Authors: Carol Davis
It had always seemed like such a small thing to Aaron—the joining of a couple being approved by the elders, and by the couple’s families. He couldn’t remember a time when there’d been much of an objection, so it had always seemed to him like an unnecessary detail, that official nod from the older wolves.
Now he understood.
He felt as if the entire world had opened up in front of him, that his loneliness of just a few days ago had entirely evaporated and nothing lay ahead of him and Abby but happiness and growth. And children—little ones of their own to nurture and protect.
He caught a glimpse of Asa and Mariel’s small daughter picking flowers from her parents’ garden and felt a rush of nerves that made him stumble.
“Are you all right?” Abby asked.
All right? He’d never felt so overwhelmed in his life. But it wouldn’t do to let Abby think he couldn’t stand tall and proud at a moment like this.
“I’m fine,” he told her.
That didn’t help. There was a tight feeling at the center of his body. Not the wolf; it was at the core of Aaron himself, something that seemed bottomless, that was keeping him from taking a deep breath.
“You’re hyperventilating,” Abby said.
He wasn’t quite sure what that was, but he couldn’t find the breath to ask. Instead, he drew her in close to him, hoping her warm softness would help him relax. Without being encouraged any further, she nestled against him and rested her head on his shoulder. He could feel her heartbeat then, could hear the easy rhythm of her breathing.
How could she be so calm? he wondered. How could she be so still and relaxed, as if they were lying in bed on a sunny morning, listening to the sounds of the small birds in the trees outside and the whisper of the wind in the leaves?
He tried again to speak, then decided against it. Better to just stand here with her, at ease for the first time since… well, since they’d splashed around in the stream that first time, he supposed. That felt like months ago.
“Should we tell your parents?” she said after a while.
He was almost certain they already knew what the elders had decided. Surely, the elders had consulted them. But yes, he wanted very much to sit down in a familiar place, have something to eat and drink, and ask for his parents’ advice on what to do next. There was a lot to be set in place, and he couldn’t do all of it alone.
No, he corrected himself. He didn’t
to do all of it alone.
Nodding, he took half a step back and wrapped his hand around Abby’s. His breath was coming easier now, although looking at her made him nervous all over again.
“Panic attack,” Abby said.
“I have them all the time. You think too much about something and get scared. I think you’re all right now.”
“I’m not… I have no need to panic.”
She smiled at that, in the way he’d often seen two females smiling at each other, as if they were sharing some sort of secret. That was something he’d have to try harder to figure out, he supposed—the ways of females.
Then he thought of his father trying to gain ground on his mother and decided it might be a lost cause.
His legs were still wobbling a little as they started walking toward his family’s home, but by the time they reached the path that led up to the door he was moving easily again, as he should at a time like this. Abby, too, seemed fully relaxed, wary of nothing, fully able to take her place in the community.
The door swept open when they were still a few steps away, and there was his mother, beaming and crying at the same time.
It was true, then: she already knew.
She ushered them eagerly into the house, where an extravagant meal sat waiting for them. Aaron’s father and Luca were waiting, too, and they greeted Aaron with solemn nods and a clap on the back, then quickly took their seats at the table, Jeremiah at one end and Luca, as the eldest son, at the other. Rachel sat at her husband’s right hand, leaving the other side of the table for Aaron and Abby.
As soon as Aaron and Abby were seated, Jeremiah reached for his wife’s hand, and she reached for Luca’s.
For a moment Luca didn’t move. Then he said quietly to Abby, “We welcome you to our family, Abby Sullivan.”
Aaron blinked at that. Traditionally, it was his father’s place to offer the welcome. He thought his father might object, might bluster a little at Luca’s brashness, but all he could see in his father’s face was relief.
That made sense, after Aaron had thought about it a little. After all, Abby had helped save Luca’s life, and Luca was now offering thanks, with the blessing of both of their parents.
In a way, Luca’s objection to Abby’s presence had caused everything that had happened over the past few days. Had he not fought with Aaron and stormed off into the woods with his emotions surging—something that was sure to attract another wolf in the mood to fight—he might not have been attacked by Micah.
Then Jeremiah did speak up. “It’s one thing to accept you into our home as our son’s guest,” he said to Abby, his voice low and serious, “and another to welcome you as a member of our family. We were uncertain. Concerned. But you’ve proven yourself to be loyal to us. To our son, and to the pack.”
For a moment, Abby stared down at her plate. Her hand had become damp with sweat, and she tightened her fingers around Aaron’s. Then she steadied herself and looked Jeremiah in the eye.
“I know there may be… difficulties,” she said quietly. “It would be stupid to think we’ll never have a problem. But I love your son with all my heart. I believe we were meant to be together, and I promise you I will never betray him. Or any of you.”
“A promise easily made,” Jeremiah warned her.
“I know,” she said. “They say God laughs when we make plans. And we never know what the future will bring. But I’ll do my best to keep my word. You see… Aaron saved me. You all have. I hated my life back home. I wasn’t close to anyone, and I didn’t feel good about myself. I didn’t think I was… I didn’t think I belonged.”
“You belong here,” Aaron said firmly.
She turned to him and spent a long time gazing into his eyes. It was the sweetest sight he’d ever seen. He’d thought that days ago, and was even more sure of it now.
“Yes,” she said softly. “I do.”
They made short work of the meal.
At first Aaron, could barely taste any of it; he was too overwhelmed by both the day’s events and by having his mate so close to him. The wolf inside him was surging against its bonds, demanding that they put an end to this silly ritual—to the wolf, eating was something that should be done quickly and without fuss—so it could satisfy itself. Then, gradually, as he dug into another helping of his mother’s delicious stew, he began to appreciate how good the food was.
His family was all here, he realized. All here, and all safe. This was the first meal they’d enjoyed together recently without some threat hanging over them.
Luca, too, was eating as if he hadn’t seen food in weeks, as if it might be snatched away from him at any moment. Aaron caught Abby glancing over at his mother, and understood what was passing between them: an acknowledgment that the men of his family had nearly insatiable appetites.
Not just for food.
“Thank you,” Aaron told his mother when the last bite had disappeared.
He was already halfway to his feet, and was reaching for Abby’s hand to pull her away from the table. Under normal circumstances he would help clear the table—something he usually enjoyed, as it was a chance for him to talk with his mother—but he was too anxious to be alone with Abby, to celebrate the elders’ decision in a proper way.
She seemed a little flustered to be hauled away so suddenly, but allowed him to usher her out the door.
Although it was late in the afternoon, he could think of only one place they should go, the one where they’d found the most pleasure. When Abby didn’t move quickly enough, he scooped her up into his arms and carried her effortlessly up the slope and through the woods to the place where his favorite stream collected into that deep, clear pool.
There, just a few days ago, they’d splashed and played in the water like children, delighting in each other’s company, without a worry in the world.
The sun was low in the sky now, but the air was just as warm as it had been the other day, and the light was golden and beautiful. The way it played on Abby’s soft blonde hair and pale skin nearly took Aaron’s breath away.
“I had no idea what my life would be,” he told her as he set her down, then grasped her hands in his own. “What path I would take.”
“Neither did I,” she said.
“Will you think of him? That man?”
Abby shook her head. “I don’t have any reason to. He didn’t mean anything to me, Aaron. He was just…”
“You gave yourself to him.”
She sighed and looked down at the ground. “I know. And it should mean something. But it doesn’t. It didn’t, really, when it was happening, and it doesn’t now.” She paused, then corrected herself. “I wanted it to mean something. I wanted him to—I don’t know. Transform, somehow. Become the person I needed.”
“That was unlikely.”
“I think it was impossible. But sometimes you don’t let yourself see what’s right in front of your face.”
Aaron took a step closer to her and cupped her head in his hands. “I see what’s in front of me.”
He leaned in and pressed his lips to hers, inhaling her scent—fully hers now, without the influence of a myriad of lotions and creams and powders. He imprinted it on the deepest part of himself, knowing that that would allow him to find her no matter where she might wander, even in the heart of the fiercest storm.
Then he guided her over to a place near the water, where the ground was worn smooth enough to be comfortable to lie on.
Smiling, she grabbed handfuls of the dress Katrin had given her and lifted it up over her head.
This time her undergarments were the same soft pink as the inside of a shell, a color that reminded him of the most intimate parts of her, and his heart sped up as he kicked off his shoes and fumbled out of his shirt and jeans.
He felt like a young wolf, ready to couple for the first time, nervous and excited and proud.
“They can do it all quickly,” he said.
Abby frowned a little. “Do what?”
“The celebration. There’s much to prepare, but they can do it quickly. If not tomorrow, the day after.”
“Then, it’s done. We’re a pair. No one can challenge us.”
Abby’s attention had drifted below his waist, and her expression had turned mischievous. “Well,” she said. “That’s good. Although if anybody challenged me right now, I think I could go a few rounds with them.”
She looked… hungry. Anxious.
They came together as urgently as any young pair coupling for the first time, hands and lips moving urgently and swiftly, tasting, claiming, exploring. The delicate pink undergarments were quickly disposed of, then Aaron maneuvered his beautiful mate down to that soft spot on the ground and plunged his cock into her with a huge gasp. Her legs locked around him almost immediately, pressing him deeper and deeper as her hands groped for purchase on his shoulders and in his hair.
The wolf howled with pleasure inside him as he thrust, driving Aaron’s rhythm, demanding that he go deeper still, faster, and fill her with his seed. Her clenching around him drove the animal half-mad, and when they both finally reached the edge and tumbled over, Aaron lifted his head and howled, creating an echo that rolled from one side of the clearing to the other.
He looked down at Abby, seeking her beautiful eyes, and found her flushed and smiling. She’d lost her grasp on his arms and shoulders but seemed content to lie there watching him, drinking in the sight of him.
When he’d caught his breath, he slipped out of her and sat alongside her for a minute, trailing his fingers over her breasts and belly, luxuriating in the velvety texture of her skin. Her rosy nipples seemed to him to be something marvelous, and after a moment he realized that they truly were. There, she would feed his children. For now, he could pinch and nip and tease them, but later on…
In its own good time,
First, we need a home.
“It’s always been used for the Separation,” he said quietly, half-watching the sparkle and glimmer of the sunlight on the water. “But—”
“You mean the cabin?”
Aaron nodded. “I think the elders should reexamine some of our traditions. I wonder if it’s necessary for each of us to spend a month there. Some of us may need a month. Others may know their life’s plan already, or can decide in a few days. Others may never decide. I think it’s foolish to say that it’s—”
“One size fits all?” Abby suggested.
Aaron had heard the phrase during his brief time on the mainland. He nodded. “I know my parents will want us to live in the settlement. That’s how it’s always done, and in general, it makes good sense. The gardens are there. It’s more easily protected if something should happen.”