“You can leave to die, but I need you to return here to live,” Jasmine, mate of the La Patron, said sternly to Asia while sitting in the small steel encased cubicle. Asia’s bowed head nodded slowly. It was obvious this conversation distressed her, but Jasmine’s mate, Silas, had been concerned over Asia’s reckless, ready to die attitude since the last attempt on her life outside this very cell.
“I will try, Mistress. But the people we are going to destroy have a lot of tricks and there is no way to be prepared for them all. I have sworn to serve La Patron with my life and I consider it an honor to greet the Goddess on the battlefield.”
Boiling energy shot through Jasmine’s core as she stared at the honey-brown complexioned warrior. She tamped it down as she grabbed Asia’s arm to gain her attention and shake sense into her if possible. “The Goddess doesn’t want your life forfeited in this battle. You’ll assist the La Patron to defeat his enemies, but not with your life. Do. You. Understand. Me?” Jasmine growled as her fingers pressed into Asia’s flesh.
The warrior bitch’s head flew up sending her long braids flying over her shoulder. If she were not still blindfolded, their gazes would have collided. Instead, Jasmine stared into the dark half mask covering Asia’s eyes, trying to find the words to express how important it was to everyone that she not go all kamikaze in the field.
“But… I am not important, Mistress. I am still connected to them in some way, that is how the assassin found me.”
Jasmine thought of Mark and his unerring movements toward Asia’s cell. He had known exactly which cell the young bitch was in, which was why the blindfold was still in place. They had no idea what was the true state of Asia’s mind.
“And this life I have is not living. I do not wish to live without my mind being free, wondering if I am a threat to those I serve.” She shook her head. “I have little knowledge of who I am, where I have been or where I am going. The real me has been stolen –”
“Then steal it back,” Jasmine said quickly as she warmed to the idea. “A part of your mission will be to seek out a way to restore your mind, your memories, and your family.” The idea had merit. This way Asia would be free to live a semi normal life.
Jasmine tightened her grip again intent on gaining a promise. “If this lab is the place you spent most of your time, then start there. Let the prisoner you’ve become die. Take what you need to live free, but under no circumstances are you to cease to exist.” Her heart raced as she thought of the discussion she would have with Silas over this conversation. He might not be pleased that she’d added that assignment, but Asia needed a purpose to live and she’d just given her one.
“Steal my mind…from…they would have records stored somewhere, they never fully erase everything…the trick would be finding where…hmmm…it’s possible,” Asia murmured as she sat straighter.
Jasmine imagined the light of battle that had just entered her charge’s eyes and smiled. “There is so much we need to know that’ll be stored in those hidden databases. Silas has set upload capabilities for you and the rest of the team.”
“Yes, Mistress. I am aware,” Asia said in a distracted tone. “It sounds like a good plan and Jacques is capable.”
Jasmine bit back a laugh at the compliment that her mother’s mate would no doubt consider an insult. In some circles, Jacques was a considered a strategic genius, his ability to see patterns out of piles of data was legendary. His expertise had been sought by every Alpha in their nation at one time or another over the years.
“Yes, he is good at what he does.” Thinking her work was done, Jasmine released Asia’s arm and went to stand. Asia grabbed her hand, fell to her knees and rested her forehead against Jasmine’s arm.
“I pledge my life to you Mistress.”
“You saved my life once and seek to save it again. I am unworthy of your care and yet honored that you notice such a one as me. I swear to do as you requested. I will return.”
Concerned over the solemnity of the vow, Jasmine nodded and fought the awkwardness of the moment. When she remembered Asia could not see her, she cleared her throat and spoke. “Stand up, Asia.” She waited until they stood facing each other. Similar heights and builds, Jasmine had always thought of Asia as a friend and not the servant the female kept insisting she was. She reached out and pulled a few braids from Asia’s hair and placed them behind her ear while wracking her mind for the politically correct thing to say. To have someone pledge their life to you wasn’t an everyday occurrence. There was nothing in any book of manners that covered this. But she now lived in a world where full and half breed wolves took these vows seriously so she needed to string her words together carefully. As mate of La Patron she had to represent him regardless of how weird it felt to her.
“I accept your promise and will hold you to it. I know you are more than capable of meeting every challenge that’ll come up in this mission and it will be a success. I’ve met few people, let alone women, who can think as quickly on their feet as you. I expect you to use everything you’ve been taught to take back what our enemies took from you and destroy those bastards.” She wondered if there was more she should say or do to make this more official and started to ask Silas when Asia spoke.
“I am honored you think so highly of me and have given me permission to destroy those who stole from me. It will be done, Mistress.”
Jasmine blinked a couple of times. Wasn’t that what Silas and his team going to do anyway? Weren’t they all the same people? Was Asia just repeating what Jasmine said or was there more to it? Somebody needed to write a book on vow-taking and appropriate responses because it could get confusing. Rather than sound ignorant, Jasmine stepped back and nodded. “Okay…good. Silas is waiting for me and you have a team meeting soon. I…I’m glad we had this private conversation.” She emphasized the word private. This conversation confused her on a few levels and she needed to go over everything in her mind before she shared it with Silas.
“Yes, Mistress. I understand.”
Their talk had an unfinished quality to it, but Jasmine could not think of anything else to say. She had Asia’s promise to return to the compound after the success of the mission, which was what Silas had been concerned about. Still, there was a nagging feeling that she needed to make something clear, but she couldn’t pinpoint what that was.
“Sweet Bitch,” Silas called her through their link.
“I am leaving Asia now. We’re done and she has committed to return to the compound, alive,” Jasmine said, giving him that brief overview as she left the cubicle and headed toward the elevator.
“Good. We will need her if this is not the only lab. Leon’s a lot younger and his memories are limited. I have a meeting with Matt and then Froggy in the gym with Tomas. The young pup is still angry over his mother’s death.”
“His mother was insane,” Jasmine said, remembering the bitter woman.
“Yes, she killed her own children and tried to kill his wolf, which would’ve killed him. But he is young and scared. Corrinna Griggs will have a lot to answer for when she meets the Goddess.”
“Hmmm. I doubt that fazed her. She was all about ruling the world.” Jasmine stepped out the elevator onto their private floor and headed to the nursery. The previous month her children had been deathly ill from some type of poison her mother had innocently transmitted to them. She shivered thinking back on that time. Her relationship with Silas had taken a few hits and there were moments she hadn’t been sure they’d make it. But they survived and so did their babes. It took weeks for their systems to fight off the parasitic toxin. Silas refused to leave to destroy the lab until he deemed them well and healthy. Three days ago, he made that decree and planned to take a small group to work with Alpha Samuel in Pennsylvania.
“She wasn’t the only one,” Silas said with feeling.
Jasmine nodded as she walked slowly into the nursery and inhaled. The fresh scent of her babies never failed to calm and soothe her.
“True.” She moved toward the large penned area and watched them play. Since the christening last month, Renee and Mandy had sent something for the kids every week. Renee believed all of her nieces and nephews were geniuses and constantly sent items that were for much older children.
Adam threw his new ball against the same spot on the wall of the pen with accuracy and laughed hysterically when it rolled back to him. Jasmine smiled at his excitement, knowing he hadn’t seen her yet. Renee lay on her stomach coloring a picture in a large book her aunt had sent her. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders, brushing the page as she moved adding to the delightful palette of colors. Jasmine leaned forward hoping to see what her daughter worked on but couldn’t see without showing herself and she wasn’t ready to do that yet.
On the other side of the pen, Jackie played with something that looked remarkably like a Rubik’s cube. Leave it to Renee to send something like that to her baby. Her daughter’s long black ponytail barely moved as her hands manipulated the puzzle. Jasmine shook her head at the concentrated look David gave to the cube as he sat quietly near Jackie. His gaze slid toward her, settled for a moment and then returned to Jackie’s manipulation of the toy.
Jasmine shook her head at him. “So much like your daddy,” she murmured, taking another look around the room.
“You may as well come on in so they can have lunch and take naps, if we’re lucky,” her mom, Victoria, said from across the room. The large play pen had been her idea and contribution to the play room. She had noticed the children functioned best when they were in close proximity to each other and got into less trouble, fewer fights.
Pleased to see her mother, Jasmine walked further into the room and smiled as loud gibberish accompanied the word, mama. Warmth filled her as her children scampered to meet her. She entered the semi-transparent pen and sat on the floor so she could hug and kiss each child. David crawled onto her lap and sat after she kissed him. Renee showed her the picture she was working on and Jasmine was floored by the combination of colors and how well her baby stayed within the lines.
“It’s so beautiful,” she crooned gazing at the page. “Mommies little artist.” She handed the book back to Renee, whose blue eyes gleamed as she settled close and continued to color.
Jackie handed her the Rubik’s and she turned it over in her hand, hoping the child didn’t expect her to fix it. Jasmine had never been good with these types of toys. “Auntie sent it for you sweetie. You have to fix it by yourself.” She returned the cube under serious scrutiny from her daughter.
David chuckled and she had the disquieting notion that he knew she could not work the cube.
Jackie sat next to her leg and went back to working on the puzzle. Adam gave David his ball and waited. A moment later the ball was airborne and to her surprise, Adam caught it.
“That’s great, Adam, you’re getting really good at that.” He said something she didn’t quite understand, but ended with “here.” He handed her the ball. She took it and tossed it to him. He scrambled and caught it. His face lit with pleasure and then he stood. Jasmine stared as he walked unassisted to her and dropped the ball in her lap.
Renee and Jackie stopped what they were doing and looked up at him. Next thing she knew, all four kids were running around the pen, unassisted. Tears pooled in her eyes as she laughed at their antics. Glancing around the room, she noticed the nurses standing in the distance smiling. Her babies weren’t even one and were playing tag with each other. Tyrone and Tyrese had walked a month before they turned one.
“The babies are running around playing tag.”
“You mean scooting around the pen?”
“No, I mean on their feet, running. They’re too young for this. I wanted them to stay babies a little longer, damn it.”
He chuckled. “The only reason they weren’t walking before now is because they’re half-breeds. Most full blooded pups are walking within three to six months. You’ve had them as babies longer than most.”
Thinking it was his blood that made the difference, she snorted. “That’s not what I want to hear.”
“I am on my way, I know what you want…to hear.” He sent a caress through their link that sent tingles down her spine.
“Why the long face?” her mom asked from across the room.
“Nothing, not really… I just… they’re growing up so fast, that’s all. I want them to be babies longer.” She listened with mixed emotions as they all ran after the ball as if testing their limbs. The laughter, their joyful expressions touched off a feeling of melancholy inside her.
“Well, they are half wolf,” her mom said dryly. “They develop differently, so you’ll have to adapt.”
Jasmine bit back the smart remark on the tip of her tongue. Her mom’s recent brush with death seemed to spur the woman onto a new track that Jasmine wasn’t so sure she appreciated. Her mom had always been an upfront, shoot from the hip kind of person. But lately, there was a brutal edge to her honesty.
“I know. It doesn’t change how I feel though.”
“Feelings change all the time. I was in love with a man whose mission was to kill me; he claimed to love me and left the medicine to heal me. See… definitely a change of feelings.”
Jasmine rolled her eyes at her mom’s comments. Lately, no matter what they discussed all roads seemed to return to Mark, her mom’s deceased fiancé, and his betrayal. How her mom worked it into a conversation dealing with her babies growing up showed just how creative the woman could be.
“Definitely,” Jasmine murmured. Another discussion on the folly of loving Mark was not on her agenda today. Her husband and sons were leaving on a dangerous mission in a few hours, which captured all her attention. Nervous energy zipped up and down her spine as she went over all the instructions Silas had been giving her the past few days on how to secure the compound. On the one hand, she was proud to be in charge, and on the other, her stomach quivered in fear of making a mistake.
“You’re ignoring me now, too?” her mom said standing.
“Huh?” Jasmine pulled her thoughts back to the present and stared in her mom’s direction.
“I asked you a question… a couple of times. Are you ignoring me like Jacques?” There was a smidgen of concern in her mom’s voice that surprised Jasmine. Jacques had stuck close to her mom throughout her recent illness, never allowing his mates’ brutal words to affect him. As far as Jasmine knew, Jacques could not leave her mom or ever deliberately hurt her.
“My mind was on my mate and sons leaving to take out our enemies today, what did you say?” Jasmine asked as calmly as possible.
Her mom’s hand flew to her throat as she walked closer swinging her hips before stopping near the high pen. Jasmine gazed up into hazel eyes similar to hers and waited. The purple velour jogging suit her mom wore hugged her full curves and complemented her short chic hair style. “You’re worried.”
Duh… she wanted to say. “There’s been threats to our lives since day one, yes, I am very worried.”
Her mom nodded. “I hope they return the same way they leave, healthy and whole. I cannot imagine a world without my grandsons. I need to kiss them before they leave.”
“I’ll make sure and tell them to call you, before they leave. Are you going to your room?” She moved over as David returned to her lap, Renee picked up her art book, and Jackie grabbed the Rubik’s cube from Adam.
“No, I thought… well Jacques has been inviting me to have lunch with him and I’ve… I haven’t had time before. I figured I’d join him today, you want anything?”
Jasmine smothered a grin. Her mom had been rebuffing Jacques since the debacle with Mark. Once Silas set a date for their departure, Jacques had been working around the clock making sure everything in their data was current. Chances are he hadn’t been as attentive to her mom which appears to have worked in Jacques favor.
“No, thanks. Silas is on the way and we’ll eat together.”
Her mom snorted as she left the nursery. “I was talking about food, not the two of you…eating.”