Coal held my hand as we walked through the woods. The crisp winter air between us sparked with electricity. Dusk shadowed the landscape as the Moon began her appearance on the horizon, giving the foliage around us a soft glow. After a few minutes of silence, Coal murmured, “Why did you blush when Amber arrived?”
Ah, crap. I’d hoped Coal might forget about my little reaction to the newcomer, so I wouldn’t have to share my embarrassing story. I certainly planned never to mention it again. But no such luck. I cringed. He stared down at me with an inquisitive expression and encouraged, “It can’t be that bad.”
“Yes it can,” I muttered, looking down to avoid his gaze.
He pulled me to a stop and turned me to face him. Concern turned his features hard as he demanded forcefully, “What did she do to you?”
The feral tone of his words caught my attention. My head snapped up, now worried for her safety. “Nothing!”
His shoulders relaxed. I sighed heavily, resigned to my fate of having to embarrass myself once again and continued, “It’s what I did...”
“What you did...” he repeated softly, trying to make sense of my cryptic response. When I remained silent, he tried to gently lead me into the conversation, drawing out the words slowly. “It was obvious you hadn’t met her before, so...” he stopped expectantly.
“No,” I admitted. “I hadn’t met Amber before...but I…knew of her.”
Coal nodded encouragingly, pleased that I was finally the one doing the talking.
“We were training, and Langdon kept getting distracted every time his phone pinged with a text, but he wouldn’t go check it.”
“Okay,” Coal said through gritted teeth, clearly not thrilled with the subject of Langdon and I sparring.
I continued quickly, trying to divert his attention and mumbled, “Well it just wasn’t his normal behavior. So when it pinged a fourth time, I...um, I snatched his phone.” I dropped my head.
“Okay...” he repeated, this time there was confusion in his tone.
I sighed heavily again and muttered, “Well, it was from her and I...I just didn’t expect to read...” I trailed off.
“Ooh,” he said, understanding now where the story was headed. There was unmistakable humor in his voice as he pressed softly, “And what did it say?”
I glanced up and scowled at his playful expression. “It said she missed having his...lips on her..., “I groaned inwardly at having to say the word. I took a breath in. Color flooded my cheeks, and I refused to look at him as I finished, “on her...pussy.”
To his credit, Coal didn’t burst out laughing as Langdon had, but his dancing crystal blue eyes and twitching lips gave away his reaction. It was as I expected. He found it hilarious.
My scowl deepened. I tried to pull away from him. But he wasn’t having it. Instead of getting farther apart, I abruptly found myself snuggled tightly against his chest. His arms banded around me, his breath hot on my neck as he murmured, “Oh no, you’re not getting away from me that easily.”
I gave a fussy growl.
Laughter rumbled through his chest, and I swore I heard him mutter under his breath, “Adorable.”
I’d show him adorable.
I struggled, twisting and turning my body to free myself but his hold on me was relentless. He soothed, “Shh, little wolf...I happen to love the sounds you make...and your innocence is a precious gift. Never be embarrassed by it.”
I stilled in his arms, surprised by his unexpected words. I let my arms wrap around his torso. He gave a sound of pleasure in his throat. His voice was husky, “You have no idea how many times I dreamed of holding you like this.”
I clutched him tighter, warmth filling my body with his words of affection. After a long moment, he pulled away reluctantly, and we continued walking.
Our conversation was effortless, sharing more about each other, things we liked and didn’t. I was so wrapped up in our conversation that when we reached the cave, I looked up in surprise. It felt like no time had passed at all.
Coal tugged me inside, but then stopped and positioned my body facing him. I glanced up and was taken aback by the severity of his expression. I thought we’d both enjoyed our time walking and talking together, so I couldn’t understand his abrupt seriousness. Anxiety wound through me at his prolonged silence. It was clear his mind was considering something of importance, but he didn’t speak.
“What is it?” I whispered.
He finally said carefully, “What upset you earlier today? When Amber arrived.”
Oh! My heart faltered and then accelerated as the pain of my past washed over me. I wasn’t sure I was ready for that conversation. My face twisted and I whispered, “I can’t.”
His arms came around me, holding me tight, just letting the minutes pass. When my heart slowed to its normal pace, Coal pulled back.
I was captured in his dark liquid gaze.
His voice was deep and thick. “Brinley, I know I’ve failed you as a mate—”
“No, that’s not it,” I cut him off. I didn’t want him to think he’d made me upset.
“Just listen,” he insisted.
I stared up at him and waited.
He took a deep breath and repeated, “I know I’ve failed you as a mate. I’ve given you no reason to trust me and for that, I am deeply sorry.”
I reached my fingertips to his cheek. He nudged his head into my palm. He steadied himself and continued, “But all of that ends now. I swear to you that I will move heaven and earth to be what you need, a mate you can depend on and be proud of.”
I was overwhelmed by the emotion swirling in his eyes and heartfelt words. “I know,” I tried to speak past the lump in my throat to explain, “It’s not you...it’s just that I, I don’t want you to see how...broken I am.”
I couldn’t stop the tear that rolled down my cheek.
Coal’s eyebrows rose in surprise. It was clear he hadn’t expected my response. I bit my lip, working to keep the torrent of tears at bay.
He gently pulled my lip from my teeth and cupped my cheeks with both hands. “I won’t try to shove sunshine up your ass by telling you you’re perfect because we all have issues to work through.”
I couldn’t help the small giggle that escaped my lips at his analogy and felt the atmosphere lift a little. He grinned and then turned serious again as he whispered, “But I will tell you that you could never look broken to me. No matter what it is. No matter what you face, I am yours. Yours to depend on. Yours, when you need comfort and strength. You are absolutely right for me, my better half. Please let me be there for you.”
I inhaled sharply and couldn’t deny his impassioned plea. I didn’t want to. He was right, he was my other half, and I wouldn’t hold back from him. I pulled him down so we could sit on the floor. I sat with my legs crossed, my hands in my lap. He faced me with his knees bent, his feet resting on the ground on either side of my hips. He gathered my hands, his fingers gently massaging my skin.
The waterfall provided soothing background noise as I gave in, telling him about my childhood and the struggles I faced. Even though the words flowed freely, I kept my head down, staring at the dirt floor as I recounted the torment and my pain. Coal said nothing. He just listened, his fingers continuing to rub and sooth my hands. After several minutes of explanation and his absolute silence, I risked a glance up to his face and gasped.
His expression was murderous.
“Coal?” I whispered tentatively. “Are you okay?”
He hadn’t given away his fury while I spoke, but there was no hiding his rage now. His nostrils flared, the black obsidian eyes of his Wolf stared intently back at me. A low growl came from his chest as he demanded through clenched teeth, “What are their names?”
“What?” I exhaled, trying to give myself time to come up with a better response. I had purposefully left out the names of my tormentors because I feared he might react irrationally. Now, I knew I had been right to be afraid.
Coal was livid, angrier than I had ever seen him. The force of his fury was devastating and took my breath away. He looked every bit the fearsome alpha he would soon be. I shivered.
He repeated slowly, drawing out each word, “What. Are. Their. Names?”
I inhaled to steady my nerves and replied, “No.”
He frowned, the crease in his forehead deepening. “What do you mean ‘no’?”
I worked to channel my inner Darcie and tried to reply with the same calming tone she used, “Exactly that. No. I’m not going to tell you...because we have such other important matters to work through right now. You cannot afford to be distracted, and you doling out retribution to random pack members would raise suspicion.”
Coal ground his teeth together as he listened. He didn’t like my response, but he couldn’t argue with my logic. I scooted my butt closer in between his legs and slid my hands up his arms to the back of his neck. “When this is all over if you still want to know, I will tell you.”
Coal leaned his forehead down to mine and spoke gruffly, “I’m sorry those things happened to you. I’m appalled and ashamed by the actions of our pack members. When I’m Alpha, there will be change. Each and every wolf will treat others with respect or face my wrath.”
“I know,” I replied softly. “I know you will rule differently than your father.”
He twisted his head to the side and gently placed a kiss on my lips. I responded immediately, my belly fluttering at the contact. His lips moved slowly, almost carefully, communicating his love and concern for me. It was a kiss meant to heal wounds, and my heart swelled with his passionate care. After several minutes he pulled back reluctantly and breathed, “I have to go.”
“Wait.” Even though I would see him tomorrow, I didn’t want to let him go as much as he didn’t want to leave. Still, I knew we had no choice, at least for now. But there was one thing I wanted before he left. I just wasn’t exactly sure how to express it. “I want...”
He tilted his head to the side and waited for me to continue.
“I want to see your Wolf...all of him." I explained with a little blush. My other mate, I needed him now as well.
A deep growl released from Coal’s chest, his eyes instantly transitioning. He shuddered hard and let out a small gasp. It was clear his Wolf wanted the same thing. Coal spoke with difficulty as he fought against the shift, “Brinley, listen to me. I will try to keep control of him, but...”
I was confused. His tone sounded like a warning. “But what?”
Another shudder went down his spine as he ground out, “But he wants you...every last inch of you.”
“Oh!” I replied with understanding and couldn’t help the arousal that released from my body.
Coal inhaled my scent deeply, closed his eyes and groaned, “That’s not helping. You don’t understand. We can’t...be inside of you. If we were that close, we wouldn’t be able to stop from marking you and fully completing the mate bond.”
My eyes were wide as I understood his struggle. He continued to explain, “And you’re not physically ready for him. I will try to keep him controlled, but you’re going to have to resist him if he tries something. Do you understand? Are you sure you want to do this?”
I considered his words carefully. His Wolf loved me. I had always known that. It was that knowledge that comforted me at night when I cried over Coal’s rejection.
And I loved his Wolf with my full heart. I understood what Coal was saying, but the risk didn’t matter. His Wolf would never hurt me. I whispered, “I need him.”
Coal just nodded and stood to his feet. Deja vu washed over me as I intently stared while he removed his clothes. When his clothing was gone, fur replaced skin and his Wolf stood majestically in front of me, his chest puffed out, head and tail high. He shook out his fur and gave a snort.
I laughed at his antics and stood to my feet, eager to touch him. When I reached him, I ran my fingers deep through the soft silky fur at his neck. He was a massive dark grey, almost black wolf. We were the same height when I was standing.
His tongue came out to lick my face. “Ew! Stop that!” I groaned as I used my sleeve to wipe off my face. He was completely unaffected by my order, his tongue sliding out to swipe along my cheek again, but I was ready for him this time. I twisted my face to side as he licked the air. A giggle bubbled from my lips as I teased, “Missed me.”
I probably should have known better than to challenge him, but in the middle of having fun, it didn’t occur to me. Without warning, he nudged me with his big head, almost knocking me off of my feet.
“Hey!” I yelped as I worked to get my footing. When I was steady again, I faced him with my hands on my hips and admonished playfully, “You need to be more careful.”
If I had been paying closer attention, I would have noticed the wicked glint in his eyes, but I didn’t see it, so was shocked when not only did he completely disregarded my order to be more careful, but he swiped my legs out from under me with one big paw.
“Oh!” I gasped and tried to prepare my body for the pain of landing on the cold hard ground. But I never felt the hit because faster than I could blink, he twisted his body and rolled, so that he was on his back beneath me. I landed on his chest, my arms and legs sprawled all over him.
I raised my head and blinked, my brain trying to process what just happened. I swear I heard laughter rumble through his body. My eyes narrowed. I looked up at him from my position on his belly and muttered, “I’m on to you now, you big beast.”
Another rumble went through him, and his eyes lost none of their devilish glint. As I pushed myself off of him and back onto my feet, he nipped my shirt, giving it a hard tug, causing me to crash backward, and once again, he was there to break my fall.
This time, I couldn’t stop my squeal of laughter, caught up in the fun he was having. But that didn’t mean I wouldn’t try to outwit him. I liked a challenge too.
I rolled over so that I was facing him, and wrapped my legs around his torso as I sat up on his belly. I waved a finger in his direction, and muttered, “You think you’re stronger than me, don’t you? Well, let me tell you—”
He rolled hard to the side.
Once again, I tumbled over.
“Ah!!! Shit!” I curled my fingers into his fur in a desperate attempt to regain some semblance of balance while he reversed the roll, back to center.
I panted to catch my breath.
He looked up at me expectantly, waiting for me to finish whatever it was I was saying. Hmm...if I didn’t know better, I would swear his expression looked smug.
My Wolf pushed me to shift. She was confident she could put him in his place, but I held her back, explaining she would have her turn with him in a minute. For now, I wasn’t done.
I decided to try another tactic...work with his ego, not against it. I scooted up his chest and clung tightly to him, burying my face in his neck. I inhaled deeply, shivering with pleasure at his scent. It wasn’t a smell I could identify. The closest I could describe it would be masculine and power. Letting his fur run through my fingers, I cooed softly in his ear, “You’re so beautiful.”
I spoke the truth. Our mate was a stunning specimen of a male.
He froze beneath me. I stifled a giggle and easily slid off of his body to my feet, without his interference this time. His eyes tracked my movement. I didn’t step away or sever our contact. Instead, I kept my hands in his fur, rubbing behind his ears and murmured, “Would you stand for me?”
He rolled to his side and then to his feet, still looking at me. Deep satisfaction flowed through both my Wolf and me as I examined him with my eyes. We had a powerful mate. But right now, whether he knew it or not, he was at my mercy.
I was startled when abruptly, an overwhelming compulsion to own him came over me. The force of it hit me hard, so hard that I simply couldn’t deny it.
Was this a part of the mate bond?
My eyes glowed with anticipation and electricity seemed to release from my fingertips wherever I touched him. I stepped to his side and purposefully ran my hand slowly down his back to his tail. A low guttural growl came from my throat as I whispered, “You already know every inch of me, its only fair that I get to know every inch of you.”
He shuddered hard, seeming in agreement as he remained still, hard muscles rippling beneath my touch as I ran my hands carefully over his back and sides, memorizing every inch of his body.
After several minutes of careful inspection, I finished with his back and sides and squatted down, so that I could trail my hands along each powerful thigh and leg, taking great care not to miss a spot.
My hands moved as if hey had a mind of their own, touching, feeling, memorizing. I was mesmerized by him, enthralled by his very presence.
When his legs were complete, I stayed in a crouched position so that I could rub my hands along the planes of his belly. I was methodical, slowly and carefully covering each area at a time.
My fingertips came close, but I refrained from touching his private areas. I didn’t like having to hold back. It wasn’t even sexual. Instead, the compulsion to own him completely, to mark my territory, was just about impossible to ignore. I didn’t like leaving any area untouched and unclaimed.
But I recalled Coal’s warning. I wasn’t exactly sure what future intimacy would consist of, but I knew I wasn’t ready and touching him in that manner, even just to satisfy my need to mark him as mine, would be pushing his restraint way too far.
I finished and stood back to my feet. His entire body was quivering.
“Shift!” The command came from within him.
I froze. I hadn’t heard his words but felt his order in my head. It was as clear as if he had spoken.
I stared into his eyes, looking to see if I was imagining it.
He didn’t blink and waited for me to obey him.
I inhaled to steady myself and let out the breath, then stepped back and tried to keep my hands from trembling as I peeled my shirt over my head. He kept me locked in his unfathomable gaze as I reached for the button and pulled the zipper down on my jeans, wiggling slightly to get them over my hips. When I finished, I slipped out of my bra and lastly, pulled my panties down, stepping out of them as they pooled at my feet.
I was going to shift, but another command pierced my consciousness, “Stop.”
I halted all movement as I stood bare in front of him, confused at what he wanted me to do. I thought he wanted me to shift, but now, I wasn’t sure. He stepped to me and leaned his head into my neck, inhaling deeply.
His next thought caused a hard shiver to run up and down my spine, “My turn.”