White Wolf – Lauren Gilley

He was stalking her. She could see him in the big convex mirror positioned up in the corner of the cosmetics aisle. Tall, slender, ripped black skinnies and Docs, old-as-shit AC/DC sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. What little she could see of his face – chin, sharp line of his jaw, tip of his nose – gleamed pale white under the tube lights. The bill of a ballcap shaded his eyes. He kept tilting his head just so, stealing surreptitious glances, and edging closer to her with deliberate side-steps. Feigning casual, but she could see right through the act. Annabel closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Under the chemical tang of floor polish and the beauty products on the shelf in front of her, she detected the earthy scents of sweat, and man, and wilderness. He’d brought the night in on his skin, the deeper musk of fur, and blood, and want. She let her breath out slowly, and opened her eyes again to the technicolor display of nail polish that went from floor to ceiling in front of her. Careful, keeping her movements slow and thoughtful, she selected a shade of blue called Summer Daydreams and added it to her basket. Turned her back to the stalker and made her way slowly to the register. She heard him take a breath through his mouth; the faint squeak of his boot soles on the tile. Her heartrate accelerated.

It never ceased to amaze her how crowded any given Walgreens was on a Friday night, and tonight was no exception. Only one register was open, and the line wrapped around the magazine rack and halfway into the candy aisle. Anna settled in, very aware of her stalker lurking back by the Snickers display, hands shoved in his pockets, shoulders slumped as he tried to look shorter, less threatening. If he wanted to blend in, he should have worn baggier pants, she thought; there was no hiding those legs, the way the long muscles in his thighs clenched and relaxed as he shifted his weight. He pretended to study the bagged candy in front of him, but she could smell intent coming off him in waves. She was only going to get one chance to run, and when it came, she would have to take it. Until then, she settled in, and pretended not to notice him. At the head of the line, a nervous-looking young couple tried to slip a box of condoms in amongst magazines and cereal boxes, the boy darting a glance over his shoulder, lip caught between his teeth like he was afraid the gray-headed woman behind him would reprimand his loose behavior. Anna smiled to herself; they were so impossibly young, so worried about stupid things, like what strangers thought. Another mirror, this one angled above the cashier’s head, afforded her glimpses of her stalker as the line shuffled forward.

As harried dads buying cough syrup for sick kids and third shifters picking up sodas and candy bars on their way to work moved up one-at-a-time, her stalker worked the endcaps of the aisles, feigning interest in two-for-one shampoo and cheap flip-flops. He was actually terrible at this. “Find everything alright?” the cashier asked when Anna slid her nail polish, and birthday candles onto the counter. One of those required questions that didn’t want to be answered. “Yes, thank you.” The woman nodded, ran the nail polish over the scanner, and flicked an absent glance up over Anna’s shoulder– Then she paused, face going blank. She’d seen the stalker, then. He was lurking, at this point, tall and skinny and grungy and so obvious, how pathetic. “Honey,” the woman said, because this was Georgia, and strangers were kind, “do you have anyone waiting in the car for you. Your mom or dad?” Anna decided not to point out that a question like that – and her answer – were guaranteed to pique any good stalker’s interest.

Nope, just little old me, all alone: might as well turn to the guy and invite him to chase her home. Instead, she smiled. “No, ma’am, but don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” The woman pursed her lips, worried, as she took Anna’s cash and fished her change out of the drawer, all without taking her eyes off the stalker. She whispered, “Let me call somebody. There’s a deputy who gets dinner at the Waffle House next door this time every night. He can come escort you.” “Oh no, ma’am, you don’t have to do that. I’ll be fine. Really.

” She scooped up her bag and gave the woman a wave. “But thank you so much for being sweet!” “Wait,” the cashier said as Anna headed for the door. And then, loud, sharp, “Sir!” Under her breath, “Oh hell.” The automatic doors slid open on a sticky-hot night that smelled like fryer oil from Waffle House. Heat lightning danced from cloud to cloud overhead, soft flickers, no thunder. It might rain or it might not. The night pulsed with humidity, and life, and green growing things, even beneath the hottar-exhaust-food smells of human business. Anna started across the parking lot at a brisk, but unhurried walk. Counting her steps. Ten out, she heard his boots behind her on the pavement.

Fifteen out, she heard him take a deep, rough breath. Twenty out, she reached the opposite curb, and she gripped her bag tight, and took off at a dead run, plunging down a hill and into the woods. He made a sound that might have been a laugh, and might have been a growl, and followed. It had been a long time since she’d last run like this: full-out, lungs pumping, reaching with arms, and legs, and every finely-honed sense. Tree limbs slapping at her shoulders and hips, old dead leaves crushed underfoot with little puffs of mold and decay and an autumn long since passed. She’d worn her good Nikes, and they grabbed deep in the soft earth, her feet weightless as she leapt rotted logs, and buried stones and dodged across a dry creek bed that still smelled of brackish water. She felt strong, and alive; felt connected to the world and her body in a way she didn’t always, when she was pretending. Anna was fast. Her stalker was faster. It was those damn long legs of his.

She smelled him – dark, and woodsy, a faint trace of steel – and heard him – the even sawing of his breath as his lungs worked, crunch of leaves underfoot – as he closed in on her. “Aw, damn it,” she muttered, and then he pounced. He caught her around the waist with one arm and launched them both into a forward tuck and roll, his other hand coming up to cup the back the back of her head and tuck her in tight against his chest. The world spun, and she heard the thump of his shoulders taking the brunt of the fall. She landed with her back to his chest, breathless but unharmed, staring up through the tangled pine branches as scudding storm clouds swept in to veil the stars. His chest heaved beneath her back. His arm held tight around her waist. And for one moment, the night alive with the sounds of their breathing and their competing heartbeats, she allowed herself a delicious shiver of fear. A moment to remember what it had been like before. Then he shifted under her, laying her down on the pine needles and springing up to brace above her, propped with his hands on either side of her head.

He’d lost his hood and his hat in the tumble, and even in the dark she could see him clearly: the deep-set blue eyes, the sharp lines of jaw and nose, the gleam of his teeth as he grinned. Delighted and easy, happier than he ever seemed to be anymore. She’d French braided his hair back at the apartment, tucked the tails up and tied them together with a bit of black ribbon; little wisps had come loose under his hat, silky black flyaways that stood up like a halo around the crown of his head. “Good evening, Lady le Strange,” he said, the words formal, his voice dark and velvety. His accent was still English-royalty crisp, like he’d just flown over from London. No amount of time in the States could dull it, and for that she was supremely grateful. (He’d confessed to her once that he hoped she never lost her Old South drawl, so she supposed they were even on that score.) “Baron Strange,” she returned, biting back a chuckle, her own smile wide enough to make her face hurt. He put on a fierce mock scowl, a smile trying to crack through. “Do you always laugh when you’re accosted by strange men in the woods?” “Do you always make such horrible puns that involve your own name?” “Maybe.

” He leaned in low, breath ghosting across her lips, close enough to taste the vital heat of his mouth without actually touching. He lingered there a moment, his lashes dark fans against his cheeks, his nose nudging up against hers. Then he ducked his head and fastened his mouth to her throat, that tender pale place just beneath the hinge of her jaw. He pressed in with his teeth, just enough for her to feel the too-sharp points of his canines, but not a true bite. Anna smoothed her hands down the back of his head, the two orderly plaits woven tight against his scalp, the sleek, heavy softness of his gorgeous hair all bound up tight. Her heart gave an unsteady bump and she arched up, leaning into his mouth, into the weight of his chest above hers. “Baby.” “Hmm, not baby,” he murmured against her skin. “A scary strange man in the forest, remember?” “Oh, right, right.” She bit her lip to keep from laughing aloud.

“Ooh, scary strange man, whatever will you do to me?” she asked, drawl coming out extra-thick. Scarlett O’Hara dramatic. He snorted and pulled back, expression stern, but eyes dancing as he looked down at her again. “You’re terrible.” “Yes, but I’d really like you to kiss me.” His gaze softened. His voice did too. “That can be arranged.” No teasing this time; he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers, easy and sweet, full of all the softness he sometimes didn’t know how to express with words. She loved when he was sweet like this, careful and gentle, like she was made of spun glass.

Or, rather, like he didn’t trust himself; or maybe didn’t trust that she wanted him, that she craved him like sunshine and chocolate and red wine. But it hurt her a little, too, when he was careful, because it reminded her of what he’d been like before, in those first early days when they realized that the inescapable thing growing between them wasn’t violence, but lust. Deep, true, animal lust that had nothing to do with his stuffy, buttoned-up British denial of the wolf that lived beneath his skin. So even if she loved sweet, she loved real more. Wanted him to be the real him; to be wild with her. She skimmed her hands down his neck, his back, settled them over his ass. She hooked her legs around his hips and pulled him down into the cradle of hers, grinding against him, the bulge already forming behind the fly of his jeans. He gasped, and the kiss turned sloppy. His hips kicked against hers. He made a ragged sound against her mouth, half-moan, half-growl, a deep rumble in his chest that vibrated through bone and skin; she felt it at the base of her throat.

“There he is,” she whispered against the corner of his mouth. “I don’t want a stranger. I want my husband.” He lifted his head, and his eyes blazed in the dark, their pretty blue color now electric, glowing, their brilliance pulsing in time to his heart, where it throbbed against her breasts. The sound that moved up his throat wasn’t anything a human could make. She whined in response, tipped her head back on the pine needles and showed him her throat. She would have loved the hot gust of his breath across her skin anyway, but she needed it, too, the way it made her hot all over, left her wet and desperate. People had no idea, no idea how at all, how much more intense and amazing it was when it wasn’t just a boyfriend, or a husband, but your mate. They had rings, and certificates, and fucking noble titles to make it official, but none of those came close to touching what it meant to be mates. In a world that had tried to convince wolves that they were supposed to be alone, no less.

He sat up on his knees and growled again – lower, hungrier. His hands, long-fingered and white and beautiful, moved deftly down the front of her body. Pushing up her shirt, tugging down her jeans and shoes all in one go. It was a warm night, but the air was warmer than her overheated skin and she lifted into the caress of the breeze, wishing it was his hands instead. There were nights for taking it slow, dragging it out for hours, but tonight wasn’t one of them. Her heart felt like it had relocated down between her legs, her pulse strongest there, where she wanted him most. “Baby, come on.” “Don’t rush me.” But he was breathless, the tendons standing out in his neck. He tugged his hoodie over his head and spread it out on the ground, which gave her a chance to admire the way his shoulders looked in his gray tank top.

“Here.” He lifted her hips – she whined at the contact, needing more, needing all their skin to touch – and repositioned her onto the sweatshirt. “Such a gentleman,” she said, groaning, laughing. “Baby, I don’t care. Come on.” “See if I try to make you comfortable again,” he griped, but a smile teased at the corners of his mouth. “I could be more comfortable.” She hooked her legs around his narrow hips and dragged him in close, hissing a little at the friction of his jeans against her damp sex. He hissed too, hands finding her waist and clamping down hard, hips bucking forward in an involuntary little movement. They stayed like that a moment, panting, not wanting it to end too soon.

“Ready?” she asked. “Yeah.” She sat up and climbed into his lap, both of them working to open his jeans and bring his cock out. He steadied himself with one hand, the other on her waist, and she sank down slow, slow, relishing the stretch, the moment when she was full and her lungs and heart stopped working, like her body had to take a second to acknowledge that he was inside her, where he belonged. “Oh,” he said, a wounded gasp against her cheek. He kissed her there, sucked a little love bite along her jaw. “Darling.” “I know.” She threaded her fingers into the weave of his braids, wrecking them, her elbows braced on his shoulders for leverage. She lifted up a fraction, just a little, and sank down again.

Not wanting to pull off too far, wanting to be joined completely. Their bare stomachs were pressed together, her aching nipples crushed against his chest. Skin was so important, the heat and scent and vital life in it. He nuzzled at her ear and murmured a wordless question, a little inquiring animal huff. She answered in kind, the sound pressed to his temple. He gathered her close and laid her down on the sweatshirt, pulling her legs even tighter around his hips. Kissed her mouth, wet and hungry, and withdrew almost all the way, slid back in on a strong, sure thrust that lifted her back off the forest floor. He fucked her with the sureness of long habit, but it was always sweet, always slick, and wicked, and perfect, as essential as breathing. She clamped down on his shoulder with her teeth, gripped his ass with both hands, growled at him. He growled back, his thrusts frenetic, his breath hot against her throat.

Just like animals, clawing and straining and whimpering, leaving dark crescents in one another’s flesh. She bit down hard when she came, the copper tang of blood seeping through his shirt. He returned the favor, his shout muffled against the side of her throat. He soothed the mark with his tongue, after, as they came down from the peak. Their hearts thundering together, his cock softening inside her. They could go again, if they wanted, but not here, in the woods. For now it was just nice to bask a little, breathe in the sex and sweat smell of each other. Be content in the knowledge of each other, their bond. Finally, groaning a little, he slid off and stretched out beside her, hand making idle patterns across the flat of her stomach. She turned her head to smile at him and found him smiling back, his expression soft and a little spacey.

She loved him like this, after sex, when he looked most vulnerable. “Happy birthday, baby,” Annabel said, reaching to trace his smile with a fingertip. Fulk bit playfully at the end of her finger. “How does it feel to be married to an old man?” “Same as it always has.” Her heart throbbed, warm and heavy and wonderful. “Amazing.” ~*~ Fulk le Strange, the first Baron Strange of Blackmere, lived in a converted attic space at the top of a sprawling Victorian house in Nowheresville, Georgia with his baroness, Annabel. The storm had rolled in on their walk back from Walgreens and lightning strobed beyond the high dormer windows. The lights flickered, a branch dancing on a power line somewhere. If they lost power, they wouldn’t need to light the candles scattered along the plate rail at the top of the wainscoting – they could see just fine in the dark without them.

But it was a lovely aesthetic. Speaking of candles… Anna pressed three into the center of the chocolate birthday cake she’d baked earlier, grinning ear-to-ear as she struck a match and lit them. “Darling, I neither want nor need a birthday cake,” Fulk protested. “It’s bloody ridiculous.” “Birthdays are not ridiculous,” she said, giving him a stern but loving look. God, he loved the sound of her voice, still, after all this time. He loved her little pixie face, soft in the glow of the candles, the dark spill of hair down her back. The glimmer of his mother’s diamonds in her ears. “Especially not landmark birthdays.” “But, darling…” “Hush and blow out your candles.

” She slid the cake plate across the table toward him. The candles were blue, number-shaped. A seven, a five, and a zero. She said, “Happy seven-hundred-and-fifty, handsome.” He smiled, despite himself, and blew them out in a single breath. ~*~ Their city probably wasn’t actually a city: one red light, an intersection bisected by train tracks, and flanked on both sides by locally-owned businesses. A tattoo parlor, a tavern, several clothes boutiques. A vape shop, a bait shop, and an authentic butcher shop. A Mexican restaurant with a patio strung with lights where they had fajitas and Coronas every Friday. Anna liked to thumb through old vinyls in the secondhand store, and shop for antiques in the close-walled, pleasant-smelling shop next door to it.

Their attic overlooked a sleepy neighborhood full of single-story cottages that had once been built to house the mill workers – a mill long-since shut down. Lawns were weedy and cars were junky, and it was perfect. When they first moved in, they earned some curious looks – well, Fulk did. Anna was sweet, and Southern, and adorable, and she fit right in. But Fulk, with his long black hair and his aristocratic features, and his British accent got a bit of curious attention. Eventually, though, the locals had decided he wasn’t all that exciting and they left him alone. Around the city proper was a ring of chain businesses, fast food places and the Walgreens they’d gone to tonight, where the employees drove in from Carrollton or Douglasville, and didn’t know him. Like that poor cashier who’d thought he was a sex predator trying to abduct a college girl. The real abduction had been a long time ago. And not entirely true, he didn’t guess.

The truth had been more sinister, actually. But Anna had never been a victim. She snuggled up beside him on the sofa and he turned his face to nose into her hair, scent her. She still smelled like sex and pine needles and a thunderstorm. “Want to take a bath?” he asked. The clawfoot tub was just big enough for the two of them. “Mm. Yeah. After this episode.” His girl loved her Seinfeld reruns.

Rain fell against the roof and the windowpanes, sealing them in together in their den of antiques and crumbling books and the nail polish bottles lined up in the dormer ledges. It was all so ordinary and human; the only monsters were them, just the way he liked it.

.

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