No. Holden was masking our conversation from any potential eavesdroppers. By holding me this close he could speak lower than any human ears could hear. So low even paranormal hearing wouldn’t pick up on it. He was barely uttering the words. It was as if the movement of his lips alone told me what he was saying.
If anyone was following us, they would have no idea what we were talking about.
“She told me what you’ve been accused of.”
His hand spasmed on my back, and all pretense of breathing left his body. “What?”
“There are claims you’re responsible for the death of several protected council elders.”
“Well.” He pulled his head back from my ear and looked at my face. “We knew it had to be something serious. I didn’t think it would be something so…impressive.”
“She doesn’t think you did it. Neither does Sig.”
His eyes widened, and I watched as something lit up within them. The brightness of a realization dawning. Where his hand was holding my arm I felt a sudden pain, but I didn’t interrupt his thoughts.
“Of course,” he said.
“Share with the class?”
He released my arm and cupped my chin with his cool palm. “I need to get something. But once I bring it to you, I think everything will be clear.” He kissed my lips delicately, with such aching softness I almost thought it was the summer breeze.
When I opened my eyes again he was gone, and I stood alone on the sidewalk.
The rest of the walk home passed in a daze. I moved by Calliope’s Starbucks without the slightest inclination to stop. I just dragged myself the rest of the way back to my apartment.
And that’s when shit got weird.
Waiting for me in the foyer of my apartment was a wolf roughly the size of an Irish wolfhound.
I was so taken aback by the presence of the animal, I tripped backwards over something and smacked my head against the exterior door. My vision swam and pain dazzled the space around me with pinpoints of brightness. Dazed, I slumped to the ground.
When I reached for my fallen purse to grab my gun, I saw what I’d tripped over. A large duffel bag was near the entrance, and next to it a pair of navy, men’s Vans slip-on shoes—the object I’d taken a backwards tumble on. Beneath the wolf’s feet was a pair of jeans and a well-worn navy blue New York Yankees T-shirt. None of the clothing was ripped, and there was no blood or any signs of struggle.
The wolf sat back on its haunches and fixed its gray eyes on me, with its large ears upright and alert. Its huge jaws gaped open, flashing a daunting set of teeth, and the wolf actually grinned at me with its big tongue dangling out the corner of its mouth. As if it were nothing more than a house pet.
As the panic started to melt away from me, my hand wandered to the back of my head to feel the goose egg growing there. I’d hit the door pretty hard and was still feeling woozy. That must have been why I thought I knew the animal sitting less than five feet away from me.
I licked my dry lips and tasted citrus. The reality of it hit me harder than the door, and my gun slipped from my fingers.
Not only did I know the wolf, I knew him carnally. I should have recognized it was him. The violet-gray eyes, the deep black coat. He came closer and licked my face. When I didn’t flinch away, he pushed his nose under my arm and whined. I took the hint and used his stability to push myself back up to my feet.
He padded over to my door and scratched at it. I was still too perplexed to ask questions. It wasn’t like he could answer them in his current form, so I unlocked the door and held it open for him while he walked into the apartment, sniffing around until he vanished into my bedroom.
Rio hissed and Desmond growled in response. The white demon bolted out of my room and took up residence under the loveseat. When Desmond didn’t come back, I grabbed the bag from the hallway, along with his discarded clothing, and tossed them inside my front door, then locked the door and latched the deadbolt.
From my bedroom I heard the most disturbing array of noises. At first it was just a racket of popping I couldn’t put a name to, but by the time I realized it was the sound of joints bursting out of their sockets, it had already changed. The wolf made a low, rumbly growl, followed by the resonance of cracking bone and tearing flesh.
My blood ran cold, and though the last thing in the world I wanted to do was see with my eyes what I was hearing, I couldn’t stand there and ignore it. I walked to the door of my bedroom with the apprehension of a horror-movie heroine.
The transformation was already almost done, but what remained was gruesome. Desmond was curled into a fetal position on the ground, with the skin of his fingers split open, long claws retracting back into the exposed bones of his hands. Under the now-hairless surface of his skin I could see bones shifting, altering their position and configuration, and with each adjustment came the unnatural crack-pop noise I’d heard earlier. Watching the bones of his face move was hardest. The canine snout broke itself down, elongating his jaw and flattening his cheeks before he was restored to his lovely, human face.
His mouth opened but the fangs of a wolf were still there. For a moment he looked like a vampire, and then the fangs retracted, blunted, and it was over. He was left naked and panting on my bedroom floor, covered in a sheen of sweat, his eyelids clamped shut against the pain.
I unzipped my dress, letting it fall to the floor. I stepped out of the satiny puddle and sank to all fours, crawling to where he was, then I lay down behind him so my front melted against the slick surface of his back. He released a shuddering sigh when I wrapped my arms and legs around him, and for a long while we just lay quiet on the floor, until his breathing returned to normal and he was my Desmond again.
“You mind telling me what the hell that was all about?” We were sitting together on the loveseat in my living room, me with my legs draped over his lap, he with a cup of tea in his hand. I wasn’t even sure the tea was still good. I’d bought it over a year ago for Mercedes, but she was over so rarely it sat in my cupboard unopened. It was hard to take Desmond seriously as a big, scary werewolf, with a steaming mug of Peppermint Princess tea held to his lips.
We hadn’t bothered to put on clothes. Being naked didn’t bother me, and it wasn’t like Desmond hadn’t seen it before. Getting dressed seemed like more effort than he had in him, and he claimed the skin-to-skin contact was helping him regain his strength. There was some truth to that, but based on the placement of his free hand on my upper thigh he had other healing in mind. That of the sexual variety.
“It was my fault, really. It’s so close to the full moon and I’m not with the pack like I should be. It shuts down my control. When you didn’t come home after your dinner with Lucas, I started to worry. After a few more hours, I guess it overwhelmed me. Heightened emotion makes it easier to take on the change if you’re not careful. Especially this time of the month.”
It was the first time I’d ever heard a man blame his fragile emotional state on his time of the month. I couldn’t help myself, I snickered. Insensitive? Probably. But I’d had a little too much seriousness for one night.
Rio, no longer afraid of Desmond, was perched on the arm of the loveseat, watching us with mindful boredom. She seemed annoyed by my outburst. Desmond was equally unimpressed.
“Sorry,” I said unapologetically.
“I should be used to it by now.” He put his empty mug on the back of the couch, resting it against the wall, and ran his now-free hand over my bare arm. We were wrapped in a lightweight blanket, and all of a sudden even the thin weave was too hot.
“What are you doing here, Desmond?” My voice was little more than a quiver because his other hand had started to move upwards as well.
“Oh, yeah. About that.” His thumb traced my lower lip, and my eyes closed. I took the digit into my mouth, exploring the rough surface with my tongue. I didn’t think anything he said next could matter.
Boy was I wrong.
As he shifted his weight to move closer to me, he spoke against my lips. “I’m moving in.”
I was wrapped in the blanket, up and off the couch, having pushed him away from me, and was standing next to my fireplace before he had a chance to complete the sentence. It should have made the situation funny, somehow, that Desmond was left naked on my couch, still in the midst of making his move.
I wasn’t laughing.
“Jesus, how did you move that fast?” he asked.
“You’re going to want to be answering questions rather than asking them.” I hugged the blanket closer to me as he righted himself on the couch and looked for all the world like he couldn’t be less uncomfortable. In fact, he already seemed right at home with his arms outstretched across the back of my loveseat.
“Well, then. Ask a question.”
“What do you mean you’re moving in?” The pitch of my voice bordered on hysterical. It felt like arguing with Lucas all over again. If I thought vampires were frustrating, I had a thing or two to learn about how annoying werewolves could be.
“I don’t see how that can be misunderstood.” He pointed at the bag by the front door. “You and I will be cohabitating.”
“No.” I shook my head firmly and stamped my foot in frustration. “Hell no.”
I was fed up. I threw the blanket at him and stormed into my bedroom, but it was impossible to properly express my irritation when my carpet wouldn’t allow me to slam my door and I was stomping around butt naked.
Desmond stood outside my half-closed bedroom door, and I slumped into my armchair so I didn’t have to face him. He had the good sense not to come in, but that didn’t mean he went away.
“Even if I say no, you’re staying, aren’t you?” I didn’t want to sound so defeated, but I already knew this battle was lost. When the wolves got it in their mind that something was going to happen, there was no arguing. They were a lot like the Tribunal in that sense. I hated how little control over some aspects of my life I had. I’d expected more respect from Desmond.