Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**We start a new serial today! Remember Agent Delaney Willis, the intrepid MBI agent? Here’s his story. Enjoy!**

The shone brightly in a cloudless sky, the light breeze ruffling my hair. Oscar was stretched out in my lap, upside down and belly exposed, snoring slightly as he dozed. He liked this kind of weather the best, and he’d investigated the lawn thoroughly before taking up residence in my lap. In deference to my suit pants, I’d settled at one of the plastic picnic tables instead of the grass, but I’d removed me shoes and socks. With my feet firmly planted on the ground, I could take the time to center myself and replenish my magic.

The past few weeks had taken their toll. The inquisition I’d just faced had made it worse. Now I was just waiting for the decision of the director and the board. As to whether or not what I had done was enough to warrant a reprimand, a mark in my file, a reassignment, or, worse, a dismissal.

I’d been an agent with the MBI for close to fifteen years. This wasn’t the first time I’d faced the internal tribunal. It was, perhaps, the worst though.

Oscar suddenly curled up and then stood, his paws points of sharp pressure on my thighs. I winced, but the cat didn’t care. He never did. And especially not when his green eyes were laser focused on something in the distance. It only took a minute before I saw what he did. My partner, Fiona Mathers, stalked toward me in that determined way she sometimes had.

We didn’t always get along, but we were compatible, and that made working together acceptable. She was far more strict and by-the-book than I was. We weren’t close, but we got the job done when we were working.

She sat next to me, leaving space between us, and she shot me a scathing look. “You fucked up.”

I shrugged one shoulder. I had, technically, done exactly that. But…”It was the right thing to do.”

Her frown got deeper. “It went against every protocol we have.”

I didn’t say anything to that. Fiona was exaggerating, but she wasn’t entirely wrong. I had broken protocol, I’d gone against regulations, and I knew exactly what I was doing when I did it. but I still maintained it was the right thing to do, and even though I valued my job and appreciated the rules, I was always going to follow my moral compass over the rules and regulations of the organization.

“I’m being assigned a new partner.” Fiona’s words dropped like a bomb. “I don’t know yet what they’re going to do with you, but since I’m being reassigned, it’s probably not good.”

It was uncharacteristically kind of her to give me a heads up, because it technically wasn’t allowed. All info should have come directly to me from the higher-ups. Not that I was surprised. I’d gone off book hard in the last case, and the two before it. I had a feeling my termination was in the works.

Oscar headbutted me and I absently scratched his ears. The bond between us thrummed with comfort. I’d called him as my familiar at twenty years old, and we’d been together ever since. Going on almost twenty years. Once again, I was thankful that familiars, once bonded, didn’t die of natural causes. I couldn’t imagine my life without this cat.

My mind wandered to Owen, the shifter familiar I’d met on a case several months ago. As much as I loved and needed Oscar, what would it be like to have a familiar who had a human shape? Who could wrap their arms around me and offer even more comfort?

Oscar nipped at my hand, and I resumed petting, sending an apologetic thought through our bond. I wouldn’t trade him for anything, and I made sure he knew it. Placated, Oscar crawled up onto my shoulder and settled himself around my neck. His version of a hug.

“Been good working with you, Willis.” Fiona bumped my shoulder with a fist, and then without another word, go up and walked away.

I sighed heavily and put my shoes and socks back on. Time to face the music. I was sure I would get a summons soon and then I’d have to face my fate.

***

I wasn’t sure why I was here, but I felt compelled to show up. Taking a deep breath, I knocked on the door. Muffled voices filtered through before Owen pulled the door open. His expression was part skeptical, part welcoming, and all him. I’d stopped in a few times in the past couple of months, just to check in with them and follow up on the Evans’ case. We’d gotten friendly, and that was part of the reason I was in my current predicament.

“Agent Willis.” At least his tone was warmer than it had been in the past. “Please tell me you’re not here on official business.”

I shook my head, a sad smile gracing my mouth for a moment. But I couldn’t hold it. “Not an agent anymore.”

Owen was silent for a long moment. “Gareth, babe, put on the coffee.” He stepped back. “Come in.”

“Thanks.” I stepped in, slipped of my shoes, and set Oscar down. He immediately rubbed against Owen’s ankles, familiar greeting familiar, before he resumed his place at my feet.

“Lane.” Gareth had a smile for me, but the concern was evident in his eyes. “What happened?”

I sighed. “It’s a long story.”

“We’ve got time.” Owen touched my back, guiding me toward the kitchen. Gareth had rushed ahead and when I stepped into the room, he was already bustling about, pouring boiling water into a French press. I sat, leaving enough room for Oscar to jump up into my lap.

Barely two minutes later, both other men were joining me at the table, mugs, cream, and sugar gracing the scrubbed wooden surface. No one spoke for a moment. Gareth and Owen were clearly waiting for me to start talking.

“I’m sorry for intruding.” My tone was heavy.

“You aren’t,” Gareth was quick to reassure. He smiled again, then focused on making the coffee. I watched him, trying to figure out where to start my story.

As if reading my mind, Owen quirked an eyebrow and said, “The beginning is usually a good place.”

The droll tone coaxed a half smile out of me. I blew out a breath. “Yes, well. I suppose that starts with you two.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here it is! Episode 9 and the conclusion for Rowan and Luca. It’s been a ride, and went places I didn’t expect, but now they’re settled. Or at least getting there! We’ll start a new one soon, but in the meantime, enjoy!**

I closed the door behind Agent Willis and let out a sigh, leaning against the cool wood for a moment. It didn’t take a whole second before Luca was behind me, gathering me into his arms and holding me tightly. I turned in his arms and rested my head in the crook of his neck. It was as though the spot had been made for me since my forehead fit there perfectly.

Luca rubbed my back but didn’t say a word, just held me and let me breathe. It was what I needed. The interview had lasted hours, Agent Willis had done his best to be kind and gentle with his questions. His partner hadn’t shown up with him, and I’d let him record everything. Before he turned on the device, he implied his partner wasn’t as compassionate as he was. Or maybe empathetic was a better word. Either way, I appreciated that he took care to ask me what he needed to but had been kind about it.

“You okay?” Luca’s voice rumbled through his chest, and it comforted me even more. I snuggled in closer, though it wasn’t really possible, and then squeaked when he picked me up. It startled a laugh out of me and I clung on while he walked the few yards to the couch and sat, settling me half across his lap. 

“Eh. I don’t know.” I took a few moments to really take stock of my emotions, then pursed my lips. “Is it weird that I feel kind of, I dunno, relieved?”

“No.” The firmness in his tone made me smile. “It’s not weird at all. You’ve been in fight or flight for most of your life. It has to be a relief to know your abusers can no longer hurt you. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

I squinted one eye at him. “You’ve been talking to Tenley, haven’t you?”

He shrugged one shoulder, not the least bit ashamed. Not that he should be. Our pack counselor was as wise as she was fair, and had a way being blunt without being harsh. Without her, I wouldn’t have made the progress I had.

“She’s going to not so gently insist I see her regularly again for a while.” I sighed, but I wasn’t upset. Right this moment, I was okay. But I was sure that wouldn’t last. I licked my lips. “I might, uh, have a little bit of a setback. So just, you know, you need to be—”

Luca stopped me with a quick kiss. “Sidestep, not setback. Healing isn’t a linear process. See her as much as you need to.”

I smiled then. He was so supportive, and I appreciated it so much. But then a thought struck, and I sat up straighter, grabbing his biceps.

“Luca, you have to…I mean…” I stopped and took a breath. “Yes, this brought up a lot for me. And it’s going to be rough for a bit.” I paused again, squinting as I thought. “Though probably not as bad as before, since I’ve come along way. But what I’m trying to say is that if you need some time for yourself, or a break or—”

“We aren’t breaking up!” It wasn’t a roar, exactly, and time was even that much would have made me flinched. But it was Luca, and I trusted him, so I didn’t.

“No, no,” I soothed. I loosened my hold and started petting. “That’s not what I mean. But your mental health is as important as mine, and even though I’m a little broken—”

“You aren’t broken!”

I continued like he hadn’t interrupted. “Doesn’t mean that I take priority. Remember? So if you need some time for yourself, I want you to take it, okay?”

He made some grumbling noises but didn’t say anything as he gathered me in close again. He stuck his nose against my neck, rubbing and scenting me. I just smiled and held on, let him do his thing, because I knew there was a comfort in that for him. When he was done, he adjusted our positions until he was lying down and I was lying on top of him.

For a few minutes, we just stayed like that, breathing in sync and listening to the ambient noises. Luca hand creeped in my hair and started rubbing my scalp. It was so soothing that I almost nodded off. I knew that was part of the stress of the day, the high emotions crashing down, but the rest was all him and the contentment I felt in his presence. A couple of months ago, I wouldn’t have expected that. Wouldn’t have believed it even. But the time spent with Luca had changed it all.

“Rowan?” his voice was barely above a whisper. 

“Hm?” I stretched a little, then snuggled into a more comfortable position.

“I love you,” he murmured, tone sure. “Just want you to know.”

“Mmm. That’s good.” 

“Yeah?”

“Mhmm.” I kissed his collar bone. “Because I love you. And it would suck if it was just me.”

Too quick to track, Luca flipped us over, so I was on bottom, and he was crouched over me, staring into my eyes. I smiled and reached for him, putting my hands on his face just so I could touch him. When he bent to kiss me, it was sweet and loving, with just a hint of the passion he’d shown me before. I was ready to take it there, but he pulled back before I could. I wasn’t worried. I knew we’d get there soon enough.

Then he settled his body weight on me, and the deep pressure relaxed me even further. It was like my own personal weighted blanket, but with the exact right amount of pressure, and I sighed happily.

This was just the start of us, and it wasn’t always going to be easy. But I knew it would be good and exactly what we both needed.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 8 for Rowan and Luca. It’s been a journey, and I’ve missed a week here and there, but here you go. There’s one more episode after this. Enjoy!**

It wasn’t exactly surprising that Luca’s Jeep was in my driveway. Over the past few months, he’d been here more often than not. He claimed he liked my house better than his, but I just thought he liked to spend time with me and knew I was more comfortable in my own space. He didn’t seem to care where we were though, so I didn’t worry about it. It had taken time, but we were pretty good at communicating, and I trusted him to tell me if that change.

That being said, I wasn’t sure why his Jeep was in my driveway now. I’d been out running errands, but Luca was working today. Or at least I thought he had been. If his grumbles this morning as he forced himself out of my bed were anything to go by, then he and his crew had a lot of work to do on the house they were renovating, and I hadn’t expected him to be back until early evening.

The timing of his return was suspicious.

It could be that they’d actually finished early. Or run into a problem that stopped their work for the day until it got resolved. Hell, it could be that he just decided to cut out early to spend some time with me. Except he’d never done that before because Luca was too dedicated to his work. So it probably wasn’t that, no matter how much I wanted it to be.

Even though the logical part of my brain tried to tell me that it was most likely one of the former reasons—since odds were it wasn’t the latter—my rising anxiety immediately jumped to worse case scenario. Panic burbled in my gut, making my stomach ache in that way it did. I had to swallow hard just to keep myself breathing normally.

I had groceries in the car, but I was too anxious to bring them all in, so I just grabbed the cold bag that contained the refrigerated and frozen items from the seat beside me and rushed into the house. The front door was open, but the screen door had a tendency to stick, so I fought with it for a second before I managed to yank it open.

“Luca!” I dropped the bag and headed toward the living room

“In here.”

“What’re you do—” I sucked in a breath as I rounded the corner and saw not only Luca sitting in his favorite recliner but my alpha perched on the edge of the couch. Both men held themselves stiffly, concern etched into ever line of their body. My heart went wild, adrenaline bursting through my veins. “What’s happened?”

Luca tried for a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes. He held out a hand. “Come here. It’s okay, baby.”

My legs shook but I managed to make it across the room and take his hand. When he tugged me right down onto his lap, I went, even though I didn’t really fit. I wasn’t worried about being too heavy for him. It took a little finagling before we were comfortable.

“What’s going on?” I asked and my voice shook but I didn’t care. Luca’s arms tightened almost to the point of pain, but the deep pressure helped to settled me. I had a feeling, just from the look on Tom’s fac, that I was going to be needing a lot of that.

“I hope I didn’t overstep by calling Luca and asking him to be here. But I felt you’d want the support.” Tom’s voice was gentle. “I received a visit from the MBI. A Special Agent Willis. He came to speak to me about your former pack.”

For a second, I couldn’t breathe, but then Luca nuzzled my neck and held me even tighter, and air moved through my lungs again. I nodded, a jerk of my head, and Tom let out a breath.

“He would like to speak with you, but he allowed me to talk to you first. Not that he had a choice. I’m your alpha.” The possessive and protective growl in his tone helped me relax even further. I tried for a smile.

“What happened?” I’d asked it before, and I appreciated Tom’s attempt to ease me into things, but it was making my anxiety worse. Luca lifted his head, and I felt more than heard the growl, but Tom put him in his place with a look.

“He and his partner were investigating your old pack due to a death—”

I let out a mirthless snort. Tom quirked an eyebrow. I gave as much as a shrug as I was able due to Luca’s tight hold.

“Death is nothing new in that pack.” My voice wasn’t as strong as I wanted it to be, but it was no longer shaking, and I called that a win.

“Perhaps.” Tom let out a sigh and clenched his hands together. “The death was a daughter of another pack, though. She was kidnapped and tortured before being beaten to death and left in a field. She was found two days later, and an investigation was immediately launched. It didn’t take long to find the culprits. Or to have them remanded to custody.”

None of that surprised me, exactly, even though it was horrible. I always knew my former alpha and his cronies were capable of such things. I just didn’t think they’d be so stupid as to do it to someone who wasn’t pack. If it was a wolf under the alpha’s control, he could almost always explain away the damage. But a wolf belonging to a different pack? That was another matter entirely.

“Who?” I had to clear my throat. “Uh, did they tell you who was arrested?”

“The alpha, two betas, and several other pack members.” Tom’s voice was low. He looked me straight in the eye. “Including your mother.”

I sucked in a breath as emotions warred within me. Most of me was fiercely glad they’d been arrested. Since the MBI was involved, chances were good that they’d not only be held accountable but that they’d get the harsh punishment they deserved. But there was also a part of me that was sad the woman who gave birth to me had been involved in it.

“Baby?”

I gripped Luca’s hands tightly where they were crossed over my chest but didn’t take my gaze off Tom. “Good.”

Tom studied me for a long moment, and then some of the tension left his body. “You don’t seem surprised.”

It wasn’t a question. I answered it anyway. “I’m not. Or rather, I can’t believe that they took the violence to an outside pack like that. But that they were capable of it? That’s not a shock.”

“Even your mom?” Luca’s voice was soft and his breath tickled the skin of my neck. I shivered but shook it off.

“The woman who birthed me was indifferent at best and cruel at worst. She allowed this to happen to me and others without doing anything to stop it. She didn’t even try. And it’s not because she was controlled like the rest of us.” I breathed deeply, using my coping techniques. I consciously let some of the tension go. I wasn’t in that place anymore, hadn’t been for years, and I was safe and secure now. Especially with Luca’s arms around me. “You said the agent wanted to talk to me?”

Tom took a moment to make sure I was actually okay. Then he nodded. “He’s willing to wait until you’re ready. He understands the trauma you’ve experienced.”

“Can, um, can Luca be there with me when I talk to him?” I gulped. “Or you?”

“He can just try and stop me,” Luca growled and then bit my neck. Not hard, it was just a nip. Just letting me feel him so I knew he was there. As if I could miss it. I turned my head to nuzzle his cheek.

“Are you up to speaking with him?”

I nodded, squeezed my eyes shut, and took a breath. “Yeah, okay.”

“All right.” Tom stood. He walked right over and cupped the back of my neck, rubbing his fingers and leaving his scent. “I’ll let him know.”

“He’s still around?”

Tom nodded. “He is. I’ll give you some time then send him over.”

With another squeeze to my neck, he left. Luca didn’t even wait until the door shut behind Tom before he turned me around and cuddled me in close. For a long moment, he didn’t say anything.

“Tighter,” I whispered and Luca squeezed so hard I could barely breathe. It was perfect.

“You okay?” He murmured into my ear.

“No.” I made it a point never to lie to him and I wasn’t going to start now. “But as long as you stay with me, I will be. Eventually.”

“Not going anywhere.” Luca’s voice was quiet but full of conviction.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 7 is finally here. Sorry for the delay. Sometimes the boys just don’t want to talk to me, or other things get in the way. But our wolves are back and they have one more episode after this. Enjoy!**

I was out watering the garden when I heard him. I kept my gaze focused on my task, but I dialed up my hearing, tracking his movements. Luca wasn’t trying to be quiet, and I smiled even though I didn’t turn in his direction. He was so good about letting me know exactly where he was at all times, so he never snuck up on me. And that took effort, because as wolves, we were naturally stealthy.

He came up alongside me, and I still didn’t turn, but I knew he could smell how happy and content I was. I wanted to see what he would do.

“Hey.” Luca’s voice was soft and low. He stepped closer, then behind me, and wrapped his arms around me, hugging me. I tilted my head, exposing my neck, and I shivered when he bents and kissed my skin. “Whatcha doing?”

I snorted a laugh and lifted the nozzle of the hose high, because I thought it was pretty obvious what I was doing. Luca playfully nipped my skin, a reprimand for my cheek that he wasn’t serious about. His amusement came through clearly in his scent.

“I meant when you were done.” Another nip to my neck, this one lower down, right at the juncture of my shoulder. A frisson of arousal shot through me, and I let out a little gasp that made Luca chuckle wickedly. I dropped the hose and turned in his arms, wrapping my own around his neck and pushing against him. 

Luca rumbled out his approval, pulling me even closer, so our bodies fit together perfectly. He pushed my hair back with one hand, then settled that same hand on the back of my neck. The arousal was still simmering, but it was pushed back but the happy hum of contentment at just being held. At being looked at like I was important and special. And as much as I wanted to jump his bones—especially because we hadn’t gotten that far yet—I was just as happy to stand there and let him hug me.

“I can be done,” I murmured, pushing up on my toes so I could reach his jaw. I kissed him there, lingering a little, and then settled back down and tucked myself tighter against him. He pushed his face against my hair at my temple, scenting me. 

“Wanna shift and run with me?” He grinned, then waggled his eyebrows, making me laugh. He kissed the smile off my face. He pulled away gently, adding a few quick pecks, and then lifted a brow as he stared down at me.

I was breathless when I answered. “Yes, please.”

He released me so fast I almost stumbled, but he was there to steady me. then he started stripping, dropping his clothes where he stood. I rushed to catch up, but stopped in the process of unbuttoning my jeans when he whipped off his boxers, whirled them in a circle and tossed them away. I didn’t know whether to laugh or moan, and in the end, the sound I made was a mixture of both.

Luca took a step toward me. I couldn’t tear my gaze from his body, all sleek muscle, toned and cut, and golden skin. He was simply breathtaking, and my libido reminded me that it did, in fact, exist. And was very healthy. I licked my lips, Luca’s expression turned heated, and he stalked closer a few more steps before freezing. I jerked my gaze to his, but he just smirked, shook his head, and dropped to one knee to let the shift overtake him.

Ah well. He was probably right. If he came closer, we’d never get to run in our fur, and we both needed it. Besides, I loved running with Luca. He made it fun and joyful, while also making me feel wholly safe and protected. I quickly got rid of the rest of my clothes, a little less carelessly than Luca had, then shifted. It took me longer than him, and by the time I was shaking my fur to settle it, he was sitting next to me. I approached, head lowered, and he licked my muzzle then rubbed against my face and neck, leaving his scent all over me.

I loved it.

He yipped and took off, and I raced after him. Wherever he went, I followed. Any time he stopped to scent the air or investigate an interesting smell, I did the same. He lead, and I was only to happy to follow.

Eventually we made it to a clearing on the far side of pack territory. I wasn’t tired, exactly, but we’d come a long way and I was pleasantly fatigued. I sat on my haunches and panted as Luca inspected the the entire space. Then he found a shady spot under a maple, laid down and yowled out a sound that I clearly understood.

Come here.

I obeyed, eager and happy, and pushed against him. Luca didn’t move, but he did give me the side-eye. I huffed out a wolf-version of a laugh, and he grumbled, so I pushed against him, tucked myself into the curve of his body, and laid down as well.

There was no denying his contented sigh. I echoed the sound.

Behind me, Luca adjusted until he could get one paw over my shoulders. I pushed in tighter. Only when we finally settled did a realize that we were cuddling there on the ground. Wolf cuddling. I’d never done it before. Not like this. I’d settled into a wolf pile before, of course. Wolves were tactile in any form. But this, with Luca, was something else entirely. It was intimate and comfortable, and meant more to me than I even could words to.

I breathed out, Luca set his bit head on top of mine, and cuddled together, content and happy, I fell asleep.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 6! Rowan and Luca are back again! Things are moving in the right direction for these two, but we’re not done with the heavy emotion yet. Make sure you click on the tags if you need to catch up. Enjoy!**

Dinner had been good, filled with nice conversation and comfortable silences. I liked that neither of us felt we had to fill silences, and that we were able to just sit in each other’s company. Ireally liked the way Luca looked at me. Like I was something precious. Now that I new what to watch for, it was plain as day. The soft affection in Luca’s expression, in his eyes, warmed my insides. Made me feel good. Special.

After Luca paid the bill—he’d insisted, but I hadn’t fought too hard—we decided to take the long route back to my house in order to further enjoy the weather. I didn’t hesitate to slip my hand into his, and I loved that his big, warm, calloused palm felt so good against mine. 

The sun was creeping below the horizon, washing the sky in dusky purples and pinks and warm gold. With that came a chill in the air, and I absolutely used the opportunity to snuggle closer and steal his warmth. Shifters in general ran hot, and I wasn’t exactly cold myself, but Luca was emitting heat like a furnace and I loved that.

Luca let out a contented growl and wrapped his arm around me. I stumbled, but he held me up, and it only took two steps for us to fall into sync again. I couldn’t stop the happy little hum, and didn’t even try. I wanted him to know just how much I was enjoying this.

“Rowan, let me ask you something.” Luca blew out a breath. “And you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to or you’re not ready, okay?”

I squeezed my eyes shut for a moment. I had a feeling I knew where this was going, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to talk about it. But Luca had a right to know, because this thing between us wasn’t casual and if my baggage was going to be too heavy for him, then I needed to know now. I didn’t think that would happen, but you never knew.

“Okay.” My tentative tone couldn’t be helped. 

“Okay.” It took him a second to continue on, and he held me a little tighter before he spoke. “I know your previous pack was…not good. But will you tell me what happened? Just as much as you’re comfortable.”

I snorted out a small laugh. Not good was an understatement. And he’d put the qualifier on there. He was such a sweetheart, and for just a second, I had a pang in my heart that I hadn’t realized that before. I mean, I hadn’t been ready for anything before, but I still felt like we’d wasted time. 

I didn’t say anything for a long moment, trying to sort out how I was feeling. I caught sight of the park ahead and I gave him a gentle nudge in that direction. It had some pretty paths to walk along, but really, I was aiming for the bench next to the willow. It was one of my favorite places in the world, so peaceful and calming, and I needed that right now.

Once we were settled, I snuggled back in. Luca let out that happy grumble again, and I threw one leg over his knee just so I could get closer. Luca seemed perfectly happy with that, placing his warm hand on my thigh.

“So, I was born into that pack, you know that right?” I peeked up at him and saw his nod, so I fixed my gaze on the middle distance so I could tell this story. I couldn’t get the words out if I was looking at him. “The alpha was a tyrant, to put it bluntly. He was mean and abusive. He ruled by force, physical I mean, and he didn’t hesitate to beat us whenever he wanted. For any infraction, real or perceived.”

This time, Luca’s growl was decidedly not happy, and even though I still couldn’t look him in the eye, I patted his chest to try and soothe him. He tugged me in even tighter, and it was as though he was using his very body to protect me.

“I learned early on to make myself small, to be as unobtrusive and unseen as possible. It didn’t always work, and we never knew what would set him off. I never knew.” I had to work to not get lost in the memories, to not let the emotions overwhelm me and pull me back. Taking a few seconds to just breathe helped. The way Luca’s scent filled my nostrils helped even more. Deciding that was enough information for now, I settled my forehead against his neck. “But I got out. I ran when the opportunity presented itself, and ended up finding a bear shifter that helped. She contacted Tom and…”

Luca slid a hand up into my hair, rubbing my scalp at the back of my head. It was so soothing I had no trouble breathing, and I made a mental note if I needed to talk about this in the future, that snuggled up and half in Luca’s lap was the best way to do it. He kept me calm and grounded.

“Anyway, lots of therapy and the support of a good alpha, and I’m okay now.” I huffed out a breath and made myself look up, so I could see his eyes. “I’m still a work in progress. PTSD and trauma response don’t just go away. But I’m better.”

Luca moved slowly, telegraphing his motion, but I wasn’t scared of him and didn’t pull away. He cupped my cheek with his other hand. His thumb made soothing circles against my skin.

“Thank you for sharing that with me.” His voice was a low rumble that made me want to crawl into his chest and live there. “I know it wasn’t easy. And I promise you right now, I’ll do everything I can to help you.”

I smiled. “I know. You’re actions have shown that.” I leaned forward, bringing our lips closer. My body was warm, and not just because of the heat he was putting off. The more I got to know him, the more I wanted him. I licked my lips and watched his expression turn wicked.

“Kiss?” His breath was a hot wash against my skin.

“Please.” It was almost a whimper.

Luca kept control, keeping the kiss sweet and easy. Gentle, but deep, making sure I felt all of it. He tasted like steak and beer and him, and I wanted to roll around in it. It was everything a first kiss should be, and set my soul on fire.

We pulled apart just as the sun set completely, disappearing completely. I was breathing hard, more from the emotions than the kiss itself. Luca didn’t say a word, just tucked me back against him. And we sat there cuddled up as the world went dark and the stars came out.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Saturday Edition! Sometimes, the words just aren’t there when it’s time for an update, but I didn’t want to leave y’all hanging, and my mind was occupied yesterday. So! Here’s episode 5 for Rowan and Luca. As per usual, I’m not sure how long this is going to be. Enjoy!**

I wasn’t nervous. I had been earlier, when I thought about a date with Luca. But now? Now I was just excited. Okay, so there were still a little bit of nerves fluttering in my belly, but they were the regular kind. The nerves that went along with excitement, of not knowing exactly what would happen, and wanting it to go well.

Because now I knew that Luca’s interest wasn’t new. That he’d been watching out for me for years. And that might have been creepy, except he’d never pushed, never demanded. Just quietly took care of things, and me, without ever expecting anything in return. Hell, he hadn’t even let me know how he felt, because he didn’t want to put any pressure on me.

He’d said as much, back on the porch, but until my conversation with Tom earlier today, I hadn’t really understood. Hadn’t really believed it, I guess. For most of my life, I’d been conditioned to think and feel a certain way about myself and the people around me. And it had taken long years and a lot of hard work to get past that. I still wasn’t completely there, but trust came easier these days. As did healthy ways to process and cope. I still had set backs. Yesterday’s panic attack was proof of that. But I was okay today because of all the work I’d done.

I was able to go to dinner with Luca today, and trust that he had my best interest in mind, because of that too.

So when the knock sounded, I all but raced to the door to answer it. And when Luca smiled at me, I grinned back. I didn’t hesitate to give him a once over—head to toe—taking in his big, muscled glory and his nice clothes and his styled hair. I didn’t even try to hide the big inhale as I took in his scent. And I didn’t question the happiness and excitement I caught from him.

“Hi.” My voice was a little breathy, but I didn’t care. “You look amazing.”

Luca preened a little, and by the glint in his eye, I knew he was showing off  just to get me to laugh. But then his smile turned soft, and he took a step closer.

“Thanks. But it’s you who looks great. Damn, but you’re beautiful.”

With how soft his voice was, I wasn’t sure he meant to say that out loud. But he didn’t seem embarrassed, and even though my first instinct was to dismiss the compliment, I checked that impulse and thanked him instead.

“Where are we going?” I asked, as I stepped out onto my tiny porch and pulled the door shut behind me. I’d already triple checked that I had my wallet, keys, and phone. But I couldn’t help patting my pockets one more time just to make sure.

“I thought Michelle’s.” Luca turned so we could stand beside each other. “It’s a nice night, and it’s only a few blocks over. I thought we could walk, enjoy the weather.”

I nodded my agreement and followed him off the porch. I liked that he stopped when he hit the sidewalk and waited for me to step up even to him. Then he fidgeted for just a second before holding out his hand. I appreciated that he hadn’t just reached for me, that he was giving me the option. And I only hesitated a second before sliding my fingers along his. His skin was so warm, and there were calluses on his palm, but there was a strength there I enjoyed. And I knew he’d never use that power against me. I felt it down to my bones.

We walked for a moment in silence. It wasn’t exactly awkward, but I could sense that there was something he wanted to say. Those previous nerves fluttered and grew just a bit. But I waited to see what it was, and hoped he’d get to it soon.

It was only another minute before Luca sucked in a breath. “I’m really glad we’re doing this, Rowan.”

Uh oh. “But?”

Luca shot me a look that lasted only a second before he faced forward again. He squeezed my hand. “No but. Well, a sorta but.”

I laughed, sure he was trying for amusing. “Okay. What’s the ‘sorta but’?”

“I’m nervous.” He gave a embarrassed kind of chuckle as he glanced at me again.

“Me too,” I admitted, keeping my tone soft. “Why’re you nervous?”

Luca shrugged one massive shoulder. “Because I’ve wanted this for a while, and I really want it to go well. Because I don’t know how to navigate your trauma to make you feel safe and comfortable, and I don’t want to do anything to upset you or trigger you. Because you’re beautiful and kind, and I’m just me.”

“Hey.” I stopped, and so did he. But he wouldn’t look at me. So I tugged gently on our still joined hands so he would face me. It took him a second, but then he met my gaze. Steady and strong, but I definitely saw the apprehension lurking there. “I appreciate the honesty. And I appreciate that you want to take care of me and make me feel safe. But here’s the thing. A relationship is two people, right?”

“Or more.” He gave me a wink which made me laugh. Then he got serious again. “But right. You and I are both in this.”

“Right. So I want you to remember two things. Are you listening?”

Luca’s lips twitched like he wanted to smile, but he kept his face very serious. “Yes.”

“Good. Thing one is that your feelings are just as valid as mine, and you have to be honest and open about them. You do not get to bend over backward or mask your own emotions just because you want me to be happy. That’s not fair to either of us.”

For a long moment, Luca didn’t say anything. And though his expression didn’t change, I could see the reeling of his mind in his eyes. So expressive. I’d have to remember that, now that I knew to look. I could clearly see that he didn’t want to agree, that he thought his own feelings should take a backseat to mine. He was a caretaker at heart, so I understood it, but it wasn’t something I would allow.

“Okay,” Luca finally said, his tone not quite solid. We’d have to work on it, but I’d take his agreement for now.

“And the second thing is, I’m going to get trigger.” I said it quietly, and I stepped in closer to him as I spoke. When I reached with my other hand, Luca was quick to take it. “Whether by you or something else, it’s going to happen. Yesterday proved that. I’ve done a lot of work, but there’s still more to do. But I know you’ll be there to support me, and help me out of a panic attack if that happens again.”

His eyes blazed with conviction as he said, “Damn right I will.”

I held his gaze as I lifted one hand, kissed his wrist, and then settled his hand against my neck. Luca’s breath caught when I tilted my head, giving him access, and though it took him thirty seconds, he finally cupped my skin, rubbing gently, scent marking me.

We both released a gusty sigh, and all I wanted to do in that moment was cuddle into him and let him hold me. The thought took my by surprise. Because even though I mentally trusted him, I hadn’t been sure the rest of me was on board. Clearly, I was all in. for a moment, I contemplated voicing that, but then realized I wasn’t quite ready to do that. So we stood there on the sidewalk for a long few minutes, just breathing the same air, his hand warm on my neck.

“All right,” Luca whispered, and he reluctantly pulled away. With our hands still joined, he gave me a tiny tug and we started walking again. “We both promise to be honest with each other then.”

It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “That’s the only way this works.”

“I agree.” He tucked me in against him, and I loved the warmth and the closeness.

“So tell me,” I said, trying to keep the happy sigh out of my voice, and going for conversational instead. “Just how long have you been pining for me?”

He groaned, but it was playful, so I let my cackle loose. Luca shook his head, but when I peered up at him, he was grinning. I laughed harder when I saw his cheeks color.

Yeah, we were going to be just fine.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode four of Rowan and Luca. Late again, but I had to sort out what was going on with Rowan. Enjoy!**

I wasn’t surprised that Tom came by to check on me. He was the best kind of alpha, the kind that took care of his pack, so when he showed up at my door, I released a breath and leaned into his touch. The scent marking soothed my soul, and when he pulled me into a quick, tight hug, the last of the tension left me. 

was surprised that the first thing out of his mouth was, “We need to talk.”

Just that fast, panic started to coil in my gut. But Tom knew me well by now, and he slid his hand to the back of my neck and squeezed tightly, holding on, which steadied me. He ducked his head so he was staring into my eyes.

“Nothing bad. Breathe, Rowan. I’m sorry my choice of words was triggering.”

I tried to wave it away. “It’s fine.”

He shook his head, a little frown marring his face. “It’s not fine. I need to be more careful with my words with you.”

“You shouldn’t have to walk on word-eggshells with me.”

Tom’s smile was kind. “No, but because I care about your well-being, it’s important that I be conscious of my words and actions.” Another pointed look. “We should all have those considerations for each other, yeah?”

He was right, of course. And that’s was yet another reason he made a good alpha. Another reason I was glad that I’d gotten out of my old pack and that Tom had taken me in. Taken care of me until I was on my feet again, and made sure I had the time and therapy to heal. 

I took a few breaths, using my coping techniques until I felt steady again. Then I was able to pull away and offer him a genuine smile and something to drink. He declined but headed for my living room. By the time I followed him in, he was already making himself comfortable on my couch. Oh. So this was going to be one of those kinds of talks.

I reminded myself, yet again, that I was safe with him. Usually, it wasn’t a challenge. But since the panic attack yesterday and the ensuing feelings, everything was closer to the surface than usual. The run had helped. Luca’s attention had helped.

“I wanted to check in with you, see how you’re doing.” Tom’s tone was conversational, and I was adept enough at reading people to know it was deliberate. It came from a lifetime of figuring out people’s tones on the fly, needing to know how I had to react to them in order to keep myself safe. 

I appreciated his effort nonetheless. “I’m fine.”

He quirked a brow. “Really?”

I almost chuckled at the disbelief in his tone. “Really.” I shook my head and blew out a breath. “I’m not back to baseline yet, but I’m getting there. Fine is an apt descriptor.”

Tom laughed then, and he relaxed even more. “Good. I’m glad to hear it. Now. You okay about Luca?”

I froze for a second, not sure how to respond, but then decided I would go with politely puzzled. “What about him?

Tom just stared at me. Just stared, no expression, blue eyes piercing me from where I sat across the room. I knew he wasn’t disappointed, just waiting me out, but I didn’t squirm and I didn’t break. I had far too much practice at being still and quiet, going unnoticed and unseen. 

“Rowan.”

Oh right. Tom always saw me. No matter what. He saw everyone in the pack, all the time. He knew us inside and out, because it was the only way he could see to our needs. I’d…not forgotten, because I could never forget, but falling into old patterns was easy when I was coming back from trauma response.

I cleared my throat. “Yeah, I’m okay.” I couldn’t look Tom in the eye, but I knew I didn’t have to. “He was really good to me and he said some…stuff. But I’m okay.”

“What stuff?”

“About his….feelings.”

Tom was so quiet for so long that I eventually looked up. Tom’s lips were quirked up in a small, and he had his hands clasped over his stomach. He held my gaze for a moment, making sure he had my attention, before he spoke.

“And what are your feelings about his feelings?”

“I don’t know yet. I don’t know him well enough,” I said, because I could be nothing but honest with my alpha. “But we’re going to dinner tonight to get to know each other better.”

“Good.” Tom’s satisfied tone made my eyes widen. I opened my mouth to ask what that meant but before I could get the words out, he spoke. “Luca is a good man, with a good heart. And he’s been pining for you. I’m glad you’re taking the time. And you can trust that he’ll respect any boundaries you set, all right?”

Pining? Really? Luca had been pining? How had I not seen that? Not noticed? I mean, granted, I hadn’t always paid attention to Luca. But Tom had clearly seen it. Was it because he was that in tune with his packmembers? Or had Luca been obvious and I’d just been freaking oblivious?

I nodded in response to my alpha’s question, but I couldn’t wrap my brain around words, so I didn’t say anything. Instead, my mind raced back, trying to think of all the interactions I’d had with Luca over the past few years. There hadn’t been many, really. We’d always been in the same room when the pack gathered, but direct interactions? There’d only been a handful of times, really.

Like about a year ago when the door had slammed, and I startled and nearly fell off the front stoop and Luca had been there to steady me. Or when I’d been sick with Lycan influenza six months ago and he’d dropped off soup and drinks a few times. Or both times a group of us had gone into the city to hit up the clubs and he’d put himself between me and rowdy, handsy patrons. Or the time the storm tore the shutters off the front of my cottage and they magically replaced themselves, fixed and repainted, before I could even think to fix them, and I’d seen Luca later with a smear of the same pale blue paint on his hands.

Oh. Oh.

I smiled then, warmth filling my belly. It helped, too, that my alpha approved.

But yes, I definitely had to get to know Luca better.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Episode 3 for Rowan and Luca. At least one more part after this but maybe more. We shall see. Check the tags to catch up if you need to. Enjoy!**

Nothing beat running in fur. There was a lot of things I loved to do in my human shape, but sprinting through the woods, wind ruffling my fur, four feet pounding against the ground as the scents and sounds really came alive was the best feeling ever. In my shifted form, my animal instincts ruled, though my very human brain still added input. It had taken years to find the balance and be comfortable with it.

Luca led the way and I dutifully followed. Not only because he was the more dominant wolf, but because I simply wanted to. We raced through trees and underbrush, sides heaving as we ran. Hitting the far edge of our territory, we looped back around, slowing some, until we reached the creek. Human me would never drink from the water, but wolf me thought it was crisp and cool, soothing my parched throat. When I was finished, I lay down on the edge of the bank. Luca pushed closer, his muzzle bumping mine. Then he lifted his head sharply, paused, then took off.

I got to my feet, listening, trying to figure out why he’d run. But before I could parse it out, he returned, a dead hare hanging limply in his jaws. Human me would be repulsed, but wolf me eyed the kill with hunger. But I sat and waited. Luca was more dominant than me, he got to eat first. And if he chose to eat it all—there wasn’t much to a hare—then I’d have to hunt my own food.

Luca approached slowly but deliberately, and laid the hare at my feet. He backed up two paces, then sat quietly and watched me. I tilted my head and whined. This was his kill, not mine. I couldn’t eat it. Luca huffed, and then let out a soft yowl. When I still didn’t move, he came closer and nudged the hare. Then he licked my muzzle and stepped back again.

It took a few more seconds for my human mind to figure it out. He was feeding me. He wanted me to eat his offering. There was a significance there, I knew, but I couldn’t quite remember why. Luca laid down, gaze fixed on me, crossing his front paws. Waiting.

I ate. Bite after bite, with him watching me all the while, until half the hare was gone. Then I brought it to him, making sure he had food too. Instead of going after the food, he cleaned my muzzle. Only when he was satisfied, did he eat the rest of the hair until there wasn’t much left to the carcass. When he was finished, I returned the favor and cleaned him. His tail thumped the ground and he let out a happy little whine.

I was inordinately pleased he was happy.

He stood, then rubbed his body along mine. Both sides and under my neck. Until I smelled like him as much as myself. Luca stuck his nose in my fur, snuffled for a moment, then let out a small bark. I didn’t dare move. But he gave me a gentle nip that got me on my feet and when he took off back the way we came, I ran after him.

Luca took a more direct route back to the pack house, so we were there in no time. He stopped by his pile of clothes but I continued on, back through the still open door and onto the porch. I shifted back to human, something that always felt like a loss. Some people preferred one shape over the other, and while I didn’t really, being in fur was more of a comfort than being in skin. Once the shift was complete, I dressed quickly and was just tugging my shirt into place when he came back in.

He gave me a soft smile. “Feel better?”

I nodded. “Luca—”

“Let me get you some more water and food.” He strode toward the house door. “You need it after your shift.”

“Luca.” My voice held a note of desperation. Confusion too, if I was honest. But it did the trick, because he stopped. He didn’t turn, but he paused at least. I took a breath. “You fed me.”

“Yeah.”

“That’s kind of a big deal.” I padded closer, my feet still bare, and even though he tensed, he still didn’t move. Didn’t walk away, but didn’t turn around either. “It’s important.”

“You needed it.” His voice was so soft.

I reached out, moving at a snail’s pace, and touched his shoulder. He jerked, a tiny movement, but didn’t pull away or shrug me off. I stepped closer so I could see his profile and put my other hand on his arm. Luca’s eyes slid closed, and he looked as though he was doing everything in his power not to move.

“Talk to me?” It was a request, because I wasn’t in any position to demand. Not only because of our places in the pack, but because I was still confused. Because of the pack I’d been born into, because of how I—along with so many others—had been treated and raised, there were nuances I didn’t understand. But back in skin, with the animal part of me receded to the background, I was able to think clearer. And I knew this meant something monumental. He was taking care of me. He fed me.

Luca looked at me then. Actually turned his head and met my gaze. And I didn’t understand everything I saw there, but I got the longing. The affection. I sucked in a breath, and Luca shuttered his expression, but when he tried to pull away, I held on tighter. He froze, then gusted out a sigh.

“You needed to heal first, before I could say anything.” His voice was still that soft, barely audible tone, but I had no trouble hearing him.

“Oh.” It was all I could get out.

Luca cut his gaze away. “If you don’t want…if you aren’t ready….” He snapped his gaze back to mine, eyes blazing. “I would never force you.”

I smiled then, because that, at least, I was sure of. “I know that. But as for the rest?” I shrugged one shoulder, trying for winsome but not sure if I succeeded. “I don’t know what I want. I don’t know you well enough yet.”

For a long, tense moment, Luca didn’t say anything. Didn’t move. I wasn’t even sure he was breathing. But then he inhaled sharply and reached out. Slowly and telegraphing his every movement, so I could pull away if I wanted. I didn’t. and when his finger made contact with my cheek, I leaned into the touch.

Luca’s voice was a deep rumble when he spoke. “Let’s change that, hm?”

“Let’s.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s the second episode for Rowan and Luca. Better late than never. And there’s more to come. Hope you enjoy!**

Luca held me tight as he led me to the back porch. It was enclosed, but as soon as he sat me on the rattan couch, he opened the windows, muttered something about fresh air, and turned around and walked out. I stared after him for a long moment, confused. He’d been so intent on taking care of me and then just left? Well, it was fine. Being by myself would work too.

But before I could even really complete the thought, he was back. He had a bottle of water in one hand and a clearly wet cloth in the other. Gingerly, he sat beside me, handed over the water, then lifted the cloth and ever so gently wiped the sweat from my face. I was too stunned to speak, let alone react, so I just allowed him to, staring at him with wide eyes.

He gave me a gentle smile and my breath caught, because I’d never seen that expression on his face. The smile became a tiny smirk, and he gestured to the bottle.

“You should drink.”

My motions were automatic, no thought involved, as I cracked open the top and took a few swallows. The cool water soothed my throat, and I realized how thirsty I was. I tipped the bottle more, ready to down the whole thing, when Luca closed his big hand over mine.

“Take it easy. You don’t want to get sick.” Luca’s voice was low, and the timber sent a shiver through me. I managed to check it.

I cleared my throat. “Why are you being so nice to me?”

Luca quirked an eyebrow. “You want me to be mean?”

I almost laughed, because I liked his playful tone and the banter was helping me to feel more settled. Usually I liked to be by myself after a panic attack, but having Luca here was helping.

“No, of course not. But just…” I blew out a breath and fiddled with the label on the water bottle, not able to look Luca right in the eye. “I’ve been here for three years, right? And we’ve never had a real conversation.”

Luca tipped his head, studying me. “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, we’ve talked.”

“In passing, sure.” I twisted the cap off, then back on. Did it again. After the third time, Luca covered both my hands with one of his. Then he ducked his head to catch my eye. “I’m okay.”

A nod. “You will be. It didn’t last as long as the last one.”

I startled at that, pulled away and Luca let me. I scooted back into the corner of the couch, staring, and Luca’s expression went blank. For a long few minutes, we both just breathed. Then I found my voice.

“I wasn’t aware that, uh, you paid, um, that close attention to me.”

With a small, quiet sigh, Luca closed his eyes. A moment later, he opened them then slid off the couch and onto one knee. He did his best to appear small, but it was absolutely impossible. He was just a big guy, broad and tall, and even crouched down, it didn’t dimmish that. But I appreciated the effort. 

“Does that make you uncomfortable?”

I let the question hang there for a moment while I contemplated that. My first reaction was to immediately deny it, to soothe and placate. But that was my old conditioning, and I’d learned better now.

“Uh, maybe a little. I mean, we’re a pack. We all look out for each other.”

The sound that escaped Luca’s throat sounded a little pained. I didn’t now what caused it, how my statement hurt him, and I was trying to decide how to ask, or even if I should, when Luca spoke instead, his voice so soft I might not have heard it if I hadn’t had enhanced hearing. 

“That’s not why.”

“What?”

Luca shook his head. “Do you want to talk to me about what happened? What triggered you?”

My stomach knotted. I really didn’t. It was stupid, to begin with. There was no reason for it. It had just been a motion, caught out of the corner of my eye, and it sent me into a spiral. I knew I was safe and protected in Tom’s pack. I should be fine. But as my therapist reminded me, trauma response was not logical.

Luca took my silence as an answer, and he didn’t force me to talk. Instead he laid a hand on my knee and squeezed gently.  “Will shifting help? I know it always helps me feel more settled.”

The change of subject was abrupt, and for just a split second, I almost asked him to explain. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, so I went with it instead.

“Uh, yeah. Yeah, it would be good to but in fur for a while.”

Luca stood so quickly it startled a gasp out of me, but Luca ignored that. He shot me a grin and it transformed his whole face. He always had an intimidating air about him, but with that huge smile, I could see something else. Something softer he didn’t usually let us see. 

“You shift. I’ll leave the door open. I’ll meet you out there in fur and we’ll go for a run.”

“Luca—” but he was gone, out the door and jumping the three steps to the back lawn. I lifted up enough to watch him as he began to strip—it was always easier to shift while naked—and his back was an expanse of smooth skin and rippling muscle. I dropped back down quickly, needing to take a second to collect myself.

Luca had turned my perception of him on it’s head. And I wasn’t sure if it was because I was still shaken or for some other reason, and I didn’t have the mental capacity to figure it out right now. And I hadn’t been lying when I said shifting helped. Being able to run in fur, to let the animal side of me have control and let the human thoughts recede went a long way to helping me feel whole.

So I stripped off my clothes, dropped to all fours, and let the shift overtake me. a few seconds of pain, then my pain receptors turned off, and it was nothing more than the tug and pull of muscle and bone, tendons and sinew, as I changed shape.

Once it was done, I shook my fur to settle it into place, lifted my nose to catch Luca’s scent, and bounded out the door after him. Everything else could wait.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

 

**Welcome to another Flash Fic Friday! Today we start a new story, and it’s going to have a least a few parts. So follow along as Rowan finds his HEA. Enjoy!**

The thing about a well-functioning wolf shifter pack was that the alpha was in charge, but didn’t abuse that power. The alpha takes care of the wolves in their protection, supports them, and lifts them up. They don’t lord their power and control over their packmembers. 

I knew first hand how being in a pack with a controlling, power-hungry alpha could be.

But that was my past, and now I’d found a good pack. One where the alpha and alpha-mate did everything they could to take care of us. Made sure we were safe and healthy and had what we needed. And took care of us when we were in trouble.

“Rowan, you need to breathe.” Tom’s voice was deep and held that note of alpha power I couldn’t ignore even if I wanted to. And since he didn’t, because I trusted him, I took a breath.

It hurt. But when I sucked in air, I realized how fuzzy my head was getting from the lack of oxygen. Tom’s touch on my neck centered me, and when I breathed again, his scent soothed me even further. Fur and forest and citrus and cotton. The breath after that was a lot easier, and the more I focused on moving air through my lungs and my alpha in front of me, the better it got.

Panic eventually receded enough that I could focus on things outside of myself. Half the pack was crowded close, but still giving me room. Tom’s mate, Josiah, was crouched closer still, and I realized his hand was on my shoulder.

“That was a bad one, huh?” Tom’s voice rumbled, gentle and soothing. I nodded, and fought the blush that wanted to crawl up my neck. I was too old to turn red with embarrassment, and I knew, logically, that a panic attack was nothing to be embarrassed about. But I was. 

It had been years since I left my old pack. Years since I’d been at the mercy of an abusive alpha and his cronies. Years of time and work and therapy. Years of being safe and cared for in Tom’s pack. I should be over these attacks, over the trauma response when a small thing triggered me. 

“I’m sorry,” I whispered, still not really having a voice. 

“None of that now.” Tom smiled and then ran his hand and wrist over the side of my neck, marking me with his scent. Reminding me I was his. I needed it right now, and I let out a grateful sigh. Tom’s smile grew. “You’re okay.”

It wasn’t a question, but I answered anyway. “Yes, alpha.”

Tom clucked his tongue, but it was playful, and we all knew he didn’t stand on ceremony. Titles were unnecessary with him. With all of us. We were a pack, and though Tom took care of us all, he didn’t see himself as better than the rest of us. 

I’d done good finding him when I finally escaped my past. 

The pack broke up, now that they knew I was okay, and the murmur of voices built as they rejoined their conversations. The insidious part of my brain tried to tell me they were all talking about me, judging me. I did my best to silence that voice. 

Tom stood, then held out his hands and pulled me up. I was shaky, but steady enough, so he stepped back. He didn’t take his eyes off me, even as Josiah stepped forward and marked me as well. When Josiah offered a hug, I leaned into the alpha-mate’s hold easily. He let me hold on until I was ready to let go. 

When I stood on my own, I felt more centered. Though I was covered in a clammy sweat and I desperately wanted some time on my own to clean up and just…decompress. Tom lifted his head, gaze searching, and then he motioned to Tenley. She nodded and turned in our direction, but before she could get far, Luca intercepted her and beelined right for us.

I sucked in a breath. Luca was big, broad shouldered and tall. He exuded confidence, and if he wanted to be, he could have run his own pack. He was decisive, blunt, and a little abrasive. The commanding air that surrounding him was a little intimidating. I didn’t know him well, but I trusted him because Tom did, even though he made me nervous.

“I’ve got him, Tom,” Luca said, his voice that deep rasp it always was. His gaze was fixed on me and he stepped right into my personal space. I fidgeted, and glanced at Tom. The alpha looked at us both, studying us for a long moment, and then he stepped back with a nod. 

Luca put his arm around my waist, tucking me into his side. Without conscious thought, I leaned into him. My blood hummed and something settled in my chest. I’d never felt anything like this, and I couldn’t even begin to explain it. I barely knew this man. We’d never really had a true conversation in the years I’d been here. The pack was large, and we ran in different smaller circles. But in his arms, tucked against his heat, I felt safe.

Luca leaned down, and his lips brushed my ear. “I’ve got you, Rowan. You’re just fine.”

I shivered. I had the inexplicable urge to curl into him even more. I knew that I could have just cuddled into him and he wouldn’t have hesitated to pick me up and carry me. For a split second, I had the almost irresistible urge to test it.

I didn’t though. 

I leaned my head on his shoulder and let him guide me out of the room, trusting him to take care of me. I didn’t understand it. It didn’t make sense. But I couldn’t spare the brain power to figure it out right now. Later. I would think about it later.

I stumbled, but Luca kept me steady. His big hand soothed up and down my back, then he pulled me in closer. I let out a breath. It was going to be okay.