Peter Woods had never expected to find a soulmate. After his time spent as a mutant, turning into a wolf had become a painful transformation.
Quain Ilves planned on spending his life alone. As a seer he had no vision of a future partner especially after wizards captured and tortured him.
Two lost souls found each other through the interfering hand of fate. Now it was up to them to grab onto their happy ending and not let wizards, parents or outside forces pull them apart.
Quain Ilves’s visions had always started the same way. Mist swirled across his dreamscape in silvery waves before sliding aside like curtains on a live theater stage. Years of seeing the future had stolen away the mystical joy of viewing potential events, only to leave behind hard bundles of nervous anticipation. Not all visions were of pretty rainbows and floppy puppies. The ones he had were more along the lines of horror shows with shades of tragedy.
Unfortunately, natural-born gifts weren’t returnable, and he refused to anger the fates by asking for a refund of his time or his sanity. His family had been the sentinels of the unwritten future as far back as they could trace, and the few who had spurned their talents had all come to a bad end.
Quain floated in the soothing world of in between, enjoying his brief vacation from pain. Captivity had scraped away his natural optimism, and days of torture had worn him down bit by bit until hope disappeared like a forgotten memory. The charmed bracelet stuck on his wrist blocked his animal form and added to his depression. Falling into a vision was the best thing to happen to him in days, weeks, months—he didn’t even know any more. The basement where they kept him caged inside had no windows. His discernment of time had fallen to the pattern of his irregular meals.
If he could breathe while in his seer world, he would be letting out a large sigh in sheer relief. The calm environment invigorated him and eliminated a bit of stress. Even if his anxiety returned as soon as he woke, the brief escape kept the rising panic at bay.
Broken bones and shredded skin had no place in his mental arena. Here, he remained whole and undamaged. Too bad injuries and pain awaited his return.
“Hello.” A tall man with dark hair and bright aquamarine eyes appeared before him.
Quain jerked back at the stranger’s sudden entrance. There had been no fading in. How strange. Never in a lifetime of visions had anyone ever introduced themselves or seen him back. His sight normally worked more as a movie-watching experience, never interactive, until today.
“Um, hi.” He examined the stranger, trying to remember each and every detail. The sheer anomaly of a conversation with one of his visions had thrown Quain off his game. How did he respond to someone walking around into his brain as if they were measuring the space for furniture placement?
“Who are you?” The six-foot, denim-and-leather-wrapped sex god asked. He towered easily over Quain’s more petite five-foot-seven frame.
He grinned at the gorgeous intruder. If torture had finally broken his mind, for once, he didn’t care. Insanity had never looked so good.
“I’m Quain Ilves. Who are you?” In the real world, he would’ve stumbled over his words when addressing a man this stunning. Here, there were no such limitations.
“I’m Peter . Where are we?” Peter looked around as if searching for a familiar landmark.
“In my mind,” Quain blurted out. Surprise streaked through him. Only one person should be able to unknowingly breach his mental defenses.
Mate, his inner lynx whispered. Quain smiled. Despite his current captivity, fate had decided to grant him divinity in human form. A giddy wash of joy swept through him, followed by a shadow of worry.
What if his lynx half was wrong? Being suppressed for so long could have ruined his inner animal instincts. His lynx had never claimed anyone before, but to believe his perfect match would just appear in front of him when he needed hope stretched the bounds of possibility into implausibility. None of the seers in his family had ever found their matches. What would make him special enough to be the exception? Would he be the first one to break that tradition? Did he want to be? Before he had had a chance to speak, Peter beat him to it.
“How did I get here?”
Quain shrugged. “There are only a couple of possibilities. You are either my mate, or you have magic and have figured out how to break into my mind. I honestly don’t know any other options.”
Peter offered him a crooked smile. “Hmm, I don’t have any special magical ability other than being able to turn into a wolf. I think that must make us mates.”
“Were you looking for a mate?” Quain dared to ask. A second later, he winced as pain lanced through him. Someone must be touching him in the real world enough to jar his injuries. Assholes.
“My captors have returned. They like to keep my wounds fresh.” He winced when fury crossed Peter’s face.
“Where are you?” Peter demanded. “Tell me, and I’ll get you out of there.”
A shiver of dread went up and down his spine. He didn’t want Peter to get hurt, or worst, captured for experimentation. He didn’t have visions to keep him from permanent harm. “I don’t know exactly. Wizards kidnapped me. I was unconscious when I arrived. They keep me in a dark basement. I could be anywhere.” He tried to keep the depression out of his tone, but he doubted he did a good job. The idea of dying in the dark basement amidst his own sweat and blood ruined his joy at finding the one person fated to be his.
“Which wizards? Do you know their name?”
“No.” Quain curled his fingers into fists as frustration filled his voice. “They never give their names or say anything personal. They are very careful.”
“Why did they capture you? Are there any others there with you? Are they creating mutants?”
“What? No! Why would you think that?” He had heard rumors about mutants but had never seen one. From Peter’s question, it seemed he had run into them before. “I’m a seer, and they want to use my abilities. I don’t know if there are other captives somewhere else here, but I’m the only person caged in this basement.” No sense in trying to hide the facts, future mate or not. Quain’s family prided themselves on being seers or relatives of seers. Not all lynx had the skill, but the Ilves had a higher percentage than most. He braced himself for rejection. Not all people accepted the possibility of psychics.
“Huh. I’ve never met a seer before.” Interest lit Peter’s eyes, instead of revulsion.
The tight knot of nerves in Quain’s chest eased. He had expected ridicule, disbelief, or maybe even disgust. Easy acceptance hadn’t been on his list of possible reactions. “Well, now you have.”
Quain gasped. Before he could warn Peter, he was jerked back into his body.
Damn, he didn’t even get to say goodbye.
Still acclimating from returning to reality, Quain took a few gulping breaths, trying to calm his body from the shock of consciousness. There was always a bit of displacement when he returned to the physical world. He screamed out all the oxygen in his lungs when his tormenter stabbed a sharp-nailed finger into one of the open wounds in his side.
“Tell me what you saw,” he demanded.
Quain blinked back tears. He refused to appear weak or let them think they had the upper hand. His heart fluttered, and shock cooled his skin. Part of him wished to remain with Peter even if only in his mind. After swallowing a few times to make sure his miniscule lunch stayed down, he focused his attention on his torturer.
“What?” He refused to be nice to people who abused him. He didn’t care if it resulted in further punishment. Eventually, they would give up and either kill him, sell him for ransom, or let him go as too much trouble. He had a morbid fascination in seeing which it would come down to.
“What was your vision? Tell me.”
“No.” Quain closed his eyes as reality reassembled itself in his temporarily fractured psyche. After all this time trapped in a cage and struggling to hold onto his sanity, he wouldn’t break during a moment of dissonance. His interrogator must have studied psychics. Only someone familiar with the process would know the fragility of a seer shifting from a vision to reality. More than one psychic had let a prophecy escape while in the state of in between. Not Quain, though. The Ilves were one of the few with more than one seer in their family tree and had strong protections in place over those with foresight. During his kidnapping, Quain had blessed every one of his ancestors for the writings they had handed down. The training he had cursed in his youth had become his main survival tool. If he got out of this, he would apologize to every mentor that had ever had to deal with his teenage angst and fractious temper. Maybe buy them houses in apology.
“You will tell me what you saw, or I will make you.” The man had moved from persuasion to pain within the first week, while still not giving Quain his name. Apparently their torture sessions didn’t make them best friends. Luckily, he hadn’t experienced many visions during his captivity and the others had learned torture didn’t make him talk. That didn’t stop the more sadistic members from doing it anyway for their own amusement. Those people didn’t return, and Quain never asked what happened to them. He didn’t care.
“There are ways to make you talk,” his interrogator drawled.
“And they will fail too. Unless you are part of my prophecy, I can’t share.” He kept his eyes closed so he didn’t see the punch. His head snapped back from the impact. The crunch of his nose breaking didn’t earn his tormentor more than a watery glare. Quain swiped at his face. His hand came away bright red.
“Keep in mind that if you don’t have any value, you will be tossed away. We have no use for a seer who won’t share his visions.”
Quain refused to cry from the pulsating pain in his face.
“I’ll be back. You should reconsider your position.”
He remained still and quiet as the wizard marched away. He wished Peter could save him. Never before had he been in the position of needing to be rescued. He tugged at the tight bracelet around his wrist. If they hadn’t placed a magical object on him, blocking his ability to shift, he would have already been out of there. Bastards. They had attached the jewelry while Quain was unconscious, and nothing he did loosened its magical hold. The one time he’d tried to transform, his bones had crackled like shattered glass. It had taken two days before he dared move again. Luckily, they had cast some sort of spell to empty his bowels if they got too full. It was one of the few courtesies they’d offered.
He hoped it would be a while before anyone returned, even if it meant he had to go without eating. He would rather starve than be beaten. Each time they hurt him, it took a little longer to heal. Soon they would learn he couldn’t tell them anything even if he had the best psychic ability in the world.
Even under torture, he couldn’t reveal his visions if they didn’t pertain to the person asking. He closed his eyes, wishing to be anywhere else. He still didn’t know what they had done to his driver, Craig, but he worried they had killed him during Quain’s capture. A tear dripped down his cheek as memories of Craig flashed through his head. The older man had been a kind soul and had taken care of Quain since his teens.
He bit back a sob, not wanting anyone to see him cry. The bastards didn’t deserve his tears. No one had remained in the room where his cage was, but cameras were trained on him from multiple points. His captives weren’t the most trusting of people. Some of the cameras, he suspected, were to spy on the other wizards, to make sure none of them killed him before they were ready. Quain had no confidence he would leave there alive.
If he somehow managed to escape, maybe Peter would give him a place to stay. He loved his family but couldn’t live with them, even temporarily. Everyone did better if they lived apart. He could handle his mother smothering him from a distance, but in some ways, she was worse than his father. Between his father’s critical analysis of his life and his mother’s fluttering, Quain had to live apart from them to have some breathing room. Granted, it resulted in him tumbling down the stairs a few times when a vision took him unexpectedly, but someone living with him would not have saved him either unless they followed him from room to room, and that would’ve been even worse than living at home.
A loud pop echoed in the cavernous room as the last light bulb went out and plunged the room into total darkness. Luckily, his cat vision kicked in, or he might have become hysterical from the lack of visual feedback. He might not be able to fully transform, but he could shift his eyes and, in one instance when a wizard became too grabby, produce a claw on the tip of his index finger. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to do that trick again. The torture had taken away a lot of his strength to shift and focus. He suspected that was why they did it. Nevertheless, it had yet to result in him sharing any information.
Quain rubbed his forehead to ease the tension. Visions always hurt. That much pressure on the brain did a bit of damage with each episode. One of his great aunts had hypothesized that their shifter magic prevented their brains from permanent damage. Human seers weren’t so lucky. Many of them went insane, damaging the reputation of true visionaries everywhere.
The bracelet on his wrist chafed his skin raw, causing a teeth-clenching itch. He focused his attention on the irritation rather than on his bigger issues. Apathy was his enemy. As soon as he gave up all hope, his lynx half would pull him into depression. Seeing Peter renewed his eagerness to escape.
He waited a minute, then a minute more. After no other guards appeared, he banged his bracelet against the metal headboard of his cot. Breaking the hinge or clasp was his only hope of getting free. The runes and magic on the jewelry prevented Quain from fully reaching his lynx half and possibly harming his captives. As a person, his petite stature didn’t intimidate anyone. As a lynx, his claws and teeth could do a lot of damage. A grim smile curved Quain’s lips. He would get free, and when he did, they would all pay for their actions.
He continued banging the bracelet with no success but great determination. If he got the damned thing off, he could at least shift and be warmer. He only stopped when he’d hit his arm one too many times. Bruises bloomed up and down his skin, adding to his discomfort. Eventually, despair would take over and he would be nothing but a faded shadow. Peter couldn’t save him if he didn’t at least try to save himself. He refused to be a weak damsel in need of rescue.
Memories of a warm bed and enough food to fill his belly wafted through his thoughts, like mirages in his mind to tempt him into thinking he was back home. He could almost taste the homemade waffles he had foolishly pushed aside before his capture. Damn, if he got out of there, he’d never turn down food again.
His stomach growled like the snarls of an angry beast. It had been a few days since he’d last eaten, or it could have been a few weeks. His mind had grown fuzzy. His foolish kidnappers thought he would break down if deprived of food and basic comforts. They had no idea Quain had inherited his mother’s stubbornness and his father’s temper, a bad combination under any circumstance. If he never left this cage, he would die with the happy knowledge that he’d given them nothing.
He took great delight in keeping his visions from them, refusing to give them any advantage. From what he could tell they thought he was defective and prone to fits. He had done nothing to dissuade them from that viewpoint. Although he worried they might decide to kill him, giving them his visions didn’t guarantee safety only further imprisonment.
A sudden pressure in his chest had his heart galloping out of control. Gasping for air, he tried to catch his breath. Spots sparkled before his eyes like little black bugs, chasing across his vision. What was happening? A darkness tunneled his sight, swallowing his ability to see the room around him far more effectively than any absence of external light. He barely had time to snatch another lungful of air before the cage, the cot, and everything around him vanished. This wasn’t normal. His long-held control shattered without warning.
A vision punched through Quain’s inner eye with the destruction of a burning meteor, in bright full color and without any of the usual misty preview. A handsome man crouched among the trees, watching a white mansion. It took a second to recognize him. Peter. Where was he? Had Peter found him? It should’ve taken longer unless Peter had already planned to come for another reason. How far into the future was he seeing?
If he had been able to feel his fingers, he would’ve crossed them, hoping the building Peter watched had Quain’s cage inside. Since he’d entered the place unconscious and woken up trapped, he had no idea of his true location. The mansion Peter stood outside of could be any place.
“This place feels strange,” Peter muttered. His deep voice tugged at Quain as if wrapping him in comforting warmth.
“Why?” another man’s tenor voice replied outside of Quain’s sight.
Peter frowned. “I don’t know. It’s as if something I’ve been waiting for is inside. I’m hoping my mate is there, but I can’t be sure. Anthony’s contacts said they have someone inside, but they couldn’t say who. They don’t expect us to come again, not after Oliver’s last visit. This will let them know we are watching them and their actions. Oliver said they needed a reminder since they’re trying to meddle in shifter politics.”
“I don’t know if this will help, but hopefully, they will take it as a warning not to mess with the Moon Pack. I don’t really care what they do with the other packs. They left us to deal with the mutants. They can deal with the wizards.”
Peter made a scoffing sound. “Shifters need to stick together. Just because they were too cowardly to help, doesn’t mean we should do less than our best to assist when we can.”
“Well, either way, we need to keep the wizards in check, especially if they’re kidnapping shifters. Hopefully, we can find your mate.”
I’m here! Quain wanted to shout, but this vision appeared to be like his usual ones. No interaction would be possible between him and the people he watched.
Peter nodded. “Me too. I also hope these are the right wizards.”
“Anthony said he felt the signature of a shifter inside,” the tenor voice said.
“That’s why I’m hoping he’s right. Not that I wouldn’t save other shifters, but I want my mate.” The low growl underlying Peter’s voice sent a shaft of warmth through Quain.
His mate wanted him!
Despite their meeting in the vision, Quain hadn’t had much hope Peter would do anything to find him. Not all shifters were eager to find their other half. That Peter had not only sought him out but got help to search for him told Quain that Peter really wanted him.
Silence fell between the two for several minutes before the one Quain didn’t recognize spoke again in a soft, hushed voice. “What was it like?”
“What?” Peter turned his head, and Quain saw his startling aquamarine eyes. Even in the dark, they gleamed like the Caribbean Sea. He couldn’t wait to see them every morning.
“Being a mutant.”
Quain wished this wasn’t a vision. He had never wanted to punch someone so much before. A low growl built in this throat. What kind of fucked-up question was that? How would Peter even know such a thing?
There was a long pause before Peter replied. “It was hell.” His sexy mouth hardened in a firm line, and his jaw tightened as he turned back to watch the house.
Oh! Poor Peter.
“Sorry, Peter. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” Remorse filled the man’s voice.
“Damn right,” Quain fumed.
Peter shrugged off the apology. “It doesn’t matter. Not anymore. I’m out of there, and they can’t change me again even if they tried. Anthony made it so the mutation can’t be applied twice even if there was someone to do it.”
Before Quain could hear anything more, Peter tapped his ear. For the first time, Quain noticed an earpiece tucked inside. “Understood. We’re heading out.”
Peter walked away, and Quain’s vision darkened before returning to the dim room inside which he lay. He knew deep down his fated mate would be coming for him. Instinct had shaped Quain’s life until now, and he saw no reason to doubt it at this point. Maybe he was expecting too much from a complete stranger, mate or not, but he would cling to hope with the tips of his mangled fingernails until proven otherwise.
Worry wrinkled his brow and a headache pressed against his temples. What if his mate was injured entering the mansion? The wizards had no problem using force against shifters. Quain was example enough. Assuming it was where Quain was being held, why was the group trying to infiltrate it anyway? It was clear Peter didn’t know where he was, and he doubted they were attacking random wizard homes to find him. When they met, he would make sure to add that to his questions for Peter.
He rubbed his forehead, digging his fingers into his temples to ease the sore points as his mind ached from having two visions so close together. There was little he could do now except wait and see. His sights had never been wrong before. Misinterpreted, yes, but never wrong. He had to cling to the belief that everything would work out and he would be reunited with his mate soon. If only he could communicate telepathically with Peter and share his thoughts. Weakness sank into his limbs and fine tremors shook his body. He didn’t bother trying to suppress them. Between the beatings and the visions, Quain was running on no energy. As his body tried to heal without his full shifter abilities, the magic in the bracelet fought back. The two forces were attacking each other. Much more of this and it wouldn’t matter if Quain wanted to help the wizards or not, he would be dead. Despair sank its greedy claws into his chest again.