Michael was starting to show signs of strain. I counted three hairs out of place. He’d loosened his tie. He stood now in my parents small living room, hands on his hips, somehow taking up more space than he should. “Explain to me once more why Layla and I can’t simply remain amicable acquaintances living in separate states.”
Dad leaned forward on the love seat and looked up at Michael. He answered with measured patience. “I told you, the bond simply won’t allow it. At least not in the beginning. It forces you together at first. If you get more than a dozen miles away from each other, the torment will be…” He sighed. “Trust me on this, it’s not something you want to experience.”
“What kind of torment are we talking about here?” I asked.
Mom was curled up next to Dad. She glanced over at where I sat on the couch. “Tell me you’re not considering trying it.”
“Michael and I were just forced together against our will. Who’s to say that our bond won’t be different? Allow for a little flexibility?”
Dad stood. “Fine. Let’s test it out. Michael, you’ve only had one drink.” He fished his keys out of his pocket and handed them over. “Take my car to the edge of the mountains and back and we’ll see how you two do.”
Michael took them and turned to me. I shrugged. Might as well see what happened. He nodded and walked out the door.
Half an hour later he was back in the living room and now we were both pacing. Mom and Dad looked back and forth between us like the crowd at a tennis match.
It had been fine at first, after he’d left. But then I started to feel anxious. No matter how hard I tried to suppress the feeling, it only grew worse. Soon I started worrying about him. That something could happen to him. That I might never see him again.
I’d tried to logic myself out of this ridiculousness. I just met him. I shouldn’t get so worked up about it. And regardless of how I felt, I knew that I would see him again. He was just driving to the mountains and back. I told myself this over and over again in an attempt to remain calm. But then Michael kept driving, getting further away, and my anxiety turned into outright panic. It got so bad that my parents were forced to restrain me to keep me from going after him.
He turned the car around not long after, and from the feel of him in my mind, he’d broken the speed limit to get back to me. We’d rushed at each other when he walked through the door, checking each other over to make sure that yes, we were both Okay. Now we paced, embarrassed, trying to pretend it hadn’t happened.
Michael heaved a resigned sigh. “So that’s that.”
“The bond is the same,” Mom said. “No one can say the Goddess doesn’t have a wicked sense of humor.”
He stopped pacing and turned to her. “Your goddess. I’m not what you would call a believer.”
“Then what do you think happened tonight?” I asked. “What do you think this is between us?”
“Oh, we’re tied together, Layla. Of that I have no doubt. While I might not believe in a lunar goddess dipping her fingers down to earth to disrupt the lives of her worshippers, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in magic.”
Mom stood from the couch. “You two can argue theology later. I’m exhausted and I’m sure you are too. And you still need time to work out where you go from here. The summer house is made up. Layla, why don’t you take Michael out back and you two can hash this out in private.”
My gaze went to the clock. It was midnight. “You’re right. Sorry.”
Mom shook her head and walked over to me. “There’s no need for you to be sorry. None of this is you or Michael’s fault.”
“I know. But I’m still sorry.”
A few feet away, Michael approached Dad. “Jon, thank you so much for all of your patience and understanding.” He glanced toward my mom. “You and Chris both. I apologize if any of my questions were…uncouth.”
“Not at all,” Dad said, standing to shake his hand. “I’m sure you have more, but they can hold until the morning.”
I said goodnight to my parents and led Michael out of the back slider and down the porch steps toward the heavy woods that crowded the edge of my parents’ lawn. Tucked beneath the low boughs of the pines was a small cottage, it’s white paint like a beacon in the moonlight. Inside, there was just enough room for a bed, a chair, and a nightstand with a lamp.
I left Michael to shut the door behind us and went to turn on the light.
“Do you mind if I take the bed?” I asked.
“By all means,” he said, gesturing toward it.
I flopped down on the thin mattress, ignoring its squeaks of protest. Michael pulled his tie off and hung it from the top of the chair. He turned away from me and shrugged out of his jacket, revealing broad shoulders and a wide expanse of back. My gaze fell to the swell of his ass as he leaned forward and draped the jacket across the back of the chair. I’d always been attracted to wolves who were larger than me in their human form. Tall, strapping men with long limbs. Now, looking at Michael, I found I preferred his stockier stature just as much. The fact that we were the same height could make for some interesting –
Oh, shit! He could probably feelmy sudden interest through the bond. I buried my head in my hands, willing my body into obedience. If I let my interest turn into desire, there would be no way he’d miss the smell of it in this enclosed space.
“And this uncomfortable moment reminds me of all the questions I didn’t ask your parents,” he said.
I’d reacted too late. He’d noticed my mental gutter dive. Kill me now.
“I’m sorry,” I muttered into my palms.
Annoyance flared through the bond. “Is this to be expected? Will we be forced into each other’s beds on top of everything else we must endure?”
I lifted my head. “Gee, thanks for making the prospect of sex with me sound like torture.”
He made a prudish sound and looked away. “Apologies. I misspoke. This has been a trying day. I’m sure that would be…” he waved a hand in my general direction, “quite enjoyable.”
I tried not to be offended by his utter lack of enthusiasm. “It’s fine. And no, it doesn’t in any way coerce or manipulate us together like that. It does, however, ah, have an unfortunate side effect in that area.”
He sat, lifting one leg to rest his ankle on his knee. “Explain, please.”
This was going to be so, so awkward. “Basically, if one or the other of us is…excited in that way, be it sex, masturbation, or even a wet dream, the other will feel it.”
His expression flattened. “Splendid. Are we to have anything to ourselves?”
“Our thoughts. And you heard Dad say that over time we’ll learn how to mute the bond.”
“That day cannot come soon enough,” he said, plucking an imaginary piece of lint from his pant leg.
“I really am sorry, Michael.” A man like him, in such total control of himself, must hate the small feeling of helplessness I could sense like an echo in the back of my mind.
“Me too,” he said. He actually sounded like he meant it. “Tell me, what is it you do?”
“I’m in the middle of perusing my masters in Archaeology.”
I nodded. “I’d like to eventually earn my doctorate, with a focus in early human iconography.”
“Let me guess, you’re chasing the werewolf mythos back through the ages?”
I sat back against the headboard. “Okay, maybe I was wrong about having our thoughts to ourselves.”
“I assure you, it was nothing more than a lucky guess. I’m assuming that you’re home for the summer because you’re in between semesters?”
I nodded. “Why do you ask?”
He spread his hands as if in apology. “Because I am the vice president of a billion-dollar family owned corporation.”
I sighed. “You can’t leave Boston.”
“I can’t leave Boston,” he said.
“Guess I’m moving down then.” I couldn’t keep the sadness from my tone, and though I tried to borrow some of his calm like Dad suggested, I was too new at this. It was like grasping at straws, and it did nothing to keep my sudden overwhelming sense of loss at bay.
Michael shifted in his seat and leaned forward, stopping himself just shy of rising. Another thing my parents warned us about was the way the bond would make us want to do almost anything to protect and comfort each other.
I held up a hand to forestall him. “Just give me a second while I try to get it under control.” Several deep breaths later, I fought back the threat of tears. “Wow. When I woke up this morning, I never would have imagined the day would end like this.”
“Leaving your family, your pack, it’s a terrible thing to ask of you,” he said, his voice low. “Perhaps we can come to some sort of compromise. I can change my work schedule to Monday through Thursday, and we can come back up here Friday through Sunday.”
“You’d do that?”
He nodded. “It’s the least I can do after you were so readily amenable to moving.”
“Thank you, I’ll think about it. But a clean break might be better. No offense, but my pack wouldn’t exactly welcome you with open arms.”
“None taken. I’m used to it.”
“And I know you’re not a believer, but I expected nothing less than this from the bond. I was raised around people who had to navigate similar situations. To me, moving down to Boston is part of the test the Goddess set for me.”
“Then I’m glad you’re able to find some measure of comfort in it,” he said. “I hope you know that I don’t in any way expect you to abandon your life or give up on your dreams. Despite whatever discomfort your packmates might present to me, we can always come back here to visit. And when the bond allows us some modicum of freedom, you’d be free to nip up here whenever you wanted, if not move back permanently.”
“Thank you.” This was all so civilized. It gave me hope that if we remained civil and logical, we could get through this with minimal pain or discomfort.
“My mother is good friends with several women who sit on the boards of the local ivy league colleges,” he said. “A word from her could see you admitted to any one of them. My family would cover your tuition, of course, in thanks for your sacrifice.”
The sheer privilege of such an offer…
“Michael, that’s -” The first words that sprang to my mind were those of denial, but I’d be an idiot not to consider it. My grades were good, but I could never get in on my own, and there was no way in hell I’d be able to pay for it. “Thank you. I’ll think about it.”
“If you…I mean, your life might not be over either,” I said. “You’re sure your fiancé will want to end things?”
“Yes. And afterward, there will be no trouble from her quarter.”
I frowned. “You say that like you expect trouble from another quarter.”
He shifted, moving to rest his ankle back on his knee, but froze halfway there as the legs of the chair wobbled ominously beneath his weight.
I pushed myself sideways and made room for him next to me. “Just come sit over here. That thing can’t be trusted.”
He looked like he was willing to risk it.
“Don’t be a prude. I’m not going to grope you.”
He froze, scandalized by the thought.
I struggled not to laugh.
He must have felt it through the bond, because his eyes narrowed as he stood. “Are you making fun of me?”
“More like teasing you. Blame my parents. Tonight was the most serious I’ve ever seen them. I was raised in a house of constant ridicule and practical jokes.”
He came over and sat on the edge of the mattress. The bedframe complained beneath our combined weight, but it was built of sturdier stuff than the chair and so it held. Michael’s back was to me as he leaned over and untied his shoes. Without thought, I reached out to touch him, stopping my fingers a hairsbreadth away when I realized what I had almost done.
The stupid frigging bond again.
He stilled, whether because he heard me move or sensed me there, I couldn’t tell. I pulled my hand quickly away, and after a moment, he slipped his shoes off and settled back on the bed, our legs stretched out side by side. The mattress sagged slightly, leaning us toward each other until our shoulders touched. I sucked in a breath and braced myself for the same shock that happened when he’d grabbed my arm, but it didn’t come.
“It must only be skin to skin,” he said, his thoughts aligned with my own.
“That part of the bond is a little more foreign to me. I could never bring myself to ask my parents about it.”
“For obvious reasons,” he said. He looked over at me and laid his hand down on his thigh, palm up. I met his gaze from inches away. He raised one aristocratic brow in challenge. “Might as well get used to it now. We can’t be jumping five feet in the air every time we accidentally brush by each other.”
“That’s logical,” I said, looking back to his hand. I took a deep breath and wound my fingers through his.
Metaphysical lightning sparked between us. The small space in the back of my mind where he’d taken up residence seemed to swell. His scent became overpowering. Our pulses pounded together through our wrists. I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
“This is only making things worse,” I said. “Everything is amplified.”
“Perhaps it will get better if we persist.”
“We should keep talking. Distract ourselves.”
“You were going to tell me about the trouble we might face in Boston?” I said.
“Mostly I’m worried about my mother. This bond of ours will spoil a lot of her plans for me.”
“You think she might try to off me?”
He looked over at me sharply. This close, there were lighter flecks of amber in his dark eyes.
I shrugged. “I’ve heard stories. Plus, the only way out of this is through death.”
“How frustratingly old fashioned,” he said. “And you’re sure that there isn’t another spell locked away in some ancient tome that might undo this?”
“Nope. Others have looked.”
“Has anyone asked the witches?”
I chuckled. “Asked the witches. Good one.” When he remained silent, I started to worry that he was serious. “Michael, no. No one has asked the witches. Why would they?”
He frowned at me like I should know the answer to that. Then he shook his head. “Aside from my mother, there are the other factions to worry about. Boston is split into three territories between us, the vampires, and the witches. The vampires are forever pushing at our boundaries as they fight to expand and diversify their food source, while the witches move to pit us against them as a way of using us as a shield. There are hundreds of petty attacks that take place between all of us each year due to miscommunication and distrust. And then there are the humans, of course.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose with my free hand. “Sounds like a ton of fun.”
He squeezed my hand in what might have been reassurance, and the bond flared again. Painfully. We let go of each other.
“Apologies,” he said.
“It’s fine. Want to leave it at that for today? Even before the hand squeeze, I felt like I was fighting a losing battle.”
“Yes. It was the same for me,” he said.
At least I wasn’t the only one affected.
Copyright © 2019 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.