And here it is. The Final Chapter! Thank you to everyone for staying with us through the long delays. I'm hoping you've enjoyed this tale of ours.
Nulli, thank you for writing this story with me. It's been a crazy ride, but it's been a ton of fun. Keep the bobcat. He'll purr you to sleep every night.
*Nulli peeks in* Oh I'm keeping him. I don't think I have a choice at this point!
Thanks so much to all the readers. Thank you for your messages, comments, and love for this story. We've had a blast!
*Nulli peeks in* Oh I'm keeping him. I don't think I have a choice at this point!
Thanks so much to all the readers. Thank you for your messages, comments, and love for this story. We've had a blast!
Brian looked up from the grill as Nulli brought their drinks to the table. She was stunning in a snug cotton tank top and shorts. Her glorious curls were piled high on her head, showing off the graceful curve of her neck and his mating bite. The kabobs were ignored as he drank in the beauty of his mate, his wife. Soon to be the mother of his child. That still knocked him for a loop. His child.
“I hope you agree to be dessert, kitten.” His voice was a mixture of lust and love and purring growl. If his navel wasn’t ready to chew its way to his spine, he’d say to hell with food and pounce. Unfortunately, even the most lusty shifter needed sustenance after a while.
“Maybe.” She gave him a sly wink and a smirk that could only be classified as scandalous. “But if you don’t quiet that tummy of yours, I’m going to need ear plugs.”
Grinning, he flipped the kabobs. “I know. I feel like I’ve got an Alien chest-burster inside me, ready to pop free and grab a piece of steak and a bottle of beer. You wear me out. Speaking of...how are you feeling? Don’t give me that look. I’ve been good! This is the first time I’ve asked all week.”
“Alien chest-burster? Good thing I snatched you up before it was too late.” She sat in her chair and shook her head. “I’m fine. I feel like I did before. A little tired, a little hungry, and little… well, we’ll talk about that after we eat.”
“Hungry is good. Tired is normal.” He checked the kabobs and pulled them off the grill. “At least that’s what the interwebs tell me. I’ve been reading everything I can find that sounds like it came from someone with two brain cells that bump together. Some of the stuff out there could have been written by Madame Zilka channeling spirits in her basement. Crazy-weird. I’m trying to be prepared. I don’t want to be that guy who freaks out whenever you sneeze.”
“But you are that guy.” She laughed and sniffed the air as he brought the food over. “That smells really good!”
“Never too late to change, sweetheart.” He sat after giving her a light kiss to her head. “I don’t want to panic over everything and make you feel like you can’t enjoy this. Yes, it’s just shy of terrifying, but people and shifters have kids all the time. I have to tell myself it’ll all be okay even if I want to tie you up in the basement and erect a security system to rival the White House around you.”
“You and the security systems. The Wardens have been a bad influence on you.”
“Your safety is my number one priority, Nulli. When the baby comes, he or she will be included in that. I love you. I want to grow old with you. That means ensuring that you’re around to grow old with.” He shrugged. “I’m a little paranoid. Sue me.”
“I’m not going anywhere, unless you don’t pass that plate.” Her gaze was fixed on the veggies in front of him. He slid them over, and she grinned. “See. Problem solved.”
“If only they all were that easy. Or tasty. These are some damn fine kabobs, if I do say so myself.”
They ate in relative silence, exchanging touches and looks that spoke more than words. Once the meal was done and the table cleared, they relaxed on the deck. The sunset was beautiful, splashing the sky with reds and oranges as it crept towards the horizon. Brian trailed his fingers over Nulli’s stomach and purred softly.
“This is my definition of heaven. A cool bottle of beer, a full stomach, my gorgeous mate, and a stunning sunset. You’re going to be a great mom, Nulli. You’ve put up with my shit so much, you already have tons of experience dealing with teens.” He chuckled and kissed her hair. “Surely a child of yours won’t be quite as annoying?”
“You sure know how to present an enticing package, kitty.” Shaking her head, she reached out and gave his arm a pinch.
“You were the one worried about being mom to a shifter. I was just letting you know you’re a natural.” He captured her hand and kissed each fingertip. “All kidding aside, you’ll be awesome. As usual.”
“I’m still trying to let this sink in. It doesn’t feel real yet. I accepted being someone’s mate, changing, being someone’s wife, and now I’m going to be someone’s mother. You made sure our lives wouldn’t be boring, didn’t you?”
“Hey, don’t throw this all on me. Takes two to tango, you know.” He turned her around until she sat in his lap. Nuzzling her neck, he inhaled her intoxicating scent as she relaxed against his chest. His chuckles and teasing faded. “Are you okay with it all? I mean, I know it’s a lot, but is it too much?”
Nulli’s warm hand cupped his face. She looked at him with eyes that were warm, and almost glowing as she rubbed along his jaw. “I always knew I wanted to have your children, Brian. I didn’t know we’d start so soon, but I’m absolutely fine with it. A little nervous, but fine.”
He nuzzled into her hand, his purrs vibrating across her fingers. “Nerves I can handle. I have a shit-ton of them if you ever run out and want more. I’m trying not to have a meltdown at the thought of being responsible for a little person who is entirely dependent on us for everything. It’s terrifying and glorious and horrible and wonderful all at once. I want to roar and whimper. Not a good sound. Like sneezing during a hiccup. Confusing.”
“Okay. You roar, I’ll whimper, then we switch. Ready?”
“Rawr.” He grinned. “I’m told it means ‘I love you’ in dinosaur, too. Hey, I’m bilingual!”
“Good God, you’re delusional! Now let me hear your real roar. We’re married, we’re pregnant, and I’m ready to hear my mate celebrate.”
“Mmm, I thought I gave a good roar last night.” He turned and nibbled the palm of her hand. “And this morning. You had a lovely whimper in the shower.” He kissed and nipped his way up her arm. “But I can roar again if you’d like. Anything for my mate.”
Nulli lowered her hand and stood up. “Yes, you did roar very well last night and this morning.” She pulled off her top and shimmied out of her shorts before changing into her bobcat and letting out a loud roar of her own.
“Beautiful,” he breathed. He tossed his clothes onto a nearby chair as he let the change wash over him. Butting his head against hers, he let out a loud purr then echoed her roar. Birds fled the surrounding trees at the cries of the predators below them.
Brian was happy to follow her lead on this run. She led him through a maze of trails around their cabin, over a small stream, and up a few trees until he was hard-pressed to know which direction was which. As the moon eased further into the sky, she broke free of the underbrush into a familiar clearing. The wildflowers had succumbed to autumn’s chilly nights, but the grass remained lush and green. Behind a small rock sat a simple picnic basket.
He trotted over to the basket and gave it a curious sniff. It smelled of home, but not of food. He nudged the lid open and snuffled around. He found a folded blanket from the guest bedroom and a couple of small pillows, along with some bottled water. Curious, he shifted and pulled everything from the basket.
“Sneaky kitten. What do you have up your sleeve, I wonder?” He spread the blanket onto the grass and tossed the pillows on top. Stretching out, he patted the space beside him. “Come here for a second. You have a burr stuck on your back. There you go.” He tossed it into the bushes behind him and combed his fingers through her fur. “Annoying little bugger, hitchhiking like that.”
He stroked from her head to her tail, scratching behind her ear and along her ribs. “You are so beautiful as a bobcat. Sleek. Powerful. Fast. Clever. You had me half-lost out there, and I’ve run these woods more times than I can count. It was a fun run, but I know you. You didn’t put this basket here just to have a lazy night under the stars. Too many bugs for that. So, what’s the plan, kitten?”
Nulli remained in her bobcat form and nudged his hand toward the basket. Whatever she had thought up, she wasn’t going to tell him about it.
“Oh, so that’s how you’re going to be, hmm? Silent and mysterious. I like it.” He dropped a kiss onto her nose and pulled the basket over. “Let’s see what surprise you’ve cooked up this time. You spoil me, you know, with all your gifts and surprises. It’s like Christmas at unexpected moments.”
There was little remaining in the basket - a couple of bottles of water, a thin throw, and a small square box. This had to be what the mystery was all about. He withdrew the box and turned it around in his hands. It was wrapped in vivid blue mylar, shiny and crinkly and probably the best thing for a mischievous cat. He tugged at one curled ribbon as his purrs rumbled through his chest. The paper thrilled him,but the weight intrigued him. What had she gotten him this time?
He tossed the curled ribbon to Nulli and chuckled when it draped across an ear to dangle in her eyes. Her look spoke of long suffering which only made him laugh harder. Turning back to the gift, he peeled away the paper to reveal a plain white box with a hinged lid. The type of box you get from a jewelry store. Opening the lid, he gazed upon the most gorgeous collar he had ever seen.
“Nulli. Is this what I think it is?” He lifted the silver collar from the box and let it drape over his fingers. Each link was engraved with a Celtic knotwork cat, one blending into the other seamlessly. A pair of end caps depicting snarling cats gripped the ring that could rest at the back of his neck at work, and the front while at home. It was an exquisite piece of art. “This is…” He swallowed hard as tears threatened. “When? Why? Damn, kitten, this is gorgeous.”
Nulli strolled over to him and walked a slow circuit, rubbing her body and head against his bare skin before climbing into his lap and shifting back into her human form. She held the work of art by the caps, and secured it on his neck. “Think you can wear this to work?”
“I’ll never take it off.” He ran his fingers over the smooth silver links. It rested against his neck, snug but not restricting, and provided a constant reminder that it was there. He cupped her cheek and tried to find the right words. “It’s… God, Nulli, I can’t even get a complete sentence out. It’s wonderful. Amazing. Like you.”
Nulli looped one arm around his neck and rubbed her fingers over the chain with her free hand. Her touch was light until she took hold of the ring and pulled him forward. “I wanted something that represented you. The fact that you think it’s amazing is just what I wanted to hear.” She tugged harder until he leaned forward in into a deep kiss. “I’m glad you love it.”
“How could I not?” He ran his hands down her back and pulled her closer. His lips played along her jaw. “It’s almost as beautiful as you. Wearing it will remind me who took me in, gave me a home, gave me a collar, gave me her heart. It’ll remind me never to take these things for granted. It’ll remind me, when I’m being an ass, not to hurt the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Thank you, Mistress. It’s an honor to wear your collar.”
Nulli leaned in, holding him with both arms and whispering in his ear. “I didn’t give you a home, kitty. You came and made my house our home. That’s something I’ll never forget. I didn’t give you a collar, you allowed yourself to wear it and attach yourself to me. I don’t think I gave you my heart. To be honest, you snatched that thing like a thief in the night and I don’t regret it.” He could feel her smile against his skin. She was so close, her heart thumped against his chest while her heat pressed into him. “I’m so glad I was the one, Brian. Thanks for being my kitty.”
“I want to make love to you under these stars, Nulli.” Brian growled against her neck as his hands roamed her body. His fingers skimmed over her smooth skin. His thumbs brushed the sides of her breasts. He nipped at her ear, down her neck, pausing to nibble on the scar of his mating bite. “The moon loves you almost as much as I do. It plays over your skin, makes it glow. It brings out the fire in your eyes. Highlights your glorious hair. Let me love you, kitten.”
Nulli rolled out of his grasp and onto the blanket. She rested her head on one of the pillows before extending her arms out to him. Goosebumps rose up on her skin, but she didn’t pull the blanket to cover herself. “Just like the first time? We became mates here, now we’re husband and wife.” She paused and her eyes flashed amber for a moment. “And mom and dad.”
He took her hands and threaded their fingers together. Kissing a trail up each arm, Brian slowly covered her body with his. He continued his light nips and gentle bites up her neck and along her jaw. As he hovered over her lips, he stared into her mesmerizing eyes. “Each time gets better. Each time I fall in love with you a little bit more. Forever will never be long enough.”
He closed the distance between their lips, kissing her tenderly yet deeply. Her purrs rumbled from her body to his, stimulating him everywhere they touched. Groaning, his kiss grew deeper, harder as he lost himself to her taste. He nipped at her lips, then trailed a hot path towards her breasts.
Planting moist kisses across the swell of each breast, he paused to worship the taut peaks. He lapped at them with his coarse tongue, sucked them into the warmth of his mouth, even gave each a gentle nip before continuing towards his ultimate goal. As his lips brushed over her hip, he eased her legs apart with his knees. He nuzzled into her soft curls as her scent called to him. The first swipe of his tongue brought a gasp from his squirming mate. He purred as he drew her taste into his mouth. He wanted more.
Releasing her hands, he trailed his fingers along her waist to tangle in her trimmed patch of downy curls. He inched lower, taking his time, drawing out the anticipation. When his thumbs brushed along her damp folds, he growled at her indrawn hiss of pleasure. She answered his growl with one of her own when he replaced his fingers with his tongue, rasping over her sensitive clit with a rumbling purr.
She squirmed and writhed beneath his hands. Her growls, purrs, and pleas stirred his desire. He wanted to plunge into her warmth and ride her to ecstasy. He wanted to watch her find her own by his hands, his tongue, his cock. Gods, how he wanted her!
The taste of her coated his tongue and filled his senses. Her cries echoed in the still night as she succumbed to her pleasure. He kissed his way over her trembling stomach, nipped at each swollen nipple, and slid deep into her body.
“So beautiful,” he whispered against her lips. His tongue played over the tips of her fangs. When she nipped at him, he groaned and deepened their kiss. It was sultry and sweet, passionate yet slow. It was a savoring - of her taste, her warmth, her love.
Raising his head, he watched her face as he withdrew. The cool air teased his heated flesh, wet with her desire. Her amber eyes reflected the faint light of the moon. Their subtle glow ensnared him, and he gloried in his capture. His movements were slow, his thrusts steady. His purrs suffused his body and stimulated her own. Her growling moans stirred his desire.
He laced their fingers together over her head and rested his weight on his elbows. She wrapped her legs around his waist and urged him to move faster. He tried to resist her. He wanted to draw this moment out for hours, even days though he recognized the impossibility. As her breath hitched and her purrs grew louder, he knew he could refuse her nothing. His hips moved faster as pleasure arced along every nerve.
It was too much and not enough. He felt like he would fly apart into a million tiny pieces. He hovered over the edge of a bottomless chasm - to hold on meant prolonging the agonizing pleasure but to fall over the edge meant ecstasy. Brian buried his nose in her neck and inhaled her scent. Her earthy florals mixed with the sweet musk of sex lengthened his fangs. He lapped at the mating scar and purred.
He growled against her skin as his hips moved in a blur. She wrestled her hands free to claw at his arms, his shoulders, anywhere she could reach to hold him close. Though he tried to hold back, to wait for her, his body gave in to her slick warmth and sexy purrs. His fangs pierced her skin as he shook with the strength of his orgasm.
Rolling them over, he stared up at his mate, his wife, his mistress. Pressing his thumb against her clit, he purred deeply. “Ride me, kitten.”
Her curls tumbled over her shoulders as she set a hard, pounding rhythm. He stroked and caressed everywhere he could touch. She placed her hands on his chest, trapping his hand between their bodies. Her eyes were focused on his neck and he eagerly tilted his head for her. He ached to feel her bite. As her body tightened around his and her movements grew uneven, she struck. Her roar was muffled against his neck. Her purrs stole another piece of a heart that was more hers each and every day.
He gathered her close to his chest as she lapped at her bite. Trailing his fingers along the curve of her spine, he caught the faint scent of lavender. A girl.
“God how I love you, Nulli.”
“No, I’m not moving.” Brian kept the growl from his voice with extreme effort. The nurse was human, unaware of the shifters that lived among them. Still, her constant intrusions upon his wife and mate’s sleep had triggered his deepest protective instincts. “Between Lillian’s feedings and you bunch of vampires draining her of all her blood, Nulli has only managed to snatch an hour of sleep here and there. She’s exhausted. Come back later.”
“She needs sleep more than you need to stab her with another needle.”
“The doctor will be informed of your lack of cooperation.” The nurse wrote a notation on the chart, disapproval dripping from her voice. “If he instructs me to return and take this sample, I’m bringing security.”
“Understood.” He let a hint of a growl enter his voice. The nurse blinked up at him, a hint of fear drifting across her expression. She stammered a farewell and moved to the next room.
Brian closed the door and moved towards the narrow bed. Nulli lay on the stark white sheets, a pink band encircling one wrist, her hospital ID bracelet on the other. Her face was pale, with dark smudges under her eyes. Her curls were almost tamed by a plain white band. Machines beeped a steady rhythm. She looked radiant. Exhausted, but radiant. He tucked an errant curl behind her ear and adjusted their daughter in his arms.
Lillian was a tiny piece of heaven, an angel with a set of lungs like a fog-horn and an insatiable appetite. A light dusting of hair covered her head with the tightest little curls. He had spent hours counting each perfect little finger, tracing each delicate little toe. When she grabbed his finger in her fist, he nearly melted into messy puddle on the sterile floor. He locked her scent into his memory and knew, without a hint of doubt or reservation, he would both kill and die for his exquisite daughter.
The door cracked open, drawing a warning growl from deep within his chest. He clutched his child close as he rose to do battle with whoever dared to intrude on his recovering mate and their sleeping child.
“Sit down, cat, it’s just me.” Killian’s impressive bulk squeezed through the door. He closed it so slowly and quietly, it brought a much needed smile to Brian’s face. “The nurses were busy complaining about the crazy man in Room 458, so I slipped by. What did you do to them, anyway?”
“They keep waking up my mate to draw blood. She’s not gotten a solid two hours of sleep since the birth.” Brian checked on Nulli then moved to the other end of the room. "I wasn't about to let those blood-suckers back in now that she's finally getting some rest. "
“Man, that sucks.” He peered down at the baby, a look of terrified wonder on his face. “Damn, she’s tiny. Like, ‘barely the size of my hands’ tiny. You sure they’re supposed to be that small?”
“They need to be this small. Geez, man, think about how they’re born.”
A wicked grin crossed Killian’s face. “You keep threatening to take off my balls with your claws whenever I think about your bendy mate like that. Besides, I'd rather think about how they're conceived. At least then, the moans and sweat are fun for all involved."
"Do you ever think about anything other than sex?" Brian rolled his eyes, rocking the infant when she started to fuss. "Get a hobby or something."
"I've got a hobby. Making my Melody scream until she's too hoarse to teach happens to be my favorite. It's a good and fun one." Killian stroked his finger across the back of Lillian's hand. His expression melted into a sappy smile when the baby grabbed him with her tiny fist. "So, I heard this little princess caused problems. It's got Melody terrified to have kids. I'm not complaining too much right now. Can't have our kind of fun with a den full of cubs underfoot."
“Yeah. Her vitals were all over the place. They’d induce her and her blood pressure would skyrocket. They’d give her something to lower her blood pressure and her contractions stopped. We rode that joyful roller coaster for over 24 hours until…” Brian glanced over at Nulli, and though she was asleep, he still lowered his voice. “I cornered the doctor and informed him that bullshit was done. Badgers can be unpleasant, but I had my claws very near his throat. He agreed to take the child by Cesarean.”
“Damn, Brian. If Melody hears that, I may never get a few cubs to carry on the magnificent decadence that is the Lancashire family name. My brothers don’t count. They’ve both got a stick up their ass so wide, a herd of elephants could trample through pulling a cruise ship.”
“Good God, there are more of you?” Nulli’s scratchy voice sounded from the other side of the room. Brian hurried to her side. Some color had returned to her cheeks, and the smudges beneath her eyes were lighter, but she still looked and sounded so tired.
He perched on the edge of the bed and raised her hand to his lips. “Sorry, sweetheart. I tried not to wake you. Do you need anything?”
“Some water would be nice. Has the nurse come and gone? I feel like I’ve actually gotten some sleep.”
Killian poured the water while Brian passed the increasingly fussy baby to Nulli. “Brian scared her off. Got all the nurses in a tizzy out there. The cat’s grown some claws.”
Nulli lifted the sheets and pulled her gown low enough to get Lillian to her breast. The little bundle squirmed and whimpered until she latched on and started to feed. “How long have you been here, Killian?” Brian held the Styrofoam cup to her lips and she took a long drink.
“Just a few minutes, but damn I’m glad I’m here now. She’s beautiful.”
“Get your eyes off my wife’s breast, bear.” Brian pulled the sheet over the baby’s head as a low growl rumbled through his chest.
“I was talking about the baby, you crazy bobcat.” Killian chuckled and hooked a chair with his foot to bring it over by the bed. He eased his bulk into the narrow chair and touched one of Lillian’s feet through the blanket she was swaddled in. “She is a pretty little thing, Nulli. You did good considering what you had to work with.” He nodded towards Brian with a wink.
Nulli shook her head and looked over at the big bear shifter. “You have a death wish at all times, don’t you?” When he shrugged, she laughed. “Thanks for coming to visit. How’s Melody? Is she with you?”
“I wasn’t about to miss seeing this little troublemaker. She’s going to be a whirlwind to curl the cat’s whiskers and tie his tail in a knot. That’s something I can’t wait to see. Melody sends her regrets but is having to work extra at the university. That asshole I told you guys about, the one who insinuated she slept her way to her degree and onto the show? Yeah, she’s teaching his classes now while he’s schlepping his resume to the local McDonalds.”
“Excellent! I’m glad you managed to keep your hands to yourself this time.” Nulli pressed a button on the handrail and the bed elevated the top half of her body. Her expression shifted to a slight grimace before her smile returned. “I’d ask you to give her a kiss from me, but you’d take that to some Caligula level and then send me pictures.”
Brian stroked the wispy curls on the baby’s head with the tips of his fingers. “We really don’t need visuals, Killian. I swear.” He glanced up at his mate and frowned. “Are you in pain, mate? Do I need to get those damn vampires in here after all?”
“Ugh! Don’t even mention them right now.” Nulli smoothed the fingers of her hand over Brian’s, pushing between them to Lillian’s hair, then back over his knuckles in small circles. “I’ll be okay. My belly is really sore, but after all that, I think that’s normal.” She dipped her head and stared back at him. “I’m okay, I promise. Just don’t make me sneeze. I don’t know if I can handle that just yet.”
Killian winced. “Damn, girl, you’re making me hurt now.”
Brian brushed his thumb over her fingers. “Yeah, that doesn’t sound like any kind of fun. Let’s avoid that if possible. I just want to make sure you’re recovering as you should. The damn doctors let you ride the stupid-coaster for too long. You still look too tired and too pale for me.” He leaned forward, kissed Lillian’s head then Nulli’s lips. “She is beautiful, though. Looks like you, thank God. You do good work, mate.”
Nulli looked back and forth between them and rolled her eyes. “This is our baby. She looks like both of us. As for being tired, I think that’s the modus operandi for the next few years. You see how often she eats.” Nulli glanced in Killian’s direction before looking down at Lillian. “Do you want to burp her when she’s done? Just don’t try to kidnap her, okay? Holding her is addicting, and if you try to run, I’ll kill you.” Nulli’s sleepy face, at first calm and endearing, shifted to fangs and amber eyes and back again. Was it on purpose? Was she just pulling the bear’s leg? Either way, Brian chuckled.
“What? Me? Hold her?” Killian’s face paled then turned a strange and sickly shade of green. His eyes, however, locked onto the baby with a hint of longing. “I’ll break her in half without even trying. I dunno about this. Brian, you should probably do all that daddy stuff.”
“You’re not going to break her, Killian.” Brian’s grin bordered on feral. “Don’t tell me the big bad bear is scared of a day-old infant?”
“Not scared of her, for her. I’m like a gazillion times her size!”
“And she’s a gazillion times smarter than you.” Brian eased the drowsy baby from Nulli’s arms and walked her over to the squirming bear shifter. “Just remember to support her head, don’t squeeze her like an orange, and for the love of God, don’t drop her.”
Killian’s hands visibly shook as Brian showed him how to hold the baby. Sweat beaded on his brow, and he looked ready to make a dash for the nearest bathroom or trash bin. Lillian waved her tiny arms until she bumped against his hand. When she closed her fingers around his thumb, Killian’s anxious expression melted into one of utter adoration.
“She’s light as a feather, but damn, she’s got a fine grip. And gorgeous. Simply, gorgeous.” He looked up from the baby. “So, about this burping thing. Does she belch the alphabet or something?”
“No, you crazy bear, she just needs a little help getting the air out of her tummy. At least that’s what Madame Zilka said from her seance ball in her basement.”
“What? You’re calling me crazy then coming up with that nonsense? You’ve got issues, cat.” Killian raised the baby in his arms and brushed his lips over her forehead. Sniffing along her cheek, his fangs pressed hard against his bottom lip. “I’d protect her with my last breath. Nothing and no one’s gonna hurt this little angel with Uncle Killian around.”
When Lillian started to fuss, Nulli lowered the bed. “Well, Uncle Killian, put your niece over your shoulder and pat her back so she can burp, or she’ll chew your hand off.”
“Okay.” A hint of panic returned to his voice and face. “How? And how hard? I mean.. big guy, big hands, tiny little baby. Help a shifter out, Brian.”
“You big softy.” Brian helped Killian settle the baby and showed him how soft to pat. If he failed to point out the potential need for a towel, well, some lessons should be learned the hard way. “Watch out for hair, too. She may be small, but she’s got an unbreakable grip once she grabs your hair. I swear I’m going to have bald patches.”
“Brian. Why does my shoulder feel wet all of a sudden?” Killian twisted his head in an effort to see, but the baby’s head blocked most of his view. “And smell like curdled milk?”
“Oh, yeah, that. Sometimes more than air comes up. I’ll get you a cloth.”
“You could have gotten me one before and saved my shirt!” Killian growled as Brian moved into the bathroom to dampen a towel. “I liked this shirt. It matches my eyes, shows off my muscles, and makes the ladies swoon. Doesn’t it, my Lily-bear?” he cooed at the baby.
Nulli yawned and pulled her covers higher. “Yeah, muscles, swooning, ladies everywhere are skipping the pill at the very idea.” By the time she finished, her tone had dropped to a quiet whisper.
“Go to sleep, bendy girl. Uncle Killian will stand watch over your sweet kitten.” Killian eased the baby into his arms and switched off the bedside lamp.
An hour later, Killian’s shirt had been rinsed out in the bathroom sink, and Lillian slept against her father’s chest. They had dimmed all the lights except the one in the bathroom. With the door ajar, it lit their seating area without shining onto the bed.
“I’m flattered, Brian.” Killian stroked the baby’s soft curls or along her back. “Never thought you’d name your kid after me. Even Melody drew that line.”
“She’s not named after you.” Brian purred softly when the baby began to fuss. She might not be able to shift yet, but his purrs soothed her. “She’s named after Nulli and I. The first half is from Nulli’s name, the second half from mine. You were never part of the equation, I assure you.”
“Uh-huh. Right. Killian. Lillian. Sounds like a winner to me.” The bear leaned back in his seat and propped his feet onto a table. “How’d you do during the delivery? I don’t know if I can watch Melody go through that. Hurts a man’s soul to see his mate in pain and be able to do nothing about it.”
“It was awful and beautiful, and I felt so damn helpless I wanted to claw the doctor into confetti. She didn’t scream or cry, but somewhere there’s a bed with mangled hand rails.”
“Hell, yeah. That mate of yours can do a number on a bear while human. I can imagine that bed had no chance.” They shared a laugh until the baby reminded them that others were trying to sleep.
“Exactly. I think the doctor was shocked. They kept trying to let her deliver naturally, but her vitals were all over the place. It was insane. And humbling. In the end, the only thing I could do was hold her hand, bathe her brow, and tell her how much I loved her.”
“And threaten nurses.”
“Right. Bunch of vampires. How much blood can one lose? Then they have the nerve to say she looks tired. I’m going to bite someone if I don’t get Nulli home soon.”
A light rap sounded on the door before it opened a crack. “Mr. Arcady? It’s time to take Mrs. Arcady’s blood sample.”
“I got this.” Killian patted Brian’s shoulder and rose. He crossed the room with uncanny speed, catching the door before it opened more than a few inches. “Listen Nurse-” he checked her tag “Claire, is it? Yes? Good. Listen Nurse Claire, Nulli’s been pulled through a keyhole sideways and you guys trying to open a soup kitchen for vampires with her on the buffet ain’t helping any. So, why don’t you let the woman get some sleep while her baby’s resting so she’s not utterly exhausted and can actually enjoy being a new mom?”
“Sir, I don’t know who you are, but--”
“I’m the guy blocking the door. I’m also the guy who thinks you’re cute as a button and sexy as all hell in that uniform. Wanna catch a few drinks when you get off shift? My Melody would love to play doctor with you.”
“What? Sir, really. I don’t think it’s appropriate to try to pick up a playmate for your daughter - “
“Girlfriend. Fiance. Whatever you want to call it.”
“That’s it. I’m calling security.”
The nurse stormed off, muttering about sexist pigs and difficult new fathers. Killian closed the door and grinned over at Brian. “She wants me.”
“You’re about to get arrested, and you’re still delusional.”
“Nah, I just know the security guy. I’ll let him escort me out and we’ll have a beer later. She’ll feel like she’s accomplished something. Nulli gets some sleep. I get a drink with a friend in a few. I think it’s a win-win, don’t you?”
“You’re certifiable, but I like you anyway. What does that say about me?” Brian shook his head. “Thanks for coming by. Bring Melody with you next time.”
“I will. Keep that baby safe. That’s my future son’s future wife!”
Killian slipped out of the door before Brian could recover. He listened as the bear greeted an unknown male. He guessed it was the security guard. The nurse argued with the two men and their voices faded down the hall.
“My Lillian a future Mrs. Lancashire? I don’t think so.” Brian snorted and shook his head, though a smile teased his lips. Regardless of his crazy antics, Killian had snatched a few more minutes of sleep for his mate. Just one more thing he owed his friend.
He settled into the recliner by the bed and rested his daughter on his chest. He was still amazed at this tiny perfect person they had made - him and his mate. Lillian cooed softly, blew a spit bubble, and gripped his shirt in her fist. The way she nuzzled against him, trusting him to keep her safe, filled his heart to bursting. He brushed his lips over her hair and inhaled her sweet scent.
“Now I understand.” He kept his voice soft, barely a whisper. “When Mom begged me not to join the Wardens, I thought that was how I’d protect my family. But it’s not. You won’t grow up the way I did. I’ll always be here for you, my sweet, sweet little Lillian. I’ll kiss your boo-boos, take you to school, help you with your homework. I’ll drink tea with your dolls and watch you practice martial arts with your mom.” The vision of his mate and daughter sparring brought a smile to his face. He could see the two of them teaming up on Killian, doing family things with his mother and Nulli’s, all the normal things he never knew he wanted, but wouldn’t trade for the world now that they were within reach. Most of all, he would be the dad Lillian needed, as much as he could be. “I’ll be there with you, good times and bad. Your mom and I will always put you first. Always. I love you.”
He reached over and took his mate’s hand in his. This was what he’d sought all those years of prowling around - a mate, a child, a family. This was what he refused to ever lose. He threaded their fingers together and tilted the chair back. With a soft purr rumbling his chest and a feeling of deep and utter contentment, Brian drifted off to sleep.