Authors: Viola Rivard
Tags: #Fantasy Romance, #Love Story, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Shifters, #Werewolves
“I’m not in the mood,” he told her.
“You’re always in the mood,” she said, taking him into her hands.
Her touch did nothing for him, and it wasn’t just because
his mind was still sifting through images of the human female or because his nose was still preoccupied by the scent of her arousal.
He sat up, putting a hand on Beka’s shoulder and pushing her back onto the furs. Her pink tongue darted out to wet her lips and he saw excitement
gleaming in her eyes. It was the same excitement she’d favored Alder with just minutes before, the same excitement she always had when his twin paid her any attention.
“You don’t get it,” Hale said in a low voice. “I’m not in the mood to be Alder. Now get the fuck out of here.”
Every time she’d woken up for the past two weeks, there had been a vague moment where Taylor thought she was back in her apartment. For one fleeting instant, she could smell Patty’s Nag Champa incense and hear the sound of the commuter rail as it flew by her window at 7:14 on the nose. She would sit up, expecting to see Patty’s calico curled up between her legs, and then the reality of her situation would come flooding back to her, along with a wave of malcontent.
Most mornings she wanted to cry. She never
did, mainly because once she went down the path of self-pity there would be no going back.
But for the first time in weeks, when Taylor woke up in the disastrous woodland cabin, she didn’t feel like crying. Sure, her life was still a mess, maybe even messier than it had been before, but now there was the faintest glimmer of hope.
Lark had stretched two paisley sheets across the cabin, turning them into makeshift hammocks. Taylor climbed out of hers, her sore ankle smarting as she touched it to the floor. She stretched her arms and turned back to gaze at her companion.
On the hammock beside hers, Lark snored loudly,
but showed no signs of stirring. She had one arm thrown over her head to block out the dull afternoon light.
a busted radio and walking around a crate of scrap metal, Taylor crept over to the door. Lark was still snoring as she quietly opened the door and stepped outside onto the porch.
thin fog had drifted up from the lake and settled over the area. She looked up, hoping to determine what time it was, but the overcast sky gave nothing away. She remembered Lark saying that the fog usually rolled in during the early morning hours, but it had been just after dawn when Taylor had gone to bed and she felt pretty rested.
After finding a suitable bush where she could reli
eve her bladder, Taylor circled back to the cabin. Two damp towels hung from the clothesline around back. She pulled them off to hang them inside where it was dry. On her way back around, she noticed a circle of weathered stones around the side of the house and in the center, what looked like the long-forgotten remains of a garden.
Not paying attention to where she was going, she collided with
a large body. A startled sound escaped her lips, but she relaxed when she saw it was Alder. Then, upon consideration, she scrutinized his face.
Aquiline nose, dimpled chin, ash-brown stubble, rich, wavy hair—it looked like Alder. But she had been fooled before.
He smiled at her, and then she knew it really was him. His eyes, one gold and one blue, lit up as they regarded her with genuine affection.
“Hey there,” she said, her cheeks warming under his gaze.
As if he couldn’t resist touching her, his hand went to her arm, tracing her frame until it came up to rest on her shoulder.
“What are you doing out here by yourself?” he asked.
“Oh, you know, just looking around,” she said, not wanting to admit she’d been peeing.
He didn’t look convinced.
“You weren’t planning on running away, were you?”
The question sounded playful, but she saw the slight waver in his smile.
“Nope,” she said. “I don’t even know where the nearest town is from here and even if I could somehow make it over Mount Ezra, I’d be right back where I started, running from the cops.”
Alder frowned. “It sounds like you’ve given this some thought.”
“No, no, I just wanted to reassure you, honestly.”
. The word had her cringing with annoyance. She’d never noticed that she had the tendency to say it when she lied and neither had anyone else, until Hale. In only a few minutes he’d had her all figured out.
“I’m sorry,” he said, brushing his thumb across her cheek.
Taylor greedily leaned into his touch, ignoring the twinge of shame. That morning, she had given a great deal of consideration to how she could escape the valley. Between her disconcerting experience with Hale and Alder’s sudden assertion that they were going to leave his home behind and start a new life together, she had been overwhelmed. But in the end, she’d sucked it up and gone to sleep.
“I brought your bag,” he said.
He held up her orange backpack. Taylor reached for it, surprised she’d forgotten about it. When she tried to take it from Alder’s hand, he didn’t let go.
“You left it open,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to go through your things, but—”
“None of that stuff is true,” she blurted, remembering the newspapers she’d been collecting. “I mean, some of it is, but most of it isn’t.”
Alder’s brow furrowed. “I was referring to the empty bottles.”
Her mouth suddenly felt dry. “Do you know what those are?”
“I have a…
family member who’s taken medication in the past. I don’t recognize the names, but I imagine it’s important that you take them.”
Taylor shrugged and pulled the bag from his grip. “
They’re not as important as they seem. Just precautions, really.”
That was something she
sort of believed. In the months after her transplant, she’d been on a whole slew of medications, but as the months and then years passed, her doses had been lowered and most of the meds had been dropped entirely.
re were still a handful of immunosuppressants that she was still prescribed, along with medications to counteract the side effects, but given how smooth her recovery had been, she’d often slacked off on taking her meds. There was always the risk that she could reject her transplant, but she’d be lying if she said it was something she actively worried about as an adult.
Alder said, “If you need anything, you’ll let me know.”
He didn’t phrase it as a question, but she nodded anyway. “Of course I will.”
Seeming satisfied, Alder led her around to the front porch. “I want you
to relax tonight and rest your foot. I need to help my brother sort things out with Whiteriver, but we should be able to leave within the next week.”
er brows rose. “So soon? I mean, I was just getting used to things here.”
Alder’s smile returned. “I don’t want to wait any longer than we have to.”
Taylor pivoted on the front step, staring at him. Even with the leverage, he was still a few inches taller than her. Reaching a hand out, she placed it on the back of his neck where she knew he loved to be touched.
“I feel like you’re
leaving everything behind for me and I don’t think that’s a good idea. We can stay here, take a few months to get to know one another—”
“I already know you,” Alder said firmly. While he didn’t seem angry, his expression was otherwise inscrutable. She hated it when he looked like that.
Dropping her hand, she said, “No, Alder, that’s the thing. You don’t know me at all. You don’t even know my real name.”
That seemed to get his attention.
His forehead creased.
“It’s Devin,” she said. Her hands tightened around her bag. “And that’s the least of what you don’t know about me. You’ve barely known me for a week
. You can’t just go throwing your life away to be with me.”
“What is this really about?” he asked, frowning.
Taylor took another step up, giving herself an inch over him. “It’s about you making major life decisions for a woman you barely know. You still haven’t even asked me what I did, why I was on the run.”
His eyes narrowed. “Because I don’t believe for a second that you did anything wrong.”
“I could have driven away,” she said, swallowing hard. “I shot him in the leg and he was crying and begging me not to kill him and I could have left him there and I could have driven away. But I didn’t. I shot him, four times in the chest and once in the head.”
She expected Alder to look at her like a stranger, or worse, but instead his
stoic mask fell back into place. Putting a hand on her head, he smoothed her hair out.
“When you’re ready, we’ll talk about it.”
He walked away and she stared after him until he disappeared into the fog.
Thunder rumbled in the distance as Taylor heaved another
bag of trash onto the growing pile on the porch. They’d moved the last of the crates onto the porch about an hour ago and since then had been gathering up the loose trash in large burlap sacks.
Some of the garbage was downright foul and she could hardly believe she’d slept in the cabin with so much mold and decay. On the plus side, the cabin was miraculously free of bugs, which may or may not have been because Lark enjoyed eating them. Taylor wasn’t sure, but the raccoon shifter had said some pretty suspect things about the taste of roaches.
“What should we do with it?” Glenn asked, leaning back against the wooden railing.
“Store it in your room?” Lark asked hopefully.
Glenn scoffed. “Not a chance. Beka would kill me.”
It was hard to imagine Glenn and Beka were brother and sister. Aside from
their both being way too skinny, they looked nothing alike. While Beka was a leggy blonde, Glenn was only a nose taller than Taylor. He had shaggy brown hair and one of those teenager beards that hadn’t quite grown in everywhere it should have yet.
Lark said, “I suppose we could throw it all in the river.”
Taylor’s eyes bulged. “Throw it in the river? You can’t throw garbage in the river!”
Lark gave her a questioning look. “How come?”
“Well, for one,” Taylor said, holding up a finger, “it’s bad for the environment, and for two”—she held up another finger—“littering is a crime.”
Glenn laughed at her. “What do you care if it’s a crime? Aren’t you some sort of murderer?”
Taylor scratched the back of her head. He did have a point there…
“Wait a minute,” Taylor said, pinning him with a hard stare. “Did Alder tell you that?”
“No, I did,” Lark said, giving Taylor a sheepish grin.
“Alder told you?”
“No, you kind of did,” Lark said. “You were very loud this morning.”
Taylor felt her cheeks heat. She’d spent the past few hours trying to put her afternoon interlude with Alder out of her mind
. The fog had cleared a while back, but he hadn’t returned.
She wasn’t sure if she’d been trying to give him the reality check he needed or if she’d just been trying to push him away.
Either way, the fact remained that Alder had no business leaving his home and his pack behind for her.
“You should know,” said Glenn, “Lark has impeccable hearing but the complete inability to shut her mouth about anything.”
Lark nodded. Sadly, she said, “It’s true. I’m awful at keeping secrets.”
“Duly noted,” said Taylor. Then, something else occurred to her. “Doesn’t it bother you guys? You know, what I did?”
They both shrugged.
“This isn’t l
ike the human world,” he said. “We’ve all killed here.”
Surprised, Taylor looked to Lark for confirmation.
“I told you yesterday,” Lark said. “It wasn’t always peaceful here.”
Glenn pushed off the railing and then hefted two of the heavier crates into his arms. “Come on. I think I know somewhere we can put these.”
Snatching up one of the lighter sacks, Lark gave Taylor a cheeky grin and followed him off the porch and down the stone walkway. Taylor stared after them for a moment before grabbing a light crate of her own and walking briskly to catch up.
They brought the junk to a small cavern a little ways north of the main den entrance. According to Glenn, the inside was dark and prone to flooding, so Taylor waited outside with Lark as he hauled the loads down one by one. It didn’t seem like the ideal place to store Lark’s stuff, but Taylor figured the raccoon would probably forget about it after a few days anyway.
As she waited for Glenn to come back, something in her own crate caught her eyes. She plucked out a Mason jar and unscrewed the cap, pulling out its contents. There were four brown packages with pictures of leafy greens on them. She shook one of the packages, hearing a rattling noise.
Whatcha got there?” Lark asked.
Taylor scanned the back of the package. “These are spinach seeds.”