One Second (Seven Series Book 7)By: Dannika Dark
Austin blew the steam from his cup of coffee and gazed through the front window of their Colorado cabin. Lexi’s silver wolf pounced through the snowdrifts until all he could make out were the black tips of her ears atop her snow-white face. It was dusk, and she’d been outside for over three hours. He sipped his black coffee, admiring how magnificent Lexi was in human and in wolf form.
Earlier that year when Denver and Maizy coupled, Lexi had succumbed to a bout of depression. Austin assumed she was yearning to start a family—something he wouldn’t agree to. She had soldiered through life like nobody’s business, conquering every battle that had come her way. But beneath her armor dwelled a sensitive woman, denied the one thing her heart desired.
The guilt he carried was bone-deep, so Austin planned a winter trip to Colorado for them to share some cuddle time in a secluded cabin. It was just the sort of bonding two wolves needed to get back on track. Sometimes there was no better healing magic than a fireplace, snow, heavy blankets, warm bodies, and miles of nothing but land.
A bluish tint illuminated the snow from the polished gleam of the full moon against a dark sky. The luminous orange light from within the cabin spilled onto the porch, and the heavy smell of smoke from the fireplace tainted the clean air.
Austin set his half-empty mug on the wooden table and glanced to his left at the spacious room. A long dining table separated the kitchen on the left from the living room on the right. A series of windows kept the kitchen brightly lit in the morning, while the opposite wall in the living room had no windows—only a stone fireplace that gave off a dark and cozy appeal at night. Long beams led up to the ceiling, and the wood glowed like warm butterscotch when firelight reflected against it.
Ivy’s handiwork was visible throughout the cabin. Austin had hired her to restore the antique furniture, and it had been an ongoing project for the past three years. A beautifully woven rug with a Native American motif covered the floor near the hearth, and most of the tables were ones she’d restored. Austin’s favorite piece of furniture was the brown leather sofa. It was weathered, soft, and perfect for napping. Lexi preferred spreading her oversized pillows across the floor so they could lie down, snack on cookies and chocolate milk, and talk about anything but.
Anything but work. Anything but money. Anything but pack drama. Lexi would laugh until her sides hurt as they shared memories of growing up, and Austin especially liked telling stories she’d never heard about her big brother—like the time when they’d gone to Austin City Limits to check out the music festival. Wes ended up mud wrestling some girl who got so serious that Wes sprained his ankle trying to get away from her. Austin educated Lexi on Shifter history passed down from his parents, like how Colorado was the first state where Shifters had established territories recognized by Breed law.
Mostly they talked about Wes. It felt damn good to have someone to share memories with, but every so often the silence would press down as a reminder of his absence. Austin had known Wes since grade school, and a part of him had died on the night the state trooper delivered the tragic news. Human or not, Wes had been a best friend, a brother, and an unofficial packmate. Austin loved his blood brothers, but they’d been adults by the time he had come along, which was usually the case among Shifter siblings—especially boys.
The pain was bittersweet since Wes’s little sister was now his life mate. Wes would have wanted her happy and protected, and no one could love that woman any harder than Austin did.
A single note hung in the air, penetrating the silence. The baying of his mate glided across his body like silk. Lexi’s wolf was calling for Austin to join her.
“Damn,” he murmured, realizing she might end up attracting Reno’s wolf to the property.
They hadn’t traveled to Colorado alone. Reno and April were staying in a cabin nearby, and Lorenzo and Ivy were farther down the road. No one else in the pack had been up for a trip in knee-deep snow.
He had plans with his woman tonight, and the last thing he needed was Reno’s wolf showing up to coax her out for a run in the woods.
Austin stood up from his chair and cracked the door open. “Lexi, come inside.”