Carnal Secrets(2)

By: Suzanne Wright


Admittedly, she was the only thing that had stirred strong emotions in Nick. Much like his wolf, he could be hard, cold, and remote at times. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a conscience, and nor was it that he didn’t know the difference between right and wrong. But Nick seemed to lack a little something—like there had been a glitch in his emotional development that made it difficult for him to bond with others, to connect like they did. He felt emotion the same as everyone else—or the same as most, anyway. But bonding was something he found difficult.

Maybe it was hardly surprising. His wolf had surfaced too early, surfaced at a time when his mind and body hadn’t been ready. It would be much like a young child being plunged into the stages of puberty—it wasn’t something they were psychologically or biologically ready for, and it would undoubtedly have a fundamental effect on their development as a person: mentally, physically, and emotionally. As such, Nick was tainted and broken in so many ways. His mate, however, was much the opposite.

Shaya reminded him of a butterfly: colorful, vibrant, graceful, and always on the move. She had a certain grace and ease with people, could mingle in any crowd and charm them with her sassy attitude. Not that she was Little Miss Innocent. Oh no. He’d heard all about her legendary temper. He’d heard that she could be just as crazy as her best friend and Alpha female, Taryn. But, still, Shaya was sweet and perfect, and so different from him it was laughable.

He could still vividly remember the day he’d found her. It had been the mating ceremony of her Alpha pair, and he had offered to perform the ceremony for them. He’d had an itchy feeling all day, a knowing that something important was going to happen. The second his gaze had landed on the beautiful redhead, he’d known what she was to him. The impact of the realization had been like a blow to the chest; possessiveness, joy, and need had hit him all at once. The pressing urge to claim her had climbed all over him, entered every pore of his body, and invaded every cell…and it hadn’t left him. He craved her so badly that she was all he thought about, all he dreamed about. He itched with the need to have her, touch her, smell her, or even just be around her. The need could steal his breath, taunt his mind, and make his body restless. Basically, it was hell.

But the main reason he forced himself to endure that hell and resist claiming this one thing he wanted more than anything else was that she could find herself being burdened with a patient instead of a partner. His mother’s words rung in his head: The healing sessions are working, Nick. Don’t forsake your mate out of fear. You’re strong; you can fight this.

There weren’t many shifters whose animal surfaced prematurely, but each one of them shared something in common: their cognitive functions suffered for it in later life, slowly degenerating. There was no denying that the healing sessions were working for Nick. The headaches, memory lapses, muscle tremors, and episodes of mental disorientation had all eased off. In some cases of premature shifting amongst his kind, these degenerative aftereffects could be healed completely, but in some cases they couldn’t. As his mother had said, he was strong. But his mother was right about something else: that fear remained…that fear that the improvement was only temporary, that the problem would eventually return.

His pack healer had warned Nick that this could happen. If it did happen and he was mated to Shaya at the time, she would find herself being his caregiver as opposed to his partner, watching him slowly deteriorate until he didn’t even know who she was. He’d seen what it was like for his mother to live without a mate. She had survived the breaking of her true mate bond with his father after he died by centering her entire existence around her children, clinging to them like a lifeline. She was happy in her own way, but she was still lonely and only half alive. With Nick as her patient rather than her partner, Shaya would in effect be without a mate. He couldn’t bear the thought of his spirited Shaya only half alive.

Although he didn’t feel he could claim her, Nick was resolved that he would always watch over Shaya from a distance, always protect her. Her well-being would always be paramount to him. And that was exactly why he was, at that moment, in his SUV approaching the perimeter gates of Phoenix Pack territory. He needed to be sure that the “bad news” had no relation whatsoever to Shaya. He needed to know that it was not at all linked to her health or safety. And, yes, he could admit he needed to just see her, needed a small “fix.”

He knew it wasn’t fair to pry in her life if he wasn’t going to claim her, even if it was in an effort to protect her. In fact, her Beta pair—the only members of her pack, to Nick’s knowledge, who knew he and Shaya were mates—had quite rightly pointed this out. They had also warned him that if the Alpha pair found out, there was a good chance that a war between the packs would begin. But even that wasn’t enough to keep Nick away.

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