?”
His face was solemn, like he was about to admit a secret. “Slade.”
Hearing that name on Adam’s lips made my blood go cold. Had Adam gone to confront Slade? Did they fight? I immediately rejected that idea. Why would Slade tell Adam about Pussy Willow and Georgia’s departure if Adam went there to beat him up? Besides, it wasn’t Adam’s style. I yearned to ask questions about their chat, but a ripple of excitement spread through the crowd.
Now that the preparatory rituals were done, Michael and another male climbed onstage. Judging from the silver at the other male’s temples and his regal bearing, this was the Alpha of the New Jersey pack. The crowd erupted into hoots and applause at the arrival of the Alphas. “We shall now draw the names of the females who shall be mated with these two warriors,” Michael called.