"So, do you always drag women out to the woods?" Wow, could I let my mouth get me in any more trouble? The half-naked man behind me made it difficult for me to keep from peeking over my shoulder, but when I heard the tale-tell sound of a zipper, temptation won out. His eyes met mine and an inescapable heat burned inside me. I quickly turned and stared into trees.
He chuckled, low and masculine, making my insides flip. "No. You would be the first."
Think of something else. Anything. A beach in the middle of summer, white sand, blue ocean, Devlin’s well-toned body glistening...
Damn! It wasn’t working. Concentrate on the reason we were here. That is what I needed to do.
"You think this will get me in touch with my inner wolf." Right, that would be the day.
So what was I doing? Pack lands were the last place I should’ve been and yet I stood there, with a naked man just feet behind me. Every nerve fired from my toes all the way up my body. The desire to have a weapon in my hand as I scanned the trees overwhelmed me. Having a sense of security quickly became a thing of the past and letting that control go didn't sit well.
The push of magic at my back, followed by a soft caress over my skin, and a spike in my own power as it recognized something familiar. Curiosity enticed me to turn around and look, but fear of what I would see kept me firmly in place with my eyes tightly shut. What if he reminded me of one of the shifters responsible for my mother’s death? Would I still trust him? Could I handle it? Doubt flooded through me, but eventually I swallowed my fears and turned around.
Time slowed down, each heartbeat hesitant. The usual flash of light I was used to seeing when in the presence of a changing shifter was merely a soft glow. My chest tightened at the sight of his body, rigid with tension. His hard gaze focused on me, and his expression was that of a man determined to be mentally stronger than the pain gripping him. Every muscle in his body shook and perspiration beaded on his skin.
Devlin’s body began to change. Power surged around me. His bones popped, and black fur rippled along his skin. There was something oddly appealing in watching what his body could do. Perhaps I was able to appreciate it because he wasn’t snarling at me, giving chase, or trying to rip my heart out. As painful as the process looked, envy still managed to take hold of me and I wondered what my wolf would look like if I could endure the change.
When it was complete, Devlin stood on four legs; as I'd imagined, his fur was as thick and black as his human hair and his eyes the same ice blue. He was a bit larger than a than a regular wolf. The musky scent I’d come to associate with Devlin still remained. A thrill of terror mixed with excitement as he slowly approached me. He stopped just far enough away that I could reach out and touch him if I wanted, but clearly the decision to close the distance was my decision to make. I swallowed.
"Don’t move, okay?" The timid and meek sound of my voice bothered me.
The wolf within me began to stir. Please, I begged, he is not a threat. Devlin sat there so still, staring at me with eyes that gleamed with humor.
"Glad you are enjoying this." Slowly, I reached out, but stopped short. He butted his head against my extended palm. "Ever the impatient one, aren’t we?"
He nodded and sat on his haunches. I moved closer, crouched beside him, and ran my fingers through the fur at his neck. "You’re soft."
A low growl sounded and I laughed. "I know, I know. After you."
He butted the crown of his head against my leg.
"No need to be pushy."
I walked over to where Devlin left his clothes so neatly folded and kicked off my shoes. Running barefoot always seemed more comfortable to me, even on uneven terrain. I stretched, which wasn’t really a necessity for me, but I was stalling. The threatening growl from Devlin told me he knew it too. "Oh, go find a rabbit to chase. I’m going."
I took off and he trotted next to me. The need to go faster built, as did my wolf’s desire to be free and relish the sensation of the air passing over us as we ran. I held back, afraid of what it would mean to relinquish control of that part of me. Devlin finally acquiesced to his need for speed and blew past me in a blur.
"When in Rome…" I said to myself and picked up my pace.
Run, that’s all I wanted to do. To simply connect with the earth in a way I never allowed myself to before. A primordial urge overtook me and I lunged through the trees, moving at speeds I didn’t know I was capable of. My bare feet pounding the earth, the smell of the forest, and the sensation of giving myself over to a power I could not control were all that mattered. Branches threatened to slow me down, but I ducked under them with ease. Fallen foliage cracked beneath me. A wolf ran parallel to me and matched my pace. I knew without a doubt, it was Devlin. Then noise opposite me drew my attention. A salt and pepper-colored wolf ran beside me, and judging by the aura surrounding him, I was guessing it was Alasdair. A small rich caramel color wolf stayed by my side and I knew based on size and color, it was Bran. He nipped at my heels in a playful gesture and sped up. I pushed myself harder than I ever have before. Acceptance. The excitement of the wolf inside me was euphoric and relief washed over me when I allowed myself to just be.