Authors: Mary Calmes
“He was scourged,” Logan said like he was confused.
There was no air in the room; my chest was in a vise as my eyes filled with tears. I bit the inside of my left cheek so I would not make a sound.
He had been tortured and then disfigured. To be scourged meant you were cut into with a blade, your blood was spilled, and in some way, your body was mutilated. It was different from being marked as
, disgrace to your tribe. When a semel marked one of his cats, scarring them or taking an eye, it was done fast, never meant as a killing stroke but as a testament, carved in flesh, of a failing. It was done at a tribe gathering or during a challenge in the pit with everyone there as witness.
Scourging a cat was what a group of panthers of one tribe did to another that trespassed on their land without permission. Scourging was normally done at the end of a hunt and was led by the sheseru. The first night I had met Delphine, the sister of my mate, she had been alone on another panther’s land. She could have been scourged had Crane and I not interfered and if Markel, Domin’s sheseru at the time, had wanted to do anything more than scare her. A cat who was scourged could, or could not, be expected to live based on the level of punishment that the enforcer of the tribe chose to inflict. Pain was a precursor to being maimed and, in some tribes, defiled as well. There was no way to know what my best friend had been forced to endure without asking. The fact that his own father had disfigured him, allowed others to hold him down and torture him, hurt him, make him bleed, was beyond my understanding. There was no way I could not go now. None.
I turned and walked to the window, looking out at the Las Vegas strip.
“Semel,” Logan said, his voice low and edged in ice, “I have changed my mind.”
“About bringing your reah?”
“About bringing my sheseru,” he told him. “I will bring Yuri Kosa with me, and when I arrive, your sheseru will meet mine in the pit, and it will be a fight to the death.”
“You cannot demand—”
“I do demand!” Logan roared at him. “And I will contact the priest tonight and have Shu warriors there to witness it!”
“He’s dead! By my sheseru’s hand or by that of the priest, he is dead!”
“Yes,” he said breathlessly.
“What made you think that you could touch the beset of my reah? Mine! I am not a friend, semel; we have no covenant bond between us!”
“I am semel-netjer!”
Even over the phone, not even standing face to face, Logan’s fury terrified Archer Pike. His whimper came over the line.
“You will give me the names of any man who helped the sheseru maim the beset of my reah.”
The word conjured too many horrors to think about.
“Did you hear me?”
“If Crane is not in a bed, bandaged and cared for by a physician when I reach you….” He took a breath. “I will end your house, Archer Pike. Do… you… hear… me?”
“We will be there tomorrow with Derek Jackson and his men. Do not make the mistake of having me look for Crane or you. Understood?”
“Yes?” he hissed, his fury and hatred boiling over.
I heard Logan hang up, and then I heard something shatter. I didn’t turn around. My guess was that he had wrenched the phone out of the wall and hurled it across the room. I saw his reflection behind me in the glass seconds later, saw him heaving for breath, saw the pain in his eyes, and felt the heat rolling off of him.
I shook my head. If I spoke I would break down, and I was not ready to do that.
“Go,” I heard Domin say behind us to the men still kneeling on the floor.
“Semel-netjer,” Calvin Reynolds began. “I am so—”
“Leave us,” Yuri said, cutting him off. “We thank you for our accommodations here, and we will leave shortly.”
There were no more words. I heard them go, and when the door was closed, a silence fell that sucked all the air out of the room.
“I’ll call Taj from the car,” Domin said, his voice dark and low. “Let’s get home and get you all packed.”
I turned, walked around Logan, and headed for the door. Yuri was right behind me.
“I’ll kill them all, Jin.”
And even though as a reah my first instinct was usually forgiveness, in this instance his words wrapped around my heart and gave me comfort.
It was all I could ask.
sitting on the chaise in my bedroom. Logan had knocked out a wall and put in heavy sliding-glass doors that slid open sideways onto the covered patio. There was a fireplace outside as well as in, and the floor that had once been tile was now black-veined marble. It was beautiful. He had completed it over the summer so it would be ready for winter.
“You’re going to freeze,” Logan said, walking around me, wrapping me in a heavy down comforter, rubbing my arms to warm me faster. He bent and inhaled my scent, pressing his nose to the side of my neck, and I turned and kissed him.
I made slow love to his mouth, licking, sucking, biting, my tongue sliding over his, rubbing hard. I loved the taste and feel of my mate, but this, of course, had a purpose.
He leaned back, gasping for breath, sounding drugged when he spoke. “I forbid it.”
I shoved him away from me.
“And that’s my final word.”
I couldn’t breathe. Didn’t he understand? How could he not understand?
“I will never allow you back in that city. I will never let you step foot back in the territory where they hurt you. Once upon a time, I thought it would be fine. I thought your father would come around, I thought your old tribe would see the error of their ways. But your father and Crane’s father, they spoke to the priest of Chae Rophon and told him that you were an aberration. They said that my mate should have been killed. Does it make sense to you why, knowing all the facts that I know now, I will never let you go back there?”
I looked out at the snow.
“You need to trust me to bring Crane home. You need to let me punish them.”
Tears welled up in my eyes.
“Crane’s father will fall to Yuri and yours to me, and that’s the only way it can be. There can be no mercy, the wound is too deep. I thought once that there would be nothing between our two tribes, but now I know I was wrong. There will be blood, Jin, there has to be. I see no other recourse.”
I shivered hard as tears rolled down my cheeks.
“I will call you when I get there and tell you what was done,” he said, moving forward again, trailing his fingers through my long hair, which ran through his hand like water. “You will wait for me and not leave. Do you hear me?”
“I know you’re furious, I can feel it rolling off of you, but I can’t do what I need to do, be what I need to be, if you’re with me and I have to protect you.”
Anger wrapped around me and squeezed my heart in a vise.
He was silent, his fingertips tracing over the line of my jaw, brushing away hot tears.
I shivered hard as I tried to get my body under control.
“Listen,” he said, steadying his voice, “I know you’re scary and strong, but faced with Crane being hurt, you won’t be yourself, and I can’t be the catalyst for your transformation if I’m in my shifted form as well. We don’t know yet the true power of a nekhene cat, Jin, we don’t know what you can do, but this… with Crane… this is not the time to find out.”
I couldn’t see anything through my tears.
“Please have faith in me.”
But I had faith; I just needed to see my best friend. I needed to be the first face he saw.
“You think he won’t understand if it’s me and not you, but, Jin, love, he will. And he needs his semel to claim him, not his reah. Crane must be shown his value, and his value must be understood by others. The mate does not claim cats from the territories of others, only the semel does. That is
. This is not a negotiation, this is war. Do you realize what could happen because of this? What I will be forced to do? Jin? Do you?”
I needed to go to Crane; that was all I knew.
“You will not be allowed from the grounds for any reason.”
But I had to work. He knew I had to work.
“I called Ray, told him we had a family emergency and that you would be out for a week. Don’t test me. Stay here.”
I would get off the grounds somehow.
“If you show up in Chicago, it will show everyone that you violated my order, that I’m weak. Is that what you want?”
I wiped at my eyes.
“We are one, you and I; you can’t go against my mandate. I need to know that you’re here and safe so I can concentrate on only one thing. Do you understand?”
Again, not a question of understanding, instead a question of desire—mine for Crane.
“I’ll be right back,” he told me, hand under my chin as he tipped my head so he could see my eyes. “You do realize that every drop of pain that I’m looking at now I will visit on Archer Pike. He brought my mate to tears; this cannot end well.”
I took a breath as he bent and kissed me.
When he was gone, I went back to staring at the gray sky of winter. January in Incline Village, Nevada, a quick trip up Mount Rose overlooking Lake Tahoe, lay under a blanket of white. It was icy cold, the grounds were covered under several feet of snow, and flakes fell from the sky morning, noon, and night. I had so been looking forward to spring.
Logan returned a while later, took my hand, lifted me up off the chaise, and led me downstairs. He deposited me in the living room beside the huge fireplace there. I stared into it but didn’t move. I felt like the eye of a tornado as the house spun around me, everyone in motion, moving.
Delphine, Logan’s sister, packed for her brother; Domin was on the phone, making arrangements; and Taj Chalthoum, the member of the Shu who had come home with us from Egypt six months ago, spoke to his phocal, Jamal Hassan. He asked permission to speak to the priest of Chae Rophon, the man who made the laws for every werepanther in the world. He was asked to send an emissary on Logan’s behalf to inform Archer Pike that the semel-netjer of the tribe of Mafdet had the priest’s blessing and support. Once Taj was off the phone, he reported to Logan that the priest had members of the Shu dispatched to Chicago. It would take them an entire day to make the long trip from Cairo, but they would be there to be witnesses for Logan.
Six months ago, at the feast of the valley, it was discovered that I was not only a reah, which was an extremely rare kind of werepanther, but also a nekhene cat. Being the mate of a nekhene cat changed Logan from being a semel-re, a semel that had found his reah, to semel-netjer, a semel mated with a nekhene. As Logan was the only one in the world with that honor, as far as we knew, when one of the Shu called on his behalf, it was more than likely that the priest would send whatever aid was needed.
“Jin.” I heard Taj say my name from a distance. “The priest is sending Shahid and four other of my brothers to Chicago as we speak.”
“Jamal says that he will come himself if you wish.”
The leader of the Shu, the phocal, would come to help me retrieve Crane and watch over him. It was very kind.
“Do you wish it?”
I shook my head.
“All right, then.” He reached a hand toward me but thought better of it. “I’ll call him and give him your thanks.”
Final nod, and he walked away a moment later.
“Jin,” I heard Delphine say beside me. “Crane still has some things here for when he visits, so I’ll pack that up for him too, alright?”
“Okay,” she said softly before she walked away.
My chest hurt because my heart ached, and holding in the sobs when I wanted to break down and bawl was making breathing difficult.
Yuri was the only one besides Logan brave enough to get close to me and stay, and though the man could never be called perceptive, because he was a sheseru and I was a reah, our bond, hardwired into both of us, sometimes inexplicably verged on psychic.
“So you don’t have to leave the house, Koren, as Logan’s heir, will attend any events in your stead, standing at Domin’s side as he heads the tribe in our semel’s absence.”
I knew who did what; I didn’t have to be told.
“Although with Domin and Koren not speaking, it will be uncomfortable, I’m sure.”
I was quiet even though I knew, like we all did, where precisely the blame fell for the fallout.
We had all anticipated a mating ceremony. I thought that when we returned from the feast of the valley in Sobek in late June that sometime in July, August at the latest, Domin and Koren would exchange vows. But something had changed when we got back, and Peter, Logan’s father, who had arrived a week before us, could shed no light on the mystery. All I could see, all that either man would say, was that due to the fact that Koren was heir to the tribe of Mafdet, they needed time to reevaluate the true nature of their relationship.
“What?” Delphine, Logan’s sister, had been as confused as I was.
When Koren brought the first of many women home, bringing them for the evening to meet his parents and his brother, the semel-netjer, I started to understand.