Authors: Serena Pettus
“You won’t have to worry about anything like that from him. He’s been specially trained,” Luke insisted. “At least let Benson bring him by so you can meet him. If not, then I’m afraid I may be sleeping on your porch with a shotgun.”
Ashe laughed, the sound so carefree and open, all Luke could do was stare. He wanted to hear her do that all the time. Perhaps Lilly would have her mom’s sweet laugh too.
She should always be happy
, his inner wolf demanded.
“Okay, okay. I’ll meet him. Let’s eat first, then after I get Lilly down for bed we’ll see about bringing him over. I’m not sure how she would be around animals yet.”
“Oh, I’m willing to bet she’d be great with him. Kids really relate to animals,” Benson offered. “She may get attached though, then you’d end up with a permanent pet.”
Luke snorted. Yeah, Ashe could pet him any damn time she pleased. And that little princess she had cradled in her lap could ride his ass like a pony in the back yard if it made her happy.
It was insane how the whole mate thing worked. He’d known her for less than a day and already he was willing to do absolutely anything she asked or needed. It was intense, to say the least, and his feelings would only grow the more time they spent together.
For the first time, he understood why some of his kind died shortly after their mates. With a bond that strong between two souls, it would only be natural to follow them on to the next life.
The three of them enjoyed their dinner and some light conversation before Luke and Benson excused themselves with a promise to return with her guard for the night.
“So are you ready to put on your collar?” Benson snickered from the driver’s seat.
Luke shot him the dirtiest look he could muster. “If you want her to think that I’m a tame animal, it would be best not to show back up looking like you’ve been mauled by your own pet.”
The bastard let loose a full bellied laugh, slapping the steering wheel. “Don’t get your fur twisted, I was just kidding. You just focus on not growling so you don’t scare her.”
“I’ll be on my best behavior unless something or someone comes up unannounced. All bets are off at that point. That’s my future family in there, and I’ll do everything in my power to protect them,” he snarled, his anger over the danger surrounding them getting the better of him.
“You see, that’s what has me worried. She’s human, Luke. She isn’t likely to feel the same level of attraction as you right now. You’ll need to let things build. Earn her trust, make her laugh and help her around her home and gardens. Basically, make yourself indispensable.” Benson smiled. “Compliment her, play with Lilly and allow Ashe to take a break from time to time to unwind. A few light touches here and there will add to the intimacy. Before long, you’ll see her coming around. Trust me on this. You’ve got nothing to worry about. Fated mates will always end up together.”
“I hope you’re right, man. I’m not sure what I’d do if she rejected me.”
“You’d still watch over them.” Benson’s solemn tone caught Luke’s attention, but he didn’t comment on it. Something deep inside told Luke his friend was speaking from experience.
The rest of the drive was made in silence. Luke was going to have his work cut out for him this time, but like the good soldier he was, he was already formulating a battle plan.
Puttering around her kitchen, Ashe was more nervous than she cared to admit. Was she really considering allowing a wolf around her house? It was time to consider if her sanity was still intact. Between the two attacks that day, she’d been beyond stressed, but once the bombshell about Matt’s death had been dropped Ashe couldn’t explain her feelings. Frankly, she was ashamed of them.
Matt was one of the sweetest guys she’d ever met. At one point she’d actually entertained the thought that maybe there could be more between them than just a fling, but he’d been gentle, yet firm when he’d said he wasn’t looking for a serious relationship. Now it looked like it had been for the best, as this would have been so much harder had he been around for her to become even more attached to him over the months following when he’d gone back overseas.
She would have loved to have him be a part of Lilly’s life, but her emotions when it came to thoughts of Matt had been all over the map once she’d lost touch with him. They’d ranged from feeling abandoned and alone, to anger and resentment for deserting her when she needed him to step up the most. It wasn’t like she wanted to get married, she just wanted her daughter to have everything in life other kids had, including both parents. Now she felt guilty, not only for that, but also for the fact she found his best friend so attractive.
It was wrong on so many levels to feel drawn to the man who just told her that the father of her child was dead, yet there she was, wondering if by some miracle he’d be in her yard working shirtless in the next few days.
Yup, there was a special place in hell reserved just for her and her out of control hormones. Honestly, her body had lit up when she’d awakened in his arms earlier. There was something about being held against his broad chest, warm and safe, that seemed to set her entire being at ease. It was like some natural instinct telling her that she was safe with this man.
Shaking her head, she finished loading the dishwasher and wiped down her counters. They would be coming back soon, and she wanted to have Lilly fed and in bed beforehand.
“Come on baby girl, let’s get that belly filled so you can rest those sleepy eyes for the night,” she softly cooed.
Ashe didn’t think she’d ever tire of looking at her sweet baby’s face. She had Matt’s dark brown eyes, and his full lips, but she had Ashe’s dark hair and fair complexion. A picture perfect blend of her parents, if only Ashe had more pictures of Matt. It would be nice to be able to show Lilly her father once she got older. Regardless of whether another man came into their lives, she wanted her daughter to know who her dad was, and how brave he’d been. Maybe she could ask Luke if he had any she could put in an album for her daughter.
With her bottle sucked down, Ashe moved Lilly to her shoulder, only having to wait a moment for a rather robust belch to work it’s way up.
“Impressive, peanut. I’ll chalk that up to another thing you got from your daddy.” She couldn’t help but chuckle when Lilly emitted a disgruntled noise. “Let’s get you a fresh bottom and tucked in for the night. I see your little eyes drooping.”
It never took more than a quick application of her lavender lotion and a dry butt to send Lilly off to sleep. Something Ashe was so very thankful for.
She’d just walked back into the living room when she spotted the headlights of Benson’s big truck coming up the driveway. Opening the front door, she stepped out with the baby monitor in her hand and waved.
He hopped down from the cab and came around, but she didn’t see Luke anywhere. “Luke decided not to come with you?” she inquired, trying to not appear disappointed.
“He’s helping out with something at the house, but he’ll be over tomorrow to help me start clearing the area you plan to garden.” He moved to the tailgate and lowered it. “Now, he’s a big boy, so don’t be afraid. He’s very docile.”
Ashe nearly rolled her eyes. A docile wolf? He may be in denial, but she knew that these animals still harbored their natural wild instinct and could turn on their handlers without warning. “Whatever you say. Are you sure this is a good idea? He doesn’t know me at all.”
He simply shrugged his massive shoulders. “I’ll tell you what, if he gives you any trouble, I’ll eat my shorts. That’s how much faith I have in this working for you.”
“I’m holding you to it. I should probably look into getting a large breed dog of my own to help with critters coming into the yard. A fence will only stop so much.”
“You’re right about that, but there’s plenty of time to find yourself a pup later. Shadow here will be a good watchdog for you.” His smile made him even more approachable, yet it still didn’t hold a candle to Luke’s.
“Why did you pick the name, Shadow?” Just then, a large mass of black fur rose from the truck bed. It was the biggest wolf she’d ever seen! Its coat was long, thick and shiny, telling her that this animal was well cared for and healthy.
It stepped to the end of the tailgate and sat, looking to Benson for permission to get down, she guessed. Sure enough, with a small hand gesture, the big predator bounded down and came to stand at his side, now facing where she still stood on the porch steps.
With its fur dark as night, the eyes were damn near hypnotic. A blue gaze so bright, she could have sworn they were glowing, stared back at her with utter focus, like it was studying her.
“I gave him his name, mainly because at night you can’t even see his ass unless he looks your way. It makes him an excellent hunter,” Benson bragged, patting the canine on the head. “I’m going to walk him up to you, okay?”
Nervous now, Ashe stammered, “Um…okay.” Seeing it across the drive, standing next to Benson was one thing, having it come to her was a little scary.
“Don’t worry. I just want him to get your scent. He’ll pick up on Lilly too since you’ve been holding her. Once he knows the scents that belong, he can determine the one’s that don’t.”
When he put it like that, it made perfect sense, as long as she could hold still. All she could do was nod her head as she watched them walk slowly forward. “He’s so big,” she whispered.
“Yeah, but he’s a lover, that’s for sure. Hold your hand out, palm up, and let him come to you just like you would any other canine,” he instructed, holding his own hand out for example.
“Perfect. Now just let him do the rest.”
Ashe did as she was told, and tried to keep her hand steady while the wolf came ever closer. Now that she could see him better, she noted how similar his eye color was to Luke’s.
Christ on a cracker! Now I’m comparing him to a wolf?
She thought with a small shake of her head. When she did so, he stopped and cocked his head curiously. Clearly he was an intelligent animal, if a simple gesture was enough to have him stop and take notice. “Come on, bug guy,” she called.
He closed the distance and gave her a few cursory sniffs before nudging her hand. Cautiously, she turned her palm and allowed it to smooth over his soft fur along the side of his head before giving a little scratch behind the ear.
“It looks like he likes you,” Benson said, stepping up behind Shadow and giving him a playful pat on the back. “You stay here, Shadow.
At the stern order, Shadow moved past Ashe and took a seat next to the front door. “I should let him sleep in the living room,” she mused. “I’ve always hated to see pets left out in the cold at night.”
“He’s a natural born predator, Ashe. He’ll be perfectly fine on the porch, and he’ll be better able to keep any nasty little pests away from the house.”
“Well, he’s at least going to have a blanket and some water out here then.” Moving past the wolf watching her, Ashe went inside, leaving the door open, and snagged a blanket from the closet before going to the kitchen and coming back with a big bowl of water. “Here we go! All set for the night.” Spreading out the makeshift bed, she set the water bowl at the edge and looked back to the duo, waiting.
Benson smiled, pointed to the bed and said, “There’s your bed Shadow. Better get in it.”
Why he seemed to find it so amusing to tell his pet to get in bed, she’d never understand. Oddly enough, Shadow seemed to narrow his eyes at Benson, even as he moved to do as he was told, plopping down with an indignant huff.
“Are you sure he’ll be happy camping out here for the night? He doesn’t seem too thrilled.” No sooner had the words left her mouth, than she felt a cold nose on her arm. He’d come to her side like he understood what she’d said, and she gave his head a scratch, petting him as if he was a family pet and not a semi-wild animal. Leaning down to his level, she smiled. “You really are a sweet boy, aren’t you?” The lick up the side of her face had her upright in an instant. “I sincerely hope you haven’t been licking your ass recently, buddy.”
Benson’s guffaw caused her own laughter to bubble up, yet Shadow just sat down looking rather disgruntled as they said their goodnights and goodbyes. Benson told her to not be surprised if Shadow left once she was up and about in the morning, since he usually goes for a run, but that he’d have no problem finding his way back to Benson’s house.
After sitting outside with Shadow for a little longer, Ashe retreated inside and made sure that the house was locked up tight before finally collapsing in bed. It had been an insane day, full of events she’d never imagine happening to her. To think, she’d traveled across the United States without incident, yet came home to a mugging and a break-in.
It just went to show a girl couldn’t be too careful. And that’s just what she’d have to be where Luke was concerned. The boy was a sinful bit of eye candy for sure, and a walking advertisement for heartache. A random hook-up was the last thing she needed right now. She was a mom, and therefore she’d need to behave like one…no matter how tempting the man was.
2 Weeks later…
“Okay, you can turn it on now,” Luke called out from where he stood next to her garden.
Ashe giggled behind her hand. She knew good and well that once she turned the faucet on the sprinkler was going to soak him. Twisting the knob anyway, she doubled over when he gave a shout and a little high-stepping dance out of the rows of plant.
“Holy hell that was cold,” he laughed, shaking the water droplets off his arms.
Ashe tried to muster up her most innocent expression. “You mean you weren’t telling me to turn the sprinkler on so you could cool off?” she asked with an exaggerated bat of her eyelashes.
“You brat! You knew I would get wet,” he accused, walking over to her with the confident swagger she loved.
They’d both been working hard, weeding, watering and planting. Fencing would begin the next day, and Ashe was happy to see her plans taking shape.
If she weren’t constantly distracted by the devilishly sexy man next to her, perhaps she would be of more help. He seemed to have an endless amount of energy that she envied.
Already the sun was high in the sky, beating down on them and all but insuring she looked dreadful. Sure, she could dress in a pair of shorts and a tank to look cute, but with her blotchy cheeks from the heat along with the sweat leaving her hair damp and disheveled, she knew she was a mess.
Despite her appearance, Ashe didn’t miss the heated looks, or the way he always seemed to find a way to touch her arm, hip or the small of her back. Just innocent brushes for the most part, but they were playing hell on her body.
“Awe, a little water won’t kill you, Luke. Besides,” she giggled again, “hydration is important on a hot day.”
Ashe stepped over to the playpen they’d set up near the porch with a little extra sway to her hips.
It never hurts to give your all
, she chuckled inwardly.
Luke had moved the patio umbrella over so Lilly could be outside with them, but also be protected from the sun. So far, she’d been content to lie there and look around, allowing them to get a lot of work done.
“Hey, Ashe, come look at this and tell me what you think,” Luke called from the edge of the ten by ten section they’d just finished.
Unsure of what it could be, she jogged over to where he stood with his hands on his hips. “What is it?” she asked, not seeing anything wrong.
Luke’s exclamation startled her enough to allow him to scoop her up and toss her over his shoulder before walking them both back under the sprinkler’s cold spray.
Ashe was hanging upside down in a fit of laughter with his firm ass right in her face. “And you called
“What can I say? The water was so refreshing I thought you might enjoy it too,” he chuckled.
When he stopped in the middle of a row, she had a second to wonder what he was doing before he began to slide her down his chiseled front—allowing her to feel his hard contours against her soft body—until her feet hit the ground.
Cool water was still raining down on them and when Ashe looked up, she was met with Luke’s infectious smile and the brilliant blue of his heated gaze.
“You look fantastic all wet,” he drawled.
“Really? Damn it, why didn’t anyone tell me the drown rat look had made a comeback?”
“You’re a sassy little thing, aren’t you?”
“What can I say? I throw sass around like beads at Mardi Gras,” she teased, grinning up at him. Ashe was absolutely loving how his arms were still around her waist, holding her loosely as they enjoyed their cool shower. “Maybe I should just grab a bar of soap and we can clean up out here,” she joked, tipping her head up to allow the water to rinse her face.
Warm hands moved from her waist, up her arms, to her shoulders before cupping her face. Ashe blinked her eyes open in time to see his mouth descending on hers.
His lips brushed hers, sending a jolt down her spine. Her surprised gasp allowed him easy access as his sinful mouth delivered a hungry kiss that left her body tingling and her head light.
had she been so completely swept away by a man.
The possessive way he held her, how his tongue danced with hers, and the sexy little growl he let out when she gripped his shirt, had her lady bits in a swoon.
By the time he pulled back, Ashe was panting. She rose up on her toes in an attempt to get closer, hoping he’d do it again.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I couldn’t help myself. I had to see if you tasted as sweet as you look.”
“And did I?”
At that, she pulled him back down by the collar of his shirt, sealing her lips over his and sinking into his hold.