He cleared his throat. “I want to ask a favor of you.”
Here we go. He suddenly looked nervous, which made me nervous. I fiddled with the strap of my bag, readjusting it on my shoulder. “So ask it.”
“I want you to stay away from the man you walked home with this afternoon.”
Of all the everloving—“You mean Michael?”
He nodded slowly. “He isn’t who he seems.”
“I only just met him today. We share a class.” Why was I on the defensive explaining myself? “With all due respect, it’s none of your business who I spend my time with.”
“I know,” he acceded after a pause, his jaw tightening. His hand clenched into a fist at his side.
He wanted it to be his business. The confirmation sent an unwanted thrill through me. I squashed it. He was moving away. He thought he was too old for me.
I should’ve just said goodbye to him and entered my suite then, but I didn’t want my time with Kai to be over—forever. Plus, I wanted to see how far I could push his jealousy buttons.
“There a particular reason you want me to stay away from Michael? Something you know about him you’d care to share?”
He hesitated before saying, “Michael works for someone I know. Someone I don’t trust.”
This was getting weird. Go inside, Lauren. “I don’t see what that has to do with me.”
“Nothing on the surface. But I believe you understand more than most that life is greater than what we often see on the surface.”
What did that mean? A nervous, scornful chuckle escaped me. “Next you’re gonna tell me that you and Michael are rival international spies, I’ll bet. Wait, let me guess: you’re here on a high-stakes espionage mission that somehow involves taking turns playing mind games with an unsuspecting college student.”
The mocking smirk slipped from my lips when the light above us began flickering like crazy again—as if Casper was trying to tell me something.
Kai spared an exasperated glare at the ceiling before returning his gaze to me and lecturing, “Lauren, there are limits to what spirits can know. Much like the living, spirits see what they want to see, fear what they want to fear. Always trust your own instincts and your own analysis. Otherwise, your abilities will prove worthless to you in life.”
My cheeks flooded with heat at his sharp—and most unexpected—words. My throat felt irrationally tight.
Kai wasn’t the first to call me out on my fledgling supernormal awareness. My grandmother, of course, along with her close group of seer friends, had known. A few random strangers had picked up on something different about me and had made comments over the years. Heck, a wacky gypsy woman had even approached my mom in the grocery store once when I was six and had tried to buy me off her for the future potential the woman had glimpsed in me. But somehow Kai knowing about my abilities and thinking me ill-equipped to navigate them felt humiliating.
I’d never asked for this. Never wanted it. It wasn’t my fault I’d inherited it—and that there were no great seers left alive to teach me how to use it.
But beyond the initial, knee-jerk embarrassment I felt at Kai possibly knowing my secret, there was also fear. Every muscle in my body had tightened with it. Because more than anything else, the one rule Granny Nina and my mother had always instilled in me was that it was dangerous for the wrong people to find out about my abilities.
Who constituted “the wrong people” was something Granny Nina had never been clear about, though. Which made it near impossible to gauge whether Kai was among them. Based on the frantic flickering and increased humming of the light bulb above, Casper sure seemed to have determined Kai was a danger to me.
“I’m losing studying time,” I made myself say. “I—I gotta go.”
I heard Kai sigh my name and then curse as I spun toward the door to make my escape. I didn’t even get the key up to the lock this time before he was on me, grabbing me from behind and turning me in his arms. Divested of my bag and keys so fast it was as if they’d vanished, I felt my feet come off the ground and my back hit the door. In a flash, it registered that he was actually finally going to kiss me!
No one had ever swept me off my feet to kiss me before. I was so overcome by the sensation of his strong hands digging into my ass and sliding down the backs of my thighs as he maneuvered my legs around his waist that I didn’t have time to get nervous as his mouth descended.
His irises were neither blue nor brown but a dynamic, coalescing mix of the two as they captured my gaze. His lips brushed once. Then he paused for half a breath and pulled back until the tip of his nose was barely touching mine.
No way were we stopping this time.
My fingers slipped into the thick, soft hair at the back of his head, my nails raking against his scalp, pulling him closer as I leveraged my upper back against the door and pressed myself into him.
He reacted by growling and squeezing my ass hard enough to leave bruises before grinding his erection so forcefully into my center I thought I might fly apart on the spot.
At my gasp, his tongue filled my mouth, stroking deeply, claiming it completely.
And I was lost.
My arms wound about his neck and my thighs seized around his waist, my pelvis arching and rocking into him, seeking as much delicious friction as I could get as his tongue plundered my mouth and his hands punished my ass, squeezing and rolling the fleshy cheeks in his powerful grip like he was angry with them—with me.
I couldn’t bring myself to care what he might be so angry about. I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything for that matter—except for how good he felt devouring me.
I sucked hard on his tongue as it stroked inside my mouth, letting him know exactly what I wanted. Needed.
Boy, did I need it. Suddenly, I needed to feel the full breadth of him pushing inside me where I was so wet and desperately empty, the full weight of his body bearing down on me, every ounce of his strength crushing me, every inch of him filling me. And I needed it now like I needed air—like I’d never needed anything before.
The current of energy flowing between us was crazy. It felt just like … well, magic.
It was like the buzz of energy I often felt in my hands when I awoke in the middle of the night. Like the sudden push of otherworldly clarity I felt whenever I was about to get a strong vision or message.
And then it happened. Foreign images—disjointed at first, then more coherent—began flashing through my mind’s eye. Images that made my blood run cold and my state of arousal screech to a halt.
They were visions of a little white puppy being attacked by a pack of full-grown dogs. No, not dogs—wolves. Vicious adult wolves were tearing a little baby wolf apart.
Literally, tearing him apart. His bones were being crushed between their much larger jaws. His fur ripped open, his limbs torn asunder, his blood and innards splattered onto the otherwise pristine snow-covered ground as his shrill caterwauls of pain met the merciless growls of his attackers.
I could hear the horrific sounds as clearly as if I was there, witnessing it.
For a moment, it felt like I was. Instinctively, I knew this wasn’t a vision of the future I was seeing. It was the past.
The torturous attack seemed to go on forever. And yet it was all over so fast—the pack of wolves leaving the broken white wolf pup to die alone on the frozen ground.
Only he didn’t—because he couldn’t die for some reason.
He couldn’t die.
It made no sense, yet somehow I knew that gruesome scene wasn’t the first or last time a pack of wolves had tried to end that poor little white wolf.
I was jolted back to present reality when Kai growled against my mouth and abruptly dropped me. Unable to regain my footing quickly enough, my back slid down the door and my ass collided with the hard floor—just as the light bulb flickering and humming above burst, sending shards of glass raining down.
Pale blue eyes were glaring down at me in disbelief. No, it was worse than that. Kai’s eyes were accusing, regarding me like I was some kind of a monster—like I’d just committed the most unspeakable sin.
Crap. What had I done? Sometimes I got so caught up in visions I lost track of what was happening in the present. I’d clearly done something to offend him. Then I noticed a tinge of blood staining his lip.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to … bite … you?” My statement of apology ended as a question when I tasted blood in my own mouth and felt the sting from a fresh gash as I ran my tongue over my lower lip.
I was the one bleeding. He’d bitten me.
“Have to go.” His tone was emotionless, his piercing eyes dazed. “You won’t see me again.”
A few months ago, I could’ve easily dismissed Lauren’s vision in the hallway as false retrocognition. Memories of my formative years in wolf form had always been hazy at best, consisting of nothing but a blur of endless incomprehensible pain, deep-seated shame, pervasive loneliness, and sorrow.
They were my wolf’s memories—not mine.
Since finding my human form at sixteen, I’d largely blocked out all years prior—for over four centuries. But ever since first encountering the little seer nine weeks ago, strange memories—each one more disturbing than the last—had begun to surface.
Yet nothing I’d remembered on my own in recent weeks had prepared me for the graphic vision of my past that I’d just unwittingly glimpsed through Lauren’s mind.
It couldn’t be real. I never would’ve survived.
Werewolves were born in human form, and most shifted into wolves for the first time upon reaching puberty. But I was the great anomaly of my species—even within my werelock subspecies. A freak among freaks. As far as I knew, I had been born in wolf form—not human form as all others of my species were.
I had no recollection of my parents. My earliest memories were of being alone in a frozen world, craving contact and connection—and of enduring agony far worse than the isolation and rejection I’d sought to vanquish each time I’d encountered other beings and attempted to connect with them.
I remembered being ostracized as a pup. I remembered being repeatedly mauled within an inch of my life by the very packs I’d sought acceptance from. But Lauren’s vision had presented a bird’s-eye view into one of those brutal attacks that was simply unfathomable. It couldn’t possibly have happened that way. Despite the shocking clarity of her vision, it must’ve been distorted somehow—exaggerated by her emotional response to what she was witnessing.
I’m in charge.
I’m in control.
With each step I took, I fought my inner wolf. With every step that took me deeper into the woods behind Lauren’s dormitory—closer to the scent of Mike Salvatella—it became harder to subvert my inner animal and maintain that control.
His scent was all over her, the arctic beast within me raged. He touched what’s ours!
I sensed my eyes shifting, my claws extending. I was losing control already. Lately, it had been happening too quickly, and far too frequently. With each passing day, my human self remained in the driver’s seat less and less. I could no longer deny the reality I was facing: I was devolving—regressing to my original, primal self. After four centuries of suppression, my true monster nature was reemerging, and he was swiftly regaining control.
It had started nine weeks ago—the moment I’d first scented Lauren. For the past one hundred and eight years since my mate Maribel’s passing, I’d been celibate. After one whiff of the human seer, my wolf had demanded we mount her on the spot. That we devour her utterly.
I’d denied him. Since then, my thoughts had been overrun by the beast’s need to taste the seer’s blood, to tear into her throat and unleash our venom into her bloodstream as our seed flooded her womb. Day and night, he howled for her blood and sex, clawing at me to claim her. It was as if I were sixteen again, fighting the seemingly insurmountable battle to subjugate my dominant wolf nature and accept my new and awkward human form.
Mike came into view. He was waiting for me in the clearing up ahead, leaning against a tree, a lazy grin on his face.
Kill him! Eliminate the threat.
I pushed my wolf down, forcing his claws to retract as I reminded him—and myself—that no one could claim a seer. She wasn’t ours. We couldn’t protect her by attempting to lay claim to her. Staying calm and acting smart about this was the only way to safeguard Lauren.
Mike greeted me with a smug raised brow. “That was quite an intense first kiss for a guy long renowned for the nickname ‘pack priest.’ ”
I snapped in an instant, my eyes shifting, my claws coming back out. “Stay out of her head.”
“Easy.” He held his palms up. “Wasn’t in it. If you don’t know by now that I can keep tabs on people without listening to their thoughts, then your boy Kaleb wasn’t doing his job very well.”
His dig at Kaleb, my Reinoso pack’s deceased head of security detail, did nothing to cool my beast’s ire. Mike served Kaleb’s role within his own pack—the Salvatella pack. While it was a critical role within any pack, it was a tedious task that should’ve been beneath Mike, given his birthright. Many of us had assumed for years that it was a role Mike’s former Alpha and late second cousin, Gabriel Salvatella, had forced upon him. Yet now, with Gabe gone, I wondered if it wasn’t more of a choice Mike had made for himself—in an attempt to retain behind-the-scenes control over everything involving his own pack as well as their rivals. Mike had always been far more powerful and cunning than he preferred to let on.
Still, he was also young and foolish—much like his new Alpha, Raul. Because his next jab went too far.
“Maybe it was a good thing Maribel took Kaleb out before she left the ether, huh?”
Mike’s bloody, cleanly severed left arm was in my grasp before either of us had processed what my wolf had done.
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