Cold air bit along Luna’s bare arms, piercing through the thick layer of sweat covering her flesh. Paris in winter was cold, but in Virginia it was bitter. The leaves on the branches of the trees that surrounded her family home had fallen, disintegrating underneath the thick layer of snow that covered the ground. Only a ring of evergreens encircling the property and down the gravel road that hid them from the rest of the world remained green. Above her head, murky grey skies stretched as far as she could see. Normally teeming with birdsong, the woods that day were eerily quiet. Only the sound of her heavy breathing shattered the silence.
Until a sword swung through the air.
“For crying out loud, Michael!” she shouted, jumping to one side as the sword narrowly missed her shoulder. “You almost hit me with that damned thing.”
“What did you expect, Luna? It’s training. You’re meant to move. You’re meant to strike back. You think the bad guys are just going to stand there until you agree to go with them? No, they’re going to hurt you unless you hurt them back, and the only way you’re going to hurt them is if you shut up and start practising,” Michael growled as he lifted his sword again, ready to strike.
Luna darted to the left, her sword heavy in her hands as she rose it to meet Michael’s. The intensity of the blades striking against each other caused vibrations to run down Luna’s lower arms, and she winced with the pain.
That morning was the first time she had ever held a sword in her hand unless the cardboard one she had made when she was ten counted. It felt strange, heavy, as though the weight of the world depended on her ability to wield it properly.
Which was accurate enough.
It had been four months since a group of mercenaries had attempted to abduct her on the orders of some psychotic werewolf. A prophecy foretold how she would found a new dynasty; if she went willingly with the other pack, the veil that separated Earth and the demon world would rip open, and the world would descend into chaos. However, if she didn’t go, the dynasty she would found would save the world. It was easy enough to say, oh, I won’t go, I’ll just stay with Michael’s pack, but Luna knew there was nothing easy about decisions of this magnitude.
Cassandra, the seer who had warned her of this prophecy, couldn’t tell her much about it. Everything seemed to be about decisions lately, and Luna was getting sick of choices. Like the one about Chase and Pierre.
To say the last several months had been a whirlwind was an understatement. Luna had gone from dating golden-haired lawyer, Pierre, in Paris, also known as Adonis to the secretaries, to falling for the charms of Chase, her brother’s best friend - who just happened to be a werewolf in said brother’s pack. Dumped after admitting her fault, Chase continued to pursue her, his chocolate-coloured eyes making no secret of how much he wanted her.
Finally, the same night she had decided to give into those charms once more, the attacks had begun. But the same night, Pierre had shown up in her hometown declaring that he wanted to give things another go.
It was the same night he had revealed he was a dhampir. Half-human, half-vampire, Pierre was no longer the golden boy of the law firm. As the mercenaries continued with their task of acquiring Luna by any means necessary, he soon showed them what a ruthless, bloody fighter he was. Even now, the image of him tearing into the neck of the sorcerer-werewolf a few months ago, his eyes as crimson as the blood smeared across his lower face, lingered with her. Shivers ran down her spine at the thought, followed swiftly by a sting of pain along her shoulder.
“Damn it, Michael!” she cried out, frustration and anger lacing her voice as she touched the wound her brother had inflicted. “I’m going to be covered in scars before too long.”
Michael stared back, his blue eyes sparkling against the golden warmth of his skin. He should have been cold wearing nothing but black jeans and heavy boots, the temperature below freezing, the sky washed with thin grey light illuminating the clearing where they were practising, but Luna knew how hot werewolf bodies ran. It wasn’t snowing now, but Luna could sense it wouldn’t be too long before it started. His eyes narrowed, and he snorted derisively. “You can just get Pierre to lick them all better,” he remarked sarcastically.
The upside of having a dhampir around to help with training was that every time one of them inflicted a wound, Pierre could heal them. Like full vampires, dhampirs had a coagulant in their saliva. A few drops into an open injury and they were closed, without any trace of what had happened. It made her training easier in one way.
In another way, it made it a pain in the arse. Since the last attack, Luna had found herself training with Michael, Chase and Pierre every single day. Knives, staffs, a hatchet, an axe, a hammer, Michael’s old baseball bat and various everyday household objects. Luna was ordered to train with everything she could get her hands on, no matter how stupid it may be, since whatever was nearby was exactly what could potentially save her life.
It was the only thing that forced Luna to continue with the training. He was right. She’d already helped fight against a goblin, a Fae, phantasms and even managed to kill a werewolf, but she’d hardly scraped the surface of the supernatural world. There were other things out there, and she was, as Michael often repeated, only human. She needed to be stronger and faster than she was now if she wanted to survive.
Luna stared back at her brother, meeting those bright blue eyes. “Stop it,” she warned, her voice taking an edge of command.
“You’re going to have to do something, Luna. You can’t carry on dating both of them for long. Chase’s growling is doing my head in, and the constant bickering between him and your blood-sucker isn’t getting any better.”
Luna released an exasperated sigh. “I’m well aware of that, Michael. Besides, it’s not as though you’ve never dated more than one girl at the same time. Hell, you were dating three women at once only last year!”
“That’s different, Luna,” he remarked, his tone carrying an edge of irritation.
“Why? Because you’re a man and I’m a woman?” she shot back, sneering.
Michael shook his head briefly, his eyes glowing in the greyish light. “No, because the worse that would have happened is a few slaps, hair pulling and maybe a kick to my groin, all of which wouldn’t hurt too badly. But your case is different. Something goes wrong, and there’s at least one less protector to defend you against that pack and god knows what else they’ve got. Besides, you’re my sister. You having more than one guy on the go is kind of strange. Especially since one of those guys is my best friend.”
Luna rose her eyes; a nonplussed look stretched across her face. “But you had no problem dating one of your pack?” she asked.
The mention of the raven-haired werewolf caused Michael’s jaw to harden. Originally, Misty had been part of the Crescent Moon pack, sent to assassinate their father, who had been alpha. Unfortunately, their parents had died in a car crash before Misty could get to them. Michael had been next on her list. Thankfully, Luna and Chase had caught her before Michael had died and she was locked up while he decided what to do with her.
In the meantime, mercenaries were sent, with Misty caught in the crossfire. One moment she was a normal woman, the next she was a living zombie unable to do anything but mindlessly stare out into the depths of some unfathomable abyss. The leader of the mercenaries had freed her and killed two of Michael’s pack. Misty had disappeared somehow during the fight. No one had heard from or about her since. The mystery had unnerved Michael entirely, and no matter how hard he tried to disguise it, Luna suspected there was something more profound behind it.
Not that Luna wasn’t unrattled by it either. Out there, was a woman who had tried her best to kill Michael, the only living relative she had. No matter how much he annoyed her – especially when it came to her dating status – she loved him.
Luna had spent hours mulling over what to do about Chase and Pierre. The sexy werewolf was the contrast of dark to Pierre’s light. Both men were crazy about her, both wanting her heart for themselves. Both men were sin on legs. So, what was a girl to do when temptation looked so good? Why, date both men at the same time, of course!
It had come to a complete shock when Chase and Pierre had agreed to date her. Even Chase’s agreement had astounded Michael. So, every few days, Luna would spend time with either him or Pierre. Sex wasn’t an issue at the moment – she agreed to date them, not to sleep with them both – but each man tempted her in a way she had never known before.
But Michael was right. They couldn’t go on like this for much longer.
Making matters worse was that they knew a new wave of attacks could happen at any minute. The Crescent Moon pack would be ready to start again. The alpha wanted Luna and didn’t care about how much he had to spill to get her.
The realisation of what was to come flooded through her, leaving a trail of fear and helplessness behind. The severity of the situation was far too alarming to ignore. “When do you think they will be here, Michael?” she asked, her voice cracking in the chilly air. The warmth of her body after a hard training session had started to ebb, and the coldness permeating the air was stabbing her exposed flesh.
Michael stood as still as a mountain, the sword clenched in his hand, just a few feet away from her. Those blue eyes, typically bright and mischievous, were as dark as an ocean during a storm. “I don’t think it will be too long, sis. That’s why you need to focus on your training instead of your heart. Or at least listen to it enough to make the right choice.”
Luna swallowed down an uneasy knot in the back of her throat. For four months, there had been nothing - no attacks, no whispers on the wind warning them. It was eerie in a way, but as they had all told her, it was the calm before the storm.
And the storm was coming. Luna could feel it. Despite not being a werewolf or any other supernatural creature, Luna knew it was just a matter of time before they came face to face with a more significant threat than before.
Luna wiped a sweaty lock of pale golden hair from her temple, her hands shaking as she stared down at the snow at her feet. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t help but tremble. “What if my heart doesn’t know, Michael?” she whispered.
Michael took a step forward, his movements graceful despite the upheaved snow coming up to his calves. “Sis, your heart does know. It’s just your stubborn head trying to make it difficult.” A finger under her chin raised her head, forcing her to meet those stormy blue eyes, now calmer than a few minutes earlier. “I know what you’re like, Luna. You like to think things through, follow the logical path and weigh up the options. But sometimes over-thinking gets you into trouble. Your best bet is to ignore logic and go with what you feel.”
Luna stepped forward and embraced her brother, his arms wrapping around her back. This deep, heartfelt side of her brother was something she rarely saw in him. Since the death of their parents and the chaos of the attacks, Michael hadn’t been shy in saying how he felt. There was an air of seriousness about him now; his eyes had seen far too much death for him to remain unchanged. In these last several months, he had grown up. He’d become an alpha. Luna was proud of him.
She rose her head to look at one of the three men she trusted with her life. A small smile played across her face. “I’ll do my best, big bro,” she told him, her voice low and soft.
Michael smiled back. “Good,” he told her as he stepped back from her, his eyes narrowing. “Now do your best to strike me this time.”
Groaning, Luna rose her sword, whipping it around to clash steel with steel. This time, the vibrations weren’t quite so powerful, only going as far as to her wrists before fading. Moving quickly to the side, she held the blade steady in front of her, an undaunted horizon with the metal flashing in the dim light. Michael shifted to meet her, his eyes fixing on hers.
“Don’t forget, the men you’re going to be facing will most likely be werewolves. They’re faster than you, sis, physically stronger than humans,” he told her, his voice calm as he lunged towards her. Luna barely had time to move before his sword sliced through the air. She rose the blade upwards, her grip tightening on the black hilt as she did so. The ring of metal upon metal sounded throughout the clearing. “You’re going to need to be quick, but you won’t be able to outrun them. You’re going to need to outsmart them. Look at their stance. What does it tell you? Their body language is a big giveaway about what they’re going to do. Now try it on me.”
Through narrowed eyes, Luna watched as her brother gracefully circled her. She followed him, her eyes scanning his body. She couldn’t understand what he was about to do until she caught the flicker of movement in his left foot. Just as he veered to the left, Luna lunged forward, her breath frozen in her throat as she stabbed her sword forward, the blade slicing across the back of his hand.
A thin spray of blood spurted onto the snow, like thousands of tiny scarlet flowers blooming on the pristine white blanket that covered the ground. The crimson droplets were stark against the snow but within minutes were melting into miniature pink streams.
Luna’s breath lodged in her throat as her brother gazed down at his blood spilt across the ground then back to her. Surprise filled his eyes, quickly followed by pride. A slow smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “That’s it, sis!” he called. “More of that.”
“Are you okay?” she asked, knowing that he was fine, but the urge to ask compelled her.
Michael nodded, examining his hand. “Yeah. Look, already healed.” Raising his hand so that she could see, Luna saw the wound had already closed. The benefits of training with a werewolf. Even when she had thrown a knife at his side, just as she had done a few weeks earlier, it had healed within a few seconds. It wasn’t the first time she wished she was one herself. Howling at the moon a few times a month was worth the rapid healing that came with it.
Luna raised her sword again, eyes fixing on her brother’s shoulders, looking for his tell-tell signs when a shrill pierced through the air. Looking around, she realised it was her phone, sitting on the porch along with a towel and a couple of bottles of water. Glancing back at Michael, he nodded, giving her the okay to get her phone.
Only a few people had her number. It had to be either Chase or Pierre. As she picked up the phone and hit the answer button, her heart began to race, the anticipation coursing through her body like electricity. “Hello?”
“Be ready by eight,” a husky voice told her by way of greeting, the low tone flowing through her ears like thick honey.
“Well, hello to you, too, Chase,” Luna responded, her mouth automatically breaking into a wide grin.
“Hellos are too boring unless you’re speaking in that charming French-British accent of yours,” Chase replied with a slight chuckle. So many times in the past he had remarked on her unusual accent, a by-product of growing up in a Parisian boarding school with countless British schoolgirls.
Grinning, Luna picked up the towel and started dabbing the sweat off the back of her neck. Despite the coldness in the air, her body was still hot from the hour-long training session. “If you’d like I could repeat it?” she suggested, her voice coming out more breathless than she intended.
She heard the catch in Chase’s voice down the line. “Say it to me tonight, princess. I’ll pick you up at eight. Oh, wear something warm.”