By A.M. Halford
(This is book 5 in the series. It can be read as a standalone.)
COYOTE is a centuries old Navajo mixed breed shifter. He’s lived alone since the loss of his father, while acting as an enforcer for the Twin Ravens outlaw MC. Four months ago, his solitary life was turned on its head when he met River Vann.
RIVER VANN, a Warlock of Sangue di Demone, is young, stubborn, and guarded. Due to his powerful demon blood, River’s life has been plagued by unfortunate and tragic events. He’s come to trust only two things in this world, money, and himself.
These two are destined to be together, but they can’t seem to find the right opportunity to connect. A powerful and dangerous figure from River’s past, and an old foe of the Twin Ravens, may change that.
Can Coyote and River find the perfect opportunity to connect amid the chaos and danger that threatens all Immortals? Or will their enemies destroy them all?
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22 Years Ago…
A woman panted heavily, pain racing through her as the contractions started coming more frequently. It was too soon, there was still another month before he was ready. Slumping against the shelves in the store, she tried to relax. Her water hadn’t broken yet, but these weren’t Braxton Hicks as they were increasing in intervals.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” The tall man was wearing a green apron, meaning he was an employee at the grocery store. “Ma’am?”
“I need an ambulance,” she whimpered as another contraction came upon her. “Labor.”
“What?” The man looked pale as he took a step back.
“I said,” she took a deep breath as a particularly painful contraction hit her, “I’m going into labor and need an ambulance.”
“Ah, right,” he nodded but didn’t move.
“Oh fuck,” she gasped as her water broke. “Now!” she shouted.
Finally, the man dashed away to hopefully make that phone call. She collapsed onto the wet floor, her arms wrapping around her stomach. “Too soon, River. It’s too soon.”
Of course, the baby in her stomach wasn’t listening. It only wanted out. People had started to gather around her, an older woman kneeling at her side. She was trying to talk the mother to be through the pain. Judging by her rounded hips and the gaggle of kids behind her she knew what she was saying, but it wasn’t helping. The only thing the mother could feel was pain.
“When are you due?” the older woman asked.
“Next month,” she answered.
She could hear water swishing all around her. It was like an undercurrent to the frantic voices surrounding her. A soft, soothing sound that reminded her of River’s father.
The cry of sirens started to blend with the mixture of sounds, but the water was still present. If anything, the gentle sounds of the water had started getting louder, turning into a roar. Where was the sound coming from?
“Move aside, please,” a man demanded, parting the people surrounding the woman. “Can you stand?” he asked gently.
She tried, but her knees buckled as another contraction rose up.
“Larry, we need the gurney,” the medic shouted above the whispers, though to her it was drowned out by the raing torrent in her ears.
“Has her water broken, Jayme?” Larry asked returning with the gurney.
“Yes,” Jayme reached beneath her arms and carefully lifted her up. “What’s your name?” he asked, laying her on the uncomfortable surface.
“Neasa. Neasa Vann.”
“When’s your due date Neasa?” Larry hooked up a blood pressure cup to her arm.
“Next month, May second,” Neasa answered, trying to think clearly.
The fact the baby was coming on April first was the worst kind of luck she could imagine. Maybe she could hold out until tomorrow?
“We’re going to take you to the hospital,” Jayme said. “Do you have a doctor already set up?”
Neasa nodded. She could feel the gurney moving beneath her as the two medics rolled her out of the grocery store and into the ambulance. Once in, Larry moved to the driver’s seat in the front and Jayme stayed with her in the back.
“Doctor Stewart, at Hillcrest,” she gave him her doctor’s name.
“Larry, Hillcrest,” Jayme called up to the front.
After that Neasa couldn’t make out anything else said to her. The pain and the sound of water, now great waves crashing on rocks, was too much for her. How she wished her own mother and aunts were there to help her through this. Relying on mortals to deliver her child was not ideal. Unfortunately, she’d been unable to find anyone else from her birth coven to help her with this delivery. Probably her own fault. That’s what she got for rushing and becoming pregnant so young.
“Neasa! Neasa!” Jayme’s voice finally pierced the waves and Neasa looked up to him. “How old are you?”
She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. The contractions were subsiding for now, giving her a break from the pain. “I’m nineteen.”
“Where are your parents?” Jayme sounded concerned.
“Dead,” Neasa tried to hide the remorse she still felt for their loss. “Ten years now.”
“Foster parents?” Jayme frowned.
Neasa shook her head. “State lets you go as soon as you turn eighteen.”
The medic didn’t look happy, but there was nothing she could do about that.
By the time they arrived at Hillcrest her contractions had started back up, these even more intense than the last set. She wasn’t sure, but it felt like she was getting really close to actually having this baby.
“Neasa, hey,” Doctor Stewart came into the room she’d been delivered to and smiled at her. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
“It’s too early,” Neasa said, panic in her voice.
“We’re going to make sure you and the baby make it through this,” the doctor assured her before he turned to direct his staff.
Neasa looked up at the ceiling. The sounds of water were coming again, this time faster. She couldn’t help but hope it meant River’s father was close. She wasn’t a fool. She knew what this child’s birth meant for that … being.
“Okay Neasa, with the next contraction I want you to push,” Doctor Stewart instructed.
As she was told, when the next contraction came up she pushed and screamed. A nurse moved to hold her hand and helped coach her through the breathing as she pushed her son out.
“You’re doing great, Neasa,” the doctor assured her. “Just a bit more.”
Neasa continued to push, her vision flickering; or maybe that was the lights? The nurse was looking around with a worried expression in her eyes. The more Neasa pushed the more exhausted she became.
“Almost there,” he said. “One more push, Neasa.”
She wasn’t sure if she had another in her.
“Come on, Neasa, one last push,” her doctor encouraged.
Calling on a reserve strength she didn’t know she had, Neasa pushed one last time and suddenly it was like she was at the bottom of the ocean. The gentle sound of waves above her, and a cooling blue surrounding her, made her smile even as her vision went black.
* * * *
A baby’s cry filled the silent hospital room. Bodies laid all around the newborn, no one was moving. It wasn’t until a nurse came in looking to find Doctor Stewart that they were discovered.
A scream ripped from her mouth, drawing more attention to the scene of death and birth. One woman braved the room to collect the newborn boy, swaddling him in a blanket and rushing him from the room as another called the cops.
The official ruling was Neasa Vann died of blood loss caused by childbirth, while the doctor and nurses died of dehydration. It made no sense, but it was the only explanation given.
As for the baby boy, River Vann, he was given into the care of a boys’ home, and, for a time, River’s life wouldn’t be marked by any other odd occurrences.
* * * *
Four Months Ago…
Coyote revved the engine of his motorcycle a few times before he shut it off. Dismounting quickly, he followed behind Jenniene and Joker down a narrow alleyway. This certainly didn’t look like somewhere to find an all-powerful warlock. It did look like somewhere a person would come to conduct shady business. Coyote hadn’t met River, the elusive local information broker that Blood got a good deal of his intel from before, so this would be a first for him.
Jenniene, Joker’s mate, didn’t even bother with pleasantries as she swung the front door open and said, “We’re looking for someone named River!”
“Blood sent us,” Coyote tacked on, as a bonus. Hopefully, using the Twin Ravens head honcho’s name would do them some good.
“What does Blood want?” the bartender asked as he cleaned a glass without so much as a glance in their direction. He held the glass up to the dim light and then brought it back down to rub at a spot with the towel in his hand. “If it’s about that Nosferatu business, I already told him everything I know.”
“We were sent to fetch you,” Joker said, approaching the bar. “That is if you are River.”
The clearest dark green eyes Coyote had ever seen finally looked their way, and they were filled with irritation. “Do I look like some fucking ball for the kitty cat to send his dogs after?”
“Please, we need your help,” Jenniene stepped up to Joker and pleaded with the small red haired man. “My friend is going to die.”
“People die every day,” River shrugged. “That’s just a fact of life.”
Despite the man’s cruel words and callous actions, Coyote couldn’t pull his eyes away from him. He was stunning.
“You listen to me,” Joker growled reaching out for their target only to pull his hand back quickly when a large snake seemed to materialize on River’s shoulders and struck out at him.
“Hands off, dog,” the snake hissed.
“A familiar,” Jenniene gaped. “So, you are a warlock! Then you have to help us! One of your own is going to die tonight. Please!”
Whatever it was that Jenniene had said caught River’s attention. “One of my own?”
“Yes,” Coyote stepped forward. “What? Did you think you were a solidarity?”
When those green eyes pinned him, Coyote felt his inner beast whine. The fuck?
“As a matter of fact, yes,” River smiled and Coyote felt an odd tightening in his gut. What in the hell was wrong with him? “But, if what you say is true, then sure I’ll go with you. On one condition.”
“Name it,” Jenniene said, urgency in her voice.
“I get paid for my services,” he declared.
He wanted to be paid to save a man’s life? What kind of person had they been sent to collect?
“Fine,” Jenniene agreed. “Now, let’s go.”
River sighed and removed his apron, before coming around the bar and grabbing a coat off a rack by the door. The four of them left the shop, with River locking up behind them.
“You’ll ride with Coyote,” Joker instructed.
Coyote felt himself shiver as River gave him a cocky smirk. “Cute name.”
Coyote went to open his mouth and say something when the wind picked up and twisted around them, filling his nose with River’s unique scent. The smell of the ocean right after a rain storm wrapped around him and filled Coyote’s lungs. With it an arousal so potent that he nearly pinned River to the building right then and there encased him.
“Everything okay, puppy-dog?” River taunted as he climbed the steps out of the alleyway.
Everything was not okay. Not by a long shot. This little cocky shit was his mate. What in the hell had Coyote done to deserve this gorgeous, sarcastic, slip of a man as a mate?
Not saying anything, Coyote went to his bike, started her up, and waited for River to mount behind him. The press of the young warlock’s body close to his own was delicious and so unwanted right now. Speeding down the roads and out of Tulsa toward the Twin Ravens temporary clubhouse, Coyote tried not to think about the hot man behind him. The only thing he needed from River right now was his cooperation in saving his buddy’s mate’s life.
They arrived at the clubhouse, Jenniene showing River up the stairs and to the guest room where a man with flame red hair was lying on a bed, writhing in pain. Seemed Leo had gotten worse since they’d been sent to find River. Coyote took the man’s jacket as he stripped it off. The room was sweltering for some reason.
“So, this is my supposed cousin?” River said, looking at Leo lying on the bed beside Coyote’s friend, Agnar. He didn’t sound the least bit interested. Still, he sighed and looked at the people around the room. “What am I to do?”
A woman Coyote didn’t recognize instructed River to put his hands on Leo’s chest and pour power into him. Whatever the hell that meant. After a small amount of resistance from Agnar, River managed to straddle Leo’s waist and whispered, “Abre.” His entire visage changed and Coyote was left speechless at the sight of the man sitting above Leo.
River coaxed Leo back to them right before he smacked the other warlock across the face when he didn’t immediately wake up. Agnar growled and lunged toward River, Coyote instantly stepping forward to protect his mate.
“He strikes my mate again and I will not be silent,” Agnar warned Coyote. Coyote just growled in response.
River addressed Blood about the Nosferatu and his agreed upon payment. Apparently, he didn’t care who paid him, considering the agreement had been between him and Jenniene, as long as he got paid. Blood agreed to pay and River moved to leave.
Coyote couldn’t help it, he followed him, only for River to stop and look at him. Those emerald green eyes pinned Coyote in place.
As if he was commanding a dog, River pointed to the floor and said, “Stay.” Coyote found he was powerless to watch as his mate walked out of the room and into the night.
Away from him.