Brand returned to the phone and dialed Erik’s number, but his friend didn’t pick up. He assumed Erik was either raging around his living room or on his way over. He hoped for the former. If Erik showed up, he would probably end up dead. Brand left a message emphasizing that the choice to stay in his brood had been Alice’s.
Next, he called his office and spoke to his assistant, explaining he’d be out of town for a few days on a family matter. Cameron took the change in stride, promising to reschedule his appointments and redirect emergency calls to his operations manager.
After he hung up, he went back to check on Alice. For one as weak as she, every transition was painful. The small bit of power he took from her to bring her into his brood was a significant portion of her total. Her eyes were glassy as she looked up at him, but through the bond, he could tell she felt happy. He touched her cheek with the pads of his fingers and sent her some of the strength of the brood to speed her recovery. She showed him a tired smile.
Dagny moved closer. “You really do care for her.”
Brand nodded. “She’s been my closest friend for a hundred years.”
Despite being glad to have both of them in his brood, guilt nagged at him. He wasn’t sure he’d done either of them a favor. The day he’d killed his sire and forsaken the crown that had passed to him, he’d sealed his fate. Anyone who wanted the power he spurned had to kill him to take it. That put any in his brood in danger, so he’d sworn to bond no one to him.
Dagny nodded, her throat convulsing as she swallowed. “Thank you, Brand.”
It was the first time she’d used his name, and it stunned him how much he wanted to hear it again. “What for?”
“For taking me out of his brood. He wouldn’t let me leave. I’ve been trapped there since my sire sent me to him.”
Her revulsion, prompted by remembering her time with Ansvarr, turned his stomach. He would derive so much pleasure from tearing Ansvarr apart. “You were part of a treaty agreement, weren’t you?”
Surprise registered on her face, but shame was the emotion he felt from her. Her eyes remained fixed on the floor when she finally responded. “I was to be Ansvarr’s mate to seal the peace between the Canadian broods, but he found me lacking.”
Brand’s anger rose again. Gods, but Ansvarr was an idiotic fool. And if her sire weren’t already dead, he’d be on the list for gutting alongside Ansvarr. “There’s nothing lacking in you, Dagny.”
Her eyes came up to search his face, the small frown she wore a clear indication that she didn’t believe him.
He took a step toward her, the urge to comfort her all but undeniable. “Your sire was foolish.”
It surprised him that, considering what Ingrid had been through in her life, she hadn’t advocated on behalf of her daughter. “Why didn’t your mother intervene?”
Dagny shrugged, and her expression became even more miserable. “She never wanted much to do with me. I grew up in my father’s brood and she never sought me out until a month ago.”
Brand looked Alice over once more to make sure she was all right, then with a nod toward Dagny, he walked down the hall and into the living room. He settled into one of the leather chairs and leaned forward to put his elbows on his knees. “Have you heard what happened between my sire and your mother?”
Dagny eased onto the sofa across from him and shook her head.
“Before her, there’d never been a female born that was her equal. She was passed to ten different earls before she ended up in my sire’s brood.”
She frowned. “I can’t imagine what that must have been like for her.”
“I was young when she came to Geir’s brood. He was a brutal bastard, like most of his generation. He considered it a matter of male pride to best her, because she had a reputation of fighting any who tried to take her… and winning.”
He leaned back into the chair and rubbed his knee. “At his hands, she endured the cruelest assaults I’ve ever witnessed. He battered her into submission when he couldn’t overpower her wolf.” Despite the urge to look away, he kept his eyes locked on Dagny’s face. “That’s why I could never end her, even after everything she’s done to me. She’s the way she is now because of what my sire did to her.”
Dagny fidgeted, but didn’t speak.
He looked down at his hands. “Eventually, she got the upper hand on him somehow. I think she used his paranoia against him. She convinced him to send me away with her.”
Closing his eyes, he recalled their time together. Every full moon, she had tied him and beat him until he snapped. The vivid memories lasted much too long for his comfort. Brand sighed and forced himself to open his eyes. “He went on a rampage not long after and killed every male in the brood near his level of power.”
She stared at him for a long while, her hands folded in her lap. “So, as much as you hate her, you owe her your life.”
She had quite the knack for exposing his softest parts without mercy. “Yes,” he hissed between his teeth.
She shifted in her seat. “Why are you telling me this?”
“You’ve been bullied into believing that you’re inadequate, and it’s not true. Ansvarr beat you and bullied you because he couldn’t defeat you, like Geir did to your mother.”
She pulled her legs up underneath her. The silence lasted a long while before she spoke again. When she did, her eyes were on the floor. “Do you know what the marks on my stomach mean?”
He narrowed his eyes, unsure what that had to do with their conversation. “A warning of witchcraft.” He shrugged.
Her hands clasped in her lap, and her voice cracked when she spoke. “Ansvarr said that I bespelled him to make him impotent. My wolf wouldn’t accept him. He couldn’t make it submit. Before he set me aside, he had me marked so that no one else would touch me.”
Desperate to comfort her, Brand moved to her side. He lifted her face to him and covered her slightly parted lips with his. Her mouth tasted like snowflakes.
He drew away, afraid that if the kiss lasted longer, he wouldn’t be able to stop. “Dagny, look at me.” Her eyelids fluttered open, her beautiful eyes ensnaring him.
“I’m going to make him sorry he ever touched you.” He hadn’t seen his half-brother since before Brand had killed their sire, but he looked forward to the reunion.
Her lower lip trembled. “I believe you.”
He pulled her toward him and hugged her against his chest. “No one will hurt you like that again.” He’d make sure no one would dare.
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