Authors: P. Jameson
Tags: #Fantasy, #Romance
He opened his mouth to say something, but then nodded. He inhaled deeply through his nose. Once, twice, three times.
When the wound was completely closed, leaving only a pink scar, Braeh went to pull her hands away. Vesh made an indescribable sound—something between a groan and a growl—and snatched her hand in his, yanking her close. Braeh gasped at his quick move. The ferocity of it, mixed with the gentle grip he had on her, was baffling.
But he seemed to catch himself. Instead of pulling her body flush against his, he slowly, carefully, brought her wrist to his lips. Inhaled deeply, his eyes falling closed. And placed the softest kiss along the inside.
“Thank you.” His voice was rough, but she couldn’t care. She could hardly even breathe. That kiss, so simple that it almost amounted to nothing, was the single most intimate moment of her entire twenty-two year existence.
Her chest felt tight. Her bones felt loose. Had he put a spell on her? Could werewolves even do that?
Whatever it was, she prayed it wouldn’t last long. She needed to be strong. And as Kerri had proven in the past, falling for the wrong guy could be devastating. Somehow, she knew Vesh was definitely the wrong guy.
Vesh couldn’t decide what he felt. It was as if he’d been dumped in a blender with every emotion known to man, and mixed around until nothing could be sorted anymore. It was the cruelest kind of punishment to feel this many conflicting emotions in the span of just a few hours.
Part of that was due to his shifter qualities. Fall fast and fall hard, was their motto when it came to mates. Why should he expect it to be any different with him?
Except it was. Because a huge part of him wanted nothing to do with her. Despised her hands on him, her ability to help him heal. Was revolted by the look of amazement on her face.
Disgust and admiration.
Desire and repulsion.
Attraction and aversion.
He’d known her only a few hours and already what they had was sick. Tainted.
He should go, and never come back. But there were two reasons he stayed: one, his wolf wouldn’t let him leave—not without a fight, and fighting yourself was never a winning game—and two, she could lead him to Trager.
Vesh focused on number two. If he could keep his mind on his mission, maybe he could get through the next few days and decide what to do with his mate. One step at a time. Scale one mountain before the next, as the Elders always say.
Braeh pulled her hand away, and Vesh had to fight the urge to hold tighter so she couldn’t.
She grabbed the bottled water from the counter and uncapped the lid. “Here. Drink.”
His mate was a bossy little thing. He wasn’t sure if he liked that or not. As the leader of the Ozarka guard, he was used to calling the shots. People followed
bidding. Not the other way around.
He eyed her. But when she stared at him expectantly, he took the bottle and drank.
She peeled the banana, and he assumed she’d command him to eat. Did she even realize he was a wolf, not a dog? But then to his surprise, she bit into the fruit, chewing thoughtfully. His eyes were drawn to the way her throat worked as she swallowed. She had a beautiful neck. He had a vision of his teeth on it. Tugging gently at the skin. Tasting. Enjoying.
The vision turned sour as it mixed with memories of a cruel childhood.
He couldn’t have someone like her. He needed someone like… like…
It seemed almost blasphemous to even think it now—another clue to his chaotic state of emotion—but… he needed someone like Kerrigan. Someone completely opposite of what he knew from his younger years. Someone soft rather than hard. Someone curvy rather than slender.
She noticed him staring. “You hungry?” she asked. “You must be.”
She offered him the banana. He almost turned her down, but the idea of sharing something with her, something she’d had her mouth on, an action innocent enough to not trigger his flight instincts, but yet intimate at the same time… was oddly appealing.
Keeping his eyes on hers, he leaned forward and slowly took a bite.
Her mouth fell open, eyes glazing over. Vesh registered the change in her scent at the same time he realized he had a raging hard-on. She was aroused. And fucking hell, was it a glorious scent.
It brought on a fresh torrent of confusion.
On one hand, he was thrilled beyond belief. He’d never taken his potential mating seriously. Sure, he’d waited and bitched about it not happening sooner, the same as every wolf did. But he hadn’t actually thought about what he’d do when he found her. And never did he consider she would be the exact opposite of what he was attracted to. All that aside, here she was. His mate. And he’d… turned her on. It was a life-affirming feeling. It felt
But on the other hand it felt wrong. She was all wrong. Worse than that,
was all wrong. He could never fulfill his duties to her. He couldn’t make her happy or care for her. He was second in command to the most brutal alpha in the land, a warrior, a beast. She was normal, and apparently caring, and kind. They didn’t match.
His wolf didn’t care. He whined and pawed to get closer to Braeh and her sweet, sweet scent. He breathed deep, wanting to remember it. Or forget it. He wasn’t sure.
Vesh was about to strangle his wolf to death and make a run for the door when Braeh beat him to it. She was already in the hall when she called over her shoulder, “How do you like your eggs?”
Letting his head fall to his hands, he tried to focus on her question. “Uh.” Eggs, eggs… how the fuck did he take his eggs? “Over easy.” Whatever. He’d eat them however she cooked them.
He swigged more of the water before following her into the small kitchen.
“When will your sister be home?”
She set the pan on the burner and turned it on before opening the fridge and finding the eggs and butter. “Not sure. Trager has to work today and Kerri has a job interview. So, probably after that.”
“Where does Trager work?”
She glanced at him. “You don’t know?”
Why would he ask if he knew?
She dabbed the butter in the hot pan and waited for it to melt. “Time for you to answer some questions, I think. Let’s just go with the big one: what do you want?”
What did he want? He wanted a lead on the lone wolf so he could track his movements and see if it turned out any information on the Ravendales. But he didn’t think it was a good idea to tell her that.
“Want? There are lots of things I want. But what I need, is to find Trager.”
He watched as she deftly cracked two eggs into the pan. “And why is that exactly? You said you aren’t friends.”
“And what? You just want to catch up on old times? Shoot the breeze? I’m really more interested in why you were asking for my sister, actually.”
She lifted the pan from the burner and jiggled it before setting it down again. Then she popped two slices of bread into the toaster. Returning to the eggs, she lifted the pan and flipped them without the use of a spatula. The way she whipped around the kitchen told him she knew what she was doing.
“I find Kerrigan, I find Trager, right?” he hedged.
The toast popped up and she moved it to a plate before buttering it. She slid the eggs from the pan, and grabbed a fork from the drawer.
Turning, plate in hand, she pegged him with her glare. “See, I get the feeling you’re up to no good. But what I want to know is, will I be sorry I helped you?”
“I mean your sister no harm.”
Braeh raised an eyebrow. “Do you mean Trager harm?”
Vesh couldn’t answer.
“Because hurting him would hurt Kerrigan. You must know that.”
He hadn’t really thought about it. But yeah, she was right.
“I have no plans to hurt him,” he muttered, and it was the truth. His plan was to watch him.
She grinned, and damn, her smile was amazing. It made his heart beat faster. He looked away so he wouldn’t think about it.
“Alright then, here you go. Bon appetite.”
Setting the plate on the small dining table, she scurried back over to the counter and started messing with the coffee maker. Vesh went at his food like a starved person stranded on a deserted island who’d just found berries. It was just eggs and toast but it might as well have been ambrosia from the heavens.
“What did you do to this?” he asked around a bite.
Her gaze snapped to him. “Nothing. Why? Don’t you like it?”
He shoveled more into his mouth and chewed, not caring if he answered her quickly enough.
She banged the side of the coffee maker. “What the hell is wrong with this thing? I can use a French press but I can’t figure out this… thing.”
Shoving another forkful into his mouth, he rose and went over to her. “Here.” He took the K-cup from her hand and showed her where to put it, and which button to push. The look of relief on her face when the coffee streamed into the cup was a certain kind of reward. He tried to ignore the way this tiny act of helping her made him feel.
He went back to the table and finished his meal.
“Well, do you?” she asked.
“Do I what?”
She nodded at his plate before pouring creamer in her coffee. “Like your food?”
He stared at his empty plate instead of her. He wanted to praise her, to thank her. She’d brought him, a stranger, into her sister’s home. Let him rest. Helped heal him. Fed him the best meal he’d had in ages. Her kindness was unequaled to any he’d ever known. But he was in danger of growing too fond of her already. He couldn’t afford to be too nice.
“It was fine.”
She sat in the chair across from him. “Was there something wrong with it?” Her voice was so quiet, he had to look up. Her face was set in a deep frown. “Eggs are kind of my specialty. These are a favorite at my restaurant. But I mean, that’s in small-town Alaska. Maybe it’s not what you’re used to?”
He had the feeling the less he talked to her the better off he’d be.
“It was just a basic fry with butter instead of oil. Sometimes the browned butter taste is strong. Maybe that’s what it was?” Still frowning, her gaze had traveled to the plate. She scowled at it like it had offended the pope.
Clearly, this was a sensitive spot.
“You work at a restaurant?”
She shook her head. “I
a restaurant. I’m a chef by trade.”
“What are you doing here then?”
“Oh.” Visiting. Meaning she would return home at some point. Alaska was a very long ways away. Part of him rejoiced; part of him shriveled around a knot in his gut.
“What about you? Are you from the Joplin area?”
He shook his head, thumbing the tabletop. “South of here. The Ozarks.”
“No town. I live in the mountains with my pack.”
Her pretty eyes narrowed. “Your pack? Like, wolf pack? How does that work? Is it like a community? How come Trager doesn’t have a pack?”
So many questions. He wanted to snarl at her. He wanted to—and this was the most amazing—grin over her curiosity.
“It’s a shifter pack. We have an alpha who leads us. I am the second in command. It is somewhat, a community, with its own laws and hierarchy. Trager doesn’t have a pack because he was expelled and never joined another one.”
? Why?” She looked so concerned for the lone wolf, Vesh had to actually stifle a bit of jealousy.
“I told you. We have laws. Trager didn’t… meet certain criteria to remain in the pack. So he was sent away.”
“That’s awful,” she whispered, her face aghast. “What do you mean, criteria?”
Vesh sighed. He didn’t want to talk about the bastard wolf. Quickly, he rattled off the basics hoping she wouldn’t ask anymore. “The pack Elders declared he would never have a family. That his mate would reject him, leaving him alone and most importantly, without young. But none of that matters now. They were obviously wrong, for the first time in decades. Maybe centuries. Because Kerrigan didn’t deny him. Tell me, does she carry his mark?”
Braeh nodded, but Vesh could hardly find a part of him that cared whether Trager had marked his mate. It had seemed so important to beat him to the punch yesterday, but now things had changed. And he couldn’t say it was for the better either.
Braeh’s eyes had glazed over. She stared at her coffee—or rather through her coffee—rubbing one earlobe between her finger and thumb.
Her gaze jolted to his, and she gave him the kind of smile he hated. Fake. A half-smile where only one side of her full mouth slid upward. “Nothing.”
She rose and put his plate in the sink.
“Aren’t you going to eat?”
“Nah. I had the banana.”
Vesh frowned. “That’s not nearly enough.”
“For me, it is.”
She had maybe .72 percent of her body that was something other than muscle and bones. Why the hell didn’t she eat? Was she one of those obsessive weight conscious women with an eating disorder?
“You should eat more.”
“Yeah, I haven’t heard that one before,” she mumbled. He could practically hear her eyes rolling.
“Well, then. Why don’t you listen?”
She turned to face him, bracing her hands on the counter. “How much I eat is no one’s business except mine.”
He gave her a blatant once-over. “Are you anorexic?” He didn’t try to hide the disgust in his voice.
Anger flashed in her eyes. “No, actually. I love food. Remember, I do food for a living? Ever hear of an anorexic chef?”
“Well, what then? You clearly don’t eat enough. Why?”
“Are you serious right now?”
“Yes. I am.” He glared to get his point across.
“I eat like a moose carrying twin calves. I’m talking, I need a shovel to get all that food down my throat. I just can’t eat in the morning. It makes me feel sick. So I do coffee and wait until lunch. Damn. What’s your problem anyway?”