Dagen was saying his goodbyes when I walked out front. Susanna took my glass from me and patted my back. Her hand on my hot skin felt uncomfortable.
My father walked to me, leaving Dagen at the gate. “Walk back with him.” He nodded to the house. “Everyone, back there will be fine.”
I looked at the house. Leo waived and walked inside. “Is it alright if I come back to look for him? I don’t need to stay,” I shook my head.
My father looked confused. “I know your busy but make time to come back to visit me. You are always welcome here.”
I hugged him tightly. “Thank you.” Susanna handed me my empty bag and lightly coaxed me toward Dagen.
“He can’t sleep in the Grove. Dagen needs to leave,” she explained.
Dagen held the gate open for me. I slithered past, not touching him and took one last look at the house. Leo was nowhere to be seen.
“Are you feeling okay?”
“Yes, I’m fine, thanks for asking. Are your shoulders better?” I crossed my arms in front of me and kept a distance between us.
Dagen shook his head and scuffed the dirt path. “My shoulders are completely healed.”
“I’m sorry about all this.” I tossed my hands out, looking around at the primitive landscape.
“Why are you, sorry?”
“Walking a dirt road at night is not the level of sophistication I imagine you’re used to.”
“I’m perfectly happy outside with nothing. A knife and some matches would be nice, but I don’t need them. I’ve spent more than half my life in places like this.”
I looked at him and chuckled. “Really? Leo mentioned you told him you lived as a wolf for three years.”
“Living as a wolf is easier. You don’t think or worry about anything.” I nodded my head. He stepped closer and reached for my hand. I crossed my arms. “You don’t need to be embarrassed with me,” he snapped.
“Embarrassed? I almost fucking ate you. You came very close to either dying or needing to kill me to survive? I know you told Leo your glorious story about living as a wolf to get rid of him.”
“He asked me. I gave him a truthful answer. He still needs time to heal. Did he tell you how he walked out and found his wounds weren’t healed yet? He needs more Grove time to heal properly.”
“No, he didn’t mention it,” I looked back toward the house. The road was empty. “Why doesn’t my blood heal his old wounds?”
“Human DNA doesn’t always respond well to magic blood.”
My skin felt even hotter. I dropped the bag off my shoulder and took off my shirt, leaving only my tank top and bra. The metal underwire was red hot. I unhooked it and wriggled free, dropping it in my bag. Dagen grabbed my bicep.
“My God, you’re burning up.” He felt my forehead and pulled me off the path.
“The hedge portal is only fifteen minutes down the road,” I protested.
“There’s a stream right over the ledge. We can get back on the path once you cool down.”
“Susanna mentioned you can’t sleep in the Grove. Why?” Dagen looked at me strangely.
“That’s a very old story.” We hiked down a slope to the water. A thin stream trickled through the trees and rocks. He sat me down, took off my shoes, and set my feet in the cold water.
“Like your birthday and anything else personal about you. I could pull the information out of you.” I looked at my hands in the moonlight. “Frankly, I don’t have the emotional fortitude to dig through your memories, Dagen. The thought fucking terrifies me.
“Your scars. How did you get them, and where did you go to school? What’s your favorite band or car or football team? I don’t know anything about you.”
“I was born April first, sixteen-seventy-nine. Here in the Grove. I trained. I didn’t go to school. Things were very different. Music and cars pick a generation. There are so many.
“Music, now. Bob Seager, Jimmy Hendrix, Tool, The Cranberries, but I still like to listen to Billie Holiday while I drink. Before recorded music, we played folk songs—people sang together. It was so much better than listening to a record. I like live music.”
Dagen smoothed cold water on my arms and on my neck.
“Jesus, no wonder you’re so controlling you’re a Taurus. I bet you have a Scorpio rising. If we went out someplace with music, would you dance with me?”
“Yes. I didn’t know you liked to dance. When’s your birthday?”
“July seventh nineteen-ninety-six. I’m cancer, one of the few sun signs that can tolerate Taurus.”
“See, fate.” He pulled my shirt out, soaked it in the stream, and wrapped it around my neck.
“Why does my skin feel so hot?”
“I’m guessing the transforming took a lot out of you. You’re burning up. Let’s get back on the road and get you home. We need ice and Malou.”
“You can’t keep saving me. At some point, you need to walk away. What are your boys doing while you’re here?”
“The woman you saw at Meyer’s recital is my housekeeper. She’s been with me for decades and stays with them when I need help. It all works because the boys don’t need to be watched.”
“Wait, that means you’re three-hundred-forty-one years old? Kind of a disturbing age gap. I pushed on Dagen’s chest and squeezed the muscles on his arms. When will I stop aging?”
“I would say twenty-five, but I don’t know anything about shadow lineage. We’ll figure this all out.” I ran my hand down his arm and interlaced my hands with his. He leaned closer to me and pulled me to him.
“I’m so sorry I hurt you.” I leaned my head on his chest.
“Don’t be. I can take it. I’m fine.”
“Your accent, your voice, I love the way you say my name—the language you use. I know the feeling of the words like I’ve heard them all my life, but it wasn’t enough to stop me.
My wolf heard you and woke up.
“The dragon liked your voice but already calculated how to reach the villagers. I was toying with you before I took your head off and started my spree.
“Once she heard Leo’s voice, my wolf ripped the dragon scales off my legs with her teeth. Promise, If I ever lose control, you’ll give me to the angels so I can’t hurt anybody.”
“You have my word.” I put my arms around his neck and kissed his cheek.
“Thank you. The truth was too ugly for everyone else to hear, but I wanted you to know.”
“Tell me your dark secrets, and I’ll tell you mine,” he snickered.
“My secrets are boring?” I ran my fingers through his hair. “I bet yours are much more interesting.” Dagen raised his eyebrows.
“We need to get you home. I’d like to stay with you tonight.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yeah, I need to properly thank your wolf for saving my ass.”
On the way down the road, I walked a bit closer, letting our fingers intertwine. We talked about music and cars and the places he’s lived. He didn’t stop when we reached the hedge maze portal. Still new to the process, I took a deep breath before following him inside.
The early evening air was cool. Only a few minutes elapsed since I left Malou puttering in the kitchen. My body felt heavy. I struggled to move my feet forward. Dagen walked ahead, talking about what he wanted to make for dinner. He looked back and stared at me, confused.
“I’m so tired.” I closed my eyes. I’ve been awake for almost two days.”
Dagen’s woodsy charcoal and mint scent filled my lungs. I wrapped myself around him as he lifted me into his arms.
“Did you say mashed potatoes?” Dagen’s laughter filled the space around us. He put me down to walk inside the house. “I swear the Grove has a different gravity.”
Malou felt my skin and decided on white willow bark and an ice pack. I met them back in the kitchen for dinner. I told Malou about my new talents. She listened intently.
“I’ll get the house ready for meetings, Dagen. You know there will be requests made once word gets out.”
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but Clan leaders will want you to marry into their bloodlines,” Dagen explained.
“Not going to happen,” I scoffed. “The only bloodline I’m interested in is yours.” Dagen was quiet. Malou pulled out her phone and excused herself. “I won’t be accepting outside requests.”
Dagen took my plate while I was in mid fork swipe.
“Hey, those are really good,” I protested.
He dropped our dishes in the sink and pulled me off my kitchen chair. His hands shivered as he led me through the house to my bedroom.
He closed the door and turned to look at me. “You can’t play with me like this. You just lost Henry to the White and Leo is in the Grove for months. You must be grieving.”
“You said you wouldn’t share me. I can’t share you. I don’t want secrets. I’m tired of being angry. This is an opportunity for me to try your version of love. I can’t promise anything more. You want to start over, and I don’t want to lose you.”
“No new people,” he clarified. “No secrets?” I pulled my shirt off and walked toward him. “Alerie, I don’t need to start over. I need you back.”
My wolf spun in my chest. I could feel Dagen’s wolf follow her. “Are they going to let us have this one?”
“Doesn’t seem likely.”
I nodded toward the bathroom. I ran the shower and led Dagen through before the wolves took us over. I moved him into the cool of the patio and slid to my knees. Taking him into my mouth, he filled every inch. He wasn’t expecting it, and I was happy to surprise him.
The wolves took over, moving us into a more traditional pose. Eventually, after having their fill, they gave us back control. I was happy to feel his hands on my skin and his mouth on mine again.
“Don’t fight me. Let me grab you. Let me move you,” he panted.
“Tell me in Gaelic, and you can do anything you like.”
“Na bi a’ sabaid rium, leig dhomh grèim fhaighinn ort. Leig leam do ghluasad.”
It didn’t take me long to understand his rough moves. He didn’t want to hurt me. He wanted me to submit. His hands cradled every move, and his kisses followed every rough grab and slap to my skin.
“Na fàg mi leam fhèin a-rithist. Tha gaol agam ort.”
“Oh my God, what’s that mean?”
“Never leave me alone again. I love you.” I kissed his neck, distracting him for a moment.
“Show me how to love you. Tell me what you want me to do.”
A little bedroom noise wasn’t going to distract him the next time he told me he loved me. Eventually, I would need to parrot back the most overused three words in the English language.