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When I see his eyes are all black, I know I’m seeing Harou for the first time. My gasp is lost under the horrendous sounds of snapping bones and cartilage – it makes me think of a campfire and the crackling logs as they burn. Dear God, how is this not killing him? It must be fucking agony! Nathaniel’s body rapidly grows hair all over, the same incredible shade of silver blonde. He bends over, crouching as his legs and arms transition into four shorter legs with paws at the ends – paws… massive paws larger than my foot. His face elongates into a wolf’s snout, his mouth that of the beast full of sharp teeth and canines. Harou is stunning; massive, my head not even meeting his shanks, his incredible coat so beautiful in colour and as I run my fingers through it – silky to the touch.

Harou, it is so nice to meet you,” I introduce myself as I bury my face into the side of his. His head is so large, I can’t wrap my arms around his neck. He chuffs softly as he nuzzles me back, inhaling deeply. For a creature so large to be so gentle, to me is remarkable especially after knowing only cruelty for so long. I step back so I can look into his eyes, my own flicking between his. So black, but the blue remains swirling behind, reassuring me that Nathaniel is never far away. Remarkable.

Harou lays down on his belly, making it easier for me to climb onto his back. I’d never be able to reach otherwise, as it is, I struggle and have to use his hair to pull myself up. Harou never makes a sound, except to growl contentedly when I apologize. I put Nathaniel’s clothes underneath me as I lay down on Harou’s back, squeezing my legs as tight as I can and wrapping my hands in Harou’s hair like Nathaniel told me to. Harou turns back, silently asking me if I’m ready to go and when I tell him I am he takes off like a bullet.

At first, I keep my eyes closed, terrified we’ll crash into a tree or rock. But even in my self-imposed blindness I realize how adeptly Harou is moving us around obstacles, so risk looking at my surroundings. The scenery is going by at an amazing speed and in a few short minutes we arrive at a small cabin tucked into an open area surrounded by trees. Harou slows and then stops, before laying down again to let me climb down. He whimpers sadly because he knows he has to surrender to Nathaniel, so I again bury my face against his.

“I’m not going anywhere Harou, I promise. I’ll see you again soon, but I need Nathaniel now, okay?” He chuffs, rubbing his face against mine before stepping back. I turn my back to give them privacy and, in a heartbeat, I hear Nathaniel putting his clothes on.

I’m not leaving; somewhere along the very short way I made that remarkably easy decision. Nathaniel shared what I can only assume is a huge secret, asking me to accept him as is. I have a lot to learn about who he is as a person, his background, family, friends – shit – I know nothing about this man!

Fairly sure I’m in love with him, all the same.

And as much as I would like to continue blaming an imaginary head injury, I don’t know if that would really account for the fact that I just went for a ride on the back of a gigantic silver wolf. Unless I’m unconscious, no way that whole experience was imaginary. No. Fucking. Way. It was too real, too… in the moment. I know when I close my eyes, I’ll be able to see the scenery flash by me whenever I want to recall it – an amazingly exciting moment that is a fucking memory, not a hallucination. Do I accept him as he is? Them, really, him and Harou. Yes, I do. Shockingly, without hesitation.

But that is only part of the equation. Harou accepts me easily – he is an animal with primal instincts driving his motivations, and I understand that. I need to tell Nathaniel my secret now, and hope he accepts me as well. It is a lot to ask someone to take on, potentially dangerous – who am I kidding? Of course I’m dangerous. Not me personally, but the baggage I bring with me is. There is no way Stephen isn’t going to find me, and when he does, he’s going to be pissed. I know at the end of the day I’ll survive because he wants me for his sadistic needs, but anyone in his way will not. Stephen has no respect for anyone else and when he comes to town, it will be with fucking guns blazing.

No. Fuck. No. I can’t do this. This is exactly why I need to keep going – and fast. The longer I’m here, Stephen is going to want to know why. I just fucking know he’s following me, and I wonder if I’ll ever be free of his hold. Shaking my head, tears streaming down my face, my heart and my head fight for control. My heart wants to stay with Nathaniel, explore our relationship and eventually commit to one another. My head is telling me to get the fuck moving. I can’t put people innocent people in danger, and every minute I’m here, Nathaniel and everyone in the area are at risk.

His touch on my shoulder is electric, but at the same time somewhat soothing to my emotional turmoil. My entire body is trembling, and it has nothing to do with the cold. I don’t want to go, but I have to. But I need to tell him why. He needs to keep his eyes open after I leave, for his own safety, just in case. He turns me around, and I hear Harou whimper when he sees my distress.

“Emery – did we frighten you my love? Please tell me what’s wrong, it is tearing me up inside seeing you this way.” How did I get so lucky? There is so much concern on Nathaniel’s face, he looks distressed. Pained. Where has this incredible soul been all my life? Why couldn’t I have met him instead of Stephen? We could be married, maybe have a baby or two. Or would they be… pups? Don’t wolves usually have litters or something? Oh my God.

Visions of him holding our babies nearly shatter my resolve to leave, especially with his arms wrapped around me. The air is cold, but his body heat is enough to keep me warm. If, for some reason, it took Stephen years to find me, and Nathaniel and I did have children – they’d be at risk too. If anything – higher risk because they would be mine with someone else. The thought of losing Nathaniel is heartbreaking, but the thought of losing my own child… absolutely not. Especially when I could have prevented it in the first place.

“I lied, Nathaniel…” he shakes his head in confusion. “I told Harou I wasn’t going anywhere, but I have to leave Nathaniel,” he starts to protest, and I see far more black than blue in his eyes. “Nathaniel, please! Let me explain!” He takes a step back from me, and closes his eyes, breathing deeply. When they reopen, his eyes are again mostly blue.

“I’m sorry, Emery. Harou is not taking this well, and frankly, neither am I. But we’re ready to listen.” His tone is firm, like he’s ensuring Harou is hearing him as well. I ask him if we can go inside first, since it is fucking freezing out here, and he agrees, chagrined.

“Christ I’m stupid, I’m sorry for keeping you out in the cold so long.” The cabin is small but has everything you need. The main room is the livingroom, dining and kitchen all in one area, not huge but big enough to support the main hubs and still allow good flow. The back half of the cabin is end-to-end glass doors, all opening onto a simple stone patio, grass, then the woods. On one end, nearest the kitchen is a small guest bath with laundry, and a small guest bedroom with its own glass doors leading to the backyard.

On the other end nearest the livingroom is a short hallway with two doors. One opens onto a small office which he explains to me he tries to use as much as possible as opposed to going to the packhouse all of the time. I have no idea what the hell a packhouse is, so he explains it is similar to a town hall anywhere else. The other door leads to his bedroom. It features windows and doors opening to the back and side of the house, a small walk-in and small but beautiful ensuite. There is a two-sided fireplace between the bathroom and bedroom, and the romantic thought behind that intrigues me. How many other women have enjoyed that fireplace? Hmph.

His cabin is not huge but brilliantly designed, with not an inch wasted and I am greatly impressed. Wood is used wherever it can be, and natural fabrics and linens soften the hard edges. It is fucking paradise, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so instantly ‘at home’ before. Crazy.

Nathaniel starts a fire in the small fireplace, which warms the interior of the cabin in no time. The furnace kept the chill away, but I’m guessing it is set to a temperature comfortable for him. Definitely not warm enough for me so the fire is a welcome addition. He grabs us both a drink, then settles on the couch beside me.

“A few years ago I met a man named Stephen Brown, and I fell head over heels for him.” Harou growls in jealousy, and I can’t help but smile. No man has ever cared about me in this way – with Stephen it is all about possession and ownership, nothing more. I know that now, it unfortunately took me a long time to figure it out.

“He told me he was a stockbroker, and that is where his money came from. He treated me well, but the gifts weren’t what I liked about him. Money doesn’t matter to me – it was how he treated me. I grew up in the foster system so finally having someone other than my best friend love me was so heady, I saw nothing but rainbows and fucking unicorns.” I take a deep breath because the rest of the story is harder to say. I have no doubt it is going to be hard for Nathaniel to hear, and part of me is worried how Harou is going to respond. His need to protect me already seems… strong. Christ – I can’t do overbearing again.

“When he started knocking me around, I knew I had to run.”

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