Then choose to live. Sascha wasn't playing games. She'd told the absolute truth - Brenna had earned her right to die. We miss you.
Who are you?
I'm Sascha, mate to Lucas Hunter and a healer of DarkRiver. She was no longer a woman who belonged nowhere, no longer part of a race that would've punished her for her gift. Pride shimmered in her tone. Accepted, more than accepted by her new family, she'd never mourn who she'd once been.
Sascha, I'm broken.
So was I, Brenna. She reached out and hugged the girl's floundering spirit. What is broken can be healed.
Help me. The voice was resolute, that flickering flame settling to a slender column of purity. I won't give in to death. Help me wake up to reality... whatever that might be.
Pride for the young woman's courage mixed with anguish for the pain she'd suffered, but Sascha let her feel only the pride. I'm here. Slowly, she guided Brenna's broken mind through the shreds of her spirit.
Can this ever be fixed? Brenna asked, aware of the extent of the damage that had been done to her.
I was born to heal you. And if it took every second of the remainder of her time on this Earth, she would heal Brenna.
Take me home, Sascha.
Sascha opened her eyes perhaps an hour after she'd spoken to Hawke, and found herself sitting on the bed beside Brenna, her hand in the young woman's. She had no recollection of moving there, or of clasping her other hand with Lucas's. Brenna's brothers and Hawke surrounded the bed, touching their packmate wherever they could.
"Wake up, Brenna." Sascha brushed a gentle kiss on her forehead. As she sat back up, the girl's eyelids fluttered and then opened. Wary eyes met Sascha's. With a smile, Sascha said, "Hey, sleepyhead."
Brenna blinked. One of her brothers choked back a cry and pushed in front of Sascha to cup his sister's face with hands that were consciously gentle. "Bren? God damn it, Bren, you had us worried to death."
Over the top of Riley's head, Sascha met brown eyes filled with so much joy it was almost blinding. She got off the bed and let Lucas hold her. Now it was time for the wolves to heal Brenna, to cover her in their love and affection. Sascha would return to help her repair her mind and soul, but for today, this was enough.
"Let's go home," she said to Lucas.
He ran his knuckles down her cheek and dropped a kiss on her nose. "Still mad, Sascha darling?"
"Yes." Her hug was fierce. She lived with guilt every day of her life for condemning him to death.
A week later, she picked up Julian and rubbed his belly. The little cub growled and asked for more. Laughing, she gave him what he wanted. Tammy was out of town for the day and when she'd asked Sascha to look after the cubs, she'd jumped at the chance. They'd turned up at Lucas's lair as two adorable boys in blue jeans and T-shirts, but minutes later, she'd found two cubs chewing on her boots.
"You look like you're enjoying yourself," Lucas said from the doorway, a strained smile on his face.
She knew the reason for the strain. It was her. She was so angry with him for what he'd done and he felt it. How could he not? He was bonded with her. She watched him pick up Roman and let the cub claw playfully at his T-shirted chest, and knew she had to give up the anger.
How long did they have left? One month, maybe two. Her man was extraordinary and he knew how to love, how to feel, how to fight for his mate with every emotion he had in him. If he hadn't fought so hard, if he hadn't forced her hand, he wouldn't be the man she adored so hopelessly.
"I love you, Lucas," she whispered.
His eyes turned cat-green. "No more claws, kitten?"
She shook her head. "I'm so glad for you."
He looked like he wanted to walk over and kiss her till she begged for mercy. Except they had two squirming cubs in their arms. Looking at each other, they started to laugh. Started to live.
That night, she asked him to change for her. Without a word, he stripped off his clothing and the world turned into a multicolored shimmer. It was so beautiful, she felt her heart stop. She blinked and when she opened her eyes, a huge hunting cat lay on the bed beside her.
Despite the fact that she knew this was Lucas, she was a little scared. But not enough to miss the chance. Holding her breath, she ran her fingers through his silky black fur. There was nothing she could compare the sensation to. Bonded as they were, she'd felt him run, felt his joy in the wind and the forests, felt the panther just... be. But never had she touched the animal in him so intimately.
When he made a sound that was incredibly close to a purr, she started to laugh. "You like being petted whether you're in human or panther form."
The panther snapped his teeth at her and, under her hands, light shimmered. Heart in her throat, she remained perfectly immobile until Lucas lay na**d beside her, the exotic tattoo on his upper arm a reminder of the wildness within. "Wow."
"Of course. I'm the most beautiful creature you've ever seen." A smug smile.
Laughing, she let him tease her, let him teach her how to grasp the moment, how to love without fear or guilt, how to just be.
"Something's wrong," she said to him a month later.
He put his hand on her breast under the sheet and threw one leg over hers. "What?" His voice was a purr in the darkness.
Already, her body was heating up for his. "I've never felt better. You're the same. Every single physical symptom I had is gone and I don't think they're going to reappear."
"That's a problem?" His amusement was obvious. On her breast, his hand moved in easy circles.
She let her senses surrender, melting for him. "I'm serious. You shouldn't be able to keep my mind... fed, and function so well yourself."