Eileen Wilks: Humon Error

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Eileen Wilks Humon Error
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    Humon Error
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World of the Lupi - 8.5 from Tied with a Bow (Breeds #25 Anthology) by Lora Leigh, Virginia Kantra, Eileen Wilks, Kimberly Frost

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Humon Error

World of the Lupi - 8.5


Eileen Wilks

Chapter One

There were worse ways to spend the holidays. Even leaving out nuclear winter, Benedict could think of several. Like in a hospital. On a battlefield. At a Humans First rally—no, that was the same thing as a battlefield. At least it had been in October, when he’d lost six men himself and too many others had died, including . . .

“Good grief. Don’t look so grim.”

“I’m not grim,” he said automatically. He had the sense to shut his mouth without explaining that he’d been cheering himself up by comparing visiting Arjenie’s family to spending time with tubes in his veins and other places. Never mind that the visit came out ahead. It wouldn’t sound right.

She didn’t say a word. This was unusual enough to get his attention. He stole a glance away from the unfamiliar road.

The woman in the passenger’s seat was slightly above average height, definitely below average weight, with black-framed glasses, a narrow face, and long red hair so extravagantly curly it seemed to have a life of its own. She was shining with happiness. And his. She was his, and beautiful beyond words, and he’d cross the country on foot if that’s what it took to give her such joy.

Everything in him softened. He reached for her hand. “Grim, huh?” It was foolish to drive one-handed, even for someone with his reflexes, when he didn’t have to. But missing a chance to touch her was surely a greater folly.

“Not so much now.” She squeezed his hand. “They aren’t going to eat you, you know. They’re good people.”

He smiled because he knew that was true, and it made him happy that she had good people standing behind her. People who’d stepped in, opening their home and their arms to her when her mother was killed. But good people wouldn’t be happy about her relationship with him. Perhaps, as she claimed, they wouldn’t have a problem with him being lupus. Most human families would, but Arjenie was sure her people weren’t like that.

Maybe not. And maybe they wouldn’t be upset that he and Arjenie had no plans to marry, even though she couldn’t explain why that legal binding was unimportant compared to what truly held them together.

Humans weren’t told about the mate bond. Ever.

But because of that bond, Arjenie had to live far from her family now. Because of Benedict, she’d been exposed to danger, violence, and death. And probably would be again.

How could they accept that? Why should they?

Benedict thought, however, that they’d be courteous. People who raised someone as generous and openhearted as Arjenie would be courteous to him for her sake and their own. Clearly he had nothing to worry about. “I may be a little nervous.”

Her bright grin flashed across her face. “You think? Oh, look—that’s the oak! Turn there—just beyond that magnificent oak—the gravel road, do you see it?”

Obediently he slowed. She was vibrating with excitement. It had been nearly four months since she’d see her aunt and uncle and cousins. Other aunts and uncles and cousins would be there, too. The gravel road he turned onto would take them to an old farmhouse that had been the home and heart of the Delacroix family for nearly two hundred years. It was like a small clanhome. Everyone who could, came there for Christmas.

Not Christmas, he corrected himself. Yule. They were Wiccan. The center of their celebration was the solstice, which they called Yule, and which fell on the twenty-second this year. Then, on the morning of December 25th, they joined the rest of the country in what Arjenie called a grand explosion of culturally sanctioned greed. Presents, presents, presents.

They turned onto a tree-crowded lane. Branches arched overhead—bare now, but it must be pretty in summer. Moonsong hummed in his veins rather the way the car’s engine sounded to his ears. Her song was constant, having nothing to do with whether the moon was visible, but this close to the full moon it grew ever stronger.

He checked the rearview mirror. The car behind them was identical to the one he drove. Both rented, of course. He hadn’t actually been called on to cross the country on foot. They’d flown to D.C., stopping there for a couple days to pack up Arjenie’s apartment.

She’d cried. When they boxed up the last of the things in her bedroom, she’d cried, and he almost did, too, looking at her wet eyes. She called it “getting all teary, which is not the same thing,” but tears were tears. He’d told her she didn’t have to let her apartment go. She could keep it as long as she wanted—for the rest of her life, if she wished. They’d come to D.C. as often as possible . . . which probably wouldn’t be all that often. Not when they were at war.

Maybe the present he would give her on Christmas morning would help a little. He hoped so.

Arjenie’s phone pinged with her text alert. She checked it and exclaimed, “Oh, Uncle Nate and Aunt Sheila got in last night with their crew! That’s Jacob, Noah, and Emily. Emily’s the one I used to babysit.”

“You thought they were spending the holiday with Sheila’s family this year.”

“Yes, it’s her turn. They alternate between his family and hers, you know, but . . .” She scanned her phone. “Oh my. There was an argument. Aunt Robin doesn’t give any details, but I’ll bet Sheila’s mother got in one of her huffs. She does that. Anyway, the woman decided all of a sudden to go on a cruise. Can you imagine?” She shook her head. “A cruise instead of family at Yule.”

Benedict checked his memory, trying to place people he’d never met. “Nate is the physician. Family practice. He and your uncle Ambrose are twins. Nate’s wife, Sheila, is . . .” He frowned. He’d studied the family pictures Arjenie had on her phone, and he remembered a smiling woman with honey-blond hair. But he was drawing a blank on the details. “A landscape architect?”

“No, that’s Gary, Uncle Hershey’s partner. Sheila’s a stay-at-home mom, though she’s been talking about dusting off her lit degree now that two out of three of the kids are in high school.” Arjenie’s thumbs flew over the screen as she replied to her aunt. She had no problem carrying on multiple conversations. “And Uncle Ambrose and Aunt Carmen are here already with their brood. Oh, and she brought her brother. Good.”

“Her brother.”

“Uh-huh. Ben Avelar. He’s divorced and has joint custody, but his ex has the kids for the holiday and his own family’s in Portugal, so Aunt Robin must’ve told Carmen to bring him along.”

Benedict stopped trying to add up all the people he was about to meet. “The twins are already there, too.”

“Oh, yes. Both their colleges let out a week ago. I just wish Tony could have made it. You’d like him, and he’d be glad of someone to talk to who gets him.”

Tony was the oldest of Clay and Robin Delacroix’s three children and, like the twins, was more of a sibling than a cousin to Arjenie. A younger sibling. Tony had been born the same year Arjenie’s mother died and Arjenie went to live with her aunt and uncle. “He couldn’t get leave.”

“The Air Force does not seem to understand how important it is for him to be home for the holidays.” She shook her head. “Poor Tony. It’s not like Wicca is inherently antiwar, but my family does seem to breed more pacifists than warriors. He’s sort of the odd man out sometimes.”

Benedict wished Tony could have made it, too. As it was, he’d be very much the odd man out. He was nothing but a warrior.

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