Authors: Madeline Pryce
She loved him too much to bind him to something he didn’t
want. Her magic meant nothing, not after what she’d seen tonight. Her gaze
dipped to the ground. Through the darkness and the slanting rain, all she could
see were the smudges of blood that painted the forest floor. She didn’t even
want to focus on the shadows of lumps she could barely make out. Bodies.
People, animals, had died tonight.
The rain fell harder, pelting the leaves on the ground, and
the earth soaked it up. The pounding sound reached her ears. Her shirt stuck to
her back, chilled her skin. She shivered.
“We have to get out of here. ’Miah, you know what to do.”
His voice was bruised, pathetic. She loved it.
Jeremiah stood and took her attention with it. He was as
naked as Trent. She couldn’t help but let her gaze wander up the length of his
thin, muscular legs. Well, at least everything was proportioned to his frame.
She glanced back to the ground.
’Miah, completely oblivious of his lack of clothing or the
fact that they’d barely seen this fight out, jogged over to the shreds of
Trent’s clothes littering the area in front of the bar. He bundled Trent’s
weapon and badge into the tattered fabric. He came back and handed it over to
“You said you’d do it next time.” Despite the protest, there
was relief in Jeremiah’s voice that his brother was still alive to issue
She looked back and forth between them. “Do what?”
“Bury the bodies.” Her gaze shot straight to Trent’s face.
He didn’t even so much as crack a grin. He couldn’t be serious.
“Excuse me?” she asked.
Trent placed a hand on her shoulder and used it as a crutch.
Sam rose to her feet and, taking the hint, helped him stand. She wrapped her
arm around his back before she moved under it. Hugging his torso to her, she
decided to ignore how it felt to have him pressed against her. All hard, lean
muscle. From head to toe, she drank all of him in at once. The trail of hair
that began below his navel was dark. It invited her gaze lower. Okay, so he and
his brother had something in common. She’d felt it, seen it…but still. Wow. She
jumped when Trent cleared his throat. She looked straight ahead to where the
rain, a trickle at first, had morphed into sheets of water too thick to see
“Come on, Sam.” Trent groaned in pain as he limped closer.
He pressed his weight into her side, dipping her body. “What did you think
happened? In this day and age, no one goes looking for a missing shifter. ’Miah
will take the girl back to the station and I’ll go in later to fill out the
paperwork. We’re on the bottom of the rung, sweetheart. They’re too afraid
they’ll catch it. Assholes.”
It was a sad fact. Her father had gone missing almost
fifteen years ago. She still recalled the shattered look on her mother’s face
when the realization that something had happened hit her. The glass in her
mother’s hand had slipped, shattered across the floor. At the time, Sam had
been six, sitting at the bar playing a game of cards with one of the regulars.
Tears had curved over her mother’s high cheeks, dripping to
the floor with the first strangled sob. Her aunt had been there, clutching her
and whispering into her ear. It had all been so confusing. She hadn’t
understood how her mother had known the worst. It wasn’t until she heard Trent
inside her head, felt his pain, that she finally realized. The bond was deeper
than she understood.
After that day, her mother was never the same. Distant.
Lonely. The light in her eyes extinguished. Every day that went on killed her a
little bit more. Was that what she had to look forward to? She’d been nineteen
when her mother threw the keys to the bar at her feet and walked out the door.
The last image she had of her was the long, curling locks of her auburn hair
bouncing against a delicate white macramé sundress.
Jeremiah’s voice brought her out of the memory. “I’ll do it
this time but only because you can barely stand. You owe me one.”
“I can stand just fine.” Trent pushed away from her.
While he spun in an upright circle, she and Jeremiah
watched. He propelled one foot forward. A deep, guttural groan of pain
followed. Shifters healed fast. Not that fast though. She took a step to his
side, catching him before his knees went out. His weight almost sent them both
to the ground.
“Stand up, my ass,” she muttered under her breath and
directed them to her pick-up. “What am I going to do with you?”
She looked to the side, caught his eyes. Emotion danced in
their depths. His mouth opened as if he was going to say something. Things were
different now. Her current life wasn’t so bad. She had her friends, the bar. If
she could keep Trent in her life, somehow, she’d be okay. How could she miss
what she’d never had to begin with?
“You know…” she tried to force a light, airy quality into
her voice she didn’t feel. The longer she stood there with him, the more her
heart broke. “You didn’t have to go out and get yourself killed to get away
Not even a chuckle.
He stopped moving, and even injured, it didn’t take much
strength on his part to pull her to a halt.
“You think I hated the idea that much?” he asked.
Yes, she did and that fact stung almost as much as it had
when he’d told her to go play with her dolls. She might be fine to screw here
or there, but he didn’t want a commitment. Not with her. “Well, you did
practically run from the room. We don’t need to talk about this now. You need
rest. One thing at a time, okay?”
He hesitated. It took a few seconds of her attempting to
move forward for him to follow.
“Thank you,” he said after a minute.
“For what?” She gave him a half smile. “Carrying you to my
truck? Lazy ass.”
His laugh was rich, deep and tainted with a cough followed
by a gasp of pain. They came to a stop at her Chevy. She rolled her shoulder,
used it to push him against the door. The black shade of the paint made his
skin look pale.
“Don’t look at me like that.” He pressed his palm against
his forehead. He must have had one hell of headache.
“I didn’t say anything,” she said defensively and opened the
door for him.
“You didn’t need to. I’m driving.”
“The hell you are! Sit down. Shut up. And for the love of
God, would you cover up?” she yelled and threw the blanket she kept behind her
seat at him.
When he grinned, she shook her head.
The headlights cut through the slant of rain. Drops pinged
off the roof and created a boom of sound inside the cab. When he’d listened to
the drops of beer falling off the table earlier that night, he should have
taken it as an omen. The chill set in and the hairs on his arms rose. It wasn’t
from the moisture clinging to his skin or from the temperature outside.
Pain flared, tightened his skin where the wounds mended. His
muscles twitched, pulsed and cramped tight. He was a lucky bastard. He’d never
been so close to the grim, fiery gates of Hell.
With her eyes glued to the road, he was free to study her
profile. Her nose was small, her lashes long. She blinked every few seconds.
Exhaling a soft breath, she sucked her lip into her mouth. Where the tears had
leaked from her eyes, trails cut through the dirt smudging her cheeks.
“Come on, Sam, we need to talk.” His tone was as gentle as
he could make it.
The road curved. Her knee dipped and she put pressure on the
gas. As the faded-green county line sign whirled past the truck, the town
disappeared. Trees lined either side of the road, and with every mile, the
forest surrounding them became denser.
She slanted her eyes in his direction for a moment before
darting them back to the road. “You need rest.”
Fresh tracks shimmered over her cheeks, dripped from her
chin. Oh hell, she was crying.
“Pull over,” he ordered.
“What?” She laughed—it wasn’t the one he was fond of. “No.”
He was really beginning to hate that word. “Damn it, Sam.”
Reaching across the seat, he grabbed the wheel and jerked.
Her tongue clicked against the roof of her mouth. She let
off the gas and slammed on the brakes. The truck skidded, sliding through the
layer of water until it came to a stop on the side of the road. One more inch
and they’d go headlights first into the muddy ditch.
She whipped her head to the side. Anger made her cheeks red.
There, that was the spark he remembered.
“What the hell did you do that for?” she screamed. “Almost
getting killed once tonight wasn’t enough?” The tears fell quicker.
“If you’d listen to me for a goddamn second.” It was a
rant—he knew it, but he was helpless to hold back. They were both running on
nothing but emotion. The deep breath he took stung his lungs. “I know you’re
scared but I swear, I’m going to be all right.”
She made a rude sound in the back of her throat. “Classic!
You have no idea what I’m thinking. I know you’ll be fine. You wouldn’t be such
a pain in my ass if you weren’t going to make it.”
“Then what’s up with you?” Women. There was a reason he
“Nothing.” She said it too quickly.
The heavy beat of her heart thudded in his head. She gripped
the steering wheel, and her knuckles turned white.
“Nothing, my ass,” he mumbled, turning his head to the
window. His cheek was swollen, eye turning black. The bruise would be gone by
“We can’t do this,” she blurted.
His jaw clenched, created an ache that shot up the side of
his face. He was tired, sore and cranky. His head snapped in her direction.
“Woman, I wish you’d stop telling me what I can and can’t do.”
“This, us, it’s not going to work. You were right. You’d be
at my side. The only place you want to be is on top. I didn’t realize it until
I saw you out there tonight.” When she turned to look at him, tears dripped
from her chin. Her voice took on a low, breathy tenor. “God, Trent, it was the
most amazing and terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.”
Was there some kind of a riddle he needed to solve?
“So you’re afraid of me, then? I’d never hurt you. When the
jaguar is free, instincts take over. I can’t change that. You saved my life. I
saw the look in your eyes when you pulled the trigger that second time. You
were scared shitless, yet you still did it. Without a shadow of a doubt, you
belong to me. I’ll be your familiar, in turn, you’ll be my mate—that shit won’t
be easy but we’ll muddle through it.”
She whipped her head to the side and wet locks slapped her
cheeks. Her hands fell into her lap, her mouth dropped open. “You’re saying
that only because I saved your life. I won’t create this bond out of obligation.
I don’t need magic. I’ve accepted that. I’ve got friends, the bar and ’Miah.
You’ve got your job.”
“So that’s what’s wrong with you? You think I feel duty
bound? Sam, I care about you.”
In that clichéd second before he bought the farm, so to
speak, the only thing he could think of was Sam. Of making her his. Of what a
jackass he was. Now he’d been given a second chance.
Jeremiah had appeared like a hallucination of yellow
sunshine. As Trent lay there fighting death, he’d thought it was a figment of
his twisted imagination. A shot had rent out. The smell had stung his nose. The
wolf at his throat had released, snarling. It had found a new target. Sam.
She’d saved his ass. As she’d backed up, her brown eyes wide, lower lip
trembling, he’d felt her heart exploding with fear. The gun had wavered in her
hand, too heavy for her frame. Another shot, another burst of acrid gunpowder.
The wolf took it, kept on moving.
He’d never been good around others. Kill, fight and fuck. He
was one hell of a selfish bastard. He was top cat and everyone else was beneath
him. As he’d laid on the ground, there had been one spark left inside him.
Shifting would have saved his life. Forcing his body upright, he’d known he
needed to throw every ounce of strength he had left to protect his mate—to save
When he rose from the ground and pushed forward, there’d
never been a choice. Without her, he was nothing.
Grasping the bundle of keys hanging from her ignition, she
cranked. The motor roared to life—tires squealed. The truck bounced over the
grass until it smoothed under the pavement. She sped through the rain, pressing
the pedal all the way down.
“Forget it. I’m not going through with it. Right now, you
don’t know what you want. I saw the look in your eyes when I told you that you
were my familiar. That doesn’t go away because you’ve had a near-death
The urge to smash his fist through the window surely wasn’t
going to win him any points. Never in all his life had he met someone who
frustrated him the way she did.
“Damn it, woman, stop being so stubborn! I know exactly what
I want. It’s you who’s having the issue. Sure, I was scared, still am. But I’m
more terrified of losing you. So what if it took me almost dying to realize
that? There might not be another chance. We’ll grow into each other. I’ll be
what you need.”
The truck veered off the highway, onto the long stretch of
bumpy road his property was set on. She took the driveway at forty miles per
hour, making his teeth rattle. He waited, stomach starting to knot with a sick
feeling. She’d been silent too long.
A moment later, the modest, one-story cabin he and his
brother had lived in all their lives came into view. A lake formed around the
back of the house and surrounded the property like a peninsula. The surface was
normally calm. Tonight, it rippled from the rain. Sam pulled to a stop, killed
the engine but didn’t move. Over her breathing, the only thing he heard was the
rain pelting the roof.
He dropped the blanket he clutched around his shoulders. The
wool pooled around his waist, scratchy and abrasive on his skin. Trent reached
across the seat and cupped the side of her face that was pointed to her window.
He turned her head, slid near, and closed the distance between them. He moved
his finger along her face, cradling her cheek and the back of her neck.
When he ran his tongue across her lower lip, the taste of
her tears broke his heart. Capturing her mouth, he pushed his need for her into
their kiss. Desperate. He held her tight. Wet, tangling strands of hair covered
his fingers. Every ounce of love and frustration he had, he poured into that
moment. She responded, curved into him, her hands trailing over his chest, over
the fresh scars.
She moaned into him. His stomach coiled, muscles jumping.
Their heads turned, pressed together in a new angle that made his brain shut
off. He dropped his hands from her face and cupped her shoulders before sliding
around her back. Despite his injuries, his cock grew stiff against her thigh.
At least something worked. She froze against him and straightened until her
palms were flat against his shoulders. She pushed, used all her strength to
“I’m sorry,” she sputtered through a new burst of tears. “I
never meant to lead you on.”
He was angry. For once, this wasn’t about sex. “You think I
want to fuck? Give me an ounce of credit. I just got my ass kicked.”
“Go get some rest.” She never bothered to answer his
question. That pissed him off the most.
He closed his eyes, fought the instinct to reach for her
dashboard and rip it from the console. His fingers twitched. He was too
exhausted to do more than growl and push the door open. As he jumped from the
truck and slammed the door shut behind him, rain stung his skin. He saw her
jump and, as the sobs started to hiccup her chest, her shoulders buckled. It
was all too much too soon. She needed time. On Samhain he’d be there. He’d show
her that his feelings for her weren’t an obligation. He was done being a
The truck roared to life, tires spinning in mud. She lurched
forward and sped off. He watched, standing naked in the cold, unforgiving rain
until the red glow of taillights disappeared. Finding his legs, he trudged to
the house. He went from the first step to the fourth in one stride, his feet
sliding over the wet porch.
Water dripped down his back, between his ass cheeks, before
falling into a puddle that gathered around him. “Goddamn women,” he muttered
and paused to wipe his feet on the thick straw welcome mat.
He stared at the locked door. Cursed. Stepping back, he bent
and retrieved the spare key from under the mat before unlocking and opening the
door. A rush of scents hit him—wood, the lingering odor of liquor and stale
food. Any other night, it would have been a comfort. Tonight, it felt lonely.
Through the darkness, he made out the stacks of takeout cartons and empty beer
bottles littering the coffee table. He didn’t even bother turning on the light.
From memory alone, he navigated around the large, oversized couch to the
He bypassed the fridge and went straight for the cabinet. He
dug around until his fingers stroked the square bottle of Jack. A quick twist
and the cap pinged to the ground somewhere behind him. He wrapped his lips
around the spout and let the thick, sweet whiskey whet his palate, easing the
chill in his stomach.
Bottle in hand, he walked out of the kitchen and down the
hall. With every step the liquor splashed against the sides of the bottle,
reminding him of Sam.
The first waves of fatigue hit him and his eyes fluttered
closed. Taking another swig and swallowing, he looked down. A mixture of mud
and blood painted his stomach and thighs. Lines of pink, puffy scars drew along
his side and created a deep ache he felt each time he drew in a breath. He’d
been taken tonight.
He fumbled with the switch. Bright, yellow light filled the
bathroom. It made his eyes water. Setting the whiskey on the side of the bath,
he bent and twisted the faucet. Hot water poured from the spout, and he crawled
inside the tub. A hot bath always helped heal him faster. When he reached for
the liquor, the muscle in his arm spasmed then jerked.
“Shit,” he mumbled, trying to catch the bottle of shampoo
he’d knocked into the water.
It was too late. Before he was able to fish it out, the soap
had already done its damage. Bubbles multiplied into a moving, pulsing layer of
foam. It spread out, tickling the hair on his legs. If it weren’t bad enough
that he was Sam’s beck-and-call boy, he was now taking a bubble bath. It really
wasn’t his night. He leaned back, neck cradled on the lip of the tub, and
stared at the ceiling. He was too tall for the bath and had to hang one leg
over the porcelain side. Warmth lapped at his skin and he settled into it.
When he was completely immersed in water, he used his big
toe to nudge the dial closed. He cradled the bottle to his chest and let out a
breath. His eyes fluttered. As the numbness took over, his eyes snapped open at
the sound of the front door slamming shut. Jeremiah. He’d know his brother’s
scent anywhere. Damn. He must have fallen asleep.
His brother came to the bathroom, and his footsteps
faltered. Trent could tell there was some hesitation before ’Miah peeked around
the door. Eyes crossing in confusion, Jeremiah walked into the bathroom and
folded his arms over his chest. His gaze scanned the tub, the leg hanging over
the rim and then the foam layer of bubbles.
“What’s next? Scented candles and a Celine Dion CD playing
in the background?” Jeremiah said it with a perfectly straight face.
“Fuck you,” Trent growled.
Ignoring him, Jeremiah pressed on. “Where’s Sam?”
Trent let out a short sound that resembled laughter. It took
an insane amount of effort to bring the bottle to his lips. It was worth it.
His head buzzed, the pull of the liquor taking over. He was far from drunk, but
he sure as hell was going to sleep like a rock.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He waved his brother away
with the bottle before cradling it against his chest.
“You never want to talk about it. And damn, dude, move the
suds. The submarine is surfacing.”
Trent didn’t even look down. The only muscles he moved were
the ones it took to shrug.
“What the hell is going on between you two? No more
bullshit.” His baby brother was starting to grow a backbone.
Rolling his head to the side, Trent glared at his brother.
It was hard to be intimidating while in a bubble bath with your dick floating
above the water.