“No, you don’t,” I scoffed.
“We’ve got to get Samson a girlfriend,” Cooper said. “Speaking of which, what exactly happened between you and Dr. Girlie Face last night?”
“Nice attempt at a segue, but it’s none of your business.”
“But you’re, you know, being all careful with him. Being protective. You don’t do that.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’m not a monster, Coop.”
“Maggie, you once left a date at the emergency room with appendicitis because you didn’t want to miss the previews for a Steven Seagal movie.” I glared at him. “I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. It’s sort of nice to see this softer side of you. But, uh, Maggie, please understand, this is a conversation I never, ever wanted to have with you, but Samson was right. That guy’s scent is all over you, and vice versa. You two obviously got . . . pretty close last night. And it seems like we interrupted something when we showed up.”
“Thank you,” he said, shuddering. “It’s just you’ve always said you were going to . . . you know, with another wolf. I just want to make sure you’re not rushing into anything. Of course, keep in mind that I don’t have a lot of room to throw stones here, since I pretty much leaped into a relationship with Mo without even thinking of looking. And you’re my baby sister, so I prefer not to think of you even doing that until you’re, oh, eighty or so. Or when I’m dead. Whichever comes first.”
“Thank you,” he breathed.
“No, you’re right. You interrupted something. And it would have been a mistake. I realized that as soon as I snapped out of the haze I was in. I let my hormones and all that ‘we almost died’ adrenaline get the better of me.”
“He seems like an OK guy,” Cooper admitted. “I mean, I have to hate him a little bit, because it’s my brotherly duty. But as guys who want to nail my sister go, I guess you could do worse. Like Lee.”
“So, are you going to see him again?”
I shook my head and chewed on my bottom lip. Nick was changing me, making me weak, distracting me. Making me irresponsible and putting me this close to making life-altering decisions on a whim and a whiff of pheromones. I hadn’t even thought about my family the night before. I didn’t worry about whether my mother was worried about me or if Pops’s heart-cath results had come back from Dr. Moder yet. All I could think about was Nick. That was unacceptable. I had people counting on me. People I loved and to whom I owed far more loyalty than some random guy I’d know a few weeks. I shrugged, trying to give Cooper my most convincing nonchalant sigh. “No. I’m done. This is over.”
CAMPED OUT IN the uncomfortable waiting-room chairs in the Grundy clinic, I stared at Nick’s face for most of the night. Dr. Patterson, who spent two days a week at the Grundy clinic, assured me that the “blow to the head”—Samson’s dumb-ass idea—probably didn’t do any long-term damage. The masochist in me wanted to take in as much of Nick as I could while I could, because what I was about to do would keep me away from him for the foreseeable future. I kept thinking of a passage in the final act of Romeo and Juliet, something about “Eyes, look your last!”
Devoting any thought to the words surprised me, since I’d loathed being forced to read about two spoiled, lovesick kids in high school. But I think I finally got why Romeo was so desperate and unbearably whiny while crouching over Juliet’s body, even if my own situation was far less emo. He was trying to savor what was no doubt a scary, extremely crappy moment, because he didn’t know what the future held.
“I don’t need deep thoughts right now,” I moaned, pressing my fingers to my temples.
“My head.” Nick whimpered, the paper underneath him crinkling as he squirmed on the clinic cot. “What happened?”
“I was driving us to your place, and I lost control of my truck.”
He blinked at me a few times and then gingerly nodded his head.
“We rolled into a ravine,” he said, moaning as I handed him a glass of water. I had Dr. Patterson’s number, but I held off on calling him back to the clinic just yet. Nick sipped the water and carefully tilted his head back to the pillow. “You OK?”
“I’m fine.” I nodded. “And you hit your head on the window.”
“No. You hit your head,” he said, squinting at me. “I had to keep you awake. Kissed you. And when I woke up, you’d changed. I woke up, and you were a wolf.”
“You must have hit your head pretty hard, huh?” I said, forcing myself to give him a sympathetic smile.
He blinked at me, frowning. “What?”
“You hit your head in the accident. You must have had some crazy dream.”
“It wasn’t a dream. You were there. We spent all night talking. And Cooper was there, eventually. And Samson.”
“And the Tin Man and the Scarecrow, too?” I asked, struggling to keep the wry smile on my face. This hurt. It hurt so much to make him feel crazy, stupid, anything less than the sweet, brilliant man who kept me awake to prevent my brain from leaking out my ears.
“Don’t try to play this off, Maggie. You’re a werewolf.”
I burst out laughing. “No, Mo’s the werewolf. Oh, wait, no, it’s me. I’m the werewolf. Or maybe it’s my mom or Great-aunt Tilda.” I sighed, fighting to keep my expression placid.
Of course, Great-aunt Tilda was one of the most intimidating specimens of geriatric wolfdom you could ever come across. But that was beside the point.
“Nick, this whole thing with werewolves has just gone too far. I humored you at first, because it was kind of quirky and charming, but it’s just weird now.”
“You’re telling me that I didn’t wake up next to a little black wolf this morning, and that wolf didn’t phase into a very human you?”
“I’m telling you that we were in a car accident, and you have a pretty severe concussion. Beyond that, I don’t have one clue what’s going on in your head.”
“I know what I saw. You don’t have to worry. I’m not—I won’t tell anyone.”
Oh, how I wished I could believe that.
I frowned at him. “There’s nothing to tell.”
“No, look, I remember. We were at my house. We were watching Star Trek. I kissed you. And you ran away.”
“I ran away from your house because I was upset. Because I have a boyfriend.”
Nick sank back against the mattress, recoiling as if the wind had been knocked out of him.
I twisted my hands together, trying desperately to look like a guilt-ridden girlfriend, the kind you couldn’t trust to go on spring break with her girlfriends. “I started dating Clay a little while ago. He’s good for me. He’s a close friend of the family. Part of the reason I came to see you was to tell you that I can’t accept things like pie from you. I’m a oneman sort of woman. I don’t play around like that. Between that and the wolf thing, I don’t think we should see each other anymore. Don’t come by my house. Stay away from my family. You’re creeping me out.”
“I thought . . . I thought we were . . .”
“It’s not like that, Nick. You just misunderstood.”
Oh, God, this was making my chest hurt.
“Then tell me what it’s like!” Nick shouted. “You know, I don’t know what pisses me off more, you denying that there’s anything between us or you denying what you are. Do you know how much people would give to be able to do what you do? To be special? To be able to escape?”
“Oh my God, are you like one of those weird guys who post sexy sketches of half-animals/half-ladies online?”
“The term is ‘furry,’ and no, I’m not. I don’t like you because you’re a wolf. I like you because you’re strong and funny and loyal and smart. You’re special in a lot of ways. Being able to morph into a wolf is just one of them. And certainly not the one I will tell my friends about.”
“Why do you know the term for people who are sexually attracted to—You know what? Never mind. None of this matters, because it’s all in your head.”
He smirked at me in that ridiculously cute way of his. “Of all the things I just said, what you picked up on was my vast knowledge of sexual preoccupations?”
Under normal circumstances, that would have made me laugh my ass off. But I needed to pretend to be a normal girl, with normal tolerances for dirty jokes.
“I like you, Maggie. Why are you fighting so hard against liking me back?”
“You think I’m a mythological creature!” I exclaimed.
“OK, if I was willing to drop the werewolf thing, if I was just to become another tourist up here, enjoying the Alaskan scenery, would you reconsider?”
“You wouldn’t do that. You can’t. The supernatural crap, it’s your whole reason for being. It’s what makes you . . . you. And I wouldn’t ask you to give that up.”
“So, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t?”
I stood up and slid into my jacket. “I’m sorry. Please, don’t call me. Don’t show up around my valley. Stay away from me and mine. Please.”
But I’d slammed the door before he could get out of bed.
AFTER I’D HANDED over my clothes and bag, Samson and Cooper let me run home solo. Given the way my face was all pinched up, I think they knew I needed some time alone. I ran until I thought my lungs would burst. I collapsed to the ground outside town, phasing to human and lying on my back.
I lay there, staring up at the pine needles shifting over the endless expanse of blue.
I could smell a badger shuffling in the underbrush. I hated badgers; they were like sour-smelling, crotchety old men who could claw your face off. I considered chasing it just for the hell of it, but I just didn’t have the energy.
I had to pull it together. I couldn’t go home like this, all frazzled and twitchy. I took deep breaths, pulling the air down through my toes. I closed my eyes and went to my happy place, the ferry from Bellingham. My mother took me on a rare visit to her family in Seattle when I was seven, and I’d spent most of the three-day trip sitting on the deck, with my legs dangling under the railing, my face in the wind. It gave my mom fits, seeing me that close to the edge, but she couldn’t keep me inside.
I’d never been anywhere before, really, and I remember marveling at how big the world was. How you could actually taste salt on the wind. How the spray from the ocean broke down to almost nothing and whispered across my face like kisses.
That’s about as poetic as I got.
Nothing I’d done since had ever been as peaceful or as right. Every time I was stressed or just needed a few minutes to myself, I closed my eyes and put myself right back on that boat. And I felt better for it.
The moment I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the tilt and roll of the deck under me. I leaned my chin on the cool aluminum rail and watched the whitecaps lap against the hull. I smiled, deciding to give myself just a few more minutes before I returned to reality.
I looked up to see Nick standing over me. He sat down next to me without benefit of a doughnut pillow, so I figured I’d managed to slip into a dream state. It didn’t stop me from being really annoyed.
“What the hell are you doing in my happy place?”
He smirked at me. “I was this close to getting to your happy place, so if that’s an invitation, I accept.”
My dream version of Nick was pretty perverted.
“What are you doing here? This is where I go to get away from things that bother me.”