I felt a tug and peeked through my fingers. Michael had grabbed ahold of a long strand of my hair. He faced the fire, idly twirling it. The teasing edge of his mood disappeared, replaced by deep concentration.
“I still don’t understand or fully believe what just happened,” he said, staring into the flames. “The MacKenzie wolves spent hundreds of years breeding this strength and power into you. It’s genetics. How is it possible that I’ve simply…absorbed some of it because of our bond?”
I shrugged. “Magic.”
He looked at me. “Magic? Just like that?”
“Like you said, we’re creatures of magic. Who’s to say our very genetic code isn’t ingrained with it, allowing it to be shared via the bond just like our emotions and now our thoughts are? You accepted those pretty easily. Why not this?”
His face was half bathed in the glow from the fire, half in shadow. It painted his features in sharp angles and made his lips look impossibly soft. “I believe, much like you did earlier, I’ve finally reached my threshold for the amount of shocks I can sustain.”
I barked a humorless laugh. “Trust me, I get it.”
“Does the mental connection continue even in our human forms?”
“I don’t know. Want to try it?”
He frowned in response and closed his eyes, those long lashes fluttering shut to kiss the top of his cheeks. His power licked over me, and then I felt a small brush against my psyche. Layla?
I let out a shaky breath. Hi, Michael.
He opened his eyes. Well. That answers that question.
I drew my power back in and cut the connection. Regardless of the fact that I believed what I had told him – that this newfound ability was gifted to us via magic – I still wasn’t comfortable with it. Before, I’d at least had my own thoughts to myself. Now I had to worry about accidentally projecting my inner monologue all over him when I was stressed. Or horny.
We needed to learn how to control this. Now.
“You can’t go back to the city leaking power everywhere,” I said.
“Agreed. How do you contain yours?”
I explained the mental cage within my mind. Michael continued to twirl my hair while I talked, absently, like a worry stone. When I was done, I assumed the role Audrey had played in my youth. I talked him through the formation of his own cage, how at first he would need to picture it there almost constantly until it became fixed in his mind, a part of himself. I told him how to shrink and expand it with a thought.
Or at least, I tried to.
I wasn’t a great teacher, and this concept was new to Michael. He kept his cool time and time again as he slowly drew his newly expanded psyche into himself, only for it to explode outward again. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that each of those explosions was more powerful than the last, splashing me with metaphysical heat that sparked like a downed power line.
He shook his head. “This isn’t working. What if I…” His eyes unfocused, and he stared past me. Slowly, his power began to recede, but along with it, so did Michael.
I grabbed his arm. Our skin-to-skin contact snapped him out of it and he came roaring back. “You said you wouldn’t do this to me again,” I reminded him.
“I didn’t plan to disappear altogether, just to mute the power in the same way I do the wolf.”
“Your wolf form,” I said. “Please don’t start reverting.”
He let out a frustrated sound and shook me off so he could stand. The fire danced over his stocky frame as he paced. His fingers went to his temples. I felt a small echo of pain in my own. His heightened senses must be giving him a headache. Outside, a night bird called, far in the distance. He stopped in his tracks and turned to gaze toward the mouth of the cave, eyes reflecting the firelight like quicksilver. I didn’t envy his position. I’d lived with this power my entire life and I was still distracted by it at times. To have it suddenly dumped on him must have been damn near all-consuming. A lesser wolf would have lost themselves to it by now.
I was suddenly angry. I should have been warned about this. Told about my powers and the way they would bleed through the bond. Shown how to use them by someone who understood them. My parents and Audrey had done the best they could to teach me control of the abilities I’d manifested in my youth, but how much more did I still have to learn? What else might rear its ugly head now that I was bonded? And what if something major, like this power share, happened when we were in the city? We might not have time to contain it before someone detected the change in Michael. Any weirdness in me could be explained away by my heritage, but he was a known commodity, and if he lost control and let his power flare all over the next wolf to piss him off, the jig, as they say, would be up.
If my birth parents had told me anything, I didn’t remember. But then, I’d been so young when they died that they probably hadn’t seen a reason to tell me anything yet, trusting that there would be plenty of time later.
If not them, then someone else should have warned me. A surviving adult. Another wolf who had already been through this. Anyone. All this secrecy surrounding the MacKenzie wolves was turning into a huge liability. How many others of my kind had been bonded only to learn these same things the hard way? Wouldn’t it be so much easier, and hell, safer, if we were allowed to warn each other?
I felt like I should apologize again. For my ignorance. For upending Michael’s life in such a disastrous way. For putting him in danger.
He stopped pacing and looked at me. “Don’t.”
I dragged in a shaky breath. “Did I just project all of that to you?”
Son of a bitch.
“This isn’t your fault,” he said.
I stared into the fire, feeling miserable. “I still feel like shit about it.”
“Welcome to the club. Now you know how I’ve felt since dropping my mate into the dangerous world of preternatural politics and a city on the brink of war.”
I wrapped my arms around myself and buried my nose into the collar of his sweater, breathing deeply, distracting myself with his scent. “Maybe we can hide out here until we figure everything out. Become hermits.”
He cocked a brow at me. “Do you think my mother will let us?”
In my head, I saw her ordering a full-scale invasion of the White Mountains to find him. I sighed. “No.” He needed to learn control. Tonight. We couldn’t stay here and we couldn’t go back to the city until he did. “I have an idea.”
He waved a hand at me. “By all means.”
“What if I tried going to full power and showed you how to cage it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t…I don’t really know. You remember during the security meeting when I turned my focus to you and the bond flared up between us?”
“I just did the same thing to snap you out of your lunacy. Maybe if I blow it wide open, I might be able to…I don’t know, draw you into my mind and have you learn how the cage works through me, if that makes sense? It might not even work, but desperate times…” I shrugged.
He folded himself down beside me. “It’s worth a try.”
I scooted closer, so that we were pressed together again. “Give me your hands.”
He reached out. I threaded my fingers through his. A now familiar heat sparked between us and suffused my body, flooding me with awareness of him. I closed my eyes and retreated into the back of my mind, where that small spark of him had taken up residence. I had no idea what I was doing and was more than a little worried that what I was about to attempt might somehow blow up in our faces. This was sheer bluff and blunder, but there was an instinctual drive behind it that spurred me on, and I put my faith in that like I did in the Goddess. She wouldn’t have dropped us into this without a way through it. I had known before being bonded that mated pairs were put through the ringer, but I also knew that there was always a way forward for them, if only they were bold enough to search it out.
I focused on Michael’s presence in my mind and then dropped all of my shields. Both the ones on my power, and the ones on my thoughts. The world around me came alive. Michael’s heart hiccupped as my power crashed over him, and my own skipped a beat as well. Then they thundered forward together like we were back in the forest, racing each other through the trees.
Goddess, the smell of him. The feel of him. I wanted more. No, I needed more. This awareness of him was like a drug, and me its addict. With my walls down, I was left open to him in a way I hadn’t been before. His presence seemed to expand into me, pushing into my mind, taking up even more space than it had a moment before, and in a way that made me feel like it might be a permanent change. I decided to worry about that later and instead traced the connection, bridging the gap between us until I felt my mind brush against his. And then I pushedinto him, pausing when I reached his own mental barriers.
Let me in, I whispered.
I squeezed his hands, rubbing my thumbs over his heated skin. Please, Michael.
I brushed against his mental shield again, light but insistent. I wouldn’t break through his defenses. That would be wrong. He needed to concede for this to work. To let me in of his own volition. Anything else would be a violation.
With a sigh, the barrier crumbled, and for the first time since we were bonded, Michael stopped suppressing.
There was nothing between us now. My head swam. I sat in my own skin, holding Michael’s hands, but somehow, I was also inside of him, holding my hands. He opened his eyes and I saw myself through them. My hair was wild from our flight through the forest. His sweater absolutely swamped my shoulders. He liked that. He liked seeing me in his clothes and knowing that with every breath, his scent filled my nose. There was a fierce possessiveness to him I never would have anticipated. A deeply woven set of primitive instincts. To Michael, I was his. And he was mine.
I nearly fell over from shock. I might have been confused about my feelings for him, but the same wasn’t true for Michael. For all of my greater knowledge on bonded wolves, I was still fighting it. Michael had simply accepted it. I was his mate. The wolf who would share the rest of his life with him, one way or another.
And, oh, did he know how he wanted to share it with me. He wasn’t conflicted in the least. Even now, he fought the urge to lean forward and kiss me. The only reason he didn’t was because of what I had said about not acting on our attraction to each other.
I opened my eyes. Our gazes met. I stared at him and also at myself through him. Like my sight, my feelings for him rebounded, branding me the worst sort of liar. The kind that deceives themselves. Like this, it was impossible to hide from my feelings anymore. Impossible to tell myself that I didn’t want him. That it was just physical attraction between us. No, what I felt for him was somehow already so immense that I struggled to put words to it.
And now Michael knew it too.
A triumphant thrill rose from him. His eyes sheened over and then lightened to amber. As wolves, our eyesight was better, and he looked at me with renewed sight. My hair was multifaceted. The flush that colored my cheeks was ten shades of red. His gaze dropped to my neck, where my pulse thrummed through my veins. I felt his small surge of aggression and realized that he wanted to bite me. Mark me as his own. Unbidden, my memory of wanting to sink my teeth into his ass came swimming back up. His savage pleasure only deepened when he realized the feeling was mutual.
His amber eyes scorched their way back up to my own. His voice was low when he spoke, damn near guttural. “You don’t have to say anything. We can talk about it later, or not at all if that’s what you decide. Right now, we need to focus on caging my power.”
I wanted to say something. So, so badly. The fact that he was so readily able to shove all of his feelings and instincts aside and place my own above his made me feel not only respected, but cherished.
No. He was right. He needed to learn control. And I needed to move past my shock and confusion and focus on the task at hand. Afterward, we could deal with the rest.
Looking at him was too much right now, so I closed my eyes. He did too. Without our sight, our awareness of each other narrowed to touch and smell and feel. I dropped his hands and scooted away from him, leaving only the last two. The smell of smoke filled my nose. Michael’s power pulsing in rhythm with my own became my sole focus. I decided to talk to him through the bond instead of out loud. The raw sound of his voice might be too distracting, and since we were already so connected, it was actually easier to communicate through it.
Like this, I said. In my mind, I pictured my cage surrounding both of us. Can you feel it?
I can, he said, surprised. He brushed what felt like metaphysical fingers against the bars, making me shudder.
Try to take hold of it with me. I reached out my awareness and paused until I felt him do the same. I began drawing the cage in around us both, slowly, so that he could see and hopefully understand what I was doing and how I did it.
Ah, he said. I was picturing it incorrectly before.
I paused my progress and let him get a feel for the bars. He brushed those imaginary fingers over each and every one, counting.
Is this number important? he asked.
Not the exact number, no, only that whatever number you choose, it never, ever changes.
I see, he said. If it never changes, it’s easy to always imagine it there.
He pressed against the bars, and they flexed slightly. Have you thought about trying this?
Suddenly my control over them disappeared. Michael took over. How did he even know how to do that? I felt the bars harden within his grip, like he’d reheated them and then forged a vein of titanium straight into their cores. I pushed against them. They didn’t budge. What the hell?
Now when you draw them down, they won’t resist, he said. And then he shrunk the cage so far on our power that I felt like my mind was being squeezed by a boa constrictor.
Michael, I wheezed.
The cage expanded, and I was able to breath again.
With a thought, Michael put his barriers back up. I snapped back into myself, head spinning. He grabbed my shoulders to steady me.
“How is this now?” he asked. He was doing it. Caging his power on his own. And it didn’t even feel like he was straining.
It took me a long minute to respond. I was still reeling. “Let it out a little more.” He did as I told him. “Right there. That’s what you felt like when we were first bonded. Try to keep it at that level.”
He nodded, gaze falling to the ground, eyes bleeding back to human as he focused. “What about this?” His power absolutely plummeted, so that it was almost entirely masked now.
I braced myself for the shock of the bond breaking, but this time, it didn’t. Michael was still there in the back of my mind, still a wolf, still smelled like my mate.
“How the hell are you doing that?” I said.
He looked at me. “Close your eyes and try. I’ve inherited your power. Perhaps you’ve gained my control.”
I did as he said, reinforcing my bars like he had, and then willing them down until I felt like my psyche was being put through a vice.
“Well done,” he said. “I wonder if…” His presence slid against mine in invitation. Layla?
I jerked in response. Oh. Hi. I guess our connection still works even when our power is caged.
Good to know. We should test the range on it at some point.
We can on the way back to my parents.
“You know, I believe I actually prefer this to suppressing,” he said aloud.
“Me too. Especially since it didn’t lessen the bond. You still feel like you in my head. And if you contain yourself like this and stop suppressing, shifting to wolf form will probably become easier for you. Less painful and less confusing.” I grinned. “I might not have to sit on you next time.”
He half lidded his eyes and sent me a scorching smile that set my blood on fire. “You’re more than welcome to sit on me any time you like.”
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.