"Do you remember the first time you touched me?" he asked quietly, glancing over his shoulder. "So lightly. I don't think anyone's ever touched me like that. Like they wanted to touch more than my skin."

"Do you remember the first time you touched me?" I asked him, stepping closer, unclenching my fists. "Like you'd been cold all your life, and I was fire. No one's ever needed me like that."

He turned to face me then. His face was hard and sad. "If I could only feel half of what I do for you, it would be enough."

Another step. "Manageable?" Another. "Ignorable?"

His posture went rigid. "You make me insane."

I couldn't help but laugh. "No, Tristan. I make you alive."

"Is this life," he breathed when I reached him, our chests almost touching. "This need, this drive, this madness?"

"Yes," I replied just as softly, reaching my hand up to his cheek. I hovered over it like a butterfly unsure if it wanted to land on the spider web, never touching. His eyes looked so much bluer, starring back into mine. I heard the bell strike the first stroke of midnight, and I jumped, snatching my hand back.

Time was up.

"I'm sorry," I said, retreating as fast as I could. "I've got to go. Goodnigh—"

I had, for only a moment, forgotten who I was dealing with. Faster than any male to have ever lived, Tristan snatched my wrist right out of the air. His mercenary intelligence gleamed in his eyes, replacing any softness I'd coaxed there. I could see immediately that he wasn't going to release me.

"Please," I said. The second toll. I jerked on my arm, to no avail. "Please, please, Tristan, let me go!"

A snarl, not completely human, ripped up his throat. "I can hear your heart, Aurora. It's about to explode." He took a deliberate breath in through the nose. "And you smell like pure terror."

The look that came over him was close to demonic. "Who are you afraid of?"

And the clock struck three. Would Gavin truly be so foolish? I couldn't risk it. Tristan would tear him to pieces.

"Tristan," I stopped trying to escape, but his grip never loosened. "No one. But I have to leave, now, or something terrible will happen. You have to believe me." At his look, I tried again. "You have to trust me."

Four. I could see my words had struck something in him. The decision was warring, but there was no way to see which way he was leaning. Five. Six. Seven. Finally, with a blood chilling snarl, he flung my arm away.

"Get out," he said. Eight. There wasn't time to explain, to promise I was ok, that I would be back. I stood there for a fleeting moment, then dashed to the door.

Nine. I looked into the room, halfway out the door. His back was to me, and he was bent over his desk, his fingers turned to claws that dug deep into the wood as he fought his reaction.

"Tristan…" I hesitated.

"Don't say it," he growled softly. "If you do, I don't think I'll be able to let you leave."

And so I left. I was on the stairs when Eleven came and went, and I was almost to the doors when the final boom, longer and resonating, finally sounded. And there he was, right outside. On Tristan's territory. Moon save us all.

I slammed into him. "Run!" I croaked, my throat tight. "I'm safe. Just get out of here!"

Gavin turned towards the woods without another word, and when he tried to grab my arm, the same one Tristan had touched, I jerked away. Not only because I didn't want Gavin holding onto me, but because I could still feel where Tristan's hand had been. I didn't want the memory replaced. I knew it would fade all too quickly on its own.

We made it just feet into the tree line before I heard it. Sad and deep, lonely in its strength: the baying of an Alpha calling his pack for a hunt. Gavin and I both lurched to a halt, our heads whipping back involuntarily towards the sound.

"He must have seen me," Gavin said, swallowing pitifully.

I could only shake my head. "You fool," I said, both to myself and to him. Tristan had not changed. We stood there as calls went up all around the house, answering the first. None of the voices were as deep, but I recognized a few. Miles' full baritone, Jackson's tenor, they were all answering their Alpha. And they were coming for us.

And then all the voices cut off, as quick as if someone had simultaneously sliced all of their throats, and silence reigned. Not even a cricket made a sound. The whole forest seemed to be holding its breath.

"Gavin," I breathed, adrenaline pumping. I could feel the change stirring in my bones. "Run."