This couldn’t possibly be happening, Connor thought. He glanced at Caleb, who was looking at Kaylynn. And what the hell was that about? He opened his mouth to ask that very question, but Rae took his hand and when he looked over at her, she smiled and shook her head. Then she caught Kaylynn’s eye.
“So, now that we’re all here, can we talk about my son?” He stiffened at those words and felt a gentle pressure on the hand Rae was still holding. She couldn’t seriously be considering letting Caleb near the boy. Not after everything they’d gone through to find someone else, not after he’d had to ask Layla for help. No, it was not going to happen.
Caleb glanced in his direction before replying, “I still think he should be with me long-term. He has so much to learn and he’s not going to get a chance before he Changes. It would work better if -”
“No.” Connor was pleased to hear Rae echo him a second later. When Caleb looked about to argue, he saw Kaylynn reach for his brother’s hand, mirroring Rae’s earlier actions. “You’ve been trying to sabotage my marriage and steal my son from day one. Why would I believe you would do anything different now?”
“I admit that I was less than upfront about who I was in the beginning with Rae. But I came to you at your wedding in good faith. I wanted…I wanted to meet my brother and congratulate him on getting married. You’re the one who pushed me away!”
“You got me drunk and made me tattoo a werewolf on my back!” Connor was pissed. In good faith?! Bullshit.
Caleb smiled a little. “I did do that, but you were already drunk when I got there. You were walking around talking to yourself and when I approached you, you were being an ass; so yes, I made you get the tattoo, but you didn’t really put up a fight.”
“I was drugged, you idiot! You could have said and done anything to me and I wouldn’t have protested.”
Silence descended while Caleb and Connor stared at each other.
“Okay,” Kaylynn cleared her throat, “as an outsider, I think most of this could have been avoided if Caleb had just explained himself from the beginning.” Caleb frowned at her and she smiled. “I’m not saying it’s all your fault baby, I’m just saying everyone has made mistakes and we all just want what’s best for Andrei. I think what would make the most sense is for Rae and Connor to move to Moonlight Falls, permanently. That way, Caleb will be close to help, Andrei will be around people who understand him, and Layla Cullen has three boys around Andrei’s age –”
“We’re going to leave her out of this if possible,” Rae interrupted. “Layla and I don’t really get alone and I would rather not involve her any more than we have to.”
Kaylynn shrugged. “My point is that if you are here, it will be easier for him.” She looked over at Caleb, “And it will relieve some of your anxiety.”
Connor looked at Rae. Aside from him wanting Caleb as far away as possible from his family, it was a good idea. Dr. Gates’s research facility was in town, so that was a bonus for her – not that she’d been to work in the last year. It really depended on if he was willing to leave his job.
“Well?” Rae whispered to him, “What do you think?”
“I think we need to talk about it before we make any decisions.” He stood up from the table. “That’s a huge change and not something that should be decided quickly. We have two other children to think about.”
“You have two other – there are three children?” Kaylynn paled a little.
“Andrei is the only werewolf,” Connor quickly assured her. “Eva and Anthony are normal. For the most part.”
Caleb and Kaylynn stood up as well. “Connor, listen…” Caleb began.
“Now is not the time, let’s just focus on my son.”
After some reassurances that they would be in touch, they said goodbye to Kaylynn and Caleb.
Later that night, Connor sat on the rocking chair and watched his wife put the baby down to bed. He’d half convinced himself that Kaylynn’s plan was doable.
After checking on Andrei, Rae turned to Connor and asked, “Well, what did you think of that?”
“Of what? The impromptu meeting or my brother’s apparent infatuation with Kaylynn?” Connor smirked.
“I know right! Where has she been all this time?” She smiled and shook her head. “Regardless, she made some valid points. Caleb could be a lot of help – if he agrees to leave our son with us. I would rather have him help than Layla. But can we trust him?”
Conner sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Do we have a choice? It’s either him or Layla and we know how you feel about her. Obviously, we need to accept his help. My main concern now is if we actually want to move to this town permanently.”
Rae moved to the bed and sat down. “It wouldn’t make a difference to me, I would probably benefit from such a move. But your job – you’d have to quit, wouldn’t you?”
He ran his fingers through his hair; it wouldn’t be so bad to take a break from work. The aggression that he sometimes felt was much worse after he’d done a forty-eight hour shift. Clearly, stress was a trigger for whatever was wrong with him. “Don’t worry about my job. Do you want to move?”
Rae nodded and got up to walk over to him. “Yeah, I think I do.”
He pulled her to him and she crawled into his lap, leaning her head on his shoulder as he began to rock back and forth. “I guess we’ll start looking for a house in the morning.”
Early the next morning, while out for a run to clear his head and think about everything he’d learned about his brother and the potential solution for Andrei, Connor noticed a For Sale sign on a house across the street. Slowly coming to a stop in front of the place, he took out his phone and snapped a picture, quickly sending it to Rae with the message, “What do you think?”
He received an immediate response, “Wow, you’re fast! It looks nice, what do you think?”
Laughing, he dialed the number on the sale sign and spent the next thirty minutes on the phone with an agent setting up a viewing for him and Rae. After hanging up, he sent Rae the details and put the phone away. Glancing up at the house, he sighed. I guess I just made up my mind, he thought, and began to jog back home.
It took two viewings, three phone calls and one slightly heated debate between him and Caleb about a slight adjustment to the basement, but by the third day after seeing the house for the first time, he and Rae made an offer and were now the owners of a new home in Moonlight Falls. As he walked into the empty house behind his wife, he was relieved. They were finally doing something! With only five days until the transformation was supposed to happen, Connor was starting to feel his nerves fraying. He was irritable; lost his temper too easily and sometimes found himself confused and lost in areas of the Falls he’d never seen before. Hoping it was stress related but fearing the worst, he’d had no choice but to call his brother.
“I think there’s something wrong with me,” Connor said the moment Caleb answered the phone.
“Hello to you too little brother.” Caleb laughed on the other end of the line, but sobered when Connor let out a low growl. “Whoa, what was that?”
“I’m – I’m sorry. I told you, something is wrong with me. I’ve been acting strange lately, I get upset over the smallest things. I’ve been snapping at Rae and I – I think I’m blacking out.” He took a shuddering breath, the next sentence tasting like acid on his tongue, “I…I need your help, Caleb.”
There was a short silence and then, “Okay.”
Nothing else, just “Okay.” It was not what he’d been expecting and he felt unexpected relief and gratitude that Caleb was taking this seriously. “Okay, so what should I do?”
“Can you meet me in 20 minutes?”
“This is so stupid,” Rae whispered as she held her husband. “You’d never hurt me or Andrei and you’re not even a werewolf, Caleb is wrong. You’re human, that’s the whole point of this curse!” She could feel the tears tracking down her face and that made her even more upset. She had no business crying or being anything but completely supportive of her husband.
“Hush, baby. It’s just a precaution. You’ll let me out in the morning and everything will be fine. Don’t cry Rosie.” He pulled her to him and kissed her softly. That just made it worse. He was being so calm about this and she couldn’t even get it together.
“What if Andrei asks for you tonight? Please, Connor, don’t do this. You don’t need it!”
He didn’t respond, just pulled her tighter into him and held her for a while before kissing her again and walking into the homemade cell and closing the door behind him. “Lock the door Rae.”
It took her three tries but she finally managed to bar the cell door and take a step back. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. It doesn’t make any sense, but I’m not taking any chances with the lives of my family. It’s just at night; I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Do you…do you need anything? Another blanket or a book to read or – God…how can I leave you in a place like this?”
“It’s a little rough but we can fix it up later. I’m fine. Just go and check on Dre and come let me out in the morning, okay?”
She nodded and with a final look, she turned to go.
She whipped back around. “Yes?”
“I love you more than anything in the world.”
“I love you too Connor.” She hurried out the room before she could change her mind and unlock the cell doors.
Rae found herself pacing back and forth in her fully furnished bedroom. What was she supposed to do? Connor had come home and told her he needed to be locked away tonight and every night until the new moon. Apparently, he was Changing, just like Dre. But it made no sense! Connor was human; he didn’t even know his family was anything else until – God, was it less than a year ago that Caleb had told them the truth? It felt like eons had passed.
Walking into the foyer, she sat down in her new rocking chair. Her mother had gotten the house fully furnished in two days. Perks of being royalty – you could do whatever you wanted. Aaliyah had clearly missed her calling and should have been an interior decorator. Sighing, she leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes. She had to think! Connor was locked in a homemade jail cell – at Caleb’s adamant request. It was half-finished, half furnished; it had no AC or heat, barely any plumbing and they’d carried a cot down for him to sleep. It wasn’t somewhere she would put Layla, let alone her own husband.
The plan had been to stay with Caleb for the rest of the week, until the new moon phase, so when Andrei Changed, he could be there to help smooth the way. However, if Connor was having issues…
Rae stood up angrily and started pacing again. This was just not fair! How was she supposed to deal with both Dre and Connor?
Despite all her protests, Connor chose to stay in his cell again for the next two nights. He hadn’t Changed the first night but in the morning, his eyes were glowing and they never reverted. He would lose his train of thought or get distracted and walk out the house, no matter what he’d been doing beforehand. A day before the Witch Moon, Rae decided it was time to take Caleb up on his offer to go stay at his place. She couldn’t do it by herself anymore.
The car ride to Caleb’s home was tense and silent. Even Andrei was somber, preferring to snuggle in Rae’s arms. She was worried about him, he barely made any noise these days. Sometimes she would find him curled up in his playpen, eyes shut, sucking on his thumb. He was never asleep, though, and would open his eyes and watch her. It was a little creepy and she felt ashamed to admit that she was afraid of her child in those moments.
She breathed a sigh of relief when Connor pulled up in the curved driveway. The landscape and exterior of the house was different.
“Caleb said that Jack would be here to show us around,” Connor stated, shutting off the engine. Instead of getting out of the car, however, he sat back and looked over at her. “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Are you sure you want me to lock you up at night?” When he just sighed, she said. “Then yes. I’m sure.” She was not going to do this alone. He and Caleb had decided – on their own – that this was what Connor had to do. So they could deal with it, she was done worrying about anyone but her child.
“I’ll get the bags.” Connor got out of the car and walked to the trunk. Rae sat there a moment longer, but when Andrei stirred, she gave herself a little shake and opened her door. No point in procrastinating.
A boy opened the front door, maybe fourteen or fifteen years old. “Hi. You must be Jack,” Connor said.
“Yeah. Are you Connor?” When he nodded, the boy moved back and let them in. “Sorry that my parents couldn’t be here. Mom had a gig, but Caleb will be here soon.”
“It’s alright. You have a lovely home.” Rae said. He had a huge home; she remembered that from her last visit. Although someone had made some changes. “You changed your floors,” she remarked without thinking.
Jack glanced up at her and blushing, smiled. “Yeah. A few months ago.” He quickly looked away again when he saw Connor frown. “I’ll show you to your room,” he mumbled and not waiting to see if they would follow or not, he headed down the stairs.
“This used to be my nursery,” Jack said as he showed Rae and Connor where Andrei would be staying. He’d already shown them their bedroom and a small study and this was the last stop on the house tour. “So, Caleb should be here in like, ten minutes. I’m gonna go upstairs. If you need anything just yell.”
And that quick, he was gone.
“Well. You think Dre or Tony will be like that when they’re his age,” She asked.
“I would hope so. He seems like a nice kid.” Connor kissed Andrei’s forehead and walked into their room.
“Well, now that you’re here, do you have any questions for me?” Caleb had indeed come home soon after they’d settled in and after dinner he and Connor walked into the living room. Rae was putting Dre to bed. “You want one?” Caleb asked as he poured himself a drink.
“What is it?”
“Scotch.” Caleb put an ice-cube in the glass and handed it to his brother.
Taking the glass, Connor moved to sit on a barstool. “So, what do we do now?”
“From what I managed to learn, Dre shouldn’t suffer too much physically tomorrow. His body is just too underdeveloped to go through such a transformation. My hope is that when the time comes, we won’t even notice a difference. I actually suspect that he’s been Changing for the last several weeks. When Jack was going through his first transformation, he had more symptoms than actual physical changes.”
“What do you mean? What symptoms?”
“He was cranky, got upset easily, towards the end, he was very non-responsive, feverish and complaining about being tired and sore all the time. The only outward changes were his eyes and he grew claws. I had expected a full-blown change but it never progressed to more than that. A week after the new moon, he was back to his old self – albeit he shot up like a weed and was, you know, a werewolf.” Caleb laughed a little. “It was the most stressful damn month of my life. Nothing prepares you for something like that. You worry and fear and finally just fall on your knees and beg for it to be over; and then the kid just woke up one morning asking for pancakes. Fricking pancakes. I made the whole damn box.” He took a long swallow of his scotch.
Connor knew exactly what that felt like, that feeling of inadequacy. He was supposed to be his child’s protector, yet at every turn, he’d failed him. “Can I ask you a personal question?”
“Sure.” Caleb stood up straighter and nodded.
“Is he your son? I mean, he must be about fourteen, you would have been pretty young if…” He let the sentence hang, feeling slightly uncomfortable asking his brother – whom he didn’t really even know – such a personal question.
“In all the ways that count, I am his father. But no, he’s not my biological son.”
Connor could see his brother did not want to talk about it any further, so he changed the subject. “I saw pictures of a girl when we were in the foyer. You have a daughter too?”
Caleb grinned. “That’s Amber. She’s the daughter of a good friend of mine and her and Jack grew up together. I’m surprised she’s not here right now. She’s always over here.”
As if on cue, the front door banged shut and someone yelled, “Jack, I’m here. You better be ready!”
Both men laughed and Caleb said, “Speak of the devil.”
“Hey Uncle Caleb. Did you – oh. I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had company.” A beautiful blond girl walked into the room and made a beeline for Caleb. She didn’t look very surprised though. In fact, she openly stared at Connor until Caleb pulled her in for a hug.
“Jack didn’t tell you? How odd.” Caleb was smirking; he knew she was lying. “Well, Amber meet my brother Connor. Connor, this is Amber Moore.”
Connor gave a polite nod. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Amber nodded and said, “So where have you been all this time?”
Wow. Straight to the point. Okay then. He waved off Caleb’s protests that he didn’t have to answer her and said, “Didn’t know I had a brother until very recently. Kind of threw me for a loop.”
“I see. So are you a werewolf too?” She sat down and turned to look at him. Caleb made a choking noise and she said, “What? Jack said he knew we were wolves.”
“Umm, no, I’m not.” Connor frowned. “At least, I don’t think I am. Are you?”
“Yup. How can you not know? Do you grow fangs and claws when there’s a full moon? Get cranky and all, ‘I am one with nature…so let me sniff everything?’ Those are usually pretty obvious clues.”
“I think that’s enough questions for tonight. Why don’t you go find Jack now?” Caleb said before Connor could respond.
“Fine, I know when I’m being booted out. It was nice to meet you Connor.” She gave Caleb a quick hug and left.
“Wow,” was all Connor could say.
“Wow indeed.” The two looked at each other and burst out laughing again.
Rae found her husband laughing in the living room. She paused by the doorway and drank in the sight. He looked happy. For the first time in months, he looked happy. She should not take it as a sign, but it was hard to ignore the fact that she and her children stressed him out. She shook the though away and walked into the room. “What are we laughing about?”
Connor looked up and sobered a bit. “I just had an interesting conversation and a glimpse of the future. Remind me to teach Eva about discretion.” With that cryptic request, he patted the seat next to him.
“So what are you drinking?” She nodded at the empty glasses and looked up at Caleb.
“Scotch. You want some?”
“No thank you, I don’t drink.” Not since the night she’d made a complete fool of herself and had almost destroyed her marriage.
Shrugging, he poured another round for him and Connor. “I was just saying to Connor that I think Andrei will pull through this. I don’t have a lot of experience, but I’ve experienced a couple of first Changes and I think we’ll be okay. My biggest worry is his age and if his system can handle all that. How’s he doing?”
“He’s sleeping. He’s constantly sleeping. Last week I would have done anything to get him to just lay down for a few minutes but now that he is, it worries the hell out of me.” She swiped at a tear. “I just can’t win.”
“I know the feeling. You hope for one thing, but when you get it, you start freaking out about something else. It can get exhausting. But that’s what I’m here for and now that you’ve moved into town, it will make everything easier.”
“I love you Rae Rose.”
Rae’s eyes snapped up. “Don’t do this. Not tonight. I have a bad feeling about tonight.” Connor was locking himself away again. Even though Caleb thought it safe enough since he was close at hand. She hated that he wouldn’t listen to her. “Please,” she whispered.
He just looked at her. She felt the tears slid down her cheeks and felt angry. This was the stupidest situation in the world. “You’re punishing us for no reason! Why do you have to be stuck in this glorified prison? Because you feel dangerous? You haven’t done anything yet! You’re punishing me…”
Connor frowned and walked closer to the bars. “I’m not doing this to hurt you Rae. I’m doing this protect you and our children. Caleb says the transformation happens gradually. That’s why he wanted Andrei all those months ago. Tomorrow is the Witch Moon and if I am changing, it’s already started and it’s only going to get worse. What if I grow claws in the middle of the night while I’m holding you? I can’t live with that uncertainty. It hasn’t happened yet, but it might.”
“I can protect myself. I don’t need you to worry about my safety. I don’t want you in this damn cage!” As she said the words, she could feel her body start to hum and she wondering if she had the power to break the bars separating her from her husband. She took a step back, lest she find herself doing just that. “Connor, I’m scared. I need you to be with me, not in this cell.”
He took a step towards the door and she had to stop herself from smiling. He would do this for her. He would not keep himself locked up when she needed him by her side. When he reached the door, however, he just stood there.
“I’m so sorry, Rosie. I can’t. I won’t put you and everyone else in that kind of risk.” He walked over to his bed and sat there, silently begging her to understand.
She was tired of being understanding. It was too much! “Fine, Connor. Stay in this god-forsaken cell. But I just want you to realize you’re the only one down here. Caleb and Jack are all cozy in their beds while you get stuck playing the martyr. If being a werewolf is so dangerous, why aren’t they down here with you?”
Before he could respond, she whirled around and went upstairs.
His eyes snapping open, Connor sat up from the bed he was sleeping on, feeling momentarily disoriented. Where was he? Looking around he noticed the small space and could feel the stone surrounding him. Then he remembered – he was locked in a cell. He’d spent his whole life trying to do good just to end up behind bars anyway. Looking at the watch on his wrist, he noted it was only three in the morning. So what had woken him up?
That’s when he heard it, a faint howling sound coming from somewhere to the east of him. He instinctively took in a deep breath but didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary. The walls were too thick. Walking closer to the bars, he tried again and caught the scent of almonds and Rae flashed in his mind’s eye. Except the smell was wrong. It was woodsy also, maybe sandalwood? Andrei. The scent belonged to Andrei!
Grabbing the bars, he unconsciously started to growl. When he heard howling it took him a moment to realize it was coming from him, but he was beyond caring. Rae was right, what good was he to them trapped and unable to help?
It seemed like hours before he heard someone coming along the passageway, and that only made him more frantic to get out. Tightening his grip around the bars he was still holding, he began to test their strength. No matter how hard he pulled, they wouldn’t budge.
“Reinforced steel, for the more trying Changes,” Caleb said. He was standing in front of Connor, calm as you please.
“Let me out.” Was that his voice? Connor was shocked by how deep it had become.
Caleb raised an eyebrow. “I could let you out, but what good would that do you? I think maybe I should come in, instead.”
“I need to get to Andrei. My son needs me!”
“Not at the moment he doesn’t. He will tomorrow though. But first we need to discuss a few things.” Caleb pulled out a set of keys and unlocked the door. Connor stood and watched him walk in. He looked bigger somehow.
“You’re not all human right now, are you?”
“No, I’m not. Your howling was getting on my nerves and this is the result. Me down here at 3:30 in the morning. You’re keeping my family up and it needs to stop.” He walked towards the bed and sat down.
In response, Connor growled.
When Caleb looked up at him, his eyes were glowing. “I really don’t have the patience for this. I told you months ago you would need my help, yet you never came to me. Now your son needs to be guided through his Change tomorrow night. I don’t have the time nor the inclination to help guide you through yours at the same time. So, we’re going to do this tonight.”
Connor just stared at him. Tonight? Better now than never. “Alright.”
Caleb laughed. “Alright! So, rule number one, Changing is fun. Yes, it hurts a little, but the more you do it, the less you feel the pain. Soon enough it just feels like a really great workout.”
Jumping off the bed, Caleb walked towards a still Connor. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before – an intense heat that spreads throughout your body. The more it spreads, the hotter it gets, which is why the first Change should happen when you’re young, less area to heat up. So, in short, this is gonna hurt like hell.”
“I can handle it,” Connor said. And he would. If this would help everyone tomorrow to concentrate on the most important thing – helping Andrei – then he could do it.
“Good. Now I want you to think about your biggest fear and I want you to visualize it happening. Right here, right now.”
Frowning, Connor said, “I don’t know what you mean. Like dying?”
“Is that what you’re afraid of the most?”
Connor shook his head, “I’m not afraid to die.”
“Okay, what are you afraid of? What keeps you up at night?”
What kept him up? Andrei. Losing his son to something he knew nothing about. To a curse that he’d unwittingly passed down. He was terrified that his son would die and he wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it.
Almost as if he’d said it out loud, he saw it happening. He saw Rae holding their baby boy in her arms and sobbing. And he knew Andrei was dead. As he took a step towards them, he thought he heard Caleb say, “Here we go.”
He felt a flush of heat start in the center of his chest. It spread slowly at first, inching its way outward from his heart. But he didn’t feel any pain, in fact, this felt just like what Rae had done to him a couple of weeks ago. Same slow electric burn. All it was missing was the hum.
“This isn’t so bad. There’s no pain,” he said.
“Wait for it,” Caleb responded quietly.
Connor opened his mouth to respond that he’d been through this before when the first wave of pain hit. “Holy -!”
“Rule number two: Don’t fight the feeling, it only makes it worse. Ride it out. Breathe through the pain. You’ll soon learn the pattern and you just have to breathe through the worst parts. This will take a while since you’re so big to begin with, but it will end. I promise. I’m right here, I’m not going anywhere. Breathe CJ, I’m right here…”
That was the last thing Connor heard before the pain got so bad that he passed out.
“What’s wrong with him?” Rae stood on the other side of the bars, staring in horror at the thing that used to be her husband. “Is he dead? What’s happening?”
Caleb turned and grinned back at her, “Emotional overload?” Then he too started to Change.
Rae stood there, fascinated and scared out of her mind. But Connor needed her, so she stayed, watching as one of the most important people in her life went through a transformation that would change them all forever.