Installment No. 37
Sofia wasn’t exactly okay standing by the sign pinned to the metal pedestal telling diners to please wait to be seated. The restaurant was overwhelming. The smell alone knocked her on her heels, and a reverberating clang from a pot dropping in the kitchen jumped her, so she’d plastered her back against the door to get out.
As if she hadn’t just leapt backward like a firecracker had gone off between her feet, German calmly wrapped his fingers around her elbow and stared intently into her eyes.
“You said my senses were heightened,” she panted, “but this is crazy.” Her eyes darted to find another exit.
“Red.” His voice snagged her attention, his green eyes waiting to hold hers as soon as she looked at him. “Just take a long, deep breath. You’ll be okay.” His fingers squeezed a little tighter.
“Yeah, hmm.” Sofia sucked in and released her breaths like a pregnant woman working through contractions. She’d begun to sweat with the heat building in her body.
“Sofe, you’ll be fine. Think about other things.” A lethal grin crept to his lips, revealing a flash of strong, and oh-so-white teeth. “Think about the pattern of this god-awful rug if you have to.”
She looked down for him. Anything for him. And because it would help them both if she could be in a public place. German hadn’t eaten a thing for a couple of days, and hell, they still had half a country to cross, so she’d better get her shit together.
“God, even the rug reeks.” Her stomach lurched with the collision of smells: hot grease, the wilting salad bar, the cluster of human bodies in an enclosed space.
“Concentrate on the pattern instead. And try not to breathe through your nose.”
The hostess bustled up with a couple of plastic menus in her arms, her skin beginning to sag so her bones showed through the missing plumpness of youth. “Two?” Over-plucked eyebrows colored in with a brown pencil arched with her question, and her breath wafted waves of Dentyne, which she chewed to hide the stench of the onions she’d recently eaten.
Christ, Sofia, enough with the private-eye crap.
“Yes, please. Red?” Thank God German was with her.
Nodding again, she managed to croak, “Ah, yes. Yes, two.”
“Something at the back would be preferable” German suggested to their hostess.
“Sure, there’s a table open right over here.” Mrs. Dentyne marched on, weaving between occupied tables like a veteran athlete navigating an obstacle course at the Y.
Escorting Sofia to the chair facing out so she’d have her back to the wall, German smiled pleasantly at the older woman. “This is great, thank you.”
Man, his voice. Little licks of sunshine they were.
After laying out their plastic menus, the woman left like she’d finished her station and a bell had chimed, marking time to rotate on to the next challenge. Sofia tensed, as if ready to give chase. As though the woman was prey. Oh.
“You’re burning, Sofe. Try to take it down a notch.”
“German, this is…I don’t know what this is. Intense. How in the hell do you ever get used to this?” Her fingers gripped like death to the plastic menu, she felt her panic rise as she spoke, her clothes trapping her heat.
“Come on.” Not waiting for her to follow, her mate grabbed her hand and bee-lined it for the exit. Sofia followed willingly until her body went incandescent, her spine exploding a shower of sparks, igniting the blood racing through her veins. Her booted feet stopped where they were as her knees buckled.
She heard German mutter “Fuck,” and started to say she was definitely that, but couldn’t get her words out through her squeezing throat. Then the ceiling fans flipped into view and German was racing for the door with her scooped like a babe in his arms. Thankfully, he hadn’t caved to her teasing when he’d hogged a handicap spot, parking the SUV as close to the front door as he could get it. Just as he’d suspected, she hadn’t been able to keep her shit together. I failed. She’d beat herself up later when she wasn’t freaking out about being seen.
As gently as rushing would allow, German pushed her across the front seat and crammed in behind her. Eschewing seatbelts for the sake of time, he gunned the Pathfinder out of the gravel parking lot, away from curious eyes.
Sophia tumbled into the carpeted floor, panting. She tried to talk again, but wound up mangling some lispy yowl.
“Don’t worry about it, Red. Nobody saw a thing. Just focus on your breathing, okay. You can do this.” He glanced down at her while still concentrating on traffic in order to get them out of the weave and maze of the town.
She tried pushing her words beyond the fangs filling her mouth.
“What’s that?” German grinned down at her. “I didn’t get what you said. You’ve got something in your teeth.” He picked at his own front pearlies with his index finger, the jerk managing to pull his attention off the busy streets long enough to tease her.
Sofia growled, her lip curling off her sharp incisors.
Clamping her hand over her mouth in apology, she battered her cheek with a padded paw, instead, her heart jackknifing around in her chest like a chased rabbit. Whining as she writhed in the tight spot of the gravelly floor, she flipped to her belly, stretching so she could stick her ass up into the seat.
“Easy there, baby. You’ll be fine,” The skin around his green eyes tightened, but he kept his smile for her, kept up his chatter. “Just remember to breathe through it and it will happen. Just like before only better. You know what to expect now.”
Sofia felt the spin of the tires under her… legs?
Oh God. Yeah, okay. She had legs, probably four of them if her arms were already gone.
Arms already gone. Arms are gone. Arms are…fucking A. Breathe. Again. Breathe and sslooow. Yeah, okay. She had this. She was coping without needing German’s touch, doing fine. Her face was mere inches from the black plastic heater duct by the floor, but yeah, she had things under control.
Legs in back bent so I can push up and sit like a normal…yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay. I’m a four legged animal, it’s okay. Juust sit up.
Sofia pushed off from her front legs, popping into the passenger seat, her four paws pivoting in the center like she was an elephant balancing on a circus ball.
What the? Tail. Freakin’ tail in the way.
Not a problem. She just had to get her mind around her compass points. Ass south, head north. Being wolf in a moving vehicle could be dealt with. It wasn’t that bad. She was safe, German was making sure of that. Her heart quit kicking spastically and settled with her thoughts. Until she fell chest first against the dashboard with her muzzle smooching against the windshield when the SUV sped around a tight corner.
When she righted herself, she gave German a hard stare.
He didn’t even flinch, but flashed her a magnificent smile. “Hi ya, Red. You’re looking good.”
Her tail wagged. Christ Almighty, her tail wagged.
“Yeah, I love you, too.” Her mate blushed before turning his gaze back to the road.
He loved her? He loved her. Sofia nudged her head under his arm and tried to squirm onto his lap, her tongue darting out as if to lick and kiss the shit out of him.
Laughter bubbled out of him like a fizzing soda can, the feel of it against her fur effervescent, and she squirmed with the thrill of it, to accommodate the pressure foaming forth.
“Good Lord, Red, you’re going to drive us off the road!”
She nudged again for good measure, to shake him up so he’d laugh again.
“Come here.” German lifted his arm to tug gently at one of her ears.
Holy, that’s nice. She pressed her face against his palm.
“That’s it, baby, just settle in.” He positioned her head across his lap, picking up a rhythmic stroking of her ears while he drove left-handed.
Sofia sighed contently, rolled her eyes upward without removing her chin from her mate’s lap. His scent was heavy there, his body warm. She drank in the hard line of his grizzled jawbone, the curl of his human ear, the length of his black lashes. He was beautiful. And he was all hers. Her body knew that fundamentally, relaxing under the stroke of his tugging caresses.
“You are so beautiful,” he murmured, like he heard her thoughts and whispered them back to her. “So effing beautiful, Red.”
She sighed gustily, like Sol-Dog used to do when he was content and sleepy.
“I’m going to keep driving, okay. I think the rolling of the car works for you, so we’re going with it.”
Whining, she shoved her nose into his tight stomach. She might be getting drowsy, but she hadn’t forgotten why they’d tried out the restaurant in the first place.
“Don’t you worry about me, I’ve gone a lot longer than this without eating.”
Inside she bristled, angered that her mate should be acquainted with such hunger. And this time it was her fault. She’d wigged out, ruining his chance to eat. Her first foray back into the human populace hadn’t been what she’d expected. Her senses hadn’t just been assaulted, they’d been bombarded and overrun. Jesus, but people were offensive. She’d thought so before, but now she had a true appreciation for why they were. Her heightened sense of smell could now arrange the heavy hash of odors into singular, delineated scents. Sounds were amplified, her skin hypersensitive.
Which gave her a new appreciation for German’s skill level, for how well he blended into the general human population. It wasn’t easy, not by a country mile, not when everything was sensed with such clarity, so much intensity. Add to that an innate distrust, and Sofia understood why it was such a coup for the wolf-people to walk upright among the enemy. Doing so really could save their lives. What better camouflage could a wolf have? The Big, Bad Wolf in the tale of Little Red Riding Hood had been smart to don Gramma’s cap and nightgown.
The thought made her tail brush lightly against the seat she was stretched across, and she relaxed her weight against her mate’s thigh, breathing in his warmth, the resin of his scent. Her lids grew heavy as the road stretched out and away from the bustle of the town. Her last thought, before she let the rhythm of the road lull her to sleep, was of German’s hunger.
Their next stop, she swore, would be for him, her protectiveness arching like steel inside of her. Even before she’d learned she was a wolf, she’d known she had a deep capacity to tend, to be loyal to another. That iron will was what had kept her hand steady as she’d held a gun to her best friend’s head and squeezed the trigger. No matter the cost to herself, her loved ones would not suffer at another’s hand. Not even under her own, for that matter.
I love you, too. German
didn’t stop driving, even when he reached Bangor and the beginning of the Interstate that would carry them south, closer to their destination. While the SUV sucked up the miles like a vacuum cleaner, he kept glancing down at the she-wolf’s head on his lap, the muscles of his chest squeezing his ribcage so hard he had to consciously gulp the air into his lungs in order to breathe.
Thoughts churning, he replayed her latest shift. Restaurant glitch aside, she’d done a wonderful job handling her transition. By herself. He’d talked because he knew his voice comforted her, but he hadn’t had to ground her, to jolt her brain back to reality. She’d had a bit of a moment, but he’d given her time to figure it out. Granted, he was half a heartbeat from interfering, but she’d wrested control at the last second.
He’d thought he’d hid his relief. Until his lips parted and from them spilled the words I love you, too.
He was a sick bastard. The Alphas were right on that score. And he was taking her west to leave her there. Dearest Luna, he needed his head examined. She wasn’t ready, not by a long shot. She’d do better meeting a pack of wild wolves than his damn clan, who conducted themselves with rigid human mannerisms.
For him, living at the Compound had been like being in one of those gothic novels where the aristocracy acted strained and restrained, and the rest of the peons clamored for a foothold just to survive. Sickening. Absolutely fucking sickening.
And he was speeding back into it with the most precious thing he’d ever had in his lonely life? He didn’t need his head examined, he needed his ass kicked and his furry balls ripped off, just as his Sofia had threatened.
He felt his body roast from the outside in and glanced down at her. She was starting to shift in her sleep. He wouldn’t wake her if she slept through it, seeing as how she’d had enough exposure to the whole wolf business for a while. Her brain could use the break.
Doing his best to keep his eyes on the ribbon of highway, he stole long moments to watch her body contort and manipulate itself back into two-legged status. She moaned a couple of times, and writhed gently, but otherwise she slid beautifully. German stroked a lock of her red hair then let it drop, picked it up, stroked it again, let it drop, repeating the caress like he’d done to her ears until she lay quiet with her head still resting on his lap.
Ah, his red she-wolf. A gift he didn’t deserve. Cutting off the dangerous free-fall of his thoughts, he let his gaze caress the dip of his mate’s bare stomach, the curve of her hip as she lay across the front seat next to him. So strong. So feisty and fearless. Once the initial shock of his leaving wore off, she’d be fine with her new family. She was a survivor. She could handle herself.
Trouble was, he wasn’t so sure anymore if he could do the same.
~Installment No. 38 coming Saturday, March 22, 2014.