Lycan cells thundering in my veins, I chase the scrawny Granites toward the mountain they came over. If they have any sense at all, they’ll continue traveling east until they’re back on their own territory.
The fucker that assaulted Sophia has been committed to memory. If I scent him again in my lifetime, he’s a dead wolf. My beast roars his agreement aloud.
I stand in the middle of the river until they’re far enough away to no longer be a threat. Only then do I slow my heart rate and wade out of the water.
That they realized Sophia’s a witch was clear. Whether or not they know who she is, or care about her identity at all, isn’t. Nevertheless, better safe than sorry. Rumors of a surviving Soft would bring every hunter in the region to Aspen.
Sophia’s composure is impressive. She’s appropriately alarmed, but isn’t terribly upset or afraid.
“What were they doing here?” She asks.
Morphing from wolf form, I shrug. The Granites have always been an odd pack. It’s a wonder they even have males on patrol.
“You hit him, didn’t you?”
“Yes.” She pulls her shoulders back, looking in the direction they ran. “Asshole.”
För helvete. While I admire her courage to physically challenge a wolf who, with a single swipe from his claw, could kill her, she went about it the wrong way.
“That wasn’t wise.”
Hands on hips Sophia turns my way. “Should’ve I just let him sniff me?”
“No. You should’ve let me handle him, or use witchcraft to control him.” I inspect my clothes. They’re destroyed.
Her gaze travels the length of my torso. An eyebrow raises when her perusal reaches my cock.
Do you like what you see, my beauty?
“I’m an alpha. Not only is it my duty to reign in deviant wolves, protecting you is what I’m here for.”
Sophia, with her bottom lip caught between her teeth, brazenly ogles my body.
Yes, you like what I have.
I intentionally flex my muscles retrieving my key fob and wallet from the rags of what were my jeans. Her eyes follow my progress, returning to my crotch as I stand up straight again. She licks her lips.
Blood rushes into my cock. While I’d like nothing more than lay her back down on the blanket and fill her, her safety takes priority.
“We should go.” I gather the rest of my tattered clothing and stuff them in my pack.
Sophia stops staring long enough to pack up the remnants of our picnic and fold the blanket.
“Are you going to drive naked?” Sophia smirks.
“You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
I add her bag of worship tools to my load and follow her. At the SUV, I place our items in the back and open a case in which I stashed a half-dozen sweatpants.
Sophia continues her erotic leering. The increasingly hungry look combined with the sudden boost of her scent is exponentially wearing down my willpower — never mind my beast’s.
“Keep looking at my cock like that, and I’m going to fuck you right here, right now.”
She immediately looks at the sky, nibbling on that damn lip. “Does shifting always make you cranky?” She walks to the passenger door.
“No, my beauty. Being interrupted pleasuring my witch does.” I step into the pants and get into the vehicle.
The confined space intensifies her aroma and my need. I won’t be able to take much more of this. Fuck. Eight more dates? No. Even she must admit that our attraction makes that an impossible timeline.
Indeed, had the Granites not shown up, Sophia and I would have mated tonight — both in the human and wolven senses of the word.
I turn from the access road onto a main street heading back to the core of Aspen.
More important than my need is ensuring Sophia’s safety. She quite clearly doesn’t understand the ramifications of Granites in Aspen territory.
“Have Granites trespassed here before?” I ask her.
She shrugs. “Not that I know of. Is it that big of a deal?”
“Probably.” I nod vigorously. Unless Ingolf has been usurped by the tiny and weak neighboring pack.
I take the turn to Carine’s house.
“My place is in the other direction.” Sophia points behind us.
“I know.” I continue driving forward. “You’re going to stay with me.”
“No, I’m not. Take me home.”
“Not a chance. Those buffoons might return for you.”
“For me?” She pulls her brows together in confusion. “What reason could they possibly have to do that?”
Because you’re a Soft!
“Because — ” I search for a reason that won’t jeopardize what’s left of the shroud. At a loss, I shrug. “Because both of them scented your arousal.” It doesn’t sound convincing or plausible even to me.
“I’ll think ugly thoughts and take a bath the minute I get home.”
“And,” my witch cuts me off. “I’ll do as you suggested and use witchcraft. I found a home protection spell I want to try. I even have something I’d like to use as a talisman.”
“You do?” Then she has some inkling, conscious or subconscious, that she’s in danger.
I stop the SUV at the side of the road. I stare out the windshield to weigh the pros and cons. The practice would be good for Sophia. A successful spell would give her more confidence and increase her experience with her craft. I could always provide surveillance as a backup to her spell.
But if she stays with me, I’ll know for certain she’s safe. And, have her. If she stays with me, we’ll fuck tonight for sure.
Sophia’s laugh diverts my attention to her. “What is the big deal?”
I sigh and, pushing the selfish cons away, make a u-turn.
The cottage is dark. Although still raw wood, the front door has been replaced. Inside, I check that all is in order. The bathroom door, too, has been repaired.
“Are you sure?” I place her tote of tools in the front closet. “You’re not frightened?”
She raises an eyebrow, hanging up her sweater in the same closet. “Not of them.”
I raise my eyebrows and point at myself. “You’re frightened of me?”
She laughs nervously and takes a step away.
“Hey.” I catch her around the waist and turn to see her face. “Was that a joke? Please say so.”
“It was a joke, Gunnar.”
I sigh and close my eyes, grinning again when I open them. “Good.” I wrap my arms around her and pull her close. “Now, about our third date — breakfast tomorrow.”
She shakes her head. “I can’t. Carine and I are taking the kids to the Conundrum Springs in the morning. Then, we have her baby shower late afternoon.”
The hot springs sounds like fun. I haven’t been there since I was a child.
The baby shower, however, sounds like torture. I sigh. But, if Sophia will be there, I’ll make it work for date number four.
“Conundrum is quite a hike with two kids.”
“Not for us. We park at Alex’s parents’ house and take the four-wheelers in.”
Of course, the Dalagaards have a property right on Castle Creek.
“Invite me along as your date. Wrangling two cubs by yourselves must be difficult.”
She smiles. “We’ve been wrangling them since they’ve been born.”
I narrow my eyes. “Well, with Granites loitering in the area, it’s not safe for you and especially not for a very pregnant Aspen female.”
She tilts her head, considering.
I kiss her — just lightly on the lips. The bump in her scent is immediate. “Mmmm.” With a hand on her round ass, I press her pelvis against my erection and thrust my tongue into her mouth for a nice long, deep kiss.
How easy it was to become addicted to her.
Sophia pulls away and pants. “This is why I’m afraid of you.”
I draw back in mock shock. “You said you were joking.”
“I was, but — ” She lays her hand on my bare chest as though trying to stop an advancing bull.
“But what?” I smooth her hair back.
She shakes her head. “Nothing.”
“It is something. Tell me. Is it because I make your heart go pitter-patter?” I smirk.
“Pitter-patter?” She laughs. “I think you have your American metaphors mixed up.”
“Don’t you laugh at me.” I tickle her.
She giggles and attempts to spin away.
I grin. It’s because I affect her physically, I know. However, there’s no time to pursue it at this particular moment — thanks again to the fucking Granites.
I take a deep breath. “So this talisman of yours?”
Regrettably, she leaves the circle of my arms to open a box on the coffee table. From the box, she takes a small plaque that she holds out to me. “How about this?”
“Wow.” I take the metal shield-like shape. Some of the soot comes off in my hands revealing an engraving. “It’s quite old.”
She nods. “I found it on the Soft property.”
Of course, she did. It appears to be an ancient family artifact. “Do you know what it is?”
She points out the hanger on the back. “I assume it’s a wall decoration.”
I nod. Perhaps, or perhaps it’s much more than that. I wipe away more soot.
“These are the three goddesses. The maiden —” I point at the girl on the right. “The mother —” I indicate the pregnant woman with full breasts in the center. “And the crone —” I move my finger to the woman stooped over her cane.
Above the women, their long hair is intertwined and carved to resemble branches of a tree. Above the tree, are illustrations depicting phases of the moon. Below the trio’s feet is a flat stone engraved with the symbolic triskele representing the spiritual, present and celestial worlds.
Sophia places her ever present necklace on top of the stone portion of the plaque. Her pendant fits one spiral of the triskele exactly.
I nod, astonished. She’s put two and two together in this case, as well. It won’t be long before she assembles all the parts. I both look forward to that moment and dread the pain it will cause her.
“Let’s do your spell,” I mumble.
I follow her to the little kitchen. While I wash my hands, Sophia places the plaque on the counter. She selects a round cardboard container of salt from a cabinet and opens its little spout.
“Salt of Earth, guard my home, when I’m here and when I roam.” She chants and pours circles of salt counter clockwise around the plaque. “Keep the occupants safe within. As I pour, let your shield begin.”
The plaque glows with a pink aura. The light cleanses the metal, returning it to a like-new shiny copper finish.
Sophia inhales her shock.
“Keep going,” I whisper.
She repeats her chant once more and circles the piece again to form a three-layer spiral of salt.
“With harm to none, by your will and by your power, this spell is done.”
She ends the salt at the top of the plaque on precisely her last word.
I’m so impressed by her. Beginning witches rarely understand the cone of power that rhyming spells build. Spirits are drawn to the beat and the rhythm of well-written, well thought out rituals.
Together, my witch and I watch the glow slowly dissipate. The plaque looks brand new. I test the heat of it. It’s cool, so I pick it up.
“Do you have a nail?”
She opens a small kitchen drawer and selects a long nail. “Let me get the hammer.”
“I don’t need one.”
She follows me to the front door where I push the nail into the back of it and hang the plaque.
Sophia smiles. “Thank you.”
I bow playfully.
Her smile turns serious. “And thank you for tonight. I never would have — ” She breathes deep and exhales while looking at the moon.
“You would have figured it out eventually.”
We just need it to happen sooner.
“But you’re very welcome, my beauty.” Unable to resist touching her, I stroke her cheek. “I’ll paint the door sometime this week.”
“I’d like turquoise, please.” With her fingertips, she plays with the scant hair on my chest. The sweet caress rushes blood to my cock.
“Turquoise?” I lick my eyetooth to block my beast and step away.
Fucking her now isn’t an option. The local pack needs immediate guidance on securing their zone, especially when that zone includes my witch’s home.
And if I have her now, I won’t want to leave.
With a soft sigh, she lowers her hands to her side. Disappointment returns my sulking wolf to his cage.
“Pick me up tomorrow morning at nine.” She opens the door for me to leave.
“I’m invited to the springs, then?”
I smile. “Let’s say seven-thirty. We can have a leisurely breakfast — that will be date three, and pick up the children for swimming, date four.” I count on my fingers. “And date five will be Carine’s shower.”
I take Sophia’s sweet laugh as agreement.
“Sweet dreams, my beauty.” From the sidewalk, I watch her close the door.
Dream of me.