A soft sniffle attracted Brand’s attention. He lifted his gaze until his eyes found the source of the sound. Alice, still naked on the ground, watched him with an expression of horror. The beast reigned, certain that it would take its prize since it had killed the enemy. He crawled two feet toward her before the thinking part of him regained a measure of control, and he settled back on his haunches.
Brand wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Cover yourself, Alice. I need some time before I can take you out of here.” He started to shake as the wolf tried to assert its will over him again.
A look of resolve settled over her face, mouth pinched tight. “You’re hurting.” She moved toward him hesitantly, her hand out.
He pushed backward, until he came to a rest against the butte. “For the Wolf-mother’s sake, don’t come any closer.”
She paused. “I was going to try to ease you.”
His teeth chattered as he shivered convulsively. “There’s no easing this.” When he stopped shaking, he drew up his legs and rested his arms across his knees. His mood surged back and forth like the tide in response to the moon. He tried to modulate his voice into some semblance of calm. “I need to know how badly you’re hurt.”
He watched her as she tried to come up with an appropriate response. When she saw his eyes roving hungrily over her, she stammered and blushed. Brand took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “Okay, listen. You’re not going to be safe until I can force the transformation on you, and I need a little more calm than I have right now to achieve that. So please, Alice, tell me how badly you’re hurt, and cover yourself.”
Alice shifted on the ground, and he had to screw his eyes shut to avoid staring. The beast still raged. It knew a naked female lay almost within arm’s reach, even if it couldn’t see her.
She cleared her throat. “I’m not badly hurt.” The tension in her voice gave away the lie.
Pressing his forehead into his arms, he closed his eyes tighter. He inhaled a hiss between clenched teeth. “That’s not going to work for me. Tell me something true.”
“I’m worried about you.”
Her fear should have goaded his anger, but his protective instinct surged instead. She was frightened, and he could help her. The transformation would ease her terror, and being linked with him would speed her healing. He raised his head. She had covered herself with the torn scraps of her clothing.
His tense muscles gradually relaxed and, after a few minutes, he sat straighter. He eased his barriers back into place and sighed when his sense of her fear dulled. “Are you ready?”
Alice nodded, her tongue darting out to moisten her lips. He closed his eyes and concentrated on calming himself. His heartbeat slowed.
The Call came from a place inside that he couldn’t point to or identify, and it resonated, long and low. Alice’s response was immediate. He forged a link between them and sent the command to transform. The air around him heated. He waited with his eyes shut, gradually calming as her terror waned. He opened his eyes.
Alice was a diminutive wolf, white as the snow-capped hills. Her eyes reflected pearly and opalescent in the winter night. He smiled. “You’re lovely.” He gestured her forward with one hand.
She sat next to his foot and, with a deep sigh, put her chin on his knee. The wolf was a creature of the present and didn’t dwell on her earlier trauma. Her contentment filtered through him, a warm and gentle touch. The link between them bypassed the effect of his protective barrier, but he didn’t mind.
He rested his hand on her head. “It’s been a long while since you’ve transformed, hasn’t it? I hope it wasn’t unpleasant?”
She shook her narrow, white muzzle from side to side, a curious gesture from a wolf.
“I’ve never felt it before. No one can Call me.”
He stroked her smooth fur for several minutes, then put his hand under her muzzle to scratch her chin. “You aren’t going to like this part, but I’m not going to let you transform back for a while.” Her lips pulled back into an approximation of a fierce snarl that made him laugh.
“Like this, you’re safe from me. More importantly, you’re safe from Ingrid. I have some unfinished business with her, and I can’t take you home until it’s been tended to.” He frowned as the weight of responsibility asserted itself on him again. “She knows if she so much as rubs the fur wrong on a wolf I’ve Called, I’ll tear her apart.”
Alice whined briefly, but inclined her muzzle once. She licked his hand, her warm tongue a comfort.
The bond with her was strong, and he gained strength from being linked to her. He’d forgotten how wonderful such a connection felt. He ruffled her fur again, then pushed to his feet.
Comments (0)See all