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Moira Rogers
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The Little Things


The Little Things

A tale of love that spans forty years and proof that the lessons learned in childhood shape the people we become.

Part One: Set forty years before the start of Cry Sanctuary, as Gavin continues to court Samantha with patient care.

Part Two: Set between Cry Sanctuary and Sanctuary Lost, as Keith proves he knows how much the little things matter.

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

Part One

Red Rock, 42 Years Ago

Gavin brushed sawdust from his flannel shirt and waved a hand at Keith. “I need the wire cutters, if you please.”

The boy studied the toolbox in front of him for several seconds before hefting the correct tool. “These ones?”

“That’s right.” He carefully cut and stripped the ends of the necessary wires, then twisted them together. “Do you know why we needed the red bulb?”

“No.” Keith watched Gavin’s fingers in rapt fascination. “Something with the pictures, I guess?”

“Mm-hmm. So Sammie can develop pictures from the film in her camera.” He wrinkled his nose and made a face at Keith. “Mostly pictures of you, I think.”

Keith’s serious expression melted into a pleased smile. “There’s some of Olivia, too. And I bet there’s a lot of you.” He picked up one of the hammers and turned it over in his hands. “Are you gonna marry Sam?”

Gavin choked back a laugh and tried to keep his expression as serious as the boy’s. “Well, I don’t know yet. What do you think I should do?”

“I think you should take care of her,” Keith replied without hesitation. “You’re happier when you do.”

“I see.” Leave it to the solemn little boy to pinpoint the heart of the matter. “I suppose you’re right. That’s what I’m doing now, if you think about it. Sam will be glad to have the darkroom, and fixing it up is making me happy.”

“But you wouldn’t be building it in your house if you didn’t want her to live here, right? You want her to live here?”

“She already stays here. Where else would I build it?”

Keith put down the hammer and picked up the box of nails instead. “I asked my mother why Sam lives here if you’re not mates, and she said it’s complicated.”

“Sam hasn’t been a wolf for long.” If Keith was ever to go out amongst humans, he’d have to understand their ways. “She’s used to a human life, and most humans don’t take mates. They get married, like Jim and Rona, or they live together. It takes time to make a decision like that, but Sam still needs a place to live.”

The boy seemed to digest that for a moment. Then he smiled. “Dad said that Sam is your mate and you’d get around to taking care of everything else when she figured that out. But I don’t think I was supposed to hear that part.”

This time, Gavin didn’t hold back his laugh. “Probably not.” He secured and insulated the wires and leaned against the doorframe. “Sam would make a good alpha.”

“I guess.” Keith’s attention span for talk of romance had obviously waned. He studied the wires and tilted his head. “Why’s the light got to be red?”

“Don’t know.” Gavin reached for his staple gun and secured the wires beside the door. “You’ll have to ask Sam.”

“When it’s not a secret anymore,” he agreed. “Can I build something to go in there? So part of it can be from me?”

“Sam has become terribly fond of you, Keith.” He considered the boy’s words. “She’ll need some shelves. Perhaps you could help me with those.”

Keith nodded and discarded the nails next to the forgotten hammer. “Maybe I could paint them too? Sam and Olivia let me paint some of the chairs for the new bar.”

Sam had already told Gavin the story of how the boy had taken it upon himself to paint the chairs first and ask second. “Oh, they did, did they?” He pinned Keith with an unwavering stare. “You sure that’s how it happened, young man?”

“Well…” Keith fidgeted slightly as his gaze flicked around the room, landing anywhere but on Gavin. “They didn’t so much ask me to, but Olivia’s joints have been hurting and Sam was worried, so I didn’t want to bother them.”

“I see.” Gavin sighed and knelt in front of Keith. “It’s very admirable that you wanted to help, but I think you know you should’ve asked first.”

Keith held his ground with a determination that already drove both his parents to distraction on a regular basis. “You’re not asking Sam if she needs a darkroom first.”

“Ah, but I’m putting it in my own house. If she doesn’t want to use it, she needn’t think of it again. Not the same thing.”

“Oh.” Another few moments passed, and Keith made an exasperated noise. “Fine. I’ll tell Olivia I’m sorry I painted the chairs without asking.”

“That’s a very good idea.” Gavin ruffled Keith’s hair and rose again to survey the small, now-converted room under the stairs. Except for the final touches, it was complete. “We did a fine job, I think.”

“Sam will like it. And then you can get married, and this will be her house too, and you’ll have to ask before you do anything else to it.” Keith frowned. “Or do you not have to ask, because you’re the alpha?”

“A smart man knows who’s boss.” Gavin laughed in spite of his nervousness. Maybe he should have asked. “I may be alpha, but so is Sammie.”

Keith gave him another of those exasperated looks. “So how are you supposed to know what you can do without getting in trouble?”

“You’re not. That’s part of the fascination of—” Gavin cleared his throat. Darcy would undoubtedly not appreciate his efforts to educate her young son about romantic relationships. “On second thought, I don’t think your mother would want you to hear this yet.”

“Gavin. I’m almost eight.”

“Exactly. Talk to me in ten years.”

Keith made a face at him. “I’m not a little kid. I know about girls.”

The shelves could wait. “Oh, do tell.”

“Well…” The boy suddenly became very interested in the hammer and nails again. “See, Hope learned how to change last month too, right? And we’re the only two who can, so she said that meant she’d be my mate, but I don’t really think I need one so I asked my dad if I had to have a mate and he asked why so I told him, then he got kind of nervous-looking and went and talked to Hope’s dad and then they both talked to me. A lot. For, like, hours.”

Gavin fought to keep a straight face, but the corner of his mouth ticked up anyway. “Hope is a very nice girl, but you’re a little young yet to be worried about mating. Plenty of time for that. I mean, look at me. I’m ten times your age. Do you know what that means?”

“You’re…” Keith squinted a little. “Seventy, I think? Mom said I have to stop doing math and work on writing and spelling.”

“Diversification is a sound strategy,” he observed solemnly. “Anyway, my point is that I went more than ten times longer than you without taking a mate. So don’t let Hope rush you up.”

Keith shrugged one shoulder. “Doesn’t matter anyway. Hope’s dad made it so she can’t open her bedroom window anymore, so now she’s mad at me for telling. I have a different question. What’s a courting gift?”

Gavin rubbed his hands over his face. “Let’s sit over here.” He led the boy to the bench in the hallway and sat. “A courting gift is something you give someone you want to spend more time with, or maybe marry. Like the darkroom for Sam.”

“So the darkroom is a courting gift? Mom said it was and Dad said no one gives people courting gifts anymore and Mom said they did back when men were worth marrying.”

It was, undoubtedly, a conversation he hadn’t been invited to listen in on. “Not many people do anymore, your da’s right about that. And I would have set up the darkroom for her, even if I didn’t want to marry her. But I do, and so I suppose you could consider it a gift like that.”

Keith worried at his lower lip with his teeth for a moment before heaving a sigh. “Well, I hope she says yes, because this is a lot of work.”

Surely Sam would forgive him for sharing. “She’s already said yes, in a way. Does that make you feel better?”

“Well why would you give someone a courting gift after they say yes? Or can a courting gift be a way of taking care of someone like you take care of Sam?”

“Oh, I happen to think that’s the very best kind of courting gift, Keith. Any idiot can dazzle a woman with pretty words or stuff. Being yourself… That’s the hard part, but it’s the part that sticks.”

“Oh.” Keith bounced to his feet with obvious renewed enthusiasm. “Well, I want to build the shelves. And paint. You’ll tell Sam I helped, right? And that I think it’d be nice if she married you?”

He couldn’t be sure, but it was entirely possible Sam wouldn’t marry him, after all, if little Keith didn’t approve. “As soon as I can, sir.”

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Even growing up in Minnesota wasn’t enough to prepare Sam for the harshest bite of winter in the mountains. It never seemed as cold in Minneapolis, maybe because people did their best to dart from cars to garages and through tunnels. In Red Rock, it was just the mountains and the trees, and there was nothing to stop a twenty-below-zero wind from freezing a person to the bone.

She hunched lower in her coat as she tried to close her glove-clumsy fingers around the doorknob. An accident involving Keith, a sled and a case of beer he was supposed to be transporting to the new bar had left her usual gloves wet, and the pair of Gavin’s she’d borrowed were huge and unwieldy.

Because he has nice, strong hands. She pushed open the door and was grateful she’d be able to attribute the color in her cheeks to the biting wind. Thoughts of Gavin’s nice, strong hands invariably led to thoughts of other things, things she was starting to wonder about with increasing frequency.

But not enough to push the issue. Not when Gavin was old-fashioned and seemed to be enjoying taking his time getting to know her. And not when you still aren’t sure if sex is only something you’d enjoy in theory.

Sam shook away bad thoughts as she stomped the snow from her boots on the large doormat. “Gavin? I’m home.”

He stuck his head through the kitchen doorway and into the hallway, his smile warm and broad. “Are you hungry? I made chili.”

“I’m starving.” She kicked off her boots and peeled the oversized gloves from her hands. It wasn’t until she struggled her way out of her coat that she realized something was missing. “Hey, where’s the coat rack?”

His voice drifted out of the kitchen. “I put it in the closet. The big one under the stairs.”

Sam frowned and moved down the hallway toward the large great room and the staircase. “That seems like an odd place for a coat rack, Gavin.”

He met her in the hall, wiping his hands on a dish towel. “I wanted to get it out of the way for now.”

“Yeah?” Over the months they’d lived together, she’d fallen into the habit of casual hugs and even chaste kisses, but it had been harder to do since her body had begun taking an interest in sex again. Everything seemed to mean more. So she slipped past without touching him and reached for the closet door. “I guess that’s—”

Words died as she pulled open the door. The coat rack was in the closet, all right. Except it wasn’t a closet anymore. It had been converted with meticulous care into a darkroom stocked with everything she might need, from tubs to shelves filled with chemicals and even a brand new enlarger that must have cost Gavin more money than everything else inside.

Gavin picked up her coat from the floor with a nervous laugh. “Do you like it?” He cleared his throat. “Keith would like you to know he helped, and that he sincerely hopes you’ll marry me.”

“Gavin, it’s…” It was unbelievable. It was perfect. It was so amazing that she’d taken two steps into the room before the rest of his words registered. Marry me.

She swallowed hard and turned to face him. “Keith wants me to marry you, does he?”

“Well, he agrees that it would be a fantastic idea.”

They hadn’t spoken of marriage, hadn’t spoken of the future in even the most general terms. Not since the night in Minneapolis when she’d made it clear she wanted him for her own…someday. He’d offered her all the time in the world, and at the time she’d been sure she’d need it.

But she didn’t need it to know she loved him. “I’d marry you tomorrow, Gavin. I’d marry you tomorrow and be happy about it, but if you took me to bed tomorrow night there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be ready. Do you still want to marry me if I can’t tell you when that will change?”

Gavin slung the towel over his shoulder and framed her face with his hands. “I still want to marry you, and I’ll wait as long as you need. You just say the word.”

It would have been easier to handle her insecurities if the wolf weren’t desperate to have him. Even the gentle touch of his hands on her face stirred that primal other, filling her with thoughts of all the ways she could have him, all the ways she could claim him.

She closed her eyes and covered his hands with her own. Her fingers slid down over his wrists and along his arms, feeling the strength there. “On one condition.”

His lips brushed her cheek. “What’s that?”

“If you’re going to be my husband, you smoke outside or not at all.”

“Aw, Sammie—”

She cut him off with a kiss, and not a chaste one. She traced his lower lip with her tongue before catching it between her teeth with a soft growl.

He kissed her back, his tongue slipping past her lips to tangle with hers. His hand slid to the back of her head and tightened in her hair. “Is that a yes?”

Something hot and dangerous flooded her, and it turned her laugh low and husky. “Are you going to quit smoking inside?”

An answering awareness warmed his eyes. “Whatever you say, darling.”

“Then yes. I’ll marry you.”

“Hot damn!” He snatched her up with a whoop and swung her in a circle. “That’s the best thing I’ve heard in years.”

Sam laughed, and a little of the lingering pain slipped away as the room spun madly around her. “Good. And since you’ve already secured Keith’s approval, I suppose that makes it official. Someday you’ll have to tell me why you were discussing the subject with him, though.”

“Because he helped me with my gift, that’s why.” He set her back on her feet and spoke low near her ear. “Do you really like it?”

“I love it, Gavin.” She slid her arms around his waist and let herself bask in the steady power in a man who could be her equal without having to make her less than she was. A man who had worked with her day by day for months to give her back her life. And there was only one thing left to say. “I love it almost as much as I love you.”

“Well, it’s not that great,” he teased, then bit her earlobe. “Not nearly as great as me.”

She shivered as the scrape of his teeth shot heat straight down to her toes. “Not even close.”

He bit her harder and released her with a sigh. “I have something else for you.” He ducked into the converted closet and emerged with a box wrapped in plain paper. “I should have gotten a bow.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” Her hands shook a little, though she didn’t know if it was from excitement or lingering desire. It took her two tries to rip the paper free, and she dropped to the small bench in the hallway and set the box on her legs before opening it up.

Inside she found an old box camera, probably from the twenties or thirties. The outside had been scrubbed and polished until the case looked almost new, but when she opened it up it was clear that the person doing the cleaning hadn’t had much clue what to do with the inside.

Which meant Gavin had probably done it himself.

She swallowed and ran her fingers lightly along the latch before carefully closing the camera. “This is beautiful, Gavin.”

He knelt in front of her and rubbed his hand over the top of the case. “I was going to clean the works too, but I was afraid I’d break it.”

“I can do it. I’ll enjoy it.” She lifted her hand to cup his cheek, overwhelmed by how much time and energy he’d spent just to make her happy. “Thank you, sweetheart. For everything.”

“You’re welcome, darling.” His grin faded into a warm, affectionate smile. “Don’t be surprised if Keith begs to help you refurbish the camera. He damn near died, wanting to get his hands on it.”

She set the camera carefully aside and lifted her other hand to his face. “He seems to have a knack. Maybe we should invite Darcy and Steven over to dinner. You can even tell Keith I’m going to marry you.”

“Not tonight.” He kissed her palms and held her hands between his. “Tonight is just us.”

“Is it?” She brushed her thumb over his mouth and fought a shiver. “How would my future husband feel about a few stolen kisses?”

Gavin laughed, low and sensual, and smiled under her thumb. “Can’t steal what’s rightfully yours, Sammie. And every bit of me belongs to you.”

The hallway bench wasn’t the most intimate place, but somehow it made it easier. There was no implied promise like there would have been in a bed, just her and him and whatever she had the courage to take. And kissing, at least, she could handle.

So she tilted his head back and leaned down until her lips hovered over his. “I’m a little out of practice, but I used to be pretty good at this.”

He teased her by sneaking his tongue out to touch her lips. “Indeed. Right back on the horse, darling.”

She caught his lower lip between her teeth and growled at him again.

His humor faded, and a rush of energy hit her. Gavin closed his hands around her shoulders and shuddered. “I tease because I have to. You’re a pretty damn huge temptation, Sammie.”

“I trust you. Mostly because you spend so much time making sure you never, ever push me.” She slid her arms around his neck and closed her eyes. The power curling around her brought the warmth of desire with it. “But I won’t know what I’m ready for until you stop holding back.”

“If I wasn’t holding back,” he argued, “I’d scare the daylights out of you.”

She couldn’t discount the possibility, but she’d never know for sure until she tried. “One kiss. Show me everything for one kiss.”

He didn’t answer, but one hand crept slowly up to tangle in her hair. Finally, he growled and bit her chin, a mere second before his mouth landed on hers, hot and demanding. He kissed her with all the blazing passion she’d sensed but had never seen. His tongue swept between her lips and her body reacted with a pleasure and yearning she’d feared was lost to her.

She was in his lap before she realized it, and it was the fact that she couldn’t remember moving that made her drag her lips from his and bury her face in his neck. Inside, the wolf howled in protest, furious that she’d been denied the chance to claim her mate.  Soon,  Sam promised as she panted for breath, her body still singing with giddy need. “Soon.”

“Yes,” he rasped, his chest rising and falling rapidly. “Soon.”

“I love you, Gavin.”

“I love you too, Samantha.”

Laughter bubbled up inside her as she nuzzled his neck. “You need to stop corrupting Keith with your grand romantic gestures. All the little girls in town are already crazy about him. If you give him  too  many advantages, he’ll be unlivable and I’ll have to beat his ego back into place every other week.”

“He’ll be insufferable anyway. May as well teach him right.”

“I guess so.” She kissed his throat. “Now my surprise will be anti-climactic. Olivia taught me how to make brisket.”

“Oh hell.” Gavin groaned in her ear. “I love you all over again, you fantastic woman.”

It was amazing how much peace those simple words brought with them. Samantha smiled and tightened her arms around him. “Anything for you, honey.”

He kissed her cheek. “Words to live by, darling.”

 

Part Two

One week after the events in Cry Sanctuary.

 [vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

“Hey! The grenade launcher for my AK.” Joe straightened and swiped his arm across his face, leaving a streak of dirt behind. “I’ve been looking for this thing.”

Keith looked up from the tangled mess of wires in front of him and fought the urge to laugh at Joe’s pleased expression. “Would have been nice to have that last week in Helena.”

“No argument here.” Joe set the metal cylinder aside. “Do you even know what you’re doing?”

“In a general sense or specifically?” Keith turned his attention to the wires in front of him again and picked up the wire cutters. “Because in a general sense, yeah. As for the specifics… No, this is the first time I’ve tried to trick a satellite internet company into providing Red Rock with service.”

His friend flashed him a dubious grimace. “Yeah, good luck with that. Where do you me to put those boxes that were stacked up in the corner?”

“The other side of the basement, I guess.” Keith snipped a wire and twisted it together with a second. “We can hang up some curtains or something to hide the ugly side of the basement until I have time to finish it all. But don’t take too long, because you’re going up on the roof to fix the receiver in place while I test to see if it works.”

Joe sighed and wiped his hands on his jeans. “Awful lot of trouble for a chick. Usually pretty pillows on the bed or remembering to put the seat down makes ‘em happy.”

“She’s not a chick, she’s my mate.” He couldn’t quite keep the warning from his voice, not when his instincts were only starting to settle after the events of the previous week. Even now, it was hard to have her out of his sight, in spite of the fact that she and her sister were plenty safe in Gavin’s house. “And as I recall, you blew up part of a town last week for a chick.”

“Because you asked.” Joe’s own voice held a hint of caution. “How are Abby and Brynn?”

“Abby’s fine. Brynn’s…bouncing back. A lot quicker than I’d expected, honestly.” Not that he should have been surprised. Abby had all but raised her younger sister, and the girl had all of Abby’s stubbornness. He tucked the last few wires into place and flipped the back into place on the receiver. “If you’re thinking about buying pretty pillows for Brynn, I’d think again. Doesn’t strike me as something she’d appreciate.”

“Not thinking anything of the sort.” A box hit the concrete floor with a thud and a rising cloud of dust.

The worst thing was not knowing if Joe was serious or not. And if he does take an interest, it’s all your fault for dragging him along to rescue her. “Good. Keep on not thinking.”

“You got it.”

Two screws secured the back panel, and Keith flipped the receiver over. “I already ran the cable for this up the side of the house. Go stick it on the roof, would you?”

Joe took it with another dubious look. “How are we going to know if we’re pointing the damn thing in the right direction?”

Keith just grinned. “If I need something blown up, I call you. But this is my area of expertise, so stick the damn thing on the roof where the cable ends and leave the rest to me.”

“Why do I have to do all the climbing?” Joe grumbled, but he stomped up the basement stairs anyway.

When he was gone, Keith rose to his feet and surveyed the afternoon’s work. It wasn’t much, certainly nothing permanent, but one corner of the basement now served as a passable office. He’d salvaged an old wooden table and polished it within an inch of its life to make it a suitable home for Abby’s new computer.

New to her, at least. Most of the parts had been stacked in the corner, bits and pieces he’d collected over the past few months with the intention of building himself a new system. But his laptop had been more than he’d needed once he’d readjusted to the simple, low-tech life of Red Rock.

Abby had enough to adjust to already. He knew her well enough to understand she’d need something of her own once things settled down, something she could do to be productive. Something that made her feel like a tiny bit of her life was under control again.

Even if he had to break a few laws to get her high speed internet.

Despite his complaints, Joe came tromping back down the stairs just as Keith got the new computer booted up. “Done. What’s next?”

“Keep moving boxes, I guess.” The monitor came to life, and he grinned. “Let’s introduce this little corner of Red Rock to the twenty-first century.”

 [vision_divider style=”hr-dotted”]

“I’m back!” Abby tried to catch the door with her foot, but it slammed against the wall with a thud. She winced and shifted the box under her arm. “Keith?”

She heard quick footsteps taking the stairs from the basement two at a time. A moment later, the door popped open and Keith grinned at her. “Hey, baby. Cindy send you back here with more food? Would you tell the woman I’m capable of feeding us both?”

“No, she sent more clothes.” She dropped the box in the foyer and slanted a suspicious look at him. “Are you bribing her to keep giving me shirts that are two sizes too small?”

His lips twitched, and she could tell he was fighting a smile. “I’m sure she’s just trying to be helpful. To one or the other of us.”

“Uh-huh.” Abby embraced him, folding her arms around his neck. “I missed you.”

Pleasure sung in the air between them, a warmth and affection that was as clear in his eyes as in the magic that joined them. “Missed you too, darling. Did your sister stay with Sam and Gavin?”

“Sure did.” Even being held against his chest made her heart skip a beat, and she kissed his jaw. “You’re excited. Why are you so excited?”

“Mmm, maybe I’m just excited to have you to myself for a little bit.”

“Oh yeah?” Abby trailed her lips to the other side of his jaw and wiggled her hips against him. “All alone… Think of the possibilities.”

Keith laughed, his breath tickling her ear. “You keep wiggling your hips like that and they’ll be inevitabilities.”

“Mission accomplished.” She shivered again and scratched her fingernails lightly through the short hair at the back of his neck. “Take me to the bedroom?”

“Not yet.” His teeth scraped along her jaw in soft, teasing promise before he pulled back and grasped her shoulders. He turned her around until she was facing the door to the basement. “I have something for you.”

“In the basement?” Curiosity overtook desire. “What is it?”

He gave her a tiny push toward the stairs. “Why don’t you go look?”

Her suspicion spiked again, and she shook her head as she pulled open the basement door. “What did you…?” Her words trailed off as she descended the stairs and heard an insistent buzzing noise. “Did you put a computer down here?”

“Not exactly a top-end model, but it’s hard to find really nice motherboards for sale in this town.”

Abby laughed. “I guess you want your laptop back.” She reached for his hand and stroked her thumb over his skin. “Thank you, baby.”

His tiny little smile was smug. “That’s not the surprise. Why don’t you go take a look at it?”

The computer was old but neat, and meticulously arranged on a small table. A small black box sat next to the tower, a row of blinking lights along the front. “Keith, why is there a router attached to it?”

“Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it?” He leaned against the wall beside the desk, practically radiating false innocence. “What with the lack of anything but slow-ass dial-up in this town.”

Abby leaned over the desk and opened a browser. It connected with a search page quickly, and she stared at the monitor in shock. “Is it satellite?”

“Might be.” Keith grinned. “Wouldn’t start any rumors about it, though, if I were you. It might not be strictly above board. But I figured if you wanted to start working again sometime, you wouldn’t be able to do it without a decent connection.”

Setting up the equipment and arranging access had to have been complicated, however he’d done it, and Abby straightened slowly. She gaped at Keith, unable to help herself. “You did this for me?”

“Mmm.” He reached out and tugged at a lock of her hair before curling it around his finger. “Wasn’t so bad. I made Joe do all the climbing. He’s good for grunt labor.”

Her eyes burned. It didn’t matter if he’d lounged on the front porch with a mai tai while Joe set everything up. Joe certainly hadn’t thought of her and known she’d go crazy without some way to be of use. “You did this for me.”

“Yeah.” He caught her hand and tugged her toward him. “It’s not much now, but when things settle down I’ll turn it into a real office.”

“I love it.” The words weren’t nearly enough. Abby slid her arms around his neck and pressed a trembling kiss to Keith’s cheek. “Thank you, baby.”

His lips found her ear, and he brushed a soft kiss there before laughing softly. “How long you think Sam and Gavin are going to keep your sister distracted?”

“Did they know you planned to surprise me with high-speed internet?”

“Gavin did. I figured after all the gray hair I’ve given him, it would be nice to ask before I broke any more laws.”

Abby closed her teeth on Keith’s earlobe and shivered at the pleasure that billowed between them. “Then God help them if they let Brynn come back here anytime soon, because I’m going to ravish you.”

“Oh?” His fingers inched under the hem of her too-tight shirt and ghosted across the skin of her back. “You been practicing your control, have you?”

“I have.” His fingertips were rough but his touch was gentle, and she arched against him. “You’ll have to tell me if I’m making progress.”

“We have that nice new bed.” His hand slid down again and hefted her up as he urged her legs around his hips. “Maybe we should go test it out. A proper evaluation would take some time.”

“Hours,” she agreed. “And, just to be thorough, we should try  lots  of different things.”

He moved toward the stairs with his lips still hovering over her ear. “Let’s hope Sam decides to keep your sister there for dinner.”

“Or the rest of the night.” Abby let go of his neck, pulled back and dragged her shirt over her head.

Keith groaned. “Baby, stop stripping while I’m trying to climb stairs. It’s fucking distracting as hell.”

“Not half as distracting as this.” With anticipation shivering through her, she left the shirt tangled around her arms and twisted it until the cotton kinked and bound her wrists.

A pulse of need echoed between them, drawing a sharp gasp and a moan from her. Keith’s low growl rumbled against her neck as he made it three-quarters of the way up the stairs before dumping her onto her back on the hardwood floor of the hallway.

His eyes were dark and needy as he stood between her legs and stripped off her shoes. They thumped against the stairs behind him, probably all the way back down to the basement.

Abby didn’t care. She stretched her arms over her head and arched as he reached for the button of her jeans. “On the stairs, baby?” She didn’t bother to hide her excitement; he could feel it anyway, the same way she could feel his.

“You’re in the hallway.” He got her jeans open and grinned as he coaxed them down her legs along with her underwear. “I’m still on the stairs because I think I can work with the height difference.”

“Semantics,” she declared with a wicked smile of her own. “What happened to breaking in the bed?”

Her jeans hit the stairs and Keith lowered himself until his mouth brushed the inside of her right leg. “Bed, stairs… It all needs breaking in eventually.” His tongue swiped along her skin, and he bit the inside of her knee softly.

Pleasure bloomed inside her, as much from sheer happiness as a reaction to his touch. “What did I do before I met you?”

“Beats me.” One large hand smoothed up her other leg, and his thumb teased over her. “If you had a hand free I’d ask you to show me, but I might be able to figure it out on my own.”

She hissed in a breath and thrust her hips against his hand, heat blazing through her. “You know full well how good you are, baby.”

“I must be.” He brushed her clit in a teasing caress that wasn’t nearly enough before slipping away again. “You’re pretty damn turned on.”

“So are you.” She closed her eyes and savored the excitement that thrummed in his veins. “I like the way it makes you feel, you know. When you watch me come.”

He kissed the inside of her thigh as he eased one finger inside her. “How do I feel? Like I’ve never seen anything so fucking gorgeous?”

Abby cried out and clenched her fingers around the cotton T-shirt around her hands. “Like—like you want to make it happen again and again, because it’s so damn good.”

He’d learned how to touch her already, and he used that knowledge relentlessly as he stroked his fingers in and out of her. “Sounds about right.” His voice was a low rasp, filled with the same desire she could feel spinning through the magic that joined them.

She writhed on the floor, unsure whether she was trying to get closer or get away. Pleasure gathered like a summer storm, pounding through her hard and fast, and she chanted Keith’s name. Finally, trembling, she forced her eyes open and focused on his face.

A smile curved his lips a moment before he bit the inside of her thigh. Then he rose to his knees and reached for his belt. “Turn over, baby.”

Abby obeyed, her arms and legs still shaking. “I need you.”

“You have me.” He settled behind her and grasped her hips to hold her still. “You comfortable enough? I could still get us upstairs to the bed, you know…” The words were teasing, casual, but she could feel his patience dwindling as he rubbed his cock against her.

The growl escaped before she could stop it. She tried to move, but he held her fast. “Damn it, Keith,  please—

One thrust, and he was inside her. His hands hit the hallway floor on either side of her own as he covered her body, the sensation sharpened by the angle of the stairs. His breath fell hot against her ear as he ground against her and groaned. “God, you feel good.”

Abby’s hands slid on the slick floor as she tried to push back, get closer. “One of these days, baby, you’ll be the one begging.” She squeezed tight around his cock and moaned.

“You’re the one who tied your fucking hands together.” His teeth scraped along her jaw as he pulled back inch by teasing inch. “Which you can do whenever you want, darling. I’m a fan…” He growled and thrust into her again.

She choked on another cry. “I know you’re—” The breath left her lungs as heat flared again, stoked higher with every thrust, every heartbeat. “Don’t stop.”

“Not planning on it.” He spoke the words against her cheek before urging her head back enough to claim her lips with his next rocking advance. He kissed her hard, deep and desperate, as if even the motion of their bodies was incidental when compared to the pleasure of kissing her.

It was madness, the way they fell into each other every time they touched, and Abby relished every moment. Her tongue slicked over his, and she bit him. “Always so good,” she whispered. “Always.”

“Always,” he agreed in a hoarse voice. His next thrust was sharper, just a little bit harder and oh-so-careful to hit all the right places. He groaned and bit her lip as he did it again. “Come for me, baby.”

She wanted to deny him, to drag out the tension and anticipation until they were both precariously balanced on the sharp, sweet edge of release. But he drove into her again, and the low, desperate noise that escaped him made the pleasure reverberating between them impossible to quell.

Abby dropped her face to her arm and sank her teeth into her own skin, shaking with the force of the orgasm that tore through her.

“Fuck…” Just one word, but it ripped free of him riding on a harsh growl. His teeth found the back of her shoulder a moment before  his  orgasm joined the frenzy of feelings threatening to overwhelm her.

There was nothing to do but shiver under him as pleasure echoed through them both. “Jesus Christ.”

His hands slipped a little, and he caught himself on his elbows and swore. “Hell, I’m going to end up crushing you into the floor. You could have let us make it to the bed.”

“No.” She stretched a little, sated and yet still acutely aware of him inside her. “No, I really couldn’t. You’re irresistible.”

“Mmm, I bet I am.” His lips tickled the back of her neck through her hair as he kissed her softly. Then he gently pulled away and lifted her. “But I stole you some fucking high speed internet. I earned sex in a bed.”

“Maybe.” Abby held on to his neck and laughed. “But that’s not why I’m going to give you sex in a bed.”

“Oh yeah? So why are you?”

She’d never said it, and she should have been terrified. Instead, she curled against his chest, full of trust and contentment. “Because I love you.”

Keith pressed his lips to the top of her head. “I love you too, darling.”

The happy warmth intensified, and she smiled against his skin. “Even if you have to break the law for me?”

“Something tells me it won’t be the last time. At least Gavin can’t make faces at me. It’s his fault I got the idea.”

Abby pulled back and squinted at him. “How’s that?”

“Courting gifts.” The corner of his mouth quirked up. “Something my mother said once, when I was a kid. That Gavin came from a time when men were worth marrying because they knew how to show their appreciation. I don’t think either of us can count high enough to list the number of laws that man would break if it meant keeping Sam happy and safe.”

“Hell, no.” Her own lips curved into a smile, and she freed one hand from her twisted T-shirt to caress his cheek. “You learned that lesson well, though, because I feel  very  appreciated.”

“Good.” He hefted her higher and headed for the stairs to the second floor. “Let’s go to bed so I can appreciate you some more.”

“Only if I get to appreciate you back.”

“Maybe a little.”

The soft banter already felt as familiar, as vital, as breathing. “I’m happy, I’m safe, and I love you. Those are three very big reasons to appreciate you all night long.”

“Well, then.” She felt his lips on her temple as he headed for their bedroom. “In that case, maybe we can appreciate each other.”

She’d had her life ripped apart, and then she’d found Keith. She could never go back to a simple human life, but she had a new one slowly filling with the things she’d lost, plus some she’d never had—love and a sense of purpose, of belonging to something larger than herself.

Abby closed her eyes and rested her head on his shoulder. “Take me to our bed. Later, I’ll show you my favorite place to buy lingerie online.”