Colton became thoughtful then turned to Meryn. "Am I at least in the top ten?"

Meryn nodded. "Your smile saved you."

Colton beamed a bright smile around the table. "Yes!"

Anne looked at Kendrick then at Meryn. "Can I help judge when Kendrick is shirtless?"

Meryn nodded enthusiastically. "If we have three judges we won't have ties anymore."

Kendrick looked at her. "What makes you think I'm going to train shirtless with these lunatics?"

Anne flashed him a sultry look to show him how she felt about the thought of seeing him bare chested. Kendrick's amber eyes darkened before he turned to Aiden. "What time do you muscle heads start in the morning?"

Anne winked at Meryn who was all smiles.

"Between never and never thirty," Aiden replied sourly.

Kendrick shrugged. "I guess I can walk around shirtless in the house."

Gavriel growled. "We start right after breakfast. Keep your clothes on in the house when you are around my mate."

Kendrick turned to Elizabeth. "No offense, but I'm attracted to teal-eyed nurses who like to introduce me to anime shows and then don't let me watch the endings."

Anne smiled wide. "I didn't know you liked the show that much."

Kendrick groaned. "Was that all you heard?"

Anne blinked. "Huh?"

"Nothing." Kendrick shook his head.

"I can't wait to tell my minion we have someone else to help us," Meryn said, swirling her soup with her spoon.

Kendrick smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. "Minion! I completely forgot about Basil! After we got back, I told him to inventory his new supplies along with what he already had. I promised to show him the crystal spells today. I hadn't anticipated helping in pitched battles with ferals this evening."

"You got a minion too?" Meryn asked excitedly.

Kendrick nodded. "Basil Barberry. I felt horrible about taking his spot on Alpha so I decided to show him some higher-level magic while I'm here. I can't believe I forgot about him."

Darian chuckled. "Don't worry about that one. He's sharp as a tack and a hard worker. As soon as he saw everyone mobilizing, he volunteered to help escort the hostages. He and the other trainees helped to get them settled in the city. I bet you anything he'll be here first thing after breakfast and ready to go."

Kendrick slumped back in his seat, looking relieved. "Thank the Gods. I'm glad he wasn't upset."

Colton laughed. "Our trainees are great, well, except for Sterling. But you've already handled him."

Aiden laughed loudly. "It made my morning coming back from that council meeting to find Sterling stewing in his own shit. I'm going to talk to my father. There has to be something that can be done about him, he's not cut out to be a warrior. He's too rank-conscious."

Colton was about to respond when they heard a knock at the door.

Meryn jumped up and ran out of the room toward the door.

Everyone stood and hurried after the small woman.

"Don't answer it, Meryn!" Aiden yelled.

Meryn froze mid-step, hand extended toward the doorknob. She straightened. "I told you, bad guys don't knock."

Aiden strode past her. "Only in your own little world."

Meryn rolled her eyes and pointed to the door.

Aiden opened it. "Can I help you?"

Anne stayed back with Kendrick. They couldn't see the visitors past Aiden's large body.

"Is Meryn or Amelia here?" A female voice asked. Aiden opened the door further. Anne could see a man and woman standing on the porch.

"Mother!" Amelia cried and flew past Aiden into the arms of a dark haired woman and tall, silver-eyed man.

"Amelia! It's so good to see you! Let me look at you." The woman turned Amelia around taking in every inch. "I've been so worried! We got reports on the road that ferals attacked the city. Of course, I told your father to drive faster so we could get here to help."

"Lily and Marshall Ironwood, I presume," Aiden said, opening the door completely to allow the couple to walk in, Amelia wedged between them.

Marshall stopped and offered Aiden his hand, and they clasped forearms in greeting. "It's great to finally be able to meet you, Commander. I have heard nothing but wonderful things from my sons."

"They are a credit to your line. I trust them implicitly with running the units in Storm Keep," Aiden said, smiling at the older man.

Anne's attention wasn't on Aiden or Marshall; she was watching Meryn who had quietly walked behind the men and closed the door. She was hunched in on herself, trying to appear as small as possible. It was clear, at least to Anne, that she was scared to death to meet her relatives.

Finally, Amelia's head popped up and she looked around. She spotted Meryn off to one side, went to her, and had to practically drag her by the arm to stand in front of her parents.

"Mother, Father, this is Meryn. She's my baby sister-cousin."

Lily pulled Meryn into her arms. "My dear, sweet child." She pulled back and looked at Meryn carefully. "You look just like your mother."

Meryn looked like she was about to bolt at any second. Anne was about to go to her when Ryuu appeared at Meryn's side. "Denka, perhaps everyone would be more comfortable if we returned to the dining room?" he suggested.

Wordlessly, Meryn nodded and led the way.


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