Lucas growled again. “I’m going to shift, Claudia. You can take your hand down in a second, but don’t stray far from me. Understand?”
“I didn’t stray in the first place,” I muttered the words, not that Lucas would appreciate the distinction.
Something brushed against my legs and I lowered my hand. Lucas stood in front of me in his wolf form, speckled black and brown. Maybe I should’ve been cautious, but he looked so soft. Before I could stop myself, I was brushing my fingers through his fur.
I knew that wolves didn’t purr, but Lucas came close, making a deep rumbling sound at the back of his throat.
As we walked back to our campsite, Gobble flitted around us in his little pixie form. I couldn’t stop thinking about Gobble identifying me as Lucas’ mate. I hadn’t let myself think about it too much, but what did that really mean? Was I really considering turning?
If I didn’t, what would that mean for Lucas? Would he end up being like Muraco? Alone for centuries because his mate chose not to risk being bitten? Could I do that to him?
Did I even want to be mated to a wolf in the first place? It was a serious decision that needed a lot of thought. Mates didn’t divorce, as far as I knew. It was a serious commitment and if the mess with Matt had proven anything to me it was that rushing in didn’t work.
Then again, comparing Matt and Lucas was impossible. They didn’t compare. Not in any way. I trusted Lucas.
But was I ready to commit to more than that?
Lost in my thoughts, I almost tripped over a root, but Lucas was there before I could fall, pushing against me with his fur.
“Thanks.” I brushed a hand against his head and he made a rumbling noise. I didn’t speak wolf, but I could guess what he meant. “I’m fine. Just a little tired.”
It was way more complicated than I could handle right now. The long day of hiking through the mountain, the stress of worrying over Raphael, and now this fey kidnapping added up to a whole bunch of exhaustion.
When we got back to the tent, I crawled straight inside. There was a blanket, and I spread it over my body, not caring about changing. Lucas butted inside in his wolf form, and settled down half on top of me. He rested his head on my stomach.
I knew that this wasn’t a big dog—that it was Lucas—but my brain was too tired to register it or care anymore. I scratched behind his ears and closed my eyes.
“Good boy,” I said, as I fell asleep.
I felt a wet lick against my cheek just before darkness took hold of me, but I couldn’t move enough to do anything about it if I wanted to.
I woke to the sound of Lucas’s voice. The sun was just breaking over the horizon. Rays of sunlight cut through the leaves, making it seem like God was shining light down on the mountain. My back ached from sleeping on the hard ground and I wished there were a hot shower in my future, but that wasn’t happening. Probably not until I was back with Raphael.
That thought jolted me all the rest of the way awake.
No time to waste. I threw off the blanket and got up. I didn’t remember taking off my shoes, but they were lined up in front of the tent. I slipped them on and double knotted the laces.
“Ready to go?” I asked.
Lucas nodded. “I’ll pack our gear.” He handed me a protein bar as he brushed past. His fingers lingered on mine for a just a second before he started folding up the tent.
He was always doing that. Giving me lingering touches. More and more. I watched his back as he moved, enjoying the view a little. I quickly ran my fingers through my hair before redoing my braid, and then dug into the protein bar.
The crumbly texture made me thirsty. I grabbed a water bottle from the side pocket of Lucas’ pack, and took a long drink. “It’s cold.”
“I went to the falls to fill up. They’re not far.”
I nodded, but my stomach soured. What about parasites? If I got some kind of worm from this… I stared down at the bottle in disgust.
He chuckled. “Don’t worry, city girl. I cleaned the water. It’s safe to drink.”
Easy for him to say. “I didn’t grow up in the city, but we had clean, running water.” I took another careful sip, then almost gasped when it hit my tongue. It might be the best tasting water I’d ever had.
I quickly inhaled the rest of the protein bar and drank some more water before putting the bottle away. I stretched, and my ribs still ached. It was bearable, but if I thought about it too much—about Matt—the anger would overwhelm me.
Gobble had shifted back in his tiny form and he sat in the tree above the tent, watching us move around. It made me nervous when he stayed quiet like that.