Home > The Burning Claw (The Grey Wolves #10)

The Burning Claw (The Grey Wolves #10)
Author: Quinn Loftis


The Grey Wolves series
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Prologue

 

“I have to go on. I must. I know that. But I don’t want to.”

~Costin

 

 

Costin watched as Titus squeezed toothpaste onto his toothbrush. His mate had been missing for two days. The lives of Fane and Jacque were still being precariously sustained only by the combined healing power of Peri and Rachel. Alina and Lilly had taken over the care of the youngest Lupei and newest pack member—Fane and Jacque’s newborn son.

Costin’s wolf paced restlessly inside of him. He was torn. His need to protect the fragile three-year-old entrusted to his care and his need to find his mate warred for dominance. Jen and Decebel had promised to search for Sally. They had promised to let him know anything that they found the moment they found it. Costin knew that he had additional responsibilities now. He had to take care of Titus—his son—their son. Sally would have expected nothing less from him.

“She’s not gone forever, Daddy.” Titus’ voice drifted up to him. Costin looked down at the little boy who’d instantly taken up residence in his heart. His eyes were filled with too much knowledge for one as young as he. He should have been chasing bugs and building with blocks, not staring into the faces of hungry vampires.

Costin knelt down so that he was at eye level with Titus. “No, she isn’t.”

“You miss her,” he said.

Costin nodded.

“I miss her too. But the angel said Mommy would have to go away.”

“Did the angel say how we could get her back?” Costin asked. He couldn’t be sure, but Costin suspected the angel Titus was referring to must be the Great Luna herself. It was in her nature to offer comfort to her children. But her ways were mysterious, of course. He could only trust that she was involved in all of this, somehow. He had to believe that she had a plan and that it would all work out eventually. What other hope did he have?

“She said that Mommy would have to want to come home before she would be able to come home. But I know she will want to be with us, so she’ll come home.” He sounded so sure, so absolute, and Costin desperately wanted to have the faith of a child.

But it was hard to have faith when he felt so desolate inside. The last two nights he’d been unable to sleep because his bed was empty without his mate. His arms were useless without Sally to hold. Instead of sleeping, he’d been researching, searching to find out if Titus had any family. What he would do if he found anything, he wasn’t sure. That was the type of thing Sally would have known intuitively. She had an innate ability to handle delicate situations with tact, charm, and wisdom. He was more disposed toward hunting, killing, and making jokes. Frustratingly, none of those skills were proving particularly useful in dealing with his current predicament.

Perhaps, it was a blessing, but so far, no family had turned up. Thanks to Wadim’s uncanny ability to hack into poorly protected county computer systems, he had found a missing person’s report that had been filed on Titus, but it hadn’t been placed by his parents, of course. They’d been found murdered in their home and there had been no sign of the boy. No other family had come forward to be ready to accept the child if he was found.

Costin plucked Titus up from the floor and carried him to the room that joined his own. Jen, as usual taking the initiative, had already gotten a room put together for the little boy. It wasn’t finished, but it already felt like a room meant for a little boy. No, it didn’t feel like it was meant for any little boy. It felt like it was meant for Titus. It felt like it was meant for his son. He laid Titus in the bed and pulled the covers up just over his waist.

“Want the big light on or just the lamp?” Costin asked him.

“Just the lamp. I’m getting braver.”

Costin smiled. “You are very brave.”

“I have to be brave for Mommy.” Titus closed his eyes and within a few minutes he was sound asleep. Costin felt as though the little boy was trying to catch up on all the sleep he’d probably lost while being imprisoned by the vampires. After all, who could sleep knowing that at any moment you might be dragged out of bed and snacked on like a box of crackers?

He watched Titus for a few minutes longer before standing up and turning on the lamp that rested on the bedside table. Then he walked to the door, turned off the bedroom light, and glanced back one more time before stepping out and pulling the door partially closed. As he stepped back into the room that he usually shared with his mate, Costin glanced around and the emptiness hit him like a punch to the gut.

His wolf surged forward and fought for control. It was a battle that Costin had fought repeatedly over the last few days. He suspected that, at some point, it might be one that the man would no longer win. He needed her. Costin needed her light; he needed her soft-spoken nature, her wisdom, and her gentle heart. He needed her brown eyes staring back at him, shining with love for him and only him. Perhaps, most of all, he needed her with him to help raise Titus. Titus had endured tortures that Costin could only guess at. No one else but Sally had the kind of quiet, gentle, healing love that such a boy needed. It wasn’t just that she was a healer, it was that she was his mother. Costin had known it the moment he saw Peri carrying the small form out from that underground hellhole and passing the child to Sally’s loving arms. Despite the brave face Titus was putting on, the boy had no chance without Sally.

“I can’t do this on my own, Sally mine,” he whispered into the quiet room. He walked over to her side of the bed and, as he done at least a hundred times before, he picked up her pillow and held it to his face. He took in a deep breath, filling his lungs with her scent. Again, he reached for her through the bond and again he found nothing. It was like a life preserver trailing behind a boat. One second, it was there, floating along, offering him the hope and salvation he’d clung to since the moment she and her two best friends had walked into his bar almost two years ago. The next second, the rope connecting the preserver to the boat had been cut. How or why it had happened, he had no idea. But their bond was cut and now he was lost, floating aimlessly in the open ocean. There was no help in sight—no land, no lifeboat—nothing but a vast emptiness as far as he could see.

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