Dark Wolf Page 44

“Have no worries, sívamet, I’ll make certain everything is taken care of.”

Dimitri clothed her in comfortable jeans and a soft, long-sleeved shirt. She kept shivering, although she could control her body’s temperature. He took his time, braiding her hair by hand, giving her a little extra time to sort out in her mind what she was going to say to her father.

“I’ll be right beside you,” Dimitri assured her. “You know I would never allow anyone to get ugly with you.”

“Gabriel isn’t like that,” Skyler said. “He’ll be disappointed . . . not angry. I hated lying to my parents. They didn’t deserve it, but I knew they would have tried to stop me.” She turned her head to look over her shoulder at him as he tugged at her hair. “Nothing, no one could have stopped me, Dimitri.”

He stroked his hand down her braid. “I know. Not even me. That’s just one of the million reasons why I love you. You scare me to death with your courage, Skyler, you really do.”

She smiled at him. “I told you, it wasn’t courage, it was selfishness. I wasn’t about to live without you.”

She could turn him inside out without trying. His heart had gone into some ridiculous meltdown. She took the breath from his lungs, made his blood surge hotly and found a way to make him feel the most intense, overwhelming love he hadn’t even known could exist.

There was nothing he could say to her, no words to express how, over the last three years, she had changed his life so completely. She’d given him purpose. Love. A reason to exist. She made every dark day he’d suffered over the centuries disappear. She made every brutal, ugly kill worthwhile.

Skyler. There was no other woman like her. A lump in his throat threatened to choke him. He forced air through his lungs. “Let’s do this.” His emotions were too raw, too intense. At moments like this one, he didn’t trust himself to be alone with her. He wanted her to come to him gradually, to see that a physical relationship was simply another aspect of sharing their lives together. Body. Mind. Heart. Soul.

He hadn’t considered that his gentle initiation would throw him into a firestorm of need or that every moment in her company would increase his love for her and only add fuel to that fire.

“You’ll need clothes, too, my love,” she pointed out gently, stroking her hand down his bare chest. “And don’t think I’m not going to spend a very long time on these wounds of yours the moment we’re alone and in a safer place.”

The intimacy in her voice, that soft, almost husky note sent fingers of desire teasing down his spine, testing his control to his limits. He knew she would use her mouth on him, on each of those chain links from his neck to his ankles. His body shuddered with pleasure at the thought.

Dimitri waved his hand to don his own clothes, making certain both of them were immaculate as he wrapped his arm around her and floated them toward the opening above them.

He wasn’t looking forward to facing her father either, but he wanted to see Fen. Fen had tried to be polite and not touch his mind, not interrupt his time with Skyler, but they’d always looked out for one another and Fen needed to see that Dimitri was alive and well.

Of course, he wasn’t all that well. His insides felt raw and sore. He was far weaker than he’d imagined he’d be or he would have given Skyler blood. They both needed the safe haven she’d spoken of, a place to heal and be alone.

Gabriel and Lucian stood shoulder to shoulder some distance from where Skyler and Dimitri had rested in the ground. They seemed to be studying the western side of the forest carefully, but the moment the couple surfaced, they swung around, sensing their presence.

Gabriel immediately strode toward them, Lucian a step behind. Skyler started to run to her father, but it was impossible, she was too weak. She had to stand, waiting, Dimitri’s arms holding her upright, for her father to reach her.

The moment he did, Skyler went into his arms. “I’m so sorry, Gabriel,” she whispered. “I would never have put you and Francesca through such an ordeal if I felt I had any other choice.”

Dimitri found her choice of words intriguing. He found himself admiring her all the more. He knew she was genuinely sorry for what her parents had gone through, thinking she was dead, but she was also taking a stand, signaling to her father that she was grown up and making her own decisions.

Gabriel’s hard hold on her had to hurt, but she didn’t wince or try to pull away. Her father kissed the top of her head. “We thought you were dead, Skyler. All of us. Everyone. Finding you alive is a miracle.”

Lucian removed her gently from her father’s grasp. “You scared the hell out of us, girl,” he reprimanded. “Meaning no one can possibly get angry with you now that you’re alive.”

Skyler hugged her uncle. “That’s a relief. I was worried I might be locked in my room for a millennium.”

“Gabriel couldn’t lock you in your room for an hour let alone a millennium,” Lucian pointed out.

Even as her uncle teased her, the legendary warriors had their gaze on Dimitri. He didn’t flinch. He’d never been a man to be intimidated, but he suddenly wished he was in a little better shape. He felt Fen come up on his right side. Big brother playing the badass. Fen could look intimidating when he wanted, and right now he was staring the twins down.

Skyler extracted herself from Lucian’s arms and leaned into Dimitri, deliberately, he was certain. She kept her smile as she wrapped on arm around Dimitri’s waist. He felt the slight trembling in her body.

“I asked Dimitri to claim me before I rescued him. I was afraid if I wasn’t successful, he would die. I would have chosen to follow him and I would have been terrified without our souls being bound together.” She looked her father in the eye when she told him.

Gabriel began to shake his head as she spoke.

Lucian put a hand on his shoulder. “It is done, brother. There is nothing to be done for it now. She’s taken the matter out of all of our hands.”

“He could have refused her.” There was a warning in Gabriel’s tone.

“Would you refuse your lifemate?” Lucian asked softly. “She was right to do as she did. Dimitri was in trouble and she went to him. She’s his true lifemate, there’s no denying it.”

“There was every chance I wouldn’t get to him in time,” Skyler said. She reached out a hand to her father. “I can’t live without him. You know what that’s like. If something happened to Francesca . . .”

Gabriel shook his head again. “Don’t say it. Don’t think it.”

“Daddy,” Skyler said, for the first time sounding like a lost child. “I had no choice. You have to see that and understand.”

Dimitri stirred, every protective instinct rising fast. His heart actually ached for her. Skyler needed reassurance from Gabriel. She had done the right thing. All of them knew it, but her father didn’t want to concede that she was old enough to make her own decisions. He didn’t want to let the child go and acknowledge that she was a woman.

Dimitri gathered her closer into his arms, sheltering her body against his. Going openly against Gabriel ran the danger of putting Skyler in the position of defending her father. Still . . . he wasn’t about to allow anyone, even her father, to make her feel so terrible and guilty. Skyler had chosen to save her lifemate. She had been mortally wounded in the process and had undergone the conversion. She desperately needed her father to understand.

“No one else could find him,” Fen said before Dimitri could speak. “Not even me. Whatever they have together is something very special.”

It took a great deal of discipline for Dimitri to stand there silently and allow others to plead their case to Gabriel. He respected the legendary warrior, but he wasn’t afraid of him, and he didn’t feel he owed him an explanation. More, he wanted to lash out and tell the man to see Skyler for who she was, not the frightened child Gabriel had taken in, loved and nurtured.

The walls around them suddenly shimmered, nearly folding in themselves. The ground shivered under their feet and above them, the ceiling seemed to fall and then recoil back into place.

“We don’t have much time,” Tatijana said. “We have to leave tonight—soon.”

Don’t leave your daughter hurting when you know she did the right thing, Lucian advised his brother. You should be proud of her. She did what no other could do.

She’s my baby. Our baby. Francesca’s and mine. Our first. You know what her life was like. There was true pain in Gabriel’s voice. First I give Francesca the news that she lives, and I promised to bring her home, and now I must tell her she’s gone for all time. We had so little time with her. I feel cheated.

You feel fear for her. You cannot control her world or keep her out of harm’s way. That’s your fear, Gabriel. Every father must face it. Look at Dimitri. Really see him. You haven’t even looked at him. What he went through—for her. To stay alive for her. What other man would suffer such a thing?

For the first time, Gabriel allowed himself to look at his son-in-law. His kin. Dimitri’s forehead and neck had the links of chains burned into his skin, nearly to the bone. He could see one layer that had been wrapped around the forehead and three loops around his neck.

His entire body bears these marks. Tatijana and Fen told me that inside his body, every organ and bone was burned as well. He was starved for over two weeks—hung on meat hooks and swung from a tree. He stayed alive—for her. She would have followed him and he knew it, Lucian persisted. This is an ancient hunter of exceptional skill. All know his reputation. Now you see not only his strength and determination, but his love for your daughter forever burned into his body for all to see.

Gabriel brushed his hand over his face. He shook his head. He knew he was being unreasonable. Skyler was in good hands. Dimitri obviously loved her, it was there on his face. He might not be ready for Skyler to grow up, but somewhere along the line she’d done so, maturing into her own woman, gaining confidence and making her own decisions. He couldn’t fault her for that. He knew, as a parent, it was the very thing he wanted for her.

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