Dagny stared down at Brand while she dried her hair. He lay sprawled on his bed with the covers drawn up to his waist. He’d barely made it into bed before collapsing. She’d jumped into the shower in the adjoining bathroom after making sure he was comfortable.
Now that he was unconscious, she had time to consider the whirlwind of what had happened. Her rational mind offered that the slow burn under her skin had to do more with the coming full moon than the male in front of her, but she wasn’t so sure. Her wolf normally fought against any act of surrender, but not where he was concerned. She had bared her throat to him without a second thought, and the wolf hadn’t objected. It put her in a vulnerable position she found more than a little alarming.
Dagny flipped through Brand’s closet until she found a shirt she liked. She paused while rolling up the sleeves of the gray flannel, noticing that it smelled like him. She buried her nose in the collar and let the scent surround her. She couldn’t put a name to it, something herbaceous and woody at the same time that made her want to lay down and rub up against him.
The moon would force him back to consciousness sooner than his wounds could finish healing. He’d wake confused, in pain, and worst of all, unpredictable. She contemplated tying him, at least to slow him down, but after what her mother had done to him, she couldn’t bring herself to bind him. Besides, she didn’t believe he was a danger to her or Alice, only to himself.
She descended the stairs from his loft bedroom and walked barefoot through the house. The decor was masculine, but tasteful—rich with dark colors and expensive fabrics. She followed her nose to the room that Alice hid in and knocked. “Alice, it’s Dagny.”
The door opened after a scurry of light feet over the floor behind it. Huge blue eyes dominated a face that was frightened, almost desperate. “Is Brand okay?”
Dagny noticed that Alice wore fresh clothes. The female had clothes at Brand’s house. She swallowed a curse, furious with herself because she had absolutely no reason to feel jealous… but she did. “I think so. He passed out. We’ll have to see what he’s like when he wakes up.”
Alice nodded in response. She stared at the floor next to Dagny’s feet. Her bottom lip sucked in, as if she wanted to speak, but couldn’t. The bruising around her face and neck had faded most of the way, leaving only slight discolorations.
Overall, she looked so pathetic that Dagny felt bad for being irritated with her. She tried to make her voice sound calm and friendly. “Come on. Let’s go find something to eat. You must be starving.”
When Alice didn’t move, Dagny turned and headed to where she thought the kitchen should be. The hesitation lasted a few seconds, and then soft footsteps followed behind her.
At the end of the hallway, she passed into a dining area. Furnished with a sturdy wooden table and chairs, the room connected to the kitchen through a large open archway. The counters and appliances within were impeccably clean.
Dagny opened the fridge and laughed when she saw the meager contents. Brand’s food stocks could be counted on one hand—jugs of water, two apples, horseradish, and three bottles of hot sauce.
Alice walked around her, leaving a wide space between them, and peeked inside. “Yeah, he’s not much for cooking.”
Alice nodded. “But, I don’t think—”
“Yeah, it’s a bad idea. If he wakes up and smells someone else, even a human, it’s going to be rough.”
Her perusal through his cabinets didn’t turn up much else, though she did manage to find bread, peanut butter, and some coffee. Deciding that peanut butter sandwiches were preferable to the gurgling of her stomach, she set about the preparation.
Dagny poured two mugs of coffee, then slid them and the plate of sandwiches to the middle of the table. She seated herself opposite the chair Alice had taken. “Help yourself. Hope you don’t take cream because I didn’t find any.”
Alice pulled one of the mugs toward her. “Black is fine. Thank you.” Her lips twitched into a tremulous smile.
Dagny wondered how such a delicate flower could have survived in their world. The Broods of Fenrir were ruthless; Alice should’ve been crushed. She studied the bruising and the scars that trailed down Alice’s neck. Perhaps she’d been crushed after all and was more resilient than she seemed.
A few bites into her sandwich, Dagny tried to start up a conversation. “How long have you known Brand?”
Alice looked up at her, then dropped her fearful eyes back to the table. “Ninety-eight years.”
“The male that brought you to the cabin. Did he have something to do with how you and Brand met?” She had an inkling of the answer from something her mother had said while waiting for Brand to arrive.
Alice swallowed, several times. “Brand lived with the brood I was born into for a while. Slavery is still allowed under Björnkarl’s rule. Weaker offspring are often sold by their sires.” Her hand lifted up to her mouth before she noticed and brought it back to the top of the table. “Arn owned me.” Her eyes closed, as if trying to shut out a horrendous memory.
Dagny had been in the bedroom of the cabin at the time, so she hadn’t seen Arn, but he’d sounded cruel. “That must have been terrible for you.”
“It was.” Alice inhaled a shaky breath and sighed. “Brand took me away from there. He brought me here and got Erik to take me into his brood. I’m so weak that most broods wouldn’t take me unless I was mated to someone very strong.”
Dagny choked on her coffee. It took her a few coughs before she could force words out. “You and Brand are mated?”
Alice’s face dropped into an expression of shock. “Oh, no. I just meant that Erik’s unusual because he let me in when others wouldn’t, that’s all.”
When her heart had stopped its frantic flailing, Dagny said, “Well, I wasn’t sure. You have clothes here, and it’s obvious that you two are close.”
Alice lowered her eyes and made a murmuring noise of agreement. “His wolf gets out of control on occasion, and sometimes I can calm him down. I stay here to help him if he goes through a bad patch. There’s never been anything but friendship between us.”
“I can’t believe that.” The words escaped before she realized how rude it was to imply Alice was lying.
Alice’s gaze came up, guileless and confused. “Why not?”
“He’s so powerful. If you’re here when he’s really on edge… I mean, how could something not happen?” Dagny was much closer to his level of power, yet even she could barely form a thought when he had sex on his mind. He could overwhelm someone of Alice’s low strength without any effort at all.
Alice folded and unfolded her hands a few times. “He doesn’t affect me the way he does most females.” After a beat of hesitation, Alice continued, “What I mean is… I’m not right.” She took a sip of her coffee from a shaking mug. “I have no idea why I’m telling you this. He doesn’t even know.”
She reached across the table and covered one of Alice’s hands with hers. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell him.”
“Thank you. It means a lot to me. I owe him so much, and his life is difficult. I only want to help him.” She glanced up and offered Dagny a hesitant smile.
They sat in silence for a few awkward moments, sipping coffee. After a while they resumed chatting, carefully avoiding the subject of Brand.
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