Forgotten Wolf

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7 The Substitute

“Chris,” I whisper in shock.

Shit what’s he doing here!?

His hard hazel eyes are locked on mine, neither of us speak or move for what feels like an eternity, but is likely just a minute or two. He smirks and I break first, dropping my gaze.

He grunts in response,“Sorry to disappoint you, Jace had other more pressing matters that required his attention.”

I can still feel him staring me down. “No worries, Ethan is in the den, he’s still out,” I trail off as my heart threatens to break out of my chest.

“Kicking me out already, eh? Thought you said dinner was soon?” He says with a raised brow. He’s toying with me now and it makes me bristle.

‘Touché’

“You’re welcome to stay, there’s plenty. I just need to start the barbecue.”

Two can play this game.

“Why don’t you grab a seat on the deck, I’ll be out in a few minutes with the food.” He nods and heads out.

I reach in the liquor cabinet and grab the whiskey since it’s going to be a long night. I pour myself a double strength mixed drink, tuck it back away before grabbing the veggies and dip and head out. I set them down in front of him, and go over to light the BBQ.

Chris just sits there looking at the veggies with a frown, so I ask, “Not a fan of veggies?” He grunts again.

Ugh, use your words man.

“They are just vessels for dip, what kind of dip do you like? Something a little spicy?” After a small nod, I realize he must be related to Ethan.

I head in and mix up some red pepper jelly and dip and head back out, pausing by the back fridge to grab him a beer. Once outside, I hold it out for him but he seems distracted, so I give his shoulder a gentle squeeze to get him to take it. He snaps out of his deep thought and stares at me before grabbing the beer and nodding thanks.

After checking the BBQ, I take a seat across from him and dig in, though I stick to my safe Caesar dip. He hesitantly tries the dip with cucumber and a surprised look takes over as he grabs for more. “This is actually pretty good, what is it?”

Success!

“Red pepper jelly that Trish makes, mixed with ranch. Has too much kick for me,” I say with a nervous laugh.

He continues to dip the veggies and munches away. “You should send a case of this with the next order, Xavier loves hot stuff too.” I simply nod, sipping my drink as I sit back and study him while he’s busy eating.

I feel an intimidating power rolling off of him, which makes me feel uneasy around him. He is ruggedly handsome I hate to admit, with sharp hazel eyes contrasting against his tan skin. His sharp jaw is strongly defined even with the light stubble. He’s got his own set of cuts, the faintest bruise on the side of his neck, and small scars here and there. His nose has clearly been broken at least once but has healed well and just adds to his manliness. A slight blush creeps on my cheeks, and I drop my gaze just in time as I see him look my way.

“So what’s your secret?” He asks.

“Sorry?” I reply confused.

“Ethan, he’s had a rough time since his parents died. Everyone has tried to help him, but he won’t stay anywhere, he barely sleeps, doesn’t talk. I don’t know what else to do to help him anymore.” Frustration and desperation lace his voice as he runs his hand through his short black hair.

“I don’t know honestly, food I guess?” Clearly this is not the answer he’s expecting as he raises his brow, clearly needing more.

“When I first saw him at the market he wanted cookies but I don’t think he had money so I bought him a couple, he finally took ’em, no thanks or nothing, just ran off. He came back later and I gave him cherry tomatoes, mini cukes, and apples.” He nods but doesn’t interrupt.

“I saw him each weekend at the market and gave him snacks. He started sitting with us, never says anything, just listens and eats. To be honest, I didn’t think he could talk, he’d nod and shake his head occasionally but that’s it. I saw him at the rez a couple times and waved, but that’s all.”

“I was surprised when he showed up here this afternoon, and shocked when he talked to me,” I say with a shrug.

Now that catches his attention. “And what did he say?” Chris asks as he narrows his gaze.

“Not much, he noticed I wasn’t delivering anymore and I missed the last market.” He frowns at this but I can’t read why. “He looked exhausted, I told him to lay down after he ate but he said he didn’t want to because of bad dreams,” I trail off.

“I told him I’ve been having bad dreams and sleeping poorly too, but I gave him my necklace to help change his dreams. And he’s been sleeping ever since. Like four hours now?”

He’s quiet for a while, reflecting on what I said. I grab the steaks from the house and a fresh beer, as his is almost empty, and make my way back to the BBQ.

“Thank you.” I hear over my shoulder and turn to see him looking at me for the first time with a softer expression. I just nod and turn back to the BBQ.

I hear him open the new beer and walk over to me as he passes me my drink, which I take a big gulp of. “So what’s haunting your dreams then?” His proximity is distracting as I feel my heart start to race again.

I take another sip before answering, “Just some confusing dreams, I don’t even remember most of it. I just jolt awake and feel more tired than when I fell asleep.” I refuse to mention his role in it.

“Dreams can be a way to allow us to tackle things that overwhelm us in the waking world. Sometimes they try to tell us things,” he replies, to this I scoff.

What is my dream trying to tell me then? Something about him, but what? I’m always trying to run away from him but can’t get away.

“What are you remembering?” He asks, clearly noticing me lost in my own thoughts.

“Nothing,” I lie. He frowns, clearly not believing me, so I add, “Really, there’s only little bits and flashes.”

“What’s your interest?” I ask skeptically and a bit annoyed. He just shrugs but waits for my answer.

“There are flashes of memories and then some memories are wrong,” I trail off and he frowns. “Like it was something that happened then it’s twisted, the other person is someone different suddenly. A man grabs me and I can’t get away,” I say with a shudder. I hear a low growl; he looks pissed again but not at me.

“Can you go grab the plates from the counter, it’s ready,” I say, changing the subject since now he seems angry again.

He walks off to the kitchen, and I let out a sigh.

Man, he’s intense.

He returns a moment later with two plates in hand. I dish up the steaks and double baked potatoes and we take a seat.

“Now I see why Jace is always over here,” he murmurs more to himself after a few bites.

I can’t help my laugh, which earns a grumble. “What’s with that, thought you guys were like brothers.”

He sits back and glares at me, but it lacks it’s regular intensity and now he looks like he’s sulking. “We are like brothers. What else does he tell you on your dates?” He practically spits out the last part.

Now I’m thoroughly confused and mildly annoyed.

“What does it matter what we talk about?!” I snap. “First of all, if we are dating or messing around or whatever that’s between me and him.” Evidently this is not what he wanted to hear, as he’s scowling and clearly pissed now.

Good.

“Second of all, we just shoot the shit like normal people, listen to music, and eat good food. It’s once a week when he picks up the order and he’s here for like a couple hours.” He seems to relax a bit at that. “And lastly I’m not dating him, we are just friends.”

“I don’t date.”

“Sorry, I just don’t like thinking my best friend is keeping things from me.” Now he’s the one avoiding eye contact, but still I see a flash of relief and embarrassment.

“Did you ask him?” He shakes his head no, so I continue, “Well how can he tell you that something isn’t even a thing when you don’t even ask him?”

His response is going back to the grunts. The back door creaks open and Ethan pops his head out.

“Hey, you hungry?” I ask and he nods. “Grab a fork.” He quickly ducks back in and returns a moment later with fork in hand. I slide my plate over with still half of my steak and potatoes left, which he happily digs into.

“How’d you sleep?”

When Ethan looks up from his feast, his golden eyes have a new light to them and he gives me a small smile.

“Better. Thanks,” he says quietly before turning back to the plate. I’m happy he finally got some good sleep; nearly six hours worth will make a difference. “Sorry, Uncle Chris.”

“Don’t worry about it buddy, I’m just glad you’re feeling better.” He sits there watching his nephew inhale my plate before sliding his own over.

Once Ethan is done, I walk them to his truck, where he tucks Ethan into the back seat. Ethan fingers the necklace hesitantly as he sighs and goes to take it off.

“Keep it.” I smile at him and he grins, tightening his hand around the carved moon. Chris shuts the door and walks up to the driver’s side door.

“Thank you, for everything,” he trails off. “Thank you for taking care of him, and calling Jace to let us know where he was. And thanks for dinner, now I know why he’s always wanting to head over here,” he says with a small chuckle. For the first time tonight, a genuine smile spreads across his face and his stunning hazel eyes take on new light as the amusement dances in them.

‘Holy shit he can smile!’ ‘And it’s a thing of beauty.’

“No problem, anytime,” I say with a shy smile. He raises a brow and I blush, realizing I’ve accidentally invited him for dinner again.

“In the spirit of honesty, Jace wasn’t busy tonight. I was standing there when he got the call, and I wanted to see what he was rushing off for. So I told him to watch the place while I came instead. And I told him not to tell you I was coming.”

I frown, but at least he’s being honest. “Well, are you satisfied?” I say with a challenge, to which he simply nods.

“I’m also sorry for the way I acted the last time you delivered.” I nod, what else can I say? He reaches for the truck door but I’m distracted. Seeing movement out of the corner of my eye, I turn my head to see my wolf is back.

I hear a low rumble from Chris as he sweeps me behind him, eyes locked on the wolf. “Relax Chris, he’s harmless,” I say, trying to reassure him.

He doesn’t break his stare down with the wolf. “That’s no pup, and he’s certainly not harmless,” he says lowly. The wolf, who has always been pretty chill, does not seem to like Chris at all. His hackles are raised, head held low with teeth bared. Neither are backing down.

I grab Chris’ arm to get his attention. “Don’t worry about it, get Ethan home. I’m heading in for the night anyways. He just stops at the back there on his way through sometime.” He frowns but nods and waits until I head in before driving away.

I take one last look at the wolf and give him a smile before I turn in for the night.

Chris may not like him, but I’m comfortable with him walking around.

I don’t need long to drift off to sleep, and for the first time in weeks I sleep soundly straight through to the morning.

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