Stormwolf Summer – bonus epilogue
Note: This story contains huge spoilers for Stormwolf Summer! Make sure you’ve read that book first!
‘But What Do We Tell the Kids?’
Bonus epilogue for Stormwolf Summer
Honey knew she was in trouble when she walked in to find all three of her kids sitting side-by-side, grim-faced, on her couch.
“Kids!” Honey hastily plastered on a bright smile, hoping that they hadn’t noticed her guilty twitch. She set her purse on the coffee table, holding out her arms for a hug. “What a wonderful surprise! Why didn’t you tell me you were coming to Chicago?”
None of her children moved.
“Sit down, Mom,” her daughter Megan said. “We need to talk.”
Honey looked from her daughter to her twin boys Ryan and Cody, finding the same solemn expression on their faces too. “About what?”
“About your…” Megan appeared to search for a word. “Recent choices.”
“She means this man you brought back from summer camp,” Cody said. There was no trace of his usual easy smile. “Not that you’ve told us much about him, but he, uh, seems to have a lot of red flags.”
Ryan, as ever, got straight to the point. “You’re being scammed, Mom.”
“Ryan!” Megan hissed.
“Well, she is.” Ryan rolled his eyes. “You said it yourself, Megan. Stop pussyfooting around.”
Before Honey could figure out how to respond, she felt a tug down the mate bond. Buck’s mental voice spoke in her mind: *Something wrong?*
*My kids are here,* she sent back, letting him sense her bemusement. *I think they’re staging an intervention.*
The telepathic equivalent of a snort. *Took them long enough.*
Honey started, coming back to herself. She must have been staring blankly into space, because all three of her kids were now exchanging pointed looks.
Mom has lost it, those glances clearly stated. She’s gone straight from a midlife crisis to senility.
“Sorry,” she said, simultaneously sending an urgent Don’t come up here! down the mate bond. Pulling her attention away from that internal connection, she focused on her kids. “I’m still getting over the shock of finding you here. It’s so rare to see you all in the same place at the same time, I feel like I should be cooking Thanksgiving dinner.”
Cody, as always, perked up at the mention of a meal. “What is for dinner?”
“Cody,” Megan groaned.
Cody slumped back against the couch, looking more like the teenager he’d once been than a fully grown man of twenty-six. “I was only asking. I don’t see why we can’t do this over food.”
“We’re here because we love you, Mom,” Megan said, shooting her brothers a fall into line, or else kind of glare. Though she was several years younger than the boys, she’d always been the leader, even as a child. “And we’re worried about you.”
“That’s very sweet, kids.” Honey perched on the sole remaining chair in her small rented apartment. “But there was really no need for you to rush over.”
“Mom, you’re having a midlife crisis,” Ryan said. “Again.”
Megan jabbed her brother in the ribs with her elbow. “What Ryan means is that you seem to be making some very rash decisions right now.”
“You have to admit, Mom, you’ve been acting pretty weird,” Cody said. “First you get this crazy idea to spend a summer as a camp counselor. And now you come back with a random guy, and you’re suddenly talking about moving to Nowhereville, Montana with him?”
“Thunder Mountain,” Honey said, mainly to buy herself a moment to try to think. “It really is a very beautiful place. If you saw it, you’d understand why–”
“Your life is here in Chicago, Mom,” Megan interrupted firmly. “Your job is here. You always told me how important it was never to risk my financial security over a man. But now it seems like you’re doing exactly that.”
Honey winced. “I know how it looks, Megan. But believe me, I’m not giving up anything. Quite the reverse, in fact.”
Ryan made a skeptical sound. “Let me guess. This guy told you that he’s got millions of dollars in a Nigerian bank account, and he just needs you to advance him a little cash for the legal fees?”
“I’m not falling for a romance scam, Ryan!” Honey was starting to get a little annoyed now. “Is it so unbelievable that a man might be interested in me?”
Ryan hesitated, glancing at his siblings for rescue.
“Oh no.” Cody held up his hands. “You walked right into that one. You can get yourself out of it.”
“Of course you’re still attractive, Mom,” Megan said, in a way that added an unspoken, for your age. “We’re not saying you shouldn’t have a relationship.”
“We aren’t?” Ryan muttered.
“Just maybe not this relationship,” Megan soldiered on, ignoring her brother. “Look, Mom, imagine it was me. How would you feel if I suddenly announced I was moving across the country to live with a boyfriend you’d never met?”
Honey’s brain stalled. She didn’t think anyone had ever attempted to put Buck and boyfriend into the same sentence. Not unless the words punching and face were also involved, at least.
Megan seemed to mistake her boggled silence for a thoughtful pause. She pressed the advantage, fixing Honey with an earnest expression. “I know it’s hard, but try to put aside your emotions and think about this logically, Mom. What you’re feeling isn’t love. It’s infatuation. Some of my friends have worked as summer camp counselors, and they always had ill-advised, passionate affairs while they were there. It’s only natural when you’re living in a small community away from the rest of the world. Summer camp is an intense, binding experience for the staff as much as the kids.”
Honey pressed her lips shut on a mad giggle. Oh, Megan. You have no idea.
“But that’s not real life,” Megan continued. “You don’t know what he’s like outside camp. What do you even have in common, really? Be reasonable. This guy is a summer fling, not a boyfriend.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Honey said, still having a hard time picturing Buck anywhere near that concept. “He’s my…”
She stalled on the word mate. That really wasn’t something she could explain to her kids.
“Boytoy?” Cody suggested. “Friend-with-benefits? Word-I’m-not-going-to-use-in-front-of-my-mom-buddy?”
“Cody!” Honey yelped, blood rushing to her face.
*What the hell is going on up there, woman?* Buck demanded down the mate bond. *Your pulse is jumping around like a jackrabbit.*
“Dude, do you mind?” Ryan said to his twin. “That’s our mom you’re talking about.”
Cody shrugged. “Well, we can’t call this guy her partner. She’s known him for about five seconds.”
“Three months!” Honey protested.
Megan jumped in, with her lawyer’s trained ability to spot a weakness in an argument. “Exactly. Just three months. Barely any time at all. Yet you’re willing to upend your whole life over this man?”
Well, yes, actually, seeing as how he’s already bitten me and turned me into a werewolf. With wings.
“It’s… complicated,” Honey said weakly. There was no way to explain that giving up her job and moving to Montana were the least significant changes Buck had made to her life. “I know it’s hard to understand, kids. And I’m honestly touched by your concern. But you’re just going to have to trust me on this. I can’t explain why, but I know this is right for me.”
Megan subjected her to a long, uncomfortably penetrating stare. “Mom, what aren’t you telling us?”
Honey was all too aware of how much she wasn’t telling them. “Do you really want to hear every detail about my personal life?”
“No,” Ryan and Cody said together fervently.
Megan’s eyes narrowed. “You’re hiding something, Mom. And stop kicking me, Ryan, it’s not about sex. She’s trying to deflect us.”
“What?” Cody sat up straighter, his appalled expression shifting to concern. “Mom, is that true? Is this guy putting pressure on you somehow?”
“I told you he’s a scammer.” Ryan straightened too, pushing his glasses up his nose. “Where is he, Mom? I’ll sort him out.”
*What’s so funny?* Buck asked in her head, suspiciously. *I can feel you laughing all the way from the street.*
“Nothing,” Honey gasped, lungs hurting from holding in hysterical giggles. She did her best to banish the mental image of Buck wearily holding off a furious Ryan with one hand, like a Great Dane assaulted by a kitten. “I’m not laughing.”
Ryan looked mortally offended. “You are laughing. What, you think I wouldn’t fight a man who touches my mom?”
“Dude, you’re an accountant,” Cody said to him. “What are you going to do, sabotage his tax return?”
His twin glowered at him. “Well, what are you going to do? Ream the guy’s ass with a vicious database query?”
“Oh my God.” Megan buried her face in her hands. “I knew I should have handled this on my own.”
*How much longer is this going to take?* Buck asked telepathically. *If you’re settling in for a long family discussion of my flaws, I’m finding a stiff drink. Probably several.*
Honey was starting to get a headache from trying to keep the conversations straight. She sent Buck a firm mental push, as a kind of telepathic ‘not now.’ The last thing she needed was for her kids to start wondering why she was talking to herself.
“Nobody is fighting Buck,” she said firmly. “Believe me, that’s wouldn’t go well for anyone. And I don’t want you to fight him. I don’t need saving. Everything’s fine, really.”
“Just like everything was ‘fine’ with Dad?” Ryan muttered.
Her son’s words stole the breath from her lungs. Even though it had all worked out in the end, it still felt like a slap to be reminded of her disastrous marriage.
The mate bond pulsed in her chest like a second heart. A fierce rush of love drove back the old pain, burning it to nothing.
*Right,* Buck growled in her head. *That’s it. I’m coming up.*
“No, don’t!” Honey yelped out loud.
Ryan gave her a funny look. “Don’t what?”
“Mom, are you okay?” Cody asked, looking even more concerned now. “You’ve gone pale.”
“Just—need a drink of water!” Honey rushed out of the living room, but rather than head for the kitchen, she bolted for the front door.
She got there just as Buck started to open it. He let out a grunt as she slammed into the back of the door, shoving it back against his shoulder.
“I told you to stay away!” she hissed at him.
“They’re your motherloving kids, Honey.” He pushed his way in, arms full of grocery bags from their shopping trip. “They’ve got a right to meet the stranger who’s moved in with their mom.”
“Is that him?” Ryan stormed out of the living room, Cody and Megan at his heels. “Right, you asshole. Leave my mom alone, or I’ll—”
He stopped dead as he saw Buck. So did the other two.
“Whoa.” Cody took a step back, raising his hands in surrender. “You want to fight him, go ahead, bro. He’s all yours.”
Ryan had the expression of a man who was regretting many of his recent decisions. Megan, on the other hand, looked like a woman for whom a great many mysteries had abruptly become clear.
Buck looked all three of them up and down, the picture of calm unconcern. “If any of you are going to punch me in the face, give me a minute to put these bags down first. Got two jars of salsa in here, and you never want glass or chilies involved in a fight.”
Without waiting for an answer, he headed for the kitchen. In the ringing silence left in his wake, Honey’s kids looked at each other.
“Okay,” Megan said weakly. “Right. That explains a lot.”
Ryan shook his head. “What does?”
“Well, that’s further confirmation that you’re not gay,” Cody said to him. “As if we needed it. Damn, Mom. I’d give you a high-five, if that wouldn’t be deeply weird.”
Buck came back, hands now full of beer bottles. “I don’t know about any of you, but I’m going to need a drink for this conversation. Right. Come on.”
Still looking rather stunned, all three of Honey’s kids trailed him into the living room. Buck popped the caps on the bottles with his thumb, handing them round. He flopped onto the chair, propping an ankle on his knee.
“Uh…” Cody held his beer like he’d never seen one before in his life—which, Honey knew from having had to collect him from many an ill-advised underage party, was entirely untrue. “So, you’re…”
“The motherloving boyfriend from summer camp?” Buck leaned back, taking a long drink from his beer. “Yep. Literally. And for the record, I’m not a scammer. What you see is what you get, all the way down.”
“How did you,” Ryan began, and then cut himself off, eyes narrowing. “You were listening at the door this whole time?”
“Not exactly.” Buck nodded at the couch. “You all want to sit down? Getting a crick in my neck, looking up at you like this.”
Cody started to sit, then stopped when neither of his siblings moved. Honey hovered uncertainly, unsure whether to step in to try to defuse the situation.
*It’ll be all right,* Buck said to her down the mate bond. She could feel his certainty, strong and steady. *Let us figure this out on our own, just them and me. Can’t have you caught in the middle.*
Megan cleared her throat. “I suppose we should introduce ourselves.”
“No need.” Buck pointed his bottle at each of them in turn. “Megan, Cody, Ryan. Your mom’s told me a bit about you. I’m guessing she hasn’t told you much about me. And what little she has, you haven’t liked.”
“That’s right.” Recovering some of his pugnacious attitude, Ryan set his untouched beer down on the coffee table. He folded his arms, glaring at Buck. “We want to know your intentions toward our mom.”
Buck’s eyebrow quirked. “Pretty sure you don’t want to hear the full version of that. Look, Ryan, what do you want me to say? Because if I was in your shoes, I sure as hell wouldn’t be taking my word for anything.”
“We aren’t,” Megan said. “I already hired a private investigator to run a background check on you.”
“Good,” Buck replied calmly. “That’s smart. Let me know what you dig up, and I can tell you whether your investigator was worth the money. Next question?”
“I’ve got one,” Cody said. “Why are you so keen on making Mom move to Montana?”
“If you think anyone can make your mother do anything, you’ve been living with your head under a rock.” Buck took another unhurried swallow of his drink. “Hope you three inherited her stubbornness, for your own sakes. It’ll take you far in life. But in answer to your question—I’m not. I offered to move down here. She wasn’t having it.”
“Why?” Cody looked round at her. “What’s wrong with Chicago, Mom?”
“Nothing, honey,” she said. “I’m not saying I don’t have good memories here, but it’s time to move on. It’s just… not right for me anymore.”
Megan gave her that narrow-eyed look again. “Why not?”
“Er…” Honey’s palms started to sweat. “Just… fancy a change, I suppose. Fresh air. Open spaces.”
“Room to frolic,” Buck added, straight-faced.
She shot him an exasperated look. *If you were within reach, I’d kick you.*
*I know,* he replied telepathically. The slightest smirk curved his mouth. *That’s why I’m sitting over here.*
“What about finances?” Megan said, ever the practical one. “Mom told us you’re planning to buy a house together. How much equity are you planning to put in?”
“All of it.” Buck shrugged. “Look around, kids. You think your mom would live in an apartment like this if she had the cash for a down payment somewhere better?”
“And you’ve got the money just sitting around?” Ryan said suspiciously.
Buck shrugged again. “Got enough. Nearly thirty years overtime on triple hazard pay adds up. Never really had anything to spend it on, before.”
Megan frowned. “So you’re telling me that you’re asking Mom to give up her job and her financial security, and she’s not even going to have equity in her own home? You could throw her out the door at any moment?”
“He’s not going to—” Honey started.
“She’s got a point, Honey,” Buck interrupted. He scratched thoughtfully at his chin with one thumb. “Seems to me there’s an easy solution to that. You want to get married?”
Honey’s mouth dropped open.
“What?” all three of her kids exclaimed in unison.
“Well, we could just draw up a legal contract, but that doesn’t sound nearly as much fun.” Switching his beer bottle to his other hand, Buck dug in his pocket. “Plus, I’d have to take this back for a refund.”
He flipped something at Honey. She caught it reflexively and found herself holding a ring. An engagement ring. It was platinum, with a small but bright diamond. Turning it, she discovered her initials engraved on the inside of the band, along with Buck’s.
Speechless, she stared at him. He returned the look, eyebrows raising in a ‘what?’ kind of way.
“Wh-when,” she stuttered. “When did you get this?”
“Month or so ago.” To outward appearances, Buck seemed unconcerned, but she could tell he was enjoying himself immensely. “Been carrying it around, waiting for the right moment. This seemed as good a time as any.”
“But we’re already—” Honey cut herself off, remembering their goggling audience.
“I know.” Buck set his beer to one side, pushing himself to his feet. “Hang on a minute. Might as well do this right.”
He went down on one knee before her, as casually as if about to retie his bootlaces. But there was nothing casual about the way he took her hand; nothing at all casual about the way his black-on-black eyes met hers, as though no one else existed, or had ever existed, or ever would.
“Honey,” he said, his voice dropping to a low growl that she felt all the way to her bones. “You know I’m already yours. But I want to be yours in every way, for the whole world to see. Fate brought us together, but I chose you, and you chose me. I can’t promise that you’ll never want to beat me over the head with a shovel, because dog knows that I’m a motherloving idiot and way too stubborn for my own good. But I can promise you that no matter what, I will keep choosing you, with all my heart, every damn minute of every day, for the rest of my life. So. Will you marry me?”
She was too overcome for words, but she didn’t need them anyway. The mate bond told him her answer, blazing between them so brightly she felt her skin should be shining with love.
Buck’s only visible reaction was a tiny quirk to his mouth. Still acting as though all this was no big deal, he took the ring from her unresisting hand, sliding it onto her finger. He rose and drew her close for a long, unhurried kiss.
“No,” Ryan announced. “Oh hell no.”
Buck pulled away from her mouth, turning to regard her son without the slightest hint of dismay. “Yeah, I said that at first, too. Hope you get over it faster than I did. Ideally with a lot less sweat.”
“Mom, have you gone insane?” Megan could not have looked more appalled if Buck had started making passionate love to Honey right there on the coffee table. “You can’t marry a man you just met!”
“Yeah, did you learn nothing from Frozen?” Cody said. “I mean, Ryan must have made us watch that movie a million times between the ages of four and nine.”
“Six!” Ryan spluttered. “I was six!”
“Dude, you insisted on an Elsa cake for our ninth birthday. I still can’t believe that you turned out to be the straight twin.” Cody shook his head. “Seriously, Mom, what’s going on? This isn’t like you at all. It’s like you came back from camp a whole different person.”
Buck glanced at her, one eyebrow quirking. “He’s not wrong, Honey.”
“I know all this must seem crazy, kids.” Honey knew she was grinning like a lunatic, but she couldn’t help herself. Not with Buck’s ring on her finger and the mate bond filling her heart. “I’m sorry, but I really can’t explain it. Trust me, if I tried, you’d only think that I’d gone insane.”
“True enough.” Buck picked up Ryan’s untouched beer from the coffee table, passing it to Cody. “Here, hold this.”
“Uh…” Cody said, as Buck pulled the coffee table to one side. “What are you doing?”
With a slight grunt, Buck shoved the couch further back against the wall. “Clearing some room.”
Honey’s heart lurched as she realized what he intended to do. “Buck! You can’t!”
“Wasn’t going to.” Buck moved the armchair into a corner. “Don’t want to accidentally blow all the fuses and plunge the whole block into a blackout. It’ll be better if you do it.”
“Do what?” Megan asked.
“Here?” Honey exclaimed. “Now?”
“No point delaying. They’ve got to find out sometime.” Buck straightened, dusting off his hands. “That ought to do it. Floor’s all yours, Honey.”
“Is this making any sense to anyone?” Cody asked his siblings plaintively.
“Buck!” Honey grabbed his arm, spinning him so that their backs were to her kids. She was too rattled for telepathic speech, so she had to settle for lowering her voice to an urgent hiss. “Have you gone insane? We can’t do this!”
“They’re family, Honey.” He cupped the side of her face in his palm, his dark eyes steady and certain. “And they’ve already had one parent keep a secret from them for years. Don’t put them through that again. Show them.”
She hadn’t thought of it like that… but he was right. Swallowing hard, she nodded.
Buck pressed a light, brief kiss to her brow before releasing her. “All right, kids. Stand back. Trust me, you’re going to need to give your mom some space for this.”
Honey’s heart thumped in her chest. She moved into the center of the room, turning to face her children.
“I love you,” she told them. “And I’m still your mom. Remember that, okay? And… try not to scream.”
To their credit, none of her kids screamed. Megan gasped, her hands flying to her mouth. Cody let out a brief, awestruck, “Whoa.”
And Ryan… toppled over in a dead faint.
Buck had already taken up a strategic position behind him. He caught Ryan before he could hit the floor.
“Thought that might happen,” Buck said, laying Ryan out on the couch. He cocked an eyebrow at the other two. “Either of you going to swoon?”
Cody drained his beer in one long swallow, and then, after a thoughtful pause, downed Ryan’s as well. He shook his head.
“Mom?” Megan whispered. The soft golden light from Honey’s wings played over her wonderstruck face. “Is that… really you?”
Honey pushed her muzzle under her daughter’s hand. Megan sucked in her breath. She went to her knees with a thump, stroking Honey’s fur with trembling fingers.
“Okay,” Cody said, very calmly. “So, Mom’s a werewolf now. And this explains the whole sudden marriage thing… how?”
Honey shifted back to human form, ending up with her arms around Megan. “It’s… complicated.”
Buck headed for the kitchen. “I’ll make coffee.”
Buck did make coffee, and later pizza, as Honey explained the whole story to her children. They took it pretty well, all things considered. Even Ryan, once he’d been revived, didn’t raise any further objections to the whole marriage thing. Honey supposed that once you’d seen your mom unexpectedly turn into a giant glowing winged wolf in the middle of the living room, a surprise step-dad seemed positively mundane in comparison.
“So, uh…” Cody eyed Buck. “Do we all have to be werewolves now, too?”
Buck shrugged, busy tidying away dinner plates and empty beer bottles. “You’ll have to take that up with your mom. Me, I’ve done all the biting I intend to do.”
“I suppose I could Turn you, if you really wanted me to,” Honey said, a little dubiously. “But—”
“Under no circumstances,” Ryan said firmly. “Turning into a werewolf is not on my ten year career plan.”
“Or mine,” Megan agreed. “I doubt there are many werewolf partners in New York law firms.”
“I dunno.” Cody leaned back, pursing his lips thoughtfully. “Might be fun. There any cute werewolf dudes at this camp of yours, Mom?”
“It’s not something to take lightly, Cody.” She squeezed his knee. “Give me a while to figure it out myself, okay? Then we can talk about it.”
“And don’t you dare go spreading this around, Cody,” Megan said sternly. “You heard Mom. Shifters are meant to be a secret. No trying to film her and put it on TikTok.”
Cody put up his hands. “Hey, I can keep my mouth shut. I never told anyone about the time Ryan—”
“Anyway,” Ryan said, cutting across his twin. “We do have one problem. What about Dad?”
Honey had already anticipated this issue. “I’m sorry, Ryan. But you can’t tell him about this. Shifters are meant to be a secret. We could all get in a lot of trouble.”
“I didn’t mean about the werewolf thing. Mom. But he’s still going to find out about…” Ryan made a brief, embarrassed gesture between her and Buck. “Well, this. Though I assume you two aren’t going to be sending him a wedding invite.”
Buck’s expression didn’t change, but Honey felt his possessive growl rumble through her mind. She smothered a smile.
“Ah, no,” she said carefully. “I think that would be a bad idea for multiple reasons. Kids, we’ve never really talked about the divorce, but… things didn’t end well between me and your father.”
“You didn’t have to tell us, Mom.” Megan took her hand, giving it a light squeeze. “We know.”
“We love you both, but that doesn’t mean we want you to play happy families on our account,” Ryan said. “We can see him, and see you, without you two having to see each other.”
Cody scratched the back of his neck. “We are going to have to tell Dad something, though. Otherwise he’s going to wonder why we’re not all flipping out over Mom’s new husband.”
“Tell him…” Honey looked at Buck, and smiled. “Tell him that I’m happy.”