Authors: Vivi Andrews
Tags: #Canada;Yukon Territory;shifters;old flame;second chances
Yukon Territory, Canada. Eleven years earlier…
“You, sir, are drunk.”
Moira giggled, staggering against the post at the corner of the covered porch of the town’s only B-and-B. “Okay, I might be slightly inebriated myself,” she admitted, exceedingly proud that she got all the words out without slurring. “I couldn’t let my new friend drink alone.”
“And I appreciate it,” Hugo rumbled in that lovely rumbly voice that made her girl parts go all mushy and warm—though he
slur his way through
Together they stumbled to the door and he fumbled with his key.
“Are you sure it’s all right if I stay with you?” she asked.
His grunt sounded distinctly affirmative. “I have a couch,” he declared. “And you are too drunk to find your way back to…where did you say you were staying?”
“A cabin. I have a cabin.”
“Right. Too drunk to find the cabin. It wouldn’t be shivlee—shovall—
of me to let you wander off into the night alone.”
Moira giggled and sagged against him, irrationally charmed by his inability to pronounce
“I like you, Hugo.”
He looked down at her, brown eyes going liquid, and suddenly the world, which had been gently spinning, froze. She wet her lower lip and could actually
his gaze track the movement of her tongue. He was so
on her. Every inch of her body felt warm and tight and liquid and loose at the same time. He leaned—
The door sprang open and they stumbled into the B-and-B’s darkened foyer, laughing and whispering noisily to one another to be quiet so they didn’t wake the entire house. Hugo caught her hand and it was like putting her hand on a lit stove—hot tingles shot up her arm and she gasped. His giant grip swallowed her fingers as he tugged her along. He crept up the stairs with the exaggerated stealth of the too many pitchers of beer and Moira bit her lip to stifle her giggles as she trotted behind him.
By some miracle he got the door to his room unlocked and open with a minimum of fumbling. He swung it open with a dramatic flourish that made Moira giggle all over again as she tripped across the threshold. He shushed her, half-chuckling himself as he followed and closed the door behind them, sealing the room in the twilight glow of two in the morning in the northern summer.
It was plenty of light for a pair of bears. Moira took in the cozy, kitschy room. It was long on charm—covered in quilts and homemade flair—but the scale of the room was too small for a man of Hugo’s size. He seemed to suck up all the space—and there wasn’t that much to begin with. The couch he’d bragged about was really no more than a loveseat. Even someone as small as Moira would have difficulty sleeping comfortably on it. Her gaze tracked inevitably to the bed. It too was on the small side—more a double than a queen, with wrought iron head and footboards. Hugo would take up all the space, leaving none for her.
Unless she slept on top of him.
Moira grinned to herself. She could think of worse places to be.
After perusing the room, she turned back to rake her gaze over Hugo again. All big and muscled and bearded and warm—she could practically feel the body heat pouring off him. “Nice.”
“It’ll do,” he said, clearly thinking she meant the room. Foolish man.
She whipped off the decorative scarf she’d had draped around her neck all night and flipped it up to hook it around the back of Hugo’s neck and tug him toward her. “Now that you have me in your lair, what are you going to do with me, big bad bear?”
“Friends don’t take advantage of friends when they’ve had too much to drink,” he scolded, but he was grinning as he said it, teeth flashing in his beard as he swayed toward her.
“Is that what I’m doing? Taking advantage of you?”
He frowned. “No, I meant—”
She didn’t give him a chance to explain, tugging the ends of the scarf to bend him toward her so she didn’t have to scale Mount Hugo to get to his lips. The kiss landed with something less than perfect aim, but she corrected quickly, finding the smooth fullness of his lower lip amid his beard. He kissed her back, open-mouthed and hungry and leaving no doubt in her mind that he wanted this just as much she did. And she
His large hands shaped her curves and he gripped her ass, lifting her like a feather to bring her up to his altitude. She twined her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. He was a great expanse of a man and there was something comforting about his sheer size—as if it would take a force of nature to shake her out of his arms.
She ate into his mouth, trying to hold onto every moment, every delicious, dizzying sensation, but one moment slipped into the next without warning. Suddenly they were on the bed, half-clothed, and he was rumbling in that pussy-slicking voice about the lushness of her curves. Then his naked body was above hers, blocking out the limited light as he propped himself on straight arms above her, his face carved in lines of need. She gasped—sensation and time sharpening into a fierce reality when he pressed inside her, so big, almost too big, stretching her with that ache that made her almost want to stop. Almost.
“Is this okay?” he rumbled, and she shivered at the sound, nodding frantically. She would kill him if he stopped now. He started to withdraw and she whimpered—but he was only rearing back to slide deeper and then she lost all awareness of the world beyond what was happening down there because
Oh Holy Moses
it was worth paying attention to. She keened, making sounds she’d never even imagined making and he grunted and rumbled and pulsed deeper, faster, and she became aware of the sounds of their bodies, the slap, the slam of the headboard into the wall, the growling and gasping. She screamed, adding another note to the symphony of sex and catapulted over into a hard, ripping orgasm that shuddered through her body in rough, jerking waves.
“Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus, Oh Jesus,” she heard someone saying and realized it must be her because it wasn’t Hugo’s voice.
She was still shaking and boneless, gasping for breath, when he pulled out, still hard, and flipped her, lifting her hips to shove a pillow beneath and angling her for the long slick slide of his dick into her body. Her cries broke on a half-scream and then he was driving her up again, so fast and hard and sweet she came again before she even had a chance to realize it was coming. He roared, the sound vibrating through his chest and into her back as he went rigid against her and met his release.
He collapsed to the side so he wasn’t crushing her, rolling her so she was facing him, tucked against the landscape of his chest. When she could think again, she didn’t know what to say. Was
you’ve ruined me for all other men
an overstatement? It sure as hell didn’t feel like one.
But it was Hugo who spoke first.
She smacked his shoulder with one limp arm. “Don’t ruin my afterglow.”
His brow crinkled in a frown. “What?”
“Do I look like I’m complaining? Please. I’m gonna ask you to do that again, just as soon as feeling returns to all my extremities.”
“I just thought—I mean, I told you about Lucienne…”
His beloved. The one he was trying to get over. Well, if this was what she had to do to get Lucienne out of his system, Moira would happily take one for the team. Or several for the team, if need be. Hell, she’d take several hundred.
She tangled her arms around his neck. “Do you feel better?”
He snorted. “I sure as hell don’t feel worse.”
“See? My work here is done.” She grinned and stroked a hand down his body to where his erection was already showing signs of life. “Well, maybe not
Round two was slower, each touch stretching into a caress, each kiss an exploration. She was writhing and begging by the time he finally slid inside her, filling her with that mind-melting fullness. When he gathered her into his arms after, Moira pressed her face into the curve of his neck and inhaled deeply of his delicious Hugo scent.
“Where do you go after this?” he rumbled and even seconds after an orgasm, she shivered.
“Wherever there’s more to learn about shifter medicine.” They’d spoken about her calling during the second pitcher—and everything and anything else that had tripped across their beer-loosened tongues.
His arms settled more firmly around her back. “You should come to Lone Pine.”
His pride. He was inviting her to his pride. A streak of pure, giddy pleasure sliced through her. She bit her lip on the urge to squeal,
yes yes yes yes yes
. She didn’t want to get ahead of herself, but every cell of her body was exploding with pleasure at the idea.
She felt like she’d been waiting her entire life for this moment without even knowing it. Moira hadn’t had many relationships. She wasn’t a nun by any means, but she’d always been more focused on her calling—traveling and learning as much as possible about shifter healing. In the back of her mind, she’d always wanted a family, but she’d never really given it much thought. It would happen when it happened. She’d figured she would know the One when she tripped across him.
She just hadn’t expected to trip across him in the Yukon Territory.
She shouldn’t get carried away. He’d just asked her to come back to Lone Pine, after all. She certainly shouldn’t be hearing wedding bells after a little invite like that. But it wasn’t a
sign. It was easy to picture her life with him, far too easy for a woman who’d never tried to picture her life with anyone.
They wouldn’t get too serious straightaway—he was still recovering from his grand passion, after all. Things would progress slowly. They would move in together in perhaps a year or two. Get engaged six months after that and be officially mated before the pride by her thirty-fourth birthday. That wasn’t too late to start having cubs. She’d work as a healer at the pride. He’d stay on as the Alpha’s second. Their cubs would grow up in that community, surrounded by that diversity and wealth of tradition.
Not a bad life, if she could get it. And maybe she could.
“All right,” she said, striving for casual. “I’ll come.”
His only response was a deep basso snore. Asleep. Of course. While she’d been mentally mapping their lives together, he’d been snoozing. Both of them dreaming in their own ways.
She knew it was a dream. Just a dream. But that didn’t mean it couldn’t become a reality. She wouldn’t know until she tried. And for the first time in her life it felt
to try to be with a man. To be with Hugo.
The gash on his palm was a minor one. A few inches long, not terribly deep. Normally, Hugo would just wait for it to heal on its own. He’d never really been one for doctors. Which in no way explained why he was walking into the infirmary, knowing full well it was Moira’s shift to handle minor emergencies.
She was sitting on one of the bunks in the emergency room with what looked like a medical text spread open on her lap when he walked through the door. She lifted her head, nostrils twitching as she scented the blood. “What did you do?”
Moving with brisk efficiency, she was halfway across the room, her medical text set aside, surgical gloves snapped in place, before he could reply.
“It’s nothing. Just a little cut.”
She tugged his hand down from where he’d cradled it against his chest, wrapped in a dishtowel, and frowned at the soaked rag. “A lot of blood for nothing. Come here.”
She guided him to one of the beds and he obediently sat, watching the top of her head as she bent over his hand, gently unwinding the dishtowel. There were gray hairs mixed in with the slightly faded brown now. It surprised him to see. Moira always seemed so ageless to him. Eternal. But now that he looked, there were lines where there hadn’t been before, crinkling the corners of her eyes, giving him the sense that she was always laughing. They suited her.
“Serrated blade?” she asked, gently prodding the edges of the cut.
He fought a wince. “Yeah. I had a little cooking accident.”
“Since when do you cook?”
She didn’t seem to expect an answer, which was good because he didn’t have one. He’d never really cooked. Tonight’s attempt had been a mad impulse. And he’d been distracted. Thinking about—hell, thinking about Moira and the cold shoulder she’d given him the other day when he’d brought Jeremiah in. So distracted he’d cut himself.
“You don’t need stitches,” she commented, head still bent over his hand. “Doesn’t look like you’ve hit anything major. A little surprising there was that much blood if you missed all the good parts.”
He didn’t tell her that he’d let it bleed for a while, dithering about whether to come see her.
“I’ll just clean it and give you a bandage,” she went on in the half-preoccupied voice he’d heard her use with other patients over the years. “When it has completely stopped bleeding, you’ll need to shift. It’s an extra measure to prevent infection, but wait a few hours to give the cut time to seal or you’ll just open the damn thing again and wind up with a bloody paw.”
She left him long enough to collect a few items from a nearby cart, then returned to her work, never once looking him in the face.
“You’re good at this,” he murmured, watching her work. “Good for the pride.”
She hummed as if she wasn’t paying attention to him, but he noted the sudden stiffness in her shoulders as she bent over his hand.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Sorry that I gave you the wrong impression. Back in Canada.”
Her head snapped up then, brown eyes piercing. “Now? You want to discuss this
He shrugged. “You just seem really irritated with me lately. I thought if we cleared the air—”
“The air is plenty clear. Crystal. Blue skies.” Her gaze landed back on his hand and he half expected the next swipe of antiseptic to be rough, but she was as gentle as ever.
“I’ve always felt bad that you stayed for me and I couldn’t—”
Her head snapped up again, hard enough to give her whiplash. “Excuse me? Stayed for you? Don’t be such an egotistical ass, Hugo. I love this pride. I stayed in spite of you.”
He blinked, taken aback by her vehemence. “I’m still sorry,” he said. “For leading you on before you got here. For giving you a false impression of what we had—”
“Was it false?”
“Ah…” He’d never seen her like this. Her words sharp and aggressive. Moira was gentle and nurturing. She healed people, but now her words were sharp enough to cut.
“Was it really false, Hugo? Was everything that happened in Canada really in my head or did you just get home and chicken out?”
“I don’t know what you—”
“Unrequited love is easy. There are never any flaws in unrequited love. You never have to work through an argument or make a hard call about putting another person above all others when you’re only worshipping from afar.”
“I hardly think—”
She didn’t even let him begin. “This grand passion of yours is childish.” She slapped a bandage over his cut, securing it with surgical tape, deft and gentle even as she railed at him. “Love,
love, isn’t always a fairy tale. It isn’t just adoration. It’s making the choice to put one person above all others—not just believing that they were put on earth for you to worship from afar.”
“I have put her above—”
“Have you? Do you really help Lucienne by never moving on? By always looming in the background so she can never truly let herself completely involve herself in her relationship with Greg?”
Irritation kindled brighter. “It isn’t like that,” he growled.
Moira gathered up the articles she’d used to patch up his hand. “The truth’s a bitch, isn’t she?” She started to walk away and he came to his feet.
“Why haven’t you moved on?” he challenged her back. “If it’s so easy to change who you love, why haven’t you fallen for someone else, Moira?”
She disposed of the used supplies and turned to face him, deliberate and unrattled. “I never met anyone I loved as much as I love…my parents.”
His head jerked back. “What?”
“You thought I was going to say you, didn’t you? God, you are full of yourself. No. Not even close. I’m looking for that big, unconditional love. I dated other men, other shifters. Lots of them. I never had the idea that you were the only one I could ever love. I never shared your idiocy in that respect. I just never found the One.”
“Do you have to keep calling me an idiot?” he growled.
“Are you going to stop being one? You may want to think you’re the love of my life, but you were just a missed opportunity, nothing more. And yes, I did entertain the idea for a while that you were the One, but my instincts were wrong. For a while after that, I felt like I couldn’t trust my instincts. I thought you had broken me—”
“What am I supposed to do?” he roared. “How do I make this better? Because I am sick of feeling guilty for something I did eleven years ago.” He stalked over to her, crowding into her space. “What did I do that was so terrible, Moira? This?” He bent and reached for her, driven by an irrational need to touch.
She shoved him away with surprising force for someone her size. “You don’t get to do that. I decided long ago that whoever the love of my life is going to be it
. I deserve to be with someone who is going to value me. Someone who is never going to have to think twice about whether or not he would choose me. So I’ve never had a great love. But I keep looking. My life didn’t take the path I thought it would, but I’m
. And you don’t get to upset that. Do you understand me?”
She didn’t wait for an answer, shoving past him and striding into the back rooms of the infirmary, the door snapping shut behind her with a decisive click.
Hugo stared after her, more puzzled than ever.
He didn’t like hearing her talk that way. He hated hearing her say he would never be the love of her life—which made no sense if he didn’t want her, and while, yes, he
her, he didn’t know if he could give her what she needed.
He’d never been sure that he made the right decision when she showed up at the pride a decade ago. When he’d picked romanticism over Moira. He’d wondered, more than once, if it was a mistake. But he wasn’t sure either way, and he wouldn’t risk hurting her by giving her the wrong impression again. Or the right impression that went wrong. Hell, he didn’t even know anymore.
All he knew was he didn’t ever want Moira to look at him the way she had the first day she’d arrived at Lone Pine, with that awful bewildered betrayal.