He put his hands on my legs, pressing them into the bed so I couldn’t move. “Wait. Slow down.”

“Wait? I can’t wait. Adrian said the sooner the better. We have to go now. I don’t know how much longer he has, and I need to go.” He didn’t understand. I’d given Luciana the power to hurt my brother and do all kinds of evil. Everything I did was bad. And wrong. When I’d tried to make it right, I’d only made everything that much worse for everyone around me. Now I finally had a chance to fix that. My chest heaved as I spoke. “I have to do this. I have to save my brother. And I have to save the pack. If one more person gets hurt because of me… I don’t think I could survive that.” Tears welled and fell. He couldn’t give me hope and then snatch it away. “I’ll rest later. It’s not that bad.”

“Not that bad? You were unconscious. For hours.” His eyes glowed and I could almost see the wolf fighting to break free. “I didn’t say we weren’t going to go, but it’s already dark and we’re going to have to trek through the forest again. I’d do fine as a wolf, but it’s too dangerous when you don’t have another form.”

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I took a breath to calm myself and realized by the ache that the pain pills were still percolating. I’d be useless if we left now. “I see your point.” And I’d made an idiot of myself. Again.

Lucas gently cupped my face in his hand, lifting my chin until my gaze met his. “I can’t pretend to understand what you’ve been through, but I know you’ve had to make hard choices and sacrifices. No one should ever blame you for trying to protect your family. You were just a child when it all started.”

I swallowed. It was true. I had been a child. But I’d made so many mistakes. And yet, if I could go back in time, I wasn’t sure how I could change things.

His thumb brushed against my jawline, and goose bumps broke out over my skin. “You’ve done a good job,” he said the words plainly, like he knew they were the truth.

I’d tried so hard to do good, but it always felt like I was wrong. Hearing him say I was doing a good job… It was the first time anyone had ever said that to me.

I couldn’t help the embarrassing sob that broke through. I covered my face. God. I hadn’t cried about any of this in so long. I couldn’t start now.

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“You’ve done a good job, Claudia.” He pulled my hands from my face, and brushed the tears away. “But this isn’t your fault. What Luciana has done isn’t your fault.”

I wanted to believe him. So badly. “It is. At least partly.”

“No,” he said firmly. Without a hint of question to his voice. “It’s not. You can only take responsibility for your own actions. You didn’t make Luciana do all those horrible things.” Our faces were so close that our noses were nearly touching. “You were taken advantage of. Abused. Scared. You were a child.”

Abused? No. I’d handed my power over.

“Your parents should have protected you, but they didn’t.” He paused, and I stared into his eyes. Nearly losing myself in those dark pools. “Or maybe they couldn’t protect you. Either way, you are not to blame. Now you’re doing everything you can to fight back. No one could possibly ask more of you.”

With those words, it felt like a weight had been lifted. My parents had left without so much as a thank you. I’d done my best, but that had never been good enough. And here was this guy. Telling me it was okay. That I’d done a good job.

“Come on.” He lay on the bed and pulled me down with him. I rested my head on his chest as I cried. “It’s going to be okay,” he murmured as he ran his fingers up and down my arm.

I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been held. Comforted. Raphael wasn’t a huggy guy. Neither was anyone else in the coven.

But as I lay there, feeling so many different emotions, I wanted to hold on to Lucas forever. That feeling terrified me because now I had someone else in my life that I’d give up everything for. I’d already given so much. What would be left, if I kept giving pieces of myself away?

He hadn’t asked for anything. Not yet. But I knew the other shoe would drop. Maybe not today or tomorrow. But sometime.

Even knowing that, I let myself enjoy this moment. The once in my life that I truly felt loved. Cherished. Taken care of. By a man—a wolf—I barely knew, yet felt so deeply connected with. For as long as this lasted, I gave myself permission to savor it.

This was what love felt like.

And boy, did I want it to last forever.

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