Authors: Serena Pettus
“Okay, you got me. Only difference is I did what I wanted. No orders to follow, no special training, no gunfire and I’m pretty sure I was much safer.”
“You’re probably right. We moved through the ranks pretty quickly and into a special unit for people with our…skills. Every camp had a few of our members mixed in, and Matt and I were lucky enough to be assigned together. Of course, I’m sure Benson had a hand in that.”
“Damn right.” Benson’s deep, booming voice startled Ashe where she was sitting with her back to him. “Sorry, I forget how loud I am sometimes. Kind of have to be to keep that many men in line.”
“I’ll bet. So you were all in the same camp when Matt was killed?” She paused, taking a deep breath and clearly trying to hold herself together, yet determined to hear what happened. “Can you tell me?”
Luke leaned forward as Benson came further into the room, taking a seat in the other chair. “Are you sure you want to hear this, Ashe? It’s not pretty. Wouldn’t you want to remember him as he was the last time you saw him?”
Her somber expression was tearing his insides up. This was hurting her, yet she was insisting on having him add to her pain. He didn’t want to be the one to do that, and luckily Benson seemed to pick up on his inner dilemma.
“It was an ambush,” Benson explained. “We had explored the surrounding land and found no signs of the enemy, but after everything was said and done, it turned out those rats had tunnels all through the area.” Standing, he began to pace by the window as he carried on the tale, Luke reliving that hellish day right along with him as they drug Ashe into what was then a living nightmare.
“Guard had just changed, and the guys—Luke and Matt—were resting in their tent, talking about you from what I was told. Apparently Matt had recently found out about this little bundle you had on the way, and it was during that conversation the attack occurred.”
Benson continued on, glossing over the gore, and trying to help her to understand just how dire the situation was for everyone there. He told her about how he was trying to detain one of the attackers who was still breathing, when the explosions had rocked the entire camp.
“When the dust settled, I was trying to take stock on the damage and the men littering the area. Luke came running in, doing the same, when we realized that neither of us had seen Matt since everything blew. When we did find him, there was nothing we could do. He was still alive, but dying.”
Ashe’s eyes were full of tears again, her voice cracking as she spoke. “He must have been so scared.”
Luke finally piped up, needing her to know what was said. “Ashe, he
scared, but not of dying. He was afraid you’d think he abandoned you. He was afraid you and the baby would need him and he wouldn’t be able to help. I promised him I would be here for the two of you, no matter what. He died knowing that you and his child would be looked after. I like to think it helped him find some peace.”
She sniffled and Luke passed her a box of tissues, waiting while she plucked one out, before resuming his seat. “Thank you. That was a very sweet thing to do for your friend.”
“I meant every word of it too. I’m here, staying with Benson for the time being, but I’ll be around if there’s anything you need help with, or if you just want some company.” Looking back at her damaged front door, he added, “The first thing I plan on doing is fixing your door and updating your locks and such around the house. Whoever it was who got your door open was sloppy, but your lock wasn’t all that great to begin with either.”
“It’s an old house. I was planning on replacing a few things here and there as I go along, so I suppose it would be a good place to start,” she admitted, shifting Lilly around before pulling the blanket off her shoulder. “If you wouldn’t mind helping me, I could pay you for your time.”
“Not necessary. I’m happy to help,” Luke insisted.
“I’ll be around as well,” Benson offered. “Between the two of us, we can have any projects you have knocked out pretty quickly. You had a lot of plants, seeds and manure in the back of your SUV. Where you panning on planting all of that on your own?”
“I wanted to start a garden, that way I could grow my vegetables organically. I just need to get the section of the yard ready to plant, and I’ll be working on that soon.”
“You’ll need to have it fenced in somehow too in order to keep the rabbits and such from nibbling on your crops. We’ll work on that first thing tomorrow. Meanwhile, where would you like this garden to be located?” Benson asked.
Luke was glad his old buddy was there. No doubt he would have bumbled this situation something awful if left on his own. Granted, Ashe seemed to be handling things well enough so far, but he knew all to well how hiding emotions could only last so long. Once the sun was down and she was alone in her room, he had a feeling it would all come pouring out.
Actually, he didn’t like the idea of her and the baby being here alone tonight, or any night for that matter. They were too isolated out here, too vulnerable. If that badger were to come back, then help would be too far away to get here in time to help them. It was a good thing his wolf was good at being stealthy. He’d be camping out on her land for the foreseeable future.
“I can’t ask you guys to do all of this. If anything I owe the two of you for everything you’ve done for me today. There’s no way I’m asking you to do any work for me for free.” She was being stubborn, but Luke figured he could get around that, given time.
“Okay then, we’ll figure something out,” he conceded. “But for now, I think a trip to the hardware store is in order. We need to replace that door and get some good locks.”
“I’m on it. Why don’t you stay here, just in case. I’d hate to leave the two of them alone if that badger comes back.”
Luke understood what Benson was saying. With the badger having been a shifter, they would need to be on the lookout, in
out of town, until they could figure out who it was. Whoever it turned out to be, he would die for attacking Ashe. Luke wouldn’t allow that to go unpunished.
After Benson took off for town Luke was given a tour of the house by Ashe once she’d put Lilly down for a nap. She explained to him what had happened when she’d arrived home earlier, and showed him where the badger was on the stairs.
When he went up, he noticed the animal’s scent was particularly strong near one door. “What’s this room for?”
“Oh, that’s my dad’s old office. It’s locked, but I have the key. I haven’t gotten around to cleaning out those rooms just yet. I guess I need to, but it’s like saying goodbye all over again. I’m still psyching myself up for it.”
“I can understand that. I’m the last in my immediate family. I have a few cousins, but that’s about it. Keeping family close is important. You never know how much time you have left with them.”
“Exactly. I have an uncle, but he’s not related by blood. He’s my dad’s adopted brother. He stops by from time to time, but I think he’s just lonely. His wife left him a few years back and nobody has heard from her since.”
The way she spoke so freely with him about her family was refreshing. It seemed nowadays everyone was guarded, not allowing anyone to get close…sort of how he’d been, especially after leaving the service. Yet here she was, chatting with him like they’d been friends for a while.
“So he lives nearby?”
“On the other side of town, but he works in the next town over. He’s a used car salesman there, and I suppose he does well,” she said, moving slowly back down the stairs.
“Let me help you. I think you should steer clear of these for the next few days. We don’t want you hurting yourself. Is there anything you need from up there? I could get it for you so there’s no reason to go up.”
Just the thought of her falling down the stairs sent a cold chill down his spine. His little mate was a strong, independent woman, that was for sure, but he could also sense a softness that she tried to hide. It was plain to see every time she gazed at Lilly, and he hoped to one day see it directed his way as well.
Her body was another thing all together. Ashe was a feast for the eyes. Her creamy complexion and long chestnut hair left his fingers itching to touch her. The way her soft curves moved when she walked had him imagining what she would look like when he stripped her down.
Shaking his head, Luke fought to clear his head of the inappropriate thoughts threatening to leave him with a raging hard-on.
As luck would have it, Benson was back within the hour and they managed to get the strips placed on the worst of her cuts, then replaced her front door. They were just finishing up with the locks on the back door when the sun began to set.
“Can I fix you two dinner? It’s the least I can do for all the work you’ve helped me with today,” Ashe offered, setting a happy Lilly into her swing. “I had just picked up some steaks today, and I can get them fixed up pretty quickly.”
Luke’s inner wolf perked up at the mention of red meat. He’d need to let the beast out for a quick hunt later in the evening, but perhaps a juicy piece of beef would keep him leashed a little longer.
“That sounds wonderful,” Luke replied.
Benson gave a nod in agreement, and Ashe asked. “How would you like it cooked?”
Both men answered in unison, “Mid-rare.”
Chuckling, she turned back to the kitchen. “Well, all right then. Dinner won’t take long at all if you still want your cow mooing. I’ll get the sides started.”
“Would you like any help?” he offered, looking for any excuse to stay near. Ever since discovering she was his mate, his wolf hadn’t wanted to stray too far from her side. Unfortunately, that would likely be the case until he was able to mark her properly, and claim her as his own.
The problem with that was, he still hadn’t dropped the bomb about shifters yet. It was something he would have to figure out how to do, and soon. She would need to understand that both the mugger from earlier and the badger in her house had other forms. He didn’t want to chance her coming in contact with those nasty guys and not even be aware of what they were.
She was human, and it would already be next to impossible for her to determine who was shifter and who wasn’t, but knowledge was power and he would teach her everything he knew. For the time being, he needed to figure out a way to have her guarded without freaking her out. Being in the woods was one thing, but he wanted to be right on her damn porch where he could see everything and hear anything going on in the house.
If she saw a large wolf camped out on the other side of her door, he’d probably end up with a load of buckshot in his ass, and he’d rather avoid that scenario. Instead, he decided to confer with Benson while she was working on the food. Maybe he could come up with a solution.
Stepping out the back door under the guise of checking out potential garden spots, Benson pitched his idea. “How about after we leave, I come back with my wolf? I can explain how he’s trained to guard the property where my honeybees are, so I could easily order him to guard her home and trust that he would do just that.”
Luke thought for a moment. “It might work. You don’t think she’d freak out with a wolf being so near her kid though?”
“There’s only one way to find out. Plus, if I’m bringing you here, then she’ll see you’re tame. If I have you sit, roll over and beg she may start to see you more as a sweet little pup.”
If Benson didn’t watch it, he’d be getting a bite on his big ass from his “little pup”.
“I’m not too sure about the party tricks, but let’s bring it up to her at dinner. Regardless I’ll be roaming around her land, but I’d rather not get shot if she does see me.”
Benson was still laughing when Ashe popped her head out the door and announced the food was ready.
“So what’s so funny?” She asked.
“Benson was picking on me.”
Her curious expression was so damn cute. Luke imagined he could look at her face forever and never tire of the way her emotions were there on the surface for anyone to see. What would she look like in the throws of passion? Would her cheeks flush pink, her eyes roll back as he brought her over the edge?
Luke had to shift in his seat when Benson shot him a look. Sure enough, his buddy had probably caught a whiff of the raw lust rolling off him.
“I was giving him a hard time about how my pet wolf follows orders better than he ever did in the service,” Benson put in. “I’ll have to bring him over sometime so you can meet him.”
“You have a wolf? As a pet?” She gasped. “Is that safe? I mean, they’re meant to be wild animals. Aren’t you worried he could turn on you?”
Benson shrugged. “I’ve been with him for years and he’s never shown any aggression towards me or anyone else that didn’t deserve it. He makes a great guard dog. In fact,” Benson snapped his fingers as if an idea had just come to mind. He was playing it off well. “I should bring him here to keep guard tonight in case that nasty badger comes back.”
Her lip tucked between her teeth, Luke could tell she wasn’t quite seeing the plan in the same way they were. “He’s a really special animal, Ashe,” Luke added.
“I don’t know. I would hate for him to run off and get lost in the woods. I don’t even have a fenced yard.”
Ah, so she’s not opposed to having him there, she just doesn’t want to be responsible for him running away
, he thought with an inner smile. He could work with that.