Coveted

By: Stacey Brutger


“We’ll head north. If we can make it to the borders of my land, we might have a chance.”

He didn’t sound very confident; the accent that had so charmed her was noticeably absent. She wasn’t ready to admit defeat. They’d made it this far. They’d make it to safety, too. She ripped a strip from the bottom of her shirt. “Sit. We need to stop your bleeding.”

At the baying of the hounds, Aiden’s claws pressed hard against his fingertips. He wanted to shift and hunt down those mangy beasts, then their owners, but that wasn’t going to happen while she watched his every move.

He should run, he had his freedom, but both he and the wolf were content to remain at her side. Chances were if he left she’d be slaughtered, and everything in him rebelled at the thought.

Most of the time humans annoyed him. His wolf barely tolerated them. Which was why he’d volunteered to remain at the castle to watch over the pack. He was one of three alphas, the enforcer. It was his duty to ensure everyone obeyed the law. When he’d learned about the drugs being created from wolf blood, he’d been overly confident, positive he could solve the problem with the pesky humans, and return before nightfall.

That had been nearly two months ago.

Now, here he stood, in front of a dainty princess who’d risked her life to rescue him.

Twice.

Despite the pain riddling his body, Aiden couldn’t tear his gaze away from the delicate belly exposed by the ragged edges of her shirt. Starved to the point of going feral, he expected his wolf to salivate.

His teeth lengthened, but the hunger had nothing to do with food. It took everything in his power to battle his wolf into submission.

Then his gaze landed on hers.

“Sit.”

When he didn’t immediately obey, she narrowed those blue eyes on him and he plopped down like a meek, domesticated dog coming to heel.

She bent near, and he curled his fingers into fists against the urge to tuck a strand of wayward hair behind her ear. He wanted to feel the texture of those silky locks slide between his fingers too much.

Aiden shook his head at his own idiocy. Allowing himself to be distracted by the desire to touch her was not only stupid, it was downright deadly. And her nearness only made his symptoms infinitely worse.

The insistent need to touch was the first stage of the mating process. Once the idea popped into his head, he couldn’t shake it free.

The Beloved.

They were women descended from the faeries. Because of their bloodlines, those women were able to mate with a wolf and survive.

The only problem was they had died out long ago.

The blow to his skull must have addled his brain.

When she pressed the cloth to his head, all his suspicions of faeries vanished. Stabbing pain pierced his skull as if his beast had stuck his head into a den of porcupines. His claws slipped free, shredding his pants legs, and he quickly buried his fingers in the sand to hide their condition. Thankfully, she remained occupied bandaging his wound, giving him time to collect himself.

He’d become accustomed to pain in the last few months, but his command over himself was shot. His breathing became labored under the strain of maintaining his human form. His fingers dug deep grooves into the sand as he fought to keep from lashing out.

He needed a distraction, and decided to study the riddle that was his rescuer. If he could figure her out, surely his fascination would fade.

She was a tiny bit of a thing, making him self-conscious about his size. Her touch was brisk and professional, almost indifferent. She didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping her distance from him and that only made him more irritable.

The impulse to touch her again nipped at him with sharp teeth. The need to spread the pheromones building in the pads of his fingers and make her crave him as much as he wanted her became a compulsion. The process was part of his wolf heritage, a way to make breeding easier, and the female more receptive to the frequent needs of the wolf.

An urge that only activated when a wolf located a potential mate.

Her scent, a heady mixture of sea and a tangy citrus, wrapped around him. He inhaled, his chest expanding until the scent of her seeped into his lungs, imprinting her essence on his beast.

Only when his body protested at the lack of air did he regretfully exhale. His beast eased. Claws retracted. She stood inches from him, the heat of her an invitation to gather her close, and his body tingled with the need to feel her against him once more. It had only been a few minutes, but he missed her touch.

His response completely baffled him.

Where was his control?

Months in prison were no excuse.

“You haven’t heard anything I said, have you?” Little frown lines creased between her eyes.

Emotions tangled him in knots. The need to protect her. Be close to her. Breathe her in again. He gave himself a full body shake, throwing off his fanciful notions.

“We’re wasting time. We need to leave.” He stood and backed away.

And ruined the effect by swaying.

Aiden cursed that she saw him at his weakest.

Poor mating material.

His wolf howled in protest at the distance between them, quieting only when she rushed to his side, propping him up like some toddler she expected to topple over at any second. He wanted to protest, but any thought of separation was repugnant.

It was insanity to allow himself to be attracted to a human. Lust was fine, but caring would destroy them both. He was an alpha. He couldn’t abandon his pack to spend time with a human, nor could he ask her to stay. She could never learn the truth about werewolves. Not only would it be dangerous for his kind, he couldn’t bear to see the expression on her face change.

The disgust.

The horror.

Then she’d run like his wife, so desperate to escape that she’d died to get away from him.

But he couldn’t just dismiss her, either. At the very least, he owed her his life. He was honor-bound to do whatever was necessary to keep her safe. Right now that meant bringing her home to the pack. Relief bled through his system at the decision. It was based on solid reasoning. It had nothing to do with his need to keep her by his side, and everything to do with her ability to find his men.

Or at least that’s what he told himself.

He’d keep her safe in return for her services. It was a good bargain. She was a human, easily manipulated. They’d keep their presence secret from humans for generations, they could keep it from her for a few days while she helped him retrieve his men and eliminate the threat in one fell swoop.

It was the perfect plan.

His wolf snorted a laugh as if mocking his faulty logic, but Aiden ignored him.

“We need to hurry.” He grabbed her arm and dragged her behind him.

And practically jerked her off her feet as she struggled to keep up with him.

“Careful!”

“We need to get moving. They’re getting closer.” He knew he was being an ass, but he couldn’t stop himself. Her safety was too important. He waited for her to protest his manhandling, refusing to be disappointed when she gave him the silent treatment. Then he did something he’d never done before…explained himself to a human. “They’re coming from down the shore. We need to get back into the water so they can’t track us.”

* * *

They’d been moving through the water in silence for ten minutes. Anger seared through her at his domineering ways. It didn’t matter that he was trying to save her. But as her tempered cooled, so did her body. Now, even if she wanted to speak, her teeth were chattering too much. Her legs were like frozen blocks of ice, numb from the shins down. Her knees ached with every step. Her companion didn’t appear to be in much better shape.

He plodded in front of her, struggling to remain upright. The first two times she’d tried to help him, he snarled and avoided her hands as if he couldn’t tolerate her touch another second.

Fine.

Let him fall flat on his face.

As if tempting fate, the water swelled and surged toward her in a giant wave. She braced for the impact and a frigid dunking. Only to have warm fingers wrap around her arms in support.

Instead of the biting cold of the sea, she landed against her nemesis. Heat blazed off him, and she couldn’t stop herself from snuggling closer.

And felt his blatant arousal pressed against her hip.

They both froze.

Before either of them could break the awkward silence, the raucous sound of dogs barking erupted behind them.

Too close.

“Damn it. I was hoping for more time.”

Her heart pumping painfully, Shayla scanned the shoreline. “The bluffs go on for miles. They’ll be on us before we’re halfway there.”

Her rescuer tipped his head back and smiled in a way that had her backing away. “Not if we travel up.”

“You’ve got to be shitting me.”

Bright teeth flashed as he smiled, tugging her out of the water. “Think of it as an adventure.”

“And that’s the only way to avoid becoming kibble?”

“Unless you want me to fight them.” He paused, looking serious, as if it was an option. “They’re not going to give up. They’re going to search every inch of the shoreline until they uncover either a trail or our bodies. They’re fresher. Stronger. They will eventually find us unless we alter course.”

“You’re right.” Shayla flexed her fingers, wondering if she could get enough circulation in them to hold her weight. “I’ve never been rock climbing.”

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