Authors: Susan Laine
Without adding anything more to the growl, Rafe got to his feet and stormed out of the room toward the stairs. A moment later, his door slammed shut with a loud bang. Kris flinched and closed his eyes because they felt tired and achy, as though they’d been open for so long he’d forgotten how to close them, and now that he did close them, the pain was tantamount to physical torture.
Not that there wasn’t enough pain in his heart already to go around.
Sure, he’d never even heard of wolfies, and he kept reasoning why would anyone want and seek out this predetermined life and liaison on purpose, or how these people even knew about the King family, who weren’t public with their lycan heritage. In any case, the discussion about wolfies and what-not was over before it began as the crazed woman had been escorted off the premises by private security for the ranch. Kris briefly considered what kind of person she was and if she realized exactly what she would’ve gotten herself into if she actually turned out to be a lycan’s mate.
In his quest for answers and an effort to regain control over his life, Kris had gone and hurt the one person who was hand-delivered to him by nature and the universe, signed and sealed, for him alone to love and be loved by. And for the life of him, Kris had no idea how to remedy the situation—or if he even could anymore. A lot of blows had been handed down, and Kris felt alone again.
This time, however, Kris had only himself to blame.
just him, he grudgingly admitted, unwilling to take all the assigned blame on his shoulders. His selfishness and his compassion were caught in a heated argument, and soon there’d be blood—he could smell it in the air. There was so much Kris didn’t know or understand, but he also knew that lashing out had been a sure way of not getting any answers or finding any solutions.
Yes, there was only one available course of action. Kris had to apologize, and if that failed, he’d have to grovel. Not because Rafe meant life or death to him, and not even because it was the right thing to do. Kris wanted simply to regain Rafe’s respect and friendship. Because without those things, there really was no future for the two of them.
at the shimmering green dials on his digital clock—1:39 a.m.—did nothing to lift Kris’s mood or raise his spirits. Rafe had refused to speak to him, or even see him, so now Kris lay on his bed in the King household guest room, assured that it was all over—before it had ever really begun. If he could have been any more depressed, he’d have left a sunken impression on the ground right before it swallowed him whole.
Tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position—and failing miserably—Kris felt weary to the bone. But sleep wouldn’t come. At times he glanced at the door, waiting for a soft knock or for the knob to turn, but he knew in his heart Rafe wouldn’t come. Not after the display of asinine malice Kris had showered him with.
His head hurt. The pounding of blood in his temples exhausted him even further, and the need to breathe fresh air grew exponentially with every heartbeat turning into a painful drumming in his head.
Finally, Kris could stand it no longer. Throwing the covers aside, Kris got out of bed, put on sweatpants and a T-shirt, a hoodie and sneakers, all his garments dark gray and cozy, well-worn and comfortable. Opening the bedroom door quietly, he sneaked out. He made his way down the hallway of the darkened house to find the stairs and the back door that led outside. There was a mowed stretch of lawn, a wooden deck over rocks, and a barbecue grill at the back next to a swing set. Beyond the garden terrace rose the dark wood with its pine-scented conifers in tall, thin shapes looming in the night.
Sighing, Kris climbed the few stone steps up to the patio, then inhaled deeply a couple of times. The air was cold, almost to the point of freezing, whisking down from the Rocky Mountains like invisible yet tangible force fields. As if surrounded by a bubble, the coolness seeping into his bones, Kris shivered, and he hugged himself to stay warm and keep the chills at bay. But the coldness remained in his heart, so warmth was nowhere in sight for him.
A soft sound came from behind him, and there was movement on the edge of his field of vision. He turned to see what it was when an obscure shadow loomed above him—and something fast swung in his direction. Stars flashed bright in his eyes, like a lightning shower or shooting stars, and then there was disorientation, blackness, and pain.
So much pain. Kris keeled over, doubling and shrinking into a fetal position just when another blow landed on his arm. Something hard and rough and warm—a wooden stick?
“No, you can’t have them! They’re mine!” A shrill female voice shrieked above him, so high-pitched that Kris barely distinguished specific words. The pain drowned all other sensations, and he couldn’t see through the throbbing blood-red veil and the steel-white flashes taking over his consciousness and invading his body like a foreign element introduced into his being, everywhere at once. Crying out, he tried to crawl away from the blows that kept landing over his body—his arms, his sides, his legs, and his head. He could smell blood, and felt the clammy hand of death brushing against his heart and soul.
All of a sudden, there was a whoosh of air—and a loud howl that morphed into a fierce growl so low it vibrated inside Kris’s rib cage.
Through the bright flashes conquering his awareness and the sour-smelling red veil of blood dripping into his eyes, Kris could discern a gigantic shape in front of him. Barely a humanoid, it was a mass of muscle and hair, glowing eyes and silvery fangs. Boxers had been torn into shreds, and nothing of the apparition’s cover had been left strategically hanging to block anything dangling, like in old black-and-white films. The creature’s nakedness did nothing to dispel the instinctive fear it created in onlookers.
Kris tried to call out to him, but was slipping in and out of consciousness, and the pain pressed against every nerve ending until nothing else existed.
“Sweetheart, you will learn to love me,” the woman screamed as the backyard was filled with more growls and howls, and faintly Kris realized the whole pack had come out to face this violent intruder—and to save him.
The wolfie woman’s screeching and yelling were cut abruptly short when the giant shadow—Rafe—passed Kris too fast for him to see, and she went flying through the air. Kris heard the thud as her body hit a tree trunk far back toward the tree line.
Then Rafe was with him—human again—his arms catching Kris tenderly into a gentle loving embrace. “Here, honey.” Rafe’s shaky whisper reached him through a haze, and Kris felt something moist against his lips. Metallic, fruity, sour liquid poured into his mouth, covering his tongue with its tangy taste and exploding heat, trickling down his throat on its way inside.
The reaction was virtually instantaneous. Like someone had flipped on the lights, suddenly Kris was encircled with light as bright as the sun. Only the light didn’t come from high up in the sky, or anywhere specific for that matter. The light, oddly pulsating, merely surrounded him, and he could see his surroundings as clearly as in daylight.
So many sounds in his ears deafened him. Rustling of trees, grass, and clothes, chirping of crickets, songs of night birds, wind whistling in the distance, wood creaking, and skin brushing on skin—Kris felt the sounds echoing between his ears in what felt like the hollow cavern of his head.
The musky scent of his mate filled his nostrils as the pain was swept away, dissipating and disappearing entirely, not even a memory of it remaining to haunt him. Kris looked up and saw his strong mate kneeling above him, tears wetting his cheeks, his hard jaw trembling, and his hands wrapped around him tight, holding Kris close to the heart beating so fast it scared Kris.
“Shh, don’t try move yet, honey,” Rafe murmured softly, and it sounded like a shout in Kris’s ears. “My blood coursing through your veins, healing you, heightens your sensations. It can be disorienting. Give it a moment to work, and give yourself a second to adjust.” Gathering Kris closer, Rafe rocked Kris in his arms, his head lying against the broad chest, and never had Kris felt the same kind of security, like a fireplace and a warm blanket on a wintery night.
“Your blood…,” he muttered, tasting the lingering flavor of his mate’s bittersweet essence on his tongue.
People were talking around him, all of them so loud in his ears, which had temporarily shifted into lycans’ hearing. They talked about the perimeter being secured by Taur guards, and the sheriff being called, and brandy being brought out to him, and Kris’s mother’s quivering voice edging closer.
All that was somehow irrelevant when Rafe held him near, his rapid heartbeat slowly quieting and his tension easing. The pain was entirely gone, his injured limbs worked fine, his beaten body had been healed, and nothing was sore or aching.
The effect of the blood on his senses, however, was dwindling. The peculiar light was vanishing and the dark of the night replacing it, the only smell left was that of blood and his mate, and far away and close-by sounds were smothered by the low thrumming in his head that strangely wasn’t painful so much as distracting.
He was lifted off the ground affectionately. Kris snuggled against Rafe’s chest, letting all other sensations fade to black as his mate carried him inside, removed his tattered clothes, and sneaked him beneath warm covers that held his mate’s scent. Dreams took Kris, and he didn’t mind.
with fear and discomfort, Rafe watched Kris sleep in his bed, his mate’s face slack in sleep, lips slightly parted, eyes closed tight, cheeks flushed with the heat of the bed, and eyelids fluttering every so often. Lying next to his mate, Rafe had stripped his clothes and his thoughts—but his emotions refused to give him solace from the dread paralyzing him.
Tonight he had almost lost his mate.
No. He had almost lost
—and lost him
Kris was his mate.
The thought crushed all the hope he had within his soul of ever being with his mate.
Huddling near, Rafe let himself sink into his mate’s warmth, to relish the respite of Kris’s safe return from the brink of doom. Knowing it couldn’t last—that he couldn’t allow it to last—Rafe struck the final nails into his coffin and made his decision. And it hurt like hell.
When Kris stirred from his sleep, his blue eyes blinked half-lidded, and then flew fully open when he realized Rafe was pressed against him nude, watching him. “Hi…,” he murmured drowsily.
Bringing a smile up onto his lips with a sheer force of will, Rafe said back, “Hi. How are you feeling, honey?”
“My head is pounding like a jackhammer.” Kris chuckled low, shakily, raking a hand through his bed-tousled black hair with its streaks of blue. “Are you sure there isn’t an actual jackhammer nearby, by any chance?”
Chuckling, Rafe caressed Kris’s forehead, moving bluish-black strands of hair out of the way of the blue eyes he’d come to adore. “I’ll silence the world for you if you want me to, honey,” he said gruffly, fighting back tears.
Kris shrugged. “Get me some earplugs and painkillers, and I’m good.”
Rafe frowned. “Are you still in pain?”
Shaking his head, pouting his plump lips, and giving Rafe a pointed look, Kris laughed and said, “I was just kidding, babe.” Rafe’s eyes shot wide at the endearment, and becoming aware of what he’d said, Kris blushed across his cheeks, throat, and chest. Rafe had not expected that in one day he might earn such a pleasurable familiarity from his at-first reluctant mate, and it made his heart fly and soar high with happiness—and then plunge right down in furious flames from the heady heights with a desperation beyond his experience.
This had to stop now. Rafe had to stop this before….
But then Kris was leaning up toward him, and that beautiful mouth covered his own. Groaning into the kiss, Rafe had no strength to fight his mate making the first move—again. And this time Rafe knew it wasn’t about an experiment in self-control. No, this was passion, and want, and need—and it was tearing him apart as the two halves of his personality fought for dominance. He longed to sink his fangs deep into his mate’s creamy flesh while ramming his cock deep into his ass, but despondent, he also wished he’d be able to relinquish his mate when the time came—and that time was approaching fast.
Rafe needed to separate his needs from his mate’s needs—because they didn’t mesh. What Kris was doing right now was not what he truly needed; that, Rafe knew without a shadow of a doubt. Rafe refused to endanger Kris any further.
But feeling Kris’s bare skin heating and quivering next to him underneath the sheets, Rafe couldn’t make himself stop what was imminent. His top head yielded to his lower head.
With a growl, he practically tore the sheets from between them until Kris’s lithe naked figure lay exposed. Ripping his mouth away from Kris, Rafe studied his mate’s lovely porcelain-white body, devouring every inch with his burning gaze, demanding to see more—and to feel everything. If there was only this one time he’d have with his mate, Rafe was going to make it memorable for both of them.
“If we do this—and I do want to, because I know sex isn’t all you want me for,” Kris said into the admiring silence, causing Rafe to look at him with a query. “Will you… change… into a wolf? Will you… bite me?”
Rafe lowered his head till his forehead touched Kris’s forehead. “No, honey. I won’t change into a wolf. Not entirely. There might be… fangs… and claws… and some fur…. But no, I will not complete the shift.” Staring into his mate’s blue eyes, he hesitated briefly, licking his lips, and doing so tasted Kris’s flavor on his tongue, and pear and licorice—bubble gum?—but forced himself to refocus. “Biting…. Yes, mating requires claiming. I would bite, on the neck—there,” he added, stroking tenderly on the soft spot at the junction where neck met shoulder. “It would hurt but only briefly. The act of mating is the culmination of the relationship between mates, and whatever pain would fleetingly be there, it would be overrun by pleasure. And with a simple lick, I’d remove the sting of it. You won’t change into a lycan, so don’t be afraid.” Rafe worried again, doubting his decision to have this single precious stolen moment with his mate. “W-we don’t have to do this, you know. It’s all right if you—”