Authors: Eve Langlais
A cool breeze ruffled her fur as she tore through the shrouded forest.
Free. Free. Soon she’d be free.
Enough was enough. If her human half couldn’t do what had to be done, then the wolf would.
No more of this hiding. No more of this shame.
Far, far away she’d flee and start over. A new and fresh start. If she could escape.
A baying rose behind her.
! It sounded natural, the howl of wolves also out for a nightly run. However, she could decipher the intent even if the ululations had no words
We’re coming to get you. We’re coming to hurt you. Run, run as fast as you can, you still can’t escape the might of the pack.
Dammit. They’d discovered her gone and now chased after. Never mind her head start. Those that hunted were much larger and faster. If she still wanted to escape, then she needed to put more distance between them.
Faster she ran, her fours paws working in cadence, the calloused pads gripping at the ground, finding purchase on rocks and allowing her to nimbly leap over the fallen trunks that crossed her path.
A yip came from her left. A startling sound echoed as well to her right. Double damn. The hunters had flanked her.
Perhaps if she went one way, she could surprise the chaser and break free of the noose they drew tight.
She veered, aiming to the northeast, angling across, wondering if perhaps she’d get lucky and avoid the hunters altogether.
Breath in. Breath out. Hot steam that misted the air. The pants of exertion almost covered that of her path, the soft crunch of foliage and fallen leaves gunshot-loud in the still forest. All the little creatures were abed, or hiding. They knew better than to remain in the open when the hunt was on.
A solid weight slammed into her without warning. Down she crashed, the air knocked from her, leaving her without breath to even yelp. Pinned beneath a shaggy shape, she flailed, looking for purchase and a way to fling off her attacker. She craned her head, jaw snapping at the one who held her down.
But she was no match for the brute strength of the beast pinning her, a wolf she knew well. Too well to her dismay. Her mate.
The male who made her life a living hell. She wouldn’t go back to him. She couldn’t.
Rage filled her, an ire born of abuse and taunts that gave fuel to her adrenaline, strength to her muscles.
She fought, using every savage trick she knew, plus some she invented on the spot. Her small and tricky shape kept wiggling out of his grasp, but she couldn’t quite flee as he pounced on her. Her sharp teeth were busy, clamping tight when she found flesh. She hurt him.
She. Hurt. Him. The exhilaration of knowing she could almost made up for the abuse she took in return.
Wet warmth along her ribs signaled an injury, and when she tried to put weight on her hind leg, agonizing pain shot through her. But she didn’t give up. Actually she found a spurt of energy when she noted her mate tired. Size was well and good, but he lacked the stamina to maintain any kind of assault.
But, of course, the leader of her pack didn’t work alone.
Just as she scrabbled free, leaving him panting and snarling, blood dripping into his eye from a gash on his head, his enforcers arrived. She didn’t need to see the evil glare in their eyes or hear their vicious snarl to know she was in trouble. She knew these wolves. Knew them as men too. And what she knew wasn’t good.
Their names didn’t matter. What did was their intent. Their intent to harm.
They didn’t care that she was smaller or female. They tore into her, taking down her tired frame and biting. Not gnashing hard enough to kill or to permanently injure, just enough to hurt. To bleed.
Relentless. Cruel. The agony made her gasp, and they wouldn’t stop. As for her mate, he’d shifted and stood watching, his dark eyes glinting with triumph.
He noted her eyeing him. His smirk deepened. “Had enough yet? Tell your bitch to go away. I want to speak with my
The wolf wanted to deny his demand. But she’d lost. More than lost, she’d caused so much harm to them.
The woman inside the wolf struggled to break free. Fur receded, and skin appeared, blood-streaked and mottled. Her mate’s enforcers stood back, allowing her to shift.
On the ground, naked and hurt, Arabella panted, staring at the toes of her husband. Tears burned her eyes. “I didn’t mean to run. Please. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again.” The words almost choked her, and they shamed her inner wolf.
The words did not help her case.
“You’re right. You won’t do it again because, this time, I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t forget. Boys. You know what to do.”
Indeed they did.
Arabella curled into a ball and tried to shut her mind to the abuse that rained upon her. Her wolf whined to get out, but Arabella wouldn’t let her free, wanting to protect her inner beast. The wolf tried to not hear Arabella’s pleas for mercy. She whimpered at the shrill screams and despair. Nothing could stem the pain, a pain caused by choosing to run.
I did this. I did this to us.
Arabella’s wolf curled into a corner of Arabella’s mind. Curled up, put her face in the fur of her tail. She hid, knowing that her defiance had led to this.
Stop. Please stop. No more. Please.
The memories of the blows faded, replaced by the soothing stroke of a gentle hand and soft words. “Wake up, baby. You’re having a nightmare.”
Arabella stilled mid whimper. Her body shivered in recollection, the skin clammy and cold. She wanted Hayder to go away. She didn’t want him to see her like this. She didn’t want anyone to see her like this.
Perhaps if she held still, he’d leave, leave her to the shameful memories of her failure.
As if Hayder would do such a thing. Instead, he pulled back the covers and crawled into bed with her.
Forget feigning slumber. “What are you doing?” she squeaked, flinching away from the heated skin that met hers. Not expecting a visitor, she’d gone to bed in a T-shirt and panties, adequate sleep time attire if it hadn’t ridden up during her nightmare and if a very naked man hadn’t thought to invade her space.
“I’m cuddling,” he announced, not letting her escape. His arm snaked around her and drew her back into the scorching warmth of his body.
Much as she enjoyed it, she knew she couldn’t allow it. “Where are your clothes?”
“In the other room.”
“But why?” she sputtered.
“Oh come on, baby. Because I can’t sleep in them of course.”
“You were sleeping in the other room?” Where? The couch certainly wasn’t long enough for his tall frame.
“Well duh. How else am I supposed to guard you?”
Of course he’d only remained out of duty, but it didn’t explain his presence in her bedroom. “How did you get in here? I know I locked the bedroom door.”
“Yeah, about that, I can’t believe you locked me out!” He seemed more than a little offended.
The cracked doorjamb showed that hadn’t proven much of an obstacle. “That didn’t stop you I see.”
“Only because I heard you crying. Bad dreams?”
Understatement. “You could say.”
“Do you get them often?”
“Only since I escaped.” Apparently, a fear of capture led to her reliving her last failed escape.
“Poor baby.” He rumbled as he rubbed his cheek against her hair.
To Arabella’s surprise, she didn’t sneeze. Probably because of the triple antihistamine dose she’d taken before bed.
“I’m all right now. You can leave.” Before she did something foolish that she would regret, like rub back.
He hugged her closer. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“But…” What she meant to say got lost and forgotten as his lips brushed her nape.
A full-body shiver rocked her.
“But what, baby?”
What indeed? She tried to focus her thoughts. This was wrong—even if it felt right. “You shouldn’t be here.” He shouldn’t be here naked and tempting her to do things she needed to abstain from. Things like wiggling her bottom closer to him, closer to the hard press of his arousal that triggered an answering wet heat in her sex. Things like turning around to face him so she could kiss him and recapture the insane passion of before.
So many things she wanted to do. So many reasons not to. “I’m fine now. You can return to the couch or floor or wherever you were sleeping.” Naked. She really needed to stop obsessing about that.
“What do you mean no?” It only belatedly occurred to her that she wasn’t acting meek or placating him. She was questioning and demanding. And he wasn’t yelling or hitting. Instead, he was…nuzzling.
“No, as in I won’t leave you not now, probably not ever. You know, you’re really cuddly.” He squeezed her. “And you smell delicious.” He nosed her hair, his warm breath in and out provoking a shiver, the kind that shook her whole body and ended between her legs.
She tried to make sense of his words, even as he sought to steal all rational thought from her with his soft caresses. She managed to mutter, “I’m not ready for this. For you. It’s too soon. Too much.” Hayder overwhelmed her with not just arousal. He seemed to promise a future, one that, if real, she wanted. He offered her protection, the kind that would keep the pain away. He also encouraged her to be herself, to stand up for herself.
And part of standing up for herself was not letting him dictate—even if his dick proved tempting—when and how he’d get to sleep in her bed, with her.
She thought of giving him another warning. But no, she’d asked him twice. He’d refused to listen. He’d also told her to trust him.
Dared she test him?
Better now than later.
Before she changed her mind, she rolled in his arms. Lashes fluttered as she let her gaze meet his, the faint illumination from the night light in the bathroom letting her see his expression—a nightlight because she couldn’t bear the dark.
She let her hands rest on the slightly furry chest. Breathing halted at the electric feel of his taut flesh under her fingertips.
Perhaps I’m being hasty. Maybe having him in bed isn’t a bad thing?
His lips drew close as he whispered, “Oh, baby. I knew you’d come around.”
He did, did he? That only strengthened her resolve. She murmured back, “I said no.”
And then she shoved.
She shoved me out of the bed!
The realization hit him as hard as the floor. His feline grace failed him. Far from hanging its head in shame, his inner lion rolled in mirth, tufted tail practically wagging.
Except it was. He had a feeling this more assertive side of Arabella was his fault. Since the moment they’d met, he’d encouraged her to not take any shit, and apparently she’d decided to start with him.
Dammit. When he’d told her to not let the world stomp all over her, he should have specified his exemption.
I’m her mate. Isn’t there a rule that says she can’t kick me out of bed?
Except she’d yet to realize what he had. Was it only a day ago since his life changed? Not even.
At this rate, he’d be picking out fucking China patterns by noon.
Completely emasculated and by a woman who wanted nothing to do with him.
Flipping to his knees, he sat up and rested his chin on the mattress. Arabella faced him, eyes wary, breathing shallow as she waited for his reaction.
More like she waited to see if he’d explode. She’d learn. Hayder would never harm her, but he would use his infamous kitty-cat eyes against her.
You know you want me. You know you need me. Come on, baby. Melt. Melt for your lion.
She stared right back.
Hmm, this wasn’t working as planned.
He let the left side of his lip curl into a grin, tugging his cheek and popping his infamous dimple.
“I know what you’re doing.”
“Trying to manipulate me into letting you back into bed.”
“Is it working?”
For a moment her expression shifted, a quick flip of emotions as she struggled to answer. “Yes it’s working. But I wish it wasn’t.”
“Why? Why fight it?”
“Because I think I need time.”
It turned out there was something more powerful than his dimple. Her honesty.
He groaned. “I think you were sent to kill me. Fine. If you insist, I’ll respect you even if I’d rather debauch you.”
Her eyes widened.
“Respect doesn’t mean I’m going to lie, baby. I want you. Bad. But I’ll listen to what you want. For now.” And, yes, he said it ominously. Let her think about it. Think about him. Soon even she wouldn’t be able to deny they were meant for each other.
He stood, all six foot plus naked feet of him. And, yes, that did put a certain part of his anatomy in perfect view of a certain shocked gaze.
A sucked-in breath, cheeks that darkened, a certain awareness sizzling between them. She couldn’t hope to hide her pleasure or interest in what she saw.
“Sweet dreams, baby.” He winked and then turned, resisting an urge to catch her staring at his ass. He knew she was. He could feel the crazy heat as she traced his path out of the room.
Go back. Want to snuggle.
His lion couldn’t understand why they were back in the living room with its cramped couch that wouldn’t allow him to stretch out. Why couldn’t they snuggle in the nice warm bed and, even better, cuddle with a nice warm mate?
Respect, my furry friend.
A lion had no use for respect though. His worldview was much simpler. Ours. Bed. Hungry. Not hungry for a steak but, rather, a sweet, creamy pie.
Hayder groaned. No need to keep reminding him of what he was missing. He knew. He hated it, but her wants had to take precedence over his. Argh.
How the hell was he supposed to go back to sleep now? As he lay on the couch, legs hanging over the armrest, his dick jutting, he couldn’t help but wish he had a few lesser morals right now.
Time ticked, and he didn’t sleep. He strained for any signs Arabella needed him. The nightmare didn’t come back, and her sleep proved a lot smoother this second time round. Before, even with the door closed, he could hear her restless stirring.
When her tossing and turning became whimpers and cries and incoherent words that tore at him, he couldn’t help himself.
He’d kicked in that door and gone to her.
What haunted her dreams? What frightened her so terribly? Whatever it was, he wanted to kill it, to tear the awful nightmare from her and completely obliterate it.
At around six a.m., he gave up on trying to go back to sleep. He called Leo, whose first reply instead of good morning or hello was, “Haven’t you gone to bed yet?”
“Actually, I am just getting up.”
That silenced Leo for a moment. “Are you sick?”
“You do realize it’s not even close to noon, right?”
“I know what time it is,” Hayder snapped, getting irked. “It’s time for you to stop messing with me and bring me some clothes.”
“Why would I do that? Where are you? Wait, don’t tell me you stayed with the girl last night.”
“She’s mine. Where else would I be?”
“Dude, you met her yesterday.”
“You. Met. Her. Yesterday.” Leo enunciated each word slowly.
“I. Know,” Hayder mocked. “What is this hang-up everyone has with time? She keeps saying the same thing. Who cares? She’s the one.”
“This is my fault,” Leo grumbled.
“How do you figure that? Are you in charge of the fates and the decision on who belongs together?”
“No, but I might have knocked some sense into you one too many times.”
“Aren’t you just the comedian? But this is no joke. Arabella’s mine, and that’s that. Now would you bring me some clothes?”
“What about Jeoff?”
“What about Jeoff?”
“You don’t think her brother might have an issue with you hooking up with his sister, who, by all accounts, is vulnerable right now.”
“Hey, are you implying my Arabella has loose morals? I’ll have you know she turned me down. Would you believe she shoved me out of bed? Told me to go away?” Incredulity still filled him.
It didn’t take super hearing to catch Leo’s snort of mirth. “Ha. In that case, maybe she is the one. You need a woman who can say no to you sometimes.”
“You are not a nice omega, Leo.”
“Nice is for pussies. Now, are you done whining, or should I come over there and really give you something to whine about?”
Hayder rubbed his jaw. “No need.”
“Are you sure? You know I’m always ready to help a pride member in need.”
“All I need right now are some clothes.”
“Give me a few minutes to wake up, and I’ll bring you some stuff.”
“No need to rush. I’m going to have a shower first.”
A shower and maybe a tug.
A man had needs after all.
A need that didn’t diminish even after he stroked himself to climax, her name on his lips.
Hopefully she wouldn’t make him wait too long.