What would you do to protect your family? For Aden the answer is anything.
Aden Gale has always protected the boys he chose as his. Gallen Theos refuses to become another one of Aden’s projects. He might have been bespelled by his father but he was Aden’s mate and he refused to take anything less than a full partnership. If the cool-eyed killer thought he could wiggle away for Gallen’s own safety, well he had a lot to learn about the tenacity of sorcerers.
“Of course not. A big, bad soldier like you wouldn’t be afraid of a tiny sorcerer. He’s practically a midget,” Denton scoffed.
“He’s not a midget,” Aden snapped. “He’s a perfectly acceptable height.”
“Pfft, I doubt he comes to my shoulder,” Denton raised his hand to indicate how short he thought Gallen would stand beside him.
Aden narrowed his eyes at the croc shifter. “I know you’re just trying to annoy me, croc.”
Denton shrugged. “I can’t help it if you’re afraid of midgets.”
“Maybe he’s worried about man cooties,” Carey offered.
Aden rolled his eyes. His son had known of Aden’s bisexuality since Carey was old enough to be aware of his own. While Aden had never brought dates around Carey, he didn’t hide his interests either. He might not have dated much lately, but he was far from a monk.
“You both know I’m not afraid of men or women cooties.” Aden smiled at their antics. Visiting with the boy always cheered him up. Lately, he’d been feeling his age.
With his forty-fifth birthday fast approaching, Aden had decided it was time to retire and look into another line of work. He had one more mission next week, then he was done. The knife wound he’d received on his last trip had almost finished him off. His gash had required fifteen stitches. He had them removed a few weeks ago. Luckily, his son hadn’t known when Aden was supposed to return, so Aden had been able to heal before returning to Seattle.
The loud stomping of booted feet announced the arrival of their next visitor.
“Hey, Harris,” Aden called out. Of all Carey’s friends, Harris had the calmest temperament. Aden had always thought Harris added a soothing element to the more volatile members of the group.
“What’s up?” Harris plopped down on the chair beside Carey.
Aden raised an eyebrow at Harris. He rarely spotted the bear shifter without his vampire lover hovering nearby. “How did you escape your man?”
“He’s in the house talking to Marty about security or something. I think he’s hiring more of the hawks to be my bodyguards,” Harris offered.
“Really?” Denton asked. “Is he expecting trouble?”
“I think he’s ready for everything short of a zombie apocalypse, and maybe even that,” Harris said, grimacing.
Aden laughed. Somehow he doubted Harris exaggerated his mate’s dedication to keeping him safe. Last Aden had heard, Rohan had hired half of the kettle of hawk shifters and was eyeing the pigeon shifter to carry notes back and forth. Harris had come a long way from the sad, abused child Aden had taken in years ago. Pride for his boys swelled his chest.
He looked around, but didn’t see their missing shifter. “Where’s Eaton?”
“Defending his thesis,” Carey said. “He didn’t want us there. He said it would make him nervous.”
“I’m sure he’ll do fine.” He’d forgotten today was the day for Eaton’s presentation. Aden already knew Eaton would pass with flying colors. He’d unofficially spoken with all of Eaton’s advisors and had been assured that the eagle shifter would have no difficulty gaining his doctorate degree. Of course, Eaton didn’t need to ever know about that. The less his kids knew how much Aden did for them in the background, the better off they were.
“So what are we all doing in the garden?” Harris asked. “I spotted you from the window, which is why I came out.”
“Dad’s too chicken to kiss Gallen,” Carey taunted.
Harris bit his lip, but Aden saw him hide a smile before he quickly looked away.
“You have something to say, bear?” Aden nudged Harris’s foot with his shoe.
“No, sir,” Harris examined the rose bush beside him as if it would whisper to him the secrets of the universe, or at least distract him from Aden’s examination.
Carey and Denton continued to stare at Aden. “You two think you’re going to double dog dare me into kissing the kid?” Aden asked incredulously.
Denton shook his head. “Nope. No dogs here. But wouldn’t you feel horrible if you could free Gallen from his frozen hell, but didn’t. I mean, what if you are the one person who can break the enchantment, but you failed to because you were afraid. You’ve already sent tons of guys here. I’m thinking you wouldn’t have bothered if you weren’t attracted to him a bit yourself.”
Aden opened his mouth to protest, but Denton had a point. If for some reason his kiss would free Gallen, it would be cruel not to try. Besides, if he gave the kid a peck on the lips, then the boys would leave him alone. Aden sighed. One quick brush of lips wouldn’t be the end of the world. At least then he’d stop wondering how Gallen would taste.
He met the gaze of each of his boys in turn. “If I kiss him, will you drop it?”
The trio nodded, freakishly in synch.
“I just know I’m going to regret this. How I let you kids talk me into anything, I’ll never know.”
“It’s because you love us,” Denton replied without hesitation.
“If I didn’t, I’d have killed you all years ago.” He let the truth of that hang in the air as he stood up. The metal container had been twisted and hammered into an intricate design to both hide its purpose and protect the man inside. At the time, Harris had muttered about adding to the garden while keeping Gallen protected, but Aden secretly thought Harris just wanted to play with a torch and a really big hammer.
Aden stared down at Gallen and tried to focus his concentration on the kid below. With all of his boys settled, Aden had to admit he felt a little unneeded lately. His boisterous kids had turned into self-sufficient grown men who now had their own partners to watch out for them. They no longer needed Aden to protect their backs in the big, bad world. Aden had been the protective training wheels of their life, and now they were able to pedal on their own.
“I’ll get it.” Harris rushed forward to unlock the padlock and lift the lid to the metal enclosure.
Aden wondered how much the lid weighed. Harris was probably the only one strong enough to shove it open.
Aden peered inside.
Harris could call it what he wanted, but Aden saw it as a metal coffin. A pretty enough coffin, but a decorative crypt, nevertheless.
Once Harris moved to the side, Aden got another peek at the man he’d decided to kiss.
Aden caught his breath. Damn, Gallen was a beautiful kid with icy blond hair and soft-looking, kissable lips. He glanced over his shoulder at his boys. “Here goes nothing.”
He’d stared down gun-wielding psychopaths with less anxiety than he had over touching the man lying still as death in a silk-lined bed.
Stalling, he turned to the bear shifter. “Nice work, Harris.”
“Thanks,” Harris said. “I had a spell put on it so water wouldn’t drip through and ruin the lining. I wanted him to be comfortable. I’m not sure how much he can feel.”
Aden didn’t even want to think about the young man lying helpless, unable to move. Hopefully, Gallen was truly sleeping, and everything would be fine whenever he woke up. Gallen would be traumatized enough dealing with being without a coven. Aden hoped he hadn’t upset the sorcerer further by sending him to be mauled by total strangers. If Aden’s kiss didn’t free him, he’d definitely be more selective about who he sent to kiss the young sorcerer in the future.