The girl, Doniya Yasser, shivered. It wasn’t cold outside so she must have felt me watching her.

Doniya glanced around, clutching herself. She tried messaging her arms for warmth. I could smell the fear coming off her in waves. She knew she wasn’t alone.

I licked my lips nervously, painfully at the mirage of images bombarding me at the sight of her, and hunched lower to conceal myself in the trees at the edge of her family’s property.

“Don!” Her younger sister, Kalynia, came outside then to call her in for dinner.

Doniya left, trailing Kal into the cozy house, leaving me in the woods. I sat down and wagged my tail. It thumped against the forest floor, echoing strangely off the foliage. I stopped to listen, cocking my head.

Was that thunder? Yes!

A light rain began to fall, accentuating my lonely feeling of melancholy emptiness and spritzing on the flowers and my nose, as I sat there and waited. A drop dripped off a leaf and plopped onto my paw.

Doniya stared out the window for a moment of the toasty kitchen in their little cozy home, scanning the line of darkness, before her mother handed her a dish and guided her away towards the table.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?”

I jumped at the sound of the new voice. I had been so absorbed in observing the family that I hadn’t heard the soft tread of claws ripping at the earth behind me, approaching quietly, or the whir of wind as he switched from animal to human.

“Who is she?”

I didn’t answer, remembering. Doniya, happy face aglow as she smiled at me. Doniya, laughing. Doniya, crying on my shoulder until she fell asleep at the end of a particularly hard day. Leaning on me— trusting me. Relying on me.

“Maura?”

I’d let her down. Big time. Even thought I guess it wasn’t really my fault. I turned my face slightly to look at the beautiful man beside me that I had known since that fateful day— the one where I’d been out playing hide-and-seek with Don and Kal on Don’s sixteenth birthday less than a year ago, and he’d attacked me— and shook my head.

“The whole pack is out looking for you, you know.”

I shifted and sighed. “Hello, Oran.”

“So, who is she?” He repeated.

“My stepsister.”

“Does she know you’re alive?”

“That would be cruel.” I said. “She thinks I’m dead. They had a funeral for me after they found my stage-murdered body.”

“Who do they think killed you?”

“Wasn’t caught.”

“No closure. And that’s kinder than just pretending you ran away?”

“What do you want, Oran?”

“To make peace with you.”

“Peace.” I sighed. “In this country? In Ireland under the evil rule of the alpha… Pearce Thornneighan?”

Oran shook his head and snorted. “Isn’t that his motto? Make love, not war?” He grunted a laugh. “Make love with you maybe, being his queen and all, but that doesn’t apply to the rest of us. I just came to apologize, Maura.”

“For what?”

“Biting you. Forcing you to join and putting you in Pearce’s way. He fell in love with you only because he saw how much my brother… and I wanted you. He believes in choosing the significant other of every lycanthrope in his clan. You know that. I laid you down in his path and he stole you from under our noses.”

No one ‘stole’ me from anyone.”

Oran narrowed his eyes at me and inclined his head. “I am sorry, Maura. Forgive me for my intrusion.” He began to back away and I started to turn around and continue waiting for Doniya to emerge again.

A phrase ran through my mind, stopping me in my tracks. If you truly love something, hold it tight, or you’ll lose it the second you take your eyes off it. I spun to face the green-eyed, black-haired russet werewolf. “Stop.”

He froze, surveying me with his emerald-jade irises with hot molten golden specks that gleamed in the night with caliginous intensity, then looked away quickly. “Yes?” His voice was rough and thick as if he was barely managing to blink back tears.

“Come here.” I ordered. Don’t think. Just act.

Oran approached slowly, his feet moving silently along the forest floor, sliding deftly over the crunchy bracken and flora. “What’s wrong, croí álainn?”

I strode the last few steps determinedly, closing the short distance between us, the metaphorical gap that represented our relationship and grabbed him. Pressing him close to my chest, I mashed my lips to his, molding us together— suspended in time. I was surprised to find we still fit perfectly— as if we were made to be in each other’s arms. Like we belonged. I knew I was home, in his warm embrace.

Unfortunately, not everything lasts forever. Especially the sweetest moments captured for a couple of minutes of forbidden delight.

Pearce may have been my pack-mate, the one who I would bed to provide heirs, but Oran would always be my soul mate.

I knew that now.

I had no choice but to accept our leader, to name myself as his. He could have my house, my body, my children… But the one thing he couldn’t have was my heart.

That was mine to give freely to whomever I thought deserved it.

And I desired Oran Purcell to have it.

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