Authors: Carol Davis
Aaron heard a rumble from somewhere at the back of the pack, a noise that coming from the throat of a man would be laughter. He growled softly in return, warning the pack to stand firm, claws and teeth at the ready.
The human Lane started to weep.
Aaron and the wolf were struck by a shared thought, one that was difficult to resist. No wolf in the wild would indulge it, but these were different circumstances, so Aaron urged the animal forward. It took a step, then another, listening to the tiny sounds of curiosity coming from the others.
The human had tried to curl into a ball, but his injured leg and the arrangement of the rocks wouldn’t allow it, so parts of him were exposed.
The wolf took another step, then paused, waiting for the man’s reaction.
He seemed to be frozen in terror, his eyes open wide, the rest of him quivering but immobile. That was exactly what both Aaron and the wolf wanted, so Aaron gave the animal another nudge.
The man started to whine louder as the wolf walked steadily up to him, and though it hardly seemed possible, his eyes opened wider and wider.
The wolf opened its jaws and fastened its teeth around the man’s genitals.
It tightened its grip just enough for the tips of its canines to begin to pierce the fabric of the man’s pants, then went still.
Aaron had the wolf hold on until the man’s entire body had flooded with the stink of panic. Tears cascaded down the man’s cheeks onto his filthy shirt, but still he didn’t move. He didn’t dare move.
Aaron had no doubt that his message had been received.
He had the wolf step back then—and it was a relief in many ways to let go—and retreat back to its original position a few yards from the rocks.
The others were mostly silent, but with the wolf’s sensitive ears Aaron could hear them reacting to what had happened and expressing their satisfaction.
One of them howled with delight when the human’s bladder let go and he soaked his pants.
The moment seemed fully right, so Aaron reached out and took over. He kept his eyes on the man as he shifted back into human form, enjoying every bit of the man’s astonishment and shock.
As he rose fully up onto his legs, he allowed himself to retain a little of the animal’s power so that he’d look larger, more imposing, more threatening than normal.
Certainly far more powerful than this man Lane, who was now half-covered with urine.
Aaron glanced around at the others, who were still all in wolf form, then turned back to Lane and said quietly, “You’re not in control now, are you?”
The wolves refused to allow Abby to see or speak to Lane.
He was being tended to, they told her. He was in the care of the healer, in a house at the edge of the settlement. He’d been given clean clothes, his wounds had been dressed, and he was sleeping.
“But I want—” she protested.
That didn’t cut any ice, even with Aaron. When she pled her case to him, he would only tell her that the elders had decided to keep Lane in virtual isolation. Only the elders themselves and Deborah, the healer, were allowed to see him. Guards were posted outside to make sure no one else got in… or out.
“What does that accomplish?” she asked.
He’d told her what had happened: that Lane had been chased until he was exhausted, and had been scared so badly that he’d wet his pants. Picturing that satisfied her for a while—even amused her a little—but it didn’t seem to be an answer to the problem.
Aaron had deliberately shifted forms in front of Lane, had shown Lane that he wasn’t human.
That was supposed to
Lane might be sleeping, but she wasn’t able to. Instead, she spent the night sitting in a chair in front of the fireplace in Katrin’s house, staring at the wood piled there. Every so often, Katrin and her family offered her something to eat, but she wasn’t hungry. She couldn’t even manage to collect her thoughts; everything inside her head was a jumble.
“Did I make the right choice?” she asked Katrin.
Maybe they were lying to her. Maybe Lane was dead. Maybe they were in the process of shipping him somewhere remote and isolated, a place he’d never be able to find his way back from. Maybe they’d set him adrift.
Not your fault
, whispered a voice she thought might be her mother’s, but it wasn’t very convincing.
If she’d said goodbye to Lane face-to-face before she left Dolphin Cove, none of this would be happening.
That was the thing: none of it would be happening.
“I like my apartment,” she whispered, looking at that cold pile of firewood. “It’s my own little space. It’s quiet there.”
“There are quiet places here,” Katrin said.
“But can you make it quiet in my head?” Abby asked. The words felt like pebbles in her throat.
Nodding, Katrin moved away and came back a couple of minutes later with a steaming, fragrant cup of tea. She hovered nearby—obviously ready to catch the cup if Abby fumbled it—but said nothing.
After Abby had drained the cup, Katrin took it away, then brought a light blanket that she tucked into place much the same way that Abby’s mother had always done.
Minutes later, Abby was asleep.
She woke to find sunlight streaming through the house and the tempting aromas of breakfast floating around her.
And Aaron was there, sitting on the hearth.
“How long have you been there?” she asked, working a hand out from under the blanket so she could push her hair away from her face. He looked tired, but diligent, and she supposed he’d wanted to protect her, that he’d refused to let anyone else do it, no matter how exhausted he was.
“You can see him now.”
“The man. Lane. He’s asked for you. The elders have agreed to let you see him.”
, she thought with a groan. The elders this, the elders that.
“What’s different now?” she muttered. “Last night they wouldn’t let me near him. What’s changed?”
Aaron shrugged. “Maybe a lot. Maybe nothing.”
“And what does that mean?”
“I have no idea what’s changed. They won’t let me inside the healer’s house. They say it’s a bad idea.”
Slowly, Abby gathered up the blanket and folded it neatly so that she could return it to Katrin. The task allowed her to think for a minute or two, to wonder if she honestly wanted to see Lane. If she had anything left to say to him—and if she wanted to hear whatever he might want to say to her.
She owed it to him, she supposed. To listen to him.
“He said I smelled,” she sighed. “I want to clean up first, and change my clothes. And I’m—I think I’m hungry.”
Half an hour or so later, after she’d had a quick breakfast, had bathed and was freshly dressed in clean clothes Katrin had found for her, she walked with Aaron out to the healer’s house.
He left her at the door. “I’ll be nearby,” he promised.
She thought about protesting, about pulling him inside with her, but no; this was about her and Lane.
About saying goodbye to whatever little they might have shared—and goodbye to her life on the mainland.
“I won’t be long,” she told him.
“It will take as long as it takes,” he said, and stepped back from the door.
She wasn’t surprised when Lane wouldn’t look at her, even though he had asked that she come.
Not that he could see much of anything; his left eye was swollen almost completely shut. His hair was still caked with blood from the cut on his head, and his chin and jaw line were badly bruised.
All of that was his own fault, of course, because he’d come here in the first place, and because he’d run, but he’d never admit that.
“You should have left when I told you to,” she told him.
Like a stubborn child, he wouldn’t look at anything but the corner of the ceiling.
“You could have gotten yourself killed,” she went on, hovering near the foot of his bed. “Is that supposed to be impressive? Am I supposed to be impressed, Lane?”
Her voice had gotten a little shrill, and she forced herself to take a couple of deep breaths and calm down. “It just doesn’t enter your head, does it, that I’m an adult, and I’m capable of making my own decisions?
decisions? Part of me wishes you’d broken your stupid neck, because it would have served you right.
I told you to leave
Then another thought occurred to her.
“Nobody’s ever dumped you before, have they?” she asked. “It’s always you. You make the decisions.”
He glanced at her with the eye he could see out of, then looked away again. His lips were pressed together so tightly they’d all but disappeared.
This house was sometimes a place of quarantine, Aaron had told her, where both wolves and outsiders were brought when they needed to be separated from the pack. Nothing in it gave any clue that the people who lived on this island were anything but a community living off the grid. It was plain, simple, utilitarian. Sometimes it was a hospital; other times, a place of confinement. For the time being, Lane was occupying one of the three bedrooms.
Abby could hear the healer moving around behind her. Keeping an eye on Lane, no doubt. Maybe, keeping an eye on both of them.
“Chased me,” Lane muttered, his words slurred by his swollen jaw. “Like it was some kinda game.”
“Well, poor you.”
His eyes flashed with anger—and something else. Something that looked wounded. “Came here t’ get you. Y’ can’t ’preciate that?”
“I do,” Abby said. “I appreciate that you were concerned. If that’s what it was. But I can’t help believing it was more about you than it was about me. Everything’s always about you, Lane. You don’t even say ‘good morning’ to somebody without having figured out what’s in it for you.”
He mumbled a single word, then went back to looking at the ceiling.
“We would never have ended up together,” she said, though she wasn’t sure it was true.
“Tried,” he muttered.
“Tried. To take care of you. Spoil you.”
The movement was so small that she almost missed it. His chin trembled, and he snuffled in a breath.
She thought of all those flowers. The concert tickets. The meals at nice restaurants, and the trip to Dolphin Cove. He’d spent a lot of money on all of that. He’d certainly been able to afford it, but still.
“God, Lane,” she said. “I can’t—”
“Tried,” he whispered.
Bruised and bandaged, lying in bed, he looked much the same as Luca had a few days ago. But this was different. Lane was certain to recover physically; there was no question of that. He was broken in a deeper way.
Now, Abby understood why Aaron had revealed himself as a wolf.
“You’ll find someone,” she told Lane quietly. “Someone who likes that you make all the decisions. Someone who’s okay with that.”
His lips formed her name, but no sound came out.
“Not me,” she said. “Not me. It was never me. You need to go home and look for someone else. The right someone.”
She stepped back, wishing she could magically transport herself out of there, trying to ignore the deep groan of pain that came out of him. He seemed to want to sit up, but was nowhere near being strong enough.
Then, a warm hand grasped Abby’s upper arm. It was Deborah, the healer, holding a shallow bowl of something that smelled medicinal. “It will help bring the swelling down, and heal the cuts,” she explained.
She looked to be around forty. Like the rest of the wolves, she was tall and broad-shouldered, and unusually beautiful, with thick, mahogany-colored hair that blended into other shades of brown and a bit of white at her temples.
If she’d been on the mainland, men would have followed her down the street, hoping to catch her attention. They’d harass her in bars, because she was so exotic looking. Her eyes were particularly striking, a deep golden brown.
Of course Lane noticed. His one-eyed gaze moved to her as she approached the bed, and as she bathed his face with whatever her concoction was, his cock stirred to life underneath the bedcovers and created a noticeable tent pole.
That amused Abby, given that Deborah could probably kick his ass without breaking a sweat.
Maybe that appealed to him.
Abby moved toward the door, arms wrapped around herself, and thought back to the day she’d met this stubborn, self-centered man. She’d been out with several of her co-workers to celebrate a birthday, an evening that had quickly turned pretty rowdy and loud. She’d stepped over to the bar to ask for a glass of water and had been waiting there when Lane appeared, charm turned on full blast. After he’d spent a minute examining her cleavage, he’d offered to buy her a drink.
It’d been on the tip of her tongue to say no, to tell him that her head was pounding and she was planning to go home shortly. But he was handsome, slim-hipped, and had beautiful hands, something that had always attracted her.
Now his hands were scraped and bruised, and one of his nails had been torn off.
“We’ll return him back to the mainland tomorrow.”
The voice startled her. It was Jeremiah, and he steered her out of the bedroom to a corner near the kitchen.
There’d been enough of a growl in his voice that Abby wondered if Lane might mysteriously disappear en route.
“He won’t say anything,” she murmured.
Jeremiah’s thick left eyebrow danced a little. “No,” he said mildly. “I’m certain he won’t.”
“I’m sorry about all of this,” Abby said. “It seems like—” She groaned. “It’s just been one thing after another.”
“As sometimes happens.”
“This… it’s happened before?”
“Similar things. We are still part of the world, if somewhat removed from it. Sometimes we collide. Sometimes it ends badly.” Jeremiah looked into the bedroom, then returned his attention to Abby. “They can be very fearful of things they don’t understand. It leads them to do stupid things.”
“I’m one of ‘they’,” Abby pointed out.
Jeremiah studied her for a moment, then said quietly, “No, I don’t think you are. I sense no more fear in you.”
“No. Not any more.”
“A thousand other things, but no fear.”
He sounded completely convinced of what he was saying, as if it were a verifiable fact, like the sun always rising in the east. Abby thought about disagreeing—then wondered if maybe it was herself she’d been afraid of, not the members of Aaron’s pack and the life they led.
She’d been afraid of not fitting in, not doing the right thing. Disappointing the man who loved her.
The only thing she felt scared of now was that the elders’ decision would be
“I don’t know much about gardening, or livestock,” she admitted. “Or children. I can type ninety words a minute, and I’m pretty good at creating spreadsheets, but that’s not going to help you out at all.”
“You’ll learn,” Jeremiah said. “We all learn.”
Part of her wanted to go back into the bedroom and confront Lane again, but she knew it wouldn’t do any good. He was intractable; his way of thinking was so ingrained in him that she could talk until she was blue in the face and she wouldn’t be able to convince him of a single thing that he didn’t already believe. He had no common sense, no adaptability. He was a decent lover, yes, but as with so many other things he did, it was a sort of
I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine