“I haven’t figured out yet what you are.”
Zander turned and found Voth standing in the glass slider doorway, a forest green towel wrapped around his lean hips. Behind the placket of his loose gray sweat shorts, Zander’s cock stirred. One of Voth’s brows rose and his mouth twitched into an amused smile.
“I am Vasherion. I thought I mentioned that last night.” He lifted his mug to his lips and sipped the fragrant brew.
One muscled shoulder lifted in a shrug. “I knew your mother was a Vashon priestess. Until you mentioned it last night, I didn’t realize she’d trained you in the ways of a priest,” Voth replied, his eyes somber.
Zander turned and leaned back on the wood rail. “When my mother was killed I was asked to sit as Zushen, the right hand to the Vashonne, the highest priestess. I would have been the highest ranking male.” His eyes met Voth’s. “But somehow I knew it was time for me to leave the clan.”
Voth’s expression remained impassive. “You still haven’t told me what you are.” He paused slightly, then went on, “When you shift, Zander. What are you?”
Zander finished the coffee in his mug and set it carefully on the railing. “Didn’t I say last night? I’m Raven Clan. When I shift, we can fly together, although I’m nothing as glamorous as a phoenix.”
The forest green towel dropped to the floor, and Voth stepped out onto the deck, his nude body bronzed even in the gray of the rainy morning. “Fly with me.”
Zander’s brows rose. “In the bad weather?” he joked.
Voth reached the railing and gripped it with his fingers. Zander suppressed a shudder, remembering what those talented fingers had done to him half the night.
“Don’t tell me a little water bothers your feathers?” Voth’s eyes gleamed with amusement. “I’ll shift first then.”
His shift to phoenix form came so fast that one moment he stood in human form and the next he was the great, golden-brown bird sitting on the deck railing with his long tail sweeping down. Zander smiled and removed his sweat shorts. He concentrated on the magic in his soul that allowed all Vashon to shift.
Zander’s human form shivered. He knew that to Voth, his body appeared as a silvery wraith in the weak light. With a popping sound in his ears, his raven took form. A large, sleek, black bird with a huge curved beak, still with the appearance of a warrior, especially next to the elegant form of the phoenix.
Wings spread, he pushed off the deck railing, knowing without asking that Voth had done the same. Catching a downdraft, he floated toward the shore, letting the wind do all the work for him. Buoyant and filled with a sense of freedom that permeated his soul when he flew in shifted form, Zander opened his mind to his mate, speaking to Voth in thought form.
“This moment is perfect.”
He turned out over the ocean, ignoring the gulls who circled near the shoreline, Voth’s presence just beyond the stretch of his wingtip.
“Really? I thought the moment you came in my mouth last night was perfect.”
Laughter bubbled in Zander’s veins at Voth’s amused thought. “Your idea of a defining moment is somewhat lacking, my mate. When I came in your ass, when I bit your tongue and tasted your blood, when I bound my soul to yours for all eternity through our blood promise… That was a perfect moment.”
Voth flew closer, his brown feathers turning to golden fire in a stray beam of sunlight that speared through the dark clouds. “I cannot deny your words any more than I can deny your body and your heart. I have never experienced pleasure so great before. I have never had such a connection to another being.”
Zander’s eyes tracked Voth’s movements as he flew along the shaft of sunlight. “Not even Nix?”
Voth came up under Zander and the downdraft shifted. Flapping his wings, Zander pushed himself higher.
“Not even Nix. She is like a mother to me, and we have an indefinable connection as bearers of the Phoenix bloodline, but you are what completes me. My soul sings today because I have found you and made you mine.”
A mental chuckle echoed in Zander’s thoughts. “I told you, I’m not your bitch,” he teased.
Voth’s solemn reply–which did not acknowledge Zander’s joke–illustrated the reflective path of his emotions. “No. You’re not. You are my destiny and the basis for my happiness.”
Elation skittered along Zander’s nerve endings. “So philosophical for an early morning.”
Voth turned back the way they had come, and Zander turned with him. Their thoughts became more sober as they flew above the treetops, crossing over the twisting road that led to Zander’s house.
“The philosophical thoughts are a precursor to planning. You know that we must begin our journey to find your brothers. I can’t even begin to think that this will be easy. Ancelin wants you dead. If he has not made a move yet, it is imminent.”
“What do you mean, yet?”
Voth drifted closer. “There have been no close calls? Little accidents? Near misses? Strange coincidences? Things you might not normally think of as an attempt on your life?”
Uneasiness replaced the elation he’d felt. “No. Nothing like that. I’m a warrior. Anything like that would be evident to me. By nature, I am more suspicious than most.”
“He must know where you are. You’ve taken no care to hide yourself. But he is biding his time until first strike.”
Zander’s house came into view. “He won’t show his hand yet. He will send minions in the hope that I am weak enough to be taken out by them. He won’t dirty his hands unless he has to.”
“That is true enough.”
They turned as one toward the back deck of the house, and Zander’s heightened senses picked up Voth’s worry. They landed, shifted, and Voth instantly sprang across the deck. Lying on the wide wooden railing beside Zander’s abandoned coffee cup was a dead raven. Tension filled the air between them.
“A calling card.” Voth’s deep voice held a grim, implacable note.
Zander grimaced. “How can a man with so little imagination be my father?” he grumbled, hoping to dispel some of Voth’s anger.
“Do not joke, Zander,” Voth said tightly. “Your life is in danger.”
“I know. It’s been in danger from the first breath I took, Voth,” Zander pointed out. “Vasherion are often the targets of assassination attempts.”
Voth’s jaw clenched and his expression turned harsh. “This is not clan rivalry. This is Ancelin’s calling card. He is coming for you.”
Zander picked up his shorts and pulled them on. Then he snatched up his coffee cup and ignored the dead raven, heading into the house. “He was always going to come for me,” he said reasonably. He rinsed out his cup in the stainless-steel sink. Turning, he found Voth standing in the middle of the big open kitchen holding the towel he’d been wearing earlier. Desire flickered within him despite the seriousness of the moment.
“No one has been here. The bird was magicked to the deck. I sensed the breach as we approached the house,” he explained. “But whoever sent it has been watching. You, me, us, the house.” Zander shrugged. He’d been under surveillance before.
Voth audibly ground his teeth. “How can you be so blasé about this?”
With a shake of his head, Zander walked past Voth, out of the kitchen and into the bedroom. He opened the closet and began dressing swiftly. “I’m not blasé, just unconcerned with mind games. Trying to make me nervous with stupid calling cards like a dead raven won’t work. I’m Vasherion. They could string you up and threaten to torture you and it would not affect my nerves. I am battle-hardened,” he said matter-of-factly.
A low growl came from Voth. “So it would not affect you if someone tortured me?”
Zander went very still. Semantics meant little to a warrior like himself, but the fine line Voth had just drawn left him balancing on a knife edge where his own words and reactions were being tested. His gaze met Voth’s. The Phoenix’s irises had grown dark with emotion. Zander sank his fingers into the rich, red-brown waves that framed Voth’s handsome face.
Drawing his mate’s head closer, he murmured, “It would affect me, but not in the way that you think. Anyone who threatens my mate signs their own death warrant and appoints me their executioner. But if they think that my care for you will weaken me, they are wrong. It strengthens me and hardens my resolve that should anyone even think to touch you they will draw my very cold, very lethal wrath.”
He forced Voth’s head closer to his until he could take the bigger man’s mouth in a hard, punishing kiss. Heat flared between them, and Voth groaned against Zander’s mouth. Tongues tangled and heat became a bonfire. Chest heaving, Zander broke the kiss and reached for a shoulder holster, strapping it on while he watched Voth with grim determination.