Home > Reluctant (Cascadia Wolves #3)(3)

Reluctant (Cascadia Wolves #3)(3)
Lauren Dane

Damn it! She didn’t want to be subsumed into someone else’s life. Okay, so she didn’t want to want it. But now that she’d been with Sid, she wanted him in her life.

After a day of pacing and reaching to call the Alexis about a thousand times, she drove to Ballard and showed up on Tia’s doorstep.

“Whoa! What happened to you last night?” Tia grinned and let Layla into her house. “You’re not the one-night-stand type and oh fuck…” Tia’s grin fell away and her eyes widened as she scented the bond.

“Yes. Oh god, Tia. What am I going to do?” Layla tossed herself onto the couch.

“What do you mean? Did he treat you badly? That fucker, I’m going to track him down and rip out his throat!”

Layla stopped her whining and looked at her best friend and started to laugh. “No!

He’s…he’s great. Sweet, really good in bed, funny. He’s good with the bond. He’s happy about it even.”

“Wait, you’re bitching because of what, then?”

“Tia, I have plans! They don’t include being mated to a painter! I need to mate with a stockbroker. We’ll have two children and live in Maple Leaf or Ravenna. In like, five years.” Even as she said it she knew she didn’t mean it, never had, really.

Tia snorted and rolled her eyes. “Layla, those plans are not you. You think they’re you because that’s your own way of being different from the other Wardens. I’ve known you since we were nine years old. You’re only button-down on the outside. Not that stockbrokers can’t be hot, but your mate isn’t one. God, some wolves wait twenty years past maturation to find a mate and you find one at twenty-five and you’re complaining? He’s hot! And he’s good with the bond? And anyway, how did you get away? ’Cause it’s hard for me to see a werewolf male just letting you walk away. And oh my, the tri-bond?”

The tri-bond was a ritual whereby a third wolf, a relation of the male mate, or a Packmate who ranked higher than he did, formed a bond with the female. It created what was termed as an anchor bond for two important reasons. To keep the female from losing herself in the emotional and hormonal surge of the claiming and also to keep her alive should something happen to her mate. The bond between mates was so strong that should something happen to the male, without the tri-bond, the female would die too. It was sort of a stabilizing connection. Like a surge protector, her brother Cade always said.

Layla let her head fall back against the couch cushions with a groan. “I know! Look, I’m not saying a threesome with two hot dudes is a bad idea in general. But I just met Sid and now I’m going to have to have sex with one of his relatives or something? Ugh!

Adam? No, no, no! I can’t have sex with someone you’ve had sex with.”

“Okay, so I get the point about Adam. But you know you need the tri-bond to anchor you. You know that. It’s not random sex, the anchor is a necessary thing. Without him you’ll slip into insanity and that’s no joke. The longer you wait, the worse it’ll get.”

“Why now? God, Tia, I just got this promotion and my life is going so well. This just complicates everything!”

“Oh shut up!” Tia got in her face. “You are not this person. Stop whining. Accept reality. He’s your mate. Period. And you need the tri-bond or you’ll both be in trouble because once you go, he’ll lose it too. And for what? This stupid, selfish tantrum?”

Layla looked up at her friend, stunned. Stung, she pushed up off the couch and headed for the door. “I shouldn’t have come here. I expected you to support me.”

“Support you in what? Being stupid? Not dealing with the thing you need to keep you from going insane? I am supporting you, Lay. This guy is your mate. You said yourself that he’s funny, good in bed and nice. He’s fine with the bond. You’re lucky!

Instead of dealing with it like you usually do, you’re throwing a tantrum. You can’t change anything with this behavior. This drama queen thing is a sign.”

“A sign? What are you talking about?”

“The longer you go unanchored the less rational you’ll be. Look at yourself! You’re a take-charge person. You rarely ever whine about things. You deal. Period. I’m worried about you, Layla. You aren’t yourself right now.”

“I’m fine.” Taking satisfaction in the sound of the door slamming behind her, she left.

Chapter Three

Layla stomped out to her car and drove away. She headed east and tried to think about everything that had happened. She’d worked so hard to advance at her job. It was difficult being taken seriously as a woman in her field. And she was young, another thing she’d had to overcome. A curvy red-haired woman who was young and attractive wasn’t something she complained about being in her day-to-day life, hell, it opened doors for her, she knew that. But it was hard to get past in the corporate world.

Three days before she’d been focused on her career and there had been nothing but clear pavement between her and another promotion. But with a mate she now had to navigate around how yet another person would react to her choices. It was hard enough dealing with her mother who never stopped complaining that she spent too much time on her career and not enough time on her family. Now she had to deal with a man. Not a man, the man.

And here she was with a big old wrench thrown into her plans by that man! As it was, all she could think about was Sid Rosario. She wondered if he was upset or hurt by her running off. She didn’t want this. She wanted her old life where she was free to stay late at work, free to work on a Sunday, free to get up and work in the middle of the night if she needed to.

She wasn’t some human who had no idea what she was in for. She was born a wolf, had seen wolves around her mate and watched their lives change in revolutionary ways. Was she ready for that? Did she even want to be? Was she ready for the level of dedication and involvement from her mate? Her DNA was now altered with his claiming of her. She was changed forever.

Frustrated and frightened, she slammed a palm against the steering wheel.

She needed to run. Running always calmed her, and she felt her wolf begin to agitate within her, needing release. Maybe she could think of a way around this mess if she could get a little bit of calm and stop obsessing about Sid for a few minutes.

Pulling her car onto a side road near where Cade’s new house in the woods was, she hid her things in the wheel well and went to the tree line to shed her clothing. The scent of the wild teased her senses, soothed her as she fell to her knees and let her wolf take over her body.

Her humanity slid away as her fur rose and the world was black and white and gray and yet sharp and vivid. The scent of her surroundings painted the air—the moss on the trees, the mushrooms in the dead tree trunk, the squirrels and the rabbits that scurried out of the way as they scented her.

Nose up, she drew in the universe through her senses and the world was suddenly right again. There, covered in a pelt coppery and fiery red and gold, things were simple again.

And she ran.

* * * * *

Sid hung up the phone, pissed off. He’d been trying to call Layla for the last day and a half and even had showed up at her place, and there was no sign of her. Her scent, now their scent, was cold enough that he could tell she hadn’t been around since early the day before.

He paced, his wolf agitated and worried. He never should have let her leave. A newly bonded female wolf needed the tri-bond, and each hour that passed without it happening put her in danger and made her less rational. She was already surprised and stressed out and that would only be exacerbated by the lack of the anchoring bond.

He picked up the phone and dialed Adam, who told him where Tia lived and that he’d meet his cousin there.

Not knowing what to expect, Sid was happy Tia seemed so happy and supportive of the bond. He was less happy to hear about Layla’s agitation and that it seemed so far out of her normal character.

It wasn’t just that he wanted to protect her—he needed to protect her. As a male werewolf, the mate bond was the ultimate commitment. Her needs were paramount.

Knowing she was out there somewhere, upset and agitated, tore at him.

“Do you have any idea where she could be?”

“She always runs when she’s upset and Cade, my Alpha and her brother, has a big house on a lot of acreage. She may have headed up there.”

“Will you show me? Adam, will you go back to my hotel? I’ll need an anchor and I’d be honored if you were our tri-bond.”

“No! Look, part of what had Layla upset was the thought of ha**ng s*x with someone I’ve…had sex with. Do you have any other cousins or family members who could help? Any other Pack members who outrank you?”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of it that way.” Sid looked at Tia and thought. “Adam, call Shane please. He’s on break from school visiting Aunt Jennifer down in Portland. I just talked to him a few days ago. Will you ask him for me? I need to go and get her.”

Adam agreed and said he’d arrange for their cousin Shane to meet them at Sid’s hotel room for the tri-bond.

They took Tia’s car and drove up to where she thought Layla may be, pointing out Cade’s new house.

“She won’t have gone up to the house. They’d scent her and know and make her deal. I’m going to take you down this back road here to see if her car is around. You’ll have to do the rest. There’re about forty acres of forest here.”

“I’ll scent her if she’s here.” He meant to bring her back and make her safe, one way or another.

Tia swore when she saw Layla’s car. “There’s her car right there. Do you want me to wait?”

“No. Because if she gets away from me, I’m going up to that house and enlisting her family to help me.”

Tia laughed. “You’re gonna be just fine, Sid. She’s a good person. Strong. Her family is important to her. Be gentle.”

“She’s my mate. Of course I’ll be gentle. And yeah, I can tell she’s a good person.

Thank you.”

He got out of the car and quickly disrobed, getting to all fours and letting his wolf surface. Nose up in the breeze, he caught her scent, spicy and rich, and tore off into the trees to track his mate down and bring her back.

Layla lay next to a small stream, breathing in the deep loam of the forest floor. The calm she’d had when she first ran was leaving her. As she’d run she’d thought. A lot.

Realized that all her reasons, well, most of them anyway, for resisting the mate bond were work-related. And she realized she didn’t want her life to be all about work any more than she wanted her life to be all about a man. There would be a way to find a middle ground. If anyone could, Layla knew she would do it.

Moreover, Tia was right. All of her whining and drama were not part of Layla’s normal behavior pattern. Her grasp on things became more tenuous the longer she went without the tri-bond. And she missed Sid.

But despite knowing she needed to get to Sid and take care of the tri-bond, worry that he’d be angry at her and not want her anymore ate at her. The weight of the fear held her in place.

She was so lost in her thoughts she didn’t even sense his approach until he pounced, teeth at her throat to hold her still.

Panic filled her and her back legs levered up to push off any male but hers, until he growled, a mixture of comfort and warning. She drew in a breath and scented him. Her mate. Hers. She relaxed and he let go and licked over the spot where he’d bitten her.

A soft whine brought her head around and her heart pounded at the sight of him there. So large and majestic. The most beautiful wolf she’d ever seen. Reaching in, she rubbed her face along his and growled softly. The sound was filled with desire and longing.

He took her there, quick and feral. Large body over her smaller one. His need to have her and mark her as a wolf as well as a man overwhelmed her. After, they lay side by side, her muzzle resting on his back as they let the forest calm them.

After some time she transformed, human eyes looking up at him.

Moving to her knees, she reached out and ran a hand over his ebony fur, thick and soft. Putting her arms around his neck, she hugged him tight and breathed him in.

Loved the smell of him. “Such a gorgeous wolf. I’m sorry I ran.”

And only moments after she’d spoken, his skin was smooth and hard as he transformed back and held her with human arms. “It’s okay. Shhh, it’s okay. Let me take care of you, honey.”

He pulled her against him, into his lap, and kissed her mouth. He felt like he’d come home in her taste. The way her hands felt as they slid up his arms and into his hair, against his skull, burned into him.

“I want to be inside you again. But we don’t have a blanket so will you come back with me? To any place with a bed? We can talk afterward. We’ve got to get the tri-bond dealt with, and today. You understand that?”

She nodded, her eyes clear. “I was afraid you wouldn’t want me anymore. That you’d be so angry because I ran.”

Kissing her again quickly, he added, “Oh, honey. God, it’s so good to hold you. I’ve been crazy without you. I’m not angry. I was worried, yes. And I’d have brought you back kicking and screaming if I had to. But there’s no way on earth I wouldn’t want you. You got scared and things got a bit over your head. It’s okay. I’m here and we’re going to get through this together. From now on, we’ll take turns freaking out so one of us will always be the strong one. You ready?”

And it was the most perfect thing he could have said. Sharing their burdens instead of shouldering them all himself—that last knot of concern in her gut eased from her softly.

“Yes. Oh yes.” She allowed him to help her up and they changed again to run back to where her car was parked.

A short trip to his hotel and they practically ran to his door.

Turning on the hot water in the shower, she let his lips capture hers once again as she discarded her clothes and tossed them aside. A sense of deep rightness followed when his ended up with hers in the same pile. So odd that something so simple would make her feel her connection to him so deeply but it did.

“Come shower with me, I’m all dirty.”

His lips slid into a naughty grin. “I like you dirty. It’s my favorite.”

Laughing, she pulled him into the stall with her, moving so he could share the hot water with her. His hands slapped hers out of the way as he took over the job of soaping her up from head to toe.

“My. I think I’ll be the cleanest wolf ever when you’re finished.”

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