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Stitched(Rylee Adamson #8.5)(4) by Shannon Mayer

Her smile was hesitant. “No, I have my children here, they were saved . . . by Tara. She said a Guardian was with her, and that his woman was a Tracker. I assume that is you?”

I gave a nod, keeping my eye on the food as I spooned it onto my plate, just staring as she continued to speak.

“Is he well, the Guardian? Is he here? I would like to thank him for helping her. They saved many of our children.”

Catya’s hand rested lightly on my thigh, but she was silent.

I cleared my throat. “He’s dead.”

Daisy made a sound deep in her throat, like a growl and a groan. “I’m sorry. It was recent then?”

Fuck, I did not want to talk about this. So I stuffed my face. I didn’t know what it was I ate, didn’t care. Couldn’t really taste it anyway over the grief that filled my body. Who knew grief tasted like anything, yet it was like that. The salt of tears turned into a crazy volume of pain filling my belly. I couldn’t escape it, so I kept shoveling food into my mouth. Alex would have been proud.

Then again, I needed to eat. I knew that much. I hadn’t been taking good care of myself and I had to do that now, had to. For the sake of . . . my brain stuttered over saying it, even inside myself.

My daughter.

I put my fork down, wiped my face with a napkin, and slid from the bench. “Catya, stay and eat.” I didn’t look at her or Daisy, just strode from the room until I found a door that opened into the fresh mountain air and promptly puked up every last thing that I’d just eaten.

On my hands and knees, it took me a good minute to realize I wasn’t alone. And I wasn’t on cobblestone or rock, but warm, white sand. Fingers digging into the almost silken silt below me, I fought to breathe as I eyed up the man lying on flat out in front of me. He was on his back, his arms behind his head and a smile on his face. Flaming red hair topped his head, like a mini bonfire. He said nothing and I slowly backed out of the room. I wasn’t here to make friends, nor did I care why he was here, or what he was hiding from.

I made my way back to the huge dining room. Daisy was rocking Zane, who’d apparently had his fill of milk. Catya bounced beside her, clamoring to see the little boy.

Easing back around the corner, I leaned against the stone and slid to the floor. Liam said only take Coyote and Erik with me, but I was already regretting not bringing Alex. I missed him, missed his candor and warmth. Missed his unrepentant humor.

“Fucking rabbits,” I whispered to myself, the memory making me smile. And then cry.

The pad of tiny paws on the floor brought my head up. A gray and white house cat trotted toward me. Tail erect, her green eyes took one look at me and she leapt into my lap, purring. Instinctively, I circled her with my arms and pulled her tightly to my face, hiding my tears against her soft fur.

She wasn’t Alex, not by a long shot, but she was a hell of a lot better than I’d been expecting.

Holding her tight, I stood and stumbled toward where I thought Bao had said my room was. Opening a door at random, there was a made bed and that’s all I wanted. I kicked off my boots, slid a dagger under my pillow, and shed the rest of my weapons. Lowering myself to the coverings, I groaned as the mattress sagged under me. Laying back, cat curled up against my chest, I closed my eyes and prayed for sleep to keep me. That when I woke, all this would have been a nightmare. That Liam would be beside me, and I wouldn’t be alone.

Chapter 3

Yes, I knew it was a dream, because he was dead. Liam stood in front of me, his golden eyes alive with all that I could hope for. “Rylee. I told you I wouldn’t leave you. Enough tears. You need to save your energy for our girl.”

My jaw twitched and I was barely able to hold back from swinging at him. Laughing, he grabbed my arms. “I see it in you and know what you’re up to. Don’t think I don’t know you.” He pulled me close, bent his head so his dark hair fell forward, brushing my face. “Kiss me.”

I didn’t argue, but pressed myself to him, kissing him as if he were the only thing I needed to live. Here, I could stay here forever. I would give up everything to stand with him, to know he wouldn’t be taken from me again.

“No tears,” he whispered against my lips, his hands cupping my face and brushing the tears away with his thumbs.

“How can I not? You’re telling me you wouldn’t fucking well grieve if I died?” I leaned back so I could look him in the face, anger rearing its head within me.

He snorted softly and tightened his grip on me. “I’m not really gone, and besides, I know what’s coming. I need you to not be afraid, and our girl needs you to be the brave one you have been up ‘til now.”

Our girl. I lowered my head. “How can I be a good mom? I’m leaving her here, aren’t I? That’s why you said to take Erik with me.”

Liam nodded. “It’s the only place safe for her and Zane. They have a story yet to live in this world, and the only way you’ll ever allow her that is to leave her behind and face Orion on your own.”

“This isn’t fair.” I whispered the words, feeling like a child and not really caring. If there was anyone I could be honest with, it was Liam.

“No, it isn’t fair. But in the end, it will be okay. You have to trust that.”

“Easy for you to say, O’Shea,” I grumped at him, but again, didn’t pull away. I had a feeling that the minute I let go, the dream would end. I wanted to stay where I was for as long as possible.

Almost as if reading my mind, Liam untangled his arms from around me. “Time for me to go, love. I will be here, each night that you stay in Tian Shan. Until she is born.”

I grabbed at him. “And after I leave?”

His smile was sad and I knew, he didn’t have to say it.

No, he didn’t have to say a thing for me to know I wouldn’t get anymore from him.

I woke with a start, the soft, warm body of a cat on one side of me and Catya curled up behind me, breathing lightly. Sun streamed through the window above the bed and I forced myself out of the warmth holding me between the two tiny bodies. They slid toward one another, Catya sliding an arm over the cat who looked up at me, her green eyes irritated.

Suddenly I felt the need to apologize. “Sorry, she’s young and needs a lot of love. Hope you don’t mind a little werewolf clinging to you.”

The cat let out a sneeze and lowered her head so she rested on Catya’s cheek. They made a sweet picture. I made my way through the nearly silent hallways, nothing but the sound of my feet and the odd scratch of a bug or some such. Sending out a Thread, I Tracked my uncle. Or at least, I tried to.