Authors: Viola Rivard
Tags: #Fantasy Romance, #Love Story, #Paranormal Romance, #Romance, #Shifters, #Werewolves
“You left without telling me,” she murmured against his chest.
“I was angry,” he admitted.
His hand moved to stroke her hair. “I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.”
Alder guided her over to the porch, a strange smile playing on his lips. They sat on the second step and he knitted his fingers together.
She sighed. “It’s a terrible name for a girl. I always hated it.”
“And Taylor is?”
“My middle name and also my nickname when I was a kid,” she explained.
He seemed pleased by this information. “So I take it you prefer Taylor?”
She gave him an emphatic “Yes.”
Alder bent to place a kiss on her lips. Her toes curled with anticipation. She expected him to nip at her or even push her down and take her right there on the porch, but his kiss was slow, gentle, and over too soon.
When he pulled back, Taylor realized that she was uncomfortably aroused. Alder must have smelled it, because his lips curved knowingly.
“We have all night for that,” he said, brushing his thumb over her cheekbone. “There are probably some things we should talk about first.”
It pained her to agree with him, but she nodded. Partly because it was troubling her the most and partly because she wasn’t eager to talk about the other important issues, she decided to begin with the mate thing.
She said, “Everyone here seems to think that you’re going to fight your brother for the right to um,
Taylor could tell he
hadn’t expected her to bring that up, but after a few seconds he seemed resigned to it.
“It’s not going to come to that. You and I will be leaving here soon enough.”
Something distressing occurred to her and Taylor found herself fumbling for the right words. What if she told Alder that she didn’t want to have children with him and he decided that he didn’t want to be with her?
“What is it?” he asked, his forehead scrunching.
“I, um, I don’t know
that I’m ready to be a parent yet.” She saw the disappointment register on his face, though he quickly masked it with indifference. For some reason she found herself saying, “Honestly, I’ve always wanted children. I just think we should get to know each other a little better first.”
Even as the words were coming out of her mouth, Taylor knew that she was digging her own grave, but she couldn’t stop herself.
When Alder didn’t immediately respond, she seized the opportunity to change the subject.
“I also don’t want to leave the valley,” she said. “And I don’t want you and Hale to fight over me. Can’t you
just divvy up the territory or something like that? I can’t be responsible for ruining your relationship with your brother.”
Alder hooked an arm around her waist, pulling her closer. “You aren’t ruining anything. It’s the way things are. Hale and I always knew something like this would happen. One day he’s going to take a mate too, I’m sure of it.”
Taylor crinkled her nose. She couldn’t imagine what type of woman would put up with Hale.
“So that’s it
, then?” she said. “You’re just going to leave everything behind
Alder chuckled. “I’m going to start a new life
Taylor wanted that. She wanted it badly, but even as she nodded in agreement, a nagging voice in the back of her mind told her she was making a huge mistake.
There was just something about Alder that brought out the selfish streak in her.
When she’d gotten in his truck, she’d forced all of her bullshit on him and she couldn’t even pretend she’d been ignorant of that. She’d been running on empty and then all of
a sudden, there was Alder. He was strong, beautiful, and just happened to be one of the few people who could actually keep her safe.
He deserved a nice woman, a woman who wanted a family. She wanted to tell him that, but she couldn’t. Instead, she did the next best thing.
“Can I show you something?” she asked him.
Not waiting for a response, she stood and went inside the cabin, shuffling around in the dark until she found her bag. Bringing it out, she set it down on the porch and pulled out one of the many newspapers she had stuffed
She handed it to Alder, not bothering to check which one it was. They all had the same story,
though granted, the later editions did become a bit more outlandish.
“Do you need me to light a candle?” she asked, feeling apprehensive.
“No, I can see it,” he said, patting the empty space beside him. She sat on the step, wringing her hands as he scanned the front page. After only a moment, he glanced up at her.
“How much of this is true?”
“Well, I’m definitely not a call girl,” she said wryly.
He didn’t seem amused. “You worked for this man?”
“I was an intern at his office. I never worked directly under him, but the few times I met him he was really nice and friendly,” she said, brushing a wisp of hair from her face. “It’s funny, usually I can spot men like him from a mile away.”
“Men like him?” Alder repeated.
“Creeps, perverts, sexual predators. You meet a lot of them in the system,” she told him. “Honestly, they never bothered me much. They always preferred the shy, quiet kids.”
Alder put the paper aside, his posture becoming rigid. In a voice hardly above a whisper, he asked, “What did he do to you?”
She shifted uncomfortably. “It’s a long story. I guess it started last spring. My stepdad, that’s my mom’s husband, he’s a district attorney, um, basically, he works for the government. I did really well in high school and when I went to college I decided I wanted to be a social worker. I wanted to work with children who grew up in foster care like I did, but my stepfather thought it was a waste of talent, so he got me an internship with one of our state senators.”
It had been an extremely coveted internship, one that many students dreamed of getting, and Taylor had been forced into it
simply to appease her parents. For some reason, regardless of the fact that Taylor been the one who’d been abandoned, her mother had always managed to make her feel guilty for not trying harder to fit in with the family.
“I guess he was hoping I’d be inspired to go into politics, but it didn’t work. I hated the internship and the people I worked with knew it.
They also knew that my stepdad had pulled strings to get the internship for me, so a lot of them resented me.”
Taylor did her best to explain what
had happened, doing her best to be considerate of the fact that Alder didn’t know very much about the human world.
She told him about Patty’s party and how she’d gotten drunk for the first time in her life. When she was on her fourth cup of the mysterious vodka concoction, her boss Laura
had called, asking her to come in. It had been almost eleven at night and Taylor remembered thinking it was unusual, but she’d lacked the presence of mind to seriously consider that.
“I did my best to get out of it,” Taylor said. “But Laura went into this long rant about how I didn’t appreciate anything because everything was handed to me and
as mad as I was, I could understand where she was coming from.”
For years while she’d been in foster care, Taylor had resented kids with parents and money. She’d hated how they didn’t appreciate how fortunate they were and while she didn’t like Laura, she couldn’t stand to think that Laura believed she was one of those people.
“By the time I got a cab there, Laura was already gone. She’d left a mountain of paperwork for me to do and I remember looking at the sheets. I was so drunk that the words were all just blurring together. Anyway, I thought I was alone, but then Haylee—Senator Haylee—came out of his office.”
When his door had creaked open, Taylor had nearly jumped out
of her skin. He’d seemed just as surprised to see her, though she now wondered if it had all been an act.
“He could tell right away that I was drunk. I remember apologizing to him over and over. He kept saying ‘it’s fine, it’s fine’ and
then he asked if he could take me home. I was really embarrassed and I tried to turn him down, but he insisted.”
She didn’t tell Alder about the beginning of the car ride. How she’d drunkenly spilled her guts to Haylee, telling him all about her childhood, her heart problems, and her difficulties accepting her family. How she’d naively cried in front of a man who all the while was only thinking about taking advantage of her.
“I fell asleep in his car. It was a dumb thing to do, but I was drunk and I thought I could trust him. When I woke up, we weren’t in Boston anymore. There were trees everywhere and the road was sort of bumpy. I asked him where we were and he didn’t answer me. And right then, I knew that I’d screwed up.”
Her throat caught, and Taylor realized that
this was the first time she’d ever talked about it. She’d replayed the night in her head so many times, had convinced herself that she wasn’t in any way scarred by what had happened, but for whatever reason, talking about it was still difficult.
Alder gave her a reassuring squeeze, bringing her back into the present.
“I’ll spare you the details,” she said, knowing she was only sparing herself. “After we got out of the car he pulled a gun on me, the one that’s in my bag. Then, at one point, I managed to get the gun from him. I think he wasn’t expecting me to fight back and I took him by surprise.
“There was this moment, when I was holding the gun on him, that I felt so powerful.”
In that moment, Haylee wasn’t just the man who had tried to rape her. He represented every person who had ever tried to hurt her.
“I thought about letting him go. I could have stolen his car and
gone straight to the police. But men like him, they have a way of getting out of things like that. Turning their victims into villains. The only real option besides shooting him was to leave and pretend like it never happened.”
Clouds obscured the moon as
rain began to fall again. Taylor was silent for a moment, listening to the beads of water as they dropped onto the leaves and splattered on the surface of the lake. She ran her fingers though her damp hair.
“I still don’t know if it was the right thing to do. There were so many times when I was a kid that I saw things, people being hurt, and I didn’t do anything,” she said. “There are
probably people out there to this day who are hurting others because I didn’t do anything. But not him. He’s never going to hurt anyone again.”
She wasn’t sure what Alder’s reaction would be, but when she looked up at him again, Taylor was caught off guard.
The muscles in his face were taut with anger. She instinctively recoiled, but his arm held her in place like a steel band around her waist.
“You didn’t do anything wrong,” he said in a deep voice.
Taylor exhaled and placed a hand on his chest. “Geez, you scared me there for a second.”
She laughed a little in an attempt to lighten the mood, but Alder was having none of it.
“I want you to forget about him,” Alder said, his grip on her tightening. “Nothing in your past matters anymore. I’m going to make sure nothing like that ever happens to you again, Taylor.”
The ache in her chest had returned. She placed her hand on the back of his neck, lowering his head so that she could kiss him. Alder’s lips were firm and his hands began to trace her body. She felt his tongue graze the seam of her mouth and she opened for him without hesitation, allowing him to sweep in and take her away from the moment.
Lightning whipped across the sky as she fumbled with the button on his jeans. By the time the thunder rumbled through the darkened valley, she was grasping his hard length in her hand, stroking him. Alder groaned into her mouth, deepening the kiss as he pushed her back onto the porch.
As he tried to pet and caress her, she wrapped her legs around his hips, silently urging him not to make her wait. She
needed to have him inside of her, to feel like she was a part of him. While their bodies were connected, she could almost fool herself into believing that her past didn’t matter and that he would always be able to protect her.
Alder was slow and gentle as he pushed inside of her, as if she was fragile and he was afraid to harm her. Hale knew that while her body seemed small and delicate, she could handle so much more than what his brother was giving her.
The rain had helped to mask Hale’s scent as he hung back in the forest, watching and listening. He had been following Taylor all night.
It had started innocently enough. After he’d left her in the forest—after she’d rejected him—he’d realized that she might not be able to find her way back to the others. Despite his aggravation and sexual frustration, Hale had found himself following her, making sure she was safe until she reunited with the others.
It should have ended there. He should have left her and
gone to one of his many willing females in order to slake his needs. But as soon as he had turned to leave, the animal inside of him had roared in protest.