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

**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.

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**A week late, but finally, here’s the conclusion of Jamie and Sean’s story! Thanks so much for following along. If you’ve missed any of the installments, you can check out the tags to catch up. There will be something new next week, but for now, enjoy!**

Were the candles too much? Probably. I didn’t want to put any undue pressure on Jamie—this was a big deal for him, that he was even trying, and he would feel worse if he was unable to go through with it—but I also wanted it to be special. Because he was trying, and he deserved all the pomp and circumstance that went with it.

I’d made his favorite hoping that would make things easier. Spaghetti with homemade meat sauce. Garlic bread. A side Cesar salad. The Pinot Noir was also one of his favorites, and it worked well with the sauce. Everything was set to perfection, to show him how much I cared, how much I wanted this to work. Both the dinner and our relationship.

I just hoped Jamie saw it that way.

I was more nervous about this date than I’d been for any other date before. Which seemed silly considering I knew how solid Jamie and I were. Or at least, how solid we were becoming. We were so much more than this. But I worried about how this would affect Jamie. If he wasn’t able to share a meal with me, would it set him back? Make him feel bad? I was pretty sure I knew the answer.

And I wasn’t certain how to help him if that happened.

I tried to remind myself not to borrow trouble. He’d said he was ready to try, his therapist thought he was as well, and so did I. Going into this with a positive mindset would help, right? Jamie wouldn’t be taking this step if he didn’t think he’d succeed.

But Jamie was mine. My wolf, yes, and under my protection. But my boyfriend too, which added a whole other layer. It was up to me to make sure he was taken care of, and I couldn’t slack for even a moment. I didn’t want to. It was a privilege and an honor to see that Jamie’s needs were met. But meant it was doubly important I made sure that Jamie came through the night unscathed.

Maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself too.

No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I heard his car pull into the drive. Another glance at the table to make sure everything looked great, and I sprinted to the door to make sure I was there to open it the second he hit the porch. Jamie’s radiant smile was worth the trouble, and when I pulled him into my arms, he came willingly, melting against me with a soft sigh.

The easiness between us was a balm to my soul. I took a breath, let it out slowly, and reveled in the feel of him pressed against me. When Jamie lifted his face, a gleam in his eye, I kissed him, slow and sweet, doing my best to let him know exactly what I was feeling.

When I broke the kiss, Jamie sighed out his contentment. “Sean.”

“Hey babe. How you doing?” I kept my voice low, not wanting to break the mood that had enveloped us.

“Fine. Good.” He glanced at me, a sheepish smile gracing his lips. “Nervous.”

“No reason to be,” I assured him, leading him inside. I kept hold of his hand even as he kicked his shoes off. “It’s all good. We can do this.”

He nodded. “I smell garlic.”

I chuckled and gave him a little tug. “Come see.”

It didn’t take more than a few steps out of the entryway before the table came into view. The pack house was one large open space, rooms that were traditionally separated by walls, seamlessly flowing into one another. The design element had been deliberate, even though open concept floor plans had been all the rage for the past decade or so. This house was much older than that, but wolves were a communal species and we didn’t like to be separated. The house reflected that.

Jamie grinned, and though there was a quick skip in the beat of his heart, it settled quickly. He squeezed my fingers and stepped in closer so our shoulders were touching.

“This looks amazing, Sean. You pulled out all the stops.” The words were teasing, and the tone definitely held a hint of amusement, but his scent was happy and pleased, and I relaxed, knowing I’d made the right choice with the table setting. He liked what he saw and he appreciated the effort I’d made.

“Only the best for you,” I said, meaning every word. Then I didn’t give him a chance to respond, simply led him to the table and pulled out his chair. “Sit, sit. Let me serve you.”

I tried really hard not to make a big deal of it as I poured his wine, filled the small plate with a healthy serving of salad, then heaped spaghetti on the bigger plate. I finished it with a flourish, placing a piece of the warm, buttery garlic bread on the edge of the plate. Once I was done, I served myself and sat next to him.

I’d thought about sitting opposite him, but decided against it when I set the table. I would have loved to watch him, see his face as we conversed, but thought better of it at the last moment. Not only did I not want him to think I was staring at him, and perhaps judging him, but I wanted to be able to touch him.I was a werewolf so I had a thing for touch, but more than that, I as a man had a thing for touching him.

For a second, awkwardness hummed between us. I toyed with the idea of saying something, but in the end, I just dug in and pretended I wasn’t watching him out of the corner of my eye. Between bites, I made silly conversation, relating the story of one of our older packmembers and the trouble he’d found himself in that morning. Jamie laughed at all the right places, and played with his food. Twirling up a bite of spaghetti before letting it go, tearing his bread into smaller pieces and pushing one through the sauce, sipping the wine in the tiniest of motions.

I kept talking and eating, all the while wishing fervently he would take a bite. I was certain that once he did, and the world didn’t crash down around him, he’d be able to take another and another. And then, as I leaned to refill our glasses—though his was only half empty—Jamie did the impossible and take a bite.

I wanted to shout for joy. Tell him how proud I was of him and hug him so tightly he wouldn’t be able to breathe. But something in my stopped me from doing any of that. It was better, I thought, to just go on like it wasn’t a big deal.

At least until the meal was over.

I ate twice as much as Jamie, but it didn’t matter. Because as we talked, he ate. Tiny bites that he he chewed for a long time, but he ate. In front of me. Without having any sort of mental break down.

When I’d cleared a second helping of everything and sat back, Jamie did the same, even though there was still a few bites left of his first helping. He wiped his mouth, and he looked a little green around the gills, but he was smiling too. Tremulous, yes, but a smile nonetheless. His hand shook as he set the napkin down.

When he threw himself into my arms I caught him easily.

He pressed his face down against the skin of my neck, breathing a little fast, so I held him tightly until he calmed somewhat. When he pulled back, his smile was radiant.

“So,” he said with a shaky laugh. “We shared a meal.”

“We sure did.” I couldn’t quite contain the pride in my voice but I figured it didn’t matter. And besides, I wanted him to know how proud I was of him. I cupped his cheek. “The first of many, I hope.”

“Yeah.” His voice was hardly more than a whisper. “Yeah, I think so.”

It was a huge step forward, and we both knew that. It wouldn’t be all smooth sailing, and we’d have setbacks, I was sure. But this was the first meal together, and before long, I had every confidence Jamie would be eating it the pack, able to put the worst of his trauma behind him.

Jamie kissed my neck, then pulled back and gave me an eyebrow waggle. “The important questions is, what’s for dessert?”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Here we are, once again with Jamie and Sean. This episode is from Sean’s POV. I thought this was going to be the last one, but now….well, they definitely have one more in them. Check out the tags if you need to catch up, but otherwise, here’s episode 6. Enjoy!**

The door opened with a creak–I really needed to remember to oil the hinges–and then slammed shut. I set aside my tablet so I could give Jamie my full attention. The sound of his walk was comforting, but more than that, his scent filled my nose. It was never completely absent these days, but always so much stronger when he was with me. I liked it better that way, and from the way he immediately sought out my touch, I knew he felt the same.

Jamie flopped down on the couch next to me, but snuggled into my side, and let out a deep sigh when I pulled him in tight. For a minute or two, we just breathed each other in. it was always that way when we were apart. And I knew, for him, it was especially necessary after where he’d been. I wanted to ask how it went, but I’d learn quickly it was better to let him bring it up. Or at least, to let him settle in first. So I just held him, face pressed against his hair.

“People keep bringing me food,” he grumbled, lips against the skin of my neck.

I fought a laugh and wasn’t entirely successful. “They’re worried about you.”

“They just knock and leave!” He sounded so indignant. “They just keep dropping off dishes with instructions taped to the top. I’m drowning in casseroles!”

This time I let the chuckle out and ignored Jamie when he punched me playfully in the arm. 

“The pack wants to make sure you’re fed, sweetheart. But no one wants to make it weird. So they’re doing the best they can.”

“It’s still weird. I eat.” His grumbling was awfully cute, even though, at the same time, I hated to hear the frustration in his tone.

I gripped his hair gently and used my hold to tilt his face up.  He didn’t fight it, and when our gazes met, he gave me a smile. I couldn’t help but kiss him, just a light peck, but the way that last bit of tension he’d been holding on to disappeared pleased me to no end.

“We know,” I assured him. “I see the strides you’re making. Never doubt that.”

He nodded. “Rinda helps. I don’t know how you found her, but…” He took a deep breath, and then another, before he was able to speak again. “I’ve done the therapy, I told you that. And it’s been with were counselors too. But none of them have made a difference like she has.”

It had taken some doing, a lot of research and reaching out to different packs across the nation before I’d even broached the subject with Jamie. Because he had told me he’d done therapy before, and that it hadn’t provided him with a long term solution. He’d given up hope after the fourth one, resolved to dealing with the issue on his own for the rest of his life. But I wanted more for him, better. Whatever outcome was best for him was what I wanted, whatever that looked like. But he needed help, far more than I could give him, and that meant I searched until I found a counselor out of a pack in Colorado who honestly felt like she could make a difference in his life.

After a month of twice weekly zoom counseling sessions, it was good to hear Jamie think he was making progress. And I’d seen it too. He still didn’t eat with the pack, but he no longer hid in the corner, doing his best to blend in with the paint while the rest of us ate. He was there and present even if he had his own meal before everyone gathered.

While I wanted him to be able to eat whenever he wanted, including during pack dinners, that wasn’t my end goal. Nor was it his. Instead it was more important to get to the root of his issues and find healing.

Jamie had a good handle on why he couldn’t eat in front of people, but he hadn’t dealt with the feelings and hurts that had caused it. I thought once he did, he’d be able to enjoy food with others again. But I wasn’t an expert.

“I’m glad, Jamie. I really am.”

He huffed out a breath, then adjusted his position so he was no longer looking me in the eye. “Um. So here’s the thing.”

I waited, but after several minutes of silence, it was clear he wasn’t going to continue. I gave him a little squeeze.

“What’s the thing?”

“Rinda said…she asked if I thought I’d be able to share a meal with you if my life wasn’t on the line.”

My heart gave a painful thump as adrenaline coursed through me. Last month, when he’d be on death’s door from the shift and lack of calories had been eye opening for all of us. I didn’t like to think about it. Not only did I feel like a failure for not caring for a pack member, but it cut ten times worse that I hadn’t properly cared for my potential mate. Jamie didn’t see it that way at all, nor did the members of the pack I’d spoken with, but I did. It would take time–and maybe a few sessions with Rinda myself–before I could work through those feelings. 

But I pushed that aside for now and focused on Jamie. “And what did you say?”

Another long, pregnant beat of silence. When he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper. “I think, if it was just you, with no one else around, I could.”

And that caused my adrenaline to surge for an entirely different reason. “Yeah?”

Jamie nodded. “I think so. It feels like I can. Because I’ve already eaten for you and…and I know you don’t judge me in any way and just want what’s best for me, whatever that is.”

I hugged him hard, doing my best to put all my emotions into it so he would know just how much it meant to me that he understood that. 

“And really,” he continued, sounding a little breathless, causing me to ease up so he could move air through his lungs. “If you and I are going to have anything lasting, I need to work through that part of it, yeah? It’s not like I can eat separately from you for the rest of our lives.”

That sounded so fucking good, the forever part, that I kissed him, hard and with lots of tongue. Jamie melted into me, taking all I could give him, reveling in it, his body pliant and giving under my touch. I wanted to lay him down right there on the couch and do every last thing to him, but it wasn’t the time and we weren’t ready yet. We’d get there, but not yet.

When I finally pulled back, his lips were red and swollen, and his breath came in fast pants. His glazed eyes and dazed expression were enough to make me want to drag him to the bedroom. But I restrained myself.

“So,” I said, trying for casual and failing miserably. “How about dinner here tomorrow? I’ll cook. And we can try it.”

His breathing stuttered, and he averted his gaze. I didn’t let go of him but neither did I force an answer or put any pressure on him.

“Um, and what if I…what if…”

“If you try and aren’t ready, then we do something else. Simple as that.” I meant it with every fiber of my being. Jamie must have realized that because he relaxed.

“Okay. Let’s do that.” It was a whisper, and I wanted to praise him but I didn’t get a chance. Before I could even draw a breath, he was out of my arms and pulling off his clothes.

“I ate. Lots. Earlier. I promise. Can we shift?”

“Sure,” I agreed easily enough.

I barely got the word out before he was naked and down on all fours. A moment later, he was his wolf. He shook out his fur, settling in place, and I couldn’t help but reach out and rub his ear. 

“You’re so dang beautiful. Man or wolf. Seriously sweetheart.”

Jamie gave a soft yip, then trotted to the sliding glass doors. I opened it for him, then stripped, shifted, and joined him for a dusk filled run, our wolves one with each other.