Just to warn you, there's some sex up ahead. Or rather, some implied sex. It's pretty tame compared to my usual. Though I don't know if anyone actually remembers what constitutes my "usual." Oh, well.

Happy reading.


Small Town Wolf

by Paige Evans

Chapter Seven

If Audrey hadn't known beforehand that the house was home to one of the largest wolf packs in the state, she wouldn't have believed it. Everything just looked so...normal. The house was an old farmhouse—they were practically a dime a dozen in Kentucky. The old barn was still in tact, sitting a few yards across a dirt expanse from the house. And out behind it, as far as the eye could see, were fields that eventually disappeared into trees. It was very beautiful, but very ordinary. Then again, Audrey could see why ordinary would be important to the wolves. They'd want to blend in as much as possible, and they were doing a damn good job of it, if even Audrey, a werewolf herself, had thought the place looked utterly human.

She and Eli had been running all night—she was too tired to change back into her wolf form, which was, according to Eli, the form she needed to approach the house in. She'd slept in human form, and found that she was too exhausted to make the appropriate change back. He'd been annoyed, of course—when did she ever do things to suit him?—and had grumbled about how he'd have to approach the house on his own and then ask for sanctuary before the scouts found her and attacked her, thinking she was a spy or something equally ridiculous.

As she'd listened to him, Audrey had discovered that she really didn't care about the pack and its rules. It wasn't her pack, after all.

The golden wolf at her side gave her an eloquent, human-like look which plainly said, Stay here. Audrey didn't need to be told twice. She dropped to the ground, leaning against a tree trunk. She was tempted to close her eyes, sure she could fall asleep right there and not feel bad about it.

She heard the rustling of leaves and the soft thud of paws against the earth as the golden wolf emerged from the bushes, approaching the house slowly and respectfully. She didn't open her eyes to watch. She didn't want to see how the pack wolves would welcome Eli with open arms. It pained her to know that he had a history here. They were essentially his family. What was she? She didn't have a place here; she knew that. And when the hunter had been taken care of...

How could she stand leaving this place when Eli would be staying?

But Audrey didn't like to think about that. She just wanted to be near him for as long as she could, and when she left, well, she'd cross that bridge when she came to it. And then she'd burn it. And she'd never look back. It was the only way she'd live through it.

Did she want Eli? The answer to that was a big, fat yes. Did Eli want her? She knew the answer to that was yes, as well. Those were the easy questions.

Did she love Eli? Love was a very strong word. Audrey wasn't sure she'd ever loved anyone, except maybe her mother, back when she was still human. Could werewolves love? At least, could they love beings that weren't werewolves themselves? She couldn't answer those questions, so she had no idea if she loved Eli or not. She wanted him so badly that sometimes it hurt, and she knew she would be devastated when she was separated from him again. If that was love, then yeah, she supposed she loved him.

But did he love her? Obviously he felt something for her—whether it was guilt at turning her into a werewolf, a sense of duty as her supernatural parent, or something else entirely, she wasn't sure. She didn't know if it was love. It didn't seem likely. And if it was love, it couldn't be the sort of love that she wanted it to be, that she needed it to be. Could it?

Audrey growled to herself. What had happened to wanting to keep a distance? The hunter had happened, that's what. She'd been perfectly fine with keeping her distance from Eli, until she'd gotten caught in that damnable trap and he'd had to save her, yet again. It seemed that no matter what, no matter how much she knew she was going to end up getting hurt, the universe just kept pushing her closer to Eli. It wasn't fair.

Audrey still had her eyes closed when she heard a rustling in the bushes once more. "So, what did they say?" she asked, not even looking at him. The only response she got was a growl.

Her eyes flew open, startled. Standing in front of her was a wolf that was most definitely not Eli. This wolf was black, like her, but it was much larger than she was in wolf form. Its fur was shaggy and matted, like it lived out in the wild most of the time. Drool fell from his open jaw to mix with the dirt beneath its feet.

A human might have been frightened at the sight of such a monster growling at them, but Audrey wasn't human anymore and all it did was anger her. She growled back and if one had looked at her just then, one would have gotten the unmistakable impression of bristling fur.

Even as her more primal thought processes started to take over, there was still a very human part of her mind that was telling her it would be a very bad idea to attack one of these werewolves on its own turf. But the part of her that was an animal argued that the beast had provoked her first, and she had every right to defend herself.

Audrey rose fluidly into a crouch. She could feel her very bones aching to change. What she wouldn't give to attack this wolf and teach it a lesson. But she couldn't. She was a stranger here, she couldn't attack it. She had to show it that she meant no harm. She couldn't do that if she didn't stop acting like the wolf and start acting like a human. Or, at least, thinking like a human while she continued to act like a wolf.

Relaxing her muscles so that she didn't appear tense, Audrey held out her good hand to the snarling werewolf, palm up, wrist exposed.

"I'm a friend," she said quietly. She didn't know what else to say. It wasn't like she remembered much about her crash course in werewolf etiquette back at the hospital.

The werewolf didn't understand what she was saying; either that, or it just didn't care. It snarled some more, even snapping at her hand—it would have bitten her had she not retracted the limb quickly.

All right, that was it. If the wolf didn't want to play nice, then Audrey wouldn't play nice, either. A growl bubbled up from her throat and once again she moved into a menacing crouch, preparing to shift forms, adrenaline fueling her power.

Suddenly, though, she was pulled up and back against a warm body. She immediately recognized Eli's scent as it swirled around her, but she was still breathing heavily, her muscles quivering his hands as she straddled the edge between human and wolf. "Audrey, calm down," he hissed in her ear. He sounded angry, but she soon found out that the anger was not directed at her for once.

"Jared, what the hell do you think you're doing?" he practically bellowed, still holding onto Audrey but directing his glare to the shaggy black wolf standing before them.

The werewolf in question shifted, changing into a tall African American man, dreadlocks that accounted for the shaggy fur around his skull hanging into his eyes. "I didn't know her," he said casually, as if that atoned for his attitude. "You didn't tell us you were bringing her back with you."

Audrey turned to glare at Eli, about to say something, but the firm set of his mouth was a clear indication of "not now" if there ever was one. He looked very capable of ripping her head off—literally—and not feeling bad about it.

"I didn't realize," he said tersely, still speaking to Jared, "that I needed permission to bring my—" he paused. He'd almost said "she-wolf," but at the last minute had realized that he wasn't sure what Audrey's reaction would be to that. Knowing what she was feeling right now, he decided the reaction probably wouldn't be good. "To bring another wolf back with me," he finished lamely. The wolf called Jared smirked.

"And what did the Alphas say about this?" he asked, looking pointedly at Audrey.

Eli's smile was frightening. "That they were most eager to meet her, and I should waste no time in bringing her inside," he said.

Jared's jaw was set, and Audrey realized she'd just watched something pass between the two wolves, though she had no idea what it was. "Then let's not keep the Alphas waiting," Jared muttered, moving smoothly past them. Eli grabbed Audrey's arm and followed.

"You're hurting me!" Audrey exclaimed when she started to feel her bone creak from the pressure of his hand.

"What were you trying to prove back there?!" Eli hissed underneath his breath, trying to keep any of the other wolves around—Jared included—from hearing their conversation.

"I tried being nice!" Audrey insisted softly. "He wouldn't back down!"

"You've got to be careful here," Eli told her, his expression softening by degrees. "They don't think like you do."

"And who do you think like, Eli?" she questioned meaningfully. He remained silent, and pulled her into the house as Jared held the door open for them.

The inside of the house was not as she expected it to be, either. Clean and relatively neat—nothing like her home, which could have still used a good sprucing up, despite how many hours she and Eli had put into cleaning it after the storm—the only clue that the house belonged to werewolves happened to be the large number of wolf trinkets resting on various shelves. Pictures of wolves, little statues; there were all sorts of wolf-related things in the house. It sort of ruined the whole illusion that any old humans could be living in the house; at least, the illusion was ruined for Audrey.

Well, that wasn't entirely true. Audrey might still have thought that some eccentric humans owned the house, were it not for the undeniably earthy, musky smell of werewolf that had permeated every fabric in sight, from the carpet to the draperies. Some scents just didn't come out, especially when you had a super-human nose.

She felt a tug on her good arm and realized, embarrassed, that she'd simply stopped right in the middle of the small foyer area. She gave Eli an apologetic look and let him lead her into the parlor. She had never been in a house with an actual parlor before. This house had to be even older than she'd originally thought.

Immediately upon entering the room, Audrey's attention was drawn to the opposite wall. Two of the most beautiful people she'd ever seen—a man and a woman—were sitting in ornate chairs, watching them with cool eyes. Immediately Eli, and Jared, who'd followed them inside, dropped to their knees, holding out their wrists. Audrey knew better than to hesitate. She knelt down and held out her good arm once more, still favoring her injured wrist.

The woman stood. The man made no move to acknowledge them at all. Audrey knew to keep her head down, so all she saw was the woman's dainty bare feet as she approached. Suddenly slender fingers were underneath Audrey's chin, drawing her gaze up. The woman had fair skin and long, blonde hair. She looked like an angel, or a goddess. Even her tank-top and shorts were white, adding to the image. Audrey suddenly felt very self-conscious, standing naked in the middle of this room, when she was nowhere near as beautiful as this creature. She wanted to move to cover herself up, but even she knew that was a big no-no.

"Oh, Elijah," the female Alpha breathed, her voice slightly tinged by a French accent, "is this the pup?"

"She's hardly a pup anymore, Ally," said the man, the other Alpha.

The woman, Ally, smiled. "True," she said. "You all may stand." Eli and Jared stood right away, but Audrey moved more slowly, disconcerted by the fact that the woman still had a hand on her. Audrey didn't like being touched like that, not by strangers.

As they stood, the man stood also, and joined them. "Eli," he said, his voice calm but commanding, "a word."

"Ah," said Ally, looking at Audrey. "That is—how do you say?—our cue." With a smile, she took Audrey's hand and began leading the poor confused werewolf towards the stairs. Audrey shot a look back at Eli, to see what he thought of all this, but he wasn't watching her. His eyes were fixed on the male Alpha. So much for him, she thought glumly as Ally continued to pull at her good hand.

Ally took Audrey all the way down the second-story hallway, stopping at the end, where there were no more doors. Audrey vaguely wondered what the hell the angelic werewolf was doing, but then she noticed that there was a string hanging from the ceiling. Ally pulled on the string and part of the ceiling gave way, a ladder sliding down to the floor. Ally was halfway up the ladder before she realized Audrey wasn't following her. "Well, come on, pup," she smiled, speaking over her shoulder. Audrey found she had no choice but to follow—there was something instantly likable about the female Alpha.

"This is Eli's room," Ally explained.

"The attic?" Audrey couldn't help but ask. She wasn't surprised, though—it seemed so Eli.

"Yes," Ally laughed. "He is not fond of sleeping so close to the other wolves."

Audrey snorted.

"I will go find you some clothes," Ally said. "There is no point in getting cleaned up. We're hunting when it gets dark." With that, she started back down the ladder.

Audrey was already changing into the denim cut-offs and black tank-top Ally had given her when Eli returned from his face-to-face with the male Alpha. Of course, Audrey didn't know he was there at first. He was standing on the ladder, watching the way her back curved as she pulled the tank-top over her head. As she straightened the cloth around her waist, she turned, catching sight of him, and let out a small scream.

"Jumpy for a werewolf, aren't you?" Eli muttered, coming the rest of the way up the ladder.

Something about the comment grated on Audrey's nerves. "Well, you know, Elijah," she said, putting a horrible emphasis on his name, "it hasn't been the best week. I escaped from a hospital, revealed to my boss that I'm a werewolf, and I've got some maniacal hunter who is trying to kill me for no reason! So excuse me if I don't have the nerves of steel that werewolves are supposed to have!"

Eli just looked at her. His jaw was set, and there was a tick in his face. Audrey cringed; she hated it when he was this angry, and all that anger was directed at her, but she wouldn't take back what she'd said. They needed this. Needed this distance. It was the only way. If she didn't start withdrawing now, she never would.

He moved past her silently—Audrey had to wonder if he was not dignifying her with an answer, or if he was just ignoring her; they were the same thing, really, but with the former, she couldn't justify herself by thinking he was childish.

She left him rummaging through drawers, presumably so that he could put some form of clothing on, and left the attic, going down the ladder so quickly she almost lost her balance—and that was saying something, for a werewolf.

Of course, she was in a strange place, and so didn't know of anywhere that she could go to be alone. She opted for outside. She started down the hallway towards the stairs, but just as she turned the corner, someone was stepping onto the landing. Audrey skittered to a halt, almost running into whoever it was.

"Oh, sorry," Audrey muttered, attempting to go around them, but a hand on her wrist—her hurt wrist—stopped her. She hissed in pain at the not-so-gentle contact.

Audrey found herself staring up into glittering brown eyes. She'd always thought brown eyes should be warm, but these were like dark ice, sharp and jagged. The woman herself was beautiful, but deadly-looking. Audrey didn't think she'd want to meet this chick in a dark alley.

"So," the woman sneered, looking Audrey up and down with a calculated glance, "you're the pup."

Audrey glowered. She wished they would stop calling her that.

"And you are?" Audrey bit out. She couldn't help it. First that Jared dude, then Eli, and now this?

The woman just smirked; apparently Audrey's anger amused her. "Star," she said. "I'm the pack's détenteur."

Audrey just looked at her. "I studied Spanish in high school," she deadpanned, and tried to move past Star again. She pulled her injured wrist from the woman's grasp and started down the stairs. She was halfway down when Star called out to her:

"I don't know what he sees in you."

Wordlessly, Audrey stopped and turned back to look at her. She could feel her mouth hanging open in sheer disbelief—how dare she have the audacity to say such a thing to Audrey!

"I mean," Star continued, like she wanted to rub some more salt into the wound. "I can understand biting you by accident. He was weak, dying. But to go back for you after all this time? I don't understand."

It was in that moment that Audrey understood. This Star woman was jealous, jealous of the bond that Audrey had with Eli. She was jealous that, even after twelve years, he'd gone back for her. Granted, it had only been because she was being threatened by a hunter, but in Star's mind, he shouldn't have gone back at all. Audrey had to wonder: did Eli have some sort of thing with Star? Or at least, did he used to have some sort of thing with her? It would explain the hostility in her eyes as she looked at Audrey.

The words were coming out of Audrey's mouth before she even knew what she was saying: "I can't change the fact that he chose me."

Of course, he hadn't chosen her, not really, anyway, but Star didn't need to know that.

Star's eyes bled quickly to wolf yellow, glowing menacingly as she took a step towards Audrey. "He hasn't chosen you, pup, not yet. I'm sure that after tonight's hunt, he'll realize that you don't belong here. This is pack country."

Before Audrey could retaliate—which was probably a good thing, considering that she was more likely to attack Star physically than verbally at this point—Eli appeared at her side. "Hello, Star," he greeted, the words stiff and lifeless.

"Hello, Eli," Star purred.

Eli didn't say anything else to her. He led Audrey down the stairs, his hand on her elbow. "I'm still mad at you," she hissed as they walked, hoping her voice was low enough that the other wolves in the house couldn't tell what she was saying.

"What else is new?" retorted Eli.

Once again, Audrey found herself in the parlor of the old house. The Alphas were there—Ally and her mysterious, unnamed counterpart. The wolf Jared was there and Star took a place beside him. Apart from the four of them, there were six others that Audrey had not been introduced to yet; three men, and three women.

Ally was beaming as she looked around the room. "Look at us," she said. "Together again, one big, happy family."

Star snorted. Audrey cringed. Star was right—she didn't belong here, and she never would. She was just fucking up a dynamic that already worked perfectly on its own.

At least she wouldn't be sticking around long. Only until they took care of that pesky hunter.

Audrey was nervous about the hunt.

That wasn't to say she'd never hunted before. Obviously, she'd been hunting before. But she'd never gone with a pack, and therein lied the problem. She was sure there were probably a lot of rules involved in hunting with a pack. Audrey had never been one for rules; then again, she didn't want to make herself look bad in front of the pack. Well, that wasn't entirely true. She didn't want to look bad in front of Eli, not when he had the entire pack nearby to compare her to. Was he already comparing her to them? Was he already beginning to see how coming to find her had been a mistake? She wasn't anything like them—how could he chose her over a pack wolf, like the insanely beautiful Star?

Audrey was standing with the rest of the wolves out in the back yard, facing the corn fields which seemed never-ending. She wondered how long it would take her to run those fields to the trees beyond. It would be an exhilarating run, she already knew that much.

Beside her, Eli practically thrummed with excitement. He'd missed this, she could tell. He'd missed them. She tried not to think about that too much. Would he miss her just as much when she was gone? It seemed unlikely.

Audrey didn't know what it was, but suddenly it was like she'd been given a silent signal. Something had happened and she simply knew it was time. Ally and her companion—whose name, Audrey had learned, was David—moved forward, shedding their clothes slowly as they entered the field. The others in the pack followed suit. Audrey had made a point to learn their names before the hunt; it hadn't really surprised her to learn that they were all together, as in they were all couples. There were the brothers, Lance and Luka, and their mates Maggie and Angela, then Maggie's sister Bella and her mate Charlie. And then, of course, Eli, Audrey, Star, and Jared constituted the odd ones out. No one truly mates, but too much tension between them to be ignored.

Jared was the first to follow the crowd, his dreadlocks swinging as he excitedly removed his clothes, his skin already moving with the change. Audrey felt highly uncomfortable with what she'd been left with: Eli beside her, and on his other side, Star. The three of them moved forward at once.

Star slipped breezily out of the simple, white cotton dress she wore. Audrey was not quite so graceful, pulling off a tank-top and denim shorts. Eli seemed to ignore both of them as his sweatpants slipped off of his hips.

The three of them took off into the field. The run started with everyone in human form, working up the adrenaline so that the change would be completely smooth. Audrey stared straight ahead; she could see Ally and David running side-by-side. Their hands were clasped together. Audrey was in awe, but at the same time, sickened. Too sweet. She couldn't see herself holding hands with Eli while they ran.

Not like there'd ever be a possibility for that now, but still.

Up ahead, Ally let go of David's hand, running ahead of him. She jumped into the air, and in one fluid motion shifted into a small tawny wolf. David quickly followed suit. The others were not far behind him.

Audrey felt the air shift around her as Eli started to change. Star was right along with him. Audrey glowered; the bitch even made shifting look like it was the easiest thing in the world. Audrey, determined not to be outdone, sprang forward. The shift itself was easy enough; it was the landing that got her. She'd forgotten about her injured wrist; hitting the ground at a run in wolf-form was not the greatest thing for her.

The black wolf whined in pain when it hit the ground. A sinewy wolf with chestnut fur looked back at her and let out a bark-like sound that would have reminded human ears of a laugh. The golden wolf nuzzled his she-wolf and kept running.

Soon the pack was running through the forest, a collective mind focused only on the hunt. They scoured the woods, but game was scarce this time of year, especially after the recent disaster. Eventually, though, the pack came across the scent of a deer along the creek. The shaggy black wolf went ahead, scouting the scent. When his howl pierced the wintry air, the other wolves took off in the direction he'd gone. The hunt was finally on.

The black wolf ran wildly and freely; she hadn't felt so alive in a long time. There was nothing like running without having to be careful of humans being nearby. There was nothing like running with a pack. She was tired of being alone. She didn't want to go back to that. She focused on her paws hitting the ground and told the human part of her to shut up.

The pack cornered the lone deer in a clearing not far from where the creek flowed into the river. They moved as one, a systematic machine, each with an equal part in taking down the prey. The black wolf didn't even have to think about the differences between hunting alone and hunting with a pack; everything she did was instinctual.

The members of the pack took turns tearing at the deer—none of the wolves truly ate, because they did not hunt to feed; this was simply their reward.

The black wolf, its shaggy counterpart, the golden wolf, and the chestnut wolf—all being of the same rank, even if the black wolf was only of that rank by association to the golden wolf—went together to the deer's carcass, just to push their noses into the blood and feel the life escaping.

As the wolves worried at the corpse of the deer, the black wolf couldn't help but notice how the chestnut wolf nuzzled and rubbed itself against the golden wolf. A growl started in the back of the black wolf's throat. Didn't that chestnut bitch know the golden wolf was taken?

The three wolves surrounding the black wolf looked up at the growl; and it seemed the whole clearing had gone still, all of the other wolves in the pack wondering what was going on.

The black wolf stared defiantly at the chestnut one, with the golden wolf looking worriedly between the two. The chestnut wolf just sat back on its haunches and stared back, as if to say, Bring it on.

It was a very real possibility that the black wolf would have attacked the chestnut wolf, had the one with the golden fur not appeared at the black wolf's side. His presence seemed to calm her, and the growl in her throat died down. However, the weight of the air suggested that this had been a victory for the chestnut wolf, not the black wolf. That was too much for the black wolf. Something in her snapped, and she did attack.

She leaped over the ripped-open corpse and landed right on the chestnut wolf, her teeth sinking into its neck. The chestnut wolf howled and rounded on the black wolf, snapping at the one of the black wolf's back legs. The golden wolf, as well as the shaggy black one, rushed into the fight, hoping to end things before the two she-wolves truly injured one another. The mass of fur and gnashing teeth shifted until Eli and Jared each had a gnarling beast in their arms, trying to keep the she-wolves at bay. Star shifted first. She struggled against Jared, smiling and looking like she was ready to fight to the death right then and there. The black wolf wriggled its way out of Eli's arms and with a howl fled the scene.

Audrey emerged from the corn field a few minutes later, dirt-streaked with leaves tangled in her short, black hair. She paced towards the house, hands in her hair like she was inclined to tear it out of her skull.

Why did Star bother her so much? Audrey had no claim on Eli whatsoever—other than the fact that he'd turned her, but then their relationship should have been nothing but familial if it was anything at all. However, seeing Star all over Eli, even in wolf form, had been almost too much for Audrey to take. She didn't want to be reminded that there had been something there. In her twelve year absence from Eli's life, he'd obviously moved on to better things.

Audrey felt like crying. How could he possibly want her when he had someone like Star waiting for him here?

Frowning, Audrey thought back to the scene at her house. She and Eli had almost had sex then. He hadn't wanted to stop—it was Audrey that had pushed him away. Obviously the sense of duty he felt towards her, coupled with the adrenaline from escaping the hospital, had put his hormones into overdrive.

Audrey heard the cornstalks rustling behind her and she knew who it was without even having to turn around. She felt the air shift as he reached his hand out to her.

"Go away," she snapped, and started walking back to the house.

"Audrey," Eli groaned, following after her. "Don't pay attention to Star—it was nothing."

"Oh, yeah?" Audrey whirled back to face him. "If it was nothing, why didn't you move away? Stop her or something?"

Eli had the good sense to look embarrassed, but his words didn't help his plight any as he said: "It just doesn't work that way, Audrey."

Audrey didn't know what she'd wanted him to say, but that wasn't it. "Oh, yeah, I forgot—all your stupid werewolf traditions and rules. It's a wonder I've survived this long!"

Eli was a little dumbfounded. He could only stare at Audrey, unsure of what to say. With a bitter hmph Audrey turned on her heel and headed towards the house again. This time Eli made no move to stop her.

He stared at her retreating form as she angrily grabbed her discarded shorts and tank-top, clomped her way up the porch steps, and the slammed the front door behind her so forcefully that the panes of glass in the window rattled.

He wearily ran a hand through his blonde hair. It seemed that every time he turned around, he was fighting with Audrey. She frustrated the hell out of him, and yet... He regretted the fact that he'd waited so long to find her. Twelve years was much too long to stay away, especially when she was so young and confused. He could have helped her control it; things in her life could have been so different if only he'd been there to teach her. It was a regret he would have for the rest of his life.

A growl escaped Eli's throat when he felt a presence behind him. Star appeared at his side; she was smirking.

"This is all your fault," Eli growled, his voice the two-toned voice of a wolf trying to fight the change. He felt like attacking Star right then and there.

"She's not one of us, Eli," Star said in a very matter-of-fact tone. "She'd never survive here. You know that as well as I do."

"You're just jealous," Eli ground out.

Star scoffed. "Of her? Hardly. I just don't want you to waste your life away on someone weaker than what you deserve."

Eli rounded on her. "So who should I waste my life away on?" he asked. "You? Hardly."

Star's jaw clenched, and she looked as though she was about to argue back, but Eli just shook his head at her, and grabbed the pants he had been wearing before the hunt, jogging towards the house so that he didn't have to listen to her anymore.

It probably wasn't the safest place to flee to, all things considered, but it was the only room in the house Audrey knew of where she wouldn't be disturbed.

Eli's room.

She was lying on the bed, and she tried not to think about the fact that even after the time he'd spent away with her, it still retained his scent, which surrounded and threatened to choke her.

She turned onto her side and pressed her face into his pillow; she thought about screaming into the fabric. None of this was fair. Her life had been perfectly fine before he came along. Boring, yes, but she hadn't been half as miserable then as she was now. Before, she'd been blissfully unaware of everything that was wrong—now, after having tasted what things could have been like for her, it seemed impossible to go back to her old, boring life and have everything be the same.

Audrey wondered how she'd survive such a thing. If she'd survive such a thing.

Of course she would. Audrey was a survivor. She survived the first sixteen years of her life, with her parents fighting and her father's betrayal. She survived becoming a werewolf all by herself, without anyone there to help her through what was happening. She survived twelve years of being the werewolf alone. She would survive the next however many years it was until her life ended, because that's what she did. No matter how much life sucked, she survived.

It was getting dark outside by the time Audrey heard the unmistakable sound of the door being opened and the attic ladder being pulled down. Again, she didn't have to turn around to know who it was, but she didn't have the energy to be angry right now. She felt drained. So she didn't make a move to acknowledge him at all.

At first Eli didn't look at Audrey. He busied himself by pulling up the ladder and then making sure the door underneath was snapped firmly shut. And then he stayed crouched on the ground for a few minutes, collecting himself. As soon as he'd entered the attic he'd gotten an onslaught of Audrey's emotions, so much stronger than they had been before because he was near her now. It was almost too much, but he couldn't face her appearing so upset, so he had to compose himself before he did this.

The first thing Eli noticed when he turned around was that Audrey hadn't dressed when she came back inside. She was lying on his bed, naked, her back to him. As his eyes roamed over the gentle curve of her hip, he felt all the blood in his body rush to the area below his belt. It was times like this that he marveled how he'd ever been able to stay away for so long. Everything he'd ever felt like he'd been missing was with her—he'd been an idiot not to see it sooner. He was hardly aware of what he was doing as he went to the edge of the bed, unbuttoning his pants and letting them fall to the floor as he went.

Audrey closed her eyes as she felt his come closer. She tensed as the mattress dipped; he was getting on the bed with her! She wasn't sure how she felt about that, so she remained silent and unmoving. Her muscles tensed even more, if that was possible, when he put a warm arm around her waist and pulled her back against him. She tried not to think about the fact that his maleness, hot to the touch and impossibly hard, was pressed against her backside.

Eli drew her close and nuzzled the pale skin of her neck. He noted that her hair was damp, and that the gentle scents of shampoo and soap clung to her skin from where she'd showered. The clean scents, coupled with the way her skin naturally smelled to him, was intoxicating. He growled and nipped gently at the skin of her shoulder.

It took every ounce of Audrey's willpower not to shiver at the feel of his teeth against her skin, and she couldn't help the little bit of anger that bubbled up in her. Was this his solution? Why did sex have to be called on to solve everything? She didn't want to sleep with him now; she wanted to yell and scream and perhaps kick his teeth in. Almost on a whim Audrey pulled away from him, sitting up shakily and getting on her knees.

Eli looked up at her, wondering what in the world was going on with her. He could admit that he was a little surprised when her fist connected with his nose, which shattered under the force of her punch. When he looked back up at her, the lower half of his face was covered in blood and his eyes were glowing wolf yellow.

"What was that for?" he snarled, sitting up.

"You know damn well what it was for!" Audrey yelled. "You think you can just come in here and act all...you-ish and I'll just be okay with everything? Well I'm not okay with everything, Eli. I'm far from okay!"

"You got that right!" he yelled back. "You're fucking insane! If this is about Star, then—"

Eli never got to finish his sentence, because Audrey back-handed him with such force that he toppled off the bed.

"How dare you even mention her now right now!" she screeched.

With a growl Eli reached up and grabbed her good wrist, pulling her down to the floor with him. She hit the hardwood with such force that the breath was momentarily knocked out of her. "If you'd fucking listen for a minute..." he hissed, but Audrey was already up. If her eyes weren't glowing before, they definitely were now as she lunged for him.

She knocked him onto his back and ended up straddling his waist, pinning him to the floor. She brought her fist back, presumably to punch him again, but he felt as if his face had endured enough, and grabbed her wrist. She whimpered at the force of his grip.

Once again Audrey became painfully aware of him against her. She stilled, just for a moment—a moment was all he needed. He flipped her onto her back and she found that with him there, settled between her legs, it was hard to breathe. She stared up at him—at his yellow eyes—and felt herself giving in. She couldn't keep saying no to him. No matter how hard it made things later on, she was tired of this. She was ready to let herself go.

Eli leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers. This kiss was nothing like the one at the hospital—this one was so much more. Emotions Audrey had no name for passed between them, and at the same time, he entered her without warning. She broke the kiss, arching against him. What happened next was a blur of teeth and half-shifted claws and wolf yellow eyes. And hours later, curled up beside him and bordering between consciousness and sleep, Audrey forgot what it was they had even been fighting about.