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lilansui

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lilansui last won the day on October 13 2013

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  1. lilansui

    Chapter 8

    So first an apology for having the Villain of Seiryu Spirit, Yuki, suddenly appear on this story. Talk about crashing the party! Lolz, I've had a busy weekend, and ended up working on two stories at the same time. So, (bowing head low) sorry for the confusion. Milan's Papa's name is Kiyo Takeda. I've updated it. For being the best readers ever, here is the song that made this chapter: Lauv - I like me better Have a bit of a dance to it, and know you're awesome! Cheers, Sui.
  2. lilansui

    Chapter 8

    Yep, for more than a second too. I feel accomplished getting here...now to disturb the bliss..hahaha.
  3. lilansui

    Chapter 7

    It's all about a conversation next chapter. I bet everyone remembers the first conversation they had with the One! Then when you get home you're like why did I say that? And start laughing at yourself, by yourself....(oh, that's me)...oops. Rory and Milan on my mind, and a Kiyo Takeda determined to change his son's future.
  4. lilansui

    Chapter 8

    New Year’s Blessings in a Syringe “Are you still angry with me?” Kiyo asked, his gaze on the machines on a stand beside the lounge chair Milan was using. Milan stared at the IV line going into the back of his left hand, his heavy black sweater pulled back to make sure it didn’t interfere, and let out a soft sigh. “I don’t know why I couldn’t have done this tomorrow. I really wanted to go to the party with Mamma. It would have been nice to meet everyone before I went to school. Don’t you think it’s unfair?” “You have school tomorrow and your health comes first,” Kiyo insisted, satisfied with the numbers he was reading. He perched on a stool and took Milan’s free hand. “I know you hate shots every other day. So, I’ve worked to make this process easier for you. If we complete this therapy today, we won’t need to do it again for four weeks.” Milan dropped his gaze to where his father held his hand. “Papa, are you happier here?” Milan asked. “I’m more productive here,” Kiyo said, after a moment of silence. He reached out to raise Milan’s face to him. Milan met brown eyes similar to his. “Are you not happy?” “It’s cold all the time. I can’t go out like in Turin. I don’t know if I’ll like any of the people here. Can’t we go back home?” Milan asked. He could only complain to Kiyo, seeing as he knew Ilaria and Ayu were also adjusting to a new life here. They were trying their best to make him comfortable. “Cucciolo, this is our new home,” Kiyo said, stroking Milan’s cheek. “I signed a contract to stay here for three years.” “Three—” Milan broke off upset, though he didn’t understand why. Then it clicked in a wave. He felt lonely here. The task of facing new people seemed too big, too exhausting. He missed Turin’s old world charm, and warmth. The neighbors who knew him by name, and dropped by to see him on days he had to stay in like today. “I might find a cure for you here,” Kiyo said, his excitement tangible. “I’m not curable,” Milan scoffed, shaking his head. “I have a chronic condition, Papa. One I need to manage for life. You know the science of it better than me. There is no cure.” Kiyo squeezed Milan's fingers and let go, folding his arms against his chest. “You’re upset, Milan. You were excited to go today, and I came in with this, I know. You want to take it out on me, that’s fine. I can take all your anger, but don’t ever lose hope on me.” Milan closed his eyes, the headache that came with these infusions already starting. “How do you feel?” Kiyo asked, getting up to press his palm on Milan’s forehead. “The usual,” Milan said, wanting to curl into a ball on the comfortable lounge chair. “How much longer?” “Thirty minutes,” Kiyo said. “The pain meds I gave you before we started should help with the headache. I’ll slow the drips down though, and turn on the humidifier.” Kiyo looked around the room with a frown. “Damn it, I left the humidifier in my lab after configuring it. I’ll go get it. Will you be okay alone? I can send Marie to stay with you.” “I’ll be fine,” Milan murmured, shifting on the lounge chair to stare out the wide windows to the gazebo. “Okay, I’ll be right back.” Kiyo kissed Milan’s forehead, pushing back strands of damp hair from Milan’s forehead with a gentle caress. “Don’t go anywhere.” Milan chuckled watching his father hurry out. His gaze returned to the infusion pump and the IV line going into the back of his left hand. The time counter read thirty-six minutes remaining, he let out a sigh. “Siri, turn on TV,” he said, smiling when the screen on the opposite wall came on. “Let’s watch Black Butler on Crunchyroll.” Milan was lost in Sebastian and Ciel when Marie came hurrying into the lounge holding a pie dish. She looked flustered, which was rare, Milan sat up with a frown. “You have a visitor.” “Me?” “Yep,” Marie held up the pie pan. “I would give you this, but your father would have my head. I’ll force your visitor to wear a mask as he comes in. He says he won’t leave and must see you with his own eyes.” “How strange,” Milan said. “He says he saw your pretty face at the grocery store yesterday,” Marie chuckled. “It must be amore a prima vista.” Love at first sight. “Marie!” Milan gaped at her as she hurried away laughing. Milan sat on the lounge chair waiting. A minute later, Rory Morgan appeared at the lounge door, the white mask on his face looking out of place. He looked…vibrant with energy. “Hi,” Rory said, lifting his hand in greeting, not moving from the entrance. Milan pulled his sweater down to cover the IV line going into his hand. “Hi,” Milan said, staring. Rory looked good in a white t-shirt and jeans, his hair dark wild on his head. He wore no sweater, as though the cold weather did not bother him. Rory reached up and adjusted the mask over his nose and mouth. “How are you?” Rory asked, his blue gaze intense. Milan blinked, fighting the urge to scream. This was not how he would have wanted to meet Rory Morgan again. “I’m fine. My family is paranoid about keeping the house sterile,” Milan said. “I’m sorry you have to wear that. It’s because Marie doesn’t know you.” To be truthful, Milan didn’t know Rory either, other than meeting him in a grocery store, and Rory finding sparkling wine bottles for him. “Uh, please come in.” Milan waved his free hand to the chair next to the one he was using. “I’m sorry I can’t get up to greet you.” Rory nodded and walked into the room, his steps deliberately slow as he closed the distance between them. When Rory sat down, Milan took in a deep breath hoping to ease his racing heart. Milan adjusted his sweater over the IV line again. His right hand in a fist, as he settled back on the lounge chair. He cleared his throat, reaching for the remote on the table to lower the volume on the television. “H-how come you’re here?” Milan asked, meeting Rory’s gaze. “I missed you at the party in town,” Rory said. “You promised to be there.” “I couldn’t make it.” “So, I came to find you.” Milan stared at Rory, amused. He had never met anyone so pushy in his life. “My parents don’t like strangers in the house.” Milan felt compelled to point out. “Papa is out for a few minutes, when he comes back, he might drag you out by the ear.” Rory chuckled. “Are you trying to scare me away?” “Is it working?” “No.” Milan smiled, oddly happy. His smile slipping when Rory moved, leaning over him to take his left hand. He frowned when Rory squeezed his hand gently, before folding the sweater’s sleeve back, exposing the white tape holding the needle in place. “You don’t have to hide this from me,” Rory said, his touch gentle as he smoothed the sweater’s sleeve after folding it. “It’s to keep you healthy, right?” Milan looked up from where Rory held his hand, to find startling blue eyes studying him. “I could be contagious,” Milan said, then. “I don’t get sick easily,” Rory answered. “Besides, I know you’re not contagious. Your family would be sick too.” “You have an answer for everything.” “I try to be on my toes,” Rory said. He settled back in his chair, his gaze never leaving Milan. “If I asked why you’re sick, would you tell me?” Milan bit his lip, the question common enough. He had answered it almost all his life. “If I asked you to pretend I was not sick, would you?” Milan asked, instead of giving the usual CVID explanation his mother had helped him memorize. “If that’s what you want,” Rory said with a nod, settling back in his chair, and turning his gaze to the television. “What are you watching?” “Anime. Do you watch?” “I don’t watch television. I do know loads of my cousins have kids who love watching a show called Boruto. Though, I couldn’t tell you what it's about.” Milan imagined a guy like Rory spent a lot of time outside. He imagined Rory hiking, playing football, or swimming. Milan smoothed his fingers over his folded sleeve, touching the tape on his skin. He, on the other hand, could never play sports. So, he watched Ayu play, and cheered for him during his soccer matches. “What are you thinking?” Rory asked, drawing his attention back to the present. “Oh, nothing important. You seem like an outdoors kind of guy.” “I can stay in too,” Rory said. “Watch anime with you if you want it.” “That’s sweet of you,” Milan chuckled. “But you don’t have to.” Milan checked the time left on the infusion pump, and was surprised to find five minutes had passed. “So, did you pop the fizzy wine bottles at midnight?” Rory asked. “Si,” Milan said, smiling hard. “Papa and my big brother, Ayu, ran around the backyard spraying it on the ground, ushering in 2018. They got Mamma, and she was all wet, screaming like a banshee because it got in her hair.” “What about you?” Rory asked. “Did they get you?” “A little,” Milan said, remembering Ayu pouring a glass of the sparkling wine and handing it to him for a sip. “They were careful not to spill on me.” Rory fell silent and Milan looked up to find Rory studying him. “What?” Rory shook his head and looked around the lounge instead. “Your house is nice, great view of the forest from here,” Rory noted. “I love it best,” Milan said, pointing at the windows showing off the gazebo. “The other day, Ayu took me out to the gazebo and we were just hanging out. Then I saw a white wolf coming from the trees.” “Were you afraid?” Rory asked. “I was terrified,” Milan said, thinking of that moment, staring at the large white wolf standing at the forest’s edge. His heart racing a mile a minute, thinking himself prey for a stronger, wilder animal. “At the same time, it felt thrilling seeing such a wild animal so close. There was something majestic about it. You’re from around here. Tell me, is there a pack of wolves living in the forest? Or could it have been a lone wolf passing by?” “There have been a few sightings,” Rory answered, his gaze sliding away from Milan as he spoke. “Lone wolves are rare in this parts. If you ever meet one, run for safety.” “Doesn’t that trigger the wolf’s need to chase prey?” “It does, but if you run into a populated area, the wolf is less likely to follow you.” “That’s useful to know,” Milan noted. “Are you a Portento native?” “Yes.” “So, you were born here?” “My whole family is from here,” Rory said. “That’s kind of cool. You have deep roots.” “What about you?” Rory asked. “Where are you from?” “Um.” Milan always thought this question a trial. He was Japanese and Italian by blood. Yet, Japan was not his true home, neither was Italy. His parents rarely visited their childhood homes, preferring the whirlwind of travel they often lived. So, he couldn’t lay claim to either country. Meeting Rory’s curious gaze, he smiled. “We just moved from Turin, Italy. We stayed there three years, but before that, there was Brussels, before that Prague, before that, Vienna. I was born in Bern. We’ve lived in so many cities. I can only say I’m from a lot of places.” “I think that’s kind of cool,” Rory said. “Really?” “Yeah, you’ve gotten to see different cultures, meet different people, and learn different languages.” Milan smiled. “Interesting way to look at it.” “I think it makes you unique, Milan.” “Unique in a nice way, or in a weird new kid way?” “In a very attractive way,” Rory answered, making Milan blush. Rory reached for a small towel on the side table between their chairs. He stood up and came to perch on the edge of Milan’s chair. Pressing the towel on Milan’s forehead, he wiped off sweat, the cloth cool against Milan’s skin. Milan bit his bottom lip, holding still, conscious of Rory sitting so close to him. His heart raced as Rory worked on wiping off sweat from his forehead. Fingers tight in fists, Milan closed his eyes afraid his heart was going to jump out of his chest. “Are you feeling alright?” Rory asked after a minute. Milan looked up to find Rory studying him. “Just fine,” Milan managed, forcing his fingers to uncurl, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. He didn’t understand why his heart kept speeding up when he got close to Rory Morgan. Rory folded the cloth and placed it on the table, though he did not move from Milan’s chair. “How long does this take?” Rory asked, pointing to the IV line. Milan glanced at the machine. “I have twenty -five minutes left.” “Then?” Milan smiled. “Then, I’ll be ready to go to school tomorrow. Do you go to Ashland High?” “Yes. I’m in my senior year,” Rory said. “You?” “Eleventh grade. I’m glad I’ll at least know one person now. First day of school is hardest when you don’t know anyone. Before, I would have my big brother, Ayu, but he’s going to college now.” “You can hang out with me at school,” Rory said. Milan smiled. “That would be nice. Just to warn you, I have to wear that mask you’re wearing at school, and gloves. I’ll look like the new freak of the school, and will not add cool points to you.” “Anyone who thinks you’re a freak will be at a loss,” Rory said, taking Milan’s right hand and turning it over to study Milan’s palm. “Your hands are really soft, except for the callus on your middle finger. Why is it there?” Warmth seeped into Milan’s skin where Rory held his hand, it felt as though he was getting an infusion of heat from Rory’s very warm hands. The feel of it sent thrills through Milan, it took him a moment to answer Rory. “I draw a lot,” Milan answered, when Rory lifted a brow in question. “Before I got a drawing tablet with a stylus, it was all on paper, and I was using pencils. I tend to grip them pretty hard, so the callus formed. Papa bought the tablet to stop the it.” “Does it hurt?” Rory asked, rubbing his thumb over the fading bump on Milan’s finger. “Not anymore,” Milan said, trying to pull his hand out from Rory’s maddening touch. He didn’t succeed. Rory tightened his hold, keeping his right hand prisoner. “You still haven’t told me why you came today,” Milan prompted, watching Rory study his palm as though he had a quiz later. “I told you, Milan,” Rory looked up then, meeting Milan’s gaze. “I really came to see you.” “Why?” Rory's eyes shone with amusement, sending Milan’s heart into another wild riot. “Why not?” he asked, and Milan didn’t really have an answer to that, as he had wished for someone to visit him minutes before Rory walked in. ***
  5. lilansui

    Chapter 7

    The Pack House Extension Rory drove home in a state of euphoria. The feel of Milan’s touch fresh in his mind. He loved it already, wanted more, and it pained him to wait. The memory of Milan holding his hand, looking at him with amused beautiful brown eyes left him with a fluttering heart. Rory parked his car next to his father’s pickup. Turning off the engine, he sat in the driver’s seat for a full minute thinking about meeting Milan at the party tomorrow. He needed to work at not making his need to be close to Milan obvious. There was so much to show Milan, he didn’t know where to start. It was frustrating having to wait, but damn, he loved everything about Milan already. Grinning like a fool, he got out of his car. The sound of hammering and drilling drew his gaze to the west side of the house he had called home for eighteen years. Shit! He had completely forgotten about the extension project. That was probably the reason why his father was calling him earlier. A frown creased his smooth forehead, when Jack Bennett, Linda’s son, stepped out of a new balcony on the second floor of the extended section. “Rory.” Jack kept his voice low, easy enough for Rory to hear despite the distance between them. “You need to find Beta Kutler to sign off on supplies. We are almost finished with the bathrooms up here. We need glass for the shower stall in the master suite at the end of the hall, bars for the towels in all rooms, we’re also missing a sink. The rest of the list is with Annie.” “Got it,” Rory said to Jack and started to the main front door. “If we keep a steady workflow, we should be done with major construction before ten tonight,” Jack continued. “Then we can all go for the midnight bonfire. You’re coming right?” Rory gave Jack a thumbs up, though he wasn’t sure about hanging out with the pack tonight. He was already missing Milan. He wanted to see his mate pop the prosecco bottles they had bought earlier. Entering the house, Rory dropped his keys on the table in the hall and looked up to find his father watching him. “Follow me,” Connor said, going up the stairs to the second floor without waiting for Rory’s answer. Rory winced at the thought of the coming tirade. He had not spoken much to his Dad since the day he saw Milan. He followed Connor into a private study on the second floor. Closing the door, he turned to find Connor leaning on his desk, arms crossed against his chest. “So, you’ve found your mate,” Connor stated before Rory could say anything. Rory could not help his smile. “Yes.” “He’s not one of us,” Connor continued. Rory’s fingers curled into fists, and met his father’s gaze. “He is still mine,” Rory said, ready to fight anyone who dared say otherwise. Connor lifted his hand to calm him. “Rory.” Connor smiled. “The moment you shut me out, I knew you met him. I understand some of what you are feeling. I had your mother once, didn’t I?” Rory let out a breath, relaxing his stance. Connor rarely talked about his mother, that he would mention her was enough. “I’m sorry this won’t be easy for you,” Connor said in the following silence. “While you’ve been away, Lechter and the Mayor have been hard at work. Biosense slipped Dr. Ilaria into the hospital through a training program. The doctors in charge say they need the program because of new equipment in the hospital.” “Ilaria is harmless,” Rory said. “She spends most of her time worrying about my mate. The rest is divided between work, her oldest son and her husband.” “Well, now that the hospital is aware, her schedule was changed. They’ll manage what she has access to. Dr. Ilaria is not the problem.” Connor crossed his arms against his chest. “Her husband, Kiyo Takeda, is the threat.” Connor took a folder from his desk and held it up for Rory to see. The thickness of the folder made Rory wary. It was never good when the Sheriff could drag up such a thick folder on a person. “I’m not going to read that,” Rory said, meeting his father’s gaze. Rory paced back, then with a shrug, he closed his eyes and sighed. Heart pounding hard, Rory stopped close to the door and turned to face Connor. “Ok, just tell me what’s in it.” Connor chuckled. “It’s not a perp folder. Dr. Takeda is a renowned researcher on genetics, and something to do with blood. Lechter compiled it with help from his millions of contacts. He explained the content, but it sounded like gibberish to me. All I know is that we should be concerned that such a man is living so close to our home. It also says that he has been working on finding a cure for his youngest son. Is your mate ill?” Rory rubbed his eyes, and started pacing again. “Yes. Something is wrong with him, even though I don’t understand it yet.” “Rory— “I’m not willing to walk away,” Rory cut in before his father could continue. “I’m not able to, Dad. I can’t.” “I wasn’t going to ask you to,” Connor said, a slight frown creasing his forehead. “Though, I have to remind you, loyalty to the pack is cardinal, Rory. The town’s safety is second to none. Your mate’s status needs discussion by the Council.” Rory stopped pacing to look at his dad. “What happens when Lechter refuses to accept him?” Rory asked, aware that Chancellor Lechter was too paranoid to make concessions. Lechter would vote against Milan, and his family, that was no secret. “You’re jumping to conclusions.” “I’m not, and you know it, Dad.” Rory shook his head. “Lechter hates humans. Are you telling me it won’t seep into his judgment? Milan won’t even get a chance to prove himself.” “Milan,” Connor smiled. “He has a nice name.” Rory returned his father’s smile, his thoughts on Milan. “He’s so handsome, and lively when he’s feeling well. I can’t wait to introduce him to you. It’s killing me not being able to meet him and hold him. If this goes south, I don’t-, I can’t even-, this— “It will be fine, Rory,” Connor said, pushing off the desk, coming to place a gentle hand on Rory’s right shoulder. “We’ll find a way through it together.” “Is this what it was like with you and Mom?” Rory asked, holding his father’s gaze. Connor’s dark blue eyes turned stormy and he squeezed Rory’s shoulder. Rory saw pain slash through his father, and bit his lip hard for having dredged up painful memories. “It was complicated,” Connor answered, his voice thick with emotion, “but that is a story for another day. When you’re ready, bring Milan to meet me. For now, we’ll delay the council hearing for as long as possible. Or until we better understand Kiyo Takeda’s work. Alright?” Rory nodded, relief flooding him for the small leeway from the Alpha. Now, all he had to do was meet Milan officially, get their bond to grow to the point that breaking it would be too cruel. The council could not sever a mated bond, no matter the situation. “Now that we have that cleared, stop shutting me out,” Connor said, squeezing Rory’s shoulder before he let go and walked back to his desk. “You’re still under my rule, Rory Morgan. I have duties for you to carry out.” “Yes Sir,” Rory said. “Starting with finishing construction on the west-side extension. You pushed for the start of that project, finish it and on time. Looks like it won’t be just Topher and his mate who need privacy soon.” Rory grinned, excitement filling him at the thought of moving in with Milan. He gave Connor a nod, then hurried out of the study room heading downstairs. Rory hurried down a hallway that would lead him to the back of the pack house. A section of the back was reserved for pack matters. He entered a mini reception, already occupied by three women and a couple who sat on the waiting chairs. The secretary behind the desk glanced up from her screen and treated him to a smile. “Rory. Back from town?” Rory leaned on the counter. “Yep. Jack says you have a list for me.” “I do,” she handed him a clipboard with a neat list of items. Giving it a once over, Rory smiled at Annie. “Thanks.” “Are you coming tonight?” Annie asked him, her gaze hopeful. She wasn’t the first to give him that look. Bonfire nights were like open season among his people. Willing partners who had not found their mates found comfort in each other’s arms. He had lost his virginity on a bonfire night. Now, knowing there was Milan, Rory found Annie’s gaze irritated him. “I might stop by for a few minutes,” Rory said, ignoring Annie’s frown when he didn’t say more. “Is Beta Kutler in?” “Yeah, sure,” Annie said, with a short nod. Rory thanked her for the list and hurried past her desk to a short hallway with six doors, each belonging to an official in the pack. Pack businesses was conducted in this dedicated space. His father had once told him that running the pack was very much like running an official organization. There was treasury, the secretariat, pack welfare, and security offices. Each one with complete staff sourced from the pack members. The other two doors were the Alpha’s office and the Beta and Third’s office. Each one handling different aspects of the pack. Rory had spent most of his teenage years learning the duties of each office. Six years of hanging out here and he could navigate the insane bureaucracy that was pack politics like a pro. Tapping on the clipboard, Rory paused when he saw Dolon’s family in the security offices talking to June Vadisi, the Beta’s wife and the head of security. Dolon’s mother, a petite blonde, pressed a handkerchief to her eyes. She was crying. Her husband rubbing her shoulders, trying to sooth her. Rory frowned. He would have stepped in to learn more, but June chose that moment to close the door. They must be complaining about his brother Chris putting their son in hospital. Rory smirked. He pitied Dolon’s mom, but the moment that punk Dolon got out of hospital, he was heading back in. Rory had not forgotten the reasons why Chris had raced Dolon. Looks like that family was going to be complaining about the Morgan brothers for a while. Rory continued on to the next door, finding it open too. He knocked on the door, and entered after a gruff grunt replied. “Beta Kutler,” Rory said, closing the door, his gaze on the tall man behind a large wooden desk laden with paperwork, and an electric typewriter. Rumor was that the desk was as old as Portento, which was a couple of hundred years old. His ancestors were said to have carved the desk out of old trees in the original pack homestead. Rory imagined the grannies who had told him that story were exaggerating. No desk, no matter how well preserved, would last that long without parts replaced. “Rory Morgan, did you come in to stare?” Rory met shrewd dark eyes and bit back a laugh at the sight of hickory barbecue sauce stuck on Kutler Vadisi’s greying beard. Walking to the old desk, he took a tissue from a box kept by June on the edge of the desk and held it out to Kutler. “June must have made another delicious barbeque burger for lunch,” Rory said in greeting. “She does know me well,” Kutler said, flashing him a grin as he wiped off the barbeque sauce. “Why are you here?” “Supplies,” Rory held out the clipboard. “Before you send me to treasury, remember that this project is not under the pack fund.” “Right,” Kutler placed the clipboard on the desk before him and sat back to study Rory. “You’re a smart one, Rory Morgan. How did you figure out that TMG could pay for this extension?” Rory grinned, and sat in the armchair facing Kutler. TMG was an intricate web of companies ran by Kutler outside Portento. Known only as TMG, they funneled energy back to Portento, provided major construction services, and manufactured an impressive list of products designed to keep Portento unnoticed. Rory had gone through TMG’s accounting files a year ago, after Kutler asked him to sort financial data sent to him in large boxes by the company’s offices. Rory had kept up with the company from then on. “Simple, TMG needed a CSR project, I created one, you approved it,” Rory smiled. “Sneaky,” Kutler said, folding his hands against his chest. “You know, this pack house was originally built as it is for a reason. The Alpha, Beta and Third live here with their families to keep the pack stable, Rory.” “I understand it,” Rory nodded, sliding his hands over the smooth arms of his chair. “I respect what our great-grandparents created, but I’ve walked in on Topher and Maryann going at it in the shared bathroom upstairs at least ten times. He has almost ripped my head off each time.” Kurtis shook his head with a frown. “I did not need that image.” Rory chuckled sure Kurtis was right. Topher was his first born son and the next Beta. “What do I say if the rest of the pack complain about the crazy renovations you’ve created?” “You can say you’re helping our family gain serious privacy,” Rory said, watching Kurtis sign the supplies list. “The extension gives Matt, Topher and I much needed space, leaving our current rooms open for anyone who might need their use. It’s a good deal.” “I’m impressed, Rory. Your father doesn’t have time for numbers, or navigating paperwork like you do.” Kurtis handed him the clipboard. “Keep learning, Rory. I don’t know why, but I have a crazy feeling about your generation. I think it will be great if you also learn how to adapt fast.” Rory stood and took the clipboard with a short nod already used to Kurtis’s advice session. He always got these little speeches when he entered Kurtis’s domain. Rory imagined it was the burden of running the huge company Kurtis did, and worrying about the pack’s financial future. He did not envy Topher and the heavy burden of taking up TMG at all. “Thanks, Beta Kurtis,” Rory said, heading to the door. “Be at the bonfire tonight,” Kurtis said, his tone not pleading like Annie’s but a clear order. “It will be good for the pack to see the future leaders of the pack around. We need to show strength, Rory. Let Topher and Matt know too.” Rory gave the pack’s Beta a nod acknowledging the order and hurried out of the office before more orders came his way. His afternoon raced in a whirlwind of activity, all of it to do with construction. Driving his father’s truck back to town, to the only hardware, he got the supplies Jack needed. He drove back home, working with Jack to help the crew finish up all major work on the extension of the house. “Looks real good,” Topher said, entering the master bedroom in the corner suite on the second floor late evening. “Now you just need help with the cosmetics.” Rory smiled with pride as he finished screwing the last towel bar. He straightened up, swiping sweat off his forehead with his bandanna. Leaving the master bathroom, he adjusted the tool belt around his waist and looked around the empty master bedroom. This was his suite…a smile tagged his lips…no, it was his and Milan’s. His mate would live here with him soon. “You’re grinning like a lovesick fool,” Topher teased from the balcony. “I’m kind of jealous. I miss those first days with Maryann. That first intense connection, I didn’t think I would ever get used to it.” Rory stretched his arms above his head and walked to the balcony to join Topher who was leaning on the rail watching pack kids in the huge backyard behind the house. “Thanks for pushing for this extension,” Topher said after a minute. “I mean, it’s nice to stay close to our parents, but it was getting...weird.” “Weird,” Rory said at the same time as Topher. “Yeah,” Topher smiled. “Sometimes it’s nice to have space just to be ourselves. You’ll understand when you and Milan are together.” Rory closed his eyes thinking of Milan, his chest aching. “How long is that going to take?” Rory murmured, looking in the direction of Milan’s house, the forest separating them thick. “I don’t even want to think about everyone’s reaction to this news. You should have seen Linda today at the grocery store. Her eyes were gleaming with excitement for this brewing storm.” “It’s your own fault for rushing over there. You're lucky she knows how to keep stories under wraps.” Topher grinned, shaking his head when Rory shrugged. “I can’t believe you pretended to bag groceries. Linda started a rumor about you losing a bet with her." Rory leaned on the railing not sorry about his actions. The gossip was worth talking to Milan, and hearing Milan call him a handsome tall man. Brown eyes smiling at him, making Rory want to pull Milan into his arms and kiss him senseless. “I want to see him tonight.” “It’s new year’s eve,” Topher said, watching him. “Your duty is with the pack tonight. You can see him tomorrow.” Rory sighed and shook his head, resenting his duties for the first time in his life. “Hey,” Topher moved closer to place a hand on Rory’s shoulder. “You’ll get to see him tomorrow afternoon at the party Linda’s planning.” Despite Topher’s assuring words, Rory found his longing grew wider thinking of the great divide between now and tomorrow’s afternoon. His heart clenched hard, unable to bear that long a separation. *** Later that night, Rory perched on a log, drinking amber ale from a plastic cup as he watched Connor, Kurtis and Lechter take their places of honor as Alpha, Beta and Third. Their backyard was filled with pack members. They had driven in from all over town. They sat on logs laid out along different sized tables in the open space. Food made in the pack house kitchen filled the tables: delicious platters of meats, fruit, sweet foods and delicacies brought by the pack members. An indie band started by Topher’s younger sister, Jade, when she first joined high school, played a mishmash of covers under a tent. The band’s voices had matured and they sounded better than when they first started. They had attracted the younger crowd to the tent. Chris, Matt and Jack had built a huge fire pit in the middle of the yard for the bonfire. Their college friends were roasting marshmallows on long sticks on the open fire, and drinking. Rory watched Matt throw a bottle of beer into the burning flame, making it flare up. Topher jumped on Matt’s back. Matt started running around the pit, both of them screaming like crazy idiots. Rory shook his head, looking up at the dark sky. It was almost midnight. Rory drank deep from his cup, wondering what Milan was doing with his family. “Alpha Rory,” a shy voice said his name, and he turned to his right to find Annie from reception standing a few feet away. She looked pretty in a white short dress. Her brown hair loose around her shoulders. “Will you dance with me?” she asked. Rory stared into his cup, unwilling. “Sorry, Annie. I don’t feel up to it.” “Come on, please?” Annie pleaded. Rory looked up to find her on the verge of tears. “I just want one dance. I’m not asking for anything else.” Rory wanted to offer her the comfort she needed. She looked lonely. She was a member of his pack. He should worry about her looking so sad…but, the thought of touching her while Milan was so close by. Not that Milan would know, but— “Annie,” Matt said, coming out of nowhere. “Look at you, how beautiful you are! Dance with me.” Annie blushed, turning ten shades of red, as Matt wrapped an arm around her shoulders. Before Rory could comment, Matt was already leading Annie toward the tent filled with dancers. Rory sighed in relief, but then groaned when a hard slap landed on the back of his head. He turned to find Topher settling beside him. “What was that for?” Rory demanded, rubbing the back of his head, his dark hair tangling in his fingers. “Letting all the ladies think they can have you during parties. You’ve been such a slut, Rory Morgan.” Rory scoffed, searching for Maryanne and finding her playing guitar in Jade’s band. “Look who is talking. You were with me when we turned fifteen and you thought Trinity was hot as—” Rory didn’t get to finish that sentence as his mouth was filled with a burger bun. He chuckled and took a big bite of the burger, looking at Topher. “First rule of fight club,” Topher said, sipping his beer. Rory burst out laughing, turning away from Topher before he could spray bits of burger in his face. “Okay. You don’t talk about my party nights from now on either,” Rory said, though he knew at some point he would need to tell Milan of his crazy antics. In time, he decided. When they were together a long time and Milan would forgive him without being hurt. “Deal,” Topher said, with a short nod, holding out his fist to Rory for a fist bump. Rory bumped his fist to Topher’s and was going to take a sip of his drink when a small brown wolf ran too close almost making him spill his drink. He shifted in time to avoid three others following after the first in a race. Rory grinned when the young wolves all ran around the pit fire, playing and rolling on the grass, their excitement infectious. Their enthusiasm seemed to spike the party up a notch as the music seemed to get louder, and conversations bloomed, laughter filled the night air. Rory reveled in the joy of being part of this most unique and huge family, one that he would protect with his very life if asked. As they ushered in the New Year, Rory’s only wish was that he wanted Milan to sit next to him on the next New Year’s Eve. He wanted to see Milan Takeda accepted into this great family. *** On New Year’s Day, Rory dragged a sleepy Matt, Topher and his mate, Maryanne, to the town party planned by Linda. The town hall was buzzing with activity when they arrived. Linda had everything planned, down to three violinists playing on stage, setting a classy mood, compared to the crazy party the night before. Rory walked through the laid back crowd, his gaze searching, listening, and seeking the sound of that lyrical accented voice belonging to Milan. “Maybe they are late,” Topher said, when they still hadn’t found them halfway through the room. “Ilaria doesn’t seem like the type,” Rory said, filled with anxiety. Then he heard Ilaria’s jovial laugh, and elation flooded him. He turned in the direction of her laugh to see her standing next to Ayu, as she talked to Linda and Mayor Lisbeth. Ilaria looked beautiful in a lilac dress, her hair held back with a shiny clip. Beside her, Ayu wore a nice grey dress shirt with white slacks. They looked elegant and classy. Rory frowned when he didn’t see Milan. Linda met his gaze. As though sensing his confusion, she winked at him as she turned to Ilaria. “What about your youngest? I met him last time. Milan?” Ilaria’s smile slipped, her fingers tightening on her glass. The shift was subtle, but hard to miss. “He is at home with my husband. The weather is hard on him and he starts school tomorrow. We thought it better that he stay home so that he is at his best.” Linda nodded, steering the conversation to Ilaria’s work. Rory couldn’t believe Milan hadn’t made it. Disappointment flooded him and he placed the glass of juice he held on a table, ready to leave. “Wait,” Maryanne stopped him. She hurried off to the long table on the side laden with dishes brought for the party. She came back holding a pecan pie. “It’s rude to show up without a gift,” she said. “You can at least say Linda sent you to welcome him to town.” Rory took the pie, not waiting for more instruction. He ran out to the parking lot determined to see Milan. ***
  6. lilansui

    Chapter 6

    Visiting the Town’s Grocery Store Milan. Milan Takeda. Cucciolo. Rory smiled. He loved Ilaria’s nickname for his mate. The beautiful Japanese-Italian boy of sixteen filled his every waking moment, and his nights too. The scent of mandarin oranges lived in his head; he constantly needed it to stay sane. Since he discovered Milan was his mate Rory barely slept at home. Choosing to climb up the evergreen tree behind Milan’s bedroom for the night. It grew tall, branches wide, but not reaching the house. The height was enough to allow him a spectacular view into Milan’s room. The first night was rough. Milan coughed hard through the night. Rory watched Ilaria walk in to Milan’s room periodically to check on him, and give him medicine on an IV line. Deep in the night, a Japanese man came home and sat on Milan’s bed for hours watching Milan sleep. Rory figured the man was Milan’s father. The next day, Milan spent the day in bed, watching NatGeo on the flat screen while he drew on an expensive looking tablet on his lap. Rory wished he could sit next to Milan on his bed, keep him company, and keep him warm. Milan’s big brother, Ayu, came in for a while, telling Milan stories of what he had seen on his errands around town. Rory found that he truly respected Ayu. Ayu was patient with Milan, very devoted. It was hard not to like him. That evening Milan looked better, health wise. He even got out of bed for family dinner downstairs. Marie, the housekeeper, her cooking was divine. While they all sat at the dining table, Rory sneaked into the kitchen and got himself a bowl of mushroom risotto, grilled chicken and garlic bread. After dinner, the family migrated to Milan’s bedroom to keep him company. Rory loved Ilaria. She was the mother he dreamed of: caring, loving, attentive, and firm. She took care of both Ayu and Milan in equal parts. He was envious of the brothers. And so, on the third morning into his new found stalker tendencies, Rory woke up to Ayu talking with his mother in Ayu’s bedroom. He sat up to watch the exchange. Ayu was enrolling into Ashland University. They sat on Ayu’s bed discussing Ayu’s course choices for the new semester. “I don’t want to pursue medicine,” Ayu said. “I know you’ve wanted it. I would do it for Milan’s sake, but—,” Ayu shook his head. “It’s not my calling, Mamma.” “Ayu.” Ilaria took his right hand. “When did we ever say you must do medicine?” “Dad is always dragging me to his lab, and you buy me all these medicine books. Look at my bookshelf.” Ilaria looked at the bookshelf, and then wiped a hand down her face. “Dio santa, Ayu. I’m sorry. I—” “You might not have realized you were doing it. I know. I know what it has been like with Milan. I know, Mamma, but, I still want to do what makes me happy. Can you forgive me for that?” Ilaria let go of Ayu’s hand and wiped her palms over her face, and Rory realized she was crying. It took her a moment to regain control. When she did, she took Ayu’s right hand again. “Ayu, Mamma is sorry.” She straightened her shoulders, meeting her oldest son’s gaze. “There is nothing to forgive. You go ahead and tell me, what do you want to do?” Ayu took in a breath, and let it out with a skeptical glance. “First, remember Milan is still sleeping. So, don’t yell. Promise not to be angry with me.” “Si, si, I promise,” Ilaria said, giving an impatient nod. Ayu stood up and got his tablet from his desk. He brought it back to his mother and she stared at the screen for a few minutes. Rory adjusted his position on the branches, but he still couldn’t see the tablet screen. “What is TakSecure?” Ilaria asked after a moment, a frown gracing her forehead. “It’s familiar. Ayu?” “I have been developing security software and testing it out for a while. Christina and I, we started a small security company in Turin. I put in most of the money you gave me from my allowance into the small start-up. Christina was my partner. It was good, but not perfect. There are more things I need to learn.” “Oh goodness, our whole neighborhood in Turin was under TakSecure.” Ayu winced. Ilaria looked up at her son. “You somehow convinced them to choose you, didn’t you?” “Surprise!” “Who knew?” “Christina,” Ayu said, sitting next to Ilaria. “She was my front person. She talked to the customers and I ran the logistics of installation and maintenance. The response team was ran by her uncle, the one in the police force. Before we left, I left everything to Christina. I will maintain it if she needs it, but I want to learn new things, more. Milan knows too, but only because he discovered us installing the system for Mrs. Roberto down the street.” Ilaria groaned and placed the tablet on the bed. “I don’t know my oldest son!” “You do know me,” Ayu insisted. “Why didn’t you tell me before?” “Because,” Ayu shrugged. “Milan has been sick and we all needed to focus on getting him better. It was hard to pull that focus away to my small project.” Ilaria wiped her hand down her face, and stared at Ayu for a full two minutes. When she did speak, Ayu looked nervous. “Follow your heart,” Ilaria said, making Ayu exhale in relief. “Your papa and I will be very proud no matter what you do.” “For real?” Ayu asked, studying her, his gaze still skeptical. “Come here,” Ilaria waved him closer. Rory bit back a laugh when Ilaria pinched Ayu’s cheeks hard, making him cry out. Then she pulled Ayu into a tight hug. “Don’t keep secrets from me again, polpetto. I’ll really break the skin when I pinch you next time.” Ayu returned the hug, burying his face into Ilaria’s shoulder. “And Milan?” Ilaria asked, still holding on to Ayu. “Does he tell you what he wants to be?” “Mamma.” “He won’t tell me,” Ilaria sighed. “He says he will be happy to live with us, but I know he has dreams, Ayu. He is afraid he might not fulfill them, so he won’t say. Tell me.” “An architect,” Ayu said. “He loves buildings. When he was healthy enough, on those perfect days, we drove all over Turin, Milan, and Florence, just to look at buildings.” Rory locked that information in his heart. Collecting Milan’s secret wishes, likes and loves was turning into a hobby. Ilaria bit her lip and nodded. “It is a good one. I’m sad none of my sons want to be doctors, but you have good dreams.” Ilaria let go of Ayu and stood up. She wiped her eyes with her scarf as she headed for the door. “You’re going into school today?” “Yes, they said I could collect my schedule,” Ayu said. “We need to check it so we can plan the days I pick up Milan from school.” “You’re a good big brother. Take the Black Audi, your father is not using it. We are working on getting you a car. Which reminds me, your Papa needs to sign some papers when he comes home,” Ilaria said. “Ayu?” “Yes, Mamma.” “I love you.” “I love you too, Mamma.” Ilaria nodded and left Ayu’s room, heading downstairs. Rory stretched out on his spot on the tree, his gaze returning to Milan’s room. Ayu and Milan’s rooms were divided by a bathroom they shared. They both had a backyard view thanks to all the windows on the top floor. Milan rolled on his bed, and then sat up with a yawn. His hair sticking out all over the place. Rory grinned, watching Milan push the covers away and get out of bed. His mate rushed to the bathroom, closing the door. The only source of privacy from Rory. Rory growled with impatience when Milan stayed in the bathroom close to twenty minutes. When Milan emerged from the bathroom with only a towel wrapped around his waist, Rory almost fell out of the tree. He dug his nails into the bark to keep his balance. It never got old, seeing Milan this way. So sexy, so beautiful, all his…soon. Rory sighed in disappointment when Milan entered his closet and returned wearing a white long sleeve t-shirt, and jeans. He sat on the unmade bed to wear his socks. When he was finished, Milan ran fingers through his curly hair. He grabbed his quilt and pulled it over the bed in one careless move. Rory smiled when Milan then raced out of his room, rushing downstairs to the kitchen. He looked in high spirits, excited, and full of energy. It was nice seeing Milan this way. Ilaria and Marie greeted Milan with smiles. The two women were discussing a trip to the grocery store in town. Rory’s smile widened when Milan declared he would marry Marie after taking a bite of breakfast. Ilaria’s acceptance of her daughter in-law was hilarious. Then, Milan agreed to accompany his mother to the grocery store. Rory jumped out of the tree and ran home at top speed. When he reached, he slammed in to the house without pausing. He took the stairs two at a time to his bedroom. Taking a shower, and changing into shorts and a t-shirt in record time, he ran back downstairs taking his car keys from the table in the hall. Impatience filled him when his father called out his name. *** Milan walked down the stairs to the kitchen to find Ilaria creating a grocery-shopping list with Marie. “Buongiorno,” Milan said as he slid into a chair on the island table. “Morning, Milan,” Marie smiled at him. “You look perky today. Your color is good. You want breakfast?” “I could eat a horse,” Milan said with a grin. “How is your chest?” Ilaria asked, moving around to touch his forehead. “Clear,” Milan said, glad that he didn’t have to lie. He was energetic, like he could run for miles. He loved these good days more than anything in the world. “Your temperature is normal. I was afraid your time outside three days ago would set us back.” “I am as they say, ‘good as new’,” Milan said, accepting a bowl of porridge from Marie. He dipped his spoon in and took a bite with a small pleased moan. Food always tasted so good after a bout of illness. “Marie, I’ll never marry anyone but you,” Milan declared. Ilaria rolled her eyes at the usual declaration, and returned to writing her list. “If I wait for you, I might become an old woman,” Marie said in reply to his declaration. “Mamma, I’ve made my intentions known. What do you think of your daughter in-law?” Ilaria looked up from her list, adjusting her reading glasses, to look at Marie. Marie was older than Ilaria by a few years, and had grown children already working back in Italy. “Marie, I’m a very understanding mother in-law,” Ilaria said with a grin. “I’m even willing to listen and support you when he breaks your heart and leaves you for a young stud.” A loud laugh rolled out of Marie, Ilaria joining her. Milan ate his porridge watching them laugh hard until their eyes had tears. “I’m so glad I could amuse you early in the morning.” Milan took the orange juice Marie handed him and took a deep gulp. “Marie, I won’t make you cry. I promise.” “I believe you,” Marie said, wiping her eyes with her apron. She stroked her fingers through his curly hair. “Meanwhile, my mother in-law is preparing to go to the grocery store in town. Do you want to accompany her as I clean out the house?” “Si, it will be nice to discover what Portento looks like.” Milan finished his juice and belched. Ilaria stared at him, her gaze full of amazement. Milan continued eating his porridge, looking up to find his mother still studying him. “What?” he asked. Did he have porridge on his chin? Ilaria shook her head, leaning her elbows on the table, still watching him. “When you’re done, go upstairs for your coat. Get the heaviest one. Wear the scarf Nonna made you, gloves, and your ninety-five mask. Don’t forget a hat. Okay?” It was no use arguing with her. She was queen when it came to managing his health. Milan nodded and concentrated on finishing his porridge. *** “Rory!” “I have to go, Dad.” “We need to talk.” “Yeah, yeah, I’ll be back this afternoon.” Rory left the house and ran to his red mustang. He drove out of the parking lot too fast hoping to beat Ilaria and Milan to the grocery store. In town, he parked behind the grocery store, and entered the building using the staff entrance. Everyone he met greeted him on the way to the security room. He found Andy, the man in charge of watching the cameras, sipping on a cola with his legs on the table. “Andy.” “What brings a Morgan here?” Andy asked, dropping his feet down, and sitting up straight. “I just want to check on something,” Rory said, leaning over the camera screens monitoring the main floor. He searched for Ilaria and Milan, but they hadn’t made it yet. Sighing in relief, he patted Andy’s shoulder, and left the security room. He found Linda in her office. She looked busy working at her laptop. “Rory, you’re looking good. Heard you found your mate.” “I need a favor,” Rory said. “What kind of favor?” Linda asked, closing her laptop to give him her attention. “Can I work in the store for an hour?” “Why?” “Coz,” Rory touched a little wolf statue on Linda’s desk. “Oh my, is your someone special coming here?” Rory fidgeted not about to admit that he had turned into a stalker. He wasn’t proud of it, but he couldn’t stay away from Milan. A tight vice settled around his heart, his very lungs, dictating that he know everything about Milan. Every laugh, every smile, every sigh…otherwise, and the vice tightened making it hard to breathe. He could not wait until school started to meet Milan. It needed to be today. “Please, Linda,” Rory said. “I’ll owe you a favor.” “That’s a very enticing offer from a Morgan.” Linda got up from her seat and walked to a counter on the left side of her office. She opened a cupboard and retrieved a red t-shirt. “I’ll clear it with the floor manager.” Linda threw the t-shirt in his direction and Rory caught it with ease. Removing his own t-shirt, he pulled on the grocery store t-shirt, sighing when it was too tight on his arms. “Don’t you have a larger one?” “All the large ones were taken by the staff.” “Thanks for this.” “I’ll collect at a later date,” Linda said, giving him a meaningful look. Rory decided not to dwell on that, and left her office breaking into a jog. He headed out to the main store, slowing down when he saw Matt and Topher leaning on the customer care counter. “What are you guys doing here?” “We followed you from the house,” Matt said, tagging on the t-shirt Rory wore when he got close. “What’s with this? No longer into construction?” Topher chuckled, and looked around the store, his gaze searching. “You really couldn’t wait,” Topher said. “Wait for what?” Matt asked, folding his arms against his chest. The entrance doors slid open to admit Ilaria with her arm over Milan’s shoulders. The scent of mandarin oranges filled Rory’s nostrils, and he clenched his hands in tight fists. *** Ilaria drove into Portento’s city square keeping to speed limits. The town cut a picturesque, old-fashioned figure. Most of the buildings constructed out of red brick, with white window frames. “I bet they had a town meeting when they were constructing this place.” Milan joked. “They made a rule. If you don’t use red bricks for construction, they would feed you pine nuts morning, lunch and dinner.” “How do you come up with these things?” Ilaria asked with a chuckle. “The result is pretty though. I think it would be fun to discover more about the founding folks,” Milan said. “I’ve been searching online, and there is not much about Portento.” “Papa also said the same,” Ilaria said. “Although, he did tell me that the hospital I’m working at is a new construction. Biosense funded it. A project started by the Mayor.” “The power of corporations and politicians,” Milan said. “Speaking of which, Papa is working extra hard. I haven’t seen him in days. Will he make it for dinner tonight?” “Of course.” Ilaria pulled into the town’s only grocery store. She parked her jeep and turned off the engine. “He wants to finish the formula for the medicine that will help you, cucciolo. Once it’s finished, you can spread your wings as wide as you like.” “I wish he didn’t have to spend so much time at his lab. We barely see him now,” Milan sighed. “Because of me—” “No, don’t say that.” Ilaria took his left hand and squeezed. “If Papa’s medicine works, it will help others like you.” Milan squeezed her fingers too and tried not to feel guilty. Ilaria patted his arm, and reached for her purse. “All things aside, imagine this is an adventure, Milan. This close knit community will be our new home for now.” Milan gave a short discouraged sigh. “What? Why are you sighing?” Ilaria made him turn his head to meet her brown gaze. “Well?” “This is not Italia, Mamma. This close knit community might be one that won’t let weird strangers like me mingle,” Milan said, shaking his head. “Just means that I’ll spend weeks as the lonely new kid in school.” “Milan,” Ilaria frowned. “Don’t think that way. There will definitely be one or two friendly people. Trust me, yes?” “You are so sure.” “I’m very sure everyone will love my cucciolo, but none as much as I do,” Ilaria declared. She opened her door, and Milan decided his mother was too biased. Milan got out of the car, and slammed the door closed. He waited for Ilaria to walk around and meet him. She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, leading him to the grocery store entrance. “I will miss the flea market behind Porta Palazzo,” Ilaria said as they entered the heated grocery store. Milan grabbed a shopping cart from the long line at the entrance as his mother produced her grocery list. “Do you think they will let me bargain here?” Milan shuddered. “Remember when you bargained for thirty baskets of blueberries from that farmer. You didn’t know you were bringing down the price for five baskets and he got you to buy thirty baskets for the price you wanted.” “The blueberry invasion,” Ilaria said with a happy laugh. “Who can forget that saga?” “If Ayu hadn’t made everyone at the Turin school come over for a party, we would have drowned in blueberries.” “I still remember the sight of you two handing out blueberries as party favors. Your hands were stained purple for days. I was terrified you would fall sick through it, but you pulled through.” “I never wanted to see a blueberry again,” Milan said shaking his head in amusement. “Well, that proves I have great haggling skills. I will find a place here that allows me to haggle,” Ilaria decided. “Now, tomorrow is New Year’s, which means the first item on our list is…” “Lentils,” they both said at the same time. Milan turned the cart to head to the legumes aisle. Lentil soup on New Year’s Eve was a tradition started by Ilaria’s grandmother. The family recipe was passed down from mother to daughter. Ilaria’s mother made the soup, and now Ilaria made the soup for her family. Milan didn’t mind shopping with his Mamma. It was good walking the aisles with her, listening to her rambling. Their cart filled with foodstuff, supplies for the kitchen, detergents, and knick-knacks Ilaria insisted the house needed. His first day out in weeks, and even though it was in a grocery store, it felt good to be active. *** Rory watched Ilaria and Milan enter the supermarket. They spoke rapid Italian. Something Ilaria only did with Milan as Ayu preferred English. It left Rory in a constant state of frustration. “Learning Italian will take too long,” Rory complained, watching Milan take an empty shopping cart. His hands covered in heavy black gloves. “I see why you came running here,” Matt said with a sigh. “I hate to break it to you, buddy, but you’re turning into a stalker.” Rory ignored Matt’s comment, his gaze on Milan and Ilaria. Their connection was enviable. Rory imagined if he had a mother, he would like her to be a lot like Ilaria. He watched them shop, moving with them so that he had a clear view, smiling when Milan laughed. Ilaria was amusing and seemed to get Milan laughing at every turn. She touched him a lot too: brushing hair out of his eyes, squeezing his shoulder, taking his hand, at times pressing her palm on Milan’s forehead. She asked his opinion on the groceries she picked out, even though Rory knew she probably knew more about them. They were like best friends. When Milan left his mother’s side, Rory could not resist the urge to meet him. He followed Milan down the liquor aisle, heart pounding hard the stronger Milan’s scent grew. Then he met brown eyes and he lost, thoroughly and eternally. *** “Milan, will you get two bottles of sparkling Prosecco? Your Papa and Ayu love to pop it at midnight. It will be fun.” “Si, I’ll be right back.” Milan left the cart with her, heading to the liquor aisle. Milan removed his gloves as they were making him itchy, as he read the labels on the wine bottles, looking for Prosecco. For one, he hoped the store had it stocked. He could not remember a new year’s eve without a bottle of Prosecco. He was sure they would need to drive to the next town to find a sparkling wine to pop for the year. “Hi.” Milan turned to his left at the deep low-pitched greeting. Standing a few feet away was a very tall man in a red t-shirt labeled with a huge Portento Groceries logo. The t-shirt looked too tight, almost bursting at the seams on thick biceps. He reminded Milan of an American football player. He was handsome, this mountain of a man. Dark hair wild, sapphire eyes filled with concern, and when the left brow rose, Milan realized he had not replied to the greeting. “Hi.” Milan smiled, forgetting Rory would not see it because of his mask. “You’re very tall.” The handsome man smiled at Milan and what a sight it was. “You’re very short.” Milan felt heat flush his cheeks. “I get my height from my mother’s side,” Milan said, conscious of his heavy accent. He should have listened to Ayu and practiced his English more. That blue gaze returned to staring, and Milan focused on finding Prosecco bottles to escape it. He wore his gloves to feel busy. “I can help you find what you’re looking for,” the tall man said. Milan risked a glance at him, almost dropping his right glove. “Really, I’m okay.” “I work here.” The man pointed at his t-shirt. “I’m an attendant.” “Your name, please. It’s weird to keep thinking of you as the tall handsome man,” Milan said. “Rory.” The answer came fast. “Rory Morgan.” “Milan.” Milan held out his hand to Rory. It took a second for Rory to respond. Rory’s gaze stayed fixed on Milan’s hand a bit too long. Then, Milan bit his bottom lip when very warm fingers wrapped around his cool hand. Tight and firm, a handshake that warmed him to the bone. Milan moved to pull his hand out of Rory’s, but Rory only tightened his grip. It was Milan’s turn to lift a brow. After a minute, Rory let go with a sheepish smile. “Sorry. You’re looking for—” “A bottle of Prosecco,” Milan said, returning his attention to the wine bottles. He didn’t understand why his heart was racing. Rory was only being nice to him. To cover his nerves, Milan continued talking, pulling on his right glove. If his mother discovered they were off, she would pinch him with drama. “It’s a standard for new year’s eve in our house. Without it, everyone will act as if the world has ended. Mamma says we need two bottles.” “Prosecco,” Rory murmured under his breath. “It’s a type of wine, right? The bubbly kind?” “Yes.” Rory moved around Milan, touching Milan’s shoulders, as he shifted Milan to the side. He reached up on the top shelf and took two bottles holding them out to Milan. “These ones?” Milan took the bottles, checking the labels. Sure enough, it was Prosecco. “Fantastico, you saved us a trip to the next town. Thank you, Rory Morgan.” Milan started to turn away from Rory, only to have Rory stop him with a hand on his shoulder. Milan met Rory’s gaze. “Are you ok?” Rory asked. Rory broke off, his hand dropping away from Milan’s right shoulder. “I’m sorry. Do you live around here? I don’t think we’ve met before.” “I’m new in town.” “Well, it’s nice to meet you,” Rory said. “Milan?” Ilaria called out. “That’s Mamma,” Milan said. “If I don’t appear before her, she’s liable to screech down the place in Italian. Grazie for the help. Maybe, I’ll see you around?” Rory nodded. “I’d like that.” “Bye.” Milan waved at him, and hurried to the next aisle. Milan found his mother studying canned tomato paste. “How do you think the paste tastes?” Ilaria asked, as Milan placed the bottles of wine into their overfilled cart with care. “They do know that chopping real tomatoes and making fresh sauce is better, don’t they?” “You’re a food critic, Mamma,” Milan teased, taking the can from her and returning it to the shelf. “I bet if it were up to you, the canning industry would die.” “As it should, cucciolo,” Ilaria agreed, when Milan turned the cart toward checkout. “Unless we’re dressing olives, or making grape wine, vegetables should always be fresh.” Yes, this was Ilaria at her finest. Milan helped her arrange their items on the counter and looked up to find Rory bagging their groceries as the cashier checked them out. How had he gotten here so fast? Rory smiled at him, making Milan blush. He dropped his gaze down to the bag of fresh zucchini and artichokes he was holding. “Milan?” Ilaria took the bag from him with a frown. She touched his forehead, and he groaned in embarrassment at the mothering. He couldn’t help swiping her hand away, stealing a glance to see if Rory had noticed. Rory was busy arranging packages of toilet paper into a brown bag. Milan let out a relieved sigh and found his mother watching him. Her gaze moving from him to Rory, then back. Ilaria grinned. “I should buy a third bottle of Prosecco. Marie will be heartbroken this new year’s eve.” “Mamma.” “He’s cute, in that old barbarian Irish way. He feels wild. I like your taste, cucciolo.” Milan’s face heated faster, the only thing that made this all better was that Rory did not understand Italian. Otherwise, the embarrassment would send him into an early grave. Ilaria handed over cash for their purchases. She took her receipt and stopped when Rory started to push their cart of purchases. “We can manage,” Ilaria said to Rory. “The place looks busy…” “Don’t worry. He has permission to help you out,” a tall redhead said, coming to their side from the customer service desk. “My name is Linda Bennet. I run the Portento Grocery store. You’re new to town.” Ilaria adjusted her hold on her purse to take the hand Linda offered in greeting. “Dr. Ilaria Takeda,” she said, shaking Linda’s hand. “This is my youngest, Milan.” “Nice to meet you, Dr. Ilaria. Milan. What a unique name you have. So handsome too, all that dark curly hair sneaking out of your hat. Are you Italian? I couldn’t help overhearing you when you came in.” “We are a mix of Italian and Japanese,” Ilaria said with a shy smile. Ilaria moved Milan away from the checkout counter so that they could give other customers space to maneuver. “We moved here from Turin, Italy at the start of December. My husband’s work keeps us on the move.” “Ah,” Linda nodded her smile genuine. “Well, Portento is glad to have you. Where are you staying? Close to town?” Ilaria wrapped an arm around Milan’s shoulders. She was nervous. This was probably the first person she was talking to outside the hospital. “We’re out on Shirling Street,” Ilaria said. “Not close, but not far.” “I know the street,” Linda said, with a nod. “Well, I know what it’s like to be new in a place. Tomorrow is New Year’s and the town has a small party planned at the town hall in the afternoon. I’d like to invite you and your family. This way, you get to meet a few people.” Ilaria looked to Milan, and when he didn’t protest, she took the invitation card Linda held out to her. “Is it formal?” Ilaria asked. “No, no,” Linda said. “Very casual, and you can even bring a dish made at home if you like.” Ilaria nodded, and tucked the card into her purse. “Thank you. We’ll be glad to attend.” “Great.” Linda clapped, her smile returning. “Now, allow Rory to help you out. I insist.” Ilaria sighed, giving Rory a short nod. “This once,” Ilaria said. Rory pushed their cart out the store with a wide smile. Milan adjusted his jacket when they got outside, the cold hitting him hard. Ilaria helped him adjust his scarf, making sure his surgical mask was fit over his nose and mouth. She pulled the hood of his jacket over his head. When they got to their car, Ilaria unlocked it, opening the trunk. “Let me move a few things,” Ilaria said, shifting a bag of medical supplies to the side. “Your name is Rory?” “Yes, we’ve met before,” Rory said. “Oh?” “In the hospital, you treated my brother, Chris Morgan.” “Right, the motorcycle racer,” Ilaria said, straightening up after clearing space. “How is he?” “Doing fine,” Rory said, his gaze sliding to Milan, as he took a bag from the cart and arranged it in the trunk. “You asked me to look out for Milan in school.” Milan stared at his mother in horror. “Yes, I did.” Ilaria stuck her tongue out at Milan over Rory’s back. “You work here?” “It’s temporary,” Rory said, taking the last bag from the cart. Milan moved around him, taking the wine bottles out of the bag. “They’re safest in the front with us,” Ilaria explained. “Well, thank you very much, Rory. I hope your brother feels better.” “Will you make it to the party tomorrow, Milan?” Rory asked, pushing the cart out of the way. Milan looked at his mother, and gave a small shrug. “I’ll try to be there,” Milan said, knowing it was highly unlikely. Rory nodded, and watched them enter their car as he moved to stand on the sidewalk. “He looks interested in you,” Ilaria said, as she wore her seat belt. “A bit too eager if you ask me.” “Mamma, you said he was cute earlier.” “Yes, I did.” Ilaria started the car and waved at Rory when he lifted his hand at them. She drove out of the parking lot a bit too fast, her gaze on the rear view mirror. Milan followed her gaze to see Rory watching them drive off. A tingle of recognition raced through him, quickly disappearing when his mother joined the main road and Rory disappeared. ***
  7. lilansui

    Chapter 5

    I bet Ilaria is going to be like, "Damn it! Who let the dogs into my super sanitized house?" It's so awesome to see the reactions as the story starts opening up, and the two meet. Biosense is on my mind, even while it seems to have escaped Rory's who is too caught up in Milan right now. I'mma go burst his excitement bubble in the next coming chapters. Hahaha. Thanksgiving season (Chuseok) in my family is coming up in a few weeks. So, just wanted to let you know I'm grateful to all of you for your insane support, it humbles me each time, and gives me inspiration.
  8. lilansui

    Chapter 5

    The Boy full of Mandarin Oranges The Takeda home stood in seclusion, surrounded by tall evergreen trees on the edge of the North Forest. It looked as though the Takeda family had enough clout with Biosense to have their own home, and a huge one at that. “Nice place,” Topher said, his gaze on the three-story house. “How many living here?” “There is a lady in the kitchen, two on the third floor,” Matt replied. “Plus the doctor and her husband,” Topher counted. “Five souls.” “Five human souls,” Rory said. “Dad thinks the husband works for Biosense actual.” “He is moving his family with him. It’s smart but also hard on the family. The moves force them to rely on themselves. They won’t trust outsiders,” Topher said. “You can’t help being a shrink,” Matt scoffed. “All those psychology books you read, it’s getting weird, Topher.” “You’re just jealous.” Topher winked at Matt. Topher pushed back a branch intent on getting closer to the property. He stopped when the side door on the house opened. They all moved to take cover as a tall man walked out of the house. Rory took a step closer careful to stay in the tree cover. The man carried what seemed a bundle on his back. Rory’s heart sped up, racing so fast, he brought his hand to his chest in surprise. The man shifted the bundle he carried as he walked, and the blanket around him slipped to reveal a younger version of the tall man. The scent of mandarin oranges drifted to Rory in one swift flood. Rory’s eyes brightened, his canine teeth elongating, sharp and deadly. His gaze focused on the boy now sitting on a bench in the gazebo. Body wrapped from head to toe, leaving only his eyes uncovered. His voice drifted to Rory like beautiful music. Sparks shot through his veins as he realized he was looking at his mate. The urge to run out and claim him took over, and he started moving forward only to have Topher and Matt each grab his arms. He pushed them off, power surging through him, his mate the only important thing. All he could see was the boy, so handsome, so untouched and his. His to claim, his to have. Topher and Matt tightened their grips on his arms, and he fought them, fighting them for the right to claim his mate. They struggled. Wild fire coursed his veins, his skin rolling, rough fur rising, his fingers curled, his nails sharpening— “Fuck, Rory, calm the fuck down!” Matt hissed. “They are human. Humans!” Rory heard Matt from a distance, his wolf rising, his senses focused on the boy in the gazebo. The boy laughed, watching the tall man dance, fury filled Rory. He couldn’t stand the idea of the boy smiling at someone else. Looking so pleased…rage swept through him, and he shifted into his wolf. Topher and Matt followed suit and jumped on him, working to pin him down. “Rory, they are human.” Matt begged. “They won’t understand. Don’t rush out. It will only frighten him.” “He is too strong,” Topher complained, when Rory shook him off, snarling, baring his fangs, ready to rip them apart if they got in his way. “We need help. I’m linking to the Alpha.” Matt jumped in front of Rory, blocking his way. “Rory! Smell their blood.” Rory took in a deep breath, the scent of mandarin oranges filling his nostrils, setting off a fresh wave of longing inside him. His mate sat a few feet away from him. Relief flooded him. His soulmate. He would never have to walk through life alone again. Nothing else mattered. He needed to get to him— “Rory, stop and focus.” It was impossible to ignore the alpha’s voice in his head. The order left him standing in the small clearing, staring at his mate, unable to take another step. “They are human.” Rory gave a small whimper at the realization. He couldn’t just run out and hold his mate. “Come home.” Connor ordered. “No.” Rory shook his head, still in wolf form. “I want to stay. I need to—“ “Come home, Rory.” “I’m sorry, Dad. No!” Rory shut out his father, and stood staring at the gazebo, aware that both Matt and Topher were watching him in surprise. “You just locked out the Alpha,” Matt said, shocked, and a little awed. Topher moved into Rory’s line of vision. “Are you under control now?” Rory gave a single nod, his gaze shifting back to the two at the gazebo. “His name is Milan.” Topher offered. “You were too busy going nuts over him, I doubt you heard them talking. The tall one is his big brother, Ayu. They look like they have an Asian parent in the mix.” Matt came to stand on Rory’s left side. His skill was tracking. He could smell danger in a ten-mile radius. “Something is wrong with Milan. He smells of medicine. I think he is ill, that’s why he is bundled up like that,” Matt said. “His chest I think, could be pneumonia.” As though to answer his question, Milan suddenly let out a fierce cough, so rough it seemed to shake his body. His brother had gone into the house, and Milan was alone. Milan looked in pain as he coughed, shaking so hard, Rory couldn’t help racing out of cover and into the open, just to— He stopped when Milan got to his feet in panic. Milan looked scared. His eyes wide in shock as he stared at Rory. Rory stood frozen, wanting to offer comfort but not knowing how. Milan took a step back, and Rory took one forward. “He is scared of you.” Matt soothed. “Don’t move.” Rory sighed and just watched Milan instead. Now that the mask was off, Milan’s face was clear to him. Big brown eyes, his skin too pale, red lips that reminded him of strawberries. His chin lifted in defiance, despite his fear, Milan was no coward. Rory wished Milan would take off the hat so that he could see his hair. The side door opened and Rory unwillingly stepped back into tree cover. He was satisfied when Ayu came rushing to Milan, scolding him for losing his blanket and standing in the cold air. Rory took his first deep breath when Ayu settled Milan with a cup of hot chocolate, and the blanket back in place. Then, Doctor Ilaria arrived and she too spent a few minutes scolding them both. Rory smiled and returned to Matt and Topher. Rory shifted back to his human form, not caring that he was naked. Topher and Matt did the same. Rory rolled his shoulders waiting for their outbursts. “You’ve lost your mind. Why the hell did you go out like that?” Topher demanded, his gaze on the two dancing in the gazebo, while Milan watched. “He’s sick, and his brother left him out here alone. Shit, look at him. Why is he so sick? What is wrong with him? I need to know. The best way is to walk over and ask.” Matt slammed his palms on Rory’s chest, pushing him back when he started to walk toward the Takeda compound. "No." “This is not the way we do things, Rory," Topher pointed out. “Get out of my way,” Rory demanded, cursing under his breath when both Topher and Matt refused to move. Meeting their gazes, he read cold hard determination. They were not going to let him pass without a fight. Rory was aggressive, fought dirty, and always left them marked up, and injured. Knowing that, they still wanted to fight him. “Rory.” Matt tried to reason. “Push your wolf back, and clear your head,” Matt said. “Those are three humans out there, in their home, enjoying time outside. They feel safe, and you showing up out of nowhere to demand why the youngest is sick will ruin that feeling from them. Is that what you want?” “Ilaria knows me." “Yes, in passing,” Topher said, holding up his hands when Rory growled in frustration. “She seems protective of her kids. Do you want her to see you like this? She’s the young one’s mother. You want to win her over, and not freak her out.” Rory breathed out, and took steps away from Topher and Matt. A steady breeze floated toward them, bringing with it the heavy scent of mandarin oranges from Milan at the gazebo. He took in several breaths, filling his brain with Milan’s sweet scent. So delicious, it drove him insane wanting more. The scent brought him down to his knees, hands digging into the forest floor. His hands shifting, his nails elongating into sharp deadly weapons, they dug deep into the ground. He grabbed a fistful of snow and dirt and let out a low frustrated growl. “Despite the insane cough, Milan seems happy,” Topher said, his tone low, soothing. “Ilaria called him cucciolo, a nickname. It means…little…dog…no, little puppy. Forgive me, Italian class was a while back. Ayu and Ilaria seem protective of him. Really exotic names for a strange family.” The sound of Milan’s voice drifted to them, and Rory stilled. He closed his eyes, fighting back the urge to race out and possess him. He concentrated on the sound of Milan’s voice as he talked to his mother and brother. “All the dancing has made me hungry,” Ilaria said. “Marie made vegetable potpie,” Ayu said. “Your favorite, Milan.” “Super,” Milan said, though he didn’t sound as excited as he should be. “What’s for dessert?” “Banana pudding,” Ayu provided. “That sounds promising,” Milan said, this time the tone of his voice laced with a pleased tone. “Mamma, I was thinking, if I get better before school starts. Can I get a car?” “You don’t have a driver’s license,” Ilaria started to protest. “But Ayu gets to use his international license, why can’t I? Why did I even get it?” “At home in Turin, you could use it because everyone knew you. No one cared if you were too young to drive. While you're the right age here, I’m not sure you can drive yet, cucciolo. What if it snows?. You need time to get used to it,” Ilaria argued. “Besides, we don’t mind dropping you off.” “But—” “I’ll let you drive my car when I pick you up, so you can practice,” Ayu said. “Ayu Takeda, you will do no such thing. As for you Milan, school starts next week. Why don’t we table the driving issue until springtime? Hmm…spare your Mamma a few black hairs. If they all turn to grey too early, your Papa might run from me.” “I’ll help you dye them so he won’t know,” Milan said with a short chuckle. “Cheeky,” Ilaria said. “Come on, let’s go inside. That’s enough fresh air for you, Milan. We don’t want you returning to your bed.” “Want a ride back?” Ayu asked, the question was innocent enough. Rory growled, wanting to be the one carrying Milan. Wanting to be the one to touch him. Topher and Matt moved closer, ready to stop him. “It’s okay, I should walk,” Milan said, and Rory got to his feet, moving to peer through the thick trees. Rory gritted his teeth watching Milan walk between Ayu and Ilaria, the heavy blanket around his shoulders. He was short and too skinny for his age. He was the height of his mother, a foot shorter than Ayu, which made Milan almost two feet short to Rory’s six foot four. Ilaria had her hand over Milan’s shoulders, to keep the blanket over him. Ayu carried the space heater that had stood in the gazebo. Once again, Rory wondered why Milan was sick. He had almost lost his mind listening to Milan cough. “We need to approach this from a different angle,” Matt said from his left, as the trio disappeared into the large three-story house. Rory found himself wondering which room belonged to Milan. “They are family now,” Topher said, on his right. “No matter the situation, we need to protect them.” Rory closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. “We still don’t know how they entered the town,” Rory murmured. “Think of it as The Morrighan bringing you yours, Rory. The pack will understand.” Rory kept his gaze on the Takeda house. “You are too optimistic. The thing with Chris and Ilaria earlier,” Rory shook his head. “It didn’t make sense.” “Well, it doesn’t seem as though there is anything wrong with Ilaria,” Topher shrugged. “We can set up a watch on the house, and go from there.” “Ilaria was on point about school starting next week,” Matt said, touching Rory’s left shoulder. “A legitimate opening for you, we just need to talk to Principal Rick.” Rory nodded, his fingers curling into tight fists, his nails digging into skin. The short pain enough to pull him back from the urge to run into the Takeda house. “You guys head back,” Rory said. “I’m not ready to leave him.” “Fat chance,” Matt patted his shoulder. “If we work together, we’ll discover which room Milan uses faster.” Rory smiled when Matt shifted into his grey wolf, and trotted off using the snow as cover. “I’m lucky to have you guys,” Rory said, turning to Topher. “Don’t forget it, Alpha in-waiting,” Topher said, shifting into his brown wolf and running after Matt. ***
  9. lilansui

    Chapter 4

    Chapter 4 – The White Wolf on the Edge of the Forest Milan rubbed his chest hoping to ease the feeling of itchiness deep inside him from coughing too much. He hated coughing. Hated that he couldn’t suppress it. It was always so loud sometimes, enough to alert everyone in the house that he was sick. The cold weather was hard on him. His immune system was too weak to fight. Leaving him open to pneumonia from the first night after landing in Portento. He stayed sick for weeks. It was taking him longer to adjust to the new climate. It didn’t help that it had snowed through Christmas. The white stuff was pretty outside, yet, it meant the cold was unrelenting. Milan wished he could run outside without making his health worse. The frustration left him so angry some days he could barely think. He could only hope the new batch of shots his father was developing would give him more strength, more armor. They were stronger than before, he could feel it. He was fighting off this bout of illness faster. Just...he sighed. He was stuck in his room for now though. He stayed in his room, reading on his kindle, or drawing. He had just finished uploading his latest artwork on DeviantArt when Ayu came into his bedroom. “Milan,” Ayu said, holding up a heavy blanket. “Want to step outside for fresh air? Mamma is not due back home for another hour. I set up a heater in the gazebo at the back garden. We can have hot chocolate.” “Have I told you I love you?” Milan pushed his blankets to the side, careful to make sure his laptop didn’t fall off. He shifted to the side of the bed and smiled when Ayu hurried to help him. “Not today, you haven’t. I know you hate being cooped up in here. Mamma won’t let you out until you stop sounding like a drum when you cough,” Ayu said. Milan grinned, elated by this little gift from his brother. Ayu helped him wear a heavy jacket over his thick sweater, and zip it up. He wore a wool hat, and pulled on gloves warm enough to make a healthy man sweat. Milan adjusted the white surgical mask over his mouth and nose, adjusting the wool hat covering his head so that his ears were warm. Ayu crouched to help him with boots. His feet already in the heaviest socks possible. Their mother worked at making sure Milan’s clothing was the heaviest it could be in this weather. Satisfied that every part of Milan was covered except for his eyes, Ayu looked up at him and grinned. “Ready?” “Yes,” Milan nodded, excited. Ayu wrapped the heavy blanket around Milan, then turned around and presented his back to Milan. Milan wrapped his arms around Ayu’s neck, pressing his slight body against Ayu’s back for a piggy-back ride outside. They used a side door to get outside, careful not to alert Marie, or else they would get a scolding. Milan felt the contrast of being in the house, and outside immediately. The cold air felt good on his face, the fresh air flowed deep inside his lungs. Ayu walked fast, over the salted path to the gazebo. The snow covered grounds were beautiful, all the way to the evergreen forest surrounding their house. Milan smiled hard when Ayu deposited him on a comfy bench in the white gazebo. There was a heater sitting right in the middle of the round floor space. Ayu adjusted the blanket over Milan, and stepped back to inspect his handiwork. “Are you comfortable?” “Yes,” Milan said, happy to be outside for the first time since the day they landed in Portento. He had fallen sick overnight, and been unable to get out of bed all the way through Christmas. “Mamma’s gonna freak out if she finds us out here, so we’ll head back when my phone beeps. I set up a little alarm to tell me if the front gates open.” “You’re so handy with that stuff,” Milan noted, watching his brother turn on music on his Ipod and dock it on the stereo. “Yeah, it sucks that we can’t tell Mamma and Papa. I don’t like that they both want me to get into medicine.” Ayu shrugged, settling on the bench opposite Milan. “You can enroll into whatever classes you want, Ayu. Do what you want. I want to be an architect. Who knows if it will happen,” Milan said, staring at the tree edge with a wistful glance. He wished he could explore the forest surrounding their home. When he was feeling better, maybe he would try to sneak in there and discover what lay inside that forest. “Milan.” “Don’t say something to inspire me right now. I don’t wanna hear it,” Milan said, turning to Ayu. “Dance for me. Like you used to when we were hanging out with Christina in Turin.” “Milan.” “Come on, this space is awesome. Move the heater closer to me, and do some B-boying, Ayu Takeda. I bet you’ve lost it.” “Oh no, you didn’t.” Ayu placed his iPod on the bench. He got up and moved the heater closer to Milan, then went to change the music to break beats. Milan adjusted the blanket so that he could remove his hands from under the heavy fabric to clap when his brother started dancing. Ayu was a great b-boy, his style fun and entertaining. Milan couldn’t help clapping in excitement when Ayu contorted into a back flip, and came up into a comical freeze that had Milan laughing with joy. After thirty minutes, Ayu decided he needed some water after working up a sweat. “I’ll get hot chocolate for you, Milan. Don’t move. I’ll be right back.” Ayu jumped out of the gazebo, running toward the kitchen. Milan watched him leave, and finally let out the cough he had been holding in for a while, not wanting to spoil the fun. The cough was harsh, violent, left him scratchy inside his chest. Taking off the surgical mask, he wiped his mouth with a handkerchief from his jacket pocket, and looked toward the trees on a coincidence. Milan choked on his last cough when he saw a large white wolf standing right on the forest edge. Milan took in a labored breath, standing in panic, his blanket sliding to the ground. The cold air wrapped around him, making him shiver. His gaze remained trained on the large white wolf. He took a step back and the wolf seemed to move forward. He stopped. He had once watched a wolf feature on NatGeo. Wolves loved the chase, they cornered their prey, and the moment the poor deer started running, the wolves attacked. He closed his eyes, when he remembered the sight of those same wolves with their muzzles red from the deer’s blood. If he moved now, he might end up like that animal. He could try running, but to be honest, his muscles were weak, he could barely walk without tiring out. The house was the same distance away as the gazebo was from the forest edge. Opening his eyes, he stood stock still, his gaze on the white wolf still watching him. Heart racing, he weighed his options. Would calling out help? Marie wasn’t supposed to know about him being out here, but surely— The sound of the kitchen door opening and closing filled him with relief. Ayu was coming back. Milan saw the wolf start back into the forest. He let out a soft relieved breath as the wolf blended into the forest edge, until he couldn’t see it anymore. “Milan!” Ayu exclaimed when he reached him. “What are you doing? You can’t expose yourself like this. You’re still coughing up a storm. Sit.” “Ayu,” Milan pointed to the forest edge, his teeth chattering, from the cold or fear, he couldn’t tell. “I just saw a huge wolf over at the trees. It was so huge. I couldn’t believe it, but it was definitely a wolf.” “Wolves in a residential area?” Ayu asked, disbelief heavy in his tone. He pushed Milan to sit, and grabbed up the blanket on the floor. Wrapping it around Milan, Ayu moved the heater closer. “I swear to God I’m not crazy. There was a wolf right there.” Ayu straightened up and turned to look, his gaze searching the tree line and finding nothing. “Milan.” “There was a wolf, Ayu.” “Okay,” Ayu agreed, with a small frown. “I’ll talk to Papa. Ask him to check with the Biosense staff. Meanwhile, why don’t we get this hot chocolate in you? Hmm…” “I really saw a wolf, Ayu,” Milan insisted, holding the warm mug between his hands, his gaze on the forest edge. He wished the wolf would appear again, if only to prove his words to his brother. Ayu patted the wool hat over Milan’s head and perched on the bench beside him. “I believe you.” Milan sipped his hot chocolate, his gaze returning to the spot where the wolf had disappeared. He wondered if the wolf was living close by, was it alone, or did it have a pack? Did it have kids? Was it starving? “I miei bambini, what are you doing out here?” Ilaria’s voice startled them into turning around. “Polpetto, mind explaining yourself? Ayu gave a nervous chuckle, standing up, as Ilaria walked into the gazebo. She looked tired, dark shadows under her eyes. Dressed in a silver-grey winter jacket, she removed her gloves and moved to press her palm on Milan’s forehead. “You’re lucky he’s not feverish. He is not supposed to be outside.” “Mamma,” Ayu started, just as his ipad buzzed. His alarm going off a tad too late. “It was my fault.” Milan cupped the mug of hot chocolate tight and took a sip to warm his insides. “I pushed him until he had no choice but to bring me out here. I’ve been cooped up in the house too long, Mamma. I’m starting to look like a shriveled mushroom.” “This child,” Ilaria sighed and sat beside him, wrapping an arm around his shoulders. “Come, Ayu, sit. The weather is letting up, I think. It’s warmer than yesterday.” “January hasn’t come yet,” Ayu said, sitting on their mother’s right side. “They call January and February deep winter here.” “Hmm…” Ilaria squeezed Milan’s shoulders. “I know you wanted to go to school, but maybe a tutore will be better? This way you don’t have to deal with the cold.” “Don’t take it back,” Milan said, leaning into her. “Papa's new medicine is keeping me healthy enough. He says he's working on making the shots every other day. If that works, I’ll be protected enough to go.” “I hope so.” Ilaria pressed a kiss on his head, and turned to do the same to Ayu. “Well, the music is on. Was Ayu b-boying for you, cucciolo?” “He was, and he hasn’t lost it,” Milan grinned. “I can burst some moves too, you never ask to see them,” Ilaria complained. “I want to see,” Milan insisted. “Okay, but Ayu has to help me, my bones are getting old…” Ilaria stood making a show of having her back in pain, making them both laugh. Ayu jumped to his feet and changed the music to their mother’s favorite Italian singer. She grinned wide and started dancing her own version of the saltarella, lifting her skirts so that they could see her steps. She was good. Mostly, she was hilarious, and then the music changed to Shakira’s Lobo and she grabbed Ayu so that they danced together. Milan was happy watching them, suppressing his coughs when he could, not wanting to spoil their fun. His cheeks flushed with excitement. This was the best day he had had since landing in Portento. ***
  10. lilansui

    Chapter 3

    Your wish is my command...lolz! Going back to work now. I'll make it good.
  11. lilansui

    Chapter 3

    This town is in for a few surprises. There is always someone hiding secrets big enough to shock the town, hehehe. Trudging along....to the next part. You have me thinking about this story over and over. I'm super excited by all of you looking forward to the next chapter.
  12. lilansui

    Chapter 3

    The Council running the Town When they got home, Rory helped Chris out of the pickup truck, Chris’s arm over his shoulder. They started for the front door. They had just gone up the steps when the first car arrived, parking behind their father’s black Ford pickup truck. Rory helped Chris sit on the first step when a second and third car appeared. “The Council,” Chris murmured. “Guess word about Dr. Ilaria is out.” “You have to admit it’s pretty weird for her to have moved in to town without anyone knowing.” “Someone knew,” Chris said, his gaze narrowed as he watched the town’s council members walk up to their father and greet him. “Dad must have called them when we were in the hospital.” Rory got to his feet, helping Chris up. They entered their family home and headed to the living room. Rory settled Chris on a comfortable blue couch just as council members filed in. “Rory.” The Ashland University’s Chancellor greeted, moving to sit in the armchair closest to Chris. “Mr. Lechter,” Chris greeted the Chancellor with a nod. Ashland High School’s Principal, Rick Raine, tossed Rory’s hair making him duck. “Chris, if it weren’t for you getting hurt, this wouldn’t have come to our attention.” “Principal Rick,” Rory said. “You’ve shot up during the holidays, Rory. What is your father feeding you?” “Too much meat is what,” Chris said with a short laugh. “I think we are the only people that barbecue every day.” “Is that a complaint?” Connor asked, coming into the room followed by two women. “Nope,” Chris said, bending over his injured thigh with avid interest. Rory bit his lip to hold back a laugh. Their food options were an everyday argument between Connor and Chris. Chris wanted real meals, while Connor wondered what was wrong with beef, pork, or even chicken cooked over an open fire. “Rory, how are you?” Rory looked up to find one of the women smiling at him. Linda Bennet managed the town’s only grocery store. The perfect cover, Rory thought. The amount of gossip that passed through her store was enough to sink the town. It was a good thing Linda knew how to keep secrets. “Doing fine, Linda,” Rory said with a shy smile. “You’re blushing.” Chris winked at him, and he looked away. It was hard not to. Linda was one beautiful woman. Her curves perfect, her red hair long and wavy. She could put any top model to shame. Her husband tended to be an overprotective bastard, and Rory couldn’t blame him one bit. Rory perched on a stool his gaze on the last member of the town’s council. Lisbeth Jones. Short, haughty, and the woman who controlled the town's financial interests as Portento’s Mayor. “Nothing changes in this house, Connor,” Lisbeth said, perching on the second armchair next to Lechter. Rory did not miss his father’s shrug. Lisbeth whined about the lack of change in the house every time she came to visit. Which was every week. Which made her a nagging crazy woman in love with Connor, who pretended not to see it. Rory shifted on the stool, getting comfortable. “So, Dr. Ilaria Takeda,” Connor said, leaning on the back of Lisbeth’s armchair. “Anyone know about her?” “Nothing at all,” Lechter sighed. “I was shocked when Connor called to ask.” “Mayor?” Principal Rick prompted, his tone accusing. Lisbeth shook her head with a frown. “Any new projects in town?” Connor asked, touching her shoulder. Lisbeth leaned into the touch. “We all approved the projects running at the moment last year, including the Biosense deal to expand the hospital.” “I still don’t approve of having Biosense building an entire facility in our town,” Linda sighed. “They have a chunk of the north forest cordoned off. They don’t allow anyone unauthorized inside. Who knows what they are doing there.” “The town needed the capital injection,” Lisbeth defended. “Linda, we’ve been over this. We can’t keep fighting progress otherwise we’ll stunt our people.” Linda gave an impatient sound and waved her hands in frustration. “I ran Doctor Ilaria’s name through the system on our way back from the hospital,” Connor said. “Ilaria Takeda’s address places her inside the Biosense radius. She could be new staff.” “This presents a new challenge,” Rick said with a sigh. “We can’t have Biosense bringing in staff without informing us.” “Their staff is on a revolving schedule, two weeks here, and the rest wherever their other facilities are located. We have not had a problem before. Linda does supply drop-offs for most of them. They live in an isolated bubble of research, it’s hard to get them out of their homes. The ones with kids even send them to boarding school. She knows this is true,” Lisbeth said. “So, what’s different with Ilaria?” Lechter asked. “She got a job at the hospital, and wants to enroll her son into the local high school.” “She said she had two,” Rory said. “Two sons.” “Right, so one might be enrolling into Ashland U,” Lechter said, sitting back with a huff. “How does such a thing happen without the council’s knowledge?” Silence filled the room, and then Chris tossed a throw pillow into the air. “One of us is keeping a secret,” Chris said. Linda shook her head. “Nonsense. The community is happy. Our families interconnected. We would all know if something was up. Why would anyone make a deal with outsiders?” “As Lisbeth said, the world is changing out there. There are those who want more than the community offers,” Principal Rick said. “More— “Then, they are idiots,” Lechter cut in. “They don’t know how vicious it can get outside Portento borders. The hate, the greed that grows when humans learn our kind exists.” “Lechter,” Linda soothed, standing up to move to his side. “I’ve lived through it, so I know. We need to find out who is working with the humans fast. Or we’re going to be dealing with the worst,” Lechter said, his lips set in a hard line. “No one can know the truth about Portento. A town of werewolves is too enticing.” “It is weird that Chris ended up having Dr. Ilaria taking care of him at the hospital,” Rory said. “I mean, this person must have known she was on duty in the emergency room. Question is, how did they know Chris would end up in an accident?” Connor pushed off the armchair, his gaze on Chris, as he demanded. “Why were you racing Dolon?” Chris sat up with a frown. “You think Dolon is involved? That’s impossible. He is not that smart.” “Chris, this is serious,” Rory insisted. “Fine, he found me hanging out with Hank, and Frank at the Green Onion café. Dolon said some stupid shit, and I lost my head and challenged him.” “What stupid shit?” Linda asked. “I don’t want to say it here.” “What was your argument about?” Connor insisted. Chris closed his eyes, and then dropped his head back on the couch. “It was about Rory, okay. Dolon is a fucking homophobe. I put him in his place.” Rory stared at his brother in shock. Did that mean that every time Chris had fought Dolon it was about him? “Chris.” “Don’t start, Rory.” Chris lifted his head to scowl at him. “Thanks,” Rory said with a small smile. “Gosh, you two are so cute,” Linda giggled. “I wonder if someone egged Dolon into pushing Chris into a fight,” Principal Rick said. “Anyone who knows the Morgan brothers will understand what works if you want to push them to the limit. No offense Chris, Rory. You two have a short fuse.” Rory wasn’t going to argue there. He didn’t care if anyone called him a fag to his face, but touch Chris, and that was the end of the line. Dolon now had to deal with him when he got out of hospital. The crash with Chris had broken Dolon’s femur. Too bad for him, because he was going back in for broken ribs and a cracked skull once Rory was done with him. “What do we do now?” Linda asked. “Find out more about Dr. Ilaria,” Lisbeth said. “Connor, that’s your mandate as Alpha. The Council will leave you to it. Meanwhile, I’ll reach out to my contacts at Biosense and ask about their new staff.” “What about this Dr. Ilaria’s kids joining school?” Linda asked. “Let them,” Principal Rick smiled. “It’s the best way to keep a close eye on them. Rory can help me with that, and as for Ashland University, maybe Chris can do it?” “Come on, I was going to take a gap year,” Chris complained. “You need to be part of the student body to move around the university grounds without suspicion,” Lechter said. “That means enrolling into actual courses. It won’t hurt you.” “Whatever.” Chris sighed, knowing the decision was made. “Well, looks like we’re in for an interesting new year,” Linda said, with a sudden grin. “The town’s been quiet anyway. Dr. Ilaria might swing by the grocery store for supplies. I’ll make friends with her. Maybe invite her to the new year’s bonfire.” “No way,” Rory protested. “What if they see something they shouldn’t? You know how everyone gets when they are excited and intoxicated.” “Rory is right,” Connor said. “Fine, we can do a luncheon thing, at the town hall,” Linda said. “I mean, it’s good for everyone to know that we have humans living among us. Just in case—you know, someone pounces on them by mistake.” Chris chuckled, gaining a smack on his head from Principal Rick. “Sounds good. I’ll leave you to plan it, Linda,” Connor said. “Let’s keep in touch, and if anyone discovers more, call the rest of us.” “Yes Alpha,” they all answered. “Great, well, we have chicken in the freezer.” Connor nodded to the corridor leading to the kitchen. “It’s almost lunch, and the rest of the family is on the way in from work, or college for Matt and Topher. We can have a lunch barbecue.” Chris groaned, and rolled around on the couch. Linda stood, and stretched her arms above her head. “I’ll make lasagna, Chris. Wouldn’t want you to lose your head over the constant barbecues.” Chris perked up, and got up from the couch, his leg clearly feeling better, when he hurried after Linda. Rory remained sitting on the stool as the rest of the council followed Chris and Linda to the kitchen. Connor swept fingers through his hair and sat on the closest armchair. “You have a job to do,” Connor broke the silence. Rory sat up on the stool, and nodded. “Yes, Sir.” “We need as much information as we can get. Dr. Ilaria seemed harmless in the hospital, but we can’t be sure. Don’t take chances.” “I’ll be careful.” “Take Topher and Matt with you.” Rory thought about the scent of mandarin oranges lingering on Dr. Ilaria. The memory of it filled his thoughts, making him want to find it, and take a deeper whiff. There was something so enticing about that scent— “Rory?” “Yeah,” he shook his head, and met his father’s gaze. “We need to be careful with this. Lechter is always on edge when humans are involved. If we don’t handle this right, lives could be lost, placing our way of life on the line. I don’t want trouble descending on us.” “I understand, Dad.” “Good, soon as Topher and Matt come back, after lunch you guys set off.” Rory watched his father leave the living room, heading to the kitchen. He let out a long sigh. There was always something going on it seemed. ***
  13. lilansui

    Chapter 1

    I'm also excited by this excellent start!! Here's to Milan and Rory! I'mma break a bottle of Prosecco for this ship....sail away...
  14. lilansui

    Chapter 2

    The Scent of Change, Strangers descend on Portento Shooting nails into the door frame to secure it in place, Rory felt a sense of unease probe at him. The shift was subtle, almost non-existent, but Rory knew trouble was coming. Turning off the nail gun, he stored his tools in the carrier at his feet. Rory snapped the tool box closed and stretched his arms above his head to ease the tension in his shoulders. “Rory!” Rory jerked into motion, rushing out of the section of the house they were extending. Outside, the morning sun danced over the trees to light their large front yard. Connor Morgan stood on the gravel drive, hands on his hips and a deep frown creasing his brow. “Dad?” “Go find a shirt, we have to get to town. Chris was racing that Dolon kid on his motorcycle and they crashed. They were raced to the hospital.” “Shit.” Rory went running to the main doors of their house. He took the stairs two at a time until he reached his suite. Going into the bathroom, he splashed water on his face at the sink, washed his pits and his arms. Splashed water on his chest and grabbed a towel. Wiping himself with negligent jerks, he rolled on some deodorant, and hurried out of the bathroom. He grabbed a clean t-shirt from the closet, adjusting his jeans, he removed his dirty work boots, jamming his feet into sneakers. He was out of his room in three minutes, and racing downstairs to his father’s pickup truck. The car was already running. Once in the cab, his father took off down the drive, speeding down the dirt road through the forest, heading to the main road. “I don’t understand why Chris has to constantly get himself in trouble. This is the second time this month. Do you know what’s going on with him, Rory?” Rory didn’t know. About three months ago, Chris’s girlfriend walked out on him. She got on a plane and flew out to L.A. saying she wanted to be in the movies. Chris was devastated. His grief so tangible, it was hard to be in the same room with him. “Do you think Lori was his mate?” Rory asked. “I mean, she’s—" “No. If she was, and she walked away from him, Chris would be under anesthesia, and not running around like a mad man.” “Well, then I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Rory said, shrugging his shoulders. His father drove too fast. They got to town faster than was legal. Luckily, Connor was the town sheriff, no one would bother ask him questions in this town. Finding a parking spot close to the entrance, Connor and Rory walked into the only hospital in their town. The nurse on duty waved at Connor, and directed them to the second floor. They heard Chris’s laugh before they saw him. A woman was talking to him, her words heavy with accent. Italian? Or maybe Spanish? Rory couldn’t place it. The scent of citrus and bay leaves mixed in with disinfectant, and Rory glanced at his Dad. “You’re very healthy,” the Italian woman was saying. “You are lucky. Surviving such a terrible accident is no easy feat. I can only imagine how your parents would have taken the news if things went the other way.” “Not well,” Chris said. “Luckily, I’m agile.” “Agile is an interesting way to put it.” She laughed, the sound musical. “I would say you are blessed. Many people would have broken arms, legs and head injuries. Chris, you must stop racing through life so reckless. I’m a great doctor, but even I cannot bring back the dead. Promise to be careful?” “With that smile, I’d promise the world to you, Doctor Ilaria.” “Such a Casanova,” the doctor said, her tone amused. Connor pulled the curtain open, to find Chris lying back on the hospital bed, and the doctor applying ointment on the angry scrape on Chris’s left thigh and knee. “Yes, how may I help you?” the Doctor asked, when she saw them. “I’m Connor Morgan, his father.” “Oh, yes, good you have come. I’m almost finished. Chris has deep abrasions on his left knee, and thigh. We have cleaned the wounds and treated them. Your son was very lucky.” “He really is,” Connor said, glaring at Chris. “Thank you so much Doctor…” “Ilaria.” She removed her gloves and held out her hand, her smile wide and beautiful. “Ilaria Takeda,” she said, shaking Connor’s hand. She turned to Rory, and when he took her hand, the scent of citrus filled his nose, coupled with soft tones of the most enticing scent in the world. Holding her hand, Rory took a step closer, moving around the bed. What was it? That maddening scent, so fresh, so….mandarins! Fresh mandarin oranges, the kind that had you gulping up a whole mandarin in one second. The scent disappeared and he leaned even closer, making Ilaria’s eyes widen. “Rory.” His father’s voice pulled him back from the precipice, and Rory let go of Ilaria’s hand. A frown dancing on his forehead, he took a step back from Ilaria and gave her a sheepish smile. “Sorry, your perfume smells really good.” Ilaria’s brow lifted in surprise, and then she shook her head and took Chris’s records from the end of the bed. “Teenagers, sorry, about them,” Connor said with a sigh. “I have two at home, I know how it is,” Ilaria said. She returned the clipboard to the end of the bed and smiled at Chris. “I think you can go home. If your father comes with me to the front desk, we can get you on your way. Remember, no more accidents.” “But I like seeing you Doc,” Chris complained. She chuckled and started to walk away. Rory moved to stop her, curious about that scent. “Doctor Takeda— “Please, call me Dr. Ilaria,” she said. “Dr. Takeda is my husband.” “Are you new in town?” Rory asked. “How did you know?” “Small town,” Connor said his tone full of assurance. “Everyone knows everyone.” “I can’t wait to be the one that tells the next new person that,” Ilaria said with a laugh. Rory bit his lip. He wondered if it would be all right to tell her that new people moving into Portento was a rarity. “Speaking of which,” Ilaria said, her brown gaze meeting Rory’s blue. “Please tell me you go to Ashland High.” “I do,” Rory nodded. “He’s a senior,” Connor said. “Chris graduated last year. Why?” “I have a son going into eleventh grade. He will be new and I was hoping…” “Rory will look out for him,” Chris interrupted her. “Right, Rory? Doc has been so good to me. We should repay that favor. What’s your son’s name?” “Milan,” Ilaria said with a wide proud smile. “He’s fragile, but very stubborn. It will be nice to know he has someone he can ask questions.” Milan, nice name. “Yeah, sure, no problem,” Rory agreed. “Thank you. Mr. Morgan, if you would come with me. We can get Chris sorted out.” Rory watched his father walking beside the short doctor. He looked animated, far from the gruff man he usually was. Ilaria’s laugh was charming, and it had Connor smiling. It was nice to see that. “If only she was single,” Chris said from the bed. Rory sighed, and turned to look at his older brother. “Why the hell were you racing Dolon?” “Don’t start lecturing me.” “Why not?” Rory scowled. “It was your leg this time, who knows what will happen to you next time? If you smash your brains out, no one can put them back in to that empty head.” “Dr. Ilaria looks capable,” Chris said with a sheepish grin. “Be serious, Christopher.” Rory sat on the edge of the bed, careful to choose the right side. Chris’s thigh looked very angry, even as the skin knitted in the healing process. “Don’t wrinkle your nose at my leg. It was much worse,” Chris said. “The healing process kicked in before the paramedics showed up. I don’t know how I ended up under the care of Dr. Ilaria. It’s a good thing it wasn’t so deep when she was working on it.” “Scrapes are easy to deal, she won’t know the difference. Best to keep out of her sights for the next month or so. She’ll expect to see scabs if you meet her next week.” “You’re right.” Chris looked toward the door. “How do you think she moved into Portento?” “Who knows,” Rory shook his head. “I’m sure Dad will get right on that mystery. Meanwhile, he’s freaking out about you. Is this about Lori?” “Fuck Lori. Dolon said some shit I didn’t like, so I challenged him. Don’t ask me the details, he got what he deserves.” “Chris.” “I’m a Morgan first. Trust me, Rory. If I challenge a bastard, it is for a good reason. Don’t push it.” Rory sighed, knowing there was no way Chris was going to tell him. He patted Chris’s right leg. “Alright, but maybe you should talk to Dad. Before he starts thinking you are losing it.” “I’ll find the time,” Chris said. “So, excited to meet this Milan kid?” “Why?” “I saw you leaning into the Doc. You must have scented something good. Must be from the Doctor’s family. A lingering scent from someone close to her.” “Whatever.” Chris shook his head. “I can’t wait for you to find your one, Rory. I really can’t.” “What is that supposed to mean?” “I’m just saying,” Chris said with a shrug. He touched the edges of his bloody shorts. “Help me up. I need to piss, and my leg is killing me.” “You can always do it in the bottle.” Rory got up when Chris scowled at him. “Will you help me hold it?” “Fuck no you’d enjoy it too much.” Chris laughed, and shook his head. “Just help me up, will you?” ***
  15. For those following my stories, I know it's been a bit of a slow update schedule this year.  I'm in the middle of a work project that's been tough on my time.  Please bear with me as I work through this.  I'll update my W.I.P stories as fast as I can. :*) Thank you.

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