Alive, not dead. Whole, not broken. No longer ashes and tears.
No matter how many times Aileen reminded herself that she was being hauled away from civilization by a strong and determined naked man, her body didn’t care.
Her arms, legs, breasts, belly, and pussy knew Slade; God, did they! That had been the hardest thing about losing him. Along with the physical, she mourned the loss of his dedication to nature that had led him to the career that had brought them together. Despite the layers of bureaucracy over everything they did, nothing had blunted their pleasure for jobs that allowed them to spend most of their time out-of-doors.
That, she’d sometimes told herself when the depth of her addiction to Slade had overwhelmed her, was what made her responses to their lovemaking so intense. He loved the wilderness as much as she did.
They also shared hot looks and hotter touches that time after time had led to rapidly discarded clothing and sealed bodies.
She’d been celibate for the past year. Maybe that’s why, despite her recent climax, the hard form against hers had already re-dampened her panties and hardened her nipples. She needed to get laid by her captor, by him. Once she had another climax or ten under her belt, she could think.
Only what would she think about, that Slade wasn’t dead after all? Instead he’d been living as a wolf? Didn’t compute. Would never compute. No wonder sex was easier to focus on.
Slade had taught her things she hadn’t known about herself, such as how ticklish her inner thighs became when caressed by a fingernail or leaf. He’d introduced her to the delicious torture of a fern dragged from the back of her neck down her spine to her tailbone. He’d chuckle when he did those things, but his eyes had been serious, and his muscles tense.
The pressure around her trapped arms let up as her captor slowed his pace and stopped holding her so tight she could barely walk. The hand over her mouth no longer pushed her lips against her teeth. She caught the sound of his breathing.
Slade had always drawn breath from deep in his chest, yet she’d never heard him snore. Instead, the breaths she often lost herself in had simply lengthened out. On the day they’d scattered what remained of him at The Gorge—a trip that had nearly destroyed her—she’d stared hollow-eyed at the ashes in her hands and forced herself to accept that she would never again hear him breathe.
She’d been wrong.
Blinking away tears, she concentrated. He was doing more than breathing. Like any animal, she suspected he was using his senses to assess his surroundings. She did the same as best she could, given how little she was able to move her head. From what she could tell, the wolf who’d been with Slade hadn’t followed them.
Wolf? Maybe not because his eyes too had been blue.
Aileen felt alone and shut off from the world, yet against all reason Slade was with her. Not only that, he had an erection her entire system responded to, an erection that reminded her of what had once been good between them.
“There’s no one here,” he said. “If you yell, no one will hear.”
When she nodded to let him know she understood, the pressure on her mouth ended, and she moved her lips about to restore circulation to them. “I don’t understand anything.”
“Neither do I.” Sliding his now free arm around her waist, he drew her back toward him. The press of hard male against her spine sent a jolt through her. Despite his formidable presence, there was something of a confused child in him. If she’d known Slade had been alive all this time, she would have found a way to reach out to him.
Weak and keenly aware, she let her head rest against his chest. “I didn’t see you, ah, change,” she forced. “One moment you were a wolf. The next…”
“There’s still a lot of wolf in me.”
“Do you? Can you understand how much I want to do this?” He worked his hand under her practical cotton pullover top. The touch of his callused fingers on her middle sent another jolt through her. Heat spread, and she moaned. So what if he’d spanked her? Right now it didn’t matter.
“What?” he asked. “You’re hurting?”
“Then what is it?”
“It isn’t important,” she lied. “Slade, what are you going to do with me?”
“I don’t know.”
All it took was his not so simple reply for her to be transported back to the last time she’d heard him say that. Tears blurring her vision, she trembled.
His hand remained on her middle as he turned her so they were face to face. When he pushed her back so his cock no longer touched her, she refused to look down. His eyes appeared more human than when he’d first changed.
“Right now I’m trying to wrap my mind around the fact that you’re here and I’ve become—why didn’t you come back before now? I would have known if you had; I’m sure of it. It might have changed things.”
“I did, a month after the accident, when we scattered your ashes.”
“That was the only time?”
“Yes.” Because I couldn’t deal. Because I hated this place I’d once loved. “What was it like for you? Did you think of me?”
He raked his fingers through the nearly black hair she once loved to touch, smell, even taste. “I don’t know. There are gaps, huge holes I can’t account for, times when nothing mattered except hunting and sleeping, knowing the only thing I had was the pack.”
“Others like me. They come and go, all trying to understand what we are. Sometimes it’s just me. I hate it then.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Little makes sense. I couldn’t fathom my present or comprehend a future. Mostly I didn’t try. The past was bits and pieces.” He stared at a spot behind her. “I sensed a woman in that past, you.”
“Did you? Are things clearer now?”
He cocked his head much as a dog would. “I think I’m getting there. We were lovers, insatiable.”
Sex, always that. “Yes.”
He regarded her while she pondered whether he remembered what had blown up between them. Wouldn’t he have already mentioned it if he did?
Slade. Alive. naked. Her staring at him. Subject to his control. Wanting more—everything.
The hand that had disturbed his hair now lay on her shoulder, and she felt the touch in every inch of her. Risking a great deal, she trailed her fingers over his hipbone. Although he jumped and shuddered, he didn’t move away. They were touching, reintroducing themselves to each other in the one way they understood.
“My last memory is of being in the Rogue at The Gorge,” he said. “What was I doing in it?”
“We’d had an argument. We were both upset. I think—”
“You don’t remember?”
“I don’t see how—”
“I can’t tell you what you want to hear.”
She wasn’t going to have to open that Pandora’s Box after all, at least not yet. “It’s all right.”
“It has to be.”
Not giving herself time to draw back, she ran her knuckles over his cheek. “I still can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”
He did the same to her, breaking her down with the gesture. “Neither can I.”
“What about the accident itself? How much do you recall?”
Closing his eyes, he dug his toes into the ground. “Not enough. Did I drown or were the boulders responsible? Maybe the tunnel.”
I don’t want to do this. “The autopsy was inconclusive.”
“You saw it?”
Covering her mouth with her hand, she pushed on. “I forced myself to, but it didn’t help.”
“And I can’t fill in the blanks.”
“I’m glad. I, ah, I screamed. A lot.”
“Which I won’t let you do today.”
“No,” she admitted. “You won’t.” Thinking about how he’d disciplined her made her buttocks burn.
“Tell me everything that happened,” he said.
“Please don’t make it any harder—”
Don’t push him. He might not have much self-control. “Some people were there. They came running and started searching for you, but the river—finally search and rescue pulled you out a quarter of a mile downriver.”
“My body, you mean. You were there the whole time?”
“Yes.” If he hadn’t taken her hand and cradled it between his, she might not have been able to continue. “I keep replaying the only argument we ever had.” Afraid he’d ask for details, she rushed on. “Just thinking about coming back here made me feel as if I was the one caught in that damnable current. That’s not what I wanted for a memory, but I didn’t know how to change things.”
“You remember too much, me not enough.”
Maybe that’s how it should be. “What about the good times? We had a lot of those.”
Despite how nervous she was, she smiled. “Do you remember when we were the first to reach that marijuana patch? Instead of yanking up those beautiful and illegal plants, we took advantage of the isolation.”
His head was no longer tilted to the side, but the questing expression remained, and he continued to cradle her hand. “I’m not sure I—where was that?”
Hearing about another gap in his memories saddened her, yet that wasn’t why she leaned toward him and touched her lips to the base of his throat. This man-creature had taken up residence inside her from the moment she’d met him. He’d tapped into a primal sensuality she hadn’t known she possessed. It had grown until it sometimes frightened her. He’d never spanked her, but she’d sometimes sensed the potential, the desire. Today not enough of the civilized man he’d once been remained to hold him back.
“North of Whisper Bend,” she supplied with her mouth still on him and something alive snaking down her spine. “Some hikers had come across the patch and called it in. We thought the county sheriff’s department would take control, but they were so understaffed they asked us to step in. I think that was only the third time we had sex. A quickie because we didn’t want anyone catching us.”
“Did we have more of those, quickies I mean?”
She nodded. “And nights when we didn’t get any sleep.” Because I was addicted to you.
“I can believe that.”
Another memory, this one about the hot summer night only few weeks before his death they’d spent in a fire lookout tower surfaced. It wasn’t until he’d captured both wrists and placed her hands behind her that she pulled herself back to the here and now.
Not long ago the man with her had been a wolf, a predator. He’d warned her that the beast still held power over much of him, not that she’d needed the warning, but maybe he wasn’t the only one with an animal’s blood running through them.
“What’s this about?” She gave an experimental tug. No way could she break free.
“I need to make sure you aren’t going to get away.”
“Why do you think I’d try?”
He glared at her. “Because of what you said right before I turned my back on you that last day. You said you wanted nothing to do with me.”
“That but not what prompted your words. Call it selective amnesia if you want.”
His decision to walk away from her had been the first step leading to his death that hot afternoon. “I told you not to leave me like you were going to, that the river was moving faster than it looked,” she said with his sun-warmed naked chest against her breasts and her heart out of rhythm.
“I don’t think I heard that.”
“Because the river was making so much noise?”
Not willing to press for something with the potential to blow up between them, she noted the strain on her spine. She’d always made it clear to her sex partners that she was an equal participant. Let other women play the passive role and feed their men’s macho egos. She was liberated. If the man didn’t get it, she’d show him the door. At least she had until Slade stormed into and over her life.
“I didn’t want to listen to you, did I?” he asked. “Whatever you’d said had upset me. Maybe that’s why I don’t remember what the argument was about.”
His cock again made its undeniable impact on her senses and more. Although her jeans protected her from his skin’s sweet velvet, there was no retreating from the potent strength. How she’d loved having him inside her! Even though she only occasionally climaxed from intercourse, his cock stretching her inner walls had made wanting more unimportant. Besides, he’d known how to give her what she’d needed.
Past tense. Until today.
His eyes darkened. “I don’t know whether you were watching me or had turned away.”
“Slade, let it go, please.”
“That’s what you want, not me.”
“So? My God, there’s no point in dragging up every detail of something that happened a year ago.”
“There is for me. You’re the one with the memories.”
He was right, and if she could put him first, she’d tell him everything, but it hurt so much. Maybe later once the shock of today had lifted a little.
“You don’t know what you’re asking of me,” she said. “You think—you believe I should bury my emotions for your sake? It isn’t that simple.”
“Yes, it is.”
She’d pushed him too far. Seeing the fire behind his gaze left her with no doubt, but before she could decide what, if anything, to do, he yanked her arms from behind her. After crossing her wrists again, he lifted her arms over her head. She stood staring at him in disbelief as he unfastened her jeans and yanked down the zipper. Instead of trying to free herself, she remained in place while he tugged her jeans and panties off her hips.
He was going to discipline her again, force the truth from her, maybe destroy—
She stumbled and nearly fell as he hauled her to a downed tree and forced her over the trunk on her belly. Bark scraped her newly exposed flesh.
“This is how it must be.” He reinforced his comment with a sharp slap to her bare butt. “With me in control.”
“No. Slade, this is crazy.”
She was still trying to look behind her when he spanked her again. This blow was stronger with more of his power reaching her. He’d positioned her over the trunk so she was forced onto her toes. Her fingers kept slipping off the bark. She had no doubt what she looked like, a woman with her top riding up near her armpits and her jeans tight around the tops of her thighs. Her buttocks were exposed and available to him, perhaps encouraging him to continue spanking her.
Was that it? If her ass wasn’t so accessible, he would have stopped with one or two blows? Instead, he repeatedly smacked her ass.
“What are you doing? This is crazy.”
“Of course. Slade, stop it. I don’t want—”
“What are you saying? Let me up.”
“Not yet.” He pushed down on the back of her head until her chin rested on wood. When he had her in the position he wanted, he went back to his primitive brand of discipline.
This way she couldn’t resist, and now her sounds were muffled. She didn’t want to whimper but only that came out. There was a measured quality to what he was doing, almost as if he was listening to an inner rhythm. He’d continue until the song was over. There was nothing she could do except endure.
No, not just endure. There was something not exactly intense about what she was feeling. Erotic perhaps.
Pleasure with the pain?
Her ass throbbed as the blows built. She felt reduced, primal, helpless. Alive.
Summoning what might be the last of her strength, she turned her head to the side. “What do you want?” she asked.
His punishing hand settled over her burning buttocks. “Your understanding.”
“That in many respects I’m still a predator. You’re my prey.”
She sniffed. “I get it. Believe me, I get it. Now please…”
Fear that he might start up again tensed her muscles. To her relief, he took hold of her shoulders and drew her upright. When he let go of her, she wiped her nose and eyes but didn’t take a chance on pulling up her jeans. He’d placed them where he wanted them and they’d stay there until he was ready for a change.
Besides, the forest air was helping to cool her flaming skin.
“What do you want me to say?” she whispered. Much as she needed to look into his eyes so she could perhaps judge his mood, looking down was easier. And what he probably expected from her, his prey.
“That you’re ready to answer my questions.”
“I have no choice.” At least, so far, he hadn’t ordered her to tell him everything.
He indicated her buttocks. “What does it feel like?”
What do you think? It hurts like hell! “Like I’ve been spanked. Thoroughly.”
“Hopefully I won’t have to do it again.”
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