Forever (Shifter Island Book 3) (4 page)

BOOK: Forever (Shifter Island Book 3)
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And if she really wanted them to.

“You like children,” she said quietly, looking up at Aaron.

“I do.”

“Would you—I mean—do people have a lot of them? Or just a few?”

He smiled as one of the little girls caught the ball and held it against her chest as if she intended to keep it. “We have limited resources,” he explained. “Two or three offspring is customary.”

He was silent for a minute, then he reached out and looped an arm around Abby’s waist. “The outside world is very large,” he mused. “But our world can be very large too. It depends on what you make of it. If you open all your senses to it and delight in what you have, rather than yearning for other things.”

Something caught Abby’s eye: a teenage couple lurking in the shadows of what Abby thought might be the schoolhouse. They were pressed close together, kissing lightly, exploring each other with their lips.

Aaron had seen them too.

“They won’t deny us, will they?” Abby asked with a catch in her voice. “The elders. They have to say yes.”

Aaron dipped his chin. To Abby, it didn’t really look like a nod. “They have a lot to think about,” he told her solemnly. “A great deal to decide.”

“But they won’t say no. They can’t say no.”

This time, to Abby’s dismay, all Aaron did was sigh.

 

Seven

 

Dinner with Aaron’s family was an awkward event from start to finish. By the time Abby got there, Luca had already told his parents about Lane being on the island, and while they were less outwardly upset than Luca was (which wasn’t difficult to accomplish, given that he almost constantly seemed to be annoyed about something), the problem was clearly on their minds.

A couple of times, Abby opened her mouth to assure them that everything would be all right, but she couldn’t bring herself to actually say it.

You really don’t have any idea if everything’s okay, or not.

“You look good,” she said to Luca, hoping a different subject would be all right to venture into.

He flexed his shoulders, and she remembered the deep stab wounds that had been there. “Stiff,” he said. “But improving.”

“That’s good. That you can heal like that.”

“It’s a gift to our kind.”

Humans could heal too, she reminded herself, sometimes from very serious injury or illness. What happened to the wolves seemed to be an amped-up version of that. Maybe their immune systems were on overdrive, constantly battling infection, keeping them strong and healthy?

“Do you—” She stopped herself again, wondering if the wolves cared much about sticking to polite dinner conversation. “I’m just curious. Do you get cancer? Things like… Parkinson’s, or diabetes, or whatever?”

“No,” Aaron’s father said.

“Really?”

He speared a chunk of meat and put it into his mouth, chewed it quickly and somewhat ferociously, and swallowed. It made her wonder why he was in such a rush; this wasn’t the wild, after all, and no one was likely to try to steal his dinner off his plate. The rest of the family seemed to be in no hurry to finish, so maybe it was a quirk that belonged only to Jeremiah. Maybe he did everything in a rush.

That made her feel sorry for Rachel, Aaron’s mother, and she had to hide a smile.

“Our bloodline is strong,” Luca said.

That wasn’t hard to believe. Everyone here seemed to be tall, strong, healthy, and very active—except for Granny Sara, who, Abby reminded herself, was human. Sara also looked a lot older than any of the wolves, even the elders.

“The humans would use us for study,” Jeremiah said, eyeing another chunk of meat. “That’s another reason we’re wary. None of us wants to end up in a laboratory, so that human doctors can pick apart our cells. We were given a gift by the gods. If the gods had meant for humans to share that gift, they would have given it to everyone.” He peered at Abby, his attention razor-like.

“Sure,” Abby stammered. “I understand.” Which was true; she wouldn’t have wanted to be a lab rat, either.

No diseases, she mused. Strong bones and teeth.

It occurred to her, suddenly, that even though Granny Sara looked older than any of the wolves, some of them might be a lot older than Sara. She’d assumed Aaron was somewhere in his mid-twenties and Luca a little older, which would make their parents fifty-ish.

What if they were all a lot older than that?

Abby poked at her food for a while, taking small bites and chewing them thoughtfully. Meat, potatoes, vegetables—it reminded her of the meals they’d always had when she was a little girl, the same classic fare that her father had gotten used to during his own growing-up years.

This tasted better, though. Richer and more flavorful.

No chemicals
, she thought.
Everything’s fresh.

“We’ve had no humans living under this roof before,” Jeremiah said abruptly.

Aaron’s fork clattered against his plate. “Father,” he said firmly. “We’ve talked about this. We won’t be living under this roof.”

“We’ll build another room.”

“You don’t need to build another room.”

Jeremiah’s nostrils flared. “My house isn’t good enough for you?”

So much was the same, Abby thought. Parents making decisions that they expected to be obeyed without question. Parents addressing their grown offspring as if they were still children, incapable of making long-term plans and taking care of themselves.

Would Rachel speak up? Was her attitude toward her sons any different from Jeremiah’s?

No wonder both Luca and Aaron seemed so balky.

“Some of the families live all together,” Aaron told Abby quietly. “Several generations in the same house.”

With Jeremiah in charge
, Abby thought.
Swell.

Yes, everything would be the same. She’d be back in her father’s house, eating the same kind of meals, no doubt going to bed and getting up in the morning at what Jeremiah thought were the right times. Being told to get out of the bathroom before she was finished… although, no, there was no bathroom here. Maybe she’d be told to get out of the outhouse before she was done.

The strength seeped out of her limbs, and she laid her fork down carefully on the table.

To her relief, mealtime ended not long after that, and when she moved to help Rachel clear the table, Rachel nudged her gently aside and gestured toward the door. “Why don’t you and Aaron sit outside for a while?” she suggested. “Enjoy what’s left of the day. Or he could show you the place where the sunset is the most beautiful.”

But Aaron was talking with his father. Both of them were keeping their voices low, but their tempers were plainly visible.

“Come,” Luca said.

Abby frowned at that. What in the world could Luca want with her? She was ready to decline, but Luca already had the door open, so she nodded in reluctant agreement and followed Aaron’s brother outside.

The sun was already very low in the sky. It wouldn’t be long before it disappeared behind the pines.

“It’s a show,” Luca said, glancing back at the house.

“What is?”

“Father is the head of our family. Of our house. He has to make it appear as if…” He sighed, making himself look more vulnerable than Abby had seen him since he’d gotten out of his sickbed. “Do you understand ‘alpha’?”

“Sure.”

“Do you?” Luca pressed.

“Apparently not, then. But my father was in charge of our house. We had to be quiet when he said. Let him make all the decisions.”

“There’s more to it than that.”

A narrow beam of sunlight landed on Luca’s neck, highlighting a pale white scar running from just below his ear down over his shoulder onto his chest. It disappeared underneath his shirt. It was no wider than a strand of uncooked angel hair pasta. It wasn’t a remnant of his stab wounds, which meant he’d been hurt another time, and probably seriously.

When Abby thought about being torn open like that, it made her wince.

“You need strength,” she said. “You need everyone to understand that they can’t challenge you.”

“I challenged my father, several years ago. I wanted to stay on the mainland.”

“You did?”

Nodding, Luca looked off into the distance. “There was a human girl,” he said, his tone making it plain that this was a confidence, something she shouldn’t feel free to talk about whenever the urge struck her. “We weren’t—I felt something that I thought might be the pull of the bond, but I wasn’t sure. I did know I loved her. I couldn’t imagine leaving her, so I sent word to my father that I wanted to stay on the mainland and build a life there. It seemed like a good choice at the time. I’d gotten used to being around humans. I thought everything would be fine.”

Abby ventured, “But it wasn’t?”

“There was nowhere to run. Nowhere that I could set the wolf free.”

“I’m sorry.”

Luca looked deep into her eyes for a moment, as if he was trying to determine whether she really meant that—and how he should feel about it if she did. “We seem to have a fondness for humans,” he said. “My brother and I. I thought it would cause him grief. It did for me. All my father sees is that we like to create complications for him.”

“Maybe that’s what children are supposed to do.”

He grinned crookedly. “Maybe so.”

Abby was silent for a minute, watching the shifting colors of the clouds surrounding the setting sun. “What was she like?” she asked, although she wasn’t sure how Luca would react. “The girl.”

“Funny.”

“That’s a plus.”

“Warm. Her laughter was… wonderful. Her eyes were very blue.”

“You still love her, don’t you?”

He trailed his fingers over the scar on his neck, scratching it a little. “It could be that I love something I’ve put together in my mind. It’s been a long time. I may not remember her accurately.”

“Did she know about… what you are?”

“No.”

“You never told her.”

“I planned to.”

He seemed more and more restless, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, his gaze moving constantly around. He didn’t want his father to overhear their conversation, Abby supposed; more than likely, Luca’s lost love was still a bone of contention between them, and might always be.

“Katrin is a fine female,” he said suddenly.

Startled, Abby couldn’t think of anything to say—and more so, what the right thing to say would be—for a minute. Then she thought of how badly Katrin wanted Luca to care for her the same way she cared for him.

“She seems very nice,” Abby suggested.

“So everyone says. She would be a good mate. An excellent mate. We’ve known each other since we were children. Nothing about her would come as a surprise.”

He didn’t need to explain what he meant. He’d loved that his mainland girl had surprised him, loved discovering new things about her. That was one of the best parts of getting to know someone new, Abby thought: discovering all their pieces and parts. She was finding that with Aaron, each day bringing something new, even if it was something as small as seeing him react to the sound of a child’s laugh or a cluster of wildflowers.

Or her little blue bra.

“Could you go back?” she whispered.

Luca frowned. He seemed frozen in place for a moment, then he shook his head. “It’s not done. It’s not ever done.”

“I think you need to know. I think you need answers.”

He seemed like a man full of scars, most of which had nothing to do with his battle with Micah. Abby was tempted to embrace him, to offer some comfort, then was afraid that that was something the wolves didn’t do. Aaron touched her constantly, but she was his mate. Would something deep inside him react violently to her embracing his brother? The last thing she wanted to do was instigate another battle.

“I need to run,” Luca said without quite looking at her. “I need to set the wolf free. Have a pleasant evening.”

He was gone, running silently into the woods before she could respond.

She stood looking in the direction he’d taken, arms wrapped around herself, as the shadows around her began to deepen.

Then she heard Aaron say, “I need you.”

 

Eight

 

The sound of his voice sent a tingle up through her body, a sudden, prickling heat that made her shiver. It had only been a few hours since they’d made love at the cabin, but that suddenly seemed like far too long. When she turned to him, his eyes were half-closed, his mouth open just a little.

She wanted that mouth on her: on her lips, her breasts, her sex. Right here, right now, no matter who might be watching.

Hey. Since when do you do it in front of an audience?

The bulge at the front of his jeans showed her that he’d probably be willing, particularly since part of him was a wild animal. She thought she remembered him saying something about other couples making love out in the woods, in clearings where others might pass by, and she had to admit the idea was exciting.

Oh my GOD, Abby.

Grinning, she went to him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He dove in immediately, his lips and tongue claiming hers as if they’d been separated for months. He gripped her upper arms in his hands, breathing heavily, urgently, his eyes pressed closed now, then fully open and searching, as if he couldn’t bear not being able to see her.

“Do you—” she gasped when he let her take a breath.

“What?”

Heat rose into her face. Was she really going to suggest this? “When you—do they—is it ever—”

Aaron’s eyebrows went up.

She had to be as red as a brick. Chagrined, she lowered her gaze to his chest, to avoid those piercing eyes. “I was just wondering,” she whispered, “if when you—all of you, not just you—do it out in the woods, do—”

This one time, she wished fervently that he’d understand what she was thinking.

Instead, he said, “I might be able to answer you if you could complete the question. I can guess, but—”

“Do you watch each other have sex? I mean, you’re wolves. And real wolves don’t exactly book a hotel room.”

Aaron started to laugh softly, shaking his head. It was her nervousness he was chuckling at, she realized, and not the question itself, because he’d cupped her rear end in his hands and was feeling her up out in front of his parents’ house, with pretty much anyone in the village liable to walk by at any moment.

Including his brother. And his parents. And—she shuddered—the elders.

“Would you like that?” he asked.

“I—I don’t know.”

“You’re right,” he said, hands still roaming. “We can sometimes be more relaxed about it than humans. But it’s usually the young ones who do that, so they can demonstrate that they’ve come of age and are ready for mating. It can be very entertaining to watch. They’re very enthusiastic.”

Like watching sexy DVDs, she supposed. She’d done that a few times, with a guy who claimed it was a fun way to get into the mood. On the other hand, this would be people she was going to have to live with and talk to.

“Why don’t we save that for later?” Aaron suggested.

A sudden sound caught his attention, and he turned an ear toward the woods, at first curious and then… what? Relieved? Content?

Abby tried focusing her less powerful human hearing and after a minute was able to identify the sound as the cry of a wolf. The animal didn’t sound like it was in distress; more like it was simply saying,
I’m here.

“Luca,” Aaron said.

“Is he all right?”

“Let’s not talk about my brother.”

Without waiting for an answer, he took Abby’s hand and led her away from the house into a pretty grove of young trees. There was enough sunlight left that the place seemed dreamlike, something out of a fairy tale.

They didn’t stop there, though; Aaron kept her walking along, through a part of the woods she hadn’t seen before, one where fallen leaves crunched and crackled under her shoes. The sun kept going down as they walked, faster than she thought was possible, and she was sure it would be full dark before they reached wherever they were going.

But that didn’t happen. They walked up over a crest, through another grove of trees, and out onto a grassy area that overlooked the ocean. Out there on the waves, the sun was still some distance from the horizon.

“This is the place my mother mentioned,” Aaron said. “The place where the sunset is the most beautiful.”

Frowning, Abby glanced around. “Is it… popular?”

“Still thinking about an audience, are you?”

He gestured for her to sit down. When she hesitated, he sat down himself, then held his arms out to her. Did he intend for them to just watch the sunset? That seemed possible, because he wasn’t starting to take off his shirt, or reaching for the zipper of her dress.

Maybe he was waiting for everyone else to show up.

“You fret a lot,” he said.

“I—no, I don’t.”

He made a scoffing noise and patted the grass alongside him. She thought for a moment about walking back to the house, or finding somewhere more private, but this place
was
beautiful. Nodding, she sat down, then slipped off her shoes so she could wiggle her toes in the grass. It was cool and soft, and the ground underneath smelled rich and slightly damp. There were small clusters of wildflowers all around them, tucked into the grass and around the rocks at the edges of the clearing.

“Turtlehead,” Aaron said, pointing. “Jewelweed. Ironweed.”

“And black-eyed Susans. I know those.” Abby looked around some more, but couldn’t find what she was looking for. “Where are the white ones? The ones that were in the dream place?”

“They bloom in the spring.”

“Oh.”

“You’re disappointed.”

“A little. They seem special now.”

“We’ll look for them in the spring. But you can always see them in your dreams.”

His voice had gone soft, as if he was trying to lull her to sleep, but the look in his eyes had nothing to do with sleeping. That golden light was in them, dancing in his irises, reflecting the light bouncing off the waves. It made her forget all about flowers; if she could only see one thing for the rest of her life, she thought, it would be his eyes.

He drew her in for another kiss, gentle and tender this time, his fingers moving lightly over her shoulders and down her back as his lips teased hers. He still tasted a little of what he’d had for dinner, and she supposed she did too.

Good food, she thought. Making love. Then sleep. They could sleep here, maybe, if the wind off the ocean didn’t turn too cold.

He was adept now at finding the pull-tab for the zipper at the back of her dress without looking for it. She shivered as he pulled it down the track, and when he began to ease the dress off her shoulders, she moved to her knees and pulled it up and off. When she returned to his arms, he murmured into her ear, “You’re the most beautiful thing the gods have ever created.”

That made her breath catch in her throat.

Then he was kissing her again: her cheeks, her throat, her breasts. He lowered her down onto her back on the grass and left a trail of kisses down her belly.

It was like something out of a romantic, sexy movie, Abby thought—being in a place like this, with the most gorgeous man in the world making love to her. She’d seen dozens of movies like that since her teen years, and had daydreamed a thousand times about those things happening to her, but the closest she’d ever come was a halfway-decent hotel room with soft sheets.

Most of the time, lovemaking was awkward. Okay, at best.

Now…

“What is it?” Aaron asked softly.

He’d stopped what he was doing and was looking at her with deep concern. She shook her head and quickly brushed away the tears that had dribbled onto her cheeks and into her ears, but he’d already seen them. Worried now, he gathered her into his arms and held her close, looking around with the wary eyes of a protector. He didn’t find anything, because there was nothing for him to find.

“Why are you upset?” he asked.

“I just—” She bit her lip and pressed her head against his shoulder. “I don’t know what—I just—I never thought I’d have anything like this. This doesn’t happen to girls like me. We get ‘good enough’ and that’s all.”

She could only see a little bit of his expression, but that was enough to tell her that he was concerned. Not embarrassed, or exasperated, as Lane would be.

He ran a hand over the back of her head, stroking her hair, and shook his head. “You are not ‘good enough’,” he told her. “You’re perfect.”

“Are you supposed to say that?”

He held her far enough away from him that he could look into her eyes. “I suppose the bond exaggerates my reaction somewhat. But if you’ve been told that you’re nothing more than adequate, if you’ve settled for the attention of people you thought were only adequate—I’m glad you’ve come to me. I plan to care for you and protect you and honor you for the rest of my life. The gods brought you here, Abby. Not because they thought you were adequate. Because they see you as a gift.”

Tears poured over her cheeks, and this time she didn’t try to stop them. Aaron let them flow for a minute, then gently wiped them away, first with his fingers, then with his lips.

“I’ll never forget that you’re a gift, Abby,” he whispered. “I promise.”

“But… what if the elders…”

“We’ll find an answer.”

He stood up then and quickly stripped out of his clothes. Standing there in the golden light of sunset, he looked like one of the gods he kept talking about, every inch of him perfectly sculpted, his dark hair fluttering slightly in the breeze. He looked as much a part of nature as the grass and trees and rocks around him, and at the same time, like something too spectacular to be real.

He was smiling as he sank to his knees in front of her, the kind of sweet, expectant smile that could only come from love. With sure, capable hands he removed her bra and panties and laid them aside, then resumed kissing her belly, the valley between her breasts, the curves of her breasts themselves, her shoulders, the base of her throat. She could feel the weight of his cock against her belly and ached to have it inside her, filling her; longed to have him joined with her until long after the sun had set.

“Aaron,” she groaned.

“Not just yet.”

“You said you need me. I need you too. I want you.”

His hand moved to a place near her head and came back into her line of sight holding a wildflower. Grinning, he brushed her nose with it, then moved it to her nipple and began to tickle her lightly. The teasing made her squeal, and she tried to brush the flower away, but Aaron avoided her gleefully and nipped at her with his teeth. His assault was relentless, but it was so playful that it made her laugh, and he quickly joined in.

Somewhere along the line the flower disappeared, and he was lapping at her sex, teasing her clit with his tongue, as happy with his exploration there as she’d been as a child on Christmas morning.

Finally,
finally
, he thrust inside her, filling that empty place so completely that she gasped and rocked her head back, closing her eyes so she could focus only on how good it felt to have him there.

He
was
the sun, she thought. Radiating heat and power. Giving her the kind of life she’d never had before. Pleasure soared through her, from her core down to her toes, up to her lips, her heart. She clung to him fiercely, matching his movements with her own, gulping in air in big, heaving gasps.

Her body seemed to be on fire, then didn’t seem like a body at all; she seemed to be floating somewhere otherworldly, so close to the edge that she couldn’t bear it, ready to weep again because it was just beyond her reach.

Then she heard him moan, a deep, visceral sound that she knew came partly from the wolf, and she soared over the edge with a scream.

For what seemed like a long time, she couldn’t get hold of herself, wasn’t sure where she was. She could still feel Aaron’s heat, but he’d moved to lie alongside her. In the real world? Or the dream world?

She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

But slowly, the real world came back. The sky, the last traces of sunlight, the cool grass underneath her.

And something else: they weren’t alone.

It embarrassed her at first. As if her thinking about it so much had made it come true, someone had been watching them, someone who wasn’t very far away.

She thought about grabbing her dress to cover herself, but it felt so right to lie there on the grass with the ocean breeze sliding over her damp skin that she decided to let whoever it was go on looking.

Saw a pretty good show
, she thought.

When Aaron sat up, she smiled up at him. His shoulders looked impossibly massive against the sky.

Her king, she thought. Her alpha.

He was looking around. Not smiling now, not amused. He was concerned about something.

“What?” she asked, resting a hand on his thigh.

When he didn’t answer, she sat up too and looked around, but saw nothing that hadn’t been there before.

He was still solemn, his eyes deep and dark.

Was it Micah who’d been watching them? she wondered. To her knowledge, Micah was the only member of the community that Aaron had had any real trouble with; they’d battled only a couple of days ago, and the scar of one of the wounds that Micah had inflicted was still visible on Aaron’s chest.

BOOK: Forever (Shifter Island Book 3)
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