My heart beat out of control. Skin-to-skin. Tingles cascaded up and down my spine. I tried to pull away.
Immovable arms tightened around me. “Shh... I’m not going to try to take it farther,” Leander’s whispered words, breath hot on my neck. “Just be with me...let me hold you.”
Just hold me? Was that even possible for him? Our bodies were pressed together, no space in between, just hours away from my heat—a potent cocktail just waiting to explode. But as I stood in Leander’s arms, my tension bled away. I trusted him. He’d never lied to me.
“Good girl,” he praised, feeling my body relax against him.
After a long moment, he finally relaxed his hold and pulled back. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I just couldn’t stop myself, my eyes drifted down, unexpectedly finding soft curls of dark hair. He’d let his pubic hair grow out since our date at the shifter club. And shockingly, by some incredible feat of self-control, he’d kept himself from having an erection.
My surprise must have reflected in my expression because Leander chuckled, “Thanks to your little antics before, my Wolf and I expended quite a bit of pent-up energy. I’m under control.”
I glanced up. He almost looked proud of himself.
I didn’t hold eye contact long because, in my quick visual assessment, I hadn’t missed the several bruises that dotted his chest and stomach. I reached out a tentative hand and touched my fingers to one of the blossoming red and purplish marks, broken capillaries hidden beneath the skin.
Guilt tightened my belly. I swallowed thickly. “I’m sorry.”
He wrapped a large hand around my wrist, halting my inspection and used his other hand to tilt my chin up. I didn’t want to look at him and kept my eyes downcast.
“Look at me,” he murmured.
Reluctantly, I met his intense gaze.
“So, wanna to tell me what the hell that was all about?” he asked.
Frankly, he was handling it much better than I anticipated. There was even a hint of amusement in his tone.
A blush spread across my cheeks. “My Wolf...I don’t know what, I...”
He nodded as if he perfectly understood my nonsense reply, and then said wryly, “I knew we should have stayed in.”
I couldn’t help returning his smile.
The sun has gone down, and my belly growled, we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. Leander’s eyebrows pulled tight with concern. Before I could even make a suggestion, he ordered, “Get in the bed. I’ll call to have dinner brought to us. Would you like to watch a movie?”
All of that sounded wonderful. I smiled wider. “Yes.” I took a step toward the door. “I’ll just get dressed.”
Leander grasped my arm, halting my movement. I looked back at him in confusion.
“No clothes,” his voice dropped huskily.
A moment of silence lingered between us. Even without words, our conversation was clear. Me, questioning his intentions...and him, asking me to continue to trust him.
It didn’t take me long to decide. I could do that. I could trust him. I nodded slowly.
Satisfaction swirled in his violet and cerulean orbs. He released my arm.
I climbed into the bed and began to look for a movie while he ordered dinner. When he finished, he joined me, wrapping an arm around my back. I settled my head against his broad chest.
We spent the rest of the night curled in each other’s arms. I had no idea how I’d be able to fall asleep as the day of my heat drew near but tucked tight the solid wall of his chest, I was shocked to find I drifted off to sleep.
Heavy with sleep, my eyes refused to open, but the soulful whisper in the air wouldn’t be denied. That sound...what was it?
Resonating in the back of my mind, an intricate beat, words without syllables, reverberated in every breath I took. My befuddled, still halfway-asleep mind tried to make sense of it. I listened closer.
Deep base with varying cadence washed over me. A pleasing thud, thud...then another much lower bass thump...immediately followed by a rumble of several quick beats in succession. The unique timbre tickled my consciousness with a feather-light touch and burrowed past my defenses into my very being. My heart thudded with an altered tempo. It felt strange.
Leander told me the pack would play ancient melodies to my Wolf. He hadn’t been wrong. No words were required, the message loud and clear—love, devotion, supplication, a symphony of sound, begging her to come, to give them what they needed because only she could.
Ears alert, my Wolf listened to the primal and raw sentiments. She swayed in my mind, hindquarters and tail gently rocking to the music, enchanted and enamored by the lovely sounds made just for her.
The melody was like none I’d ever heard before. The beat ensnared my heart, and I was held captive. With shocking clarity, I realized my thoughts were not just a metaphor. The very rhythm of my heart had changed!
It had shifted and altered to match the drum’s cadence. Jumping and thudding in time with the music, the organ in my chest became the perfect dance partner, happy to be led by the compelling beat.
Sweat trickled down my neck. I worked to control my anxiety.
No, wait a minute...
I wasn’t anxious, I was hot.
The warmth focalized on my back. Sometime during the night, Leander must have covered me with furs. Why would he do that? The heat inside was enough to stifle me. Had Leander thought I was cold?
Abruptly, the fur blanket moved!
Oh! Not a blanket at all.
Jolted into complete awakeness, I finally realized I was curled into a ball, tucked tightly within the embrace of Leander’s Wolf. My bare back and bottom pressed against his belly, one massive paw slung over my shoulder, his hind leg wrapped around my hip, pinning me to the bed.
Instantly, my Wolf was hyperaware of him, aroused by the intimacy of our position. Without even a second thought, I wiggled my behind, rubbing against him, my actions earning me a low growl in return.
“Be still!” his command floated directly into my consciousness.
I froze. A shiver crawled down my spine, which was quite a feat considering how hot I was.
The beast pulled his front paw and hind leg off of me, giving me a brief reprieve from the overwhelming heat, but in no way, was he allowing me to get up. I knew because his canines scraped against the soft flesh of my neck.
Searing heat shot through my belly.
In my head, my Wolf pawed at the ground and shook her ass at him. She wanted his attention.
Oh, we had it...
Leander’s Wolf focused on the skin of my shoulder, his warm tongue flickering out to taste my flesh.
I inhaled sharply.
With purpose, he shifted position slightly and began to lick down my spine.
My breathing shallowed, coming in short pants when he reached the crest of my bottom...and continued lower.
Reluctantly, he pulled away. There was a displacement of air behind me, and suddenly, Leander’s hands held my hips. He pressed his forehead into the curve between my shoulder blades and groaned, “This is going to be a long day.”
I couldn’t say I disagreed with him. I worked to control my breathing and calm down. But presently, I was more surprised by the insistent knocking at the door. “They’re early.”
“No, love, they’re right on time. You slept in.”
I looked around the room, finally noticing Leander was right. There was far more light than the early hour I’d presumed. Nervousness wound through my belly. Today would be steeped in tradition, rituals that went back hundreds of years, generation after generation of wolves.
...and I would be the next to follow in their footsteps.
Leander lifted from the bed. He opened a nearby drawer and slid on a pair of boxer shorts. I followed his lead and got out of bed. Looking over his shoulder at me as he walked to the door, he said, “Go get ready. I’ll let them in and be right behind you.”
I did as he instructed and made my way to the bathroom. After relieving my bladder, I washed and dried my hands before picking up my toothbrush. Halfway through brushing my teeth, Leander joined me and grabbed his own toothbrush. He gave me an encouraging nod in the mirror. With a mouthful of toothpaste, I couldn’t verbally respond even if I wasn’t so edgy that I was finding it difficult to form words in my head, let alone speak them out loud.
I finished, spit the toothpaste out and rinsed my mouth. Pulling on yoga pants and a T-shirt, I left the bathroom so Leander could finish.
Gwen and Willow were waiting for me by the door.
I drew in a sharp breath at their appearance.
They were stunning.
Adorned in strips of buttery soft lambskin in periwinkle and ocean blue, Gwen’s skirt rested so low on her waist, it barely covered her pubic bone, and ended mid-thigh, just a few inches beneath her buttocks, revealing her lean and muscular legs. Hazelnut brown skin played peekaboo behind hand-cut lacing that crisscrossed on each side of her hips. More strips of leather in similar blue tones wrapped around her breasts to create a halter.
Willow wore a similar ensemble, only hers was comprised of leather in hand dyed shades of Cyprus and verdigris green, perfectly complementing her eyes, a unique combination of hazel with butterscotch flecks.
“You’re beautiful,” I said with open appreciation.
Glowing radiant with happiness and excitement, both smiled widely. Stepping close, Gwen grasped one of my hands. “How do you feel?”
I considered her question. My body temperature had risen, not excessively yet, but noticeably. It would continue to increase as the day went on. But they already knew that, so I didn’t feel it necessary to state it. The strange sensation in my chest continued, my heart still following the beat of the drums, but for some reason, that part felt too personal to share. So, I focused instead on my emotions and murmured, “Restless.”
Willow squeezed my other hand. “That’s perfectly normal. We’re going to take good care of you today.”
I nodded silently. Leander had already told me Gwen and Willow would stay with me at the pack location for most of the day, while Ever and Asher took care of preparations at the cabin site.
Leander exited the bathroom wearing a pair of dark pants, blue T-shirt, and boots. Darkened cerulean orbs locked on me. “Are you ready?”
A wave of nervous excitement prickled down my spine. It felt like a thousand butterflies fluttered in my belly. I took a deep breath. “Yes. I just need shoes.”
Slipping into the sandals I’d set aside the night before, I took his hand and we followed Gwen and Willow out the door. It only took a few moments before we exited the packhouse and crossed the vast compound to a small dwelling.
Entering the single room structure, built just for this occasion, I was amazed to find a polished bamboo floor and walls handcrafted with rough-hewn granite, each generous sized block carefully placed, an interlocking puzzle of stone. Ceramic tile framed an inground pool in the back half of the dwelling, leaving the front space to contain two comfortable preparation tables side by side, each bigger than an exam table but smaller than a single sized bed. On one wall, a workspace had been created, intricately carved wooden tables at varying heights, filled with a variety of ingredients that would soon be applied to our bodies. There was no electricity, so the entire space was lit by over a hundred candles nestled in hanging wrought iron fixtures and strategically placed on small tables and ledges around the room.
Mimi and another older shewolf, who I recognized but didn’t know her name, waited in front of the tables with a mated male on either side.
Mimi stepped forward. She wasn’t only the cook, she was also an Elder, and no one was more skilled in the alchemy of ceremony preparation, which made sense, considering her excellence in mixing ingredients in the kitchen.
Crossing the room, she held my shoulders and rubbed her cheek against mine on both sides. “Welcome, child,” there was a motherly inflection to her voice, warm with emotion that immediately put me at ease.
Mimi pulled away and turned to introduce the other three. “Hycinth, this is Elder Gemma.” She pointed to the males respectively. “And that is Ryan and Aiden. They will be assisting us in the process.”
“What?” I asked, tightening my grip on Leander’s hand. I understood the preparation process would be quite intimate and hadn’t expected any males to be involved.
Recognizing my concern, Mimi explained, “They will not see you exposed or touch you in any way. Leander’s Wolf wouldn’t allow that. In the same way, your Wolf wouldn’t allow Gwen and Willow to see or touch Leander. Your Wolf will allow Gemma and I access to Leander visually but touching will require a barrier between his skin and ours.”
“Okay,” I said, not fully understanding the process but trusting Mimi knew what she was talking about.
“Let’s get started. You will begin with a Himalayan salt bath.”
I looked over at the shallow pool, just big enough to comfortably fit two people.
“Rich in essential minerals, the fine crystal salts will help cleanse and purify as well as prepare your bodies for the next steps. If you will step over there, you can disrobe.” She pointed toward a large three-panel freestanding partition.
I followed Leander to the designated area and tried to keep my hands from trembling as I reached for the hem of my shirt. Noticing my shaking, Leander grasped my fingers and nuzzled into my neck. “Shh, little mouse. I’m right here with you.”
Gazing up at him like he was my lifeline, I swallowed thickly and nodded.
As if on cue, the sound of drums began...much closer than before, no more than thirty feet away. Feet began to stomp the dirt, keeping rhythm with the low and steady beat. Guttural sounds joined the melody, rising and falling in a beautiful symphony of voices, music without words but the meaning was clear.
A love song to my Wolf.
I froze. My heart once again changed its beat to match the alluring music.
Leander’s eyes widened as he placed a palm over my heart. He seemed as surprised as I was. For a lingering moment we just stared at each other until finally, he removed his hand and rather than leave me to my own devices, Leander took it upon himself to carefully remove my clothes before doing the same with his own. When we were both naked, he took my hand and tugged me out from behind the partition.
Looking around, I realized only Mimi and Gemma were still in the room. The other four had exited. My gaze landed on the crystal clear water that reflected the brilliant blues and greens of the ceramic tile. I walked by Leander’s side to the pool.
“Be careful. The stones are hot.” Gemma motioned toward the barrier of medium-sized stones that framed the exterior of the pool on all sides except for one.
Leander sat on the smooth edge and then gently eased himself into the three feet of water. He turned to me, his large hands grasping my hips, easily lifting and then placing me in the water next to him.
“Oh!” I gasped, not surprised by the hot temperature but by the feel of the water. I couldn’t exactly describe it but it felt thick.
“Just leaned back,” Mimi soothed. “Let your body float.”
Leander’s fingers linked with mine. He leaned back and I did the same, quickly realizing that I wasn’t going to have to work to keep my body afloat. There was enough Himalayan salt in the liquid to suspend our bodies without any effort on our part.
As soon as we were in position, both Mimi and Gemma poured water over the hot rocks. Instantly, steam billowed around us. It filled my nostrils and obstructed my vision.
We lay suspended for several minutes, not only immersed in the water but entranced in the music. There were long moments when the instruments and sounds nearby would stop, only to have the musicians located at the cabin filled the empty air. Back and forth, in perfect synchronization, they played to each other and to us.
The moist heat filled my lungs and took the temperature of my already warm body up a notch, and then another, causing sweat to pour off of me. I clutched tighter to Leander’s fingers.
Recognizing my distress, Mimi soothed, “Not much longer, sweet Luna.”
Her words caught me off guard, temporarily taking my mind away from my overheated body. Only a few of the mated pairs knew Leander’s mating to me was a ruse, a means to an end, a way for them to conceive, and me to gain my freedom. I wasn’t going to be their Luna...