**I must start again by first apologizing for the delay in story. Part of that is me finishing the sequel to The 12th Witch, which has a deadline. Part of that is the chicanery at the EDJ, which is just…I don’t even have words. But the sequel is done, except for a bit of polishing, and the job is what it is. So here we are, back with Lane and Walker, for episode 11. Enjoy!**
Archer was an adorable wolf. He was smaller than his father, and even in his wolf shape, and had the gangly, long-legged awkwardness expected of a teenager. Even after everyone else shifted back and got redress, Archer stayed as a wolf. And even though I wasn’t a shifter, it made sense to me, that he would want to. After the trauma he’d been through, it was easier to stay in animal form where he didn’t have to think as much. As a wolf, he was all instinct and base emotion. Plus the magic of the shift was healing, and though mental healing wasn’t as quick or complete as the physical, it still helped.
Which is why I had a snoring teenage wolf in my back seat.
“Thanks for taking us home.” Walker’s voice was soft, as though he didn’t want to wake his son.
“Yeah, of course.” I reached across the center console to grab his hand. I gave it a squeeze, and then stroked my thumb over the back of it. I wished I could keep hold of him, but the road was dark and curvy, so I needed both hands. I brought his hand to me and set it on my knee before taking hold of the wheel again. Walker’s soft sigh told me I made the right choice.
It was a relief to be in physical contact with him. It was a strange sensation for me. To need that connection. I’d always liked physical affection, and it had been a part of my past relationships that I really enjoyed. And I wanted that with Walker. But it was more than just want. It really felt like a need, and I didn’t quite know what to do with that.
“I’m going to be honest, Walker. I don’t know what this thing is between us.” I had to take a breath and get my thoughts in order, but as I did, Walker let out a tiny, hurt sound that had me jumping in. “But I know I’m drawn to you. I want to explore what it is. But there’s a lot we need to talk about too, okay?”
Walker didn’t respond, and when I glanced over, I couldn’t really make out his expression. It was too shadowed in the car. But there was a stillness emanating from him that settled uneasily in my gut. Internally, I squirmed, and needed to fix it.
“Up on the right.” He lifted a hand and pointed. “The driveway is on the other side of that oak.”
I put on my blinker, though there were no other cars on the road, and as I made the turn, Walker pulled his hand away. I felt the loss keenly, and a whimper bubbled up in my throat, but I bit it back, not letting it escape. But my resolve hardened, and I was determined to sort this out. I couldn’t imagine leaving this between us.
I parked and turned off the engine. Walker was out of the car in a flash, but I was quick to follow. And I would keep following until he told me, explicitly and in no uncertain times, told me to leave.
Walker didn’t even bother trying to wake Archer, though he did stir a little as his father picked him up. Though Walker wasn’t as tall or muscular as some of the other wolves, he had no problem lifting the wolf. Archer let out a little grumble, but stayed sleeping. I jogged ahead to get the door.
“Keys are in my left pocket. Thanks.” The neutrality of Walker’s tone made my stomach drop. But I didn’t comment as I fished out the keys—in a very polite manner—and unlocked the door. Pushing it open, Walker brushed by me and headed for the hallway. “I’ll be right back.”
I took a breath, holding it for a few seconds, before letting it out slowly. He was coming back, he hadn’t asked me to leave, and that was positive. I was restless, unsettled, and I didn’t know why. It was completely out of character for me. But then again, the whole day had been a roller coaster for me, so it made complete sense.
Except the second I rationalized it that way, my brain totally disregarded it. Yes, the day had been full of twists and turns, ups and downs, but that wasn’t why. It all had to do with Walker, and needing him near, and knowing he was unhappy.
Knowing it was my fault but not what I’d said.
Walker came back, his footfalls nearly silent, and just seeing him helped ease the tension in my gut. The only light was from the lamp beside the couch Walker must have left on, and it barely illuminated his face. The carefully blank expression he wore turned my stomach sour, and I took three steps toward him before catching myself.
“How is he?” I asked, voice low.
Walker’s lip quirked up at the corner. “He’s…okay. Sleep is good for him. He’ll probably shift in his sleep. He’s home, safe and sound, thanks to you.”
And there was another reminder of why this wasn’t the right time. Why I should just support him but not try for anything more. The thought made my stomach cramp. And Aeron’s words replayed in my mind again.
More than that, there was no reason we couldn’t figure this out between us but take things slowly while he and Archer healed.
“What did I say to upset you?” I took a few steps closer and so did he. We were in touching distance now, but he didn’t reach out and I was too anxious to.
“You said you don’t know what this is between us.” Walker kept his voice soft, but I could hear the edge of hurt in it. “I thought it was obvious.”
“Tell me. Please.”
Walker took a breath, then another. He stepped closer, making sure he held my gaze. And then said the word that made the bottom drop out of my world.