Authors: Kate Rudolph
It had been a hell of a thing that she told him. That was enough for him to break it off between them. He knew that she wouldn’t blame him from walking away. But he was in too deep and sinking deeper. He didn't want to walk away from her.
Mel thought that her story told him that she wasn't worthy of trust, instead he only saw how much she had grown.
She wasn't walking away from his pack in their time of need, even though he'd given her what she’d come for. He couldn't claim to know her mind completely, but he understood that she had changed. She would not abandon her people a second time, and right now, she counted him among that number.
Now all he needed to do was figure out how to make her stay.
Their plan to return to his room was interrupted the moment they stepped into the garage. Luke gritted his teeth and wished that he had taken Mel somewhere else where they could be away from responsibility for one night. Hell, even for a few hours.
But Maya was waiting to talk and he couldn't ignore her.
He pulled Mel close before she could step away. "Come to me tonight," it was half command, half question. She brushed her lips quickly against his before stepping away and going into the house alone. He'd take that as a yes.
He and Maya followed Mel into the house, though they didn't begin talking until they were in the War Room. "So is that happening?" asked Maya.
"Excuse me?" He didn't like the tone she took. He knew what he was doing and he hadn’t even tried to keep his relationship with Mel a secret.
"I think I've earned the right to ask questions." They kept their voices low. The War Room couldn't be completely soundproofed, not from shapeshifter hearing.
"Not about this."
"Do you think I'm the only one who will have a problem once it gets out who she is, and what she does for a living?" Maya leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.
"So you can make eyes at the witch all day, but I can't develop feelings for someone outside the pack?" He hadn't been planning on bringing Krista into this, but this was hypocrisy of the highest order coming from Maya.
," she sneered, "Have nothing to do with this. It's my actions - and your actions - that matter. There are seven billion people in this world. I'm sure most of them would be better than a woman who stole the most important pack artifact that we have and let it fall into the hands of a murderous witch." Here words were spoken with cold fury.
"Eight years, Maya. Name one time in eight years where I put myself above this pack." He would not have argued with anyone else, but Maya had earned her place as his number two and he could not so easily silence her. If he did not earn her support, he didn't know what he’d do.
"I don't doubt your commitment. But in this case, I doubt your sense."
His lion rustled beneath his skin, aching to roar. "If you wish to challenge me, you are more than welcome to."
She rolled her eyes, "I'm not going to challenge you. You couldn't pay me enough to be an alpha." Her phone beeped and she pulled it out of her back pocket. After a moment, she slid it back. "That's not actually why I wanted to talk."
"Oh?" He was primed now, ready for the argument.
"Did you find anything?" she asked.
Luke took a second and a deep breath. He could do business. "No Well. But there was a vampire, probably scouting. It attacked Mick. Mel and I got there before it could do any major damage."
A bit of color leeched from Maya's brown face, but her expression remained neutral. "What was Mick doing out there?"
A question Luke would like answered himself. "Hell if I know. Mel says he was creeping around earlier."
Maya crossed her arms. "Wonderful."
"Has anything strange been happening with him?" Luke asked. Maya monitored the pack and acted as his eyes and ears at all times. If he didn't know something, she would.
"No more than the usual teenage bullshit."
"And are the others back yet?" He didn't know what Mick was up to, but he couldn't worry about that. He'd concern himself with the kid after they defeated Ava and her murderous witch and vampire accomplices.
"Yeah. Sinclair called to say they found bupkis."
She nodded, "Not a leaf out of place."
Luke and Mel hadn't had enough time to search their area completely, and he wouldn't be surprised to learn that it was the same for Jonas and Sinclair. "We'll search again tomorrow," he decided.
"I'll let them know."
She turned around and crossed the room, only pausing to open the door.
"What about Cassie?" asked Luke. "Have you checked on her?"
Maya looked back over her shoulder. "She was fine last time I checked. No change for the worse." She left, closing the door behind her.
Luke followed not long after, taking a moment to duck his head into Cassie's room. Neither Krista nor Bob was with her. Instead another lion, Kyle, sat at her bedside and read a book while she slept. He started to stand when he heard Luke, but Luke raised a hand and let him know to stay put. It was late and he had no need to wake his sister now that she was resting.
He made it back to his room and the excitement of the day caught up with him. By the time he opened the door, it felt like a thousand pound weight was crushing his shoulders. It lifted slightly when he saw Mel asleep in his bed, her hair flung out across his pillow. In the darkness she was more of a shape than a person, but it felt so right that he had to force himself forward rather than stand in the doorway and just stare at her.
That would be creepy.
He crossed the room in the dark, his steps careful and nearly silent. He didn't want to wake her. Luke pulled off his shirt and his jeans, naked except for his underwear. He gently lifted the comforter and climbed in beside her.
Mel rolled toward him, curling herself up next to his warmth. Luke put an arm around her and closed his eyes. He couldn't remember ever falling asleep faster or more comfortably.
The arm around her was almost distressingly tight. But Luke’s scent was all around her too, and as Mel woke, she remembered falling asleep in Luke's bed. No light streamed in under the curtains and the clock on his bedside table told her it was before six in the morning.
By her count, that was nearly six hours of uninterrupted sleep. No wonder she felt rested. The alpha would be worth keeping around if only to keep the nightmares at bay.
She didn't want to wake him; Luke’s face had lost some of the tension that he'd been wearing for days, and he looked five years younger. It took some careful maneuvering, but Mel extracted herself from his grasp and slid out of the bed. She wore a pair of shorts and a shirt. Last night she'd been raw, not ready for physical intimacy. And she couldn't have been happier that Luke had respected that silent request.
Mel felt constrained indoors. She needed to think, to see the horizon. And, luckily for her, Luke's room came with a balcony. She let herself out silently and stood by the railing for several moments. But it still wasn't enough.
She turned around and took a look at the roof. It wasn't too tall, and the slope was climbable. Mel crouched down and sprang up, grabbing onto the gutter and swinging herself up onto the black shingles.
Mel climbed up to the ridge of the roof and straddled it, with one foot on each slope. Though the sky was dark, it was clear and she could see for miles. The streetlights in Eagle Creek were dim, but as the sun began to rise beyond them, she saw the outline of the mountains in the distance.
It was beautiful.
But that beauty did nothing to settle the tumult of her thoughts. She'd never intended to tell Luke about Chance or what happened in Cincinnati. Shame had a way of keeping her quiet. He knew she was a thief, and that didn't bother her. It was only the truth. But to let him know about her betrayal? It didn't sit well, no matter that it was the truth as well.
If she was honest, though it was something she generally avoided, Mel knew why she told Luke - why she'd had to tell Luke everything.
There was no way she could keep him if he didn't know. And she was beginning to think that keeping him was more important than anything. She was imagining her life after Ava, and in those thoughts, Luke had a place. He was beside her, living with her and loving her.
He was also inside her and behind and above and under, but their relationship was more than prurient. Though she couldn't wait for the prurient parts.
Mel heard another person on the roof and froze. She got low, rolling off the ridge and plastering herself as flat as could be. But she caught Krista’s scent and relaxed. Mel climbed back up to the ridge and waited for Krista to join her.
"I felt something disturb my ward," Krista said in place of a greeting.
"I didn't feel anything." Mel's sensitivity to magic was high for a shapeshifter, and she was used to the feel of Krista's spells.
"That's the point of a defensive ward." Krista crouched on the edge of the eastern half of the roof, her hand gripping the ridge. She must have placed wards around the house to warn them of any unwelcome company.
"It's a bit early for you to be awake." Krista normally didn't rise before the sun unless her house was on fire.
"I could say the same for you."
"I wanted to think," she said, though her thoughts were still in a jumble. Even the peace of the morning was not helping.
"You didn't come back to the room last night." It wasn't an accusation, but Mel wasn't sure how to reply.
"Do you care?" It came out sharper than intended.
"Not really." But Krista didn't leave. It was as if she couldn't decide between staying and going, so she remained perched, not quite sitting on the roof.
"I was thinking about Cincinnati," Mel admitted.
Krista waved her free hand in front of her, "I don't want to hear about it."
Now that Mel had said it, she wanted it off her chest. "Just one last time, and then I'll never talk about it again." And she meant it.
Krista blew out a breath, "Whatever." But instead of leaving Mel alone on the roof, she sat on the ridge, facing east and looking towards the rapidly brightening horizon.
Mel hadn't planned to talk to Krista about this again. The last time had gone so disastrously that she had purposely not thought about it. Until she told Luke the whole story, a part of her had believed that Krista would eventually just get over it. But saying what she'd done out loud, actually remembering that night, brought it to the forefront and made her aware of just how wrong she had been.
"I'm sorry for not being there when you needed me," and once Mel began, the words just poured out. "And I'm sorry for taking off afterward. I was wrong. Completely, totally wrong, and I should have punched out Chance and come after you myself. Barring that, I should have--"
"I don't care about what you should have done." Krista cut her off. "I care about what you did."
It brought Mel up short, but she nodded. "You're right. And if we survive this shit, I hope that you can forgive me one day." She doubted that it would ever happen. She didn't know if she could forgive Krista if their situations were reversed.
"And if I can't?"
Mel shrugged. "I guess that's that, then."
Krista took a deep breath, "I'm not actually pissed about you not coming back that night."
"What?" Mel had left her to die and Krista didn't hold it against her? That made no sense.
"I deactivated the charm. Bob found us a way out and I knew you couldn't make it in time." She hadn't been looking at Mel, but now she turned to face her. "When you didn't show up at the rendezvous a week later I thought something had happened."
At the time, Mel had convinced herself that Krista and Bob were dead and she couldn't face going to the meet and having it confirmed. Instead, she'd taken a job in Poland and stayed out of the country for months.
"I thought you were dead!" Krista's eyes blazed with an inner fire. "And when I found out you weren't, I wanted to kill you."
"I'm--" Mel cut herself off before apologizing again. She knew that Krista didn't want to hear it.
"You did something that my mom would do." Krista leveled the accusation with no malice, but Mel felt the knife all the same.
"What can I say? She taught me everything I know." Everything that Ava hadn't taught her.
"If you ever pull a stunt like that again, you're dead to me."
It wasn't forgiveness, but it was a bigger step then Mel expected. She didn't answer Krista; Krista wouldn't want one. But they sat on the roof for a long time in silence, watching the sunrise. Once the light of day stretched around them, Krista crawled back down the roof. Mel followed soon after.
It was time to face the alpha.
Luke tried not to be disappointed that Mel wasn't with him when he woke up. Her scent was still wrapped around him, a warm touch that reached all the way to his heart, and the sheets were still warm. She hadn't been gone for long.
He didn't hear her in the bathroom, so he thought she must have gone downstairs to get breakfast. Or perhaps she had some sort of thief ritual that she couldn't do in front of him.
If she wasn't there to ring in the morning with him, he saw no reason to stay in bed. He threw the covers off and crossed the room to his bathroom, where he started the water for a shower. He took of his underwear and stepped under the hot stream. Luke let out a hiss as he adjusted to the change in temperature. It was almost painful for a few seconds until the water soaked into his skin and he could feel his muscles relax.
Over the sound of the water hitting the gray tile, he heard the door open and a person step in. He turned around. The shower was enclosed by a glass door, rather than a curtain, and he saw Mel step in. She gave him the once over, her eyes flicking down quickly before looking back up at his face.
Luke smiled and stepped a little out of the spray's range so that water wasn't running into his eyes. "Good morning."
Mel smiled back. "Right back at you."
She stayed where she was and Luke started to feel a bit on display. "Keep staring and I'll need to charge admission."
"What? You don't like to let girls look at you when you're all wet and pretty like that?"
"Just you." There were no other women, he wanted no one but Mel. "Care to join me?"
She hooked her thumbs into the waistband of her shorts and pulled them down along with her underwear. Then came her shirt and she was standing naked before him, her skin golden in the bathroom light. She stalked across the bathroom, her hips swaying.
It was a show for him, and Luke was already hard.
She opened the door and stepped in carefully, wincing the slightest bit when the water hit her. "Do you normally make it hot enough to get third degree burns?" She stepped close, putting her hand on his chest.
That wasn't enough. Luke had been thinking about her, about what he would do when he had her, since the moment they met. An inch between them would be too much. He leaned down, trailing kisses down her neck and across her collarbone. "I think it feels good."
"Mmmm," she let out a little moan and her fingers curled in, "You might have a point."
The sound she made sent a spear of pleasure right to the heart of him. He laced his fingers through her hair and tilted her head up, taking her lips in a searing kiss. The water pouring down around them may as well have not existed. He was too wrapped up in her to notice or to care.
His cock was an insistent monster, jutting out in front of him and pressing against her.
Her fingers played on his chest, stroking down along his abs and tracing their outline. All Luke could do was kiss her harder, mark her as his with his tongue. He couldn't say the words to her, not yet. But he put everything he wanted into that kiss.
And Mel responded. She was just as hungry as he was, and just as desperate.
When her fingers made it even further and brushed against the head of his erection, he groaned. She took him in hand, gripping his shaft and stroking.
It was too much for Luke and he pulled back, breaking their kiss. "Keep that up and I'll give you anything you ask for," he gasped.
Mel smiled, her eyes bright stars. "I'll give you a list."
Luke's hand slid from her hair and palmed her breast. Even under the hot stream of the water her nipples were hard. Luke's lips followed his hands, tracing a trail of kisses down her neck until he closed his lips around one of her nipples.
Her hands were at his sides now, gripping him tight.
In this moment, Luke felt closer to her than he had ever felt to another person. There was no outside world, no past, no future, it was only the two of them, trapped together in pleasure. He wanted nothing else, no one else. If he could take one moment and freeze it for all time, it would be this one, with Mel writhing in pleasure as he tasted her.
But he wasn't satisfied with just teasing her breast. His fingers dipped lower, swiping against her sex and finding her wet. For him.
"Fuck me, Luke," she begged.
Luke didn't need to be told twice. "Wrap your legs around me," he commanded. She did so, and held on tightly when he backed her up against the wall.
Luke guided himself to her entrance and slid in, watching her bite her lip as he filled her. He kept his eyes on her the entire time, watching for any hint of discomfort, any sign that she wasn't with him. But Mel's face was awash with pleasure, and Luke was in heaven.
Mel leaned forward and kissed him. This was perfect. He moved inside her, moved with her, their very breaths in sync. There wouldn't be anyone else for him. Before he met Mel, that might have scared him, but the feel of her against him was everything that he wanted.
He was her mate, her lover, and the man deliriously in love with her. He didn't mean to say it, for all the strength of his emotion, he didn't want to scare her away, but as he moved within her, the words slipped out. "I love you," he breathed against her lips.
Mel didn't pull away. Maybe she didn't hear it, or maybe she felt the same but couldn't yet say it. She gasped, quivering around him as she came.
Luke could feel the orgasm building. He thrust into her, back and forth, his heartbeat racing in his chest until at the last second he pulled out completely, spilling his seed outside of her.