Authors: Katie Reus
Feeling raw, tired, stressed—he could fill in the blank. Covering the distance between them in a couple of long strides, he gathered her into his arms, pulling her tight to him. He couldn’t stand seeing her cry. This vulnerability after she’d been so strong tugged at his heart. He was thankful when she wrapped her arms around him and buried her face against his chest. She sniffled a little as he stroked a hand down her spine and murmured soothing sounds. He kept his outward appearance calm, but internally his wolf was raging, ready to strike anyone who would dare hurt her or put tears in her eyes. “Your car is being taken care of, so you won’t have to see it until it’s fixed.”
At that, she drew back and swiped the few errant tears on her cheeks. “Thank you.”
The possessive male in him wanted to kiss each of those tracks away, bind her to him and make her feel safe. “And I’m taking you home.”
For a moment he thought she might argue, but she just nodded. “I hadn’t even thought that far ahead, so thank you again.”
She didn’t have to thank him for that. “Are you done with the sheriff?” he asked as he slipped an arm around her delicate shoulders.
She tucked her body into his. “Yes.”
“What did she say?” He’d heard most of their conversation but was curious about what had happened after he stepped out.
“Just that they’re running the prints, but there were a lot. My car is parked on a public street so the prints really won’t do much other than help them pinpoint if someone with a record touched my car. Then she wanted to discuss if I had any enemies. I told her about Tyler’s weirdness, but other than that, I can’t imagine anyone doing what they did to my car. It’s crazy.”
He hugged her tighter as they reached his truck. “Well, it’s not going to happen again.” Not while he was around. And if he had his way, he’d be around for the rest of her life.
* * *
Cindy turned her stove off and picked up the whistling teapot.
“I can get that,” Elias murmured from his seat at her kitchen table.
“I know and I’m not helpless so just
.” Her words came out as an order.
“You’re very bossy.” Elias leaned back against the seat, his large frame dwarfing the white wooden chair at her French country kitchen table. He should have looked too big and out of place there, but instead he seemed perfectly at ease.
bossy. Probably because I’m a doctor. But it’s something you should know now. I don’t take orders well, and I won’t ever take them from a man I’m in a relationship with. No matter how alpha he is.”
His chuckle was positively wicked. “I figured that out Saturday night. ‘
” he mimicked in a high voice.
Her face flamed as he teasingly imitated her. She turned her back to him to grab two mugs, but it also gave her a chance to gain her composure. She’d been completely uninhibited Saturday night because she’d never thought she’d see him again. It had been freeing.
that bossiness, in case you missed that.” He spoke so close to her ear, she nearly jumped.
Turning, she found herself inches from him. She had to look up to see him, and those midnight green eyes had turned into a mercurial storm. Whoa, she hadn’t even heard him move. The man was quiet and fast. She sucked in a breath, her nipples tightening at his nearness. Clenching her legs together, she inwardly cursed her immediate reaction. “Is that right?”
He reached out and tucked a wayward strand of her hair behind her ear. “Yep. If you think you can scare me off with a little bossiness, you’re so wrong. I don’t mind a woman telling me what to do in the bedroom.”
Oh, the man was so full of it. She rolled her eyes and before she realized his intent, his mouth was covering hers in a wild, frenzied kiss. Cindy didn’t even think to resist. Why would she? A pleasurable shiver rolled through her as one of his big hands grasped her hip and tugged her against him. His hard length pressed against her, letting her know he was just as turned on as she was.
Tea forgotten, she clutched his shoulders and tried to find some semblance of control. It was hard when his tongue was stroking into her mouth, teasing and making her want, want, want.
She wanted him so bad he had to scent it. Luckily she could scent him too, the spiciness of his need wrapping around her. Just as she leaned into him, ready to wrap her legs around him and tell him where her bedroom was, he pulled back.
Elias drew in a ragged breath as he stared down at her. “I swore I was going to show a little control.”
“Why?” Okay, was that actually her speaking? Sex was fine. More was not.
Sighing, he leaned forward so that their foreheads touched. His breath was warm against her face. “Because I’m courting you.”
. No, no, no. She knew exactly what that meant for a wolf. Or any male shifter. Placing a hand on his chest, she pushed. Elias was so strong that he didn’t have to move unless he wanted to. Thankfully, he gave her space and stepped back, releasing her. Averting her gaze, she turned back to the teapot. With shaking hands, she poured them both full mugs. As she handed the mug to him, she met his guarded gaze and decided that she should just be honest right up-front. The truth would certainly end things before they got any further. She met his gaze, forcing herself to stand her ground. “Elias, you can’t court me.”
“Why not?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Because I can’t have children. Ever.” Saying the words aloud made her feel raw, vulnerable, but she knew that only the truth would work with a man like Elias. He was so damn determined. She could see it in his gaze, and she had only so much strength to resist someone like him. Now he raised both eyebrows. “What does that have to do with me courting you?”
She blinked, unsure she’d heard right. “Did you not hear me?” All male shifters wanted children to carry on their bloodlines. That went double for alpha males like Elias.
“I heard. And I’m sorry that you can’t if that’s something that’s important to you.” His voice and expression softened as he watched her.
“Well...isn’t it important to
?” He was a shifter and she knew how they felt about these things. The man she’d been engaged to in medical school had broken up with her because of it, and she wasn’t going to go through that kind of heartbreak later on.
Frowning, he shrugged and set his untouched mug down on the counter behind her. Then he took hers from her shaking hands and also put it on the counter. He caged her in with his hands, bracing them on the counter on each side of her. “
are important to me. I know we have a hell of a lot to learn about each other, and I want to do that more than anything. I want to know your likes, dislikes, how you take your coffee in the morning.”
“I don’t drink coffee,” she murmured, heart hammering, half-afraid of what he was saying.
“See? I just learned something new. I feel a pull toward you, and I’m pretty sure it’s the mating call.” There was no hesitancy in his voice, but his expression was carefully guarded.
She sucked in a deep breath. While her immediate reaction was one of denial, she couldn’t ignore the insane sensual pull she felt for Elias. Right now it was just a sexual thing—well, okay, maybe a little more than sexual—but she could walk away and get over it before things got too deep. If she let things go further, she knew that walking away from this man would be impossible. “Are children not important to you?”
He shrugged. “I never thought I’d meet someone I’d want to mate with, much less have children with.”
Swallowing hard, Cindy tried to clear her head. Things were moving at warp speed, and she was trying to wrap her mind around the fact that her big secret didn’t even seem to faze him. Of course he was saying that now when the attraction between them was so strong it was practically a tangible thing, but things could change later.
could change and resent her. She opened her mouth to respond, but the sudden sound of glass shattering and an explosion rocked her back on her heels. Before she could do anything, Elias tackled her to the ground, covering her with his body.
Her bones jolted as they hit the hard tile.
More glass shattered somewhere nearby and panic burst inside her. Struggling underneath him, she tried to figure out what was going on when she smelled smoke and fire. It took a moment to register that her house was in flames.
“Stay down,” Elias ordered before pushing off Cindy. He thought he heard her mutter “no way” as he rolled off her. The acrid stench of smoke and burning embers permeated the air, and it was coming from the front of her small house.
Crouching low, he hurried to the entryway of the kitchen and peered into the hallway. He could see dancing flames licking out from the entry at the end. The living room.
Someone must have thrown something into her living room. It would explain the shattering glass. He pulled his shirt up and covered his face as he hurried to the end of the hallway. Holding his breath, he looked into the room and his stomach roiled.
There was a broken bottle and the distinct scent of accelerant right in the middle of ravenous orange flames that had completely devoured one of her couches. He needed to get her out of here now. Smoke and flames could spread too fast. Then he could hunt down whoever had done this. Elias’s wolf clawed at his insides, begging to be freed to do just that. What if they’d been in here? What if Cindy had been sitting on that couch?
His stomach dropped at the thought, but he shoved the thought away and turned to find Cindy a foot away from him, crouching low against the hallway wall. Fear was in her dark gaze.
“Get outside, call the cops on your cell and tell them we need the fire department. Do you have a hose in your front or backyard?”
“Both.” She fumbled in her front pocket and pulled out a cell phone.
“Come on.” Holding her arm, he tugged her along until they were out the door and in her front yard. As she called the cops, he turned on the hose she clearly used to water her flowers, dragged it inside and started spraying. He didn’t think he would be able to put the entire thing out, but he hoped he could keep it contained until the fire department showed up.
Smoke filled the air, making his eyes water. He wet his shirt then brought it up over his mouth as he continued spraying.
“They’re on their way.” Cindy was right behind him when he turned, covering her own mouth. Her face was pale and her eyes were wide as she stared at the flames destroying her home. Horror filled her expression.
His wolf clawed at the surface again. He continued spraying, trying to hose the couch, which was the source of the jumping flames. He held out an arm, trying to block her. “Stay outside.”
“I can help,” she snapped.
Before he could respond she ran down the hallway back toward her kitchen. He heard water running, and then a minute later she came back carrying a big bucket.
Neither he nor his wolf liked the idea of her getting close to the flames. “Stay back,” he growled as she neared the entryway.
She shot him an incredulous look and ignored him as she stepped closer and threw the bucket on the growing flames. The coffee table and half the carpet were also burning now. She started coughing, and the smoke was starting to make him light-headed. He’d wanted to keep the fire contained, but this could quickly get out of control and nothing was worth risking her safety.
In the distance he could hear sirens, and he breathed out a small sigh of relief. “They’re almost here, so you can wait outside.” His words fell on deaf ears as she started to race back for her kitchen.
Dropping the hose, he went after her and scooped her up. “It’s not safe anymore.”
Smoke was starting to billow out of the room, and it was getting more difficult to breathe even with the open front door. She started to struggle against him, until she doubled over in a coughing fit. He raced outside as a fire truck screeched to a halt in front of her house.
Men and women in red-and-yellow uniforms spilled out of the big truck, so they dodged to the side, hovering on the opposite end of the yard while the professionals took over.
After he set her down, he wrapped an arm around Cindy’s stiff shoulders. “We’re going to find whoever did this.”
“I can’t believe this is happening. Do you really think Tyler could do something like
? I assumed he was harmless because he’s human.” Her voice was incredulous, her expression haunted.
Elias didn’t respond because he was pretty sure she didn’t expect him to and he didn’t know what the hell to say. He just pulled her tighter against him and watched through the broken windows as the flames died down under the strong stream from the fire hoses. He hated that he couldn’t scent anything, but the smoke and accelerant had overtaken everything. Minutes later, the police arrived. Sheriff Damico’s expression was grim as she strode across the yard toward them. Grim and determined.
He could see the anger in the human’s face, and his own emotions mirrored it. This shouldn’t have happened to anyone, but definitely not to someone who was clearly loved by the town and had likely never had a cross word against anyone. As soon as possible Elias was getting Cindy the hell out of here and back to his place, where he could keep her safe. Then he was going to hunt down Tyler Lowe and have a little chat with him.
* * *
Elias glanced at Cindy as he steered his truck down her now-quiet street. The firemen had done their job well and put out the fire quickly, but there was a lot of smoke and water damage. Not to mention charring. But they’d needed to answer questions, fill out another report—at least the sheriff didn’t make them go to the station this time—and pack a couple of bags for Cindy. She’d wanted to stay and clean, but the pack was going to take care of it. Half a dozen members were on their way to her house now to clean as best they could and board up the window until her insurance company could come out and inspect it. And he was taking her back to his new home on Wright land. His place wasn’t big and he didn’t have much since he hadn’t had a chance to pack up his old place and transport his belongings, but he didn’t think Cindy would care.