Flash Fic Friday

**Prompt this week is a good one so we both wrote to it! Waking up and deciding to go back to bed. Enjoy!**

I woke and stretched, feeling twinges and aches in all the best placed. a smile came unbidden to my lips. I hadn’t intended to fall into bed with Pedro last night. It never even crossed my mind. Until he looked at me, those dark eyes filled with lust, and when he leaned in and kissed me, I was powerless to resist. I didn’t even want to. Maybe I hadn’t realized that our friendship was growing toward more, but the moment he held me in his arms, I knew there was no place else I’d rather be.

Behind me, Pedro shifted and I froze. The morning after, things could look differently. Pedro wasn’t one for repeats. At least that’s what he’d always told me. But here I was, still warm from his body, still feeling all the things we did last night. And I wanted more. In the cold light of morning, I knew last night wouldn’t be enough. Not for me. And that meant I needed to get up and get out before he woke up. Later we’d go back to just friends, I was sure. But I needed to make my escape while I could if we had any hope of getting back to that.

Slowly, carefully, I slid off the mattress, doing my best not to jostle the sleeping Pedro. He snuffled and turned over, burying his face in the pillow. For a moment, I was transfixed by the slope of his back. The way the sheet had slid down revealing the top of his ass. His brown skin so inviting against the white sheets. I wanted to get back in bed, curl up around him, feel him against me. but I knew better. So instead I turned away, and practically tiptoed around the room to collect my clothing.

I was just reaching for my shirt–how had it ended up on top of the curtain rod?–when he gave a soft snort and his breathing changed. I froze, holding my breath, hoping he’d go back to sleep.

“Dante?”

I nearly moaned at the sound of my name in his sleep roughened voice. I had to take a second to steel my resolve. Then I whispered, “Go back to sleep.”

“Can’t.” He yawned, then smacked his lips. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him sit up. “Where’re you going?”

“Um. I–”

He shook his head, his hair flopping across his eye, and he batted it away. “Don’t.” He sighed, and averted his eyes. “I mean, you don’t have to go. Unless you want to. I’d, uh, I’d rather you didn’t.”

The uncharacteristic hesitancy in his voice gave me pause. I left the shirt where it was, and turned to face him. His dark lashes fanned across his darkened cheeks. Sleep tousled hair and the pillow crease on his cheek somehow added to his appeal. He looked edible. I wanted to devour him.

As I looked closer, he lifted his gaze to mine. And in those fathomable depths, I saw things I never thought I’d see from him. Affection. Concern. Desire. Pedro had the most expressive eyes I’d ever seen. It had been the first thing I noticed about him, and over our friendship, I’d learned that his eyes said all the things his mouth didn’t.

Right then and there, I made the decision not to go. I dropped the clothes, slid between the sheets, and pulled him in. He didn’t hesitate to fold around me. With a contented sigh, I kissed the top of his head.

We’d have to talk but that could happen later. Right now, I needed to hold him close. Feel him breathing in sync with me. I wanted nothing more than to go back to bed. With him.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is simple: a teacup that brings back memories. Enjoy!**

Fifty years in a house accumulated a lot of memories. I couldn’t do much of the packing myself, but I still supervised. Walking from room to room, trying to keep out of the movers’ way, making sure everything was packed into the right boxes. Some were going to the children, others to Goodwill. Just the essentials were coming with me. After so long, it was nice to downsize.

“Dad?”

I looked up at my son, who looked so much like his father it was ridiculous. He had Gene’s blue eyes and dark hair, a contrast to my brown eyes and blond hair. Simon had been the first one Gene and I told when we’d finally gotten together, and he’d been the most supportive. His mother had too, come to that, God rest her. My own children had taken longer to come around. But Simon had accepted it from the first, and took great delight in shocking his friends by introducing both his fathers.

“Come look at the china cabinet. Tell me what you want.”

I took his hand and let him lead me into the dining room. The behemoth piece of furniture was going with the rest of the set to an antique shop. Simon didn’t want it, said it wouldn’t fit into his house.

We started going through the things inside. China and special glasses. The beer steins from our trip to Germany. A glass owl from Austria. And there, at the back, a bone china tea cup with gold on the rim. I reached for it with shaking hands, my arthritic fingers not quite able to grip it. Simon helped, pulling it out, making sure I didn’t drop it. I touched the fine handle and tears filled my eyes.

“Your pop got that for me. There was a whole set, but we couldn’t afford it at the time. But he knew how much I loved it. Wanted me to have it. I only drank from it once, you know. He made me tea and I drank it. And then we put it away, so it would never get lost or broken.”

That had been in our early stages, when Gene and I were still sneaking around, terrified of getting caught. He’d already left his wife, mine had died, but still we were afraid. Back then, we could have been killed just because of who we loved. I’d told Gene to leave me, insisted that, unlike me, he found women attractive too. He should go and find another wife. I wanted him to be safe. I didn’t care about myself, but Gene…he could be safe.

“I’ll make sure it’s packed with extreme care, okay? Pop wouldn’t want anything to happen to that.”

The move was necessary, but I still couldn’t quite wrap my brain around it. I nodded, staring at the cup, wanting to hug it to my chest because I couldn’t hug my husband. The pain of that, after nearly thirty years together, was stifling.

“Dad, it’s okay. Pop is going to be fine. But it’s smarter to live in the city, closer to his doctors. He might be seventy-five, but a heart attack isn’t going to slow him down.” Simon grinned, and draped an arm around my shoulders. “He’s not leaving you. Never would.”

“I know.” I took a deep breath, then another, and blinked away the tears. I had to be strong for Gene and for Simon. Soon, I’d have Gene back in my arms.  “You oversee the rest of the packing. I’m going to go see your father.”

Flash Fic Friday

**As promised, the conclusion to Nathan and Jesse’s story! You can read part 1 here, if you missed it last week. Ivan and I decided to break it into two parts, so last week you saw my guys break up. And this week, they make up. Enjoy!**

I knew about seven seconds after I’d done it, that breaking up with Nathan was the wrong thing to do. I mean, I’d done it for all the right reasons. As much as we loved each other, as good as the past two years had been, I knew we couldn’t go on the way we were. I couldn’t. I was worried and scared all the time, convinced I’d get the call that he was dead. Missing him so hard when he was gone that I could barely function. I fell apart when he was gone, and I just couldn’t keep doing that to myself. It wasn’t healthy

Turns out saying goodbye didn’t mean I stopped missing him horribly and worrying incessantly. Seems like something I should have realized sooner.

But I still stayed away. Didn’t call. Didn’t worry about the things of mine that had gravitated over to his place and were living in his closest and drawers and cabinets. A week passed. Then two. And every day I had to remind myself I wasn’t Nathan’s anymore, that I’d ended things for a very good reason. That the hurt would lessen over time and we’d both move on. And I wouldn’t spend every waking minute, and even most of the sleeping ones, missing and worrying about him.

“How are you still moping? You broke up with him, Jesse.” Rhea’s voice cut through the sadness on the fifteenth day.

I scowled at my sister and pulled the throw blanket up higher around my neck. “Doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

“It should.”

I ignored her and she eventually went away. She didn’t get it. She’d never been in love like I’d been with Nathan. Still was. And it would take a long time to move past it. There’d always be a Nathan-shaped hole in my heart, no matter what I did or who I loved in the future.

On day twenty-two, I had a revelation. It happened when I finally dragged myself out of bed and attempted to make coffee, which was never as good as what Nathan could brew. The TV was on in the background, and the news was reporting shots fired and officers down the night before. My knees nearly gave out as I scrambled into the living room, scrabbling for the remote to turn up the volume. My heart didn’t even settle after it was reported that the officer was from the police force, had only been grazed, and was expected to make a full and complete recovery. But in that moment, I knew without a doubt that being with Nathan and knowing what was going on made the worrying about him so much easier. The not knowing was infinitely worse.

I sat on the couch, waiting for my pulse to slow to somewhere back toward normal. What had I been thinking? I’d been selfish to leave him. Because I knew the man who’d been sharing my life for the past two years. And I’d made our separation all about me. In the process, I’d forgotten about the things Nathan needed. How he felt grounded when he got to come home to me. How I helped him leave his work at work, and just enjoy his life. And even leaving that out of it, we were just plain good for each other. We learned how to take care of each other over the years. We laughed, we talked, we loved. All the good was so very good. And I’d thrown it away.

I couldn’t get my phone out fast enough. But I didn’t call Nathan. Instead, I dialed his partner, the marshal who’d had Nathan’s back for a decade.

“What do you want?” Lou’s gruff voice, even filled with venom, made me smile. Nathan’s best friend, and my friend as well. I knew he’d take Nathan’s side, had wanted him to, but I loved to hear it anyway.

“Is he home? You’re not on assignment?”

Lou growled. “Why in the fuck should I tell you? You broke his heart, you piece of crap.”

“And I was wrong. And I want to fix it.” I didn’t bother to tell him I was hurting too. He knew it. But he didn’t care.

“Jesse, I swear to Christ…”

“Will he talk to me, Lou? If I go over there, will he shoot me down and shut me out? I was wrong. And I don’t know if he’ll forgive me but I need to try.”

A beat of silence, and then he huffed. “Why?”

“Because I love him and need him. Because he needs me. We need each other and our lives are better with each other. If we can get over what I did, that is.” I dragged in a breath, my heart constricting at the thought, and it took me long moments to realize Lou hadn’t responded. “Lou? Will he talk to me?”

“Yeah,” was the gruff response. “But this is your one chance.”

“Thank you.”

***

I thought I would be nervous when I finally got to Nathan’s, like when I’d shown up to end things, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was determined and filled with peace. This was my man, and I knew I was wrong. I would take full responsibility and lay my heart at his feet. He might kick it away, stomp on it, but I didn’t think so. And I’d spend however long it took to make it up to him, show him I’d never do it again.

Nathan opened the door about sixty seconds after I knocked. He looked haggard, beaten down, but his face lit up for a split second when he saw him, before quickly shutting down into his”cop face.” It broke my heart to see it, but I’d done that to him, made him look at me like that, and I would do anything in my power to fix it.

“You here for your stuff?”

“No.” I took a deep breath. I’d rather have done this inside, but I hadn’t earned that right. If I had to do this on his porch where his nosy neighbors could see, then so be it. “I’m here to beg forgiveness and tell you I was wrong and I miss you and I love you more than life. I made a mistake. And if you’ll have me back, forgive what I did, I’ll spend the rest of my life showing you.”

For a moment, Nathan didn’t say anything. His posture softened just a little, I thought. His gaze roamed all over my face, taking me in, assessing whether or not I was telling the truth, I was sure. I stood there, trying not to fidget, letting him look.

Eventually, he took a breath. “What about what you said? The worry and fear and all that. It’s valid, bab–Jesse. And if you can’t–”

“It’s a million times harder to worry about you and not know what’s going on.” I took a chance and moved a few steps closer. Nathan dropped his arms to rest at his sides, but he didn’t move otherwise. “When I know, when you keep me in the loop, I’m scared and worried. And miss you like crazy. But not knowing where you are or what you’re doing, the worry is so bad it’s debilitating. I’d rather love you and worry about you, and have you with me, then be terrified without you.”

He didn’t say anything to that either, but I knew he was listening. His gaze was fixed on mine, and I could see the warmth in his eyes that wasn’t there before. I took it as a good sign, and gave him a tentative smile.

“I love you.”

I got a ghost of a smile at that. “I didn’t doubt that for a second.”

My smile grew. “And I know I hurt you, and it’ll be a while before you can trust me completely again. But I know you love me. Need me. Just as much as I need you. So if you think there’s a chance you can forgive me, then I’m begging you. Give me another–”

Nathan grabbed me and pulled me to him, fitting my body against his the way we always fit together. So perfectly. As his mouth came down on mine, I opened for him, savoring his flavor, loving his taste. Eventually, he pulled back, both of us needing to breathe. I hadn’t even realized he’d moved us into the house. But we were in his entryway, and I was reminded of that night three weeks ago when I’d broken both our hearts. It seemed fitting we’d make up here.

“I hoped,” he murmured against my skin, his lips on my throat. “I hoped if you took some time, you’d see it was wrong for us to be apart.”

“I should have talked to you,” I admitted, squeezing him tightly. “I don’t want you to change, or get a different job or anything. But if you knew how I was feeling, maybe we could have figured out some things to help.”

He shook me a little as he laughed. “You think? Damn, baby. Only thing I want is for you to be happy. I thought you were. Hearing you weren’t? Made me feel like I failed.”

“No, Nathan. It’s not…it wasn’t that at all.”

He nodded, and kissed me lightly, ending with a little nip to my lip. Then he grinned and dragged me into the kitchen. “We have things to work out. To talk about. To get us back to good. Solid and strong.”

“Definitely,” I agreed, gripping his fingers tightly.

Nathan opened the junk drawer and rummaged in the back, finally pulling out a jewelers box. My breath caught, and I thought back to the day he’d been so excited and insistent I come over, and I’d broken his heart. Had this been what he’d been planning? He held up the box, but didn’t open it. And a part of me was glad. I didn’t want to see. Yet.

“I want to work toward this.” Nathan’s voice was low and fervent. “And maybe we should both be on the same page before we assume things, hm?”

“Yes.” I had to choke back the emotion, because it threatened to overwhelm. “And yes. Same page. And working toward that. In the future.”

“In the future.”

I lunged at him and we kissed, sealing the deal. In a minute, I knew he’d ask to take me to bed and I’d go happily. As much as I regretted the past three weeks, what I’d done and why, it had also shown us both that we didn’t want to be apart. We needed to communicate better if we wanted to get to the point where that jewelry came into play.

But as Nathan held me tight, and my body relaxed into his, I had no idea we would get there.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week, Ivan and I have decided to once again write to the same prompt. We’ve also decided to split it up into two parts. This week you get the break up. And tune in next Friday for the next part. Enjoy!**

Waiting was never the easiest thing for me, but I was doing my best. Okay, I was watching the clock as it ticked by each minute, silently counting seconds in my head. I’d been planning this for weeks, and I could not wait for Jesse to get here. Finally, the clock struck seven, and I bounced to my feet, practically vibrating. Not even thirty seconds later, I heard the knock on the door. My man was always punctual. When he didn’t immediately walk in, I strode toward it. That was unlike him. He’d been entering my house after a courtesy knock since the second week we’d been dating. I could hardly believe it had already been two years. Unaccustomed giddiness bubbled in my stomach, excitement at the night ahead.

But when I pulled the door open, my smile fell right off my face. Jesse looked terrible. His usually spiky dark hair sported telltale finger marks, and he only pushed his hands through his hair when he was nervous. He looked pale and wan, and immediately my heart clenched. Was he sick? Was something wrong? I mentally retraced our conversation earlier that day, wondering if he’d mentioned something I’d missed in my eagerness to invite him over tonight.

“Baby? What’s the matter?” I reached for him, trying to pull him in close, but he kept me at arms length and stepped into the front hall. He didn’t walk further into the house. His dark eyes were red rimmed, and as he looked up at me, his lip trembled. He was scaring me.

He took a deep breath. “Nathan, we need to talk.”

My stomach plummeted. The dreaded sentence nobody wanted to hear. But no, that couldn’t be what was happening here. I would know. This had to be something else. Reassured by my internal pep talk, I forced a smile, and said softly, “Sure. We can talk over dinner. I’ve got–”

“No.” He voice was quiet but firm, and he stepped back further to lean against the wall. Another deep breath.

I tried again to get him to move him inside. “Let’s go into the living room then and–”

“I can’t do this anymore.”

My blood ran cold at his whispered declaration. It froze me on the spot, unable to breathe, to move, to think. Everything came to a screeching halt as I stared at his beautiful, devastated face. I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. I tried again and again, until all I managed was a feeble, “What?”

“I’m sorry.” And his voice was still soft, but there was no mistaking the determination in his tone. “I love you. So much. But I can’t keep…I can’t be with you anymore. We have to end this.”

I knew I had to be imagining this. I just knew it. There was no way my boyfriend of two years was in my house, tonight of all nights, breaking up with me. We were happy. We laughed and fucked and talked all the time. If he’d been…less than satisfied with our situation, he would have told me. I would know. But he stood there before me, looking up at me with tear-wet eyes, and the truth settled into my gut. There was no way he’d be this upset if I was imagining it.

“I don’t understand,” I said. Because I didn’t. Less than a week ago, we’d spent the whole day on my couch watching terrible movies and cuddling until it eventually led to more. And now he was standing in my entryway and breaking up with me? What the fuck?

I only realized I’d said that last bit out loud when he flinched, his complexion going even grayer. He wrapped his arms around his stomach and drew a hiccuping breath. If he was hurting this badly saying goodbye then why was he saying it?

“Talk to me,” I pleaded. I wanted to reach out and touch him but everything about his posture was screaming that it would be a bad idea.

“You’re gone all the time.” He shook his head, and straightened, his shoulders squaring as he looked me in the eye. “You’re gone all the time and you work insane hours. There are weeks when I hardly see you. Months. And I’m tired of missing you. Worrying about you. About you not coming back to me when you’ve been gone. It’s exhausting. Loving you is too hard. And I just can’t do this to myself anymore.”

Anger flashed through me first, followed quickly by hurt. I had to make a concerted effort not to yell. “You knew I was a federal marshal when we started dating. You knew what I did. That I’d be gone and–”

“And I thought I could handle it!” Jesse sighed, and dropped his voice. “I thought I would get used to it, or that the fear would lessen over time. But it just gets worse and worse. Every time you go on assignment, have to transport a witness, hell, every day you go into work! I worry I’m going to get the call that you aren’t coming home again. And I just can’t anymore.”

For a minute, everything went black, sadness seeping into me. Then I shook my head and straightened up myself, because if that was his worry, then I could do something about it. “You should have said something, baby. Told me how you were feeling. I can change things. I can switched divisions, get a desk job, so I’m home and not out in the field–”

“No!” His shout cut me off, and finally I saw some anger from him, some of the passion that had drawn me to him in the first place. “Absolutely not. I don’t want you to change. You love the job, what you do, how you make a difference. I can’t, I won’t ask you to change any of that.”

“But if I’m offering, it’s different.” I tried for reasonable, but I sounded a little desperate, even to my own ears.

“If you change for me, you’ll end up resenting me, and we’ll only have put off the inevitable.” He sighed again and pushed off the wall, taking one step closer to me. “Maybe I’m just not the right one for you, did you think of that?”

“Never once,” I responded vehemently.

His smile was sad, and my heart cracked even further. “Then maybe,” he began softly as his gaze darted around my face, before once again locking with mine. “Maybe you’re not the right one for me.”

I felt the pain in my chest as if he’d stabbed me there, and I staggered back against the wall. This was it. This was happening, and nothing I could say or do could change his mind. I’d always loved his stubborn side, the one that went after what he wanted as soon as he’d made up his mind. But now it was working against me, ending the best thing that had ever happened to me. The love of my life wanted out, and there was nothing I could do to stop him. And I wasn’t about to try and make him stay where he didn’t want to be.

Jesse knew the moment I gave in, because a tear slipped down his cheek and he gave a single nod. “I love you, and I’m sorry. But this is the way it has to be.”

He stood on tiptoe to place a kiss on my cheek, then he turned fast, yanked the door open, and was gone.

I wasn’t sure how long I stood there, but it had to be awhile. The smell of something burning finally roused me from my stupor, and I shambled into the kitchen and turned off the oven. I removed the blackened casserole from inside and threw the whole pan so hard into the sink the glass dish broke. I didn’t care at all. I was numb. I couldn’t feel anything. How could I feel when Jesse had taken my heart with him when he walked out the door?

I punched the marble counter so hard I split the skin of my knuckles. I couldn’t even feel that, and didn’t care that I’d possibly broken my hand. Ignoring the blood, I walked to the table, and blew out the candles, leaving the place settings where they were. Then I reached into the basket of bread, and pulled out the small jeweler’s box I’d stashed there earlier. Flipping the lid open, I stared blankly at the platinum rings.

The tears came then, the emotion flooding my insides and pouring out my eyes. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d cried. That wasn’t me. But it made a twisted sort of sense that Jesse would be the one to bring that out of me.

How could he just walk away?

I grabbed the bottle of Jim Beam from the shelf above the sink, shoved the box into the back of the junk drawer, turned off all the lights, and sat in the dark, chugging whisky straight from the bottle.

This was supposed to be the first night of the rest of my life. Instead, it was the night my life ended.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is hurt/comfort. And Eli and Chase are back. (You can get Enchanted Love here) Enjoy!**

I usually hated Wednesdays because that was Chase’s late night, but tonight, I was grateful for the extra few hours before his smile proceeded him through the door. Maybe by the time he got home, some of the bruising would fade and the swelling would go down. I nursed my bourbon and tried not to watch the clock, counting down the hours until Chase breezed through the door.

Far too soon, I heard the click of the lock, his footsteps, and then his jovial voice. “Hey baby! I’m home. What do you–Jesus. What the fuck happened to you?”

I tried to smile without making my lip split again. “It’s nothing.”

“The hell it’s not!” Chase hardly ever got angry, but when he did, it was never without good reason. Apparently seeing his fiance wearing bruises on his jaw and around his eye, as well as a cut lip and cheek was a good reason. He looked murderous, and he ran across the room to take my face gently in his hand and tip it so he could inspect the damage. “What happened?”

For a long moment, I didn’t speak. It wasn’t that I didn’t want him to worry, although that was a part of it. But there was only so much I could say, bound by confidentiality as I was. His fingers were gentle as he prodded at my wounds, but his eyes were blazing with fury. I needed to say something or my normally gallant and bighearted fiance would destroy the world. The thought made me smile, which made me wince, and I let out a sigh.

“A new resident.” That was all the information I needed to give. I knew he’d know I was talking about the Josef Adler House, the LGBTQ youth shelter I funded and operated. He volunteered there, but I didn’t know if the new resident would stay yet, so I was wary of sharing too much.

“One of the kids hit you? Eli, what the hell?” His voice went low, sort of dangerous, and I was quick to soothe him.

“Her father.” I sighed again, and gently eased out of his hold. “Who was under the mistaken impression his child was a boy.”

I saw the moment it dawned. The new resident was transgender, so it was even more imperative I kept things quiet. He studied me, even though the tension had drained out of him. Finally, he gave a single nod.

“You called security?”

“Of course,” I assured him. “Dimitri was already on duty, but he called in two others to keep things especially secure. There will be at least three guards on duty until this passes. And he reported the assault to the police.”

“Good.” Then he got up and walked away.

Huh. Not exactly the reaction I’d been expecting.

Not two minutes later, he returned. He handed me a bottle of water, and when I took it with my free hand, he confiscated my glass of bourbon. “You don’t need that. Take these.”

In his palm were two white pills, and I gratefully downed the aspirin with several large gulps of water. Once I was done, he took the bottle and set it on the coffee table, then lifted an ice pack and gently pressed it to the side of my face. I hissed at the cold, and Chase gave a mirthless laugh.

“Suck it up. You should have iced it right away.” He pulled the pack away and looked carefully at my cheek. “Do we need to get you checked out? He could have cracked your cheekbone.”

I tried not to melt under his ministrations. I loved him taking care of me like this, even if the reason for it left a lot to be desired. I leaned into his hold, and he immedately pulled me up against him, settling me against his chest so he could hold me and also keep the ice pack in place.

“No, I’m fine. Jenny checked me out and she assured me nothing was broken.” The NP we had on staff was well versed in every kind of bruise, laceration, broken bone, sprain, and strain. A lot of the kids we catered to faced violence at home or on the streets.

“All right. Twenty minutes with this on your face, and then a bath. Then more icing in bed.”

I wiggled a little, and tried to make my tone suggestive. “I can think of better things we can do in bed.”

Chase laughed, a more real sound, and kissed the uninjured side of my face. “Not tonight. Tonight, we take care of you.”

I hummed contentedly, and lifted his free hand so I could kiss his knuckles. I was careful to keep it away from the cut on the right side of my mouth. “I love you, Chase.”

“I love you too, baby.”

I knew he did. He showed it with his every action.

Flash Fic Friday

**This week’s prompt is for a wolf and a love confession. Enjoy!**

The radio crackled to life and Lou’s tinny voice sounded in the empty office. “He’s at it again.”

Cooper closed his eyes, worry seeping into his gut. He stood and grabbed the two-way radio, keying the mic on his way out the door. “I’m on my way.”

He pushed through the office door and beelined for his ATV. As director for the wild life rehabilitation facility, he had his own, while the rest of the staff shared. The place was almost seven hundred acres, it wasn’t like he could walk everywhere. And when he needed to get to an enclosure in a hurry, it was best he didn’t have to wait around for someone else to pick him up. Like now.

The timber wolf in question was a recent addition. The large male had been found in severely undernourished, covered with sores, and trapped in a tiny cage on some “collector’s” back property. He hadn’t been the only animal there, but the others–a black bear, a cougar, and Siberian tiger–were settling in fine. Eating, playing, healing. This wolf, however, continually became agitated, throwing himself at the fence of his enclosure, and snarling at anything that crossed his path. Cooper thought it was perhaps the twenty by twenty foot space still felt like a cage. But the staff couldn’t chance putting him somewhere larger.

But when the wolf got like this, Cooper’s presence seemed to calm him. No one could explain it. It didn’t make any sense, really.  Only Cooper could manage to soothe him. So Cooper rushed, knowing that the faster he got to the enclosure, the sooner the wolf would chill. Being that tense, that on guard, was detrimental to the wolf’s healing, and Cooper needed to know the wolf was okay.

He arrived a few minutes later, and jumped off the ATV the moment he brought it to a screeching halt. He didn’t even bother to walk around the enclosure, just went right up to the fence and got as close as he could. It took a moment for the wolf to realize he was there. But the moment he did, the wolf’s posture relaxed, and he padded over, his head held up and sniffing the air. He let out a whine/howl like noise, and sat right in front of the chain link, before laying down, head on his paws. He kept his gaze trained on Cooper but he was no longer agitated.

Cooper felt the inexplicable urge to reach through the chain link and touch the soft looking fur. Rub his fingers around those ears, along the broad head. But he knew better. For as docile as the wolf seemed in that moment, as he got every time Cooper came near, he was still a wild animal. Putting his fingers into the cage meant that Cooper would most likely be pulling back a stump. So he resisted the urge, though he sat on the ground almost close enough to touch. The wolf huffed out a breath, those amber eyes fixed pointedly on Cooper.

Three months this had been going on. Ever since Cooper and the staff had taken in the rescues from the horrible situation in which they found them, this wolf had been making strides in his recovery only to be set back with bouts of aggression, becoming territorial, and snarling and snapping. Cooper was at his wits end. Despite having worked with and rehabilitated dozens of wolves over the years, this male continued to stump him. While he wasn’t getting worse, he wasn’t getting better either.

So if Cooper sitting at the edge of his enclosure, doing nothing but being, helped this wolf, Cooper was beyond willing to do it. He’d do whatever it took to get this wolf back on the road to recovery, healthy and strong. He might not ever be able to go back in the wild, but he could be healthy and happy. And at this point, that’s all Cooper wanted. He’d been sitting here every couple of days for three months now. He’d do it every couple of days for the rest the wolf’s life if necessary

He leaned closer, keeping his gaze fixed on the wolf without making it a direct challenge. He did his best to keep his posture as non-threatening as possible. Slowly, Cooper breathed out, and whispered, “I’m not giving up on you. We’ll get you fixed up. I promise.” Cooper could swear the wolf’s ears pricked forward so Cooper said exactly what he was feeling. “I love you, buddy. It’s going to be fine.”

The wolf pushed up onto his feet, howled, whined, gave an all mighty shake, and shifted into a man.

Cooper stared at the naked man where his beloved wolf had once been. “Holy. Shit.”

 

Flash Fic Friday

**The prompt this week features the Eli and Chase from my newest release Enchanted Love! You can find buy links here, if you haven’t already. The prompt: a lost item and a replacement. Enjoy!**

It was irrational to be so upset. I knew that. And yet, I couldn’t stop the dismay that bubbled in my chest, or the ridiculous tears that prickled in my eyes. My breath was coming out in fast pants as I searched. Ripping apart our luggage, tossing things aside, moving the same piles over and over, convinced if I just shook out the right pair of pants or looked under the right shirt, there they’d be.

“Baby.” Chase’s voice was low and soothing, but I ignore him, tossing more clothes over my shoulder as I went through another pile I’d already pawed through at least a dozen times.

“Eli, sweetheart. Calm down.”

“Don’t,” I bit out, voice low, tone menacing.

He sighed, and I could hear the pain in it. Even knowing it was not because my words hurt him, and instead because he was upset that I was upset didn’t do anything to help. I groaned out my frustration, and pushed my hands through my hair, turning in a circle, trying to see if there was something I hadn’t gone through yet.

“Where did you last see them?” Chase tried, that patient tone meant to soothe. I tried to rein in my emotions enough to answer him.

“In our suite. At Halekulani Hotel. The morning we left.”

Chase’s smile was wicked, and his eyes blazed with lust. That was enough to have me remembering it too. Our honeymoon in Hawaii had been amazing, and that morning, we’d packed in a rush because we’d overslept and were about to miss our flight. Overslept because we’d spent our last night making love so many times that neither of us could move. It had been more than twenty four hours, and I could still feel him inside me.

Chase cleared his throat, and his expression turned sorrowful. “Did you, uh, leave them?”

For a second, the sadness threatened to overwhelm me. I choked down my tears and sat heavily on the end of the bed.

“I must have,” I whispered.

He made a sympathetic sound and came closer. When I didn’t move, he sat beside me and pulled me into his arms. I curled against him, reveling in his warmth and tried not to cry.

“I’m sorry, baby.”

I nodded, my stubble scraping roughly against his t-shirt. I let out a sigh. They were only a pair of flip flops. Not even new. And I knew it was silly to be so upset about having lost them, but I just couldn’t help it. But I’d been wearing them the day I met Chase. Hell, I’d met the love of my life because of the flip flops. The sentimental value far outweighed the shoes, even as expensive as they were. It was all about what they meant to me, and not the flip flops themselves. I wrapped my arms around my husband, and let his strength shore me up in the face of my loss.

***

Three days later, I was surprised when I pushed through the door of our apartment and saw Chase sitting on the couch. Wednesdays were his late days, so I didn’t usually see him until at least nine. But there he was, looking freshly showered, and smiling wide enough I was afraid his face would crack. That was a smile I loved to see, and I found myself grinning in response. How had I been lucky enough to meet him, let alone get to call him mine forever?

“Hey, baby.” He stood up. “I got you something.”

“Oh yeah?” I waggled my eyebrows suggestively. Chase laughed, and I had to shake my head. Perhaps my try at seduction hadn’t been great. Usually all I had to do was smile at him and he was ready to take me to bed.

“After.” He chuckled again, then bent to pick up a box that had been laying on the couch. “Here.”

I looked into his eyes, curious, but he wasn’t giving anything away. With a shrug, I ripped off the paper to find a shoe box. My breath caught when I lifted the lid. Inside were a pair of flip flops exactly like the ones I’d lost. A perfect replica, even if they weren’t worn and beat to hell. I lifted one reverently, and the tears sprang to my eyes. I blinked fast.

Chase’s smile softened. “Well, you know. It’s not the same as the ones–”

“They’re perfect. Like exactly the same pair. How did you…?”

He walked closer and cupped my jaw, lifting my gaze to his. “They were the reason we met. I had no trouble finding them because every detail is burned into my brain.”

I tossed the shoes on the couch and threw myself into his arms, squeezing tightly even as I lifted so I could press my lips to his. The thought he’d put into the gift didn’t surprise me–that was Chase through and through–but that he’d taken such care touched me down to my soul. I already knew I’d made the right choice when I’d claimed him as mine. This just reaffirmed it.

“I love you, Sir Chase the Goodhearted.”

He grinned, then his smile turned wicked. “Wanna see my sword?”

I cackled and raced him to the bedroom.