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         Part #9.70 of Psy-Changeling series by Nalini Singh
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  Author's Note: This short story fits in between Play of Passion and Kiss of Snow, but if you haven't yet read the series or those books, it does also stand on its own. Enjoy!

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  Psy-Changeling Short Story

  by Nalini Singh

  Clay wiped his hand across his brow to stop the sweat dripping into his eyes as he and Tally finished nailing up the final board. "Done," he said with a quiet sense of satisfaction, stepping back from the extensions to the aerie. The changes they'd made when Jon and Noor originally moved in with them worked, but with Jon growing, Clay and Talin had decided he needed a little more privacy. Since they were already doing those renovations, it had been easy enough to complete a couple of other small modifications at the same time.

  Noor's room remained in the main aerie and on the same level as Clay and Talin's room so she could run down the short corridor and snuggle into bed with them if a nightmare struck. Those nightmares enraged Clay for what they betrayed of the hurt done the child who was now his, but they were decreasing in frequency. Tamsyn and Sascha both thought Noor was healing in the loving atmosphere of the pack and of their home; Clay heard daily proof of that healing in her laughter.

  The little girl was the sweet, affectionate heart of their home. She'd started calling Talin and Clay, Mommy and Papa two months earlier and each time she did, Clay felt as if he'd been given a gift. Tally had broken down in happy tears that first time, though his mate with her soft heart had managed to keep it together until Noor was out of earshot.

  As for Jon, for a teenage boy, he had incredible patience with her. Yesterday, Clay had seen him carefully drinking tea from a tiny dolls cup just to make Noor happy, as Clay had once done with Tally.

  He had a feeling Noor would always be able to count on her adopted big brother for anything. That brother's new room perched on a sturdy spray of branches a short ways away from the main aerie, but was connected to it by a walkway Talin had warned the teenager would be in regular use.

  "Don't think you can get up to shenanigans in there," she'd said with a scowl.

  Jon, aware she was all bark and no bite when it came to those she loved, had kissed her on the cheek, the striking violet of his eyes alight in mischief. "Finally, a bachelor pad where I can bring all my girlfriends and have wild parties."

  Clay knew Jon would never betray their trust in him. The kid had had some hiccups settling in, but that was long past--he was all DarkRiver now and Clay knew he'd do the pack proud. Any trouble he got into was nothing out of the ordinary for DarkRiver kids his age. As for sneaking up girls, well, he was a teenage boy. Clay grinned, and putting his arm around Tally, drew her to his side. "Happy?"

  "So happy." She hugged him tight, her smile brilliant. "I'm glad we decided to do this last bit ourselves."

  Clay was too. Dorian and Vaughn had helped out with the planning and the majority of the building, but Clay had wanted this moment to be private, between him and the woman who was his best friend as well as his lover and his mate. Reaching over, he rubbed a speck of dirt off her cheek, exposing the gold of her freckles. It was instinct to kiss those freckles, her laughter wrapping around him.

  His leopard arched, batting playfully at the scent of her, so familiar, so necessary to his existence. Every day he woke to her scent, and every night when he fell asleep, it was with the touch of her skin against his own. Now, she gripped his hips and stood on tip-toe to pepper his face with kisses, as affectionate as a kitten. Noor might still be healing, but Tally and Clay had completed the journey and together, were building their future as they'd built this home--with a love nothing could ever break.

  Leopard delighted at the petting, he bent to make the task easier for her.

  "Shall we go pick up the kids?" she asked in between kisses.

  Stroking his hands up and down her back, he nodded. "I missed the hooligans today." Noor was determined to help and considered herself the "Holder of the Nails," while Jon had put in hard labor with the men. The only reason they weren't here right now was that Clay and Talin had wanted to surprise the both of them with special gifts.

  They'd bought Noor a brand new princess bed, canopy and all--it had been a mission to get it up the levels of the aerie. As for Jon, Tally had asked the boy if he wanted to decorate his own place and he'd picked out what he wanted, but they'd bought him a small comm screen of his own as a reward for the excellent grades he'd made at school over the past twelve months.

  ~

  Noor was so excited when she saw her bed that she couldn't breathe or speak. "Oh, oh." Running across the room, she patted the bedspread, touched the curtains that were currently tied to the posters on each corner, and physically pushed Jon away when he teased her he'd like to lie in it and mess it up.

  Allowing himself to be "pushed" by the five-and-a-half year old, Jon began to pick up her soft toys from the shelf to the left of the bed and arrange them against the pillows. Noor decided that was acceptable, though she did direct him to put certain toys next to certain other toys, "because they're friends."

  Jon was more teenage-boy in his appreciation of his own gift. Slouching down in the comfortable old armchair he'd brought in from the main aerie, he thrust a hand through the white gold of his hair and grinned. "Awesome."

  Noor, leaning against the side of the armchair with both hands so she could peer at the screen, made a face. "It's not as nice as my bed." A worried look. "You can come in my room if you like. I'll let you sit on the bed."

  Laughing at the generous offer, Jon scooped her up and plopped her in his lap. "Watch this, Noorel Squirrel." He flicked the comm screen to a cartoon Noor loved and had her immediate attention. "Bet you want to come to my room now."

  Noor gave a decisive shake of her head, her ponytail--which she insisted on having just like Tally's--bouncing. "No way. My bed is the most beautifulest ever."

  Standing in the doorway, watching the children in his care and in his heart, while his smiling mate stood in front of him, her back against his chest, Clay's leopard purred in utter contentment. "Come on," he murmured in Tally's ear as he ran his hand along her ponytail. "They'll be busy for a while yet."

  Her response was immediate, the scent of her a hot caress. Turning, she slipped her hand into his and they snuck away, secretive as teenagers themselves. Young, Clay thought as he locked the bedroom door behind them, he felt so young when he was with Tally. So full of possibility and hope and faith in the future. Then she shrugged off her shirt while watching him with a smile in those gray eyes ringed with amber, and there was no more thought, only a hot, slow loving between two lovers who knew each other down to the soul.

  (c) Copyright 2014 by Nalini Singh

 


 

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  (Series: Psy-Changeling # 9.70)

 

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