Chapter Two – Lost and Found
Nicholas was in a foul mood and it seemed like the day would get worse before it got better. His day had started badly and gone progressively down hill. It had all started when his alpha had ordered him to escort the last of the air elementals onto their lands. At any other time he would have been happy to comply with his leader’s orders but he’d planned to go hunting that morning, desperate to release the more dangerous of his animal impulses. Beta to the entire lycan species, his aggressive instincts could overrule the logical side of his mind until there was nothing left but the desire for violence unless he took sanctuary in the woods.
Unfortunately for those around him he hadn’t taken to the forest in weeks. Whenever he set time aside to hunt, something came up that required his attention. The integration of the air elementals into lupine packs was his latest headache. With Connor preoccupied with his pregnant mate Adele, most of his responsibilities had fallen on Nicholas’ shoulders and the burden was a heavy one. Only his loyalty to Conner had kept him from shedding the mantle of responsibility that had been thrown over his shoulders. But weeks of being trapped meant that his anger was almost at its boiling point.
He’d planned to simply go to the air elemental village, march them back to their territory and put their new residents out of his mind until after he’d gone hunting. His plan had been short lived. As soon as he arrived at their village he’d smelled the most mouth-watering scent he’d ever encountered and was instantly obsessed. His gut had tightened as though someone had punched him and his lungs had constricted so much that it was difficult to breath. In that moment nothing had been more important than tracking down the source of the smell. It had been a struggle not to abandon his post and his men. Only his strong will and undying loyalty to Connor had kept him from doing so.
Being unable to surrender to his mind’s desires had put him further on edge and his sour mood had blackened even further. Throughout the journey from the air elemental village to the clan he’d tried to spare others his wrath by tracking the scent as they moved but it was the most elusive thing he’d ever followed. It moved fluidly through the sky, veering randomly and quite often going back on itself and floating about in lazy circles. It was the most frustrating thing he’d ever felt not to be able to track it down and find out what was driving him to distraction.
His black mood hadn’t improved until they were nearing home. The scent, whatever it was, seemed to gain a sense of purpose and it was to Nicholas’ utmost joy that it was heading in the same direction that they were travelling in. Their end destinations had to be the same. Their pack housed both the alpha and the beta and was surrounded on all sides but one by a mountain range. There was nothing beyond their pack but cold snow and frozen wasteland for miles. A smile had flitted across his firm lips when he realised it wouldn’t be as hard as he’d thought to track the scent down. The smile and the temporary calm that had filled him quickly morphed into annoyance when the scent faded even as they continued on. Thankfully his men knew better than to approach him when he was so obviously infuriated and had said nothing when he began pushing them harder, desperate to complete his task and return to tracking the scent.
Even with the snow covering the short stone slabs that marked the start of the village, Nicholas knew the exact moment he stepped back onto his home territory. A sense of peace began to pervade his tired mind and he sighed in relief. His steps became easier when they walked onto the main path that led to the alpha’s sprawling dwelling. The path had been shovelled recently, snow piled up on either side of the walkway. Various wooden cabins ranging in size from small shacks to magnificent dwellings covered the earth as far as the eye could see. They were constantly building in preparation for an ever growing pack and he knew their workload would increase now that they had to give most of their empty accommodation to the air elementals. More cabins would have to be built for mated pairs to move into and begin their lives together. Even as the thought floated through his mind, he felt the usual empty ache in his chest when he thought about his future. He had no mate and though he’d searched desperately for her he was no closer to finding her. When his thoughts fell to his errant mate, his mood soured even further.
The village had been abuzz with activity and he watched everything through cold grey eyes, constantly on the look out for potential problems. His people were everywhere, trying to help the bewildered air elementals find suitable accommodation and guiding them to their new homes. No one could ever fault lycan hospitality and as he watched his people competently deal with the new arrivals he felt pride take the edge off his black disposition. Confident that he could leave the air elementals he’d guided in the hands of his people, Nicholas turned to leave. He was well aware that the scent he was so desperate to track down was so light that it wouldn’t linger in the air for long.
“Beta,” a voice began softly, a hand on his shoulder stopping him from simply disappearing from sight. Snarling angrily, he turned to look at one of his men, his hard grey eyes making the young man gulp nervously in fear.
“What?” Nicholas barked, running a hand over his shaven head. Fear struck the messenger dumb and he stood in front of Nicholas unable to do more than shake in terror and stare into his intense grey eyes. A low growl filled the air as Nicholas stepped forward eliminating the distance between them. “You speak now or I take your tongue and make sure you never speak again.”
The threat forced the man into action. “There’s a problem sir.”
He sighed heavily, closing his eyes and gazing at the heavens as he cast a silent prayer for strength. “What is it?”
“There’s a frantic woman who says she can’t find her daughter.”
“Lycan or elemental?”
Nicholas groaned. He’d known that inviting the air elementals to live with them would cause him nothing but grief but Connor had been determined to sign a treaty, confident that it was for the good of both of them. Luckily for him he had a mate to take care of and everyone knew and understood that caring for a mate took precedence over other matters. Nicholas however had no such luxury. The familiar pain in his chest returned, darkening his mood again.
“Kill her,” he instructed simply.
“I said kill her.” He turned away, washing his hands of the entire incident. “I’m not in the mood to deal with an over emotional elemental. If she can’t control herself then I’ll control her permanently.”
“But the treaty beta…”
Spinning on his heel, Nicholas eliminated the distance between them in a single fluid motion. “Are you questioning me?” he demanded.
Eyes wide he shook his head. “No beta, of course not.”
“I hate it when people question me. I gave an order and I expect it to be carried out. Kill her.”
“Of course beta. I just thought that alpha Conner would want us to –”
“Conner isn’t here,” he interrupted roughly. “I am and when I give an order…”
“You expect it to be carried out.”
“You’re learning.” When the messenger turned to execute his orders his words floated through Nicholas’ mind. His anger grew when he realised the man was right. Conner wanted the treaty to work and killing every air elemental that stepped out of line would definitely hinder his plans. Placing a heavy hand on the messenger’s shoulder he stopped him from going any further. “Where is she?” he barked.
Nicholas’ muscles tensed and expanded with his anger, a clear sign of aggression that the younger man couldn’t help but respond to, mewling weakly. The man before him averted his gaze in a sign of submission fully aware that in his current mood Nicholas could attack at the slightest provocation. Lifting a trembling hand, he pointed over Nicholas’ shoulder. Nicholas turned and was amazed that he hadn’t noticed the commotion before. The winds had been whipped into a frenzy, rattling trees and sucking anyone who got too close into the melee. Standing in the middle of the swirling mass, a small woman screamed, her voice carried far and wide by the wind she so easily commanded.
“Gwen! Gwen!” she sobbed. Her eyes darted around those gathered, trying desperately to find the face she was so eager to find. When her search came up empty she cursed, “I knew we should never have let her go by herself.”
Heavens above give me strength. Connor, I’m laying the blame for this squarely at your door and when Adele gives birth I intend to let you know exactly how I feel about this arrangement you’ve so luckily escaped from dealing with. Taking a deep breath, Nicholas walked towards her unafraid of the tempest. “Calm yourself,” he ordered, when he was close enough for his voice to be heard.
His tone was strong, his voice defying those in the vicinity to challenge his word. If she’d been a wolf she would have calmed immediately unable to resist a direct order from the beta but she wasn’t, she was an air elemental and Nicholas groaned inwardly remembering that fact. The winds died down slightly but his eyes narrowed in anger when he saw that she hadn’t completely complied with what he’d requested.
“Stop this now or I’ll kill you where you stand.” His tone was calm and even, the threat even more deadly for the measured tone of voice. His gaze was steady and intense and soon Madeline turned away from him. The winds around them slowly petered out until there was nothing more than a refreshing breeze blowing through the air. “Good.”
Turning to walk away, Nicholas felt arms wrap around his back and a voice pleading for his help. “Please, my daughter is missing. I need help to find her.”
“Take your arms off me before I remove your arms from you.”
Peeling herself from Nicholas’ frame, Madeline moved to stand in front of him. “I’m begging you. Please help me.”
“Beg someone else,” he said shortly.
“Her life could be in danger. You have to help me.”
“I don’t have to do anything.”
“Do you want me on my hands and knees? Will that make you help me?”
Falling to her knees, Madeline turned pleading eyes up at Nicholas. “My daughter is missing. She said she’d meet us here but I’ve looked everywhere and there’s no trace of her.”
“She must be old enough to take care of herself. She’ll find her way here eventually.”
“You don’t understand,” she sobbed, tears falling down her cheeks. “She could be dead or half way across the world. I should never have left her.”
Why are air elementals so damned emotional? Nicholas groaned. “I doubt she could have gotten that far.”
“You have no idea what she’s capable of,” Madeline murmured to herself.
“And I don’t care,” he breathed, his hot breath feathering over her cheeks.
The winds picked up again, Madeline’s anger overcoming her fear. Unconcerned, Nicholas stood his ground and waited for her to calm down. Minutes later, she crumbled to the ground, sobbing quietly to herself as she realised that her bluster hadn’t worked.
He breathed deeply, dragging Madeline’s scent into his lungs stunned to find that it resembled the elusive scent he’d wanted to find earlier. Frowning he regarded Madeline with cold eyes before he spoke. “I’m going for a run. If I see her I’ll bring her back here.”
“You’ll look for her?”
“I’ll do what I want. If that happens to bring your daughter back to you then you should consider yourself lucky.”
“Thank you. Thank you so much.”
“Stop thanking me and stop causing trouble. I punish people severely for creating problems within the pack. The treaty will only protect you for so long.”
Turning on his heel, he walked away from the woman determined to get out of the village and into the woods. His pace was quick and as he approached the edge of the village he had every intention of leaving and looking for the missing air elemental but he caught a hint of that intoxicating scent. Unable to resist, he inhaled deeply dragging the smell of fresh flowers into his lungs. He’d never smelled anything quite so delicious and against his will his feet began to turn. He ran headlong towards the scent, he doubted he’d ever run so fast in his life but he was determined to reach it.
He stopped where the scent was strongest, his eyes scanning the frozen surroundings desperately for the source of that intoxicating aroma. Taking a moment to calm his racing heart and his frantic mind he let the tracker in him emerge. His centred mind and sharp eyes easily made out the tuft of blonde hair sticking out of the snow. He walked towards it, convinced that if he took his eyes off the hair for even a second he would lose sight of it. He’d never thought that hair could be so blonde that it blended in with the snow but he’d been proven wrong.
He dropped to his knees an ominous sense of foreboding filling him. His hands dug into the snow, pulling the cold body from the ground. When she was cradled in his arms against his chest, he felt his heart leap into his throat. Now that he could see her and smell her properly, there was no doubt in his mind who this slip of a woman was. His mate. Her skin was tinged blue from the cold and when her head lolled against his arm he could make out the distinct impression of teeth, vampire teeth. His grey eyes were suddenly flooded with ice blue as his inner beast sought to avenge the fallen angel in his arms. An angry growl rose within him when he made out another body lying mere feet away from where he’d found his mate. He breathed deeply and when the smell of vampire came back to him he threw his head back and howled.
“You’re going to suffer,” he swore. “I’ll make sure of it.”
Nicholas howled again placing all his authority as beta into the summons. He needed to get his mate back to the village where a healer could look at her but he could hear the vampire’s shallow breathing and knew that if he left, her assailant might escape. If it had been anyone but his mate he would simply have hefted a body over each shoulder and walked back to the village but his mate deserved better. He wanted to wrap her up within his warmth, surround her with his body and use it to protect her. He’d always known that the mating instinct was strong but having never experienced it before he wasn’t quite prepared for the instant loyalty and love he felt towards a woman whose name he didn’t even know.
He found himself examining the woman in his arms, imprinting her every feature in his mind. Despite the fact she was much smaller than the lycan females he was used to he found that she fit perfectly against him. She looked so fragile in his arms that he was instantly worried about breaking her, her bones seemed to be as small and light as a bird’s. He found himself running a fingertip over her cheek, marvelling at the soft skin beneath his calloused hands. From her distinct colouring he knew that she was an air elemental and he made a silent mental note to thank Connor for arranging the treaty. Even unconscious he felt his body reacting to her nearness, his blood heating and his shaft hardening painfully within his breeches.
Her soft lips became tinged with blue, her face paling even further and his heart sunk. He wasn’t well acquainted with the physiology of air elementals but it was clear that while he could barely feel the chill in the air, his mate was suffering because of it. Shifting her carefully within his arms, Nicholas pulled the thin jacket he wore from his body and wrapped her within it, pulling her tight against his chest as he tried to transfer his body heat into her small frame.
“Where are they?” he growled. If it came down to punishing the vampire and assuring his mate’s recovery, he knew there was only one choice he could make even if the thought of letting the vampire live filled him with a rage unlike any he’d ever felt before. He threw his head back again and howled injecting a note of anger and urgency into his call.
Moments passed before he heard the loud pounding of feet racing towards him and Nicholas breathed a sigh of relief when he heard a familiar voice over his shoulder. “Beta, you called.”
“The vampire over there.” He indicated the body with a slight gesture of his head. “Take him to the dungeons. Keep him alive until I see fit to deal with him but make sure he isn’t fed.”
“Beta, we have a treaty with the vampires,” one of his men commented hesitantly. He could see in the tense set of Nicholas’ shoulders that his beta was beyond angry, he was furious.
Frosty eyes stared intently at his men, danger lurking within their depths. “I don’t care,” he said carefully, enunciating each word to ensure his disdain was made clear. “When a vampire attacks my mate then the treaty can be damned!” The eyes of all those gathered fell on Gwen, finally noting the tender way their commander carried the cold air elemental. “Take him to the dungeons or join him. Don’t question my orders. I can punish just him or all of you. I don’t care which but the longer you stand here, blatantly ignoring my orders, the more likely it is that I’ll make the lot of you share his pain. Now go.”
“Of course beta.”
Confident that his orders would be followed, Nicholas raced back to the village, intent on getting his mate to a healer. When he arrived and saw the still weeping form of the woman whose daughter he was meant to find, he remembered the mission he’d initially set out on. When she saw him, his muscles tensed. He wouldn’t go looking for another woman when his mate needed him and he fully intended to tell her.
“Gwen!” she cried, rushing forward her arms outstretched. At the sound of his mate’s name other people flew towards him, their hands tugging at his fragile mate. “Gwen, what happened to you?”
“What have you done to my little sister?” Beth hissed.
“Give her back to us now,” Leah inserted, her small hands tugging at the flimsy material of Gwen’s dress.
“Take your hands of my mate,” he barked roughly, tearing their searching hands from her fragile body. “No one touches her but me and lives to tell about it.”
Stepping forward, John tried to reach for Gwen only to be pushed back by the strength in Nicholas’ arms. He clutched his chest, wheezing in agony at the debilitating pain that was now radiating through his body. His eyes fell to Gwen’s fragile body draped across his chest and fear pushed the pain to the back of his mind. His gentle daughter would never survive being chained to the man in front of him. “That’s my daughter,” he wheezed. “You have no right to keep her from us.”
“I’m her mate. I have every right,” Nicholas said, his tone final. “You’ll find that here that title surpasses all others and even if it didn’t I’m beta. My word is law. I’ll think about letting you see her after she’s seen a healer. Until then I suggest you remove yourselves from my path. I’m not known for my patience and you’re wearing on what little I have.”
Bravely, Leah stepped forward regardless of Nicholas’ threats and ran her hands through the frozen strands of Gwen’s hair. She whispered sadly, “Will you at least tell us what happened to her?”
“I don’t have time to waste telling you what happened. It’s obvious to anyone with eyes that she’s been attacked now stop wasting my time and move out of my way before I make you move.”
“Take her,” Madeline sobbed, stepping back and motioning for the rest of her family to do the same.
Casting Nicholas a scathing look, Beth’s eyes noted the tender way he carried her sister and she scowled angrily. “A word of warning, I’d send her back to us as soon as possible. You don’t know what you’re in for. Trust me when I say in a few hours you’ll be begging us to take her back.”
“Watch your words woman. Don’t think that just because you’re my mate’s sister I won’t kill you where you stand. Gwen is mine now. If anyone or anything tries to separate us they’ve signed their own death certificate. Nothing comes between us and lives. That’s the way of mates. If you want to live here then I suggest you learn the truth about lycans and their mates. Or your life span will shorten considerably.”
“You don’t know what you’ve let yourself in for,” Beth murmured as she pulled away.
With Beth’s ominous words ringing in his ears he turned and ran headlong for the sprawling cabin nestled behind the alpha’s that he called home. He meant every word he’d spoke to Beth. Gwen might be an air elemental but that didn’t change the fact that she was his mate and he wouldn’t be separated from her. A lycan with a mate was a force to be reckoned with because nothing was more important that a mate. Anything that tried to come between them wouldn’t live long.