"Gonna claim you, my mate. Never let you go."

"Please, Kalen!"

Needing no further encouragement, he struck. The instant his fangs sank into the curve of her neck and shoulder, the force of her release detonated her world. Mac was vaguely aware of screaming out her wild ecstasy as he reaffirmed their bond, pumped his come into her on and on.

When at last their shudders stopped, he still held her tightly, rubbing his palms on her back. Eventually he withdrew his fangs and licked the wounds, though she sensed that the beast in him had been reluctant to give up his hold.

"I meant what I said," he told her. "It wasn't just the heat of sex, either. I love you, Doc."

"And I love you, Sorcerer."

He smiled. "You make me happier than I have a right to be. But for once, I'm going to enjoy having what I want and worry about the rest tomorrow."

"There's the spirit." She kissed his luscious lips. "I suppose we should move."

"Ugh. Do we hafta?"

"Shower?"

He perked up. "Does that include shower sex?"

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"If you're lucky," she teased.

"Sounds like a plan to me."

Carefully he eased her off his lap. Together they padded into the bathroom, started the spray, and let it get nice and hot. Then they proceeded to steam up the glass in more ways than one.

Afterward, Mac thought again about how she needed to tell Kalen about the baby. Crap, if they started sharing living quarters, he was going to be worried about her getting sick in the mornings.

And she'd have to tell him about the nightmare and Malik's claims.

She'd tell him about both soon. But she wanted this one night just for the two them, before reality intruded.

Surely that wasn't too much to ask.

With a sigh of contentment, she snuggled into his arms and slept better than she had in months.

Later, she would be very glad she hadn't known of the tragedy and heartbreak to come.

Chapter Eleven

The morning following claiming his mate for the second time-with much happier results-Kalen was flying high. So high his lover would've given him a drug test if she hadn't known for a fact it was natural.

So he should have known the buzz wouldn't last.

After Mackenzie had dressed and headed to the infirmary, Kalen went back to his quarters for a change of clothes. He was contemplating asking his mate if they could move in together when his cell phone rang.

Nick's name popped up on the display and he grimaced. A call from the boss wasn't typically cause for celebration, and this one was no different.

"I've got a location on your parents," he said without preamble.

"Well, there's some fantastic news," Kalen replied with all the sarcasm he could muster. This conversation required coffee. Maybe he'd add a dash of whiskey to it, too. "I can hardly wait for the heartfelt reunion. Should I bring tissues?"

"Funny. Don't you want to know where they are?"

"Not particularly. But I guess you'll tell me anyways." Yep, coffee. Better leave out the booze, though. He reached for a mug and stuck it under his single-cup brewer, then hit the switch.

"Your childhood address is still listed in their names."

Kalen froze, watching the fragrant brew steam into the mug. "You're kidding."

"No. The weird thing is that my contact says nobody can recall seeing the Blacks for years. Nobody going in or out of the house, no visitors, nothing. But the house is well kept, flowers planted, grass mowed, newspapers and mail picked up regularly. Records show the bills have been paid on time, et cetera. For nine years. All seems good on the surface."

"Except not a soul has seen them in almost a decade." A cold finger trailed down Kalen's spine. He didn't need Nick to tell him that something wasn't right. "When do we leave?"

"You don't have to go," the commander said, his voice softening. "You know we'll tell you what we find."

"I trust you. It's just . . . As much as I'd love never to set foot in my hometown again, I've come to realize I've got to go back and get some closure." He hesitated. "For me, and for Mackenzie."

"You and Mac, huh?" Nick's smile came through in his voice.

"I doubt it's much of a secret."

"You're right, it's not. You've claimed her-the right way this time?"

"Yeah," he said, glad the man couldn't see his red face over the phone. Or shit, maybe he could. "She's the greatest thing that's ever happened to me. I love her, Nick, and for some damned reason she loves me."

"I'm really happy for you, kid. And I agree closure is what you need. Can you be ready to leave in an hour?"

"I'm ready now."

"Eat some breakfast first, then be at the hangar in an hour. Aric is going to fly us there in the jet, and Ryon is going as extra backup. Those two are the least injured from yesterday."

"All right, see you then. And, Nick? Thanks."

"Don't mention it."

Kalen sipped his coffee for a few minutes, then tossed the dregs down the drain. The idea of facing his parents again after so long made his gut churn, and he wasn't sure about putting anything in his stomach. But there was no telling when he'd be able to eat next, so he'd better do as he was told.

Only about half of the guys, including Aric and Ryon, were in the dining room, stuffing themselves on pancakes and bacon. The rest must have been sleeping off the beating they'd taken from the Sluagh. Kalen stabbed a couple of pancakes with his fork, grabbed three pieces of bacon, and dug in. He was hungrier than he'd thought and made quick work of it. After telling Aric and Ryon he'd see them at the plane and saying goodbye to the others, he hurried to the infirmary.

A tired-looking Noah pointed him in the right direction, and Kalen found his doc coming from Zan's room. "How is he?"

"Improving," Mackenzie said with relief. "His vision is clear now and his hearing is almost back to normal."

"That's great news." He gave her a quick kiss-not nearly the hot, passionate one he'd rather lay on her. But it would have to do. "Will he be out of here soon?"

"By tomorrow, I'd say. So what are you up to?"

He released a pent-up sigh. "Going to see my parents. Nick wants to check out any connection they may have to Malik, considering his claims, and a couple of the guys are going along as backup."

"You mean his claims that he knew your family and that you're Fae." She gazed at him in worry.

"Exactly. I'm not sure my folks are going to be real cooperative, or if they'll even speak to us."

"Good luck, honey," she said, pulling him into a hug and squeezing him tightly. "I know how important it is to you to get answers."

"I just hope I can handle them once I have them."

"I wish I could go with you." Her pretty blue eyes were cloudy with concern. "But I have to take this shift with Zan. Noah is exhausted and needs to get some sleep."

"Don't worry about me, baby. I'll have Nick, Aric, and Ryon with me. I'll be fine. I promise."

She bit her lip. "Okay, but call me and let me know how it went. I won't be able to concentrate on much until you do."

"I will. See you this afternoon."

One hug and several long kisses later, he was on his way to the hangar. Christ only knew what they'd find in his hometown.

* * *

Kalen could feel the tension in his neck and shoulders as Aric guided the plane to a stop on the private runway they'd appropriated for their trip. He'd sworn he'd never return and here he was. Back in home-sweet-prison.

Except for Grandma. She'd been the sole positive influence in his life, and without her, he'd quickly become lost. Until Mackenzie.

There was no doubt that his mate drove the darkness back. In spite of Malik's terrible hold over him, his mate's was much stronger. She was what Sariel had meant by opening himself to light and love-all along, it had been Mackenzie.

Still, he worried about something happening to shatter their fragile new bond. That it could be crushed like a flower in a hurricane, simply swept away on a tide of cruel fate. He wasn't being paranoid. It had happened before, the loss of his happiness, his soul. If it happened again, he could become a slave to his own darkness, never to see the light again.

"Welcome to Mayberry," Aric quipped, bringing the jet to a stop. "Jesus, what do people do for fun around here? Knit afghans?"

"Yep. When the old folks are feeling really rebellious, they throw money in the pot for the Bingo winners. And I'm not exaggerating." His three companions snickered, and he smiled at the memory of Grandma boasting of her big score.

"Hammer would be right at home," Ryon observed as they disembarked. "He could start a knitting circle since everyone knows he's really a little old lady in disguise."

Nick laughed. "Don't let him hear you say that. He swears by the pastime, says it helps him relax."

Ryon arched a dusky brow. "Dude, I can think of better ways to relax that don't involve yarn. Seriously, somebody needs to take that boy under his wing."

"That boy," Nick drawled, "lived so deep undercover for so many years he almost lost himself. He's dined with drug lords, walked the edge with homeland terrorists, and has taken out more dangerous criminals than the four of us combined. If he wants to live a quiet life while off duty, then leave him be."

Interesting. Kalen had often wondered about the big man, and the glimpse into his past made him even more curious. But now wasn't the time to dig. They'd come here for a reason, and the knowledge brought him back to reality.

A dark SUV was waiting for them on the tarmac, keys under the driver's floor mat. Ryon took the wheel and Nick called shotgun, leaving Kalen in the back. With Aric. Who eyed him before settling in, unbelievably, without a single snarky comment. In fact, when he did open his mouth, what came out was pretty damned decent.

"This thing with your folks, man, it ain't shit. You're gonna wrap up that part of your life, put it behind you. We've got your back. Remember that."

Their truce was uneasy, but it seemed to be holding. Kalen doubted they'd ever be BFFs, and the man took some getting used to, but he was all right. "Thanks. I appreciate it," he said, and meant it.

The ride was uneventful, and he checked out the town as they drove past the square. Not a lot had changed, except a few new businesses he didn't recognize. The trees were taller and fuller, and the city had done some work beautifying the place with flowers and such. Other than those minor details, it was like walking into a time warp.

A few minutes later, when Ryon pulled up in front of his old house and parked next to the curb, Kalen was sweating. He took a few deep breaths, willing himself to calm down. His father was like a pit bull-if he sensed the least bit of insecurity in his prodigal son, he'd go for the jugular and they'd end up having that fistfight that had been years in the making.

Kalen wasn't fourteen anymore. He wouldn't take the abuse lying down.

But he needed answers more than he needed to deck his father. They got out of the vehicle, four doors slamming. They started up the sidewalk, but Ryon halted in his tracks.

"Wait." The blond pushed a fall of hair from his eyes and looked around at the quaint, yellow frame house with the white gingerbread trim. The neighborhood was peaceful, leaves on the old trees swaying gently. Somewhere, a dog barked. A street or two over, children could he heard playing. A typical day.

"What?" Kalen asked, voice low.

"There are two spirits here," Ryon told them grimly. "They're warning us to leave."

"They say why?" This from Nick.