By the time they were done eating, they’d talked about cars, their families (mostly his) and somehow completely avoided the topic of the wedding only being three days away.
Three freaking days. It was hard to imagine that in such a short time she was going to be a Merrow. She prayed that was enough to make things better for her and Charlie.
Hank helped her clear the dishes and clean up. Based on what she knew about him so far, she had a good feeling about the future. So long as Charlie’s…disability was something Hank could accept. And Hank would forgive her for keeping it a secret until after they were married.
But what else could she do? Clemens had given her no other choice.
The woods behind Hank’s house were thick with trees, their branches dressed with the rich green leaves of early summer. Insects buzzed and an owl hooted in the distance, their voices carrying easily on the warm evening air. Ivy clenched and unclenched her hands, practically vibrating with the need to run.
Hank stood at her side. “You ready?”
“You have no idea. Anything I need to know? Territory wise? Or whatever?”
“I’m the alpha’s son. I can pretty much run where I want.”
A remote howl disturbed the calm, punctuating her thoughts. She put them into words. “We’re three nights from the full moon and clearly, this community is full of shifters. No matter who you are, we’re bound to cross another were’s path.”
“True. But that’s okay. The shifters in Nocturne Falls aren’t hard-liners. Keep a respectful distance and you’ll be fine. Plus, you’re with me.”
“I’ll stick close.” Not so close his pheromones overwhelmed her and made her offer herself up like a tasty snack, but within reason.
“Then let’s go.” He leaped forward, his clothes becoming his fur as he shifted mid-air and landed several feet away as an enormous silver and gray wolf. He turned back to look at her. Even his markings were handsome. How was this guy not taken?
A thought for another time. She leaped like he had, giving herself over to the night. The change swept through her the moment she was airborne. She landed on all fours, the joy of being in her animal form intoxicating.
Caught up in the moment, she ran toward Hank and stuck her muzzle in his neck. She pulled away a second later, pawing at the ground like she hadn’t just done that.
His lips curled in a wolfy grin and he lifted a paw, then trotted deeper into the forest. She joined him, staying a few paces back and to his right flank. Their communication was limited to body language and some vocalizations, but that’s how most weres communicated anyway. If they bonded at some point, they might be able to share thoughts. It happened only to those with strong bloodlines and a true connection.
She didn’t hold out hope for that. Not in an arranged marriage. But that didn’t matter now. All that mattered was the ground beneath her feet, the wind in her fur and the loamy scent of the world surrounding her. The freedom of the moment. The exhilaration of the run.
Hank glanced back, saw she was at his flank and woofed.
She woofed back, ready to run.
He dipped his head and took off, his massive paws digging into the soft earth and flinging clumps of mossy dirt. She sped up to match him, pacing him as they tore through the woods. Here and there, more howls filled the night. Other shifters reveling in the release of the wildness that had been building with the waxing of the moon.
How long they ran she wasn’t sure, but it was good and long and when they finally slowed, they were near a waterfall. They panted with the exercise and the thrill of the run. Her blood thrummed with the joy of it. Hank bent to drink and she joined him, staying a few feet downstream, even though the embarrassing urge to nuzzle him again was almost stronger than the urge not to.
An unfamiliar scent brought her head up from the water. Two large, black wolves stood deep in the trees on the other side of the bubbling stream that tapered off the waterfall. They made no move to come down and drink. She studied them, trying to see them better, but they were almost hidden by the undergrowth.
And they were staring at her.
She stared back, her hackles lifting out of instinct. She remembered what Hank had said about the shifters here not being hard-liners and forced herself to relax. The wolves made no moves, just watched. Were they waiting for her and Hank to be done drinking?
The wind shifted and Hank’s head came up. She looked at him, then toward the two wolves, but they were gone.
Had she imagined them? No. Their scents had been real. Maybe they’d disappeared so quickly because they’d recognized Hank. She stared into the woods, trying to find them again, but all she saw were trees painted silver with moonlight.
Teeth nipped her left flank. She yipped and jumped away. Hank stood there, jaw open, tongue lolling out, laughing wolf-style.
She rammed her head into his shoulder and danced away, woofing. He followed after her. She took off, weaving through trees, leaping fallen logs, barreling through thickets of shrubs. He caught her quickly, and she realized that her ability to pace him earlier had only been because he’d allowed it.
He tackled her, knocking her to the ground and standing over her. He nuzzled her neck the way she’d done to him earlier, nipping playfully and snorting in clear amusement. In human form, Hank wasn’t nearly this playful. Maybe he felt freer as his wolf. Whatever, she liked this side of him.
Her nose was full of his scent, and her body came alive with the need to act on those pheromones. Instead, she put her paws on his chest and shoved him off, scampering away with a challenging bark. He came after her, catching her immediately and taking her to the ground again.