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Moira Rogers
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Becoming


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Becoming

Forty years before Cry Sanctuary...

Samantha Hamilton hasn't had an easy introduction to life as a werewolf. The man who turned her did everything in his power to control her, but the undeniable strength that makes her an alpha kept her alive and fighting long enough for help to arrive. But now that she's tucked away in the quiet sanctuary of Red Rock under the watchful eye of the pack's alpha, the instincts that urged her to fight are now telling her to do something else-to find a way to protect the town that helped her heal.

Becoming is a free read, offered unedited & as-is. It may contain adult content, including strong language, violence and sexual situations.

Becoming

Samantha hadn’t been warm in months.

She stared into the blazing fire and fought off a shiver as thunder rumbled loudly overhead. The quiet little boy kneeling on the floor glanced over his shoulder at her with eyes that seemed too mature for a seven year-old before silently adding another log to the fireplace.

The quiet murmur of voices drifted from the kitchen, but the pounding rain made it difficult for her to make out distinct words. Her hearing might be impressively sharp now, but the people in the other room were werewolves as well. They knew how to pitch their voices to keep from being overheard by traumatized refugees…or little boys.

The boy—Keith, she reminded herself—tilted his head as if trying to overhear his parents, but seemed to be as unsuccessful as Sam had been. After a few seconds, he rose to his feet and smiled at her.

“Want another blanket, miss?” he asked.

The two already wrapped around her should have been enough, but she still felt cold. “That would be nice, Keith.”

He smiled again, and she got the oddest feeling he was trying to put her at ease. It should have been foolish. She was twenty-six years-old and could easily be his mother, after all, but she supposed a seven year old werewolf was still a predator. Predators could sense weakness. And fear.

Keith disappeared through a door on the side of the room just as footsteps approached from the kitchen.

“Keith?” The dark-haired woman who came through the door stopped and put her hands on her hips. Darcy was Keith’s mother, who was married to Steven, the man who—

The man who rescued me.

Darcy wasn’t much older than Sam, but her gentle smile seemed almost maternal. “Are you all right, Samantha?”

“Yes.” She cleared her throat, but it didn’t help the hoarseness. “Keith went to get another blanket.”

“Mmm.” She took a step toward the kitchen. “How about some hot tea?”

“Is—” Nervousness made Sam’s voice crack. She swallowed and tried again. “Steven said your alpha was coming here. Do I…have to do anything?”

“Gavin just wants to meet you,” Darcy assured her. She filled the kettle at the sink, the stream of water echoing against the stainless steel. “He wants to make sure you’re all right.”

The words set Sam’s heart to racing. He just wants to make sure you’re all right. That’s what they’d told her before they’d dragged her before Alan Matthews the first time after her change. The alpha’s inspection had taken three days and left her a lot less all right.

Darcy shut off the water and frowned. “What’s wrong, Samantha?”

Before she could answer, heavy boots sounded on the front steps. Darcy dropped the kettle on the stove and wiped her hands on her slacks. “That’d be Gavin now.”

Samantha tightened her fingers around the blankets until they hurt, but Keith’s reappearance forestalled her descent into absolute panic. The boy bolted across the room, dropping the requested blanket somewhere in the vicinity of Samantha’s chair, and shot toward the front of the house. “I’ll get the door!”

The fact that she’d never seen a child—or anyone else, for that matter—run toward Alan gave her the courage to breathe as she heard Keith open the door and greet the alpha. “Hi, Gavin!”

“Hello there, young Master Keith.” The alpha’s voice was deep, with a bit of a brogue that lent his words a rhythmic quality. “I heard we have a visitor. Have you tried to make her feel welcome?”

“I built up the fire good and got her lots of blankets. I don’t know why she’s so cold, though. But she’s pretty scared, Gavin. I don’t think you should get too close or move too fast or anything.”

Sam’s cheeks heated as she sank lower in her chair. And now I’m being coddled by a seven year-old. She wasn’t sure if the thought made her want to cry or dissolve into hysterical laughter. Both seemed attractive.

“I’ll certainly bear that in mind.”

Darcy held out her hand. “Keith. Gavin has things to do right now, sweetie. Maybe you can talk more later.”

Sam mustered up the courage to turn and peek through the open doorway. The alpha had knelt, presumably to put himself on eye level with Keith, but rose to his feet as the boy returned obediently to his mother’s side. Sam caught a glimpse of dark hair and kind eyes before she jerked her gaze away, unsettled by the press of his magic as he stepped into the room.

He came in and went immediately to the chair opposite her. “Hello. I’m Gavin. You must be Samantha.”

It was hard to judge how old he was, but there was no mistaking his aura of confidence and power. It was different than Alan’s, which made it possible for her to nod. “I’m Samantha.”

He motioned toward to the blanket on her chair, and Darcy draped it around Sam’s shoulders. “Come on, Keith,” she said. “ Let’s go see what Daddy’s gotten up to.”

Sam watched Darcy usher the young boy from the room, leaving her alone with the alpha. Just like last time. It was a bad sign that she couldn’t even work up any real fear.

Gavin pulled a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. “Keith wouldn’t leave without his mother,” he murmured, “and there are some things about the world he doesn’t need to learn yet.” He lit a cigarette and rubbed his thumb across his forehead. “Like the kinds of things that bastard Matthews does.” He laid the pack and lighter on the table between them. “You smoke?”

She shook her head and pulled the blanket more snugly around her shoulders. “No, thank you.”

Gavin stared down at his hands. “You’re safe here. I know those are just words right now, and it’ll take time for you to believe them.” He took a deep pull from the cigarette and looked up at her. “Darcy and Steven would like for you to stay here with them.”

It seemed too good to be true. A few years ago she might have even believed it. “And what do I have to do in return for this safety?”

He didn’t pretend to be shocked or offended by her question. “You make an effort. We all have to work together here, so you’ll help out where you can.” A small smile tilted up one corner of his mouth. “I know Darcy could use some help with Keith right now. He’s a handful.”

She ignored his smile and the way its gentle kindness warmed her. Kindness could be feigned, and he hadn’t yet answered the question that mattered most after the past year.

“I’m not going to fuck any of your men,” she whispered, using the harsh words like a weapon. “I want your promise that no one will touch me.”

“Sex isn’t currency here.” He didn’t flinch, and he didn’t look away. “You fuck someone, that’s your business. Someone tries to force you… Well, then it becomes my business. I don’t stand for that.” He finished his cigarette and leaned forward to extinguish it in an ashtray on the table. “You have my word. No one will touch you.”

Sam studied his face as silence stretched between them, interrupted only by the rumbling thunder outside. The wolf inside her approved of Gavin’s quiet strength. He exuded safety, and for one crazy second all she wanted to do was curl up against him and cry until the pain was gone.

The urge was so strong, she swayed forward. When she realized what she was doing, she jerked her gaze from his face and sat back, her fingers tightening around the blankets. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” His tone turned the words into more than a rote acceptance of thanks. “We afford everyone here the same courtesies. The pack—the community—is what’s important.”

Her gaze drifted back to his face, and she gathered her courage. “Do you know why Alan Matthews wanted me?”

“I don’t. Don’t really want to, either.”

If only it were that simple. “I get a monthly allowance of six thousand dollars from my father. When he dies, I’ll inherit millions.” She closed her eyes and fought off a wave of nausea. “Alan Matthews had me turned into a werewolf and spent the next month convincing me to sign a marriage license. He’ll get my inheritance if my father dies.”

“We can warn him.” Gavin tightened his grip on the arm of his chair and exhaled a long, slow breath. He attempted another smile, but it didn’t hide the tension in his eyes. “Would you like to go see him? Your father?”

The idea of facing her father in her current state was enough to make her heart race. “I don’t—” She shook her head and forced herself to breathe. “Not right now. But…I would really like to not be married to Alan anymore.”

“We can do that, too.” Gavin rose and shoved his hands into his pockets. “Try to get some rest. We can talk more tomorrow.”

Relief rose up in her with tears hard on its heels. She tried to thank Gavin, but the sudden release of tension was too much. Her first word broke on a sob, and she buried her face in her hands and stopped fighting.

Moments later, she heard his boots crossing the floor. Even when he reached her, the limit of his contact was a hand on the heavy blankets covering her shoulder. “You’re all right, Sammie. You don’t have to cry. I swear, you’re going to be all right.”

“I know, I—” I know. And for the first time in over a year, she let herself believe it as her gasping sobs gave way to quiet tears. She curled her fingers around his hand, the touch the most intimate she’d experienced in months. “I’m sorry. I’m just…very, very tired.”

The to the den opened, and Darcy’s soft steps echoed though the room. “Gavin?”

“It’s fine, Darcy.” He stroked Sam’s hair with his free hand and looked down at her. “If you need anything, tell Darcy or Steven. I’ll see you in the morning.”

His hand slipped away, and Darcy’s palm replaced it, warm and comforting. “Thank you, Gavin.”

“My pleasure, Sammie.”

[vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

Steve pounced on him the second the door clicked shut behind him. “Tell me I can go back there and wring Matthews’ neck, or I swear to God—”

Gavin held up his hand. His first instinct was to send Steven and a handful of men to bring Matthews back in pieces. But… “It would mean war, Steve, and we can’t risk it. Not right now.”

His friend bit off a furious snarl and stalked a few paces away before turning and jabbing a finger in the direction of his house. “They had her leashed like a fucking dog. With a collar. Tied up in a locked room, because none of them are man enough to handle an alpha female without breaking her first.”

He choked back a growl. “She’s safe now,” he finally murmured, mostly to remind himself. She’d trembled with fear and hopelessness when he’d walked into the room, and he’d known what she expected to happen. “Matthews is a threat, one we’ll have to deal with. But Samantha is safe.”

She’s safe,” Steve snapped. “That doesn’t mean he won’t be out shopping for a replacement before the day’s out.”

“You want that replacement to be one of our women?” Gavin asked with quiet savagery. “Like Darcy?”

Steve curled his fingers around the porch railing, and the wood creaked in protest. “Fuck. Fuck.”

“Of course you don’t.” Gavin tamped down his rage at the thought. It took several seconds, but he managed to portray a calm facade as he turned to Steve. “We have to keep alphas like Matthews away from Red Rock. It’s the only way.”

“What are we supposed to do with her?” The railing cracked under Steve’s hands, and he swore and jerked away. “I’ve seen refugees from packs, before, but none this strong who were this…hurt. She may be numb now, but if she starts getting scared…” Steve didn’t need to finish.

Gavin pulled a cigarette from his pocket. “She gets that scared, scared enough to worry you, then you bring her to my house.”

“Shit.” Steve shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know if that’d be better or worse.”

“Me, either. But you don’t need to worry about her flipping her shit but good, not with your kid around.”

“Okay. If she loses it, I’ll get her over to your place, or if it’s really bad send Darcy and Keith over and you can try to calm her down.” Steve shoved a hand through his hair and sighed. “You’re going to have to step down hard on the men in town. I don’t think she’s going to recognize good-natured interest.”

“She’s off limits.” Gavin fingers tightened on his cigarette, breaking it in half. “If anyone has any questions or complaints about that, send ‘em to me. I’ll kick their asses.”

His friend eyed him for several long minutes before nodding. “Spending time with Keith and Darcy might be good for her. Get her used to wolves who aren’t a threat. Gonna be hard to keep Keith from driving her up the wall, though.” In spite of his words, there was real pride in Steve’s voice. “Darcy said the kid’s already learning to be an overprotective nag.”

Gavin grinned. “He’ll have my job before long. Just watch.”

“Wouldn’t doubt it. He already drives poor Darce to distraction some days.” Steve’s smile widened. “Now that he can change on his own, she never gets any peace.”

“Maybe Samantha can help her. Keith seemed to take a liking to her.” He’s not the only one, a tiny voice inside him teased, and he shoved it away.

“Yeah, well…I’ll have a talk with him about boundaries.” Thunder cracked above them, closer this time, and Steve glanced at the sky. “You better get on. Sounds like this storm’s about to split wide open. You coming back tomorrow?”

“Right after lunch,” he promised, stepping off the porch. He’d come back earlier, but he didn’t want to frighten Samantha into thinking he planned to claim her as his prize.

Steve seemed to understand. “Thanks, Gavin. We’ll see you in the afternoon.”

Gavin started the short walk to his house. He kept up a quick pace to make it home before the rain, but the picture of Samantha’s wide, scared eyes was still vivid in his mind. She’d been pushed past resistance and into resignation, and the thought made him want to shed his human form and howl. To seek vengeance.

But it wasn’t worth compromising Red Rock, not when safe places were dwindling to nothing and men like Alan Matthews were taking over.

So you make it up to her, the small voice inside him reasoned. Show her there are places where safety is given, not bought. Where she doesn’t have to trade her body or her sanity for protection.

It would work. It had to.

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The porch swing creaked softly as Sam pushed against the deck, setting the contraption to rocking again. Next to her, Keith continued to talk, his words soothing background noise since he required little encouragement to continue beyond an occasional nod or noise of agreement.

She could faintly hear Darcy moving around inside the house, cleaning up after lunch and doing the hundreds of chores that, apparently, were impossible to accomplish with a seven year-old werewolf underfoot. Letting him prattle on at her didn’t seem terribly useful, but Darcy had assured her she was helping.

Keith said Gavin’s name, and her attention snapped back to him. “…Gavin says I can go away to college if I want, but mom makes me do math every day already and that’s all right, but she makes me do spelling, too, and I hate that. I bet you have to spell pretty good to go to college.”

He paused just long enough that she guessed she was supposed to respond. “Actually, I went to college, and I don’t spell so well myself.”

“You went to college? Where? What’d you study? Was it hard?”

“You sure ask a lot of questions, Keith,” a low, lilting voice observed. “Give the poor woman time to breathe.”

Gavin had moved so quietly Sam hadn’t noticed his arrival. She found him leaning against the porch post, his lips curled in a warm smile. The wind teased at his dark hair, tugging pieces of it over his forehead. His features were strong, more distinguished than classically handsome, but the gentle warmth in his eyes called out to her—or rather, to the wolf inside her.

As if that weren’t confusing enough, Keith apparently noticed. “Hey, Samantha’s not afraid of you anymore, Gavin. You can come up here, if you want.”

“Thank you,” Gavin murmured. He started up the steps. “’Afternoon, Sammie. Hope you had a good night.”

“I did.” She found it easier to smile this morning. “Keith has taken very good care of me.”

He ruffled the boy’s hair. “Excellent job, young man.”

Keith beamed, then turned to regard Sam, his tiny little face deadly serious. “Will you be okay if I go next door, Samantha? Gavin can look after you ‘til I come back.”

She bit the inside of her lip to keep from smiling and nodded every bit as seriously. “I think I’ll be okay, Keith. You should let your mother know, though.”

“Okay, Sam.” His expression melted into one more befitting a seven year-old as he slid off the swing. “Bye, Gavin!”

Instead of sitting beside her, Gavin rested one shoulder against the wall. “Your little caretaker is very serious about his job.”

“I’ve never met a seven year-old quite like him,” Sam admitted, shifting on the swing.

“He was born into a world where his father brings home refugees, and his mother has to hold them while they cry.” Gavin’s jaw was tight. “He’s old before his time.”

Keith’s sweet concern over her didn’t seem nearly as amusing now. She fought back a wave of guilt and looked away. “Then perhaps I should stay somewhere else.”

“That isn’t what I meant.” He glanced after Keith. “You’re a victim, same as a dozen people Keith has seen already this year, but you’re different.” He hesitated. “You’re an alpha, Sam.”

The words made her shudder. “I know. Alan made it clear to me that being an alpha was what made me so…entertaining.”

“Only to someone who can’t handle you without breaking you down,” he said softly. “An alpha’s power isn’t a prize, Sam, a reward for fear or pain. It’s a gift. I know.”

“I don’t understand.”

He looked away. “They tried to break you because you’re stronger.”

She choked on a hysterical sounding laugh. “They didn’t try to do anything. He had me in his hands for a month and I signed a marriage license.”

“No, Sam.” He met her eyes again. “They tried. You’re still here.”

She tried to look away, but the power in his eyes was impossible to deny. Maybe this was what he’d meant when he mentioned an alpha’s power. She didn’t feel trapped or compelled. If anything, his strength was…comforting. “I don’t really know who I am,” she admitted quietly. “All I know is that Samantha Bradford is gone.”

“Then make a new life.” He offered her a tiny smile. “Become someone else, if you have to.”

Sam took a deep breath and nodded. “I think the first thing I need is a divorce.”

“I’ve already spoken to someone on the phone about it this morning. Trying to figure out the best way to go about it.”

The best way would almost certainly involve some sort of interaction with Alan. The world went blurry around the edges, and she tightened her grip on the arm of the swing. “I can’t see him.”

“Sam. Samantha.” His hands framed her face, and magic washed through her. Her panic subsided. “Relax. You don’t have to get anywhere near him.”

She tried to focus on his eyes as a strange, tickling power filled the space between them. “What… What is that?”

“Your gift,” he murmured as the energy faded. “Your power.”

The frantic feeling inside her faded, but didn’t disappear, not completely. The presence of that wildness just under the surface reminded her of all of the times she’d been goaded past the point of endurance and had come back to herself covered in the stench of blood and death. “I’m dangerous,” she whispered.

“You could be,” he admitted. “If you get that upset and there’s no one around strong enough to calm you down.”

She thought of Keith again, of his big brown eyes and eager smile and the way he followed her around like an enthusiastic puppy. A shudder rolled through her, and she squeezed her eyes shut. “You have to find somewhere else for me to stay. Please.”

“Steven can help you if you start to lose it, Sam. The only other option… Well, it isn’t an option. Not right now.”

“Why not?” She opened her eyes and stared up at him. “Is it you?”

Gavin’s smile was guarded.  “It’s me, Sammie.”

Sam hesitated. He was a virtual stranger. Of course, everyone here was a stranger to her, even Darcy and Steven and adorable little Keith. The fact that Gavin was an alpha was cause to be wary, but honesty compelled her to acknowledge that he’d already had plenty of opportunity to hurt her if that was his plan.

And he’d promised no one would make demands on her.

“I know it’s a lot to ask…”  She sought his gaze and tried to smile. “But I’m asking anyway. Please let me stay with you until I know I won’t hurt anyone.” Until I know I won’t hurt Keith.

At first, she thought he wouldn’t answer. Then he dipped his head in an odd, formal looking nod. “If that’s what you want. I’ll make sure the guest room’s tidied up, and you can come after dinner this evening.”

She returned his nod. “Thank you. I’ll try not to be in the way.”

“You won’t be.” He turned toward the door but stopped. “What did you study?”

“Art.” No one had asked that in so long it felt odd to talk about it. “I have a Master’s degree in photography. I wanted to teach.”

He smiled. “Then we’ll have to look into getting you a camera.”

His grin really was contagious. She found herself smiling back without thought. “That would be very thoughtful. I’d like it.”

“I bet Darcy would love to have some pictures of Keith that weren’t taken with a crappy Polaroid.”

“I’d love to take some pictures of him. And the woods…” She hesitated before nodding toward the forest that started behind the Winstons’ house. “Is it safe to walk in the woods?”

“Safe enough.” Gavin ducked his head and grinned again. “I walk them every day, if you’re interested in joining me.”

She wanted to agree, but saying yes felt too much like agreeing to a date. She settled for a nod and a vague affirmative. “When I’m feeling better, I’d like that.”

“We can talk about it later, Sammie.”

“Later,” she agreed, hiding her relief until he stepped inside to talk to Darcy. Once the door clicked shut behind him, she let her smile fade and closed her eyes as nervousness rose inside her.

She could easily give in to Gavin’s quiet strength. Just being around him eased her wolf’s wild panic. That wolf would happily curl up next to him and take comfort in his presence. The woman, though…

She shivered as a cool breeze tugged at her hair and rustled the branches in the trees around her. The last thing she needed—or wanted—was a man. Especially not an alpha wolf, whose needs and desires were far beyond anything she was willing to accommodate.

So…don’t. He’d given no indication he was interested in any such thing anyway. And if he changed his mind… Then I’ll be no worse off than I was before. And I can leave.

In the meantime, she’d follow her wolf’s instincts and trust him. After all, the wolf had hated Alan Matthews. So maybe she knows something after all.

[vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

Gavin swung open the bedroom door and set the red hard shell suitcase Darcy had packed onto the floor with a thump. “This is it.”

He stepped aside to let Sam inside the room and barely suppressed a grimace as she looked around. He hadn’t done much decorating since moving in, mostly because the people who stayed with him weren’t interested in aesthetics so much as safety. But now…

Now I want it to look decent for the off-limits woman with the huge eyes. Dumbass.

“It’s nice,” she said, and the words didn’t sound like a lie. “Thank you for letting me stay here.”

“You’re welcome,” he said automatically. Then he gestured toward a chest of drawers by the wall. “There are some clothes in there, but usually only men stay here, so I’m not sure what you’ll find.”

“I’ll make do. Better if they’re too big than too small.” She offered him a weary smile, one of those tired, brittle ones that looked like they took everything in her. “Darcy’s shorter than me.”

Sam was, indeed, close to his own height. “At any rate, we’ll get you some more clothes as soon as things settle down.” He realized he was staring at her and jerked his gaze away. He needed something to do with his hands, so he lifted the suitcase onto the bed. “What time do you like to eat breakfast?”

“Doesn’t matter. I’d offer to help cook, but…” This time her smile was smaller, but it looked real. “Darcy says she’ll help me learn. I got the impression I was only slightly less destructive in the kitchen than Keith.”

“It’s all right. I do okay.” He edged away from the bed and rested his hand on the door frame. “I’ve managed to feed myself for almost eighty years, anyway.”

“You—” She snapped her mouth shut and darted her gaze over his face. “Wow. You… don’t look eighty.”

He was used to her response. “Neither will you, when you’re my age.”

“Oh. I hadn’t thought about it.” Her hand crept up to her shoulder, an almost absent-minded gesture. “What about the scars? Will they go away?”

Gavin froze, his chest tightening painfully. “The scars?”

Her heartbeat sounded too loud in the room as she turned her back and gathered up edges of the thick sweatshirt he recognized as Steven’s. She pulled it over her head without saying a word.

Scars crisscrossed the pale skin of her back, ranging from pale, thin lines that looked mostly healed to one angry red mark just below her shoulder blade that couldn’t have been more than a week old.

It had to have been magic, he realized. No ordinary weapon could have hurt her so badly, or left so many marks. “How?” Rage bubbled up inside him, and the solid walnut of the door jamb creaked under his grasp. “What did they use?”

“I don’t know.” She fumbled a little as she tugged the sweatshirt back over her head, and the nervous energy inside the room took on a desperate edge. “One of the wolves had some sort of knife… Looked like a prop from a movie.”

“Something enchanted,” Gavin whispered uselessly. “I’m so sorry, Sammie.”

She still had her back to him, but he smelled the salty tang of tears. “So I guess…they’re not going away?”

“Probably not.” He took a step forward before he even realized he’d moved. But that single step and her tears broke his reserve, and he laid a hand lightly on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s done now. It’s…in the past.” She didn’t move closer to him, but she didn’t pull away from this touch, either. She just lifted her hands and brushed at her cheeks. “Is there anything I can do about the one under my shoulder? It hurts.”

“Wait here.”

He carefully measured the steps down the hall to the bathroom in an effort to quiet his anger. That Matthews would want to hurt her like that was bad enough, but to actively want to mark her… Gavin stood in front of the medicine cabinet for a long moment, his fists clenched, not recognizing the angry mask that stared back at him from the mirror.

Focus.

He pulled a small jar of salve from the cabinet and headed back to the bedroom. “Can you reach it? The spot under your shoulder, I mean.”

It took forever for her to shake her head. “Not very well. Is it—could you…?”

“Of course.” Gavin unscrewed the cap from the glass jar and approached her slowly. “This is just a salve. It won’t heal anything, but it should take away the sting.” The thick mixture clung to his fingertips, and he cleared his throat. “Ready?”

She answered by pulling off the sweatshirt again. Her hands shook as she clutched it to her chest with one hand and reached up with the other to pull her thick, messy braid over her shoulder. “Darcy said there’s someone here who can cut my hair so it doesn’t look so…messy.”

“Peggy does a good job.” He spoke in a low voice as he smoothed the salve across her back. “Darcy can introduce you to her tomorrow, if you want.”

“Okay.” Sam’s body was tense, but the power inside her welcomed him, filling the space between them with quiet yearning. Her wolf recognized the safety he could offer, and she wanted it, whether Sam was ready or not.

He finished up, careful not to leave his hands on her any longer than necessary. “All done. Is seven o’clock all right for breakfast?”

“Yes,” she whispered, not turning to look at him. “Thank you.”

“If you need anything, I’m at the other end of the hall.” Shit, that made it sound like he wanted her to come to his room. “You can yell. I’ll hear you.”

“I’ll be fine. I think I just need some sleep.”

“Okay.” He capped the salve, oddly reluctant to leave. “You’ll be okay?”

“There is one thing.” She finally glanced over her shoulder at him. “I have nightmares. And during the bad ones, I guess I change. I never remember doing it, but I’ve ripped up furniture and people who got in my way. I don’t want to hurt anyone here.”

Something inside Gavin, something too primitive for words and promises, acknowledged Sam’s concerns and filed them away. He nodded. “I’ll be right down the hall. If I hear anything that sounds like that, I’ll come in. But only then.”

She relaxed and moved to shift the suitcase off of the bed, one arm still pressing the sweatshirt to her chest. “Darcy said I can learn. How to control it, I mean. She seemed angry that I didn’t already know how.”

She should have been taught. She should have been— “It’ll be easy for you, once you learn.”

“Is it hard to learn?” The suitcase hit the floor with a soft thump, and she perched on the edge of the bed. Her eyes didn’t quite meet his, but that soft yearning was back.

“You know, I don’t really remember.” He measured his words slowly. Whether she realized it or not, she was stalling his departure. “I almost feel like I’ve always been a wolf.”

“How long have you been one?”

“Since I was fifteen.”

“Wow. That’s…” He could almost see her doing the math. “So I guess you know pretty much everything about the things that are driving me crazy?”

“Pretty much.” He knew her wolf wanted him to stay, even though it was the last thing her human side wanted—or needed. “I can help you with it, once you settle in. But it’s the kind of thing you should take nice and slow.”

She nodded and lifted her gaze to his. “I’m sorry. I’m keeping you.”

“Yes.” He wondered if she knew that’s exactly what she was doing.

“I think I might be doing it on purpose.” Her words echoed his thought eerily. “My wolf doesn’t want to be alone.”

“I know,” he said. “I don’t mind, really. I understand.”

She glanced around the room, her eyes coming to rest on a plain wooden chair in the corner. “You could stay for a little bit,” she offered, her words a soft whisper. “You could tell me about the town.”

Even if he wanted to leave, part of his job as her alpha was to make sure she felt safe. So Gavin smiled and walked over to the chair. “Red Rock is small. Smaller now than it used to be…”

As he spoke, Sam slowly stretched out on the bed and pulled the covers over herself. Her eyes drifted shut, and he kept talking. His voice dropped to a murmur and finally faded completely as he watched the gentle rise and fall of her chest beneath the mound of quilts and blankets.

He sat there for a long time, just watching her. He told himself it was in case she woke up frightened. But he found himself relaxing for the first time since he’d dispatched Steven to make sure the rumors weren’t true, and that Alan Matthews wasn’t holding a woman against her will.

[vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

Sam studied the thick stack of papers in front of her, struggling to focus on the clean black type when all she could feel was the quiet song of the moon, wrapping more tightly around her with every heartbeat. Gavin had told her the pack rarely met before sunset on the night of a full moon, but it wasn’t even noon yet and her skin felt too tight.

She shivered and forced her attention back to the papers. How Gavin had managed to secure the necessary paperwork for a divorce in only eight days was something of a mystery, especially considering that he hadn’t left Red Rock. But he’d done it, somehow, and now her only challenge was ignoring the call of the moon long enough to read it.

“Want a soda water?” Gavin called from the kitchen.

“No, thank you.” The words on the page blurred again, and she sucked in a sharp breath. “Maybe I do need something to drink.”

He brought in a bottle of soda, along with a glass and a small flask. “Getting antsy already?”

“Yeah.” The scratch of fabric against her skin felt wrong, but she wasn’t quite far gone enough to pull off her clothing. Yet. “I’m trying to read this, but I can’t make my brain focus on the words. Everything just feels…wrong.”

“Look them over tomorrow,” he advised, sitting at the other end of the table. “How long has it been since you ran?”

“You mean as a wolf?” The thought made her want to laugh. “Well, this will be my thirteenth full moon…so one year ago. They let me run on the first moon, but apparently I killed two of Alan’s men. After that, I spent the full moon locked in a cage.”

The nearly empty glass bottle in Gavin’s hand shattered.

“Shit!” Her chair tumbled over backwards as she stumbled to her feet, reeling from shock and the wave of anger that swept the room. The sharp smell of blood filled the air, and she forgot about being afraid as she hurried around the table and reached for Gavin’s hand. “You’ve got glass in your palm…”

“Don’t come over here,” he said, seeming unconcerned. “I’ll wash it. It’ll be healed before tonight.”

With her wolf so close to the surface, she gave voice to her annoyance. “If you don’t want me stepping in the glass, then come over here. But I’m looking at your damn hand.”

He snorted and rose. “Guess I should be glad I haven’t carpeted the room yet, I suppose.”

She righted her chair and waited for him to settle into the one next to it before reaching for his hand. Taking care of the shards of glass gave her something on which to focus, something oddly soothing. With a wince, she eased the largest piece of glass from the heel of his hand and dropped it onto the table. “I shouldn’t have told you. I didn’t realize you’d get so upset.”

“It’s not your fault.” His hand trembled, but she got the feeling it wasn’t from the pain. “I should know better than to assume I’ve already heard the worst of what happened to you, Sammie.”

The fond nickname was starting to grow on her. She rubbed her thumb against his wrist in a soothing gesture before she pulled a small sliver from his palm. “A lot of terrible shit happened to me. I suppose I should have stopped fighting. I tried to stop sometimes, but I just… I couldn’t.”

“You’re alpha.” He murmured the words with finality, as if they were explanation enough.

“So you keep telling me.” She smoothed a bit of blood away from his thumb and found the skin underneath already mostly healed. “Will it help? Changing and running?”

He raised one shoulder in a gentle shrug. “You won’t feel like you’re going to spring out of your skin anymore.”

“Do I have to wait until tonight?”

“I can take you out into the forest now. But it’s safer to wait until dark.”

“Okay.” The thought of waiting brought a stab of frustration that bordered on pain. She squeezed her eyes shut and struggled to concentrate on her breathing, on pushing back that wild need to shed her clothes and shed her form

This time the pain was physical, and she clenched his hand. “Okay, except I don’t know if I can control it.”

“Then let’s run.” He flexed his hand in hers. “I can protect you.”

She pushed the chair back and fought to ignore another stab of pain as she struggled to her feet. “I don’t know how to change on purpose, but I don’t think I’ll have to wait long for it to happen.”

“I’ll help you.”

“Where?”

“Out the back door.” He touched her face, and the same calming wave of power he’d conjured up before rolled through her. “We can run from there.”

With his power wrapped around her, she made it to the door and onto the small back porch. She turned her back on Gavin as she eased her borrowed blouse over her head. It was hard for her to undress with him so close to her, but it had nothing to do with fear or even modesty. She didn’t want him to find out that the scars didn’t end with her back.

His heavy boots thumped against the porch as he dropped them, and his clothing rustled as he undressed. When she glanced over her shoulder, he’d turned his back to her. “All right?” he asked as he unbuckled his belt and unbuttoned his jeans.

She jerked her gaze away and eased the skirt Darcy had lent her over her hips. “So far.”

“Good.” His pants hit the porch. “I don’t want to change first, because I might need to help you. Can I turn around?”

Her wolf trusted him completely, and right now Sam felt more wolf than human. “Yes.”

He turned to face her. She half expected him to grow angry at the sight of the angry white scars that twisted across her stomach and hip, but he kept his eyes on her face. Her own were drawn lower, to the broad expanse of his chest.

He was scarred, too.

Sam forced her eyes back to his, unprepared for the surge of protectiveness that washed over her. It was absurd for her to feel that she should protect him when she could barely take care of herself, but it wasn’t the human who screamed for her to curl herself around him, to hold him, and take care of him.

He stepped closer and held up his hand, not quite touching her cheek. “Try,” he murmured, and it took her a moment to realize what he meant.

“I don’t even know where to start.” She closed her eyes and fought back a wave of self-consciousness. “I should know how.”

“Reach inside yourself. You feel her, or you wouldn’t be so twitchy.” He brushed his fingertips over her face. “Just let her go.”

She didn’t have to let go. The wolf rose at his touch, playful and curious. She turned her head without thinking, brushing her nose along the inside of his palm and inhaling his scent. Strong. Masculine. The woods and nature, and the human smells of sweat and soap. A slight hint of blood from the still healing wounds.

Her knees hit the porch before she realized they’d given out. She looked up and found Gavin tense and aroused, his eyes hooded as he stared down at her, unmoving. She struggled to keep her eyes open, but the change swelled up inside her in a glorious wave. Power sang through her blood, heated her flesh, and the exhilaration of it, the sheer magic, overwhelmed the pain of the transformation. For the first time, she understood the rush; understood what the wolves talked about when they called changing the greatest high.

Gavin closed his eyes. It took only moments for him to join her, a large gray wolf with an almost black mask and muzzle. He bumped his head against her shoulder and bounded off the porch. She rose slowly to her feet, waiting for the rush of pain or exhaustion that always followed a forced change.

Except the change hadn’t claimed her this time. It hadn’t been the moon or rage or pain that forced her wolf to claw her way free. She’d opened herself to it and become part of it, and when she leapt off the porch and landed lightly on the ground, she was filled with joy and freedom.

At first, she doubted she’d be able to keep up with Gavin. He ran ahead of her, finally pausing with his front legs propped on a fallen tree. His tongue lolled out as he watched her.

She skittered to a stop just short of the log, her paws slipping over the pine needles. When she caught her balance, she bumped her nose against Gavin’s shoulder, a playful gesture that felt as natural as breathing to the wolf.

He nipped at her ear and took off again, his short howl echoing through the trees.

Running was joy. It was perfection. She followed Gavin through the trees, tumbling down hills and splashing through creeks with no care for where they might go. Her wolf trusted the alpha, and nothing else mattered.

Her body grew tired too soon, her underused muscles burning as she slowed from a run to a trot, and then to a walk. She stopped on a soft spot of grass and panted for breath as Gavin circled around her, checking the tiny clearing for signs of interlopers.

When he returned, he sat down a few feet away and stared at her for several moments. Then he lowered his head to his paws and relaxed.

As a wolf, she could do what she’d been too afraid to do as a human. She crossed the space between them in three shaky steps and dropped to the ground close enough to curl up with her side brushing his. He rubbed his nose against her muzzle and licked her gently, and she curled closer to him and let her body relax.

With the soft breeze singing in the trees and the moon singing in her blood, Sam closed her eyes and let herself imagine a future where becoming a werewolf wasn’t the worst thing that had ever happened to her.

[vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

Sam pressed her forehead against the window and watched the twinkling lights of Minneapolis through the breath-fogged glass. The plush robe wrapped around her body seemed decadent after a year of living in whatever cast-offs Alan had tossed her way.

Gavin had tried to talk her into a new wardrobe over the past month, but she’d felt uncomfortable accepting anything else from a man who had already given her so much. The clothing Darcy had rounded up had been comfortable and serviceable, and there’d been no need for anything more. Not when she spent her days in either the Winstons’ or Gavin’s house, learning the hundreds of things no one had ever taught her about being a werewolf.

The shower in the bathroom cut off, a reminder that she should already be dressed. Gavin had taken his clothing in with him to give her privacy, but she’d found herself stalling, finding any excuse not to get ready for the night ahead.

With a sigh, Sam turned away from the window and stared at her new clothing, laid out neatly on the bed with the purchase tags in a small stack on the bedside table. The dress was expensive, probably costing more money than most people in Red Rock spent on clothing in a year. But it was necessary. A pair of borrowed jeans and a sweatshirt might be serviceable enough in the mountains of Montana, but not here. Not tonight.

Not when they were going to visit her father.

Just a few more hours. Tomorrow, you can go home, she told herself as she dropped the robe onto the back of the chair. Strange to think that Red Rock felt more like home than Minneapolis or Helena ever had, but it was the truth. She’d found a peace there she needed desperately, a peace she owed mostly to the man in the other room.

By the time he cracked open the door to peer out, she’d already dressed and seated herself in front of the hotel room’s small vanity mirror to pin up her hair. She found it rather endearing that he’d stalled for so long. Even after a month living under the same roof, Gavin was still so carefully solicitous of her modesty and comfort that it was hard to remember he had the same sort of terrifying power inside him that filled Alan Matthews.

When he caught her gaze in the mirror, she smiled. “Are you sure you’re ready for this?”

He cocked his head and straightened his tie. “Don’t I look all right?” The navy suit emphasized the width of his shoulders and the bright, warm color of his eyes. “You can tell me if I look like shit.” His grin told her he knew very well he didn’t.

“You look perfect.” Sam shoved the last pin into her hair and rose to survey her own reflection. The dress worked well with her tall, sturdy frame and curvy hips, but finding something that would cover all of her scars had been difficult, considering her father’s idea of appropriate evening wear. The shawl thrown over the back of the chair was a little old-fashioned, but it would serve to keep awkward dinner conversation to a minimum.

Besides, her father was likely to be far more curious about Gavin.

As if he’d read her thoughts, Gavin muttered, “I’m older than he is. That’s disconcerting.”

Ignoring the shawl for the time being, Sam brushed a barely visible speck of lint from Gavin’s shoulder, more as an excuse to touch him than anything else. Innocent touches kept her grounded when nerves brought her wolf to the surface, and she was certainly nervous now. “I wish I could tell you he won’t leap to conclusions, but I’m sure he already knows we only have one room. This is his hotel, after all.”

“Sammie, the last thing I’m worried about is him leaping to anything.” Gavin smiled and rubbed his thumb lightly over her jaw. “You look beautiful.”

It was hard to tell what warmed her more, the compliment or his soft caress. She turned her face into his hand and inhaled his scent. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Gavin stepped back, took a deep breath, and offered her his arm. “Let’s go meet the man, shall we?”

She scooped up the shawl and wrapped it around her shoulders before peeking in the mirror one last time to make sure every incriminating mark was covered. Only then did she tuck her fingers into the crook of his arm. “I suppose we must.”

[vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

The hotel was the fanciest place in which Gavin had been in a long while, maybe since leaving New York for the wilds of Montana. He wasn’t used to any of it, from the hustle and bustle of the city, to feeling out of place when meeting people. He was an alpha. He was strong.

He was scared to death.

Sam tightened her fingers around his arm as the shiny doors of the private elevator slid open, revealing a lavish entry way. She took a deep breath and glanced up at him, her shaky smile unable to make up for the nervousness in her eyes. “We can still run,” she whispered.

“This is nothing. Just a penthouse.” In a hotel her father owned. The words came out before he could stop them. “Might not be long until you get back to this sort of life yourself.” Her body stiffened, and her fear made itself clear in a rush of nervous energy that flooded the entry way.

The man who stepped through a side door to meet them seemed oblivious to the undercurrents in the room. He stopped a few feet away, his eyes flashing to Sam’s hand still clutching at  Gavin’s arm. When the man smiled, it was polite, cool, and a bit disapproving. “Samantha.”

“Hello, Dad.” Sam went rigid. “This is Gavin Hamilton. Gavin, this is my father, Spencer Bradford.”

He knew what her father must see—a man who looked his own age, with a too-young woman on his arm. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Bradford.”

“Likewise, Mr. Hamilton.” Spencer’s gaze returned to his daughter for a brief moment. “I just got off the phone with my lawyer. He told me the paperwork on your divorce has somehow already been processed in spite of the existence of a veritable mountain of red-tape.” When Spencer’s gaze returned to Gavin, the look in his eyes was faintly suspicious. “Shall I presume your new…friend has some sway in the legal community?”

“Just a lot of telephone calls and legwork,” Gavin demurred. “Sam wanted to be free of Alan Matthews as soon as possible. I’m sure you can understand.”

“Yes, I certainly can.” The suspicion in Spencer’s eyes didn’t ease. If anything, it grew worse. “Have you two set a date, then?”

“Dad!”

The horrified look on Sam’s face was the only thing that kept Gavin from laughing. “I’m sorry?”

The frozen expression in the man’s eyes thawed a little. “There’s no wedding in the offing?”

“On the contrary. I believe Sam’s enjoying her independence.”

Sam dug her fingers into his arm hard enough to leave bruises, and Gavin could actually hear her grinding her teeth. “Gavin’s a friend who brought me to Minneapolis and helped me settle things with Alan. If you’re going to be rude, Dad, we’re leaving.”

“Forgive me, Samantha, but the last time I saw you was almost a year ago, when you showed up on my doorstep looking like a drug addict in withdrawal and told me you’d just married to a man I’d never heard of. Your behavior of late has been somewhat erratic.”

Gavin bit his tongue. Nothing he could say would help. Nothing Sam could say would help. He could feel her struggle as she fought for calm next to him, and it was a sign of just how far she’d come that her wolf didn’t take control.

Instead, she nodded. “Your concerns are valid, and I’ve…learned my lesson. But Gavin helped me get away from Alan, and he deserves a little bit of courtesy.”

“You’re right.” Spencer offered Gavin a smile. “My apologies. I don’t suppose I can interest you in a pre-dinner drink, Gavin? Mrs. Raine is using every bit of her formidable self-control not to swoop in here and whisk Samantha away, but I’m not sure she can hold out much longer.”

Sam’s demeanor went from nervous anger to exhilarated joy in a heartbeat. “Olivia’s here? Where is she?”

“In the kitchen.“ Spencer blinked as Sam shot past him and disappeared through a door on the far side of the room. “Well, I suppose that puts us in our place.”

“Mmm.” It was worth being left alone with Sam’s father to see that radiance on her face. But now he had to figure out how to play nice with a man who suspected him of being greedy and opportunistic. “I’m not much of a drinker, but I’ll take a beer.”

“Let’s see what we can do.” Spencer gestured for Gavin to precede him through another open door to his left. “Mrs. Raine rules the contents of my personal bar with an iron fist, though, so it’s possible we’ll both be drinking mineral water. She’s a woman with strong opinions on my health.”

“That’s fine with me.” Gavin surveyed the room, which appeared to be a cozy, well-appointed study of sorts. The kind of place where men like Sam’s father gathered to smoke expensive cigars and plan business strategy.

Spencer crossed the room to the dark wooden bar and stepped around to survey the small fridge tucked in the back corner. He pulled out two glass bottles and smiled. “It’s our lucky day. Of course, Olivia’s been beside herself ever since Samantha called last week.”

“I can imagine it was hard not hearing from her for so long.”

Spencer dropped the beer bottles onto the bar with a hollow thump, and his expression turned dark as he reached for a bottle opener. “Samantha has always been independent. My concern was not with her silence as much as the company she kept. I presume you’ve met her sorry excuse for a husband?”

“I’ve met him,” Gavin allowed. “He’s unpleasant.” Which was the understatement of the century, and he could say that with some authority. “He’s selfish and mean-spirited. Completely unconcerned with anyone’s welfare but his own.”

“Exactly the sort of man who finds a young woman with a fortune to be irresistible.” Spencer held out one of the beers, his voice artificially casual. “Which is why I instructed my lawyer to make sure no man will ever profit from marriage to Samantha again. Any man who marries her in the future is going to have to make her happy and keep her happy, or he’ll never see a penny.”

The warning was as blatant as any Gavin had ever heard, and he couldn’t help but grin as he accepted the beer. “Sounds like an excellent plan, Mr. Bradford.”

“Call me Spencer.” He held up his beer. “Thank you for taking care of my daughter.”

“You don’t have to thank me for that.” Gavin raised his own bottle. “And I won’t insult you by insisting I’m not interested in Sammie, but it has nothing to do with her money. Besides which, I don’t think she’s really in any shape to get involved with anyone right now.”

Spencer’s reply sounded casual enough, but Gavin could hear the too-fast beating of the man’s heart. “Did he hurt her?”

“No. ” The lie grated, but Gavin forced it out for Spencer’s sake. “Not like you’re thinking. It was about the money, all of it.”

The door to the office creaked open, and Gavin caught the scent of another wolf—but not Sam. Spencer’s expression cleared and he greeted the newcomer with a fondness in his voice that was impossible to miss. “Olivia.”

Olivia turned out to be a short, sturdy woman who looked to be somewhere in her mid-forties. Her gaze caught Gavin’s for only a heartbeat before she dropped her eyes in a subtle show of submission. “Mr. Hamilton, Samantha needs you in the kitchen. It’s just out the door and to the left.”

Gavin acknowledged her submission with a nod. “Thank you, Olivia. Excuse me.” As he left, Spencer asked the woman about Sam’s welfare. She deflected his question, and Gavin didn’t hesitate as he made his way toward the kitchen.

He found Sam leaning against the counter, her fingers curled around its stainless steel edge with a desperate anger that had formed dents in the curved metal. Her power filled the room with choking strength, so overwhelming it was easy to understand why Olivia had run for help.

Gavin laid his hand on her shoulder. “Sammie? What’s wrong?”

“Olivia’s a werewolf. Olivia was—” Her voice vanished in a low snarl, and the counter bent under the force of her grip. “Are you the only alpha who doesn’t rape and torture the people in his care? Is the world this wrong?”

“Shh.” He pried her fingers from the counter and tried to calm her. “Who hurt her? I’ll take care of it.”

“Her alpha.” Sam’s voice sounded hysterical. “Because she killed her husband. She poisoned him a month and a half ago, and the alpha found out—”

“Slow down, Sam. Why’d she kill her husband?”

Her power flared wildly again, riding on a burst of fear so strong he reeled from it. “Because he sold me out to Alan, and she found out.”

Gavin swallowed the bile that rose in his throat. “What did her alpha do?”

“She says he’s sending her to Helena.” Sam curled her fingers in his jacket, her fear and anger twice as hard to ignore when she was so close to him. “She’s the one who got word to Steven about what was happening to me. And if Alan finds out—”

“She won’t go to Helena.” Gavin struggled to hold in his rage. “She can come to Red Rock with us.”

“Okay. Okay…” He could tell she was fighting to take a normal breath. “We can keep her safe.”

We. “Yeah, Sammie. We can.” He drew her closer and tucked her head against his shoulder. “I’m guessing your father doesn’t know.”

“I don’t think so.” She shifted enough to press her forehead against his neck. Her fingers loosened until her hands rested quietly on his chest. “Thank you, Gavin.”

“She’s important to you,” he pointed out. “That puts her under your care. Don’t thank me for helping you do what you’re supposed to do.”

“It felt so strange. She’s been bossing me around my whole life. She’s been the closest thing I had to a mother for twenty years. But when I walked in here, I felt…different. And she acted differently.”

“Because you’re different, and she knows it.”

She sighed and rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. “Was my father terrible to you?”

“No.” The idea was laughable. “He’s worried I’m after your money, but that’s understandable.”

“I suppose so, under the circumstances.” When she finally pulled away from him, it was with an obvious reluctance that made him want to gather her back to his chest. She smoothed the wrinkles from his suit and managed a smile. “Let’s go get this over with. Then I’ll talk to my father for a little bit after dinner, and you can talk to Olivia.”

“What will you tell your father?” He arched an eyebrow. “About why Olivia’s leaving with us, I mean.”

“Drugs.” Her gaze dropped to her hands as she continued to smooth them over his jacket. “Olivia said that’s what he thinks. That Alan got me hooked on something bad. Dad would believe it if Olivia wanted to come with me and help me get back on my feet. It’ll at least give us time to think of something else.”

It would certainly be an easy explanation for a lot of things. “It’s a good idea to let him keep his assumptions. He’ll be less likely to go after Matthews.”

She laughed, and it sounded a little hysterical. “I hope he doesn’t ask too many questions. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette.”

“Sammie, darling… In my experience, loved ones don’t ever want to know the gory details.”

“Thank God.” She took a deep breath and readjusted her shawl. “Okay. We can do this.”

He hadn’t been so sure of that, but now there were two women who needed his guidance and protection. Instinct left no room for self-doubt. “Yes, we can. Come on.”

[vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

Sam was tired, drained, and the tiniest bit tipsy by the time Gavin opened the door to their room downstairs. Returning to it had been a fight in and of itself, with her father insisting they stay in the penthouse. She had assured him that the suite they’d been given was adequate and promised to come up for lunch before they left.

Then she’d fled.

Gavin held the door open for her, and she murmured her thanks as she stepped through. Her shoes went next to the door, and her shawl ended up tossed over the back of the chair. She fell back on the bed and closed her eyes. “That was the longest meal of my life.”

He shrugged out of his jacket. “It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had, I’ll admit.”

“Did you talk to Olivia?” Sam opened her eyes and watched him remove his cufflinks as he crossed the room. “Is she okay? Will she come with us?”

“She will.” His eyes gleamed dangerously. “You two are going to pack up her things while I take care of some business tomorrow.”

“Oh.” A shiver claimed her. “Do I want to know what that means?”

“I think you already do.”

Her wolf howled silent approval from where it paced close to the surface, anxious for an outlet for the rage and pain that had come with Olivia’s admission. Sam sat up, concentrating on the tiny shift of muscles to keep from coming off the bed. She wanted to close the distance between them, to rub against him and revel in his strength.

He met her gaze steadily. “Do I need to head downstairs for a while?”

The thought of him leaving enraged the wolf and brought a snarl to her lips. Sam closed her eyes to block out the sight of his face, but that only made it worse. His scent curled around her, and the steady beat of his heart seemed quicker than usual.

It had been so long that at first she didn’t recognize the feeling unfurling inside her. Weak and tentative, but undeniable.

Desire.

After three tries, she was finally able to speak. “I don’t want you to go downstairs, but it might be easier for you.”

“Don’t worry about me, Sammie. Worrying’s my job.”

“Gavin?” It didn’t seem fair to him, but she asked him anyway because she needed it. “Will you hold me?”

“Of course I will.” He walked over to bed and kicked off his shoes before climbing up next to her. “Want to watch something on TV?”

“Not really.” Her dress would be horribly wrinkled, but taking it off seemed like a bad idea. She shifted until her head rested more comfortably on the pillow, then inched back until the solid wall of Gavin’s chest pressed against her back, warm even through two layers of clothing.

He curled one strong arm around her and sighed. “Tomorrow morning, we’ll have everything on

the room service menu.”

His words made her smile. “Olivia will be horrified we ate food from the kitchens instead of letting her cook it.”

Gavin chuckled. “Olivia will be busy packing her things, hopefully.”

“That won’t matter to her.” Sam shifted her hand until her fingers brushed the back of Gavin’s wrist. The soft touch of his skin, as innocent as it was, sent gentle heat creeping through her. “Darcy said that old bar across from the motel’s been closed for a while. Has anyone ever thought of re-opening it?”

“Someone’s always talking about doing it,” he told her, his thumb skimming the palm of her hand. “No one’s gotten around to it yet, though.”

She shivered, amazed that such a tiny touch could feel so intimate. “Do you…do you think anyone would mind if I did it?  With some of my money? It would give Olivia something to do and would be a way for me to help out. I haven’t done anything but hide in your house for the last month.”

“Who would mind?”

Coming from any other man, the implied arrogance in the his casual statement would have annoyed her. But her wolf viewed his strength with approval. She still paced close to the surface, close enough that Sam would only have to let go a little, and the wolf would take charge.

Sam could easily imagine what would happen next. The woman might be tentatively interested in Gavin’s patient, passive courtship, but her wolf was impatient. And hungry. It was far past time to claim this male as hers. Let loose from the woman’s inhibitions, she would roll over and touch him. Tear the clothes from his body and fuck him until they were both limp and exhausted.

Her wolf would be satisfied with nothing short of absolute possession. Sam didn’t know if she was ready for anything more involved than holding hands. Hiding in the simplistic needs of her other half might be convenient in the moment, but in the aftermath…

She slid her hand down to his and twined their fingers together. “I’ll talk to Olivia. She always said she would have started a restaurant if she hadn’t been so busy keeping me out of trouble. I suppose a bar isn’t quite the same thing, but she can cook whatever she wants there.”

“That she can.” Their hands rested on her hip. Gavin inhaled softly, his face close to her hair. “It would be good for people to have a place just to socialize.”

“And I don’t have to worry about making money. I have more than I know what to do with.” Her heart was beating too fast, and it wasn’t just from arousal. It was excitement…the thought of having something to do again. Having a goal, and a way to help people. “Refugees could eat there for free. And I can fix up some of the motel rooms to be a little more comfortable. Darcy said some are barely livable right now.”

“They could use some work,” he agreed. “But there are a lot of things you can do in town that don’t have anything to do with money, Sammie.”

She tried not to tense. “Like what?”

“Things that make you happy. You can get a camera and take all those pictures you were talking about.”

The thought made her smile, but it didn’t ease the clawing need inside her, the one that clamored for her to support the town. To support Gavin. “Helping people makes me happy.  And I like what you’re doing with the town.”  I want to be part of it.

“You can do whatever you want, Sam, but I don’t know if you should be tossing your money into it like that. You might need it.”

When you leave. He didn’t speak the words, but he didn’t have to. She’d expected to feel hurt—she could have dealt with that. But the fierce, uncontrollable anger rose up within her so suddenly she had twisted around before she realized she was going to move.

One of his hands ended up pinned to the bed under hers. She planted the other next to his head and leaned over him, her face only inches from his. “The fact that I’m not ready to fuck you yet doesn’t make you any less mine. You tell me you want nothing to do with me right now, or you never talk about sending me away again.”

He stared at her for almost a minute before craning his head up to quickly brush his lips over hers. “You don’t get to make a decision like that while your life is all fucked up.”

It was the right thing to say, but it didn’t quiet her wolf’s angry demand to claim him as hers. She leaned down and bit his lower lip with a soft growl, then lifted her head. “If I were prone to premature decisions, I’d be tearing your clothes off already. I know I’m not ready to take that step, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what the decision’s going to be.”

His slow grin surprised her. “You’re talking in circles, Sammie, and all you’re saying is that you’ve already made up your mind.”

And just like that, her anger was gone. Sam dropped back onto the bed next to him and stifled a laugh. “Maybe. I just…” She lifted her hand to his face and rubbed her thumb along his chin. “You’re the alpha. My wolf is ready to be your mate, but I’m not strong enough to be your partner–at least, not yet. But if you can wait a little while…”

“All the time in the world,” he soothed. “Don’t worry so much.”

His reassurance quieted her wolf, leaving the woman alone to ponder what she’d just done. Heat rose in her cheeks. “I just pinned you to the bed and told you that you have to spend the rest of your life with me. That’s…not my usual method of expressing interest.”

He curled his fingers into her hair. “Doesn’t seem so odd to me.”

“Really?” She shifted her thumb a tiny bit, until it rubbed along his lower lip. “Strikes me as a bit aggressive. And maybe a little rude.”

“Aggressive, yeah.” Gavin bit her thumb. “You’re alpha.”

“So are you, and you’re not acting like that. Does that mean you’re not interested? Because if you’re not, you should get around to telling me pretty soon.” Her words came easily, because her instincts were sure they couldn’t possibly be true.

He looked amused. “I’m old and sedate. I’m used to this.”

It wasn’t quite an answer, and that made her nervous. “You’d tell me if you didn’t want this, wouldn’t you?”

His amusement faded. “You’d know, Samantha.”

“Okay.” He was close enough that she only had to lean in a few inches to kiss him softly, unsure if she meant for the kiss to be a question or a promise.

It became both as Gavin cupped her face between his hands and kissed her back, his tongue sliding between her lips. She got a taste of his desire, carefully leashed but strong, and hiding just beneath the surface. However reserved he may seem, he had passion waiting for her, when she was ready to embrace it.

Even knowing it was a bad idea, she couldn’t help but push herself a little, testing the boundaries of comfort as she tilted her head and curled her tongue around his. She hadn’t kissed anyone or been kissed in forever, and she’d forgotten how such a simple act could make her heart pound and her body shake when it was done right.  And he did it right, God did he do it right, with slow, lazy touches that promised a world of pleasure she’d almost forgotten was possible.  She thought that maybe she could spend the next fifty years kissing him and not grow tired of how he felt, how he tasted

Too soon, Gavin pulled his mouth away and rested his forehead against hers. “Plenty of time.” His voice shook a little.

“Plenty of time,” she agreed faintly. She closed her eyes and snuggled into his arms, comfortable in another’s embrace for the first time in over a year.  Even with his body warm against hers, it wasn’t thoughts of passion or desire that filled her head.  She thought of the tiny town in the mountains, a place where people could go to be safe.  To heal.

She thought of how hard the man curled around her had struggled to make his sanctuary a reality.  And she thought of all the ways she could help, all of the ways she could make Gavin’s dreams for Red Rock come true.  Money meant nothing, and she had plenty.  Gavin could frown at her if it made him feel better, but she knew wanted to do with the fortune her father had given her.  Gavin would just have to share his dream.

Our dream. She tried the words out in her head and found she rather liked the sound of them.  Ours.

Yes, that word would do just fine.

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