Home > A Shifter's Choice (Wolves of Hawthorne Cove #5)

A Shifter's Choice (Wolves of Hawthorne Cove #5)
Author: Debbie Cassidy

 


1

 

 

TATE


Quinn has to die. The fate of our world depends on it.

Lorenzo’s words echo in my head. Impossible and unthinkable. Rage starbursts in my chest like a flash burn before icy calm settles over me.

Quinn is mine to protect. “If you tell the Mageri about this, if you send them here for her, I will fight them. I’ll fight them with everything I have. They’ll know what and who I am. And they’ll know exactly where I came from.”

Lorenzo is deathly silent for several aching moments. “They’ll kill you, Tate.”

“I know and I don’t care.”

“Dammit.”

I don’t care that I’m emotionally blackmailing my father. I don’t care that I’m playing on his attachment to me, an attachment he’s nurtured all my life without me knowing. An attachment that’s grown during our time together. I’m merely grateful for the leverage, because all I care about is protecting the woman I love.

“Tate, she’s taken the first step onto a road that could end us all.”

“Could, not will. We have no real idea what activating her taint genes will do. We have a theory and that’s all.”

“You wouldn’t have called me if you didn’t believe my theory.”

I hate that he’s right. “Even if your theory is true, she can still be saved, I know it. One death, an accidental death, a death she feels deep remorse for, can’t be enough to taint her heart. It can’t be enough to free the taint.”

“Maybe…” Lorenzo sighs. “Maybe not. I don’t know her like you do,” he concedes.

“She’s strong.”

“The taint is ancient. Wily. It’s played the game to perfection. Quinn is the final doorway, Tate, and she will use her.”

Unease pricks my scalp. “The taint can try, but Quinn is no pushover. She has me and the Faoladh on her side. She has us to protect her. We can keep her safe. Just… please, don’t report this. Don’t tell the Mageri.”

He sighs. “Even if I keep this development to myself, it only delays the inevitable. The Mageri monitor the taint’s influence in Hawthorne using hidden charms. They keep tabs on its power signature to make sure the Faoladh are doing their jobs and keeping it contained to the faewilds. If Quinn has unlocked her taint genes and used that power, they will sense it.”

My pulse quickens. “But she hasn’t used that power, so they won’t know about her. Not unless you tell them what’s happened.”

“Quinn is the taint’s progeny. She has its genetic code in her body, and now that she’s murdered an innocent, it’s only a matter of time until she goes dark.”

“It was an accident, dammit.”

“Maybe so, but that death has activated her dark genes and eventually they will overcome her. She won’t be able to resist using her taint power.”

Her eyes…Her eyes had bled to black. “She’s not that far gone. She can control it. She won’t go dark. The taint won’t get what it wants.” I say the words with conviction, as if that alone can make them true.

“I hope you’re right, Tate. The fate of our world depends on it.” He sighs again. “I don’t need to say anything to the Mageri. If Quinn begins to turn, their monitoring system will pick up on it and they’ll come. They’ll find her and do what has to be done to prevent the taint from escaping the faewilds.”

“If they come, they’ll see she isn’t a threat.” I’m clutching at straws, and I know it.

“You might be right, Tate, but the Mageri won’t care. They’ll kill her to prevent any possibility of her succumbing to her mother’s thrall.”

It’s a game. A game the Dagda set up with the Faoladh as the first line of defense against the taint. He’d told Quinn there could be no direct interference in that part of the game. But he didn’t mention the Mageri as the second line of defense. He didn’t mention it because to do so would mean revealing Quinn’s part in it all. Something he isn’t permitted to do.

But I’m not bound by such rules. “I’ll keep her safe. The Faoladh will cloak her from the taint and she won’t be killing anyone else.”

“You know who she is right now, Tate, not who she could become. If her tainted genes fully awaken, if she goes dark, then we’re all doomed.”

My jaw hurts from how hard I’m clenching it. “It won’t come to that.”

“I hope you’re right, Tate, for all of our sakes.”

I hang up, then check on Quinn. She’s fast asleep, sprawled on her back. Her expression is peaceful, the memory of what she’s done buried beneath sweet dreams.

I want to crawl into bed with her and hold her. To run my fingers through the silken strands of her pink hair and kiss her pillowy lips. I want to wake her and make love to her, slow and leisurely, to anchor her here in this moment, but there is still work to be done before she can be safe, and I can’t do it alone.

I close the door to her room gently and head for the stairs.

I have three Faoladh to see.

 

 

QUINN


I was back in the house. The house where I killed the innocent man. Why was I back here?

This was all wrong.

I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be walking toward the kitchen. I didn’t want to see what I’d done, but my feet drew me down the hallway and through the door into the dimly lit kitchen.

I expected to see the man on the ground, dagger in his chest where I’d put it. But the dagger was in my grip and the man stood staring at me, torchlight in one hand, plate of sandwiches in the other.

Oh, God. No. Not again.

The man let out a bellow and charged.

Drop the dagger.

Drop it.

But the damn thing was welded to my palm and my hand was coming up in an effort to warn him off and his gurgle of pain was all I could hear.

“No!” I backed away as he fell to the ground.

Dead.

“No, no, no.”

“Such a shame,” a voice drawled behind me.

I turned to find Tate leaning against the doorjamb.

He smirked. “He was a good man, you know. Did a ton of charity work in his younger years.”

The way he spoke…The inflection in his tone… “You’re not Tate.”

His smile widened. “No, my child. I’m not.”

The taint. How could she be here? I was mated to three Faoladh and those bonds were supposed to keep her out of my head.

“Maybe if you hadn’t done what you did…” She shrugged.

Shit, had I spoken out loud? Did I even need to for her to hear me in this dreamscape?

The taint pushed off the doorframe and sauntered into the room. Tate’s form slipped away with each step until she was standing by the dead body in the form I recognized. Her dark hair spilled down her shoulders and her figure-hugging dress writhed with shadows.

“You killed this poor innocent man.” Her mouth turned down and she shook her head. “You killed him in cold blood.”

Guilt clawed at my chest. “I didn’t know…it was an accident.”

“Excuses, excuses.”

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