Alice woke up alone, blinking up at the ceiling as footsteps sounded against the roof. A turn of her head was enough to take in the wrinkled pillow beside her. Then it hadn’t all been a dream. The landslide had happened and so had the rest.
Alice ran a hand over her face, trying to understand it. She’d dated Magdalene for months before admitting what had happened with her mother. When she rolled over in bed, she could smell Colton on the sheets. An earthy scent that made her think of hips grinding together and skin slick with sweat and semen. Her perspective was changing, and the safety net of viewing him as something to feel sorry for was quickly unraveling.
When hammering replaced the sound of footsteps, Alice found a robe and galoshes to put on before trudging outside. The plastic and duct tape she’d used on the roof were now balled up on the ground beside a ladder. Colton looked down at her from where he crouched on the slanted roof. “Fixed the leak for now. Wouldn’t trust these tiles to last through another winter, though.”
Alice tried a smile through her bleariness. “Thanks.”
That only garnered another glance her way, and she realized words likely didn’t mean much to him. “Are you hungry? I can have breakfast ready in fifteen minutes.”
When he nodded, she went back inside.
She made a pot of coffee before anything else and had a cup to fully wake up. By the time Colton stepped through the doorway, the ends of his hair dripping with water, she had a plate for him loaded with pancakes, scrambled eggs, and bacon.
There was a part of her embarrassed by what had happened the night before, and at first her gaze remained on the scrambled eggs on the end of her fork. But her curiosity got the better of her, and her gaze darted to where he sat across the small kitchen table. He looked much better than yesterday, skin a healthy color and showing no sign of favoring his shoulder. Having stripped down to his undershirt, she could see that even the scar from the bullet hole had faded into a faint mark. He was certainly well enough to leave, and while the fact no longer left her stomach cramped with panic, her fingers nervously tapped against the coffee cup at the thought of long hours left to herself.
Her gaze jumped back to his face just as he glanced up. “You’re a good cook. Generous.”
“Since you’re used to starving in the woods, I thought you could do with a big meal or two.” Then Alice sighed and set down the cup to keep herself from hiding behind it. “Thank you. For… well, for last night. And for staying.”
“Still think I’ll leave you trapped here?”
She traced the cup’s rim. “It’s a worry in the back of my mind.”
“I won’t. Not if you keep feeding me like this.” It was startling how much he could say with his eyes. Just a slight lift of one eyebrow revealed the humor that was missing from his voice.
Forgetting her nervousness, she smiled.
There was plenty left to do for the attic. As helicopters emblazoned with news station logos boomed overhead in their slow circles around the landslide’s devastation, Alice and Colton cleaned up the water that had leaked through the roof, dodging jumbled furniture.
Halfway through, he noticed the burgundy trunk with the fresh fingerprints left on its dusty exterior. “So you found the pelt.”
Alice pushed stray hairs out of her eyes, realizing too late she’d left a smear of dust on her forehead. “How did you…”
“Seen it once before. Your grandmother showed me it.”
“To see if I knew how to help her bring it to life.” A sardonic gleam had appeared in his eyes.
Alice found herself wondering what her reaction would be if someone showed her a human skin and asked how it worked, and decided the only surprising thing was that Colton wasn’t more disgusted. “Is that how you do it? How you change form?”
“No. But witches always want things they can’t have. Sometimes they learn enough tricks to get them. Your grandmother made that pelt to change into a wolf through spell instead of nature.”
Alice blinked. It wasn’t every day a relative was accused of witchcraft. “You’re saying my grandmother was a witch.”
All she could think of to say was, “Well, I’m not.”
At that, he actually smiled. Only a brief twitch of the lips, and barely visible through the beard, but she saw it. “I know.”
Once the attic had been cleaned, they turned their attention to the wood pile, where the bottom logs had become soaked in mud from the incessant rain. It took the better part of a day to build a new frame on higher ground for the wood pile. The muscles in Alice’s arms shook and trembled from helping Colton cut and strip sturdy branches and small trunks to assemble the frame. By the time they reached the point of lashing the pieces together with thin green branches, she felt exhausted.
Dinner was the leftover stew. Alice found herself as ravenous as Colton, and though the silence was comfortable, neither of them spoke until they moved onto the pie, eating it together right out of the pan.
“This entire property is a disaster,” she said, an apple slice sliding off her fork as she paused to glance around, wondering what would fall apart next.
“Still a shelter, though.”
Despite the even words, something in his voice made Alice look at him. “Is it hard, slipping between two worlds? Going from man to wolf and back again?”
Colton shrugged and had another bite before answering. “It’s the same either way. Find food and shelter or you won’t make it through.”
“So it boils down to basic survival.”
He nodded. “Comfort’s nice, though.”
Working together had changed the air between them, or maybe sleeping in one bed had. Whatever the cause, Alice risked teasing him.
“Speaking of… your hair keeps falling in your face. And your shoulders twitch like it itches at the back of your neck.”
Colton shrugged. “It does.”
“I could trim it for you.”
He fell still, eyes widening as if she had just threatened to stab him.
When he said nothing, Alice prompted, “You have mats in your hair. It can’t feel good.”
Now the line between his eyebrows deepened. Minute changes in his expression, but still the closest Alice had seen him look uncertain.
“I worked as a hair stylist back in college, so I won’t do a hack job if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I don’t like blades near my head.” The words came out as a near growl.
Alice nodded, knowing not to push it.
When Colton slipped outside, she half-expected him to disappear into the forest, but he only began moving the woodpile from its old frame. And that night, while Alice lay in bed, she sensed him pausing at the doorway, his presence implying the question better than any words.
She pushed the covers back. “It’s warmer sleeping together.”
He settled against her the same as before, his larger body enfolding hers. This time, she grew aware of the hard chest and stomach against her back, of the heat of his breath at her neck. And of his cock, flaccid though it was, pressing against the base of her spine. There was a tension in the hand that had eased over her ribs, like he waited for another signal. Alice suspected that even so small a movement as leaning into his touch would send that hand sliding underneath the fabric of her pajamas.
Instead, she kept still. Even after Colton’s muscles had relaxed and his breathing slowed into the rhythm of sleep, Alice remained awake. She missed being with a man. It was a yearning she didn’t dare breathe a word of. Magdalene’s tongue would cut her for months, years even, if she ever mentioned it. So Alice had hidden that truth deep inside, polishing the urge like a pearl that need never be seen. Only now...
For nearly an hour, she listened to the clock ticking, Colton silent beside her while she tried ignoring the sensations stirred up by the heat of his body. Finally, desperate to feel the weight of his hand move to the hot ache between her thighs, she moved until the swell of her ass pressed into him. When he didn’t react, she shifted again, rubbing against a lean stomach bristling with hair and a cock already growing hard. The only signs he gave of waking up were a soft growl and his fingers flexing against her ribs.
“What’s this?” His voice sounded rougher than usual.
“An invitation.” Alice rubbed against him again before shifting her hips, hoping to coax that hand further down.
Instead, it slid up, a callused thumb rasping over her left nipple. “I don’t take orders and I’m not nice.”
“Good,” she said, and turned to face him.
He hadn’t exaggerated, ripping the fabric from her body roughly enough that her mind flashed to documentaries showing a predator tearing open its prey with each jerk of its jaws. But once she lay there naked and open to him, his touch lost that frenzy, turning slow and curious. It was dark, pitch black, and all Alice could see was a shadow of a shape above her. It was what she felt that left her breath shallow with lust.
Strong fingers traced the lines of her body. Each time she reached out to touch him in return, Colton pinned her wrists down and explored with his mouth, hot tongue always avoiding her hips and breasts even when she arched into him.
Finally, Alice groaned and let her head fall back on the mattress, twining her hands into the headboard of the bed to keep them still. “You’re stubborn as hell.”
A huff of laughter above her. “So are you.”
Before she could respond, he found her breasts, drawing out her voice with teasing pinches before one hand slid down to her swollen cunt and squeezed. Alice thrashed against him, panting as he stroked her thighs, slicking them with her excitement before spreading her legs wider. When he stretched over her, all hard muscle and hot skin, she nuzzled into his neck, the mats in his hair bristling against her nose as she took in his earthy smell of iron and musk and sweat. She was sweating, too, shaking even before his teeth caught her throat to keep her still. Then the head of his cock pressed in.
Exciting, the pain and pressure of him stretching her open. It had been so long… and a dildo felt nothing like a real cock. Alice’s fingers scrabbled at the headboard as he growled, beard scratching her skin, and thrust in deep. Her voice turned ragged.
Alice needed this, the delicious friction of being fucked senseless drawing her to a primal place of no words and no thoughts. Even college escapades with boys had always included the safety barriers of condoms and being on the pill. There was nothing safe about this.
The power behind Colton’s thrusts jostled the bed frame against the wall until bits of plaster fell into her hair. It felt like his cock would split her cunt, but Alice was grinning. A wild heat had overtaken her, growing every second that his hips ground against hers. When Colton shifted, moving to suck and bite at her breasts even as he maintained that furious pace, it was all she could do to hang on to the headboard. Then his voice rose into a snarl, and he bit her shoulder hard enough to bruise. Alice shrieked, but it was bliss that rushed through her, not terror.
Colton’s body tensed against hers as he came, and she dared to run a hand into his hair, desperate to touch him as his cock bucked inside her for long — eternal — moments. When he groaned against her neck and slumped, the weight of his entire body pressing her into the mattress, her other hand slipped around to settle at his back. They panted against each other.
Then Alice felt him pull out, felt him roll over to the other side of the bed. He didn’t say a word or make a move to leave to clean himself. As Alice lay there, skin covered with sweat, she gasped for breath. Her cunt felt battered but already she wanted more. As she looked at the dim shape of Colton’s back and head settling into the mattress, Alice wondered if he knew just what kind of beast she could turn into.
Colton got up early the next morning, acting like nothing had happened. If it hadn’t been for the dried semen on Alice’s thighs and her cunt protesting every movement, she would have thought it a good possibility that she’d only dreamed the experience. After easing out of bed and pulling on her robe, she found him in the main room, dressed and shrugging on the weather coat she’d found. When he glanced her way, she smiled. He acknowledged it with nothing more than a flicker in his eyes.
“Do you want breakfast?”
He shook his head. “Need to work on the shed. There’s branches resting on it. They’ll rip off the roof.”
Ah. The cold shoulder. Wasn’t she the one who was supposed to be filled with regret?
Through the nearest window, she watched him walk through the mud and straggly tufts of grass, shoulders visibly tense even beneath that shapeless coat. When the thick whir of approaching helicopters rattled the cabin, Alice knew the day had begun for everyone else. Time for her to slide in step, too.
A knot tangled in her stomach while she stripped the sheets from the bed and put them in the washer. Some of it guilt for sleeping behind Magdalene’s back, absurd though it was, considering what Magdalene always did with Rob and Darby. And some of it confusion about Colton’s behavior. With nothing constructive to be done for either feeling, she was left with working through chores and listening to the news.
As research teams, rescue workers, and reporters crawled over the swathe of land destroyed by the landslide, Alice learned that the river, main highway, and the nearest town Perry had all been blocked by the 50 foot deposits of debris. It would take months to clear Route 519 and longer to repair it if the damage was bad. In the meantime, the Department of Transportation would work to clear the snow from an alternate route that wound around mountain peaks before dipping down the valley. Alice had tried that once, and found it turned a ten-minute trip to civilization into an hour’s trek. Reports warned the task could take a week or more to complete.
A week or more. The skin between Alice’s eyebrows pinched at the thought, and some of the old fear slid back. It sent her checking through texts and voicemails to see if Magdalene had reached out. She hadn’t. Anger hardened Alice’s heart into a rock, and she set to making bread dough, one that required a lot of good, hard kneading.
Flour covered the counter and her apron when Colton stepped through the kitchen doorway, smelling like pitch from the branches he’d cut. His hand scratched where the ends of his sweaty hair stuck to the back of his neck. She could see how the skin had reddened there, as if he’d itched it into irritation.
Without looking at Alice, he sat at the kitchen table, a muscle jumping in his jaw. “Cut it.”
She finished settling the dough in a greased bowl, watching him. The green in his eyes didn’t darken when he was angry. They simply blazed with an intensity that withered words on the tongue.
But Alice had put up with enough shit from Magdalene. She wasn’t about to let another force her into the same role. “I will if you explain why you’re angry about last night.”
“Never said I was.”
“You don’t have to say it; I can see it on your face.” When his glare fell on her, she refused to look away.
“The woman you came here with.”
Despite her dough-covered hands, Alice turned to completely face him. “Magdalene.”
He grimaced at the name. “You think she’s coming back?”
“There’s no question about it. I always panic when she leaves, but she also has patterns she can’t break away from. One of them is needing me.”
Colton’s eyes narrowed, like he didn’t believe her.
Alice tried again. “That’s why we’re still together. She has someone who will never grow tired enough to walk away, and I have someone who will never leave me. Not as long as I give her what she wants.”
“What does she want?”
Alice felt a funny little smile cross her face. “In her words, a second heart that will beat in place of her own. She once wrote a prose piece about it, in our early days together. Just for me. I was silly enough to think it romantic instead of a life sentence.”
In the silence that followed, she turned back to the sink and scrubbed her hands clean. Of course he wouldn’t understand. She barely did herself. “So why are you angry?”
“I’m getting to that.” His voice still sounded abrupt but no longer seethed.
She nodded and gave him silence to work out the right words. It lasted while she placed the covered bowl near the lit fireplace, and then while she wiped down the counter.
It was when she reached for the back of her waist to untie the apron that he moved, the weight of his hand stilling her fingers. Despite the thick sweater she wore, the heat from his body sank down to her skin as he rumbled into her ear.
“How are you going to use last night against her?”
“I don’t understand.”
He undid the knot and pulled the apron away before his fingers brushed the back of her neck. She felt his thumb hook the sweater and slide it down her shoulder. Even without twisting her head to look, she knew he’d exposed the bruises left by his bite from the night before.
“Will you tell her how you fucked a man? Let him sleep on her side of the bed?”
Shock rippled through Alice. “No. Of course not.”
Colton’s lip curled as he spoke, and his teeth flashed at her with each word. “Because of her sensitive feelings?”
“Because that’s not why I did it.”
Then Alice turned to face him, her sweater still shrugged down enough to expose the bruise marks. “I know how long a cruel act lingers. I’ve lived with Magdalene for five years now, and she’s a master at it. To use you as a revenge fuck would mean to hurt you like I’ve hurt, and I won’t do that. You’ll just have to either believe me or not.”
Colton tilted his head, the green of his eyes nearly yellow as unexpected sunlight streamed through the windows. His sneer had faded.
Alice matched his gaze with her own. “Do you still want that haircut?”
Slowly, he nodded.
She looked away, letting him win that much. “Okay. We better stay here in the kitchen since it has the best light. Sit down and take off your coat and shirt; hair will get everywhere.”
When she came back with a pair of barber’s scissors and a comb, she found Colton stripped to his undershirt and jeans, his boots trying not to fidget against the floor.
Alice knew his pride would never allow him to forgive her if she smiled at his anxiety, and so she kept her expression only pleasant while studying what she had to work with. Thick, dark hair that was wavy where it wasn’t matted. She could see where Colton had hacked areas at the front to keep any of it from falling into his eyes. Alice decided that even once she evened it up, there would be enough left to keep the waviness intact.
Aware of the tension in those broad shoulders, Alice kept her touch brief and careful while tilting his head forward or to the side to better cut the hair there. In broad daylight and so close to him, Alice noticed details she had overlooked before. A freckle on his neck. A small scar on the blunt bridge of his nose, as if it had once been broken by a blow. A streak of copper in his left iris.
Slowly, he relaxed, muscles no longer contracting at each snip of the scissors and each chunk of hair that brushed him on its way to the floor. When she started cleaning up the back of his head, she decided to risk a little teasing. Dangerous, she knew, since he already felt wary of her intentions. It could go very wrong.
But it could also go very right. The next time she had a chance, she leaned forward until her breasts just brushed against his shoulder blades. Her sweater was thick, but not that much so, and Colton went stock still. Alice stepped back as if it had been a casual accident, keeping silent while brushing the cut hairs from his skin with a towel. The next time she did it, he started to turn his head, but she stopped him with a wordless noise of warning and a snip of the scissors.
Eventually, she set aside her tools and faced him, running fingers through his hair as if testing the results. His pupils dilated.
“Not too bad. How does it feel?” she murmured.
He only frowned, drawing her attention to his beard. Her hand followed her gaze, rasping against his jaw. “I could trim this up as well. But you probably don’t like blades near your neck, either.”
Too far, and she knew it even before he caught her wrists and pulled her in until their faces were inches apart. Hunger had filled his expression, but so had suspicion. “Why are you doing this?”
“You’re not used to someone being nice, are you?”
His grip tightened, but she still wasn’t afraid, not even when he growled out the next word. “Why?”
“Why did you stay and sleep with me the night I panicked about being left alone?”
His hands flexed. “I didn’t like the smell of your fear.”
“Well, I don’t like knowing that you usually live neglected and half-starved.”
He searched her face, eyes hot, but let her ease out of his grasp. “You’re not afraid,” he said, sounding baffled. “You’re teasing me.”
Alice just smiled and rasped fingers against his beard again. “I’m not saying I’d shave this off or give it a silly shape. It’ll just look neat and groomed.”
Surprise still furrowed his forehead, but he sat back in his seat. She took it as an assent, and picked up the scissors and comb again. Trimming his beard only took a little effort; she could see where he’d tried to keep it close to his cheeks and jawline to avoid appearing like a billy goat. All that had to be done was to neaten up the results, bringing it down to bristling scruff instead of straggly, unkempt hair. From his expression, she knew better than to bring her scissors to the hair on his throat, instead letting it trail off near his Adam’s apple.
“There. Not so bad, was it?”
Colton caught her wrists again, and this time he didn’t stop. Before Alice could even gasp, his mouth was on hers. His kiss was rough, almost desperate, fingers tangling in her hair to keep her close, as if he feared losing her as soon as he let go. He growled deep in his throat as her hands pulled his undershirt loose and worked at his pants, but Alice knew it wasn’t an unhappy sound.
When he started to drag her onto his lap, she resisted, trying to ease out of his grasp. “Wait.”
His head tilted to the side, eyes feral. Still suspicious. She traced the bulge in his pants and glanced up with a smile, watching his expression change. As soon as he released her, she pulled his half-hard cock free and kissed the head until he shuddered. He tasted like he smelled, a primal tang that left her rubbing her thighs together. Wanting more, she moved her mouth. His sack was hairy as the rest of him, fat and heavy against her fingers. Alice nuzzled at it, making sure the heat of her breath reached him. His groan sent a thrill through her, and so did a flash of startlement in those sharp eyes. She smiled again, knowing he could feel it, and started to play.
There were some things that Alice knew about herself without understanding why, and the need to please others to feel pleasure was one of them. Each raspy groan she drew out of Colton pulsed throughout her, leaving her hot and swollen. Her mouth teased, sucked, toyed. Planted kisses and lathered spit. Worshipped him.
When she paused, it was only to shift her attention to the cock in her other hand, and she took a moment to admire what she saw. It looked like an ancient carving of some pagan idol. Arched and throbbing and the very image of sexual power. Alice knew from last night how the strength behind his lust could leave her limp with bliss. Now she wanted to show what she could do.
She did, taking him in deep to prove her hunger. A thrust of his hips sent his balls slapping against her chin, startling a laugh out of her, but she kept sucking, drawing him to a feverish pitch until she could see the vein that led from his hip to his cock throbbing. It was its own type of reward, how this terse, sullen creature writhed and swore under his breath just from her mouth.
Her jaw was just beginning to ache when he grabbed her by the head and held her still, fingers snarling in her hair as his cock pulsed. Grinning around him, Alice took all that he gave. But it wasn’t enough. She wanted more rawness, more immediacy, even if it meant absolute filth. She waited until he slumped back in the chair, hand now lax against her neck, and then pulled away from his cock to let the mouthful she hadn’t swallowed spill onto those heavy balls, which had started to relax and hang back down. Before he could stop her, she rubbed her face in the mess.
As Colton hissed at the sensation, she panted and moaned against him, the state of being sticky and wet and disheveled bringing her close. A fumbling with her jeans and then her hand was free to slide down between her legs. She played with her swollen cunt, sore as it was, and kept suckling at his balls, cleaning them with her tongue. Then his hand found the nape of her neck, his grip both tender and firm with control. That along with a final flick of her fingers pushed her to her own shuddering release, silent except for her gasps of breath.
The muscles in Colton’s stomach rose and fell as he panted. “Goddamn.”
When Alice recovered, she looked up without shame. Their eyes met. They were both slick with sweat, disheveled. Sated.
Before she could move away, Colton’s thumb stroked against the flushed skin on her throat, his usually sharp gaze now lazy, even amused. “Won’t let you rest until you finish cleaning me up.”
They shared a grin before she did just that.