No Care For Tomorrow
Cora played with the sash of her robe while waiting through the distant tolling of the city’s clock tower. Eight in the evening, and from the quiet of the house, she was the only one up and waiting for Hayes. She thought he’d come back to Minnie’s for the night. At least, she hoped he would.
The fire in the hearth crackled when she stirred it up, desperate for something to do. At the muffled noise of the front door downstairs opening and shutting, she brightened until she heard a male voice that wasn’t Hayes’. One of the other wolves, she supposed, and received confirmation a few moments later when a female voice in the bedroom beneath hers greeted him. The house fell silent once more.
Finally, nearly half an hour later, she heard the door again, and this time she recognized the tread of the footsteps. Unable to resist, she slipped out of her room and down the stairs barefoot, moving for the soft clink of a coffee cup being drawn down from the cupboard.
By the time she reached the parlor, she found Hayes in one of the chairs by the fireplace. He sat on its edge with the coffee cup in one hand, watching the flames while their flickering outlined him in gold. He looked tired and absent, but the moment she stepped into the room, he turned toward her, eyes sharpening with surprise. “You’re still up.”
She smiled, keeping her voice soft while settling on the floor near the hearth, not liking how the other chairs would leave her unable to face him. “I heard you arrive.”
“Sorry. I was trying to be quiet.”
“Don’t be. I listened for you. I was worried.”
Their eyes met for a long moment before he returned his attention to the fire. Then he sighed, and his broad shoulders sank as if burdened by a great weight. “Isabelle’s execution.”
She nodded, shifting enough to brush a hand over his while he gripped the mug. “Minnie told me after I kept pestering her about why you left. If you’d rather be alone…”
“No.” He finished his coffee and set it aside to join her at the hearth, leaving them close enough that she could see the day’s worth of stubble on his jaw. “No, I wouldn’t.”
Her hand found his forearm, stroking along the tense muscle there. Now she could see a tired relief in his eyes, and when he spoke again, she sensed the words had long lived in his heart unsaid. “There’s nothing to grieve for. We hated each other for years. But seeing the end today took me back to the beginning, too. It’s hard to think about when we had just become mates. How our future—and the pack’s future—seemed so sure.”
“You were in love,” said Cora, gently.
He smiled, but it was humorless. “I don’t know. It felt like it at the time. Then I found out what she was willing to do and realized I was the dumbest fella alive.”
Then he looked at her. “The day we met, you asked why I left the pack. Are you still curious?”
When she nodded, he continued. “Isabelle was part of the reason. She was the personal guard of the alpha-king’s youngest daughter, who was about to be married to the alpha-prince of a rival pack. I was told to investigate the prince for any flaws and soon found he was insane and had killed others close to him before. I warned Alpha-king Saxby, but he told me to forget what I had found. To tell no one. The original plans of marrying off his daughter for an alliance wouldn’t change. We were sending her to her death. Her own father hoped for it. In a pack, there’s no higher word than the king’s, but I had to do something. I trusted Isabelle with the truth and a plan to help the princess escape before she traveled to the other pack.”
Then Hayes stopped and rubbed the back of his neck. The wildness of his eyes had nothing to do with the reflected light from the fire as he stared into the flames.
Cora could easily guess the rest of the story. “But she betrayed you. Oh, that—I should have shot her instead. And all those Saxbys had the audacity to scold you about loyalty. Rats have more compassion.”
Her hand jumped over her mouth after the outburst, but Hayes only laughed a little. “Don’t, Bunny. I always like your moxie. Anyway, Jane found out what happened and helped me escape the cell I was put in. We both fled into human territory, unable to do anything for the princess.”
“Hayes, I’m so sorry.”
He shook his head. “The past is the past. If nothing else, today showed me that. Regret gets you nowhere, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t still bite at me. Maybe if we hadn’t been mates, I would’ve been more clear-headed about her. Maybe I would’ve trusted someone else and been able to save Princess Liana.”
Cora shifted closer, hating how painful the mere sight of the she-wolf must have been for him. “Your whole life was turned upside down. I think it would be strange if you didn’t have any regrets. But you know, whenever I remember something in my life that I wish I’d done differently, instead I find myself thinking of how those bad decisions led me to where I am today. Who’s to say where we would be now if even one choice was made differently? You and I would have had no reason to meet. That’s one thing, at least.”
She was staring into the fire absently when his hand brushed her cheek, coaxing her to look at him. Some of the weariness had left his eyes, replaced with warmth. Her heart beat a little faster, and she tried not to sound breathless as she added, “But that’s just the way I move forward whenever I’ve been a fool. And believe me, I’ve had plenty of practice.”
“I think you spent so much time convincing other people you’re a silly, shallow socialite that you began believing it yourself,” he murmured.
She sighed, her fingertips now feather-light against his jaw. The air between them felt hot and alive. “And I think you spent so much time fighting the horrible parts of this world that it’s the only way you know how to feel good about being alive.”
“True, but I’ve been recently learning new ways.” His voice brushed against her mouth as he moved, erasing the final inches of space between them.
His kiss was deep and slow before he broke off to bury his face into the curve of her neck. His breathing remained even and steady, but she could feel his bone-deep weariness while his body relaxed against hers. She pulled him even closer until her arms could wrap around him, aware that in that moment, he needed her presence more than anything.
Her fingers moved slowly, soothingly, stroking along the back of his neck and down over his shoulder. When they reached his collar, she could feel the heat of his body through his shirt. Again, she wondered how a wolf who walked among humans could stand wearing their stiff layers of clothing. How tiring it must be. How confining.
She found herself loosening his tie. He growled softly, nuzzling the pulse in her throat while she slid the thin strip of fabric away and moved to the buttons of his shirt. Then she felt the grit of ash against her fingers, and looked at them in confusion. There was a smudge on the inside of his collar, too. “What…”
He shifted enough to glance at her hand. His expression grew grim again. “Saxby mates are tattooed with each other’s blood over their hearts. When one dies, the survivor’s tattoo crumbles into ash.”
She pushed open his shirt collar to better see the lines left on his chest. They were smeared but still vaguely resembled a stylized crescent moon. Her heart ached for him. “Your own version of a sigil reminding you of the life you’d lost, each and every day.”
“You had it much worse,” he said, quietly. “Mine is a symbol, not a binding. I was free to rebuild myself again.”
“Were you?” She glanced up at him. “Or were you feeling just as trapped by your past as I was by my future?”
His eyes were a dark gold while he studied her, their wildness reminding her of when she’d seen him as a wolf. Her gaze dropped back to the hard muscles of his chest while a feeling of what to do grew stronger within her heart. Slowly, deliberately, she wiped her hand across the remnants of the tattoo, erasing the lines. He growled, but she sensed it wasn’t a warning for her to stop. Then she shrugged off her robe and used the fine silk material to brush off the lingering ash. His heartbeat sped up against her fingertips.
“There,” she said, softly. “Now it can’t haunt you anymore.”
Then came the plaintive fussing of an infant. Cora felt Hayes tense beneath her touch while they both turned toward the doorway. A young she-wolf stood there with a baby in her arms. She stared at them wide-eyed, seemingly frozen to the spot.
“I-I’m sorry,” stammered the she-wolf. “She’s been sleeping only when I walk with her lately. I didn’t mean to…”
Hayes’ voice sounded rougher than usual. “It’s all right. Goodnight, Eve.”
When the she-wolf quickly slipped upstairs again, Cora looked back at Hayes, trying to mask her disappointment at the interruption. “I think I just got you in trouble.”
His expression left her breathless. It was as intense as their night together in his apartment, all reserve and formality gone. It told her without a word that he didn’t give a damn about being interrupted. And that he didn’t want to stop.
“Where?” she whispered, her grip strangling her robe. Would this finally be it? Could they finally be together without any care for tomorrow?
“Your room.” Then his mouth was on hers, intoxicating her with each flick of his tongue.
In the bedroom, he pulled the nightgown off her in a whisper of silk, kissing at her neck with the slight hint of teeth. She arched into him, marveling at the strength in the hands exploring her body.
“Hayes,” she murmured, ready to melt as his fingers slid up her thigh and over her hip.
“Sam.” His deep voice against her skin sent hot shivers throughout. “I’ve wanted to hear you say my name from the minute we met.”
She closed her eyes, wondering why tears welled up behind her lids even though she had never felt this good before. As his lips brushed hers, she sighed, feeling boneless. “Sam.”
He was as powerful and virile out of his clothes as she remembered, and her anticipation flared into sheer need. The bed creaked at the slightest touch, so he picked her up instead, easily holding her weight while tasting at every part of her within reach. She panted in time to his thrusts, clinging onto his broad shoulders while his power pushed her ever closer to cherry-sweet release. When it rushed over her, she couldn’t help crying out his name and felt him smile against her neck, his hips shifting against hers for a deeper angle that sent her straight into a second one.
Even once she had recovered, his stamina remained, keeping her to a hard, fast rhythm.
“How long do you last?” she managed.
He laughed, bringing his face back to hers. “A while. I’m a wolf.”
To her delight, he wasn’t exaggerating. They didn’t stop until dawn, finally settling together in bed. She felt inflamed and deliciously alive while he pulled her close. His eyes were closed, but one of his hands continued to stroke along her body, as if he couldn’t stop touching her.
She played with the thick hair at the back of his head, studying his face. Even in the dimness, she could already see how relaxed he appeared. “Sam?”
He looked at her, the gold of his eyes catching the last glimmer of light from the fireplace. “Hm?”
“I don’t think Mrs. Wilkes or the others will be pleased with us in the morning.”
“Believe me, Bunny, it was worth it. And I’ll keep them from scolding you.”
She smiled, settling in against him. “Cora. I think we’re past the point of professionalism now.”
His laugh was a rumble against her cheek. “Far past it, Cora.”