Brand leaned into the post and tried to summon the calm he needed to form his barriers. He teetered on a dangerous edge. He felt the wolf, frustrated and furious, clawing inside him. The energy of the moon pulsed, tempting him to give in and let the monster rage. He panted with the effort, but accomplished nothing.
Dagny came out of Ingrid’s cabin a few minutes later. Kneeling next to him, she pulled the fabric out of his mouth. “Are you okay?”
Brand felt the beast surging forward again, desperate to have her. He swallowed. “You shouldn’t untie me right now.”
“I don’t believe you’re going to hurt me.”
He snarled. “I’ll have you on your back before you can blink.”
She thought it over for a few seconds, then tilted her head. “I don’t think so.” She worked the straps loose with care.
The cuts ached even more with the pressure released. He tried not to look at her. The wolf was still close and he feared what it might do to her. He concentrated on her emotions since he couldn’t block them. A quiet sense of ease filled her, and he let that spread through him.
When the last of the bindings came loose, he clawed his way over the ground to get away from her. Feeling the constricting of the torc around his throat, he tore it free and tossed it aside. He sat alone with his head down.
After several minutes of silence, Dagny spoke. “You aren’t weak.”
His head snapped up. How could he ever explain how truly weak he was? How much he feared losing control and never being able to wrest it back? He simply shook his head. “Your mother is right. I’m weak.”
“You gave your oath to that sadistic bitch to save a female much weaker than you. You sought to protect me, though you don’t even know me. What about that makes you weak?”
He couldn’t formulate a response that she would understand, so he said nothing.
She spoke again after a brief hesitation, “Here, let me help you.” She moved closer and wrapped an arm around him. Her strength was a soothing, calming current that flowed into him. The pain of his wounds ebbed a bit at a time.
He lifted his head. Lost in the reflection of the moon in her iridescent eyes, he was unable to find words that approached the gratitude he felt. He swallowed, then lowered his head to her shoulder. “Thank you.”
She pulled him against her, the warmth of her body and her presence a profound comfort. “No need to thank me.”
Brand sent the Call to Alice to allow her to transform. Within a minute, Alice darted out of the cabin, while pulling his shirt around her. She ran straight for Brand, but came to a skittering halt when she saw Dagny.
Brand said, “Dagny, this is Alice.”
Dagny inclined her head in greeting. A protective arm wrapped around his chest. That small gesture felt so right, though he should have been embarrassed that she thought he needed her protection.
“Alice, can you find my phone? It should be in my jacket, hanging over my bike.”
She nodded and turned away.
“I must be crushing you,” he said to Dagny after a few seconds. He didn’t move, though; the calm radiating out of her was too enticing.
She shook her head. “You’re actually keeping me warm.”
“I’m an idiot, you must be freezing.” He sat up and shifted to pull her closer, putting one arm around her back.
She tensed and started to slide away from him. “I’m fine.”
He let her sidle away, confused by her sudden skittishness. “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
She pulled the robe tighter around her and seemed to curl into herself. “I know that.”
“Then, what’s wrong?”
A blush crept up her neck, and she hesitated for several seconds before she answered. “You surprised me.”
He looked her over again, concentrating on the details. Her knees were drawn up, thighs pressed tight against her belly. He replayed her reactions and realized that when she’d initiated the contact, she’d been fine. Life in a brood was about physical contact as much as camaraderie and protection, yet she reacted as if she couldn’t stand being touched.
Alice came back then, glancing between Brand and Dagny as she passed him his phone.
Keeping his eyes on Dagny, he speed-dialed Erik. His friend didn’t pick up. He left a message explaining the barebones of what had happened and asking if Erik could come out to Ingrid’s to pick up his bike. He couldn’t ride with his injuries and didn’t trust what he might do to Ingrid if he had to come back for the bike.
He turned to Alice. “Can you find Ingrid’s keys and bring her car closer? I’m not up to walking far, but we need to get out of here.”
Her mouth curved into a frown as she examined his injuries. “Are you going to be able to stand?”
“I’ll manage.” He caught her hand before she pivoted away. “Thanks.”
The frown vanished. “You’re welcome.” She walked toward the cabin.
He turned back to Dagny.
She stared into the woods, eyes unfocused. When she noticed his attention, she met his gaze. “Are you going to leave me here?”
He barely contained the growl that wanted to leap from his throat. “No, I’m not leaving you here.”
Her shoulders sagged, and a bit of the tension left her. “I appreciate that. What do I owe you for getting me out of here?”
He shook his head. “You really must think I’m a complete asshole.”
“Not at all. I just know how our world works.”
Fenrir’s fucking teeth! She had to be from one of the broods where females were sold like chattel. The thought of what might have happened to her there almost unhinged him.
He reached out to touch her hand. Her hand twitched away, but then came back to brush against his. At once, he felt better. Calmer. “I don’t want anything except for you to be safe.”
She narrowed her eyes, but nodded.
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