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Hanging from a tree wasn't Jak's favorite pastime. Reminded him of way too many bad stories about vampires and bats, and a plethora of C-grade black-and-white movies. In truth, only great gymnastic skills, a head for heights, and pure stubbornness held him here, waiting for Rob's signal to come "flying" out of the tree as if turning from bat to man.
They'd lain in wait for Shaun, creeping around behind her, waiting for the perfect place to put Rob's plan into action. Jak hadn't yet met the girl, but was heartily amused by the way she niggled at Rob--she gnawed at him like a determined terrier on an intruder's ankle. So when Rob had come up with this plan, he'd jumped on board for no other reason than to see what happened when Shaun found out about Rob's scheming.
From what he'd been told--and he'd been told a lot by both an exasperated Rob and an indignant Pearl defending her friend--Shaun wasn't likely to take Rob's little plot lying down.
A loud curse rang out from below, and as he watched, Shaun lost her balance and fell backward off the grave marker, her arms windmilling as she attempted to stay upright. She hit the ground with a thump and an oof of breath that made him wince. "Ouch. That had to hurt."
A white, human-sized haze hung before the headstone before passing through it to hover over Shaun, and while it didn't look malicious, Jak knew that more than Vamps and Weres existed in the world, some of it not at all benign despite the way it looked.
Shaun Ingelstead was in for a big night--she was about to have all her theories proven correct, because this Vamp was riding to her rescue.
Jak relaxed his legs and flipped in midair,settling quietly on his feet with a certain amount of pride at sticking his landing. Take that, Batman, and I don't need no stinking gadgets!
With the long, black coat he'd worn to get into character, and the gray hoodie underneath to cover his dark blond hair, he blended into the night all too easily. Yet the apparition looked up and directly at him despite the shelter the tree still offered him. So much for stealth.
Not quite close enough to make out the barely opaque features, he didn't recognize the ghost, but something about the style of dress and the ghost's carriage seemed familiar.
"Jak Pieter, stop skulking about and come out from underneath that tree." That imperious tone was unmistakable.
"Gertie?" Surely not? "Gertruda Ingelsdottir?" Jak shook his head, attempting to make sense of hearing the voice of a woman who had been dead for roughly three hundred years. Jak closed his eyes as names, faces, and centuries-old memories came crashing in. A groan slipped from him as everything coalesced into a new picture. "Oh, Jesus, Gertie. Shaun's your granddaughter?"
"And well you should have known it, young man!" The ghost's brow rose in a way that made him as uncomfortable as it had three centuries before. How was he to know somewhere along the line Shaun's family had anglicized their name, let alone that Ingelsdottir women had convinced their men to take their surname?
Gertie's apparition turned to the left, and Jak caught a slight movement from the corner of his eye as Rob moved away from the tree trunk that had hidden him.
"And you, young man--Huntingdawn Pack Alpha, I believe. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Rob stepped out from the deep, concealing shadows of the tree limbs and moved until he stood shoulder to shoulder with Jak. "Is that a ghost?" Rob showed not one iota of fear in the face of the unexplained--he was Alpha for a damn good reason--and his question was more of a statement that really didn't warrant confirmation.
"Rob Deidrickson, I'd like to introduce you to Gertruda Ingelsdottir. Shaun's grandmother a number of times removed and the woman who picked me up off the streets in 1702 and took me into her home." Warmth slipped into his heart at seeing her again. "God, Gertie, I'd give anything to wrap you up in a big hug right about now."
Gertie's lips held a small, sad smile, and Jak felt a tingle along his skin as her ghostly fingers passed over his cheek. "And I you, Jakov Pieter, and I you. If I could have, I would have come back when you were turned. I felt your pain across the veil, but I could not return. Not until one of my blood asked for me."
There was a coughed "ahem." "Down here, Lion-O and his Thundercat sidekick. I believe that would be me."
As two hunky male faces and one female apparition turned their attentions downward, her cheeks flushed with embarrassment. Trust Rob Deidrickson to be there to witness her klutzy moment, and to bring a friend to the party, too. How dare he!
Not sure whether she should be steaming furious at Rob and his wingman, or if she should run away screaming because holy-crap-on-a-stick-she'd-just-raised-a-real-ghost, she went with the familiar. Taunting Rob.
"Can someone give me a hand?" Her shoelace had caught in the fretwork of her grandma's headstone when she'd fallen, leaving her strung up with little leverage to free herself. Not, at least, without some very embarrassing maneuvering.
"You take the lower half, I'll take the top." Rob's low drawl betrayed his humor at the situation he found her in and her stubborn gene kicked in at the sound of the subtle laughter.
"On second thought, I wouldn't want you to break a claw or anything. I'll do it myself." Shaun twisted her free leg around so her foot was on the ground and did her best to make like a pretzel and perform the impossible feat of standing. As she fought against the stupid piece of cord, Rob and his much-too-handsome-for-his-own-good friend stood off to the side with big stupid grins on their faces. Damn them! She paused in her struggles and did her best to glare the pair of them down. "You really should wipe that smile off your face, Rob; you look like a big, dumb dog."
Rob hissed at the insult, and though it might have just been a figment of her imagination, she was certain the hair on his head had just bristled like it would have in his feline form. She smirked back, happy with how well her hit had landed. She darted a quick glance to the side to see if she'd pissed off Rob's friend as well, but her gaze caught, trapped on the very sharp and pointy-toothed, superstar-sized smile of the stranger. As Rob hissed and spat like an annoyed cat, the man's eyes flicked back and forth between her and Rob, his smile only growing larger as Rob's indignation and frustration increased.
The stranger's smile did disturbing things to her insides. A warm sensation spread through her belly, and her breasts tingled, peaked, as the man--Jak, her grandma had called him--stared at her. When she didn't look away, his smile changed, lost its humor, and became heated and sexy. His eyes narrowed, went hard and soft all at the same time, and he shifted, spreading his legs, planting his feet firmly as if he meant to jump her.
Strange thing was, she was all for the idea of being jumped by the sexy stranger who looked like he knew how to show a girl a good time.
"I see the Ingelsdottir stubbornness didn't skip a generation with you, my dear, no matter how odd your manner of clothing."
A close voice startled her, breaking her link with the dark blond stranger. The specter of her grandma floated closer, and Shaun felt a tingle of cold, followed by comforting warmth across her forehead.
"I would help if I could, but I'm afraid I'm just a shadow of my former self." There was a dry sigh of amusement in the ghost's voice.
Shaun felt the tingle of the spirit's touch again as she watched her ancestor's hand go right through her foot. When she looked back to the ghost's face, she saw a cheeky smile and figured she'd inherited more than just her stubbornness from her grandma. She gasped, then blew the air out in a rush, feeling like she'd just been hit by a ton of bricks.
Ohmigod ... her grandmother! Handsome men, irate jaguar shifters, and odd sexual attraction to a stranger faded to the background as the truth hit her with enough force to send her back to the ground with a thump. Disbelief blocked her throat and she opened her mouth, only to shut it again with a snap when she couldn't figure out what to say.
"Yes, dear, I'm a ghost, and I'm as real as I'll ever be again in this plane of existence."
The brightness of the stars twinkled through the old-fashioned pulled-back hairstyle as the pale and not quite opaque face came close to her ear and her grandmother whispered, "He's a handsome young man, isn't he?"
"Who?" Shaun whispered back, not quite sure why she was whispering to a ghost.
"The vampire, of course, and the shape-shifter is nothing to sneeze at, either."
Rob and his friend had been quietly arguing off to the side, but she caught their attention again when she squeaked--okay, screeched, "The vampire?"
Craning her neck to look behind her, she found Rob looking off into the distance, absently scuffing his heel in the dirt. Was he about to whistle? When she swung back the other way, Jak--who, now that it was pointed out, was quite pale for a blond guy--colored up along the tops of his cheekbones and looked suspiciously sheepish. His quick, abashed smile flashed that toothy grin and those prominent eyeteeth again. Oh. My. God. He's a vampire!
"Rob?" The man looked very tall from her upside-down viewpoint on the ground, but she felt very tall in her resentment. "What are you doing with a vampire, in a cemetery, at"--Shaun checked her watch--"two-thirty in the morning?"
"Looking out for you--although, I don't think he sees it that way," her grandmother commented.
"I was not looking out for her," Rob blustered. "I planned to scare the little witch's red boots right off her feet so she'd stop doing stupid shit like hanging out in a graveyard at an ungodly hour of the morning."
Even from her position, she saw the sardonic disbelief and raised brow on her grandmother's ghostly visage and its match on Jak's face. Rob stared back at them, and she swore he puffed up, just like a cat on the defensive.
"I am not looking out for her, all right?" His hands, already clenched into fists at his sides were quickly buried against his chest as he locked his arms into position, crossed in front of his chest--a defensive posture if ever she'd seen one. "The girl needs a goddamned keeper. She's always sticking her nose in where she shouldn't, and it sure wouldn't be the Paranormals who'd hurt her; it'd be the fucking stoned or drunk humans who'd take a piece out of her and leave her for dead." He practically roared his indignation at them--the real, jaguar-in-the-jungle kind of roar--as he overdramatized the situation to the max.
Puzzled, she studied him for a moment. He wasn't just his usual overbearing, imperious self; he looked ... worried ... and uncomfortable, with a slight shade of embarrassment.
Holy shit, they were right. Big bad Pack Alpha Rob Deidrickson was being all protective ... and stuff. All for little old her. The little bit of fluffy pink girly-girl she kept tucked away inside sighed and swooned at having such a big, strong man keeping her safe, while the cherry-red-Doc-Marten-and-chains-wearing girl in black itched to be on her feet so she could kick some overbearing, thinks-much-too-much-of-himself shape-shifter ass. I need a keeper? Like hell!
There was a light cough. "I can't say this is the way a man would have gone about courting a young lady in my day, but I suppose in this day and age it has a certain type of appeal," her grandmother stated dryly.
Her cry of, "What?" was drowned out by Rob's yelled, "Courting? I'm not courting her!"
The ghost ignored both of their protests and turned to the vampire. "Jak, I thought I'd taught you better manners than this. Help my granddaughter off the ground right this instant! This really is no way to be treating your Intended, no matter what the century."
Now it was the vampire's turn to bluster. "Intended? I don't have an Intended, let alone it being her." A long finger pointed offhandedly in her direction. "This is the first time I've even met the girl."
The context of the conversation was well over her head, but Shaun listened intently while jiggling her caught foot, her curiosity getting the better of her awkward discomfort.
The three of them looked back and forth at one another for a few moments, both men radiating indignant denial until Jak took notice of her covert foot wiggling. He cocked his head toward her, motioning for Rob to come help free her.
Jak grabbed her under her arms and lifted her torso with ease, and Rob gently lifted her legs to take the tension off the caught shoelace and release her foot.
"That Intended crap is just a load of nonsense anyway." Jak's voice hitched on the last word as Rob let go of her feet and she slid, her back going down Jak's front until she stood upright once more.
Shaun didn't move out of his arms right away. Instead, with his long black coat flapping around them, she allowed him to hold her as she centered herself, letting all the little tingles of electricity that had built between them dissipate.
I wonder if we can do that again? She could seriously go for a little more of that sliding thing--especially if she could convince Jak to forgo his clothing beforehand. As she stood in the circle of his arms, she was surprised by the amount of heat he put out.
She frowned in contemplation. "You're hot." Stepping out of his embrace, she turned to face him before questioning him. "You're a vampire, and vampires are supposed to be cold. Clammy maybe, but not hot."
Nonplussed by her seemingly random declaration, Jak's eyebrows went up, and then his features cleared to settle back into a smile. "Hollywood and romance writers have a lot to answer for, love. I'm not dead, just..." Jak made a sexy pout as he thought. "Changed."
Behind her, Rob snorted. "That's one way of putting it."
Jak's attention moved from her as the ghost spoke. "You're wrong about your Intended, Jak. Have you forgotten the prophecy?"
"The Moonstruck Prophecy, you mean? What would he have to do with that? That's all about Weres. And besides, Pearl and Rex set that prophecy into motion already," Shaun stated.
"Ah, yes, they are an interesting couple, those two--more unconventional courting, and very amusing." Her grandmother's smile was punctuated by a twinkling star that was bright enough in the sky behind her to shine through her specter. Shaun could almost hear the chewing gum advertisement style ting from the faux glint off her teeth. "But, while they have set part of a prophecy in motion, there is more magic afoot than assuring a future for nearly extinct Were species."
"Part of a prophecy?" Shaun glanced at Rob, who looked as confused as she felt. "What does she mean only part of the prophecy?"
The ghost stood tall, regal, as she began to recite. "To one struck by the moon shall be born a girl. She will be the first. She, and those like her, will become the rescuers of those who walk on four and stand on two, whose line flickers and wavers like a candle before it's snuffed.
"Magic will lead their way to a new life. It shall burst on them like a flame, blazing blue as it burns brightly, and they shall take into their bodies and from them we shall bloom. Teach your sons and daughters wisely and well; make them sure of their place in the world for time may come to pass where one of the Moonstruck may lead us all."
Letting his annoyance show, Rob interrupted Gertie's flow with a gruff, "We know that part already."
Gertie gave him a squinty-eyed stare that shut him up and carried on, "As flowers bloom, so shall change. A triad of influence built on blood and power and strength will be born. By eyes of green, depth of shadow, and curious determination you shall know them.
"In the light of the new moon they will be bound as one--their union blessed by the spirits of those passed over--"
Shaun was surprised when Jak interrupted, waving his hand disrespectfully in Gertie's direction. "The magic born from the power of three will be the downfall of those who seek to betray us. Yada yada yada. I still remember, Gertie; you made me say it every morning before you'd let me have breakfast. And it makes as little sense to me now as it did back then."
Rob interjected again as he scowled at Jak. "Wait ... you knew about this? That the Moonstruck Prophecy was only the first verse and didn't tell anyone?"
Looking ruffled, Jak shrugged at Rob before turning to Gertie. "Tell me how to make sense of it then, if it's all so important."
"Maybe you should take a look around you again, and see if it makes a little more sense," Gertie replied.
When he made like a dumb post and did nothing, her grandmother floated to where Rob stood, looking a little more relaxed now that the spotlight was off him and his rude behavior and on Jak. Her finger swept across Rob's brow, and luminescent blue sparks flashed, making Rob's eyes glow an eerie, brilliant green. Gertie cocked her head to the side, the plume in her dainty little hat twitching. "Eyes of green, how interesting."
Her grandmother moved again, this time to stand in front of her. Shaun felt a phantom touch of cold, followed by a buzzing warmth as a ghostly palm stroked along her cheek. "And that quick-tempered, Ingelsdottir stubbornness--some might call you quite a determinedly curious young lady, my dear." The ghost smiled at her, and as she pulled her hand away, Shaun caught the flicker of more blue sparks. Gertie came to rest in front of Jak, and with a wide sweep of her hand, a trailing tail of blue sparks lit up the night, taking Jak from the shadows to the light.
"And as for you, Shadowman, have I opened your eyes? Can you now see?"