Authors: Carol Davis
If Aaron had been any closer to the human, his eyes would probably have started to water. The man probably thought he smelled good—clean, fresh, appealing—but the mixture of scents from the grooming products he’d used was truly awful. That was one of the things that had driven Aaron away from the mainland: that so many of the people who lived there smelled so appallingly bad.
, he thought.
Like this man.
Aaron knew the type. He probably worked in an office, and spent a lot of time worrying about his clothes and his car and impressing other men just like him. He’d want Abby to look—and act—her best at all times, too, because he felt that everything she did reflected back on him.
Why would you ever be interested in this man? Why would you let him touch you?
The man, Lane, seemed ready to try to take a swing at Aaron if he came any closer, but Aaron was willing to bet that he had no real experience with fighting. He might have bloodied someone’s nose at some point in his life, probably by accident, but someone like that wouldn’t really know how to fight. How to quickly disable his opponent and walk away with nothing more than some bruises and scratches, if that.
That brought to mind what had happened to his brother Luca, and it made Aaron wince.
“This woman deserves your respect,” he said quietly. “She is not a child. In particular, she is not
“And who the hell are you?” Lane demanded.
Aaron forced himself not to look at Abby. “A friend.”
“This is a complete waste of time,” Lane sputtered. “Abby, come on. We need to get out of here. If you want to talk about our relationship when we get home, fine. But I’ve already wasted enough time tracking you down. It’s been a
now. Do you realize that? I’ve been looking for you for an entire
. Taking time away from my job, my responsibilities…” His voice cracked. “Let’s go,
He straightened a little, pulling himself up to his full height, and jabbed a finger toward the path that led down to the dock.
He had miscalculated, though. Instead of looking like a person of authority, he looked tired, nervous, and unsure of himself.
Weak prey, Aaron thought. Even an elderly wolf would be able to take him down in seconds.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” Abby said firmly. “I mean it, Lane.”
“Stop calling me that!” she bellowed. “I’ve told you, over and over, that I hate it. You don’t listen to me, Lane. You never have. And you know what? It makes me loathe you. You stuck-up, pretentious jerk.”
The old man, who had been standing in silence a few steps from Lane, leaned toward him and murmured something. When Lane ignored him, he shook his head and said to Abby, “Thought better of you, missy. Pretty girl like you. But, no harm done. Gonna take m’ boat back, and we won’t talk of it again.”
“I’m sorry,” Abby told him.
“Y’got more to be sorry about than an old boat,” he said. Then he turned back to Lane. “The lady’s not comin’, son. What happens from here on is her problem, not yours. You done your due diligence. Now, I’m leavin’. If your stubborn backside ain’t in the boat, I’ll be leavin’ you behind. Up to you.”
That said, he disappeared into the woods.
And Lane stood there huffing, fists clenched, looking like the willful child he claimed Abby was.
“You should go,” Aaron told him.
He expected Abby to echo that, and was puzzled when she didn’t. Instead, she shook her head and pulled in a deep breath, and her lack of agreement made the wolf inside of Aaron stand at attention. Its mate was being threatened, something no wolf took lightly, and it took some doing for Aaron to quiet the animal down.
“Give me a minute, please,” Abby said. “Please, Aaron.”
She looked from him to the path they’d taken to come here, clearly asking him to retreat, to leave her alone with this pathetic human man.
The wolf surged up again, and this time Aaron was tempted to let it have its way, to allow it to come bursting out into the sunlight.
would send the man running.
To the authorities, possibly.
“All right,” he said, just loudly enough for Abby to hear. “But I won’t let him take you.”
He wanted to add,
I won’t let you go with him, no matter what he says
, but he held his tongue and moved back into the woods.
When she was sure that Aaron had moved as far away as he was likely to go, Abby screwed up her courage and walked across the clearing toward the man she’d once thought she was interested in.
It fascinated her, in a way, that he was both pale and brick red at the same time. Furious, no doubt. Frustrated.
“I am not going back home with you,” she told him. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You need to understand that. It’s not a topic for discussion. I am not leaving here with you.”
He blinked at her, his lips smashed into a narrow line.
“I’m sorry about not talking to you before I left,” she said as genuinely as she could manage. “Telling you what I was going to do. I know the note was pretty lame—it was a cowardly thing to do. But I couldn’t—I just couldn’t talk to you. I knew what you’d say, what you’d try to do. You’re doing it right now.”
Still nothing. No reply.
“You should go,” she sighed. “Just… go.”
“I’ve spent an entire week of my life looking for you,” he said in a mean, brittle tone. “You said you were going home, so I looked for you there. I called you. I called your office. No one had seen you. The shuttle to the mainland didn’t have your name on any of the lists. You didn’t tell the front desk you were checking out. You
, Abby. You disappeared off the face of the earth, as far as anyone knew. When I finally found out that you’d taken that little boat, and no one could find it, I thought you might be dead. Do you understand that? I thought you might have drowned in the damned
. Has that entered your head at all?”
It had, more than once—but she couldn’t allow that to matter.
Then she realized that he’d actually done something impressive. Instead of going back home to the job that was clearly the most important thing in his life and forgetting he’d ever even met her, he’d been out looking for her, calling around trying to find her.
been genuinely worried about her.
No, she decided.
He’d been worried and scared, but not about her welfare. What he’d been afraid of was that, after word got around that she had disappeared, the police would believe he had done something to her. That he’d killed her himself, because that sort of thing happened all the time: women going on vacation with a boyfriend and not coming home because the boyfriend (or fiancé, or husband) had killed them.
Her co-workers would have talked. His co-workers would have talked. It might have even made the news. And that would have ruined him—the gossip, the suspicion. The old man had seen her leave Dolphin Cove alone, safe and sound, but that wouldn’t matter.
People would talk.
For a moment, she wanted to grin.
“I’m sorry,” she said again. “I really am. But I was upset with you.
upset with you, Lane. I needed to get out of there.”
“For God’s sake, Abby.” He stood there fuming for a minute, then he started to pace in front of the cabin, in the clearing where she and Aaron had eaten some of their meals, had made love. “You’re not ten years old,” he sputtered. “Adults don’t do things like this. You didn’t go home—you came
? I’ve always thought you needed someone to keep an eye on you, but this is ridiculous.”
“I’m fine. I’m safe. You can stop worrying.”
“When are you planning to go home? To your job?”
“I don’t know, Lane.”
“And look at you! Your hair.” He gestured. “Your clothes are practically ruined. And you—” His lip curled. “You
Her heartbeat was speeding up, and she could feel sweat beginning to collect on the back of her neck. She was starting to feel trapped again, just as she had back at the resort.
She remembered crawling out of bed on her last morning there, feeling as if Lane had become her jailer, as if she’d lost control over every last part of her life and that that would never change. Not until she was out on the water in the old man’s boat, heading away from Dolphin Cove with the salty wind in her face, had she been able to take a breath.
Now she felt imprisoned all over again.
“You couldn’t call me?” he pressed. “You couldn’t leave me a
“There’s no cell service here,” she muttered.
“And where is ‘here,’ exactly? This is… where is this? And who is that?” Lane flapped a hand toward the woods. “What are you
here? How are you going to get back if I don’t take you?”
“There are boats.”
“Boats,” he echoed. “What boats?”
“Boats,” she said, trying to wipe her sweaty palms on the hips of her dress in a way that Lane wouldn’t notice.
Lane looked past her, at the woods. Then he cast a long look around, taking in all of his surroundings, and she remembered how he’d gotten out of the boat when they arrived at Dolphin Cove—without checking to see if she needed a hand. He’d walked off down the dock, leaving the resort’s greeter to help her step up onto the dock.
There was cell service there, and he’d been talking on the phone, checking in with his office. Paying no attention to her.
“What do I tell your family?” Lane demanded. “Your employer? What am I supposed to tell them when they ask where you are?”
“You’re not responsible for me,” Abby said. “In no way whatsoever are you responsible for me.”
“Go down to the damn
, Abby. We’re getting out of here. I’ve wasted enough time trying to find you. This ends now.”
“NO,” she snapped. “It does NOT.”
Her chest was tightening, making it hard for her to breathe. This was what drowning felt like, she supposed, though not as wet. Her heart was thundering against her ribs, and she thought she might pass out.
, she thought.
I was dating this man—sleeping with this man—and now I’m so freaked out I might…
Before she could stop herself, she had dropped to her knees. Everything she’d eaten that morning came up in a rush and splattered onto the dirt of the clearing. All she could do for a couple of minutes was heave, feeling at first ice-cold and then burning hot, as if she had a high fever that might burn her to a cinder.
When it was finally over, she sat back on her haunches and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, looking at the ground rather than the man she’d thought she might have some sort of future with.
She wasn’t at all surprised when she heard Lane say, “I’m done with this.”
He wasn’t comforting her. Wasn’t offering her a handkerchief, or helping her get to her feet. He was disgusted with her.
She didn’t look up, but some part of her was aware that he’d walked away, that he was headed back down to the dock so the old man could take him back to Dolphin Cove. Once he was back home, he’d turn all this into a story he could tell his buddies over beers, she was sure—that he’d somehow hooked up with a crazy woman who’d run away from a very expensive weekend at a five-star island resort to live in a shack with a hermit.
Maybe he’d go a step further and say that all women were crazy, particularly one week a month.
There was a knot in the middle of her gut that felt like a black hole, like it was going to suck her right through to another universe.
That might be a good thing, if there was no Lane there.
She couldn’t face Aaron, not like this. She was practically sitting in a pool of puke.
He didn’t give her the option.
One moment he was there beside her, and the next he had gathered her up into his arms. Her shoes slipped off as he lifted her, and she fumbled for them, but he held her tight against his chest and said close to her ear, “Leave them. They’re worthless anyway.”
Then he carried her into their cabin and laid her down on the bed.
“Rest a while,” Aaron said. “I’ll make sure he’s gone.”
He straightened up, ready to chase down the man who’d reduced his mate to such a mess, but Abby grabbed his arm and held on with fingers that dug deep into his flesh. There was a desperate look in her eyes that made her look like terrified prey.
“Don’t,” she rasped. “Just let him go.”
“He may not—”
“He won’t stay. I’ve embarrassed him in front of other people. He won’t want anything more to do with me. I can’t… I can’t believe he’s been looking for me for this long.”
During his brief time on the mainland, Aaron had picked up a number of the colorful terms humans used to describe each other when they were angry, or ashamed, or scared. Some of them, he’d been told, were words that weren’t used in polite company, or in front of children—powerful words, used like weapons, but none of them were strong enough to describe how he felt about this man Lane.
It took him a minute to give in to Abby’s request, to convince the wolf that they shouldn’t run the man to ground and make him sorry he’d ever come here. He thought he understood how Micah had felt a few days ago: enraged enough to kill. The wolf was certainly ready to do that, and he thought Abby might see it in his eyes, so he turned away from her a little and focused on slowing down his thundering heart.
“You thought you were worthy of that kind of disrespect?” he asked her when he was sure he could speak normally.
“It’s hard to explain.”
“We address enemies that way. Not a mate. Never a mate.”
Now it was her turn to look away.
He couldn’t imagine what her life must have been like, what kind of upbringing she must have had to teach her that she needed to endure—and even accept—Lane’s criticism and disdain. Then he remembered her telling him that her father had been critical and controlling, and the word
slipped into his mind.
“Has no one told you how precious you are?” he asked softly.
Her head wobbled, and she rubbed her face with the back of her hand. “My mother,” she muttered. “But she’s been gone a long time.”
“Does that erase what she told you?”
Again, Abby’s head quivered.
“You are unique in the world,” he told her firmly. “You were born for good reason, and that reason is not to serve as the victim of someone else’s shortcomings.” Shaking his head, he wiped away the tears that had begun to slide down her cheeks. “You’re strong,” he said. “I’ve seen you be strong. Yet with him you’re weak and cowering. You should not be. You should not surrender to him.”
For a moment she didn’t answer him. Then she said in a small voice, “I just ran off on him. This whole time, I haven’t cared about what he was thinking, or doing. That’s not right. And he… he came looking for me.”
“If he was cruel to you, you owe him nothing.”
Never in his life had he seen a wolf treat his mate the way Lane had treated Abby, with such disdain, such disregard for her feelings. He’d thought all along that the man might show up at some point looking for her; persistence was certainly something every wolf was familiar with. But he hadn’t for a moment anticipated that Lane would show up here only to belittle and shame her.
“I need to make certain he’s gone,” he said. “It will only take a few minutes.”
He thought she might protest again, but all she did was nod.
Even in human form, he could move more quickly than Lane would under normal circumstances, but Lane was enraged, driven by adrenaline. Aaron reached the woods near the dock just as Lane was stepping out onto the fragile old structure.
The old man had tied Abby’s boat to another craft, a larger, newer one, and was getting ready to pull away. Lane didn’t ask him for help; he simply ran the last few steps along the dock, slipped a little on the wet wood, and landed in the better boat awkwardly, collapsing onto the seat with an expression that made it plain he’d twisted an ankle in the process.
, Aaron thought.
He stood watching, hidden by the trees, until the two boats were well away from the island.
Lane hadn’t looked back even once.
Relieved, Aaron ran back to the cabin. Before he went to Abby, he went to the water jug and poured some water into a cup. He took a long drink, then filled the cup again and brought it to his beleaguered mate.
She struggled to sit up on the bed, as if all the energy had been leached out of her, and was still so wobbly that he had to hold the cup for her as she drank, as if she had been near to death with fever.
“I’m sorry, Aaron,” she said when she was finished drinking.
“You have no need to apologize to me,” he told her. “You haven’t failed me. I think, if anything, you’ve failed yourself.”
She blinked at that, then said, “I guess so.”
“I wish I could give you the power we have inside of us. The strength. The gods gave us a tremendous gift—the heart of the wolf. I wish I could share that with you. You’d stop feeling like prey.”
He paused, looking up at the cabin’s rough-hewn ceiling as if he could see through it to the sky. “We make poor choices sometimes, but we never feel weak. Helpless. Not here, at least.”
“You looked very helpless when Luca was lying in that bed,” she reminded him with a wobbling smile. “So did your mother and father.”
He smiled wryly. “You’re right.”
Her eyes searched his face—for comfort, he realized—then dropped to her lap, where she was anxiously wringing her hands together.
“After my mother died,” she said quietly, “my father… kind of lost it. I guess he thought he couldn’t control what happened to her, but he could control everything else. Or try to. Maybe I reminded him of her too much. I don’t know. I just know that all of a sudden, it was impossible to please him. Everything I did was wrong. But he was the only parent I had left, and I didn’t want to lose him, so I did my best to do what he wanted. To please him.”
Deep inside of Aaron, the wolf rumbled with anger.
“I mean…” Abby said. “I know what he did was wrong. I know I didn’t deserve all that. At least, I don’t think I did. I never gave him any reason to be ashamed of me. But they say when you get used to something, you keep seeking it out.”
She looked at him plaintively, hands wrung together so tightly that they were white with lack of blood.
“I want you to know something,” Aaron said.
“That there are rules we abide by, for the good of the pack. For the good of our souls. They’ve allowed us to endure for hundreds of years. For the most part, we’re peaceful. Not violent.” He pulled in a breath. “In spite of that, I admit it would bring me a considerable amount of pleasure to chase down both those men and tear their throats out with my teeth.”
For a moment, Abby didn’t seem to know how to react. Then a single note of nervous laughter squeaked out of her.
Aaron sat down beside her on the bed and wrapped an arm around her. He set the cup aside, then used that hand to stroke her hair away from her face. “I’ll never let anyone harm you, Abby. With words or with deeds. The bond brings us together as partners, to ensure that our line will continue and be strong. But I promise you more than that. I promise to defend you.”
He paused again, examining the look on her face, then said firmly, “I promise to stand with you so that you can defend yourself.”
As if a dam had broken, tears began to pour down her face. She seemed embarrassed at first, then clutched his shirt with both hands and tried to smile.
“Nobody ever—” she stammered.
“Let it begin now, then. You have my word.”
He intended simply to stay there with her for a while, either sitting beside her or holding her in his arms until she felt ready to venture out into the world again, but the wolf didn’t feel like sitting. It nudged at him until he surrendered to kissing Abby tenderly and gently, tending to her with his lips the way the wolf would have licked her in the wild.
After a minute she shifted around so he could hold her more comfortably, looping her arms around his neck and shoulders, and began to return his kiss. He listened to her breathing even out, smiling at the way her heartbeat had moved into a different rhythm, one that said that yes, she was his mate, that she wanted him in every possible way and was having no more thoughts of leaving him.
His hands moved to her back to find the zipper of her dress and pulled it down so that he could slide the dress away from her shoulders, from her beautiful breasts.
After their swim she had put back on one of those little scraps of fabric humans called a bra—this one a delicate blue, mostly made of lace. Here in the dim light of the cabin, he was awed by it for a moment, as if he’d suddenly come upon a little nest of wildflowers he’d never seen before.
“This one clips in the front,” she said, and moved her still trembling hands to unfasten it.
He stopped her, capturing her hands in his own. “No. I want to look at it.”
“You’ve seen me wear them before.”
“I know. But you always take them off so quickly.”
He ran a finger along the edge of the lace lightly enough to make her giggle, then pushed the top of her dress down as far as it would go and leaned down to lick one of her breasts through the lace and pinch the nipple between his teeth.
“Do you like it?” she whispered.
“I want to tear it off you,” he said against her skin. “But I don’t want to ruin it. I want to see it again.”
“Just unfasten it.”
“They don’t wear bras? I guess not. They’re really kind of stupid. And kind of uncomfortable, most of the time.”
Aaron got off the bed and tugged Abby off to stand in front of him, then pushed her dress down past her hips to puddle on the floor. Her lower undergarment wasn’t nearly as interesting as the bra, though it was the same color and was trimmed with the same lace. The bra intrigued him, the way it held her breasts up so that they pointed at him, almost begging him to ravage them.
Then again, that lower garment was shielding her sweet sex, preventing him from plunging into it.
He nearly leaped at her, intent on tearing those little bits of fabric away in spite of his desire to play with them again, but Abby gestured for him to wait. With her gaze locked on his, she hooked her thumbs underneath the waistband of the lower garment and began to inch it slowly down over her hips.
His cock answered that by swelling against his jeans, demanding to be set free.
Oh, this was torture—watching her tease that blue garment down her body toward the floor, toward her very mistreated feet. By the time she stepped away from it, he thought he would lose his mind, that the wolf would break free and seize what it wanted, without a bit of interest in flimsy human clothing.
His hands were shaking as he stripped off his shirt and shoes and jeans, and he stumbled a little as he tossed them away, out of reach.
She was wearing nothing but that little bra, that little blue flower.
Growling deep in his throat, he dropped to his knees and cupped her backside in his hands, drew her close to him and thrust his tongue toward her sex. The wolf hummed with pleasure inside him as he licked and poked and explored, drinking in her taste and her scent, thrilled by the way she was groaning.
When she began to wobble so much that he wasn’t sure she could remain standing, he laid her sideways across the bed and draped her legs over his shoulders. Then he renewed his assault, plunging his tongue deep inside her and stroking the insides of her thighs with his fingers as his nose teased at her clit.
Before long she was gasping, clutching at the blanket, pressing her heels against his back to push him deeper, closer. When she went over the edge, she let out a shrill shriek that made the wolf draw back and howl.
He gave her only a moment to recover before he climbed onto the bed, shifted her around so that she was lying fully on the mattress, and gave his aching cock the relief it needed by sliding it deep inside her.
She clenched around him immediately, tightly enough to make him groan, and when he began to thrust she matched his rhythm, breathing in deep gasps and again pushing him deeper and deeper.
“Aaron!” she cried out. “God, Aaron. Oh,
It sounded almost desperate, keened from somewhere in the depths of her soul. She was clinging to him like a lifeline, powerfully enough that he knew he’d be bruised until he relaxed enough to allow his body to heal.
He spilled his seed inside her with a long, breathless moan that echoed the wolf’s cry of triumph.