With Everything I Am(3)By: Kristen Ashley
“That’s home,” she told him, her voice reverent. “We have another home, in the city, but Momma and Papa and I like this one way better. We come here every Christmas.” She turned to him and smiled a bright smile. “Come on!”
She ran the rest of the way, throwing open the door and turning again in its frame to pat her leg.
Limping less but still limping, he followed.
He entered the cabin and could see exactly why she’d prefer this place to any other.
It was small but it was homey, rustic, warm and friendly.
He could live his life there.
She was busy rushing around the cabin and he stood in the door watching her.
“We’ll get you all warm and you can rest. Momma and Papa will be home soon and he’ll know what to do. Papa always knows what to do,” she babbled as she bunched clean sheets on a rug before the fire with her still mittened hands and then she turned to him and patted her leg again. “Come on, puppy. It’s okay.”
He cautiously limped to the sheets.
She pulled off her mitten and ran her fingers down his head. “Good puppy,” she murmured.
He collapsed with a canine groan to the sheets.
“There you go,” she whispered, crouching beside him to give him a rub.
Then she ran to the door, closed it and pulled off her hat, mittens, scarf and coat, throwing them efficiently on the couch.
She took a fluffy throw from a chair and brought it to him, tossing it on his body and arranging it carefully as he felt the healing in his flank sharpen.
No longer running, the wound would be mended within half an hour.
She sat down behind him and whispered, “I’ll just lay here with you until Papa gets home.” He felt her settle and press her little body down his back. “Keep you warm and safe,” she mumbled, her voice turning sleepy. “Then Papa will take care of you.”
Regardless of the fact that she was clearly a gifted child, like any child she was dead asleep within minutes.
And he lay beside her, letting the healing work and thinking, even though she clearly adored her father, he would be having words with a man who’d let his child, gifted or not, stay alone in a remote cabin and wander the forest in the dead of night. He didn’t give a fuck that she was obviously quite capable or if she did, indeed, have a way with animals.
No good human parent did that.
He was whole again and he sensed them well before they arrived.
He carefully moved away so as not to waken her, had transformed and was standing beside her wrapped in the throw she’d placed over him when the door opened.
His brethren glanced at him then the child then his brother Calder threw him his pants.
He pulled them on as his father walked close.
Too close to the child.
Unconsciously he straightened, pants still half unbuttoned, and moved to stand in front of her.
His father, Mac’s eyes slid away from the girl and caught his.
Then he watched Mac’s face gentle.
“Callum,” Mac murmured softly.
“She’s Senator Arlington’s daughter,” Callum announced, his voice low in deference to her sleep but rumbling because he was pissed way the hell off.
“I know,” his father replied.
“I’m uncertain of an allegiance with a man who’d leave his daughter unprotected,” Callum went on.
Callum watched something flash across Mac’s face and what he saw made him brace.
“It matters not,” his father said softly and when Callum opened his mouth to speak again Mac lifted a hand. “Senator Arlington was assassinated tonight. His wife with him.”
Callum’s head jerked toward the innocently sleeping child and he felt his gut clench painfully at the thought that she, especially she, would lose her mother and clearly beloved father on Christmas Eve.
“She was here for her safety,” Mac continued and Callum’s eyes cut back to him as he carried on, “You were here for it as well.”
“I –” Callum started, surprised at this announcement and getting pretty fucking tired of surprises.
Mac got closer. “It was a test.”
Callum’s jaw grew tight.
He had endured a fair few of his father’s tests in his very long life.
He watched Mac look back down at the girl with an infinitely gentle expression and he knew his father wasn’t finished.
He wasn’t wrong.
When Mac’s eyes came back to Callum, he went on, “As ever, you passed,” Callum watched his father smile and something oddly joyous shone in his eyes before he murmured, “And so did she.”
“Would you like to tell me what you’re on about?” Callum suggested.
Mac didn’t hesitate. “Tonight, my son, the connection has begun.”