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   Chapter 2 Free Fall The Society Book 2

Free Fall: The Society Book 2 By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 34773

Updated: 2018-03-13 11:47

Chapter 2

Ivy bundled up more warmly than usual. She already had her emerald green silk long johns under her jeans and a thermal shirt under her sweater. She topped it off with a long thick scarf, wrapped around her neck a few times before being tucked under her heaviest jacket, a wool lined cap and her warmest gloves completing the outfit. Her feet were clad in a double layer of thick socks and shoved into her rubber rain boots. The boots were black with little pink skulls on them, rhinestones serving as the eyes of the skulls.

Ivy had heavier winter boots packed somewhere, but at the moment wet was more of a concern as the last snowfall was currently turning into slushy piles hiding what seemed like vats of mud under a thin crust of ice. As she emerged, wrapped up for her excursion Russell saw her, laughed and shook his head.

"Isn't that a bit much, " he asked as he followed her across the grand entrance hall. He was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt. The shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and she could see his white undershirt at the open neck of the flannel since he didn't bother to button it up all the way. She shook her head at his lack of cold weather wear.

As the building was designed more as a hotel than as a private residence, the entry area was more of a lobby than a typical foyer. Alex made it feel a little less commercial, partially by not installing a front desk for check-ins. While the area was just subfloor and bare drywall when they purchased it, now it reminded Ivy of a high end ski lodge.

Dark wood floors gleamed richly under the lights. Much of the light came from either the large windows or the extraordinarily large chandeliers. There were three. The largest was in the center and Ivy guessed it to be at least twelve feet in diameter. It was flanked by the two smaller ones, each of which boasted a six foot diameter. An enormous fireplace that looked capable of roasting an entire cow took up one wall and comfortable couches and chairs filled the space around it.

While each of them had their own separate suites so they didn't feel like they were living on top of each other, the central lobby area served as a gathering space. Not only did they gather together in the evenings when they felt like being sociable, but it served as a place for various invading pack members to gather without feeling like they were intruding on private family space. At the moment, Ivy was surprised to find it empty. After seventeen years of living alone in her one bedroom apartment, the overabundance of space and people often made her shake her head in wonderment at the turn her life had taken in the past few months.

"As Jerome has a habit of slipping away when someone comes to look in on him, I plan to wait for him to return, " Ivy told Russell. "For that I need to be ready to stay in the cold for a long time if need be."

Russell chuckled. "So we get to see if a stubborn and bundled up fire mage beats a crafty old wolf? Should be fun."

They reached the main doors and Russell gave her a toe curling kiss to keep her warm before sending her out into the cold world. Ivy trudged across the flagstone entry area and reached the end of the overhang. With a sigh she stepped into the slushy, muddy yard and trudged her way across to where her newly purchased pick-up truck was parked. Water seemed to be everywhere. It pooled in icy puddles and plinked in droplets from the eaves and the trees. The air was raw and damp. It was the sort of day designed to keep any sensible fire mage indoors.

"Not that a fire mage around wolves is allowed to be sensible, " she grumbled to herself.

Ivy made it to the truck, dry feet intact and climbed in. She carefully made her way to the main gate. Once there, she climbed out and unlocked the gate, feeling the extra perimeter shield disengage as she did so.

As the property now boasted much stronger, more permanent shields on the property, Ivy knew she could leave the gate open and nothing unwanted would cross into their property. However, their grandmother Elizabeth raised them to know that you could never have too many protections. After driving through the gate, Ivy got out again and latched it. The shield spell on the gate was broken into two separate parts, much as the lock on her deadbolt at her old apartment. It was also the model she used to protect every pack member's house in the area. When the gate was unlocked, the two parts remained inert. It was only when they were connected that the shield became active. When inactive, it was undetectable.

Many of the wolves had a sensitivity to magic and felt the shields at first making them uncomfortable with them. The fact that the shield could so easily be disengaged and reengaged let them work on growing accustomed to the feel of an active shield, like slowly entering a cold swimming pool instead of just taking a swift plunge.

"Of course many of them took the swift plunge approach, " she reminded herself as she drove through to the other side. With the council's disbanding, no one felt entirely safe. She slid back out of the truck's cab and locked the gate, feeling the expected and familiar power surge. For a second it seemed the scripted metal letters on the gate's entrance, Wildwood, the property's name, glowed before fading back into black metal.

Satisfied everything was in place, Ivy climbed back into the truck and headed off for Jerome's property. Oddly, as Jerome lived at the edge of pack territory, his house wasn't terribly far from Wildwood. While most wolves were pack animals and craved the company of others, Jerome was a special case. Ivy was still a little hazy on the details, but knew Jerome and William were once part of a different pack. William was the alpha that led that particular pack. Then something happened. Somehow too many of the pack members died and they were no longer able to hold their territory. They then came to join Russell's pack, although that was well before he was born, when his grandfather, Elliot, and not his Uncle John was the alpha in charge of their pack.

"I still have no idea how John and Hackett relate to each other in pack hierarchy, " Ivy said to herself. Not for the first time she wanted some sort of flow chart. Ivy shook the thought off for later.

From her conversation with Albert, she knew that Elliot, William, Jerome and her great uncles, Johnathan and Roger, all served together during the Second World War, but had no idea if the decimation of William and Jerome's pack had anything to do with the War.

"Since all shifters are male that could mean a higher percentage went to war at that time and didn't come back, " Ivy mused as her truck bucked and swayed like a ship in rough seas over the somewhat washed out gravel road. "Wolves do well as soldiers."

All wolves grew up with pack hierarchy, which was fairly regimented. Everyone seemed to know their place within their pack, even if she didn't understand it. The military structure was similar enough in nature to make the wolves feel somewhat at ease and many made a career out of it.

While in times of war, Mages, like her uncles, did serve, their normal mode of operation was to avoid any form of government agency. Most mages tended to view themselves as apart from the rest of the world, their homes serving more or less as their own small kingdoms. Unity was achieved only at the order of the Shadow Council or when a threat was greater than they could deal with on their own.

"And even when the threat is great, we tend to be highly selective as to who we join forces with, " Ivy reminded herself as she began scanning the densely planted tree line for the long drive leading to Jerome's house. "And now the Shadow Council is disbanded." The thought made her very uneasy.

Even though nothing seemed to happen as the Council was disbanded, Ivy knew something would shift sooner or later. Mages tended to be a volatile lot. Right now they were sort of holding their breath, waiting to see if the Fae or Vampires planned some sort of attack. Sooner or later, someone would lose their temper causing some sort of incident. Then they would start to realize that without the Shadow Council, there was no one to prevent their retaliation against whatever happened to irk them.

"And once one person gets away with something formerly prohibited with no official sanctions, others will realize they can too, " Ivy sighed and shook her head, easily seeing how things could easily spiral out of control. She was quite frankly surprised that in the past few months no one actually used the lack of council to settle old grudges, at least not that she heard.

"If I were planning an attack, I'd wait until we were fighting each other and then swoop in, " she decided. "The longer they hold off the attack, the weaker we will be." Ivy may not have liked the Shadow Council and all it stood for, but she understood the need for some sort of central government to prevent anarchy. She may have bent the rules and dealt with some of the grayer areas of their world, but she wasn't at heart an anarchist.

"And that's just the mages, " Ivy muttered to herself spotting her turn and flipping on her blinker despite being the only car on the road for miles. In her head she pictured the free-for-all that could very easily occur, a return to the Chaos years. "It wouldn't take much."

Ivy turned onto Jerome's drive and headed deeper into the woods. While the main road, such as it was, featured a dense tree line to either side, the winter bare branches overhanging the road like skeletal fingers reaching for each other, Jerome's drive was narrower. Here the bony fingers met, lacing overhead. Thick shadows dappled the roadbed and because it received less sunlight there was less melting.

"Of course there is less snow too, " Ivy consoled herself as she heard the ice crackle under the tires of her truck. "In the summer this is probably a dark green tunnel." Ivy could picture it in spring and summer and had the feeling this road remained cool even in the hot summer sun. The roadbed was even more pitted than the main road and she thought a long time passed since this drive last received a fresh load of gravel. Ivy was glad the truck she picked was higher off the ground than a sedan would be as she had the feeling the sedan would be scraping the ground in places.

"I wonder if Jerome even has a car, " she asked herself. Despite living outside of town, a vehicle wasn't always viewed as a necessity by most of the shifters she met. "I suppose if I could change shape and run that fast I might not consider it a necessity either."

After what seemed like an eternity, the drive ended in a semi-circular spill of gravel, wide enough for a vehicle to turn around, but not much else. On the other side of the drive was a small house. The house was a square, gabled structure that at a guess had four rooms with a bathroom shoehorned in somewhere unless someone did extensive modifications on the inside at some point. It had the sort of faux stone siding that was popular in the nineteen fifties and a seamed metal roof that looked new. The silver metal shining in the winter sun was nearly blinding after the shadowed drive and looked as though it could signal people from space.

Ivy parked and climbed out of the truck. She strode up the path to the two concrete steps at the front of the house and climbed them. Seeing no doorbell, she rapped loudly on the wooden door. Flecks of white paint drifted down from the impact of her fist. The door looked like it hadn't been opened in a while, oddly reminding her of her grandmother's house. Their front door was almost never used, the back door being their main one.

No one answered her knock and thinking of the back door the family used, Ivy walked around the side of the house to the back. She reached it as the back door opened, the springs on the screen door squealing loudly as it was pushed. Jerome was clearly getting ready to make a break for the woods.

"You know I'll just be here when you get back, " she said crossing her arms over her chest and startling the naked old man. He jumped in surprise and Ivy was glad the panel in the screen door hid the lower half of his body. As accustomed to naked shifters as she was, some things she had no desire to see. He swore to himself and Ivy thought she heard the word 'downwind' mixed into his comment.

"If a fire mage goes out in the cold and wet, I can guarantee the likelihood of them returning home without getting what they came for is slim to none, " Ivy continued. "We can continue this conversation out here in the cold or we can go inside and you can put on some clothes. Your choice."

"Are those my two options then, Ivy Chambers?" Jerome asked, sounding vaguely amused now that he was well and truly caught.

"They are, " She replied nodding. "Of course I should warn you, I dressed for the weather and will have less of a problem standing here than you will without your fur coat. In all fairness, I should also tell you that I managed to talk to Albert prior to coming here."

"You did?" He replied. His shoulders sagged with relief.

"Yup, " she said with a nod. "Who knew he'd be easier to track down? So if that's the reason you've been hiding from everyone, you can stop."

Jerome frowned and squared his bony shoulders as though trying to regain some dignity, pulling himself up to his full height. "I wasn't hiding. I've merely been preoccupied. However, you have caught me in a moment of relative quiet, so I suppose you'd better come in. God knows fire mages never go away when you want them to anyway, " he added his tone edging out of injured dignity and into grumpy old man. "Not once they've decided on something. Never could hide from Emily, don't know why you'd be any different."

He turned and resumed muttering to himself. While the screen door shut behind him, he didn't close the interior door and Ivy took this for an invitation, following him inside. The house was neat and tidy and smelled of lemon scented furniture polish and coffee. The rug showed spots of wear and the furniture looked comfortably worn in, but not worn out. The only furniture item that was edging into disrepair was an elderly recliner with a throw covering the worn back to keep it from looking entirely disreputable.

Jerome scooped up a pile of discarded clothing and Ivy assumed it was the clothing he shucked off in his attempt to run as it looked rather out of place in the well-organized space. She stayed in the living room as he receded into the depths of the house, no doubt to clothe himself. Ivy doubted he'd be sneaking out of the window. While awaiting his return, she occupied herself looking around.

The living room had the air of being used by someone who spent large quantities of time in his own company. The book cases were filled with books with additional stacks on the floor surrounding the reclining armchair with threadbare arm rests. The magazine rack was a part of the side table and was likewise full. Ivy smiled at the titles she could see. Jerome appeared to be an eclectic reader; Foreign Affairs, The Sierra Club, The Smithsonian, Pro-Bass Fisherman, National Geographic and Wired were all jumbled up together in the top part of his rack. Ivy thought she also saw a Vogue sticking out of the back, but decided not to pry that deeply. There was one she couldn't resist asking about though.

"Wired Magazine?" she asked as he came back into the room, barefoot but otherwise clothed. Nearly everyone in The Society, no matter which Clan they hailed from, Shifter, Mage, Seer, Fae or Vampire, were notoriously technophobic. When she closed down her post office box and required clients to contact her via e-mail there was a lot of confusion and mockery as to why a mage would even bother with norm technology. She didn't expect Jerome to be any different.

"Offend your delicate sensibilities?" He asked. "Suggesting norm technology might be useful to a member of The Society?"

"You mean beyond electricity and refrigeration units?" Ivy replied with a laugh. "I'm just surprised to find it here."

"That's right, " Jerome said settling himself into what Ivy thought was probably his favorite chair. She took a seat on the couch opposite him. "You made people use the e-mail to hire you."

Ivy smiled. "Paying attention?"

Jerome shrugged. "I like to keep an eye on things. Given your…background it seemed a sensible thing to do."

Ivy swallowed her mirth at the sly tone in Jerome's voice. Wolves were not known for being subtle and she had the feeling this was his attempt. "You mean due to William and Emily's offspring and their…peculiarities." Ivy wasn't certain if Jerome knew the extent of those peculiarities, but she knew he knew of the children.

Jerome smiled. "That they were each both wolf and mage." He completed the sentence, confirming his knowledge with a sharp nod.

"Most peculiar and most dangerous. Which is why they were hidden, on top of the whole alpha combat thing." She added.

Ivy knew that challenges involved fights to the death and that a rivalry could split the pack or worse, which is why William, a strong alpha who joined a pack unde

r the leader of the strong alpha, Elliot, travelled a lot and kept his sons out of contention for pack leader. Admittedly, the fact that the wolves of William's line, including William himself, all married strong mages meant that there was plenty of magic in their blood as well. Traditional thought said that shifter blood canceled out the mage, but William's children proved them wrong, something either in their blood or in the balance of it, let them have the abilities of both.

"The fact that we were just mages must have come as a relief, " Ivy said.

"Yes and no, " Jerome answered.

Ivy looked him over and thought about what she learned. She knew that even though the packs merged, Jerome still looked to William as his alpha and a thought occurred. "Because it ended your pack, " she guessed having the feeling that Jerome was more than likely involved with William's sons even though they were never brought to the main pack. "When his sons married mages the balance shifted and we were all born mages."

"Mage blood trumping Shifter, " Jerome replied sounding somewhat wistful. "Not exactly pack."

Ivy felt memory tickle the back of her brain. "But you still kept an eye on us."

"Your career was hardly secret, " Jerome said with a laugh. "Especially after the family was split by the Council. All sorts of people started watching the lot of you trying to figure out why since you hadn't done anything obvious to warrant the censure."

"True, " Ivy replied, seeing a much younger Jerome in her memories. "But how many of them were friends with Father Francis?" she asked naming the priest and water mage from the church down the street who often played chess with her grandmother. She remembered a younger looking Jerome visiting with him a few times a year while they were growing up. Her grandmother always asked her to make an extra plate of cookies to send over for Father Francis and his guest. "You used to visit him when we were little."

Jerome opened and closed his mouth in surprise a few times as though unsure what to say. She saw color creep into his cheeks and realized she made the old man blush. "You weren't supposed to know that, " he said gruffly, sounding more embarrassed about being caught out rather than angry. "And William's children didn't develop their extra abilities until later. So you had to be watched in case a wolf was needed. Although your grandfather at least had the decency to have all sons. We didn't know what to think with the two of you being girls."

He sounded affronted by the fact, but Ivy didn't take it personally. Shifters were almost always born male. According to Russell in the last five hundred years only three females were recorded as being born into the packs. Having both her and Rose in the same generation must have come as an enormous shock.

"Girls, " he repeated. "Two." Jerome shook his head at the unbelievable. Ivy smiled and decided not to point out that she knew he visited Father Francis around the time of their high school graduation and had in fact seen him sitting with her grandmother and Father Francis at the ceremony. She was fairly certain he came by the house for cake later as well. As Albert's version of the story had William's children developing their mage abilities around the age of five, Ivy had the feeling that shifter or not, he still considered them part of his pack, or at least pack adjacent and worthy of at least some protection when they were younger.

Jerome finally got a hold of himself. "I suppose you have questions, " he said his tone rather grumpy.

"Several, but I'm not sure you'd answer them without running off, " Ivy answered. "Or becoming completely offended."

Jerome frowned, but couldn't sustain it. "Fair enough, " he conceded. "But I've been fairly caught now so you might as well ask."

Ivy looked at him and figured she might as well start at the beginning. "Well, I know you left your territory because there weren't enough members of your pack to hold it. Was there another pack encroaching and fighting you or were the numbers diminished…externally?"

Ivy knew wolves tended to be bluntly honest as they could all smell a lie, but asking directly about wartime deaths, especially since it was background to assuage her own curiosity, seemed a little rude. Most of the veterans she met who saw actual combat during their time of service regardless of the war, tended to be rather hesitant to talk about it. It was as if they put those memories in a box, closed the lid, labeled it war, whichever war it happened to relate to, and put it away to get on with the rest of their lives. She could understand the thinking and didn't want to pry open the box if it wasn't necessary.

Jerome's eyebrows shot up in surprise, but then he chuckled and shook his head. "Wolf or not you are of William's get." He sighed and he rubbed a hand over his face, his amusement fading. "I'm not sure how it began. We weren't there for that part, William or I. We were …overseas with the war. Albert was with us, as were the Chambers boys, Jonathan and Roger, your great uncles I suppose. A lot of us fought of course, even without the draft wolves tend to sign up for wars, it's just our nature. Truthfully, many didn't make it back, it's probably why we didn't ask too many questions at first. We were just glad to be home and ready to put it all behind us. We didn't talk about the missing."

Ivy sat quietly as the old man paused, his eyes fixed on a far off place. The silence stretched, but she knew it wasn't her place to break it. Finally, he cleared his throat and blinked a couple of times as though clearing his vision. "People started getting sick and our ranks thinned even more. If there was a pattern, then we couldn't see it. Some thought it was an Influenza outbreak, but that generally affects our women and only occasionally our young and these were full grown wolves that were taken down. We had no idea what to do, so we did what we always did in such times."

"You called a mage, " Ivy said with a half-smile.

"Call the mage, " He repeated with a nod. "A tried and true method still used today. This particular one was named Billy Warren. Snotty little fellow, " Jerome recalled with a scrunched up face of distaste. "Still he came. He made it seem as though he was terribly put out by condescending to us the favor, but he came. Unfortunately, it didn't do much good."

"He couldn't figure out what the problem was?" Ivy asked.

"He never got the chance. He was mowed down by some idiot in a Packard out joyriding to celebrate the end of the gasoline rationing." Jerome shook his head. "Then there was Gerald Watson. He wasn't a bad sort, but I don't think he'd ever been out of the city. Kept looking around him like he expected something to jump out of the underbrush."

Jerome chuckled at the memory. "He wore a very snappy plaid suit, as I recall, and cut quite the figure despite the jitters. I escorted him around personally. We'd already lost one mage and weren't about to go risking another, " Jerome frowned, memory turning dark.

"I took him from house to house. He asked a lot of questions and took a lot of notes. With each house he looked more and more worried. When we reached the last of them he said he had to check on a few things so he could be sure of what he was seeing and the proper treatment. He said he'd only heard of something similar, but never seen it firsthand. He was a cautious fellow, despite the snappy suit, and didn't want to say anything before he was certain. Of course, someone who knew something was better than anything else we had at the moment."

Jerome sighed and favored her with a sad half-smile. "He met with William privately after that last house. I think he was afraid that if he spoke openly one of us would try some half-baked home remedy and make things worse. When they were done, William looked concerned and thoughtful. I was given the task of getting him safely to the train station so he could go research whatever it was that needed to be researched."

Jerome gave a dry humorless chuckle. "I drove like an ancient old granny on the way there. In fact we were moving so slow I think we were passed by an ancient old granny walking beside the road. But I wasn't about to let harm come to him on my watch. We got to the station and I waited with him. I watched him get on the train and then I waited at the station until the train actually pulled away. I even watched until it went around the bend and was lost to sight. Didn't do a lick of good though."

"Couldn't he figure out what was going on?" Ivy asked, leaning forward, caught up in the story.

"William said he asked for a week. We waited for a message, but the week passed. And then a second one. Finally, William got in touch with someone who could tell us something. Apparently, Gerald made it back to the city safe and sound. Once there however, he was run over by an idiot in a Packard. After that, William took us to join Elliot's pack. The deaths stopped and we never talked about it again."

"A Packard?" Ivy repeated, feeling cold all over. She leaned back in her seat. "Like Billy Warren?"

"Just like, " Jerome confirmed.

"Payoffs and automotive accidents, " Ivy said, half to herself thinking of the Shadow Council's two favorite ways of getting rid of people.

"Excuse me?" Jerome asked with a frown.

Ivy shook her head to clear it a little. "Two of the Shadow Council's three favorite ways to solve problems, payoffs and car accidents."

"Ah, " Jerome replied. "I knew it wasn't coincidence and I doubted it was an accident, but I hadn't gone that far with it. Why would the Council want one of the strongest packs taken out?"

"No idea, " Ivy replied shaking her head. "It doesn't make much sense. Of course very little really does at the moment."

"What else doesn't make sense?" He asked.

Ivy laughed, like Jerome's earlier laughter it was dry and humorless. "Well if you were worried about the whole shifter and mage thing it would make sense to go after William's sons and quite frankly it would make sense to kill me and my siblings as we carry the bloodline. It doesn't make sense to kill everyone else and leave us alive; Emily, our mothers and grandfather, our uncles, our grandmother. Although technically speaking, Emily would also be our grandmother."

Ivy shook the thought away. "I mean going after us sure, but everyone else? They had to know having all of them die in automotive accidents would look suspicious to someone at some point. You don't have every member of several generations of the same family die in car accidents without someone thinking something is up."

"Elizabeth died in a car accident?" Jerome replied frowning. "But she didn't drive and only ever got into a car when she was dressed for church on Sundays. Even then the church was less than a mile down the road."

"Exactly, " Ivy replied. "I can also tell you the family Studebaker had not a scratch on it when she died."

"Maybe it was meant to be suspicious, " Jerome asked thoughtfully. "Someone could have wanted them to look like an obvious set up so someone would investigate."

"Possibly, " Ivy replied, the thought never having occurred to her. Had the deaths been ordered and someone unable to stop them decided to make them stand out? "But why bother killing them at all? Their deaths still make no sense."

"That I can't answer, " Jerome said sadly. "Although, I do have something for you. Before he died, William entrusted me with a trunk. He asked me to keep it until it was time to pass it on. It was always intended to give it over to you lot, although as I've never opened it, I have no idea if it will be useful or not. Either way, it should go with you."

"You never opened it?" Ivy asked as Jerome pushed to his feet.

"It wasn't mine, now was it?" he replied, turning his steps to the back of the house. Ivy shook her head and a moment later he returned holding a small trunk. It was a flat rectangle about two feet long and maybe ten inches deep. It had a large, ancient looking padlock a fastened on the clasp. He handed her a large metal key for the padlock.

"I'll put it in the truck for you, " Jerome told her as she tucked the key into her coat pocket. Ivy had the feeling he reached the end of his social capacity and was ready to be alone again. Even though she still had more questions, she doubted he would be willing to answer them.

"Does your front door open?" Ivy asked. "Or do you just use the back?"

"It opens. I just usually don't bother much."

"Good, " Ivy replied moving towards the front door. "Then once the trunk is in the truck, I'll fasten the shield lock on your front door before I go."

"Shield lock?" Jerome asked, following her and carrying the trunk with ease.

"Yup, " Ivy reached the front door and unlocked it. She then tugged it open with a minimum of resistance. Apparently even though Jerome didn't use it much, he took care of the front door as he did the rest of the house. "Hackett asked me to make sure the pack had protections on their homes. I brought one with me for you."

"Like anyone is going to bother with me all the way out here, " he said. The tone was dismissive, but Ivy saw the edge of his mouth quirk up and had the feeling he was pleased by the consideration.

"You are pack, and I'm fairly certain our closest neighbor, " Ivy replied. "So don't try and fight me on this, you are getting the shield."

Jerome grumbled a little as he placed the trunk in the bed of the truck. Ivy retrieved her drill, box of screws and pre-prepared shielding lock set inside a deadbolt.

"Doesn't smell like a shield, " Jerome said walking over and sniffing the lock.

"That's because it's not active, " she told him. They walked back to the house and Jerome watched as she took off his old deadbolt and replaced it with the new one.

"Still doesn't smell like a shield, " he said when the lock was mounted in place.

"It's only active when it is locked, " she told him. She gestured him inside and they both stepped into the house. Ivy closed the door. "Ready?" she asked. He nodded. Ivy shot the deadbolt home and even though he was still in human form, she could swear Jerome bristled.

"That will take some getting used to, " he said running his hand through his thinning white hair.

"You will get used to it and you will use it, " she told him favoring him with the stern look she perfected over the last few months dealing with the rest of the pack.

"I doubt it will be needed, " he told her. "Especially, if they're after the pups. No children around here."

Ivy sighed. "You know, you might be at more of a risk."

"Why me?" he asked frowning at her.

"If the intent was to eliminate William's pack or bloodline, either because of the whole shifter mage thing or because of something that happened before you joined with Elliot, it makes no sense to kill the others. The only reason I can even remotely see for them to be targets would be if they knew something, something they might tell others. Something that as pack, you might also know. It could make you a target. You would be an even greater target if the epidemic that went through your pack was intended to take down that particular pack for some reason. You could be viewed as a loose end."

"I hadn't thought of that, " he grinned and looked as though he were eagerly anticipating a good fight. After so many years with those he cared about being sniped at from the shadows, she could understand the feeling, but didn't want to encourage him.

"You don't go looking for a fight and you keep the shield up. You are more important alive then you would be dead, " Ivy told him. "And now that you don't need to hide from the rest of us, I'll expect you to be stopping by like the rest of the pack. If everyone else is raiding my fridge I don't see why you shouldn't join them. When you show up, Russell or one of the others will show you the closet where we keep extra clothes. We have a couple of folks who aren't used to naked shifters and likely we'll be hosting children soon. You can either add some clothes to the mix for your visits or just grab what's there when you arrive."

"This is what happens when you throw a fire mage in with a pack. Suddenly, there's food and clothing, " he huffed as he unbolted the door and walked her back to the truck.

"Yes, we are monsters that way, " Ivy said. "And if you make it for Sunday dinner we tend to have a roast of some sort since shifters and meat go together like bread and butter, so I'll even inflict hot food on you. Although, how I can live with myself when I continually perpetuate such horrors, is a mystery even to me."

Jerome frowned and shook his head as she opened the truck door. "Shielding on, " she reminded him.

"Yeah, yeah, " Jerome replied. "Fire mage." He snorted and turned back into the house. Ivy stood by her open truck door and a second after he closed his front door, Ivy felt the shield activate. She smiled, climbed behind the wheel, fastened her seat belt and turned the key in the ignition. She managed to get the truck turned around and after one last glance at Jerome's house in her rearview mirror, she headed for home.

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