“Shift,” Grayson ordered.
I closed my eyes, and tension rushed through my body. A weird sensation like pins and needles flowed through my veins, and then I was eye level with Grayson’s crotch. I looked down at my silver paws. I’d done it. I was in wolf form.
“Oh, my God. You are so fucking cute,” Cora said.
I looked at her and grinned.
“She’s grinning at me.” Cora clapped her hands together.
Dean laughed. “She’s a hundred-pound Loup who could rip your face off, and you think she’s cute?”
Cora shrugged. “She wouldn’t rip my face off. Would you, Fee?”
I shook my head. “No, babe, no way.”
“Good.” Grayson crouched so he was eye level with me. “That was smooth. Did it hurt?”
I shook my head again.
He nodded. “Back to human, then.”
I shifted, feeling the same tingle and slight burn. My arms were back. My body was back.
“Fuck, that is so cool,” Cora said.
Grayson smiled like a proud mentor.
“Now for the real fun.” He shifted into a wolf, and I took a step back from the huge golden beast with the pale blue eyes staring at me. He advanced, and I took another step back before holding my ground. Grayson circled me and then nudged my thigh.
He wanted me to shift.
I released the Loup inside, and then we were nose to nose.
Are you ready, little wolf? he said right in my head.
What the fuck?
He chuckled. Yes, I might have neglected to mention this part.
You can hear me?
And now we fight.
He lunged at me, but I dodged, so he nipped air.
Good. Your opponents will be male, they will be larger, more powerful, but you have speed on your side. You evade until you have an opening where you can pin them. If you can get on their back and pin them down with your jaws around their nape, you’ll force them to submit.
Okay, let’s do this.
With a growl, Grayson attacked.
I lost track of time as we tussled. He didn’t hold back, and my head swam from the swipe of his paw. Time after time, he pinned me beneath him, his body pressed to my back, jaws around my neck. But like hell was I giving up, even though my limbs were getting tired.
You want to take a break? he asked.
He rushed me head-on, there was no time to evade. My body went into auto mode, and I leaped, sailing over him and landing behind him. I twisted and jumped onto his back. He buckled under my weight, taken by surprise, and then my jaws were around his nape.
His chuckle filled my head, and then he twisted beneath me, paws coming up to lay on my shoulders. We were nose to nose, eye to eye, and my heart swelled with triumph and something more. Before I could stop myself, I’d licked him.
His chest rumbled, and then he licked me back.
“Um…yeah, we should…” Dean said.
A door closed, but I barely heard it. My body tingled everywhere Grayson touched it. His eyes bore into my soul, tunneling deep. It would be so easy to give in to my wolf, to let Grayson have me. To take him.
So easy to give up control.
I climbed off him and padded away and shifted back into human form effortlessly. The pain of the first shift was a distant memory now. Funny how quickly the body forgot. I dressed before turning to face Grayson.
He was still in wolf form, huge and golden and watching me. I gnawed on my bottom lip and then approached him and sank to my knees in front of him. I wrapped my arms around his neck and pressed my cheek to the side of his head.
“Thank you. Thank you for helping me.”
“Same again, later?”
I ran my fingers through his soft fur, eliciting a rumble before standing and heading out of the room.
If I stayed, I might buckle. If I stayed, I might decide that being a pack wolf wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
My body thrummed with energy from connecting to the Voralex, and there was nothing better for the soul than tea and cake with Aunt Lara. Mid-afternoon in Deadside was bright but chilly. We were only weeks away from Christmas, and the temperature had dropped dramatically. It didn’t affect the residences of Deadside, but Aunt Lara had still lit the wood burner in her kitchen.
The sound of children’s laughter drifted into the room. The kids were in the lounge playing.
Aunt Lara poured me another cup of tea and cut me a fresh slice of lemon cake. I’d filled her in on Lucas, my incarceration, my time with the Regency Pack, and my trip into the Eye.
“What will you do once you win the culling?” she asked.
I loved that she had such confidence in me. “Back to the Underealm and my duties.”
“What about your Loup?”
I hadn’t thought that far. “I’ll ask Grayson if I can run with the pack once a month, I guess.”
“And if you fall in love with the handsome wolf, too?”
I covered my face with my hands. “I don’t know.”
“It’s all right to love more than one man,” Aunt Lara said. “As long as they’re happy to share your heart.”
“I don’t even know. It’s all so complicated right now. Conah is with Kiara. I need to forget him. Azazel is off-limits because Lilith will kill me if she discovers who I am, and Mal…Mal has so many emotional issues that trying to get close to him is like fighting the lunch rush at Top Cakes Bakery.”
“It seems to me, Grayson is the least complicated.”
He was. He wanted me, and I was beginning to want him too. “He deserves someone who can commit to him completely. He offered to let me come and go to save my life, but despite what he says, he needs a mate who can put the pack first. I can’t do that to him. I can’t saddle him with someone who won’t be there. Someone whose heart is divided.”
Aunt Lara nodded and sipped her tea. “I’m so proud of you, Fee. I’m proud of how unselfish you are and how strong you’ve become. I know that whatever you decide to do, it will be the right decision.”
There was a knock on the door.
I sighed. “Nox is here.”
She leaned over and hugged me. “Be safe, sweetheart. I’ll see you soon.”
Conah opened the door to me and stepped aside to let me in. Gone was the man who’d almost attacked me the night before and in his place was the composed, in-control Dominus I was used to. The only indication that anything weird had happened between us was the slight tightening of his mouth when our gazes briefly collided.
Azazel was sitting on the sofa, hair mussed and open as if he’d been running his fingers through it. The bed was empty, but the sound of the shower running told me Mal was in the bathroom.
They were up and about, and relief rushed through me. “You’re okay.”
Azazel kept his head down. “Thanks to you.”
Conah crossed his arms. “I told them what you did.”
“You would have done the same for me. I couldn’t leave you guys in the Eye. It’s Cora you should thank. If she hadn’t agreed to bond with the malevolent spirit Jasper, then—”
“Not that,” Conah said. “The blood.”
Oh. My gaze tracked back to Azazel, who was still staring at the carpet. Why wasn’t he looking at me?
“I’m sorry,” Azazel said. “I wasn’t in control. I attacked you.”
Attacked? “What are you talking about? You didn’t attack me. You might have gotten a little frisky, but I didn’t feel attacked.” I approached him and sank to my knees to peer up at him.
He closed his eyes as if the sight of me pained him.
I framed his face with my hands. “Look at me.”
Azazel finally locked gazes with me.
My throat pinched at the self-loathing in his eyes. “I liked it when you touched me. I loved it when you were on top of me.” My heart was beating too fast now. “I…I wanted you.”
A low rumbling growl vibrated his chest, and then his hands were in my hair, and his mouth was on mine in a crushing kiss that was all too brief.
He pulled away and glared at me. “You’ll stop. You’ll stop feeling that way. You’ll keep your distance.”
“He’s right,” Conah said softly. “It’s for your own good.”
“Why?” I looked from Conah to Azazel. “Why can everyone else be close to their soulmate but not me? How is that fair?”
Azazel tensed, and Conah made a strangled sound. Oh, fuck. Was that fact meant to be a secret?
“Azazel?” Conah said.
Azazel closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against mine. “What am I going to do with you?”
I could think of a few yummy things, but it was so not the time.
Azazel sat back and looked at Conah. “Fee is my soulmate. She has my mark. I discovered it when she saved me from the blood witch.”
“And you didn’t think to share the news with us?”
“Share what news?” Mal walked into the room, rubbing his hair with a towel. Another towel was wrapped around his slender hips. His bare chest was beaded with water.
Stop staring, Fee.
“What did I miss?” Mal asked.
“Fee is Azazel’s soulmate,” Conah said.
Mal’s eyes widened. “Fuck, Az.”
“I know,” Azazel said.
They were all staring at me now. “Okay, I get it. If we do the soulmate ceremony, then Lilith will find out about me, and that’s bad. But we don’t plan to do that, so why do I have to steer clear of Azazel?”
Mal crossed his arms over his bare chest. “The floor’s yours, Az.”
“Because any lover I take dies,” Azazel said softly. “Lilith makes sure of it. No woman is good enough for me. She finds them all wanting, and then they disappear.”
A shiver of apprehension skated up my spine. “But she can’t make a Dominus disappear…can she?”
“I’m not willing to take that risk,” Azazel said. “Lilith is powerful, and when it comes to me, her firstborn, she will do anything to protect my heart.”