Authors: Carol Davis
Book Three: Forever
Copyright © 2016 by Carol Davis
All Rights Reserved
Table of Contents
Abby took a step back and tripped over the uneven ground. She fell into Aaron’s arms, and he held her in place when she tried to slip away.
Whether he’d seen Lane and the old man or not, she couldn’t tell; he seemed to think she’d hurt herself, maybe twisted her ankle when she stumbled. Okay, then; she’d let him think that.
“Owwww,” she groaned.
“What is it?”
He lowered her to sit on the ground in a spot that was blessedly out of sight of the cabin and began to probe gently at her ankle. Playing along, Abby made what she hoped was a
hurt, but not too bad
“I’m so clumsy,” she muttered.
“You need better shoes. These really aren’t good for walking through the woods.”
She could tell by his expression that he didn’t think her shoes were good for much of anything. And really, they weren’t. They were cute pale pink flats she’d bought for a few dollars during a clearance sale. They were soft enough that they were great for walking a short distance (from the car into a restaurant, say, or on carpet), but she’d put them to the test these past few days, and they’d failed miserably.
Kind of like you have
, she told herself crossly.
“I can carry you,” Aaron volunteered.
To the cabin? That would have been nice, if they had been alone. She would have loved being swept up into his strong arms and holding on as he strode the short distance to what she thought of as their little hideaway—the place they’d first met, the place they’d fallen in love.
The place where they’d had so much very, very excellent sex.
But they weren’t alone. The cabin had been invaded by the man she’d run away from, the one she’d thought sure she’d never see or hear from again.
That was a stupid assumption, though. She’d disappeared from the hotel at Dolphin Cove (a place that dolphins never actually seemed to go anywhere near), leaving only a brief note for Lane, intending to go back to the mainland on her own. Yes, she’d known that eventually she’d have to say something to Lane, offer a better explanation than a scribbled
Going home now
, but explanations had been the furthest thing from her mind when she’d talked the old man at the dock into loaning her his motorboat. All she’d been focused on was getting away from a guy she no longer liked even a little bit, a guy who kept making decisions for her and belittling the ones she tried to make on her own.
A guy who was now a couple of hundred feet away, along with the old man whose boat she’d stolen.
They might go away, if they didn’t find any sign of her.
Or they might decide to keep exploring the island, particularly if they’d found the old man’s boat. The island wasn’t all that big—maybe four or five miles across, she supposed—and it wouldn’t take them long to stumble across the settlement.
Or one of the wolves.
She peered at Aaron, who was crouching beside her, and tried to put together a smile, but knowing Lane was here was making her really queasy.
Aaron’s hands stopped moving, one of them resting warm and strong on her shin. There was so much genuine concern in his eyes that she wanted to cling to him and beg him to take her to their dream world, where they could be completely alone. Other people, other wolves—they just complicated things.
“What is it?” Aaron asked. “What’s wrong?”
My whole life
, she thought.
Just when I think things are going well…
She couldn’t lie to him. That seemed like too human a thing to do, too much a part of the life she’d left behind. Her mother, the one person she’d ever loved as truly as she loved Aaron, had always told her that it was best to be honest. She had to respect this man enough to tell him the truth. Whatever happened from there, they could deal with together.
And maybe Aaron’s version of dealing with this wouldn’t include her needing to talk to Lane.
“There are people here,” she whispered.
She didn’t say
, but his expression changed. He tipped his head back a little and sniffed the air.
“Two,” she said.
“Yes. I can tell.”
He seemed to know there was something she wasn’t saying. Instead of getting up, either to confront the intruders or to lead her back to the village, he waited for her to go on. He didn’t seem upset that there were humans here, not entirely.
Maybe it was something that happened more often than she’d thought? After all, he hadn’t seemed shocked to find her here, either, and Dolphin Cove wasn’t all that far away.
“It’s Lane,” she confessed. “My—the guy I was with before I came here. I guess he’s come looking for me.”
She listened hard, hoping to pick up what Lane and the old man were saying, but she couldn’t hear anything other than normal, natural sounds: the breeze rustling through the trees, the birds, the distant pulse of the surf. She still didn’t feel inclined to bet on what Lane would do: keep looking, or go away.
If they hadn’t found the stupid boat, they might have believed she’d gone back to the mainland… or that she’d drowned, and the boat had sunk. But as far as she knew, it was still down there, neatly tied to the dock, as good as a neon sign for pointing the way to her.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured.
“Bringing them here.”
“It was inevitable,” Aaron said quietly. “I can’t imagine you’d spend any time with someone who wouldn’t look for you. The only thing that’s puzzling is that he didn’t come here sooner.”
“Can you tell them to go away?”
Aaron cocked an eyebrow. “Would he do that, if I did?”
“I don’t know. I guess not. He might think you were a serial killer or something. That you killed me and buried me in the woods. In that case, he might go away—and come back with the police.”
Aaron’s breath came out in a long sigh. “Then I suppose it’s best for you to confront him. For you to tell him to go away.”
Sure. Because I did so well with that the first time.
“I’m not good at confrontation,” she admitted. “And he’s very…”
“I was going to say bossy, but sure. Strong-willed works.”
Shaking his head, Aaron moved gracefully to his feet and took Abby’s hand to help her up. The path behind him was clear, and in her mind’s eye she could see herself bolting past him, running back toward the village. She might actually get a short distance away before he caught her—and she thought it was still possible that he’d agree to go back to his family and forget about Lane altogether—but in the long run, that wouldn’t solve anything. It would paint her as a wimp, the same Abby who’d let herself get talked into a weekend at Dolphin Cove with a man who couldn’t resist bossing her around.
“Give me a second,” she told Aaron.
It was like psyching herself up to ask for a raise, or doing any sort of public speaking, something she’d dreaded throughout high school and college. She wasn’t timid, exactly; under the right circumstances, she could be plenty loud and outgoing. But a certain tone of voice, a certain facial expression from someone who was listening to or watching her—those could pull the rug right out from under her and reduce her to a quivering mess.
“This man doesn’t respect you,” Aaron said.
“No. He doesn’t.”
To her great relief, Aaron slipped his arms around her and held her against his chest. It was like being anchored to a boulder, something that would be immovable in the face of a hurricane. That was the bond between them talking, Abby realized; Aaron wasn’t immovable in the real world, and had come close to being banished from the island because the elders had decided he’d attacked his own brother, but the love between them was growing stronger by the day. If she gave herself over to that, didn’t try to fight it, it would give her the courage she lacked.
The ability to stand up to Lane.
She listened to the steady thump of Aaron’s heartbeat for a minute, her hands linked together at the small of his back, willing her own heartbeat to quiet down and her breathing to become more regular.
, she told herself.
We’ll get rid of all these obstacles, and we’ll be able to…
“Become one,” Aaron whispered.
She blinked up at him, again surprised that he seemed to know what she’d been thinking. But, really, what devoted couple didn’t have that? She could name half a dozen couples back home who were able to finish each other’s sentences and did so all the time. Aaron was simply reading her expression and the way she’d begun to caress his back through the thin fabric of his shirt.
This time, her touch wasn’t arousing him; maybe the part of him that was the wolf was too alert, too wary for that.
“Yes,” Abby said. “I want us to be one. I want to be with you forever. So I… I have to do this.”
She stepped back, careful to avoid protruding roots and heaves in the ground, and straightened her shoulders, a gesture that made Aaron smile. He seemed proud of her, of what they had together, and that gave her even more strength.
Without saying anything more, she set off toward the cabin.
She had no idea what to expect from Lane. Would he yell at her for running off? Scold her, as if she were five years old? Or, because they weren’t alone, would he simply act relieved that he’d found her, thinking he’d chew her out later? She tried not to think about any of that, to focus only on putting one foot in front of the other in her cheap little pink shoes.
She could do this, she told herself. She could convince him to go away, because the safety of the village and the people who lived there depended on what happened right here, right now.
She got within about fifty feet of the cabin before Lane spotted her. Before that, he’d been looking at Aaron’s water barrel, at the window frames—stupid things, things that had nothing to do with her. But when she stepped out of the shelter of the trees into the sunlight of the clearing, his attention snapped to her as if she’d called out to him.
He was silent for a moment. Then he said, “Jesus, Abby.
. What the ever-loving
, she thought.
Before Lane could say anything more, she told the old man, “I’m sorry about your boat, sir. I really am. I’ll pay you. Really. Just name a price and I’ll pay it. It was really awful of me to do that. I’m so sorry.”
“Expected better of ya,” he said. “Nice-looking girl like you.”
As if looks had anything to do with it.
“I’m sorry,” Abby said again. “I just… I got caught up in the moment. I was upset. I don’t normally do things like that.”
Lane, as usual, was dressed in neatly pressed khakis and a crisp blue shirt. But the rest of him…
His hair was mussed, as if he hadn’t been able to resist shoving his hands through it a thousand times. There were dark circles under his eyes, and he was twitching with restless energy.
Had he really been worried about her? That made her feel a tiny bit warmer towards him, but she couldn’t shake the idea that once they were alone, he’d light into her as if she’d deliberately wrecked his car, or had gotten sloppy drunk in front of his boss and his most important clients.
“Then why did you do it this time?” he asked, but without any kind of a sharp edge to his voice.
He sounded… confused. As if he couldn’t imagine that someone would run away from him like this.
Abby could sense Aaron’s presence behind her. Out of sight, but not far away. She knew he was watching closely, ready to step in if she needed him—but until that moment arrived, he was going to let her handle this.
Only two days ago, she’d come close to running away again; if his longtime friend Katrin hadn’t pulled her back, she might well have run to the boats the wolves used and left all this behind. Even so, he trusted her—trusted both her love for him and her ability to be strong. That made her want to hug him fiercely.
“It was too much, Lane,” she said quietly but firmly.
“Our relationship. I felt smothered. I felt like I couldn’t think.”
Lane turned to look at the old man, as if he thought he might find a better explanation there, but all the old man did was scratch the back of his neck. That made Lane huff loudly and ball his fingers into a child’s version of fists.
“That’s just… cold feet,” he announced after a moment.
“No, Lane,” she said. “No. That’s not it at all. You get cold feet before a wedding, because you’re nervous about making a lifelong commitment. I needed to get away from you because you wouldn’t treat me like an intelligent human being.”
That seemed to astonish him. “Don’t be stupid, Abby.”
“See?” she yelped. “That’s it right there. ‘Don’t be stupid.’ Because I said I don’t like the way you treat me. I get to decide that, you know. It doesn’t matter if you agree with me. I get to decide. If I don’t want to be with you, I don’t have to be with you. It was supposed to be a relationship, Lane, not indentured servitude.”
“You’re making a scene again, Abigail.”
In front of an old man whose name she didn’t know—and she was quite sure Lane didn’t know it, either.
In front of an old man who lived in a tiny, weather-beaten house down at the edge of the water and loaned boats to people staying at the resort; someone who took people fishing, or sightseeing along the shoreline. He wasn’t someone who could ruin Lane’s career, or spread rumors about him on Twitter. Even so, she knew it was desperately important to Lane that she not shame him in front of this stranger.
“You need to come back with us,” Lane said sharply.
“I very much do not. Thank you for your concern, but I’m fine.”
Lane jerked a thumb at Aaron’s cabin. “Are you living there? In some abandoned shack? What are you eating? Roots and berries?”
“Why does it matter?”
“Because you’re being—”
It came back to her then: her last evening at Dolphin Cove with this man.
They’d planned—or rather, Lane had planned—a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant, followed by a concert by a string quartet out on the terrace. That had seemed simple enough, low-key and enjoyable. But Lane had gotten the evening underway by complaining that her dress was wrinkled, even though she’d pressed it carefully.
“If you had decent luggage, Abby…”
“I ironed it. It looks fine.”
“It’s wrinkled all around the bust. It looks like you slept in it.”
“I’ll iron it again.”
“And that’ll take… how long? We’re going to be late for dinner. For crying out loud, Abby. Could you be an adult, please? Buy some decent luggage. Take care of your clothes like an adult.”
Again, she’d offered to pull the iron out of the closet and try again, but he’d refused.
“It’s too late for that now. Do you see? It’s almost seven o’clock. Planning, Abby. You could do some actual
She’d had to hold back tears all the way to the dining room.
There, he’d chosen the braised lamb for her, even though she’d told him twice that she wanted to try the tilapia, and because they were surrounded by other people, she hadn’t protested—but she couldn’t bring herself to enjoy the lamb, because it was… well, lamb.
She’d tried not to notice him glowering at her, and in the process fumbled her glass of water and slopped it onto the tablecloth.
“It’s only water, Lane.”
He hadn’t replied, but as he turned his head away, she’d heard him mutter,
“It’s like eating with a three-year-old.”
And now, here he was.
Hunting her down.
, Lane?” she snarled. “Stupid? Embarrassing? Clumsy? What am I being this time?”
He opened his mouth, but he seemed to be lost for words. Or maybe he was figuring he’d give her enough rope to hang herself, to make herself look like a complete lunatic in front of the old man—like someone who needed to be carted back to the mainland and then locked up somewhere quiet.
“Would you like me to tell you what
acting like?” she demanded.
She could have gone on arguing with him all day, because he’d gotten her dander up now. She felt like every demeaning thing that had ever been said to her was piled up in her mind, driving her to keep going, to hammer at him until he backed down and apologized.
That wasn’t likely to happen, but it didn’t mean she wouldn’t try, wouldn’t shield herself with every bit of self-esteem she had while she looked for chinks in his armor.
As it turned out, she didn’t need to, because Aaron stepped out of the woods to stand beside her and said to Lane in a voice so fierce that it made her shudder, “Do
call this woman stupid again, you blustering horse’s ass.”