Diamond's Edge

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Little Pig, Little Pig

Chapter 8

I glanced in the rearview mirror as Eric closed his door. The car was already in drive and the road ahead of us was clear. We were halfway home. If we could get back onto the highway, we could make it. All of this crossed my mind in the time it took to move my foot from the break to the gas. As I slammed my foot down, intending to floor it straight across the deserted intersection and onto the entry ramp on the other side, the car lurched violently. All three kids screamed as the 1967 Chevy Impala was lifted from behind, effectively rendering its rear-wheel-drive useless. To add insult to injury, I heard the rear tire on my side shred as Eric plunged his claws into it. I let off the gas as he let the car fall, bouncing back to the pavement and dipping on the driver’s side where the tire was damaged.

In addition to my fear, I now felt a rage unlike anything I’d known. My wolf snarled and I agreed whole-heartedly with the feeling. Behind me, Tommy was sobbing and I could hear Anabelle’s breathing coming in short gasps that indicated a panic attack was imminent. Evie was near hysterical in the seat next to me.

“Evie.” My tone silenced her, but didn’t effectively convey the gravity of the situation. “I need you to lock the doors and get in the driver’s seat after I get out.”

“Mom I can’t. I’ve never driven on the highway before and especially not with a missing tire and this car is a stick and I’ve only driven it like twice and that was in our driveway and-.” I placed one hand on either side of her face and applied pressure, not enough to hurt her but enough to calm her rambling.

“Evie. If I tell you to you have to get Anabelle and Tommy out of here. You have to. You can do this.” Evie’s eyes widened.

“Mom, your eyes.” She gasped. I glanced at my reflection in the rearview mirror and noted that my irises were a solid white around my dilated pupils. I shook my head and looked at Evie again.

“Can you do this for me? Can you get them out of here?” I demanded, Evie nodded, still staring wide-eyed at my face. I closed my eyes. “Good. As soon as I close the door you lock it. Then you get on the phone and call Valen. We’re only twenty-five minutes from the Pack House and I’m hoping I can occupy your dad long enough for them to arrive. With any luck, you may not have to drive after all.” I tried for lighthearted but Evie’s expression didn’t change. “Tell me you can do this.”

“I can do this.” Evie responded, some of the fire returning to her expression as she nodded again. “I can do this.”

“Good girl.” I undid my seat belt and opened my door in the same motion. As I closed it, I heard the satisfying click of the locks engaging. Eric laughed and I felt my anger spike again. He hadn’t actually looked at me yet, which gave me the chance to inspect him. His features had mostly returned to normal, with the exception of the claws on his hands. Claws he’d used to damage one of the only prized material objects I’d managed to retain in the divorce. I’d sought out the car because of a popular television series Evie and I watched together and we’d both fallen in love with it. While the show was perhaps a little scary for Evie’s then ten years old, she and I loved it anyway. My father had always loved to work on old cars, so the 1967 Impala was even more precious because of its connection to him. We’d saved up to get it restored with a family friend, and had it road-ready within a few years.

Eric knew all of this, as he’d been involved in the beginning process, before the divorce had started. That meant his damage to the vehicle was as much a jab at me as it was to prevent our escape. My temper flared again and my wolf howled in my head. I had a mental picture of bared teeth and went with it, displaying my own.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” I demanded as I stalked forward, directly into his personal space. If he was alarmed at this show of power, he didn’t let on. Instead, he sniffed the air and wrinkled his nose.

“Why do you smell like someone?” He demanded. I growled and my wolf amplified the sound, making it more feral.

“You don’t get to ask that question anymore, remember?” I hissed. Eric snarled, this time reacting to my tone.

“What gives you the right to speak to me like that, you bitch?” He shouted, raising his hand. Without waiting, I grabbed his wrist and shoved with as much strength as I could muster. Eric stumbled backward, crashing into the front of his shiny new sports car and leaving a dent in the chrome grill. He glared at the spot before turning his feral snarl on me. “You’re going to-.”

“Regret that? I doubt it.” I stated, smirking because I knew it would bother him. I felt my wolf’s presence surge forward but kept it down, needing to remain in control of myself for the kids.

In the time I was focused inward, however, Eric had moved. I came back to myself as he slammed me into the Impala with enough force to rattle the one-and-a-half-ton vehicle and send it lurching forward before Evie slammed her foot on the break and pulled the e-break back into place, stopping the forward momentum. The only reason I knew that’s what had happened is because the car jerked to a stop suddenly, however, because I couldn’t actually focus on what was happening inside. Eric placed his hand around my throat and used his other to grip the front of my shirt. Despite my new strength, he was still bigger than me and had had more time to adapt to his new abilities. He leaned forward, into my personal space, and inhaled again before he snarled, an actual animalistic snarl, and yanked my shirt, tearing the material and exposing my skin and bra.

“You don’t get to smell like someone else.” He hissed, his face right up against mine. He moved his hand to the waistband of my jeans next and I realized what his intentions were. I jerked my body back and forth as hard as I could, but he had me effectively stuck against the car.

Valen! I shouted in my head, panic taking over, and felt the mate bond respond, sending the thought to him. Before I could act further, however, my wolf intervened.

* * *

Pain like nothing I’d experienced before sent my mind into a spiral as my bones broke and reformed in a matter of minutes. My clothing tore as my skin stretched to accommodate my new form before hair sprouted along my pores and covered my frame in a dark coat. The force of the shift had knocked Eric away from me, sending him flying across the road and into the rock wall on the other side. He’d chosen his ambush well, and no one would see our little exchange unless they physically stopped their car and looked over the side of the highway. This would have worked in his favor, had my wolf not had other ideas. I could feel her now, in my head, stronger than I had yet.

Make him pay. She snarled. Make him bleed. While I didn’t necessarily disagree, there were still three frightened children in the car behind me. I stalked forward, putting myself between Eric and the Impala, my tail swishing from side to side. As I took stock of my new form, I realized it was really more akin to that of a large cat than a wolf. My snout and face did resemble a canine, but my body was more feline in nature.

As Eric made to dart around me, I swiped one of my paws, claws extended, outward, catching him in the side and knocking him to the ground. I then leaped forward, intending to catch him while he was down and pin him so he couldn’t move. He was ready for me, however. Rather than landing on top of him, I landed directly in his arms. He flung me away from him and I crashed onto his car, landing directly in the windshield and caving in the front half of the roof. I stood, shaking the glass from my fur, and my wolf calculated a better angle to intercept him.

Just as I was ready to leap forward again, a feral snarl on my lips, the black SUV from before careened in front of me, the rear drivers’ side door flinging open as it cut me off from my prey. Eric launched himself into the vehicle and the car sped away without ever fully coming to a stop. I howled before I could stop myself before leaping down from the ruined sports car and landing lightly on my feet behind the Impala. Before I’d moved further than that, however, another vehicle arrived on the scene. This one, I realized, held my mate and members of his pack. As they rushed out of the vehicle however, I didn’t see Valen among them despite that I could smell him.

Before I could panic, he emerged from the back of the vehicle. Or rather, his wolf did. He towered over me, making my several-hundred-pound frame seem downright delicate by comparison. His coat was the purest white I’d ever seen, matching my wolf’s eyes perfectly. His eyes were the same startling green I’d first held the gaze of back at my apartment, rather than the warm brown I’d grown accustomed to since.

Are you injured? His voice caressed my mind, gentle despite the rage I could feel radiating off of him.

No, we’re unharmed. I responded in kind and he nodded before walking up to me slowly. I don't know how to change back. I admitted sheepishly. Valen chuckled in my head before beginning his own shift. I watched, mesmerized, as his body twisted back into its human shape, hair receding and bones reforming until he stood before me, in all of his glory. And, oh what glory it was. I was grateful for my fur as it hid my obvious blush. He was toned and tanned, of which I could have surmised with his clothes on, but his tattoos, that was another story. Every inch of him, well nearly every inch, was covered in black and grey ink depicting various forms of art. I could see wolves and blood, but also flowers and what appeared to be the moon’s reflection on a water source. Tyson approached us then, carrying a set of grey sweats, which Valen put on without comment. I glanced at Tyson, who’s expression was amused, before looking back at Valen again.

Still have no idea how to do that. I managed, trying to cover my moment of fascination. Judging by his own amusement I was less than successful but I didn’t have time to dwell on it. Valen knelt in front of me, placing us on eye level. I’d never had trouble meeting his gaze before, but my wolf wasn’t quite so happy about it. Apparently, the Alpha thing meant more to her than it did to me. I shifted uncomfortably and glanced at my paws. Valen gently took my muzzle in his hand and brought our gaze back to his.

“I’m sorry about this.” He murmured. Before I could ask what he meant, his wolf spoke in my head.

Change. The word reverberated through me, shaking my very bones. Seconds later, agony exploded across my nervous system as my body made the shift back in the other direction. The whole process couldn’t have been longer than a few seconds before I lay, shivering and naked, in Valen’s arms.

“What. The. Actual. Fuck?” I hissed, too weak to actually move from my spot. At least, that’s what I told myself, anyway. Valen sighed.

“I’m sorry.” He repeated, I glanced at him out of the corner of my eye.

“You don’t look sorry.” I stated, regaining some of my usual swagger. Valen’s gaze snapped back to my face, as it hadn’t been there before, and he cleared his throat. Tyson handed me my own pair of sweats then, his gaze averted, and Valen helped me put them on. “Who carries random pairs of sweats wherever they go?” I muttered. Valen laughed outright then.

“Werewolves.” He stated simply. We approached the Impala then and I made to go to the driver’s side door. Valen held me back, however. I glanced up at him, questioning. “Your niece and nephew just saw you turn into the thing that killed their mother. Your niece, in particular, also just saw the thing that actually did kill their mother. You may want to give them a minute.” At the horror in my expression Valen led me away from the commotion next to the Impala and held me closer to him. “Ellie, you are not a monster. Actually, your wolf is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. I just meant that Anabelle and Tommy may need a little time to adjust. They’ve been through a lot. And Evie-.” As if her name had conjured her, Evie sprinted up to us.

“Mom!” She shouted. I stayed next to Valen, intending to keep my distance from her in order to answer any questions she may have. She had other ideas. She flung herself into my arms, squeezing tightly. “That was fucking awesome!” She shouted.

“Evie!” I reprimanded but Evie shrugged.

You turn into a wolf but I can’t say Fuck?” She asked. Valen snorted next to me and I elbowed him.

You are fourteen and no you can’t say fuck.” I stated. Evie shrugged again before beaming up at me.

“I believe you.” She stated. I laughed.

“I should hope so. Otherwise, I might think you were the crazy one.” Valen glanced from one of us to the other before shaking head.

“I’m not sure I want to know.” He stated. Another of the wolves approached us hesitantly then and I could tell they were communicating via the pack link. Valen nodded before turning back to me. “My lieutenants have scouted the perimeter. There’s no sign of Eric or whoever helped him. I have a theory on that, however, that I’ll go over with you when we get back. Right now, I just want to get you all out of here.” Evie glanced at the Impala and I saw a tear form in her eye.

“Mom, The Imp.” The Imp is what we’d dubbed our baby after Jonah had called it that when he was trying to say Impala. I sighed, smoothing a strand of hair away from her face.

“It will be ok. We’ll get it fixed.” The three of us glanced at the damaged frame again, where Eric had shoved me into the car. I shivered at the memory and Valen noticed.

Ellie? His question sounded in my head. I offered him a weak smile.

Later. I promised, he nodded before turning to Evie. “I have several mechanics on call. When you run a pack of werewolves there’s bound to be some vehicular casualties. They can fix almost anything.” Evie smiled and nodded, making her way back to the car and Anabelle and Tommy, who were waiting next to it with Tyson.

* * *

The ride back to town was uneventful. True to his word, Valen had the car towed to one of his mechanics who assured us the damage wasn’t irreversible and that she’d ‘seen worse’. This placated Evie enough to be willing to leave the car in her care, something I was mildly shocked by at first. After a brief discussion about finances (that I quietly addressed the mechanic about while Valen waited in the lobby with the kids), we left the mechanic to her work and headed back to the Pack House.

When we pulled into the drive there seemed to be a flurry of activity going on. At my questioning glance, Valen explained,

“That’s part of what I wanted to discuss with you.” He glanced at the back seat where all three kids sat quietly. I nodded, understanding. As he put the SUV in park, Tyson got out and ran inside. I glanced at Valen again and he smiled sheepishly. “That’s another part of what I wanted to talk to you about.”

I turned in my seat to face the kids. Evie smiled encouragingly before giving me a subtle thumbs up. I rolled my eyes at her but smiled any way. “Anabelle, Tommy?” Both kids glanced at me, which I took as a good sign. Valen opened his door and I smiled at him as he exited the vehicle, grateful for his thoughtfulness. “I know you have been through more this week than anyone should face in a lifetime. You must have a million questions, and I will do my best to answer them all, but I need to make sure you know one thing for sure: I will never let anyone or anything hurt you, ok? You are safe now.”

Tommy’s expression was less than convinced. Anabelle, however, looked thoughtful. “Tommy, can you go with Evie to find Jonah? I’m sure he has some clothes you can change into.” She stated, sounding more grown up than fourteen. Evie, catching on, added,

“Yeah! And they have a giant kitchen that always has something ready.” After a few seconds of Tommy looking from one over eager teenager to the other he sighed,

“If you wanted me out of the car all you had to do was ask.” He grabbed his door handle but paused before opening it. “Aunt Ellie?” He looked up at me and tears flooded blue eyes so like his mother’s. “We’re not going to be split up, are we? I heard one of the police men talking about how siblings usually aren’t able to stay together and I don’t want to lose Anabelle.” I was shaking my head before he’d finished and offered him a comforting smile.

“You are not going to be split up. I promise you that. You and your sister will stay together and, if you’re ok with it, you can stay with us.” Tommy nodded before opening the door and jumping down. After a brief but silent exchange with Anabelle, Evie followed out the other side. When both doors had closed again, Anabelle faced me fully, determination on her features.

“Aunt Ellie I need to know what’s going on. Uncle Eric was in our house that night, I know it was him…” She exhaled forcefully as tears flooded her eyes but continued, “I know he was the one who killed my mom. He didn’t look like himself, but I know it was him.” I sighed but Anabelle held up a hand, indicating she wasn’t finished. “I also know that whatever happened back there, it’s connected to losing my mom and I want to know what it is.” For fourteen, she was very direct, something she and Evie shared. It had made family holidays a nightmare when they were younger.

“The night Eric attacked your house he came to ours after. If it hadn’t been for Valen, the man who drove us back, I wouldn’t have survived either. He is a werewolf, as am I, as is Eric. I’m not sure how Eric was turned, but Valen turned me to save my life after Eric’s attack. I’m so sorry about your mom, Ana. I can’t do anything to make it better, and I know you’re tired of people telling you how sorry they are without offering anything to fix it, and I’m one of them and I’m sorry for that too. This I can promise you; I am going to do everything in my power to bring the person, or people, responsible for your mom’s death to justice.” We're going to kill them. My wolf added, unhelpfully. Though I wasn’t entirely sure I disagreed. In my head I heard the rumble of Valen’s wolf’s laughter and mentally sent him my disapproval of his eaves dropping, which he ignored. Anabelle’s expression didn’t change as she digested this new information. After a few minutes she nodded like something had been answered for her, before meeting my gaze again.

“What now?” She asked, and that sounded like the lost teenager she truly was, rather than the adult she was trying to be for her little brother.

“For right now, you go inside with your brother and your cousins and get something to eat and a change of clothes. There’s a bathroom off of the room Evie has been staying in and you can shower and change there. I’m going to speak with Valen, and we’re going to figure out what to do next.” I hesitated briefly but figured I’d come this far. “What is it that you want?” I asked. Anabelle’s eyes widened.

“No one has asked me that.” She sounded mildly shocked. As if she hadn’t considered that she might be able to be at least partially in charge of her own destiny. She thought for a moment before meeting my gaze again. “I want to stay with Tommy. I don’t care where we go, but we go together.” I nodded, figuring.

“That I can do.” I promised.

* * *

I entered the house just behind Anabelle to find Valen, Tyson, and Siri waiting for me. I eyed the three of them suspiciously but made no comment as Anabelle joined Evie and the two of them rushed up the stairs to the latter’s room.

“You had an interesting afternoon, I hear.” Siri stated, her voice pleasant. She continued in a conspiratorial whisper as she guided me down the hall, Tyson and Valen following. “Please tell me you drew blood.” I laughed and my wolf growled happily. “That’s my girl.”

Mine, Valen’s wolf interjected and Siri rolled her eyes, indicating she’d heard him too.

“Men.” She stated, unaffected. I laughed again. We entered what appeared to be a small apartment minus the kitchenette usually present, and before Tyson and Valen could follow Siri turned and closed the door behind her. I eyed her suspiciously again and Siri smiled, the expression self-conscious. My own look turned to one of surprise, self-conscious not being an emotion I expected from her based on our brief interactions so far. Siri exhaled forcefully before walking further into the room, her shoulders drooping.

“What’s wrong?” I asked hesitantly, unsure if I was really welcome to the question.

“I wanted to talk to you because I wanted to explain myself before Valen and Tyson messed everything up with their man-ness.” Siri smirked and I smiled, still bewildered. “They mean well, but they can never truly understand what we go through. Well, you’re a mother, you get it. Did you ever really feel like Eric could relate to you in that way?” I snorted.

“I never really felt like Eric could relate to a lot of things, child birth the furthest down on the list.” Siri laughed but the sound seemed forced. I sobered and reached toward her, hesitantly placing my hand on her shoulder. “When Evie was born Eric wasn’t in the room. I have my suspicions on whether he was even in the hospital, but that’s neither here nor there at this point. So, no, I never really felt like he understood what the process meant to me.” Siri nodded.

“Tyson has been a Saint. Truly, he’s read enough books at this point to fill a small navy ship.” She exhaled on what sounded suspiciously like a cross between a laugh and a sob. “We lost our first born, Jamie, at thirty weeks gestation. It was a freak accident that the Healers couldn’t explain. They still can’t. I delivered him but he was already gone. We held him…” She broke off, taking deep, measured breaths. “We held him for a few hours, neither of us willing to let go. That was three years ago, and I haven’t been able to carry past seventeen weeks since.” She looked at me with the saddest expression I’d ever seen. Her eyes were more than desperate, they were desolate. I could never understand that kind of pain, as my only children were somewhere in the pack house, alive and well. I reached forward, wrapping my arms around her. I was a few inches taller than her, my height allowing me to fully encompass her in my embrace. She sobbed before pushing her face into my shoulder. After a few seconds, she exhaled a shaky breath before moving back. “God, Siri, get a hold of yourself. Snot is not a good look on you.” Her voice was snarky and she gave a watery laugh and wiped her eyes and face. I shook my head.

“I’m so sorry, Siri. I know that doesn’t mean much, but I am. But, why did you feel like you had to explain yourself to me?” Siri sighed.

“Your niece and nephew have been through so much these past few days. More than a lot of adults could even imagine. That kind of trauma, it stays with you. My mother was killed by a rogue werewolf, its how I was turned in the first place. If I hadn’t found a pack I wouldn’t be here. I was wondering, well, we were wondering, Tyson and I, if…”

“Siri, I would be honored if you and Tyson would look after Anabelle and Tommy. At least until we figure out where they’ll be going. Then, if they’re ok with it, we can discuss a more permanent solution.” I knew the minute the words left my mouth I’d said the right thing. Siri absolutely beamed. She rushed forward again, this time wrapping her arms around me. The door opened and I felt Tyson enter the room seconds before his arms engulfed us both, lifting us off the ground. Siri laughed again, this time with pure joy. I smiled, my eyes tearing up.

In my head, my wolf howled with happiness and for the first time, the sound was joined by others until the entire pack was howling and yipping with pure, unencumbered bliss.

* * *

“You know, you’re absolutely amazing.” Valen’s voice was soft as I exited Siri and Tyson’s apartment, leaving the happy couple to their joy. I glanced over at where he leaned against the wall of the hallway, shaking my head.

“I would tend to agree.” I stated. Valen laughed, holding his hand out to me as he pushed away from the wall and turned back down the hall. I took it without hesitation.

We walked in companionable silence for a few minutes, each lost in our own thoughts. The wolves had silenced but their presence was still all around me, the feeling not unpleasant. I must have made some outward sign of content, because Valen squeezed my hand, causing me to meet his gaze, “What are you thinking about?” He asked.

“You can’t read my mind?” He laughed,

“That’s not exactly how it works.” I thought about that for a second.

“How does it work?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“I’m sorry, Ellie, sometimes it’s easy for me to forget you don’t know about a lot of this stuff. I feel like you’ve always been here.” His expression softened. “It’s like I’ve always known you.” I nodded, understanding.

“Oh good, so it’s not just me.” He laughed again.

“I think you and I are overdue for a long talk.” He stated, before turning and walking down another hallway, tugging me behind him. We stopped at the only door at the end of the hall and Valen entered the room first, dropping my hand and turning as if to give me the option of staying in the hall. I glanced around at what was obviously his own private quarters, complete with a small sitting room, and a door that was probably a master bedroom and bathroom. Again, the only thing missing was the kitchen. I entered the room, closing the door behind me, and looked at him expectantly. “Evie picked you out some clothes, the bathroom is through there and they’re sitting on the sink. You can go change if you want to.” He stated. Surprised at his thoughtfulness, I nodded. As I’d suspected, the other door did lead to the bedroom/bathroom combo. I left the bedroom door open and closed the bathroom door behind me before eyeing the clothes my teenage daughter had picked out, shaking my head.

The pants and shirt were ok, though they were definitely more form-fitting than I typically wore around the house. However, the lingerie she’d selected were not anything close to anything I’d even worn, around the house or otherwise. I recognized them, having bought them several years before hand. That was as far as they got. I’d stuffed them in the bottom of my drawer and they were never to see the light of day. They were entirely black lace, barely enough material there to cover everything it was supposed to. “Evie….” I muttered, shaking my head again. My wolf snickered, amused, and I rolled my eyes before donning the lacey undergarments and the clothes. Dressed, I glanced in the mirror.

It was strange how little my reflection had changed when I felt like an entirely different person. Same long, straight black hair. Same grey eyes. Same full lips and slightly crooked nose (broken several years ago by a Great Dane that decided she didn’t want her blood drawn, thank-you-very-much). I’d always been tall and curvy but as I’d gotten older (and had two kids) that build had drifted more into the pear-shaped variety. Usually, I wasn’t overly bothered by the change but there was still the occasional glance in the mirror and whisper of insecurity that reared its ugly (Eric-shaped) head. I’d worked hard for the body I had now, two pregnancies nothing to joke about, and I was proud of it, but what woman can say they didn’t occasionally dream about their prowess in their youth?

I sighed again, turning away from the mirror and opening the door of the bathroom. I found Valen sitting in the living room on the couch and settled in next to him before turning expectantly to meet his gaze.

“How do I shift back and forth?” I began.

“Wow, that wasn’t what I expected you to start with.” I shrugged and Valen continued. “It’s not something that’s easy to explain. Normally, its something you learn over a long period of time. It’s actually pretty amazing that you were able to shift at all…” He trailed off and I guessed it was my turn to answer something.

“My wolf was responding to my panic.”

“I know, I gathered that when it slammed into me via the mate bond.”

“How does that work, anyway? And how come I can’t feel what you feel but you can feel what I do?”

“You can feel what I feel, you’re just not as practiced at looking for it. Also, if I feel a strong emotion, like you did, it will be easier to detect. But you’re deflecting the question.” I sighed and he grinned briefly before sobering. “Ellie, why were you panicking?” His voice was gentle and, despite his earlier teasing, sincere. I remembered Eric’s murderous glare as he tore my shirt and shivered again. After a brief hesitation, Valen placed his arms around me, tugging me closer to him. I let him, leaning against his chest, taking comfort in his solid presence.

“Eric could smell you, I guess. He kept asking why I smelled like ‘someone else’. That’s how he phrased it. I didn’t really understand how much it was affecting him, I just wanted to keep him talking because I knew you were on your way.” I glanced up at him. “I had Evie call you, but I guess you probably already knew what was happening.”

“I knew you were afraid.” He smirked, “and pissed off.” I laughed.

“He damaged The Imp. No one damages The Imp.” I chuckled again before continuing, my tone serious again. “Anyway, my plan was to keep him talking. I may have baited him a little, but I didn’t expect him to react the way he did. He grabbed me and shoved me against the trunk of the Impala. He tore my shirt but I thought it was just because his claws were out. Until he reached for my jeans-.” I’d barely gotten the word out of my mouth before a roar of pure, primal fury sounded both in my head and from next to me. Valen, despite his anger, gently extricated himself from around me before springing to his feet. He then began pacing back and forth like a caged animal. His eyes had gone pure green, something I was beginning to understand meant his wolf was very close to the surface.

It was a few seconds before he was capable of speech and I understood what he meant about feeling stronger emotions. The mate bond was going haywire again, the rage of both he and his wolf radiating through it and into me. My wolf whimpered and I must have echoed the sound without realizing it because Valen froze mid-step, whipping his gaze to me. He was in front of me in an instant, kneeling so close to me that his body was actually between my legs and his arms were around my waist.

“Ellie, I’m sorry, I’m not trying to scare you.” He stated in a rush while his wolf snarled in my head. He will die for this.

“Valen, I’m fine. Eric didn’t actually do anything. My wolf stopped him.” In my head, she growled with fierce pride at her actions. Valen’s wolf agreed. Valen himself was gripping the back of my shirt, using it to hold me against him like he was afraid I wasn’t really there. I wound my arms around his shoulders, returning the embrace. “I’m ok.” I reiterated. “Except that I have a lot of questions.” My voice was light and Valen chuckled, relaxing minimally around me. He inhaled slowly, like he was savoring my scent. Somehow, when he did it, I wasn’t nearly as creeped out by it as when it was Eric.

After a few more minutes of neither of us moving he sighed, standing and regaining his earlier place next to me. This time, however, he pulled me onto his lap and replaced his arms around me, holding me against him. I glanced down at his bicep where I could see some of his ink snaking up under his t-shirt (at some point, he’d also changed out of the sweats). I traced the design, following the pattern until I couldn’t anymore because of the constraints of his shirt. I glanced up at him to find him staring at where my fingers had traced his skin.

“Can I see them?” I asked. He swallowed before nodding. Then he reached between us to grab the hem of his t-shirt and lift it over his head, exposing his torso and the rest of the ink there. I finished tracing the design I’d originally begun with before turning my attention to a scene depicted on his right pectoral muscle. Then I gasped.

“What?” Valen sounded alarmed and I covered my mouth with my hand, shaking my head as tears formed in my eyes. “Ellie, what?!”

“I know that place.” I whispered, barely believing what I was seeing. I reached out tentatively and traced my fingers across the river I’d recognize anywhere, even in ink on skin. “My mom died when I was really little, so it was just me and my dad most of the time. He did his best, but he didn’t really know what to do with a little girl, so he just went with what he did know. Every weekend he’d take me fishing to the same spot on the same river. That spot.” I moved my attention downward, to his side and reached out again, my hand shaking now. “And that. That tree. I used to sit underneath it and read as a teenager when I waited for Eric to get out of football practice in high school. It had the same knot at the base, here.” I grazed my finger across the spot in question before meeting Valen’s gaze again. “How is this possible?” I asked. “This is my life, why is it tattooed all over you?” I wasn’t accusatory, on the contrary I was astonished. Valen shook his head.

“I don’t know.” He admitted. “I’ve had these for a long time, long before I ever even really knew what a mate was. But I have a theory…” I motioned for him to continue but was still entranced by the artwork decorating his skin. I’d found another picture, one wrapping around his left side and flowing up around his left shoulder blade. It was a pack of wolves all tilted toward the sky. It wasn’t something I recognized by memory, but it felt like something I should know anyway. The two at the top, starting just below his shoulder blade and ending at the crest of where his shoulder met his neck, were the most familiar. One was Valen, of that, I was sure. The other, though, was a darker coated wolf, slightly smaller than Valen’s. It was difficult to tell from the picture, but it appeared that the fur was more than just black, I could see hints of purples and blues in the coat as well. That wasn’t what had caught my attention, however. That was her eyes….

I gasped out loud again and Valen jumped slightly, “You’re going to have to stop doing that.” He stated mildly, before turning to look at where I was focused and then back to face me again. “I’d forgotten about that one.” He admitted.

“She has my wolf’s eyes.” I stated, how I knew it was a she was the same way I’d been drawn to it to begin with.

“She’s you, Ellie. I’ve seen your wolf, remember? She’s you.” I met his gaze again. “The mate bond is supposed to connect you to your mate on every level, regardless of distance or time. Our very souls are connected, Ellie.” I snickered before I could stop myself.

“How many times has that line worked?” I asked, but there was no accusation in my words and I laughed at his bewildered expression. “Sorry, go on.” He glared at me for a second and I shrugged before continuing my slow tracing of his ink. After a few more seconds of silence, I met his gaze again only to realize he was watching my fingers as they lazily traveled across his skin. I hadn’t really considered what I was doing, so fascinated with the artwork aspect that I’d forgotten it was on his skin. I pulled my hand away. “I’m sorry.” I murmured. Valen met my gaze again and shook his head, his pupils dilated slightly.

“Don’t be.” He stated. I’d been so focused on what I was doing I hadn’t realized how close we were. I’d started in his lap but I was now leaning so far against him we were practically laying on the couch, my face inches from his.

This was ridiculous, I barely knew him. We’d met four days ago and had barely any time together because of everything else that was going on. All of those very logical thoughts crossed my mind in a rapid-fire sequence that culminated in one; I didn’t care. I wanted this man in a way I’d never wanted anyone in my life. Not just physically, although good lord that was there. I wanted to know everything about him, I wanted to be a part of his world and he a part of mine, and screw what was normal and proper, if he was willing, so was I.

Something in my expression must have changed, because Valen leaned away from me slightly. Before he could separate us very far, however, I closed the space between us, meeting his lips with mine. I’d wanted to do this since waking up in that damn hospital bed. In my head, my wolf howled her delight but I blocked her out. I was barely functional with this when it was just me in my head, I didn’t need a peanut gallery. I pulled away after a few seconds, suddenly feeling sheepish.

“I’m-.” Valen pulled me into him again, this time initiating the kiss himself. I opened my mouth, allowing him more access, and deepened the kiss. After a few more minutes, we broke apart, both breathing heavily. “Sorry.” I finished breathlessly. Valen chuckled, the sound pure male. I bit my lower lip, thinking, and Valen’s breath caught slightly before he reached down, guiding my hips so that I was straddling him rather than laying on him. I must have made a sound because he froze and looked up at me again.

“We don’t have to-.” Before he could finish, I growled, the sound not entirely human.

“Shut up.” I stated, leaning into him again. As one kiss bled into the next, I reached down, finding the button of his jeans. Before I could get it undone though, he moved my hand away. I growled against his mouth again and he laughed,

“Your turn.” He stated before continuing the kiss. He reached around me at the same time, guiding his hands up my shirt and lifting the material over my head in the same motion. As the lacey material of the bra came into view, he made a strangled sound somewhere between a groan and a growl. My turn to laugh, which he silenced as his hands skimmed up my sides and undid the clasp, discarding the admittedly pointless material in the floor.

“Ellie…” His voice was still breathless.

“Still talking.” I sang, grinning as I leaned into him again. This time, when I found the button of his jeans, he didn’t stop me. It took some maneuvering, all while our mouths continued to explore each other, but we were soon laying with nothing separating us but skin.

With Eric, I never felt like it was about me. Sure, we’d had a decent sex life in the beginning, but he’d never been one to want anything more from me than to use me for his pleasure and when it was over for him it was over for both of us. Therefore, I wasn’t used to someone just staring at my naked body with a gaze that had gone dark with desire, which is exactly what Valen was doing right now.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked hesitantly, mimicking his earlier question. He met my gaze, his unchanging.

“Several things.” He stated, his voice gravelly. I laughed but I could feel the blush as my skin heated. Valen smirked. “I’m going to try something.”

“I really wish you would.” I muttered, he laughed again.

“That’s not what I meant. Although…” In one fluid motion, he turned, rolling so that I was underneath him rather than on top. I yelped, the movement unexpected, but the sound turned into more of a sigh as his hands grazed down my sides and across my outer thighs before he lifted my hips into a more comfortable position for him to lay on top of me, his body in direct contact with mine in all the right places.

I was already wet, the anticipation enough to act as the hottest of foreplays. I didn’t know if it was the mate bond or just his response to me, and I didn’t really care. Valen must have been able to sense some of what I was thinking because he smirked again, this time the expression slightly cocky. I reached forward and grasped the nape of his neck, yanking him down to me so that I could reach his mouth with mine. The motion must not have been what he was expecting because his cocky laugh morphed into another moan of pure desire that I swallowed as our mouths met again.

I felt his finger tips graze my thighs again, leaving goosebumps in their wake. He continued across my hip and down the sensitive skin at the inner junction of where my leg and hip met before trailing inward…and stopping. I moaned, frustration leaking through, and Valen smiled against my mouth. Fine, two can play this game. I sent the thought across the mate bond before grazing my nails down his side and between us, trailing up the length of him before moving back down, a mere whisper of touch. This time, Valen growled.

His body was as ready and willing as mine was. He moved his hands again, gripping my hips and angling my body slightly to give him a better angle, all without breaking contact with his mouth from mine. I wrapped my legs around his waist, making the angle better still. Valen groaned again before plunging his hips forward, entering me in one hard thrust that had me gasping into his mouth. He swallowed the sound, still not breaking contact between us.

He set the rhythm, a harder pace that suited me just fine. I knew this wasn’t going to be a gentle endeavor, we were both too revved up for that. What I found, however, is that I liked it rougher than I’d realized. I felt the pressure building between my legs as the heat grew from my core outward. It was reminiscent of the warmth I’d felt when first meeting Valen’s gaze, which is perhaps why what happened next didn’t startle me nearly as much as I would have expected.

As I reached my climax, the pressure releasing as my body tightened around him, I also felt our connection snap into place. A solid tether that connected my mind to his. Not only could I feel him physically now but I could feel his mind, his very essence, gathered around and through me. I could tell he was feeling the same, experiencing his own climax through our bond.

He wrapped his arms around me, rolling so that I was on top of him again and cradling my body against his as we lay, catching our breath together. I sent up a mental thanks to the sex gods that I’d never stopped my birth control and the thought made me giggle out loud.

“That is not the response I was hoping for.” Valen’s voice was dry but still a little breathless and I giggled harder.

“Sorry, I was thinking about birth control and for some reason it was funny.” I rolled slightly so that I could push myself up to meet his gaze, my own heavy lidded in contentment. Valen smiled.

That’s the response I was hoping for.” I rolled my eyes before laying my head back down on his chest.

“What was that? At the end, I mean.”

“Oh right, you were with Eric. They call that an orgasm-ugh.” He exhaled forcefully as I punched him but he laughed.

“You know what I meant.”

“That was the mate bond fully awakening between us. Can you feel it?” Actually, yeah, I could. He was still there, in my head. Not just his voice, as had happened on a few occasions, but him. I could feel him as if he were a part of me. With a jolt I realized that’s exactly what he was, a part of me. As was I to him. “Does this mean you’re ok with this? With me?” His voice was so hesitant and I didn’t like hearing him sound so unsure. I rolled so that I was fully on top of him before resting my chin on my hands against his chest so that I could look up into his eyes.

Rather than answer him in words I tentatively reached for the mate bond in my mind, in my heart, and allowed every feeling I had for him to flow through it. Valen closed his eyes briefly before tightening his grip around me and I laid my head back down, well and truly relaxed for what felt like the first time in three years.

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