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Wolves of Wrath: Book 4, The Gypsy Healer Series by Quinn Loftis (19)

Chapter 19

“If I’ve learned anything in all my centuries, it’s that I should never be surprised by being surprised. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but pump the brakes, I’m going to explain. As old as I am, you would think I’ve seen it all. But that is the beauty of creation and free will. Creation is ever changing, evolving as the Creator intended it to. And the ability to choose our own fate forever keeps things interesting. So as many times as I’ve faced evil, I will not underestimate the enemy who has risen up. I will not assume he will be like all the others, because he is evolving and he has free will as well. And yes, it sucks that one so evil still gets free will. Life isn’t fair. Blah, blah, blah.” ~Peri

Peri stared out the window as the sun began to rise. The rays slowly ran across the sky, higher and higher, waking up each thing they touched. The night had slipped away much too quickly, and the light of day brought with it the worries they’d tucked away while they took comfort in being with the ones they loved.

“It went better than you expected,” Lucian said as he stepped up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. He pulled her back against his chest and let his calm seep into her.

Peri relaxed her head back against him. “Yes, occasionally, they surprise even me.”

“Do not growl at me!” Jewel’s voice carried from down the hall. “No, you cannot kill him!”

Peri turned and smiled up at her mate. “And then they return to acting like the barbarians they are, and all is right with the world.”

Lucian chuckled.

She stood up on her toes and pressed her lips to his. A simple kiss, and yet he always made her feel as though it was as essential to him as the air he breathed.

“I love when you kiss me, Perizada. Whether you realize it or not, every kiss is a tiny claim upon my soul. My wolf loves when you claim us.”

She knew the smile on her face was stupid big. “Then I shall try to claim you more often.” His answering growl made her laugh as she turned to find Jewel walking down the hall looking rather put out. Dalton was a couple steps behind her looking equally disgruntled.

“Jewel.” Dalton growled as he tried to get around a chair she’d stepped behind. Every time he moved left, she went right, and vice versa. “You smell like him.”

Peri stepped closer to Jewel as Dalton’s eyes began to glow. “Who exactly do you smell like?”

“Probably me since she was hugging me when her mate walked into the hall,” Z answered as he entered the room.

Dalton roared and swung around. Lucian was there in a heartbeat shoving the warlock out of the path of the enraged wolf. Peri flung out her hand, her magic freezing Dalton in place.

She took a deep breath and let it out before finally speaking. “Jewel, I will admit you are at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to your mate because you can’t feel what he does through the bond. But let me assure you, something like hugging a male friend, even one who has been through a ton of stuff with you, is a huge deal, even if it seems insignificant to you. In the world of the Canis lupus, other males do not touch their mates. Their inner wolf never handles that well, especially when they’ve been separated for long periods of time, as you and Dalton have.”

“I didn’t think,” Jewel said. “I stepped out of the room, and Z was in the hall. He said good morning and gave me a quick, side hug. It barely classified as a hug, and it was completely platonic.”

“Perhaps,” Peri said coolly. “But now you have another male’s scent on you. You’ve forgotten how strong the noses are on these mongrels. The wolf will only tolerate its own scent on you. The presence of another man’s scent will quickly turn the most well-behaved Canis lupus into an unthinking beast. The fact that he doesn’t know Z only makes it worse.”

Jewel sighed as the fight seemed to leave her. “Did you know that scientists have actually done studies on jealousy, and they’ve come to determine that the term ‘green with envy’ is not an accurate description of jealousy because they are not one in the same. Jealousy is precipitated by a perceived threat from an outsider to a person’s relationship, whereas envy is actually a negative reaction that follows when someone else has something they want. So not the same thing at all.”

“And what would you say Dalton is feeling? Jealousy or envy?” Peri asked as she fought a smile.

“Well since I don’t belong to Z, it can’t be envy, and I do belong to him, which means he saw Z as a threat and reacted with jealousy.”

“Ding, ding, ding, you win. Your prize is that”—Peri pointed to Dalton—“enraged wolf. Go take a quick shower and then calm him down. Dalton I’m leaving you just as you are until your mate returns. I do not trust your wolf in this state. And you.” She pointed at Z. “No touching of the females in any way for any reason at any time. Or, next time, I might just let the wolf go and see how fast you can run.”

“What if they’re falling off a cliff and I’m the closest one to them and my not touching them would result in their death?” Z asked.

Peri groaned. “Bloody hell, he’s Adam’s long-lost warlock brother.” Her mate chuckled, which earned him a glare. “Then walk away and hope their mate is around to save them. It’s no longer your job.”

“Volcan might disagree,” retorted the warlock.

“Hopefully, we’ll deal with that soon,” said Peri.

A few minutes later, Anna and Gustavo walked in, hand in hand, which made Peri smile. At least one pair was getting along.

Sly was next to enter and, though he did it with more grace than Dalton, Gustavo growled at the male when he walked too close to Anna.

Sly put his hands in the air. “No threat here, Alpha. I’m already mated.”

“I can see which of you is the smart one,” said Peri, glaring at Z.

Jezebel joined them and laid out two large plates stacked with donuts. She smiled sheepishly at Peri. “I didn’t have anything in the house for so many, so I stepped out to grab them.”

“We are thankful for your hospitality,” Lucian said as he picked up a donut and handed it to his mate. This seemed to be a signal to the others that they could grab one as well.

When Jewel finally returned, everyone, except her mate, was munching happily.

Jewel stepped up to Dalton, and Peri dropped her magic and let the wolf free. She watched as he leaned down and pressed his forehead to hers. She whispered something to him, and he nodded his head. Then he kissed her on the top of her head. Peri didn’t miss the way he blew his breath over her, covering her in his scent. Tricky wolf, she thought.

Once everyone was finally seated, Peri spoke. “I would like to commend you, Jewel and Anna, for how well you’ve done on your own for the past several months.” They started to speak, but she held up her hand. “I realize I don’t yet know all the details, but that is neither here nor there. What I see before me is two young healers, still in one piece, still desiring to fight against the evil that has entangled them in its web. That said, you are going to have to give me some information. Have you successfully created any witches for Volcan?”

Jewel cleared her throat. “He dropped us in Los Angeles with Z and Sly as our guards … of sorts. He gave us no guidance as to how to make the witches, so we tried our best. But it didn’t work the same way it did when I changed Anna.” She paused and swallowed with visible difficulty. “Instead of changing them, we killed them.”

Peri listened, her own rage growing, as Jewel described all they’d been through. As she explained about the night before, when she’d gone out on her own, Anna broke down.

“Why didn’t you say anything?” she asked Jewel. The other healer wasn’t angry, but she so desperately wanted to help her friend.

“I couldn’t,” Jewel whispered. “I couldn’t let you bear the burden of what happen if I didn’t succeed, and I didn’t. Six women, Anna, six lives, gone. We shouldn’t both have to face that.”

Dalton wrapped his arm around her, pulling her closer to him, allowing his touch to comfort her.

“What’s done is done,” Peri said, her tone challenging anyone to argue. None did. “My concern is not those women. It’s the two of you. You two are in my care. Get over it you walking, growling fur balls. I know they’re your mates, but they’re my healers. I know it sucks. These women are dead, casualties of war and all that. We can’t bring them back. So we deal with it and go on.” Peri stood and walked over to the redheaded healer and knelt in front of her. “I do want you to know that you have my deepest, deepest sympathy for Gem. You will need to mourn for her properly, but until then, you lean on him.” She pointed to Dalton. “That’s why the Great Luna gave him such big shoulders. Utilize them.”

Jewel smiled as she wiped the tears from her cheeks. “Thank you, Peri.”

Peri patted her knee and then stood up. She began to pace as she spoke. “Z, get the book. Jezebel, get ready to spill your guts. Everyone else, prepare yourselves. It’s about to get interesting.”

“Hasn’t it already been interesting?” Anna asked. “I mean, in a sick, horrible car-crash kind of way.”

Peri nodded at her. “You’re right. It has. But now I’m here, and I make things more interesting.”

Jewel and Anna both smiled and glanced at each other. “Yes, Peri, yes you do,” Anna said.

“Here’s the book,” Z said as he held it out to Peri. She shook her head. “That belongs to the witches. I will not touch it if I don’t have to. Give it to Jezebel.”

Jezebel took the book and stared down at it. The look on her face was part awe, part longing, and part horror all wrapped up in one.

“I had hoped to never have to see this book again,” she murmured.

“Do you still have the pages?” Peri asked.

Jezebel looked at her and nodded. “The djinn has bewitched them. Only he can remove the spell. It was the safest way to protect them, as they couldn’t be destroyed.”

Peri threw her head back and groaned. “Dealing with him is like dealing with an incredibly intelligent, bored toddler.”

“Then he’s not any different from when I last saw him,” Jezebel said with a smile.

“He’s worse,” Peri said dryly. “Fine, so we need Thad. We’ll get him when it’s time. He’s working on something very important at the moment. Alright, Jezzy, you’re up. Tell them the things we had hoped to never tell anyone in order to protect them from certain death.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Z and Sly said at the same time. “If this is a witch thing, and there’s certain death involved, maybe we should just wait outside, or down the block,” Sly continued.

Peri narrowed her eyes on them. “Jewel said Volcan has your sister and your mate. That makes you a part of this. Sit your warlock butts down. And don’t think I won’t be going to Cypher and Lilly about this. You should have gone to them immediately instead of trying to take Volcan on by yourselves.”

Both males hung their heads, sufficiently chastised. Peri motioned for Jezebel to begin.

“Four centuries ago, a woman was enticed by evil. She welcomed it as a mother welcomes a child and let that evil change her into something vile. She was the first of her kind—a witch. And she was also my sister.”

Anna’s eyes were wide as saucers when she looked at Peri. “Wait, didn’t you kill the last witch, with the werewolveshelp?”

“They did,” Jezebel interrupted. “My sister Desdemona was the first witch created and the last witch to die, and Peri helped do what needed to be done, what I couldn’t do.”

“I’m sorry Mom,” Anna said gently.

“I lost her a long time ago,” Jezebel said. “The woman the wolves killed resembled nothing about the girl I had once loved in our youth.”

Jewel frowned. “If Desdemona was the first witch created, and the last to die, why didn’t she just make more while she was still alive … like we’re supposed to do?”

“Keep listening,” Peri instructed.

“There was something that my sister kept secret from her evil creator. You see, people who crave power and dominion don’t share well with others. They may act like allies, but any relationship formed is only one of convenience. Mona had every intention of one day being more powerful than Volcan himself. And she knew that her knowledge would be the key to finally overtaking him. Desdemona discovered something through trial and error.”

“The women who she didn’t change died?” Jewel interrupted.

Jezebel shook her head. “No, that part is different this time around. The women she tried to convert that could not be changed went mad instead of dying. Whether it succeeded or failed, the evil she attempted to put into their blood took away any good that had been in them, leaving only the darkness that every person carries. Some became witches. The others went crazy without the balancing influence of goodness in their lives.

“But what she eventually learned was this, in order for the spell to be successful, the potential new witch must have some familial connection with the creator. Now”—she held up her finger to stop the questions that were already forming on multiple lips—“the familial connection can come in many forms. Obviously, blood relations sufficed—I’m living proof of that. But a family in which a person is adopted into is also sufficient. Finally, a form of family exists that isn’t created by blood or legal proceedings, but rather through the choice of its members, not terribly unlike a pack of wolves. Sometimes, the bond in such a family can be even stronger than the family one is born or adopted into.

“In order for my sister to change a woman, she had to fit into one of those categories. If you had met my sister, you would know that she had few if any that fell into the last category. The vast majority of witches that were created and practicing before the Great Purge were our blood relatives. It didn’t matter how close they were, first cousin or eighty-fifth cousin. They just had to be family. So, when Mona was the last witch left alive, it meant she was the last, or nearly the last, of our bloodline. She believed me to be dead. Mona didn’t make more witches because she couldn’t get emotionally close enough to anyone in order for the magic to recognize them as her family.”

“Why did she think you were dead?” Anna asked.

“And why wasn’t all the goodness sucked out of you?” Jewel offered.

“As for the second question, I have no idea. As far as I know, I’m the only one in our family who ever felt any remorse after being turned by Desdemona. “You two”—she indicated Jewel and Anna—“are clearly able to retain some of your goodness owing to your gypsy blood. Perhaps, I have some small speck of this in me as well, not enough to make me a healer, mind you, but just enough to allow me to retain some of my goodness. I never was exactly witch material,” Jezebel said with a sigh. “I didn’t desire power, nor did I enjoy the darkness that I could feel trying to take over inside of me. I was immediately ostracized from my family, and I was ready to take my own life, but then I met Perizada. She’d had a run-in with Mona and a few other witches. Mona had dragged me along, though she knew I wanted no part of it. A few days after that encounter, Peri came back to see me. She said she was curious about me.”

Peri shook her head. “No, that is not what I said. What I said was, ‘You are a witch and Desdemona’s sister. Why the bloody hell are you not an evil wench?’”

“That sounds more like her,” Anna said.

“Yes, that was what she said. And I said, ‘I don’t want to be like her.’ Peri told me she would help me. I asked her why, why would she want to help me, a witch. She said, and this time I quote, ‘Because if I don’t help you I’ll have to kill you one day, and I actually kind of like you. I try not to kill people I like.’”

Everyone was laughing except for Z and Sly. Peri looked at them and smiled. “You don’t know me well enough to understand my humor, but you will.”

“Do we have to?” Z asked, which only made everyone laugh harder.

“So what happened?” Anna asked. “How did Peri help you?”

“She took me to see an eccentric djinn. Thadrick explained to me that magic didn’t simply just happen. You couldn’t wave a wand and accidently turn a friend into a toad. Magic has to be directed.”

“Intentional,” Jewel said.

“Exactly. And the magic in me had been given an intention, to do evil, and no amount of my efforts to try and wield it differently would alter it. This book”—she held up the one they’d stolen—“is the record of how Mona created the witches and how I broke free and changed the dark magic inside of me to something different, something akin to the magic of the fae, only not nearly as strong. I retained my powers, but I broke free of the will of Volcan and my sister.”

“How did you do it?” Jewel asked. She’d scooted forward and was on the edge of her seat as she waited for Jezebel’s answer.

“Thadrick, Peri, and I went through our own trial and error in search for either a cure or something that would slow down the spread of Volcan’s darkness. The final spell was one written by a fae eons ago. Thad found it after searching through the vaults of history in his mind. The spell was originally written to reverse the taint of evil on something pure. We thought we might convert it to our own purpose. We went to find the fae who wrote it. Her name was Metea.”

“It’s a Greek name. It means gentle,” Jewel said and then slapped her hand over her mouth.

“Why on earth do you know that?” Peri asked.

Jewel’s face turned bright red as she shook her head and kept her hand over her mouth.

“Don’t make me force you to talk. It will come out sounding all robotic and crap. It’s creepy, so just spit it out.”

She let her hand drop and huffed. “Doesn’t every girl dream about growing up and getting married and having kids?”

“I’ll play along. Of course they do,” Anna said.

“Thank you. Well I used to look up the meanings of names trying to pick out the ones that I might one day name my own children. There was a time when people believed a name could define the character of a person.”

“You looked up names meaning gentle,” Peri offered.

Jewel nodded. “I encountered quite a few not-gentle people during my high school experience. And I figured there needed to be more gentle souls in the world.”

“Jewel Stone, just when I think I have you figured out. Okay then, continue Jezebel.”

“Yes, her name does mean gentle and that she was, an incredibly gentle soul. Metea explained the spell to us, including how risky it was. The spell required several things converging all at once. The fae stones, a willing sacrifice, and a pure heart. If the second or third was missing, then the stones would not show up. As for the sacrifice, it didn’t necessarily mean a life, it just meant some type of bloodshed. When she’d done the spell on previous occasions, cutting her own hand had sufficed.

“She only asked this of us in return, that we hide the knowledge of the spell from Volcan, should we be successful. And only use it when, or if, we ever came across any others who had not given in to the evil. Of course, we readily agreed. Metea insisted upon being there when the spell was performed so she could help if anything were to go awry.” Jezebel paused and met Peri’s eyes. The sorrow from the events of that night so long ago still lived inside of them both.

“I’ll take over,” Peri said as she cleared her throat. “Myself, Metea, Thad, and Jezebel all gathered at Metea’s home two days later. I began the spell, but when I was halfway through, and all of the fae stones had appeared, Matea insisted on taking over. I was just on the point of cutting my hand to offer the willing sacrifice. I didn’t know why she wanted to finish the spell, but I assumed maybe she realized I was doing something wrong or she remembered some key thing she’d originally forgotten. I agreed and handed her the blade. She continued the spell and, as the power in the words and stones culminated, Matea gave her sacrifice.” Peri blinked back the tears she hadn’t known she’d still be able to cry over her friend’s gift.

“What happened?” Anna asked.

“Matea hadn’t told us the entire truth about the sacrifice. The payment demanded by the spell wasn’t always the same as she’d led us to believe. Rather, a small sacrifice would only work for a small amount of evil, but a large sacrifice was required for darker possessions. Matea gave her life as the sacrifice to finish the spell.” Peri’s words seemed to reverberate through the quiet apartment.

“It is a painful truth,” Gustavo said, breaking the silence, “that which means the most to us, requires that we give the most of ourselves. Seeing evil defeated meant everything to Metea. I did not know her, yet through her actions I can see this. She saw the pure heart in Jezebel and knew she was worth saving.”

Jezebel covered her mouth as she attempted to quiet her tears. After several deep breaths, she looked up at him. “I would have never performed the spell if I’d had known what it required,” she said.

“Which is why she didn’t tell you,” Jewel said. “It was her right to choose whether she wanted to sacrifice herself, not yours. And that is why Desdemona thought you dead. She thought the spell killed you. She never knew about Metea.”

“Exactly,” said Jezebel.

Anna reached out and took her mother’s hand. “I will be forever grateful to a woman I will never know because she saved the woman who I call my mom.”

“I know we were never super close because I was always moving around. I was so scared I would draw supernatural beings to you. I used the voodoo shop as a front because most supernaturals think shops like this are a joke and avoid them.”

“It’s true and we do,” Peri added dryly.

“When I found out I was pregnant with you, I was so incredibly happy. And after you were born, you were this little miracle, and I quickly realized how vulnerable you would be in the world I knew. So, I put wards on the store and our apartment to protect you, and then I tried to stay away as often as I could but I missed you so much. I have always been so proud of you. You have grown into a woman who can think for herself and take care of herself. I never wanted you to be a part of all of this, but you were destined to be, I fear. Now you can make your own choices. I only ask you forgive me for the part I played in dragging you into this.”

“The Great Luna brought her into this, not you, Jezebel,” said Peri with a finality that brokered no discussion.

Anna didn’t blame her mom. Jezebel did the best she could under the circumstances. She hadn’t asked to be turned into a witch either. “What about my father?”

Her mother’s face fell. “The only thing good that came of that relationship was you. He left as soon as he found out I was pregnant. The last I heard he was wanted by the police for grand theft auto and trafficking illegal substances. He had a few redeeming qualities that drew me to him. He was funny, charismatic, and could sell pixie dust to a pixie. Before you ask, he knew nothing about the supernatural world.”

Anna felt Gustavo’s hand on her back. His touch kept her calm, though inside she felt a multitude of emotions, and none of them registered anywhere on the calm scale.

She squeezed her mom’s hand and smiled. “I think we got along just fine without him,” she said.

“As much as I love these tender moments … I’m being sarcastic just in case any of you didn’t catch that. We have to figure out a plan,” said Peri.

Anna raised her hand.

Peri gave her a look that made it clear she didn’t want interruptions. “Ask,” the high fae snapped.

“If you knew my mom all this time, how come you acted like you didn’t know who I was when you came to recruit me?”

“We didn’t want anyone to know you had any previous ties to the supernatural world. If someone had realized you were Jezebel’s daughter, they might’ve put two and two together and realized she wasn’t dead. And though I knew about you, I didn’t actually know you. Your mom and I have had very little communication over the decades in order to protect her and you.”

Anna nodded. “Alright, makes sense.”

“Glad you approve. Now…” She resumed her pacing as she spoke. “We have some serious decisions to make. Volcan wants an army of witches. It’s already going to be next to impossible to defeat him. If he gets an army, it’s game over, good night, put the women and children to bed, stick a fork in us, we’re done.

“But…” She paused and looked at Jewel, a wolfish grin spreading across her face. “If … and this is a big if, we could make our own army of witches, then we might have a chance. We would need to alter their magic and use it against him. They would need to be pure of heart, and they have to fit into one of the familial categories we talked about.”

“Aren’t you forgetting about the willing sacrifice part?” Z asked.

Peri glanced over at him. “You volunteering?”

“I was kind of hoping to meet my mate before I died,” he answered.

Peri froze and snapped her fingers. “Z, you’re a genius. Okay, not really, far from it, actually, but you did give me an idea. Sit tight.” She flashed from the room leaving everyone in stunned silence, except Z, who sported a look of incredulity.

Anna’s eyes narrowed as she looked at Jewel. “Did you understand what sort of light bulb just went off in her head? Cause you look kind of guilty.”

Jewel’s face reddened. “Did you know that Thomas Edison didn’t create the first incandescent light bulb? It was actually Warren De la Rue, but his design required a platinum filament which was way too expensive for people to afford.”

Anna continued to stare at Jewel as if she hadn’t just sputtered out a random fact about light bulbs.

Jewel opened her mouth to speak just as Peri reappeared.

“That did not go over well,” she said.

“What didn’t go over well?” Jewel asked.

“Well, I have a hunch.”

“Well get something else,” Anna said. “I don’t like hunches.”

“It will be more than a hunch once we know if it works. It’s going to take some time to get everyone on board. And we’ll need to get Thad to un-spell those missing pages.” She turned to Jezebel. “Do you think a female werewolf can be turned into a witch?”

Bonded?”

Peri nodded.

“I’m not sure. A bonded female is going to possess the magic of her mate as well as her own. That could affect the spell.”

Peri tapped her chin. “So many variables. Oh, and you two…” She snapped her fingers and pointed at Anna and Gustavo. “No biting, no sharing of blood. At least not yet.”

Gustavo growled and Anna placed a hand on his leg. “Could you at least give us a reason?”

Peri smiled.

Anna shook her head. “Nope, uh-uh, not that smile. If whatever you’ve cooked up is causing that smile, then you might as well go back to square one. That is a wicked smile, Peri.

“It really is,” Jewel agreed.

“I have to say I’m with the Wheelers on this one. That’s diabolical,” said Sly.

The smile dropped as Peri frowned at looked at the two warlocks. “Wheelers?”

Sly nodded. “You know, witch healers.”

And the smile was back. “Love it. What would a witch-werewolf be called? Wolfwitch? Witchwolf? I like that better. Doesn’t matter. Back to why you must keep your canines in you muzzles.”

“No muzzles right here,” Anna said dryly as she pointed at herself.

Peri continued as if Anna hadn’t spoken at all. “And why your paws should probably be kept to yourselves.”

“No paws either,” Jewel added. Anna gave her a thumbs-up.

“We need women who are pure of heart. That, in and of itself, seems impossible because hello, we’re women. More often than not we want to smack each other for looking better than us or gouge each other’s eyes out for looking at our man. Then add to the equation that she has to be family to one of you. Jewel, you got any cousins out there with a disposition just as sweet as yours? Anna…” She paused and then waved her off. “We’ll get to your family in a minute. Assume we find our pure-of-heart women, now we need each of them to have someone who is a willing sacrifice for them. I don’t know many people who would jump up and volunteer to die for a person. And somewhere in that whole mess we have to explain to them why the hell we want to turn those pure of heart family members into witches and then expect someone to die on their behalf immediately afterward.”

“Forgive me for being a little skeptical,” Z said, rolling his eyes.

Peri’s face lit up at she held a finger in the air. “Ahh, but my little trouble-causing warlock, you don’t know me. If you did, then you wouldn’t be skeptical at all because you would know that I am completely capable of taking the impossible and making it … well … maybe, more than likely, possible. I just hope there’s not too much bloodshed before we ever get to the actual sacrifice part.”

“Peri, quit teasing them,” Jezebel chided.

“Why doesn’t anyone ever let me bask in the glory of my genius?” Peri sighed as she threw her head back and her arms out.

“Did you take some fairy drugs when you flashed earlier?” Anna asked.

Peri’s head snapped up. “Absolutely not. Can you imagine me on drugs? We’re getting off topic. We already have our pure hearts. We have three more healers that we can turn into Wheelers.” She winked at the warlocks, whose faces mirrored the shock of the others. “And each of our healers has a mate. Boom, willing sacrifice. See, totally possible. Simple, really.”

Anna stood slowly, and she saw that Jewel was doing the same thing. “You expect us to put Volcan’s vile blood into our friend’s bodies so they have to experience the darkness we’ve been dealing with?”

“I believe that’s what I said, though not quite as graphically.”

“And assuming we do that, you expect us to be okay with our mates sacrificing themselves for us?” Jewel asked.

“I feel like we’ve gone over this,” Peri said.

Anna felt Gustavo’s arm come around her waist. She hadn’t even realized he’d stood up with her. She couldn’t look at him because her fate was already sealed. But Heather, Stella, and Kara still had a choice.

“Wait, won’t we die if our mates die?” Anna asked.

“Not if we haven’t performed the Blood Rites,” replied Jewel. “That’s why she wants us not to bite our mates.”

“This can’t be the only way,” Anna said as she folded her arms in front of her chest.

Peri knew what she was asking of them. If anyone understood sacrifice, she did.

“I didn’t say it was the perfect solution,” she pointed out. “But it may be the best solution, the only solution. And no one said anything about your mates dying. I only said sacrifice. The mate bond performed at the right moment could be the key to the whole thing. Of course, we might need to have you all practice synchronized biting. Wouldn’t thaaaat get awkward fast.”

“The mate bond?” Jewel practically whispered as all the air rushed out of her.

Dalton, who had stood up with Jewel, leaned down and spoke softly in her ear, though Peri could still hear him. “I go where you go.” His deep voice rumbled.

Jewel was shaking her head. “Not like this.”

Peri narrowed her eyes on the couple. “I have a solution for you two. Do you honestly think I wouldn’t consider how your bond is different? And yes, you still have a bond, Jewel, it’s called love. You choose to love each other. And because I can see how much that mountain loves you, I will not ask him to stand as your sacrifice, not when I know he would most certainly die. The others have a real chance of living because of their combined magic. But Dalton would not.” Peri walked over to the brave healer who had already suffered so much. She took her face in her hands and wiped her tears away with her thumbs. Her hands began to glow a soft white as she used her magic to calm Jewel. “I told you healers when I took you in that I take care of those who are mine. That hasn’t changed. I will stand as your willing sacrifice, Jewel Stone, Gypsy healer, mate to Dalton Black and brave young woman with a heart of gold. And it will be an honor to do so.”

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