Lizzie felt a hard yank on her scalp. She wanted to cry out, but no sound emerged from her lips. Someone was dragging her down the garden path. Her muzzy, pain-filled brain tried to put the pieces together.
The painful pulling at her scalp was joined by a steady wrenching feeling in her shoulder. She must have passed out for a moment, because suddenly she was inside the house and being pulled across a floor. She could feel the wood floor and then the rug underneath her—but it was all distant and fuzzy, like she’d just woken from a dream but wasn’t yet able to think clearly or move. She could feel even those sensations start to slip away as her thoughts became hazier. A sharp pain pierced through the darkness. Her body slamming into a wall? A doorway? Briefly she tried to grab at the doorjamb she was being yanked past, but her fingers wouldn’t move to clench the frame.
She was so tired. Even the mounting terror couldn’t keep her awake. She didn’t want to die like this. She didn’t want to die at all, she thought right before she lost consciousness.
She woke briefly as a guard pulled her body this way and that, tying her feet. Her shoulder screamed with a tearing pain, and tears were running down her face. She could just barely make out Worth speaking in the background. He was giving instructions to one of his men for evacuation. As she struggled to hear anything that might hint at their destination, the guard had finished binding her feet and moved to her hands. He pulled her hands together, wrenching her damaged shoulder. She bit frantically down on the inside of her cheek as waves of pain tore through her. She didn’t want Worth to hear her scream, she thought, a fraction of a second before her mouth filled with her own blood, and she lost consciousness.
Nine Days Earlier
Home for slightly more than twenty-four hours, Lizzie Smith was just starting to feel a little more like her old self again. She’d slept and slept. Apparently being kidnapped, rescued, rescuing others, and besting an evil genius made a girl tired. She smiled. After she’d slept—well, then she and John had not slept. A small blush bloomed at those thoughts. John Braxton, quite possibly the love of her life, Alpha of the Texas Lycan Pack, and completely gorgeous specimen of a man—she sighed. Yum. She snuggled closer to the solid warmth at her back. And then her stomach growled.
Her appetite had returned and then some. She hadn’t realized how little she’d been eating over the last several days. She’d dropped around ten pounds during the “Lizzie Kidnapped” episode of her life. She’d warned John not to get too used to the svelte her, because she had every intention of eating like a normal person again. He’d just looked at her like she’d grown an extra head.
At the sound of her growling tummy, he hopped out of bed and slipped on a pair of jeans.
“Eggs and bacon good?” he asked as he headed to the kitchen.
“Sounds lovely,” she’d replied to his retreating back. Smart man.
She was settling into a deep, warm pile of sheets and comforter when her phone rang. She sighed. She’d been avoiding most calls since she got home. Avoiding life in general—work, laundry, leaving the house. But eventually, she’d have to return to the reality of her boring, normal existence. And John needed to check in with the Pack. That was a depressing thought and quashed any desire to continue lounging in sheets he’d warmed just moments before. She slid out of bed, pulling on her robe, and debated whether to answer.
She could hear John letting the dogs out in the yard as she picked up her phone. He really was a keeper. He’d already picked Beau and Vegas up from boarding at her friend’s mom’s house. Weirdly, they’d been fine with him after lots of sniffing and curious looks. Given their initial, highly suspicious and vocal reaction to him, it was a pleasant surprise.
She glanced at the caller ID screen before she answered…Idaho? “Yes?” The single word came out short, clipped, and irritated.
Wow, she must still be tired. That was not her typical phone etiquette.
“Lizzie?” a male voice inquired.
“Who is this?” she asked pointedly. Would her manners ever recover from this adventure?
“Lizzie Braxton? It’s Clark, Grant Clark. Calling to congratulate you on your union with Braxton.” Since Clark was Alpha of the Idaho Pack and a co-conspirator from the first time she’d been kidnapped, he should be concerned about her reaction to a phone call out of the blue. He may have aided John’s rescue, been respectful during her brief imprisonment, and seemed like a decent sort, but—he kidnapped her.
Clark waited until the silence was almost awkward, and when he continued his tone was cautious. “On behalf of Idaho, I’d like to extend official congratulations. It is our hope you’ll accept a token of our good will and look to the future, not the past, in building a relationship with Idaho.”
Then she realized she’d missed something. What?
The doorbell rang. She was already on her way to answer it, when her good manners kicked in and she replied, “Thank you, Mr. Clark. I’m afraid now isn’t a good time, but I appreciate your call.” Click. Appreciate, my ass. Her thoughts were sinking well into the depths of profanity when she answered the door to a UPS deliveryman and a florist delivery driver. “Lizzie Braxton?” the florist inquired, politely.
In the silence, the UPS man shifted from foot to foot, clearly in a rush, and asked, “I need a signature. Can you sign for Elizabeth Braxton?”
She shut the door on them both, and…
“JOHN!!!” She couldn’t remember a time she’d yelled so loud. But if ever there was a time to start, it was now.
Two Days Later
“Are you speaking to me yet?” John asked her.
Lizzie gave the question serious thought before she answered. She sat down at the kitchen table, and after about three seconds, she said, “Hmm. No.”
John poured her a cup of strong tea and added a dash of milk, handing it to her before he sat down next to her at the head of the table. She couldn’t keep this up. The man knew how she liked her tea. And cooked her breakfast. The smell of perfectly crisped bacon was softening her resolve even faster than the sight of him sitting at her kitchen table. With his bright blue eyes, his slightly scruffy chin, and his long, muscular legs stretched out in front of him. Hmm. Maybe John rated a little higher than bacon.
Sitting down at her kitchen table across from a man she was not speaking to, Lizzie’s expressive face scrunched up in a frown as she remembered Zack Worth, the man who had orchestrated most of the grief she’d suffered over the last few weeks.
“Stop it,” John said. “You’ll ruin a beautiful day, and he’s just not worth it.” He paused a moment, then smiled wryly and said, “No pun intended.”
She looked at him as he quietly drank a cup of coffee, his dark hair sticking up at odd angles. It was frustrating that he was so composed, so at home. As if their adventure several days earlier, and now their fight, didn’t bother him at all.
His reference to Worth was right on the mark. She was dwelling on that horrible man, and thinking about him would ruin an otherwise beautiful day. The fact that John knew her so well after such a short time made him even more appealing. He was very nearly her perfect man. But two days ago—one day after she’d shared her growing feelings with him—she’d discovered a problem. She woke up after a mind-blowing evening of just-rescued-from-near-death sex to find that her last name had mysteriously changed—at least, within the magic-using community. And Lycan society recognized her as John’s mate.
The plane ride home after the confrontation with Worth in Prague was a little hazy. She’d been tired—exhausted, actually—but she did remember the excitement she’d felt when John asked her to be his mate. How could she not? After the flirting and tension, the growing feelings she’d held close to her chest, and the agonizing fear she’d experienced when Worth had begun to steal John’s magic, she was thrilled to have their relationship out in the open and official.
Was she giddy from their victory over Worth? Tired from days of sleep deprivation? Or just so excited that she and John were finally together after so much had happened that she wasn’t thinking straight? Whatever the reason, she had failed to ask about the odd wording that John had used. He’d asked her to be his mate. And she’d said yes. She was an idiot. Wait a minute.
“You even said it was like being your girlfriend. I remember that now. It wasn’t just me being a complete idiot. You said that.” Her tone was thoughtful. She’d been about as mad at herself over the last few days as she’d been at John. Maybe she’d been too hasty. Just maybe she’d been justified in her anger at John, and she wasn’t as responsible for this mess as she’d been feeling.
“So you are speaking to me?” he asked.
She just ignored the question, waiting.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. “Yes. I don’t remember the specifics, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I used the word girlfriend.”
Lizzie considered misleading her to think they were only dating, when she’d actually agreed to something much more serious, to be a large flaw in her nearly perfect boyfriend’s character.
The magic-using community considered them married for all intents and purposes, but she’d never been properly asked and certainly hadn’t gotten a ceremony. Or a party. Hell, not even a ring. She reminded herself that she wasn’t upset that she had no ring. Really. She was upset at her ass of a boyfriend because he unilaterally decided on the next huge step in their relationship. And then announced it to the Lycan world.
Granted, he had his reasons. She glared at him over her tea. Her tasty, prepared-by-John tea. And just like that, some of her anger slipped away.
John must have caught the glare, because he said, “What? What did I do this time?”
Maybe two days of silence, and pouting, was enough. Lizzie was an honest person. She even tried to be honest with herself. So she admitted it. Juvenile as it was, she’d pouted. She sighed.
She mentally girded herself. Then she said, “Let’s talk.” She hadn’t literally been silent for two days, just silent on the subject of Lycan mates, meeting the Pack, and her future with John. She thought she was justified in her anger. She was a grown woman, more than capable of making her own decisions, and he had yanked this momentous decision right out of her hands.
She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do or how she felt, other than angry. But she wasn’t so mad she was seeing red—literally. The first time he’d tried to explain his actions there had been red sparkles. And not the pretty kind—the scary, uncontrollable magic kind. Her magic did weird things when she experienced strong emotions, so she’d decided to give herself a little time to calm down. Because she wasn’t so angry that she wanted anything or anyone to explode—or start bleeding. She thought of the house in Prague where Worth had held her, of seeing Worth moments before he’d fled the house. He’d bled from his nose, ears, and eyes. She shuddered, her insides suddenly feeling ten degrees colder. She’d done that.
She gave her head a tiny but emphatic shake. Enough. He’d deserved it. And it was over.
John had waited patiently to discuss the situation. As well he should, since the whole thing was his fault. Well, mostly his fault, she conceded. More than half his fault, she finally decided. It was past time to have an adult conversation. Especially since the thought of discussing it wasn’t triggering an unexpected magical light show.
“Okay. Tell me when this mysterious ceremony took place. The one that seems to have resulted in us basically being married. Oh, and when I said yes.” Lizzie’s voice had a hard edge. “When exactly did I say yes?”
John winced. “How about I explain why first.” He leaned forward in his chair, forearms on his thighs. His face was intent, and the movement shifted him closer to Lizzie.
Lizzie bit her lip and nodded. He was so incredibly appealing in this serious, earnest mood.
“We’ve never talked about what it means to be Lycan. Most of the time, I’m just a man. But sometimes it gets complicated.” He huffed out a frustrated breath. “A lot like your magic when you’re upset, the wolf in me doesn’t always handle stressful situations as rationally as the human in me might like.”
John never spoke about his magic. She’d thought it was too private, and he wasn’t comfortable discussing something so intimate. So she was surprised that this was the beginning of their discussion.
Then Lizzie thought about what he’d said and frowned in confusion. “You talk about your wolf like he’s another person. I thought that you were always John, the human, but sometimes you were furry?”
“Not exactly.” He shifted in his chair, leaning back again. “I’m always the man. And there’s not actually a wolf, more that my magic has the feel of a wolf. The man and the wolf aspect of my magic are like two aspects of my personality that live in harmony. Most of the time.” John looked at Lizzie intently, his face tense and worried.
Suddenly, Lizzie realized that John—who never seemed to lack confidence—might be unsure. Worried about how she felt about him, how she felt about the differences between them. She waited.
“When you’re in danger, I’m anxious. Unsettled. Even if I know rationally that there’s nothing I can do, or that you can take care of yourself.” He caught and held her gaze. “Those facts don’t alter the way I or my wolf feels.”
Lizzie was sure he was thinking about the magical confrontation she’d had with Worth. Lizzie had come out the victor—even if she wasn’t entirely sure what had happened. Or how she’d done—whatever she did.
“Add my wolf’s anxiety to the very real threat you were under as an unaffiliated Record Keeper. And the fact that you’ve been reluctant to commit and affiliate with a Lycan pack. It was stressful.” John looked tense. His eyes narrowed, and Lizzie occasionally saw the twitch of a muscle in his jaw. Lizzie looked at the large, muscular, competent man sitting in front of her. He’d been worried. Okay, probably very worried. Dangit. Her heart warmed a little at that thought.
“You know why I was reluctant. I know almost nothing about Lycan, and what little I do know has left a mixed impression.” Lizzie thought of her experiences with Clark, on the one hand, and John, on the other. “And making me your mate in the eyes of the Lycan community was the only way you knew to mark me as Pack right away?”
Pissed as she was, she could understand his argument—up to a point. As a pack member, she would be protected by the laws and customs governing Lycan packs. That much she did understand. If she’d been a member of the Texas Pack, Clark’s pack wouldn’t have grabbed her.
Lycan may consider her a Record Keeper, or a person with a particular talent for reading magical texts, but she’d learned she was actually a spell caster. So her talents were broader than just reading magical texts. If she could develop her skills—particularly offensive and defensive warding—she might not need a pack to protect her.
John spoke into the lengthening silence. “I acted rashly.”
And that was the heart of the matter. He had acted rashly. Both in making her the Alpha Mate of the Texas Pack and in moving their relationship forward. Understanding why John acted as he had didn’t change the facts. And she wasn’t sure she was ready to take the next step in their relationship. They’d just discovered their feelings for one another. Taking a day or 600 to let those feelings slowly mature and deepen seemed like a good idea to Lizzie. Especially since she thought John was the One. She wanted this to work. Her heart cracked a little when she thought it might not.
The creamy filling to this sticky situation was the role of mate to the Texas Pack’s Alpha. Texas was the largest pack in North America, and the position of Alpha was the most powerful single position in the pack structure. Lizzie wasn’t even sure exactly what an Alpha Mate did, but it sounded a lot like being a politician’s wife. She couldn’t even imagine being involved in politics.
She needed time to figure out magic, to learn more about Lycan, to let her feelings for John settle. And John had taken that away.
“You were worried about me, and you thought making me your mate would keep me safe. I get it.” He frowned in response to her words but waited for her to finish. “But you and I need time. You can’t rush certain things. I’m not sure how I feel about taking on a completely new set of responsibilities…especially when I don’t even know what a mate does. All while we’re trying to give us—this, whatever it is between us—a chance.”
John stood up and walked to the counter. It was as if he couldn’t stand still and tension radiated from him. “I don’t think you do understand. I wasn’t worried; I was terrified. I’ve been in relationships before. I’ve even been in love.” Her gaze lifted immediately, but he was staring out the window.
He hadn’t told her he loved her. It was early days; she wasn’t even sure she wanted to hear it. What would she say in return? I think I’m falling in love with you—but give me a sec ‘cause I’m not sure if I’m quite there yet? Her feelings for him were complicated, a little confused, and very new. And what part did magic play in their relationship? Everything had happened so fast up to this point, she needed more time to assure herself that her feelings were real and based on something—attraction, passion, friendship, trust—not magic or wolfy pheromones.
John turned away from the window. His eyes briefly made contact with hers; then his gaze skittered away to a point a foot or so in front of her. Like he was shying away from too much intimacy. “Not only do I have feelings for you, but my magic, my wolf aspect, my wolf—however you think of it—is involved in my feelings. The need to protect you and to know where you are, those feelings are intense. It’s disconcerting, and it certainly impacted my actions. And while I’m sorry that I’ve jeopardized our relationship, I can’t be sorry that you’re safer now.”
Lizzie stood up, walked over to John, and wrapped her arms around him. She rested her cheek against his shoulder and just held on.
“Does this mean you’re not mad?” Lizzie could hear a teasing note in his voice.
“You know it doesn’t.” She snuggled a little closer. “It means I care about you, and we’ll try to sort it out.” She took a step away from him, arms still draped over his shoulders, and said, “But I think I’m still allowed to be mad. We should have had this conversation before you even thought about announcing to the world that I’m your wolfy-wife.”
He tried to suppress a grin and failed. “Is that what you are? My wolfy-wife?”
She decided he was irresistible, and she grinned right back. “Sure. If I can call you Fluffy.”
He chuckled. “Don’t you dare. Though there are some fond memories attached to that name.”
After a quick kiss, she turned and sat back down at the kitchen table. After a few seconds, her forehead wrinkled. “Ugh. We haven’t even begun to discuss the Pack’s book, let alone the whole Record Keeper job. And I haven’t had any time at all to study the book.” She dropped her head on the table, forehead resting lightly against the surface. When she spoke again, frustration vibrated in her voice. “I only just learned how to use my spell caster talent. I can finally read that darn book, but there’s no time. I haven’t even caught up on my sleep yet.” She lifted her head off the table and scrunched her nose up in annoyance. “This is what I’m talking about. Too much stuff, happening too fast. Who can keep up?”
“Sorry about the sleep part,” John said sheepishly.
Her expression turned mischievous. “Hmm. You’re so not sorry. And you’d be in serious trouble if you were.” She sighed. “Are you going to tell me what exactly a mate does? What role I would have in the Pack?”
“Maybe tomorrow?” he asked hopefully.
Lizzie eyed the small piece of bacon and half slice of toast still left on her breakfast plate. “I think now would be best,” she said with resignation.
He looked like he was debating his options. Lizzie tapped her fingers on the table and considered chunking her toast at him. But before she could pick it up off the plate, her cell rang. She dug it out of her back jeans pocket, and, once she saw the caller ID screen, she immediately answered it.
Scowling, she said, “Hello, Harrington. This is a surprise.”
“Hello, Lizzie. I hope the trip home went well.” Harrington sounded calm. But he always sounded calm and controlled to Lizzie, even in the midst of a major crisis.
Harrington was the Director of Investigations for the Inter-Pack Policing Cooperative, or IPPC. His call wasn’t expected, and she couldn’t guess why he’d need to speak with her so soon. She’d last seen Harrington four days ago in Prague when he’d taken possession of the Lost Library—after Worth had been injured during her rescue, fled, and then abandoned the Library.
Lizzie sighed wistfully. She couldn’t help but remember the vast number of magical texts housed in the basement Library. It had been awe-inspiring to be in the same room with so much history and magic. And without the stress and fear caused by her captivity, the Library held even more appeal.
“I’m thankful to be home safe.” Lizzie’s reply was short. She was never sure how much to tell Harrington. Or how much he wanted to hear. All business, that was Harrington.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I hope I can do something for you,” Harrington replied unexpectedly. “I’ve hired one spell caster to staff the Library, and I’m actively searching for a second. Until I can find another caster, I’d like to offer you a job. And a mentor.”
Lizzie’s brain immediately started to work through all of the ramifications. Spend time with all of those gorgeous and fascinating books. Definitely good. Spend time away from John. Definitely very bad. Especially given the unresolved question of her role in the Pack and in John’s life.
“How long will you need someone?” she asked.
“Not someone—you. I know you’re in need of a mentor. I think it would be a mutually beneficial arrangement and worth the trouble of the temporary move. For both of us.” Harrington paused and then finally answered her original question. “I’m estimating about a month.”
Mentoring with a spell caster like Harrington was impossible locally. She didn’t have any magical connections in the United States. And casters didn’t exactly advertise. If the information she’d gotten from her European friends was correct, the spell caster community was much smaller in the States. She’d also heard Harrington was unique in the strength and breadth of his talent.
Certainly, this was an exciting opportunity for all of those reasons.
Lizzie bit at her lip. The thought of having ready access to someone who wanted to share magical knowledge was incredibly appealing, but her graphic design clients were already somewhat neglected after her recent kidnap adventure. “I’m not sure leaving my business for a month is a good idea.”
“Did I mention this was a paid position? Technically, you’ll be a consultant. Room, board, flight, and a small stipend for the stay are covered. Your free time is your own. So you can keep in touch with clients during your off-hours, if you choose.” Harrington had an answer for everything.
Just as Lizzie was about tell him that she’d need a day or two to think about it—and talk to John, but Harrington didn’t need to know that—he added, “I know you’ll need to get Braxton’s permission before you can commit—”
“I’m sorry. What?” Lizzie interrupted.
“As the Texas Pack Alpha Mate, any travel across pack territory lines would be approved by the Alpha.” There was a brief silence, and then Harrington said, “I assumed. Probably incorrectly.”
Lizzie’s eyes narrowed as she looked over at John and her pulse kicked up a notch. He’d been quietly sipping coffee and checking email on his cell throughout her phone conversation. “I’ll get back to you.” Then she hung up on Harrington.
She really needed to reevaluate her manners these days. Add a little stress and she became a stranger to herself, a rude person. One who cussed. Dammit. She barely recognized herself.
“What did I do?” John said.
“Your crazy-keen wolfy hearing didn’t pick up the other end of that conversation?” She still wasn’t sure exactly what he could and couldn’t do. But she’d been in the same room; he should have been able to hear both sides of the conversation with his keen hearing.
“I wasn’t paying any attention, and I have no idea what Harrington said to upset you.” John’s temper was slow to ignite, but Lizzie may have managed to prime the pump by avoiding “the talk” for two days. He sounded like he might be losing his patience. “I don’t actually try to listen in. Sometimes you just make it impossible to avoid.”
“According to Harrington, I need your permission to leave town. Is that true?” Her tone was grim. Fair or not, she was upset. No. She was more than upset. Frustrated? Angry? Disappointed? She rolled her shoulders, trying to stretch out the tension gathering in her neck. All of those and more.
John shifted uncomfortably, avoiding direct eye contact.
“What exactly am I supposed to do? Run my travel plans by you for approval every time I decide to visit my parents or want to take a trip with friends?” Her nostrils flared and her face flushed. She knew her fair skin turned a brilliant shade of rosy pink when she was flustered or angry, and she was both right now.
“What the hell did Harrington say?” When she didn’t immediately answer, he said, “Lizzie, take a breath. Calm down.”
He avoided the question and told her to “calm down.” Calm down? After she’d just been told her decisions were not her own, her life was not her own. That she needed permission to travel, from a man she’d known less than a month. That she was expected to live by rules she hadn’t known existed a few weeks ago, rules she still didn’t actually know. Lycan society, Lycan rules, were just as new to her as magic, as new as John was in her life. It was all too much.
Calm down? She didn’t think so.
“I’m leaving for Prague. As soon as I can make arrangements with Harrington for a flight.”
“What? Why? What’s happened?” John said, his voice shaded by confusion.
“He’s offered me a job.” As John’s face tightened at Lizzie’s words, she revised her statement, reason compelling her to be more explicitly truthful. “A temporary job, just for a few weeks. I’m taking it.”
His tone cold, John said, “You’re leaving.” It wasn’t a question. He seemed certain. “You’ll damage my reputation and harm your relationship with the Pack.” Not just cold—icy.
Lizzie’s breath caught in a small hiccup. She didn’t want to leave him; that hadn’t been the point. Damn. She was going to cry. She forced a slow, even breath as the sting of unshed tears prickled her eyes. She wanted to make her own decisions. No, she needed to. She couldn’t lose herself in this new world, in her newly acquired magic. Not even in John.
As much as his chilly anger hurt, she knew that going to Prague was a good, if rash, decision. And John was the Alpha of his pack. Even if he didn’t influence every move of his pack members, he still played an important leadership role. She didn’t think he could pack up and leave for a month. He’d already been gone for too long—he’d said it himself.
She needed to go. So she replied to John’s unasked question. “I’m going.” What she didn’t say, what her anger prevented her from saying, was that she wanted him to go with her.
He’d nodded, picked up his keys, grabbed his wallet, and said, “I’m checking in with the Pack. I’ll be back tonight.”
After Lizzie called Harrington to accept his offer, he’d instructed her to take whichever flight suited her schedule and just drop him a note with travel details. He would arrange for pickup on the Prague end. So she’d hidden herself away in her office and booked the quickest flight she could find. She was scheduled to leave for Prague the next night. With any luck she’d be able to sleep for a good portion of the flight to London. She hoped to arrive early in the morning feeling, if not great, then at least human.
Last minute, while she was still on the phone with Harrington’s travel agent, she’d decided to schedule a layover in London. A long layover. She’d have enough time to make a local visit if she didn’t hit any major travel delays.
And that left her with the rest of the day and all of tomorrow to pack, deliver the dogs, and regret the ongoing dissension between her and John. The time stretched out before her, seeming both too long and not long enough. She mentally girded herself for some errand running and travel prep. She didn’t really want to think about John—so she wouldn’t. Right.
First up, it was time to call her best friend, Kenna McIntyre. Probably past time. She was in on all the super-secret stuff—magic, Lycan, spell casters. Lizzie rolled her eyes. When had her life gotten so weird? Oh, yeah—when a spelled book mysteriously showed up in her mailbox. Someday, when she wasn’t running around like a manic Chihuahua, she’d have to figure out who put that book in her mailbox.
Kenna was sure to be curious. Lizzie hadn’t spoken with her in a few days. She’d given her a quick “hey, I’m-alive” call. She might also have hinted at a need for some alone time…or maybe not hinted, just said, “Don’t expect to hear from me for a few days.”
“Well, hello, sex kitten. How have you been?” Kenna said.
Lizzie swallowed. What should she say? Really shitty, but thanks for asking?
“I have an internship,” Lizzie said, infusing as much enthusiasm as she could into her voice.
“Um, that’s got nothing to do with sex and your hot Lycan. And it makes no sense—you already have a job.” Kenna’s voice turned skeptical when she mentioned Lizzie’s current work. “And for someone who hasn’t had any loving in ages, you should have sex on the brain, not a new job. Especially when you already have your own business.”
Lizzie replied, “Harrington offered me a job at the Library.”
“Way to avoid the sex question. Who knew you were such a prude?” Kenna teased. “But that is exciting that you’ll be working in the Library. I know how much you loved those creepy books.”
“Um-hm. But I wouldn’t say creepy,” Lizzie replied, knowing the other shoe would drop any minute now.
“What about John? You guys finally got together. Well, not that it took long—but it seemed like it took a long time. I mean, a lot’s happened since he showed up on your porch. Is he going with you? Are you guys still together?” Kenna had started curious, but near the end she sounded worried. “Wait a minute—did that bastard break up with you after screwing you to Sunday?” Kenna was practically yelling into the phone. “I’m coming over there right now.”
Lizzie couldn’t help it, she laughed. Wildly, with no reservations. After a few seconds, left hand on her side pressing against the stitch she’d developed, gasping for breath, she said, “Sorry. It’s just—oh, Kenna. Thank you.”
“He did break up with you?” Kenna asked more cautiously.
“No. At least, I don’t think so.” Lizzie inhaled slowly, trying to catch her breath. “No,” she said again but with certainty.
Lizzie had needed that. She’d allowed too much tension to build up around the questions facing her and John. They had issues. They were both mature—okay, maturish—adults. They’d had their own lives before meeting each other. It wasn’t surprising those lives wouldn’t immediately mesh and intertwine without complications. The question was—could she and John overcome the complications?
“But?” Kenna prompted.
“But he’s not exactly happy with me right now. And honestly, I would seriously like to kick his ass.” Lizzie chewed on her lip. She hadn’t actually called to unload on Kenna. It was all a little too new to share. Normally she shared everything with Kenna, but the timing seemed wrong. All of her feelings were simply too new to take out and discuss.
“We’ll sort it out,” Lizzie concluded.
“Uh huh. While you’re in Prague and John’s in Texas. Let me know how that goes. Where is he now? He’s not there, is he?” Kenna asked.
“He’s out of town, visiting the Pack. So I’m sure he has stuff—Lycan Alpha stuff—to take care of.” Lizzie scrunched her nose up in annoyance. Even she thought she sounded defensive, so Kenna would definitely pick up on it.
It wasn’t her fault John had picked up his keys and walked out the door after she’d announced her plans. Okay, maybe it was a little her fault. She’d started pacing at some point during the conversation, Kenna’s agitation rubbing off on her. But she stopped mid-pace now. He hadn’t yelled. He hadn’t even looked pissed.
Weird. Weird enough that maybe she should be worried. Well, shit. Why hadn’t that occurred to her at the time? Maybe she could have stopped and asked—what? “Are you plotting something nefarious, sweetheart?” Sure. That would have worked.
“How long do you plan to stay in Prague? I assume internship means temporary—or I would be begging you to take me with you. Life without Lizzie would be too boring for words. And everyone knows where you go, so goes adventure and mayhem.” Unfortunately, Kenna wasn’t wrong. Mayhem did follow her. The difference between Kenna and her was that Kenna thought that was interesting and exciting. Well, until someone got hurt—then it sucked.
“Humph. Only recently. But I’m only gone a few weeks. As for John—I told you, we’ll work it out. It’ll be like the blink of an eye. There and back again. Did I mention that Harrington has offered to act as my mentor while I’m there?” Be vague, deflect, cross her fingers. That was Lizzie’s best strategy.
“Hmm.” Lizzie could hear Kenna’s disbelief in the hum of her voice.
“Uh, any chance you want to give me a ride to the airport tomorrow evening?” Lizzie made a last ditch attempt to divert her attention.
“Sure. And I’m visiting, of course,” Kenna finally said. And that was as close to a stamp of approval as Lizzie would get.
As soon as she hung up, she made arrangements with Kenna’s mom to take the dogs for the whole month. The few face-to-face client meetings she had scheduled over the next month she rescheduled as teleconference meetings. She wouldn’t be able to accept any new clients, but she could manage maintenance on current accounts for the month. She spent the rest of the day catching up, trying to squeeze in a little work before her departure.
Later in bed that night, all of the thoughts and concerns she’d pushed aside for the day came rushing back. She’d meant to talk to John about Harrington’s offer. He was her boyfriend, however new. She may not have agreed to be his mate in the sense that he’d intended it, but she certainly had meant to be his girlfriend. In her world, that meant having a civilized discussion about one’s plans before haring off to foreign parts.
She blinked up at the ceiling. Taking a month to intern with Harrington was a big decision that would impact her relationship with John. Of course, she’d meant to talk to him. But then Harrington had pushed her buttons with his comment about her needing permission. And then John had made it worse by telling her to calm down, like she was some hysterical twit—but she kinda had been. Mildly hysterical, she admitted to herself, but not a twit. She was dealing with huge changes in her life, changes that were happening at an alarmingly fast rate.
John hadn’t returned yet. Lizzie groaned and beat her pillow with the flat of her hand, venting some of her frustration in the guise of pillow fluffing. Her breath caught as she felt the choking press of tears at the back of her throat. And even that made her angry with him all over again. She didn’t want to cry about him. She hated crying. She sniffed. She wasn’t sure how to fix this without ceding him an authority over her life she wasn’t ready to give. She couldn’t let him unilaterally decide the when, where, and how of their relationship. She was an adult, and she’d managed to live on her own, making her own decisions, for—well, most of her adult life. She was thirty-six years old, dammit.
Lizzie experienced a flash of reason and calm, and she admitted that she was doing exactly what John had done—making decisions that impacted both of them without consulting him. Well, that was assuming he didn’t just break up with her. She punched her pillow again. Because it would be simpler for him to date someone who knew the rules of Lycan society. Someone who wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his people. Someone who wouldn’t have a problem being treated like a little girl required to ask her parent’s permission before making every decision. She wanted to laugh at the absurdity of that image in this day and age. But she couldn’t. In fact, all she could do was think about how much she hated that imaginary girl, the one who fit better into his life and might take her place. She curled up on her side into a tiny ball and tried not to cry.