Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**Okay, so it turns out I accidentally lied about Gareth and Owen’s story being over. Sorry about that. Hope you can forgive me. Check out the blog for the other chapters. Enjoy!**

Owen’s family were open, warm, and supportive the moment we set foot in their territory. It was honestly pretty overwhelming. I knew that there were families like that out in the world, but having never experienced it myself, it was jarring. And since Aeron had stayed behind to deal with my house—since I had to be gone within a time frame and he didn’t—I had to deal with it on my own.

I had Owen of course, but he didn’t know anything different than a physically affectionate and caring family. But we settled in fine, and by the time Aeron joined us a few weeks later, I was coming to accept it. It was cramped in Owen’s parents house though, with all of us and Remy, and both Aeron and I were ready for space.

The little house Owen found was smaller than my previous one, but infinitely more charming. It had a whole cabin in the woods vibe without any creep or horror factor. Wood burning fireplaces in every room except the bathroom, a small workroom I could use to work on my witchcraft, and butted up to a national forest so Owen could shift and run whenever he wanted. Best of all, it wasn’t far from pack territory, and Owen was still able to visit with them at the drop of a hat.

Aeron’s apartment was even smaller, but he and Remy were happy. I was too. I set about making the cottage a new home, and as I found places for all our things—Aeron had come in a U-Haul with both his and my things, and Owen had more pack members with pickup trucks than I could count. We’d been moved in within the span of a day. All in all, I didn’t regret a single thing.

But Owen was still on edge, never leaving me for longer than a few minutes unless someone he trusted was visiting. He was convinced that the whole ordeal with my family and my former coven wasn’t over, no matter how much I tried to assure him it was. I figured it would take time before he was settled.

Not that I minded the constant attention. It usually resulted in hugs, cuddles, and much more. Owen couldn’t keep his hands off me, which suited me fine, because I was the same.

We were having a quiet night in for a change, no visits or pack gatherings, and Aeron was off doing his own thing. The fire was crackling behind the grate, I had a cup of hibiscus tea—which Owen jokingly said looked like blood—and we were snuggled together under a handknitted throw Owen’s grandmother had made for us. I couldn’t stop running my fingers over the rich texture and soft yarn. It was gorgeous.

Owen gave me a kiss on the head and got up to go to the bathroom. I stretched out to soak up the warmth he left behind, and hoped he’d get ideas when he got back. But before I could really settle, I heard a car pull up the gravel drive. I stood and stretched, ready to receive whoever decided to show up now. I was halfway to the door in response to the knock when Owen came barreling into the room.

“Back up. I’ll get it.”

I rolled my eyes. “I’m sure it’s not—”

“Please.” His voice was soft and I nodded. “I don’t recognize the scent.”

A moment later, he pulled open the door, keeping it and himself between me and whoever was on the other side.

“Gareth Evans?” The deep voice was unfamiliar.

Owen narrowed his eyes. “Who’s asking?”

“Agent Delaney Willis. This is my partner Agent Fiona Mathers. We’re with the MBI.”

My breath caught. Magical Bureau of Investigation? That was serious. They only got involved in the most egregious of cases. They were almost a legend within the preternatural community. The boogeyman. Heard of, stories told, but never seen.

Except they were here. Asking for me. And I couldn’t imagine why? Panic tripped through my veins, and Owen growled, ready to defend me and keep me safe. But it wasn’t like we could turn MBI agents away. If they had tracked me down here, they could track me anywhere.

“Let them in, honey,” I whispered. I’d tried for a stronger tone, but it hadn’t worked. I was nervous. Okay, I was more than nervous. But I had to keep it together or my familiar and mate would start a riot.

Owen did as I asked, but he wasn’t happy about it. Agent Willis was tall, broad, and clearly a magic user. His aura was so strong anyone would have recognized it. That was if the orange tabby at his feet hadn’t given it away. Agent Mathers was just as tall, but willowy, and almost certainly a shifter.

“Is it all right if my familiar, Oscar, enters as well?”

I appreciated that he asked, but he had to know I wouldn’t disagree. I nodded, putting a hand on Owen’s shoulder and gently guiding him back so the Agents could enter. Owen stepped back, almost knocking me over, but he was determined to keep his body between me and them. I almost wanted to protest, but I didn’t want to raise Owen’s hackles more than they were. And to be quite honest, I wanted to stay safe.

“Thank you.” The agents entered, and turned toward the dining area where we had a small table with a few chairs. Once we were all seated, Agent Willis offered me a smile. It changed his whole face, and made him seem far more approachable.

“May I introduce Oscar to your familiar?”

I couldn’t contain the smirk as I pointed to Owen. It took the agents a couple of seconds to catch on, but when they did, Mathers’s eyes went to her hairline and Willis coughed. Owen preened and I couldn’t help the affectionate smile that graced my lips.

“That’s…unexpected.” Willis did his best to hide his surprise, but wasn’t entirely successful.

“What can we do for you?” Owen’s tone bordered on rude, and I slid my hand onto his thigh to try and soothe him. I was worried too, but there was no point in antagonizing them.

This time, Mathers spoke up. “Mr. Evans, we’re here to speak with you about Bianca and Lawson Evans.”

This time, it was my eyebrows that shot up. I knew the surprise was evident on my face. “My parents? What about them?”

Willis and Mathers exchanged a look. Mathers said, “What can you tell us about them?”

“Uh.” An uncomfortable feeling swirled in my gut, though whether it was because I couldn’t tell them anything or because I didn’t know what was going on, I wasn’t sure. “Not much. I’ll be frank, Agents, my parents haven’t had much to do with me for the past several years. You’d be better off speaking with my brother.”

“Agents are currently speaking with Aeron Evans as well,” Willis confirmed.

And that was the point that Owen’s patience broke. “I don’t mean to be rude, except I really want to know what the hellfire is going on?”

The agents ignored his outburst, but did answer his question. “Mr. Evans, your parents are currently being detained by the MBI for investigation pertaining to their use of black magic.”

I heard the words. But they didn’t make sense. My parents were assholes, but had always prided themselves on being upstanding magical citizens. “I’m sorry, what?”

Mathers narrowed her eyes. “Are you saying you had no idea your parents were involved in blood magic and necromancy?”

I just stared, my mouth open, not being able to process the words.

Beside me, Owen snorted. “Shit, babe, your parents are even worse than I thought.”

I shook my head. “I…I don’t understand.”

Willis sat back in his chair, and his cat jumped up into his lap. “Mr. Evans, we have a lot to discuss.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**This picks up exactly where the last episode left off. And we finally have a conclusion. If you’ve missed any of the other episodes, make sure you check them out first. Enjoy!**

Chaos erupted. Where a moment before Owen stood beside me, there was now a wolf in a t-shirt and kicking out of jeans. A translucent shield, faintly blue, erupted between us and the rest of the council, and I knew it was Aeron’s doing. I was peripherally aware of shouting, subconsciously registered my mother’s voice, but the words didn’t register. Mage globes flared around the room.

But I was strangely calm.

Before walking into this room, I’d been nervous and worried. But now that the High Mage had made her proclamation and the tension was so high it was about to snap, I felt nothing but peace. When I thought back on this later, I would probably realize I was going into shock. If I survived, that was.

“Carla, sit down.”

The whip-crack of a voice cut through everything and an uneasy silence settled in. The High Mage whipped her head sideways, staring at a wizened old man with cotton candy wisps of hair gracing his very wrinkled scalp. Out of everyone on the council, he was the only one sitting calmly like the room hadn’t exploded around him. His gnarled fingers, knobbly with arthritis, were folded before him, and his sharp gray eyes were focused on the High Mage.

“Elder Elwyn,” she began, her voice barely restrained rage. But he held up one of those hands, and her mouth snapped shut. I wasn’t entirely sure it was of her own volition.

“As you recall, the vote must be unanimous. This is by our own tightly held rules.” Elwyn’s voice was soft and slightly shaky, but he seemed wholly unconcerned. “And while there were twelve votes in favor of your ludicrous declaration, I have yet to vote.”

He tilted his head in my direction, and it might have been the reflection off Aeron’s shield, but I could swear he winked at me. some of the feeling came back into my limbs, and it was only then that I realized I’d gone numb. With increasing increments, I came back to myself. Owen’s snarls reached my ears, though it was low, and I glanced down to see the his protective stance. I curled my fingers in his scruff, and he pushed closer to me, but still kept himself between me and everyone else.

“Gareth Evans, state your case,” Elwyn said in that same tone.

A thousand thoughts ran through my head and I couldn’t sort through them. But in the end, it didn’t matter. I knew I was either walking out of here with my mate, or I wasn’t, and there was nothing I could say to defend myself. Because I didn’t need a defense.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say.” My voice didn’t shake and I was strangely proud of that. “I’ve done nothing wrong. I don’t deserve the charges the High Mage—” And if there was venom in the words I couldn’t be blamed, “—has leveled against me. I have tried to call a familiar for years, and it finally happened. Because the magic needed to wait until my familiar and mate was of age to join me. I’m not sure what the problem is.”

“The problem,” Elder Elwyn said, as though we were having a normal conversation. “Is that it takes agency from another being.”

I cocked my head. “But doesn’t the familiar bond do that no matter what? All familiars are sentient creatures, even if they aren’t humans. At least in my case, I can have a conversation with mine in the same language and we can discuss everything. If anything, my bond is more equal than any of yours.”

A murmured went up through the crowd, and I vaguely heard some grumbling agreement. The High Mage, however, would have killed me with nothing but her gaze if she could. I would have been incinerated judging by the fire in her eyes.

“The inherent power in your bond—”

“Oh.” Sudden clarity had me interrupting the High Mage, something I would have never done. Her fingers twitched, her mage glob flaring, and her ferret twittered angrily at me for the intrusion. But I didn’t care. “Oh, I get it now.”

Owen shifted. It only took two blinks, and he was suddenly a man. His shirt barely covered his ass, and though he kept his back to me, I was sure his parts were hanging out for the world to see. I grumbled at that—no one should see him but me—but Owen didn’t seem to care. 

“Gareth?”

I put my hand on his lower back. “They’re scared I’ll try to take their power or some such nonsense.”

His head tilted and he shot me a quick, confused glance over his shoulder. “But you don’t care about that shit.”

I didn’t bother to remind him to watch his language in this hall. At this point, I didn’t care either. “No, I don’t. I don’t care about their politics at all.” I hummed as I thought. “You have several family members who are bonded to witches. Let’s move there. We don’t need this.”

Owen nodded. “I’m down with that. If you’re sure. We’ll discuss it.”

“What about me?” Aeron asked from my right.

“You can come too,” both Owen and I said at the same time.

Aeron’s grin was blinding. “Well, all right then.”

“Mr. Evans.” Elwyn’s voice cut through our conversation, and the three of us turned to give the old man our attention.

“Yes, sir?”

“Am I to understand you’re willing to leave the area?”

I nodded. “Sure. I don’t need…this.” I waved my hand to encompass all that was happening.

He studied me for a long moment. “Well, then this is moot isn’t it?”

The High Mage’s nostrils flared and I was pretty sure she was about to combust. Instead, she breathed deeply and drew down her magic. I could still see it sparking at her fingertips, but she was no longer on the verge of annihilating me.

“The exile stand. You have 48 hours to remove yourself from the district. Should you remain, or return, your magic will be stripped and your bond broken. You will be imprisioned.”

I opened my mouth to argue, or point out the idiocy and hypocrisy of it, but then realized I didn’t want to. Nothing was keeping me here. I loved my house, sure, but I could love another one. My family didn’t care about me, except for my brother, and I had no close friends. All I needed was my mate and my brother to be happy. I could make a new life somewhere else if I had them. My mate, of course, I knew wouldn’t leave my side. So I glanced at Aeron.

“You’re coming, right?”

“Of course.” He nodded, just once, and his expression was determined.

“Great.” I turned my back on the council, knowing that Aeron and Owen would keep us safe as we left. It took no time to get outside and only when we were back at the SUV did I start to shake. Owen pulled me close and then got us both into the backseat where he could hold me.

I blew out a stuttering breath and tried for a laugh. “Well. That was anticlimactic.”

Owen growled as he nuzzled my neck. “Only in that I expected a fight. You were amazing. So calm and collected.”

“Shock,” I muttered, burrowing closer. I needed his warmth. Owen had no problem obliging me, practically pulling me into his lap. If we weren’t in a moving car, I would have climbed him like a tree. But as it was, I was happy to just be wrapped up in his arms. This fast, and he was already my rock. I’d be scared about that except for our bond.

Aeron turned on the engine and put the car in drive. It wasn’t until we were at least a few miles away before he let out a chuckle.

“What?” I finally lifted my head but pressed into Owen when he placed a kiss on my head. I loved that he couldn’t stop touching me.

“Guess we’re starting a new adventure, huh?” He took the opportunity of a red light to turn around and give me an eyebrow waggle. Remy, who’d been silent up till now, let out a happy squawk and bobbed his head.

I couldn’t help the grin that bloomed my lips. I turned to see an answering smile gracing Owen’s. I kissed him, slow and sweet, but filled with the promise of what was to come.

“Yeah,” I said, a foreign but welcome contentment suffusing me. “Yeah. We are.”

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**Here is part five! We are clearly not done yet. Tell me what you think of Gareth and Owen’s continuing saga. Check out the blog for the previous parts. Enjoy!**

The summons came in the middle of the night by way of witch globe. I wasn’t surprised. I mean, I was startled because I was warm and cozy, sound asleep and wrapped around my mate. Or rather, he was wrapped around me. Since solidifying our bond, Owen hadn’t moved more than two feet away for me. And the way he clung in bed made me think he was an octopus shifter instead of a red wolf.

Not that I minded in the slightest. 

But the appearance of the witch globe in my—our—bedroom was shocking but not surprising. The witching hour was called that for a reason, as many who were magically inclined were at the height of their power. It woke me from a dead sleep, the pulse of magic thrumming through me and pulling on mine. I gasped as my eyes popped open, but Owen’s arms just tightened and he pushed his face against the back of my neck.

“Ignore it,” he mumbled into my skin.

“We can’t,” I whispered.

Owen growled, then grumbled, then kissed my nape in a way that made me shiver. “We could.”

“It’ll just get worse, until it’s physically painful and I have no choice but to comply. Get up, please. We need to go.”

The growl Owen let out was deep from his chest, and I didn’t need to look to know his fangs were out and his eyes had changed. I couldn’t dwell on that though, because if I did, I’d be tempted to drag him back down and…

Yeah. There was just something about him, all cranky and possessive, that just did it for me. It didn’t feel smothering or dangerous in any way. Instead it was clear he was being protective without wanting to own me. I was his but he didn’t control me. Not that I would mind a little control.

No. Couldn’t go there right now.

Owen inhaled deeply, shoving his nose right against where my shoulder joined my neck. “Gareth, you can’t expect me go anywhere with you smelling like that.”

I flipped over and Owen allowed, pulling me in the moment we were chest to chest. I kissed him quickly, even if it was full of heat, and pulled away when Owen wanted to take it further. We really didn’t have time for that.

“Get up and get dressed.” I nudged his nose with mine. 

Owen complied, at least with the getting out of bed part. “Call your brother.”

“Already on it.” Aeron and I had a link through our magic, something that had found us when we were young. Right before he really hit his power growth spurt, we’d been working a rudimentary tracking spell and something happened. We’d never really told anyone about it, because we’d never heard of anything like it. Aeron still researched it on and off, trying to find the reason why. I didn’t really care about the why right now, because it allowed me to send thoughts to him, even though he lived on the other side of town. I felt him wake, felt the acknowledgement, and his urgency. Aeron masked it after a second, trying to be reassuring, but I knew he was just as worried about this as I was.

Owen was dressed, shoes on, by the time I came back to myself. He was waiting patiently close by, and I knew by his stance he was on alert. Warmth suffused my stomach, just knowing he was watching out for me. it had been a long time since I’d had anyone to put me first. My brother had my back, and that was great, but I wasn’t his sole priority. I couldn’t be and I didn’t want to be.

Maybe it was our growing bond. Maybe it was his protectiveness. Maybe it was just who he was. But whatever it was, I felt as though I could take on the world and survive. Or the Witches Council, as the case may be.

I dressed in record time, and though I was nervous, I was scared. Not like I’d been a few days ago. I trusted Owen and Aeron. I trusted myself. If the worst came to worst, we’d be able to get out of there. Even if it meant leaving this place I’d called my own and hiding from the council for the rest of our lives.

“Hey.” Owen nuzzles his face against my jaw. “Stop it. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I don’t like the defeatist scent coming off you. We can handle this.”

I was so sure about that, but I tried for a smile anyway. Another kiss, quick and easy in a way that was becoming familiar very quickly, and then we were out the door. Aeron was just pulling up to the curb, having rushed over, and we climbed into his SUV. 

The closer we got to council headquarters, the more nervous I got. To the point that Owen reached out and laid a hand on the back of my neck. I tried to settle. I really did. But I couldn’t stop worrying. We were walking in to a situation where we would be faced with thirteen very powerful people who were used to being obeyed and getting their way. I had power, more now that Owen and I had bonded. Aeron’s power even exceeded my own. But those people inside that building? Half of them were ruthless, set in their ways, and older than dirt. The other half liked the control they had, even if there were, perhaps, more persuadable.

The witch globe had followed us, and stopped beside the car when Aeron parked. I got out, and Owen was instantly at my side. Which was a good thing because the surge of magic from the globe nearly made my knees buckle. Owen was right there to hold me up, though, and he growled uselessly at the magical globe.

“Ready?” Aeron’s voice was soft, tense, but firm.

“No.”

Aeron gave me half a grin that didn’t last. Owen nosed my temple in an affectionate gesture. I gripped his hand so tightly that if he hadn’t been a shifter, I might have broken bones. He didn’t seem to mind. As one, we entered the council hall and were met by the whole council, seated and glowering in full regalia. My parents and other members of my extended family were sitting in the observation area at the far end of the room. I ignored them completely.

“Gareth Evans, you have presented yourself to be judged for your misuse and abuse of magic.” The High Mage intoned, her voice a clarion bell. “Prepare for your magic to be stripped, your bond broken, and your exile.”

Flash Fic Friday, Serial

Flash Fic Friday

**I know it’s a lot later than normal, but I can’t be blamed. Ninetendo updated Animal Crossing New Horizons and dropped a DLC and I can’t help it if that’s where all my attention has been. But better late than never. Here’s part 4 of Gareth and Owen’s story! Check out the blog for the past parts if you need to catch up. And we’re not done yet. Enjoy!**

“That’s a very bad idea.”

Aeron scoffed at my statement, waving the hand that wasn’t petting Remy. “Don’t be a baby. Pull up your grown up pants.”

Beside me, Owen growled, the sound not quite animal in his human chest. If I hadn’t know he was a werewolf, that sound would have clinched it. And just that quick, I slid my hand around the back of his neck and squeezed to soothe him. He leaned into me, though he never took his gaze off Aeron. When he spoke, his words were slightly distorted, as though his fangs were starting to shift.

“Watch. Your. Words.”

Aeron dismissed that as well, not intimidated in the least by my werewolf almost-mate. It had been two days, and we were getting to know each other. I’d quickly learned how much touch meant to him, and how it calmed him. To be fair, it worked wonders for me as well. As long as it was Owen doing the touching. 

Not that there had been that kind of touching yet. But I knew when we got there, that would be just as effective. Probably more so.

A nudge to my side had me startling back to the present. Owen’s smirk was weirdly sweet. “Focus, dear.”

I fought not to blush. “I’m focused. On the fact that I don’t want to die. And confronting the Witches Council will produce that result.”

The growl again, this time deep from Owen’s chest, and the way his eyes flashed, I knew the wolf was at the surface. He hauled me close, and I let him. Not only did I have no desire to fight him, but I knew that if I did, it wouldn’t go well for me. He was ten times stronger than I was, even with my magic.

“You will not die. I won’t allow it.” Owen’s voice was deep and broken.

“You won’t.” Aeron’s tone was earnest “It’s the best bet. We go in there as a united front. At least part of the council will respect you just for showing up. By their own laws, they have to let you plead your case. And with both of us bonded now, our powers combined would be enough to at least get us out of there if things go south.”

I shook my head, panic climbing in my chest. “They could put down a witch trap, or strength their wards, or station enforcers at the doors or—”

Owen pressed his forehead to my temple, cupping the opposite cheek with his hand. Instantly I relaxed. Not completely, but just having him right there helped me to calm. We breathed together, and I took in the scent of him. Usually, smell wasn’t as big a thing for me, and maybe it was part of the bonding process, but scent mattered right now to me more than it ever had. He smelled like my body wash, and my detergent, but underneath that, something earthy. Like the forest.

I pressed a kiss to his wrist, because it was right there, and he sucked in a deep breath. It caught in his chest, stuttering it out on the exhale. I breathed it in, suddenly needing him to give me the air. It was as though a switch flipped, and my entire being was tuned entirely into him. 

“Oh.” It was a gasp and a word, and Owen pressed against me.

Distantly, I heard Aeron clear his throat. We ignored him. He muttered something about leaving, but we ignored that too. It didn’t matter. Nothing did. Not my impending doom, or my brother, or even the outside world. Suddenly theonly thing that was important was Owen.

“Give me consent now, or tell me to stop, because things are—”

“Yes,” I murmured. Then stronger. “Yes, please.”

Owen kissed me, hard and fast, owning my mouth. Lips, teeth, tongue. Devouring heat and sensuality. He owned me in that kiss, and I let him have control, giving everything he asked for and moaning with it. I was only partially aware of pushing closer, of him pulling me into his lap, of his tight grip on my hips that was sure to leave bruises I would relish later.

I whimpered when he pulled his mouth away, and when he tucked my face against his neck, I panted wetly, just trying to breathe. Owen’s arms were a vice around me, squeezing almost painfully tight, but I needed it.

“I won’t let anything happen to you. Or our bond.”

“Me too.” I laughed, a little hysterically, even as I tried to rock closer. “I mean, I won’t let anything happen to either of us.”

A few beats of silence, then Owen said, “Is he right?”

I lifted my face to look deep into his eyes. “My brother? About confronting the council?” Owen nodded and I shrugged, continuing, “Probably. He’s had more dealings with them. And our parents.”

Owen cupped my face. “You trust him?”

“Completely.”

His gaze searched mine and then he nodded once. “Then I will too. But tomorrow.”

I quirked an eyebrow. “Why tomorrow?”

“Because tonight,” he said, voice low and full of heat. “I have a mate to bond with.” Then he hesitated, a hitch in his breath, and said, “If he’ll have me.”

The human part of my brain urged caution. Said it was way too fast. Said we needed to slow down and talk things out and take our time.

But the rest of me just wanted him. Wanted everything he was offering. Wanted him as a person and as a familiar. As a mate. My life had turned upside down in the past few days, but it didn’t matter. Because fate had given me Owen to walk through it with me. We’d have to deal with the council. And we’d have to figure out how to use our power and how to be mates. But that was a future worry. At least tomorrow. Tonight, it didn’t matter.

I smiled, slow and sweet. “He’ll have you.”

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

***By request, here’s part two. Check out last week for the first part. Enjoy!**

Sitting next to a naked man on the tailgate of my SUV was not how I planned to spend the evening. Okay, so Owen was no longer naked, since he’d wrapped the plaid blanket I always kept back there around himself.

Owen. A werewolf. A red wolf sometimes, and sometimes a man. And my familiar.

I already felt the bond growing between us, since that first glimpse of it when I’d called for my familiar and he finally appeared. It had thrown everyone into a tizzy. Aeron, with Remy, of course, were still here, though he stood some feet away and kept shooting us looks. The High Mage was having a conniption and communing with the rest of the Witches Council high coven. The other witches and their new familiars had been dismissed. I was trying not to freak out, and failing. Having this kind of bond with a human was unthinkable. Okay, technically he wasn’t human, he was a were, but still. Human sometimes.

The only one not freaking out in any way was Owen. He was swinging his feet and looking for all the world like no big thing was happening.

“Hey Gareth,” Owen finally said, his voice soft and a little tentative. We’d exchanged names before being banished to my SUV while the High Mage did her thing. “You wouldn’t happen to have any water, would you? Or a snack?”

Before I could answer, Aeron spoke up. “I have some stuff. I’ll be right back.”

I didn’t have food, but I did have several bottles of water, because I always had them in the car. Sometimes working magic made me thirsty. I retrieved one and handed it over. No doubt Aeron would bring back some as well, but I didn’t want Owen to have to wait when I could provide him with at least that. I nodded at his soft thanks.

“I’m sorry I’m not better prepared. I know you need to replenish calories after a shift but, well, I really didn’t expect this.”

Owen gave me that lopsided grin again. That quickly, and I already found that little quirk endearing as all get out.

“I gathered.” He drank some water, wiped off his chin, then turned to look at me fully. “But it’s the kind of thing that happens to some wolves in my family.”

I couldn’t help the gasp or the wide eyes. “Really?”

Owen cocked his head, looking like a puppy. “Really. I have several extended family members bonded to witches. Is it…not common here?”

I shook my head, and would have commented on that, but seriously, he looked like a confused puppy and I just had to know. Carefully, as tactfully as I could, I asked, “Owen, exactly how old are you?”

He laughed, the sound free, and his eyes twinkled with merriment. “Twenty-one. Almost twenty-two. I know I look younger.” He chortled again, and shook his head. Then his expression turned more serious. “I thought I felt something last year, and I definitely had the drive to shift and head this way. But I wasn’t of age yet, so…” He shrugged.

So young, but as he said, definitely of age. But then his words sunk in and my heart started to pound. I couldn’t quite catch my breath.

Owen’s gentle touch to my arm soothed me more quickly than anything ever had before. I breathed deeply and Owen started petting. I had the fleeting thought that I should tell him to stop. But I didn’t want to.

“You okay?” His voice was such a sweet sound, light and airy, but still with some depth of tone. “What just happened?”

“I’ve been, uh…” I cleared my throat. “I’ve been trying to call a familiar for several years now, but no animal came. This was my last chance. If it didn’t work this time, the Witches Council was going to strip me of my magic. Everyone thought I was broken.”

Aeron cleared his throat, shot me a meaningful look, and handed Owen a little packet of nuts, cheese and pretzels.

“Everyone but my brother,” I amended. And then, because of the squawk, added, “And Remy, of course.”

“Better.” Aeron shot Owen a smile. “Sorry it’s not much, but that should tide you over until you can get out of here and Gareth can feed you.”

“Thanks.” Owen offered up a grin, and then turned to me. “And obviously you weren’t broken. You couldn’t get your familiar until I was old enough to join you.”

“Which is highly unusual and circumspect.” The High Mage was a stately woman with formidable power, and we hadn’t heard her walk over. At least Aeron and I hadn’t, judging by the way we both jolted. Owen must have though, because he started eating his snack and gave her his full attention. Though his eyes had lost the warmth of a moment ago. The High Mage couldn’t care less.

“I’m not sure what you’re implying by that—”

“I’m not implying anything,” she interrupted. “I’m stating fully. Bonding to a human is forbidden, even someone who is only partially human, as it impinges on their agency. If this bond even, in fact, does exist.”

The outrage I felt wasn’t all mine. “Excuse me?”

“You will both present yourselves before the Witches Council for a thorough mental and magical evaluation. Until such time, Gareth and Owen, you will have no contact with each other and—”

“No.” 

Owen’s voice was firm, though polite, even though his eyes blazed with anger.

The high mage narrowed her eyes. “You don’t have a choice.”

“That’s the beautiful thing about agency, your high mageness.” The derision that dripped off Owen’s tone was impressive. “I can do whatever I want. And I will not have you, or anyone else, judge my bond with my witch. We’ve only just met, and it will take time for it to fully solidify. I will not let anyone muck around with that.”

The High Mage opened her mouth, but she never got the chance to speak. Owen beat her to it. “Gareth, get up, please. Let’s go. I need to eat, and probably find some clothes. And get your address so my family knows where to send my things.”

I hastened to do what he said, ignoring the High Mage and her ferret familiar who’d deigned to poke his head out of her robes and stare scornfully at us. He chittered to her, but she didn’t react. I had half a worry that she would cast a spell to keep us there, even though magic used in such a way would go against the Acadia Accords.

Besides, Aeron had my back. Like always.

I slammed the lift gate closed, and by the time I made it to the drivers seat, Owen was already settled in the passenger side. As soon as I shut the door, Owen breathed a sigh of relief and put his hands on me. It was just a soft touch to the neck, and then he leaned in to scent me there, before relaxing back against the seat.

“I’m sorry about that.” He shook his head. “Kinda. But you should know, wolves are possessive. I’m possessive. And you’re mine. They can’t take you from me.”

I nodded. “I don’t want that either. But they are powerful, and you’ve just opened a can of worms.”

Owen waved that off and gave me that lopsided grin I was coming to adore. “And we’ll face it when it comes. Until then, I need food and clothes, and time with my mate.”

I nodded again and put the SUV in gear. A moment later, I saw headlights behind me, which I recognized as Aeron’s car.

It was only three miles later, and five miles from home, when I finally realized what Owen had said.

Mate?

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**This one is inspired by a song, shared with me on Twitter from DuncanDaHusky. Running With The Wolves by Aurora from the movie Wolfwalkers. It’s a beautiful song, and this is what popped into my head when I heard it. You can check it out here ! Enjoy**

Panic ran through my veins, but I did everything I could to keep it at bay. I knew they could hear my pounding heart, smell the fear and sweat, see my shaking limbs. But I tried to keep it contained.

This wasn’t my old pack. There was no abuse and terror here. There was only kindness and affection. Caretaking and joy. This was what a pack was supposed to be. A community. Lifting each other up and looking out for everyone’s needs. Not what I’d spent my childhood in, where fear, pain, and ridicule ruled my every day. Ruled everyone’s lives except those at the very top.

“Breathe, sweetheart.”

Conall’s voice broke though the haze that was threatening to descend, and I sucked in a harsh breath simply because he’d told me to. I startled when he touched me, but didn’t pull away, and he knew enough by now that if he moved slowly and carefully, I relaxed into his touch within seconds. It took a few longer than normal, because my anxiety was high, but within a half a minute, I was curling into his arms.

He immediately hugged me tightly. And I didn’t even panic at the fact that he was holding me as a lover. In my old pack, two men together would have been killed. But not here. Here the alpha cared for each wolf as they were, as the goddess made them. 

I was still getting used to it, even all these months later.

“Tory,” the alpha said, stepping up to us. When he reached for me, I went and Conall only growled a little. Conall still didn’t like anyone touching me—our mating was too new—but he wouldn’t disobey his alpha. And he knew that sometimes, I needed the alpha’s comfort as well. 

Alpha Roan touched my throat, my head, and then squeezed the back of my neck. I relaxed into the hold, finally able to breathe easily. Having my mate and my alpha, both the best of men, right there helped me.

I’d come a long way from the scared, hurt, and bloody shifter I’d been when Conall found me. It had taken months of work with the pack therapist, and talking to my mate to get to where I was. I’d known, even while I was living it, that the way my old pack was run wasn’t right. But there hadn’t been anything I could do. Until Conall found me, got me out, and then, with the help of his alpha, brought down the wrath of the council on that pack. Those who could be rehabilitated and healed were sent to other packs. Those who couldn’t, or who reveled in the abuse, were put to death.

It helped, to know that they couldn’t hurt me or anyone else, ever again.

But in all the time I’d been with Conall and his pack, falling in love with the sweet man who had been so patient to work around my triggers and help me heal, I’d never shifted and run with the pack as a whole. With my mate, yes. For the alpha, I had. But I hadn’t been ready to run with all the wolves.

I was now. Or I thought I was. Until it came down to it. The moon was full, and though it called to us, it didn’t make us shift like in the contemporary tales. But we all felt her call and wanted to run under her light. There was a part of me that wanted to run with the wolves who’d shown me nothing but kindness and patience.

“I can make you, if that’s what you want.” Alpha Roan’s voice held no censure, no judgement. He was just stating a fact, giving me a choice. And for a split second, I considered it. It would be terrifying when it was happening—and would bring up very bad memories—but once it was done, I’d be free to run.

Conall’s snarl stopped that thought in it’s tracks, and the gentle push from the alpha had me wrapping my arms around my mate again. Conall immediately relaxed, though just before I tucked my head against his chest, I saw the side-eye he gave the alpha. Alpha just laughed.

And that, right there, seemed to release something inside me. What was holding me back, that fear and worry, dissipated. If the alpha could laugh at the slight disrespect my mate gave him, it was all going to be fine. I’d seen it countless times, Alpha Roan never taking anything to seriously, joking, laughing, and teasing his pack in a happy, joyful way. There was no discipline for the smallest infraction, imagined or real. I’d known it. But the reminder was exactly what I needed to see.

I sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly. I did it again. After a third time, I was ready. I stepped back and smiled.

“I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

Conall studied me for a long second, then glanced at the alpha. Alpha Roan was staring at me too. But it didn’t take them long to suss out I meant what I said. I was ready.

Alpha shifted in a second, his big gray wolf shaking out his fur to settle it. He lifted his head and howled. The wolves who’d already run out responded and I shivered as their howls ululated through the night.

My skin itched to join them. My heart pounded. But all in good ways. I needed to be with them. I was safe with them. With my mate and the good-hearted alpha and the pack who cared for me simply because of who I was to Conall and then, later, because I was me. 

I tore off my clothes, as fast as I could, then dropped to all fours, letting the shift overtake me. skin rippled, muscles bunched and reformed, bones snapped and changed shape. It took seconds, longer than someone as powerful as the alpha, but still not long. And then the scents and sounds and sights became shaper and monochrome. The night came alive in a way my human sense, even though they were enhanced, couldn’t appreciate.

I yipped. Conall shifted when I had, and he was next to me, his wolf bigger than mine. He licked my muzzle, rubbed his face against mine, and I stood still and let him because he needed to make sure I was okay.

I was better than okay.

In the distance, the alpha howled again and this time I lifted my face to the sky and responded. Beside me, Conall’s deep howl joined the chorus. And then we were off, four feet pounding on the hard earth, the scents of crushed grass and pine and leaves wafted up with each sprinting step.

All around me, the other wolves ran with me. Some close, some farther away, but I could feel them. Hear them. I wasn’t alone. And with my mate right beside me, I had no fears to run with them.

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s a standalone flash for you. Enjoy!**

Fresh linen. Artificial, but not sickly or overwhelming. Citrus, but softer, not quite as tart. Bergamot? Probably. And something else, something woodsy. Sandalwood? No, not right. Cedar? Yes, that was it.

It smelled amazing. Enticing. Pulling me forward. I wanted to shift, to search it out. I needed to find it. Find them. My focus narrowed down to just that. The scent. I needed to find out who.

It was crowded, because apparently at the lunch rush at a café was the time for me to find someone who smelled so good that every cell in my body reacted. My wolf howled in my mind, demanding I track down whomever smelled so enticing.

It took me a few minutes to sort out the other scents, the bread and coffee and hundreds of other foods and people. And also to figure out how to not look like a creep or a jerk while discreetly scenting it out. But I was driven to do it, to search, and after what seemed like forever—but was probably only five minutes—I finally located it. Sitting there at the table, a sandwich in front of him.

Him.

Huh. That was unexpected. I’d never dated a man. But the person in front of me was clearly male. And Owning it. Clearly comfortable in his skin, and casually beautiful. Dark hair, dark eyes, and a chiseled jaw.

And then he looked up. Confusion crossed his features. Probably because I was staring at him like an idiot. After a long moment, he grinned. Looked right at me and smiled widely.

In that moment, the rest of the world ceased to exist. Like literally disappeared. It was only him and me. Our gazes locked. My heart pounded, blood rushing through my veins, butterflies in my stomach. Everything zeroed in on this man, my wolf scratching at my brain, whining and ready to roll over and show our belly.

He stood up, with such grace my mouth went dry. He took a step forward. I stumbled in his direction. And finally I was close enough to catch his scent under the linen and citrus and cedar, I caught the scent of shifter.

Everything in me relaxed. I breathed out. He stepped closer. Touched my neck. My breath stuttered in my lungs. His smile turned soft. My smile was tremulous, but there.

“Hi,” he said. 

“Hello.”

The world started spinning again.

Flash Fic Friday

Flash Fic Friday

**Here’s a new flash fic, but still PNR, because I can’t seem to stop. It’s all my muse wants to write. Enjoy!**

The wolf in my backyard was not one I recognized, which was saying something because I’d been around the local pack since I was a child. That narrowed it down, though. Either the wolf was one of the relatively new and recent members to join, or he was from a rival pack. Since he was just sitting there, staring at me, with absolutely no aggression, I was guessing the former.

I cocked my head. The big gray wolf mirrored the motion. I smiled and gestured behind me. “You coming in?”

The wolf didn’t move, but I swear I saw his amber eyes narrow. It made me laugh. Because I wasn’t worried about protecting myself if it came to that, and clearly he was there for a reason. Which is exactly what I told him. This time he definitely squinted, and I could practically feel the judgement rolling off him. I didn’t know what that was about but I wasn’t going to play games.

“Look, come in or don’t, it’s up to you.” And with that, I turned on my heel and headed up the steps to the back porch. I hadn’t even made it to the creaky screen door before I heard that familiar sound of paws on wood. I kept my face averted so he wouldn’t see my smirk, and held open the door so he could walk in.

I shut the door behind me, turning to make sure it latched properly, and by the time I turned around, I had a naked man crouched on my kitchen floor. It took me a second, because I’d only met him twice, but my brain finally supplied Gage’s name. I crossed my arms and leaned against the counter, staring him down.

“You want clothes?” I asked casually. Some shifters did, but most didn’t. And since I’d been raised around shifters, I viewed nudity as they did. It was just a state of being, and certainly not always a sexual thing.

“Only if you want,” Gage croaked, his voice still not quite ready to work. It happened sometimes with the shift. I’d seen it often enough.

I gestured with my chin toward the table as I turned to rummage in the fridge. I didn’t have much in the way of protein—some cold cuts and the rest of a block of cheddar—but I grabbed that and the sweet tea off the shelf. The sugar would do him good. I dropped my wares on the table, then retrieved some dinner rolls I had and added that, because carbs would help too. Adding a plate and a glass to my collection rounded everything off, and Gage had a veritable feast to replenish his used calories.

“Thanks, Seth,” he whispered, taking the plate and serving himself, such as it was.

And if I hadn’t been paying attention, I would have missed it. But I had been, because I was confused why this man who I’d only met a few times and who had only joined the pack six months ago was stalking me in wolf form. But the way he said my name? I couldn’t put it into words, exactly, the way it made me feel. There was longing there, affection maybe, and almost a reverence. All of that and more I couldn’t even name. And that gave me the biggest clue, even though it seemed impossible.

I let him eat for a few, unabashedly watching him, and Gage didn’t seem to care. At least he met my gaze on occasion and didn’t look embarrassed. His fast metabolism meant that it wouldn’t take him long to gain his strength back. The food disappeared fast, and so did several glasses of tea, before Gage sat back. 

“So want to tell me why you were in the backyard?”

Gage shrugged one shoulder. “I can’t help it. I have to be.”

I nodded, knowing where this was going, and not sure how I felt about it. “Were you going to tell me?”

“Probably.” Gage gave me a half smile that died quickly. “Maybe.”

I sighed. I might not be a wolf, but I understood them better than most other humans. I’d been immersed in their culture since I was four. I knew what was happening here.

“Well, perhaps we should get to know each other before we mate, you think?”

That got a small laugh out of Gage, and he shrugged that one shoulder again. I couldn’t decide if the gesture was annoying or endearing, and thought I’d reserve judgement on that.

Gage’s expression turned earnest as he leaned forward. “Whatever you want. You’re mine. I want to make you happy.”

I didn’t comment on that. We’d work on his need to please, because I wasn’t the type to need my partner to cater to every whim. More than that, I wanted him to be happy and fulfilled as well. So we’d deal with that as we got to know one another.

“At least a couple of dates, first. I get that you feel the pull, but it’s not exactly the same for me yeah?” I checked, and he nodded. “But, you know, attraction is definitely there. So we’ll get to know each other and see how we fit.”

Gage’s grin went wide. Mischievous even. “What are you doing tonight?

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.