Chapter Twenty One
Iris put her hands on the table and forced herself to meet his eyes squarely. "We met with your 'boys' only recently, Bill; and nothing came of it then."
"No it didn't!" he snapped resentfully. "But that was not the fault of my boys; they would have been willing to take it further – if you had only met them half way."
The colour came to her cheeks, and she allowed her eyes to drop from his. He could not be allowed to see her anger – her outrage and offence at the way those – brutes had manhandled her!
He must continue to think her weak and unprotected – until the time was right.
"Oh James!" she thought silently. "I need you now, don't let me down!"
"Well maybe I could have been a little less – reserved," she said slowly. She peeped up at him, and saw the way his shoulders relaxed.
"Yes," he agreed with a nod. "My boys don't need much encouragement – but they do need a little." she saw the indulgent smile that came to his face, and looked up suddenly.
"I am really grateful for your concern, Bill; for both my father's health and for your concerns for our safety... I promise to think of what you have said, and consider fully your wisdom, and my options." She stood up whilst he was digesting her words. "But now I really must get back to my father... goodbye for now, Bill; you should go and get some rest." she just managed to make her tone sound concerning and maternal – Just.
Bill smiled up at her. "You have always been a good girl, Iris; a little too wilful... a little too human at times, but a good girl at the heart of you."
"Daddy raised us well," she whispered tearfully, and this time her emotion was genuine.
He reached out and patted her arm. "You go on back to your father, girl, I will come and find you later."
As Iris walked down the deserted corridor she felt the weight of his parting words; they sounded so much like a threat to her.
She wrapped her arms around her waist in an effort to warm herself, but still the shiver racked her frame.
"Iris – there you are!" it was Aunt Trudy, standing in the doorway of the little waiting room.
She looked small and tired, and slightly batty – as she always did, and Iris thought she had never seen anyone quite so wonderful in her entire life.
"Oh Aunt Trudy!" she whispered as she reached her, and her green eyes filled with tears.
Aunt Trudy reached out to embrace her niece – squeezing her tight in an effort to comfort her, before leading her into the quiet empty little room.
"I've just been in to see your father, and Laurie... she is looking as pale as you child. She told me to come and find you, and that you would tell me what I need to know; she did not want to risk disturbing him, and I did not want to upset her any more than she already seemed to be."
"He is going to be okay!" Iris said first to reassure her aunt. "They just need our help a little; they need our blood to help purge his system."
"So what is wrong with him, and how can I help?"
Iris smiled tearfully. "It's a virus of some sort; it's poisoning his system – his blood, so they want to give him a complete transfusion, using our blood."
"Ah," Trudy sighed in understanding as she sat back, and a look of relief came to her face. "So the two of you are pale because you have been giving blood – and not because you are falling ill too."
"That's right, Aunt Trudy, and we were hoping that you would be willing to donate as well,"
Trudy laughed lightly. "Of course, child; he is my brother after all... my only male relative."
"There is something else, Aunt Trudy... Bill Frawnings is here in the city, he knows about dad being ill and came to hospital – he might still be here for all I know..."
"Oh?" Trudy looked at her sharply. "And what does he want – do you think, why are you so worried about that?"
"Well, he said pretty much what you just said, that we are women without a healthy male protector; that if word got out, well we could be seen as being vulnerable..."
Trudy's eyes narrowed, but she just waited silently for her niece to continue.
"He said that I should think about pledging to 'one of his boys'."
Iris could not stop her lip from curling with disgust at the idea, and her green eyes fixed on her aunt as though begging for her to intercede.
"We could all have a lot to lose," Trudy murmured thoughtfully.
Iris nodded in agreement, especially Aunt Trudy – her company was worth millions, and so many of their kind would almost definitely appear, would be looking to get control of some or all of that wealth, which she had created.
"What should I do, Aunt Trudy?" Iris whispered huskily.
Trudy sighed again as she reached out and patted her niece's hand in reassurance.
"Don't worry about it now, child... we will sort something out, but later once we are more certain of your father's progress."
Iris couldn't help but think that her aunt was not taking the threat seriously enough.
"But don't you see Aunt Trudy, that might be too late, they seek to take advantage of daddy's illness, they won't wait to see how he fares, they will act and soon!"
"Hush now, child;" Aunty Trudy soothed her as Iris seemed on the brink of hysteria. "We are not totally without allies, people who might be prepared to step up in our defence."
"That is not the same as family or bonded though, Trudy."
Aunt Trudy smiled as she patted her niece's hand gently. "And does that not bring us right to your nice Mr Atherton?"
The colour came briefly to her cheeks, and her eyes fell away from her aunts.
"We have become close," Iris nodded hesitantly, and her aunt barked out a laugh.
"You are more than close, my girl, and you are being insulting to me to imagine that you could hide that from me."
The colour deepened for a moment and then faded as Iris sighed. "you are right of course, we have become intimate, and he said that... well, we are bonded – I love him, I love him so very much, Aunt Trudy; but it is so soon – we have only know each other for a few weeks, I do not know if he is ready to make our relationship public, I certainly do not want to force him into making a commitment..."
"But we have already made our commitment." the husky male voice was so familiar to Iris that she did not have to turn around to see him. She could already picture him, in casual clothing, and with hair ruffled, and stubble on his face. He would be tired, since he would not have had much sleep either.
She turned and smiled at her own accuracy.
He stepped into the room, and Iris flew into his arms, needing the warmth and security that only he could give her now.
"I couldn't sleep," he murmured huskily. "So as soon as I got your message I came straight over here," he hesitated for a moment. "I saw Bill Frawnings leaving?"
"He came to see how my father was doing – or so he said," Iris mumbled into his shirt front.
"And made a couple of veiled threats as well," Trudy snapped.
James released Iris but he took her hand as they sat together across from Aunt Trudy.
"Tell me," he ordered quietly.
Trudy's eyes widened at the note of authority in his voice, and her pupils dilated, then snapped back.
"It was Iris who he spoke to," she said brusquely as she shrugged her shoulders and crossed her arms almost in a defensive gesture.
He looked at her, and gently squeezed her hand.
"Tell me," he requested huskily.
She allowed his strength and security to wash over and through her, and then calmly she told him of her meeting with Bill.
"And so you think that he aims to... coerce you into a relationship with one of them," he glanced again at Trudy. "For what purpose, I mean you are a beautiful, desirable woman, Iris but..."
"There are plenty of desirable women out there," Iris finished his sentence and agreed with him. "And besides that, neither myself nor Laurie were to any of their liking."
He frowned. "How do you know that?"
She sighed as she told him of the meeting with Bill and 'his boys'.
"It was awful," she whispered. "To be mauled and pawed like that, and poor Laurie!"
"And your father allowed that?" James said in disbelief.
"Not for long, as soon as he realised what they were about, he put a stop to the meeting... Bill was not best pleased about that either."
"So Bill Frawnings is trying to force an alliance... for what purpose do you think?"
Iris and Trudy exchanged a look, and they both nodded in agreement.
"We think that they are after power," Trudy said. "From my brother's estate; and from my company."
James looked at Trudy in shock. "In this day and age! They really think that they could pull that old superior male bullshit!"
Trudy laughed bitterly. "You are a fool, James if you suppose that our kind have changed at all, in these past thousand years; they are after all driven by animal instinct and that will always bow down to physical strength first."
James sat back with a sigh as he thought about his kind, of how – brutish, they were most of the time, even his father at times – especially at the time of the full moon, and he himself if he was honest enough with himself; he realised that he liked how he towered over Iris, how protective that made him feel... how strong and in control; and he knew that there were times when he could be downright domineering, but not ever did he feel superior to another, be them male or female, be them human or shifter.
"I think that the sooner we make our union public, the better for us all," he said softly.
He saw Trudy heave a little sigh of relief, but she still regarded him in a guarded almost suspicious way.
"I don't want you to do it – just to protect me," Iris mumbled.
James turned to look into her eyes, and he smiled gently. "I heard you tell your aunt that you loved me, and I am as much in love with you, as you are with me, we are bonded you and I. You have opened up my world, and freed my spirit..."
He frowned suddenly, and his eyes darkened to black. It was as if he grew, before her very eyes; his shoulders seemed to expand, and the room was suddenly too small to contain them all... to contain him, as he radiated power, and energy and barely suppressed aggression, and Iris felt herself cowering beneath this raw power.
"And if Bill Frawnings and his clan think that they can come along and threaten my most beloved, then war it shall be!"
Chapter Twenty Two
Laurie looked bone tired when she came out of their father's room.
Aunt Trudy had gone in to take over from her, and whilst the nurse was hooking her up, and disconnecting Laurie, Iris took the opportunity to take a quick look at her father.
"He seems to have more colour now," she said hopefully to the nurse.
The nurse smiled at her, and nodded. "His breathing is much better too, and his heart and pulse rate."
"So you think it might be working?" Laurie whispered.
"Well it is still very early in his treatment, but all of my recordings of his stats, have seen a steady increase." She smiled at the three women. "You are all being very strong for him, and I believe that it will pay dividends in the end."
Iris helped Laurie down to the canteen, where she gently pushed her into a chair, before going to fetch her some hot food and a drink.
"They are still on breakfasts at the moment," she told her sister as she pushed a steaming mug in front of her. "They are just cooking some fresh bacon, and it will be with you in a bit. Drink your tea while you are waiting."
Laurie smiled tiredly and obediently picked up the mug to sip at the hot sweet drink.
"Urg!" she wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Too much sugar!"
"I know, but you need the energy, and quickly," Iris soothed and encouraged.
As she sat watching her sister eating and drinking, she wondered idly where James had gone. She was still quite shaken by that glimpse of him earlier, that peek into another side of him that she had never even guessed at before.
Not for the first time, Iris began to wonder how ignorant she and her sister were about their own people.
James had sat with her and Trudy for a while, but he seemed preoccupied, and as the sun began to shine through the windows he stood up and turned to Iris.
"I have a couple of things I need to see too," he told her apologetically. "I should only be gone for a couple of hours... but I will be back."
She smiled as she stood up too. "I'll walk with you to the exit."
The nurse came bundling in then. "Your sister is done for," she said briskly. "She needs some good cooked food, and a cup of hot, sweet tea."
"Is she all right?" Iris demanded in alarm.
The nurse smiled. "Yes, she has been a real soldier going on for longer than she should have really, she just needs to replenish what's she's given, whilst someone else takes over."
"That would be me," Trudy said calmly. "Iris, you take care of Laurie."
James bent to kiss her cheek. "I will come and find you when I get back," he promised huskily and then he was gone.
The nurse spared his parting figure a quick appreciative glance. "He's a strong one, will be a powerful pack leader – if he isn't one already," she murmured softly, almost to herself. "He must be one from the original lineage."
Iris opened her mouth to ask what she meant, but Trudy gave her hand a quick squeeze. "We will talk later – you and I – but do not betray your ignorance of our kind, especially not to strangers." she warned in a soft voice.
It was a conversation that in the end they never had.
The morning drifted on with the three women taking it in turns to sit by her father's bed, and give him some of their blood.
It was as the nurse had promised though, and it began to pay real dividends, as her father's breathing became less laboured, and the drawn deathly pallor began to ease, and just before dinner time, Iris's father suddenly opened his eyes and looked at his pale daughter.
"Iris?" he mumbled in a dry rasping voice.
"Dad!" she shot to her feet and pressed the button that she knew would bring the nurse. "Oh dad, we have been so worried about you!"
"What happened?" he demanded in confusion.
"Ah, so you are awake, Mr Beaumont," the nurse came bustling in and immediately pick up his hand and put her fingers to his wrist to check his pulse.
"Where am I?" he demanded in a dry irritable voice.
The nurse smiled down at him, and then picked up a beaker that was beside his bed. "Here, drink some of this water... it will help, I promise."
She put the straw to his lips, and although he scowled he obediently sucked up some of the cold refreshing liquid.
Whilst he was drinking, Iris was aware of the nurse studying her father and gauging his reactions and responses.
After he had sat drinking for a while, he put his head back tiredly.
"Now, tell me," he ordered weakly and the colour that he had briefly had, was slowly fading to leave a grey complexion behind.
The nurse looked across at Iris, who simply shrugged.
"You have been very ill, Mr Beaumont," the nurse told him calmly. "A virus that was poisoning your system... you would have died had your cleaning lady not found you when she did."
"But you have managed to cure it?" he asked through half closed eyes, and Iris was aware that he was almost unconscious again.
"Yes, Mr Beaumont, you shall be quite well again now... and probably sooner than you should."
He gave a little grunt and then his breathing deepened, indicating that he was asleep again.
The nurse looked at Iris's pale worried face, and then smiled in reassurance. "He will be okay, his system is almost totally purged now, and all we need is a little more from each of you, to just strengthen his red cell count."
"I don't mind staying for that," Iris said stubbornly. "Poor Laurie is frail at the best of times, and Aunt Trudy..."
"Your sister is stronger than you give her credit for, and out of the two of you she is the one who is bouncing back faster."
That was true, as pale and drained as she had looked earlier, all it took was a cooked meal and a hot sweet tea, and she was back to her old self, even though she was still fretful of their father's health.
"She has had a good long rest, and is ready – more than ready to take over from you again."
"But a little longer could only be good for her."
"It honestly would not make any difference since she is back to full strength... but you, Iris; you are putting your health, and possibly your life at risk by prolonging this."
"Do as the nurse suggests, daughter of mine," her father suddenly said from the bed.
He had not opened his eyes, he didn't even open them whilst he was talking, but even in his weakened state, his authority was absolute... well almost absolute.
"Yes, dad," she sighed in supplication.
"Good," the nurse said with a nod. "Right, I shall just go and fetch your sister and then we can swap you over."
"I love you, daughter," her father murmured gruffly, and Iris reached out to stroke his hand.
"I love you too, daddy," she whispered tearfully.
The day drifted on its course and there was no sign of James.
Iris and her aunt were sitting back in the waiting area, and neither of them seemed to want to talk much.
It had been a draining day – with the hanging around, or being hooked up to give blood, and Iris rubbed absently at the vein in her arm, where the drip had been fixed.
"Don't mess with it, child," Trudy advised, and Iris grinned across at her.
"You remind me of when I was younger; you were always saying things like that to me!"
Trudy chuckled. "And you almost never listened."
"No, much to my regret afterwards... But you were always there to pick up the pieces, Trudy; and I don't think that I ever said thank you to you."
Trudy reached out to pat her hand. "No, I don't think that you did either, but it wasn't necessary anyway, because that is what family does for each other – being strong when another is feeling weak."
"Do you ever feel weak?" Iris asked curiously, as she thought of the steely woman and all that she had accomplished in her life. Iris could never imagine Aunt Trudy ever being vulnerable.
"More times than I can remember, Iris," she sighed now.
"So who was strong for you when you were feeling weak?"
"Who else... your father of course."
"Of course!" Iris said a little tearfully. She wasn't sure why, whether it was the stress and worry for her father, or whether it was her weakened state from the blood that she had been giving, but Iris was aware that she feeling very emotional today, more emotional than she could ever remember feeling in her life before.
Aunt Trudy sat back again with a sigh. "He will be okay... thank god."
Iris knew that her aunt loved her father almost as much as she and Laurie did, but their affection at the moment was being overshadowed by the fear of what could happen without his protection.
She thought about Bill Frawnings and his veiled threats, and almost as though her thinking had summoned him, he suddenly came striding into the waiting room accompanied by one of his sons.
"Ah there you are, Iris," he said in a forced jovial voice, as he completely ignored Trudy. "I brought my lad, Mark with me; I remembered that the two of you got on quite well as youngsters, so thought..."
"Thought what?" Trudy asked as she stood up and moved in front of her niece in a protective manner.
Bill scowled at her. "This is between Iris and me!" he snapped aggressively.
"No, not if you are talking pack business – that would have to involve Iris's father as well, and since he is not able to be here right now, then I will act in my brother's stead, as guardian of the family."
She crossed her arms over her chest and glared up at the two men, and Iris saw her aunt tapping her foot impatiently.
She was a woman of no height or build, but she had not become so successful without learning how to appear strong in front of men.
And Iris noted as she peeped around her aunt, that Bill Frawnings and his son, Mark we no different than any other men – not in essence anyway.
They seemed to have shrunk, as they hunched shoulders and looked everywhere and anywhere but not at the diminutive woman in front of them.
"Well," she snapped when Bill did not speak. "Do you disagree with my role?"
He shook his head, and then sighed in resignation. "No you may speak for your brother – if it makes you feel better."
He managed to make it sound like a favour to her, and Iris just knew that Trudy would be scowling at him in full measure.
"Very well then," she said after a moment of silent fury. "As guardian to my niece then, I would recommend that this or any other courtship meeting should be postponed until we know the health of Iris's father, and until a time when she is feeling more in the mind to talk about it rationally!"
"Hah!" he barked a loud laugh that just grated along Iris's nerve ends. "No, that is not agreeable to us at all."
Trudy tilted her head to look up at the man. "Well then we are at a stalemate, and this meeting shall be adjourned until Iris's father is able to take a stand, and offer incentives and counter negotiations."
Bill looked down at this tiny woman, and his mouth went slack. "What?" he blinked in confusion.
"This meeting is over!" Trudy bit out slowly. "Take your son home or out for some food, and come and see my brother – when he is feeling better."
Bill stepped closer to Trudy. "But what if he doesn't get better?" he asked softly. "You know that a family – a clan, with no male protector would be vulnerable. The council would probably have to get involved – for they would not want to risk things descending into clan wars... they would probably insist on your niece allying – by Bonding, with someone of their choosing."
He moved so that he could see Iris properly. "Is that what you would want, girl, to be paired with a complete stranger – to be forced to Bond with another?"
"That would not happen!" James said quietly from the doorway. "For I have pledged with Iris – and she to me."
Bill turned around and his face went a dark purple colour.
"You, Atherton; what do you have to do with this?"
James gave a slow dangerous smile, "Iris and I have known each other for a while now, we have become close... we have become lovers, and we have pledged ourselves to be Bonded and Bred, we shall be married as soon as Iris's father is well enough to attend his daughter's wedding." he stepped into the room, and it was as though the room shrank – or James grew. "But until he is recovered, I have sworn myself to their clan; I am now their male protector until the leader is strong enough to take over again."
"You have informed the council of your change of allegiance?"
"I have," James nodded, as he moved around the room so that he was standing just in front of Iris, and the two men turned to keep their eyes fixed on him, so that their backs were now to the door.
"But, you, you are just one man, if you have abandoned your own clan, then they would have no allegiance to you, you will be a lone male..."
"I am afraid that you are wrong there too," this was another male, and Iris tried to peer around Bill and his son to see the newcomer, as those two turned to look as well.
The man who stood in the doorway looked to be in his sixties. But he still had an air of strength about him, even with his grey hair. His brown eyes were sunk a little deeper and his square jaw had lines etched deeply at the corners.
He looked though, just like James, how James would look in another thirty years perhaps?
He was almost obviously James's father.
"It is good to see you again, Bill," the man smiled but there was a real air of concealed danger about him.
"You too, Craig," Bill nodded. "It's just a shame that it is in such circumstances."
"Oh I don't know, I think that my son and his chosen, pledging themselves, and our being here to witness that, well that can only be a pleasant circumstance."
"Yes, well... I am not sure about that," Bill said gruffly as he shook his head a little.
Craig Atherton stepped fully into the room, and Iris now felt like she was in a small overcrowded cupboard, rather than a large waiting area, complete with several chairs and lounges.
"Be sure, Bill," Craig said in a soft menacing tone. "I want your acknowledgment of their pledge; you are to be our independent witness to this... I demand it of you."
He stood over the man; he crowded the man, as he moved closer and closer to him. "I demand it of you!" he growled again.
The room was full of suppressed violence all of sudden, as though a storm was, at any moment about to explode in the centre of it.
Iris sucked in a breath and wrapped her arms around herself as she hunched down lower in her seat.
All these people, she thought to herself. All standing around her and over her, all deciding her fate and future for her.
"I demand it of you, Bill!" Craig Atherton growled a little louder, and Bill Frawnings hunkered lower, and bowed his head, and seemed to actually shrink. "I demand it!"
Suddenly Bill threw back his shoulders. "This is all very well, Atherton, and even though you may be a council leader, you cannot force an alliance... I have not heard Iris confirm this yet – nor her guardian support it!"
Suddenly all eyes were on her, and Iris could feel the weight of the male dominance on her.
"Aunt Trudy?" she whimpered seeking support from the only other female in the room.
Trudy put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "This is your decision, child; do you agree the pledge with James?"
She looked up and her eyes met and locked with James's and she felt such a sense of love from him and for him, as their bond reasserted itself. She had sat there listening as these people tried to fight over her fate, and felt the first stirrings of anger.
Her green eyes glittered with a slowly boiling rage, but as James smiled at her, her anger simply evaporated.
"Yes," she whispered. "Yes of course we are bonded – we always have been."
"Good," Trudy declared. "And as acting guardian, I support their pledge!"
Bill Frawnings clenched his fists and give a low grunt of frustration.
He would have loved to have turned and stormed from the room, but Craig Atherton was blocking him.
"Well," Craig demanded. "Do you bear witness?"
"Aye, that I do!" he snapped angrily.
Chapter Twenty Three
Bill Frawnings and his son left soon afterwards, as soon after his angry declaration as he could in fact, and following their departure, the people in the room, were silent for a moment.
Then James's father came and sat down next to Iris, and took her hand gently.
"So you are the young woman who has claimed my son?" he asked with a rueful little smile.
Iris smiled back and then shrugged apologetically. "I fell in love with him," she said softly. "And I could not help myself; I could not stop myself from bonding with him."
"Ah," he said and Iris saw some tension leave his shoulders, and his eyes became less guarded. "I can see that you do love him, and the bonding would have come naturally for both of you... it is as it should be between two people."
He patted her hand and then stood up, to walk over and talk to Aunt Trudy.
"I do not believe that I have had the pleasure before now, Miss Beaumont, although I have heard a lot said about you."
"Yes, well, people will gossip needlessly sometimes," Aunt Trudy said gruffly as she placed her hand in his and looked up at him suspiciously.
"You have an incredible reputation, which I do not believe was earned through idle gossip."
James sat down next to Iris, and took her hand in his. "I am sorry that I was gone for so long, but I had to make some arrangements, and I owed it to my father to tell him about you, before I went around making announcements."
"What did he say?" Iris asked softly as she continued to watch the man talking to her aunt. She could see the way that they were sizing each other up, even as they carried on a mundane conversation. The undercurrent in the room was one of guarded intent at the moment, and Iris was not sure what to make of it.
"He was not too happy at first," James admitted a little ruefully. "I mean he had never even heard your name mentioned before, and suddenly here I was about to turn my back on my family and clan, for someone he knew nothing about."
"But he changed his mind when he learned who my aunt was?" Iris guessed scornfully.
James hesitated for a moment, and he looked across the room at the two people. "No... I don't think it was that... at least... no, it was when I told him that I loved you, and that I would make the pledge with or without his blessing..."
Iris turned to look at him. Was that doubt that she had heard in his tone?
James squeezed her hand gently. "It will be okay," he promised. "As long as we are together then we will be okay."
She smiled. "Yes, we will."
Iris's father continued to improve and grow stronger, even after his three relatives had stopped giving him blood.
The doctor took his time in giving him a clean bill of health though, and so it was a full month almost, before Greg Beaumont was allowed to leave the hospital.
During that time, Iris divided her life into three segments. One was the bulk of her day where she continued to work as James's ultra efficient assistant. The second part was when she went to visit her father in the hospital with Laurie, so that they could be the loving dutiful daughters that he needed. But the third was the time that she and James spent together as a couple. It was a relationship that they could not indulge in any way – at all during their working hours, because the heat that simmered between them meant that control could be lost in a heartbeat... or less.
Which was proved whenever they were alone together, truly alone.
They all gathered at the hospital though when Greg was at last to be discharged.
"I shall travel with your father down to the estate, and stay with him for a few weeks" Aunt Trudy told her nieces. "I expect... hope that you two will come down for the weekend as usual, but for now you should continue with your own lives and jobs... your father needs rest, and peace, and above all he needs normality."
"But Aunt Trudy, what about your business, how can you stay away for so long and not have it suffer?" Iris protested.
Aunt Trudy smiled. "I have good people in key places, Iris; I can keep in touch remotely and keep my fingers in the pies that I am presently cooking up."
Iris laughed at her aunt's analogy. Aunt Trudy had never mastered the art of cooking, so her 'pies' that she referred to, must have been any business projects that she currently had on the go.
"Well if you are sure that you can manage, Aunt Trudy..."
"Yes, I am sure, child; I have been meaning to take a break for a while now, and so this is the perfect opportunity for me to do that."
"As much as I know that you love him, I hardly think that taking care of daddy could be considered a break though," Iris persisted doubtfully
"You worry too much, Iris. Your father is quite able to take care of himself, and he has enough household staff to be able to cover his general needs. I will be there merely to keep him company, and to enjoy a little time on his estate."
Iris's father agreed stubbornly with Aunt Trudy, and even though he looked pale and tired he was still very much their pack leader.
"Your aunt is quite right, my children. You would only be underfoot and causing me grief so stay where you are." he smiled as he said it, so that there was no hurt in his words. "I shall expect you both down for the weekend, and," he looked across at James. "And I shall expect you too, James. I shall trust my family to you, to become the protector of our pack – until I am able to take over again."
James half bowed in acknowledgment. "As you instruct, our leader, so shall I be."
It was almost a formal – if only temporary transfer of power, with some of the ceremonial words being exchanged.
For the first time in what seemed a long time, Iris felt safe, she felt truly safe for her future and that of her sister and her aunt as well. She trusted James as much as she trusted her father to always want the best for herself and her relatives.
She smiled up at James, as they left the hospital for the last time. "Thank you so much," she said softly. "For everything that you are doing for me and mine."
He took her hand and brought it to his lips, to kiss it gently. "You are the love of my life; you have opened it up, and freed me from all restraints. You have taught me how to control even my most inner demons, and released my spirit. Everything that I am now, I owe to you."
"Oh," Iris felt the tears well up in her eyes; he had meant every word of that. "I love you too James... more than anyone else in this world, I love you."
It had been almost six months since Greg had been discharged from the hospital, and he was almost back to full fitness.
The wedding of Iris and James was to occur on the day after tomorrow, and the house was to be invaded tomorrow, since this was where the ceremony was to be held. But for tonight it was just Aunt Trudy and Greg. His staff had all been given the day and the evening off, and so for a little while it was just the two of them.
The moon was in its first quarter, but Trudy was feeling restless.
"If you are happy to be alone for a couple of hours," she said suddenly. "I think I might go out for a run."
Greg looked up from the newspaper that he had been reading. "Yes, you have been cooped up here for weeks now; you get out for a bit... I'll be okay."
She stood up and patted his hand as she moved past him. "I shan't be gone long," she promised.
The patio doors stood open, and she watched the clouds sliding across the partial moon, as she unbuttoned the front of her dress.
She let it slid off her shoulders, and as it crumpled to the floor, she shimmered into her furry alter ego.
The grey wolf trotted down the steps, and bounded across the grass to disappear into the trees.
Trudy should have been aware of the figures by the north border, but she had spent weeks and months in the safety of her brother's estate, and it had lulled and dimmed her natural caution. She was unaware of being seen by the men as she changed without a full moon.
"They are growing too powerful, with this new allegiance... and him with his stable of females – those sisters with their air of superiority – and now we know why."
"Yes," the younger man agreed with a nod. "They need a lesson teaching to them – those sisters."
"The younger sister seemed more pliable – the older one is now spoken for, and would have given us more grief than she is worth I think. But that younger one she seemed timid – might be easier to control?"
"So the younger one then, we will get her and hold her for the full moon and then one of us will claim her for the bonding and the breeding."
"Yes we will force the bonding on her – if we have to!"
The morning of Iris's wedding dawned bright and sunny and she just knew that it would be a day that she would always remember with joy.
She had been reluctant at first to have a grand wedding, but both her father and James, and then Aunt Trudy, they had all insisted that they needed to make a statement, loud and clear, that this family now had fresh blood in it, there was new male – a strong male in the pack, and everyone needed to know that.
She had been doubtful at first but in the end had agreed that it was in the best interests of the family that it would be a grand and a public wedding.
She had spent yesterday and last evening with Laurie, and her father and her aunt, as the four of them sat and reminisced, of their childhood, but mostly of Iris and Laurie's mother.
"She would have been so proud of you – both of you," Greg had told them emotionally. "You have become everything that she wanted for you – and more, my beautiful, brave daughters."
The sisters both moved to curl up next their father, and the three of them snuggled affectionately for a while, whilst Trudy looked on indulgently.
Finally though she stood up. "Well as much as all of this soppiness is entertaining, I for one am tired... and it's going to be a long and important day for someone," she said with a pointed look in Iris's direction.
Iris blushed delicately as she nodded and also stood up. "It is after eleven, so I think bed would be welcome."
Laurie sat on the edge of Iris's bed as Iris slipped her nightgown over her head.
"This could be the last time that I can do this," Laurie suddenly said emotionally. "I mean even when we do all come down for the weekend, you will be with James, and I doubt that he would be comfortable with me curled up on the bed, with you!"
Iris chuckled tearfully. "No I don't suppose he would be,"
She joined her sister on her bed and gave her an affectionate hug. "We will still see each other all the time though, since I shall continue to work as James's assistant, and there is no reason for us not to meet up for lunch still... if you can get away from work as well?"
"Oh yes, I have a good hour and a half for my lunch, and my workplace is only five minutes away from my apartment – I think that was why Aunt Trudy offered it to me, in the first place."
"And since your apartment is only ten minutes away from that pub, 'Donalds', then it will still be convenient for us both.
"So not too much has to change then," Laurie said softly with a hint of relief.
Iris nodded. "I will still be and always will be your sister... and James will be your brother as well."
Laurie sighed. "That does sound kind of nice," she said as she moved off her sister's bed.
She would have left the room, but Iris stopped her. "Laurie," she said suddenly.
"Do you see much of that man in the apartment next to you, the one you felt that link with?"
She shook her head and a tear trickled from her eye. "No, he spends a lot of time away, I think, and he seems to work very long hours, so no I have never seen him, not properly, not since that time in the elevator."
"Oh... do you think that you might arrange to sort of, well accidently bump in to him, sometime?"
"Oh no, I don't think I could do that, I would be too embarrassed – it would be so obvious..."
"Oh well, maybe you will meet him in the elevator again sometime, after all he does only live next door to you."
"Maybe," Laurie said doubtfully, she decided not to tell her sister about the women that she saw coming and going from his apartment, when he was around. Always a different woman, always tall and dark haired, and beautiful.
She opened her sister's bedroom door. "Good night, Iris, sleep well."
The day dawned bright and clear, and Iris – after a night of weird and wonderful dreams, awoke with a slightly fluffy head.
But as she thought of the day ahead and everything that she had to achieve, even before she could meet James at the local church - for their wedding, she climbed from her bed with a sense of purpose.
She glanced at her watch, as she slid it from her wrist. Six thirty, and the wedding was not until eleven thirty.
"Loads of time," she said happily as she skipped off to the bathroom, to shower and wash her hair.
The morning though flew by.
By the time she came out of her bathroom, it seemed that the world had invaded her bedroom.
Her aunt and her sister were there with fresh juice and a couple of bacon rolls to keep her going.
Then there came two girls, who were distant cousins of James, and who were sitting on the edge of her bed, and chatting together, and there was his step sister, Leila as well, a shy and timid girl, who Laurie took under her wing, along with Toby her little son.
These four young women were to be her bridesmaids, and Toby would be the ring bearer.
"Right then all of you," Trudy suddenly clapped her hands a couple of times to attract everyone's attention. "Claire and Cassie, your mums are going to be doing hair and makeup shortly, and I think that they want to get the bridesmaids done and sorted so that they can dedicate their time to the bride."
The cousins both laughed together, but slid of the bed obligingly. "Mum runs a beauty salon and Aunt Harriet rents a chair from her," Cassie explained for anyone who might be in ignorance. "They often sell their services for special occasions like this, but mum does like to rule the roost given half a chance!"
Paula and Harriet were two delightful older ladies and very talented in their chosen profession as it turned out.
The four bridesmaids were styled and made up within a couple of hours leaving a full hour to dedicate themselves to Iris, who squirmed and fidgeted her way through hair, makeup and nails, but went in looking ordinary – if that was ever a description that could be aimed at her, and came out looking stunning and romantic and ever so slightly mysterious.
Iris's bedroom erupted with, "Oooh's," and "ahhh's," when the bridesmaids first saw her so nicely made up.
"Oh, Iris I love your hair swept up like that!" someone said enviously. "It's such a gorgeous colour – your hair is!"
They gathered around so that they could get a better look at its intricate curls and swirls, and Iris thought that she would fall down with dizziness at any second as they continued to coo and twirl around her.
"But now for the dress!" Aunt Trudy suddenly declared with an air of smug satisfaction.
She shooed everyone but Laurie out of the room, and Iris heaved a sigh of relief, as peace once more descended around her, and she sank down weakly onto her bed.
Laurie gave her hand a sympathetic squeeze. "It will soon be over and then you will have enough memories to last a lifetime," she promised softly.
Iris smiled up at her. "That is certainly the hope," she said, "although I thought that I would feel more nervous than I do?"
"What's to feel nervous about?" Trudy asked as she took the plastic cover sheet off the dress. "You love him, he loves you, you are worthy of one another, and it is the right thing for both of you," she crooked her finger to her niece as she carefully unzipped the dress. "This today is – like Laurie said, the thing for happy memories, but tomorrow will be all about the two of you and that's what's really important!"
Iris nodded in agreement as she carefully stepped into the dress, and Laurie stepped up to help gather it up onto her shoulders.
Between the three of them they managed to get her into the garment and get it fastened and hooked up tight, and then the crown and veil were the finishing touch – or almost the finishing touch.
"Oh here," Trudy suddenly said, "You need the something old and new and borrowed and blue." She opened up a box, which held a string of pearls.
"These belonged to my great grandmother," she said gently as she held them up.
"The pearl earrings, I purchased yesterday, to make them as new as I could get them." she fastened the clasp at the back of Iris's neck as Iris hooked in the delicate pearl drops.
"There you go, Iris, my eighteenth birthday present from daddy, for the borrowed," Laurie said as she placed a gold bracelet on her sister's wrist and fastened the clasp.
"Thank you – both," Iris said feeling close to tears. "But what about the something blue?"
Aunt Trudy chuckled. "It's a gift from your husband to be, he insisted that it was a tradition that we should absolutely keep to."
She held up a blue frilly garter for her to admire, and Iris felt the colour flood into her cheeks.
"He thought that I could not hear him, when he muttered something about taking great delight in getting it off you again at some point!"
Aunt Trudy looked positively wicked as the colour deepened in Iris's cheeks, and the glitter in her green eyes was something close to awesome.
She had that glitter again when she walked down the aisle with her father, and when James turned to look at her, and their eyes met and locked, it was a foregone conclusion to every changeling present, that this couple would bring security to their kind, that when the time was right they would issue the next generation of shape shifters, and they would be strong and beautiful, just like their ancestors.
As the newly married couple gazed into one another's eyes, everyone could see that they were indeed Bonded and Bred – and soul mates for life.
Jan 9, 2018 in romance