Breathing. Breathing would be good. But I couldn’t seem to draw air. His mouth was everywhere, nibbling my lips, trailing along my jaw, nipping at my throat, stealing all of my oxygen and rational thought. There were no muffled voices from the other rooms. There was no questionable carpet. Only warm lips, clashing teeth, and strong fingers digging into my hips.

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I was so focused on the hot, insistent pressure against my mouth that I didn’t notice that somewhere between the door and the bed, my shirt came off. I yanked at his jacket, pushing it from his shoulders as he stumbled back and landed against the mattress with a squeak. Our descent had just enough bounce to send me tumbling toward the edge of the bed, but Caleb caught me and rolled me back over him.

I barely resisted the urge to laugh into his bare chest, biting down gently on his Adam’s apple. He moaned softly, threading his fingers through my short hair and pulling me closer. His hands stroked and petted, slowly peeling away my jeans and bra. My pulse jumped every time his hands brushed my breasts, and my hips jerked.

I lost track of time, getting acquainted with the body that, well, let’s face it, I had been ogling for weeks. His skin was so smooth. I couldn’t resist reciting the muscle-group names as I traced my fingertips along his arms, down his stomach and thighs. Deltoid, pectoralis major, external oblique, quadriceps femoris—all connected and fairly shaking as I ran my hands over them.

He flipped me onto my back, growling low as he worried my collarbone with his teeth. Lips open and wet, he ran his mouth in one smooth line from my breasts to my belly button, pressing one last kiss to the little bow on the waistline of my panties. I giggled, until he nudged the panties aside and plunged two fingers inside me. Then I gasped, grinding my hips against the palm of his hand. I came with embarrassing speed, but it had been a very long time since someone had touched me. I threw my head back, panting as I felt that first spasm of my climax. I rode it out, wave after wave, until I was sweaty and still beneath him.

I heard the crinkle of foil as he settled between my thighs, peppering my breasts with kisses as he aligned our bodies. I hissed as parts of me long left ignored stretched and flexed around him. He stopped, hovering over me, watching me.

I felt overwhelmed by his size, the searing heat of his skin. I’d never felt so small, so breakable, in a positive way. As his hands ghosted over my skin, I knew that I could trust him to be careful with me.

“Move,” I begged him. “Please move.”

He obliged, thrusting his hips and driving me back into the mattress. I felt his teeth, worrying at the same spot on my neck he’d attempted to bite before. Was this it? Was he going to claim me? He nuzzled my throat, scraping his sharp teeth over my skin. Just when I felt them digging in, I tensed, wincing away from the pain.

The silence of the room, punctuated only by the sound of our breathing, rang in my ears as he balanced his forehead against mine. He stroked a hand down my cheek and kissed me, long and hard. He grinned down at me and clutched at my ass, rolling against me until he hit a spot inside me that had me shuddering. Heat seared from my navel to my thighs, rippling up my body. The fluttering waves of release made me scream so loudly that our neighbors banged on the wall and told us in very colorful language that they did not appreciate my enthusiasm. Or volume. Or Caleb’s long howl when he followed me over the edge.

Caleb rolled onto his back, wrapped his arms around me, and pulled me close. I clapped my hands over my mouth and muffled a giggle, because I figured laughing at our neighbors’ protests would not improve their mood. Caleb did laugh, pressing his face against the crown of my head. He looked indecently pleased with himself. “Been a while, huh?”

“Four years, two months, two weeks, and three days. Not counting the sex I’ve been having with myself, which was actually better than the two-party . . . never mind. So why weren’t we doing this weeks ago?”

“Oh, trust me, if I’d had my way, we would have christened every motel between here and Canada,” he told me. “But you were so jumpy before. You let me touch you, but you tensed up so much I was afraid that you would run off if I tried to get closer.” He nipped at my earlobe. I turned my head, admiring the way the moonlight played on his features, making him look like the sullen canine he was. “Please don’t run from me again,” he whispered into my hair, winding his legs with mine. “When I woke up and you were gone, Rabbit, I can’t tell you how that made me feel. I didn’t know where you’d gone. I didn’t know if you were OK, if I was ever going to see you again. I almost lost it.”

His whole frame tensed up just talking about it. His eyes bled gold into dark brown and glowed against the dark backdrop of the room.

I wondered if almost losing it meant he’d wolfed out and destroyed our motel room. What was the cleaning fee for something like that? Did he have a credit card devoted specifically to tacky-motel-room damage? I trailed my fingers along his cheek, stroking it in what I hoped was a soothing, non-werewolf-freak-out-inducing manner.

“Look, Caleb, I know you’re upset with me.”

“That would be a massive understatement, yeah.”

“But can we skip talking about it for right now?” He opened his mouth to protest, so I added, “You have every right to be pissed, especially with the whole lampshade thing, and we have a lot of things we need to talk about. And we can yell and scream as much as you want later. But for right now, for the next few hours, can we just not?”

He bit his lip and then bit mine. “There will be talking,” he told me sternly. “And possibly some yelling, but definitely a lot of talking, because there are things we need to talk about. Because you scared me. I’m angry. But I’m not going to do anything to make you run away again, because I missed you. Also because your running away again would just start the whole losing-it, pissed-off, scared cycle all over again.”

“I missed you, too.” I craned my neck to press my lips to his and let my head drop to the pillow.

10

A Furry, Friendly Wake-Up Call

Even if I did know about the existence of werewolves, it was still shocking as hell to wake up spooning with one.

I was still mostly asleep when I registered the feeling of a wide, warm tongue rasping down the length of my cheek.

“Morning. That’s different.” I chuckled, pressing my face into the pillow. I squinted into the semidarkness of early dawn, running my fingers through Caleb’s hair. It seemed coarser and thicker . . . and there was a lot more of it. In fact, it seemed to cover his entire body.

“What the—?” I opened my eyes and found myself staring into the brown eyes of a huge gray wolf.

I scrambled out of bed, falling to the floor, scuttling back over the carpet into the wall. “Caleb!”

Our sonar-sensitive neighbor pounded on the bedroom wall, and I heard his muffled voice call, “Too damn early for that! Decent people are trying to sleep!”

Whining, the wolf shook his way up onto his haunches and stretched. He looked over the edge of the bed at me, head tilted to the side, as if he was trying to figure out why I was acting all weird. OK, OK, this wasn’t a big deal. I’d seen werewolves before. Unless they phased out of anger or fear, they were usually pretty calm. And Caleb wouldn’t hurt me. It was just a shock to see him in his natural state. The Caleb wolf shook his head, and that golden light spread over the gray fur, slowly fading away to skin.

“Don’t be scared,” he said, scrambling toward me.

I flopped back against the wall, holding my hand up like a crossing guard. I looked up at my werewolf paramour, all panicked and wide-eyed. I looked down at the stray gray hairs on the sheets. And I burst out laughing. It was just so ridiculous, him crouching naked on the bedroom floor while asking me not to freak out over his wolf body. I laughed and laughed until I fell over. Until I realized I was touching nasty motel carpet and sat back up. I wiped at my eyes.

“Werewolf.”

Caleb’s mouth flapped open like a guppy’s as he stammered, “Uh-uh, no, you must be having a bad dream. Uh, yeah, that’s it, there was no wolf here.”

I smirked at him. “Are you trying to Jedi-mind-trick me right now? ’Cause you kind of suck at it.”

He cleared his throat and followed with a weak “Maybe you hit your head?” His tone was uncertain and quiet, as if he didn’t want our neighbors to overhear. He pulled my arms gently and led me to the bed. “You’re not running away and screaming. Why are you not running away and screaming?”

I winced, biting my lip. Right, how to explain this . . . “I kind of knew already.”

“How?” he exclaimed. I shushed him. “How did you know?” He sat heavily on the bed, stared at me for a long moment, and then groaned. “The night I was shot. Did I say something?”

I shook my head, but my continued silence seemed to make him chatty. “I just, uh, put some things together. You’re not the first werewolf I’ve met.”

“It’s not a big deal, really. I don’t hurt anybody. I don’t freak out under the light of the full moon. It’s just a genetic condition, you know, like color blindness or being born with an extra toe. Just, you know, furrier.”

I stared at him, suddenly blank-faced. That was the saddest description of werewolf-dom I’d ever heard.

“So how do you know about us?”

I sighed. “Promise you won’t get mad.”

“I can’t actually promise that,” he said, crossing his arms over his chest. “But I won’t phase or yell or anything.”

I leveled a doubtful look at him.

He nodded and walked to a corner, the farthest point in the room away from me. “OK, hit me.”

“I’ve been working with werewolves for years. I was the pack doctor for your family in the valley for the past four years. I worked under the name Anna Moder.” The words ran out of my mouth so quickly I was surprised he managed to pick up on what I’d said. But I could tell it had registered by the shocked expression on his face.

“The cute little pack doctor Maggie was always going on about?”

I nodded.

He sighed and then burst out laughing. “Do you have any idea what I’ve been going through trying to cover for my little issue? Do you know how hard it is for one of us to go this long without phasing regularly?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, pressing my lips together to keep from laughing. Because antagonizing a naked werewolf seemed counterintuitive. “I didn’t want to freak you out, and I didn’t know if I could trust you at first. And after that, it seemed a little late to tell you the truth, and I panicked, and here we are. Also, it was sort of funny to see how far you would go to try to conceal your wolfy tendencies.”

“So you know about everything?” he asked, incredulous.

“Not everything but most things. I treated Samson for a lot of different bramble- and bear-related injuries.”

He shuddered. “But you know my whole family?”

I nodded.

“And you’ve probably heard a few stories.”

I nodded again.

“You know about the incident with the moose, huh?”

My eyebrows arched. “Uh, no.”

“Never mind.”

I pushed myself to my feet and gestured to the bed. “Can we get off the floor now that all our cards are on the table?”

He practically dived across the room and under the covers, fluffing them into a strange, nestlike configuration around him. He lifted the corner to let me crawl in next to him. Leaning against the headboard, he pulled me against his chest. He pushed my tangled hair back from my face. “So you’re a doctor?”

“Mostly emergency medicine, but then I transferred to more of a family practice a few years ago. I had to leave that job for, uh, personal reasons.”

“I know,” he muttered. When I shot him a confused look, he added, “It’s just a surprise, that’s all. I thought we were on a more even playing field.”

“I’m still the same person. I just have a couple extra pieces of paper you didn’t know about.”

“But you must have made a lot of money before, been comfortable. Why are you living in cheap motels and working in grocery stores?” he asked.

“I did make decent money early on in my medical career. I was very comfortable. And I can honestly tell you I have never been so miserable in my life. Living up here works better for me.”

“Why?” he asked, and we both laughed a little.

“Because Glenn can’t take it all away again. I had just enough time to start thinking of Tampa as home before he showed up and broke my face. And that was after he harassed me ‘anonymously’ at work until my new coworkers were scared to be seen with me or go out with me, because they didn’t know what my crazy ex-husband would do. I made the people around me tense and nervous. It felt like I was taking everybody around me down with me.”

Caleb seemed to grasp the fact that he needed to ignore the unusual number of details I’d just let slip in favor of mocking me in some way. “What was your plan? Just bounce around the country forever?”

“Not forever, just a couple of years!” I exclaimed.

“That’s a crappy plan.”

“As opposed to your plan of waiting until you phased next to me in my sleep to tell me that you’re a supernatural creature?”

“I was going to tell you!” he protested. “It’s a difficult thing to fit into conversation, that’s all. Do you realize how much easier this would have been for me if you’d just told me you knew I was a werewolf?”

“So you keeping secrets from me was my fault?”