Long after the sun set and the rain stopped, Nick finally decided that I could fall asleep without danger. I stirred in the middle of the night, feeling pleasantly warm. My fingers were curled around his collar. His skin smelled like sleep and spice. I brushed my lips along his throat. He mumbled, still asleep, and swiped his fingers across his chin. I snickered. I kissed the little divot in his chin, edging toward his mouth. I pressed my lips against his, soft and deliberate, so I wouldn’t forget what it felt like. He moaned. I did it again, then raked my teeth against his plump bottom lip. His hands slipped under my chin, keeping my face against his. His thumbs grazed my cheekbones to my hairline.
I fell asleep again, content.
I woke up hours later, Nick’s face hovering in front of mine. His eyes fluttered open, and I could see the morning sun reflected in them. He grinned down at me. His eyes went wide. He scrambled back, whacking his head against the window.
I looked down to where my arms should have been and saw paws covered in black fur.
I was a wolf.
Shit and double shit.
The Best Laid Plans of Men and Morons
“MAGGIE?” HE ASKED, REACHING out to touch me and then pulling his hand back, remembering the bite mark on his butt cheek.
Werewolves rarely phase during sleep, but sometimes it happens after a serious injury. We heal faster in our wolf state, and sometimes our bodies want to give us a little push toward running at full speed. I must have hit my head a little harder than I’d thought, I mused as I forced myself back into my human shape. I quirked my face into an awkward sort of cringe. “Hi.”
“It’s all real?” he choked out. “Werewolves? Ghosts? Vampires?”
I nodded. “Well, I don’t know about vampires, but werewolves definitely. And ghosts, probably. I thought you knew all this.”
“Yeah, but there’s a difference between knowing and knowing. I feel so stupid,” he said. “You’re a werewolf, like me?”
“Well, Mo’s not, but I am. And Cooper and Samson and my mom and most of my family. Do you see now why I don’t want you investigating the wolf stories?”
“You bit me on the ass?”
“Yeah, sorry about that. I was a little upset.”
“Upset?” he repeated. “Upset!”
“Stop repeating that.”
“I’m—I’m sorry! I have so many questions for you,” he said, patting his pockets for his notebook. “How often do you change? Obviously, your cycle isn’t tied to the moon. Does it hurt? Is the transition painful? I mean, there was a sort of glow, and then you were just there in your human form. I always thought I would see your bones stretch around and change shape, but it’s just like a trick of light, isn’t it? What about your diet? Your sleep patterns? Can everyone in your family change? Is it passed on the mother’s side or the father’s side? Or both?”
I stared at him, my eyebrows raised. “I see you’re over the scarred-ass-cheek thing.”
“Temporarily. “ He chuckled at his own goofiness. “I just can’t believe you’re real.” He sort of dove for me, clasped my face between his hands, and closed his lips over mine. I moaned into his mouth, threading my fingers through his hair.
I pulled back, surprised.
“Is that not OK? I mean, this isn’t because of the wolf thing. Obviously, it’s an added bonus. But I’ve wanted to do that since the minute I met you, and now I can’t seem to stop.”
I basically tackled him and pressed myself against his body. He rolled me onto my back. My clothes were torn from the transition, and I felt my breasts pressing against the rough fabric of his jacket. My nipples puckered, tingling from this strange new sensation. This was so much farther than I’d been before. Sure, I’d been naked around men; it sort of came with the territory. But I’d never been touched like this, never touched someone to seek out this kind of pleasure.
He traced the lines of my thighs with his fingertips to bring my legs over his hips. He ground into me, his denim-covered—oh, my God!—pressing into my hot, uncovered . . . lady business.
I really had to start using grown-up words.
Every cord of muscle in my body felt as taut as a bow string. I was full, plump, ripe, warm, wet. My body sang with want and needs soon to be fulfilled.
I hooked an ankle around his calf, arching into him. He moaned, gripping my hips and leading me into a slow, steady rhythm against him. He gently ripped the remains of my shirt and peeled it away, tossing it aside. I pulled his T-shirt over his head. A heavy silver medallion, threaded on a rawhide strip, bounced against my collarbone as he pushed my hair back from my face. It felt as if every part of him was reaching out for me, taking me in. I ran my thumb along his lower lip. He playfully bit down on the tip of my thumb as I tried to unbuckle his belt with the other hand. It was a trickier maneuver than you’d think.
I whispered kisses across the hollow of his throat. He splayed his hand across my stomach, rubbing slow, tentative circles down until he reached the nest of curls covering my waiting—
Outside, I heard paws thumping against the damp ground, jarring me out of whatever spell we’d woven in that warm little space. My brothers had tracked me down.
My eyes widened as I looked down at my own naked skin, Nick’s half-undone pants. I’d almost—we’d almost—I shrank back from him. He frowned as I eased out from under him.
“Stay here,” I told him. He leaned forward to kiss me, but I ducked, reaching into the bag to pull the extra, extra sweatpants out. I climbed out over the tailgate.
The rain had stopped, leaving the woods with that cold, smoky-clean smell. The horse-sized russet-colored male was Samson. Cooper was the large black specimen. I tossed the sweatpants at them. “Hey, guys. Took you long enough to find me.”
They phased simultaneously. Cooper looked furious. Samson looked as if his head was about to explode.
“What were you thinking?” Cooper demanded. “Mom’s worried sick. She called last night freaking out because you hadn’t shown up. Samson and I have searched every run path between here and the valley. Why didn’t we think of looking in ditches for some improvised truck treehouse? And I just realized you couldn’t call because you had a wreck. Sorry, it’s taking me a little bit to work through the mind-numbing terror.” Cooper threw his arms around me. “Are you OK?”
Samson joined the group hug by nearly knocking us both over.
“Midget, you reek of . . . guy.” His eyes narrowed as he caught Nick’s scent. “Dr. Girlie Face? You spent the night ‘stranded’ with Dr. Girlie Face?”
“I’ll kill him,” Cooper growled
“Not until after I kill him,” Samson countered.
They both lunged toward the truck. I caught them by the scruffs of their necks and pulled them back.
“You’re not killing anybody. We got into a wreck. He’s injured. I whacked my head. I couldn’t phase to run home and leave him alone. He was a perfect gentleman.”
Samson and Cooper locked eyes. “We kill him anyway,” Cooper said. Samson nodded.
“Come on!” Cooper exclaimed when I shoved him back. “This is a time-honored tradition! Older brothers hurting and/or scaring the crap out of their sisters’ boyfriends. It’s the whole point of having a little sister!”
“Cut it out, Coop! And he’s not my boyfriend!”
“But—but!” Samson sputtered.
“Fine, fine,” Cooper conceded. “We won’t kill him because he’s interested in you. We’ll kill him because judging by the way your clothes are clearly thrown on, I’m assuming that he saw you naked or saw you phase. Either offense warrants me knocking the crap out of him.”
“I phased while I was asleep.” I cringed. “I whacked my head pretty hard and must have needed the beauty sleep.”
Cooper nodded. “Damned inconvenient.”
“So, he knows our secret? Much better reason to kill him,” Samson said, rubbing his hands together gleefully.
I snapped at him, “Samson, shut it. We just have to think this whole thing through. Now is not the time for one of the nasty, bloody overreactions you end up apologizing for.”
“Not this time, Maggie. This time, I have a well-thought-out three-step plan.”
“Hi, guys,” Nick said, limping around the side of the truck. “Look, there’s no reason we can’t—”
Nick made a startled “uhf” noise. His eyes rolled back, and he sank to his knees. Samson was standing behind him with a tree branch in his hands.
“Did I knock him out?” Samson asked, raising the tree branch over his head to strike Nick again.
“Are you crazy?” I yelled, dropping to the ground next to Nick to check the wound on the top of his head. “You could have killed him! This is your plan? What are steps two and three? ‘Find a shovel’ and ‘Dig a hole’?”
Nick was well and truly unconscious. But his pulse was strong, and his breathing was even. I sprang up to my feet and punched Samson in the nose, knocking him flat on his ass.
“Told you she liked him,” Cooper said.
“Ow! What the hell, Maggie!” Samson grunted, cupping a hand around his bleeding nose. “That really hurt!”
“It was supposed to hurt, dumb-ass!” I yelled, flexing my bruised fingers. “What is wrong with you?”
Samson swiped at his nose. “This is just step one. Step two is we take him to the clinic in Grundy. We call Buzz to report the accident. And then we tell Nick that he hit his head really hard during the crash, and if he saw anything, like Maggie turning into a werewolf, it was probably just a bad dream. You know, the result of his concussion.”
“Have you been watching soap operas again?” I demanded.
“It’s actually not that bad of a plan,” Cooper said. “And if he goes around telling everybody he saw you turn into a wolf, he’ll just get laughed at. It will discredit him. People will think he’s loony.”
My chest ached a little at the thought of Nick being mocked by locals. But I had to admit it wasn’t totally misguided, as plans went. It was far better than Samson’s idea for getting us out of trouble when we knocked over Mom’s china cabinet, which centered on faking a robbery by carnies. “There are four steps in your three-step plan,” I muttered.
Samson brightened, and tossed Nick over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.
“Would you be careful with him?” I yelled.
“I don’t think we’re going to be able to save your truck, Mags,” Cooper said, trying to distract me from fluttering around Nick’s unconscious form like an overwrought soccer mom.
I sighed, prying the tailgate open, knowing that my scent, mixed with Nick’s, was now billowing out of the truck full-force. My face flushed hot, and Cooper pretended to be fascinated by some moss on a nearby tree.
“I don’t think there’s a wrecker on earth that will be able to haul it out of here,” I said, grabbing my bag. I rescued the necessary paperwork from the glovebox and claimed a couple of CDs from the floorboards. I took my dad’s Saint Edmund medal from its honorary spot on the rearview mirror. The lot was stuffed in my emergency bag. I slid my still-damp boots onto my feet, as it seemed we would be walking home human. I stood at the edge of the ravine and stared at my former transportation. It felt as if I was losing my last connection to my dad.
“It’s OK, Maggie,” Cooper said, wrapping his arms around me. “I’ll get you an older, shittier truck when we get back to town.”
“Ass.” I coughed to cover the sniffle caught in my throat and punched his arm.
“Can we get going?” Samson demanded, shifting Nick’s weight. “I’ve got things to do.”