Wild Rain

By: Christine Feehan

Rio wasn’t certain what the attendance record was supposed to tell him, but he wasn’t going to ram on the elder’s parade. He knew what it must have cost Delgrotto to go up against the council. There was always a penalty of some kind. He didn’t want to throw the old man’s gesture of peace back in his face. “It’s an honor to have you, Elder. Tell me how Drake is doing.” Rio knew Drake would have moved heaven and earth to stand up for him, but he was locked away in a hospital with one of their surgeons.

Delgrotto looked grim. “Our kind heal fast under most circumstances, but the leg was shattered, the bone in fragments. They operated of course and used steel pins and bolts to hold it all together. You know what that means to him.”

Rio turned away, swore under his breath. “Is that what he wanted? Was that his choice? He could have had it removed.”

Delgrotto shook his head. “Drake’s a strong man. He’ll find a way to get past this. Who is standing for you in his place?”

“Joshua. I’ll go see Drake as soon as possible.”

“That would be wise. Is Maggie with Rachael? I see that Brandt is here.”

“Yes, Maggie offered to help her get ready. Maggie’s the first female shifter Rachael’s had the opportunity to meet, so I thought it would be good for her to make a friend.”

“It was a good idea,” Delgrotto agreed. “Everyone is assembling, Rio, you should take your place in the circle of the lair.”

Elijah had slipped away to go to his sister. Rio looked around him at the large gathering of tribesmen. Tama and Kim’s people. Scattered among them were his own people, drawing closer, members of his lair. He had to look away. He hadn’t known they would come. He had never imagined they would share this day with him. His team would be there, men who stood with him to guard the forest and do the things needed to protect one another, but not so many of the others. He didn’t know what to think or feel.

A murmur went through the circle and they opened a path. His breath stopped in his lungs. His heart ceased to beat. He could only stare at her. Rachael walking toward him on Elijah’s arm. Rio’s world narrowed. Everyone disappeared. There was only Rachael coming to him. She wore some lacy dress that alternately clung and flowed as if alive, enhancing every feminine curve. Her hair spilled around her face and down to her shoulders in a cascade of black silk. A crown of flowers circled her head. She looked a vision out of a fairy tale. Not for him. Never for him. For a moment his vision blurred. All for him.

She lifted her head and her gaze met his. Struck him hard. Pierced his skin and went straight to his heart. He knew they belonged, knew it with every cell in his body. Rachael could make him so angry he wanted to break off branches and throw them like the apes. Rachael could make him laugh over anything. Rachael could make his body come alive with just a look or a touch. Rachael could make him feel like a poet or a warrior, and she could steal the breath from his body at the mere thought of losing her.

Rachael wanted to weep with happiness: Rio was standing there waiting for her, looking like the god of the forest. She loved everything about him. She said his name softly to herself, amazed at how he had wound himself so tightly into her heart and mind. She had come to the forest with such a grim future, but Rio had changed all that. He had given her a gift more precious than all the money in the world. He’d given her himself.

Rio felt Elijah place her hand in his, felt his fingers close around hers. Hard. Tight. A lifeline. He drew her to him, beneath the protection of his shoulder, into the shelter of his heart. Rachael tilted her head to look up at him, her black eyes laughing, soft with love. He leaned down, his lips brushing her skin. “You did this. You gave me this. You changed my entire life, Rachael.” He whispered the words, meaning them. Astonished by them. How could one person, one woman, have made such a difference?

She touched his face, her fingertips moving intimately over every feature. “And you changed mine, Rio.”

Delgrotto cleared his throat to draw their attention to him. He began the ceremony of joining.

“The circle of life continues. The lair grows stronger with the joining of these two. No couple stands alone. The lair protects the safety of our mated pairs so that the circle of life continues and the lair grows ever stronger...”