Authors: Carol Davis
And Daniel. It might be Daniel. That thought made her queasy.
“Micah?” she whispered.
He turned to look at her, and what she saw in his eyes sent a bolt of fear coursing through her.
“That human,” he said. “He’s come back.”
Aaron climbed quickly to his feet. He hadn’t stopped scanning the area; now he turned all of his senses toward what lay around them. The human man was farther away now, maybe a hundred yards or more. No doubt he’d scurried away when he realized he’d been noticed, but he’d slowed down and was lurking in the woods.
After all this time.
It might be that he’d never really left the island. Or maybe he had, but his human stubbornness had brought him back.
Abby got to her feet with her dress clutched in front of her.
“Put that on,” Aaron said. “I’ll take you back to the settlement.”
She fumbled a little, as if she’d forgotten what the dress was, or what she ought to do with it. “I’m sorry,” she murmured. “This is my fault. He wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for me.”
He took the dress away from her and shook it out of the ball she’d wadded it into. When he held it out to her, she took it back, but she still made no move to put it on. Under other circumstances he would have been pleased that she seemed so comfortable with being nude, but not now. Shaking his head, he held the skirt open over her head and nudged her until she surrendered to putting it on.
“Abby,” he said quietly as she tugged the dress into place. “Did you make promises to this man?”
She shuddered and turned to face him. “I… no.”
“You did not.”
“No. I did not.” Her expression turned stubborn. “Why would you think that?”
“Clearly, he will not surrender. He thinks you belong to him. I’m trying to understand why.”
Thoughts of Katrin and Micah whirled through Aaron’s head, pictures of how their simple interactions over the years had turned into Micah’s belief that they were meant to be mates. It was a complicated business, he thought, full of the possibility for misunderstandings—and anger, and a sense of betrayal.
“Did he give you gifts? Tokens of his love?”
Abby folded her arms over her chest. “Flowers, sometimes. He always sent them to my office,” she said with her chin jutting out. “So all the people I worked with could see what a terrific boyfriend he was.”
“Concert tickets. He took me places he wanted to go to. He bought me a fancy watch because he thought I was late too often. We went out to dinner a lot. If you mean jewelry, then no. No rings. I didn’t promise him anything.”
“Did you speak of marriage?”
Abby turned her head away, and that simple gesture made Aaron’s stomach roll over.
“It was mentioned,” she said. “People talk, okay? They talk. I don’t want to marry him, Aaron. That’s the last thing I want.”
When he didn’t respond, she made a loud sound of frustration.
“Do you not change your minds?” she asked him. “Your people? The… the wolves? You can’t tell me you don’t ever change your minds. Okay, maybe there was a time when I thought marrying him might be something I wanted—but it was a long time ago. I don’t love him. I’ve never loved him. I just thought it might be all right. I’d have a husband with a good job. Somebody people respected. People get married for worse reasons than that. Does it not ever happen here?”
“I suppose it does,” he admitted.
He could almost hear her heartbeat speed up. She was badly shaken now, and her scent had become very strong.
,” she said. “I won’t change my mind.”
Aaron looked into the depths of her eyes until time seemed to slow down a little, until the wolf inside him stopped pacing and settled into a position of strength and commitment. “You misunderstand,” he told her, running his hands down the length of her arms, caressing her soft skin. “I don’t doubt you. I needed to know his thoughts. His expectations.”
“And… then what?”
“I need to win you. I need him to understand that he must go away and never come back, because there is nothing for him here.”
“I told him that already. You heard me. I told him.”
Slowly, Aaron drew in a breath. The man’s scent was harder to find now, but that was because of a shift in the wind, not because he’d moved any farther away. He was still there, Aaron knew: not very far away, still watching. He had made a strategic retreat, nothing more.
“He won’t listen to you,” he said, his eyes on the woods. “This is between him and me, as it was between Luca and Micah. He clearly will not be swayed by words. He needs to be driven off the island in a way that will not allow him to return. He’s a threat to the pack, Abby.”
He paused then, because the wolf was restless again. After a moment, he said, “A reasonable man—one who was willing to accept that your relationship is over—would have left the island when you told him you were safe and wanted not to see him again, but he is not reasonable. His honor has been challenged, and he won’t surrender until he’s forced to.”
“He’s not like Micah, Aaron.”
She shifted the dress into place, and he quickly pulled the zipper up the back. Then he retrieved her undergarments and shoes from the ground and handed them to her.
“Are you going to fight him, like you did with Micah?” she asked.
Aaron took a step back. “He would not survive.”
“Do you want to kill him?”
“Part of me does.”
She was silent for a minute, then, sounding very tired, she said, “He can’t just disappear. He’s not like me—he’s not nobody. He’s an attorney, a successful one. People will look for him. It won’t be just one person who’ll show up. They’ll make a thing out of this, Aaron.”
He thought of the stories that had been passed among the wolves over the years, tales of people whose bodies had been taken back to the mainland and left in the woods. People who appeared to have been killed by a large, predatory animal—or by a human murderer.
“We can make arrangements,” he said.
“You don’t want him to die.”
“I—” Abby made another sound, this one full of emotion. “No. I don’t want anybody to die.”
She truly didn’t, he understood. It was part of why she’d set aside her fears to help him battle Micah—so that neither of them would die. But he had to wonder how far the man Lane would go in order to bring her back with him to the mainland. Would he be willing to kill, or maim, as Micah had?
Aaron had only spent a short time with the humans during his Involvement, but that was long enough to have shown him how bloodthirsty the humans could be. They fought and killed each other over territory, philosophy, mates… even something as meaningless as a pair of shoes. Sometimes, they killed simply because they had been instructed to.
He wasn’t at all sure that anything would compel this man to back down, to admit defeat.
But he said quietly, “Then he won’t die.”
“What does that mean?” Abby asked. “What are you going to do?”
Aaron shook his head, then tipped it back a little and called out to his packmates, letting the wolf fill his lungs with power and passion. The cry went on for almost half a minute, telling the others what was happening, that there was danger here and that he needed their help.
He was still calling when their replies began to fill the air, telling him what was happening back in the settlement. The little ones were being taken indoors, where they could be protected. Some of the females and the older males would guard doors and windows.
The rest would come to him.
“Aaron…” Abby said, worry written across her face.
She was interrupted by the members of the pack who began to move into the clearing, all of them still in human form. Luca came first, as Aaron had expected, responding to his brother’s call. Then, two of the young wolves who had stood guard while Aaron was being held in the meeting house. There were more in the woods, circling around, examining the area for themselves but making a wide berth around the human.
He was about to say something to Luca when the three elders moved out of the woods, walking almost side by side: Caleb, Mason, and Jameson. As they came closer, Caleb stepped ahead, ready to speak for the three of them.
There was a stain on the front of his shirt, as if he’d been startled in the middle of his dinner and had spilled a drink, or some soup.
“You said the human had left the island,” the alpha accused Aaron.
“I did,” Aaron replied. “He did leave.”
“But he’s come back.”
Caleb waved away Aaron’s attempt to respond and turned his attention to Abby. His expression was difficult to read, and his scent gave nothing away.
“I’m sorry,” Abby muttered.
Caleb waved her off too and turned around, looking at each of the others in turn. “None of you have scented this human before now?”
One by one, they shook their heads. A few of them murmured, “No, Alpha.”
Nodding, Caleb returned his attention to Aaron and Abby. “Luca has told me what happened with this man, when he confronted you at the place of Separation. We cannot allow this to go any further.”
“Sir,” Abby began, but Caleb cut her off again.
“Would this man be content if you returned to the mainland with him?” he demanded.
One of the younger wolves—Dash, Aaron noticed—moved in closer. Dash’s cousin Nathan was only a few steps away. The two of them were inseparable most of the time: they worked together, played together. They often thought the same way, as if they shared a brain. They might as well have been twins. And now, they didn’t need to tell him what they had in mind. Their young muscles were stirring, and their cocks were half-erect. They wanted to chase the human through the woods in their wolf forms, up and down over the rocks, snapping at his heels and snarling at him until he was terrified.
Then, if the alpha allowed it, they would kill him.
“The humans already know Abby is missing,” Aaron said reluctantly. “If the man goes missing as well, they’re likely to send others. Old Mac, the fisherman, might well send them here. We need to find another solution, Alpha.”
“What other solution is there?” Nathan demanded.
Murmurs passed through the crowd, and there was enough commitment in the sound to send a chill through Aaron’s body. Both Nathan and Dash were ready to shift, to give chase—and if they did so, the others would quickly follow suit. Only the presence of the elders prevented them from doing it.
Abby, too, seemed to understand what was happening. Before Aaron could speak to her, she stepped away, moving closer to the sea, and stood looking out over the water with her arms wrapped around herself.
Another wave of murmuring passed through the pack.
“Wait,” Aaron told the other wolves, then went to join her.
She ignored him for a minute, but her scent told him nearly everything he needed to know. It told him not to touch her, to leave her alone with her thoughts, at least for the moment.
Damn that man
, Aaron thought furiously. The evening had been perfect, their mating sublime. Now…
When she spoke again, there was uncertainty in her voice. “I read stories all the time about husbands and boyfriends and lovers who won’t give up. One of my dorm mates in college had bruises all the time, but she said it was because she was clumsy. I work with—worked with—someone who’s in the same mess. Maybe this has already gone too far. You took something from him.
took something from him. I never thought he was dangerous.”
He had to force himself not to touch her. She was still shielding herself, stepping away when he moved closer.
“I don’t know,” she muttered. “I don’t know what he’ll do.”
“Do you fear him, Abby?”
“I don’t know. I never thought I had reason to.”
“He came back after he was told to leave, that you didn’t want him any more. He’s pursued you when you said your relationship was over. Now he’s stood there and watched us mate. Those don’t seem like the actions of a reasonable man. Someone who’s truly concerned about your safety, your wellbeing.”
Abby grunted softly, as if she was in pain.
“Abby,” Aaron said.
“You can’t… you can’t just go around killing people. You didn’t kill Micah, Aaron. You didn’t kill Micah, and he almost killed your brother. Don’t make this different just because Lane is human.”
“That’s not the reason.”
“I don’t understand you,” she said. “Any of you. Micah’s still wandering around loose.”
He nodded in acknowledgment, but it only seemed to irritate her. “Micah is one of us,” he said. “Punishment isn’t a decision that can be made lightly.” Before she could argue that, he went on, “Nor is this one.”
“Have you ever killed someone? A human?”
“I have not, no.”
“But it’s happened.”
She searched his face in the dying light. “I see.”
“Tell me what you wish to have me do. Look into your heart and tell me what you truly wish.”
“I wish he’d never come here.”