The journey back to Nassau was long, and surreal, but Mason was glad for the time to think. It only took a few hours before he’d recovered almost entirely, and soon it was the young wolf who scampered to keep up, tongue lolling and slobbering.
“Oh don’t you dare complain.” He glared down at the creature. “You could have gone easy on me when you had the chance.” Mason leapt a fallen tree and ran on, glorying in the speed of Aspect of the Cheetah.
But then the wolf didn’t seem at all unhappy. He ran all day, and finally Mason stooped to give him some water from his flask. They took a small rest when it started to rain, and he shared the last of his venison and rations. Mason could see well enough in the dark to continue, and knew if he pressed on he’d reach Nassau before morning. With a quick debate in his mind, he decided to do it.
If it were him, he wouldn’t want to spend an extra night wondering if someone he cared about was dead, and figured he’d spare Blake, Rebecca, and probably Haley that misery.
Wait, he realized. Haley had a contract. He pulled up his profile and saw it clear as day along with Kiaan’s. That meant she’d know he was alive, wouldn’t she? Surely it would disappear if he died? He could see no other way for it to work, which meant she’d always know.
The thought brought him considerable comfort, though he supposed he could still be imprisoned somewhere or at the edge of death and fading without her knowing. Hopefully, she’d told Blake and Rebecca he was at least alive.
“Ready boy?” he gave the wolf a pat, then took off at a comfortable running pace.
They forged on in the now wet dark, Mason feeling entirely himself again, his wounds healed completely, his body maybe stronger than ever. He wondered what new powers his brother and Rebecca might have earned in the dungeon, what rewards they might have gotten.
Just the thought of Rebecca made him smile. Already she was feeling part of the family, though he wasn’t sure how that happened so fast. She was so warm and beautiful and amazing. So different than Haley in her genuine innocence. But he trusted both of them, he realized, which was new.
All his life he’d become used to only trusting Blake. He’d loved his foster parents, but they had always been more ‘guardians’ than parents, and it just wasn’t the same. He couldn’t rely on them, not when the chips were down, or at least that’s how he’d always felt.
But Haley couldn’t leave him, literally, and had asked not to be able to. He couldn’t be sure, of course, but he didn’t think Rebecca ever would either. It was a strange, wonderful feeling, and it urged him on towards the town and to see them again.
A few miles out from Nassau, Streak’s ears flattened. Mason respected the creature’s senses enough to slow down and be wary.
He stopped at a tree and strained to see or smell anything in the gloom, finally noticing a young doe standing near some bushes, chewing with her ears raised in caution.
It shouldn’t have been enough to alarm the powerful wolf, whose reaction was concern and not opportunity. Mason turned back to Streak to be sure, activating Speak with Nature.
[What do you sense?]
The animal met his eyes and growled.
Predators. Beneath the ground.
Beneath the ground? What? Mason furrowed his brow in confusion, not sure how to search for a threat from beneath him.
Then the doe suddenly stopped eating and raised its head. As she did, the dirt around her exploded like a land mine had gone off.
Something huge and grey emerged from the earth, snapping with a circular maw, seizing the deer with monstrous strength. In less than a second, it pulled it down into the dirt. The doe cried out, then vanished, hooves yanked last until nothing remained but a hole, and some scattered earth.
“OK.” Mason blinked at the remains. “To hell with all that. Time to run.”
Streak seemed happy to oblige. Together they bolted for Nassau at top speed, neither so much as pausing until they saw the gates.
Mason waved at the tower guard, who returned it as if nothing were wrong, and opened the sliding doors. Mason could still see light and smoke from inside the settlement, and expected it was maybe around 4am.
He stepped inside, and found Rebecca wrapped in a sweater and blanket, set up at a make-shift table in the town square. She blinked sleepily then turned towards the open gate, rising up as her eyes opened fully.
“Mason!” She ran down the slight hill, blanket open like wings. He couldn’t help but grin as he walked towards her. She didn’t particularly slow down, leaping into his arms and wrapping herself around his chest. “Oh my God. I was so worried.”
“I’m alright,” he soothed, holding her tight and breathing in her scent and warmth.
“You smell so good,” she muttered into his chest, drawing a deep, almost strange breath against him. He snorted, somewhat surprised.
“That’s hard to believe. I haven’t changed since the dungeon, and I’ve been bleeding and sweating pretty much since…” She cut him off as she buried her face deeper into his chest and sniffed him again, making a little shuddering sound before she turned her lips up towards him.
He gave her a kiss, and she took his lip in her mouth and sucked before she licked her lips. “I guess you missed me.” He smiled. Rebecca nodded enthusiastically.
“I told her you were fine.” Haley came out of the hall with a notepad and a smile. She was dressed like an office assistant, her hair done up and tied tight in a ponytail. She looked him up and down. “But it’s nice to see you in one piece.”
Mason grinned, and held out an arm. “Come here.”
The curvy blonde sauntered down with swaying hips, more reserved than he’d ever seen her. Rebecca tried to pull away slightly as if to give Haley her turn, but he held on and just shifted her to one arm. Haley gave him a chaste, French style kiss on the cheeks before he put his lips to hers and brought her in for a hug.
“Mmm,” she closed her eyes, inhaling too now that she was so close. “She’s right…you smell like…”
“Biscuits and gravy,” Rebecca said with closed eyes.
“I was going to say French pudding.”
Mason almost laughed as both Haley and Rebecca opened their eyes, their faces coming up against his neck as they wrapped themselves tighter around him.
He was starting to notice the few guards still awake were watching the three of them with some combination of jealousy and resentment. He cleared his throat, and pulled the girls slightly away.
“I’ve had a long few days,” he said quietly. “Maybe we should all head back to my house. Haley can update me on what I’ve missed, and we can argue about what food I smell like there.”
“I’m sorry,” Rebecca flushed a little. “Of course.”
Rebecca and Haley released their death grips and started walking, and Mason ignored the various, jealous stares. He took both girls in an arm as they walked back towards his house, a bit of excitement building in his gut.
* * *
They were all smiling as they walked to the door, though Rebecca looked a bit nervous. Mason opened it and led the way. Now that he was paying attention, it was very clear how Haley his entire house was.
Flowers sat in every windowsill. A growing hoard of cooking utensils and tools hung all over the kitchen. And even his furniture had been covered in pillows and blankets. To say it had ‘a feminine touch’ was an understatement, and Rebecca was looking at it, too.
“Maybe I should…let you two catch up,” she said, suddenly twisting her hands together. “Then you and I can talk later?”
“No need,” Haley said. “You stay. I’ve little to tell him, and I can get some more work done at the hall. We can talk tomorrow, er, later.”
Mason snorted as he ushered them both in. “Well, I want you both to stay, if that counts for anything. Why don’t you get a drink and relax while I take a quick shower and change?”
“Alright,” Rebecca said shyly, clearly still uncomfortable.
“Do you like wine?” Mason heard Haley say as he stripped and walked into the house’s relatively small, but pleasant shower. How the electricity and water supply actually worked in Nassau he still had no idea, but for now left such things to Blake and roboGod.
He cleaned off the blood and grime and tried not to think about Haley and Becky in a naked tangle of limbs and open mouths while he thought again about the Blessing of Gaia.
Our effect on other creatures.
Wasn’t that what the Nymph had said? He thought about the first time the nymphs had seduced him—it was about smell as much as anything, a scent from his childhood overpowering his senses. He’d felt almost unable or at least unwilling to resist. Was that part of the Blessing? Is that what the girls had been smelling?
Yet they hadn’t been overwhelmed like he’d been. Of course, in reality he was filthy and reeking. The nymph grove was filled with magic and comfort, and the ‘sisters of Gaia’ themselves were half naked and ready for seduction. Maybe it was time to think a little more like a nymph…
He showered quickly, then came out wearing nothing but a towel. Haley and Becky were sharing an awkward drink, but Mason had little doubt they’d like each other if they got to talking. Hopefully more than talking.
Haley noticed him first. Her eyes widened slightly then scanned up and down his constantly improving body before Becky turned and looked too.
“I just realized,” Mason ran a hand through his hair as he came forward. “I have no idea where you actually keep my clothes. Though I guess all I really need is sweat pants or something.”
This time he physically saw as his scent or aura or whatever the hell it was hit them. Haley drew back slightly and stared at his chest. Rebecca literally closed her eyes and inhaled. He took a few more steps forward, approaching the table before running a finger down Haley’s cheek.
“Do you know where they are?”
“Yes,” she said, and swallowed. He offered his hand and helped her to her feet.
She was so beautiful and enthralled he couldn’t help himself, leaning in to kiss her gently on the lips. She closed her eyes and moaned slightly, and he felt the towel pushing against his growing erection.
“Did you miss me?” He smiled, tracing the same finger down her neck and shoulder.
She just licked her lips, seemingly unable to speak, just as he’d been with the nymphs those weeks ago. He pulled her in for the proper hug he hadn’t given her at the gate, smiling at Rebecca over Haley’s shoulder. “Come here,” he said. “I don’t like you looking lonely over there.”
The country girl bit her lip and stood, walking over to Mason’s extended arm and coming in for a hug on his other side. They both smelled and felt incredible against him, and he kissed the top of Haley’s head as he ran his fingers through Becky’s hair.
“Look, I know this is weird,” he said, then shrugged, waiting until they each looked up at him. “But I want both of you. I don’t want either of you to leave. I just want us to all stay here…together.” He leaned down, very slowly, and kissed Haley’s soft lips as he cupped Rebecca’s cheek. “Would you like that?”
Becky practically gulped as her skin went pink. “Um, like the flower room?”
“Like the flower room,” Mason agreed with a smile.
“I expect I’m missing something,” Haley quirked a devious brow, and Mason kissed her cheek and neck until she closed her eyes.
“Why don’t we go to the bed, and I’ll show you.”
“Are you sure?” Rebecca looked around the house and fidgeted with her hands. “I mean I don’t want to intrude. We can always…I don’t know…take turns? And…”
“Is that what you want?” Mason asked. “To have me every other night? Or do you want to share my bed every night, starting now?”
Becky’s chest heaved slightly, and Mason leaned forward and kissed her, running his hand down her back.
“Every night,” she breathed into his mouth with closed eyes.
“Every night it is,” he said, feeling the towel push up further as he went hard.
Lust was rising up now like an impatient beast, and Mason could hardly stand to wait a moment longer. He gripped both girls’ asses in his hands. “Now chug those glasses, and start stripping.”