**Episode 12 for Lane and Walker is here! Our poor confused Lane has some catching up to do in his brain. But as I promised Alex, he won’t hurt Walker. Enjoy!!**
My brain stuttered to a halt and then promptly blanked out. I’d heard what Walker said but it did not compute. Aeron had even mentioned it earlier, but I’d dismissed it. Now, having that confirmation, when I tried to think about it, it was as though my mind skittered away from the idea. I stared at Walker, blinking, unable to speak. Move.Think.
But then he made that hurt sound again, very much like an animal in pain, and it spurred me into action. I reached for him, pulled him to me, and tucked him under my chin. He didn’t exactly melt into me, but he didn’t pull away either.
“I need a second to process this,” I said quietly, going for soothing. When I rubbed Walker’s back, he settled a little more against me. But he didn’t yield completely. “I’m a mage, not a shifter. This is news to me. So I just need to wrap my brain around it. Just give me a moment, okay?”
Walker let out a breath that sounded more like a sigh. He didn’t acknowledge me with words, but he gave a very tiny head nod that bumped against my neck. After a minute or two, he wrapped his arms around my waist and hugged me back.
I tried to sort it out in my head. Tried to make it make sense. But it wasn’t working. I just didn’t have the same context he did. My instincts weren’t as strong, as visceral, as his were. We’d only met that morning. Or really, yesterday morning as it was now after midnight. And the late hour combined with the roller coaster of a day was, perhaps, impairing my processing power.
“So.” I cleared my throat. “Mates?”
Walker pushed his face against the skin of my throat. His voice was muffled. “Yes.”
“How do you know?” I squeezed him tighter to make it clear I wasn’t dismissing him and I didn’t want him to pull away. “I mean, how do you experience that?”
Walker inhaled deeply, as though he was filling his lungs with my scent, and then let out his breath very slowly. He rubbed his cheek along the side of my throat and shoulder. “You smell like mine.”
I opened my mouth to ask what that meant, but then realized he probably couldn’t explain it any better than that. He’d always been a wolf, and scent was a huge part of his make-up. He didn’t have a human frame of reference, just as I didn’t have a wolf’s. To him, that made complete sense. And though I didn’t use my senses the same way he did, in theory, I understood where he was coming from. In the same way, he couldn’t understand why I didn’t have the same reaction as he did. Intellectually, we both understood we were different. But it was harder to conceptualize.
Walker shifted against me, and I realized my silence was agitating him. That wasn’t my intent at all. I slid my hand up his back and into his hair, rubbing at his scalp. It soothed him enough that his muscles loosened. I used my hold to tip his head back so I could look into his rich brown eyes. Damn, he was pretty.
I offered a small smile. “When I first saw you, I wanted to be close to you. I wanted to help you, of course. And I chalked it up to my drive as an MBI agent, my need to see justice done. But it was more than that, even if I wouldn’t let myself entertain that thought.”
Walker’s gaze bounced back and forth as he tried to look into both my eyes at the same time. I could practically see the gears turning in his mind as he sorted that out. Trying to process my words and align it with what he experienced.
“You said…in the car, you said you were drawn to me.”
“I did. I am.” I cupped his cheek, unable to stop myself. Really, I didn’t even try. My thumb had a mind of its own, rubbing against his slight stubble. The way Walker’s eyes fluttered at the touch heated my blood. “But my logical, human brain tried to explain it away as just the need to help you. Because I would want to help anyone who was in your situation.”
Walker took a breath. “Do you still think that?”
I didn’t even hesitate. “No.”
“No?” Walker’s gaze bored into my, and I didn’t look away either. The hope there was plain as day.
“No. It doesn’t explain my need to comfort and soothe and support you. To want to be close to you.” I smiled but took a second to get my thoughts in order. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt him in any way, but I also had to be honest. “But the truth is, I don’t know how to deal with all of this. I want you, don’t doubt that. But this is all confusing for me, and I really think we need to take things slowly and talk it out.”
To my relief, Walker nodded. “That makes sense. Do you want to know what I think?”
“I really do.”
“I think Fate put you in m path today, when I needed you most.” He spoke quietly, but with the kind of conviction that rang with complete sincerity. “You were always meant to be mine. We were always meant to be together. And when Archer was taken, Fate stepped in and brought us together.”
I didn’t believe in Fate the same way he did. I knew she had a hand in the universe, but it had never touched my life quite this way. The wolves, though, had a much stronger perception of Fate. That much I knew.
“I like that thought.” I hugged him too me again, and the breath he let out as he sagged against me, knowing I would hold him up, warmed my insides. I was about to elaborate, when I felt Oscar’s call. I’d left him sleeping in the car, but now he was awake and looking for me.
I gently extricated myself from his arms but didn’t step away. His brow furrowed, and I had the urge to kiss his confusion away. We weren’t there yet. Though I knew that time wasn’t far off.
“Oscar is awake. Is it okay if I bring him in?”
Walker’s expression cleared in an instant. “Of course. He’s your familiar. He’s welcome here.”
“Thank you.” I gave into impulse and kissed his cheek, loving the smile that bloomed across his lips. “Be right back.”
I jogged to the door, then outside and to the car. Oscar was standing on the driver’s seat, and when I opened the car door, he immediately gave me an earful at having been left. He was right, of course. I should have scooped him up and brought him inside despite his slumber. But I’d been too focused on making sure Walker was all right.
I picked up the cat, and he batted at my nose in reprimand. I laughed, and gave his butt a nudge so he’d climb up onto my shoulders where he was used to perching. Once he was settled, I strode back to the house.
“You’re never going to believe the twist Fate has dealt us now, Oscar.”